Friday, May 28, 2010

'Unfriendly Fire' and Repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell

MAN: Forget about the badge! When do we get the freakin' guns?!
WIGGUM: Hey, I told you, you don't get your gun until you tell me your name.
MAN: I've had it up to here with your "rules"!
The Simpsons, Chief Clancy Wiggum dealing with a new cadet who later filled an army position vacated by a soldier discharged for homosexual conduct.
Today when I read the news that congress plans, tentatively, to repeal Don't, Ask Don't Tell, I giddily did a skipping 1980s dance around my house to Sixpence None the Richer's 1990s hit, "Kiss Me." Not because I'm gay, mind you; this is just how I celebrate things.

But after flashing a couple thumbs-up at my computer screen, I suddenly felt bad for Nathaniel Frank. He's the author of Unfriendly Fire: How the Gay Ban Undermines the Military and Weakens America.Like all authors who seek to end an injustice, I imagine he's in the bind of seeing his purpose achieved and his book made obsolete. While this reflects a social good, it's a pity from a non-fiction standpoint, because Frank's book is a gem. It's well-researched, humane, funny, outrageous and eminently readable. It features the luxury of moral clarity walking hand in hand with science, overcoming enemies undermined with no great effort by their hypocrisy and boobery.

Unfortunately, the book may still be relevant for a few more months — or years.

It's important to understand a little history of Don't Ask, Don't Tell (hereafter, "DADT") to understand what's wrong with it and the arguments for it. There isn't space here for anything comprehensive, but suffice to say that DADT is the unpleasant compromise produced in 1993 by the conflicting aims of the Clinton administration, conservative groups and some parts of the U.S. military. Clinton intended to make good on promises to the gay community that supported him during the 1992 election. However, he declined to integrate the military by fiat as the Commander-in-Chief—as Truman had with blacks—and instead deferred to congress and a bipartisan approach.

While initial public opinion either supported integration or remained salutarily indifferent, the voices of the culture war ramped up their acrimony with the aim of manipulating public opinion against an inexperienced administration without a central narrative for the issue. Interestingly, while most branches of the military began drawing up plans to integrate, assuming the issue was a fait accompli, members of the Army Working Group began organizing in what's difficult to label as anything other than open insubordination. (This is acceptable, in Democratic administrations, because Democrats never win wars, apart from WWI and WWII.) They used the old canard that a civilian liberal could not possibly understand the military to issue dire and elaborately fantastical warnings about American military collapse. Meanwhile, conservatism's culture warriors exploited the he-said/she-said nature of daily journalism—and its inability to check claims and "facts" before going to print—to poison the discourse with demonizing non-science about homosexuals and military integrity.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Thomas Sowell Looks at Nature v. Nurture and Realizes That You Have the Brainpan of a Stagecoach Tilter

Last week we met Thomas Sowell, a black libertarian/objectivist economist and purveyor of tautologies and fact-free scary stories, toasted by the likes of Rush Limbaugh and FreeRepublic, because he puts a nice minority face on policies that punish minorities. Reading Sowell talk about race and social welfare programs is like pulling up outside a Louisville mansion and having the black lawn jockey statue come alive and say, "Wow, thank God there aren't any black people here. Nice Town Car."

On The Atlasphere, an objectivist singles website, a tagline appends each of Sowell's reprinted columns, indicating that he's written dozens of non-fiction books. This sounds impressive until you read Sowell and understand that his ideas are usually unencumbered by reality. On the rare times that they go for broke and attempt to describe things that exist, they shout unconnected ideas into the ether, making pronouncements about things either mutually contradictory or irrelevant to each other.

This is one of those times.

I Can Help Monetize Your Blog!

The few of you who come back and read old updates looking for the elusive third or fourth joke in them might have noticed that a Facebook "Like" button has been added to the ends of every article. Much like the Twitter, Google Reader, Facebook Fan Page and RSS feed links, this is another feature designed to sate a grubbing lust for attention or small pecuniary compensation for untold hours wasted on making fun of shitty pundits, racists, conservatives (where not already covered by items #1 or #2) and Tim McCarver.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Meet Thomas Sowell: A Moron

One of the smartest things I've ever done began as a lark last year and still sends me spam mail weekly. I'd just finished reading a hilarious, mammoth message-board thread, "Must Love Horses," one man's months-long haunting of a Northeastern Craigslist personals board, during which he sent letters of reciprocating obliviousness to arrogantly "arty" lonelyhearts. Countless people were drawn ineluctably toward the fictional person he presented, recognizing the one most irresistible quality about him: that he looked like what they wanted to see in themselves.

I closed the window on the final page and said to myself, "I bet this would work even better on objectivists."

Within about five minutes, I was fleshing out my profile on The Atlasphere, evidently the internet's premiere objectivist dating site, with the mission of "Connecting Admirers of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged."

My efforts didn't pan out so well. I loaded my profile with economically and socially attractive traits, claimed I graduated from George Mason, attached a sexy photo, then sat back and waited for the objectifish to take the bait. Nothing happened. I'd gravely miscalculated. No good objectivist is going to make an effort to get you to like them: it's your job to get them to like you.

