Saturday, August 30

In A Related Note, Kindly Get The GILF Jokes Out Of Your System By Monday. Thanks, And Enjoy The Weekend.

PETER Baker, in the Times:
The selection of Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska proved quintessentially McCain — daring, hazardous and defiantly off-message.

Really? Because it seemed to me to be the exact opposite--the result of an over-long, over-thought, overly-vetted process that involved a few dozen exorbitantly-salaried consultants with their several dozen fingers firmly on the pulse of hyperreality, answering questions they'd have been better off not asking.  Palin's the kind of mistake only a committee could make (cf. Dan Quayle, who, even though you know it didn't happen that way, you could see Pappy Bush choosing in some slightly inebriated haze).  Better choose someone who looks like she knows what 'operating system' means! Should have executive experience, but no Washington Insider status! As close to a caricature of a Red Meat Republican as we can find! Must be pro-Big Drill. And, of course, A choice lazy journalists will hail as Maverick McCain being daring, hazardous, and defiantly off-message! Mission Accomplished, and in the worst possible fashion. "Qualified to be one minor anesthesia misshap during a bi-monthly tumor removal away from the Presidency" obviously didn't make the cut; I don't know whether that was intentional or not, given that these are experts in proposing blind guesses about what people who read Us weekly will decide about complex issues. I think the two things we can say are, one, that viewing themselves now as having a chance to win the thing they were desperate to knock Obama's speech out of the news hole, and they succeeded in the same way having the candidate butcher a cow in a campaign stop in Kansas City would've (It is easier to get to the Top than to stay there!); and, two, that the one bit of floundering they didn't do is take the whole "Hillary Democrats, Ripe for Plucking" routine seriously, not in nominating an anti-Feminist, anti-Reproductive Rights, We've Got Lots of Good Unplundered Tundra Up Here ideologue. Clearly, she's a jab-it-in-your eye pick, one that'll give the moronic base a satisfyingly anti-abortion woman they can accuse Democrats of being hypocritical for opposing. Everybody knows that, right?
Yet in making such an unabashed bid for supporters of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, he risked undercutting his central case against Senator Barack Obama.


Friday, August 29

Altitude Sickness

Trust me, it gets connected.

David Brooks, "I'se Gwan T'Be De New Preserdent!"

MSNBC, ostensible news network

Tom Brokaw and Ted Koppel, respected career journalists

LET'S just tidy up a bit before we make a bigger mess. I have no need to look for inspiration in a President of the United States, and if I felt any I'd re-read Lincoln's letters or FDR's bio. There's not much in life short of great physical pain or severe deficit that's worse than other people's enthusiasms. Of course, in real life one can simply wait for the enthusiast's inevitable comeuppance; even in science and Art effusion loses out to sobriety in the end. The enjoyment of Keats is not affected one whit by Edna St. Vincent Milay remaining in print. Or Jewel.

Anyway, Democrats. If it weren't for Republicans there'd be a bounty on 'em, with apologies to Dan Jenkins. And if there are any left after this week who still imagine Keith Olbermann speaks for them, or anything other than the remarkably distended Ego which is endemic among his tribe, we ought to make an exception. NBC should not be ashamed of itself, only because NBC should have died of embarrassment in 1976 when, in what was then an obviously desperate attempt to latch onto some of that Barbara Walters/News for Monosyllabic Mouth Breathers cachet, but would these days be termed Sound Marketing, it had John Chancellor highlight a segment on the startling link between Marihuana use and gynecomastia. Bear in mind this was 1976; had there been even the most tenuous connection half the male population under thirty would have been walking around looking like Anita Ekberg, and Paul McCartney would have been frequently mistaken for Morganna, the Kissing Bandit. Everything the Peacock's done since then has been a simple waste of oxygen.  

Speaking of Brokaw, it's funny how the memory plays tricks; I honestly can't recall either he or Ted Koppel mentioning "kabuki" during the 1984 Republican convention, or complaining of its length or lack of substance. Y'know back when either could have made a difference. Koppel actually said that shorter conventions would leave the networks with extra cash they could spend on coverage of Pakistan! The man needs to be checked for female breast development. This is you in fifteen years, Olbermann. Fuck trans fats, man. Ego kills, and from the top down.

Of course, there's always a Republican there when you need him (and, especially, when you don't) to remind you that while liberals, and the media, and the librulmedia are the improperly handled poultry product and dirty wooden cutting board of the national discourse, there's only one real source of massive E. coli infestation. David Brooks, speaking in what might be described as Late Middle Op-Ed Ebonics:
We must close the book on the bleeding wounds of the old politics of division and sail our ship up a mountain of hope and plant our flag on the sunrise of a thousand tomorrows with an American promise that will never die! For this election isn’t about the past or the present, or even the pluperfect conditional. It’s about the future, and Barack Obama loves the future because that’s where all his accomplishments are.

Honestly. I once stood maybe twenty yards from a horrendous automobile crash. You know the cliché survivors use about everything being eerily quite in the aftermath? It's true. And it had to have been what it sounded like at the Gray Lady after he turned this thing in.

For godsakes. We are barely treading water in the wake of thirty years of Republican control, and those of us lucky enough to have survived to this point are still at imminent risk of being sucked into the vortex or decapitated by flotsam. Were I to ask you what distinction there would be between the imaginary country ruled by David Brooks over that period and the actual one he served as a male cheerleader, what would you answer? And how much of that is due to the Morning in America, One for the Gipper schmaltz it was festooned with? How much is owing to Support Our Troops, Honor Our Lapels, and Just Wait Here, Your Boat'll Be Rising Any Minute? There's nothing wrong with pointing out that the Democratic National Convention just passed was rife with platitude and lousy on specifics, assuming, that is, that Olbermann hasn't been named National Censor while I've been typing. But it's quite another thing to try to pretend that this represents some horrifying break with tradition. I happen to feel that bunting, and faith-based appeals, and promises to Get bin-Laden, And This Time We're Patriotic! are sadly misplaced at best; David Brooks ought to look upon them as a fucking gift from a faith-based Higher Power which did not see fit to have the Democrats stomp him and his party into a puddle, as would befit Omniscience.

Thursday, August 28

It's Like You're Readin' My Thoughts, Man.

Sarah Kershaw, "Look Closely, Doctor--See the Camera?" August 27

OKAY, I'm no expert, but I think that if you're writing a piece about paranoid psychosis it's best not to introduce the same character twice in succeeding paragraphs in a slightly different guise:
“Most likely these people would be delusional anyway,” said Dr. Joel Gold, a psychiatrist at Bellevue Hospital Center in New York, who said he saw five patients at the hospital from 2002 to 2004 with Truman Show delusion. Dr. Gold and his brother, Dr. Ian Gold, the Canada research chair in philosophy and psychiatry at McGill University in Montreal, came up with the term “Truman Show delusion.”

“But the more radical view is that this pushes some people over the threshold; the environment tips them over the edge,”
said Dr. Joel Gold, who is a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at New York University. “And if culture can make people crazy, then we need to look at it.”

Emphasis mine.  Of course, it might help matters if said character didn't speak in self-anhilating sentences, but, hey, he's a psychiatrist. You're the one who opened the box.
The delusions are fueling a chicken-and-egg debate in psychiatry: Are these merely modern examples of classic paranoia fed by the current cultural landscape, or is there something about media like reality television and the Internet that can push people over the sanity line?

Trick question, right?

Are we taking audience questions? Because I'd like to know if the coffee and doughnuts are for everyone, or if they're just virtual, and, as a follow-up, th' fuck are you going on about?

Because unless everyone's lying to me, it's 2008. Mass media's been bedeviling us for a century now; psychiatry even longer. (Did you know Uncle Siggy and Nicola Tesla were born two months apart? And they're both Austrians? Neither did I. And they've both been used by a succession of crackpots to excuse practically anything. But only one was a cokehead.)

Maybe you could have gotten around to this a little sooner, when all the paranoids thought Harding and Cox were speaking to them through the walls, or the contents of Fibber McGee's closet threatened them every time they turned a doorknob. You know, before we were all subjected to Jim Carrey? I know, I know, Science proceeds at its own pace. So too, presumably, does psychiatry. But there comes a time when we have to question Knowledge for its own sake and the pretense of expertise where there is none. I mean, it's one thing when the promise of Safe Uses of Atomic Energy fails to pan out; it's quite another to still have a nuclear power industry dedicated to lobbying the government to ignore the perils it subjects the rest of us to, fifty years after the fact.

And here's the thing about that, for me, at least: I can at least see some of Big Nuke's argument. What's yours? Psychology seems to have turned its entire supply of what Jonathan Miller called "the charismatic panoply of modern professional power" to the service of The Almighty, as in Dollar, since--not surprisingly--the election of Ronald Reagan. In that time we've deprived millions of people of their right to walk around loose because human beings like to smoke a little reefer, while turning mental patients out to live, and die, on the streets. We've decided that modern concepts of mental or emotional competence simply get in the way of a sufficiently satisfying level of applied 17th century penal practices, and we've reduced legal considerations of sanity to a sentencing footnote in many cases. We've executed people who had the mental competence of nine-year-olds.  Where's psychiatry been while all this was goin' on? Not on the ramparts, unless by that you mean the front lines of convincing every parent whose child tokes a doobie or develops a case of sassmouth that he urgently requires your ministrations, please pay in advance. We continue to "educate" vast segments of the population with methods that are hopelessly foreign to them, and then blame them for their failure. For godsakes, the learnéd men and women of the biological sciences, geology, and paleontology take their precious time to fight the good fight over crackpot state and local school boards injecting Jesus into science texts. Where's psychiatry on the dehumanizing effects of cookie-cutter education, of treating high school students like criminals, of the shameful discrepancies between rich and poor?

