Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The GOP wants you!

In your place, of course

When the August recess arrives, members of congress will (in most cases) return to their districts to ingratiate themselves with the constituents who will be deciding their fates in November's general election. Naturally enough, many of them look to the organs of their political parties for support in this endeavor. We recently learned that the House Republican Conference has the backs of the GOP representatives in congress, providing them with a 31-page manual for maximizing their effectiveness during the crucial days of August. The manual is titled Fighting Washington for All Americans, which clearly implies that the Republicans have nothing to do with Washington (“doing nothing” is arguably true) and that voters must choose Republicans to fix all of the things that Republicans have wrecked in the last several years (like the economy and employment).

Fighting Washington is replete with the sort of subtle and sophisticated strategies that you would expect from the party of Boehner, especially when it comes to outreach techniques that bring women and minorities into the fold. (The “fold,” as with sheep, right?) Since each picture is worth a thousand words, let's take a look at the most eloquent part of the Republican play book. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for women in leadership positions and black and brown people in any role at all. (Hint: These latter appear almost as often as Waldo.) First, though, the textual preamble.

The women do at least start off strong in the text, where the one-named “Cathy” (like “Cher,” I presume) provides a full-page introduction whose third paragraph is
We know that Washington is broken. It spends too much, borrows too much, and takes too much. It targets people for what they believe. It chokes out jobs with more red tape, blocks new energy resources and makes our health care crisis worse. Our government is out of control.
A killer argument. (Don't forget now: The GOP has nothing to do with Washington's failures.) On the next page, Republican House members are exhorted to submit op-ed pieces to their local print media. A complete sample draft is provided for Republicans too dim to write their own. What's the lead? This:
As we conclude another busy legislative session in Washington, I look forward to working hard at home for the month of August. Each day I am grateful for the opportunity to represent you in our nation’s capital because Washington is broken and needs to be fixed.

It spends too much, borrows too much, and takes too much. It targets people for what they believe and punishes them for their political ideologies. It chokes out jobs with more red tape, blocks new energy resources, and makes our health care crisis worse.

Washington is out of control.
Hey, if it works on the members themselves, why shouldn't it also work on their dim constituents?

Let us now consider the importance of ginning up support from those “potentially targeted by the IRS.” This is ideal, because everyone is at least potentially subject to enhanced IRS scrutiny. One may as well start with the biggest real-life bogeyman of them all!

Check out the IRS's potential victims. That could be a token woman in the pink shirt, with her back toward us. The pants aren't very feminine, though, so we can't be certain. At least youth is represented by the teenage boy in the far corner. No doubt the revenuers are threatening his 501(c)(3) organization. Fortunately, the authority figure of the balding middle-aged man is present to instruct them on anti-IRS self-defense.

We can make a smooth segue from the IRS to the dangers of ObamaCare, which —as we all know—is merely a way to let the tax people threaten our health just as they do our wealth. The scruffy and rumpled doctor needs to be warned that the Obama administration's obsession over drug abuse (they really are rather over the top there) will threaten his easy access to prescription drugs for his recreational use (or energy boosts during long hours on duty in our understaffed socialist health system). That might be a woman there in the back, wearing purplish-blue and framed against a window. No doubt this is subliminal messaging that lets women know they're not entirely forgotten (just mostly ignored unless they're dangerously fertile).

A representative's constituency contains more than dissolute doctors and frightened IRS targets. To embrace the wide, wonderful world of one's district in all of its delightful diversity, organize a meetup! Be sure to salt the crowd with your hand-picked minions (“This will strengthen the conversation and take it in a direction that is most beneficial to the Member's goal.”)

This is the illustration the minions of the House Republican Conference chose to represent a typical meetup. Three white guys and one white gal. (Seen any minorities yet?) The woman is appropriately demure and quiet, listening with a docile demeanor to the guy in the middle. Observe the clasped hands of sincerity. Doesn't this look like fun?

One must be certain to use the August recess to argue in favor of people getting jobs (as distinct from actually passing job-stimulus legislation; this long-discredited socialist approach has been anathema since it was last done for the Bush administration). Fighting America—oops!—I mean Fighting Washington recommends a live YouTube Roundtable to boost jobs and fight (or at least whine) about unemployment.

As seen in the picture, a job roundtable need not be a roundtable at all. It can actually be as simple as a white guy haranguing people who are trying to have lunch in a cheap diner in an unidentified war zone. See the pensive lady in this one? (She's wondering if she's getting paid enough for this soul-killing posing job.)

