Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Why I'm An Exodus Catholic, ctd.

Yet another reason. Certain things repulse me about the callous behavior of the Catholic Church and how it privileges the lives of the unborn over the lives of the already living. There is something fundamentally un-Christ-like, something unforgiving, something unwelcoming, about the attitude that leads to such decisions like the one emanating from Bishop Olmstead.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Palin Speaks On Haiti

Credit where credit is due. As a fierce and regular critic of Sarah Palin on this blog, I think it is especially incumbent upon me not to gloss over where Palin does something that I think is laudable.

Sarah Palin has visited Haiti and urged that we not forget this suffering and troubled country.

I agree with that message. And, as far as I'm concerned, you can't have too many people delivering this message. Sarah Palin's voice in this respect is more than welcome.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

From the Archives: Big Bad Voodoo Daddy's Heat Miser/Cold Miser

Remember this from the Classic Rankin/Bass Production, The Year Without A Santa Claus? It was (and remains) one of my favorite Christmas cartoon experiences of all time. This particular YouTube clip nicely matches the Big Bad Voodoo Daddy version of the tune with the actual scene from the original film. Enjoy!

Top 10 Christmas Movies

I've run this in years past, and I'm running it again now. Nothing has surfaced since last Christmas to warrant a change in my rankings.

Here's The Huck Upchuck's Top 10 Christmas Movies of all time:

10. Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey -- This may not be on par with some of the better full-length feature films that treat Christmas, but I have always adored this little 22 minute Bass/Rankin animated Christmas story. I guess it's thematically of a piece with the classic "Little Drummer Boy" Bass/Rankin animated short, but I like it better because it's not as well known and gives the animals of the Christmas story their moment. And who can forget: "Ears, Nestor!" :-) This is the only Bass/Rankin animated production that I'll include in my list, though there are certainly some more classics in this bunch of Christmas shorts that entertain the little ones every Christmas season. Honorable mentions in this category of "claymation" Christmas classics include The Year Without a Santa Claus, which features the Heat Miser, the Cold Miser, and Mother Nature, and Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

9. Barbie in the Nutcracker -- Given that I have two young daughters, it's hard not to find room for something like this in the Top 10 list. However, I have to say that this is actually quite a very impressive digital computer animated adaptation of the Nutcracker story. It's the first of these Barbie movies, and I remember thinking how graphically stunning it was at the time. The music and the dancing scenes in this version of the Tchaikovsky-scored Ballet are also quite good. None of the many subsequent Barbie animation movies compares in both production quality and plotline development as this original one. If you can overlook the whole Barbie culture and how it crafts an unrealistic and idealistic notion of female beauty, you can find a little gem of a Christmas movie here.

8. Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas -- This charming muppet musical Christmas story from Jim Hensen conjures nostalgic Christmas memories for me. It is filled with all the great Christmas themes of selflessness, love, family, and friendship. It's not as technically slick as some of our modern day animation and muppetry, but it was a masterpiece of its day. I just love the sweetness and wholesomeness of this lovely little story, and the tunes are catchy and fun. Heck, even the bad guys in this story, the Riverbottom Boys Gang, have their own redeeming charm. Another little interesting tidbit to note is that the actors who provide the voices for Emmet Otter and his jug band friends also provide the voices for the characters in the Riverbottom Boys gang. It's fun to try and identify the alter egos in these two groups. Yes, there are times when the puppetry is so noticeable that it distracts from the story, but I am always struck by how few these moments are. For families with kids 12-yrs-old and younger, this Jim Hensen masterpiece should be a Christmas standard.

7. The Nativity Story - While I found The Nativity Story to be a bit superficial and overly simplistic, it is perhaps the best effort that I've seen to portray the nativity story on film with somewhat of a realistic feel, even though I think its pretensions to realism cynically mask what is essentially a romanticized and imaginary representation of history. The script is perhaps the weakest element of this movie, and the plotline is thin and incomplete in parts; and, unfortunately, the scene where a laboring Mary and Joseph arrive at Nazareth and make their way to the manger for the climactic birth of Jesus is so surreal that it almost sinks the realist believability of the whole movie. Nevertheless, it gets my recommendation for effort and for its undeniably impressive cinematography, not to mention the subtle beauty of actress Keisha Castle-Hughes as Mary and the wonderful performance of Ciaran Hinds as Herod.

6. The Polar Express -- This slick, cgi animated telling of the classic train-to-the-north-pole story merits a place in my top ten because it is visually stunning cgi animation. The storyline is 100% pure Christmas spirit -- of giving, friendship, and faith. I originally thought that the movie would be too saccharine for me and would wear off after the initial viewing and captivating animation "honeymoon" period. However, I found this not to be the case. Every time I'm in a room and this show is on the TV screen, I find myself drawn to it, less so for the visuals and moreso for the storyline. Most of the kids are slight caricatures, and it really is an unabashed feel-good movie, but it all tends to work in the end. I think this movie will become part of the classic Christmas movie lineup.

5. A Christmas Carol -- Of the numerous versions of this Dickens classic Christmas tale that exist, and that I have seen, the one that I find to be the most moving, best directed, and most skillfully acted is the 1984 version produced for TV starring George C. Scott. What I love about this particular version is that George C. Scott's Ebeneezer Scrooge is so understated. Unlike the Scrooge one sees in almost all other productions, Scott's Scrooge is not the caricatured heartless and unreflective miser that experiences an over-dramatic conversion. Scott's Scrooge is a troubled and conflicted soul, wracked by regrets, who hardens his heart principally as a mechanism of avoiding pain and disappointment. His greed and vindictiveness are not really central to his character. They exist, but they are sidebars to the real roots of his anti-social behavior. And his conversion does not come from fear, but rather from an awareness and eventual acceptance of his brokenness as a human, and that this brokenness is not unique and can be repaired. What I also like about Scott's Scrooge is that his "converted" character is softer, but still retains some of his gruff and troubled edges. In other words, when Christmas day dawns, he's not a completely different and unrecognizable Scrooge, as is so often portrayed, just a more vulnerable and human Scrooge, willing to open up, share, and smile.

4. Miracle on 34th Street -- I prefer the classic 1947 movie starring Natalie Wood as the little girl and Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle. There is something about the 1940s that makes the telling of this tale of belief in Santa resonate much more powerfully than the more recent 1994 remake starring Richard Attenborough. The simplicity of the Christmas message, the lack of pretense in the characters, the absence of a post-modern angst about the meaning of Christmas all make the 1947 movie such a joy to watch. What is interesting, I think, is that this particular movie takes on much, much better the alienation that has come with the creeping materialism of the holiday season than any other modern efforts. It's a refreshing, clean, wholesome and inspiring film. And its relevance to the contemporary Christmas environment is still very much real.

3. A Christmas Story -- One's top 10 Christmas movies list would never be complete without this classic included somewhere in the list. For me, this story ranks up there with the best of them. Maybe it's because I'm a guy and this film is really about little boys at Christmas. Ralphie's daydreams are hilarious, especially his "A+++++++++++" essay daydream. And who can forget the irony of the "You'll shoot your eye out!" admonition that actually almost happens. As a parent, I can't say that I'm thrilled about the fact that Ralphie creates the whopper lie that "the Icicle did it" when his Red Rider BB Gun almost puts his eye out, and then gets away with it! But, hey, what little boy hasn't gone down this path? I do, however, feel obliged to issue a warning to parents, though. This movie is marketed as suitable for Children, but beware that there are some really rough, uncensored moments of strong profanity here. It's a movie that is very much politically incorrect, so some might find some of the humor a bit much. But, if taken in the right spirit, it can make for an enjoyable film experience.

2. Love, Actually -- I just love, love, love this modern British movie. It's not really about Christmas, but it takes place around the Christmas season, and its theme is about the mundane beauty of love. The different vignettes are wonderfully done, and the cast is star-studded and stellar. What I particularly like about it is that not all of the stories have a happy ending, but all of them are about love in the Christmas season. Bill Nighy's irreverent performance is absolutely fantastic, and the proposal scene between Colin Firth's character and his Portuguese beauty is so classically romantic that I can watch it over and over and over again, and never get tired of it. And the fact that I know a bit of Portuguese helps me better appreciate the moment. Oh ... I get all wound up just thinking about all the dramas in this movie. I could go on and on about it. And, though I could have done without the sappy kiddie-crush subplot, even this, with some screening of the some fo the more adult scenes, makes it something even the tweens could enjoy. I should say, though, that there are some adult moments, and not all of the film is appropriate for young people, even tweens. For instance, one of the story lines features two characters who are stand-in doubles for what is apparently a porn film, and their scenes often involve nudity and sexually explicit actions, though the relationship itself is ironically sweet and innocent, which makes the contrast with the porn thing all the more stark. Overall, though, I think this film is just fantastic, and the message of love, in all its complex messiness and varied context, can't be beat. Highly recommended, but with appropriate caution when youngsters are involved.

