I’ll Be Your Cornhusker Tonight

Posted May 27, 2015 by Tom
Categories: The Good Fight, The Way We Live Now

Tags:

Go Nebraska!

Nebraska on Wednesday became the first conservative state in more than 40 years to abolish the death penalty, with lawmakers defying their Republican governor, Pete Ricketts, a staunch supporter of capital punishment who had lobbied vigorously against banning it.

Manet,_Edouard_-_The_Execution_of_Emperor_Maximilian,_1867

By a 30 to 19 vote that cut across party lines, the Legislature overrode the governor’s veto on Tuesday of a bill repealing the state’s death penalty law. The measure garnered just enough votes to overcome the veto.

Slowly, haltingly, one step forward, often too many back, we progress.

Image:  Edouard Manet, The Execution of Emperor Maximilian 1867

The Arc Of History, Ireland Edition

Posted May 23, 2015 by Tom
Categories: Civil Rights

Tags: , ,

Those of us of a certain age can only marvel at this photograph:

Screen Shot 2015-05-23 at 11.47.41 AM

There you have what was for a generation the face of the IRA — with all of its connections to Catholic Irish history — next to Panti Bliss, aka Rory O’Neill, who serves, semi-accidentally as a leading voice for Irish marriage equality and sex/gender equal rights — who stands next to Frances Fitzgerald, the Irish Republic’s Minister for Justice and Equality*.  To say this is not a juxtaposition that someone watching Irish politics in, say the 80s, would have been able to imagine is to understatement as Velveeta is to food.

All of which is to open up a thread to celebrate a real victory:  Ireland’s Yes vote on its same-sex marriage referendum.  It was barely more than two decades ago that Ireland decriminalized homosexuality.  Now this.  The arc of history bends towards justice…

I’ve no Irish descent in me anywhere; so let me just say thanks to those who voted in favor for making a huge public statement.

Next up, there, crucially, and more and more every day here:  the rights of women to control their own reproductive lives.

Over to you.

*Now there’s a cabinet title I endorse!

Update:  via the Guardian, this from Diarmuid Martin, archibishop of Dublin:

“This is a social revolution,” he told RTE Television. “The church has a huge task in front of it get its message across to young people … The church needs to do a reality check.”

Asked if the church was ill-equipped to deal with these issues, he said: “We tend to think of black and white but most of us live our lives in grey.” The church needed to use the result to harness the energy that has been unleashed in favour of equality for all, the archbishop added.

If the Catholic Church continues along lines suggested here by Martin and in a number of ways by the current Pope,this seems to this Jewish atheist to be an unequivocally good thing.

Update 2:  And the final numbers are in.

Yes:  1,201,607 — 62.07%

No:    734,300 — 37.93%

Yes. It Really Is Brain Surgery

Posted May 4, 2015 by Tom
Categories: Cool Video, Science

To this. Except you can’t.  No selfie you will ever take can trump what Steven Keating achieved:

[Warning: not (to me) gross stuff in the video below. But graphic. Front row seats and all that.]

I love the utter commitment to the prinicple that more knowledge — even tough truths — is always better than less.

Consider this a valentine to your afternoon, in celebration of the first truly warm day of this too-long postponed spring in your humble blogger’s neck of the woods.

On The Unbearable Lightness Of David Brooks

Posted April 28, 2015 by Tom
Categories: bad writing, MSM nonsense, Village News

Tags: ,

I know I’ve been mostly absent, and will continue to be so.  (At least until this makes it through copy editing.)*

I know as well that there’s too much to be talked about to waste much time on the utterly predictable.

And I also know that what I’m about to point out is far less an indictment than, say, today’s column should earn.  I do plan to take a whack at that one sometime soon, unless, as I hope, Charles Pierce eviscerates, and I can just crib.

So this is just a bit of nastiness on my part, some pissed-off snark, on confronting the “look inside” excerpt now available for the divine’ BoBo’s new hacktacular, The Road to Character.  As a matter of substance, I’ll just say that I agree with Driftglass, (via the above-referenced Mr. Pierce), that for David Brooks, such an avenue remains the road not taken.

John_Constable_013

But as a matter of pure spite, let me just say that nothing I’ve read of Mr. Brooks’ new minimum opus changes my core opinion.  He’s got a gift for glib writing, the prose analogue to your easy-listening adult classics.  But in any attempt to sustain prose over the long haul…the cracks show.

