Dumb Quote of the Day: Standing on a Collapsing Roof edition

>> Friday, August 28, 2015

Flanagan was consumed with race hatred, and was disciplined by the television station for which he worked at the time for, among other things, wearing a Barack Obama button while he stood in line to vote. So why do we not retroactively conclude that images of Barack Obama are hateful, like the Confederate flag, and must be banned? Glenn Reynolds asks, "Will Obama apologize for the behavior of one of his followers?" Of course not. But imagine if a racist white killer who worked for a television station had been similarly disciplined for wearing, say, a Ted Cruz button. Do you not think that fact would be deemed highly relevant, and highly embarrassing to Senator Cruz?
Powerline, August 27th, 2015

Where do we begin?  Do we perhaps begin with the basic factual error in the above paragraph, which is that Vester Lee Flanagan wasn't reprimanded for wearing an Obama button while voting, but for wearing an Obama sticker while covering the 2012 election at a polling place for WDBJ?  (That link, by the way, being the very same one Hinderaker provided, so he certainly seems to have failed the comprehension portion of the reading test.)  Do we begin with the fact that the only people who have ever associated President Obama with racism have been a vocal subset of white reactionaries who have been looking for "reverse-racism" from the President going all the way back to the Reverend Jeremiah Wright nonsense, while the various Confederate flags have been a symbol of white supremacy movements all the way back to 1861?  Do we simply skip to the rhetorical question at the end and answer that the fact a murderer once wore a Ted Cruz button at some moment in his career would probably be pretty irrelevant and not particularly embarrassing to Senator Cruz unless, perhaps, the killer tried to credit Cruz for his actions in much the same way two Bostonians apparently credited Donald Trump's anti-immigrant rhetoric for their alleged assault on a Hispanic man, in which case, maybe?

What's really swirling around the bottom of the drain in Hinderaker's post is a profound ignorance.  Dylann Roof's spree-killing wasn't the reason the Confederate battle flags started coming down or almost coming down across the South.  Or it wasn't exactly the reason; all Roof did was create a situation horrible enough that even politicians who previously supported the flying of the Confederate flag had to agree with people who had been calling for its removal for decades.  To be even more specific, one of Roof's victims was an extremely popular fellow-legislator whose death rattled colleagues whose only stake in the issue had previously been its appeal as a hot-button issue for some of their supporters or a historical interest in their own family's role in the war.  Perhaps if Hinderaker knew what he was going on about, he'd realize that what happened wasn't so much a "leftist" exploitation of a new tragedy, but rather a tragedy that personally touched people forging a consensus around one side that had been critiquing, lobbying, and occasionally picketing since the 1950s.

Indeed, it's worth mentioning that Hinderaker's framing does a grave disservice to his own side.  The fact is that the politicians who brought down the Confederate flag in South Carolina were Republicans; the Democrats never had the votes or influence to make it happen, and the change had to be brought about by conservative stalwarts like Governor Nikki Haley and Representative Doug Brannon, with the support of national-level Republicans like Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush.  (Regular readers may well note the date and time of this post as being one of the few and rare times this blog has ever unironically and unsnarkily praised members of the GOP.)  One might uncharitably wish that it hadn't taken a mass-murder for some of these folks, members of the Party of Lincoln, to recognize both the root-history of the Confederate flags and the taint of the flags' embrace by contemporary white supremacist groups, but the thought is unkind, unfortunate and irrelevant: what matters is that these folks decided to plant their feet on the right side of history and take a hard stand that brought them death threats and hostility from many of their own supporters.  Doing the right thing even when it's a hard thing is a sign of nobility, and I may disagree with Governor Haley et al. on nearly every other thing you could think of, but I'm pleased to thank them and praise them for this one thing, at least; Hinderaker, on the other hand, would take away the pride, nobility and bravery of their accomplishment and pin it on my side as if framing us for some supposed crime.

No thanks: all we did was stay the course and we're happy some of our former opponents came around and saddened by the loss--including the personal loss of a friend--that helped them come around to our way of thinking about this one issue.

Hinderaker does go on to say some less-stupid things about the lack of mental health care in the country, though I'm not sure he and I would agree on what could be done about it.  Of course, he also does that as a bit of misdirection away from the gun control issues that Vester Flanagan raises: Flanagan may have been violently mentally ill, but perhaps if he'd been a violently mentally ill man with a chainsaw or a pair of rusty garden shears, he'd have been easier to get away from or capable of less damage (especially if he tried wielding such things one-handed while filming his crime with his cell phone).  

