Friday, February 29

Le Mot Juste

“I was never on his show,” Gore Vidal, with whom Mr. Buckley had a famous feud, said on Thursday. “I don’t like fascism much.”

Thursday, February 28

And While We're At It, Let's Give Principals The Right To Fire Bad Students.

FURTHER proof, where none is needed, that whoever writes Steve Jobs' speeches has never met an actual public school principal:
Franklin school: Student has right sit during pledge

By Amy Bartner

February 27, 2008
Franklin school officials had a quick reply Tuesday for a student who sued over his right not to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance: You’re right.
Administrators in the Johnson County school district said they already had started to resolve the complaint from the 17-year-old, who said he was wrongly given detention after refusing to stand in class for the pledge.
“Our attorney addressed it and basically indicated that the student was correct and the school administration had erred,” said Franklin School Superintendent William Patterson.

Our Story: In 2005 the World's Third-Worst State Legislature™ (Motto: Louisiana Is "Reforming", It's Time To Move Up!), out of a spasm of patriotic fervor/concern over dwindling military enlistments/fear that Kansas was becoming an innovator in Making High School Students Do Stupid Shit, enshrines as a legal right every Hoosier students' daily opportunity to say the Plejullejence and observe a moment of silence which may or may not include, without institutional interference,  an invocation to the Higher Power or Powers of his or her choice to smite that smirk off Jaime Reynolds' face Once and For All, amen.   The Legislature also provides the funding to put a fire-retardant flag in every classroom, lest students start twirling like Dervishes looking for the thing and accidentally adopt a new religion. This was the last time the Legislature actually anticipated a problem before it created it, and also the last time it funded an educational initiative.

Cut to: Franklin (IN) Community High School ("Home of the Grizzly Cubs"), 2008, and a week very much like the last one, where a student known to the legal system only as "J.L." refuses to stand for this and is reprimanded by Teacher. (According to the lawsuit, when pressed for his legal justification in ordering the student to stand, Teacher replied "because I said so." It's left unclear whether he realized he was quoting Charles Evans Hughes, though for education's sake we hope so.)  When the same aberrant behavior resurfaces the following week, and spreads like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus to another lad, Teacher sends both to the school office.

(By the way, this reminds me of my own response when, in my junior year, facing an ever-increasing average length of student hair, my own high school ["Home of the Americanism Club"] instituted a weekly Plejullejence. It took place Fridays, third period, when my best friend and I had a study hall in the cafeteria. We took to grabbing one of the small tables along the wall, the one, not coincidentally, right under Old Glory. Then at the appointed PA system cackle we'd stand up, hands on hearts, and face the other 250 kids in the place while craning our necks like we were looking for the thing. Did that for a full year. I guess kids today favor the more direct approach.)

Here Our Story begins to be enclouded in murk, a situation familiar to regular readers of the Indianapolis Racist Star as well as anyone who's ever listened to the public pronouncements of a school district spokesman who has discovered a prominent, if metaphorical, portion of his anatomy caught in the proverbial wringer. "J.L.'s" lawsuit says an (unnamed) assistant principal ordered him to serve an hour of after-school detention. Principal Craig McCaffrey says the school had not planned to take any action, but was unable to notify the two students before the suit was filed.  (Couldn't find them, presumably.)

Principal McCaffrey also claimed that the students were not punished for refusing to stand for the pledge, but were merely asked to conduct their own legal research to prove they should be allowed to remain seated.

(The lawsuit, by the way, puts it, to use the legal term, slightly fucking differently; it claims that "J.L." presented the Unnamed Assistant principal evidence of his right to remained seated under Indiana Code 20-30-5-.05 and -4.5, and was informed by Mr. Anonymous that the school was "expanding the Indiana Code".)

McCaffrey told the Racist Star “We were in the process of solving the problem. There wasn’t enough time between Friday and Monday. Part of what the ACLU does is protect people’s civil liberties, but I think that’s my job as an educator.”

Really?  When are you starting your job?  

So, "protecting civil liberties" is part of your job, but a passing familiarity with the laws affecting student behavior, a reasonable grasp of the Constitution of the United States, not operating a public trust without resort to cheap intimidation, and getting your fucking story straight before talking to the newspaper, aren't?

Or finding time to Google Indiana state law, for that matter?

It's 20-fucking-08, bub. This sort of thing has been news at least since the "flag salute" cases of the 1940s, and the underlying Constitutional principles have been a hot-button issue in public education since the school prayer decisions of 1962 and 1963, or in other words, longer than you've been using oxygen and long enough that you might be expected to have a passing familiarity with it even if that weren't your job. Not to mention the fact that that goddam 2005 law was all over the local media at the time, as was its intention. It seems to me that students shouldn't be allowed to graduate from your institution without understanding the principles involved, or maybe even be promoted to it, let alone run the place. The World's Third-Worst State Legislature™ was savvy enough to understand it, and it's pretty clear at least half of them couldn't meet your graduation requirements.

So let's just face facts here, and then let's toss what's left in the circular file. First, you've got an enrollment of around 1400, situated in what in my day was an hour's athletic bus ride across amber fields of corn and soybeans but is now nearly edging Indianapolis' suburban sprawl. (Back in the day your cross-country course included a one-man footbridge over a dry creekbed, where, in 1969, I told my first and only Chappaquiddick joke, then blew past the guy in front of me when he started laughing. Always the fierce competitor.) The population, both town and school, is 97% white. Which, give or take a couple points, is the siren's call of all that development headed your way.

We feel justified in assuming, based on size, homogeneity, and recent scientific discoveries on the effects of inbreeding, that it was not very long after the initial incident--reported in the suit as occurring on the Friday of two weeks ago--before the whole place knew about it, meaning you should have, too. The next episode is the Tuesday after that, or immediately following the three-day Presidents' Day weekend. It's beyond our measure of charity to assume you hadn't heard about it once it escalated. Then, according to the suit and depending on which story one believes (yours is not exactly sparking confidence at this point) the student quotes relevant Indiana law, either in self-defense or as an "assignment", and is either rebuffed or ignored. We know this because the ACLU filed suit the following Friday, which despite popular fable, Country and Western song lore, and history lessons originating from talk radio, they don't do without first making a good-faith effort to resolve things. You ignored them, or blew them off, or maybe you explained Because I Said So, or Vice-Principal Anonymous told 'em you were expanding the Code. And no doubt more than once.

So let's shitcan (hey, it's Free Speech; treat it as a Learning Experience) this "no time between Friday and Monday to straighten things out" routine. The suit was filed on Friday, and by then you'd had a minimum of three days to read the straightforward English of the law and respond as a good citizen should have, although a really good citizen might have understood the laws he's responsible for overseeing in the first place.   And now that taxpayers have to pay to respond to a lawsuit that could have been avoided had you a) known the law; b) bothered to look up the law; or c) not operated like a small-town bully, you claim time constraints?  

Anything to add, Mr. McCaffrey?
McCaffrey said the students — along with administrators — learned something from the situation.

“Any type of process that can be a learning process is good,” he said. “I’m proud of the kids, and I think they did a good job.”

Now on to making that mulatto kid prove he's entitled to eat lunch with the white folks.  His research was due yesterday.

Tuesday, February 26

It's Like Rabbit Starvation, Except From A Thirty-Year Diet Of Nothing But Bullshit

David Brooks, "The Real McCain." February 26

Hushed Radio Narrator Voice: When last seen, David Brooks, political columnist for the New York Times. had just discovered that anonymous sources may have ulterior motives. As we begin today's episode, Brooks has tracked the wily political consultant into his lair:
You wouldn’t know it to look at them, but political consultants are as faddish as anyone else. And the current vogueish advice among the backroom set is: Go after your opponent’s strengths. So in the first volley of what feels like the general election campaign, Barack Obama has attacked John McCain for being too close to lobbyists. His assault is part of this week’s Democratic chorus: McCain isn’t really the anti-special interest reformer he pretends to be. He’s more tainted than his reputation suggests.

Thus David Brooks, Republican countertenor! Now that the Wall of Shame is down, anyone's free to search for a single week when Brooks didn't tout GOP talking points at least once, often with no visible link to any actual news stories. I found a couple, but only when he was on vacation.

And by the way, "first volley of the general election?" McCain started in on Obama on campaign finance two weeks ago, and last week called him "the most liberal US Senator". Those are volleys, even if they didn't hit anything, although when I read the second my wife mistook my spastic laughter for a choking fit and tried to Heimlich me. People in public life really ought to be more careful.
Well, anything is worth trying, I suppose, but there is the little problem of his record. McCain has fought one battle after another against lobbyists and special interests. And while I don’t have space to describe all his tussles, or even the lesser ones like his fight with the agricultural lobby against sugar subsidies, I thought that, amidst all these charges, it might be worth noting some of the McCain highlights from the past dozen years.

