Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Armistice Day 11/11/16

(Click on the comic strip for a larger view.)

In 1959, Pogo creator Walt Kelly wrote:

The eleventh day of the eleventh month has always seemed to me to be special. Even if the reason for it fell apart as the years went on, it was a symbol of something close to the high part of the heart. Perhaps a life that stretches through two or three wars takes its first war rather seriously, but I still think we should have kept the name "Armistice Day." Its implications were a little more profound, a little more hopeful.

You said it, brother.

Thanks to all who have served or are serving, on this Veterans Day, or Remembrance Day, or Armistice Day.

This post is mostly a repeat I run every year, since I find it hard to top Kelly.

My latest post on these themes is "Forgiveness, Compassion and Generosity."

Seven years ago now, I wrote a series of six related posts for Armistice Day (and as part of an ongoing series on war). The starred posts are the most important, but the list is:

"Élan in The Guns of August"

"Demonizing of the Enemy"

"The War Poetry of Wilfred Owen"

***"Giddy Minds and Foreign Quarrels"

"The Little Mother"

***"War and the Denial of Loss"

The most significant other entries in the series are:

"How to Hear a True War Story" (2007)

"Day of Shame" (2008)

"The Poetry of War" (2008)

"Armistice Day 2008" (featuring the war poetry of Siegfried Sassoon).

"They Could Not Look Me in the Eye Again" (2011)

"The Dogs of War" (2013)

"The Courage to Make Others Suffer" (2015)

I generally update these posts later with links to appropriate pieces for 11/11 by other folks as I find them. If you've written one, feel free to link it in a comment. Thanks.

Forgiveness, Compassion and Generosity

Some thoughts for Armistice Day (or Veterans Day, or Remembrance Day).

How does one deal with a tragedy? Or a great injustice? Or persistent unfairness for years? How does one face violence, or conflict or hatred?

One of the most striking stories I've encountered this year is that of Terri Roberts and her Amish neighbors. Both The Washington Post and StoryCorps did excellent pieces about them. From The Post:

The simple, quiet rural life [Terri Roberts] knew shattered on Oct. 2, 2006, when her oldest son, Charles Carl Roberts IV, walked into a one-room Amish schoolhouse on a clear, unseasonably warm Monday morning. The 32-year-old husband and father of three young children ordered the boys and adults to leave, tied up 10 little girls between the ages of 6 and 13 and shot them, killing five and injuring the others, before killing himself.

Terri Roberts’s husband thought they’d have to move far away. He knew what people thought of parents of mass murderers. He believed they would be ostracized in their community, blamed for not knowing the evil their child was capable of.

But in the hours after the massacre, as Amish parents still waited in a nearby barn for word about whether their daughters had survived, an Amish man named Henry arrived at the Robertses’ home with a message: The families did not see the couple as an enemy. Rather, they saw them as parents who were grieving the loss of their child, too. Henry put his hand on the shoulder of Terri Roberts’s husband and called him a friend.

The world watched in amazement as, on the day of their son’s funeral, nearly 30 Amish men and women, some the parents of the victims, came to the cemetery and formed a wall to block out media cameras. Parents, whose daughters had died at the hand of their son, approached the couple after the burial and offered condolences for their loss.

Then, just four weeks after the shooting, the couple was invited to meet with all the families in a local fire hall. One mother held Roberts’s gaze as both women’s eyes blurred with tears, she said. They were all grieving; they were all struggling to make sense of the senseless.

Steven Nolt, a professor of Amish studies at Elizabethtown College, said that for most people, forgiveness and acceptance come at the end of a long emotional process. But the Amish forgive first and then every day work through the emotions of it. This “decisional forgiveness” opened a space for Roberts to offer her friendship, which normally in their situation would be uncomfortable, he said.

But the Amish did more than forgive the couple. They embraced them as part of their community. When Roberts underwent treatment for Stage 4 breast cancer in December, one of the girls who survived the massacre helped clean her home before she returned from the hospital. A large yellow bus arrived at her home around Christmas, and Amish children piled inside to sing her Christmas carols.

“The forgiveness is there; there’s no doubt they forgive,” Roberts said.


The relationship hasn't been one-sided; Terri Roberts began to spend time taking care of Rosanna, the most severely wounded survivor of her son's attack:

Several months later, Roberts had all the women back to her home for a tea — a gathering that’s now become an annual tradition. As she played again with Rosanna, she asked the girl’s mother if she might help care for her. In the intervening years, Roberts spent nearly every Thursday evening at the King family’s farm, bathing, reading and attending to Rosanna until her bedtime. After the first couple of visits, Roberts said, she would cry uncontrollably the entire drive home, overwhelmed by the reality that this little girl was severely handicapped because of her son.


This has been a rough path for all involved:

For [Rosanna's father, Christ] King, forgiveness has not come easy. Some parents have mourned the death of their daughters. Others have seen their daughters fully heal. His daughter survived, but he also lost her. Every day, he fights back his anger. Every day, he has to forgive again.

Sitting in a folding chair, with Rosanna’s hospital bed in view behind him, King speaks slowly, methodically, measuring each word. There are joy-filled moments with their daughter, like when she seems to perk up when he comes in from work. But then there are days when she has seizures or she’s up in the night and can’t be comforted.

“I’ve always said and continue to say we have a lot of hard work to be what the people brag about us to be,” he said.


Honestly, I'm not sure I'd be capable of that level of forgiveness – some people might call it emotional maturity or spiritual maturity or perhaps grace – but I admire the people who are capable, who work to achieve it and practice it.

I generally think that true forgiveness is impossible – or at least undeserved – unless the offending party regrets the offense. I also don't believe in enabling or excusing destructive, abusive behavior. I definitely don't believe true forgiveness can be commanded or cajoled, and that it's obnoxious to try. Some people prefer the framing, "Forgive but not forget," but it's really just a semantic difference from "not forgiving or condoning, but not stewing on things to a self-destructive degree, either." (Although in some cases such stewing may be perfectly understandable.)

I'm still in partial shock from this week's events. Donald Trump explicitly ran on bigotry and spite, was judged unqualified and temperamentally unfit for office by significant portions of the population, yet still was narrowly elected. There's plenty of analysis left to be done. But hate crimes over the past days reveal the escalation of a disturbing trend this year. I fear we're entering an era threatening the ascent of gleeful bullying, shameless hatred, cruel and reckless policies at home and belligerence abroad. It won't matter if people are wrong or even know they're wrong, because they'll have the power to enforce their will, and they're eager to use it. I hope I'm incorrect. I fear we already possess plenty of evidence (and too many people forget the Bush years and older history), but the coming months and years will provide plenty of opportunities for the Republican Party and conservatives to show their true character.

(Perhaps the worst won't happen – and we can hope for that – but if there's one thing our most recent election shows, it's that it's folly to count on a decent outcome and that things can always get worse.)

So how can one respond?

One way is with strength and resolve. In a political context, or maybe just a personal one, civil disobedience is nonviolent, but it is not passive. It is often confrontational – not aggressive, but steadfast. Conscientious dissent is crucial, especially against bullies.

Another way is with compassion and generosity. I can't pretend I'll reach the level of forgiveness Roberts and King have achieved in the story above. But I can make an increased effort to be kind to others, especially the most vulnerable, most especially those targeted and scapegoated by Trump and his supporters. People make worse decisions when they're scared. Every generous deed and act of connection helps ameliorate the effects of hatred and just might diminish the hatred itself a bit. (I'm also reminded of a story told by Arun Manilal Gandhi about his grandfather, Mahatma Gandhi, winning over with sheer kindness a white South African who had supported apartheid.)

I've seen some memes and personal offers of aid this week that give me hope. Several schools have posted some version of this:

Dear undocumented students, in this classroom, there are no walls.

Dear black students, in this classroom, your life matters.

Dear Mexican students, you are not rapists or drug dealers.

Dear female students, men cannot grab you.