Gun control is basically a dead issue in this country.  If the deaths of a bunch of little kids in school didn't change that, one doesn't imagine the deaths of a couple of adults doing so, either.  But since Mr. Hinderaker brings it up (if only to wave his hands at mental illness and shout, "Look over here!  Over here!"), I'll just say, yet again, that all the gun-advocates seem bizarrely smitten with the idea that decreasing the number of firearms in circulation would accomplish nothing because crazy people are crazy.  Hinderaker tries to make some hay out of saying, "insane people like Dylann Roof and Vester Flanagan keep passing background checks" without getting anywhere near the point that background checks are a poor compromise between making guns slightly harder to sell without making them noticeably more difficult to own, and that an extended program of grandfathering-out classes of firearms (for instance) would eventually result in people like Roof and Flanagan having less opportunity to get hold of firearms, would limit the kinds of firearms they might manage to get anyway, and would perhaps prove to be such a pain in the ass to people who want to kill right now that they might have to resort to things like knives that are capable but not nearly so efficient.

(On a tangent: earlier this week I read a New York Magazine story about a pair of mentally-ill children who stabbed another child 19 times and managed to not-kill her.  The story is depressing and troubling, and is a must-read if you're strong of heart and a must-avoid if you don't want to spend a long quiet interval staring into space contemplating despair, and I really only include the link in case you don't believe me: 19 times.  And one wonders how many people--surely some, surely not many--and how many children, especially, might survive being shot 19 times, as opposed to being stabbed 19 times; a knife being a lethal weapon, yes, but one that requires exertion, a lethal weapon that can be fended off, a lethal weapon that requires a physical intimacy with the victim, a lethal weapon that can only penetrate flesh so-far before it has to be withdrawn--sometimes with nearly as much physical effort as burying the blade was in the first place.  There's a reason people don't hunt for deer with knives (I mean as a weapon, not as a tool for cleaning a carcass, and you knew that), a reason people don't fight wars by charging each other across a field with kitchenware drawn and ready.  Nineteen times.  The body, even a child's body, is a resilient thing--it has to be, that's how Nature forged us over millions of years of evolution--but it's not immortal or indestructible.  Nineteen knife wounds.  And the poor child will suffer grievously, but lives.)

There's a bit more stupidity about "Flanagan’s hateful ideology."  Hinderaker, echoing some idiocy on the part of the I-thought-he-was-smarter-than-that Glenn Reynolds wonders why Black Lives Matter won't "disband, and stop stirring up race hate," which is something I hadn't noticed them doing; I thought they were simply trying to point out that the black lives matter as much as white people's lives in a country with a depressing history of completely devaluing black lives in the century-and-a-half since it became illegal to price them in dollars at auction houses.  Regardless, it's awfully convenient and facile for Hinderaker (and Reynolds) to suggest an equivalency between organizations that Flanagan might have supported and organizations Dylann Roof is known to have supported when the latter includes groups like The Council of Conservative Citizens, "an American white supremacist organization that supports a large variety of conservative and paleoconservative causes in addition to white nationalism."  Reynolds, calling Flanagan "a black Dylann Roof," asks, "Will we see culture war unleashed against any organizations he [Flanagan] might have supported?" and answers himself, "Of course not. That sort of thing only goes in one direction," which saddens me a bit because I really did think Reynolds was better than that even if I disagreed with him: I really, sincerely assumed that if there was one thing the left and right could declare "culture war" on as a united front it would be things like the CCC, but Reynolds' tone suggests I may be wrong about that and that I'm supposed to feel bad about declaring a "culture war" on neo-Nazis, neo-Confederates, white supremacists, and proud race-mongering fascists.

It's typically considered bad form to answer a question with a question, but at this point the only response I can come up with to the rhetorical questions about culture wars and disavowing Flanagan and embarrassments and whatever is, What the fuck, man?.  "WTF?" as the kids these days like to say.  And at first I thought I'd ask this rhetorically, as a rhetorical flourish, What the fuck, man? and then mic-drop and roll offstage (stage left, natch), but as I think about it, I really must ask this question with some sincerity and wondering about fucks.  I can get a certain white lack-of-comprehension or thin-skinnedness about Black Lives Matter--it's stupid, please understand, but I can get how the phrase can be almost-willfully misconstrued into some kind of relative statement about non-black lives--but to then go the extra step and compare a movement that has engaged in mostly-peaceful pickets and assemblies for the cause of holding police officers accountable for the people they shoot to groups that basically think the wrong side won the American Civil War? 

