Monday, April 8, 2013

Losing Iain Banks

When I listed favorite books on my profile, I could easily single out some titles; others had to be grouped, like for Rankin and Stevenson; but there are two authors whose works I’d read any day of the week, or if they only composed copy for cereal boxes.

One is Thomas Pynchon, whose name I first encountered in the late ’60s as a blurber for his buddy Richard Farina’s Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me. I used to foist copies of V, later Gravity’s Rainbow, onto unsuspecting friends who probably resented the hell out of it. I stopped keeping track of how many times I’ve reread his seven novels and am delighted that he’s still at it. I’ve already pre-ordered my copy of Bleeding Edge from Amazon five months in advance.

The other is Iain Banks, whose work I chanced upon on a trip to the UK in the ’90s. He writes thrillers, Scottish family sagas, space operas, and experimental fantasies. He’s far more prolific than Pynchon and I’ve never been able to get enough of him. But I’m going to have to learn to be satisfied with what’s out there because he’s just announced to the world that he’s dying.

Banks has been praised as one of Scotland’s literary treasures but isn’t as well known in the US, except by a select cult of readers for the science fiction he publishes under the name Iain M. Banks. I haven’t been much of a sci-fi fan since I was a teenager, but something about Banks pushed my buttons. The particular universe he created, The Culture, is idyllic enough to give flight to fancy, but it’s his writing that got me hooked: galaxy-spanning plots, strange-looking aliens, wince-inducing torture, outlandish sex, and improbably huge spaceships with outrageous names. And he spins his yarns with enough of a wink that you can’t help but smile. He inspired me to pick up other contemporary sci-fi authors to see what I’ve been missing, but none of them have been able to grab me like Banks, they’re all far too serious and self-important. Banks has fun.

Now there will be one last novel, and then he will be gone.

I won’t be too surprised to one day read an obituary for the famously reclusive Pynchon; after all, he’s 75. I’m just happy there’s another book on its way and wonder if I dare hope for yet another after that. But Banks is only 59, and one would have expected a good many more years of spilling his incredible imagination onto the printed page. That, unfortunately, is the way it goes; one cannot make expectations of the universe.

But of Banks’ universe, I can always expect to have my mind blown and know I will return to it again and again.

Friday, March 1, 2013


The cat perched atop my head is no longer with us.

She was suffering from a combination of kidney disease, arthritis, dementia, and most lately a urinary tract infection that had her peeing outside the box and forcing us to keep her in a separate room with plastic on the floor. We had hoped to nurse her back to some semblance of health — meds for the UTI and pain, subcutaneous fluids for her kidneys but when she stopped eating and her breathing became labored, we knew it was time. She had been with us for 15 years.

Peaches came to us via a friend who had found her abandoned as a kitten at a private airfield outside of Tucson. The roar of planes and shouts of men left her fearful, and she was a timid cat all of her life. But when we first met her, she came up to us with such joy that I wanted to name her after the Zappa tune “Peaches En Regalia.”

Her timidity showed whenever she came upon a strange object, maybe just a crumpled bit of paper, and stuck a paw out to tap it in the most tentative way. And unlike our other cats, I don’t recall ever seeing her go after a lizard, much less trap one. She also had a peculiar habit of settling in on our heads, whether in chairs or in bed, and kneading while she purred.  She was a sweetie.

She was also a pacer, stalking the room and hardly ever settling down. Seven or eight years ago this turned out to be a manifestation of hyperthyroidism, and we had to take her for radiation treatment that lasted a couple of weeks and probably made her think we’d abandoned her. When we got her back, we had to keep her away from our heads for a while since she was still “hot.”

Some dental issues last summer led to what must have been pain while eating and a drastic loss of weight, so we hoped surgery would resolve that. Sad to say, she never seemed to have regained all of her cognitive faculties after the anesthesia; her pacing became more pronounced, and despite being more capable of eating she would wander away from her food so that we eventually had to keep her in a kennel at mealtime just so she would focus on her bowl. Unfortunately, the other issues just piled up.

When we knew yesterday it was time to take her in, Beth carried her in to say goodbye to our one remaining Tucson transplant, Dinah. When she brought them nose-to-nose, Peaches put a paw out and Dinah licked it. Then we took her to the vet. I only wish they’d come up with a way for humans to go as quickly and peacefully.

Peaches provided a title for this blog, which I more or less abandoned a year ago (not quite as pathetic as an abandoned cat, but just about). I’ve hemmed and hawed over its still being up; but now that it’s become a tribute, I see no reason to take it down.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Keepin’ ’em down...

One of the great satirical songs of the ’70s was Randy Newman’s “Rednecks,” in which the character singing boasts of “keeping the niggers down.” Now, as one of the great turnabouts of the ’10s, Rick Santorum boasts of keeping the rednecks down.

When Santorum claimed that Obama was a snob for wanting everyone to go to college, he simply reinforced the opinion of Palin et al that higher education turns people into liberal elitists. Real Americans are down-to-earth people and don’t need fancy eddication. Besides, if they need anything beyond readin’, writin’, and ’rithmatic, there’s always Sunday School.

But I suspect Saint Rick has a hidden agenda. Because he knows that the more educated a person is, the more likely he or she will question things that ought not to be questioned, beginning with the literal truth of the Bible. How you gonna keep ’em down – on the farm, in the factories, wherever – if they stop and figure out the foundation of your morality is a sham?

Of course, Randy does sing about “college men from LSU – went in dumb, came out dumb, too”; so maybe Rick has a point.

Monday, February 13, 2012

For the love of God...

I’ve been working my way (again) thru the dvd set of The Sopranos and recently viewed episode 3:12 (“Amour Fou”) in which a priest tells Carmella, “God loves you more than you can know.” This triggered in me an agnostic scoff, along with a remembrance of the Sunday school adage, “God is love.” But it also got me thinking....

During the years I delved into Krishnamurti’s teachings, I balked at his premise that love was the underlying power of the universe. It was the way he baldly stated it as a given, clearly exempt from the questioning to which he demanded every thought or belief be subjected, that struck me as somewhat hypocritical. My problem, I realized later, came down to vocabulary, since “love” is so carelessly bandied about in so many ways.

But when I consider “love” as resonance or affinity, it not only explains attraction between people (a physical or hormonal resonance) or empathy for others (affinity for their suffering), it also applies to the underlying nature of Reality: it is the resonance of subatomic particles and their affinity for one another that is the very glue that holds existence together, and is also reflected by gravitational attraction in our larger world. It is nothing less than Tao. Which makes “God is love” a simplistic way of stating, “Tao is affinity.” Which means God is affinity as well – and affinity is God (or, to use a less loaded term, Tao). I’m not sure that’s what K had in mind, but it resonates with me.