Dear Muslim students, you are not terrorists.


I've also seen this one:

If you wear a hijab, I'll sit with you on the train.

If you're trans, I'll go to the bathroom with you.

If you're a person of color, I'll stand with you if the cops stop you.

If you're a person with disabilities, I'll hand you my megaphone.

If you're an immigrant, I'll help you find resources..

If you're a survivor, I'll believe you.

If you're a refugee, I'll make sure you're welcome.

If you're a veteran, I'll take up your fight.

If you're LGBTQ, I won't let anyone tell you you're broken.

If you're a woman, I'll make sure you get home ok.

If you're tired, me too.

If you need a hug, I've got an infinite supply.

If you need me, I'll be with you. All I ask is that you be with me, too.


These might seem a bit hokey, but not to someone in genuine need. Facing discouragement is often draining, and confronting actual hatred all the more so. It's easy to get burnt out as an activist, and finding a way to recuperate and support each other is important. Jared Bernstein has characterized conservatism as YOLO, "You're on your own," whereas liberalism is WITT, "We're in this together." This week, I've seen many people genuinely upset, or scared or grieving – and occasionally some nasty taunting in response – but also plenty of compassion, kindness and support. I'll be making my annual food bank donation soon, and I'm reflecting on what else to do in the months ahead. Developing a long-term political strategy is crucial, and specific, concrete activism is as well, but another key way to face down inhumanity and make America better is simply to be better to one another.

(I normally focus more on war on 11/11, but violence certainly isn't limited to war. My most relevant related posts are probably 2011's "They Could Not Look Me in the Eye Again" and 2009's "War and the Denial of Loss." )

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Spite

Donald Trump is a bully and a bullshitter. His fans love him for the first part and don't recognize or don't care about the second. They love him because he hates the people they hate and vows to inflict pain on those other people, who aren't real Americans or full citizens in one way or another, due to their skin color, national origin, religion, gender, sexuality, or just beliefs slightly more moderate than those of the conservative base. In one sense, Trump's nothing new in conservative and Republican politics – like many before him over the past 50-some years, he stands for bigotry and plutocracy – but he's made the past subtext more explicit and harder to deny. In this election, Trump and his supporters have given an increased, starring role to spite.

Republican hopefuls Scott Walker and Chris Christie also sold themselves as bullies, but Walker's working style is stealth to achieve right-wing aims without providing the reassuring hatred of angry speeches for the base. Christie, although unquestionably a bully, was damaged by the bridge closure scandal and couldn't compete with the appeal of Trump's explicit bigotry. Ted Cruz, although undoubtedly right-wing and favored by some religious conservatives, was extremely disliked by others on the right. Ben Carson was both right-wing and clueless enough for the gig, but his somnambulist, soporific style didn't really fire up the base. Carly Fiorina showed she could be vicious, but not in the league of Trump. John Kasich's actual positions are pretty right-wing, but during the primaries, he chose to portray himself as reasonable, practical and comparatively moderate, which contrasted him with Trump, but didn't win over a majority of Republican primary voters in most states. Sure, all the 16-some candidates could be counted on to preach "small government" and push for even more tax cuts to the rich (the chief goal of the Republican establishment), and most were game to throw in some racist dog-whistles per usual, but they couldn't match Trump's belligerence, nastiness and complete lack of shame. Trump knew what the conservative base wanted, and was determined that he would be the last, biggest asshole standing.

Trump lies much, much more often than Clinton, and over five days, "averaged about one falsehood every three minutes and 15 seconds over nearly five hours of remarks." Using Harry Frankfurt's definition, Trump is a bullshitter more than a liar, because he simply doesn't care if what he says is true or not. Unfortunately, many of his supporters are unconcerned, too – as The Washington Post reported in June:

Many of Trump’s fans don’t actually think he will build a wall — and they don’t care if he doesn’t.

Many also don’t think that Trump as president would really ban foreign Muslims from entering the country, seize oil controlled by terrorists or deport 11 million illegal immigrants. They view Trump’s pledges more as malleable symbols than concrete promises, reflecting a willingness to shake things up and to be bold. . . .

Perhaps more than any other presidential candidate in history, Trump has mastered the art of putting forth a platform that is so vague — and so outlandish — that supporters can believe what they want to believe about his plans, even when it comes to something such as a concrete wall on the southern border.


They also don't care about his many scandals, or that he's a horrible businessman who screws over nearly everyone who works for or with him. Nor do they care that he'd cut taxes for the wealthy and explode the national deficit and debt. (To be fair, the tax cuts for the rich are Trump's main appeal for the Paul Ryan crowd, but they wouldn't help most Americans, including most Republican voters.) Alas, political coverage spends little time on actual candidate policy positions, a dynamic that has helped out Trump tremendously – he gives few specifics about his policies, but as he himself has pointed out, his voters don't really care. His standard approach is to bluff and bullshit his way through any question – bragging that he's great, he knows everybody, he'll hire the best people; his opponents are awful, idiots, the worst ever. This approach works well enough for short interviews, especially with friendly or nonconfrontational outlets, but exposes him as an ignoramus when a more in-depth answer is required or follow-up questions are allowed, as in the three presidential debates (although the moderators still could have spent more time on policy). Whatever one thinks of Hillary Clinton's policies, she actually has some – policy papers on her website amounting to 112,735 words compared to just over 9,000 for Trump's site. For that matter, other Republican candidates offered more substantial policies than Trump, too, that conservatives might like more than Clinton's – but Trump's appeal is mostly image and little substance, all swagger, viciousness, a game of dominance.

Lying isn't new to politics, even if the depth and breadth of it from Trump is significant. (Although let's not forget the 917 falsehoods from Romney that Steve Benen documented, especially as some folks are pining for Romney as so much better than Trump – he was, but when judged fairly, still awful.) The lying is a serious problem, but even more troubling is that conservative political figures don't stop telling specific lies after being directly called on it. This disdain for fact-checking and truth didn't start with Trump. Back in 2008, vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin kept claiming “I told Congress thanks but no thanks to that Bridge to Nowhere" even after fact-checkers had shown it wasn't true and their work was widely reported. In 2009, Palin, Betsy McCaughey and other conservatives were hawking lies about the Affordable Care Act creating "death panels," a falsehood that was debunked, but they keep on saying it. In 2015, during the Republican primary debates, Carly Fiorina told a despicable falsehood about a supposed undercover video of Planned Parenthood: "Watch a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking while someone says, ‘We have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.’ " Fiorina was referring to fake footage, and was fact-checked on her statements, but when directly pressed on the issue, she insisted on repeating what by then she had to know was a lie, and a monstrous lie at that – one that demonized her political opponents for political gain. Fiorina simply didn't give a damn, effectively saying "screw you" to the press and anyone who cared about the truth. She knew how the lie would play with the conservative base; its members would take her statements as further proof that the people they already hated were monsters. These dynamics also describe what Rush Limbaugh has been doing since his career started in the 80s – some of his listeners will even admit he exaggerates, but don't much care. As I've written before, Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Glenn Beck and their ilk "aren't selling facts, they're selling grievance, cultural solidarity, an emotional truth, and the Two-Minutes Hate. Right-wing audiences simply do not care if their leaders are corrupt, incompetent and lie to their faces – as long as they get their scapegoat." (Tom Sullivan and others have made similar observations.) Lying on this level, especially from a politician running for national office, is a power play, authoritarian and antidemocratic – it says, essentially, I can tell bald-faced, horrible lies and you can even call me on it and it still won't matter, because it'll fire up the base and win me votes and give me power – and then we'll see what you say about me, huh?

This brings us to Trump himself and his good pal and campaign surrogate, Rudy Giuliani. More than any other figures in this election, they've adopted the belligerent smear as a key campaign tool, and tried to bully any critics into silence. Trump has threatened to make it easier for him to sue reporters, revoked the credentials of The Washington Post because he didn't like their (accurate) coverage and has encouraged his crowds to boo the media. (His supporters issued death threats against a reporter who tweeted about the atmosphere of hatred at a Trump rally. That proved him right, but their driving impulse isn't persuasion – it's intimidation.)

