Thursday, December 31, 2015

About the 2015 Kennedy Center honors

This year's Kennedy Center honorees were Rita Moreno, George Lucas, Cicely Tyson, Seiji Ozawa, and Carole King.

Most of the tributes were entertaining and classy. I especially enjoyed Tyler Perry's anecdote about working with Cicely Tyson; he deftly turned from the very funny story to a heartfelt encomium and never hit a false note. The gospel performance ending the tribute to Miss Tyson was great, not least because of her delighted smile and enthusiastic gesticulations. Many have praised Aretha Franklin's show-stopping rendition of "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman". (Carole King's obvious elation contributes heavily to this segment's impact.)

The salute to George Lucas, though, had a baffling misfire: the segment on music's importance to his films. The live accompaniment was jarringly thin compared to the original soundtracks. Worse, the segment ended with an out-of-nowhere, totally pointless parade of Imperial stormtroopers. Huh?

Improbably, the stormtroopers returned during the final number of the show, a star-studded rendition of Carole King's "I Feel the Earth Move". Again, they stood around while the likes of Sara Bareilles, Aretha Franklin and James Taylor performed.

These missteps didn't ruin the show but they were weirdly off-key. Was a seven-year-old an assistant producer? Or might this have been a sly (and unkind) swipe at Lucas' habit of sabotaging his films with juvenile touches? Hmm ... no, that sounds too meta for this show. The boring truth is probably that some producer had both a lousy idea and the authority to realize it.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Distractions from the big problem

2015 was a watershed year for gay rights. Same-sex marriage is still controversial, but we've seen heartening indications that most people aren't as scared of non-heterosexuals as they were even five years ago.

Texas teen Ethan Couch, who got probation even though he killed four innocent people in a drunk-driving incident, was picked up in Mexico with his mother. Even the dimwitted judge who gave him probation should now see that he needs to be locked up. The judge should toss Mom into the women's wing of the same prison, too.

These and other attention-grabbing happenings, though, have all been dangerous distractions from the year's really big story: the emotional secession of the far right from our country. Chauncey DeVega writes:

... today’s brand of conservatism exhibits pre-Enlightenment era thinking, and uses what I (and others) have described as “the politics of disorientation” to confuse the American people through a coordinated campaign of outright lying and seductive disinformation.


To understand Donald Trump’s appeal, one must seriously consider the possibility that his followers specifically, and movement conservatives and the Republican Party more generally, are exhibiting signs of political psychopathology.

DeVega says Trump's supporters exhibit many of the signs of a cult. I've thought so for a while. His supporters — or followers — are basically living in their own informational ecosystem, divorced from the real world, accepting only the truth according to Trump. They effectively have broken off from the rest of the country, at least in their own minds.

We have a job of deprogramming ahead of us. That realization is the real story of 2015, but we keep letting ourselves be distracted. No more. Let 2016 be the start of our reckoning with it.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

My Obsession Now: Dream Academy, "Life in a Northern Town"

It seems like the right time of year for this pretty tune. It's cold and crisp and (finally!) rainy here, at last making me feel like I could be in the little town of the video.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The company you keep may not be good for you

The New York Times piece is, "Rise of Donald Trump Divides Black Celebrities He Calls His Friends".

The issue isn't that he calls them his friends: it's that they call him theirs.

[Mike] Tyson, who is Muslim, recently defended Mr. Trump, telling the website TMZ, “Hey listen, anybody that was ever president of the United States offended some group of people.”
Tyson's remarks aren't the only eyebrow-raising ones in this piece, but they're illustrative of the problem all of Trump's friends are facing, whatever their color or creed.

Apparently Teh Donald inspires a certain amount of personal loyalty. I won't presume to dispute that: I don't know the man except by his public statements. Most of us probably define our true friends as those who stick by us in times of trouble, and that's an admirable trait — to a point.

At some point, though, you have to step back and look at your friend and the trouble he's causing.

It might have escaped your notice, Friends of Teh Donald, but your friend has gone beyond offending people. He's stirring up hatred of The Other, especially if The Other has brown or black skin. His "offensive" remarks haven't been one-offs: they've been part of a calculated strategy to gin up votes among bigoted white people. You don't have to take my word for it, either: Al Sharpton cuts right to the heart of the problem.

... Mr. Sharpton said he did not know whether Mr. Trump was racist, and added, “I don’t think it matters.”

“What he’s saying appeals to racists,” Mr. Sharpton said. “He’s too smart to not know what he’s doing.”

You Friends of Teh Donald aren't trying to excuse a drinking problem or some other merely self-destructive trait, you're trying to excuse hate-mongering.

From this stranger-to-Teh-Donald's perspective, you Friends of Teh Donald have been nothing more than props in his ego fantasy. He likes to treat you well because you lend him lustre and social cachet: "Look at all these important and famous people who love me!"

But say I'm wrong. Say he has been a genuine and good friend to you. You still have to confront the fact that he's fostering xenophobia — fear and hatred of The Other. Is that what you want? The longer you stick by him, the more we're going to think it is.

It's not all about race or religion, either. Ultimately your friend doesn't give a shit except for wealthy people. Don King, that prince of opportunists, knows this well.

“What matters to Trump is success,” Mr. King, 84, said in a phone interview, recalling fondly how their friendship grew from ringside encounters at boxing matches in Atlantic City. “If you are achieving success, you meet the test.”
Let's be clear: by "success" both Teh Donald and King mean wealth and fame. They don't hang out with "successful" small-business owners or "successful" philosophers.

So, Friends of Teh Donald, is it all about that kind of success for you, too? Do you genuinely not give a shit about anyone but people who have been "successful" by those lights? If so, go ahead, stand by your man.

But if you care about less-successful people too (or, heaven forbid, even unsuccessful ones), or if "success" means more to you than wealth and fame, you need to look long and hard at what your friend is saying, and what his words are doing to the country.

Sometimes being a friend means doing the hard thing, confronting him when he's lashing out and causing mayhem. Sometimes it even means ending the friendship.

Your friend has made his choice, and it ain't pretty.

Your turn.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The only thinking The Donald does is wishful

During last night's Republican debate, the wannabe fascist frontrunner said:
“We should be able to penetrate the Internet and find out exactly where ISIS is and everything about ISIS. We can do that if we use our good people. ... Now, you could close [the Internet]. What I like even better than that is getting our smartest and getting our best to infiltrate their Internet so that we know exactly where they're going. Exactly where they're going to be. I like that better.”
I could explain why this is complete nonsense but if you're a Trump supporter you won't believe me (he's the self-proclaimed smartest guy around, after all, and I only spent seven years writing network-aware software), while if you're not a supporter you likely already know he's spouting horseshit. So I'm not going to waste my time.

I mention this gibbering from The Donald only because it's a perfect example of his standard modus operandi. He conjures up an ideal result, the one everybody wants, and then brazenly, and always without offering any proof whatsoever, claims we could achieve this result — if only he were in charge.

This is the kind of stupidity practiced by executives who don't know squat about their industry but won't take "no" for an answer. The business press never asks whether their forceful actions are correct, so the idiots never are confronted with their wrongness and they start believing they're savants.

It's the kind of stupidity Scott Adams has been lampooning for years with Dilbert's "pointy-haired boss". A pointy-haired boss' subordinates don't have the authority to tell him he's wrong, not that he'd listen if they tried. He starts thinking he can make things happen merely by issuing orders, just like waving a magic wand.

The Donald is the ultimate wishful thinker.

Actually, his supporters are the ultimate wishful thinkers. They think he knows what he's talking about. They think he can deliver on his absurd claims.

For all our sakes, I hope he never gets the chance to disappoint them.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

A study in contrasts on late night

Monday night saw a couple of late-night pairings that warmed the heart of any Jon Stewart fan. Only one of them worked out in everyone's favor, though.

Jon Stewart himself guested on The Daily Show to talk about Congress' shameful failure to extend or to make permanent a compensation fund for first responders to the 11 September 2001 attacks.

Stewart graciously and correctly never tried to upstage Noah. The trouble was, he couldn't help doing so. Noah's bemused outsider never seemed more genuinely outside, less relevant to the show that now bears his name. The appearance did Stewart and the worthy cause he espouses good (I hope), but it had the deeply unfortunate effect of rendering Noah a nonentity. I can't see how Stewart can appear on the show again until or unless Noah has acquired the presence to stand alongside his predecessor without seeming lost.

Steve Carell's appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert was a much happier experience all around. The two old friends swapped stories and praised each other to the skies, but never let too much time elapse between jokes. If it wasn't quite the comedic gem that Carell's triumphant return to The Daily Show was in 2005, it still made for thoroughly entertaining TV. (I'll even forgive Carell his totally believable but completely fake reluctance to sing with Colbert.)

Monday, December 7, 2015

A plea to Donald Trump's supporters

In case you somehow missed it, Donald Trump called for keeping Muslims from entering the U.S. He wouldn't make an exception for anybody, including U.S. citizens.

To Trump supporters everywhere: I'm asking you — no, I'm begging you — to stop for a moment.

I'm not asking you to put yourself in the shoes of a Muslim, because you might not have any idea what that's like. I certainly don't.

I'm asking you to put yourself in the shoes of your grandparents. Or your great-grandparents. Or your friend's father or mother.

You don't have to be Japanese to see that what we did to Japanese-American civilians (and to a lesser extent, to German-American and Italian-American civilians) at the outset of World War II was a cruel and unjustified punishment of innocent people.

