Wednesday, February 28

Forget It, Jake

Norbizness, in comments:
My favorite public education trick is to make the quality of a child's education dependent on the value of the property in their school district, because that teaches them about a cold, unfeeling universe governed by arbitrary standards.

Time for a another Brief Survey of Public Education In Indianapolis:

In the 1920s, when the Klan (motto: "Up Nort' Here We More of a Social-Club-Type Thing") ran the state, Indianapolis created a segregated high school, the storied Crispus Attucks, which remained segregated until the early 1970s. (The state Legislature mandated school desegregation in 1948, and other Indianapolis schools were integrated, but Attucks remained exclusively Negro.)

In the 1960s, with whites in full suburban flight and the old-money landlords of a crumbling downtown in high dudgeon, Mayor Dick "The Munificent" Lugar and a fortuitous Republican majority simply moved the city boundaries out to the county line, creating a Republican majority that would last another thirty years.

Of course, sacred democratic principles dictated that the Township system, with its independent schools, be maintained, lest the fleeing whites suddenly whirl on their heels and cudgel Dick Lugar into a Persistent Moderative State. For this foresight we can be doubly grateful, as mob violence is never The Answer, and the unthinkable results would have deprived the entire nation of one of the most outstanding foreign policy experts ever to vote to authorize a war and then say, "I told you so!" when it failed. So the Township schools remained, white and shining and separate, until a Justice Department suit over the still de facto segregated Indianapolis Public Schools (the old city limits) resulted in court-mandated busing to achieve racial balance throughout the county.

And guess who had to foot the bill?

If you said "The old city" you're a right cynical bastard, not to mention just plain right. Center Township would, under court order, pay to bus African-American students to the white suburbs in order to balance them. This went on until the mid-1990s. The poorest Township, whose residents were, increasingly, the very people who'd been discriminated against, saw their own schools deteriorate as they paid to send some of their students to more prosperous districts.

Of course, that wasn't the interim public moneys built a Convention Center, basketball arena, Dome, baseball stadium, another basketball arena, and now another Dome, plus two major shopping centers and remodeled several office buildings, all downtown, which increased the value of aging existing buildings while eliminating a lot of property tax revenue. At the same time, as with a lot of urban areas, existing property owners helped pay for leapfrog development into the outer reaches of the county (and those other Township schools).

(We do not mean to seem one-sided about this; redevelopment has brought a lot of good things to the city. Downtown Indianapolis is now vibrant and vital, and seems even more so if it happens to be the only large city you've ever been in, and the thousands of surrounding acres of agricultural land, once bumpkin-ridden, and much of it not even used four months out of the year, is now a Starbucks, open year-round. )

Due to budget cuts in the mid-90s my wife spent three years teaching at three different middle schools. Two of the three did not have a single computer in the building for student use. Four of the six surrounding townships have student radio stations. All within fifteen miles. All in the "same" city.

So broad proclamations of the Failure of our Public Schools, which are uniformly based on a) facile use of test scores; b) parental grievances which always fail to find a single sympathetic teacher or administrator willing to help, or compromise, or offer alternatives; or c) the simple declaration that Everybody Knows This To Be the Case, never surprise me. Because beyond having a wife teaching in public schools, and speaking to her co-workers, and volunteering myself, I've grown up watching the shameful extension of institutional racism into the 21st century. Right up the block.

Tuesday, February 27

Real Guns and Butter-Flavored Butter Substitutes

Mr. du Toit:

Thanks for the rapid response, and welcome. This sorry blog is a catch-time-as-available vanity operation and not a full-time gig. I often don't even see comments for a day or so. So apologies for the appearance of tardiness. Your response was a fair return of fire, sir, and sportsmanlike; we commend it, and staunch a trickle of blood.

We're glad to hear your daughter is doing well, though it was not her vocabulary or syntax we worried about but a superfluity of adjectives. We call our wife "Wife" in print, or more often "Poor Wife", in part to give her plausible deniability as to even knowing us, yet that, coupled with the nom du blog, has not prevented members of the local School Board from discovering us. That event would seem even more likely (mutatis mutandis, of course), regardless of what you call her, since you post under your own name. But we accept the explanation, certainly, without withdrawing any of the attempts at humor that followed. "Hardscrabble," just to clear up any possible confusion, refers to our distaste for your Wolf at the Door blegging and was meant solely as a cheap shot. This is among the many reasons why we aren't blogging for John Edwards. And since you ask we find "Father Figure" to be rather witty.

Okay, I hope that clears the air. We still wonder why, or if, there was no attempt on your part to correct the situation? This formed a sizeable chunk of our apologia. We are not so foolish as to imagine that every public school in all circumstances is run or staffed by reasonable people. In fact, we know better. But the same is true of my local grocery store, where my status as a taxpayer impresses them not at all, and my legal rights are at a minimum. (Which reminds me, that "Lileks of the Left" was a sort of running gag, the result of someone's comment about my habit of outlining the vexations of power tools and supermarket conveyor belts.)
One would have thought that a progressive like yourself would think more about fixing what's wrong, but perhaps you believe the public school system is just dandy.

What I believe is this: Chinese is a language--many languages, technically--which, to Western ways of thinking, have a remarkable dependence on ambiguity. And the Chinese aphorism commonly quoted as "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step" may be interpreted as "...begins under one's feet." Hitting the road doesn't get us where we're going any faster if we're headed in the wrong direction.

And that's precisely what the argument--I would rather characterize it as "the use of public education as a political football"--has been about since the days when I was a student. Every time I engage in such discussions somebody tells me I must not imagine there's anything wrong with public schools. It's gone on so long now that I'm being asked to explain or excuse a fall from grace which took place after I first started hearing the complaints. Today's Good Old Days (from a test score standpoint, not our endless hurtling down the Open Mineshaft of Secular Humanism) were yesterday's Hell in a Handbasket. It is rather for people who make little effort to deny they'd prefer little or no public education at all to demonstrate that their ideas lead us in the right direction. Until then it's hard to gaze that way and see anything other than the politics of racial and class divide, anti-trade unionism, and religious bias. We task the public schools with living up to the highest ideals of democracy and then we pepper them with long-range artillery for every perceived failure. The urban ones, at least.

Lemme tell ya, there's a lot that's wrong, systemically wrong, with public schools, much of it the result of political interference, some of it the result of the peculiarly American species of hubris. Read that tale Doc Helen linked to again. What would you have us do? How do we tailor the educational system to one mother's son when she expects problems to be solved without her input and imagines that the other kids calling him "Calculator" is some sort of bellwether of the Apocalypse?

I've heard a lot--maybe all--of the "solutions" from the Right. I haven't heard any that solve anything but its own objections. Sue me if you'd like, but I don't really imagine the Hoover Institute gives two shakes about the times I've held my wife in the dark while she sobbed into my shoulder over the wretched homelife of one of her students. I doubt the day we packed up the artwork of her seventeen-year-old student, killed in a house fire with her younger sister after the gas company shut off service last winter, affected anybody's belief in the holy perfection of laissez-faire capitalism. I don't think any of these "solutions" is informed by a sense of just what sort of work it takes to be a teacher, to make endless calls to parents, to file complaints against employers working 16-year-olds until 1AM on school nights, to spend out of pocket for paper when a six-mile drive to the white suburbs takes you past a football stadium that'd be the envy of most Division II programs. "Solutions"? Pah. If we're really concerned about Every Last Child then before we "reform" the educational process we need to give those born into poverty decent healthcare and nutrition. After that we can set our sights on eliminating Sadism from the nation's dodgeball arenas.

Best wishes to you and your daughter,

J. B. S. Riley

Monday, February 26

I (Heart) Emo (Philips)

"My Dad, after dinner every night, used to give me Hebrew to spot them."

(follow-up visit with Dr. Katz, season two DVD)

Beatniks Are Just Reverse Conformists Watch, Day 18257

"Mosh Pit Meets Sandbox", Times, February 25
I mean, don't today's much-discussed [sic] hipster parents notice that their claims to rebellious individuality are undercut by the fact that they are fascistically turning their children into miniature reproductions of their hipper-than-thou selves? Don't they observe that with their inevitable hummus snacks, their pastel-free wardrobes...

Oooh, you can just tell that last bit there came from the heart.

Hothouse Cabbages

Kim du Toit, "Not That Kind"

"Dr." Helen, "Is Eye Rolling a Sign of Intelligence?"

