Closed for Renovations…

I’m leaving this particular place for awhile. This will be something else, someday.

I now blog (seldom, mostly politics) over here.

Music-related stuff lives over here.

The Empire of the Senseless.

There are a lot of Wise Fools in media; on the television, on the radio, arguably even more of them out here in the blogipelago. Alleged domain-level experts (who just so happen to be lifelong career conservatives), always with some authoritative title from a well-funded institution after their name. I’m sure this intellectual niche has always existed, but since the mid-1990s or so (roughly about the time when panel-based journalism because the norm) it does seem to have gotten more endemic. No truly fair and balanced panel discussion on cable news is complete without one or two of these on the panel.  There’s good money in it.  Nice stable work, if you can get it.

If the topic is Climate Change, you can count on at least one Climate Change denier, appropriately credentialed and funded by a conservative think tank, to take up half the discussion. Evolution? Here’s Dr. Jones-Smith IV, D.D., Esq., PhD;  clergyman/biologist from the Institute for Creation Science with his view. Go over to CNBC and you’ll see Larry Kudlow (one of the original Wise Fools of television) spouting bad investment advice, backed by often untrue ‘facts’. If you prefer Adderal to cocaine, Jim Cramer is ready for your non-skeptical embrace. Paul Ryan and Mitch Daniels have some very serious people convinced that the Path to Prosperity is paved with the bones of the poor, the sick, and the elderly. And so on, ad infinitum.

The ubiquitous panel format is transparent to most of us by now:

  1. Topic X is introduced by Moderator.
  2. Actual credentialed domain-level expert (call her DLE) is introduced.
  3. Very Serious Person (VSP) from “The Foundation/Institute/Society for Y” (generally with no formal training in topic X) is introduced
  4. Moderator introduces the controversy.
  5. DLE attempts to state fact-based opinion
  6. VSP does one of: (1) Deny the basic facts; (2) Throws out false ‘facts’ of their own; or (3) Accuses DLE of having some shadowy liberal agenda against Everything Good and True
  7. Moderator (guided by a mix of unavoidable personal bias and unsubtle economic and professional tensions) falsely equivocates, fails to correct any falsehoods or (despite their title), to moderate much of anything.
  8. Go to Commercial.

Repeat this exercise for 30+ years, and your end state is a culture in which any fool with an opinion, no matter how unscientific, unsound or just plain wrong, feels entitled to ignore or accuse anyone who disagrees with them. Regardless of any evidence or arguments presented against them, in any form or format. It is now nearly impossible for the non-expert (ie most of us) to discern what is true or not-true on any given topic. Which means that we’ve become unanchored from the Real. We now lack even the common terms to discuss what the Real might even be.

Consensus Reality, it turns out, requires a minimum of consensus.  Whatever ‘consensus’ is supposed to mean.

Chris Mooney’s new thesis (and book) diagnoses our problem perfectly, IMO:

Their willingness to deny what’s true may seem especially outrageous when it infects scientific topics like evolution or climate change. But the same thing happens with economics, with American history, and with any other factual matter where there’s something ideological—in other words, something emotional and personal—at stake.

As soon as that occurs, today’s conservatives have their own “truth,” their own experts to spout it, and their own communication channels—newspapers, cable networks, talk radio shows, blogs, encyclopedias, think tanks, even universities—to broad- and narrowcast it.

This state of affairs has been formally studied, and (contrary to what I would have thought had you asked me just a few months ago), this ignorance does not correlate with education. There are plenty of educated conservatives, with highly advanced degrees, who have consciously chosen to ignore formalized science.  They’ve chosen to Fight the Enlightenment.

Chris Mooney again:

The cost of this assault on reality is dramatic. Many of these falsehoods affect lives and have had—or will have—world-changing consequences. And more dangerous than any of them is the utter erosion of a shared sense of what’s true—which they both generate, and perpetuate.