Did you know that the Republicans favor family leave? It's another perfect topic for a roundtable! Your Republican representative can single the praises of the Working Families Flexibility Act, which empowers employers to rearrange your hours so as to avoid overtime pay. But don't worry, if you end up working overtime anyway and don't get a chance to take compensatory time off, you will eventually get paid. (Please don't think of this delayed compensation as an interest-free loan of your wages to your employer. That doesn't sound nearly as good as “flexibility.”)

As before, no roundtable is actually necessary. It's just an expression. Since we're talking about working families, it's important to run a photo with an unambiguous female in it. There's actually three or four in this one, and the nice lady in the blue top is congratulating a morbidly obese Tea Party member on his recent eating contest victory. Note the subtle way it reminded the reader about health issues and the dread impact of ObamaCare! And a bonus: There's a black guy in the back! Hi, black guy! (We're done with you now. Bye-bye!)

It's important to never stop hitting the jobs issue. (Remember, it's all Obama's fault that no jobs measure had gotten through the House of Representatives since the GOP took control in 2011. But what else could you expect from a shiftless black guy?) But let's stay on topic. Jobs!

The compassionate conservative congressman will find time to at least shake the hands of people waiting in an unemployment line. (Most of them are overweight, so look into cutting the food-stamp program some more.) There are one, two, maybe three women in this picture. A high point!

Now on to the job fair! Representative Bucshon managed to get his job fair on the local NBC affiliate. (Time to call up the local Fox affiliate and scream threats at them. Didn't Murdoch's check clear?)

There's something funny about this video-capture photo. Notice how the mix of men and women begins to approach societal norms when a real-life event is captured? Quite a contrast to the default choices of Republican operatives. Did any of them scratch their heads and think this picture was somehow “wrong” and out of place in their play book? I guess they decided to use it to please Rep. Bucshon. But it is a little jarring. (Hey! Is that a minority in the back? Or is he only in a shadow?)

The Republicans have a big demographic problem. Not only do minorities refuse to vote for them, so do most young people. But never fear! Having recognized this deficiency in their recruitment program, the GOP is highlighting the predatory impact of ObamaCare, which will force millennials to pay for healthcare while they're young and healthy, thus helping Mom and Dad and Grandma and Grandpa to stay alive while the youngsters could be using that cash to improve the quality of their partying. Vile redistributionist policies! If young people can be inveigled into destroying ObamaCare today, they can live happier, wealthier lives right now and not be concerned about it till much, much later (which is another matter altogether and not part of the current discussion).

Oh, look! Helping young people understand the wickedness of ObamaCare apparently involves old white-haired guys giving a talk to groups of young, pretty, nubile females. Hey, man, do you really want a camera in the room? (Oh, okay. I hadn't thought of that.) Big progress, though, for female representation in Fighting Washington. We have three young women listening submissively to an older man (just as God intended).

I know from personal experience that farmers love the Republican Party. It appears to make no sense, but they do. (Something about rugged individualism and subsidies for agribusiness.) Certainly the GOP will not fail to address farm issues during the August recess.

As we all know, women have nothing to do with agriculture. Neither do minorities. They're just no good at it (unless, of course, they're under the supervision of an overseer).

Much of the same is true with energy production. That's an engineering problem, and there's the rub. Women don't like hard hats because they muss their hair. The GOP understands this.

Also, there are no young or minority engineers. Get over it if you don't like it. The Republicans accept reality just the way it is!

Hey! Just one doggone minute here! Where did that picture of award-winning black engineering students from Clarkson come from? (It sure wasn't from Fighting Washington, I'll tell you that much!)

Sorry. We got a little off-topic there. Let's turn instead to the GOP's concerns about fuel and food. According to the GOP play book, the August recess should be used to tour gas stations and grocery stores (with the members acting like they've actually been in those places in recent years and not just during childhood). After making sure that the station owners and grocers “are comfortable with the overall messaging them” (that is, ensuring that these people understand that Obama is evil incarnate and responsible for all their problems), the congressman can stage a series of events where he stops off at each business to decry the horrible things Obama has done for them while the owner nods and/or wrings his hands.

This is yet another occasion where womenfolk are irrelevant. When it comes to grocery shopping or gassing up the car, all you need is a couple of white guys. Message received!

Another good topic is higher education, where you can address major concerns like student loans (and the importance of letting interest rates fall too low), lack of available jobs (because of Obama's destruction of the economy during 2008, before he was president), workforce training (which community colleges should provide more efficiently to compensate for budget cuts imposed by Republican governors), and keeping education affordable (see “student loans” and “workforce training” again).

And what says “higher education” more than a white guy lecturing at a white audience? Nothing, of course! (It is just possible that an Asian or two has slipped into this group, but that's okay because Asians are a good minority. Especially in math class.)

