Archive for September, 2013


Trep, your comment on a recent post got me to thinking that if antebellum Southerners had been left to their own devices, they might have abandoned democracy altogether–instead, they might have established a monarchy.

Today, as I write, the those who have inherited the Southern planters’ hierarchical ideology–the tea party and its goons–are behaving as though they would prefer not to take into account anyone’s desires but their own.  To their way of thinking, negotiation is for those who accept that all parties to the discussion are equal partners.

The imperious-looking dude pictured above is King John, fourth son of Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine.   John was the great grandson of William the Conqueror, who famously invaded England and enslaved the Saxons.   William’s grandson, Henry II, worked hard to establish a system of justice that remedied many of the inequalities that the Norman invaders had imposed on the country.  But his son, Richard Lionheart, and later his son John, were not much interested in governing;   Richard spent most of his reign in the Holy Land, trying to “rescue” Jerusalem from Saladin.  Having failed at that, he was imprisoned on his way back to England until John was able to raise enough money to bail him out.

When Richard died, John, who was a skank–no other word for it–returned to the ways of his great-grandfather, raping and pillaging.  As every schoolchild knows (or used to know, at any rate), the nobility eventually forced him to sign the Magna Charta, which required him to operate within the law.  (Robin Hood could have had no part in these matters, given that he was born a century later.  So much for the stirring fables woven by Sirs Walter and Ridley Scott).

My point in rehearsing this history (aside from its inherent fascination) is that while monarchies can be more efficient than democracies, they run the risk of getting bad rulers.  Indeed, for every Henry II or Charles II, there seems to be a John or a George III.

Does anyone besides me think that John bears an uncanny resemblance to Ted Cruz?


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Note To Republicans

GOP-SuicideHow to get what you want, legislatively:

First:  win elections.   This enables you to win any votes taken on your proposals.  It also permits you to put your people in the chairs of important committees.

Second:  actually write legislation.  Actually propose budgets with numbers in them.  Then sell your ideas in committee and on the floor of the house or senate so they pass.

Third:  if you are unwilling (or unable) to use either of these paths to getting what you want, take your bullshit ideas and go home.

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3820744473As I write, President Obama is announcing a new relationship between Iran and the US.  Thanks to careful negotiations between Secretary Kerry and the Iranian Foreign Minister, an agreement was made that Iran will not–that’s NOT–build nuclear weaponry.   Wow!  The deal also included Iran’s agreement that the UN and interested countries may do regular inspections of their nuclear facilities.

This news comes on the heels of more great news:   the five members of the UN Security Council, which of course include Russian and China, have agreed that Syria must give up its chemical weapons.  They balked at adding a resolution about the use of force in case Syria doesn’t play nice, but nevertheless left open a way to install such a provision should it become necessary.  I don’t know how the US, and the world, could get anything better in this regard.

IOW, Obama and his team have secured two VERY LARGE international triumphs, securing goals that seemed impossible just weeks ago.  They were helped in the Iranian matter by the appointment of a new Iranian President (that’s Rohani in the photo) who seems to be interested chiefly in conducting peaceful negotiation and in finding ways to lift the sanctions that are crippling Iran’s economy.

And on Tuesday, the Affordable Care Act will roll out.  The 40 million Americans who do not have health insurance will be able to get it at reasonable prices.  They can’t be turned away because of a prior health condition, nor can insurance companies put lifetime limits on their coverage.

IMO Obama has now cemented a presidential legacy that approaches the historical significance of those laid down by Lincoln and FDR.  I wager that we will hear nothing of the kind in our nation’s media, however, who seem determined always to miss the point.  As I type this, MSNBC, the supposedly liberal teevee news station, is concentrating on the remarks with which Obama ended his press conference–remarks reminding the Republicans that the cannot hold the debt ceiling hostage–rather than on the grand and thrilling international achievements he announced first.


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Well, Fine

A paragraph from today’s editorial in the Washington Post:

“No president should cite democracy promotion as the United States’s only core interest or even, invariably, its first priority. A superpower always must juggle competing concerns of security and commerce. But has a president ever boasted that promoting democracy will not be a core interest? To say that America cares more about the flow of oil than the rights of men and women is to diminish the U.S. soldiers and diplomats who have sacrificed to far higher purpose than Mr. Obama would acknowledge. It is to cede the exceptionalism argument to Vladimir Putin.”

