Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Happy Fourth of July

I made it to the White House and the United States Capitol for the first time earlier this year.  I was traveling with my family for a long weekend to Washington, D.C.  I must admit that I was pretty taken with the imagery and architecture of the seat of our republic.

I had been to the city once before, but not to those two buildings.  I had seen and entered all of the memorials on the National Mall and stood in awe of the American Ebenezers to Thomas Jefferson and Martin Luther King, all under the watch of the Washington Monument, of course, and the reminder of what kind of men built this country -- and the missteps along the way to get here. 

It was the right time for me, though, because I was consuming a lot of media about history, in particular the American and French Revolutions.  When considering the historical context of what political theory was like in Europe in the 18th Century, the United States of America is a gigantic human leap forward.  The mission statement captured in the Declaration of Independence set a goal for us all to strive for -- that all of us are equal and made that way by powers greater than any earthly institutions and any governments that interfere with those rights are illegitimate.  It was, of course, also fraught with internal contradictions.  Just like all of us still are.

Without that historical context, it is easy to overlook how significant the articulation of these ideas were.  The American Revolution was revolutionary in many senses of the word, since the major powers on the European Continent were still ruled by monarchs invested by divine right (and so were those across the world in Asia, for that matter).  The failures of the French Revolution that looked to ours and reached out for the same liberty we now enjoyed showed how fragile those ideas are and how lucky we were to have the men named on the Mall.  The expression "the Revolution eats its children" comes from this period in France.  The sins of America were different ones than the French, but our guiding principles at least identified a North Star for us (and those for whom the promise of the Declaration was cruelly and immorally excluded) to sail towards.  There was no Reign of Terror to devour our own.  At least, not in the same way.  Our Reign of Terror was an issue of our ideals not being shared with all of our sons and daughters; France's was about which ideals should actually count.

There are two places on the National Mall that made me cry both times: the Lincoln Memorial and the Vietnam War Memorial.  The Lincoln Memorial stands as a testament that this project, imperfect in execution as it was, is worth preserving, at the expense of blood.  Engraved inside the classical temple are Lincoln's two greatest speeches -- among anyone's greatest speeches -- defending the virtue of republican self-government and advocating magnanimity to the enemy, our own countrymen, at the conclusion of the bloody surgery of exorcising part of America's fallen nature.  The moral stain of slavery was not completely cleansed after the conclusion of the Civil War, but the sails of the ship of state tacked closer to Jefferson's North Star.

The Vietnam Memorial is different.  While the Lincoln Memorial is theoretical and high minded, the Vietnam War Memorial is clinical in its groundedness. It is a relentless reminder of just what war costs as after each step the names just keep coming, the wall getting taller, and deeper.  It is taller than you are before you reach the halfway point.  It also serves the aching realization that there is no Second Inaugural Address, no end of slavery, no clear hard won prize purchased with the dearly spent lives.  It is a reminder that "progress" does not necessarily trend in a one to one ratio with the axis of time, as much as our optimism (and etchings on our hero's monuments) wants it to, without effort.  The arc of the moral universe is long, but there is no gravitational center without principled people bending it.

At the same time our states were warring against themselves, France had slipped into a Second -- Second -- Empire; their republican ideals did not stick.  Let us not forget this Fourth of July what we have been bequeathed by our forefathers.  It includes all of us, of every ethnicity, creed, and sex.  All men, endowed by our Creator.  It is our birthright.  Those values are worth preserving.  They are worth advancing.  They are rare.  And they are easy to lose.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

She blinded me with logical fallacies

I know this may be hard to believe, but I once got into a silly and unnecessary argument with a former boss over the word "utilize" in a presentation.  I knew it was silly and unnecessary as it was happening, but I only have so much control over my pedantry.  I am only a man.  I ended up giving up, because he was my boss and kind of difficult to work for.  Even though it was silly and unnecessary, I still feel bad about it because the meanings of words matter, and utilize is a frequently abused word.  It shames me to this day.

Even though I caved in the face of middle-whelming opposition, I still feel strongly about use of words, as you can imagine.  I even got into an internet argument in the comments section of The Atlantic once when I was "working from home" (different boss) about inappropriate use of the word socialism.  I do care about that, too, but man, correcting randos on the internet about definitions of political philosophy is an uphill battle.

