"Where else would you go when you have an ax to grind?"

Thursday, April 12, 2007

So it goes.
Kurt Vonnegut dead at 84

“Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies — ‘God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.’ ”
-from "God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater"

Player Piano, 1951The Sirens of Titan, 1959Canary in a Cat House, 1961 (short works)Mother Night, 1961Cat's Cradle, 1963God Bless You, Mr Rosewater, 1965Welcome to the Monkey House, 1968 (short works)Slaughterhouse-Five, 1969Happy Birthday, Wanda June, 1971 (play)Between Time and Timbuktu, 1972 (TV script)Breakfast of Champions, 1973Wampeters, Foma & Granfalloons, 1974 (opinions)Slapstick, 1976Jailbird, 1979Palm Sunday: An Autobiographical Collage, 1981 (essays)Deadeye Dick, 1982Galapagos, 1985Bluebeard, 1987Hocus Pocus, 1990Fates Worse than Death: An Autobiographical Collage of the 1980s, 1991 (essays)Timequake, 1997A Man Without a Country, 2005 (essays)

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Civility and polarization -- which side are you on boys, which side are you on

CC has issued a call for more serious civil discussion of the issues in the Canadian blogosphere, while, of course, reserving the right to snark and heap abuse on boneheads when appropriate.
This got me to thinking about the polarized nature of the blogosphere and the tone and tenor of most of the debate. Pour yourself a drink, this is going to be a long one.

The vast majority of the popular political sites tend to be echo chambers to some degree with most of the debate being among people who are in fundamental agreement.

If you are commenting on major lefty blogs such as Eschaton or Firedoglake or even humorous site identified with the liberal side such as Tbogg you are likely a liberal prochoice Democrat who opposes the war and dislikes George Bush or you're a knuckledragging troll who is there to bait such people. Moderate conservatives who oppose the war don't comment there - though I'll concede they might lurk. If you are regularly reading and commenting on Powerline, Michelle Malkin, Little Green Footballs or Free Republic you are likely among the minority who still back George W. Bush, favored the invasion of Iraq and think that God, guns and guts made America great - or you're a liberal blogger looking for material.

Wingnuts stick with wingnuts, moonbats stick with moonbats and when we are talking amongst ourselves about the other side the rhetoric can and does run pretty high -- though I would argue you hear lot less eliminationist rhetoric and accusations that people who believe X are traitors who hate America/Canada/Western civilization in Left Blogistan. Most of it is preaching to the converted, rallying the troops and pointing out the mistakes of the other side. Which is all fine and good up to a point, but even if three quarters of us think Bush is a moron who ought to be in prison, we still have to live next door to the quarter who think otherwise. We need to get along a bit better with people who don't agree with us.

I think the effect of the political blog wars and the ratcheting up of the rhetoric has done little more than polarize the general public. The coverage of elections as if they were horseraces and media emphasis on red state vs. blue state divides has contributed greatly to this. People are being told they must choose a side in the blogosphere, in the culture war, in politics. The idea of a "swing voter" choosing the party who will work for the greater good is being replaced with an us vs. them "you're either for us or against us"mentality that insists on ideological purity and encourages extremism.

There are left/liberal sites where the rhetoric is more restrained and the emphasis is more on information and discussion of policy. There is still a partisan agenda, but slapping the other side around for laughs tends to be pushed to the back burner and the writing is more of the sort one might expect to see on the op-ed page. I'm thinking of sites like Crooked Timber, Juan Cole, Glenn Greenwald, TPM Cafe and to a lesser extent the Huffington Post. You'll find thoughtful factual, researched posts there that deal with the opposition is more or less civil terms. These kind of sites seem to embrace the sort of civility that CC is calling for and one would think that oppositional comments from Republicans and conservatives would be treated according to the golden rule -- if the comment is polite, the response tends to be polite, and trolls get flamed.

I'm not sure such sites exist in Right Blogsilvania. Is there a conservative version of TPM Cafe? If there is, I would like to see it.Does the right have its reasoned, thoughtful online pundits that mirror intelligent, liberal bloggers like Juan Cole, Glen Greenwald and Josh Marshall? (And please don't suggest Instapundit or the Townhall gang present anything like reasoned, civil discussion. There is a reason an entire swath of the liberal-left blogging community has evolved into a group who do little more than document the atrocities against logic, good taste and decency committed by these radicals in sheeps clothing --because it is damn near a full time job.)

I'm all for civil discourse, and I'm willing to discuss any issue in a reasonable manner. People of good will can disagree and democracy lies in working out a way to overcome such disagreements and work for the common good. It is those who seek partisan advantage and try to score political points instead of seeking to understand the facts and find a solution to the problems of the day that are destroying civility and threatening democracy. The echo chamber blogs have their role to play,--we all need a place to let off steam, bitch and poke fun-- but more constructive discussions between liberals and conservatives really need to happen and soon or we are all in lot more trouble than we realize.

Leaving the mess in Iraq to fester so it can be blamed on someone else gets people killed. Ignoring science for ideological or political reasons or simply to placate the people who donated money to your campaign is going to ruin the environment. Letting problems with education, immigration, trade and infrastructure get worse because no one wants to admit a mistake or give ground is only going to make those problems harder to solve in the long run.

When Jon Stewart bitchslapped Tucker Carlson and Paul Beglala and the whole Crossfire forced dichotomy view of politics, he had it right ---stop it, you're not helping. The trash talking just isn't getting us anywhere.

