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November 14, 2008

scott eckern: oh, darn, i, uh...

So maybe you heard of the artistic director of a non-profit musical theater concern in California who was discovered to have donated cash to the pro-Proposition 8 movement.  I first read about it here.  It initially caused a backlash from the theater community, who are largely uncomfortable with a fella supporting writing discrimination against the gay and lesbian community into the CA state constitution.

And a few days later, the artistic director, by the name of Scott Eckern, resigned.  Which may seem like a logical conclusion, but has caused consternation among the Prop 8 proponents:

Supporters of the marriage ban said that critics of Mr. Eckern were attacking freedom of expression, and they chastised the theater’s board for subjecting Mr. Eckern to a political litmus test.

"No matter your opinion on Prop. 8, we should all agree that it is wrong to intimidate or harass anyone for exercising their constitutional rights," said a letter to the theater’s board president on Tuesday by Frank Schubert, campaign manager for Protect Marriage, the leading group behind the ballot measure.

Again with the "exercising their constitutional rights" argument.  Haters need to find something else to hide behind, because there is no constitutional protection from the consequences of one's actions.  If the constitutional right they refer to is the First Amendment, then no rights were abridged at all, as the First Amendment has nothing to do with a citizen being able to say whatever they want and everything to do with a citizen being able to say whatever they want without government interference.  The members of the theater community who contacted Mr Eckhern and his employer to let them know that they had no interest in doing further business with them were not attacking freedom of expression in any way -- Mr Eckhern is free to express whatever he wants.  And, if he expresses something objectionable to other citizens, they may well base their business/consumer decisions on that.

Prop 8 is a travesty, as is any unit of legislation that deletes the rights of a certain segment of the population.  But even if the squabble on this were over something less consequential, there is no infringement in criticizing, by word or action, someone else's speech.  (Of course there are exceptions to this rule -- intimidation by violence -- but the world is vast and without generalizations we will drown in footnotes.)

Yeah sure this could devolve into a tit-for-tat, dueling blacklist situation, but what exactly is wrong with that?  Incivility?  Awkwardness?  I'd argue that whatever constitutional freedom expressed by deciding where to spend one's money and which provider of goods/services to give one's money to far exceeds the imagined constitutional freedom to not be responsible for one's own words and actions.

So I'm sorry that the young man had to lose his job -- but it's not that a bad thing happened to him.  He happened to him.

Posted by mrbrent at 12:29 PM

you stay away from bush's free market capitalism!

In advance of his international economic summit this weekend, at which he will be refreshing the drinks of actual world leaders, Acting-President George W. Bush, shared some words of wisdom:
"The crisis was not a failure of the free-market system, and the answer is not to try to reinvent that system," Mr. Bush said, in a 24-minute speech at Federal Hall in downtown Manhattan.

He added: "Free-market capitalism is far more than an economic theory.  It is the engine of social mobility, the highway to the American dream."

The traditional effect of answering the unasked-question is to appear defensive, and to verify the unvoiced answer to the unasked question.  And, in my limited consumption of news-y media, I don't recall so many people asking, "Is the crisis a failure of free-market capitalism?"  So, methinks he doth bla bla bla.

And of course, if that question is if not on everyone's minds but the invisible elephant in the room, then all you have to do is apply a little close scrutiny to the question and things don't look so good for free market capitalism.  That is to say, are there many other candidates for the cause of the crisis?  Well, "greed" is popular, but greed is a pretty strong component of FMC, yes?  The auto industry would like to blame everything on retired employee's refusal to die young, but that one's flimsy enough to ignore (unless it's being shouted by someone on a No Spin Zone).  What else?  Did some socialists sneak in during the dead of night of the Aughties and scotch everything?  Maybe if markets had been deregulated into some negative state of deregulation the crisis could have been averted?  Antiregulation?

No.  As far as the culprit goes, there really wasn't anyone else in the room other than free market capitalism when the deed was done.

And as far as "the engine of social mobility, the highway to the American dream" goes -- I'm sure FMC is in the mix, but my elementary understanding is that the true engine of social mobility (as opposed to wealth-aggregation by the already privileged) was a combination of the New Deal, strong labor unions and a healthy manufacturing base.  Maybe FMC is in the mix, as in "in spite of".

And none of this is an argument to Smash The State, or to nationalize the means of production (er, I mean, well, right).  But to protect FMC as if it were your own personal child who surely couldn't have stabbed those people no matter how many State Pen stints were on his jacket, because, well, he's my son and I now him!  We should instead try to be grown-ups about this, and figure out where we can take the waist in of FMC, and where we can drop the hem.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:46 AM

November 13, 2008

dear sarah palin: "progress" is the awkwardest transitive verb ever

Sarah Palin on long-ago-Weatherman/alleged-Obama-mastermind William Ayers, yesterday, in the context of, "Hey now -- election's over!":
Well, I still am concerned about that association with Bill Ayers.  And if anybody still wants to talk about it, I will, because this is an unrepentant domestic terrorist who had campaigned to blow up, to destroy our Pentagon and our U.S. Capitol.  That's an association that still bothers me.