Bigotry and spite has been central to Trump's campaign from the beginning (and let's not forget his earlier racist birther bullshit). When Trump announced his run for president on 6/16/15, he attacked undocumented Mexican workers by saying, "They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists." In late November 2015, he repeatedly claimed that "thousands" of Muslims and Arabs in New Jersey cheered during the 9/11 attacks when the Twin Towers fell, but such cheering never happened. On 12/7/16, he announced that "Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States." (One doesn't have to be a lawyer to know that's unconstitutional, but I'd add it's clearly immoral – we know how discriminating against a group based on their religion can go, and it's not just ugly, it can be deadly.) In June 2016, he claimed that American Muslims knew who potential terrorists were but weren't turning them in. (Muslims aren't real, full Americans, you see, and can't be trusted.) In July 2016, Trump pulled something similar. I'll quote Josh Marshall at length, who wrote (his emphasis):

Trump claimed that people – "some people" – called for a moment of silence for mass killer Micah Johnson, the now deceased mass shooter who killed five police officers in Dallas on Thursday night. There is no evidence this ever happened. Searches of the web and social media showed no evidence. Even Trump's campaign co-chair said today that he can't come up with any evidence that it happened. As in the case of the celebrations over the fall of the twin towers, even to say there's 'no evidence' understates the matter. This didn't happen. Trump made it up.

The language is important: “When somebody called for a moment of silence to this maniac that shot the five police, you just see what's going on. It's a very, very sad situation.”

Then later at the Indiana rally: “The other night you had 11 cities potentially in a blow-up stage. Marches all over the United States—and tough marches. Anger. Hatred. Hatred! Started by a maniac! And some people ask for a moment of silence for him. For the killer!”

A would-be strong man, an authoritarian personality, isn't just against disorder and violence. They need disorder and violence. That is their raison d'etre, it is the problem that they are purportedly there to solve. The point bears repeating: authoritarian figures require violence and disorder. Look at the language. "11 cities potentially in a blow up stage" .. "Anger. Hatred. Hatred! Started by a maniac!" ... "And some people ask for a moment of silence for him. For the killer."

At the risk of invoking Godwin's Law, if you translate the German, the febrile and agitated language of 'hatred', 'anger', 'maniac' ... this is the kind of florid and incendiary language Adolf Hitler used in many of his speeches. Note too the actual progression of what Trump said: "Marches all over the United States - and tough marches. Anger. Hatred. Hatred! Started by a maniac!" (emphasis added).

The clear import of this fusillade of words is that the country is awash in militant protests that were inspired by Micah Johnson. "Started by ..."

We're used to so much nonsense and so many combustible tirades from Trump that we become partly inured to them. We also don't slow down and look at precisely what he's saying. What he's saying here is that millions of African-Americans are on the streets inspired by and protesting on behalf of a mass murderer of white cops.

This is not simply false. It is the kind of wild racist incitement that puts whole societies in danger. And this man wants to be president. . . .

These are the words – the big lies rumbling the ground for some sort of apocalyptic race war – of a dangerous authoritarian personality who is either personally deeply imbued with racist rage or cynically uses that animus and race hatred to achieve political ends. In either case, they are the words of a deeply dangerous individual the likes of whom has seldom been so close to achieving executive power in America.


As for Giuliani, who's always been an authoritarian, he claimed in early July that he had softened Trump somewhat on the "ban on Muslims," but by the end of the month, "said he would be in favor of forcing Muslims on the federal government's terrorism watch list to wear electronic monitoring tags or bracelets for authorities to track their whereabouts." In mid-July, Giuliani gave a screaming speech at the Republican National Convention (video here). As he has at past conventions, Giuliani trotted out his beloved 'the Democrats didn't use the magic words' bullshit argument, but it was his combination of bigotry, apocalyptic framing and shameless demagoguery that really struck me. (Honestly, I found the speech chilling, and not in the way Giuliani intended – the first word that came to mind was "Nuremberg," same as for Blue Gal. By the way, Godwin's law doesn't apply if the analogy is valid, and Mike Godwin himself has weighed in on this in relation to Trump.) Trump and other speakers at the convention took a page from Nixon's book (really, it's a conservative staple) and talked a great deal about "law and order." But the truth is, they don't truly care about "law and order"; they certainly don't care about due process. They only care about punishment of the people they hate. That has always been the scared and spiteful essence of their pitch. Trump and at least some of his surrogates are willing to lie, fear-monger and stir up racial anxiety and hatred for political gain. On some level, beneath any denial or self-delusion, they know what they are doing. They are consciously choosing to do this. It's sadly nothing new, but it remains despicable and even evil.

Unfortunately, Trump and his surrogates haven't been pushed nearly hard enough on this. Nor have their followers. I'd occasionally see Fox News segments in which people endorsed Trump, saying they liked him because he said what was on his mind and wasn't "politically correct," but tellingly, the hosts never really pressed such guests on what exactly they meant by that. It'd be nice if we could have an honest conversation, where such people would say outright, "I want to treat Muslim-, Arab- and Mexican-Americans as second-class citizens," but of course they won't, nor will they admit to being scared of Muslims but knowing very little about them. As soon as Trump proposed banning Muslims – which was a campaign statement, not an off-the-cuff remark – every single interview should have pressed him on it (or any of his other bigoted statements). He and his supporters have the right to express their views, but I've been dismayed that haven't been challenged nearly enough. ("Do you realize what you're saying? Do you realize what this would entail?") At least a few folks have pressed Trump on how he'd deport over 11 million undocumented immigrants or how he'd build a border wall, but he's never given convincing answers. Of course, the conservative base doesn't care if such things are impossible, because a promise of hostility from Trump against their chosen foes is enough. But it's important that such insanity and extremity be put on display, front and center, for the rest of the electorate.

Any number of Trump's positions, statements and actions are disqualifying, and I've barely touched on some of them. His economic plans are horrible. His personal character is atrocious –he doesn't pay people who do work for him. He's a rampant misogynist who's bragged about sexually assaulting women. Trump's also endorsed torture repeatedly: "I would bring back waterboarding, and I’d bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding." His attitude is driven, as usual, by his machismo and his ignorance – as Rear Admiral John Hutson put it, "Torture is the method of choice of the lazy, the stupid, and the pseudo-tough." There's virtually no admirable position or trait Trump possesses – yet he was the Republicans' choice for president. And despite efforts to disown him, Trump's ascent is a feature, not a bug, of movement conservatism and the choices the Republican Party has made over 50-some years (much more on that in a future post).

The Washington Post has an editorial titled, "History will remember which Republicans failed the Trump test," and The New York Times has an ongoing feature titled, "More than 160 Republican Leaders Don’t Support Donald Trump. Here’s When They Reached Their Breaking Point." (The number went up throughout the campaign season.) These are valuable pieces, but Brad De Long did something similar with George W. Bush back in 2007 – it would be a grave mistake to forget how horrendous Bush and other Republicans and conservatives were and are, even if Trump weren't in the picture. It is Republican dogma never to raise taxes and to cut them on the rich; conservatives have been fighting against a sustainable fiscal and economic model since Reagan, and have likewise been fighting against a responsible model of governance. Liberals criticize the Democratic Party all the time, and there's certainly room for improvement there, but Republicans have become much more conservative over the years, have enacted unprecedented obstructionism in the modern era and simply are the major problem in American politics. Unfortunately, many Republicans and conservatives will deny this, as will the many shallow "both sides" political commentators around (see Digby, driftglass or my archives for much more).