It is, apparently, busy writing books on whether we're being driven insane by reality television. For chrisakes, Doc, just watch for half an hour.  

Wednesday, August 27

Are They Suggesting There Are Meth-Addled White Supremacist Unemployed Truckers Whose Friends Are Not Planning To Shoot Barack Obama?

ONE: Why did I see Dan Bartlett on CBS News last night (talking to Katie, not being led somewhere in handcuffs)? Two: Why does CBS, not just a fine part of the National Amusements family, but one which depends on enticing vast numbers of the citizenry to its programming in order to pay its catering bills, imagine that a man whose entire career to this point is not only fairly encapsulated by the sobriquet Toady, but could, without harming a hair on Accuracy's armpit, be expanded by the addition of to the Worst, Most Dishonest, and Least Liked President in American History has something to recommend him? Three: Why does that something include, in what I hope will be my single accidental exposure to one of the petty henchmen who tried to rub out Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson, Bartlett informing Katie, and the 5.5 million people who either tune in or are too bedridden to operate the remote that Barack Obama has now been defined by The Celebrity Thing?

How did we get here, where the "news" is couched and Commentary is the anthesis of Thought? Isn't the single requirement for giving someone like Bartlett airtime that he demonstrate some independence of mind? Kee-rist, he's not even a decent regurgitator of right-wing tripe. He's just a skid mark between partisan hackery and the cachet received from millions of half-informed viewers for Bein' on th' Teevee; the greater part of the dishonesty of the thing is simply that he's standing there. This is, after all, one of the three major networks which caved in to the Nixon/Safir(e) assault on The Press. I don't recall the other two, just offhand, but I remember Eric Sevareid's commentary suddenly being labelled "Commentary". It may be fortunate, then, that they try to pretend that what Bartlett is doing is "reporting"; what they'd have to label it probably violates FCC obscenity guidelines.

And this coming from Riley, who (I may have mentioned this once or twice) believes that Obama=Celebrity is in fact the most masterful stroke of a political season (though, to be fair, this is not exactly saying much) which may be said to be fairly subsumed by the juvenile implications of "stroke" and the actuarial odds of John McCain suffering one.  Okay, so in fact the real credit goes to the Campaign That Never Gets Called, and to "Progressives" who, having publicly and unapologetically swooned over the man in January were utterly dumbfounded by the charges in May; both had to appeal to the Hilton family for help.  These would be the same people who are busy pummeling PUMAs as Day Three of the Convention dawns in the Rockies. Now that I think of it, this may be the One Thing Bush actually Got Right: the nation has now had so much experience of its collective head spinning 'round that incidents of political whiplash have fallen to statistical insignificance.

And let us here pull up a special dentist's chair in Hell for Jacob Weisberg's "Racism is the only reason Obama might lose", in which, as Bob Somerby has already noted, a Slate columnist explains to us the moral superiority that is the Slate columnist. Finally Hell has come full Circle, and the horse race vacuities so beloved of the Press are now the standards by which we weigh the voting preferences of entire generations and find them repugnant. That older Americans--be they white, black, or better able than most Slate pundits to think beyond the stereotypical--might be less inclined to bandwagon jumping, less swayed by claims of Real Change, And This Time We Mean It!, more suspicious of the scanty resumé, is of no import. That they might be less charitable to a candidate who has accused them of miring America in a sort of mindless partisanship for its own sake, whose health-care proposal was inferior to Senator Clinton's, who uses "crisis" and "Social Security" in the same breath, matters not at all, since these are Issues, and thus to politics what Grandma is to sexual positions. (It's interesting, though, that PUMAs are fired on for being insufficiently determined by a single-issue.) We feel the necessity of enshrining a line, not an original thought of Weisberg's, but grimly pleasing, nonetheless, for appearing in the Voice of the Rational Anti-Rational Reverse Contrarian With A Half Twist:
Many have discoursed on what an Obama victory could mean for America. We would finally be able to see our legacy of slavery, segregation, and racism in the rearview mirror. Our kids would grow up thinking of prejudice as a nonfactor in their lives. The rest of the world would embrace a less fearful and more open post-post-9/11 America. But does it not follow that an Obama defeat would signify the opposite? If Obama loses, our children will grow up thinking of equal opportunity as a myth. His defeat would say that when handed a perfect opportunity to put the worst part of our history behind us, we chose not to. In this event, the world's judgment will be severe and inescapable: The United States had its day but, in the end, couldn't put its own self-interest ahead of its crazy irrationality over race.

Honest to God, I think he lifted that quote from Al Trautwig's Olympic gymnastic coverage. If the Deputy Assistant Campaign Chair for the Quad Cities had said it there'd be calls for Obama to denounce him. Okay, okay, so there are calls for Obama to denounce something every other afternoon, including his previous day's denunciation; this one would be justified. If Geraldine Ferraro had said something like that last April--that it would be "risky" to vote for Obama since his defeat would mean the crushing of every child's hope of a Brighter Tomorrow for the next two generations--she wouldn't have been denounced as a racist; she'd have been quietly committed to the Betty Ford Paint Huffing Ward.

Naturally, none of this even bothers with making the case that the next President should be chosen on the basis of melanin ("You may or may not agree with Obama's policy prescriptions." Thanks, Jake.), just as the last one was chosen on the basis of his perceived regular-guy bonhomie. Weisberg does note the negative qualification of McCain's computer illiteracy, as though our next Surfer in Chief will need every email alert at his disposal ("My fellow Americans, I stand before you to announce that the new Vista upgrade is teh suck!"). This, I remind you, comes from Yet Another Slate Columnist who rode proudly off to war behind a President who is occasionally flummoxed by the Bicycle. Figuratively rode to war, I mean.

How'd we get here, again? How'd the finally-exposed (and no thanks to Slate) mendaciousness and venality of the Republican party come to be replaced by the self-annointed moral arbiter with the atrocious international track record, and without the former even having the grace to disappear? I dunno, but I have to admit that I was a lot more comfortable back when I could blame it all on Republicans.

Monday, August 25

Things You'd Read Only To See If Your Immediate Reaction To The Title Was Borne Out 100%, Vol. XXCVI

Fareed Zakaria, "What Bush Got Right". August 9

WAS your answer "Things Fareed Zakaria already supported?" Wow. Mine, too. Wanna make out?

Now, your next question, which I forgot to ask you to place in a sealed envelope and hide, anywhere in the city, along with my paycheck, is "Th' fuck, Riley? Were you stuck in a doctor's office this morning with only one magazine to read?" And the answer is No. I was stuck in line at the grocery, when the cashier disappeared while I was still third in line (evidently, judging by the duration of his absence, to change drachmas into leks, which errand caused him to arrive at the office just as a passing customer went into premature labor), and somehow I looked down at the magazine rack, which is like scanning for Gorgons. And there was this sad little toric survivor looking back, waiting to be picked up and pulped, with some sort of Newsweek patented Soviet Heroic portrait of the Acting President on the front, converted to black and white, sliced off the neck, eyes and chin still skyward, as though some real citizens had managed to get at him, or vandals had broken into Peggy Noonan's secret Commander Codpiece altar and put the statuary to the guillotine. How could I not take it home? Okay, I didn't, but I came home and read the article.

And, since we're coming clean here, it wasn't with the intention of sitting at Professor Zakaria's feet, or engaging the question. More like seeing what the warflogging regular Daily Show guest was parading down the runway in this season.
The most obvious case is Iraq. For many people—a clear majority of those polled—the decision to go to war is now seen as a mistake. But wherever one stands on that issue, it is overwhelmingly clear that the administration made a series of massive blunders in Iraq in 2003 and 2004. It went in with too few troops, dismantled Iraq's Army, bureaucracy and state-owned factories, arrested tens of thousands of Iraqis, mistreated and tortured some of them, and used overwhelming military force against all perceived threats.

How convenient it is for the Church of the Reformed Warflogger that Bush and Rumsfeld "botched" "the job"! What prodigies of Error it manages to excuse! Reader, imagine yourself the driving instructor who hears the bells jingle over the storefront door, looks up to find a paid companion steering the dark-sunglassed and red-tipped cane-wielding Zakaria to the counter.

But then, you, Dear Reader, are merely one of the rash, uninformed Poll answerers to whom Zakaria now inclines his head, almost imperceptibly, in patrician recognition of your superior, if clumsy, numbers. Hell, you're not even right anymore (The Surge is working!), you just happen to be standing where Right might be located if someone were so unfair to Dr. Zakaria as to take a look.

So, by all means, leave us extend the same sort of fairness that the War's opponents famously received back in the Golden Days. We will refuse to question how anyone paying attention during the first two twelvemonths of what wags are now calling the Bush Administration would have trusted it to park his car, let alone sell him on the idea of Preemptive War. Let us politely avert our gaze should anyone mention the risible Festival of Hubris that preceded it, and primly raise our napkin to cover our mouth before we hawk up great gristly gobs of Imminent Threat from a tenth-rate military power, already exhausted by two wars and an embargo, which not even the fabulists in the administration could arm with ICBMs. Fair's fair. Just because all you bandwagon jumpers now see the war as a mistake does mean we can casually dismiss all the thinkers who were wrong about it all along.

