A couple of years ago, I resolved to write at length about my four years living and working in Washington, DC. If I did it well, if I was diligent, it might even turn into a book: the story of a professional actor who leaves it all behind to study and practice politics in the nation's capital, and how that city violently spit him out.
But I wasn't writing every day for a living at the time I started the project. I was a retail drone, having just left DC, and I used my off time to write. Now that I tap-tap all day on keyboards to earn my bread, and then send the rest of the time wrangling cranky offspring, the book project has severely stalled.
There's some good stuff there, though, and so for shits and giggles I thought I'd share a short excerpt from what I have so far. It's February of 2007, the very dawn of the 2008 presdiential cycle. I'm a new intern at ABC News' political unit (though a year older than my immediate supervisor at the time, Teddy Davis), and I have an assignment involving the then-governor of New Mexico...
* * *
So how was I doing? It as hard to say. I think I made it pretty clear to Teddy that journalism might not be my chosen path, if for no other reason than that I showed no drive to actually cover events or report on things. He would have to offer things up to me, such as a speech by a candidate in town or some convention for a given interest group. I would agree for the sake of being game, but I never sought out opportunities to pound the pavement.
Was this because of a distaste for journalism? I don’t think so. Rather, I think it was my own personal discomfort with other humans, based upon a strong foundation of self-loathing. I consistently felt out of my league, like a child wearing a grownup’s costume, playing pretend reporter. Behind the computer terminal, writing newswire posts, transcribing speeches, or editing HTML, I was safe. No one could see the fraud I was trying to pull off, the fraud that was me.
Perhaps my most uncomfortable moment as a faux-reporter for ABC was when I was sent to cover a speech by Democratic presidential candidate Bill Richardson, then governor of New Mexico, at a hotel in town. One thing to appreciate is that speeches by Dick Cheney or Hillary Clinton, both of which I also covered, were relatively safe events for me: I would go to the event, present my press credentials, hide in the back, take notes, come back to the unit and write my report. There was no expectation by anyone, either by my ABC colleagues or by the subjects themselves, that I would ever get even a half a moment to speak to the politicians I was covering. But with a lower-tier candidate like Richardson, there was a terrifying chance for access.
Teddy knew this, and prepped me with a question for the governor should I get the chance: “How does being the only remaining governor in the Democratic primaries affect the dynamics of the race for you?” Iowa governor Tom Vilsack had only recently (and suddenly) bowed out and endorsed Clinton before most people knew he was running. Richardson was the only chief executive in the mix.
Richardson was an entertaining speaker. Though his campaign passed out written copies of the speech he was giving, he strayed wildly from the text, cracking jokes and enjoying himself. The crowd, comprised of muckity-mucks of medium importance, were clearly with him, and laughing right along. His standard stump speech style was beneath him, I thought, too full of bullet-pointed generalities in an attempt to show gravitas. Indeed, in every debate, about 75 percent of his answers began with the phrase, “Here’s what I would do: One…” accompanied by the requisite finger-counting gesture.
After the speech, is was made known to the small cadre of journalists there (many of them interns and low-on-the-totem-poll young’uns not unlike myself) that the governor would take questions in a side room. It was the last thing I wanted to do. I would have rather wet myself and run crying than go into that room and ask a question of the governor of New Mexico. But I knew that it would be expected, that I would let both myself and Teddy down if I missed the chance.
Interestingly, Teddy would have been able to pick up the phone and speak to Richardson probably any time he wanted. He was an ABC News reporter, after all, and Richardson an under-covered candidate who would have treasured the attention and the free media time. So obviously this was more for me than anything else.
I and the other reporters seated ourselves around a small room into which we were ushered, and many of them unburdened themselves of laptops and cameras. I brought only my notepad, so I simply sat as unassumingly as I could, trying very hard to look like I belonged, and probably failing. The governor took a very long time to make it through the throngs of glad-handlers who populated his path to the side room, but he eventually made it through and sat at a chair in the back of the room, sweating under the heat of the human bodies, the lights from the stage he had just come from, and his own considerable girth.
