Pointless Post in Useless Blog

October 9, 2013
Posted by Jay Livingston

The New York Post this morning had me at hello, or rather, at headline.

It’s an allusion to one of the Post’s most famous headlines, from 1983.

(This was long before the era of the Kristal-pouring, gold-card strip club, with sports stars and hedge-funders tossing out benjamins for lapdances. In 1983, a topless bar was most likely a seedy joint.)

Today’s headline was an homage to Vinnie Musetto, author of the “Headless” headline. He had been freelancing at the Post since his retirement in 2011, but in August, the Post cut him off entirely, claiming budgetary constraints. Among Post headline writers, he’s gone but not forgotten.

The news story (here) has relevance not just for headline writing but for matters of criminal justice, law, and culture as well.

Jessica Krigsman, who had been arrested for being topless in a Brooklyn park back in the summer of 2012, is now suing the city for violating her rights.  Her encounter with New York’s finest wasn’t exactly like “Law and Order.” She knew her rights, and the cops didn’t.
“I’m like, what? Haven’t you heard of People v. Santorelli?” Krigsman said she told the cops. . . . “This has been legal since the ’90s. Call your supervisor!”

One of the cops told her to “stop mouthing off” and threatened her with arrest, court papers say.
The cops put her in pink handcuffs and took her to the precinct.

Krigsman’s knowledge of relevant case law comes with her professional territory. She’s not a lawyer, she’s a stripper – “a burlesque dancer who performs a fire-eating bondage act.”  The Post explains:
She stripteases and eats fire while straddling a man whose hands are tied and is bound to a chair.

A description for the event reads: “Prepare to be strange, prepare to be altered! There will be nudity, blood, vulgarity and many other unspeakable things.”
Even the Post can’t make this stuff up.

It’s Not About Obamacare

October 7, 2013
Posted by Jay Livingston

Why are some Republicans willing to shut down the government and to force the US to default on its debts in order to prevent a health care system very much like the one instituted in Massachusetts – a plan designed by a conservative think tank (the Heritage foundation) and instituted by a Republican governor (Mitt Romney)?

Maybe it’s not about health care.

Four years ago, in the early days of the fight against Obamacare, it seemed to me that healthcare was a symbolic issue, a matter of status politics. (That post is here.)  For many of the protesters, the question was not which healthcare policy would be good for who. The question was: whose country is this anyway?

These were Sarah Palin’s “real Americans” – older, white, non-urban – and they had long assumed that it was their country.  And they were right.  But the 2008 election was a rude reminder that they were becoming a minority – less influential, less powerful, less respected. The passage of Obamacare would somehow inscribe that diminished status into a law.  So Obamacare became the decisive battle in the fight to “take back our country.”* If we lose, if Obamacare takes effect, it’s their country.

In this apocalyptic style of thinking, Obama and Obamacare balloon from political opponent into something close to absolute evil.  And if you’re fighting evil, compromise is not an option.

Christopher Parker and Matt Barreto’s recent book, Change They Can’t Believe In, fills out this picture of the adamant Right. The Tea Partistas are not just a more strident versions of traditional conservatives.  Issues that engaged the traditional right – e.g., a muscular foreign policy – are not so important to them.  They are much more likely to emphasize the illegitimacy of the Obama administration. 

Parker and Barreto found differences like these by comparing the postings on Tea Party websites with those of National Review Online. (The National Review has long been the voice of conservatism – and not even “moderate” conservatism – but it’s not Tea Party).  The NRO posts were mostly devoted to policy matters. But on the Tea Party sites, over half the content had a flavor that Parker says is “more in line with Richard Hofstadter’s Paranoid Style in American Politics” – conspiracy theories, and attacks on Obama.

(Click on the chart for a larger view.)

The data come from graphs posted at a WaPo Wonkblog interview with Parker (here). I don’t know what their coding scheme was, and I wonder about some of the absent topics. Immigration is the only domestic policy issue on the charts.  No guns, no healthcare, no taxes, etc. 