Instead, let's ask Zakaria what the fucking hurry was. Let's ask him now, in 2008, where he proposed to raise the additional troops necessary to do the Job the Way he said he had wanted It done after the first method didn't work out so hot. A draft? Building a coalition by answering the objections of Germany, France, and Russia? Legos™? It's multiple choice, Professor, and there ain't that many choices. The Bush administration already selected "None of the Above". Many see that as a mistake.

Here's Zakaria, in the first of Slate's biennial Let's Cut a Check To People Who Were Dead Wrong About the War if They'll Agree To Excuse Themselves, Plus Hitchens, Roundtables, just after New Year's, 2004, the only one which he appears to have participated in:
Given the costs, was the war worth it? I think it was. Many of the costs (ruptured alliances, the postwar mess) can be alleviated (through better planning, diplomacy, etc.). I don't minimize these and have been vocal in pointing them out. But they do not invalidate the entire enterprise.

I've often been associated with the "democratization spillover" argument, so let me point out that the elimination of Saddam Hussein has been a big plus for American national security. The most anti-American and expansionist regime in the Middle East has disappeared. An actual and potential threat to Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Kuwait has been eliminated. A violent, rejectionist state has faced consequences. This has had a sobering effect on the region: See Syria and Libya's recent behavior. Given our interest in a stable Middle East, this is good.

The outcome? Chaos; an angry, dispossessed and armed Sunni community; a sullen and restless Shiite population; an insurgency; a jihadist terrorist movement, and spreading sectarian violence. In addition, foreign forces were destabilizing the country because both the invasion and the occupation were undertaken without first gaining support from neighboring Arab states or winning international legitimacy. The result was a perfect storm in international affairs, a failure that kept getting worse.

It's funny that "getting rid of Saddam Hussein" is now absent from the list of What The Fuck Did Bush Get Right? and that the 2004 litany of the Costs, which, surprisingly, turned out to go unalleviated, subsumes the War's Great Accomplishment, now that the public tells pollsters it doesn't believe the Middle East has erupted in a Jubilee of Democracy and America Respecting. 9/11 Changed Everything. Who knew the Dictates of Careerism would change it back?

Y'know, it's far from me to doubt the sincerity of anyone's penance over the Disastrous Iraq Adventure, but from my limited understanding of the genre one is supposed to actually wear the hair shirt, not open the closet door and show us where it hangs. "[We] went in with too few troops, dismantled Iraq's Army, bureaucracy and state-owned factories, arrested tens of thousands of Iraqis, mistreated and tortured some of them, and used overwhelming military force against all perceived threats". What gave you to imagine it would be any different? Especially since our mission there, as redefined by its public backers after Rationales 1-5 proved somewhat faulty, involved punishing the Middle East for a generalized anti-Americanism.   Or when the Acting President (and much of the Congressional leadership) couldn't be bothered to learn the distinction between Shi'a and Sunni. What did you think was going to happen? We acknowledge torture and mistreatment because we cannot deny what photographic evidence got out before the lid was shut; we ignore the thousands of innocents killed by our own actions out of camera range. That is what war is, and it is reprehensible in every way to ignore it, or forget it, or treat it like a side effect. The women and men of the US military serve, overwhelmingly, honorably. But anyone who unleashed, or excused the unleashing, of a couple hundred thousand of them on a people we proclaimed culpable in a coordinated act of murder we knew they had nothing to do with must face a lifetime of consequences, not an obligation to re-tailor the story before he's allowed on with Jon Stewart again.

So, I'd come that far; let's briefly address Dr. Zakaria's main contention:
...blanket criticism of Bush misses an important reality. The administration that became the target of so much passion and anger—from Democrats, Republicans, independents, foreigners, Martians, everyone—is not quite the one in place today. The foreign policies that aroused the greatest anger and opposition were mostly pursued in Bush's first term: the invasion of Iraq, the rejection of treaties, diplomacy and multilateralism. In the past few years, many of these policies have been modified, abandoned or reversed. This has happened without acknowledgment—which is partly what drives critics crazy—and it's often been done surreptitiously. It doesn't reflect a change of heart so much as an admission of failure; the old way simply wasn't working. But for whatever reasons and through whichever path, the foreign policies in place now are more sensible, moderate and mainstream. In many cases the next president should follow rather than reverse them.

No. Let me say, both as a Crazy Critic and a Stander To The 'Failure' Side of the Iraq "Argument", that viscous liquid running out from underneath the Brick Wall of Reality where it collapsed on the Bush administration, its neo-con puppetmasters, and--collaterally, if you prefer--everyone foolish enough to have defended it, does not smell of moderation, admission of failure, nor a sadder-but-wiser realism. It's the result of their having trusted the Helmet of Stupidity to protect them in repeated crash testing. It's not the first Bush administration that promoted Alberto Gonzales, that eventually fired Donald Rumsfeld ("the finest Secretary of Defense this Nation has ever had"), or sought to make waterboarding legal. Bosh. This is like saying the twenty-seven-year-old man who impregnates his 13-year-old mentally retarded cousin has seen the light because he offers to marry her as the cops are hauling him away. Bush is, at best, the Horrible Example to end all Horrible Examples, and if he got anything right--inadvertently, of course--it was to make a growing number of Americans aware of the toadying know-nothingism that passes for their mainstream punditry.

Saturday, August 23

In Other Words, He Blocked A Shot.

"There's a constant chess match between the middles of which way they're going to hit--wrist-away or cross-body. Players are always getting more information about where the set is, split-second information about the approach angle of the hitters, and factoring into that the history. David Lee taking that all into account, making an amazing blocking move."

--NBC "indoor" volleyball analyist Kevin Barnett

Friday, August 22

In Other News, How Long Before Rachael Maddow Turns Into A Misogynist?

Jonah Goldberg. "No Change: Nothing new here with Obama". August 22

THE local CBS affiliate has a nightly news toss to a canned segment generally mouthed by Alexis Christophorus, designed, as far as I can tell, to give the impression that the local folks are tuned in to the national scene as well, beyond the weather map, I mean. Last night came word that a new, somber frugality will be hitting the fashion runways this fall--and, one guesses, hitting Christophorus herself--an artistic and economic response to our horrible times. At one point she said:
You wouldn't think of H&M as conservative.

Which is absolutely uncanny. And not only would I not think of H&M as conservative, I wouldn't think of H&M at all, nor have I ever, nor shall I again. For that matter, I don't think much of a teevee clotheshorse reporting real economic pain as reflected in the enforced drabishness and absence of Kicky she will be forced to endure This Season.

Of course, coming as this does just before the midpoint of two weeks of the NBC-brand mushification the Olympic Games, and one week each of the conventions of my two least favorite major political parties, I had already taken the precaution of locking up the guns and having my Poor Wife hide the shells. But that's just me. Still, if anyone out there is planning on traveling through a wormhole and returning to 1973, I'll be happy to cough up bus fare for a side trip to the Goldbergs' place, provided you'll smash their teevee.
The Republicans are in terrible shape. There hasn’t been a more battered brand name since Bart Simpson swallowed a jagged metal “O” from his box of Krusty-O’s cereal.

Okay, never mind: the teevee's playing in his head all the time, anyway. Just smash that.

Those are, respectively, sentence #2 and sentence #3 from a column soon to grace the pages of a major Los Angeles daily near you. Which more or less forces us to note 1) that The Simpsons is a television entertainment, formerly a comedy, still fictional; 2) that "the Krusty brand-name", an on-going gag which included The Clock That Gets Extremely Hot If You Leave It Plugged In--who wrote that?--is never battered, economically, because its comic immorality grants unconditional marketplace immunity; and 3) that we understand, on more than one level, why Goldberg refuses to get the joke; we just wish he'd get an editor. Preferably one willing to try to explain that English makes a poor cudgel:
The latest Reuters poll has Grandpa Munster up five percentage points over our secular messiah.

You know, I think, that I've got nothing against Obama=Messiah jokes, or McCain=Depends, but that is to say they're based on some reasonably fair, reasonably caricatured critique; it's not to excuse you relieving yourself in public at every opportunity. It's a substitute for thought. If I overheard you using it on the bus I'd pay you no mind. But over and over and over again, in a major metropolitan daily, is beyond comprehension. I have no idea why they put up with this shit from Maureen Dowd over on the other coast, and she's got a Pulitzer, if one worthy of the Best New Artist Grammy given The Starland Vocal Band in 1977.

But let's answer, quick; we're just two paragraphs from Goldberg calling Obama an elitist.

Because we do, in fact, make the same argument: how is it that this race is close? But then we like to imagine we're making it from the opposite end of the Rationalist/Replaying Your One Sermon To The NRO Choir spectrum. We think Obama should be clearly ahead. But we have no idea what a reasonable spread would be. Something short of "Knockout", certainly. We have no problem understanding public reticence about a man with a scant public resumé; we're reticent, too. We have no problem placing much of the blame on the Obama campaign, overdue for a major shake-up at least twice over by now, and now too late. We're uninvested in time, money, or emotion. It would perhaps be gratuitous to insist, now, that the campaign's, and the Democratic party's general, aversion to stomping the GOP back to the Stone Age is to blame, except that we've been saying so throughout the campaign. Yesterday, Salon joined Slate in urging that Those Horrible Hillary Harridans be kept off the dais next week, lest someone watching get the impression that Democrats are of more than one opinion. First the farce, then the tragedy. I used to rail about claims of Democratic party incompetence in national elections that it was largely a creation of the mass market media's script (Fritz Mondale, e.g., "promising to raise taxes", as opposed to what he really did, which was call Ronald Reagan a facile liar, in which he was proved correct, not that that made him The Amazing Kreskin or anything). This was demonstrated beyond doubt in 2000, where the competent candidate was hit with every sort of anti-Democratic slime, as well as a big batch whipped up specially for the occasion. But now, given something approaching as close to preferential treatment as it'll ever get, the party reveals itself as the teenager who stashes her Goth get-up at a friend's house and leaves the house each day in J.C. Penney coordinates,  so Mom and Dad won't find out.

