Monday, February 24, 2014

This is surprisingly easy to understand.  We had a pretty good discussion about this at Alicublog yesterday and I summed it up this way:

...I think there is some really weird way in which the very people voting for these bills, and even those who support these bills, actually do imagine that the bills are largely harmless and even innocent of real malice. I think we never go broke underestimating the total inability of these people to add one and one and get to two, or to plumb the depths of their own malice, or to recognize that what differentiates collective action from private action is scale.
For example I think that people who support these discriminatory laws actually fail to think it through--just like anti abortionists who talk windily of abortion as murder routinely deny a willingness to actually lock women up as murderers and are even shocked that anyone interviewing them would take such a sharp tone about things. People really don't take any moral or intellectual responsibility for the logical implications of the acts they support or the legislation they write. My guess is that a large number of these people don't even think that their fellow bigots are actually planning to make life miserable for a fairly large subset of the community as in all gay people. When they imagine the impact of the law its like this:
Elderly wedding photographer can refuse flaming queer couple...
My grandma the pharmacist can refuse to poison a baby in the womb...
They totally don't imagine the havoc caused by wholesale refusal to provide services to an unknown and indeterminate number of people by everyone from the registrar of deeds to the parking attendant at the mall. They don't imagine the deaths potentially caused by some nurse refusing to give cpr to that "old gay guy" and they don't imagine that people like them, or cousin sal, or whoever might get "mistaken" for gay and not be served somewhere.
In short they lack honesty, probity, forethought, and the basic principle upon which democracy rests: that which is hateful to you, do not do to others/do unto others that which you would have them do unto you. Put yourself in the position of the person being legislated against as well as in the position of the imaginary top dog whose rights are being protected.

They are acting from what they perceive as a position of weakness, like a child that strikes out at a parent, breaks a lamp, and then wails "I didn't mean it!"  Or perhaps I mean a child who breaks the lamp to get the parent's attention and then realizes, after the fact, that negative attention is not what they really wanted at all.  This explains their surprise when people outside of the state, and people with whom their state does business, began protesting and proposing boycotts.  They operate from the perspective that gays are both everywhere and a mere fringe minority. They legislated against a hated, frightening, everywhere bogeyman and now they are shocked to discover that there are enough friends of dorothy out there, and concerned fellow citizens, to make little bits of local legislation seem highly problematic and uneconomical.

Aside from the obvious point that the legislators involved in voting for this bill didn't read or understand it I think its also the case that they see such legislation as permitting a small number of passionate voters (voters like themselves, their base voters) to experience a little temporary relief from an oppressive new majority moral code which makes them all feel sad, bad, and all minority-ish.  The law was an expressive act, a gesture, not meant to be taken factually or understood in any utilitarian way.

 For us the bill is a slippery slope--deny gay people access to one set of rights and you have, in effect, denied them food, water, and fire as the old Romans did to their exiles. Deny these rights to gay people and you deny them to all of us.  But to the legislators, who prefer to think in concrete, tiny, comparamentalized units, the bill merely prevents gay people from pushing their way into individual shops.  Not all the shops at the same time.  Merely prevents gay people from forcing granny to rent to them.  It doesn't potentially prevent them from renting from everyone.  You could hear them explaining this on the radio and in interviews. For example they kept stressing that if your pharmacist chose to begin shrieking "baby killer" and refusing to give you contraception that the large corporation would probably have someone else serve you, or direct you down the road to the next nearest babykilling corporation pharmacy which would no doubt be very near.  They saw, or pretended to see, this as merely legislating a compromise of rights, a carve out, quite small.  They are genuinely shocked to see a stable full of horses, gay people, and allies bolting for the door.  Its a bit rich coming from the party of slippery slope fame where any attempt to stem mass gun violence, even by a blind man, is prevented in the name of absolute second amendment rights.


