Swimming through Boiled Okra: The American Political Stew, 2010

Swimming through Boiled Okra:

The American Political Stew, 2010

Some Background:

I lived in Texas for three years while attending seminary at Texas Christian University.  Being a native of the Northwest, I was exposed to a whole new cornucopia of foods: great Texas barbecue, Tex-Mex, and Southwest cuisine. I learned how to eat grits the right way (butter and salt and pepper, or cheese—none of this milk and sugar over Cream of Wheat stuff).  To this day I love grits.

My one culinary defeat was okra.  For those of you who haven’t experienced this little vegetable,

Okra--Secret Dispenser of Slime. Photo: FowlerNurseries.com

Okra--Secret Dispenser of Slime. Photo: FowlerNurseries.com

it certainly looks benign enough in its raw form.  It’s also as popular as broccoli in more northern climes and a staple vegetable in numerous countries around the world.  You can see from the photo, it can look quite appetizing.  Okra can be prepared in many ways.  It can be breaded and fried (of course, most anything in the South can be breaded and fried—and usually is).  It can be boiled with all sorts of other foods.  Many people love it pickled.  It’s a popular ingredient in a wide variety of soups and gumbos.  That’s all fine and good, except…

Boiled okra is slimy.  For those three years I tried my best to sample okra in its various gastronomic manifestations.  I discovered, despite all this experimentation, that the only way I could handle okra was fried.  Fried okra is not slimy.  It just doesn’t have much taste for my palette, other than an oily breaded mushy…well…veggie-something-or-other. Take a look at the crosscut round of okra.  It looks a lot like a crosscut jalapeño pepper.  Only the jalapeño has both flavor and zing.

Okra Seafood Gumbo. One of a thousand ways to create vegetative slime.

In fairness to the otherwise popular vegetable, I selected two of my friends (completely non-random, and no intent to be so), on separate occasions, and who don’t know each other, and asked if either liked okra?  Their responses were identical to mine: Okra in soup is slimy and I don’t really like it.  So, what’s the point?  There are at least two other males in the United States who, without prompting as to reason, agree that okra in soup is slimy.  And none of us like it because of that particular quality.  And that’s important because of what comes next.

A Test of Your Gag Reflex:

Back to slimy.  Not just slickish slimy, but stringy and slimy.  As for stringy: A hundred times

Ultimate Alien Slime, Aliens, 1979, Photo Courtesty MGM.

worse than my grandmother’s over-cooked rope-strength stringy asparagus.  And as for slimy: pure gaggy slimy: You start to chew the spoonful of boiled okra, which just seems to release this gelatinous goo, resembling the stuff that drips off of your typical movie monster’s tongue or, uh, snout. As you try to swallow the bite the goo elongates itself so that by the time the first half of your bite has traveled the length of your esophagus, reaches your cardiac sphincter, and dumps into your stomach the other half is still trying to get out of your mouth and down your throat.

Gag.  Retch.  Get me something to wash down this uck!  Now!

An Analogy of the Absurd—But the Bridge to the Topic at Hand:

Imagine stirring a pot of okra the size of an Olympic swimming pool with that potential for such slimy viscosity.  Imagine swimming through a pool filled with such.  Michael Phelps wouldn’t be pleased.  Michael, whatever his other imperfections, would have the good sense to avoid such an Olympic sized pool of mucousity.

Okra Stew--Imagine an Olympic Pool filled with this.

Now to the Main Dish:

On the other hand, that exact unpalatable characteristic makes for a good analogy of the current state of American politics.  The so-called melting pot of America has been emptied of its finest ingredients, civility, respect, loyalty, etc, and filled to the brim with okra soup.  The blogosphere is boiling over with okra slime, from both the right and the left, but all too often the temperature of rhetoric coming from the right is higher.  In this context, characters such as Limbaugh and Beck, Palin and the Miz Liz of Cheney are but spices in an otherwise noxious recipe of political okra gumbo.