Which is depressing, but not unexpected; the thing I find mysterious about those poll numbers is, Who th' fuck is voting for John McCain?

Thursday, August 21

Do Not Get This Sort Of Electricity Anywhere Near A Pool.

HELL yes, since some of you asked, I still manage to enjoy Track & Field, with reservations, whenever NBC can cut away from its coverage of the five minutes between every platform dive.  If I want to watch young women showering I will go elsewhere.  Elsewhere in the house.  On video.  In case I need to make that clear.  

I've enjoyed a lot of what's on the Korean feed I get:  table tennis, badminton, team handball.  Swimming's okay, it's just not nearly as compelling as Track, just like soccer's no football; opinions vary.  It's the goddam jingoism and corporatism I can't stand.  I could probably even watch Gymnastics, were they to be edited to the meat, instead of  the action being tolerated as the price of admission to the sidelines-full of soap opera and waterworks.  That, and the fact that you cannot look at a female American gymnast without the acute awareness that the star machinery surrounding her is the very engine that has driven her, and especially her Loving and Sacrificing Parents, for years, making it a bit like investing real emotion rooting for the heroine of a Busby Berkeley movie.


• Accidental mayor of Indianapolis Greg "Know Whut Ah Mean, Vern?" Ballard hits a rough patch, what is known in other circumstances as "governance", when he was forced by his most formidable foe, Reality, to propose a city budget, like, with numbers in it an' stuff. At least this got him to stop blaming his predecessor for every public ill. Oh, wait. A GOP mouthpiece actually turned up hours before the budget release, blaming every public ill on Ballard's predecessor, the current (elected, Democrat) sheriff, and Bill Ayers.  And the local "news" not only let him do it, it seemed to be persuaded, as no Democrat ever turned up with a contrary opinion. Then again, it's Indiana; maybe there aren't any Democrats with contrary opinions.

Anyway, the guy who campaigned on his knowledge of "millions" to be saved in the city budget raised his own office's budget by $400,000 (in fairness, the downtown legal firm which actually governs the city now does not work cheap, but we think Ballard did negotiate a discount), pumps $20 M into the police department he made himself head off, slashes the (elected, Democrat) sheriff's budget, jails, schools, the arts, well, let's just say everything else.

Then he made a stupid, rookie mistake: he woke people up to it. Specifically by announcing that smaller parks were "a drain" on the city budget (less grass, more cash crops!), and hiring a real estate firm to provide a complete inventory of city park property. The same firm has graciously agreed to handle any sales of any "surplus" park land for us.

So, two things: one, we'd be a lot better off if nearly every Republican proposal, and almost as many Democratic, across the land, came supplied with pictures of the Cute Baby Ducklings it would hopelessly mangle. Or, perhaps more to the point, if voters would wake the fuck up before the plummeting anvil arrived. Indianapolis had eight years of Mr. Government Privatization, Stephen Goldsmythe*, and the attendant deterioration of city services. Yes, it's true, no one even knew Ballard was running for mayor until he won, but there's no excuse (in Indiana!) for imagining Republicans come in any other flavor. And this is a city which has been busy gawking at the new $1 B stadium it gave the Colts, and celebrating its successful Super Bowl bid, despite having voting, scant months earlier, to save a few bucks.

Two: how does this play out, over and over and over, without anyone seeming to get any wiser? What fucking insight, expertise, or even discipline does it take to slash away at stuff? This, older readers might recall, was in fact The One Idea that made the Republicans such a Party of Ideas that even some Democratic presidential hopefuls pucker up to smooch the pig. You wouldn't run a family budget that way ("Hannah, Ambrose V, I'm afraid we have to let you go."); why is it that we accept the premise, and never work backwards from the results? (Well, for one, there's local teevee, which yesterday ran a story on "how much our parks cost us", city funding of parks being a foreign concept to them until the mayor pointed it out.)

• The good news is that Ballard's La Police c'est Moi approach is reducing the crime rate. The bad news is that everyone being arrested is wearing a cop uniform.

Yesterday brought news of the officer whose (civilian police employee) girlfriend sideswiped another vehicle while driving his take-home cop car, with him riding shotgun, and then fled the scene, after which he filed a false report; a second officer who was conducting "unlawful activity" with a prostitute while on duty, and a third who flashed his badge at a 13- and a 14-year-old girl, and ordered them to lift their tops so he could determine if they were the ones reported to be flashing the neighborhood. They're added to the guy just resigned while facing his third DUI/property damage charge, the guy who was helping his wife out with her business, which turned out to be prostitution, the three who were arrested for illegal part-time employment selling confiscated marihuana, and, as the Gilligan's Island theme used to say, The Rest. Ten in all, so far. This is, of course, spun to the rubes ("Look, the new stadium's got a retractable roof!") as Weeding Out the Bad Seeds, despite the fact that, other than the Three Man Chronic Squad, none of it has required much, if any, actual investigation.

• ITEM: College Presidents Urge Lowering Drinking Age To Curb Binge Drinking

They include Butler's Bobby Fong, who, evidence suggests, actually said this:
"I learned to drink in the homes of professors and after church services. They showed me that drinking was part of a larger social fabric. We cannot provide that social fabric because serving alcohol is against the law."

So, lemme tell ya. Butler is a private school, mostly white, mostly wealthy, mostly Hellenistic. You can walk it in fifteen minutes, but most students choose to stagger it in thirty-five. My sister used to work for Butler, and her best friend there was the head of its police department. Butler's major effort in the fight against underage/binge drinking was to eliminate the keg deposit portion of its student fees.

You no playa da game, you no makea da rules! After four blocks any drunk-driving student is Indianapolis' problem; the only reason students have for getting in a car is to hit the bars or replenish depleted stocks, at which time they become the problem of people whose livelihoods, even personal freedom, depend on their enforcing liquor laws. Meanwhile, every non-collegiate 18-year-old in the city now has a (legal) reason to drive off in search of booze.

Aren't college students supposed to be educable? And isn't that your job?

(Those are rhetorical questions.)

• In the space of one week, Jack Shafer urges a Press boycott of the "long, boring, meaningless" national political conventions, and decries coverage of the "long, boring, meaningless" Veepstakes. Here's an idea: maybe you're in the wrong fucking business. Or maybe the Press could stop wasting energy on the Banal, the Trivial, and the Full of Shit, and save a little for real issues. Now and again I do enjoy my little joke.

• Elsewhere at The Journal of American Counterintuitive Pro-Anti-Reverse-Contrarianism, Whoops, Fooled Ya Again! Dahlia Lithwick, who is usually the smart one, blasts "Hillary Harridans":
These disgruntled women—whether they plan to vote for John McCain, sit out the election, or simply gobble up airtime—are tacitly working toward electing McCain; a candidate who claimed last week at a presidential forum at Saddleback Church that life begins "at the moment of conception" and who voted against legislation ensuring equal pay for women.

I'm sorry, but could someone explain what's supposed to be so fucking compelling about this argument? Lithwick has already dismissed her quarry as a hopelessly shrill micro-minority. So, if nothing else, why shouldn't they take advantage of that circumstance and push their own agenda? We might also note that it seems a helluva lot more politically savvy than Lithwick's binary code. Supposing the next President does turn out to be McCain (hell, supposing it turns out to be Dick Cheney) he is not going ban abortions or impose gender inequality, everywhere and for all time, in his inauguration speech. The President is not supposed to be the sole Decider, a concept Democrats used to agree on. There is certainly a case to be made that the shape-shifting centrist who signals at least some willingness to bargain over late-term abortions is a greater threat than the Right To Lifer who energizes the opposition (I'm not making it, mind you; I just say it can be made). The Republican party fell apart once it could no longer pretend to be run by its constituencies. It's funny how, over the period of GOP dominance, there was always some centrist Democrat, or his apologist, insisting their constituencies didn't understand the game and would do better to shut th' fuck up. Obviously, Democrats are better on such issues. Obviously, they're not perfect; obviously no politician should be trusted once out of sight. And, obviously, this is the election where Democrats must begin Putting Up in place of Shutting Up if they want to establish a working majority coalition again, one which is rightfully theirs; there's surely no harm in a few shrill losers reminding them of that, is there?


*Not his real name, just the fake name he feloniously registered to vote under.

Wednesday, August 20

Why I Can't Tell Ossetia Commentary From NBC's Olympic Coverage, Part XVII

"We are not going to distribute footage. We are not doing these kinds of things. Everything is good. What are you going to do with the footage? See what the Serbians already saw? It is clarified for us beyond any doubt.

“He’s the winner in any way. He’s the winner no doubt. Even if you could see the pictures, I don’t know how you could use them."