Another word that has been bugging me for quite some time now is how people say the word "science" but rarely seem to know what it actually means.  This tweet came across my feed recently and it filled me with that same urge to explain why everyone else is wrong all the time again.  The word science has had a sort of quasi-political, semi-chic renaissance.  I do not exactly know when or why it started, but its invocation is typically about smugness.

Science is a process by which an hypothesis is identified, an experiment defined and executed, then tested.  It is important that the hypothesis is stated before the experiment is defined, to try to expose and prevent bias.  The data from the outcome of the experiment is then compared to the hypothesis, and depending on the significance of the experiment, applied in some way, published or just filed away for posterity.  The details of the experiment are also defined, so that it can be replicated to be sure that the information is valid.  Science is not a body of knowledge.  It is a technique to build knowledge.  It is not a world view.

One of the places that exemplifies this smugness, besides Neil deGrasse Tyson's twitter feed, is ieffinglovescience.  I know that is not its name, but I do not like to use the f word. Looking at the website, it has science memes news, which is nice.  Nowhere on the website does the explanation of the Scientific Method appear.  The shop is pretty easy to find -- and it supports real science causes!  Whatever that means.

NdGT recently tweeted "a subject is scientifically controversial when actively debated by legions of scientists, not when actively debated by the public, the press or by politicians."  That is kind of nonsense, because scientists are not priests.  There's no magic cape you get to put on (or Van Allen Belt?) when you graduate with a science degree.  While my degrees are in Mechanical Engineering instead of physics, I am not a scientist either.  But I am at least as qualified as Bill Nye.

This particularly bothers me because it reflects poorly on my profession and associated professions when these people act like insufferable jerks using the logical fallacy Appeal to Authority to support a position they already believed.  Which, is antithetical to what science is supposed to be.

Monday, June 06, 2016

Isn't it too early to be this jaded about politics

I did not vote for Mitt Romney last election.  I did it out of the naive position that he was insufficiently principled; he seemed to be someone who wanted the presidency simply for its own sake.  It was unclear what his specific policies would be, because like his fellow Bay Stater John Kerry, he had occupied a number of positions on his way to a national campaign.  In short, he felt like the Republican Diet Coke of Hillary Clinton.

Looking back, that feels silly now.  In part because I don't really fall neatly into either particular ideological space represented by the two major political parties.  But also because now, when faced with the actual Hillary Clinton as a candidate, that the alternative is a sort of clownish villain.  (I'm thinking more Dr. Evil than Joker...)  It's hard to tell how dangerous he might actually be in practice, but that's a bit of a different question that the previous paragraph.

I don't really have a question about either Romney's or Clinton's competence, or their belief in the formulation of our economic and political system.  My reservations were about the amount of freedom each would take from us, which has been kind of a moot point over the last 16 years as, like when Eisenhower opted not to dismantle the New Deal, Obama has chosen to maintain the surveillance state and pieces of the War on Terror that were largely elective in addition to his interventionist decisions that doubled down on Bush's during the economic crashes.

The idealistic part of the electorate seems to be moving away from what I believe, the pragmatic is lining up behind an obviously corrupt technocrat and the nationalistic is distilling that occasionally compelling spirit into a volatile rocket fuel rather than a sophisticated single malt.  Volatile is the best word to describe it because there is a possible upside to a Trump presidency.  There is floor, though, is more sever and more likely.

I guess it kind of depends on my faith in the resiliency of American institutions.  I think that our institutions are mostly excellent, but if they continue to be populated by people who do not seem to believe in them -- or at least appear to elevate their partisan loyalties higher than the mores of the institutions to which they belong, notably the Senate -- then it may not matter how good those institutions are.

The crazy thing is, at this point, I think I'd pick almost literally anyone of the other serious choices than those who remain in the race.  (Ok, probably not Cruz.)  But man, does it look like Biden missed his moment.  Or hell, Romney.  This time, I think I would have been a little more willing to compromise and choke down the Diet Coke.

Friday, April 01, 2016

On the Racist Food

This week, I became the old man yelling at the cloud.   I wrote an email to a podcast complaining about its content.  It was On the Media's episode Is This Food Racist?  The podcast was a logrolling platform for another podcast that shares the WNYC distributor and had two main thrusts -- an interview with Rick Bayless, an Oklahoman who has dedicated his life to Mexican food (real deal stuff, not food truck tacos) and the response to a comment the guest made about Korean staple bibimbap about how to improvement.  A key piece of information is that both Bayless and Dan Pashman, host of Sporkful, are white and not Latin or Korean.  At least, that was key to Brooke Gladstone, host of OTM who interviewed Pashman.