You don't have to be Irish or Italian or Chinese to appreciate how badly these groups were treated at various times in our nation's history.

You don't have to be Catholic or Jewish to see how irrational bigotry harmed innocent adherents to these religions.

I guarantee you that if you aren't a first- or second-generation American yourself, your ancestors who were experienced bigotry and calumny at the hands of suspicious "already-heres" who didn't take kindly to the new people arriving on these shores.

The vast majority of Muslims live peaceful lives in the U.S. They're as horrified by terrorist attacks as the rest of us are.

"But they espouse hate!" Some of them do. But then, so do some Christians. There are Christian leaders who call for killing gays. The latter aren't just fringe figures, either: they're politically significant enough that three Republican presidential candidates paid them a visit.

Should we vent our frustration and anger at these hateful people by visiting vengeance on all Christians?

I'm asking you, supporters of Donald Trump, to take a few moments to calm down. Think what tarring whole ethnic and religious groups with a broad brush has done in the past, very likely to one or more of your own ancestors.

This country is a marvelous experiment in getting people of a thousand different cultures to live in relative harmony. It has been a rocky road at times. We bump against one another and piss one another off on a regular basis, it seems. But we share a commitment to making it work. Really. We do. One of the more eloquent testaments to the strength of that commitment is the example of the 442nd Infantry Regiment from World War II: even after the racist and vindictive treatment of their parents, these American-born men of Japanese ethnic ancestry believed enough in American ideals to lay their lives on the line for them.

But ours is a fragile experiment. The threat isn't from ISIS or Russia or China or anybody else. It's from a strain of thought that seeks to atomize us, to divide us, to pit us one against another on the basis of race, religion, or some other factor. ISIS can't destroy us — but we can.

And Donald Trump's rhetoric points the way.

So again, I'm asking you supporters of Donald Trump to pause, and put yourself in the shoes of The Other. Your ancestors were The Other at some point.

Trump isn't going to listen to me. He might listen to you, though.

Tell him he's playing right into ISIS' hands. Tell him we need to win the war of ideas as well as the shooting war. Tell him that "shutting down" entry by Muslims would confirm the worst suspicions of people around the world about Americans. It would be a betrayal of our principles from which it would take us generations to recover.

Please. Tell him.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

The illusion of discriminating between refugees

Jeffrey Tayler posits in a Salon piece that Donald Trump might be right about one thing (contrary to all the abundant evidence that he is a serial liar): we should be very careful about accepting more refugees from Syria. The facts, he says, favor caution: Islamic fundamentalism is on the rise and has as alarming a rate of infection as Ebola (my simile, not his). Tayler's okay with accepting those refugees who are Christian. But, perhaps as a sop to people who find discriminating on the basis of religion to be not just immoral but exceedingly stupid, he adds, "why not consider seeking out atheist Syrian asylum seekers, few though they may be?"

Tayler is an idiot.

I would guess that people have lied on their applications about their religious affiliation without our catching it. Moreover, Tayler cites the statistic that, of 66 Muslims arrested for plotting terrorist attacks in the U.S. in the last year and a half, "four out of 10 were converts to Islam". Syrian Christians and atheists aren't going to be more immune to conversion than anybody else.

No evaluation for asylum is going to reveal whether somebody is a threat in waiting. No amount of interviewing and fingerprinting and database-searching is going to reveal somebody's heart or peer into his future.

We can't totally foreclose another terrorist attack. We are going to have to learn to live with the risk.

I say, we should honor the promise Obama made and admit 10,000 Syrian refugees after the requisite vetting. It's more than a lot of people want and a lot less than we, a very prosperous nation, probably owe the world, but again, that's the promise we made.

Either that, or just close the border to everybody.

Just stop the hand-wringing already. Don't pretend we can just let in the "good" kind of refugee. That's a fucking illusion, and I'm sick of all the fucking illusions already hobbling us (e.g., "climate change isn't real").

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Straight-up domestic terrorism

So — another mass shooting. And this one, you can't blame on mental illness. Robert Dear's only mental defect is an unholy zeal fueled by far-right anti-abortion rhetoric. (Oh, and talk-radio pundits, he's not Muslim, either. He's a white 'Mercun male, the kind of fellow you consider the backbone of the nation.)

Anti-abortion activists, you made him. Take your bows. He cares so much for what you call unborn children that in order to protect them, he's happy to kill full-grown adults, including at least one police officer.

A police officer. A good guy with a gun. Not that he matters more than the other victims, but, well, you pundits who piously weep for aborted embryos also insist on respect for cops. The shooter must have missed that memo.

You anti-abortion activists want to own this massacre? It seems only fair, considering what you accuse Planned Parenthood of doing.

When you incite the kind of outrage anti-abortion activists do, you guarantee that what starts as moral fervor will turn into rage when fervor doesn't lead to satisfactory results. You turn ordinary people into religious crusaders, or rather, Crusaders: guys so inflamed by missionary zeal that any means is justifiable if it furthers their ends. Once, that meant slaughtering Muslims in the Middle East. Today, it means slaughtering M.D.s in the U.S. (Come to think of it, for some folks it has never lost its original meaning.)

All in God's name.

How about you anti-abortion activists lose some of your missionary zeal? As a matter of law, abortion is legal. As a matter of actual practice, Planned Parenthood's work consists overwhelmingly of family planning, the kind of work that reduces the need for abortions. You guys are sabotaging an organization that, if you'd let it do its work, would make the world far better according to your own lights than your religious hectoring does.

Stop making it a Christian jihad to end abortion.

Stop making homegrown terrorists.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

We aren't Trump

Back in August I wrote:
Trump's in it for his ego. He wouldn't know what to do with the Presidency if it dropped into his lap. These two reasons explain why he says something offensive and/or appallingly ignorant every twenty-four hours without fail: it simultaneously keeps him in the spotlight while ensuring he will never, ever gain the GOP nomination.
(To "offensive" and "appallingly ignorant", add "outright false".)

It's early in the primary cycle (which is easy to forget since this godforsaken campaign has been going on for a year already) but I have to walk my earlier statement back. Actually, I have to admit I got it wrong.

Trump, in this benighted age, might just yell his way to the nomination. Worse, he seems to have deluded himself that he's ready to be President.

I'm not so down on my fellow voters as to predict he'll win the Presidency, but I'm nervous about the possibility.

I'm trying not to think hard thoughts about the poll respondents who keep him at the top of the Republican heap. I'm hoping they're signaling their fed-up-edness, and that's all; that, when the time comes to vote, they'll demonstrate they're more serious about the country than their answers to pollsters indicate. And to be fair, if you're being asked which Republican candidate you support, it's not like any of the choices is palatable. But still ... Trump?

I suppose they could be trying to tell Ted Cruz to stop being so diplomatic (yeah, writing that kind of made me choke) and to say what he really thinks, which I admit would be grimly refreshing. For one thing, he might admit that his appearance at a virulently antigay religious conference means he agrees with the "kill the gays: the Bible says so" preacher, Kevin Swanson. (Swanson clarified that he didn't want to kill the gays until attempts have been made to save their souls. What a prince — just like Lucifer.)

Any way you slice it, the embrace of Trump, and the larger embrace by his fellow Republicans of so much of his hateful rhetoric that indiscriminately blames whole ethnic groups for complex problems, is a tragic spectacle.

This is not going to be remembered as a proud era in American history. Our descendants will not be kind, either to Trump, or to the supporters who enabled him to poison our political discourse.

As for the rest of us, we can only hold our noses — and keep fighting the good fight.

We're better than Trump.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Huckabee being sued over song

Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee is being sued over his campaign's unauthorized playing of "Eye of the Tiger".

I detest Huckabee's fundamentalist, intolerant stance on many issues. Even so, I kind of feel for the guy.

"When the person made a complaint, there was an offer made to pay him and issue an apology," said the presidential candidate, who continues to struggle in the polls and was demoted to the undercard debate in Milwaukee. "We don’t want to run somebody’s music who hates my guts. I get that."
I'll take him at his word on this. It does kind of suck that an apology and restitution wasn't enough. (Caveat: we haven't heard from the plaintiff, one of the song's writers. Maybe the campaign didn't handle the negotiations well and honked him off somehow.)

That said, political campaigns, particularly Republican ones, have a habit of playing songs first and seeking forgiveness later. Reagan's campaign infamously used "Born in the U.S.A." without asking Springsteen (and apparently without understanding the lyrics, which are scathing toward the simpleminded patriotism he espoused); Trump used Neil Young's "Rockin' in the Free World" and R.E.M.'s "It's the End of the World As We Know It" without asking. Huckabee is neither Reagan nor Trump (though he exhibits some of the least savory aspects of both), but I suspect he's reaping the music world's resentment of the trend.

Musicians have good reason to hit back at politicians' unauthorized use of their music. First, copyright enforcement has to be vigorous or the holder risks losing the copyright. Second, musicians risk being linked to the politicians in people's minds. Artists of any stripe live and die by their reputations: they have to guard those reputations as carefully as any brand.

Maybe if Huckabee weren't so polarizing a figure, or the context of the song's unauthorized use hadn't been a rally for Kim Davis, one of the most polarizing figures in recent memory, he might have been able to settle the matter quietly. We don't know. The bottom line, though, is that a lawsuit was always possible. He and his campaign knew that. So when I say "I kind of feel for the guy", the emphasis is on "kind of".

