Dumb Metaphor of the Day

Timothy Egan has a middling piece in the NY Times wherein he argues that Barack Obama is way more liberal than the country, and marvels that the country doesn't care more. My response to that claim is that the country has long been more liberal, at least on individual issues, than the media likes to claim it is, and that the liberal/conservative divide right now is overshadowed by the extraordinary times brought on in large part by the incompetent former President and his party. President Obama is thoughtful and competent, and so the public is giving him the benefit of the doubt for the time being.

But then Egan goes and says this:

The gap is there because the Republican Party has shrunk to a raisin of its former self, baking in the sun of the old Confederacy.
A raisin in the sun? Seriously? You're going to use one of the iconic metaphors of the African-American fight for civil rights, initiated by Langston Hughes and given even greater prominence by Lorraine Hansberry to describe the shrinking of the Republican party into a southern, regional party? Talk about appropriation.

It's also just lazy writing--drying up like a raisin in the sun is now, thanks to the popularity of Hughes' and Hansberry's work, clich├ęd. It's a tired comparison, and in a language as rich as English, it shouldn't be difficult to find something more apt or original. You get paid to write--earn your keep.

I want to see some people who constantly complain about activist judges crawl down Scalia's, Kennedy's, Roberts' and Alito's throats about this.

Kennedy acknowledged that the provision has been successful in rooting out discrimination in voting over the past 44 years. But times have changed, he said, questioning Congress' judgment in 2006 that it was needed for another 25 years.

"Democracy was a shambles," Kennedy said of the era when the law first was enacted. "That's not true anymore."

When Justice Department lawyer Neal Katyal pointed out that the high court has upheld previous extensions of the law, Justice Antonin Scalia dismissively replied, "A long time ago."

At another point, Chief Justice John Roberts asked, "At what point does that history ... stop justifying action with respect to some jurisdictions?"

Katyal did not specifically answer that question. But he said, "After 16,000 pages of testimony, 21 different hearings over months, Congress looked at the evidence and determined that their work was not done."
I bolded what I saw as the most egregious example of what I'm talking about here, but the whole story seems fraught with this problem, so far as I can tell. SCOTUS ought to be talking about whether Congress exceeded their power in passing the law, not questioning Congress' judgment in passing it. Their job is is to determine constitutionality, not override what they simply don't like, but this really feels like the latter here.

At least that's what conservatives complain about when they screech about "activist judges" interpreting the Constitution as a flexible document. That's what they complain about when subjects like the right to privacy or same-sex marriage come up for debate--"No legislating from the bench!" they scream. "Originalism!" they holler. Until it comes to a subject like this one, where race is at issue, and where laws that are in place and have been upheld for years are at question--then it's fine for Justices to question Congress's judgment in passing a law, according to them.

And just to be clear here, if that's really what the conservative justices are doing, if they're questioning Congress's judgment in passing the law as opposed to deciding whether or not the law passes Constitutional muster, then they're wrong for doing it. They are overstepping their bounds. When courts overturn either laws or precedent, they need to have more in hand than simply a disagreement with Congress--they need to have an argument that Congress has violated the Constitution. That's not what it sounds like is happening here.

I'll wait to see some originalist disagree with what the Court is doing here, but I'm not going to hold my breath for it.

Just a reminder

Interesting things are afoot at Helen Webster's Diary, if you're into reading the daily life of a woman from 1895. I think I discovered where I get my literary bent from, as well as my predilection for napping. And I don't know if it's just happenstance or if my mother knew, but I find it fascinating that Helen Webster taught at a school for the deaf and my mother learned American Sign Language and volunteered as a translator for the deaf at Jehovah's Witnesses conventions when I was a kid. There's a new entry posted every day.

About this Google deal

I'm going to start by saying that I love the idea behind Google's plan to scan libraries of books and make them available. I think that in the coming years, the way we view copyright is going to have to change because the current system is untenable in the digital age. That said, I'm glad the Justice Department is slowing this settlement down a little.

The settlement, announced in October, gives Google the right to display the books online and to profit from them by selling access to individual texts and selling subscriptions to its entire collection to libraries and other institutions. Revenue would be shared among Google, authors and publishers.

But critics say that Google alone would have a license that covers millions of so-called orphan books, whose authors cannot be found or whose rights holders are unknown. Some librarians fear that with no competition, Google will be free to raise prices for access to the collection.
If the critics are correct--and I don't know if they are or not--then this is a bad deal. If the settlement gives Google permission to display the books online and sell access to them (or sell ad space beside them) but also leaves the door open to other groups to do the same, then I'm all for it, current copyright holders be damned. It doesn't matter to me if there's no current competition for the service or if Google would have such a head start that other companies would decide it's not worth trying to catch up--the key for me has to be that other companies or consortiums could do it if they wish. My concern is solely with the exclusivity of Google's license here.

The kind of writing I do would benefit greatly from what Google is trying to do here, and I'm sure that's why I support it. Poetry doesn't generally get big press runs, and doesn't stay in catalogs all that long, and literary journals are almost always on the precipice, so my genre is likely to be orphaned more than others. Since it's not like I'm likely to make much money on my writing anyway, what's the downside for me if Google makes my work more accessible? None that I can see.

The worry, then, has to be over whether Google would be the exclusive license holder in these matters, and if they are, then I have to oppose the effort, much as I love me some Google. I don't blame Google for trying to freeze out its competition--the amount of return on a deal like this can't be all that great compared to Google's other efforts, so one way to ensure profitability is to be the only one in the game. But I don't trust anyone with exclusive rights to a property, even if I trust the company otherwise. Google will just have to trust that their lead and their skills will keep them ahead in the game.

But the game still ought to be played. I want my Google library.

Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) on Senator Arlen Specter's party switch earlier today.

“I would rather have 30 Republicans in the Senate who really believe in principles of limited government, free markets, free people, than to have 60 that don’t have a set of beliefs.”
30 Republicans in the Senate total who are all like you, Senator? I can handle that. Lets make that happen.

A Harvard Professor is so upset by the fact that Notre Dame University invited President Obama to give the commencement address that she's declining a medal of her own.

Ms. Glendon’s letter characterized the university’s decision to award an honorary degree to President Obama as disregarding a 2004 request by American bishops that Catholic institutions “not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles.” She expressed concern that Notre Dame’s decision could have the “unfortunate ripple effect” of inspiring other Catholic colleges to similarly choose to disregard the bishops’ guidelines.
The fundamental moral principle that Ms. Glendon is upset over is a woman's right to choose. But it's not like Glendon has an awful lot of room to talk when it comes to taking positions in opposition to the Church.
Ms. Glendon ... was one of 60 prominent American scholars who in 2002 signed a letter defending the nation’s “war on terror” as “not only morally permitted, but morally necessary.”
Would that be the same war on terror that extended itself to Iraq? How did the last Pope feel about that? Would that be the same war on terror that has involved the torture of detainees? I think the current Pope has some problems with that.

It seems to me that Notre Dame, whether it intended this or not, actually did a good job in balancing their commencement ceremony by acknowledging that the world is made up of people who aren't exactly consistent with the Church's position on things. President Obama believes that women have the right to choose their own medical care and that family planning is an important part of modern life, while Ms. Glendon feels that the "War on Terror" is justified. But while the President doesn't seem to have a problem sharing a stage with someone who disagrees with him, Ms. Glendon does--and he's not even the Catholic on the stage.