I have gotten irritated by podcasts before -- mostly by stuff like how pretentious David Plotz can be on the Slate Political Gabfest -- but never have I actually written an email to voice that.  Food, though, has a powerful effect on me.  There were a few moments that made this happen.

The first was when Pashman, while interviewing Bayless, confronted him about whether he had advantages in his career with Mexican food because he was white.  He said that he never really thought about it, tried to figure out what they were asking him, and pretty much said Mexican food is good.  Afterwards, Pashman and Gladstone could not believe the gall of him unwilling to concede his white privilege.  At this point, the transmission in my brain ground its gears.  For some reason, the idea that his whole food palate is built on him being an American interpreting Mexican food, so the idea of getting advantages in this context is kind of meaningless.

The next was when Pashman acknowledged that during a discussion on Korean food, he suggested an improvement to bibimbap and got an array of calls, some positive, others not where he and Gladstone wrung their hands over whether it was ok.  The podcast played an interview with an offended Korean American discussing how as a child he was made fun of for his school lunches because there were noodles in them.  He then talked about how it felt like a white guy suggesting an improvement to Korean food was like trying to tell his Korean grandmother how to be hotter.  There are a couple of things about this: everyone gets made fun of for their school lunches.  Another is that these sorts of adjustments are how immigrant foods become assimilated so that when the next generation of Korean kids bring their lunches to school, it looks normal.  Finally, there is not definitive bibimbap, and if there were, this guy who called in would not own it.  He's not Korean Arnold Palmer.

The interview concluded with Gladstone asking Pashman if he would continue to experiment like that.  He said, probably yes, but while being more thoughtful of others.  It seems like a fine sentiment, but it also seems kind of crazy.  The idea that making food a different way is imperialism seems like it requires a lessening of the original in a way that really does not happen.  This is not the first time I have seen this sort of complaint, though.  (In the interest of full disclosure: I eat collard greens.  I cook them often, though never with peanuts.)

More importantly, though, is that this is what interaction is.  Integration like this is part and parcel of what America is, especially with food.  Pizza, General Tso's chicken, the California roll, the Cuban sandwich, everything that comes out of Louisiana, chili and the mission burrito are all results of cultures running into each other.

I also think that this is the kind of thinking that leads to people supporting people like Donald Trump.  It's hard not to see this as an argument that white people can't make foods from non-white people.  While the discussion is clearly more nuanced than that, the implication was clearly that this was somehow bad.  When immigrants arrived here with their recipes and found different ingredients available, they improved without feeling enslaved to an idea of authenticity.  I just can't see how the world isn't a richer place because of decisions like that, and if the offended Korean American's complaints cause others to be hesitant to experiment because they do not belong to the ethnicity, that's really a shame.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Queen of the Dairy

Dr Sighted loves Blizzards.  I like them too, but I am not very discriminatory in my dairy needs.  Any high quality ice cream is perfectly fine by me.  There was an old style Dairy Queen in my home town that I didn't realize was "old style" until I moved away and saw that there were others that serve hamburgers and what not.  I also found out that ice cream places close in the winter time up north, which is very sad.

They have a new commercial out and I don't even know what they are trying to sell me, but I love it.  While well placed Lionel Richie "Hello"s will never not be funny, I particularly like the guy who sings in front of the Corvette.  When this commercial comes on, I move kind of slowly to the remote to fast forward past them.  I also like how wooden the cheerleader's delivery is, and how unnecessary such an elaborate set piece is for two seconds of commercial.

This commercial is not special.  It is not Pie and Chips for Free, which apparently was posted 9 years ago, which is a weird thing to make me feel old.  I cannot imagine we will be talking about I'm a Fan a decade later.  But it is strangely charming and there are a lot of small details that show this was a very thoughtfully crafted commercial and you should pay attention to the Lionel Richie fan's mug and shirt.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The cheese that goes...