Last summer, we were caught off guard by the sudden rise to the boiling point of the Town Hall Meetings held in August during the Congressional Summer Recess.  But this year, the pot is already bubbling resembling those gloppy mud pots in Yellowstone National Park, and it’s still over seven months until the November mid-term elections.  Itsa bubblin’, like they say.  I think.

This year there will be no surprises.  Members of Congress in both Houses and from both sides of the Aisle may find it best to attend their town hall meetings dressed in a heatproof full-body firefighter outfit.  The political okra soup pot likely will reach a rolling boil even before summer.  The slop-slinging will probably be fierce.

The question is can it be sustained?  My observation last year was that the Sturm und Drang of the Tea Party’s birth and its rapid rise to an ear-shattering keen burned out before the end of the month.  Part of that, in my opinion, was it was “newsed” into numbness.

Numb News—It’s the American Way:

The success of cable/satellite/internet news with its around the clock accessibility very quickly has habituated Americans (and most of the world, undoubtedly) to a very short news cycle.  Inside of two weeks last August, people at the Town Hall Meetings screaming the same rant over and over lost its punch if not its volume. Though the opponents of everything Obama were taking great delight in the attention and media coverage they were receiving, they missed an unintended consequence of that saturation.  They unwittingly became passé. Almost with the predictability of an autonomic response, the polls shifted subtly, but the shift was critical.  It was pro-reform.

Inside the shift was the data that kept Health Care Reform alive, passing the House in November and the Senate on December 24. Despite the loss of one senate seat in January messing up the Senate Democrats’ supermajority of 60 seats the rhetoric of the opposition from the elected officials, the right-wing pundits and the “angry” right-wing citizenry did not shift.  Their message, although loud, consistent, and vitriolic, became less and less influential as each day passed.

That message also offered nothing: the “Let’s start with a blank piece of paper gambit” failed, not because the Republicans were united but because they had nothing to counter with.  If at the great Health Care Summit, the Republicans had shown up with a bill that could have been plopped down beside the one that had already passed (since December 24th, remember) that was half the height of the Democratic bill, Americans’ attention would have been riveted to know what was in that piece of legislation.  Instead the Republicans brought a blank piece of paper and kvetched for seven hours about the size of the already passed bill.  The three best words for this colossal error are: stupid, stupid, and stupid.

The opponents did not recognize their strategic error. They thought they were being consistent and united.  The president and the Democratic leadership, on the other hand, correctly interpreted the message as dragging itself down: that the public sentiment in a shift of even one or two points in favor of reform was far more important than the actual percentage of support or opposition was being rolled out weekly by the multitude of pollsters.  TV, Internet, Radio, newspapers, magazines along with pundits of all stripes missed that nuanced reality, their focus locked on a depth of field most conducive to seeing their ratings and profits and not the meaning of the changes.

Health Care Reform passed, astonishing and infuriating the Republican leadership and all sorts of right-wing groups.

Elections 2010: Jump in, the Okra’s in Prime Slime!

What’s next?  More of the same: A big pot of slimy okra political soup we will be forced to swim around in between now and November.  The Republican formula of Stupid3 remains the strategy they are taking into the Fall under the illusion (or delusion) it will be different this time and they will snatch the majority status from the Democrats in a great uprising of voter rage, or a groundswell of secessionist sentiment threatening the fabric of the Republic, whichever comes first.

I almost hesitate to write this next section for fear of tipping off the Republicans and the Tea Party supporters to the actuality of the situation that the colossal error they made attempting to kill health care reform remains a colossal error as they plan for the mid-term elections.

