Tuesday, September 30

So, We're A Blind, Pitiful Giant Hamstrung By Religious Zealots And An Illiterate Peasantry? And This Is News?

David Brooks, "Revolt of the Nihilists". September 29

What we need in this situation is authority. Not heavy-handed government regulation, but the steady and powerful hand of some public institutions that can guard against the corrupting influences of sloppy money and then prevent destructive contagions when the credit dries up.

--David Brooks, September 29, 2008

[W]hy oh why can't we have a decent overclass in this country — a group of highly attractive dimwits who spread bland but worthy stability over our political scene.

--David Brooks, January 4, 2007 [punctuation in original]


BEFORE we begin today's thoughts on the search for human happiness and revenge, I was taken to task yesterday (privately) for saying we were spending $1 trillion a year in Iraq, on the highly sensible grounds that the Bush administration was quite awful enough without exaggeration. Well, sadly, the exaggeration was intentional, and the fault not in my lack of familiarity with the sort of numbers bandied about by people who don't know, but who know more than I do, but, rather, in my assumption that no one would ever take anything reported in this blog as factual, or as mattering one way or the other. But point taken, with thanks. In my defense, not that I'm mounting one, it felt good typing it, and Ben Stein, et. al., would have gladly spent $1 trillion/year in Iraq, or five times that, to appease the bloodroar in their own ears. It's a blank-check war. It's still being funded by emergency suppliments, where now "emergency" is clearly understood as denoting the distinction between the Iraq war and sensible, responsible, legal action.

Well now. If  Stein was given a guest slot on the Times Op-Ed pages last weekend to rail at the brigands who'd demonstrated that brigandage was not a reductio ad absurdum of Reaganfriedmanomics, but rather an essential and ineluctable component, Brooks cranks open the awning of his punditological kiosk to moan about leadership. If we chide Stein for showing up late to the banquet, then grousing loudly because the waiters cut off liquor service to the fallingdown drunks on his side of the table, what do we say when Brooks decides to crawl under the table? Leadership? Now you want leadership?
House leaders of both parties got wrapped up in their own negotiations, but did it occur to any of them that it might be hard to pass a bill fairly described as a bailout to Wall Street? Was the media darling Barney Frank too busy to notice the 95 Democrats who opposed his bill? Pelosi’s fiery speech at the crucial moment didn’t actually kill this bill, but did she have to act like a Democratic fund-raiser at the most important moment of her career?

OMG Exclamation Point. Nancy Pelosi, the Human Fucking Torch. Barney Frank, Media Darling (and, I guess coincidentally, Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, which apparently is not sufficient reason for anyone to stick a microphone in his face during a crisis in financial services). I doubt it's Frank's job to personally count votes in his own committee, let alone the entire House. He crafted compromise legislation--twice, thanks to John McCain--that many people thought was the best we were going to get given the requirement of bipartisan passage a month before national elections. There's a huge seething anger in the country over this, and rightly so. That was reflected in the vote. And rightly so. I'm not sure what Barney Frank or Nancy Pelosi were supposed to do about that, but a) not speak to the Press or b) not criticize the people and the party responsible for this mess, lest David Brooks' feelings get hurt, are not two good options.

Leave us note the sort of bonhomie offered Democrats in the pages of the Weekly Standard after they stood behind an unelected moron-in-chief post-9/11. Did it last two weeks? What sort of honesty have the last three Democratic Presidential nominees received from Brooks? Democrats sought bipartisan support for a bill which was a vast improvement over the Acting President's demand for a blank check and a Get Out Of Jail Free card. Why shouldn't they? They're not going to get any cover from David Brooks. Suppose at this point they decided to pass a bill with only Democratic support. Suppose they decided to try what appears to be the most sensible solution--temporary nationalization on the Swedish model. How much support do they get from David Brooks? How long before he uses the word "Socialism" in a column?
I’ve spoken with several House Republicans over the past few days and most admirably believe in free-market principles. What’s sad is that they still think it’s 1984. They still think the biggest threat comes from socialism and Walter Mondale liberalism. They seem not to have noticed how global capital flows have transformed our political economy.

Yeah, thank god we narrowly averted that socialist takeover in 1984. Too bad "free-market principles" turned out to be a much greater threat. How, exactly, do you call them "admirable" at this point?

For that matter, how does one come to term the opponents of yesterday's bailout measure "nihilists"? It's long been clear that something was amiss in Brooks' cerebral cortex, or in his moral code; the histrionic appeals to Burke and Hayek were either further evidence, where none was needed, of his willingness to say anything that furthered his party's intentions, or of a massive intellectual bald spot of the sort most people his age have learned to throw a rug over. He answered the question for all time recently, when he quoted Meganjane McArdle-Galt as an authority on something other than the drink preferences of the rest of her Atlantic daycare companions. Fer chrissakes, Nihilism not only has two very specific meanings, one philosophical and one political, but the Latin derivation couldn't be fucking plainer, could it? We're fond of noting that words make poor cudgels, but is it necessary to add that undiscriminating spitball petulance makes an even sorrier defense? Republicans were principled free-marketeers when they, heavy-hearted and copiously tearful, voted to keep healthcare unaffordable for 40% of the public, but they're bomb-hurling anarchists when they refuse to rescue Brooks' portfolio.  By dint of an unfortunate geographical choice I made years ago, yesterday  I had to listen to Rep. Mike "Choir Boy" Pence on all three local newscasts, as though his position as GOP mouthpiece meant he must have something worthwhile to say. And twice I listened to him "explain" that we needed to "unleash the entrepreneurial spirit" of the US of A, as though the problem with the financial sector was there wasn't enough profit in it, as though if we'd just eliminate whatever regulations are still on the books, however much they'd been ignored, people across the country would open financial institutions in their garages, breezeways, and unused attic spaces; as though Mike Pence hadn't been in Congress all the while this shit was going on. (I heard him twice because the third time he turned up I grabbed the remote from my Poor Wife, who is more and more subject to periodic fits of stunning while the "news" is on.) And still, and all: at least Mike Pence is an honest tool, not like the hypocrites whose Road to Damascus moment took place at a Milton Friedman lecture, and whose sudden reconversion to Big Government Liberal they think accords them first place in the bread line.

Monday, September 29

Where's Ben Stein's Money?


I GOTTA tell ya, I kept waiting for the other shoe to fall here, and it never did. Stein savages Paulson. Okay, fine, easy enough to blame Paulson when he's there to take the heat from your man anyway, this one:
By a great providence, we were sent George Bush.

--Ben Stein, August 18, 2005
surely he'll be getting to why the Democrats are twenty times worse in a couple paragraphs here, how it was actually Jimmy Carter who started this deregulation madness, and...what
First, I am furious at what the traders, speculators, hedge funds and the government have done to everyone who is saving and investing for retirement and future security.

Really. It's like Eldridge Cleaver turning into a born-again Christian, or a Republican or something. Oh, wait.

Anyway, this goes on until he starts back in on Paulson again. The other shoe hung in the air for 1200 words. All the more remarkable if you recall Stein as one of the economic Republicans who championed his party's response to Schiavo, instead of pretending he'd never seen a religious nut in party uniform before. 

I guess every man has his breaking point; I guess you know Ben Stein's has been reached when he starts babbling about farmers. It's not our intention to mock, really; for once we're willing to accept a political mea culpa, offered by someone trapped by the collapse of his own unregulated roof, at something close to face value, even if it is a little short on the mea, and to regard a post-coital apology to the pooch as reasonably sincere. We'll gladly accept any Reaganaut admission that the great god Deregulation and his handmaidens, Cupidity, Venality, and Graft, plus the Old Boy Network Chorus, are to blame, however tepid, however couched.

But...however belated? I don't think so. Those honest little people Stein now lionizes have been taking it in the shorts for thirty years now, thanks mostly to the sort of laissez-faire, Social Darwinist capitalism he and his party have been urging on us. So now unregulated credit-default swaps and other derivatives are just a big crap shoot? Was it farmers and school teachers and factory workers who were snapping them up? This sort of thing only becomes serious enough to publicly criticize when it threatens to take down the honest wealthy--those, that is, who merely benefited from the system being gamed in their favor for three decades.

So, fine, fine, Ben Stein, but here's the deal: you and your ilk stay out of it now and let other people try to clean it up. Stop donating money to anti-Socialist crankpots [more typing serendipity, Reader] and Professional Hoosier Choir Boys who'd rather risk their districts being plunged into severe depression than admit the tiniest flaw in their Divinely-inspired economic beliefs. The bill's come due for all this shit, and it comes on top of $1 trillion a year wasted in Iraq, for five years and counting. You urged it on us; your people were in charge. Yes, honest people are going to take the hit, but then a goodly percent of them are culpable for having bought into this shit, for having sold their birthright in the "election" of 2000, having bought the same batch of snake oil all over again in 2004, and having stood by as government officials and corporate war profiteers--often one and the same--baldly stole what was left. Belated outrage is welcome; feigned shock is not. Be thankful there aren't gibbets being erected outside every financial institution in the country, and don't count that out just yet. There's a bill coming due beyond what's happened to your portfolio, or mine. If it does not yet single out the people who've benefitted from this massive Ponzi scheme, whatever their degree of guilt, then it will be followed by another, larger one, and the Republicans will envy the dead.