Or, put another way, I've got a copy of the standard litany of right-wing complaints about John McCain, which for the most part could only be leveled by extremists hiding behind a crackpot "defense" of "free speech" and unfettered robber baronage, which it now occurs to me can be 1) offered as a argument in McCain's favor and 2) used to fill up a column:

• In 1996, McCain was one of five senators, and the only Republican, to vote against the Telecommunications Act.

• In 1998, McCain championed anti-smoking legislation that faced furious opposition from the tobacco lobby.

• In 2000, McCain ran for president and reiterated his longstanding opposition to ethanol subsidies. Though it crippled his chances in Iowa...

• In 2002, McCain capped his long push for campaign finance reform by passing the McCain-Feingold Act.

• In 2003, the Senate nearly passed the McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act.

• In 2004, McCain launched a frontal assault on the leasing contract the Pentagon had signed with Boeing for aerial refueling tankers.

• In 2005, McCain led the Congressional investigation into the behavior of the lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

• Over the past few years, McCain has stepped up his longstanding assault on earmarks.

Okay, look, I'm from Indiana. My senior Senator has been touted for the Nobel Fucking Peace Prize for his heroic efforts to stem our global nuclear threat. Meanwhile he's voted for every war, police action, Third-World government destabilization, bullying military "exercise", and every last weapon system that's come down the pike, not to mention voting to send nuclear technology to the world's largest nuke-armed non-signator of the NPT.

So, forgive me for not performing naked somersaults just because John McCain has sometimes voted--or gotten his name on front on, no great trick when you're the only Republican to support something--in a way a hell of a lot of Americans consider merely reasonable. And forgive me if I imagine one can afford to stake out some unpopular positions in the World's Most Sluggishly Deliberative Body with relative impunity (Dave, try being a lefty default Democrat watching the Democratic Senate majority for the past two years!), especially when one has been running for President since 1996.

And (praeteritio alert!) I'm not even gonna mention that Young Senator McCain got caught with his hand in the lobbyist cookie jar before he'd unpacked his toothbrush, and has been campaigning for sugar-free sainthood ever since, or that his campaign staff is chockablock with insider Washingtonians, or that he's made his own campaign finance decisions this time around based purely on expediency.
This is, of course, the gospel of the mediocre man: to ridicule somebody who tries something difficult on the grounds that the effort was not a total success. But any decent person who looks at the McCain record sees that while he has certainly faltered at times, he has also battled concentrated power more doggedly than any other legislator. If this is the record of a candidate with lobbyists on his campaign bus, then every candidate should have lobbyists on the bus.

For pity's sake. No one's accusing McCain of failure to reach perfection. They're accusing him of failing to live up to the standards he proposes for others, and they're pointing out that lobbyists themselves don't seem to find McCain quite the pariah the standard-issue Republican chatterers claim to. It's not possible anyone could miss that distinction.
And here’s the larger point: We’re going to have two extraordinary nominees for president this year. This could be one of the great general election campaigns in American history. The only thing that could ruin it is if the candidates become demagogues and hurl accusations at each other that are an insult to reality and common sense.
Maybe Obama can start this campaign over.

Please. You people sat still for the sliming of John McCain in 2000, for an unfiltered Press pathology disguised as coverage of the Gore campaign, the ham-fisted disenfranchisement of Florida voters (and quite probably others), for multiple criminal enterprises run out of the House Majority Leader's office, for the outing of a covert CIA agent at the direction of the Vice President, the sliming of John Kerry in 2004, and Jack Murtha shortly thereafter, not to mention the jaw-dislocating move, in a span of three years, from "The President is not above the Law" to "The President Is the Law." This is Marquis of Queensbury stuff, and with feather pillows for gloves. Stop pretending otherwise.

Monday, February 25

Kevin Drum, Éminence Grise of American Politics

I like to think that I have standards, however lax or sui generis. I do retain some of my early Christian training, especially the parts about the Hypocrites, the Pharisees, and the Assholes; I'd never short-change you in a financial transaction; I would never physically assault anyone older, bigger, or in sight of objective witnesses. If I write at length about faulty toaster design or television programs where eating live insects is more attractive than the performers themselves, well, I hope it's because there's some larger lesson for the kids out there, one I would have benefitted from in my youth, like "writing a blog is for imbeciles."

There are two things about this, as there are about a lot of things. One, I learned and accepted at a very early age, say, twelve, that crap was going to come out of my mouth which frequently would be instantaneously misunderstood--sometimes to the point of having someone nearby try to shove it back in, and not always helpfully--even, maybe especially, when I thought the sentiments were too outrageous for anyone to believe they reflected my own. Here again, it would have been nice if some trusted adult had explained to this tender sapling that scrapping with bullies, xenophobes, hilljacks, self-appointed defenders of the Republic, and Boilermakers was as nothing compared to the sort of deep gonadal pain a sex partner, or even a potential one, could inflict. Two, even I get confused about where the line between intended minor giggle and revelation of my inner crochets lies. I defer to my Poor Wife when it becomes an issue, even though I know she thinks I spend too much time hitting fungoes in the Outer Space league and just wishes I'd shut up long enough so she could hear the weather report.

I haven't asked her to settle the Obama thing for me, in part because it's less real than hyperreal, and in part because she's a white suburban girl with feminist sensibilities, a dues-paying union teacher who began life as a fair-share-paying non-union member before she saw the light (compare her poor excuse for a husband, a trades unionist since the early Thirties), and, while informed politically as much as anyone who has to try to concentrate on the news while someone in the room rants about That Idiot Mayor or The Goddam Scree Slope that is the Democratic Leadership in Congress, she manages to be reasonable about it.   I'm on my own.

It's more hyperreal than real. I live in Indiana. I've voted in every election since 1972. I've never had a vote count. I think this may color my perception of Blogtropia having turned the '08 Democratic primary into a sort of myspace war. Short weeks ago I thought my daily reading habits had been hewed to the point where I might run into "While I agree with Matt that ..." no more frequently than I run into a Pink Moon;  there are places I go, places I've frequented, where it's now found in every second post, and sometimes in every second paragraph. This may or may not explain why, on successive nights, I dreamed of being a scuba diver who gets his flipper trapped under a cement block which is chained to a corpse. And not a pink-skinned naked female corpse with floating hair, either. Not that I regularly dream of those.

The weekend murkiness contained--again!--a learned discussion on whether Experience was really an electoral millstone, or whether Hillary was just lying about it. Matt?
If you win a primary on an "experience" argument, then you'd damn well better be more experienced than your general election opponent. McCain would make an experience argument against either opponent, so it's much better to be the opponent with a record of statements aimed at rebutting such arguments (I don't think the American people judge your qualification based on duration of service in a broken Washington system...) than to be the opponent who's been making the argument that voters need to stick with the more seasoned Washington hand.

Mr. Drum explains:
Seen through this lens, the problem with Obama isn't that he's less experienced than Hillary, but that he's inexperienced, full stop. And again, like it or not, John McCain will certainly use that as an argument in the general election campaign in a way he couldn't against Hillary. Sure, he's got 25 years to her 15, but that doesn't matter. Beyond a certain point voters aren't interested in who's got more experience, and 15 years is well beyond that point. If McCain tried to paint Hillary as inexperienced, it would be a waste of breath. Nobody would buy it.

FIRST, let us note here that in terms of national elections alone we experience close to five hundred biennially. So that by age 25 someone paying attention has at least had the opportunity to listen in on over 1800 of 'em, not counting any state or local races. In how many of those does someone tout Experience? This requires analysis? Please. It's like a Winston smoker proving that Chesterfields don't really satisfy.

Drum is right: Senator Obama is a crapshoot, and it'd sure be a more attractive game if we could get a close look at those dice. (This should not be taken as an invitation to link to hilzoy for the umpteenth time.)

Here's another thing. If you've got to jump on board the Out With Old Washington, To Hell With Boomer Partisanship bandwagon, kindly keep your feet inside, and refrain from donning bell bottoms and handmade sandals and flashing the peace sign when it's convienient:
There is a hushed worry on the minds of many supporters of Senator Barack Obama, echoing in conversations from state to state, rally to rally: Will he be safe?...

Yet worry they do, with the spring of 1968 seared into their memories, when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Senator Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated in a span of two months.
Mr. Obama was 6 at the time, and like many of his admirers, he has only read about the violence that traumatized the nation. But those recollections and images are often invoked by older voters, who watch his candidacy with fascination, as well as an uneasy air of apprehension, as Democrats inch closer to selecting their nominee.

Okay, okay, that's a Times "news" story, and I trust we all share a concern over the safety of all candidates, and even a sizable portion of our fellow citizenry, but it'd be nice to find a hint somewhere that we recognize the distinction between the twin martyrs of a black year forty years gone and unlettered and cost-free projections about a guy who's done nothing so far to merit the comparison beyond a presumed susceptibility to gunshot wounds.

Garry Wills noted (in his fine study of another charismatic politician) that one only has power until it is used. It'd be gratifying to find more concern about that and less about spinning every last Clinton utterance. But, like I say, I'm a Hoosier, so it's easy to pretend to withhold support when that support will never even mean the 1 in 121 million it does for others. Then again, I'm a natural-born agnostic. Meaning, in the absence of convincing evidence I should favor one centrist Democrat over another, I'll be a lot more comfortable two years down the road apologizing for not supporting the man than apologizing for having believed in him.