Poster Advocating Revolution. But What Kind? Photo: Menifee Tax Day Tea Party

The emerging rhetoric calling the administration a “regime” accompanied by repeated less than veiled threats of revolution and civil war, marches with guns in plain sight are not the next phase they believe it to be; it is rather an escalation of the same message.  TV and the other media again will create the opposite intended consequence the Right Wing wants to convey.  Their agenda, antics, and demonstrations will be covered ad nauseum, giving them all the coverage they desire, but dulling the impact of their effort: Why?  Very simply, Americans want “new” news.  Every day.  That is what we have been habituated to expect from the media.  It’s not a matter of how it’s slanted or editorialized, or punditized.  It has to be new.

This is an essential lesson the Democrats must keep in the center of their political radar screen, locked on like the Space Shuttle launching toward the International Space Station.  They have to remain disciplined in their own rhetoric as the campaign heats up.  The key: New talking points must be rolled out every week or so of what Obama and the Dems have accomplished and what they plan to accomplish after the polls close.  They don’t even have to counter what the Republicans are saying.  The Republicans will continue to tighten the trap they set for themselves in the broken record scenario they initiated upon Obama’s election in 2008, and the contrast between a constantly renewing fresh message and the broken record message will quickly create a gulf between the two in the Democrats favor.

Guns and Bombs Belong in the Movies and TV, Not in Real Life:

Why?  People crave the status quo.  The vast majority of U.S. citizens do not want revolution or civil war or any other highly disruptive political or social action.  We’re not talking about changes to health care—we’re talking about being able to go shopping or out to eat or on vacation, Friday night football, going to worship, school plays, and a thousand other everyday things we routinely do.

Domestic tranquility is what Americans want.  The news video of the bloody revolt and possible regime-changing coup in Kyrgyzstan is exactly the opposite of what Americans believe political change should be.  The more violent that situation becomes and the more coverage it will get because of American military interests in the country, the more nervous the typical American will be about the language in the okra soup.  They see suicide bombers belonging in Baghdad and Kabul, not valiant freedom fighters, 21st Century Minutemen here in the U.S. claiming they are wresting their constitutional rights from an oppressive and socialist government.  Regardless of how dissatisfied they may be about their taxes, Americans do not want bombs and blood flowing down the streets of their community.  The reason is straightforward: Americans make political change through ballots, not through bombs and bullets.

Tea Party Protester Advocating the use of Guns. But to Shoot What or Whom? Photo: TalkingPointsMemo.com

Swimming in the Soup of the Statistically Illiterate:

We can be certain that the media will continue to misinterpret the polls because they do not understand how to correctly interpret them to begin with.  Most political groups will continue to misinterpret the polls because they are always looking for an advantage for their side and a disadvantage for their opponents.  “Spin” is a set of heuristic blinders. Here’s why: Raw percentages are a flawed indicator of support.

We quote percentages as if they mean something absolute.  They do not.  Percentages provide information, just not what we typically believe it is.  The fundamental error in interpreting poll percentages is equating a final percentage of a vote with a pre-vote percentage.  The two are not equal indicators of support.  The better pollsters understand this and couch their questions with very precise language and report their results with statistical caveats that, for the most part, the media and the public ignore, and then they are surprised when the results don’t match the polls.  They blame the polls (some justifiably) instead of having the insight to realize they didn’t correctly read the data in the polls. We will see a lot of this in the next seven months.

Central Limit Theorem: One reason calculating percentage trends is complex. "In probability theory, the central limit theorem (CLT) states conditions under which the mean of a sufficiently large number of independent random variables, each with finite mean and variance, will be approximately normally distributed (Rice 1995)." Source: Wikipedia

Should we not believe the polls?  No, but be cautious about reading into the number what you want it to mean, rather than looking at the gap and vector of the differences between the two percentages.  That is where the real information is.  And understand there are ways to use the percentages that sound valid but are really nothing more than concoction and spin.  Second, don’t make the mistake of treating a final vote result with a pre-vote survey.  Even if the final outcome numbers are identical, they are two quite different metrics, almost to the point of being two separate statistical species.

