Sunday, May 31

Sunday Blogging To The Choir

ROY spotlights a Derbyshire entry at The Corner which quotes "a reader" sounding off on Judge Sotomayor's taking unfair advantage of her gender, heritage, circumstances of birth, and Ivy League credentials, to the detriment of a hardworking white woman from a state school in the High Plains. For the record, on the question of whether she's a figment intended to hoodwink, or merely ten pounds of metaphor in a two-pound bag, I believe she was not intended to be taken as real. On the other hand, I suspect Derbyshire invented the emailer.

Here "she" is, for the record:
Show me a Montana girl of un-useful ethnicity who put herself through law school waiting tables, after being left with two young children when her Army husband was killed overseas, and I'll start oohing and aahing over her compelling story.

So my first response, as I said a Roy's, was fine, another example of how little these guys know about the "real people" they limn; alternately, it's a cautionary tale about packing your mythical heroes with every bunting-draped attribute in the Reagan Anecdote playbook in the belief that doing so makes the case Black and White, you should pardon the expression. The seam side goes down! If it's not the first rule of Rhetoric, it's certainly the one you need the most work on.
Of course, such a person would never ever end up on any President's short-list, no matter if she graduated first in her class at her non-Ivy institution, no matter how extreme the intelligence and dedication and hard work she displayed over the subsequent course of her career. That's simply how the world — and especially the legal world — is constructed today.

Let's pick at a few random loose threads. Our victimized jurist must be white--apparently the bootstrapping African-American judge considers Hispanics a sort of subset of Big Affirmative Action, and is assuaged, or has found her nest feathered sufficiently that her story cannot compel your Derbyshire correspondent--but also female, since we have to pretend we're not simply reheating the same old can of White Male entitlement. This, though, raises the question of why our WWF is not embittered by the pair of White Male Ivies George W. Bush appointed to the Court. Since Reagan appointed Sandra Day O'Connor to the Court (a campaign promise), Republican Presidents have named six Justices, all male (five white, one Clarence Thomas). Reagan had one rejection and one withdrawal, both white males; Bush II nominated Harriet Miers, who was immediately shot down by his own party. Democrats, in that period, have now nominated two women and one white male. So you're gonna resent the nomination of Sotomayor in those circumstances? Peculiar standard.

Part two of her Accumulated Grievance Index apparently requires single motherhood, which she shoulders with gritty self-reliance. Of course the Reagan playbook dictates that she can't be a single mom through popping out lil' responsibilities without benefit of clergy, nor can she be shortchanged by a deadbeat father (Baby Daddy being a dark-hued term, and alimony a form of nanny-state appropriation of one's Hard-Earned Money; this thing is taking a lot of work for a couple of simple paragraphs, unless it all comes naturally). So daddy went missing in the War. Which makes her triply-put upon, since dirty hippies probably spit on his flag-draped coffin on the tarmac, at the expense--as some wag noted at Roy's place--of making our college-educated wife almost singularly unaware of the military death gratuity, VA pension, extended medical and dental care for herself and her children, Defense Department-sponsored survivor benefits, low-cost student loans and grants, as well as work/study programs which would have allowed her to find a less menial job more in line with her career path.

If the conversation would then be turned by people claiming that still, Derbyshire might have a point! however odious, as they themselves had experienced doors closed due to preferences for women or minorities, Riley would have none of it. It's a curious feature of all those ersatz Reagan arguments about that ersatz America he claimed as their previous address and his followers seek to return us all to: each one is distinct and sharply-edged; I think the academics use the term sui generis. Welfare sapped the souls of poor folks, but welfare for multi-national conglomerates created jobs. Smaller government equalled Freedom, except for Defense budgets. Deficit spending robbed our children and grandchildren, except when Republicans did it, so long as they remained popular. It's interesting that the original, legal argument over affirmative action--My test scores were higher!--has now become axiomatic. Meaning it conveniently applies whenever anyone other than a white male is selected for anything, so long as the thing is perceived as having some political benefit. Since when is the Court a meritocracy? We might tout the Court as the nine best legal minds in the country, if we are explaining the thing to preschoolers or feeling particularly perverse that day--surely no one who's read one of Justice Thomas' opinions can really believe it, just to use the easiest example. Presidents aren't required to nominate the best legal mind in the country anytime an appointment comes up, even if that could be quantified somehow. (Jeff Sessions--Jeff Sessions!--now tells us that Court nominees ought to be neutral!) Presidents nominate someone who fits their view of jurisprudence, and, presumably, one with a chance of surviving the confirmation process. You'd suspect that if anyone understood this it would be the American right, which has spent forty years trying to find anyone it can convince with its argument over "Originalism", and is now apparently racing against time to assure the rest of us that it's incapable of understanding anything at all. All I can figure is they're working on some sort of insanity plea.

If the Republicans left in the Senate can mount a purely political challenge and persuade enough Democrats to join in they can block the nomination. If they believe the "reverse discrimation, reverse racism" routine will do that, they're perfectly free to try (and please do). So how is addressing our unspeakable history of racial and gender discrimination unfair even on the face of it? You get your chance to reply.

Well, I mean "unfair in other than in the Reagan Anecdotal sense?" of course. It's a standard which only applies in certain circumstances: academia, Democratic Presidential appointments, anecdotal blue-collar or middle-management hiring practices in unnamed organizations are all subject to charges of reverse racism when white men don't get their way. I don't recall anybody calling Meg Whitman (former eBay CEO and staunch Republican) an affirmative action hire, or the product of preferential treatment for Ivies. I don't remember that when George W. Bush named Ricardo Sanchez commander of ground forces in Iraq one of Jonah's emailers wrote that there must be some Scots-Irish general officer somewhere who'd worked his way through West Point baling hay and now must be crying himself to sleep. I don't remember any of 'em demanding Washington draft a slow white-guy running back. Okay, except for Limbaugh. What I do remember is the bizarro-world crowing that the first Bush II administration was the "most diverse in history" and that anyone who called Colin Powell a liar or Condimelda Rice an incompetent proved that liberals are the real racists.

Whazzat you say? That's different? Sports teams, like business concerns, look only to hire the very best performer at any position? Take it from somebody who watched the Colts try to decide between Payton Manning and Ryan Leaf: there's more to it than that. It's not a matter of who scored what on the Wonderlic, though god knows we're addicted to putting big numbers on un-quantifiable experiences and pretending we've ranked 'em objectively. It's a goddam cliché that teams look for chemistry, that the veteran player who's lost a step may be a better fit than the rookie flash. Why wouldn't a faculty, or a particular field, desire diversity? Supposing your new ("new"--we've been trying to correct four-hundred plus years of injustice for almost forty, now--) geology department head or law school prof is only 98% as good as some rejected white male candidate? Suppose that by showing women, or minority students, that the doors are open you wind up recruiting someone who's 10% better than her testosterone-wielding counterparts?

I'm not saying that we've found the key that unlocks the stall to the Magic Flying Rainbow-Tailed Pony of Reasonableness. I'm saying the opposing argument is a jury-rigged white-male-supremecist argument that succeeds only when it's allowed to set the rules for the debate, and rule on the admissibility of evidence. That side went too long without real scrutiny, and as a result it's gone from Can't Carry a Tune in a Basket to today's profound deafness. Short of photographs turning up of a naked Sotomayor spending a relaxing afternoon at Michael Vick's dog park, she's the next Supreme Court justice. Oppose her how you will. But maybe you could save some of that "creative" energy to come up with a more compelling tale for your party.

Friday, May 29


Kavya Shivashankar, 2009 National Spelling Bee champ

AND, okay, her little sister spelling along behind her through about the eighth round was a more compelling story, and she beat out Tim Ruiter, the home-schooled sci-fi nerd and fan of They Might Be Giants, who was the sentimental favorite Chez Riley, and third-place finisher Aishwarya Pastapur was the night's hero, handling xebec, Caerphilly, and Neufchâtel, all of which I happen to know, mostly because two of them are cheeses, but which bristle with lexical landmines. And yes, that reminds us there's too much emphasis on adjectives formed from proper nouns in the late rounds, particularly when two such decide things. And, no surprise, but won't someone please take the thing away from ABC? Thank god it runs long; otherwise one of the times it threatened to turn the thing into Dancin' With The Pubescent Stars would have taken off.

Still, delightful as always, because of the kids, though I have no idea how my Poor Wife, or anyone else, has ever survived teaching that age group. And the Hoosier State will have to content itself with Kennyi Kwaku Aouad being the star of the show, since we realize we can't win every year (2004, 2008). And Kavya--four top ten finishes in four years, and now the trophy--job well done. Now go kiss some boys. Or girls. Or both.

Thursday, May 28

Summiting Indiana

WE'VE spoken several times, you and I, about the effect the American Right's decision to talk only to itself for thirty-some-odd years has had on its rhetorical abilities, on recognizing or parsing opposing arguments, let alone responding to one. And there must be a chapter in there somewhere about naming conventions designed to hoodwink, not their exclusive province but one they've taken to enthusiastically enough. Y'know, like how The Safe and Clean Eco-Friendly Institute for a Greener America is actually a consortium of offshore drillers, or The Fresh and Wholesome Food Council lobbies for pesticide producers, and how the code names of our military operations--which used to be "code names" we gave to "military operations", but now serve as cover stories for wars we're too chickenshit to declare--all sound like Operation Righteously Justifiable Homicide an' such. Obviously, the only way these things fool any objective observer is by the addition of the shell-corporation game designed to prevent one from finding the boilerplate; once you realize that Americans for Fair Wages is funded by manufacturing groups the duvet is off the bloodstained mattress.

So I'm watching local "news" last night, wondering if I can get a bet down on when someone first discovers a kerning problem with Sonia Sotomayor's birth certificate--by the way, they unveiled a new--to me, anyway--graphic entitled "Bright Spot" while trudging out the exciting news of a couple hundred telemarketing jobs opening up in the state, which made me want to ask whether "Dark Stain" would be a regular feature of economic reporting if things got better, features spotlighting the Asshole Boss of the Week, or Wal*Mart's latest timecard-doctoring scheme--when one of the telepromter readers fluffs me for a report on that afternoon's "Energy Summit" in Indianapolis which was "looking into" the effect "President Obama's Cap and Trade Plan" would have on "Midwestern states like Indiana", by which I understood her to mean "such as" Indiana, since there's no place like it, although there may be other Midwestern states where remaining representatives of the thoroughly disgraced Republican party can still draw camera time to pathetic mass photo-ops revolving around their swapping lies just like the Good Ole Days.

