Monday, November 2


• I HEART Charles Pierce, vol. CCXXXII:
We are on the precipice of something very dangerous right now. Thirty percent [unemployment] is not the stuff of a sustainable, credible political democracy, which I suppose is OK, since we don't have one any more, and show no signs of being particularly upset about that self-evident fact. We 
saw that this week. The United States of America, which once fed its people and armed the world in order that it could save itself, is unequal in its self-government to the simple task of keeping its citizens healthy and alive. In the task of self-government, the unemployment rate is nearing 100 percent.

• Forget It, Jake, It's Slate: Chris Wilson, "Why couldn't we tell the balloon boy's parents were faking their distress?"
"Because people so differ from each other, evaluating whether an emotion is valid or not is very complicated for an observer," says Jack Mayer, a University of New Hampshire psychologist who pioneered the field of emotional intelligence.

Look, a big problem with the tabloidization of news is that the genuine issues that might be illustrated by something which a wide swath of the populace gets to see--whether it particularly wants to or not--get turned over to the same idiots who tabloidized the story in the first place. There's nothing even remotely interesting about this Heene idiot, not even in the sociological sense, or in noting that his fame-besotted quest sought nothing more than fame and/or riches, and merit be damned; those stories are a dime a networkload. What's interesting--that this country once imagined it had a responsibility toward the Greatness it bestowed upon itself, and now no longer cares--isn't going to get tackled, except peripherally, maybe, in the tsk tsking of the tiny minds whose viewership drives the ugly "celebrity" mania in the first place.

The public debate is now as shallow as our newscasts; we can actually ruminate on the excesses of the Falcon Heene Episode without risking anything, without it meaning a goddam thing. No one with a functioning cortex can imagine doing so will make a damn bit of difference. And even so august a journal as Slate can question the gullibility of, it says, Us while wholly missing the point. (Speak for yourself, by the way; the minute I realized the thing was Flying Saucer Shaped I was ready to vote for conviction.) "It's tough to know when people are lying," says Professor Mayer, adding the customary nothingwhatsoever from his field. The cops had an obligation to take the story seriously so long as it was even remotely possible there was a budding psychopath 5000 feet above Colorado. There aren't any prizes for solving crimes psychically and then rolling up the investigation without bothering with pesky physical evidence. Okay, so there may be a cable series in it for you.

Meanwhile, why did the Sheriff announce, in public, that they'd concluded the parents were telling the truth? Not because he'd come down on one side of the Truth question without the profound insights of a pioneer in the field of emotional intelligence. It was--as he stated later--because the two (or multiple) psychological experts who'd been observing the family found the parents believable.

Get it? It wasn't the human inability to separate Compassionate Conservatism from, well, even more bogus Compassionate Conservatism, which cops deal with every day, with the same mixed results and actuarial odds we all enjoy. It was the pretension of expertise where there is none. From psychologists. Asking another psychologist to explain the "mistake" after the fact is like asking a NASCAR driver if he was the one who caused the wreck.

• Forget It, Jake, It's Jacob Weisberg, "Why gay marriage, getting high, and going to Cuba will soon be legal". :
The chief reason these prohibitions are falling away is the evolving definition of the pursuit of happiness. What's driving the legalization of gay marriage is not so much the moral argument but the pressures from couples who want to sanctify their relationships, obtain legal benefits, and raise children in a stable environment. What's advancing the decriminalization of marijuana is not just the demand for pot as medicine but the number of adults—more than 23 million in the past year, according to the most recent government survey—who use it and don't believe they should face legal jeopardy. What's bringing the change on Cuba is not just the epic failure of the 48-year-old U.S. embargo, but the demand on the part of Americans who want to go there—whether to visit their relatives, prospect for post-Castro business opportunities, or sip rum drinks at the beach.

These are things devoutly to be wished, but I'll believe them when I see them at this point. How many Americans smoked pot in 1968? How many would have gone to Cuba? Gay marriage is a convenient issue, because it has traction, and it should be remembered that miscegenation in marriage remained illegal in some places until the 1970s; there are long hard slogs ahead of us, not facile libertarian advancement through the moral superiority of one's own agreements with the herd. And let's let this stand as a proxy for that Freakernomics dude and the comedy news hosts who love him, though not in That Way. Removing the moral argument from an issue doesn't, well, remove the moral argument from an issue. No moral argument will ever be entirely persuasive, and one can always be found to contradict our own superior positions on every issue. The same goddam thing is true of economic arguments. It's just as foolish to suggest that the law should reflect what large number of people want to do, without qualification. The laws you're trying to replace are there because large numbers of people wanted 'em, too.