You can’t decide how to govern or how to vote without at least some understanding of the facts, of what your true interests and goals are, or without an honest look at the real-world risks, benefits and consequences thereof. Granted, facts can be squishy and elusive things– but up until now at least, no one seriously proposed that there was no such thing as an outside objective truth.

I want to understand how we got here.

Assuming that they let us…

With work and seasonal issues, I haven’t had much time to comment on much of anything, here or elsewhere. I do think I’ve finally become over-saturated with politics. The frenzied pace at which the GOP leaps from outrage to outrage makes it impossible to really think about any of it. Which is (quite probably) the intent. A significant wing of the Republican party is now openly against contraception; the rights of employees to their own lives and lifestyle on off-work hours; Panicking as the economy makes a better effort to crawl out of the ditch than most anyone thought it could. Rush losing advertisers in the first ‘media shaming’ of him that I can remember.

In other words– there is, indeed, a ‘wall’ that can’t be pushed against anymore. The Overton window might turn out to have a rightward stop, after all. Oddly enough, I consider this to be a good sign… but also surprising. None of these antics or statements are new. I’ve heard politicians say the same things out loud not too long ago. I’ve seen Bills written, and some even passed, there were just as bad or worse. And any newspaper’s Comments Section would have opinions just as fringe, or worse. So… what’s different? Why now?

Hunter S Thompson’s old line about the Wave that finally broke and rolled back keeps coming back to me. All this public craziness could just be their particular Wave, finally breaking on the shore after a 40-year run.

And those of us not involved can really only stand back and watch it happen, and try not to get dragged out to sea by the riptide.

Party Like It’s 1699.

I still haven’t been moved to comment any further on the GOP primaries: There is no shortage of people doing that. The choice is down to the 1890s Plutocrat, the 1950s Bircher, or one of two 1930s-style Catholic Fascists. Voter turnout for the primaries and caucuses has been low, but the enthusiasm of the GOP tribe (at least as presented –say ‘amplified’– by the MSM) still seems strong. They are very furious about something or other, and they seem very sure that some nebulous somebody, some Other not like Them, must be made to suffer the fruits of their fury.

I’ve been over this before: They will choose whomever it is they decide to choose, and we’ll just have to go from there. GOP soul-searching is not really my concern.

That said, I’m still very puzzled as to why the right wing would decide to die upon the hill of… contraception!? The Susan Komen/Planned Parenthood controversy (ostensibly about abortion counseling services such as referrals) has come and gone, with the Komen foundation now quite probably suffering permanent PR damage from it.

Rather than tone down the rhetoric, the Catholic Bishops (with backup provided by the usual suspects) decided to complain about a new rule compelling their health insurance policies to provide contraception, free of co-pay, to their employees. The Obama administration then offers a subtle but clever compromise that passes the onus from the Catholic charities to the insurance companies themselves, which I suspect was their actual goal all along– but no, that isn’t enough. The Bishops now openly claim the right to control the reproductive lives of their employees. I’ll emphasize this: Not just of their parishioners, but of their employees, be they Catholic or not. And the GOP Congress seems more than happy to not only push this issue for them, but to extend this “right” to all employers.

Poll data shows that actual real-world Catholics are reasonably happy with the compromise. The Catholic organization that actually administers the Catholic hospitals is happy with the compromise. Even the insurance companies are happy with the compromise (presumably because providing birth control is, in the actuarial sense, cheaper for them in the long term). Polls claim that 98% of American Catholics have used birth control at some point in their lives.

So… why? Some observers see this as a stealth way to use the First Amendment as a lever with which to subvert the ACA. Once you get a religious exemption, it becomes easier to pull the new law apart piece by piece (so goes the thinking). Though how far does that go? If my employer is a Jehovah’s Witness, can he refuse to pay for insurance that covers blood transfusions? If he’s a Christian Scientist, can he refuse to pay for any health insurance at all?