Understand the spin-meisters of all the political parties and their various PACs are not going to give you the slightest bit of help in understanding any of this.  They are paid to convince you the numbers are always favoring their party or candidate, even if the most accurate interpretation suggests disastrous defeat.  They want the political okra pot to be as slimy as possible to confound your ability to squeeze the slightest bit of truth from the numbers.  No, it’s not pretty, and never will be, apparently, until the pot is emptied and a new recipe of soup, sans okra, is placed on the stovetop.

Is it November yet?  I can’t stand okra.

Okra: Abelmoschus esculentus. Photo: digthedirt,com

Where the Republican Budget Really Came From

I’m feeling cranky.  I’ll spare you the extended list.  If you’ve read a few of my more recent posts, you’ll remember that life in hospital land has been stressful.  It ain’t over yet, unfortunately.

Granted, the whole country is cranky.  And irritable or irritating, depending on your perspective.

Gail Collins, NY Times columnist, in her column today, makes a compelling case that the Republicans have become even more irritating than the French, a feat that would seem to defy the very laws of Nature herself:

While the G-20 was finishing its business, members of Congress were showing how they did theirs by passing a budget resolution. The spending plan was somewhat smaller than the president had requested. The Senate also added the Republican priority of reducing taxes on people who inherit estates of $7 million or more – a move that would increase the deficit while stimulating the economy approximately as much as eliminating a sales tax on square potato chips.

But even so, not a single Republican voted yes on the budget. In the House, the G.O.P. came up with an alternative that would cut more taxes for the wealthy while clamping down on nondefense spending. House Republicans think we invest way too much on these government programs and try to cut back on them every single year that their party is not actually in power.

In the Senate, Republican Judd Gregg of New Hampshire predicted that the budget plan “will absolutely put this country on an unsustainable path.” This would be the same Judd Gregg who agreed to join the Obama cabinet as commerce secretary before a last-minute discovery that the president is a Democrat.

Actually, it’s no contest when you think about it. The French aren’t even in the ballpark.

(I’ve made my irritation with the former Veep very clear in a previous post.)

The Republicans are really cranky, after that whole election thing.  And, when it comes to the financial crisis, the budget, trillions of dollars of deficits, and the fact they have to cover-up and evade the the fact their  policies are responsible for a humongous part of it, they are in a tizzy of biblical proportions.

So, to counter the budget they disdain, despise, and dysphagiate (figure it out), they have concocted their own version.  Ta-da!  For us mere mortals, they have released an 18 page summary of the absolute best, paramount, pinnacle of Republican fiscal theory and solutions.  I read it.  You can read it here: “Road to Recovery.”

At least look at it.  That way you’ll understand my following comments.

I give it very high marks for:

  1. Expansive use of white space in a policy document
  2. The incomprehensible use of bubble pictures connected by lines
  3. Text in a font and use of Italics (!!) popular at the time of Abraham Lincoln
  4. No numbers, well, sort of.  The ones that just happen to be included are for the most part those nasty Democratic ones
  5. Exhibiting a level of hubris and claiming a doctrine of infallibility that exceeds the wildest dreams of the Papacy.

I could stop there, but, in my crankiness I wrote a short piece a couple of weeks ago that I titled, “A Long Time Ago in a Beltway Far, Far Away.”  It tells the tale of where the ideas for the Republican budget really came from.

A word of forewarning. This piece is a very edgy satire and in a style in which I usually do not write.  You can access it here: “A Long Time Ago…” (I apologize in advance to George Lucas.)

Cheney: Violating the Code of Ethics for Retired Ministers…And the Tradition of Respect Held Sacred by Former U.S. Chief Executives

Every professional association that I have belonged to has a Code of Ethics.  It is one of the hallmarks that not only defines what the profession stands for but also guarantees to the public, whether customer, client, patient, parishioner or whomever, the standard by which that professional will act with integrity.

In light of recent comments by former vice president Dick Cheney blasting the new administration’s policies on national security, I wondered if there was a Code of Ethics that applies to the the nation’s two top executives?

