[Warning: Over-long ruminations and significant True Detective spoilers below the fold]
Nic Pizzolato, the executive producer and writer of True Detective says in interview that the show owes a lot to weird fiction writers like Thomas Ligotti and Laird Barron. I’ve no doubt that’s true. However, the show’s organizing tensions aren’t those of Ligotti, Barron and their crowd; they more closely resemble those of another and much better writer of the supernatural; Robert Aickman.
Ligotti and Barron are Lovecraft’s children, or better still, weak and flickering shadows of their father. Ligotti’s fiction isn’t really interested in human beings – the characters in his stories are crude puppets in a show scripted to show the awesome cosmic futility of it all. After you’ve read two or three, the monotony starts to overwhelm. Barron is better and certainly more apt for Pizzolato’s purposes – his stories are often about the breakdown of tough-guy ideals of masculinity in the face of the unknown. Again however, they start to sound like each other very quickly; indistinguishable characters bound together by ligatures of cod-Nietzschian philosophizing, in which vast, pitiless universal forces explain themselves at length to the doomed protagonists, telling them precisely why they are so unimportant. The void turns out to be quite chatty; who’da thunk it?
Aickman, in contrast, is quite definitely interested in individuals. If he has a secret model, it’s Kafka’s Before the Law. Aickman’s characters differ in many of the ways that real people differ, but are similar in one. They are trapped in their lives in ways that they do not really understand. In the classic Aickman story, the supernatural irrupts into these lives to confront their authors with their actual circumstances, encoded in a metaphor. The revelation, such as it is, is oblique. Its message is for its recipient, and its recipient alone, but it cannot really be understood by her or him, only apprehended. Even so, it creates a dialogue between the individual and her situation, completing some circuit between them that provides no escape route, but instead a kind of bleak satisfaction. The reader only eavesdrops on this conversation, picking up hints as to what is really being said. These hints are enough.
This seems to me to be one useful way of reading the conclusion of True Detective (obviously, there are many possible readings). The finale is generic Southern Gothic, albeit high quality generic Southern Gothic. Fine old families gone to seed. Parricide. Old houses overwhelmed by accumulated layers of detritus. Ruined buildings overtaken by the greenery. The confrontation with the murderer, both the product of generations of in-breeding, and the incestuous progeny of a hundred Hollywood maniacs. Taken on its own, it’s a little disappointing.
But it shouldn’t be left on its own. It’s a distorted reflection of other mysteries that are never resolved. Jacob Mikanowski has a fine essay on the show in the LA Review of Books, which talks to how the show’s landscape and backdrop tell stories that the plot itself only indirectly alludes to. The petrochemical industry that is tearing up the Louisiana landscape. The mother of a dead daughter, whose nerves have been irretrievably damaged by chemicals in her workplace. The network of Christian schools, set up to work around the bussing rules which themselves reflect battles over race that are never directly alluded to.
These hidden structures are the real Invisibles, whose workings shape and constrain the lives of everyone depicted in the show. The power of the Tuttle family is a way of making hidden relationships graspable for a moment, reducing the vast inhuman systems of economy and power into a single point, an individual or small group of individuals whom we can hold accountable (or at least pretend to hold accountable).
There’s yet another world that is largely invisible to the main characters. Marty talks twice (if my memory is correct) about the Detective’s Curse – the detective’s inability to see the solution that is right under his nose. He also talks, in a rare moment of self-awareness, about how his greatest infidelity wasn’t his sexual unfaithfulness; it was his inattention to his family. Marty’s unforgivable weakness is that he can only see his family through the distorting lens of his own ongoing crisis of identity. He’s trapped by who he is into walking the same patterns again, and again, and again, and again, unaware of the ever-tighter spiral that he is enfolding himself within. He doesn’t think of his family as real people. When he meets his wife in the third arc of the show, for the first time in two years, it’s clear that he only has the vaguest sense of his daughters’ adult lives.
So too, Rust is trapped into being who he is, by the memory of the daughter whom he accidentally ran over. The world of True Detectives is a world of broken fathers. Carcosa – the realm where perpetual repetition is made visible – is one metaphor for their situation. Another is the Tuttle family, in which Marty’s violent paternalism and need to control the women and children in his life turn into murder and incest.
The final show, where Marty’s and Rust’s lives collide with their reflections in Carcosa, provide a kind of ambiguous catharsis. Under one interpretation, the resolution uncritically confirms the structural sexism of the show, in which women are bit players. While both men start to come to terms with their family histories, their most important relationship (as it has been throughout the show) is with each other. Underneath their verbal sparring, their love for each other defines their lives (Maggie recognizes this when she figures out that having sex with Rust would be the one truly unforgivable transgression she could commit). The show’s main characters start in a man-centric world, and will continue in it, indefinitely.
