Friday, July 31

Random Catastrophes Of A Cold, Unfeeling Universe, As Contemplated By Staring Into The Eyes Of A Chicken

Jonah Goldberg, "Planet Bull's Eye". July 29

ROY points to this thing and laughs; we'd read it, or as much as we could take in a sitting while sober, yesterday via the Indianapolis Racist Beacon (Motto: We Were Wingnuts Back When Wingnuttery Wasn't Cool Was More Like A Localized Outbreak of Scrofula). And, as is sadly far too often the case, we had to reject targeting yet another Goldbergian issuance on the grounds that, well, Fuck the man's a walking encyclopedia of compensatory psychoses, not to mention the Wingnut Sinecure to beat all Sinecures, which makes poking at him over and over again feel like ridiculing contemporary American food pretensions by writing about Mountain Dew™ four times a week.

But that was before we knew there'd be prizes. Mark S. in comments:
I missed this stupidity when I read this earlier today:

Meanwhile, a "deep impact" is a terribly inconvenient threat, partly because it requires making peace with the idea that nature can be conquered.

A copy of Armageddon for anyone who can decipher this sentence.

So here's where we were when we realized a novella was about to break out:

Decipher it? Hell, it's the keys to the Wingnut Kingdom, though you'd want those only to melt 'em down and sell 'em for scrap. And it's filtered through Goldberg, so it's topped with an extra double-dollop of smirky "Who's talking whose lunch money now, liberal fascist hippies?", but here goes:

An inconvenient threat is intended as a sort of informational signal, to let us know a even wittier riposte involving fascist liberals is dead ahead and we should slow our progress to a crawl to enjoy it. Note that Goldberg finds it necessary to sprinkle continually the trail of his writing, or "writing", with breadcrumbs this way, the explanation of which requires delving more deeply into Goldbergian psychology as I'm willing to go without three more cups of coffee. A more mundane observation is that he also belongs to the "if one adjective is funny, seven must be hilarious" school, which may or may not have already been named for Dennis Miller.

Partly because is just in there because the one thing Goldberg seems to've learned in forty years is that he can't unleash simple declarative sentences without a high degree of certainty that he'll be forced to eat them later. We should ignore whatever impulse we have--mostly humanitarian--suggesting these little circumlocutions mean anything, particularly that they mean he's actually equivocal.

The payoff, of course, is making peace with the idea that nature can be conquered, which I grant you is confusing on an almost uncountable number of levels, but which simply refers to that Rose-Golden Age of "conservative" imagining, an amalgam of the 1880s, the 1950s, the seventh Andy Hardy flick in the series, half-slept through on Turner Classics, an admixture of Reagan anecdotes on everything from the unfair tainting of Columbus Day to the banning of Lawn Darts™, and Jim Crow, an era when iron men of Northern European extraction showed half a continent's worth of hardwood forest, not the mention the people who already lived there, what the relentless use of explosives could accomplish if the Can Do Spirit wasn't unfairly regulated by sissies. American "conservatives" have been driven to regard even the suggestion that unfettered rapine in pursuit of profits may have any deleterious effect whatsoever as The Drumbeat of Global Commie Fascism, though, oddly for percussion, only they can hear it. Again, this is filtered through Goldberg, and thus is presented as a sort of culmination of everything from Anti-Fluoridationialism through Dirty Hippies Are Having Miscegenated Sex At Lunch-Counter Sit-Ins, to Jimmy Carter Gave Away Our Canal, which wisdom he received from his parents and never bothered to check on.

So, in short--yes, yes, too late for that (again), Riley!--Jonah Goldberg, born 1969, folks, and hence a completely undeserving beneficiary of the Clean Air and Water Acts, believes it's a libbyliblibrul idea that Puny Man Cannot Control Nature, apparently on no more grounds than the effect turning his thermostat up or down has on his immediate surroundings. Which leads him to produce this sentence, worth repeating the way automobile accidents are worth reconstructing:
Meanwhile, a "deep impact" is a terribly inconvenient threat, partly because it requires making peace with the idea that nature can be conquered.

And as no docent-guided tour of that total vacuity should be allowed to end without directions to the gift shop, let's note that "understanding" that sentence, most of the rest of Goldberg, and that auto-vaunted political philosophy to which is is such a fitting heir, is perhaps the single example of it actually being wiser to look for your keys a block from where you dropped them, on the grounds that the light is better.

Now, the last time I was forced to argue with someone insisting that Mankind could dig his way out of any and every hole its digging created we were interrupted for Recess. It's certainly worth asking how an entire political movement came to believe it was being singled out for oppression by the 20th century, and how that came, in just fifty years' time, to be subsumed by a religious mania for cheap, mass-produced gewgaws and prohibitively expensive military hardware in search of a purpose, or how--even in Goldberg, its most spectacular breeding experiment failure--it comes to enlist scientific expertise in the effort to blow up scientific expertise. But there you are.

Wednesday, July 29

Back Home Again

ITEM the First: A Brief History of Indiana Economics and Government.
19th Century: State manages to bankrupt itself by building a road to Michigan, in part because accurate surveying and accounting, like irrational numbers, are considered Satanic. Early 20th Century: state run by racist crooks. Mid-20th Century: state run by less overtly racist crooks. 1970-close of Century: state run by wildly popular kindly old Country Doctor, who proceeds to surgically remove Hoosier's right to sue for medical malpractice damages (thus becoming the model for Mitch "The Spork" Daniels, Tax Cutter Shifter), and oversees an operation in which practically every state agency is ensnarled in some degree of financial irregularity, while being regarded as Too Principled to have profited personally, and Too Kindly and Elderly to have been expected to know what was going on, thus setting the stage for the Reagan Years; followed by his river town Chamber of Commerce-booster Lt. Governor, who was mostly occupied in keeping his "colorful" wife from driving on the sidewalk during daylight hours; followed by Evan Bayh. This trio of increasingly dismal fiscal "conservatives", coupled with Indiana's longest-serving Senate Sinecure Dick Lugar, and Dan Quayle as the Wacky Neighbor, oversaw the massive hemorrhaging of Indiana's manufacturing base, followed by its eventually replacement by a more modern Theme Restaurant/ Call Center/ Mobile Communication Device Retail Outlet/Regional Corn Beer Distribution-based economy and the loss of every single military facility in the state. This was accomplished in large part, by referring to everything still standing as "World Class". Or so it seemed.

Now, for the sake of time and praeteritio we're going to skip ahead here without mentioning how the bookkeeping tricks which kept Indiana's property taxes low in her agrarian past were declared Unconstitutional in the late 90s, and how the deadline for reforming the system passed, in 2005, under the watchful eye of Entrepreneur-in-Chief and Lifetime Government Teat-Sucking Achievement Third Runner-Up Mitch "I Believe I Clearly Stated At The Time That Indiana Needed An Inspector General To Investigate Past Administrations" Daniels, and a Republican-controlled state legislature, without them doing anything that might, you know, address it, and how they then became Instant Folk Heroes after the wholly-predictable disaster struck by Capping the Tax and Ignoring the Consequences. But it's a funny thing about Consequences: they tend to turn up whether you ignore them or not. It turned out that, despite enthusiastic Media reception of the sixteen months of Daniels re-election campaign ad spot purchases, which touted Indiana's Relative Economic Miracle compared to Michigan, Kentucky, and parts of Illinois, we had a bit of an economic problem, as in massive unemployment ("Still Lower Than Detroit, Overall!"), which affected the state Budget, despite Daniels diving for cover the minute the elections were over. (Fucker was missing for almost five months; compare Mark Sanford.) Those of you living in states where the ability to read is prized even above the ability to blow interlocking smoke rings may find it difficult to understand, but the major problem this gave the Legislature was not tending the immediate needs of a hard-pressed citizenry, but preserving the artificial Budget surplus Daniels wants to run for President on in 2012. To this end The Spork waited until the last days of the legislative session before torpedoing a looming budget which would have modestly increased spending on our Adequate Schools, At Least Through Eighth Grade, and raided a third of the "rainy day fund" on the grounds that it was, well, fucking raining. The he called a Special Session, which had to pass a budget by the end of June or state government would shut down, resulting in wildlife overrunning our parks, Mothers' milk curdling, and raw sewage being dumped into local streams and rivers. Okay, that last part happens anyway.

Daniels backed up his plan by holding Whites Only rallies in Democratic legislative districts. (N.B., the Whites Only business was not by design. That's just the way it turned out. Don't mean to give the wrong impression.) I have to hand it to the man; if he imagined this would work he deserves the credit. Fact is that the Democrats, another term I'm finding it difficult to utter without making air quotes, who were fighting for that meagre increase in Education, decided to cave on the principle that in a crisis it's always a good idea to fall back on What You Do Best. So the only increase in Education spending over the next two years will come from Federal stimulus money, y'know, the stuff that isn't stimulating anything. The stuff that Daniels tried to claim as his own contribution before someone explained to him what the word Contempt means in a legal sense. He already knew about the personal meaning.

So, now the boards of the various state colleges and universities meet to plan their own budgets, and--Keep ahold a' them reins, Pardner--uniformly raise tuitions across the board. This angers the Governor, and the Senate (i.e. Republican) half of the Legislature, whose Budget committee is apparently now permanently in session, as it hauled in the Presidents of all those Fancy Learnin' Academies yesterday and demanded Answers! Preliminary word has it that the main answer, Because you fucks fucking fucked our fucking budget and the money's gotta come from somewhere was not explained to them in exactly that way.

Let's be California, only Crooked instead of Insane! Yes, indeed, we're all too aware that sometime in the 1980s an entire end of the US political spectrum convinced itself that a temporal political advantage it enjoyed was permanent, and that it could be successfully based on separating the consequences of every action from the action itself, provided there was enough of an interval to figure out how to blame the Democrat party. How this was supposed to result in Permanent Majority status is not readily explicable without invoking the shade of Charles Ponzi. At any rate, Consequences seem to have accelerated on their own, and the result is that Daniels' "achievements"--selling the Toll Road to a bankrupt company, "privatizing" Family and Social Services to a company which would probably be improved by bankruptcy, and preserving the Surplus just at the moment everything touched by government starts crumbling--have begun to make Gibbering Like a Head Case About The Sacred Right of Hunting Wolves With Bazookas, Which Our Troops Have Died For look like the smarter route to the 2012 Republican Nomination.

