Wednesday, September 30

I Take It Back. George Eff Will's Bowtie Is The Smartest Thing At WaPo.

Richard Cohen, "Time for Obama to Act Like a President And, Preferably, Not The One He Campaigned To Be". September 29

Barbara Kellerman, "Uprooting Bad Leaders: Turn Your Total Indifference to Basic Facts and Unfamiliarity with Godwin's Law into a Lucrative Career on the Professional Lecture Circuit". September 29

John Pomfret, " Oil and Ideology Keep China From Joining Effort to Press Iran: Also, My Name Means 'French Fries'". September 30

Dana "Satire" Millbank, "The Latest From Michael Moore: 'Rocky and Me', The 'Me' in Question Being An Overweight Fellow". September 30

FIRST, For God's Sake: Don't read those! They're just there to serve as examples. They're meant to scare small children and the literate.

Yesterday I was buzzing around the History/Science neighborhood of my teevee menu while pedaling the exercise bike my knees have suddenly become adapted to more than five minute's riding of, and simultaneously basting a roasting chicken ("Poor Man's Alligator") every ten. And I was stopped by the second half of a thing on the Bygone Era of the Train-Traveling Circus. I'm not quite sure which exact channel it was on, but I know it wasn't the History Channel proper, since they didn't interview any Biblical archaeologists, and no one mentioned whether Nostradamus eerily foresaw Barnum hooking up with Bailey.

Now, I always hated the circus, even as a tyke (not quite as much as parades, but similarly), though I did marry the daughter of itinerant carnival laborers, and I have to admit that even I was taken in a bit by the forced nostalgia for the Romance of the Rails, the thundering Iron Horse nickering showers of hot cinders on the wooden dwellings either side of the tracks, the days of rolling packs of small-time grifters, grown men wearing makeup, and acres of the manure of captive beasts, many clad in tutus or funny hats, bringing the allure of an 18th century European art form, a sort of traveling opera but without the libretto, and played on bagpipes, to the credulous and the inbred. So, y'know, there's a sense in which I understand what they're going through at WaPo these final days. Excepting, of course, that the circus had integrity. At least by comparison. But then, what doesn't?

Is there a greater casualty of the Internets than The Washington Post? Exposed as a thieves' cabal of Media Whores, careerist fellators, and, worse, future Politico founders, then as war-mongering media whores, lying war-mongering media whores, perpetually-adolescent clowns, and, finally, as the prima-facie refutation of Intelligent Design.

Imagine what it would be like to turn up at the Cube Farm one morning and find you were now yoked to Bill Kristol, a man so remarkably free of one single decent idea, let alone the ability to convey one if he did stumble over it, that he had just been fired from a sinecure? Supposing at this point you had some microscopic jot of self-respect left? I believe you see my point. All these people are still eating, so far as we can tell. But no one can say why.

So I don't give a fuck what any of those people has to say, though I do think it's interesting that Cuban Missile Crisis pops up more than once as a cautionary tale, and not--after the forty-seven fucking years they've had to consider this--the propensity of hot-headed fuckwits to manufacture the opportunity for disaster using only the Smoke from their fevered imaginations and the Cracked Mirror America admires her self-image in every morning.* With the help of the Washington Post.

As for Millbank's "Fat Michael Moore is gonna start a Democratic Civil War", well, for one, So Fucking What? They've had three years. What's the slogan for 2010, by the way? "The Democratic Party: Because Republicans Would Have Defunded ACORN Without Some Ass-Clown in Jolson Makeup!" ? Moore and I are the same age, born four months apart. We've been lied to by the Democratic Party our entire adult lives. We're supposed to prefer being rabbit-punched while held in a theatrical embrace to the telegraphed jackboot to the groin from Republicans? Because to act otherwise offends Dana Millbank's complacency? What's the friendship of "moderate" Democrats ever done for the Left, huh, Dana? A filibuster-proof Senate?

Second, I was tempted to say, "Forget it, Michael. It's Chinatown." But it's not. It's D.C., where they eat an Owens Valley every morning, just to coat the gut for that first Bloody Mary.

Shit. Still more than 400 words.
_________

* Apparently this needs to be pointed out every October: what does Cuba do in 1962, with ten-thousand nuclear warheads? It launches them before a Soviet strike, thus tipping one off, and is annihilated instantaneously, while tipping one off, or the Soviets launch first and we annihilate Cuba in response without them firing a shot. Fast forward fifty years, only make it Cuba trying to acquire fifty-year-old technology on the open market while knowing full well we (or our non-nuclear chums in the region, wink wink) could wipe it off the map without exiting Google Earth first. And the people who believe in the plerophoric global domination of Judeo-Christianity, Inc., are the ones who fly off the handle quickest; a woman who lectures at the Kennedy School doesn't seem to understand where Mahmoudolph Ahmadinehitler fits on the Iranian flow chart (and whatever Kagan it is they have there, whom it is superfluous to link to, thinks the Supreme Leader has to stand for reelection); some other guy throws a tantrum because China is laughing at us instead of pitching in to help avoid whatever Armageddon it suits us to predict this week. Because they crave Oil! And Michael Moore could stand to lose a few pounds. For fuck's sake, didn't we just learn what going crazy at the least little sound in the night gets us?

Tuesday, September 29

The Amazing Cascading Olio


Okay, but is that Dick Sergeant, or Dick York? (Ismael Roldan/ WSJ Online)

Los Angeles. Isn't That Where Michael Jackson Lived Out His Twilight Years A Free Man? Whatever you think about Roman Polanski, there's this: the legal record stinks, the sudden request for extradition stinks on ice, and if we can't come to the conclusion that prosecutorial misfeasance is a more fundamental problem than any crime then a System where basement pot growers get 5-10 and war criminals get book deals is actually better than we deserve.

Pressed for an explanation of why it ignored so many earlier opportunities that had extradition been a Trademark they would have lost it, the LA DA's office coughs up "a list of actions and queries by which it had monitored his travels in at least 10 countries"--an astonishing annual rate of ("at least") 0.294 countries per, though we are merely raising the curtain--"including what appeared to be a near miss, when officials relayed a request for information from Israel about a visit in 2007. 'Polanski had left Israel and was not arrested,' by the time the information arrived, said the advisory. " Right. The Modern State of Israel, eager extraditors of childhood survivors of the Warsaw ghetto. Damn! Just missed him. On the Will Ferrell/ Adam Sandler That's the Fucking Best You Could Come Up With For The Trailer? Scale, this one rates "funnier than anything that's ever been in a Will Ferrell or Adam Sandler trailer, though not funny ha-ha".

