Catching Up on News

Aside from the "Being Poor" piece, I’ve largely been out of the news commentary business around here for the last couple of weeks, so let me catch up on a couple of things briefly:

The Roberts Confirmation Hearings: I don’t really have anything useful to say on this matter, largely because I’m of the opinion that Roberts is the best we’re likely to get out of Bush in terms of a Supreme Court candidate, and because I think he’s a reasonable choice for the bench — probably not my top choice for Chief Justice, I suppose, although anyone’s preferable to Scalia, who would have been my next guess. I’m not at all convinced he’s anything approaching the stealth fundie boogyman some of the more fervent of liberal set adjudge him to be, so my opposition is correspondingly lower; so low, in fact, that I guess I would actually have to say I don’t oppose him at all.

Bush and Katrina: Bush wants to spend $200 billion to rebuild the South, which is good in theory, but I expect his administration to do a good job at the effort about as much as I expect my cat to whip up a light and tasty souffle. Word has reached my far province that Karl Rove will be in charge of the reconstruction, which I find as appalling as can possibly be, since it just about assures that everything related to the rebuilding will be turned into an exercise in ideological fealty to the administration. Which means that my cat-fashioned souffle is actually more likely than this reconstruction being done in any way other than the most petty and political way possible.

I also note the Bush doesn’t expect we’ll need to raise any taxes to pay for the $200 billion. This is not in the least bit surprising, since the current crop of tax jihadists would try to rescue a choking man by giving him a tax cut instead of the Heimlich maneuver, and then when he’s dead would try to comfort the grieving family by assuring them they’re working to repeal estate taxes. But it does remind me yet again that anyone who still actually believes that the Republican party is the party of fiscal intelligence needs a 2×4 upside the head. There hasn’t been a day in the last five years that Bush adminstration has shown even the slightest bit of fiscal acumen, and when Bush says the answer to finding the $200 billion is to slash through the federal budget, if you think those slashings are going to be balanced across the ideological spectrum, you need another wood kiss from that 2×4. Leave it to this administration to take a national tragedy and turn it into an opportunity for some nice political ball-cutting.

"Bush Doesn’t Care About Black People": I don’t think this is true at all. He cares about black people just fine, as long as they make more than $100,000 a year. His concern for white people runs at roughly the same level. Outside of interns and a few lackeys, one does wonder if Bush has ever spent any useful amount of time with people who makes less than that amount. Certainly growing up as a scion of the Bush family he did not, nor does anything in his work life suggest that he did, either. He’s got a blind spot at the 100 large line, which is a real shame because that’s where most people live, including the vast majority of the people who voted for him, being as they were under the impression that he "got" their needs.

Mike Brown Resigns: Well, yeah. He may have been dim and incompetent, but was not so dim and incompetent as not to realize the Bush administration couldn’t been seen firing him, because that would be an admission that they’d hired a moron. One does wonder what would have happened had Brown not resigned; whether he would have been actually fired, or whether the administration would have simply kept routing around him, leaving him to stare at empty walls for the next three years. Naturally, I would hope for the former and honestly expect that eventually the Bush folks would have pulled the trigger, but one does wonder how long it would have taken.

Pledge of Allegiance Ruled Unconstitutional: I find it deeply amusing to see so many conservatives get so worked up over a bit of doggerel that was written by a rock-ribbed socialist, but other than that I find this a true waste of time. I have no more objection to the "under God" portion of the Pledge than I do the "In God We Trust" saying stamped on my coins, and God knows that hearing "One Nation Under God" thousands of times over the course of my educational career did absolutely nothing to endear Him to me, as evidenced by the fact I am entirely agnostic, and will likely be so up until the moment before I die, at which point I might believe it to be prudent to hedge my bets. But even if I do that it won’t be because of the Pledge.

There, I think that gets me all caught up for now. 

29 Comments on “Catching Up on News”

  1. Well, you never weighed in on Gillette’s new 5 blade razor. (Yes, I did say five, though not in that word.) But that lot’s good enough. 3 posts before noon? Has someone got a shiny new coffee maker he hasn’t told us about?

