Archive for October 2012

How To Spot A Bad Parent: Romney Family Case Study (1)

October 19, 2012

You know you have a problem when even the first runner up in the John McCain Get Off My Lawn Steeplechase — Tommy Thompson — has a better handle on setting standards for his kids than does the Party of Family Values nominee for president, W. Mitt Romney.

I know that the Thompson fils “apology” for going birther on the President was weak sauce indeed, but still, Thompson père was sufficiently engaged to assert a family norm:

Later, however, the campaign sent a statement: “The Governor has addressed this with his son, just like any father would do. Jason Thompson said something he should not have, and he apologizes.”

Flash forward to aspiring punk Tagg Romney, and that now-familiar bit of macho posturing (via GOS):

Bill LuMay, WPTF talk radio:What is it like for you to hear the President of the United States call your dad a liar?

Tagg Romney: Well, you want to jump out of your seat and rush down to the debate stage and take a swing at him.

Before getting into the meat of the parenting failure here, let me point you to a completely imagined footnote to capture my contempt for the kind person who utters such utterly safe, after-the-fact macho stylings.*

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming:

Ta-Nehisi Coates, who has been killing it on his blog lately, nails the brute fact that lies behind Tagg’s stated desire to beat down that African-American guy who had the temerity to speak to his father without the requisite deference.

It’s worth trying to imagine any black man associated with a credible black candidate for the presidency, joking about beating down the incumbent president of the United States. Racism isn’t just in what you do and don’t say, but in the terrain you walk. It is baked in the cake — a fact which is hard to understand when you are the party of white people.

In a follow up post, Ta-Nehisi allows Romney’s defenders to make his point. Katrina Trinko, writing at National Review, presented an alternative argument to rebut claims of racism.  Her take: lighten up, everyone. It was just a joke.  Both sides do it:

In Wisconsin, I asked her [Michelle Obama] if she was offended by Bill Clinton’s use of the phrase ‘fairytale’ to describe her husband’s characterisation of his position on the Iraq war. At first, [Michelle] Obama responded with a curt ‘No’. But, after a few seconds, she affected a funny voice. ‘I want to rip his eyes out!’ she said, clawing at the air with her fingernails. One of her advisers gave her a nervous look. ‘Kidding!’ Obama said. ‘See, this is what gets me into trouble.’

Ta-Nehisi’s response:

To point out the obvious, the phrase “black man” was not accidental. In America black men, specifically, enjoy the stereotype of being hyper-violent — one which regrettably spans the political spectrum. Michelle Obama is many things. “Black man” is not one of them.

Obviously (at least I hope so) I’m with Ta-Nehisi here.

Tagg’s bluster comes directly out of that haze of untouchability and unchecked agency that is the point of secure privilege.  Only those with unencumbered access to power get to say stuff like that — and the “boys will be boys” line of those making excuses for the insufferable Tagg is exactly the form in which privilege maintains the world view that makes such unearned goods available to those on top.  One can’t imagine a black man getting away with bragging about wanting to strike a white president because to do so violates all we know in our bones about the way power and authority is divided in this society…which, of course, is exactly what makes Obama so important, and so threatening to those for whom the end of the assumption of white privilege is unacceptable.

There’s more than just race at play, to be sure.  Class is a big thing here, at least as I see it.  As I say below, we’ve all encountered a Tagg — all noise and fury after it’s wholly safe to bluster. But there’s more than just barroom courage here (or, in deference to Tagg’s beliefs, I guess I should say soda-fountain fortitude).

Tagg Romney has never had to face a moment of material uncertainty — much less want — in his life.  He spent his life in the company of those similarly fortunate, or those who defer to his material and status advantages.  He gets to think that whacking someone — anyone, not just the President — is perfectly routine reaction to his frustration because no one in his charmed circle has ever dared to school the young prince.

You don’t get this kind of nonsense unless the speaker is at some critical emotional level unaware of the meaning his words — and such obliviousness is born of the bubble in which class advantage secures and imprisons you.

And that’s where the Romney parents’ failure comes in.

I known some seriously wealthy people, and count as good friends some of their number.  I know their kids.  I’ve seen what you do when you want them to grow up right.

The essence of the lesson:  manners.

Simple as that. (And yeah, I know I’m channeling my inner fogey.  Live with it.)

