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Useful Kid

Friday, March 21, 2008 by Michael Reynolds

Another useful thing about having a geek in the family: we're in a hotel. The only internet connection is DSL. The kid knows how to use one plugged-in Mac to broadcast a WiFi signal the other Macs can use. For free.

Yes, it's ethical. Kind of.

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Peggy Noonan: Liberal Tool?

by Michael Reynolds

Thus far I've picked on Simon, Michael Gerson and Charles Krauthammer.

I've said nice things about Mike Huckabee (seriously: I did. It won't happen again.) But I can't recall where.

In the past I've taken shots at Peggy Noonan for her schoolgirl crushes on Saint Ronnie O'Reagan and Cowboy George. But Peggy got it right on Obama.

I thought Barack Obama's speech was strong, thoughtful and important. Rather beautifully, it was a speech to think to, not clap to. It was clear that's what he wanted, and this is rare.

It seemed to me as honest a speech as one in his position could give within the limits imposed by politics. As such it was a contribution. We'll see if it was a success. The blowhard guild, proud member since 2000, praised it, and, in the biggest compliment, cable news shows came out of the speech not with jokes or jaded insiderism, but with thought. They started talking, pundits left and right, black and white, about what they'd experienced of race in America. It was kind of wonderful. I thought, Go, America, go, go.

That's what I thought, too.

Most significantly, Mr. Obama asserted that race in America has become a generational story. The original sin of slavery is a fact, but the progress we have lived through the past 50 years means each generation experiences race differently. Older blacks, like Mr. Wright, remember Jim Crow and were left misshapen by it. Some rose anyway, some did not; of the latter, a "legacy of defeat" went on to misshape another generation. The result: destructive anger that is at times "exploited by politicians" and that can keep African-Americans "from squarely facing our own complicity in our condition." But "a similar anger exists within segments of the white community." He speaks of working- and middle-class whites whose "experience is the immigrant experience," who started with nothing. "As far as they're concerned, no one handed them anything, they've built it from scratch." "So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town," when they hear of someone receiving preferences they never received, and "when they're told their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced," they feel anger too.

This is all, simply, true. And we are not used to political figures being frank, in this way, in public. For this Mr. Obama deserves deep credit.
Just another liberal water carrier, I guess.

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by Michael Reynolds

Never happened. And if it did, it had no impact.

If you want to read a conservative who's not an idiot discussing the Obama speech, click here.

For those of you who prefer your conservatives obtuse and dishonest, there's Krauthammer:

(b) White guilt. Obama's purpose in the speech was to put Wright's outrages in context. By context, Obama means history. And by history, he means the history of white racism. Obama says, "We do not need to recite here the history of racial injustice in this country," and then proceeds to do precisely that. And what lies at the end of his recital of the long train of white racial assaults from slavery to employment discrimination? Jeremiah Wright, of course.

This contextual analysis of Wright's venom, this extenuation of black hate speech as a product of white racism, is not new. It's the Jesse Jackson politics of racial grievance, expressed in Ivy League diction and Harvard Law nuance. That's why the speech made so many liberal commentators swoon: It bathed them in racial guilt, while flattering their intellectual pretensions. An unbeatable combination.

But Obama was supposed to be new. He flatters himself as a man of the future transcending the anger of the past as represented by his beloved pastor. Obama then waxes rhapsodic about the hope brought by the new consciousness of the young people in his campaign.
This is the nub of the conservative argument against Obama. Allow me to summarize: "Waaah, you said you weren't going to make us feel bad about black people, waaaah."

Conservatives hate, hate, hate . . . no, not black people . . . but history. Or at least the history of black people.

They love the parts of history that are about winning wars. Also the parts having to do with the Founders ensuring their right to own guns. That's good history. That's history we should all clutch to our bosoms and look to each and every day for guidance and inspiration. History is our guide!

But not the part of history that involves crowds of white people drinking lemonade while stringing up a black man. That part of history has, and should have, no relevance or impact. At all. On anyone.

Conservative history goes like this: the brilliance of the Founders, the courage and gentility of Robert E. Lee, FDR packing the Supreme Court, the John Wayne portions of World War II, CBS surrenders to the Viet Cong just as we were about to win, Roe v. Wade, Ronald Reagan arrives on a cloud to banish the hippies, and Mission Accomplished.