On the human plane, love/affinity is caring for other human beings, is stewardship of Nature, is a desire for tranquility/peace, all of which means achieving resonance with existence. Now if that is the case, isn’t it strange that people who claim the necessity for “preemptive” war, who place the interest of humans over those of the environment, who denigrate the needs of fellow citizens if it means a greater tax burden on themselves, and who spew the greatest amount of vitriol on behalf of their stances, are often those who profess a love of God?

Friday, February 10, 2012

A cult by any other name...

There may come a day, although probably not in my lifetime, when a Scientologist is a viable candidate for President of the United States. Give it a hundred years or so. Because when you figure the exponential rate of progress, that would pretty much jibe with having a Mormon run for president just shy of two centuries after that religion’s founding.

Some might look askance at the prospect; after all, isn’t Scientology a cult? That may be true, but it’s no less a cult than Mormonism was in the early 1800s. And if some Americans (arguably not as many as necessary) are willing to install in the White House a person who accepts as truth that religion’s foundation, revelations, and cosmology, then there’s no reason to suppose that after another century citizens won’t be just as willing to give a pass to someone who accepts L. Ron Hubbard’s science fiction as gospel.

Today’s cult is tomorrow’s mainstream faith, and you can work that backward as well. All it takes is indoctrination by family and community to accept the most outlandish claims as truth. Mitt Romney probably believes what he was brought up to believe because, like most of us, he doesn’t pause to question it. But really, Mitt: inscriptions on gold plates? magic underwear? baptizing the dead? (And really, so many of you others: virgin birth? god in three persons? transubstantiation?)

Considering today’s brouhaha over insurance coverage for contraception, there’s no question that things have gotten out of hand when “religious freedom” is invoked in order to give religion the freedom to quash the rights of individuals who may not even subscribe to its mandates. And giving free rein to religion is but a step toward allowing religion to reign over us all.

Romney’s religion might seem strange to some, but I suspect that, if elected, he would be just as unlikely to impose his beliefs on America as our first Catholic president JFK was. Maybe in his heart of hearts, he knows it’s all pretty silly. Rick Santorum, however, is another matter entirely. Because he represents the most dangerous cult of all, America’s equivalent of the Taliban.

At least a Scientologist candidate might make things interesting.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

No apologies necessary...

It’s been said that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel. I’m not entirely sure what that means, but I am sure of something else: exceptionalism is the first refuge of an idiot.

Whenever I hear politicians – especially Republican presidential aspirants but not excluding the Big O – cheerleading for America, I have to wonder what fantasy world they’re living in. They hype freedom while ignoring their ongoing efforts to curb it (e.g. overturning Roe or keeping marijuana illegal or standing in the way of gay marriage or supporting 21st century versions of the Alien and Sedition Acts). They sing praises to the land of opportunity while tap-dancing around our outrageous and growing income disparity. They extol the American worker while undermining labor unions and turning a blind eye to big business’s tax loopholes that send jobs offshore. They call this the greatest country on earth even while we lag behind other industrialized nations in health care and education and workers’ benefits. And they cite our greatness as justification for doing whatever we please – to whomever we please – on the world stage.

This patriotic claptrap is exacerbated by the notion that our supposed greatness is attributable to God – that He has singled out this country for a special role in history and endowed us with super powers for the task. If so, it’s too bad we misuse them. Either that or we misunderstand Him. (Speak English, Dude!)

Those who challenge American exceptionalism usually find themselves in a have-you-stopped-beating-your-wife predicament, since to deny it is to be lumped with what conservatives love to call the “blame America first crowd.” Since we’re perfect, we can’t be faulted for anything, so criticizing America is clearly unpatriotic.

Exceptionalism – being so head-over-heels in love with your country you’re oblivious to all its faults and bad habits, not to mention the big zit on its nose that won’t go away – means never having to say you’re sorry. It’s all God’s plan. And the Big Guy never apologizes for anything.

Monday, January 16, 2012


I don’t go to concerts much anymore, but over the past few years I’ve attended a couple given by my favorite performer, David Bromberg. And as the crowd yells out requests, he slowly shakes his head and says, “Don’t you people realize that if you ask for something I’m not gonna do it?”

I fear for such obstinacy in politics now that the notion of Hillary and Joe swapping jobs has been broached.

It’s a natural: she’s burnt out on all that travel, he’s a foreign policy wonk. With his track record for gaffes he’d be a drag on the ticket; meanwhile she’s as popular as ever. Maybe most important, he’d never be a serious contender for president after O’s second term, but she’d still be in her 60s.

Now that the idea’s been floated, heaven forfend that they’d put it into action since it would seem like they were picking up on somebody else’s brainstorm. It would be like producers of a soap opera listening to fans about how a plot should play out, no matter how sensible. Only original ideas count. Typical no-drama-Obama.

So surprise us and do it anyway. Admit that it’s a great idea. Indie voters and disillusioned Democrats need some reason to believe another four years might be different. Besides, it would give Limbaugh and the teabaggers apoplexy. That alone should make it worth the price of admission.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


Grand Canyon in winter is altogether different from its summertime persona. There’s hardly any traffic, and the absence of crowds means that at some lookouts you feel like you have the place all to yourself (although you still tend to overhear German just as much as English). Walking along the rim in the village in the cold air at night, the full moon ghosting the canyon walls, we saw practically no other living being except for a few elk and deer. It was truly tranquil.

The Canyon is a mecca for geologists, and we came across a feature we hadn’t noticed on our last visit: the rim walk east of the village features a “journey through time” with displays of rock specimens indicating their age. We’re talking hundreds of millions of years, and it made us laugh to recall that there are some fools who insist that our planet is no older than can be deduced from the Bible – something on the order of six millennia. They twist the evidence to serve their need to believe in the infallibility of a document, never mind the exacting science behind the dating process.

Beyond the west end of the village, the rim walk leads to a small area with a simple stone altar where ecumenical services are held during the tourist season. We’ve never attended one, but can imagine that they focus on the majesty of the place without pretending that an old guy in the sky created it as part of a six-day creation binge. The very fact that many of the Canyon’s landmarks were named for Asian religious figures attests to its transcending the limitations of any one belief system.