No, I wasn't at all surprised that the American Energy Solutions Group would turn out to be a group of Republican Congressmen seeking Solutions to impending Socialist regulation of law abiding, campaign-war-chest-filling industrial polluters. I wasn't surprised to learn the panel consisted of Mike "Holy of Holies" Pence, Dan "Watermelon Man" Burton, Steve "Leave of Absence" Buyer, and some freshman from Ohio where most days they actually have to breathe in the shit Indiana hurls into the air. It was no surprise that one of the featured expert speakers was the Bonzai Governor himself, Mitch "The Spork" Daniels (h/t: dg), now entering the second week of his whirlwind My Restatements of Repudiated Claims Are Better than Other People's Facts Because of My Huge Brain (Not A) Presidential Campaign Tour, which began in the Wall Street Journal, where he not only lied through his teeth (both a redundancy and a requirement for inclusion in the Journal Opinion section) about the cost of Cap and Trade, but managed somehow to get away with calling himself "humble", which is the lexical equivalent of giving the unsuspecting rider in front of you an amateur proctological exam, without warning, while your elevator is between floors.

Rather, I was wondering exactly how it was that a collection of reliable, lockstep-marching business mouthpieces, who could have met in D.C., where most of them are actually being paid to work, * or at any of the area's fine golf courses, if they really needed Burton's keen insight for some reason, comes to be called a Summit. Isn't summit what we call a meeting of heads of state, or, at least, heads of various concerned departments? These guys are more like the dregs of state. And it's bad enough that local "news" saw fit to parrot the term; did they have to fluff the "solutions" angle? Last year at this time Hoosiers were all breathless an' shit about our (Democratic) primary "meaning something". I guess that did not include the idea of "meaning" meaning something, or else it didn't survive the winter.

This is, by the way, the same Mitch the Spork who, when he was busy raffling off state property and high-handing counties which had the audacity to try to set their own clocks, was sold as A Man of Forward-Looking Vision and New Solutions You Bumpkins Are Too Backward To Grasp. Three years later he's apparently determined to be Horatio at the Smokestack.

ADDENDUM: The political folks at the Racist Star, normally surefire consumers of whatever animal waste product the state GOP puts in front of them, started balking at further helpings of Dan Burton during the last election cycle, and actually excoriate the gang in an editorial this morning. But they manage to leave Burton's name off the list altogether. Like he might give rank Republicanism a bad name.



Wednesday, May 27

The Petri Dish Of Moranity

INDIANAPOLIS is a city with a long-standing inferiority complex, and some damn fine reasons behind that. It's the Hollow Center of Manifest Destiny, the cardboard sleeve than convinces the unwary shopper that his candy bar is 33% larger than it actually is; it's the temporary acclamation accorded the inspired pairing of Smoke with Mirrors. It's not a little clearing in the Eastern Woodlands that grew up big and strong. It's the geographic center of a sort of palsied rhombus scribbled when the Powers that Were Being in the early 19th century decided the Old Northwest would look better on maps in several colors, not just one big splotch, a pinhole in a map poked by later 19th century regional wise men who decided, from the state's one real White enclave on the Ohio, that a new, alabaster city should serve as the State Capital, one that was equally inaccessible to everyone at the time, because we used to be much better at compromise. It turned out to be a malarial swamp. I suppose you were ahead of me on that.

At least we got a damned regular grid out of the deal. And don't get me wrong. I live here. I spent my carefree childhood roaming her pastures, rills, and unguarded commercial properties; I've spent most of my adult life here, occasionally glimpsing the outdoors. I'm home here, consarn it, and scarcely ever troubled by thoughts of arson. Any more.

Indianapolis used to be the largest city in America not on a navigable waterway, but that was back when trees were an occasional impediment to overland traffic; I haven't checked recently. Some typical American visionary once managed to get a sternwheeler all the way here up the mighty White River one presumably monsoonish summer, but the thing pegged in the shallows and never made the trip back. It was, one supposes, dismantled and used to build a Chili's.

Because my fellow citizens loooove the chain restaurant, something which induces that sense of inferiority in the rest of us while leaving them almost magically untouched. One of several current politically-assisted financial crises of the moment involves the City Market, a venerable old space that was part of the original plat, a collection of food and produce vending stalls which has suffered through hard times ever since the suburbanization of the 1950s made getting the hell out of Indianapolis an even better idea, and cheaper. This has been seriously compounded by the fact that politicians--that would be "the same people who jumped at the chance to convert farmland to interstates, tract houses, and convenient Chili's locations in the first place"--have sought to solve the problem, guaranteeing that it would eventually get much worse, except at an exorbitant cost befitting our compensatory levels of civic boosterism. A series of politically-connected idiots chased out long-time tenants, herded any who remained into a dark, dank corner for two years while they spent millions redecorating the place to bring it more in line with the contemporary Mall aesthetic, and managed, somehow, to go broke while alienating all the remaining tenants. (I am not making either of these up: the actual, proximate cause of the wipeout was losing a suit to a former tenant they'd high-handed and then refused to talk with despite the threat of legal action; posting bond to appeal the judgement would now empty the checking account, so the City's stepping in to help out. And one of the reasons given for construction cost overruns was that "the plumbing was in much worse shape than we imagined". In a hundred and thirty year-old building. Why didn't you just go with the assumption that there wasn't any?)

And the crisis came to light recently, and Mayor Gomer took time from his busy schedule of planning Chinatowns and trying to land the lucrative North American Cricket franchise to do his usual thorough job of assessing the situation, asking his handlers what he should say, and getting back to the Golf Channel. And his solution, essentially, was (hold on!):

Let's turn it into one big Chili's!

Because every challenge is an Opportunity, dammit. An opportunity to rebuild what went before with substandard materials and pocket the difference.

The news engendered a little discussion at the Racist Star that I was foolish enough to look in on. And some sensible person, apparently an out-of-towner, said something to the effect that, Gee, the market is this traditional collection of small vendors, and maybe this city has enough Chain Restaurants already, what with the six we have on every corner, and the Farmer's Market in Broad Ripple is thriving an' all, like all around the rest of the country, so maybe there's a more creative solution. And this person was then told to leave town if he didn't like it here, at least fifteen times consecutively, before I gave up counting.

Chicago, of course, is a great restaurant town. Cincinnati is a great restaurant town. Louisville is the gateway to Bluegrass culture, and Northern Kentucky stands with KC and Virginia as the great regional centers of barbecue. And in Indianapolis they'll fight you for dissing the Whopper.

So it's really not that surprising that the other source of major cultural influence is the fucking yammering radio (you happen to get the Bob and Tom Show, now also in convenient video form? That's us.), and that any and every drive-show hyped, commerical-tie-in, gawker-and/or public-urinator-generating Event--raft race, public beer bust, simulcast Lame Playlist synced to Yet Another Excuse To Make Shit Explode Overhead--becomes, not Somewhere to Go and Something to Do, but a sort of instant Tradition. Yesterday came word that the big Labor Day Celebration of Loud Noise and Flashing Lights would go Silent and Dark this year, due to the economic difficulties of Jeff Smulyan's Massive Communications Empire Founded on Buying Shit Then Having To Sell It Back, and the local news hairdo pool commenting on it acted as though vandals had melted the Liberty Bell.

This same weird combination of poshlust taste, the personal restraint of a shirtless Libertarian, and suburban lawncare fascism attends The Monon Trail, an abandoned stretch of railbed which has been converted into an asphalt greenway for Walkers, Bikers, Roller Skaters, and the occasional mugger. Y'know, I'm all for such things politically; I just don't want to be anywhere around them myself. It's like being on the first quarter-mile of the trail in one of our jewels of a state park; it doesn't matter what the scenery is like, the total effect is that of being in a crowded Mall with all the stores closed and the children all coming off massive sugarbuzzes Cold Turkey. I hike occasionally in the second-largest city-owned nature preserve. Miles of trails that come within shouting distance of the Monon, with which it shares a parking lot, but there's a constant stream of exercisers on the asphalt runway, and the only people besides myself who venture into the woods are the ones who find leash laws unfairly restrict the Constitutional rights of their dogs.

Not that I'm complaining about their absence. But, as I suggested, the Monon is occasionally visited by felons, rapscallions, and ne'er-do-wells, and when this occurs on the stretch south of 38th Street, which is either a sketchy area or Darkest Africa, depending on who's telling, you can be sure the Racist Star's commenters will remind you Just Who Lives Down There Anyway. And yesterday brought news that some guy my age had been on the Trail when a gang of Yoots rode past him and one shot him in the belly with a pellet gun. Which generated these, among others:
"Too bad he wasn't carrying a gun! Those pellet guns look realistic. He could have shot his attacker in self-defense by mistake. And wouldn't that be too bad?"
"...of course, after they 9mm a couple of thugs the preachers and the ACLU will cry foul."
Neither of which, mind you, comes as a revelation, or even begins to snake the clogged sewer line that is the Racist Star's typical comments section. It's just that I read this the day after hearing the nets react exactly the same way to news of another North Korean "A-bomb" test, and Rush Limbaugh--also courtesy the nets--react pretty much the same way to the announcement of a nominee for the Supreme Court. And it occurs to me: we're all Indianapoli now. I suppose I always suspected it.

Tuesday, May 26

Dear Lord

Ross Douthat, "Liberated and Unhappy". May 25

FIRST, housekeeping: Reader TM was kind enough to suggest I replace Allstate with State Farm. Two things: it was State Farm which dropped my Poor Wife twenty-five years ago after she had two accidents. The first occurred when she was rear-ended while stopped at a red light. The second when some dead drunk slammed into her car, another car, a light pole, and an enormous oak on the neighbor's property, and then ran off. I, foolhardy peri-youth, ran the man down and dragged him the mile-and-a-half back to face the music, which earned me two trips to court where I was never called.