I have no idea what questions other folks in the room asked him. I could only hear a kind of mechanical humming emanating from my own brain, directly into my auditory lobes, making it impossible for me to think of anything other than how I might muster the courage to raise my hand, get the governor’s attention, and then somehow --somehow -- assemble the necessary words into a remedial sentence, preferably in an interrogatory form, that could be answered by the candidate.
I was called on.
“Hi, governor. Paul Fidalgo from ABC News. Right now…”
“Where’s the little guy?!?” Richardson bellowed.
My brain jumped the tracks. I had no idea what was happening. The sweat from my scalp was beginning to dot my forehead, and the sweat from my armpits began to run down my torso.
“The little guy?” This was doubly confusing because I always think of myself as the little guy.
“The one from ABC, you know, the funny guy.”
“David Chalian?” I presumed he meant someone high in the ranks.
“No, the funny little one.”
“That’s him! Where’s he?”
“Well, it’s just me, governor,” I said, somehow managing to feel guilty for not being Teddy. “I’m an intern at…”
“Agh,” the governor blurted, deflated. “What’s the question?” He was already bored.
“Sir, with the fact…given that Tom Vilsack has dropped out, um, now you’re the only governor in the race.” Richardson nodded. I went on, “How do you think...you...do you think that will, uh, help you? In the race?”
What had I said? I had no idea what had just come out of my mouth. I was pretty sure it was in the form of a question, at least in the most minutely technical sense, but I was also not at all convinced I had made anyone believe that I belonged in that room.
It didn’t matter. At the close of my broken sentence, Richardson went on autopilot and emitted a prerecorded answer vaguely related to the subject of my question.
“I’m a governor,” he declared, as though that had yet to be pointed out, “and I have the experience of leading an entire state. I’ve also been a congressman, an ambassador, and a cabinet secretary…”
And on he went. I scribbled some notes of what I thought I was hearing. I thanked him for the answer, and as his attention moved to the next reporter, my feeling of relief at the ordeal’s end was muted by the little bit of death I felt in my heart.
Back at the unit, I wrote up a pitiful little piece about the governor’s response. Still saturated with self-hate and humiliation, I felt utterly unable to give my piece a title. One of our other producers tasked with editing the piece slapped “Bill Richardson Stars in “Last Guv Standing” on the top, much to his satisfaction, and added a joke about the Oscars broadcast which had aired the previous night, which I didn’t get. “ABC News’ Paul Fidalgo reports:” the piece began, and I came to hate the sight of that byline.
But seriously, folks. In 2016 NASA's going to launch a probe, OSIRIS-REx, to make contact with, and then bring back a sample of -- you guessed it -- a near-earth object.
The object in question is the asteroid Bennu, and the whole operation is described in this NASA video which, I must say, seems to have been produced by whoever it is that does retail store training videos and airplane safety instructions.
A billion years ago, I wrote a song intended for a production of The Merry Wives of Windsor I was in at the time (I played Slender, la!). We never wound up using the song, other than a bit of the main riff for scene transitions, but it is on my old 2004 album Paul is Making Me Nervous. It's written loosely from the perspective of the Anne Page character, as the other characters all see her as a vehicle toward their own desires, and she resolves instead to live her own damn life.
Anyway, it came up on the iTunes shuffle today, and it resonated anew.
What's this now? This blog seems familiar, yet somehow alienating. I no longer hear the hum and din of other bloggers tapping and opining around me. Where am I?
This is the new home of Near-Earth Object. The design may or may not be final, so we'll just have to see. It's just like always, with same content moved over here, but also something of a clean slate. And that's kind of nice.