I'm not sure what happened; I had written one of those howlingly funny slice-o'suburban-life pieces about my wife's proclivities with the remote control (she hogs it; she runs endless laps at subliminal speed; she drives me crazy doing it: the sort of thing which has made me the much-admired Lileks of the Left). It turned--on a dime--into a screeching rant about a fashionably persecuted young Christian spelling bee champ, who, it turns out, doesn't know the definition of "Sabbath", and his mother, who graciously donates the time required to be Spokesperson for All of Christendom. Before I knew it this stuff was coming at me from all sides, including this comment from Tom Hilton at HFPST:
You know what a whole lot of religious people should give up for Lent? They should give up their exaggerated sense of grievance. Just a suggestion.

which I can't improve on however long I prattle away. Plus I thought the sudden darkening of tone destroyed the delicate interplay of our debate over The Gilmore Girls, which my wife thinks of as a quirky comedy and I think of as what the CIA got up to when surreptitiously dosing US population centers with psychotropic drugs proved infeasible.

And somehow I found myself reading "Dr." Helen, who gets the ball rolling downhill by indeed-linking to the hardscrabble du Toit clan, which linked right back to Madame Insty linking to a related piece she found "quite humorous and sad, both at the same time" and which, it turns out--you're sitting down, right?--was neither, (unless she meant the attempted humor was sad and the "factual" claims were funny, but I don't think she did, and besides, "ludicrous" is a perfectly good word and would have saved all that further exposition.)

Our theme here is that the Educational Establishment--you know, the one Establishment these people don't kowtow to--has conjured up the concept of Socialization (using Federal grant money, no doubt) in their never-ending efforts to wound homeschoolers. Du Toit calls the concept "a risible canard" and "specious nonsense", which raises the hope that it's Mrs. Pussification who's teaching the kids grammar.

We'd say the same thing about argumentation, but we've seen her work. The assumption of an opponent's bad faith--doesn't that demonstrate a lack of social skills? Maybe Kim du Toit is not the best person to evaluate the benefits of socialization.

But let's not waste too much time here. I don't have any more interest in the du Toit household than the Educational Establishment does. But there was one little bit I found somewhat shocking:
Another response is that the kids “miss out on so much”. Yeah, Daughter really misses that experience of perpetual teasing about her weight, and the physical bullying that went along with it, coupled with sadistic gym teachers who forced her to run a mile during PE class, in the hot sun.

We're going to ignore the fact that he calls his daughter "Daughter"; I'm guessing he'd already given all the good names to his guns.

First, this must be the sort of thing one encounters thirty times a day working in a complaint department or on a tech line: the "everything is totally fucked up and it's all your fault" routine, and we'll hazard a guess that at least 75% of the complainants have failed to read the manual or are flat out wrong. (The guy who manages my neighborhood liquor store keeps his competitors' ads in a folder under the cash register, and says that 90% of the time when a customer waves a bottle at him and tells him "you advertised this a dollar cheaper!" it's somebody else's ad.) Every time I hear these complaints about the system screwing somebody's precious Dependent I wonder how they live without telephones. My wife's email and school phone are posted in the student handbook. She deals with parents complaining about something or other all the time, not to mention the fact that there are four evening open houses per year. If little Dowry can't run a mile, if PE class was an exercise in sadism, who did you tell? Why didn't you tell the teacher, the principal, her guidance counsellor, and the school board that she would not run a mile, do anything outdoors, or get any exercise, and would sit out all those activities with your permission and at your insistence?

And don't get me wrong: being nominally socialized myself, I see both sides. Bullying and teasing are serious problems, and the response is not always sufficient. Our schools are, and traditionally have been, centers of enforced conformity and stifled creativity. But who wants them that way? Back to Basics, Increased (Armed) Security, harsher discipline, forcible "moral instruction"--what end of the political spectrum has been riding that pony for the past few decades?

Meanwhile, Dr. Mrs. Insty--the Anna Chennault of the Blogosphere--has unmasked the culprit: teachers are just skin-wrapped bags of ego and insecurity who channel their personal misery into the Educational Establishment. Really.
It seems to me that the main source of socialization for many kids, especially smart ones in public school, is found in learning how to cope with the egos of teachers who can't teach and other kids who are uninterested in learning anything beyond dominating the social hierarchy.

The woman is, so far as we know, a practicing psychologist and the mother of school-aged children who are not tutored at home--has she ever met, or spoken with, her children's teachers? Does she still allow those Ticking Time Bombs near her precious offspring?

Pfui. Read the satire that inspired this crap--we know it's a satire, because it says so right in the title, but feel free to read it with a mouthful of coffee. Little Elasah, the gifted scion of a family of religious maniacs, throws hissy fits worthy of the roadshow choreographer at a Chorus Line revival because he's smarter than all the other children, imagines the rules don't apply to churchgoers (where'd he ever get that idea?), and Doc Helen's diagnosis is "his teacher's probably frustrated because she doesn't have a man"? I have to wonder what would have happened had she found out that Norah Vincent was posing as the boy's gym teacher?

And Mom objects to little Kohath being given extra work! What the H-E-double hockey sticks did she expect the school to do? Stop teaching everyone else whenever little Zephaniah started acting out? Granted, I was educated in the last century, but it seems to me that one good punch in the nose would do more for that kid than forced isolation in the Scripture factory will ever do.

Friday, February 23

Lincoln Quotes, Provided At No Charge, Plus Free Citation For Kids 12 And Over

"Some, if not all the gentlemen on the other side of the House, who have addressed the committee within the last two days, have spoken rather complainingly, if I have rightly understood them, of the vote given a week or ten days ago, declaring that the war with Mexico was unnecessarily and unconstitutionally commenced by the President. I admit that such a vote should not be given, in mere party wantonness, and that the one given is justly censurable, if it have no other, or better foundation. I am one of those who joined in that vote; and I did so under my best impression of the truth of the case....When the war began it was my opinion that all those who, because of knowing too little, or because of knowing too much, could not conscientiously approve the conduct of the President, in the beginning of it, should, nevertheless, as good citizens and patriots, remain silent on that point, at least until the war should be ended.....and I adhered to it, and acted upon it, until since I took my seat here; and I think I should still adhere to it, were it not that the President and his friends will not allow it to be so....

"I more than suspect already, that he [President Polk] is deeply conscious of being in the wrong; that he feels the blood of this war, like the blood of Abel, is crying to heaven against him; that originally having some strong involve the two countries in a war, and trusting to escape scrutiny by fixing the public gaze upon the exceeding brightness of military glory...he plunged into it and has swept on and on, till, disappointed in his calculation...he now finds himself he knows not where....His mind, tasked beyond its power, is running hither and thither, like some tortured creature on a burning surface, finding no position on which it can settle down and be at ease....He is a bewildered, confounded, and miserably perplexed man. God grant he may be able to show there is not something about his conscience more painful than all his mental perplexity!"

-Representative Lincoln (R-IL), speech from the House floor, January 1848

Frank Gaffney or 10,000 Monkeys Typing--Which Would Get Something Right First?

So last week Frank swallows a bogus Lincoln quote which, if you've read the great man's actual words above you will likely agree didn't sound anything like Lincoln and should have given anyone with a passing familiarity with them pause stopped any halfway-honest reader in his tracks. But Frank was using a certified "Conservative" source--one which could not be bothered to correct the error when it appeared--and so had no earthly reason to spend five seconds double-checking it, when he would have tumbled onto debunking it six months ago.

[The "quote", just for the record: “Congressmen who willfully take actions during wartime that damage morale and undermine the military are saboteurs and should be arrested, exiled, or hanged.”]

The Moonie Times reportedly took two days to get around to pulling Frank's column, though it's still available at Town Hall, if that tells you anything about Gaffney's commitment to accuracy. So this week offers up a steaming bowl of mea culpa, right?

Well, funny you should mention it, because Frank seems to have learned contrition from Dick Cheney, back when the two warhawks were serving in 'Nam:
I began this column last week with a quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln in which harsh treatment was deemed warranted for congressmen who willfully take actions during wartime that damage morale and undermine the military. It turns out to have been a paraphrase of our 16th president's attitude toward those who engage in such behavior, rather than a direct quote.

Well, no. It was a statement of the author, Insight contributor J. Michael Waller, who now says it appeared as a quotation due to an editor's error (or intent), though a couple of factors argue against that explanation. There's certainly no cogent basis for the claim that it paraphrases, approximates, or even halfway resembles Lincoln's personal views. And had Gaffney been interested enough to investigate his mistake, instead of finding a way to rewrite it, he'd have known that.
I regret the error and should, instead, have used the following, verbatim excerpt from a letter President Lincoln wrote in June 1863, as Robert E. Lee's army was on the march north to the fateful battle of Gettysburg. Mr. Lincoln wrote this letter after the arrest of a leading Confederate sympathizer legislator (or "Copperheads" as they were then known), U.S. Rep. Clement L. Vallandigham, Ohio Democrat. It forcefully explains the commander in chief's thinking about the latitude the Constitution affords to "silence" anti-war "agitators" whose conduct "damages the Army" and threatens to leave the nation without the military means to "suppress" its enemies...