Another interpretation, which seems to me to be equally plausible, is that the catharsis of the closing episode is false, and deliberately so. The darkness continues. Marty’s inattention to his family has had profound costs. The show strongly suggests that one of Marty’s daughters has been the victim of sexual abuse, in ways that mirror the detective story, just as the detective story mirrors the story of Marty’s family. Marty doesn’t seem aware of this at all. If Marty and Rust conclude that the light as winning, it is only because they fail to see the darkness that surrounds them, and cannot see it, so long as they continue to live in a world of purely brotherly camaraderie, a war of light against dark where one responds to male violence only with more violence and leaves women’s business to the women. Even when you are confronted with your true situation, you cannot necessarily free yourself from it. The detective’s curse means that you do not escape from Carcosa. You only think that you do because you are willfully blind to the Carcosa that surrounds you, the labyrinth made of the circle that is invisible and everlasting.
Despite outrage over the recent cuts to the federal food stamp program, it’s becoming increasingly clear that these reductions in benefits are unlikely to materialize, at least to the degree most observers expected. And what’s more: we can safely assume that Republicans and Democrats knew this would be the case all along.
To recap, a month ago, the passage of the trillion dollar Farm Bill included an $8.7 billion cut to SNAP over ten years. These reductions would come from tinkering with a program, used in fifteen states and Washington DC, known as the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). It was designed to help individuals who require federal fuel assistance to heat their homes become automatically eligible for SNAP benefits, too. Hence the program’s nickname: Heat and Eat.
Conservatives argued that too many people were abusing the program, and that LIHEAP’s minimum fuel assistance requirement of $1 was too low for individuals who seek to also qualify for SNAP benefits. So, under the pretense of fraud reduction, Republicans pushed for the minimum fuel assistance threshold to rise from $1 to $20. The CBO estimated that this bump would cause 850,000 households to effectively lose an average of $90 per month in food stamps.
Liberals were justifiably angered by the news, and Republicans touted the move as a victory for responsible fiscal choices. But here’s the thing: low-income households are unlikely to see that level of loss in their benefits, and fiscal hawks aren’t going to see any savings.
Upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that Republicans and Democrats probably always knew this was going to happen. But since conveying those assumptions to their constituents might get in the way of their political spin, they kept quiet.
Even the math-haters out there can see that those are damn good deals.
It is no coincidence that the states receiving the bulk of additional LIHEAP funds are the same cold weather states that would be most affected by the Heat and Eat cuts. New York received an additional $50 million this year— a number that makes the $6 million Cuomo needs to maintain all SNAP benefits quite manageable indeed.
This was an unusually cold winter, which helped Chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) increase appropriated funds to LIHEAP. It was the first increase in low income home energy spending since 2009, according to a Senate press release.
Although it’s not unfounded to worry that these additional funds might be ephemeral, given Federal Reserve reports asserting that this year’s cold weather thwarted economic growth, political support for keeping fuel assistance programs intact in the future seems feasible.
Ultimately, of course, this is all good news. Recipients of SNAP benefits will likely continue to receive their food stamps, and states will not even have to tap into their stretched budgets to pay for it.
What’s frustrating is how both Republicans and Democrats, including President Obama, politicized this whole episode, making it downright difficult for even a discerning public to gauge how much they should worry. Republicans could feel confident that states would fill in the $19 fuel assistance gap in order to continue receiving SNAP benefits given that the incentives for such a deal are so overwhelmingly in favor of the states. If Republicans were serious about cutting food stamps, they would have gone another route. (Indeed a frustrated Wall Street Journal editorial board lambasted Republicans as “rubes” who were suckers to “cheat and eat.”) Republicans could still claim though, however spuriously, that they heroically “cut food stamps.”
Democrats, alternatively, were able to tout their handy narrative that while Republicans were “gutting” food stamps they had tried their very best to preserve all the benefits they possibly could. (Of course, some rightly called Democrats out on their pitiful lack of resolve in the negotiations process.) But rather than come out and explain to folks that these cuts are avoidable, and that they will likely be avoided, Democrats not only condemned Republicans, but also praised themselves for responsibly “addressing fraud and abuse” in Heat and Eat.
(Don’t expect to see Debbie Stabenow, chairwoman of the Agriculture Committee, condemn the Governors of the New York, Connecticut and Pennsylvania for fraud, now.)
“There is the question of how to respond practically to Putin’s aggression and there is the question of how to respond intellectually,” writes Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of The New Republic, in his most recent “Washington Diarist” column. “The latter is no less important than the former, because the Ukrainian crisis is not a transient event but a lasting circumstance with which we will be wrestling for a long time.”
