February 27, 2015

The word that got Keith Olbermann in trouble: "pitiful."

Keith Olbermann got suspended from his ESPN show for tweeting "Pitiful." He was responding to a tweet by a Penn State graduate who'd tweeted "We are!" (linking to an article about raising $13 million for charity). Olbermann proceeded to tweet "PSU students are pitiful because they’re PSU students — period."

"Pitiful" is a strange word. When we see it alone, as in Olbermann's tweet, we assume it conveys contempt. The 4th meaning in the OED is: "Evoking pitying contempt; very small, poor, or meagre; paltry; inadequate, insignificant; despicable, contemptible." $13 million is very small if the idea is to balance the harm that was done to Penn State's reputation in the recent scandal, and Olbermann has been a critic of the settlement.

"Pitiful" can mean "Full of or characterized by pity; compassionate, merciful, tender." You'd think that literal meaning would predominate in the absence of context, but it doesn't. "Pathetic" works the same way. We assume the sarcastic version: "Miserably inadequate; of such a low standard as to be ridiculous or contemptible." The older, more literal meaning — "Arousing sadness, compassion, or sympathy, esp. through vulnerability or sadness; pitiable" — is overshadowed to the point where you can't even use it without explaining yourself.

And you can't explain yourself on Twitter.

"But for the past half-day, people across social media have been arguing about whether a picture depicts a perfectly nice bodycon dress as blue with black lace fringe or white with gold lace fringe."

"And neither side will budge. This fight is about more than just social media—it’s about primal biology and the way human eyes and brains have evolved to see color in a sunlit world."

"... Coming Home was produced by Jane Fonda, who at that time had made films with Ho Chi Minh and was virulently anti-American. At the Academy Awards, she wouldn't look at me..."

"... because I had already been labeled a right-wing fascist," says the movie director Michael Cimino in a new interview. His "Deer Hunter" was up against "Coming Home" for the awards in 1971.
We were in the same elevator together. I wanted to say congratulations, but she turned away. From what I know about the original script, ["Coming Home"] was honest, but I think because of her political stance at the time, she managed to turn it into American guilt. She's the only one who had the power — she was the producer. The end of the movie is the American officer, Bruce Dern, who out of unspeakable guilt walks into the Pacific Ocean to drown himself. That's not what the original script was. That character is so filled with rage that he strides the hillsides of Laurel Canyon onto the 101, as I recall, and he's got a machine gun with him. He walks to the center of the freeway with oncoming traffic in both directions, and he's just howling, just firing in a circle. Cars are blowing up all over the place. That was the real ending. You don't have moviemaking to prove a point about your political conviction in American Sniper.
About "American Sniper," he says: "Though it was characterized [as such], Sniper's not a political movie. It's not about the rightness or wrongness of the war. It deals with the impact of trauma on people who go to war and people who stay behind."

February 26, 2015

"A local man came up and said 'Please — what does this mean?' I explained I wanted to highlight the destruction in Gaza..."

"... by posting photos on my website — but on the internet people only look at pictures of kittens."

"An Italian surgeon is hoping to perform the world’s first human head transplant..."

"... claiming he could have recipients of the radical surgery thinking their own thoughts and speaking with their own voice."

Oh, I know what that looks like. The question is: How much are they paying you?

"Missouri state Auditor Tom Schweich, a leading Republican candidate for governor in 2016, died Thursday in 'an apparent suicide,' police said."

"Schweich, 54, was hospitalized earlier Thursday following a single self-inflicted gunshot wound at his home in suburban St. Louis...."

"Thirty-one percent (31%) say the Supreme Court does not put enough limitations on what the government can do."

"This finding is down five points from last June but is still higher than the 27% who felt this way in September 2013. Just 14% say it puts too many limitations on government instead. Thirty-eight percent (38%) says the balance is about right. Seventeen percent (17%) are not sure."

Kids play "Kashmir."

("The Louisville Leopard Percussionists... are a performing ensemble of approximately 55 student musicians, ages 7-12, living in and around Louisville, Kentucky.")

The return of the "Shame!" chant to the Wisconsin state senate.

"#RightToWork passes 17-14, gallery shouting "Shame." #wipolitics" — video at the link.

Here's the "Shame!" chant of February 25, 2011.

