Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Fox News View of Poverty

Here is the clearest expression of the conservative view concerning why we have poverty in America:

In all fairness, this is not crazy talk. This a clearly expressed viewpoint that, as Stuart Varney says, "It's a culture of poverty, a culture of dependency." Conservatives label the poor as people content to stay in their "gilded cage" of welfare payments because they don't need to work. This viewpoint is not based on either the studies of poverty, welfare recipients, or the reality that welfare barely keeps food on the table or a roof over the heads of the poor. Clearly neither of them know what poverty is like -- or they don't want to admit that they know because it would undermine their thesis.

But, at least, it appears to be an expression of sincerely held beliefs. O'Reilly seems in agreement with Varney. None of it is based on the reality of life amid growing income inequality and shrinking opportunity in America. Varney also maintains that the poor have to literally be pushed out of welfare -- by sufficiently lowering the amount of welfare payments -- or the poor won't even attempt to acquire the skills they need. His thesis is that we can help the poor by giving them less help.

Regardless, both of these prominent Fox commentators come across as very mean-spirited and elitist, as do many headline conservatives like Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney, Rand Paul, and the rest. Moreover, it's unlikely that a Republican with a dissimilar view will be tolerated in the 2016 lottery. A touch of bleeding heart, and you out of the running.

This video shows the inner heart of the conservative view. No? O'Reilly and Varney are talking about America. But what about the human condition? Does America have its own unique way of failing, or is it universal?

At least 80% of humanity lives on less than $10 a day.Source
Read more about poverty here, then ask yourself whether the poor universally are responsible for their situation, or are the American poor uniquely lazy, shiftless, and uninterested in a better life?

Then, one would hope, you'd begin to realize that the conservative view is heartless and unnecessary. We can all do well and help the poor out of poverty. We should do it because it's moral, and it's good business (the poor spend every cent you give them almost immediately. Stimulus anyone?). What would happen to U.S. GDP if we provided a guaranteed income? What happened when they tried it in Manitoba?

Would Stuart Varney and Bill O'Reilly suffer brain hemorrhages if we tried it? I wouldn't be surprised.

Just Before the Midterms, a Look at the GOP Status Quo

Paul Ryan gets credit for being the intellectual wonk of the GOP. He's
actually its leading hack. Nice work. But Boehner wants his job back.

If John Boehner wanted to establish the true colors of the Republican Party as we head into the midterms -- Congress actually recessed this past week until the elections -- he certainly did it with gusto. We'd almost forgotten his contempt for the less fortunate.

Boehner comes off, often, as an incompetent who runs his party because no one else apparently wants to. Still, I think I know what he's doing here as he leaves a statement meant to reverberate across the country until November 4th:
“This idea that has been born, maybe out of the economy over the last couple years, that you know, I really don’t have to work. I don’t really want to do this. I think I’d rather just sit around. This is a very sick idea for our country.”
(There's a video of this here. Embedding is restricted for the moment.)

This is John Boehner's 47% statement, an echo of both Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan's famous makers and takers remark. Is this an accident? Did Boehner accidentally broadcast the Republican contempt for the unfortunate?

Yes, yes he did. And it's catnip for the Republican base. It's a reminder that they're the winners -- the makers -- and the Dems are the losers -- the takers. In fact, even unemployed GOPers assume they're the winners, they just don't have jobs. I don't know how this works. Someone, I'm sure, can explain it to me. Of course, unless only Dems are unemployed. Hard to call.

Anyway, the battlelines are being drawn.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Bamboozler, Bamboozle Thyself

Dr. John P. Holden
Today's ThinkProgress has an excellent post that demonstrates how GOP climate-change deniers construct their bamboozling. Watch the videos to see them in action and how easily the president's science advisor, Dr. John P. Holdren, counters their tactics, which include not only the nonsense but the rudeness we're all but inured to by now.

Oh, and there's a bonus from ThinkProgress on Bobby Jindal. I had pointed out his bamboozling on climate change and his dodging on evolution in spite of his Rhodes Scholar status. Now TP reminds us that Jindal was a biology major in college. Figures.

Enjoy. Thanks, TP.

Football Players Are Not Role Models

Football is a violent sport, and those who play it run the gamut from graceful artists -- a Jerry Rice, a Joe Montana -- to thugs -- anybody remember Otis Sistrunk? Sure, some of the best in the sport resemble a role model, but mostly the game is a celebration of barely controlled violence. It's one of the things people like about the game.

Throughout the years of watching the game -- I'm a fan, now one with buyers' remorse -- I remember the satisfaction, the thrill, Ooh, what a great hit!, that melted to horror when it was one of the terrifying blows, like the one that ended Joe Theismann's career or paralyzed Darryl Stingley.

Now that a new scrutiny is bearing down on the sport -- it was barely beginning to deal with head trauma -- because of the domestic violence issue, more is being written and talked about than ever. One aspect is the discovery of trouble in River City in what has become the biggest sport in America. Who would have thought?

One problem is this notion that athletes are role models. It's not nonsense, for young people do admire athletes, musicians, and singers, but it's also baloney, too, because athletes, musicians, and singers fail at being decent humans at the usual regular rate. In fact, they fail at a heightened rate, because of the spotlight, because of the steroids, because of the drugs, because of the narcissism.

