Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Just Like Yesterday

From the 2008 Democratic Party Platform:
As Democrats, we are committed to being smart on crime. . . . We must help state, local, and tribal law enforcement work together to combat and prevent drug crime and drug and alcohol abuse, which are a blight on our communities.[1]
From the 2000 Republican Party Platform:
When the average American family has to work more than four months out of every year to fund all levels of government, it's time to change the tax system, to make it simpler, flatter, and fairer for everyone. It's time for an economics of inclusion that will let people keep more of what they earn and accelerate movement up the opportunity ladder.[2]
From the 1992 Democratic Party Platform:
If a company wants to overpay its executives and underinvest in the future or transfer jobs overseas, it shouldn't get special treatment and tax breaks from the Treasury.[3]
From the 1988 Republican Party Platform:
We want to reduce further the intrusion of government into the lives of our citizens. Consistent with the maintenance of a competitive market place, we are committed to breaking down unnecessary barriers to entry created by regulations, statutes, and judicial decisions, to free up capital for productive investment.[4]
From the 1980 Republican Party Platform:
Republicans recognize the very special sacrifice of those who have served in our nation's armed forces. Individual rights and societal values are only as strong as a nation's commitment to defend them. Because of this our country must never forget its appreciation of and obligation to our veterans. . . . In particular we feel it is of vital importance to continue and expand the health-programs provided to veterans through the Veterans Administration hospitals. Here we see the need for increased access to care, especially for older veterans.[5]
From the 1976 Democratic Party Platform:
There must be an ever-increasing accountability of government to the people. The Democratic Party is pledged to the fulfillment of four fundamental citizen rights of governance: the right to competent government; the right to responsive government; the right to integrity in government; the right to fair dealing by government.[6]
From the 1968 Republican Party Platform:
The entire nation has been profoundly concerned by hastily extemporized, undeclared land wars which embroil massive U.S. armed forces thousands of miles from our shores. It is time to realize that not every international conflict is susceptible of solution by American ground forces.[7]
From the 1971 album Who's Next, by The Who:



As I may have mentioned before, I'll be voting for Gary Johnson. It honestly baffles me that I'm the one who's supposedly wasting my vote.

1. How much progress have we made in four years? A little—the Democrats no longer claim to be "smart on crime". From this year's platform: "We understand the disproportionate effects of crime, violence, and incarceration on communities of color and are committed to working with those communities to find solutions. . . . We must help state, local, territorial, and tribal law enforcement work together to combat and prevent drug crime and drug and alcohol abuse, which are blights on our communities."
2. 12 years later, look how far we've come: "We reject the use of taxation to redistribute income, fund unnecessary or ineffective programs, or foster the crony capitalism that corrupts both politicians and corporations. Our goal is a tax system that is simple, transparent, flatter, and fair. In contrast, the current IRS code is like a patchwork quilt, stitched together over time from mismatched pieces, and is beyond the comprehension of the average citizen. A reformed code should promote simplicity and coherence, savings and innovation, increase American competitiveness, and recognize the burdens on families with children."
3. 20 years later, the Democrats are still working on it: "We want to cut tax breaks for companies that are shipping jobs overseas and for special interests."
4. 24 years later, the Republicans are "listening to America", and what they're hearing should sound familiar: "In listening to America, one constant we have heard is the jobcrippling effect of even well-intentioned regulation. That makes it all the more important for federal agencies to be judicious about the impositions they create on businesses, especially small businesses. We call for a moratorium on the development of any new major and costly regulations until a Republican Administration reviews existing rules to ensure that they have a sound basis in science and will be cost-effective."
5. 32 years later, they've at least added homelessness to the list of problems they claim to care about solving: "We must heed Abraham Lincoln's command "to care for him who bore the battle." To care, as well, for the families of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, who must be assured of meaningful financial assistance, remains our solemn duty. . . . We are committed to ending homelessness for our veterans."
6. 36 years later, we're still waiting for the government to be held accountable: "We are committed to the most open, efficient, and accountable government in history, and we believe that government is more accountable when it is transparent."
7. And yet, 44 years later, the Republicans pledge to do just that: "Future decisions by a Republican President will never subordinate military necessity to domestic politics or an artificial timetable. Afghans, Pakistanis, and Americans have a common interest in ridding the region of the Taliban and other insurgent groups, but we cannot expect others to remain resolute unless we show the same determination ourselves."

Monday, September 10, 2012

Don't Waste Your Vote

With the conventions over, there are now just under two months left to decide which big government, corporatist, anti-freedom warmonger is less objectionable.

Of course, there are more than just the two candidates, but voting for someone with no realistic chance to win is tantamount to "wasting your vote", as the conventional thinking goes. But that ignores the reality of the Electoral College (among many, many other things), which renders all but the most competitive states basically meaningless. And a vote can only be "wasted" if it had value to begin with, so to help you determine if casting your vote for The Lesser of Two Evils might make a difference, I put together this handy map:[1]


The thing about voting for someone else, though, is that it isn't about winning; it's about making the major parties afraid. It's about forcing them to truly compete on their merits in an open marketplace, and not just against each other. Would the Democrats so coldly dismiss the notion of reforming drug policy if they were worried about losing votes to the Greens or the Libertarians? Would the Republicans so thoughtlessly call for harsher laws against pornography and gambling and whatever else their authoritarian wing deems morally unacceptable? Would either of them be so indifferent to the massive costs—in every sense of the word—of fighting an endless war?

Every single vote for a third party or independent candidate—regardless of what state it comes from—says to the Republicans and Democrats, "you've lost me, and if you want me back you'd better start listening to what I want." Is that not a message worth sending? I say it is, and I hope I'm not alone, because the strength with which it resonates will depend entirely on the number of voters who choose to send it. I'm aware that this number may be rather low, but my vote will make it one higher, and for that reason my vote will not be wasted.

Will yours?

1. The lightly-shaded states are those that, as of September 9, are not forecast by Nate Silver (who's very good at this stuff) as "safe" for Obama or Romney. Many of those states are still projected to lean one way or another by a margin of several percentage points. And even if a state is ridiculously close, it won't matter who wins its electoral votes unless those are the votes needed to secure a majority (or to create a tie), and given that in 2000 a 500-vote margin in Florida was narrow enough for the outcome to be determined by the Supreme Court, the likelihood of Obama v. Romney coming down to a single vote is essentially zero.
    And I'm not even addressing (for now) the question of whether Obama and Romney differ in any meaningful way.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Mark Judge, Dadaist Hero

Here's the opening to "Bryce Harper, Conservative Hero", Mark Judge's recent column for The Daily Caller:
Bryce Harper is a conservative hero. The star rookie for the Washington Nationals has woken up Major League Baseball, and watching it unfold has reminded me of nothing so much as the collapse of the old political paradigms and the inevitable and upcoming rebirth of conservatism in November.
And on it goes. A thousand words in all, each paragraph more stupefyingly asinine than the last. Let it be emphasized that I say this without even a trace of hyperbole: Judge's column is very possibly the dumbest thing I've ever read that somebody was paid to write.[1]

It's so dumb, I think it might be brilliant. But I'll get back to that. Here's Judge describing why Harper is worthy of being singled out:
The Nationals were playing Atlanta, and in the fifth inning Harper, with his team leading by two, singled to right. The ball was hit to Braves right fielder Jason Heyward. Heyward strolled up to the ball as if he were walking to the corner for a paper.

