From the monthly archives: "April 2013"

401977_820298143983_859526031_nThe lockdown was something new. Not serial killers, not cop-killing cop Christopher Dorner’s LA rampage, not even 9/11 shut down a city like this. Still, Bostonians seemed fine with staying inside for the most part. Cops found their guy relatively quickly, and the city partied in the streets afterwards. During the manhunt, a tough-looking officer even brought two gallons of milk to a family with young children, serving as a perfect meme to refute any accusations of jackbooted thuggery. Even some normally anti-police libertarians urged restraint in reacting to the manhunt.

What shouldn’t go unmentioned, however, is that while the circumstances were unique, the military muscle displayed by law enforcement is hardly reserved for responding to rare acts of terrorism. Videos from the lockdown—particularly this piece of paranoia-porn, in which a SWAT team orders a family out of their home at gunpoint and one of the officers screams “get away from the window!” at the videographer—either look frightening or grimly necessary, according to your views. But haven’t we seen displays like this before?

Those who say that the above high level of police intrusion was due to the unique seriousness of the situation in Boston had better explain what cops are doing with their expensive toys during the other 360 days of the year. A suspected bomb-toting terrorist is cause for specific, serious law enforcement measures (if not an excuse to impose martial law on an entire metro area). But a visit from cops that look like soldiers is a reality for 150 people per day who are targeted by police raids—mostly on suspicion of possessing or selling narcotics.

The rest here.

  • Three terrible, neocon tweets, possibly preserved in some sort of social networking hibernation in 2004 to be thawed out now:

I didn’t know Eric Holder was soft on terrorists! What a disturbing interpretation!

You’re a parody.

“Playing the victim.”

  • Two different round-ups of more awful responses. The first is from Dan Bier at The Skeptical Libertarian, the second is from Andrew Kirell at Mediaite. The worst one is by far from Nick Kristof of The New York Times. The most banal — to me, and at least before the insane infowars-invaded press conference — was the one from Alex Jones. What the hell else would you expect from him besides spouting off about a “false flag attack”? I’m more impressed that he managed to express some sorrow for the lives lost.
  • And honestly, I think that the Cable News response could have been a lot worse. Some lingering lessons from Tuscon shooting, Sandy Hook, maybe Columbine, for Christ’s sake, seems to have finally stuck in people’s minds. I mean, Fox News still leaned towards terrorists of the brown persuasion (and Cavuto talked to Joe Arpaio, which was terribly enlightening, as you can imagine). MSNBC and CNN used words like “Waco” and “McVeigh” a lot more often. And, ya know, The New York Post lost its fucking mind and continued to refer to a Saudi suspect and 12 dead until at least 6 p.m. But somehow it felt like it could have been worse.
  • Some moving and grisly photos compiled by Buzzfeed. Take their”graphic” warning to heart. If you can stomach seeing a man with half both legs gone, you may be able to appreciate one amazing photo in particular. That sounds utterly callous, but then, so is taking a photo of a naked, napalmed girl. There’s no way to resolve my — or other folks’ — appreciation for hideous, powerful photojournalism. It’s always going to be wrong and necessary to intrude into people’s horror-moments in this way.
  • Dave Weigel on “Why the Conspiracy Theorists Will Have a Tough Time With Boston.” Weigel seems to have forgotten about the existence of the Zapruder film, however. I’m going to have to assume there’s some sort of deep conspiracy there.
  • Something to make you tear up — more concrete even than a Mr. Rogers quote.

Concrete Blonde! Another band that feels like imaginary LA: That is the one that mixes the 60s, the late 70s, the 80s, and the early 90s. That is also Dad tending bar and taking over the LA Times letters. Mom hanging out with Peter Scolari and getting hit on by John Hurt while waiting tables. They meet. They go see Stop Making Sense, they have a few kids. Exene Cervenka lives down the street at some point. Everyone reads Joan Didion and watches cool-MTV until we have to move because of crackhead neighbors and because I get asthma and pneumonia  Soundtrack by the Talking Heads, Randy Newman, Tom Waits, The Cars, X, and the Blasters. Plus, Kingdom Come, I suppose. If only because I don’t remember living in LA, but I do remember the first I saw Uncle Dan without his hair metal hair.

Anyway, this is an anti-cop song, for an added bonus.

The greatest song about a dusty Bible that there is, which is impressive since the other one is by Hank Williams Sr. Fun fact: my friend Bob is still apologizing for going to see the Fox Hunt one night in Pittsburgh. I was taking a nap, he did not wake me up.