Now for balance, we have the left-wing version of history: White guys enslave blacks, kill Indians, blacklist commie screenwriters, cut down all the trees and shoot all the fuzzy animals, and get rich selling Humvees to the army. And it's all about oil, man. Used to be all about coal, man. And before that it was all about alfalfa, man. Don't be naive, read Chomsky, that's all I'm saying.

In the conservative historical view there was no ethnic cleansing of Indians, the Indians, um . . . relocated. For the weather. They prefer a dry heat. In the conservative historical view we didn't enslave blacks, they were just kind of like Applebee's waitresses: underpaid, sure, but basically kind of cheerful. In the conservative historical view we never stole half the nation of Mexico at gunpoint, or allied ourselves with Stalin, or launched firebomb and atomic bomb attacks on cities full of women and children, or managed by sheer stupidity and military incompetence to lose a war in Southeast Asia.

In the conservative world view there has been zero impact from slavery and Jim Crow and widespread racism because 1) it all happened a long, long time ago, and 2) it never really happened, and 3) only the good parts of history have lasting impact, except for 4) Vietnam, which conservatives still haven't gotten over. Why, black people have the same chance as whites to be Harvard legacies who used Dad's connections to get into the oil business and eventually the White House. Fore!

In the liberal historical view we must, 1) take action to fight The Power, despite the fact that 2) The Power always wins and there's no progress, no, not ever, not even a little, and by "take action" we mean, 3) beating our breasts and the breasts of anyone else standing nearby so that people will, like, understand that, 4) people suck, man, which is why we must, 5) give power to the people. And by "people" we mean a coalition of Berkeley associate professors, lesbians, blacks and Latinos. Right on!

You know who got the history right? Not Charles Krauthammer. In Krauthammer's world there is no racism. Why, he never uses the "N" word. He's never personally lynched anyone, and if he saw it being done he'd call 911. He's never even stopped a black man for driving through a white neighborhood. And his limo driver -- who happens to black, so there -- likes him, and always seems pretty happy.

Gosh. No overt racism at the Washington Post or the American Enterprise Institute, Charles? Then there must be none anywhere. Ever. Poof! All gone.

You know who got the history and its impact about right? This guy:

But for all those [African Americans] who scratched and clawed their way to get a piece of the American Dream, there were many who didn't make it - those who were ultimately defeated, in one way or another, by discrimination. That legacy of defeat was passed on to future generations - those young men and increasingly young women who we see standing on street corners or languishing in our prisons, without hope or prospects for the future. Even for those blacks who did make it, questions of race, and racism, continue to define their worldview in fundamental ways. For the men and women of Reverend Wright's generation, the memories of humiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away; nor has the anger and the bitterness of those years. That anger may not get expressed in public, in front of white co-workers or white friends. But it does find voice in the barbershop or around the kitchen table. At times, that anger is exploited by politicians, to gin up votes along racial lines, or to make up for a politician's own failings.


In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don't feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience - as far as they're concerned, no one's handed them anything, they've built it from scratch. They've worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they're told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.

. . .

But what we know -- what we have seen - is that America can change. That is true genius of this nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope - the audacity to hope - for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.

So, yes, it happened. Slavery happened. Jim Crow happened. Profiling continues to happen. There's scarcely a white person over the age of 30 -- set aside what black people hear -- who has not heard the N-word used in earnest. I know I have. So yes, it happened, and it continues to happen, and it didn't all just go away, it hasn't gone away.

It has not gone away.

But it can.

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Passportgate? No?

Thursday, March 20, 2008 by Michael Reynolds

It seems a number of State Department employees have gained illegal access to Senator Obama's classified passport records. It seems it happened on three different occasions and involved at least two State employees. I say "seems" because this is just coming out and stories like this can drift over time.

The two employees in question have been fired, a third has been disciplined. Firing strikes me as a bit harsh, unless we have evidence that they were acting out of malice. If they were doing oppo for the GOP, or trolling for tabloid gossip, that's one thing, and the FBI should spend a couple of agent-hours and find that out. But if it's just some dumb-asses peeking out of curiosity, that strikes me as an unpaid leave-of-absence kind of thing.

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Such An Offer!

by Michael Reynolds

So cute I could just smother him . . . with kisses, of course.

We are having some difficulty figuring out how to get Pugs -- the brilliantly-named pug -- to Italy.

It seems pugs have a slight tendency to um, die, if they travel by air. Three of the four members of our family would be upset if that happened, and when 75% of the family is upset, the remaining 25% has a hard time really celebrating.

