Saturday, May 31

Ghost Dancing With The Stars

And: If conservatives today are supposed to feel guilt (versus shame) over the historical record of conservative cowardice on segregation, then let us see liberals owning up to their guilt for having been wrong on communism. Shall we? Hello? [crickets chirping]

"Crunchy" Rod Dreher, major metropolitan editorialist

The left, while embracing [McClellan's] book's central assertions, will paint him as a weasel who belatedly 'fessed up. They're big on omertà on the left. It's part of how they survive.

Dispatches from Planet Peggy

I'VE mentioned this before, I know, but everything wrong with contemporary American culture can be traced to the excesses of the 60s and 70s, and specifically to Star Trek and the ascension of Babwa Walters to an evening anchor chair. The hell of it is neither was particularly liked, and both were soundly rejected by viewers; so soundly, in fact, that they neglected to kill either, after which both managed to spread like crabgrass, or maybe like some unholy experimental crabgrass x Brussels sprouts hybrid that escaped through an unlocked Nazi lab door one night.

Both had a cover story which should have been laughed into non-existence at the top (and nearly was). For Walters, of course, it was the empowerment of Woman, which was too noble an idea to be squandered on a talentless publicity flack. For Star Trek it was the idea of bringing science-fiction to a mass audience. There's nothing noble to be found anywhere in that one. (If America has taught us anything--and, god knows, She should--it's that some matters ought to be left to the guardianship of connoisseurs, whether Great [wine, cuisine, or literature, Miss Winfrey] or Small [cigars, pornography].)
What both presaged in the event was a magnitude of dumbing-down previously believed theoretically impossible.

Ronald Reagan was the Star Trek President. First off, his hair was a color not occurring naturally in this solar system, and it had been styled to appease the mating rituals of an unfathomably alien culture. And he had that whole vaguely turtle-ish thing going on with his head and neck, which always made me half-suspect he was going to burst out of his human pod at the appropriate moment and devour Michael Deaver. (Okay, so I was also halfway looking forward to that.) Then there were his public enthusiasms (horses, jellybeans, capitalism) which are fine in someone who's been on this planet less than twenty years, but are rather curious in someone nearly as old as John McCain.

What I meant though, really, was that his appeal was remarkably Trek-like: a series of utterly fantastical ideas, explicitly disassociated from painful modern reality, and asserted, on faith alone, to be the basis for a sort of flowering of universal peaceableness, great good health, and permanently wrinkle-free clothing, except that we'd all be in the military for our entire lives and constantly at war with some manifestation of evil or other that generally looked repulsive, which to a large segment of the viewing public sounding like just the sort of lark they'd been planning for the next decade or so, anyway.  And which a small but noisy minority of the citizenry took way too seriously.

And Peggy Noonan was his Baba.

The Left survives on omertà? Really? Did she just pluck the word out of the aether, or has she been saving it up and finally despaired of ever being able to use it outside her autobiography? Did she mean vendetta? She's been clucking over the Democratic knife fight for four months now (after briefly succumbing to Obama's charms). We're seven-and-a-half years into the worst Executive branch the country has ever seen, let alone been subjected to. At this point in the Clinton administration, five Democratic US Representatives had voted to impeach him over a blowjob. Find me five Republican members of Congress who've criticized the Bush administration.

Practically unthinkable damage to the reputation of the United States, one war a total disaster and another badly managed, torture abroad and spying at home, a PR-based response to the worst natural disaster in a century, and Lil' Scotty McClellan is the first Bush insider to raise a quibble. Omertà! Indeed, there are people on the Left--moi included--saying the Weasel has come home to roost, but that's because McClellan was a professional Weasel, who lied baldfaced to the American public in the service of one mentally incompetent boss, and another who's mentally unbalanced, and at the bidding of the Evil Genius who, it turns out, was 99% of the former and about 0% of the latter.  It's not because he now turns on his boss--which, by the way, I'm not required to have a public opinion on, since I didn't ask him to write a book and have no interest in reading it. But, okay: McClellan turned on his boss for money. I'd have rather he waited until after Bush was out of office, but then, I'd rather Bush was out of office already. If you can find a way to prevent all such occurrences in a society dedicated to the dirty buck, by all means suggest it. If you just think it shouldn't happen to your side, tough titties. Meanwhile, it's the Right calling Scotty a dirty rotten traitor, a phrase it employs roughly once per moon cycle.

Then we have Crunch Boy, the serial religionist and editorialist, the wordsmith who doesn't understand the distinction between communism and Communism but still pines for the day when there was one under every bed. It must have sounded like a fair cop: we'll own up to past racism (without acknowledging the extent to which it abetted our electoral successes for thirty years) if you admit to having once loved Joe Stalin. I guess it tells you something about Dreher that he would purport to believe this was some sort of equal trade. I guess it tells you something more that he would consider "communism" such a grave threat despite the fact that when the Soviet Union fell he had to be a lot more concerned with the battle over Unsightly Facial Blemishes than class warfare. So, we say, Rod, there's a distinction (however cryptic it may seem) between Leftist intellectuals admiring Communism from afar in the 20s and 30s, and people who have benefitted from segregation, racial hatred, and political fear-mongering in their own country. And that distinction is that the former are all dead, and the latter are all still in office.

WE combine Dreher and Noonan here, not because they both got under our skin this past week, but because they seemed to illustrate the latest tactic in Deflating Reagan Carnival Tent apologetics, the Sure We Were Dead Wrong But We're Still Owed Respect For Belatedly Admitting It gambit. That there's no one left listening is a matter of no importance; they've been talking to themselves for a quarter-century.

Friday, May 30

You'd Expect Obama To Have A Better Grasp of American History. And You'd Expect The American Right To Be More Familiar With Nazi Operations.

SHEESH, it's like a garden.  You can sweat into the ground all day (I don't, but you can), dry and put away the tools, get a good night's sleep, and wake up at dawn to find everything's infested with chafers.

And so it was that we walked away from The Internet Thing yesterday before R. Porrofatto, whom we heart, in case we haven't pointed it out recently, points out that Kernfluffle II's own Steve Gilbert has entered the "But Ohrdruf was more of a work-release program than a death camp" sweepstakes, along with Rand Simberg whom we find via Brave Indiana Blogger Doug Masson. Let's go right to the post-post illuminations Simberg was forced to provide since everyone else is an idiot:

[Late evening update]
Some have taken issue of my characterization of Buchenwald as "merely a slave labor camp."
This has to be taken in context. I'm not sure what part of "atrocious beyond human understanding" with regard to that camp the commenters don't understand.
I wasn't excusing it in any way. I was simply pointing out that in the historical context of war, in which civilians were generally enslaved or killed, and disposed of when they could no longer work, it was hardly abnormal. Auschwitz (and Treblinka, and Sobibor, and Chelmo, and Betzec, and Majdenek) were in a separate class, previously unknown, which gave rise to the term "genocide," in which the intent was to wipe out an entire people. I'm sorry that some don't get the point.
[Thursday morning update]
Well, I certainly seem to have stirred up a hornet's nest among some. Let me pick up the remains of the straw men that were strewn around and kicked apart here overnight.
For the record, I did not say, or imply, that Buchenwald was a summer camp. I did not say, or imply, that the leftist Hitler's crimes were a "drop in the bucket" compared to the leftist Stalin's. I did not say, or imply, that working people to death is not murdering them. I did not say, or imply, that anyone's death (including Anne Frank's) was less tragic because it occurred at Bergen-Belsen than at Auschitz. I did not say, or imply, that I would "smile with satisfaction" if I were at Buchenwald instead of Auschwitz.
I'm not sure how to have a rational discussion with anyone nutty enough to have managed to infer any of the above from what I actually wrote.
Also, for the record, I am not now, and have never been a Republican, or (AFAIK) a "right winger," unless by that phrase one means a classical liberal. As for "sitting down with my Jewish friends and discussing this," I not only have Jewish friends, but Jewish relatives by blood, or perhaps I should say had, because they include many who doubtless died in both types of camps.
[Update a few minutes later]
One other straw man. I did not say, or imply, that because of this single incident Barack Obama was unfit to be president of the United States. But it is part, albeit a small one, of a much larger tapestry.
[One more update]
To the people in comments asking me what I meant by this, or why I wrote it, I don't know how to better explain my points than I already have. If after having actually read it carefully, for comprehension, you still don't get it, or willfully choose to misinterpret it, I can't help you.
[Update again]
OK, I'll make one attempt, for those who think that I am somehow "minimizing" what happened at Buchenwald. Perhaps they don't understand the true meaning of the word "atrocious," as in the phrase I used, "atrocious beyond human understanding."
I wasn't using it in perhaps a more popular (and trivial) sense as "that movie or meal was atrocious." I was using it in its most literal sense, as in a place where actual atrocities occurred. The two words are related, you know?
[Update about 9:30]
If I change the phrase "merely a slave labor camp," which is what seems to be generating such irrational fury and umbrage, to "not a site for the extermination of a people on an industrial scale," will that mollify people? Probably not, but I'll do it anyway.
[Afternoon update]
I'm wondering how much of the rampant insanity, straw mannery and outrage in comments would have been avoided had I merely omitted the word "merely".
Funny. I was gonna suggest you keep "merely" and omit the rest of it.  