ITEM the Second, (Related): The Capital Improvements Board, which operates a sort of Family and Social Services Agency for Owners of Indianapolis Professional Sports Organizations, and which has proved equally competent, got dumped back in the lap of Republican Mayor Gomer Something, and it looks now as if the only fix is...a Tax Increase! which just happens to be the sort of act that got his sorry ass elected two years ago when everybody voted against his opponent. We can't be sure, because he's junketing in Brazil, where he excitedly told local "news" yesterday, by space phone, that he'd be touring a Landfill later that afternoon. But, for some reason, the remaining, now minority, Democrats on the City County Council seem sorta disinclined to vote for any new taxes to help the guy who roasted them the last time they did (one of those Tax and Spend Socialist Giveaways to the troubled Police and Fire Pension Funds, by the way). Couple that with the relative assurance that there'll be some Republicans on the Council who wouldn't vote for a tax unless it raised their own salaries, and it's time for someone to start bailing.

I mean, is there going to be a point where we get to ask Th' fuck can't voters learn that however much these people talk about principle, they have None and Never Ever Will? By the way, one of the money-saving moves by the CIB in light of the $45 million shortfall was to cut out landscaping their World Headquarters; yesterday, to emphasize the sacrifice, the local hairdos showed us tape of a wilted planter. Fiscal responsibility!

ITEM the Third: More Edumacation. At the urging of Indiana's Bonzai Governor, who chafed visibly when he had to deal with the (Republican) appointed Superintendent of Public Instruction, newly elected State Superintendent Tony "No, I Really Do Support Teaching Standards in Biology. Good Lord, We Aren't Kansas" Bennett has announced--in accordance with Daniels Administration protocols, the night before--proposed sweeping changes in teacher and administrator standards which will be heard by the Indiana Professional Standards Board today. Yet another delightfully Forward Looking Daniels Administration proposal, meaning that anyone who asks for time to read the thing first will be branded as a hayseed, it will address the glaring shortage of qualified teachers caused by archaic rules which now force all those qualified people who are dying to teach school to acquire diplomas first. It would allow insterested non-teachers to become employed non-teachers by passing through a curriculum offered by something called the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence, a Bush administration-seeded non-profit. I've not had time to learn anything about the ABCTE beyond the fact that the name sounds like one of those self-hypnosis-based Bush-era military operation code names, so I apologize for a medical condition which causes me, anytime I hear the words "Bush" and "Non-profit Educational initiative" in the same paragraph to involuntarily search for my wallet. (Not to mention the fact that, of late, "Bush administration" conjures up the exact same image in my head that "uncontainable forty-year-old underground tire fire" does.) The program is already approved for teacher certification in Florida, Idaho, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Utah, and Oklahoma, which I believe means we in Indiana ought to wait for Alabama and Kansas to get on board if we want to go in reverse order of school performance. But then I'm a backward-thinking hayseed.

Other parts of the proposal would reduce the number of hours a student spends in education classes in favor of "core curriculum" courses, and permit Joe Citizen to become a principal, or superintendent, by proving he has the Right Stuff. Let's let Bennett explain:
For instance, a fourth-grade teacher has to teach fractions, percentages and related concepts, Bennett said. Having an outside concentration in math would help ensure that teachers have mastered that subject.

Now, again, I only sleep with a teacher, and although I recommend it, I don't believe it should replace other standards, but What th' fuck? Apart from music, my fourth-grade teacher taught us every last subject: literature, history, science, social studies, health, and kickball come immediately to mind. I'm not quite sure how six hours of college calculus would have improved that, or, conversely, what six hours of college fractions would entail. Not to mention the fact that we've already changed the law so that incoming teachers must now pass competency tests in their areas of specialization, plus Indiana has always been one of the states which require field certification for secondary teaching positions. So, we're relaxing the standards in an effort to improve the quality of teachers? If Bennett's any indication, maybe we should start by requiring a Logic course.
Principals and superintendents now must take courses in school leadership and Indiana school law.

Relaxing those requirements, Bennett said, would allow a district facing serious financial problems to hire a retired corporate CEO for a year to get the books in order.

Okay. Listen, Tony: you and your party might wanna consider serious measures to make the entire population even stupider. Just my 2¢.

Tuesday, July 28

Gee, What's Your Hurry?

Devlin Barrett, "US on verge of closing anthrax probe after 8 years". July 27

I GOTTA admit that after six-and-a-half years of screaming about how quickly the Terrorist Anthrax Attack on America Herself faded from view once it became clear* that it was a Domestic terror attack, I pretty much stopped reading about it myself a year ago, when it became obvious the FBI had pinned the thing on a dead guy. So it was actually new information for me, when I watched Hunting the Anthrax Killer on the National Geographic Network Sunday night, that they'd tumbled onto the late Dr. Ivins because he'd (allegedly) provided a fake sample of the spores he'd been working with, and because the real sample, like the spores used in the attacks, contained silicon, which all the others did not.

The National Academy of Sciences will be reviewing the Bureau's scientific methods, to which we can add only that we wish there was a National Academy of Politically-Motivated Incompetent Police Work, Plus Judith Miller.

Item: it's the largest, most expensive manhunt in history. Item: within days--hours, maybe--of the attacks on Congress they knew it was the Ames strain, and they knew that meant the US was the source. Item: read those notes above--they were written by Arab Terrorists the same way Jonah Goldberg is ghostwritten by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Yes, yes, yes; an investigation that narrows its focus early will frequently live to regret it, but this one had unlimited fucking funding, and it's not like the "foreign power" angle was going to be tossed out on its ear anyway; but at some point, possessing the information that the strain of anthrax used in the attacks was ours, and, so far as we knew, ours alone,** and having read those letters, someone in authority made the decision to continue pumping resources toward proving it was The Ruskies or that Saddam guy, on the grounds that the light was better there. This is not exactly reassuring.

The program reminded us, too, that the focus on Steven Hatfill, like the earlier focus on Ayaad Assaad--though ultimately much more expensive--was entirely the result of Tipster Bingo. Which means that once the lab boys were finished we could have cut costs by reducing the investigation to a couple of secretaries.

Sure, sure, hindsight's 20/20, and I have absolutely no idea what I'm talking about, but look: word that they'd found the Ames strain--and the erroneous story that the Congressional anthrax was "weaponized"--was going around by November, 2001. So were the whispers that when we "stopped" our bioweapons program at Nixon's order in 1969 it didn't mean we, like, stopped or anything. And it's almost precisely at this point that public hysteria--remember, bioweapons was the "active" scare, unamenable to security measures, unlike air travel--disappears, the door slams shut, there's a guard posted, and everyone else sorta wanders away. In December the Baltimore Sun officially breaks the story that the US has an active dry-anthrax (i.e. weapons) program, Tom "Limousine Liberal" Daschle says it looks like someone connected to the US military is responsible, and George W. Bush says "We'll keep you informed as developments arise," which are essentially his last words on the subject, at least until John "Bring Me The Credit Card Overdrafts of 100 Arabic-Sounding Legal Aliens" Ashcroft nails Dr. Hatfill in public. From this point it's difficult to find much reporting on the case except that of the Judith Miller Times, the fun-loving genocidists at WaPo, and the tub-thumpers at The Weekly Standard, whose insistence that it was the work of Saddam & Al-Qaeda, LLC., should have been enough to convince all sane people that it couldn't possibly be. Judy and the Posters were still hawking that angle a year later, even after the spotlight had been turned on Hatfill, and Hoosier Attack Representative Mike Pence had written to Ashcroft, asking if he'd please, please get the investigative focus back on Saddam Hussein?

In other words, just months after the anthrax attacks continued, and amplified, the Justification of the Global War of Civilizations and Shitting Your Pants, the administration's henchmen were lying outright about the case despite its earth-shaking consequences. Our Way of Life hangs in the balance, according the them, and they're busy playing politics (yeah, shocking, I know; but how much worse is the refusal to investigate?). Our own biological weapons program, the one that didn't exist, is effectively ignored when it comes time to consider just how evil Saddam Hussein, bioweapons aspirant, truly is. And it takes six years after completion of the DNA and chemical profiles of the strain to locate it among a finite number of samples in domestic labs, or, coincidentally, just unto the beginning of the next Presidential campaign.

I dunno if it was Ivins. Opinions vary. If the science is to be believed there's more than a strong suggestion from the provenance of his working materials, but it's not my fault the Bureau's lab work is perpetually clouded in suspicion. It is a case where the Lone Nut theory seems plausible. I've got a little problem with the proffered motive--that Ivins' anthrax vaccine was being blamed for Gulf War Syndrome, and was no longer being administered to the troops, and he wanted it reinstated--but then you don't have to prove motive. Whether they could prove the rest of it is moot. But all that's a lot less interesting to me than how the story, and the panic, was manipulated, and how easily it was dropped when the truth hit close to home.

Then again, the other thing that interests me is why Cheri "Home Alone" Daniels, later First Lady of Hoosierland, alone among Cabinet-level Spouses and Miscellaneous Dependents, was mailed a supposedly bulging envelope of what turned out to be talc while her hubby was in D.C. single-handedly wrecking the US economy. But maybe that's just me. And maybe we'll get the answers during the 2012 Presidential campaign, eh Mitch?

*to everyone except Judith Miller and Bill Kristol.