One small item of clarification for those following my activities from Freethought Blogs, this site's previous home: I moved my blog out voluntarily because I simply didn't think it made sense anymore to have an employee of an organization also host his work at a website that had been of late largely critical of said organization. For the sake of removing any perception of conflict, and to keep me from feeling really awkward, I decided to move. That's it. Anyone claiming some kind of (very minor) ideological trophy over my move is reading way, way too much into it. But if you are trying to claim said fictional trophy, you're probably not listening anyway.
Housekeeping: I am now going from making almost nothing from my blogging to making less than nothing. I am using Squarespace to host the blog this time, which costs money, though not a ton. The plan I'm on is $9 a month. If you'd like, you can donate to help defray the cost of the service (the wife and I can't afford really any extra expenses, but I am loathe to hop over to some ugly free site that has no responsibility to keep itself running or to offer support). I feel weird even mentioning it, but it'd help, I'm not gonna lie.
Welcome. I'll try not to screw it up.
I'm reading Bertrand Russell's The ABC of Relativity (well, listening to it, in an audiobook read by Derek Jacoby FTW), and for one, it's helping me understand relativity a tiny, tiny bit, which is huge. Relatively. But I also just heard Jacoby pronounce this tidbit, which delighted me:
If people were to learn to conceive the world in the new way, without the old notion of ‘force’, it would alter not only their physical imagination, but probably also their morals and politics. The latter effect would be quite illogical, but is none the less probable on that account. In the Newtonian theory of the solar system, the sun seems like a monarch whose behests the planets. In the Newtonian theory of the solar system, the sun seems like a monarch whose behests the planets have to obey. In the Einsteinian world there is more individualism and less government than in the Newtonian. There is also far less hustle: we have seen that laziness is the fundamental law of the Einsteinian universe.
This is why conservatives hate science so much! The more we learn about the truth of the universe, the more we become dirty, hippie, slackers.
Tim Parks, blogging at NYRB, writes a thought-provoking piece positing that there may be something to the idea that a reader may opt not to finish a novel when they are, in essence, quite full and satisfied -- and that authors should accept and embrace this. It's a fascinating idea considering how rarely endings of even the best novels feel satisfactory. My favorite novel, Neal Stephenson's Anathem, ends in such a way that I bet even Stephenson thought was somewhat out of character for the book as a whole. (Though my next-favorite novel, A Tale of Two Cities, has a kick-ass, heart-wrenching, deeply-moving ending, so there you go.) But that's not really what I wanted to talk about here. I was more interested in how Parks introduced his topic, with the question of when it's okay to quit a book one is in the middle of, and still consider it as having been "read."
It seems obvious that any serious reader will have learned long ago how much time to give a book before choosing to shut it. It’s only the young, still attached to that sense of achievement inculcated by anxious parents, who hang on doggedly when there is no enjoyment. . . . One can only encourage a reader like this to learn not to attach self esteem to the mere finishing of a book, if only because the more bad books you finish, the fewer good ones you’ll have time to start.
Well, as any of the one or two long-time readers of this blog will know, this rings a bell. I am very much hung up on what I have and haven't read, what's important and what's not, and what it says about me as a person considering what I've taken the effort to get through.
Parks doesn't have this problem:
I start a book. I’m enjoying it thoroughly, and then the moment comes when I just know I’ve had enough. It’s not that I’ve stopped enjoying it. I’m not bored, I don’t even think it’s too long. I just have no desire to go on enjoying it. Can I say then that I’ve read it? Can I recommend it to others and speak of it as a fine book?
Now, Parks is talking about fiction here, and most of my reading is nonfiction. (I have trouble committing myself to investing in the fortunes of people who do not exist versus filling my brain with new facts, because I'm weird.) But I think the question remains relevant in both genres.
I'm thinking particularly of Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel, much of which I found absolutely enriching and enthralling. But there was also a point where I felt I'd had enough. I had learned an enormous amount, and then I began to feel fairly weighed down by prose later in the book that didn't give me anything that would stay with me after I'd completed it. If I'd stopped at the point where the fatigue set in, could I have said I'd read the book, or that I'd read enough to talk about it meaningfully? I'm not sure, but I'm now open to the question.
