Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Sarah Palin's new book -- Family Values, Fundamentalism and Frontierism

Shrill Spice has written another book in her latest effort to tell us what she wants, what she really really wants.  It's aptly entitled America By Heart:  Reflections on Family, Faith and Flag -- apt because Sarah's 3 Fs inform the core of a world-view she memorized as a child.  She ♥ her kin, her god and her country; she knows the words by heart and isn't interested in discussing any grey areas, thank you very much.  In fact, she's not just not interested; she's openly hostile to and dismissive of the very idea.

Fully cognizant that the 2012 campaign has now officially started, she wants Americans to recognize her as the anti-Obama...both of them, Barack and Michelle.  Barack may have grown up in a majority-minority state like Hawaii, but Sarah's Alaska is sparsely populated and three-fourths White.  It's interesting that both spent their formative years detached from the contiguous 48 and yet each developed a vastly different idea of what America has been, is, and should become.  Whereas the President comprehends and reveres what our flag symbolizes and represents, Palin sees it more as a totem being usurped by immigrants and the intelligensia who dare suggest that Betsy Ross wasn't guided by the Holy Spirit and that "American exceptionalism" is nothing more than a construct to facilitate our sea-to-shining-sea manifest destiny. Palin's America rests upon a pedestal; it's Mom and Apple Pie. There's nothing to discuss because it's perfect.  To suggest otherwise is not just rude or unpatriotic; it's an assault.

Palin's reading of the Bible and the U.S. Constitution is a fundamentalist one.  Leviticus says a man lying with another man is an abomination, so gays are bad.  The 2nd Amendment says you can bear arms, so guns are good.  Case closed, end of discussion. Context-schmontext.  The Obamas, on the other hand, didn't grow up in the bosom of the status-quo and experienced first-hand how their country -- as much theirs as Palin's -- wasn't always living up to its potential or its own clearly-stated ideals.  In law school (Harvard, no less), they read the Constitution, digested it, dissected it, discussed it, debated it...just as the Founding Fathers did and just as lawyers and justices have done every day since the first ink touched parchment.  One can only imagine that being lectured to on the subject or dismissed as unpatriotic by Sarah Palin is the definition of gall for them.

But, then, growing up on the frontier -- even a massively-subsidized one like Alaska -- teaches you to take what you need. Palin doesn't need to understand the intricacies of constitutional law or immigration policy or the separation of church and state or Islam or sexual orientation because she's preaching to a choir that is equally -- if not more -- ignorant as she about such issues.  They just want to know if your for or against.  Nuance is neither required nor desired.  Nuance is what the brainiacs like -- the "elites" who look down their noses at the simple folk.  Never mind that highly-educated people can also be family-oriented, faithful and patriotic; different approaches or interpretations are ipso facto incorrect and need to be "refudiated".

So, Janey One Note continues to blow her dog whistle and her hounds will continue to howl.  As long as the majority of the American voting public sees through her schtick, we'll be ok.  On the other hand, she will continue to remain dangerous as long as she invokes this idea of hers about a provoked Mama Grizzly.  If enough people feel threatened, her simple message with its simple symbols could still win converts.  Anyone foolish enough to laugh off the fire she's playing with doesn't know their history very well.

Just like Sarah.


[Hat-tip:  HuffPo; image via Wikipedia.]

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Armistice Day vs. Veterans Day

Frankly, I prefer the former.  And so do, I imagine, the handful of World War I veterans who are still alive and actually remember the end of what is regarded as the second deadliest war in human history and the first truly world war.

Considering the place the armed forces have in the national consciousness of the United States specifically -- Support Our Troops! -- I find it ironic that all veterans, living and dead, get not only just one single day a year, but they do it at the expense of World War I veterans.  Move over, fellas, we're all going to have to cram in here!

There may not be many WWI vets alive today, but there sure as hell were when President Eisenhower officially hijacked their day back in 1954.  Apparently the idea was the brainchild of some shop owner in Emporia, Kansas.  Well, we got sold something, that's for sure.

I wonder how V-E (May 8, 1945) and V-J (September 2, 1945 in the U.S.) Day veterans thought about this.  Were not those two singular days momentous enough to be commemorated on their own?  What about our own, homegrown war?  Shouldn't we give April 9, 1865, its due especially considering it remains the deadliest war in American history?  Or how about the day Cornwallis finally surrendered in the War of Independence -- October 19, 1781?  That's kind of important, right?