Speaking of Israel, who knew the Times had two military experts on the Op-Ed pages? Certainly no one who read them back when Iraq and Afghanistan were Bush's war. And isn't there some sort of codicil to Godwin about mentioning Joe Lieberman in the context of US foreign policy? No? Okay, isn't there still such a thing as common sense? Joe Lieberman never met a proxy Israeli war he didn't like, and he's sure never met a real one he didn't embrace wholeheartedly, and how much better off is everyone who's taken his advice? Motherfucker couldn't even win his own primary, and he's the Conscience of American Foreign Policy, Blowing Up People Division?

These guys realize they can't really ever bring up Iraq--there will, of course, be a collective attack of the publicized fantods when it's "discovered" there are still US troops in Iraq after "Obama's" timetable has been exceeded, led, of course, by people who shouted "Cut and Run!" so much they were rendered hoarse for the entire second half of 2005--so the inexorable pinning of Bush's other Colossal Poodle Fuck on the President--who, mind you, accepted it in 2007, when he and the crew decided he'd better not look too anti-war--precedes apace. And suddenly--oh, do sit down for this!--what a General has to say about the situation is Holy Writ. Bear in mind that this is coming from the people who helped tie weights to Eric Shinseki's legs before Bush reassigned him to Atlantic Command, Sargasso Sea.

An Iraq-style Surge won't succeed "unless Obama has the stomach for it" says Aspiring Honorary Looey Bird Colonel Douthat--who's still young enough to enlist, by the way--which sorta somewhat raises the question of what was in George W. Bush's gut all those years, but no matter. When this leftover We Weren't Allowed To Win excuse-mongering starts turning up in people who not only weren't born when the Vietnam war ended, but weren't even born when the excuses they now adopt started flying, it's Officially Too Long. Apparently the key to becoming a Librul-Media Approved "Conservative" Mouthpiece is wearing your father's old ties in anticipation of them coming back into style now and then.

Speaking of the Times, it's time (evidently) for the latest installment of The Search for the Unified Theory of Boboism, in which David Brooks tries yet again to mate the G.I. Joe of his Fiscal Imperialism to the Inner Barbie of all those times hippies laughed at him in grade school. Oh, if only, if only! those tacky Culture Wars would vanish, like all forward-thinking people wish they would so they wouldn't be forced to constantly ignore the Troglodytes they eagerly bedded down with from 1980-2005 as the surest way to keep our Plutocracy safe. Because, y'know, Brooks has had nothing to do with the Culture War. Just a front-line correspondent. That guy slobbering all over Irving Kristol's burial suit a week ago? Wasn't Dave. (I love, by the way, the idea that because neocons, as a group, are rather remarkably amoral, even for bureaucrats and people who do their Thinking while Tanked, they are some how not simultaneously tiresome moralizers of the David Brooks type.)

Speaking of people who keep their morals in their wallet, right next to the posed snapshot of the model family that came with it, and which they whip out and claim as their own whenever anyone mentions "wife", "huge, bulging envelope of talcum powder, ostensibly sent through the mails", and "empty quart of Chivas Regal" in the same sentence: the latest "Mitch 2012" fantasy (h/t Porrofatto) covers the same Incredible Shrinking List of Accomplishments; it's interesting that he's now touting Wait Times at the BMV instead of Number of Toll Roads Sold, but whichever, it's Still Mitch:
Perhaps most appreciated was the governor's overhaul of the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. It's gone from one of the worst in the country—a place, he says, "where people would take a copy of 'Crime and Punishment'"—to one of the best, with an "average visit time of seven minutes and 36 seconds."

Because, first, Crime and Punishment isn't all that long; maybe it's just the first thing that pops into a Republican Brain. Second, I've been patronizing Indiana's license branches since 1970, and the time the wait really became unbearable was--you're still sitting down, right?--during the first two years of the Daniels administration, when a failed retail exec tried to turn them all into Pro Shops, and when they rushed the new computerized system online without adequate testing or backups. Computerization is part of the speed up (from a personal standpoint it's been fairly remarkable, but then I'm in Indianapolis, so the Daniels administration couldn't just close my branch--one of its early cost-cutting strokes of entrepreneurial ratiocination--and I can generally go at off-hours). So too the fact that what used to be a major source of long wait times--getting stuck behind car dealers who were licensing a dozen vehicles at a time--has now been eliminated by having dealers print their own, and by the related point that, under Daniels leadership of the Federal, then the state economy, fewer Hoosiers than ever can actually afford cars, excepting maybe the ones who still build them thanks to the bailouts Mitch opposed. (Another little part of that remarkable average visit time is that they don't start running the clock until you've gotten to see the branch receptionist, which is a bit like counting your stay at the Doctor's office from the time he finally walks in the exam room. Not to quibble. My visits are faster now, sure 'nuff. But if you want to make this a hallmark of your management style [Hog the glory. Attribute it to your Big Brain. Ignore the fuckups. Ignore anything complex. Raise lots of money to get the word around.] then I think it's at least fair to note that my Core 2 Duo Mac runs rings around the Motorola-driven IIsi from 1992.)

The Toll Road sale has fallen off the self-promotional campaign literature shelf--after it briefly reappeared when the Macquarie Infrastructure Group's potential bankruptcy brought Team Daniels out to shout "We're Getting It Back, Plus We Get To Keep the Money!" long enough to drown out any real questions about what that might mean in, y'know, the real world--because the smaller interest revenue than expected (blamed on "the bad economy", as though you couldn't foresee any rough patches over the next 75 years) now won't cover the escalating costs and suddenly small, non-inclusive details, like, oh, building materials, for the big I-69 project we couldn't survive the next three-quarters of a century without. Not to mention--since he won't--the Family and Social Services Administration swindle, $1 billion to thoroughly fuck up the state's Medicaid, Food Stamp, Aid to Dependent Children, Vocational Rehabilitation and Mental Health Services--which the Big Cranium'd Daniels Administration is still paying for at 100 cents on the dollar, even though the thing is so screwed no one can say when it might meet its standards, and even though it's so bad that Republicans in America's Third-Worst State Legislature, Now In Permanent Session!™ are getting antsy.

Anyway, nobody looking in from outside could really imagine that Mitch Daniels sporked his way to a $1 billion surplus. It's the balance before all the bills start coming due, including the ones he sloughed off on county and municipal governments. It's strong first quarter numbers at the expense of voters not yet old enough to vote. It's a crock.

Anyhow, I realize the GOP doesn't have much going for it these days, and if you add Without Visibly Packing Heat it's practically nil, but if you'd like a blueprint for the Non Culture Warrior, Mr. Brooks, take our Bonzai Governor. Please. Steers clear of them hot-button issues all right. Unless you're one of those people who think congenital lying is a moral issue.

Monday, September 28

The Venn Diagram: The Cruise Missile Of Comedy's Defensive Arsenal.