Friday, September 26

I Believe We've Been Over This Once Before


JON Stewart, god bless and keep 'im, did it the other day, talking with Bill Clinton, echoing one of Colbert's "The Word" bits from a week before: "does it surprise you that, with everything at stake, this campaign takes us back to 1968 and Nixonian versus McGovern [sic] culture divide--it's once again the Left demonizing the Right for narrow-mindedness, and the Right demonizing the Left for elitism, and it almost seems like a repeat of this same movie that we keep seeing..."

Was that just a slip, or a telling one? Obviously, Jon Stewart knows George McGovern ran in 1972. But the metaphorical George McGovern=Woodstock Nation=Culture War, and now=Nixonland, among the cognoscenti who didn't live through him, apparently. I do understand the frustration. I came close to throwing my vote away on John Anderson in 1980, before throwing it away on Barry Commoner. Anderson's all but forgotten now (in the same way Carter is now viewed as a Liberal), but he was the post-partisanship, change-the-tone-in-Washington candidate when that meant accepting the realities of Vietnam instead of re-writing them, acknowledging energy dependence and beginning the process of developing new technologies to reduce it, and fiscal conservatism coupled with social liberalism. He polled as high as 25% as an independent, but his 50¢/gal Federal gas tax proposal went over like Chuck D. at a Klan rally, and he wound up with less than 10% of the vote.

Maybe it's just me, but where I understood post-partisanship in those days, in the need to recognize new social realities as well as new economic and global ones, I'm not sure what Stewart's after today. A more respectful tone in our campaigning? His friend John McCain certainly has done his level best to prevent that. If we want campaigns to be about issues, we need to get the money out of them, shorten the process to the point where there's no time to talk about anything else (I'm not saying this would work, mind you), and dismantle the Electoral College. Then it wouldn't hurt to do away with faux-balance news, restore the Fairness Doctrine, and maybe find a citizenry less enamored of hidden larceny. In the end, would we have a politics much removed from today's? Or would it just be, mercifully, somewhat quieter? It's like Voltaire's Prayer; everybody thinks the key to reforming our politics lies in his opponents getting smarter.

And still I don't get the McGovern thing. How does that come to be "one side" of the Cultural War? Y'know, Jon Stewart gets a lot of milage out of saying f[bleeeeeep]k on teevee, and I'm sure he realizes that a generation ago he'd have been sharing a cell with Lenny Bruce. And if he ever finds himself trying to take a shit while perched two inches above a metal rim, it's going to be the American Right that put him there. I'm not saying that's likely to happen; the modern GOP allegiance is to Mammon, but they're still the ones grubbing for the extreme end of the Bronze Age Superstition vote. Why shouldn't I take them seriously? Paganism is the fastest-growing religion in the country, but my Indiana tax dollars don't go to producing In The Goddess We Trust license plates, and no one's been trying to erect a pentagram on the courthouse lawn hereabouts--except, maybe, as a response to Christianists doing so first. There aren't any organized gangs trying to harass pregnant teenagers into getting abortions. I don't see anybody handing out flaming American flags on a downtown corner. There wasn't a giant card on display at Lowe's back in 2003, urging the citizenry to announce We Don't Support the Troops. Yeah, I'm a partisan, because I believe these people are wrong, wrong factually and wrong about America, and because I believe this country was hijacked at the end of the Second World War by, for want of a better term, the military-industrial complex, later joined by Big Bidness in general, aided and abetted, as always, by organized religion, and that this has had the effect of perverting what few chances a highly-flawed species has been given, by technology, by the hard-won lessons of two world wars and a history of oppression and genocide, to live up to its better nature. Maybe Slate can explain where I've gone wrong:
In the late 1950s, eight out of 10 Americans said they could trust government to do the right thing most of the time. That level of faith in government remained high through 1964 and provided the foundation for LBJ's Great Society. In 1965, Johnson was able to pass the Voting Rights Act and Medicare (with the support of half the Republicans in the Senate). He created the Appalachian Regional Commission and the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities. The first class of children enrolled in Head Start.

That's what a president and Congress could do when voters trusted government.

Beginning in the mid-'60s, however, there was a "virtual explosion in anti-government feelings," wrote Seymour Martin Lipset and William Schneider. (Yep, CNN's Bill Schneider began life as a top-notch academic.) The decline in trust was "among the largest ever recorded in opinion surveys," one scholar wrote, and within a few years only one out of four Americans trusted government to do the right thing. Democrats lost the 1966 midterm elections, the Great Society was kaput, and Congress' dormant period had begun.

Hold up here a moment; I believe we've been over this before. The "Fifties" do not represent the last stroll down the Permanent Elm Street of American political consciousness before it was ripped up by the Evil Sixties Planning Commission and rerouted through colored neighborhoods. In the Fifties two generations of Americans who had either lived through, or had their lives profoundly influenced by the unspeakable horrors of two global wars, sandwiched around probably the largest economic downturn in our history (we can't really be sure about the size or effect of the various "Panics" of the 19th century) had a strong desire to return to "normalcy" and, assuming they were mostly white, and mostly Protestant, they mostly got it. Eight of ten may have told pollsters they trusted the government to do right; no doubt nearly as many believed the International Communist Conspiracy was about to take over Hollywood, that Science was just about to harness the Atom for Peaceful Purposes, that the US wanted to explore Space for the good of mankind, that the Weaker Sex couldn't drive a car or pick out a hat that didn't look ridiculous, that Negroes weren't very bright, that homosexuals were the Commies of sexuality, and that Milton Berle was funny. They were wrong.

And--we've said this before, too--the Fifties gave birth to Feminism, to environmentalism, to a Civil Rights movement that rejected quietism. It struck the first blows at censorship of film and printed material. It launched a crusade against the Tobacco industry, rejected the old stigmas about divorce, and, for that matter, saw the birth of modern Movement "Conservatism", which now, somehow, is allowed to portray itself as the defender and political heir of that monolithic and economically rewarding era. 

There are plenty of reasons why distrust of institutions became a more prevalent mindset in the 1960s: Silent Spring, Thalidomide, Minamata, the professional abuse of the mentally ill, destroying villages in order to save them. If governments lost the trust of the people in the 1960s it's not because people suddenly changed; it's because the powers that be got caught up in their lies. Hell, Chaucer considered that old hat.
So, we've muddled along, putting off problems (health care, immigration, whatever).

Yeah, whatevs, dude. Y'know, if you really mean to equate the concerted effort on the part of the Republican party, the health-care industry, and the insurance companies to make your health care the most expensive in the world, and maybe the forty-ninth most effective, with an argument over immigration maybe those square-framed glasses and bed head won't get you into Heaven anymore.

Christ, look, the reason why you can't get a new Head Start program, or a massive influx of money  into the public schools to match the rhetoric we already spend by the tankerload, isn't that people imagine government can do no good.  It's that there's a concerted effort to prevent social spending, read: on poor people, read: on the coloreds.  That's not a debate; it's the result of one side controlling the issue.  Even when it gained control of the issue, and decided to make hay by using, instead of trying to dismantle, the Department of Education, the GOP refused to cough up any money to go along with it.
Now we need government again. We can't do without it. But we've forgotten what it was like to trust government to take on exactly the kind of big job it was created to do.

If you're all so goddam convinced that we "need" to trust government again--where you been up to now, by the way?--then work to throw the lyin' bums out. But you're not exempt from the responsibility of saying exactly what you intend to replace them with. "Restoring the Fifties, except with bigger teevees"* ain't it. 

___________
*Yes, indeedy, Bishop talks about our papering over our problems with Game Boys and HDTVs, as opposed to facing them. Chin music. It's an easy target; trust me, I shoot at 'em all the time. The Fifties were every bit as escapist as the Naughts are. If we seem to be in perpetual legislative gridlock (which is, in fact, partly the design of the system) it has a helluva lot more to do with the massive application of money to the process by financially interested parties than it does the attention span of the American voter. Take that on, Trust boy.

Thursday, September 25

No, Just Spots.


(Via  Kevin Drum, who's doing a good job at Mother Jones.)

BY the way, I don't suppose I'm the first to note this recently, but since the takeover of the GOP by the Goldwaterites, every Republican administration has ended in recession, and connected to a major bailout.


GOP Realizes Long-Term Goal Of Reversing Roosevelt Administration: Loses War, Creates Depression



Hey, look! Oktoberfest!