It's not enough to tour through farms, warehouses, gas stations, and schools, of course. You have to get out there among the little people. Like the good, honest folk who work in mom-and-pop outfits in strip malls that GOP policies are putting out of business via tax breaks to more efficient megacorporations with off-shore labor forces (where the miracle of the unfettered free market enable young people to find employment opportunities that would be denied them in the US [at least until they are teenagers]).

For a common touch, wear jeans under your sports coat. Commoners will relate to that. It's not clear that women were required in this picture, but perhaps they do the cleaning up. They seem friendly enough to their oppressor, suggesting that it must be hard cider in those plastic jugs. The wine is probably another reliable sales item in depressed economic sectors.

Republicans hate red tape (except when it comes to regulating abortion clinics), so  naturally Fighting Washington suggests yet another roundtable discussion on government over-regulation. A congressman can wander into a convenient factory and bring production to a total halt while he delivers a sermonette on the importance of efficiency through deregulation. He can demonstrate this by refusing to wear a safety vest while lecturing the employees.

If he lives through the experience, he can then visit a senior citizen center, part of his reliable support base as he promises to protect Social Security and Medicare from his party's policies.

The woman in the picture is just posing. She's got her flag pin on her lapel and is probably an example of the female of the Republican congressional representative species. She's a nice lady and probably won't be pushing the old man down the escalator in the background after the camera goes away. Legislation takes longer, but has fewer fingerprints.

When a GOP member of congress gets tired of going walkabout on these various roundtable tours, he can always cede the heavy lifting to local talk-radio hosts. Most of them are always willing to carry water for the GOP. You can read almost any dreck you like from cue cards cut from the party platform (or Fighting Washington!) and they'll run with it. They already feed their listeners several hours every day of right-wing cant. Rest assured that they know your talking points even better than you do!

This photo depicts a model talk-radio station. See the man's arm in the lower-left corner? He's undoubtedly the guy who has the cut-off switch in case the female host is having her time of month and goes off the reservation.

Broadcast media are dominant these days, but it's important not to neglect the surviving print media, which can be important in certain key demographics (like the old people who subscribe so they can keep up with Peanuts). Remember that op-ed stuff. You can get newspapers to run articles that align with your interest if you schmooze sufficiently ingratiatingly with the paper's editorial board.

As shown in the picture, modern editorial boards are made up exclusively of old white guys. These people are the GOP's core constituency and hardly even need an excuse to pitch their stories the way the local congressman would like.

Townhall meetings are lot like roundtables and all the previous tips and rules apply. Don't forget to salt the audience with shills who have the questions you'd prefer to answer. Get free media from your minions inside talk radio and newspaper editorial boards. Then you're on solid ground.

If you're a member of congress who wants to impress people at a townhall meeting, don't leave your visual aids immobile on an easel. Wave them around. That makes it harder to read anything that they can reconsider later, but people will remember your passion. Also, if you have an assistant with a semi-dark complexion, tell people he's of Indian descent (like Bobby Jindal!) and not Mexican (which will make people think he's illegal, or at least his parents were). Call him “Raj” or “Apu.” These are media-tested acceptable exotic names and will make your audience give themselves credit for their fake open-mindedness.

Republican candidates who learn the lessons of Blighting—I mean, Fighting Washington can be certain to reap the votes of their palest and most gullible constituents. Their success will continue until the dwindling supply of such constituents reaches a certain critical level. Fighting Washington is Exhibit A in the argument that the Republican establishment thinks that critical level is many cycles away.

Please prove them wrong in 2014.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Cheerfully innumerate

Happily ignorant

I'm sure we all remember in Season 17 when Marge Simpson expressed to Lisa her regrets about blowing off the calculus final in order to party with her boyfriend Homer: “Since then, I haven't been able to do any of the calculus I've encountered in my daily life.” Ah, yes. Thus do our mistakes return to haunt us, and—as we all know, a working knowledge of calculus is crucial for success as a homemaker.

The obvious basis for the humor is the effective disjunction between calculus and housekeeping. The more subtle reason is perhaps more significant: a sense of relief in the viewer. “Ha, ha! Thank goodness it doesn't really matter that I didn't learn any of that useless stuff!” It salves their guilty consciences over their collegiate screw-ups and omissions. “Math! Who needs it? Only nerds! (And I'm not one. Hurray!)”

 Brian O'Neill seized the opportunity to write a semi-humorous article for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette after discovering that Google's Laszlo Bock found no significant connection between college grades and job qualifications. He cites Bock as saying in a New York Times interview that “G.P.A.’s are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless.”

What? Algebra grades don't predict job performance? Grades in English composition don't correlate with corporate success? Shocking!

And why should they? I concede that the classroom is an artificial environment that does not in general (and is not intended to) emulate future work experience. The integration of the knowledge you acquire in the classroom is a separate skill, as is the selection of the right tools for doing a particular job. Why are heads exploding (or pretending to explode) over these “revelations”? People don't begin entry-level jobs with all of their skills and knowledge pre-melded into a unitary capability. Who knew?