I caught this morning's article in the Washington Post of the hypocrisy, if you will, of American star goalie Hope Solo, who's in trouble over an alcohol-fueled violent episode at a family home in which she may or may not have smacked two relatives around. Her case comes to trial in November.

Here's a key graph or two in the WaPo story:
Unlike some of the biggest NFL stars, Solo, who is their counterpart in women’s soccer and someone touted as a role model, quietly goes about her business of keeping soccer balls from going into the net. NFL stars like Ray Rice, Greg Hardy, Jonathan Dwyer and Adrian Peterson were banished after massive sponsor, political and fan pressure, but Nike, for instance, has remained silent on Solo.
While U.S. Soccer doesn’t have the same high profile as the NFL, how do the cases differ? Aren’t women’s soccer players just as much role models as male football players? The goalkeeping record is an an important one, both for Solo and for women’s soccer, but does it really trump an accusation of domestic violence? Why is the notion of awaiting due process so inconsistently applied? And why aren’t more people talking about the fact that domestic violence isn’t simply an issue of men against women?
Hope Solo: Getting drunk and going
off on your relatives was a bad idea.
This idea of athletes as role models has always bugged me. I get that the NFL puts certain clauses into their contracts that essentially make their players talk to the media, agree to parade themselves at local kids' hospitals, and generally agree not to be assholes in public. A contract is a contract. You sign it, you abide by it. I don't know what's in Hope Solo's contract. Maybe it has a "don't be an asshole" clause, too.

And kids will look up to them. Adults will swoon over them, as well. Fine. But what's the track record here? For every Derek Jeter, there's a Barry Bonds. For every Eli Manning, there's a Michael Vick. There's Mia Hamm, there's Hope Solo. In music, do I need to mention Chris Brown, Justin Bieber, even John Mayer (major guitarist, major tool)?

People are role models until they're not. That's life. If your contract says you're outa here if you screw up, then you're outa here. If it doesn't, fix yourself, and continue what you do. If you're a big enough jerk -- and this goes for any career, from teacher to lawyer to company president -- you can't expect to hang on to your job.

I'm a second chance guy. I know I've had a few, and I was happy to see Michael Vick make a comeback, in spite of the horrible nature of his infractions. But he did his time, he apparently learned a lesson, and he came back. It's the repeat offenders, the Lindsay Lohans, that deserve shunning if not both our contempt and our compassion. We admire these people, then we feel sorry for them, then we want them to go away.

The second chance, the comeback story, we like these. People deserve them when they earn them. I hope Hope Solo processes her problems and goes on to set records and thrill fans. If she doesn't, it'll most likely be her own fault. But let's stop confusing standards of "role model" with what's in the contract. We're all flawed. But there's a certain blood lust when it comes to celebrities: We hold them up, then we knock them down with gusto. It's a bit disgusting, and it should stop.

Lindsay, you were a role model until you weren't.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Rush Limbaugh Sets the Bar WAY LOW, Word Salad Edition

Yes, this is word salad at its most inane. Liberals are bullies, Republicans are battered wives, whenever there are riots liberals demand that we understand the rage, and Rush Limbaugh has the, er, facts to prove it:

Celebrations that get out of hand after a city's team wins a championship is a political event, and the liberals will call for peace, love, and understanding. Rush, you're really onto something here! Run with it, Rushbo! You're making so much sense!


Everybody Has An Echo Chamber. It's Called Your Tribe.

I grew up white. Most white people do. I've met a couple white people who grew up black -- wait a minute, no I didn't.

Same goes for blacks mostly. There are ghetto blacks, southern rural blacks, and Ivy League blacks, and blacks that strike me as being as mainstream as you or I. To call them "white" would be an insult or at least somewhat stupid.

The same also goes for Hispanics and Asians. A Venn diagram would show where we all intersect, and that would be interesting. But by and large we tend to self-segregate. I've been around the world and lived in both Europe and Asia. People self-segregate everywhere. I stayed in the Jewish Quarter in Vienna. See?

We settle into tribes and grow up members of those tribes. There are exceptions but not enough to change the math. Wish it was different.

Ferguson and the shooting of Michael Brown -- very much like the shooting of Trayvon Martin, in a sense -- brewed quite a conversation across the nation. But blacks and whites are having very different conversations from one another. This Slate article frames it well:
When asked if “the shooting of an African American teen by law enforcement in Ferguson, Missouri” was justified, 62 percent of whites said it was, along with 35 percent of blacks. The “noes” were a mirror image: 65 percent of blacks—and 38 percent of whites—said it wasn’t justified.
This, more than any result in the survey, is astonishing. Remember, we know little on the circumstances that led to Brown’s death. At most, we have witness reports, which say Brown had surrendered when he was killed, and the testimony of Officer Darren Wilson, who says he was attacked by the teenager. It’s impossible to say anything for certain, but my hunch is that this divide has a good deal to do with implicit racial bias and the divergent views of law enforcement among whites and blacks.
 I have implicit racial bias. Wish it was different. Too late now. During this "conversation," I've found white friends who maintain they have no racial bias whatsoever. Judging by their apparent sincerity, I don't doubt they believe what they're saying. I, though, doubt what they're saying.