I should say, I think some subjects of nonfiction really do lend themselves to completion on their face, like history. You're reading it, one presumes, to find out what the hell happened during a given period.
Anyway, food for thought. Someone should write a book about it that I won't finish.
Norm Ornstein looks to dispel the notion that Obama's agenda is stifled because the president lacks some certain, special, nameless something that forces enemies in Congress to do his bidding. For example, on the myth that arm-twisting is some kind of chief executive panacea:
On the gun-control vote in the Senate, the press has focused on the four apostate Democrats who voted against the Manchin-Toomey plan, and the unwillingness of the White House to play hardball with Democrat Mark Begich of Alaska. But even if Obama had bludgeoned Begich and his three colleagues to vote for the plan, the Democrats would still have fallen short of the 60 votes that are now the routine hurdle in the Senate—because 41 of 45 Republicans voted no. And as Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., has said, several did so just to deny Obama a victory.
Indeed, the theme of presidential arm-twisting again ignores history. Clinton once taught Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama a lesson, cutting out jobs in Huntsville, Ala. That worked well enough that Shelby switched parties, joined the Republicans, and became a reliable vote against Clinton. George W. Bush and Karl Rove decided to teach Sen. Jim Jeffords a lesson, punishing dairy interests in Vermont. That worked even better—he switched to independent status and cost the Republicans their Senate majority. Myths are so much easier than reality.
Ornstein doesn't absolve Obama of all failures, but does a service by throwing cold water on the idea that there is a magic spell, unique to denizens of the Oval Office, that Obama has neglected to cast.
Indeed, if you want to see an example of where Obama has really blown something, big time, take a look at Ryan Lizza's piece on the failure of climate legislation from 2010. That initiative didn't fall apart because Obama didn't sufficiently schmooze or bully, but in large part because the president and the White House essentially stumbled all over themselves with wretchedly timed communication and inadvertent sabotaging of the efforts of John Kerry and others. But that's nuanced, and requires reading something longer than a Buzzfeed post to get. And so we are where we are.
I thought this might be of interest to my readers and to a lot of folks in the skepto-atheosphere: Dan Benjamin's panel-discussion podcast The Crossover in recent months has done a couple of episodes that focused on the unique challenges faced by women in the tech and inter-webs industries. They're both very insightful and illuminating conversations, and considering The Troubles in the 'sphere, and that the Women in Secularism conference is just days away, I thought these might be of particular interest. Usually this show is more general, taking a couple of hosts from existing shows on Benjamin's 5by5 network to talk about whatever techie things might occur to them, but these two episodes were intentionally focused on women in tech. The first, "Assumptions," has Jen Simmons and Gina Trapani (who I just freaking love on the TWiT network) taking a more wide-angle look at the topic.
The second, "Speaking Up," is far more specific to the particularly troubling experiences of Sarah Parmenter and Whitney Hess (whose issues both, I should note, had a lot to do with conferences).
One thing that stood out to me about "Speaking Up" was the guests' descriptions of trolls that seem to find comfort and camaraderie in their shared loathing of whomever they're harassing. Interesting, that.
While these both ostensibly address women in tech, I think it's pretty clear that their lessons and experiences will be familiar and broadly applicable.
I loved Star Wars Kid. When his video was cruelly put online for all to mock, I only saw myself. I mean, I'm human, I laughed and cringed. But I also saw both the wish to be something greater, something from fantasy, as well as the desire to actually make something, to use my enthusiasm to create some product, some art, even of only for my own amusement.
Of course -- of course -- for most folks who saw it, he was just something to laugh at.
He's 25 now. His name is Ghyslain Raza. And he had it even harder than I imagined.