**or everyone except Judith Miller and Bill Kristol.

Monday, July 27

Once More Unto The Gates

SCOTT C., in yesterday's comments, explains what I thought said but didn't, which is that, having put Dr. King on a stamp, society apparently demands in return that no black man express the opinion that any portion of society still harbors, you know, the R Word. Gates is accused--and charges later dropped--of Disturbing the Peace, but it's not the disturbance which makes the "news" but its emotive content, as though he were a drunken Mel Gibson and not a man with several centuries worth of Good Reasons behind him. (Gibson, of course, faced the considerably more serious charge of operating a vehicle while under the influence, but got to use It Was The Liquor Talking as a cover for public anti- Semitism and sexism. The Professional Black Professor will receive no such consideration, as he, like the Latina judge, reveals a deep, permanent character flaw by not being a middle-class white person.) That he is "accusing" the cop, and perhaps all white officers by extension--though not the system, generally--of being a racist, and not of being a cog in institutional racism, is taken as given. And there is no distinction made, even to be rejected; by the evening the story broke Sgt. Crowley had told the papers "I am not a racist", as though that settled things, as though we shouldn't be troubled that the justice system disproportionately falls on minorities, and the poor, and especially African-Americans, so long as every (non-elected) official involved personally attests to his lack of bias, his principled egalitarianism, and his general bonhomie. And coaches Little League.

As though we shouldn't be asking ourselves what "diversity" has brought to the news room.

It's ridiculous, of course. It's ridiculous philosophically--we know, without question, that, under the Aegis or in the tenth row of the mob, people will do things they wouldn't dream of doing--let alone admit they were capable of--face to face, and it's ridiculous experientially and statistically. All we have to do is look at the prison population. Now, maybe it's racism, maybe it's class, maybe it's racism, maybe it's cultural and communications static, maybe it's racism. Whatever it is, "I'm not a racist" is not a defense.

Which--let us be scrupulously fair--Sgt. Crowley may be justified in considering himself accused of, but not in imagining this is all, or even the major, point of contention. Again, we do not presume to know what happened. We do know that Crowley works for the Cambridge PD, and like every other such force in the country, it is, we presume, acutely aware that words to the Press must be chosen carefully. Crowley--or his speechwriters--could have informed us that by temperament, and training, he is certain that race never plays a role in his professional actions. This would have answered the charges, and the presumed personal attack, without doubling down on the Race card, a tactic that answers neither.

We will learn, over the weekend, that Sgt. Crowley was not merely a veteran supervisory officer, but one who was chosen to instruct new recruits in avoiding racial profiling. And we will also learn that, as the "get" of a "sympathetic local pair of radio talk show hosts" (Why?), Crowley will say “Speaking about my mother; it’s just beyond words.”

Game, set, match, and Example #1 of why public employees, especially of the law-enforcement type, should not be out on the hustings talking off the top of their heads (if he is)? I'm old enough that this will always be Playin' the Dozens to me, and something I'll view both in its original cultural context and its later expansion into the popular culture at large. Professor Gates denies having said it:
“I don’t talk about people’s mothers … You could get killed talking about somebody’s mother in the barbershop, let alone with a white police officer … I think they did some historical research, and watched some episodes of ‘Good Times.’ ”

And by now "dozens" may also refer to the number of extra eggs this pudding has received. I always thought it was a matter of context and knowing one's audience; you could get killed for overcooking the Thanksgiving turkey, reaching for your wallet, or being gay in Montana, too. My guess is that Gates felt he was in danger of receiving an Amadou Diallo Special the way Crowley felt like he was about to be rushed.

We will also learn that Gates, despite his non-stop abuse of Sgt. Crowley, seems to have been observing something else as well Via Judith Warner again:
He very likely would not have seen what Gates was sure he saw in Crowley’s face, as the cop scanned the professor’s Harvard ID, trying to take in the fact that the man before him was not an intruder. “He’s trying to unpack a narrative … He was so sure that he had a catch,” Gates recalled to [Sirius Radio's Gayle] King. “That is when everything turned.”

That is what has not been answered, and what needs to be answered, at least so long as Crowley persists in his refusal to apologize and his willingness to keep the issue alive via Press statement and Radio appearance. Okay, you're not a racist. Why didn't you just back away? Why wasn't Gates' ID enough for you? He obviously wasn't burglarizing the house. Just checking a report, sir, sorry to've bothered you. Go back to the station house and tell everyone within earshot what an asshole Mr. Big Shot Professor is. Or wasn't that enough? Why'd you try to lure him outside, more than once? Is there anything else that's "beyond words" when you're in uniform? Questioning your masculinity, your parenting skills, your relationship with a particularly attractive K-9 officer? If so, isn't admitting it in public a bit risky? It's like showing the playground bully exactly where you're ticklish.

Gates has the right to think and say whatever he pleases, Sergeant. You, professionally at least, do not. The field isn't level, but it isn't level by design, because the one man has the right to take the other's freedom away. But the result of a spotlight shown on all this isn't an enshrinement of that (vital) distinction; it's the instantaneous reduction of the thing to a public pissing match, and one in which the underlying theme is "a black man complaining about racism must be suspected, at least, of making the whole thing up", of gaming a system that's already So Unfair to White People, instead of being someone who has a legitimate reason to see things that way, even if he's myopic about it. While the cops do not, or should not, have that privilege.

So what we meant is that it is apparently unthinkable, despite our having "moved on" about Race, that Gates' charges could be more than theoretically correct. He is, as a black man and a scholar, permitted an intimate familiarity with the history of institutionalized racism (insert recent headline-making example here), but that is supposed to end in the abstract. Stopped by the police--including in a case where most white commenters are obliged to admit they would have felt such pressure directed at them, in their own homes, to be excessive, and threatening, even if they insist they'd have remained polite--Gates is supposed to demonstrate a middle-class white attitude as the default position. Like Dr. Johnson, Dr. Gates can kick the rock--and the Press will helpfully allow he Has A Point--but he's not supposed to draw any real conclusions about it.

Saturday, July 25

I'm Sorry, But Doesn't That Actually Settle The Issue? Vol. LVIII

Michael Wilson and Solomon Moore, "As Officers Face Heated Words, Their Tactics Vary". July 24

FIRST, it's certainly gratifying to see the old Clinton Rapid Response technique back in action; it's just too bad that instead of fighting the Right Wing Noise Machine (Now 20% Noisier!) it's now activated by the Presidential loafer lodging in his mouth. The man perfected Instapology™ technology during the campaign, if you'll recall. And maybe the ensuing small modification of the reaction ("The President has apologized. But the issue his original comments raise is...") will eventually undermine the entire structure, if he can wait twenty years. Or maybe they should start working on not needing it.

Okay, fine, the man has a lot on his mind, but, honestly, you have to wonder who these DLC types think they're dealing with on the Right, and what they imagine the stench coming from the Press Corps is if not putrefaction. I know, you can't treat either of them precisely the way they should be treated--though that didn't stop Cheney from theorizing about it, mutatis mutandis--but, c'mon, a politician who hasn't mastered the three-paragraph No Comment isn't spending enough time on the Basics.

And not even I would have said "the police acted stupidly". One officer acted aggressively, provocatively (that "bad acoustics" and "would you step outside, sir" routine has drawn little comment, but it's probably damning enough to have gotten the case tossed on its own, provided the defense attorney had a fighting shot at literacy, and depending on how badly someone wanted to fuck with you). Bad day, bad cop, or public servant driven beyond reasonable levels of endurance, we don't know. We do know a little more than what people are saying, though.
The police say Professor Gates was arrested and briefly charged with disorderly conduct after he ignored warnings to stop haranguing an officer who had asked him for identification inside his home.

Though Professor Gates said he was not abusive and was the victim of racism, the police report said he told Sgt. James M. Crowley, “I’ll speak with your mama outside.”

Yo' Mama! It is, by the way, one of three complete sentences Sgt. Crowley's incident report quotes--the other two being Gates' refusal to produce his information, and his claim that "This is what happens to black men in America,"--and the only one he quotes from their one-on-one inside Gates' house. Did Crowley miss the point? Did the two Times reporters? Is it possible? Can a supervising white officer really think every Yo' Mama is directed at his cardigan-wrapped Grey Haired Mother Dear, knitting away next to the expectant bowl of Werther's Originals? Especially when, as here, the context is unmistakable? The earnest spectator hopes he'll get the chance to explain in the civil proceedings. But, then, the earnest spectator armed with badge, sidearm, nightstick, mace, and the power to arrest, and confronted by a hobbling 58-year-old topping out at about five-and-one-half feet, would probably have laughed, and encouraged the man to enjoy the rest of his day as he worked his way back out the front door.
Several officers interviewed in four cities on Friday said they tried to ignore such remarks. Others said they had zero tolerance for being treated disrespectfully in public.

And in public, we would think, is a place where they'd spend little actual time if they were constantly perp-walking and filling in paperwork on anyone who said something cross to 'em.
A mounted police officer who has been with the Los Angeles Police Department for 25 years said that taking verbal abuse was a regular part of his job.

“We don’t get to tell people what they want to hear,” said the Los Angeles officer, who, like others interviewed for this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid being quoted on duty. “Whether we’re giving them a ticket or responding to some conflict between a husband and wife, we’re not dealing with people at their best, and if you don’t have a tough skin, then you shouldn’t be a cop.”

Thank you, officer. Though we would note that it's probably a little easier when you're sitting atop 1200 pounds of witless beast trained to shove people out of its way.
But in Brooklyn, a 24-year-old officer, with three years on the force, seemed less inclined to walk away from verbal abuse.

“We say, ‘Back down,’ ” he said. “If they don’t back down and start making direct threats, that’s an offense. They don’t get a free pass.”

He said that threats could be defined in different ways, and he preferred to talk people down, but that the rules changed if a crowd formed, which was routine in New York and also occurred during the Gates incident.

Okay. But one suspects that the "crowd" Sgt. Crowley engineered in Cambridge was, at minimum, a bit too polysyllabic to be mistaken for your average threatening mob.

So, despite the standard Ignore the Context, Explain Why This Is Controversial Anyway routine, haven't we--worst case scenario, really--already explained why Professor Gates was correct, even if he was disorderly? If the "law" is However the Individual Cop You Draw Reacts then he's got every right--rhetorical and historical--to suggest he was being treated unfairly, and too bad if Sgt. Crowley doesn't like the implication. If the standard is Back Down When You're Told To Back Down--which is at least clear--then he still has the right to object that it was applied too quickly, or unfairly, provided he's willing to face arrest. Willingness to be arrested, whether to prove a point, get a dry place to sleep, or just for the hell of it, is not itself a crime.