A. Meat and Bones

1. Sign on Kroger fish counter, Friday, September 25: "Monkfish (Poor Man's Lobster): $10.99/lb."

2. Contemporaneous price of actual live Maine (or Rich Man's) Lobster: $17.99/lb.

2a. As has been pointed out, this yields far less than 1# lobster meat.

2b. As has not been pointed out, live lobster includes the liver, technically tomalley, unlike the monkfish, where it has been stripped and sold by commercial fishermen the way copper tubing from your air conditioner is stripped and sold to junkyards further inland. The live lobster may also contain roe, though in my experience gravid females rarely make it to Corn Belt supermarkets. Properly managed, the cooking liquid--or the shells and membrane, if the lobster is to be split first--become lobster stock. Thus the frugal man, Poor or no, can turn his purchase into two courses, at least, if not two meals.

3. Contemporaneous price of grill-ready ribeye steaks (aka, "the Reason God Invented the Cow"): $7.99/lb.

4. Contemporaneous price of farm-raised salmon: $9.99/lb.

5. Contemporaneous price of farm-raised tilapia: $4.99/lb.

6. I believe we have seen the dilemma of the Poor Man i' the adage.

7. There was, in addition, an intended sense of a corporate game of telephone, some aspects of which we will discuss below, which at no point in the line did any Kroger employee step up to remark upon.

B. Choice of Sides

1. There was, in the back of my mind, but certainly not intended as implicit in the post, the sense of the slack naming conventions, bordering on the criminal, and surpassing what qualifies as criminal should you or I engage in it, permitted the marketers of foodstuffs in the US of A.

1a. Where, for example, you can inject carbon dioxide into a steel vat of the indifferently-fermented pulp of substandard Thompson's Seedless grapes and call the result "Champagne" in as little as 48 hours, including bottling and shipping time.

1b. I'm not sure if laws "governing" trade even assure me the fish in question was what is commonly known as monkfish, or goosefish.

1c. I am, however, reasonably certain that "Poor Man's Lobster" is not a recognized cognomen for the species, except, perhaps, in some local area where it is a common trash fish, i.e., commonly netted but too ugly for commercial trade. Which suggests that either someone hailing from such a region rose to a position of prominence in the Kroger corporate marketing hierarchy and passed the name along innocently, or it was added in an attempt to improve the cachet of a trash fish they're attempting to peddle for eleven bucks a pound, and no one noticed the irony.

1d. My money's on the latter. In fact, the name almost certainly originated with the broker, who knew better.

2. I suggest that the term "Poor Man's Lobster" is, in common parlance, the name of a dish, or a cluster of dishes, designed to ape the flavor and texture of boiled Maine lobster in butter substituting inexpensive fish for expensive crustacean. Since the five seconds I put into Googling this back me up, I consider the matter settled.

3. Continuing in the recipe vein, the term was first brought to my attention thirty-years ago, on an ill-fated fishing trip on Lake Erie my father-in-law forced the rest of us into. The ship's captain's inamorata passed out loose-leaf copies of recipes designed to help you dispose of all the walleye and yellow perch you were sure to be sick of within three days of returning home, and "Poor Man's Lobster" was the one she singled out. I did not, however, get the chance to try it for myself, since by the time I had fully recovered from a heretofore unknown susceptibility to mal de mer, engendered by a couple hours spent on a small boat in the middle of a large lake which is no more than thirty feet deep, meaning that both the boat and I were heaving continually all afternoon, and which I foolishly braved a second time in the name of in-law bonhomie, accompanied by a marginally effective scopolamine patch, all the fish had spoiled.

4. As such we would note the typical inattention to concern over insult to person or intellect by the typical person with something to sell you and a conviction that such trumps all other concerns, which, as so often, borders on religious conviction in this country. It is one thing when some in-group, or collection of working persons, calls something "Poor Man's" this, that, or t'other; it is quite another when that is plucked up and plopped down half a continent away and used to move Product. The fisherman, processor, or charter operator who eats Poor Man's Lobster may, in fact, be wealthy, but is consuming what comes to him as surplus. The Hoosier who is a ninety-mile drive through Waving Fields of Soy from the tip of the nearest Great Lake who orders the dish in a restaurant may understand why it is so named. The supermarket shopper who sees it on the other side of the glass, applied to a species, not a pre-cooked meal, is the potential victim of an intended duping, and ought to be insulted by it, even if the brigand responsible is no closer than the home office in Cincinnati.

5. For that matter, there is no such thing as fresh fish in Indiana, unless you are desperate enough to pull a carp out of the Water Co. Canal, or suicidal enough to pull a dead carp out of the White River, aka "Indianapolis' Open Sewer Until Such Time As Pledging To Collect Justifiable Taxes And Spend The Revenues On Needed Infrastructure Benefitting The Entire Populace Becomes Anything Other Than A Guarantee Of Swift And Massive Electoral Defeat".

6. Rather ironically, a hundred years ago lobster was considered trash, and the only people who ate it were those who found themselves with no other means of disposal.

Sunday, September 27

Toujours l'Audace!

David Brooks, "The Afghan Imperative". September 24

SO the first thing that happens while I'm reading Brooks' latest expert appraisal of the military situation in Afghanistan is I get this creeping sensation that it's the fourth or fifth time I've gotten this advice from him in the previous fortnight. I did sorta remember that recent columns had kissed Irving Kristol goodbye, resolved that little question about racism Jimmy Carter (erroneously) raised, and rewrote the rest of US history from the end of Reconstruction to the beginning of Korea while he was at it, though I was pretty sure he hadn't yet commented on Michael Moore's girth in light of Capitalism. That seemed like a lot of additional material to've squeezed out in 800-word splorts, so I looked at his columnist page, and found that Friday was the only recent column where he'd urged the President to stay the course in Afghanistan by engaging in a massive escalation which Brooks himself would remain too cagey to suggest outright, the better to use its failure as ammunition later on. The last one was at the end of last March, when Brooks returned from his VIP tour of Afghanistan a freshly-minted Honorary Lt. Colonel.

I had no idea why I felt he'd been running on about this; I don't think I've watched one of his Newshour Vaudeville routines in months. Maybe somebody else has blogged some. Maybe he debated Meganjane McArdle on Bloggingheads. I determined I wasn't going to lift a finger to find out.

What I was certain about was that it wasn't David Brooks' unshakable consistency on Afghanistan that had me confused. I was pretty sure that Brooks hadn't spent the first five years of his Times tenure, years which coincide with the increasing pace of Total Up-Fucking by a President whose clear-eyed, he's-smarter-than-he-looks-or-we-have-any-evidence-to-remotely-suggest opposition to Conventional Wisdom Brooks had lauded repeatedly, urging George W. Bush to quintuple troop levels in The Other War. Or, in fact, mentioning it much at all.

