Inquiring Minds

Finally, there’s the bullshit of infinite possibility. These bullshitters cover their unwillingness to act under the guise of unending inquiry. We can’t do anything because we don’t yet know everything. We cannot take action on climate change until everyone in the world agrees gay-marriage vaccines won’t cause our children to marry goats, who are going to come for our guns.

— Jon Stewart, “Three Different Kinds of Bullshit

This week’s featured post is “The Artful Puppet Master: How Fox turned the first Republican Presidential Debate into a plus for the GOP“.

This week everybody was talking about the Republican debate

The big winner in the debate was the Republican Party, which avoided a potential disaster through Fox News’ careful stage-managing (which I described in “The Artful Puppet Master“). Beyond that, it’s hard to say. Trump, I think, solidified people’s prior opinions. The moderators did their best to trip him up, but the kind of people who liked him to begin with probably liked his answers — and felt confirmed in their loyalty by their impression that Fox was unfair to him.

Rubio was consistently served softball questions and looked good answering them. (Solidifying my prior opinion that Rubio-for-president is a high-concept campaign. Once you grasp “young good-looking Hispanic conservative” you’ve got the whole message.) Like Trump, Huckabee, Cruz, Paul, and Christie gave answers that appealed to their core audience but probably didn’t convince many other people. Kasich looked like the moderate in the debate — which he isn’t — but whether that will serve him in the Republican primaries seems doubtful.

I thought the losers were Walker, Bush, and Carson. Not because they made any major gaffes, but because they seemed to fade into the background.

If watching the actual debate was too much for you, the Gregory Brothers have turned it into a song.


Pundits tell us that Carly Fiorina won the kids-table debate among the seven Republicans who didn’t rank high enough in the national polls to get into the real debate. They could just as easily tell us that Marvin the Martian won, because absolutely no one watched that debate, probably including half the pundits who tell us Fiorina won. (I kept telling myself it was my due-diligence duty to watch, but life is too short.)

Charles Blow nailed the blindness about racism that the debate exemplified: We focus on the “tip of the spear”, the final interaction between a police officer and a poor black person. But we ignore “the spear itself”, the system that cuts taxes on the politically powerful and then sends police out into powerless neighborhoods to raise revenue by finding violations to ticket.

One thing to keep in mind when you listen to Jeb Bush: The impressive growth numbers he quotes about his two terms as governor of Florida come mostly from good timing. He took office in early 1999 and left in early 2007, just before the housing bubble popped — rocking Florida worse than just about any other state. As PBS’ fact-check on the debate noted: Jeb’s claim that Florida added 1.3 million jobs during his governorship is correct “but by December 2009, 900,000 of those 1.3 million jobs had been eliminated.” Here’s the relevant graph from the Federal Reserve by way of Paul Krugman:

Florida has those jobs back by now, but think about what that means: It actually took 16 years, not 8, to create those 1.3 million jobs. So if you cut all of Jeb’s claims in half — 2.2% long-term economic growth rather than 4.4% — you’re closer to reality.

Krugman comments:

So Jeb is basically promising that as president, he can generate Florida-style bubbles, which bring disaster when they burst, to the rest of America.

A National Journal reporter tried — and pretty much failed — to cover Donald Trump seriously. His attempt makes a great critique of our spectacle-driven politics.

Finally, the people who really deserve a chance to respond to Donald Trump are not the other Republican candidates, but the Mexican-American community. Melissa Fajardo takes a good shot:

You probably think I’m here to say a big “F**k you, Donald Trump.” But actually, I’m here to say “Gracias.” Thank you for making 2016 the year in which immigration will define the election. … We might not all have big fancy hotels or beauty pageants like Trump, but lucky for us, we have a community of more than 11.6 million. And we’re tired of being called criminals and bad people. So in the coming months, we’ll go out to the polls and vote.

and Jon Stewart

Jon Stewart’s final Daily Show Thursday night was a sweet and sentimental send-off. Imagine, as Stewart was about to begin his run, that someone had said to him: “You’re going to do this for 16 years, leave on your own terms, have everybody you worked with turn up for your going-away-party final show, and get played off the stage by Bruce Springsteen.” I think he’d have found that an acceptable future.

Best line of the night: Larry Wilmore (whose Nightly Show got pre-empted for the hour-long Daily Show finale) complained, “Black shows matter, Jon.”

Not so fast, guys. There’s a new cat coming. And from what I saw of his stand-up show in Portsmouth a few weeks ago, Trevor Noah might be up to the job.

and a BLM protest that drove Bernie Sanders off the stage

A Bernie Sanders rally in Seattle was disrupted by Black Lives Matter protesters, who grabbed the microphone and wouldn’t let go. Organizers weren’t willing to give TV cameras the spectacle of police dragging the protesters away, so they cancelled the rally. Later that day, 15,000 people saw Sanders at a different Seattle-area rally.

