David Brooks Jumps the Stupid Shark

Yeah, OK, it’s David Brooks, possibly the world record-holder in stupid shark jumping. But in today’s column he lays out the conservative beef with empathy. Empathy isn’t what it’s cracked up to be, Brooks informs us.

“In the early days of the Holocaust, Nazi prison guards sometimes wept as they mowed down Jewish women and children, but they still did it,” Brooks says.

Of course, there is at least one eyewitness account of a prison guard refusing to shoot who was promptly tossed into the pit of Jewish women and children to be mowed down. Death is a rather large motivation to obey orders.

But then after Brooks goes on awhile about empathy is nice but doesn’t make the trains run on time, he turns to what does —

People who actually perform pro-social action don’t only feel for those who are suffering, they feel compelled to act by a sense of duty. Their lives are structured by sacred codes.

Think of anybody you admire. They probably have some talent for fellow-feeling, but it is overshadowed by their sense of obligation to some religious, military, social or philosophic code. They would feel a sense of shame or guilt if they didn’t live up to the code. The code tells them when they deserve public admiration or dishonor. …

… The code isn’t just a set of rules. It’s a source of identity. It’s pursued with joy. It arouses the strongest emotions and attachments. Empathy is a sideshow.

Um, but weren’t the Nazis all about identity and codes of honor? In fact, those soldiers in the firing line had sworn this oath

“I swear by God this sacred oath: I will render unconditional obedience to Adolf Hitler, the Führer of the German Reich and people, Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, and will be ready as a brave soldier to risk my life at any time for this oath.”

Duty, identity (racial, ethnic, religious, nationalistic, politial, tribal), honor — yeah, that always works out well.

Stuff to Read

Here’s a cheery note to begin the end of the week — Ohio citizens have stopped a voter suppression law from taking effect today. The law, signed by Gov. Kasich earlier this year, would have cut back on early voting and erects new barriers for absentee and even for election day voters. Yesterday opponents of the law delivered more than 300,000 signatures to the Ohio Secretary of State’s office.

Now back to our usual B&M — bitchin’ & moanin’. In spite of the fact that the GOP presidential candidates belong under a bell jar in the Pathetic Museum, Republican voters still have more enthusiasm for 2012 than Democrats. But, Mistermix says,

I’m sure after President Romney and his Republican Congress shutter Planned Parenthood, appoint enough Supremes to overturn Roe v Wade, privatize the Department of Education, turn Medicare into Vouchercare, and outsource the Treasury Department to Goldman-Sachs, Democratic enthusiasm will return.

I’m starting to think a big chunk of American progressives are only happy when they feel they’re the outsiders trying to stand up to The Man. They can never adjust to being The Man. Give them their turn to be The Man, and they piss it off so they can go back to protesting.

The corollary to Mistermix’s post is this one by Matt Yglesias. It appears in some circles “success” in the activist arena can be whatever we say it is; something like the Bush Administration’s definition of “success” in Iraq. If you never spell out what you want to accomplish, then you can’t possibly fail.

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
— T.S. Eliot

Well, I guess we can still laugh at ourselves.

Real Parody

This is hysterical — today the Onion has been perpetrating a running gag about members of Congress holding some visiting schoolchildren hostage. They started with tweets about gunfire heard in the capitol building, then ran this article

Shaken witnesses reported that the ordeal broke out around 10 a.m. this morning, when in the midst of a Capitol building tour, Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) suddenly burst into the National Statuary Hall with a pair of black panty hose over his head and began firing a Beretta 9 mm handgun into the air, shouting, “Everybody down! Everybody get the fuck down!”

Apparently the tweets caused some panic.

Somewhere in satirists heaven, Orson Welles is laughing his ass off.

Perry’s Peak

If this video were a parody, it would be brilliant. Unfortunately, I don’t think it is.

Anyway — Perry has dropped from first to second place in the most recent Fox News poll. The most recent CNN poll still has him on top, although he’s lost a couple of points.