In any case, we're looking for someone to adopt this cute, adorable, yappy little dog. I'm told he's a good lap dog. I'm told he's actually very sweet. I'm told that I should stop threatening to hit him with a stick.

This is a serious offer. I will deliver him pretty much anywhere east of the Mississippi, to a good home, to be cared for for a period of a year.

But wait! That's not all! We'll actually pay you. $250 a month. (Yes, even if he dies. As a matter of fact, if you can keep your mouth shut about it, there could even be a bonus.)

And. And! Like a yapping, pissing, ugly-ass dog and $250 a month isn't enough to entice any rational person into jumping up and down, waving his hand and crying, "Oooh! Ooooh! Me! I'll do it!" We will also cover all vet expenses.

Write now! Only one pug per customer, so don't delay!

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Michael Gerson Is a Liar

Wednesday, March 19, 2008 by Michael Reynolds

Former Bush speech writer and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson shows himself to be a thoroughly dishonest partisan hack. His column and my responses in bold.

A Speech That Fell Short
By Michael Gerson
WASHINGTON -- Barack Obama has run a campaign based on a simple premise: that words of unity and hope matter to America. Now he has been forced by his charismatic, angry pastor to argue that words of hatred and division don't really matter as much as we thought.

A fraudulent statement. Obama has not run a campaign based on words alone, he has a long list of specific proposals, including, to take one example, a rather more complete and honest approach to health care than the blather offered by John McCain. He has never said that words alone were the point of his campaign. He's said just the opposite. Gerson uses Hillary Clinton's parody of Obama as though it were fact.

Obama's Philadelphia speech made this argument as well as it could be made. He condemned the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's views in strong language -- and embraced Wright as a wayward member of the family. He made Wright and his congregation a symbol of both the nobility and "shocking ignorance" of the African-American experience -- and presented himself as a leader who transcends that conflicted legacy. The speech recognized the historical reasons for black anger -- and argued that the best response to those grievances is the adoption of Obama's own social and economic agenda.

It was one of the finest political performances under pressure since John F. Kennedy at the Greater Houston Ministerial Association in 1960. It also fell short in significant ways.

The problem with Obama's argument is that Wright is not a symbol of the strengths and weaknesses of the African-American community. He is a political extremist, holding views that are shocking to many Americans who wonder how any presidential candidate could be so closely associated with an adviser who refers to the "U.S. of KKK-A" and urges God to "damn" our country.

Obama did not say that Wright was a symbol of the strengths and weaknesses. The word symbol does not appear in the speech. What Obama said was:

"But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren't simply controversial. They weren't simply a religious leader's effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country - a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.

As such, Reverend Wright's comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems. . ."

Obama's excellent and important speech on race in America did little to address his strange tolerance for the anti-Americanism of his spiritual mentor.

Either Mr. Gerson did not read the speech, or he is blind. The bulk of the speech is precisely on this topic. He makes the point at some length that he saw Wright as a spiritual, not political mentor. That Wright brought him to Jesus. That Wright also did some good work in the community, and that it was for these reasons that he admired Rev. Wright.

Take an issue that Obama did not specifically confront in Philadelphia. In a 2003 sermon, Wright claimed, "The government lied about inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color."

This accusation does not make Wright, as Obama would have it, an "occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy." It makes Wright a dangerous man. He has casually accused America of one of the most monstrous crimes in history, perpetrated by a conspiracy of medical Mengeles. If Wright believes his charge is correct, he should urge the overthrow of the American government, which he views as guilty of unspeakable evil. If I believed Wright were correct, I would join him in that cause.

The Christian right accuses the United States of perpetrating a holocaust through abortion. Mr. Gerson himself believes this. And yet, no revolution for Mr. Gerson. So, it seems, it is utterly inexcusable for Rev. Wright to stupidly accuse the US government of one bit of mass-murder, but perfectly all right for Mr. Gerson's allies to accuse the US government of a rather larger act of murder.

But Wright's accusation is batty, reflecting a sputtering, incoherent hatred for America. And his pastoral teaching may put lives at risk, because the HIV virus spreads more readily in an atmosphere of denial, quack science and conspiracy theories.

Much as intolerance of gays by the Christian right puts gays at risk. No? Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell both accused the United States of having deserved, indeed brought on, the attacks of 9-11. Mr. Bush demurred. But he did so in terms far tamer than those used by Mr. Obama to chasten Rev. Wright. And lest we forget, Mr. McCain then made a pilgrimmage to kiss the hem of the Christian right's garments.

