The Trump-Loving GOP McCain Helped Create

Photos by Frank Plitt and David Shankbone
I keep starting and then deleting tweets that convey my overall feeling about the whole Trump-v-McCain slap fight going on right now. I know that if I’m not careful, I’ll trip a wire. But this morning, via @VideoSawyer, I find an essay by Jim Wright that, while not a tweet, gets the point across very well. You really have to read the whole thing, because it cleverly builds to a kind of crescendo, but here’s a taste of what I mean:

Donald Trump is the face of the modern Republican party.

Trump has been polling at the top of the GOP field and you’re just now figuring out what a douchebag he is? Well, that’s just plain hysterical.

Trump badmouthed old Johnny Walnuts, insulted his military service, did he?

And you’re all insulted and outraged? Heh heh, sorry Mr. Veteran, Sir. I have no idea where Little Donny learned that behavior from, no idea. Bad, Donny, bad! You apologize to this faggoty liberal pinko commie traitor right now!

Gee, I wonder where Little Donny learned those words, learned his contempt, learned to Swiftboat a veteran. Gee, I wonder.

Donald Trump is the GOP personified.

Almost as important, though, is Wright’s addendum to the post, where he explains that McCain’s life as a public figure is entirely fair game, that he has “no use” for the senator from Arizona, but that whatever else, “he went when called.”

He may have been the bottom of his class and an admittedly poor pilot, but he met the standards and he did the job. If that’s not courage, I don’t know what is …

And I keep looking for a 140-character way to say all of this, and I can’t. Trump is the ideal 2015 Republican, all jingoistic bluster, and will thereby say lots and lots of awful things. One awful thing among many is this offensive nonsense diminishing the courage and years of unthinkable suffering endured by McCain when a prisoner of war. But I also want to get across a kind of gentle reminder, that as a politician — with only the rarest of exceptions when some tiny, shriveled, death-rattle of a conscience emerges from his grizzled gray matter — John McCain is and has been a cynical, pompous, petty, pandering, entitled, sniveling, backward, show pony who also happens to have the political media machine entirely in his pocket, a machine still under the absurd impression that he is some sort of straight-taking “maverick.” (This image was as as transparently false in 1999 and 2000 as it is today, but who cares.)

John McCain, through his behavior as a politician and his enabling of the Republican noise machine, has helped make the modern GOP that now swoons at the braying of an ass like Trump.

So Donald Trump is, predictably, a detestable subhuman, as Wright says, “all 31 flavors of GOP crazy,” and they deserve him. But let’s not further gild the monumental pedestal, festooned with TV monitors and news tickers, upon which McCain already sits. Enduring five years of torture while in the service of one’s country gives you the right to be called hero. Being insulted by Donald Trump does not. Let’s keep these things separate, please.

Lament for a Pre-Dudgeon Twitter

The enemy of Twitter? It’s us.

Well, not me. But possibly you.

Here’s Adrienne LaFrance and Robinson Meyer with a eulogy for Twitter:

Twitter used to be a sort of surrogate newsroom/barroom where you could organize around ideas with people whose opinions you wanted to assess. Maybe you wouldn’t agree with everybody, but that was part of the fun. But at some point Twitter narratives started to look the same. The crowd became predictable, and not in a good way. Too much of Twitter was cruel and petty and fake. Everything we know from experience about social publishing platforms—about any publishing platforms—is that they change. And it can be hard to track the interplay between design changes and behavioral ones. In other words, did Twitter change Twitter, or did we?

Twitter changed, for sure, but that’s not the real problem. It was totally us that spoiled it. And, again, not me. But maybe you, and a lot of other people who came on board to (unwittingly I presume) find things that emotionally fire something up in them, and allow them to feel morally superior, either by dint of being offended or as part of an upright citizens’ mob against someone who said The Wrong Thing.

More LaFrance and Meyer:

…When it was good—when it is good—Twitter created an environment characterized by respect and jokes so funny you wanted to show the person sitting next to you in real life. Not agreeing could be productive, and could happen without devolving into histrionics. The positive feedback loop of faves and interactions didn’t hurt, either.