But the anti-Latino faction of the Right is zeroing in on Perry now, and I think this kind of thing could kill his candidacy — the probably psychotic Tom Tancredo writes in the Daily Caller,

Or Perry’s poor showing in the Florida straw poll might have something to do with a recent report about the highly touted “Texas jobs created by Perry’s pro-growth policies.” The Center for Immigration Studies has discovered that 81% of the 279,000 jobs created in Texas from 2007 to 2011 went to non-citizens, a high number of them illegal aliens.

What is not yet as widely known about Perry is that he extends his taxpayer-funded compassion not only to illegal aliens but also to Muslim groups seeking to whitewash the violent history of that religion. Perry endorsed and facilitated the adoption in Texas public schools of a pro-Muslim curriculum unit developed by Muslim clerics in Pakistan.

Perry’s connections to Muslim groups in Texas are well documented. A recent Christian Science Monitor story said, “Perry has attended a number of Ismaili events in Texas, brokered a few agreements between the state and Ismailis (including the legislation introducing Islamic curricula into Texas schools), and even laid the first brick at the groundbreaking ceremony for an Ismaili worship center in Plano in 2005.”

That last bit is being picked up and repeated by what appear to be hundreds of rightie blogs today. None I have seen, including Tancredo’s piece, links to the Christian Science Monitor, and I have done searches on CSM and cannot find that bolded quote, so I suspect it’s a fabrication. And as scornful as I am about Perry’s jobs claims, even I seriously doubt that 81 percent of Texas jobs went to non-citizens.

Like I said, Tancredo could be psychotic. However, if this catches on among the baggers, Perry is toast.

Get Off My Lawn

#occupywallstreet — a discussion has broken out among leftie bloggers about whether Occupy Wall Street is really deserving of that much respect. And this does touch on one of my long-time pet peeves, about the difference between stupid protesting and smart protesting.

Compare/contrast Occupy Wall Street with last winter’s protest in Madison, Wisconsin. Now, y’all know I found the Madison protests thrilling. What I loved about it is that the people who participated really were there for the cause, not just to draw attention to themselves. And the cause was not just some amorphous sense that, y’know, stuff is bad and we’re angry about it. There was a specific focus, a particular message, that everyone came together to deliver. And they’ve been following it up with good old-fashioned shoes-on-the-pavement, door-to-door political activism that resulted in the recall of two state senators.

This is how it’s done.

Occupy Wall Street, on the other hand, reeks of the usual crowd of juvenile attention-seekers who protest for the sake of protesting. Their “demands” (which, they are careful to say, are not really demands, just ideas) are a grocery list of feel-good sentiments, not a call to action.

During some of the Iraq War demonstrations I got the impression many of these exhibitionists really don’t understand what they’re protesting; they just like to hog megaphones. They and groups like International A.N.S.W.E.R. who wanted to piggyback their own agendas onto the antiwar marches pretty much killed any chance of forming a genuine antiwar movement.

Occupy Wall Street doesn’t actually have an official agenda, other than how they want to formulate an agenda. I’m serious. They plan to hold “people’s assemblies” someday to decide what they want to demand.

I cannot tell you how weary I am of this kind of pretentious shit. I’ve seen it at too many liberal/progressive gatherings over the years. Somebody comes up with some too-precious gimmick that’s going to change the world, and they whip up a little enthusiasm for it for about ten minutes, and then everyone loses focus and goes home.

Truly, the only thing Occupy Wall Street has going for it is that they are getting beaten up by cops, and by all means let’s focus on the cops and the pepper spray and the orange netting, because that’s wrong. But the larger mystery to me is why the NYPD even bothered. Just ignoring them would have been more effective.

Someone at Firedoglake wrote a post titled “Why Establishment Media & the Power Elite Loathe Occupy Wall Street.”

They don’t loathe you, dear. You probably don’t even interest them much. You are no threat to them. If major media aren’t covering you, it’s because there’s nothing to cover but some rowdy people hanging out in a park pretending to have a purpose.

The Bigger Asshole rule always applies.

Update: Really excellent blog post about how to stage effective protests in the 21st century. Recommended reading.