Latent Chatham University impulses coming up for me here, but I would love if Tegan and Sara always were this rockin’ and catchy.

One of my favorites by the Stanley Brothers. It makes me want to love the Lord in a way that only Ralph Stanley can.

Took me long enough. Sheesh.

 

 

Sen. Rand Paul’s speech at the historically black college Howard University earlier in the week provoked liberal scorn from some, including the frustrating-cause-he-almost-knows-better MSNBC stable Chris Hayes. The Atlantic‘s Conor Friedersdorf wrote a blog post in response to Hayes and company’s easy critique of Paul as the stammering, Southern, pandering white Republican who doesn’t care about the black community and it contains some deliciously damning bits.

To much of the left, Republicans are by default Mitt Romney asking a group of black kids “who let the dogs out?” They’re racist and when they try not be, they’re an out of touch joke, not interested in changing any of society’s racist institutions. This is too-often a fair critique of the right, to be sure. But it also give the left, at least the Democrat left, an absurd amount of completely undeserved credit, and neglects to damn them for their equal sins in this arena.

Friederdorf’s subhed alone — “What’s most racially “cringe-worthy,” Rand Paul’s speech at Howard, Stop and Frisk, or indefinite detention?” — sums it all up brilliantly. Read the whole thing here, but read the takeaway below.

(Friedersdorf is rapidly joining the ranks of journalists that I am mad about not being.)

[Rand] Paul believes minorities are disproportionately affected by failing schools, draconian sentences for non-violent crimes, and drug laws. He believes reforming those policy areas is required for racial progress, and also worth doing because people of all races would benefit. More broadly, he believes that protecting civil liberties is particularly crucial to protecting minority rights. Agree or disagree with his policy stances. But don’t say, as Hayes does, that he believes achieving racial progress is just a matter of having the right conversations.

That is verifiably false.

The irony is that Hayes’ segment and most coverage of race in the establishment media treats conversation about race — it’s earnestness, tone, and sophistication — as a proxy far more important than hard fought policy changes. Awkward moments during a speech at Howard can get you labeled as hilariously backward about race in America in analysis that totally ignores your policy efforts.

Whereas Mayor Bloomberg, who has presided over Stop and Frisk and spying on innocent Muslim Americans, would never be labeled “worse than Braid Paisley on civil rights.” And Barack Obama, who gave a superb speech about race in America, is judged, by virtue of his rhetorical sophistication, to be the epitome of enlightenment on the subject. Hayes is truly a vital voice, in part because (unlike many others on MSNBC) he consistently and admirably criticizes the Obama Administration for its transgressions against civil liberties. Insofar as there’s any chance of stopping indefensible drone strikes or inane drug policies, it’s because of people like Hayes, and I really can’t overstate how much I appreciate that about his work. Yet he would not do a mocking, glib segment that portrayed Obama’s outreach to blacks and Muslims as laughable and “cringe-inducing,” no matter how badly Obama’s policies transgressed against justice. That’s because in America we cringe at awkward moments more than indefinite detention. Paul’s rhetoric on race is thought to be more “unsophisticated” than Stop and Frisk.

Even people who criticize establishment abominations can’t quite bring themselves to mock and ridicule them.

Ridicule is for folks outside the tribe.

The rest of the Paul-mocking media wouldn’t criticize a Bloomberg or Obama on civil rights or racial policy at all, not because Bloomberg and Obama have more enlightened racial policies — they’re presiding over the ugliest of what we’ve got at the local and national levels — but because Bloomberg and Obama know how to talk about race in the way it is done at liberal arts colleges. They’d be far better than Paul at being sensitivity trainers or diversity outreach coordinators.

  • Buzzfeed’s Rosie Gray on Rand Paul’s attempt to win over Democrat youth.
  • Fuck yeah, Justin Bieber — seriously.
  • Politico on Rand Paul and “mainstream libertarianism” — features this cringe-worthy lede: “Stereotyped for decades as pro-pot, pro-porn and pro-pacifism, libertarians are becoming mainstream.” Stereotyped is another word for “those are integral parts of our political belief”?
  • Fuck Rand Paul, says Charlie Pierce of Esquire.
  • Yes to gays and guns (speaking of mainstream libertarianism!)
  • Matt Welch still thinks Rand Paul’s anti-drone filibuster was damned historic.
  • Over at The Skeptical Libertarian, Dan Bier offers a warning to anyone who is excited about the new “Ron Paul” homeschooling curriculum.
  • VICE writer on hitchhiking to Texas and almost joining (one of) the reunited Black Flag(s). A sincere, heartfelt piece. I want more of that from VICE.
  • “Jerry Brown Should (Still) Be Ashamed of California’s Prisons”
  • Time’s Joel Klein thinks that pro-gun folks are “anti-American.”
  • Breitbart on why VICE isn’t edgy enough, with bonus calling me a lefty bit.
  • The sound of 10,000 punks’ heads exploding.
  • Wish I could be there on the 19th.