I'm as guilty as anyone of making fun of the opposition and deriding the opinion of those I disagree with. And it is okay to do that, as long as we accept the fact that people have a right to disagree with us and have a right to make fun of us for disagreeing with them. But the feces-flinging and calls for physical intimidation and outright violence really need to stop.

Having said that, I also think it should be a two-way street. I promise to stop calling Jonah Goldberg Doughy Pantload just as soon as he criticizes Ann Coulter for calling for the New York Times building to be blown up. I'll stop insisting that the posters on Free Republic are knuckle-dragging bloodthirsty brownshirts when they stop saying that the solution to the problem is Iraq is "nuking the cameljockeys" and the solution to immigration issues is sealing the borders and shooting latinos on sight.

I'm all for civil discourse, but if you want to be a jerk, be prepared to take it as well as dish it out. Troll should be flamed, and hypocrites mocked and the dishonest and the petty and the small-minded called on their bullshit. For the rest of us wellmeaning people who disagree, lets put the knives away and talk without the table-pounding, flag-waving and histrionics.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Drat! Foiled again
And we would have gotten away with it too, if it hadn't been for that meddling CEO!

Plug it in, fire it up, Mr. President
The Detroit News
Credit Ford Motor Co. CEO Alan Mulally with saving the leader of the free world from self-immolation.
Mulally told journalists at the New York auto show that he intervened to prevent President Bush from plugging an electrical cord into the hydrogen tank of Ford's hydrogen-electric plug-in hybrid at the White House last week.

(Mad props to TRex at Firedoglake for spotting this one)

And in other news -- Air travel is only for only for people who support the President, Part 637

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Hard-luck Habs and the midget of doom
Hockey season is over, let the playoffs commence -- Not that I care who wins Lord's Stanley's punchbowl this time around as Les Habitants, despite a great start and strong finish to the season, have missed the playoffs at the hands of the hated Leafs. As proof that God or the ghost of Clarence Campbell has a sense of humor, the Leafs are also being sent to the golf course -- by the woeful New York Islanders (Have they even made the playoffs since the days of Dennis Potvin, Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier, Clark Gillies and Billy Smith?). The Canadiens showed a lot of heart in the stretch this year-- just look at the performance of Saku Koivu in the last two weeks, a better clutch player you will not find --and the way the squad has gelled under its new coach (with the exception of the profoundly disappointing Sergi Samsonov) but not enough to overcome the midseason losing streak that saw them fall from third to also ran in the space of about a month. If we just had a little more offense...

In other revolting developments, Tokyo tiny perfect fuehrer won relection Sunday, and by a sizable margin. Expect him to propose that the city declare war on China sometime next week and for the likes of me to rounded up and put in a camp in Ueno Park sometime by the end of the month.

Of course, it could be worse. I could be riding around Afghanistan like these six men were when the road exploded. My sympathies to their families and friends and my thanks to them for their sacrifice.

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid
Kevin Wood / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer
The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid
By Bill Bryson
Read by the author
Audio editions
7-1/2 hours on 6 CDs, unabridged

Bill Bryson, best known for his humorous travelogues (Notes from a Small Island, A Walk in the Woods, In a Sunburned Country) returns to more familiar territory with his latest work, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, a memoir of growing up in Des Moines, Iowa, in the '50s and '60s.

The title is derived from Bryson's childhood alter ego, a superhero whose "thundervision" is used to incinerate teachers, parents, classmates, shop clerks and other assorted "morons."
While telling his own story, Bryson also takes pains to put things in context for his audience, supplying statistics and historical notes on the era and opening each chapter with quotations from period newspaper stories.

The 1950s was unquestionably the golden age for Middle America: The booming economy and swift and steady march of technology meant a standard of living that soared at a rate unparalleled before or since. Some Midwestern families went from not having indoor plumbing or electricity to owning color TVs, refrigerators and even air conditioning in the space of a decade. It was the last gasp of what Greil Marcus refers to as the "Old, Weird America" that existed before the era of fast food, network television and retail franchising took their toll on regional differences, a time when department stores and restaurants were strictly local, family-owned enterprises. Bryson rhapsodizes at length about Des Moines' main department store and the specialties of local eateries.

A longtime resident of England who was rewarded for his contributions to the written word with an honorary Order of the British Empire (OBE) in December, Bryson has mostly lost the rough edges of his regional midwestern accent--though the pronunciation of the northern plains is very near the model of the neutral North American accent. His dry, subdued delivery is almost English in its understatement, never succumbing to the overenthusiastic, near manic emoting typical of some comic narrators, regardless of the sometime electric energy of the text. There are no funny voices, sound effects or ham acting here, just solid writing delivered in an almost conversational tone, like a friend telling tales of his own boyhood over a sociable beer.

And those stories cover the broadest range of topics. While Bryson looks back on his childhood and adolescence as a golden era, he does not present a bowdlerized version of his youth. While Des Moines is hardly Hell's Kitchen, we are treated to stories of an onanistic neighbor, class and racial divisions in the town, adolescent lust and Bryson's affiliation with a high school beer bandit whose ultimate caper involved the emptying of a full warehouse over a weekend.

He also writes movingly about his father's considerable skill as a sportswriter and his mother's magical ability to turn food into charcoal. While the book is an affectionate look at the time and place in which Bryson grew up, it also pokes fun at the limited horizons and narrow outlook of his childhood hometown. In a final chapter that revisits Bryson's childhood home and friends 40 years later, one can sense how glad the author is to have come from Des Moines and also how happy he is to have left it when he did. The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid manages the rare feat of embracing nostalgia while eschewing sentimentality.
(Apr. 7, 2007)