The Post has its panties in a twist because, in their words, President Obama “explicitly ruled out” the “promotion of liberty” in a speech he gave to the UN this week.  True enough, Obama didn’t include “the promotion of liberty” in the goals–hopes, really–that he listed for the near and long-term future of the Middle East (you can read the speech itself here:  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/25/us/politics/text-of-obamas-speech-at-the-un.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0).  The list appears near the end of a longish speech full of words like “equality,” “peace,” “justice,” and yes, “democracy.”

I don’t know which galls me most about the Post‘s reading:  the deliberate misreading of Obama’s speech, or their use of that term “boasting.”  The standards of contemporary journalism have sunk so low that an omission, a failure to say something, can now be described as “boasting” about it.  And need I point out that Obama’s speech was made AT THE UNITED NATIONS?  And that most members of his audience were NOT AMERICANS?

The Post’s hissy is worth remarking on only because it exemplifies contemporary journalists’ habit of reading their own narrative desires in place of what is actually said and done by political actors.  From where the editors sit, the entire point of US meddling in the middle East is not to protect its peoples or to see to their health and happiness;   no, it is to establish American values there–ie, “the promotion of liberty”–which, in the eyes of the Post‘s editors (you will forgive me for imagining) means “freedom to engage in capitalist exploitation” wherever and whenever plutocrats wish to do so.

If I am right, and this is what “American exceptionalism” means today, well, Vlad, you are welcome to it.

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AntebellumSouthOne of the central beliefs of Lost Cause mythology, even today, is that the Civil War was not fought over slavery.  Defenders of southern secession prefer to claim, somewhat obliquely, that they rebelled because northern states were trying to “impose a way of life” on the south.

Anyone who can believe this has to close his or her mind pretty thoroughly to the findings of contemporary historians.  The history of federal legislation from 1787, when the Constitution was written, shows concession after concession made to the south by the north in order to preserve the union.  The founders traded the notorious three-fifths rule for a provision abolishing the slave trade (but not slavery itself) in twenty years’ time.  And throughout the early nineteenth-century, northern representatives offered compromises on the admission of new states to the union, always doing so in the face of threats of secession from southern Senators.  Usually these compromises involved allowing slavery to be exported to one huge piece of new territory (Texas, for example) while excluding the practice from another (California).

None of these attempts at conciliation succeeded, because southerners (by which term here I mean wealthy whites) generally read such compromises as aggression.  They were able to do so because by 1830 or so they had convinced themselves that an agrarian economy based on slavery was the best of all possible worlds.  The north, according to this imaginary, was mired in bourgeois capitalism, where anyone at all could rise through the ranks by means of hard work.  Successful capitalists, this thinking went, were quite ready to ignore traditional notions of hierarchy and class in order to acquire ever more power.

According to historian Bruce Levine, privileged white southern males went so far as to think of themselves as inheritors of the aristocratic Cavaliers who supported king Charles I during the English Civil War.  “Northerners, in contrast, were the spawn of the miserable Roundhead rabble that pulled the time-honored monarchy down” (51).  Other historians trace southerners’ imagined aristocratic superiority even farther back, to the Norman Conquest.  Southerners who accepted this reading of their history considered themselves the inheritors of the lordly French, while northerners were thought to be descended from rude Saxon stock.

This ideology explains why elite southerners were so eager to secede and to fight the war which was sure to follow:  they were sure the conflict would last six months at the outside, because they were simply a better class of people than were northerners.  According to one plantation mistress, the Confederate army was “composed mainly of gentlemen,” while the Union forces were made up of “riff raff, the off scouring of their cities.”  Southerners who thought in these terms assumed that  the Union army would consist of “vulgar, fanatical, cheating ‘counter hoppers,’. . .  selfish, money-obsessed cowards and weaklings,” according to Levine.

