22 September 2009

Reading choices.

I'm currently wondering if it's worth the time to read some Heidegger. I'm mostly through the introduction to Being and Time and I'm not sure I can stand reading much more than that. It seems dense without the beauty of Derrida and very very repetitive.

18 September 2009

I wrestle, with your conscience...You wrestle, with your partner.

When I first read the headline, I really had my hopes up. I thought, well it worked for Jesse "The Body" Ventura. I thought it might spice things up a bit in the Senate to have Bobby "The Brain" Heenan or maybe Rowdy Roddy Piper smashing chairs over the heads of their adversaries, or better yet, giving speeches with that patented pro-wrestling bravado shout.

How would you like to be represented by The Undertaker?

If my wrestling references seem dated to you youngsters, it's probably because most of what I know about wrestling comes from middle school when my friends would talk about it, and of course the small things I glean from ads for the Pay Per View Wrestlemanias.

But imagine my disappointment when I found out the person in question wasn't even a wrestler, and not even Vince McMahon, but Vince McMahon's wife, Linda. There's no flavor in that story. If it were Vince M., the circus would be in town from now until the election. If it were Ric Flair or one of those Killer B's or Mr. Fuji, then you'd have a story. A carnival even. Questions about steroids. About faking it. About outfitting the Senate chamber with a steel cage.

Unfortunately, this story has the lifespan of a fruit fly.

16 September 2009

Never have so many known so little about so much.

I've read some dumber arguments, but usually they're on freshman comp papers. Here's John Feehery, a supposed professional consultant trying to foist off the teabaggers as a populist movement that's concerned about big government:
Instead, they are mostly motivated by out-of-control spending, towering debt, and the pervasive feeling that government is too big, too powerful, too unaccountable and too cozy with Wall Street.
Huh? Where were these bozos when Bush was turning budget surpluses into deficits that would make even Reagan blush? Let's just go through each of Feehery's claims about the teabaggers and see how they match up with BushCo:
  1. Out of control spending: the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, at least one of which was completely unnecessary, have accounted for most of our spending over the short 21st century.
  2. Towering debt: See above, especially since Bush refused to include war spending as part of the normal budget.
  3. Government too big, powerful, unaccountable, and cozy with Wall Street: Bush created another cabinet position, expanded the appointments at what the media so cleverly calls the "czar" level, refused to regulate Wall Street, and spied on U.S. citizens.
So where the hell were the teabaggers through the last four years of Bush (I'll give them the benefit of the doubt on the first four years, in part because the Iraq War doesn't start until 2003 and in part because they're not really that bright to begin with)? Apparently out of control spending, towering debt, and a big, unaccountable government with a cozy relationship with Wall Street were A-OK while Bush was in office. The irony of the whole situation is that if anything the government's relationship with Wall Street is far worse now, because Wall Street would like nothing better than to be free of regulation (of course, they'll take free money if they can get it).

However, when given the chance one on one to explain their positions, teabaggers clearly have limited information and limited ability to process what information they do have. They stand as an indictment of our education system, since so few of them can grasp differences between political systems and have no sense of our own government's history.

And they can't spell for shit.

14 September 2009

One of those moods...

I'm in a funk. Every now and then I get this way when I spend too much time reading the comments on news stories, because I soon conclude that we are by and large a nation of morons.

Now that, my friends, is a depressing thought.

To think that over 200 years ago we created a modern democracy that relied on an educated electorate, and to that end we've developed compulsory education, financed state-run institutes of higher learning, and increased literacy rates to amazing levels. These are great achievements that are always under attack from regressive forces (maybe not the literacy rates, but equal access to education has never served those wishing to preserve power for a small elite).

