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January 15, 2011

saturday night saloon ep 5

And this is the last time that I will write and suggest that you attend the Saturday Night Saloon this evening, where the final episode of a play I wrote, "Jack O'Hanrahan and the One-Sided Window", will be performed, which is a little comic something set in a speculative version of the 1920s with snappy dialogue and a Glenn Beck figure.  And since we're old friends, I'll say that if you make it, you will see the scariest bad guy yet, Teenage Ayn Rand.

Free show, cheap beer.  Info at the link above.  It's in Bushwick, so you can lie and tell your friends that you're going to Roberta's.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:42 AM

humor is not innately conservative

Referring links?  Boring stuff, we know.

But to the person(s) who visited this site searching the phrase "humor is innately conservative" — no, it's not.

I actually don't think that humor is innately anything anymore.  It's universal.  But I do think that there are different senses of humor, and those of liberals and conservatives are far apart.  In fact I'd say, anecdotally, that the two sides do not think each other funny.  Conservatives wonder what the big deal about Patton Oswalt is, and we wonder how anyone could sit through the fat jokes of Mike and Molly.

But humor itself?  It's above all this, laughing at us.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:43 AM

January 14, 2011

today's bad news for the day

In an odd confluence, both of today's Paul Krugman and David Brooks columns approach an odd sort of consensus concerning Incivility and its Discontents.

First, Brooks suggests the motivating force behind incivility: incurious righteousness:

The problem is that over the past 40 years or so we have gone from a culture that reminds people of their own limitations to a culture that encourages people to think highly of themselves...

So, of course, you get narcissists who believe they or members of their party possess direct access to the truth. Of course you get people who prefer monologue to dialogue. Of course you get people who detest politics because it frustrates their ability to get 100 percent of what they want. Of course you get people who gravitate toward the like-minded and loathe their political opponents.

This echoes the previous post concerning Slacktivist's Red Dawn Theory.

Don't get me wrong — the Brooks is as doofy as usual as he goes all Cotton Mather on our asses, and there's a bit too much misplaced nostalgia for times that never were, but I like the point he's making — what do the unreasonable want?  Everything and nothing less.

Which brings us to Krugman, much less mystical and much more bleak than Brooks and his magic beige carpet.  Why do we as Americans have such a hard time meeting in the middle?  Because there is no middle:

Today’s G.O.P. sees much of what the modern federal government does as illegitimate; today’s Democratic Party does not. When people talk about partisan differences, they often seem to be implying that these differences are petty, matters that could be resolved with a bit of good will. But what we’re talking about here is a fundamental disagreement about the proper role of government.

And it's a fundamental disagreement for which I don't see an easy outcome.  Krugman brings up abortion as an example of a fundamental disagreement that we've managed to navigate for nearly forty years, but I would remind Krugman that we've done so largely by not bringing it up at dinner parties and somehow glossing over the fact that doctors get killed and clinics get bombed.

Posted by mrbrent at 12:02 PM

slacktivist and the red down cosplayers

Moving right along!

Now that the dual performances of the President and Sarah Palin have successfully put the shootings of last weekend in the rear view mirror, let me share this very nice post by username Slacktivist that puts forth an interesting proposition w/r/t the motivations of the Tea Party, which can be summed up as they are Red Dawn cosplayers:

By pretending to believe that America is on the verge of collapse into a totalitarian tyranny, they can pretend to themselves that they are the vanguard of a courageous resistance.  The Red Dawn fantasy isn't all that different from any other childhood fantasy about what if there were dragons?  And what if I was brave and good and strong?  And what if I slew the dragon and everybody cheered for me because I was brave and good and strong and I slew the dragon?  Wouldn't that be cool?

The problem arises when, finding the world sadly devoid of dragons, they decide to invent other monsters with which to do battle -- assigning the role of monster to their neighbors, their political opponents, their elected officials.  Those People, they say, are monsters, demons, baby-killing Satanists, kitten-burning apologists.  They're evil.  They must be stopped.