    As for that $200 billion, isn’t it nice to know that your government has had $200 billion of “unnecessary spending” they feel they can probably now cut back on?

  2. Actually, I wrote about the five blade razor over at By The Way.

    “3 posts before noon? Has someone got a shiny new coffee maker he hasn’t told us about?”

    Ha! I don’t drink coffee, actually. No, it’s just the for the first time in a long time I don’t have anything else need to be writing at the moment. That allows me to babble somewhat.

  3. I agree with you about almost everything above. I think it’s damn sad that we’re going to be borrowing more money from China, funnelling even more interest money to them, rather than roll back tax cuts.

    Where we disagree is with the Pledge. I’m not all worked up about it, but I do think the words “Under God” should be struck. There’s no reason that government employees who are supposed to teach my kid how the world works should be telling him we’re a nation under God. There’s a place for God in school, but it’s not in the pledge.

    Still, that’s way, way down on my list of priorities. I’m far more concerned that KBR has received a no-bid contract to clean up NOLA while they’re facing a price-gouging investigation for their work in Iraq.

  4. I actually have a bigger problem with “In God We Trust.” Even if it isn’t an establishment of religion, it remains factually inaccurate. But maybe they couldn’t fit “In God Most Of Trust.”

  5. yeah, what they said about the god thing. scalzi, i’m shocked that you, a writer, don’t recognize the importance of ritual language. very important. sets the tone, ya know.

  6. The problem, not just with “under God” in the pledge, but with the complusory recitation of a theistic pledge by students, is that it requires a student to affirm belief in a monotheistic god regardless of whatever religious tradition that student might hail from (effectively depriving the rights of the parents to monitor their childrens’ religious education). So it isn’t just atheists and agnostics who are gratuitously excluded; it’s a big fuck-off to Hundu, Wiccan, and other Americans as well. Moreover, it equates acceptance of monotheism with patriotism, two things which in the real world have nothing to do with one another. This is one of religion’s craftier tools; it suffuses a culture with its core tenets, then frames circumstances so that any point of view perceived as “normal” and common-sensical is directly tied to adherence to those tenets.

    Sorry to say, John, that your “I could care less” attitude is all well and good with the conservatives you’re deriding. Public indifference is what the religious right counts on to push through their quasi-(and not so quasi-)theocratic agendas, stifling other beliefs or dissenting philosophies. Next up: Athena comes home from school and says, “Daddy, today we learned all about Intelligent Design!”

  7. To Mythago: Yes. Except it’s not “ceremonial deism,” of course. It’s ceremonial theism. And their arguing that it’s “traditional” doesn’t justify it. Should the government practice “cermonial racism” just because the founding fathers owned slaves?

  8. Claire writes:

    “i’m shocked that you, a writer, don’t recognize the importance of ritual language.”

    Who says I don’t? However, in this particular case, I don’t really care about the ritual language. Part of that, no doubt, is due to the fact that I know one is not required to recite the Pledge — I never did, and do not, be cause I find it to be philosophically problematic, so the “Under God” aspect is just one more part of it that’s wrong. For a full explanation see here.

  9. “I don’t really care about the ritual language. Part of that, no doubt, is due to the fact that I know one is not required to recite the Pledge — I never did, and do not, be cause I find it to be philosophically problematic, so the “Under God” aspect is just one more part of it that’s wrong.”

    but that’s just you, scalzi, not everybody else. the pledge is important to me as a ritual, like reciting the apostle’s creed in church back before i questioned god’s existence. for a lot of us, ritual daily affirmation of what we believe creates/maintains a sense that all’s right with the world and that we still belong to it. it creates/maintains the sense that we, all those reciting together, belong to each other. i’m glad that your school experience was so thoughtful and thought-provoking, but when i was a kid in school, i was mocked and bullied for pretty much everything: my liberal parents’ political activism, my race, for daring to express opinions in class, etc.