Thursday, November 19, 2015

How to fight the IS

Jeb Bush is calling for U.S. ground troops to be deployed in Syria. The other Republican candidates likely have made or will make similar calls. Meanwhile, governors of 31 states, last I heard, have said publicly that they would reject settlement of any Syrian refugees in their states; Indiana's Mike Pence already has made good on that promise.

News flash for Gov. Pence and his fellow Republicans (and it really might be news to them): none of the Paris assailants were Syrian refugees. They have all been identified as European.

News flash for Jeb Bush and his fellow Republicans (and this damned well shouldn't be news to any of them given our invasion of Iraq, but who knows the depths of their ignorance): U.S. troops on the ground prompted the Iraqi insurgency. Why? Well, a lot of these guys resented the fact that the U.S. flattened large parts of their country and killed hundreds of thousands of their family and friends. Saddam was a beast who deserved consignment to hell, but Iraqis didn't ask the U.S. to do the deed and they sure as hell didn't ask the U.S. to destroy their country in the process.

Do you, Gov. Bush, think U.S. troops would be welcomed in Syria just as former Defense Secretary (and grievously, hopelessly, seemingly professionally wrong person) Donald Rumsfeld confidently predicted they'd be welcomed in Iraq after toppling Saddam?

Actually, Gov. Bush, let me ask you a different, more important question. What exactly do you think U.S. troops should do on the ground in Syria?

I'm fed up with idiots who have too-ready access to microphones thundering that the U.S. should send troops in to fight ISIS, because these idiots never say exactly what the military mission should be. What the fuck are you people talking about? Do you have any fucking clue what this country should do, or are you just verbally jerking off?

Here are just some of the questions you should be prepared to answer in a serious, non-half-assed way before you bleat one more syllable about fighting ISIS:

  • Do you have a plan, a genuine, long-term plan for degrading ISIS not just as a military force but as an ideological one as well? Do you even comprehend that the much greater challenge is the non-military work that must be done?
  • Do you know where ISIS gets its money to buy things? Have you considered how you'd dry up their income beyond what we're already doing? Do you even know what we're already doing on that score?
  • Do you have any goddamned idea how to stabilize Syria and Iraq (or at least the war-torn parts thereof) to keep the next terrorist group from colonizing the region, sucking up the disaffected and seriously pissed-off survivors of ISIS and other violent groups?
  • Do you know who's fighting whom in and around the IS, and what their interests are? Which of them are willing to work with the U.S.? Which of the several contingents hostile to the U.S. should take priority? (I'll give you a freebie here: ISIS. You're on your own for the rest.) What will you do about the people who aren't our friends (the ones who are willing to say so, anyway)?
Here is another set of questions you need to answer before you say another word about responding to ISIS generally:
  • Do you realize that fomenting fear, suspicion and hatred against the Syrian refugees plays into the narrative ISIS tells the world, that America hates Muslims, Islam, and brown people? Are you willing to stand up and say, "I do not hate Muslims, Islam, or brown people"?
  • Do you comprehend that one of ISIS' goals is to provoke us into saying and doing things that are anti-Islamic?
  • Do you realize that ISIS wants us to be terrified? That ISIS glories in making us scared of their shadow?
  • Do you really believe that stopping one set of people from entering the country (like Syrian refugees) will stop the terrorist threat against the U.S.? Do you think ISIS can't forge passports from other countries if they want?
The Paris attacks were scary, yes. So were the Beirut attacks that went virtually unnoticed in this country. So are scores of other attacks around the world.

In the U.S., we do a lot to prevent them. As the saying goes, we can always do more. However, should we?

If we close our borders to Syrians, where does it stop? Is it excusable for the U.S., the richest nation on Earth, to turn away refugees when we expect other nations to take them? Europe, of course, has taken in hundreds of thousands of Syrians. Jordan has taken in over 600,000, Lebanon over 1 million, Turkey over 2 million.

But set aside the Syrian refugee crisis for a moment. Ask yourself a more fundamental question: is it really possible to make the U.S. 100% safe from terrorist attack?

We do what we can, and not all of it is security theater. Even so, we can't realistically expect to stop every attack. Worse, remember that the bloodiest massacres of Americans since 11 September 2001 have occurred at the hands of Americans. All those school shootings have been carried out by born-and-bred Americans. The Fort Hood shooter was an American. ISIS very likely can find American candidates to do its bidding without much trouble: it doesn't need to send anybody from its territory. Heck, ISIS doesn't even have to do the planning: its propaganda already inspires people to freelance for it without prompting.

You might feel that taking in refugees from Syria is inviting trouble. I can't say definitively that you're wrong: we simply don't know. However, this nation's influence is greatest when it leads by example. If we close our borders to any group without concrete evidence of a threat, we're diminishing one of our greatest assets: our moral authority. We've already lost a lot of it since Viet Nam. How much more are we willing to give up?

American exceptionalism requires a certain amount of courage. If you believe in it, stand up for it.

I don't believe in American exceptionalism. I do, however, believe that the way we live can serve as an example to others. What kind of example we set is up to us.

If you still think accepting Syrian refugees is unsafe, then justify your concern. Again, I'm not saying you're wrong. I am, however, insisting that we have a serious discussion. We must not set national policy without threshing out the pros and cons.

Here's the bottom line for me: a ton of the rhetoric from politicians and pundits, mostly conservative, in response to the Paris attacks is ill-considered, xenophobic, uninformed and/or belligerent. It's frankly embarrassing. It's also harmful to our national interests, because it shows ISIS just how easily we can be goaded into responding irrationally. It shows how readily we're willing to change our national spirit in the vain hope of making ourselves "safe". (Much of the rhetoric also shows just how ignorant a lot of us are about America's role in creating the disaster in Syria and Iraq, not just during the G. W. Bush administration but going back decades and over multiple presidencies. If we don't understand that, we have no hope of groping toward a peaceful resolution to the mess.)

It's a cliché but it's still true: by giving in to suspicion and paranoia, we do the terrorists' work for them.

A lot of people fret about not being able to help out our military. Well, here's your chance. Do the hard thing: don't give in to fear.

Stand up for a free society that is watchful, but not afraid. Demand that we not sacrifice our national soul for the illusion of safety. Reject easy but pointless gestures in favor of meaningful actions.

Oh, and take joy in life. Joy is the ultimate denial of ISIS' nihilism.

That's how we all fight the Islamic State.

Monday, November 16, 2015

"Ne vous laissez pas manipuler"

Dave Zirin in The Nation wrote a sober plea for clear-headedness in the aftermath of the Paris attacks: " 'Ne Vous Laissez Pas Manipuler', AKA #StayWoke". This was what Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tweeted in response to the attacks.

"Ne vous laissez pas manipuler" literally means, "Do not allow yourself to be manipulated", but Zirin finds a hashtag of the Black Lives Matter movement to be closer in spirit: #StayWoke.

To “stay woke” in the aftermath of the Paris attacks is an act of conscious resistance against an ugly tide. ...

As hostages were still messaging for help from inside the Bataclan, pundits with frighteningly vast followings were using dead bodies like quills dipped in blood, as they brayed for total war. They demanded an attack on Muslims: Shia, Sunni, Palestinians, Iranian ... just an undifferentiated mass of innocent people whom Senator Ted Cruz has defined as future casualties to be killed by someone else's children.

Cruz is hardly alone, of course. Amanda Marcotte's piece in Salon warns us of the Republican presidential candidates' simplistic ideas (hardly meriting that term) for how the U.S. should respond to the Paris attacks. Also in Salon, Elias Isquith grimly reminds us that we, the people — you know, the ones who are supposed to hold the U.S. Constitution sacred — are "one attack away" from shredding that Constitution again, returning to the belligerent, paranoid, apocalyptic state of near panic initially triggered by the 11 September 2001 attacks.

Fear demands instant, simple responses. Fear doesn't stop to ask if those responses are smart.

Fear inspires hasty and ill-considered action. Fear inspires us to act like children, hysterically crying out for vengeance.

Fear brings out the worst in us. That's why we can't give in to it. We have to keep our heads.

Politicians and pundits have seized on the attack to further their own ends. We have to use the soft grey thing inside our skulls and filter the commentary and bloviating through our good sense.

To say we (whether the French, the Americans, all of NATO, or some other bunch) must invade and wipe out the IS is, I suppose, gratifying to some, but not to me. Iraq and Afghanistan are bleeding, open wounds Americans created when we met an attack upon us with extraordinarily ill-thought-out invasions. What good will it do to level the territory that calls itself the IS when we know — we know — the fallout will be the creation of more terrorists who will renew the conflict in short order?

Yes, we know that. Afghanistan and especially Iraq proved that. How do you think IS (and al Qaeda and a host of other terrorist groups) have gotten and continue to get recruits?

How can anyone seriously believe it's possible to "wipe out all of them" (whoever "they" are)? In the age of the Internet you can't wipe out an idea no matter how many of its adherents you kill.

How can you say all Syrian refugees must be frozen out by Europe and the U.S., especially the latter, considering we've accepted virtually none and we expect "our European allies" (as we always call them when we want them to do things for us) to bear the whole burden? How will you physically prevent the refugees from crossing borders on land? How will you physically prevent the refugees from landing on the coastline? Will the border nations, Greece in particular, demand NATO land and sea forces to "defend" their shorelines against an "invasion" of refugees?

More to the point, the vast majority of refugees are innocent victims. Since when do we screw innocent bystanders in the name of our own safety?