In an interview on CNN (quoted in the NY Times), Mr Cheney said,cheney-snarl

“He is making some choices that, in my mind, will, in fact, raise the risk to the American people of another attack,” Mr. Cheney said of Mr. Obama in an interview on the CNN program “State of the Union.”

UPDATE:  March 29, 2009:  Today, on the CNN Political Ticker website both U.S. Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke and Gen. David Patraeus take issue with Cheney’s inappropriate comments and breach of professional ethics by spouting off about the Obama administration’s changes on national security.

UPDATE #2: March 29, 2009:  The fallout from Dick Cheney’s unethical criticism of the Obama administration continues to generate backlash.  Former President Bush made this statement in response to a question about Cheney’s remarks:

“He deserves my silence. I love my country a lot more than I love politics. I think it is essential that he be helped in office.”

I spent an evening Googling and scouring Wikipedia, but came up with, well, not a thing.  Now,  maybe I missed it; and there are laws that apply to federal employees.  Just about every state in the Union has a code of Ethics for its Executive Branch.  President Obama signed into law a new code for his administration in January.  And, of course, there is the United States Constitution, but we all know that Cheney never let a little thing like that interfere with anything he decided he was right about.

But a code of ethics that applies specifically to the president and vice president of the United States apparently has never been written. (If there is a code of ethics either historically enforced, or currently in place, not including Obama’s new one, I’d love to read it.  Send it to me!).

You might ask, “So what?”  As an ordained minister, one of the conditions of my standing with my church, the Disciples of Christ, I have to abide by a Ministerial Code of Ethics.  All major denominations have such codes.  That code is structured so the pastor not only ministers in an ethical manner during the time he or she is serving a congregation, but also after the person has left to serve another local church or retired from active service.  Pastors develop a strong rapport with their members, and when they leave to work at another church, even if it is one across town, the pastor is responsible for maintaining the professional boundaries so the new minister can work freely to develop a new trust and rapport with the church.

The same principle is true for when a minister retires.  While I was in seminary, I was the youth minister for a church whose senior pastor had retired after over thirty years at that church.  Even though the church was located in a city of nearly three million people and the retired minister moved to another part of town, he did not set up and strictly abide by those ethical boundaries.  The new senior pastor, with whom I worked, was constantly having to “defend” his actions to those members who were calling the old pastor and getting a sympathetic ear.  It was a lose-lose situation.  A year after I had graduated from seminary, the church fired the senior minister.  In all honesty, he never had a chance to succeed.

Here are the two statements that are relevant to this discussion from the Ministerial Code of Ethics:

  • supporting and at no time speaking maliciously of the ministry of my predecessor or another minister in the congregation in which I hold membership;
  • encouraging the ministry of my successor upon my retirement or other departure from a ministry position, without interfering or intruding, and by making it clear to former parishioners that I am no longer their pastor.

With these two precepts so deeply engrained in my professional life, I find Mr. Cheney’s statements inexcuseable.  Because I believe he so blatantly violated the trust of the American people in his open disdain for the United States Constituion, as well  as the Oath of Office he took as Vice President, in his retirement, he should remain silenced for the rest of his life.  He has violated the Code of Ethics by both interfering and intruding with the actions of his successors.  He is no longer our vice president and I thank God he was never our pastor.

There are always two…

In the Galaxy Pachydermata . . .

There Are Always Two..

Dark Lords of the Sith: Darth Oxycontis and Darth Perfidious.  But which one is the master and which is the apprentice?

Shudder at will, here.

But wait. . . What if these two are just disciples of the Pachydermid’s Master Dark Lord?

Darth Portentious!

Cheney Snarling Cropped

Then WHO is the apprentice?  If this question doesn’t keep you awake at night you’re not taking enough benzodiazapines!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Uh-oh.

Anne Coulter Book Cover