Oh, this explains so much

Conservative comedy is one of those really elusive things, like Bigfoot, or a Republican solution to a problem that doesn't involve a capital gains tax cut. I've suggested in the past that it's because so many conservative comics (or radio talk show hosts, who have many of the same skill sets) feel that comedy comes from pointing and laughing at the weak, as opposed to puncturing the gas bags of power like most liberal (and far more successful comics) do.

But I guess there's more to it than that.

This study investigated biased message processing of political satire in The Colbert Report and the influence of political ideology on perceptions of Stephen Colbert. Results indicate that political ideology influences biased processing of ambiguous political messages and source in late-night comedy. Using data from an experiment (N = 332), we found that individual-level political ideology significantly predicted perceptions of Colbert's political ideology. Additionally, there was no significant difference between the groups in thinking Colbert was funny, but conservatives were more likely to report that Colbert only pretends to be joking and genuinely meant what he said while liberals were more likely to report that Colbert used satire and was not serious when offering political statements. Conservatism also significantly predicted perceptions that Colbert disliked liberalism. Finally, a post hoc analysis revealed that perceptions of Colbert's political opinions fully mediated the relationship between political ideology and individual-level opinion.
Emphasis mine. So they just don't get satire? Is is just that they're so convinced that they're right that they can't understand that someone might be mocking their positions? That's funny. I wonder how Stephen Colbert would play a story like this one?

Almost precisely a year ago, I blogged about the Jesus license plate that the Florida Legislature was considering--stained glass window, cross and "I Believe" on the bottom of it. Well, I guess this is going to be a yearly occurrence because State Senators Ronda Storm and Gary Siplin have introduced a couple of offensive license plates this session. Storms is still after the "I Believe" plate, and Siplin, a Democrat from Orlando, wants this beauty.

As an open atheist, I'm starting to feel a little repressed by my state legislature, and not in a Dennis the Peasant "now we see the violence inherent in the system" kind of way either. Last year, when the I Believe" tag came up for debate, State Senator Bullard (who sponsored it then) said that he would oppose an "I Don't Believe" tag, and given that Senator Storms is pushing the "I Believe" tag (again) to benefit a group that seems to exist 1) to get a license plate and 2) to fund "faith-based programs" in public schools, I doubt that she'd be open to it either.

And I don't hold out much hope for Siplin either, given that he described the image as being of "my lord and savior Jesus Christ." The group he's sponsoring two plates for--the other one has a dinosaur on it--is The Toomey Foundation for the Natural Sciences, about which I can find very little online, but their index page sure seems like it's trying to perform a shotgun marriage on science and religion.

I look at these people, and I have to wonder just how much representation I have in my state legislature. And frankly, anyone who isn't a member of their particular faiths ought to be wondering as well. If you're Jewish, can you expect these Senators to treat your concerns with the same seriousness they do those of their own faith? What if you're Muslim? Or Wiccan? Hindu? Buddhist? Would you even exist to these people as anything other than an unrepentant heathen?

As I said in my post last year on this subject, if you want to decorate your car from headlights to tailpipe in religious stuff, go right ahead. If you want to turn your SUV into an animatronic re-enactment of the Passion, go for it. I'll probably even take pictures and blog about it. But keep it off the damn license plates. See--even if that "I Don't Believe" license plate existed, I wouldn't have one, because that's not the place to make a statement of that kind. My bumper, or my rear window, or even my hand gesture while I'm driving is the place for those types of statements, because that's personal space for personal expression. The license plate is a state document, and there shouldn't be any religious argument on it.

Yesterday at The Rumpus, Stephen Elliott gave us a rundown of the ongoing battle between SF Weekly's Matt Smith and Kink.com, a San Francisco fetish company which received a very modest amount of money for job training. Smith's article resulted in Kink.com being kicked out of the state program, and the San Francisco BDSM community felt his lead article for the Weekly was little more than a gloating anti-porn screed.

Because they felt this way, they did what most marginalized communities do in such a situation--they struck back with public action. They asked for a public apology, for the term "torture porn" not to be used in reference to their community, for the story to be removed and called for a boycott of SF Weekly's advertising until this happens, and the Weekly depends heavily on adult entertainment ads for income. What does Smith call this?


SF Weekly's current lead news column has apparently incited a mass protest movement among pornographers opposed to freedom of the press. Ironically, in light of recent national headlines, this anti-free-speech sensibility seems to coincide with a taste for depictions of CIA-style sexualized torture.
Let me explain something to you, Matt, since it seems you didn't get it in day one of Journalism School--freedom of the press is a term that only references government interference in the ability of the press to report. Prior restraint, that sort of thing. Having pissed-off members of a community boycott your paper because they feel you misrepresented them does not constitute an opposition to freedom of the press, and I suspect that if Thomas Jefferson heard your argument, he would mourn the educational system that produced such a profound misunderstanding of his notions of a free press.

Furthermore, your comparison of consensual acts in the BDSM community to "CIA-style sexualized torture" is incredibly offensive, and I'm not even a member of the scene. You're having the same problem that the defenders of the CIA torture program--people like Dick and Liz Cheney, Jay Bybee and John Yoo, as well as other former members of the Bush administration--are having in this debate, which is you're conflating the torture of captives who have absolutely no control over their situations with the willing acts of consenting adults. It's not quite as stupid a comparison as RedState blogger Lords86's comparison of being on the high school swim team to being waterboarded every day for three years, but it's getting there. The people who work for Kink are not being coerced, economically or otherwise, but when you call what they do "CIA-style sexualized torture," you remove their autonomy.

I don't blame the BDSM-community for getting in your grill for this article, but your response has been incredibly unprofessional. Instead of addressing their concerns, you decided to spout off in an antagonistic way, and instead of allowing the community to defend itself against these charges, you have acted dismissively. That's not responsible journalism.

In yet another case of the movie industry suing the fire truck builder after the house has burned to the ground, the MPAA sued RealNetworks to stop them from selling a program that rips DVDs to your hard drive.

SAN FRANCISCO - Hollywood calls it "rent, rip and return" and contends it's one of the biggest technological threats to the movie industry's annual $20 billion DVD market — software that allows you to copy a film without paying for it.

On Friday, industry lawyers urged a federal judge to bar RealNetworks Inc. from selling software that allows consumers to copy their DVDs to computer hard drives, arguing that the Seattle-based company's product is an illegal pirating tool.
First of all, shareware DVD ripping programs have been around a long time, so why anyone would pay for that ability is beyond me. But secondly, "rent, rip and return" isn't what's killing the DVD industry. 500 gig hard drives for under 150 bucks are killing it. DVRs are killing it. Digital on Demand is killing it. Evolution, in other words, is killing it.

DVDs take up space, they gather dust, they eventually get scratched up, and no one other than the hard core fans of a movie or tv show ever watches the commentary. About the only special feature I ever look at is the deleted scenes, and I mostly wind up shaking my head and saying "that was a good cut." And I do that rarely these days. In other words, DVDs are rarely worth the trouble to actually hold onto, especially since there are so many other ways to access digital media these days. Why hold onto a medium that takes up a huge amount of space compared to a hard drive, if all you want is the ability to watch the movie or tv show you've selected?

