Thursday, October 25, 2012

It’s a Grand Old Party… but only if you’re a man

Romney closes the gender gap?


Besides radical pro-lifers, ‘Job Creators’ and citizens who now believe Obama’s big second-term initiative centers around coming to get their guns, why would any woman even be tempted to vote Republican this year?

Every gender-issue stand they’ve taken has been at best insensitive, at worst wildly absurd. From candidates coining the phrase“legitimate rape” without irony; to opining that rape pregnancies are God’s will and still enjoying the support of the national party leadership; to “bindersful of women” who are revealed to have been foisted on the then-governor, not requested by him as he mischaracterized the story in a nationally televised Presidential debate…

Even on the pro-life issue, where I give a little wiggle-room to the opposition because abortion is such an awful, ugly procedure that it seems not unprincipled to me to stand in opposition to it. Even there, in defense of life in general, the GOP sticks it to women in particular. All the ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ and transvaginal ultrasounds and forced counseling and lack of legislative concern for the human rights of victims of rape and incest… It’s a smorgasbord of misogyny!

There isn’t one single issue specifically affecting women where the GOP platform and candidates aren’t working at deliberate cross-purposes with gender equity. We’re just one conservative Supreme Court justice away from Roe v Wade being struck down, and the issue of abortion being thrown back to the individual states to decide. Do we really, as a nation, want to put our reproductive rights into the hands of the same coalition of level-headed deep-thinkers who brought us the Civil War?

Yet new polls apparently show Romney/Ryan have somehow closed the gender gap that Obama had been enjoying up until now. I have actual, non-anecdotal friends and family members who are women, who plan to vote the Republican ticket.

And all I can say to them is, “Ladies, whatever single-issue has drawn you to the GOP, this is the year to take a broader view and think about the rights you want your daughters to have after you’re gone, and your granddaughters.”

This election, put family before fealty.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Atlas Shrugged, checked phone for messages

I saw Atlas Shrugged, Part II last weekend.

[pause for howls of derisive laughter]

I saw Part I when it came out, and was not impressed. But because of how many times I read the book as a teenager and imagined a movie version of it… well, I owe it to adolescent Fang to keep going to see these things as long as they keep making them.

Which one way or another, shouldn’t be much longer. Besides the fact that there’s only 1/3 of the story left to tell, based on attendance at the screening I went to, there will be little or no financial incentive to go ahead with Part III.

Then again, there was little or no financial incentive for them to make Part II, and that didn’t stop them. It’s an interesting logical inconsistency on the part of Rand’s filmmaking devotees. Her philosophy would require that if you made part one and nobody came, you’d be a damned fool to go ahead with a sequel for which there was a thundering absence of demand. On the other hand, being a devotee means proceeding on faith—faith in an external third party, in this case Rand herself. And she would definitely not been down with that kind of hero worship (unless she was present to luxuriate in it in person).

According to her philosophy, the only person one can worship without compromising one’s morality is oneself. Bankrolling a movie you knew almost empirically ahead of time would be a financial failure—as an exercise in hero worship—would be an act one of Rand’s sniveling villains would have perpetrated, not one of her valiant heroes.

All that aside, this movie was a considerably more professional affair than the first. It moved quicker, I’d swear it was better directed (too lazy too look up the talent involved) and the whole enterprise had more of a big-screen, less straight-to-cable vibe to it.

The story picks up where Part I left off, with the world going to hell first because of government over-regulation and an extravagantly socialist, extra-Constitutional social agenda, and then because all the smartest lads and lassies start to disappear, and the businesses they created are incapable of running in their absence.

And chaos reigns.

It’s impossible to discuss this movie dispassionately because its source material is such a political hot potato. Written by Ayn Rand, who escaped Communist Russia in the dead of night as a young girl, the book is a manifesto, mostly to alienated loners (yo, are my people in the house?!) and Libertarian-leaning right-wingers, who happen to be all the rage right now. The Republican Vice Presidential candidate, for example, happens to be an avowed fan.

