Monday, May 13, 2013

A culture of Christian love... or 'Christian' hate?

It's been quite a while since I've blogged, in large part because I try to be very careful about what I say on the net these days, but every once in a while something comes along and I just have to express myself.  This is one of those times.  It's something that's been making the rounds in the media, but I feel that it really needs to be emphasized.

I would like to take the time to address the plight of Naida Christian Nova, formerly Naida Hosan.  This is a soldier who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, who continues to serve, but has suffered for it.  Not the way soldiers suffer together, not through the horrors of war and and moral murkiness of occupation and shaky nation-building.  No, Ms. Nova suffered her psychological trauma from the worst source imaginable: from the comrades in arms who were her supposed source of strength and solace, from the very people who were supposed to watch her back and pick her up when she fell down.

And what was the source of this suffering?  Ms. Nova was ostracized based on her name, on something she inherited without any say so in the matter.  Despite being a Christian, a Catholic, Ms. Nova was attacked solely for having a name that sounded foreign.  Whether you look at a rightwing source like Fox News or a left wing one like Huffington Post, the story is the same: she was targeted with demeaning behavior repeatedly, to the point of her contemplating suicide.

Now stop and think about what a massive betrayal of the idealized comrades in arms ideal that is.  The soldiers who were supposed to be protecting her life and trusting her to protect theirs were actively making her life so miserable that death was starting to look preferable.  They were not only shirking their duties, they were performing the exact OPPOSITE of their duties!

The American military is a rough place, and it breeds rough people.  I am not exaggerating when I say that the hardest, most pragmatically sardonic people I've ever met have all been soldiers.  When suffering comes knocking, they expect you to suck it up and move on with your life.  But there is a difference between tolerating a necessary evil and throwing unnecessary evils in the paths of your comrades.  As an institution that supposedly prizes its own efficiency so highly, one would think that the military would crack down on such internal strife.  And yet, they turned a blind eye to it, again and again, until Ms. Nova confronted them legislatively and they judged it best to back down.

And still she serves.

In her position, I don't think I would've been willing to shed blood after that kind of institutionalized betrayal.

This is all from the point of view of the military.  Now let's flip that over and look at the other side of things - at the religious side.

Perhaps the most tragic thing about these events is, to me, how Ms. Nova got her original name in the first place.  This next segment is quoted from Yahoo News, but is paraphrased in many other sources as well:

'Nova's father, Roy Hosein, was born into a Muslim family on the Caribbean island of Trinidad, where his parents had emigrated from India. He converted to Christianity after meeting Nova's mother, a Catholic from the Philippines, and became a U.S. citizen shortly after his daughter was born in New York. He changed the spelling of his family name to Hosan in the hope his children would avoid discrimination.
"He Americanized it," his daughter explained. "He got Hosan from Hosanna. He kept hearing it in church."'

Now let's stop and ask ourselves, in a country that is and remains for the foreseeable future, predominantly Christian, how many of the soldiers insulting Ms. Nova would have called themselves Christian if you asked them?  And yet there they were, attacking a sister in Christ. Someone who was willing to die for them.  Someone who was trusting America to tell her who it was right to kill.  Someone who was making every effort to fit in - eventually to the point of changing her name, a name based directly on glorifying God, to an even more 'American' one than previously.

And even with a new name, she was still attacked.

It's hard to be a good Christian every minute of every day.  We all have slipups, and we must be forgiven for them.  But every once in a while, I think we all need to stop and ask ourselves if our patterns of behavior are Christian or not.  Are we acting in love?  Are our actions conducive to an atmosphere of fellowship, compassion, trust and charity?

We are all children of God.  There are no enemies in this world.  Only people who have forgotten they are family.

So, while I am mystified by the failures of the military from a worldly point of view, from a spiritual point of view I am even more frustrated with the failures of my fellow Christians.  And this is a problem that has only gotten worse over time, it shames me to say, with regards to our relationship with the Islamic community.

If Judaism can be considered Christianity's father, Islam is our younger brother.  It was not always associated with terrorism, with bombings and violence against civilian.  It is so much closer to Christianity than many other religions, yet despite that, so much more reviled.

