Reading at the Crossroads

Reading at the Crossroads is an archive for columns and letters which appeared in the Terre Haute Tribune Star. I also blog here when my patience is exhausted by what I feel is irritating, irrational and/or ironic in life. --gary daily

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Location: Terre Haute, Indiana, United States

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Thursday, January 26, 2012

“Someone has to read his bullshit” file--Part 2

The Teachings of Speaker Gingrich
The New York Review of Books 
August 10, 1995
Joan Didion

by Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen
Baen Books/distributed by Simon and Schuster, 382 pp.       
To Renew America
by Newt Gingrich
Harper Audio, 260 pp., $17.00 two cassettes (abridged, approximately three hours)

Go Here

Way back in 1995 Joan Didion skewered Newton Leroy Gingrich’s stylistic formula: it’s made up of intellectual pretensions linked to self-help, make-a-million, step programs. Alas, some Americans uncritically embrace these qualities with a tenacity of spirit akin to those green and yellow greasers, naked to the waist, Green Bay Packer football fans we see on TV every mid-December. 

The  heroes Gingrich dances around but never quite understands or engage with on the intellectual pole of his puffed up resume include Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Franklin Roosevelt, Isaac Asimov, Alexis de Tocqueville, Tom Clancy, Allen Drury’s Advise and Consent, Robert Walpole, William Gladstone, Gordon Wood, Peter Drucker, Arnold Toynbee and even, with qualifications, Gore Vidal for his Lincoln.
Ray Kroc’s Grinding It Out is high up the Newtster’s  How To Make the Big Bucks pole. And serendipity provides a name we all recognize in 2012, though it was new to Didion in 1995:

“‘the great leader of Coca-Cola for many years, Woodruff,’ an Omaha entrepreneur named Herman Cain (‘who’s the head of Godfather Pizza, he’s an African-American who was born in Atlanta and his father was Woodruff’s chauffeur’)”. [You heard it here: Herman Cain is in a great position to become Newton Leroy Gingrich’s running mate in 2012.  After all, does anyone really remember the Republican’s  Palin fiasco?]

Finally, still drawing on Didion’s perceptive reading of these two books (She is the masochist “Someone” in my “Someone has to read his bullshit” title.) we come to fully understand why no Republican Gingrich served with in Congress has much good to say about the man.

Forget stabs in the back, forget embarrassing conversations about family (you know, those “How’s the wife, Newt? stuff),  forget the pain of having to look into Newt’s sweaty, snarling, dough boy face for more than two minutes. In the final analysis, the man’s conversation must be the Mount Everest of verbose tediousness. Try listening to this stuff for very long:

[Didion on To Renew America]  There were “Seven key aspects” and “Nine vision-level principles” of “Personal Strength” (Pillar Two of American Civilization), there were “Five core principles” of “Quality as Defined by Deming” (Pillar Five), there were “Three Big Concepts” of “Entrepreneurial Free Enterprise” (Pillar Three). There were also, still under Pillar Three, “Five Enemies of Entrepreneurial Free Enterprise” (“Bureaucracy,” “Credentialing,” “Taxation,” “Litigation,” and “Regulation”), which would have been identical to Pillar Four’s “Seven welfare state cripplers of progress” had the latter not folded in “Centralization,” “Anti-progress Cultural Attitude,” and “Ignorance.”

The only thing I can imagine being worse than listening to this clap-trap is listening to it while Newton Leroy Gingrich is in control of a Power Point magic wand and Herman Cain is standing next to him smiling.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

From the “Someone has to read his bullshit” file

Tweets (of a speculative nature) quoting from Newton Leroy Gingrich’s specutaltive fiction oeuvre are  twittering here:

Our least favorite history professor, last seen eating an unripened lemon somewhere in the bowels of Florida, has worked hard on his “alternative history” works.  And judging from the sales and his tax returns, it’s paid off.  Book Scan reports two titles have sold 100,000 copies. Never Call Retreat: Lee and Grant: The Final Victory is part of a series which has the South winning the Civil War. Newton is shoring up his base, I guess.  And you have to love that double colon in the title.  Pearl Harbor: A Novel of December 8 undoubtedly allows the Stars and Stripes (Or is it the Stars and Bars?) to fly through the smoke of that dark day after.  Haven’t read it (I’m not about to be the “Someone” of this post’s title.) but it’s a good bet that Newton has FDR arranging that entire Pearl Harbor thingy. 

Dennis Johnson of Mellville House collects some John Stewart worthy excerpts. 
Well, Gingrich himself may be shy [sic] about these books, but thank God an anonymous fan isn’t: Someone has started a Twitter page called @gingrichfiction to celebrate the revealing nature of these masterful works.