Slippery slopes and all that– I don’t think the GOP ever really thinks that far ahead. Their instincts smell a loss of power, and their rhetoric then bends to come up with the excuses necessary to support and justify their instincts. But I just don’t see contraception being a winning issue for them. And, even in the current anti-union/anti-worker/deification-of-employers media climate, I just don’t see most Americans as willing to submit their reproductive lives to their employers.

But, what do I know? I’m just a dirty little atheist.

That’s Just It, We Are the Grownups…

Stopped posting through the holidays… I’m thinking this is probably because I never intended this to be a ‘Political Blog’, there’s enough of those for people to read if they want to, and I already have some election fatigue, myself. But politics is what I’m used to writing about, after all those years of USENET and commenting on various forums & blogs. And politics is the only thing I’ve been thinking about enough to want to write about that I can write about. So I didn’t bother to write at all. Holidays, vacation, then back to work.

That said, back to the GOP!

The GOP nomination continues to look like a wave function that just won’t collapse. Santorum/Romney in an essential tie (offered by most observers as Romney Doing Well). NH with the expected Romney victory (but under 40%, still offered as Romney Doing Well). Ron Paul gets enough to keep going… it’s ‘for the kids’. Or, more precisely, his kid– adding more weight to the old truism that many (if not most) Libertarians are closet Royalists. Santorum decides to go all-in with extra Jesus to try for SC and (somehow) FL. A mean, wounded Gingrich with $5.2 million dollars in his pockets behaves exactly as one would expect a mean, wounded Gingrich with $5.2 million dollars in his pockets to behave: Accuse Mitt Romney of being an Evil Capitalist(tm). Perry goes “Yeah! Me too!”.

Meanwhile, a Democratic White House asks Congress for a free hand in making some structural changes to some Cabinet posts like Commerce and the Small Business Administration. Which the GOP House (9% popularity) is almost guaranteed to obstruct, because ‘shrinking government’ is their brand, not his. And because they can. In an election year.

They are, of course, expected to keep the House, and possibly even take the Senate. We’re also told that they have a 50% shot at the White House for the trifecta, with a bonus prize of possibly as many as three ultra-conserative Supreme Court Justices (none over 50 years old) by 2014.

For now, for me, this is just something to watch from afar, if only to see how it turns out. I still keep wondering if and when the proverbial ‘grownups’ will start to get involved– they should have, by now.

I wonder what they did with them.

So, what was that? About three days?

Ron Paul, Crypto-Bircher(tm) storms out of an interview on CNN when asked about the by-now well-known racist newsletters from the 1990s. Fox News ‘breaks’ the story, of course.

Now who…

“But wait, I thought you people wanted an asshole…”

Barely two weeks in the limelight, and Gingrich starts announcing how much he’d like to dispatch US Marshals to arrest “Activist” (i.e. too-liberal) judges who make decisions he doesn’t like. Turns out that Newt’s peculiar techno-rebrand of 1930s Catholic Fascism isn’t going to have legs in Iowa, after all.

So now, our little circus leaves the 1930s, moving forward to 1964 with Ron Paul (who IMO is just a cunningly re-branded Bircher). Who needs the trappings of civilization, when you could have legal pot?

Iowa caucus in less than two weeks.

Gingrich rising… Again.

I remember my first attempt at a web page back in late 1994.  It was mostly just an excuse and an exercise to learn some HTML.  The term ‘blog’ had yet to be coined, but one does have to write something between the angle-brackets, so I drafted some little essay about Newt Gingrich (who had just won the Speaker’s gavel) and the trends I was seeing:  Carving up the country, and selling the pieces off to his friends.  Every man a little Suburban Jefferson, secure in his gated property, with nothing but commerce and information flowing across his sacred property lines. And so on (those words are from memory, but not too far off– you can perhaps tell that I’d just read Snow Crash the month before). The page itself, which I never really updated again, is of course long gone.

