Plus: What's the true definition of an asshole?
Have a bit of a shorter mailbag this week, as I'm on deadline on a piece (also the reason there was no mailbag last week). There were some very good questions that I couldn't get to, most notably about the effect of commodities speculation on food prices in Egypt, and how that may have helped cause the crisis. That's a complex question and when I have more time, I'll try to get some answers on that.
Quick note on the Supreme Court of Assholedom front: we've decided on our first case and a ruling will be coming from the court next week. I can tell you that it pertains to the Egypt crisis and has stimulated some debate among members. Also, we've settled on track suits as at least an initial uniform. I'm awaiting a logo design from one of the justices.
On a more serious note, great game last night. I was rooting for the Pack, partly because the serial-rape-allegation thing is kind of a downer on the Roethlisberger front. But I used to think Steeler fans were sort of charming, especially since the Pirates suck so much and they have to wear all that perennial-loser karma the instant football season is over every year, but ... I don't know, they stopped being charming to me this year. Maybe it was that fat guy with the soul patch in the old Steeler Starter jersey I saw last week barreling over a little old Asian lady on his way into the B train on 34th St. I watched her turn around to see who had stiff-armed her and I could tell she was trying to figure out what "BETTIS 36" meant and whether it was some sort of vicious new anti-Chinese organization white people had dreamed up. Seriously, is it that hard to wait until everyone gets off the train before you pile into the car? That stuff baffles me.
Anyway, more coming later:
In your last mailbag you stated that you believe Lloyd Blankfein was at the White House state dinner for Chinese president Hu Jintao to ensure the "removal of the American manufacturing job market to a slave-labor state." Could you elaborate on this? I mean, what does Goldman Sachs have to do with outsourcing manufacturing jobs? If we were talking about Steve Jobs, the CEO of Nike or even Martha Stewart I would see the connection. Does Goldman Sachs have influence over the running of other corporations? If so, how?
Keep up the great work.
I have more coming on this, but the short answer is that the big banks are all heavily invested in companies that outsource their operations to China, they're invested in China itself, and they continually lobby the government to made outsourcing to China easier. I remember speaking to Bernie Sanders about this issue and he was going crazy over the notion that banks like Goldman and companies like GE get public support from the U.S. taxpayer when they do not pledge to abstain from exporting jobs to China. Goldman incidentally was itself a major outsourcer; they moved a huge operation to India years ago. But the major contribution of banks like Goldman to the outsourcing problem is that they finance the export of jobs overseas.
Could you please explain to me the point of the Westboro Baptist Church? I know that they hate fags, the military, America, and essentially anything interesting, but could you give me some idea of what exactly it is that they do like and/or stand for?
I think they like press attention.
The Westboro Baptist Church is like the dictionary definition of low-hanging punditry fruit. It's one sociopathic cult leader running naked through, and occasionally squatting to defecate in, the gray areas around the First Amendment. It's gross, but I don't think it's terribly newsworthy. Obviously you can't just ignore them if they're at your brother's funeral or something, but I think we can safely ignore them at all other times.
I would like to file a claim [in the Supreme Court]. What are the formal processes to make this happen?
Just send in your description of the case in the funniest manner possible to this same email address.
I had a story idea for your consideration. That is, to get the inside scoop on how, since 9/11, the NFL has so brazenly and nakedly wrapped themselves in the flag and used soldiers as marketing props to appropriate the public's positive sentiments and patriotism for the troops for themselves. The tragedy of Pat Tillman was obviously the most glaring example of this. However, seemingly not a game goes by without them trotting some soldiers out or having military jets fly over, etc. To show support/respect for the troops is one thing but the prevalence of these public displays clearly shows that this is clearly a marketing ploy. I'm sure there will be many more instances to come this week in the lead up to the Super Bowl. Of course, other businesses and industries are guilty of the same thing. However, the NFL is far and away the most egregious offender in my opinion.
What do you think?
You might be disappointed, but I find the caveman patriotism of the NFL to be one of its endearing qualities. I think for a lot of the players in the NFL political authority travels in a straight line from position coach, up to the coordinator, on to the head coach, then to commissioner Goodell, then from there straight to the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. I'm pretty sure most of these guys think that's why they go to the White House after they win the Super Bowl. I find that hilarious. I guess it's twisted and wrong, but so is almost everything else about the NFL, which is why we like it, I think — you have to enjoy the game as a kind of fascist comedy, sort of like Starship Troopers.
Why does Tunisia qualify as Middle East but say Italy doesn't?
I have no idea why you're asking me, but I think it's really funny that you are. Does it matter? I bet if we asked the Middle East, it'd be happy to let Italy in. How about it, Middle East?
At heart, I'm a progressive and hold many "liberal" views on global warming, gun control, etc. I think the greatest problem we face is the control that the super elite hold over the country, which manifests itself in our tax laws, wars, lack of regulations, etc., etc... I'm a big fan of Bill Maher's show and The Daily Show, as well.