For example, it gives this “excerpt” from one of his World War II books:

    “His Satanic rituals complete, President Roosevelt resumed work on the architecture of The New Deal.”

Then there’s this one, which must be from one of the Civil War books:

    “With the Confederate army marching toward Washington, cowardly president Lincoln shouted ‘every man for himself!’ and fled to France.”

Gingrich Fiction also includes helpful anouncements, such as this one:

    due to popular demand, Newt’s novel “Brown v. Board of Education, Overturned?” is in its sixth printing. thanks, readers!

Mostly, though, it’s just classic excerpts, such as this one, which must be from one of his — well, from a more modern tale of some kind:

    “‘If the Soviets get to the moon first,’ Nixon intoned gravely, ‘they’ll have the rights to all the moon gold for the next 400 years!’”
Newton Leroy’s use of historical poetic license is breathtaking.  And this from a man who always gives the impression, physically and emotionally, of having trouble breathing the same air most people in this country do.

Is Attacking the N.C.A.A. a Head Fake?

January 20, 2012
Guilty Until Proved Innocent

In America, a person is presumed innocent until proved guilty. Unless, that is, he plays college sports. . . .  [Go Here]
And Nocera feels his tale of injustice requires a second column:
Living in Fear of the N.C.A.A.
Published: January 23, 2012

It was early in the evening of Jan. 13 when Ryan Boatright, the freshman basketball player at the University of Connecticut, learned that he was being suspended from the team for the second time this season. Earlier that day, he had flown into South Bend, Ind., with his teammates for a game against Notre Dame. The 19-year-old point guard was excited because some 400 people from his hometown, Aurora, Ill., were coming to see him play. . . . [Go Here]

“The columns," Nocera concludes, "have also prompted e-mails, mostly from parents of college athletes, with their own examples of N.C.A.A. injustices.”

Fine.  Ryan Boatright and his loving, supportive mother, appear to have been subjected to overwrought  abuse by college athletic watchdog authorities   But a few questions about the efforts of Joe Nocera and his Inspector Jarvet crusade against the N.C.A.A. need to be asked.  Some thoughts beyond the relentless pettiness of the N.C.A.A.’s investigative procedures and the personal tribulations of the Boatright’s are in order. Nocera is turning his justice seeking into a vendetta that blinds more than it illuminates.

Why is Nocera wasting his time beating this mean but very lame horse, the NCAA? He drums up misdirected indignation and in doing so deflects attention from the realities of College Sports, Inc.  His exercise is akin to blaming wardens for the bulging populations in their prisons, pill salesmen for the lack of health and safety standards in India's drug factories, and the cop on the beat for the punk kids without jobs or an education who turn to drugs and crime.

It is sad when good kids and their good mothers are done wrong by this small part (the N.C.A.A.)  of a very large corrupt and corrupting system.  But Nocera’s energy and outrage is misplaced.  The foundation stones of the untouchable Big Buck Program’s edifice of the college sports entertainment industry consists of plutocratic boosters, cowed university presidents, witless boards of trustees, and the public's passive support (as hypnotized TV game time couch potatoes, fantasy league fanatics and all around jock sniffers). 

What is ignored by Nocera and most is that college sports have nothing, nada, to do with the educational and research mission of institutions of higher learning.

Nocera, Mr. Boatright's mother, and every college athlete's parent, and every college student  should not be overly concerned with pesky, unfair, outrageous rules the N.C.A.A. enforces with little real effect.  They should ask how many hours does the athlete-student spend in the weight room?  How many classes do athlete-students miss when the team is on the road?  What monies, in student fees and tax support, go into maintaining and growing The Program that could and should  be going into educational resources?  How many elite athletes get scholarships while elite math, language, science students scrape by on loans and part time jobs?

In the end, Nocera is throwing stones into a small and personal pond of injustice.  He feels good about this.  He has chosen an easy target.  He should be aiming at the large cesspool that is College Sports, Inc..

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Fog Clears, The Smog Remains

Let's give some credit to the Republican primary exercise and the debates without number we have been made to endure.

Thanks to the "process" we can be certain of Gingrich's views on food stamp fueled African Americans, open marriages and wives with medical problems. His trade mark snarl will forever live in our memories. And it's clear that Newt's pontificating resonates with a certain strain of voters. Newt manages to make the Pope speaking ex cathedra appear to have the gravitas of a Chinese fortune cookie pronouncement.  Look for Gingrich's next step into respectability: It's out with the "Newt" and in with the formidable Newton Leroy.