Thursday, February 20, 2014

Death Becomes Us

I'm a huge fan of Caleb Wilde's writing on funerals and death, and I even read his site for fun, but I think he's gotten the wrong end of the stick here in this little post about funeral selfies. Apparently people are taking pictures at funerals, sometimes even of themselves with the corpse, or clowning around with the coffin, or with other mourners. They are even posting them up on social media. Caleb begins well with the rather obvious historical point that images of the deceased,and images of the mourners, are nothing new:
There’s a long history of funeral photography. Heck, I think there’s a one million year old photo of a dead Homo erectus floating around the internet. There may even be one of dead Jesus somewhere on Reddit. And there are certainly thousands of “odd” and “creepy” post-mortem photographs from the Victorian era. But, unlike the cadaver selfie or the boneheaded military photo, funeral photography is usually motivated by some kind of love. Intent is part of the issue when talking about funerals and photography, etc. Why do it? What’s the motivation? And although the motivation isn’t always clear, it is clear most take these photos as a token of remembrance. A token of love.
But he winds up asserting that these pictures, now, by these people are not obvious evidence of exactly the same thing--rememberance, love, but rather take place in an entirely new context, a context he calls "fragmentation" resulting from our "mosaic" and "quilt" like lives.
“But isn’t the selfie – by definition – an act of narcissism?” you ask. At first glance, yes. Selfies would seem like the epitome of narcissism, and indeed many are self-serving. But many (most) – especially the ones taken by those who find themselves in the emerging culture of social media – funeral selfies are about both belonging and identity. Emerging culture has moved from the neatly defined groups/tribes of pluralism to the blending of fragmentation. We are like quilts. We’re like mosaics. With fragmentation, the social rules that come with the strictly defined boundaries of pluralism become less and less important. With fragmentation, belonging and identity become of prime importance. Belonging and identity is decorum. Social media is how many of us relate to the world. And the selfie plays a part in that relationship. It is a way of saying “this is where I am at. This is what I’m doing. This is who I am. These are my stupid duck lips.” And the funeral selfie is how we say, “This part of my community has died and I just wanted to let you know.” In the minds of many, taking a selfie with the deceased is right because it’s about expressing a connection to the deceased and wanting to share that connection with others. It’s about identity and belonging.
I think that is just an incredibly weird way of looking at what people are doing. Its not because they are fragmented, or society is fragmented, or they are patching together a self in a mosaic. Or they are violating some kind of funeral decorum. They are simply doing what they have always done at funerals: experiencing them as social events, showing themselves to the community, being with their peers and friends, waking the dead, taking pictures or mementoes of the relationship (even gruesome ones like locks of hair or, in some cultures, actual body parts) and then hanging on to those mementoes (hair jewelry, for example, or bones themselves) and displaying them or ritually inspecting them.

 Funeral photos are a late addition to the practice of looking at, holding, touching and interacting with the body and a novel way of taking a memento from the body.     Funeral Photos, and specifically photos of dead people in their coffins, were an early way to display wealth, to solemnize an already solemn occasion, and to offer comfort and a last view to family members who were too far away to attend the funeral. Often those pictures, along with wedding pictures, might be the only mementoes people would have of their loved ones. (The Selfie, by the way, is something that people can take away from the funeral that includes themselves, so its a record of their presence there. It is also the obverse of the gifts and tokens that people have always left in the grave with their loved ones--people routinely leave pictures, gifts, and letters right in the coffin with the dead and this is not considered tacky or problematic at all.)

 How and why are "selfies" except for the unfortunate name any different from any other funeral ritual? Even solemnity and privacy are not typical of many funeral and memorial styles--drunken wakes are, of course, quite legendary as celebrations. Different people, at different stages of their life cycle, and with different support from the community are going to experience different kinds of deaths as more traumatic or less traumatic, they are going to express their loss in a more dark or a more lighthearted way. Its true that selfies are associated with younger people and the new technology of the iPhone and social media spaces like Facebook (already old) and twitter or instagram but thats just an accident really--people already left funerals and wrote about them, or took pictures or mementoes and discussed them at later private memorials and celebrations.