A culture wherein some people are thought to be better than others merely by virtue of birth will have fewer qualms about enslaving anyone who can show no acceptable proof of natural entitlement.  The antebellum south demonstrated a kind of hardening of class arteries that was not practiced in ancient times, even by the Romans, who enslaved only those they conquered.  And sometimes they even manumitted slaves who gave good service.  Not so in the American south, where African heritage served a privileged few as a handy mark of abject classlessness.

Cited:  Bruce Levine, The Fall of the House of Dixie, Random House,          2013

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who’s calling the plays?


Ya wonder if NU’s admin had a copy of the tape all along and have now arranged that it slip out in order to give them the ammo you speak of.  Too bad they may have to sacrifice the rest of the season before letting him go – but it’s hard to fire someone for a tin ear or a bloated ego.  Especially when he makes more than they do.


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Why Am I Doing This?

BangHeadHereAll week I’ve been watching sports shows on the teevee and reading Nebraska fan websites and national sports websites.

I have to stop doing this!  I used to think that the commentariat on political websites were about as vile a group as could be imagined.  Now I know better.

Trep you may be the only person in the world who doesn’t know this because you are smart enough to ignore the media:  Nebraska’s football coach, Bo Pelini, was surreptitiously taped two years ago, unloading a cache of f-bombs onto Nebraska’s fans.  The anonymous tapeist released the recording to Deadspin, the TMZ of sports websites, after the loss to UCLA last Saturday.

Background:  In a 2011 game against Ohio State, Nebraska’s team floundered their way to a huge deficit in the first half.  The Ohio State quarterback got hurt early in the second half (not by a Nebraska player–he rolled his ankle), and Nebraska came back to win the game when OSU’s backup quarterback proved unable to hit the proverbial barn.  Apparently Bo was pissed that fans left at halftime, when Nebraska was losing badly.  (To be fair to the fans, it was also raining).

As a diehard Cornhusker fan, I’ll take a win any way we can get it honestly.  But I have to admit that we were just lucky that night–OSU had our number and would have beaten us as badly as Wisconsin had the week before had the quarterback been able to remain in the game.

I think that Bo knew this on some level, and that his outburst was generated by fear–of losing his job, of losing respect among his peers, etc.  I also think that whoever taped him is a snake.  He/she taped Pelini without his knowledge and released it when he is in trouble again for coaching the team to another series of disastrous losses (see my post below).  But f-bombs aren’t a very serious offense, IMO.  Embarrassing losses, on the other hand, now that’s serious, when the problem is bad coaching and not bad “execution,” as Pelini has been claiming for the last three years.  Maybe he’s too dumb to see it, but that argument blames the players even more directly than does fans’ early departure.  In the rain.

On Saturday, after the UCLA game, the plot thickened. Tommie Frazier, who was the quarterback of the 1995 team that won Nebraska’s last championship, and which is widely thought to be the best college team ever assembled, and who is about to be inducted into the College Hall of Fame–that Tommie Frazier–expressed some serious doubts about the capabilities of the current coaching staff.  Frazier probably should have kept his thoughts to himself, but he didn’t.  And Pelini probably should have left it alone, but he didn’t.  He said:  “We don’t need him,” referring to Frazier.

Now in Nebraska, dissing Tommie Frazier is about as bad as pissing on the church lawn.  Pelini’s dismissal shocked even me, not only because of its tin ear (we rhetoricians hate tin ears) but because it was so unhelpful to his cause.  Nonetheless, former Huskers who played for Bo are now chiming in, defending him:  “he taught me how to be a man.”  “he turned my life around.”  Etc.  Great.  That’s all great.  May I be pardoned for noting that there was no word from former players about whether college life in general, or participation in a team sport, or maybe even their professors, had any hand in the general process of growing up?

Anyhow, the administrators mulled all this over for awhile and finally released a statement yesterday saying they had accepted Pelini’s apology.  I’ve been listening to college presidents for a long time, and I can read between the lines as well as anybody.  My prediction:  Bo is on a very short leash, and he had better win the rest of his games this year.  Or else.  The tape has given administrators the ammunition they need should the rest of the football season prove disastrous.

Thanks for reading, if you got this far.  Now that’s off my plate, maybe I can read something less depressing–like the copy of Bleak House I downloaded last week.

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