Romney has agreed to open his miserly tax payments up to public scrutiny. (I'm betting on less than a 15% rate payment. You don't run Bain for years and not come away with a suitcase full of good tax loophole tricks.)  Besides overcoming the stiffness of privilege, the main problem Romney has left to squarely face is (Thanks to Gail Collins's deep and thorough investigative reports.) why in the hell he insists on duck taping (or something) his dog to the roof of his car when he goes on family vacations.  I'm NOT saying it's a Mormon thing.

Also achieved, Cain, Bachmann, Huntsman and Perry, the low lying vegetation in the Republican's wide and wild weed patch, have been unceremoniously removed from the Republican base's riddled thoughts. True, this means the loss of some comic relief, but the politicos on the Right see smiles as akin to going off message. Such responses reveal weakness in their stern Crusade against the Obama apocalypse.

And now we see that Trickster Santorum will go with those sweater vests and playing his "holier than thou" card to the bitter end. Or at least until he can make a deal with the clear front-runner. He stares out at diminishing crowds and dreams of getting a Veep deal, ideally running next to the uber rich guy with all those kids. "Bain Rhymes with Pain" Romney is just the kind of guy the Rickster learned to serve so well in Congress.  And speaking of potential Veeps, wouldn't Cain be the logical choice on a Gingrich ticket?  They both like pizza, have similar views on unemployed black people, and respect women--exactly in that order.

Ron Paul is an honorable man hobbled by a deplorable, dated and sclerotic ideology. He will survive to the end in hopes of influencing a meaningless Republican Platform document. The stalwarts of the Republican party laugh behind his back. As they see it, who needs a platform when you can attack the "liberal" media, the socialist Obama, and Greece's retirement program?

Not to be ignored in this review, the candidate for President of South Carolina, Stephen Colbert, has thrown egg in the faces of the Supreme Court Justices who further enabled corporate money and bloated plutocrats to run wildly through the veins of democracy in their "Citizens United" ruling.  Hopefully his Super PAC will live on beyond the primary results in the Palmetto State, home to slavery, Strom Thurmond and a wide variety of racist nuts.

Finally, who can wait for the counting of votes in FLORIDA?  No one can seriously think that Iowa will be allowed to get away with their distinctly minor league, vote counting incompetence. Personally, I'm confident  Florida has the experience to hold on to their title of Poll Prank Powerhouse.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Martin Luther King, Jr. and the 1%

Martin Luther King, Jr. was well aware of growing income inequality and the evils following in its wake in 1967.  This was when the 1% Club was only a gleam in Scrooge McDuck's eye. At that time, King wrote this:
"The contemporary tendency in our society is to base our distribution on scarcity, which has vanished, and to compress our abundance into the overfed mouths of the middle [ah, those were the days] and upper classes until they gag with superfluity. If democracy is to have breadth of meaning, it is necessary to adjust this inequity. It is not only moral, but it is also intelligent. We are wasting and degrading human life by clinging to archaic thinking."

Try this on for size.  If being super rich is at least partially relative to your surroundings, is it better to be in the 1% in, say, Clarksville, TN or Terre Haute, IN.? . . . Times up. It's Terre Haute, hands down. If you're raking in $241,000 per in The Haute, you are in the 1% and you're income is 8 times the median income of your neighbors. By contrast, Clarksville is a land of 1% opportunity and near equality by comparison. It _only_ takes $201K to enter the 1% golden circle and that is _only_ 4 times Joe/Jane Blow's median income.

Scout out the inequalities in your own community here:

What Percent Are You?

Monday, January 09, 2012

Let's Get Blunt

Here’s a pointed comment currently banging through sport journalism’s echo chamber:

Indiana State [as reported by the Associated Press] offered a more blunt assessment [of the NCAA Rules Reform Package], suggesting the change could “create some real nightmares.

The problem is, many coaches, especially at the (Football Championship Subdivision) level, in all sports, are usually not around for five years and when the coach leaves, the new coach and institution may be “stuck” with a student-athlete they no longer want (conduct issues, grades, etc.) or the new coach may have a completely different style of offense/defense that the student-athlete no longer fits into. Yet, the institution is ‘locked in’ to a five-year contract potentially with someone that is of no athletic usefulness to the program.

ISU’s “blunt assessment” speaks directly to a portion of proposed NCAA reforms: “Individual schools,” it reads, “can choose to award multiyear scholarships. Scholarships may not be revoked based on athletic performance.”

When you’re against reform it usually means that you think things in their present state are just hunky-dory. You be the judge.

The blunt truth is athletic scholarships now work within a business model that dominates Big Buck College Athletics. There’s nothing personal, let alone educational, about this. In practice, the withdrawal of an athletic scholarships is a four step retooling process.

