In case you haven’t heard, David Koch “is donating a record $35 million to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History”. The Hall of Dinosaurs will be closed for seven years for renovations.
Here are my predictions for headlines seven years from now:
From the right: “Patriot David Koch Saves Smithsonian Museum From Corrupt and Incompetent Federal Government”
From the left: “Koch Brothers Attempt to Buy Smithsonian Museum; ‘Hall of Dinosaurs’ Renamed ‘Koch Brothers Explain How God Created Oil’ “
Folks of a certain age or background will all be familiar with a certain phrase: “There are three ways to do things – the right way, the wrong way, and the Army way.” This reflects the fact that the armed forces have their own specific rules and regulations for every situation, and deviation is simply not allowed. This is intended to reinforce unity and cohesion, but is well known for creating localized situations that are the exact opposite (and gave birth to the also well known “snafu”; if you’re not familiar with that one look it up, I’ll wait).
The reason I bring this up is because of the Army’s new regulations on dress and appearance. According to a recent report on NPR, these regulations “clamp down on tattoos, mohawks, long fingernails, [and] dental ornamentation.”
The report also notes that “[t]he Army is also banning some hairstyles popular among African-American women. The stated goal here is professionalism, but some soldiers and even members of the Congressional Black Caucus are upset, and they are urging the Obama administration to take a second look at the rules.”
Before I go off on a rant about this, let’s take a look at each sides arguments as expressed in the report, and let me also note that I have done no deep investigation of this issue, simply listened to this one report and am offering a completely and (clearly) uninformed opinion. Also I am sure I will be receiving more than a few comments regarding a white man weighing in on matters of African American female hairstyles, so I would like to go on the record as stating that I will completely ignore any such racist and sexist attacks.
So what is the argument against these regulations? According to Lori Tharps, who teaches journalism at Temple University and co-wrote “”Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America”, the issues are essentially that “the policy itself does not take into consideration the history and culture, as well as the simple, you know, biological makeup of black hair and what it requires. They have effectively deemed inappropriate some of the most effective and popular hairstyles that many of these women wear.”
Have to say, straight out the gate I’m less than impressed. Most of these arguments seem at best irrelevant and at worst hyperbolically pointless. To the best of my knowledge, the Army doesn’t take into account anyone’s history or culture, outside of the bare minimum for religious observation, when making regulations. That’s kind of the point. Everyone is supposed to be brutally equal, as close as possible, both for fairness and unit cohesion. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out they just stopped using the terms “mick” and “hymie” just last week. The issue of biological makeup is relevant and salient, and worth exploring in more depth, however.
Unfortunately(and this may be the fault of the restricted medium of the radio interview) it seems that the question of biology only comes in as a matter of convenience. For example, when discussing the new regulations regarding corn rows, Ms. Tharps states that:
I think the problem is it takes a little more technique and talent to produce really neat, tight corn rows as described here, whereas almost anybody could make the same kind of look with a two-strand twist. Most black women really understand what those subtle differences are.
I mean, some of the styles they’re suggesting aren’t efficient at all, for example, doing corn rows is very time consuming. Weaves and wigs are extremely expensive and this two-styles that they outright ban, dreadlocks and twists, are the most efficient and economical styles that a black woman with natural hair can wear. And again, we go back to that idea of uniformity. That is kind of both the burden and the blessing of black hair in the United States of America.
Aaaand again I take issue. I personally have very curly hair (see above. Now imagine that all over my head.) Other guys I know have very straight hair. Believe it or not, a high and tight looks like crap on me, but it’s regulation. A cue ball doesn’t look a lot better, but it’s regulation. I’m not suggesting I have the same issues as an African American woman might, but again, this isn’t about convenience, it’s about whether or not the regulations can be met without being an undue burden. Joining the Army comes at significant costs, and personal expression is one of them.
Finally there’s the issue of the words the Army has used to describe the banned hairstyles, specifically “words like unkempt [and] matted”. Ms. Tharps describes these as “culturally insensitive words” due to the “backstory of black people and their relationship with their hair in this country”. Having not read the regulations I don’t know if they only and specifically address the hairstyles most common to African Americans or if they are referring to my beloved mohawk as well, but again this seems a case of “the Army way”. Even Ms. Thaps admits “at the end of the day, you cannot say that they are racist”, and this seems to me a case of oversensitivity and taking offense where none is intended or justified. But honestly? If this were the entirety of the issue I’d say just change the wording and be done with it. It’s not important to the core issue for the Army, and it is important to the people it affects.