And so began a large-scale Brooks hunt. Now, his regular spot on the Op-Ed pages didn't open until September, 2003, when the perfumed previous Spring, with its heady notes of Permanent Republican Majority, $1 Million Victory Parades kicking off the official This Time Bush Might Actually Win Campaign, and succeeding invasions of Syria, Iran, and Social Security, began to not quite cover the earthier tones of Dead Rat In The Wall Somewhere, that rather unwelcome melange of looting, insurrection, the UN hotel bombing, the still-yet-unfound WMDs, the unravelling Jessica Lynch story, the very fact that we were still there, and still seemingly rudderless. Nothing your right-wing insider pundit couldn't finesse away with assurances that Bush, the Man with the Golden Touch, after all, was making the necessary minor alterations in military policy which would have the thing wrapped up shortly. Just don't expect anyone in the administration to admit things weren't going absolutely according to plan.
Some close advisers suspect the violence may not abate in Iraq until early next year, and it will be interesting to see whether Americans can sustain their morale over that time.

Really, that was Brooks' first column as a permanent place setting at the Times' tea party, and its remarkable prescience about the events of the following Spring (assuming that by "remarkable prescience" you mean "whatever th' fuck is the fundamental phonetic building block which means the precise opposite of remarkable prescience") is really only topped by the question of how long the current version of David Brooks will be able to go without ever once revisiting it or the notion that twelve months of almost cosmic incompetence and negative results ought to seriously test the patience of the people who're paying for it.

But this is, of course, Iraq, and god knows it's fun and instructive to see what sort of hubris goeth before pitching yourself on your nose and then getting up and pretending nothing happened, and there it is. But what about Afghanistan? When did Brooks become a proponent of "protracted anti-insurgency" as opposed to "an inexorable march to remake the Islamic world"? Good question.

First thing I checked on was his glorious homecoming from that recent tour:
I came to Afghanistan skeptical of American efforts to transform this country. Afghanistan is one of the poorest, least-educated and most-corrupt nations on earth. It is an infinitely complex and fractured society. It has powerful enemies in Pakistan, Iran and the drug networks working hard to foment chaos. The ground is littered with the ruins of great powers that tried to change this place.

Did you spot the item that's not like the others? Okay, there's that bit about drug networks being the enemy of people who grow drugs for a living. But chalk that up to interpretation for a moment: what in that litany is true of Afghanistan, 2009, that wasn't true of Afghanistan 2001? Y'know, back when David Brooks was treating his My Weekly Standard audience to a mock discussion of whether he should just go ahead and gloat over the "instant gratification" of the defeat of the Taliban, or admit that he, like many others, had originally thought it might take a couple weeks longer? Can you see it now? It's David Brooks' skepticism! Wow. And it was right there in front of you.

Meanwhile at the Newshour, where they seemed only vaguely aware in late 2001 that the war was still going on, the better to focus on Sadam Hussein, Brooks did take a moment, in November, to jump into the internecine psuedo-squabble between his employer, one William "Hawkeye" Kristol, and Dick "Dick" Cheney, Bush administration spokesmaniac, over whether there had been an actual change in strategy--from Colin Powell Taliban Appeasement to Cheney/Rumsfeld Just Bomb The Shit Out of Everything--at the heart of our lightning victory. (Brooks, by the way, regarded the change in strategy as "well-documented" and the source of our stunning success. No one realized at the time--okay, maybe Darth Cheney did--the attendant value to the Right of making the Taliban the Enemy, instead of a gang of small-town thugs standing in our way, paving the way for Osama Who? and use of "Taliban" to designate, eight years after its defeat, an insurgency engendered by our continuing Mission to prevent the Bush administration from looking like total incompetents. Continuity in naming one's enemy being so vital to modern warfare merchandising.)

Dunno how Brooks decided the Gloat/Don't Quite Gloat question, since, in public, anyway, he seems to have already decided on the What? Is That Old War Still Going On? routine. He spent a December column--I am not making this up--praising the Internets-based war "coverage" of Andrew Sullivan, James Taranto--whom he calls "Admiral", sans quotes, apparently in some bit of wingnut humor I'm not privy to--and promising newcomer Glenn Reynolds, that is, three virtual Ernie Pyles reporting from the uncontested redoubts of their own imaginations. In February he seconds Norman Podhoretz on the necessity of adding The Old New Left to our list of future targets, somewhere in between the Philippines and Russia, presumably. And halfway down the first page came an aside which made me rue (marginally) the fact that my attitude towards My Weekly Spectator has always been the same as Brooks' towards Susan Sontag and Norman Mailer: too inane to bother with. Although, in fairness, I believe one of us is actually justified in using "inane".
(Imagine, by the way, how the sixties would have looked if the war in Vietnam had been prosecuted successfully. No anti-war movement. No mass New Left. No politicized rock culture. No Woodstock. No Abbie Hoffman. No Black Panthers. And on and on. Military events have profound political and cultural implications.)

No teenage years spent unlaid and unfashionable, and frequently stuffed in my locker. And on and on. And on and on and onandonandonandonand don't you people ever fucking plan on getting over puberty? Susan Sontag equals the author of Borrow This Book And Forget To Return It! equals the Democratic party since Brooks was six, which I wouldn't personally object to if the precise opposite hadn't been the case since Brooks turned ten. Y'know, honestly, everything else ever said by or about David Brooks is rendered superfluous by those nine sentences. And they're parenthetical.

This, by the way, was something I was only vaguely aware of before: that Brooks' passive-aggressive, slip-in-some-wingnut-talking-points-and-nobody'll-notice-'cause-I'm-so-reasonable act, on display in the Times and those sennightly PBS comedy shorts, was a helluva lot less cryptic when Bill Kristol's late daddy was footing the bill. Either Brooks is a canny careerist with a congenitally malleable belief system, or he's a coward who throws bigger rocks when he's in the middle of a mob. Maybe we should take a poll.

And then, as is frequently the case with the punditocracy, something happens! and November of 2002 finds Brooks repudiating The Media's total fixation on Bad News in Afghanistan (and isn't that Just Like The Media?). No intervening mention of the place. (Astute readers may well know that something would happen! again in Iraq while Brooks dozed, but that he would wake just in time to trumpet The Surge. This is akin to the Bosox fan behaving as if the World Series was cancelled between 1919 and 2003.) Brooks would spend a sizable chunk of his first half-year at the Times fixated on Howard Dean, and spend an entire column on the campaign of Dick Gephardt (!), as Iraq moved from Six Months Tops to Total Fuck-Up; as the Afghanistan mission floundered and bin-Laden expanded into the viral video market, Brooks wrote a column bemoaning the fact that the tabloids pay more attention to guttersnipes like J-Lo and Britney than they do to our domestic aristocracy.