At school, Raza suffered endless mockery. He lost his friends. Students would exaggerate his moves from the video and climb on to tabletops to insult him. "It soon became impossible for me to attend class," he told Macleans. But worse, far worse, were the comments he read about himself online. One commenter called him "a pox on humanity." Others suggested he commit suicide.
He even had to leave school, which prompted even more mockery.
Raza is now coming back to public attention to help the fight against bullying. Good for him. But also encouraging is the liberation he unwittingly provided for so many other introverts and outcasts, how his video, while becoming spawn for a snowballing of mockery, also served as the foundation for many versions of it enhanced with appreciation and affection for his flight of fancy in front of a video camera. Because of what he endured, I think it allowed a lot of other nerds to let their pony-tailed hair down a bit.
So thanks, Star Wars Kid. I mean Mr. Raza.
From Liz Halloran at NPR, we get a story of the Rocori school district in Minnesota which is spending $25,000 on, wait for it, bulletproof white boards.
"The timing was right," Rocori school board Chairwoman Nadine Schnettler tells us. "The company is making these in response to the Newtown shooting, and has been making similar products for our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan."
The $300, 18-by-20-inch whiteboards, produced by Maryland-based Hardwire LLC, "will be an additional layer of protection" for students and teachers, she says.
It's not just the conversation about guns and school safety that's changed since Adam Lanza gunned down 20 students and six adult staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in December. It's also the plethora of products, including training programs that in some instances advocate fighting back, that are being marketed to school districts that are typically cash-strapped but desperate to prove they're doing something to provide better security.
It's amazing how wonderful for business these massacres are. So much money to be made from selling guns, ammo, armor, security systems, and the like. Not that anyone's exploiting anything, of course. Just listen to one of the school board members explain:
Schnettler, who voted in favor of using $25,000 from a capital improvement fund to purchase the whiteboards, says that in hindsight she would still do the same.
"I don't believe it's a waste of money," she says. "The chief showed us how to use it offensively — to block penetration of bullets through door windows, or to knock the gun out of the intruder's hands."
Holy shit, what? This is now the expectation? Underpaid English teachers or 5th-graders shitting their pants in mortal terror are now supposed to disarm an automatic weapon-wielding maniac with a writing surface like they're Captain Fucking America?
Well, if this is how we're going to do things, let's not pussyfoot. Let's give the faculty exploding erasers, give the staff riot gear, and give each kid a bulletproof backpack insert. Oh wait, that last one is real. You know, for when shooters target their Hello Kitty book bags.
Of course, budgets are tighter than ever, so all of this will have to come at the expense of something else. I'm thinking, perhaps, learning.
Yes, yes, so public schools essentially become poorly-equipped military bases. It's a tough thing to swallow. But hey, it'll be great for the economy, and when the next shooter comes, we'll all just buy more shit.
In Kansas, they've declared that they won't abide by any federal law having to do with guns. In North Carolina, some folks tried to pass a law that would allow them to establish a state religion, and it enjoyed a great deal of popular support. Louisiana not only wants to teach creationism to its kids, but it cites the Loch Ness Monster as proof. And Texas. And Florida. Need I go on. More often than not, I feel that a populace that thinks along the lines of the aforementioned states, an electorate that chooses lunatics and frauds and Bronze Age theocrats for its representatives and leaders, is not one that I want to share a body politic with. (I know it's not everybody in those states, obviously, but I'm speaking in broad terms here.) There was a lot of kidding-on-the-square after the 2000 and 2004 elections about the blue states seceding from the red states, but I didn't think it was funny. I thought it was necessary. Can you blame me?
But maybe it's not as black and white as cutting the country in two. In The American Conservative, Joseph Baldacchino reviews the ideas presented in a book that explores the idea of mutually beneficial disunion.