This is why we'd like to see the President stay out of it, and to suggest to the Press that it gather the facts instead of plugging the Script. The reaction he fans--Played the Race Card! Cop Doing His Job! Not A Racist!--is excuse-mongering for an incident that never should have happened; and instead of a He Said/He Said with side order of Race, we ought to be noting here that the two sides are unequal, and that the Police do not have the right to take offense, or, rather, that they do not have the right to let offense drive the response, but that they are merely in a position to do so and blame it on the acoustics, something they are not supposed to be allowed to get away with with impunity. And I say that as someone who, had he law enforcement powers, would automatically reach for the nightstick the minute anyone--black, brown, white or ecru--told me I "didn't know who I was dealing with." Hell, I consider reaching for the hard salami every time someone pulls that attitude in the deli line. But cops cannot. It ain't about "who" Henry Louis Gates is; that's just the reason we heard about it. It's not even about a cop overreacting, really. It's about the fact that it's still impossible, in 2009, for a black man to believe he was being treated unequally by the police without being accused of saying so just to gain an unfair advantage. Newspapers ought to know better, even if they see their mission as flame accelerant and not the firehose of truth; for the police it's not supposed to be an option.

Thursday, July 23

Well, Thanks For Sharing

Jonathan Saltzman and Erica Noonan, "Officer in Gates case says he won't apologize". July 22

I'M a civil rights absolutist--or what I like to call "an American"--but I'm also a Midwesterner, so I believe in polite, twice over, to cops, parents of small children, even disc jockeys, while expecting the same against all reasonable historical evidence.

Now, being an absolutist doesn't mean I have to think everyone's innocent until conviction, after which I get to pile on; it means they're entitled to my presuming their innocence before the Bar. I have no idea whether Professor Gates became disorderly and "disruptive", whatever that means (Police report, which the Globe scrubbed, is here.) Dunno if he threw open his unstuck door and called Sergeant Crowley a racist, or if he started in with the sorry-assed "You don't know who you're dealing with" routine, though, for the sake of someone who wants to take offense at being racially profiled, I hope not. Dunno if he was jet-lagged, drunk, medicated, or cranky. Dunno if the sales job that Incident Report tries to do is legitimate or suggestive.

What I do know is that Gates has the right to be obnoxious, should he decide that's a good idea, and a peace officer has the power to arrest and the right to lie as when, to chose an entirely hypothetical example, he asks an irate citizen to step outside his domicile and continue yelling in order to draw a crowd that interferes with the officer's performance, and blames it on "accoustics". The facts are obscured; the general outline--Gates pisses off cop, cop runs him in in retaliation--can be glimpsed through the fog; charges are dropped (read: Gates wins, read: never should have reached that point).

And leave us depart from Rashomon meets In The Heat Of The Night here and suggest that you receive a report of "two [black] men trying to break into a house", and you determine that there was no break-in, and that one of the men was the homeowner, the other his cabbie, then you bear the responsibility for the thing managing to wind up on the national news that evening anyhow. Police work, like bartending and network teevee programming, is all about how far you cooperate with assholes. (I gotta tell you, Sergeant, that if "Suspect refused to get the non-verbal message when I flashed my cuffs" is part of the department standards your Association says you live by, I personally would like to see them augmented by "biceps flexing in shirt-sleeve weather" or "cracking walnuts in the fist, where possible".)

And, look: whoever took the last sheet of toilet paper should replace the roll. That's the situation you guys are in, and I know you resent it, because I watch The Closer*. Get yourself some professional PR help. Do not say "I'm not a racist". That's what racists say.

The Globe, our dedicated story scrubber, does its best to help:
A father of three who coaches youth basketball and plays on a local softball team, Crowley declined to comment in the afternoon, but spoke to a Globe reporter this evening.

"The officer, who admits he "bawled like a baby when Old Yeller died," said..."
One of Crowley's neighbors, Ed Shagory, a retired attorney, said he has been friends with Crowley and his family for more than 17 years.

He said he was upset about the criticism levied against his friend, whom he supports in the dispute. "I think the world of him and his family," Shagory said.

He said he was disturbed by the intense worldwide, often sensational, media coverage on the case. His daughter, serving in Iraq, even read about the news, Shagory said.

Good Lord. The terrorists have won.

Nice attempt. I think you should have used a bigger trowel, but then I'm no professional; my one semester of Journalism was so long ago I remember the professor saying that shit that had no fucking connection whatsoever to the story was supposed to be left out. But I'm just wondering how much longer ham-fisted reverse racism charges are going to fly, via pseudo-crypto Birther pandering and faux-analysis of what was "decided" in Ricci, in our coming Post-Racial Age. Not that the Globe will be around to see it, but Scary Black Man Cries Racism would seem to have a dwindling appeal, and the expectation that the Police, Corporate America, and even, yes, the Republican Party might reach the point where they got entangled in such messes only by accident, not design, are rising. Dunno who's at fault. Maybe both, maybe nobody, really. Dunno if Sgt. Crowley would have behaved differently with a white suspect, but I know that his Many Fine Personal Attributes have nothing whatsoever to do with the reality of racial profiling, in this case or in every last one of 'em. And I don't know, but I suspect, that if the arrestee had been a newspaper reporter for a Tottering Metropolitan Daily, Crowley's kindness to old people and injured wildlife would have been, uh, less newsworthy.

* God help us, appending soap-opera "personal" storylines is apparently as essential to teevee policiers as bolted-on tits are to pole dancing, but do we have to have the Ambitious Professional Rival combined with The Conniving Other Woman, the Evil, Unscrupulous Internal Affairs Officer, and The Paragon of Bleeding Heart Concern For Everyone's Rights Except The Victim's, Even When It's Gunned-Down Cops like some sort of basic cable English Trifle or something? Pah. At least when these storylines ground Hill Street Blues to a halt you knew they weren't going to take over entire episodes.

Wednesday, July 22

1. Make Car Phone Use Mandatory. 2. Eliminate Nanny-State Stop Lights and Speed Limits. 3. Problem Solves Itself, Six Months, Tops.

OH, Touché, sir:
I’ve seen studies that rate eating in a car as roughly equivalent to talking on the phone.

Shall we then ban McDonald’s drive-thru lanes, or force Starbucks to serve only in porcelain cups for local use? That would be enforceable and probably save far more lives than an unenforceable law against talking on a phone.

--Some Guy on the Internets
Save more lives? You mean, if people refused to eat at McDonald's altogether as a result?

Okay, so they tell me one of the benefits of Age [strike benefits as too strong] is the learning to roll with the punches, the mastery of the sad, knowing smile, the philosophical shrug, the strategic hearing-aid disconnect, but I don't think They properly reckoned the accumulated perniciousness of Reaganism, Ayn Rand, and Reality Teevee. I can handle the repetition of fallacious arguments my grandfather brushed aside in ten seconds flat, even when those arguments are presented--as they frequently are--as the brilliant insight of the current speaker; I can take internet dumbassery in general, or rampant public cupidity; though I'm far from inured to political corruption, perpetual personal grievance, the Business Model of Everything, the substitution of "Hucksterism" for "Business" in the previous example, as well as everywhere else, the substitution of a Continual Repaving Project for Learning from our Mistakes, hypocrisy, hyperreality, Bronze Age superstition, and the current American propensity to root against the underdog, I'm able to deal with them, in the abstract, at least. What I'm finding to be a greater challenge than I anticipated, back in the green fields of Youth, when I dreamed of one day being a cranky geezer subsumed with writing Letters to the Editor and chasing dogs off my property with a pool cue, is managing to lift all this crap when it all piles together.

1. Talking on the phone while driving leads to accidents.

2. The Bush administration apparently sat on revelation #1.

Now, don't get me wrong; these matters ought to be reported, even if they ought not surprise anyone. And in an age where you don't just have a fortnight's wall-to-wall panegyric for a deceased professional boy dancer who mere hours before his untimely death was considered, with more than a little justification, to be a child-molesting freak of the first order, but that it must include some massive lying-in-state routine whose $multi-million cost falls to a bankrupt government in a bankrupt state of tax revolters which then, as nineteen ravening networks, and their nineteen gunky eyes, look on, turns out to have involved countless layers of grifting--who'd'a thunk it?--well, it's practically Pulitzer material. The question isn't even How'd We Get To This Point?; it's How'd We Get To The Point Where There's Nothing Whatsoever We Can Do About It, Except Engulf It In Flames?

The goddam onion is all skin! Fer chrissakes: no one could possibly have ever imagined that talking on the phone while driving was anything other than an unconscionable hazard to everyone else sharing Your Road (I almost said "innocent drivers", but they're all on the fucking phone, too). No one could have thought, in 2003, 2001, 1999, or whenever the words "Bush" and "for President" were linked a second time that it was anything other than a publicity stunt and a recipe for (further) disaster, though the scale was a bit surprising. And no one who claims to believe that that administration didn't take "Criminal collusion with any and all potential Republican donors" as part of that Unwritten Constitution only it could read is either a dolt or a Republican donor. If the Bush administration--in fairness, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which, whatever the natural proclivities of bureaucrats to snuggle up with the nearest warm pile of Loot, surely needed no Interagency Liaison with the National Weather Service to know which way the Wind blew--was keeping mum, exactly what was stopping the crackerjack actuaries at all those AIG auto insurance subsidiaries? Ah, but, y'know, "Hey, what about fast-food drive ups?" is a terrific rejoinder, sonny.