The protest evoked a lot of discussion in the blogosphere, mostly centering around the question: Why Bernie? Isn’t he one of the candidates most sympathetic to African-American issues?

Several contradictory points are bouncing around.

  • BLM isn’t a top-down organization, so we don’t really know that the two or three black women who grabbed the microphone represent anybody other than themselves. One of the women in particular seems a little atypical.
  • Bernie’s proposals center on class rather than race. Since the lower classes are disproportionately black, his policies would favor them. But he’s not attacking racism directly enough for BLM activists.
  • Some blacks are asking the same question. The comments on the article about the protest in The Root are all over the map.

As I watch Bernie supporters react on my Facebook newsfeed, I’m struck by their frustration about why anybody would vilify a candidate who mostly agrees with them, just because the candidate doesn’t completely agree. I don’t think they realize that Hillary supporters look at them exactly the same way. Bernie himself has been pretty good about not vilifying Clinton, but his Facebook supporters show a lot less restraint.

Jade Helm 15 gets serious

When the lunatics were raving about how the Jade Helm 15 military exercise was really about imposing martial law, I laughed. I laughed a little less when the Governor of Texas pandered to these nuts, and when various other Republican leaders treated them as if they were reasonable people with legitimate concerns.

Now some of them have been caught plotting to lure American troops into a death trap in North Carolina. Shots may have been fired in Mississippi, though that story is a little sketchier.

I realize Republicans don’t want to stop anybody from making up crap about President Obama, no matter how unfounded it might be. But encouraging this kind of insanity has consequences.

but I was thinking about abortion

In particular about Katha Pollitt’s op-ed “How to Really Defend Planned Parenthood” in the NYT.

When you hear someone attempt to defend abortion, too often they’re just defending abortion rights, with a subtext something like: “This is a distasteful, disreputable practice that I think other people should have the right to engage in if that’s how they roll.”

Pollitt argues:

To deflect immediate attacks, we fall in with messaging that unconsciously encodes the vision of the other side. Abortion opponents say women seek abortions in haste and confusion. Pro-choicers reply: Abortion is the most difficult, agonizing decision a woman ever makes. Opponents say: Women have abortions because they have irresponsible sex. We say: rape, incest, fatal fetal abnormalities, life-risking pregnancies.

… We need to say that women have sex, have abortions, are at peace with the decision and move on with their lives. We need to say that is their right, and, moreover, it’s good for everyone that they have this right: The whole society benefits when motherhood is voluntary. When we gloss over these truths we unintentionally promote the very stigma we’re trying to combat. What, you didn’t agonize? You forgot your pill? You just didn’t want to have a baby now? You should be ashamed of yourself.

Women who regret their abortions become pro-life crusaders, but the far greater number of women who think they made the right decision leave all that behind them.

It is understandable that women who have ended pregnancies just wanted to move on. Why should they define themselves publicly by one private decision, perhaps made long ago? I’ll tell you why: because the pro-choice movement cannot flourish if the mass of women it serves — that one in three — look on as if the struggle has nothing to do with them. Without the voices and support of millions of ordinary women behind them, providers and advocates can be too easily dismissed as ideologues out of touch with the American people.

Women aren’t the only ones who need to speak up. Where are the men grateful not to be forced into fatherhood? Where are the doctors who object to the way anti-abortion lawmakers are interfering with the practice of medicine?

Here’s what I think: At times, a woman’s decision to have an abortion can be heroic. She is defending her dreams, rather than letting her life get derailed by an accident. She is braving disapproval for the sake of the family she already has, or foresees having when she is better able to care for it, or for the sake of the great things she hopes to do as a woman without children.

Pollitt’s article took me back to “What Abortion Means to Me,” which I wrote in 2012.

We came to this strategy: We practiced birth control faithfully, and planned to get an abortion if it failed. … So that’s what abortion has meant to me as a married man. My wife and I took responsibility for our childbearing. Without the possibility of abortion, we could not have done so.

Another interesting abortion article was in Vox. Julia Pelly reflected on how she mourned her miscarriage, and what that said about her prior pro-choice beliefs.

She might have done what Paul Ryan did when he saw his wife’s ultrasound: interpret personal intuitions about the value of this particular fetus as a universal moral truth that the law needs to impose on everyone else. Instead, Pelly leaves open the possibility that what she mourned were all the hopes she had attached to her pregnancy, which died in the miscarriage. Other women might feel differently about their pregnancies.