(essence of Oktoberfest from farbfilm)


I BEEN busy. I been the kind of busy that's already busy when it has two big projects dumped on it with less than twelve-hours' notice, resulting in yesterday's first-ever un-proofread (no, it's true!) posting, and, mostly, leaving out my central thesis, which was that if you wanna talk about Irrational Bush Hatred, start talking about the millions of Extrapolated Americans who used to cheer for this guy and now think he's a bum. If a Foolish Consistency really is the hobgoblin of little minds America can rest easy on the Hobgoblin Problem, and maybe go straight to work on the microencephally thing.

I did find the time to watch all of Chimpy McDisaster's Address to the Chumps last night--a first for me since 9/11, or 9/12, or whenever it was he actually poked his head above the desk he was hiding under and smirked at the adoring throngs. In fact, I was hoping he'd reach for that bullhorn again, but no such luck; the first casualty in these sorts of things is always the phony iconography that used to wow 'em in the Sticks.

And now I'm sorry that I didn't have the constitution (sorry) to endure any of his other speeches, since there was a definite Zen quality I'll forever wonder if I missed all along: I didn't know anything about economics before his speech, and now that it's all been explained to me, I don't know anything about economics. For instance, I'm a little unclear about how the people who applied for the loans they later defaulted on helped create the problem when, y'know, the lender wound up with the property, plus everything that had been paid on it to that point. Seems to me there was something, I dunno, missing in the middle there.

We have a mortgage. Back when it was formulated, I'm pretty sure whoever did it understood a) compound interest and b) return on investment. And even though we used a mortgage broker, and thus had a professional working to get us the best deal, my distinct impression at the time was that the Lender had the Upper Hand. I'm pretty sure they didn't single us out to pay off substantial chunks of interest first, before they applied any payments to the principle. And yet our mortgage was sold twice in its early days. That is, they made a deal for what was, ostensibly anyway, a reasonable rate of return, and then they decided they wanted their money back. And this is not Pete down the Street selling to Joe from Kokomo; it's major banks and lending institutions, and presumably they were not caught short by child support payments or laid up with a bad back.

Again, they didn't single us out; they were churning this shit. Maybe it's economically defensible to have these sorts of secondary markets in play, but does it make $1 trillion worth of sense? The value of the loan didn't change, while, if anything, our credit rating went up. The only thing the game was taking notice of was macroeconomic trends. Supposing this was actually guarding against something, other than boredom on the part of financial industry brigands, it doesn't seem to have done a very good job.

Now, all I know about economics is what Simian McPretzelchoker taught me last night, but, again, my wife and I need to pony up $5500, with no security, in order to assure somebody'll loan us money for a new car? Thanks, I'd just as soon walk. Seems like Lowe's is still taking my credit card; when they stop I'll start watching paint peel. I'll live on ketchup soup and iodine-flavored creek water. It seems to me it's the wealthy fuckers who are running scared (since when does the G notice anyone else?).  So why do they get to dictate the terms of the surrender? So small businesses won't be able to borrow money to expand. Maybe they shouldn't be expanding if they can't finance it themselves. Thing is, this business of holding jobs and economic expansion over the heads of the American people ought to have been laughed off the screen before the man finished a sentence. (Well, in truth, we should have lined him up against a wall in 2004 sometime--that's allowing for consensus, not my personal opinion--but laughing it off seems the next best thing.) What th' fuck has economic development done for the average American over the past thirty years? Sure, an economic downturn is painful--it's already been, since this current bunch took office. Just as it was throughout the 70s, and when the bill came due for Reaganomics.   It's also painful getting fucked over by the money interests when Times are Good.  It's painful to pay my health insurance every month.  So at this point I'm willing to bet they blink first.  $2500 apiece--for this deal, not counting the rest of it--or else they're gonna do what? Delay the next iPhone? Close a Wal*Mart?  Fuck it--let's go all in. Show the fuckin' cards, dicks, or eat your loss.  This is what the Republican party has had us dancing on the brink of for three decades, and now Mike Fuckin' Pence gets to go on FAUX and say Wait, we need to be intellectually pure. Where was the fucking concern while all this was going on? Nobody sold this shit as a devotion to intellectual purity; it was the Cure-All, the Shining Light on the Hill, Fuckin' Daybreak in Fuckin' America. And it turned out to be a cover for the most massive criminal operation in history. Wow, nobody saw that comin', huh?

Really, in a country dominated politically by people who claim a 2000-year-old reanimated carpenter watches them go to the bathroom, wouldn't you think superstition alone would be enough to make people run from anything that George W. Bush proposed, at this point?

My favorite moment in the whole Pooches Were Screwed routine was the bit about the poor 21st century being regulated by the outmoded regulatory systems of the 20th. George W. Fucking Buck Rogers Bush. It's what's left of the sensible first-half of the 20th century regulatory structure that saved us, to whatever extent it did, from the rapine of the late-20th-century deregulators.

I was driving home from one of my enforced errands yesterday afternoon when I happened to yank the Wailin' Jennys CD and turn on NPR, just in time to hear Urban Bäckström, the former governor of the Swedish Central Bank in the 1990s, when they recovered from a banking crisis brought on by intemperate deregulation. Asked how they'd solved the problem, Bäckström said they'd looked, above all, to 1933 for inspiration. (He had to explain to the host, whose name escapes me, that yes, while the Wall Street crash was in 1929, it was left to the inauguration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, which occurred in 1933, to begin the solution. Perhaps it's too much, expecting Americans to solve their current problems when it takes Scandinavians to explain their history to them.  Pass the ketchup.)

Wednesday, September 24

Irrational Bush Hatred Watch


HE'S at 19%, and 17% on the economy. He has to look up to to see Nixon's ass.

My Poor Wife has to listen to this every night, though it's her fault for turning on the local "news": ever since the teleprompter readers, and, especially, their bosses, started getting a little pinched when they filled up the family Panzer, which translated into their deciding that "regular" people, the ones not located on the police blotter, might be feeling the pinch, too, in their own, regular little way, which means sending "field" "reporters" around the region to stick microphones in the faces of Hoosiers for the purpose of getting the Real Poop. And I always say the same thing (well, "say" is a bit mild there):

Who th' fuck'd you vote for?

Really.

What did you think you were ("re-")electing?

Look at the graph. Bush's approval ratings plunged in September 2004, and then rose just enough to put him back in charge.

Who are you people? Does it ever occur to you that your real civic duty is to avoid voting?

Mayor Gomer got his first budget passed Monday night. The street hairdos on whatever channel my wife had temporarily lighted upon couldn't find a single person who'd admit to knowing anything whatsoever about it. This is, presumably, the same group that was so outraged about the budget last year they threw out a popular Demopublican mayor in favor of a guy whose name they didn't know. And the 6% option tax they were irate about last year--proposed, and enacted, in order to recruit more police--remains, but now without the police part.

And yet, people can still breed without a license. It seems to me our one great hope, currently, the one shining light, is that they're all avoiding routine immunization on the basis of something someone else told them they read somewhere.

Tuesday, September 23

Economics Blegging

I'M thinking of writing a book. After reading the Amity Shlaes Rapid Response Team's reply to Roy I decided it was irresponsible not to.

And, as I've said, I know nothing about the subject, but I figure you must. So, a few questions:

1. I notice this is all still Jimmy Carter's fault. Does Economics time limit to such things? Is it measured in generations, or the movement of tectonic plates? Does it stop once Modern English has become what Chaucer is today, when "Jimmy Carter" looks like "Scyld Scefing "?

2. Wasn't Social Security in crisis just a few months ago? 

3. Similarly, that drawer with a piece of paper in it, the one which was the actual Holy of Holies of Social Security? If the Bush administration had managed to "privatize" the system, how long before it would turn up on eBay? Would the paper still be inside, or listed separately?

4. Does Jonah Goldberg save his really stupid shit for Fridays? Like the government does?

4a. Nobody should go to jail? Didn't countless accountants, CFOs, and CEOs sign off on information which was quite possibly fraudulent? Or do they keep that stuff in condoms, under their tongues, and ready to swallow? Whatever happened to that good ol' Right Wing Lawn Order stuff? File some RICO charges and we get to confiscate everything, right? We'll be Budget Surplussin' like it's 1999.

5. The one piece of economic advice I ever listened to in my life was the idea of husbanding wealth, erring on the side of conservatism, without the quotation marks, managing risk wisely, and never trusting the big, flashy score. Is that properly spelled "Sucker" or "Sucka"?