As we're fond of noting here, Mr. Simberg, words ain't cudgels. You have emerged from all this no more, and surely no less, astute in your own mind than you already were. The point of all the flapdoodle in-between escapes me.

Work-release applicants at Buchenwald.

I'm not sure where it is that "I'm not a right-winger, I'm a classical liberal" is the sort of riposte that wins bar bets, but then even supposing you believe it it's the opposite of convincing. Learn to speak the donkey's language, if you would; he'll never learn yours. Similarly, the business of "but I said it was atrocious beyond human understanding!" does not actually fool people who understood why you said it in the first place. This is not the sort of thing one should convince himself can be sidetracked by claims of misunderstanding, difference of opinion, or one's superior powers of intellect. That particular dodge has been worked ten thousand times, whether you know it or not. Nobody's a simple seeker of Truth; everybody's a Liar, but we all prefer other Liars to acknowledge it. You do not want to be the guy settin' up his tripes and keister, offering a little friendly sidewalk demonstration of what a simple game Three Card Monte is, when someone else just cleaned out the same crowd and skedaddled three minutes earlier. Respect the audience, even when it's hard to hide your own vastly superior abilities.

And don't try it if you've got more tells than Herbert Ross.

See, thing is, you already answered your own complaint in the original post, but you decided to keep on typing:
But it's not that easy to ignore Auschwitz.
That's because "Auschwitz" has become one of the most emotionally charged words in the English (well, OK, it's not English--it's German) language. It's one of the most emotionally charged words in any language, for anyone who is aware of what happened there, and few educated people aren't, regardless of their native language.

Indeed, though we suggest you take it easy on the fangs. "Auschwitz" has come to represent the Nazi extermination program, in part because only it and Majdanek among the extermination camps exist in some familiar physical form anymore.  Which, as I suggested, answers your complaint. Every believer in reincarnation was once Caesar, or Cleopatra, or--if they're aware those two were already taken--one of their top associates. Every owner of a pot-metal lamp with a glass shade on Antiques Roadshow has a Tiffany, and every cowboy statuette is a Remington. The simple fact, Mr. Simberg is, No, "educated" people are not all aware of what happened at Auschwitz, nor were they aware of whatever distinction you or Adolph Eichmann want to make between the death camps and the labor camps; looking around the internets over the past 48 hours proves this. For them "Auschwitz" is the most familiar symbol of the entire Nazi genocidal program. And, to that extent, they are correct and you are wrong, no matter what "facts" you try to marshal. Just as they were correct in seeing through your little charade. It's abundantly clear that a family tradition might ascribe to Auschwitz a relative's war experiences that took place somewhere else. It's even possible for the whole thing to have begun as a lie, but to have been propagated honestly thereafter.

It might surprise you, assuming you found this little speck of a site, to learn that we are, at least superficially, in some agreement. I think it should have occurred to Barack Obama that Auschwitz would have been liberated by the Soviets. Or if not him, someone on his staff. But then, I haven't been particularly enamored of his staff or his campaign, and it's particularly grating for me to listen to someone who insists he'll reform Our Failing Schools demonstrate he's something of a captive to one of their very worst features, namely, the pathetic job we do teaching history, aka, introducing students to a fictional stroll among European New World settlers, with footnotes for everybody else. Lots of Americans believe We won WWII on the beaches of Normandy. Lots believe We won WWI. Many apparently think treasonous slaveholding southerners in the 19th were behaving nobly. Our history curriculum does nothing to disabuse them of the notion. And the fact is that this enforced notion of a shared sense of America as always right, always victorious, and the Beacon of International Altruism has led us into colossal error time and again, and that it has been mostly--but not entirely--insisted upon by wingnuts classical liberals. And so, while I believe that the substitution of "Auschwitz" for "Buchenwald satellite camp" is entirely understandable in the everyday sense, I think that in theory, at least, it represents the continuation of ahistorical attitudes we need to begin to correct; however, as I personally see little risk that the next President intends to invade Germany out of some unfortunate intention to Set the Record Straight, I believe I'll save any concern for more serious misstatements, like imagining the Iranians are aiding Sunni insurgents, or calling Ronald Reagan "a great leader".

Thursday, May 29

Relatively Short Answers, Considering The Source, To Offensive Rhetorical Questions

I HOPE by now--since you can't possibly come here for news--you've seen, via D. Aristophanes of the Sadlynauts, Kernfluffle II turns out a little less boffo at the box office, especially if you're Steve Gilbert:
—– Original Message —–
From: Steve Gilbert


Sent: Wednesday, May 28, 2008 6:14 AM
Subject: Any Record Of Charles W Payne?

Mr. Kitchell,
As you may have heard by now, Barack Obama has claimed that his great uncle Charlie Payne was a member of the 89th Div that liberated Buchenwald.
According to records his full name is either Charles W Payne or Charles T Payne (most likely the former), and he was born in 1924 — and he is still alive today.
He most likely was from Kansas at the time of enlistment.
Do you have any record of this gentleman?
Thank you,
Steve Gilbert
PS - If you go to my website, you will see that I was probably the first to note the error in Mr. Obama’s first claims about his “uncle.”
Obama Claims His Uncle Liberated Auschwitz | Sweetness & Light

The reply was quick and to the point:

Please crawl back under the rock you came out from.
Good day
Raymond Kitchell, veteran 89th Inf Div
Which--don't get ahead of me--would not be the end of it to Mr. Gilbert's way of thinking. (Let us, while we're at it, pause for a moment to consider the roaming Googland truth seeker who publishes this response to begin with, and who won't take the subtle hint it provides. Is he the foolhardy [after seven Beam & Cokes] frat boy on the fourth-story window ledge? Or in staring down Hell Itself and the life of eternal assholitry, is he braver than any dogface from the 89th ever thought of being at the Mosel, the Rhine, at Eisenbach or Thuringia? You be the judge.)

No, instead Mr. Gilbert needed several more last words, which, for all I know, are still echoing, but this was the first:
I wonder how many people who visit the 89th Infantry site and support Mr. Kitchell’s work realize his politics are those of Cindy Sheehan?

Zing! Because, y'know, everyone with a sincere interest in all things military--Steve Gilbert, Case in Point--is a raging warhawk. Make that Republican warhawk.

This got me to thinkin' about how such ruderal cluelessness manages to survive to typing age. Even if you didn't grow up in an era where every boy's father had fought in one, if not two, wars (excepting "Big Russ" Riley, who was 4-F, had to slink home from the Induction Center because he'd already had his going-away party, and presents, and spent the war working in a defense plant and wearing the GI underwear one of his older brothers sent home intended as a post-war stash), you can find 'em on the History and Military channels, especially since you're so all-fired hepped-up about other people's service. There aren't too many combat veterans who're all that eager to strut their service around (they're a lot more likely to shed fresh tears, sixty years on), and not many more who're eager to see another generation face what they faced (and what you have no clue about), whatever their politics. Research that, motherfucker, though you might have to risk getting up from the keyboard, going out in the streets, and getting caught by a Press Gang.

How many people might realize Raymond Kitchell's politics "are those of Cindy Sheehan"?  A lot.  And a lot who wouldn't be surprised.  And probably many times more than would automatically assume that a US military veteran would naturally share a (rather more long-distance) warlust and  pathological hatred of uppity black men.  Maybe you could go out and meet some, asshole.

P.S.  On second thought, don't.

Wednesday, May 28

But Seriously...

• Obama admits reference to Auschwitz was wrong

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrat Barack Obama admitted on Tuesday he was wrong to say his uncle helped liberate the Nazis' Auschwitz concentration camp after Republicans said Soviet troops freed the camp.

Leaving aside the question of how one actually goes about constructing a sentence using a shovel and some children's blocks, the thing that astonished me--and seems to have gone unremarked elsewhere--is that there are Republicans who know the Soviet Union fought against the Nazis.

• Politico Exclusive: McClellan whacks Bush, White House

By Mike Allen

Former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan writes in a surprisingly scathing memoir to be published next week that President Bush “veered terribly off course,” was not “open and forthright on Iraq,” and took a “permanent campaign approach” to governing at the expense of candor and competence.

Next week, Mike Allen is shocked to learn that Mike Allen planted Vandalgate stories for the nascent Bush administration.

• McCain edges away from Bush but seeks his help

By Tim Gaynor

...The Arizona senator said in a speech that he would pursue nuclear arms reduction talks with Russia and China as part of a foreign policy vision that brings back "broad-minded internationalism and determined diplomacy."

"It is a vision not of the United States acting alone, but building and participating in a community of nations all drawn together in this vital common purpose. It is a vision of a responsible America, dedicated to an enduring peace based on freedom," McCain said.

So, correct me if I'm wrong, Senator, but didn't you vote to ignore all that in the first place?

• Oral is Normal

By William Saletan

Every day, thousands of parents sit down with their children to talk about the facts of life. They want their kids to know how babies are made, how serious sex is, and how to protect themselves. For most of us, the topic is awkward enough without getting into advanced stuff. That's why the coverage of President Clinton's blow jobs felt like such a cultural assault. We just want to stick to the basics.

So keep it simple. No vaginal intercourse until you're married, and no fellatio until you get a job as a journalist.

