Downton Abbey Misses the Ball

In Episode 8, Season 1, of “Downton Abbey”, Bates is confronted with the accusation that he has stolen some bottles of wine. Bates says something like, “no one has ever seen me touch a drop since I came here”.

In the so-called science of “statement analysis”, this would be a dead giveaway: he doesn’t say he hasn’t touched a drop– only that no one has seen him touch a drop.  Why does he not say he hasn’t touched a drop? Because he’s not sure of that; he’s only sure he hasn’t been caught yet. It’s as if, accused of murder, the suspect blurts out, “you couldn’t possibly have seen me do it”.

Except, in Downton Abbey, we know that Bates, who is turning into a bit of a sanctimonious character, is as innocent as the driven snow.

A lot of dramas want it both ways. Thomas and O’Brien are fun to watch, at first, but it’s no fun watching Thomas openly abuse William and everyone else in the house. In real life, he’d have been sacked very quickly, but then we wouldn’t have had the fun of watching him continue to needle William and try to frame Bates. Carson and Hughes are too stupefied to do anything about him?

It’s also a bit tedious to see Bates get away with saying that he can’t tell anyone why he was unjustly sentenced to two years for theft, just that he was, and if they don’t like it, they can fire him. This episode would have been dramatically improved if Lord Grantham had simply fired him like a plausible character would have. “Very well. I can’t help you if you don’t want me to or won’t take me into your confidence. I don’t have time for this: I’m afraid you’re sacked.”

Daisy, completely out of character, ruins the meals prepared by Mrs. Bird because Mrs. Patmore asked her to make sure the family misses her while she’s gone getting eye surgery. Daisy is cold-hearted enough to sabotage the meal, but not sneaky enough to lie about it when confronted? That might or might not be “possible” but it isn’t interesting: it’s a writer strong-arming his own characters into situations that provide titillating plot developments but undercut character.

I don’t mind Sybil considering a relationship with the chauffeur– I just don’t buy her behaving like a school girl, as if she has suddenly shucked off 18 years of upbringing and culture as if it were a hat. Remember — she did participate in her own “coming out” party, her “debut”. It would have expanded her character considerably if she had refused.

She has spent every day of her waking life dealing with servants who are expected to provide for her every need.

It also would have been far more interesting, as a story line, if Robert had had a chat with the chauffeur once he realized the Sybil has been lying to him about where she was going. Given his position and character, and given the obvious conundrum Sybil’s dishonesty would present Branson, he might have told the chauffeur that he was free to use force if necessary to prevent Sybil from attending one of those dangerous political rallies. That would have created a very interesting dynamic between the chauffeur, Tom Branson, and Sybil. Or he could have told Branson that he was not responsible if the lady decided to act recklessly. That too would have been interesting — Branson “not recommending” that her ladyship proceed and stating that he “won’t be responsible” if something goes wrong, and peevishly parking somewhere to wait for her. But Fellowes wanted the passing titillation of the argument between the two, Branson urging her to get back into the car, Sybil, without the slightest condescension, insisting on her own way. It’s a thoughtless, under-developed scene that could have been much more.

Is Downton Abbey now a soap opera?

It started out well. It started out as a period piece, like an extended “Age of Innocence”. Great acting, great filming, lovely sets and costumes. But then two or three things became clear. Firstly, that Fellowes wants to recycle certain themes and characters over and over again– like a sitcom, basically. Mary just can’t make up her mind about Matthew; Edith’s relationships, like Sir Anthony Strallan, get sabotaged by Mary– who seems bizarrely stricken by the idea of not confessing her role in the death of Mr. Pamuk. Mary? Who earlier mocked her own mother’s ideas of propriety and rules? Suddenly, she’s Karen Santorum?

Secondly, it appears that nobody connected with the show wants to spend the big bucks on a really remarkable scene like (we can only imagine) Sybil’s “coming out” party in London. We’re merely told about the affair. I recommend that you watch this episode carefully, stop your PVR or DVD player just before the scene in which they discuss the ball, and then pop “The Leopard” into your DVD player and watch the final ballroom scene from that movie instead. Then go back to Downton Abbey. (Dr. Zhivago has one or two great grand ballroom scenes; or try “Russian Ark”, a really extraordinary film that culminates with a fabulous ball.)

