Confessions a 20th century ne'er do well: Drinking, fighting, stealing and other things one generally ought not do

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Take THAT, Main Stream Media!

Tavis Smiley (on Bill Mahar 3/28): How much time is the mainstream media going to spend castigating, disecting, digging into, taking to task Pat Buchanan for being the kind of racial arsonist that he is for stoking the fire? Only on this show have I heard any in depth conversation, the kind we're having now, about what Buchannan said that is so far beyond the pale that it's nonsense.

See below. Ha!

Friday, March 21, 2008

It's Purim, and it's Good Friday. But I think they're both trumped by The First Day of Spring!!!!!

This is what Geraldine Ferraro said:
"If Obama was a white man he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman (of any color) he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up with the concept."

Sorry to revert to sarcasm, but…. The statement above is obviously true, since no white man has ever become a frontrunning presidential candidate.

This is from the supporter of a candidate who is claiming ‘experience’ based on being the wife of a former president. Would she have been able to claim experience had she not been the man’s wife? Would she be able to be the man’s wife had she not been a woman? But my implication isn’t even true. It’s not her gender that gives her an edge. It’s her relationships and connections that give her an edge. Which is true for everyone. Barack is now being held to the fire for being a member of a black church. If he were white, what would be the odds of his being a member of a church like that one?

Would John McCain have become the senator from Arizona if he were not white?

I don’t think in reality that Americans are shocked that such churches exist, or even that offended. The Jewish religion is replete with references to ‘other’ groups that would do us harm. But these stories are stories of strength and fortitude, not of hatred towards others. In fact most of these stories remind us that not only do we not have to live a lifestyle because "everyone else is doing it" but that we can achieve success by following rules that go against conventional wisdom despite what the forces of commercial marketing or political persuasion ask of us.

Purim is another story of oppression – intended genocide, in fact. There is little objection to the vilification of the 'other' in this case because the oppression took place during the Persian empire, and who knows much about Persians these days, anyway?
Most religious groups – even atheists – denigrate the morality of 'others'. Heck, this is one reason people object to religions.

Pat Buchannan says of this matter:
“America has been the best country on earth for black folks. It was here that 600,000 black people, brought from Africa in slave ships, grew into a community of 40 million, were introduced to Christian salvation, and reached the greatest levels of freedom and prosperity blacks have ever known.”
I suppose it’s fair to suggest that a preacher should appreciate being introduced to Christian salvation, but what about those who were introduced to Christianity through burning crosses? It is common wisdom that people are more strongly influenced by fear than by some objective rationalization, which is rational in itself, since objectively rationalizing whether a tiger will or won't eat you is more likely to get you killed than running away on instinct.
I abhor this attitude because it suggests that good enough is good enough - that America doesn't have to have high standards, because it's better than other places. Heck, I have no idea how Blacks are treated in other parts of the world, anyway, especially in terms of equality. But that is a digression. The point is not how can the vilification of the other be viewed, but how is it used. If it is used as evidence of self driven success in light of percieved or actual adverse conditions, what is the objection?

The question is why do religious attendees who are multi-denominational in their every day lives tolerate being part of groups that treat the rest of the world as ‘others’? Because they do. Perhaps it’s wrong. But the question isn’t whether it is right or wrong. The question is how reasonable is it to expect someone to separate from something so omnipresent. Especially someone who aspires to be a leader of a land where such attitudes prevail. A land marked by freedom of speech and religion. A person from a party nominally dedicated to tolerance of differing opinions. It seems like Republicans hate political correctness, except when certian people deviate from it.

In Judiasm, one of the lessons to be learned from tales of oppression is that of self fortitude. The idea that sticking to time tested principles leads to positive results. More simple minded people, (including simple minded or disingenuous atheists) believe it’s a belief in “magic”. That God somehow waves his wand and rewards loyalty. But thinking people understand that no matter what the trends of the day are, there are certain behaviors that, when practiced with consistency, lead to a better life. In Purim, one lesson is that the ‘signs from God’ are actually mechanisms of daily life. In this case, it is a lesson in civil engagement. Mordachi used his position as a senior administration official to a king to discover an evil plot to destroy the Jewish people. Esther used her position as the wife of the king to thwart the plot. On one level the lesson is a reminder of the value of public service and engagement. It was also a reminder that while dependent on the kindness of others, we are also potentially subject to their evil intentions, and it is up to us to work to be in self sustaining positions within the system. It is not such a controversial message. If the message of a black preacher is not to rely on Whitey or whomever, surely the results outweigh the methods?
(Ironically, years later, Esther referred to her marriage to the king as an example of her experience in serving the people, while at the same time denigrating her opponent for listening to the story which paints the Persians in a negative light. At least I think that's what happened)