1. It's a Wonderful Life -- I don't care how cheesy, overplayed, and overdramatized some think this movie is, it's still the best Christmas story out there. And I still get all choked up every time I see that last scene when everyone shows up and showers George Bailey with more money than he could ever need to resolve his dilemma. As an actor and person, Jimmy Stewart is one of the best. And Lionel Barrymore's portrayal of the villain, Henry F. Potter, is more classic Scrooge than Scrooge himself!

Thursday, December 09, 2010

The Gross Unfairness of the Senate

The U.S. Senate, with its abused filibuster mechanism, is the place where legislation goes to die. I detest both the filibuster and the way the Senate is constituted. It is inherently unfair by any stretch of the imagination when it comes to any just understanding of democracy. Take, for example, resident population of the U.S. in 2009 broken down by state:

Reliably "Blue" states:
California - 37 million citizens - 2 Senators
New York - 19.5 million citizens - 2 Senators
TOTALS - 56.5 million citizens - 4 Senators

Reliably "Red" States:
Alaska - .7 million citizens - 2 Senators
Idaho - 1.6 million citizens - 2 Senators
Kansas - 2.8 million citizens - 2 Senators
Kentucky - 4.3 million citizens - 2 Senators
Mississippi - 3 million citizens - 2 Senators
Montana - 1 million citizens - 2 Senators
Nebraska - 1.8 million citizens - 2 Senators
North Dakota - .7 million citizens - 2 Senators
Oklahoma - 3.7 million citizens - 2 Senators
South Carolina - 4.5 million citizens - 2 Senators
South Dakota - .8 million citizens - 2 Senators
Texas - 24.8 million citizens - 2 Senators
Utah - 2.8 million citizens - 2 Senators
Wyoming - .6 million citizens - 2 Senators
TOTALS - 54.1 million citizens - 28 Senators

This includes the highest-ranked reliably conservative population state of Texas. And even if you put some of the small population liberal states in the mix, you'll never be able to match the gross disparity in representation here by always including the highest-ranked reliably liberal population state, California, in the mix. No matter what combination any conservative may try to put together that includes California and New York on the liberal side and Texas and Georgia on the conservative side, the balance will always penalize states that consistently lean liberal.

Lets look at it another way:

Top 15 population states: California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Georgia, North Carolina, New Jersey, Virginia, Washington, Arizona, Massachusetts
Bottom 15 population states: Wyoming, Vermont, North Dakota, Alaska, South Dakota, Delaware, Montana, Rhode Island, Hawaii, Maine, New Hampshire, Idaho, Nebraska, West Virginia, New Mexico

Even here, the imbalance is quite obvious. In the end, Liberals Democrats are always at a disadvantage in the Senate.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Jesuit DREAMers

On the other hand, this letter to the editor of the Times-Picayune made me proud of being a product of the Jesuits. It's also one of the reasons why, even though I consider myself an Exodus Catholic, I don't break completely with my Church and my faith:

Every year approximately 65,000 young people graduate from high school in the United States but are unable to go to college, work or join the military because their parents brought them to the country as children without legal documents. Their lack of legal status prevents them from pursuing their dreams and their full human potential and from making vital contributions to the well-being of our nation.

The DREAM Act is commonsense legislation that would remedy this. To move from being undocumented to being a U.S. citizen, eligible young people would be required to pass rigorous background checks, be of good moral character, graduate from high school, then go on to attend college or serve in the military for at least two years. Approximately 800,000 young people would be able to meet the requirements of the DREAM Act, including about 800 Louisianans.

No matter what one's views on fixing our country's broken immigration system, why would we want to punish children for the actions of their parents? Many of these young people know no other home than the United States.

As the president of a university committed to providing young people the education and formation experiences that allow them to realize their God-given potential, I find it very unfortunate to deny opportunity to talented, intelligent and dedicated students who only know the United States as their home.

Finally, I would like to thank Congressman Joseph Cao for taking a leadership position on this bill by becoming a co-sponsor of this legislation.

In preparation for an upcoming vote on this legislation, I urge your readers to contact members of the Louisiana delegation to support this vital piece of legislation that could bring hope and dignity to so many deserving young people.

Kevin Wm. Wildes, S.J., Ph.D.
Loyola University
New Orleans
I will say, too, that if Cao really does shepherd the DREAM Act through Congress during its lame duck session, and if he really does exercise leadership on this matter in any event, that in and of itself will go quite a long way to redeeming him in my eyes.

Tulane, Athletics, and Priorities

For the past two days, the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper has run two letters to the editor from supposed fans and alumni of Tulane University regarding the University's decision to extend the contract of head football coach Bob Toledo, in spite of four seasons of a losing record. I'm gonna get to the content of each of these letters in a bit, but I want to preface my "fisking" of these letter with a few introductory comments. First, full disclosure: Although I have zero connection today to the Tulane Department of Athletics, I am employed by Tulane University as a professor/administrator. Second, I am a Tulane Alum. I attended Tulane as an undergraduate for my Freshman year as a Dean's Honor Scholarship recipient. (Note: I transferred to Georgetown University after my Freshman year simply because I wanted to attend college away from home.) But I then returned to Tulane for graduate school, where I earned both my MA and Ph.D. degrees. Third, and perhaps most importantly for this discussion, I am a varsity letterman and athletic scholarship recipient in Track and Field at Tulane (back in the day when Tulane had a Men's Track & Field program. (Yes, yes, I gave up both the academic scholarship and the athletic scholarship to transfer to Georgetown. Although my dad nearly choked when I made this decision, there is no doubt in my mind today that it was the right decision. And my dad has come to see it this way, too.) So, I think I can safely say that I'm pretty invested in Tulane in more ways than one and I've earned the right to fire back at these letter writers. Now that I've tipped my hand, let's get right down to it...

Yes, I take a dim view of what these letter writers had to say. Here's the first of the two in its entirety:

Why is Tulane extending the contract of a football coach who, after four years, is only averaging about three wins per season? This is ridiculous.

If the Tulane administration does not care about athletics any longer, then just man up and say it publicly!

The administration should not insult the intelligence of the Tulane alumni. Their ability to lead Tulane University is now in serious question among the Tulane alumni.

Do not respond to me with more excuses, and please do not fall back on the Katrina situation as an excuse. It's been five years, and it is time to move on from that.

For the first time in my life, I am ashamed of being a Tulane alum. I am sure that my father (a 1950 graduate and World War II veteran), would feel the same if he were alive today.

Antoine "Pete" Madere
Baton Rouge
What can I say to this? There's so much to unpack here. First off, given how difficult it is to recruit and field a competitive division one football team at Tulane, four years is barely enough time to build a program. Give the guy four more years and then see what happens. For this letter writer to think that anyone can come in and turn around a program like Tulane's in four short years is succumbing to the absurd attitude that drives opinion about elite football programs like LSU. When it comes to football culture (and the corresponding fan culture), Tulane is not like LSU. And I say "Thank God!" for that. In fact, I'd wager that what Tulane needs in order to develop a solid football program is some longer-term stability. Firing a coach every 3-4 years is probably the worst thing that a place like Tulane can do to build up its football program.

The rest of the letter that talks about insulting the intelligence of Tulane alumni or about measuring the value of Tulane's leadership to run a first-rate University (and last I checked a University's primary mission is an ACADEMIC one!) says more about the letter writer than it does about Tulane. And the very last thought the letter writer leaves us tells us everything we need to know about this letter writer. Really, think about it: this guy is ashamed of being a Tulane alum because of the administration's decision not to fire a football coach. If the measure of this guy's pride in Tulane is wrapped up in a friggin' football thing, then he would have been better off going to LSU. What does Mr. Madere have to say about, you know, the EDUCATION he received from Tulane? What about Tulane's impressive graduation rate for its current athletes? Is there no pride in that? Furthermore, what about the many superlative aspects of the University that have nothing to do with athletics? Can't this dude find something redeeming about his Alma Mater in something other than a sport? I'll tell you, as someone educated by Tulane and as a former Tulane Athlete, what makes me ashamed is that there are alumni like Mr. Madere who calculate the measure of Tulane's excellence by the record of its football team.

Turning to the other letter...
Re: "Toledo stays on as Wave coach," Sports, Dec. 1.

I used to be a mainstay at Tulane baseball games. I don't even go anymore. I used to drive out all the way from Kenner midweek with my daughter on a school night to watch bad basketball at Fogelman Arena, never missing a game. I don't even bother anymore.

I haven't missed a football home game since 1996. That streak ends.

Tulane athletics is a non-event in our own hometown. Identifying yourself as a Tulane supporter by wearing gear in public will actually draw laughs. I challenge Scott Cowen and Rick Dickson to get out of their cocoons and try it some time. That deplorable situation sits squarely in their laps.

Tulane football used to be a vibrant part of our city. It is now a laughingstock. The leadership has done nothing but encourage further decline with decisions like the coaching decision made and announced late Wednesday.