We don't get to grow up in a white suburb, go to a university dominated by white people -- most certainly by white professors -- and get jobs in professions disproportionately dominated by white people and end up bias-free.

I don't say this to accuse my friends, who I think just want to wish us into a post-racial world. When Barack Obama was elected president, we all had visions of post-racial sugar plum fairies dancing in our heads. Maybe, just maybe...

I joked that George W. Bush was such a bad president that we elected a black man president. There's a lot of truth in that. How the white-dominated, Republican-Party tribes treated the first black president since then tells a very compelling story. And that story should be titled, "We Don't Live in a Post-Racial World. Sorry."

Racial bias works in subtle ways. I once went shopping at an auto parts store, and a young, well-groomed black man assisted me in a very professional way. I thought, "this young man wants to make something of himself, and I bet he does it." I was impressed, seeing someone not satisfied with staying in the ghetto. The city I was in had a substantial black population, which was essentially ghettoized.

It wasn't long before I realized I wouldn't have had the same impression if it were a young white man. I would have viewed the white man as being in a normal groove, so to speak. But the young black man, well, he was making something of himself. See?

I felt self-busted, and should have. It works the other way, too. I see a couple of young blacks on the street, and I don't get nervous, I just get maybe guarded, hyper-alert. Two white kids? Not so.

It sucks, but it's why we hear of white cops shooting young black men more than we hear of black cops shooting young white men. And when we do hear about these shootings, we self-sort pretty fast, as the Slate article and the poll it cited show.

My point is that it's bad enough that we innately support our tribe, at least in the sense that it distorts reality in ways that are destructive to our collective society. It's sad, and it'll always be that part of life that quietly torments me. Wish things were different. But they aren't, and they won't have changed much before I die. A whole lifetime, lived within the confines of my tribe, regardless of any efforts to pretend differently.

I guess it's human nature, but I don't have to like it. Deep inside, I'm for everyone. So tell me again why I've self-sorted into a lily-white town in California wine country. Beats me. I'm just living.

I was doing research about nearby Napa Valley, and I found out that the early
vineyard workers were Chinese. Then they were supplanted by the Italians.
Decades later, the Mexicans took over. Just how does this work? Hmm...

Note. Rereading this, I should mention that there are hints of progress on the integration front all around. I can imagine a post-racial world. If we don't destroy the planet -- hard to imagine we won't -- humans will amalgamate. It's bound to happen. In the meantime, there's a lot of vive la différence going around. We're different, our various tribes, and the interplay among cultures is a rich experience. Life as it is can be beautiful. I just get pretty down hearing about the next dead black kid, and the next dead black kid. Pretty dismal, for now.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Yes, I Turned Out Fine, but Not Because Dad Smacked Us Around

I went to Catholic school. My teachers struck me? Oh yeah, with relish.

There wasn't a time I was beaten at school that I thought, "This is the right thing to do, it'll learn me!" But corporal punishment is pretty much finished in schools, except in the heathen states. Notice I didn't say "Southern" but I could have said "red," except for purple Colorado.

Thought experiment: Imagine a coherent reason red states permit teachers and administrators to beat kids in school. To extend and differentiate, imagine why blue states would decide differently.

Anyway, I was going to talk about my Dad, who passed away nine years ago. He was the model of the less involved parent, puffing on his pipe or cigar while my Mom ran the household (and held down a job, and reached a higher professional status, I might add, though my Dad did just fine). He did take over when it came to punishment. He mostly dealt in controlled blows, a painful swat in the bedroom for being late for dinner, etc.

It didn't add up to much, and we weren't in fear of Dad. My oldest brother got the worst of it, my middle brother got none of it for some reason, and I was smacked a few times. Dad did lose his temper, which accounted for the few times that we were smacked in full view. These were few but particularly shocking.

I assumed he was raised similarly in Euclid, Ohio, and I didn't take it personally, except for one thing: It permanently alienated me from having much, if any, affection for him. I loved my Mom, and, while not fearing him, at least I didn't have any warm feelings for him.

(...adding that, in the end, I've come to believe he did the best he could by us, which was not bad at all. He was a man of his day and age, and I can imagine many people feeling the same about their parents.)

Nothing good came of my Dad smacking me. I never even dreamed of striking my kids, and I can't think of a single outcome for them that would have improved had I done so. Not a single one. I will say that I ran against the grain, apparently. Kids who suffer corporal punishment tend to do the same. I consciously decided I would never do it. I'm happy I didn't.

So when I hear the chorus of "My Dad smacked me, and I turned out okay" from the usual suspects -- Hannity et al -- I assume that they're missing one aspect of this: They're not okay, and their assholery tends to prove it. If you've ever watched Hannity interview someone he constitutionally disagrees with, you see his rather violent tendency to bully. Where did that come from?

We don't need to ask. Anyway, don't hit your kids. It's unnecessary and nothing good comes from it. We hit our kids out of weakness, not strength.

Pretty much predictable.