Barack wasn’t the one saying the offensive words, just understanding their context. Remember that there are people alive who suffered from second class citizenship within our times. This preacher's position wasn't to represent the whole country, just his congregation. There may be a case for a preacher to promote perspective rather than show empathy, but I don't think it's a wrong doing on the preacher's part. And that leads me to the next point. It illustrates a generational difference. The 60s were a different time than the one we live in now. This preacher is of the 60s, as I think is the Clinton camp.

In fact, I’m a bit relieved by Ferraro’s statement, because they shine light on an element of the Democratic party that I despise. The victim champions. It is the baby boomer generation of the 60s that holds onto this idea so dear, although victimhood still draws honors from some. It is as though, to her mind, Democrats cannot justify supporting success except if it is in contrast to victimhood. Oblivious to his oratorical skills, sharp mind, perspective, motivation or other accomplishments, it seems as though Ferraro (and by extension the Clinton baby boomer camp) went through a checklist of victimhood to justify Democrats’ liking someone. “How perplexing his popularity is! He’s not a woman. He’s not handicapped. He wasn’t poor. Hmmm. Well, he is Black. That’s it. THAT’s why people like him!”

Saturday, March 15, 2008

I finally did it! I finally felt educated and well read!!!!

After years of trying to feel intelligent, I finally accomplished something. During a recent trip to Paris, I bought a book Candide, so I could sit outside of a Left Bank café and read philosophy, you know, like they do over there. I bought it at a bookstore called Shakespeare and Co., across the river from Notre Dame. It was a small bookstore, seemingly haphazard in its layout. There was a small curving stairway leading up to rooms where the guidebook said American writers stayed free of charge. There was a piano player in the store. I felt as though I was in a bona fide expatriate hangout. When I bought the book, the clerk asked if I wanted a stamp on the book.
“A stamp?” I asked. “What sort of a stamp?”
How exciting. I imagined Ernest Hemmingway getting some sort of stamp on his own books. I speculated that Benjamin Franklin got a similar stamp validating his membership in the local Mason’s Lodge. How authentic!!!
“A stamp that says ‘Shakespeare and Co.’”, the clerk said. “to show that you got it here.”
I looked at the Penguin-Putnam paperback in my hand and realized I was being had. This was a Disney style set-up designed to make tourists like me feel like we were getting an authentic Paris experience. Later, drinking wine and listening to a Jazz band, I had a similar feeling of authenticity, until I realized I was sitting in a place called the Paris Café. American sucker, I was!
There was in actuality an antique bookstore of the same name located right next door, but that was closed, and that wasn’t where I was. And I suspect antique book collectors opt out of the stamp option.

In reality, this was my third attempt at bringing the correct French philosopher into my awareness. I have been rapidly devouring the novels of Victor Hugo. Les Miserables last year, and the Hunchback of Notre Dame actually inspiring the trip. In my suitcase was the lower profile but no less epic ’93. Victor Hugo’s writing oozes love for his country and city, immersing himself in the emotional extremes of which an individual is capable while exposing the reader to the humanity that spawned the spectrum of history and philosophy spawned by those streets. Climbing the stairs of Notre Dame after reading the famous novel is the sort of deep experience I live for. Exploring a passionate artist’s mind while walking through his inspiration. The height of experience for me is to live the fruits of cumulative investigation. It is a reward for patient exploration of ideas. Ideas built upon each other over time. In this case, it was a mixture of architecture, social religion, spirituality, politics, human nature, and love. Not only Victor Hugo’s point of view, but the people who created the world he describes.
But for some reason, reading 93 didn’t make me feel like the pretentious dirty French artist of my aspirations. 93, like most Victor Hugo novels is too large. It describes the whole society with a totality that transcends most tribal movements. His characters quickly summarize the bubbling cauldron of ideas that the Left Bank was at the time. And to me Hugo gets to the roots of what man’s universal struggle, relegating the politics of movements and labeled affiliations to characters in his larger stories.
It has often been said that all religions preach the same basic truths. But Hugo embodies what those truths may actually be. Light, as a symbol of goodness and knowledge. Freedom as a driving force. He criticizes the earthly politics of the church and other movements while highlighting the nature of the search for truth. I should have realized that putting a stamp on my Voltaire book was actually a bona fide as any other act of pretensions. Ah but irony is another form of literary beauty.