Harper promptly headed for second base. Heyward suddenly woke up and fired to second base, but too late.
Judge goes on to explain that, in addition to hustling, Harper also tries to learn from his mistakes. And he wants to be in the lineup even when he's injured. If any of this sounds familiar, it's because it describes every rookie in the history of sports.

Having chosen his subject—and his counterpoint, Jason Heyward—basically at random, Judge adds some unhinged political opinions and throws the whole mess into a blender:
Heyward’s bungle showed a complacency, if not indolence, that Harper threatens to destroy, but it also could be a metaphor for the collapse of the old liberal order. Heyward was like one of those public school teachers who, because they are a union member, can’t be fired and so are relegated to the “rubber room” to sit and read the paper and gather a check for the rest of their lives. Or even Obama, who went from Hawaii to Harvard to the White House and never seems to have had to slide head-first into a base his entire life.
Is there even a way to engage with this? Normally I would peel away the false presumptions and the unfounded conclusions until I reach the fragment of logic at the core, but when I try to do that here I wind up just staring blankly into a void.
Watching Bryce Harper play is like listening to an economic speech by Paul Ryan: It’s long on reality and short on excuses. Harper has slapped baseball awake, and every time he steps up to the plate, years of crusty baseball routine no longer apply. He swings the bat with a blinding snap of force, and in the outfield dives for balls that bored veterans would let go. When he hits a double he usually tries to stretch it into a triple. Manager Davey Johnson tries to bench him for being hurt, and Harper confronts him and says, like a person with enough dignity to refuse welfare: Let me work. Then he wins the game with a crucial hit.
Some of these points are patently untrue (Harper does not, in fact, "usually" try to stretch a double into a triple), some are patently misguided (if it's at all true that Harper dives for balls other players would let go, it's because he can run kind of fast, not because he's uniquely able to ward off boredom), and some, like the bit at the end about refusing welfare, can be properly addressed only by gritting one's teeth and muttering vaguely-Nordic nonsense words. Grrgllefrunng.

Judge closes with a personal note:[2]
Harper reminds me of my own grandfather, Joe Judge, who played first base for the Senators from 1915 to 1932. Like Harper, Judge was left-handed and was a scrappy and aggressive player. His career spanned two eras, the dead ball era (1900 to 1919) and the live ball era, from 1920 on, when home runs became much more prevalent. When Babe Ruth arrived in New York in 1919 and baseball changed some rules — including using new balls in every game so you could actually see what you were swinging at — Joe Judge could have insisted that this wasn’t fair, that Major League Baseball was stealing his livelihood, and that Ruth’s ungodly salary represented the one percent. He could have occupied Griffith Stadium.

Instead, he accepted that the old way of doing things was gone, and it wasn’t coming back. And he helped the Senators win the World Series in 1924.
I have a way of associating events with one another, whether or not they're related, merely because they happened around the same time, and Judge's closing digression—along with whatever strange effects his column had on my brain—brought to mind something that coincided with the end of the dead ball era. A group of European artists—Dadaists, as they would come to be known—had begun to rebel against the cultural status quo. They valued nonsense over reason. Chaos over order. Destruction over creation. In the aftermath of the war that had consumed and annihilated their continent, they had no interest in searching for meaning, because the likeliest conclusion was that there was none.

Here's the great Dadaist Tristan Tzara, attempting the impossible task of putting Dada into words:
We are often told that we are incoherent, but into this word people try to put an insult that it is rather hard for me to fathom. Everything is incoherent. The gentleman who decides to take a bath but goes to the movies instead. The one who wants to be quiet but says things that haven't even entered his head. Another who has a precise idea on some subject but succeeds only in expressing the opposite in words which for him are a poor translation. There is no logic. Only relative necessities discovered a posteriori, valid not in any exact sense but only as explanations.
And just as the Dadaists used their art to call attention to this broader incoherence, Mark Judge has called attention to the incoherence that permeates political commentary by creating something too incoherent to simply dismiss and ignore. Something that demands to be questioned. Is it commentary, or is it trash? If, by virtue of being trash, it makes us question the limits of what can be considered commentary, does that not make it commentary as well? It means nothing, and thus, it means everything.[3]

In 1917, one year after Hugo Ball published the first Dada Manifesto (and one year after Joe Judge's first full season in the majors), Marcel Duchamp scribbled some nonsense on a urinal, named it Fountain, and submitted it to be displayed at a New York exhibition. It was rejected, presumably because it was a urinal with some nonsense scribbled on it. Eighty-seven years later, 500 art experts voted Fountain the most influential work of art of the 20th century.

I have no doubt that "Bryce Harper, Conservative Hero" will go similarly unappreciated in its own time. But one day, years, if not decades into the future, we may very well look back at Judge's column and recognize it for what it is. A urinal with some nonsense scribbled on it:


1. Let it also be emphasized that I was about 50-50 on whether I even needed to include the "that somebody was paid to write" qualifier.
2. Again, just layer upon layer of skrunglfrng. Joe Judge, whose career actually started after Ruth's, was a very good hitter, and seems to have benefited as much as anyone from the rule changes that marked the end of the dead ball era (through 1919 his career batting average was .270; from 1920 on he batted .306).
3. "It means nothing, and thus, it means everything"? What the fuck does THAT mean? Who knows. Who cares. There is no logic. (I love Dadaism.)

Monday, June 4, 2012

Country Music Round-Up: Obscenity Finds a Way

If wholesomeness had a smell, I'm sure it would be delightful, and I'm equally sure the fragrance would emanate from every square inch of the contemporary pop-country genre. Wholesomeness (or if you prefer, prudishness) is its defining quality. But I'd argue a not-too-distant second is its reliance on clever, but accessible, songwriting. Those two elements, separately and in concert,[1] go a long way toward explaining why country music appeals not only to the Real Americans™ [2] who inhabit the small towns and rural fields and muddy creeks of the flyover states, but also to countless city folks, foreigners, smart-ass bloggers, and other not-as-real Americans.