Update: I think Glenn is right when he says this,

That’s just the nature of protests that take place outside approved channels, an inevitable by-product of disruptive dissent: those who are most vested in safeguarding and legitimizing establishment prerogatives (which, by definition, includes establishment media outlets) are going to be hostile to those challenges.

However, I think he’s totally wrong here–

A significant aspect of this progressive disdain is grounded in the belief that the only valid form of political activism is support for Democratic Party candidates, and a corresponding desire to undermine anything that distracts from that goal.

You see that attitude among the bobbleheads in television; not to much the blogosphere. I don’t personally give a hoo-haw whether the Democratic Party supports a particular protest. I care if the protest is smart and has a chance of having some effect.

Glenn goes on to describe how awful Wall Street has been. Yes, Glenn they are very awful. Lots of people think so. Even a lot of the teabaggers think so. But Wall Street is also very , very powerful, which is why carrying a cardboard sign around saying “bleep Wall Street” really isn’t helping anyone.

Political activism isn’t political activism unless there is a specific goal in mind, whether freeing India from the British empire or getting voting rights for African Americans or recalling Wisconsin state senators. Just expressing dislike of someone or something is not political activism. And what is happening in and around Zuccotti Park is not political activism, it’s political masturbation.

And a collection of self-indulgent dilettantes who want to feel good about themselves and play out some fantasy of being big bad revolutionaries is not a movement. A movement has direction. It has goals. It has a clear purpose.

If you don’t have a clear message attached to an actual call to action, then it’s just protest theater. The dilettantes will make some noise for a while and go home, and nothing will change.

Of course it’s true the establishment overlooks genuine grassroots populist activism, far preferring the astroturf variety that is being directed by someone with ties to the establishment, albeit standing behind a curtain. But that doesn’t mean I have to genuflect every time somebody writes “war is bad” on a piece of cardboard and marches down the street. I’ve seen with my own eyes too many times that stupid protesting is counterproductive.

This Is Brilliant

You must read this commentary by Charles Pierce. You will laugh. You will cry. You will blow coffee out your nose.

Not necessarily the best bit, but what I want to comment on —

A Republican may well get elected president next year. But, whoever that is, first has to answer, constantly, to the voices in the party’s head. It’s exhausting work. It’s already eaten Bachmann alive, and Herman Cain is next on the menu. Which is probably why so much energy seems to be going into the promotion of candidates who are not running. Right now, the non-candidate du jour is Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, who replaced Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana, who replaced Governor Rick Perry of Texas, who made the capital mistake of actually running, and who already has flummoxed and disappointed Bill Kristol, maker of public men and truly unnecessary wars.

Pierce goes on to say that “If Bill Kristol went to the track, he’d bet on the fucking starting gate.” I want that on a needlepoint pillow cover.

Anyway — Pierce goes on to say that both Mittens and Yosemite Sam Perry blew it with wingnut voters because of what they did that was effective.

In the debate on Thursday night, both he [Perry] and Romney fell afoul of having done, during their terms as governor of their respective states, something reasonably decent for the citizens therein. In Romney’s case, of course, he passed a law that has resulted in 95 percent of the people in Massachusetts being covered by health insurance. In Perry’s case, he allowed the children of undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition to the state universities in Texas.

And from what I’ve read, that’s the pathetic truth. The base turned on these guys not because of the lies and the corruption and the phoniness or anything else they’ve done in their sorry-ass careers, but because of things they did that were sensible and beneficial.

But apparently the GOP establishment hasn’t noticed that Christie has already jumped that shark. He appointed a Muslim judge and belittled the hysteria over sharia law; and he agrees with climate change science. The base may have fallen in love with him awhile back for the many Youtube videos showing him denigrating public school teachers, but I’d say the bloom already is off that rose. If Christie does run, the base will eat him alive.

Jeb? You there?

Pepper Spray Cop Outed

The NYPD “pepper spray” cop also “stands accused of false arrest and civil rights violations in a claim brought by a protester involved in the 2004 demonstrations at the Republican national convention,” the Guardian says. An injunction was filed against the cop, identified as deputy inspector Anthony Bologna, and is expected to be heard sometime next year, or whenever somebody gets around to it, apparently.