Monday, September 22

Only Natural



THAT'S Bristol, the dominant hummingbird at our feeder the past three months, posing atop the shepherd's crook it hangs on. Her usual perch is in the electric wires running to the garage, up where the sky precludes getting a usable shot even if you did have access to the good camera, which I never do. I hope she wasn't saying Goodbye just yet, but I didn't see her the rest of the day. You never know when they leave; you just keep putting out fresh nectar every two days until it gets all slushy. Bristol and the slightly smaller Piper still fight it out occasionally, but Bristol was the obvious winner of their two-day dive-bomb-a-thon of early August. (That's assuming that there are only two of 'em. One year we thought it was a single male-single female fight to the finish, until one afternoon when we counted seven at one time.)

My Poor Wife says that Summer is officially over--the day before the equinox--because Big Shirtless Roy, the 54-year-old fireworks aficionado and lawn care cultist across the street, was mowing the lawn this morning with a shirt on. Which may, in fact, actually mark a new Millennium, or the Dawning of the Age of Aquariums. I typed that by accident and decided to leave it in. I don't recall seeing him wearing a shirt while mowing the lawn in twelve years. I'm not even sure he wears one operating his snowblower.

Did I ever mention that the man owns his own parking cones? So do the people next door to him. The cones turned up the last time we had a neighborhood yard-sale day, in mid-afternoon, sometime after he'd come storming onto our property and berated an elderly couple who'd parked with two wheels on his lawn. If I recall, that was the same year his lawn developed mysterious, random, circular dead spots almost overnight, which someone suggested to me looked like the result of person or persons unknown making herbicide ice cubes and hurling them on his lawn from somewhere nearby on some warm summer night, when they'd melt without a trace before morning. All I can say about that is, you really wanna be careful about that sorta thing. Like wearing first-rate hazmat gloves.

The other sign of seasonal gradation this time came in yellow and black, and nested in my woodpile out back, near the compost bins, and without permission. Naturally I found this out by getting stung, twice, a week apart, the second time being last Saturday morning and taking place in the vicinity of my left ear. Prior to that I'd never been stung by a wasp in my 54 years, and, having gone through it twice now, I'd urge you to skip the whole business altogether. A wasp sting is quite different from a bee sting; since the stingers are thinner and reusable, there's a sensation like someone trying to create a 1/2" hole by plunging a 1/4" drill bit in and around repeatedly. Except with burning. The first one got in my shoe. I felt her there about a half-second before the shoe closed in on her, which she took rather poorly. I went into the house to get oatmeal, only to realize I'd pitched the two-years-post-dated container of oatmeal out a week earlier in one of those half-decade cleaning frenzies of mine. So I settled for baking soda, which really did nothing whatsoever. Which makes me think the oatmeal would have been a Fool's Errand anyway, though it works well for me with honeybee stings. I then wrapped it in ice for a hour, and periodically after, which did an excellent job of numbing about the top 35% of the pain. There was a distinct impression of having been drilled. It hurt like a sumbitch until the middle of the following afternoon, after which it merely began itching me to distraction for 48 hours.

We ought to note here that this was the second medical emergency I'd faced that week, and started the official countdown on These Things Always Happen In Threes which would be fully realized behind the garage a week later. On the previous Monday I'd managed to stab myself, not too badly, with a poultry needle. Since the needle had already passed through a poult before entering my left index finger about halfway up the first joint,  I took several hygienic precautions: I let the thing bleed quite a while, then did a hospital scrub, then applied triple antibiotic and a bandage, which I reapplied three times more in the next few hours. It stayed sore, but didn't puff up or anything, until Wednesday night, late, when I half-woke and realized my friggin' finger was on fire. It was puffy and blistered medially, right up against the nail, from about Two to Six O'Clock; this was not good. I blamed my carelessness in not reopening the wound each time I redressed it. The goddam thing now kept me awake the rest of the night, hurt like hell at the slightest touch--which means, of course, that I whacked it on a succession of doorknobs, jambs, countertop edges, and an assortment of inlays, filigrees, crenellations, merlons, cornices and dentils I didn't even realize we owned--and refused to remit more than temporarily to either cold or heat. I resolved to give it a single day before seeking the attention of an allopath, though I foolishly mentioned this plan to my Poor Wife that evening, guaranteeing I would go the next morning no matter what I thought. Which I did, even though it had begun to feel a little better.  I showed up early at the immedicare clinic place where I was eventually greeted, for want of a better word, by Dr. Surly, the same defrocked quack who'd looked at my knee nine months ago. "Looked at" in this instance was replaced by "glanced at from ten paces", at which time he announced I had a paronychia, and that if it did not improve I'd "need to see a hand surgeon". He said paronychia twice--that's in thirty seconds--which naturally led me to suspect he might simply possess an associate's degree in medical Latin plus a lab coat.  And it was fairly obvious he hadn't even looked at my chart, or account, since he otherwise might have remembered he'd already pulled the You Need a Specialist routine on me within what would be assumed to be most people's recent memory. Hand surgeon? You're either out of your fucking mind (which, I suspect is the reason you lost your medical license in the first place) or the kickback deal is sweeter than I imagined. I actually needed a specialist with the knee; for this I need an LPN with a lancet and an alcohol-soaked cotton ball, plus a course of antibiotics. I got the antibiotics. Which is all I fucking wanted from you, "Doctor"; we could have saved those twenty seconds you begrudged (three steps out of the exam room he told an underling, "Put a Band-aid on it."  As though I'd not only wasted his time by coming in to ask him to kiss a boo-boo, but insulted all those years he'd spent at all those med schools throughout the Third World.  You're not supposed to fuck around with a paronychia, Doc. Otherwise, believe me, I wouldn't be here.)  At any rate, once I got home and looked up paronychia, I realized my chicken-sticker wound was fine, and the whole thing was caused when I bit a friggin' hangnail on the same finger a day later, and accidentally tore it too far. Do not bite hangnails! I'm 54 fucking years old, and no one ever told me that.

So I guess the Third of Three I was waiting for was actually the first yellowjacket sting, and the second was the result of my false expectations. That, plus the fact that I thought the first one was a random encounter, and failed to check for a nearby nest until I got stung the second time. Little fuckers are mean this time of year, plus they don't have any pupae to attend to so they've got time on their hands. I'd never been stung in the head before, and if I ever am again I'm hoping for something more along the midline, since with it just above the ear it felt like I had a brick tied to that side all day. This time I went upstairs and put deodorant on it, which worked surprisingly well on the pain, though I still relied on an ice pack for the next four hours. I'm not disturbing the nest; I'm just gonna buy or rig a bee hat so I can work the compost piles once the leaves start to fall. I figure it's my little sop to non-partisanship.

LAST Wednesday, along about dinnertime, the phone rang, as it will.  I answered it, in the presence of my Poor Wife.  It was the clinic.  "Hi, I'm Roger, and Dr. Surly wanted me to call to find out how you're doing."

(Funny; that's more concern than he showed when I was there.)  "The finger's great.  The swelling is way down, and the pain is gone."

"Okay." (It's always "okay".  It's never "Glad to hear it," because that's not something you say when you're simply ticking items off on a checklist.)  "Was the doctor helpful during your visit?" (Right to the Customer Satisfaction Survey, I see.) "Did he answer all of your concerns?  Were you satisfied with the experience?"

"Yeah, oh yeah.  He was great!"

I hung the phone up.  My wife gave me the "I don't have anything better to do" look, so I filled her in.

"Why did you tell them that asshole was great?" she, like any sane person, wanted to know.

"Look.  I'm sure they get plenty of complaints about the guy--when I was there for my knee the two X-ray techs were grousing about him, openly, right in front of me.  If I really wanted to complain it wouldn't be to the kid who has to make the follow-up calls; I'd have called the home office myself, and kept at it until I got the VP of the malpractice section.  And they'd be thrilled to learn he'd given me twenty-seconds of his time, once they'd learned the finger was still attached.  If you wanna exact revenge, the best way to do it is to keep him there long enough that he tells the receptionist to put a Band-Aid on a sucking chest wound, or sends someone with a chicken bone in her throat to a speech therapist.  Six more months, tops."

"You're still the man I fell in love with," she says.

Saturday, September 20

There's No Agreement Financial Markets Collapsed Due To Laissez-Faire Capitalism Run Amok, Says Spokesman For Laissez-Faire Capitalism Run Amok

David Brooks, "The Post-Lehman World". September 19

HERE, in handy run-on sentence form, is both the sum total of everything I know about economics (as would become obvious even without the explanation) and the reason for it: as a second-semester sophomore in 1974 I signed up for the introductory Macroeconomics course. It was one of many completely inexplicable gestures that litter my student record; it wasn't a requirement, had nothing to do with my degree, and I wasn't particularly interested in the topic. I lasted one hour, though I'm sure I'd decided to drop the course five minutes in, at most. The professor--actual professors taught intro classes in those days--looked remarkably like Hugh Hefner's slightly nerdier, myopic brother, circa 1957, and he spent the entire session "laying down the law" about the huge workload every student was going to have to meet, without fail or exception. This is, in fact, the reason I sat out the entire hour instead of getting up and walking out earlier; I didn't want him to imagine I was doing so because of his pathetic threats. By this time I'd spent a good twelve credit hours with actual European scholars, the sort who expected you to read three books a week for their class alone; the two-page course syllabus Mr. Business School laid on everyone with Jonathan Edwards-ish portents of doom and unceasing toil was risible.  I'm pretty sure I went right from the class to wherever it is you went to drop one.

