Archive for June, 2014

tea-party-and-GOP-establishmentI just watched two Rethugs shouting at and over one another on national teevee.  It felt so good I laughed out loud.

One was a representative of the Mississippi Tea Party, which, as you probably know, has been threatening to bolt from the portion of the Rethug party they call “the establishment.”  They are pissed, down there in Mississippi, because their guy lost a runoff to a fellow who got Democrats to vote for him.  These southrun Tea Partiers are true believers–there’s no wiggle room at all in their ideology (they are fundamentalists in both politics and religion I guess).  Of course there is room for dirty tricks–these are the same folks who tried to photograph a woman in hospice and who somehow got themselves locked inside a courthouse where filled-out ballots were stored.

The establishment rep was John Feury, whose ordinarily smarmy remarks about Democrats are hard to take (I generally keep the mute handy when folks like Feury appear on my teevee).  He tried to talk reason to the TPer (or what passes for reason among Rethugs) pointing out that their threats to bolt the Rethug party would leave Harry Reid in charge of the Senate for the remainder of Obama’s term (and probably longer, given that the next Prex is likely to be a Dem).

Needles to say, the TPer was not moved.

Also, too, some dude on Faux News took on Michelle Bachmann, telling her that Boehner’s plan to sue the President is just plain silly.  They shouted at and over each other too.  Of course Boehner is only trying to hold the TP at bay–they want to impeach Obama, no matter there are no (legal) grounds which may be why Boehner hasn’t mentioned any.

This is hilarious.  Are they forgetting that O is a lawyer his own self and not only that, a student of Constitutional law?  I wouldn’t want to take him on in court.  I don’t suppose there are many judges who want to do so either.   And of course the Democrats can hardly contain their glee over all of this.  They remember what happened to President Clinton’s poll numbers after he was impeached.

I don’t understand why folks who don’t believe in government or governing want to be elected to office.  Am I missing something here?


Read Full Post »

I Passed.


Or failed, depending on your point of view.

I had a sleep test last night.  According to the tech, I didn’t wake up often enough (twenty times an hour) for my insurance to cover the cost of a CPAP machine, which is good news, I guess.  The doc who studies the tapes will decide whether my disorder is serious enough to browbeat Medicare into paying for treatment.

So I guess that’s good news–if I have apnea, it’s not serious enough to correct, so far.

The picture doesn’t show the wires that get pasted on your head, legs, and arms.  Nor does it show the sort of harness they wrap around your chest and belly.  Or the multitudinous gizmos they tape to your upper lip, right under your nose and linked to more wires.  Or the little lighted thingy that gets taped to a forefinger, so that you see a reddish light moving past your face every time you turn over.

Despite all the gear, I got the best sleep in the hospital I’ve had in a long time.  Perhaps I need to sequester the cats?  Get a new pillow?  Stop stressing about my health?  The tech who recorded everything–except my thoughts–said I was in excellent health.  So there is that.

Read Full Post »

the-american-revolution-george-everettI may have mentioned here that since I retired I have been reading my way through American history, something I should have done long ago but never had the time.  Once I got free of the demands of work, though, I started at the beginning, reading a wonderful book by Alan Taylor called American Colonies:  The Settling of North America (New York:  Penguin 2001).  In addition to discussing the history of each of the original colonies in detail, Taylor did me the favor of reviewing the cultures of Native peoples who interacted with the colonists, and his bibliography pointed me in the direction of many more studies about Native life prior to the invasion of their land by Europeans and Africans.  In tandem with Taylor’s book I read Peter Kolchin’s American Slavery 1619-1877 which obviously has a different slant but covers some of the same issues that faced people who arrived in North America, by whatever means, in the seventeenth-century.

Then I read Robert Middlekauff’s The Glorious Cause:  The American Revolution, 1763-1789.  This is the first entry in the Oxford History of the United States, which contains (so far) seven massive tomes explicitly written for duffers like me.  Then I attempted to move on to Gordon S. Wood’s The Empire of Liberty, which tells the story of post-revolutionary America (1789-1815).  I realized before I got very far into it that I still knew too little about what preceded that era to fully appreciate Wood’s arguments.  That’s because Middlekauff concentrated on the military aspects of the revolutionary war and hence didn’t include the cooler social and political stuff that Wood is into.

In fairness, Middlekauff’s book was first published in 1982, before historians began taking the approach they use now:  writing thoroughly contextualized stories about events.  That is, they consider mores, politics, ideology, character, temperament–all the good stuff.  (I could make an argument that we have feminism and African-American studies to thank for this turn in focus–but I’ll resist).  Historians are also more interested now in narrative than they used to be, and so they concentrate on telling a ripping good story while they are at the business of informing Americans of stuff we should have learned in school.  (“What we learned in school” is epitomized in the image above).

