V Is For Vengeance, Vacillation & Value Judgement

Up on Twitter, an ongoing set of reactions to Bin Laden’s death has begun to niggle at me–and, as always, fence-straddling is involved. There’s a too-sensitive-by-half crowd that’s focused almost exclusively on, well, post-mortem etiquette. You know who I’m talking about–the It-Had-To-Be-Done-But-Let’s-Not-Be-Jubilant-About-It camp. As if jubilation was the worst part of the equation.

Let’s be clear here: Bin Laden’s death is a near-perfect example of vengeance. Personally, I’m more than okay with this because it was Deeply Justified–but nevertheless, it remains vengeance, pure and simple. However, while the value-judgement crowd weirdly seems okay with the two professional shots into the left eye, the dancing in the streets afterwards is causing them all manner of knit-brow concern.

If we must have soul-searching about Bin Laden’s death, shouldn’t we move the discussion upstream to, you know, the assassination itself, rather than leaving it at what constitutes decorum afterwards?

Just as one can’t be kind-of-pregnant or pull the plug of a life-support unit half-way out of the electrical outlet, you either buy into the concept of vengeance or you don’t. You have to decide. You can’t be sort of in favor of justifiably killing someone. No matter what the Too-Sensitive Crowd wants to believe, Grim Vengeance is no way superior to Happy Vengeance: Once you decide to endorse taking a person’s life, adjectives simply don’t matter (except, of course, as retro-fitted, moral wiggle room).

But the hand-wringing crowd I keep stumbling over on Twitter are faux-nuanced; they don’t (or won’t) see this. While they fretfully twist their shirttails over any sort of celebration about Bin Laden’s well-deserved demise, not one has posited that he shouldn’t have been killed. And intriguingly, I’m sensing the absence of the queasiness that usually accompanies cognitive dissonance. Their argument, I’m Good With Killing Him But For God’s Sake No One Smile, doesn’t seem to be problematic.

You can be for justified vengeance or be appalled by it–I equally respect either stance. But this Post-Mortem Miss Manners thing is exactly the kind of cocktail-liberalism that gives Lefties a bad name. And worse, it allows for a Not-Me situational sanctimony after one of the darkest and dodgiest of moral buy-ins . . .

The Disengagement Of "Teaching Moments"

Most smart people tend to feel queasy when the conversation turns to things like ‘certain death’ and ‘total failure’ and the idea of a ‘doomed generation,’ But not me. I am comfortable with these themes . .  . Any conversation that can make smart people confront a mix of Death, Doom and Failure with a straight face is probably worth listening in on.
–Hunter S Thompson

Earlier today the talking heads on MSNBC’s Morning Joe signaled that the Tucson shootings had–right on schedule–entered the uniquely American next stage that always follows a national panic attack: They sagely looked at each other and agreed, god willing, the tragedy would become a Teaching Moment. And, as always, that pissed me off.

Because in America, Teaching Moments are encoded shrugs; the equivalent of a national “Our bad.” Teaching Moments are about broadcasting, not receiving. Think back: In wake of a gut-wrenching national experience, no one ever talks about a Learning Moment–and for good reason. Because then the onus would be on all of us to actually do something about the gut-wrench du jour. Learning Moments, not Teaching Moments, are what lead to Change Pivots–and none of the contributing parties to the Tucson shootings want to (or will) go there.

I’m pretty much an unreconstructed cynic–for me, the glass is almost always half-filled–and, both sadly and tellingly, I’m rarely disappointed. Gloomy topics? Ha! Like Thompson, I’m comfortable with these themes. So allow me to make a grim inventory of those aspects of the Tucson shootings that will definitely not be Learning Moments:

Right-wing, violent rhetoric: After a short, muted period, it will ramp up again. Even as I write this, the status of the right-wing attack machine is obviously Battle Stations. And when the blame-deflecting talking points are not being spewed, people are either revising history (that sound is Sarah Palin scrubbing her website) or in hiding (Palin and the NRA). Squint at the broadcast horizon with me–do you really see a Kinder, Gentler Limbaugh? A Sadder-But-Wiser Beck? Sign-less and gun-less Tea Party gatherings? Neither do I. Nothing learned; nothing changed.