The movie industry decided years ago that what viewers wanted was higher resolution, in part to get their machines into homes so they could then resell their remastered catalogs. It's the music industry's model--lp's give way to cassettes give way to cd's give way to .mp3's; you wind up buying the same album four times (unless you rip that cd). But with movies there's been a little bit of a rebellion--people had options. Do you really need to buy the Blu-Ray version of The Transporter 3 when you can get it on-demand from your cable company in hi-def? Or maybe you'll just wait for it on Showtime and record it then--you can keep a fair number of movies on the DVR these days. Sure, you don't own them, but how many of your DVDs do you actually rewatch these days? How many of you have DVDs still in the shrink wrap in your collections, not because you want to keep it pure for collectors' purposes, but because you really were planning on watching LadyHawke when you bought it and then just never made the time?

Seriously, the DVD industry is going to die, and sooner rather than later, and it won't be RealNetworks software that does it in. It'll be the evolution of the way we access data that makes them obsolete.

How long do you think that headline writer has been waiting for a chance like this to pop up?

George Bartusek, who got freaky with two blow-up sex dolls in a grocery store parking lot, won't do jail time, a judge has ruled.

Bartusek was let off with six months probation for his open-air synthetic threesome in a Publix Parking Lot in Cape Coral in February.
He's apparently not welcome at Publix anymore either.

That you never respond seriously to a comic who is mocking you on television, because it will always end badly. If you're really good, you can play along with the joke and turn it around on the comic, but in most cases, it's a wise move to just leave it alone.

Rep. Bill Posey of Florida is not a wise man.

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
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"I thought they were married!"

Because if Shep Smith is this far beyond the talking points, there's no way Ailes lets him stay at Fox News, especially not in as prominent a spot as he takes up. If you're at work, you might want headphones for this, as Smith drops an f-bomb on the air.

Now we don't watch cable news, though we get CNN and Fox on our satellite dish--the latter is disappointing, since we kept the lower tier of channels in large part because we refused to pay for Fox as a premium, but whatever--so assuming Smith gets some time off for this or winds up at another network, it's unlikely we'll see much of him. But it's good to see Smith refusing to compromise on this subject.

I only have one quibble with what he said. Smith--and a number of other people who've talked about this in public--said "we do not fucking torture." Okay, not everyone drops an f-bomb in this situation, but they say pretty much the same thing, and that is, quite plainly, incorrect. We, as a nation, have tortured in the very recent past, and if this report is to be believed, there's still some abuses going on down at Guantanamo. We shouldn't, and it's pretty clear that that's what Smith means here, but we did, and hiding behind some idealized notion of what our nation is or stands for won't help us make sure that we won't do it again.

Not that everyone wants to do that. Dick Cheney still defends torture, as do many other Bush administration officials. There are think tank hacks and "national security experts" who argue we benefited from it and that the ends justified the means. And I have no doubt that many Americans, as long as they're divorced from the reality of what torture means, as long as it's an abstract notion, as long as they won't see the details, will support it too. Not all, not even a majority now, but many. There's a crazification factor of roughly 25% in any population, after all.

Only this time it's not weed that's gonna get you--it's "teh Gay Agenda!!!one11!eleven!!"

Try not to laugh at how pathetic this is.

What I'm Reading

Not really feeling the blogging today (which means I'll probably post four more times today, given how my moods switch lately) but there's a lot of good stuff out there, so if you're looking for recommendations...

The Rumpus has an interesting interview with food writer Michael Pollan on his writing and on the disconnect between economics and morality.

Ta-Nehisi Coates uses a piece on immigration to go off on how argument has deteriorated into outrage.

Ipanemic is driving from Miami to California on a scooter. You can follow his trip.

Alterdestiny's latest installment on Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine.

And Batoccio has everything you didn't want to know about torture.

How does this work again?

Michael Chertoff--who can rot in hell forever for his role in letting New Orleans and the rest of the Gulf Coast drown after Katrina--said something else really stupid yesterday.

Michael Chertoff, former homeland security secretary, told FOX News the release gives terrorists advanced notice of what to expect during interrogation.
Hmmm. President Obama has made it illegal for the CIA and anyone else to use the techniques that were used under the Bush administration, and which were detailed in that Red Cross report. Preparing for those techniques--assuming one could prepare for them in the first place--would therefore be a waste of time.

No, Chertoff is simply trying to deflect attention away from the potential liability he faces in this whole sordid affair. He wants to be able to travel abroad and knows that unless the Obama administration backs him and his fellow enablers, that might not be possible. He doesn't want to be sitting in the Hague one day, and there's currently no guarantee of that. So instead he tries to turn this into a discussion of national security, even though his argument makes absolutely no logical sense.

New Times Beer Fest

How can I put this? I'm glad we didn't pay for our tickets, VIP or not.

We stayed about 20 minutes, which was enough for us to recognize that there weren't enough microbrews and far too many places pouring Bud Light Lime (which may be the biggest crime against beer since Chelada). We spent the rest of the evening at the Poorhouse, spending less than we would have at the BeerFest and getting a wider range of beer for our trouble.

But it was not all a loss--we discovered The Eleven Brown Ale, which is all kinds of awesome.

Music matters

At least once a semester, I'll have a student from a poetry class ask about whether or not song lyrics are poetry set to music, and my answer is usually the same--it's not that simple, because the music has a lot to do with the emotional impact of the words. If I'm in a classroom with a computer and a projector, I'll usually pull up YouTube and show a couple of videos of odd cover songs to prove my point--Matt Weddle's acoustic version of "Hey Ya" is a good one, as is this kid's take on Soulja Boy's "Crank Dat." They seem to get it, once they're over the shock of the new version.

But music can be really effective in changing other contexts as well. Here's the latest I've come across--change the bouncy opening jingle to the tv show "Different Strokes" and you've got a very sinister show, real ABC After School Special material.

The guy who put this together says he filtered the video some to make it darker, but I don't think that was even necessary. The music makes all the difference.

Dear Crappy Teacher,

People like you make my life worse.

I'm one who believes it's never too late. Even with just a final looming, I'm more interested in the strength of my students at the end of the semester than at any other time. My classes are often pre-reqs, and if they can do a great job on the cumulative final - even if they blew it earlier on - than[sic] I'm prone to moving them along. Anything else is just unfair.
No. What's unfair is when teachers like you teach kids that they're able to pull it out at the last second, and then I get to not only be frustrated all semester by their lack of effort (and see them drag down the students who actually put forth some effort), but then I get to hear them whine when they fail my classes. I get to watch my email inbox fill up with requests for an improved grade (that they didn't earn) because they reallyreallyreally need to pass or it'll put them back in getting into their major classes.

I wish I knew who you really were, dear teacher, because I'd send you a bill for the booze I go through dealing with the crappy students you passed on to me, the little snowflakes whose already inflated sense of self-worth was pumped up to weather balloon proportions by your willingness to let them slide by at the end of a term. Thanks a whole freaking lot.

P.S. Great work on mixing up "then" and "than." My freshmen do that one all the time too.

Disapproval Kitty

"You drink too much."

