Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Wisdom of Bumper Stickers

In her column today Maureen Dowd fairly asks if we can't catch a Nigerian whose own father contacted the CIA with concerns about his increasingly bat-shit crazy son then who can we catch? I suspect we're doing a better job catching crazies than this incident might suggest but the huff and puff about whether or not the system worked or failed in this case misses the larger point I think we're losing.

The government's job is to protect the security of the nation, that's not the same thing as being responsible for ensuring that no harm befall each of us individually. The bad guys are going to get some of us, guaranteed. Things that are feasibly preventable will happen and lots of people who shouldn't will die and suffer. This is not a defense of shoddy security or poor forethought, its just reality. Its why no one needs to have the "Shit Happens" bumper sticker explained to them.

The responsibility for our safety lies with us and when people like Jasper Schuringa stop taking primary responsibility for their own well being and expect government to do all the heavy lifting of survival then we're screwed well beyond the point that any terrorist threat can muster.

Monday, December 28, 2009

I know it when I see it and I saw it in The Wrestler

Finally got around to watching The Wrestler over the holidays and of course I loved it as I love anything that's honest enough to acknowledge that our dreams are slowly killing us at least as much as our faults are. Also loved the casting throughout but was at first a little surprised to see Marisa Tomei doing a turn as the frequently topless stripper, I guess Im still naive enough to believe that an Oscar, even a questionable one, automatically insulates you from pandering nudity.

While that may or may not be true there is no denying that no matter how big your career in Hollywood if you're playing a stripper/hooker you will have a heart of gold beating just underneath your ta-tas. And with this movie in particular you have to call bullshit.

Rourke's character, while immensely compelling, struck me as really something of a pornographic figure. He portrays a man who will endure almost limitless physical humiliation and pain for money, he sells his body for the fleeting pleasure of strangers. Im thinking particularly of the scene with the staple gun and the aftermath as medics pull embedded staples out of his flesh in a makeshift locker room, but just about any scene will do. Now perhaps that isn't prurient in an erotic sense but that kind of entertainment hardly appeals to our better natures and has in common with pornography a physical and spiritual debasement. So what do we want to call it instead?

Now one could hardly be blamed for seeing the parallel between Tomei the stripper and Rourke the wrestler as the fact that they essentially have the same job is just one of the many reasons they were meant to be together forever, except that the movie goes to a lot of trouble to make certain we know that one of them doesn't really have their soul in their work. Wanna guess which one?

"Im not a stripper" Tomei is obliged to announce. Hell, she's got a kid, a life, maybe a glimmer of a better future funded by tips from back room lap dances, so its not that she likes being naked for strangers there's a laudable reason for it, and like magic we have her tits without judgment. Rourke on the other hand offers no such excuse for his equally debauched employment. He likes it, a lot, and that's why we find the story so compelling but the upshot is Tomei has to apologize for her boobs but Rourke isn't troubled to explain why he is drawn to slowly killing himself and yet there is no judgment there either. And maybe there should be. Does a person like that really deserve our sympathy? That character isn't a victim yet I experienced him as one in the story and whose fault is that?

Who is letting who off the hook here, us or the movie? Men can be physically defiled AND heroic, women cannot. Im not smart enough to know why that is but I can't help but think that nobody is particularly well served by it.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Cost Of Doubling Down, Or Why Im Not A Conservative.

This article in TNR is a kind of greatest hits for errors in conservative judgement, begrudging women the vote, supporting child labor... that kind of thing. Its an easy lampoon of course but it gets to the core of why Im a liberal and how time erodes the impact of fear and turns it into foolishness.

My conservative friends would state the case for their beliefs on a point we'd both agree with; given that human understanding is limited it is not possible for us to address every inequity in society. We immediately part company however in how we value the attempt to address the inequities we can and what the costs of doing nothing are. For conservatives disparate social outcomes are an ipso facto affirmation of what they believe to be the best possible scenario in an imperfect world. It has always struck me as a circular kind of logic that justifies our supposed inability to address social ills based merely on their existence. Conservatives move forward in the belief that what can be known about humankind is known and life is essentially the business of balancing our competing interests in a way that benefits the most people possible. Those things that fall thru the cracks are evidence of human imperfection and the ultimate reality lies in accepting our inability to engineer social fixes on a large scale.

I think history tells us something entirely different. I think the world clearly spins forward and in time we always come to treat one another with more fairness and humanity and the only way we come to that new understanding is in the attempt to make sweeping change. The worst possible justification for refusing to remediate a social inbalance is to appeal to a long history of not having done so previously. In the short term we will fail in some things and even make matters worse in the attempt, but long term we fail much more miserably by refusing to make the effort. We expose our values as situational and fleeting if we do not challenge ourselves to extend them to everyone. Everyone. In every circumstance.

Either we hold certain truths to be self evident or we do not. There isn't a middle ground.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Which Is It?

After watching and listening to many fellow liberals criticize the health bill I can't help but wonder if many of them don't have more passion for smacking down insurance companies and big-pharma than they do helping people.

They make the same bargain with the devil that conservatives do in that they are willing to let people suffer because they don't think the benefits the bill provides outweigh its shortcomings.
Its far less than I'd like to see, far less, but its also entirely reflective of reality and if we want to live in a world ( and I would like to) where medicine is socialized entirely and insurance is largely de-profitized then we'll have to change a great deal about the culture of the entire country and can't expect that to happen in a bill, even one of this scope.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

When Democracy Sucks... And You Have To Like It

Healthcare reform went to a place I could not have imagined when goddamn fucking Joe Lieberman sunk the the Medicare Buy-In and the public option in one fell swoop. Its like your girlfriend leaving you for the biggest douche bag you know. A scant three months ago Lieberman was touting the very sort of buy-in he now opposes and it appears that his opposition comes from the worst, most craven, and spiteful place you can imagine. This is an awful awful human being.

As much as I believe anything I believe that free markets cannot deliver equitable healthcare and to oppose reform is to favor profits over people. It is undeniable that people will die needlessly because some in our country cannot think outside of their dogmatic boxes and they're perfectly content to have that happen rather than expand their notion of what is possible. Now is when I have to be careful not become one of them....

There are any number of good reasons to dig in and oppose the Senate bill. It doesn't go nearly far enough, it is full of loopholes that will line the pockets of mutherfucking insurance companies who profit from misery, Obama didn't do enough, Reid didn't do enough, it sells out progressives who gave Obama his initial grass roots support, it empowers cocks like Lieberman, it wont cover everyone.... what have I left out?

But Im going to support it anyway. As per usual Ezra Klein makes a much better case for supporting the bill than I can but it comes down finally to values. What is more important, that my sense of social equity be indulged or 30 million people who couldn't previously afford insurance can? Imperfections and all this is a significant improvement and to oppose it solely on ideological grounds is a kind of immaturity I think.

If this bill dies we wont get a better one, AND we wont get cap and trade, finance reform, or a more progressive president any time soon. Those sort zero sum ideological litmus tests are the stuff of the right wing and we should carefully take note of where its gotten them. If we want to lead we have to be willing to accept less than everything we want and not think it a sign of weakness.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

NY, Maine, Prop 8, And The Long Arc of Justice....

In the midst of these not too happy days I think its worth remembering how far the issue of gay rights has come in the span of relatively little time. My personal flashpoint on this entire issue was in 1986 when the Supreme Court released its decision in Bower v. Hardwick which concerned an anti sodomy statute in Georgia that two men had been imprisoned under.

Not only did the Supreme Court uphold the law but I really think you should read this bit of the opinion and wrap your mind around the fact that within our lifetimes this was a perfectly acceptable intellectual position...

In the majority opinion Justice White wrote." a fundamental right upon homosexuals to engage in claim that right to engage in such conduct is implicit in the concept of ordered liberty... is FACETIOUS AT BEST" Fuckin' what? Couldn't believe it then and I still can't now.

That wasn't written in 1874, though it could've been. A scant 23 years ago society was perfectly comfortable with a sitting justice spouting the notion that it was facetious AT BEST for gays to assert that what they chose to do in the privacy of their homes was in fact private. Roughly 17 years later the Supreme Court explicitly overturned Bower in the Lawrence v. Summer which involved an anti sodomy statute in Texas.... why are all of these cases from the south... in which even Clarence Thomas called the Texas statute silly.