Jason T. Liuzza
Tulane Class of 1993
Now while Mr. Liuzza at least keeps his criticisms of Tulane focused on what he sees as the decline of Tulane athletics, and doesn't generalize this as a commentary on the University as a whole, his emphasis on athletics still conveys the notion that what he values about Tulane (and, by extension, what he thinks the rest of us in New Orleans value about Tulane) is its athletics. I can tell Mr. Liuzza that when most people from the community see someone wearing Tulane "gear" in public, they neither laugh nor ridicule. Instead, many of them (in fact, most of them, I'd say) think of Tulane students, faculty, and staff as critical resources for the community. Most people see in the Tulane brand things like ESL classes, after-school tutors for the city's urban youth, social entrepreneurship, coastal restoration work, community health clinics, etc. They see the sign of a civically-engaged, top-notch research and knowledge-generating institution.

As a Tulane alumnus and a former Tulane athlete myself, my advice to Mr. Madere and Mr. Liuzza is that they get their priorities straight and stop measuring the value of Tulane by its athletics.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

The Messianic Cult of Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin was in my neck of the woods recently. I am always struck by how many of the very same star-struck adorers of Palin are also the ones who most likely recoiled at the "celebrity" power of Barack Obama in the last election. But the adoration has reached messianic proportions among some of the folks who basked in the divine glow of St. Sarah at the temple of Barnes and Noble:

Metairie resident Betty Purcell also had been waiting all day to meet Palin, who she praised for being a Christian and a leader. "It's really neat to be able to touch someone who's doing what she's doing," Purcell said.
Now what, exactly, is Sarah Palin doing beyond a book tour and a reality show? Maybe that one "touch" has cured all of Betty Purcell's ailments connected to Obama Derangement Syndrome. Who knows? And if there ever was any doubt that the ideological wars are being played out in Reality TV shows, I give you this from a St. Sarah devotee:
"You may have shaken hands with the future president," Brenda Fernandez told the boys after they stepped from the table. "This is something they'll never forget."

Brenda Fernandez told Palin that she voted for her daughter, Bristol, 10 times during the younger Palin's recent stint on "Dancing With the Stars."

"Thank you for keeping her in there," a smiling Palin told Fernandez. "She had a blast."
See the conflation of politics with pop culture? The same woman who is ga-ga over having possibly met a future President, sees fit to affirm her loyalty to such a future Commander-In-Chief and leader of the free world not by stating that she admired and voted for her in the 2008 election, but by declaring the multiple times she voted for Bristol Palin on "Dancing with the Stars"! Yes, Eric, we've already lost the battle. Do you see that now?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Mexico Peligroso

I have been watching with much dismay as Mexico, a country for which I have much affection, has suffered the afflictions of all the drug and gang related violence throughout the country, but mostly in the border region. Today, there was a bit of encouraging news as the leader of the Aztecas gang in Ciudad Juarez has been arrested and has confessed to ordering over 80 percent of the killings in this region in recent years. Is this really a good thing, though? I don't know. I hope so. But I just don't know what to make of all this chaos and tragedy in Mexico these days.

Falcons Win

In another close and exciting game, the Atlanta Falcons defeated the Green Bay Packers, which means the Saints are still one game behind in the Division. I think this is a good thing for the Saints, as it means the team has to keep winning and keep putting the pressure on the Falcons. It's actually not that bad doing so well, but also trying to play catch up to another team. Keeps the team hungry and humble, all at the same time.

The LSU Tigers, however, finally got their come-uppance. They lucked out the entire season, and now their luck has run out. I really don't think they are as good a team as their record and ranking indicates. Too bad, though, that they are now likely out of BCS bowl game contention. But I can't say that I'm all that surprised.

As for the Green Wave ... it's not even worth discussing. I don't think the Green Wave has fielded a defense all season long.

Good Weekend at the Palmer Park Arts Market

Just a quick note to congratulate my B-2/3 on a very fine job at the Palmer Park Arts Market this weekend. The weather was perfect and her inventory was nearly depleted by shoppers. It's a double-edged sword having such a good weekend of sales. It means that she earned a nice income, but it also means she has a lot of work cut out for her to replenish stock for the next market, which so happens to be in three short weeks. Nevertheless, I'm proud of her accomplishments. It's great to see her work be so much in demand and valued by her patrons.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Blue Jays Lose in State Quarterfinals

For a team picked to finish dead last in their district this year, I'd say that the Blue Jays making it all the way to the state football quarterfinals is a pretty impressive accomplishment. Today, the Blue Jays lost their quarterfinal match to perennial state powerhouse, West Monroe, by a score of 28-11. Heads high, Blue Jays. You gave us a season none of us expected. Well-done.

Sellout Cao

Apparently, Anh "Joseph" Cao's claim to be a moderate Republican was all a scam. And here I am thinking Cao had some integrity. What kind of person, the moment he loses office, reveals that he essentially lied to all of us about himself in order to get elected the first time around? I'm disappointed and feeling deceived. For me, Cao has forfeited any claim to Ignatian spirituality and Jesuit ideals. No person I know who lays claim to a Jesuit formation would be so deceptive. Good riddance.

MBH Pottery at the Palmer Park Arts Market

Well, it's once again that time of the month when my lovely bride will again be out at the Palmer Park Arts Market setting up her booth to sell her pottery. The market will be running both Saturday and Sunday, from 10am-4pm, and the weather forecast looks perfect, albeit a bit on the cool side. It promises to be a beautiful day and ideal for a visit to the Arts Market. My B-2/3 has been hard at work all month and has added significantly to her inventory of pieces. So, if you want to support a great cause and pick up some wonderful pieces of handmade, high quality pottery as wedding gifts, birthday presents, Christmas or Hannukah gifts, or any other kind of gift, please get your umbrella and do come out to the Arts Market tomorrow and/or Sunday at Palmer Park on the corner of Claiborne and Carrollton Avenues and look her up. I think she's assigned to Booth 117, but you can find out for certain where she is at the information booth at the Market. MBH Pottery or Michele Benson Huck Pottery is what you should look for. Of course, as usual, Michele will also be doing live demonstrations at her pottery wheel, so please come out, enjoy the market, and stop by to visit Michele to see how pots are thrown (and hopefully not at you!)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Off in a few minutes to my brother's family's house for the "Gran Celebracion"! This is when I really like being from a big family. Have a great day and give thanks for all that is wonderful in your life and world. And Geaux Saints!

Larry McMurtry's "Lonesome Dove": Part I Review

Some time ago, I started to read Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove. I'm now about 300 pages in (the book is some 800-900 pages long), and am ready to offer my thoughts on the book so far. First, I should say that I think Larry McMurtry is a very fine writer. His prose is both fluid and naturally engaging. His writing never comes across as forced. And he can capture a character's voice in subtle, but still distinctive ways. For instance, when Gus speaks, the reader wouldn't even have to be told it was Gus speaking in order to be able to discern who it was. Each character's style is unique and discernible, though not blatantly so in a caricaturized way. In fact, this is what I think constitutes McMurtry's strongest aspect as a writer: character development. However, McMurtry's strength is also, I think, the source of his weakness, too, which is narrative plot development. McMurtry seems to get so wrapped up in giving us multiple glimpses into the minds and hearts of his characters from multiple different angles (and they're nuanced and beautifully-constructed detailed glimpses), that he sacrifices an actual story in doing so. Now, remember I am only 300 pages in. The book is considered an epic, and epics revolve around well-developed characters. However, it is also true that really great epic novels don't have to sacrifice story for character development, even at the beginning. For instance, perhaps the greatest epic of all time (at least in my estimation) is Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace. And its genius is that we not only get profound insight into Tolstoy's main characters, but we get a great narrative story about the Napoleonic wars and, in particular, Napoleon's invasion of Russia -- even from the very beginning of the novel. In Lonesome Dove, that is not so much the case. The only storyline we actually seem to have at page 300 is moving a cattle herd from the borderlands of Texas to Montana. And the only real action in the novel so far has been wrapped up in two events: the nighttime horse raid in Mexico and the thunderstorm episode in the early part of the cattle drive. I can see a sub-plot developing involving July Johnson's search for Jake Spoon (what great names, no?!?), but it's barely in its infancy after only 300 pages. However, one gets the feeling that whatever plot might develop in the remaining two-thirds of the book will be merely as vehicles for illuminating characterization even more. The way that I would describe the book so far is that it is a series of vignettes introducing us to various different types of people that one might encounter in the "wild west" in the late 19th Century. Again, it's worth nothing that these are not caricatures, which sets McMurtry apart and puts him in the realm of great character writers. They're real people with interesting and nuanced stories; but their stories are told rather independently, with the minimal plot narrative as the necessary (and weak) thread that binds these individual stories together in some loose way. All that said, I still have a lot of book left to read, and so perhaps my initial evaluation will modify as I go along. But one thing is for sure, it is a very fine novel. I'm not usually one for westerns, but this one is definitely worth the read.