Nope...one day, that's it.  I think it's a sham(e) that Americans cannot be bothered to remember some of these seminal dates in our not-so-lengthy history.  I'm not saying that each date needs to be a federal holiday -- perish the thought; we're not France! -- but cannot each date be at least remembered by a moment of silence in government, a moment of instruction in classrooms, or even a mere mention in the calendar?  Unfortunately, for a nation that talks a big fight, we tend to lose our way in the follow-through; we prefer things uncomplicated and convenient.  So we have "Veterans Day" -- please note the lack of an apostrophe; in the government's wisdom, they decided to leave it out on purpose...you know, because, really, who can figure out if it should be Veteran's or Veterans'?

So, today, I will certainly remember all that our living and dead veterans have done, their service and sacrifice, but I will especially remember that at 11 a.m. on November 11, 1918, an armistice was signed in a railway car in a forest near the French town of Compiègne that ended the War To End All Wars.


I feel I owe it to the more than nine million soldiers killed, and I especially owe it to my Great-Great-Uncle Arthur Alden who was killed just a couple months before in July following the Battle of Château-Thierry.


[Image via Wikipedia.]

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Growing up on Sesame Street

Sesame Street is 41!  Can you believe it?  Talk about defining a period of time!  Before and after Sesame Street is kind of like before and after Pearl Harbor or before and after The Beatles -- a huge socio-cultural turning point.

Thanks to History.com, we know that it was today, forty-one years ago, that Sesame Street first premiered.  Earlier that year, Richard Nixon became President, The Beatles played for the last time in public, Dwight Eisenhower died, Charles de Gaulle stepped down, Elton John released his first album, Judy Garland died (closely followed by the Stonewall Riots in NYC), Ted Kennedy drove off a bridge at Chappaquiddick, the U.S. landed on the moon, the last cartoon in the original Looney Tune series was released,  The Brady Bunch premiered, and within a month the first Boeing 747 jumbo jet would make its inaugural flight.

Feeling old yet?

In my little corner of the world, my sister had been born the preceding April and I would be three in the coming March. Considering Sesame's target audience was three- to five-year-olds, we were the tiniest bit too young to have tuned in for that first show (but maybe not...I'll have to check on that), BUT we never knew a world without it by the time we did start watching.  The Sesame Street we knew back then was one where Mr. Hooper was very much alive, Roosevelt Franklin hadn't been yanked, and there was no such thing as a snuffleupagus.

It was also a very black and white world.  Literally -- we didn't have a color television set until Christmas 1974.  Imagine our joyful surprise when my sister and I discovered our favorite muppets were not various shades of grey but were, in fact, bright yellow, green, blue and everything else in the rainbow!  We also realized that it wasn't just the muppets who were "of color".  I think it's safe to say that Gordon and Susan were the first African-Americans my sister and I ever "met".  Same goes for Luis and Maria, who taught us our first words in Spanish.  (I clearly remember running up to my mother to ask her if she knew the Spanish word for "water"...and being horribly disappointed when she responded:  yes, agua.  How did she know that!?)  Our bedroom community of Buffalo was just about as white as a suburb could get, and we simply didn't know anyone who wasn't Anglo-Saxon (give or take).

We also didn't know anything about cities!  Brownstones, buses, "don't walk" signs, fire escapes and a world that was seemingly completely paved over were totally unknown to us.  I remember thinking it was all so fascinating.  123 Sesame Street -- I was especially enamored of Gordon and Susan's double front door, stone facade and front stoop.


They may have had something close to that in Buffalo, but they certainly didn't where we lived.  I was probably just a little too old for this when it came out:


...but I was psyched as hell when my younger cousins got it.  Outta the way, kid!

I felt like it was all speaking to me.  Was not my childhood house number 321 (just 123, backwards!); was I not a Fisher-Price tester child (I was!); did I not live in New York (State)??  Was this not my world too, albeit on a flashing screen beamed through the ethers from some 400 miles away?

I now belatedly blame/credit Sesame Street for my 16 years in New York City and becoming an architect.  I clearly didn't stand a chance.  I don't know about the draw of architecture school, but how many other kids found themselves in NYC as adults to one degree or another because of this show?  I'm guessing I am not the only one.