It may be cold comfort but that is undeniable progress. In a little over a generation we've gone from the notion that gays have no legal right to their sexuality to losing votes over gay marriage by competitive margins. Don't pretend like you saw that coming 23 years ago because you didn't. I had hoped we were further along. We aren't and its frustrating, but there is no denying the direction this thing is running in and I suspect that 23 years hence our children will have no idea why this was an issue in the first place.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

To Broadway or not to Broadway....

Maybe not the question exactly at this point but a very real consideration and one that has elicited some surprising feelings on my part. There is not an actor in this world who at some point would not drink all of your blood and step over their mother for the opportunity to open a big hot show on Broadway, me included, but Im not so sure that's the point Im at in my life right now. As I type this there are no offers out to anyone so its a bit of an abstraction but they'll be coming soon and one can't help but think about how it all might play out.

If I were in the producer's meetings I think I'd be lobbying for a couple of different scenarios. My first option would be to offer my role to a star. Who? No idea. I have no feeling for that kind of thing but I'd put a casting director on that tout suite. A name sufficiently large would of course be a draw in and of itself but it would also insulate the show from some nagging unevenness that likely wont escape critical New York eyes and perhaps sell enough tickets to offset the potential of less than raving reviews. As major script changes don't seem to be in the offing I'd be pushing this option hard.

But lets assume nobody else wants to dig down and start cutting weekly checks to a star or risk upsetting the balance of music and story we've arrived at.

In that case I'd hire a local NY actor and pocket the per diem and housing that would be part and parcel of offering the role Now, Im not poor mouthing myself here. I think I do one helluva good job and I don't think I flatter myself unduly in feeling that the work I've done has gone a long way towards helping shore this thing up as a viable Broadway commodity. I think Im a real asset to the production but even so there is no way around the fact that Im saying that if my own money were at risk here I would strongly consider not offering myself the role.

What. The. Fuck. Is up with that?

Its a strange place to say the least. Its like Im at the intersection of Contentment and Sour Grapes and to be honest Im not entirely certain I know which road Im on but I guess its the perfect illustration of how things change with age.

If I'd been in this spot ten years ago and were not offered this part in New York I would have been crushed. Well fuck, beyond crushed, there is no word for that kind of rejection. It would have been one of those devastating kicks to the scrotum that this business doles out every so often and would have sent me shivering under the covers for an unknowable period of time. But ten years hence I see the larger picture somewhat and more importantly don't feel that my personal worth is nearly as bound up with my career to the same extent I used to. Which is not to say that I care less but is to say I don't care as much. Can't explain it any better than that.

In fairness this isn't strictly pass/fail. Regardless Im likely to continue to stay with the production in Chicago as long as I care to and it suits the producer's needs so its not like Im out on the street. If the fall back position is that I get to stay regularly employed in a show that I genuinely love to do, pays well, AND get to wake up next to my wife and take my kids to school everyday that's a better gig than lots of actors have so any disappointment I'd feel would be a tad unseemly.

I've likely jumped the rambling shark by now but this is a little like walking on the moon. Acting is premised on a completely unhealthy level of self absorption, don't let anybody bullshit you otherwise. Perspective is rare in this business and I'll probably lose it at some point, but its nice to have worn it around for awhile.

Welcome Gentlemen...

Ordinary or otherwise.....

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

How does everyone else afford universal health care?

Because we subsidize most of the world's military. Now this paints with a broad brush but there is no small measure of truth in it. Western Europe and much of Asia has lived under the umbrella of our military strength since WW II with countries like Germany and Japan notably growing their economies in that time without having to seriously consider the costs of defending themselves which has freed them to spend lavishly on butter without having to also bear the cost of guns.

If the right wing has a viable opportunity to rebrand itself it is here. There is little political will to bear the costs of our military over extension and while the American Exceptionalism of the neo con right is largely responsible for the our projection of power abroad there is a growing movement in the hard populist right wing to just stay home. Currently the problem is that this point of view is most often associated with the more unfortunate element of the right like Ron Paul and Patrick Buchanan but there is an argument here for the right to make and return to their non interventionist roots.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

So Im a big stinkin' atheist. Why am I such a nice guy?

So.... yeah... don't believe in God. Now, I have to say that I've come by my apostasy honestly, I spent the first 20 odd years of my life deeply immersed in the Southern Baptist church. If the church was open we were generally there and I took my time there seriously. Im no casual disbeliever but disbelieve I do..

The reasons for my disbelief are many but one of the first things that made me start thinking about the status of my supposed salvation was the notion of morality and evil writ large.

Christians will tell you that without their God there is no possibility for morality but I aint buyin' it and frankly never have. First of all to say as much is to essentially announce that you're a psychopath on a short leash which of course they are not but it goes beyond that.

The fundamental problem for those who conflate God and morality is that civilizations with vastly different conceptions of God, or scarcely any perception of God at all, have very similar moral codes and behaviors as believers. Its a small point and an easy observation but its a significant issue for anyone who insists that the Bible or other book is the source of all morality in the world. Wildly different inputs should not have observably similar outcomes, but they do all the time.

But lets get personal. As I observe the lives of the many Christians I know I can perceive no difference in the choices they make for themselves and the choices I make for me. In fact I would say that you would not be able to point to any facet of my moral life and infer my atheism from my behavior or choices. Now Im no better than them but Im certainly no worse and that shouldn't be. I don't believe in heaven or providential judgement of any kind, so why aren't I killing, lying, cheating, and coveting more than the religious folks? I should be....

For me the answer is readily apparent. Morality is a human conception, I'll even call it an evolved trait. What do we want? Well excluding the sociopaths and nutjobs its fair to say that most homosapien types want to live in relative peace and comfort. Now is continued violence against ones fellows the best way to achieve that end? Sometimes it is ( in which case we handily enlist God on the side of our violence ) but most often bashing the heads of your neighbors against a wall because you covet their ass isn't going to make your life less complicated and will invite pain and violence which doesn't serve the interests of our existence over the long term.

Out on the savannah I think we learned very quickly that codifying fundamental respect for one another made the wheels of our nascent civilization turn much more easily for its members and thus was morality "invented".

Now here comes the ironic part....

While its abundantly clear that one God is in no way necessary to the formation of morality it is also clear that myth, symbolism, and belief in the idea of A god are entirely necessary to the CONTINUED existence of morality in a pluralistic world. We are meaning makers. We have an endless capacity to organize ourselves around stories and I think that's a terribly important point in our survival but to acknowledge the equal power of our stories costs us much of their specific organizational impact and that's where it gets dicey. God does not exist. We continually invent him. But we cannot acknowledge as much without radically reorganizing our societal structures and that just aint going to happen quickly. If ever.

This is why Im not an angry atheist.... well I am angry but just not about this. Usually. I don't know if we have the capacity to move toward complete rationality or if that would even be a good thing but I do know through observation that we have the capacity to move away from singular conceptions of the transcendent without an injurious affect on society or individuals and the more we move away from spiritual tribalism the better. How far? I wouldn't pretend to know, just don't start teaching your goddamn creationism to my kids.....

Friday, November 20, 2009

Tell me again what we're sending people to die for?

In the grand scheme of things this KSM trial dust up makes me more sad than angry but either way its yet another point of conservatism that I truly cannot process.

The talking points are basically covered here in Krauthammer's latest column. The underlying assumptions are two: that the court system is unable/unlikely/unwilling to handle the job and to avail KSM access to this shoddy unworkable system then conveys rights to him that he otherwise wouldn't have and in fact shouldn't have....


Let me take the last one first. This notion that the American government has the capacity to bequeath rights to individuals is one helluva statement for someone like Krauthammer to make, because unless Im mistaken the American Ideal is expressed in the belief that "We hold these truths be self evident, that all men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights...". Including the Bad Guys.

To my mind this is the great achievement of America. Its why it exists, and its why its not just a lump of land we happen to have been born in but a noble and uplifting concept worth asking people to sacrifice their lives for, and to reassert that belief when faced with the worst of the worst, as this man undeniably is, strikes me as the strongest possible statement of confidence in our beliefs and the institutions we've built to embody those beliefs. To lack that confidence to this extent invites the question what do these people think America is.