Already I’m swaying gently in anticipation of this week’s rendering of the liturgy. Wieseltier, a celebrant of other people’s courage in Baghdad, Teheran, Hamza, Beijing, and Kiev, rocks himself regularly into supplications for strong American leadership, with rhythmic incantations that aren’t practical or even intellectual but are clearly self-pleasuring. Sometimes they even arouse readers like me:
“Having deceived the country into believing that almost everything may be accomplished, [Obama] is deceiving it into believing that almost nothing may be accomplished. He is not raising the country up, he is tutoring it in ruefulness and futility. In our foreign policy, we are abandoning the world to its chaos and its cruelty, and disqualifying ourselves from acting on behalf of the largest and the most liberating ideals.”
That was Wieseltier two weeks ago, admonishing the President to respond somehow to Xi Jinping’s vicious crackdown on brave Chinese dissenters such as Xu Zhiyong, who is now a political prisoner following a trial at which he was stopped from reading a statement of liberal-democratic aspirations as eloquent as any that might have come from Wieseltier himself.
But what would Wieseltier have Obama do? “We must mentally arm ourselves against a reality about which we only recently disarmed ourselves: the reality of protracted conflict,” he advises, this time apropos of Russia’s encroachment upon Ukraine. “The lack of preparedness at the White House was not merely a weakness of policy but also a weakness of worldview,” he explains. “The president is too often caught off guard by enmity, and by the nastiness of things. There really is no excuse for being surprised by evil.”
So we must get better at recognizing evil when we see it. Wieseltier anticipated and applauded the preparedness and strong worldview of George W. Bush who, although surprised on 9/11, was never again caught off guard by enmity or evil.
In fact, even as Ground Zero lay smoking only days after 9/11, Wieseltier joined 42 other armchair warriors in delivering prescient strategic and moral advice to Bush in a letter sent Sept. 20, 2001 on the letterhead of William Kristol’s neoconservative Project for the New American Century (PNAC): “[E]ven if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack, any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. Failure to undertake such an effort will constitute an early and perhaps decisive surrender in the war on international terrorism.”
That’s preparedness for you! As I noted several years ago in a longer assessment of Wieseltier’s literary and political modus, this formidable editor and closet neoconservative foreign-policy activist had even prepared himself for preparedness by joining the advisory board of The Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, a spawn of Kristol’s PNAC and the American Enterprise Institute.
Like all neoconservative committees, this one passed into history after the glorious liberation of Iraq. But Wieseltier has continued to redeploy his foreign-policy prescience, cautioning Obama now against “projecting one’s good intentions, one’s commitment to reason, one’s optimism about history, upon other individuals and other societies and other countries: narcissism is the enemy of empiricism, and we must perceive differences and threats empirically, lucidly, not with disbelief but with resolve.”
In other words, Obama must resolve to re-set us and re-arm us against harsh realities from which he only recently disarmed us. Perhaps he should emulate Bush, who perceived the threats in Iraq as empirically and lucidly as Wieseltier urged him to do.
But didn’t Bush also project a little too much optimism about history into that venture and into a meeting with Vladimir Putin, after which he announced, “I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy .I was able to get a sense of his soul.”?
I can’t find any evidence of Wieseltier rebuking such Bushian narcissism, but I do find him writing that Obama should have seen danger in Putin’s comment that “Our opinions do not coincide” after their meeting last year. “The sentence reverberates and is now a fact of enormous geopolitical significance,” Wieseltier advises. He notes that Angela Merkel found Putin to be living “in another world,” and he responds, “But the world is composed of all the worlds, and reality of all the realities. Our minds must make room for them all, not least for purposes of resistance.”
Resistance! Yes, for “The economic notion of rationality should sometimes yield to the anthropological notion of rationality,” and “Putin is acting on the basis of a belief system” borne of “traditions of Great Russian nationalism, and of the civilizational difference between Russia and the West: those are Putin’s Slavophile reasons, along with the ‘logic’ of power that all tyrants enact.” Not only that: “The wild homophobia of Putin’s regime is his shorthand for his civilizational war. He gives masculinity a bad name.”
Apparently George Bush gave masculinity a good name, and Wieseltier is leaving no button un-pressed in his effort to teach the feckless Obama to become a strong Decider:
“Rather like Jimmy Carter in the wake of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, it is time for Barack Obama to consider revisions and corrections—a reset—of some of his assumptions about history and human behavior, insofar as any assumptions can be clearly imputed to him after these years of lurching from idealism to realism and back.”
Never mind how our support for the Afghan mujahideen against Russia’s occupation came back to bite us. When Cold War assumptions that the world is harsh, dark, and often evil reigned in the Reagan and Bush White Houses, Wieseltier sat tall in his columnist’s chair. And now he insists that Russia’s intimidation and likely invasion of Ukraine revive similar Cold War assumptions.