How can you argue we must help only the Christian Syrians, not the Muslim ones? This is one of Ted Cruz's fatuous ideas; Jeb Bush has also floated it. Either Cruz and Bush think we have mind-reading machines that can detect lies, or they're prepared to believe whatever the refugee is willing to tell them.

Or maybe neither man has given a moment's thought to how he'd do what he urges.

That's why we must.

Look, if you think Cruz or Bush or any of the other Republicans who've sounded off have urged anything that sounds like a good response to the Paris attacks, you're not thinking. What the Republicans have said we should do is simplistic and disconnected from reality.

Simplemindedness is not going to make things better.

Pure military force is not enough.

Just saying "no" to refugees, from Syria or anywhere else, will not keep us safe.

For that matter, accept that we cannot be 100% safe against terrorism. Anybody who tells you we can be if only we do this or that, is either lying or deluded.

We have to be honest about what we can do and what the upsides and downsides are. The situation is complex and messy. Solutions are going to be complex, messy, expensive, time-consuming, and likely partial rather than complete. They're going to involve much more than military force: we're going to have to bring much in the way of "soft power" to bear, too. We'll have to work with unsavory partners. We'll have to accept that what replaces the current chaos in Syria and Iraq may not look like what we, the U.S., want. Again, anybody who promises otherwise is either lying or deluded.

And yet, some politicians and pundits will continue to push for simplistic actions that won't work and/or can't be done. They insist that we must do these things or we're screwed. They're trying to scare you into becoming their followers.

Ne vous laissez pas manipuler. Don't let yourself be manipulated.

Stay woke.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Fight the IS in hearts

The IS-sponsored attacks in France yesterday have prompted the usual responses from national governments and the media. Governments say they're redoubling their efforts against the Islamic State; media analyses talk about whether this nation or that one will step up their military assaults on the IS' physical territory, or which domestic political party (e.g., Le Pen's far-right party in France) will be strengthened by the attacks.

None of this is wrong. It's not enough, though. The fight against the IS isn't solely military, and in fact, to cast it as primarily military is to give the IS a tremendous strategic advantage. The group's strength derives from its ability to seduce disaffected souls, especially young people, to its ideology. That's where the real fight must be waged: in the heart.

I said "disaffected souls", but in fact, that's a too-easy characterization of those drawn to the movement. The little I've read about those who've been drawn to the movement doesn't paint a consistent picture. They aren't all friendless loners, they don't manifest mental illness, they're not all especially religious. It seems to me frustratingly difficult to figure out why they buy into the ideology, how they make first contact with IS recruiters, and how those recruiters worm their way into the budding recruit's confidence. Yet this is precisely the ground on which the rest of us have to carry out the real fight.

Starving the IS of material resources and disrupting the terror attacks it inspires (but doesn't always coordinate) are necessary but not sufficient steps. If the IS' physical territory were to be seized tomorrow, its online presence would be largely untouched and its ideology completely intact.

The IS is the physical embodiment of a type of mindset that has always been with us, one that will manifest itself differently a decade hence and a century hence and a millennium hence.

Again, the real fight isn't in Syria or Iraq or Paris: it's in the human heart. That's where we must focus.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Does The Daily Show still have a mission?

I've been mulling over the post-Jon Stewart Daily Show for a while, but refrained from saying anything (except once) because I thought Trevor Noah deserved some time to make the show his own. Although I wasn't around for Stewart's debut, I understand it took him the better part of a couple of years to reshape the show to his tastes; it seems to me Noah deserves that courtesy, too.

Still, Sophia A. McClennan's piece in Salon entitled, "Trevor Noah has cratered 'The Daily Show' " echoes some of my own thinking.

She's harder on Noah than I think she should be, setting as her standard:

The question we have to ask is whether Noah can be the caliber of political satirist that Stewart was when he hosted the show. It really is the only question that matters.
Well no, that's not the only question, or even the right one. The question is, what are Trevor Noah's intentions toward the show? (Ahem. I'm sure he will be a gentleman.)

McClennan observes:

One of the key differences between the comedy of Stewart and the comedy of Noah is that, no matter how frustrated Stewart got over the inanities he was covering, he never gave up hope and he never stopped fighting for social justice. Meanwhile Noah seems to focus his show on finding examples of stupidity and laughing at them.
Note that I called this an observation, not a criticism. McClennan uses this observation, however, to inform her critique that Noah isn't a satirist, he just makes fun of people. He's like Craig Kilborn, who preceded Stewart in the host chair and who presided over a show that was pretty much a celebrity mock-fest.

She's right about Noah. He's content simply to make fun of people and to enjoy himself. He has no sense of mission.

Now, if you accept as your premise, as McClennan does, that The Daily Show is defined by the mission Jon Stewart set for it, of satirizing our news and politics, then Noah is indeed letting all of us down, as McClennan argues. However, I call that premise into question — not because I don't miss Stewart's keen eye for absurdity and often incredibly incisive way of finding connections and meaning in tangles of seemingly disparate data, but because I question whether anyone truly can fill Stewart's shoes.

The writers and backroom staff of the show inarguably are brilliantly efficient at packaging information into jokes. What's not so clear is how much, or even whether, they set the agenda and provide a unifying vision to the show. It seems to me that that crucial role had to have been played by Stewart.

You can agree with McClennan that Noah isn't fulfilling Stewart's role in the show's machinery, thus the show's aimlessness and amorphousness. Yet how many people can you think of who would be up to that challenge? Serious thinkers with a gift for comedy aren't exactly commonplace. Most of them worked for Stewart, in fact, and a few of them have or will have their own shows so they're not available.

Noah needs to find his own voice soon — much sooner than Stewart himself had to in Kilborn's wake, because the show has a much higher profile today. Right now, Noah looks and sounds like the gawky adolescent wearing his dad's suits, trying to fill his dad's role in the family, but knowing only the gestures and not the meaning of Dad's actions. If Noah is to succeed as a host, he needs to ditch the show's machinery, just like Stewart ditched much of Kilborn's, and send the show off in a different direction. He needs to find his own sense of mission.

It's also possibile Noah will be a caretaker host, somebody who keeps the seat warm and the lights on until a better-qualified person takes over. The obvious candidate would be Jessica Williams; I think Aasif Mandvi also would be great but he seems to be busy elsewhere.

The Daily Show with Trevor Noah is doomed to irrelevance unless it finds either a new mission, or someone who can carry out Jon Stewart's. Right now, Trevor Noah is treading water.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Media and a movement at the University of Missouri

A New York Times piece by Austin Huguelet and Daniel Victor centers on the effort by a student photographer to take pictures of a tent city protesters had erected on campus.

The article paints a sympathetic portrait of photographer Tim Tai and other reporters, while implicitly demonizing the protesters. One professor of mass media is singled out for an exceedingly un-journalistic remark: "Who wants to help me get this reporter out of here? I need some muscle over here." (The reporter in question wasn't Tai.)

This is an astonishingly sloppy piece by the Times. Nowhere does it indicate that the reporters even tried to contact the protesters to get their side of the story. Bits of quoted remarks suggest that the protesters might have been trying to protect an area set aside for their own privacy; this is an impulse anyone who has ever been the unwilling center of a media story (e.g., a natural disaster) can understand.

When one is in the midst of a newsworthy event, there will be unwanted scrutiny. If you had a hand in creating that event, as the protesters did, you have a lot less room to complain of that scrutiny. That doesn't mean you have no room to complain. You haven't entirely given up your privacy. The Times' article is deeply unfair to the protesters. It's the kind of piece that makes people suspicious that the media exists solely to report on — or perhaps to gin up — conflict.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Hillary Clinton, the polarizer

I don't remember much about Bill Clinton's presidency, and I remember nothing of the 1994 healthcare bill that brought Hillary Clinton some of her first national coverage. I do, however, remember that as Bill's troubles mounted (prior to Monica Lewinsky), Hillary seemed to be ensnared by them. If Bill Clinton had a shady dealing, it seemed like Hillary was not far away. She wasn't just as far from Nancy Reagan's ornamental utility as I could imagine, she was possibly as steely as Barbara Bush, and a lot less motherly-looking. (Barbara only looked motherly. Almost from the beginning, I got the impression that she was the one who meted out discipline in the house.)

I still think Hillary is steely, and I would never consciously cross her. But I don't hate her. I don't love her, either as a politician or a person (what little I know of her, anyway). In not having a strong opinion about her, I'm distinctly in the minority. She seems to inspire strong feelings in most people.


I wish I knew. We might then be able to treat the ailment that is Hillary Derangement Syndrome. We might also be spared spectacles like Gloria Steinem fem-splaining why women don't like Hillary. Michelle Goldberg neatly spelled out why Steinem's thinking is so misguided, but I wish neither piece had had cause to be written.

Hillary isn't warm and fuzzy, and nothing short of a personality-changing electrical shock will make her so. That seems to irk some people. Yet if she were motherly and lovable, a lot of us would be wondering if she had the backbone to be President. There's a middle ground, of course, but by expecting her to navigate her public life in that narrow zone we're setting the bar unreasonably high, higher than we've ever set it for a male candidate. If the boorishly content-free Donald Trump, the reality-challenged Ben Carson, and the childishly anarchic Ted Cruz are fit candidates for President, you can't seriously argue that Hillary isn't, too.