What the fuck?

An update/addendum: as originally posted, I wrote about Dylann Roof as a supporter of Stormfront, a neo-Nazi group.  Upon further self-checking, I find that Roof's connections to Stormfront, if any, are apparently still unclear.

It appears that a more-certain influence on Roof was The Council of Conservative Citizens, an organization whose status as a hate group is a little murkier.  That is, there are several prominent conservatives who have been or are associated with the organization, deny that its a "racist" organization despite the group's apparent sympathies with white separatists and white supremacists, and the group has the continued endorsement of Ann Coulter (who I swore to myself I'd never mention by name again, having decided she's a troll who very possibly doesn't believe a word she espouses) and Pat Buchanan  (who is a prince among men, a real prize specimen).

This does lead me to reappraise what I wrote, a little; there are people on the right who think the CCC is being misjudged and maligned by the left, and that they're just another conservative club being slandered and libeled and the questions and criticisms politicians like Trent Lott received about their association with the CCC were/are nothing more than witch-hunting.  And if you believe that, I suppose you might find what I consider to be an obvious (and offensive) false equivalency to be palatable.

So, y'know, I'll float that just in the interest of fairness: maybe you think the Council of Conservative Citizens has gotten a bum rap and focusing on Dylann Roof's admiration for the organization is even bummier.  I have to admit, I think less of you if that's where you're coming from, but I guess it's less-obviously stupid even if I think it makes you something of an asshole for equating Black Lives Matter to an organization that "...oppose[s] all efforts to mix the races of mankind, to promote non-white races over the European-American people through so-called' affirmative action' and similar measures, to destroy or denigrate the European-American heritage, including the heritage of the Southern people, and to force the integration of the races."  I'm not aware of anyone from Black Lives Matter getting on about "race-mixing," but hey, you say "potato," I say, "bunch of unreconstructed redneck racist fuckwits who subscribe to vile prejudices," but hey, y'know, maybe that's just the funny regional way words get pronounced differently in different places, or depending on how you grew up.


Dreams of my father's shirt

>> Wednesday, August 05, 2015

On the one hand, I don't really want to get into it: one of the problems we've created for ourselves is that our politicians aren't allowed to have personal lives, aren't allowed to make mistakes (however trivial), aren't allowed histories (hagiographies and the occasional redemption narrative aside, I mean).

And yet, I can't read this:

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is not shying away from his family legacy in his campaign.

The Republican presidential candidate unveiled a new online store on his campaign website that is offering a $25 T-shirt with the quote: "My dad is the greatest man I’ve ever known, and if you don’t think so, we can step outside."
Time, August 5th, 2015.

Without thinking about this:

One night, George W. brought his fifteen year-old brother Marvin with him to a party, where both of them were drinking.  On the way back, George W.'s car hit a neighbor's trash can and carried it down the block.  Once they were home, his father sent word that he wanted George W. to come see him in the den.  George W. was in no mood for a polite lecture.  "I hear you're looking for me," he told his father.  "You wanna go mano a mano right here?"  The confrontation ended without a fight when George W.'s brother Jeb interceded to calm him down.
- James Mann, George W. Bush: The American Presidents Series: The 43rd President, 2001-2009, pp. 14-15.

I mean, this seems pretty funny and tone-deaf to me: the story about a young, inebriated George W. Bush challenging his distinguished, war-vet dad to fisticuffs is a story that's sufficiently well-worn and well-retold that you have to wonder why his campaign would put out a t-shirt that practically invites retorts like, "You mean 'mano-a-mano'?" and "With him or with you?  Do I hafta stand in line behind your brother?"

I suspect that every young man on Earth has foolishly wanted to punch his dad at some point in his life, even if he had the best dad in the world.  I don't think the story about Young George challenging Old George to a brawl says much of anything about G.W. as a man except that he was once a foolish and belligerent child like any other man was a foolish or belligerent child (though G.W. may have been a bit more inebriated than most), and even less about his Presidency, the foibles and missteps of which continue to speak for themselves.