Since 9/11, our greatest fear seems to be the Islamic terrorist.  But does this fear match reality?  Based on stats gathered from the Al Jazeera news network, Al-Qaeda has an under thirty percent success rate for its operations.  They have killed a total of three thousand fifty-two people in the US.  According to FBI statistics, in one year alone our gun homicide rates more than double Al-Qaeda's total US kill count.  That's right, every year we kill more of ourselves than terrorists have managed for their entire 'careers.'

Anyone would expect backlash after 9/11.  I anticipated it with sadness.  But what I did not anticipate, and refuse to tolerate in my fellows, is its continuing rise even as the events of suffering move further into the past.  And again, from the FBI, we have the following:

"Hate crimes against perceived Muslims, which jumped up 50% in 2010 largely as a result of anti-Muslim propagandizing, remained at relatively high levels last year, according to 2011 hate crime statistics...."

And the truly unnerving thing about this?  The FBI have a habit of under-reporting these statistics:

"A report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2005 determined that the actual amount of hate crimes in the country range from 19 to 31 times higher than the FBI’s numbers."

Yes, there are theological differences that stand between a Christian and a Muslim, including some major ones, but is it enough to justify the rampant hatred and fear we see today?  Would you react with similar loathing towards a Buddhist, a Hindu or even a Satanist?  Towards Marilyn Manson, a man who literally burns Bibles as marketing stunts?  Would you mock them, call them names, cast them out from your presence and treat them as being fundamentally opposed to all that you hold dear in life?  Would you deny them the right to a place of worship, or react in terror at the idea of them being able to wash their feet indoors?  Would you do so on the basis of their name, or their skin color, or their accent - and thus even take the risk of attacking a fellow Christian under the basis that they MIGHT be the 'enemy?'

If we are a Christian nation, as so many of my fellow Christians like to claim, then it is time we started acting like it.  We are called upon to spread the word, but those who choose another path, rightly or wrongly, are still our brethren, still beloved and precious children of God.  We must treat them as such.  As for the military, I know it's a strict service you're called into, but we must serve God before country and commander, else we do not serve him at all.

"No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other."

And remember, God is love.

So please remind yourself to love Muslims along with all other members of God's family, no matter how different from you they seem to be.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Western Media versus Eastern: Spectacle versus Implication.

I'd had this idea for a rant in the back of my mind for months now, and every time I decided it wasn't worth mentioning, something new that I watched or read would remind me that it's still relevant.  It's bloody everywhere, as pervasive as media itself.

It's the fact that mass-marketed American entertainment wouldn't know what subtlety is if it was a frying pan that'd just hit them in the face with that delightful metallic ring-ing-ing sound.

This has been going on for some time.  The triumph of reality tv, where its cast blatantly turn to the dang camera and TELL YOU WHAT THEY'RE FEELING, where narrators analyze every action for you.  The corresponding demise of the soap opera, which, if not a genre to my taste, at least held intricate plot lines and complex character development within its grasp.  There's no room for inward-focused character development in American games, tv shows, books.  It's all about the Spectacle.

This is what Fox built its success on.  Quick, easy, obvious laughs, thrills, flirts, grossouts.  You like sexy women, right?  Have some cleavage.  You like action, right?  Cue guns with infinite ammo and explosions.  Don't like either of those things?  Maybe you'd prefer some other kind of entertainment - and we'll offer any topic you like, as long as you don't mind it being jammed down your throat.

Everything that happens is viscerally, viciously external.  Everything must be explained, described, clear cause and effect with immediate payoff in terms of desired audience reaction.  And in that specialty, the area I think of as Spectacle, America really does quite well.  We throw countless dollars into amazing special effects, love high-emotion overacting, embrace the sheer lack of subtlety in torture subgenre horror and the equivalent in lowbrow comedy with equal adoration.  We want it in our face and we want it now, just like fast food.