Tuesday, May 27

Misty Primary-Colored Memories...

WHAT Roy said. It really cannot be that difficult to note each May that Memorial Day is a day to honor the fallen, not the merely hobbled, and not the Still Alive and Fortunate To Be Playing Tuba in the Marine Band at the Indianapolis 500. If this sounds harsh, so be it. The dead don't care; it's the living who are capable of making the distinction, and are thus responsible for doing so, in their honor.  It isn't as though there's no Armed Forces Day, no Armed Forces Week, no Army Day, Navy Day, Air Force Day, Marine Corps Day, Coast Guard Day, no Flag Day, First Responder Day, nor that Armistice Day, once set aside to reflect on the enormity of War, hasn't been hijacked and turned into another celebration of how much we spend on military hardware and lapel pins (oh, and our Solemn Thanks, boys and girls, for manning the things for us).

The local teleprompter readers--on Channel 8, at least--kept reminding the audience that it was a day for Memorials, but it was pretty obvious that training and inclination led them to believe otherwise. There was a long tear-jerker with the parents of a deceased local soldier, all through which I kept waiting to hear where he died. And I waited in vain, but near the end there was a shot of his grave marker, with the year "1996". Meaning he may well have died while in uniform, but unless he malingered from Desert Storm he didn't die in combat. Which makes it no less of a loss, nor he less worthy of remembrance, but it seemed at least to obscure what all the careful talk had tried to do, just before the toss.

Other stories, of course, obliterated it. This was not a day to celebrate hot-headed xenophobes dragged from the local VFW cavern into the street, where the light is better for the cameras (that day, of course, is Republican National Committee Convention Nomination Day).  Or was it?  But, y'know--and this goes for local weathermen, too--if you must do it could you at least find one who isn't wearing Old Glory as a necktie?

Look, obviously, I didn't make the rules; they're yours. Could you follow them? The Flag is not an item of bodily decoration. You're not honoring it by treating it that way. You're honoring yourself, and for the absolute cheapest sentiment not involving the gray locks of Dear Old Mother. It's long past time to reclaim a national symbol from the clutches of political partisans who gladly traded our international reputation (and some of our blood) for the opportunity to air their Napoleonic envy in public, from the poshlust taste of middling public figures, and, yes, from the 21st century Good Germans and various yahooligans. You blew it, man. Go into your closet to pray; it's still good advice. Maybe we'd still have 4000 men and women alive to help us remember the sacrifice of others. God knows we'd have a trillion more dollars to stage a celebration with. Maybe we could set aside a day to honor people who've fought to inject a little rationality into US foreign policy, or to keep young men and women from being sacrificed for periodically-ginned-up patriotic fervor. Call it Age of Reason Day. At least the parade would be over a lot quicker, and there'd be plenty of parking.

Saturday, May 24


YESTERDAY I genuinely imagined I'd explained that "The President is Commander-in-Chief in time of war" thing, then realized I didn't, as did some of youse, except that you, naturally enough, thought I didn't understand the Constitution. The President is Commander-in-Chief of All the Armed Forces, All of the Time (maybe Senator McCain would like to take this as his personal motto/Presidential Jingle); what I was trying to get at is a distinction between de jure and de facto. In time of peace the President is really not acting as Supreme Commander, but rather as the civilian head of the government which controls the military, specifically as the boss of the boss (the Secretary of Defense) of the bosses (the Secretaries of the respective branches) to whom the actual military officers holding the various Commands report, and as a sort of chairman of the board of the Joint Chiefs, except one with an absolute veto, technically. But Commands and promotions to general officer require the approval of Congress, and the President is not personally moving units across situation maps in the War Room. He could not, for example, order the entire US European Command to pack up and march to Turkey, without invoking the War Powers Act or without a Congressional Declaration of War.

(By the way, having been educated in a previous century, I'm using "at war" here to mean "declared war", however quaint an idea that may be; a Presidential emergency, of course, is now our way of declaring war without running the risk that any of our major business executives might wind up in prison if anyone gets a good look at the books. McCain, et. al., have simply chosen to redefine this as "war", and then redefine "emergency" to mean "something potentially politically important which is still buzzing around un-swatted". )

This may be a distinction without a difference, especially now, but that's part of the point: the President's emergency power over the military is supposed to, and needs desperately again to be, reined in by what we used to call democracy. In a sense, John McCain is running for Commander-in-Chief, since his public positions seem to accept as axiomatic a country which is in a perpetual emergency war, one which only the Commander-in-Chief can terminate, unless Congress actually finds the will to defund the thing. Or, put another way, unless nothing. This is another sense in which one asks to be supplied with the specifics of McCain's solution for the Press and the Public "losing" wars we have otherwise already won. Because of Vietnam, the Bush II administration was unwilling and unable to ask for a conscription to achieve reasonable troops levels for the "war" in Iraq.  No dirty hippie protesters or Fifth Column librul media forced that on them; it's Chuck Rangel, of course, who's been trying to enact one, not our thwarted C-in-C.  This time they really did give a War and Nobody Came, except the people who were already there.  We might also point out that since are prisons are presently filled with casualties of the War on Drugs, a future Commander might eventually be faced with the ultimate problem facing the Guy with the Gun: unless everyone obeys, you either have to shoot, use it as a club, or surrender the advantage all together. It's not too early to begin asking McCain which course he plans to follow.

Friday, May 23

Friday Reiterative Redundancy Blogging

1) David Brooks, "I'm A Geek, Dammit, Not A Nerd":
At first, a nerd was a geek with better grades. The word described a high-school or college outcast who was persecuted by the jocks, preps, frat boys and sorority sisters. Nerds had their own heroes (Stan Lee of comic book fame), their own vocations (Dungeons & Dragons), their own religion (supplied by George Lucas and “Star Wars”) and their own skill sets (tech support). But even as “Revenge of the Nerds” was gracing the nation’s movie screens, a different version of nerd-dom was percolating through popular culture. Elvis Costello and The Talking Heads’s David Byrne popularized a cool geek style that’s led to Moby, Weezer, Vampire Weekend and even self-styled “nerdcore” rock and geeksta rappers.

If  you, say, are rehabilitating a surgically-repaired knee, and you experience a bout of pain--acute or chronic--it crosses your mind that it may be the results of working the thing, or it may be some sort of reinjury. And you realize it's a problem you're not going to solve; you either wait it out or you return your wallet to the healthcare industry.

Likewise, over the past eight years I can't tell if I've simply gotten older or people have truly gotten stupider, but even if it's the former I don't think David Brooks is helping matters any. This sort of construction--The Reflection of All Matter In The Universe Is Determined By How I Became Aware Of It--is a goddam pandemic, and not the good kind that eventually raises working class wages, either, but the bad kind that makes everyone dress like something from a John Travolta movie for six months. I'm not going to argue about this "Fonzie popularized 'Nerd' business". Maybe he did, maybe he didn't; I remain as ignorant of that and every other piece of commercial "comedy" tied to Garry Marshall as it's possible to be and still have electricity.  To be sure, the term started spewing like projectile vomit from the lips of every teenybopper and their intellectual cohort at the time, a veritable Where's the Beef? of hilarity; but it was simultaneously denuded of the perfectly expressive meaning it had carried for years, and turned into a sort of medium-purpose insult for the television-addicted witling.  So it's like crediting Lazlo Toth for helping out with The Pietà.  It's bad enough that David Brooks is nearly fifty, on the pages of the Times, and still thinks history is something that flew out of his ass at age eight. And Nostalgia sucks ass, for precisely the reason on view here: it's dominated by people who can't tell the difference between Preston Sturgis and The Three Stooges, or Elvis Costello and The Fonz. But it's Happy Days that makes the damn thing twenty times worse, since it's a matter of people being nostalgic for a piece of manufactured nostalgia too cheesy to qualify as cheese food. This is fine, as a mindless diversion, in a Hey Man Is That Freedom Rock sorta way, provided you're under twenty-six. Thereafter it's just embarrassing.

Like you, I'm sure, I've learned about stuff from all over. It wouldn't occur to me to attribute some insight about the manipulation of the German economy after WWI to postmodernism just because I first read about it in Gravity's Rainbow, and I sincerely hope that the success of Cats has nothing whatever to do with Eliot's fisticuffs with Ezra Pound in "Desolation Row". David Byrne and Elvis Costello are artists, and uncommonly good ones as rock-and-roll goes. Their public images--then--had nothing to do with the rise of Bill Gates, George Eff Will, or David Effing Brooks, just as they do not have anything whatever to do with art.

Sure, the column was a lazy way to take a five-day weekend without missing "work", but what's the distinction between this and believing Ronald Reagan winning the Cold War "felt" "true"?

2) Via Roy, it's the Senator from Arizona we imagined we were done with for the week:
But I am running for the office of Commander-in-Chief. That is the highest privilege in this country, and it imposes the greatest responsibilities.