But I do find myself wondering about this shirt and Jeb, you know.  Did nobody on Jeb's campaign team think to ask if they wanted to risk reminding everybody about G.W.'s boorish, potted adolescence?  What is it about the Bush men challenging people to fights?

And, for that matter, what does the statement on the shirt even mean?  I have no idea who Jeb Bush knows or has known, and if his dad is the greatest man he's ever known, I'm not sure how I could dispute that even if I wanted to.  I think I'd probably need him to make some kind of list, maybe, so I could see what other men he claims to have ever known, and then perhaps compare George H.W. Bush to the other men on the list; even then, it's pretty subjective.

Also, while I realize that Jeb Bush is a Catholic and they don't have the whole "personal relationship" dealie that evangelicals go on about, I was sort of under the impression that if you're a Republican politician, the correct answer to, "Who is the greatest man you've ever known?" is "Jesus."  I'm pretty sure that that's the answer Rick Santorum will give if the question comes up during the Seven Dwarfs portion of first Republican presidential debate on Fox News on August 6th.

Also also, I would have assumed that Jeb Bush would have met Ronald Reagan while his dad was Vice-President during Reagan's administration, and I was also sort of under the impression that if you're a Republican politician, the other correct answer to "Who is the greatest man you've ever known?" is, "You mean other than Jesus?  Ronald Reagan."  Assuming you've met Reagan, of course.  Which, like I just wrote, I would have assumed Jeb did, though maybe I'm wrong or maybe Jeb just sort of grappled with the magnificence of Reagan through an intermediary and can't claim a personal connection to Reagan, which is sort of apt for a Catholic if you think about it, right?

Or am I misunderstanding the shirt altogether, and it's like a son's equivalent of a "World's Greatest Dad" coffee mug?  Maybe I buy the shirt wanting to advertise that my dad's the greatest man I've ever known, and to hell with Jeb Bush's dad who I've never met, and if you don't believe that my dad is the greatest man I've ever known we can go outside... and I'm not really a fighter, so I guess we could talk about it?  Or take a walk?  If there are ducks around, we could sit on a bench and watch ducks.  Ducks are cool.  They might even turn out to be the greatest ducks we've ever known.  Probably not, but how many ducks do we know?

My dad is a pretty good guy, but I have to admit I'm reluctant to say he's the greatest man I've ever known.  Nothing against my dad, mind you.  I think it's more that I'm afraid of what that statement would say about me, which is that most of the men I've known have turned out, upon closer acquaintance, to be unimpressive.  I think what I'm trying to say is that my dad has a pretty low bar to clear even after my forty-three years on Earth, and Abraham Lincoln and Gandhi and Albert Einstein are all dead and turn out to have been flawed weirdos anyway if you go by any relatively-recent biographies.  My dad's a good enough guy that if I told him he was the greatest man I've ever known, he'd probably be disappointed and wonder why I didn't get out more.  (Maybe that's a sign of greatness.  How the hell would I know?)

But so: here's a t-shirt that could not only draw snarkery from bleeding hearts like me, but also seems like it could invite a certain amount of ridicule from the right-wingers who probably don't like or trust Jeb already.  Which leads one to wonder who this shirt is for: since it would only be purchased by people who are going to give to your campaign anyway, why not just save the cost of making the shirts?  Though I guess that's not how politics works, for reasons I can't pretend to understand.  Sort of like the way PBS gives away tote bags to people who would donate to PBS anyway, and sure, donors like to advertise they donated and a tote bag lets them do that, but doesn't the cost of printing tote bags partly negate the contribution?  There's probably some arcana here I'm too thick or lazy to grok.

I should wrap this up, and so will say in conclusion that I don't really get Jeb's shirt and think it's kind of stupid, and hey, remember that time George W. Bush wanted to beat up his dad?  And also that the best t-shirt I've seen recently is CrazyDog T-shirts "Ask Me About My Facehugger," tee, which I think is pretty funny.  I realize that Jeb Bush doesn't want opinions from crazy liberal socialist atheist humanist weirdies like me, but I think Jeb should totally sell "Ask Me About My Facehugger" tees, and if he did, while I still wouldn't vote for him, I'd find him slightly less objectionable.  Also, I probably wouldn't buy one from him because I'm a fat guy and nobody wants to see my belly button, and the whole point of the gag is you have few enough body-image issues that when somebody says, "Okay, what about your facehugger?" you can flip your shirt over your head.  Hopefully not while smoking a cigarette or drinking a beer, but, you know, flip! and now they know about your facehugger, har-har-har.  But yes, Jeb should sell these.  Because they're awesome.