But it is not terribly surprising that the conservative populists would be so disrespectful of our courts because they generally do not find them to be legitimate. In what is irony so deep that it makes me dizzy the one institution that exist EXPLICITLY to ensure that the government respects our "unalienable rights" is the very same institution conservatives disdain most. "Activist judges". "Discovered rights". These are smears leveled by people who actually don't believe in natural rights but in majoritarianism. So if you accept the notion, as conservatives do, that the courts are inherently at odds with the will of the people and that will is the final arbiter of all things then of course a criminal court is the wrong place to do this. Its just that this is a terribly unfortunate belief for an American to hold because in that respect it wastes his birthright.

Now this would just be another in an endless string of political arguments were it not for the fact that we have people fighting and dying right now to protect the freedoms that some among us do not have the courage to trust in times of hardship. But they are... and given that I think its fair to ask conservatives if they believe our soldiers are dying for America the plot of land or America the idea?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Another Empty Argument Against Gay Marriage...

The Christian right has put a good deal of time and energy into the argument that making gay marriage legal would force them to deny their beliefs or face governmental backlash. This is wrong of course, Christians will retain their right to hold onto their bigoted beliefs and promote them in their churches thanks to a little thing called equal protection before the law. Now, they will lose the right to appeal to the government to be a tool of their bigotry just like racists did after the Civil Rights Act but that hardly squares with the victimology they are embracing.

This is a little remembered point but the Mormon Church was, until 1978, structured in a way that was clearly intended to deny blacks equal footing with whites within in the church. And its worth noting that it was a handy revelation from God and not governmental pressure of any kind that allowed blacks to become fully Mormon and indeed many fundamentalist Mormon offshoots still disallow blacks full membership. Clearly racist and clearly wrong... but clearly legal.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Its only a matter of time?

As one could've guessed its becoming clearer that the Ft. Hood shootings were the work of a Muslim fundamentalist, and that's going to get very awkward. And while I think there is merit to the argument that Sam Harris and Hitchens make that violence is especially endemic to Islam I don't think that captures the full picture.

Violence is endemic to fundamentalism period. Fundamentalism is not a spiritual stance, its a retreat from the world as it exists and a yearning for an imaginary world. It absolutely refuses to reconcile the two in any way...

So while it is not true that every fundamentalist is a potential terrorist it is true that violence against the "lesser" world (reality) is the logical extension of any sort of fundamentalism.

We're in a time in America when the future is coming fast. An old order of conservatism is falling away, having been discredited, and its leaving a lot of people with no viable political voice. Its going to further stoke resentment, fear, and isolation. People were killed at Ft. Hood by a Muslim who had checked out of this world and had bought fully into what his Magic Book told him the world should be like. Im afraid its only a matter of time before some Christians start doing the same.....

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Jesus, Save Me From Your Followers....

If this was just the ramblings of one wing nut then it'd be easy to dismiss, but it aint. Dreher represents the best intellectual argument that religious conservatives can summon when it comes to their support for legal bigotry and its so stunningly stupid that you have to read it several times before you really grasp how shallow it is.....

Read the whole post if you can but this is the money quote:

"...every single time its been put to a popular vote gay marriage has been a loser...unless you're prepared to call more than half the country bigots, and I have no doubt that many, perhaps most, gay marriage supporters are, and let that self serving explanation suffice, maybe, just maybe, you ought to ask yourself if there's something else going on here"


Brilliant. Put the onus of responsibility for my bigotry on the person who is being discriminated against. What is it about you gay person that makes me want to deprive you of your full rights? Maybe you should think about that before you go and call me a bigot because Im not a bad person, must be something else going on here. Sometimes other people's sheer idiocy makes me wanna beat my head against a wall, and this is one of those times.

Well let me go on record as saying that Im perfectly willing to say more than half the country is bigoted and if you honestly don't recognize that almost everyone is prejudiced against something then Im really not sure what world you're living in. Certainly not the one that me and my computer are in right now.

So how can we know finally that this is a bigoted position? Well, look at their own words. Conservatives howl to hell and back about the potential harm gay marriage is going to do to us all but when they're pressed to articulate specifically what that harm is well.... shit gets dicey for them.

They talk about "something else" other than bigotry going on here but what that something is not even God in heaven knows because they can't tell you what that "thing" is. They talk vaguely about concerns over undoing traditional norms but they can't tell you how that's going to hurt you or yours. They cannot articulate any harm to society beyond their own ick factor and that just aint gonna do it.

Look. Laws protect people against harm. Absent harm then there is no need for that law. End. Of. Story. Now of course conservatives have every right to hold whatever prejudices they like, raise their children in that prejudice, worship with people who are like minded, in fact they are perfectly free to organize every aspect of their life around it. But they are not free to petition the government to enshrine their prejudice in law for no other reason than it suits them.

This will end one day. Sadly it looks like it'll be later rather than sooner. But when it does and the sky does not fall and we go on living our lives just as we always have the children and grandchildren of these people will look at them and have no idea what the hell they were doing or why.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Should A Hearing Actor Be Cast in The Miracle Worker?

There is a minor tempest in a tea cup brewing over whether or not it is inappropriate to cast a hearing actor in the role of Helen Keller in an upcoming production of The Miracle Worker in NY with several deaf advocacy groups taking a predictable stand. They should let it pass.

Im sympathetic to the challenges faced by people with any physical issues that choose acting as a profession, but when they or their advocates claim that someone without their issue should not play characters with that condition they are wrong, very wrong. The point of acting, hell the point of art, is that it speaks to us universally. If a hearing actor cannot possibly portray a deaf character then where does it stop? How could an actor who was not a victim of child abuse play a character who was, or gay, or a Jew? The list goes on. This kind of thinking, however well intentioned, would inevitably lead to a complete artistic balkanization with swaths of actors only eligible to play the roles to which they were born. It is entirely antithetic to what draws us to art in the first place.

Why do we have tax exempt status in the first place

Volokh makes a good point that tax exemptions for churches would be impossible to eliminate as long as other organizations retain theirs. Which raises the obvious question as to why do tax exemptions exist at all and why isn't this a bigger issue for conservatives?

Obviously there are any number of tax exempt non profits that do all kinds of good work that I support, just as there are a good number that do work that I think we'd be better off without.
But either way their tax exempt status amounts to a subsidy that we're required to dole out regardless of what we think of them or their work. I'd really rather not be paying higher taxes because the two Catholic churches in neighborhood that sit on prime real estate pay none. But I do, and so do you...

I'd support a complete dissolution of tax exempt status but retain deductions for giving. If we're to involve the tax code at all that strikes me as far more equitable and it strikes me further that this should be an abiding issue for conservatives, but having been largely co-opted by fundamentalist Christians this is a point no politician would ever attempt to make. However its difficult for me to process the status an anything other than a governmental preference for certain activities over others with the contribution to the common good being difficult if not impossible to quantify.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The 2nd Amendment Kinda Blows..

I like to deer hunt and would probably also like to go turkey hunting though I've never been and so accordingly Im sort of in the market for a scoped deer rifle and perhaps a .12 gauge. When I've gone hunting in the past its just been much easier and cheaper to borrow something from my brother in law's arsenal.

I say that for context.....

The 2nd amendment is I think easily the most problematic of the first 10. As we interpret it now it amounts to a golden guarantee that many people will die as a result of gun violence.

Im going to say something else that's crazy. The NRA aint all bad. I'll grant you every whacked out hysterical conspiracy and gun nut rant if you'll grant me that they do in fact do more than any other organization to promote responsible gun use. Now I'd like it much better if they didn't at the same time enable so much irresponsible gun use but our culture is such that we can't currently separate one from the other and I j'accuse the 2nd amendment.

As a wanna-be Constitutional scholar these are the issues as I see them...

First of all I don't think we're readin' the damn thing right. This question is finally going to get some SC love in this term I believe but the amendment says this:

"A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of the State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed"

A little different from the bumper stickers you see from the Cold Dead Hands crowd isn't it? It strikes me as clear as clear can be that the amendment was written to address gun ownership in the service of a larger point, namely national security at a time when standing armies weren't terribly popular. Had the framers simply wanted to say that gun ownership was a universal right subject to no conditions they certainly would have. They didn't. They made it contingent and in doing so I think clearly left the door open for reasonable restrictions. To read the amendment otherwise seems to me to be an obvious case of conservative judicial activism or reading the Constitution with a social bias.

A blanket interpretation is anachronistic. Clearly guns mean different things in different locations I think its impossible to take a responsible approach to guns that does not take that into consideration.