So here's the thing. I can't tell you whether "Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were probably the world's most heavily supervised financial institutions"--though neither, apparently, can Brooks, since he has to rely on quoting someone else saying so. I don't ordinarily loiter in the sort of areas where one hears lamentations about Clinton-era banking reforms, though I've spent plenty of hours hearing many of those same folks, presumably, lamenting Everything Else Clinton, not to mention Anything Which Gets The Rabble To Imagine It Can Interfere With What The Quality Know Is Best.  I'm old enough to remember somebody--perhaps the great-great-grandfathers of these economic Jeremiahs--blaming the Carter administration for the Great S&L Swindle, so you'll have to excuse me if I don't try to Google my way to the bottom of this. Hell, I'm not even going to say anything about a New York Times opinion columnist quoting Meganjane Galt-McArdle as an authority on this or any other topic, except, you know, don't.

Nah, let's try it this way. Don't like the impending era of re-regulation? Try blaming yourselves.
We’re going to need regulators who can anticipate what the next Wall Street business model is going to look like, and how the next crisis will be different than the current one. We’re going to need squads of low-paid regulators who can stay ahead of the highly paid bankers, auditors and analysts who pace this industry (and who themselves failed to anticipate this turmoil).

We’re apparently going to need an all-powerful Super-Fed than can manage inflation, unemployment, bubbles and maybe hurricanes — all at the same time! We’re going to need regulators who write regulations that control risky behavior rather than just channeling it off into dark corners, and who understand what’s happening in bank trading rooms even if the C.E.O.’s themselves are oblivious.

Try blaming yourselves! I know, in the popular imagining of its adherents--what others call "mythology"--the ecstatic defense of unfettered capitalism is supposed to result from Deep Philosophical Insight informed by dismally scientific observation and regular weekend retreats, but the fact of the matter is it's been sold, over the past three decades, as a magic cure-all and a talisman against falling objects. And it's failed. It's failed miserably, and spectacularly, and twice, twice with regard to holding the barn door open so unfettered financial institutions could gorge themselves on taxpayer corn. Twice. If a lot of us imagined that the whole thing was a transparent cover for the holders of wealth to accumulate more, and more again, well, that sure ain't the way you've been trying to sell it. It's a little late, now, to start moaning about the Epistemology of Regulation when you rejected anything other than ethical--or, as others might have it, metaphysical--certitude your entire adult life. You fucked up, man, and you fucked up in part because you believed--or chose to pretend you believed--that a slightly favorable tilt in your political direction was a permanent confirmation of that metaphysical certainty. Meganjane may yet plead youthful ignorance, though we think anyone who exits academia still imagining Ayn Rand as a thinker ought to sue for a tuition refund. You, David Brooks, cannot. You cannot pretend personal ignorance of The Great Savings and Loan Swindle, just as you cannot pretend the appeal to the Vast Complexities of Financial Markets--so recently so simple--obscures our view of the sleeping Republican at the switch each time these things occur. It would be best, of course, if you came clean, or acknowledged that Fucking Up is, rightly, punished by voters just as Hubris is punished by the gods. I'm no more sanguine about the prospects for real, intelligent reform out of Washington than you are, though in my case that's realism, not despair. But I'll say this: I think it's a lot more likely that we'll get useful and meaningful reform out of Washington than it is that we'll see the Sadducees of Reaganism accepting the blame.

Thursday, September 18

Triple-Super-Anti-Reverse Contrarian Advice For Barack Obama, Deluxe Edition: This Time, We Really Mean We Don't Mean It!

John Dickerson, "What, Me Worry? Why Obama acts like he's 10 points up in the polls". September 17

Christopher Beam, "Barack Obama Does Not Need Your Two Cents". September 16

BACK Home Again in Indiana, we've now been subjected to six months straight of political advertising, which reminds me It fucking burns! Ow! Dear God, Put Out My Eyes! I'm sorry I didn't masturbate more! Jesus, fuckin' kill me now! uh, which reminds me that the one thing the Obama campaign has done exceptionally well, at least on occasion--produce some of the best political ads ever--it has managed to dilute the effectiveness of through oversaturation while simultaneously reducing the impact of the best of the lot by replacing them at the Speed of YouTube.  

[Memo:  add to To Do List "Go to sleep while imagining  killing everyone who thought it was so goddamned exciting that the Indiana primaries quote meant something end quote this time, starting with the usual gang of teleprompter semi-readers. "  Kill anyone who doubled down when Indiana "Democrat" Evan Bayh was placed on the "short list" last, and slowly.  Bayh hasn't been heard from since his Convention speech; he was last heard from in Indiana as he snubbed "his party's" gubernatorial candidate on his way to another VP whistle-stop.  His fucking  website  (caution: don't bother) looks like he's running for Indiana Secretary of State.  As a Republican.  We're six weeks from a national election (which he's not involved in) and his latest press release includes his signing on with a bipartisan Senate energy group.  In his defense, I suppose meeting with your top political aides, your plastic surgeon, and his computer software showing how much you'll have aged by 2016 takes up a lot of your time.]

This is just more of the same for me--the Obama campaign seems to have no concept of time whatsoever, alternating with that of a 13-year-old. You'd imagine that the one thing a few hundred million dollars worth of media consultancy would buy you is a sense of timing, which, after all, these people do year-in, year-out and not just quadrennially. Yet he's been getting wrong-footed all along, to the extent that a candidate with a remarkable skill set managed to have that used against him, and without need of Republican help (not that plenty wasn't offered). Just consider, for a moment, that Brandenburg Gate appearance, which must've looked good on paper to someone--someone, that is, who imagined that the average US voter gives a shit about what Europe thinks of us (sure, he should, but Americans believe, even at the lowest ebb in their international standing since the Great War, that we call the tune and Europe dances in colorful historic garb), or desires to repair our image, and someone who had, somehow, missed out on exactly how the massed crowds of domestic Moonie-eyed rhythmic chanters had been playing with non-Obama-intoxicated voters for the previous six months.

(Yes yes yes, he fills stadiums because he can; yes, Nixon and Reagan drones chanted Four More Years!   Neither of them was a forty-something with a slim resumé, or in a primary fight. Apparent Absence of All Contrary Thought worked well for them, but both were running against Smart Ass Hippies and Bearded College Professors. Obama was running in 2008. I've given up reading every die-hard Obama site, not even to glance in to see how they took the McCain Surge, but I'm wondering how some people took the news of a) moving the acceptance speech to the Rose Bowl, and b) then trying to make the place look like a 10,000 seat convention hall again. I'm guessing they thought both were "great".)

This is not a lead-in to that "Obama: Ignore Advice" piece which--remain calm; your seat cushion will act as a floatation device!--spends two pages ticking off diametrically-opposed advice offered by Democratic punditasters, thus proving that the sort of people who give free advice on the Internets don't know what they're talking about. So Obama should just ignore them all. Q.E.D. How one ignores both ends of a binary argument is not explained. The whole thing is redolent of that "both sides complain about us, so we must be doing a good job" mantra which, coupled with a quart of vodka, presumably helps The Media sleep through the night like it sleeps through Issues.

We bring this up, mostly, to express our continued amazement at just how much air Slate can whip into Lo-Fat Twinkee filling, but also to note that a race which shouldn't be close is neck-and-neck, so maybe you could use someone's advice. Also, that if that list includes Arianna Huffington's electoral strategy, George Lakoff's turnoffs, or anything whatsoever Dee Dee Myers might have to say, you're already in trouble.

Instead, let's ask ourselves Why He Remains So Calm?
Obama can also stay calm because he got a break this week. The public focus is now on the economy, an issue where Obama has advantages. It's also harder for McCain to manufacture distractions—it would look out of touch. Plus, the Palin novelty has started to wear off. Obama is back in the lead in some polls. All of this means he doesn't have to do anything flamboyantly out of character to get attention.

In other words, a major issue cropped up which is unlikely to have prompted any of his advisors to urge a swift move to the Right, and close enough to the election to prevent a The Buyout Surge Is Working! campaign from flat-footing him. Being lucky in your choice of opponent is the best sort of good fortune to have.

