Esquire Writer’s Embarrassing Historical Ignorance

Political commentators should leave historical observations to historians.

When writing political commentary, it’s always walking on shaky ground to engage in hyperbole, but it’s doubly problematic to employ historical analogies, especially when you don’t know what you’re talking about. Case in point: in a recent political rant in Esquire, Charles P. Pierce wrote:

The Republican Party as it is presently constituted is the greatest threat to the American republic since Appomattox.

Charles P. Pierce, Esquire, Dec. 3, 2018

I’m sure Mr. Pierce thought he was making a clever observation about the American Civil War, but Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse in April 1865 represented the end of the war, not the beginning. Did he really mean the end of the Civil War and the surrender of the CSA represented a threat to the American republic? I’m pretty sure he thinks the exact opposite of that.

His Civil War analogy is even more awkward because it was President Abraham Lincoln’s Republican Party who prosecuted the war to its conclusion and the Southern Democratic Party that tore the country apart with secession. Oops.

But that’s the danger when someone with a cursory knowledge of history tries to make a historic analogy.

In June, President Trump’s pick for our representative at the United Nations, Heather Nauert (then State Department spokeswoman), cited D-Day as part of our long history of close relations with Germany. Of course, we were at war with Germany when Allied soldiers landed on the Normandy beaches during the D-Day invasion.

While Nauert might be forgiven for making a stupid observation while speaking off the cuff, it’s hard to give Esquire’s Charles Pierce any leeway because he had time to sit down and think through his argument while writing it. His column has been up on the website for over a week without any correction.

Pierce’s rabidly partisan column contains so much exaggeration, fear mongering, and wild accusations it’s hard to take seriously anyway, but his tenuous grasp of American history tells this history buff he engaged in zero fact checking before hitting the “submit” button, and you know the editors at Esquire are asleep at the wheel.

A Review of Mark Ames’ Going Postal

Mass shootings have been in the news a lot lately, but they are certainly not new. Neither are the debates about what instigates them. In 2005, Mark Ames, an ex-pat and founder of the Moscow-based irreverent rag the Exile, published his controversial explanation in Going Postal: Rage, Murder, and Rebellion: From Reagan’s Workplaces to Clinton’s Columbine and Beyond.

In Going Postal, Ames compares modern day office shootings to the slave rebellions of yesteryear, and skewers the culture of greed and cruelty that he believes breeds massacres like Columbine. Ames divides his 280-page book into six parts, each dissecting an aspect of the American culture of office and school violence.

The layout takes the reader on an eye-opening ride through the experience of an office massacre, back to the days of slavery, the history of office shootings and their ties with Reagan era economic reforms, the corporate culture that breeds such violent reactions, and finally, how that culture has infected our schools and children.

It is important to examine mass shootings in historical context because they seem so much a part of modern life people forget mass shootings were extremely rare prior to the 1990s. They started in the ’80s, and didn’t become a national phenomenon until the Columbine High School massacre of 1999. Guns and violence have always been a part of life in America. What changed in American culture to bring about such dramatic expressions of violence in places long considered “off limits”?

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Amazon Allows Profanity in Products but not in Reviews?

I received this email from Amazon this morning regarding my review for All That Remains album Victim of the New Disease. The album’s first song is called “Fuck Love.” I tried to comment on the song by using asterisks to mask the profanity, even though the song title is clearly displayed on Amazon’s website.

The alleged profanity is the only thing I can think caused my review to be rejected. It just doesn’t make any sense that Amazon would allow profanity on its website but not in its reviews. A reviewer ought to be able to use the text of the product to comment on the product.

Leave Your Engine at Home

Winter has me feeling nostalgic for the halcyon days of summer, when my dad and I would make the long drive up to the Chain O’ Lakes in Northern Illinois to rent a rowboat and go fishing.

The Chain O’ Lakes, including Fox Lake, Grass Lake, Lake Marie, and Channel Lake, near Antioch, has offered summer visitors a unique blend of sporting and entertainment since the late nineteenth century.

Possibly the most famous establishment on the Chain is Blarney Island, “Key West of the Midwest,” a bar located a mile offshore in Grass Lake, where over a decade worth of bras, hats, and business cards used to hang from the ceiling.