And, as keen-eyed readers know, I'm from Indiana, which means that it's utterly immaterial to me whether hands-free is more safe, as safe, or less safe than holding the fucker to your ear while attempting to lurch your way through a 90º turn in the same direction, because The World's Third Worst State Legislature™ won't even ban those. (Although, in a nod to a disastrous multi-fatality summer for suburban teenaged drivers last year it did ban their use for people too young to vote.) Which is particularly interesting for anyone old enough to remember the Analog Days of Yore, and Hoosier enough to remember the efforts to ban the Walkman, on grounds that some theoretical boogier would be lost in his Race music and fail to hear the 200 decibel firetruck behind him. Cynics might note that the Walkman was a device of pure hedonism, while the cell phone gets to hide under the rubric of Business. And quite possibly legitimately so, since its public use--say the woman explaining, at a volume normally reserved for communicating with the elderly, the vicissitudes of scheduling her upcoming Pap smear to the person at the other end of the connection, the cashier, the bagger, myself, and the two other people in the checkout line with us--she is not apocryphal, Reader! She's typical!--is highly suggestive of what one imagines most Americans do at work all day.

Sure, I'm old, but I suspect it's the mere wearing-down process, and not some organic mellowing on the way to the compost pile, which has eased the homicidal fantasies such behavior used to engender. I do think that I have the moral obligation to mention that should I keep my faculties in spite of it all for another decade or so the prospect of Life in prison will begin to lose some of its terror, and the equation might be reworked. On a more positive note, you Kids out there might want to consider that strangling this sort of thing in its crib, though it require something approaching attention to real life, vigilance, even, will yet pay dividends in the long run. If you live that long.

Tuesday, July 21

Cracker. The Other White Bread.

Ross Douthat, "Race in 2028". Sunday, Monday, whatever

REGULAR readers, if any, may have tumbled onto the idea that I think a species of wingnut, as well as marginal breeding partners at the edges of its range--collective noun Reagantot, for its having passed, peristaltically, through the educational system circa 1976 through 1988--seems to suffer disproportionately from the modern trend towards perpetual adolescence--and I'm the last one to throw that around as an insult--rarely remarked upon and almost never diagnosed. In fact the absence of clinical interest was itself a Reagan-vintage phenomenon (dating from the Nixon war on the Librul Media, and coming into flower in the Carter administration, to be precise) wherein practically the entire litany of anti-fluoridationist complaint, a suite of arguments whose frequent transparent phoniness had been readily apparent to everyone just a couple years earlier, was suddenly accorded a position of authority previously unrecognized: the Throne of Opposition, or something. It entitled public Republicans (the ones remaining after the Goldwater purges) to a seat at every forum, on the grounds that the Librul Media had unfairly restricted such events to persons holding defensible ideas they'd arrived at through reasoning. And this wasn't all; in a society upholding the principle of free exchange of ideas, the paranoid rantings of its religious maniacs and the denizens of its inbred, excessively solarized, and home-distilled corn whiskey besotted sub-populations are, after all, more grist for the brewer of malt liquor. What was new was the idea that Opponents had a right to expound their views, or those of their long-dead imaginary Semite avatars, under a little-known rhetorical rule of No Tag Backs. Throughout the Seventies, accelerating after the Unfortunate Permanent Outsider Party lost a President through No Fault of its Own, Right wing positions on any and all issues--the B-1, the ERA, energy independence, affirmative action--were presented as if a) they were the only known alternatives to Librul Democrat hegemony and, as they represented the view of everyone in America not then holding the reins of power, b) not themselves subject to the same sort of scrutiny. (This is best represented, today, by Abortion, a debate still defined, in many, if not most respects, by the opponents of the law: when does Life begin? not How come you exclude contraception? or What about charging women and doctors with murder? which are still side-stepped and double-Dutched.)

Two notes of historical interest, before we move along to some of the more unpleasant consequences: the Republican party was allowed to milk the Outsider gimmick straight through to the early months of the Cheney administration, and to climb back aboard the moment it lost again, and, as some of you may recall, having re-established effective Dixiecrat control of the Congress in the 80s, it proceeded to eliminate the Fairness Doctrine.

As I was saying, before I interrupted me, you've got entire cadres of sickly white guys who matriculated at the University of Republican Grievance, and for whom this rhetorical victory sans debate, this Revolution seems to have come as a sort of personal vindication of their resolute, third-chair trombone, A-V club nerd, anti-hippie lack of youthful charisma. And who, it seems, are Never Going To Get Over It. David Brooks. Professor Reynolds. Goldberg. The Power Trio. Name a position any one of them holds today which could not have been predicted, Kreskin-like, and sealed in an envelope in 1983. Every conceivable political problem--aside from the question of revitalizing his repudiated party, somehow--was answered by St. Ron. (Brooks, today, suggests that the downfall of his party came when its "conservative Southern leaders" showed no understanding of its Moderates, nor Swing-State representatives, as though this condition has not obtained since the days of his potty training. And this is the Baedeker of our socio-political landscape! Christ, I've spent a small fortune over the years on various preparations designed to relieve obnoxious realities for all too brief periods, and this man winks 'em away with nothing stronger than the radiation from his monitor and a permanent supply of hallucinatory political beliefs.)

Enter Ross Douthat, and enter perhaps the single functioning piston still driving this stuff: Affirmative Action! It's Unfair to White People! We've Solved the Problem, and besides, They're Gonna Outnumber Us Soon, Anyway! And the President is a colored man.

Someone, anyone, explain to me how, in 2009 C.E., an apparently functioning human being, fully capable of manipulating a keyboard and mastering enough of a word processing program to produce recognizable English sentences, yet imagines that The Great Injustice of Affirmative Action (Though, of course, Necessary at One Time To Correct the Horrors of Slavery, which We All Despise, but Enough Already) which, arguendo, may have inconvenienced a few qualified White people over the past four decades, somehow trumps what every black, red, or brown man, woman, or child suffered in these environs for four centuries? It is the result of an Ignorance, a Willful ignorance, so profound that not even appeals to cupidity can rescue it.

It really is breathtaking how any little impetus brings out the Race Fear in these people. We watch an endless parade, and the far-too-occasional frog march, of the White Male Ivies who looted the savings of millions, and the solemn pledges of other White Male Ivies assigned to get to the bottom of it, provided we prop the culprits back up first, and this is somehow overshadowed by the fact that some guy in Holland, OH, couldn't get into an apprentice plumbing program because they're beginning to address the fact that no person of color had any chance whatsoever of getting in until the late 20th century. Yes, yes, yes: an injustice to one is an injustice to all; it's just too bad white people didn't discover that principle before it landed on them. In the meantime, Ross, your own party (unless, like Brooks, you mastered the ability to phase in and out of it by watching Star Trek) is presently in the ninth month of its latest bender because the President is half-African. God knows what you'd be saying if it had been Hispanics emptying the gun store shelves post-election. Log in your own eye and all that, Ross. What were they teaching you guys in Prep school?

Monday, July 20

Here's $150 Billion. Call Someone Who Cares.

NASA flag-waving-in-zero-atmosphere technology would later make it possible
for NASCAR to put headlights on stock cars.

Tom Wolfe, "One Giant Leap to Nowhere". July 19

FIRST, the housekeeping: the Guy with the Seaweed is the late Lowell George, an angel who flew too low, not a callow youth with wings of wax, and, according to Rolling Stone, the self-styled US News and World Report of the Counterculture, not one of the 100 Greatest Guitar Players of All Time, a matter which I've yet to hear death-penalty opponents address.

Speaking of executing the mentally incompetent: thanks to the beneficence of AT&T, and their keen corporate appraisal of my wants and needs, for sending us free Showtime, et. al., for the summer, though my own unlettered marketing opinion is that if they want people to subscribe, and pay money for the thing, they're better off not showing it. But that's not the death penalty issue. Two words: Beowulf. Let me tell ya, you're better off reading the book--and, no, I've actually read the book and still think so--as the worst that will happen is the periodic urge to blind yourself. This may not sound like much of an improvement, but I remind you I said periodic, and blind; it would not include the subsequent hammering of sharpened #2 pencils down both auditory canals--unless someone was reading it out loud in Old English, maybe--plus you will not be tempted to hunt down everyone even remotely connected with it and flay them to death.

Finally, if you're CBS, and you want to honor Walter Cronkite, maybe you could have done so by continuing to report the news these past thirty years instead of turning it into infotainment, emphasis on the final two syllables.

I admire Cronkite, certainly, and not just because he single-handedly invented opposition to the Vietnam War--in fact, what I will miss most about Uncle Walter was his post-retirement disgust of Million-Dollar Anchor Syndrome--and CBS is certainly entitled to turn over its remaining "news" programming to his memory. But, again, is there no one left with any notion of taste or good sense? Cronkite covered everything from WWII to the ascension of That Hollywood Actor. Emphasis on covered. That goddam CBS Sunday Morning News for Shut-Ins was like watching a remake of Zelig. Or, god help us, Forrest Gump. Misty monochromatic mem'ries of Civil Rights and the Kennedy assassination, and washed-out video recollections of Vietnam, Be-Ins, and Nixon send-offs as told to you, in the main--even on CBS Sunday Morning Festival of Late Middle Age--by people who have no recollection of them, no interest in them other than as a sort of nostalgia reel racked up during a rain delay, and no talent for doing anything about it if they did. So thank you, Katie Couric, for your touching recollections of a man who retired four years before you became a local teevee news stringer, and thank you, Charlie Gibson, for the obsequies to a man, and an era, of which both you and ABC are the antithesis. If either of you respected the man so much, why didn't you stick with the morning news shows, which had already been debased by the time you arrived?

Oh, and the Moon Landing, the Fortieth Anniversary of which gets Tom Wolfe to stop contemplating belly shirts for a moment, long enough to bemoan the fact that NASA has been insufficiently hucksterish since:
NASA’s annual budget sank like a stone from $5 billion in the mid-1960s to $3 billion in the mid-1970s. It was at this point that NASA’s lack of a philosopher corps became a real problem. The fact was, NASA had only one philosopher, Wernher von Braun. Toward the end of his life, von Braun knew he was dying of cancer and became very contemplative. I happened to hear him speak at a dinner in his honor in San Francisco. He raised the question of what the space program was really all about.

It’s been a long time, but I remember him saying something like this: Here on Earth we live on a planet that is in orbit around the Sun. The Sun itself is a star that is on fire and will someday burn up, leaving our solar system uninhabitable. Therefore we must build a bridge to the stars, because as far as we know, we are the only sentient creatures in the entire universe. When do we start building that bridge to the stars? We begin as soon as we are able, and this is that time. We must not fail in this obligation we have to keep alive the only meaningful life we know of.