Step one is defeating Trump, but efforts can't stop there. I'm always in favor of outreach and discussion, but it's important to acknowledge that they might not work – some people will never be persuadable – especially if they're primarily driven by spite. We can't count on 'cooler heads to prevail' or 'the better angels of their nature' to hold sway for everyone. The conservative base hates many of their fellow Americans and will not be dissuaded. So while we're trying to convince the crowd charmed by the season's latest bigot or snake oil salesman to reconsider, it's essential to get out the vote in case such outreach fails. Voting is crucial, and sustained activism is even more so. Even if Trump loses this election, there's much more work to be done.

Saturday, November 05, 2016

The Cubs Win the World Series

I can't claim to be the most diehard Cubs fan, living and dying with every game and season, but I have been a lifelong and loyal fan since visiting family in Chicago as a kid and attending Wrigley Field for my first-ever baseball game. I used to joke that I was a Cubs fan because I was a masochist, and I think many Cubs fans have approached their fandom with loyalty, fatalism and a sense of humor. I'd root for them every time they made the playoffs and catch the games. More often, when they stunk, I'd check in periodically during the season and sigh. In 2003, it looked like teams with two of the longest championship droughts at the time, the Chicago Cubs and the Boston Red Sox, could meet in the World Series, which I joked would cause a black hole that would engulf the entire universe. The Red Sox won the next year and twice again since, the Chicago White Sox broke their long drought in 2005, and now the Cubs finally got their turn, after a mere 108 years.

The playoffs this season were entertaining but left me slightly conflicted because after the Cubs, I root for the Nationals, and after them the Dodgers – and all three teams were in. I'd have rooted for whichever team won the pennant, but naturally I was pulling for the Cubs. The World Series itself was thrilling and stressful, especially that amazing game 7, definitely one of the best games I've ever seen. The Cubs being the Cubs, they had to make their fans despair several times before the end, but finally, they won.

I'll won't link all of what I have elsewhere on social media, but I was impressed by Indians manager Tony Francona's gracious post-game interview: "It was an honor to be part of that." Hardcore Cubs fan Bill Murray said, "We became such good losers – I hope we're good winners." (Agreed.) Rob Arthur wrote a good piece about Cubs fandom at 538:
As my dad realized in the ’50s, there’s something liberating about knowing your team is going to lose. With the outcome sealed, you become free to enjoy the game and the experience of the ballpark for whatever it is. Sometime in the middle of the incredible, marathon, rain-delayed epic that was Game 7, I came to that conclusion myself.

I think my two favorite stories, though, are about elderly Cubs fans celebrating and people writing the names of departed loved ones in chalk on the brick walls at Wrigley. Oh, and the Chicago cast of Hamilton sang "Go Cubs, Go" at curtain call.

Yeah, it's just sports, but it's been nice to see all the joy this has generated.

Saturday, October 01, 2016

Banned Books Week 2016

(One of the neater images about banned books to date.)

Banned Books Week is coming to a close. My archives have more extensive posts on the subject, but the American Library Association (ALA) has a neat piece based on a 2012 Library of Congress exhibit. It's a list titled Banned Books That Shaped America. I wish more dates were included for context, but it's still an interesting read, with many familiar titles from Banned Books Weeks past:

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain, 1884
The first ban of Mark Twain’s American classic in Concord, MA in 1885 called it “trash and suitable only for the slums.” Objections to the book have evolved, but only marginally. Twain’s book is one of the most-challenged of all time and is frequently challenged even today because of its frequent use of the word “nigger.” Otherwise it is alleged the book is “racially insensitive,” “oppressive,” and “perpetuates racism.”

The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Malcolm X and Alex Haley, 1965
Objectors have called this seminal work a “how-to-manual” for crime and decried because of “anti-white statements” present in the book. The book presents the life story of Malcolm Little, also known as Malcolm X, who was a human rights activist and who has been called one of the most influential Americans in recent history.

Beloved, Toni Morrison, 1987
Again and again, this Pulitzer-prize winning novel by perhaps the most influential African-American writer of all time is assigned to high school English students. And again and again, parental complaints are lodged against the book because of its violence, sexual content and discussion of bestiality.

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Dee Brown, 1970
Subtitled “An Indian History of the American West,” this book tells the history of United States growth and expansion into the West from the point of view of Native Americans. This book was banned by a school district official in Wisconsin in 1974 because the book might be polemical and they wanted to avoid controversy at all costs. “If there’s a possibility that something might be controversial, then why not eliminate it,” the official stated.

The Call of the Wild, Jack London, 1903
Generally hailed as Jack London’s best work, The Call of the Wild is commonly challenged for its dark tone and bloody violence. Because it is seen as a man-and-his-dog story, it is sometimes read by adolescents and subsequently challenged for age-inappropriateness. Not only have objections been raised here, the book was banned in Italy, Yugoslavia and burned in bonfires in Nazi Germany in the late 1920s and early 30s because it was considered “too radical.”

Catch-22, Joseph Heller, 1961
A school board in Strongsville, OH refused to allow the book to be taught in high school English classrooms in 1972. It also refused to consider Cat’s Cradle as a substitute text and removed both books from the school library. The issue eventually led to a 1976 District Court ruling overturning the ban in Minarcini v. Strongsville.

The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger, 1951
Young Holden, favorite child of the censor. Frequently removed from classrooms and school libraries because it is “unacceptable,” “obscene,” “blasphemous,” “negative,” “foul,” “filthy,” and “undermines morality.” And to think Holden always thought “people never notice anything.”

Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury, 1953
Rather than ban the book about book-banning outright, Venado Middle school in Irvine, CA utilized an expurgated version of the text in which all the “hells” and “damns” were blacked out. Other complaints have said the book went against objectors religious beliefs. The book’s author, Ray Bradbury, died this year.

For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway, 1940
Shortly after its publication the U.S. Post Office, which purpose was in part to monitor and censor distribution of media and texts, declared the book nonmailable. In the 1970s, eight Turkish booksellers were tried for “spreading propaganda unfavorable to the state” because they had published and distributed the text. This wasn’t Hemingway’s only banned book – A Farewell to Arms and Across the River and Into the Trees were also censored domestically and abroad in Ireland, South Africa, Germany and Italy.

Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell, 1936
The Pulitzer-prize winning novel (which three years after its publication became an Academy-Award Winning film) follows the life of the spoiled daughter of a southern plantation owner just before and then after the fall of the Confederacy and decline of the South in the aftermath of the Civil War. Critically praised for its thought-provoking and realistic depiction of ante- and postbellum life in the South, it has also been banned for more or less the same reasons. Its realism has come under fire, specifically its realistic portrayal – though at times perhaps tending toward optimistic -- of slavery and use of the words “nigger” and “darkies.”

The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck, 1939
Kern County, California has the great honor both of being the setting of Steinbeck’s novel and being the first place where it was banned (1939). Objections to profanity—especially goddamn and the like—and sexual references continued from then into the 1990s. It is a work with international banning appeal: the book was barred in Ireland in the 50s and a group of booksellers in Turkey were taken to court for “spreading propaganda” in 1973.

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1925
Perhaps the first great American novel that comes to the mind of the average person, this book chronicles the booze-infused and decadent lives of East Hampton socialites. It was challenged at the Baptist College in South Carolina because of the book’s language and mere references to sex.

Howl, Allen Ginsberg, 1956
Following in the footsteps of other “Shaping America” book Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman, Allen Ginsberg’s boundary-pushing poetic works were challenged because of descriptions of homosexual acts.

In Cold Blood, Truman Capote, 1966
The subject of controversy in an AP English class in Savannah, GA after a parent complained about sex, violence and profanity. Banned but brought back.

Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison, 1952
Ellison’s book won the 1953 National Book Award for Fiction because it expertly dealt with issues of black nationalism, Marxism and identity in the twentieth century. Considered to be too expert in its ruminations for some high schools, the book was banned from high school reading lists and schools in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Washington state.

The Jungle, Upton Sinclair, 1906
For decades, American students have studied muckraking and yellow journalism in social studies lessons about the industrial revolution, with The Jungle headlining the unit. And yet, the dangerous and purportedly socialist views expressed in the book and Sinclair’s Oil led to its being banned in Yugoslavia, East Germany, South Korea and Boston.

Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman, 1855
If they don’t understand you, sometimes they ban you. This was the case when the great American poem Leaves of Grass was first published and the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice found the sensuality of the text disturbing. Caving to pressure, booksellers in New York, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania conceded to advising their patrons not to buy the “filthy” book.

Moby-Dick; or The Whale, Herman Melville,1851
In a real head-scratcher of a case, a Texas school district banned the book from its Advanced English class lists because it “conflicted with their community values” in 1996. Community values are frequently cited in discussions over challenged books by those who wish to censor them.

Native Son, Richard Wright, 1940
Richard Wright’s landmark work of literary naturalism follows the life of young Bigger Thomas, a poor Black man living on the South Side of Chicago. Bigger is faced with numerous awkward and frustrating situations when he begins working for a rich white family as their chauffer. After he unintentionally kills a member of the family, he flees but is eventually caught, tried and sentenced to death. The book has been challenged or removed in at least eight different states because of objections to “violent and sexually graphic” content.

Our Bodies, Ourselves, Boston Women’s Health Book Collective, 1971
Challenges of this book about the female anatomy and sexuality ran from the book’s publication into the mid-1980s. One Public Library lodged it “promotes homosexuality and perversion.” Not surprising in a country where some legislators want to keep others from saying the word “vagina.”

The Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane, 1895
Restricting access and refusing to allow teachers to teach books is still a form of censorship in many cases. Crane’s book was among many on a list compiled by the Bay District School board in 1986 after parents began lodging informal complaints about books in an English classroom library.

The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1850
According to many critics, Hawthorne should have been less friendly toward his main character, Hester Prynne (in fairness, so should have minister Arthur Dimmesdale). One isn’t surprised by the moralist outrage the book caused in 1852. But when, one hundred and forty years later, the book is still being banned because it is sinful and conflicts with community values, you have to raise your eyebrows. Parents in one school district called the book “pornographic and obscene” in 1977. Clearly this was before the days of the World Wide Web.

Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, Alfred C. Kinsey, 1948
How dare Alfred Kinsey ask men and women questions about their sex lives! The groundbreaking study, truly the first of its scope and kind, was banned from publication abroad and highly criticized at home.

Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein, 1961
The book was actually retained after a 2003 challenge in Mercedes, TX to the book’s adult themes. However, parents were subsequently given more control over what their child was assigned to read in class, a common school board response to a challenge.

A Streetcar Named Desire, Tennessee Williams, 1947
The sexual content of this play, which later became a popular and critically acclaimed film, raised eyebrows and led to self-censorship when the film was being made. The director left a number of scenes on the cutting room floor to get an adequate rating and protect against complaints of the play’s immorality.

Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston, 1937
Parents of students in Advanced English classes in a Virginia high school objected to language and sexual content in this book, which made TIME magazine’s list of top 100 Best English-Language Novels from 1923 to 2005.

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee, 1960
Harper Lee’s great American tome stands as proof positive that the censorious impulse is alive and well in our country, even today. For some educators, the Pulitzer-prize winning book is one of the greatest texts teens can study in an American literature class. Others have called it a degrading, profane and racist work that “promotes white supremacy.”

Uncle Tom's Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1852
Like Huck Finn, Of Mice and Men and Gone With the Wind, the contextual, historically and culturally accurate depiction of the treatment of Black slaves in the United States has rankled would-be censors.

Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak, 1963
Sendak’s work is beloved by children in the generations since its publication and has captured the collective imagination. Many parents and librarians, however, did much hand-wringing over the dark and disturbing nature of the story. They also wrung their hands over the baby’s penis drawn in In the Night Kitchen.

The Words of Cesar Chavez, Cesar Chavez, 2002
The works of Chavez were among the many books banned in the dissolution of the Mexican-American Studies Program in Tucson, Arizona. The Tucson Unified School District disbanded the program so as to accord with a piece of legislation which outlawed Ethnic Studies classes in the state. To read more about this egregious case of censorship, click here.

If you've got a post celebrating banned or challenged books, feel free to link it in the comments.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Talk Like a Pirate Day 2016

Happy Talk Like a Pirate Day! I like to celebrate by using one of the English-to-Pirate translators out there to translate a scurvy dog. This year, there's no competition. Follow the links to see the original words of looter and pillager Donald J. Trump, but here are some of his greatest hits in pirate:

When Mexico sends its swabbies, they’re nay sendin' the'r best. They’re nay sendin' ye. They’re nay sendin' ye. They’re sendin' swabbies that be havin' lots o' problems, an' they’re bringin' them problems wi' us. They’re bringin' drugs. They’re bringin' crime. They’re rapists. An' some, I assume, be good swabbies.

I can nereapologize fer th' truth. I don’t mind apologizin' fer things. But I can’t apologize fer th' truth. I spake tremendous crime be comin' across. Sea dogs an' land lubbers knows that’s true. An' 't’s happenin' all th' time. So, why, when I mention, all o' a sudden I’m a racist. I’m nay a racist. I don’t be havin' a racist bone in me body.

Torture works. ARRR, folks? Ye know, I be havin' these guys—”Torture doesn’t work!”—b'lieve me, 't works. An' waterboardin' be yer minor form. Some swabbies say 't’s nay actually torture. Let’s assume 'tis. But they asked me th' question: What do ye think o' waterboardin'? Absolutely fine. But we ortin' ta go much stronger than waterboardin'.

Eyeball them hands, be they wee hands? An', he referred t' me hands -- `if they's wee, somethin' else must be wee.` I guarantee ye thar`s nay problem. I guarantee.

A hand wi' wee fingers comin' ou' o' a stem. Like, wee. Eyeball me hands. They’re fine. Nobody other than Graydon Carter voyages ago used t' use that. Me hands be normal hands. Durin' a debate, he be losin', an' he spake, “Oh, he has wee hands an' therefore, ye know what that means.” This be nay me. This be Rubio that spake, “He has wee hands an' ye know what that means.” Arrr? So, he started 't. So, what I spake a couple o' days later … an' what happened be I be on line shakin' hands wi' supporters, an' one o' supporters got up an' he spake, “Mr. Trump, ye be havin' strong hands. Ye be havin' good-sized hands.” An' then another one would say, “Ye be havin' great hands, Mr. Trump, I had nay idee.” I spake, “What do ye mean?” He spake, “I thought ye be like deformed, an' I thought ye had wee hands.” I had fifty swabbies … Be that a correct statement? I mean swabbies be writin', “How be Mr. Trump’s hands?” Me hands be fine. Ye know, me hands be normal. Slightly large, actually. In fact, I buy a slightly smaller than large glove, arrr? Nay, but I did this on accoun' o' sea dogs an' land lubbers be sayin' t' me, “Oh, yer hands be very nice. They be normal.” So Rubio, in a debate, spake, on accoun' o' he had nothin' else t' say … now I be hittin' th' lad's pretty hard. He wanted t' do his Don Rickles stuff an' 't didn’t work ou'. Obviously, 't didn’t work too well. But one o' th' things he spake be “He has wee hands an' therefore, ye know what that means, he has wee somethin' else.” Ye can look 't up. I didn’t say 't.

The things that be spake about me. Ye know what, I wanted t' hit a couple o' them speakers so hard. Hit them with me tiny baby hands. I would be havin' hit them — nay, nay — I be gonna hit them. I be all set. An' then I got a call from a highly respected governor. ‘How’s 't goin', Donald?’ I spake, ‘Well, 't’s goin' good, but they’re really sayin' bad things about me. I’m gonna hit them so hard.’ I be gonna hit one guy in particular, a very wee guy. I be gonna hit this guy so hard, his hade would spin. He wouldn’t know what th' hell happened. An' he came ou' o' nowhere. He came ou' o' nowhere. They made deals wi' me. ‘Would ye help me wi' this? Would ye make this deal an' solve this problem?’ I solved th' problem. I do a great job. I be goin' t' hit a number o' them speakers so hard, the'r heads would spin, they’d nererecover. An' that’s what I did wi' a lot o' swabbies — that’s why I still don’t be havin' certain swabbies endorsin' me. They still haven’t recovered, arrr, ye know?