According to Rethinking American Union for the Twenty-First Century, edited by Donald Livingston, those seeking a cure for America’s political dysfunction should consider a rarely mentioned topic, that of size and scale. The thesis of this collection of essays is that American government has grown too large and too centralized to be compatible with free, effective, or truly representative politics. The authors agree on the unacceptability of top-down government as practiced in this country: having 435 House members, 100 senators, nine Supreme Court justices, and one president rule more than 300 million people in one-size-fits-all fashion. The authors share the belief, dating back to ancient Greece, that, to be genuinely self-governing, republics must be small in population and territory, i.e., wholly unlike America. They consider ways to devolve political power to smaller, more manageable units of government. With varying degrees of persuasiveness, the authors address philosophical, political, moral, and constitutional issues bearing on such a task.
Livingston, in a thoughtful essay, presents several possibilities. One, suggested as a starting point for debate by the late George Kennan, architect of the U.S. policy to contain the Soviet Union, is to divide the Union into “a dozen constituent republics”: New England, the Middle Atlantic states, the Middle West, the Northwest, the Southwest, Texas, the Old South, Florida, Alaska, and three self-governing urban regions, New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Livingston concedes that Kennan’s idea “will cause some to panic,” but he insists that the idea of dividing America into several allied federations was shared by numerous early American leaders, including Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, Henry Clay, and possibly James Madison.
Hey now. This sounds more like it. If it were as simple as Blue America and Red America, one concern I'd have is Red America deciding that, what the hell, let's go ahead and liberate the Blue Americans from liberal tyranny with a full scale invasion. And if not, you'd have instead one hyper-industrial state and another that makes most of the food. Awkward.
With lots of smaller nation-states, you have more incentive for normal, peaceful trade among allies, but no ideological interference. If the nation of New England (where I'd live) wants to enact socialized medicine and nationalize its banks, the opinions of legislators or voters in the conservative Old South or even the financial empires of the Middle Atlantic or New York City would be irrelevant.
Yes, yes, yes, I'm sure it's far more complicated than I'm giving it credit for. And I want to check this book out to see what ideas are inside it.
But let me dream, goddamn it.
When Paul Miller of The Verge began his year-long hiatus from the Internet, I rolled my eyes. I looked to me to be a kind of attention-getting gimmick, intended to raise his profile and lend him an air of sophistication. My assumption, however, was pure prejudice, having known nothing about him as a writer or personality before this project. But several folks have done these "I'm leaving the Internet for [time period]!" pieces, and they were getting old, even a year ago. And for a while, the project was striking me as unremarkable. Indeed, it seemed to strike Miller as unremarkable, as he states in early articles about his self-imposed banishment how he seemed to be getting along just fine, with some minor inconveniences.
But now the project is over, and I can see this was something more. Miller's analysis of what he learned about himself, and particularly what he discovers are problems with him, not the Internet, and how online activity was a way for him to fill holes in his life that did not get refilled when he walked away.
Check out this mini-movie on the project, it's good stuff.
I've just finished Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August, and I'm generally trying to get myself better acquainted with the societal and political conditions that surrounded the World Wars. But who needs real history? For a serious lesson in statecraft and warcraft, check out Domhnall O'Huigin's explanation of the political context of the universe of Super Mario, as explained on Quora:
The Mushroom Kingdom is currently ruled by Princess Peach who is a member of the minority human population.
As the least numerous faction, humans in the Mushroom Kingdom are under constant threat from within and without.
Internal threats include a significant terrorist faction led by Bowser, the leader of the Koopas; one of the most populous species in the Kingdom.
It is important to note that Bowser does not command the allegiance of all Koopas, but those under his authority are organised into paramilitary ranks or units in a caste-like system. This concentration of political power in a single leader arguably makes Bowser a fascist. Although as he self-styles himself "King Koopa" it is apparent that he claims (or is seeking) parity of esteem with Princess Peach; that is to say that he does not regard himself as a 'terrorist' but as a 'freedom fighter' or entitled ruler in his own right.