But there's also a fundamental, unresolvable conflict between them. Songwriting is a realm of limitless possibilities. "Wholesome" is a polite way to describe a realm where possibilities are limited to pre-approved social norms. And artistic expression being what it is, those limits are relentlessly challenged—at times because they hinder the artist's ability to make a more important statement, and at times simply because they exist. Because sometimes that is the more important statement—that the cost of drawing a line is that it gives people something to congregate around, to push and pull and chip away at, to perhaps even move a little when no one else is looking.

But this is getting way too analytical and pretentious for an article about obscenity, so fuck it, here are some lyrics:

Blake Shelton, "Some Beach" (2004)
Driving down the interstate
Running thirty minutes late
Singing "Margaritaville" and minding my own
Some foreign car driving dude with the road rage attitude
Pulled up beside me talking on his cell phone
He started yelling at me like I did something wrong
He flipped me the bird and then he was gone…

Some beach…somewhere
There's a big umbrella casting shade over an empty chair
Palm trees are growing and a warm breeze is blowing
I picture myself right there
On some beach, somewhere

Kenny Chesney, "Shiftwork" (2007)
Shift work, tough work for the busy convenience store clerk
Two feet that hurt, going insane
She's mad at some lad
Drove off and didn't pay for his gas
And he won't be the last 'round the clock pain
Working seven to three
Three to eleven
Eleven to seven

I'm talking about a bunch of shiiii…ft work
A big ol' pile of shiiii…ft work

Sugarland, "It Happens" (2008)
Ain't no rhyme or reason
No complicated meaning
Ain't no need to over think it
Let go laughing
Life don't go, quite like you plan it
We try so, hard to understand it
The irrefutable, indisputable, fact is
Shhh…
It happens
Not an inappropriate word to be found, right? Just three perfectly innocent songs about, respectively, coping with the everyday stress of the modern world, coping with the everyday stress of the modern world, and coping with the everyday stress of the modern world. If Blake Shelton's abrupt and unexpected change in both latitude and attitude,[3] or Kenny Chesney's elongation of the vowel sound in "shift", or Sugarland's rather awkward insertion of sort of a shushing sound (or maybe it's more of a dismissive "pshh"?) into their chorus brought to mind any words you'd never expect to hear in a mainstream country song, then so be it.

I'll concede that these songs are all a little cheesy—this is country music,[4] after all—but there is a definite art to being obscene without actually being obscene. Causing the listener to hear something that isn't there—something that isn't allowed to be there.[5] It's easy to think of the wholesome/prudish culture surrounding country music as a force that stifles creativity, but in many ways it does just the opposite. Obscenity finds a way.[6]

Anyway, I saved the best for last:

Craig Campbell, "Fish" (2011)
The first time we did it I was scared to death
She snuck out in that cotton dress
Jumped on in and we drove to the lake
Put her hand on my knee and said I can’t wait
I had everything we needed in the bed of my truck
Turns out my baby loves to…
[wait for it]
Fish…she wants to do it all the time
Early in the morning, in the middle of the night
She’s hooked and now she can’t get enough
Man, that girl sure loves to fish
In terms of "saying" something that, if actually said, would be thoroughly unwelcome in the pop-country world, I'm pretty sure this is the leader in the clubhouse.[7]

So, what's next? "Fish", which peaked at #23 on the Billboard Hot Country chart, won't be easy to top, but I have no doubt it can be done.

CONFIDENTIAL TO NASHVILLE SONGWRITERS: I'm sure you're aware that country audiences are used to, and tend to enjoy, songs about country music itself. And you've probably also noticed that one of the most offensive terms in the English language is right there. I'm not saying it would be easy, but if this can make it past the FCC…



1. Is that a pun? If so, pun intended. If not, please disregard this footnote.
2. Your check is in the mail, Sean Hannity.
3. I'm not a fan of Blake Shelton. This has nothing to do with his music, which is enjoyable enough, and everything to do with the fact that he's married to Miranda Lambert, and I'm jealous. It's not rational, but it is what it is.
4. "This Is Country Music", of course, is also the title of a Brad Paisley song, which is, naturally, one of the cheesiest country songs of the last decade:
You're not supposed to say the word "cancer" in a song
And tellin' folks Jesus is the answer can rub 'em wrong
It ain't hip to sing about tractors, trucks, and little towns, and Mama
Yeah, that might be true
But this is country music, and we do
5. If it doesn't go without saying, this isn't a new concept, nor is it unique to country. Who knows when it was first executed, but "Shaving Cream", written by Benny Bell in 1946, is a solid candidate:
I have a sad story to tell you
It may hurt your feelings a bit
Last night when I walked into my bathroom
I stepped in a big pile of shhhh…aving cream
6. While we're on the subject of obscenity in mainstream country, Toby Keith's "American Ride" contains the line, "If the shoe don't fit, the fit's gonna hit the shan", which I guess is a form of disguised profanity, but mostly it's just baffling. (I could write a series of articles about "American Ride", there's so much going on. I love this line from the chorus: "Both ends of the ozone burning / Funny how the world keeps turning." Yes, funny indeed. It's as if the ozone layer has nothing at all to do with conservation of angular momentum or the gravitational interaction between the Earth and the Sun.)
    And then there's Keith's "Red Solo Cup", the greatest country song since "Rock Flag and Eagle", and also the only country song I know of (note: I'm not an expert—I assume there have been others) that had to be edited for the radio. In the original, it's a pair of testicles that you surely lack if you prefer drinking from glass; on the radio, it's a pair of vegetables, which is both terrible and hilarious, and is thus precisely the radio edit the song demands. Also, the listener is forced to make an educated guess as to what, exactly, Freddie Mac can kiss. (SPOILER: It's Toby Keith's ass.)
    Finally, I've brought this up before, but I remain convinced that "Little White Church", by Little Big Town, is about cunnilingus. "No more calling me baby / No more loving like crazy / Till you take me down" … "Charming devil, silver tongue / Had your fun, now you're done." Right? *nudge nudge* Right?
    Ok, maybe I'm reaching. My interpretation relies on the little white church being a metaphor for the singer's clitoris (or orgasms or whatever), which in turn relies on the time-honored principle that pretty much anything can be a metaphor for genitals (or orgasms or whatever) if you want it to be. But I'm just saying, if I set out to write a country song from the perspective of a girl who's upset about her boyfriend's failure to reciprocate in bed, and for creative and/or commercial reasons I wanted to conceal the sexual themes behind a radio-friendly layer of wholesomeness, and I was substantially better at songwriting than I am, this would be that song.
7. "Fish" ends with Campbell whispering, "psst, you awake? Let’s fish", because subtlety. Meanwhile, Trace Adkins' "Just Fishin'"—which is also not about fishing, but in the most different way possible—ends with Adkins saying, "this ain't about fishing." If it helps going forward, I'm willing to stipulate right here and now that no country song is ever actually about fishing.
    (That said, what if "Fish" really is about fishing? As in, the narrator found a girl who shares his passion for fishing, which is nice, but sooner or later he's going to have to confront the reality that she may have a serious problem. She wants to fish "all the time", she "can't get enough", she "don't give up" even if she isn't getting any bites. These are all symptoms of a crippling disorder. And nevermind sleep and exercise and personal hygiene—does she even stop fishing long enough to fuck?)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Taking Sex out of Marriage

You believe in the ballot,
You believe in reform.
You have faith in the elephant and jackass,
And to you, solidarity's a four-letter word.