I can think of a few reasons why it hasn’t - we’re not fighting world Communism anymore, for one. Wieseltier acknowledges that “[a]ll historical analogies are imprecise,” but he frets that the historical analogy “that most rattles Obama is with the cold war. ‘Our approach ’ [Obama] said last month, ‘is not to see this as some cold war chessboard in which we’re in competition with Russia.’
To which Wieseltier retorts, “I leave aside the glory of the cold war, the courage and the justice of the struggle against the Soviet Union. I note only that the borderlands of Russia, and some places beyond, are looking increasingly like black squares and white squares to me.”
But no matter what liturgy or game Wieseltier is humming or playing while rocking in his chair, the true glory, courage, and justice of struggle against the Soviet Union was nowhere nearly as evident in the United States of my youth as it was in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Poland. Far more evident here were the dynamism of the military-industrial complex and of McCarthyite hysteria, to which even presidents kowtowed with gratuitous folly, installing the Shah of Iran, invading the Bay of Pigs, waging the Vietnam War, propping up the Argentine junta, and, under Reagan, allowing the Iran-Contra scandal to fund counterinsurgencies in Central America.
All this to try brutally — and at irreversible costs in lives, wealth, and public trust, — what economic sanctions and market forces themselves have done far more effectively. Noticing the other day that the label inside a T-shirt reads “Made in Vietnam,” I wondered again what 50,000 American deaths and countless Vietnamese deaths had accomplished if, despite our losing the war, Vietnam has been absorbed into le doux commerce — a problem in itself, if you ask me, but that’s another story for another time.
Outside the Union League Club on Park Avenue in Manhattan two summers ago I saw 40 or 50 otherwise-fit young men who lacked only legs or arms wheeling or peddling themselves around on a tour of New York City arranged for them by the Veterans Administration and philanthropists. They’re not Vietnam War veterans but children of the Project for the New American Century and the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. So, too, are rising numbers of military suicides and veterans whose disorientation I read about most recently in New York Times war correspondent Dexter Filkins’ review of a book by one of them, Phil Klay.
It must be easier not to think about this if, like Wieseltier, you’re living “in another world,” Putin’s world, that of Munich in 1938 or of the Cold War in, say, 1957. “The past is not dead, it is merely forgotten,” warns Wieseltier, a child of Holocaust survivors, “and this forgetfulness poorly equips us to confront challenges that have been experienced before, and not too long ago. The Russian outrage in Ukraine is a state-of-the-art twentieth-century crisis.”
Yet not too long ago, in the 1980s, Wieseltier cautioned, practically and thoughtfully, against remembering too much:
“The memory of oppression is a pillar and strut of the identity of every people oppressed…. [It] imparts an isolating sense of apartness…. Don’t be fooled, it teaches, there is only repetition…. In the memory of oppression, oppression outlives itself. The scar does the work of the wound. That is the real tragedy: that injustice retains the power to distort long after it has ceased to be real. …. This is the unfairly difficult dilemma of the newly emancipated…: an honorable life is not possible if they remember too little and an honorable life is not possible if they remember too much.”
You might hope that Wieseltier would return to this truth now. Instead, his columns seem driven by an almost-incapacitating pain that, remembering too much, keeps him ever on guard against eruptions of other people’s suppressed or misdirected pain and against still others’ (such as Obama’s) efforts to forestall, deflect, or relieve such eruptions.
“History is playing another trick on [Obama], he warns. “It is testing, and hopefully thwarting, his centripetal inclinations. He may yet have to lead an alliance, I mean strongly. He may yet have to talk about freedom, I mean ringingly.” The Coalition of the Willing, perhaps, followed by a “Mission Accomplished” speech on an aircraft carrier at sea.
There are indeed times when liberals must fight to defend liberalism, to defeat enemies who’ve arisen, as did fascism and much of Communism, from within the interstices and contradictions of liberal capitalism itself. But Wieseltier lives for those times. Somewhat like Robert Kagan, who exulted, “The world has become normal again” in 2007 when the neoliberal global village started to resemble a painting by Hieronymus Bosch, Wieseltier finds his most reliable coordinates in imagining American face-offs with Iraq, with Iran, with Syria, with Russia — anything to dispel the specters of Munich, 1938 and Yalta, 1945.
Fortunately, not much is at stake in Wieseltier’s contributions to the House of Columns that passes for commentary in Washington. Singing of scars still doing the work of wounds, he might as well be intoning an epitaph for himself:
I am so wise,
That my wisdom makes me weary.
It’s all I can do
To share my wisdom with you.