As I type this in Chicago there is no good reason for me to hear gunfire outside my house. It can only be bad. If I were in rural Missouri or Oklahoma where I've gone hunting and I were to hear gunfire it really wouldn't mean much at all regardless of whether it was hunting season or not. So why do we tolerate laws that assumes gun shots are the same every where? Doesn't it strike you as the height of common sense that gun laws in heavily populated areas would be different from gun laws in sparsely populated areas? Of course it does and of course local governance is a cornerstone of conservative politics. But not here. And children are dead and more will die because of it.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Ongoing Myth of Conservative Patriotism

A few weeks ago I posted an article that argued that for all their lapel pin wearing blather conservatives don't actually love America the country so much as they love America the mirror that reflects their social values. But hey, you don't have to take my word for it, Pat Buchanan makes my point beautifully here as he asserts that "Traditional Americans" are losing their country.

The point here isn't that Buchanan is fear-mongering necessarily or inventing concerns because he elucidates some legitimate problems but he gives himself away in imagining that these problems would only worry "Traditional Americans" or those folks who by insinuation have more of a stake in things going to hell. If Pat and his ilk don't see your reflection in their mirror well then its impossible for them to imagine that you'd share their interests.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

MDQ Shut Out. Really??

Im treading dangerously into sour grapes territory here so I have to lay out a brief defense of the whine Im about to go on and accordingly this would probably be a good time to go lawyer and mention that these are my opinions alone and almost certainly don't reflect anyone else's involved with the show in anyway shape or form.

Our show got shut out at the Jeff's last night. Now the little shred of integrity Im struggling to stand on here is that I was not a part of the cast when it was nominated and so my work really was not a part of that recognition. I didn't identify with that honor in this case because I didn't earn it. In fact I offered to let the previous actor go in my place since he had more to do with it than I did and had we won I wouldn't have felt like I had a helluva lot to do with it in any event. So Im claiming at least some objectivity, but whether you buy it or not here comes a bitch storm....

What a load of bullshit that was.

Look, I can understand how it might be hard for the matronly Jeff Committee to measure this show against a more traditional musical because that is one thing we are not. MDQ is more of an unstoppable ass kicking machine than it is your standard musical theatre fare, and thank god for it because that sappy shit makes me want to puke more often than not. So we're the square peg knocking against the round hole and really that's where we'd rather be if I can speak for the group.


When Levi Kreis, who clearly has more talent in the space between the first and second knuckle of the lesser of his two little fingers than most of the other barking hacks out there combined, is passed over by the Jeff Committee in favor of some entirely over earnest simp, well then kids something is desperately awry. Desperately. Same can be said for the fact that his was the only performance singled out for a nomination. These guys don't grow on trees like, oh say, fey tenors aspiring to butched up gravitas do. It was a particularly conspicuous Jeff FAIL because the list of other shows that received more awards AND are also going to Broadway AND have comparably enormous futures ahead of them is as follows:

So why no MDQ love?

We're the NY Yankees of Chicago theatre. Seriously.

The story Chicago Theatre likes to tell itself is that this a plucky little hard scrabble kind of place to come to that probably wont make you rich but will offer the humble and pure of heart the chance to take big risks that couldn't happen in NY or LA and so informs and shapes the subsequent big successful careers you go have some place else. Chicago aint about easy money its about heart and commitment, or so we say. And its kind of true to a point. But its also true then that this becomes a self fulfilling prophesy and so we end up celebrating the performances that fit that paradigm instead of performances that just are plain better than everything else out there.

Think Im full of shit? Well indulge me....

Imagine MDQ the show exactly as it is now, performance wise, but with different hometowns for most of the cast. If it were directed by someone with a local pedigree like Gary Griffin or the like, and if Rob Lyons, Eddie Clendening, and Kelly Lamont were long time Chicago actors who also just so happened to be kick ass ( or even merely competent) musicians and singers as well, then hell, there wouldn't be enough space on anyone's shelf to hold all the little statuettes we would have carried home last night.

But the MDQ back story isn't about wholesome hometown heroes making good so its easier to ignore how goddamn excellent it actually is. It doesn't reinforce the Chicago narrative because its big, for profit, and just employs the best people period instead of the best local people. We're a big noisy example of what Chicago doesn't do very well. We aren't "One of the Ones" locally anyway, to borrow a phrase, so everybody else gets graded on the curve. So the upshot is that the Jeff Committee doesn't really present an award show so much as they stage a hometown circle jerk.

There. I said it.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Best Possible Argument For Government Health Care

The insurance industry pushes back. Not unexpected of course but they're clearly the authors of their own doom in this. Their point is a simple one and it articulates precisely why for profit insurance doesn't work. It comes down to this: If insurance companies cannot deny coverage to high risk customers, also known as very sick people, then they'll have to raise your premiums because they can't possibly be expected to cut into their profit margins.

We sell insurance companies our risk, period. We don't buy access to health care. So when the price of our risk gets too high they have every reason to limit their exposure to our risk. That's how market driven insurance works. The system we have now isn't broken, it works exactly like it should because it is motivated by profit for shareholders and not levels of care for sick people. If you like profits more than you like sick people being taken care of then you should oppose reform.

The reason health insurance is different from every other kind of insurance is that when it comes to our health there is no fixed cost of replacement. The worst thing that can possibly happen to your car insurance company is that they will have to replace your car and we know pretty much how much that costs. Same for your home insurance company springing for a new roof. Their risk exposure is bracketed so they can set premiums relative to known costs.

Health care though? Who knows what the level of risk might be. I've been to the doctor once this decade but if I get hit by a bus tomorrow I might run up God only knows how much in medical bills. The sky is literally the limit and insurance companies can't both insure you to the stratosphere AND make money so they drop people and limit coverage whenever they can.
Its what markets do.

If you like the idea of calling 911 to summon the police or fire department then you agree with me in principle that universal, or "socialized" healthcare, is the best option. We may disagree about how to get there but unless you've got a private security firm protecting your life and property you can't really argue the point on substance. You can't.

Friday, October 9, 2009

And The Nobel For Scorched Earth Politics Goes To....

Not too suspenseful is it?

Im not unsympathetic to the plight of my conservative friends, Im really not, but I don't feel badly enough for them to not notice how this Nobel Prize episode reveals what a struggle it is for them to assert policy narratives that can stand up to more than 15 seconds of pondering.

First the low hanging fruit.....

Conservatives of course will tell you that things like Nobel Prizes don't really matter, until of course they do matter for reasons that are entirely of their own expedient making. As a point of legitimacy I don't think there is anything wrong necessarily in poo-pooing the import of stuff like this, except of course they need to remember that things they find trivial should always be trivial and this they cannot do. I like to call this "Make Up A Story And Stick With It"

Now the story line struggling to take hold here is that this is yet another example of how Obama has been awarded for having done nothing and apparently disproves the adage that you can't fool all the people all the time. In fairness I don't think there is anything untoward in suggesting that we're hardly in Mother Teresa territory here.... but ... nothing? Really? Lets look closer shall we....

We're talking about a President who has committed the most powerful nation on earth to ending a war that is completely indefensible and unneeded. A President who has stated categorically that we will no longer rationalize torture or the illegal rendition of detainees,
a President committed to closing Guatanamo, a President who has taken our case for individual liberty directly to the Muslim world, and on the domestic front a President who has injected a degree of thoughtfulness, honesty, and depth into our national discussion on race that I thought I would never see.

Now, fish and loaves maybe it aint. But nothing?? Your dogmatic slip is showing.

So why doesn't the Right see this? Again, we know the answer. Their myopia is reflective of nothing more than the extent to which they have invested themselves in scorched earth politics. They cannot see how Obama's tack on foreign affairs might play in the rest of the world because they've tried, and obviously failed, to frame these as failures on his part. They are still struggling to accept that the last 8 years of Neo-Con babbling has been a horrid episode for America, or if they do accept it they try to pretend like it doesn't matter, and neither point holds.

And finally....

The deep personal disdain they hold Obama in is revealed in this nugget. Regardless of what you think about the Nobel Committee or their stinkin' prize or Obama for that matter Im struggling to grasp how anyone could not look at this and see how it works for the national good. Are we really worse off now that the world is more optimistic about our policy goals?
Does this really make it harder for us to deal with Iran, North Korea, Israel/Palestine? Of course not, but they have to feel as though it does somehow or just ignore that it doesn't because not to would mean they have to deal with the truth. And they don't want that.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Why you should run a marathon.