That's actually a lot less mean than it seems on the face of it.  It's the internalization of the American exceptionalism which has been forced down our gullets for the past thirty years — if America is the Most Awesome, then I am the Most Awesome because I am American, and if someone disagrees with my Most Awesome self about how to run America, then they are a threat to the very fabric of our freedom.  Seems like a good start.

There is of course no way not to be patronizing when putting in writing, "What makes these inscrutable people tick?" which is problematic because a trait not beloved by the Tea Party or even the conservative right is smugness and patronization.  It's a risk I'll have to run.

There is much more good stuff in the post, BTW, so add it to your queue.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:08 AM

January 13, 2011

watermelon rutabega

A couple things on this topic that will not die concerning eliminationalist imagery and subtext and lone gunmen:

Last night I went around and around on this with a friend, who is smarter than I am, and he was hammering me pretty hard over the fact that Loughner was (and is now demonstrably) unconnected to any of the Tea Party invective.  But, I explained, if a political wing winkingly appeals to baser instincts with a rhetoric that is undeniably interwoven with the implicit threat of violence, if the thing imagined by that does actually happen, it's worth talking about no matter what.  Friend disagreed, but added that the greater point of the Bad Rhetoric is always worth talking about.  He's right; I'm still sticking to my point, or at least trying to re-say it enough times until it makes really good sense.  I insist that if you look at the long list of Bad Rhetoric, what you are seeing is not a ciphered message to the faithful, but instead a dog whistle to the crazified.  Which is worth talking about when violence errupts.

Ultimately it's an argument that I am inserting myself into on purpose.  Was it fair on my part?  I'd like to think so, but I'm fallible.  And also I don't think that my shard of conversation is intended to exclude all the others — health care and gun control are both topics of greater preventative value. Finally, at this point, and this is not absolving me of anything, enough has happened since last Saturday that the idea of how one should act in the moments after it happened, or even with some kind of respectful distance from the event, is now irrelevant.  It'd be impossible to separate what's happened since then from what might have or might not have happened.  Woulda, coulda.  The conversation about how people like me should have responded and the conversation about how we talk about things now are two unrelated conversations.  I'm focused on the second one, at this point.

But the good news is, fer fack's sake, that conversation seems to be about done?  Though I haven't seen reaction to the President's speech (which seemed to be a nice bit of work on his part) yet.  I guess there's always a mop bucket right around the corner for someone to get their foot stuck in.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:33 AM

January 12, 2011

jeff koons has all yr balloon dogs

Intellectual property news: lawyers for noted artist Jeff Koons have sent a cease and desist letter to a San Francisco store/gallery to ask that they stop selling bookmarks that look like balloon dogs.  Because Koons, a conceptualist whose artwork can be more about concept and context than actual execution, has created (or had created for him) statues in the shapes of balloon dogs.  So then he is claiming that his works are protected under copyright, and therefor the bookends are an infringement of his IP rights.  (I haven't read the actual letter, so I'm unsure if Koons is alleging copyright infringement or some kind of interference with his trademark rights or both.)

So this raises the question: does Jeff Koons actually own balloon dogs now that he made a big old statue of one?  Excellent question, though a misleading one.  Koons definitely owns something, and it's not the concept of "balloon dogs" or all balloon dogs everywhere.  He owns certain rights in the fixed expression of his concept that resulted in the balloon dog statue.  This would mean that you definitely could not sell photographs of this statue — it's not your statue, after all.  My guess is that if this were to be prosecuted further, Koons' lawyers would try to convince that the bookends are not generic balloon dogs but the actual balloon dog that Koons had made, which of course was a generic balloon dog from the limited number of ways to make a dog from a balloon.  I doubt that Koons would win, but I'm sure he can afford an army of very expensive lawyers, and that's more important than being right.