Friday I received a call from a very nice woman in the Resolutions dept. at Allstate, which pissed me off no end since I was hoping for a surly white guy I could tee off on. She listened, said she thought she understood what had happened but begged the holiday weekend before she got back to read the files, and promised to call me tomorrow. The floating turds of that unflushed john of a collection agency they sicked on us have not been heard from again. There's no way I'm dropping Allstate while I still need the Customer in Good Standing Buttfucked by Your Incompetent Goon Squad status, because they may not know it yet, but they're paying for the requisite credit checks to make sure those assholes didn't get within hailing distance of our Credit, and if they did they're crawling to get the opportunity to correct every last misplaced jot. Then they're gone, after being reported to the BBB, the Indiana AG, the state insurance board, the Fire Marshal, and any warez revenge freeks I can drum up.

Second, that NatRev cover pic was too small, so it took me until this morning to notice that Mitch's combover is gone. No wonder he looked like Todd Luiso. And whoever's got the rights to The Fifteen Minute Hamlet bring it out on DVD already, or you're next.

Finally, I'd like to suggest that, should the Times re-up Douthat for some unfathomable reason, he get someone else to pose for his picture next time.

It is yet too soon to tell if Ross has settled into his Times rhythm or whether we'll see some sort of sporadic Wither Republicanism? dropped like a chintzy amount of artificial chocolate chips into the viscous weekly batter of Jesus and I Think Alike, but at this point those first two columns are beginning to look like a pathetic sop to that imaginary subset of Times readers who take their "conservatism" with a twist of weasel, an opening joke or two before he dove headlong into the straight religious material.

Lousy Feminists! They've made Baby Jesus and Baby Momma cry! (And no, really; Ross will eventually uncork a "serial baby daddies". The wonder is that it took him five weeks.) And did you know there's a new study out which proves it? It's by two economists! And if you like, Ross'll provide the link to where you can buy a copy for just five bucks.

New Study by Economists! is the opinionated cabbie for the html age.
This is “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness,” the subject of a provocative paper from the economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers. The paper is fascinating not only because of what it shows, but because the authors deliberately avoid floating an easy explanation for their data.

Tell me how it is that every time these guys quote some New Study or other they inevitably manage to betray the fact that they have not the slightest idea how to approach a professional paper? The authors deliberately avoid floating easy answers! Could be we've spotted a new academic trend here. Or it could be that, unlike the Vapor Cabbie, studies tend not to agree with one's tiniest presuppositions in ways that are easily dispelled.
But all the achievements of the feminist era may have delivered women to greater unhappiness. In the 1960s, when Betty Friedan diagnosed her fellow wives and daughters as the victims of “the problem with no name,” American women reported themselves happier, on average, than did men. Today, that gender gap has reversed. Male happiness has inched up, and female happiness has dropped. In postfeminist America, men are happier than women.

Shit, dude. There's 280 channels on th' teevee now, and twelve of 'em are ESPN; porn's a mouse click away; and the Coors Light can tells you when it's cold. Is Manhattan the farthest West you've ever been?

Why--and to whom--is this supposed to be a fucking paradox? Thanks to a generation of Republican economics the vast majority of households in this country need two incomes to stay afloat; meanwhile, the Distaff half of that equation still finds itself married to inconsiderate slobs, raising 2.4 bratty, consumer-goods-and-junk-food addicted children, doing most of the household work, and dealing with some shitheel boss who now imagines himself to be some sort of Entrepreneurial Hero. How's that the fault of Feminism?
Feminists and traditionalists should be able to agree, for instance, that the structures of American society don’t make enough allowances for the particular challenges of motherhood.

Yes, whatever our political beliefs, we can all agree that Pope John Paul II said it best when...
We can squabble forever about the choices that mothers ought to make, but the difficult work-parenthood juggle is here to stay. (Just ask Sarah and Todd Palin.)

Ask 'em what? If they know seventeen words for snow? Where they got their clothes? The Palins have fourteen children (Snap, Trigger, Bumpkin, Aspen, Neiman, Marcus, Slope, Polysci, Port, Starboard, Placenta, Nivea, Carmex, and Oopsie) by choice. They've got a six-figure income before Mom bilks the taxpayers. Are we supposed to ask them about the "difficulties" involved because they're proven experts on Failing to Impart Your Public Moralisms to Your Own Children? Is that an accomplishment? Or am I supposed to be feeling sorry for them because they've struggled so?

Christ, you should pardon the expression. It's one thing for you to think inside your little Bronze Age box; I don't care. It's irritating when you pretend you don't, but, again, if the Times wouldn't waste valuable space on this tenth-rate, utterly predictable, stuck-in-the-Sixties-backlash crap I'd never even mention it. But the feeble attempts of a not-yet-thirty child of privilege, Hahvahd-fucking-educated, to even produce a reasonable facsimile of an opposing argument when that's what he ostensibly is up to is just unforgivable.
They should also be able to agree that the steady advance of single motherhood threatens the interests and happiness of women. Here the public-policy options are limited; some kind of social stigma is a necessity. But a new-model stigma shouldn’t (and couldn’t) look like the old sexism. There’s no necessary reason why feminists and cultural conservatives can’t join forces — in the same way that they made common cause during the pornography wars of the 1980s — behind a social revolution that ostracizes serial baby-daddies and trophy-wife collectors as thoroughly as the “fallen women” of a more patriarchal age.

Forget Hahvahd and Hamden Hall; there was a time in your young life when you would have said--presumably, at least--that it was defined primarily by your Pentacostalism; today you would say the same thing, substituting Roman Catholicism. How in hell do you come through that and still imagine that the whole world basically agrees with you? It's beyond even faith-based Belief. It's the punditaster version of imagining foreigners will understand you if you speak English slowly enough and at twice normal volume.

Monday, May 25

You Mean It's Behind The NRO Paywall? Well I Hope You're Happy; You've Ruined My Weekend.

(h/t Brave Indiana blogger Doug Masson)

OKAY, first, if you don't know--and there's no reason you should--Mitch "The Bonzai Governor" Daniels is called "The Blade"--when he is, which is never except during fawning, deceptive, and delusional demi-decadal profiles in NatRev or The Wall Street Journal--only because it's the "nickname" George W. Bush bestowed upon him, apparently without knowing who th' fuck he was, and certainly with his usual firm grasp on hyperreality. Mitch Daniels was Bush's first OMB director, meaning he's the guy who personally oversaw the Most Disastrous Administration in US History's reduction of an inherited $236 B surplus to a $400 B deficit in just two years. He is, in other words, "The Blade" the way some 350-pound slob is "Tiny". After that striking success he turned his expertise on the unsuspecting citizens of his putative home state, the half-infomed denizens of which had given him his first taxpayer-funded sinecure; we do not know, for certain, why Mitch Daniels decided to Get Out Of Dodge and into The Indiana Governor's Mansion an RV combing over the backroads of the Hoosier State, but we wouldn't be surprised if it involved revenging himself on whomever had stuffed his ass in a locker in North Central High School ("Home of the Panthers"), no doubt repeatedly, between 1963 and 1967.

What we do know is this: no one who's paid the slightest bit of attention to Daniels' public "service" career would portray him as any sort of Cutlery, at least not if they intended to make the case to the general public rather than the Internet Boys' Choir they dunned for the privilege. Daniels' economic record as governor may be debatable, in that it is nowhere near as bad as his record at the OMB (which would have required the state to its previous status as the floor of the vast Cretaceous inland sea), but even that debatability is the result of a clear PR effort to paint everything the man has done as a Bold Economic Triumph sprung Athena-like from his massive brain, not something resembling tangible results. The difference here being that, unlike with Zeus, in this case the gestation gave everyone else a headache.

And if we're actually interested in governance, and not simply finding a Republican we hope might turn out to be the next Mitt Romney, fake history included, we might tap the brakes a few times before touting Indiana's Economic Miracle full throttle; The Blade suddenly turned into The Shrinking Violet when things turned unequivocally to shit after last year's elections. By 2011 he's likely to have morphed into The Self-Inflicted Wound.

And sure, sure; the yawning chasm between Republican gubernatorial hagiography and what is sometimes known as "reality" has been my near-constant companion since California gave us Ronald Reagan, meaning before this current crop of NatRev geniuses ever drew enough breath to complain that poor people were getting their oxygen for free, meaning I don't really need to read that article any more than I want to read the article. What I would like to know is how anyone would imagine that portraying their man as Todd Luiso in American Ninja VI was a good idea?

Friday, May 22

Good Hands

"A MAN is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone" says Hank Thoreau. I've never been part of the Thoreau cult; after the enforced high school experience of Civil Disobedience, accompanied by a certain subset of my yahoo friends using it as license to egg Mr. Bower's house, I more-or-less abandoned reading him. I recall enjoying On Walking several years ago, but that's the highlight.

I was a callow youth when I ran into that quote, and it was only the second part I considered. Hey, you're rewarded for leaving things alone! Man, I was already rich and didn't know it.

The unexamined first part didn't strike me until much later--I don't think it's supposed to, anyhow--when it occurred to me, too late to make a practical difference in a life dedicated to indolence, that actual gelt could exponentially increase the number of things you could let alone. Insurance companies, for one.

This is ordinarily the sort of thing I'd at least wait for resolution before committing to the Internets, but the resolution--a foregone conclusion--is not the point. Our vehicle and homeowner's policies are with Allstate, and have been for better than a decade, maybe more than two. Never an accident claim. One weather-induced homeowner's claim which did not involve our jumping on the 2006 Hail Storm Let's Get A New Roof bandwagon like a dozen of our neighbors. All bills paid on time.

Last winter we decided it'd be a good idea to reduce our car insurance premiums. I called the agent and we worked out a new deal, but when she called back with the quote she noted that our policy was a type which was no longer being written, so she would write a new one, effective at the end of the current paid period, and we'd get the new one in the mail.

So the first thing that happens is the next billing period rolls around, and we get dunned for two separate policies. And I call her, and it's oh, sorry, I see what happened, don't worry about it. How it is that "don't worry about it" failed to serve as a klaxon for impending compound stupidity I don't know. I'm fifty-five.

So the original policy gets cancelled--I really ought to add "apparently" to any such statement at this point--and all seems right when we receive another dunning notice a few days later for some piddling amount--sixty bucks something--said to be due on the old account. And the notice has both the false ring of an account closed, business terminated, balance still owing--like they thought we might skip the country with our ill-gotten Hamiltons--and a vaguely nasty tone. My wife opened it and handed it to me. I call the agent. She seems distracted. She calls up the file, says, "Oh. Okay, I'll take care of it." I have ample reason not to believe anything this woman tells me by now, but on the other hand it seems like part of a clerical error she made, and has partly fixed already, so one imagines she'll now know how to locate the problem and get the baby hummin' again. We part, with luck never to speak again. Fade to black.

