Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Why is politics entertaining again?

I've realized over the past few days that the long period has ended during which I found American politics not at all entertaining. Sarah Palin and fools like William Kristol have changed all that. I was glum and out of sorts because we (the country) were hamstrung with Bush, Cheney, etc., including an opposition party unable to take decisive action and even unwilling to pursue seriously the question of impeaching the ba**ards. Now that I find reason to hope that the Democrats will win the White House in November, I have become less glum, even to the extent of being relaxed enough to laugh at the folly of fools. The lifting of glumness seems to be the reason (or at least a prerequisite) for my now finding politics entertaining again. Palin (Alaska's proximity to Russia being the source of her foreign policy experience, her fear of bewitchment and all) can only have been sent to entertain us. May she not be dumped but remain on the ticket through Election Day!

By the way, 1,087 comments have now been posted to Kristol's Times column yesterday. Here's #1,087:
Palin has amply demonstrated by now through her Couric and Gibson interviews her ignorance and lack of ability to think logically. (Ignorance and lack of ability to think logically are two distinct characteristics, each highly bothersome individually.)

Whatever coaching McCain campaign operatives might desperately provide to Palin at this late hour is their application of—hmm—lipstick on a pig.

I have an idea that on both accounts, Palin's above incompetence and McCain's display of incompetence just in her selection as his running mate (leaving aside [many other] matters), the candidacy of the McCain-Palin duo is going to implode before too long.
And from # 1064:
This snooty elitist (and yes the rich republicans are the reel elitist here) says Obama is liberal. What does that mean? That he grew up on food stamps? Saw his mother die of cancer while fighting insurance companies? That he put himself through school? That instead of taking a job on Wall Street for 7 figures he returned to Chicago to take a $12,000 a year job working in the community to getter the lives of everyday people as opposed to the richest and most powerful? That he joined, at no pay, two Chicago school boards and was instrumental in helping that city turn around a failed school system? Is that what you call liberal?

I call that being an American. An up from the boot strap American. Not some prep school, last in his class Annapolis legacy, serial adulterer, intemperate, impetuous, social climber who married the rich blonde heiress. That doesn't sound like my neighbors.

Flash! This just in, from The Smirking Chimp1

This political season has even brought out voices reminiscent of the sixties magazines Ramparts and Mother Jones and the rhetoric of Abby Hoffman and Jerry Rubin:
Then there's the God stuff: Palin belongs to a church whose pastor, Ed Kalnins, believes that all criticisms of George Bush "come from hell," and wondered aloud if people who voted for John Kerry could be saved. Kalnins, looming as the answer to Obama's Jeremiah Wright, claims that Alaska is going to be a "refuge state" for Christians in the last days, last days which he sometimes speaks of in the present tense. Palin herself has been captured on video mouthing the inevitable born-again idiocies, such as the idea that a recent oilpipeline deal was "God's will." She also described the Iraq War as a "task that is from God" and part of a heavenly "plan." She supports teaching creationism and "abstinence only" in public schools, opposes abortion even for victims of rape, denies the science behind global warming and attends a church that seeks to convert Jews and cure homosexuals.

All of which tells you about what you'd expect from a raise-the-base choice like Palin: She's a puffed-up dimwit with primitive religious beliefs who had to be educated as to the fact that the Constitution did not exactly envision government executives firing librarians. Judging from the importance progressive critics seem to attach to these revelations, you'd think that these were actually negatives in modern American politics. But Americans like politicians who hate books and see the face of Jesus in every tree stump. They like them stupid and mean and ignorant of the rules.

Which is why Palin has only seemed to grow in popularity as more and more of these revelations have come out. The same goes for the most damning aspect of her biography, her total lack of big-game experience. As governor of Alaska, Palin presides over a state whose entire population is barely the size of Memphis. This kind of thing might matter in a country that actually worried about whether its leader was prepared for his job—but not in America.
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  1. From the article, "The scariest thing about Sarah Palin isn't how unqualified she is—it's what her candidacy says about America," by Matt Taibbi.