LGBT rights activist Kevin Jennings sounds the alarm about the persecution of gay people in Russia, Uganda and Gambia:
even as the momentum in the U.S. seems to be accelerating in the right direction, a disturbing countertrend has emerged in other countries, where justice for LGBT people is being dismissed as a “Western” assault on “traditional values” and alarming new laws are literally threatening the very lives of LGBT people and their allies.
What Kevin is describing is more prevalent than many people realize. Here is Nobel Peace Prize winner Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, repeatedly telling a persistent Guardian reporter that consensual homosexual behavior will remain a crime in Liberia.
After seeing this interview, which includes former British PM Tony Blair being unwilling to take Sirleaf on, Guardian subscribers all over West London were probably stamping their Birkenstocked feet and thinking that the post-imperial multipolar world wasn’t supposed to be like this. Similarly, a non-negligible number of Americans believe that the US is a unusually repressive country that just needs to get out of a way in order for tolerance and human rights to flower around the globe.
But Americans don’t have to travel much outside of the developed world to realize that their homeland respects individual rights to an extraordinary degree. If you want to openly love someone of the same sex, or make a speech critical of the government, or start your own newspaper, or access birth control, or hold a political rally, to cite only a few examples, the US is one of the very best countries in which to live.
China is not going to push for freedom of the press around the world. Russia is not going to pressure countries to expand gay rights. India is not going to demand that other countries combat sexual violence against women. Americans who think that retreating from the international scene will somehow facilitate an expansion of individual rights suffer from ignorance of other cultures and a lack of gratitude for the freedoms they themselves enjoy. Kevin’s words should be weighed by any American planning to sit out the fight for human rights around the world:
Baby Boomer children often asked their parents, “What did you do during the War?” Similarly, future generations will look back on this time of international crisis and ask us, “What did you do?” We either must act, or be remembered in shame for doing nothing.
Because my grandfather was a professor at the University of Iowa, my father grew up in Iowa, although I don’t think Iowa City is very representative of the state as a whole. In some respects, it’s probably a lot like Athens, Georgia, where my father’s brother was a professor for several decades. Iowa City is a liberal bastion in the midst of a much more conservative environment.
In any case, my connection to Iowa is slight, but I’ve always paid a little extra attention to the state. Politically, it’s unique. Traditionally, it’s been…I don’t want to say pacifistic… somewhat isolationist and opposed to military adventures. For the last thirty years, it has sent both the quite conservative Chuck Grassley and the quite liberal Tom Harkin to the Senate, usually with comfortable margins.
There aren’t a lot of states left that split their senators, and those states generally don’t create safe seats. I never sensed that Sen. Harkin was moving to the middle in an election year, and Sen. Grassley has been moving ever-further to the right even as his state has delivered it’s electoral votes to the Democrats in every election (excepting 2004) since 1984.
Despite the state’s persistent preference for Democratic presidential candidates, it is a considered a battleground (or purple) state, and it seems to have a slight preference for Republican governors despite the fact that the Democrats held the office from 1999 to 2011.
What distinguishes Iowa is that, even though it is closely-divided politically, the bases of both parties seem to be, respectively, more conservative and more liberal than average. This matters because the state holds the first-in-the-nation caucuses in every presidential cycle. Candidates who are more moderate or who want to cast themselves as a moderate alternative, are disadvantaged by having to compete in their first contest in a state that rewards the strongest partisan rhetoric. This seems to be more of a problem for the Republicans than the Democrats, but Hillary Clinton’s third-place finish in the 2008 caucuses probably doomed her campaign. Had she not recovered, unexpectedly, in New Hampshire, she wouldn’t have had any campaign at all.
Winning the first contest is obviously a great advantage, although history shows us that it is hardly decisive. For example, Poppy Bush came in third place, behind Bob Dole and Pat Robertson, in the 1988 caucuses, and Mike Huckabee won the 2008 caucuses. In 2012, Rick Santorum won them, but his advantage was lost because it was initially reported as a win for Mitt Romney. On the other hand, the Democratic winner of the caucuses has gone on to be the nominee in every cycle since 1992, when home-state Tom Harkin won them.
For the Republicans, their Iowa base is composed of strong social conservatives, which is why candidates like Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, and Pat Robertson over-perform there, and it’s also why GOP strategists don’t like Iowa having the degree of influence it enjoys in picking their nominee.
The caucus winners, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in 2008 and ex-Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum in 2012, were favorites of Christian conservatives but came nowhere close to capturing their party’s nomination. More embarrassing, problems with the 2012 count resulted in the wrong candidate, Mitt Romney, initially being declared the GOP winner. (The tally was fixed about two weeks later.)
In response, establishment Republicans, including the governor, have called for scrapping the summer straw poll — a lucrative franchise for the state party, as candidates pay handsomely to compete — and have moved to assert greater control over the party-run caucuses. (The winner of the 2011 poll was Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, who finished sixth in the real Iowa balloting and quit the presidential race the next day.)