  Several years ago some funeral homes instituted drive up "viewings" of corpses via video hookup for distant family members who wanted to pay their respects but couldn't get to the funeral home during open hours. Coming from a culture which does not favor viewing the body at all this strikes me as both weird and tacky but, of course, its not. Its just a natural extension of the mourner's needs and expectations meeting up, more or less happily, with modern technology.

 I think we might also consider the ways that cemetery location and a highly transient, mobile, population plays into the need people have to have a tiny memento on their phones to take away with them. Cemeteries are no longer small and local and people's friend and family groups--especially their teenage friends who are likely to be geographically scattered after school, or their military friends who are likely to be from many different locations--are likely to get together only at the funeral, and then never be in a position to come back to the gravesite again.  This has led to the rise of cremation as a popular choice because the ashes can be split among several relatives or members of different sub families. In this way the deceased him or herself can accompany the mourner. But obviously most subsidiary friends and family are not going to be given a handful of the literal dust to take home so a selfie seems to me to be entirely in keeping with the noted human propensity to take souvenirs.

ETA to add that nothing is tacky when it comes to death. Via First Draft

New Orleans Saints fans are hardcore. Some of them want to take their fanatical Who Dattery with them when they die:
If the Saints get their way, you won’t be caught dead in the latest piece of fan gear.
A custom casket seller with an unusual storefront in the Esplanade Mall is under fire from the team over his $3,000 “Who Dat?” model casket, a black-finished steel coffin fitted with a gold satin pillow and fleur-de-lis decals.
Jonathan Lahatte, a former Orleans Parish sheriff’s deputy who opened his ’Til We Meet Again shop last fall, says he has no plans to slip away gently.
“You can be a diehard Who Dat all your life. What better way to celebrate it than be buried with it for all eternity?” Lahatte said from his store in a back corner of the mall, behind Great American Cookies. “Right now I believe I’m not doing anything illegal, so I’m going to keep it the way it is.”

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Rand Paul Crashes His Test Drive