When I was in my 30's I was kind of a work out fanatic. For a period of four or five years I ran several triathalons, 5k's, and finally a marathon and when I wasn't actually competing I was spending more time and mental energy than I should have worrying about how to shave 3 minutes off my swim time. So that really hot set of abs I had was bought with a fair amount of self absorption, but then nothing in life is free, and while I still like to think Im easing into my mid 40's in better shape than most Im not doing anything like the mileage I used to and I've conceded that the six pack is gone, never to come again. I blame beer.

But I don't think I'll ever come to understand the hint of glee so many non athletes take in finding any suggestion that perhaps the whole boom in marathons and other distance events might be over stated with regards to subsequent health benefits. Today its the Wall St. Journal that apparently has nothing better to do than wonder if the running a marathon is really "worth it" or not.

Look, the boom in marathons have obviously drawn in a lot of people who are seduced by the event itself rather than the lifestyle. They make the attempt hoping that it will change them into the better selves they want to be and that's asking the wrong question. There is no special transformative magic in marathons in and of themselves anymore so than there is in saying you're going to quit smoking. The benefit lies ultimately in the commitment and not the singular event so if you can't keep it up then of course nothing much is going to happen. Don't we already know this?

So no, Im not running 45 miles a week anymore and probably never will. But I learned something in the effort that I don't think I could possibly have learned otherwise and I refer to it frequently. I learned that more often than not it is not the pain you are in that makes you quit.
Its that pain combined with the fear of what's coming that makes you quit. In the moment you are in, you are almost always okay. Stay in your moment and you can take the pain.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

How the Olympic bid reminds me of the health care debate.

The similarity struck me long ago but now that the bid has failed and failed miserably I think its worth considering more deeply how very much alike the two are.

Most obvious of course is that the opposition in both cases is rooted in personality politics with a deep antipathy toward the organizing politician and the supposed elitist class the the nay sayers imagine he works for. In both cases the opposition feels like something much larger is at stake which tends to increases the level of confirmation bias in their thinking and dissuades them from seriously considering any information which suggests that they may be wrong even though it is abundant. And in both cases the supposed alternatives the opposition suggests are woefully unrealistic and the overall view expressed is one of surprising skepticism and frankly a casual sort of spite that refuses to consider the full ramifications of failure.

The cherry on top here though is that, anecdotally at least, the people I've come across who opposed the Olympic bid are the same people who are politically very much in the tank for Obama and his policies. Evidently they don't hear Eric Cantor or Michelle Bachmann echoing through their own words. You can't coach irony......

Before I go on I should say that obviously I supported the bid very strongly but not because I wanted the Olympics necessarily. I support any event along these lines that has the capacity to be a long term economic engine for the city. I find it stunningly self evident that not only is it perfectly legitimate to use large triggering events like the Games to focus public policy on larger issues it is good governance as well.

But its the last two similarities that I think are the most pyrrhic for the opposition and the ones I want to focus on more closely.

I've heard it expressed often that money spent on the preparations for the Games would be put to far better use if it were just spent instead on non-Games related infrastructure. Its a struggle to respond to something so unbelievably fatuous but Im going to try.

Let me put it simply. That wont be happening. Now many in the anti Games crowd take that as some justification that this was a simple issue of stadiums over people, as if either could exist in a clean vacuum. I like to call this kind of thinking Hippie-Dippie. So why wont it be happening? Two reasons.

First of all human nature. Like it or not reality is such that people are far far far more likely to organize their energy and money around specific events, the bigger the better. Its why non profits hold events like galas and other seemingly frivolous things. They are focusers, points around which people can gather and identify with so while its nice to imagine that we will now simply take that same spirit that was put into the bid and turn it towards rebuilding the school down the street that isn't in any way reflective of reality. Its Hippie-Dippie. Now you can bitch about the shortcomings of our species or you can work within its limitations. Score one here for Team Bitch.

Secondly the economics simply are not there. At all. Heading into this year the city was facing a deficit of roughly $420 million and many against the bid have used that as a reason to oppose spending on the Olympics. Well okay... If the argument is that we're too broke to spend money on the Olympics, which would have the long term capacity to increase the tax base well beyond the point it would have been absent the Games, then how suddenly can we afford more deficit spending on infrastructure without both the short and long term influx of tax revenue from the Games and related spending? We can't. At all. Its like they're saying 0 + -420= 1 million. It is obvious, achingly obvious, that excepting some major external event there will be no massive capital expenditure in the city because in that context it only increases debt and subsequently raises your taxes. Its Dues ex machina economics minus the Dues.

So instead we get nothing at all which should strike you as very GOP-ey in its spite.

But suppose you take issue with my economics. It doesn't matter because it gets even worse the deeper you dig into this.

The most common complaint I've heard however is that Chicago simply isn't able to pull the games off, which makes my eyes want to roll out of my head when you consider the other international venues that have successfully hosted the games, but there it is. Now no one would deny the short comings the city has, crime corruption, poverty etc. But if your position is that these make the Olympics impossible then you aren't actually making an anti Olympic argument,
you're arguing that Chicago doesn't have the capacity to do anything, ever. Even the thing you

If corruption and cronyism make it impossible for the Games to benefit anyone but the most well connected then wont the same issues plague some Hippie-Dippie plan for subsequent capital improvements at the expense of the improvement? Of course it will. You can't make an argument of selective incompetence and expect to be taken seriously but this kind of incomplete thinking has turned a significant number of Chicagoans inward instead of outward. By constructing the false equation that Olympics=more problems while no Olympics=no problems Chicagoans have inexplicably chosen a deeply flawed status quo over the possibility of a better day. And they're happy about it.

And this kind of thing should bother the fuck out of everyone because this sort of cheap cynicism is likely to crowd any future efforts to improve our collective lots as well

I really don't want to make this a "love it or leave it" point but I think its fair to ask those of such little faith in the city what do you think the city CAN do? If the city can't handle the logistical run up to a two week event then how is it that you arrive at the decisions that this is a reasonable place to pursue your career, start a business, raise a family, own a home? The list goes on. And again I think these questions are more than fair because the thinking behind this particular point of opposition is so ill formed.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Would Theatre Companies Make More Money If Tickets Were Free?

Indulge me. This started rattlin' around in my brain late last night after I put away "Free. The Future Of A Radical Price" by Chris Anderson and it's still not fully formed but Im wondering aloud now if free as a marketing model isn't a viable alternative to the one most non-profit theatres employ now. What the hell could I be talking about? Well its a little like the old bar adage about giving away salty peanuts to sell more beer.

But first of all I think the number of theatres that could benefit from free ticketing is fairly limited and even among those theatres free would have to be selectively used. For instance free would never work for the ( shameless plug alert ) big, hot, for-profit, Broadway bound show Im doing right now but that gets to the larger issue in that non-profits seem too often to market along the for-profit model when they really have entirely different goals. One is a sprint and the other is a marathon.

So enough talky-talk, lets get down to the nuts and bolts. What Im proposing pertains mostly to the types of theatre that Chicago is knee deep in, small to mid range non-profits that program a full season and are endlessly seeking to expand their subscription base and single ticket sales, which would likely also describe any number of theatres elsewhere as well I suppose.

Lets assume we're talking about a six to eight week run per show in a given season with four or five performances a week from Thurs-Sun. If a theatre regularly dropped the price of tickets on say Thursday nights to zero for everyone at the door then this is what I think might happen.
At that price point obviously the demand for seats goes thru the roof on what is otherwise a notoriously slow night for sales. If a show is decently reviewed then the likelihood is that you'll be turning people away, probably lots of people, which is good because you are now a hot, hip, unique, cultural destination which we'll talk about monetizing in a minute. Conversely if free doesn't increase demand for your product your company sucks and will probably be folding soon anyway.

Now the obvious retort is that free Thursdays would cannibalize not free Friday and Saturday. nights, why pay on Friday for something you're gladly giving away Thursday? Two reasons. First of all I think the person who attends a show on Thursday night is less likely to be demographically similar to the people the rest of the weekend. Thursday night's crowd is less likely to be made up of folks who are going to be getting up at 6:00 AM the next morning and riding the train downtown to work. Weekends audiences are older and more likely to be suburban. Thursday is different, its probably going to be a younger, more connected, urban, viral kind of crowd on that night. In other words an audience full of people who are more likely to create buzz. Buzz is good because there is money in buzz. And free notwithstanding I think more theatres should fully embrace the concept of premium pricing.