I had burned through a compilation of Jean Paul Satre, but I found him to be a blowhard. I felt like while his approach was essentially a search for truth, it was a basic truth, rather than an expansive truth. It felt like he was writing to create an inarguable niche among professor types, rather than seeking a higher truth. A higher truth is assailable, but not less legitimate. It is more real because it is subject to the whims of other philosophers – like any truths we hold. The truth that a lover of knowledge seeks is strengthened because of how well it holds up despite the weaknesses of our understanding. Whether we mortals can defend a truth has no bearing as to its validity. Our weaknesses are not its.
My reaction to Satre was, “I guess you’re right, but so what?” I felt like his role in philosophy was right, but without meaning, as he concedes meaning to the individual’s interpretation. My interest is in those individuals, not his selfless concessions.

So I bought Candide. From what I could gather, Voltaire is somewhat of a gold standard among philosophers. His statue leads off the Left Bank tour in my Rick Steve’s guidebook. My edition of Candide thankfully has about a dozen footnotes per chapter explaining the irony and sarcasm that define the book.
At first, I thought I would have been lost without the footnotes, because the references were all beyond my knowledge.
Finally, I realized (now, since I put the book down a month ago when I came home and just picked it up again) that I don’t think I’m meant to get this book! I think it’s a brilliant piece of satire for it’s day, but has no more meaning than a Jon Stewart monologue will have next year. I think some of Voltaire’s comments are analogous to, “The people rejected the ruler based on her extensive experience because they could train a fresh college grad for a lower salary”. Because in the present day, whether we can express it or not, we recognize the inconsistency or downright absurdity of some media or political constructs, and are relieved and even excited to hear a succinct and sarcastic rebuttal. But out of context, the target is an absurd thought that never needed an answer.

So, where did I get this misguided feeling of education and well-readedness that I mention in the title to this entry?
I picked up an old issue of the Economist which was lying around my apartment – in fact it was the Feburary 12 issue, which came out right before my trip. It was open to a page about the greater economy. Interestingly, it refers to Jimmy Cayne stepping down as the boss of Bear Sterns, which the magazine pegs as the bank whose failing hedge fund marked the start of the sub-prime credit crisis last June. This, of course was a month before the bank completely failed last week and is currently being bailed, and probably waits to be absorbed by JP Morgan. (This makes the Economist writers well educated and well read, not me, since they have been following this chain of events since mid Feb, while I was busy being upset that I wasn’t enough of an authentic artisy, filthy, liberal, absinthe-drinking, poet, expatriate type because my outdated philosophy book was mass produced).
Anyway, the subheading to this article (or “pre-lead” might be a more accurate way to describe it), read, “Only Panglossians think that the sector is over the worst.”
Aha! Panglossians was a reference to Candide! Pangloss is Candide’s teacher who holds that all is well in the world in spite of all evidence showing otherwise!
This was quite an erudite reference, if I’ve ever heard one, and I got it!

(Not quite as arcane as the South Park episode that was modeled on Ender’s Game, where someone called Cartman a “Fourthy!” but certainly more academic).

And thus, I believe I have made my first step into finally entering the pretentious world which eluded me in Paris. While stamping a book to prove you’ve been in a particular bookstore is indeed pretentious, using a term from a dated French Philosophy book in a modern news article about the economy is completely pretentious. It takes a difficult but important subject matter – the world economy – and instead of clarifying it for the average educated reader, makes it more difficult to understand by those who might have been occupied by things other than philosophy or French literature while in college.

By the way, I mentioned earlier, irony contains its own beauty. The name Pangloss is a derivative of two words: Pan, which means “all”, and gloss, which means “talk.” Which is a good way to describe any article that prognosticates about the economy as much as this did (and indeed many Economist articles do). There are a few paragraphs about how JP Morgan may be the next to be hit, and JP Morgan in fact the bank who profited this week from Bear Sterns’ loss. All talk indeed.

I'm let down by election year spoofs so far

I’ve been thinking about how SNL should be approaching the election – they’re choosing to avoid humor because apparently Tina Fey and Lorne Michals are too busy sucking Hillary’s dick. Perhaps NBC has a stake in Kool Aid and they require their employees to drink it. Remember back in October or so when Obama was on 60 minutes? They said, “But does Obama have the experience to be president?” accompanied by him running to catch an elevator only to have it close in his face, as though he is so green that he’s never been in a building taller than one story. The subtext, of course, was that he has no coalition building experience and no one who on a metaphoric level would hold the door for him Immediately afterwards, Hillary started pounding on this experience thing, as though she has some sort of experience we’ve never heard about. Now, SNL tried to pretend that Obama has gotten a pass. No. He started out with the networks against him, and through smart campaigning comes across better than Hillary.