Well, no. Vallandigham was not a Representative. He was a former Representative, having been (handily) defeated in 1862. Vallandigham was arrested, not by Lincoln or with his knowledge, and not for treason or sabotage, but for violating General Order #38, issued by Ambrose "Most Incompetent Union General Who Did Not Write Ben Hur" Burnside as Commander of the Department of Ohio, which had provided the death penalty for overt acts of treason and declared that "the habit of declaring sympathy for the enemy...will not be tolerated." Burnside hadn't bothered to consult anyone about the order, including an attorney. Vallandigham made a speech in Mount Vernon, Ohio, on May Day, in which he claimed, for one, that Republicans were prolonging the war for political purposes. He was arrested by Burnside's men on May 5th, convicted by military tribunal on the 15th of violating the order and sentenced, not to hang, but to close confinement for the duration of the war. Vallandigham had refused to plead, arguing that the military court had no jurisdiction over a private citizen.

Lincoln, unaware of the arrest until after the fact, did issue his famous expression of support ("Must I shoot a simple-minded soldier-boy who deserts, while I must not touch a hair of a wily agitator who induces him to desert?"). Lincoln's comments demonstrate a clear recognition that the two situations were matters of very different legal jurisdictions, but not his desire to avoid having civil courts take the matter up nor his awareness that Vallandigham was now becoming something of a cause célèbre, and his words from jail, widely reprinted in both anti-war and moderate newspapers, were a hundred times more damaging than they'd ever been before. Lincoln, as he was frequently able to do, got out from under: he managed to find the possibility of using "exile" under Burnsides order, and Vallandigham was eventually escorted to Tennessee. (This is the reason why "exile" turns up in that phony quote, and why Waller's latter-day explanation rings hollow; exile made sense in a Civil War, but what sense does it make today?)

Of course all this simply circles around the bullshit factor which should have been obvious any of the few hundred times the "quote" was picked up by the Right: throughout his presidency Lincoln dealt with serious opposition in Congress and throughout the nation. He could have hanged two dozen Congressmen if that were really his attitude, and uncounted numbers of Southerners who were actually committing treasonable offenses. Of course in the actual event--and though he obviously stepped into illegality several times during the conduct of the war--Lincoln had the wisdom and the patience to find common cause with any number of people, in and out of public life, who differed with him on the war or the question of slavery. But that's not the sort of accomplishment they praise at the Moonie Times, is it?

Wednesday, February 21

On the Feasability of a Unified Wingnut Theory, or, Jonah Goldberg Is Overweight

"The Beer Test: Presidential personalities." NRO February 21

This Goldberg column means absolutely nothing to me and, although one should carefully consider before espousing universal truths where human behavior is concerned, I think we can say with absolute certainty that goes for the rest of the planet aside from Jonah and the 3.5 mouths that are keeping him from volunteering for combat duty. But Scott put the possibility of a Unified Wingnut Pundit Theory in my head last week so I checked the Goldberg archives this AM.

I'm not sure that Jonah is the linchpin of a potential global understanding of the phenomenon, but absent grant money and a squad of sweating co-ed volunteers one starts by looking for some nice loamy soil in which to dig. If we find some artifacts, not to mention some co-eds, somebody young and strong'll show up with a pickaxe before we hit bedrock.

So let's deal with today's nugget first: That's it, in the headline. No, really, it is: "Which Presidential candidate would you want to have a beer with?" And yes, any question of Goldberg authenticity is settled in situ:

• Opening with a lowbrow pop culture quotation which is then treated like some snippet of Montaigne (Men in Black; extra credit for vague sci-fi-y-ness).

• Disavowal of any responsibility for knowledge of, or accuracy in, the subject he is presently involved in writing about ("Please don’t be scandalized by all of this. It’s just something to think about. For the record, I think everyone should vote based on principle.").

Now, it is a fact that practically any major print pundit could have written such a column, mostly likely as a deadline-assisted tree-killer, possibly as a bunny-cautious bit of snark. It's even possible that other Jonah-Class pundits (most of whom are deployed to various career-ending outposts like Townhall) would similarly discover that, once again and by any reasonably objective standard they could imagine, it's the Republicans who are likable. But could any of them be this fucking unconvincing?
Interestingly, the GOP has a significant likability advantage (and disadvantages almost everywhere else). John McCain may be unpopular with much of the Republican base, but Americans would love to go to the pub with him. Rudy Giuliani, too, seems like a good guy with whom to watch a baseball game at the bar. The super-polished Mitt Romney’s a tougher call, and Duncan Hunter would be a pain because he’d keep asking the immigration status of the busboys.

Frankly, in some places I can name Duncan Hunter would spot Guiliani, motion the waiter over, and ask when they started letting in Jews.

But here's where we begin to analyze this pathetic pottery shard. McCain "may be unpopular with much of the Republican base," but he still passes the Beer Test. Okay then, what's the fookin' relevance of what the base thinks? The only possible answer is that Jonah has to feed the Anti-Fluoridationists at NRO or they'll steal his lunch sack. And what, exactly, is his insight based on? Can't be the polls: McCain's still in the race despite losing a big chunk of his "moderate" and "independent" support over the past eighteen months, presumably because Mr. Straight Talk has shown the consistency of Mr. Silly Putty™ over that period. But perhaps those people are teetotalers anyway, or perhaps what people like in a drinking buddy is shameless venality.

And Rudy, of course, has those qualities in spades, not to mention a few that would give you pause before hiring him as a guard dog or a strike breaker.

Okay, we already knew we had to account for outright fabrication in the face of readily-available public information to the contrary, and we knew (having snuck a peak or two before) that a Goldberg column was fertile ground for unearthing fragmentary evidence. But we must at present remain non-committed as to the cause of the reflexive knee bends over "the Republican base," and admit to no small amount of confusion over the use of the term to describe (one assumes) educationally-deprived Rapture enthusiasts and that segment of the population which finds Jeff Foxworthy "kinda funny, but a little too cerebral". This has indeed been a vital Republican voting bloc since the day Strom Thurmond switched parties, but hardly seems its historical "base", which is more Small Cap Hedge Fund than Small Engine Cylinder Decarbonizing. In fact we imagine that Jonah considers himself the Republican base, as do all those self-professed independent libertarians who still manage to toe every Republican line. And the weird exemption of Giuliani's own unpalatability to that same faction merits further consideration.

[Okay, a guess, but no wagering: it's not that Rudy is leading the polls, meaningless as that is, nor that he's the only candidate who leads Senator Clinton, let alone a Democrat who might actually become popular. I think the real answer is that Rudy's personal life and his abilitiy to weasel, opposed to McCain's public self-flagellation over his starting position on the Keating Five (however hypocritical), his personal valor, and his ham-handed acrobatics the past few months have convinced Republican tastemakers, if not kingmakers, that Rudy's venality is of the easily-controlled variety while McCain might one day, under serious pressure, do something because it was right. Plus, and this cannot be over-emphasized, McCain was stupid enough to head right in 2006 and beyond, when the GOP power structure was pissing itself over the Bronze Agers naming the next nominee. They don't want that shit enacted; they want to maintain it as a voting spur. It's possible that they've gone one bridge too far already, but they don't have much choice. Pandering to the right loses the next election. That McCain couldn't see that is evidence he's barely bright enough to be a Senator.]

But turn the thing over:
[T]he GOP front-runners (save perhaps Newt Gingrich) all have the advantage over Hillary. She may have star power, but you get the sense that most Americans would like to have their picture taken with her and then drink alone.

Here's a curiosity: Newt (10% and falling) and Mitt (8% and panicking) are "front runners", but the only Democrats Jonah can think of are Hillary and Chris Dodd. He seems to have left that Obama fella out, which is too bad. Not because I'm curious about his Beerability Quotent on the Goldberg scale. What I'd like to know is how many Cornerites would take a swig of beer from a glass Obama had already drunk from?

We're a long way from any serious hypothesizin', but I do recommend interested parties take a look at Jonah's NRO archive, which even in terse headlinese bears a remarkable similarity to an aerial shot of Wingnuttatopia as viewed from a hovering blimp.

Happy Birthday

Francis Hillman Blackwell
February 21, 1903--October 7, 1962

Monday, February 19

When They Finally Let Me Out of this Locker I'm Gonna Write an Editorial About Hippies That'll Raise Blisters

David Brooks, "Human Nature Redux", New York Times February 18
Sometimes a big idea fades so imperceptibly from public consciousness you don't even notice until it has almost disappeared. Such is the fate of the belief in natural human goodness.
Oh, great, a reductio ad absurdum of Rousseau. This is the sort of blue-flame insight you get when you spend all your weekends discussing political philosophy with the rest of the Republican party. The best part of this Sunday's David Brooks column is that our favorite lazy-day pundit mixes things up a little and actually waits until the end of his 800 words to name-check Burke Hayek & Hobbes, LLC.