It is precisely this self-contained, quasi-military structure that has allowed Bowser to remain a thorn in Princess Peach's side for this long, culminating in his kidnap of her, in an attempt to force her to marry him and therefore achieve 'legitimate' control over the Kingdom. Only the intervention of the independent oligarch (or 'warchief', depending on your point of view) known as "Mario" - see below - prevented this from occurring.
Sounds to me like Mario's a kind of Genghis Khan, marauding across alien lands. But I'm no historian.
This kind of thing actually still happens, even in Maine. The really interesting thing is that usually in that same spot is a Little Caesar's guy holding a big sign advertising the $5 hot-n-readies. Man, would I love to see those guys do a side-of-the-road advertise-off.
It became a little too much like work. When I decided to plunge into Android with a Nexus 7, I was happy with all the customization and inter-app communication that the platform allowed. But since then, I've found all the tweaks to be a little overwhelming, such that when there's something not quite to my satisfaction (CPU performance, home screen, UI fluidity), I presume there must be some setting, plug-in, or adjustment that I've failed to uncover. Should I get a new launcher? Should I use a cache cleaner? Do I need a widget? The fact that iOS allows almost no customization beyond one's wallpapers began to feel reassuring.
The Nexus 7 is very good hardware with a very nice display -- a display that still easily bests the iPad mini's. But, Android, it's just not working out. You're powerful, you offer a slew of options, and your aesthetics are even vastly improved. It's not you, it's me.
Well, it's partly you. But mostly me.
I'm selling the Nexus and will seek out to replace it down the line with an iPad of some sort. In the mean time, the iPhone will suffice.
I'll miss, to an extent, the ability to totally Googlify one's experience, to get the full brunt of all that Google currently offers, which iOS now somewhat limits. I'll miss the fact that one app can talk to another app with no barricades in the OS. I'll really, really miss SwiftKey and swipe/gesture typing.
But I miss now not having to think about how I'm going to make the damn thing work. I miss the frictionless UI. I miss the simplicity.
Hey, Nexus. you're great. You are. Someone else is going to cradle you lovingly in their hand, and maybe even flash a bootloaded ROM or whatever the hell it is Android people do in the privacy of their own homes. You deserve someone who will appreciate you for who you are.
We'll always have the memories. Well, I will. You won't, because I'll erase all your data.
I think their usual lineup of guests must have all simultaneously perished, because HuffPost Live invited me to join a panel this evening, literally minutes before air time. I was happy to oblige, of course. (The host, Josh Zepps, has my boss on a lot.) We're discussing he recent moves by Hungary to ban Nazi and communist symbols, and whether laws that prohibit vile speech can ever be justified. I think I managed not to embarrass myself or my employers too badly. You be the judge.
Note: The protest I refer to in the piece was suddenly postponed to May 2 right after the broadcast.
As you might be aware, I also blog for a little outfit known as Friendly Atheist. Yeah, way more people read me there. Here's a roundup of some of my recent posts there. I looked at how Andrew Sullivan is calling out liberals for being unwilling to confront the reality of radical Islam's threat and involvement in the Boston bombing, saying, "when Andrew Sullivan links arms with Sam Harris, I’m going to pay attention very closely."
I wonder at the idiotic wonder that is Louie Gohmert and his literal merger of church and state.
I look at China's announced intentions to irradiate superstition from its populace.
I get nostalgic for D&D thanks to Pat Robertson, who fails his saving throw vs. dumbassery.
I get a giggle out of Alan Keyes, who talks about eating boogers.
I take comfort in the doubt of Kay Warren.
And I catalogue the miracles that happened during the filming of The Bible movie.
And other stuff, too, but that'll do. Go click and prove my value to Hemant!