Sunday, February 24

Fuck David Shuster

YOU gotta be kiddin' me:
"Does it bother me that I was thrown under the bus to pay for the sins of the father? No," he says in an exclusive interview. "As somebody who's covered politics for a while, I understand all the forces that were in play."

A two-week suspension (during which you seem, if anything, to have forgotten that you're the one who apologized) is not being "thrown under the bus". Had you been fired (as you should have been) and become a pariah (only in my dreams, evidently) you would still have not been "thrown under the bus", but simply forced to pay the price for your own actions, bad faith, and failure to uphold simple professional standards (the ones in my dreams, evidently). The "forces at play" are those that determined, one, that MSNBC felt free to slag Senator Clinton, and her family, personally, viciously, without regard for fairness or veracity, and using the lowest forms of playground epithet, and after being called on this in the matter of Chris Matthews either allowed, instructed, or permitted you to continue. (And like you don't know the rules, huh?)

So your non-apology apology is now, officially, a non-apology, and your suspension is now an act of official hypocrisy and economic self-defense. Meaning, I take it, that we're not supposed to believe either you or MSNBC think there's anything really wrong with calling the Clintons felonious panders and their daughter a whore.

Way ahead of you on that one, David.

Say it again: Shuster's self-proclaimed issue was that Chelsea Clinton wouldn't speak to him, David Shuster. It's stupidity beyond belief. This is the United Fucking States of Hi I'm Elvis Costello for Lexis, Hi I'm Will Farrell And My Latest Remake Of Every Movie I've Ever Made While Wearing Humorously Anachronistic Clothing Is Brought To You By Sugar Frosted Shit In A Tube, Eat Some NOW. For fuck's sake. Even assuming Chelsea Clinton is on the hustings because someone's holding a trust fund over her head (though, unlike the Bush Twins, Ms Clinton gives every appearance of being able to survive without one), no one could possibly give a shit about this sort of thing and remain sane.  Here's Shuster refusing to apologize by email to the Clinton campaign, and even refusing to acknowledge that what he said, not his "point", was what was objectionable. It's interesting to note that he manages to express himself for paragraphs at a time without referring to hos or snarfs or the xeriscape of Radical Feminist lady parts.  

And these are the people parsing the "racism" in every Clinton utterance.  

Hey, and while we're at it, a big Doghouse Riley digital steamer to the A-list "lefty" bloggers who, having complained for eight years about what the dreaded Em Ess Em had done to this country, announced that D-Shoe was just guilty of being too honest in his choice of expression.

Friday, February 22

Say What You Will About Our New Mayor, He Was Right About The Strawberries.

INDIANAPOLIS Racist Star political apologist columnist Matt Tully, a man who appears to be having second thoughts about publicly fellating a rodeo clown, reports that Accidental Mayor Lt. Col. Gomer F. Ballard told a local businessman he'd like to create a Chinatown on the city's southside, and hopes to corner the market on North American cricket.  No, I did not start drinking early.

That's Quite A Standing Order You've Got, Straight Shooter! The Gentlewoman Yields! Insert That Rider! More Motions! More Motions!

IT  was 5:30; I was lying in bed reading while my Poor Wife watched MSNBC, having already heard the local weather six times in the previous thirty minutes, and the BREAKING NEWS video of the blazing US embassy caught the corner of my eye. I propped myself up on an elbow to watch. At the end of it the hairdo read a statement from John McCain moderately deploring the violence and urging all people of goodwill to start acting like NATO runs the world before HE HAS TO TURN THIS CAR AROUND, You Hear Me? 'Cause he will.

Typically, I'm wondering what th' hell John McCain is doing in the story, but then the hairdo says something to the effect that McCain must welcome the opportunity to talk about something other that the day's other Big Breaking News. There is no way I could make this stuff up.

"What's that about?" asks the PW.

"I have no idea," I said.

And I didn't, and they returned to their coverage of the Big Breaking News Allegedly Involving an Unnamed McCain Appendage, a story from the front page of the Times, and I told her I must not have read the Times. So when I roused myself enough to go downstairs I checked in on it, and found to my surprise that I had read the Times, or skimmed it, and the Hot McCain on Lobbyist Action was there under the headline:
For McCain, Self-Confidence on Ethics Poses Its Own Risk

Which, I think you'll agree, falls somewhere short of Selling the Sizzle. Just like Evel Knievel fell somewhat short of jumping that canyon. The first time around I'd figured it was some sort of campaign eyeglass-stem-chewer designed to balance coverage of a Democratic race which still includes candidates people want to vote for. So I read the article, belatedly, and the first thing that comes to mind is that they should have translated the dirty parts into Latin.  

(For those of you under seventy-five, they used to do that in learned journals so that only educated people could read them for the dirty parts.)  

My father will admit to you that he never changed a diaper in his life.  He's no macho posturer; it's merely a testament to what gender roles were a mere half-century ago.  Plus when you see him tell it you notice he has some difficulty to this day in not vomiting at the mere thought. The modern Timesman finds himself with the same visceral reaction, apparently, but forced to take a couple of good lungfuls regardless:
Convinced the relationship had become romantic, some of his top advisers intervened...
Mr. McCain, 71, and the lobbyist, Vicki Iseman, 40, both say they never had a romantic relationship....
By then, according to two former McCain associates, some of the senator’s advisers had grown so concerned that the relationship had become romantic...
Mr. McCain said that the relationship was not romantic.
So, they were just humping like seasoned-up rodents in a squalid alley, I guess. It's sad to see that romance is dead even among the older generation.

Self-confidence on ethics! How many hours were spent in the stifling environs of the word smithy to forge that gate topper? We remind ourselves that someone wrote that headline, went home, and did not stick his head in the oven.

We remind you: these are the people who are supposed to be covering the torture scandal enhanced interrogation techniques story.

Thursday, February 21

In Fairness, In Those Days You Only Had One Thing To Fear.

ON one of the occasions over the past two weeks when I could watch television I happened upon the last half of Bill Moyers' interview with Susan Jacoby, author of The Age of American Unreason. From Laura Miller's Salon review:
To top it all off, when [Jacoby] was invited back to her alma mater, Michigan State University, to receive an honorary award, she struck up a conversation with an honors student in the College of Communications Arts, only to find that the young woman had never even heard of Franklin D. Roosevelt's fireside chats.

Overview of the College of Communications Arts & Sciences, from the MSU site:
The departments of Advertising, Public Relations, and Retailing, Communication, Communicative Sciences and Disorders, Telecommunication, Information Studies, and Media and the School of Journalism offer programs leading to the Bachelor of Arts, Master of Arts, and Doctor of Philosophy degrees. Students work with their advisors to establish an individual program of study designed to prepare the students to meet their desired career goals.

So, out of those five (it's five; turns out they have a little problem with punctuation at the CCAS) how many would dictate a student be familiar with the Fireside Chats? As many as two? Are people who have "heard of" the Fireside Chats more knowledgeable than those who haven't? How many of them could do more than identify FDR as their source? (I've heard a couple--and read a couple more along the way--mostly because I went to a high school with its own radio station, and so I heard The Hindenburg Disaster and The Miracle of Coogan's Bluff and The Inner Sanctum and The Results of Fibber McGee Opening That Closet, but by the time I got to college and took the introductory Radio & Television course I found it was two weeks of history and four months of Business, and FDR turned up as the guy who signed the Communications Act of 1934 and was mean to bankers.) The final Fireside Chat took place more than forty years before that young woman was born. It's like asking me to discourse on the Elkins Act.

I have a lot of sympathy with this sort of thing in the general: we're an anti-intellectual society. So what else is new? It's not really demonstrated by the number of people who can't find Syria on a map, or who'd rather socialize by text message than have a decent discussion about the merits of laissez-faire capitalism.   It's more likely demonstrated by our anti-intellectualism.  

Why do studies show our young people are so appallingly ignorant of world geography? Because you can't get older people to take the test.

Hell, Jacoby has visited college campuses? I've read through comments at the Indianapolis Racist Star, where you cannot for the life of you figure out how these people manage to decide which face of the keyboard is supposed to point up. People who try and fail to locate the Middle East on a map are still demonstrating a capacity for abstract thought many Americans will never master, or even glimpse, and most of them have an internet connection. I bow to no one in this arena, Susan. And I will defend at whatever cost the idea that we might as well give the fuck up and just enjoy the ride.

But then I saw her with Bill Moyers, and I liked her despite the book, and her point about the Fireside Chats, that modern Presidents have no talent for, nor make any effort towards, educating the public was perfectly illustrated by the example of (Bill) Clinton Healthcare, which was simply dumped on the public as a 900-page fait accompli, and so was easy pickin's for the insurance industry.