What is it about Rand’s prose that so riles up the right and repels the left? Well, let’s just say, as a writer, Rand didn’t risk leaving a lot to subtext. People are stupid, she would have reasoned, and will ignore subtleties if given the opportunity. So she spelled everything out. And in my experience, different people cling to different aspects of it.

God help anyone who embraced all of it, they’d be a raging sociopath like Rand.

What teenage Fang took away was that it was all right to be different if the people who were the same were boring or stupid, which in my case they pretty much were. It was quite the validation of the lifestyle that had been forced upon me by my natural discomfort with my fellow humans.

What strictly textual readers take away, however, seems to be that poor people are lazy and social programs equal legalized extortion. With which statement Rand would almost certainly agree. I knew that was what she was preaching at the time, but I’ve always cherry-picked my personal philosophy. I haven’t found anybody who’s got everything figured out yet, so I take the parts that make sense to me, and that fit together. And discard or assimilate the crazy.

Here’s an example. In almost every instance in Rand’s body of work (with the exception of Howard Roark’s design for a low-income housing project in The Fountainhead), charitable efforts are made out to be either the pastime of the guilty rich, or the last resort of honorable men and women with guns to their heads.

In the same canon, she preaches, “If it feels good, do it.” (She was so unabashedly about self-gratification, she authored a non-fiction book called The Virtue of Selfishness.)

So the intuitive leap I took was, if it feels good to be charitable, I should do that.

Which is a calculation I don’t recall running into in any of Rand’s writing, but it makes sense to me to this day.

With the movie’s content and timing so controversial, it was hard not to bring a little political baggage to the screening. I noticed two things that I thought merited mention. One was the inclusion by the filmmakers—the movie takes place in the present day—of a bunch of “Occupy” protesters in several scenes. It was so blatant it completely took me out of the movie every time they appeared onscreen.

The other was a big dialogue scene between two of Rand’s tortured captain-of-industry heroes. It was all boilerplate Rand, but again, in the heat of the political season, it was impossible not to run it through the political rinse in my brain.

In the scene, the two men are talking about what separates men of honor like them from the majority of men—the 47%? The 99%—without honor. (Every page of every book Rand ever wrote contains a version of this dialogue scene.) They agree it is because they are the Makers, and the others are the Takers. They produce the actual commodities, while the men and women they revile just buy political cover and play numbers games and make their money on the margins of the heroes’ efforts. And a light flashed on in my head, Holy crap, that’s as true today as the day it was written, back in the 1940s.

Except today, the paper-pushing smoothies are the ones sitting on the top of the heap—crafty Ivy-leaguers like Mitt Romney, who rode to riches at Bain Capital, buying and selling other peoples’ creations—and the ones who produce the actual commodities, like the visionaries who sold or lost their companies to Bain, are now the underclass.

Hardly the meritocracy-based Utopia Rand’s philosophy envisioned. The paradigm that Rand railed against still exists, but it’s been turned on its head. Worse, her philosophical banner has been picked up by the very second-raters and parasites she spent her entire career excoriating.

If they make a third film, I’ll go see that, too. For better or worse, her writing helped pull me through what was generally speaking a pretty bumpy adolescence.

But it’s a good thing Rand was an atheist so she is saved the indignity of rolling over in her grave at the offense of her cause being carried forward by third-rate film adaptations, uneducated people in funny hats with misspelled placards and the kind of leaders that are portrayed as vainglorious empty suits in her novels.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Right ‘Stuff’

When they write the history books, this year’s Vice Presidential debate will probably be judged a draw. Joe Biden’s supporters will say he won because he called “malarkey” on almost every lie/misrepresentation/position-switch GOP nominee Paul Ryan repeated, which task consumed the entire 90 minutes. And Ryan’s people will say he won because at no point in the debate did he run out into the wings to cry, even though it looked increasingly like that’s what he wanted to do.

The first consideration of these TV shows, which is what they are, is style. Flash. The old jazz-hands zazz. And Biden outzazzed his junior competition throughout. Ryan’s admirers will cite his gentle smile and dead, twinkly, increasingly tired-looking eyes and tell themselves that mean old Joe Biden had so much more debating experience that their guy walked away a winner just for sticking out the whole 90 minutes.

Okay, whatever.