Unfortunately, NASA couldn’t present as its spokesman and great philosopher a former high-ranking member of the Nazi Wehrmacht with a heavy German accent.

Yeah. How come it couldn't find a nice domestic Nazi spokesmodel? Alternately, didn't Operation Paperclip turn up anyone without an accent?

Look, I've read The Right Stuff three times; I probably prefer Of a Fire on the Moon, but in terms of rereading it's sipping a frothy chocolate soda through a colored bendy straw vs. wrestling the guy who broke your nose, and your glasses, last time out. And that doesn't mean I bought into the Single Combat gag, and it doesn't mean that any of the times I finished it I came away thinking I'd been wrong, and maybe that $150 billion We Know Of in 1960s dollars really was well spent. Opinions vary; mine is that the last time anything connected with engineering was of more than passing interest, or particularly beneficial, the Romans still ruled the West, or what the West refers to as "The World".

I mean, please, On to Mars! didn't die simply because we'd run out of money to feed all those other military programs that killed people cheaper and more manageably. It died because it's damned near at the edge of what we might accomplish provided we threw everything we've got into it (and if we haven't learned from doing that several times over that the main thing it accomplishes is bankruptcy, then we've been paying even less attention than we appear to be), and means fucking nothing whatsoever to anyone above the mental age of eleven, by which we mean the mental age of the eleven-year-old male, since females are much too smart for that sort of thing even at puberty. Powered, heavier-than-air flight is but a century old; human beings have been pondering Tricky Moral Problems, in print, for eight millenniums. If we really think, in 2009, that handing over the keys to future human development to engineers is a good idea, without first arranging to provide every citizen of Earth a double dosage of potassium cyanide, then our time here has been wasted. Which sorta begs the question of our Reaching for the Stars then, donnit?

Not to mention the fact that at this point--I'm unsure where we stood when The Right Stuff was published in 1979, but suspicions were not exactly unknown--we're well aware that the Eisenhower administration knew the Soviet space program was pretty much a joke--they were tied to tube technology, fer chrissakes, which is great if you're trying to put an amp on the Moon--and we continued to play up their ham-fisted propaganda routines just to separate the Rubes from their tax money. Incidentally, what's even more curious than the fact that the Public has swallowed this stuff hook, line, sinker, bobber, and elbow, is just how bad the goddam Soviets were at propaganda, despite practicing it constantly. It's sort of like trying to figure out Hugh Hefner's taste in women.

Anyway, here's a thought, Tom: why don't you pay for the next round if it's so important? Gin and Tang for you, Booker Noe's with a splash of recycled urine for me. And $3 trillion for the Brainiacs Without Boundaries down there in Florida. And Texas. Neither location can be a coincidence, by the way.

Friday, July 17

More Buttery Goodness

• I don't check in on Slate's now-spun-off-or-something Double X very often. Here's why:

Tina Brown's Clinton Chronicles
Posted: July 17, 2009 at 8:00 AM By Sara Mosle

Jess, Emily and Dayo, I saw Tina Brown's column on Hillary through a slightly different lens. Brown is writing The Clinton Chronicles, a book about Hillary and Bill, reportedly due out in 2010. The subject makes sense after Brown's terrific, dishy bio of Lady Di. The Clintons, after all, are our messy royalty. (The book deal was announced in January 2008, back when it must have seemed like Hillary would still be crowned our next Commander in Chief.)

Look, Sister: we threw the fucking royals out of this country in 1783; you, and everyone else who imagines this as a sadly missed opportunity to revel in the glittering excesses of Prince This and Her Royal Swellness That are strongly urged to move to the British Isles and help support the World's Oldest Operating Human Inbreeding Experiment. Or shut th' fuck up about it. You, by the way, matriculated at Oxon. Why did you ever leave?

Like tens, maybe hundreds of millions of Americans, I don't give a fuck about the Clinton's personal lives, and, like billions worldwide, I think one of the few things worse than Tina Brown's habitual oxygen use is the people who write about her like she was something to write about. And whether or not anyone else agrees with me I maintain that the most generous appraisal of people who remain obsessed with Bill Clinton's dick, Hillary Clinton's mouth, or That Spencer Dame, or who, in mid-2009, anticipate, let alone welcome, yet another book about any or all of them, are emotionally crippled, mentally incompetent, or, most likely, both.

By the way, Just Who Is It to whom it must have seemed, in January '08, that Clinton would be "crowned" (stop it!) Commander-in-Chief? People to whom Gallup polls and Maureen Dowd columns have predictive value? That shouldn't include Tina Brown, at least not if she had half the brains some people ascribe to her. Though in that case she wouldn't have started Another Fucking Clinton Book at all, would she? I'm going to climb out on a limb here to say that, even had Hillary Clinton been anointed Grand Military Parade Reviewing Poo-bah as expected by dozens, the taste for Tales of Clinton Reproductive Systems and Endless Need For Power would have proven close to satiety thanks to the four million titles already in print.

And while we're at it, could you pack up "Commander-in-Chief" and take it with you when you leave for Blighty? Maybe they'd like to bestow it posthumously on Mongomery.

• Speaking of Clinton Obsessives, consider one Christopher Hitchens. He comes to this country as a Euro-Trotskyite, which, unless it be followed by "and awesome guitar shredder" is not generally a path to riches and fame. For whatever reason, Hitchens appears to have conflated the American "liberal" party with European Social Democrats, perhaps justifiably, but at the same time he seems to become convinced that American "conservatives" are the sort of eccentric but basically harmless inbreeds on display in Kind Hearts and Coronets, rather than full-on raging religious psychopaths. He disgraces himself in L'Affair Blumenthal (in case the genuine crimes of the intervening years have clouded your memory: Hitchens swore in a deposition to the Republican impeachment managers that his friend Sidney Blumenthal had described Monica Lewinsky as "a stalker" while the two were at luncheon, in contravention of Blumenthal's sworn testimony. The Empire tottered, but did not Fall), something all too familiar to the disciples of Johnnie Walker, before discovering that, in fact, it was nearly impossible in late 20th Century America to disgrace oneself at all, certainly to the extent that there wasn't someone around to front you some big money in appreciation. Nine Eleven must've looked to Hitchens like the Golden Calf had twinned. Religious fascism was a venerable target; the Taliban, and then Saddam Hussein, would fall easily; America was in full-throated roar, and his newfound "Conservative" benefactors were the new permanent majority.

He was fortunate or canny in his choice of surroundings, since the Slate war toads were also in full croak, and since they, unlike he, would jump the minute the waters got rough, and the teevee monkeys were, well, monkeys. Though what this cost Hitchens in Ego or Liver function we cannot know. Still, the law of diminishing returns got him, even if the easy allure of denouncing Bush as the agent of your own failure did not *; the last time I bothered to read one of his defenses of Our Iraq Adventure it seemed little more than gibberish.

If I succumbed to yesterday's headline, "Did We Take a Wrong Turn in Afghanistan?" it wasn't with any false hopes, just the sort of primate curiosity that makes you open that baggie of forgotten, uncooked tilapia before you run it to the trash. The Wrong Turn in Question, of course, being our mismanaged attempts at nation-building, not everything that has occurred since our surrogates took Kabul and/or we ran out of #2 al-Qaeda lieutenants to waterboard.
I haven't been in Afghanistan for some little time, but it is getting harder to avoid the impression that some kind of wrong turn was made quite a long way back on the road. Or perhaps a series of wrong turns—at any rate, some combination of losing the "drug war"; over-relying on airstrikes that frightened and harmed the civilian population; ceding many border zones to the Taliban and their Pakistani backers; and failing to check corruption, jobbery, and apathy in the ministries of the Hamid Karzai government, which is now slouching toward a re-election that seems to inspire nobody in particular.

Now, maybe it's just me, but if so could someone please explain Why th' fuck anyone would have expected anything different? We've been at this sort of thing since the Maine blew up, and it's never turned out differently.

• Carl Brizzi, the Marion County Prosecutor who remains incognito in news reports when this sort of thing happens, will not be pressing charges on the couple arrested late last Friday in the Arby's drive-up line after a fast-food worker smelled the odor of marihuana and called 911. The couple's 19-month-old son--described by the teevee hairdos as "one year old"--was in the back seat, prompting initial charges of felony child neglect in addition to possession. However, the search was from Queer Street, apparently--no one's really explaining much, though they were really, really interested in the story when it broke--the neglect charge wasn't met, and the amount of weed was "small".

Now, a couple things, kids: don't smoke pot in a moving vehicle: you'll drop a goddam roach or exploding seed onto the upholstery every fucking time. And don't smoke anything around children; they're already crazy enough. And if you work the late-night window at Arby's, fill the fucking order and shut up.

But mostly, if you're a crusading moralizer and professional teleprompter near-reader, do us all a favor and stop to consider: a contact high for a nineteen-month-old child is a potential felony, but taking the little snot-nosed screamer inside and feeding him that crap is considered perfectly acceptable parenting. This stuff has to stop somewhere; why not with you?
* Read, or don't, his denunciation of magical thinking as a cleverer version of Bush Let Me Down; if he were actually cleverer it wouldn't be necessary.

Thursday, July 16


• Okay, I'm guessing Andrew Sullivan is on vacation. The idea first struck me the other morning at the grocery, when I happened to notice a spike in the price of margarita salt, and this seems to be confirmed by the presence of something like fourteen guest bloggers housesitting his place; I can't really be sure because I was still turning up new ones as of page two, which was as far as I was prepared to go to check. Now, without seeming to make a big deal over something I couldn't care less about, What is the fucking point? I mean, it's your by-line; it doesn't permit comments, so the only Bloggy Community that it engenders must come there strictly for Sullivan's wise and witty three-paragraph takes. Is the franchise in danger of swamping if you put up a notice that you're on vacation for a week, or ten? If so, does it really take a dozen scribblers to equal one Sully? Do at least two of them have to be named Conor? And if so, do they really need to total but two Ns between them?