Spoiler: the Dungeons & Dragons movie will be a trilogy, at the end of which Wolverine finally becomes a first-level Bard

>> Tuesday, August 04, 2015

The Dungeons & Dragons Movie of Your Dreams Is Rolling Your Way

But will it be the Dungeons & Dragons movie of my 7th grade dreams?

I'm happy to say, based on a plot summary leaked to Standing on the Shoulders of Giant Midgets, that the answer is yes!

In the fantastic medieval kingdom of Centere Wyrlde, a party of adventures embark on the adventure of a lifetime in a world of adventure.  Join Hugh Mann the Magic-User, Tommy the Thief, Myzzrylazzar the Blackhearted, Janna Apollo, and Wolverine as they face off against Ents, Darkone the Necromancer, Fake Tiamat, Actual Tiamat, the Knights Who Say "Ni!", Meggadeathe the Shadow Ninja, and Lord Noruas in a cosmic battle to recover Excalibur on behalf of King Dio (who, unbeknownst to the party, is really the Polymorph Self-ed god Thor, who needs to return the sword to Odin's Treasury before Pluto, God of the Underworld, can claim it and bring about the resurrection of a million evil skeleton warriors who really have the stats for vampires).

Thrill as the party encounters the Girdle of Gender-Swapping, the Deck of Many Things, a Cursed Ring -3, a Bag of Holding that totally turns out to be a Bag of Devouring, and stumbles across a large dragon hoard that turns out to mostly be copper pieces and small rocks that were just enchanted to look like gold and platinum.  Hang onto the edge of your seat as Hugh Mann casts Identify on every single stupid magic item after the Bag of Devouring eats Myzzrylazzar's +2 Flaming Dagger, and then has to totally re-learn the spell afterwards because he totally forgets it after use and if he learns it twice he won't be able to slot Magic Missile and that's totally his best spell, man.

Will Hugh Mann the Magic-User trip over a stump and instantly die from his injuries?  Will Wolverine discover Tommy the Thief's pilfering of the party's potion stores?  And if he does, will he accept Tommy's explanation that, "I'm a thief, dude, so it's okay if I steal stuff because it's what I do"?  Will Janna Apollo lose all of his Cleric powers and become a fallen Paladin when he's accidentally "That's so Chaotic Neutral, man; Lawful Good means leaving at least a fifteen percent tip for your serving wench"?  Will Myzzrylazzar touch a lady's boob that isn't his own?  Can the party obtain a 10' pole out in the middle of nowhere to probe the ground in front of them after Tommy the Thief totally fails to disable the trap that caused him to freeze to death and catch on fire at the same time even though that spell totally isn't in the Player's Handbook and that's just cheating now?  Is there a cure for touching a Sphere of Annihilation?  Shouldn't the claws Wolverine got from that Ring of Three Wishes do at least shortsword damage instead of dagger damage?  Wait, why did the DM agree to that last bit so readily and start laughing so hard he knocked over the Doritos bowl?  Will Doug realize he should have also wished for immunity to damage from his own claws before he unsheathes them or after he has to roll for damage?  Why do gnomes suck?

I cannot begin to express my excitement for this movie.  Come on, WB, get this thing in theatres already!


Karen O, Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross - "Immigrant Song"

>> Friday, July 31, 2015

I apologize for not knowing this existed until today.  Please, please, please forgive my transgression.


Yo La Tengo - "Friday I'm In Love"

>> Friday, July 24, 2015

When I decided to post the video to Yo La Tengo's cover of The Cure's "Friday I'm In Love," it was because it was Friday, and I'm still in love with my wife, and YLT's recently-released  version is a thousand kinds of sweetness in just over three minutes.

I had no idea their video was ten thousand kinds of awesome, and not nearly so sweet but very, very funny.

Happy Friday, everyone.  Give someone a hug.  And try not to destroy civilization, please.