Somebody must not like this kid. Newsmax's owner--I admit I didn't think they had an owner so much as an original source for the mold--has just written a rather clear eyed appraisal of the Republican party's chances if it can't get another superstar quasi Republican hero like Clinton. Remembering those days as I do I am rather astounded by how the passage of time has sweetened and softened what was, to say the least, a fraught relationship. But some members of the Republican party have decided to let bygones be bygones and they really don't want Rand raking all that stuff up again.
Sen. Rand Paul was fast becoming the GOP contender of the future — until he resurrected the Monica Lewinsky issue in a series of recent interviews. It's a real mistake for Paul's rising political future and a strategic blunder for the GOP. The Republican Party faces a serious crisis. Demographics are moving aggressively against its ageing white base. Blue states remain firmly entrenched while once-Red states such as Texas and Florida are becoming increasingly Blue. In 2012 the GOP spent $1 billion, fielding a telegenic candidate and..."
wait for it...wait for it...
still lost against an unpopular president presiding over the worst recession since the Great Depression.
Oh, and we started out so reasonably, in a world where changing voter demographics might lead us to think that voters might find different kinds of people "popular" and want different kinds of policies. Why, if they were popular, we might even measure their popularity by examining the popular vote during a major poll such as an election. They might even win such a popular poll by 5 million votes.
Why? I keep hearing that the party of Lincoln is "out of touch" with working Americans. In the face of this reality, the GOP should be grappling with how to offer positive, free-market solutions for America's ills.
I think the love that dare not speak its name here is basically, this. If the Democrats could pull all those fucking votes without running a white southern male who looks and sounds working class while we were running a northern elitist billionaire scumbag then we have got no hope at all if they run someone even tangentially associated with the working class, even someone faintly affiliated with the old soft shoe Clinton with his aroma de bubba.
Instead, Paul's assault on Bill Clinton is not only throwing the GOP back into the ugly muck of the 1990s, but pairing itself off against a still-popular former Democratic president.
Yup, there it is. Don't remind our remaining white voters that the Democrats don't always run a black guy.
The Clinton affair was litigated back in the 1990s, and Republicans went so far as to impeach the president. But in the end they lost — Clinton remained in office, and the public, by and large, decided that the GOP's efforts were not good for the country. We will lose again if we make Bill Clinton and the 1990s the issue.
Wait--you are talking evidence based medicine with the current Republican party? This should be good. Let me get out my popcorn and put my feet up. This is going to take some Sochi level gymnastics combined with some Ken Ham level contortions. Our editorialist is not content with just cautioning Rand not to remind people that Hillary Clinton is the wife of history's greatest monster. He goes a whole lot further and writes a mash note to Clinton that makes pecuniam non olet faint with shame at its understatement:
Clinton, to his credit, has admitted his mistakes, to his family and to the public. He apologized for them and gained redemption with a presidential record that has turned to gold as the years have passed and by acting as a goodwill ambassador for the United States. Some years ago Newsmax featured Bill Clinton on the cover of our magazine, focusing on how Clinton had not only re-invented the post-presidency into a powerful bully pulpit, but praising him for engaging globally with the work of his foundation, laudable work even straight-laced Republicans could applaud. (Emphasis mine) In recent years, Clinton has won kudos from both sides of the political aisle for his work with his foundation, which has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for various causes since it was established in 2001. Recently renamed the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation, it has used the president's immense popularity and fundraising prowess — and that of his wife, Hillary — to improve the lives of more than 400 million people in more than 180 countries around the world by alleviating poverty, supporting numerous public health initiatives and developing sustainable development projects that governments won't touch. While in the past many former presidents have retreated to the golf course and corporate boardrooms, and one, Jimmy Carter, has spent his time often siding with American adversaries, (like, voters?) Bill Clinton put himself in the frontlines advocating for the country.
I would gloss that last line as "his big swinging dick, he swung for us." And for the grand finale:
In fact, his popularity actually reached an all-time high as recently as September 2012, when a New York Times/CBS News poll found that two-thirds of registered voters viewed him favorably. That popularity no doubt made a difference in the 2012 elections. Clinton delivered a powerful speech at the Democratic National Convention and aided President Barack Obama's re-election campaign. Clinton's support, understandably, has angered some Republicans and perhaps helped create the embers that Rand Paul has fanned so successfully over a matter that seems resurrected from the ancient past. I think the Republicans — and Rand Paul — should learn a lesson or two from Bill Clinton. One is that we need to focus on the future and the policy issues that make the Republican Party a better choice to voters, offering a message of true economic prosperity that creates real jobs and real wealth. And, like Clinton, we can actually do something that proves we care. Unfortunately, I am not seeing and hearing that important message today from Washington's Republican leadership. We need to if we want to win. Christopher Ruddy is CEO and editor of Newsmax Media Inc.
Good luck friend. You've got a long row to hoe if Rand Paul, or any of the other potential contenders, are the tool of your choice.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Stop Making Nonsense

Recently people like Ross Douthat and other right wing shills have been making the following case: Obamacare is bad because people will stop working so hard.  This makes sense only in a world where sense is nonsense.  Or in a world, like modern America, where people are paid to be professional liars in order to preserve a system which condemned millions of their fellow citizens to nasty, avoidable, illnesses and deaths.

There is no necessary relationship between affordable health care and not working. None. Its like saying that because the "air is free" people will be encouraged to stop working because they don't have to pay for tubes of oxygen in order to survive.  Even though oxygen is currently freely available and necessary for life people still work, and work damned hard, to supply the other necessities.  In addtion, obviously, there are a lot of things people don't have to pay for and yet they work (for pay), and there are a lot of things people can't get paid for and yet they continue to do for other people (charity, child rearing, eldercare, cooking, sewing, doing art).

There is no sum total of work which is mandatory for each person in society in order for them to have dignity, or worth, or to contribute to society.   Lots of people don't work in this society--children, the very old, people dying of cancer.  We don't consider them unemployed and we certainly don't, as a rule (unless for purposes of right wing propaganda or if they are non white) consider them moochers and looters.  Lots of things that are valuable to society and to the human beings who make up society aren't paid for and yet people do them anyway.