    the one time every day when i shared an identity with everyone else in the room, was when we all stood up, faced the flag, and recited the pledge. i really felt it then, every day, call me stupid or sentimental if you like. but you should know that that feeling of belonging, of equality, has always been hard to come by for me, and the tacit acceptance of me by others that it implies is even harder to come by. after reciting the pledge every morning, the kids in my school were always a little calmer and quieter, the way prayer or similar ritual makes you. they were a little more focused on starting the day, there was a slightly greater group cohesion. it didn’t last very long, but we at least had that one time.

    i never had a disconnect with the “under god” part of the pledge because i was raised christian. but i certainly know what it’s like to be simply expected (whether you’re required or not isn’t the point, scalzi, you know it isn’t) to participate in an activity that denigrates a core part of your identity. the likelihood of most schoolchildren being able to adequately articulate this discomfort or to stand up for themselves effectively is slim. peer pressure is brutal and a kid isn’t going to want to rock the boat by not participating. and they shouldn’t have to. all of our schoolkids should be able to participate in a ritual that has meaning, i venture, for most people, without feeling excluded or attacked by the ritual.

    it’s the attitude “I don’t care about it so neither should you” that permits apathy about important symbolic things in our culture. yes, this is less important than getting food on people’s tables, but it’s still important in general, even if it isn’t important to you, scalzi. as someone who truly thinks independently–rather than, like most americans, simply saying that you do–you have more of a responsibility to protect children who may not have thought things through, and may not know that conforming isn’t the best option for them. if people like you don’t speak for them, who will?

  10. Claire:

    “but that’s just you, scalzi, not everybody else.”

    Well, yes. What part of “this is my site and I write my opinions on it” are you unclear about?

    Clearly, you are more worked up about this particular issue and its importance than I am. I think it’s largely noise.

  11. the point i was trying to make isn’t that you shouldn’t express your own opinions on your blog (obviously) but that maybe you should consider the fact that things that don’t matter to you really do matter to a lot of other people, and that (this part is key) you should advocate for those things purely on that basis. whether you care or not. just some old ideas about social responsibility here. and political apathy.

    btw. if i was being rude enough to deserve rudeness back from you, i apologize, but i don’t think i was being rude. just passionate. yes, i am “worked up” because this means something to me, which is what i was trying to get across to you. sorry if my opinions are “noise”.

  12. Narrow focus, broad focus

    My favourite paragraph about post-Katrina reconstruction on the internets today comes from author John Scalzi:

    Bush wants to spend $200 billion to rebuild the South, which is good in theory, but I expect his administration to do a good job at the e…

  13. Claire:

    I understand full well things I don’t particularly care about matter deeply to other people. However, it doesn’t then follow I must rush to the barricades if I don’t think it’s important, just because other people do. There are many other things that I feel require my attention more than this, and I’m certainly not going to mouth an opinion about something I don’t actually think about it, just because someone else might feel it’s something I should care more about. There are lots of other things people think I should say or do for the good of the nation but, you know, unless I feel it’s necessary, I’m not going to do them, either. I am the person who dictates what is necessary and important for me to think and act about, not anyone else. Nor do I expect everyone else to care about all the things I care about. It’s a fair trade.

    As I said before, I think this topic is noise. You incorrectly interpreted this as me saying that I think your concern about it is noise. I think it’s perfectly admirable that you care about it and of course encourage you to follow your conscience in this matter. However, your concern and activism in that matter doesn’t compel me to care about the issue any more than I do, or even to pretend to care about it. I don’t really care about it, and I don’t feel like pretending I do.

  14. FWIW, I think compulsory recitation of a pledge of allegience is execrable in a country founded on the basis of revolt against government based on that government’s activities.

    The Declaration of Independance, Old Deckey… she says that we break bonds when we must. Better that those bonds aren’t pledges, don’t you think? And if you do decide to make a pledge, hey, that’s your business. But demanding somebody else make a pledge is awfully authoritarian for Deckey. But maybe that’s just me.

  15. Scott writes:

    “But demanding somebody else make a pledge is awfully authoritarian for Deckey.”

    The Supreme Court ruled in the 1940s that no one can be compelled to recite the Pledge (ironically given this discussion, it was ruled on freedom of religion grounds), so this is doesn’t apply.