It can still be this way from time to time. The authors say that nobody “hangs out there” anymore, but I still do. It’s like a neighborhood you grew up in, and love and know intimately, but then the place starts getting developed and folks who don’t appreciate the place’s quirks move in and try and sanitize it.

So there’s Google+. I’m there a lot more lately, but as others have noted, this has a lot to do with the fact that so few people are there. That it hasn’t taken off with the general public is a feature, not a bug. The folks that are there, well, they’re not unlike those who were on Twitter in Olden Times. Early adopters, a little more technologically sophisticated, and eager to experiment with a new publishing platform. But of course, now Google+’s future is in doubt.

But in the abstract I prefer Twitter, because of its parameters, its limitations. The modern Web is too full of bells and whistles, of full-bleed images and dynamic content, of Choruses and Snowfalls. Twitter is (was) 140 characters of text, and we embraced the quirks and kludges that needed to be adopted within those parameters to make a little more sense of it all. It was simple, it was busy, it was a percolator of thoughts, both profound and profoundly silly.

Now, it’s people finger-wagging and high-horsing. Now, it’s people trivializing the grave and ascribing gravity to the trivial. Now, it’s high dudgeon as parlor game. Now, it’s a lot of sadness.

For me, I mean. Maybe not you.

I hold out hope that there will be a boiling point, where the finger-waggers become so chronically incensed that they’ll move on, and a little of what Twitter was might come back. I’ll wait it out a while longer.

Hey, there’s always


The Loudest Voice is a Bawling Baby

Frank Rich:

…these days Fox News is the loudest voice in the room only in the sense that a bawling baby is the loudest voice in the room. In being so easily bullied by Fox’s childish provocations, the left gives the network the attention on which it thrives and hands it power that it otherwise has lost.

And this is largely why I don’t watch The Daily Show or shows on MSNBC anymore. We get it, Fox is full of backward morons. They’re the Westboro Baptist Church of media. They love it when you waste your time hating them.

It’s part of a larger problem, like what can make Twitter so tiring — the constant, frenetic need to be offended or feel bullied by someone, and the high horse one gets to climb when they call it out.

Don’t feed the trolls, whatever their form. Don’t read the comments. Rein in the snark. Get a grip, and pick the battles that are actually worth fighting.


Atheists, Ever Shall You Blog

I have a longish piece up at Friendly Atheist today on the future prospects for blogs as a prime medium within the atheist movement. I am bullish on the form. A pinch:

Will skepto-atheists still be relying so heavily on blogs in ten years? I’m guessing yes. The main reason is that we are a movement and a community based largely on proving Some Big Point that most or far too many people still don’t agree with. To be extremely general, let’s say the Big Point is that magical thinking is wrong, and lots of times really bad. You can apply that to all sorts of things, from religion to alt-med to The Secret to UFO conspiracy theories and so on. And blogs are still the best way to make that Big Point.

And I go on. I’d really appreciate it if you gave the post a little Reddit love, keep it afloat and away from the jackals there.

Gorged on Snark

I was kind of on the same page with Tom Scocca and his anti-smarm essay at Gawker for the first chunk of it. He has some great zingers and I’m a sucker for a skillful thumb-biting at the successful intelligencia, for whom of course my envy is a deep, rich forest-green. But maybe 800 or so words in it dawned on me that, spirited as this essay was, it was getting out of hand. To say Scocca paints with too broad a brush is somewhat understating it. He’s attempting to reproduce a Seurat with a paint roller.

(The camel-injuring straw may have been the tagging of Mike Daisey, a Twitter-buddy of mine and fellow stage actor, with the word “fraud.” Mike screwed up royally with his whole This American Life episode, but classifying him in total as a fraud despite the astoundingly high quality of his body of work and the sincere passion with which he pursues the most difficult moral questions of our time, well, it showed me that Scocca was perhaps not to be taken all that seriously on this topic.)