“I want to preserve the Iowa caucuses,” Gov. Terry Branstad said bluntly in an interview in his ceremonial office, surrounded by portraits and busts of his predecessors — even if that means ending the straw poll and fighting the leadership of the state Republican Party.
Part of the Republicans’ problem is related to how delegates are actually selected, because even though Santorum won the 2012 caucuses and Romney came in a close second, most of the delegates at the Republican National Convention actually cast their ballots for Ron Paul. In other words, Ron Paul actually won the Iowa caucuses. Yet, even if the Republicans fix that problem, they still have to worry that their candidates will pull each other so far to the right in their efforts to win the Iowa straw poll and the caucuses, that they won’t be viable in the general election. State officials don’t want to lose out on being first in the nation, but they are willing to scrap the straw poll in an effort to limit the damage.
This is a state-level example of the Republican Party’s national problem. Their base is too crazy, and pandering to them is breaking Washington DC and rendering the party as a permanent opposition party. They are heavily overrepresented in Congress because Democrats tend to be urban or suburban, and are tightly packed into fewer districts, and because the Senate awards the same number of seats to Wyoming as it does to California. But, on a national level, they haven’t had a really strong election since 1988 (a year in which Michael Dukakis took 55% of the Iowa vote).
The Republican Party probably needs to win Iowa in order to win back the presidency, but the greater problem is that their candidates need to appeal to Iowa’s conservative base.
If Bernie Sanders runs for president as a Democrat, he could have a similarly energizing effect for the left that another Vermonter had in 2003 and 2004. Of course, Howard Dean was a moderate Democrat and a WASP, not a 75 year-old socialist Jew with a Brooklyn accent. If the election of Barack Obama made a quarter of this country lose their damn minds, I imagine that nearly half would have a heart attack and bury their valuables if Bernie Sanders became our leader.
But that doesn’t really matter, because Sanders would never win the nomination, let alone the presidency. And I don’t think winning would really be the point of his campaign anyway, which can be liberating but also limits how much effort people are willing to put into the project. I know that I wouldn’t drop anything to help Sanders’ campaign, but I’d vote for him in a second.
Ideally, someone a little younger, whose personal biography doesn’t give half the country the urge to burn a cross and check their fluoridation levels, would emerge to offer a more viable alternative to Hillary Clinton. Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio could be that guy. Maybe Sen. Tom Udall could take on that role.
A stronger challenge to Clinton would probably be helpful to her because two strong campaigns can register more voters than one. And because working for the nomination helps a candidate work out the kinks, make bad news “old news,” and hone their debating skills.
I read that Bernie Sanders visited Alabama not too long ago. I’d enjoy seeing a lot more of that. I think he’s a very persuasive person. But I don’t think a whole lot will come of this talk of him running for president, whether as a Democrat or as an independent.
After finishing Fawlty Towers, John Cleese set to making a string of feature-length comedies, each with varying degrees of success. This week’s movie recommendation is the finest of those efforts, for which he earned an Academy Award for his screenplay co-written with Charles Crichton: A Fish Called Wanda (1988).
A gang of four criminals pulls off a near-perfect diamond heist. Only one witness and hefty doses of internecine mistrust survive the crime. Unfortunately, neither of these problems is as easily surmountable as the gang members had planned. On one hand, Michael Palin plays Ken, the animal loving getaway driver with an inveterate stutter who is tasked with eliminating that pesky witness. However, each of his attempts to silence the lady is stymied by her protective entourage of pet dogs that he desperately wants to leave unharmed. On the other hand, the mistrust between the other three members of the gang is even less tractable: Kevin Kline plays Otto, the trigger-happy American with a loud mouth, an insecurity about his intelligence, and an unshakeable contempt for Englishmen; Jamie Lee Curtis plays Wanda, the nubile and manipulative con artist; and Tom Georgeson plays the gang’s leader George. After the heist, Otto and Wanda double-cross George and land him in jail to maximize their share of the loot. However, the double-cross doesn’t work out to plan, as George has executed a double-cross of his own, by hiding the stash before he’s nicked.
Wanda therefore befriends George’s barrister Archie (played by John Cleese), in an effort to discover whatever information George has chosen to divulge about the diamonds’ possible whereabouts to his counsel. As the rest of the film plays out, Archie develops a forbidden and exciting connection to Wanda that provides a welcome reprieve from the stuffy and restrictive upper-middle class English lifestyle to which he’s become inured.
As far as heist films go, the premise of this one is fairly straightforward. Criminals steal diamonds, but can’t trust one another enough to make off with the winnings. However, the joke of the film isn’t really about the heist as much as it is about what happens when English propriety (read: pomposity) meets American forthrightness (read: obnoxiousness). The heist is nothing more than a vehicle to propel Cleese’s comedy of manners forward.
