Thursday, July 31

Jonah Goldberg: Putting The Cack In "Cachexia".

D. Pantload, "A Losing Salute". July 30

I'M serious: can a nation aspire to greatness, however defined, while a fat, loathsome slug like Goldberg eats free on its tender stalks and leaves a trail of slime everywhere?

Oh, I don't mean that in the First Amendment sense; Americans have tolerated worse and been made stronger for overcoming it (though they haven't been subjected to any mass-marketed stupidity so dismal, outside the specialty markets of End Times Revelations and cable television jewelry sales, in my memory, at least). I mean Goldberg is the ugly growth that won't go away, and that a sane person would seriously consider Getting Looked At. One may, of course, postulate without fear of concrete rebuttal that no one anywhere near the Goldbergian political orbit qualifies as sane, but someone at Goucher gave the man a diploma. Some editor at the El-Lay Times and/or other fine practitioner of what Oscar Wilde once called "journalism" must actually chew his stuff before spitting it into the Opinion Hole, though perhaps he is simply an experienced drinker. One hopes. At any rate, we must assume that, as it is patently obvious that Mr. Goldberg has no marketable sexual skills, there must be some money changing hands somewhere. And this sort of thing is met with shrugs, while honest prostitutes almost everywhere are still harassed by The Man.

(I'm serious. I have no idea what "aspire to greatness" means for a nation, and as for individuals, most of the people I've met to whom the term applies provide little if any support for its adoption as a guiding principle. They seem almost uniformly to aspire to collecting large enough wads of cash that they can live comfortably without having to concern themselves with the sort of philosophical problems "greatness" might raise. Or anything else. As for nations, well, I've been listening to this shit my whole life, having chosen to be born a Boomer and subjected to the carpet bombing campaigns of a succession of Roy Cohn battalions, forcible insertions of "God" into banal Boy Scout doggerel, which is then forced into the mouths of high school students, and dire warnings about the End of Our Precious Freedoms lest we stamp out comic books, pinko screenwriters, or Negroes, et. seq.  All I know is that you or I, given the opportunity to live in Sparta, Ancient Rome, or any of the three other civilizations whose Hollywood renderings give Victor Davis Hanson a hard-on, would, in all likelihood, choose exposure at birth. But, curiously, the one thing people who do profess to believe this stuff are convinced of the immutability of is the rightness of their own opinions. We find it curious--and, after fifty years, more than a skosh tedious--that the only black night of the "conservative" soul occurs when, and is limited in scope to, the prospect of losing an election. No one seems to ask why the Reagan Revolutionists were so good at renaming airports and so bad at everything else that the latter is now Worse Than Ever, and, hence, more in need of the application of "Conservative" "Principles" than ever.)

(Come to think of it, the airports haven't improved much, either.)

So now Goldberg rises like a fart bubble in a bathtub to defend his nation's honor against the comic books rock and roll marihuana addict commie thespian Soviet appeaser water fluoridator integrated school atheist takeover of public education love-in generation anti-war commie ACLU dupes leftist professors sex educators secular humanist anti-gun Big Government politically correct elitist nanny-staters unintended consequences Gay and Lesbian objectively pro-terrorist dead-enders Thought Crime of ESPN honoring the 40th anniversary of the "once infamous, and now famous, black-power salutes from the medal platform at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics" of Tommie Smith and John Carlos, which "rests on an inch-deep nostalgia and the triumph of celebrity culture".

One can, of course, simply attack, or simply dismiss, the antics of a cosseted buffoon who--nearing forty himself!--imagines the pathetic scrambling of his mentor Mr. Eff Buckley II, e.g., to Cover His Racist Ass Once The Game Became Untenable has rendered Goldberg's generation bulletproof on the issue.  Pooches were screwed! But I don't own slaves!  One could point out the same inability to construct an argument and the substitution of the keyboard twitch and the stale dyspeptic belch, the latter a mere mannerism picked up wholesale from that earlier generation that drilled young Jonah with Birch Society flashcards. There's the usual, comic, self-anihilating disavowal of his own words ("By the end of the 1960s, America had seen two decades of steady — if too slow — racial progress.") and the attendant hapless history, and, as usual, the frantic application of tar without control, lest his lack of a point and reflexive flinching be misconstrued (" In 1972, Palestinian terrorists — grateful for 1968’s lesson in the propaganda value of Olympics media attention — slaughtered Israeli athletes."). The man is the Comstock Load (do not sic me, Dear Reader!) of wingnutty stupidity. One almost swings the pick blindfolded:
Comments by ESPN sportscaster Stuart Scott typify the inanity of ESPN’s award. Scott, who was 3 years old in 1968, nonetheless told the Desert Sun newspaper that he remembers how “tense” the times were and how he remembers thinking, “Oh, that was cool for a black man to do that.” He added: “As an adult, I get it even more now.” Even more than when he was barely out of diapers? That’s setting the bar high.

Jonah Goldberg is four years younger than Scott! How do you reach that place, where dishonesty, even blatant dishonesty, even powered by the self-hoisting petard, is practically an autonomic response?  It's like short-changing someone in a fast-food transaction then ostentatiously pocketing the difference in plain sight.

I was fourteen years old that October, a white, middle-class suburban kid and a Track and Field fanatic who was coming to realize that the sort of morality tales told me in Sunday School and Civics Class seemed frequently at odds with what might be called "reality". Nowhere was that more apparent than with race.

(Yes, Jonah, it may be difficult for you to believe, but the toothless Federal gumming that followed the Civil Rights Act of 1957 did not actually result in any more African-Americans voting in the Jim Crow South; just as the Brown decision resulted in shuttered public schools for a decade, it resulted in an increasingly militant oppression of blacks.  And, before I forget, you're not qualified to sniff the jocks of Jesse Owens or Jackie Robinson, or, for that matter, to comment on who called whom a "Tom". Do you have the slightest inkling, or the tiniest concern, about what Jesse Owens faced when he returned to America as an Olympic hero, let alone before? If too slow! The pooch got screwed! Who do you think was doing the screwing? Not the Olympic Project for Human Rights. If Jackie Robinson sided with the gradualists of his era's NAACP, the motor behind the failed Brown, at a time when real personal sacrifice was being made just to bring attention to the dichotomy between Law and Practice; if Owens in his destitution became a spokesman for the US Olympic committee, despite the turbulent times; if there were people on the other side of the issue insensitive enough to disrespect either man because of it, then it is their shame and their business, and not yours to play political puff football with. You have no idea what you're even talking about.)

I remember '68. I remember Bob Beamon jumping out of the goddam stadium, Al Oerter winning his fourth discus gold, and Jim Ryan being felled by mono and Kip Keino. I remember the great Lee Evans demolishing his own world record in the 400, Jim Hines breaking 10 seconds in the 100. And I remember Tommie Smith and John Carlos.

And, you know what? I didn't piss myself about Black Power. I respected, even admired them, certainly far more than the people who just boycotted the Games, and all the more so when the white sportswriter brigade stopped trashing the draft-dodging Muhammad Ali long enough to call for their heads, and Avery Brundage, the slimiest invertebrate to ever preside over anything less than a junta, threatened to expell the entire American team unless Smith and Carlos were suspended. And I knew--probably more instinctively then, or perhaps by virtue of being a track athlete, and now more de jure--that the Olympic ideal is the celebration of individual achievement. not the rampant bullshit nationalism that the Games have become, with the encouragement of sponsorship dollars, since the beginnings of the Cold War.

And which, of course, has only gotten worse since then, as teevee dollars dictated more and more of what the individual committees did, and which turned every Games into a Jingoism-fest-cum-soap-opera for people who don't give a shit about sports at any other time and couldn't pick Jesse Owens out of the line-up people like Goldberg would have put him in for vagrancy.  The noblest of Olympic events, Track and Field is now a shambles and a sham; there isn't a record in the record books that can safely be considered untarnished. This is the direct result of the influence of US television money, which brought about the end of Olympic amateurism on the grounds that the Evil Empire was winning medals which were rightly ours. The East German women's swim team was once (rightly) considered an international disgrace; today cheating is considered a matter of individual preference, so long as you're a) American and b) don't get caught. That's the real fucking irony here; it's too bad we don't have men of the stature of Tommie Smith and John Carlos anymore. They, like Jim Hines, like Lee Evans, like Owens and Robinson before them, have spent much of their adult lives giving back to young people and their communities. Which is one more thing no one will ever say for Jonah Goldberg.

And thank you, ESPN.

Wednesday, July 30

Jack? Shit.