Monday, September 29, 2008

American politics is entertaining again!

William Kristol is one of those stone-blind right-wing ideologues still chanting various conservative mantras and, in his case, doing so as a token con [artist] in The New York Times's stable of op-ed columnists. His piece in today's Times is a howler. For example, he writes:
With respect to his campaign, McCain needs to liberate his running mate from the former Bush aides brought in to handle her...On Sunday he dispatched his top aides Steve Schmidt and Rick Davis to join Palin in Philadelphia. They’re supposed to liberate Palin to go on the offensive as a combative conservative in the vice-presidential debate on Thursday.

That debate is important...Palin has to dispatch quickly any queries about herself, and confidently assert that of course she’s qualified to be vice president. She should spend her time making the case for McCain and, more important, the case against Obama...The core case against Obama is pretty simple: he’s too liberal...He has radical associates in his past...Rev. Jeremiah Wright....
But the comments (975 of them as I write this!) are even funnier. I've read only a relatively small sample, but here's a good one:
Unchain Palin? She's a talented communicator? Has Mr. Kristol watched the Couric interview? The reason she's been boxed up is that she's a disaster unscripted. This suggestion alone makes me think Kristol is just having fun. Although, at this point, expectations for her in the debate are so low, she may actually beat some expectations - especially if she can memorize those cue cards.
And this one:
What an astonishing partisan hack piece. "Liberate Sarah Palin"...? When the Times went scouring the nation for its token conservative they would have been far better served by choosing someone who wasn't so tired, gimmicky, out of his depth and flat out ridiculous. If this is one of the most authoritative and respected voices of conservatism, then that movement is in far greater trouble than even I had supposed.
And another:
Given that Ms. Palin's own pastor is a (literal) witch hunter from Kenya, your advice about bringing up pastors seems unusually obtuse, even for you.

Keep trying, Bill! I'm sure you'll have a good idea one of these days!
If a very brief dip into the comments found these, then there must be many, many more good laughs in the hundreds of others you might read there if you had the time and the need for diversion.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Realism...or magical optimism?

This morning I read in the New York Times a very short op-ed piece, “The Power of Negative Thinking,” by Barbara Ehrenreich. Ms. Ehrenreich assails the pie-in-the-sky optimism that I myself subscribed to for many years:
As promoted by Oprah Winfrey, scores of megachurch pastors and an endless flow of self-help best sellers, the idea is to firmly believe that you will get what you want, not only because it will make you feel better to do so, but because “visualizing” something — ardently and with concentration — actually makes it happen.
I believed this so ardently in 1989 that I suffered an excess of mania and on its magic carpet sailed for most of the summer, believing that I would win the Publishers Clearing House $10,000,000 Sweepstakes and publish a best-selling book that would tell the world how Youie (a.k.a. “God”) Herself revealed these wonders to me in advance.

Over the years since 1989, I came to see that the psychotherapist who helped me when the inevitable happened and my carpet crashed me into depression was right, it really was mania and not divine revelation.

Ehrenreich's article concludes:
When it comes to how we think, “negative” is not the only alternative to “positive.” As the case histories of depressives show, consistent pessimism can be just as baseless and deluded as its opposite. The alternative to both is realism [emphasis mine] — seeing the risks, having the courage to bear bad news and being prepared for famine as well as plenty. We ought to give it a try.
I hadn't thought in these terms, but one way for me to think of the turn my thinking about god and religion took last year is as a turn to realism. Of course, you may dispute whether this is valid, because what is real is, ultimately, a matter of belief, perhaps even "religious" belief.

Of course, in terms of what I myself believe is real, I think I did turn from optimism (God exists and will take care of the righteous, who will live forever in heaven, their young, sexy bodies restored) to realism (we're all alone here, bud, the atoms in our bodies will be recycled, and our spirits evaporate with them). Of course, many people shudder violently at that view; to them it's the rankest pessimism. They cling to their magical optimism.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Respectability

I put it on this morning just for fun, not realizing that it might lend me an air of respectability. For the first time since I've been walking to the pickup point of the van I commute to work in, a neighbor stopped and offered me a ride!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Sony Religious-Noise Canceling Headphones

Tip for today

If you ever find yourself a captive audience of evangelizing Christians, consider purchasing a pair of Sony's Religious-Noise Canceling Headphones. Sony offers several models. Look for them yourself, perhaps by googling on something like "sony noise canceling headphones."