The screenplay drags a little in parts (the storyline in which Ken tries to dispatch the surviving witness gets old fairly quickly), but the dialogue overall is tight. When coupled with some magnificent performances, especially by the three main cast members Cleese, Curtis, and an Oscar-winning Kline, the jokes land exquisitely. Cleese and Kline in particular are both equally well-suited to verbal as well as physical comedy, so they handle farcical scenes (trying to make sure Otto isn’t seen by Archie’s wife by hiding behind furniture, à la Noises Off) as adroitly as they do witty repartee. In one of my favorite interchanges, Otto is fed up with Archie’s patronizing tone, and when Archie impugns Otto by saying that “You really are an utter vulgarian, aren’t you?” Otto’s response is just perfect: “You are the vulgarian, you fuck!”
The script deftly hops from one low-brow joke to another, but the experience doesn’t feel as though it’s descended into a wearisome sequence of toilet humor gags - this remains one of Cleese’s gifts - instead, the prevailing sentiment is that low-brow humor is itself bearing the brunt of the joke. The worst parts of English and American mannerisms are on show, and yet no-one watching the film ends the experience feeling too severely chastened by the experience. It’s light hearted fun.
I am sure Mr. Keller and all the other journalistic critics of Obama’s drug treatment record have heard of The Affordable Care Act. Why don’t they know that it expands access to care for over 60 million Americans by mandating that drug treatment coverage be included in every plan and be at parity with that for other disorders? How can they further not know that the Obama Administration’s regulations for the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act provide benefit parity to more than 100 million Americans with employer-provided health insurance? More generally, how can they not know that independent analysts at CMS consider the current public policy environment the most dramatic improvement in the quantity and quality of addiction treatment in U.S. history?
I submit that Keller and his fellow critics would never confidently make such data-free assertions about cardiology, oncology or indeed any other area of the health care system. But drug treatment, like drug addiction, is a target of great stigma and ignorance. So why bother to take it seriously enough to check your facts like you would with health care for any other group of patients?
I take Keller at his word that he doesn’t want drug treatment to be a third-class part of our health care system. That’s why I feel comfortable asking him to please start taking it seriously himself. Rather than use his platform to make assertions that are demonstrably inaccurate, I hope he will in the future engage in the due diligence any other area of health care would receive from a serious journalist.
Yesterday, noted cineaste Rush Limbaugh offered some ex post facto commentary on the selection of 12 Years a Slave as Best Picture. “There’s no way that movie was not going to win!’’ said Limbaugh. “If it was the only thing that movie won, it was going to win Best Picture. There was no way — it didn’t matter if it’s good or bad; I haven’t seen it — it had the magic word in the title: Slave.”
For the record,here are just some of the movies for which the word slave worked no spell:
Slave (2003), Slave (2009), Slave (2012), I, A Slave, The Slave (1953), The Slave (1962), Slaves (1989), Slaves of New York, Slaves of the Realm, Slaves of Rome, Slaves of Crime, Slaves of Babylon, Slave of Desire, Slaves of the Saints, Slaves to the Underground, Slaves in Bondage, Slaves of Hollywood, Slave of Love, Aido: Slave of Love, Love Slaves of the Amazon;
White Slave, The White Slave, White Slaves, Slave Ship, White Slave Ship, White Slave Traffic, White Slaves of Chinatown, Three Dancing Slaves, Runaway Slave;
Boy Slaves, Slave Girl, Tarzan and the Slave Girl, The Pirate and the Slave Girl, The Warrior and the Slave Girl, Captain Kidd and the Slave Girl, Slave Girls from Beyond Infinity, Goliath and the Rebel Slave, Slave Hunter, Slave Warrior, Slave Piercing, Iron Slaves;
Slave Wife, Slave Queen, Samson and the Slave Queen, Slave Queen of Babylon, Theodora Slave Empress, Prince Among Slaves, Blood Slaves of the Vampire Wolf, Mistress Absolute and a Slave Called Lewis, and Angola 3: Black Panthers and the Last Slave Plantation.
Conor Friedersdorf makes some remarkably wrong-headed claims in a post on gay marriage in the Atlantic.
In America, there is plenty of homophobia, plenty of anti-gay bigotry, and plenty of people whose antagonism to gays and lesbians is rooted in hatred. Sometimes the language of religious liberty is used to justify behavior that is anything but Christ-like. But the Slate article is implicitly trafficking in its own sort of prejudice. The working assumption is that homophobia, anti-gay bigotry, and hatred are obviously what’s motivating anyone who declines to provide a service for a gay wedding. … . In [Christian] circles, there are plenty of ugly attitudes toward gays and lesbians, as well as lots of people who think gay and lesbian sex and marriage is sinful, but bear no ill will toward gays and lesbians themselves.