And the bright boys of Left Blogtopia want to talk about...superdelegates, and brokered conventions, and racist attacks. How did we get here again, exactly? 2008 finds you running against the most catastrophically awful administration in our history,  and its toadying surrogates, all members of a party which has proven itself crookeder 'n deregulated car dealer with scoliosis. And your bright boys are arguing about campaign staffs. There's an issue that'll galvanize the electorate.

Look. Ronald Reagan sought his party's nomination for sixteen years. He had buggyloads of Bircher money behind him, and he managed to defeat titans such as George H.W. Bush and Harold Stassen for the Republican nomination, then defeated a sitting President so unpopular Stassen would have had a chance against him. If you want to marvel at someone using the power of communication, try Ross Perot, who did precisely that educational, or "educational" thing, and who managed to convince 18% of the voting populace to support him despite being a funny-looking crank. To me that's a helluva bigger accomplishment than Reagan sweeping the board against an out-of-favor party he'd pinned ten years of bad economy on, while riding the crest of Nixon's Southern Strategy.

Last week brave Indiana blogger Doug Masson--an Obama supporter--wrote about the experience of going to familiar Democratic haunts and confronting unfriendly sentiments; I would suggest that what's more disturbing than cranky comments is going where one expects intelligent commentary and finding horserace touts thicker'n Irish bacon. It would make sense if Democrats were choosing between a liberal and a centrist, but they aren't. Can't say I understand why people who as recently as a year ago were insisting the Bush administration was about to invade Iran would now rather beat each other over the head. Maybe somebody needs to explain it to me.

Wednesday, February 20

Shoe Pinches Other Foot; Film At Eleven.

DID I ever tell you the one about the garlic bread?

I was a junior in college. I'd given up my downtown apartment that summer to come home and work, and I wound up living way out by the mall, on the opposite side of town from my old school-year job. I had no car. I needed a job. I took one at a franchise "Italian" "restaurant" chain. There probably should be two sets of quotes around each. The only thing about the place that wasn't cheesy was the cheese. Plastic grapevines ran around the top of the booths, for that touch of Old World elegance.

I quickly found myself running the pizza ovens, which was, like, the single skill position in the place and the only one where you had to Give A Shit, since it meant repeatedly plunging your arms into a 550º oven. The oven guy had to coordinate the activities of all the other line workers--pizza makers, sandwich makers, the guy who dropped the pre-measured, pre-overcooked loads of spaghetti, or "spaghetti", back into boiling water for a minute. The place was generally busy, because a) it was a chain restaurant and b) this is Indiana.

It was run by an early-thirties couple who had two screaming brats and who had fallen for the franchisee pitch somewhere. They'd had the place about a year. They had no idea what they were doing, except Being Their Own Boss, and no desire to get their hands dirty or spend any more time than necessary in the place. Which meant that most nights they occupied a booth in the corner while their brats ran screaming though the kitchen, and every so often Dad would turn up to complain about something. They loved me, because I worked hard and was too naive to realize that anyone who worked hard in that situation should demand his hourly wage be tripled.

As such things go, this one went. With that first year under their belt, and probably the chain breathing down their neck for increased profits, they soon decided they weren't quite making enough money, despite the solid business. The boss turned grouchy. He'd jump onto the line for ten minutes "to show people how to move faster", apparently without considering that these were college students, and thus reasonably aware that anyone could work fast for ten minutes, provided he could go sit down again and never clean up after himself.  Also around this time somebody on the day shift got fired for coming to work high. What the hell did you imagine any of us was working there for?

And so, in the flick of a switch it went from being a not-real-pleasant job to an unpleasant place to work, but, hey, it was a paycheck.

Then they bought a Dymo Label Maker.

What I think may have happened is that he'd written notes and stuck them up around the place, and some college wise guy defaced them or tore them down or something. So he availed himself of the high-tech solution, like any good American who wants to avoid making the effort to personally solve a problem. Overnight those little motherfuckin' tape labels are everywhere, and they're telling you to do stupid shit you do automatically, every day, like SET OVENS TO 550, or CHANGE PANS AT NIGHT. It hadn't been codified, but even back then ALL CAPS was perceived as boorishness, even with no real typeface alternatives.  

This being a restaurant, the major weapon to hand was Extremely Hot Metal or Liquids, and within a week most of those labels looked like a battalion of plastic Army men that had unexpectedly encountered an enemy with magnifying glass technology.

I wasn't a ringleader. Honest. I think I melted one particularly obnoxious label. Of course getting a direct refutation of the Non-Communicative Control Method just made the boss madder. So he called in the big guns from Corporate, and called a Mandatory Meeting. Now, to me the definition of "Mandatory Meeting" is one that I don't want to miss. So I skipped it. Firing would cost them more than it cost me.

And I turned up for my shift a couple days later, still employed, and the boss puts an avuncular arm around me like I'm his co-conspirator, because everyone else has now gone from thinking he's an asshole to actively hating his guts and plotting his demise.   And he starts to fill me in on all the Exciting New Changes around the place. The prep line sports a series of sawed-off red translucent picnic glasses of various sizes with two Dymo labels each: the weight in ounces of shredded cheese each one holds, and the size pizza that volume of cheese is designed for. There's a similar set for meat (Board of Health on Line 2!).  There's a DYMO label for each size pizza with the number of pepperoni that are to go on it. He's showing me these things like they're a combination of the latest economic breakthrough and the most attractive perks of a lodge he's trying to get me to join.

"Now, one thing we talked about was this problem with the garlic bread," he says after the tour is done.

And, see, to that point I'd never heard there was a problem with the garlic bread. It was mini-sub loaves sliced and slathered with butter and garlic powder and popped in the pizza oven, and it went out with every "spaghetti" order. 

"You know how you've been getting it too done?" he asks. No, I didn't. "Well, what you need to do is put your finger in the middle of each loaf. When it's hot in the middle it's done."

Okay, first of all, you and your corporate overlords are fucking nuts, even though I knew that before.   I haven't been getting garlic bread "too done." I've never heard a single complaint about garlic bread. And if I'd heard a hundred it's not gonna get me to stick my finger in everyone's food. It's a fact that you people want to bake it 100º too high because that's what the pizza ovens are set for, and you don't want to spring for aluminum foil to wrap it in, so you have to push it to make sure it gets warm in the center.  It winds up brown,  but it's never "too done".

Of course I didn't say this out loud. I just stood there like I was interested as he set up an empirical test. Garlic bread was brought out and placed in the oven.

My recollection is that it was pulled out three times for the finger test, since he had no sense  of timing.  The second time it was done, and warm in the center, but not sufficient for the new digital penetration standard. The third and final time it The color of your toast when it's started to smoke before you take it out. Except shiny from the butter.

"There. See, it's hot all the way through, and it's a lot lighter than you've been getting it."

I looked down at that smoking briquette for a moment, and then I looked him square in the eye. I'm a twenty-year-old corn-fed Midwestern boy, and despite nine hours of psychology credits  I had no idea anyone would ever lie to someone like that. I took off my apron, draped it over the sheet pan he was holding, marched back to the time clock, punched out, and went through the back door while he yelled, "Hey, where you going?" at my back.

I think something broke in my head that evening.

Black is White! It isn't that I'd never run into that before; I'd just never seen someone consciously risking soul-death for the sake of some trivial advantage up close and personal. I've seen it twice since--both times cops; it's why they wear shades whenever possible--but the power to shock was gone.

MY intermittent DSL service over the past couple weeks (Solved! And This Time We Mean It!) distracted me from blogging about Marine Lt. Col. Gomer "The Accidental Mayor" Ballard's embarrassing performance before the World's Third-Worst State Legislature™ last week, in which a guy who basically, if anonymously, ran for mayor on a platform of jumping in front of the Giant Teabag Property Tax Revolt and his Secret Plan To Cut Taxes and the Budget admitted, in broken English, that he had no plan other than asking the State to cover any shortfalls, and explained, approximately thirty times, that this was due to his being new on the job. The irony of this was not lost on the Tax-Revolt Pimps on local news; you could tell because they carefully avoiding covering his testimony beyond his prepared statement.

But the real square-in-the-eyes moment came from the Indianapolis Racist Star, first when political apologist columnist Matt Tully reviewed the performance last Wednesday under the headline "Mayor Steady Under Grilling On Tax Relief".  By Sunday Tully had apparently dug himself out of the pile of rotten vegetables, to where he could offer Charles Foster Kane Defeated! Fraud At Polls! this:
Ballard's average-guy persona, and even his sometimes-stammering method of public speaking, is in many ways refreshing in this era of smooth-talking politicians. It goes well with Ballard's back-to-the-basics pledge to focus on everyday issues such as crime and potholes.

Yup. Been a long time since we've seen a stammering politician who can't articulate a single thought in public.   A real treat.

And suddenly state legislators "seem to be going too far", because they're moving to enact the 1% cap the governor was rounding praised for offering up six months ago.