The time the marijuana-growing, suicide-committing, cherry-factory-owner turned the local bees red.

"When the sun is a bit down, they glow red in the evenings...They were slightly fluorescent. And it was beautiful," said one bee-keeper in the vicinity of the Dell's marachino-cherry factory in Red Hook, Brooklyn, back in 2010.
[The owner of the factory Arthur] Mondella did not return phone calls seeking comment....

“Bees will forage from any sweet liquid in their flight path for up to three miles,” [said Andrew Coté, the leader of the New York City Beekeepers Association]. While he has not yet visited the factory, he said that the bees might be drinking from its runoff.... Could the tastiest nectar, even close by the hives, compete with the charms of a liquid so abundant, so vibrant and so cloyingly sweet? Perhaps the conundrum raises another disturbing question: If the bees cannot resist those three qualities, what hope do the rest of us have?

A story of the perils of urban farming, this is also a story of the careful two-step of gentrification....
That was 2010. Last Tuesday, "Mr. Mondella, 57, shot and killed himself in his office bathroom just as city investigators were discovering that a marijuana farm lay beneath the factory." That link goes to the NYT, which took me to the Red Bees of Red Hook story with the line "The most controversy the factory had attracted before this came several years ago, when local bees began turning red after feasting on the cherry liquid."

(I linked to The Daily Mail's story in a short post yesterday.)

"When it is not your time to die yet."

"It's a sign!"

"If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be?"

"Not a book but a poem, Johnson’s The Vanity of Human Wishes," writes Terry Teachout, who, because he feels like it, is answering the questions that a NYT editor (Pamela Paul) asked of someone else (David Brooks). (Brooks would require the President to read the essay, “Rationalism in Politics,” by Michael Oakeshott.)

You're probably not the President — and if you are: Greetings, my President! — but you can read "Rationalism in Politics" here — "no man can hope to be successful whose reason has become inflexible by surrender to habit or is clouded by the fumes of tradition" — and here's "The Vanity of Human Wishes":

"And while it’s easy — so, so easy — to make fun of a company taking to Twitter to say 'bae' or 'fleek' or #makeithappy..."

"... the absurdity masks a creeping, insidious repositioning of corporate America in public life."

"The argument that the plaintiffs in King v. Burwell lack standing wasn’t conceived by the Barack Obama administration, which didn’t raise the issue in its briefs..."

"... for the case to be argued March 4. It was dreamed up by an enterprising journalist who tracked down the plaintiffs and got the details of their life situations," writes lawprof Noah Feldman in "How the Supreme Court Could Save Obamacare Again."
According to the article by Stephanie Mencimer in Mother Jones, and the flurry of Internet speculation that followed, it’s possible none of the four plaintiffs has been legally affected by having to buy insurance subject to the subsidies involved in the case. As a threshold matter, the justices would have to be able to ascertain this circumstance from the record for the standing issue to arise. The court can’t take judicial notice of investigative journalism, no matter how clever.

Yet if it’s possible to deduce from the record that the plaintiffs qualify for hardship exemptions from paying for insurance, then it’s within the court’s prerogative to consider the issue.
Just one more Obamacare screw-up by the Obama administration. Couldn't even litigate it right.

"There has been much discussion about a media double standard where Republicans are covered differently than Democrats, asked to weigh in on issues the Democrats don't face."

"As a result, when we refuse to take the media's bait, we suffer. I felt it this week when I was asked to weigh in on what other people said and did and what others' beliefs are. If you are looking for answers to those questions, ask those people. I will always choose to focus on what matters to the American people, not what matters to the media."

Writes Scott Walker (in USA Today).

ELSEWHERE: In Politico, Jack Shafer purports to give advice on how to answer the "gotcha" question. He holds up LBJ as a model: "Here you are, alone with the president of the United States and the leader of the free world, and you ask a chicken-shit question like that." Oh, yeah, wouldn't you just love for the Midwestern son of a preacher man to suddenly emit an LBJ-style outburst full of Texas swagger and farm excrement?

And Ron Fournier has a "Defense of Gotcha Questions." He begins:
Years ago, an Arkansas governor named Bill Clinton walked into the state Capitol media room at the end of a hectic legislative session and asked the journalists if we needed anything else from him.  We had asked Clinton questions all day. We were tired. We wanted him to shut up and go home.