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

What difference can a county line make?

My wife and I are pleased to have found kindred spirits among our new neighbors. They recently put up an Obama for President sign and have offered us a second one that they expect to acquire soon.

One of them is a teacher relatively new to North Carolina, who recently changed school districts (and now teaches in a different North Carolina county). She reports:
It really is shocking how ignorant a lot of people are and scary that McCain/Palin actually seem to have a good shot at winning. I must say how refreshing it is to be working in Chapel Hill now. People seem so much more liberal there. I didn't think I'd notice a difference but I really do, even in school. Several of my students were absent a couple of weeks ago because they were at the Democratic convention—a far cry from my last school, where I had some students tell me that I must be a Democrat because I believe in global warming! I pointed out that global warming is a fact, not an opinion.

In that school I was working alongside colleagues (female) who told me with no shame that Ms. Clinton could not be president because she's female and therefore too emotional. Shocking, really, and very sad. I pointed out that Hillary has bigger balls than Bush and maybe what was needed for this country was a little emotion. I felt as though my opinions were frowned upon as I'm just the snooty outsider! It is a refreshing change to be surrounded now by people with some sense.
"Believe" in global warming...as though it's a matter of faith rather than scientific knowledge. Religion is quite a pernicious influence in this country—however more pernicious an influence Islam is in countries where that medieval religion predominates. The women who condemned Hillary Clinton were most likely influenced by the ancient Old Testament emphasis of much of Christianity.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The wisdom to know the difference

A cousin wrote me yesterday that she'd meant to call some of our relatives in Arkansas to see whether they were okay in the wake of Hurricane Ike, but that "like always" she'd put it off and not done so.

I told her that either our relatives are okay or they aren't, and there's nothing we can do about it.

Her reply surprised me:
I really LOL [laughed out loud] at what you said. I guess you're right, there is really nothing we could do about it. If something was wrong with any of them, we would have heard.
I trusted that her LOL was owing to her relief at realizing that, indeed, we can do nothing about most things, so we might as well free ourselves from the illusion that we can.

In this connection, I had already been musing about people's practice of praying for other people, as though they could thereby improve their lot. I think people pray for others in order to demonstrate that they care while at the same time absolving themselves of any responsibility for the actual outcome. After all, they generally ackowledge that god isn't bound to act on their prayers. They believe that god will either do something or "he" won't. Or, as I say, the people they are praying for will either be okay or they won't. Prayer doesn't come into it.

We're all familiar with something known as the serenity prayer (commonly attributed to theologian Reinhold Niebuhr):
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference....
The serenity prayer is itself a prayer, though not on behalf of other people. I suppose that many people who utter it and subsequently think they have come to know the difference would be unsure whether to pray less, or more, in the future, not knowing whether to attribute the effect to divine intervention or to purely psychological mechanisms. (I attribute it to the latter; "god" has nothing to do with it.)
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When I called my sister in northwestern Arkansas, she told me that she and her family are doing okay, "thank the Lord."

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Canada geese resting in Mebane, North Carolina on the way south (presumably)

At least, they look like Canada geese, although my wife and I weren't sure at first this morning, as we viewed them from our back door. We couldn't at the time match them to any species in our bird books. But look at the photo and accompanying text provided by BirdNetInformation.

Or are they locals? A friend who is an avid birder tells me:

They might not be migrating geese, but just a gaggle of local geese that found your pond. If you don’t already have a population of year-round local geese on your pond, you soon will. The year-round population is exploding in North Carolina, and many communities are having to take action to run them away. I like to watch the geese, and am thrilled to see them return in such numbers. However, they do make a terrible mess in yards, on walkways, etc., and they can be very aggressive.