The Philadelphia speech implied that these toxic views are somehow parallel to the stereotyping of black men by Obama's grandmother, which Obama said made him "cringe" -- both are the foibles of family. But while Grandma may have had some issues to work through, Wright is accusing the American government of trying to kill every member of a race. There is a difference.

The US government did, of course, manage to murder most of a race, the Native American one. And the US government did in fact deliberately infect black test subjects with syphillis in the experiments in Tuskeegee. All ancient history, yes. But perhaps less ancient for an aging black preacher. And Wright's accusations are in no way any more inflammatory than statements made by Mr. Gerson's allies on the far right.

But haven't George Bush and other Republican politicians accepted the support of Jerry Falwell, who spouted hate of his own? Yes, but they didn't financially support his ministry and sit directly under his teaching for decades.

Oh, spare me. Mr. Bush and every Republican have taken money from Robertson and Falwell and Dobson and gone begging for more. So it's morally reprehensible to toss a $20 into Rev. Wright's collection plate, but acceptable to take millions in donations from right-wing nuts? Even Mr. Gerson can't be quite that stupid. Which makes this paragraph not just absurd, but actively dishonest: a deliberate lie.

The better analogy is this: What if a Republican presidential candidate spent years in the pew of a theonomist church -- a fanatical fragment of Protestantism that teaches the modern political validity of ancient Hebrew law? What if the church's pastor attacked the American government as illegitimate and accepted the stoning of homosexuals and recalcitrant children as appropriate legal penalties (which some theonomists interpret as biblical requirements)? Surely we would conclude, at the very least, that the Republican candidate attending this church lacked judgment, and that his donations were subsidizing hatred. And we would be right.

Again, see Pat and Jerry and a thousand others. The GOP has absorbed religious extremists into its core. Men and women who believe gays deserve to die. Men and women who believe a woman who is raped and aborts the resulting fetus is a murderer. Men and women who hold that an unbaptized baby may well burn in hellfire for all of eternity. Men and women who believe Jews and Muslims not only will, but deserve to be, consigned to eternal torment.

In Philadelphia, Obama attempted to explain Wright's anger as typical of the civil rights generation, with its "memories of humiliation and doubt and fear." But Wright's problem is exactly the opposite: He ignored the message of Martin Luther King Jr. and introduced a new generation to the politics of hatred.

No, Obama did not attempt to pass of Wright as "typical." He attempted to put the kookery in some context. Oprah Winfrey has attended this church. Was she introduced to the politics of hate? Is she the next radical we'll see being denounced? And just how out of touch with reality is Mr. Gerson that he can, with a straight face, suggest that African Americans would otherwise never have noticed that there was still race hatred in this country?

King drew a different lesson from the oppression he experienced: "I've seen too much hate to want to hate myself; hate is too great a burden to bear. I've seen it on the faces of too many sheriffs of the South. ... Hate distorts the personality. ... The man who hates can't think straight; the man who hates can't reason right; the man who hates can't see right; the man who hates can't walk right."

Barack Obama is not a man who hates -- but he chose to walk with a man who does.
You mean, like the guy in the picture above?

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Says The Grizzled Sergeant

by Michael Reynolds

I've been having a multi-blog pissing match (here and here) with Simon from StubbornFacts on the topic of the Obama speech and Reverend Wright.

Simon irritates me, I'll be honest about that. He irritates me because he seems smug and cocky in that way that only the young and gifted can be. (And by the way, I may be completely wrong about his life experience.) He's a very smart guy. I've told him I think he's callow. And too partisan to see things very clearly. I imagine that irritates him. I certainly intended it to.

I don't disrespect the feelings of people younger than myself. I take their emotions very seriously. And I don't dismiss their ideas. Chris Hallquist is an occasional commenter here, he's a college kid, and I'd love to sit down with him, buy him a beer, (possibly illegal in his case, I'm not sure,) and have him school me on what he knows of philosophy. His reasoning is clear as crystal. He carries Occam's switchblade around in his pocket.

But if Chris were addressing life more generally, matters of morality and context, if he were passing judgment on another man, I'd discount his opinions a bit, as I discount Simon's. Not because either isn't smart as hell, and maybe (gasp!) smarter than me. But because life isn't just idea or theory or, god help us all, ideology. You don't get to pass judgment on another man until you've lived some. You know why? Because until you've lived some, you're the new lieutenant freshly arrived to take over the platoon.