The President is Commander-in-Chief in time of war, Senator, which I realize you think is now a permanent condition of that America you hope to command, but it ain't. That clearly was the only conception possible in the 18th Century, though even that only lasted until John Adams realized it meant he'd have to climb on a horse and get shot at. Even with the rise of standing armies it remains the case that the President exercises civilian control, except in wartime or, briefly in an emergency.   His Constitutional powers do not trump the system, or aren't intended to; he can command the military for just so long. What you're referring to is the permanent militarization of the country begun by Wilson and cemented in the aftermath of WWII, when we decided we hadn't yet killed everybody we wanted to. It's a situation which has led us into three disastrous major wars in sixty-five years, and it's a situation crying devoutly for complete overhaul before another idiot dick-measurer in the Oval Office tries again. It's too fucking late to try re-wrapping it in the Flag, Senator. It's time to be a real patriot and own up.

Thursday, May 22

One More Thing, Senator McCain.

SUPPOSING that public opinion led by a skeptical Press did "lose" us the Vietnam War, just what do you propose to do about it?


• There's this guy. His name is Matt Tully, and he's the political columnist for the Indianapolis Racist Star. Got the job around 2005, went into the tank for the paper's Republican masters around, oh, 2005.

Tully's columns have, increasingly, looked like part of Mitch "The Hamster" Daniels' permanent reelection campaign, down to the using the same sort of "criticism" the Entrepreneurator-in-Chief subjects himself to: "Daniels big problem is that he's terrible at explaining just how brilliant his ideas are".

There's this other guy. His name is Greg Ballard, but everybody I know calls him Goober. He's the accidental mayor of Indianapolis, the beneficiary of that ginned-up Property Tax Revolt from last summer. He's a retired Marine Lt. Colonel, and as if the emphasize that point he recently mused about constructing a Chinatown on the Indianapolis Southside, and proposed luring the lucrative, if somewhat non-existent, North American cricket market to town. (To be absolutely fair about this, the source for this story was...Matt Tully. But, then, when the Accidental Mayor gave did a Q&A with the City County Council that was so embarrassing even the rest of the local media just buried its head in its hands, Tully praised it, leading one to conclude that the Chinatown and Cricket bit was just a warning to Ballard's handlers that he should not, under any circumstances, be allowed to speak off the cuff, even to GOP faithful after two cocktails.)

Ballard had run an absolute cesspool of a campaign, accusing incumbent Demopublican Bart Peterson of everything short of necrophilia and purposely singing the National Anthem off-key. This went generally unremarked, since nobody knew he was running until he won. He harped a lot on spending, including criticizing the new football stadium deal and the "misplaced priorities" of trying to land a Super Bowl.

So, yesterday, after the second attempt to get the promised Bread and Circuses, Mostly Circuses payoff for the new, taxpayer-funded $400 $500 $Your Guess Is As Good As Any stadium succeeded in bringing OMG It's Super Bowl XLVI !!! to town, whose reactions to the news of his successful stewardship do you suppose Tully wrote a tick-tock about?

• By the way, I'm replacing the all-purpose Chinese insult "May you live in interesting times," with "May you live in a small-market NFL city for two years while its Chamber of Commerce types try to attract a Super Bowl with your money, and may your teevee be stuck forever on, and only receive local news."

• Somehow, the Failing Indianapolis Public Schools and the eastside community will get to keep a "$9 M" practice facility after the Big Weekend is over, to be built with "private funds", although, apparently, we don't exactly have those yet and the city has vouchsafed the money. Thank god we're not wasting the money on education.

• Oh, and incidentally, Hoosiers on the waiting list for some of those 6000 new Colts season tickets at the new boondoggle have apparently just learned that as many as the first 125 of them will actually be getting tickets to the palace they bought. On accounta the new seats are mostly mostly for rich people. Plus 1000 new seats for the disabled, which the Colts announced as if they were doing it out of the goodness of that tiny sliver of corporate heart which isn't occupied by insatiable greed, and not because the law required it.

• Speaking of The Hamster, he went to Iraq this week, and found it "much better" than his previous visit, although he allowed as how Baghdad is "no garden spot". Which means that Mitch Effing Daniels is more honest than his party's nominee for President.

Now, I think it's fine for public officials who have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with national policy to junket off to war zones, if that brings a bit of cheer to the troops. And it's nice if, time and again, the governor can keep in touch with where his National Guard is located. But then I think a planeload of strippers might have been more appreciated. If it were me, a planeload of mimes would have been more appreciated.

Oh, and the camp where he overnighted was reportedly hit by mortar fire, suggesting his popularity with the citizenry is about the same over there as it is here. Not to worry, Mitch; they don't have the technology to hit anything so small.

• Via Roy we find George Packer's New Yorker piece on the Fall of Conservatism. We do wish people would start surrounding the term in quotation marks, as is right and proper, but we must admit our little heart was warmed by the anguishing cracks in Davids Brooks and Frum's Peter Pan/Ronald Reagan's Peter Syndrome.
Brooks had moved through every important conservative publication—National Review, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, the Washington Times, the Weekly Standard—“and now I feel estranged,” he said. “I just don’t feel it’s exciting, I don’t feel it’s true, fundamentally true.” In the eighties, when he was a young movement journalist, the attacks on regulation and the Soviet Union seemed “true".

Say it again: by the time David Brooks was a young "movement" reporter--incidentally, "movement" is pretty much the image his current output conjures up--it was widely known that the Soviet military was bankrupt; the government had known for a decade or more. So it had the same "true feeling" as the Eisenhower/Kennedy claims of a "missile gap":  it's "true", unless you look at it. Funny how this now winds up being "Conservatism's" fault for not finding new and exciting ways to make Brooks imagine he's "with it", and not Brooks' for being a careerist lackey in the first place.   Which means that nobody has to look at how such a massive canard was sold to them in the first place, since they were behaving reasonably at the time.  Second, and for what it's worth, it's the Carter administration which began trumpeting "deregulation", which has been a demonstrable success to the extent that people who believe in it believe it to have been so. Please explain to me what risk Young David Brooks, Movement Conservative, felt he ran from either the Soviets or government regulation? He wasn't planning on opening an oil refinery in some protected wetlands, and he sure wasn't about to join the Army.

What Packer fails to say is that these sorts of blithering tools had a hegemony on the public debate from Reagan through Katrina. Who th' fuck can possibly care if these guys now want to climb aboard Global Warming or Wage Stratification? What have they ever touched that didn't turn to shit?  The proper response to a poem is another poem; the proper response to realizing you've spent your life as a tool is to gouge your own eyes out with a rat-tail file. We might listen to you after that.

Wednesday, May 21

Y'know, Senator, I Think That Was Proven In The Great 'What If Superman Had Fought For The Nazis?' Thought Experiment.

Matt Bai, "The McCain Doctrines." May 18

IN keeping with yesterday's theme ("US History: It Looks A Lot Better If You Squint") we bring you John McCain, War College graduate, on a little thing called Vietnam.
In his book, Chuck Hagel writes of listening to declassified tapes from the mid-1960s in which Lyndon Johnson admitted to advisers that Vietnam probably couldn’t be won but rued that withdrawal would make him the first American president to lose a war. “I wish someone had told me when I was sitting on a burning tank in a Vietnamese rice paddy that I was fighting for a lost cause just to save a president’s legacy,” Hagel observes acidly.

In my own defense, Chuck, I was eleven at the time, but I'm pretty sure the people who were trying to tell you the war was a sham wish you had listened.
Although McCain was held and tortured for the same cause, he never saw the situation the way Hagel did. In his view, the American effort began to turn around with the promotion in 1968 of Gen. Creighton Abrams, who adopted the tactics favored by counterinsurgency experts like Fall. Abrams pulled back the search-and-destroy teams and instead focused on winning the “hearts and minds” of South Vietnamese villagers. His goal was to encourage the South Vietnamese military to take over their own defense — the process that came to be known as “Vietnamization.” McCain maintains that Abrams’s strategy was working, but it was undercut by the fact that, by that point, the American public had already rendered its verdict, and the drawdown of troops continued until the war’s chaotic end.

Okay, first, discussing Vietnam is like painting the Forth Bridge, except it's not that once you get done the paint's peeling at the other end, it's that once you're in the middle the area you just covered is resplattered with bullshit. Yes, indeed, Johnson knew the Vietnam war could never be won. It doesn't require listening to declassified secret LBJ tapes to figure this out. All it takes is looking at the history, specifically the Eisenhower administration's renege on the '56 elections. We were propping up a decrepit mandarin system run by a fey and almost unimaginably corrupt minority. We knew the majority of Vietnamese didn't want them, and looked upon them as quislings, but that didn't fit the Cold War narrative.

Who's to blame? Well, I can't say I'd be sorry to learn that LBJ will be farting live briquettes onto the Devil's hibachi for all eternity. But was he supposed to be the meat course at the Who Lost China II buffet, over a war he'd inherited? This, it seems to me, simply returns the question to the starting end of the bridge. By 1965 Americans had listened to twenty years of International Communist Conspiracy. They got it from the government, they got it from newspapers and radio and teevee, they got it from the punditry. They sincerely believed it. They'd already fought one large-scale war because of it. And like Korea, Vietnam would become "unpopular" in the sense that Americans watched other Americans bleed and die while their leaders dawdled and lied to them; like Korea it never became "unpopular" in the sense of the mission being rejected by a great majority of the voting public. Pace Senator McCain, pace the rest of the rewriters of Vietnam history--it's been a growth industry for thirty years--the war wasn't "lost" when the public turned against it (at the urging of Uncle Walter Cronkite). It was, like Iraq forty years later, only "winnable" under the rosiest of rosy scenarios, and those hopes had been dashed almost immediately. The public debate over Vietnam was always between those who saw this truth (a minority, if a vocal one) and the marshaled forces of perpetual fear (whose marshals, in them days, at least had the threat of global thermonuclear war as a trump card).

