Monday, January 26, 2015

Culture Clash

Nothing misogynistic- or crude- here. From Metro Lyrics, the words to "Cat Scratch Fever" by one-hit-wonder Ted Nugent:

Well I don't know where they come from
But they sure do come
I hope they comin' for me
And I don't know how they do it
But they sure do it good
I hope they doin' it for free

They give me cat scratch fever
Cat scratch fever

The first time that I got it
I was just ten years old
I got it from some kitty next door
I went and see the Dr. and
He gave me the cure
I think I got it some more

They give me cat scratch fever
Cat scratch fever

It's nothin dangerous
I feel no pain
I've got to ch-ch-change
You know you got it when you're going insane
It makes a grown man cryin' cryin'
Won't you make my bed

I make the pussy purr with
The stroke of my hand
They know they gettin' it from me
They know just where to go
When they need their lovin man
They know I do it for free

They give me cat scratch fever
Cat scratch fever

Right Wing Watch points out

After Mike Huckabee criticized Beyonce's music as "obnoxious and toxic mental poison" unfit for children and compared the singer to a prostitute, it didn't take long for people to point out that he himself had once joined with Ted Nugent to perform a sexually explicit song on his national television program.

Huckabee is, predictably, reacting by pretending that what happened didn't actually happen, telling the Christian Post today that Nugent "changed the lyrics pretty dramatically" when he sang the song "Cat Scratch Fever" on Hucabee's Fox News show.

In fact, anyone who watches a video of the performance can see that Nugent didn't change any of the song's explicit lyrics as Huckabee accompanied him, 5:25 in.

Sarah Palin, who says "You can absolutely say that I am seriously interested in running for President" (not a clear statement of intent, but we can only hope for the entertainment)  is somewhat similar. Roger Simon observed at the Freedom Summit in Des Moines on Sunday the former governor exclaiming "coronation, rinse, repeat," "the man can only ride you when your back is bent," and Obama "is so over it, America, he's just not that into you."

Simon reported that there was no context for the remarks. And if you think "the man can only ride you when your back is bent" makes little sense, this- considering the source- from Palin on Saturday made even less sense: "screw the left and Hollywood."

Not screw the left, of course, but "screw Hollywood" is at best insincere coming from Palin, who recently appeared with Tara Pyle at a charity event

thrown in honor of special ops veterans at the Vegas Show Show on Thursday (January 22) in Las Vegas.

If you don’t know yet, Taya is the widow of Chris Kyle, the late Navy SEAL that the movie American Sniper is based on.

“Taya is carrying on her husband Chris’ legacy boldly – spending hours visiting with all the heroes there and sharing Chris’ book, inspiration, and story through American Sniper,” Sarah wrote in a Facebook post.

If Sarah wanted merely to raise money for the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation and further to honor his life and legacy, she could have done so without the shout-out to American Sniper which, as a movie, is part of Hollywood culture (and nominated for six Oscars). But she didn't. Instead, she lauded a film which, arguably is not true to the real-life Kyle and his book, "American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History."  In The New Republic, Dennis Jett writes

Bradley Cooper, who plays Kyle, seems beset by uncertainty and moral anxiety in the above scene. But anyone who has read Kyle’s autobiography of the same title knows that his bravado left no room for doubt. For him, the enemy are savages and despicably evil. His only regret is that he didn’t kill more. He laments that there were rules of engagement, or ROE, which he describes as being drafted by lawyers to protect generals from politicians. He argues instead for letting warriors loose to fight wars without their hands tied behind their backs. At another point, he boasts that the unofficial ROE were pretty simple: “If you see anyone from about sixteen to sixty-five and they’re male, shoot ‘em. Kill every male you see.” 

Notwithstanding the differences between Chris Kyle and the portrayal by Bradley Cooper, Palin chose to identify herself in part with the biopic- and with the Hollywood she claims to want screwed.

No one should doubt Mike Huckabee's sincerity, while Palin sometimes infers she has a direct pipeline to God, though given her sometimes bizarre behavior (photo below via TPM) it's hard to believe she would be the one the Almighty would decide to communicate with.   But both of them at least appear not to have come to terms with modern culture, say, post 1990.

There are undeniable advantages for Republicans to fight the culture war as they contemplate GOP primaries.  But the slight scent of hypocrisy hovers.  By contrast, potential GOP presidential candidates could sidestep cultural issues, as has Chris Christie, whom Bill Clinton has termed "probably just a sideshow" or John Ellis Bush, a likely flame-out.  The prospective field is not, so it seems, all that far from the "clown car" Roger Simon observes..

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Sunday, January 25, 2015

As A Matter Of Fact

When Bill Maher recently made remarks, some of them on his HBO show "Real Time," that radical Islam might just be responsible for the anti-democratic principles prevalent in the Arab (and, presumably, Persian) world, he got a lot of flack.

Most of it came from what can loosely be considered the left or more specifically, advocates of identity politics.  Rula Jebreal referred to "TV info-tainers such as Bill Maher who insist that the problem lives within Islam itself." Patrick L. Smith condemned "ignorant vulgarians such as Bill Maher pretending to careful deliberation, only to gush the primitive prejudices that pass for knowingness in the cultural mainstream." In a more thoughtful analysis, Digby argued the comedian "seems to think the Muslim religion is at fault for acts of terrorism committed in the name of Islam."

