Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Memorial Day 2016

Memorial Day is meant for remembering those who died in military service (a worthy commemoration). It's also a holiday that naturally spurs thoughts of civilians killed in war, of living veterans and how they're treated, and how war is discussed in our country. It's only right to pause and remember the dead. And perhaps the best way to honor them the other days of the year is by challenging the belligerati who believe that casually and aggressively endorsing war or torture somehow makes them tough or makes the nation safer. Requiring a high threshold for war shouldn't be a political calculation; it's the position of basic sanity. Unfortunately, saber-rattling insanity is both fashionable and profitable in some circles, and rarely seems to draw the same condemnations that wiser, less bellicose positions do.

This weekend, PBS broadcast a short documentary about The Telling Project, which uses theater to help military veterans talk through their experiences, from losing a limb, to being raped, to PTSD, to contemplating suicide. One of the veterans remarked that 'there's no bigger pacifist than a deployed serviceman.' Rather than letting our national discussions of war be hijacked by the braggadocio of the insecure, the cruel, the calculating and the delusional, we'd benefit from considering the harsh realities of war instead. Rather than letting tough guy (and tough gal) fantasies reign, we should seek out true stories. Rather than letting another bombastic speech from an irresponsible ignoramus dictate the terms of discourse, we should give time to veterans and civilians affected by war, and quietly listen.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Chain of Title

David Dayen, an excellent blogger based in Los Angeles, has a book out, Chain of Title: How Three Ordinary Americans Uncovered Wall Street’s Great Foreclosure Fraud. His Tumblr blog links his articles and appearances (Salon, The Intercept, The Fiscal Times, The New Republic), but if you've read his work over the years, you're aware of the time and effort he's spent covering this subject. A summary:

In the depths of the Great Recession, a cancer nurse, a car dealership worker, and an insurance fraud specialist helped uncover the largest consumer crime in American history—a scandal that implicated dozens of major executives on Wall Street. They called it foreclosure fraud: millions of families were kicked out of their homes based on false evidence by mortgage companies that had no legal right to foreclose.

Lisa Epstein, Michael Redman, and Lynn Szymoniak did not work in government or law enforcement. They had no history of anticorporate activism. Instead they were all foreclosure victims, and while struggling with their shame and isolation they committed a revolutionary act: closely reading their mortgage documents, discovering the deceit behind them, and building a movement to expose it.

The book's website features blurbs from Matt Taibbi, Rick Perlstein and others and links reviews by Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews. (The book also won the Studs and Ida Terkel Prize.)

As a first-time author, David Dayen depends on getting the word out and generating early sales. I've ordered the book but haven't read it yet, although I've read plenty of Dayen's other work, and you can check it out yourself through the Tumblr link above. I'm admittedly biased because I know the guy, but if you have the money to spare, ordering a copy is a great way to support a liberal writer and get a good book to boot. (Here are the links for Amazon, Powell's and Barnes & Noble.) He'll be doing book signings in Los Angeles, the Bay Area, New York, Washington, St. Louis, and Philadelphia. If you're on that Facebook thing all the kids are doing, you can get more details from the book's FB page. Thanks.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

National Poetry Month 2016

April is National Poetry Month. I'll link the wonderful Favorite Poem Project, as usual.

This year, I thought I'd post one of my favorites:

By Marianne Moore

I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond
all this fiddle.
Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one
discovers in
it after all, a place for the genuine.
Hands that can grasp, eyes
that can dilate, hair that can rise
if it must, these things are important not because a

high-sounding interpretation can be put upon them but because
they are
useful. When they become so derivative as to become
the same thing may be said for all of us, that we
do not admire what
we cannot understand: the bat
holding on upside down or in quest of something to

eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll, a tireless
wolf under
a tree, the immovable critic twitching his skin like a horse
that feels a flea, the base-
ball fan, the statistician--
nor is it valid
to discriminate against "business documents and

school-books"; all these phenomena are important. One must make
a distinction
however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the
result is not poetry,
nor till the poets among us can be
"literalists of
the imagination"--above
insolence and triviality and can present

for inspection, "imaginary gardens with real toads in them,"
shall we have
it. In the meantime, if you demand on the one hand,
the raw material of poetry in
all its rawness and
that which is on the other hand
genuine, you are interested in poetry.

(Some of the formatting is lost here; you can see Moore's indents here.)

The line that always sticks with me is "imaginary gardens with real toads in them." For me, it nicely expresses the goal of much art – trying to capure some piece of real life in an invented piece.

Feel free to link or post a favorite poem in the comments.

Friday, April 01, 2016

Fool's Day 2016

Happy Fool's Day! This year, I thought I'd link Vulture's feature, "The 100 Jokes That Shaped Modern Comedy." It's got many classics, but the list is more impressive for its breadth and less obvious choices. Some supplemental pieces delve further into some of the gags, including Airplane's "Don't call me Shirley."

Thursday, March 17, 2016

St. Patrick's Day 2016

Happy St. Patrick's Day! Glen Hansard likes to end his concerts with this, and have other musicians and guests (not all of them singers) sing a verse. It's a neat, rousing and inclusive way to end the evening. (Here's some background on the song. The lyrics can vary considerably, and it's not unusual for performers to write new verses.)

I've featured some of my favorite Irish tunes in previous years. Feel free to link any of yours in the comments.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Blogroll Amnesty Day 2016

It's Blogroll Amnesty Day again, a tradition started by skippy and the late Jon Swift. Be sure to head over to read skippy's post for the event, but the basic idea is to give some link love to good blogs that don't get the heaviest traffic. Several from my blogroll:

Bark Bark Woof Woof: Mustang Bobby offers short, sharp political takes and good music picks.