Thought of the Day

When you have Bristol Palin competing for the championship on Dancing with the Stars, I think it's safe to say that the political correctness of mediocrity is not just a leftist phenomenon.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Evidence That We're On The Wrong Side Of The Laffer Curve

Ever heard of the Laffer Curve? It's a theory embraced by many on the conservative, anti-tax rightwing to prove that cutting taxes actually could increase overall tax revenues if we are on the "over-taxed" side of the curve. The idea is that the tax revenues generated by the economic growth spurred by tax cuts will both offset and exceed the tax losses incurred by the tax cuts themselves. I admit that there's an intuitive logic to the notion in theory that makes sense at one level. But I'm also realistic enough to know that tax policy, in and of itself, is just one of a whole host of things that affect productivity and economic growth. Things like consumer confidence, unemployment levels, government spending, technology efficiencies, exchange rates, trade policy, monetary policy (i.e. interest rates), sectoral performance, philanthropic giving, natural disasters, wars, terrorist threats, etc., all have an impact on productivity and economic growth. So, I argue that it is nearly impossible to determine what this equilibrium point is on the Laffer curve. Moreover, I would argue that this equilibrium point is a moving target depending on the peculiarities of the moment. A tax cut to a particular rate or level that could be a net revenue generator today (presuming we could even isolate it as such), could actually be a rate or level that would reduce net revenues tomorrow.

But given that we're discussing tax policy today, which is caught up in the debate over whether to extend the Bush era tax cuts, let's take a look at how economic growth fared over the Bush era. What we see is that during the era of the Bush tax cuts, average GDP growth has been at its lowest since 1961. What does this mean? Well, I'd say it doesn't really tell us anything conclusive. But I think it certainly doesn't support the notion that tax cuts produce economic growth and thus increased tax revenues.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Annual TUCLA Conference

My department's 8th annual undergraduate research conference, otherwise known as TUCLA (Tulane Undergraduate Conference on Latin America), is being held this Saturday, November 20, from 9:00am to 3:00pm. The conference features panel presentations of the capstone Core Seminar research papers undertaken by all senior (and a few junior) Latin American Studies majors. The Conference Program and schedule is the following:

Session I 9:00-10:30

Panel 1: Theme: Welfare (Jones 102)
Panel Title: Compromise and Conflict: Recent Policy Debates in Latin America
Carlos Grover, “Property Struggles In Brazilian Cities: ‘Treating The Equal Equally and the Unequal Unequally’”
Abigail Nixon, "Cuba’s Escuela Latinoamericana de Medicina: Doctors of Both Science and Conscience"
Jessie Yoste, “Hexed? Vodou Observance of Trauma through the Lens of the 2010 Haitian Earthquake”
Discussant: Dr. Maureen Long, Murphy Institute of Political Economy

Panel 2:Theme: Identity (Jones 108)
Panel Title: The Paradoxes of Perspective: Agency, Identity and Nation in Latin America Film and Literature
Davita Petty, “’Zora, don’t you come here and tell de biggest lie first thing’: Creole Identity in the Writing of Zora Neale Hurston"
Cristina Alvarado-Suarez, “Desenmascarando la identidad nacional: The Problem of National Integration and Nicaraguan Literature”
Phylicia Martel, “Romance and Revolution at a Crossroads: Mapping Zapatista Discourse in Corazón del tiempo”
Discussant: Dr. Roxanne Davila, Department of Spanish and Portuguese

Session II: 10:45-12:15

Panel 3: Theme: Encounter (Jones 102)
Panel Title: Intermestic Identities: Twenty-First-Century Geo-Politics and Cultural Transformation
Stephanie Moore, “Blown Away: Indigenous Rights in Coca-Crazed Bolivia”
Eric Schwartz, “Communism’s Silent Killer: Cuba's Jinetero and the Hustle to Freedom”
Jessica Frankel, “A New Hegemony for Bolivia? Embracing Indigeneity in Response to the War on Drugs”
Discussant: Dr. Raúl A. Sánchez Urribarrí, Department of Political Science

Panel 4: Theme: Nation (Jones 108)
Panel Title: Solidarity Beyond the State: New Concepts of Citizenship in Post-Neo-Liberal Latin America
Eva Canan “Lixo Humano? The Social Transformation of Brazilian Waste Pickers”
Pike, Rebecca “Children of the Revolution: Afro-Brazilian Youth Movements in the 21st Century”
Jane Esslinger, “Slaughter Houses, Factories and Conventillos: New Spaces for Culture-Based Urban Development and Citizen Participation in Neo-Liberal Buenos Aires”
Discussant: Dr. David G. Ortiz, Department of Sociology

Session III: 1:15–2:45

Panel 5: Theme: Exchange (Jones 102)
Panel Title: Our North is the South: How Recent Migration Patterns and Policy Trouble Conventional Wisdom
Kathleen Dunn, “Welcome Home? Consequences of Return Migration in Western Mexico”
Rachel Young, “Salir Adelante: The Curious Case of Peruvian Migration to Chile and the Singularity of the Peruvian Migrant”
Monica Peters, “Immigration is the Sincerest Form of Flattery: The Formation of Mexico’s Immigration Policy and its Role as a Receiving and Transit State.”
Discussant: Dr. Casey Kane Love, Department of Political Science

Panel 6: Theme: Creativity (Jones 108)
Panel Title: A History of Violence: Human Dignity and the Politics of Representation
Emily Gatehouse, “‘Me gustaría saber más. Me gustaría saber todo.’ The Duality of Memorializing Argentine State Terrorism”
Rebecca Chilbert, “Made in Mexico: How the Mexican Media presents Slavery as Something Made in China”
Susie DeLapp, “Failing the Poto Mitan? International Aid Organizations and Structural Violence in Haiti”
Discussant: Dr. Justin Wolfe, Department of History
All are invited to attend, ask questions, give comments, and otherwise support such a fine cadre of undergraduate scholars. And congratulations ahead of time to all our panelists on their fine papers and their hard work. Full program, including panelist biographies and paper abstracts, can be found here.

Favorite Dimbulb Comment of the Day

From a commenter who calls himself "Proud Infidel" at the conservative Right Wing News website, in a thread for a posting on Sarah Palin's claim that she could beat Obama in a 2012 Presidential matchup:

One thing for sure, she's got what President B. Hussein Obama doesn't: Executive Experience!!!
The dimbulb refers to Obama as President and then claims in the same breath that Obama has no executive experience! Call me elitist if it makes you feel better, but that still won't erase the fact that this person is a "Grade A" ignoramus.

Message To Conservatives Who Would Call Me A Sarah Palin Hater

Let me put it to you like this: I just think and feel about her the way you think and feel about Obama. So, however you see fit to describe me when it comes to Sarah Palin, I will just assume that's also how you would characterize yourself when it comes to Obama.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Wasilla Shore, cont.

Want to see another episode of Palin's Alaska? I mean the real Palin's Alaska? Just read through this facebook comment war that apparently involves both Willow and Bristol Palin acting like the "proper" young ladies they are:

During the premiere of "Sarah Palin's Alaska" Sunday night -- a boy named Tre who went to school with the Palin kids wrote a status update that read, "Sarah Palin's Alaska, is failing so hard right now."

The comment sparked an intense response from Willow -- who replied on the boy's wall, "Haha your so gay. I have no idea who you are, But what I've seen pictures of, your disgusting ... My sister had a kid and is still hot."

Willow followed up that comment with another that read, "Tre stfu. Your such a f**got."

Bristol Palin also got in on the smacktalk -- writing a message to Tre saying, "You're running your mouth just to talk sh*t."

Eventually, a message board war erupted -- and Bristol took aim at another person named Jon -- saying, "You'll be as successful as my baby daddy, And actually I do work my ass off. I've been a single mom for the last two years."
Of course, anything that comes from gossip sites like TMZ should be taken with a grain of salt, even though it would be hard to fake this episode. Even still, the sympathetic conservative blogosphere is taken aback by the exchange as well and offering some cautionary admonitions to the Wasilla Shore debutantes:
First of all, let me just note that even if Willow and Bristol talk like that in private, they shouldn't be using that kind of language in public, particularly on Facebook, where it's out there in print for the world to see. That's advice I'd give to anyone, by the way. I'd also add that it's wise not to use that sort of language in private either -- and I can tell you that from personal experience.
As someone with two young daughters myself, one of whom is on the cusp of teenager-hood, I'd add that it's not just the profane language that's a problem, but the downright Jerry Springer-esque trashiness of the whole attitude behind the exchange. And though these immature young girls are responsible for themselves, I do have to say that kids don't just pick this up and internalize this kind of behavior without an implicit tolerance from the parentals. As the saying goes, "the apples fall not far from the tree." It is a reflection not only on who they are themselves, but on the whole community and family structure that has supported them and nurtured them.

What kind of role model would this chronic trashy soap opera that appears to be the habitual Palin family modus vivendi be for my daughters and for America's families should it infest the White House? Wasn't the damage done to the image of the American Presidency through the seediness of Bill Clinton's White House sexcapades enough?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Affirmative Action: Conservative Style

You want to see an example of how conservatives play the affirmative action game, look no further than Bristol Palin's continued presence on Dancing with the Stars.