So, Happy Birthday, Sesame Street!  Thank you for showing me and countless millions of others a world different from our own, giving us friendly neighbors, a place to meet and setting us on our way.  You are definitely A-OK.


[Hat-tip:  History.com (via Avery!); images:  123 Sesame Street stoop, Fisher-Price set; Sesame Street sign.]

Monday, November 8, 2010

The New Civil War

This feels incredibly timely.


DISUNION

One-hundred-and-fifty years ago, Americans went to war with themselves. Disunion revisits and reconsiders America's most perilous period -- using contemporary accounts, diaries, images and historical assessments to follow the Civil War as it unfolded.


DISUNION is something I stumbled across today at The New York Times on its Opinionator blog.  It started this past October 31 and will continue to follow (until?) the events of 150 years ago as if in real time.

Certainly a sesquicentennial is reason enough for such a project -- and perhaps it is the only reason -- but the timing seems downright pre-ordained.  Ever since those first graphic designers on cable news conveniently divided our country into red and blue, we have come to understand that the ideological divide in our nation hasn't changed geographically in the last 150 years. The picture gets muddier when you look at the 435 individual House districts, where red vs. blue largely comes down to interior vs. coasts and rural vs. urban.  But, when you blur and round up for states as a whole -- as in Senate races and the Electoral College -- red has replaced grey for the Rebels, Yankees are still blue [was that on purpose I wonder...?], and the West is a hodgepodge.

Looks familiar, doesn't it?

What's old is new again, with certain high-ranking politicians throwing words like "succession" and "states' rights" around, calling into question fundamental constitutional foundations and issuing thinly-veiled threats of armed revolt.  Outright ownership of another person is no longer an issue (though the banks continue to try), but equal opportunity, access and protection still are.  And now, as then, an Illinois politician occupies the White House trying to hold things together.  This time, however, the President is black (or at least self-identifies and is generally recognized as such) -- a fact not unnoticed by certain standard bearers in Dixie and yet another interesting twist of how "here and now" are linked to "there and then".

All of which begs the question:  to what extent -- either by design or fascinating coincidence -- are we to ascribe any prescience to this re-chronicling, day by day, of that period in our history that lead to a violent and deadly civil war?  If the past truly is prologue, what can we learn from today's vantage point and the benefit of clear hindsight to avoid past mistakes?  And is it even possible?


[Image via NYT.]

Friday, November 5, 2010

Keep Nancy Pelosi and dump Harry Reid!

Ok, folks, a little reminder lesson in how our democracy works (and please forgive me if this is old hat to many of you).

Every two years, the entire House of Representatives is up for re-election -- all 435 members.  The Founders (Madison, I think) designed it this way (though there were fewer then, of course) so as to be a more immediate barometer of the country's mood -- for better or worse.  Unlike the House, only 1/3 of the Senate is up for re-election every two years, so that all 100 members will have stood for re-election during the six years that are a senator's term in office.  Then, finally, the White House -- its President and his (or, one day, her) administration -- only stands one more time after being elected the first time.  Politically speaking, a perfect storm is only possible every four years when 100% of the House is up, 1/3 of the Senate, and 100% of the White House.  The Senate, designed to be the most deliberative body, is thereby the most protected against the vagaries of the American electorate.

Enter this most recent election.  The knives are currently out for Speaker -- soon, perhaps, to be Minority Leader -- Nancy Pelosi, because a) her chamber bore the brunt of voters' discontent and b) the victorious Republicans specifically used her as a whipping girl and substitute for a milquetoast Reid and an untouchable (for now) Obama.  And, here's the kicker:  they are not just Republican knives -- in fact, the Republicans, thinking they've got a good thing going, would like her to stick around in leadership; no, the knives out for Pelosi are from her own side.

This is not only foolish and stupid, it's deeply unfair.  Nancy Pelosi is the only Democrat in leadership who has met expectations and kept her campaign promises, period.  I would wager that there were more Democratic seats lost in the House on Tuesday because of Independents and Democrats sitting the election out in protest for the incredibly lame fumbling that happened in the Senate and the White House with all the legislation she got through the House (as promised and instructed) than any new Republican recruits to Pelosi-hatred.