A degree really signifies that you are able to achieve a goal, which is why many companies care more about your persistence in achievement than they are in the grade point average you attained. This, however, is the point at which people bewail the math classes that prevent attainment of a degree: “I can't do the math required for a college degree, so math shouldn't be required.” But college degrees are a sign of a range of qualitative and quantitative skills, so this argument suggests a watered-down college degree is okay. Should it have an asterisk on it? Should it be labeled “college degree lite”. Does everyone deserve a college degree even if he or she is illiterate or innumerate? Note how readily the argument generalizes:

“I can't do the _____ required for a college degree, so _____ shouldn't be required.”

Student success would soar! And student job options would correspondingly shrink.

Oh, but Google says academic success doesn't correlate with occupational success. Please pause to consider that Bock was describing what they discovered in the people they hired. Go ahead and visit Google's job opportunity site. They need account managers and executives more than anything else (at least during this summer of 2013). Minimum qualifications? Looking at today's listings in order, I see BA/BS (MBA preferred), BA/BS, Bachelor's (MBA preferred), BA/BS, BA/BS, BA/BS, BA/BS, BA/BS, BA/BS, BA/BS (and that's just page one). You get the idea.

Shall we do what Google says and ignore college attainments, or as Google does? While Google may not ask for GPAs and specific college majors, it still wants to know you can complete a certain level of education. If you can't, they're less interested in you (although they will in some instances accept “4 years relevant work experience” in lieu of the bachelor's).

Students without math skills may nevertheless thrive in the many occupations that minimize the need for numeracy, but those students dramatically constrict their options and straiten the path to success. And it's too late to have Euclid himself as an instructor: “Give him a coin, since he must profit from what he learns.”

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Pavlov's button

Try pressing harder!

There is a big intersection near the post office in my town. It has multiple lanes, including turn lanes, and stop lights and crosswalks and buttons for pedestrians to press when they want to cross. Yesterday I was stopped at the light, waiting for it to turn. Two teenage girls on roller skates were on my right, fidgeting as they waited to use the crosswalk in front of me. The blonde was pumping the crosswalk button. If one press is good, won't a dozen presses be better?

Having done her duty, the blonde shuffled on her skates while keeping a keen eye on the Walk/Don't Walk sign. Just to be safe, however, the brunette scooted over and pressed the button several more times, presumably in case her blonde friend had not done it correctly. It was a busy intersection that morning and they were not getting instant gratification, so the blonde skated around the light pole and mashed the button again a few more times, pumping it with great vigor.

At last the lights changed, but it was to allow a pair of turn lanes to empty out and the Walk sign did not light up. The blonde's mouth opened in astonishment and she reacted as if she had been slapped in the face. Outrage! And banged the button a dozen times, pumping it in a fury.

The turn lanes emptied, the lights changed, and the girls were at last given the green light to skate across the crosswalk. Their mission was evidently only half accomplished, because they had wanted to reach the diagonally opposite corner and had one more crosswalk to navigate. Hence they began to take turns assaulting another crosswalk button.

They must be a barrel of fun in elevator lobbies.

Friday, July 05, 2013

Familiarity breeds contempt

No love for Sister Sarah has sponsored one of those irritating pop-up polls that haunt the Internet. I normally ignore such things. My pop-up blocker catches most of them, but this one slipped through. (Okay, I confess! I asked for it. Townhall sneakily embedded it in a Facebook ad and I clicked on it.)

The question was very simple and probably easy to answer for 99% of the population. It asked the weighty question, “Should Sarah Palin run for Senate? She's considering it.” Since “Hell, no!” and “Only for the entertainment value” were not provided as response choices, I settled for “No, her time has passed.” The alternative was “Yes would love to see her back in elected office,” which seemed too subtle in its irony.

After voting, I got to see the results. Over two-thirds of the respondents wanted Sarah to run (but there was no way to determine how many of those respondents were mentally appending “and lose” to their answers). This is not a surprising result from a crowd of people willing to follow a link provided by (Of course, Sarah might lose interest if she discovers that a Senate term is six years long.)

The responses were broken down by state. I looked at them one by one. Idaho was the most eager to see Palin on the Alaska ballot for U.S. Senate. No big surprise. I moused around until I found the state most opposed to a Palin candidacy. (You're ahead of me, right?)

It was Alaska. The state that knows Palin best expressed itself with 55% in her favor and a record 43% opposed. No other state broke out of the thirties in its opposition to the half-term governor. And don't forget that this is a Townhall crowd. I was not surprised. You weren't either, were you?