It is abundantly clear that, on the actual merits of dancing, Bristol is clearly inferior to many of the other contestants. Even Bristol acknowledges that her continued success on the show is not because she is more talented than the others who get bumped, but because she essentially tries hard and has shown improvement in performance:

Bristol Palin, 20, says voters support her despite lackluster performances "because I started with no experience in dancing or performing at all, and I've come a long way."

"People do connect with me because they think I'm real and I'm not typical Hollywood," she said.
And even that's a bit of a stretch, as anyone who looks at it honestly knows precisely what's going on: Bristol is still on the show for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with dancing skill at any level.

And that's fine. If Dancing with the Stars is really a popularity contest irrespective of actual merits as a dancer, then let's just be up front about it. But pretending that Bristol is earning her place because of her dancing skills is just dishonest. For some conservatives, it's got to be embarrassing for this charade to continue, because it puts the lie to the conservative expectation that objective merit and skill should determine rewards as opposed to a particular kind of celebrity. Bristol is getting special treatment by viewers not because of her abilities, but purely because of who she is.

I'm pretty certain that if admissions committees at law schools were admitting certain people because their LSATs had improved incrementally over multiple testing periods, but whose best score was still 20 points below the average of all other admitted students, one would have to assume that a kind of special privilege that has little to do with performance or merit indicators is being afforded to such people. And I'm also pretty sure that conservatives would be up in arms about this.

New GOP Congressman: Government Healthcare - Good For Me, But Not For Thee.

Check this out:

Republican Andy Harris, an anesthesiologist who defeated freshman Democrat Frank Kratovil on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, reacted incredulously when informed that federal law mandated that his government-subsidized health care policy would take effect on Feb. 1 – 28 days after his Jan. 3rd swearing-in.

“He stood up and asked the two ladies who were answering questions why it had to take so long, what he would do without 28 days of health care,” said a congressional staffer who saw the exchange. The benefits session, held behind closed doors, drew about 250 freshman members, staffers and family members to the Capitol Visitors Center auditorium late Monday morning,”.

“Harris then asked if he could purchase insurance from the government to cover the gap,” added the aide, who was struck by the similarity to Harris’s request and the public option he denounced as a gateway to socialized medicine.

Harris, a Maryland state senator who works at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore and several hospitals on the Eastern Shore, also told the audience, “This is the only employer I’ve ever worked for where you don’t get coverage the first day you are employed,” his spokeswoman Anna Nix told POLITICO.
I can point to plenty of employers who don't even offer coverage at all, much less the first day of employment. I've worked for a number of them in my life. If he's never worked for an employer that didn't offer health insurance, he hasn't had the typical American worker's experience with small business employment, with low wage jobs, or with independent contract work. Talk about your typical out-of-touch privileged rich guy. And here he is, coming to Washington, and feeling entitled to his taxpayer funded "public" health care option. What a tool.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Walker Hines: Unserious Chameleon

It's hard to believe Walker Hines when he calls himself a "principled" politician. To me, he's just a boy riding on the coattails of his daddy's reputation as a prominent local lawyer (in fact, I think he still lives at home with the parentals) who is just toying with the game of politics as if it were a high school student council experience. Why do I think this? Well ...

In the span of a few short years, Walker has "evolved" from being an earnest "progressive Democrat who believes in the Catholic values of social justice" to membership in that cabal of "conservative state lawmakers who share a common belief in limited government, free markets, federalism, and individual liberty."

Walker likes to point out that he's still the youngest legislator in the Louisiana state legislature. And by God it shows. His complete 180 degree evolution of ideological direction and partisan affiliation just comes across as juvenile and lacking any kind of substantive conviction. He may not fully understand this, but his behavior comes across as youthful naivete and a kind of unmeasured, thoughtless, and rash opportunism. I don't believe anyone will take this young fellow seriously in the next election. I've a mind to run against him myself on an unapologetically liberal platform.

I had high hopes for him, but I noticed in the last legislative session that, when push came to shove on a piece of controversial immigration legislation, Walker simply abdicated his responsibility. The two times that I went to Baton Rouge to testify before his Committee against what I saw as horrible legislation, Walker didn't even bother to show up to the hearing. I wrote to him about his absence, and he wrote back with some song and dance about needing to be elsewhere to shepherd some other piece of legislation through some other committee; but now I just don't think he was being honest with me. Given all this hubbub about switching parties now, I think it is fair for me to conclude that he knew he was pondering a party switch even then and was thus being cowardly at the time in confronting a hot-button GOP issue (immigration) and finding a convenient excuse for not living up to his claim to be a "progressive Democrat who believes in the Catholic values of social justice," since anyone who claims this mantle would have clearly been an outspoken opponent of this pernicious piece of legislation. Heck, even the institutional Catholic Church opposed this legislation that Hines couldn't even take the time to consider as part of his Committee duties. I swear, if I could afford to do so, I'd mount a serious campaign for his seat in the Louisiana State legislature.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

How Many Conservatives Hate the Rich

I've been thinking recently about the whole subject of wealth in its many different forms. Of course, when we speak of wealth and riches, we most often mean pecuniary wealth. But it is not all that uncommon for us to speak of wealth and riches in other, non-pecuniary ways, too. We talk about the riches of family life, or the riches of creativity or ideas. I'd like to ponder the idea of a kind of wealth related to intellectual capital, or what we might know more commonly as the "wealth" of knowledge -- a phrase that I would say is familiar to many. But it's in that one area of capital accumulation -- the area of knowledge -- where many conservatives hate, despise, and/or envy the rich.

Let me start with a recent example of something that I happen to experience a fair amount in my dealings with conservatives, especially in intellectual debates. I hold a Ph.D. That's no secret. But I can honestly say with full confidence that I never flaunt this in my dealings with others, and I never use this as a cudgel to try to beat down another in an exchange of ideas. To the extent that it ever does enter into a debate, it is usually as an example of an accomplishment that I am proud of, especially given that the conditions of my upbringing and class background are such that my earning a Ph.D. would have been such an unlikely outcome. I am the oldest child in a family of six siblings born to working-class parents who married extremely young (Dad - 18, Mom - 17) and who never even earned a high school diploma (though both eventually earned their GEDs). I take pride in my Ph.D. because I did it all myself. My parents created an environment that was supportive and encouraging, and for that I am lucky and grateful; but my parents did not have the benefit of experience to guide me through the undergraduate college experience, much less to even comprehend the world of graduate school, comprehensive exams, field research, and dissertation writing. In effect, my education is the most significant "pulling-myself-up-by-the-bootstrap" accomplishment in my life. I fortunately had the God-given talent to do a doctorate in my chosen field; and, by God, I earned it. There was nothing about my academic accomplishment that was handed to me on a silver platter from a position of privilege. And the material fruits of my hard work have come not in pecuniary wealth, but in a wealth of knowledge. When it comes to knowledge, I'm a pretty rich dude, so to speak.

And yet ... it is precisely in this area of wealth where I find the most spiteful disdain levied at me by a fair number of conservatives.

For instance, in a recent debate I was having in a comment thread over at a conservative blog, I had the fact that I have a Ph.D. (i.e. my wealth) thrown out at me out of the blue in a discussion where my Ph.D. had absolutely no relevance at all to the debate. You can read the comment thread for yourself, but let me note that the debate centers around the validity of a generalization that liberals blog and think in a particular way that is, shall we say, disreputable and flawed, compared to how conservatives blog and think, which is, shall we say, admirable and correct. In the midst of this debate, in which I disputed the notion put forward by my debate opponent that a generalization could be made about the way conservatives and liberals blog so as to be able to render a value judgment on their thinking, my debate opponent threw in this comment:

I don’t wish to take on a condescending tone here. But you need to take note of the meaningful difference between a hard-and-fast rule that is so be imposed on people, with no exceptions, and an observation of a general trend. A trend of events which, if somehow objectively measured, would yield statistics validating the suggested trend.

Does earning a Ph.D. have something to do with losing track of this difference, or maybe assuming a fair-weather-friendship with it, looking past it when it doesn’t service whatever point you’re trying to prove? A lot of people would say that about Ph.D.’s before they even catch wind of these exchanges we have over this issue, and here you are proving it.
I have no idea what the relevance of my Ph.D. is to the actual argument itself, so I am left to assume that throwing this comment in the debate was meant as some kind of anti-elitist dig at me. And given the hostility that conservatives generally tend to have towards folks with advanced academic degrees, I think the odds are clearly in favor of that interpretation, even though I think this conservative blogger and commenter is generally a respectful and good fellow. But, even if this was the intent of bringing my having a Ph.D. into the debate, that's fine. I'm used to this. It's not an experience that is all that uncommon for me in such contexts. And it certainly does nothing to diminish the pride and value I ascribe to my academic accomplishment and the wealth of knowledge it has afforded me. But what strikes me as ironic is that this kind of reaction is coming from conservatives who would consider such a reaction as pretty despicable if that wealth that I possessed wasn't a richness of knowledge and academic achievement, but was rather a pecuniary wealth derived from entrepreneurial behavior in the "business" world.