That was just the sideshow, though, as the three-column front page graphic read: Prepare For CUTS. With scissors graphic. Marion County is spending more than it takes in! This was known in the previous administration! Somehow the bastards managed to keep it secret from the Racist Star, which would have been sure to splash a three-color warning on the front page last summer right alongside all the dramatic snaps of protestors. Suddenly, property taxes "pay for things like schools and police and fire protection". And suddenly we need those things.

Suddenly road salt costs money. Suddenly our fleet of DOT trucks is aging and needs replacement.

This year the legislature is overreacting to an election-year issue. Last year a Revolt of the Peasants of Meridian-Kessler kicked the tax-raisin' bums to the curb.

So how do you take your steak, Mr. Tully? Burned to a crisp Rare, or burned to a crisp Medium?

Tuesday, February 19

Fuck Steve Jobs

I believe that what is wrong with our schools in this nation is that they have become unionized in the worst possible way. This unionization and lifetime employment of K-12 teachers is off-the-charts crazy.

Steve Jobs

Just imagine. The whole world wired to Harry Cohn's ass.

Herman Mankiewicz

"Hey, man, where you goin'?"

"I'm goin' to class."

"Man, you
always goin' to class."

from Overheard in the Hallways, Vol. II

OF course some of us think--and have said so on several occasions--that the only thing wrong with our system of public education is that overpaid, over-praised, egomaniacal gizmo marketers (Jobs), software pirates (Gates), or old-school brigands (Welch) think a coterie of ass-kissers proves their personal bungholes taste like apple danish.

Th' fuck? When was the last time Steve Jobs was in a public school, or talked to a teacher or a student (or, more to the point, a principal)? Where would he go at Apple to find someone with a GED? I have no idea what makes anyone imagine the CEO of a technology firm has the standing to critique secondary education, but I now know what the counter-argument is.
What kind of person could you get to run a small business if you told them that when they came in they couldn't get rid of people that they thought weren't any good?" Not really great ones because if you're really smart you go, "I can't win."

Steve Jobs

"Really smart", of course, as embodied by...Steve Jobs.

And this is a(nother) guy who famously dropped out of college in his freshman year, who became a multi-millionaire genius by capturing 8% of the exploding personal computer market with someone else's invention, and who would be back home tinkering with the next NEXT if the Apple board hadn't re-elected him Prom King and the iPod hadn't proved the preferred miniature premature-hearing-loss provider of the early 21st century. In the interim Jobs bought himself a company that produces brightly-colored computer-animated baby sitters and product-licensing machines; today he's overseen the vast network of corporate agreements which allows you to watch Jackass: The Movie on your telephone, provided you aren't presently screaming into while walking down the cereal aisle. Some of us might suggest that this, rather than the inability of high-school seniors to perform any better than the general public in a Find Afghanistan On The Map exercise, is the real demonstration of the failure of public education.  Maybe education is not exactly in your best interests, Steve.  

I mean, I know a guy who became an electrician's apprentice right out of high school who may now have more money than Jobs. It's probably close. He might also have a collection of half-remembered, third-hand anecdotes about Our Failing Schools, but if so he doesn't promote them in public. (Then again, the number of full-time speech-writing toadies he employs is surprisingly small.)

Okay, enough of the ad hominems (they're justified because that's the full extent of Jobs' argument); let's deal with this warmed-over Gospel According to John Stossel once more:

• Bad teachers can't be fired. Unlike Jobs I don't have a Wi-Fi lossless psychic connection to every union contract in the cosmos, but I know one pretty well, and in Indianapolis Public Schools a new teacher can pretty much be fired at will for the first two years, although, sadly, not simply at the whim of a godlike Principal,  but through an evaluation process. After that it gets a little tougher (and why shouldn't it?), mostly in that teacher evaluations are less frequent, plus (and one hesitates to explain the obvious to our 21st century seers) the teacher now has a track record. How many good evaluations should a bad evaluation negate? Four? Fourteen?

(This puts me in mind of the decade my Poor Wife spent outside the gigantic Union Featherbed that is public education, working for a couple of studios. The first was in transition from the leadership of the guy who founded it to that of his two daughters, who managed to combine various untreated psychopathies with the absolute assurance that their good sense in inheriting a business was sufficient proof of their Mensa-level business judgment. My wife became the shop steward, in part through her quiet expertise, but also through actually putting up with these nitwits, something she'd later regret.

(And so she was given the occasional glimpse into the inner sanctum, and what passed for thought in the rarefied air. One of them confided to her that "they knew a business owner" whose invariable practice was to fire every one of his employees after two years, without exception, because by that time they had learned to cut corners and developed bad attitudes (gee, there's a shock, huh?).  This seemed to them a Very Good Idea.  

(Of course it was my wife, not they, who knew how difficult it was to find people with the requisite artistic ability and low income expectation, and just how long it took to get them to master the technical requirements of the job. And she knew how totally nuts those two were, so it didn't really surprise her when she later learned that the paragon of smart business practice in question operated a dry cleaners.)

The main thing seniority grants a teacher at IPS is first call on job openings, all other things being equal (and why shouldn't it?).

We might mention in passing that the no-union solution has been in operation for years now, in the form of charter schools, whose predicted miracle results have, as with the Iraq war, tended to repeated devaluation as the actual vote tallies rolled in.

• Let principals be CEOs. One is tempted to ask, rather more pointedly this time, when the last time Jobs met a public school principal was. I know it may be difficult to believe from the moral aerie that is Silicon Valley, but there occasionally exist petty, venial, self-aggrandizing educators with administrative licenses who occasionally promote personal whim, small-time grudges, or outright cronyism over the needs of the system. Shocking, I know. But I could name names. And places and dates.

• Our failing schools. Look, one, I don't believe it's possible to be a success even in such a marginally intellectual activity as mass marketing and think like this.   How many failures has Apple chalked up?  Where would it be without that tiny musical device?

Steve, you're welcome to drop by my castle and interview my neighbors. They think our suburban school district is one of the best in the state. A ten-minute drive'll take us to Hamilton county, where they spend like sailors on a spree and like to imagine they get a hell of a lot in return. It's like that all over the country--except in impoverished inner-city districts--people think their own schools are just fine; it's Those Others that collect demagogy and spray paint. 

And we know, we've known for over forty years, or since we first bothered to look, that the major predictor of academic success is socio-economic status. Fighting poverty, providing sound nutrition and adequate health care, and giving people below the poverty line a fair shake and the hope of decent employment would do a hell of a lot more for public education than those cadres of virtual software engineers who just can't wait to teach junior-high math, but are prevented from doing so by greedy union bosses.

Funny how that sort of thing never enters into Buck Rogers' Geek Utopia.

Thursday, February 14

Chin Music

"You know, Roger Clemens, unless it's proven that he used steroids, and so far, I haven't seen anything like -- if he did, he ought to be held accountable -- but Roger Clemens is a baseball -- he's a titan in baseball."
Rep. Dan Burton, noted civil libertarian

(It ought to be noted that even in Indiana, even in his gerrymandered expanse of caucasoid utopia, there are Republicans trying to defeat him in the May primary by running an actual sane person.)

OH, of course I jinxed it, and the broadband connection died like moth in a bug zapper sometime in the early afternoon, the good news being that six hours later it reset itself for the first time in four days, plus two more AT&Ters offered to provide me with excellent service. The reset lasted two hours, then two subsequent outages also righted themselves. Then it went out for good, and another tech showed up to tell me what the others had already told me, and now another pole climber is on his way. The happy frame is that whatever service I do get I'm not paying for.

The timing of the first was fortuitous, since it prevented me from breaking a rule about commenting on other people's comments about my comments on someone else's blog's comments, unless I've been wildly unclear about something, since there's little I hate more about Blogtopia than one of those cascading A-list threads with seven different personal arguments going on at once, and going on at length.

Fortunately this blog has no such rule. So the only thing which prevents me from mentioning that some of  the fine folks at If I Ran The Zoo, whose work and wit I esteem, nevertheless exhibit the occasional symptoms of a thin-skinnedness which must make strong sunlight an ordeal, is my better judgment.  Like I have better judgment.

We begin with the effervescent Tom Hilton, whose sprightly comments around town had led me to his blog in the first place. Tom proves to be a man with an admirable willingness to jump into a thread where a lesser man might've hesitated due to complete lack of interest or knowledge of the topic. Like a fireman who braves the burning building, caring nothing for his own skin, in order to save a foundling, Tom heard one of my pitiful internet cries for help and sprang to the rescue:
Doghouse Riley: if you're one of the sad, deluded people who actually give a shit about sports, then within your frame of reference you have a point.

Leave us back up for a moment. The thread, at LG&M, began with D's brief post about Tom Davis calling the hearings "a new definition of the word 'lynching' ". By the time I got to the comments, four hours later, they comprised about six versions of "Why is Congress bothering with this shit?" The comments, by the way, came from dedicated sports fans, not from people who share Mr. Hilton's low opinion of people who enjoy watching children's games played by adults for money, and this on a blog which regularly discusses sports.