(By the way, this thing answers my question about how you got a half-credit for Brooks' course at Duke. That was apparently a compromise between those who thought it should be one credit and those who thought one credit should be taken away.)

Would it, I dunno, be too much trouble for Brooks to check his paycheck and note that he's not writing for the easily-satisfied Weekly Standard subscriber? Just once I'd like to see him use Burke as the basis for an argument instead of as the premise for the Op-Ed version of a sitcom.
This belief had gigantic ramifications over the years. It led, first of all, to the belief that bourgeois social conventions are repressive and soul-destroying. It contributed to romantic revolts against tradition and etiquette. Whether it was 19th-century Parisian bohemians or 20th century beatniks and hippies, Western culture has seen a string of antiestablishment rebellions led by people who wanted to shuck off convention and reawaken more natural modes of awareness.

Or, to put it another way, the guys who were getting laid in high school in the late 70s while David was forced to come home to practice the accordion were just stupid trend followers with no sense that Western Civilization Herself was at stake and I hate them all.

Okay, okay, I'm sorry. The whole "poor potty training" and "bad case of Led Zep Envy" stuff has been popping up too often lately, but who's supposed to be taking these guys seriously anymore, let alone bothering to think up rational rebuttals to their Mass Public Emotional Meltdown?
It led people to hit the road, do drugs, form communes and explore free love in order to unleash their authentic selves.

In education, it led to progressive reforms, in which children were liberated to follow their natural instincts. Politically, it led to radical social engineering efforts, because if institutions were the source of sin, then all you had to do was reshape the institutions in order to create New Man.

Plus--and maybe worst of all--those sandals that people used to make out of old tires. Oh, and macramé.

And the interobang.

If Brooks wants to take Burke n' Hobbes, or an entire klatch of screw-loose Randians, or Peanuts as his guiding principle it's his business, but whether he can construct a simple argument is ours. There's that odd disconnect, where the correctness of one's position is never held to the flame, and the litany of ills engendered by Not Agreeing With Him which is apparently supposed to persuade by virtue of its frightening appearance in print. Exploring free love? Is this supposed to fill you with dread or convulse you with laughter?

I don't understand how you can have a Survey of Western Philosophy discussion of the topic without evincing a passing familiarity with Nietzsche's Birth of Tragedy, (reminiscent of what a reviewer once said of the philosopher Harry Connick, Jr.: that it is one thing to sing yesterday's standards, but quite another to act like the existence of Bob Dylan has escaped your notice). And I don't understand how you can argue it from a generalized sense of walking-around human smarts or a reading of human history that rises above the disinterested. What, for example--apart from the peculiar nostalgic longing to have thinly-clad, cocoa-colored natives call one "Sahib"--is the argument for Victorian sexual ethics? Civilization? The sexual mores of the Ancient Greeks and World-Bestriding Romans would make a porn star blush, and if I recall their contributions to Western Civilization are generally regarded as the more important.

Progressive education? The simple response, pertinent to the whole "argument", for that matter, goes something like this: David, if the Golden Age was such an Eden, why did anybody leave? Why reform perfection? Would we all be better off with six years of rote memorization, followed by turning anyone who couldn't cut it out to work the fields? Pfui. Progressive education, by its very nature, is results oriented; the idea that children are now, or ever were, turned loose on the first day of elementary school to discover their own education is pure malarky, and I say that as someone whose own public education ran from post-Sputnik hysteria to early 70s groovy relevance.

[What an odd tickle for provoking endless "conservative" coughing fits Education is! It even affects "conservatives" like Brooks, who proclaim themselves more enlightened than their Bronze Age cohorts on the Right. What an odd reversal it is for people who insist that I, e.g., come up with a plan for extracting us from a miserable idiotic failure of a war I counseled against in the first place, when their entire educational program seems to be a) salute the flag after the morning bell and b) make everybody's test scores go up. But then our test scores are down (sorta) compared to Old Europe, where there's precious little flag saluting except when the Fascists march through immigrant neighborhoods, and where the suggestion of "presenting a balanced picture on evolution" (see below) gets you locked up for observation. And the end result (openly or cryptically championed) is the elimination of public education for all but the poorest of the poor in favor of the self-policing Private Sector. But what does privatization mean if not Progressive-style, pragmatic, follow-the-latest-trend and offer-the-glitziest-package education? Where the supposed Competition Ethic takes hold of education schools do not become more "traditional". Trust me on this: Indianapolis has the worst case of charter-school disease in the nation. Yes, there is a recently opened college-bound, Greek- and Latin-based charter in town; good luck getting one of the 150 seats if that's what you wish for your child. In the meantime, competition has not encouraged the public schools to go Back To So-Called Basics. It's encouraged them to throw everything but the kitchen sink into the howling wind of the Advertosphere. Last year the superintendent of Indianapolis Public Schools actually proposed creating an Athletic Magnet High School before paramedics snuck up behind him and hit him with a hypo. The Anything for a Buck ethos may adequately fill the need for cheap consumer electronics and readily available English discipline sessions, but it's not exactly the key to maintaining propriety.]

And social engineering? I haven't been able to find that "Why I Became a 'Conservative'" book, praise the Lord. Big Literature's marketing strategy over the past decade, where every Anti-Fluoridation Nut with Regerny's switchboard number turned up on a table just inside the front doors at Barnes & Noble, may be at an end, but I'm not gonna jinx it by saying so. Any road, Brooks thoughtfully trots out his Road to Damascus moment--the pinning of a pair of Freshman Donkey ears on his liberal Rod Stewart shag by none other than Milton "A Nobel for Jimmy Carter? That's so politicized!" Friedman--at least quarterly. So we have to ask, "Just what is the attraction of all the "Conservative" Sci-Fi Dystopian Lingo? When you were a liberal, Dave, was World Domination real big on your agenda? Are you really arguing that FDR (or TR, for that matter) was some sort of zombie time-traveler from the French revolution? How do you get to be forty-five years old and still talk like that? Especially when you're a New York Times columnist with a strong minor in Ignoring or Excusing the Worst Excesses of the Religious Right who happens to be engaged in writing a column which could only be described as advocating political engineering (or maybe "anti-social engineering), if in fact that's any sort of distinction. (Is laissez-faire capitalism Apollonian?)

There are three things I've come to expect from a couple years' reading of his Sunday columns: that despite his professions of love for the traditions of Western Civilization Brooks is at best haphazardly tethered to its rules of punctuation; that nearly every week will result in an Oh My God moment:
Iraq has revealed what human beings do without a strong order-imposing state.

to which nothing whatsoever will suffice as a reply; and he has absolutely no idea how to end a column:
And here's another perversity of human nature. Many conservatives resist the theory of evolution even though it confirms many of conservatism's deepest truths.

It was, if I recall my own college days correctly, Edmund Husserl who once said, "What the fuck was that?"

Sunday, February 18

Your Toast is Burning

Indy Star:

Gov. Mitch Daniels is backing Sen. John McCain for the Republican nomination for president.

"Not that it matters to anyone, but I have allowed Sen. McCain, whom I have known since he was a Navy captain, to list me (as a supporter)," said Daniels...

Friday, February 16

Happy Birthday

Henry Brooks Adams
February 16, 1838--March 27, 1918

Just Like Driving: It's Partly the Snow, But It's Mostly the Stupidity

Catlike, Larry reconsiders his escape plan.
Q Slides from a pre-war briefing show that by this point, the U.S. expected that the Iraqi army would be able to stabilize the country and there would be as few as 5,000 U.S. troops there. What went wrong?

MR. SNOW: I'm not sure anything went wrong. At the beginning of the Civil War, people thought it would all be over at Manassas. It is very difficult -- no, Jessica, the fact is, a war is a big, complex thing. And what you're talking about is a 2002 assessment. We're now in the year 2007, and it is well-known by anybody who has studied any war that war plans immediately become moot upon the first contact with the enemy.

Y'know, at some point the public is simply going to have to do the work and begin to understand that the Right Wing is to War what Professionalism is to Wrestling. Talks the Talk, looks good on parade, might even be able to fight a little if it really came down to it, but otherwise it's a cartoon.

It's a funny thing about that Fog O'War: it only affects us, and only when things go wrong. When they go right it's because of our Athenian heritage. Or Jesus.

[Oh, and it's a funny thing about First Manassas, too, though it's the sort of fact apparently kept hidden from a lot of military history experts who used to be Rush Limbaugh's pool boy: the Union General-in-Chief, Winfield "Old Fuss and Feathers" Scott, was convinced the war would be a long one and would turn on a Union blockade of the Atlantic and Gulf ports, and the Mississippi, prior to a march on Atlanta--the Anaconda Plan. It's in a lot of your minor history books. Lincoln's superannuated Defense chief had actually been to war, unlike Bush's. It was over-confident Northern politicians who overruled McDowell's disinclination to march off immediately into battle. And McDowell, who must bear the blame for over-marching his men and a too-cute battle plan, was sacked afterwards. It may have taken Lincoln two more years to get it right, but he did, eventually, get it right and he changed things that weren't working until he did.