Submitted, not just for your amusement, but as a prime example of the level of commentary which earned David Brooks 1600 words-worth of prime Op-Ed real estate per week, not counting those Conversations with Gail Collins:
[Pamela] Constable quotes one Syed Hashimi, who moved back from California and now owns a construction firm. "Kabul is so exciting now," he says, "I'd love to be a Home Depot, a supermarket downtown, but it's hard to get government cooperation." Welcome to normal life.

Take that, Susan Sontag.

Okay, so that was a lot of work just to point out something already too well known: that these bozos are never forced to eat their own words, that they are free to be wrong at the top of their lungs, and their abiding principles don't come from Edmund Burke or Russell Kirk, unless it was one of them who first noted the resilient buoyancy of turds. It's not that Brooks is a lying careerist simp who doesn't belong on the Times Op-Ed pages, or wouldn't have back when that meant something. It's a question of how you go from Afghanistan: Now On To Damascus!, to being thoroughly disabused of that notion without bothering to mention it, to insisting we need to fight a neverending counterinsurgency long after the supposed reason for one blew up in your face. It's a question of why so much of our national discourse is conducted by guys you'd figure would take the opportunity of one morning's grooming session to run the razor from one ear to the other.

Friday, September 25

A Chicken In Every Pot

SIGN on the Kroger fish counter:

Monkfish (Poor Man's Lobster): $10.99/lb

10 Out Of 10 Experts Agree: This Time It's Not Bullshit. And This Time We're Not Bullshittin' Ya About The Bullshit Thing.

David Johnston and Scott Shane, "Terror Case Is Called One Of The Most Serious In Years". September 24

SO I set out last night to write about this David Brooks column, and for some reason decided it might be "fun" to try something called "research", so I began combing his public record to find what he'd said about Afghanistan before he became America's most freshly-minted military strategist by crouching behind his bodyguards "in country", as they say, and before it became a Not-Republican war. And it turns out to be complicated. No, not what Brooks has said, which was predictable bullshit about "bringing democracy to the region", back when Brooks was at My Weekly Standard and a majority of Americans thought they understood what we were doing there, interrupted by six years at the Times, in which his attention was captured by Iraq, Edmund Burke, Howard Dean, John Kerry, Michael Moore, the perfidy of Democrats in general, except the ones who agree with him, the driving need to privatize Social Security (briefly), the perfidious Democrats who opposed privatizing Social Security by falsely claiming that financial markets are inhabited by malevolent rich guys waiting to prey on everyone else (also briefly), Edmund Burke, the natural, inherent American psyche, something at the center of which accepts robber baronage as a small price to pay for its potential personal capitalization on laissez-faire brigandage, Edmund Burke, and Edmund Burke. It's the research that's complicated, especially since My Weekly Standard imagines you want to read the old parts badly enough that you'll pony up for the privilege, which is nearly impossible to believe if you read the new parts. Look for all this later this weekend, unless it stops raining.

Instead, let's try to catch up with the news, or "news", on Najibullah Zazi, airport limo driver and alleged terrorist mastermind now charged with sassmouth while in police custody acquiring enough Beauty Salon supplies to blow up some unspecified number of people. And sassmouth. First, though, let's get this out of our system: 1) Wasn't shuttling people in and around a major airport enough of an opportunity to terrorize Americans for you? and 2) why haven't we shut down our nation's Beauty Supply houses, Farm Co-ops, and Mercantiles? SPECTRE would be put out of business, evidentally, or else its agents would be forced to figure out complicated bus schedules just to get to Indiana in time to buy half-sticks of dynamite before July 5th. It's a measure of how stilted our national discourse truly is, I think, that no one points out--40 years after Woodstock!--that if we'd all just gone hippie would-be terrorists would now be reduced to threatening us with Saffron-rouge-and-Patchouli-oil bombs. Although, on second thought, I'll still take my chances with acetone. Mr. News Gatherer?
Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, senior government officials have announced dozens of terrorism cases that on closer examination seemed to diminish as legitimate threats.
Okay, sorry to break the rhythm so quickly, but maybe this could serve as a lesson in why you--meaning your profession--should do the actual closer examination actually closer to the stenographic dispersal of the claims of senior government officials.
The accumulating evidence against a Denver airport shuttle driver suggests he may be different, with some investigators calling his case the most serious in years.
Since the competition is the guys who were gonna takeover Camp Lejune disguised as pizza delivery men, and the guys (recently convicted!) who were gonna blow up the Sears Tower as soon as they contacted their local al-Qaeda rep and got him to spring for bus tickets and M-80s, it's not saying much.
If government allegations are to be believed,
Urp. Oh, excuse me.
Mr. Zazi, a legal immigrant from Afghanistan, had carefully prepared for a terrorist attack. He attended a Qaeda training camp in Pakistan, received training in explosives and stored in his laptop computer nine pages of instructions for making bombs from the same kind of chemicals he had bought.
Okay, again, maybe right now would be a good time to crack the window and let a breath of skepticism in. He's stocking up on acetone. He's not a chemist. He's not even an experienced bomb-maker. He's a guy who attended an al-Qaeda seminar, and he's got nine-pages of notes. To work with highly unstable chemical mixtures. Look, I've been baking for thirty-five years, and I still sometimes put the cake in the oven before I realize I've left out the baking powder.

And don't get me wrong: this sort of thing is worthwhile, even if the likelihood is that the only life we potentially saved was the night clerk's at whatever motel the guy was practicing in when he unintentionally blew himself up. And, sure, maybe it was much worse. The thanks of a grateful Nation, an' all that. And sure, the only kind of selling we seem to understand anymore is Overselling. Maybe I'm just on edge because a legal immigrant Afghani flies to Pakistan for Homecoming, returns and starts buying bomb-making materials from Beauty Supply houses, one of the two places where they're kept, and the whole investigation gets brought down by an imam informant. You're tapping every phone and email account in the country! You're watching every plane for swarthy, bearded guys (oh, sorry. you aren't). Big Telecom co-operated (except Qwest, which seems to have made up the difference the old-fashioned way, by bilking the market) without asking for warrants; hell, AT&T doesn't seem to have waited to be asked, or even waited for 9/11. You can't get Big Cosmetics on board? You can't even keep your informants in line? And you burn one out of pique? Roll the window back up, Dave, the skepticism's gettin' to me.
While many important facts remain unknown,
Slow down, Chuck. It's just the fourth paragraph.
those allegations alone would distinguish Mr. Zazi from nearly all the other defendants in United States terrorism cases in recent years. More often than not the earlier suspects emerged as angry young men, inflamed by the rhetoric of Osama bin Laden or his associates. Some were serious in intent. More than a few seemed to be malcontents without the organization, technical skills and financing to be much of a threat. In some cases, the subjects appeared to be influenced by informants or undercover agents who pledged to provide the weapons or even do some of the planning.
Yeah, do tell. Okay, look: in 2002 there were a series of mailbox bombings on the north-east side of Indianapolis. Typical punk kid stuff--by which we do not mean to excuse or minimize it; read on--but which apparently were pert' near lethal strength. And they finally nab a couple of suburban dickweeds, and they find, gosh, under our new anti-terror laws these guys can be sent up for Life. So guess what we did (hint: it didn't involve shipping them off to Bulgaria in the early morning hours in crates marked "White Castles--Keep Frozen")?