And secondly the extent to which free tickets would cannibalize sales the rest of the week is physically limited to the number of seats available. If the demand is genuine then some people are just going to have to pay for it by virtue of scheduling. Think Lady's Nights at cheezy bars.

Okay so how in the hell does this pay off?

Lets look at what theatre marketing really is for non profits. Its a hybrid of a three-party market, which means what exactly? Well lets think websites. The average website out there with content that is entirely free is making a buck off of delivering your eyes to advertisers, so they are creating content both with an eye towards the consumer and the entity that will monetize the site. Fine. So in our theater model who is the third party? Foundations.

So who are the Big Gifters out there looking to fund? Oh... I dunno... maybe theatres that have branded themselves as unique cultural destinations? Grant writing just got a lot easier and it got easier because free has made your company hip, hot, and relevant in a way it never could be with the current model. And when we're talking about being a relevant and successful producing company unique branding is really the issue isn't it?

Steppenwolf and Goodman aren't selling subscriptions and getting grants at the rates they do because their work is always exponentially better than everyone else in town, they're
like every other company in that they have hits and clunkers along the way. But they are insulated from the clunkers in a way smaller non profits are not because Steppenwolf and Goodman can market themselves as cultural franchises both to potential subscribers and foundations. The bad news for everyone else however is that the rungs on the institutional ladder get narrower the higher up the ladder you go, which is why the Chicago theatre scene is littered with the corpses of Wisdom Bridge, Remain, and Famous Door. You aren't going to beat Steppenwolf at their own game over the long haul, you need a different tack all together and just maybe that approach is based in loss-leader marketing.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Myth of Conservative Patriotism.

In 1949 Truman's Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal committed suicide after a long struggle with depression. It didn't take long for the McCarthy-ites and Birchers to invent the story that Forrestal must not have taken his own life but rather was driven to his death by "secret Communists" in Truman's administration which must certainly exist since Truman opposed McCarthy's loyalty oaths. How could there be any other explanation?

Sounds depressingly familiar doesn't it?

I think that what often seems just plain crazy is actually a reflexive response among conservatives. An angry response to a country they claim to love but which in reality they are frequently deeply frustrated by and almost always unable to embrace fully. Conservatives love their country, their country, which is the country that looks, sounds, worships, celebrates, and votes like they do. EXACTLY like they do. America is a free country they say but in reality they mean we're free to choose as they choose and think as they think. Any deviation is subversion and not an exercise in freedom.

And once circumstances begin to suggest to conservatives that they might not be the representatives our national culture they turn viciously and viscerally on the people and institutions that exist precisely because of our unique set of freedoms. They turn on any representation of an America that isn't in hegemonic lock step with their dogmas and despise the people and institutions that actually manifest the freedoms they claim to love so dearly , and despise isn't an overstatement.

Because of their fundamentalist religious roots conservatives cannot abide multiple possibilities or plural notions of common goods. To suggest that there may be other perfectly legitimate world views or alternatives is not a point of consideration for conservatives but rather a repudiation, an affront, a slap in the face. They hear, "here is another option" as "YOU'RE WRONG" and they always will because their politics are an expression of how they experience the world.

Conservatives fear the future and over value the present which makes it tough on them because America is the epicenter of the future. The American Idea is one that says the risks of a better future are more than worth the price of an imperfect present and that's a national bet conservatives will not take. The devil they know is always better than the possible good they don't know.

Every time, every single time America has sought to expand the promise of our values to more and more of our citizens conservatives have resisted. Its who they are. From Forrestal to Vince Foster. McCarthy to Palin and Alan Keyes. From the birthers and "You Lie!", none of this should come as a surprise. We've seen it over and over again and will many many more times Im afraid.

Monday, August 31, 2009

My faboo new gig.

Swear to God I sit on stage every night and just look at what's going on around me, music, dancing, jumpin' around, hollerin', clapping, laughing, every other expression of happiness you can think of....

And I make a special effort to freeze it in my mind and appreciate it. Im not just in the room with it but I am part of why it happens. Plus they pay me. Its hard not to think that this is some kind of cosmic payback for the long bitter road of shit you slog through in this business.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Why you should be against the death penalty.

This isn't new information. Texas executed a man who was innocent and there were compelling reasons to believe he was at the time but Gov. Perry took the path of least political resistance and ignored them. In doing so he fell into the unavoidable political trap here that confuses fundamental human decency with being "soft on crime".

The irony in much of the public's attitude towards the death penalty is that it has strong support among conservatives who generally assert the government isn't capable of doing anything effectively, but they evidently never pause to consider the implications of granting the state the right to take its own citizen's lives. These are the kinds of intellectual contradictions conservatives can't work thru because the concepts are mutually exclusive and they're unwilling to concede either position.

These kinds of errors in prosecution are unavoidable, humans make mistakes. So we can count as a certainty that this has happened in the past and it will happen again. Are we really willing to run that risk? Isn't our legal system predicated on the assumption that it is better for a guilty man to go free than an innocent man be prosecuted without merit? It is, until we start executing people. You can let a wrongly accused man go free, until you kill him.

That cinches the deal to my mind but even beyond that it seems to be a poor kind of punishment. Texas has been executing people in blase bunches for decades now you can be sure that people aren't breathing any easier or feeling less afraid because the state is constantly killing people. It's sheer vindictive retribution and it doesn't even do a particularly good job in that respect either.

It seems to me that if you're interested in making someone suffer it is the knowledge of what they are losing that generates the most emotional pain. Yes death row inmates know they are going to die and that's enormously stressful but I think that's a relatively easy out compared to the crimes we're talking about. Death frees them from the implications of their actions but the surviving victims live with their loss the rest of their lives. That is not equitable justice, its a political posture.

Timothy McVeigh killed 168 people and gave up his life for it. He got off easy. I would much rather he had ticked off every second of the rest of his life in an isolated cell with full and constant knowledge of the autonomy he had lost. If capital punishment were overturned I think someone like McVeigh would suffer more slowly rotting away than spending a few moments strapped to a gurney and being released from his confinement. And the state wouldn't be killing innocent people either.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Things about Michael Vick I don't understand...

As I write this Im fully confident that I will be misunderstood by at least a few people who will then get pissed off. So here goes....

Im not in favor of dog fighting. Never been to one, wouldn't go if I could, don't understand why anybody does it, likely don't know anyone who has ever gone to one, thinks they shouldn't, assumes people who do it are dumbasses compensating for little penises. But I don't understand why the state asserts an interest in prohibiting it.

Stay with me now.

As things stand currently I can go to jail if I fight dogs. But if I raise chickens say and kill them in huge factories designed for that purpose I likely qualify for a government subsidy. Somethin' aint right. I don't get why the government feels like it has a moral interest in the case of one species but not another, or why it just doesn't assert the same interest in the case of both species.

Dog fighting is undeniably cruel the argument might go, and while I don't want to demonize ag producers its fairly obvious that many aspects of factory farming are cruel as well. I suppose then one might say that dogs that fight suffer a great deal of pain but cows slaughtered for beef are killed instantly. True enough, but while I wouldn't be qualified to speculate on the mental state of bovines I've read many accounts of the animals beginning to wail and exhibit extreme stress as they smell the blood of their recently slaughtered comrades. And before they are even lead to their doom they spend the last several weeks of their lives crowded into feeding lots and fed corn which their bodies cannot digest properly which requires massive amounts of antibiotics to ward off the attendant infections. Is that cruelty? I think most people would say it was or at least be hard pressed to explain why it wasn't, but I cannot then parse why we have no issue with that but then cannot abide dog fighting.

It gets worse. Consider that Im perfectly within my rights as a hunter to go out and shoot an animal in a way that might just wound it. The animal will likely then run off and take hours to find before I can deliver a kill shot or I may never find it and the animal will lie in extreme pain for many hours as it slowly bleeds to death. Suffering? Uh, yeah, but its perfectly legal and the state takes an active interest in promoting hunting and fishing. What's the deal?

Well, I've heard people say that since animal slaughter is utilitarian whatever degree of harm or suffering is outweighed by the benefit and the cruelty inherent in dog fighting produces no legitimate benefit. Okay, good point. In fact its why Im not a vegetarian. But lets consider some other wholly frivolous activities that frequently work against the long term welfare of the animals involved. Not every greyhound or horse that races spends their golden years frolicking
in some kind farmers alfalfa field. Im not aware of any retirement plans for circus animals either. The analogy isn't perfect here, horses aren't raced for the purpose of killing them, but to the extent that any of these animals suffer pain or cruelty they do so to advance nothing more than our leisure so clearly we're willing to tolerate, legitimize, and promote a certain degree of suffering for pursuits that are entirely non-utilitarian.