I’m tellin' ye, I used t' use th' word incompetent. Now I jus' call them lily livered. I sailed' t' an Ivy League school. I’m very highly educated. I know words, I be havin' th' best words...but thar be nay better word than lily livered. Starboard?

I think that's much more coherent. (The scary thing is that's after cutting several paragraphs of him talking about his hands.) Of course, Trump should be mocked, relentlessly, but it's also important to recognize him as a serious threat, and get out the vote.

Monday, September 05, 2016

Labor Day 2016

Happy Labor Day! As uusal, I'll include some videos. (They're repeats, but good.) Let's kick it off with Billy Bragg:

Here's Robert Reich from 2013, about celebrating labor on Labor Day:

This one's funny but not safe for work. The YouTube poster explains that "This was a PSA that the voice-over person decided to record an "alternate" version of for fun."

Over at Lawyers, Guns & Money, Erik Loomis has a great series called This Day in Labor History/

My most in-depth post for Labor Day was this 2011 post.

I might update this post later with other links. If you have a post celebrating labor, feel free to link it in the comments.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Assessing Hearts and Minds

The old adage to avoid discussing politics and religion remains a wise social decision in plenty of situations. However, such discussions have to be held somewhere. (Alas, honest, intelligent discussion is fairly rare on the Sunday political shows – the good guests tend to be badly outnumbered by hacks and dolts.) The art of discussion, listening and persuasion isn't dead in politics, and blogs, discussion boards and activist groups provide some good venues. Unfortunately, the quality of political discussion on social media platforms – particularly if one has a wide set of friends and acquaintances, going back years – can be pretty dreadful. It can be alarming to see someone who's personally kind (and even fairly intelligent otherwise) uncritically blast the latest factually challenged, frothing bullshit from their political tribe as a self-evident truth.

In such situations, I find myself wondering how best to proceed or whether it's worth engaging at all. How well do I know this person? How reasonable is he? What’s her background? What's influenced his views? What frameworks is she using? How much energy should I (or do I possess to) expend? In my experience, some people simply aren't persuadable; some have little substance to their views even if you politely hear them out. Trying to identify points of agreement and contention can be a useful exercise (and sometimes can de-escalate an argument), but ultimately it's impossible to find common ground with someone on another planet. (Plus, trying to do so can be draining.)

In the interests of preserving sanity and lowering blood pressure, I've been playing with some categories to assess these dynamics and where someone falls. Maybe this piece isn't necessary for most people, who have worked out their own rules or handle such matters with instinctual grace. There's also a danger of condescension or ego preservation with these classifications. To guard against that, I think it's essential to practice curiosity, listening, compassion and a willingness to consider one's own potential blind spots. (I'm certainly not claiming that I personally achieve all that, but we gotta aspire to something, right?)

Solidly Reasonable: This is the ideal to aspire to – a group of people who are reasonably well-informed, try to stay that way, who base their opinions on facts and evidence, who will seek out new and better information, and will adjust their views accordingly. They believe in research and value curiosity. They have a decent sense of what they know and what they don't (like that adage from the Socrates guy) and what sources are credible and which are suspect. If someone else has better information, generally they're interested or eager to hear it and investigate further, rather than entrenching and trying to "win" an argument. (Knowledge and wisdom are cooperative paradigms, not combative ones – they'd rather have a true discussion than a "debate.") Although they realize that 'the plural of anecdote isn't data,' they do value relevant first-hand accounts and recognize the importance of lived experience and practicality over idle speculation or soulless ideology. (For instance, data do exist on racism and sexism, but it's valuable for people who haven't been on the receiving end to listen to folks who have. What's it's like to be racially profiled? To face sexism in the workplace? To be a religious minority? To be disabled? It's easy to be well-intentioned yet unaware of significant challenges others face.) People in the "solidly reasonable" group can and will disagree with each other, but they can give decent reasons for their positions, and can even… change their minds, whether on details or bigger issues. They will even (gasp) admit error. Similarly, they will correct others (in the name of accuracy), but try to avoid rubbing their faces in it. (…Especially if they're not dealing with jerks. Obviously not everyone who is smart or reasonable is amiable, but I'm defining this group as "not unnecessarily obnoxious.")

A few caveats: The popular and lazy "both sides" school of political punditry views "partisan" as a dirty word, but a world of difference exists between supporting a particular party because its positions are genuinely better ("partisan") and supporting positions primarily because one's party is righteous and definitionally better than the other guys (what I'd call "hyperpartisan" or tribal). Voting necessarily requires decision making, and it turns out research and reflection are indeed better guides than authoritarianism. (More on all this in this 2011 post.)

Likewise, I wouldn't put certain people in this group who definitely view themselves as reasonable (and tend to view themselves as much smarter than others, for that matter) – the "My ideology says [X], so facts and practical considerations be damned" crowd, for example. (More on that below.)

Mostly Reasonable, but with Blind Spots: This group is like the first group, but some issues exist where, for whatever cause, there's no reasoning with them. (Some of us who like to think we're in the first group are probably in this one instead.) This isn't merely a matter of strong opinions; on this issue or issues, their approach is fundamentally different from their normal mode. Perhaps some powerful personal experience or their upbringing or the influence of a pivotal figure significantly colors all discussion of some issue. Maybe their preferred remedy to some injustice suffered by themselves or someone close to them (often a legitimate grievance) would make very poor universal policy. Regardless, any discussion with them on certain contentious issues (for example, Israel and Palestine, or public policy on vaccines) won't merely feature strong and divergent views, but will inevitably shed far more heat than light. The key virtue of classifying people in this group is avoiding outright dismissal of them as "unreasonable," and instead allows for discussion on most topics while giving them a pass on a subject or two… as we might need ourselves. (Compassion, not condescension, should be the guide here.)

Crucial caveats: Some people have passionate views, but views nonetheless solidly based in fact, and I wouldn't put them in this category. As a practical matter, perhaps it's best to avoid certain subjects with them if you don't have 10 minutes to spare, but passion and reason are not opposites and can be highly complementary. Likewise, personal experience often fuels the best advocacy, especially when it involves listening and connecting with others. (The danger, perhaps, is in rigidly rewriting all other incidents through one's own views or experience instead of expanding to accommodate them.) There's also the question of venue – a survivors' support group is a place for sharing personal stories, not debating statistics, for instance (that would be callous and obnoxious). But these categories are meant for more public discussions.

Selectively Reasonable/Narrowly Reasonable: This group is a mixed bag based on subject matter. They're reasonable and perhaps genuinely knowledgeable and insightful on some subjects, but markedly (even surprisingly) bad in others. As with the previous category, the criterion isn't that 'they agree with me on some issues and not on others'; it's that their approach to some issues is significantly different from others. Perhaps they're generally bright but cloistered when it comes to some matters. Perhaps personal experience gives them insight on particular issues but clouds it on others. Perhaps they use a rational, fact-based approach on certain issues but get so focused on "winning" an argument in other situations that they turn into raving loons. I use this category more for pundits than other people, and for pundits in this group, I consider their track record on a given topic and will read them or avoid them accordingly. (I'll reconsider if someone strongly recommends a piece I'd usually avoid, but I try not to rush into classifying someone in this category to begin with.)