Jack Shafer, "The Untouchable: Why Nothing The Press Throws At Obama Sticks." July 29

FOUR grafs into his proof that the Press isn't in the tank for Barack, Barack is just so remarkably, so unprecedentedly slick that no one can get a good grip, Shafer--our guess is he was woozy from the requirements of all the reverse-counter-intuitive-intuitive-double-back-flip-anti-contrarian contrarianism the standard Slate article forces upon one (which can't be effortless even for the long-acclimated)--simply gives up the game twice. Twice:
What's unique about Obama and his candidacy is that almost none of the stuff the press throws at him sticks. Nor is the press alone in its inability to stick him. Hillary Clinton hurled rocks, knives, and acid at her rival even before the primaries (see this Jake Tapper piece from ABC News) and later upped the ante in desperation. She claimed that he was unprepared to serve as commander in chief and accused him of insulting gun owners and the religiously faithful. The eleventh-hour tactics may have won Clinton votes, but they failed to undermine Obama. [emphases mine]

1) Maybe common usage has finally devalued "unique" (or, more frequently, "very unique") to the point of total flaccidity, but I don't think so. (Shafer, though, must, since he actually employs "Teflon" in the next friggin' paragraph.) 2) Evoking Gregory Bateson in replaying the remarkable, and remarkably pervasive, Press Pundit critique of Hillary Clinton as the candidate who actually claimed she was the best qualified for the job! Oh, the gall of the woman! does not, oddly enough, quite convince us that your vision is so unclouded that what you say you can't spot must not exist.

Let's get Riley's personal feelings out of the way: I think this is a non-issue; I think there are serious concerns behind it, especially in light of 2000, 2004, and the catastrophes that followed. It's disappointing to me that so many Democrats, especially those whose sum total experience of national political campaigns are confined to one or both of those atrocities, think it's jake so long as it's the other guy's ox getting Gored--disappointing, but not surprising. I do not believe that Obama's treatment has approached the See No Moronity coverage of George W. Bush, or the statutory indecency of the public fluffing of John McCain, 2000.

But this is precisely not the issue. Let's roll the Press' standard defense of itself:
As long ago as March, the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz demolished charges that the press was soft on Obama by cataloging the tough pieces published by reporters exhuming the candidate's past: his financial relationship with friend and fundraiser Antoin "Tony" Rezko, who is now a convicted felon; his friendship with former Weather Undergrounder William Ayers; his casting of 130 "present" votes as an Illinois legislator; his nuclear energy compromise in the U.S. Senate, said to benefit a contributor; incendiary comments made by his pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright; and more.

Now, once again: maybe where you come from "demolish" means "wrote about" and "catalogue" means "five-item handbill"; maybe your street is divided by a medium strip, and maybe you eat a Po' Boy, or a Hero, or a Grinder. Certainly the stuff about Jeremiah Wright was laid on with a wheelbarrow, forget the trowel, but was this really negative coverage? Was it really coverage worthy of the name? Nobody ever quoted Senator Obama saying anything "incendiary about America", and he was almost universally praised everywhere except hopeless GOP sundown towns like The Corner for his "race speech" in Philadelphia. Sure, Wright managed to get himself back on the air for a thirty-second coda to his fifteen minutes. The use of this dreck does not count as tough coverage. It counts, as usual, as stupid sensationalism designed to hook the Lowest-Common Demographic (something, again, Senator Clinton would be roundly criticized for doing as a candidate).

Y'know, one can make the argument that the Press covered the Harken Oil story, or the McCain's Black Love Child story, in that both were out there, somewhere. But that would be to grossly overstate the case. The issue isn't whether stories get told--and anti-Obama stories are going to be told, so long as there's a FAUX network--it's about news judgments. It's about how long, and to what depth, stories are pursued. This is not 2000, or 2004; the Press has been found out, even if it took twenty-five years and a new technological information paradigm to catch people up with the 1980 election. There was an article about that in the Times! is no longer an answer.
To that list add the recent critical dispatches tarring Obama as a flip-flopper. The New Yorker's Hendrik Hertzberg found "the big papers … assembling quite a list of matters on which the candidate has 'changed his position,' including Iraq, abortion rights, federal aid to faith-based social services, capital punishment, gun control, public financing of campaigns, and wiretapping."

True enough. Which brings us to what should be the real complaint: that The Press comprises an awful lot of people who are paid an awful lot of money to tout horse races, and that's the coverage we get, with an extra scoop of hubris for good measure, and we're told to appreciate just how good that makes it. The Obama campaign consciously ran--let's make that "galloped"--rightward after the nomination was sewn up, so obviously and so patently that the only way not to cover it was not to cover him at all. And that he was now accused of "changing his position" on Iraq--by John McCain's lights, mind you--merely underlines the fact that he was allowed to go through the primaries--even before the primaries, Jack--portraying himself as the anti-war candidate while his position papers said something different.

It's the script, boys and girls, not a question of overt bias, and how long will it take to get these highly-overpaid scriptwriters to act like they understand the real basis for the criticism? Shit, there are minimum-wage Wal*Mart greeters who evince the classic symptoms of Stockholm syndrome combined with unregenerate pep-rallyism. How's "never to the sixth power" work for you? It's Obama, the Suave, Cool, but Untested vs. McCain, the Tried, the True, the Tired and Boring. If we had real journalism, except in fits and starts, it wouldn't be this way, and we wouldn't even be discussing it. If the Press was willing to learn from its mistakes, and wasn't largely self-contained (outside the hated internets), we wouldn't be discussing it. And if this election gave it another opportunity to feed the Anybody But Clinton itch in its marrow we'd be discussing how it is John McCain stays so sharp and so witty at 71.

Tuesday, July 29

You Go First.

David Brooks, "The Biggest Issue." July 29

MY Poor Wife and I were watching the local teleprompter readers try, and fail, to read teleprompters yesterday when a teaser for Teachers Learning About Vietnam! (the war, not the country) took us to commercial.

PW: This is just what Sue (her friend in the Humanities Department) has been complaining about. They never get to Vietnam in history classes. It's like that Simpsons thing where school's out for the summer, and the teacher runs out to say, "I forgot to tell you who won World War Two...We did!"

DR: They shouldn't bother.

PW: What?

[My Poor Wife is real, and really a teacher, and just so this doesn't sound like I'm talking to an imaginary cabbie, there was a break in the conversation when the story came on. I'm not supposed to yell at the "News" when education stories are on, and sometimes I even remember. She's remarkably understanding about the rest, or just totally defeated by now; the regular reader may have surmised by this point that I yell at the weather forecast. It was pretty much a nothing story. We resumed:]

DR: You've read Lies My Teacher Told Me. What we do get to in History classes is bunkum. And it's a particular type of bunkum: deflavorized national myths designed not to offend the legions of semi-pro offense takers out there. If they did get to Vietnam, students would barely know more about it than they do in its absence.

Fer chrissakes, there are people on the internets who will blithely announce that the US won World War I, saving the French in the process. It's not even jingoism. They believe it. It's how we teach history.

We've got two Presidential candidates, one on either side [chronologically] of the war, and neither one evinces any knowledge of it, at least publicly. They spew myths. They spew myths about Iraq and Afghanistan, and those are going on now. I can hardly blame teachers for not getting to Vietnam before the clock runs out. What are they supposed to teach? That our soldiers are heroes, that the war was controversial [it's the term the teleprompter readers used--twice--in introducing the story], that hippies spit on returning servicemen?

PW: I'm sorry, were you saying something?

[It's our little joke. Not that she wouldn't have tuned out by now if the volume were lower.]

DR: Shit, you were watching those morning shows with me last week. What do these people want our children to be educated for? To better understand the historical context of the Jonas Brothers' humanitarian concerns? Or the subtleties of Rachael Ray's grilled cheese?

Paging David Brooks.

Why did the United States become the leading economic power of the 20th century? The best short answer is that a ferocious belief that people have the power to transform their own lives gave Americans an unparalleled commitment to education, hard work and economic freedom.

So much for the Socratic method.
Between 1870 and 1950, the average American’s level of education rose by 0.8 years per decade. In 1890, the average adult had completed about 8 years of schooling. By 1900, the average American had 8.8 years. By 1910, it was 9.6 years, and by 1960, it was nearly 14 years.

Let's go ahead and note here the essential contributions of Child Labor laws, scholarly reform and scientific advancement, and expanded legally mandated attendance. Because we can be pretty sure that Brooks won't.
As Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz describe in their book, “The Race Between Education and Technology,”

And once again, I will believe that people such as David Brooks are seriously interested in improving education, as opposed to churning silt in order to muddy the politics of it, when they show some respect for their own. Especially, say, when they stop quoting the latest piece of work that backs up their established position on the subject as though it precluded further debate, and start acknowledging varying points of view.
America’s educational progress was amazingly steady over those decades, and the U.S. opened up a gigantic global lead.

And this is the point, Mr. Brooks--you've suspected it was coming, haven't you?--when we note that when you say "America" you mean "White America". I know you don't like to hear it; I know you've practiced saying "Liberals are always playing the Race Card at the first opportunity" for twenty-five years now. I don't know if you imagine you're being sly about it, or just don't care, or if you really believe--in that "here's a book that backs up what I think, making it the definitive study" way of yours--that race has no part in this. But you cannot make simple moral tales out of the history of post-Reconstruction education and employment and ignore the ugly immorality that kept 10% of the population from effectively sharing in either. You can not.