But I’d like to propose that the Grand Canyon is more than anything else a temple to Taoist thought. We see the persistence of water in a place carved by it: “the softest thing in the universe overcomes the hardest” (ch. 43); “nothing is more soft and yielding that water, yet for attacking the solid and strong nothing is better” (78); “it flows in places men reject and so is like the Tao” (8). We also see the ultimate representation of the Tao as an empty vessel (4) in a place that allows us to fully exalt “the valley spirit” (6).

Taoists value the strength of low position, and here is a place that takes you constantly lower, where the immutability of time is on permanent display. And, especially in the winter, we find the rejuvenating power of tranquility. “Returning to the source is stillness, which is the way of nature. The way of nature is unchanging” (16). (All quotes from Feng/English translation.)

So rant on, young-earthers. But after sitting on the edge of the rim, I’d have to agree with Lao Tzu, that “ignoring knowledge is sickness” (71).

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


I happened to look at the post at the bottom of this page, but since it’s going to bounce to the next page once I post this one, I’ll direct you to it from here. Written a little over a year ago, it concerns the rabid anti-intellectualism of the right. And it’s no less true today, as witnessed by recent events.

First is the lineup of GOP presidential candidates. I’m sorry that I’ve never tuned in to any of the debates, if only to be able to see them all spilling out of the clown car, but the post-game snippets are sufficiently entertaining. The amount of stupidity on display is truly staggering; it makes an Arizonan like me think back to the fun-filled days when Ev Mecham was governor. The fact that the only one with an ounce of intelligence, John Huntsman, is barely polling well enough to be included (and won’t be in the next one) says a lot about the Republican base’s priorities. And the fact that most take pride in not believing in evolution says it all.

Second, and most confounding to me, is the hostility of teabaggers to the Occupy movement. You’d think there’d be a degree of simpatico when it comes to standing up for the 99% against the super-rich, but no. Instead, occupiers are lambasted as spoiled kids and smelly hippies. Why? Because they’re largely college students, and we all know that college students are radical, atheistic, sexually deviant, and obviously socialists because they want to redistribute wealth. Oh, and did I mention educated? Just like a year ago, the unthinking masses are cowed into believing that wealth is a proud badge of American success that should be aspired to and not penalized – never mind the fact that their very homes and jobs are at the mercy of the banks.

Some say that the reason there’s no common ground between the two camps is that the occupiers want more taxation and government regulation (of the 1%), which the teabaggers of course decry. But I propose a more nuanced distinction between occupiers and teabaggers – one that carries an explanation of why the latter disdain the former. The occupiers’ form of protest is a classic sit-in, which was popularized back in the ’60s and doubtless gives older Americans the heebie-jeebies. They must have done something to provoke those policemen who were forced to use pepper spray, which when you think of the National Guard at Kent State was going pretty easy on them. Besides, all that sitting around just proves how lazy they are. On the other hand, the t.p.ers’ preferred style seems to be the good old fashioned march – and along with providing some much-needed exercise (an alternative to the mall), what could be more patriotic, especially when you’ve got a few participants in colonial garb? Plus, when the march is over you get to go home and use your own bathroom instead of bothering local businesses (where you never know who’s used it before you).

So even though you’d think the occupiers and teabaggers had a lot in common, it’s clear that the latter are preoccupied with seeing the former as the worthless scum they’ve been for fifty years. To think that their parents wasted their hard-earned money sending them to college. That more than anything proves that you can’t trust education.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Knees, toes, and the pursuit of that which brings you joy...

James Taylor sang that the secret of life is enjoying the passage of time. Any fool can do it, he claims, but he leaves out the “how.”

The secret of life, IMHO, is to transcend knee-jerk adherence to both biological and cultural imperatives, to recognize the ultimate purposelessness of living, and then to engage in that which brings you joy – provided “that which brings you joy” doesn’t step on anybody else’s toes.

This is a bit more nuanced than JT’s prescription. Unlike him, I shall elaborate.

All of us are governed to some extent by biological and cultural imperatives, and it is the extent to which we adhere to these, often in a knee-jerk fashion, that determines how free we are to enjoy the passage of time. I subscribe to Richard Dawkins’s hypothesis that genetic impulses motivate us to procreate, and that that is ultimately the “purpose” of living matter. When you end up with kids you didn’t plan for or necessarily want, this unavoidably drains your resources – and often your ability to find joy.

Most of us, whether we realize it or not, are also governed by the demands of cultural groups, whether extended families, clans, or ethnic groups. And most of those demands are rooted in religious beliefs and moral codes that regulate our behavior. Not that moral codes are a bad thing; but when they prescribe behavior such as women covering up their bodies or eating fish on a certain day of the week or not lifting a finger on another, one sometimes has to stand back and question. And especially when those demands involve the knee-jerk worship of a deity under threat of eternal damnation – that can pretty seriously fuck up your pursuit of joy.

This is not to say that that which brings you joy might even be raising kids or worshiping your god(s); that’s cool as long as you do it because you want to, not because you feel you have to.

Once you come to grips with the arbitrariness of what you’d always taken as sacrosanct, it’s not quite as much of a leap to recognize that living in and of itself is purposeless. Not that this is a bad thing. But if the goal of any living being is to survive in order to reproduce in order to pass along its genes; and if the goal of a human is to live according to the dictates of his group and pass along its memes; and if you recognize the folly of knee-jerk adherence to both of those; then you recognize that life isn’t what other people have made it out to be.

So what’s it for, then?

It’s hard not to argue for the virtues of hedonism in the face of futility. But we humans are unique among animals in that we have consciences. Or are at least supposed to. This curious mechanism has both genetic and cultural roots, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. A sense of responsibility has a lot to say for itself just in terms of getting along together. It’s not a cultural mandate, it’s just common sense. And that’s where not stepping on anybody else’s toes comes in.

Does speedboating bring you joy? Stop and consider the impact of your wake on the people in the rowboat also trying to enjoy the lake. Like hunting? Just be mindful of whether an assault rifle is really necessary (and please, don’t politicize your passion; those of us who’d like to prevent random violence aren’t trying to take your toys away). Get off on video games? Be aware that you’re supporting an industry that sends a lot of mixed messages to kids. Crave seafood? Think about the impact of indiscriminate fishing on the marine ecosystem.

Sure, there’s a fly in every ointment. What happens to bring me joy is music – playing it, making it – but I want to be sure I’m not waking the neighbors.