[January 30, 2012: there are scenes from the war, but they are rather chaste and extracted looking. Can’t blame them really– the budget just isn’t there, probably. But I can blame them for the ridiculous degree of reverence paid to all things military, especially the officers parading about, whining about how they don’t get to serve at the front. That’s not what this war was: it was precisely about officers like that ordering other people to the front to be maimed and gassed and slaughtered for reasons that have, as of yet, 100 years later, escaped most people. More appallingly, if you were not willing to blindly serve in a war with no purpose, they made you out to be unpatriotic or cowardly. ]


“We shouldn’t be criticized for using Chinese workers,” a current Apple executive said. “The U.S. has stopped producing people with the skills we need.” Ny Times, 2012-01-21

I couldn’t get over that quote: The U.S. has stopped producing people with the skills we need. Oh woeful day– America doesn’t even educate it’s own people properly and they can’t keep up with those backward Chinese.

Apple computer, selling itself to us as the totemic object of enlightened consumerist fantasy… but we aren’t the kind of people who can produce these objects. The Chinese are out there feeding us, suckling America, clasping the American consumer to it’s massive breast…. and guzzling American dollars and jobs in the process.

Is your iPhone made by slave labour? And if it was, would it actually be possible for you to own a other electronic communications device– say, an Android phone– that was not manufactured under somewhat odious conditions somewhere in China?

It has been estimated that an iPhone would cost about $65 more if it were assembled in the U.S. Would American consumers be willing to pay about 10% more for a product if it produced thousands of good-paying jobs in America instead of China? I think they probably would, right now. But nobody is campaigning on that strategy. And probably rightfully so– a trade war would not be helpful to anyone.

Foxconn is a very, very large company. It is actually owned by the Hon Hai Precision Industry Company based in Taiwan. I’ll bet you’ve never heard of it. It is the world’s largest producer of electronic devices.

All those U.S. dollars flowing to China to pay for the iPhones and iPads and Acer laptops, etc., etc. ,etc… what will they do with all those American dollars? Nobody really seems to know. Whenever I see an article on the subject, I read it, but I still can’t figure out what people think is likely to happen eventually. Keep in mind, that China is now increasingly competitive with the U.S. in one other area: guzzling oil.

Wiki on Foxconn.

Deregulation: Bisphenol

In 2007 it was reported that among government-funded BPA experiments on lab animals and tissues, 153 found adverse effects and 14 did not, whereas all 13 studies funded by chemical corporations reported no harm. Assessment of potential impact on human health involves measurement of residual BPA in the products and quantitative study of its ease of separation from the product, passage into the human body and residence time and location there.

The studies indicating harm reported a variety of deleterious effects in rodent offspring exposed in the womb: abnormal weight gain, insulin resistance, prostate cancer, and excessive mammary gland development.[41] [wikipedia]

Wow. That might explain a lot.

It is amazing to me how many people will declare that the government should keeps it’s stupid fingers off the regulation of industry and private enterprise and just let competition do it’s work and we would all be happier, healthier, and better off.

So the industry can do it’s own studies of BPA (Bisphenol A) and we, the public, and potential customers of products containing BPA can trust that when they do twelve studies and all of them show that BPA is completely safe, it is damn well completely safe.

So why did the government do 167 studies? Who told them to? Why are they interfering with the marketplace? If customers get cancer from a product, you can rest assured, sales are bound to decline.

This government study in which 153 of 167 studies found adverse effects… who do you want to believe? The “adverse effects industry” or the company that stands to make a profit by selling you the stuff?

The Republican primaries almost lead one to believe that there are legitimate reasons to consider a world in which corporations simply behave as they wish to and consumers have the might and wherewithal to prevent them from wrecking havoc on our lives with impunity. I say “impunity” because the idea that de-regulation will stop at the free market is absurd: the Republicans are fighting this battle on many fronts and one of their pet projects is to emasculate class action lawsuits and restrict the rights of consumers to seek redress when defective products cause harm or economic or environmental hardships.

The Confederacy in South Carolina

Let’s face it– most people knew very well that the racism was already there– it was always hidden, disguised, sublimated into guns and states’ rights.

But it’s pretty well out in the open now. Newt Gingrich cemented it with his “yeah, so what” defense of his comments about African Americans needing to get off food stamps and into jobs. He announced that he was willing to attend an NAACP conference and tell them all directly. Yes, he said it. He didn’t say poor Americans, and he didn’t say lower class Americans, and he did not even say unemployed Americans. He said African Americans. He said NAACP. He didn’t offer to make statements like that directly to the Southern Baptist Convention.

