SEX AND THE SEVENTH LETTER! Rachel Maddow talked about sex. Incomparably, we thought of Plato: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, JULY 17, 2009
A change in a basic procedure: We were struck by one part of todays report by Bill Turquea report which concerns the DC schools testing/reporting procedures. Well plan to discuss it tomorrow or Monday. For today, just click here. Search on: Other score-leavening methods included redefining a failing test.
The atrocity in the room: How much extra will we rubes have to pay to get what everyone else already has? Sorry: To get what everyone else already hasat half the price were already paying? Were not sure what the answer will be. But bowdlerized versions of that question have been in the air all week.
Yesterday, the AP began explaining the $1.5 trillion price tag (over ten years) it had put on the current House health reform bill. (For their explanation, click here.) This morning, the Washington Post leads page one with the CBOs latest gloom:
Numbers are going to move around, and Elmendorfs testimony will be read different ways. For ourselves, well just marvel again at our societys Ongoing Agreement to ignore the atrocity in the room.
Whats the atrocity in the room? Its the astounding amount of wasted money involved in our current arrangements. Yesterday, the Post referred to President Obama's ambitious drive to overhaul the nation's $2.3 trillion health-care system. We dont offer what follows as a criticism of Obama. But lets consider what that amazingly large number means:
Lets assume that our society is currently spending $2.3 trillion per year on health care. Since were spending twice as much per person as other developed nations, about $1.15 trillion of that money is essentially wasted spending. Some of it goes to pay the middle-class salaries of middle-class people engaged in (useless) paper-shuffling at insurance companies. Some if it goes to doctors who perform useless procedures. Some it goes to insurance and pharmaceutical companies in the form of large profits.
But, in the larger sense, its all wasted/misspent. And lets enjoy a bit of straight talk: That much misspent money is an utter social obscenity. And yet, that remarkable sum rarely gets discussed as we try to figure out how much more well have to payto get what everyone else already has. That astounding amount of misspent money thus becomes the atrocity in the room.
Its isnt Barack Obamas fault that this obscenity goes undiscussed. The liberal world has taken part in this gimmicked discussion for many years. But that misused sum does represent a true social atrocity. And alas! When it gets discussed at all, it tends to get discussed in the manner which follows.
Chrystia Freeland (The Financial Times) appeared on last nights Ed Show. She said more than is normally said:
Freeland, a Canadian, correctly noted that our system is really ridiculous (if you look at it from the outside). Well guess what, rubes? The situation Freeland describes remains deeply ridiculous if you look at it from the inside! But almost no one ever does. Freeland herself understates the insanity a tadand her host, Ed Schultz, moved directly to a different consideration.
In that presentation, Freeland offers a bit of obvious logic. If the US pays twice as much as other nations for similar health care outcomes, you should be able to have reform that gives more coverage and costs less money (our emphasis). In the short run, it wouldnt be easy to accomplish that outcome; any actual overhaul of our profoundly ridiculous system would involve economic dislocations. But its rare to see anyone make the obvious case Freeland offered last night. When she did, she understated the lunacy a tadand Schultz moved instantly on.
Classicist Norman O. Brown got very hot in the mid 1960s (click this). In his very hot book, Loves Body, he described how societies die:
We dont recall what that means any more. But we will say this: Societies die when they can no longer see, or discuss, what is standing right before them. A ludicrous, deeply disordered discussion continues in todays Post.
SEX AND THE SEVENTH LETTER: We began thinking about Platos Seventh Letter as we watched Rachel Maddow on Wednesday night. But then, wed just finished watching Melissa Harris-Lacewell expound during Countdowns last segment.
In that Seventh Letter (excerpts below), Plato discussed his feelings as his society came apart at the moral/intellectual seams. It was hard to avoid such thoughts Wednesday night as Harris-Lacewell, then Maddow, expounded.
Were often stunned by Harris-Lacewell, but she took the cake Wednesday night. Our first excerpt will be slightly unfairthough not much. Below, you see how her first answer to Olbermann started. KeithO had asked aboutwhat else?the latest thrilling sex scandal.
Good God. As Plato might have observed, Were all Gail Collins now!
Marriage is most decidedly not a private matter, the disgusted Princeton professor insisted. Were being a little unfair by stopping there. But not much.
The professor engaged in three Q-and-As. In the course of these ruminations:
She repeated her strong declaration on marriage. (So I really despise the notion that marriage itself is some kind of private matter that we dont have any business talking about.)