Friedersdorf has a limited point, to the extent that the Slate article that he’s criticizing suggests that refusal to provide services to gay marriages is rooted in personalized hatred. It’s entirely possible that the people in question justify their refusal on some version of ‘love the sinner, hate the sin.’ But Friedersdorf’s suggestion that this is not itself a kind of bigotry seems to me to be very obviously wrong.
Bigotry derived from religious principles is still bigotry. Whether the people who implemented Bob Jones University’s notorious ban on inter-racial dating considered themselves to be actively biased against black people, or simply enforcing what they understood to be Biblical rules against miscegenation is an interesting theoretical question. You can perhaps make a good argument that bigotry-rooted-in-direct-bias is more obnoxious than bigotry-rooted-in-adherence-to-perceived-religious-and-social-mandates. Maybe the people enforcing the rules sincerely believed that they loved black people. It’s perfectly possible that some of their best friends were black. But it seems pretty hard to make a good case that the latter form of discrimination is not a form of bigotry. And if Friedersdorf wants to defend his sincerely-religiously-against-gay-marriage people as not being bigots, he has to defend the sincerely-religiously-against-racial-miscegenation people too. They fit exactly into Friedersdorf’s proposed intellectual category.
This isn’t just abstract word games. Irish readers will likely be familiar with the controversy over the last few months over comments made on a talk show by Panti Bliss, an Irish drag performer about various opponents to gay marriage in Ireland, including columnist John Waters (perhaps best known as the straggly haired father of Sinead O’Connor’s love child), right wing commentator Breda O’Brien, and Catholic ‘research’ and ginger-group the Iona Institute. I don’t know the exact wording of those comments, since the media have declined to reprint them, likely on the advice of their learned friends, but they clearly involved some active suggestion that these individuals were homophobic. The individuals so described reacted with outrage, professing in at least one case their lack of bias against gay people, and claiming that the objection was to save the institution of marriage, and to protect the rights of children. They also won a substantial financial settlement against Ireland’s state broadcaster for airing these comments.
Panti Bliss’s immediate response in a after-performance oration at the Abbey Theater is below, has been viewed on YouTube half a million times, and is altogether awesome. It’s particularly well worth forwarding to any American-Irish relatives you might have intent on marching in the New York St. Patrick’s Day parade, and unaware of how things are changing in the home country.
But his follow up radio interview is also well worth listening to, as a specific response to the question of what is, or is not homophobic. His argument (starting around 17:00 or so) can be summarized thus. Ireland; especially rural Catholic Ireland, is still drenched in cultural homophobia, so that ordinary people who individually like the gay people around them, are often homophobic, and oppose gay marriage for homophobic reasons. This doesn’t mean that those people aren’t very likely nice, pleasant people in a multitude of ways, who would happily sit down with their gay friends and neighbors. But they are homophobic, and when they act on their homophobia in the public space so as to try to limit the rights of gay people, it is perfectly fair game to call them out on it. Saying that someone is homophobic is not necessarily to imply that they individually hate and fear gay people. It is to imply that they are prejudiced (whether because of principle, culture, or active detestation) against gay people in ways that lead them passively or actively to oppose gay people participating fully, with full rights, in public and private life.
Even in contexts where expensive lawsuits are unlikely, such as the US, Friedersdorf’s claims have very problematic implications. As the hed paragraph of his post describes his argument, “Some opposition to same-sex marriage is rooted in bigotry and some isn’t. Assuming otherwise is itself prejudice rooted in ignorance.” These may or may not be Friedersdorf’s own words, but they do accurately describe what Friedersdorf claims. And the implication is straightforward. If Friedersdorf is right, people should not disapprove of opponents to gay marriage whose opposition stems from sincere religious beliefs. They shouldn’t push back against these views as in any way socially illegitimate. Instead, they should push back against the themselves-prejudiced and bigoted people who claim that religious opposition to gay marriage is a kind of bigotry. This seems so wrong headed to me that I don’t even know where to start.
A frenzy of hospital mergers could leave the typical American family spending 50 percent of its income on health care within ten years—and blaming the Democrats. The solution requires banning price discrimination by monopolistic hospitals. By Phillip Longman and Paul S. Hewitt
The tumultuous decade that followed the Civil War failed to enshrine black voting and civil rights, and instead paved the way for more than a century of entrenched racial injustice. By Nicholas LemannJanuary/ February 2013
As president of Colombia, Álvaro Uribe triumphed over a fierce narco-insurgency. Then the U.S. helped to export his strategy to Mexico and throughout Latin America. Here’s why it’s not working. By Elizabeth DickinsonJanuary/February 2012