Cheyanne's Campsite: Cheyanne (Shy Ann) has redone her home page with a neat tile format for her posts.

Experiential Pagan: Check out Syrbal-Labrys' book reviews and other observations here, or head over to Herlander-Walking for her more political posts.

The Hunting of the Snark: I never get tired of reading Susan of Texas' dissections of the odious Megan McArdle and other hacks.

Infidel753: Head over for good political analysis.

I Spy With My Little Eye: aimai posts infrequently, but her work's well worth catching.

Mikeb302000: Diligent coverage of gun deaths and gun control issues.

Onyx Lynx: Providing some great roundups.

P3: Persuasion, Perseverence, and Patience: If you appreciate fine editorial cartooning, you'll want to read Nothstine's roundups.

Poor Impulse Control: Head over for Tata's cool photos and musings.

The Rectification of Names: Check Yastreblyansky's blog before you rectify yourself.

Strangely Blogged: How can you say no after reading Vixen Strangely's Woody Guthrie reference in the blog header?

World O' Crap: Good cultural posts and dissections of the nuttiest of wingnuts.

You Might Notice a Trend: You might notice a trend of regularly reading Paul Wartenberg after you check him out.

Zen Comix: What is the sound of cartoons clapping?

Don't forget Crooks and Liars, where every day is Blogroll Amnesty Day thanks to the feature Mike's Blog Round Up. Awesome founder Mike Finnigan passed on management to the indefatigable Blue Gal, and I'm honored to be one of about a dozen bloggers who run it for one-week stints.

Thanks again to skippy for keeping this tradition alive, and if you choose to participate, make sure to link your post in his thread here!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

None Thought of Themselves as Monsters

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, one of several such memorial days worldwide. Last year, The Guardian ran a short, excellent piece by Holocaust survivor Gene Klein, who urged the importance of remembering what happened, especially as the number of survivors dwindles. It's worth reading in full, but when I revisited it, one paragraph particularly leapt out:

It is terribly easy for one group to strike another group off the roster of humanity, to see others as vermin or pests, as an affliction that must be destroyed. It happens again and again. And once it does, people are capable of inflicting terrible hardship and pain on others and to feel they are righteous in doing so. None of the SS officers who ordered me – a starving teenager – to carry heavy steel rails up a hillside thought of themselves as monsters. They were adhering to their beliefs and they were serving their country. We must be constantly vigilant for the descent that takes us from self-righteous beliefs, to the dehumanization of others and into the sphere of violence.

The consequences of bigotry aren't always violent, and bigotry doesn't always get organized (thankfully), but it's always harmful in some fashion. We know how these stories can end.

It's a fashionable conceit in some circles that expressing bigotry, being "politically incorrect," is a badge of honor and somehow bold and courageous. It is instead an act of intellectual, moral and personal cowardice, an attempt to assert power and preemptively – lazily – shallowly – dismiss other human beings outright. Embracing bigotry may not be a natural path, but it's an easy one, not a sign of toughness (and certainly not reflection).

Klein moves on from "the sphere of violence":

While we are capable of all of this, we can also rise to amazing heights in the service of others. For two weeks I had the good fortune to have a respite from hard labor while I was assigned to work with a civilian German engineer who was surveying the landscape where future roads would be built. He saw the terrible conditions I was living under and decided to help. Everyday he hid food for me from the SS kitchen where he ate lunch. Chicken, milk, rice and cheese left under a bench in the back corner of a barracks. He cared, he took a risk and he saved my life. He deserves to be remembered too.

No one should be judged because of his or her nationality, religion or race. We were sent to the camps because propaganda was believed, individuality was erased and hate was rampant. When asked if I am angry with Germans, I think of the German engineer and know that individuals must be judged by their own personal actions. If I can hold this as a guiding principle after what happened to my family and me, then you can, too.

Last week was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and King often spoke about meeting hate with love. That may be too high a moral bar for some of us (or most of us) to reach with any regularity, but Klein's piece essentially suggests tackling dehumanization and bigotry with humanizing stories and tales of connection. And while hyperbolic, inaccurate invocations of the Holocaust definitely aren't helpful (and that's the real point of "Godwin's law"), some more serious comparisons prove valid, and a commitment to basic human rights remains valuable.

You can find several videos of Gene Klein online, and in this one, he speaks movingly of the German engineer he credits with saving his life. The engineer saw Klein as a fellow human being, and acted to alleviate his suffering. That story continues to be worth remembering.

Monday, January 18, 2016

MLK Day 2016

Martin Luther King, Jr.'s most famous speech is the obvious choice for the day. It's worth revisiting periodically both as a reminder of how far social justice has progressed and how much still needs to be done.

If you've written a post celebrating the day, feel free to link it in the comments.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Jon Swift Memorial Roundup 2015

(The Best Posts of the Year, Chosen by the Bloggers Themselves)

(A 2008 Jon Swift picture, relevant every presidential election season.)

Welcome to a tradition started by the late Jon Swift/Al Weisel, who left behind some excellent satire, but was also a nice guy and a strong supporter of small blogs. As Lance Mannion put it in 2010:

Our late and much missed comrade in blogging, journalist and writer Al Weisel, revered and admired across the bandwidth as the "reasonable conservative" blogger Modest Jon Swift, was a champion of the lesser known and little known bloggers working tirelessly in the shadows . . .