So I went down to my local library and found a tiny hardcover book, also written by Wood and entitled The American Revolution:  A History (New York:  Modern Library, 2002) It’s about the size of a paperback and only 168 pages long, published as part of a series intended to acquaint the general reader with historical stuff.  Here Wood does an adequate review of the military aspects of the war, but he is far more interested in the reactions of the British to American obstreperousness and the development of a truly revolutionary consciousness among the colonists.

On a nearby shelf I also found Jack Rakove’s Revolutionaries:  A New History of the Invention of America (Boston:  Houghton-Mifflin 2010).  This is a bigger and more ambitious book, but it fully repays a read (it won a Pulitzer).  As the title indicates, Rakove is also interested in the intellectual, ideological, and social currents that led to the construction of the Constitution.

Both of these guys can write.  Here is Wood on Sam Adams:  “Forty-six-year-old Samuel Adams, with his puritanical zeal, organizational skill, and deep hatred of crown authority, emerged as a dominant political figure.  It was later said that 1768 was the year Adams decided on independence for America” (33).  Rakove observes that Adams was more successful at rebel-rousing that he was at business:  “a family business might seem a safe port, but after his father’s death in 1748 Samuel managed to run the brewery into bankruptcy.  A quarter-milennium would pass before the name Samuel Adams again brought a smile to the lips of American tipplers” (39).

Wood concludes his book with a meditation on an important ideological change wrought among colonists by the Revolution.  He notes the creation of something he calls “democratic despotism.”  States began to mint their own paper money, strike their own deals with foreign trade, and refused to send tax money to the confederated government to pay for the war.  At the same time, state assemblies were larger and representative of more classes of citizens.  Representatives, who were no longer subject to monarchical assumptions about status and dependence, began to legislate as though their private issues trumped more widespread concerns.  As James Madison put it, “a spirit of locality” in the state legislatures was destroying “the aggregate interests of the community” (141).  Dissatisfaction with this “spirit of locality” moved the founders to write a federal constitution.

In other words, representative democracy had come so quickly to the previously disenfranchised colonists that they went a little nuts.  Or, there can be too much democracy;  that happens when everyone is interested only in pursuing his own interests (women were not citizens at this time, of course) at the expense of the whole.  Interesting to see that this conundrum–local vs. national interests–emerged so very early in American history.  And of course it is still very much with us.  Is “democratic despotism” what the Tea Partiers want?

Read Full Post »

I just had to post about Eric Cantor’s demise as a force in American politics.  Every political blog on the planet has weighed in on this, it seems, but most are missing a couple of important points.  Not Booman, though, who observes over at his Booman Tribune:

“The national Republican Party just lost their only remaining Jewish member because he wasn’t racist enough. I wonder what Jewish Republicans like Bill Kristol and David Frum think about that. I wonder if they still feel at home in a party that is literally foaming at the mouth with xenophobia and is awash with pseudoscientific and anti-intellectual conspiracy theories about climate change and intelligent design and the United Nations and Benghazi!”

So the teahadists now have a House of Representatives consisting entirely of white Christians, mostly men.  I’m sure that won’t be enough for them–this victory will have them looking around for more heads to roll. Here’s Charlie Pierce at Esquire:

“Brat beat Eric Cantor because the latter could be framed effectively to the Republican primary electorate as at least trying to act like an actual member of Congress. Thus did Eric Cantor become the latest victim of the prion disease that has been eating away at the brain of the party since the Goldwater campaign.”

IOW, the teahadists don’t want anyone who is actually interested in governing.  They have openly professed their distrust of government on many occasions.  Also, too, they really really like to get their hate on.  Even though I have no use for Cantor or his politics, I was shocked by the glee expressed by some of the people who had worked to defeat him.  They reminded me of the sort of vengeful fans one sometimes has to deal with at football games:  “Kicked your sorry butt, didn’t we!”

The guy that beat Cantor–David Brat–is an economics prof at Randolph Macon.  However, he is anything but a “liberal academic.”  Rather, he seems to be an economic Randian and a fundy Christer on social issues.  A toxic combination if ever there were one.

I heard Bratt on the teevee the other day arguing that immigration is not a problem for the US to solve;  rather, in his view third-world countries have to harness the available means of production in order to put their people to work!  Never mind that the economies of Central American countries have for years been ravaged by western corporations, itinerant drug lords, and thugs trained at the School of the Americas (which is supported by the CIA no less).  IOW, the US is responsible, at least in part, for the fact that the people of Honduras and Guatemala can’t get work and their children don’t have enough to eat.  If Bratt is as knowledgeable as he should be, he knows this, but has artfully refrained from saying to to his would-be constituents.