He's terrifically placed--again. He's already squandered three 8 oz. glasses of political good fortune--his anti-Iraq War cred, the concerted media attacks on his primary opponent, and the natural Democratic advantage of a Republican White House with a 28% approval rating--where most candidates are lucky to get a single serving.  And it's not just the economy--Palin's a huge mistake; McCain's advisors need to huddle for the next two weeks and come up with some incapacitating, non-lethal but extremely rare condition to give her that even Jesus couldn't cure in six weeks.
[M]aybe they're not rattled because they've been through this before. If they'd listened to the polls and Democratic experts, they'd never have gotten in the race. In the summer of 2007, there were lots of Obama supporters who thought he should panic a little more—or risk losing to Hillary Clinton. The Obama campaign stuck to its plan and won. Aides often cite this lesson in explaining why they're not going to overreact now.

Except, of course, they didn't; they spent last summer becoming convinced by the likes of MoDo and Frank Rich. Are we supposed to believe it was a coincidence that everybody save Bill Richardson jumped Hillary Clinton last October? If he'd have come out and defended her that night, and attacked Tim Russert and Brian Williams, not to mention their MSNBC chums, into the bargain, he'd have won the nomination outright in January, because the sexist backlash wouldn't have caromed off him. Or so I say. It's easy. Just please don't try to sell me that "the campaign has stayed the course" routine. It's jumped, frequently, and generally in the wrong direction, but Fortuna has decreed he become a Democrat at just the right time. And she's been a lot better to him than his advisors.

Wednesday, September 17

That Woman Who Called Me A Misogynist Was Only Half-Right

David Leonhardt, "Perhaps, Time for Someone to Play Offense". September 16

FULL disclosure, clipped from yesterday in my never-ending quest to provide a succinct summation of the Day's Events: Emmett Tyrrell, Jr., who has too many consonants in his name, and whom I, lover of the Coen Brothers earlier, funnier films, am always in danger of calling "M. Emmet [sic] Tyrrell" (or simply "sic"), once provided my mother-in-law with a "Nuke the Whales" t-shirt, or else with the necessary purchasing information for the one she gave me one Christmas, after I'd laughed about the one he was wearing--I must be remembering this correctly, since it'd be too bizarre to have hallucinated, even for those days--in a late-70s People magazine profile. I hadn't asked for one; I'd just laughed at the gag, which was later to be driven so far into the ground that pneumatic caissons were required to keep the gagsters from developing the bends. As I remember it he lived near them--maybe in the bunkhouse of Bircherite Channel Four founder Sarkes Tarzian, who later, I think, moved entirely underground. My in-laws found Tyrrell more than a little distasteful--which couldn't have been caused by political differences--and mom-in-law said he balked more than once about coughing up the shirt. For all I know it may be the one he wore; if I'd'a known she was doing it I would have requested he autograph it.

At any rate, the thing turned out to be powder blue, which is a color I'd already sworn off wearing after my sister's wedding, which dates to the same period. Not that there really was any question. And so I think it's still folded up in a box in the basement, so that under the right set of circumstances, Tyrrell DNA could still be recovered from the thing. Better go find it and run it through the HOT cycle two or three times.

Two things: first, I hadn't asked for it, and then I had to act seasonally joyous to get it, and there was no question of my explaining that what I'd found funny was the self-deprecating humor of the thing, which wouldn't translate if I were the one wearing it. Though, to be perfectly honest about it, I'd been subject to walking through the IU Student Activities Center on a regular basis, where some Ur-PETA had commandeered a table and a Victrola in order to play Songs of the Humpback Whale unceasingly and at high volume while begging for Spare Change, which prompted my friend Gary to approach them one day and ask if they'd dedicate the next one to his girlfriend.  (He had a talent for such things.  He's the same Gary who called a local AOR station earlier in the decade and asked the jock, "Do you take requests, or are you personally responsible for the shit coming out of my radio?")  Second, the illustration was funny, if somewhat crudely executed: a friendly, smiling whale with a mushroom cloud coming out of his blowhole. The cartoonishness made the violence acceptable and let more people in on the joke.

So when I thought about that shirt yesterday, and went looking for the People illustration, I was prepared to find that some people think this sort of thing still sells, but, really, not that they'd illustrate it with a knee-slappingly indiscriminate strike at ocean life. But then, you know, Meh.

Anyway, this got me thinking about political slogans which have held on like kudzu despite everything changing underneath. And about the fact that I used to imagine wingnuts engaging in self-deprecating humor.

I mean, "conservatism", back when one might have considered typing it without the quotes, used to be about conserving values; now it's about enshrining data points from a June afternoon when the sun was particularly flattering to its own dog's ass. Flag decals still announce one's support of spending American blood and American treasure, if any, in hopeless overseas gestures, despite their earlier invocation having resulted in loss of blood, gilt, and international standing. Tax cutting and Smaller Government are still wowin' 'em at the bumpersticker factory, despite their being a) disastrous or b) chimerical. A "Conservative" is still a liberal who's been mugged, except that "mugged" has been redefined as "forced to pay minimum wage to brown people". "Drive 90: Let the Yankees Freeze In The Dark" is about the only one that's disappeared. Not that I've forgotten it.

"Fiscal conservatism" and "free markets" still make a strong showing, despite five Republican administrations resulting in two major banking meltdowns which directly resulted from gaming the rules, not reforming them; and which are to be made good through what is described, in other, more favorable-to-the-GOP situations, as "seizing your money", "You" being the long-suffering Taxpayer whose side they take. (If nothing else, one has to admire the dedicated husbandry that goes into maintaining the breeding stock: David Brooks, for example, hasn't written a word about gas prices since July, and then only to suggest, in passing, that they shouldn't be as big a campaign issue as Folks think they oughta be; it's remarkable how stupid the public becomes, and how fast, when it starts meddling with the economic intentions of its erstwhile champions.) Still, somebody has to be paying attention. Right?
The Bush administration, the Fed and Congress, meanwhile, continue to focus on the immediate crises, with little attention to the underlying reasons that the economy has gotten into this mess — a stagnation of incomes, an explosion of debt and a decidedly outdated, and limp, approach to government oversight. Remarkably, the presidential campaign has gotten less serious, while the economy’s problems have become more so.

I'm sorry, did you just say "remarkably"? You're a young man, Mr. Leonhardt, but a smart one, and you work for the New York Times. Search the archives for "1988 Presidential campaign" and "any mention of the multi-billion-dollar bailout of S&L criminals". If you find one kindly report it. It's been missing for twenty years now.
A good way to see the problems with a fingers-in-the-dikes strategy is to look back to the first big bailout of modern times. Before A.I.G., before Fannie and Freddie, before Bear Stearns, there was Chrysler.

Okay, let's just zip this along: sure, the Chrysler "bailout" was a roaring success, and returned a premium to the US Treasury, ahead of time, even, but it allowed the Big Three to pursue antiquated ideas and production techniques without fear of failure, leading to the present climate of...

Is there someone, somewhere, who really believes that? That major corporations are run like preteen slumber parties? That in 1978 executives at the two largest auto manufacturers in the world were utterly flabbergasted by the realization they were too big to fail? That under the circumstances they'd just as soon not bother to succeed? Olly, Olly Oxen-fuckin'-Free, the Democrats have opened the Treasury?

Bullshit. Whatever's wrong with management culture in Detroit--and it's a small internet; I'm not sure there's room enough to cover it--it's not this sort of crappy Welfare Cadillac For Rich, Well-Born Idiots routine the hidebound free-market mouseketeers hope to peddle. You think a lightbulb suddenly went on over Hank the Duce's head? They just then decided they could push the Government around? For cryin' out fuckin' loud, by 1978 the Big Three were more than fifteen years into tying the Gee in knots over mandated safety, emissions, and milage regulations. It's kinda curious that today's free marketers don't remember that, or how working to meet, rather than defeat, government-imposed standards would have meant The Big Three would have been producing the sort of cars Americans wanted after Gas Crisis #1, reducing the impact of the Germans and the Japanese. For that matter, maybe Ford picked up some notions about the relationship between Big and Washington in WWII, when friendly military brass slipped it American Bantam's Jeep blueprints.

But then, y'know, that's always the risk when you try to turn the evils of Government Intervention (even when it works) into simple Morality tales: you take one step back too many, trying to get the bigger picture, and you fall into an even worse pit of cess, and no "principled" way out without eating some.

Tuesday, September 16

Would You Buy A Used Car From Dick Nixon? Would You Let Bill Kristol Make Change?

William Kristol, "Both Sides Now". September 15

GOOD Lord:
When I was a kid, rumor had it that “antidisestablishmentarianism” was the longest word in the English language. I actually looked it up once, and discovered it had something to do with the status of the Church of England — which sort of took the fun out of the word. But in college, I decided I liked the idea of defending the establishment against those who sought to disestablish it.

Yeah, I understand they're still buzzing about it on Hahvahd Yahd.

Hey, as someone who deals with the realities of dementia, I'm happy to put politics aside and cheer the fact that Bill "I Was Too Young For Vietnam" Kristol is getting some of his memory of those years back. And I'm accustomed to the fact that such will be largely selective.