Quote of the day -- Well, at least we settled that, then, edition

>> Wednesday, July 22, 2015

"Reading the media accounts, one would conclude that defendant has admitted to rape. And yet defendant admitted to nothing more than being one of the many people who introduced quaaludes [sic] into their consensual sex life in the 1970's."
- Patrick O'Connor and George Gowen, as quoted by Yesha Callahan,
Drugging Doesn’t Equal Rape," The Root, July 22nd, 2015.

No, no, no.  I did not want to go here, or have this subject visit this blog.  What needs to be said that hasn't been said already?  And no, please: resist the temptation to state the obvious in the comments--that Cosby is a reprehensible man, or that he's innocent until proven guilty, or whatever.

Still, that quote is too rich to pass up, isn't it?  Yes, indeed, the rockin' and rollin' '70s, when powerful prescription sedatives were a part of the consensual sex life.  I was but a child and so missed the coital haze of the post-Woodstock decade, but was somehow under the (evidently false) impression that the '70s drug of choice for enhancing the sex life was that infamous anesthetic and stimulant, cocaine.  I was also under the impression that most recreational users of 'Ludes and Mandies administered the pills to themselves or shared the experience, much as users of that other famous recreational depressant of the '70s, heroin, shot up themselves and not just their partners.

Which, you know, wasn't good for the actual grindy sexifying, but wasn't the point when you were popping soapers.  Or so I'm told.  I was still watching Sesame Street in a completely sober, rapt and unironic way at the time.

No, I don't really want to get into obvious statements re: Mr. Cosby's sleaziness or the possible mixed motives some of his accusers may or may not have at this late date.  We know.  But I do think it bears amused comment and remark upon the obvious tone-deafness of Mr. C.'s lawyers, who, in an era in which sex with a drugged and unconscious partner has generally come to be regarded as a form of non-consensual sex, i.e. rape, insist that recreational use of Quaalude1 and alcohol is compatible with a "consensual sex life."  It seems fairly self-evident that the introduction of these specific drugs, especially in combination, quickly renders one or both partners incapable of meaningful consent and/or incapable of even active participation in sexual acts.  It also seems fairly self-evident that the introduction was one-sided, since one assumes (although the effects of drugs upon individuals may vary) that washing down a few 'Ludes with booze would render Mr. Cosby as semi-conscious and placid as his ladyfriend du jour and the whole discussion of stoned sex would be mooted.

That this is apparently a written statement, one which the lawyers had the opportunity to review before submitting to the press, makes the gaffe even more amusing and bewildering.  It would be a thoughtless enough thing to say during a press conference, in an interview, in the heat of a moment without carefully thinking through the sequence of words before they're launched from the lips.  St. Lionel of Hutz, patron saint of the legal profession, knows any of us in the Bar have done that; it's another thing entire to carefully write the words onto paper (or type them onto a screen), look at them, and still think they're a clever thing to show somebody else.

It might also be observed in passing that above and beyond expressing the dubious notion that giving a woman "a central nervous system (CNS) depressant of the quinazolinone class that acts as a sedative and hypnotic" prior to sex is consistent with a "consensual sex life," the statement also rather broadly suggests that the allegedly commonness of this is some sort of absolute defense.  That is, the statement from the lawyers essentially says, "Hey, c'mon, everyone was drugging women into semiconscious and schtupping them!  It was the '70s!", which hardly seems like a ringing defense of the sexual culture of the 1970s, much less of their client.  I can't say I've ever been able to successfully use "Everybody was doing it!" as a defense of anything, or have heard of it being successfully used in any venue from the backseat of a car during a hellish family roadtrip to a court of law.  One figures that even if the lawyers' statement is true, it's a far worse condemnation of the Disco Decade than the usual jokes about the clothing of the era or bitching about musical tastes.

Anyway, it was a dumb thing for Cosby's lawyers to put out there.  That was about the extent of it; that, and imagining all the people introducing 'Ludes to their sex lives.  I should really talk to my parents, or probably strenuously avoid the subject altogether.  I haven't quite decided.

1Let me tell you that this looks wrong, and yet "Quaalude" is a brand name, and spell-check rightly (I think) doesn't like "Quaaludes" (and "quaaludes," with the lowercase "q", is clearly right out).  And yet I fully realize that as far as pop-slang goes, "quaaludes" has come to be a common term for more than one dosage-unit of methaqualone, the generic name for the drug. 