Gun laws: Arizona has some of the loosest gun laws in the nation. Guns in bars. Guns at school. Expanded assault-clips at Walmart. While Federal law enforcement agents have standard-issue 12-bullet clips, psychotic college kids are allowed to pack three times the ammo before they need to reload. What are the bets that Arizona’s deeply fucked-up self-image as 21st century frontiersmen is going to change? Do you really think that Jan Brewer–who further loosened many of the gun laws–is going to reverse herself? Calculating, empty-pant-suit Jan Brewer? Do you have any hope that the NRA (currently in hiding from the media) is going to have a lobbying change of heart? Neither do I. Nothing learned; nothing changed.

GOP obstructionism: When the federal ban on assault weapons ran out in 2004, the Senate passed a bill extending it, but the Republican-held House–wait for-it–never voted on it. Fast-foward six years to a period of Republican obstructionism that makes 2004 look like Haight Asbury in the late ’60s. Are Republicans going to take away from the Tea Party even a single class of guns? Do you any hope at all this will happen? Neither do I. Nothing learned; nothing changed.

Safety nets for the mentally ill: Look deeply into Jan Brewer’s callous eyes–she’s letting sane people who need heart transplants die, so what are the odds that there will be funding for the improved care of the emotionally disturbed? Over the next months, when state budgets across the country are slashed–when there is significantly less funding for everything from education to infrastructure–do you hold out hope that improved care for the mentally ill will occur? Neither do I. Nothing learned; nothing changed.

None of these things will be Learning Moments, much less Change Pivots. And privately, all of us realize this–politicians, voters and media talking heads. Thus, publicly hoping that the Tucson shootings will be a Teaching Moment isn’t just ineffective, it’s knee-jerk, with all the disengaged, pantomime caring found in “Have A Good Day.” 

Characterizing the Tucson shootings as a Teaching Moment gives all of us permission not to do anything more about it. It’s a way to feel concerned in the moment but in no way bothered with follow-through. In 12 months time, will MSNBC bump an hour of Lock-Up Raw for a special on whether Arizona’s gun laws have tightened up in wake of the shootings? Or for a look at the changes, if any, in the care of the emotionally unstable? And–damningly–would we watch these things a year from now? Nothing learned; nothing changed . . .

The last time I gave in to a full-blown political rant can be found here: http://bit.ly/b6Omii

Elevator Pitch: Christine O’Donnell Ad Proposal

Hellooo, voters. Look at your candidate. Now back to me. Now back to your candidate. Now back to me.

Sadly, he isn’t me. And if he stopped being an elitist, socialist liberal with Yale values, he still wouldn’t be anything like me because I’m you. Look down. Back up.

Where are you? You’re on the campus of Oxford University. With the candidate your candidate could only hope to be. What’s in your hand? Back at me.

I have it. It’s tourist bureau photos of Claremont Graduate University and Princeton. Look again. The campus photos are now diplomas. Anything is possible when your candidate is like you, or at least slower and more desperate. I’m on a broomstick.

(Look down. Back at me. I’m Christine O’Donnell and I authorized this ad.)

The Real Third Rail Of American Politics

It never seems to fail–I go into snarky-commentary hiatus in Maine, and disturbing things transpire: this time around, one in five Americans believe that Obama is Muslim http://bit.ly/bcG5Qh , while 61 percent of Americans oppose a second mosque blocks away from Ground Zero http://bit.ly/boVevL http://bit.ly/9F3aNZ . And those pundits–both right and left–who aren’t attempting to spin these lies to their advantage have been trying to explain How/Why It All Happened http://bit.ly/d2NABT

But no one is grabbing the real third rail of American politics. The reason is, of course, that this truth is both inconvenient and electorally dangerous: pointing it out will take away one of the clubs being used to beat Republicans around the genitals and at the same time insult voters Democrats hope to attract in a few months. But inconvenience and danger don’t make this insight any less true . . .