And speaking of the Army, let’s take a look at their reply. According to Renee Montagne, “We reached an Army spokeswoman for comment. She pointed out the regulations apply to all female soldiers regardless of race.” Well la-de-da. That’s the moral equivalent of saying they’ve established a regulation tampon for use by all soldiers, regardless of gender. I wanted to take the Army’s side, if for no other reason than because I saw little to no merit in the opposition’s case, but this? This is a case of being your own worst enemy. Which is, after all, the Army way.
There’s a lot of speculation going around lately about what’s the source of all the trouble in the Crimea region of Ukraine. Many are blaming Moscow for stirring up trouble, possibly as a precursor to an invasion. I’m here to reassure you now that the truth is something far, far more sinister:
It’s the people at Rand McNally.
To understand why, you have to go all the way back to the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s. Things were looking good at first for high school students; we had one less Germany to memorize for Geography class, and only one Berlin to worry about, but we still had it pretty easy as far as Eastern Europe and Asia went. Basically all you had to know was “U.S.S.R.” and “China” and you got at least a C.
Then suddenly the U.S.S.R. broke up without any warning, and overnight we’ve got a Georgia that was never on our minds, more –ia’s than a Cthulhu summoning, and so many Stans you’d think it was a callback for “A Streetcar Named Desire”. In short, we got screwed. Oh sure, you might think the concerns of a few high school students pale in comparison to the desperate need to live free of tyranny, but you are overlooking one key element: these were the future mapmakers of the world. And nobody messes with mapmakers with impunity.
They bided their time, waiting decades to get all the pieces in place. They manipulated elections, staged revolutions, and even plotted assassinations where they needed to. Think I’m being paranoid? Think about this: they know where you live. They know where everybody lives. Nobody dares to cross them, not if they know what’s good for them. Do you really believe the Apple Maps roll-out was such a disaster because Apple can’t design an app? They wouldn’t play ball, and they got punished for it. Google pays their dues every month.
And now those poor high school kids who failed Geography because of a bunch of whiners who yearned to be free of a totalitarian regime are finally getting their ultimate revenge. They’ve manipulated the world and Russia in particular to dance to their merciless tune, all for one purpose: to thin out the number of countries they have to print on a map.
Hey, it’s less crazy than anything Vladimir Putin can come up with.
I’ve been surprised lately by some of the vitriol being directed at Jan Brewer following her veto of SB 1062 (that would be the “anti-gay” bill that got through the Arizona Senate, or “screamingly offensive and blatantly homophobic bill” if you want to aim for accuracy). The reason I’ve been surprised by the vitriol has been from the source: it’s come from people I know who are liberals. That’s right, some liberals are angry that Jan Brewer didn’t sign this prejudicial garbage.
The argument, as best as I understand it, is that the politicians who run Arizona now are evil to the core, and having passed this bill would have simply reaffirmed that fact for all the world to see, and (hopefully) would have created a popular uprising (I’m not sure if this would have been at the polls or in the streets) that would depose those same politicians and bring in some sort of proper, upstanding government that would have respect for human rights, common decency, and all right-minded folk. (Such a government would be a historical anomaly, but I digress.)
“Evil” is a strong word. Disagree with someone all you want, but evil puts them in a camp where there is no compromise, there is no common ground, and there is no understanding. That’s the same sort of language used by the people who would have seen this law succeed, and not just the politicians. I’m not trying to suggest that these are wonderful people, or that I would ever want to join them for tea, but unless a bloody armed rebellion IS the goal, heated rhetoric like this serves no purpose except to ensure determined and continued opposition.
Regarding Ms. Brewer specifically, I have heard is said that she came to the right outcome for the wrong reasons, those being politically rather than ideologically motivated ones. I for one believe we should applaud her all the more if that is the case; in today’s charged ideological climate, going “against the grain” of your own (or your party’s) convictions because that’s what the people who elected you want seems to be a virtue in short supply. Actions speak so much louder than words, and reasons don’t matter when outcomes are faulty; they should be equally relevant when the outcome is correct. If she got to the right place, regardless of her reasons, she should be praised, so that she will (hopefully) learn that there can be positive outcomes to taking good actions, just as there are negative outcomes for bad actions. We train politicians in the same way we train animals, even if the animals are smarter and less likely to bite the hand that feeds.