What is with George Will?

If I were a little more cynical, I'd think that George Will just got his hands on a bunch of Levis Jeans stock and was hoping to pump the price per share in hopes of cleaning up, because that's about the only reason I can see for this joke of an opinion piece in today's Washington Post.

Denim is the clerical vestment for the priesthood of all believers in democracy's catechism of leveling -- thou shalt not dress better than society's most slovenly. To do so would be to commit the sin of lookism -- of believing that appearance matters. That heresy leads to denying the universal appropriateness of everything, and then to the elitist assertion that there is good and bad taste.

Denim is the carefully calculated costume of people eager to communicate indifference to appearances. But the appearances that people choose to present in public are cues from which we make inferences about their maturity and respect for those to whom they are presenting themselves.
If George Will thinks that wearing jeans is the epitome of slovenliness, then he'd probably faint at the sight of basketball jerseys, sweatpants, flipflops or homeless people.

I'll admit that I'm not the biggest fan of jeans--on me, that is. I've got one pair and they're reasonably comfortable, but they're rarely my first choice out of the closet--my khakis fill that bill. I'm a looser-fit kind of guy; room to move and all that. (Too much info? Sorry.) But I almost never stop to consider what other people will think of me if I'm out in public wearing jeans--I assume that they think of me what I think of them, which is to say nothing at all.

Of course, I try to avoid the sorts of places where the people who dress like George Will hang out, which is fine, because every time I try to dress like Fred Astaire, it comes off all wrong. Might have something to do with the fact that I'm at least twice as big around as Astaire was--I bulge out in some places. But when I dress like Grace Kelly? Fabulous.

Florida Teabagging

Our good blog buddy over at Blast Off! got to attend the teabagging in Tallahassee yesterday, and they had an open mic. Oh no.

Oh yes.

because otherwise, this decision by Spain's attorney general is a little disturbing.

Candido Conde-Pumpido said the case against the high-ranking U.S. officials — including former U.S. Attorney-General Alberto Gonzales — was without merit because the men were not present when the alleged torture took place.

"If one is dealing with a crime of mistreatment of prisoners of war, the complaint should go against those who physically carried it out," Conde-Pumpido said in a breakfast meeting with journalists. He said a trial of the men would have turned Spain's National Court "into a plaything" to be used for political ends.
That just doesn't make any sense, because it mean that the people who ordered the abuse could avoid prosecution simply by not being there while it happened. Now I expect that something is being lost because some of the people who were being looked at here weren't policy-makers, most notably Jay Bybee and John Yoo. Bybee and Yoo are loathsome individuals, and are ethically damaged by their participation in the writing of the torture memos, but they weren't in a position to order the torture of detainees, which means that to go after them might be a stretch. I'd like to see some prosecutors give it a try under the theory that by writing those memos, Bybee and Yoo conspired to torture detainees, but that's not an open-and-shut case by any means.

But to suggest that people who weren't present and actively partaking in the abuse can't be prosecuted seems to be an unnecessarily narrow view of this sort of case, and a break with precedent. After all, Spain's the country who prosecuted Pinochet, and there's no reason to believe that Pinochet was there for every crime he was accused of being a part of. So why is this different?

Why'd it have to be us?

Actually, that post title's a bit disingenuous--I'm glad Ken Silverstein used Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz as an example of how the military-industrial complex makes sure to keep unnecessary defense systems on the books, because it shows just how bought and sold everyone is on this topic.

Here’s an interesting small-scale example of how the system works, involving Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Florida Democrat, and General Dynamics:

Step 1, April 23, 2008: General Dynamics makes a $4,000 contribution to Wasserman’s personal Leadership PAC, Democrats Win Seats (and it kicks in another $1,500 in early 2009).

Step 2, May 22, 2008: General Dynamics opens a small office in Wasserman’s district.

Step 3, September 20, 2008: General Dynamics makes a $5,000 PAC contribution to Wasserman.

Step 4, Wasserman announces her fiscal year 2010 appropriations requests, which includes $9.7 million for a General Dynamics project at the company’s new Florida office.

Multiply that process 535 times and you get a defense budget.
Silverstein has links to all the steps, in case you want to check his work. Here's what Silverstein didn't mention--Wasserman-Schultz is actually fairly progressive, especially on social issues. She's definitely no Jack Murtha when it comes to defense spending, and yet she's compromised on this, especially in a bad economy. No way is she going to take a chance and let General Dynamics leave her district, no matter how useless the project is, and to be fair, I don't know if the project is useless or not. I just tend to start with that assumption when it comes to weapons systems and wait to be proven wrong. Doesn't happen all that often.


Too cute.

Via Engadget

Thanks Clarence

Clarence Thomas came out of his basement recently to talk to some high school students, and I found this part particularly interesting.

“Sometimes, when I get a little down,” Justice Thomas said wearily, he goes online. “I look up wonderful speeches, like speeches by Douglas MacArthur, to hear him give without a note that speech at West Point — ‘duty, honor, country.’ How can you not hear those words and not feel strongly about what we have?”

He continued: “Or how can you not reminisce about a childhood where you began each day with the Pledge of Allegiance as little kids lined up in the schoolyard and then marched in two by two with a flag and a crucifix in each classroom?”
It's the second part that nags at me a bit, although I don't find it surprising that Thomas admires MacArthur. I can tell Thomas how I don't like to reminisce about that childhood because I lived it, and every day was a reminder of how I was different, of how I stood out from the rest of my peers.

As I've mentioned before, I was raised a Jehovah's Witness, which puts me at odds with both of Thomas's glorious childhood icons. Witnesses don't venerate the cross, and in fact argue that Jesus was not crucified, but was rather hung from a stake. I don't know ancient Greek, haven't read any scholarship on the matter, and frankly couldn't care less what the oldest texts have to say on the matter--it's not relevant to me at this point in my life--but at the time, growing up in a largely Catholic south Louisiana, it was tough to have to explain, over and over to teachers and fellow students, about my beliefs.

The Pledge of Allegiance was even worse, though, because it was said every morning, even through high school, and that made me stand out even more. And for all the romantic notions of how it's grand to be the rebel, to be different, I can only say that that works if that's your personality. Not so much if it's being forced on you from outside. There are fewer ways to make a high school freshman feel more self-conscious than to have a Civics teacher call you out as an example of West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, especially if that teacher is a right-wing conservative who spends six weeks teaching about the evils of communism using materials left over from the Eisenhower administration.

So Justice Thomas, that's how I can not reminisce about such a time. It doesn't surprise me that you wouldn't take people who don't share such a nostalgic view of the past into account, but it is sad, considering how much power you hold from your position on the Court.

I have to admit, this is about what it would take for me to revisit Jane Austen's work.

The novel features Jane Austen's text interspersed with "all-new scenes of bone-crunching zombie mayhem" from Grahame-Smith. So, for example, when Elizabeth is slighted by Mr Darcy at the ball – "she is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me" – the "warrior code" demands she "must avenge her honour ... She meant to follow this proud Mr Darcy outside and open his throat." She's thwarted, however, when a crowd of "unmentionables" pour into the ballroom, and she and her sisters are forced to draw their daggers. "Mr Darcy watched Elizabeth and her sisters work their way outward, beheading zombie after zombie. He knew of only one other woman in all of Great Britain who wielded a dagger with such skill, such grace and deadly accuracy."
That sounds awesome.