When Republicans think about Obama, legitimacy is the overarching issue.  Here is a word cloud of focus groups of Republicans – from Tea Party to moderates – asked about Obama.**

While all saw Obama as a liar, the Tea Partistas and Evangelicals said that what the lies and deceit were hiding was a socialist-Marxist agenda and that Obama himself was a Muslim and a tyrant, a non-citizen, a supporter of terrorism, and a “masonic Devil Illuminati.”  In fact, the word cloud shows devil turning up with the same frequency as dumbass (though for all I know, those could be n = 1).

In sum, the hard-core right views the Obama government as illegitimate and corrupt, and they fear that its success will mean total transformation of American society, a transformation in which they and people like them will lose status and power. That success, they fear, will come from the new health care law. As Andrew Sullivan says, “nothing represents their sense of loss and anger more powerfully than Obamacare.”

So don’t ask why some people are willing to shut down the government and to have the US default on its financial obligations, with all the damage that may bring to the economy of the nation and the world, in order to thwart a change in healthcare policy.  It’s not about Obamacare.

* In my “Repo Men” post (here), I offered some data showing that his imagery of “taking back our country” is much more a staple of out-of-power Republicans than Democrats.

** A pdf. of the report by Stan Greenberg and James Carville is here .

The Daughter Also Rises

October 4, 2013
Posted by Jay Livingston

I still recall a Times wedding announcement from a few decades ago. The bride’s given name was Scarlett.

Why, I wondered, would someone name their daughter Scarlett? The text of the announcement pretty much answered that. Her debutante party had been a Gone With the Wind Ball, with the family’s estate transformed into Tara. 

Names are always, to some extent, a projection of parental ideas onto the child.* The question is: to what extent? It’s one thing to name your kid Jayden or Isabella because you think it sounds like a cool name – unusual enough to be hip, not so unusual as to be weird.  It’s another to saddle your child with your very specific fantasy derived from some novel or movie you imagine recreating in real life.  (Scarlett, I recall, had become an actress, so she may have been comfortable playing out other people’s fantasies, even her mother’s.) 

I had thought that this sort of naming had waned, so I was a bit surprised by this sentence in a post at The Monkey Cage, a political science blog:
First up is Brett Ashley Leeds, a professor at Rice University who has published widely on issues of international security, especially alliances.
I know nothing about Prof. Leeds or her work or her parents.  Nor do I have any idea what effect her Hemingway-derived name might possibly have had on her.  I expect that she has not taken up with journalists suffering from what we now call erectile dysfunction or with 19-year old toreros.  (I would also expect that she has long wearied of references like these.) I do note however that her post, “Why is work by women systematically devalued?” has a sentence about the effects street names might have on children. She writes, “from honorary names . . .they will receive messages that are likely to produce a subconscious bias.” I’m reluctant to make any such guesses about cause and effect.  But perhaps the messages that kids get from the names their parents give them is something Brett Ashley knows about.

* Names are parental projections, of course, only in societies where parents are free to choose the names of their children.

Chess Problem – In a Real Game

October 2, 2013
Posted by Jay Livingston

(No sociology here, just what Chris Uggen calls “self-indulgery.”)

I am not a chess player. I haven’t played since my kid was in grade school, and during Saturday morning tournaments, when the kids were playing their matches in the lunch room, some of us bored parents in the auditorium would sit on the stage and play our patzer’s version of the game.

But last Saturday I was at the farmers’ market in Union Square, which also has a lane for chess players. 

(Click on an image for a larger view.)

I figured these were canny players.  The match in the foreground above reminded me of “Searching for Bobby Fischer” – how many times had I watched our VHS of that movie – where a park hustler competes with a grandmaster for the chess soul of a young prodigy.

For a minute or so I watched this game.  When I got home and browsed through my photos – mostly of things like apples and radishes -- I took a closer look at the board.  It was white to move.:

Here’s a diagram of the position.

White pushed his pawn to h4, attacking black’s knight.

Black thought for a while, too long in fact, for he made some move with his queen. He had been so lost in thought about the line of play following that move that he forgot that he was about to lose a knight.

But neither player saw the killer move that black had.  If you know anything about chess, you’ll see it immediately.  It’s the kind of position you might find in the chess problem corner of the newspaper (“Black has a crusher”), on the same page with the Jumble and Funky Winkerbean.  But there it was in a real game.