Of course, the point would remain that Koons is a douchebag for doing this.  So there's that.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:21 AM

hey, remember sarah palin?

Sarah Palin has a very running-for-president response to discussion of the relative merits of the tone of her political speech.  In it her speechwriter misstates the premise, waits a whole paragraph before dropping a strawman in and invokes the phrase "blood libel", which someone on her staff should really look up sometime.

It's what they call "par for the course" and is certainly not the last word.  There's also a video of her reading the essay, which I did not watch but did notice that she has a flag behind her, which is not something you see every day in the homes of people who are governor of nothing.

But there is an interesting sentence in there worth talking about:

If men and women were angels, there would be no need for government.

It's kind of a toss-off line, a way to get from one place to the other, and as such is presented as patently axiomatic — i.e., "no one could possibly disagree with this universal truth, so let's not spend much time on it."  But I actually do have a problem with it.  It's bleak and unfriendly and absolutely wrong.

Government is not the last resort.  Government is what happens when you achieve a certain population benchmark.  It is totally possible to homestead it out away from all the other people, dig your own well, grow your own food, pick your own nose.  But when you take people and put them all together, the people pretty quickly figure out that there are certain organizational aspects of a community that don't take care of themselves.  The waste needs to get disposed of, roads need to be built and maintained, fires need to be put out.  The process by which the community puts their heads together and figures that out?  That's government.

You need government whether people are angels or not, and the kneejerk loathing of government, the pessimism that it is only our fallen nature that requires that we have a government, is the heart of Palin and the Tea Party that she siphons good will off of.  I wish that I could understand where it comes from.  Is it frontierism?  Is it a defensive response to creeping cultural plurality?  Is it just greed?

And for the record, even if men and women were angels, literally?  There would be government.  (H/t to John Milton.)

Posted by mrbrent at 8:22 AM

January 11, 2011

whither crazy?

Choire Sicha beat me to it, but let me say that I 100% agree with him when he writes:
I've become more and more uncomfortable with "Boy that Jared Loughner is craaaaazy" talk. Like Time's diving in to be servicey: "If You Think Someone is Mentally Ill: Loughner's 6 Warning Signs." Time says it's "easy to see" that he's crazy: because he laughed randomly a lot and posed strange questions! That's literally what those mental health experts over there suggest. Which: uh oh? Am I headed for a psych eval again?

It's like Loughner's mugshot photo, which you've seen splashed everywhere — it's tempting to attribute "evil" or "insane" on that, but in the end it's just a frozen moment in time and no better a measure of what's inside of Loughner than anything else.  There's an instinct to somehow make Loughner extraordinary, maybe in the hopes to prove, after the fact, that ordinary people would not be capable of such acts.  I.e., since he had the bad taste to sneer for the camera, we attribute super-powers to him, when he's actually nothing but a nobody with some lazy critical ideas and relaxed access to firearms.  And tragically unphotogenic.

And there's also the fact that two out of three Americans are experts in clinical psychiatry, as evidenced by the numbers of times I've read/heard/watched someone state that clearly the young man is a paranoid schizophrenic on account of what ends up to be his ineffable young-adult existential whatever.  Doctor of psychology David Brooks wields it to great effect this morning, but the less said about that the better lest I become partisan and hence as heinous as vanilla douchebags who try and fail to commit suicide-by-assassination.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:12 AM

January 10, 2011

roy edroso on the reaction

Speaking of yeoman's service, if you're curious about what the conservative right portion of the Internet is saying concerning the Tuscon shootings and the issues raised thereby, Roy Edroso, as he ever does, has a nice roundup for you.   It's as bad as you'd think.
You might expect rightbloggers to be pouring oil on troubled waters right now, eschewing violence, promoting civility, etc.

You might expect that -- if you didn't know them.  If you do, you will have guessed that they responded in their traditional manner: With rage at the great injustice they had suffered.

I'll spare you the gory details, but please, help yourself.