A few days ago I had another piece published on VICE. This one was — ideally — fodder to annoy statists and conspiracy theorists both.

According to a poll released last week by Public Policy Polling, 4 percent of Americans—quotes are essential here—“believe shape-shifting reptilian people control our world by taking on human form and gaining power.” That was the silliest bit of a survey of 1,200-odd adults on conspiracy theories that ranged from “Wait, didn’t that at least mostly happen?” (whether George W. Bush “intentionally misled the public about the  possibility of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to promote the Iraq war”) to half-baked ideas conceived by dorm-room stoners 40 years ago (“Do you believe Paul McCartney actually died in a car crash in 1966 and was secretly replaced by a lookalike so the Beatles could continue, or not?”).

These results were passed around the media to much amusement over the apparently stupid, partisan naïveté of Americans. But it’s really not as bad as the Atlantic Wire headline declaring that “12 million Americans Believe Lizard People Run Our Country” indicates. For one thing, as Reason’s Jesse Walker pointed out, it would be awfully tempting to troll any pollsters inquiring about your feelings towards Roswell, the Reptilians, and whether Obama is the Antichrist (13 percent, for the record, said he was).

For another, not all the theories PPP asked people about are as nutty as the idea that the moon landing was faked (7 percent of respondents believe it was) or a belief in Bigfoot or Sasquatch (14 percent are on board). If you squint, you can see the logical roots of some of them: while the US government probably didn’t consciously allow 9/11 to happen (11 percent say it did), and Osama bin Laden seems to really be dead and gone (despite the 6 percent of folks who say he’s still out there), the former conspiracy theory is aided by the staggering lapses in security and intelligence preceding the attacks, while the latter can be chalked up to the Obama administration’s refusal to release photos of bin Laden’s bullet-ridden body.

The rest over here

The 27th review of my book on Amazon.com — by a woman named Judy who grew up in Montana — is perfect. Nicely written, smart and sensible, it’s a fair and balanced assessment by a Steinbeck fan who wasn’t blinded by her love of “Travels With Charley.”

 

4.0 out of 5 stars Valuable Addition to American Road Trip Literature, April 8, 2013
Amazon Verified Purchase(What’s this?)

I read just about every American travelogue and “Travels with Charley” was my first and favorite. I was a believer through the first couple of readings, but after decades of long road trips I began to be suspicious. Dogging Steinbeck confirmed my doubts. I never learned much during days spent just rocketing over highways except that this is a vast country sparsely populated with mostly kind, helpful people. The best conversations, comparable to the ones Steinbeck apparently enjoyed daily, generally occur only in hostels or while soaking nude in remote hot springs.

I believe Steinbeck did not set out to perpetrate a fraud. He could not have known that he couldn’t learn much in his mode of travel over just 11 weeks. Finding knowledge, adventure, and joy in a road trip takes skill and a propensity to dawdle.

Just as Steinbeck’s fraudulent account was not premeditated, Bill Steigerwald’s book was not motivated by the desire to unmask Steinbeck. No experienced road-tripper could miss the fictional aspects, especially armed with Steinbeck documents detailing the actual trip as was Steigerwald. One critical reviewer who obviously has not read Dogging Steinbeck called it a hatchet job. It is most certainly not. The author’s respect for both the truth and Steinbeck is obvious.

I wish John Steinbeck had been healthy and free enough to apply his wonderful literary skill to the kind of trip he needed to take to write the book that he initially envisioned. But if the book we got was the only one he could write, I forgive him. Because of Travels with Charley my life has been richer, happier, and, while travelling, I have attended Sunday services from cathedrals to adobe missions to inner-city converted store fronts. Still, Charley is the only fictionalized travelogue I will forgive. A travel book is only one perspective of one journey, and Steigerwald is right to insist that readers are owed a true account.

I felt that Steigerwald’s account of his trip and his research was as honest as he could make it. His political opinions do not detract from the book: although he did not make his book about himself, he did tell us who he is and that can only help readers to understand his perspective. I recommend this book to all who enjoy American road trip literature.