Blarney Island – June 2002

But the fond memories of my childhood lay a little to the east, at C.J. Smith Resort. Don’t let the name fool you, C.J. Smith’s is not much more than a boat rental near the shore of tiny Spring Lake that looks like it hasn’t changed since the 1950s. At least it hasn’t changed in my lifetime.

If you are looking to rent large, gas guzzling speedboats, look somewhere else. C.J. Smith’s offers only top quality 14’ and 16’ aluminum rowboats, with a 6, 8, or 15HP motor for an extra cost. Ditch the motor, in my opinion. The experience is much more rewarding if you row.

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White House Employees Warned About Violating the Hatch Act

A reprimand for engaging in politics on official accounts shows the importance of distinguishing between official and personal social media.

Last summer, in what seemed like an eternity ago as new scandals and outrage constantly emerge, there was a brouhaha over news outlets treating President Trump’s Twitter posts as official White House statements. Despite a contrary statement from then White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, I still believe Trump’s personal Twitter feed should not be treated as official statements from the White House, and this latest incident shows why.

According to CNN, six White House officials were sent letters of reprimand from Office of the Special Counsel to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington Executive Director Noah Bookbinder for violating the Hatch Act.

The Hatch Act, passed in 1939, prohibits employees in the executive branch of the federal government, except the president, vice-president, and certain designated high-level officials, from engaging in political activity while acting in an official capacity. Most relevantly, the Act allows federal employees to express opinions about candidates and issues, but prohibits them from engaging in political activity while on duty, in a government office, wearing an official uniform, or using a government vehicle.

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Dem’s anti-corruption proposal promising

Democrats unveiled their legislative agenda in the form of H.R.1, a reform bill that has potential but is woefully short on details.

Vox is reporting the new Democratic congressional majority plans to put forward House Resolution 1 after they decide on a new Speaker in early January. The resolution aims to tackle corruption on Capitol Hill, which will certainly be a daunting task.

Some of these measures sound promising, but others are problematic, particularly when it comes to campaign finance. Others simply need more explanation. Here is Vox’s breakdown, with my comments:

Public financing of campaigns, powered by small donations. Under Sarbanes’s vision, the federal government would provide a voluntary 6-1 match for candidates for president and Congress, which means for every dollar a candidate raises from small donations, the federal government would match it six times over.“If you give $100 to a candidate that’s meeting those requirements, then that candidate would get another $600 coming in behind them,” Sarbanes told Vox this summer.

The main problem with public financing of campaigns is where the money comes from. If I donate $100 to a candidate, the federal government will match that with $600? Where does the $600 come from? Well, taxes, obviously. I’ve never understood this logic. Let people keep the money they earn and donate it to whom they wish.  You’re going to tax more of my income and give it to some politician I may or may not support? No thanks.

Passing the DISCLOSE Act, pushed by Rep. David Cicilline (RI) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), both Democrats from Rhode Island. This would require Super PACs and “dark money” political organizations to make their donors public.

I think this is a good idea, and we should know exactly where campaign donations originate. It would basically require politicians and political action committees to report every single donation, no matter how small, which sucks for them from an accounting perspective but it’s a win for public transparency.

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The End of Social Media?

The increasingly authoritarian behavior of social media companies is troubling and begs the question: are they worth our time?

The early days of social media were exciting. It was a new way to connect with friends, share photos and organize events, share your opinions and interests and promote projects.

I was an early fan of social media. I created my Facebook profile in 2005, when you still needed a .edu email address to join. I’ve spent countless hours finding friends on Myspace (remember that?) and hundreds of dollars of advertising on Facebook. I used to think it had great potential.

As membership ballooned, however, it became increasingly difficult to reach out to the people you want. A few years ago, Facebook buried all non-promoted Page posts, so you had to pay just to reach your own fans. A page with thousands of fans might only get a few views on a non-promoted post.

Facebook has an obligation to its investors to make a profit. I understand that, but we have no obligation to use their service, especially now. Facebook started as a platform where anyone could go on and express themselves. Then they started acting like a gatekeeper. (Remember the controversy over Facebook removing photos of women breastfeeding?)

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