Harry Reid, to be sure, had his own fight to wage...but would he have had such a close election with someone even Republicans weren't sure smelled right if his position hadn't been so irrevocably damaged by a universal condemnation by his own Party of a lackluster performance since (and even before?) Obama was elected?  No!  Absolutely not.  Frankly, I'm thrilled he beat Sharron Angle in the end, but she never should have been a serious candidate in the first place.  She's clearly outside the mainstream -- even for Nevada -- and the only reason she gave him a run for his money is that Democrats weren't even sure they wanted him back.

Soooo [and you see where I'm going with this, yes?], I'm curious -- and not a little outraged -- that all the talk is about whether Pelosi will keep her leadership position in the House (albeit now in the minority) and no one whom I've read has brought up whether Harry Reid should keep his position of Majority Leader in the Senate!  Just because his chamber (as we've said, only a third of which was standing for re-election) held the majority for the Democrats doesn't mean that he -- much more than Pelosi -- doesn't bear a huge responsibility for this past cycle's losses. Where are the calls for his ouster?  Where are the calls for someone, say, like Chuck Schumer, widely thought a possible replacement if Reid was unsuccessful in keeping his seat?  Frankly, this question would be moot if Angle had actually won (as many suspected she would).  Should those calls die out just because Reid did keep his seat!?

No, they should not.  Let's hope the Pelosi question is quickly settled so that the media -- always no farther along than a dog sniffing for his next morsel -- can shift gears and examine someone who should be the real fall-guy for this year's drubbing.


[Image source.]

Mitch McConnell is a sore loser...

...and an ungracious winner, and something coming dangerously close to being an open traitor.

It's one thing for a Republican to wish for Obama's early retirement; it's quite another to state it publicly -- especially when you currently happen to be the highest-ranked leader of said Party, who is supposed to be in partnership with ALL elected leaders for the next two years to move the country forward.  To want President Obama to fail over this next Congress -- something one would think a pre-requisite for any failure to be awarded a second term -- the country, by extension, would need to fail, or at the very least continue to suffer.  That should be unacceptable for any leader of this country, and it's especially unacceptable for a senator who is supposed to represent all of his or her state's voters, Republican and Democrat.

Even John Boehner gets this simple fact.  TPM is reporting that the soon-to-be-House-Speaker is already distancing himself from McConnell's incendiary post-election remarks.

Mitch McConnell should know better.  But, then, he has yet to be Majority Leader like his direct predecessors Bill Frist, Trent Lott, Bob Dole and Howard Baker, who all the pleasure of serving some or all of their time as their party's leader in the Senate with Republicans in the majority.  He's no doubt peeved that his party was not able to ride the same wave that swept Nancy Pelosi out of the Speaker's office.  One imagines he's also irked that, instead of his choice for Kentucky's junior senator, he's stuck with Rand Paul for the next six years.  All in all, one can forgive him some ill temper.

But not when it comes to talking about the President of the United States.  Can you imagine the geschrei from Republicans if Harry Reid came out with McConnell's words when he was Minority Leader?  Or how loudly Fox News would be screaming "unpresidential" if Obama spoke about McConnell this way?

Please.

There is a sentiment I have noticed on the left side of the interwebs that McConnell's attitude is simply one of a Southern (barely) white man balking at the politically superior status of a black man.  Tempting though it may be as an explanation, I think we ought to take our Vice President's sage advice about not questioning a person's motive and accept that McConnell's stance relative to the President is strictly partisan.  That said, McConnell needs to at least try to look like he is placing the concerns of the country over the concerns of his own party and its future.  We all know he wants to defeat Democrats...it goes without saying.

Or at least it should.


[Image source.]

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Peanut Gallery is now extra-crunchy!

Well, folks, we've got ourselves another Republican-led House of Representatives.  You know...it's one thing to have a Republican White House or a Republican Senate, but the House is something of a peanut gallery to begin with; the last thing you need is more nuts.

Pity the poor American electorate; they almost never remember this.

Unfortunately, American voters don't have many tools at their disposal to register displeasure.  Sure, there are a handful of tiny parties out there one can use to thumb one's nose at the bums; but, to have a voice in an actual governing party, one really has to choose between Republicans and Democrats.  Maybe one day these behemoths will be broken up into smaller chunks that can coalesce into governments based on the leading issues of the day, but, for now, it's still Pepsi versus Coke.