No, I won't take your hand,
And marry the State,
'Cause baby, I'm an anarchist,
And you're a spineless liberal.
I'm not one of those people who won't shut up about how they were a fan of whatever band back before they were famous—those people are terrible; I couldn't agree more—but I was totally a fan of Against Me! back before they were famous.

And I've remained a fan, though it's not easy to explain why. (I've learned from Pandora that bands "similar to" Against Me! are, by and large, bands that produce music suitable only for blasting into the compounds of holed-up dictators and cult leaders.) A lot of it, undoubtedly, is their lyrics, which tend to kind of speed up or slow down or just abruptly stop, according to the rhythm of the song, because otherwise they wouldn't quite fit. It doesn't seem like it should work, but somehow it does, and it adds a thick layer of honesty to everything they record, because why would the words be so forced if they weren't chosen for a reason?

But none of this is to say that I wasn't just as surprised as everyone else by the recent announcement that Against Me! has a new frontwoman, Laura Jane Grace.[1]

It's fascinating for a number of reasons. Here's one of them:
Gabel will eventually take the name Laura Jane Grace, and will remain married to her wife Heather. "For me, the most terrifying thing about this was how she would accept the news," says Gabel. "But she's been super-amazing and understanding."
I'm not especially interested in delving into their personal lives (aside from, you know, the one immensely personal thing at the center of all this), but Grace and her wife live in Florida, which first banned same-sex marriage in 1977, then banned it some more with the Florida Defense of Marriage Act in 1997, and then found a way to ban it even more in 2008, when the voters added this to the state constitution:
Inasmuch as marriage is the legal union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife, no other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized.
Does that mean Heather and Laura (when/if all the physical and legal hurdles are cleared) will find themselves in an illegal same-sex marriage? Apparently not:[2]
Though Florida is not one of the six states in the nation that recognize marriages between same-sex partners, Gabel's declaration won't change her marital status either way, according to Lisa Mottet, Director of the Transgender Civil Rights Project at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

"Under established law, marriages are evaluated for their validity at the time of marriage, i.e., the date of the wedding/when the marriage license was signed," she said. "Only divorces, death, and annulments end marriages — gender transition does not end a marriage, nor convert it to a same-sex marriage. If two people were considered different sex at the time of their wedding, they will continue to be considered married until death, divorce, or annulment."
It's funny, in a sort of horrible way. Florida has tried so hard to do away with same-sex marriage, and they still can't quite do it. In fact, it turns out it doesn't matter if the couple gets married before the transition or after—as the law stands today, a transwoman (i.e. male-to-female) can always marry a woman in Florida, but never a man. And a transman can always marry a man, but never a woman.

That precedent comes from Kantaras v. Kantaras, a bitter custody battle that was litigated at various levels of the court system for seven years until finally—finally—Dr. Phil stepped in and settled the whole thing. But not before the Florida Second District Court of Appeal ruled that the marriage was void ab initio—legally, it had never existed—because legally, this guy was a woman.

More precisely, the court deferred to the legislature:
Until the Florida legislature recognizes sex-reassignment procedures and amends the marriage statutes to clarify the marital rights of a postoperative transsexual person, we must adhere to the common meaning of the statutory terms and invalidate any marriage that is not between persons of the opposite sex determined by their biological sex at birth.
The same legislature, by the way, that had made it possible for Michael Kantaras to change his name, change the sex on his birth certificate, obtain a male driver's license and a male passport, and become the legal adoptive father of his children. And the same legislature that, by that point, had banned same-sex marriage twice. Clearly, what they wanted was for Michael Kantaras to marry a man instead of a woman.

What is the goal here, anyway? The legislatures that enacted Florida's marriage statutes in 1977 and 1997; the nearly five million Floridians who voted for Amendment 2 in 2008; the lawmakers and voters responsible for dozens of similar laws and constitutional amendments across the country—were they all engaged in a concerted effort to make transgender marriage a strange patchwork of contradiction and injustice?

No, they just didn't care. It's all about gay marriage. That the transgender legal situation is such a mess is merely collateral damage.

Granted, if lawmakers and voters did take on transgender marriage directly, I can't say I'd be all that optimistic about how it would go,[3] but at least we'd be talking about the broader consequences of legislating. And at least we'd be confronting the reality that, by drawing the line between opposite-sex and same-sex, we're making the false presumption that sex is easy to define.

So if nothing else, a change in semantics is in order. Maybe the end result would be the same regardless, but the fight shouldn't be for legalizing same-sex marriage. It should be for taking sex out of marriage altogether.[4]

In conclusion…



1. A note on names and pronouns: There are countless style guides and media kits and what-not out there, and I ignore pretty much all of them. My rules are, use the name and pronoun the person would prefer; if it's not clear, guess, and try not to be a jerk about it; and resolve any lingering uncertainty in favor of what will be more accurate in the future, because whatever it is I'm writing, it will be read by a lot more people in the future than in the past.
    (If you're at all curious about how muddled and combative these debates can get, even (or perhaps especially) among the well-intentioned, check out the talk section of Grace's Wikipedia page. After a while I started just staring blankly as I scrolled down. Pretty sure I caught a "cissexist" in there somewhere.)
2. This has to be the first time I've been to MTV.com in at least a decade. Naturally, it was because they were the ones who bothered to track down an answer to an interesting and tricky legal question. If you read on in the article you'll find expressions of support for Grace from Tegan and Sara, Senses Fail, Broadway Calls, Toxicbreed, I Am the Avalanche, Motel Life, Circa Survive, Gaslight Anthem, CM Punk, and Fun.. I haven't looked into how many of those are actual things. I'm guessing about half.
3. Not optimistic in the short term, that is. But eventually it'll seem ridiculous that we even had to argue about this. As a friend tweeted after the North Carolina vote last week:
Voters in NC are not bigots, rednecks, or evil. They're just wrong. Love will overcome all, it always has.
4. If this blog were a hacky stand-up comedian or an unimaginative sitcom, there would be a lame joke here. Good thing it isn't.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Media Research Center's War on Liberal Comedy

Does anyone else remember The 1/2 Hour News Hour, Fox News' short-lived "comedy" show that was billed as the conservative answer to The Daily Show? There are plenty of dismal reviews and embarrassing clips out there—more than enough to justify putting "comedy" in scare quotes—so I won't pile on. I only bring it up because The 1/2 Hour News Hour may be dead, but its spirit lives on.