It is perhaps not vital, but certainly of interest, that all this concerns a policy which was "terminated" April first of 2009 C.E.

Yesterday was May 21, or 51 days later; roughly the time between report cards back when I was a barefoot boy in fields of dairy cows. And I get a weird prerecorded call in the afternoon, for my wife, which I chalked up to the current terrorist testing of the state's new Attorney General. Indiana has a pretty good No-Call law, and thugs, criminals, grifters, and other business types have been challenging it, in the form of flagrantly ignoring it, all year; one particular asshole with a car warranty scheme, already indicted in North Dakota, North Idaho, or South Oioway or one of those places, recently came to local prominence when his robots called the new Attorney General's cell phone, twice, thereby winning himself the indictment that had not been engendered by the hundreds of complaint calls the AG had received to that point, all of which had apparently been misfiled under L for Lanquish, instead of P for Peons. And then a couple hours later my Poor Wife mentions to me--too casually, I thought--that we'd "gotten a collection notice on that insurance thing".

I was up like a one-kneed bolt of lightning, straight to her desk to find, not just a "collection notice", but a collection notice from an actual collection of human cess known collectively as Credit Collection Services, demanding to know where The Widow Allstate's sixty bucks was. Reader, fellow or potential Allstate customer, bruder! we have barely compressed the actual timeframe. We would not leave out intervening correspondence just to make out case. Close account. Receive one erroneous notice of money owing. Contact agent. Six weeks later find professional scofflaw telephone goons on your doorstep, who, in their very first, blind groping towards the unknown you and wherever you've stashed your sixty measly fucking bucks, (which would, were it a legitimate and overlooked debt, allow them under Indiana law to charge you, currently, an additional ninety cents!) simply choose to ignore, presumably with impunity, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Upon first contact! I could be a legless Gulf War veteran, a first-responder with a pelvis crushed in the rescue of a beloved family pet, or at the bottom of the stairs surviving by drinking my own urine and feebly scratching the concrete in hopes of attracting help for all they know. Or care. And they cannot be bothered with making a recorded message that identifies themselves as the caller in accordance with Federal law. Any regulation, no matter how tiny, is unreasonable to these people. Excepting the regulations that dissuade me from going over there and kicking their miserable asses. Can't quite figure out why they aren't headquartered in Indiana. Mitch'd love 'em.

And Allstate, y'know, maybe "And we'll crush you like the fucking bug you are if we so much as suspect you're into us for a sawbuck" goes by with the rest of the boilerplate at the bottom of their ads. Or maybe you need to wait for one of their screwups to find out for yourself.

Thursday, May 21

Well, That Sounds Like A Really Good Explanation. Now, If You Don't Mind, Just What Was It?

William Saletan, "The Two Faces of Barack Obama: Can a pro-choice president lead a pro-life majority?" May 20

MY own faith is such that I believe there is floating in the aether some spectral Reverse Godwin Sphere where the souls of people who really deserved to be compared to Hitler, but weren't, receive their comeuppance, while a Host of Cheetos-stained spirit nerds type LMFAO simultaneously and their sound is like a million thunderclaps.

Which is not what Saletan deserves--though I am beginning to pine for a Godwin declaring an argument forfeited the moment the writer appends himself to Barack Obama and declares the two of them Good and Thoughtful--but he does force us into mentioning something we'd just as soon skip but which seems to be the only thing some people understand: an incremental, "compromise" position, designed to reflect the "complexity" of an issue ignored by "absolutists", signed on to by muddling middlers and approved of by no one, is precisely the road to racial equality favored by the NAACP, and explicitly rejected by the SCLC, beginning in Birmingham. And it's not Roy Wilkins' birthday that's a national holiday. Yes, the NAACP approach brought us Brown. What the convenient history conveniently leaves out these days is that Brown brought us a decade of closed Southern schools. The 3/5 Compromise seemed like a complex rendering of an issue whose Manichaean combatants could never be brought to Reason, too.

I say again: I'd rather not bring it up this way. (We could, rather, make it Iraq, 2002, and run down the Slate masthead ticking off those who said things like "we can't take the chance that Saddam Hussein has nuclear weapons" or "Well, I don't trust the Bush administration, but in this case..." which has the added benefit, for me, that it doesn't look like I'm trying to shine in Martin Luther King's reflected glory. You couldn't walk under a tree in those days without risking having a "liberal", ripe with complexity and nuance, fall on your head.) Certainly it is possible for people whose position on reproductive rights is diametrically opposite mine to advance the same argument. And, y'know what? So be it. It's still preferable to facile dishonesty masquerading as the point of view of anyone who's being reasonable.
"Obama Calls for 'Common Ground' on Abortion at Notre Dame," said the headline at CNN. That's a fair description: The president used the phrase three times in his Sunday commencement address. But common ground can't quite convey what he was getting at. Common ground is a two-dimensional metaphor. Abortion is more complicated than that, and so is Obama.

"We must find a way to reconcile our ever-shrinking world with its ever-growing diversity—diversity of thought, diversity of culture, and diversity of belief," the president told the graduates. "In short, we must find a way to live together as one human family." That's a standard American theme: e pluribus unum—out of many, one.

Within the United States, there's been a long-running fight over what this idea means. One view says we're a melting pot and immigrants should assimilate. Another view says diversity is a right and should be protected. Which view does Obama take? Both. Here and abroad, he sees a single family with a variety of beliefs.

Are we headed anywhere in particular, or is this just to test whether we get carsick?

Sheesh, who doesn't acknowledge "a variety of beliefs"? It's kinda hard to miss, what with all the screaming and the skywriting and all. And how many people don't simply adjust their view of "E Pluribus Unum" according to which side of the hill their own cattle happen to be grazing? And so what? It's possible to acknowledge a diversity of opinion while still concluding all the others are flat wrong. In fact, it's common to do so, and necessary. It's just that most people don't use this as an excuse to pretend they're mining "Novus Ordo Saeclorum" for nuggets. But then, most people aren't paid by the word.
Is this a cop-out? In two-dimensional space, it looks that way: You have to pick one side or the other. But what if the issue you're debating is really multidimensional? What if there's more than one other side? What if the alternative view you're grappling with isn't the negation of yours? What if it's a different perspective, a sideways view, on the same reality? Can both perspectives be true?

Most political issues are like that. To depict them fairly, you need extra dimensions. My favorite representation of this concept is the carved cube on the cover of Godel, Escher, Bach. Is it a G, an E, or a B? Answer: all of the above. It depends which way you look at it.

I'm with Oscar Levant. I'd omit them.

Okay, so you're not the only man in America who spent too much time reading sci-fi as a teenager, but I have a hard, fast rule I'd like to share with you. It's one of the few that's never let me down: Never take advice on Art from a math major, and never listen to an English major who's turning some half-grasped mathematical concept into a Guide for Living. I mean, is this another one of those Slate articles that was assigned using blind draws from the magnetic poetry set? " Run with that, Bill. Thirteen-hundred words. I've got two Cs here say you can't."
Abortion is the classic multidimensional issue. Years ago, when I was writing a book about it, one person after another told me, "The issue is about …" Each person ended the sentence differently.

Okay. Fine. I'll just talk to myself, then.

I hope this doesn't blow your mind, Bill (" a...cosmic...torus") but in 2009 America, saying "abortion is more complex than the absolutists admit" is actually taking a side. And, in fact, it's taking the side which has the burden of compelling its opponents to agree to a discussion, let alone accept some "compromise" scribbled down while you were on Ecstasy. Y'see, number one, I'm fine with Roe. I'm fine with Casey. I'm no constitutional scholar, but I'm fine with the idea of an inherent Right to Privacy. I'm fine with the idea that any notion that "Life" begins before birth is an irredeemable metaphysical tangle, unconstitutionally vague, and at least 98% certain to violate the Establishment Clause, not that proponents don't routinely try to take the Wite-Out to that as well. Constitutional precedent essentially sides with me, and this has held true for forty years of shameless demagogy on the issue. What's my reason for sitting down and listening to people scream their complaints again? (I've had 'em in both ears at once, Bill, as a chaperone for young, frequently terrified women who were simply trying to exercise their right, under the Constitution and English common law, to decide whether they'd carry a pregnancy to term.)

I'm supposed to abandon some unspecified portion of my beliefs why? Because there are nuts out there who won't shut up otherwise? They aren't going to shut up, ever, regardless. Because there are moral principles involved? Same with the death penalty, same with incarceration for victimless crimes, same with outspending the rest of the world combined on the implements of our "defense", which we now define as preemptively removing governments that once took a shot at our Daddy. Overpopulation and laying waste to the environment are moral issues, too. Who's dropped their bullhorns to listen to me on those issues, Bill?

Barack Obama ran for President, Bill. I didn't. Barack Obama, presumably, believes he can talk to 2000-year-old zombie Jewish carpenters who might never have existed. Me, not so much. He may have some reason to seek a rapprochement with the one-issue crazies on the other side, or he may have an interest in cutting the herd down some, or maybe he just wants to shut Ross Douthat up for a minute. 'S his business, not mine. He's not going to walk out on the WH portico and announce he's decided to overturn Roe, and he's not going to call in all the "reasonable" people this summer and do more than give 'em a big dose of platitude. That's how it is. I don't have a problem with it, but then I don't have a problem with those people screaming their lungs out until Doomsday, either.

Which is, really, my point. Fuck polls, and certainly fuck one that substitutes "Do you consider youself pro-life?" for the actual question, then uses that to a) draw conclusions; and b) give you an excuse for jetting off to Cloudland for 350 words. It means nothing. Reproductive rights are Constitutionally protected, and they will remain so unless you a) amend the Constitution or b) overturn Roe before the Court. We have certainly experienced some risk of the latter, another little pile of stepped-in dogshit from thirty years of Republican rule, but what that would mean, and how it would play out remains moot. It's highly unlikely you would see the day when Roe was tossed on the ash heap, and if you did the fight would simply continue after the teams switched jerseys. No, sir; the issue is not the "multi-dimensional" cosmic nail biter you portray. The issue is Roe. Confound the legal argument, or don't, but leave me the fuck alone until you do.

