Opinion

The In-Laws, Part Two

Saturday, 19 September 2009 05:53 AM Written by

(as good as the original)

On a personal note...

...TRM wishes a sunshine, blue-sky, long-walk, no-work, empty-pool, big-kitchen, big-family kinda birthday to all-star mother-in-law Patricia Moeslein.

Happy Birthday, Mom. May your day be as warm and as wonderful as you.

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(And Now Back to) Notes From a Friday Afternoon

Friday, 18 September 2009 04:44 AM Written by

(breaking the waves of my mind)

For your consideration: another curious collection of thoughts, reactions, and observations that didn’t make it into a full-length post this week...

• Remember how, at the start of last Friday’s Notes, I began with a note of de rigueur remembrance for the terrible tragedies of September 11th, lest someone accuse me of failing to pay the proper respect to the blah blah blah? If you thought I was being silly, or that I was exaggerating for effect even more than usual, consider the sixth and seventh Letters to the Editor in yesterday’s PG.

• Which means that it’s taken less than a decade for the How Could You Possibly Fail to Remember 9/11 on Your Front Page? Set to become the new How Could You Possibly Fail to Remember Pearl Harbor on Your Front Page? Crowd.

• Sixty-plus years from now, when most of the people old enough to remember living through 9/11 have stopped writing letters to the editor — assuming, of course, that there are any newspapers and their editors left to write letters to — let’s hope we don’t have some new national tragedy to take its place in the vainglorious tradition of insistent, front-page pimpings.

• Failing that, let’s at least hope that our culture’s untoward obsession with the Pornography of Grief will have long run its course.

• I have precious little patience for confessions and mea culpas, and especially for insider tell-alls, that come long after the time when someone with true grit and principal and at least some semblance of a backbone should have spoken up or walked out or done some damned thing about it. And the author of this piece, as you would expect from a Bush speechwriter, could stand to cut the self-satisfaction at least by half. But the essay does provide a revealing, and often infuriating, look inside the last few months of the Bush White House.

• Great Nicholas Kristof column reprinted in the PG on Tuesday. It's well worth a read, if only for the stinging perspective it provides. But here’s the money paragraph: After al-Qaida killed nearly 3,000 Americans, eight years ago on Friday, we went to war and spent hundreds of billions of dollars ensuring that this would not happen again. Yet every two months, that many people die because of our failure to provide universal insurance. And many members of Congress still want us to do nothing?

• Which reminded me of a great Neil Young lyric from a couple of years ago: What if Al Qaeda blew up the levees? / Would New Orleans have been safer that way?

Of course not. But I'll bet the ice would have gotten there faster if they had. 

• Also interesting is the question, allegedly answered this week by a joint study from Stanford and University of Chicago researchers, of whether women are more effective lawmakers than men. The numbers seem solid enough, and I haven’t read enough about the methodology yet to doubt it, but I’m awfully skeptical of — which is to say, I totally hate — the study’s measures of effectiveness: number of bills introduced, number of co-sponsors for the bills, and amount of money brought home to Congressional districts. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that women are more effective legislators than men, but it does surprise me to think that anyone believes quantity, collegial popularity, and pork are the best ways to measure it.

• This week’s best bit of Useless Information: When CBS broadcast the first television show in color, no one in America other than CBS owned a color television set.

• This week’s Great Moment in Manliness: fixing my own toilet.

• Of course, after I did so, I posted that sentiment as my Facebook status. Within a few hours, a female friend replied, I once replaced an entire inside of a toilet tank all by myself, and man, did it feel great! Which pretty much put my measly little two-part repair in the proper, not-especially-manly (or even womanly) perspective.

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World Leaders Pretend

Thursday, 17 September 2009 05:54 AM Written by

(or, silly questions n'at)

As G-20 media hype has progressed from full swing to full bludgeon to full nuclear meltdown mode, I’ve done my best not to add to the [cue Boris Karloff’s Grinch voice:] Noise, Noise, Noise, NOISE! of all the thoughtful and rational coverage cheerleading and fearmongering by keeping my fingers still and my yap shut. But after reading yesterday’s Post-Gazette front-pager about how volunteers are being prepped to answer questions they’re likely to face from foreign visitors, I could no longer maintain radio silence.