I didn't go to Harvard in 1970; I went to a large Midwestern state school in a small Midwestern state in 1972. And, lemme tell ya, the Antiestablishment Circus had definitely pulled up stakes and moved on, by that point, replaced by the Fifties except with patched clothing and hash oil. Indiana was the hotbed of campus radicalism among the state's colleges in the 60s. It was also the home of Emmett Tyrrell, who, by the time I got there five years later, had turned The Alternative, which eventually became The Spectator, into a tidy little tax-exempt electric milking machine for various right-wing cash cows. (Emmett was viewed, more or less affectionately, and more or less correctly, as the crazed grad student who'd never finish his dissertation, and a man whose Problem was Obvious; the people I knew who read him eagerly did so the way someone else might attend really bad movies.  None of us could have anticipated that within fifteen years the culture at large would be unable to tell the difference.  Anyway, it came as no surprise, really, to anybody who Knew Him When that his empire fell through an obsession with someone else's blowjob.)

The point is, however radical the student body of Harvard in the early 70s, it's unlikely to have anti-radicalized Trust Fund Billy, and he and his old Collegiate School tie no doubt found space at table with like-minded individuals, instead of having to wait until after dark to make a dash for a nearby snack machine.  It gave him cover to be an asshole, is what, and it's doubtful he had any more contact with Anti-Establishment types in his college days than he does with Politically-Correct Academic Feminist Professors now.  The jab-it-in-your-eye Republican mentality dates to this period; we're grateful that Mr. Kristol's brief flash of memory illuminates it, since we've frequently pointed it out and occasionally speculated about the massive frustration of the teenaged libido which finds itself on the wrong end of trendiness, or time and mores, or simple personal agreeableness and sexual attractiveness. Thanks, Bill.

And while we appreciate the invite, we're sorry to pull back the aluminum foil to reveal we've brought the same old green bean casserole along for pitch-in. The really remarkable thing in all of this is that You, Bill (aggressive brown-shoe Square), David Brooks (burgeoning hip-to-be-square Reaganaut), or you pick-em from the post-Reagan generation of partisan Screamers (see Corner, The) have precisely the same bio despite shifting cultural climates;  you all bravely stared down a madding crowd of college Marxists. And you all reach middle age somehow without ever picking up on the fact that that's almost everyone's bio, except generally without the faux-Burkean conversion in the epilogue.  College is the time when most people collide with the fact that other people disagree with them, and frequently for pretty good reasons they're able to defend, not because they're members of a differing high school clique. We just find it more than a little odd that "conservatives" are the only people you find still crowing about it in their forties and fifties, still convinced that everyone else is the grain, and they're the world's only crosscut saw blade. (We might add--what's a green bean casserole without the dried onions?--that people who don't pick up on this through the Socratic method in college generally do so through dating. Just sayin'.)

If it's curious that this sort of, oh, oversight turns up so regularly among the punditocracy of the Right, we might at least have excused it as part of the "Conservative" Personality Inventory if it weren't for the Bush Administration, when the philosophical underpinnings of Cultivated Wingnuttery washed away like Nawlins' Ninth Ward. How does one explain Billy "Whaddya Got?" Kristol shilling for Change, and finding it in the welcome relief promised by the...McCain/Palin ticket?
John McCain wasn’t on particularly good terms with either the G.O.P. establishment or the leaders of the conservative movement — yet he won. He then put on a Republican convention that barely acknowledged the existence of the current Republican administration.

And he chose as his running mate Sarah Palin, one of the least-known outsiders to be picked in modern times, and the first woman on a Republican ticket.

This in turn sent other establishments into a frenzy.

Sing along with me, won't you? Everybody knows the words: The Media Establishment! The Democratic Establishment! The Academic Establishment!
ABC’s Charlie Gibson, one of the most civil of the media bigwigs, unable to help himself from condescending to Palin as if he were a senior professor forced to waste time administering a Ph.D. exam to a particularly unpromising graduate student.

Ph.D? Ph.D.? Get Councilwoman Palin on the phone right now--I'm sure you know where they're hiding her today, right Bill?--and let's ask her how "Ph.D." is abbreviated. Ph.D. my Aunt-fuckin'-Fanny. Gibson looked like an overworked high school English teacher forced to grant an audition interview to a forty-something GED candidate who wanted in his creative writing course on the basis of her execrable doggerel, in peacock blue ink with all the "i"s dotted with circles, and which she couldn't even manage to pass off as sincere. Call it what it is. I'm no fan of Charlie Gibson, a daytime chat host blown up, in the parlance of the Sweet Science, to a heavyweight, and who continues to flourish--wasn't he supposed to be the interim anchor?--because the division is full of bums. What th' fuck did you expect him to do--make allowances? I think the fact that he didn't do any spit takes shows remarkable restraint, or else an amazing level of cynicism about the political process. You've had your fucking chance with a half-witted Christianist in the White House. Would that Gibson hadn't resorted to the Bush Doctrine semi-gotcha--it was only a gotcha because of Palin's incompetence, and she should have claimed ignorance as a matter of Youthful Indescretion--and had instead pounded her on the issues, and on the Pentacost. She'd have looked much, much worse. Would that he'd have done the same with Barack Obama, instead of dithering about lapel pins and babbling about inheritance taxes in the midst of a Republican-engineered financial meltdown. It's the Media Establishment we've got, and that's largely thanks to the constant shit-stirring from your side over the past forty years.  A real journalist would have incinerated her.
As for real university professors, especially the academic-feminist establishment, they’re even more upset. Wendy Doniger of the University of Chicago’s Divinity School wrote last Tuesday of Palin: “Her greatest hypocrisy is in her pretense that she is a woman. The Republican Party’s cynical calculation that because she has a womb and makes lots and lots of babies (and drives them to school! wow!) she speaks for the women of America, and will capture their hearts and their votes, has driven thousands of real women to take to their computers in outrage. She does not speak for women; she has no sympathy for the problems of other women, particularly working-class women.”

Bill Kristol: the anti-anti-establishment figure who's been bedeviling the politically-correct feminist academic Establishment since he entered Harvard in 1970. Or maybe we should make that 1972, when Harvard first admitted women.  Or...

But then Palin is much beloved in the "real" country, the one unintelligible to university academics but understood pulse-perfectly by the likes of Beltway Billy. And we know this because the Religious Right, which Kristol fingers somewhere other than the pulse point, just loves her, and they're all for Change, aren't they?
“Guns, God, Lipstick”? This is what feminism has come to? One can only imagine how many feminist comp lit professors are walking around campus, muttering to themselves the lines from T. S. Eliot’s “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”: “That is not what I meant at all. That is not it, at all.”

Just as one can only marvel at how many Republicans admire Change now that Change is in bloom.

The politically correct wing of the academic establishment suffered a jolt last week as well, when McCain and Obama, at a national service forum at Columbia, both urged Columbia to invite R.O.T.C. back to its campus.

Either my foundation is settling, or that's what it feels like to live through a Youthquake! Clip that out and take it with you to the Post Office. I've lost track of what stamps cost, but 50¢ oughta cover it.
It’s past time for such an antiestablishment awakening. If it goes too far, though, I of course reserve the right to become an antidisestablishmentarian again.

The nations tremble, Bill. Tremble.

Sunday, September 14

I Labor To Be Obscure, Vol. LXXI

OKAY, so, first, the "What's the difference between x and y?" "Lipstick." is, you may recall, "Sarah Palin's" "joke", which led to a minor tussle last week. It was, of course, written for her, and was, I was later informed, the reworking of a PMS joke. I don't recall ever engaging in the form, but I'm not censorious where humor's concerned; I just think caution ought to be applied in consideration of the fact that what people find funny often reveals more about them that they might wish. To me the sum total of the joke there, whether in praise of Councilwoman Palin's surgically-enhanced reputation for "toughness", or in comic exaggeration of someone else's medical affliction, is the fleeting image of a beast indulging in cosmetics. About as funny as you'd imagine it to be, and as long-lasting. It is, I think, a cautionary tale about working such things like a rawhide chew toy, or concerning oneself overly with swarming gnats. It's a minor objection, if that, that her ventriloquists would put a PMS joke into her mouth. It's a far greater one that a woman must be portrayed as a critter-pated pugilist in order to deserve political respect, and by far the worst thing is that Commander Palin and her party could be perfectly presumed to think that way without the matter ever being raised.  Except, of course, that it was necessary to paint her that way to allay the fears of the conservers of Neanderthal values, or, as they're also known, the Party.  Fight the real enemy, a wise woman once said.  Palin's the (typical Republican) defender of the Traditional Family who personally focuses on her own career, with the tenaciousness of a bull terrier, but who would prevent other women from terminating pregnancies that would interfere with theirs. Fight the real enemy.