Perhaps the truest and most damaging knock on Hillary is that she'll say anything to get elected. Is she a lot "slicker" (to borrow an unflattering adjective for her husband's style) than we typically like our pols? Maybe. Yet if the objectively boneheaded (Trump) and outright hallucinatory (Carson) beliefs floated by the Republican frontrunners have accomplished anything, it's to rehabilitate more mainstream politicians. Honestly, if I had to choose (because you were holding a gun to my head) between Ben Carson and the crudely manipulative Chris Christie, I'd pick Christie without a moment's hesitation. Christie may be corrupt, but at least he lives on the same plane of reality I do.

Besides, I no longer buy the "flip-flop" as an irredeemable political sin. It's one thing to call somebody out for saying "X" one week and "not-X" the next. It's another to hold that changing your mind after years or decades betrays a lack of conviction.

Yes, some politicians change opinions as often as they change their underwear. However, to hew to a belief simply for consistency's sake is to foreclose any interest in becoming wiser. If your understanding of the world hasn't changed since you were twenty, you probably haven't seen enough of the world. Or if you have seen a lot of the world, you probably haven't let yourself understand what you've seen. Republican candidates are hopelessly boxed in by the need to show ideological purity and consistency. There is no room for new information leading to new conclusions. (This is why funding for scientific research cannot be left to the tender mercies of the GOP.)

Is Hillary so plastic, so malleable, that she has no beliefs that aren't for sale? Probably no more so than anybody who has ever held the Oval Office. Do I wish she had a stronger record of hewing to principle, like Bernie Sanders? Absolutely. Do I think her tendency to bend with the political wind, so like her husband, makes her unfit to be President? Absolutely not. Point to a President who hasn't compromised his principles and you will find a lousy President. Even the sainted Reagan and Lincoln compromised. It's the price of leading a democracy: you have to reckon with those who didn't vote for you. (To be clear, I think Reagan was anything but a saint; I'm just channeling those who have elevated his Presidency far above what it actually was.)

I wish there were another woman running for President so we could see how the electorate responded to a woman lacking the extensive political baggage Hillary has. It would be interesting to see how the nation treated the likes of Olympia Snowe as a candidate, for instance. Carly Fiorina isn't a good control (in the scientific-experiment sense) for Hillary because she's a political lightweight saddled by a crummy record in private industry.

I suspect there's just something about Hillary that's inextricably tied up with Bill and the immense antagonism he fomented among conservative pundits. In other words, Hillary-hatred isn't undisguised misogyny so much as it's long-simmering frustration that Bubba got a second term and wasn't hounded from office in disgrace.

Hillary's not my dream candidate, but with the Republicans so radicalized at the national level it's beyond the pale to consider voting for any of them. Even the relatively level-headed John Kasich, were he somehow to be granted the miracle of capturing the nomination, would be captive to the far-right zealots who hold the balance of power in the party. And the truth is, Hillary's about the best we can hope for until we take back our politics from Big Money and the far right ceases to hold so many in its paranoid, resentful, delusional sway.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Molly Ball, "Liberals are Losing the Culture Wars"

Molly Ball argues, in The Atlantic, that Democrats (read: liberals) are too confident that the majority of Americans share their views. She points to a the election results from Tuesday, which were generally discouraging for liberal activists.

Ball thinks Americans simply don't agree with liberals as much as liberals think they do. That may be true. Another problem, though, is that the rhetoric progressives use is often as polarizing and uninviting to the undecided and possibly persuadable as far-right rhetoric often is.

To be blunt, articles on left-ish-leaning sites like Slate and Salon, as well as on overtly left-leaning sites like ThinkProgress, are often snide, disdainful of conservatives (and anyone else who doesn't share their opinion), and as mean-spirited as some of their far-right counterparts.

It's often said that appealing to reason and facts doesn't change people's opinions on certain issues. Well, being a self-righteous prick doesn't, either. Maybe if some of us (I'm occasionally guilty of this behavior, too) stopped being such smug, arrogant assholes, we'd do a better job of persuading people to share our opinions.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Disney the non-saint

In a teaser interview for her new documentary, The Armor of Light, Abigail Disney was asked about remarks she made about her great-uncle Walt that characterized him as mysogynistic and racist. While sorry she had antagonized at least some of her family, she added:
I don’t know why he needs to be seen as a saint. It’s important that heroes have their feet of clay. That makes them human, and that’s where all the learning is.

Disney's public image has been zealously guarded and massaged over the years by his studio, but enough has slipped through the cracks that we know he shared the attitudes of many in his generation. He meant well, I'm sure, but he really did think he, the white male father figure, knew best. When challenged, he could respond badly. The infamous 1941 studio strike stoked hard feelings toward the strikers that he never lost. He went so far as to testify before the House UnAmerican Affairs Committee in 1947, naming key strikers as likely Communists.

You might be able to excuse whatever racism and sexism he exhibited as a byproduct of his upbringing. Portraying his (by now, former) employees as Communists, though, was vindictive and cruel in the paranoid atmosphere of the time. He tarred them as anti-American when the country was in a mood to execute anybody who looked to be a threat to national security (to use the current phrase). This went beyond Dad disowning the rebellious, disloyal children. He was trying to destroy people's lives.

Disney was human, very much so. That he made lots of children laugh during his lifetime doesn't excuse how he sometimes treated those nearest to him.

MythBusters is ending

All good things come to an end. (Bad things, it seems, go on forever: witness this country's unceasing infatuation with anti-intellectualism and religious fanaticism.)

So it's no surprise that the only good reality show, MythBusters, is leaving the airwaves with the upcoming season, per Entertainment Weekly.

The EW interview with Jamie Hyneman is the only one I've ever read. It confirms much of what I suspected: he's a builder, first, last and always, and the show was just a way to build things he might otherwise not have had the excuse (or money) to build. As such, the end of the show is almost a relief to him. I'm surprised he let it go on this long, in fact, as he thoroughly dislikes the compromises the process of shooting the show forces on his design and implementation.

MythBusters isn't a science program, but it's probably the closest brush with scientific principles a lot of non-scientists get. Its primary value is getting people interested in testing hypotheses, and engineering. That Hyneman and Adam Savage made a point of listening to fan critiques, and occasionally revisited experiments to address those critiques, is a tremendous boon: it's the scientific method in action. Heaven knows, we need as much of that as we can get in a country that is so abysmally ignorant of what it means to pursue science.

Ending the show was the right call: it has felt a little tired, and sometimes desperate for material, for a few years now. That said, its end will leave a void. Much as I like Richard Hamilton's Science of Stupid, it doesn't inspire one to do anything except laugh at other people's misfortunes: it's America's Funniest Home Videos with a dusting of biomechanics and basic physics. Other would-be competitors have been abysmally bad. Straight science shows like Neil deGrasse Tyson's Cosmos, admirable as they are, don't have MythBusters' goofy charm: you already have to be interested in astronomy, cosmology, history, biology, etc., to be interested in those other shows. (I found Tyson's other show, StarTalk, to be unfocused and boring.)

So even though I think MythBusters is right to end while it still has a little steam, I'll be sorry to see it go. We badly need more of what the show brought to pop culture.

Thanks, guys, for so many hours of hilarious and smart TV.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Can I be completely innocent again?

Thirty-eight years ago, I got caught up in the wide-eyed enthusiasm of my schoolmates and joined them for a pilgrimage to a local movie house to see Star Wars. I knew nothing of the film except for the poster, which to me promised more sword-and-sorcery than space opera. That, however, seemed hard to square with the barely-heard mutterings of my classmates (all of whom had seen it at least once) talking about "jet-eye knights"; that sounded very science-fiction-y. My mind, then, wasn't a blank slate but certainly was a confused and uninformed muddle when the London Symphony Orchestra crashed into my unready ears and the text began to scroll up the screen. I had no expectations and the movie was able to suffuse my completely open mind.

There's something magical about going in with no preconceptions, no idea of the plot or characters, no high bar to meet or to overcome, and being thrilled by a movie as it unfolds.

It's arguably impossible for any Star Wars "episode" to surprise me in the same way the original did, and so far none has. I'm hungry for one of them to do so, though, perhaps for no better reason than that lightning struck once. I guess that's why I've done my best to ignore all the trailers and other publicity for Episode VII.

I can't be a kid again. I'm still going to give Episode VII the best shot I can to blow my mind. Who knows? With each successive Star Wars movie, George Lucas did such a splendid job of lowering my expectations that maybe J. J. Abrams can catch me off guard and blow my mind.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

A Snoopy apologia

That's what Sarah Boxer has penned in her Atlantic piece, "The Exemplary Narcissism of Snoopy". Boxer tackles head-on the idea held by many longtime fans of the Peanuts strip, that Snoopy's rise also marked the decline of the strip. Boxer argues that Snoopy's seemingly dazzling fantasy life diverted readers from the cold truth:
Grand though his flights are, many of them end with his realizing that he’s tired and cold and lonely and that it’s suppertime.... He has animal needs, and he knows it, which makes him, in a word, human.
I don't find Boxer's argument terribly persuasive. There's simply no comparing the philosophy and wit of the 1950s and 1960s strips with the banality of those starting in the late 1970s. Boxer, perhaps inadvertently, includes a great example of the impoverished later strip, a Sunday edition in which Charlie Brown and Snoopy appear. The gag has Charlie Brown taking a typewritten sheet of paper from Snoopy and handing it to his teacher. Charlie Brown remarks, "No, ma'am... my dog didn't eat my homework... He wrote it!" We have, in addition to the by-now well-worn conceit of the dog who can write, essentially a play on words. That's it. That's the sum total of the gag. You have to believe Bill Watterson could have made more of this premise than Schulz did.