I would like to note that I'm not a complete barbarian. I'm just not a fan of Austen. I've read her novels in classes I've taken and I appreciate how groundbreaking she was, but the chances of me picking up Pride and Prejudice just to leaf through one afternoon are roughly the same as my going to the DMV to stand in line for no particular reason.

And to be honest, I'm not likely to pick up this mash-up of a novel either. But if there's a movie? Oh, baby.

Quote of the Day

Mark Doty, via Facebook:

Okay, this is the most amazing thing. If you go on Amazon and type in "butt plug" in the search window, you'll see a number of them for sale, with sales ranking attached! So, it's okay to rank butt plugs but not books? Umm.
In case you're wondering, this is what Doty is referencing.

Amazon is now claiming it was just a glitch, but I have little doubt that the swift outcry had something to do with getting it straight, no matter what the problem was.

Couple of updates: First of all, this has been going on for a while, according to Craig Seymour. More from Stephen Elliott at The Rumpus.

Secondly, that it's been happening for a while doesn't rule this theory out entirely. It's possible that some group discovered an exploit some time back and waited to implement it on Easter Sunday, but regardless, Amazon's upset a lot of writers, and will have to bust their asses to win them back. As for me, I'm following The Rumpus's lead and going with Powell's for the time being.

TobyToons posted this gem at 12:05 p.m.

Not long after, this news:

An American ship captain was freed unharmed Sunday in a swift firefight that killed three of the four Somali pirates who had been holding him for days in a lifeboat off the coast of Africa, the ship's owner said.
Don't get dizzy spinning, fellas.

Awesome video

I'm a nut for space--have been ever since I saw the Apollo missions on tv when I was a kid--and I still harbor dim hopes that space travel will be inexpensive enough for me to do it before I die. But in the meantime, I still have this: time lapse photography from the International Space Station, including video of an aurora. That green is just hauntingly beautiful. From Science Friday

Money, It's What I Want

I'm not actually a selfish person, but I'd be lying if I said I thought I was taking home what I thought I was worth. I'm not asking to be wealthy, to rock six-figures or anything like that (though I wouldn't object), but it would be nice to be able to afford, oh, a car made this century, or perhaps to be out of economic hardship deferral on my student loans for some reason other than that the clock is running out.

But my bosses both in the state legislature and at Our Fair University have other priorities. The state is concerned with, well, who knows what. It's controlled by those people who think that taxes are by definition evil, and that public education is communist--or at least it feels that way most of the time.

As for Our Fair University, well, this is from a study conducted by the FIU Research Institute on Social and Economic Policy, using public records. I'll be glad to forward the study on to anyone who wants it.

The diversion of resources to the administrative function is due to both an increase in the numbers of administrators compared to faculty, and to administrators receiving larger wage increases than faculty. Simple percentages show the shifts. Regarding numbers of different categories of employees, in 2001-02, there were 39% as many administrators as there were faculty (244/625 = 39%). By 2008-09, there were almost 45% as many (393/877 = 44.8%). This is a result of faster administrative employees being added at faster rate than the rate of growth of any other type of employee. In the 2001-02 to 2008-09 period, FAU added administrative
employees at almost three times the rate it added instructional staff, and at almost twice the rate of employee growth as a whole. Table 2 shows the details.

The shift in relative salaries is even more evident: in 2001-02 administrative salaries were a little more than 46% of faculty salaries. By 2008-09 this percentage had grown to almost 58%.
I'd include the tables, but I don't know how to format them for Blogger. Like I said, if you want a copy, send an email to incertusblog-at-gmail-dot-com and I'll get it to you.

One thing the tables show even more than the percentages is how this has gotten worse in just the last two years. Since 2006, total instructional faculty has grown by 11 people, and the 2008 number is actually a pullback from 2007, whereas in the same time frame, total administration has grown by 119 positions. Meanwhile, as far as salaries are concerned, "In 2001-02, the average administrative salary was 119% of the average faculty salary; by 2008-09 this ratio had grown to 129%." In short, there's more of them and they're getting paid more even in difficult budgetary times.

Meanwhile, I'm at the low end of the faculty pay scale, haven't gotten a raise, not even for cost of living much less the merit raises I'm due because I'm good at my job, in two years, and will see my workload increase this fall due to budget cutbacks that will increase my class sizes. And yet that's not the really crappy thing about all this.

The crappy thing about all this is that I'm really glad to have this job, not only because I like what I do, but because it's better than the jobs some of my friends have, or more accurately, don't have right now. I'm a little afraid to get outraged about the unfairness here, because in this economy I could just as easily find myself out there competing with twenty-somethings to be the assistant night-manager at Taco Bell or folding sweaters at The Gap. I don't like feeling powerless--no one does--and this kind of economy does that to you, unless you have some sort of security. And that's in very short supply right now.

Yes, you are losing some of your religious freedom by not being able to discriminate against members of the LGBT community. Churches who used the Bible to justify slavery and racial discrimination lost similar rights after the Civil War and during the Civil Rights Movement. No freedom is absolute, especially when the expression of that freedom results in the repression of another group.

We like to rock the party!

We saw Flight of the Conchords live tonight at the Bank United Center on the University of Miami campus. I am currently sporting my "Band Meeting" t-shirt which I got at the show and paid too much for, but am glad to have anyway. I figure the fact that we didn't have to pay for parking made up for the cost of the t-shirt a little.

We had seats on the floor, about 15 rows back, but unfortunately, the only pictures we were able to take were with our phones, which means they're basically unintelligible. Still, the show was great, with Kristin Schaal opening. Never seen her do stand-up before, but she was good. I hope the Daily Show continues to use her and starts using her more.

I don't have a set-list, but they did a nice mix of songs from seasons 1 and 2, as well as some songs I'd never heard before. There was also an addition to the band, a cellist named Nigel(?) who they introduced as the New Zealand Philharmonic Orchestra. When they mentioned they had another member, the crowd yelled "Murray!" and Bret and Jemaine seemed a bit surprised by it. Lots of interaction with the crowd, including an acoustic version of "Sugarlumps" which ended with them coming out into the crowd to dance with the ladies.

The highlight of the night was "Business Time," which along with "Albi the Racist Dragon" were the only ones they really got the crowd to sing along with.

Only song they didn't play that I really wanted them to was "Boom King," and there were lots of calls for "Hiphopapotamus and Rhymenocerous," though the rap fans were pleased with the inclusion of "Mother 'Uckers." The setlist seemed to be in flux a little--they played "Bowie" on the spur of the moment, and had the red toy piano out but didn't play "If You're Into It."

Have I geeked about this long enough? Great show--about two hours of Bret and Jemaine, funny as hell. Traffic leaving was a beast until we were out of the parking lot and then was fine. Great time in Miami.

Bonus BS

We must give those Wall Street geniuses big bonuses! That's their motivation! That's what makes them work so hard! That's what gets results!

Not so.

The relationship between behavior and incentive is taken for granted, but the real cutting edge thinkers these days are the people working between psychology and economics: the people doing research on often basic assumptions that we make about what motivates us.