Regard for others; awareness of the debt of gratitude and obligation of respect due to those whom you encounter along the way; acceptance of the duty of courtesy you owe both strangers and your own — hell, just remembering to say thank you for the most anonymous of services, the busser filling your water glass or whatever.

The purpose is not simply to reward a favor done, nor to recognize some stranger momentarily encountered, nor even to inculcate an awareness of the degree to which you depend on, say, those who clothe you and feed you and keep you warm (though all of these are damned important).

Rather, the ultimate reason parents try to teach their kids the basics of social interaction is the same behind the instruction in basic training:  the sergeant puts you through the repetition of drill not because troops in combat use parade-ground manoeuvres, but because the system aims  to create a world view, a set of mental reactions that don’t have to be thought; they’re just part of who you are.  And as a parent, you — I! — want my kid just to know that other people matter, and never have to step through to the understanding that those folks out there are real, and that they exist in relationships to him that impose obligations on everyone involved.**

Tagg somehow missed that lesson.  The words are his, and he owns whatever scorn and disgust he earns with them.  But Tommy Thompson understood at least this much:  that it was his job to say both that his son’s words were not acceptable: not as public discourse, and — crucially — not as part of his own family culture.

Mitt’s reaction to Tagg’s tantrum?

[Crickets]

I’ll leave it to others to decide what this tells us about a man who would be president.

*Here it is:  anyone who’s been out and about even a little has run into a guy like Tagg.  He’s the fellow with store-bought abs who’s watched the entire Mel Gibson filmography who when he gets really, really mad, throws his chest out, spreads his arms wide, fists forming, bends his elbows — ready to grab — and tells his friends “hold me back!”

And then again:  “really guys, I’m ready to go for him, better hold me back.  Hold me.”

And then his makes his  strain and his face twists.  He shouts something and his buddies tug a little on him.  He shrugs, as if breaking a way — but not too hard; never too hard. And then he lets himself be led away, telling anyone in earshot how that other fellow was lucky, lucky, that the gang wouldn’t let him get into it.

Chickenhawk, in other words. Coward, in a party that seems to thrive on an endless supply of those hollow men who talk the talk but never walked the walk.(Why yes, five-deferment-shoot-your-friend-in-the-face-Dick Cheney, I’m looking at you. Why do you ask.  And at your codpiece too, Mr. Bush.)

Tagg’s a punk, and all I can think when I look at his image is how much I’d like to take his lunch money.

****An aside:  my son came home from school yesterday telling me about how he and his best friend were trying to get a couple of other kids they know to stop taunting and goading their classmates.  He was upset that the teachers monitoring recess weren’t on the case, but he wasn’t letting it slide to them either.  I couldn’t have been more proud. (Though my wife did send off an immediate email to the proper folks, of course.)

Images: Thomas Eakin, Between Rounds, 1899

J. W. M. Turner, The Slave Ship, 1840.  I think I’ve used this painting before, but hell — it’s a truly great work of art, and I believe it’s important to remember as best we can the sustained, lethal violence at the heart of the history of race in America.  Turner’s picture does that better than any words of mine could.  So you get to look at it again.

Get Me To The Church On Time

October 18, 2012

Good news out of the 2nd circuit. A second appeals court rules on DOMA:

We conclude that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act violates equal protection and is therefore unconstitutional. Judge STRAUB dissents in part and concurs in part in a separate opinion.

I know that Dinesh D’Souza is a boil on the ass end of a louse infesting Eric Cantor’s sheets, but still, the juxtaposition of his story with this gives me a chuckle.  And when you read the opinion, It Gets Better:  Dennis Jacobs, Chief Judge for the circuit and a George H. W. Bush appointee, writing for the majority, handed the House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (aka BLAG)* its collective head:

BLAG argues that, unlike protected classes, homosexuals have not “suffered discrimination for longer than history has been recorded.” But whether such discrimination existed in Babylon is neither here nor there. BLAG concedes that homosexuals have endured discrimination in this country since at least the 1920s. Ninety years of discrimination is entirely sufficient to document a “history of discrimination.”

More:

The question is not whether homosexuals have achieved political successes over the years; they clearly have. The question is whether they have the strength to politically protect themselves from wrongful discrimination…

David Lat, writing at Above the Law, pours an extra pinch of salt in BLAG’s wounds:

It would appear that the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG), which is defending DOMA, has now lost at least six cases in a row — and spent about $1.5 million doing so.

