Thursday, September 29, 2011

You Eedeeyote!

Idiot AmericaI’ve really been on a reading tear lately, and finished a couple of books this week (as well as reading Stephen King’s short story “Mile 81” today—fun, quick read!). I thought I’d post a couple of quick reviews, because both of these books are significant.

First up is Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free by Charles P. Pierce. I’ve written before about this, and many have discussed the current atmosphere of anti-intellectualism in the country. Ignorance is seen as a desirable trait, because to be educated is seen by some to be elitist behavior. An expert opinion is “balanced out” by the opinions of utterly unqualified people. The fact that this makes no sense doesn’t seem to matter to a large portion of the populace.

Pierce talks about the importance of “American cranks.” You know, those people who have seemingly outrageous ideas, but can bring up legitimate questions and steer the discussion in a new direction. For example (this is my example, not the author’s), think of some of the more bizarre ideas of Ron Paul and his loony son, like allowing business owners to make their own policies when it comes to who the will allow into their place of business. The Civil Rights Act and the strides we’ve made in that area are kind of important. Not an expert opinion, by any means, but it seems self-evident to me. However, Paul has been adamantly opposed to both wars we’re in, and I believe that he has steered that discussion in the right direction.

Pierce says that the problem with cranks is when they become part of the mainstream, rather than anti-establishment. The inmates taking over the asylum, if you will. (See Baggers, Tea.) Pierce’s Great Premises of Idiot America are that anything can be seen as true if you say it loudly enough, you appear to believe it, and enough people believe it fervently enough. (See Panels, Death.) He writes about the Kitzmiller v. Dover case (I highly recommend the Nova documentary in that link) concerning the teaching of intelligent design in public schools, and spent a good amount of time with Federal Judge John E. Jones III, who ruled on the case. Judge Jones said:

If you poll the United States today, you find that over 40 percent, sometimes over fifty percent, of the people in the United States believe in creationism and not evolution. And they think that creationism should be taught alongside, or even supplant, evolution in the public schools. So they don’t understand why this federal judge in Pennsylvania, in my case, won’t get with the program and bend to the popular will. Well, that’s not the way the Framers designed the judiciary. We are supposed to be a bulwark against the popular will at a given time and responsible to the Constitution and to the law. But, boy, that’s lost. People should get that.

My hero! Pierce also tackles the current assertion by some that America was meant to be a Christian nation, and the Founding Fathers laid it out that way. He examines the thoughts and writings of James Madison, especially. In his “Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessment” of 1785, Madison writes:

It is proper to take alarm at the first experiment on our liberties...Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects? that the same authority which can force a citizen to contribute three pence only of his property for the support of only one establishment, may force him to conform to any other establishment in all cases whatsoever?

In other words, if the government allows Christian prayer to be conducted at public functions, or the expression of Christian faith to the exclusion of other religions in the public square, you may be sittin’ pretty for now, Sunny Jim, because you like that old-time Christian religion, but if the government does that, they can just as easily establish a religion you might not dig so much. Now do you get why the separation of church and state is a good thing, and is exactly what the Founders intended? It wasn’t just to protect your religion from our government; it was also to protect our government from your—or any—religion. The Founders wrote extensively and often about how a nation with a self-government needs an educated and informed populace. I think they would be very disappointed in Idiot America.

Pierce veers off into snarky derision once in a while, which can be a little jarring, but it’s also usually warranted. A good read, and I recommend it.

The RogueSpeaking of idiots in America, the second book is The Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin by Joe McGinniss. You might remember the brouhaha generated last summer when McGinniss rented the house right next to the Palins’. He and his family received death threats for that little bit of effrontery, but he managed to survive the summer. Palin’s reaction was immediate and swift, accusing him on her Facebook page of spying on them and peeping into the girls’ bedrooms. Typical Palin, playing the victim. McGinniss was merely staying in Wasilla in order to talk to numerous townspeople about Palin past and present. Was there a little bit of poking the bear with a sharp stick involved? I don’t doubt it. I understand the easy allure and sheer pleasure of knowing how easy it is to get to someone you don’t much care for. But to accuse him of peering in her daughters’ windows is absurd.

Anyway, McGinniss bounces back and forth between Palin’s childhood, political rise, and current goings-on. These time shifts are easy to follow, though. Palin is threatening to sue both McGinniss and Random House for publishing the book, citing defamation for lies and rumors presented as fact and based on anonymous sources. (Random House is standing by the book and McGinniss.) I was paying close attention to that as I read the book. Much of the political incidents mentioned were things that I’d read before, and most of those mentioned the source. When it came to the personal items like drug use and Todd’s supposed promiscuity, sources usually weren’t mentioned as anything other than “a friend” or “a former coworker.” I took such stories with a large grain of salt. The one personal item that was getting all the press was Palin’s one night stand with NBA star Glen Rice. The source cited for that story? Glen Rice himself. I haven’t seen Rice coming out with any sort of statement about the story being a falsehood.

What was more important to me was to read about her political dealings and her religious fanaticism. Much of this was nothing new to me, but there were several whoppers that had me constantly thinking, “Man, what a bitch!” This book corroborated many things I’d read before, but the depth of her religiosity was very disturbing. She can believe whatever she wants to, but she sincerely wants to impose that religion on everyone else, and that I have a problem with. (Read up on dominionism, if you haven’t heard of it.)

I think McGinniss goes off the reservation at the end of the book with his speculation that Trig might not be Sarah’s kid. I’m not a fan of conspiracy theories in any form, and I don’t care much about this one. There’s enough about her “policies” and lack of intelligence to bother me; the personal nitpicking doesn’t do much for me. I bet it all bugged the hell out of Sarah, though!

I won’t recommend this one way or the other. McGinniss is a very good writer, and it flows well. If Palin is going to stay on the public stage (and no, I don’t think she’s running for President), it’s important to be armed with just how horrid she is. Those who need to find it out the most will, of course, never read this book. For most of my readers (who tend to be liberal, as far as I can tell), this is a quick read if you want to be reminded of why you can’t stand this woman and want her as far away from Washington, D.C. as possible. If she does, by some bizarre chance, decide to run, I’ll start posting excerpts from the book!

Hey, how about a little Green Day?! Don’t mind if I do!