Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Sharron (Always Looking for an) Angle:
Ill-Tempered, Ill-Equipped

There's an old adage in electoral politics about running to your wing to get the nomination, then running to the center to win the general election. Time and again this axiom has proved its worth as wise counsel. At the moment, there's a lot of running to the far flank by people who will probably find their bridges back to the center burned by their own intemperate arsenal of rhetorical dynamite.

Sharron Angle is one such person. Having scooped up the Republican nomination for US Senator from Nevada, Ms. Angle is already the unlikely beneficiary of another political self-immolation—that of former candidate Sue (Pay Your Doctors with Chickens) Lowden. When Lowden balked at backing down from her "chicken" solution to the health care crisis, Angle was right there to pick up the support of those who didn't have any chickens to pay their medical bills.

The thing about marching back to the center in time for November is that one must have the skill to do so without appearing to repudiate everything that has come out of your mouth up to that point. Otherwise, odds are you will be exposed as little more than a double-talking opportunist. Sharon Angle has revealed a desperation by staking out positions that are sure to rev up the far right flank allowing her to cakewalk her way to the party's nomination. But so much of what she calculatingly embraced during the primary process appears to be precisely what will ignite the C4 lining her bridge back to reality.

Let the double-talking opportunism begin: Dismantle Social Security. No, privatize Social Security. No, personalize Social Security. Get rid of the EPA. No, give the EPA a more defined mandate. Too much banking regulation ignited the Wall St. collapse. (No discernible retreat from that one yet. There may not be one that makes any sense.) If we don't get what we want at the ballot box, we may have to look toward Second Amendment remedies and take out Harry Reid! What I meant was take him out of office. (Yeah, with Second Amendment remedies? Charming.)

The foregoing represents a mere sampling of the kind of double-talk Ms. Angle has engaged in since winning the nomination and trying to traverse that treacherous bridge back to the center—one that is quickly becoming a bridge to nowhere.

Just weeks ago, Majority Leader Harry Reid's reelection bid was in deep do-do. Now, thanks to Sharron Angle herself, that may no longer be the case. In fact, Reid's most effective tactic for the time being seems to be that of just letting Angle drown in her own political oil spill. So out of touch are most of her positions, the best response is no response. The more she talks, the better Harry Reid looks.

Even if Sharron Angle morphs into something more palatable in time for the November election, my hunch is that she won't be able to hide her true colors, another wing nut will wither away, and Republicans will have to seriously examine whether all the tea they've been drinking is doing them any good.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Turning the Tables

What is it about my face that tells some people, "By all means, share your wisdom with me; tell me why I need a god in my life."

The parking lot outside my favorite coffee shop has long served as a sanctuary, a place where I can enjoy the splendor of a freshly brewed cup of coffee, a little NPR news, and a few moments of precious solitude. There are usually a few others basking in the same setting, each in a world all his own—unencumbered and imperturbable. Or so we thought.

The first time it happened I respectfully interrupted the religious sales pitch the same way I do when those annoying businesses call during dinner to tell you they are not selling anything and just want a few moments of your time: "Thank you very much; I am not interested." [Pleasant stare!] The second time it happened—just a few weeks later—I felt violated. "No, no. That's quite all right. You keep your Jesus magazine to yourself, and do have a nice day." [Not so pleasant stare!] I was beginning to think these people either had a quota or got paid by the soul.

As time went on, my guard instinctively went up whenever someone got a little too close to my car. I promised myself after the last run-in with the God Squad that the next person who approached me with a smile on his face and a book in his hand was going to get an earful. And sure enough, they came for me again.

In the past I had always believed their was no reasoning with these people, that they had their own way of thinking and it was pretty much out there. This time, however, was different. The closer this young man got to me, the more determined I became to turn the tables on him. The conversation went substantially like the following:

Hi. I noticed you sitting in your car by yourself, and I thought you might be interested in something.
—Really? What might that be?
—This magazine which explains how and why God needs and loves everyone.

—That's interesting, but do you mind if I ask you a question?
—Not at all.

—Do you believe in a god?
—Yes, I believe in God. Do you?

—No, I do not, but that's not important.
—Well, actually it is important.

—Sorry to burst your bubble, but trust me - it's not important. May I ask you another question?
—Of course.

—Do you claim to know that your god exists?
—Yes, of course. We know this to be true.

—Okay. Have I got your attention right now?
—May I explain something to you?
—By all means.

—What you have, my friend, is faith. You know nothing. You believe. There is a big difference.
—Let me ask you a question. What is faith?

—Faith is believing in something that the human powers of reason cannot sustain. You are, of course, free to do this, but understand - it defies reason, and by definition, things beyond our ability to reason cannot be known to be true. But beyond all that, do you know why I don't walk up to perfect strangers and tell them about all the wondrous virtues of life as an atheist?

—Because I respect other people. Do you respect me?
—Yes. I respect you.

—Do you respect the rights of others to think as they choose about these things?
—Yes, I do - very much.

—Allow me to disagree. By approaching me for no other reason than to gain my confidence for the purpose of converting me to your personal world view, you have shown me great disrespect. Do you understand this?
—I am very sorry. I did not mean to show any disrespect.

—(Determined to get in the last word) Well, you work on that. I have to get to work now. Remember - respect! Have a nice day.

While the foregoing may not qualify as reasoning with a religious person, it at least shows that having the last word is possible. It felt good telling an arrogant theist to get lost without using those exact words. In the past, whenever I thought better of engaging such an individual—and as much as I may have thought is was the sensible thing to do—it nonetheless felt as though I was squandering an opportunity, an opportunity to inject a little reason and common sense into the encounter.