We may well ask, as we sit in on our burning Humvee, why Chuck Hagel sent us here for a war he had doubts about all along, but didn't express until it was politically expedient to do so. John McCain was the only US Senator publicly critical of the Iraq war effort in its early weeks. And Matt Bai reminds us that it was Senator McCain who introduced a bill calling for immediate withdrawal of US troops from Somalia after Blackhawk Down. The problem with modern American political life is there's not enough pox to go 'round.

As for Creighton Abrams--a capable leader, and a great combat commander--it should be noted that his "Vietnamization", Nixon's "Vietnamization", was properly Vietnamization III, (not counting the long-gone hope of the ever-lovable French for jaunissement); both Kennedy and Johnson had begun with the same plans. By 1968 Abrams had no choice, not to mention the fact that Westmoreland had failed, spectacularly, with the every-increasing troop levels and WWII tactics approach. If Abrams is today given credit for what, in the mouths of people like McCain, winds up sounding suspiciously like The Surge, we might also note that he, unlike they, understood that Tet was a strategic defeat, not a manufactured one, and that the ultimate outcome of the war was no longer in our hands.
The lesson McCain and other conservatives took away from this version of history is that America was driven from Vietnam principally because the voters, discouraged by dire reports from a skeptical media, lost their will. McCain has said in the past that he felt the war could have been won had the right strategy been followed sooner. When I met with McCain last month for a far-ranging conversation about Vietnam and Iraq, I asked him whether he still felt this was the case. “These are all hypotheticals,” he replied. “But I think that if we had employed the strategy that Creighton Abrams put into effect when he relieved General Westmoreland” — that is, if the Abrams strategy had been used years earlier — “then at least the casualties would have been dramatically different.”

I'm sorry, is that an answer? Whose hypothetical was it, anyway? Vietnam would have been "dramatically different" if we'd let Curtis LeMay nuke the fuck out of it, too. Is that an argument?

Bonus Matt Bai History Lesson:
The parallels between Vietnam and Iraq can be too readily overstated. The very nature of the wars is markedly different, for better or worse; Vietnam was a Communist uprising against an autocratic government, while Iraq represents a multiparty, ethnic conflict more similar to that of the Balkans. The casualties, to this point, aren’t nearly analogous, either. The United States lost some 58,000 soldiers in Vietnam, compared with a death toll, after five years in Iraq, of about 4,000.

Yes, yes, all those people claiming that Iraq is a war against Communist aggression are now properly put in their place, just as the early "Beware another jungle war in Iraq" doomsayers were. This, Matt, would seem to be more along the lines of "a description of the people we invaded and lost to" than a distinction in the nature of the conflicts. As for the KIA, I don't do this very often, but...sigh. It's not a freakin' scorecard, for one. It doesn't ever seem to occur to people who use it that way how fucking insulting that is. Two, Vietnam casualties occurred over an eleven year period, though most were suffered between 1965 and 1971. We had as many as 530,000 troops in Vietnam at one time. Iraq probably peaked around 160,000, a level we exceeded in Vietnam in 1965 and kept through 1972. As a percentage of total deployments, the fatality rate in Vietnam was 0.7%. In Iraq it is 0.5%. And that's with truly remarkable improvements in battlefield care, and that's with an enemy which can focus only on infantry troops; we're not losing helicopter pilots or jets to enemy action. And above all, this is in a war which has been conducted, from the first, with one eye to bolstering public opinion, including keeping casualties out of view (but not down, necessarily, if that meant spending on sufficient armor in Humvees or transports, or the best in personal armor).  This sort of nonsense was being dispelled in the early days of the war, Matt. See Phil Carter in 2004, for example.

Tuesday, May 20

Don't Bother To Look

Matt Bai, "The McCain Doctrines." May 18
The problem with these narratives is that neither reflects the context of the time. As two former national security officials in the Clinton administration, Derek Chollet and James Goldgeier, explain compellingly in “America Between the Wars,” a book to be published next month, the period between the cold war and the war on terror — the 90s, roughly speaking — was a decade when foreign-policy thinkers across the ideological spectrum were groping about in darkness, trying to feel out the limits of American power and to balance the twin risks of action and inaction. During that time, the United States bounced from one unforeseen crisis to another, undertaking a military intervention every 18 months, on average — a staggering pace compared with that of the years that came before.

Vietnam 1960-75
Cuba 1961
Laos 1962
Cuba 1962
Iraq 1963
Panama 1964
Indonesia 1965
Dominican Republic 1965-66
Guatemala 1966-67
Cambodia 1969-75
Oman 1970
Laos 1971-73
Wounded Knee, Pine Ridge Reservation 1973
Chile 1973
Angola 1976-92
Iran 1980
Libya 1981
El Salvador 1981-92
Nicaragua 1981-90
Lebanon 1982-84
Grenada 1983-89
Honduras 1983-89
Iran 1984
Libya 1986
Bolivia 1986
Iran 1987-88
Philippines 1989
Panama 1989
Iraq 1990-91
Kuwait 1992
Somalia 1992-94
Yugoslavia 1992-94
Bosnia 1993-
Haiti 1994
Sudan 1998
Afghanistan 1998
Iraq 1998
Yugoslavia 1999
Macedonia 2001
Afghanistan 2001-
Yemen 2002
Philippines 2002-
Columbia 2003-
Iraq 2003-
Haiti 2004-05
Pakistan 2005-
Somalia 2007

Unless "the years that came before" means specifically the Presidency of Jimmy Carter.

Cat Dancing

Bill Kristol, "McCain Exceptionalism." May 19

IF you're old enough, like I know I am, you can remember, roughly, the point at which Quaker Oats became a health food, as sold by Wilfred Brimley, professional oldster. What was interesting about this is that in the decades leading up to it Quaker Oats couldn't have cared less about your health; they'd have sold you Sugar-Frosted Asbestos Flakes, or Frooty Tar N' Nicotine Breakfast Squares if there'd been a profit in it, and you, and I, and everyone in the Quaker Oats boardroom, and possibly even Wilfred Brimley knew it. But then one day there's a JAMA article which probably did no more than announce the results of a small study suggesting that college students in NW Saskatchewan had fewer heart-valve defects if they reported eating oatmeal their whole lives, and the next day Quaker Oats is the multi-national holding behemoth that's good for you.

Before that oatmeal had been the fraternity hazing of breakfast foods. It was a hot cereal for cold weather, generally viewed as something for adults to inflict on children because they'd been inflicted in turn, designed to "stick to the ribs", if it didn't congeal somewhat earlier, and the only gustatory attraction came from adding edible things--or raisins--to it, as a reward for eating it.

(I like oatmeal, and raisins, m'self, but I remember as a child this being greeted, even by my mother, with a disbelief bordering on suspicion, as though I'd expressed a preference for turnips, or horsemeat.)

All right, so Quaker (now a fine family member of the health merchants at Pepsi-Frito Lay) Oats' conversion to health consciousness may not be particularly earth-shaking, or even particularly villainous; no doubt breakfast food providers around the globe are more self-interested than not. But it's the ease with which the Speeding Locomotive of American Public Opinion can be switched onto a siding while everyone pretends to be none the wiser that's so remarkable.

Or so I was thinking, anyway, while pondering Bill Kristol. When he turned up at the Times a few months back, Left Blogtopia, no so much drunk with power as sugar-buzzed off power's snack tray, erupted. But in the event the man has proven to be little more than David Brooks minus fifteen IQ points. And those are points Brooks cannot afford to give. Here's Mr. Neocon, Neocon Royalty, Second-Generation Neoconnage, given the keys to the Holiest of Wholly Librul Media, and he can't even be bothered to re-write the GOP talking points they hand him.

Who does he imagine he's writing to? Or, put another way, to whom does he imagine he's writing? Where's the fucking red meat with the melted butter chaser? Sure, sure, flaccid is a compliment to his prose style, but now it's shorn of its neo-Bircherite themes, the only thing that made Kristol even remotely worth paying attention to, like you'd keep an eye on the quiet loner across the street.  At the Times Kristol has somehow become David Brooks without the coy, which apparently resides somewhere in those additional fifteen points.

Yeah, I know, I know: every last sentence the man's uttered in his public career has been proven to be complete bullshit, thanks in no small part to his Doppelgänger in the White House. Why should that stop him? It was bullshit when he uttered it, and he knew that as well as anybody. Bullshit is the fucking growing medium Movement "Conservatism" has thrived on for thirty years. And it used to be a source of pride, in that sort of cocktail-party-cum-boardroom entre nous sense of theirs. Now Kristol tries to write like he's David F. Broder reheating last week's CW. It seems curious.
In fact, Republican hopes of denying Democrats complete control of the federal government for the next couple of years may rest on the promise of “McCain exceptionalism.”