The teahadist combination of desires, that is, no government interfering in “my freedom” plus general hatefulness for anyone who disagrees or is different, is directly tied to the right-wing violence we’ve seen over the past few years.  Don’t tell me that words are not actions.  As a rhetorician, I have immense respect for the power of persuasion, and hence I’ve no use for the pundits who constantly tell us that words have no effects or that ideologies have no real-world consequences.  Balderdash.  According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, right-wingers have killed more than 350 people in the last twenty years (that we know about) and that doesn’t include the numbers racked up by Timothy McVeigh at the far end of the span or the two cops and a bystander who were gunned down last week in Vegas by two wingnuts who covered the bodies with Gadsden flags.


Read Full Post »

Trust No One

The X-FilesFor the last few afternoons I’ve been working away on my episode guide to the X-files. I started this project back in the 1990s when the series was still airing on network television.  But I never managed to finish it–until now.

When I did a little research for this project I was surprised to learn that fans are still interested in this show.  There is a veritable treasure trove of X-filery on the internet, much of it written by people who were too young to watch it during its initial run.  Fans have put together timelines, analyses of the major narrative arcs in the series, episode summaries, and lots of discussions and arguments about what really happened here or there.  They are compiling handy lists of the mythology episodes–those that advance the central plot about an alien-human conspiracy, and TV critics are writing new reviews of the episodes.

All of this piqued my interest, and so I re-watched episodes about which I had not yet written. Most of the shows I had so far failed to document were first aired during the final years of the series, from 1998-2001. Watching these now, it’s as though I’ve never seen them–and it may be that I didn’t get to watch them all, busy as I was with other things during that period.  The series engages me now just as thoroughly as it did when I first watched it, even though most critics think its vaunted quality went downhill during its last years.

David Duchovny, who played the hero, Fox Mulder, appeared in the show less often during that period, and I must admit that in the eps in which he does appear he seems to be phoning it in. But Gillian Anderson, as Dana Scully, provides as strong a moral center to the show as ever, and she is ably assisted in this by the introduction of Robert Patrick as Agent Doggett. Assistant Director Skinner (Mitch Pileggi) is still on board as well, and he has, by the eighth season, seen so many inexplicable things that he has become a believer.  And the evil Alex Krychek (Nicholas Lea) still shows up on occasion to stir the pot.

Watching now, I am struck by The X-files‘ fetishization of skepticism and distrust.  There are allusions to Nazi war criminals, Los Alamos, Area 51, Roswell, genetic tampering, cloning, gender-switching, homelessness, and much more. Middle-class life–home and family–is regularly demonstrated not to be what it seems (a little kid channels alien digital signals through the teevee;  alluring women turn into men;  the exact same child is born to eight sets of parents;  your doctor fakes your ultrasound and your high-school English teacher turns out to be a literal devil).  In this universe you cannot believe your eyes–there are shapeshifters, aliens masquerading as humans, officials in high places who are in cahoots with aliens, and doctors who seem more interested in running tests on people than in healing them.

I’m not alone in noticing this; a reviewer on AVClub put it this way: “The X-Files tapped into a rich vein of paranoia and pre-millennium tension. There’s a particular kind of American madness rooted in the conspiracy theories surrounding the JFK assassination and Watergate. It’s a sense that everything we know is wrong and everything we’re told is a lie. The government never has your interests in mind, there’s a hidden agenda behind everything, and the game is rigged to benefit the privileged few at the expense of the many.”

All of the X-files episodes were written prior to 9/11 and W’s wars.  So now, twenty years later, skepticism about authority resonates even more than it did in 1993.  In the intervening years the same network that aired The X-files has taught us that “the news” can be as fictitious as any lurid fantasy dreamed up by Chris Carter or Vince Gilligan. But in 1993 the suspicion that all was not as we were told was just sinking in, and The X-files gave us a way to talk about that over the water cooler every Monday morning.

Read Full Post »

Surveying the Ruins

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’ve been wondering what’s inside this cement block for two whole months!

Inky has been out of his cage for a couple of days, and he seems to be doing well.  At first he jumped up on every high shelf he could find while I hovered anxiously below, but he’s survived a thorough re-exploration of the house without mishap.

Sassy, on the other hand, is not sure she likes dealing with Inky on equal terms.

Now all I have to do is haul these blocks into the garage and sweep up two months’ worth of litter spillage in my bathroom.

Read Full Post »