Jon Huntsman ran what turned out to be a pretty pathetic campaign for president in the 2012 cycle. Running to capture the nomination of a party that at several times was in the thrall of figures like Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum, he was already fighting an uphill battle to become acceptable to the GOP's Bronze Age base. It didn't help matters that he was weak in debates and generally mush-mouthed in interviews. One is tempted to give him a lot of credit, though, for the fact that he was obviously so willing to stand up to much of the insanity to which the other candidates were pandering. He expressed support for science and acceptance of evolution and climate change, he chastised his fellow candidates for being immovable in their anti-tax zealotry, and there were other examples. I am not so quick, however, to shower him with praise.
With the GOP in something of a frazzled state following their substantive defeat in November, there is a lot of noise about the party finally, finally, no really this time, moderating itself to be more acceptable to a general national electorate. And that noise often leads to chatter about how Huntsman is the model for the modern, reformed GOP. Conservative, yes, and quite, but also not heartless, not backward, and not unmoored from reality. He recently came out for gay marriage in the pages of The American Conservative, and a new Daily Beast piece makes the case that the Republican Party may be inching toward a kind of Huntsmanization.
On paper, I'm okay with all of this. I'd much rather have a political debate that had two parties that, though disagreeing about solutions, were at least in agreement about what is and is not true, what is and is not fact, and what is and is not discrimination. So a Hunstman-like GOP? Fine, you can't do much worse than what we've already got, at least before Ted Cruz gathers a private army to invade Vermont.
But I think the Beltway media and political establishment are wrong to lionize Huntsman the man. I think there is, underlying his moderate-ish, sane-ish policy branding, a very real and disqualifying character flaw.
And, forgive me, but I'm going to allow the loathsome Erick Erickson to introduce my point. Erickson wrote in 2011:
The reason I will never, ever support Jon Huntman is simple: While serving as the United States Ambassador to China, our greatest strategic adversary, Jon Huntsman began plotting to run against the President of the United States. This calls into question his loyalty not just to the President of the United States, but also his loyalty to his country over his own naked ambition.
It does not matter if you are a Republican or a Democrat. Party is beside the point here. When the President of the United States sends you off to be Ambassador to our greatest strategic adversary in the world, you don’t sit around contemplating running against the very same President you serve. It begs the question of did you fully carry out your duties as Ambassador or let a few things slip along the way hoping to damage the President? Likewise, it begs the question of whether our relations with China have suffered because the President felt like he could not trust his own Ambassador?
Now put aside whether you feel like China is our "strategic adversary," and consider Erickson's point. I don't care whether Obama's motivation for appointing Huntsman as his China ambassador was a hedge against having to face him in 2012. Huntsman accepted the job, the job of representing the United States, and more specifically this president in China. And there's little doubt that while he was there, he was also getting ready to do political battle with that president. If that's you're thinking, you don't take that job.
I understand realpolitick. I understand that a shot at the presidency is the rarest of opportunities, and as Obama himself shows, you have to move with speed and blind determination if you ever hope to seize that opportunity. I think it's pretty clear Huntsman won't have another realistic shot. He perceived (correctly) that 2012 would be it for him, and he acted on it. I get it.
But then, you don't take the job of being the embodiment of a president's policy in a foreign country when you're simultaneously plotting to politically undermine him. Erickson is right: Huntsman should have satisfied his ambition at the expense of something other than his commitment to the United States.
This is not the only example. Last year, it was revealed that Huntsman was also vastly overstating his fluency in Mandarin. Now, no one really thinks that one's ability to speak a foreign language is the lynchpin to a successful presidency, but it speaks to Hunstman's character. He doesn't speak Mandarin very well, but still he claimed over and over that he does, touting is as an example of his worldliness and qualifications, and didn't think anyone would notice when he spoke it in public and came out with nonsense. Jon, just because you don't speak it well, doesn't mean that no one else does.
It's a small thing, but I think it says something about his overall character. He's a clumsy national politician, no doubt (though obviously did rather well in Utah), but he also seems weak of integrity.
So if the GOP is moving toward Huntsman on policy and acceptance of reality (something about which I am deeply, deeply skeptical), that's fine. But in terms of Huntsman the man, they should find another role model.