Of course Republicans, NeoCons and Assorted Wingnuts are the sources of the misinformation about Obama’s religion and the fake outrage over the proposed mosque down the street from Ground Zero. (Did I mention it would be the second one within blocks of the World Trade Center site?) It’s absolutely them: they did it, case closed, book ’em Danno. 

But here’s the thing–I’m not particularly angry at them. This is simply what they do. Were I to stand in front of the tiger enclosure at the zoo and stick my hand between the bars, where, precisely, are my grounds for shock, surprise and anger as I’m being fitted for my new prosthesis? It was a tiger–and, given a chance, chewing off my hand is just what tigers do. This is how I feel about Republicans, NeoCons and Assorted Wingnuts–they are the quintessence of that old punch-line: “Lady, you knew I was a snake when you picked me up.” Put another way, you can’t blame a man for trying–even if that man is Hannibal Lecter . . .

Which brings us to the dangerous aspect–the third rail itself. All 10,000 crackling volts. The genuinely appalling aspect of this twin tempest of Obama’s “real” religion and the fake mosque outrage is not the lying, figurative priests or their respective devout, politically blinded congregations–it’s what it says about the American public-at-large. 

When one out of five citizens believes that Obama is a Muslim, what’s easier: (1) solemnly stating that survey respondents are saying it to obliquely register their displeasure with the Federal government and its policymaking or (2) taking a deep breath and suggesting that the American public-at-large is crazy-stupid/peasant-ignorant with almost non-existent intellectual curiosity and an inability/disinclination to use The Google for anything more than Lindsay Lohan news and porn?

This is not elitism–I’m not referring to the benefits of college or upper-graduate degrees. We’re talking native intelligence here, the kind that’s not about schooling and all about what was once known as common sense. Confession: when I’m standing in a grocery store line, I happily pick up a tabloid and read about how the Alien Bat Babies Found In A Satanic Nursery will quite possibly Fulfill The Prophesy In The Just-Discovered, Newly Expanded Book Of Revelation. As does the person in line behind me–who, quite often, is utterly unlike me in background and education. Sometimes this person is far more sophisticated than I’ll ever be, and at other times, he/she is rougher around the edges. But always–as in every fucking time–we both look up from our tabloids and smile knowingly at each other, shorthanding Who exactly believes this shit? The rocket scientist and I do this; the single mom from the trailer park and I do this. Calling out blatant bullshit cuts across education, status, class, religion and race. Calling out bullshit is the great leveler. Or rather, it used to be . . .

But now, seemingly not so much. With regard to politics, people are reading about Alien Bat Babies and rushing out of line to stock up on toilet paper, milk and eggs because, you know–oh-my-god, something nebulously awful that’s never sourced or questioned is happening! And when I see this occur, I sneer and mutter asshats under my breath. Because this isn’t about Republicans, NeoCons and Assorted Wingnuts–who, after all, are the equivalent of the writers and editors over at National Investigative News of The World: like the tabloid publishers, they’ve always been obvious sleaze-balls who can never be shamed. But the fools rushing up and down the paper products aisle? Well, they really, really should know better. Because they were once better and smarter and more discerning than this.

So until someone of significant pundit-y clout puts the responsibility for both the Obama-is-a-Muslim tempest and the faux outrage over the proposed mosque squarely on the shoulders of an uninformed mainstream America that’s behaving like addled meth-heads with ADD, I’m rapidly losing interest.  

Call me when the gong you want to beat is, say, the real one . . .

She Blind-Sided Me With Search Strings

I have a first-cup-of-coffee tradition that I try to observe every morning: The search for a delaying tactic to keep me from entering Writing Mode; something that prevents me from wading waist-deep back into The Book while my caffeine level is optimized. Today I decided it was of utmost importance that iGoogle, Popurls and Inquisitor for Safari match each other–as in each service being the same shade of gray. Before any further manuscript revisions were possible, it suddenly seemed somehow reasonable that a cross-service, monochromatic harmony had to be established. I figured this would buy me at least 30 minutes before I had to start channelling The Author–and I was right. (Since I’ve been writing the book, I’ve discovered in myself a hitherto unrealized-but-inspired talent for delaying tactics. Who knew? And so yes, matching my Google home page to both my news aggregator and expanded function search pop-up seemed whacked even to me–thrilling so, in fact; the sort of behavior that would cause friends to cross to the other side of the street on mere suspicion of the project.)