Oh, Silly Billy! You'll (seemingly) always have the Court!

What sort of self-respecting hack recipient of affirmative action for well-born idiots says such a thing? When people began expressing their glee at the upcoming GOP meltdown, is this what they imagined? Bill Kristol, forced "reluctantly" to semi-endorse John McCain (despite the fact that McCain's done nothing but pander to party elites for months)? You'd think a calculating professional lunatic would at least be able to stage a competent-looking meltdown, wouldn't you?

We're reminded of the great Alstair Sim in Kind Hearts and Coronets; the real monarchists sent their idiot offspring into the clergy, where they could do damage only one day a week, or at table. Their American cousins roam loose. The election of Ronald Reagan served, to them, what an innocent wave to a crowd from a semi-starlet might do to the potential stalker in the middle of it who imagines it was aimed directly at him. We've played Fantasyland for three decades since. (This ought, by the way, to be a warning about New Voters riding to the rescue; it is very difficult to understand the hidden clockwork of such matters when the time frame exceeds your own.) It was led by a bunch of elitists waving the banner of Anti-elitism; by appeals to patriotism from people who sacrificed nothing but their country's treasury (for their own gain); by convincing the Little People they spoke for them, via phone from the private jet; and with the assistance of Men of the Gospel who knew all the prohibitions of Leviticus, and agreed with some, but drew a blank at Mammon. That it came apart around the Schiavo case, where the financial elites were shocked, shocked! to learn they shared a party with anti-freedom riders.  It smelled like duckshit then, and in rearview it looks like a last desperate attempt to salvage the brand from the disaster that is the George W. Bush they'd just elected. Brooks would start writing about how their were actually fifteen or more varieties of "conservative", and how the literate ones nearly came to blows every weekend over Burke and cosmopolitans. Funny how we'd never heard about 'em before. Funny how "conservatives" had just finished going ape over the knowledge.

Kristol doesn't mean any of this, of course--he's like the man who remember's his son's birthday at the last minute, and the promised baseball glove, and gets to the sporting goods place five minutes before closing to find they're out of everything but girls' softball gloves. And they're pink. There's plenty of time for recriminations later. For now he just ties a bow around Honest John. But if he really wants to whine about the future of the party, he might consider leaving it.

Saturday, May 17

Wait, George Bush Just Tried To Score Political Points By Quoting A Politician Who Said Something Stupid?

"Hitler's influence is waning so fast that the Government is no longer afraid of the growth of the Nazi movement."

William C. Bullitt, future US ambassador to the Soviet Union and France, 1932

"Believe me, Germany is unable to wage war."

David Lloyd George, 1934

"Though Germany is tremendously stronger in 'armored' divisions, Poland's superior cavalry is ideally suited to the terrain of Eastern Europe."

Maj. George Fielding Eliot, The Ramparts We Watch,  May 1939

"The modern German theory of victory by
Blitzkrieg (lightning war) is untried and, in the opinion of many experts, unsound."

Time June 1939

"By compelling Germany to sign a non-aggression pact, the Soviet Union has tremendously limited the direction of Nazi war aims."

Daily Worker editorial, August 1939

"Japan will never join the Axis."

General Douglas MacArthur, September 1940

"Bring it on."

George W. Bush, July 2003

TO begin, assuming William Edgar Borah really said if he'd just been able to talk to that Hitler fellah the little unpleasantness over Poland could have been avoided (and we have no reason to doubt anything Charles Krauthammer would say three times), it makes him guilty of naiveté, not genocide; as above, he's in good company when it comes to boat missing, not to mention that any American ought, we say ought to be aware of how pervasive Isolationism was in his own country even as another war in Europe looked inevitable.

I suppose de-grandeurizing "our" victory in WWI, to the extent of recognizing the profound effects of that Grand Folly and the worthless--less than--deaths of millions (compounded by a flu pandemic that killed twice that number) on the people lucky enough to live through it is out of the question, certainly on the Right. And admitting that, had Austria-Hungary or Serbia actually negotiated with The Enemy the whole thing would have been avoided, including the conditions that led to the rise of Nazism, would no doubt trigger a massive breakout of hives. Still, we might note that it's a fucking stupid thing to say on its face.

This we imagine as the best political response, rather than outrage about the Most Disliked President in History spewing shit about domestic political opponents before a foreign audience: the man's full of it. The idea that an Anglo-French declaration of war over the Sudetenland would have "stopped" Hitler is sci-fi stuff. What happened after war actually was declared? Sitzkrieg. Britain had no matériel; French military doctrine called, basically, for sitting behind the Maginot Line. (Criticize 'em all you like, but they'd stopped the Germans in 1914, and their failure in 1940 was due to complacency, not Appeasement; then ask yourself who th' fuck we are to be questioning anyone else's military doctrine at this point.) The US Congress passed the Neutrality Act of 1939 (which, to be sure, amounted to taking sides, but it may be distinguished from transporting non-existent armies around the globe in order to prevent the Holocaust.)

What all these appeals to Chamberlain's, or Borah's, public failures to foresee events clearly proves is that it's possible to view events more clearly (if not always more accurately) after they have occurred. It's a bit curious that the same administration that now misses that point was so eager to use it in the wake of "Bin-Laden Determined To Attack US". Ain't it?

How many times does it need to be pointed out that current fucking events (Iraq), the favorite recent historical era of the Right (the Cold War), as well as any reasonable analysis of the "appeasement" of Hitler show these idiots to be wrong, wrong, and wrong? It's blind fucking militarism as the solution to any problem that fails, disastrously, time and time again.

Friday, May 16

If You Need Me, I'll Be In The Storm Cellar.

David Brooks, "Obama Admires Bush." May 16

OKAY, first:  that's George Herbert Walker Bush, and if you'd like to take a moment to scream about deceptive headlines, I'll wait.

Second, George Herbert Walker Bush? What, the Reagan comment wasn't enough for this guy? What's next? Nixon went to China? Herbert Hoover really had us on the right track? Roger B. Taney was misunderstood?  

Thirdly, fourthly, and fifthly, as the Bush Obama doesn't admire would say...well, okay, I don't think I have three more points. I just wanted to say that, having endured Bush the Dumber saying "fourthly" the other day, on The Daily Show, where they thought the gag was that he'd opened with  something like "There are three things to keep in mind..." whereas I just really, really hate the construction, and I don't care who accepts it, OED, it still sounds idiotic. Does one say, "Seven comes fourthly in the list of Primes?" No, one does not.

All right, then, lastly, don't mind me. I've decided to increase my caffeine intake, just as an exercise in health contrarianism, and it's making me a little jumpy. I'm sure I'll get used to it. In the meantime, I don't really hold this particularly bit of stupidity against Senator Obama, because the overt stupidity is being manufactured to get him, and because, given the electorate they have to work with, it's possible to defend practically anything a politician says as just something he has to say to get elected, just as it's possible to defend almost anything that outrages the general sensibility of the American voter as most likely true. (This is not to say I do not welcome the inevitable explanation from Progressives, as I'm curious to know if He Didn't Really Mean It again, or if Iraq War I is now the touchstone of acceptable US foreign policy. )

No, I'd rather look at Brooks, who is in full passive-aggressive simper mode here, with the Special Republican Talking Points you're not supposed to be able to see without the Secret Decoder Ring, because Brooks is, you know, reasonable.

Who's supposed to be falling for this stuff? Once in a while I run into someone who says, "Oh, I used to like Brooks," or "his book was pretty funny," just as I occasionally see where someone confesses he liked Lieks' earlier, funnier carpet samples. But the question is, "how long could it have taken you to get over it?" and the corollary, "Why's he still there?" Or, as chuckling said the other day about the late Jane Galt: Yea, but what's her publisher's excuse?

Shouldn't the Times require something like a yearly road-worthiness test of its columnists? Shouldn't Brooks have to demonstrate the metaphorical ability to parallel park? Can't we check his emissions?

Hezbollah, Lebanon, Obama, negotiations, blah blah blah. Is it too much, really, to ask that Brooks act like he remembers who's President, let alone what sort of fluffing the man used to receive for his Codpiece Diplomacy, from the likes of, say, David Brooks? It's the final fucking months, Allah akbar, of Commander Negotiation Is Appeasement, not the first hopeful moments of sunshine after the smoking hulk of Jimmy Appeasement Carter's Disastrous Reign. So how's that No Negotiations thing workin' out?
Is Obama naïve enough to think that an extremist ideological organization like Hezbollah can be mollified with a less corrupt patronage system and some electoral reform? Does he really believe that Hezbollah is a normal social welfare agency seeking more government services for its followers? Does Obama believe that even the most intractable enemies can be pacified with diplomacy? What “Lebanese consensus” can Hezbollah possibly be a part of?
If Obama believes all this, he’s not just a Jimmy Carter-style liberal. He’s off in Noam Chomskyland.

Let us try to be reasonable and open-minded about this. In the seventy years since the end of WWII spurred the Second Great Awakening of innate American empire lust, and the Truman administration strong-armed the creation of the State of Israel, there are, arguendo, three American contributions to its continued existence: massive foreign and military aid, the possible transfer of nuclear technology (so far), and the Camp David Accords, which ended the state of war between Israel and her largest enemy and fractured pan-Arabism. See if you can name the American President who pulled that one off. [Bonus question: how many battalions did he use?]