And one more thing: much of this comes from absorbing the loaded arguments which have been going on since you were in knee pants, and that because an explicitly religious viewpoint with influence beyond its actual numbers has been ceded the high ground in the mass-market Press, to the extent that they've even dictated the language: Pro-abortion, Pro-life, "unborn child". The anti-reproductive freedom, pro-state-control-of-the-uterus crowd (you like them apples? they're not my own, or exactly rare, but they're rarely seen outside Left Blogtopia) has gotten away with avoiding the issue of contraception (until the Bush administration got overconfident). It's gotten away with never addressing the issue of homicide, despite the fact that every third word is "murder". It's gotten away with portraying the violence and murder committed in its name as being a matter of fringe crazies. It's never called on the network of deceptive "Crisis pregnancy centers", nor on the fact that what it is doing, at the core, is attempting to deny a certain class of Americans their Constitutional rights, often by whatever means. Had the debate merely been fair for the last forty years we might already see a very different atmosphere, though no one who takes a serious glance at the State Owned Uterus Crusaders could ever imagine that those people will be placated by any possible "compromise".

Here's an experiment for you. Go among the Holiest of Holies and the Demiest of Demagogues and try to tell them that Abortion was perfectly legal, openly practiced, even advertised, until after the Civil War. See what diversity of opinion you get then. Were you aware of that yourself? The issue has been gamed, Bill, and "reasonable compromise" is just an arrow in the anti-choice quiver. It may be that you inhabit a world where such questions never arise, but it's inexcusable to pretend it couldn't, and to portray people who've fought seriously, and long, to protect the individual's right to choose as intractable fanatics incapable of your keen moral insights and nuanced understanding.

Wednesday, May 20

A Medley Of Extemporanea

THE Way Shit Doesn't Work: Reader, imagine if you will that you are the Indiana State Republican party (but please do not do so until 30 minutes after eating), and the year is 2007 C.E. You are, in brief, battered but still supremely hubristic, a model for the national GOP to come. You are saddled with an unpopular, malignant dwarf as your titular head, a man so megalomaniacal that it gives Indiana Republicans pause, although this could probably be remedied if he'd just pretend to be more religious. But pretending does not come easy to Mitch Daniels (though lying seems to), whose natural inclination runs to biting the calf of anyone who looks at the top of his combover crosswise. There are, in this period, entire floors of downtown Indianapolis law temples devoted to keeping the man away from public contact as much as possible, and several Republican operatives lounging in six-digit state sinecures lest they get any bright ideas about telling what they know. This is the man, after all, who took one look at the Governor's Mansion and declared he wouldn't let his servants sleep in such a dump.

Daniels' approval ratings are struggling to stay above George W. Bush's, and there's a bright boy actually legally residing in the state capital who looks to be a major challenger for the 2008 elections. But Bart Peterson, the first Democratic mayor of Indianapolis in thirty-five years--not to worry; he's plenty enough of a Republican to get elected to statewide office--has a 2007 mayoral election to get through first, and though he's an absolute shoo-in it's a good opportunity to bloody him up a little before the real bout even starts.

Enter Teabagging.

Now, if you've been following along you might recall that Indiana, traditionally an agriculture/manufacturing mutt of a state, had always kept its property taxes at politically acceptable levels through some fancy bookkeeping footwork, until the State Supreme Court ruled the system unconstitutional. This was compounded, a year after the ruling took effect, by control of The World's Third Worst State Legislature ™ (Motto: "Sure, We're All For Small Government, But This Spray-Tanning Thing Is Getting Out Of Hand"), as well as the Governor's Mansion (joke), going the GOP, which took about as much time deciding to eliminate the Socialist Business Inventory Socialism Tax as the Pope does deciding whether to go to Mass. The collective result swamped local governments at the exact time when the state had dumped other obligations on them in the abiding attempt to make Mitch Daniels look economically competent for once in his fucking life. And the GOP figures it's caught Peterson during a stream crossing.

And suddenly there are mass demonstrations in a wealthy neighborhood (the Governor's, or at least his Mansion's, as it happens) of the confiscatory Socialist Property Socialism Tax which blames...Bart Peterson, the man who had nothing whatsoever to do with it beyond being as reasonably responsible as one could hope for in a politician, i.e., he didn't use the funding scandal as an excuse to end fire and police protection. Local "news" trumpets the thing for months, without ever asking who might be behind it, or bothering with any facts, just righteously angry wealthy white people facing down the Oppressor. And it works far too well: Peterson is actually defeated by Gomer Pyle, USMC; apparently the powers that be in GOPerdom had forgotten that Indianapolis is the one place in the Universe where Jim Nabors still has a career (the traditional singing of the wrong words to "Back Home Again in Indiana" just before the Indy 500. As if you didn't know).

So Mitch has eliminated his one competent rival, and wins reelection despite losing the state to Barack Obama, but the GOP has now burdened itself with running the city just as the Tidal Wave of Republican Economic Shenanigans hits everything from Lake Michigan to the Ohio. Mitch can run and hide, and does, but Gomer's bare-assed on the hustings, growing more feeble with every appearance. Then the flood waters receded, and when they did it revealed the cheap-ass foundation of the Capital Improvements Board, the Lugar-era Republican creation designed to oversee the Trickle Up Theory of downtown land management. And this just happens to occur just as the Indiana Pacers told the Board, whose President just happens to be their lawyer, that they needed $15 M of non-represented taxpayer money or they would be forced to take their ball, and however many players they have on the guaranteed roster who aren't presently incarcerated, and start looking for another city to extort. Oh, and thanks for the new fieldhouse we demanded.

And none of this is new, exactly, or even unexpected, and one feels safe in relaying the fact that none of this engenders any Teabagging or nightly blow-by-blow "news" attention without warning you to sit down first. The Governor--who spent three-and-a-half years defending his corporate giveaways as "brave, bold Leadership"--is nowhere to be found. Nor is the Legislature, nor the Mayor, so long as he can hold out. Alcohol tax! is what he came up with, yesterday, six months after the Legislature convened and three weeks after the session ended. You'd think--unless you had what we call "a modicum of real-world experience"--that Republicans could solve all these problems in a snap. Or at least that their answer would be right at hand, but Tax Cuts! never got off the drawing board this time. Somehow.

Nah, it wasn't the distinction between Republican rhetoric and Republican "results" that grabbed me last evening. It was the perfect little petit mal seizure of intended Republican consequences:

• We spent the entire session "agonizing" over the fate of the Indiana Soldiers' and Sailors' Childrens' Home, a 150-year-old facility offering a boarding-school environment to mostly at-risk children. All one heard about during the "debate" was how much money this 50-acre, 53-building underutilized relic was costing us (though the occasional Socialist wag pointed out that the $232/day we were spending per student for full-time care was still less than we shell out per inmate in the penal system).

So yesterday we announce the "solution", which is that we're kicking all the children out and turning the place over to an Indiana National Guard 2-week Boot Camp for Troublemakers program, which, beyond harnessing homicidal rage into acceptable channels, has the benefit of being funded 60% by the Feds.

Now, forget the Holism is Out, Browbeating is In; forget the It's Okay So Long As You're Hornswoggling Federal Taxpayers bit; forget that we've managed to delay the inevitable decision, or at least make it a two-part soul crushing, the better to get out of Office first. What was interesting about the "news" report was how it swallowed an interesting bit of misadventure by accounting: the "$1.2 M" state cost is reckoned by considering only that part of the facility the program will occupy, not the actual cost of maintaining the entire facility, which was how we got that $232/day figure, though, as defenders of the Home pointed out, it didn't use all the facilities either.

It was Sam Clemens who said "Figures don't lie, but liars figure". It is notable that he is widely considered to have become a bitter, disillusioned old man, while people think Nostradamus was a seer.

• Meanwhile, the Children's Guardian Home, an Indianapolis facility housing abused and neglected children, as well as those awaiting juvenile court decisions for minor crimes, will close June 30, the victim of, uh, property-tax reform. What's to become of the children currently housed there--the courts have been trying to send their charges elsewhere when possible--is unknown at this point. Apparently housing them in the spare bedrooms, ateliers, carriage houses, and slave's quarters of those Property Tax Teabaggers is not considered an option.

• A favored target of Mayor Gomer, who had the misfortune of having $70 million worth of "fluff" in the city budget disappear between his campaign and the time he took office, has been the city's Parks and recreational areas, which are just sitting there giving off useless oxygen much of the year. A recent (publicized) target has been the Ellenberger Park ice skating rink, a twenty-five-year-old facility which the city is proposing to tear down to build a "family center", or, in common parlance, "replace with some cheap-ass picnic tables". Yesterday they used The "News" to get out word of a Publicly Doomed Public Hearing on the plan, and took the opportunity to again have Local Government mouthpieces emphasize the $100,000/year the city is losing on the facility. Fair enough, except they manage, in the next breath, to spit out the fact that this "family center" will cost $3 million (estimated, wink wink), which for some reason engenders neither Tax Revolting Teabag Activity nor someone with enough grade school math to point out that $3 million=30 years of $100,000 deficits.

• Finally, via brave Indiana blogger Doug Masson we learn that Daniels actually surfaced long enough yesterday to eat rubber chicken with the Chamber of Commerce of Southwest Indiana and suggest that the I-69 boondoggle could be reduced in price by ignoring Federal regulations. Daniels also patted himself on the back for having overseen both the disastrous Federal economy and the crumbling Indiana one, which, he pointed out, has greatly increased the number of fly-by-night, corner-cuttin' general contractors who could use the work.

And here's my question: supposing that for some reason you wanted to design a system which would fuck things up even worse than ours has, all the while congratulating itself for all the potential solutions to problems it was creating. Where th' fuck would you even begin?

Tuesday, May 19

Sometimes You Could Almost Get The Impression That Some People Are Only In It For Themselves

Andrew Martin, "Credit Card Industry Aims to Profit From Sterling Payers". May 18

OKAY, I confess: I'm a Deadbeat, or rather, my Poor Wife is, as it's because of her our credit card bill gets paid every "month", wink wink, since the Credit Card Calendar month, which has been shrinking faster than my aged Mother, has reached twenty-five days, meaning one could now extrapolate to the point where the time required to print and mail a bill will exceed the billing period, and clocks, and major rivers, will begin running backwards. (This is the same sort of Perfect-Market-driven absurdity on display when the late great Stephen Jay Gould calculated the ETA of the weightless Hershey bar.) If the bills were left to my indolent ass there's an issuer out there who'd still be looking for the money for my first Betamax. I'll show you fucking Deadbeat, motherfucker. Just so we understand I'm not making a moral argument here, anymore than I expect all those public Catholics who just left South Bend with nothing to do to suddenly chime in on the Pope-endorsed evils of usury.