-actual comments of Cornel Marculescu, actual executive director of the international swimming federation FINA, explaining why actual underwater photographs of Michael Phelps' .01 second victory in the 100m butterfly would not actually be released as actually announced earlier

FOR one thing, we need seriously to consider not only whether "Conspiracy Theorist" should, in The Age of Bush (Clinton=blow jobs!), still be considered a mild-to-medium slur, or whether, in fact, the presumption should not now be reversed, and we assume anyone not wearing a tinfoil hat is harboring secrets which would Blow various Lids off various Things now safely Lidded. I don't like this turn of events any more than you do, even though I've pretty much always avoided hurling charges of home-made radio-wave-repellant headgear usage on general principles.  Paranoia is overrated.

And even though, to be clear about it, I'm not exactly convinced one way or t'other about that 100 butterfly decision. My personal concerns could be summed up as follows: 1) how has dishonesty become so profitable--mainstream profitable--that risking the appearance of dishonesty, even in a situation where honesty would seem to be central, crucial, the Without Which Nothing, is practically automatic? and 2) why is it that Americans always seem to be in the middle of this?

I mean, in 2008 is there any reason a sane person would chose "Believe FINA" as the default? In 2008 should we be looking for some reason other than the obvious one for such an institution giving us an argument instead of information?

True stories (we accept no advertising!): 1) I watched a replay of the race with my Poor Wife, the former competitive swimmer and high school swim coach. I am, by nature, a man who suspects that Stories Too Good To Be True may, in fact, suffer the occasional embellishment, and I have just enough of a grasp of mathematics to feel reasonably sure that 1/100 sec. is not, technically, a feasible margin of error given the circumstances of athletic competition, even one so well funded. So when I heard Phelps had won by 0.01 I suspected, not chicanery, but the pretension of precision beyond the likely. Then we watched the replay, and I said, "Hell, he won.  Close but no question." And then they showed the touch-out again, and I realized I had the lanes mixed up. The guy I thought had won, close but not 1/10 of an eyelash batting, was Milorad Cavic. 2) Later, in an effort to apply the same exacting empirical standards that make the NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams the global standard for professional journalism, the studio peacocks showed us underwater footage said to "prove" Phelps' touch-out, except the damned thing looked like a Ben Turpin two-reeler being hand-cranked by a spastic. They showed it over and over again, and each time I kept expecting the jump from about .35 meter out to their resting positions to disappear, but it never did. 3) The accompanying expert testimony, from the Golden Olympian Ambrose Gaines IV ("Rowdy")--who in a post-race interview once compared one of his own Olympic victories to the emotions generated in the residents of Hooville by the satisfying conclusion of How the Grinch Who Stole Christmas--noted that Cavic pulled his head up at the finish (a technical faux-pas) while Phelps employed a half-stroke (another technical faux-pas, but subsumed here as "risky", since it "worked"). My Poor Wife concurred. 4) I bow to their expertise, but I still question long-term exposure to chlorine; none of it meant we'd actually seen who touched first. 5) Meanwhile, the Indianapolis Racist Star's Bob Kravitz pens a column about Women's Gymnastics Outrage #4 or 5, the one where a tie on the Monkey Bars, or the High Beam, or some such was determined according to the rules, thus possibly depriving a button-cute American of her right to endorse the Chevy Tahoe. One day earlier I'd happened to see (on a hench network; contact sports don't make it to the Big Show much) two boxing matches in a row decided by precisely the same system, but neither of them involved countries whose sense of moral superiority hinged on the outcome.  

(By the way, I have a Solomonic, if I do say so m'self, solution to that But Chinese is exploiting young girls! outrage which robbed Béla Károli of his sleep last week--limit participation in Women's Gymnastics to women.  Of course, as a humanitarian, I favor first making sure you cannot open the windows of NBC's boardroom from the inside.)

This reminds me: I forgot to thank the folks at the Racist Star for directly appending the comments of their self-befouling microencephalic racist readership (and, if anything, I'm being nice) directly to the end of stories, instead of requiring one to click a link and wait two seconds before renewing one's hatred of one's fellow man. I'm sure that, like me, you can never get enough of "Your a moran", or suggestions that every non-white citizen of The Greatest Country in the World earns his living, between prison stints--where he is coddled by PC liberals--"pimpin his ho's" (funny how the missing apostrophes always turn up somewhere). And no, these are not, in the main, trolls, and no, you really should not go find out for yourself. Kravitz, naturally, wrote a column about how there couldn't possibly be any argument with the apodactic observation that Michael Phelps was The Greatest Olympian There Could Ever Be, and--I had no choice but to see--a mild admonishment by a time-wasting sports fan that, seeing as how Swimming hands out Olympic medals the way public clinics hand out condoms, maybe we ought to try to achieve something approaching Perspective was met with accusations that the writer must really hate America.

And I was replaying this, ad nauseam, for my Poor Wife last night--she either has the patience of Job or is hiding profound deafness--and I mentioned that the Nixon administration had spawned John Dean, John Sirica, Archibald Cox, and John Ruckelshaus, while the intervening forty years have not only given us...Nobody, but people were now obligated to apologize to rich people who shoot them in the face. And this, Dear Reader, is the Deformed Amphibian Epidemic of the American soul.

Monday, August 18

Why I Can't Tell Ossetia Commentary From NBC's Olympic Coverage, Part VII

Trudy Rubin,"There's No Excusing Russia's Attack". August 18

WHEREIN Ms Rubin answers her angry emailers and several potential cabbies:
First, the moral issue. No matter what mistakes Bush made in Iraq, they don't excuse Russia's brutal behavior in Georgia or toward its other neighbors, behavior that began long before Bush took office. America's "moral standing" is irrelevant in judging Russia's actions.

Um, 1) everything began before Bush took office, at least in some metaphysical sense, and none of that excuses him from turning loose that troop of flying monkeys even other Republican nutjob administrations had kept somewhat caged, at least; he ran for the job; 2) sure, sure, our "moral standing" is irrelevant in judging Russia, but it's precisely the point in our pronouncements of public moralisms, which are, basically, all we've got, short of the rash stupidity of massive escalation from the skies; 3) and who's fault is that? 4) even if we did have any viable ground force left it would be madness to suggest sending it to Georgia, and it's interesting that this point is most frequently missed by the very same people who urged us into twin disasters beginning seven years ago; 5) if this concerns you now, it should have concerned you back when we proposed to augur ourselves into the irregular and unequal polygon whose sides are Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, and China, three of whom are nuclear powers, none of whom particularly cares for the others, and at least two of whom have been engaged in a low-to-medium grade conflict for over forty years, that is, back when we had a chance to consider both the long-term value of our moral standing and the potential for a major calamity growing out of our actions, and chose instead to vent our spleen without even counting to three.
I opposed Bush's broad doctrine of preemption - the right to invade another nation on the assumption that it might threaten us sometime in the future, even if it poses no threat in the short term. I also criticized Bush policy on Iraq.

And we are not here, madam, to debate what minimum claims you need to make in order merely to sound sane enough to engage the argument any further. You cannot on the one hand denounce "Bush's broad doctrine"--which even its cheering pep section had to recognize at the time, let alone now, was "broad" in the sense of the expanse of Ass it needed to Cover, not in the number of instances we'd invoke it--and on the other re-state what remains of the ginned-up case against Saddam Hussein as though it falls to your credit.
Saddam Hussein was a brutal tyrant under U.N. sanction for invading Kuwait and using weapons of mass destruction against his own people (not to mention against neighboring Iran). He was a continuing threat to his neighbors. Saakashvili may have acted rashly, and he may have flaws as a leader, but he's the elected president of a tiny nation next to a giant nuclear power.

To the extent that the Saddam litany is true--that is, about half--we rise to note that much of this he accomplished with US aid and/or approval, and that he, and his neighbors, have been of interest to us mostly since the 1920s and almost entirely because we enjoy refining their crude oil. We could add the lesser consideration that we were the ones who ramrodded the creation of the modern State of Israel, not for moral but for domestic political considerations, thereby forcing Holocaust reparations out of people who had nothing whatsoever to do with it. This is our own brief, Ms Rubin: that we ought to simply acknowledge that "morality" has nothing whatever to do with it, and to proceed from there, rather than down the precipitous decline just one unexamined footfall away, off to either side. Some of us, as individuals, may have the moral standing to criticize the Russians, or the Solomonic wisdom to decide Who Started It, or to dismiss the question as out of hand. Even this is rare; as a nation we are bereft. Rehabilitating the Iraq war by replaying whatever nonsensical, and now disgraced, rationale you imagine has survived is a fool's errand, and you are not a fool. And neither are we.
Russia is entitled to a sphere of influence built by diplomacy and economic ties, but Putin is aiming at something more sinister. The next U.S. president will need to devise a united policy with Europe to confront a Russia indifferent to European norms.

I believe this is the source of my own confusion; I've been watching what Olympic coverage I could take without raging dyspepsia, and the number of paid commentators able to read the minds of competitors at considerable distance has surprised me. The next world power whose sphere of influence is founded on diplomacy and economic ties will be the first. I heartily recommend to the next U.S. president that he denounce the Gun, the Covert Disruption, and Economic Blackmail in our own dealings with the rest of our own hemisphere.  And that he employ a food taster.