Now, as it happens, I do believe Congress should care about this shit, which had led me to reply:
Am I the only one who believes that, in a time when pandemic cheating has led to even innocent Americans being forced to return Olympic medals, when a mundane match leads to all of professional tennis residing under a cloud that will not blow away, when America's Cycling Hero can't get away from accusations of doping, when professional baseball, football, and basketball are under suspicion, if not actually convicted, when the only sport left untainted, golf, is not actually a sport, that this whole "Why doesn't the Congress worry about important stuff" bit is a little past its shelf date?

Just for the record, I was also informed that there was a war on in Iraq which Congress could be doing something about. By someone who had commented twice that afternoon to a thread about sports, and who apparently believes the reason the Democratic-controlled Congress has for the last two years continued to sign blank checks for the war's prosecution, rather than cutting off the spigot, was that they've been too busy with mundanities to really take a look at it.

So it seems necessary to point out that what my post actually says is that what we see, clearly, in both amateur and professional sport is a rather accurate reflection of the whole libertarian-Republican ethos run amok, with cheating that used to constitute a once in a generation, if not century, scale now little more than an open secret or a scandale du jour.   And it was tolerated in the name of sport; small wonder the Republican party felt no compunction about cheating to win elections, government contracts, public opinion, or really important matters. Our colleges and universities tolerate and defend a system so unethical as to be a national disgrace, for the simple reason that it brings in money. No, I don't think sports matter much beyond the people who play them--though obviously millions of Americans disagree---but I do think that honesty does.

(Here's another thing that bothers me about these periodic "Why don't they find something important to do?" deals, which are powered by sports radio: it's the inevitable crap-hurling at legislators for being boring, obtuse, preening, self-important camera-hogs. Which may well be true in far too many cases. My one retort, though, is to ask whether you imagine they're any better discussing appropriations or tax law or laser-guided anti-satellite systems. Maybe if people watched this stuff with some regularity, rather than simply to take offense that some childhood idol who turned out to be a cheating greedhead gets exposed, we could avoid all sorts of government excesses, not just those involving future VH-1 Celebrity Fat Camp contestants.)

Meanwhile, there's the matter of how the same brogan fits the other foot, as aimai, an incisive commenter whose addition to the masthead made me a daily reader over there, took offense at a reply I made to her comment at Roy's. Riley, once again, was reluctant to use someone else's forum to try to explain that what he said wasn't exactly what was imagined he'd said, a process that always takes eight paragraphs and never works. He tried and failed to find an email address to do this personally. He's a sensitive lad at heart, and he doesn't like being misunderstood.

So what happened is this: there was a long series of mock-Swiftboating of John McCain in progress, and Riley was not the only one who found it distasteful to the point of distress, and, worse, not funny. Scrolling eventually brought him to aimai's comments, which he always looks forward to. And they conclude:
The trick is to say "yes, wonderful that he once served his country so honorably. Its time he stepped aside and retired and let younger people take up the burden. Old men are not suited to new realities. You'll piss off some older voters, but not many if you are demonizing him at the same time, and you will thrill younger voters.

Now, before I mention my response, let me remind you, and aimai, that I was already dyspepsic from swallowing all that tainted water on the way down, and that my stated position is that "thrilling younger voters" ranks up there with "galvanizing Civil War re-enactors" as a sound political maneuver, doubly so when it involves casting aside the Enlarged Prostate and Hip Replacement vote as irredeemably, even terminally, unfashionable. And so I said:
Fer cryin' out loud, aimai. We're not electing a new CEO of Apple.

Which she seems to have taken as my suggestion she'd drunk deep of Obama's Cheery Cherry, Now With 10% Real Fruit Juice.

And for which I apologize, since I know, and assumed she knew I know, that she's a nuanced Obama voter, and, besides, I'm not even running around poking the real choir members with a stick anymore.  Gave me tennis elbow. 

I was unhappy with the personal attacks on McCain. I'm unhappy with the selling of the notion that people over 65 can't understand "the new realities". Like the man said, they've been your age. You've never been theirs.

And here's the thing: with his most recent round of ascendancy there's suddenly this weird confluence of Obama support grafted onto attack-dog approach to campaigning. There're any number of Democrats out there screaming for blood, and voting for bloodlessness. It makes no sense. Nuanced support is still support; if your man is wrong in the particulars you ought to demand an accounting. Obama has touted Dick Lugar as the sort of man he'd work with. Lugar's voting record is not that much different from McCain's, except he didn't object to our failed military operations in Iraq after they were under way; McCain did, but then backtracked. The "new reality" is the old reality with an iPhone. As always, much will be determined by the makeup of the next Congress. There's twice as many Republican seats up this fall, but nearly half of those are in the Confederacy. If Senator Obama has coattails that reach into Dixie he may be in a position to effect Change, circumstances permitting. No one knows at this point, and those of us who have volunteered to act as designated driver and help sweep up any of the giddy revelers now so thrilled by primary turnouts ought not to face abuse for it.  Otherwise, he has a honeymoon, and it will last until he proffers his first budget.

I do not expect racism to become a part of the real campaign; I remain agnostic on the shocking news that John Derbyshire is a bigot or that the rest of the gang at the Corner will fling shit for the amusement of the people peering into their cage. I do not believe this represents a new reality, but an old one: it would hand Obama a potent weapon he could use later. The people who actually operate such things are not the silly Corner gang. If they can't find exploitable weakness they'll take their lumps in November and attack the execution of our new post-partisanship. Republicans aren't afraid to act like an opposition party, and they will cling to their belief that one terrorist-related headline puts them back on top.  

Meanwhile, I agree with Paul Krugman, to some extent at least, that candidate Obama has left fingerprints that President Obama will find difficult to remove. His supporters keep referring me to his actual position statements, which, in fact, I'd already consumed. We're going to finish the fight in Afghanistan? Chase al-Qaeda into Pakistan? Rebuild the military? Fully fund No Child Left Behind (which will somehow keep teachers from teaching the test)? And "practice fiscal restraint"? Good-we're gonna need a trillion dollars worth in the next couple of years alone. Or we could raise that much in postpartisan tax increases.

That ain't cynicism; it's a healthy if flinty skepticism, which may be as out of fashion these days as Grandpa's union suit, but which similarly covers a lot of things that ought to be covered.

Wednesday, February 13


file photo

• Broadband problems look to be repaired, as we've presently been connected for fifteen and one-half hours straight, tying the record set last Wednesday. In between were five calls to tech services, router replacement, port replacement, replacement of something in The Box, and assorted line repair "from the Other Side", which I take to mean "the office", though my Poor Wife's suggestion that any of several otherwise mundane occurrences ("didn't this all start just after it rained so hard/you got your computer back?") could be at fault had led me to look for Shamans in the Yellow Pages. You'd think a city of this size would have at least one, but if so they don't advertise.

Finally, we got a technician who had been here before. Of the four he was the one who'd done the most cursory work, and whose repair had proven the briefest, not that three hours versus four is such a big deal. I was in despair when he called ahead and reminded me of his identity, but it actually worked in our favor, as he was disinclined to do much beyond checking the line, which, as it turned out, was Still Fucked. So he explained he was calling in the INF, or the CRT, or some such band who turn out to be the Guys Who Climb Poles. At this point I had experienced what the uninitiated call "service" roughly 45 minutes out of the last 30 hours, and I figured it would be the next morning before I saw the guy, but he turned up an hour later, explained he needed to unplug service to every American telephone and telegraphic device in the house, and I almost asked him how much it would be to forget to plug them back in.

Then he drove off. Presumably he didn't like the looks of our local pole, and wanted to climb a different one. He retuned about forty minutes later, audibly fiddled with something in The Box, then rang the doorbell.

I invited him in for coffee. He came in but declined the beverage service. I think there must be an urban legend about doped repairmen waking up to find a missing kidney or a new job guarding a serraglio; oddly, the only guys who ever accept are plumbers. He wanted to see if the system would power up, but it already had! Empirically satisfied he proceeded to explain my week in the Intermittent 19th Century House:

"Well, I went up, and I had to set the Gain all the way up so I could see clear, and there it was, at the end of the line! There was an old Delmonico splice* there (this he indicated with opposed claw hands) which was fine if you were only running 18 or 19, but it's not gonna handle 22. "

"Dammit," I said. "That's exactly what I told 'em over the phone last Thursday."
* I don't remember what sort of splice he said it was. I should have asked him to write it down.

• This reminds me that I never got around to writing up my experience with The Apple Store as a pitch to the Sci-Fi Channel. It reminds me because AT&T phone sex operators are required to say, "This is so-and-so. How may I provide you with excellent service today?" Well, for starters, you can stop talking like that.

And because these people are forced to say this for eight hours at a sitting, it always comes out like a single word, which means it takes two or three calls before you start believing your own ears, which means you're already pissed off because your problem has taken two or three calls and still isn't fixed.