  16. yeah, the point isn’t being legally compelled, but rather socially compelled.

    scalzi, you’re the one who brought this topic up in the first place. it matters so little to you, that you dedicated an entire paragraph in the preceding blog entry (to the exclusion of five million other topics you could care about), and an entire essay length blog entry to it a few years ago.

    which is why i don’t think your “i don’t care” argument really flies. you obviously do care. your “i know better so why don’t they?” argument (in the earlier pledge of allegiance entry you linked to) is especially painful given your famous “being poor” essay. essentially, “being poor” was a response to a similar “i know better so why didn’t they” attitude much of the american middle class had to the katrina disaster immediately after it happened. your beautiful response was to give them a visceral account of the experience of being poor, because you knew that none of the people asking “why didn’t they leave?” had the experience of not being able to leave. it was pretty clear to me that you didn’t care about the experience of people who are so excluded that they have to fight over symbolic rituals for inclusion, simply because you had no experience of this. so i was trying to get a little of that experience across to you.

    your response was “your concern and activism in that matter doesn’t compel me to care about the issue any more than I do, or even to pretend to care about it.” but what if someone had said that about “being poor”? sure, they have the right to say that, but is that really an adequate response?

    all supreme american individualism aside, the point of public discussion is that we’re a society that has to debate issues and decide on them together. social responsibility is not just paying your taxes and advocating for things that touch you directly. it’s also supporting a lot of fights that aren’t your fights, simply because it’s your fellow citizens, your friends, and your online debate partners who are fighting them. if your wife became passionate about a cause you didn’t care much about, i’m sure you’d still support her in it because she’s your wife. society in general has to work in the same way, although in a more diluted fashion. if a fight is important enough even to get notice on your blog when you don’t care about it, maybe you should support the fight just because your society is fighting it.

    i read your blog because it makes me think and occasionally–as with the “being poor” entry–it teaches me something i really should already have known but never bothered to think much about. as a result, i respect you and expect more from you. why not take the opportunity to acknowledge that here is something you don’t understand, and solicit discussion from others rather than shutting them down? i’m not suggesting that you pretend to care about something that you don’t care about. i’m suggesting that you take the fact that so many other people do care about it as a reason for you to inquire further.

  17. Claire:

    “scalzi, you’re the one who brought this topic up in the first place.”

    And I disposed of it in exactly a paragraph, which is the amount of thought and discussion which I thought it deserved.

    You’re mistaking my decision that this isn’t worth my time as apathy or ignorance; rest assured that I’ve considered the issue enough to know it’s not worth spending my time on. I could dazzle you with my knowledge of the history of the Pledge and it’s legal trials and tribulations over the years, but I won’t; suffice to say that I rarely come to an issue from an ignorant viewpoint. I know it’s not worth my time because I did the time to know it isn’t.

    It’s clear you’re not likely to be satisfied with that answer, but that’s an issue for you to work out, not me. I suggest you move on from trying to convince me to care about it more; it’s really not going to happen, and I’d hate to see you further frustrated.

  18. The Supreme Court ruled in the 1940s that no one can be compelled to recite the Pledge (ironically given this discussion, it was ruled on freedom of religion grounds), so this is doesn’t apply.

    If you have been on an elementary school campus any time in the past decade, you will see that, regardless of what the Supremes have ruled, that is not the reality of the situation. Teachers each and every day of the school year require students to recite the pledge.

  19. And the first elementary school teacher that tries to compel my daughter to recite the Pledge if she chooses not to is going to have to deal with me. And I assure you, that teacher won’t enjoy it, and neither will that teacher’s principal or superintendent.

    However, inasmuch as my own school district has a not-insignificant number of Amish and Mennonite, many of whom do not recite the Pledge, I don’t expect this would be a problem. Indeed, I just asked Athena if they recite the Pledge at all, and she says they don’t.

    The problem you’re describing is one of people not knowing their (or others’) Constitutional rights. Naturally, I think the cure for this is to let people know that they do have those rights.

  20. Scalzi on the News, Plus the Funniest Damn Thing Ever

    I had been wanting to comment on recent events, but Scalzi beat me to it, so, at the risk of seeming like some sort of ditto-head, I’ll just link to his post here.
    Also, I can’t remember the last time I laughed this hard.