Now then, could you explain just what th' fuck "opened up a gigantic global lead" is supposed to mean?
In 1950, no European country enrolled 30 percent of its older teens in full-time secondary school. In the U.S., 70 percent of older teens were in school.

Oh, we had a gigantic global lead in "older teens" enrolled as full-time students. I don't suppose it will do any good to ask you why this is the case, since distinctions are to the social moralist what trades unions are to the University of Chicago economist. We--again you can thank, but won't, the sort of meddlesome liberal do-gooder, academic elitist, and tax-and-spend legislator you routinely sneer at--created multifunctional schools. We educated "older teens" who were entering trades, as opposed to making apprentices of 'em at fourteen.
America’s edge boosted productivity and growth. But the happy era ended around 1970 when America’s educational progress slowed to a crawl.

Gee, could that growth have had anything to do with Europe self-destructing in two World Wars, or the United States' position as the resource-rich breadbasket of the world, separated from the fighting by an ocean or two? The exploitation of cheap immigrant labor? Or how 'bout the establishment of a social safety net, trade and securities regulations, which at least partially protected workers and their families from the vicissitudes of speculator-driven boom and bust cycles? The forty-hour work week (quaint, isn't it?), minimum wage laws, improved public health laws, which made it possible for workers to grow up without rickets and live in cities without contracting typhus? Oooh, oooh, I know! Higher marginal tax rates!

No, my mistake; it must have been education, the decline in which, beginning around 1970, led directly to the Reagan Bust and the Clinton Calamity.
This threatens the country’s long-term prospects. It also widens the gap between rich and poor. Goldin and Katz describe a race between technology and education. The pace of technological change has been surprisingly steady. In periods when educational progress outpaces this change, inequality narrows. The market is flooded with skilled workers, so their wages rise modestly. In periods, like the current one, when educational progress lags behind technological change, inequality widens. The relatively few skilled workers command higher prices, while the many unskilled ones have little bargaining power.

I'm sorry. Goldin and Katz do not send me free books, which means I've begun the argument slightly behind, a situation which is compounded by the fact that this sort of bullshit gives me headaches. I assume--I hope--that Goldin and Katz spin a somewhat more subtle tale in their 496 pages, but suggesting that economic inequality--which expanded explosively throughout the Reagan/Bush I years, then moderated under Clinton, before exploding again with That Current Moron--is a direct function of worker education just buggers belief. It clearly is not the case during the adult lifetime of David Brooks. And that's without mentioning that the rallying cry for all this tax-cutting for the wealthy was the metaphorical effect of a rising tide on all boats. Of course, now that this has turned to shit the motto has turned into It's Your Own Damn Fault You Swamped!

Let's say, again, that we ought to reject the Single Point of View method of solving complex problems; that we should maintain a healthy, educationally-sound skepticism where overly-broad constructions are concerned, that we should double this when they fail to account for readily-obtainable evidence, and especially when this failure tends to excuse or exonerate the actions of the people who are pushing it in the first place. I have no idea whether this would include Goldin and Katz. But it fits David Brooks like a suit of taylor-made data.

1970 is about the time we began taking seriously the moral requirement to give equal access to public education to minority students. And it is right about the time that Mr. Brooks' end of the political spectrum began fighting that tooth, nail, and treatise by free-market economist. If you're serious about improving education, then get serious about providing health care, nutrition, and an enriched environment of language, literature, art and music for the economically disadvantaged. Quit trying to bust teachers' unions and pay off parochial school parents for voting your way, and start showing real interest in young lives. And start demanding that the wealthy pay for it. Knock off the free market pieties, which have turned to cinders in your hands while you were pretending not to notice anyway. In fact, how 'bout admitting you've purposely fucked things up, and vow to shut up while someone else tries to clean up the mess?

Monday, July 28

Mild Suburban Amusements, Vol. XIX

SUNDAY afternoon Larry jumped into my office window and started chattering, and I stopped to figure out what he was on about, and heard the unmistakable high-pitched, non-stop monologue of a sugar-buzzed five-year-old, which sounded close.  Too close.  So I looked out the window to see Parker, the aforementioned buzzee, tearing leaves off the autumn-blooming clematis growing on the lamp post.  I ran to the front door and threw it open.

DR:  Parker, just what do you think you're doing?
SB5: Stella (the neighbor's cat, sister to Keats) is under there!
DR:  Parker, do you know how to swim?
SB5: No.
DR: Well, I think it's amazing that in five years no one's seen fit to take advantage of that.

The Electric Gatekeeper of Hell


WARNING: the visually impaired should not watch this video. The rest of you can already see it's Meredith Viera.

AT one point last week the bereaved homeowner, forcibly separated from modern communications, considered getting all his news from the television networks, which still showed up in his living room unbidden, free of charge, like previously rejected suitors now possessed of some pathetic new hope, but secret, daring only to express condolences but thinking maybe! Maybe now he'll come back! But I'd only thought of it as some species of that experiment where one eats fast food every day for a month or watches the complete cinematic oeuvre of Former Saturday Night Live cast members and then blogs about it if he survives. But Katie's little puppy eyes looked so sad and hurt and trusting that first night that I couldn't bring myself to do it.

I got so far, though, as to actually try to watch the morning shows, and these were ten of the most unpleasant minutes of my life, ever.  I know it couldn't be that my expectations were too high. It must be that in the interval since I last watched one (when Hughes Rudd, R.I.P., still hosted the CBS Morning News) the very concept of "News" had been forgotten, and then was reconstructed by network archaeologists, largely through guesswork aided by the discovery of Joan Lunden's long-lost audition tape. On Thursday morning I sat down with coffee, buttered toast, and two aspirin, and discovered--this is right off the bat, mind you!--that at that moment the viewer could select  a) Miley Cyrus, b) George Michael, or c) Batman. I glanced at the clock, which read 8:15!  Even the wintergreen-flavored lo-cal hard news substitute they peddle had been dispensed with for the day. I'd begun with zero expectations and they had already proven impossibly high.

Who needs--or can take--this sort of thing before breakfast digests? Who among those prefers it come annotated by a clamor of carefully coiffed "talent" all nattering at once? Why are a bunch of middle-aged white people enthusing over the latest singing sensation beloved of girls from 11 to 11-and three-quarters as though this were a recently discovered demographic, or one which Nielsen recently reported had suddenly taken to watching morning "news" programs as a replacement for hot torrents of text messaging urea?

I resolved to tune in earlier next time, just to make sure there was no mistake. And it turned out to be worst than I'd even imagined.

Meredith Viera.

First, I'll own up to a visceral, possibly chemical dislike for the woman, and I suspect that part of it is that the way some people have gaydar I have I have an analogous ability to spot schoolyard tattletales and congenital suck-ups years, even decades later. Second, though we were born less than ten days apart she has been exuding that cloying eau de middling-town society page for twenty years, and as someone once said about Harry Connick, Jr., it's one thing to act as though Bob Dylan isn't important to you, and quite another to act like you've never heard of him. And there was the infamous 60 Minutes stint where she tried to portray herself as some sort of breast-feeding Feminist icon, even though real women, working and otherwise, who were struggling with real problems and real workplace oppression without high-six-figure salaries to cushion the blows never got the time of day in her stories.

And, finally, call me old fashioned, call me just plain old, but once you've decided that hosting game shows and hawking everything from patent medicines to washday miracles to panty shields is your line I think you should be done with reporting The News, and The News should be done with you. Once you have demonstrated that the things that come out of your mouth are for sale you're disqualified! Is this too esoteric a concept for the modern age, or just too potentially honest?


Now, maybe that's just me, but then, go ahead and judge for yourselves. Friday they gave Viera the 100th Anniversary of the FBI story. And fittingly, since she has all the qualities Hoover admired in a journalist.

Watch along with me, won't you, as we begin with a faux-noir tale of the Bureau's early fame, matched by faux-history (though this too is fitting). Dillinger! Bonny and Clyde! Scarface! Machine Gun Kelly, who gave 'em the G-Men moniker! Except, of course, that fans of the cinema may recall that Bonnie & Clyde were gunned down by state lawmen from Texas and Louisiana, although more casual viewers would be forgiven for mistaking the Sneaky Ambuscade Without Warning as Hoover's Boys' M.O. Capone was tracked down by T-Men, and it was John Edgar's wordcrafters that put their slogan in Kelly's mouth. Right on one count, though; the public execution of Big Dick John was all Purvis, pissing his drama-queen boss off no end, of course.

Then it's time to update our hagiographyin', as Viera interviews Robert Mueller. Skip ahead to around 2:30; believe me, you won't miss anything.
Let's talk about highlights for the F.B.I. The Unabomber?

Right. The stirring success story of a government agency which looked for the man for eighteen years, and managed to find him, somehow, shortly after his brother turned him in. And this in spite of the fact that a sizable percentage of the UNABOM task force didn't believe Ted Kaczynski was their man even after they'd arrested him. Perhaps because they'd been reading that miraculous profile that predicted he'd be a married, meticulous, blue collar worker with a high-school education.  Let's talk about highlights!