Your taxpayer dollars at work.

One last thought:  Lat points to commentary by Chris Geidner at BuzzFeed (where you can find the full text of the opinion) who notes what seem to me to be a couple of very important elements to the court’s ruling. For one, as Jacobs wrote:

Because DOMA is an unprecedented breach of longstanding deference to federalism that singles out same-sex marriage as the only inconsistency (among many) in state law that requires a federal rule to achieve uniformity, the rationale premised on uniformity is not an exceedingly persuasive justification for DOMA.

And for another, perhaps yet more significant determination, Geidner writes:

Beyond striking down the law itself, the most significant development in today’s ruling is that the Second Circuit held that laws that classify people based on sexual orientation, like DOMA, should be subjected to a heightened form of scrutiny when courts examine the government’s claimed reasons for such laws. The holding that “intermediate scrutiny” applies makes the Second Circuit the first federal appeals court to do so. The First Circuit did not apply heightened scrutiny in its earlier decision striking down DOMA.

The Second Circuit, however, held:

“In this case, all four factors justify heightened scrutiny: A) homosexuals as a group have historically endured persecution and discrimination; B) homosexuality has no relation to aptitude or ability to contribute to society; C) homosexuals are a discernible group with non-obvious distinguishing characteristics, especially in the subset of those who enter same-sex marriages; and D) the class remains a politically weakened minority.”

I Am Not A Lawyer, so I’ll leave it to those members of the commentariat that are to weigh in on the significance of those aspects of the ruling.  But naively, it seems like a big deal to me.

All of which to say:  good times.

And to celebrate such, how about a couple of tunes?  The first, sent to me by a member of the BJ community, is a  sweet (perhaps too much so for some of you jackals) love song, purposed now to support same-sex marriage rights in the various referenda up for grabs around the country:

And the second? Well, consider it an antidote to any excess of sentiment above:

*BLAG is, of course, hardly bipartisan.  With three GOP members to two Dems, it is the vehicle for the House leadership to bother themselves with what American citizens do in their private lives.  It took up this case after the Obama administration decided it could not defend DOMA’s constitutionality.

Image:  Augustus Leopold Egg, The Travelling Companions, 1862.

October 18, 2012

Good work by the LA Times  yields ~2:40 of pure pleasure

watch?v=XIRfTAq21ek

You’re welcome.

For A Good Time On The InterTubes: Women Scientists-in-Binders [Self Aggrandizement Alert]

October 17, 2012

Attention conservation notice (h/t Cosma Shalizi)This is a purely (well, hopefully not, actually) self-aggrandizing break from debate mastication.

I’m pretty sure this crowd knows by now that I host an internet radio show once a month (one of three hosts in the (almost) weekly slot) on science and its surrounding culture.  The strand is called Virtually Speaking Science, and it’s part of the expanding Virtually Speaking empire created by Jay Ackroyd, a commenter here and a front-pager over at Atrios’ place, Eschaton.

I’ll be doing another netcast this evening, October 17 at 5 p.m. EDT — and it’s going to be a good one, I think.

To get a sense of some of the issues to be discussed, what’s notable about this picture?

Well, lots, of course — and don’t even get me started on the bizarre proportions misproportion of the left arm and hand [vs. the right]..*

But you may notice a certain common attribute shared by the figures depicted here — which visible evidence of the historical reality of career paths in the sciences is something my guest, Professor Nancy Hopkins, has done as much to change as any single person in the American academy.

Hopkins, an MIT colleague is both a top flight biologist (her research has focused on development and cancer and she is particularly well known for her work on zebrafish as a model for basic questions in developmental biology) — and a real hero of the drive for gender equity at MIT and really, throughout the tier 1 research university world.  As often happens with top flight researchers, she is part of a lineage of scientific inquiry that provides a glimpse of the creation story (myth?) of molecular biology — as she was trained by Jim Watson and Mark Ptashne — and the Watson connection is rich in this context.