The Village Voice reports the hacker collective Anonymous helped identify the cop with a close up of his badge. However, Anonymous also released his possible phone number, address, and names of family members with the warning “Before you commit atrocities against innocent people, think twice. WE ARE WATCHING!!! Expect Us!” (Yes, but how will anyone know who you are?)

Patrick Bruner of Occupy Wall Street and pepper-spray victim Chelsea Elliott condemned the release of Bologna’s personal information.

I agree with Mistermix.

Technical Difficulties

I’m having computer issues and am having to work on an old s-l-o-w computer that I keep for emergencies. I hate slow computers.

This post by Greg Sargent is the best thing I’ve read today. He points to a bobblehead calling for a third party to take the middle ground between the Dems and Republicans … but this mythical third party looks a whole lot like the Democratic party we have already.

Matt Yglesias weighs in on the same issue, quoting an article by Matt Miller. Here is Miller

Or take health care. Republicans say the answer is to repeal President Obama’s reforms — but they won’t offer plans to insure more than 3 million of the 50 million Americans who lack coverage. Yet Democrats want to micromanage providers, protect the trial lawyers who bankroll their campaigns, and fully insulate people from the costs of their own care, assuring that there’s no consumer brake on runaway costs. Again, Democrats and Republicans can’t solve the problem.


Democrats wrote and passed a major health care bill back in 2010. It they wanted to “fully insulate people from the costs of their own care” that would have been a good opportunity to do this. But they didn’t. I’m not sure how people with centrist views expect to see the political system respond to them if they fail to acknowledge it when their views are adopted. There obviously are important ideological litmus tests in American politics, of which the absolute prohibition on Republicans raising taxes strikes me as the most consequential, but it’s hard to talk about them if you won’t identify them precisely.

Scott Lemieux:

Daydream believing about a third party from the left is at least understandable. Indeed, Naderite critiques of the content of policies favored by moderate Democrats are largely correct, although I think they underestimate the structural roadblocks to progressive policy in the United States, and they’re completely wrong about believing that third parties have any chance of solving the problem. But at least the critique is coherent in its own way. The Miller/Friedman dream for moderate Democratic policies to be advanced by a billionaire dreamboat who would be able to get his policies enacted in every last detail through sheer force of centrist wisdom, by contrast, it just pathetic.

Pathetic, and possibly channeling the ghost of David Broder.

NYPD Still Going by Guiliani Time?

I’m reading about the (note: those at work should turn off the volume before clicking) so-called violent protests in lower Manhattan yesterday, but it sounds to me as if the only ones who got violent were the police. And get this video —

A cop uses pepper spray on a woman for no apparent reason and walks away while she screams. The Village Voice has her side of the story.

The thing is, the financial district on a Sunday usually is about as deserted as anyplace ever gets in Manhattan. Even many of the bars and restaurants close on Sunday. So who’s it going to hurt if some people get a bit rowdy? I haven’t seen any accounts that the protesters were damaging property or doing anything menacing.

I also understand the group marched north to Union Square, but on a weekend there’s always a big crowd protesting something at Union Square. It’s traditional.

The thing is, this kind of overreaction will likely give the group a focus it didn’t have before.

Stuff to Read

The Fraying of a Nation’s Decency.” Yes, I’ll be removing my Amazon ads as soon as I feel alert enough to do it. Messing with the template takes more skill than just blogging.

The Phony Solyndra Scandal.” I’m glad someone finally explained what the righties are drooling about now.

Conservatives are still trying to repeal the Voting Rights Act. They never give up.

I don’t have the energy to explain all the reasons why I think Michael Kazin comes across as a clueless twit, but for starters I’d say the Left is not as well organized or as loud as the Right because we don’t have the billionaire bankrollers that the Right has. Or the media in our pockets. Or the army of lobbyists. Or …

Well, we’ve still got Krugman.