I'm referring to NewsBusted,[1] a video series produced by the Media Research Center—the same organization responsible for NewsBusters (obviously). Here's a sampling from a recent episode. Highlight the white text to reveal the punchlines, which I've hidden to avoid ruining the surprise. (Disclaimer: You will not be surprised.)
This year Tax Day falls on Tuesday, April 17. Tax Day, or as the half of Americans who pay no federal income tax call it…Obama Christmas.

Democratic advisor Hilary Rosen is under fire for saying Ann Romney, quote, "never worked a day in her life." Hey, if she really never worked a day in her life, Ann Romney would be…endorsing Obama.

Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen was suspended for five games after saying that he loves Fidel Castro. But not to worry, Guillen has just been offered a job in…the Obama administration.
And that's pretty much all it is, ad infinitum. Sometimes they have to take a convoluted route to get there, but invariably the punchline is little more than a lazy reference to some negative stereotype about liberals.[2] The jokes are even less sophisticated than "Why did the chicken cross the road? (To get to the other side)," which at least has the decency to not deliver a punchline at all.

But that's just one front in the MRC's War on Liberal Comedy. While NewsBusted is fighting fire with (attempted) fire, MRC president Brent Bozell is fighting fire with self-righteous anger over fire's stubborn insistence on continuing to exist.

Bozell's columns and blog posts for NewsBusters serve as a handy guide to what you should be outraged about if you lack both perspective and a sense of humor. In January, it was "ABC smutcom 'Modern Family'". Then it was "the bohemian elite at NBC" for failing to protect America from seeing an upraised middle finger during the Super Bowl. Then back to ABC, because somebody told Bozell what GCB stands for.[3]

And then, last week, this:
Come on, Jon. We dare you to prove you are an equal opportunity bigot. Your grotesque stunt displaying a Nativity scene in a vulgar manner to take a jab at Fox News is but the latest in a long line of unacceptable behavior and hypocrisy when it comes to the media’s treatment of traditional Christianity. Doing something similar with the Koran or the Torah is equally offensive. Since you’re so brave to offend Christians, are you equally brave to offend Muslims and Jews? We dare you.

Stewart thought he was being cute when he displayed a manger scene in front of a woman’s genitals to mock those allegedly ignoring the 'war on women.' If he’s such a daring political comedian, he should demonstrate his boldness by performing the same routine, but this time with a Koran and the Torah.

Otherwise he is not only a bigot but also an outright coward.
The amount of silliness on display here is almost overwhelming, so I'm just going to gloss over the question of which part of Jon Stewart's point—that everything has to be a "War" now, and it's getting out of hand, which is rather similar to a point I've made recently—Bozell failed to get. (I have the choices narrowed down to "every part" and "almost every part".)

That still leaves the fact that this is the president of an organization that dedicates its existence to the flagrantly partisan mission of "exposing and combating liberal media bias", and he sees fit to insist on non-partisan joke-telling—all while another division of the same organization produces (attempted) comedy that's substantially more partisan than anything I've ever seen on The Daily Show. It's too bad Bozell doesn't have the slightest ability to appreciate irony, because this is a good one.

1. According to the MRC:
NewsBusted™ is a weekly two-minute MRCTV comedy production that conservatives love and liberals love to hate. Featuring the comedic stylings of Jodi Miller, it is loaded with her irreverent, sarcastic wit and one-liners poking fun at the loony left.
I would take issue with virtually every part of that, up to and including the "weekly" part, as new episodes are actually posted twice a week.
2. Better over-analyzers of comedy than I have attempted to explain why conservatives have so much trouble being funny, but, for what it's worth, I think it's some combination of the following:
– The creators of NewsBusted (and The 1/2 Hour News Hour) are simply not very talented. And it's not helping things that the tendency (often fueled by conservatives themselves) is to look to The Daily Show and The Colbert Report as the standards for "liberal comedy"—I can certainly think of other shows that are a good deal hackier and a good deal more single-mindedly liberal. (Not that NewsBusted compares favorably to Real Time With Bill Maher either, but that's a bar that's a little easier to clear.)
– The best political comedy shows, like The Daily Show and Colbert, put comedy first, and if the collective backgrounds and political leanings of the people involved cause that comedy to have a liberal slant, then so be it. The 1/2 Hour News Hour and NewsBusted put politics first, aiming to be the conservative counterpoint to the liberal version of themselves, which is not something that exists.
– Comedy is fueled by misfortune, and conservatives, almost by definition, have little to complain about. They can make jokes at the expense of those who do have things to complain about, but when your ideology involves telling those same people to stop complaining and learn some responsibility and get a damn job, the jokes tend to come off as more mean-spirited than funny.
3. Of course, he either doesn't realize or doesn't care that neither the "G" nor the "C" are meant to be taken literally:
Time TV critic James Poniewozik protested “I have a hard time believing that anyone will see themselves insulted by GCB: its target is not Christians but phonies.” Not so. There are certainly Christian hypocrites that can make for great grist in entertainment. But this show offers the viewing public no authentic Christians at all.
What else is there to say? Bozell's rebuttal to Poniewozik's point is a restatement of the point he's rebutting. We're through the looking glass.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

War? War.

Is it just me, or have we started getting ourselves into new wars on just about a weekly basis? I'm starting to have trouble keeping it all straight, and I can't imagine I'm the only one, so I thought I'd put together this simple guide to the various wars Americans are fighting right now:[*]


Hope that helps.