But it's not all fluff; Viera proves she can ask the tough questions:
But the FBI has had its embarrassments. The raid in Waco, Texas. The wife and son of White Separatist Randy Weaver were killed in a standoff in Ruby Ridge, Idaho.

Again, I'd lost track of her until Friday. Does she do all her research at Little Green Footballs?

And don't get me wrong. The Bureau has a lot to answer for about Waco. It has one shot to answer for, two if you believe the conspiracy theorists, at Ruby Ridge.  Okay. But is it possible that Viera is so tone-deaf she didn't realize how that sounds, or is that just her real journalistic credentials on display? She and I were born ten days apart. If you ask me about FBI "embarrassments" I'd probably start with Martin Luther King, spying on US citizens for partisan political purposes, infiltrating anti-war groups and inciting violence, Wounded Knee, and doing Reagan's dirty work for him. I might have gone back to the trial-less executions of Dillinger and Pretty Boy Floyd, or tuning Ma Barker into a criminal mastermind after they gunned her down, or the internal domestic surveillance they were doing even before the world's most successful malignant cross-dressing little fascist took over (Jane Addams, public enemy, anyone?) I might mention Hoover's warehouses of creepy, sex-obsessed licensed snoppery, his utter contempt for the law, his blackmail-fueled five decades of petty-tyranny, his racism, his cosy relationship with the Mafia the Bureau insisted didn't exist. I might've mentioned Fred Hampton, who, unlike Koresh or the Weavers, didn't get a warning, let alone hours or days to surrender. If you told me you wanted to restrict it to something within the memory of the Today Show viewership--like they remember the 90s?--I might've asked Viera if she'd ever heard of Judy Bari, or why Robert Hanssen and Wen Ho Lee didn't qualify as "embarrassments".  Waco and Ruby Ridge, whatever else they were, were legitimate law enforcement exercises gone bad (and then politicized).  Maybe we should start the list with the extra-legal killings and the overtly political acts.

Or maybe it's just me.

Saturday, July 26

Friday, July 25

Frontier House

WELL, it is a little disappointing to discover the internets could do without me for 72 hours, which is why I decided to return early.  That, and the fact that I now have actual internet service again, and phone service, and U-Verse Teevee, whose simultaneous disappearance Tuesday afternoon qualify, in AT&T servicespeak, as Issues, and which they had pledged to Resolve only by tomorrow.  

They were, by the way, absolutely convinced that the problem was Ours, even though I tried to explain that someone at the newly refurbished mall Town Center Experience two blocks over had somehow blown up its electrical grid, causing all the stores to close for the day and browning us (in the neighboring grid) out for roughly one minute.  This, I felt, may have had something to do with it, even though our own failure occurred roughly five hours later, but also roughly at the exact moment the power company guys showed up to work on the transformer at the end of the next block.  (I was, it should be noted, trying to make myself understood over a pay phone situated on a median strip in the middle of 62nd Street, at 5:30 PM, which did seem to affect communications somewhat, from my perspective.  That made two people in a single afternoon who expressed utter disbelief when I informed them there was no cell phone number where I could be reached as there is no cell phone in my possession, nor has their ever been.)

In their defense, we were the only house so affected, so far as I've been able to tell.  Still, I suspect that the It Sounds Like A Household Wiring problem was just an excuse to bump us to the end of the repair line, and they somehow managed to solve the problem without ever coming within sight of our house.  AT&T and I are going to have a detailed discussion about this just as soon as my Poor Wife catches up on her phone calls.

Doing without all this stuff was surprisingly easy, except for missing The Daily Show and relying on non-internet sources for news.  It was actually much easier than kicking heroin (either time), except that coming off of the Boy you aren't forced to watch Meridith Viera.  And therein hangs a tale I suppose you'll be hearing shortly.



Tuesday, July 22

The Itch To Power



Patricia Cohen, "Conservative Thinkers Think Again." July 20.

In an intricately connected world, even Republican administrations cannot allow big institutions to fail.

THUS David Brooks, last Friday, and the damned thing itched like a chigger bite all weekend.

Okay, so Brooks is a professional liar. There's not even any room to debate left; the only question is how he still commands Manhattan rental prices. Satire causes an uproar, but opinion writing means you can make shit up so long as you are said to represent some spot on the accepted political continuum/desired advertising demographic, and so long as the result totals 800 words. Still, all weekend long, Even Republicans! Even Republicans! kept playing in my head, to the extent that I'm not sure whether my shouts of "Who th' fuck bailed out the S&Ls after there was nothing left to loot?" were all in my head, or if they were audible to the outside world. And I found myself asking myself, or whomever else could hear me, whether Brooks could possibly believe that.

Even the Republicans, even though everyone knows they'd wouldn't dream of sacrificing principle for the sake of electoral popularity, especially when it means helping out their archenemies in the banking industry.  Thus we are living in extraordinary times; thus David Brooks can find in them enough cover to contradict all the metaphysical certainties his career is built on without having to own up to them. Which, more or less, was also his Iraq M.O., before we started winning again. Times have changed! Never mind that my previous arguments were based on eternal verities.

Which reminds us, while we're at it, that, like insect-contact dermatitis, the itchy rash caused by David Brooks is made that much worse when you dwell on it.

Which we were trying not to, but then the Sunday arrived, and in a desperate attempt to avoid seeing the latest Maureen Dowd pull quote we cracked the Week in Review section open from the front, not the back, and there was the Cohen piece.
ALMOST anything can happen in an election year, but among conservatives, almost everyone seems to agree that no matter who captures the White House in November, the movement that has ruled the Republican Party since the 1960s and mostly dominated American politics since 1980 has lost its way. Across the spectrum of the right, writers and thinkers have turned their relentless analysis inward, a kind of political EST seminar aimed at self-transformation.

Now then, if we may translate from the Late Modern Journo-cant, "across the spectrum of the right" means "people from my Rolodex, one of whom insists that she wasn't marching in lockstep with the party, the party was marching in lockstep with her"; "have turned their relentless analysis inward" means "didn't support John McCain"; and self-transformation, means, as usual, finding the best way of hoodwinking others into handing you their wallets.

And all of it means "Republicans only need apply", which seems a touch curious, especially seeing as how I just happen to have the answer: instead of bothering to work out another set of rebranding scams, the Republican party should move to Argentina, wear dark glasses and try to convince everyone it meets it's a retired veterinarian from Saskatchewan.

Paul Wolfowitz! John Bolton! David Frum! Having these guys brainstorm on the future of your party is like, fuck, I'm not even wasting a half-assed simile on that one. Here's Christopher DeMuth, president of AEI for the last twenty-two years (gee, they've gone by so fast!):
“We’ve been extremely discouraged by the policy trajectory of the Bush administration, with big increases in unfunded entitlements, big increases in deficit spending, considerable growth in government regulation....“Some rethinking has to be done on the deep philosophical questions.”

Could I make one more suggestion? Maybe you could knock off trying to convince people that choosing a new label for your snake oil is an epistemological dilemma. Maybe then you could own up to the fact that the Bush administration "policy trajectory" differs from the Reagan policy trajectory only in that the latter had already licked all the icing off the cake. We ended the Reagan administration with a national debt nearly four times what we started with.  This is not a bit of poltical esoterica, or a matter of interpretation.  Or that you were happy to claim it all back when it was working electorally.   Deficit spending hit town the same time Ari Fleischer did, and the fact that we were refusing to pay for Iraq and Afghanistan was, somewhat surprisingly, in all the papers, so it's a little strange to hear now that the administration still managed to hide the truth from AEI for so long.  As for the rest of it, well, I made a vow during the ascension of St. Ronnie that I would never discuss federal spending with someone who imagines Social Security is an "entitlement" while a new aircraft carrier every two years is not, or who uses "government regulation" as a pejorative, while failing to disclose that he, like Reagan, would include food inspection, airline safety, and the requirement of driving on the right side of the room on his list of invidious nanny-statism.

And I hate to keep bringing this up, but then I'm not responsible for the fact that the Times already employs what passes for a full-time columnist who has basically done nothing for the past eighteen months but try to rescue the Republican party by talking his way out of the ticket, and I'm not responsible for thirty fucking column inches devoted to Republican functionaries and former Bush pep-band percussionists doing everything in their power to rethink deep philosophical issues with the single exception of "How did our metaphysical certainty turn into a colossal pile of pig manure?" But, y'know, in real life, someone found holding a smoking pistol while straddling the still-oozing body of his mistress, zonked to the point of permanent hearing loss on oxycontin, and with a list, in his own handwriting, headed "People To Kill Today" in his pants pocket, generally has to come up with something better than, "Next time I'm gonna use a silencer."