Exhibit A.  The first two sentences of work:

“Recently I’ve been thinking about the difference between the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues.  The résumé virtues are the ones you list on your résumé, the skills you bring to the job market and that contribute to external success.”

I’m sorry, but what tin ear, what grudge against English prosody, allowed these clunkers to pass? That’s the barker at the door, the first words one encounters while deciding whether to commit precious hours of one’s life into David Brooks’ care!  Such blunt repetition, the rhythmic fail of the second sentence, the parody of explanation — “résumé virtues are the ones you list on your résumé” — forsooth!  I never would have guessed!  Even if Brooks didn’t mind such clumsiness, where in the name of all that’s pasta was his editor?

Trivial, I know, and I’m hardly a without prose sins of my own to regret.  But as I read reviews that praise Brooks depth or countercultural mastery, it’s worth remembering passages like this one.  Brooks is not a great writer, and the reason isn’t that he can’t manipulate words well when he pays attention.  He clearly can.  Rather, it’s that such hack writing hints at the hack thinker putting cursor to phosphor.  Expressing bad thoughts clearly exposes their flaws…which can and hence must be elided in a fog of mediocre prose.  As here you see.

Bonus reading, which has the added benefit of showing what happens when villagers (even genuinely capable ones) review fellow villagers.  See, for example, Pico Iyer in last Sunday’s New York Times book review:

For every blurred piety here (“We are all ultimately saved by grace”), there’s a sentence that shames everything around it (“Philosophy is likely to be a tension between competing half-truths”).

Umm. Iyer sees in that “Philosophy is likely to be…” a stunning epiphany, a sentence that puts mere piety to shame.  I see a nearly content-free assertion that undercuts itself by word three.  Seasoned Brooks’ readers will recognize the gambit:  in order to justify one of his famous and very often risible claimed dichotomies (resume virtues vs. eulogy virtues) he must impose his judgment on possible contradicting authorities.  Here, philosphy is drained of potency as it fights on the dubious ground of half-truths.  And just in case anyone calls him on it — this magisteral dictum is only “likely” — thus granting Brooks his ex cathdra authority while insulating him, just a bit, from any instance of reality failing to acknowledge his infallibility.

In other words:  this is pure Brooks, a seemingly epigrammatic heap of nonsense, structured to give him both the appearance of gnomic wisdom and plausible deniability.  And this his exceptionally friendly critic sees as masterful.

We need a new culture.

*I can make one prediction with a fair degree of confidence.  Shameless self-promotion to come much closer to the day.

Image:   John Constable, The Hay Wain, 1820-1821.

Posted April 16, 2015 by Tom
Categories: Conservatives, Sex, Stupidity, The Way We Live Now

Tags: , ,

 

Figure_skating_beesWhen a non-crazy parent — Alice Dreger — sits in on her son’s sex-ed class, taught by someone who thinks sex is, well…

Read it and weep.  A taste:

The lesson Jerry wanted to impart? This: “You’ll find a good girl. If you find one who says ‘no,’ that’s the one you want.”

He actually said that. If a girl says no, “that’s the one you want.”

Silly me! I have been teaching my son that if a girl says no, you exit politely and get the hell out of her space.

Oh hell, one more morsel:

Ms. Thomas’s dire warnings continued: “It takes only one sperm to fertilize an egg. It takes only one act of sex to get pregnant.”

I wanted to raise my hand and blurt out, “Not if it’s anal or oral!”

Tizian_011

You get the drift.  Dreger’s twitter feed for the last day or so is a hoot and a half too…or would be if it weren’t so damn depressing.

Dreger’s problem — or the East Lansing High School’s — is that the school has contracted at least part of its sex ed curriculum to the usual suspects:

The abstinence class is part of the district’s overall sex education unit. According to Fletcher, it is called SMART for Sexually Mature Aware Responsible Teens. It’s provided by an independent contractor working with Pregnancy Services of Greater Lansing, a group that counsels pregnant women to avoid abortion.

Lori Bolan, the administrator of SMART, said East Lansing has been using the program for 22 years to cover abstinence. She said it is fact-based using Centers for Disease Control statistics.

“We are trying to give them an option,” she said. “We’re just one portion of what the school provides.”

And yet, inevitably:

Bolan declined to provide the PowerPoint used in the class and the instructor’s name

This last report is from the local paper, which also seems to think the problem isn’t the crap material, but Dreger’s impertinence in giving it a public ridiculing, writing that her choice to live tweet was a shonde:

unfortunately for East Lansing schools, she found a spot with wifi.