(And it's curious how many Southerners and Southern sympathizers, all those color-blind admirers of the Lost Cause, know so much about military history but have such a bad case of transient amnesia when it comes to recognizing that the Confederacy's one chance of victory was political, not military. Especially seein' how in Iraq, as in Vietnam, it's politics--their politics--which have proven to be the deciding factor.)
For instance, a lot of people did not think that we would have the success we had moving swiftly into Baghdad.

But did any of them predict it would take ten years?

No. Because some things are predictable in war, at least to the extent of our ability to predict complex operations. The industrial and manpower superiority of the North would eventually crush the South, given sufficient time to do the job (which, by the way, Lincoln went out and earned, instead of whining about traitors). The Japanese could not possibly hold the Pacific against the United States (once again, the hotheads were running things; once again, the realists' hope was for a political solution). We couldn't pacify the whole of Iraq with 150,000 troops untrained and unequipped for the job.

And it's not the fugging Fog that caused anyone to imagine entering Baghdad was going to be like entering Paris, but without liquor or quickies. The prediction of a post-war, pro-American, happy little democracy in Iraq isn't a failure of military science, it's a pure fuggin' neocon Disneyland model train ride to Fantasyland. And you shopped generals and intel until you got it.
All I'm saying is that -- what happens is, you're looking at a pre-war assessment, and there have been constant assessments ever since. A war is not a situation where you can sit down and neatly predict what exactly is going to happen. You make your best estimates, but you also understand that there are going to continue to be challenges, there are going to be things that you don't anticipate, there are going to be things that the enemy doesn't anticipate. And the most important task, frankly, is to continue to try to assess near-term and mid-term to figure out how best to address the situation.

Really? 'Cos that worked so well up to the point when the Media decided to sabotage things? From where I was standing in the Spring of '03 the short-term appeared royally fucked (this was pre-insurgency, 'member?) and the mid-term frankly delusional (reduction to 30,000 troops by September, a flat-taxed capitalist paradise, and those stockpiles of WMDs waiting to be discovered, just east, west, south, and somewhat north of here). Hell, as I recall it, we were already making threats to Syria and Iran at that point, weren't we?

That's not a failure to see five years in the future. That's just...failure.

Thursday, February 15

Press Conference Questions

"We talked about the fact that our coalition troops that are heading into Baghdad will be arriving on time. In other words, I'm paying attention to the schedule of troop deployments to make sure that they're there, so that General Petraeus will have the troops to do the job -- the number of troops to do the job that we've asked him to do."

1) Can't they do anything with him? This country, once the big, brawny, brawling Breadbasket of the World and Forger of Steel to scrape the skies is now pretty much the Queen of the Makeover. We specialize in turning guttersnipes and trailer trash into stars, before turning them back into gutter trash, and yet in eight years (counting the 2000 Republican "campaign") no one has been able to teach this prep-school prat how to behave in public. He's like a nose-picking child who has a speaking part in the school Christmas pageant, and you work for two months to get him to stop, and on the big day he tells the crowd, "I'm not supposed to eat boogers anymore!"

2) Speaking of faded American greatness, is there anything we've gotten right in the past twenty-five years? If we could put a man on the moon, how is it that I still know who Anna Nicole Smith was? The corpse of Fred Astaire was last seen dancing with a Hoover upright, what was it? fifteen years ago? proving that we have the technology to have simply airbrushed the rest of that pneumatic trollop out of our collective memory many years ago. (I will link this up, Your Honor.) I mean, aren't there enough sensible adults left in this country to put an end to wall-to-wall coverage of someone no one outside her immediate family could possibly have cared about? I'm reminded of this because for the thirty-forty seconds of Wednesday's press conference I could stomach I was thinking, "These people asking the questions are employed by the same people who think I'm fascinated by all things Dead Anna Nicole! And they're the same people who tried to tell me that the spastic megalomaniac at the podium is someone I'd Like To Have A Beer With.

3) Nicknames. He's still using the nickname schtick? Okay, ancient news. I understand that most any President has worn out his welcome after six years, and this one was not a particularly fertile field for investigation to begin with. But I think it's instructive to remember that a good number of people ate this shit up six years ago, and that includes a sizable chunk of the Press. And okay, I'm the sort of guy who shakes like a Hulk-morphing Bill Bixby when the bank teller says, "Thank you, James," or "Will that be all, Jim?" at the close of a transaction. It's Mr. Riley, unless I've earlier availed myself of your nameplate to say, "So, Jennifer, that's a lovely blouse. What're you, about a 35 C?"

I mean, I understand if this shit played well in Texas; riding around in a friggin' RV got Mitch Daniels elected here. But how did the 98% of the public which has not married a first cousin who appeared on the Jerry Springer Show fall for it? Let alone the Grey Goose-and-free-rumaki types of the Press Corps? Bush's forced jocularity is not bucolic good humor, it's a smug-ugly violation of the social norm in a situation where everyone calls him "Mr. President." It's just too bad that six years ago the Press didn't take this as a sign that all such conventions were relaxed and start calling the President by nicknames of its own. Like "Trainwreck." or "Booger".

4) Iran. Uh, didn't General Petraeus get around to mentioning we'd had to scrape all those "surge" troops together (the ones who are arriving according to the schedule we didn't have as recently as Tuesday) by going door to door and impressing anyone who fit a 42 regular? And I'm pretty sure it was Ol' Trainwreck himself who said they were off to secure Baghdad and Anbar Province. So who, exactly, is left to fight Iranians? Or was that just an excuse to bomb them, in which case a) you're never gonna set their "nuclear weapons program" back more than a couple months at best and b) do we suppose that is going to make them more or less likely to kill American soldiers who are now being extended even further, have no hope of any further troop increases to back them up, and face a worsening equipment situation, downgraded from "Sucks"? Apparently the great hope of this administration, six years on, is to be able to vex Congressional Democrats, which is like aspiring to piss in the lemonade and get your kid brother to drink it.

5) Has anyone else noticed that viewed through the lens of his "unscripted" appearances George W. Bush has gone from profligate scion they tried to keep out of the papers, through the "Well it can't be helped but try to scare the stockholders too much" phase, to what we saw yesterday, the Idiot Son who's finally figured out that nobody can stop him or the Fart Joke Express? There was that uncomfortable bit about his being hunkered down in the White House, where I had the sudden realization: Cheney failed, Rove failed, everybody around him who was smarter than he is (which is to say, everybody) failed, and that has had the unfortunate effect of convincing the World's Most Dangerous Moron that he's just as smart as anyone. What's it like to be one of this guy's supporters these days? I know, I know, small sample size, but are they constantly on the lookout for signs of cancer precursors? Have they removed all sharp objects and replaced all the stairs in their homes? Does someone else have to shave them every day?

Wednesday, February 14

Happy Birthday

Benjamin Kubelsky
February 14, 1894--December 26, 1974

God Bless

Julia, in comments at Roy's:
OK, let's see: Donohue defends Bush administration house right-wing fringe Catholic wingnut when he was busted for having sex with a suicidal emotionally disturbed student who came to him, as a faculty member, for counseling :

Effective today, the Catholic League has a new requirement for all future employees: all candidates must show proof of being immaculately conceived, that is, they must demonstrate that they were conceived without sin.

because it's completely OK to make a joke out of the immaculate conception in defense of a leader of conservative catholic thought and his right to have sex with a disturbed kid who went to him for guidance without people being all judgmental about it.

To which we can add nothing, but we'd still like to say that those who cannot abide having their religious beliefs mocked in public should consider joining the religion that everyone in the world agrees with.

Tuesday, February 13

Monday, February 12

Blithe Helene

Helene Cooper, "Blame (Blank) for Iraq," New York Times February 11
I don't remember too many elementary school homework assignments, but I've never forgotten the afternoon in sixth grade when Miss Schadenfreude suddenly assigned the lovely Lora Whiting (who happened to be my girl) and me to debate... Mold. Miss Schadenfreude was given to the occasional melodramatic gesture and--more rarely--a three-quarter-force effort to tear some misbehaving boy's arm out of its socket. She was a large, robust woman in her late-2os; looking back I think it's possible she was going through a Rough Patch, but of course that sort of thing doesn't occur to you at age twelve.