The simple fact is I believe all politicians are guilty until proven innocent, and I have yet to see that proof for any of them. If you plan to sit down to eat with them, bring your longest spoon. But when one of them finally manages to do something right, even by accident, at least reward them a little. They might recognize the “why” that goes with the “what”. It’s even possible others will learn by example.
So we have a solution at last to the latest installment of the ongoing fiscal crisis (#thanksfornothing), which involves yet another passing of the very large buck down the road to some near-term future date when it’s likely something equally ineffectual will be done, mostly because the same teams will be running the same plays (kind of like watching the Jacksonville Jaguars take on the Denver Broncos every Sunday for a year. What? I can be topical.) The real questions at this point should be “how did we get into this mess in the first place?” and more importantly, “how do we prevent these ^(#_*%!$& from doing it again?”
As for how we got here, I’m not going to take a partisan stance. As I’ve said before, a plague on both your houses (of Congress). But there is one answer that applies equally to both parties, one that has been coming for a long time, and it is a word that gets hurled at both equally (usually by the other side): gerrymandering. As long as one party has control of a state when redistricting time comes along, they rig the elections – excuse me, draw the districts so very carefully that there is no way they can lose. This creates a scenario in which the extreme elements of either party are more likely to win out and “compromise” becomes a dirtier word than “moderate”. It’s been more apparent among Republicans than Democrats in the last few years because they’ve been more successful with this strategy in the latest round of redistricting, as well as the fact that the only powerbase they have is in opposition to the sitting President, so of course they push back, but both sides do it.
So what’s the answer? I would suggest a third party organization that is not directly connected to the process gets to make the districts, perhaps the folks behind the United States Elections Project. Or maybe a panel composed of a representative from each party currently eligible to produce a candidate for that state, with ties being broken by the current governor. The current “winner takes all” strategy masquerading as “politics neutral” is clearly broken and needs to be done away with to be replaced by something that more accurately represents the needs of the constituency; perhaps actually injecting some real politik into the process at the beginning rather than the end will help to break down the borders and create détente, if not civility.
Another option (and one that I favor even more) is to get the money out of the hands of politicians. Now I know I have argued before that money equals speech, and I’m not backing away from that. But note what I said: get the money out of the hands of politicians. They have chosen to be public officials (even the candidates), which means different (and stricter) rules should apply to them. Also they pander to the most extreme causes because those are the people most likely to donate to them, not just to vote. If we capped the amount of money they can spend in an election, suddenly the incentive isn’t there for them to be so fast on the trigger with the votes. There’s also a world of other organizations and individuals who are free to spend all the money they want (or should be) in support of the candidates they like, so long as they don’t coordinate directly with those candidates. The more moderate candidates will have a broader base of support, both from individuals and organizations, and are at least more likely to have a better chance of getting some second-hand support.
This would also free the current office-holders up from the constant “campaign treadmill” where they win an election and then start the donor circuit just to pay for the next campaign. Maybe then they’ll have enough time to sort out all the problems that still plague us. Or maybe they’ll just spend more time arguing with each other. Either way, it’s something new, which is one step up from the current broken system.
The NSA Knows
(Sung to the tune of “Anything Goes” by Cole Porter)
Times have changed,
As I’m sure we can all agree,
Since the Americans rebelled
And they created a country.
They should list several Rights of Man,
Instead of answering the call,
They would be tossed into the can!
In olden days the Fourth Amendment
Was looked on as something sacred,
But Snowden showed,
The NSA knows.
You thought your email, text and Facebook
Were safe from some spook taking a look.
Under your nose,
The NSA knows.
The world has gone mad today
And good’s bad today,
And black’s white today,
And day’s night today,
When warrants today
Are issued today
By secret courts today
And though I’m not a philosopher
I know that it’s unpopular
When you propose,
The NSA knows.
When grandmama whose age is eighty
In night clubs is getting matey with gigolo’s,
The NSA knows.
When something’s done in South America
Particularly Brazil and Mexico,
The NSA knows.
If driving fast cars you like,
If low bars you like,
If old hymns you like,
If bare limbs you like,
If Mae West you like
Or me undressed you like,
Watch for agents in plainclothes!
Your Google drive
Has tax returns
Or your Flickr account shows your friends in nude photos?
The NSA knows.
If saying your prayers you like,
If green pears you like,
If old chairs you like,
If back stairs you like,
If love affairs you like
With young bears you like,
Watch out for privacy’s foes!
And though I’m not a philosopher
I know that it’s unpopular
And I propose -
The NSA goes!