It seems to me that we have some decisions to make here culturally because the contradictions are massive. Either we step up and expand our conceptualization of animal welfare or we step way back and tolerate some very stupid behavior. Im not sure which direction is the right one but I don't think we should continue to tolerate a system that legally vilifies Mick Vick but passes out a license to bow hunt.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Why Fox News is destroying the Right.

This isn't really a surprise, Limbaugh et al got rich off the Clinton presidency, but it points to a much larger problem for the Right. The Right Wing Entertainment Industry completely dominates the conservative landscape and they do so by either directly pandering to, or obliquely fanning the flames of, the lowest common denominator in their ranks. If a conservative should dare to speak against the dangers of a hype machine that is beholden to nothing more than last night's ratings then they soon find themselves having to do an "awe shucks I wuz mizundastood" soft shoe. To the extent that there is truly an intellectual base in the Right Wing they have lost completely the ability to influence policy on the ground. Conservatism today can be defined as the ultimate victory of volume over content. And I say let 'em yell as much as they want.

We're being treated to the death rattles of what used to be known as Movement Conservatism, a political force that got its passion from Goldwater but was balanced by the intellect of Buckley. That has morphed into a truly impotent rabble of tantrum throwers who get their passion from Palin and brains from Glen Beck. It aint the same, by a long shot. Once upon a time the GOP purged the wacko John Birchers from its ranks but today there isn't a conservative alive with the courage to stand up publicly and call out the lunatic fringe. Its an empty philosophy without the tools to address the issues we're dealing with today and lacking the courage or leadership to articulate a positive course for the future and Fox News along with talk radio make it increasingly more difficult to alter that course. As long as numbers are good they'll keep programming to the screamers at the expense of good policy. And I for one am enjoying watching the implosion.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Dogs Bark...

But the caravan roles on by. While conservatives get dumber and angrier with each passing day they have precious little to show for it. Meanwhile the party of responsible governance goes about the quiet business of getting real things done. But hey, that Kenyan birth certificate is sure to show up any day now and meanwhile there are all kinds of shiny things out there for conservatives to fiddle with when they aren't holding their breath and stamping their feet.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

More conservative debate.

That well known liberal rag the Napa Valley Register wonders why those opposing healthcare reform don't express their point more constructively. Because they can't. They have no answers, just tantrums

How conservatives debate ctd.

Anybody wanna throw out some more of those false equivalencies?

Took 'em awhile.

But the DNC starts to get its mind wrapped around a response to the screaming me-mees that are showing up ( at there own expense doncha know!) at Town Hall meetings whether they live in that congressional district or not. Its fun political theatre but I don't know how much one needs to worry about people who have nothing more than volume to offer the discussion.

In any event. The response:

There's been a lot of media coverage about organized mobs intimidating lawmakers, disrupting town halls, and silencing real discussion about the need for real health insurance reform.

The truth is, it's a sham. These "grassroots protests" are being organized and largely paid for by Washington special interests and insurance companies who are desperate to block reform. They're trying to use lies and fear to break the President and his agenda for change.

Health insurance reform is about our lives, our jobs, and our families -- we can't let distortions and intimidation get in the way. We need to expose these outrageous tactics, and we're counting on you to help. Can you read these "5 facts about the anti-reform mobs," then pass them along to your friends and family?
    5 facts about the anti-reform mobs

    1. These disruptions are being funded and organized by out-of-district special-interest groups and insurance companies who fear that health insurance reform could help Americans, but hurt their bottom line. A group run by the same folks who made the "Swiftboat" ads againstJohn Kerry is compiling a list of congressional events in August to disrupt. An insurance company coalition has stationed employees in 30 states to track where local lawmakers hold town-hall meetings.

    2. People are scared because they are being fed frightening lies.These crowds are being riled up by anti-reform lies being spread by industry front groups that invent smears to tarnish the President's plan and scare voters. But as the President has repeatedly said, health insurance reform will create more health care choices for the American people, not reduce them. If you like your insurance or your doctor, you can keep them, and there is no "government takeover" in any part of any plan supported by the President or Congress.

    3. Their actions are getting more extreme. Texas protesters brought signs displaying a tombstone for Rep. Lloyd Doggett and using the "SS" symbol to compare President Obama's policies to Nazism. Maryland Rep. Frank Kratovil was hanged in effigy outside his district office. Rep. Tim Bishop of New York had to be escorted to his car by police after an angry few disrupted his town hall meeting -- and more examples like this come in every day. And they have gone beyond just trying to derail the President's health insurance reform plans, they are trying to "break" the President himself and ruin his Presidency.

    4. Their goal is to disrupt and shut down legitimate conversation. Protesters have routinely shouted down representatives trying to engage in constructive dialogue with voters, and done everything they can to intimidate and silence regular people who just want more information. One attack group has even published a manual instructing protesters to "stand up and shout" and try to "rattle" lawmakers to prevent them from talking peacefully with their constituents.

    5. Republican leadership is irresponsibly cheering on the thuggish crowds. RepublicanHouse Minority Leader John Boehner issued a statement applauding and promoting a video of the disruptions and looking forward to "a long, hot August for Democrats in Congress."

It's time to expose this charade, before it gets more dangerous. Please send these facts to everyone you know. You can also post them on your website, blog, or Facebook page.

Now, more than ever, we need to stand strong together and defend the truth.

The problem simply put.

Cyncial C Blog sheds an awful lot of light on exactly what's wrong with our current system of healthcare coverage by simply asking readers where they get their insurance. The comments tell the whole story and as long as conservatives are unable or unwilling to eschew talking points and actually get down in the weeds and deal with these problems in an intellectually honest way by suggesting actual policies then Im not sure we need take anything they say, or yell, seriously at all.

Its tough all over

Im fascinated by the raw behind the scenes diplomatic machinations that must have certainly gone on before Clinton headed to Pyongyang but it makes me wonder what is Jesse Jackson going to do now?

Seems to me he used to be the go to guy for this kind of thing but I suppose his brand is fading. Hard times.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

How conservatives debate. This is who they are.

Its probably not for nothing that they're chanting "Just Say No" in this vid of a townhall meeting being disrupted as that articulates the sum total of the Right's intellectual and tactical position when it comes to the future. This is what fear looks like, when people have no rational basis upon which to move forward they will throw tantrums trying to stay still, they will confuse volume with content.

And like any good fit it feels good in the middle of it but I shudder to think how the GOP will be able to construct any sort of firewall between these screaming mimmies and the rest of the more temperate electorate. I wish the '12 GOP nominee luck with these folks.

...And F.A. Hayek even better still.

One of the intellectual giants of the conservative movement, on why he isn't a conservative.

He puts it out on Waveland here:

"Let me now state what seems to me the decisive objection to any conservatism which deserves to be called such. It is that by its very nature it cannot offer an alternative to the direction in which we are moving. It may succeed by its resistance to current tendencies in slowing down undesirable developments, but, since it does not indicate another direction, it cannot prevent their continuance. It has, for this reason, invariably been the fate of conservatism to be dragged along a path not of its own choosing. The tug of war between conservatives and progressives can only affect the speed, not the direction, of contemporary developments"

"This brings me to the first point on which the conservative and the liberal dispositions differ radically. As has often been acknowledged by conservative writers, one of the fundamental traits of the conservative attitude is a fear of change, a timid distrust of the new as such,[5] while the liberal position is based on courage and confidence, on a preparedness to let change run its course even if we cannot predict where it will lead. There would not be much to object to if the conservatives merely disliked too rapid change in institutions and public policy; here the case for caution and slow process is indeed strong. But the conservatives are inclined to use the powers of government to prevent change or to limit its rate to whatever appeals to the more timid mind. In looking forward, they lack the faith in the spontaneous forces of adjustment which makes the liberal accept changes without apprehension"

Andrew Sullivan. Better at this than me.

In this post he's giving an eloquent dressing down to yet another bigot wrapping himself in the cloth of natural law viz-a-viz gay marriage but he echoes my frustration with conservatives on health care and a host of other issues. He knocks it outta the park right here:

"I repeat to conservatives: we know what you're against, in healthcare, energy, counter-terrorism, taxation, gay rights, abortion. What are you actually for? How do you intend to actually address the questions of our time and place? And if conservatism cannot do that, what use is it?"