That was stunning enough. What was even more stunning is that none of the other candidates thought it would be in their interest to disavow Gingrich’s statement, criticize it, or even disagree — openly– with it. Not even Romney, who has struggled so hard to be so absolutely cosmetically correct in all things. Now we know that the cosmetics of race are this: the Republican Party has no problem with a racist candidate and South Carolina has no problem with a racist Republican. You just have to be subtle about it. This was not subtle.

Ron Paul was booed when he said American foreign policy should adopt an attitude of “do unto others what you would have them do to you”. This is a state Republican Party which, pollsters tell us, is conservative evangelical. Well, no it isn’t, but they say they are.

And I know it sounds rude, but just how stupid are South Carolina Republicans. Do they seriously believe that Romney wants to come down there after the election and do some hunting and kill some large mammalian critters with a weapon? Do they hear him say that and go, why, I just know I can trust him to appoint the right guy to the Federal Reserve and make good decisions about entitlements and interest rates and environmental policy, and I’ll bet he can handle those Iranians too. He’ll just hunt them down and stack them in his freezer.

Well, maybe they do.

They all vow to attack Iran. Do the voters of South Carolina go, well, he talks a big stick but we know there are complications to foreign policy and it might not always be in our interests to just go over there and whack someone.

Like Iraq, hmmm.

A woman came up to Gingrich after the debate and thanked him for “putting [moderator] Mr. Juan Williams in his place”.

The so-called “liberal” main stream media has not done a thing with this story yet. My theory is that they can’t believe it either and just don’t have the language ready to deal with it.

Penitence and the Brinks Robbery

Judith Clark: on October 20th, 1981, a group of radicals tried to rob a Brinks truck of about $1.8 million in cash. Things went wrong and two Brinks’ guards were shot and two police officers were killed trying to apprehend them.

Poor Judith Clark, the driver, was not smart enough to cop a deal. She was a true believer, and true believers do not compromise with the system. She went to trial. Her defense was that the system itself– of justice, of government– had no legitimacy, and therefore, did not have the authority to judge her.

She received 75 years as an accessory to murder.

The odd thing is that Judith Clark was just the driver. Almost everyone else who was involved, who carried and discharged firearms, is now out of jail. They cut deals. Not the driver. That is what passes for justice in our system. We don’t weigh all the evidence, analyze the facts, acquire knowledge and information– no, we cut deals.

But Judith Clark was not game. She refused to cut a deal and got 75 years. She had a 9 month old daughter on the day of the crime.

In an article in the New York Times on January 16, 2012, Tom Robbins interviewed some of the family members of the dead police officers. They feel that 75 years is not enough. They wish she could have been killed. Which is exactly the kind of feelings they accuse her of having, and which they believe make her a very, very bad person. To wish someone dead.

I don’t know how they feel about her accomplices, who escaped with lighter sentences and are now free to do whatever they please. I would guess they would want them dead too.

The illusion we all cling to– or don’t– is that she deserves it and they do not. I believe that what the families of the victims believe has more to do with language and culture and habit and the feedback loop of victimization and the culture of violent retribution, and has nothing to do with any kind of “justice”, of deserving, in any form whatsoever. I believe that wishing someone dead because they murdered your loved one means that you are not that far apart. Why did they kill? Because they wanted something and they thought killing another human being would get it for them. Why do you want them dead? Because it will bring your loved one back to life? Will it bring your loved one back to life? Will it give life to the dead? Will it keep someone else from dying? What do you really want when you want someone dead?

You can lock someone up for 75 years if all you want is to prevent someone else from suffering what you have suffered. But if you want someone else to suffer what you have suffered, then you want them to lose a loved one. You want them to feel what you felt.

You want them dead, then, Because then you think you will feel better. We have an array of euphemisms: closure. Justice. Whatever. All it cost for you to feel better is to kill someone. Failing that, yes, let’s just lock them up forever.

Who was killed? Brink’s Guard Peter Paige. Joe Trombino was severely wounded.

Police officers: Waverly Brown, Edward O’Grady.

Have you ever heard a victim’s family in the U.S. declare that they don’t know if a prisoner up for parole is genuinely sorry for what happened? “Honest– we don’t know. Let’s hope he is being honest when he says he is.”

I can’t remember ever hearing or reading anything like that. They all seem to think they do know, and they seem very sure of it. They are invariably convinced that the repentance is faked, to get out of prison. They seem to know this because they refuse to believe that they desire the harshest imaginable treatment of a person who might seem undeserving of their heartlessness.