Accumulating intellectual capital, or generating a wealth of knowledge, is the one area where many conservatives tend to become the very anti-rich class-warrior demagogues that they claim to despise.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Walker Hines Has Just "Caoed" Himself

Walker Hines, my local Representative in the House side of the Louisiana state legislature, has switched parties. He is now a Republican, casting aside his Democratic Party affiliation. And this means he's effectively betrayed all of us Democrats who voted for him. Next election, he's toast. I'm more and more inclined to think that any elected official who switches parties while occupying an office should have to resign the office upon making such a switch and a special election to replace this official should be called immediately. He claims that his switch was based on "principle" as opposed to political expediency. But I have to say a principled person would have coupled his switch of party affiliation with a resignation from the office. Had he run for office as a Republican to begin with, he would have lost outright. He owes his election to his Democratic party affiliation, and a principled person would be behaving much, much differently now. What a shame.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Murkowski vs. Miller: Scrapping Over Vote Counting

It's rather amusing (and will make for some interesting future references) to see two Republicans duking it out over what votes will count in Murkowski's write-in campaign. What's even more delicious to observe in this process is that Tea Party favorite, and actual official GOP nominee, Joe Miller, is on the side of the conflict that has to assume a legal maneuvering to discount ballots on the most flimsiest and silliest of technicalities. Really, what person with any common-sense and decency will try to discount a ballot which clearly states "Murkowski, Lisa" because it didn't read "Lisa Murkowski" as the legal fine print may seem to require? I have no dog in this hunt as the outcome is gonna be a Republican one way or the other, but it is amusing to watch. And however it works itself out, the Democrats are going to be given the gift of being able to reference any conservative Tea Party or insider-GOP talking points that emerge from the Miller-Murkowski show-down as ammunition in any of its future vote-counting/re-counting experiences with Republicans.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Sarah Palin in the Cocoon: Where Lies Are Easy

Sarah Palin, cocooned as she is in the conservative media echo chamber which never, ever calls her out on her patent falsehoods, not only seems incapable of admitting fallibility, but also thinks that compounding lies with even more egregious and disingenuous ones is no problem as long as it placates her fawning admirers who can see no wrong in anything she does and who see her as combatting that evil, "lamestream" media for daring to point out her lies. There is just no way that a serial liar like she is should have any business even being close to the Presidency.

Beautiful Voice

Squirrelly-Girlie the Younger has some vocal talent that we're trying to encourage and help her develop. She even answers that eternal question "What do you want to be when you grow up?" with "An Opera Singer." Regardless, we're just glad she loves to sing. And so this strikes a particularly moving chord with me, even though SG the Younger is nowhere nearly as polished:

Thursday, November 04, 2010

The Myth of the Unpopularity of "Liberal" Policies, cont.

I have to append to my previous posting some comments that went unstated but which I hope should be clear. In case these comments weren't clear, I'm going to lay them out right now ...

What gives this meme any kind of currency is that it is jealous, cranky, resentful, and uncompassionate conservatives who tend to be the ones who raise hay about this issue when they are the ones who all of a sudden have to face competition with those "lazy ingrates" for scarce resources in entitlement programs. Most liberals I know don't spite conservatives access to the entitlement programs that serve as critical safety nets when they need it. A conservative kid in Louisiana wants to cut down his tuition via the TOPS program, even to an expensive, private university like the one I teach at? Liberals would say "Yes" -- more power to him. Conservative grandma who wants her expensive prescription drugs and the most-expensive treatment to extend life for a short time more, liberals say "Absolutely" -- more power to her. It's the vagaries of conservatives who behave like liberals and who like the benefits of liberal policy when it benefits them, but who spite their fellow citizens who need other kinds of assistance that they don't currently need, who are the problem -- not liberal policy. Another appended point: we liberals believe that there are circumstances in one's life beyond his or her ability to control that can cripple this person's ability to succeed; we believe that structural impediments and environments are REAL constraints on the freedoms that conservatives say they believe in. Ask a conservative who can't find a job, who has a family of four to feed and provide for, who has a kid with a serious health issue but no insurance, and who is 6 months behind on his mortgage and facing foreclosure, all IN SPITE OF his high integrity, his willingness to work hard, and his persistent and constant search for a job whether he has a problem with unemployment insurance, food stamps, access to subsidized health care that won't bankrupt him, and mortgage foreclosure rules that help him keep his house until his situation improves, ask this person if those "demonized" liberal policies are bad and unpopular? I KNOW what he would say. We all do. And the ironic thing is that he'll be the first in line to tap into the charity and services of liberal do-gooder community organizers and service providers to get the benefits of these "unpopular" programs so that he and his family can weather the current environment with some measure of human dignity and hope. And the other ironic thing is that this liberal do-gooder community organizer will GLADLY help even the person who thinks this liberal's job is worthless, unproductive, government teat-sucking enabling, hippie communism. We liberals understand the concept of structural and environmental limits to freedom, real limits to freedom. We liberals don't devalue the ideas of self-sufficiency and hard work. We understand that this kind of behavior deserves whatever rewards it can find in a free market environment. It's BECAUSE of these ideals that we support "liberal" policies that are supposedly "unpopular." And I contend that it is precisely BECAUSE even the most die-hard conservative has an intuitive understanding of this, too, which is why he justifies the benefits of liberal policies for himself, even when he denies it for others. What this conservative can't understand (or won't understand) is that the structures and environments that beat him down and force him and his family to the brink of ruin through no fault of his own also probably apply to that poor, perhaps illiterate, maybe dishevelled-looking person standing in front of him and behind him in the line. Are there folks who abuse state benefits? Yes. Do liberals accept such abuse? No. Are there folks who develop a dependency on such benefits? Yes. Do liberals support such dependency? No. But what we liberals tend to know (and it's knowledge that leads to one of the most democratic and freedom-embracing policy agendas) that conservatives generally tend not to know is that these kinds of people who abuse or who develop a dependency on "unpopular" liberal programs are a very small percentage of the total number of hard-working, responsible folks whom such policies and programs help to survive the crushing structural and environmental circumstances that make them slaves to something they had no part in creating.

Are Liberal Policies Unpopular? Debunking A Conservative Meme

There is a meme circulating in the conservative punditocracy (and it has kinda always been there), that Americans are mostly conservative in their thinking, that America is mostly a "center-right" conservative country, and that liberal policy is thus relatively unpopular in the country. When you look at the "wave" that characterized GOP gains in Tuesday's elections, it's easy to be tempted to think that there is some merit to this argument. But, as I argued in my previous posting, I don't think this is really what it is all that cracked up to be. For one thing, the most loony of the Tea Party candidates lost their races, and much more decisively than predicted. Sharron Angle is a case in point. And while Rand Paul, a prominent Tea Party favorite, won his race, that's not all that surprising in a reliably conservative state like Kentucky. And I'm prtetty confident that even Rand Paul will give some headaches to even hardcore Tea Partiers. I'm actually looking forward to how Paul and his fellow GOPers in the Senate actually interact. Now I have to admit that Marco Rubio is a clear exception to this trend (I generally find myself positively oriented to Rubio as a person, even though I'm no fan of his politics); but I've watched Rubio a little and I will go out on a limb and predict that, because he seems to be serious about actually governing, he will soften in the spirit of pragmatism and adopt a posture of compromise that will make him seem less appealing to Tea Partiers. Even still, it's worth noting that the Tea Party delivered victory for only 32% of its candidates up for election this time around. That's not a ringing endorsement of a movement identifying the US and Americans as a primarily conservative-leaning country. In fact, it tracks pretty much as one would expect with what might be considered rock-ribbed conservatives in the United States. I imagine that rock-ribbed liberals would poll about the same and maybe even a tad higher. In any case, I'd like to suggest an alternative explanation about this meme's notion that the election outcomes demonstrate the unpopularity of liberal policy.

I would put forward the notion that liberal policies are actually quite popular, but popular in a "good-for-me-but-not-for-thee" way. A majority of Americans, when polled individually, support many of the big entitlement programs -- for themselves -- but when they step back and look at the bigger picture (i.e. the costs of the programs they like for themselves), then people get skittish and start to differentiate between themselves and others and the others' entitlements to the benefits of such programs that they like. It's the "unworthy," subjectively determined, who make a good thing bad and who abuse an otherwise worthwhile policy. I saw this at work so clearly in the wake of Hurricane Katrina when many conservatives, some of them family members and close friends, with uninsured or underinsured homes, demanded and expected federal compensation for their choices such that they could rebuild their homes and not have to suffer the consequences of their risky behavior; and yet I have heard these very same conservatives lambast food stamp recipients or other kinds of "bailouts." Sure, these people had their reasons beyond their own negligence to explain why they merited such benefits; but who doesn't?

Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Health Care Reform, Mortgage Relief, Local Pork Projects, etc., are all very popular items among most people when they understand them for themselves and are asked individually to comment on them; but when individuals begin to think that they are too expensive overall, they tend to look at the unworthiness of these programs for others and get all indignant. Similarly, young people like their college educations subsidized; elderly people like their prescription drug benefits; farmers like their agricultural subsidies, people without insurance or with pre-existing conditions like liberal health care reform legislation; homeowners like mortgage foreclosure protection programs and mortgage assistance programs in economically tough times; the unemployed like their unemployment benefits and like them extended in tough economic times, etc. So, it's not really that liberal policies, in and of themselves, as policy, are unpopular at the individual level, it's just that because liberal policies tend to aggregate popular benefits in a broader way, people who are perceived as on the shorter end of being the beneficiaries of such programs, vent about them, making them seem to be unpopular. But they really aren't unpopular at the individual level; and it's precisely at the individual level where it matters most.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Glass Half Full Thinking for Liberals on Today's Elections

Much hay is being made about a GOP wave election today. Sure, it looks like the GOP, by all indicators, is poised to make some gains, perhaps some relatively significant gains. But what all of us have to remember is that the GOP is making gains on top of a pretty steep four year decline. When you've pretty much hit rock bottom, going up to the surface level may seem like an impressive victory, but it's just really getting back to a place where one can breath.

So if the GOP picks up 50+ seats tonight in the House in a good case scenario, that will give them control of the House, but only by a mere 25-30 seats or so. When you're talking 435 seats, that's like just barely tipping the fulcrum in their direction. And it looks even more unlikely that the GOP will win enough Senate races to control that chamber. How is that any kind of GOP referendum. In the end, when you look at what this GOP wave might look like, the results will still be a closely divided government with a GOP edge in the House, a Democratic edge in the Senate, and a Democrat in the White House -- and all this in a sustained economic environment that is the worst that I can remeber in my lifetime. If the GOP can't ride the "wave" to a more convincing victory than what best case scenarios pose for them this election cycle, I don't think they're likely to ever recover a decisive majority down the road.

So, progressive liberals should take heart. The "defeat" tonight is not gonna be as bad as it might look at first blush. And who knows? I have a suspicion that tonight's outcomes are not gonna be nearly as dire as the prognosticators are predicting.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Blogging Self-Nudge Update

Starting on August 1, 2009, I engaged in an experiment to try to hold myself accountable to an average of one blog posting for each day of every month according to the terms outlined here. I am proud to say that I have kept faith with my self-nudge pledge since then. However, in accordance with the rules that I outlined in my self-nudge experiment, I am hereby announcing that I am relieving myself of the obligation to adhere to the self-nudge conditions. This means that if I don't make the monthly average of postings the self-nudge requires, I am not obliged to pay the penalties for failing to do so. But, I should say that I plan to continue blogging at the same pace. I just want to see if the "self-nudge" has created a sustainable habit. If I find that my blogging really slips off, then I will likely reinstate the self-nudge arrangement. But for now, I think I am ready to test whether or not my blogging habits have really taken root such that a nudge is no longer required. For those who have followed my self-nudge journey and have been holding me to it, thanks for being part of it. Again, this doesn't mean the end of blogging for me, not by a long shot -- just that the self-nudge experiment is suspended. So, please keep coming back for more Upchucks. I promise they'll keep coming. Oh, and Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Vitter Is A Criminal

Watch this

Notice how Vitter point-blank refuses to answer a very simple question: When he committed his "sin" did he break the law? He refuses to answer because everyone with half a brain knows the answer. It's "Yes" he broke the law. And the family values hypocrite lawbreaker criminal has the nerve to go after "illegal" immigrants. Every time I see this Yahoo it makes me sick to my stomach. Here we have a guy who writes laws that he expects us to follow, and yet he thinks he is entitled to break the law himself and still get to write laws that he expects the rest of us to obey. Here's a fact: I voted against my party and put Joseph Cao, a Republican, in office because I couldn't stomach sending William Jefferson back to Congress because of his criminal malfeasance, even before Jefferson was actually convicted of criminal wrongdoing. And conservatives all across the country made Jefferson's criminal behavior a point of disqualification of his running for legislative office. Even before Jefferson was convicted of any crime, I looked at the evidence in front of my nose and I agreed with Jefferson's conservative critics. And so I voted against the man for precisely this reason, and voted for a moderate Republican to replace him. But now Louisiana's conservative Republicans are about to engage in their own disgusting display of hypocrisy by voting this criminal Vitter back into office. Again, it makes me sick. Vitter is a shameless, hypocritical, and venal coward and opportunist. He's a low-life criminal scum who thinks he is above the law or that his lawbreaking can simply be washed away as part of the past. I have no respect for anyone who votes for him, especially since there is a perfectly acceptable and honorable option in Charlie Melancon, even for conservatives. If I can vote for a moderate Republican on the principle that criminal behavior is simply a deal-breaker, irrespective of prosecution and conviction, then conservatives should be able to vote for a conservative Democrat on the very same principle.

Vote Vitter Out of Office

Stop the Politics of Hate from JoLu on Vimeo.

Sen. David Vitter claims to be a good Catholic Christian. One who is a sinner, but one who supposedly acknowledges his sins and benefits from the forgiveness of God, his family, and his fellow human beings. Well, I call on Sen. Vitter to live up to his supposed Catholic Christian values in terms of treating others the way he expects to be treated. I call on Sen. Vitter to live up to the Catholic social teachings which emphasize solidarity with the poor and respecting the dignity of his fellow human beings. His reprehensible and disgusting ad does nothing but vilify and demean the dignity of his fellow human being. He should live up to the Catholic Christian values that he claims and not live down to the baser nature of human beings just to tap into this baser, hateful nature to secure votes.

Vote for Charlie Melancon! He's not a great choice for progressive liberal Democrats, but at least he's a decent human being who respects his fellows and who doesn't resort to such reprehensible depictions of others for his own electoral gains. He's certainly not a family values hypocrite like Vitter is.

Conservatives - you need to know that whatever authority you have in the federal Senate involves a willingness to accept the immoral, vile, and hypocritical character that is David Vitter. Know it and own it.

MBH Pottery at the Palmer Park Arts Market Tomorrow

Well, it's once again that time of the month when my lovely bride will again be out at the Palmer Park Arts Market setting up her booth to sell her pottery. The market will be running tomorrow, Saturday, from 10am-4pm, and the weather forecast looks perfect. It promises to be a beautiful day and ideal for a visit to the Arts Market. My B-2/3 has been hard at work all month and has added significantly to her inventory of pieces. So, if you want to support a great cause and pick up some wonderful pieces of handmade, high quality pottery as wedding gifts, birthday presents, early Christmas or Hannukah gifts, or any other kind of gift, please get your umbrella and do come out to the Arts Market today at Palmer Park on the corner of Claiborne and Carrollton Avenues and look her up. I think she's assigned to Booth 117, but you can find out for certain where she is at the information booth at the Market. MBH Pottery or Michele Benson Huck Pottery is what you should look for. Of course, as usual, Michele will also be doing live demonstrations at her pottery wheel, so please come out, enjoy the market, and stop by to visit Michele to see how pots are thrown (and hopefully not at you!)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Vitter vs. Melancon

To me, this election is a no-brainer. Melancon is the obvious choice. And that should be true for conservatives, too. The fact is that Melancon is not an ideal candidate for liberals. He voted against the Health Care Reform legislation. He's pro-gun, anti-abortion, and anti-illegal immigration. Things that you would think would make him very appealing to conservatives. But what sets Melancon apart from Vitter is that Vitter is a moral reprobate and an unreconstructed, misogynist hypocrite, while Melancon's moral and ethical character is unassailable. I just don't see how anyone who embraces character and integrity as fundamental campaign issues wouldn't vote for Melancon over Vitter. And yet, Vitter is likely to be re-elected because the antipathy towards Obama in Louisiana among conservatives is so strong that anyone, even the devil himself, could likely be elected as long as he was anti-Obama and Republican. I think it says volumes about the electorate in this state -- and the volumes it says is not flattering.

Anyway, The Washington Post has a lengthy and well-written piece on the differeing campaign strategies and styles of both Vitter and Melancon.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Halloween/Day of the Dead Mask: Don't Be A Cabrón: Vote!

From Don't Be A Cabrón. Posted with permission.

More Tea Party Thuggery

A woman gathers outside of the place where Republican candidate for U.S. Senator in Kentucky, Rand Paul, was scheduled to arrive to debate his Democratic opponent. She has a sign and appears to be engaging in a bit of peaceful protest. What happens? She's wrestled to the ground and her head is stomped. Click here for video. A few comments.

First, Rand Paul is not responsible. He had nothing to do with this. So any efforts by liberals to try to link Rand Paul to this incident are simply engaging in a bit of disingenuous demagoguery themselves.