Other than "Blame Bush, now", I mean:
For others, however, the nub of the problem is not deviance from the 1980s agenda but worshipful adherence to it. Mr. Frum is one of those who has undergone a conversion (or two). His book “Dead Right,” published in 1994, was a brisk catalog of Reagan’s failures (especially his failure to reduce the size of government). Then, after writing speeches for President Bush, Mr. Frum wrote “The Right Man,” in which he characterized President Bush’s leadership as “nothing short of superb.” But in his newest book, “Comeback: Conservatism That Can Win Again,” Mr. Frum confesses that his former boss has “led his party to the brink of disaster.”

That's not conversion, or two, or six; it's multiple personality disorder. And even granting a panel featuring hires from the Affirmative Action for Well-Born Idiots Program, I can't for the life of me understand why anyone has ever listened to David Frum.  Although I must admit the ol' "Reagan didn't go far enough" routine has a certain hallucinogenic attraction, like the one that kept the Grateful Dead in business all those years.
Many of Mr. Frum’s allies in this debate come from a group of younger conservatives who were born more than 15 years after he was and came of age after Reagan.

Ross Douthat! Ramesh Ponnuru! Megan Jane McGardle! Maybe, on second thought, Argentina isn't quite far enough.
Mr. Douthat says that social conservatives have gotten stuck and need to move beyond their focus on gay marriage and abortion — a focus, he said, that does nothing to help a single African-American mother trying to raise a family.

Yeah, go figure.
Meanwhile, Megan McArdle, a libertarian writer, thinks conservative organizations will actually have a tougher time influencing policy if Senator McCain is elected. “He doesn’t have an ideological framework,” she said. “He has a superhero view of politics. There are good guys and bad guys and you’ve got to elect the good guys to kick the butts of the bad guys.”

As opposed to Reagan, the superhero politician whose powers came from the bite of a radioactive ideologue.

Jesus Fucking Alou, can't anybody here play this game? You didn't exactly start off at the top of the intellectual ladder with Reagan, and apparently no one has noticed that things have Only Gotten Worse. And this, even though every last one of you, at minimum, voted for George W. Bush twice and encouraged others to do the same, and if any of you wasn't spiritually connected to that Commander Codpiece nonsense I haven't found him. Now you think admitting that the pooch got screwed! somehow! is enough, and if you just congratulate yourselves long and loud enough for your Reagan fanboydom Ross'll be able to figure out how to repackage all those old Welfare Queen anecdotes for a generation that would rather not be known as unrepentantly racist, and you'll be back on top again. Pluck a Duck, even Reagan, an almost wholly fictional creation, was sold to the rubes as Good for America! You people don't even care anymore. There are serious consequences to your behavior the past quarter-century, serious as a fucking tumor, and none of them have to do with the fate of your think tanks, though a lot of them have to do with their output. The Reagan Revolution did not take a wrong turn. It arrived. You have not hit a rough patch; you've been found out. In a less well-off, less compromised, more socially responsible nation you people would be sharing an ice floe, debating whether its shrinking dimensions were just more of Al Gore's propaganda. Is it going to take that for you to understand, and to get out of the fucking way if you don't want to help anyone but yourselves? 'Cause personally, I'm all for it.

Friday, July 18

From Where I Sit


Racist Star photo, Sam Riche

WELL, the good news is that our new public-funded, privately-controlled football palace is no longer 1/4 under water, and is expected to have elevator service, not to mention a new data room, in time for season ticket holders to gawk at their surroundings while attending the first of a slough of meaningless preseason "contests" the NFL forces them to attend at full price for the privilege. The mishap(s)--it flooded a second time when the initial temporary repair failed--was instructive to the extent that it provided a rough estimate of the number of people who think "you have to expect problems with any new construction" is a valid argument, but "you get to bitch when they happen on your dime" is not.

Then they let The Media tour the safer parts of the structure, and the above photo hit the breeze, and it was instructive to the extent that I had no idea there was anyone who'd argue that a retractable roof requires 200 seats, minimum, be located behind a post, which furthermore is just Basic Physics and anyone who doesn't understand it must have been educated by IPS. But, as it turns out, there are. And the Colts then announced that those seats weren't part of the season ticket package, and they'd be sold only once every other ticket was gone, and they'd be clearly marked "obstructed", and they'd only be sold to people who really, really wanted to see the game or had to use the bathroom real bad. And, besides, what did you expect for $750 million?

Now this was instructive, in the Marie Antoinette sense, which is why I made it up. But I didn't make up the $750 million thing, which the Racist Star keeps reporting off-handedly, despite the fact that when the project began, 22 months ago, it was a $500 million stadium. If there's someone out there at the moment explaining that anyone who doesn't expect a 50% cost overrun on any new construction, as well as three-feet of water in the control center, must live in a cave, or in Russia, I haven't seen 'em yet. My suspicion is I just need to try harder.

We have a new airport terminal going on-line, too (oh, those heady, spendthrift days of the Early Naughts!), which has caused the local teleprompter readers to take a break from gushing (sorry) about the new stadium to gush about the recent awarding of airport food establishment contracts. No, really. Gush. They were, like, running down menus an' stuff. This is why I tell anyone who asks I'm from Kentucky.

There was a minor flapdoodle about the place when a group of citizens who've been pressing the Airport Authority since 1979 to change the name back from the breathtaking, but fittingly hallucinatory Indianapolis International Airport (there's one direct flight to Winnipeg each month, I think) to Weir Cook grabbed themselves some spotlight. Now, I like Weir Cook; that's the name it had all through my youth, and it's 80% Weird, not to mention (again) the silly pomposity of that International business. But then it turned out that the group was really just a bunch of military jock sniffers pawing the corpse of WWI flying ace (which I knew), whose seven kills included four balloons, which I didn't. Somehow, perhaps in retrospect, true, this seems less like the dashing, chivalrous Cavalry of the Air of the Great War, and more like somebody going berserk at a carnival. Anyway, he's getting an access road and a snack bar named in his honor, so all is well, and the honored dead can rest easy again.

But in the meantime, Accidental Mayor Greg "Simpkins" Ballard gets to ascend to the podium and deliver strings of platitudes about what the new terminal means for International Business and The City's Reputation, in that order, both of which might be further advanced if someone could teach him it's not pronounced "inner-Nash-null". Though, really, it's just a small taste of what we truly deserve.

Friday Italian Motorcycle Police Choreography Blogging




Thursday, July 17

Excuse Me, But Did You Realize There's An Apple In This Worm?

Ray Fisman, "Why are public schools so bad at hiring good teachers?" Slate, July 11

Bob Somerby, Surgical removal of Charlie Rose's vocal apparatus without anesthesia. Daily Howler, July 10 et. seq.

OKAY, so timing may not be everything, but it still beats the hell out of second place when it comes to not being hit by a bus.

Professor Fisman is the Lambert Family Professor of Social Enterprise and research director of the Social Enterprise Program at the Columbia Business School.  So he's a Smart Guy, and a smart guy. Smarter than us, without question.  It's probably not his fault that Bob Somerby had just begun eviscerating his strangely familiar, George Washington's hatchet* of an article before it appeared.  No doubt Professor Fisman is able to do complex math in his head, able to spot an experimental misstep or very fish-like statistical results from a hundred yards. Able, most likely, to catch a purchased term paper by the feel of its opening paragraphs. So what's the explanation for him leading off with this sort of tenth-generation horse manure?
PS 49 in Queens used to be an average school in New York City's decidedly below-average school system. That was before Anthony Lombardi moved into the principal's office. When Lombardi took charge in 1997, 37 percent of fourth graders read at grade level, compared with nearly 90 percent today; there have also been double-digit improvements in math scores. By 2002, PS 49 made the state's list of most improved schools.

Let us clarify: we have no particular knowledge that these miraculous figures are bogus, though, hailing from charter-school-mazed Indianapolis we're well aware that they tend to follow around the very educators who need them. We have no knowledge, either way, of whether the results depend in part, or wholly, to teaching to the test. We don't know if, in the intervening decade, PS 49 in Queens has become a magnet for motivated students of motivated parents, or if Mr. Lombardi is performing amazing feats of prestidigitation with randomly-selected members of the studio audience. We don't know, and Fisman has no apparent interest in helping us check his work.

No, it's immaterial, and not just because it's anecdotal, or because the Professor seems to have missed that it's anecdotal, but because, at the end of the Bush administration, with the long contagion of Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly, with the greatest stars of a generation of major-league baseball more likely to enter the Witness Protection Program than the Hall of Fame, anything this convenient has to be doubted until it's proven beyond a doubt.

Oh, but not at Slate, of course:
If you ask Lombardi how it happened, he'll launch into a well-practiced monologue on the many changes that he brought to PS 49 (an arts program, a new curriculum from Columbia's Teachers College). But he keeps coming back to one highly controversial element of the school's turnaround: getting rid of incompetent teachers.

So, it's the thing Lombardi keeps coming back to! Q.E.D. And, of course, he's been kept blindfolded in a soundproof room since 1998, so he couldn't possibly be saying what his audience wants to hear. Q.E. fuckin' D.