* In the interest of space I had to leave a few out, but let's not forget about those whose lives have been affected by the wars on abortion, adulthood, adverbs, Alzheimer's, America, Amish dairy farmers, anonymity, apostrophes, Arianna Huffington, Arizona, art, Asian carp, atheism, babies, bodily fluids, California's medical marijuana industry, cameras, capitalism, the Catholic Church, civility, climate change, cloud storage systems, coal, cockroaches, comparative effectiveness research, conservative women, conservatives in general, content farms, contraception, cookbooks, "copywrong", coral, Craisins, crony capitalism, democracy, Democrats, doctors, driving, the EPA, errorism, Facebook, fertility, Fox News, fracking, fraternities, frisée, fun, gay teens, general purpose computation, grandfathered unlimited users, graymail, GRUB, guns, happiness, headaches, heavy metal, hunger, hyperbole, I-4, icky lady parts, illegal immigrants, immigrants, infographics, invasive plant species, IsAnyoneUp.com, isolationism, journalism, the judiciary, leaks, lemonade stands, liberals, libertarians, Libertarians, libertylight bulbs, linguistic diversity, men, microbes, "Mommy", money, mosquitoes, NDAA indefinite detention, the 99%, NLRB employees, the Oakland Raiders, Obama's faith, obesity, Occupy Wall Street, offshore wind, oil, organized labor, Orlando, Florida, pajamas, particulate emissions, peace, photoshopping, police, the porn industry, poor children, potholes, prehistoric peace, prostitution, PTSD, pubic hair, Reagan's defense policies, religious freedom, Republicans, Rod Blagojevich, Ron Wyden, the rule of law, the safety net, salt, schools, science, secrecy, sex, sharia law, snoring, SOPA, SpongeBob SquarePants, standardized tests, StubHub, supersized "alcopops", the Tea Party, teachers, teen sexting, Terra, Tim Tebow, the trifecta of tyranny, truckers, the truth, unemployment, veterans' benefits, vitamins, voter fraud reformvoting, Walmart, want, the War on Christmas, the war on the War on Christmas, the war on the war on the War on Christmas, the war on the war on the war on the War on Christmas, waste, weed, weeds, whistleblowers, Wisconsin's wind industry, wolvesworkers, wrinkles, and, of course, war.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Really, America? Rick Santorum?

Ugh, alright, let's talk about Rick Santorum.

As someone who tries very hard to observe the principle of reciprocity—"we should respect the reasonableness and the goodwill of those with whom we disagree…even if we judge their opinions to be unreasonable and/or their views to be unjust or immoral"—I refuse to simply write Santorum off as a bigot. So I did some investigating, and it turns out he's not a bigot—at least, if you believe what he says when asked if he's a bigot.

Consider these two quotes from Santorum's interview with Piers Morgan last August:[1]
There are a lot of things in society that are sins or moral wrongs, that we don't make illegal. Just because something is immoral or something is wrong, doesn't mean that it should be illegal, and that the federal government or any level of government should involve themselves in it. . . . If I was a legislator in the state of Texas dealing with the Texas sodomy law [that was overturned by the Supreme Court in Lawrence v. Texas], I would've voted against it, because I don't think that's something that the state should involve itself in.
—————
The Catholic church teaches that homosexuality is a sin. I'm a Catholic, and I subscribe to the Catholic church's teaching. But that's not relevant from the standpoint of how I view these issues from a public policy point of view.
And this one, from an appearance on Fox News around the same time:
The bottom line is, we can have a public policy difference about what the proper marriage laws should be in this country and what's in the best interests of society, and not hate somebody or feel ill will toward anybody. As I've said many times, I have friends who are gay, I accept them as they are, but I disagree with them vehemently about what is in the best interests of society with respect to our marriage laws. . . . It's not personal, it's about policy.
Got it? He believes homosexuality is immoral, but he doesn't consider immorality a valid reason for the government to get involved. And because he subscribes to the teachings of the Catholic church (he's careful to point that part out, as if everything that flows from it is somehow involuntary), he believes homosexuality is a sin, but he doesn't consider sinfulness a valid reason for the government to get involved either. All that matters, he says, is what's in the best interests of society—a determination that should not be tainted by the biases of one's own moral and religious beliefs. Santorum, who of course has a healthy respect for scientific objectivity, judiciously examined the evidence on all sides and reached the conclusion that, strictly as a matter of public policy, THE GOVERNMENT MUST PUT A STOP TO GAY MARRIAGE BEFORE SOCIETY IS RUINED FOREVER.

Any resemblance his political views may have to his personal moral and religious beliefs is, apparently, purely coincidental.

One can't help but wonder, then, what is the basis for his political views? The closest thing I can find to an answer came during the January 8 debate:
We know there’s certain things that work in America. The Brookings Institute came out with a study just a few years ago that said, if you graduate from high school, and if you work, and if you’re a man, if you marry, if you’re a woman, if you marry before you have children, you have a 2 percent chance of being in poverty in America. And to be above the median income, if you do those three things, 77 percent chance of being above the median income.

Why isn’t the president of the United States or why aren’t leaders in this country talking about that and trying to formulate, not necessarily federal government policy, but local policy and state policy and community policy, to help people do those things that we know work and we know are good for society?
And again during the January 16 debate:
It’s very interesting, if you look at a study that was done by the Brookings Institute back in 2009, they determined that if Americans do three things, they can avoid poverty. Three things. Work, graduate from high school, and get married before you have children. Those three things, if you do, according to Brookings, results in only 2 percent of people who do all those things ending up in poverty, and 77 percent above the national average in income.
Clearly, that Brookings Institute study has had quite the impact. It's also a common talking point at campaign appearances, and there are implicit references to it on his website.[2] The upshot is always the same: It has been conclusively proven (by Science!) that there is a threefold path to moderate success—get a job, get a high school education, and get married before you have kids (or is it just that you aren't supposed to have kids if you aren't married? I can't tell, and I'm getting a headache trying to figure out if it matters). Thus, the government should do everything in its power to promote those three things—even if it means depriving gay people of same-sex marriage rights, which has something to do with the third thing, I guess.[3]

This is the form interventionist social conservatism has taken—say all the right things about condemning bigotry and valuing individual freedom and approaching the issues with an open mind, then reach the same moralistic conclusions as your garden-variety 20th century bigot. Santorum isn't even all that good at it, but, lucky for him, he doesn't have to be. We've had, like, 500 debates, most of which have been hosted and moderated by members of the Liberal Media, and at no point has he been asked any of the following:
  • How, exactly, does being married cause a person's income to increase?
  • Have you read the Economic Policy Institute's report suggesting you've confused cause with effect?
  • Did that possibility honestly never occur to you?
  • By the way, even if you're right about the benefits of marriage, what part of that Brookings Institute study makes you think its findings apply only to opposite-sex couples?
  • And do we really need to explain to you, Senator, why it is that unplanned, pre-marital pregnancy isn't a huge concern in the gay community?
  • Seriously, do you want us to draw you a picture? Because we'd be happy to draw you a picture.
  • Wait a minute…that Brookings Institute study was released less than three years ago, but your political views have been fairly consistent since at least the early 90s. How did you rationalize your big-government moralism before 2009?[4]
  • Have you learned to travel back and forth through time, allowing you to read the report decades before it was released?
  • Still, wouldn't you expect someone who has mastered time travel to understand at least the basics of how causation works?
  • Also, you were recently asked, "as a champion of family values and keeping America strong, would you continue to destroy families by sending nonviolent drug offenders to prison?", to which you answered, "the federal government doesn't do that." Which country's federal government were you talking about?
  • Was it Portugal's?
  • Or are you actually that obtuse?
Instead, he gets questions that amount to, "are you a bigot?" His answers are simplistic and logically dubious, and they go unchallenged—not because he wins over his critics, but because nothing he says changes their perception that, yeah, he probably is a bigot. But there's also nothing to change his supporters' perception that he's not a bigot—he's just trying to do what's in the best interests of society. And until he's forced to defend his views in a real, meaningful way, I can't say for sure that his supporters are wrong.