At least he's honest.

It's hard to say exactly how much higher my blood pressure is as a direct result of conservative's naivete and dissembling but I think "somewhat" would be a good bet. So imagine my relief when somebody at the National Review of all places actually fesses up and admits to thinking that, yes, it would be better if the tail wagged the dog.

Mark Steyn actually posts a fairly reasoned argument for an awful awful position and at the same time gives you a pretty good sense of the faux tough-guy, this-man-is-an-island-by-god, fantasy world that far too many of my middle aged white male peers like to imagine they swagger around in or used to in some long lost less complicated and freer time.

As I've noted too many times there is no conservative position on health care reform beyond "No". Doesn't exist. Look for it. Oh sure there is some reflexive vague babble about vouchers and the like which may or may not be a worthwhile bit of tweaking but does exactly nothing in terms of addressing the real issues of costs, uninsured, and market failures. Exactly nothing.

Its sort of a "we don't need no stinkin' ideas" approach to problem solving.

And Steyn nails it right under the title:

"Government healthcare would be wrong even if it controlled costs"


That's who they are. Even if it is right, its wrong. Even if it helps, it hurts. That's dogma for ya, which is handy because it fills in all the pesky blanks without troubling the adherent to consider the conflicting tensions of reality.

And the great irony here is that these big bad rugged individualists are too lost in their simplistic fantasies to realize they are intellectually beholden to the same basic utopian impulse that informs socialism and communism. The idea that we can be lead to our better and more noble natures by strict adherence to an economic system is a deeply dysfunctional world view that appeals to weak minds and fearful hearts. But like I say, that's who they are and its nice to see them own up to it every now and again.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

This is bullshit...

Everyone involved in the Gates-breaking-into-his-own home episode has had a turn playing victim and now the woman who made the 911 call is taking hers. I don't believe her. Lets go over the facts again. She observed two men, one of whom is in his 50's walking with a cane, dressed in a sports jacket, with a suitcase pressing on a door. When asked she identified at least on of them as possibly hispanic. The officer later writes in his report that she claims to have seen two black men, so one of them is lying. Whatever.

Look. I don't claim to read minds and I don't know this woman from Eve, but I do know this. If she had seen a bearded, bespeckled, gimpy, older, sport jacket wearing, white man pushing on a door in or around Harvard I'd bet my life that her life experience would suggest a plausible scenario for that behavior that would not have included calling the police. This is racism. When you jump to a conclusion about someone's behavior that is informed entirely by the color of their skin then there is no other word for that in the English language.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


When you look back on all the things to have disliked about George Bush's presidency it is clear to my mind anyway that his approach to immigration reform was not among them. It was poor politics on his part to not have appeased the zealots in his party first by focusing on enhanced enforcement and then tacked on the path to citizenship as an etc. but we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory.

In any event the wingnuts shot him down and instead seem to be happy with.... the same intolerable shit we've always had. So the official whack job right wing position is " I'd Rather It Suck Like It Does Now Forever Than Compromise"

It must be endemic to the conservative mindset because we see that all the time. All or nothing. Either we close the borders and build a damn fence by-god or we do nothing at all. Same with healthcare. They are not troubled one wit by the fact that they do not have an alternative approach or feel even moderately compelled to offer one so by default they endorse the status quo. Sometimes these people just have to be drug kicking and screaming into the future. And scream the do.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Makin' me crazy...

Can't turn off my brain to sleep so here we go......

I don't love Obama's healthcare plan. Single payer, universal coverage, or "socialized medicine" is clearly clearly clearly the better option but Im not going to piss and whine and let perfect be the enemy of vast improvement because single payer is a non-starter and that's just reality. This is the difference between being dogmatically liberal and a pragmatist.

But that's not what keeps me awake nights, this does.

What makes my head wanna explode is that when conservatives oppose reform they aren't then offering a better option, or even a worse option. They aren't bothering to engage the issue period. So lets look at what conservatives are working for when they work against reform.


Will it cost a lot of money to change the current system? Why yes, yes it will. CBO estimates put the tab at something like $1.5 trillion and conservatives would like you to believe, or at least fear, that our grandchildren will have to eat dirt three times a week for 20 years to pay for that. Not so. Im not going to claim that it is revenue neutral but its hardly a budget buster in the way that things like wars of choice are or unfunded Medicare Drug plans, for instance.

So where's the dough? About 1/3 comes from savings from Medicare/Medicaid and the most of the rest comes from a modest tax increase on people who have money coming out of their asses, otherwise known as the top 1.5% of earners. But even after that increase those people will still be paying less in taxes overall than they were when Reagan (conservative Jesus) cut their taxes almost 30 years ago. To review... paying less, getting more.... reallllly struggling to see the suck in that.

On the other hand the conservative do-nothing approach supports a system that is already the most expensive in the world by a wide margin and is getting more costly by the day. The GOP supports a system that is doubling in cost every decade as of now and that's before most of the baby-boomers have really begun to stress the system further.. If your Congressman or Senator is against healthcare reform then they are choosing for you to pay 300-400% more for your healthcare when you retire in name of not taxing 1.5% of the population at a rate lower than it was 30 years ago. That's their deal.

Do that math. Sit down with your 401K statement and then extrapolate your current healthcare expenditures at a 300% increase and try to imagine how that's going to work out for you and yours. It doesn't work out at all but that's what conservatives stand for in this. They want you to pay a lot now, and then pay a helluva lot more later because it is easier for them politically.


Everytime I hear someone who is ostensibly educated call Obama a socialist it makes me wanna smack em in the fuckin' head with their college diploma, twice ,and then burn it because it clearly is doing them no good.

This is not socialized medicine. Im in favor of socialized medicine because its a much better idea. Im not getting my better idea but Im taking the next best thing. So what the hell is this?

Its the government incentivizing the market. Yes. It is a program that injects free market forces into a system and then letting that competition lower prices. Doesn't that sound kinda like a conservative idea? Why yes, yes it does. So why aren't they are board? Because they're too invested in the notion that taxes are always evil to get anything done and it blinds them to the possibility of common good, except of course when we're talking about bombing the shit out of some brown people cause that's a bargain at any price. So to be clear, taxes=bad. Out of control cost structures=good.

But you don't have to believe me. If you're afraid of socialized medicine do this little experiment.
Call your doctor and ask what he/she charges you for a specific procedure and then call your favorite hospital and do the same. Assuming they'll even tell you then take those figures and try to negotiate a better deal for yourself with another doctor or hospital. Ill wait....

Naw I wont wait either cause we both know what will happen. You will get nowhere. How can this be? In a non-Socialistic free market you should be able to shop around for the best price. There is no such thing as shopping around now for two reasons. First of all in many states insurance companies have effective monopolies and don't have to listen to your shit. Secondly the business of risk management is not about lowering *your* costs its about lowering *theirs* which means insurance companies are all about denying coverage when they can and charging as much as possible when they can't. A for-profit health system has no incentive to keep patient costs lower. Absent some redress it will never get any better than it is right now and will only get much much worse. This is what conservatives are in favor of.


When my dad was dying of cancer he couldn't get certain palliative medications because his insurance wouldn't pay for it. So instead he wretched and threw up his putrified stomach tissue till the day he died and those are among the last memories my mother has of him. Someone, not a doctor, made that choice for us because to have paid for his medication would have decreased the potential payout to their investors. When conservatives work against health care reform they are by default endorsing what my dad went through to preserve massive corporate profits. No way around that.

Now this is dicey territory I'll admit because there are horror stories in every system and one can't really know what's the exception and what's the rule. But really isn't that the point?

If our current system is so much better than the proposed alternative, or Europe , or Canada or anyplace else, why can we point to similar systemic failures? Shouldn't our delivery system be vastly better if the underlying principles are superior? Why yes, yes they should. But our delivery system isn't vastly better. It is marginally better in some instances and clearly worse in others but it costs more than twice as much and is bankrupting business and government, but even so conservatives would rather have us pay more for less because they lack the political courage to really address the issue. This is who they are. This is what they're in favor of.

If you support Obama's plan call your Senators and Congressman and tell them. If you don't support Obama's plan call your Senators and Congressman and ask them to offer a better idea.
But if you like having money and health you simply cannot sit this one out. Something has to happen.