And I think it's still fair to talk about it.  However the campaign is over.  That chapter is closed.  Now is the time to move on and to, again, make sure that all of us are doing all that we can to progress this nation.

Good Morning America on the issue: the chapter is not so closed yet.

I have a suspicion that Mr Ayers will be well-spoken and will reinforce the question we have all been asking ourselves -- the fuck are they still talking about how the president-elect was on a board of directors with a former 60s radical for twenty minutes?

Posted by mrbrent at 12:04 PM

andrew sullivan: palin violates rule of history-repeating

Hey, I finally found formal validation that it's still okay to write about Sarah Palin and then snort coffee up my nose -- Andrew Sullivan spells it out:
The impulsive, unvetted selection of a total unknown, with no knowledge of or interest in the wider world, as a replacement president remains one of the most disturbing events in modern American history.  That the press felt required to maintain a facade of normalcy for two months -- and not to declare the whole thing a farce from start to finish -- is a sign of their total loss of nerve...  46 percent of Americans voted for the possibility of this blank slate as president because she somehow echoed their own sense of religious or cultural "identity".  Until we figure out how this happened, we will not be able to prevent it from happening again.  And we have to find a way to prevent this from recurring.

That's about as good as anyone could put that, I'd say.

Funny, I feel like I remember not agreeing with Andrew Sullivan at some point in the past -- his support of George Bush in 2000 and the Iraq War in 2003 come to mind.  But!  That's the Just Goes To Show Ya! of the whole thing -- when serious people write seriously, there is actually room for disagreement.  And huuuge disagreement, as in, Sullivan was a large Iraq invasion supporter, and I was an Iraq-supporters-eat-poo proponent.  But, he writes in complete sentences (not fai --, he writes much better than I do, but I'm reducing to make a point), supports premises with facts, and supports arguments with cogency.

In fact, disagreement is in some aspects the fuel of democracy.  That's how a consensus is formed, and then policed, once implemented.  And it's sad, personally, that I largely forgot that in the past eight years.  Which I did not so much because of the idiocy of the Limbaughs and Malkins and Becks of the world, but more because of my willingness to out-ad hominem them.  And believe me, ad hominem is fun.  But, participating in a conversation instead a shouting match, that's actually participating.

Agh, I lost my point.  Sarah Palin: fair game.  Sullivan said so.  And if she's so desperate to be a figure-head, let her be the figure-head of know-nothingism, and may they both enjoy their conversion into punchlines.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:43 AM

November 12, 2008

doom, despair, agony on me

As is said, every profession is a conspiracy against the laity.  (George Bernard Shaw!  Thank you, Internet.)  And it is eveident that one sector of our world that did not take a big post election nap of contentedness is the economy.  So, mostly after the example of Maud, who apparently was born knowing these things, I'm re-buckling down, trying to bring myself up to speed on issues of the economy and whether or not we should be investing in apple barrels, at least for the sake of nostalgia.

And the short answer is, as of this evening, I don't know enough to say anything other than we're really fucked.  In ways that I can't yet describe, other than generally (i.e., the eradication of our union-protected manufacturing base caused a big drop in comsumption by everyone, which was supplanted for a decade or so by loose consumer credit, which chit is being called in, and all the money the Fed is inclined to throw at things will not repair anything but instead bankrupt the government at roughly the same time that everything else goes bankrupt).

Hopefully, I'll learn more soon, and I will report back.

But, what I do know is that, in the same way that formerly unknown military jargon slowly creeped into the common parlance and then became hackneyed action film dialogue, so too will economic-speak.  Give it two years.  "Baltic Dry Index is plummeting, man!"  "The Fed is overleveraged!  I don't think she can take any more!"  "Hyperinflation?  Are you a man... or are you an economist?"

So, screenwriters, start your engines.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:48 PM

fake new york times: booo gawker

Here in NYC, a mild mystery erupted as commuters noticed other readers reading significantly different newspapers than they were reading.  For example, my NYTimes carried the headline -- well, no headlines really jump out.  "Buying Binge Slams To Halt"?  Scary in its implications, but it's nothing like the banner headline of the NYTimes that some others were reading:
IRAQ WAR ENDS

Which caused maybe the first successful double-take I've attempted in years.  And as much as I could stare without being a man-obviously-staring, I saw that all the other headlines were left-leaning wish-fulfillment.  And being too surly to actually ask the reader of this fake paper what the hey was going on, I proceeded to desk with unanswered questions.

Unanswered questions are not anything I dislike.  The mystery maple smell?  The Creepy Gnome?  It is okay to save up some explanations for later, and I figured eventually I'd run into someone that would know what was up with that.

Or I could just power up the computer, as Gawker pierced the veil/ruined it for everyone an hour or so after it started.  It was The Yes Men.  They have a website for the fake paper.

And now the whole thing doesn't seem as much fun as it did on the subway.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:45 AM

November 11, 2008

armistice day

So, as is pretty common knowledge, Veteran's Day (as is being observed today) was originally designated Armistice Day way back in the long ago.  It was named such because of the armistice that ceased hostilities months before the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, which ended what was then known as the Great War.