She said, I certainly do hope that the young woman who was exploited [by Ensign] will, in fact, come forward and speak openly about it. The young woman in question is 46 years old; Ensign is 51. She and her husband were long-time friends of Ensign and his wife.
She seemed to acknowledge the power of the titillation factor. (Dont we all kind of want to watch what happens?) In the process, she said this isnt the major reason she wants to discuss pols marriages.
For us, Harris-Lacewells third Q-and-A really did it. By now, KO was asking her to discuss Mark Sanfords sexy-time antics. (She seemed to think Sanfords a senator.) But yikes! After opining about Mrs. Sanfords affairs, Harris-Lacewell discussed her own.
I loved Jenny Sanford early on, she enthused. Soon, though, it was TMI (too much information)in our view, way too much I:
Harris-Lacewell is able to endorse her current boy friend because I have such a clear sense of his private morality and his private ethics.
That way lies absolute, screaming madness. There are two words for this: Kenneth Starr.
Weve long been stunned by Harris-Lacewells appearances on the Maddow Show. We thought this session set a new standard. But Maddow herself is now discussing little but sex of an evening. Its all tricked up with bells and whistles, of coursesoften involving Jeff Sharlets 2008 book, The Family (more next week). But Maddow is now using vast amounts of time to talk about sexsexsex. Last night, she opened with Pat Buchanan and race. She then moved straight to sexsexsex, offering several impossibly arcane segments about current sex scandals. Quite literally, it was 9:50 before she discussed any other topic. At that time, she finally stopped talking about sexsexsexand did a short, anniversary segment about Neil Armstrongs walk on the moon.
We thought of Platos Seventh Letter as Maddow talked sexy-time sex Wednesday night. In that text, Plato describes his experience as a young man as the downfall of Athens produced an oligarchic revolution (404 BC). A group called The Thirty ascended to power; they began to settle scores. Many years later, Plato described the disgust he had felt, just as Harris-Lacewell described her own disgust Wednesday night. In this translation, we think Professor Desmond Lee has gotten it just about right:
The democracy was soon restored, but Socrates was brought to trial on a monstrous charge. His execution finished off Plato as well. The more closely I studied the politicians and the laws and customs of the day, and the older I grew, the more difficult it seemed to me to govern rightly, he would recall. Nothing could be done without trustworthy friends and supporters; and these were difficult to come by in an age which had abandoned its traditional moral code but found it impossibly hard to create a new one.
Plato abandoned his thoughts of a political career, deciding to spend his time dreaming up the perfect republic. (Big mistake. But thats another story.)
On Wednesday night, we marveled at Harris-Lacewells ruminations, then watched Maddow stage her latest sexy-time sex talk. We could feel a vague thought start to play in our brain. Then we had it! The Seventh Letter!
We may review Maddows recent work in more detail next week, especially her work about Sharlets book. Meanwhile, why is this highly progressive star so immersed in sexy-time sex talk? We have no idea, of course. But last night, when Mr. O said this, we wondered if we had some small part of our answer:
MSNBC hasnt collapsed. But on Wednesday night, as Maddow talked sex, 2.5 million were watching Sean Hannityand 1.1 million were watching her. (For all these data, just click here.) At 11 PM that night, 1.7 million watched OReillys rerun; 0.5 million watched Maddows.
At 8 PM that same evening, 3.3 million watched OReillys live broadcast. At that same hour, 1.3 million watched Harris-Lacewell evaluate Jenny Sanfords movesand discuss why she herself is able to endorse her own current love interest.
Do those numbers help explain why Maddow talked sexy-time sex all last night? We dont know, but one thing is clear:
Youll hear about health care reform on her program as soon as some big Republican player gets involved in a sex scandal. Chuck Grassley! Please! Get it on!
We thought of that Seventh Letterwho didnt?as we watched Maddow Wednesday night. We may offer more detail next week, especially about Sharlets book.
Regarding Jeff Sharlet: Sharlets fascinating work was widely ignored when he first publishedin March 2003, in Harpers (click here). His work has finally found an audiencethanks to some sexy-time scandals. (His book was published last year.)
Some things simply cant be ignored. Maddow also devoted big time this week to the state of Iraqi baseball. Channeling Norman Brown, we sometimes think that societies die when progressives start acting like this.