Let me get to the premise, though. I’m not interested in the specific definitions of “smarm” and “snark” per se. They both roughly describe a flavor of communicating in which a message or statement is delivered in a way that implies the moral and intellectual superiority of the speaker. Sarcasm is usually involved, and the thrust of the message seems intended on taking any perceived failing of a given person, and treating it as definitive evidence of that person’s lack of value as a human being. The Gawker network swims in this attitude, and from my experience it’s the dominant currency on Twitter. Indeed, in the tweetosphere, there are some circles in which a timeline can begin to seem like a contest of who can exude the most cynicism for its own sake, who can appear to hover the farthest above the absurdities these silly “others” seem to be engaged in (political journalists and insiders is one in which I see this all the time, for example).

It is never constructive, but entirely destructive, as in; meant to dismantle or erode any integrity the subject of one’s ire or cynicism might possess.

In the hands of some, this mode can be executed smartly and entertainingly, but it must be in managable doses. But as it becomes a more and more dominant form of communication generally, especially online, it becomes poisonous. The air becomes thick with various groups’ and individuals’ revulsion for each other. Maybe the best word for it isn’t that it’s smarmy or snarky. It’s snide. Scocca’s piece is snide.

This bit from a rebuttal by Malcolm Gladwell caught my attention for this very reason. I, like many within the skeptosphere, have my issues with Gladwell (“turns out…”), but he’s got this one fairly spot on, and he uses a different term altogether that cuts to the bone a bit:

What defines our era, after all, is not really the insistence of those in authority that we all behave properly and politely. It is defined, instead, by the institutionalization of satire. Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart and “Saturday Night Live” and, yes, Gawker have emerged, all proceeding on the assumption that the sardonic, comic tone permits a kind of honesty in public discourse that would not be possible otherwise. This is the orthodoxy Scocca is so anxious to defend. He needn’t worry. For the moment, we are all quite happy to sink giggling into the sea.

It saddens me to think that an overabundance of satire may be what’s poisoning so much discourse, but in mulling that sentence of Gladwell’s, I find it feels rather true. Satire works best as an alternative, a clever contrast to the presumably stolid, milquetoast, absurd, or offensive status quo (which is perhaps why it was so desperately needed during the Bush years, for example, when so many things were genuinely so bad at so many levels). But when everything is expressed in satirical forms, there is nothing to contrast with. Satire cannot perform its function as a release, an informed refreshment from The Way of Things, if it becomes the very air we breathe.

And if sincerity is the only balm for overexposure to satire, well, we’re kind of awash in that, too, or, at least we are awash in sincerity’s bizarro-dopplegangers, sentimentality and overt righteousness. Which is a whole other thing.

I don’t really watch The Daily Show or The Colbert Report anymore. True, I don’t subscribe to cable, but I avoid the avalanche of clips that are splattered around the Web. I don’t avoid them because they’re bad at what they do. Stewart and Colbert are masters of the form, and time was I would not miss an episode. But these days it’s all too much, and to tune in today is to simply expose myself to 22 minutes more of what I am already gorged on. I no longer watch or listen to some of my favorite lefty broadcasters anymore either for similar reasons – it’s one thing to report news from a political viewpoint, but it’s another to spend one’s air time gloating and guffawing at how silly one’s opposition is. And yes, fellow skepto-atheists, it may be why I don’t read your blog too.

I do snide sometimes. I do satire and sarcasm and snark, and probably smarm. All of them as forms and attitudes are useful rhetorical and comic tools. But like any tool, they have their optimal applications. Prince Hal advises us:

If all the year were playing holidays,
To sport would be as tedious as to work,
But when they seldom come, they wished for come,
And nothing pleaseth but rare accidents.

I’d love to be able to wish for satire and snark again.

In Case You Don’t Want to Be an Unpaid Spokesmodel

If you don’t want to have your mug showing up all over the Web, appearing to endorse products and services in Google’s ads, go to this site, scroll the bottom, and uncheck the box that says, “Based upon my activity, Google may show my name and profile photo in shared endorsements that appear in ads,” and click save.

It’ll prompt you with some crap about making it easier for your friends to discover blah blah blah, just confirm, and go on with your life as someone who is not a non-compensated spokesmodel.