What I’m getting at is, once you’ve taken care of your survival needs and come to an understanding of biological and cultural arbitrariness, it is engaging in that which brings you joy that makes the passage of time enjoyable. So you might as well go for it, as long as you’re not stepping on somebody else’s toes by either impinging on their privacy or making the world a less sustainable place for others.

Any fool can do it.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Slamming Shut of the American Mind

Two mind-sets characterize the Tea Party movement. One, as I’ve noted before, is fundamentalism: adhering to the letter of a revered document. This means taking the Bible literally when it comes to Creation and the implications of the Eden fable. And it means interpreting the Constitution as if nothing has changed since 1787.

The other mind-set is paranoia. When you trace the conservative movement back to the Goldwater insurgency, one of its hallmarks was a rabid fear of Communists. Today we have in its place a rabid fear of Muslims that rivals Hitler’s persecution of the Jews. And the unbroken thread running through the movement for fifty years has been a paranoid attitude toward government, which has now gone from New Deal backlash to Ron Paul questioning the legitimacy of federal disaster relief.

What these two attitudes have in common is closed-mindedness. No quarter is given to any argument that rebuts these beliefs or fears, witness the pride some GOP presidential candidates take in refuting evolution, or the lock-step intransigence of House Republicans in the recent budget imbroglio. Representative government used to be based on compromise, but not if the resurgent Right has its way.

Recognizing the ridiculousness of anti-communist paranoia – and the fact that a socialist form of government might be appropriate for some countries – was what began to turn my own head from its Youth-for-Goldwater fervor. What facilitated this change of mind was simply the process of education, which required a willingness to consider all sides of an argument – which is something that teabaggers seem unwilling (or unable) to do.

Education does a lot for breaking through the stranglehold of fundamentalism as well.

The by-now classic TP protest sign “Get Your Government Hands Off My Medicare” says it all: teabaggers make a lot of noise, but there’s not much thought behind it. They haven’t merely closed their minds to other points of view; they’ve slammed it shut.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Big Fart

A recent letter to the editor of the Prescott Courier came to the defense of biblical creation and predictably instigated numerous responses, many of them painful to read.

It got me to thinking, though, that Creation might have taken place in two stages. First came the Big Bang, triggered by god [sic]-knows-what, which resulted in what I’ll call “stuff in general.” Then came the birth of human beings in an event that should probably best be thought of as the Big Fart.

When Adam & Eve ate the apple, it gave them more than knowledge – it gave them gas. What other species is so full if itself – and so full of hot air? We are flatulence incarnate. Bloated, bloviating windbags full of sound and fury indicating absolutely nothing (this very blog serving as an example). Whenever our jaws flap, hurricane warnings ought to be raised. We inherit our own wind every time we speak. Our utterances are absurd. We are forever talking out of our collective ass.

The creation of humanity must have been a separate event from the overall Chain of Being; Nature couldn’t’ve made that kind of singular mistake. Either that or there really is a God and He has a really sick sense of humor.

Scientists say that echoes of the Big Bang continue to reverberate throughout the universe. But echoes of the Big Fart resound much closer to home.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

What Chester Makes

“1 Killed, 8 Wounded at Teen Party.” The headline on HuffPo said it happened in Philly. Others on the web located it in a “Philadelphia suburb.” Only a few accurately pinpointed it in the city of Chester.

I grew up outside of Chester. My mother was born and raised there. It was a place we went to shop in the days before malls; from the municipal parking lot you could either walk up Seventh St. to the stores or (my preference) take the back way via a suspended footbridge over Chester Creek. My folks bought me clothes at Speare Brothers and my mother shopped at Weinberg’s, then maybe we’d have lunch at the Candy Kitchen or a soda at the Woolworth’s counter. Back in the days before sports figures earned big bucks, local baseball star Mickey Vernon (my second-cousin) worked at a Chester haberdasher during the off-season. A buddy and I might take a bus in to catch a movie at one of Chester’s four theaters. I went to college in Chester and for a couple of summers worked at a bank from which I could walk downtown to have lunch at John’s Doggie Shop, then maybe shop for records at Sears. I bought my first good guitar, a Gibson I still own, at a music store in Chester owned by the father of a friend of my aunt – six (or fewer) degrees of separation usually worked. A couple buddies of mine got apartments there after high school – it was no big deal then. It was just your typical small American city.

But shortly after I got out of college in 1970, Chester went into a long death spiral. Stores started relocating to suburban malls and shoppers started staying away. Soon the stores that hadn’t fled, failed. White flight followed. My grandmother and aunt still went in to patronize the York Store, a favorite outlet for bargains, but joked that they were the only white people shopping. Even though I continued to live in an apartment in the refined First Ward for another three years, I drove to the train station in Swarthmore for my commute to Philly (easier than hiking or busing to Chester’s) so rarely went downtown anymore. It had gotten to the point where you wouldn’t really want to. And just when everyone thought things couldn’t get any worse, the shipyard closed and they did.

For going on forty years, Chester has been a blight on the landscape: unemployment, poverty, structural decay, gang violence. (Even when I was in high school, we knew better than to attend an away football game with Chester High because its students were given to, let’s say, “intimidation.”) Some time back, more than ten years ago, my brother and I drove through downtown Chester on a Sunday morning when it was quiet and seemingly safe. It felt eerily like a ghost town, streets narrower than I recalled, metal grates pulled down over some storefronts, others empty, graffiti everywhere. Now I can cruise Chester with street-view on Google Maps and barely recognize anything. Efforts have been made to revitalize the city – a casino, a soccer stadium – but I doubt they’ve improved its citizens’ quality of life if the murder rate of the last couple of years is any indication. (A recent posting on Chowhound sought recommendations for a luncheon venue after Widener University’s graduation, wondering if there might be a place in Chester. The poster was obviously from out of town.)

When Obama whistle-stopped down to DC for his inauguration, the train didn’t stop at Chester. But I wonder if he got the message. There is – or at least was – a big sign visible from the train when you pulled into or out of the station: “What Chester Makes, Makes Chester.” (You can google on it.) Now that its chief product is violence, that message is no less true.

What happened in Tucson was unexpected and quickly politicized as a 2A issue. What happened in Chester was...well, what happens in Chester. But it points up the easy availability of firearms as much as the misery of that city.

And, as with Tucson, the fact that it made national headlines isn’t likely to change a damn thing.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

No Gurls Aloud

People on the right repeatedly say they want to “take their country back.” Take it back from whom? From the socialists, immigrants, secular humanists, abortionists, and homosexuals who have subverted the values under which we lived for a couple hundred years. Okay, so they had to cave on the slavery bit. But they see it as their country to take back.