One of his projects was a year-end Blogger Round Up. Al/Jon asked bloggers far and wide, famous and in- and not at all, to submit a link to their favorite post of the past twelve months and then he sorted, compiled, blurbed, hyperlinked and posted them on his popular blog. His round-ups presented readers with a huge banquet table of links to work many of has had missed the first time around and brought those bloggers traffic and, more important, new readers they wouldn’t have otherwise enjoyed.

It may not have been the most heroic endeavor, but it was kind and generous and a lot of us owe our continued presence in the blogging biz to Al.

Here's Jon/Al's 2007 and 2008 editions. Meanwhile, here are the revivals from 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014.

If you're not familiar with Al Weisel's work as Jon Swift, his site features a "best of" list in the left column.

Meanwhile, Blogroll Amnesty Day (cofounded by Jon Swift and skippy) is a celebration of small blogs coming up again the first weekend in February.

Thanks to all the participants, and apologies to anyone I missed. (As always, my goal is to find the right balance between inclusive and manageable.) You still can join in, by linking your post in the comments. Whether your post appears in the modest list below or not, feel free to tweet your best post with the hatchtag #jonswift2015.

As in Jon/Al's 2008 roundup, submissions are listed roughly in the order they were received. As he wrote in that post:

I'm sure you'll be interested in seeing what your favorite bloggers think were their best posts of the year, but be sure to also visit some blogs you've never read before and leave a nice comment if you like what you see or, if you must, a polite demurral if you do not.

Without further ado:

The Professional Left Podcast
Episode 295 (July 31, 2015): "Is Cecil the Lion a Proxy War?"
Blue Gal: "Cecil the Lion – Environmental crime and misplaced rage."

A Blog About School
"Standardized tests and your cat’s body mass index"
Chris Liebig

"Long war, decisive battle"
Infidel753: "Why does the right wing invest the fight against gay rights with such existential importance? Deep down they know it's a crucial part of a much longer and more fundamental conflict over the essential nature and identity of our civilization."

You Might Notice a Trend
"Insanity Is Repeating the Same Shooting Over And Over Again and Expecting a Safer Gun-Happy Result"
Paul Wartenberg: "The United States is under attack from itself as a minor group of gun-worshiping sociopaths allow – and in some ways encourage – shooting deaths on a daily basis just so they can proclaim their devotion to a metal god of death."

Mad Kane's Political Madness
"St. Boehner???"
Madeleine Begun Kane: "3-Verse Limerick mocking the so-called "sacrifice" John Boehner made in giving up his Speakership."

World O' Crap
"World's Worst Toys R Us Spokesmodel"
Scott Clevenger: "Who can forget Sabrina Corgatelli, the sultry, seductive Idaho accountant who went to Africa, wrapped a dead giraffe around her body like a mink stole, and sang "Blood Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend"? "

The Debate Link
"Anti-Semitism as Structural and the Iran Deal Debate"
David Schraub: "Many critics of the Iran Nuclear Deal have contended that deal proponents have engaged in anti-Semitic rhetoric; proponents have roundly rejected the charge. Both camps, I argue, are mistaken in the processes by which anti-Semitism operates and has its effect in contemporary society."

Kiko's House
"When Things Fell Seriously Apart & The Center Didn't Hold"
Shaun D. Mullen: " We'll motor past how the brilliant Yeats, as prescient as he could be, foresaw this political season and the coming of Donald Trump nearly 100 years ago in his classic dirge for the decline of civilization, but today even the best in the overcrowded Republican field seem to lack all conviction, the worst are full of passionate intensity, and surely some revelation is at hand. Or so we should fear."

"Beyond Here There Be Dragoons"
Dave Dugan: "Watercolor, Pen & ink on handmade paper, about 8 cm x 11 cm for each image, contained in a small gift box with a velcro closure, decorated with white exterior house paint and india ink, marking 70 years of goddamn nuclear weapons..."

Pruning Shears
"On the sorry state of American fascism"
Dan: "A look at some of the more hyperbolic claims about so-called 'PC culture.' "

David E's Fablog
"Pa Pa Pa Pa Pa Pa"
David Ehrenstein: "It's about how Federico Fellini's "La Dolce Vita" is as valid today as it was in 1960 in showing how the media actually works."

Experiential Pagan
"Innocence Lost"
Syrbal/Labrys: "A brief memory that proves 'the more things change, the LESS they stay the same' – at least for a female."

Confession Zero
"With the Wind it Shall"
Mark Prime offers a poem.

Scrutiny Hooligans
"Sellin' the big nothin' "
Tom Sullivan: "In the military we hold up as representing America's highest ideals, it's all esprit de corps and teamwork. Yet outside the base perimeter in Anytown, USA, it's screw you, I’ve got mine. (Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)"

Strangely Blogged
"47 Dumbass Ronin"
Vixen Strangely: "The idea that 47 actual US Senators got together to show this particular letter and their behinds off to the world struck me as a suggestion that perhaps they hated President Obama more than they even liked their country."

Simply Left Behind
"How to Defeat Terrorism"
actor212: "Thirty years of war (going back to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan) has done nothing but make more rabid dogs. That's a failed policy. This is not a war against people, it's a war against an ideology – the ideology of jihad – and every time we've bombed a country, we created more enemies as we've attempted to wipe out that ideology."

Real American Liberal
"Diving into the Abortion Debate"
John Sheirer: "I tried to have a civil, reasonable discussion about abortion on the Internet. The results were even more disturbing than I anticipated."

Just an Earth-Bound Misfit, I
"Republicans May Be Perfidious Bastards, But the Democrats Are Still Idiots"
Comrade Misfit: "Essentially, why the Democrats' focus on gun control will hurt them."