This is a new thing that Google is rolling out. To opt out of Facebook’s similar (yet entirely internal) endorsement-conscription, go here.

You’re welcome. Hat tip to Larry Magid.

The Facts, Not in the Flow

Jeff Jarvis:

. . . I have long believed that the real job of journalism is to add value to what a community knows — real value in the form of confirmation and debunking and context and explanation and most of all reporting to ask the questions and get the answers — the facts — that aren’t already in the flow. The journalist’s and journalism organization’s ability to do that depends on trust over traffic.

NBC’s Chuck Todd, responding to criticism that the news media has not corrected the rampant, cynical proliferation of misinformation about the Affordable Care Act:

What I always love is people say, ‘Well, it’s you folks’ fault in the media.’ No, it’s the President of the United States’ fault for not selling it.”

You see the problem here.

(The Jarvis quote is not a response to the Todd quote, it’s a reaction to a different circumstance entirely, but they sure attached themselves to each other in my mind.)

I mean, it’s a law on the books, right? The idea that it is not journalists’ responsibility to report what’s true, but simply to narrate a rhetorical contest, well, it’s nauseating. We can’t tell you the truth because one party in the battle is poor at marketing? Really?

It’s no wonder we’re as deeply un- and misinformed as we are.

Why I’m Not Watching the Best TV Shows in the Universe

Can I tell you how happy I am Alan Jacobs’ Text Patterns is back? When he retired it a ways back, I paid tribute. Happily, he couldn’t hold back his bloggery any longer.

Anyway, he’s in a similar position to me when it comes to a certain aspect of upper-middle-brow culture: He’s not seen any of Breaking Bad. Now, I have seen a couple of episodes, and I liked it just fine, but never stuck. I’ll get to why in a minute.

Here’s Jacobs’ first explanation:

Who am I kidding? I don’t have the time, or, rather, I’d prefer to spend the time I have in other ways, probably by reading books.

The big, sprawling multi-season dramatic series that have received the greatest commendation in recent years — from The Sopranos to The Wire to Deadwood to Mad Men to Breaking Bad — have never seemed to me to be worth the enormous investment of time they require. The one that I followed the most closely, The Wire, is really fantastic — but I have to say, if a genie emerged from the lamp and told me that I could have all the hours spent watching The Wire back, and my memories of the show completely erased, as long as I used that time to read books, I would certainly take that deal.

Now, I disagree wholeheartedly with the whole save-existential-hard-drive-space thing when it comes to The Wire, as that really was worth every minute. But I am on board with the gist of his point: there are only so many hours in this life, and giving them over to a television show, no matter how good, feels like a waste to me. I’d like to say I’m as prolific a reader as Jacobs, but I know for certain I’m not even close. (Sometimes I think I read vicariously through him as he writes about it. That sounds weird now that I’m typing it. Onward!)

My wife will get into a show, perhaps, and it’ll be on when I’m in the room, but I’ll either tune it out, or go on headphones, and do something else.

Later, Jacobs goes into more nuance about his abstinence:

. . . I think it’s worth noting that over time we all develop what I might call a default medium — that is, when looking for entertainment, each of us tends to gravitate towards one medium or medium-plus-genre as the first choice. (So not just “reading” but “mystery novels” or “newspaper journalism”; not just “TV” but “nature documentaries” or “dramatic series” or “sitcoms.”) Defaults can be overridden, of course, but they can be strong, and I suspect they get stronger with time.

That’s a good way to explain where I am. My default medium is the Web (which includes Twitter, Instapaper, and though one might quibble with their inclusion here, even podcasts and TWiT shows. Next is books. TV is somewhere, but far down the list.

But, to be clear, this is not because I think these particular shows are bad or a genuine waste of time. However, many of them share a particular trait: They are abysmally depressing. I did indeed watch the entirety of The Sopranos a few years ago, and I always, always, ended each show feeling incredibly shitty about humanity. It almost wasn’t worth it. The Wire could have done the same, but it also had moments of great uplift, great humor, and the writing was simply brilliant.