  21. “I suggest you move on from trying to convince me to care about it more; it’s really not going to happen, and I’d hate to see you further frustrated.”

    don’t worry, john. despite your surprisingly thoughtless, dismissive attitude, this topic is just the tip of a very large issue-iceberg, which you touch down on fairly often, without seeming to notice that you do. your lack of big-picture perspective on the culture wars keeps coming back to you in your comments column–i’m just not usually the one commenting on it. i was just trying to point that out, but since you don’t want to see it, and only seem interested in endlessly reasserting your one narrow answer to one small part of that issue … i’ll stop bothering you.

  22. Claire:

    You might wish to entertain the possibility that people who don’t share exactly the same estimation as you of what issues are important enought to spend their time on might not be thoughtless and narrow. They simply have come to their own conclusions as to where their time and effort is better spent. Your conclusion that this is an example of willful ignorance is more of a reflection of your own unwillingness to accept that other people have other priorities, and that those priorities are neither poor or useless, than it is a problem of those who choose those other priorities. Not everyone is going to see things the way you do.

    For example, one might see the Pledge as something conservatives can use to sidetrack discussion of more substantive real-world issues into a pointless and narrow social cul-de-sac where they can make points pretending to stand up for the social values of the little man while working assiduously to deprive him (and her) of his actual social and economic rights. And therefore the people who enable the social conservatives to do this are playing right in the same stupid rhetorical game that has allowed them to capture all three parts of the federal government on asinine penny-ante “American values” crap that this particular fight positively exudes while at the same time undermining actual American values. So it might be that one sees bothering with this particular issue as penny-wise and pound foolish, because it engenders maximum potential political gain for one’s opposition, while offering almost no political gain for one’s self.

    One might also wonder why people getting themselves all vaporous over this don’t appear to understand how little value this particular issue has going for it and why they would bother with what is so clearly a goddamn political tar baby. But one also acknowledges that other people have other points of view, and accepts they may believe they have good reasons for persuing the issue, and one cheerfully wishes them well in their struggle.

    On a personal note, your way of trying to engage me on this issue was not a very good one, I’m afraid. Aside from the fact that I don’t think the Pledge of Allegiance issue is worth my mental energy, I am rather resistant to actually caring what other people think, so trying to shame me into coming around to your point of view is a big fat waste of time, particularly when, as I’ve mentioned previously, I’ve come to my particular point of view on the issue after a not-insignificant amount of reflection.

    Suggesting that I’m “thoughtless” about an issue because I don’t happen to think about it the same way as you do is is easily dismissed because you’re wrong, and undermines the rest of your argument; following it up with the rhetorical equivalent of “and other people thing you’re wrong, too” is simply pointless. If I don’t care what one person thinks, it would stand to reason that I wouldn’t care what many people think, particularly, again, when I’ve come to a conclusion based on thought and reflection.

    Again: I realize you’re quite passionate on this issue, Claire, and I think it’s great you are committed to it in that way. But it doesn’t mean that I must feel the same way. Conversely, there may be issues that I feel quite passionate about that you won’t give a damn about. That’s the way these things go.

  23. The problem you’re describing is one of people not knowing their (or others’) Constitutional rights.

    Oh, I rather suspect many of the Constitution-flaunters are quite aware that they don’t have a right to force anyone to chant along; they’re just confident they can get away with it. The same attitude keeps the ACLU chugging along fighting school-prayer efforts in the Bible Belt.

    And their arguing that it’s “traditional” doesn’t justify it.

    Never said it did. “Ceremonial deism” is just the weasel language for “We know we really shouldn’t allow this, but we’re the Supreme Court, and if we want to be irrational, who’s gonna stop us? You?”

  24. scalzi, i am letting this go, for now, since i don’t wanna be accused of having last-word-itis (as i’m clearly not the only one) but this is not over! just watch your back, come wiscon 2006. i’ll buy the first round but you’re not getting off this easily.

  25. You’re on, Claire!

    Also let this a lesson to all and sundry: One can argue quite passionately about a subject with someone and still be friends at the end of the day.

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