Anyway, after some geeky dicking about with the appearance preferences of Popurls, chromatic parity was established with Inquisitor. Which meant that I’d only need to find a complementary gray theme for Google and my sad little plan for temporary desktop domination would be realized.Mwah-ha-ha. Or something like that–whatever a procrastinating, bush-league Dr. Evil might say in similar circumstances. Thus I zipped up to the Google theme directories where I eventually settled on Chroma Pencil Lead as the gray that would make writing once again possible.

But that’s not what this post is about; it’s just writerly backstory. I already know I’m eccentric, so there’s no need to solicit your feedback concerning my various tics. Rather, I want to share what I stumbled across during my latest instance of Putting Off Writing: A Sarah Palin theme for Google, the major portal to the world’s assembled knowledge and opinion. Here, have a look:

(If I were you, I’d want more proof this isn’t some kind of joke, so please take a moment and visit the theme in virtual situ.)

My cat has become impressively adept at miming WTF? and in this case, I second that emotion. The massive cognitive dissonance of linking Palin (a) to knowledge of, well, any kind, and (b) to inherently divergent opinions is best conveyed by this simple thought experiment: Imagine Fred Flintstone and Dino as mascots for Cincinnati University’s School of Paleontology. Like Gloria Foster said in The Matrix, ‘it bakes your noodle . . .’

Full disclosure: I just took down my Obama lawn sign; I’d left it up for a full post-election week as a sort of motionless victory dance. However, my horror at the Palin Google theme has little to do with politics or partisanship. Palin, the the Far Right’s Mean-Girl Chauncey Gardner, has declared war on The Smart–here carefully defined not as the opposite of Dumb, but, rather, as the rejection of Willful Ignorance. (Or, in the manner of “Low Information,” that appalling, politically correct description of those who won’t pull themselves away from television reality shows, let’s simply say that Smart can seen as the state of being “Informed.”) And so it follows that Smartness transcends political party. Which explains why Christopher Hitchens, Colin Powell, Andrew Sullivan, Chris Buckley,et al fled in horror from Rick Davis’ Eliza Doolittle. She might as well have farted at a dinner party–which, come to think of it, she metaphorically did. Repeatedly and at all sorts of gatherings. This is also why, even though she’s been sent packing back to Alaska (interesting expression, that, in the context of the  $200,000 worth of costuming), the Smart continue to bang on her as if she were Chuck Barris’ gong. Which explains why I’m here in the front of the line, happily clutching my
mallet . . .

But back to the point: The Palin Google theme. After I spot-treated the stains on my shirt from the coffee that shot out of my nose when I first came upon it, I admit I was confused. Truth is, I still am. How exactly is one to understand this theme? Is it meant to be taken literally? Is the user of iGoogle supposed to acknowledge Palin’s oddly blank smile even as he or she searches for quantum mechanics or atheism or–ulp–evolution? Is a user of Google (which also delivers a constant stream of complex “mainstream media” news) really expected to accept that the Magic Eight Ball of politicians (Unclear, Ask Again Later–when I have new index cards) has somehow morphed into the Cassandra of Search (Here are the top two monographs on the Constitutional definition of the vice presidency)?

“Ironic” is my default setting, it’s nothing I can help. So I’m always thrown by its potential absence. However, the only way I can make sense of the Palin Google theme is to see it as a web designer’s ongoing joke. As what the first art director of Wired once called a “mind grenade.” But in this instance, the brilliance is that the conceptual grenade keeps exploding with each new search–be it smart or stupid. The coffee-out-the-nose thing happens whether I ask Sarah about the latest advances in astrophysics or speaking in tongues, albeit for different reasons. In other words, pretty much like my reactions to her answers during the
campaign . . .