"Jeanie Bueller's Day of Feminist Killjoying"
Melissa McEwan: "In which I reconsider "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" 30 years later and discover that I'm rooting for little sister Jeanie Bueller, who huffs and eyerolls and shouts indignantly through the film, a perfect picture of injustice in a pink cardigan."

Spocko's Brain
"Mr. Robot Will Scratch The Corporate Justice Problem in Your Brain"
Spocko: "Mr. Robot was the most fascinating TV show I watched this year. The lead, Elliot, is a cyber-security engineer by day and vigilante hacker by night. His target is "Evil Corp" a sort of BofA, Goldman Sachs, Monsanto, JPMorganChase combo. In this post I reviewed the pilot and anticipated the ethical, technical, financial and human issues it will grapple with over the season."

"The Songs Our Mothers Sang to Us"
Ellen O'Neill: "The news of the BBC's discovery of Diana Rigg's Desert Island Disc lead me to their wonderful website. Where I stumbled on Yoko Ono's desert selections, and her anecdote about a particular song & her mother poignantly, surprisingly linked her to me and my mom."

Kathleen Maher's Pure Fiction
"If He Wished"
Fiction by Kathleen Maher.

Poor Impulse Control
"The World Is the World"
Tata: "You can be a different person every day, and by you, I mean me."

Mock Paper Scissors
"Hell Hath No Fury Like A Boomer Scorned"
Tengrain: "MoDo writes a poisoned pen letter to Hillary Clinton using Joe and Beau Biden as the ink."

The Rectification of Names
"What's to stop me from marrying my television?—Ross, I think you did."
Yastreblyansky: "Back in May, as we were all awaiting the Obergefell decision, Monsignor Ross Douthat, Apostolic Nuncio to 42nd Street, decided to show us how marriage equality was going to lead to polygamy for all, and then how are you liberals going to like that? Spoiler: He was wrong."

"American Exceptionalism? ISIS and the Christian Right are More Alike Than Different"
Chauncey DeVega: "The American Christian Right-wing and ISIS are much more alike than different. This truth is upsetting because American Exceptionalism is based on a lie. On matters of violence, extreme religion, anti-Cosmopolitanism, and a yearning for End Times battles between countries ruled "god's law" ISIS and the American Christian Dominionists and Reconstructionists are in almost total agreement."

"At The Pillory Clinton Hearing"
driftglass: "An experimental, real-time, free-form, impressionistic interpretation of the Hillary Clinton Benghaaaazi show trial in October."

The Way of Cats
"The difference between dogs and cats"
Pamela Merritt: "Dogs do sports. Cats do theater. They are two very different kinds of pets, and require two wildly different approaches for care and training."

Anibundel: Pop Culturess
"Good Morning and Welcome to Force Friday"
Ani Bundel: "In case you haven't heard, today the 4th will be with you. But it's not May the 4th, the organic holiday that sprung up in the Star Wars community in the last decade. Today is a different fourth. One invented by Disney, to go along with their marketing department's plans for total Star Wars world domination."

Self-Styled Siren
"Claude Rains: An Actor's Side-Eye"
Farran Smith Nehme: "My posting rate slowed considerably this year, but this was by far the most popular thing I wrote for the blog. Sifting through stills from all stages of the career of the great Rains was a wonderful experience."

"Sorry, Jeb. Your Brother Did Create ISIS."
Jon Perr: "Jeb Bush got schooled by a 19 year-old college student who informed him, "You brother created ISIS." Or to put in terms even Republican myth-makers can understand: ISIS? George W. Bush built that."

The Rude Pundit
"America Has Become a Second Amendment Death Cult"
Lee Papa: "The United States is on the same road as the Mayans and the Aztecs as we shoot ourselves into oblivion."

Ramona's Voices
"As Long As There Is A Constitution, The GOP Can't Win"
Ramona Grigg: "So the crazies won the 2014 midterms. What, me worry? Yes, me worry."

[this space intentionally left blank]
"I Read Only Books by Women For a Year: Here’s What Happened"
Dallas Taylor: "Post details the experience and results of a year spent reading only books by women: why I did it (as both writer and reader), what it was like, what I learned from it, and how it changed me. Concludes with encouragement for the reader to try the same, or at least examine the reasons for refusing to do so."

Doctor Cleveland
"Winnowing the GOP Field with Jane Austen"
Doctor Cleveland AKA Jim Marino: "Demonstrates the Pareto principle with the five sisters in Pride and Prejudice and then applies it to the crowded GOP primary field, showing which candidates have never been in the running. A post so crazy it just might work."

The Hunting Of The Snark
"Guts And Glory: The Story Of Ross Douthat"
Susan of Texas: "This is a review of Ross Douthat's book about his years at Harvard, Privilege: Harvard And The Education Of The Ruling Class. In this book we see how the son of "ex-hippies" reshaped himself into an authoritarian thought leader without becoming either thoughtful or a leader."

The Inverse Square
"We Have a Problem With Guns"
Tom Levenson: "Guns are not toys. They’re profit centers. As long as we accept that, we get the culture — political and more — that might be expected. This post is another way of writing how sick I am of having to say In Memoriam…."

Show Me Progress
"The Bill of Rights applies to everyone, right?"
Michael Bersin: "An interview with anti-Obama open carrying teabaggers flying large Confederate battle flags (among others) in an overpass protest on U.S. 50 in west central Missouri."

Lotus – Surviving a Dark Time
"Only the poor face drug tests to receive any public aid or benefit"
LarryE (Larry Erickson): "The content should be clear from the title: Drug testing of the poor – and only of the poor – to qualify for a public benefit is expanding."