(Just as a bit of a spoiler, we’ll probably talk a bit about Rosalind Franklin, to whom I have a family connection.  When I first met Watson, I mentioned that bit of clan history, and he blanched just a bit.  I had thought it was because the mere mention of Franklin gave him something of a shock, but I found out a little later that my older brother had met Watson just a couple of weeks before — and had walked up to him saying almost exactly the same thing…so the man Peter Medawar called Lucky Jim must have felt that the Franklin family was stalking him…;)

Hopkins managed to advance the cause of gender equity in the 02139 zip code the MIT way — confronting real barriers to her own work, she found the handful of other women faculty in the sciences similarly constrained, and then went to central administration to get support for a study.  She and her colleagues then went out and did that radical thing, collecting actual data on measurable aspects of faculty research experience: how much space, when, what kinds of support and all that.  She  and her co-workers were able to demonstrate clear and significant discrimination, and to their and the Institute’s credit, central administration responded with real measures to address the issues raised.  A report published in 2011 documents the changes within MIT [PDF], and it notes both significant change and considerable room for further progress.

By the way — just to link up with another of my recent conversations, Hopkins and her colleagues lived and have now documented the same phenomenon Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote about so powerfully in his piece Fear of a Black President.”  Women in science have had to fight through the “twice as good” demand and constraint for a long, long time — and to a greater extent than should still obtain in this century of the fruitbat, they still do.  That’s where Hopkin’s work is now taking her, as she documents how the playing field within and around the academy is still far from level.  We will talk about that work too.

Do tune in if you have a moment, and/or pick up the podcast  (either at Blog Talk Radio  or on iTunes) within a day or two.

Oh — by the way.  No binders were harmed in the making of this post.

*completely off topic, but I found W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn to be incredibly moving — and he has a wholly strange and wonderful discussion of this painting early in the text.

Image:  Rembrandt van Rijn, The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, 1632.

Against Hysteria (Sullignam Style)

October 16, 2012

Blogger’s note: I frame this post with my own Andrew Sullivan frustration, but I really do just want to enable a random five minutes of fun for all of us.  So don’t think that you have to hate on our man with the beard.  You can, of course, and have at it.  But it ain’t a prior necessary act if all you want to do is hum along with the tune.  No es muss sein in these parts, buckaroos.

———————————————

watch?v=kbJcQYVtZMo

Not to pick on our man Sullivan, but there is an alternative to howling that your Knight-In-Shining-Armor-Of-The-Day has failed you.  You might try using a very bully pulpit for the sustained, relentless coverage of (a) improving economic news and (b) the pervasive intellectual and moral dishonesty of Romney-Ryan and the rest of the GOP.*

Also too, some courage, or rather that resilience that comes with taking a moment of pleasure in the midst of the battles we all daily fight.

Now, I have a friend and co-worker, a soprano, who loathes the Ode to Joy — to her it’s a job, and a rough one:  twenty minutes of screaming over a blare of strings, brass and percussion.  But damn if Beethoven-by-street doesn’t make me smile in ways that no amount of Sully-whinging can touch.

You may consider this an open thread.  Flag favorite flash-mob videos in the comments, if you wish.

*To be fair to Sullivan, he does not shy away from excoriating the GOP, nor its ticket. My complaint is with the lack of intensity — by which I mean that kind of relentless repetitive posting that Sullivan has deployed to document Obama’s polling slide.  As I write this, the Dish has on its front page three posts that bemoan that slide.  It has one on the complete nonsense at the heart of Romney’s positions — a piece discussing the jobs “plan” that isn’t.  There are a bunch more that are essentially process pieces — horse race, poll internal analyses and so on.

But Sullivan is not beating the drum for what he says he believes:  that Romney/Ryan form a clear and present danger to the republic [and the world -- ed.].  He does pound the skins on what he sees as almost a betrayal by Obama, a crappy 9o minutes out of a four year term.  I do not contest that Obama’s last debate performance last time out was rough and has had really worrying consequences.

But there is no doubt in my mind that without even demanding that we all leap into the hack gap, to flat out pretend that what happened didn’t, still, simply, repeatedly hammering on  what Romney actually says and what it means is not just useful.

It’s a patriotic duty.

At which Sullivan is now failing.

Freude!

And don’t you forget it.

Isaac Newton vs. Paul Ryan…

October 11, 2012

…who you gonna trust?

Paul Ryan on credit, debt and the wealth of nations:

You can’t spend, tax, regulate and borrow your way to prosperity.

[Tweet by @PaulRyanVP (little ahead of yourself there fella, wouldn't you say? --ed.) at 11:40 on Wed. 10 Oct.]

Or — perhaps you can.