It’s like America is a clubhouse built out of scrap wood by ten-year-old boys with a crude sign saying “No Gurls Aloud.” A couple of new guys thought it might be okay to let some gurls in, but then they wanted to ruin everything by tidying the place up and making rules and forcing everybody to share their cookies. So the older boys want to go back to the way it was before. After all, it’s their clubhouse, they built it, they should get to say what the rules are. (And if they’re your cookies, you get to eat them.)

People on the left want the country to be for everybody – with justice for all. They don’t want to exclude their fellow citizens on the right. They don’t look at the country as “us and them,” just us. All they want is to build a better clubhouse.

How long are we gonna let these older boys boss us around?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

In defense of pizza...

Conservatives are in an uproar. They have always held pizza to be sacred. Cheese and tomato. With pepperoni. Sometimes mushroom or sausage.

But it’s come to their attention that some liberal establishments are violating this sacred trust. Pizza with white sauce. Pizza without sauce! Pizza with tofu cheese or no cheese at all. And perhaps the greatest sin, pizza with arugula.

This cannot be tolerated.

In response, they have passed the Defense of Pizza Enactment (DOPE), which stipulates that pizza shall be regarded as an inviolable union of crust, tomato, and cheese. No substitutions. Any pizzeria that produces pies in violation of this tradition and persists in designating them as “pizza” shall be ineligible for filling take-out orders placed by any federal agency. Other combinations of ingredients will be designated as “oven pies” and consumers will be advised that discount coupons will not be honored for their purchase. In some states, delivery for these products may no longer be an option.

Reaction from liberal enclaves has been swift. California has passed legislation protecting pizza makers from any restrictions on their choice of toppings. Connecticut has enacted similar protection for apizza parlors in New Haven, where clam aficionados picketed federal buildings. And in Chicago, demonstrators marched in support of liberty for all pizza, regardless of crust.

When the President declared his intention to continue to order arugula on his pizzas, conservatives renewed their determination to defend pizza. “After all,” their Speaker said, “if we don’t identify with DOPE, who will?”

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Mr. Nice Guy

Somebody must’ve yelled at little Sammy Alito a lot.

As the only dissenting member of the Supremes, he held that the nutjobs from Westboro Baptist didn’t have a constitutional right to stage protests at military funerals. Okay, so carrying signs reading “God Hates Fags” is a bit over the top. But there are no exceptions to free speech, Sammy. Get with the program.

Good neighbor Sam obviously belongs to the if-you-can’t-say-something-nice-don’t-say-anything-at-all school. “Our profound national commitment to free and open debate,” he wrote in his dissent, “is not a license for the vicious verbal assault that occurred in this case.” Didn’t his mommy ever teach him about sticks and stones?

(Meanwhile, Auntie Sarah invoked “common sense and decency” in criticizing the decision. Rights? Why do we need rights when we’ve got common sense?)

I would express some consternation over the Roberts court getting it right, except the 8-1 decision showed it to be pretty much a no-brainer. It’s an open-and-shut case of free speech, for framer-channeler Scalia and the ladies alike. And ol’ Clarence didn’t even need to utter a word.

But wait a minute. Back before the Bush appointees, Scalia and Thomas dissented in Lawrence v. Texas (2003), which struck down that state’s sodomy law. So maybe this new decision merely reflects the fact that the liberal justices stand up for the First Amendment – and the conservatives merely concur that God hates fags. Check to see if they’re as open to free speech the next time a flag-burning case comes up.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Mommy needs a pair...

After watching Jon Stewart’s latest take on Wisconsin last night, I’ve decided I have to hand it to Republicans. One thing they’ve always been good at is controlling discourse. And one of the topics they’ve managed to control most effectively is “class warfare.”

Whenever lefties protest the privileges of the rich or extending tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, they’re immediately accused by the right of waging “class warfare.” It’s along the same lines as having the NRA respond to the slightest suggestion of firearm regulation with the cry “they’re trying to take our guns away.”

When I searched on “class warfare,” I found this very perceptive article in the Daily Kos. And the gist of it is this: The Republican agenda makes no bones about favoring the wealthy and penalizing the disadvantaged, but that’s not class warfare – only calling them on it is.

Think about it for a minute. They are blatantly waging class warfare whenever they try to defeat legislation that would give average people a break in areas like health care or minimum wage, or whenever they fail to regulate business and the net effect of that failure is environmental damage that affects people who can’t easily escape it. But even if all of the challenges to them were summarized by the statement, “You are waging class warfare,” they would accuse liberals of waging class warfare by merely bringing it up.

The presumption behind this scenario is that class warfare is an evil thing, something to be avoided in America because we are [supposed to be] a classless society, because this is the land of opportunity and everybody should be rewarded for their success, even when it comes at the expense of somebody else’s misfortune. To be accused of class warfare is tantamount to denying the American dream, and nobody wants to be accused of that. But the Dream went sour long ago. In fact, the Dream has pretty much always been a dream.

When lefties are accused of class warfare, why can’t they just reply, “Damn straight!” and mount a charge. No, the mommy party wants too badly to be liked, to forge bipartisan agreement. Meanwhile, daddy bulldozes right ahead.

Why can’t the left simply call a spade a spade and openly declare class warfare? After all, the right has been waging it all along. They’ve got a cause that’s more than righteous. All they need are the balls. For the mommy party? Dream on.

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Return of the Know Nothings

An article in this Sunday’s NYT Magazine lamented the politicization of science – specifically, the extent to which global warming denial has become a knee-jerk Republican stance.

Now, I can fully appreciate the Republican position. They’re pro-business, and the nasty truth of global warming could result in laws or restrictions that cut into corporate profits for major donors. I’m a little less comfortable when Illinois Republican congressman John Shimkus says the government doesn’t need to make a priority of regulating greenhouse-gas emissions because “God said the earth would not be destroyed by a flood.” He apparently takes the fable of God’s covenant with Noah as a rational basis for discounting that possible future, thus obviating any action.

The article also notes that the Tea Party’s “anti-intellectual, anti-establishment, anti-elite worldview has brought both a mainstreaming and a radicalization of antiscientific thought.” I blogged well over a year ago about the teabaggers’ anti-intellectualism, prompted in part by opinions of conservative columnist David Brooks. It’s clear that TPers aren’t impressed with academic credentials.