So the great look in the mirror, the conversation about whether one has responsibility for the possibly inflammatory things one writes, has been called off because the nose of the right wing has been set out of joint by people like me writing about things that they have said or written.  We are mashers, I know, but society's to blame.

And I guess my burning outrage has dulled to business-as-usual, sadly.  We're back to the uroboros.  The point of the conversation was to be: "Can you not see that the violence implicit in your entire movement might be a less than good thing for the world at large? — i.e., let's disagree and argue, but let's not try to couch arguments in the sense of DESTROYING AMERICA and that such."  And somehow it changed along the way to, "Did Sarah Palin pull the trigger?" which was not the question being asked.  And before the question could be refined, the right wing retreated to the cold comfort of their entitled victimhood.

I was maybe dumb to expect otherwise, but I'm certainly not going to let it convince me to stop saying things like, at least William F. Buckley knew how to write.

Posted by mrbrent at 7:21 PM

loughner: crazy?

Boing Boing has really been doing yeoman's work when it comes to swarming the facts and the Internet footprints of the Tuscon shooting and the shooter himself, Jared (middle name Lee) Loughner.  Particularly useful is the complete collection of Loughner Youtube videos, with transcripts so that you don't have to actually watch them all.  But I did read them all, just because BB made it so convenient.  And I have to say that I disagree with every cable news anchor/guest I saw over the weekend that grimly shook their heads and cited some random sentence from the videos and proclaimed Loughner either paranoid scizo and/or plain old crazy, because it doesn't read crazy to me.  It reads stupid.  Kid had a 101 course in Philosophy and then drowns himself in syllogisms like they're a cheat code or something.

Kind of like when a nine year-old learns a magic trick?  And then clumsily repeats it to every sentient creature the nine year-old encounters, because the nine year-old now has a secret power, now knows something you don't!  And you do, of course, and you smile and nod, or even help them practice.  Loughner takes some pretty basic Deep Questions and wields them like a blunt force weapon.  It'd be cute, were he not a murderer.

And this morning Andrea James explained the school of thinking behind Loughner's obsession with grammar:

It basically comes down to a belief that how one renders one's name with punctuation and how one uses grammar can alter one's legal status as a person.  In other words, DAVID WYNN MILLER (as on his birth certificate) can be taxed, but :David-Wynn: Miller cannot, because that is not legally a person.  In addition to unsuccessfully assisting people accused of tax evasion, Miller has also unsuccessfully assisted people convicted of abusing children, including a woman in Hawaii who broke the teeth out of her nieces' and nephews' mouths with a hammer.  She claimed her conviction was invalid because her sovereignty group, Hawaiian Kingdom Government, said she did nothing wrong.  Miller was spokesperson for the group and has claimed he is King of Hawaii.  Miller says people don't need to pay taxes if they can "prove that money is a verb," and he offers seminars around the country on how to use his language to defend against criminal charges.

Now I like me some grammar as much as the next guy, but that's a big bowl of crazy.  Scratch that, actually — not crazy but just dumb, another example of how a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing.

So at least from Lougher's isolated body of work, I'm not seeing him as hearing-voices-around-the-bend but as a juvenile "intellectual" fascinated with his own poo.  Of course, emptying a semi-automatic weapon in a crowd is not a thing a sane person does, but I'm not sharing the common-sense view that his videos serve as Exhibit A of Loughner's insanity.  I'd bet that there's a whole lot of similar stuff out there on the Internet produced by non-shooty Americans.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:06 AM

douthat's magical textbook world

So those 500 words I'd written about the clown show that is the floor of the House and the Tea Party's generally complex/creepy relationship with the Constitution?  I guess that's gonna have to wait, because today will be spent talking about crazy people and errant words spoken and consequences and the unbidden police state and all that.

Why spend another day on it?  Well, for one, because of people like Ross Douthat, who I now see for what he is — the most naive man alive:

There is no faction in American politics that actually wants its opponents dead.