However, we have to realize a few things:
  • Literacy does not equal comprehension or critical thinking. I've taught too many students who can read the words on the page, but can't tell you what they mean in their own words. At the extreme, some students will actually tell you the opposite of what the sentence states; many students fail to distinguish the writer's own position from the writer's gloss of another author's work.
  • Knowing how to surf the web does not equal information literacy. Too many users have no skill in differentiating the reliability or validity of sources. They don't understand that peer-reviewed journals are better overall as sources of reliable information than publisher or company claims or fan pages. The critique of mainstream media has disintegrated into a thoughtless assertion that all sources are equal. Even if people don't believe it in theory or are willing to say it, in practice that's exactly what we've lost. Cousin Joe who lives in his mom's basement and wears a tin foil hat has as much validity to the internetters as the New England Journal of Medicine.
  • The medium may in fact be the message. Television is passive; the internet is interactive. At least that's the story we tell ourselves, but the growth of streaming capabilities means that the internet is increasingly being used as another method for viewing television shows or movies. Being able to comment on said shows and movies is not exactly revolutionary. "Real life" simulacra like Second Life and fantasy worlds like "World of Warcraft" may in fact create rich experiences for their users, but the fact remains that they more or less recreate the same social conditions and interactions as the real world while all the time removing the users for greater and greater periods of time from the real world. To borrow from a movie -- and yes I realize the irony in that and also in blogging about this phenomenon -- that's the real matrix -- the illusion of life.
How do we explain the widespread popularity of frauds like Glenn Beck? What does Glenn Beck supply his audience that works for them? Does he make them laugh? (this component should not be overlooked: plenty of people will do strange things "for the lulz") He doesn't provide reassurance that all is right with the world -- in fact he does just the opposite, pronouncing that we are more or less one inch away from establishing "worker re-education camps" and that at any moment a government secret police squad is about to come through each and every one of our doors taking away our guns, our presses, and claiming the right of jus primae noctis.

So since he isn't providing reassurance that all is right in the world, what is he giving them? Reassurance that they are right and the world is wrong? Both of these impulses are fairly powerful, so it isn't all milk and honey people want to hear about (I mean, the US of A would be a very different place if a few malcontents weren't convinced that the Church of England was dead wrong). Is it the seduction of the easy solution? In other words, he provides simple remedies that seem to make sense?

I like the latter explanation mainly because we are fairly intellectually lazy as a culture. Reading long boring things like history or laws isn't a popular pastime. Showing an interest in such pursuits is likely to get you branded as a snob, a geek, or (especially if you're a boy) a homosexual (and let's be honest, in the world of the school-age, where homophobia rules and homophobes haven't yet learned to disguise their hatred, the label is the kiss-of-death socially). This anti-intellectualism pervades our culture, which explains the contempt we have of the universities (the "ivory tower," not part of the "real world," populated by "eggheads") and our inability to support extended inquiry into issues (it's no mistake that the best news program on television is the PBS NewsHour, because that format wouldn't survive in a commercial situation

Exploring issues takes time, and anyway, shouldn't we already "know what's right"? I mean, if you have to think about it, then you must be a terrorist or a communist. Or a communist terrorist. Doesn't taking the time to compare and contrast ideas, or heaven forbid trying to understand someone's motivation, simply reveal a lack of certainty and therefore an absence of morality? It's always better to be quick with an answer and assert that it's the only right answer available.

13 September 2009

Do you take one cube or two on your planet?

Well, if the teabaggers have made anything clear, it's that they're not only confused on the whole idea of what communism or socialism (oh, and yes, Virginia, they are different) might be, but they're as a group motivated by racism.

I'm not going to circulate the image popular among the "concerned" citizens whose dinky-by-DC-standards 30K rally was described as "massive" by CNN. Suffice it to say you only have to do an image search for Obama and a witch doctor to get at the heart of the teabagger movement.

Let's take a quick look at teabagger rhetoric:
  1. Use of Nazi symbols, check.
  2. Use of Communist symbols, check.
  3. Understanding that fascism and communism are two opposing ideologies, um not so clear. Apparently teabaggers don't actually know anything about either system except that the symbols are scary.
  4. Use of racist imagery (usually in combination with either a swastika or hammer and sickle), check.
It doesn't take Roland Barthes to figure out the mythology behind the teabaggers, and I take solace in realizing that their reliance on unreconstructed racist tropes signals a residual system, a force still present but in serious decline and inevitably doomed. They function on fear and ignorance, and not always as mere manipulators of those qualities: many of their leaders seem quite earnest about their ignorance, actually believing, among other things, that telling students to stay in school is a socialist plot.