It's not all bad, of course.  Spectacle has led to the creation of some truly amazing things purely for the sake of seeing if they could be done.  It has painted vistas in front of our eyes that our imaginations could barely bear to encompass.  I, too, get a thrill out of practically feeling the kinetic force involves in hilariously murdering monsters in Duke Nukem Forever or Diablo 3.  I fell in love with the madness of space damaging the very level architecture of Dead Space and the zombies - excuse me, necromorphs - that simply annihilated every trace of human life without mercy.  I adore how South Park and Futurama take every possible premise to their obvious and blatantly ridiculous conclusions without fear of going too far.  Our capacity to express the absurd has never been greater.

And yet, through it all, there's something I miss.  Spectacle is the meat of almost any story, but do we want to eat hamburgers every day for the rest of our lives?  And it's something so simple and yet so meaningful that whenever I see it - almost inevitably in something from Korea or Japan - there's something in me that twinges with longing.  That something is what I call Implication.

Simply put, Implication is the ability for a story to write about nothing happening.  Not just nothing without purpose, but a nothing that is very deliberately put there so the audience would be rewarded later.  Not now.  Later.  Who knows how much later?  You'll know when you get there.

It's buried in the idea of things being more than they seem, of not carefully explaining every little motive and rationale, of leaving dark areas in the world that the light of the audience's eyes don't touch.  It's implicit in games like Thief, and was lost in the transition from Diablo 1 and 2 to Diablo 3.  The unseen.  The unstated.  That moment that is not explained, that doesn't seem to have a purpose, but leaves you wondering.

And mass American entertainment just cannot freaking do it.  To use Implication means that you can't reward the audience right NOW, and instant gratification is one of the cornerstones of our society.  There's a moment, for example, in Casshern Sins (viewable on Cartoon Network) that is simply full of a lull.  No background music, no obvious action, just... a pause between two characters in which the world holds its breath.  And you can't help but wonder what they're thinking, because the show isn't going to tell you.  That kind of scene simply cannot happen in an American tv show, especially not an American cartoon.  Even our blatant attempts at mimicking anime miss the subtlety of presentation, that crucial willingness to Imply instead of State.

I think Implication means so much to me because I'm a very reserved and 'inner world' person.  I don't like to have to SAY things, let alone DO them.  I would much prefer people to pick up on minute cues and leave it at that.  But that's not very American, is it?

It's not that Asian cinema, comics or cartoons lack room for Spectacle.  They can be as blatantly in your face and exploitative as anything you could hope for from the West.  It's just that they also have room for Implication, too.

I rather wonder if America ever had it to begin with.  We're not exactly a subtle country.  In many ways, I think we're still like cowboys, desperately latching onto externalities to help us forget that there's an internal aspect to everything and everyone.  Passivity, contemplation, uncertainty... are these not signs of weakness to most Americans?  Are we not still looking for Indians to fight so we don't have to look straight at the sorrows that lie within our own souls?  Anything is better than being still.

Except some of us LIKE being still, for whatever weird reason that may be.

Friday, December 23, 2011

In which moving mp3 conjures up introspection.

I recently upgraded to a new computer, and in the process of doing so sorted through my mp3 library.  It'd been quite some time since I'd listened to most of the common mp3s, since Youtube and other online sources sufficed just as well and were only a tab click away.  So I'd actually forgotten quite a lot about the mp3s I'd had available - many, like the Clouds's '4 PM,' I only kept out of association with friends, because it felt disrespectful to delete something that someone I cared about identified with.  Others, like my modest collection of Staind songs, reminded me of singular events in my life, times when I felt very strongly about something.  Others still held connections to stories, cartoons, movies and soundtracks that I loved dearly.  Yet I had forgotten so many of these things, or at least, placed them in a part of my mind where I was content to let them gather dust indefinitely.  The simple act of organizing these mp3s reminded me about things... things that I didn't wish to be reminded of but probably should have been reminded of, horrible things that should be left to rot, precious things that really shouldn't have ever left my conscious thought process at all.

I realized that I had let those memories fade into the past because they had nothing to do with my present, and received a fresh reminder to never underestimate the adaptability of humanity.  Human beings can adjust to almost anything, given time.  It's a wonderful thing in that it allows us to survive in so many circumstances, but it can also be a terrible thing.  Because in adapting to new circumstances, we leave behind bits and pieces of ourselves that no longer seem immediately applicable or relevant.