In the end, this is yet anothe example of the perils of privatization.  “Independent contracting” of sex-ed to anti-sex, anti women’s autonomy pressure groups is analagous to handing a donor a badge and a gun, or turning convicted criminals into product for processing in private prisons…and so on.  Public goods — an accurately educated school population; professionally policed streets; socially agreed and imposed punishment and rehabilitation are not “luxuries” to be doled out to high bidders or motivated donors.

Or rather they are, but not in civilized societies.

Images:  Photo of bee figure skaters (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it) via bugeater.

Titian, Danaë with Eros, 1544.

The War At Home

Posted April 10, 2015 by Tom
Categories: Cops, The Way We Live Now

Tags:

Via Vox, this information and chart on death-by-cop:

A huge majority of the more than 5,600 deaths on the map are from gunshots, which is hardly surprising given that guns are so deadly compared to other tools used by police. There are also a lot of noticeable fatalities from vehicle crashes, stun guns, and asphyxiations. In some cases, people died from stab wounds, medical emergencies, and what’s called “suicide by cop,” when someone commits suicide by baiting a police officer into using deadly force.

Massacre of the innocents

It’s important to note that thte 5,600 number is an estimate, and a lower bound at that:

D. Brian Burghart, head of Fatal Encounters, estimates that his organization’s collection of reports from the public, media, and FBI only captures about 35 percent of total police killings.

That’s a terribly…useful information gap:

This means that it’s hard to gauge, based on this incomplete data set alone, whether these types of killings are becoming more common.

How wonderfully obscure.

Still the data that do exist speak volumes.  Here’s one way to get a sense of the scale of the violence.  In the same period (actually, 2001- April, 2015) US deaths-in-action in Iraq and Afghanistan total 5374.  Saddam and his army, the Taliban, ISIL and all the rest have killed, at a minimum, ~two hundred fewer Americans than our domestic police.

Make of that what you will.

Image:  Pieter Breughel the Younger, The Massacre of the Innocents, c. 1605-1610.

Appomattox Day

Posted April 9, 2015 by Tom
Categories: The Way We Lived Then

Tags: , ,

On which that genteel butcher Bobby Lee, surrendered the treasonous Army of Northern Virginia to General Ulysses S. Grant.

Grant+Lee

Grant’s terms have generally been regarded as generous, to the point that the military leaders of the rebellion were spared the threat of criminal trials for the actions in defiance of properly constituted Federal authority.  Looking forward, not back, is no new trope in American politics.

In any event, my view of the Civil War echoes Sherman’s:  “secession was treason, was war…”

Apologists for the Lost Cause trump up the usual counters — I’ve just been batting this around with a wistful mythologist on Twitter.  The battle wasn’t for slavery, but state’s rights; the men under arms weren’t traitors — they were just soldiers fighting other men’s battles, or for a misguided but sort-of reasonable goal; and so on.

It is vital, I believe to push back on that nonesense.  That’s not how those at the time saw it, not when it got down to the nub.  Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia was a slave holder’s army, and the documents with which the makers of the Confederacy declared their cause made the reason for secession clear.  State’s rights were the means to the real end:  the permanent power to hold other human beings as property:

For twenty-five years this agitation has been steadily increasing, until it has now secured to its aid the power of the common Government. Observing the forms of the Constitution, a sectional party has found within that Article establishing the Executive Department, the means of subverting the Constitution itself. A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that that “Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free,” and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction.

This sectional combination for the submersion of the Constitution, has been aided in some of the States by elevating to citizenship, persons who, by the supreme law of the land, are incapable of becoming citizens; and their votes have been used to inaugurate a new policy, hostile to the South, and destructive of its beliefs and safety.

That is: only reason secession occurred is because the South finally lost an election.

It is in that context that April 9 is a great day.  Certainly, too much was left undone.  Too much remains undone.  But at Appomattox, the traitor Robert E. Lee’s surrender enshrined at least the possibility that Federal authority could remedy grievous wrong.  And that’s cause for remembrance of a great hope kindled, and of the too-long wait, still ongoing, for its fulfillment —  what Abraham Lincoln saw as the course forward from the moment of surrender:

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Happy Appomattox Day, everyone.

Image: Montage of these two photographs:

32. Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant standing by a tree in front of a tent, Cold Harbor, Va., June 1864. 111-B-36.

145. Lee, Gen. Robert E.; full-length, standing, April 1865. Photographed by Mathew B. Brady. 111-B-1564.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 10,445 other followers