Dan Ariely is one of those researchers. He was interviewed on the business radio program MARKETPLACE:

ARIELY: ... we decided to check it out. And we started by checking out the most trivial assumption: the idea that the more money that is on the line, people would perform better. We wanted to give people either a small bonus, a medium bonus or a large bonus. Now my research budget is not that big, and I wanted the big bonus to be very big, like a six-month salary. So we went to India and guess what happened? Across many tasks, the more money that was on the line, the worse people did.

Ryssdal: Say that again. More money, lower performance?

ARIELY: That's right. When we gave them a huge bonus, performance went down.

Ryssdal: Why?

To find out why, please click on this link.

Ariely's research is not anomalous, either: I've read about other research that shows that people will work harder when they're working for free than if they feel they're being underpaid, become lazy when they're overpaid, and work hardest when they feel they're being compensated fairly. This of course flies in the face of standard Bonehead Age (20th Century) economic theory, but it's a brave new world being charted out there by Ariely and his ilk.

Some more of his research is described in this video (this time on how and when we feel it's okay to cheat and lie -- the story about how the college sweatshirt makes rooms full of people instantaneously turn super-honest or super-deceitful is not to be missed!)

Word to Vermont!

Iowa last week, Vermont this week. Republican governor Jim Douglas vetoed a bill which would have made same-sex marriage the law of the land. His legislature gave him two middle fingers straight up. Vermont is the first state to make same-sex marriage legal legislatively as opposed to via court order, though their domestic partnership law was done after a court ruling. This is especially gratifying because when the law passed last week, it did so without enough votes to overrule, which means some people switched sides in an unusual direction this time. Thanks for being a leader yet again on this issue, Vermont.

Have I mentioned how awesome Sarah Haskins is? And I don't miss these anymore ever since I signed up for the podcast.

One day, but not yet

One day, I'll stop mocking the presidency of King George the Lesser, and I suspect it will come sooner for me than it has for the right-wingers who blamed Clinton for everything (and who still do at times). But like St. Augustine, who prayed for "chastity and continence, but not yet," I am going to continue mocking, at least for the moment. Which is why I want to share the Good Night Bush Librarium and Theme Park. The official Bush library might be stalled indefinitely due to lack of funding and support, but we can have this virtual one instead, at least for now.

That was my first reaction on reading this story about a California woman who was just sentenced to six years in jail for killing another woman in a car accident. Vengeful, you say?

Shasta County prosecutor Stephanie Bridgett said the 49-year-old woman had paid several bills by cell phone in the moments before the crash.

She was in the middle of one of those transactions when she struck a vehicle that burst into flames, killing 46-year-old Petra Winn.
It's the banality of it all that irks me so badly. I don't even like talking on my phone while driving, even if I've got an earpiece in and I don't have to worry about switching hands so I can shift--I don't like the distraction. And down here in Florida, where stupid, aggressive, and old all combine for one of the worst driving experiences in the US, I can still pick out the idiots talking on a mobile phone at a couple hundred yards.

But texting? Actually taking your eyes off the road to look at a screen while driving? Paying bills? That goes beyond irresponsible straight into reckless, and in this case, it led to another person's death. Six years in jail for that might not have been enough.

Amazing Video

P.W. Singer describes the robots used in war, today, and the ones that will come online very shortly. Required viewing, absolutely required.

This is the face of one of the most dangerous people in the US: a power-mad prosecutor with an inflated sense of his own morality. His name is Jim Plowman and he's the Loudon County, VA, Commonwealth's attorney. Think I'm exaggerating? He tried to have a 60 year old assistant principal put in jail on child pornography charges because the assistant principal was doing his job.

Of course, this is tied into the fear-du-jour of the sexually-repressed set--"sexting," or the sending of naughty pictures of oneself via mobile phone cameras. It's been in the news a lot lately because there's finally been some pushback--a federal judge in Pennsylvania told another out-of-control prosecutor that he couldn't press child porn charges against 3 teenaged girls, and the public response to other cases has been fairly vocal as well.

The problem, of course, is that laws haven't kept up with technology, and neither has our social evolution. If horny teenagers have access to mobile phones with cameras, chances are they're going to do some exploring, and if any of the people who receive those pictures are a) douchebags or b) susceptible to peer pressure (which covers just about the entire population), then those pictures are going to get spread around.

But what makes this story particularly egregious is that the person who was prosecuted wasn't a person who was involved in the experimentation. He was the guy trying to find out who was involved in the whole thing.

Oei's problems began in March of last year, when his investigation of sexting rumors at Freedom High led him to a 16-year-old boy. Oei and the school's safety and security specialist met with the student to ask if he knew anything about the photos.

"He says, 'Oh yeah, I've got one on my cell phone,'" Oei recalls.

The image depicted only the torso of a girl -- later determined to be a 17-year old student -- wearing only underpants, her arms mostly covering her breasts. The boy claimed he didn't know who sent him the photo or who the girl was.

Oei says he showed the image to his boss, Principal Christine Forester, who told him to preserve a copy on his office computer for the investigation. A computer neophyte, Oei didn't know how to transfer the image from the boy's cell phone, so the teen sent the picture to Oei's phone, and told him how to forward it to his work e-mail address. When the process was complete, Oei instructed the student to delete the image from his phone.

Oei and the school security specialist interviewed more students, but were unable to find additional pictures or identify the girl in the photo. Oei concluded she probably wasn't a student at the school. Relieved, he says he reported his findings to the principal, thinking the matter was done.

He couldn't have been more wrong.

Two weeks later, the boy caught with the photo was in trouble again -- he'd pulled down the pants of a girl in class. The school suspended the student for 10 days. But when the boy's mother learned from Oei about the earlier photo incident, she was outraged that Oei hadn't reported the picture to her. She called his house at 7:00 a.m., screaming at him that the suspension had to be revoked.

When Oei refused, the woman went to the police about the photo. Sheriff's investigators came to the school, ostensibly to investigate the sexting issue. They helped the technologically-challenged Oei recover the photo from his cell phone and later determined the girl in the photo was a student at the school.

A month later, the first charges were filed against Oei: failure to report suspicion of child abuse, a misdemeanor. The charge alleged that Oei had a legal duty to report the girl's photo to her parents, and to state agencies or law enforcement.

"First of all, nobody thought this was reportable," Oei says. "Who would have thought this was suspected child abuse?"

Oei also hadn't known the girl's identity and therefore wasn't able to notify her parents.
Sorry to excerpt such a long section, but you really need to get the whole story to understand just how stupid this whole prosecution was. But wait, there's more.
Four months later, Plowman charged Oei with two more misdemeanor counts for contributing to the delinquency of a minor, claiming Oei broke the law when he had the 16-year-old boy send the photo to his cell phone and advise him on how to then forward it to his desktop computer. Each count added another year to his possible prison term.
And Plowman to this day defends the prosecution."He would have been satisfied with a fine, probation and Oei's resignation. The case would never have gone this far, he says, if Oei had resigned when asked."

I don't generally go here on my blog anymore, but seriously, fuck you Jim Plowman. Fuck you for your abuse of power, fuck you for your misplaced sense of outrage, fuck you for doing untold damage to an innocent person all in pursuit of some ridiculous personal vendetta over an image of a seventeen year old girl's torso. I hope the pain you visited upon this man comes back on your head one day. You deserve it.