"Timetraveller's' Reunion
Ole Phat Stu: "Some of the consequences of time travel."

Bark Bark Woof Woof
"Gay Day at the Supreme Court"
Mustang Bobby: "Written on the morning of oral arguments for marriage equality before the Supreme Court in April: 'If I cannot be treated the same way as everyone else for no other reason than an innate quality such as sexual preference, then the rest of those rights, however noble, are meaningless.' "

Empire Of The Senseless
"Hold my Life"
zombie rotten mcdonald: "A review of the recent Replacements reunion shows, and reminiscence…"

and that's the way it was
"Don’t help ISIS get what it wants"
Derek Davison: "I'm my own worst critic when it comes to evaluating my writing, but this piece, written in the aftermath of the Paris terrorist attack, is the most widely-read and shared thing I've ever written for my own blog. I try to explain why overreacting to ISIS's terrorism—by rejecting refugees, by turning on Muslims living in our own communities, by panicking—is giving the terrorists exactly what they want and what they need to perpetuate their message"

This Is So Gay
"Onward, Christian Soldiers"
Duncan Mitchel: "If you're using the Bible to hurt people, you're using it wrong: you should be using a sword, or a battle axe, as the Lord intended. You can't do any serious, God-breathed damage with a floppy leather-covered book!"

Checking Out Your Shorts
"Behind the Politics – Scott Walker"
paleotectonics: ""VH-1 Behind The Music meets the Scott Walker Campaign, takes much acid."

Gaius Publius
"Climate Change, the "Free Market" & the California Drought"
Gaius Publius offers an overview of the situation.

Bluestem Prairie
"No small potatoes: Dept of Natural Resources requires EAW for pinelands to spud fields project"
Sally Jo Sorensen: "When the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced a discretionary environmental assessment worksheet (EAW) for an area where the R.D. Offutt Company, America's largest potato company, been buying forest land and converting it to potato fields, bushels of money set the stage for a later withdrawal of the study."

Balloon Juice
"It’s a Giant Fucking Mystery Wrapped Inside A Riddle Inside an Enigma"
John Cole sounds off about the "enigma" of the Planned Parenthood shooting.

p3: Persuasion, Perseverance, and Patience
"Sunday morning toons: Fear of a Trump planet! And other horrors."
Nothstine: "A December 2015 edition of p3's weekly round up of political cartoons (with a dash of Golden Age animation). This week the theme was Fear!"

Mister Tristan
Gary, a relative of Mister Tristan: "Liars' pants should actually burst into flames. Brian Williams paid a price for lying about Iraq; Dick Cheney, not so much."

Roy Edroso: "It’s less overtly political than most of my stuff, but also (I hope) funnier."

"Now THAT's something to ponder"
Brendan Keefe: "Since I haven't been writing much at length lately, I'll pass along one of the most fun things I read this past year."

Schrodinger's Cat: Many Worlds and One Cat
"Bihar Gives India a Diwali Gift: An In-Depth Analysis of the Assembly Elections"
schroedinger's cat: "I analyze the state assembly elections held in the Indian state of Bihar where Prime Minister Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) suffered a humiliating defeat. I explore what this means for India now in the context of the recent past and in the historical context."

Lance Mannion
"Nobody's unbreakable, not even Kimmy Schmidt"
Lance Mannion: "The premise of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt isn't comic. It's tragic. A real evil has been inflicted upon Kimmy and her friends from the bunker and, whatever the outcome of the trial, the villain has gotten away with it. What he did to the four women cannot be undone. The comedy is in Kimmy's determination to survive the evil."

Vagabond Scholar
"Blogiversary X: 10 Posts That Shook the World (or Slightly Amused a Dozen People)"
Batocchio: "I didn't write much this year, but this post links the best pieces of my first decade by category."

Thanks again, folks. Happy blogging (and everything else) in 2016.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Blogiversary X: 10 Posts That Shook the World

(or Slightly Amused a Dozen People)

(Gentlemen of great erudition and culture. GIF version of the bottom one here.)

Earlier this year, this blog turned 10. I haven't had much time to write this year (or the past few years), but I'm still keeping the blog lights on as a repository for my infrequent posts.

As usual, I'll be recapping major posts and categories since the last blogiversary, and in this case, all 10 years. This is mainly so I can find the stuff later; I don't expect anyone to read through this entire post, let alone all the linked pieces, which amount to far more than 10 posts. However, if you've got a load of free time to read long blog essays, you're in, um, luck?

The Nature of Liberalism

I suppose this section could be more robust, but I always think this stuff should be fairly obvious.

  • "Some Reasons I'm a Liberal" (5/5/08): All that bleeding heart stuff (and more).
  • "The Social Contract" (7/21/10): Some basic civics, seemingly forgotten (or rejected).
  • The Nature of Conservatism

    Trying to suss things out.