The decision to treat this as Youthful Folly took about twenty-four hours, officially, though you could pretty much hear it in the tone of voice when the cops were first asked about it. So, Standard Liberal Reply Mode, with a Point: darken their skins a few shades, and give one of 'em a hard-drive filled with the Osama bin-Laden Video Collection, Vols I and II. How many additional headline days would the thing have run? How much longer before, or if, someone decided it was Just An Ill-Considered Prank? For that matter, move it closer to Columbine and make 'em both Iron Maiden fans.

Justice may accessorize with that blindfold, but in the modern era Her Department is more likely to cover a different part of her anatomy. Let's just acknowledge that the Bureau, having bureaucratically rogered the poodle on 9/11, has been busy buffing its image on the Terra front ever since, provided that did not include solving the Anthrax mailings. And they've used every damn scrap that floated their way. Zazi may be guilty, innocent, or a kook, or some combination, but he's entitled to the presumption of one of those, the middle one. And readers, at long last, are entitled to a presumption of intelligence. Here's what we do know, for example: that if those "thousands of al-Qaeda sleeper cells" exist they've been napping for a long time, while what's left of the Islamofascist Division of SPECTRE sends evident amateurs off with complete bomb-assembly instructions of their laptops to purchase materials in a way that ought to have Uncle Leo following them while they're still in the store. Maybe we could save our declarations that we've finally foiled a Big One, at least until we've filled in all the blanks? And maybe the next time the FBI says, "And this time we mean it," it should be on a celebrity rehab show.

Thursday, September 24

And Sometimes A Cigar Is Just A Crazy Mofo With A Terminal Case Of Stupid. Of Course, They Have Those On The Left, Too.

David Greenberg, "The Obama Haters: We still don't understand how fringe conservatism went mainstream". September 23

"FORGET it, Riley; it's Slate," a wiser, saner man than I once advised, and still, every so often, while I'm staring at their latest train-wreck version of web page design--they were hampered, of course, by the unshakable conviction that the World Wide Web was NEW! and REVOLUTIONARY! and LIGHTSPEED! and so required cramming as many technological marvels into as tiny a space as possible--and some article starts cooing at me. "Hey," it'll breathe, "look me over. I'm not like those others." And I know better. But it's just a tiny click, the slightest pressure of digit on metal-look plastic, the man/sexy machine interface…

(Why, by the way, is there such resistance to simple clarity from a generation which favors furniture that looks like some hipster Shaker quit in the middle of building it? Yes, I'm old; my eyesight and reflexes ain't what they once was, but I'm not stupid, and I eventually figure it out. And yet I remain convinced that reading is pretty much identical to the skill I learned in a previous century, so why am I playing Whack-A-Mole to find what I want, again? Because you spent your childhood fiddling with your joystick? And while we're at it, how is it the Internet Magazine That Still Can't Explain How It Hired Dahlia Lithwick adds Amanda Marcotte to the XX Factor lineup? In order to balance the stable of fifteen careerist know-nothings with celebrity news fetishes? Couldn't you have thought of that earlier? God love ya, Amanda, but it's like hearing that Richard Thompson will be co-hosting Oprah all next week.)

It was the Siren Song of Professor Greenberg, and somehow I imagined "We still don't understand how fringe conservatism went mainstream" meant we'd be discussing something along the lines of, oh, how fringe conservatism went mainstream, instead of how people get it wrong when they bandy about Hofstadter's Paranoid Style, which they apparently do so frequently that the Professor doesn't need bother with examples. This is followed by a discussion of how Hofstadter himself got it wrong, on accouta he
was frustratingly silent about who, precisely, is drawn to the Manichaeism he described

peppered, throughout, with Slaterrific reassurances that Professor Greenberg, does, indeed, find these people as far removed from reality as anyone vaguely in touch with reality would.

And, y'know, I read Hofstadter's essay, though not the book that grew out of it, back in college, and it didn't much impress me, really, even back when having my ego, or anything lower, stroked by something everyone was supposed to read was a more pleasurable exercise, and one I could handle six or seven times a day. For one thing, even then I was pretty much convinced that the only thing worse than Fully Accredited Psychobabble were the people who attempted to borrow the Psychobabblers' cachet. (I had a habit of spending an afternoon or two before a semester began prowling every aisle of the bookstores, looking at the reading lists for classes, departments, whole schools I'd never have anything to do with, and it left an indelible impression on my young psyche that even at Indiana, where his lack of having died yet did not prevent the ghost of B.F. Skinner from haunting the psychology department, he was yet twice as popular in the School of Business.)

So I don't really know whether "failure to identify everyone susceptible to metaphorical paranoia" is a shortcoming of Hofstadter's or not. I do think that if you wanna gripe about it forty years later you might first do a little digging yourself, if it's so important. And I really can't say I give a fuck that people (unnamed and myriad) misuse "paranoid" by volition or butt-ignorance; find me something people don't misuse, Doc.

Do we have to go here instead?
The thinkers who investigated the historical, psychological, and sociological roots of right-wing extremism ranged from social psychologists such as Gordon Allport to continental theorists such as Theodor Adorno to best-selling popularizers such as Eric Hoffer—many of them unsettled by the trauma of European fascism and its echoes in the McCarthy movement.

Oh yeah, the unsettling Second World War, and the troubling Adolph Hitler. I thought I remembered that a lot of people seemed on edge in those days. And that explains the hysterical overreaction to the Red Scare. Not that you don't realize some extremists on the Right are a bit touched, though, right? Just like…
(In the 1960s, with the rise of conspiratorial thinking in the New Left, many turned their attention to the paranoid style on the left as well.)

Fine. Even Steven. Don't bother introducing any into evidence; Defense will stipulate that some academics of the era were--and some still are--more than a little honked off, correctly or no or don't give a fuck, at the Left's challenge to the whole panoply of academic privilege. Funny, innit, how we never get the People Who Called The Left A Bunch Of Paranoid Conspiracy Nuts Overstated The Case articles, huh?