Now, let us again be clear about a couple of things: are there bad teachers out there? Sure, just as there are bad doctors, bad plumbers, bad candle-makers, and bad faux anti-faux-pro-reverse contrarian online magazines. Were they (the teachers, not the waxologists) the cause of PS 49's poor performance? Could be; bad accountants brought down Arthur Anderson, although in this case "bad" has an alternative meaning.

[We should note somewhere--might as well be here--that the Lombardian definition of Bad Teacher includes, not just teachers whose classroom performance, measured by test results, was sub-standard, but also those who Refused To Get With The Program, meaning we can sacrifice a few good teachers along the route.  Maybe stick a couple of heads on pikes at the main entrance.  We'll hire more! Sic semper, mac.]

Are we justified in concluding that Bad Teachers (and the Unions That Won't Let Us Fire Them) are the Problem, and using that assumption to inform the remainder of our 1300 words on the subject? No.

Y'know, common sense tells us a few things here. It tells us that there must be poor teachers in successful schools, who are also cosseted by Big Instruction, but who do not cause test scores to plummet. It tells us that there must be bad principals out there, too, drawn largely from the teaching ranks, and that the Petty Tyrant model of academic success--rarely, if ever, suggested for white suburban schools--just might have a kink or two in the hose. And it tells us that if this shit works it sure hasn't proven duplicable.

As Somerby incomparably points out, these people have been churning the discussion for forty years now, and not just without any success beyond the anecdotal, but with actual negative effect. (Rose was interviewing Wendy Kopp of Teach for America, and let Kopp answer the question of what we need to do to improve schools by avoiding it, and papering the show with these same tug-at-the-heart, tear-in-the-eye success tales. Including the one about her associate Michelle Rhee, whose own remarkable (and remarkably similar-sounding) achievement in the Baltimore public schools lost a bit of its glimmer when the school system couldn't produce her records.) Where's the improvement? We've battled for forty years over this stuff (not coincidentally, as long as we've been enforcing Brown, kids, which was simply ignored for the first decade after the ruling). You'd think there'd be something to show beyond textbook warning stickers and a foolish, make that cynical, over-reliance on test scores. Where's the improvement? The World's Third-Worst State Legislature™ stripped the union for Indianapolis Public Schools--and only that union--of the right to bargain over anything other than wages and working conditions. That was in 1995, and it was the law until repeal in 2005. Sorry about not reporting on the remarkable improvement in test scores over that period. Somehow I couldn't find them.

Show improvement, or get off the road! We are, at this point, as justified in saying that the ad-hoc consortium--or vast conspiracy, if you'd rather--of multi-multi-billionaire retired professional software pirates, firing-obsessed, publicity-whore megalomanic former GE CEOs and serial autobiographers, union-busting professional economists, and the sort of people who generate half the emails Snopes debunks on a daily basis has failed at least as colossally as they claim our schools have.

Of course, the beauty of assuming our conclusion ahead of time is that it greatly expands our possible reforms. So why do they sound like this?
What if there were a way to screen out the bad teachers before they get entrenched? Currently, New York City teachers get their union cards their first day on the job. In theory they're on probation for three years after that, but in practice very few are forced out. Lombardi suggests replacing this system with an apprenticeship program. Rather than requiring teaching degrees (which don't seem to improve value-added all that much)...

Q.E.D.!
new recruits would have a couple of years of in-school training. There would then come a day of reckoning, when teachers-to-be would face a serious evaluation before securing union membership and a job for life.

So, the key to improvement is to do what we already have the power to do by doing it another way! Something which just happens to remove the right of collective bargaining from the people in the Trainee hats.  (Here, as always, it is the fault of Uncaring Featherbedding Unions that they do not immediately jump to approve this sort of thing.  In case you were wondering.) This has got to be a post-post-graduate analysis.  Because I don't understand a word of it.

I mean, Kee-rist. Could you try? The Lombardi Miracle has been accomplished precisely under these rules, including his ability to threaten even veteran teachers with poor evaluations which would "[lead] to an onerous (for all concerned) two-year review." How is it we miss this point?

I know, I know. Forget it, Jake, it's Slate.

__________
* the authentic one, the one that's had the head replaced twice and three new handles.  Like Fisman's argument.

Wednesday, July 16

Two Way Street




Mr. Green Screens:
QUESTION OF THE DAY

Can we fight al Qaeda, which is in Pakistan, better by fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan? (Scratch chin.)
--Josh Marshall


1. Oddly enough, the correct answer is "No." (The grammatically-correct explanation is "Your binary distinction is false.")

2. Even if "al-Qaeda" were SPECTRE, which is isn't, and even if there were some reason to go after remaining individuals from The Taliban, who are there (and not in the insurgency currently fighting us in Afghanistan), the answer would still be "No," because hot pursuit into Pakistan, which is the most unstable government in the world controlling real motherfucking nukes, is a stupider idea even than invading Iran. How much money do you suppose we've given Musharraf in the last seven years? He has no more room to maneuver. We had to hand over nuclear technology to India--a non-NPT signatory, Obama-Lugar fans--just as a palliative for what we've already done in Pakistan (which, may I remind you, resulted in the Pakistanis capturing the actual mastermind of the 9/11 attacks). We've lived with the failure to capture bin-Laden for seven years now; it seems a bit late to start rooting for just a few more troops to finish the job, and this time We Mean It.  

3. If you truly believe that shedding more American blood in the fight against "al-Qaeda" is worthwhile, the same options are open to you as to Jonah Goldberg.  US Military.com can help you find the enlistment program that's right for you.

Tuesday, July 15

Catching Fugitives By Banging A Drum

Barack Obama, "My Plan For Iraq". July 14

I'LL take "They Come In Threes" for two-hundred, Alex.

A: Wagons, Airports, Drains.

Things that are circled? What are things that are circled?

You're never too old to learn. I just learned that. And, last week, I learned that if George McGovern had just pledged to reinstate Jim Crow and clarify that he was only bringing our boys home from Vietnam so he could send them to Cuba, or the Fulda Gap, he'd have been elected. Too bad such political wisdom wasn't available in them days, because, lemme tell ya, defeating a second Nixon term was a lot more urgent than defeating a first McCain one, because Nixon was a consummate operator, and Nixon had room to operate.

McCain won't, because we don't. This would be the real objection to Senator Obama's Op-Ed piece, which, otherwise, mostly restates his policy positions while adding details (new, to me, at least) about two brigades going directly to Afghanistan ("redeployment", in the accepted euphemism for " incremental escalation"), a "residual" force in Iraq, amorphous, of unknown permanence, no better tasked than what we have now, as well as the Senator's belief--or, at least, his hope that you believe--that there is some entity called "al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia" which may be interchangeably identified as "al-Qaeda", and so proven, by the Law of Repeated Typography, to be an arm of SPECTRE.

That last is actually not new to me; this is the man whose website promised he'd "finish the job" of eliminating al-Qaeda, and who, famously, informed Senator McCain that there was no al-Qaeda in Iraq before we got there, leaving out the part about how there wasn't one afterwards, either, until we started calling it such. And all of this is in the service of the sort of Lugar-Nunn "realist" foreign policy he's already expressed his admiration for, it having been as wildly successful over the past few decades as Ronald Reagan was. Especially if you're an oil company, a military contractor, or Coca-Cola™.

(My senior Senator--and I do mean senior; he could play the part of Maverick's father in The John McCain Story--is a telling choice as Republican My Administration Would Most Like To Work With. He's a Leftover Nixonian D├ętente Republican, which means he was willing to make political hay demonizing the Commies, but stopped short of proposing to blow the globe to pieces on the grounds this might prove excessive in case there was anything resembling hindsight. He then voted for every Reagan neo-hardliner remilitarization package that came across his desk, while crafting his persona as a bi-partisan foreign policy expert, based on the fact that he was slightly to the right of Sam Nunn, but slightly to the left of Curtis LeMay. After Reagan defeated Communism he became so despondent he actually took the chairmanship of the Agricultural Committee for a while, but the plastic acclaim he and Nunn received for finding some way to produce a chill from the lukewarm puddle left over from the Cold War returned him to prominence. And the top Foreign Relations chair.

(Now, don't get me wrong; loose nukes in Russia are a serious issue, but not so all-consuming as to excuse ignoring our own. I just happen to be a Glass Is Half-Cracked sort of guy, and I think heaping accolades on United States Senators for doing what any sensible seventh-grader who aspires to reach the eighth would do sets the bar too low, especially when they are, in the event, actually running around checking the upholstery for smoldering cigarettes at the end of a particularly long and raucous drunken party they themselves helped plan.)

So, then. Where are we, again? We've acknowledged a fracturing of the manpower equation, and the waste of $1 trillion in a criminally misguided effort in Iraq. As a result we now propose to mostly leave, excepting an unspecified body of troops whose mission will be to help eliminate enemies of a Shi'a government, thereby, assuming all goes perfectly well (heard that one before?), assuring that responsibility for the worst foreign policy disaster in the history of the United States will not go entirely to the people who put us there for Six Months Tops. And you wanna talk about no exit strategy?