Isaac Newton:

If interest be not yet low enough for the advantage of trade and designs of setting the poor on work…as divers understanding men think it is not…the only proper way to lower it is more paper credit till by trading and business we can get more money.” (Italics added. Any invidious shadow that might fall upon the aspirant to the Vice Presidency is wholly intended.)

[Newton to John Pollexfen, MP and member of the Board of Trade, 1700.¹]*

In fact, of course, modern capitalism, the rise to power and great wealth of first Britain, and then ourselves and an increasing proportion of humanity, turns on the creation of credit, the ability of nations and individuals to borrow today against tomorrow’s increase in capacity, invention, and comfort.  It is precisely by paying Tuesday for the (means of making) hamburgers today that the whole system works.  If Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney have their way, we will slow our growth as a nation and as individuals, families, circles of friends will  suffer the consequences in diminished lives and opportunities.  (That such loss would fall  more on the mass of us than on those who recline at ease in Mr. Romney’s tax bracket is, of course, something that Adam Smith understood very well too — but that discussion is for another post.)

And if you don’t believe me? Take it up with my man Izzy:

But be careful — he really was a tad smarter than young Paul.

¹quoted in G. Findlay Shirras and J. H. Craig, “Sir Isaac Newton and the Currency” The Economic Journal, Vol. 55, No. 218/219 (Jun.-Sep., 1945) pp. 230-231.

*I’d be failing my Galtian duty as a profit maximizer if I didn’t mention that I discuss Newton’s role in coming up with new conceptions of money in my book Newton and the Counterfeiter, available at Amazon and wherever books are sold (also as an audiobook, where my sales are, alas languishing).

Images:  Marinus van Reymerswale, The Money Changer and his Wife, 1541.

Sir Godfrey Kneller, Portrait of Isaac Newton, 1689.

I Believe The Word You’re Looking For Is “Boy.”

October 9, 2012

Soonergrunt and I saw this at about the same time*, but here’s that survivor of adversity Josh Romney commenting on the nature and character of the President of the United States (via TPM):

“I don’t know if you guys saw the debate last week,” Josh Romney said, as the crowd cheered and applauded. “I take a lot of pride in that, because — I don’t know if you noticed, but I was — me and my brothers were responsible for my dad doing so well…

“So as a father, he learned how to debate an obstinate child. We had a lot of fun, we had a lot of fun watching the debate.”

Seriously, once again, I find myself in the odd position of wanting to thank a member of the opposing team.  Really, Josh, I appreciate this insight, this glimpse inside the real views of Team Romney.

The President of the United States — the one who steered the country through the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the one who passed the most significant health care reform in two generations, the one who saved the auto industry (in which your own family once took pride, as I recall), the one who steered a very delicate course that ended with the fall of more than one dictator and the transformation of autocratic Arab regimes into something much closer to one their own people recognize as legitimate, the guy who got Bin Laden and all the rest — that great American is to you “an obstinate child.”

Really?

Oh — and I forgot to mention.  That president, our president, your president, like it or not, happens to be the first African-American to hold that office, which among many other things means he has to deal with a level of identity pressure unlike anything a born-rich, never-has-to-wonder-about-your-children’s-children’s-material-well-being guy like yourself.  And with all of that you’re going to call that man “an obstinate child.”  Just a brat arguing with Daddy-knows-best at the dinner table.  A servant, perhaps, a member of the lower orders, who should, by rights, know his place?

As I said, the word you are looking for is “boy.”  Really, you just said it.

IOW:  we approach asymptotically the point at which the entire GOP shouts as one: Ni-CLANG!

Oh. One more thing. Again, thanks Josh.  A significant portion of your dad’s polling boost has come from increased enthusiasm on your side, and a depressed drop on ours.  Stuff like this makes me and mine take notice, and it only does us good when you stir the pot this way.

Speaking out of snark for just one minute, despite all the evidence to date, Josh Romney’s remark reminds me once again that there is simply no bottom over there — no reservoir of shame nor self awareness that can puncture the single conviction that I can be sure the Romney clan possesses:  that theirs is the divine right to rule.  Such faith is, of course, singularly disqualifying its possessors from the reward they seek.

Let us make it so.

*Soonergrunt twittered on it first, but I got to Starbucks WiFi before he did, so there!

.Image: Jan Mitjans, Portrait of Maria of Orange with Hendrik van Zuijlestein and a servant,  c. 1665


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