In other words, if Rick Santorum wins this election, I'm going to blame the media.

1. Perhaps the most incredible thing Santorum said during the interview:
From a public policy point of view there are a lot of things that I find morally wrong—or, as you would use the term, sinful—that don't necessarily rise to the level that government should be involved in regulating that activity.
I would love to see what's on that list. I bet it makes Ned Flanders look like a libertine.
2. From Santorum's "Bold solutions for America’s families":
The family is the foundation of our country. We need to have an economic policy that supports families and freedom and encourages marriage.

I don’t believe that poverty is a permanent condition. How do we effectively address poverty in rural and urban America? We promote jobs, marriage, quality education and access to capital and embrace the supports of civil society.
3. Not a whole lot of room for controversy on the first two. That being employed is one of the keys to having an above-median income sounds like something Tim McCarver would say, and it's only marginally less obvious that having a high school education is important, too. We may never reach a consensus on how, exactly, but I think we can all agree that employment and education are to be encouraged.
    Also, it should be noted that Santorum hasn't actually stated a problem here. Even if we come up with the best possible policies for promoting employment, education, and marriage, it's still going to be the case that a single parent without a high school education is more likely to have a below-median income. He's engaging in the fallacy that conservatives often (rightly) accuse liberals of—defining a problem in terms of inequality, which makes it virtually impossible to satisfactorily resolve.
4. I'm guessing the answer to that question can be found in his book, which I assume is readily available at one of those warehouse stores right off the interstate, where you can find entire pallets of generic self-help guides, unfunny joke compilations, and autobiographies of middle-tier politicians for sale at a fraction of their original price.

Friday, February 3, 2012

A Growing Rift in the Republican Party

Here's the opening to Ben Shapiro's recent column for TownHall.com:
In 1831, Henry Clay formed a new political party. He called it the Whig Party. His goal was to ensure Jeffersonian democracy and fight President Andrew Jackson, a Democrat. Over the course of the next 20 years, the Whig Party achieved several presidential victories. But as slavery assumed more and more national importance in the political debate, the Whig Party began to shatter.
As Shapiro goes on to explain, the Whig Party was gone by 1860.[1] The anti-slavery members in the North left to form their own party, and the pro-slavery members in the South left to form their own country. And now, seven score and twelve years later, Shapiro wonders if the unrecognizable modern-day descendant of that upstart Northern party is in the early stages of a Whig-like demise:
The center of the Republican Party cannot hold. With Mitt Romney's victory in the Florida primary, it's clear that large swaths of the Republican establishment have rejected the Tea Party; it's similarly clear that the Tea Party has largely rejected Romney and his backers. . . . On what basis will the party unite? On fiscal responsibility? Romney and his cohorts have said nothing about serious entitlement reform; the Tea Party, meanwhile, calls for it daily. On taxation? Romney has a 59-point plan that smacks of class warfare; the Tea Party wants broad tax cuts across the board. On health care? Romney and much of the establishment aren't against the individual mandate in principle; the Tea Party despises the individual mandate as a violation of Constitutionally-guaranteed liberties. On foreign policy? Paleoconservatives want a Ron Paul-like isolationism; neoconservatives want a George W. Bush-like interventionism; realists want something in between.

There is the very real potential for the Republican Party to spin apart in the near future. It could easily become a set of regional parties knit together by opposition to extreme liberalism. Chris Christie and his followers don't have all that much in common with Rick Perry and his followers. Never has that chasm been so obvious.
To recap, we have four issues identified as signs of the growing rift within the Republican Party:
  • Entitlement reform. Tea Partiers won't shut up about it; Romney doesn't like to bring it up.[2]
  • Taxes. Tea Partiers favor "broad tax cuts across the board"; Romney has a convoluted plan including a number of prongs which, considered together, bear a vague resemblance to something that might, if you squint and the lighting is just right, be described as broad tax cuts across the board.
  • Healthcare. Tea Partiers are staunchly opposed to the individual mandate at the federal level; Romney claims to be staunchly opposed to the individual mandate at the federal level.
  • Foreign policy. Nobody can agree on anything.
I'm reminded of the debate from Futurama ("I say your three cent titanium tax goes too far!" "And I say your three cent titanium tax doesn't go too far enough!"). I mean, yeah, Romney's moderate in virtually every sense of the word, and I totally understand why so many Republicans are indifferent—if not outwardly hostile—toward his inevitable nomination. But let's not lose our minds here. Mitt Romney is not the harbinger of an ideological split in the Republican Party. He doesn't even have an ideology.

But, much like a wildly off-target golf shot that rolls to a stop ten feet from the cup on an adjacent hole, Shapiro is at least wrong in a strangely accurate way. I doubt anything can save his central comparison—slavery demanded a level of humanitarian concern and moral outrage unmatched by any contemporary issue, with the possible exception of slavery—but if we're going to insist on trying to find the closest parallel, I think we can come up with a few injustices more appalling than high taxes and mandatory health insurance. How about:
  • Denial of same-sex marriage rights
  • The War on Drugs
  • Mandatory minimum sentences
  • Torture and indefinite detention
  • Capital punishment
  • Restrictions on access to abortion and contraception
To name a few. Obviously, I'm talking about issues where libertarians diverge from conservatives—and the Republican Party in general. And yet, so many libertarians are nonetheless content to support a party that only sometimes aligns with their core values.[3] I don't have any great insight into whether that uneasy coalition is about to fall apart, but why shouldn't it? The discord Shapiro's talking about—the manufactured panic over Romney—is little more than petty squabbling among conservatives about the ideal volume at which to be conservative. Meanwhile, they're continuing to ignore and alienate an entire bloc of voters who disagree with them in actual, substantive ways, and who probably should've left the Republican Party a long time ago.