Friday, August 15

In Other News: Mata Hara Wasn't A Spy, The Titanic Hit An Iceberg, And The Pope Professes Roman Catholicism

[In case that's not legible, "After she was graduated from Smith College she joined the OSS..." begins the second sentence of her flyleaf bio in my hand-me-down Book Club 1968 edition.  If we'd been as eager to publicize what she really thought of Emeril Lagasse ("my garage attendant really enjoys his show") we'd be much better off as a nation.]

Thursday, August 14

If We Can Threaten To Put Another Man On The Moon, Why Can't We Make Self-Anihilating Rhetoric Than Really Self-Anihilates?

AND Welcome Back, s.z. The Low-Hanging Pantload, via Scott:
Now, of course, this is a bit unfair in that Obama had planned his no doubt well-deserved vacation for a very long time. But presidential vacations are always well planned -- and often interrupted.
It's a new fucking world record in Stupid every time the man enters the pool! And, obviously, he doesn't even train. Maybe NASA developed a suit that prevents oxygen from getting to the brain. Although, if you look back, there's not much evidence his brain got much exercise in whatever era. Maybe they've discovered a way to wrap his body around an 8-year-old Chinese gymnast. (The physics would have been a snap.) Y'know, the supposed imperturbable fearlessness of the clueless? I'm pretty sure it's not performance-depressing drugs. I know a thing or two about those, and none of them can make you that stupid; it's a Hollywood myth. Still, drug testing for pundits: it couldn't hurt.

The remarkable thing about Goldberg is that he's sui-generis while remaining the very epitome of Triteness; though we shall find some, it doesn't require any context for us to appreciate the speed with which he burrows for the Gold here: a) Obama has been "trying to look Presidential" on the campaign trail (which, in Goldbergese, is an "odd strategy" for someone running for President. You figure it out); b) the Sovi Russians did something which he gets to claim as sparking a global crisis, on the basis of his inability to make distinctions or recognize proportions when necessary, and often when not; c) therefore, Obama should have cut his vacation short.

And gone where? And done what?

And in furtherance of your claim that he's trying to look Presidential. Jesus, not even I imagine the Obama campaign to be that incompetent.

But we are nothing if not time wasters here, provided it doesn't feel too much like work, so let's google "Goldberg Bush vacation" and see what the first link brings us, shall we?

Jewish World Review August 22, 2001 / 3 Elul, 5761
Report from the heartland: Bush's vacation not stalling nation -- "THE president's on vacation; can America survive?"

This has been the not-too-subtle theme of the hundreds of stories about President Bush spending "too much," "a lot" or a "record-breaking amount" of time on his ranch in Texas. Dozens of news outlets have pointed out that Bush's vacation ties Richard Nixon's 30-day record for longest presidential respite. Of course, by heading back to Washington on the Friday before Labor Day instead of the following Monday, Bush is managing to avoid breaking the record after all.

Still, I wish he'd stuck it out. By going back to Washington early, Bush is surrendering to the psychological demands of the permanent government, particularly the press corps. There's a reigning mythology in the nation's capital that America is "driven" by the president, and when he's not at the wheel the whole country might smash into a light pole or a slow-moving cow.

Of course, in Goldberg's defense, 9/11 did change everything.  Especially the jocular view of that particular vacation.

Y'know, I've been watching this "Conservatism" scam for a long time now, and even at a young age I was aware of a goodly portion of what my Sunday School teachers called "hypocrisy", that mid-20th century theological concept now fallen out of favor. So that I was hardly surprised when Ronald Wilson "National Debt" Reagan quadrupled the federal deficit, or when he raised taxes and called it "revenue enhancement"; the salient point about Reagan, and Buckley, was not that they were public scoundrels, but that they got away with pretending not to be. And still one wonders how "movement" "Conservatism" could have gotten Here from There. There is, after all, still some gap between taking pride in concocting simplistic, bumper-sticker answers to complex problems and being too frat-boy Stupid and Proud of It to be troubled by intellectual honesty.

Wednesday, August 13

How To Speak Mush.

Michael Cooper, "War Puts Focus on McCain's Hard Line on Russia". August 12

His hard line has been derided as provocative, and possibly dangerous, by some so-called realist foreign policy experts, who warn that isolating Russia would do little to encourage it to change. But others, including neoconservatives who deem promoting democracy a paramount goal, see Mr. McCain’s position as principled, and prescient. Now, with Russia moving forcefully into Georgia as Mr. McCain seeks the presidency, his views are being scrutinized as never before through the prism of Russia’s invasion.

1) So-called realists? If there's some sense in which this does not, in fact, qualify as Real realism I for one would sure like to hear Mr. Cooper explain it. 2) Others, including neoconservatives? Here I'd just like Mr. Cooper to explain the construction. Is it intended to show that neoconservatives have garnered support from other points on the political spectrum? To deny that Mr. Cooper was singling them out for their so-called incoherent irrationalism? Why bring them into it at all, except as a kind of shorthand for conventional wisdom? There is one option, and one alone, for repelling the Russian army without availing ourselves of the one we no longer have: we could start WWXVI, at last count, in the name of spreading democracy. Let's hear the neoncons, and "others", say that. 3) Similarly, McCain's views have had all the scrutiny they require, in Iraq and Afghanistan, supposing that we need to actually poke our own eyes out in order to understand sightlessness. The only people who weren't scrutinizing it beforehand were the very people paid to do so, but who have a personal interest in a blustering, expansionist--and already dead and buried--US foreign policy.

Why, Yes, I Do Have To Ruin It For Everybody.

Pat Forde, ESPN, et. al. ad nauseam, "Michael Phelps, Greatest Olympian Ever".

C'MON. He's a swimmer. How many Golds would Carl Lewis have if, in addition to running the 100 and the 200 the normal way, he could pick up another running backwards, and a third by goose stepping, and another long jump medal for flapping his arms like a cartoon duck during his approach? For that matter, how many would Paavo Nurmi have won (in distance running!) if he hadn't been robbed of his ability to compete in more than two (for [bogus] excessive travel expenses! Phelps will get a $1 M bonus from Speedo if he takes eight Golds). In 1924 the Flying Finn won the 1500 and the 5000, setting world records in each, with 30 minutes in between races. The other day the teevee drones were protesting the brutality of the schedule which had Phelps swimming three laps in a single 24-hour period.

And look, this is not to say Phelps isn't one of the greats; it's just that someone who earns a living writing about Sport ought to show a little more respect for his field than the guy who earns a living writing about Malto, The Maltilicious Breakfast Ballast. I exempt the teevee yammerers, who are, in fact, precisely the guy who writes about Malto.

Al Oerter won four Golds in discus. Alexander Karelin won three Greco-Roman wrestling Golds, lost the fourth by a point (to Rulon Gardner, the Nancy Zerg of athletics), which was the only point he'd given up in a decade. Find whatever story you wish the Most Compelling, if you absolutely have to, but don't act like all questions have been banished. Swimmers, and gymnasts, and people who specialize in great bursts of speed over short distances have, not just an advantage, but a lock on total medal haul, not to mention that they get to tack on team medals and relays.   Act like you understand this, assuming it doesn't take all the fun out of sniffing the lead dog's butt.

And yes, I am a former middle-distance runner married to a competitive swimmer, and yes, she did get tired of hearing this around 1978 sometime.  Lucky guess. 

Tuesday, August 12

Neocon, n. L.20, Fr. dial. n'econnez? meaning "Don't you ever get tired of being wrong?"

William Kristol,"Will Russia Get Away With It?" August 11

One of several excess Kagans, "Putin Makes His Move". August 11

John Maverick McCain, International gibberish from the campaign trail (but I repeat myself!) August 11

THE good news, Reader, is that, even deprived of most of the modern communication inconveniences this weekend, save the fuzzy blue flickering of the video crystal set, one could almost feel, smell, even taste the bullshit on this one, suggesting that it's not the mere volume of the stuff on the internets that makes this virtually possible.

Okay, okay, so it's remarkably easy; all you have to do is note when television "journalists" start shamming gravitas, and you know The Steer of State has a bad case of the squirts. By the evening "news" all three nets were predicting the possibility of World War VII, or wherever we are now (keeping tabs on this being the one theoretical, though not compelling, reason we need a single Kagan). This practically guaranteed the crisis would be over by breakfast, and that the Sovi Russians would likely stop somewhere east of the Fulda Gap. And that the Kagans would not. Virtually, of course.

(The historically astute Reader may recall, if dimly, that these were the selfsame teleprompter maestri who, five-and-one-half years ago, treated a US invasion into the heart of the Middle East with Huzzahs! Off to teach the Hun a lesson he won't soon forget! Home before the leaves fall! Half a decade later, a world power acting regionally against its actual provocateur, not the most-easily plucked (!) target of  sham surrogacy, baldly risks rapid expansion into Global conflict. In pursuit of its economic and territorial expansionist aims! This, I suppose, is progress of a sort. It's too bad Putin didn't claim Saakashvili once tried to kill his father. I would have enjoyed seeing Charlie Gibson laughing that one off.)

Regardless, it's nice to be home, even if your freeloading uncle is lying on the couch, drinking your beer and yelling at the Libruls on the teevee:
The details of who did what to precipitate Russia's war against Georgia are not very important. Do you recall the precise details of the Sudeten Crisis that led to Nazi Germany's invasion of Czechoslovakia? Of course not, because that morally ambiguous dispute is rightly remembered as a minor part of a much bigger drama.

