Torture and Killing as Virtue

April 28, 2014
Posted by Jay Livingston

In a 2008 post I wrote (here)
Sarah Palin was standing up for torture, and the Republicans cheered. It was then I finally realized: these people actually like torture.
She’s back, and things haven’t changed in six years except that the wingnuts have become more explicit in their exaltation of torture. It’s now a sacrament.  As Palin told the NRA
If I were in charge, they would know that waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists. [here at about the 7:20 mark]
The gunslingers of course cheered on cue. So far, not many Christians have voiced objection or even wondered what Jesus would do or who He would torture.

The reaction marches side by side with the “righteous slaughter”* fantasy, most recently enacted by the people who brought out their guns in defense of Cliven Bundy’s “right” to free government handouts. (The part about using women as shields didn’t quite fit with the machismo, but hey, nobody’s perfect.)  In the fantasy, it doesn’t matter whether you are the torturer or the torturee. The point is to test one’s manliness. 

Those who have experience with torture – even conservative Republican’s like John McCain – rarely entertain these romantic and cavalier notions. I wonder how many of the “citizen soldiers” who rushed with their guns to defend Bundy** had been real soldiers who had been shot at and who had seen battlefield death.

* My post with that title (here) was about the attempts to view George Zimmerman as a hero for his having killed Trayvon Martin. Unfortunately, his virtuous deed does not seem to have had the ennobling effect on Zimmerman that some might have hoped for.

** Like Zimmerman, Bundy soon turned out not to be the hero that his champions (Sean Hannity, et al.) thought they had.

Meta-Op-eds (Phoning It In)

April 25, 2014
Posted by Jay Livingston

It’s not much of a coincidence, these two columns today from the Times’s regular Friday guys.  Besides, the headline writer may have been doing it deliberately. (Why do they put Brooks on the left of the page and Krugman on the right? That’s just confusing.)

The larger coincidence is that neither of these columns is about Piketty or Capital in the Twenty-First Century. They are the columnists reactions to reactions to the book. Very meta. 

Krugman’s main point is that “conservatives are terrified” and do not have any data to refute Piketty’s thesis about inequality and capital accumulation.  Instead, says Krugman, they resort to name-calling, as though calling Piketty a Marxist meant that we should all ignore everything he said.  (Krugman, to be fair, has written columns and blog posts about the substance of the Piketty book. )

As for Brooks,  he lays down his usual psycho-cultural snark on liberal intellectuals – their envy and resentment.
 It really doesn’t help that you have to spend your days kissing up to the oligarchs and their foundations to finance your research, exhibition or favorite cause. . . .
Well, of course, this book is going to set off a fervor that some have likened to Beatlemania.
A 700-page work of economics and economic history as the equivalent of “Love Me Do.”

The Times pays, I would guess, at least $2500 for these 800-word columns.  And I’m sure that columnists, like all of us, have their off days when they’re too busy or uninspired to write something of substance.  But for my $2.50 on Friday, I’d like more than just a challenging crossword puzzle.  Yes, I know that these are “opinion” pieces, but opinion without evidence doesn’t go very far.  (And please, don’t bother making any comments about Maureen Dowd. I already agree.)

Reach Out

April 23, 2014
Posted by Jay Livingston

An article about a bread recipe in the Times today (here) has this sentence:
This recipe runs 38 pages in the cookbook “Tartine Bread”; when I began to I began to streamline it into the version you see here, I reached out to Mr. Robertson.
What struck me wasn’t the 38 pages.  (“Making the dough is also a two-day process. Resist the temptation to rush any of the steps” – assured me that I would definitely not be making this bread.) It was “reached out.”

We don’t call people, we don’t write to them, we don’t try to get in touch with them.  We reach out.  I get memos from the university urging me to reach out to students who are not doing well.  In response to a question about hiring, the dean tells me to reach out to someone in HR. New Jersey has a Reach Out and Read program.

To find other examples I reached out to Lexis-Nexis, limiting my search to today.  The Washington Times says the DoD “has come a long way to reach out to suffering soldiers.” This Times story  has the subhead “New York Police Reach Out on Twitter but Receive a Slap in the Face.” WaPo, writing about the choice of people to throw out the first ball at yesterday’s RedSox - Yankees game says, “we hope they didn't reach out to fellow Cabinet member John Kerry,” who threw one in the dirt back in  2004. 

Newsday has a picture from the same game

The caption" “David Ortiz reaches out and extends Fenway greeting to former Red Sox teammate Jacoby Ellsbury.”  Big Papi is literally reaching out, but the phrase implies something more. 

Others might not notice, but to my aged ears, all this reaching out sounds strange.  And in fact,  “reach out” is fairly recent.

(Click on a chart for a larger view.)

What did people do up until the mid-sixties, before they could reach out to others? Yes, they “contacted” them, but that too goes back only fifty years. 

How did speakers of English try to communicate with others for those centuries before 1960? “Reach out” does not appear at all in Shakespeare (1564-1616, Happy Birthday, Will). Nor, I would guess, in Nabokov (1899-1977, Happy Birthday, Volodya)

What happened in the sixties that started us reaching out so much? Was it the general touchy-feely sensibility?  (AT&T urged us to “Reach out and touch someone” by running up our long-distance charges,* but that ad campaign didn’t begin till 1979.) I look at that curve with its turning point in 1966, and until a better explanation comes along, I go with the Four Tops. 

* Long distance is now a dim artifact now considered immoral. In this “Kids React to Technlogy” video , when the unseen adult explains about long distance charges, one kid says, “They shouldn’t do that.” Only one of the kids guesses what long distance was. On the other hand, the dial tone and busy signal are a complete mystery.

** At Seder last week, a ninth grade girl received as a gift a YA book with the title, “I’ll Be There.” The sederians of an older generation on seeing this were moved to a brief unison rendition of what we could remember of “Reach Out (I’ll Be There).”  (We didn’t do very well on “Dayenu” either.)  Even at that, we got it wrong. It turns out that the book title referred to a different Motown song, the one by Michael Jackson.

Know Your Sample

April 22, 2014
Posted by Jay Livingston

Tim Huelskamp is a Congressman representing the Kansas first district. He’s a conservative Republican, and a pugnacious one (or is that a redundancy). Civility, at least in his tweets, is not his long suit. He refers to “King Obama” and invariably refers to the Affordable Care Act as “ObamaScare.” Pretty clever, huh?

He’s also not a very careful reader.  Either that or he does not understand the first thing about sampling. Tonight he tweeted.

(Click on a graphic for a larger view.)

Since polls also show that Americans support gay marriage, I clicked on the link.  The report is brief in the extreme. It gives data on only two questions and has this introduction.

The outrage might come from liberals. More likely it will come from people who think that members of the US Congress ought to be able to read.

Or maybe in Huelskamp’s view, only Republicans count as Americans.