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.