Okay, so you're way ahead of me. The world is run by people who are still working out their sexual frustrations from high school; otherwise they'd be off having sex instead of thinking up crypto-fascist slogans that couldn't possibly fool anyone and forcing everyone who works for them to repeat them over and over until they quit.   But then, if there's one thing the Sixties didn't accomplish that still has the power to shock (me), it's that shit like "And, if you act now, as our free gift to you..." and "Packed with Wholesome Goodness" still floats.

Then there's The Apple Store, which you are now required to use if you need covered service from Cuppertino, which I did. I bought that refurbished iMac back in January. It survived ten days. This is not that bad; after "never thinking again about it being refurbished", breaking down quickly is the best thing that can happen. Except now you have to go to The Apple Store instead of a local Apple-certified guy who is more concerned about repairing your product than impressing you with his nerd-chic fashion sense. Plus the store itself, to my continual amazement, is, whatever the day or time, crammed full of customers who are either there to admire the nerd-chic fashion sense of the people who work there or to get help picking out The Right iPod/iPhone for Them! instead of picking one up at Target for what I assume must be thousands of dollars less, judging by what Apple charges for memory.

I've owned Macs for twenty years, back when that engendered tiresome Ford vs. Chevy or VHS vs. Beta arguments, all the more tiresome because the people who take part in them are inevitably wrong. But it cannot be that way anymore, which is why walking into The Apple Store is like finding yourself at a Green Day concert in 1991 when you remember what real Punk was. Hey kids, nice to see ya, don't ever lose that utter cluelessness, okay? Luv ya just the way U R.

Anyway, what Apple figured out--and I have to give them credit for this--is the solution to the aesthetic problem that has plagued American business since we turned into a service economy in the 1970s, namely, how to provide service that reflects the truly democratic, egalitarian, don't-tread-on-me, it's-my-fucking-break society in which we live, as opposed to that robotic, Hi I'm Todd Your Waiter Tonite HowMayIProvideYouWithExellentService? Faux-Brit bullshit.

And the solution was really simple; it's been with us since the Reagan administration solved the tricky problem of unfairly Government-regulated labeling of Bovine byproducts artificially determining meat should be "healthy" instead of profitable by proclaiming that henceforth "Choice" would be known as "Prime". So rather than bothering with trying to get an assortment of over-educated geeky misfits to perform actual customer service, Apple simply redefined service to mean, well, I'm not sure what. But not service. I was, from the time they confiscated my machine--which I was informed was sort of an imposition to begin with--Simply Ignored in every virtual, digital, Wi-Fi, and micro-miniaturized fashion you could imagine, and several, I assure you, you haven't. The place might as well have an unlisted number. Responding to emails is apparently against company policy. One is informed periodically by overhead display that one may use any computer in the store to make an appointment to talk to someone who "works" there. Or one may simply wait and be ignored, as I was at one point by a young man I was standing eighteen inches away from and staring at. It took me two trips to pick up the thing after I'd been informed (online) that it was repaired. (I never, ever heard from anybody at the store. If the whole thing wasn't under warranty I'd have had to pay for every phone call I made trying to contact them.) When it wasn't done the first time they sent out a nice young man with a terrible stammer to break the news to me. I think his job title must reflect that: probably Level Two Sympathy Communications Specialist. I was almost hoping they screwed it up the next day so I could meet Level Three. I'm guessing Very Small Child With a Black Eye and The Sniffles.

• Seriously, is there some reason I should listen to Amy Winehouse, or is my impression that she's Feist except she doesn't keep her knees together when she sits down pretty close? Is she a decent lyricist, or just another canny heroin user? She's now a multi-Grammy winning tabloid darling, which is pretty much like telling me that Newsweek called some new standup "The postpartisan Dennis Miller". Your cooperation is appreciated.

Tuesday, February 12

David Brooks Has Seen The Future, And, Believe It Or Not, It Looks A Lot Like David Brooks.

David Brooks, "When Reality Bites." February 12

IF the 60 Minutes interviews with Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton did little to combat the depression of some internet crank, now approaching clinical, over the choice of Democratic candidates, there's always tomorrow, and always another David Brooks column designed to remind us that being hopefully delusional, on purpose, is a lot worse.

Okay, so it's well past time the Times recognize the guy is simply out of ideas, and cashier him along with MoDo. Or bundle 'em with Frank Rich and send 'em all to the Arts section. Kalefa Sanneh could use the help.  Beats don't review themselves.  

Brooks' column today will be familiar to anyone whose parents ever pulled the Wait'll You Have Kids Of Your Own routine, and it's bound to be equally effective, meaning if you're nine or under you'll ignore it, and if you're older you'll probably have mastered elementary logic:
There’s a big difference between the Republican and Democratic campaigns: The Republicans have split on policy grounds; the Democrats haven’t. There’s been a Republican divide between center and right, yet no Democratic divide between center and left.

Let's pause here a moment to note that, as so often in our current traffic jam of discourse, so-called pundits seem immune to understanding that what they used to get away with--offering expert testimony on the interior decoration of their own skulls--is now so common that there are literally dozens of web sites which do the same thing. And so if the Republican "divide" between "center" and right sounds to you more like an insanity defense--My client, Your Honor, was obsessed with the distinction between the Republican "right" and "center"! I ask you.--than an approximate description of the GOP nominating process to this point, well, let's just move along and not make eye contract. Ditto, of course, for the "policy divide" which has the Annointee Apparent raking in the votes of Immigrant-Loving Republicans Opposed To Tax Cuts, as opposed to, say, his being the beneficiary of  the collapse of that inexplicable set of candidates which featured a megalomanic Mayor, a former "moderate Republican" one-term Governor who had  every wingnut policy position surgically implanted just before setting off to see how much of his own money he could waste in a year--$38 million, it turns out--which made him the choice of "conservative" Republicans right up until the voting began, that lazy Warner Brothers cartoon dog, who entered the race because there weren't any real conservatives in it, the heir apparent to Brownbackmania, a guy who is either a gibbering libertarian from Texas or Professor Irwin Corey, and, as the Gilligan's Island theme song used to put it, the Rest. If there was somebody among them running to "the center" he must have been in the back. Honest John McCain, who may be described as "moderate" in the same sense as the drinking habits of someone who drinks every morning but quits once he's drunk, has been especially notable for his offers to fellate the fringiest of the wingnuts placate the Base by any means short of selling out his immigrant-labor-lovin' contributors, though, admittedly, while Romney was still in the race every other panderer looked like a piker.
But when you think about it, the Democratic policy unity is a mirage. If the Democrats actually win the White House, the tensions would resurface with a vengeance.

And when you don't think about it, it isn't.  And if anyone's found a cat, please call Professor Schrödinger.  Or don't.  Unless it's dead, in which case you've already called.  I wouldn't bring this up, but Brooks seems to get away with at least one every column.
The first big rift would involve Iraq. Both Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have seductively hinted that they would withdraw almost all U.S. troops within 12 to 16 months. But if either of them actually did that, he or she would instantly make Iraq the consuming partisan fight of their presidency.

Unless the really big fight was over whether pronouns should agree with their antecedents. Sez you! Look, nobody's going anywhere in a hurry, regardless of campaign rhetoric. But it's not 2004, and no Democrat is going to get hung out to dry by whatever happens in Iraq. Your side fumbled, Brooks. The game's over. We don't have the manpower or the money to stay, and there's no payoff beyond pulling what's left of you Bushites' chestnuts out of the fire, which went out long ago, sometime after they were reduced to ash.  No one cares.  What ever makes the problem go away and stop interrupting The New American Gladiators will be just fine.
There would be private but powerful opposition from Arab leaders, who would fear a return to 2006 chaos. There would be irate opposition from important sections of the military, who would feel that the U.S. was squandering the gains of the previous year. A Democratic president with few military credentials would confront outraged and highly photogenic colonels screaming betrayal.

Uh, the Arab leaders who play ball with us do so because they're on the payroll, or because they depend on us to keep their chestnuts at body temperature. As for the military, if you actually bothered to look once in a while you might note that enthusiasm for the Mission is not exactly universal, their sway over public opinion has suffered a few minor setbacks in recent years, particularly when it comes to Iraq, and any highly photogenic colonel who'd like to volunteer to be cashiered will find his fifteen minutes go by in about five (particularly, I'd think, with President Clinton II, who'd love the opportunity to show that civilians were back in charge of the military, pantsuit or no). I know, Dave, I know: the fantasy of Democratic Unilateral Disarmament of the US military is a tough one to give up. You people should have thought about that while you were fucking up everything you touched. Not like no one tried to tell ya.
There would be important criticism from nonpartisan military experts. In his latest report, the much-cited Anthony Cordesman describes an improving Iraqi security situation that still requires “strategic patience” and another five years to become self-sustaining.

Some will say, "It's a shame Anthony Cordesman isn't running for President"; but I say, "It's just too bad he isn't willing to pay for the next five years out of his own pocket".
All dreams of changing the tone in Washington would be gone. All of Obama’s unity hopes would evaporate. And if the situation did deteriorate after a quick withdrawal, as the National Intelligence Estimate warns, the bloodshed would be on the new president’s head.