Second, there is no justification for these Tea Party thugs to do what they did. This was clearly an assault on this woman and a violation of her Constitutional rights to freedom of speech. There was no indication at all that she posed a threat to anyone, much less to Rand Paul. It is unconscionable; and the guy who stomped her head needs to go to jail and feel the full weight of a punitive lawsuit against his sorry ass self.

Third, let me pull the chivalry card that conservatives so often like to play: what kind of honorable, decent man does this to a defenseless woman?

Fourth, conservatives who like to reference questionable act of SEIU violence against a black Tea Party protester have no moral high ground to stand on any longer.

Fifth, in my mind, this is just yet another example of an extremist, violent impulse unleashed and encouraged by demagoguic leaders of the Tea Party movement. I point to Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and all others who stoke a kind of "Real Americans take back our country" mentality. It's the same kind of mentality that encourages bringing assault weapons to political speeches, putting liberal candidates in rifle scope targets, citing blood-spilling patriotic slogans, etc. This example kind of gives the lie, literally, to the whole "Don't tread on me" mantra, doesn't it? Unless, of course, the only people who are exempt from being tread upon are "real" Americans. We liberals, being not truly American, don't really merit the protections of the Constitution, do we?

The conservative thuggery, in an electoral environment that is very positive for conservatives, is astounding. You'd think that folks would be jeering and laughing at this woman, if not simply ignoring her, and not assaulting her and stomping on her head. It's not only astounding, but repulsive and disgusting.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Another Reason I'm An Exodus Catholic

Taliban Catholicism. These self-righteous orthodox Catholic bloggers who distort the church's teaching toward their own political ends ought to take the plank from their own eyes before noting the speck in the eyes of others.

Friday, October 22, 2010

NPR's Funding

It makes for a great populist soundbite by Republicans, who now have a cause celebre in Juan Williams, to rant against the supposedly taxpayer funded National Public Radio. But the problem here is that NPR receives ZERO direct federal government funding. And to the extent that NPR receives any indirect taxpayer funding, whether from state or federal governments, it amounts to a measly 5.8% of the organization's operating budget. Even cutting out NPR from indirect state or federal funding would do absolutely nothing to ameliorate the budget deficits of federal or state governments. In fact, it seems that GOP efforts to demagogue NPR essentially amount to a campaign to use the threat of force by the state to punish what is essentially a non-state financed operation.

Video of Joe Miller Campaign Thuggery

What defies belief here in this incredible video is that a private security detail refuses to identify itself, assumes authority as proper law enforcement, and pretends to have the authority to declare a public place off limits and to order private citizens around. There is no other words to describe this other than as Gestapo-like behavior. And even worse is the revelation that these guys are ACTIVE DUTY soldiers in the US Armed Forces. Even the police officer tells these goons that the place is a public space and yet this director of the security detail claims some kind of authority or ownership of this space. He claims that the space is private and that the reporters are trespassing, and yet he refuses to provide any documentation that what he even claims is true. It is abso-frickin-lutely, jaw-droppingly, unbelievable. Had a Democratic campaign engaged in some shenanigan like this, do you think the conservative punditocracy and blogosphere wouldn't be going ape-sh*t apoplectic? And I've scoured the conservative blogosphere to see what is being said about this outrage among conservatives. What have I encountered? Crickets.

Joe Miller - Thug

OK. It is commonplace for many, many conservatives to refer to liberal Democrats, and in particular the Obama administration, as a bunch of "thugs." But check out something that really constitutes thuggery: Alaska Senate Candidate, and Palinite Tea Party favorite, Joe Miller, uses active duty US military soldiers as a private security detail. Did you get that?!? ACTIVE DUTY SOLDIERS!!!

Meanwhile, the Army says that two of the guards who assisted in the arrest of the journalist and who tried to prevent two other reporters from filming the detention were active-duty soldiers moonlighting for Miller's security contractor, the Drop Zone, a Spenard surplus store and protection service.

The soldiers, Spc. Tyler Ellingboe, 22, and Sgt. Alexander Valdez, 31, are assigned to the 3rd Maneuver Enhancement Brigade at Fort Richardson. Maj. Bill Coppernoll, the public affairs officer for the Army in Alaska, said the two soldiers did not have permission from their current chain of command to work for the Drop Zone, but the Army was still researching whether previous company or brigade commanders authorized their employment.
These soldiers were involved in the unlawful detention of a citizen journalist. What in the hell are these active duty US soldiers doing serving the interests of a partisan campaign in the first place? Aren't they supposed to be non-partisan defenders of the Constitutional rights of all citizens? This is outrageous and blurs the lines between the military as an institution and partisan affiliations. Active duty US soldiers simply should not be paid by the taxpayers and then work on behalf of the GOP. Some of my conservative readers think my fears about the totalitarian and autocratic tendencies within the GOP are overblown. Some of my conservative readers would be willing to vote for someone like Joe Miller, who would put active duty US soldiers on his campaign payroll and then use these soldiers to repress and detain a citizen journalist, just because they think having to buy health insurance or to pay 5% more in taxes is worse. Well, here's just another example of the direction conservatism is heading. These are not isolated incidences. They are popping up more and more frequently. I simply can't believe it. Who are the thugs here? What aspects of freedom are being compromised on the altar of partisanship here? I can't believe what the GOP has become, and I certainly don't think the GOP of Joe Miller represents the values of our Constitutional democracy. Conservative defenders of the Constitution, of democracy, of freedom need to stand up strongly against this. It is simply intolerable that I, as a liberal, should feel threatened or fearful of my own service members for crossing some political/ideological line. Outrageous.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Patronizing Conservative Elitism and Voter Suppression

The only time I have ever witnessed direct and blatant efforts, similar to the recent one in Nevada, to consciously seek to suppress votes has come from conservatives, whether directly from the GOP or from groups allied to the GOP. One example from 8 years ago concerned the Louisiana State GOP's efforts to suppress black voter turnout in a Senate race pitting Democrat Mary Landrieu against Republican Suzanne Haik Terrell.

But why should this surprise me when there is a widely-held belief in conservative circles that there are too many ignorant citizens who shouldn't be voting in elections.

The patronizing tone that comes across in these voter suppression efforts or in this idea that we'd all be better off if the unwashed, unlearned masses just stayed away from the voting booths underscores the real elitist disdain in the conservative movement for democracy and for the participation in our electoral system of the most vulnerable and marginalized, who are the most likely not to satisfy the knowledge threshhold that certain conservatives think should be a precondition for voting in elections.

And yet we liberals are the ones who are supposed to be the discriminatory elitists here?! Pshaw!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Christine O'Donnell's Constitutional Knowledge

It would help a Tea Party candidate who shouts to high heavens the sanctity of the Constitution and who claims reference to the Constitution as the sole means for legislating to actually, you know, know the Constitution. Christine O'Donnell's constitutional knowledge leaves much to be desired. In fact, I wouldn't put her in front of a first grade class to discuss the Constitution. She apparently has no clue what the 14th, 16th, and 17th Amendments to the Constitution are -- which is surprising given that these Amendments are very much the subject of critical scrutiny among a strong contingent of the Tea Party, which she claims to come from and embrace. But it's her apparent obtuseness about the First Amendment's establishment clause that really is the shocker:

What a joke!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Where Was Anh "Joseph" Cao?

This morning I was proud to stand behind my friend and colleague, Lucas Diaz, Executive Director of Puentes - New Orleans, at a press conference in protest of a repugnant and reprehensible campaign ad mounted by Sen. David Vitter about illegal immigration. The Press Conference got some good local media coverage and there was a great diversity of representation present in that audience and on the stage. One of the attendees in the audience was Cedric Richmond, the Democratic candidate in the race to represent Louisiana's US Congressional District 2 on Capitol Hill. Richmond was a great legislative ally in the Louisiana State Congress last spring when it came to confronting anti-illegal immigration legislation in Baton Rouge. I won't forget his clear position of opposition against this legislation. At this press conference, Richmond didn't seek out the spotlight. He didn't try to coopt the event for himself. He was just another citizen sitting in the audience in support of our grass-roots efforts to protest Vitter's campaign ad. That means something to me.

And guess who wasn't in the audience: Anh "Joseph" Cao. Cao should have been there. He could have been there. And as an immigrant from Vietnam himself, his presence would have been a strong symbol to Vitter and the Republican establishment backing him up that such vile demonization of immigrants is unacceptable regardless of partisan affiliation. But Cao wasn't there, and I'd bet any amount of money he wasn't there because it would have cost him among his GOP support base. Cao could have made a principled stand against the racist pandering and demagoguery of Vitter and the party that supports him. But he didn't. And that's just about enough for me in making up my mind come election day in November. It's a stark reminder that the "R" behind Cao's name makes him untrustworthy when it comes to standing up to bigotry that reflections poorly on what that "R" stands for. It's a wake-up call about the nature of partisanship in this current environment and that even someone like Cao is not immune to its pernicious effects.