Just, wow

If you really, really think you grok Spock, then this is the way for you to be buried--in a Star trek torpedo tube.

Other options will apparently include a "gleaming Star Fleet urn," as well as monuments and burial vaults. While no prices have been listed yet, I think it's clear that hardcore Star Trek fans have way more money than most people ever envisioned.

I'm glad to see that Micah Mattix has responded to my criticism of his article from a couple of days ago. His response misses the point, but I'm glad there's a conversation going on.

So here's what Mattix didn't like. On his first point, about there being too much money in poetry, he replies:

The fact is, if you add up all of the lectureships and professorships at creative writing programs at universities, and add this figure to fellowships and prizes, there are more institutional funds (both private and public) devoted to poetry than ever before.
None of which negates my point, which is that poetry isn't overfunded. Let me introduce you to a simple concept--funding can be at its highest point ever and still be too low. Like I said, no one's getting rich on poetry, and in fact, most of the young poets I know are struggling to make ends meet, even the ones outside academia, and trust me, there are a lot of poets outside academia because there sure as hell aren't enough jobs in academia to support the current poet population, even if you shift most of them into adjunct and composition jobs. As far as jobs in creative writing are concerned, well, the market makes crap look good--in the last job cycle, about half the already meager pickings were canceled or put on hold due to budget constraints. About the only genre seeing growth is creative non-fiction, and even there the pickings are slim.

Dana Gioia no doubt celebrates this fact, as he argues that MFA programs are basically a bane on poetry's existence, even though he had no problem sucking that teat before he became director of the NEA in 2001. My one personal experience with Gioia involved picking him up at the Highfill airport in Cave Springs, Arkansas, so he could spend a week with the MFA program at the University of Arkansas, making a few extra bucks running a workshop and giving a reading. Pardon me if I find Gioia's argument less than convincing.

To Mattix and Bethell, I simply reply that retracing a flawed argument does nothing to fix the flaws in it. If anything, it only makes those flaws more apparent. The fact is that there are more independent, outward looking voices, presses and journals now than there ever have been, in large part because the cost of entry has become much lower thanks to the internet and print-on-demand services.

As to the rest, I'll be damned if I can see where I engaged in an ad hominem attack, unless suggesting that he used a less than comprehensive set of examples to make his point constitutes one. Here's some of the rest of his response.
Contrary to what Spears implies, I think there are indeed some very good poets writing today (as I thought I made clear in my original piece). I have written reviews on some of them myself (even in so-called post-avant publications such as Octopus Magazine), and think that poets such as David Shapiro, Adam Kirsch, Scott Cairns, Franz Wright, Mark Jarman, Theodore Worozbyt, Timothy Steele and Peter Porter, to name a few pell-mell, are writing some of the best poems out there. These poets, it seems to me, do not reject narrative progression or formal devices for simplistic ideological reasons, but use (as well as bend) them because such things are part of what makes lyric poetry poetry — and not, say, a painting.

The problem with contemporary American poetry, however, is that there are also a lot of mediocre poets. One of the reasons for this, I think, is the influence of philosophical materialism. Silliman was an example of the effects of materialism on the arts, but its effects can be seen in non-L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets as well.
First of all, I neither said nor suggested that Mattix had said there were no good poets writing today. What I said was that he ought to broaden his reading list if he thinks philosophical materialism dominates the contemporary landscape, and I stand by that. I didn't deny that what Mattix complained about exists--I simply noted that it's neither the only thing going on nor even the biggest thing going on.

The thing that defines contemporary poetry right now is that there isn't really a dominant school of thought, Silliman's complaints about the School of Quietude notwithstanding. The world of poetry is incredibly fractured right now, but I consider that to be its strength, because it allows for a far greater range of voices to be heard and for much more crossing over between groups. It makes for a livelier art.

Mattix complains that there are a lot of mediocre poets, to which I can only reply, no kidding. There have always been a lot of mediocre poets. They published in their times as well, and were promptly forgotten by the next generation of readers of poetry, if not their own generation. I'm reminded of a poem by Miller Williams titled "A Note to the English Poets of the Seventeenth Century" which reads, in part:
Someone in every century has to stand there
saying, No, I'm sorry, I'm sorry
I'm sorry.
You've gone as far as you can go.
and some
reading the three or four that make it through
will shake their heads and say
as even now we do
(having I think already turned back a few)
"They didn't have many poets, but they were great."
I'm not going to insult Mattix by suggesting that he would argue the sentiment in that final line, but his statement does have a hint of nostalgia to it, to the notion that in previous times, back when there wasn't all this money in poetry or all this philosophical materialism, that there were fewer mediocre poets, when there's absolutely nothing to back that contention up.

Next point. Mattix writes:
Second, he is indeed a rather important figure in contemporary American poetry, despite Spears’s breezy dismissal. L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry is probably the most widely known experimental poetry movement in America since the 1960s, and as of January 2009, Silliman’s blog on contemporary poetics had received two million visits. That’s right, two million. Not too bad for a poet no one ever reads.
Okay, this is just dishonest. First off, I never dismissed Silliman--I said that he, along with Charles Bernstein, represents a segment of the poetic world today, as opposed to being the dominant voice. Hell, I was ecstatic when I discovered that Silliman had linked to me, because he drives traffic. But it's also important to understand that pointing to blog hits isn't the best way to make a point.

Ron Silliman is huge online, and no one questions that he's a major voice in poetry today, but he's big online for more than just his poetics. He's an aggregator, and I love that--he's one of my sources of stories for my weekly column at The Rumpus, and that works like a feedback loop. Also, Silliman has no problems linking to people he disagrees with, which widens his appeal. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, Silliman is abrasive toward what he calls the School of Quietude, and that controversy drives traffic. Lots of people come to Silliman's blog to argue with him, not to agree with him or hang on his every word. That's about as close to a universal truth as you can find on the internet, no matter what subject you write about.

Finally, I want to comment on one last point Mattix makes.
There are of course, a number of other influences on poets, but I do think it is pretty clear that philosophical materialism has been one of the more important ones in the last fifty years or so. In the context of this, the contemporary poet is often left with the choice of following the example of the hard-nosed L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets, or seeming like a fluffy, nostalgic Longfellow. The latter is often the charge leveled against so-called “popular” poets, who evoke things like the self and love uncritically. Sometimes this charge is warranted, sometimes not. While there are certainly some very good poets out there who have managed to avoid this false dichotomy, the effects of philosophical materialism on poetry have not been positive.
I like how Mattix sets up a dichotomy, then tries to get away from it by saying "some have managed to avoid it." Indeed. In fact, I'd say most manage to avoid it, which is why I suggested Mattix ought to expand his reading list, as opposed to sticking with those poets who confirm his biases (maybe that was the ad hominem attack?). If your favorites are Franz Wright, Mark Jarman and Tim Steele, and the people you don't like are June Jordan, Charles Bernstein and Ron Silliman, then you're missing out on, well, most of poetry right now, and I suspect that the world of philosophical materialism isn't as pervasive as you think it is.

Crossposted at Brian Spears

You know it's bad when...

your push poll questions don't get you the answers you were looking for.