Having tried the Plan B option for a change, I have to report, it felt like the right thing to do. That it likely fell on deaf ears is not important. Gently asserting one's self in situations like these is dignifying and empowering.

It seems the real difference between my deluded friend and me is that I do indeed respect his right to believe as he chooses; whereas, he apparently does not respect mine. Despite this, there is a mitigating factor diluting his culpability: only the insidious delusion of religious faith has the power to infect an otherwise agreeable and intelligent person to such an extent. The defective reasoning of religious zealots blinds them to their own malfeasance.

With a little luck, I will be spared any further assaults from those who want to save my soul. But if they come for me again, I will be ready.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Joe Scarborough—Constructive Conservative

A recent blog post on (Is Joe Scarborough Out of Touch with Conservative Ascendancy?) questioned whether the host of MSNBC's Morning Joe, former Florida Representative Joe Scarborough, is worthy of the conservative label or is merely cozying up to liberal East Coast media elites in order to sell his own watered down brand of conservative politics. In the ensuing thread of comments, there was both agreement and disagreement with this premise—some informative, some predictable.

As a regular viewer of Morning Joe, my take is that Joe Scarborough is not out of touch with conservatism at all; rather he has chosen to distance himself from the immoderate, rhetorical flame throwers who denigrate political debate. He is consistently conservative—even very conservative—on nearly every major policy issue. Yet he is cast as a kind of traitor to the conservative cause because he won't join in the profanity parade being grand marshaled by El Rushbo, Sarah Palin, Glenn (oligark!) Beck, and other masters of mayhem.

The sad part of this is that a perverse kind of litmus test is being administered by those who have come to believe they speak for the Republican Party. If you don't believe President Obama is out to destroy America, that his citizenship is suspect, that Nancy Pelosi was spawned by Satan, etc., you are simply not "one of us." The GOP is on the brink of being hijacked by demagogues—if it hasn't been already. Mr. Scarborough, on the other hand, understands that the resurgence of the Republican Party lies in its moderating influences and not in its wing nut flank.

Joe Scarborough's biggest contribution to the debates of our day lies in his commitment to civility. As an unapologetic liberal, I disagree strongly with most of his ideas. But I take from him the importance of operating from the premise that honorable debate in politics is infinitely more productive than the dishonorable practice of demonizing one's adversaries with little more than ideological vulgarities.

At this point it concerns me more that the tenor of political discourse be freed from its present state of dysfunction than it does who occupies the White House or holds a majority in Congress. When public debate is debased by intemperate rhetoric, extremists become less marginalized and more willing to offer up their own special brands of poison. That is the danger.

Joe Scarborough is just what the Republican Party needs. His voice lends legitimacy to the conservative cause. Those who disguise their bombastic rants as mere populist banter are the ones who are really out of touch. It just may take a while for them to figure it out.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Confessions of a Farmville Snob

As much as I loved my sister Mary, there was one thing about her that always annoyed me: she was something of a movie snob. If it didn't have subtitles or play at one of those out-of-the-way, artsy-fartsy movie houses, it couldn't have been a very good flick. Yes, Mary was bored by Lord of the Rings, and if she were with us today, I'm sure she would pooh-pooh Avatar as nothing but a teched-up, mindless fantasy without any meaningful characters. But, whether Mary is now lapping it up at that small, trendy Cinéstudio in the sky or has been consigned to the big multiplex down below, one thing is for sure: a bigger movie snob there never was.

The truth is, however, we are all snobs of one kind or another. Some of us are radio snobs, listening only to NPR of course. (Guilty!) Some are food snobs who wouldn't be caught dead consuming anything from a can or box let alone through the car window. And let's not forget the clothing snobs who think anything off the rack at Wal-Mart or Target is for the little people, don't you know.

Which brings me to the sordid image being returned from the mirror these days. Yes, judging by the disdain I have cultivated for those who mindlessly tend to their virtual farms on one of Facebook's most popular gaming apps, it is clear I am much too sophisticated a person to entertain myself with such drivel and have slowly turned into a total Farmville snob!

Could it be I am simply jealous of all the attention my wife gives to Farmville and not to me? Jami dotes on her virtual farm in a way she never dotes on me, meticulously cultivating crops, feeding animals and swapping chores with other Farmville devotees, all the while garnering enough points and prizes to keep her toiling away with no end in sight.

On the surface, Farmville appears to be little more than the codependency relationship from hell; the more friends you have sharing chores and gifts with, the more productive the output of your farm, which entices even more people to become friends, which makes you even more productive, which—well, you get the idea. Jami now has over 200 Farmville "friends" and is now competing with a gamer—who calls herself Monsanto Mindy—to become the most productive virtual landscaper in the farmosphere! I have a recurring nightmare in which these 200 virtual friends turn into real people and start coming over for cookout dinners and farming tips. I usually wake up right about the time the guests start marching toward me with their rakes and shovels a la Night of the Living Dead demanding I join them in tending to their farms.

Why am I above all this? Well for one thing it's much too juvenile in appearance for my taste, the cartoonish imagery seductively luring the child within to enter a world of make-believe and go for the gusto. Aside from the occasional Rocky and Bullwinkle rerun, I have sworn off cartoons, having graduated to more substantive and intelligent matters like trying to decipher Tea Party politics and the intricacies of the latest national disaster. Then there's the constant need to acquire new friends in order to successfully grow your farm. Excuse me but I have enough trouble with the two friends I already have in the real world. I don't need hundreds of strangers begging me to send them some of my virtual corn just so they can feed their virtual cows.

It's plain these people have little else to amuse themselves with. My life, on the other hand, is much too interesting and challenging to have any need for something as tedious as Farmville. I guess I just have to accept the fact that I am too good for Farmville and that—just like commercial radio—it is beneath me.

It's not easy being a snob.