No, we're Deadbeats because over the past twenty years we've paid our bills on time, and our poor card issuer has been forced to subsist on merchant interchange fees, authorization fees, batch processing fees, monthly merchant account minimum charges, statement fees, early termination fees, chargeback fees, customer service fees, card insurance, and whatever they've earned, I mean "earned", selling my personal information to all comers. God knows it's been weighing on me heavily. Each month I half-expect to find an enclosed flyer, in Helvetica All Caps Extra Bold, announcing their upcoming Yard Sale.
Now Congress is moving to limit the penalties on riskier borrowers, who have become a prime source of billions of dollars in fee revenue for the industry. And to make up for lost income, the card companies are going after those people with sterling credit.

Banks are expected to look at reviving annual fees, curtailing cash-back and other rewards programs and charging interest immediately on a purchase instead of allowing a grace period of weeks, according to bank officials and trade groups.

Y'know what? Bring it th' fuck on, motherfuckers. Let's see which of us can live without the other. I never asked for any goddam perks and I've never used any; take 'em away. The minute you try to charge me an annual fee I'll find someone else who won't, and the minute you charge me immediate interest the shredded pieces of the card come back to you.
The legislation scheduled for a Senate vote on Tuesday does not cap interest rates,

There's a shocker.
so banks can continue to lift them, albeit at a slower pace and with greater disclosure.

Y'know, back in the Old Days, when Republicans thought they had to pretend to care about working people in order to get votes, and when Democrats actually did care, to some extent, the "Conservative" tag line was "unintended consequences". Sure, we all want to help the underprivileged, but those unintended consequences keep tripping us up. You still see this sort of thing occasionally, in the words of Jonah Goldberg or other morons raised on the talking points of their parents' era. Of course at the time no one on the Anti-Fluoridation Right actually imagined they'd ever have to govern a country where a large percentage of the population was literate, and shit-throwing looked like one sweet, sweet neverending Ride. And now what we see are the intended consequences of Reaganism, the idea that a temporary electoral advantage could be gained with the help of Big Money, at a cost of allowing Big Money to go on the All-Lard Milkshake Freedom Diet it kept insisting it needed to grow bigger and stronger. And now--quel surprise!--it needs those 3500 calories per sip just to stay alive, and threatens to foul itself (again) unless we cough up.
“There will be one-size-fits-all pricing, and as a result, you’ll see the industry will be more egalitarian in terms of its revenue base,” said David Robertson, publisher of the Nilson Report, which tracks the credit card business.

People who routinely pay off their credit card balances have been enjoying the equivalent of a free ride, he said, because many have not had to pay an annual fee even as they collect points for air travel and other perks.

“Despite all the terrible things that have been said, you’re making out like a bandit,” he said. “That’s a third of credit card customers, 50 million people who have gotten a great deal.”

You're making out like a bandit! says fucking Calico Jack. I wanna see my bank try that one on as its new advertising slogan.
Robert Hammer, an industry consultant, said the legislation might have the broad effect of encouraging card issuers to become ever more reliant on fees from marginal customers as well as creditworthy cardholders — “deadbeats” in industry parlance, because they generate scant fee revenue.

“They aren’t charities. They have shareholders to report to,” he said, referring to banks and credit card companies. “Whatever is left in the model to work from, they will start to maneuver.”

Y'know, I'm pretty sure Citibank and Bank of America have had shareholders to report to all along. Though I suppose belated concern may be better than none, if you're desperate enough.
Banks used to give credit cards only to the best consumers and charge them a flat interest rate of about 20 percent and an annual fee. But with the relaxing of usury laws in some states, and the ready availability of credit scores in the late 1980s, banks began offering cards with a variety of different interest rates and fees, tying the pricing to the credit risk of the cardholder.

I'm a bit pressed for time, and my quick Google search didn't turn up a definitive answer, but I'm still calling bullshit based on what's left of my memory. I got my first credit card in the late 70s, and I might have paid an annual fee the first year, but no more than that. I will guarantee you that the annual interest rate was no more than 18%, which the most allowed under Indiana law at the time (that's another little lagniappe the usurers have been granted in the interim; the elimination of most of the troublesome state-by-state interest regulations), and my recollection is that it was actually something like 16%. In fact the argument in the early Reagan period was that with (artificially induced) double-digit interest rates our poor credit issuers couldn't make a dishonest buck; when rates plummeted again, and stayed low, no one asked for any comparable reduction, and I don't recall anybody junkmailing me an offer with one. Boy, today is just full of surprises, huh?
Austan Goolsbee, an economic adviser to President Obama, said that while the credit card industry had the right to make a reasonable profit as long as its contracts were in plain language and rule-breakers were held accountable, its current practices were akin to “a series of carjackings.”

“The card industry is giving the argument that if you didn’t want to be carjacked, why weren’t you locking your doors or taking a different road?” Mr. Goolsbee said.

Tell ya what, Mr. Goolsbee--wait, wasn't "Goolsbee" the third cartoon monster cereal spokesman, along with Frankenberry and Count Chocula? Goolsberry™, with Partly Decomposed Miniature Marshmallows?--uh, tell you what, sir, at this point I'll believe your boss when his ass is in the chair vetoing any legislation that doesn't include interest caps and the elimination of hidden fees. I could care less how he characterizes their extortion demands in the meantime.

Monday, May 18

For Those Of You Keeping Score, We're Now Entering The "We Weren't Allowed To Win" Phase

Frank Rich, "Obama Can't Turn the Page on Bush". May 17

A COUPLE weeks ago I watched "Richard Thompson--A Solitary Life" from BBC Four, which someone was kind enough to upload to the YouTube. And at one point his ex-wife Linda is asked about "The End of the Rainbow", a typically cheery little lullaby Thompson had written around the time their first child was born, wherein the unknown narrator takes it upon himself to explain to a suckling that life is shit once you leave the nursery. The refrain:

Life seems so rosy in the cradle,
But I'll be your friend, I'll tell you what's in store.
There's nothin' at the end of the rainbow.
There's nothin' to grow up for anymore.

And Linda talks about how people would come up to her and ask if she was insulted that her husband would say such horrible things about their child. And she says something along the lines of I just don't understand how these people think.

Now, I don't know who was cornering Linda at the time, but I do remember more than one reviewer saying the same thing: Oh, look, this guy's just had a child and he writes this dismal stuff about it. (One should note here that even on the most simplistic level--the magic realm where "Something in the Air Tonight" recounts Phil Collins watching someone drown, "Lord Help Me Jesus" announced Kris Kristofferson's Born-Again conversion, and Randy Newman hated people of less than average height--the babe in question cannot be Thompson's, or anyone else's, first-born. And I remember thinking the same thing: does your mind always work this way? If you have to see the song as autobiographical--did you also imagine he was a traveling tinsmith whose race horse had been poisoned?--why isn't it from the opposite--let's say logical--tack? "Despite his unflinching look at the dismal side of life, Thompson and his wife recently had their first child"?

Which brings us to the torture story, and its central mystery: What did Nancy Pelosi know, and why did she lie about it?

Yes, Virginia, it's Frank Rich:
Until there is true transparency and true accountability, revelations of that unresolved eight-year nightmare will keep raining down drip by drip, disrupting the new administration’s high ambitions.

That’s why the president’s flip-flop on the release of detainee abuse photos — whatever his motivation — is a fool’s errand. The pictures will eventually emerge anyway, either because of leaks (if they haven’t started already) or because the federal appeals court decision upholding their release remains in force. And here’s a bet: These images will not prove the most shocking evidence of Bush administration sins still to come.

Well, I have no idea who'd bet against Bush administration depravity at this point, but I know who was doing so at the time: Judith Miller and the front page of The Liberal New York Times. This is not a demand for you to wear the hairshirt, Frank; I hope you've decided that for yourself, after the 2000 elections. But it is a sense of my problem with the whole enterprise here. How in the world did anyone imagine that Al Gore's earthtones and sighs trumped George W. Bush's obvious Adult Onset Fetal Alcohol Syndrome? How'd anyone believe that "Saddam" was about to plunge us into nuclear conflict, or that that little Judy Miller/Dick Cheney pas de deux wasn't staged?

I sure won't bet against yet untold, even unimagined Bush administration depravity, whether it comes to light or no; but I will continue to insist, until someone suggests a better explanation for the whole Iraq disaster, that the operation was planned in 1999, roughly from the moment the ascendant neocons anointed George W. Bush their idiot king, and set for 2003, all for political reasons. And that the Bush administration did not just sanction torture, it sanctioned torture for its own sake. These are the same people who were willing to spend American lives for the sake of reelection; they were willing to short-change the "righteous" mission in Afghanistan just two months in in order to prosecute what they imagined was going to be an even bigger crowd pleaser. None of this is speculation. Speculation concerns our anemic attempt to "get bin-Laden", our treatment of his entire family as if they had diplomatic immunity, and the Cheney/Haliburton/war profiteering connection. The conduct of the Iraq war, and the reasons behind our torturing persons in our custody may, like everything else in life, lack metaphysical certainty, but they are not therefore open to endless intro course epistemology essays. There's only one way to look at it, absent some earth-shaking justification that even Dick Cheney hasn't been able to confabulate to this point. If there's really a justification for torture, then Nancy Pelosi shouldn't be on the front page of the Times. Simple as that. In the meantime it is intellectually perverse to maintain otherwise, and intellectually perversity can only be at the service of the war criminals of the Bush administration, one of whom is still running around loose and getting his "viewpoint" aired as though there were some nuance in waterboarding technique the rest of us were missing. There were doctors present!
[Texan journalist Robert] Draper’s biggest find is a collection of daily cover sheets that Rumsfeld approved for the Secretary of Defense Worldwide Intelligence Update, a highly classified digest prepared for a tiny audience, including the president, and often delivered by hand to the White House by the defense secretary himself. These cover sheets greeted Bush each day with triumphal color photos of the war headlined by biblical quotations. GQ is posting 11 of them, and they are seriously creepy.