But really, now, how do these equate? You've got Birthers in the US Congress. Since Hofstadter's 1963 lecture you've had one Anti-fluouridationist GOP Presidential candidate, and one actual President, separated by Nixon, who may not count because his Red baiting was accompanied by actual clinical paranoia, succeeded by a guy too intellectually incurious to even be aware of his debt to them, whose Vice President made Nixon look like a paragon of mental hygiene, followed by another Vice Presidential candidate (and the actual draw for party regulars) who is crazier'n a swarm of bees in September, which, of course, is aiming above the G. Gordon Liddys, the Pat Buchanans, the B-1 Bob Dornans, the Dan Burtons, Jim Sensenbrenners, Jim Bunnings, and Michelle Bachmans, all of whom have dined well on the taxpayer dime, some even without having done prison time. Th' fuck approaches that on The Left? Did Dennis Kucinich read Abbie Hoffman's Deface This Book into the Congressional Record in his younger days?
Indeed, for all the continual journalistic hosannas to the relevance of "The Paranoid Style," professional historians have grown increasingly confirmed of late that Hofstadter, Bell, and company got conservatism wrong. For about 15 years now, ever since Ronald Reagan's ascent became grist for the historian's mill, there has been a "cottage industry" of dissertations and books seeking to understand how a fringe conservatism—famously dismissed by Hofstadter's Columbia colleague Lionel Trilling as "irritable mental gestures that seek to resemble ideas"—went mainstream and gained power.

Okay, so I'm not sure why this is a "cottage industry" as opposed to, say, a "cottage" industry, in no small part because I've got no idea where this is taking place at all, since you don't tell us, Doc. Any geezer can tell you that there comes a point when events and ideas still in the living memory of people still in possession of their faculties nonetheless take on their own life. Of course, a lot of us are so perverse we prefer to let you find that out the hard way. And god knows there never was a PR campaign like the one that elevated Reagan from B-actor to Namesake of Every Road, Parking Lot, Coin, Aircraft Carrier, and Federal Edifice That Was Renamable, so explaining his "success" may have seemed like a real good, tenure-building and paper-moving exercise before it all crashed and burned to cinders. I dunno, because I dunno who you're talking about.

What I do know is there're a load of fucking crazy people out there, with or without diagnostic validity, and a lot of snopes-worthy illiteracy, and while it may be spread across the political spectrum, that's a different matter from being equally distributed. And frankly, I don't really care about its psychological engine, and what if I did? You don't need to prove motive to convict a murderer, and you don't need a former Weatherman and Presidential ghostwriter to know which way the Crazies blow. It's a country founded by slave-holding religious genocidists, fortuitously timed (if you were a white landowner) to coincide with the Enlightenment, one whose 150-year history of hardscrabble farming and isolated backwoods Biblical literalism ran smack into the Age of Invention, mass communications, and urbanization, which shamefully re-instituted racism in the 20th century, one which found itself with global economic hegemony after Europe self-destructed, and one where all the loose threads were darned into the world's ugliest pair of mentally-unstable socks, with the help of the International Communist Conspiracy, Martin Luther King, and hallucinating Leftists. And, now, from its own teevee network. I don't really give a fuck where it all came from, though feel free next time to enlighten us; I'm more concerned about why something like Slate finds it necessary to continually search for the Ultimate Right-wing Excuse. Maybe it's too much joystick. I sure don't give a fuck if somebody recklessly omitted to fully appreciate a flower or two that survived the massive Agent Orange application that was Reaganism. I'd like it to just go away. I'll settle for it being required to defend itself in that part of the world that isn't totally fucking nuts, and for Slate to decide which side of that line it wants to occupy.

Wednesday, September 23

Drive-By

JUST in case there's anyone out there demanding to know when The Left will denounce the Obama administration's flagrant manipulation of Terror in order to deflect attention away from the looming NEA scandal, let us note, first, that The Left doesn't want anything to do with us, excepting the Wonkette comments section, and we miss him. And, second, that someone ought to step up, seeing how widespread the skepticism on the Right was whenever the Bush administration upped the Terra Alert Level for political gain. Okay, so at least they were widely skeptical when Tom Ridge admitted it. Which must count for something.

Anyway, okay. Acts of the Justice Department ought to be considered politically motivated, except where a supermajority of rational people agree that one most likely isn't. Provided we keep that as the standard, mmmkay?

But having said that, let's further stipulate that if this sort of thing causes Teabag-Americans to shut th' fuck up long enough to run off and mess themselves, then the Obama administration ought to make it a regular feature, and what took you so long? COINTELPRO ran for fifteen years, and that's if you believe the official timeline; we said we quit making weaponized anthrax in 1972, too. It seems like this ought to be the political equivalent of the defense jumping offsides: offense gets a free play. It could even be accomplished--this time--without violating anybody's rights, although I realize that takes at least half the fun out of it for some people. Just pay swarthy-looking guys to pretend to plot to blow up the Sears Tower or the Transamerica Building or the Mall of America, and whisk them off to the Bahamas for future questioning. Everybody wins.

But speaking of which:

1) An agent of SPECTRE is $50,000 in debt? Wow, this recession's hit everybody.

2) They're charged with making false statements? Okay, so call me a bleeding-heart liberal, but shouldn't "lying to the cops" be legal so long as "lying to suspects" is?

3) If you've got bomb-making instructions on your laptop, then my first impression is that your al-Qaeda training wasn't strenuous enough. I managed to swap out my hard drive by lugging my computer up to my Poor Wife's office so I could watch the instructional video on her machine while working on mine. This makes me a complete idiot who luckily did not fry his iMac, not a computer repair technician.

4) Never pretend you know what's going on inside an investigation by the sort of malarky that is released outside an investigation, but look: the FBI, fighting to keep us all safe in our beds, gets pissed-off enough at an informant (for allegedly tipping off someone he'd fingered) that it doesn't just charge him, which might be a bit of misdirection, but releases his identity out of spite? I think we know where this one's headed.

Oh, almost forgot: handwritten notes "consistent with the suspect's handwriting". But let's not call this one a slam-dunk until the boys from the Phrenology Lab weigh in.

Tuesday, September 22

If Phony Intellectual Histories Were Green Stamps, You Guys Would Have About Twenty Toasters By Now

Michael Lind, "Intellectual conservatism, RIP". September 22

LISTEN, I thought you guys were intellectually opposed to the whole "Everybody Gets a Medal" thing:
On Sept. 18, Irving Kristol died. On Feb. 27, 2008, William F. Buckley Jr. passed away….The intellectual conservatism that they, in different ways, sought to foster had passed from the scene before they did.

Yeah. Death by flourishing.
A neoconservative of the older, Democratic school, I broke with the right in the early 1990s and warned about where right-wing radicals were taking the country in my book "Up From Conservatism."