Unfortunately, other great wars followed, so the name of the original war was changed to World War I, and Armistice Day was changed by act of Congress in 1954 to Veteran's Day.  (History here).

The general dictionary definition of "armistice" is a "temporary suspension of hostilities by agreement between opponents".  So it does make sense that the name/focus of the holiday was changed; why celebrate the end of one war when all these newer, worser wars keep supplanting it?

No disrespect to all the veterans of wars, because they quite frankly deserve a whole lot more than a non-Monday federal holiday, but it's not bad that we had a holiday declared to remember the end of a war.  Once.

Now go buy a vet a beer or two.

Posted by mrbrent at 1:14 PM

what satire needs is more sarah palin

So part of me is all like, "Can we please leave Sarah Palin in the dustbin of history already?"  Even though the circular firing squad is a fun thing to watch, and the idea of a candidate with continent/county problems and a wit dulled by ambition is fascinating and all, but there are more important misspoken words out there and new fights to fight and, really, what's the degree of difficulty on this?  Is it so hard to make fun of a mockery of a person?

And then she persists, barging her way into the headlines, and I start to feel like it's civic duty to mock and deride.  Piñatas are not hung just to sway in the breeze and look pretty.  And, as Ryan Tate points out, if she'd just shut up and go away her reputation and GOP good will might regenerate -- to revisit the campaign in interview after interview does not serve her, is not good strategery.

But, sadly, she can't not right now.  As long as the Republican Party is going to have a long dark night of the soul, and wrestles with the issue of how to go forward, she, and all the Pawlentys and Romneys too, have to remain visible, just to be considered a candidate for flag-bearer of the party, and just to create the impression of imminence for the '12 elections.  She doesn't have the luxury of hanging back, brushing up on some book learnin' and reemerging tan, rested and ready in two years -- she has to plow through that door God opened now.  If she isn't present as a candidate to fill the vacuum of GOP figurehead, then someone else might, and she if nothing else has perfected ambition on a national scale.

What does this all mean?  Well, Sarah Palin season has been extended by a couple weeks.  It'll be nice.  A slow comedown from the election, instead of a jarring cold turkey.  So no need to put away your sentence diagramming skills just yet.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:07 AM

November 10, 2008

and we close the book on weeping for now

In case you haven't seen this link yet (inevitably intro'd with something like "YOU WILL CRY"), please read this incredibly dignified and moving Washington Post story about a man who worked at the White House for many years.

If anyone can remember, or is aware of, a presidential election that produced more tears (of the good kind) than this one did, I'd be obliged to hear about it.  I mean, of the elections I've lived through, I don't remember it happen.  In '80, there was no, "Finally, an old white fella in the White House!" and in '00, no "Finally, a failed scion of an oil family!"  Etc.

Posted by mrbrent at 2:51 PM

mufreesboro: a hint of the opposite of optimism

I've spent some time in Memphis, and I do love that town, between the BBQ and the stunning amount of gainfully-employed musicians up and down Beale Street.  And the people!  They are some nice folk.  I've got a good friend in Knoxville and another from close to there.  And my beautiful wife is obsessed with spending some quality time at Dollywood -- so much so that, driving back from Memphis last New Year's, we swung by the grounds on the hope that it might be open even though all the literature said it would not be.

So, Tennessee?  It's okay in my book, and I look forward to returning.

Having said that, it's very clear that Mufreesboro is not only clearly misspelled in so many ways, but also the pride of the very South itself.  Or at least of the caricatured version of the South that many Southerners abhor.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:45 AM

November 9, 2008

I read this story in Friday's NYTimes, and, two days later, I am surprised to see what kind of legs it had, as the websites devoted to excerpted/commenting on MSM stories (i.e., most of them) have linked the hell out of it.  It is about how committed core conservatives, or at least that portion of them that worry about black helicopters, are so freaked out by an Obama presidency that they now need to buy more guns than they can possibly shoot at one time:
“He’s a gun-snatcher,” said Jim Pruett, owner of Jim Pruett’s Guns and Ammo in northwest Houston, which was packed with shoppers on Thursday.

“He wants to take our guns from us and create a socialist society policed by his own police force,” added Mr. Pruett, a former radio personality, of President-elect Barack Obama.

Needless to say, this is after careful and consistent reassurance by the Obama campaign that nothing of the sort is true.  "But Rush said so!"  Yes, Porkchop, I know.

The takeaway of this is not exclusively to mock and deride the righteously ill-informed (not exclusively).  It's more that the story illustrates one of the facts of the new landscape of the post-election nation -- the patriotic highground of the rightwing fringe has evaporated.  After eight years of ascendancy, during which God/gays/guns republicans enjoyed a perception of victory of their beliefs over those held by the rest of the country, in one fell swoop that perception has eroded.  And the more that they lose their shit and prepare for their inevitable persecution by the ATF and the revenuers, the more they delegitimize themselves.

In other words, they've resoundingly been returned to the fringe.  Which is a nice place for them.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:35 AM