Since then, I've been filled with a desperate need to DO things.  To grab the past and yank it into the present, if only in small ways that others likely would never notice.  I want to remember these things.  I want them held before me as shining stars that help me navigate my way through life.  They're part of who I AM, you see.

I themed a Ben 10 fanfic in part around this a while back, and ended it with a quote from Aristotle: 'We are what we repeatedly do.'  I have a friend who extends that so far as to her very conceptualized identity, her internal image of who she is - if she's doing something, she is that, for the duration of the task, and afterwards is that thing no longer.  She is an artist while she draws and stops being one when she stops drawing.

This stands greatly in contrast to my own thought processes, where I have always defined myself internally as something regardless of whether I'm doing that thing or not, and that doesn't change even if I'm doing something completely different, which I implicitly recognize as being Not Me, Just Something I'm Doing Right Now.  And yet, it DOES help to have reminders, and it does help to keep your outer self in touch with your inner self on a daily basis.  Even small changes to your schedule can have a vast impact on your overall emotional landscape and outlook on life.  Suddenly I feel like I 'get' why people have photographs and small mementos that I would usually disparage as pointless clutter: to keep us in touch with ourselves, to reinforce what we hold valuable against the daily humdrum of just making it from one day to the next.

I come out of this thinking that everyone really should take more pictures.  And being glad that, in this modern era, we have so many different ways to preserve our memories!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

On macro versus micro in discussion.

I was browsing through a standard gender politics debate over at, as I'm so wont to do, when I had a recent revelation.  A former acquaintance of mine once told me that Scrabble wasn't about intelligence, but about seeing patterns.  And I suddenly saw a Pattern in that Tvtropes forum discussion that made it look hilariously familiar.

Gender-related discussions online, at least, tend to center around large and vague concepts.  One side presents an idea - women (or men, to some minority povs) are overwhelming oppressed by the inherent structure of society.  And then naturally someone else, often but not always playing for the other team, tells them they're full of it.  Then both sides start bringing out individual examples and counterexamples of oppression or its lack.  We could apply the same thing to racial politics as well, or to any discussion where a large group of people is theoretically but not necessarily literally functionally equivalent to any other large group of people in terms of advantages and disadvantages.

While both sides may get something to think about from the individual examples provided, at the end of the day it's all anecdotal.  Except for the statistics, which can be pointed out as being misinterpreted or countered by other statistics.  People don't change their positions on a fundamental level because their position are hinged on an overarching ideology that is inherently difficult to prove or disprove.

'Truth' is a surprisingly malleable substance even when all involved parties are doing their darnedest to sincerely find it.

Do you know what that sounds EXACTLY like?

Competitive gaming debates.  No, seriously.  That gamer you look down on for screaming that something he fights against is overpowered, or that something he uses is underpowered, sounds EXACTLY like you when you talk about how bad you have it or how much better the other side has it and they don't even realize it.  And anyone who's watched a gaming forum debate on these ephemeral power levels go on for more than two seconds can immediately realize that it's self-defeating and self-obfuscating.

Take Starcraft 2 as an example.  Is Zerg overpowered or underpowered?  Who cares, when whether something is 'over' or 'under' can completely flip-flop based on a single unit change in a single patch, or a map change, or the dominant strategies at a tournament that shift the metagame, or any of a million other factors?

What you should be focusing on in a game is whether X, Y or Z is FUN or not, and you can only do that by zooming in to look at the micro.  Does a given unit perform its role adequately?  Are win ratios for all races roughly equal for a given map?  Is a particularly ability underused or overused?  Small things, things you can take apart and dissect.  Things that, no matter which race you play or how you feel about it, you can mostly agree on being right or wrong.

Those are the things people should be focusing on in gender debates, too.  If you speak in terms of 'Women are consistently paid worse wages at Walmart,' then you have a specific problem to solve and a specific entity to punish for causing it.  But when you go to overarching ideological things like the very foundation of how society functions and how it all fits together as a whole, you're only going to get a lot of people disagreeing with your premise, which hinders your ability to get anything done.