Thus Kagan, who, simply put, can't keep it in his pants anymore because he refuses to wear any. The details are not very important?  Was that for people who aren't familiar with your work?  The precise details of the Sudeten Crisis? Hell, I'll settle for the Post, and/or the Times, requiring some small recognition of the proportions of history before they kill any more trees for this shit.

Kristol, meanwhile, ever the stylist, coyly takes four paragraphs to get around to the Hitler analogy (Q: What do you call ninety seconds of neocon foreplay? A: Unprecedented selflessness.):
The good news is that today we don’t face threats of the magnitude of Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union. Each of those regimes combined ruthless internal control, a willingness to engage in external aggression, and fervent adherence to an extreme ideology. Today these elements don’t coexist in one place. Russia is aggressive, China despotic and Iran messianic — but none is as dangerous as the 20th-century totalitarian states.

Look, Bill, we all realize the loss of the Soviet Union hit you hard. Not like the loss of a beloved pet, maybe; more like the guy with the dog that barked constantly moving out of the neighborhood, so that now you're no longer the leader of a gated community action committee, you're just the guy who's in the street every morning in his bathrobe, yelling about the power lines being too low. I understand, Bill. (Maybe too much.) It's time to let it go. It's time to enter the 21st century, and start making shit up about that. We're concluding--should we live that long, and no thanks to you--eight years of an administration which might has well have been photocopied from your image. Yes, yes, Bill, I know you were a relentless fucking Bush critic on the rare occasions you didn't get precisely what you wanted, and on the far, far less rare occasions when you did and it turned to shit and you needed an out, which, inevitably, was "they didn't do it my way enough." Now that Iraq is a roaring success maybe you could spend your twilight years in quiet reflection instead of eliminating all your perceived international enemies with the power of  your tiniest cerebral event.  
Will the United States put real pressure on Russia to stop? In a news analysis on Sunday, the New York Times reporter Helene Cooper accurately captured what I gather is the prevailing view in our State Department: “While America considers Georgia its strongest ally in the bloc of former Soviet countries, Washington needs Russia too much on big issues like Iran to risk it all to defend Georgia.”

You and whose Army, bub? Tell you what, if Grenada invades some bird-shit island we'll give you a call.

We really can't let this one go without the insights of the man who would be Commander-in-Chief of this game of Virtual Stratego™:
"Georgia is an ancient country, at the crossroads of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and one of the world's first nations to adopt Christianity as an official religion. After a brief period of independence following the Russian revolution, the Red Army forced Georgia to join the Soviet Union in 1922."

One of the world's first nations to adopt Christianity as an official religion! Anybody else smell Children's Crusade? At least we'd have the troops.

Monday, August 11

Plus, My One-Liner About Dita Beard Doing Their Repair Scheduling Went Right Over Everyone's Head.

FRIDAY afternoon, the one-week anniversary of our phone and IP services repairing themselves a day before AT&T line techs were scheduled to get to them, they all went dead again, necessitating another round of pay-phone visits (this time the automated phone repair line refused to give me any Talk To A Human option, which is now my single-issue requirement for this fall: the first guy who says he'll make automated help services illegal, unprofitable, or the object of constant White House ridicule has my vote. Period. Easy as that. ) The Automated Repair System told me My line was fine! when it tuned out to have been neatly severed across the street from me, in all likelihood by the marauding hordes of electric company line clearers who were working there at the time, but possibly by one of the two lawncare-obsessives whose properties the thing traverses. Let me repeat that: the automated system told me a line which had been cut in two was operating just fine from where it stood, and the problem was in my head, or my basement. This follows by less than two weeks the Human-Operated Repair System informing me that My line was fine! when, in fact, the dial-tone power was out for an entire city block. In that, at least, one could trace some sort of electron-level truth: the line may have been fine, just not capable of operating, although such razor-sharp distinctions are rarely enforced in American commerce. But this time My line was not fine! Severed is not fine, by anyone's definition, even eBay booksellers. I did not call the Automated Repair Line for some robo-machismo. "Hello, my phone doesn't work." "Well, walk it off, dude! It's fine!"

At one point in the festivities I was asked to choose my favorite from a selection of Problems for which "1" ("one") represented "My phone has no dial tone".  And--do not get ahead of me--after answering in the touch-tone binary affirmative I was next asked whether I was calling from that phone. I swear I'm not making that up.

I was fortunate, though, in that this weekend the "news" turned out to be exactly the sort of thing network teevee does best: matching the inspiring stories of young American athletes who have overcome all sorts of personal obstacles in order to become monomaniacal commercial pitchman candidates to sappy background music, while intimating that any other country's athletes which defeat them are cheating (it's possible--barely, I think--that there's some other country where Béla Károlyi would be given air time to declare, "But Chineses is exploiting little girls!" But it's dollars to doughnuts there's no other where it would be managed with the assumption that irony was not just lost on the audience, but totally unknown); assigning blame for the war in Abkhazia to Russia, on the grounds that no country which wants to become a US client state could possibly be at fault; John Edwards, of course, (sorry for assuming you've heard something about it; if not, do sit down first); and, finally, interviewing George W. Bush as though there's anyone left in America who wants to hear what he says, or tries to say.

(My Poor Wife had to watch the Opening Ceremonies with available, fuzzy, over-the-air reception; I peeked in from the other room occasionally, whenever her ooohs and ahs would crescendo. And here's a thought experiment for you: watch a replay while imagining you're an aphasic, and try to figure out why Matt Lauer and Bob Costas are buzzing over the whole thing. They never fucking shut up! Now imagine your aphasia is miraculously cured. Watch again and try to figure out what they were saying that was so damned important.)

I am, as I mentioned recently in the matter of Tommie Smith and John Carlos, a life-long Track and Field fan, from the days when the inspiring stories were Glen Cunningham and Wilma Rudolph, who overcame real obstacles, not the First Cousin Who Couldn't Stop Hiccuping For Seven Years or Beloved Family Pet Which Died variety, let alone the Rafer Johnsons and Jessie Owenses whose obstacles weren't the sort mentioned in polite society. My enthusiasm got dry-rot when choreographed flag strutting* became mandatory, lost structural integrity when professionalism replaced amateurism** (the Russians are cheating!"), and is all but gone in an era when the entire record book is suspect.† I will watch next week in the same way another man might pause before a display of GI Joes at a flea market.

Imagine what sort of world we'd have to enter if such behavior was not rewarded, where prominent, revenue-generating exposure of a sport's governing body was taken away for egregious misbehavior or unbridled greed, and handed to clean sports with competition for the love and beauty of Sport, not gilt. Imagine one where soft-core porn for the terminally repressed teevee viewer did not supplant real sports,†† at least during sports festivals.  Try to picture what it would take to produce a global competition where every winner demonstrated respect for the other competitors, instead of turning the thing into a pantomime of martial superiority, with overtones of colonialism.§ Then you have some idea of what Change entails.

Fuck it. Just gimme somebody to answer the goddam complaint phone.


* How is it that the love of Sex, or Drugs, or Sex and Drugs, are psychological diagnostic categories, but the constant need for Reassurance by Bunting is not? Christ, if you masturbated as often as some people need flag displays you'd have no skin left on your hands, let alone Down There.

** I realize the Amateur Movement had a considerable number of problems, and was, in some instances, a complete sham, and that, furthermore, it was run, in the person of Avery Brundage, by the worst fascist dictator to not have his own standing army, but the idea that one corrects flaws in a system by throwing the damn thing on the landfill is simply beyond me; and the idea that one could advocate doing so and yet be unaware that the benefits would accrue to the very same people who were besmirching the old system beggars belief.

† I cannot understand how people excuse, condone, or even champion skullduggery in sport, especially those nameless leftists, cough cough, who do so when it's their ox whose abdomen has been exposed. How far beyond your own nose must you look to see how damaging that attitude is? It elected Ronald Reagan twice and George W. Bush once.

†† "Beach" "volleyball", the NASCAR of Olympic events. It's bad enough that the rules, and the point, of actual volleyball (now known as "indoor" volleyball to distinguish it from the slatternly, made-for-teevee impostor shaking its surgically-enhanced tits outside, as though the Catholic church started calling them "Female Nuns" to distinguish them from Sister Boom Boom) are, so far as I can tell, simply treated as minor inconveniences. I defer to no man in my appreciation of the female graces spilling out of half-hearted, minimally legal attempts at concealment, but this is the fucking Olympics, not a two-week Bud Light commercial (wait, what am I saying?). Women competing in pasties and a g-string is bad enough; everyone connected to the modern Olympic movement should be censured for that alone. But then the men, dressed as vacationing shoe salesmen from Ohio, are augmented by teams of precision pole dancers. This is the fucking Olympics! Reader, imagine you discovered, at a young age, a God-given talent for Team Handball, Canoeing, or Badminton. You hone your skills for a lifetime, giving up all other pursuits, free time, and the license of teenage hormonal insanity, granted only once, all to chase your Dream. You overcome all obstacles, including fourteen years sharing a room with your brother and his Uncontrollable Hiccuping. Finally you reach your place in the Olympic sun, only to be preempted by a Brazilian Wax competition put on solely for the enjoyment of people too repressed to buy porn. I ask you.

§ I don't have a footnote for that, you just don't get that many opportunities to type a §.

Friday, August 8

And I Can Say Without Exaggeration That This Is A Million Times Worse Than All Of Them.