In fact, if you were anywhere within a thirty- to forty-mile radius of Squirrel Hill yesterday morning around 7am, you’ve already heard me break radio silence; that primal scream echoing from rooftop to treetop was mine. Though it could have erupted for any number of reasons, the immediate inspiration came from the first three sentences of the article, which offered up three sample questions the volunteers, who must by now be wondering what kind of dolts and idiots we’ll be hosting next week, are being trained to answer:

Why are Americans so fat?

Do all Americans have guns?

How do Americans feel about President Obama?

I can’t decided what irks me more: that we’re projecting some grotesque caricature of ugly Americanism onto our international visitors, that we’re projecting Pittsburgh’s own forelock-pulling sense of cultural inferiority onto the country at large, or that we aren’t prepping these poor folks for the questions they’re likely to get. Such as: 

Where are all your cars?

Do you always have tumbleweeds blowing down your Liberty Avenue?

Is it true that John Carpenter is making another sequel to Escape From New York, and that he’s filming it here right now?

The people coming to Pittsburgh next week are international leaders and dignitaries and members of a well-traveled foreign press corps. Do we really think they’ll be trolling around like a bunch of rubes, their cameras and security clearances slung beneath their slack jaws, asking such hideously ill-informed and ignorant questions? Do we really think we’re hosting a cadre of visiting buffoons and dullards who nothing about our country and apparently have never heard of, nor at least learned to use, the internet, where they might have been able to go, at some time in their insular non-American-living lives, to learn a thing or two about our humble little land mass? Really?

Okay. Fine. What do I know? Maybe we will.

But if we do — and I’m willing to bet serious money that we won’t — then it seems to me we shouldn’t worry so darned much about being so kind and gentle and unfailingly diplomatic in our answers. Forget The U.S. is working to address obesity and According to a 2008 Gallup poll, approximately a third of U.S. adults own guns and Americans have free speech and the right to hold and express their own varying opinions about the president.   

Answers like that only respect the rube and enable the ignorant. They simply parse and pander to people who wouldn’t like us anyway, and who surely could not help us even if they did.  

So let’s not worry about protecting the delicate sensibilities of people who insult us, or who succumb to silly stereotypes about us, or who can’t be bothered to read a simple online news story or two. Let’s give ‘em the answers they deserve.

Why are Americans so fat? Because we eat thin, smug, ignorant little foreigners like you for breakfast.

Do all Americans have guns? Yes. In fact, I have one right now. If you ask me another stupid question, I’m going to use it.

How do Americans feel about President Obama? We all feel differently, of course, but we do agree on one thing: he’s a hell of a lot better than the leader of your stupid pissant country.

Oh, yeah. I can feel those tourism dollars rolling in already.

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Off the Off the Record

Wednesday, 16 September 2009 05:13 AM Written by

(always)

So let me see if I have this straight:

Kanye West, who apparently loves an open mic almost as much as he loves a mirror, behaves like a first-class jackass at the MTV Video Music Awards. President Obama, while being interviewed for CNBC, demonstrates both a sharp tongue for truth and a keen eye for jackassery by accurately assessing the rapper’s behavior. Terry Moran, an ABC News reporter and anchor, Tweets about the President’s comment. Because the comment occurs during an allegedly off the record portion of the interview — as if there could be such a guarantee for anyone, at any time, much less for the leader of the free world; supposed he'd called Joe Wilson or Joe Biden a jackass; suppose he'd said that he hated Nancy Pelosi or Nicolas Sarkozy; suppose he'd said that the health care plan will likely suck just like the stimulus bill sucked; then what? — Moran, likely under pressure from ABC, deletes the Tweet. An ABC spokesperson, professing to value the editorial process but likely more worried about presidential access, issues an apology:

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Tossing Your Committees

Tuesday, 15 September 2009 02:03 AM Written by

(or, getting the academic heave-hurl)

Regular TRM readers may remember that back in March, I bestowed the Acronym of the Week (and Quite Possibly the Year) Award on Carnegie Mellon University for its Department Administrators’ Registrar Network (DARN). Turns out I bestowed the annual honor about six months too soon. But at least the good, if all-too-often tone-deaf, folks at CMU won’t have to give up the trophy to another institution.