Schulz was simply out of ideas by the mid-1970s or so. Yet, perhaps because he felt it would be sinful not to work every day, he kept going anyway.

You can find hidden meaning in just about anything, and Boxer may be right that Snoopy's more existentialist than I care to admit. But sometimes you have to admit what's staring you in the face, and what stares any reader of Peanuts in the face is that the first couple of decades' comics are a whole lot funnier and smarter than the rest. Snoopy might not be the reason for that, but he's the outward sign. If Schulz operated as deeply as Boxer thinks, he did a lousy job of conveying it to the rest of us.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Gun control vs. crazy-control

The New York Times profile of the Oregon gunman reads like a character sketch out of a bad screenplay. Bespectacled, pathologically introverted, overprotective mom, etc. The NRA and its fellow travelers will point to him as the poster boy for our broken mental-health care system: "We don't need more gun control, we need more crazy-control!"

And maybe they have a point. But I doubt the fiercely libertarian gun owners who fanatically oppose any more gun regulation than we already have will like the idea of a more proactive, interventionist mental-health care system that, in the vein of Minority Report, tries much harder to intervene before a tragedy occurs. I don't much like that idea, either. I've been the bespectacled, antisocial misfit myself and I don't want society to tell me that I must adopt a specific behavioral profile or forever be tailed by government agents. I especially worry that introverts — who are generally among the most inoffensive people you'll ever meet — will be (even more) unfairly stigmatized if we go down this path.

Yet if we're ever going to do anything about massacres like yesterday's, somehow the Chris Harper Mercers of society must be kept away from guns (and flamethrowers, and maybe cars, and anything else with which they could hurt a lot of people in a short time).

Unquestionably we have a broken mental-health care system. Maybe, contrary to our deeply-ingrained sense of live-and-let-live, we ought to feel obliged to tip the authorities off to potential Mercers. I hate the idea of neighbors reporting one another (it says "East Germany" to me, as it might to you, too), but it shouldn't be off-limits at least to discuss whether we could or should do more along these lines.

Yet at the same time, it shouldn't be off-limits to discuss whether we can and should do more to restrict who can get firearms.

The status quo is killing people with frightening frequency. Something has to change.

Which is worse: making it harder to get a gun, or making it harder to be weird?

Apparently, that's the choice we face.

Trevor Noah stumbles

I feel a little bad for Trevor Noah. He hasn't been on the job for a full week yet, and he already has to respond to a national tragedy: the massacre on the campus of Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon.

He badly miscalibrated his response. He admitted that he hadn't had time to process the news, which was understandable. But then he said that all he could think of doing was doing what he did best, to make people laugh, and after turning to a different camera, went into his first bit as if nothing had happened.

After a few seconds of shock, I turned the show off.

I have no problem with Noah wanting to do the show he planned. But a host also has to have a feel for the audience. The abruptness of the transition from condolence to comedy was jarring, and felt callous. "Hey, I don't know how to respond to this tragedy, so ... on with the show!"

I'm sorry, but you can't do that.

When Jon Stewart addressed a mass shooting earlier this year, he expressed his sadness and frustration and anger — then went to a commercial break. An ad is a lousy way to change emotional direction, but it's better than going directly to a joke. And when he came back, Stewart made sure to pick up on the same somber note for a moment before almost apologetically carrying on with the show as scripted.

That's how you bring the audience along. Not incidentally, that's also how you avoid looking like an insensitve cretin.

Please don't repeat this mistake, Trevor.

(At least Noah touched on the news. As far as I can tell from quickly switching between them, neither Fallon, Kimmel nor Colbert so much as hinted at it in his opening monologue. I was especially disappointed in Colbert. On the Report he more than once broke character to offer his condolences when tragedy struck. He did so at the beginning of the episode, and made sure to have some kind of bridge, however contrived, to take himself and the audience from the sadness to the comedy.)

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Owning gun killings

At least ten people were killed on the campus of an Oregon community college today. (The number is still in flux.)

Certainly it isn't the first gun massacre, nor will it be the last.

Shouldn't that make us all extremely angry?

Well yeah. But it won't. Not angry enough to hold our elected reps' feet to the fire to push through some measure of reasonable gun control.

Part of the problem is that gun-control advocates pick exactly the wrong time to push their (our) agenda hardest.

It probably seems like a fantastic idea to mobilize people against gun violence in the immediate aftermath of a horrible massacre like this. Seems like common sense, really.

Except when you realize that there's a troublingly effective counterargument to gun-control advocacy at times like this. It takes the form of a question:

"Would your proposed gun-control measure have prevented this massacre?"

And the truth, too often, is, "We don't know". We almost never know enough about the shooter or his (it's always "his") motives to know how he might have been stopped.

Still, the counterargument is a lousy justification for doing nothing. Did you make it home safely today in your car specifically because of regulations on tire safety? Probably not. Does that mean tire safety regs should be rolled back? Uh, no.

So the counterargument is a red herring and should be disregarded. But, of course, it will continue to be effective.

I hate that people died in today's incident. But here's the thing: I don't feel especially responsible. I support greater gun-control measures. I'll leave gun-rights advocates and gun-control advocates to hash out the details. But I know we need to do more. I'm not the problem here.

If you oppose more stringent regs on how people get guns, you are the problem.

I still regard the Sandy Hook massacre as the point at which every right-thinking person should have turned to gun-rights advocates and said, "Fuck your rationalizations. We need to fix our broken gun-control regulations." Every poll I've seen shows a huge majority of us support that attitude.

Yet still we did nothing. Nothing.

The problem wasn't and isn't with the majority of us. It was and is with the minority that believes any regulation is an abridgement of the Second Amendment.

You folks are the ones who need to get over your absolutism on the subject of gun ownership.

You folks are the ones with blood on your hands.

Today's victims of gun violence, at that Oregon community college and elsewhere (because people die from gun violence every day in this country) — their ghosts will haunt you.

You let it happen.

Own it.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The tone-deaf Jeb

Jeb Bush doesn't think the term "Redskins" is offensive.

With regard to the controversy over the Washington Redskins' team name:

“I don’t think it should change it,” the Republican presidential hopeful said on the The Arena. “But again, I don’t think politicians ought to be having any say about that, to be honest with you. I don’t find it offensive. Native American tribes generally don’t find it offensive.”
About that last assertion: Bush compared the "Redskins" brouhaha to one involving Florida State's team, the Seminoles, observing that the Seminole tribe came to FSU's defense when others demanded a name change.
But unlike the tribal name of Seminole, the term “redskin” is offensive to many. A 2014 poll found 83 percent of Americans said they would not use the term to a Native American’s face.
That Jeb could believe Native Americans don't find the term offensive is a sign that he doesn't give enough of a damn about the world to read the headlines outside of the conservative media bubble.

Also, something about the audacity it takes to run for President seems to invite muddy, delusional thinking. I'm reminded of Scott Walker asserting that facing down angry Wisconsin teachers qualified him to take on ISIS if he became President. Walker and Jeb not only betrayed the shallowness of their thought processes, but their not-credible belief they know what they're talking about. They can't see how badly their assertions measure up against reality.

You get a pass for not understanding everything (that's why you surround yourself with experts). You don't get a pass when you obviously don't care whether you understand.

Jeb doesn't grok minorities. He speaks Spanish and is married to a Mexican woman, but he nevertheless lacks the imagination to walk in the shoes of someone who has been marginalized. He can't envision a life other than his own, which has been very comfortable and very privileged because he's white, male, Christian, and wealthy.

But what's worse is that he seems genuinely blind to his own blindness. He, like his brother George, is temperamentally opposed to reflection.

We want a President who, when the circumstances call for it, can put aside his or her doubts to make a decision — but we can't afford one who isn't thoughtful enough to have doubts about his or her understanding of things. We can't afford one who sticks to his or her own "facts" and can't be bothered to find out the truth.

Jeb is tone-deaf about people who aren't like him because he's indifferent to them. He's not malicious, just incurious.

We can't all be intellectually curious and well-educated, just as we can't all be star athletes (or even mediocre ones). But just as we don't want the average high-school bench-warmer to play center on our favorite NBA team, we don't want (and can't afford) another incurious and uncomprehending scion of a wealthy family to hold the Presidency, a job that requires a willingness to learn about our ever more complex world.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Boehner has leverage, if he wants it

John Boehner's resignation from Congress, and surrender of the Speaker's gavel, has prompted furious speculation about who will take his place, and what turmoil will unfold during the remainder of Barack Obama's presidency. But Boehner's resignation won't take effect until 30 October. What will he do until then?

I'm sure House rules will prevent Boehner from singlehandedly deciding the agenda, but like most Congressional veterans he probably has procedural tricks up his sleeve that he'll start pulling out in favor of his priorities.

Some starry-eyed optimists have suggested that now would be a good time to act on the immigration bill that died in the House last year. Others point to the sorry state of the highway trust fund. Personally, I wonder if he'll choose what to do, and not to do, based on the anarchic far-right bloc's own priorities — to frustrate them as much as he can. They put the squeeze on him, after all: it would only be human to get payback while he can.

However, I could be wrong.