Two years later and with a toddler at my feet, I finally feel at peace. I’m at peace with the sadness I felt about my miscarriage — and with my belief that abortion is a fundamental human right. … What’s right for me, or sad for me, or joyous for me, may be just the opposite for another woman. In the absence of this knowing, knowing when life begins, we must defer to the woman and to what feels right to her, to the balance she strikes between the life she carries and the life she has. …

I trust women to know themselves, to know their lives, and to make good choices for themselves. I know now too that making a family is hard, that the beginning of life is ambiguous, part science, part spirit. With something so fragile, so hard, we should do all we can to support women in their journey, to celebrate when they celebrate, to mourn when they mourn. I will always mourn the loss of my unborn baby, and I will always fight to keep women’s right to choose, and access to abortion, alive.

and you also might be interested in …

All hell is scheduled to break loose when Congress returns from its summer recess. Of course there’s the Iran deal to vote on. But a lot of appropriations bills have to pass by October 1 if the government isn’t going to shut down. And another debt ceiling deadline looms.

A billboard in Kansas luring teachers to Missouri.

Do experienced teachers matter, or can we hire pretty much anybody to staff our public schools? Kansas may find out.

Kansas is the poster state for the Tea Party. Governor Brownback has implemented the full tax-and-budget-cuts-will-create-Utopia game plan, with the predictable result that the state is in serious financial trouble and the promised economic boom is nowhere on the horizon.

A lot of those budget cuts have hit the public schools, and some school districts ended the 2014-2015 school year a week or two early because they ran out of money.

As for teachers: pay is low, a law ending teacher tenure (not just for future teachers, but for current teachers who thought they already had tenure) is being challenged in the courts, collective bargaining has been limited, and the overall villainization of teachers has hit the point where the legislature debated a bill criminally prosecuting teachers who present material deemed harmful to minors. (It failed, but there’s always next year.)

Unsurprisingly, teachers are deciding that Kansas is a bad place to pursue their profession and are leaving in droves. Not to worry, though: Six school districts have been given a waiver to hire unlicensed teachers. Because it’s not like there’s any knowledge or skill involved in handling a classroom of kids — you just stand up and talk, right? Who can’t do that?

States are said to be the “laboratories of democracy“. Well, Kansas is experimenting on its kids. We’ll see how it turns out.

This NASA photo of the Moon crossing the Earth seems very peaceful to me. As Rick put it: “It doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.”

Media critic Jeff Rouner has a great response to the people who are upset that the new Fantastic Four movie makes the Human Torch black. In particular, he addresses the straight white men who object to this kind of “pandering” to the black segment of the audience or to political correctness or whatever.

Nearly every single movie, comic and video game you have ever enjoyed has been pandered to you as a straight white male. … Did you honestly think that every poster showing a strong, handsome male lead holding a gun and getting ready to do some damage wasn’t designed to appeal to your need to feel and identify as powerful, and that making the lead actor white would make that connection easier?

… My fellow straight white (and cis and abled) males, you’re under a delusion, and that delusion is called normal. We are not normal. Black people aren’t normal. Trans people are not normal. There is no normal. We are all categories with no default setting for the human race. However, for more than 100 years, the vast majority of stories that have been told have been pandered to us.

Where we’re headed:

and let’s close with some art history

The art-museum chase scene from Looney Tunes: Back in Action.

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  • Tim  On August 10, 2015 at 10:52 am

    The “food” picture above is, I hope, a joke. If not, it would fall into the same ridiculous logic that Mike Huckabee has about homosexuals marrying and Christianity being outlawed. Just because certain food manufacturers don’t like to label their food as coming from genetically modified sources (which most studies have shown to be safe), does not mean that we will end up with a generic can of “food” or “food-like product.”

  • Dan  On August 10, 2015 at 12:13 pm

    I was struck by the line, “Where are the men grateful not to be forced into fatherhood?” Not forcing women into motherhood is considered their right, not something they need to be grateful for.

    At the point of conception, a man is legally bound to that child. I am put off by the unfairness of a system which allows a woman to opt out of motherhood, and touts her as a hero, whereas a man who wants to make that same decision is considered a dead-beat.

    I am pro-choice, and do not in any way believe a man should have a say in what a woman does with her body, but if by point of biology she is going to have a more right regarding the fetus, shouldn’t she also have more responsibility? Meaning if she decides she wants to have the baby, and the man decides he does not, should he still be forced to provide for the child?

    I am also put off by the other side of the argument, in that it is automatically assumed the man would be grateful for the woman to choose abortion. No one is surprised if a woman who accidentally becomes pregnant claims to love the baby growing inside her, but the fact that the father might feel the same way isn’t even a consideration.