Back before the Civil War there arose a political movement that called itself The American Party, a semi-secret organization that was primarily concerned with curtailing immigration by German and Irish Catholics. Its members came to be called “Know Nothings” because when pressed by outsiders about their party they were instructed to reply, “I know nothing.” It’s also interesting to note that their platform mandated daily Bible readings in public schools.

Antebellum Know Nothings accepted their name on account of their secrecy. Today’s Know Nothings would probably assume the mantle as a point of pride – for an entirely different reason.

Some may say that the jury is still out regarding human-caused climate change, but citing a Bible story goes beyond knowing nothing. The old Sunday School song “How do I know? / the Bible tells me so” isn’t a testimony to knowledge but to a willful belief in folklore. And folklore has no place in shaping the laws of a civilized nation.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Scratching TPers

Observers of the turmoil in the Middle East are both excited and wary. These are populist uprisings, but will they result in new militant Muslim regimes?

Observers of the turmoil in the Midwest are equally excited and wary. Will this populist uprising have any effect on the new militant Republican regimes?

People rebel when their leadership doesn’t reflect their wishes. Public servants in Wisconsin feel their state’s new leadership has betrayed democracy – the voice of the people as expressed through collective bargaining. Citizens of some Middle Eastern countries obviously feel their leadership has been oppressive; the question is, what do they see as the remedy – democracy or sharia?

This leads me back to my main argument with the teabaggers. Granted, I was put out with their hypocrisy from the start: accusing Obama of dictatorial leanings when they’d previously given a pass to W and his abuses of power. And in their opposition to overhauling health insurance, let’s not forget the “keep your government hands off my Medicare” mentality. But, open-minded guy that I am, I’m willing to concede that their advocacy of “fiscal responsibility, constitutionally limited government and free markets,” as expressed in their recent gathering in Phoenix, is worthy of intelligent debate. And if this crowd has its way, I’m up for a laugh; the proof will be in the pudding. But is this all they want?

What really bothers me is that teabaggers are wolves in sheep’s clothing. Scratch a TPer and you’re more than likely to find a social conservative.

In America’s rebellion scenario, social conservatives see liberal leaders as a threat to the bedrock of the family as challenged by gays and abortionists. It’s clear that the religious right’s remedy is an American version of sharia, since they unabashedly invoke “God’s law”; given the chance, they’d restore prayer to public schools and display the Ten Commandments in every courthouse (along with sending gays to the back of the bus and extending voting rights to fetuses). And true to conservatives’ black-and-white thinking, anything liberal – including labor unions – is lumped in with that which must be opposed.

Why are social and fiscal conservatives so often one and the same? I suspect it’s largely a Calvinist thing, morality and frugality going hand-in-hand. But when it comes to activism, it’s also a reaction to their feeling that government is telling them what they can and can’t do. What they don’t see is that government telling them they can’t impose their religious beliefs on society safeguards the liberty they purport to defend. They think they’ve been robbed of the freedom to practice their religion, when what they really lost is the freedom to ram it down everyone else’s throat.

While we can’t be sure whether Middle Eastern protesters want to create new Islamic republics in the Iranian mold, we know exactly what American demonstrators have in mind. Union members are looking for justice (remember that concept?); those opposing them are looking, deep down, for their own form of sharia.

So when teabaggers come to power, it’s their hidden agenda I fear the most.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

In further praise of cheese...

Another cheese-related early memory:

When I was very young, my family went to a church that had a signboard out front on which was placed the title of the upcoming sermon, whether to entice passers-by or simply to provide a preview for the congregation I’m not sure. I remember one and only one such title, for what was presumably a Thanksgiving-theme sermon: “A turkey dinner or a cheese sandwich?” I don’t even remember the sermon itself, but I suppose it made the analogy of salvation being a sumptuous feast contrasted to the spartan cheese sandwich of an unsaved life.

Given what I believe today, I’m more comfortable with the reverse analogy: that life is a turkey dinner of over-bloating unnecessary distractions, while the simplicity of the Tao is all one needs.

Why did this sermon title stick in my head? Was I so fond of cheese sammiches at an early age (Velveeta on white) that I cast my lot early? To this day, cheese and bread strike me as the real feast – although I admit that I’d prefer it be a hunk of Stilton and some LaBrea whole grain, or perhaps herbed brie with a baguette.

Christianity could argue either analogy, but I can’t help but feel that today’s American Evangelicals identify more with salvation-as-feast. This is the promised land. God provides for us in abundance. There’s no need to settle for second-best. If you want something, just pray for it. Pass the stuffing.

So now you’re thinking that the Last Supper featured a 20-pound Butterball? No way! It was Easter-time, Dude – think Honey Baked Ham!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

I can has pasteurized processed cheez food?

As I tried to think of how I might express solidarity with Wisconsinites, I of course immediately thought of cheese. True, I could wear a cheese hat while out and about in my Arizona town. But better still to partake of cheesy comestibles.

When reviewing my cheese preferences, however, I realized with chagrin that most of my favorites are from elsewhere. Gouda from Holland. Stilton from England. Brie from France. Jarlsberg from Jarlsberg. And I confess that even my favorite cheddar is from Vermont.

But while at the supermarket, my eye was caught by an old favorite right there on the shelf next to the powdered milk: Velveeta! I don’t know for sure that they make it in Wisconsin (I can’t seem to find any reference to where it comes from), but since it’s [allegedly] a dairy product and Wisconsin is America’s Dairyland, I figure there’s a fair probability that some of the state’s milk goes into it.

Mmmm, Velveeta.... Takes you back, doesn’t it? Grilled cheese sammiches. Melted on a burger. Mac & cheese. Or just Velveeta on white with mayo in my school lunchbox. One of my earliest childhood memories – I couldn’t’ve been more than 5 – involves my parents having company and my preparing Velveeta and Ritz crackers to serve the guests. Even then I knew what people liked (and I suspect they liked cute kids more than Velveeta).

But when you’re a kid, Velveeta is like Chef Boyardee or Chun King – it’s what you eat before you discover the real stuff. I only wonder how many adults still shamelessly consume it when they aren’t merely humoring a five-year-old. Googling on “Philly cheese steak” along with Velveeta produces an embarrassing number of hits.

Even Kaukauna comes from Illinois (Wisconsin milk maybe?), so I guess I’ll do my solidarity thing with some BelGioioso’s sharp provolone or asiago.  And make my mac & cheese with the real thing. I just find Velveeta a little scary – almost as long a shelf-life as stupidity.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Civility on the dance floor...