Descriptivist-not-proscriptivist that I am, I'm normally inclined to go with the pop usage of a word, or to have some preference for it anyway.  But this seems tricky here, because technically we're talking (I think) about a trademark (indeed, I should probably be littering the post and footnote with TMs, it's just that I'm lazy.

So, y'know, I just don't know.

While we're down here, by the way, I'd just like to add that the only reason I know the Brits call 'Ludes "Mandies" is because of Nick Mason, who claimed that Mandies were Syd Barrett's drug of choice.  There's an infamous story, even, of Barrett crushing up his Mandies into a thing of hair gel before a Floyd gig and dumping the concoction on his head before going out under the hot stage lights, which caused the slop to melt and run all down Barrett's face like he was a melting wax effigy, and this was one of the final straws that had his bandmates deciding they couldn't work with him anymore even if he was not only their guitarist and lead singer, but also the author of nearly all their songs; the story has been told in more than one place, but I believe it was Mason who attempted to debunk it by observing that Barrett would never waste good Mandies like that.  In any event, if you're still with us and care at all: Mandies were evidently Syd Barrett's drug of choice, not LSD, which he probably took only a few times, and his reputation as an "acid casualty" is probably an inaccurate accounting of what was probably emerging schizophrenia exacerbated by drug use--mostly Mandies--and the stresses of the up-and-coming rocker's lifestyle (public performances, staying up all night, driving from one end of England to the other, having to answer reporters' questions, business dealings and financial issues, etc.).


Trolling Woody

>> Tuesday, July 07, 2015

One of the wonderful things about social networking sites is discovering, through your friends and connections, that things are things.  F'rinstance, it was thanks to a friend's Facebook feed that I encountered a Washington Post opinion piece by Randy Barnett about removing Woodrow Wilson's name from public places, which turns out (upon further Googlification) to be the tip of some kind of iceberg composed of several people suggesting we do this with levels of actual seriousness ranging from apparent sincerity to a trolling troll's just gotta troll.

The underlying notion in all these pieces appears to be that if we're going to have a national dialogue about tearing down the treasonous Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia and possibly also the various statues commemorating various traitors who opened fire on their fellow Americans, who stole taxpayer property, who damaged personal and public property, and/or who agitated for or coordinated such activities, and renaming various public places like schools that have been named after these figures, then we ought to discuss what a terrible President the 28th was.  Which, unfortunately, doesn't follow, though it happens to be a fair-ish point in its own right.

I mean, Woodrow Wilson was hardly a "model progressive" (as he's sometimes mislabeled), unless you redact the parts of the American progressive plank that were egalitarian, pacifist and isolationist: Wilson's presidency was notable for his rabid racism, his imposition of segregation on the Federal bureaucracy, and his military adventures in Mexico and Russia.

The dominant fact of his Presidency, America's late entry into the First World War, is a bit harder to grapple with: we tend to take it for granted that it was necessary, and it's one of the milestones in the United States' ascension to world power status along with the Spanish-American War and Teddy Roosevelt's diplomatic intercession in the Russo-Japanese War; we don't really grapple with the fact we entered it late, as a consequence of European meddling and politicking, that we arguably had little legitimate reason for getting into it, that our ascension into global importance may have cost us our Constitutional government, and that we may have played some small role in achieving the false peace that caused World War II to break out less than twenty years later.  That is, we don't really grapple with the bad parts of our intervention and really lay out the costs alongside the benefits in order to come to truly reasoned conclusions about whether the whole thing was worth it and (even if it was) how much we paid for it.

Wilson wasn't the worst President in American history, mind you.  He didn't get Washington D.C. razed, precipitate the Civil War, worsen the Great Depression, or narrowly avoid not just impeachment but indictment.  (The popular, wholly political and partisan misapprehension that either our current President or his predecessor are or were "the worst President ever" is a laughable yet sad indictment of how short and skewered our collective historical perspective is.  Our contemporary Presidents have yet to be judged by history, but it's unlikely either of them would qualify for the bottom five, much less the nadir slot.)  But he was undeniably a terrible person and a pretty bad President.  And talking about whether his name belongs on a high school any more than Richard Nixon's does is a legitimate conversation.

But when Randy Barnett writes something like this in the WaPo, it's so lacking in seriousness that I have to figure he's trolling--he can't possibly be so clueless:

No doubt there are others whose names should also be expunged. But because of his record of official racism and betrayal, Wilson’s name should be first on any such list. Those who oppose its removal from government buildings should explain exactly why whatever principle of tolerance they apply to so extreme a purveyor of racist policies as Wilson should not be applied equally to memorials to other historical figures as well.