Anyway, out of the blue she assigns my girlfriend and me to debate Whether We'd Be Better Off Without Mold. I believe it was the first time something said to me caused my jaw to drop. We were studying neither Molds nor Debate, nor was either upcoming, and even absent any knowledge of either I suspected it was a stupid idea. To this day I suspect that either our budding romance had reminded Miss Schadenfreude of some painful personal episode (we were, as I recall it, the first and only item in the class) or she had envisioned a weekly Boy vs Girl face-off on the issues confronting both modern science and the conscientious homemaker. I shot a glance at the dewy Lora, who seemed as dumbfounded as I, and asked the teacher for clarification. All I recall was that my young crush was to take the position that we'd be better off without Mold, and I was to argue the opposite, with the bout set for two days' hence.

Our school had no library. An itinerant peddler had talked my parents into buying The World Book Encyclopedia a couple years earlier, and from this I learned that mold, though the scourge of pre-sliced bread, was also the source of penicillin and some varieties of cheese too exotic for the Midwest. This was all news to me; I did not have any responsibilities toward the larder at home. I figured I now had the answer: a moldless world would be subject to increased risk of bacterial infections and reduced cheese selection. QED.

Meanwhile my sweetheart had discovered that if you ate enough of the wrong sort of mold it could have a deleterious effect on your health, and she took this as The Answer. In the event I scoffed at this, and still do, but we basically just hurled the same two sentences back and forth at each other for two minutes until Miss Schadenfruede roared at us to get back to our seats. The weekly debate program--if any--died right there, though I still maintain I won, and later that year she dumped me for Greg Hedges. I hope he gave her VD.

And speaking of mold, Helene Cooper, who last month disclosed her hope that if President Bush's new plan for Iraq succeeded we might be looking at, say, a Spanish Civil War instead of, perhaps, a combination of the Thirty Years' War and six years of Ron Popeil infomercials, is back this month with the idea that We've All Grown Weary of the Congressional Fingerpointing on Iraq. I'm not sure if her teacher assigned the article without giving it proper consideration, but she might as well have.

I mean, we are all tired of this, right? Those politicians? And their finger-pointing? Because the Democrats are pointing fingers at Republicans, and the Republicans are pointing fingers at the Democrats, and that, of course, means that everybody must be wrong.

This tactic has gone from being a quarter-pound of pure laziness on a faux-balance bun to a five-course all you can eat bullshit buffet. There's paragraph three, which confuses an undigested kernel for a pearl of wisdom:
“Self-righteous finger-wagging will not make Iraq any more secure,” lectured Representative Tom Davis, a Virginia Republican, during a House hearing in which his colleagues tore apart L. Paul Bremer III , the former United States point man in Baghdad after the war.

Although, famously, neither did L. Paul Bremer; maybe we should have tried them in reverse order. Next paragraph:
No one can say with certainty that Iraq is lost; it is too early to say whether President Bush’s new strategy to increase the number of American troops in Baghdad and Anbar by 21,500 won’t work. But, a continent and an ocean away, Washington is already positioning to lay blame if the worst happens. After all, history books are being written right now.

Not to mention crappy columns. One thing you've gotta say for the war's die-hard (from a continent and an ocean away) supporters: in just four short years they've figured out metaphysical certainty doesn't work. And just in time. Say, how's paragraph six shaping up?
Blame the Democrats.

Back when the Republicans were in control of the House and the Senate, they didn’t venture far toward an examination of President Bush’s Iraq strategy. Newly empowered, the Democrats have hauled in everyone but the kitchen sink: from Henry Kissinger to President Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski.

Say it again: is there any reason whatever to listen to a pundit whose lapses in logic would be unacceptable coming from the counterman at Frostee Freeze?

The real gem is saved for last, as the last page is halfway given over to a graphic designed to show omnidirectional finger-pointing, but which is reduced to using disgraced professional weasel Dinesh D'Souza in order to work in Bill Clinton's throbbing gristle. I'll let Cooper try to explain this herself; I'm not sure I could:
The conservative author argues in his recent book, “The Enemy at Home,” that President Carter’s withdrawal of support for the shah of Iran helped Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini ’s regime gain power in Iran, thus giving radical Islamists control. Mr. D’Souza also says that President Clinton failed to respond to Islamic attacks and thus emboldened Osama bin Laden into thinking he could get away with the Sept. 11 attacks. Therefore, Mr. D’Souza says, American liberals are to blame for the rise of radical Islam and Muslim anger at America.

O.K., this isn’t technically an Iraq finger-point, but it seemed to capture the moment.

"Capture the moment"? Maybe she meant to say, "Rekindle the magic".

Friday, February 9


MR. RUSSERT: "We try to stay away from rumors...rumors don't make it on air."

Really, Mr. Russert? Not even bald-faced lies about White House vandalism? Maybe Andrea "Queen of Vandalgate" Mitchell can refresh your memory after she gets out of the box. By the way, wasn't she the one who announced back in '03 that Plame's CIA status was "an open secret around Washington" ?

Here's my deal: provided NBC accounts for the two of you being shitcanned with a one-paragraph statement and not a Rumsfeldian light opera parade, I will consider that, plus the mere knowledge that immediately after learning he could face the death penalty for lying Ari Fleischer had to wash his own undies, as adequate public compensation for your Vandalgate roles. For the rest of it, Timmy, you can answer to Big Russ.

Welcome Back

Lemme get this straight. We've lost at least six helicopters in the past month, at least four to ground fire, which is an extremely serious turn of events, and the DoD seems to be at least a week behind on reporting so it could even be more. And the only air transport the Pentagon and the Republican minority in the House are interested in is the Speaker's plane? Explain to me again how it took ten fucking years to return these bozos to minority status.

Friday Cheap Politicizing of Cat Blogging

So for her birthday my Poor Wife wanted a new camera, a second stab at entering the digital age. The woman takes a huge number of pictures. Our dining room is somewhere under them.

After no small amount of research (mine) we agreed on the new Panasonic LX2, which, don't get me wrong, is not a camera I'd buy; I can't abide those teeny tiny things. We agreed it was the camera for her. I even dragged her to three camera stores to try to interest her in a DSLR; with each visit she chose progressively smaller cameras as her favorite.

My wife does three things with a camera. She takes compulsory snapshots of people so she can look at them later, when they're not around. She takes photos her drawing and painting classes can use as models, mostly plants and garden scenes, and sometimes cats or something else that strikes her fancy, as I once did. And she photographs student artwork, mostly for making slides.

It is, so far as I know, impossible to convince her that she needs at least two cameras for that stuff, and three would be better. After generations of having advertising hurled at them daily from morning alarm to late-night starlet interview Americans are simply incapable of believing that all design is a compromise. The Panasonic had one distinct advantage: it has a 16:9 aspect ratio (same as widescreen teevee; I think its predecessor the LX1 was the first digital to do so) and it gives you a 16:9 aspect through the viewfinder as well. My wife likes those panorama shots, and I have to admit that 16:9 is very cool.

Naturally, I'm the guy who winds up reading the manual, which runs to 135 pages, reminding me that during the Second Punic War I engaged in film photography after learning 1) the inverse square law and 2) what film speed numbers meant. I offer this as another rebuke to the Pangloss Theory of Economic and Technological Progress: now, in order to have a simple camera that doesn't require learning anything about before you take pictures, it is necessary to learn more than you ever needed to in the days when people found real photography too much trouble to learn. So after finding the requisite aftermarket items around town I started taking fully automatic snaps with the thing this afternoon so I could advise my wife and show her some samples. Naturally the cats were handy, and naturally the delay between shutter release and actual exposure which is a hallmark of those damned little ($400) toys resulted mostly in shots of them moving out of frame. Total crap shoot. (The compromise on the Panasonic is that it's even poorer than its cousins in low-light settings, and I'm allergic to flash photography.)

After about two hours of trying I got the out-of-focus shot of Larry, above (yeah, he's just about to take a swing at me), tweaked the shadows a bit in Photoshop, and presented my wife with the sample when she got home. She was completely bored by the technical aspects of my presentation (yeah, it came as a shock to me, too) and wanted to grab the camera and snap some pics. I showed her how to turn on the flash and what the automatic setting looked like, and then she cornered Larry, clicked the shutter, and the little red light came on, and I started to explain that she'd never get a good picture because of the delay, and as I'm saying this in my I've-got-the-answers voice the goddam cat decides he's going to yawn and the flash catches him at its peak. With raised paw, just to rub my nose in it. That's the first picture she took with the thing. I'm thinking of letting the little bastard escape tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 7


Haggard Pronounced ‘Completely Heterosexual’ New York Times February 6
DENVER (AP) -- One of four ministers who oversaw three weeks of intensive counseling for the Rev. Ted Haggard said the disgraced minister emerged convinced that he is ''completely heterosexual.''

Haggard also said his sexual contact with men was limited to the former male prostitute who came forward with sexual allegations, the Rev. Tim Ralph of Larkspur told The Denver Post for a story in Tuesday's edition.

''He is completely heterosexual,'' Ralph said. ''That is something he discovered. It was the acting-out situations where things took place. It wasn't a constant thing.''