Let us further state that the difference between Stark Raving Chomskyism and the alternatives is that SRC hasn't yet failed in practice.

We might, while we're at it, note the accomplishments of two of our most activist post-war Presidents in terms of using military force to accomplish US aims: both Eisenhower and Reagan invaded Lebanon. Ike's even went pretty well, assuming you're a fan of propping up Christian control of Muslims agitated by the final act of the old Anglo-French imperialism. Reagan, well, not so good. And we'll add we're back talking about Lebanon, again, for the second time in the Codpiece administration.

As for Senator Obama, we're in full agreement here. There was absolutely nothing else the Bush I administration could have done in response to Kuwaiti slant-drilling unprovoked aggression by Saddam Hussein, a man the Reagan/Bush administration had repeatedly tried to rein in. And no one can argue that, after the US and Coalition forces invaded, there was not a single occurrence of the horrific use of incubator babies for bayonet practice.

Thursday, May 15

Sucks, Dunnit?

Sandra Day O'Connor, demanding the Senate take action 
to speed Alzheimer's research and help caregivers.

NOBODY has to tell us how devastating dementia is. Nobody has to tell us what caregivers go through. We're lucky enough that there's enough money for mom to live comfortably, receive professional care, and be kept active. We're lucky they were reasonable about it when she took to stuffing washcloths in drains and flooding the place. We bear up. Like you do. Nobody has to tell us the value of anyone with a public forum bringing attention to dementia (and not just Alzheimer's).

What someone might explain to me is what, exactly, Sandra Day O'Connor imagined was going to happen to millions of Americans with all sorts of desperate, life-altering needs which are best addressed by governmental action when she voted to disenfranchise voters in Florida and install a Republican troika in Washington. A new era of compassionate conservatism?

Wednesday, May 14

A Little Darker, Please.

Our present toaster, like so many gadgets, is more of a subscription to appliance world

R. Porrofatto

THESE two  articles in the Sunday Times caught my attention. In the former, the old Tiger Stadium in Detroit, the Briggs Stadium of my extreme youth, where Al Kaline and Norm Cash and Harvey Kuenn played a child's game instead of working summers, where for a while Rocky Bridges enjoyed watching ball games and kept a wad in one cheek that made him look like Dizzy Gillespie with Bell's palsy, is being fully or partially demolished (which being the point of the article) for free, in exchange for the salvage rights; in the latter, the rise of thoroughbred fatalities is linked to a Win the Glamorous Races At Age Three Or You're Cat Food mentality that may be weakening the breed.
[Waymon Guillebeaux, a vice president of the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation] also turned a measured eye to the present and said that remaining structural pieces are valuable. They are from the first half of the 20th century. “The steel is the highest of the high grades,” he said. “Steel was cheap then.”

Adding that all metal prices had “gone through the roof,” Rottach said the demolition would be a green project with about 85 percent of the materials recycled.

Now, the only thing I know about economics is that Milton Friedman won a Nobel for it by the simple expedient of using the word "freedom" at least twice per paragraph, thereby giving birth to both the Sisyphean School and a generation of David Brooks columns.  

See, I can't understand why 85%  of the materials in every project known to man wouldn't be recycled.  When did it ever make sense to just throw shit in a hole and put a match to it?  How is it that stewardship has never entered into the equation, except as the anti-capitalist agenda of Dirty Hippie, Inc. ?

Here, again, I'm not insisting common sense should necessarily trump statistical investigation, and I'm not saying the degradability of product quality over time, or increased scarcity, hence cost, is strictly attributable to unchecked avarice and its avatars and professional touts. I'm saying we ought to be able to make a fucking toaster that works as well as they did forty years ago, and the fact that we do not is enough evidence to grab these fuckers by the wrist before they turn over another card, search 'em for the gaff, and ride 'em out of town on a rail, suitably tarred and feathered.

It's more than possible, it's likely I'm an idiot, but, then, I'm pretty sure that when the Reagan administration simultaneously oversaw (if I may use the term) the mass consolidation of the meat-packing industry and simply upgraded every slice of cow in the country ("Everyone under sixteen years of age is now...sixteen years of age," and, after all, why quibble about Grades when you aren't really going to inspect anything anyway?) it was not in consideration of some new technology that turned gristle into filet, but one that turned the public's gold into its own. Freely, as they note in the econ biz.

Tuesday, May 13

More Songs Strangled Cries About Politics and Food

AS some of you know, every so often I'm struck by the inexplicable desire to turn on cable news, and, y'know, just watch it for some reason. Obviously not for the news, of course. This used to happen to me with fast food, too. Once a year or so I'd be driving somewhere and suddenly duck into Burger Abomination, not because I was particularly hungry, usually, and if so not because I imagined I'd find food there, but because it sounded good. Almost impossible to explain, and certainly impossible to justify in the forty-eight hours following the consumption of a Double with Cheese, Petri Dish of Death Germs, and fries.

As I recall it that didn't last beyond my twenties, and I can't even think of the last time I ate out of a bag. Perhaps the coming of cable replaced it with more intellectual pursuits. That is, very slightly more intellectual.

This morning I climbed on the exercise bike, having placed the remote control on the book holder dealie, because it slides out of the cup holder. It didn't occur to me when I bought the thing to check if the more expensive model had a cigarette lighter, too. And something simply came over me, and without even checking Turner Classics I went right for the McRib Sandwich of cable news, Morning Joe. And I lasted, I kid you not, twenty seconds.

(We spoke yesterday about my Poor Wife's--in fact her entire clan's--maddening fastidio-queasy approach to foodstuffs. The McRib, which has become some sort of seasonal product, like eggnog or lemongrass ale, is the ne plus ultra of gag inducement at our place. This may explain her near-psychopathic channel surfing, now that I think of it--just a glimpse of those slaughterhouse floor sweepings injection molded to look as though it came from a slightly more expensive portion of the animal, then coyly hidden behind some food additive chemist's molecular duplication of the cheapest store-brand barbecue sauce you could find, in the Third World, will put her off her feed for seventy-two hours, minimum. This is, of course, completely understandable, but medical science is at a loss to explain how the entire process can take place faster than the autonomic nervous system is capable of responding even under optimal laboratory conditions.)

It was Tweety. Okay, first, it was a clip of Hillary Clinton and, quite frankly, it's highly unlikely I will sit through anything anymore which involves teevee "talent" talking about either Democratic candidate, or what's left of their race. But for cryin' out fucking loud, why is Chris Matthews on in the morning too? He's got his own show, which, as I understand it, the American public has rather resoundingly declared it will watch for precisely as long as it takes to find fresh AA batteries and get the remote to work again. At one point he had two shows, which apparently gave twice as many people the opportunity to see what a despicable slimewad he is. But he's still Joe's "guest" in the morning. This is, of course, an extension of the hiring of carnival talker ("barker" is incorrect) Barbara Walters to anchor an evening news program, an event which explains everything that has gone wrong since, everywhere in the world, and which is still so raw in my memory it's painful to type. Bob-wah begat Tom Brokaw, whose own stint in the previously-respectable morning "news" game proved that, for The Greatest Generation, it took a man to solidify the acceptability of reading the news with a speech impediment. It's Brokaw who established the practice of anchors turning up on the morning froth-fests to act as "experts", meaning that, unlike the professional blabbermouths who actually hosted those things, he knew which hemisphere Nicaragua was in without being cued. It might have been Dan Rather, actually, but CBS held on to the hard-news-in-the-morning format longer than the others (RIP Hughes Rudd), and anyway, Danny was more like that uncle of yours who came back from the war a little funny in the head. Brokaw was the guy who not only tried to sell you the Extended Warranty you'd already said no to, but did so in a way that let you know he'd be thrilled to death if you'd waste $99.95 so long as it made him look like a complete toad to the Higher Ups.

But I digress. Tweety, over the Clinton clip, says something to the effect that she'd "calculated" she could get by the Democratic primaries with her Iraq War vote and get the nomination "by entitlement, or whatever", before mov...

That was all I could take.

This reminds me that last week's commenters were kind enough to act as though I'd swung a corked bat at both Obama and Clinton supporters, which might have been the just thing to do, but isn't the thing I did, nor, really something I'd ever done. And I spent part of my weekend wondering why that was.

So here, as chronologically as I can relay it without doing any actual work, Why I'm Not As Irritated (In Print) By Clinton Supporters:

1) I'd already rejected the candidacy of Senators Clinton, Edwards, and Dodd after the Iraq War authorization. This meant that, throughout 2007 she appeared to me as Another Democrat I Had No Interest In Voting For Although I'd Vote Against Her Opponent, making her the seventh such, or something like that. The bad news with Hillary was already discounted.

2) Senator Obama, on the other hand, once he started to distinguish himself from the pack, proved far too wedded to a campaign image (end partisanship!) which didn't seem to make sense. You're a student of politics, you're a South Side activist, and you think partisanship is our greatest obstacle? Either tell me how you came by this, or I have to assume it's the result of the image-making that's gone on since 2004.