That's rich!  And you can't even take it as sarcasm, because it is crushed under the weight of the sanctimony that comes before it, just like Giles Corey.  Though to be fair, earlier he talks about Lee Harvey Oswald like he's the one that shot Jack Kennedy, so Douthat apparently lives inside a fifth grade textbook.

Of course maybe refusing to hypnotize myself into some equivalency makes me a hothead with inflamed rhetoric!  Which reminds me: that's exactly how I meant to spend my Monday.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:27 AM

January 9, 2011

is it fair to talk now about the tea party?

A useful difference between the Internet, say, eight years ago and now is that the 2.0 architecture, the social media functionality, means that your experience, if you are immersed, is less ghettoized that it was then — you are not only on TPM and DailyKos, the people you follow on social sites do not march in lockstep with you belief-wise, and you start to leave the echo-box in degrees.

So in the time I spent online in the aftermath of the shooting in Tuscon yesterday, the reaction of my online affinity group circa now was split — there were people like me, saying that the shooting was the direct consequence of the outrage! of the political movements funded by the Koch Brothers and surfed by Sarah Palin, but there were also a good portion of people that I respect (probably more reasonable than I am) saying, we cannot have a discussion about any mitigating factors of this shooting until the motives of the shooter are known.  Actually, that's not what they said; it's what they implied.  What they said was more like, "One crazy guy does not equal a political movement," and "People say extreme things on the left too," and, "I think all my hopes for a reasonable political discourse in this country have been crushed and broken."

I disagree with these people I respect.

If you do not see implied physical violence as the subtext in the "grassroots" political movement of the past two years, you are lying to yourself.  The Tea Party ascended by shouting people down — a large part of their influence (and no small part of their appeal) is because they are bullies.  This was worth talking about for the past year, not just after the Tuscon shooting.  But it's especially worth talking about now.

In fact, if you insist that this discussion is off-limits because the motive of the shooter(s) is not clear, then you are not reasonable, you are equivocating.  I am not saying that Sarah Palin or the Tea Party shot those people.  But if they for an entire election cycle behave in the way they have, threatening to take back their country, taking about the tree of liberty, just generally (and specifically) threatening, then it's a valid conversation to have even if a robot from the future shoots up a "Meet Your Congresswoman" event.  The shooter's motive is not directly relevant to this conversation.  It is the idealized version of the event, the eschatological overtones with the rugged Tea Partiers taking their country back as a last resort, that connects the Inchoate Right to this much more than the motive of the shooter.  And for what it's worth, he has been demonstrated to be of an anti-government bent, and for the life of me I can't think of what political movement has promulgated that in a shouty manner.

And this is not a First Amendment issue, BTW, in any sense.  First of all, the Supreme Court has a well-carved out exception for the FIRE in a crowded theater situation, so when calling for the metaphorical elimination of political opponents, I do not think that metaphor absolves you.  And I think it's bullshit to play stupid and claim so, and to get away with it for two years and then wring hands like a schoolmarm when a target finally gets taken out frankly turns my stomach.  Second, the First Amendment has nothing to do with your freedom to say whatever you want.  It is an injunction against the government from preventing you from saying certain things.  If I say that your speech had certain consequences, then I am not abridging your First Amendment rights.  I'm not even glancing your First Amendment rights.  I'm just pointing out the obvious.

This is at least out in the open today, which I think is an unbelievably good thing.  It may worry the reasonable — "How dare you politicize such a tragedy?" — but I'm a little bit sick of the school of thought that says that one can't say hurtful things about a grassroots movement lest they get inflamed.  They're plenty inflamed already, ma'am, and it's not like they can hate my egghead coastal urban ass any more.  The sad part is that we'll have to wade through a day's worth of false equivalency, as cable news anchors search desperately for the extremist tilt in Leftist rhetoric.  It can't just be a pox on one house.  That wouldn't be fair.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:02 AM