Ralph said the board spoke with people close to Haggard while investigating his claim that his only extramarital sexual contact happened with Mike Jones. The board found no evidence to the contrary.

See, this is why the Times doesn't need to run comics.

And aren't these the people who keep insisting that homosexuality is something to be cured? And the ones always talking about the evils of moral relativism? Except when it's a major embarrassment for themselves, is that it?

It's beyond laughable; it's quintessentially how the world works for these people, at least when anyone's watching.

• Gregg Easterbrook, TMQ February 6
I've long thought the multitude of ways in which human beings can experience delight is one of the proofs of the existence of God. Natural selection did not need to make sex or food or wine or music or art or beauty pleasurable, yet they are.

Y'know, I'm not an Easterbrook hater, for all his excesses; his football writing, while not always quite as smart as he pretends it is, is at least generally about the game of football rather than the slumber-party cattiness that passes in so many other places. But that is just stupid.

Natural selection does not "make things pleasurable". Pleasure (the human emotion and the human judgment) taken in music or art is strongly determined by culture. I don't believe it's possible for most Westerners to hear Japanese music as the Japanese do, nor vice versa; I defy anyone with a rudimentary aesthetic sense to take a tour of Graceland and come away thinking he and Elvis inhabit the same universe of pleasure. I don't know what it means to say food and wine "needn't give pleasure", since one, such pleasure is entirely subjective and two, what would we do if it weren't? Children are drawn to sweet things; in the wild, poisons are bitter. Score one for natural selection. The voluptuary's diet is not necessarily the healthiest one.

But sex? What if sex weren't pleasurable? We can't know if it is for most species. Female chimpanzees experience orgasm, so far as we call tell, but for most mammals it's a matter of the rut (funny how God gave the pleasurable experience to us and our cousins). There are plenty of explanations for the salient features of human mating--most notably the lack of estrus, but also female orgasm--with their basis in natural selection. Now, if we all hated to eat, drink, and fuck, but we were still around after a half-million years, that might suggest some Big Sky Fairy (© Norbizness Enterprises) was pulling a Cosmic String or two. Jesse Winchester was there twenty-five years ago:

It's a good thing/ To be young and strong
Such a good thing/ We're not old for long
What a good thing/ That making love is fun.

Morgan's Bozeman charged with misdemeanor assault
By Paul McMullen
Sun Reporter
Originally published February 5, 2007, 10:26 PM EST
DOVER, Del. // Morgan State men's basketball coach Todd Bozeman will return to Farmville, Va., to respond to misdemeanor assault charges after an argument there Saturday over a post-game meal....

In an incident first reported by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Farmville police were called to Mulligan's restaurant near Longwood University, west of Richmond, where the Bears had lost a non-conference game.

In the aftermath, Bozeman was charged with assault and battery, a first-class misdemeanor, and curse and abuse, a third-class misdemeanor....

Carlos Holland, the manager of the restaurant, told The Sun that Bozeman reacted angrily after Morgan State's order for 52 Philly cheese steak or chicken sandwiches, which was made by an assistant coach, was not filled to his specifications.

"I told him that we couldn't accommodate that order," said Holland, who could not identify the assistant coach. "He told us to make what we could. I took the order to Longwood College; I personally delivered it to the assistant coach at the bus. People were exiting the game, and I was two or three minutes late. I guess he [Bozeman] was upset about that."

Some of the sandwiches included ham, which would violate the religious beliefs of some Morgan State players.

Holland said that 10 to 15 minutes after making the delivery, Bozeman entered his restaurant, used a string of profanities and placed his hands on Shreck....

Athletic director Floyd Kerr said that he had been instructed not to comment and directed inquiries to Morgan State spokesman Clint Coleman. Coleman said that "we believe that this whole incident appears to have grown out of a terrible misunderstanding, and of course we regret that it occurred. We are taking a wait-and-see approach to this."

A "terrible misunderstanding" is when your wife leaves you after you come home smeared with lipstick because you gave artificial respiration to an elderly heart attack victim. It's when your best friend kills himself because his brokerage statement mistakenly reported he'd lost everything. It's not when you manhandle a woman because you got the wrong damn sandwich. Unless she had it comin', that is; let's all wait and see.

• I leave it to sz to decide whether last night's Law & Order CI with its "Gee, is that supposed to be Hilary?" storyline was worthy of the World O'Crap treatment, but I do have to say that when you decide to use a slimy Nancy Grace-esque tabloid reporter and you can't sham being as slimy as the real Nancy Grace I think America has learned something important about itself.

Tuesday, February 6

"Life Is So Much Better Now Than in 1973 Because of All the Ringtone Choices" Watch

William Broad, "Orbiting Junk, Once a Nuisance, Is Now a Threat" New York Times February 6
Early this year, after a half-century of growth, the federal list of detectable objects (four inches wide or larger) reached 10,000, including dead satellites, spent rocket stages, a camera, a hand tool and junkyards of whirling debris left over from chance explosions and destructive tests.

Now, experts say, China’s test on Jan. 11 of an antisatellite rocket that shattered an old satellite into hundreds of large fragments means the chain reaction will most likely start sooner. If their predictions are right, the cascade could put billions of dollars’ worth of advanced satellites at risk and eventually threaten to limit humanity’s reach for the stars.

"We've already established that idiocy is self-correcting. We're just haggling over the timetable."

My favorite part of the article:
Geoffrey E. Forden, an arms expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who is analyzing the Chinese satellite debris, said China perhaps failed to realize the magnitude of the test’s indirect hazards.

Dr. Forden suggested that Chinese engineers might have understood the risks but failed to communicate them. In China, he said, “the decision process is still so opaque that maybe they didn’t know who to talk to. Maybe you have a disconnect between the engineers and the people who think about policy."

As opposed to the Bush administration, where science and politics work hand in, uh, hand in...what do you call the back of a ventriloquist's dummy, anyway?
The bad news, [Nicholas L.] Johnson [chief scientist for orbital debris at NASA] said in his paper, is that “for the near term, no single remediation technique appears to be both technically feasible and economically viable.”

Don't you just hate how all these scientists are "glass half empty" types?

Welcome Back

Carl Hulse and Jeff Zeleny, "G.O.P. Senators Thwart Debate on Iraq Policy", New York Times February 5
Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, the independent who sided with Republicans in agreeing not to take up the resolution, called the proposal “a resolution of irresolution,” saying it criticized the president’s plan but did nothing concrete to stop it. He goaded colleagues who opposed the buildup to take more definitive action if that was their view. “Have the courage of your convictions to accept the consequences of your convictions,” he said.

In addition to the resolution introduced by Mr. Gregg, declaring that Congress should not cut off financing for forces in Iraq, Republican leaders had sought a Democratic commitment for a vote on another alternative, one introduced by Senator John McCain , Republican of Arizona. That measure would set 11 conditions for the Iraqi government if it wanted to retain American support.

“Senator McConnell led his Republican troops off the cliff,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

The White House welcomed the Senate vote. “All sides have a right to be heard in this debate, and we support Senator McConnell’s and the Republicans’ right to be able to offer the amendments they want to offer,” said a spokeswoman, Dana Perino.

Mr. Sununu, who sided with Republicans, but declined to say whether he would ultimately vote to oppose the Iraq plan, said, “It may come as a surprise to my colleagues, but most voting members of the American public think that the Senate spends all too much time talking and not enough time casting votes.”

It may come as a surprise to Senator Sununu, but most Americans, voters or no, can't name their own Senators, let alone express an educated opinion about how they conduct their business.

Call me old-fashioned. Hell, just call me old. I believe strongly that we're better off when the Deliberative Body does less, not more. As Exhibit A and Exhibit B I offer you the last two Congresses. Not that the Senate accomplished anything, mind you; it's just that the mostly-failed Republican attempt to turn it into a high-speed duplicator was the worst of what it didn't accomplish.

"Happy endings depend on stopping the story before it's over," Orson Welles once remarked. There's no happy ending in Iraq. The President, the Republican leadership (I like how Mitch McConnell stepped out in front on this one. Mitch McConnell couldn't flatten a penny with a passing locomotive. This has Trent Lott's Brillantine prints all over it.) and the twin bookends of warflogging, McCain and Lieberman, have simply decided that two more years of disaster, even though it may be on a considerably larger scale, is preferable to admitting they fucked up. Hope's gone; every day we spend in Iraq now makes the United States less secure. All of these people know that.

One should never make more of a Senate vote than what is actually there, but it's clear that Democrats jumped like startled kittens at the "You're Voting to Defund the Troops" routine, which must be chalked up to Stockholm Syndrome in my book. You've got the podium now, Harry; it's useful to pound it from time to time.