Take the one dated April 3, 2003, two weeks into the invasion, just as Shock and Awe hit its first potholes. Two days earlier, on April 1, a panicky Pentagon had begun spreading its hyped, fictional account of the rescue of Pvt. Jessica Lynch to distract from troubling news of setbacks. On April 2, Gen. Joseph Hoar, the commander in chief of the United States Central Command from 1991-94, had declared on the Times Op-Ed page that Rumsfeld had sent too few troops to Iraq. And so the Worldwide Intelligence Update for April 3 bullied Bush with Joshua 1:9: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Including, as it happened, into a quagmire.)

What’s up with that? As Draper writes, Rumsfeld is not known for ostentatious displays of piety. He was cynically playing the religious angle to seduce and manipulate a president who frequently quoted the Bible.

C'mon. Easily manipulated George W. Bush may have been, provided you were urging him to continue moving in the direction he'd been moving in since his TANG days, at least. But the Iraq War as a consequence of some cynical Old Testament mumbo-jumbo? Why would a cynical man believe in the sincerity of Bush's "deep religious convictions"? When did Jebus ever turn Bush away from behaving as he always did? Did He get him to quit drinking, or was religion a convenient way to stop all the questions about his "youthful indiscretions" after the fact? What essential, spiritual difference is there between George W. Bush, drunken overripe frat boy, and George W. Bush, President of the United States?

The simpler explanation is that the cynical manipulation, promotional piety, and the theological certitude that one's tiniest synaptic event is endorsed by the Creator of the Universe all arise mutually. Cynical religious manipulation is a hallmark of this party since Reagan; George W. Bush was not its bumpkinish victim but the latest in its line of bumptious patent medicine salesmen, and it's no surprise that Don Rumsfeld spoke fluent Pharisee. If we'd start asking the right questions maybe we wouldn't have to wait for events to overwhelm the political timidity of the current President.

Friday, May 15

In Other News, I See Their Point. We Sure Don't Want People We Invaded And Occupied For A Decade To Start Thinking Ill Of Us.

[John Gizzi's "side" of the story; Bill Plante's. If you spot the tiniest suggestion that either man ever senses, for a moment, that "boundless" is perhaps the wrong selection for his Ego size, please let me know where. Plante doesn't even get Gibbs' gag about his suit; that, or I didn't.]

HERE, in no particular order, Shit That Pisses Me Off About Ringtonegate, other than The Very Existence of Cell Phones:

• The suggestion, made by working members of the White House Press Gaggle, that this was unfortunately going to wind up as the lead story everywhere, thus obscuring the substantive discussion they'd been having about the torture pics. As though 1) they're interested in substance; 2) they're determined to get to the bottom of this torture business, once and for all; 3) they're somehow not a part of, or partly responsible for, the news-o-tainment biz; and 4) that there's a man jack among 'em who wouldn't walk over his own grandmother, in boots made out of Chuck Colson's grandmother, to get a similar story. Except Bill Plante, who actually dated Chuck Colson's grandmother when he was a young, eager, cub reporter covering the race to complete the trans-continental railroad, and she a traveling saloon "singer".

• That these middle-aged (except Bill Plante) motherfuckers can't be bothered to behave any better than tweenies at the Mall. I think you can be certain that 98% of the cell phones in that room were there for the exact same reason the Postmaster General of the United States has a security detail.

• That Gizzi--already a public offender--gets not one but two calls from his editor (he says), about a deadline (he says). For Human Events Online? What's the deadline? Was there going be a huge chunk of unexplained white space on the internets? Were Human Events readers going to be forced to re-read "The Liberal Fatwa Against Miss California" or the insightful analyses of Chuck Norris, Michelle Malkin, or Ben Shapiro? How many Conservative Undergrounders dialed up Human Events at 2:30 PM Eastern, jonesin' for the sweet stab of a Gizzi mainline, only to be met with "Brit Hume Honored By Phillips Foundation"? What? I read that yesterday! Where's my fucking stuff? Were they paying the pressmen overtime to wait on his copy? For that matter, this was the story Gizzi wound up writing about, including the de rigueur moans about the "intense" session it had unfortunately overshadowed.

• Bill Plante. He's seventy years old, he's been at CBS since Edward R. Murrow sampled his first Lucky, and he's covered inside Washington for over thirty years, including as White House Correspondent for every administration since Reagan's except Bush I, when he was at State. So the real question here is Bill Plante has sources? What for? So we get a more fully nuanced forty-second recap of the Press Corps CW whenever Katie tosses to him? Here is one of the few English sentences one is secure in believing have never been uttered before: "Wow, what a scoop for Bill Plante!" Followed by "I wonder who his sources are?"

• That, being judge, jury, and defense attorney, they get to explain to us that This Is Small Potatoes, despite the fact that most anyone who's ever attempted monogamy knows it's the small arrogances that talk the loudest.

• By the way, ten bucks says Plante's source had word of a cancellation at City Zen or Michel Richard Citronelle, which meant "Plante, Party of Six" was now down for 8:45.

Wednesday, May 13

Which Brings Up The Question: How'd The Times Ever Let Bill Kristol Get Away?

Ross "Linkmaster R" Douthat, "Faking Left". circa May 11

A COUPLE things to begin. One, I went looking for Douthat between late Sunday night and yesterday morning, when I finally caught up with him, because I really wanted to see where he thought he'd go after writing the same (and ostensibly Times'-liberal-readership satisfyin') column about The Future of "Conservatism" twice in a row, and I'll admit that when I couldn't find him all Monday I harbored the amorphous idea that all concerned had read his third effort and decided to Call The Whole Thing Off. Though Experience, of course, said the opposite. I was, and am, curious to see how Ross is going to type his way out of his dilemma, which is that he's a talentless wingnut hack, up from the Moral Scold Division, who managed to convince someone he's a thinker by getting his name on a Wither Republicanism? book before most of the other talentless wingnut hacks thought to do the same, and he now finds himself in a place where he's actually being read. And, unlike Kristol, he probably needs the paycheck. He couldn't ignore Jebus for long (could he?), but even at one column per week explaining his superior grasp of Select Bronze Age Theology is gonna wear thin in a twelvemonth (though here, again, Mnemosyne aims an arthritic digit at the collected columns of David Brooks, and cackles).

This betrays my bias towards content,which they don't exactly share at the Gray Lady, where, for example, they hired Ross Douthat, and where, a couple years back, they announced that they'd Learned Their Lesson and would now regularly publish odes to what the typical Times editor imagined as the sincere religious feeling of The Land Beyond The Hudson, accompanied by photos of somber church interiors or praying parishioners washed with lambent light. I confess (sorry) I don't follow such things, so I'm not sure just how exponentially this increased Times readership here in the Sticks. How's their business doing?

Then again, it might be that someone at the Times just said, "Aw, fuck it", justifiably, or they might have imagined the 29-year-old Douthat couldn't afford to remain a back-bencher for the Washington Generals the rest of his career and would have to reach some Middle-aged accommodation with "reality" after Obama's reelection. Two things argue against the latter: one, we're not exactly talking about a vein of high-quality marble here; more like possible food-grade plastic, and two, the goddam incontinent linkage shit.

I miscounted, yesterday, mostly because whoever is actually creating the links likes to highlight entire phrase structures, punctuation and all, which tends, at least at my visual acuity level, to raise the question of whether you're dealing with one, two, or sixteen separate linkages. So it wasn't eighteen, but a mere seventeen, which means he fell one shy of doubling the already gaudy career numbers he'd racked up in just two columns. Obviously this is someone's--maybe Douthat himself's--idea of how one draws the desired Internet-savy 18-29 demo, namely, with unchartable heaps of madding post-literacy. Seventeen fucking links, and, as promised, I opened every last one. "Obama's admirers nurse a persistent hope" (three links) takes you to, in order, Andrew Sullivan, Peter Beinart, and Frank Rich--any of whom, despite a generalized antipathy, I'd rather read than Ross Douthat--and god knows how many words, just to prove to us, assuming it does, that there are people out there who hope Obama will end the "Culture Wars" in their own favor, and at least one of them is Gay. Reader, we are fourteen words in. I had professors of European extraction who didn't give me reading lists like that. Have you in any way, shape, or form, actually considered what it is you're accomplishing? Is it supposed to confer legitimacy to your claim, or the subsequent "analysis"? Because it fails on both counts.

(And it doesn't get much better: a couple links go to polls to back up some contention or other, and one to a Hoover Institution paper that's quoted. Okey dokey. The rest might as well link to hipster t-shirt sites. Only some internet wise-ass would open all these, and then just to advance the general merriment attending "conservatism's" slow death. No one in his right minds says, "Y'know, I thought Douthat had a decent point, but he failed to back it up with three links, so no sale." Not that anyone in his right mind would read him in the first place.)

Maybe you should spend a little more time polishing your rhetoric:
Among their many aspirations for his presidency, Barack Obama’s admirers nurse a persistent hope that he might be able to end the culture wars. And by end, they generally mean win. The real hope is a final victory for cultural liberalism, and social conservatism’s permanent eclipse.

These hopes are overstated, but not necessarily irrational. Four months in, the Obama administration does seem to have a plausible strategy for turning the “social issues” to liberalism’s advantage. The outline is simple: Engage on abortion, and punt on gay rights.

C'mon. First, you might wanna have someone check that log in your eye. Most people don't give a fuck about your Culture War; of those who do, most are on your side, and most are utterly irretractable and proud of it. People on the other side may believe just as fervently, but they aren't trying to crush you (though more's the pity) or force you to gay marry an abortionist. They want your professional meddlesomeness to end at the church door.

And they've defeated you, resoundingly, twice, so why shouldn't they expect, or at least hope, you return to the permanent 20% status you managed to obscure for a generation without, it should be noted, ever accomplishing anything beyond obstructionism. Thirty years-- gratefully--after Reagan, there's no School Prayer amendment, no reversal of Roe, no rollback of televised "smut" or internet porn, no cultural sea-change thanks to abstinence education. You've got Gay Marriage to rile up the bigots, but that's all it does; you don't even have an argument in place. You had the power to obstruct, to the extent that you wagged the Republican dog; now you don't, and the dog's done with huntin'. You've lost, and you lost because real people don't agree with you.
The punting has been obvious. On the campaign trail, Obama promised to repeal the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. He still intends to — but not yet, not yet. He said he supported federal recognition for civil unions. His administration has ignored the issue. He backed repealing the Defense of Marriage Act. Don’t expect that to come up for a vote any time soon.