So here are some thoughts. Instead of being Hillary supporters, and therefore afraid of offending Obama supporters, and being accused of dirty tricks, they should be independent and characterize Obama the way he’s begging to be shown.

- He should be played by a 12 year old. Obama always looks so much younger than the other two. If Bill Mahar can harp on McCain’s age, so can SNL make fun of Obama’s obvious youth.

- Portray Obama as a 70s era Black stereotype. Afro, sneakers, speaking like yo, yo, what it is, having a thuggish posse, slapping people five. That would be as funny because it always is – (Dave Chapelle made a career out of that single joke – he would have him say “Yes we can, bitch!” and passing around a joint). It would also be funny because it spoofs the people who claim he’s only successful because he’s black, or can’t win because he’s black. I think it’s very ‘baby boomer’ to think of Obama’s ‘blackness’ as being an issue. I think baby boomers – especially the kind who support Hillary – wish that institutional and violent racism was raging as strongly as it was in the 60s, so their minor racism could be viewed as enlightened, and they can receive medals for not crossing the street when somone of another race approaches them. This is 2008, and hatred may never go away, but it is certianly not progressive to view someone as an individual rather than a demographic group anymore.

Notice that if they were to portray Hillary as fickle, shrill, prone to claiming victim or naggy (“Barak Obama, you should be ashamed of yourself!”), it wouldn’t actually be a spoof? Does this mean that black people have more absurd stereotypes to overcome than women, or does it mean that Hillary is a stereotype?

- Finally, there should be an ad with a house on a suburban street at night. A quiet voice whispers, “It’s 3 am, and you hear a noise down the hall. Your bedroom door opens. Who would you rather see there?” then a shot to the door opening, “Barak Obama?” there is a black man with a serious look on his face, backlit so as to cast a long shadow. The ad continues, “or…. Your mom?” Hillary is in the door with a smile, walks over to the bed saying, “Aw, there there, it’s OK.”, maybe holding a bottle or something.

- Another take on the commercial could be an operator answering the call and routing it to the correct department, and having Obama briefed on how the person responsible is handling the situation. The tag line would be “Wouldn’t you rather vote for someone who knows how to accurately portray how things work in the White House?”

Friday, March 14, 2008

In the spirit of change and cooperation, let's have a little respect.

This is why I don’t blog. What was a pithy one liner a few days ago took way too long to repeat in the comment below, and the attempt at context didn’t work either. Now it’s sitting there as the most recent representative of my so called “wit” because I don't have the time or inclination to update this stuff or specifically to edit it.

I have been dwelling on a new definition of conservative versus liberal that isn’t critical of either: Liberals are trying to find what they love. Conservatives are trying to protect what they love.

That is why liberals want more of things. More new art, more cultures to be surrounded by, and they want things that they aren’t yet supporting to be supported somehow, often by government. Conservatives don’t want resources to be drained from things they value, especially for vague reasons, such as a liberal expressing support for something he or she really doesn’t understand or isn't vested in – the liberal doesn’t want something diminished before he or she has a chance to see if it’s what he or she loves. An example: A conservative wants to watch his favorite show; a liberal wants to see what else is on TV. Note: a self description isn't necessarily accurate, and neither is an affiliation.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Sigh.... if you're gonna cheat......

I remember about 20 years ago when it was discovered that Gary Hart had had an affair, my father quoted the talking point of the day: "How can we trust him to keep a vow to his country when he can't even keep a vow to his wife?" It was one of my first glimpses into the partisan preposterosity that passes for political discourse in this country.
That is not going to stop me for using similar logic now to point to the relative honesty of Elliot Spitzer: If he can't keep it a secret when he sees a hooker, how can we expect that he'd be able keep other, shadier dealings a secret, like working with the mafia, cheating on taxes, selling secrets to the Soviets? You'd assume that the Feds are working harder on such cases. Thus we can conclude that as a public servant, he is fairly honest. Not 100%, because of this transgression, but I think the fact he can't even pull this off, suggests that he is probably innocent of bigger things. For the record. I do believe that elected officials shouldn't break the law