3) And don't get me wrong; I don't object to image-making, and what if I did? It's the system, although the still-untapped potential of the astonishing Perot vote in '92, which was, what? 17%?--say what you will about the man, even when he was flat-out nuts he sounded like a man trying to be honest and reasonable--seems to me, as time goes on, less like a lost opportunity and more like a political consultant's idea of how to make more political consultants. But Senator Obama ran with this about as gleefully as Tom Brokaw runs with another idea to separate seniors and their money.

4) The Halloween Gang-Tackle and the Lukewarm Response By Clinton Opponents. You know what's great? Elizabeth Edwards excoriating our pathetic Press in the Times. Y'know what would have been greater? If he husband hadn't seen fit to collude with Tim Russert and Brian Williams for the crime of out-polling him.

5) Premature Coronation Week and the Damned Racists crying jag. Is Brooklyn Still In The League? I thought there was nothing worse than excessive celebration by a front-runner, until I witness the deflating loss in New Hampshire being explained as The Bradley Effect by that bunch on MSNBC, who looked like it was the only thing that kept them from hanging themselves en masse. And more's the pity.

6) This, then, would be the beginning of my Tripartite Obama Problem. The eruption of Obamist bloggers I read into what, frankly, struck me as bat-shit Klintoon Khronicles craziness; the Dog Staring At A Ceiling Fan campaign the Senator has run ever since, including Those Reagan Remarks; and the fact that as frontrunner, both his campaign and his campaign supporters should have shown some recognition that sunrise and sunset are regular occurrences they've been familiar with for some time. The front-runner is going to need those votes after the dust settles! Why was that so hard to recognize?

7) In this you may detect a double standard--mine--and you're partly correct. I'd rank Senator Clinton as Just Another Centrist Democrat who happens to be particularly good on national health care. I expected her to say things to get elected. It astonished me to see her get criticized for the simple act of declaring that she thought she'd make a better candidate. I don't deny Senator Obama the same right, but it'd be nice if your political persona, and your published positions, decrying partisanship were matched by a little post-partisan behavior. Unless "blaming old people, women, and racists for not voting for you" is the new post-partisanship.

8) Alternately, if you're a lifelong partisan and an Obama supporter, then you ought to acknowledge the distinction.

9) Of the dozen or so bloggers I try to read everyday, and the dozen or so more I try to get to, some went full-tilt Obamanation in January and never looked back. There weren't that many declared Clinton supporters--Tom Watson is the only one I can recall--and people such as Lance, who may've stated a slight preference, were thoughtful, respectful, and apparently cognizant of the figures on morning sunrises. On the other hand, three blogs I read regularly went insane, and generally not for Obama as against anything Hillary Clinton had ever touched. This is, after all, my movie. Coulda found Clintonistas who angered me as much, yes. As it turned out, though, I'd largely have had to seek them out.

10) I generally do not reply to other people's commenters, and I genuinely try to avoid the truly egregious. But the rolling yahooglianism of "Get out of the way, Old White Woman!" is, simply, beyond the pale. The prospect of sharing a party with you this November fills me with McRib.

Monday, May 12

re: Inspire® 2-slice model 6328

James B. S. Riley
Global Powders & Notions, LLC
General Delivery
Indianapolis, IN
May 12, 2008

Mr. John Oster, deceased,
The Oster Manufacturing Company
acquired by Sunbeam Products,
which was bought out by
Allegheny International, Inc., before
the division was cited, along with
its accounting firm which, not surprisingly, was
Arthur Andersen, LLC, now owned by
four limited liability corporations called
Omega Management I through IV,
for accounting fraud and
filed for bankruptcy, only to reemerge
one year later as the privately owned
American Household, Inc. (AHI)
which was purchased by
Jarden Corporation (NYSE: JAH), the former
Alltrista Corporation, which began as the
spin-off of its canning business by the Ball Corporation
Rye, N.Y.

Dear Mr. Oster:

I like toast. In this, as I'm sure you're aware, or would be if you were still alive, I am far from alone; it's a staple of breakfast tables in much of the civilized world. Toward this end I, again like millions of others, employ a toaster, or device which toasts bread automatically on both sides at once. I enjoy its convenience, and, if I may indulge in the personal for a moment, the aroma of toasting bread and the satisfying pop of the finished product, which frequently startles, but in a good way. I like mine with butter (or, more accurately, partially-hydrogenated vegetable oil spread the color of cabbage butterflies); for an occasional treat I'll add some apricot preserves.

I don't know when I first became a fan of toast. As an infant I was fed digestive biscuits, which might serve as a sort of gateway to toast enjoyment; I suppose your marketing department could answer that. I do remember that the toaster was a prominent feature of my family's breakfast table, which, let us clearly understand each other here, was also the lunch and dinner table--we were not one of your fancy breakfast-nook-owning families--but Mother would put the toaster back in the cabinet after the morning meal.

Now, here's the peculiar thing about that, the late Mr. Oster: we must have had that same toaster for at least a decade. If you could remember things at this stage, I'm sure you'd remember that such objects take on a sort of totemic power for young children, being, at the same time, a kind of magical amulet and a provider of warmth and comfort. I can, in fact, close my eyes and still smell the warm brown bakelite of the handles and knobs, with their clearly marked numerical progression, and recall how the Art Deco-ish bulge of its chrome body offered literally hours of enjoyment once I discovered it would distort faces most comically, like a household funhouse mirror. And the redorange glow of its elements was mesmerizing, presaging a lifelong fascination with various forms of flammability, something I would eventually turn into a career of sorts. So I remember it clearly, and it was the only toaster I would know until the late 70s ushered in the craze for throwing perfectly good equipment in a landfill, during which time it made toast.

You may have seen where I'm going with this, Mr. Oster; I'm not quite clear how perceptive people in your situation are. Last fall I replaced my previous toaster, which, at a mere five years of age, had lost a portion of its electrical function. (Here I might explain that in the American economy of the 21st century it is both cheaper and faster to replace the entire apparatus than to contrive with ten cents' worth of wire to repair it.) So I cranked up the flivver, bounced my way to my local retailler, and bought a sleek and shiny replacement. As you may have guessed, or not, an Oster.

Now, sir, like you, I imagine, I find myself living a portion of my life in a century for which I was not prepared, though I imagine the dazzling rate of increasing complexity seemed to you like progress. I get home with this product and spend ten minutes reading the instructions. For toast. I mean, sir, I don't generally swear around the deceased, in case they're not partial to it, but what th' fuck? The thing has a setting for bagels, which is fine in a politically-correct sort of way, but there's also a WARM and a FROZEN button which I can't for the life of me figure why anyone would need. And the dial is a marvel of illegibility. There's no marking on the knob itself, which apparently would have demoralized the design staff no end. Instead it has a small ridge between two beveled sections which serves as a marker supposing one has sensitive enough fingers (and, I might point out, small enough to still read the numbers underneath while fondling it). The scale runs from 1 through 7, with dots in between offering what frankly must be termed the illusion of decimal increments of control. In the actual event numbers 1-4, and their fractional handmaidens, do nothing beyond getting the bread slightly warm, which, while it may be some user's cup of tea, does not actually qualify as "toast", and would seem to raise the question about what that WARM switch is doing there.

All of this in fact, sir, I would have learned to live with without too much bother as, in fact, I had until recently, when the thing began to develop a mind of its own, which, although I haven't checked yet, probably signals the warranty has expired. This may have begun when my Poor Wife, who is a notoriously fickle, sensitive, and, well, no need beating around the bush, half-insane eater, as is the rest of her family (at least she doesn't vomit nearly as much as her baby brother, who can be set off by someone trimming the broccoli too long) decided to have some toast one morning instead of whatever godawful coffeeshop provender she usually indulges (a sensitive eater who readily consumes feedlot-quality comestibles prepared by people who were in prison as recently as last week!). She, you might have been able to guess, favors toast in which the color of the bread remains unchanged, and in pursuit of this started fiddling with the dial which, of course, I didn't discover until the next morning, when my own toast popped up so quickly I thought I'd failed to completely engage the switch. And, of course, since what markings there are are in Hipster Design Braille it took another exercise in warming bread to figure out the problem. As I say, I haven't checked the warranty; perhaps "changing the dial once set" voids it.

So this weekend I planned on fixing club sandwiches for lunch. This means, for two of us, six total slices of toast which I generally toast lightly in consideration of my wife's preferences and avoidance of keeping them all straight during assembly. Six total slices of toast, one unchanged setting, yielding four different visual results, including one piece which looked on one side as though it had gotten a suntan through a picket fence. You may compare, sir, that old chrome model of my youth, which, rescued by some landfill archaeologist, is probably available on eBay as we speak, listed as "works great!"

I write to you, Mr. Oster, not because I cannot contact the company online, or because I imagine that you still have some pull there, but because it is your name on the thing ("Oster: The Quality Goes In Before The Name Of Some Guy Who Died Thirty Years Before His Company Ever Made A Toaster Goes On") and I feel this makes us partners in grievance. And I was wondering if it's true that the dead can shoot laser beams out of their eyes, or cause people to stab themselves with their own letter openers, or raise maps of painful boils, anything the people responsible for this thing deserve? A simple haunting, if that's the one interaction you're permitted, would be satisfactory. I remain, sir, yours in spirit.


James B. S. Riley

JBSR: dc