They get really angry if the criminal does not apology and say that he should not be paroled because he didn’t apologize.  When he does apologize, they announce that they find the apology inadequate.  They should say,  in advance of all apologies, we say that we want an apology but if we get one we will find it unsatisfactory.

Do these same people believe that Newt Gingrich is genuinely sorry for cheating on his wife? Maybe not. Or that Michael Vick was really sorry he participated in a dog fight? Or that Billy Graham was really sorry about supportively sharing Richard Nixon’s anti-Semitism? Or that Eliot Spitzer was sorry for any reason other than he got caught. Or that Anthony Wiener was sorry he lived in a nation dominated by frigid hysterics?

We all fake respect for civilization and social and moral law every day of our lives. It’s a hoax we agree upon in order to have something called “civilization” and “society” and “culture”.

The important thing, really– the realistic thing to expect — is that convicted felons realize they benefit more by not robbing banks and killing police than they do by robbing banks and killing police.

So what is “sorry”? Too often what the families of the victims, and the police and the judges, expect from “sorry” goes beyond remorse for the actual crime: the penitent must express something that seems to reflect kindly on the families of the victims, the police, and the judge.

That’s the why, sometimes, the wrongfully convicted are treated more harshly than the rightfully convicted but astute criminal. The wrongfully convicted sometimes stubbornly insist on not confessing to crimes they have not committed.

More perversely– in the eyes of the justice system– they obstinately refuse to recognize their abusers as wise, kind, thought, devout, resolute warriors of justice and mercy.

The pricks.


Mrs. President

“She has very much got his back,” said David Axelrod, Mr. Obama’s longtime strategist, in an interview. “When she thinks things have been mishandled or when things are off the track,” he continued, “she’ll raise it, because she’s hugely invested in him and has a sense of how hard he’s working, and wants to make sure everybody is doing their work properly.” NY Times 2012-01-06

There’s a lot of euphemism in there– she’s “invested” in him. She wants to make sure everybody is doing their work “properly”. She might think things have been “mishandled”.

Without a doubt, Michelle Obama is a smart lady. She might even be very smart about politics, but we’ll never know because it’s not likely she’ll ever run for office and be elected by voters to have authority and do things. No.

She reminds me of Hillary Clinton, another very smart lady, who didn’t actually run for any office until 2000 (when she ran for the Senate in New York), but wielded considerable influence, especially on the Clinton’s failed health care proposals… You could say that their husband’s “appointed” them to a kind of “position”.

The part that concerns me is this: it appears Obama’s advisors would sometimes meet with him and discuss possible strategies and goals and policies and reach some kind of decision and then Obama would go home that night and have dinner and read stories to his kids and go to bed and the next day, he would announce that he had changed his mind.

It was obvious to his aides and advisors that Michelle had spoken.

A lot of people will read about it in People Magazine– and look at the flattering photography to go with it’s article on the first lady– and think, this is wonderful. What a wonderful lady. She’s so… so… invested.

Personally, I find it appalling. Here’s the reason why: Michelle didn’t attend the meeting and raise her issues and debate them and deal with opposing ideas and contrary facts like everyone else. She gets to have her say one-on-one with the President, a circumstance any other aide or advisor would kill for. No one to contradict your view of things. No one to point out something you missed. No one to raise facts and information that do not support your view. Just you and the most powerful man in North America.

If I was one of those aides and I had participated in a meeting in which we made our case for a certain policy or strategy and heard all sides of it and then found out, the next day, that Michelle Obama had changed the President’s mind, I would move to Chicago and run for mayor– that’s what I’d do. Especially if I was good at my job. Especially. But also if I was bad at my job. If I was more concerned with political success– getting re-elected–than with policy objectives.

The story is that the Obamas accepted the idea that they might not be re-elected in 2012. Initially.

Now, if I sucked at my job, I would just spend a lot of time sucking up to the First Lady.

The inconvenient truth here is that Michelle might have been right about some issues– she felt that the aides were too concerned with the political side of things– but we are also hearing about this through a filter. Yes, exclusive access to Michelle Obama, for a book. “The Obamas” by Jodi Kantor.

Michelle Obama considered not moving to the White House immediately at Inauguration, so the children could finish their school year in Chicago and take more time to adjust to life under the bubble– just like Mrs. Santos in West Wing!

They always tell you that that sort of thing is just not possible, that the Secret Service would have to shut down the whole block and search every neighbor entering or re-entering the neighborhood and that she wouldn’t be able to walk the dog anymore and blah, blah, blah.

