Sunday, January 31, 2010

Fred Phelps Not a Fan of Lady Gaga

This is a bit dated, but I just came across this photo and thought it was amusing:



Apparently, Fred Phelps, the right wing preacher known for leading demonstrations against Jewish organizations and making an ass of himself on college campuses while protesting homosexuals, thinks Lady Gaga is leading people to hell.

And by the way, I wonder if the poor girl in the photo realizes the irony of protesting homosexuality while wearing a sweatshirt with a fairy on it.

Send the Republicans to Their Room

Lee Siegel has written this very amusing piece for The Daily Beast about heath care politics, comparing the GOP to a three-year-old child and the threat of a filibuster to a temper tantrum.
Take Obama’s original proposals for health-care reform. Child-rearing equivalent? Broccoli. Most effective strategy? Chocolate cookie. Now what do you do with this cookie? Mix it in with the broccoli? (i.e. weaken the public option into national exchanges?) No. Put it on the plate alongside the broccoli? (i.e. give each state the choice of rejecting a public option?) No. Offer it to your child as an appetizer after extracting his promise to consume the broccoli afterward? (i.e. commit $30 billion to continue the war in Afghanistan?) Nope. Do you suggest that tonight he have only chocolate cookies for dinner and tell him in no uncertain terms that tomorrow night he must eat all his broccoli? (i.e. abandon the public option, national exchanges, and a Medicare buy-in for people 55 and over?) Absolutely not.

Any one of these ploys will leave you with a plate of cold broccoli, a happy and triumphant child, and the cheerful expectation on the part of the latter that he will never have to eat any type of vegetable again for the rest of his life. The one thing parents know is never to give up anything valuable without getting something substantial in return.

And yet there is an event that looms ominously over every family dinner. In politics it is called The Filibuster. Parents know it as The Tantrum.
The conclusion of the piece is a little weak but the metaphor is apt, especially after watching how President Bush (43) would essentially threaten to hold his breath any time he didn't get his way.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Howard Zinn: 1922 - 2010

From The Washington Post:
Howard Zinn, an author, teacher and political activist whose leftist "A People's History of the United States" became a million-selling alternative to mainstream texts and a favorite of such celebrities as Bruce Springsteen and Ben Affleck, died Wednesday. He was 87.

Zinn died of a heart attack in Santa Monica, Calif., daughter Myla Kabat-Zinn said. The historian was a resident of Auburndale, Mass.

Published in 1980 with little promotion and a first printing of 5,000, "A People's History" was - fittingly - a people's best-seller, attracting a wide audience through word of mouth and reaching 1 million sales in 2003. Although Zinn was writing for a general readership, his book was taught in high schools and colleges throughout the country, and numerous companion editions were published, including "Voices of a People's History," a volume for young people and a graphic novel.


Monday, January 25, 2010

Naughty Words

I wish I was making this up, but according to this article from Salon.com, a school in California has banned the dictionary for containing offensive language:

Acting on a complaint from one parent after she noticed that the dictionary in her son's Oak Meadows Elementary School contained the phrase "oral sex," swift-acting school officials pulled the salacious work from fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms throughout the district.

District spokeswoman Betti Cadmus told Southwest Riverside News that after the mother complained to the school principal, the district decided to temporary remove the books. "We are grateful that the parent who saw something sexually graphic brought it to our attention," she explained. The district will now form a committee to "determine the extent to which the challenged material supports the curriculum, the educational appropriateness of the material, and its suitability for the age level of the student." That's right -- in certain places, one cranky parent can get the dictionary removed from an entire district's schools, even when the kids themselves haven't been running around blurting about ORAL SEX to their elders.
I don't know if the big shock here is the banning of the book or the fact that students still use a hard copy of the dictionary.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Joan Walsh on Game Change

Finally, someone is asking the right questions about the book Game Change. Joan Walsh, editor of Salon.com, writes about the book's use of anecdotes and its lack of sourcing or corroboration.