You may turn out to be a hero. You may turn out to be a great soldier, a leader of men. But we're not going to know that until you've been under fire.

Smart people tend to see too clearly for real accuracy. They see sharp lines. Experience blurs the lines a bit. Experience teaches you that you -- yes, even you -- will fuck up in some way that will leave you ashamed and appalled and doubting your ability to go on. Everyone gets there, sooner or later. You think you won't, but you will. And it's the minutes and days and weeks after that point that determine whether you are the real deal.

You're not a veteran until you've been under fire, been scared to death, and kept going. You're not a fighter until you've climbed up off the canvas after being knocked silly. You're not a grown-up until you've taken some hits -- and I don't mean being turned down by your first-choice frat -- and survived.

In the political world, Hillary Clinton earns some respect from me, not for her policies particularly, but because she can take it. In my little blogosphere world, Amba gets extra points because she's taken some hard ones to the chin, and she's still standing.

Have you been scared? Have you been whipped? Have you been damaged in some way that will never quite heal? Have you done things that left a permanent stain on your soul? Have you betrayed and been betrayed? Have you carried some weight on your shoulders? Have you paid a price? Then I'll listen to you when you tell me how some other person has failed and, by implication, how much better you would have handled things. If not? If life is still pretty golden for you, then wait a while: you'll get your chance.

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Money: Mouth

Tuesday, March 18, 2008 by Michael Reynolds

What did I think of Obama's speech? I just made my first donation to the Obama campaign. (Inspired by Amba.)

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The Upside of Blindness

Monday, March 17, 2008 by Michael Reynolds

No. Nooooooo! Although, I think they have free bagels for breakfast.

This is so deeply, deeply depressing:

The thunderous applause was still ringing in his ears when the state's new governor, David Paterson, told the Daily News that he and his wife had extramarital affairs.

Not that part.

In a stunning revelation, both Paterson, 53, and his wife, Michelle, 46, acknowledged in a joint interview they each had intimate relationships with others during a rocky period in their marriage several years ago.

No, not that part, either.

In the course of several interviews in the past few days, Paterson said he maintained a relationship for two or three years with "a woman other than my wife," beginning in 1999.

Here it comes:

As part of that relationship, Paterson said, he and the other woman sometimes stayed at an upper West Side hotel — the Days Inn at Broadway and W. 94th St.

A Days Inn. A Days Inn in New York City. Oh. My. God.

The best New York hotels are dumps compared to, say, the best Chicago or LA or Paris hotels.
The New York discount is about two stars. A New York five star is a Chicago three star.

Which makes a Manhattan Days Inn the equivalent of a Topeka Motel Six. Of course the new governor is legally blind, so maybe he doesn't know. You know?

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The Company We Keep

by Michael Reynolds

Here's the speech I'd give if I were Barack:

I've taken some heat for my long association with Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Let me make this perfectly clear: he's an idiot. He's a creep. He's a race-baiting, scum-sucking lowlife.

But let me make this clear, too: he's got just about the biggest congregation in Chicago.

I'm a politician. I also like to think of myself as a community organizer. I go where the votes are. I go where I can network. I chose the church I thought would do my career the most good. Oops.

Now, if you want a politician who never associates with assholes, you'd better see if you can raise Mother Theresa from the dead and get her to run. Associating with assholes is a big part of any politician's job. For God's sake, people, I'm in the Senate. I work with Robert Byrd and Thad Cochran. You think this loudmouthed preacher's the only jackass I have to pretend to listen to?

And how about all you holier-than-thou hypocrites at home? You don't have that one racist buddy you can't quite lose? You don't have a relative you suspect of being a bit of a Spitzer? You don't work with at least one complete jerkwad? You want to be judged by association with the biggest dickhead you know?

Yeah, I didn't think so.

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Two From The Onion

by Michael Reynolds

Army Holds Annual 'Bring Your Daughter To War' Day

And this.

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Tooting My Own

by Michael Reynolds

Starred review in VOYA. (They have the wrong cover shot, but that's our fault.)

"If Stephen King had written Lord of the Flies . . ." Quite possibly the perfect blurb from where I sit. Not a single thing wrong with being compared to King and Golding. Very cool.

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Magic Tax Cuts

by Michael Reynolds

So the Republicans gave a huge tax cut to the rich. The rich then invested that money in Bear Stearns. Current value: the same as the lint in your pocket.

Thank God we didn't waste that money building infrastructure, improving education or pushing a realistic energy policy.

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