So drop the premise.  Drop the framing.  Be practical.  Focus on the little things where you know you can make a difference, the things you know you can get other people to agree with you on.  The big things are just collections of lots of small things, and if you keep on working on those dominoes, eventually the big things will tend to themselves, too.

That's not to say that there isn't a place for macro or ideology, but it has to be at a point where the concept involved is just so revolutionary that it challenges fundamental assumptions and biases.  Back when the US had slaves, there was no question that a black man was worth less than a white man.  Saying, ideologically, that a human was a human regardless of skin color was a very powerful statement.  But if equality is close enough that people can pretend that everything's equal, then there's no point in trying to run a premise on an assumption of inequality.  Once you're close enough to squint and not tell the difference, you have to stop looking at the broad ideas and start looking at the specifics, the little details that are easy to miss.

So if you have something that you want to convince people about, stick with circumstances that are immediately applicable and easy to relate to, rather than using large-scale ideas that only widen the gap between your point of view and another person's.  You want them to know how it is to walk a mile in your shoes?  Tell them how your shoes make your toes feel in Dickensian detail.

Friday, April 29, 2011

It's easy to underestimate South Park. Re: Human CentiPad..

Let's be fair - South Park didn't catapult to fame because of wit or insightful political commentary. It's famous because it's vulgar. It's successful because it's vulgar. Yet the more I look at things like this, the more I find that the traits that enable profit and success aren't always the same traits that make that product important in terms of artistic evolution or creative design. When you think about South Park, you think about little children making potty jokes. And there are so many conservative people who cast judgment right there and refuse to see what else the show has to offer. That's a real shame, because the show, very ironically, has a lot to offer specifically to the kind of audience that's most likely to judge swiftly and turn away in revulsion.

The newest episode, Human Centipad, is an excellent example of what the show has evolved into. The actual quality of the episode, I leave for you to figure out yourself - the internet is full of plenty of people saying it was both the worst and the best episode ever. This is not a show prone to creating audience consensus. But the essential structure of dichotomy is there, clear as ever. We have the almost incomprehensibly vulgar on the one hand, and on the other hand, we have the underlying messages that vulgarity is being used for.

The basic plot is a Human Centipede spoof. That was an amusing movie by my extremely morbid standards, but it was a movie with just one (really creative) gimmick and not much else to drive it. But in so much less running time, South Park manages to take this spoof and make it do so much more than it ever did in the original movie.

The movie had no morals, no lessons beyond 'Sometimes bad things happen to annoying people.' It had horror without depth. South Park transforms that horror into comedy and uses it to propel very real and applicable messages into the viewer's brain. Commentary on the legality and morality of those endlessly long online agreements we all click through blindly. Commentary on the Apple brand, its marketing, the culture around it. Commentary on the nature of the human mind's detritus, of our desperate desire to share our mentally digested hobbies with others, as though they'd want our crap.

South Park and Serial Experiments Lain are nothing alike, but the two meet in agreement in this episode, both saying 'We will all be connected.' The difference is in presentation, but nos so much in message - South Park is a lot more cynical about it, understanding that closer contact to human beings also means inevitable degradation, loss of privacy, loss of control over things we take for granted. And the benefits? We get meaningless information we could often do without. Information that can poison us and typically disgusts us while providing no real nutrition to the mind.

Yet the Human CentiPad monstrosity isn't condemned in episode. Quite the contrary, it's taken as inevitable. At the end, all they can say, nervously, is 'Can't we go a little slower?' None of the issues brought up have any real resolution. They're here, we have to live with them. That's all.

Once you look beyond the vulgarity, there's a lot South Park has to offer, even for conservatives. Maybe even especially for conservatives. Yet the vulgarity itself is also crucial to the show, because it's the fist that pummels these messages into you. So, the next time you start dismissing a piece of art because it has a bit more swearing than you like, or nudity, or something else that's beyond the pale... stop and consider if it might not be using those things for more than just shock value.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Ponies are magical. Real life, sadly, is not.