I clicked-through on the headline reading “National Institute for Civil Discourse to open at University of Arizona”; but the tab in my browser truncated it to “National Institute for Civil Disco...” Which I find a much more interesting prospect.

Not that I don’t think civil discourse a worthy endeavor. It’s entirely appropriate, just not likely to occur. Call me a pessimist; I prefer to think of myself as a realist.

But we obviously need more civil disco. Take, for instance, that clown who went into a disco a few years ago with a gun in his pants that went off. That’s pretty friggin’ uncivil. And I imagine a lot of people are hitting on one another in those clubs – what could be more uncivil than assault? But I understand at least that a lot of those who go to discos are in the business of spreading ecstasy. That sounds like a good start. Evangelical, even. There was a time when discos were a hotbed of cocaine use, so it’s good to know things have improved. Now if they could just do something about that music. If it hasn’t improved since the Bee Gees and Village People, it’ll take a lot more than civility to help the disco scene.

Hats off to the U of A for instituting this much-needed effort!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Get ready, sports fans...

With a big windstorm hitting the east coast and blowing down the National Christmas Tree, I think it’s pretty clear. Our Muslim president has called in the power of Allah to deal a blow to Christmas – and on Presidents’ Day weekend! Double perfidy!

Just how did Allah manage this? Was Jehovah catnapping? Or busy keeping watch over activities in the Middle East, looking for easy inroads? If His eye is on the sparrow, why did He take it off the tree?

There’s obviously trouble brewing in Heaven. A major Battle of the Gods is shaping up, and soon the other deities will be forced to take sides. Maitreya Buddha may be called off the bench. There’s word that Thor might come out of retirement. The big question is whether Allah will sneak the Antichrist into the lineup. But watch to see who Shiva will cast his lot with – I suspect that could be a deciding factor.

Broadcast rights for the contest have yet to be determined, but Fox News will likely get the nod. (And we all know who their viewers will be pulling for.) And I suspect everyone will find that the commercials will be especially worth watching. “Burning Bush” fireplace logs (“they never go out!”). Uncle Noah’s survivalist supplies. Plus a new Charlie Tuna ad devoted to feeding large groups of people.

Heck, we all knew it was coming, but having that tree blow over was a sure sign. A promo spot, if you will. Holy guacamole, it’s gonna be a great game!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Form over Function in Wisconsin

So let me get this straight. Teabaggers are supposed to be anarchists, distrusting government every step of the way. Yet they’re staging a counter-demonstration to the protesters in Wisconsin, who object to the state’s attempt to take away the collective bargaining rights of civil servants. The Wisconsin protesters want to ensure that government won’t push schoolteachers and other public employees around; the teabaggers object to this???

I realize, of course, that the TP people (is this label less objectionable? or does it just make them sound like a bunch of ass-wipes?) are offering a knee-jerk response in support of cost-cutting and of the state legislators and governor they just voted into office. And they’re also making a knee-jerk response in opposition to unions – another example of a “them” out to get “us.” But besides this, they’re providing yet another example of how they ignore the whole concept of justice. (That’s knee-jerk, too.)

According to the NYT: “FreedomWorks, a Washington group that helped cultivate the Tea Party movement, said it was trying to use its lists of activists to turn out supporters for a variety of bills aimed at cutting the power of unions – not just in Wisconsin, but in Tennessee, Indiana and Ohio as well.”

It used to be that unions were the voice of the people against the power of big business – and when it comes to oppressive overlords, you can easily substitute government, whether federal or state (which, I believe, is the whole point of the teabaggers). So why is it that a grassroots movement that purports to be the voice of the people is opposed to the most formidable expression of popular power that has ever emerged in this country? Are they just jealous? Wait, let me guess: unions = socialism. Sheesh. If someone pointed out to them that a political party (or movement) is analogous to a union and that voting is akin to collective bargaining, would that double-bind be enough to fry what passes for their brains?

A former boss of mine used to wisely counsel against placing form over function when making decisions, and that’s exactly what the teabaggers are doing. The Wisconsin protesters have thrown tens of thousands of flies into the ointment of the TP agenda. And it’s clear now that promoting that agenda – come hell, high water, or popular protest by citizens just like themselves – counts for more than people.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Ignorance made cool...

Seems I missed Charles Darwin’s birthday. Oh well, you can’t keep up with everything.

But according to an article I just read, scientists kept it kinda low-key anyway for fear of ruffling too many fundamentalist feathers. But they persevere, God love ’em [sic], in the hopes of convincing some kids that science is cool.

There is a struggle over coolness, however. A few times when I’ve cleaned out my spam folder, I’ve noticed messages from an outfit promoting “Almighty Bible,” so decided to investigate. What it is, is a graphic-novel rendition of the scriptures, complete with apps, to show kids that the Bible also is cool.

Frankly, I find this worrisome. To present the Bible as what it is – a collection of often-inscrutable writings passed down through the centuries – provides necessary context. To modernize it for today’s electronic media suggests that it’s as relevant as an iPad. I know there’ve been biblical picture books before, but I don’t know that such prior publications had ever promoted coolness so aggressively.

Let me suggest the danger in this through a thought experiment for kids. (Adults, you can participate too.) Imagine a vast hall like a convention center or an indoor stadium. And imagine thousands of feathers floating in its emptiness – but the interior is so vast that the feathers are yards apart. And imagine that they’ve been floating there for longer than anyone alive can remember. The hall is like the known universe, and each of those feathers is a galaxy. Take just one of those feathers and imagine a speck of dust on it; that’s Earth. The speck gradually appeared and will eventually disappear. But it has no more importance than other specks on that or any other feather. And the same must be said for any message purporting to convey the truth for all of the feathers, or even for the whole hall.

So on the one hand, we have a demonstration of the vastness of the universe and the insignificance of our human existence. And on the other, we have modern people attempting to convince children that Bible stories are true – that the age of the Earth can be measured in thousands, not billions of years – and are true for all of Creation. And if kids can see this on their iPads, then they know it must be true. Hey, kids, check this out! God created the world in just seven days! Is that cool or what?!

Science had better get on the stick. The coolness gap is widening. And ignorance along with it.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

It’s Limbo Time! (or: Somebody call me a cab...)

I’m one of those people who don’t watch TV. Had a satellite dish before moving upstate, but after losing free sports feeds over the years my viewing frittered down to The Daily Show and The Sopranos. Now I stream the former and have DVDs of the latter, and there’s nothing on the tube that commands my interest anymore – so much so that we don’t even have dish or cable.