They would have you believe that sophisticated Al Qaeda agents would spring from the sky in black ninja suits, smash through the windows, and snatch the first family and hold them hostage until America turned over a nuclear bomb so they could solve the Israel problem for once and for all.

This attitude towards security is what creates the hysteria around certain public people in the first place. Check other countries and you will find that few of them engage in this kind of psychotic delusion about the importance of politicians or celebrities. It’s not the product of the public’s attitude towards famous people: it’s the product of famous people doing everything they can to convince people they they are so unbelievably different from you and I that they must be treated as gods.

Even as Mrs. Obama dazzled Americans with her warmth, glamour and hospitality early in the presidency, she was also deeply frustrated and insecure about her place in the White House. NY Times

The New York Times announces to the world that Mrs. Obama — not Ms., of course– Mrs. Obama “dazzled” Americans. Well, sure they were: the New York Times told them to be dazzled and they were.

Well, what can you do? John Edwards gets a $400 haircut and it causes a sensation! Wait– the New York Times makes it sound like people are idiots for making a big deal about a $400 haircut. Maybe they are. Then again, maybe Edwards should have gotten a $35 haircut like most other women do. Maybe he should have announced beforehand that because he was now a contender, he would have to spend a ridiculous amount of money on haircuts. And shrug.

I don’t mean anything here to suggest that Hillary Clinton was not incredibly qualified for whatever government positions or non-positions she has ever held. Check her out in Wikipedia. I doubt that a more qualified woman ever ran for president.

Al Gore’s Initiative

Can we settle this for once and for all?

It’s damn infuriating to see smug conservatives continue to trot out this old canard whenever they get the chance: Mitt Romney has been going around claiming that Al Gore “took credit” for the Internet. Well, it’s all politics, but the next time Romney looks in the mirror I wonder if he sees the liar that I see when he pulls shit like that.

Al Gore did not claim he “invented” the internet. He said he “took the initiative” in the creation of the internet. Apparently, it seems to shock many people that anyone was “involved” in the creation of such a massively important and successful project.   Do people think it was always there? Do they think it was created by private companies?

Look it up. Even better, here it is, from Wikipedia:

First, the actual original quote from Gore, from a March 9, 1999 interview with Wolf Blitzer on CNN:

I’ll be offering my vision when my campaign begins. And it will be comprehensive and sweeping. And I hope that it will be compelling enough to draw people toward it. I feel that it will be. But it will emerge from my dialogue with the American people. I’ve traveled to every part of this country during the last six years. During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet. I took the initiative in moving forward a whole range of initiatives that have proven to be important to our country’s economic growth and environmental protection, improvements in our educational system.[105]

Yes, he could have phrased it better, but what he actually said– as opposed to the deliberate misquote making the rounds– was true:

Internet pioneers Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn noted that, “as far back as the 1970s, Congressman Gore promoted the idea of high speed telecommunications as an engine for both economic growth and the improvement of our educational system. He was the first elected official to grasp the potential of computer communications to have a broader impact than just improving the conduct of science and scholarship […] the Internet, as we know it today, was not deployed until 1983. When the Internet was still in the early stages of its deployment, Congressman Gore provided intellectual leadership by helping create the vision of the potential benefits of high speed computing and communication.”[53]

So Al Gore was not just on the congressional committee that oversaw the creation of the internet: he played a leadership role on the issue.

Even Newt Gingrich acknowledged as much.

And let’s not forget that Gore served honorably in Viet Nam. Can you name a single Republican running in this election who did? Come on– try it.

’til Selfish Gain no Longer Stain

Mitt Romney transverses Iowa in the last days of the primary caucuses there quoting the bowdlerized, corrupted, bullshit version of “America the Beautiful”:

America, America
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea

But here’s the real verse, from the real song, as composed by feminist/lesbian poet Katharine Lee Bates, who saw that there were a few things wrong with America:

America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
Till selfish gain no longer stain
The banner of the free!

Why, that sounds like a jab at Wall Street and those big corporations like the one Romney used to work for. As with the dropped verses of “This Land is Your Land” real Political Correctness has always come from the right, usually in the form of patriotism, but also religious virtue. In the issue, for example, of Christmas symbolism in public buildings, the “political correctness” is to trumpet the Christian virtues of the nation at taxpayer expense. Separation of church and state is the liberating doctrine.

Every ideology sees their own cause as correct and virtuous.