So far, Hasbro has been nice enough to not nuke the Youtube videos of My Little Pony floating around. Apparently this is because most of the profit is made off of the toys, so they don't really care if the cartoon is widely distributed for free, so long as people buy those little plastic ponies. Can't say I'm not tempted to grab a few myself (and mod them into gothic versions or something, but still).

The MLP series is built off of a very firm episodic structure. The ponies experience a plot revolving around learning one or two distinct morals, and then the moral is stated outright at the end of each episode for those who need subtext )or text-text) spelled out to them. Most of the morals are generic, simple, and unobjectionable basic niceness. Recently I came across one that actually bothered me a little, though.

The Show Stoppers episode centers on the three younger cast members, the 'Cutie Mark Crusaders' whose major continuing motivation and plot is to find their own individual talents that cause those little symbols on their flanks to appear. So, if you're a pony in the MLPverse, you have a major talent - you can be good at many things, but you are defined by one particular specialty that is literally branded to your skin for everyone to see. The initial 'blank flank' state of the Crusader ponies is a basic metaphor for one's struggle to find a purpose in life in youth. So far, we haven't seen any ponies grow up to be 'blank flanks;' every pony gets his or her Cutie Mark by the time they could be considered a teenager.

Now, I know there's only so much you can expect from even the best children's show. There's no way that politics, economics, or anything resembling a realistic climate for industry or jobs can be shoehorned in. It would go over the heads of the intended audience and restrict viewers according to culturally specific conditions. By keeping it broad and simple, the writers are able to appeal to as large a group as possible, in theory.

But I can't help but feel there comes a point when you dumb it down to a level of poisoning people with optimism. Oh, of course Scootaloo is great with a scooter, and she'll figure it out one day, in time! It's not like there's anyone else who copies her exact talent, she just needs time to work it out. And Sweetie Belle is a GREAT singer, everyone looks forward to hearing her sing! She doesn't hate singing, she's just shy about it, and in time she will learn to be confident and enjoy her talent in front of a crowd as well as when she's by herself!

Redundancy in talents is limited - there may be some overlap in broad strengths like athleticism or fashion sense, but no one will ever have YOUR Cutie Mark. The generation of talent is obvious and predestined - everyone knows what you're good at, and you'll always get good at something before the age where you'd need to figure out how to be an independent, responsible adult. No one ever hates their defining talents because those talents mesh with their personalities perfectly - ponies aren't saddled with talents they wish they didn't have, and any desire to be good at something that isn't their Cutie Mark is only a superficial interest that doesn't trouble them very much in the long run.

Why would you want to give your children such horrible messages in stories? Adults know that's not how life works. In fact, that's pretty much the opposite of how life works! Why would you set your children up for disappointment and allow them to be completely unprepared for the harshness of reality?

I think it's because, ultimately, adults want to believe that's how life works. And they feel ike maybe, if they tell their children that's how it is, and are very very careful to avoid mentioning the depressing parts of life, maybe the kidlets will have better lives. We pass our hopes and dreams down to our children, and tell them that they can be anything they want to be, even though that wasn't true for us. Because we want it to be true for them, so badly. We want them to have their own unique talents that make their lives rich and fulfilling and successful. And if you don't mention failure by name, maybe it won't come a'knocking, right?

Everywhere in children's stories there are messages about the power of friendship and love and making a difference. To a large extent, we need those messages. We need them as badly as we need religion, because it gives us something to hope for. But if you deliver those themes so consistently that real life doesn't poke its ugly head in at all, you just make children confident and ignorant of their own flaws. And then, like their parents before them, they too suffer the bitterness of disappointment. Of finding out that their parents lied to them, of finding out that life is hard.

Some people have no talent. Some people have talents that they hate. Some people have talents that aren't worth very much. Some people are unable to develop any talent at the things they want to do the most, no matter how hard they try.

Every time, mass market media takes the easy way out. Even a great product like MLP takes the easy way out. It tells people that life is awesome when we all know it's not always that way. And it's okay to have stories like that sometimes, but all the time? Might that not be doing more harm than good?

I think adults would be less bitter if they'd had more depressing children's stories when they were young. The drop from childhood to adulthood is a very cold and very sudden shock.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Regarding All the Wisconsin Hubbabaloo.