Okay, okay, maybe not so much in the Senate, and the whole thing was just shadowboxing in preparation for some half-hearted road work in advance of an undercard flyweight bout. The Senate is going to spend the year trying to choose between monochrome and contrasting-stripe trunks. Bush was going to get his escalation, such as it is, regardless, and nobody has the stomach for a Constitutional fight. I repeat myself, but the last chance for a positive result ended in October, 2002, with the Iraq War Resolution (and yesterday marked the fourth anniversary of the price Democrats extracted for that one, Colin Powell's visit to the UN, which was supposed to serve as the conscience of a Senate which lacked its own). The soundest course of action left to us now is, sadly, to to let this matter augur to its logical conclusion in the hopes that that thirty percent of the public, and 46% of the Senate, who still think it's a good idea are not listened to again for at least a generation.

The threat of a non-binding resolution was a shot across the administration's bow (though, of course, long after that tenth-rater had begun to sink; there's no way in hell there'll be any further escalation no matter who votes for it). An actual non-binding resolution would be nothing more than salve for a bunch of bruised egos who'd facilitated the disaster in the first place. The "Surge" will send men back into combat who really have no business going back into combat. But it will also force us to decide whether to send them without the number of Humvees military doctrine calls for, or else send the required number by drawing from the (supposedly sacrosanct) strategic reserve. And Republicans like Joe Lieberman would have us make that choice rather than admit a glaringly obvious mistake.

Monday, February 5

Easy Money

• Colts (-6). This one was solved early, like Monday or so, when Scoop Jackson wrote "Ten reasons the Bears will win" in ESPN The Magazine That's Made of Electrons. Honestly, I saw that headline and I felt bad for Bears fans all week. Lock. The opening kickoff didn't even faze me.

• Manning, total completions, over 22.5 (-105)

• Manning, throws touchdown or interception first? (Interception, (+140)

• I have no idea whether Billy Joel hit the over (+120) or under (-160) on singing the National Anthem in 1 minute 42 seconds. But I thought he did a fine job--and I never would have dreamed of betting on that--thereby becoming the second most-cringeworthy performer to do so. The all-time champions are Hanson. I'm serious. A capella at a World Series game, if I remember correctly.

Bets I couldn't get down:

• That Prince would be cool, come what may. Best halftime ever, which only means it was better than McCartney's passable one of a couple years ago. Great set list. Great marching band.

• That the Time's Ginny Heffernan would go 0-fer trying to identify any cultural artifact created before she turned twelve. She went 0-3, mis-tittling "Not Fade Away" and attributing the originals of "Proud Mary" to Tina Turner and "All Along the Watchtower" to Hendrix. I'm not quite sure how she identified the songs in the first place, but it's clear actually knowing something makes it that much more difficult to feel superior to it, so no bookie in his right mind would have taken it.

• That the commercials would be worth watching again after going 0-fer the Bush administration. They were. Highlight, of the top o' me still-buzzed head: the Coke videogame parody. My Poor Wife's pick was the GM robot.

• Over/under on number of times Phil Simms said "Super BO". I counted seven. I had to settle for him stepping on his dick, in golf shoes, when he "clearly saw" Kelvin Hayden step out of bounds "from up here". Phil Simms is a two-time Pro Bowler. I played football in 7th and 8th grade. And yet 85% of the time I know more about what's going on on the field than he does, because I watch. Jim Nantz, once another CBS airhead, has turned into a first-rate play-by-play man. He deserves better than Simms. So do we.

When Visiting Chambersburg, Don't Miss Red Lobster's Neither Fish Nor Fowl™ Platter

David Brooks, "Children of Polarization", NY Times February 4

Doug Masson writes one of the best Hoosiercentric political blogs on the interweb and is one of those people who, despite responsible employment and a young family is able to produce loads of detail-oriented stuff that puts a middle-aged, semi-retired free-lance international pharmaceutical salesman and his five opinion pieces a week, tops--and let's face it, they're all pretty much the same opinion--to shame. Last week sometime he had a piece about some Kos diariast touting some campus Young Dem organization or something, which included, in the original, an Obama and Diet Coke highball to the effect that "these kids are committed to shaping the future, not rehashing the past, why, they don't even remember what all the impeachment fuss was all about."

Which prompted me to spew in comments about the whole matter of inexcusable cultural and historical illiteracy, which was followed by my being too busy to get back to the conversation. I trust someone kicked my ass, since I'm sure I had it coming. But having endured countless variations of "Why do all our elections have to be about Vietnam?" in various guises from various bloggers I've grown fairly tender around that spot. The "sides" are not coeval; the time between the Imperialist impulse in United States political life and the rise of serious political and intellectual challenge to such enterprise is a good seventy-five years, depending on when you start counting. If you see it as a matter of Nixon vs. Dirty Hippies your view is obstructed, and if you feel justified in celebrating severe myopia as a Breakout Generational Trend kindly do us all a favor and stay out of politics altogether. Take up matchbook collecting. Laugh at grandma's funny appliances.

Long column short: Brooks teaches poly sci course at Duke. Brooks assigns paper defining the student's political beliefs. Brooks learns that today's student, raised amid "impeachment [he thinks], jihad, polarization and Iraq" has quietly exited the whole Clash of Ideologies. Brooks extrapolates to every student in the country. Good news for the supposed centrists Brooks numbers himself among whenever the alternative is a hard look at the train wreck of the Republican party and the "Conservative" "movement" and his place in either, including his personal responsibility for impeachment, jihad, polarization and Iraq. Okay, not jihad.

[In case you're curious, Brooks' half-credit (?) course was entitled “Policy Wars: Liberalism and Conservatism in America,” and its limited seats went to essay contest winners.]

Brooks has permission to name names and quote quotes, and he culls from the mayonnaise-redolent herd a lifelong conservative now torn between Republican extremists and Democratic elites, and the product of liberal enclave Portland, Oregon, who now supports school vouchers, dismayed as he is by the failures of his local public schools which allowed many of his smartest friends to miss out on the opportunity to attend college. (In 2005 73% of Oregon's high school graduates enrolled in a two- or four-year program the semester after graduating, but whaddya expect for half credit, a Google search?)

So the piece merely lacked a doomed bespectacled Iowa farm boy with a picture of his sweetheart in his helmet, and William Bendix as "Brooklyn", daydreaming about watchin' Dem Bums at Ebbetts Field, plus the cigar-chewing sergeant who never let any of 'em see his tender side, and it would have made a pretty good war picture. But not the Iraq war; "not a single one" of Brooks' charges wrote explicitly about Iraq or wanted to discuss it. The better, of course, to maintain one's fashionable distance from ugly partisanship. And IEDs.
If my Duke students are representative, then the U.S. is about to see a generation that is practical, anti-ideological, modest and centrist (maybe to a fault). That's probably good news for the presidential candidates like Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton, whose main selling point is their nuts-and-bolts ability to get things done.

Thus does Bobo set up his dream match-up, ignoring, somehow, that articulate Muslim guy from Illinois who actively campaigns on this sort of claptrap, and without explaining how "moderates" like the above make it through the partisan minefield of the primaries. I suppose it's no good asking the future face of American politics to explain to the rest of us how one solves problems by ignoring them? Or how one manages the trick of occupying the non-ideological, results-driven Center side by side with Bobo Brooks?

Sunday, February 4

Saturday, February 3

I'm Only Gonna Say This Once

Since I've no doubt my basic goodness and inherent warmth manage to show through this blog there's probably no need to explain that I have refrained for two weeks now, out of purely humanitarian impulse, from commenting on the experience of having one's small-town local news hairdos have a Super Bowl fall into their laps (for ten days local news, no great shakes under ordinary circumstances, has consisted of: Colts story, Colts story, toss to two anchors relocated to Miami, toss to field reporter located in Miami, weather, Colts story, Colts weather. Rinse. Repeat.).

This morning, though, has tested my patience and found it wanting, I hope but temporarily. I stumbled downstairs, found my wife already had the damned thing on, made a cup of tea, and got back to find somebody's field reporter at a nightclub (on tape from Friday evening) promising me I "wouldn't believe" the celebrities in attendance, which was her way of teasing me into remaining in place through the following round of car dealer commercials (she needn't have bothered; having not yet finished that first cup of tea I was incapable of going anywhere else, or even pressing the remote if by some chance it hadn't been in my wife's clutches in the first place). We returned to catch her interviews with:

• Brian "Kato" Kaelin

• Marion County Prosecutor Carl "South Florida Disco Shirt" Brizzi

• Indy Racing League driver Tony Kannan

So, a guy who lives here, a guy who spends at least a month each year here, and a guy we could lure here with the promise of free fries with burger purchase. The woman parked herself in front of a middle-aged poon hunt. Thank God for satellite communications.

(Oh, lest there be some misunderstanding, I'm sure Disco Carl wasn't there hunting poon. I'm sure his adoring wife and three adoring children, the ones from that reelection campaign ad of his from two months back, were standing just out of camera range.)