1. Coach $$$$ comes to the conclusion that a student-athlete recruited last year, or two or three years ago (and now a full-fledged athlete-student), is not producing on game days.

2. Worse yet, this athlete-student is not responding in a positive or acceptable level to The Program’s system. (Those long, long hours in the weight room, reviewing film, and on the practice field or court.)

3. And/or, Coach $$$$ may be one of those “many coaches” who (as stated in ISU’s candid, hammer-style argument) “are usually not around for five years” and s/he didn’t recruit this loser. Management asks: Why, oh why, should Coach $$$$ pay for this egregious recruiting error?

4. And so it’s the end of a scholarship for this athlete-student. A shiny replacement part is inserted. The Program rolls on.

As for the athlete-student who failed to read the fine print or ask the right questions during their much ballyhooed signing ceremony, s/he has been introduced to the dark downside of signing up with The Program. For the point guard without quickness, the nose guard without a nose for the ball, the student without a degree, it’s off to play security guard back home.

None of this is to say that the “blunt assessment” put forward by an anonymous source at ISU is something to be denied or disowned. Their assessment was not a twitter-truth, something thumbed today, regretted tomorrow. Their assessment was simply and bluntly a business-as-usual truth. And in reality, ISU was speaking for schools from Boston to Boise. In fact, 75 institutions of higher learning have joined ISU in dissent against the tepid NCAA reform proposal on multiyear athletic scholarships.

So I propose cheers to those who manage ISU’s Program — the coaches and the athletic director, President Bradley and the Indiana State University Board of Trustees. It is a good thing to be blunt in word and deed when it comes to college athletics. Hypocrisy and emotional fog have hidden College Sports, Inc. from view far too long.

[Letter published in Terre Haute Tribune Star, Jan. 9, 2012]

Friday, January 06, 2012

The Flag of Totalism Rightists Fly

I spend some time each day frustrating myself by responding to blog and forum comments posted by Rightists.  The silly, not deserving a response, issues they raise have the one redeeming element of requiring me to ask: Why might these people think along these crooked, foggy lines? 

A strain in modern day Conservatism is traditionalism.  This is a strength (see Edmund Burke) and a weakness (see most Rightists today).  Here, for example, is the obvious weakness in arguments put forward supporting the proud display of the Confederate flag. With neither a cough or a blush, Rightists hold that the Stars and Bars stands for something more, something, hmmm, more noble, than the symbol of the slave holding states’ war on the United States and the Constitution.  Their urgency toward historical purification of the putrid Lost Cause can’t be achieved without misrepresenting the historical record. 

And why would Rightist conservatives of today be interested in this sorry, doomed to failure, flag  enterprise?  Think states rights dogma. Think Red states/Blue states. Think the sanctity of property, even human beings as property. Think the “underdog,” put upon, self-image Rightists hold and cultivate.  Given these battles, past and present and all raised to the level of a World Wrestling Entertainment Global Smackdown struggle,  Rightists require a traditionalism with no loose ends, no past failings, a totalism that any reading of history shows is beyond the reach of mere human beings acting over time. 

This forced  reading of history must be peopled by good guys and bad guys, stances that are  clearly right and clearly wrong, questions and issues drawn in stark black and white terms. This is the dynamic of analysis in the Rightist conservative world historical view. Thus the weird propensity of Rightist conservatives to embrace conspiracy theories-- “birthers,” “deniers,” “Agenda 21,” “9/11 ers,” “Clinton body count,” . . . the list goes on–provides an insight into their cheesy traditionalism.  They tightly grip irrationally in their clenched fists and call it Truth with a capital T.  For Rightist conservatives the past is not just another country, the past is an alien planet they visit looking for support of their fears and curdled  imaginations.  

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

See "The Artist"

It's not hard to love "The Artist." It's got everything (a dog, humor, meeting cute, even a kind of car chase) and most of all it has a heart that isn’t a hackneyed pitch “with edge” cooked up for a five minute meeting with the money boys. The "heart" I speak of is in the recognized Great Depression dynamic of the traditional male power holder being overtaken and surpassed by the soft power of women. Economic stress has a way of doing this to sexual roles.  It resonates with audiences. Noticed any economic stress around lately?
On audience response, at the Indianapolis matinee I attended the half-filled theater broke into applause at the end.  (The last time I did this was in mock approval of “Avatar.) I’m certain many left the theater dancing--at least in their imaginations. After all, the happy ending of "The Artist" is a dance scene, a man and a woman sharing the stage, accepting (with a sincere smile) to keep on keeping on, together. This is what audiences asked for and got from the industrial studios of Hollywood in the dirty thirties. Doesn’t this French import with its cultural-historical smarts coming to us in the third year of the Bush Depression fulfill a similar need?