From the Republican network's latest poll (via Matt Corley):
"Do you think the federal government should increase taxes on the wealthiest individuals so that nobody gets to be too rich?"

Now, there's a reasonable policy debate to be had over the efficacy of raising the top marginal rate back to where it was when the economy was strong. But I can't recall anyone in a position of influence ever suggesting a tax policy to prevent Americans from becoming "too rich."

But the really funny part is that the question may have been too subtle for poll respondents -- 40% of Americans think it's a good idea to use the tax code to prevent people from getting "too rich." Better yet, nearly one in four Republicans agrees.
Maybe the poll question was too subtle, maybe it's just telling that lots of people are tired of the ridiculous divide between rich and poor in this country. Don't get me wrong--I'm not advocating for an income cap (though I do think some higher tax rates at the very highest levels aren't a terrible idea)--but is it really so difficult to think that a large percentage of the country isn't tired of seeing stories about how wealthy people are feeling the economic pain as well? Look, if you're not in danger of missing a meal or sleeping in the park, then you're not really feeling the economic pain, okay? Let's keep some perspective here.

Wow! Go Iowa!

When I think of the states where same-sex couples are most likely to get marriage rights, Iowa isn't near the top of the list. To be fair, it's not at the bottom either, where places like Utah and Alabama reside--it's just that Iowa, with its reputation for populism as opposed to liberalism, never struck me as the kind of place to do this sort of thing.

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- The Iowa Supreme Court says the state's same-sex marriage ban violates the constitutional rights of gay and lesbian couples, making it the third state where gay marriage is legal.

In a unanimous ruling issued Friday, the court upheld a 2007 Polk County District Court judge's ruling that the law violated the state constitution.
Beautiful news.

Now I'm sure this won't be the end of it, and I doubt that Des Moines will become the hot new destination for same-sex couples looking legalize their unions, but it is a good moment, and more importantly, it's yet another sign that this country is moving toward full marriage rights for gays and lesbians. Kudos to the Iowa Supreme Court for making the right call in this case.

First things first--I'm not turning this into a poetry blog, links from Ron Silliman notwithstanding. I'm still primarily blogging about poetry at my personal site, and if you look at the post count there, you'll see I do it irregularly at best.

That said, I am the Poetry Editor at The Rumpus, so it's my job to push poetry whenever possible, especially during National Poetry Month. So here's what we're doing.

We're publishing original poems this month--this is a little frightening, to be quite frank, because we're doing it on the fly.

We're also doing a feature we call "A Poem I Love," where working writers are doing short write-ups of poems with links to said poems. It'll be a great way to discover new poets and old. I hope. I'll have a link to that as soon as the first one goes up.

So join us over there for the poetry, and stay for the other great stuff--like The Last Book I Loved or our comic, "Truth Serum", Rick Moody's "Swinging Modern Sounds or our book reviews, our interviews or our original pieces. Lots to read there, and it's all good.

Do what now?

Micah Mattix says he's got the problem with contemporary poetry all figured out--well, he and Tom Bethell of The American Spectator, anyway, and while I can't be certain that TAS's reputation for accuracy in politics extends to poetry, I might make some guesses based on this argument. Are you ready?

The problem with contemporary poetry, particularly with the avant-garde, is...wait for it...

There's too much money involved in it.

Why are there, Bethell wonders, so many mediocre poets today? Following Joseph Epstein and Dana Gioia, his answer is prizes, subsidies, grants, lectureships and professorships. There is too much money in poetry. It offers poor or mediocre poets too many opportunities to write and publish, and it encourages many otherwise good poets to pose as avant-garde artists–to write against their audience rather than for it–because it increases their chances of getting such fellowships and prizes.

Indeed, one of the ironies of art today is that there is little financial risk involved in being avant-garde. Unlike the first avant-garde artists who supposedly created works to challenge the commercialization of art, such a move today is very much the first step in making it commercially, in terms of fellowships and grants. Cut back on the cash, Bethell claims, and purge the country of a legion of Miles Coverdales.
To be fair to Mattix, he says there's a bigger problem than too much money, though he certainly doesn't disagree with Bethell's premise. And just so we're clear on something, there isn't too much money in poetry--no one is getting rich off this genre, and few are even supplementing their incomes with it. And most poetry is published on a break-even basis, if not a loss. Now it seems pretty clear that Bethell is not a populist when it comes to poetry, so perhaps his point is that if you get the money out of poetry, you leave only people wealthy enough to pursue it as a hobby, and that will suit his aims just fine, thank you very much. But I doubt it would improve the world of poetry any.

Mattix's larger problem with contemporary poetry is a more disturbing one, in my view. Bethell can be dismissed with a laugh, because anyone who looks at the actual money involved in poetry these days, especially on the avant-garde side of things, can easily tell that Bethell is full of it. Mattix however...
Bethell writes that “Creativity unaccountably waxes and wanes at different times and places.” This is not entirely true. There is a reason it is waning now and, it seems to me, it has to do with the sterile ground of philosophical materialism for the arts.

Philosophical materialism is the belief that the material world, as the word “material” is currently defined, is the only thing that exists in the proper sense of the term. It reduces the spiritual to the material and universal morals to mere politics (often leftist politics). Love, for example, becomes nothing more than a word we use to refer to certain chemical reactions in the brain. It does not exist in the materialist sense of the term. The materialist poet, therefore, does not write about love qua love. Instead, he flirts with language, writing poem after poem of mere surface language play that produce superficial frissons without engaging us at a deeper, more meaningful level. The political poet, on the other hand, rails against the oppression of a particular group. The stronger the outrage, the more effective the poem at accomplishing its political purpose, and, therefore, by the implied theory of poetry at work here, the better the poem.
All I can really say is that Mattix needs to read more contemporary poetry, rather than sticking to only those poets who confirm his biases. He mentions Ron Silliman, Charles Bernstein and June Jordan by name, and they are, to say the least, a narrow sliver of contemporary poetry. Don't get me wrong--L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry (and its descendants) is still a powerful force in the poetic world (though not one I feel a part of), and there are still lots of poets who rail against oppression the way Jordan did, though perhaps not with her ferocity, but pick up nearly any mainstream journal and you'll find pages upon pages of poems which engage on deep, meaningful levels--and sometimes they even do it in traditional forms. Shocking, I know.

And Mattix's criticism of both L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E and political poetry is off the mark as well. The former is capable of engaging at a deep, meaningful level--it just makes you work a little harder to get it, and to look for clues in ways you might not expect at first--and Mattix is simply caricaturing political poetry, so it's difficult to know if he's being honest or if he's playing to the kind of audience who would read The American Spectator. The use of the term "leftist politics" makes me suspect the latter.

The darkly funny thing about Mattix's piece, though, is the way he ends it. His solution?
I think critics need to do more to discover those poets and artists who are, indeed, doing good work. While it is the job of the critic to tear down, it is also his job to build up–even if he has to search far and wide for a poet that is worthy of praise.
Critic, heal thyself.

Cross-posted at Brian Spears

Oh yeah

I'm just in an odd image sort of mood right now. This one comes via SlashFood, and dates from about 1974. I have to say I'm a bit surprised there hasn't been a reissue of it yet, given the latest resurgence in misogyny in pop culture.

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