Yesterday brought word that Carnegie Mellon President Jared Cohon has created a new committee to provide advice and guidance on the regulatory burden the university is facing. President Cohon notes in his email to the university community that he considers the committee to be a significant undertaking and of great importance to the future of Carnegie Mellon. (Which makes me wonder, of course, whether university presidents, who create committees the way beer drinkers create urine, would ever admit to the formation of one that were less than significant or greatly important. But I digress...)

This new committee is so significant, and of such great importance, that President Cohon has given it a name his campus can not possibly forget: the Board on Administration, Regulation and Finance.

That’s right, folks: Carnegie Mellon just created the BARF committee.

Anyone who has ever served on a professional committee, and especially on an academic committee, is forgiven for thinking that a BARF committee — indeed, a whole, soul-sucking collection of them — has existed for a very long time. Doubtless many of them have. But this is, to my knowledge, the first time one has ever been so honestly and helpfully named.

Lest you think this one just snuck through the administrative cracks, or that the rank absurdity of the acronym may be lessened because Carnegie Mellon officials did not consider what it would be before announcing the name of the committee, or that they did not plan to use the acronym after the committee had been convened, I should note that university administrators are always on the look out for, and so always happily swimming in the alphabet soup of, their board (and committee and council and program and initiative) acronyms.

I should also note that the subject line of the announcement email...

Subject: Message from the President Regarding New Board on Administration, Regulation and Finance (BARF)

...pretty much removes all doubt.

Carnegie Mellon administrators, bless their bureaucratic little heads, still have almost three and a half months to top themselves and lay claim to the title yet again. But I’m thinking this one’s gonna be pretty hard to top.

At least until they announce a Science and Humanities Interdisciplinary Taskforce committee.

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The Unbearable Lightness of Being Encouraged

Monday, 14 September 2009 05:55 AM Written by

(to do the things that men do)

We’ve been down this road before, just a couple of weeks ago, but I’m compelled to travel it again after yesterday’s front-page article in the Post-Gazette about how happy hours are becoming a way of life for women. Already in the subhead — and then again, in earnest, in the seventh paragraph — the piece veers into a ditch we first explored last month: the fact that DUI arrests of women rose more than 25 percent from 1998 to 2007.

Last time, you’ll remember, we had to endure the patently absurd suggestions that drunken driving is a dangerous male habit, that women seem to lack both moral agency and intellectual capacity enough to resist picking up the habit, and that women may even be too stupid to understand that they are just as likely as dangerous and habitual men are to kill or injure someone when driving under the influence. This time, the logical and rhetorical contortions necessary to blame men, and so to excuse women, for this sudden change in behavior are even more fantastic.

Consider:

“For women, it’s one of the consequences of being encouraged to do the things that men do,” said Carnegie Mellon University criminologist Alfred Blumstein. “Some are good things, like becoming police officers, firefighters, and so on. Some are bad things, like becoming criminals or being arrested for drinking and driving.”

Just for laughs, read that paragraph again. Take it apart, piece by maddening piece, and consider it for a moment. If your head does not explode, you have a stronger cranium, and a far more refined sense of self-control, than I.

Where to begin?

How about with the notion, repeated yet again by someone who damned well ought to know better, that women aren't really responsible for the choices they make. That they are able easily — and I mean, REALLY easily — to be lead astray by the unwise and wanton encouragements of others. That they become police officers or firefighters or criminals or drunken drivers not because they choose to, and not even because they want to, but because some terrible, unseen evil — Men? Society? The Eye of Sauron? — compels them. That the very possibilities of both their free wills and their functioning brains were vanquished by a great, malevolent power — The Media? The Patriarchy? The Bush Administration? — they could neither rebuff nor resist.

Or how about the notion, so absurd and reductive that anyone peddling it ought to be checked for possession of both a political agenda and a tinfoil hat, that becoming criminals and being arrested for drinking and driving are the things that men do? As if these behaviors were somehow encoded on the Y chromosome. As if they can and should be placed in the same company as peeing while standing up. As if no woman ever could or would do any of these things unless sufficiently duped by a man, compelled by the patriarchy, or possessed by the devil (who is, we should note, also male).

Or how about the notion — present in the syntax if not, I hope, present in the substance — that someone, anyone (Rasputin? Svengali? Dick Cheney?) is actively encouraging women to do the things that men do, much less to become criminals or drive while under the influence?

Or how about the notion that, if these encouragements/enticements/dark-side-of-the-force patriarchal peer pressures are occurring, they’re...