Some of the traveling charlatan teabaggers also seem to think that they speak for the armed services. In some really creepy and disgusting pronouncements reminiscent of Walter Sobchak's schtick in The Big Lebowski about "not watching his buddies die face down in the mud," a teabagger speaker pukes out this strained bit of hyperbole to her clueless audience:
"The men and women in our military didn't fight and die for this country for a communist in the White House," asserts Deborah Johns.
No, technically, they haven't fought and died for any particular party or ideology to be in the White House; they've presumably fought and died for democracy, a concept Johns has trouble understanding. However, when you're so hopelessly out of touch with reality that you think Obama is a communist, there's really little point in anyone trying to bring you back to earth.

You've slipped the orbit and are now lost in space.

02 September 2009

Ticket to ride.

I had to laugh at the Washington Post story about the Laurel, Maryland, NFL franchise that sold their tickets to brokers rather than to the deluded fan base. Ever since moving to the District in 1993, I realized that even though Washington had three professional sports teams (remember, 1993 is before soccer, baseball, and women's pro leagues in some sports came to or returned to town), it really was (and remains) a one sport town. God forbid the Capitals or the Wizards or some other team win a playoff game on the same day that a Toughskins reserve stubs his toe in the shower, because there will be no coverage of that playoff win in the sports pages.

Anyway, I digress, but it should be apparent that I have no love for this monstrosity of a team, this pretender to the name "Washington," whose leadership under Jack Kent Cooke was good for a joke or two, but whose leadership under Dan Snyder is nothing but a string of insults to the fans (of which I'm not one). However, you can't argue with the fact that Snyder knows his audience, and he knows he can treat them with utmost disdain and squeeze every penny he can from them, because they're idiots. Absolute idiots.

So his ticket office is selling tickets to ticket brokers instead of the fans who may wait years to see his subpar product strut and fret their three hours upon the stage. It's hilarious. But Snyder, through a spokesperson, does not like this practice:
Donovan said Redskins owner Daniel M. Snyder was unaware of sales to brokers. When he found out, Donovan said, "he was livid" and tried to have the accounts canceled immediately.
Well, of course he was livid. He wasn't getting a cut of the action (and I can all but guarantee you that the ticket agent or agentss responsible for the brokers getting their tickets was probably receiving a nice finder's fee for their services). He's probably sitting in his mansion fuming at the fact that for years he could have been pocketing a few extra bucks by selling to the secondary market.

01 September 2009

California Dreaming.

These California fires are amazing, but like earthquakes, I think we out East consider them part and parcel of the California lifestyle. Yes, it's very sunny out there, but it's also a place for earthquakes and wildfires. The wildfire threat has grown mainly because so many remote areas are now subdivisions. As Americans, maybe as humans, we tend to disregard the power of nature and stretch our limits with little care for the long-term effects.

Not only California, but also the entire western United States, has seen massive population growth, with much of it occurring during a period in which the suburbs and then the exurbs were created and sprawl hadn't come to signify a long-term negative. The massive explosion of building around Las Vegas in the 1990's and early 2000's indicates that despite the lessons learned from half a century of sprawl in southern California, we still haven't learned that lesson.

In Chinatown, the plot revolves around the sinister possession of water rights in a thirsty LA that essentially gets its water from northern California. Phoenix, Las Vegas, and the massive LA metroplex all rely on the same water that farmers and fish rely on. As we push further into the hillsides and forests, we occupy land that is either subject to landslide or brush fire. So far we have water, earth, and fire. Maybe air is the Santa Ana winds.

We've essentially built a theme-park style dream of uninterrupted development, of perfectly landscaped cookie-cutter living boxes as deceptively laid out as any Disneyland. We turn on the tap and out comes water. We drive through the canyons and only encounter the occasional roadkill coyote or wandering scrub brush, and we convince ourselves that nature has been pacified.

In Ecology of Fear, which I have to revisit because it's been a long time, Mike Davis makes the argument that southern California is a disaster not only waiting to happen, but also already happening. He might push his point a bit far, but in general it's hard to argue with the thesis that hubristic overdevelopment has exposed us to a wrathful return of the repressed (to sneak a bit of Freud in), a reminder that we are not all.