I would like to preface all this by noting that I identify as a left-leaning moderate, so if you want a label to put on my pov, that thar is it.

I'm not that well read up on the regulations regarding unions in Wisconsin, and I don't believe it's moral to take a particular stance on an issue just because an overall party or faction does. I'm not informed enough to make any judgment calls on whether attacking collective bargaining is wise or unwise, justified or unjustified. However, I retain a high interest in current events over there from a 'marketing' perspective. I like to watch politics and contemplate, not just whether an action was the right or wrong one, but whether it was likely to produce popular support or not.

So, judging Governor Walker's actions on that basis, I don't think he's made a very smart move here. In fact, so far I think that he's as good as guaranteeing that a Democrat will be his successor, and here's why I think that.

First of all, let's get the phone conversation out of the way. There was very little that was incriminating in that conversation; Walker handled himself quite well. The only truly damning portion of that conversation was the fact that he admitted to considering planting 'troublemakers' to make his opponents look bad, but the fact that he didn't actually do it likely makes the issue insufficient grounds for serious attack. So, setting that aside....

The Democrats lost midterms badly. They lost midterms in part because Obama heavily pushed unpopular legislation in the healthcare overhaul. Whether the bill was unpopular on its own merits or due to mishandling of its presentation and promotion really isn't relevant anymore. It wasn't popular, and it cost the Democrats a lot of votes to push it through. And they knew the consequences and did it anyway, because they believed it the right thing to do.

So here we are seeing Gov. Walker trying to push through highly unpopular legislation. And he knows the consequences, and he's doing it anyway, because he believes it's the right thing to do. Does this look familiar to anyone else? The Democrats were apathetic in the midterms. They weren't fired up. The Tea Party was fired up. Yet here Walker is now, giving the opposition fire because, just like Obama, he wants so badly to make a historical change in a particular way regardless of the environment surrounding that issue.

Hilariously, Walker is doing the exact same thing Obama was, from the exact opposite affiliation, over the exact opposite issues. And I truly think he will suffer the exact same consequences for it.

The tragedy of the thing is that it would have been a brilliant strategy had he just been willing to play it a little differently. Walker could have started out just the same, overextended his reach to the frantic objections of the left. At this point, if he was willing to compromise, he could get pretty much anything he wanted, simply because the Democrats feel that anything is better than losing collective bargaining rights wholesale. They're willing to give in on all budget matters so long as collective bargaining isn't nuked. Walker might even be able to get away with less extensive attacks on collective bargaining if he was willing to aim a tad lower. But no, Walker wants the whole basket. And in trying for the whole basket, it's probable that he'll get nothing at all.

I don't think success or its lack will alter later election outcomes at this point. Walker went after targets lacking popular support to attack - teachers and prison guards. These aren't exactly Wall Street fatcats you're milking there. And he's using threats of layoffs in an incredibly harsh economy to force the Democrats into surrendering. If the Democrats surrender, they look compassionate. If the Democrats don't surrender, they look steadfast. If Walker gets what he wants, he looks like a bully. If he doesn't get what he wants, he looks like an unsuccessful bully. Unless he's actually willing to change his mind and show some bipartisanship, he's going to lose out in terms of popular image no matter what happens from here on out.

Personally I don't approve of obstructionism in general. I have a great deal of difficulty respecting politicians who abuse obscure clauses in the rulebooks to grind the legislative system to a halt. Broadly speaking, I feel that it's better for laws to go through according to the rules, regardless of the consequences, and then to see the consequences and reform the rules if necessary later on. If people are free to totally block laws they disagree with, then you never see the realistic consequences of those laws. As a result, bad laws don't get a chance to be debunked, and good laws don't get a chance to garner support. Everything controversial just hits a great big government pause button.

So I didn't like obstructionism when the GOP did it with filibustering, and I can't say it leaves a better taste in my mouth with the Democrats from Wisconsin doing it now. But in terms of garnering popular support, they really can't lose, so they can afford to be obstructionists. From a 'marketing' standpoint, it was the smart thing to do.