There is an apocryphal story of my youth that immediately after I had my tonsils removed, I asked for not ice cream, which is the standard request, but Cheetos, which are not soft nor smooth.  I liked Cheetos as a kid more than I do now, but if I'm line for a catered sub lunch, I'll reach for the Cheetos probably more often than I'd reach for anything else since nobody seems to go for sour cream and onion anymore.  I guess onion breath is more offensive than orange teeth.

A couple of years ago, Cheetos sort of rebooted Chester from a sort of loser who thinks he is the coolest cat on the block who spends the commercials trying (unsuccessfully) to get his paws on some delicious Cheetos into a weird kind of jerk who uses Cheetos not for food, really, but more as props primarily to embarrass some of the people around the human characters (usually friends or family) in the commercial.  (I tried to find more samples on YouTube, but searching for Cheetos is mostly crowded out by videos like this about getting Irish people to try American things.  I must admit, I was amused.)

As an example, two recent ones have a child firing Cheetos out of a catapult at her father (I think?) for stealing the remote or something.  Another has a child making a Cheeto bikini for her sleeping father so that when he wakes up, he'll have bikini tan lines.  In none of these are there anything about the Cheeto dust that gets on everything.  It's not as bad as Dorito dust or glitter, but it's in the conversation.

There are a number of baffling aspects of these commercials.  First, none of the people seem to be fazed by the fact that there is a cartoon Cheetah telling them what to do, which, now that I think about it, is reasonably consistent with the commercial universe.  But really, why not show case the snack as being desirable?  The earlier incarnation was not Geico Cavemen or anything as far as commercial quality goes, but it was clear that the snacks were so good that Chester was willing to endure physical pain.  In the new versions, I'm not really sure that the effects would be any different if they replaced the Cheetos with a bag of bread crusts cut off from little kids' sandwiches..

They've made more of these commercials that Darrell Hammond got to make Colonel Sanders commercials, so there must be something to it.  But to me, it makes me sad.  I cannot imagine 3 year old me wanting to ask for Cheetos with a mascot like this after a tonsilectomy.  I guess it really isn't easy being cheesy.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Pieces and Cups

I just saw a commercial for Reese's version of Nutella, and I must say I'm intrigued.  I have had good luck with Nutella, but, to be honest, I could do without its pretentiousness.  It's all European and hazelnutty and what not.  What is a hazelnut?  I'm not convinced it's not an invented flavor by coffee shops like how wine tasters say that a Merlot tastes like chocolate and leather.  Leather in my wine is neither probable nor desirable.

Reese's has to potential to close that gap with the lovable peanut, which all of us can easily identify.  There is a question, however, about Reese's that I really can't believe I hadn't already written about by now.  What does Reese's rhyme with?  I had a bevy of coworkers about a year and a half ago challenge me on this to the point of calling the question line phone number located on the wrapper of the cup.  Unfortunately, they gave them bad information -- citing their famous slogan of "There's no wrong way to eat a Reese's" -- they said there's no wrong way to say Reese's, either.  If I called it Rice's or Race's, that would be ludicrous, right?

In short, I think that anyone who calls Reese's Pieces Reesey's Piecey's deserves at minimum a night in the drunk tank.  I don't think they belong in the general prison population or anything, unless there are multiple offenses and lack of remorse.  Saying Reesey Cups deserves a harsher sentence, because there's no cutesy but tempting gateway rhyme built in.  It's going straight to the hard stuff.  Reese rhymes with piece.  Reese's rhymes with pieces.  Piecey's isn't anything.

I really like peanut butter desserts, and Reese's has got some fine products.  I enjoy the cups in any context and the pieces especially on my ice cream.  My favorite specialty variation is the eggs at Easter, giving us a delightful twist on the chocolate/peanut butter ratio.  So I may grab some Reese's spread at the store, and with any justice, that will be the product that ends this Reesey madness, since their is no melody to Reesey's spread.  Only the cacophonous nightmare that follows me everywhere there is a piecey.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Binge watching

I know it's a bit late, but Dr. Sighted and I just finished watching Parks and Recreation on Netflix and I cannot imagine how Ron Swanson isn't everyone's favorite everything.  It's a strange sort of wistfulness when you complete a series, a termination of a universe (or, Indiana town on an Indiana night) for which there is nothing further.  Like when you get to the the end of your fruit by the foot.  That's what we watched when we are together.  Well, I got a pass to watch them without her initially, but once I started enjoying them, she wanted in on the action too.  It's really better, so that when I say, "This is *litrally* the best animal cracker I have ever eaten."