Chris Krueger of the investment firm Guggenheim Partners told clients on Friday that he was raising the prospects of a damaging showdown on the debt ceiling. He dismissed hopes that Mr. Boehner was about to play a bipartisan Mr. Fix-It on his way out the door.

“Essentially, Boehner is the kindergarten teacher who is leaving his flock unsupervised and wants to get all the sharp objects out of the room before he goes off into the sunset,” Mr. Krueger wrote.

A great analogy, except I don't know where Krueger gets the idea Boehner's trying to remove any sharp objects. Boehner will merely try to keep his charges from burning the place down while he's in it.

At some point I'm afraid it's going to be necessary for truly patriotic Americans to fix Congress the only way we can, by moving to the thoroughly irresponsible districts that keep electing far-right bozos and voting in such numbers that we can swamp the idiots and elect people who actually have an interest in governing. This business of governing by temper tantrum and political arson is unsustainable.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Trump and the truth: mere acquaintances

In the second GOP debate Trump bloviated about the horror of pumping numerous vaccines through a needle "that looks like something for a horse" (I paraphrased from memory) into a "beautiful little baby". He went on to mutter darkly about people in his own campaign whose infant children had horrible reactions to the standard immunization routine.

Emotionally compelling, perhaps. But factual? I doubt it. The thing is, we can't tell because nobody calls The Donald on such gibberings and demands that he back up his offhanded assertions with evidence. His supporters obviously don't care, but neither his opponents nor the media seem to give much of a damn, either, when he pulls airy nothings and unsubstantiated anecdotes out of his ass.

We all know he's a bully. He prides himself on being one, and enjoys our outrage at his pride. But not enough of us are angry that he gets away with saying stuff that isn't true.

I don't expect that I'll agree with a national GOP candidate on most issues for the rest of my life, but I'll at least respect that candidate if he or she talks about the world as it is, not as it looks in paranoid nightmares. (Incidentally, on vaccines, it's the science-deniers on the left who are the biggest problem.)

But even the low bar of respectful disagreement is too high for the vast majority of the GOP's presidential candidates. Only John Kasich seems to be consistently willing to talk about the real world, rather than pandering to the far right's angry delusions. And Trump picks up from the frayed edge of where the other GOP candidates leave off stretching the truth.

This business of the country becoming more anti-intellectual as time goes on has got to stop. The stupid, to borrow Matt Taibbi's term, has got to be rejected firmly at every turn. We can start by branding Trump what he is: a serial liar.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Colbert, night 2

I hadn't planned on talking about Colbert again so soon, but his second Late Show outing exposed the biggest problem he has right now: he can't hack the network late-night show celebrity interview.

I couldn't tell who was more uncomfortable, Colbert or Scarlett Johansson. Worse, the interview lasted for two segments. Elon Musk, on the other hand, got only one segment, but Colbert obviously had a lot to ask him and looked like he was having fun. (It was Musk who looked and sounded trapped.)

Without his old character, Colbert has no default point of view from which to pose questions (or make outrageous statements that trigger a discussion). He'd better find the hook that will let him pull off celebrity puff interviews, or people like me will turn away from the unwatchable mess he makes of them.

The other option, of course, would be for him to have complete control of booking, but CBS isn't going to let him indulge himself the way Comedy Central let Jon Stewart. (Stewart, incidentally, often coasted through interviews with Hollywood types who were on promotional tours, but he explicitly made a joke out of his tepid interest in such interviews. Colbert doesn't have that out.)

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Colbert or Wilmore?

For months, I've been wondering what I would do when confronted with the choice of Stephen Colbert or Larry Wilmore.

After about fifteen minutes of Colbert's first Late Show, it's not looking good for Wilmore.

The Nightly Show has improved a lot since I voiced my disappointment with its early episodes: the flow is better and the jokes land with more force.

But fifteen minutes into tonight's Colbert — and especially after his second segment, devoted entirely to Trump and Oreos — I'm welcoming back a sorely-missed friend.

The lazy description of The Colbert Report is that it revolved around a parody of a conservative pundit. That's how it started, absolutely, but it soon outgrew the character. It became a showcase for all the facets of a ridiculously talented man who has a stunning gift for improvisation.

Tonight, the rest of the world met that man.

One very big unknown remains whether CBS will force Colbert to devote a lot of time to the fluffy Hollywood promotional-tour interviews that have filled late-night talk shows since the beginning. I hope not. Nothing would get stale faster than competing with Fallon and Kimmel for the most vacuous ten minutes with [insert actor's name]. One of the minor glories of The Colbert Report was the wide range of guests: authors, politicians, activists, scientists, artists, sports figures. No doubt this was partly due to Jon Stewart, who brought a taste for interesting guests to The Daily Show and who was a co-executive producer of the Report. (He's listed as an executive producer on The Late Show, too, which is a delightful surprise.)

(In what's perhaps a troubling sign for the future, Colbert has said he looked forward most to doing interviews unshackled from his Report character. Neither of tonight's interviews turned out well, and as entertaining as many of them were on the Report, they were often the least interesting part of that show.)

I'll still check out The Nightly Show when I remember. It hasn't become an indispensable accompaniment to The Daily Show, and whether I even stay with the latter depends on what Trevor Noah does with it. Now that it seems Colbert will be allowed to fulfill his potential, it's going to be that much harder to keep my Comedy Central 11-midnight habit.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Think twice before retaining "The Liberty Counsel"

The Liberty Counsel, the nonprofit outfit representing jailed Rowan County (Kentucky) clerk Kim Davis, filed an amendment to its appeal of her incarceration for contempt of court. I don't know what precisely the appeal said, but here's how the AP described the organization's news release of Sunday (6 September):
"Mrs. Davis is entitled to proper notice and due process when she is threatened with the loss of her freedom," Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, said in the news release. "There was no indication that she would be incarcerated. We will be presenting our arguments on appeal and asking for an expedited ruling."
If you're not rolling on the floor laughing, you should be. The whole world knew she could be jailed. Everybody. Really. Even her supporters. The idea that her lawyers didn't know is laughable. And not believable.

Staver, et al., made their claim in a press release, but have they made it in court papers? If The Liberty Counsel hasn't made this claim in a court filing, I call "bullshit" on it. The net result would be that they're not unbelievably incompetent lawyers, but they're trying, in an unbelievably stupid way, to cover their asses in the court of public opinion.

Now on the other hand, if TLC has or will put forth this argument in a court filing, they are either genuinely unqualified to practice law, or they're lying to the court. I haven't read any of their briefs but I find it hard to imagine they're such complete jackasses that they aren't qualified to practice law. Presumably they passed the bar somewhere. Yet would they really risk jail and disbarment for perjury? I find that hard to imagine, too.

Whether this is genuinely clueless lawyering or a flat-out lie, every current and potential client of The Liberty Counsel should be wondering: do I want these guys' help?

Get some perspective on Trump

Being in favor of Trump because he's not a professional politician is like being in favor of a Twinkie because it's not a pesticide-laden fruit.

Shouldn't you insist on a genuinely better choice?

Friday, September 4, 2015

Is it piety or hatred?

Now that Kim Davis is in jail for defying a federal court's order to do her job (or, in the alternative, to let her deputies do the job for her), the Rowan County (Kentucky) clerk's office is issuing marriage licenses again. Hey, great! The system managed to bypass an obstruction.

Well, maybe not.

Davis, through her Liberty Counsel lawyer, says the licenses issued in her absence are invalid.

"They are not being issued under the authority of the Rowan County clerk's office. They are not worth the paper that they are written on," said attorney Mat Staver after meeting with Davis in the Carter County jail in Grayson.
He claims that only Davis has the authority to issue a marriage license. The Rowan County Attorney, Cecil Watkins, has said that deputy clerks don't need their boss' approval to issue a marriage license.

I suspect we won't know who's right until somebody files suit and the Kentucky Supreme Court eventually rules one way or the other.

This prompts a bigger question, though: exactly how does Davis suggest that Kentucky resolve the tension between her beliefs and settled law?

Frankly, I don't see how we can accommodate the unbelievably stringent notion of what I call "transitive sin" with human law, period.

Davis objects to standard legislative accommodations of objecting religious believers. She won't allow her deputies to do the physical work of issuing documents because they still require her signature, and even if the signature were imprinted by a machine it would, in her eyes, still reflect her endorsement of a sinful act. This level of belief can't be satisfied by legalistic fig leaves that exempt the believer from physically participating in the act: it considers standing aside and letting the action take place to be tantamount to complicity. (Last year I mentioned a piece about the Little Sisters of the Poor, who have a similarly strict view of what constitutes "participation" in a sinful act.) Since the sinfulness can't be avoided by permitting an intermediary to do the dirty work, I call this view of sin and action as "transitive".

This is a pretty expansive idea of moral responsibility. Moreover, the lengths to which she has gone to satisfy her beliefs call into question her sincerity on a different matter.

Davis claims she has no problem if same-sex couples seek their license in another county. Yet how does this absolve Davis in her own eyes?

The obvious answer is, Davis' legal authority doesn't extend to a different county. But how much does Davis respect legal authority? Not much, as far as a federal judge's order is concerned. Why does she respect the legality of county boundaries but not a judge's order aimed specifically at her? Why should one carry weight with her but not the other?

Then there's the spiritual aspect of the matter. If she is so concerned with not enabling sin, how can she be okay telling same-sex couples they can get a marriage license in the next county? How are her hands clean in that case? She enabled them to commit the sin of same-sex marriage!