And, since I thought I was just setting up a gag, it didn't occur to me to explain the dietary business further, but I don't add salt to anything and haven't for years; maybe potatoes in a casserole, certainly in baked goods where it's required, but not much more. My Poor Wife's difficulties with sodium, as she'll admit, comes from her own reliance on too many processed foods, generally not of my choosing, though, as usual, when one begins to rely on nutritional information one is quickly shocked to the core about such things.  My own cooking is unapologetically rich judged by the standards of contemporary fadishness, but never incontinently salted, though you'll be offered salt to your heart's content if you join me at table. The recipe-hunting process was an effort to get her to choose some healthier alternatives, out of my concern; I'm not a food fascist. As for "adding flavor" I basically reject the notion of excessive herbalization as I do the application of hops to beer governed, apparently, only by toxicity studies. I've spent years in kitchens pursuing both Italio-French and Chinese regional cooking, and despite the diametrically opposed approaches--melding vs. accumulation of flavors--the signal idea with each is to make ingredients taste like themselves, not like whatever you dumped on them.

Also, since I never get to cook that vegetable stew--I rarely make much of an effort if I'm just feeding myself--I pulled the recipe card rather than type from memory. The card excludes garlic, but julia's right; 2 cloves, to taste, minced and added when the onions are nearly cooked, not before. Alternately one might fry whole cloves in the oil before the onions go in.

Saturday, September 13

Fun With Monogamy, Vol. CCCIX

MY Poor Wife, informed Thursday that her blood pressure was elevated, and I were going over low-sodium  menus.

PW: There's the vegetable stew* you make. I like that.

DR (who couldn't possibly be a source of hypertension): You never eat it! I don't make it anymore, because you never eat any! You won't eat summer squash.

PW: I'll eat squash. It's one of the other ingredients. What's in it?

DR: squash, zucchini, turnip, onions, tomatoes...

PW: Zucchini. I don't like zucchini.

DR (who might be mistaken for flabbergasted at this point, if you didn't know him): Zucchini! What's the difference between summer squash and zucchini?

PW: Lipstick.


___________
* Heat 2 T. olive oil in heavy-bottomed casserole
Saute 2-1/2 cup coarsely cubed onions until soft
Add 1c. vegetable stock, aromatic spices (say 1 tsp each ginger, chili, coriander, 1/4 t. cardamon, cinnamon, allspice, plus cayenne to taste), 1-1/2 cups chopped peeled Roma tomatoes,
Bring to boil
Add 1-1/2 cups sliced carrots, cover, reduce heat to low, cook 10 min.
Add 2 sliced summer squash, 2 sliced zucchini, 1 medium turnip, coarsely cubed, 1 cup chick peas, 1/2 cup raisins which have been plumped in hot water
Cover, simmer 30 minutes Serve over cous-cous.

Friday, September 12

Plus, We Owe Deer Trapped In Headlights Everywhere An Apology



Michael Smerconish, "Why this lifelong Republican may vote for Obama". Salon, September 11

OKAY, you gotta love that illustration, meant, I guess, to show the bittersweet cooling of bloodlust as though it were akin to a lost summer love and not its twisted pathological replacement for the likes of Michael Smerconish. Of course, to the wizened veteran of a thousand mall encounters with American cartoon spokesrat Mickey Mouse giving Iran the finger (it was funny on so many levels, though it would have been even funnier if Disney had, as is its custom, sued loudly), through what seemed like the first two decades of the 80s, the message is more along the lines of "Hey, World! You've pissed US off, and we've got T-shirts!"

First off, I think I can safely say I join with Americans of every political persuasion in saying I don't give a fuck who Michael Smerconish may or may not vote for, or who he actually votes for, and I can't imagine the circumstances under which that would change. I mean, the obvious one--that he's on a jury, deciding my fate--does not apply the way it would seem to at first glance, since if he's on a jury deciding my fate I've already slashed my lawyer's throat, right there at the defense table, and the whole thing's moot.

I'm a little more interested--but not much--in why Salon seems to continue to believe the lunatic ravings of a tedious, overeducated professional self-promoter (see, make that do not see, Paglia, Camille) represent some needed counter-weight to the likes of Glen Greenwald.

Who's supposed to be swayed by Smerconish's brave declaration that he "might" vote for somebody? For Salon readers common sense dictates that the likely outcome (after "None", I mean) would be a mass defection from the Obama camp, on the grounds that anyone who can inspire even conditional agreement on the issues with Michael "I Went To Fantasy War Camp!" Smerconish--let alone granting the man two interviews--is suspect.

Which he is; Obama's "hot pursuit into Pakistan" was an enormous gaffe, the first official confirmation that his campaign had been crafted in 2005 and was about as navigable as a supertanker. McCain rightly, but tellingly, criticized him for the least egregious feature of this nonsense, that of "tipping his hand". Of course, this was ameliorated somewhat by the fact that McCain's foreign policies contain 80% more batshit, which was then followed by his nominating for Bi-Monthly Acting President While McCain's Under Anesthesia a woman who was overmatched sitting opposite Charlie Gibson, a woman whose foreign policy c.v. includes helping her children with their civics homework. And that's the top of the list.  

(I mean, look: it's over. Not the election; I have no real idea of how America will vote, and though I have to believe her people, as individuals, are generally smart enough to prefer practically anyone, an African-American, the real Tina Fey, even someone outside their own species, to four more years of Republicanism, I'm too old to discount the IQ-lowering effects of crowds, television, and alcoholic beverages made from corn. I'm not banking on sanity. I'm just saying there's no way a sane person could possibly pull a lever thinking it would help put Councilwoman Palin a metaphorical 72-year-old heartbeat away from a metaphorical button. Nor, for that matter, would he or she help make the guy who pulled the stunt which put her there The Most Powerful Man on Earth, Formerly. Not that I, despite my misogyny, do not appreciate the bold move that made the GOP the second major party to nominate a woman for Vice-President, and the first to nominate someone, regardless of gender, from an alien culture. But let me just speak from my own experience: you fucked up. Bad. The best thing for all concerned is to fake Bristol Palin's death, have Commander Choo-Choo resign in grief, and move the whole family further up the glacier for the next two decades, there to await The Rapture. As for the public demonstration of severe psychosis on John McCain's part, well, he'll just have to live with it. Never stopped him before.)

Okay, Pakistan, which we are glad to learn that extensive training by Republican operatives can get someone which no previous experience to identify as "a country" and "vaguely threatening" in just one week: it's a nuclear power. You can look this sort of thing up. India's nearby, somewhere, and they don't like each other much. The Bush administration--it is difficult to exempt the Loyal Opposition or the American people from shared responsibility for this particular fuck-up--decided the attacks of 9/11 required a satisfyingly lethal military response, justified under international law by our having given Afghanistan until the day before 9/11 to turn over the culprits. This required our dealing with Pakistan's military Thug-in-Chief Musharraf, because there were actually some people involved somewhere who are less rash than Michael Smerconish. Surprising, yes. Musharraf wound up with all the people we were chasing moving into Waziristan--totally unexpected, of course--as well as a robust new personal account in Zurich. Fortunes and Fogs of War aside, it was an utterly predictable result, and reckless, and if Michael Smerconish complained about it at the time I haven't yet found the record.

Let's note here that it is the Pakistanis, not the United States of What's Right, which captured the actual mastermind of 9/11, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and did some of the early loosening up work on him and his family for us. This was, Musharraf apparently believed, Value for the Money. Since then, Musharraf's lost his job, former Prime Minister and uranium mule Benazir Bhutto lost her life, and her deadbeat husband was elected President. So it's hard to see how there could be any problems there in the near future. Oh, did I mention the nukes?

It's also hard to see what Smerconish--or Obama, for that matter--imagines we're going to do about it now when we did nothing about it with a bunch of pretend Duke Waynes in charge. We might--might--get away with military hot pursuit or low-grade combat in the Pakistani Badlands; then again, we might destabilize a government which has thus far been, oh, amenable, and acceptable to India provided we give them enough fissionable material for their wink wink peaceable wink programs wink wink winkywinkwink.  Is the game worth the candle, just so someone in Cairo somewhere can accidentally kink the hose of bin-Laden's dialysis machine? Just so loudmouths like Smerconish can feel vindicated vicariously, the same way they felt victimized? It's been his boy in the White House all along, until it became necessary to disavow him.  Smerconish applauded every step of the way. And it failed, and failed spectacularly, and not because of any convenient post-facto failures of execution, but because it was Stupidity on the March.  And, make no mistake about it; they held that banner high. You fucked up. Some CIA spook's thumb may wind up in bin-Laden's eye some day, but it won't change matters. In the meantime, if you want to gamble with lives, start with your own; Bush has given you plenty of opportunities.  Despite the attraction, I hope Obama doesn't give you any more.