I thought, at least for my own amusement, tick off some of the recent-ish “good shows” of late, and talk about why I’m not watching or have not watched them.

  • Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Deadwood: I tried each of these on, and each one made me either miserable (lord, did I become despondent after a few episodes of Mad Men) or sick with angst. I will probably come back to Breaking Bad when I’m in a better place.

  • Game of Thrones: I did a whole season of this, enjoyed a lot of it, but became weary of its total objectification of most female characters, and each episode’s unwillingness to move the plot along more than by a handful of lines of dialogue. I’ll probably come back to this one, if only because I like swords and dragons and stuff.

  • Dexter: My wife and I adored this show for the first couple of seasons, but it fell off quickly for me after that. Characters began making choices that were just too stupid to be plausible, Dexter’s inner struggles became more and more abstract, and once the season with Julia Stiles showed that, once again, we’d have scene after scene of people not asking each other direct questions and being mysterious in attitude only, I dropped it.

  • House: This was my favorite show for three years or so. When the show became about whether or not House was capable of loving Cuddy, though, it became a childish soap opera. The side characters (or “cottages”) became more two-dminesional, and it stopped being worth my time.

  • Weeds: I thought this show was stupid. She sells pot. Who cares?

  • Oh, and there are people ,including my wife, who think that show Bones is really good. Wow, do I not understand that. That show is awful.

I’ve been more tolerant of comedies, as they’re usually shorter, and demand less of me emotionally. My wife and I both sit and watch, delightedly, old episodes of 3rd Rock from the Sun, As Time Goes By, Frasier, Cheers, and The IT Crowd. I’m trying to get her into Black Adder. (Arrested Development‘s latest offerings have failed to impress.) Or we’ll take in a standup special. We watch Louie as well, as it’s amazing, but it’s also similar to many of the dramas I have eschewed, because it can be so dark and hit home so hard with its sadder aspects.

Perhaps I’ll update as I think of more. I imagine some of my thumbs-down selections have upset you, because for some reason people get really prickly when you don’t like the same shows they do. But just remember, if I were watching more TV, I wouldn’t be writing this post now, would I? Hooray for the free hours.

  • Update: My wife would like to clarify that I have overstated her appreciation of Bones, and that she has “only seen like 6 episodes.” My apologies to her.

He Just Wasn’t Made for These Times

The Nate Silver saga: Silver leaves the New York Times for ESPN, and the Times’ public editor says, essentially, we didn’t want him anyway:

I don’t think Nate Silver ever really fit into the Times culture and I think he was aware of that….His entire probability-based way of looking at politics ran against the kind of political journalism that The Times specializes in: polling, the horse race, campaign coverage, analysis based on campaign-trail observation, and opinion writing, or “punditry,” as he put it, famously describing it as “fundamentally useless.” . . . I was surprised to quickly hear by e-mail from three high-profile Times political journalists, criticizing him and his work. They were also tough on me for seeming to endorse what he wrote, since I was suggesting that it get more visibility.

Kevin Drum is agog at this attitude:

Even for those of us who are pretty cynical about political reporting, this is astonishing. If I were editor of the Times, I’d do whatever it took to find out who those three are, and then fire them instantly. Whoever they are, they shouldn’t be trusted to cover the pig races at a country fair, let alone write about politics for the most influential newspaper in the country.

Paul Waldman sees the disconnect between all parties:

The trouble is, many political reporters have come over the decades to think that “Who’s going to win?” is in fact the question they should be asking; indeed, many of them think it’s the only question they should be asking. So it’s no wonder that when people like Silver come along and turn out to be able to answer it using an entirely different set of tools than those the journalists have spent their careers mastering, some react like petulant children.

The long and the short of it is that if Nate Silver, a guy who relies on facts and data rather than manufactured drama, if he didn’t “fit in” at the Times, that reflects far more poorly on the Times than on Silver.

But maybe the Times can now allocate more resources to important stories like the fact girls college girls like hooking up, or the trials and tribulations of rich kids whose parents buy them whole apartment buildings.