  • "The Chart That Explains It All!" (3/12/07): Authoritarian conservatives don't play by the normal rules of good governance, and it's a mistake to pretend otherwise.
  • "Concern Trolls for Nixon" (9/3/08): Don't fall for their shtick.
  • "The Most "Conservative" Films" (4/7/09): Examining the reductive, ideological approach of many conservatives toward film (and art in general).
  • "The Persistence of Ideology" (6/3/09): Trying to sum up modern conservatism through its approach to economics, foreign policy and torture.
  • "Diagrams on Conservatism" (7/3/09): Visualize the insanity.
  • "The Five Circles of Conservative Hell" (7/21/10): From "preserving cultural privilege" to more fearsome depths.
  • "Engaging the Opposition, and A Wingnut Checklist" (8/30/10): Trying to assess whether engagement is worth it (issues I'm still pondering).
  • "The Stupid-Evil-Crazy Vortex" (11/10/10): Diagnosing the problem.
  • "The Four Types of Conservatives" (7/30/12): "Most conservative political figures break down into one of four broad groups. They are Reckless Addicts, Proud Zealots, Stealthy Extremists and Sober Adults." An in-depth investigation. (Film at 11!)
  • National Politics

  • "Diagram Madness" (7/15/09): Trying to visualize the American political spectrum, using some unconventional models.
  • "American Politics Seen as a Japanese Monster Movie" (11/29/09): Pretty silly, but the analogies kinda work.
  • American Political Insanity Explained (2/9/10): An attempt, anyway.
  • "Attack of the Plutocrats" (7/18/10): Contextualizing wealth inequality and the pushes to increase it.
  • "We Cheat the Other Guy and Pass the Savings to You" (7/25/10): The game is rigged, and certain parties think that's a good thing (or blame the wrong people).
  • "Voting and Political Activism" (11/5/12): Less about the 2012 election specifically than a looong look at political activism in general and the prospects of change.
  • "Lucky Duckies and Fortunate Sons" (8/14/14): Why some people are reluctant to acknowledge that the game is rigged.
  • Our National Political Discourse

    Media critiques of why political coverage is often inaccurate and shallow.

  • Color Commentary (3/15/07): A chromatic depiction of how the corporate media presents "balance."
  • "The Bullshit Matrix" (3/16/07): Truth, lies, bullshit and their many variations.(I keep coming back to the themes of this one.)
  • "False Equivalencies" (4/5/07): Arguably the worst fault of media coverage.
  • "Silent Questions" 8/12/09): "The questions we ask determine the answers we receive. The specific form of those questions, and the assumptions they hold, further shape our answers."
  • "Common Ground and Equal Blame" (1/6/11): The inadequacy of saying 'both sides do it' without more detail (or when it's flatly inaccurate).
  • "Defining "Common Ground" in Diagrams" (1/7/11): A follow-up, with pictures.
  • "Partisanship, Policy and Bullshit" (7/6/11): "Partisanship" isn't necessarily a bad thing. Policy matters. And media outlets have incentives for generating bullshit.
  • "Both Sides Do It: Partisanship Redux" (8/1/12): A follow-up post, taking a closer look at the popular "both sides do it/are equally to blame" brand of bullshit.
  • "But Paul Ryan Seems Like Such a Nice Fellow" (8/11/12): A journalist focuses on rhetoric and charm and ignores policy to conclude that Paul Ryan wants to help the poor (and isn't a scumbag).
  • "Civil Both-Side Bipartisans" (10/21/12): Another crack at the "both sides" scourge, urging "honesty over civility, accuracy over politeness."
  • "Our National Political Discourse" (12/1/13): An attempt to "visualize how our national political discourse should work, and discuss how it does work instead."
  • "The Bullshit That Civilly Dare Not Speak Its Name" (7/25/14): A civility meter has its uses, but a good bullshit detector is far more valuable.
  • "Artificially Equalizing Unequal Views on Inequality" (8/17/14): A case study of a journalist going into contortions to blame both sides equally.
  • "The Fallacy of the Golden Mean" (8/19/14): A "both sides" reader.
  • The War Series

    I've periodically written pieces in an ongoing series on war and related issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder. The most significant posts are:

  • "How to Hear a True War Story" (5/29/07): Truth and fantasy in war stories.
  • "Iraq and Vietnam: Selling the Stab-in-the-Back Myth" (8/30/07): Old themes resurface.
  • "That Pesky Violence in Iraq" (12/5/07): I wrote multiple posts on Iraq, including several on the "Surge." This one noted that a decrease in violence was most welcome, but a decrease to a mere 575 attacks per week shouldn't be celebrated as success and vindication.
  • "Day of Shame" (2/5/08): My contribution to a blogswarm on the anniversary of Colin Powell's presentation to the United Nations to sell the Iraq War.
  • "The Poetry of War" (3/19/08): Looking at contrasting war poems (among other things), as part of an Iraq War blogswarm.
  • "John '100 Years' McCain" (4/9/08): The more extensively one examined McCain's statements on Iraq, the worse he looked.
  • "Brave Cowboys of the Junior High Lunch Room"(5/29/2008): The insecurities that drive war cheerleaders.
  • "War and the Denial of Loss" (11/11/09): This piece was the culmination a six-post series for Armistice Day, and should be read after the others. I'm still not entirely satisfied with the opening, but this post probably comes the closest to what I tried to accomplish during my brief teaching stints, in terms of encouraging reflection and making connections.
  • "Asymmetric Inhumanity" (5/30/11): The urge to dehumanize.
  • Only the Faithless Suffer (11/11/12): Denying suffering and blaming the victims.
  • "The Dogs of War" (11/17/13): Looking back at the Iraq War and some of its most dishonorable cheerleaders.
  • "The Courage to Make Others Suffer" (5/25/15): Among a certain breed of pedigreed dolt, going to war is matter of fashion.
  • Torture

    I've done a fair amount of research on torture and wrote a number of posts (if not as many as some others, and not as many as I wanted to). It's an essential subject but it also burnt me out a bit, given all the maddening obfuscation by culpable parties and their apologists. The full category is here, but the most significant posts are:

  • Jack Bauer versus Maher Arar (7/3/07): Torture apologists overwhelmingly cite fiction and dire fantasies about ticking time bombs while ignoring actual reality about torturing innocent people.
  • "Torture Watch 2/19/08": A roundup and summary of important pieces on torture.
  • "Using Justice Against Us" (11/7/08): Examining bad arguments by John Yoo against due process. (I originally posted this at the Campaign for America's Future, but their template and formatting subsequently changed, so this is a repost at VS from March 2010.)
  • "Tortured" (12/5/08): A poem.
  • "Rivkin's Protean Logic on Torture" (3/12/09): A long dissection of one of the most slippery of torture apologists.
  • "Sensory Deprivation Op-Ed" (4/20/09): A close reading of a key op-ed by prominent torture apologists who conveniently omit that they could face criminal prosecution for the actions they're defending.
  • "The Torture Flowchart" (4/23/09): An attempt to visualize the insanity, and how many opportunities there were to stop.
  • "Torture Versus Freedom" (5/15/09): An attempt to address and debunk all the arguments for torture, with heavy use of supporting links. The "further resources" section links significant books and articles.
  • "A Venn Diagram on Torture Apologia" (5/21/09)
  • "The Torture Apologia Chart" (6/2/09): An attempt to summarize all the major arguments for torture. (I never got around to revising this into a full debunking tool, because it would be a significant undertaking to do it properly, but the links in "Torture Versus Freedom" serve most of that.)
  • " I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream" (7/31/09): Exploring the deadly certainty of torturers and "the comforting violence of Jack Bauer."
  • "Why Does Liz Cheney Hate Civilization?" (3/10/10): Examining the then-latest round of fearmongering 'If you investigate my daddy you're all going to be killed by terrorists' bullshit.
  • "They Could Not Look Me in the Eye Again" (11/11/11): Pondering dehumanization and cruelty in the contexts of war, torture and racism.
  • "Greater Context for Zero Dark Thirty" (8/15/13): A long consideration of the filmmakers' artistic choices and the facts and context they ignored.
  • Tolerance and Freedom

    Several of these posts were written for the (mostly annual) Blog Against Theocracy.

  • "The Social Tolerance Charts" (3/13/07): The misunderstanding of "tolerance" by many conservatives. (I've explored this issue many times since.)
  • "The Religion-in-Society Charts" (3/14/07): Looking at religious tolerance specifically.
  • "The Conservative Brain Trust Takes On: Freedom of Religion!" (3/29/07): Supposed conservative intellectuals prove extremely unclear on the First Amendment, especially when those icky gay people are involved.
  • "The Case for Writing More Accurately About Religion in America" (3/29/07): Dissecting Time magazine's poorly reasoned cover story, "Why We Should Teach the Bible in Public Schools."
  • "How Many Deities Does It Take to Change a Light Bulb?" (4/6/07): Humor and religion. (Some video links have since gone dead, alas.)
  • "Faith and Certainty" (4/6/07): For some people, religion doesn't make them more reflective, humble or open; it makes them more rigid and self-righteous.
  • "The Truth By Any Other Name" (3/23/08): Respecting different metaphors for living.
  • You Damned Kids Get Into My Church (1/8/10): Religious narcissism, or narcissistic religiosity.
  • "I'll See Your Jesus and Raise You 10,000 Buddhas" (1/12/10): A follow-up, because Ross Douthat sheds whine, not light, and "there's no virtue in discussing religion stupidly."
  • "The Meek Shall Inherit What's Left of the Earth the Mean and Dumb Destroy" (4/21/11): The religion of conservatives John Shimkus and Ann Coulter versus that of Stephen Colbert.
  • "Surely the Constitution Must Match My Theocratic Beliefs" (4/7/12): Rick Santorum versus the Founding Fathers.
  • "My God Can Beat Up Your God (Defining "Tolerance")" (4/9/12): Most of the time, when conservatives say "freedom," they really mean "privilege."
  • "Control, Punish and Shame" (3/31/13): The impulses of religious social conservatives.
  • "You're Intolerant of My Intolerance!" (8/20/14): Another crack at the issue, this time focusing on gay rights.
  • Specific Political Analysis

  • "Will GOP Senators Face Consequences for Lying to the Supreme Court?" (7/12/06): A deep dive into some dishonorable behavior involving the Hamdan v. Rumsfeld decision about due process and the congressional record.
  • The Aryan Minstrel Show (8/8/06): An extensive look at the performance art of hatred from Ann Coulter. (I still need to fix some old broken links.)
  • "Dance of the Straw Men" (10/12/06): "Of all the faulty argument patterns typically employed by the GOP, the most popular by far is a straw man argument with an ad hominem attack nestled inside."
  • "The Knaves of the Bush Administration" (3/20/07): Considering the Bush administration by way of King Lear.
  • "A Recap of the Sliming of Graeme Frost" (10/19/07): Chronicling the attacks on the 12-year-old survivor of a horrific car crash and just how nasty mainstream American conservatism has become.
  • "That Fragrant Horse Race Coverage" (1/13/08): Examining the blatant stupidity of media coverage of the 2008 early primary elections.
  • "That Damned Liberal Racism" (1/24/08): Looking at bad faith and idiotic discussions of race, centering on the 2008 election.
  • "The Passion of Saint McCain" (9/3/08): The Republican National Convention's depiction of John McCain as suffering Jesus (while simultaneously trying to sidestep the whole torture thing).
  • "Where's Bush?" (9/4/08): The disappearing of then-President Bush from the 2008 Republican National Convention.
  • "With Thy Father's Permission" (9/9/08): Motherhood and patriarchy sanctified at the Republican National Convention.
  • "Not One Person Called Giuliani a Douchebag" (12/8/09): Dissecting the disingenuous "he didn't use the magic words" political attack that's still popular among conservatives.
  • "Extremism in Defense of Nihilism Is a Vice" (7/28/11): Contextualizing the debt ceiling hostage situation and pointing out the striking extremism of conservatives.
  • "Why We Can't Have Nice Things" (12/7/12): Looking at the fiscal "compromise" and an ongoing trend of tremendous bad faith (and horrendous coverage of all this).
  • Satire and Humor