Completely irrationally, though, was the claim from Karen Armstrong that Maher is guilty of "the sort of talk that led to the concentration camps in Europe."  (The latter critique is breathtaking in its ignorance.) Students at Cal-Berkeley circulated a petition urging their university to rescind the invitation it extended to Maher to be a commencement speaker. (The university boldly declined and Maher did speak.)

But that didn't mean that the right would defend Maher, a usually-left, atheistic libertine. David Brooks, for instance, slammed "the jesters, the holy fools and people like Ann Coulter and Bill Maher at the kids' table."

One of the relatively few defenders of the comedian was a friend, filmmaker Michael Moore, who put Islamic extremism and Christian right terrorism in context as he explained

W]hen he bravely ridicules and attacks Christian assassins of abortion doctors who cite the Bible as justification for their evil acts, we heartily applaud him. But when he mercilessly stomps on Islamic assassins who cite the Koran, we grow uneasy, Sure, I can make a daily list of all the horrible things so-called Christians still do in this country. Rarely, though, do their actions involve decapitation. But if you’re a Dutch filmmaker who makes a movie about violence against women in some Islamic countries, or if you’re a Danish cartoonist who draws an image making fun of the Prophet — well, you are then either shot to death or you are now in hiding.

Moore thus highlighted the instinct to defend violence as long as it's committed by the good guys rather than the bad guys.  And Moore thus recognized what Maher understands, as the latter demonstrated (video below) on Friday when he maintained

'Hurt Locker' made 17 million because it was a little ambiguous and thoughtful.  American Sniper'] is just 'American hero! He's a psychopath patriot, and we love him'....

Eisenhower once said I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can. I just don't see this guy in the same league as Eisenhower. If you're a Christian, 'I hate the damn savages' doesn't seem like a Christian thing to say.

It's a little shaky for anyone to label as a "psychopath" someone he or she has not met. Still, Maher noted the real American sniper, Chris Kyle, asserted in his autobiography

  • (about the Iraqis) "I hate the damn savages and I've been fighting and I always will."
  • "I love killing bad guys."
  • "Even with the pain, I loved what I was doing."
  • "Maybe war isn't really fun, but I certainly was enjoying it."

At first impression, there is a disconnect between the conservative notion of holding Islamic fanaticism responsible for worldwide terrorism and a liberal's refusal to hail a gleeful killer as a hero.

But there need not be.  Arguing (unfortunately) in favor of atheism recently, Maher emphasized the value of making decisions based on science and facts. It's a nasty habit he refuses to break.

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Saturday, January 24, 2015

Violent Crime And Incarceration

It was a State of the Union address which, like all State of the Union addresses, roamed from topic to topic, in this case including  job training, community college, paid maternity leave, health care (these and others presumably constituting "middle class economics"), Afghanistan, Iran, the new Cuba policy. (State of the Union messages are the only speeches that, were they not routine and ceremonial, invariably would be described as "rambling," not unlike some of the posts here.)

One of the other subjects, buried as these days it can be, was crime/punishment, about which the President maintained

We may have different takes on the events of Ferguson and New York. But surely we can understand a father who fears his son can't walk home without being harassed. Surely we can understand the wife who won't rest until the police officer she married walks through the front door at the end of his shift. Surely we can agree it's a good thing that for the first time in 40 years, the crime rate and the incarceration rate have come down together, and use that as a starting point for Democrats and Republicans, community leaders and law enforcement, to reform America's criminal justice system so that it protects and serves us all.

"We may have different takes on the events of Ferguson and New York." In mentioning Ferguson and New York, this was, first, a nod and a wink to the matter of race. Primarily, though, it was yet another effort at downplaying an issue Obama has spent his entire presidency trying to avoid, both so that attention might be focused on concrete proposals and because of his never-ending, tiresome and thoroughly naive, focus on bipartisanship and comity.

A better politics is one where we appeal to each other's basic decency instead of our bases fears. It is the greatest irony of this presidency that a chief executive, stating "I want them to grow up in a country that shows the world what we still know to be true: that we are still more than a collection of red states and blue states; that we are the United States of America" (echoing his most important speech) has presided over a nation ever more ideologically and functionally split. Thank you, GOP.

The President's focus on coming together was reflected in his interest in a "starting point for Democrats and Republicans, community leaders and law enforcement, to reform America's criminal justice system."

Let's initially dispense with the disingenuousness of linking the incarceration rate with the crime rate. It is true, as Obama noted and as the graph (from the American Prospect) below comparing the USA violent crime and incarceration rate indicates, that "for the first time in 40 years, the crime rate and the incarceration rate have come down together."

As a response to the exploding crime rate (concomitant with the crack "epidemic") and resultant public fear in the 1980s and early 1990s, states had enacted "three strikes you're out" and other punitive policies, incarceration rates soared as the incidence of crime fell. The thrust of the statement "the crime rate and the incarceration rate have come down together" is true only of late or, as Obama put it, "for the first time in 40 years."

It is unlikely that harsh punishment was the primary factor in the reduction of crime beginning, roughly from Bill Clinton's inauguration (a delicious coincidence which, of course, Barack Obama ignored). However, contrary to this article's implication (rebuttal upcoming in this space), it probably played a role.  Undeniably, crime soared, government responded by locking up offenders, and crime came down.

The crime rate has continued to decline while many states have paused their lock 'em up philosophy the past few years, too short a period to rule out serendipity. So when the President notes "for the first time in 40 years, the crime rate and the incarceration rate have come down together," he is accurate. But if we consider the trend of only the past few years while ignoring the larger pattern, we will jump to the wrong conclusion and implement remedies likely to be seriously flawed.

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