For my part, I thought Ryan demonstrated a moment of real class when the moderator pressed Biden for a definition of “stuff” that he was clearly unprepared for, and Ryan handed him an out.

Good on you, Mr. Ryan. I hope someone points out to you that your best debate moment came not just when you were helping someone in need, but also the one time I remember specifically you telling the unvarnished truth.

Biden is already drawing fire for his toothy grinning in the early part of the night, but I think it was a calculated risk that paid off, in no small part because he dialed it back as the evening went on. But the split-screen allowed Biden to respond to Ryan’s stump distortions as they tripped from the younger man’s lips, without all the bullying interrupting that made the first presidential debate so exasperating.

Biden’s face was like a sign-language translation for people who are being-lied-to-their-face challenged. He may have to have that grin professionally relaxed.

Biden also dominated the stage tonight the way Romney did last week. Every time he spoke, he crushed it. He managed to spend the whole night on defense without looking defensive, because Ryan’s words gave him so many opportunities to orate. His command of the facts and his apparent comfort with the format allowed him to deconstruct Ryan’s prevarications proactively, rather than reactively. He looked in command and for the most part, Ryan looked scripted and small.

So shit-eating-grin and all, I give Optics to Biden.

But it was on content where Biden really shone. He was helped mightily by the fact that he was pitching a non-fiction storyline, but then again, so was Obama last week and Romney made him his bitch anyhow.

So it extra rewarding to watch Biden call Ryan on every mistruth and deliberate misinterpretation he presented.

Only when Ryan was talking about his religious upbringing did he seem to stumble into the realm of that which was not wholly poppycock.

Speaking of which, it was good that domestic issues, like where the campaigns stand on a woman’s right to choose, came up at last. The moderator bore down enough that Ryan didn’t have the wiggle room to slip out from under the party platform, his own record or Romney’s [most recent, always a necessary caveat when discussing Romney’s deeply-held political convictions] rhetoric.

Any time women’s issues come up (in a non-campaign stop venue) and can’t be deflected, Team Old Testament takes a solid kick in the love-knuckles and Ryan knew it.

(Sidebar: Between wanting to seize legal control of womens’ use of their own genitals and an unwavering, laser-like obsession with men who marry men, today’s GOP comes off a bit like the weird uncle at Thanksgiving whose lap you’ve been warned not to sit in, no matter how much candy he offers you. Let it go, guys. People are starting to talk…)

In the end, Biden won the night on both flash and substance. I’m sure not having to remember which position the head of his ticket articulated to television cameras, and which was the clarification released immediately after, gave Biden an unfair advantage over Ryan, but to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, you go into a debate with the top of the ticket you have—not the top of the ticket you might want or wish to have at a later time.

I think Ryan managed to pull off the neat trick of publicly abandoning most of the core values and legislative accomplishments that attract his followers without alienating said followers. This guy is going places. I sure as hell hope it is never, ever the White House, but if you’re this good while performing poorly, your prospects in politics are boundless.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Funnel of Love and Money

The Mormon Temple across the street they’ve been giving the old spit-n-polish to since before we moved here 2.5 years ago is finally finished. But before they officially consecrate it, they’re opening it up to the public, at least the public who live close enough to be inconvenienced when faithful from all over this part of country converge on our block for three weeks starting next week.

So there we go. An invite-only tour of a place that my kind otherwise wouldn’t be permitted within 500 feet of. I got on my Sunday-Go-To-Funeral duds and, with The Missus and The Boy in tow, hiked the two blocks to the recently refurbished monument to austerity.

The entire grounds were filled with stationed church volunteers. The first one we encountered directed us away from the temple to an adjacent building. I leaned over to The Boy and said, “They’re going to funnel us very carefully.” When he asked me what I meant by funnel, I said, “Just watch.”

And their were indeed plenty of… well, let’s call them what they were: guards. Very nice church members, very helpful, very smiling, and very very committed to making sure that no one deviate from the Funnel. At one point, as were being led into one of the rooms, The Boy and I were holding hands and I did a kind of small centrifugal-force gag that placed me about a foot past the allocated entrance, and I immediately found a smiling stranger by my side, directing me back 12” to the approved entranceway.