It's called gaining historical perspective, and how long, O Lord, is it going to be before it comes back into fashion?
Our forms of prohibition are more sins of omission than commission. Rather than trying to take away longstanding rights, they're instances of conservative laws failing to keep pace with a liberalizing society. But like Prohibition in the '20s, these restrictions have become indefensible as well as impractical, and as a result are fading fast.

Marihuana was legal until 1937; you can look this sorta thing up. Travel to Cuba? Purely a response to the Evil Fidel, who was briefly our buddy until he started nationalizing American-owned property by buying it for exactly the amount the companies had claimed it was worth for tax purposes. Gay marriage probably has fifty different answers (in Indiana, by the way, marriage is defined in the state constitution as a union of a man and a woman; try changing that one in one brief decade, Kreskin); where it represents an extension of guaranteed rights to persons previously denied them it is nothing but a moral/legal argument, whether it's two brave souls or two million who challenge it.
Republicans face a risk in resisting these new realities. Freedom is part of their brand;

Ooops, pardon my snort.
if the GOP remains the party of prohibition, it will increasingly alienate libertarian-leaners

Sorry, sorry. Really. I swear it's involuntary.
and the young. But the party as presently constituted has very little capacity to accept social change. Democrats face a danger in embracing cultural transformations too eagerly.

Again, sorry to keep interrupting, but even ignoring the profound lunacy of that suggestion, what would it have to do with what you've been saying up to this point?
Nearly four decades after George McGovern became known as the candidate of amnesty, abortion, and acid, cultural issues are still treacherous territory for them. Why get in front of change when you can follow from a safe distance and end up with the same result?

And look, if I can have a moment for the vertigo to pass--happens every single time I'm lectured about an historical occurrence from my adult lifetime by someone who was eight at the time, and gives no indication of having any knowledge of the subject beyond some passing remark he caught twenty years later--assuming the Democrats of the past forty years have been secretly itching to legalize opium, gay marry priests, and give Castro the Presidential Medal of Freedom--which, by the way, they fucking haven't--how does this sort of malarky advance the cause of the Socially Evolved Libertarian-Leaner, Mr. Weisberg? The idea that Scoop Fucking Jackson--saddled, mutatis mutandis with a running mate who'd blatantly lied to his vetters, at the same, enormous political cost--would have done better in 1972 than the "liberal" McGovern is at best debatable and at worst pure horseshit. CREEP could have, and certainly would have, hung that Amnesty, Abortion, and Acid tag on any Democratic candidate, and it would have stuck with the red-meat base Nixon had helped Johnson turn into Republicans. Just as the same sort of shit works with the current generation. Democrats ran from McGovern because they're a pack of craven opportunists, not because of astute political calculation. What passes for the American Left may have its natural home in their party, from a choice of two, but the idea that this makes party officials a bunch of Bolshies is a Republican fantasy. Right up there with "Liberal Media". One does wish for a time when someone posing as a sociologically-superior impartial observer would stop perpetratin' it, fer chrissakes.


Anonymous said...

thank you again sir.

Anonymous said...

Yeah. Nothing to do here but stand in awe.

KathyR said...

Craven opportunism is the American Way. Why do you hate America?

bill said...

"It's just as foolish to suggest that the law should reflect what large number of people want to do, without qualification."

Yeah, fer sure. Imagine how many people would run over Dick Cheney with their car (four or five times) if it were legal or, even, if they thought they could get away with it.

Harl Delos said...

I wonder how many people passed over this post, thinking it had to do with margarine.

For those who don't know, an olio is a specialty act performed downstage to keep the audience amused while the upstage set is being changed. In a looser sense, it's a potpourri, but then, many people don't know what potpourri is. It's a mismash, a hash, a miscellany.

I would contend that your post is misnamed. It's not wildly rambling, as my own posts religiously are, and nor is it a diversion from your usual well-written posts. You've taken no intermission.

I can't quibble even with the minutiae; your logic is unassailable by any cogent individual. I am another who habitually stands in awe.

loretta said...

The good news is, they're not very bright - the writers or their tiny readership. And their numbers are diminishing daily - down to 19% last I checked (or those who would admit to being Republican, anyway).

So, despite the fact that hardly anyone writing columns these days has even a passing acquaintance with actual history (and those of us who read and enjoyed history were jeered and asked, "What the hell are you going to do with that librul arts degree?"), and their readership even less inclined to fact check, there are still some of us who do and will persevere, thanks to the Google.