This last election was a referendum on the Democratic Party as a whole.  Republicans would like you to think it was about Obama, Reid and Pelosi -- and, to the extent that they are the party leaders, it's true.  But I believe the discontent is much broader. Part of it comes from the voters in the middle who aren't necessarily loyal to one party or the other.  These people can be swayed by policy and/or personality.  But the other part comes from demoralized progressive voters on the left who simply stayed home on election day.  They're frustrated that more wasn't accomplished in the golden opportunity they helped provide. After all, the Democrats had commanding majorities in both chambers and the White House.  If things cannot get done with a line-up like that, why bother?  Unfortunately for Pelosi, the entire House is up for election every two years, making it much more immediately reflective of voters' moods.  Sadly and ironically for her, she was seemingly the only Democrat who was making good on campaign promises.  She delivered; the Senate dithered; and Obama wasted time and energy on a détente that was never possible.

So now the gavel gets passed to Ohio's John Boehner -- the quintessence of Wall Street and country club Republicanism. Unfortunately for him, his is a dying bread.  His party has been hijacked by the Tea Party crowd and, just like the Contract with America types before them, they run the very real risk of reminding voters of why a Republican-run House is something of an aberration in American politics.

He's got two years.

But so do the Democrats.  What he and they do and don't do in this intervening period will decide whether Republican gains this cycle are sustained or if this year's results were a periodic attack of American political nuttiness.


[Image source.]

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Sarah "Baby Jane" Palin

Have you seen Mrs. Palin's new hairdo?  She launched it today to a very flummoxed Oprah Winfrey, who deemed it "kinda cute". (Fail.)  Check it out in all its "I'm-writing-a-letter-to-Daddy" glory here.

Ladies and Gentlemen: Kate Smith!

Here she is, circa 1930s, belting out her signature tune.  If this doesn't put a little shiver in your timbers on this Election Day, I don't know what will.



[Via YouTube.]

Monday, November 1, 2010

Hey America, meet Archie Bunker's grandchildren!

Hopefully, even if you're too young to have watched the show, you are aware of one of the most important television shows ever produced:  All In The Family.  It thematically and chronologically encompassed the Seventies, running from 1971 to 1979 and addressing what seemed like every possible social issue in a society where such things were still widely considered taboo. Racism, homosexuality, feminism, war...it was all in there.  Many of the best confrontations were between pater familias, Archie Bunker (Carroll O'Connor), and son-in-law, Michael Stivic (Rob Reiner).  Archie is exactly what central casting would deliver for a quintessential Tea Party character of today:  conservative, reactionary, distrustful, prejudiced and mad-as-hell.  Mike (or "Meathead" as Archie calls him) is mad-as-hell, too, but in direct opposition to his father-in-law; Mike is an outspoken liberal who came of age in the Sixties' summer(s) of love.  He sees everything his generation wants to fight and reform distilled in the figure of Archie.


Fast forward to today -- some almost 40 years after the show premiered -- and w're still talking about the same things. Afghanistan and Iraq have replaced Vietnam and Al Qaeda has replaced the Soviets, but, other than that, the themes remain.

Enter Joey Stivic.


Joey is Mike and wife Gloria's only child and Archie's grandson. Joey's a Generation Xer who's now in his mid-thirties.  Joey left Astoria, Queens for Park Slope, Brooklyn.  Joey voted for Obama. And Joey probably went to Washington, DC, this past Saturday for Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert's Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear.


Stewart and Colbert were both born in the last years of the Baby Boomer period and would have been weened on All In The Family. They no doubt see today's Rush Limbaugh as yesterday's Archie Bunker in Gucci loafers.  They recognize that the Tea Party has breathed new life into the old Archies, and they have to wonder how on Earth this happened.  How is it that, in 2010, we are still having this argument?

The Rally's call for a moderate middle and a pragmatic approach in discourse if not policy is a generational synthesis born of the dilalectical forces between Archie and Meathead.  Joey's generation is sick of the shrill and wants to restore some reasonableness.  It's not that he isn't passionate; he is, but it's a more pragmatic passion that tries to actually facilitate change rather then simply scream for it while vilifying anyone who doesn't agree.

Archie and Edith's LaSalle may have run great, and Mike and Gloria's Mustang was cool; but Joey drives a Prius.  He wants it all  -- dependability, design and responsibility.  Joey still loves his father and grandfather and forgives them both for thinking his car is a little fruity.  He simply rolls his eyes and forges ahead...because he's got stuff to do.

[Image sources: Mike and Archie; Joey Stivic; Rally.]