And...we pass the Savings on to You! assuming You are part of that imaginary ruling coalition of Americans who can't bear the thought of quitting a disaster cold turkey. It's on to Afghanistan, where we can come to grips, now that we understand the importance of Strategic Terminology Redeployment, with al-Qaeda and the Taliban, despite the fact that they're actually in Pakistan, which turns out to be No Biggie, because, at least as I recall, Musharraf's response to the Future President's suggestion of the Right of Hot Pursuit was, "Okey-dokey. Mint tea?"

This, again, is why a period of quadrennial political spasm would, at the very least, be no worse off for honest discussion of the issues, beyond the issues of flag veneration and platitude burnishing, I mean. We invaded Afghanistan because the religious cutthroats who ran the place in '01 wouldn't turn over bin-Laden, along with their sovereignty, by the deadline demanded by George W. Bush, which was, if I recall correctly, "Sundown". That they were a bunch of religious cutthroats did not, in fact, make this approach any more sensible. In fact, seeing the sort of experience we have in this country with people who'd rather someone die, preferably some one else, than watch their pet version of Bronze-Age Nostradamus be insulted, this country should have been the first to recognize that a suitable time frame plus a large wad of tax-free currency was the best way to solve the problem. (I do realize that the Republican party was in a particular quandry here, since there was a sizable portion of its base which was, as yet, totally unaware that it pandered to religious nutjobs in their own country, and would remain so until Schiavo.) Regardless of whether we actually intended to capture bin-Laden, a political solution was certainly an impossibility, as it was too insufficient in brand-building, not to mention the fact that Iraq was already pencilled in for Spring '03, and how would it look if we invaded it while we were in Afghanistan bargaining over pipeline naming rights? And the Afghan war has been so wildly successful that today, seven years later, no one asks why we're still there, and "redeploying" a few thousand more troops there (think it'll stop there? show of hands?) is what distinguishes the anti-war candidate from the thrill-kill war hawk.

The next President of the United States has no choice, no matter what increasingly meaningless initial comes after his name; we have no more manpower to conduct these endless face-saving exercises. We have no "options" in Afghanistan, any more than we have a "surge" which is "working" in Iraq that has changed that equation. We jumped off the bridge, with George W. Bush in command, and the best we can hope for now is that we only get wet.

Monday, July 14

Well, That Was Easy


Jake Tapper, "Obama Camp Hammer New 'Ironic' New Yorker Cover Depicting Conspiracists' Nightmare of Real Obamas", July 13

OKAY, I realize you're not killing trees with it, but who wrote the headline? The "New" New Yorker cover? The one that's " 'Ironic' ", not "Ironic", or just Ironic? The one that depicts conspiracists' (wouldn't "Conspir-racists" be better?) nightmare of the real Obamas? Shouldn't it be "Nightmare Vision", or is there a fourteen-word limit?  I really wish you'd'a worked the Volume and Number in there, so I could be absolutely certain we're talking about the same thing. Y'know, before I even begin reading the piece, I mean.

It's the New Yorker written by "sophisticates", Tapper would like you to know. And he wants you to know it by word 2, not counting the headline, in which case it's word 247. Just in case, say, you've never heard of the New Yorker. He means it as an insult, though he's sophisticated enough not to put it in scare quotes.

Sophisticates--I think this could have been better explained--are people who will laugh at anything. Such as Patriotism. Or True Love. Or Jake Tapper's preferred presidential candidate.
Knowing the liberal politics of the magazine, I believe the magazine's staff when they say the illustration is meant ironically, as a parody of the caricature some conservatives (and some supporters of Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y.)...

Oh, that Hillary Clinton.  Wait, you couldn't figure that out for yourself?
are painting of the Obamas.


But it's still fairly incendiary, at least as these things go. I wonder what the reaction would be were it the Weekly Standard or the National Review putting such an illustration on their covers.

Different.

You're welcome.

I really thought that was all I had to say about the matter--hence the title, which may have held out the false hope of a rare and welcome short post, sorry. But by the time I'd actually typed out my Fair Use segment there--ABC has no Print button and thwarts cutting-and-pasting, at least for the idiot blogger who still doesn't know what the right mouse button is for--my head had begun to swim. And in a different way from last night.

ITEM: What th' hell are we to do with Jake Tapper? I remember him as semi-decent at Salon, not that I'm a regular or anything; not in Conaison or Greenwald's league, but who is? and veering towards Saletan or Kaplan territory on occasion, maybe, but who doesn't? (please; tell me), though not enough so that I wasn't surprised when I first found him on ABC and sounding like Jeff Greenfield's Eve Harrington. Except Greenfield was at least interesting for the first six months he was on teevee. Tapper sounded like he'd been doing Ted Koppel impressions in front of his bedroom mirror since junior high.

Now he's outraged by the Conspir-racists' (I like it; sue me) getting skewered on a New Yorker cover--a magazine which, by the way, I personally have always viewed as too sophisticated to be Liberal, and I mean that without irony, 'irony', or "irony"--when his own job is to re-gargle Charlie Gibson's mouthwash for him.  And write sentences like "But it's still fairly incendiary as these things go."  Your medium, Jake, bears the primary responsibility for the state of affairs that cover pillories.

Not to mention that "Dear me, if the Republicans tried anything like this the reaction would be overwhelming!" schtick, when we all know that your network wouldn't even cover it, except, perhaps, safely buried in some "public affairs" wallow. And even then it wouldn't be overwhelmingly criticized; it'd be treated as political commentary, the way this should be by anyone with a high school education worthy of the honor.

ITEM: This prompts me to consider what we might call the Chevy Chase Effect in American culture, by which I do not mean "How does someone with some degree of youthful/early career promise turn into a complete dork the minute real money starts getting waved around?" No, I mean "How to we begin to address the debilitating effect this has on our news coverage when two-thirds of our fellow citizens are Peter Principle chair-moisteners willing not just to shovel, but wallow in, any sort of shit, in exchange for the privilege of not being required to do anything really useful?" And who flock to anything that stars Will Ferrell, for that matter.

ITEM: I have no idea whether Obama is actually Tapper's preferred candidate or not; I'm sure at this minute there's two hundred bloggers typing out some latest variation of "The media is in the bag for Saint Honest John Maverick McCain", with ample scare quotes (See Bob Somerby from last Friday; scroll down to "Calumny Watch". And why isn't Somerby on teevee? Not enough political blatherfests to squeeze him in?  Why does our public discourse sound as though no one has ever heard of its most devastating critic, or his criticisms?  Hmmmm?) But his forced humorlessness and easy offense--this is someone who's covered American politics for ten years--is suggestive of the Fellow Traveller, at least. My god. It may be defensible to confront every last slight your man suffers, but going to the trouble to imagine them first is a sign you need some fresh air. Reading some blogs these days is like a student-film version of Groundhog Day, except it's just one hour, and you are an NBC switchboard operator in the first minute after Sinead O'Connor tore up the Pope's headshot.

ITEM: I may have said this before, but who th' fuck is running the Obama campaign? Their Quick Response Team shit manages to wrong-foot the candidate twice in one weekend, and on issues (Access Hollywood, a satirical magazine cover) that ought to be so far beneath them it took two staffers just to locate 'em.  You're running a candidate for Most Powerful Man In The World. Try doing so, instead of acting like he should have been swept into office in January, by acclamation.  You think things are going to go smoothly once if he's elected?

Sunday, July 13

Maureen Dowd Versus The Mass Disappearance of Amphibians: Which Is The More Frightening Bellwether of Human Stupidity Run Amok?

HOW long, O Times, how long?

The girls were impossibly cute and charming and a tribute to the Obamas’ parenting. When Malia said she enjoyed decorating and was most excited about a possible move to the White House because she’d have a new bedroom to dress up, it made me want to see the Obama girls in the White House no matter who wins.


The same piece [Warning: Don't go there] quotes a Margaret Carlson bon mot. From Hardball. And the Times actually scruples to print comics.

That's Mildly Amusing! ™

Steve Ballard, reporting in today's Indianapolis Racist Star:
Negative reaction to a report that BAM Racing was close to a deal with presidential candidate Barack Obama to sponsor its car in the Aug. 3 race at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway has prompted team owner Beth Ann Morgenthau to end the negotiations.

"BAM Racing has decided to heed the advice of the overwhelming response by fans to keep politics out of racing," she said in a news release Saturday.