Now here's the thing. I am strongly against illegal immigration, which puts me at odds with most on the left. When I post on HuffPo, I get called a bigot, racist, Nazi, etc. for arguing for stronger laws addressing illegal immigrants. And by that I mean I support SB1070 and strengthening our Border Patrol. I realize that puts me in the company of a lot of right-wingers, and perhaps there is some racial elements that inform my stance. I live in LA where a large portion of the population is Latin and illegal and admit to being pissed off by living in a bilingual city. But in my defense, there are a lot of progressive reasons to be against unfettered illegal immigration (which is what we have, if you watch the show Border Wars on National Geographic channel). For instance, the quality of our schools here has gone down over the past decade as more children of illegal immigrants enter them (30% of LAUSD students don't speak English). This forces people like myself to send our children to private schools for a decent education, spending money for a service we already pay in taxes. A recent LA Times story stated that our county pays over a half billion a year on welfare for the children of illegal immigrants, a further burden on the taxpayers. Then there is the environmental impact of this increasing segment of our population... Anyway, I was just wondering if you had any thoughts on something that, on its surface, appears paradoxical (a person who contributes to both WWF and ALIPAC), but that seems ideologically consistent to me.
Keep up the great work. I always look forward to reading your articles.
I hate the immigration question. It's a deadly minefield of white guilt and political correctness. I try to stay out of it as much as possible.
The problem with immigration is that it's so totally tied up in class/income issues. I'm white and upper class and I pay a lot of taxes; I also live in a town that has a massive immigrant population and a decimated school system. I don't have kids, but if I did, I'd be in the very position you describe — paying taxes in a town where I probably couldn't send my kids to the public school. My town also has a soaring crime rate and awful public services, which apparently wasn't the case not long ago. There's just no way for me to separate out these facts when I sit down to think about immigration and how it should work.
The immigration issue for me is also kind of a personal thing because I myself was a foreigner for ten years, in Russia, so I have a lot of built-up ideas about what it means to live in/move to a new country. So for instance, intellectually I think bilingual education is a mistake — I think having one language unifies a country and a culture — but I also have this emotional reaction to the idea that's based on my own experience. To me, learning the local language was a way of expressing respect for and love of the culture of my host country. Making that journey was an incredibly rewarding and beautiful experience. So the bilingual services thing was initially sort of bewildering to me, i.e. why wouldn't you want to learn English, and why wouldn't you want your kids to learn?
Then it occurred to me that the difference between my attitude and that attitude is probably the difference between being a rich white slacker slumming in post-Communist Russia after college and being poor and Central American and fighting for economic survival in El Paso or Edison, New Jersey.
So what do I know? But I have come to a couple of conclusions about the immigration issue. One, I've warmed up to the idea that as an American, it's probably high time I learned Spanish. If we're a bilingual country now, why not embrace it? But I also can't stand the hyperemotionalism surrounding the issue — it's made it impossible for anyone to talk about the problems you describe without being branded either a racist or anti-American (similar to the Israeli-Palestine issue, another thing I hate writing about, because someone's going to flip out no matter what you say). I mean, there's a lot going on that's just indefensible and crazy. I think I've said this before, but I know doctors here in New York who see an endless stream of 15- and 16 year-old girls flying in from places like the Dominican Republic specifically to get on Medicare and have their babies here. I'm pretty sure it's okay to not be happy about that as a taxpayer. Right? If I'm wrong about that, please write in and let me know.
As someone who reads your material frequently, I notice that you use the word "asshole" a lot. In particular, you've got this new Surpeme Court of Assholedom (I just read your blog post announcing the judges).
As I was reading both your, and the judges, definition of what an "asshole" is, it struck me that you are basically defining someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, almost to a tee. By the way, I hate the fact that it's an official "disease" with the word "disorder" after it.
My question is, why circle around what you're really trying to identify by using the much more banal, 7th grade, multipurpose "asshole" when what you really seem to mean is "narcissist?" Asshole seems way too vague...
It seems like people are getting more and more narcissistic...so you'd be hitting on a more direct current cultural phenomenon. I guess I'm not necessarily saying you should change the name to the "Supreme Court of Narcissism" because then you might screw yourself by being too specific, thus resulting in a smaller target pool (but part of me wonders if the pool would be much smaller). But just wondering if you could work in some more detailed, specific analysis to this great undertaking of yours...
Ryan (I had a lot of Ryans this week),
Well, I have some good news for you first — Narcissistic Personality Disorder isn't going to be in the next DSM.
I'd actually thought about your complaint before you even wrote in — is being a Narcissist the same as being an Asshole? I think it's a good mission of the court, to determine whether they are the same thing. My feeling is that these are related words but not exactly the same. It kind of reminds me of Mark Twain's bit about Fenimore Cooper's habit of using words that were just slightly not the right word ("phenomena" for "marvels," "necessary" for "predetermined," "unsophisticated" for "primitive" etc.) — I don't think "narcissist" captures everything that "asshole" means. But again, that's what we the Justices will attempt to find out.
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