The engagement with pro-lifers, thus far, has been limited to putting a conciliatory gloss on the usual pro-choice policymaking. But a formal outreach effort is in the works. The White House is hosting meetings seeking common ground on abortion, promising policy proposals geared toward abortion reduction by this summer.

Okay, again, get your eyes checked, Ross, and not just by a priest. You see anyone to the right of the Catholic hierarchy as the enemy; gay and women's rights advocates see the Democrats as the far safer harbor of the two parties, but not as their earthly intercessors. These are not giddy schoolchildren enamored of President Cool. They're hard-nosed hardball players, and they're not about to see reproductive freedoms handed over at some White House political confab, not that they could be. You ought at least to be honest enough to give Obama a chance to hoodwink you the way you let the GOP do for forty years. (And everyone's in favor of reducing the number of abortions. It's just that not everyone falls for your rhetoric. As the last two elections show.)
Nothing that emerges from this White House is going to look like a genuine legal compromise — which would require the rollback of Roe’s near-absolute guarantee of abortion rights, and a move, at the very least, toward the restrictions on second-trimester abortions that roughly two-thirds of American support.

Oh, so now you've got a compromise position, one which merely requires the majority to accede to the moral superiority of your own, minority, position? Can we have the weekend to think it over?

But if Obama’s abortion-reduction proposals owe more to Democrats For Life than to Planned Parenthood, there are abortion opponents who will seize even that thin straw as a sign of progress. And the Democratic Party will have a chance to peel off more votes from one of conservatism’s crucial constituencies.

Right. And it should only cost the votes of a few million Disorganized Women for Being Treated As First-Class Citizens Under The Law, Not Under The Heel of the Highly Desired Republican Vile Spewing Anti-Choice voting bloc, now so suddenly willing to compromise, sez you. Jesus, Ross, you should pardon the expression, you think The Atlantic has reassigned your old desk? Wait here a minute. I'll get the link for you.

Tuesday, May 12

Dumpster Diving

Richard Cohen, "What if Cheney's Right?" May 12

MAYBE it was me, but I swear I checked the Times online three times yesterday, the latest being around 6 PM, for any sign of Ross Douthat. Fruitlessly, you should pardon the expression. And after I'd given up on him, and cyber-space-warped over to see if Richard Cohen was still outraged by Stephen Colbert, he finally turns up, with a May 11 byline and eighteen youth-pleasin' links in tow, or one every 41.7 words. I went over to the office bookshelves to see if I could find anyone who footnoted at that rate. Not Piaget, not Foucault, not my guide to 20th century Court decisions; in desperation I threw out the requirement of actual footnotes and grabbed Steven Weisenburger's annotation to Gravity's Rainbow, which might have reached that rate in spots, with a tail wind, but it'll take some serious counting to see if he sustains it for an entire page.

So, one, I'd already read Cohen, and I'm not going through that for nothing, and, two, I vow here and now to never read Douthat without checking every last fucking one of his hipster links, which probably means not reading him at all. We all must sacrifice in life.

And so Cohen, outraged by neither Colbert nor Wanda, for now; Cohen, outraged because the Obama administration hasn't released the torture documents like Dick Cheney now demands in order to prove what a liar Richard Cohen knows Dick Cheney to be. (That is, now knows him to be.) Because in the back of his "mind" there's a tiny voice telling Cohen that Torture just might work!

This is backed up by two pieces of evidence, neither conclusive, certainly, but which taken together might be called suggestive. For one, it is possible, while acknowledging the lexical and semantic constraints of the English language, to form the words "What" "if" "torture" and "works" into something recognized as a question by a large majority of native speakers; and, two, those dirty, smelly, dogskin-clad liberal bloggers clogging the WaPo gates are convinced that it doesn't. Which by itself is almost sufficient for a Q.E.D.:
In some sense, this is an arcane point since the United States insists it will not torture anymore -- not that, the Bush people quickly add, it ever did. Torture is a moral abomination, and President Obama is right to restate American opposition to it. But where I reserve a soupçon of doubt is over the question of whether "enhanced interrogation techniques" actually work. That they do not is a matter of absolute conviction among those on the political left, who seem to think that the CIA tortured suspected terrorists just for the hell of it.

Now you gotta admit that's the sort of reasoning no mere blogger could produce, but we'd like to mark the 25th appearance of that bizarro-world "the question of torture is moot, since the Obama administration has announced it's not planning any" routine by asking a few questions. The first, perhaps not surprisingly, is, Th' fuck is up with that? Torturing persons in custody violates the laws of the United States of America. It did so all the while the Bush administration was sanctioning it. How does a Presidential directive put the question to rest now? And this violation, not just of our law but of the very foundation of our shared notion of Justice takes place not at a moment of grave threat to Our Very Existence, but because an administration, aided and abetted by mass-market press venality, gets away with elevating a commonplace of cheap action serials to a philosophic quiddity.

[And let us take this moment to note what Cheney obviously knows, but what, having strolled several times through the bog garden of Richard Cohen's "thought", we're convinced he might not: that not only will no undisclosed memo "prove" Cheney's contention, none would ever be sufficient to dispel this nonsense. Viz, appropriately, the Shroud of Turin, which may have had no provenance before its sudden appearance in the 14th century, a shortcoming which was ham-fistedly and retroactively addressed by inventing a connection to the Image of Edessa, despite the minor difficulties that it, too, lacked provenance and was said to be some sort of magical life mask, not a shroud; which conformed, not to 1st century C.E. Jewish burial custom, but to the 14th century European; and which had nearly as many direct competitors in its day as does McDonalds in ours, but which, despite the transparent carnival geek-show aura and the apparent embarrassment of most Roman Catholics with the rudiments of a 20th century secondary education, engendered rabid belief even after being carbon-dated to that same 14th century starting point.]

Seem to think we tortured for the hell of it? Nay, sir, if you can dispel the notion, do so, and not on the abused back of that spavined warhorse, "Dirty Lefty Hippie Bloggers Think So, So It Must Be Wrong". (At this point, sir, we've been right about everything since Henry Hyde took the charge of Clinton Impeachment, Inc., so knock off the partisan rancor and Just A Lucky Guess routines.) What little we think we have learned at this point absolutely supports the idea: that Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded after he'd talked; that experienced CIA interrogators were superseded by the mysteriously-appointed team from Mengele & Starkweather, LLC, which had no interrogation experience whatsoever, but was reasonably adept at turning marginal psychological credentials* into the long-distance control of captive abuse; that the waterboarding of Khalid Sheik Mohammed begins almost immediately after his capture, despite the fact that it is now 18 months since even the Bush administration was able to figure out it needed to watch big buildings and inexplicably off-course jetliners; that the big intel from that one, and the only "foiled plot" the Cheney administration could find to tout that didn't involve cherry bombs and bogus pizza deliveries--the "Library Tower" "plot"--had already been discredited back before it passed its expiration date. For that matter, there's the treatment of Iraqi citizens under US military control, at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere, abuse which was tied to little if any expectation of usable information, and none to any Ticking Time Bomb of Total US Destruction. Yes, these people tortured for the hell of it, though maybe the CIA did so only under orders. We tortured prisoners for the same reason irate 9/11 mobs attacked Sikhs, except without the Stupidity defense. Well, the Abject Stupidity defense, anyway.
Cheney, though, is adamant that the very measures that are now deemed illegal did work and that, furthermore, doing away with them has made the country less safe. Cheney said this most recently on Sunday, on CBS's "Face the Nation." "Those policies were responsible for saving lives," he told Bob Schieffer. In effect, Cheney poses a hard, hard question: Is it more immoral to torture than it is to fail to prevent the deaths of thousands?

It's curious--okay, it isn't curious--how, under the hand of a master punditaster, the argument jumps from one pocket to another so clumsily that a nine-year-old magician would be embarrassed by it. Oh, woe is me! Could torture possibly work? And suddenly when it does it saves thousands. Presumably because millions is considered a mite gaudy.

Not Remarkable, too, then, how the argument shifts its ground again when we turn back to results: not saving thousands in imminent peril, but disrupting plans, which, had they succeeded, would have proven Cheney's point. Assuming, that is, that you accept it in the first place.

What really is remarkable is how grown men are supposedly stumped by a junior-high essay question. Somehow we're all in a quandry over that Ticking Time Bomb, but we're never at a place where torturing the suspect's wife and children would get us the info that saves millions. We're never even at the point where waterboarding fails us, but bolt cutters applied one digit at a time ride to the rescue. It's like The Godfather re-edited so all the violence is off-screen. No, in fact, it is the fact that we try to keep our little kink clean in public which is most suggestive:
Cheney is barking up a storm on the efficacy of what can colloquially be called torture.

Yes, that quaint little colloquialism torture. Not like those nasty partisan bloggers, with their rough talk, and their insistence on calling beatings and animal attacks and multiple scalpel cuts by their real names, and bringing up the fact that colloquial waterboarding is why we colloquially executed other country's war criminals. Which just ruins the fantasy.
In political terms, Cheney has been a free man ever since he eschewed any presidential ambitions. He became the most impolitic of politicians and continues in that role, taking neither a vow of penitence nor a vow of silence in his vice presidential afterlife. He says the issues are too important for him to be, as is traditional, mum.

He is right about that. The run-up to the disastrous Iraq war was notable for its smothering lack of debate. That served us poorly then and it would serve us poorly now if people who know something about the utility, not to mention the morality, of enhanced interrogation techniques keep their mouths shut. The Obama administration ought to call Cheney's bluff, if it is that, and release the memos. If even a stopped clock is right twice a day, this could be Cheney's time.

Oh, right; suddenly we need an open and free-ranging debate, sez Richard Cohen, who--stop me if you've heard this one before--wore out two sets of pom-poms cheering the Iraq war before that became untenable and he had to blame Democratic presidential candidates for falling for Bush's case. Y'know, we not only believe that someone with Cohen's track record is unfit to tout the odds that Cheney may have accidentally been right about something; we think somebody who writes Richard Cohen's column once a week has no moral standing to discuss anyone else's use of torture.

* aren't they all?