Your mileage definitely may vary, but I'll give some examples of folks I classify here. I'd rate Andrew Sullivan as not just correct on his stance on torture but at times genuinely thoughtful and eloquent. Occasionally, I've read other good pieces by Sullivan. But Sullivan not only supported the Iraq War, he supported it rabidly, accused war skeptics of being traitors, and years later offered a defensive, ludicrous semi-apology for his behavior. He played a key role in derailing health care reform in the 90s by promoting the lies of Betsy McCaughey and also championed the questionable racial claims of the book The Bell Curve. His positions on forgiving homophobic slurs and boycotts switch 180 degrees, apparently based on who he likes and dislikes in such conflicts. Born in England (but of Irish descent), Sullivan's lived in the U.S. since 1984, yet shows little understanding of American political history (particularly racism and its role in American conservatism) and maintains an antidemocratic streak and consistent scorn for the political left. His views seem pretty standard for a British Tory, except when he's personally affected, as with gay rights – thus, um, pretty typical for a British Tory. (For much more on Sullivan, I'd recommend the extensive driftglass archives.)

For another example, consider Jonathan Chait. In the positive column, he's excellent on economic issues, especially when it comes to debunking conservative claims about the virtues of tax cuts for the rich and cutting the social safety net. He's written incisively about the Laffer curve and Ayn Rand, and wrote an excellent debunking of Paul Ryan. In the negative column, Chait supported the Iraq War, but more problematically branded anti-war activists (opposing Joe Lieberman's re-election in 2006) as "left-wing" and "fanatics." While discussing propaganda, he made a grotesquely inaccurate and telling analogy about anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan and the dishonest Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. (He's also whitewashed his Iraq positions somewhat.) In 2011, he made an odd, pedantic and dodgy argument that military intervention in Libya should be considered essentially in a vacuum from other obvious considerations. His attacks against "political correctness" were embarrassing, as were some of his exchanges on race with Ta-Nehisi Coates. His arguments about neoliberalism were similarly problematic. Meanwhile, he's shown persistent disdain for netroots activists.

My impression is that Sullivan and Chait make significantly shoddier arguments against people they don't like (and I believe the links above bear me out). Presumably, they dislike some of their targets on a professional level (conservative con men for Chait), but perhaps their dislike for those darn hippies to their political left is more personal, visceral and overpowering? I find the contrast in the quality of their work striking. (Again, your mileage may vary, and anyone's free to find my own work suspect. In my better moments, I want everyone in this category to be more admirable than I rate them. But because of the dynamics described, I view them as cautionary tales urging humility and self-honesty.)

Selective Sourcing Reinforcing Existing Views/Tribal Confirmation Bias: People in this group initially present as reasonable and steadfastly view themselves as such, but in-depth discussion does not bear this out. For instance, perhaps you're discussing voting rights and voter suppression. Someone in this category might say something like, 'I have to show an ID to board an airplane and do other things, therefore everyone should have to show an ID to vote.' That's not a horrible starting position, but the problem is that people in this category won't budge from it, even if you listen to their concerns and try to address them. Show them data on voter fraud being virtually nonexistent, demonstrate why obtaining an ID can be a burden, provide evidence of bad faith from the voter suppression movement, and suggest actual voting improvements that might create some common ground… and they won't read any of it (except cursorily) and won't change their minds.

Dig deeper, and you'll find this pattern is the norm, not an aberration. People in this group tend to keep up with the news, and can cite sources during arguments, but those sources tend to be biased or otherwise unreliable. For instance, conservatives in this group may view Fox News and other conservative outlets as unbiased and all more neutral sources as liberally biased (even though a few studies have shown Fox News is less accurate on factual matters). Folks in the category might cite sources shown to be deceptive, such as conservative think tanks The Heritage Foundation and American Enterprise Institute, and they show little to no interest in pieces that directly fact-check those sources or otherwise provide reliable, corrective data.

Unfortunately, for people in this group, their chief, domineering goal is to win an argument for themselves and their tribe. Consequently, if they're provided evidence that contradicts their claims, they'll double-down in some fashion, not examining the evidence, or insisting that the source is biased, or changing the subject or moving to one of their favorite arguments, the tu quoque fallacy ("you also"), claiming that 'the other side,' their political opponents, does the same thing and is just as bad. (If they're really flailing, they'll claim their political opponents would do the same thing if they had the chance, or will the next time they have a chance, never mind that they haven't.)

The problem with tu quoque and other "both sides do it" arguments are many. (I'll cite a few examples I've actually seen.) First, one thing often is not as bad as another. For instance, it's perfectly fine to criticize Obama for casting a symbolic vote against raising the debt ceiling when he was a senator that would not have possibly prevented the necessary step of raising the debt ceiling (and was a vote that Obama later said he regretted). However, it's ludicrous to pretend that Obama's individual action was exactly the same as the majority of congressional Republicans in 2011 seriously threatening not to raise the debt ceiling in an extraordinary move not supported by most of their own constituents in an attempt to extract political concessions they couldn't earn otherwise. (I consider the term "hostage situation" apt.) It's really, really easy to criticize both stances yet not childishly pretend they're equally bad.

Second, tu quoque arguments tend to be extremely selective with their history and timeline. For instance, claims that Obama is primarily to blame for Washington gridlock and slighted Republicans ignore that Republican leaders met the night of Obama's inauguration to vow to oppose everything he proposed, regardless of merit. They rejected bipartisan offers and, by objective measures, offered unprecedented obstructionism. Perhaps those political moves could be justified, but claims that they were only done in retaliation and congressional Republicans were eager to work with Obama earlier don't withstand scrutiny (even if other criticisms of Obama remain legitimate). More to the point, "retaliation" is a bad, petulant justification regardless.

Third, even if both actions or actors are equally bad (or admittedly bad, if not equally), it doesn't mean that we should do nothing. What's so hard about criticizing multiple parties, but also doing so proportionally and soberly? For example, both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party contain corrupt, corporatist elements beholden to Wall Street. Yet on this issue, the Republican Party is demonstratively worse, opposing and trying to water down the Dodd-Frank Act (rather than seeing it as not going far enough), trying to block the creation and staffing of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (and then trying to weaken or eliminate it) and generally supporting plutocracy. Liberal activists aren't shy about criticizing the Democrats on this issue. The point is to make things better. I'd argue it's hard if not impossible to achieve progress without an accurate diagnosis. In this case, it's important to acknowledge both dynamics – Democratic Party corruption and much worse Republican Party corruption. (For instance, which members of Congress would be more likely to sponsor a reform measure?) Tribal hyperpartisans aren't really interested in this type of diagnosis or activism – it's really hard to get them on board for reform efforts. Their focus is on defending the tribe, on public relations, on talking points (sometimes shouting points). Whether intentionally or not, their shallow "both sides" claims shut down any deeper discussion and positive activism. No matter how well-supported by facts the conclusion is, they will fight to the death over any assertion that their side is worse than their perceived opponents. Consequently, political conversations with them typically can only go so far.

(It's not as prevalent, but hyperpartisans for the less-bad side – in the case of Wall Street reform, diehard Democratic Party loyalists – will shut down criticism and reform efforts by correctly pointing out the other side is worse but then insisting that nothing more should be demanded of their leadership.)

The cautionary tale from this group is, 'Am I so invested in defending my "side" that I'll ignore legitimate criticism and derail attempts to improve things?'

Lazy Experts Outside Their Field: The defining feature of this group is their unshakeable belief in their own superiority. They may indeed be experts in one or several fields – but pedigreed dolts with little expertise and less sense (but plenty of smugness) are quite common in political punditry. (Substitute the name "Condescending Dolts" for this category as needed.) Members of this group feel that they can blunder into any discussion without adequately researching the subject (or without updating their ossified and inaccurate views), yet still feel certain they are right, and those other silly people squabbling about this issue should defer to them. Some of them aren't experts in any field, but none of them are when comes to political analysis. Nonetheless, they expect to be treated as political sages. (More charitably, they may understand a few political issues, but remain largely clueless.) They're especially prone to overgeneralizations and wild extrapolations – anything that saves them the trouble of actual thinking or research. Some may cite outdated or debunked statistics they haven't bothered to confirm, but they prefer to work from a predetermined, shallow conclusion backward. The heart of their style often amounts to offering an opinion, an attitude, a personality, a persona – not true, solid analysis. Some of them may know that they're bullshitters, but most of them seem to believe their own hype.