Look, I agree with you: "unity" requires placating all the same morons who've been flogging the war all along, and y'all will be raising a stink no matter what's done. But that isn't the "unity" of Senator Obama, not once he's President Obama; if ay, his will be the "unity" of y'all shutting the fuck up now that your chance is over.

I don't believe the man is a so-called Progressive in centrist skin; I think he's a centrist. I don't like the post-partisan leg pull, and I don't think he or anyone else can govern that way. But I do think that if he's elected such attacks will fail until and unless he takes a major stumble. Much of the argument about his "electability" is facile, but nonetheless true: unless he has the shit knocked out of him during the campaign he'll have an exceptional honeymoon period, and an opportunity to shape the Iraq war in the direction it is naturally headed--we don't have the manpower to stay, but we cannot simply abandon our little adventure without risking even more American lives--and the direction everyone in Washington knows it must. Surge talk is for rubes, Dave.
The left wing of the party would go into immediate uproar. They’d scream: This was a central issue of the campaign! All the troops must get out now!

The Left is already beaten, Dave. The Left has no candidate. There are people on the left who, come Spring, 2010, will be finding ways of explaining why our Iraq policy has reverted to Spring, 2008. That's their problem. Democrats have a long history of this sort of thing. For Senator Clinton, hawkishness is already built into the equation. But maybe Ted Kennedy could run against her in 2012.
The president would have to make a terrible decision.

He or she already does, and it's going to be governed by the facts on the ground: no precipitous withdrawal, no manpower for a 1000 year war. This is a straightforward thing to explain to a public which doesn't want to be there anymore anyway. I'm not sure why you Republican toadies still believe your own croaking about this, but it's over, Dave. Been over for more than three years now.
Which brings us to second looming Democratic divide: domestic spending. Both campaigns now promise fiscal discipline, as well as ambitious new programs. These kinds of have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too vows were merely laughable last year when the federal deficit was running at a manageable $163 billion a year. But the economic slowdown, the hangover from the Bush years and the growing bite of entitlements mean that the federal deficit will almost certainly top $400 billion by 2009. The accumulated national debt will be in shouting distance of the $10 trillion mark. With that much red ink, the primary-season spending plans are simply ridiculous.

First, this has been a rallying cry in every national election I've been a part of, but rarely, if ever, when the party which had wrecked the Treasury could be so clearly defined. But mostly I just wanted to quote a national spokesman for Banko-Americans and charter member of the Reagan Kidz Club calling $163 billion deficits "manageable".

Monday, February 11

Memory Lane and Blind Alleys

SO it was my week to fill my mom's pillbox. (It takes about three minutes, and it's $35 a week if the staff does it, which must break down like some Thomas Alva Edison deal: $1 for filling the pillbox, $34 for bothering to do it correctly.) My sister and I alternate, and we both time it so we get there a little before Church, as that gives her something to talk about besides demanding she be given her checkbooks and driven immediately to Central Florida. She was sound asleep, so I tiptoed in an' filled the thing and left.

She was sound asleep with both the teevee and her bedside radio on, although we've asked them to keep an eye out for this sort of behavior. Those voices become real to her all too easily. And, Lord knows, it's tough enough listening to her go on about how her dead husband had kidnapped two young girls and now is demanding money (which is why she needs the checkbooks); if she starts channelling Tim Russert I'm through going out there.

(By the way, the dawn brought news from her assisted living center that DirecTV was there to hook up her satellite service, which had them a bit discombobulated since they know as well as anyone that operating a device consisting of a large, solitary, ON/OFF toggle, black on a white background, is beyond her often as not, let alone the sort of remote-control possibilities that presently challenge my Poor fully-cognitively-functional Wife, not to mention that the assortment of voices available to get trapped inside her head which emanate from her basic cable set-up are already sufficient to her needs. The installer, said to be an amiable sort, and not without human-feeling, explained to Susan At The Desk that the service was sold over the phone by Third Parties. I told my sister [who has her Power of Attorney] to be sure to mention that as part of the lawsuit.)

It was Mr. Potato Head himself on the tube, talking to Mike Huckabee, and in getting down to the real nitty gritty of Beltway insider hardball stuff, Timmy played Huck a clip of the Romney campaign suspension speech. You know, the one that ran:
"If I fight on in my campaign, all the way to the convention, I would forestall the launch of a national campaign and make it more likely that Senator Clinton or Obama would win. And in this time of war, I simply cannot let my campaign be a part of aiding a surrender to terror."

That's the part NBC chose to excerpt, and you can imagine my utter shock when Russert's real nitty gritty Beltway insider hardball stuff turned out to be asking Huckabee why he didn't quit under the same terror-fightin' formula. Gee, and here I thought he was gonna ask the former Arkansas governor who, I am given to understand, is running for President of the United States of America, emphasis mine,  to maybe distance himself from the Democrats-as-Traitors meme, not to explain to an eager nation, or that portion of it sufficiently demented to leave Tim Russert on, why his own continuing campaign was risking aid to the Surrender Above All Else faction when the saintly, moderate, maverick standard bearer of the party had already been chosen, and probably owes Timmy into the bargain.

I mean, Get Ready for It, Murrica! If there's been little reliance on the "You Obama people better expect your man to be slimed next if Hillary goes down" argument in these parts it's because I'm not sure that's the case, certainly not to the extent that Hillary's taken heavy artillery from the likes of MSNBC. And once we reach the general election the overwhelming disgust with the Bush administration and Republican rule may temper the coverage somewhat. We shall see. But the Democrat=Weak on Defense meme is going to be with us throughout the campaign, regardless, because whether the Republican-accomodating Librul Media does it out of cupidity or stupidity, or both, this sort of thing gets presented as An Issue, which means they either truly believe it, imagine it's a fair parse, or they think it matches their background coloration and they don't have to worry about it.

I got home. My Poor Wife had an exhausting week and went upstairs "to read", which is our code for Take a Nap, and I went nosing around the internets like a Sunday driver. I knew this was a mistake given that I'd heard, however briefly, a portion of Sunday morning blather; generally whenever I do so I either sit down and write or begin drinking early, or both.   Finding evidence of people out there as shallow or perfidious as Tim Russert is, but doing it for free, is contraindicated at my age.  

Campaign season is remarkably like the Holiday season, in that otherwise normal people suddenly feel the urge to drink something they wouldn't touch at any other time. I caught at least three specimens of "Hillary Clinton should be used to being slimed and that's far from the worst she's ever heard so give David Shuster a break because the poor fella inadvertently slipped and said something I'd have liked to", a position so devoid of anything approaching a commonly-accepted definition of "sense" that one imagines the author smacking his head just after hitting Send, and vowing to remember to add that stuff about Vince Foster next time. Then Drum points me to Chris Bowers, who seconds Donna Brazile:
This is not a negotiable position. If the Democratic Party does not nominate the candidate for POTUS that the majority (or plurality) of its participants in primaries and caucuses want it to nominate, then I will quit the Democratic Party.

I swear...Cancel my subscription! And if my segregated country club ever refuses to admit a Negro I'm actually acquainted with, I'm outta there, too!

It's just bizarre: if the sacred trust of universal suffrage in our primary system, except where superceded by straw ballot, caucus, closed primary, or pie eating contest, is violated seven months from now these two are gonna walk. And these are no free-range, pie-in-the-sky fed Spring chickens. Bowers voted for Jimmy Carter in '76; Brazile is just a bit younger. You're both old enough to understand how the Democratic primary system came to its present state, and to have heard tell of slating fights if not witnessed any the teevee of your youth, back when such things were covered.   Please.  Just lie down with a cool cloth.  I live in Indiana, people.  Yes, it's self-inflicted, but we still qualify as a state, and I cannot vote in a primary election unless I declare myself a Republican or a Democrat, which I refuse to do.  Until a few years ago I couldn't even vote in any municiple elections which were held at the same time.  The urge to wrap oneself in bunting, except as part of some mutually-acceptable sexual charade, is always to be resisted.  

At least this was enough to keep me from reading Frank Rich, for once. 

It wasn't enough to keep me from bumping into the dual Clinton/Obama interviews on 60 Minutes. Which I watched, on the grounds that a) one ought to perform some unspeakable service for one's country on a regular basis, although b) I didn't realize just how unspeakable until I found out Katie Couric was interviewing Hillary, and c) I swear, I was somewhat stunned to realize all these people were still alive and on the air. I'm old enough to remember when Steve Kroft and Meredith Viera,  once  the Tiffany network's answer to "What if Jerry 'Geraldo Rivera' Rivers came across as vaguely human?" were added to the 60 Minutes cast as part of a Youth Movement. We may discuss last night's program tomorrow, or we may use it as our excuse to start drinking early again today. In the meantime, two questions:

1. Has Steve Kroft ever done anything since he got that gig? [Okay, let no one say this blog doesn't Google with the best of 'em. Kroft has won three Peabodys and nine Emmys, including a Lifetime Emmy. Great. They're for "excellence in broadcasting". So we repeat the question.]

2. Meredith Viera?