...oh, never mind. You get the idea. Which is this:

Once more on this subject — which is, make no mistake, worthy of the kind of serious and thoughtful attention to which absurdities like these do a grave disservice — we’re faced with a claim so outlandish it barely survives its utterance.

It is one thing to suffer such claims from advocates and bureaucrats; it is quite another to suffer them from academics. And yet another still to think that they are taken seriously anywhere, at any time, by anyone who has not been drinking enough to render driving, and indeed thinking, not just unwise but dangerous.

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Dead Men Walking

Saturday, 12 September 2009 09:01 AM Written by

(in the military)

Yesterday’s note reminding us to remember to count all the dead Americans in Iraq since 9/11 reminded me to remember to post a couple of interesting — by which I mean sobering — statistics I unearthed during my research for the long-delayed, almost late-lamented Collier Shooting post.

These numbers come from the most recent Congressional Research Service Report on U.S. military casualties in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Through February 28, 2009...  

U.S. Casualties in Iraq
Male: 4,143  (97.6%)
Female: 102 (2.4%)

U.S. Casualties in Afghanistan
Male: 641 (97.9%)
Female: 14 (2.1%)

Those figures make you think twice, and maybe even a third time, about the theory of the Disposable Male. Just as these next figures make you think anew about the theory that our armed forces are a dumping, and thus a killing, ground for minorities:

Caucasian Casualties
Iraq: 3,171 (74.7%)
Afghanistan: 520 (79.4%)

It’s always seemed to me that the composition of our modern military was much more about class than it was about race. These numbers would seem to lend credence to that thought. They also seem to suggest that if you want the best chance of survival, you don't want to be a white guy in the U.S. Military.

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(Come on Up For the) Notes From a Friday Afternoon

Friday, 11 September 2009 09:07 AM Written by

(wearin’ the cross of my mind)

For your consideration: another curious collection of thoughts, reactions, and observations that didn’t make it into a full-length post this week...

• I’ll get this out of the way, right up front, so that no one will accuse me of forgetting, or of failing to pay proper respect to the dead, or of ignoring the solemn memory of this grave and terrible day in our history: I remember. We all remember.

• How the hell could we not?

• It seems to me that a nice way to remember, and to pay our respect, and to honor the history of that grave and terrible day might be to GET THE DAMNED FREEDOM TOWER BUILT. And the Flight 93 Memorial too.

• You know, because nothing quite says We remember like a couple of exposed girders in Manhattan and a chain-link fence in Shanksville. After EIGHT FREAKING YEARS.

• (Sorry about that. I’m going all Joe Wilson on you. Pardon me for a moment while my breathing returns to normal...)

• Here’s something else we should remember: the September 11th death toll stands at 2,994. The Iraq War (American) death toll stands at 4,261. And counting.

• (Speaking, as I was just a couple of notes ago, of Rep. Joe Wilson...) Funny how sometimes the shortest posts lead to the longest comment threads. Wednesday night’s two-sentencer about Rep. Wilson’s outburst spawned a fairly sprawling 16-comment thread that’s well worth a look and a read if you’ve haven’t already been following along.

• My favorite comment on the post that does not appear in the thread came from one of TRM’s most favorite readers and writers — we’ll call him Mr. Bill — who emailed a Wilson reaction that was even shorter, and funnier, than mine: I’m surprised he didn’t throw a shoe.

Here’s another surprise: turns out, according to a local news poll, that You lie! was only the fifth most popular outburst during Wednesday night’s speech. Don't believe me? Check out the rest of the list.

• Also worth checking out, if you're one of those new-fangled, plunked-down-my-money-for-the-extras-and-the-insider-access PG+ types, is this week's installment of Omnivore, Mackenzie Carpenter's all-things-hip-and-happening webcast. Sitting somewhere near the radical middle of her panel discussion on Diane Sawyer, the status of female news anchors, and the state of local and national news shows sits a guy in a natty pink oxford whose work you may remember from such blogs as, oh... this one. It was my first venture over to the Plus Side — the air is sweeter, the chairs are made of fine Corinthian leather, the beer and wine flow freely from the taps next to every computer terminal! — and I'm hoping it won't be my last. Shooting the segment was a hoot, and watching it turned out to be pretty much fun too.

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