She, though, is closing in on home plate on a show all her own -- Pretty Little Liars.  I catch a few episodes here and there (maybe 30%?) and this show is bonkers.  Every show has a little bit of the "if any single episode happened to somebody it would be the most intense year of your life" every week, but this is in Grey's Anatomy territory.

Describing the plot is basically impossible.  So, I guess I'll put a spoiler warning here, but honestly, I have no idea if these will count or not because the whole experience is like a soap opera taking place on a zany murder mystery inside of an after school special.  There's the pretty one who is kind of dumb, the pretty one who is really smart, the pretty one who is making risky decisions with her future and the pretty lesbian.  It's not called Ugly Little Liars, after all.  Oh, and the lesbian one is multiracial.

Four high school girls are being harassed by what amounts to basically a Bond villain.  The bad guy knows everything about them, can be anywhere, has unlimited money and is super clever.  The biggest thing difference is that while we know that Blofeld wants to hijack nuclear weapons to ransom the world for lots of dollars, the bad guy in this show has no discernible motive -- since there are like four different bad guys, I think -- or sense of proportion.

The main characters begin likable and sympathetic, but as the story progresses, that stops being true.  This conceit can't last forever.  They are in high school, after all, and I'm pretty sure they were stressing over college at one point, and eventually they won't be pretty little liars anymore.  Then the show will make even less sense.  But Dr. Sighted will see it through to the end, and, consequently, so will I.  This universe feels different than Pawnee, though, and not just because it is still going on.  Pawnee was populated by likable people with credible motives.  Rosewood feels like just an excuse to put pretty people on camera together looking vulnerable.  Which, I guess, is the kind of thing that people like to binge watch.

Saturday, July 11, 2015


Not long ago I discovered a podcast called James Bonding (which, when you search for it delightfully causes this to come up also [note: I do not endorse that service]) which has reawoken my interest in the movie franchise.  So I am rewatching the ones with which I am not as familiar as I used to be and the ones I just like watching.  I've mentioned my fandom of podcasts before, but these are like listening to fans talk about things they like.  I am convinced that every sports broadcast would be improved by simply having two well informed fans of one of the teams that have some chemistry call the game, because like 97% of the announcers are worse than having your county council replaced by an aggressive race of crab people that outlaws butter.  (Brent Musburger, you're in that 3% you magnificent bastard.)

Anyway, there are all kinds of comedians who talk about finding henchmen and talking about how incompetent they are in movies like this, and I have all those same questions.  But mostly, as an engineer, the questions that keep coming up for me as a I watch an army of technicians sit quietly at their workstations helping Stromburg in The Spy Who Loved Me end humanity are more about procurement.  There's a scene late in the movie where the henchmen are all wearing custom made Stromburg navy uniforms.  Where'd they come from?  Somebody had to make those.

Also, the plot of this movie hinges on a lot of big machines -- an underwater lair, the largest cargo ship in the world, and all sorts of vehicles that are blown up -- that have to come from somewhere.  And while they do establish early in the movie that he's one of the richest men in the world, helicopters are still expensive.  Another one of the in jokes is that the Russians know a lot about what the English are doing, and vice versa, but the bad guy has a secret submarine swallowing and underwater mansion including underwater aquarium, which makes sense, I guess.  I just can't believe that there isn't some chatty pipefitter who might mention at the local watering hole that he's working on a project that is just bananas.

Don't get me wrong, though -- I love these movies.  I own all of them (even Die Another Day) and this sort of supervillainous silliness is part of what makes it great.  I just wish I could be in the room when the writers were trying to explain to Cubby Broccoli just how they could fit two missiles plus 007's and XXX's luggage into a Lotus Esprit.  But, to quote Larry Miller in episode 22, "I don't know why Ursula Andress comes out with a knife.  Who cares!  It works."

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Discomfort, Indeed.

As my wife likes to remind me, I am not really a Southerner; I am a Floridian.  Even though the latitude of my birthplace is 3 degrees south of hers, I am still an outsider, a sort of mongrel, even though a sizable portion of my higher education and all of my professional life has been spent squarely in the South.  I'm not sure I'll ever get to be a member of that club, in part because I don't drink sweet tea and sound like I was born closer to to the Iowa River than the Chattahoochee, where my wife was.