  • "Proof of Iran’s Perfidy Provided by Anonymous Experts!" (2/13/07): A skeptical, satirical look at another round of saber-rattling.
  • "Valentine's Day (The Death of True Love)" (2/14/08): This rant about what's probably my least favorite holiday elicited some strong responses. (Nonpolitical, apart from some dated and largely pointless political references.)
  • "Hall of Fame Material" (1/14/09): Looking back on the Bush presidency, and contrasting expectations for him with those of sports fans for their favorite team (in this case, the then-woeful Detroit Lions).
  • "Anti-Terrorist Fantasy Dream Team on the Case" (5/20/09): Obama recruits Jack Bauer and Wolverine, because "a fictional threat is best met with decisive fictional force."
  • "A Field Guide to Political Creatures" (8/14/09): A sillier look at wonks, hacks and zealots.
  • Film

    I've written several hundred reviews (most of them short, some more expansive) generally as part of a post-Oscars roundup, a preblog tradition. Those are easiest found by scrolling through the Oscars and film categories. (A post examining the conservative ideologue's approach to film is linked above.) Some obituaries and retrospectives of note:

  • "Sven Nykvist 1922–2006 (9/25/06): The work of one of film's greatest cinematographers.
  • "A Moment of Silence: Ingmar Bergman (1918–2007)" (8/9/07): Looking back at the work of a cinematic giant.
  • "Kurosawa Exhibit" (12/10/08): Considering another of cinema's masters.
  • "Éric Rohmer (1920-2010)" (1/26/10): Appreciating the subtleties and sublimeness of Rohmer's work.
  • "Roger Ebert (1942–2013)" (4/12/13): A look at the film critic and his prose.
  • "Ray Harryhausen (1920–2013)" (5/20/13): The stop-motion magician.
  • Banned Books

    I try to write a post for Banned Books Week every year (and comment on current events, if relevant). To date, the most extensive posts in this category are:

  • "Just Another Concerned Parent Firing Librarians" (9/12/08): My most in-depth post of several on Sarah Palin's unsuccessful censorship attempts as Mayor of Wasilla.
  • "Fahrenheit 451" (10/3/08): A look at the novel and recent attempts to ban it.
  • "Banned Books Week 2010" (9/27/10): Choosing not to read something is fine; banning entails preemptively making that choice for everyone else.
  • "Banned Books Week 2011" (9/25/11): Efforts to ban works by Aldous Huxley and Sherman Alexie.
  • "Banned Books Week 2014" (9/27/14): Kurt Vonnegut and Slaughterhouse Five.
  • Other Arts

  • "Who's on First?" (5/7/08): My experiences rehearsing and performing the famous sketch. (I've done it about a dozen times now.)
  • "Creativity" (7/10/08): A piece about protecting and nurturing the creative impulse.
  • "Ar Eirinn Ni Neosainn Ce Hi" (3/17/09): This St. Patrick's Day post on one of my favorite Irish songs still gets hits occasionally.
  • "Iain Banks" (6/5/13): An assessment of the Scottish sci-fi and "straight" fiction author Iain Banks, who unfortunately died in 2013.
  • "Pete Seeger (1919–2014)" (2/12/14): An appreciation of the folk singer and activist.
  • I really should write more about theater and poetry, but I try to post something for National Poetry Month in April every year, and I'm always happy to plug the wonderful Favorite Poem Project.

    The Holocaust

    Each year, I write a post for International Holocaust Remembrance Day and sometimes write related posts about current events. The most significant posts in The Holocaust category are:

  • Holocaust Remembrance Day (2006): A roundup of Holocaust materials.
  • "International Holocaust Remembrance Day, 2008": A look at the Nazi propaganda (including films) used to sell their T4 "euthanasia" program, a precursor to their death camps. (Some film clip issues, alas.)
  • "International Holocaust Remembrance Day, 2009": Music from composers persecuted or killed by the Nazis.
  • "Godwin's Law" (4/21/09): Considering its value and limitations.
  • "Deny Me Health Care or Give Me Death" (8/16/09): Conservatives misrepresent history to compare giving people health care to Nazi killings.
  • "If This Is a Man" (1/27/10): A look at one of the best Holocaust memoirs, Primo Levi's If This Is a Man (Se questo è un uomo), better known in the U.S. as Survival in Auschwitz.

    The Jon Swift Roundup (and the Rest)

    For the past several years, I've continued a tradition started by the late, great, Jon Swift (pen name of Al Weisel) – the best posts of the year, picked by the bloggers themselves. The category is here.

    I've also cross-posted or guest posted at Crooks and Liars, Hullabaloo, the Campaign for America's Future, and the dearly departed Blue Herald. (At times I miss the series Right-Wing Cartoon Watch that ran there, but it was a ton of work.)

    That's about it. At times, the site name "Vagabond Scholar" strikes me as stuffy or pretentious – and it doesn't fit my sillier nom de blog – but I picked it in the spirit of curiosity and searching, not pretending to know all the answers. (More background's here.)

    Thanks to everyone who's stopped by over the years, and happy blogging.