The tour started with a video outlining the story of the Church of Latter Day Saints. It was a little long, but well-produced. It seems they were persecuted a lot (they completely left out why they were persecuted, but it was their story and I thought they had a right to spin it any way they pleased) and they really like tall, wide, white buildings. Every new head leader since the beginning—not that long ago, it’s a young religion—seems to starts building some as soon as he gets bumped up to the top gig.

After the vid, we were funneled into a long corridor and led to a row of sparkly-faced teen Mormons who put hospital booties on our feet because they didn’t want their new Temple all scuffed up before it even opened.

Our guides kind of skimmed over the more non-traditional aspects of their set of beliefs as they ran them down for us over the course of the tour. But I wasn’t there to pick nits. They were inviting heretics into their Holy of Holies. I gotta give them respect for that, and can’t help but think that if more religions took outreach chances like that instead of just trying to reduce their rival religions’ populations, the world might be just a little bit less of the sorry mess it is today.

The place itself was and wasn’t what I expected. It was austere and ornate, but I was looking for the grand, main assembly room, and apparently there isn’t one. They took us through lots of smaller rooms and chambers and explained what each one was and how it was used, but the grand assembly area isn’t even in the temple proper and it has a basketball court painted on the floor.

The baptism room was pretty impressive. It had a baptismal pool supported by twelve white oxen (representing the twelve tribes of Israel), and I immediately thought of Moses coming down the mountain, and whispered to The Missus, “Are they waiting for the workmen to come and paint the bulls golden?” Then I remembered all the statues of Mary, Joseph, the infant Jesus and sundry deified saints in the Catholic churches I grew up in and felt the warm glow of dickishness fill me. Hypocrite, thy name is Hypocrite.

As to the décor… Wow. If heaven has a funeral parlor, it probably looks exactly like this place. I remember everything being a dazzling, golden white. One room in particular, an entire wall was adorned with dazzling golden-white coffin-bunting from floor to ceiling. The Boy grabbed both of our hands when we entered and held on for dear life until we were back outside.

The walls were also decorated with paintings of the Savior in various bucolic scenes, either all by the same hand or in a very rigorously-enforced style. I had to suppress a smile as I passed by the ones of Jesus and the Indians and frontier men dressed like Gabby Hayes… But really, the Mormons’ story isn’t any more or less crazy than most religions’ origin myths. Maybe it’s just because it’s supposed to have occurred on American soil that makes me extra skeptical. And they have angels delivering golden tablets to people, I don’t know. Hey, it explained the interior’s color scheme though.

Without the giant cathedral-like room I had been waiting to see (look at the picture at top—it sure as hell looks like they’re packing a cathedral in there. Or a Hyatt), I found the tour a little anticlimactic, moments of hilarity aside.

There was an amusing moment at the snacks stop at the end of the tour. Helpful senior LDS gentlemen and ladies were working the room, following up with everyone on how their experience was, do you have any questions, that sort of thing. This one hulking, elderly chap walked up to our table and put his hand lightly on my shoulder from behind. “So. Did you work on this building?” he asked me without the question mark.

Yay! Almost three months riding a desk and I can still pass for blue-collar. I felt ten feet tall and bullet-proof.

In the end, I still think that the money they poured into 2+ years of renovation could have been put to better use building schools or walk-in medical clinics in the poor parts of town or shoring up existing crumbling infrastructure. The construction dudes—one of whom I could pass for—would still be working, and the end product would be a blessing for the entire city, not just an aesthetic upgrade for the faithful. No doubt the Church is engaged in many good and charitable works, but it’s still no excuse to throw two-and-a-half years’ worth of construction dollars at making your place of worship look cooler.

What would Jesus do? I’ve read a lot about Him helping the sick and the poor, but I missed the chapter on his building projects.

But that’s the church leaders, and leaders need to leave their legacies. I don’t fault the lovely folks we met on the tour. Like I wrote on the comment card, I’ve never gone to a place where the nicest guy or gal in the room isn’t a Mormon, even before moving to Idaho. Whatever they drill into those people in all those little chambers turns out reliably awesome human beings.