What I suspect he means, from the context of current events and his mention of the Confederate Battle Flag early in the piece, is why single out Stonewall Jackson or Jefferson Davis for opprobrium and not Wilson?  Of course, as you might gather from my proceeding paragraphs, I fully endorse giving the skunk eye to Woodrow Wilson, talking earnestly about his legacy of racism and military gallivanting, and renaming high schools and cash prizes that currently bear his name.  So the question Barnett asks is... well, it's fairly stupid even if taken on its own terms.

But if Wilson deserves infamy, he deserves it on his own terms and not because of some inane apples-and-penguins comparison between an awful American president and someone who committed acts of treason against the United States and only avoided hanging by being shot in battle or because of Reconstruction-era amnesty policies that seemed (and perhaps were) necessary to effect national reunification and a permanent end to a long and bloody insurrection.  And if--if--Wilson's name remains on public buildings or associated with public institutions, it's because he was--for better and mostly for worse--Our American President of These United States, In War and In Peace, for awhile, and he didn't get run out of office; in other words, if we're going to have airports and schools and things named after Andrew "Trail of Tears" Jackson and Ronald "Iran-Contra" Reagan, one supposes we may as well have Woodrow Wilson's name here and there, though that doesn't change the need for frank conversation about what kind of man and what kind of President he was.

As I waited about this morning for things to happen, I read the Barnett piece and I also turned for a little while to one of the books I happen to be reading--President Ulysses S. Grant's memoir--and synchronicity or serendipity caused my eyes to land on these lines, which perfectly explain why Jeff Davis and why-not (perhaps) Woody Wilson:

The 4th of March, 1861, came, and Abraham Lincoln was sworn to maintain the Union against all its enemies. The secession of one State after another followed, until eleven had gone out. On the 11th of April Fort Sumter, a National fort in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina, was fired upon by the Southerners and a few days after was captured. The Confederates proclaimed themselves aliens, and thereby debarred themselves of all right to claim protection under the Constitution of the United States. We did not admit the fact that they were aliens, but all the same, they debarred themselves of the right to expect better treatment than people of any other foreign state who make war upon an independent nation.

They "debarred themselves of the right to expect better treatment than people of any other foreign state who make war upon an independent nation," indeed.  The problem with roads and schools and government buildings named after the likes of Jackson, Lee, Davis, Stephens, Forrest and others isn't simply that they were terrible racists, though that's relevant to how we judge them.  (An unfortunate truth of our heritage is that if we're going to expunge historical figures for racism, this country will have hardly any history at all, since a vast number of our country's heroes and villains were racists by almost any objective standard, even ones who weren't nearly as virulent or activist in their bigotry as Woodrow Wilson was.)  The bigger problem with these national exhibits, rather, is that these men were all traitors who waged war against their nation; on top of that, and salting the wound, they were traitors who waged war against their nation for the cause of preserving racial chattel slavery.

The great sin in having these public monuments to our self-proclaimed aliens is a compound sin, a knotted insult, an interwoven shame.  It's not merely that they were racists.  It's not merely, for that matter, that they were traitors--there's an argument, I think, that we should lionize John Brown for trying to seize the armory at Harpers Ferry; if he was a criminal and insurrectionist, at least he was a criminal and insurrectionist on the right side of history and humanity who was attempting in an unfortunate way to make good on the failed promises of the Declaration of Independence.  It's not merely that we are a shallow and history-less people who have spent two centuries wrapping ourselves in a self-aggrandizing, semidelusional automythology that is starting to look embarrassingly shabby these days.  It's all of these things, taken together: it's that we have a lot of memorials to men who betrayed their nation in their defense of racism, memorials which we have erected and tolerated in our defense of gauzy fables about "Lost Causes" and "states' rights" and "honor" and "heritage" and "tradition."  We haven't bothered to deal with who these men really were and what they did and why, much less what our continuing elevation of them to honored status after they so ignobly dishonored themselves says about us as a people.

By all means, let us talk about what a horrible little prick Woodrow Wilson was.  Don't let me stop you.  But if you think the problem with Woodrow Wilson is the same problem we have with Robert E. Lee, you're either a fool or a troll.  Sorry.


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