At the time, I sounded perhaps a bit hysterical– those around me certainly thought so. But in hindsight, the early-to-mid 1990s do seem to have been the era in which radical Libertarianism, Objectivism, and Techno-optimism collided with the early Internet culture (early WiReD and Mondo2000 were in their prime, remember), cross-bred with the more prosaic strains of “I got mine” Conservatism, and hatched the multi-headed Hydra that we now recognize as the modern GOP.  Once Fox News was born in 1996 to simultaneously define, sharpen, amplify and aggressively broadcast this mindset, the current state of American “political conversation” was probably inevitable.

The year 1994 was also the first time I had ever heard of Mitt Romney, as that was the year he essentially tried to purchase Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat (running as a liberal Republican no less… how quaint). There was still a liberal wing to the GOP at that time: I even got to vote for MA Gov. Bill Weld’s re-election that year. My first, last, and (most likely) only vote for a Republican candidate in my lifetime. By the end of the 1990s, it was already clear that the liberal wing of the GOP would soon be extinct, even as Pres. Clinton showed us that it was the DLC mindset, and not Progressivism, that would be in charge of the Democratic party for the near future. Gingrich had flamed out and resigned in disgrace by 1998. Romney went off to Utah to run the 2002 Olympics, though it was rumored even then that he’d be back in Massachusetts to run for Governor eventually. Y2K came and went, then GWB and 9/11 ushered in the next phase of US History.

Now, fast forward 17 years.

There’s a Black Democrat named “Barack Obama” in the White House. Romney denies ever having been a liberal Republican. And, to my horror, Newt Gingrich just might end up being the GOP nominee next year.  He obviously feels comfortable enough to go after Romney’s history at Bain capital (via TPM):

“I would just say that if Gov. Romney would like to give back all of the money he’s earned from bankrupting companies and laying off employees over his years at Bain, that I would be glad to listen to him,” Gingrich told reporters in New Hampshire after a town hall. “I’ll bet you $10, not $10,000, that he won’t take the offer,” he continued.

While a Republican bemoaning massive layoffs in the name of profit does seem, shall we say, “unusual”, it’s an interesting shift in tone.  Not really sure how this helps Newt in a general election matchup against Obama, but his history with Bain is Romney’s Achilles’ Heel in this newly neo-populist era (some would say pseudo-populist, but IMO the proverbial jury’s still out on this issue).  I had hoped that the Democrats would have had the sense to use this tactic against Romney:  Now it looks like they may not even get the chance. Newt it is.

But it’s a new Newt: In 1994, Gingrich seemed like the nasty leading edge of an inevitable wave of techno-conservatism (for lack of a better term). Fortunes were about to be made, virtual worlds were being created (with otherwise serious people were talking openly about this), and nobody who mattered wanted government to interfere with any of it. Just roll up your sleeves, create some value, sell to the highest bidder and cash out, dude! WTF are you waiting for!? Ah, good times.

But this is a new Gingrich, crafted for a much less optimistic, much more angry age: Having since converted to a particularly aggressive strain of Open Dei Catholicism –literally baptized into the evangelical mindset– he’s come back to us newly formed, the anointed Avatar of Elder White Rage, ready to “cleanse” the White House of… well, what, exactly?

All this talk, all this media, all these debates, and I still have no real clue what it is these folks are so angry about. I don’t think that they really know, themselves. All they know is that they want their regularly scheduled Apocalypse to arrive, as promised, and they want it now. And they don’t care who has to suffer or die to make that happen.

Andrew Sullivan, in a post which also includes the word “cleanse”, actually seems to get this:

Every day, it seems, the tectonic plates of our world shift. And what I see in Gingrich is the relentless rise of fundamentalism as the overwhelming threat to liberal democracy and world peace.

I’ve been certain for some time that we’re in a kind of “memetic war” to see if we get to keep the Enlightment or not. Maybe as a conservative Catholic himself, Sullivan can recognize this in a way a lot of liberals still can’t.

It’s a big fight coming. Be ready.

please be advised…

…that we are currently under construction.

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