    • Filipe  On August 11, 2015 at 1:43 pm

      The man is legally bound to the child since both parts are responsible for its conception but I do agree that the stigma attached to a person who rejects fatherhood is wrong, but outright abandoning a spouse because of the unexpected pregnancy is even worse.
      Ultimately you need a legal framework allowing both to part way but have them obligated to support whoever is keeping the child.

  • Tom Hutchinson  On August 10, 2015 at 12:42 pm

    Yes I too am hoping the food picture is a sort of satire aimed at the anti-Gmo anti science crowd.

    • weeklysift  On August 10, 2015 at 12:45 pm

      I would guess that it’s aimed at the we-don’t-have-to-label movement among food companies, like the recent House vote that meat packers don’t have to say what countries their cattle lived in.

      • Tom Hutchinson  On August 10, 2015 at 4:48 pm

        I think your stretching it a bit there.
        Monsanto is closely associated with the anti-gmo crowd.
        That said you are consistently the highlight of my Monday’s. Thank you

  • weeklysift  On August 10, 2015 at 12:49 pm

    Here’s a more positive view of the BLM protesters.

  • w c  On August 10, 2015 at 2:02 pm

    The abortion thing got me thinking as to what the correct question to ask of an anti-choice advocate, and I think the brass tacks comes down to this –

    Do you believe that women are obligated to give up control of their body (uterus) –
    A) in the case of rape/incest
    B) in the case of birth control failure.

    Yes to the first is a relatively extreme position (though one most GOP POTUS candidates support, go figure). Basically yes = support the thought that rape is a viable productive strategy, which is appalling, at least to me.

    Yes/sometimes to the second warrants possible further questioning. Is there a timeline? Why does that person draw that particular line where they draw it? Is the lesson that sex is solely for procreation and that women should not have sex if they can’t avoid an unintentional pregnancy? (Aside, this unintentionally supports gay/lesbian sex as responsible sex, because, hey no unintentional pregnancies there!)

  • Philippe Saner  On August 10, 2015 at 8:40 pm

    Regarding Sanders and Black Lives Matter: in general, people on the far left spend more energy attacking people on the less-far left than attacking people on the right. Not quite sure why that is, but it’s definitely a thing.

    Not sure whether the right wing does the same, since I’m not on the right.

    • weeklysift  On August 11, 2015 at 6:48 am

      To a certain extent they do. I don’t know how to compare the two.

      In every belief system you have a purity/pragmatism conflict. If you want to get things done, you usually have to build a coalition big enough that its principles get fuzzy. If you’re deeply committed to doing The Right Thing in all circumstances, that corruption really bothers you.

  • Michael Wells  On August 11, 2015 at 12:24 pm

    As someone who is old enough to have viewed and attended several demonstrations, I am puzzled by the BLM demonstrators who insist on disrupting (and taking over) events held by progressives, their, at least, nominal allies. It is not “whitesplaining” to criticize ineffective actions. My take is best expressed by Charlie Pierce:

    • JELC  On August 13, 2015 at 11:42 am

      The argument I find most convincing is that BLM demonstrators are targeting places where their message could reach people who would buy into it, but are currently not giving adequate consideration to the problem. For example, Bernie Sanders is targeting economic and class issues, which will undoubtedly benefit low income people (many of whom are PoC), but will not prevent police violence which is disproportionately targeted at black people, or address other systemic problems which act to harm or hinder people of colour. They are asking that their “nominal allies” become _actual_ allies who engage with these issues. Broader support of the progressive movement in general would be highly beneficial, and it seems like gentle approaches often do not get white progressives to even pay attention.

      • Michael Wells  On August 13, 2015 at 12:24 pm

        I have now read a number of comments and essays attempting to justify or explain the BLM disruption and take over of Senator Sanders’s events. All of them use what I would call “new age” language, terms of undefined meaning and none address the effectiveness of these tactics. “Targeting places where their message could reach people who would buy into it.” First, what message? How does one “engage with these issues?” Second, how does one expect to “reach people” when one disrupts and takes over a presentation that thousands of people have gathered to hear? When you say “You won’t hear Bernie until I hear four minutes of silence” or insult people as part of the “white supremacy,” you get my attention but it is not the attention you may want. These BLM disruptions are easy but counter-productive.

      • weeklysift  On August 14, 2015 at 6:42 am

        The interesting thing is that it worked. Bernie issued a detailed racial justice platform on his web site, and at least some BLM people seem happy with him now.


  • By Discomforting Urgency | The Weekly Sift on August 17, 2015 at 9:33 am

    […] about the GOP debate are in, so I have to correct a few of my initial responses from last week. First, I was wrong to say that nobody watched the kids-table debate among the candidates who […]

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