I had hoped naively for unsolicited interest from group members ideologically predisposed to believe themselves the inevitable inheritors of the world's dominion. Impudent facts like what kind of jobs/credentials they had and whether they had the slightest tincture of appeal were inconsequential when dealing with the self-appointed Elect. They would not deign to come to me. Their superiority needed to be taken as a given, even if, look, the proof of it will eventually be along any day now. It took me only a few dozen profile clicks to begin to suspect that everyone on there has probably been single and on the site for years, sullenly orbiting each other in ellipses of studied indifference, determined not to allow their motion through life deviate via the pull of any neighboring body.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Thank God They Canceled 'Law & Order'

The flagship show is gone, unmooring the conceptual blimp of DICK WOLF productions and letting it float airily wherever it might like to go. The one consistent creative drawback to the original series was that it was fine-tuned and became an institution well before 1995, before people discovered that you could make police procedurals go a lot farther and get more attention by cramming them with technologically impossible stupid shit and episode arcs where New York detectives go undercover in Oregon for the FBI because their sex crime expertise helps them find eco-bombs.

Maybe I Don't 'Get' P.D. James

I've lost count of the women in my family and personal life who read P.D. James, but sometimes it seems like all of them do. This can be a boon when visiting during holidays: no matter which family member's house you stay in, there's bound to be something on their shelf you can enjoy reading. But I'm not really sure if I understand P.D. James. I wonder if I've mistaken her intent. I didn't even like her damn books to begin with.

It's easy to be confused by James. There's the name thing, after all. For most people, "P.D. James" might conjure dustjacket visions of either a herringbone-clad male type — all cheekbones and crow's feet, theatrically standing before his bookshelves, arms folded — or maybe someone with a belly who's decided on an amply sweatered existence. Maybe the profusion of initialed male authors clouds the issue, or maybe the "James," which reminds one of James Patterson, another mystery writer. Personally, I'm going to name my next dog P.D. James. This isn't a comment on the looks of Ms. James, of which I'm unaware at this moment, but rather because I think P.D. James is an awesome dog name. I'd probably wind up calling him "Petey" most of the time, but having a dog bowl or bed with "P.D. James" on it seems cool. I'm going to do this.

Then, of course, there's Children of Men. James is known primarily for her mannerly British detective stories about mannerly British detective Adam Dalgliesh, who spends his time around mannerly people — one of whom, invariably, has killed someone in a breach of etiquette. She's written roughly a dozen of these books, and they all have the same atmosphere and general topics. Children of Men, however, is a dystopian novel about an authoritarian Britain, set over 20 years into an epidemic of global male infertility. Although it differs from the movie based on it, it describes a state in which civil rights have disappeared and those doomed and childless are encouraged to distract themselves with empty entertainments, assuming they don't opt for sanctioned suicide. It isn't a bad book by any means — it's quite good, actually — but it presents such a confusing departure from her oeuvre. It'd be like picking up a John Grisham novel (assuming, for our purposes, that Grisham was a decent writer to begin with) that ignored the law and instead focused on a young mixed-race girl growing up in a South African town in the 1980s.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Alabama Gubernatorial Race: Winning the Counter-Reformation One Slain Apostasy at a Time

"Southern Person Does Something Silly About Jesus" is probably the easiest go-to outlet for regional commentary and comedy, narrowly beating out "Dilapidated Northern Industrial City Destroys Itself Celebrating Sports Championship That Won't Improve Anyone's Life." I'm pretty sure The Onion is sitting on dozens of stories about people seeing the image of Dale Earnhardt in a Denny's bucket of eggs, cheese and four kinds of pork. Still, after you live in the south for a while, it becomes a sort of fetish to collect these things. They're just so special.

Recently, the Alabama gubernatorial race got slightly nastier, as a group calling themselves the True Republican PAC ran this ad against GOP candidate Bradley Byrne. It's amazing:

Now, just because these things have a tendency to disappear from Youtube and reappear unreliably later, let's go to a transcript and then break it down on its own, because it's just so goddamned stupid:

Friday, May 7, 2010

Foul Things I Have Eaten

My stepmother's shock at what my father usually ate during a regular week probably owed more to her background in health care than to anything uniquely revolting in my dad's refrigerator. He worked twelve-hour days, took business lunches and was too exhausted at night to do much more than eat takeaway. The first sweeping change she visited upon the house was to clean out all the junk foods from the cupboards and insist on salads and tasty but balanced entrees.

I looked on in something like horror. I didn't especially get along with my dad, but the thing time with him had going for it was shooting pool in the living room while eating giant pizzas with the works, watching grown-up movies on the couch while eating chinese from the carton or going out to the Mexican restaurant that made a "Super Burrito" that hung off the end of already oversized plates like a dead lamprey.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Right Kind of Terrorism

Last weekend you might have seen two links posted on your Facebook or sent to your inbox repeatedly. The first, by the brilliant Tim Wise, asks us to, "Imagine the Tea Party Was Black." The second, a slickly produced video from the Republican Governor's Association, asks us to "Remember November," a cynical distortion borrowing from the movie V for Vendetta. While there have been several thoughtful pieces about both, no one has mentioned that the impulses driving both pieces of theater are the same.

Wise's piece speaks for itself, and you should read it if you have the time. Assuming you're swamped: it recalls conservative actions and rhetoric from the past two years and asks if we'd countenance the same actions from non-whites. His best example is the recent teaparty gathering in Washington in which whites armed with assault rifles announced that they were willing to start another revolution if they didn't get their way in government. This is little more than a threat of coming bloodshed — their common "the tree of liberty must be watered with the blood of tyrants" signs say as much — a gunpoint extortion of the body politic. If black citizens armed themselves under a Republican administration and issued a list of demands, FOX News would howl and run a 24/7 graphic of Flavor Flav wearing a dynamite-laden clock above a chyron: "AMERICA'S BLACKS: A TICKING TIME BOMB?"