Friday, July 11

This Is The Last Time I Follow A Norbizness Caption Contest Link


AP: Actor Ed Begley Jr. shows the sprinkler control system that electronically checks the forecast and automatically shuts down if it's supposed to rain, at his home in the Studio City district of Los Angeles Thursday, May 15, 2008. Begley and his neighbor Bill Nye, the host of the educational series 'Bill Nye, The Science Guy,' who moved in two doors away two years ago, are locked in a friendly but serious eco-battle of keeping up with each other. The two moderately famous and occasionally geeky environmentalists vie to see who can leave the smaller carbon footprint. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

Y'KNOW, I'm just spit-ballin' here, Ed, but maybe if you weren't trying to raise a large grass crop in the fucking desert you could avoid pouring water onto the ground altogether, forecast be damned. 

 

You, Madame, Are No Rothschild.

OKAY, so, first, nice catch, Rumproast. But after I'd seen it bruited about for the better part of a day I began to realize that the left, and not The Left, had absolutely no idea how to handle this. I've scribbled a few notes.  I'd be happy to share them.

First, the joke is this: On CNN yesterday, Lady Lynn Forester de Rothschild said she didn't like Barack Obama. "He's an elitist," she explained.

Now, by "this is the joke" I am not trying to explain what started the general merriment. I'm telling you that's the joke. Once you begin tacking on personal details about Lady Lynn, her dwellings, her jet-set chums, and her social import on both sides of the Pond you are doing what I believe comedy professionals describe as explaining the joke.  Which, and again this is my understanding of expert opinion, is generally held to reduce the humor quotient considerably. Ditto linking to every article you can find which describes her rugs or notes she has servants. Believe it or no, most people actually get it that someone called Lady Lynn Forester de Rothschild likely belongs to The Snooty Set, eats off real plates, and doesn't worry much about her bank balance. And in fact the audience is rather more likely to experience some sort of general bonhomie and fellow-feeling towards Lady de Rothschild upon gaining details of her opulent surroundings, since we--and I include most members of the one-time labor party of the U.S.--have turned out to be a nation of natural-born hat-tippers. So long as we're whittlin' on the Bill of Rights, we might cast a glance at modernizing the Seven Deadly Sins. Americans do not like envy. Americans feel much warmer towards covetousness.

No, assuming Lady de Rothschild does not spend her time bathing in the blood of Christian virgins, her bio is not much likely to outrage.  But this is mere Brooksian whimsy (although, look, really, you ruined the joke). Hypocrisy is not a sin in modern-day America. It's expected, in the same fashion that another culture might expect hospitality or careful social stratification. And elitism surely has had nothing whatever to do with the Latin eligere, elect, since sometime in the Nixon administration; thinking about it now I suspect that elite maintained its use as a measure of typewriter key size longer than the notion of  The Quality survived political expedience. "Elitist" now means "smart", with a hint of "-ass". You'd imagine that liberals, who've been the main target of its use as a slur for so many decades, would understand this by now.

In fact, this dovetails with the earlier point: the reason being noted as a "Lady" is sufficient to get the humor across is that all such titles imply to Americans that the holder knows the difference between a soup spoon and a desert fork, the sort of thing which is considered a risible example of overeducation, unless one actually operates a chain of discount flatwear dealerships across the Southwest. It is certainly not the case that the modern American finds anything in common with his sacred forebears, who threw these scoundrels out two-and-a-quarter centuries ago. The modern American stands in line for two hours to view that Spencer dame's shoe collection at a traveling exhibit.

So it is perhaps understandable that the real blow to the solar plexus was not delivered, despite its ready availability. It simply wasn't recognized. Lady Forester de Rothschild is not an elitist.

She's an arriviste.

She's no Rothschild. Rothschilds are smart, and possessed of wit. Rothschilds do not tout their political opinions in public (on FOX!) like a greengrocer displays his kohlrabi. If there's been another "Rothschild" from either side of the sheets who refers to the sainted Lafite as "the family wine"--to a reporter!--I'll use that bottle of '90 I have in the basement to make chili.

Real Rothschilds had style, not just $100 M fortunes from telecom holding companies:

• Nathan Meyer Rothschild, the First Baron Rothschild (he didn't use the title) departed a hansom cab one London evening. The driver eyed his tip distainfully. "Your Lordship's son always gives me a good deal more money," he said.

"I daresay he does," the Baron replied. "But, you see, he has a wealthy father. I haven't."

• The Liberal Prime Minister Herbert Henry Asquith once spent the weekend at Alfred Rothschild's estate. The butler approached him at tea.

"Tea, coffee, or a peach from off the wall, sir?" he asked.

"Tea."

"China, India, or Ceylon, sir?"

"China."

"Lemon, milk, or cream, sir?"

"Milk."

"Jersey, Hereford, or Shorthorn, sir?"

• In the 1980s Baron Philippe de Rothschild, Grand-Prix driver (under an assumed name), poet, and probably the single most important figure in the history of wine, was interviewed at a tasting of every vintage of Mouton-Rothschild back to 1924, the year he invented estate bottling. "Which was your favorite vintage?" he was asked.

He paused to consider. "The '59, I think," he said, then added, "If you like young wine."

Thursday, July 10

Your Presidential Candidate Gets His Point Across In Just One Mess O' Pottage. My Senator Has To Eat Four Bowls.

MUCH appreciated, Glen Greenwald:
Dodd-Feingold-Leahy amendment
Every Republican (and Lieberman) voted against removing immunity (including Arlen Specter, who spent all day arguing against immunity). Democrats voting against removing immunity: Bayh - Carper - Conrad - Feinstein - Innouye - Johnson - Kohl - Landrieu - Lincoln - McCaskill - Mikulski - Nelson (FL) - Nelson (Neb.) - Pryor - Rockefeller - Salazar - Webb.


Specter amendment
All Republicans (and Lieberman) voted against, and these were the Democrats voting against: Bayh - Carper - Johnson - Landrieu - Lincoln - Mikulski - Nelson (FL) - Nelson (Neb.) - Pryor - Rockefeller - Salazar.

Bingaman amendment
The Democrats voting against: Bayh - Landrieu - Nelson (Neb.) - Pryor - Rockefeller.

Democrats voting in favor of final passage of the FISA bill:
Bayh - Carper - Casey - Conrad - Feinstein - Innuoye - Kohl - Landrieu - Lincoln - McCaskill - Mukulski - Nelson (Neb.) - Nelson (Fla.) - Obama - Pryor - Rockefeller - Salazar - Webb - Whitehouse.

Thanks, Evan, and good luck with that Vice Presidential thing. Oh, and say hello to your Dad, the last Democrat elected in the state of Indiana.

Thanks, But You've Done Enough Already.


Report Urges Overhaul of the War Powers Law

By JOHN M. BRODER

WASHINGTON — Two former secretaries of state, concluding that a 1973 measure limiting the president’s ability to wage war unilaterally had never worked as intended, proposed on Tuesday a new system of closer consultation between the White House and Congress before American forces go into battle.

Their proposal would require the president to consult senior lawmakers before initiating combat expected to last longer than a week, except for covert operations or rare circumstances requiring emergency action, in which case consultation would have to be undertaken within three days.

Congress, for its part, would have 30 days to approve the military action or, if it declined to do so, could then order it ended by disapproving it.

YEAH, thanks, but 1) we already have an absolutely Constitutional system governing this, called, well, the Constitution; the fact that we don't use it has spent almost a century lying on the doorstep of that same legislative body we now propose to let solve the problem. Again. 2) We've now spent almost five-and-a-half years--well over six if you'd like to begin admitting to yourselves that he fucked up Afghanistan, too--getting the most direct object lesson possible, short of the actual rape and pillage of our own shores, about the President as Commander-in-Chief. And we've spent almost two years with a Congress which was elected, about as specifically as one could be, to fucking do something about it. And again, as luck would have it--Reality sure has a way of smacking everything touched by James Addison Baker III and/or Warren Minor Christopher smack dab in the kisser, don't it?--that same body just yesterday, with great, trans-partisan care of the sort we're promised a whole new era's worth of just ahead, slammed the fucking door on punishing, investigating, or even bothering to glance at, a Presidential crime wave so plain. so invidious, and so thorough that I've spent the past few waking hours asking myself just what the fuck Bill Clinton could have done with Monica Lewinsky that would have begun to approach a single twenty-four hour period with this crew. So far I've come up with "Given her to Prime Minister Hashimoto with a note apologizing for WWII", but I'm not sure even that qualifies.

Now Warren, Jim, I understand you feel seriously about this issue, or you'd have never bothered to hog valuable camera time in a country that can't possibly still realize, let alone care, that you're still drawing oxygen. And you know me; I'm all about the solutions. So I scribbled down a, well, modest proposal here. Go ahead and use it without attribution, if you like:

The James B. S. Riley Simplified War Powers And World Peace Initiative Act

The duties of the Commander-in-Chief shall be construed as requiring that he or she, or, in the future, he/she, physically lead the troops of the United States into any military action, foreign or domestic, he, she, or he/she orders under Article II of the Constitution of the United States, while riding a big white steed. And carrying a big motherfucking flag. Amen.

This should have the attendant benefit of reducing our military budgets rather drastically.

Now, you two get out of the sandbox and let the younger cats shit all over it for a change.