If you sincerely believe that the least little contact makes you complicit in a sin, I don't see how you can be virtuous in the modern world. I also don't see how you can believe in freedom of belief for anyone else if you're inclined to constrain what other people can do if their actions impinge on your "web" of possible complicity.

The legal rule of thumb for how far any given "freedom" can extend is, it has to be reined in when it impinges on someone else. In other words, "Your freedom to stretch ends at my nose". How can Davis' expansive version of "religious freedom" fit that legal rule of thumb?

I don't think it can.

The claimed injury to Davis' freedom of worship is so vaguely expansive, the "penumbra" of what might impinge on her religious belief can't be defined in the law. Common-sense, reasonable accommodations for religious belief have not sufficed for her. I doubt any accommodation is possible.

When your "personal" belief extends so far that you won't let others do your work, you've crossed a line. We can't and shouldn't accommodate you, because you are imposing your belief on others.

By the way, the strength of her belief in this particular sin strongly suggests that what really motivates her is a deep animus toward homosexuals. That, too, can be "protected" under the rubric of religious belief, but it's a much less trendy sentiment.

Oh, and those like the tiresome Mike Huckabee who are crying "Religious intolerance!" and "Christian persecution!" to the rafters are simply trying to raise money. Davis was jailed because she refused to do her job. You jokers are amplifying hostility toward yourselves and your coreligionists by being too goddamned greedy to secure power for yourselves. Worried about a more secular world? If that happens, you will bear much responsibility because you will have discredited genuine spiritualism with your whining and bigotry. So I'm actually doing you a favor by telling you to fuck off.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Killing for attention

Arthur Chu links narcissism and privilege in his Salon piece "Celebrity killer culture: When grandiosity, privilege and entitlement turn attention-seeking into violence".

It makes a disturbing amount of sense to me. I've long accepted the cliched observation that sensationally destructive acts are "a cry for attention", but Chu makes a compelling case that a lot of our most notorious murderers are linked by a much more specific characteristic.

[There is a psychological] trait that’s part of some mental illness diagnoses (like bipolar disorder) and some personality disorder diagnoses (like narcissistic personality disorder) but that I’d argue goes beyond either one. It’s called grandiosity — the idea that you, personally, are the center of the universe, that people ought to be paying attention to you, that you’re entitled to take up space in other people’s lives and their denying you that space is an injustice.

Grandiosity is joined at the hip with privilege. It festers among the subset of our culture that’s taught to take up space, to assert themselves, to make themselves important.

[link in the original text]

I'm skeptical of quickie psychosocial analyses in mass-culture publications like Salon, but this one rings true. It makes sense not just of Dylann Roof and the Columbine killers, but of a host of other white and Asian "public-spectacle" killers as well as Vester Lee Flanagan, the ex-TV reporter who murdered his former colleagues live on TV.

Chu also implicitly suggests that as long as we keep mindlessly showering attention on such killings, we're going to see more of them. Maybe we can minimize the destruction if we instead suggest that a spectacular suicide (that doesn't involve homicide) is even more attention-getting. At the least, such a development would complete our society's transformation into the uncomfortable dystopia portrayed in Paddy Chayefsky's Network.

Or maybe we can change our culture so that a subset of men is no longer taught that the rest of the world must make way for them.

Hmm. Why do I think it would be easier to convince them to commit suicide?

Thursday, August 27, 2015

No, really: fire Kim Davis

It strains credulity that someone can baldly and unapologetically refuse to do a job while insisting that she deserves to keep it, but such is the sorry spectacle that Rowan County (Kentucky) clerk Kim Davis presents.

Even after being ordered by both a federal judge and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals to issue marriage licenses to everyone, including same-sex couples, Davis continues her work stoppage.

Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis has refused to issue any marriage licenses, citing her Christian faith and constitutional right to religious freedom, since the landmark [U.S. Supreme Court's Obergefell] decision in June.
Davis' attorney Mat Staver says she should be accommodated.
“The court of appeals did not provide any religious accommodation rights to individuals, which makes little sense because at the end of the day it’s individuals that are carrying out the acts of the office,” Staver said. “They don’t lose their individual constitutional rights just because they are employed in a public office.”
An "accommodation" lets somebody do the job in spite of difficulties. Davis is asking not to do her job. Staver's argument is a bad joke.

Worse, her refusal to do her job is keeping her office from doing its job of issuing marriage licenses. Because no licenses are being issued, the county government effectively has adopted her religion's strictures. And the First Amendment does not permit that.

Assuming Davis loses in the courts, Kentucky needs to oust her from her job. Apparently, that won't be easy.

Davis has said she will not resign. She can only be removed from office if the state legislature impeaches her, which is unlikely. If she continues to defy a federal court order, a judge could hold her in contempt and order hefty fines or jail time.
Fines and jail time would be appropriate for her intransigence, but what Rowan County needs is not a jailed county clerk, but a county clerk who will do the job. Somebody else has to be installed. If the state legislature won't impeach her, her county's citizens should sue her (and perhaps the state legislature, too) for nonperformance.

Kim Davis refuses either to do her job or to let her job be done. How does she dare claim she deserves to keep it?

She is a shameful example of arrogance fueled by religious zeal. I said it before, and I'll say it again.

Fire her!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Matt Taibbi nails our Trumpian sickness

Back in the immediate aftermath of a couple of violent jackasses beating down a homeless Latino man in Boston and invoking the Donald's name as they were arrested, Matt Taibbi penned a piece entitled, "Donald Trump Just Stopped Being Funny".
Trump is probably too dumb to realize it, or maybe he isn't, but he doesn't need to win anything to become the most dangerous person in America. He can do plenty of damage just by encouraging people to be as uninhibited in their stupidity as he is.
And he summed up with about as chilling, yet insightful, an observation as any I've seen lately:
America has been trending stupid for a long time. Now the stupid wants out of its cage, and Trump is urging it on. There are a lot of ways this can go wrong, no matter who wins in 2016.
Indeed, "the stupid wants out of its cage".

The same insistent simplemindedness that animates fundamentalism, the same overriding desire to reduce the world to white and black, good and evil, friend and foe, informs not just the support for Trump, but Trump's own buffoonish attitude toward just about everything. The world isn't complex, he insists, it's just that we don't have smart people (like him) running things.

I grew out of believing in political saviors a long time ago. It astonishes me that such a brazenly obvious snake-oil salesman as Trump found an audience, but his followers do not strike me as the clearest or deepest of thinkers. If a cruel fate makes The Donald our forty-fifth president, they're going to be very, very angry when he can't deliver.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Jeb middle-fingers Asian Americans

Jeb Bush tried to clarify what he meant by his criticism of what he called "anchor babies" a few days ago. Per Time:
Jeb Bush struggled Monday to explain his position on birthright citizenship, suggesting that his use of the term “anchor babies” was directed not at Hispanics but rather at Asians.

“What I was talking about was the specific case of fraud being committed,” Bush told reporters during an immigration-focused press conference in McAllen, Tex. “Frankly it’s more related to Asian people [who are] coming into our country, having children, and… taking advantage of a noble concept, which is birthright citizenship.”

Now, if you parse only the words, Jeb's words themselves aren't (unduly) offensive. Who's going to defend the idea of scurrilous foreigners entering the U.S. just long enough literally to drop a baby and to file the paperwork proving the circumstances of the birth?

But of course, you cannot parse only the words. You have to parse the circumstances in which those words are uttered. In this case, the circumstance of interest is the racially-charged atmosphere the GOP has created with its rhetoric. GOP candidates and far-right conservatives have criticized the #BlackLivesMatter movement as another cry of "victimization" from blacks; they've pandered to their base with racist fearmongering against Hispanics in the guise of "immigration reform". It's not a great surprise that Bush, increasingly desperate to garner some attention for his candidacy and some traction with the far-right base that dominates the GOP's primaries, has now gone after the other major subgroup That Doesn't Look Like Us.

There are more charitable ways of interpreting his remarks. For one thing, he may well be right that there is a substantial number of foreign-born Asians who travel to the U.S. expressly for the purpose of gaining a literal toehold on American citizenship for their children. For another, Bush may genuinely feel Hispanics are being railroaded by his conservative brethren, and he may have tried to redirect some of the nativist fury at "others" away from Hispanics.

But in the current, charged atmosphere in which the likes of Trump are demonizing non-whites, simply saying that he meant Asians rather than Hispanics invites the nativist, borderline racist GOP base to target Asians and Asian Americans rather than (or in addition to) Hispanics.

Did he mean to stoke anti-Asian sentiment? Well, look at it this way: he used to govern Florida, a state with a sizable non-white population. If he habitually blundered into minefields of ethnicity with catastrophic results, I doubt he would have secured two terms as governor. He didn't blunder into this remark. He didn't accidentally drag Asians and Asian Americans into the nativist GOP base's lashing-out against non-whites.

From a purely numerical standpoint, Asian Americans don't matter in national politics: there just aren't enough of them. But as a matter of optics, to use the currently popular term, substituting "Asians" for "Hispanics" simply gives the sizable pool of covert and overt racists in the GOP's fold an additional set of targets. Or rather, since these racists already loathed non-whites, Bush gave them rhetorical cover.

Bush could dig himself out of his hole, but it would take a lot of further clarifications and explanations, none of which will make him a more viable candidate in the eyes of GOP primary voters. So, like many who have insulted Asian Americans in the past (hello, Rush), he won't bother — and he likely won't pay a political price, either.