1. Would it surprise you to learn that the Whig Party has been revived? Me neither. And I more than welcome this development, if only because it carries with it the possibility—however remote—of "Whiggery" re-entering the lexicon.
2. At least, that's what Shapiro says. Skeptical, I went to Romney's website, and I can see how he missed it—you have to go all the way to page 142 of "Believe in America: Mitt Romney's Plan for Jobs and Economic Growth" to find the section on entitlement reform. Shapiro must've given up somewhere around the chapter on "Human Capital Policy", which sounds a lot like a phrase a computer would produce in a valiant—but ultimately unsuccessful—attempt to pass the Turing test.
3. I'm sure this goes without saying, but, of course, all libertarians have exactly the same set of beliefs and priorities, and thus it's perfectly appropriate to broadly characterize them as one single-minded entity.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Newt Gingrich's Crusade Against Linguistic Diversity

Newt Gingrich has said many times that he favors making English the official language, but I've never been all that clear on why he feels this is so important. The issue came up again during Monday's debate, and Newt managed to clear up precisely nothing, but at least he threw out some numbers:
The challenge of the United States is simple. There are 86 languages in Miami Dade College, 86. There are over 200 languages spoken in Chicago. Now, how do you unify the country? What is the common bond that enables people to be both citizens and to rise commercially and have a better life and a greater opportunity?
A school spokesman confirmed to Politifact that there are indeed 86 languages spoken at Miami Dade College. A similar number (85) appears at the top of this PDF the school put together to show off how many international students it has. So Gingrich is right, but his point is…what, exactly? This is a college that's proud of the international diversity of its student body, putting it on par with every single other educational institution in the developed world. (Even Liberty Freakin' University, which is about to start construction on the Jerry Freakin' Falwell Library, brags of enrolling "over 900 international students from over 80 foreign countries.") Besides, most of those foreign students won't be allowed to stay here after they get their degrees anyway, which is a problem Newt actually recognizes and says he wants to fix.[1]

His other claim—that over 200 languages are spoken in Chicago—is just as baffling, and it's something he's been saying for a while, if this 1997 column by the always delightful Pat Buchanan is any indication:
With 30 million immigrants since 1965, almost all now coming from Asia, Africa and Latin America, our European ethnic core — 90 percent in 1965 — is shrinking fast — to the delight of our president, who looks to the day soon when we are a nation of “minorities.” We no longer worship the same God, share the same ideas of morality, admire the same heroes or celebrate the same holidays.

“Do you realize that there are 200 languages spoken in the Chicago school system? That’s an asset, not a liability,” Newt Gingrich recently burbled to Joe Klein. Oh. I thought the scattering of the peoples at the Tower of Babel, when the Lord confused their languages, was a punishment, not a blessing.
I don't know what's more fascinating—that Newt has been citing the same dubious statistic for at least 15 years now, or that apparently at some point between then and now he reversed his position on whether linguistic diversity is a good thing or a bad thing.[2] Maybe he read Buchanan's column and had a change of heart.

Either way, it's unclear just what in the hell he's talking about, since I can't find a source for the claim or an instance where he's been asked to elaborate. The U.S. Census Bureau's latest data on language use shows that there are primary speakers of 137 different languages in the entire state of Illinois.[3] That's a little south of 200, but it's still a big number, I guess. Although it should be noted that 27 of those languages have no reported speakers in the state who cannot also speak English "very well", and another 64 have at least one, but fewer than a thousand such speakers (including 30 languages with fewer than a hundred). So that leaves only 46 languages with even moderately sizable non-English-speaking populations, which would probably still sound like a lot if we weren't comparing it to the insane exaggerations Newt's been throwing around.

Speaking of which, back to the debate, where moments later Gingrich shared with us his nightmarish vision of an America that sits on the precipice of succombing fully to the ravages of polylingualism:
But as a country to unify ourselves in a future in which there may well be 300 or 400 languages spoken in the United States, I think it is essential to have a central language that we expect people to learn and to be able to communicate with each other in.
I don't know if this is intentionally manipulative or just ignorant (though in Newt's case I'm inclined to assume the former), but it has to be one or the other. For one thing, according to Ethnologue, the number of languages spoken in the U.S. is probably in the 300-400 range right now.[4] And Newt's predicting divisiveness and incomprehensibility? I haven't seen it. Unless we're counting the Republican debates. [Rimshot]

Moreover, the number of languages in the world, much like the number of extant animal species or profitable daily newspapers, is declining at an unprecedented rate. Many of the languages spoken in the U.S., as you might expect, were around long before the Europeans arrived, and it seems a little unfair to lump Native Americans in with immigrants when you're spreading misinformation about people coming here and not learning the local tongue, but, regardless, all but a handful of their languages are pretty close to extinction—so that's a hundred or so things Newt won't have to worry about much longer. Indigenous languages brought over by immigrants from Africa and Asia make up another big chunk of the 300-400, and most of them are in similarly dire straits. And even languages with stable populations elsewhere in the world, often retained initially by entire communities of newly-arriving immgrants, tend to disappear within a few generations.

What, then, is Newt so worried about? Who can ever say for sure, but I think the big numbers are nothing but misdirection. There's only one language that stands even a remote chance of reaching the same level of importance in America as English, y todo el mundo sabe exactamente cual es. But Newt isn't willing to aim his rhetoric directly at Spanish speakers—at least in part because, despite all implications to the contrary, many of them speak English too—so he demonizes the whole universe of human language instead.

If the problem is that a lot of people are speaking Spanish, the complainer is accused (sometimes fairly, sometimes not) of being xenophobic, and possibly racist. But if the problem is reframed—if it's that people are speaking, like, hundreds if not thousands of different languages and making everything confusing as all hell, then that almost sounds like a sensible thing to complain about. Assuming there's anyone left who can understand you.

1. From Newt.org:
We have the best universities in the world, but many foreigners who come to study are turned away and sent back home as soon as they get their degree. It is foolish to educate someone well enough for them to start the next job-creating startup, only to force them to leave America and start their business overseas. We want the jobs here and that means we want the job creators here.
2. Actually, it seems more likely that Buchanan was just being haphazard with context. I'm willing to bet Gingrich's next sentence started with "but", and proceeded to make it abundantly clear that his previous sentence was merely a pre-emptive strike against charges of cultural insensitivity.
3. More or less. I counted only languages that are specifically identified, but there are also a few thousand people lumped into catch-all categories like India n.e.c. (not elsewhere classified), Pakistan n.e.c., American Indian, African, and Uncodable, so the count may be a little higher. On the other hand, languages like Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian—which exemplify the adage that a language is just a dialect with an army and a navy—are listed separately despite being mutually intelligible.
4. This includes 176 languages known to be the primary language of at least one living, U.S.-born person, and about 190 languages classified as non-indigenous ("spoken by relatively recently arrived or transient populations which do not have a well-established, multi-generational community in the country"). Unsurprisingly, the line between the two categories is rather hazy.