On Sunday I wrote about the book's "revelation" that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid used the term "Negro dialect" referring to Barack Obama. I wrote then about my discomfort with the book's mostly anonymous sourcing – there is no index or source notes – as well as its strange practice of "quoting" inflammatory statements in mere sentence fragments, without full context, and Heilemann and Halperin's Bob Woodward-like zest for recreating thoughts and conversations they couldn't have been a party to. (I particularly enjoyed the opening scene, set in Obama's room at a Des Moines Hampton Inn just before the Iowa caucuses, when the candidate woke up anxious in the middle of the night, feeling like "the dog that caught the bus." Were they there? Now that's a story!) I have the book, and I'm making my way through it, but I'm surprised more people aren't asking the questions I have about it.

* * *

I have two points: At a time when we're fighting at least two wars, enduring double-digit unemployment, a controversial health care reform bill may or may not become law, and Haiti just had a devastating earthquake, how could we possibly be talking, nearly 24/7, about a gossipy book that reveals nothing serious about policy, hidden deals, corruption or conflicts of interest along the 2008 campaign trail? And if we must dissect such gossipy revelations, on the grounds that they tell us something about our leadership class (Ed Schultz's defense to me) how can we do so without constantly noting that the book's sourcing is stunningly opaque – about a topic on which all sources had a skewed, self-interested take on the "history" they recount?

Journalists often use confidential sources, and I'm not opposed to the practice, but the dependence upon those sources in Game Change makes it impossible to evaluate anything in the book. Feasibly, a writer could make everything up and claim that they are protecting confidential sources. That makes Game Change hard to distinguish from crap like Obama Nation by Jerome Corsi.

I have not read Game Change (and at this point my reading list is so long that I doubt I will get to it any time soon) but if what Walsh writes is correct, there is a better book to be written about the 2008 campaign, one that will benefit from some critical distance and the ability to evaluate the election and its winners and losers in wider retrospection.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Beinart: Harry Reid Was Right

The pseudo-controversy blowing up talking head television this week is the report of Harry Reid's (D-Nevada) use of the word "negro" in a private conversation about Barack Obama. According to the upcoming book Game Change, during the 2008 campaign Reid said that Americans would likely vote for Obama because he has light skin and speaks with “no Negro dialect.”

In a piece on The Daily Beast, Peter Beinart writes that what Reid said was correct. Here are the opening and closing paragraphs to the piece, which illustrate his point nicely:

There’s nothing Americans love more than demanding “honest talk” about race and then kicking the teeth out of anyone who engages in it. Thus the tale of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who is now in political purgatory because he told authors Mark Halperin and John Heilemann that white people were more open to voting for Barack Obama because he’s “light-skinned” and has “no Negro dialect.” Reid’s use of the word “Negro” was, to be sure, unpleasantly retro. But everything else about his statement is undeniably correct. Political scientists have proved it. Famous African Americans have testified to it. So now Reid must be punished, because he said things about the contours of white racism that you’re not supposed to say, except behind closed doors, where everyone knows that they’re true.

* * *

So if what Reid said was palpably true, why is he in so much trouble? Yes, his use of the word “negro” was unattractive. But overall, his statement was less an example of white racism than an analysis of white racism. He dared to discuss an aspect of race prejudice that people generally find too toxic to publicly discuss. But it should be publicly discussed. Because amid the triumphalism that has followed Barack Obama’s election—the insistence, particularly on the right, that his election proves that racism has all but died out—it is worth remembering that while Obama’s election constitutes racial progress, it is also, peculiarly, testament to how far America still has to go.

It seems to me that the knee-jerk reaction to Reid's use of the word "negro" was itself an indication of how far we have to go. Race is still so sensitive of a topic that just the use of a word--in a non-derogatory context, no less--was enough to get people calling for Reid's resignation. Reid's comments may have been coarse or impolitic but as Beinart points out, he was also right and should not be punished for that.

Monday, January 04, 2010

The Past Decade in Seven Minutes

Here is a video from Newsweek condensing nearly every major news story of the past ten years into seven minutes. The only major stories I noticed missing were 2001's "Summer of the Shark," the Enron disaster, and the Valerie Plame scandal. And for all the coverage she got this decade, I'm surprised Paris Hilton was not in the mash-up.