The best single example is probably Ben Carson. By most accounts, he was a gifted neurosurgeon, which takes a fair amount of intelligence, hard work and skill, but he has demonstratively batshit crazy ideas about politics and history. Numerous roundups exist of his nuttiest beliefs, including a list of 13 from ThinkProgress, 13 from the Campaign for America's Future, 7 from Alternet, 15 from Politico, 10 from Forward Progressives, 11 from Inquistr and an unnumbered recounting from Rolling Stone. (As you'd imagine, these lists overlap somewhat.) My favorite is probably Carson's claim that the pyramids were not tombs, but designed to store grain, which is an "unusual theory" to say the least. What fascinates me most is how Carson simply doesn't care if experts say he's wrong and can provide proof; he still finds his personal beliefs more convincing. Merely being wrong might be forgivable, but with his characteristic somnambulant nonchalance, Carson shows absolutely no interest in discovering the truth and amending his views – and doesn't seem to understand why anyone would object to this.

Thomas Friedman provides another good example. Putting aside for the moment some of his worst arguments, Friedman has a nasty habit of chastising Democrats for not advocating positions they actually support. (See examples from 2011, 2012 and 2016 parts one and two.) My best guess is that Friedman likes to scold people, and scolding Democrats and liberals lets him traffic in false equivalencies and look more independent and superior, so facts be damned. (I'd put Camille Paglia and Megan McArdle in this group as well, not because I consider them experts in well, anything, but because selling an "expert" persona is central to their shtick.)

Many of the pundits in "both sides" cult fall into this category – they steadfastly ignore actual policy positions, their likely consequences and any matter of substance, and also tend to ignore the actual negotiation stances of the parties involved. Whereas tribal hyperpartisans and professional hacks will invoke "both sides" as damage control, this group uses "both sides" to try to assert superiority and position themselves outside the fray. In both cases, though, the effect is to shut down serious, accurate discussion. (For more on "both siderism," see Jay Rosen, digby, driftglass, Balloon Juice or my archives.)

Stopped Clocks: As the saying goes, "Even a stopped clock is right twice per day." People in the group have almost uniformly horrible positions and generally bad (if occasionally comprehensible) reasons for them. But by accident, the law of averages or an isolated incident of sound reasoning, they hold a few good positions. It may be possible to work with them politically, but only on those issues. Likewise, it might be best to stick those subjects in political discussions among polite company.

Personally Nice but Politically Crazy: This group can be quite nice and even generous on a personal, social level, especially with their friends, but when it comes to politics, they become completely different people – rabid nutjobs. They share some similarities with the Selective Sourcing group, but their tribalism is much more charged, their sourcing is even less credible and they tend to get much nastier. For instance, as soon as Obama was inaugurated, the national debt and deficit became huge issues for them, even though they weren't under Bush. (They tend to revise their history on such things, too.) They'll denounce Obama, who's fairly centrist and establishmentarian, as a raging socialist. (The much rarer lefty version of this is to denounce Obama as uniquely awful as an imperialist rather than viewing him, as most lefty critics do, as continuing and building on a long, bipartisan tradition of American imperialism.)

When people in this group are angry (as they often are when it comes to politics), they feel they must have good cause, never that they lost a fair fight. No matter how well-supported by facts a conclusion is, if it shows them they're wrong, they'll reject it. They're fond of denouncing any source that proves them incorrect as biased, and try to change the subject after being called out (no matter how politely it's done). Conservatives in the Selective Sourcing group try to appear reasonable (and often think of themselves as so), and will cite sources that likewise try to appear credible, such as National Review and Wall Street Journal. Conservatives in the Personally Nice but Politically Crazy group are more likely to engage in outright culture war, and cite Breitbart.com, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck or Alex Jones. Neither group's claims may stand up to scrutiny, but the Selective Sourcing group at least pretends to be arguing in good faith and attempting persuasion some of the time, whereas the Politically Crazy group is preaching to the converted and yelling at their perceived foes. (Someone can easily slip from the first group to the second, though.)

One way of looking at this group is that they're good people, but just have different political views (essentially, some mix of small or large blind spots). If you like each other personally, a friendship or acquaitance or conversation is workable (if you largely avoid politics). Many of us have at least a few relationships like this, with family members, old friends, coworkers or acquaintances. (It can be a fragile peace, but we deem it worthwhile because of other, positive qualities in the relationship.)

Unfortunately, such allowances break down past a certain point – "She's a good person, apart from being a bigot" isn't very convincing. Some political views aren't mere foibles. Nor is it particularly impressive is someone is nice to their family, friends and others they identify are part of their tribe and nasty to almost everyone else. In such cases, it might be accurate (if harsh) to shift the caveat and say that they're good people in some narrow contexts, but not overall. Or simply say they're not good citizens. For instance, Matt Taibbi's excellent piece on that notable conservative rebranding effort, the Tea Party, observes that the angry, older, white folks driving it are "full of shit" – they don't oppose government spending as they claim, only spending on other American citizens they look down on. People of this sort might have other redeeming qualities, but their political views are comprehensible at best, crazy at worst – far from "reasonable." Whether a friendship or other relationship with them is sustainable or desirable is a personal call.

Personally Obnoxious and Politically Crazy: People in this category are normally easy to identify and it's best to stay as far away as professional or social courtesy permits.

Professional Hacks: This group is paid to advocate positions and will only make concessions for damage control and to pivot, perhaps to a "both sides do it" argument. If you must discuss things with them (or if you want to), make sure to do your homework first and be prepared to combat bullshit.

That's it for now. I might revisit these categories later, and your mileage may vary with how useful they prove to be. But here's to honesty, curiosity, research, humility, sanity and reasonableness.

Monday, July 04, 2016

Independence Day 2016

Happy Independence Day! Normally, I post some songs and other pieces (such as a reading of the Declaration of Independence). This year, given Donald Trump's dogwhistle call to "Take America Back" and his mix of cloaked and overt appeals to bigotry, misogyny, hatred, fear and ignorance – and that he's the presumptive Republican nominee for President of the United States – I thought another vision of America might be welcome.

Here's Reverend Dr. William Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP, speaking to the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) in 2014. Barber's a fine orator and a master of that Southern declamatory style. This speech is roughly 40 minutes long, but it's stirring and well worth a listen:

Bigots and right-wing reactionaries typically think of themselves as the only true Americans. However, although America certainly has a long history of bigotry, it also has a extensive tradition of activism. When it comes to Trump versus Barber, I know which vision I find more thought-provoking and moving.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Memorial Day 2016

Memorial Day is meant for remembering those who died in military service (a worthy commemoration). It's also a holiday that naturally spurs thoughts of civilians killed in war, of living veterans and how they're treated, and how war is discussed in our country. It's only right to pause and remember the dead. And perhaps the best way to honor them the other days of the year is by challenging the belligerati who believe that casually and aggressively endorsing war or torture somehow makes them tough or makes the nation safer. Requiring a high threshold for war shouldn't be a political calculation; it's the position of basic sanity. Unfortunately, saber-rattling insanity is both fashionable and profitable in some circles, and rarely seems to draw the same condemnations that wiser, less bellicose positions do.

This weekend, PBS broadcast a short documentary about The Telling Project, which uses theater to help military veterans talk through their experiences, from losing a limb, to being raped, to PTSD, to contemplating suicide. One of the veterans remarked that 'there's no bigger pacifist than a deployed serviceman.' Rather than letting our national discussions of war be hijacked by the braggadocio of the insecure, the cruel, the calculating and the delusional, we'd benefit from considering the harsh realities of war instead. Rather than letting tough guy (and tough gal) fantasies reign, we should seek out true stories. Rather than letting another bombastic speech from an irresponsible ignoramus dictate the terms of discourse, we should give time to veterans and civilians affected by war, and quietly listen.