I do feel like I understand this place somewhat, though, and certainly felt more at home in Clemson, South Carolina than I did in Terre Haute, Indiana.  I was an outsider there, too, because the Midwesterners categorized me as one of those from the other side of the Line. College is a place where identity is both calcified and shattered, sometimes more than once.  I never got the impression that there was all that much that identified an Midwesterner, really, or an "Hoosier" in particular.  In fact, nobody even knew what a Hoosier is.

The same could not be said in the Upstate of South Carolina.  The people there had a distinct sound -- distinct from the other side of the state, distinct from the other Carolina and distinct from the other side of the Savannah River.  I could not tell an Ohioan from an Illinoisan in nearly the same way I can pick out an Upstater from a Low Countryman from an Alabaman or a Tennesseean.  The food is different in these places, the music, the dress (especially the colors -- Red is not welcome in the Upstate, and Orange is frowned upon in Athens, Georgia), the sense of place and the sense of story.

I think the story telling comes from the Scots-Irish stock that populates the region; I am convinced there is something inherent in the Celtic blood that makes words pour out like honey -- whether it be from the mouth or the pen.  Like any other people with a strong sense of identity, it's strange to have someone else try to tell your story for you, so I am not even sure I am qualified to write this now, but when I came across this New Yorker piece, my reservations about my credentials receded lazily like the tide over the dark, cakey pluff mud of the Charleston marsh.

After spending some half a dozen paragraphs talking about how Southerners are stubborn, xenophobic, backward, somewhat barbaric, greedy, racist, ignorant, out of touch while culturally dominant, football and Nascar obsessed, tribalist, and violent, he closes with a couple of throwaway sentences that make it seem he's really not judging (the phrase that's used down here is, of course, "Bless his heart"):

But there is a largely forgotten Southern history, beyond the well-known heroics of the civil-rights movement, of struggle against poverty and injustice, led by writers, preachers, farmers, rabble-rousers, and even politicians, speaking a rich language of indignation. The region is not entirely defined by Jim DeMint, Sam Walton, and the Tide’s A J McCarron. It would be better for America as well as for the South if Southerners rediscovered their hidden past and took up the painful task of refashioning an identity that no longer inspires their countrymen.
The implication is that the South we have now is an inferior facsimile of what the South should be that is popularly understood to be personified in a recalcitrant Senator, a dead business man, and a football star, after he describes the region in precisely those terms.  I don't know what sort of inspiration Packer expects the natives of my adopted home state and our neighbors to provide when the the picture he paints of Southerners is so grim.  None of the buildup to this terminus tells us how the positive qualities do indeed benefit society at large outside of a rather ambiguous listing of positive traits: "At the end of “The Mind of the South,” Cash has this description of “the South at its best”: “proud, brave, honorable by its lights, courteous, personally generous, loyal.”  That sounds nice, until two sentences later, he extols vices to counter them.  He is treating my neighbors as either terrorists or children who ought to be mollified.

I am particularly sensitive to that sort of attitude because I chose to be among these people.  I picked Clemson University for graduate work.  I bought my first house in Augusta, Georgia.  I married one of the Peach State's daughters.  We decided together to move to Charleston.  And, in the next place we live, I am certain we will be greeted with y'alls, elongated vowels and an extremely dedicated knowledge of college football.  I like the polite conversation.  I like the weather.  I like the pace of life.  I like the sense of culture.  I like the emphasis on faith.

The task of refashioning the identity has been going on here for over 200 years.  Re-examinations of what it means to be born between Virginia Beach and El Paso came to a rather violent head in 1861, of course, and no one forgets it.  The benefit of losing, though, is being forced to have that conversation; the winner is spared from that kind of existential introspection.

So a magazine entitled the New Yorker is an odd place indeed to read about an explanation on what's going on inside of the cultural mind of the South, especially when, upon completing this story, I was offered a suggested reading link of this story

Like I said, I'm not actually a Southerner and I don't know if Packer is either..  I don't know why it feels like politics are dramatically different now than just two election cycles ago.  But I do know that Packer's infantile reduction of the region to the Republican Party, Wal-Mart and the SEC is not productive or accurate.  I am skeptical that you couldn't go to a small town in Michigan, Pennsylvania, or Oregon and find similar evidence of the low-brow to which Packer objects.  And so what?  What exactly is he trying to argue?