So I said, "Yes, governor. I know you don't know much about baseball, but when there's a pop-up behind the third baseman, whose ball is it?" The other reporters snickered. Finally, they figured: a gotcha question Clinton wouldn't answer.
Bill came up with an answer that seemed amiable and made him look good. But I don't think that's a gotcha question. It's just a casual, irrelevant question that might bring out some personality. It's the sort of question Barbara Walters used to be associated with.... What kind of tree are you?

"One thing those of us who are pro-union need to ask ourselves is why so few Americans belong to unions presently."

"It is facile, lazy, and simply wrong to blame the anti-union efforts of Reagan, Walker, the Kochs, Whole Foods, Walmart and the like. If you say it is the anti-union policies of the past thirty five years, then you are simply ignoring the fact that when American unions formed in the 19th century and struggled to build in the first third of the 20th century, the anti-union sentiment of the corporations and most politicians was much stronger than today, and the lot of the average worker was harder. Lazy people blame others. If those who originally fought to create our unions had such an attitude, unions would never have been established in the first place. Part of the problem is that the Left failed to criticize unions as their leadership often evolved to having more in common with the bosses than with their own members. As the Left moved away from worker issues in the Sixties to Civil Rights, the anti-war movement, feminism, and cultural issues, blue collar workers became alienated from those who were now largely content to support labor by merely singing Woody Guthrie and Weavers songs. The Left largely came to look down their noses at workers because of attitudes regarding culture and the war, only honoring workers when their issues were tied to something else, such as the largely Mexican-American United Farmworkers Union or access to jobs for women."

A comment at the NYT on the article titled "Scott Walker Is Set to Deliver New Blow to Labor in Wisconsin."

"Dang! Have you ever seen waves get so cold they turn to slurpee?"

Photos from Nantucket (via Metafilter).

"Each item is individually wrapped and categorised.... There's a miniature silver ball, a black button, a blue paper clip..."

"... a yellow bead, a faded black piece of foam, a blue Lego piece, and the list goes on. Many of them are scuffed and dirty. It is an odd assortment of objects for a little girl to treasure, but to Gabi these things are more valuable than gold...."

Nick, Quentin, Savion, Qaasim, Clark, Rayvon, Adam, Daniel, Mark, Trevor, Riley, Michael.

In that order.

Clark Beckham had been my favorite up until last night, but then he went and sang a song that I not only have disliked for half a century, but that just yesterday morning I'd been going on about not liking. And getting ready to write this post, needing to rave against it once more, I found myself paraphrasing it as I would kill my best friend if that's what my psycho girlfriend wants.

"People who insist on linking terrorism to Islam often say that only by doing this—only by seeing the problem 'for what it is'—can we figure out what to do about it."

"Really? Long before last week, we knew that ISIS does a good job of convincing some young Muslims that its cause is authentically Islamic. What value has been added if we grant [Graeme] Wood’s point that ISIS, in doing this job, can quote selectively from Islamic texts and point selectively to ancient Islamic traditions? I guess this helps us understand one rhetorical advantage that ISIS has in its recruiting. But since that particular advantage—what ancient texts say, what ancient people did—is something we can’t change, where do we go from there?"

Says Robert Wright, making the question what works for our purposes as opposed to what is actually true about ISIS and Islam. What is true and what works can coincide. Sometimes you get more power out of basing your arguments on the truth, and I think that I'm speaking the truth when I say that it's more true that we want to defeat the enemy than that we want to characterize their religious beliefs accurately.

If the question here is what works, then it's important to see that Wright pictures a causal chain in which Wood's presentation scares Americans, scared Americans cause the government to "react with the undiscerning ferocity that created ISIS," some scared Americans "deface mosques, or worse," and Western Muslims become ripe for recruitment by ISIS.

ADDED: In my mind — I realize 4 minutes after putting up this post — Wright's argument collapses on itself. He's saying Wood's presentation of the facts is too scary, and it's more productive not to freak out. ("Freak out" is his expression, used 4 times in a short essay.) But how can you make Wood's version go away by calling it scary? You've made it scarier by saying it's too scary to look at, and you have no way to calmly suppress it, so you've only contributed to the freakout that you think is so destructive. We might as well simplify everything and just try to figure out what's true.