• And look: I've got less use for Andrew Sullivan, Punditaster, than I do for Andrew Sullivan, pudgy Melina-Mercouri-glasses-wearing fashion icon, so whatever it was that sent me there did not prepare me for his Above The Title credit: ANDREW SULLIVAN• OF NO PARTY OR CLIQUE. It's a veritable masterpiece of breathtakingly casual deceit, and I stop short of calling it a work of true genius only because I regularly inspect food labels and, frankly, Sully's got nothing on, just to pick one example among thousands, Prego™ Heart-Smart© Mushroom Sauce and its 410 mg of sodium in one 1/2 cup serving. Really, it was like clicking over to Mark Sanford's homepage and seeing "I BELIEVE IN FOLLOWING YOUR HEART" just under his name, in some ill-considered cursive font for good measure. Hey, Grizzly Adams, Jr.: you, sir, were the posterboy for political party membership that transcended rationality for almost two decades, which leaves alone your ongoing membership in a Church which insists you're going to Hell. Whatever honor accrues for having scurried off that first ship the moment you noticed she'd run aground while following your charts, it does not include getting to pretend you weren't ever on board in the first place. But thanks for adding that CLIQUE bit; one sometimes forgets that The Atlantic and "Sherman Adams Junior High Eighth Grade Dance Decoration Committee" are near synonyms these days.

• I in fact wound up there because of something I'd thought Sullivan had said, but which turned out to have been the substitute typing of Conor Friedersdorf, a man who, as he informed Sullivan's erstwhile readers Tuesday, earned a 4.0+ GPA at his well-regarded Catholic high school:
Writing in Salon, Michael Lind argues "against comprehensive reform -- on any issue." It's music to my ears. In cautioning against "giant, complicated, omnibus pieces of legislation that are supposed to solve multiple problems at the same time and for a long time to come," he draws on history. The Missouri Compromise was voted down when Henry Clay tried to pass it as an omnibus bill, he recalls. Only Stephen Douglas' insight that it could be broken up into 5 separate pieces of legislation, passed by distinct Congressional majorities, saved the effort.

And, of course, having craftily laid the groundwork, the rest is one big pacific history of correcting that little misunderstanding over human chattel. The Union Is Preserved! Praise Be To Senator Douglas!

I do not, and cannot, understand how this sort of thing garners the response it gets, and you can extend that to the whole of the supposed principled conservatism of the likes of Sullivan. How long can this sort of commonplace observation enthrall people? You'd grow tired of someone telling you to break down the steps in tuning-up an engine, planning a week's menus, or remodeling your house, for the sake of efficiency, within a sennight, if you lasted that long. How is it that "But, Government is inefficient!" remains such a cherished rejoinder, especially among the sort of "conservative" who pretends he actually believes in solving problems? Yes, it's fucking inefficient. It's designed to be inefficient. It's like marveling, to the point of incontinence, that someone suggested tennis would be easier if that net wasn't in the way. I know; I'm asking too much. But why is the Missouri Compromise a practical guide, and not the Fourteenth Amendment, the 1965 Voting Rights Act, or Brown? How does the lesson of fine-edged steel applied to the Gordian knot of policy get lost in there? If the Founders hadn't settled for a piecemeal solution to slavery Henry Clay would have had to find a part-time job so he could pay his household help. It's common fucking sense, which may not be all that common, but isn't exactly miraculous. Whenever people start putting tactics above strategy you can pretty much figure it's the strategy they really have a problem with.
The worst thing about "comprehensive reform" efforts are that they shut the average citizen out of the legislative process by making bills so complicated that it is nearly impossible for the average citizen to properly evaluate whether on balance it is a wise or unwise measure. Who can predict all the effects of a 3,000 page bill spanning all manner of issues? Often times not even the legislature itself. Certainly not the press, which often focuses on bits of the legislation that won't actually have the most impact, sometimes because legislators themselves are deliberately obscuring what's actually at stake.

Jesus wept.

Again, and this time for all you NON-PARTY, NON-CLIQUE types: "conservatives" had effective control of the debate, and the legislative process, for thirty years. You and your DLC cohort shot down all health-care reform during that time. Where was your reform of the legislative process? I'm certainly not naive enough to imagine the shoe is now on something recognizable as a different foot, but all the same: shut th' fuck up about the fucking process. It's not complicated because someone imagined that was the way to go; it's complicated because it's the only possible way to get any support from corporate-owned poltroons like my junior Senator. And you could have preempted it any time you wanted to, but until three or four years ago, roughly the moment you became NON PARTISANS, you imagined you'd rule forever.

• Speaking of pudgy, overmatched amateur eyeglass models, no thanks at all to our friend R. Porrofatto for pointing out the Bloggingheads debate of health care featuring, On the Left, Matt Yglesias, and Out in Space, Megan-Jane McArdle. I'm not linking to the thing, because last time the EMTs said they aren't coming out here again for any more politics-induced anaphylaxis episodes, and I don't blame them. But word did inspire Susan of Texas to note (at Roy's ):
It's kind of scary to think these people are our intellectuals. It's like finding out the president of your company is a trained chimp.

And that's the thing. One could bemoan the erosion of standards, or shake his fist at punditasting sinecures that try to bound our political life between Scoop Jackson Boulevard and Ayn Rand Circle, if that were all that was going on, and yet feel the world was still on its axis, at least. But this stuff can only be described using cast-off High Concepts from 50s teevee sitcoms. How'd we get here, again?

Wednesday, July 15

I Seen It On Teevee *, Vol. I

*OUR title reflects an ongoing, if not rising, concern that the real crisis in Education--other than the one caused by our Constitutional guarantees of input, frequently At The Top Of Their Lungs, from vast numbers of people who themselves would have no chance in Hell of passing a standardized high school degree exam--Reader, George W. Bush wanted to be the Education President!--the real crisis, we say, may be directly traceable to the foolish insistence, seen everywhere, on selling Education for its positive effects. In particular we would personally add to that "on Your Future Earnings Potential", as we believe this, however well-intentioned, simply encourages the worst sort of person to Hold Out rather than embrace his utter hopelessness at a young age, which is quite possibly Tomorrow's one remaining hope. We are suffering from a surfeit of people who once concerned themselves with their future earnings potential, not a shortage. Furthermore, the child of school age who is worried about his future earnings rather than Getting Dirty, Getting High, and/or Getting Laid is the one who bears watching, and any who can have this concern so easily and self-aggrandizingly translated into a sincere interest in The Deerslayer, algebra, or the finer points of the Gadsden Purchase should be considered the academic equivalent of the eight-year-old who's found to have constructed, and secreted away, his own guillotine for beheading small rodents. And dealt with similarly.

We are not trying to fan the flames of despair; to the contrary, we simply believe that the continued American insistence on maintaining a deep and abiding connection, both intellectual and emotional, to that sense of wonder, magic, and abject terror of supernatural beings lurking in every sort of common object which animated our savannah-dwelling prehistoric ancestors--Gallup keeps telling us so, in case you're an empiricist--ought to be manipulated for our own good, if at all possible. I don't know what it's like where you live, but in Indiana every evening's festival of semi-competent teleprompter-following, or "news", brings further examples that disasters, both natural and man-made, all manners of criminal activity, and the various colorful, sad, and bathetic flummoxings that flesh is heir to happen, and are witnessed by--at whatever damage to the psyche--disproportionately--and we're talking near exclusivity, here--to people with no sense whatsoever of how verb tenses work.

Suppose a gas main ruptures in Henryville (or Terre Haute, or Gas City, for that matter); there's no question whatsoever that whatever survivor, eyewitness, or friend or neighbor of the freshly deceased local news digs up and sticks a microphone in front of will explain that he, she, or they "seen a big fireball", that they was caught in the middle of microwaving a breakfast burrito, or watching Oprah, and was lucky to have escaped with their lives. Quite frequently this results in the speaker's day, his possessions, even his life, being ruint. If this is a coincidence it is an almost unprecedently large one. Carjackings, knife fights, industrial accidents, pit bull attacks, non-custodial-parent kidnappings, lightning strikes, fast-food poisonings, even traffic delays and ticket sellouts happen almost exclusively to people who think "seen" is the invariable simple past tense of "saw", and who may actually believe it is the infinitive (the jury's still out there).

I suppose it's not outside the bounds of the Possible that such people actually experience no distinction between the present and the simple past, a condition either limited, or not, to the visual realm; we leave that to some future Whorf or Sapir. At any rate their increased susceptibility to falling, crashing, or exploding objects seems undeniable, at least among Hoosiers, and it seems we could do a lot worse than explain to impressionable school-agers that if they'd like to keep that car, or boat, or front tooth intact they need to master the pluperfect.

This reminds me that what I started out to write about was the latest installment of Make 'Em Laugh: The Funny Business of America, brought to you by PBS. I happened to catch it, which is how I came to experience Joan Fucking Rivers praising the ground-breaking fearlessness of Lenny Bruce, as though if Lenny hadn't OD'd he be hawking his miracle age-reduction cream on QVC. Joan Fucking Rivers, really. Don Rickles-without-the-good-material Joan Rivers. You see, kids, this is the sort of thing they keep hidden from you about the March of Technology, because it's the latest technological gizmos they have for sale. Back in the days of the old nitrate film stocks, the minute someone sat down to ask Joan Fucking Rivers about Lenny Bruce the film would have spontaneously combusted, and everyone involved would have died a horrible but deserved fiery death.

And then I regained consciousness just in time to hear Bill Maher hawk up the old chestnut about how Lenny "forgot how to be funny." Th' fuck? The guy who became a professional martyr for six months (tops) because Ari Fleischer said something criticizes a man who was hounded to death for saying things because he lost it at the end? Shit. If I had the opportunity this afternoon I'd spend top dollar on a ticket in the knowledge it entitled me to listen to Lenny read his trial transcripts for three hours. As for Maher's show--the one where he can say whatever pops into his libertarian head, secure in the knowledge that either people will line up to defend him, or he can go on air with another of his apologies, emphasizing his abiding respect for The Troops--well, those tickets are free, aren't they?