On the walk home, it occurred to me what a shame it is that a scheming legacy-seeker like Mitt Romney—the way Odd Man Out among his LDS brethren—is the face of Mormonism in this country today. Any one of the doddering docents on hand for our tour would present a much more accurate snapshot of what the average Mormon is like to the American public. It would be like having pedophile priests be the face of Roman Catholicism in this country… oh, wait.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Mittens pulls off a big win!

Who knew? Put him on stage with a fellow Ivy Leaguer—instead of the traveling clown car that was the GOP primary field, or plopped down in the middle of a rally of Joe Six-packers—and on style and points, I’d give last night’s debate squarely to Mr. Romney.

Obama himmed and hawed as he tried to break down complicated policy issues with thousands of moving parts into digestible sound bytes, with the result being that he looked like he was not in command of the facts. Romney, on the other hand, skimmed over the surface of the facts and went straight to the sound bytes which he delivered with deadly precision. Obama may be the Constitutional law professor, but Romney seemed like he must have been the debate team champ. Decision: Romney.

Body language also did Obama in. Romney looked like he was posing for a portrait for the $10,000 bill, while Obama was fairly slouchy and scowly throughout. And when Obama scowls and lowers his head, his eyes go into the shadows, giving him the countenance of a cartoon villain. Decision: Romney.

They both walked all over Jim Lehrer and the established format of the event. Split decision.

On the facts: I’m sure mcnbc will spend the next week deconstructing all the primary campaign pledges Romney reversed himself on last night; all the ways his words bore no resemblance to anything he’s said or done in the past, or is likely to do in the future; all the ways he twisted the truth up in knots and just flat-out prevaricated… but none of that matters.

Because debates are a snapshot, and if you happen to take a picture of mom and dad while they’re visiting and somebody is flashing her boobs in the background, you’re gonna remember that snapshot, not that you and mom fought the whole time while dad just got drunker… you’re gonna remember the snapshot moment with the awesome, unexpected boobies.

Mitt Romney was the pair of awesome, unexpected boobies last night that his campaign needed.

Far be it from me to give the President of the United States public-performance advice (I’ll be the only left-winger who doesn’t, I’m sure), but as far as content, I feel somewhat qualified.

Romney repeatedly swore that his health care cuts would not affect “this generation of seniors.” This is an obvious attempt to shore up this cycle’s senior vote, but it ignores the fact that most Americans are not seniors, and we will be affected by the implementation of VoucherCare down the road.

Is the Republican calculation that Americans are too stupid to see that we are the next generation for whom Romney plans to play three-card-monty with our retirement health care; or that the current crop of retirees are all just like Mr. Romney, in that they want theirs, Jack, and everybody else can go get their own? 

If it is the latter, it ignores the fact that most of those old people have kids, and grandkids, and some helpful left-wing super-PAC needs to put up an ad pointing out that if Grandma and Grandpa buy into the Romney plan, they’ll be ensuring their own future at the expense of their grandkids’ future. Romney has said as much, and this has been the one talking point he hasn’t bounced all over the place on in the last year, depending upon which audience he was addressing.

It’s a huge tactical and rhetorical chink in Romney’s vaguely-proposed plan, but nobody is picking up and running with it, even Obama. Old people don’t like it when you go after their grandkids with a meat axe; somebody needs to put the Romney/Ryan health care plan in that appalling—and accurate—context.

As one of the ‘next generation of seniors’ that Romney plans to leave to fend for ourselves, I am not impressed. I actually feel rather vulnerable, and was hoping someone on that stage last night would point out that Romney was suggesting we give one generation of extremely active voters a break, then take it out on every generation of inattentive voters that follow.

But Obama stuck to his notes and his talking points and never once took it to Romney; it looked like he was in one debate and Romney in another. And as a lot of people pointed out, it looked like Romney wanted to be there and Obama didn’t.

Romney’s casual-at-best acquaintance with compassion and policy consistency aside, a debate is all about perception (as I had to keep reminding an increasingly glum Missus last night), and my perception was that Romney walked away with this one, whistling a happy tune.

Decision: (ugh) Romney.