But I’m a veteran viewer of classic 70s/80s sitcoms – MTM, Newhart, Cheers, Taxi, MASH, Barney Miller, WKRP – and haven’t watched any such series since Seinfeld called it quits. What these great comedies all had in common was terrific writing delivered by great ensemble acting. Occasionally I’d come across something like That ’70s Show in reruns where the writing left something to be desired but the cast managed to lift the script to a level of enjoyment. (Plus, okay, I admit Laura Prepon turned me on.)

Appreciated Frasier and 3rd Rock but never became stay-at-home-and-take-the-phone-off-the-hook addicted. Moved on to a few Brit shows like AbFab, Master of the Glen, and As Time Goes By (reruns of which remain our sole viewing vice). And believe it or not, I never saw Friends – mostly as a matter of principle – so consequently lack any comprehension of why such a fuss is now made over Jennifer Aniston’s every move.

But when I was visiting a relative and had occasion to sample some of today’s fare, I was appalled.

Granted, it was a thin sample: The Big Bang followed by (let’s not mince words) Shit My Father Says. Each of them seemed to rely on penis references, or maybe I just hit a good night. Interesting (even “fascinating”) to see William Shatner in an ostensibly comedic role, but not enough to watch again. Beth assures me, based on a previous visit, that another night’s tandem of 2½ Men and Mike and Molly are just as popular and just as bad (apparently “nut sack” stood in for penis in the former). She suggested I witness them for myself before posting this blog, but I’m willing to take her word for it.

But the big jaw-dropper was catching reruns of Everybody Loves Raymond – four in a row on TVLand. I had never seen this show, but was given to understand it had been phenomenally popular and was possibly even good – after all, it won Emmys. But it appears the bar for quality in sitcoms has been seriously lowered. (Anyone for limbo?) The writing was wretched, the situations trite, the characters utterly two-dimensional (with Peter Boyle sadly wasted as he wrestled with dismal lines). It kind of struck me as an anti-Seinfeld: lame, pedestrian, cast in the mold of dozens of family sitcoms that had come before it ... in short, phenomenally boring. Seinfeld joked about being about nothing; Raymond hit the bulls-eye. (And what’s with the blond kids? Was the milkman Scandinavian?) While I admit I may have been harsh to judge Bang and Shit on the basis of one viewing – at least the Bang characters were as appealingly eccentric as those from 3rd Stone (although that, granted, is the whole premise in each case) – four Raymonds showed me nothing other than commercials I’d never seen.

I take it that the big must-see comedy these days is 30 Rock (also The Office: checked it out once and thought, well, okay, let me know when I’m supposed to laugh), but frankly I’m afraid to watch – so if anybody with deep experience in the classics has any current recommendations, I’m open to suggestions. Meanwhile, I’ll just replay my MASH and Seinfeld DVDs, thanks, and keep an eye out for a good price on Taxi.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Here's to the State of Mississppi

I've already said what I have to say.

But as Phil Ochs so eloquently put it:
Here's to the land you've torn out the heart of;
Mississippi, find yourself another country to be part of.

Friday, February 11, 2011

So help me...

The other day I needed to have something notarized. Technically speaking, what I needed was to have my signature witnessed on a legal document, and I also had the option of having two people “not related by blood or marriage” attest that it was me who had with my own hand applied my name.

I could have just trotted it over to my neighbors, but then that would have required some explanation, if only for civility, of what I was having them put their John Hancocks to, and while they’re lovely people I didn’t care to go into details. And I don’t live in a neighborhood that gets a lot of foot traffic, so I couldn’t’ve just hauled a couple of strangers in off the street. I suppose I could have taken the document down to the square and accosted passers-by until I found two who were willing to sign without caring what it was, but then I’d run the risk of some joker signing “Mickey Mouse” and I wasn’t sure that it would slip by unnoticed. So it was easier to just drive up to the credit union where I banked and have the receptionist, who was a notary, do the deed. They provided the service free for members, so all it was costing was my time.

I presented the form – not even the entire document, just the final page requiring my signature, and she didn’t ask to see the missing pages or question their purpose. She took my driver’s license to confirm my identity, entered the transaction in a logbook, and had me sign off on the entry. Then it got wacky.

Because the legalese of the form where the notary was to fill it in began “sworn to me this day...,” she advised me that I’d have to swear an oath. And so she had me raise my right hand while she rattled off a stock statement in which I attested to the truthiness of the transaction and ended “so help you God.” Not wanting to muddy the waters by pointing out that (a) it was merely my identity as signatory that was at issue and not any question of “truth,” and (b) I was an agnostic, I simply muttered “yes” and she cheerfully applied her stamp, handed over the form, and told me to have a nice day.

There was no indication on the form that, had I gone with the dual witness option, such a gesture would have been required. (There was nothing even to verify that two witnesses were in fact real people, so I suppose I could have talked my in-laws into doing it using fake names.) But notarization went the whole nine yards – not only ascertaining the authenticity of the notary (via the stamp) but also requiring me to “swear.”

Just this small example of how the system works makes me kinda glad I never pursued my high-school notion of becoming a lawyer.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Guilt – the Silent Crippler of Young Liberals

Okay, let me get this straight. According to the NYT, social psychologists have suddenly realized that their ranks are underrepresented by people whose political values tack to the right. And so they’re making a concerted effort to attract them.

Talk about liberal guilt. After all, these are people who stand up for oppressed minorities, so they’re not about to tolerate oppression within their own group.

And it’s very decent of them. (I made it a point to not say “mighty white of them.”) You don’t really expect Republicans, for all their big tent pretensions, to do whatever is necessary to ensure they have enough Hispanics or blacks. Just like you wouldn’t expect an organization of biologists to make sure they had a few token creationists, just for balance. But here are these liberal social scientists who, garsh darn it, just want to be fair.

I think they’re really missing the point. The fact that they and many other soft-side academics tend to be liberal is nothing to feel guilty about. It comes with the territory. (“Liberal arts?” Duh!) Training in such disciplines makes one open-minded. Even the one closet conservative cited in the article tilts right only with regard to fiscal matters, and there’s nothing unusual about that.

The article says that some in the Society for Personality and Social Psychology seek an “affirmative action goal” of 10% conservative membership. Just so they can feel better about themselves, I’m sure. Wouldn’t it be more to the point of their calling to ascertain why any of their peers would be social conservatives at all – and seek to convert them?