Its a historical accident that our previous health care system was bound up with 1) for profit insurance companies and 2) employer and taxpayer subsidies through employers.  While its technically true that, as a result, people have had to work hard and often work continuously for particular employers in order to gain access to health care that is not at all necessary to health care--that was just forced on us by the refusal of the American Medical Profession and Employers to permit the formation of a serious national health care system that would cover everyone.

People in other countries, notably Canada, France, the UK, and Switzerland and Germany get health care as a right, as a baseline, regardless of their income (though income plays a part in some aspects of the system) and yet they have not stopped working and producing for the market. It production for the market is your god.  More importantly, they have not ceased to be human beings creating art and supporting each other if that is your desired form of human community.

 Douthat and the Republicans in congress have a model of human beings in which if they aren't in fear and dread for their very lives, every moment, they will somehow become useless idlers, sucking the teat of the government and refusing even to tie their own shoes.  But this is, of course, nonsenense.  Babies and children get sick all the time--we treat their illnesses and they go back to doing the things children do: playing and learning.  Adults get sick all the time and if we treat their illnesses they go back to doing the things adults do: learning, working, forming families, supporting each other.  Health care isn't some kind of frivolous toy or drug, whose aquisition sates or stupefies us. Its just something, like food, shelter, and clean water that enables us to live a little better and a little longer, to function a little more serenely or to die with a little more dignity.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

JennofArk on The Moral Case For A Living Wage

  • From a Commenter at Alicublog Nymmed JennofArk. Emphasis mine.  I've had this conversation with so many people, but I've never seen the issues put so succinctly:

    I think some part of the problem is the left's failure to articulate the moral case for less income inequality. I'm amazed at how often I'm talking with demonstrably poor people who bitch about "all those layabouts on welfare," completely missing that their issue with it is envy - those "layabouts on welfare" are doing as well as the working poor bitching about them. It's pecking order, "yeah, well, I may be as poor as you are, but at least I'm not a mooch!" Society has let them know they suck because they are poor, so there's a real incentive for them to place someone lower on the totem pole Just a few days ago, I was talking to a poor woman was applauding the food stamp cuts. I couldn't hold back and told her I thought it was a horrible thing. I noted that most of the people on food stamps work but just don't make enough money to feed themselves. "And now," I said, "they'll be going to work hungry. That's not a good thing."
    The moral case for living wages is pretty simple: the great mass of humanity, usually through accident of birth, has no capital. They have only their labor with which to barter for the necessities of life. It's accepted that people like doctors, engineers, CEOs will make more money because of the investment of their time in education. But all of us have a finite amount of time on this earth, and none of us knows how much time we've got. So for each individual, time is a valuable, precious commodity.
    The moral formula is pretty simple: any day of work has got to provide compensation enough to support the individual who performed it (food, clothing, shelter) for a day. Otherwise you're expecting people to dig into the only capital they have - their life - and trade it away for nothing. It's immoral to ask someone to sacrifice their life - any portion of it - in the service of generating profit for someone else, without paying at least the amount that person needs for living during that period of employment. An individual wouldn't open a burger joint knowing that his return would be $7.35 per hour and that for each hour he was open, he would be falling further behind in terms of making a living; that his work would not just waste his limited time but actually buy him hunger. But turn that burger joint into a multinational corporation with rich people skimming profit off the top, and it's "just the way things are."

    It's theft, pure and simple. People need to understand that wealthy corporations - specifically the wealthy people who own them - are stealing their lives.
    *edit: I should add to this that what I've outlined is the answer to the "some people aren't worth more than minimum wage" argument. If a business can't run without them, or someone else in their job, they are essential and there is no business and no profit without them. If a business can't generate enough income to at base pay the people required to run it enough to live, then it is a business that should not exist, because no individual would undertake it on his own, knowing that it would do nothing but put him in an ever-deepening hole.

    JennOfArk      3 days ago