Paul Krugman, "Know-Nothing Politics". August 7

Bob Somerby, "Stupidification has worked! " August 7

LEAVE us not let the poorly-run Obama campaign--still chugging from that vintage 1989 How To Beat Republicans By Being More Like Them that smelled so good to it in 2005 (you cannot drink the same bottle of wine twice!), still operating on the assumption that a good enough showing will make its man a viable V.P. candidate, still flummoxed by events on an almost daily basis (it is the central stuff of the Centrist Democrat, who stands athwart the fence and yells Stop! No, wait, Proceed with Caution! Have sex, but try not to enjoy it so much!)--blind us to the McCain campaign, which would be worse--difficult as that is to imagine--if it had Obama's money, and which has demonstrated, beyond any possibility of rebuttal, that our national political press corps, last seen playing Maverick's trombone so enthusiastically that there was only one arm and a pair of shoes visible, is worse than Hitler's.

Still, Stupidity Sells! and it's not self-policing.  If Krugman and Somerby tell you essentially the same thing, on the same day, do not nod your head as though you already understand. Listen and Learn! You do not finesse Stupid, you take his chips. You do not try to out-stupid Stupid, because you have a soul and he does not; you must not lose yours in the process. It may, at times, be necessary to take up the arsenal of Stupidity in order to defeat him, but that time is not when you find him passed out from huffing Freon. Bob?
Why has McCain been running this “stupid” campaign? Could it be for an obvious reason—because stupidifcation has worked in the past? In fact, in the spring of 1999, the Republican Party announced its plan to create such a clowning discussion. And with the help of the mainstream press corps, it has worked out quite well—until now.
What has happened since this plan was disclosed? We’ve had cheese-steak debates—and wind-surfing wars. We’ve had inane reductions of major issues.
(Al Gore wants to eliminate the automobile as we know it!) We’ve been told that one Dem nominee looked French—and that another was raised at the Ritz. Through it all, the mainstream press corps has clowned along with almost every one of these inanities. Dowd can’t seem to remember that now. We’ll take a guess: John McCain can!

Anything to add, Paul?
What’s more, the politics of stupidity didn’t just appeal to the poorly informed. Bear in mind that members of the political and media elites were more pro-war than the public at large in the fall of 2002, even though the flimsiness of the case for invading Iraq should have been even more obvious to those paying close attention to the issue than it was to the average voter.

But it isn't just that Stupidity works, or that our Press corps can't tell the difference; it's that people are so willing to let it become the issue. There's a hundred volumes of outrage over the Paris Hilton ad; show me the Obama supporter who demands a campaign capable of grinding such Stupidity into the dust ("He's a pretty speechifier with no substance" has been out there for six months at least. It doesn't matter what you think about it; that's Voltaire's prayer. It matters what's done about it, which is a peculiar thing on which to have to lecture the same geniuses who believe "My proposal permits a small amount of offshore drilling" is some sort of political masterstroke.).

Tiregaugegate is a fine case in point: I hope there's somebody inside the campaign who's paid to cast a critical eye on this sort of thing, because somebody blew it. The candidate had a reasonable point, but it got stuck in his head and he blew both timing and delivery. He--it was purely a stumble of speech--made it sound like he cued the drumroll before revealing...Tire Pressure! Regular Tune-ups! It sounded ludicrous. (He's also reverted to unmodulated bullhorn speaking, from what I've heard. There needs to be someone on your staff who looks after these things and is fearless about them.) Had he been waving a prop gauge at the time the whole thing would have been a large positive. These things count; campaigns pay millions of dollars to get them right; you provided the money, or at least the seed fund.

Yes, yes, yesyesyes, the brutality of our campaigns explains occasional missteps and brain bubbles, but nevertheless, both sides pounce when they occur.  You cannot do so and decry it when it happens; Stupidity is on to that one.  We have a political environment where this sort of flapdoodle is more important than real issues--I'm hard-pressed to explain anymore why we don't deserve it--but that's not exactly news, and pointing this stuff out has about as much effect as pointing out the ludicrously long odds against human/Vulcan mating has had on the Star Trek franchise. I know no one could possibly have predicted it, but saying, "That's old-style politics" has not made this stuff go away--maybe three times would, if you had the Ruby Slippers on--and "post-partisanship", while a swell idea for someone running to be Vice-President, has not kept the election from turning into a debate over arugula. Quel surprise! John McCain may be a stiff, and he may have a limited upside (lucky you!), but being long on Stupidification isn't his weak spot.

Thursday, August 7

Just Thank God You Don't Live In Indiana, Vol. XLIII

FOR reasons now lost--I've slept since then--I recently had the occasion to wiki up Pnin, and discovered the vintage cover above, which is, I suppose, laughable in its shamelessness, if that's the sort of thing you laugh about. I tend, even at my most agreeable, whenever that is, to view it as a serious argument for increased regulation of commerce, and, at most times--such as now, when Power Company surrogates are busy mutilating trees in my neighborhood, a necessary evil whose necessity seems less important to them than the opportunity to inflict mischief in the name of their Dark Master--a point on the very short continuum that terminates--I think it terminates--in the joyful stockpiling of multi-stage nuclear weapons on the grounds that this effectively deters their use in a way their total absence never could, and the attendant notion that the Freest Nation on Earth should positively bristle with armaments of every other sort in pursuit of keeping the world free of anybody else who might. It's been a while, but I don't recall there being three coeds total in Pnin, or any who, in 1953, dressed like Sandra Dee circa 1958.

[While I'm thinking about it--it must be the chainsaws--Somerby catches Keith Olbermann repeating Bob Herbert's pathetic Leaning Tower of Throbbing African Manhood remarks twelve hours, and several debunkings, later. Why is it you prefer to be lied to by "liberals"?]

Anyway, Senator Obama came to Northern Indiana yesterday, and strolled around with our congenitally disingenuous junior Senator, which leads even the New York Times to mush up its peas and hide them under the mashed potatoes:
The reasons for Mr. Bayh’s apparent presence in the inner circle of potential ticketmates are varied, and they say something about the nature of the 2008 race and the correlation of forces within the Democratic Party.
In contrast to Illinois, Mr. Obama’s home state, neighboring Indiana has not supported a Democrat for president since 1964, when it was part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s landslide victory. But in this election, it is considered a battleground state. Many Republicans crossed over to vote Democratic in the May 2 primary, and there is some thought that putting Mr. Bayh on the ticket just might be enough to make this red state and its 11 electoral votes turn blue.
During the primary campaign, Mr. Bayh, 52, not only supported Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, he was also one of her national campaign co-chairmen and described her in an advertisement as having “a spine of steel.” But his roots and popularity in Indiana run deep. His father, Birch Bayh, served three terms in the United States Senate (losing in 1980 to Dan Quayle, the last Indiana native to serve as vice president). And Evan Bayh served two terms as governor of Indiana before being elected to the Senate in 1998.

So you may think you can imagine what our local "news" coverage was like. But I doubt it. To begin with, these are the same wig mannequins who were still squirming in their anchor seats about Indiana's historic primary! weeks after it became clear that as a result of Your Vote Counting This Time! our selection lost. This actually went on until a mid-July Miley Cyrus sighting effectively altered the news cycle. The artificial excitement generated by rumors of a place on the VP Short List (there's a Presidential election, sometimes worthy of the name, every four fucking years. Don't you people pay attention?) has been treated as though it reflects honor upon the entire state, and especially its dedicated crew of Potential Thirty-Second Home Town interviewers. Which means that the "Event" was treated almost exactly as would rumors of a real-life Hannah Montana romance, with lots of gauging the sincerity of back pats and measuring pupil dilation during eye contact. Wherever it was my Poor Wife stopped during the proceedings the reporter informed us that Obama had used Bayh's name twice! Once in the introduction! and again when he praised the confounding issue of Indiana's last, fearless, Democratic Senator for his work in limiting Loose Nukes, raising the question of whether The Candidate had confused him with Dick Lugar.

What in the world can possibly be interesting about this stuff, and why does it have to be covered by a bunch of sugar-buzzed youngsters who can't wait for Santa? It's like the quadrennial thrall of Swimming, or Speed Skating, but absent any bursts of excitement in the real event. Evan Bayh is the most worst of Indiana's two Senators, and the other one is an octogenarian Republican Eagle Scout who's spent thirty-five years in Washington working on his Foreign Policy badge. Bayh got elected on the strength of his father's name (one of the most accomplished legislators from Indiana in its 192-year history, and the man who lost to Dan Quayle. Democracy simply does not work.) and immediately turned into the Younger, Handsomer, Slightly More Aware of His Surroundings Ronald Reagan. Tax Cuts! Workfare!  At least Reagan left his party more energized than he found it.  Bayh left the Indiana Democratic party right where he found it:  nowhere.  You think McCain performed a cynical obeisance to Bush for the sake of his Presidential aspirations? Bayh's like a television suitor of Flavor Flav; there's not enough There there for cynicism to find a toe hold.  (If it's ever discovered he's been in the pocket of Big Anything the only wonder will be what they imagined they were paying for.) Aspiration shapes the man like helium shapes a balloon. Not just an Iraq War vote, he was a fucking podium invitee when Bush signed the thing. Four solid votes with the Acting President on FISA. And I saw, more than once yesterday, someone suggesting that a strike against Bayh (why is he being considered for anything other than Tar & Feathers?) was that Democrats would lose his seat, thus endangering their mastery of the United States Senate. As though that were a bad thing. Hey kid, wanna buy a dirty book?