Tuesday, July 14

Now That The Lilacs Are In Bloom

David Brooks,"The Way We Live Now". July 13

OKAY, so it's summer; his party, his political philosophy, the religion he adopted after that undergraduate episode of Stendhal Syndrome while gazing at the visage of Milton Friedman, and all the stuff he shilled for with or without actually believing it for the past two decades have turned to shit; and last week he apparently took enough "cold medicine" to reveal that a Republican Senator felt him up at a soirée. Plus after pairing him with a comic-book libertarian and The Stupidest Man on the Planet, the Times went out and hired a younger man who does Brooks' "I'm really a moderate" schtick, except from a Roman Catholic perspective, so he's been in training to tell other people he knows what's best for 'em, and to pretend he really believes it himself, his whole life. Plus he knows how to link to the internets. Our Dave may be in need of a bit of cheering up.

I say this because I've been looking at Brooks columns since daffodil time without ever figuring out why I was supposed to read them. I say "columns", but it's really like the old debate in musicology: Did Vivaldi write 275 concertos, or one concerto two-hundred and seventy-five times?

The "highlights", since May:

• Republicans are so intent upon freedom that they've lost the sense of community.

• A miracle-working charter school in Harlem works miracles, despite being in Harlem.

• The Greatest Generation, Hahvahd Division: Great, but also Complex.

• George Washington: Dignified, but also Great.

• Successful but boring CEOs make the best successful CEOs. Also, human nature is frequently studied by social scientists, whose constant arguments are always good for a column suggesting they'd do more good figuring out how to get the Poor to buy into Brooks' Horatio Alger tales. And Vince Lombardi coached football. All these matters occasionally impinge on Capitalism, though it remains great. If flawed.

• Barack Obama: he's got some big problems, huh? And his belief they can be fixed suggests he's a bit of a dreamer.

• Sonya Sotomayor: a Latina with a life story, and tons of empathy, which may be different from cool objectivism.

Today's was the third examining Sotomayor, though "examining" is just Politeness' way of saying "rearranging the idea that she's Hispanic". In today's version, she pulled herself up by her own bootstraps because the womenfolk in her family didn't like comic books, and she's a poster girl for the sort of incredible sacrifice and hard work driven people make to the exclusion of interpersonal relationships. In other words, what's really noble about Sotomayor is how much her bio, despite the hardships she grew up with, manages to resemble David Brooks', except for the part about actually having been married. This, despite one of those obstacles being her matriculating in the 1970s, when identity politics was all the rage. Or so says the guy who matriculated, and occasionally fainted, at the University of Chicago in the 1980s, and seems to imagine his own Reaganaut arc, as well as his interpretation of Sotomayor's, as being the perfectly natural organic development of clear-headed thinking, free from trendy outside influences.

But that was early June; Brooks seems to be suffering from a sort of Reverse Groundhog Day deal, where every morning the alarm goes off and he gets to decide anew which version of his Principles is operative that day. Today
she also had an amazing ability to attract and impress mentors. Her ascent wasn’t a maverick charge against the establishment. Instead, at each phase her talents were noticed by a well-placed member of that establishment — a famous law professor, a revered D.A., a partner at an elite firm. She was elevated and guided. “She seemed to fit in with everybody,” a law school classmate remembered to the Yale Daily News.

In other words, she's still coasting on that soft bigotry of Affirmative Action, but now that the hearings are here we'd just as soon Senate Republicans soft-soap that a little, as they, unlike Brooks himself, might slip over the edge into sordidness. Just say she was really, really amazingly good at "attracting mentors". You know, back when Affirmative Action was all the rage.

Why do we need this? Why does the Times? David Brooks thinks his party overstepped its bounds in the Bush years, by making a number of poor decisions Brooks himself cheered on at the time. He thinks our healthcare system is disastrous, but he believes even more strongly that we ought not violate any of his economic axioms in trying to improve it. He imagines that capitalism is a sort of bedtime story embellished with inspirational tales of the occasional poor person who makes it on her own with a boost from White Guilt, Inc.; this attitude has only been strengthened by the minor details of global looting by the beneficiaries of affirmative action for well-born thieves in our recent headlines. He thinks the key to revitalizing the Republican party is to make it resemble himself more nearly, an idea which finds almost unanimous agreement on the part of his fellow party members, each of whom believes the party should more closely model himself. The one good thing about this is that it adds exactly nothing to the national debate, which, by eliminating what they did for the last eight years, represents a net plus for all of us.

Monday, July 13

Gauging The Mood Of The Electorate, Vol XXIV

Target, Aisle 11: We came here to find a gazebo! If you didn't come here to find a gazebo, I don't know what you came here for! Don't you want a gazebo?


"This is my wife, not my mistress from Argentina."

THAT would be--nyuk-nyuk-nyuk--disgraced accidental Indianapolis mayoral frontman Lt. Col. Gomer P. Ballard, USMC, as reported by the guy who's still working at the Indianapolis Racist Star. Ballard was introducing his wife, Winnie, at the annual state Republican dinner last Wednesday, apparently to someone who was unfamiliar with Ballard's highest-paid assistants.

Of course really great comedy requires that soupçon of frisson, and here Mayor Gomer is nearly the unintentional match of the beloved 60s sitcom character his doting parents named him for: Winnie Ballard hails from the Philippines, meaning she could have passed for an Argentine in a Warner Brothers musical in the 40s, or at any Walgreens in the Indianapolis metro area later that same evening. At any rate, Yer Honor, we in Naptown know you aren't carrying on an international affair, since doing so would require you to make your own plane reservations, and we've had heard about it when you wound up stranded at Tashkent International. But thanks for defusing that emotional time bomb, there, as we're sure there were some Indiana Republican officials who were deeply troubled by that Sanford business. Or maybe just some who were slow enough to get trampled in the This Means It's Mitch! stampede.

By the way, as there was some--possibly intentional--confusion during the election over whether the civilian analogue of "Colonel" was "Mayor of a Mid-Sized Midwestern City With a Justifiable Inferiority Complex", as the few Republicans who actually knew Ballard was running had suggested, I happened upon a table of equivalencies over the weekend. It turns out the civilian counterpart of "Colonel" is "Grammy Winner For Best Gospel or Spoken Word Album or Below, But Still Part of the Television Broadcast, Not One of those Offscreen Deals". The Marine equivalent is "Daytime Emmy Winner". For Lieutenant Colonel it's "Perennial Emmy Nominee (Three or More, No Wins) for Lighting, Sound, or Costume", or "Mayor of Either of the Two Smaller Quad Cities", and for Marine Lt. Colonel it's "Involuntary Commitment But With Daypass Privileges". So somebody fucked up. But then, we knew that.

Speaking of Gomer, somehow or other no one thought to inform me that Sarah Palin had referenced the Federal Department of Law in whatever that speech was she gave officially opening the Let's Blow Up Nothing season, despite the fact that everyone knows there's no way I could have watched it. Hell, I barely made it through the excerpts. But this one reminded me of a guy I used to do some work for, one of those heroic small business entrepreneurs, now, sadly, about to be taxed out of existence, who, with only grit, determination, and a few inherited millions had managed to buy an existing business and keep it going. After a couple of drinks--total lightweight--he'd allow as how he'd cheated his way to a Marketing degree at a state college. Which--speaking of equivalents--is pretty much like explaining to the people in the ER that the reason you have a flashlight stuck in your ass is that you couldn't find the gerbil in the dark.

And the guy used to write his own print ads in the most fractured English imaginable, and if you asked about it he'd explain that he did it intentionally because it attracted attention. Of course the real reason--as anyone who had the pleasure of trying to sort through his written correspondence or other evidence of his mental processes--was that he couldn't write English. That's what reminded me of him when I caught that Palin quote a week late, in the midst of a barely-disturbed-by-wall-to-wall coverage-of-Michael Jackson mass analysis of What Palin's Unexpected Move Means. Okay, so sounding like a Blithering Idiot doesn't necessarily mean you are one, but sounding like one over and over, when every goddam political instinct says you need to improve, drastically, or move to FOX (this was what semi-sensible Republicans were saying, fer chrissakes) is at least highly suggestive. It isn't that Palin's, oh, lack of mental agility has gone uncommented upon, of course; it's that people are still writing and broadcasting stuff about her political future as though the question's still up in the air. So she's the Queen of the Twenty-five Percenters. So fucking what? Those people couldn't turn Pig Shit into Paté when it was their Vice President operating with impunity under laws he made up when he even bothered. They sure aren't going to turn Palin into anything except the newest member of the Multi-Millionaire Dumbass Club. How 'bout a little respect for the millions of Americans who took one listen to her and decided they'd definitely vote Democratic? Christ, does everything have to devolve to what the Lowest Common Denominator is gaping at this week? I thought that's what we had teevee for.

And speaking of 25%, how is it that the Sundays still routinely feature one Democrat vs. one Republican? Shouldn't it be 2-to-1 now? And if you've simply got to have John McCain on (you don't) I suppose getting him to flash that stupid phony smile while lying about Palin is boffo B.O., but maybe it's time to go ahead and Get the Candidate to Bite the Head Off the Rat on national teevee, and do everyone, including him, a favor. Watching The Maverick choke down his bile answering a question about What He Unleashed On Those Fucking Ingrates At The Convention was just an exercise in sadism. And at some point yesterday I saw a clip of John Boehner or Jon Kyl--I can't tell them apart; in fact, the only way I can tell either of them from Evan Bayh is that the Junior Republican from Indiana is the one who smoked dope in the Seventies, and then did doughnuts on the St. Albans lawn while listening to the Moody Blues--saying, essentially, that this whole CIA business sure was a lucky CYA for Nancy Pelosi. That would be the same Nancy Pelosi Boehner and Kyl wanted to investigate a few weeks ago for her blatant lies about the CIA, since, as either Tweedledum or Tweedledummer noted at the time, the Agency had the documentation to back its story up.

Is there any way to explain any of this that doesn't include how much David Gregory enjoys living in a really big house?