Don't be shy, Michael; that's a whole one-and-a-half paragraphs you wasted before making this about yourself and your back catalogue. By the way, you were born in 1962, weren't you? Meaning you signed up for "Old School Democratic Neoconservatism" when you were, what, ten?

Okay, so, you hit the Professional "Conservative" Gadabout Circuit in the mid-90s. Harper's. The New Yorker. The Andrew-Sullivan-era New Republic. This makes you a pioneer? Only to people who think of the 90s as sepia-toned Era of sleeve garters and ice cream socials.
The train wreck I predicted occurred during the Bush years, and the postmortems have begun.

Train slips the rails in 1959; "Conservative" Gadabout Guy predicts crash in 1996. Is immediately clutched to the warm, moist folds of the Liberal bosom for "having seen the Light", which, of course, excuses a further decade of "Conservative" gadabouting distinguishable from the author's previous outright neoconservatism by the fact that it now insists neoconservatism was, in fact, a Liberal phenomenon unfortunately corrupted by some cross-pollination, rather than the flight of the Strangelovian Coldest of Cold War Democrats across the aisle, where their love of Massive Military Procurement Boondoggles would be truly appreciated.
In the 1950s and 1960s National Review featured some brilliant mavericks like James Burnham, Willmoore Kendall and Russell Kirk

Right. Two Trotskyites-turned-Royalist and a guy whose intellectual output amounts a series of footnotes to a selective reading of Burke, and who would be completely forgotten today if it weren't for succeeding generations of simpering authoritarian lash cravers imagining they score debate points by demanding to know why no one else reads him. That, plus the Golden Age of Unfettered Racism Advanced By High Latin Derivatives.
but for most of its subsequent history it was simply a partisan opinion journal.

Yeah. Death by not-quite-flourishing.
As for the libertarian intellectual movement, isn't that a contradiction in terms? How intellectual can a movement be, if it reflexively answers "the market!" to every question of domestic and foreign policy, before the question is even asked?

Y'know, Alan Greenspan was appointed by Ronald Reagan. Milton Friedman won the Noble Fucking Prize in Economic Sciences, which ought to include an asterisk, in Nineteen Hundred and Seventy-Six. When did you tumble onto this, exactly?
That leaves neoconservatism.

Thanks, I'd love to.
But in its origins neoconservatism was a movement of the center-left, not of the right.

How long, O Lord, must we endure this? The thing that's always sorta amazed me is how influential Trotskyite-turned-Monarchists have been in the "Conservative" movement, compared to how few you actually run into on the street.
Here is Nathan Glazer, co-editor with Irving Kristol of the Public Interest, in that magazine's final issue in spring 2005, recalling the origins of the journal in the 1960s: "All of us had voted for Lyndon Johnson in 1964, for Hubert Humphrey in 1968, and I would wager (?) that most of the original stalwarts of The Public Interest, editors and regular contributors, continued to vote for Democratic presidential candidates all the way to the present. Recall that the original definition of the neoconservatives was that they fully embraced the reforms of the New Deal and indeed the major programs of Johnson's Great Society ... Had we not defended the major social programs, from Social Security to Medicare, there would have been no need for the 'neo' before 'conservative.'"

In other words, that nest of vipers in the Great Society, the ones who would, while Dr. King lay a-moulderin', lay the intellectual groundwork for "respectable", "principled" racial backlash, on the grounds that real backlash would be ten times worse; the ones who ran screaming from the US debacle in Vietnam on the grounds that honest evaluation threatened further generations of anti-Communist weapons procurement, or--to paraphrase the brilliant maverick Russell Kirk, the US capitol, Tel Aviv--would now like to pat itself on the back for never advocating a complete dismantling of the social safety net, a series of programs which actually achieve something, while it was swearing allegiance to the party which swore to eliminate them. Except it can't, because a snake's arms are too short.
The "neoconservatism" of the 1990s, defined by support for the invasion of Iraq and centered on Rupert Murdoch's magazine the Weekly Standard, edited by Irving's son William Kristol, had little to do with the original impulse, as Glazer points out: "There is very little overlap between those who promoted the neoconservatism of the 1970s and those committed to its latter day manifestation."

Which is a lot like reaching the Buddy Holly plane crash site just in time to hear The Big Bopper wheeze, "On second thought, I'll stay on the bus."
While Irving Kristol and Norman Podhoretz set aside any differences with the Republican right by the 1990s,

Yeah, I remember the uproar in neo-con circles.
other first-generation neocons like Glazer and the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan remained true to their New Deal/Great Society principles.

Or "principles".
The '70s neoconservatives were so focused on the utopianism of the '60s campus left, however, that most paid too little attention to a far greater threat to their beloved New Deal tradition, the utopianism of the libertarian right.

Right. And how could they have known that a party, and a political movement, whose raison d'ĂȘtre since 1932 had been the exposure of the Communist World Domination scheme behind Social Security, the fluoridation of drinking water, and the career of Larry Parks, would eventually go all nutty an' stuff?
Ultimately Milton Friedman and other free-market ideologues did far more damage to America

Meaning you're "ultimately" willing to admit it.
than the carnival freaks of the counterculture.

Meaning some long-haired Molly Hatchet fan stole your lunch money in '79. We'd guessed as much.
Like today's right, the '60s and '70s left was emotional, expressivist and anti-intellectual. (One of its bibles was Abbie Hoffman's "Burn This Book!")

The fuck you say. I got there a little late myself, but, y'know, none of those smug, Patchouli-drenched stoner motherfuckers ever loaned me a copy. Or urged me to read it. Or, y'know, ever even referred to Abbie Hoffman, even obliquely. And it was Steal This Book, not that that detracts from the accuracy of your Sixties travelogue. And I'm sorry about your lunch money.
The prophets of the Age of Aquarius and the "population explosion" were every bit as apocalyptic as Glenn Beck.

Jesus Fucking Christ, how do you even find Paul Ehrlich these days to take a swing at him? I'm fifty-five years old. I clearly remember the hubbub made when the US population headed inexorably for two-hundred million. Even adjusting for misanthropy I can't find much benefit in our having doubled that in four more decades, unless you really like strip malls. And that's just from the exponential multiplication of junk culture thirty years of "Conservatism" has championed, and before we look at climate change, water, and agricultural problems for the century ahead.

But then, I guess that Ol’ Libertarianism still exerts some strange, anti-intellectual pull, huh?
Boomer nostalgia to the contrary,
Look, motherfucker: I’m not apologizing about that lunch money thing again.
in the case of practically every domestic issue disputed by the counterculture and the original neoconservatives the mainstream progressive position today is that of the neoconservatives of the '70s. While the neoconservatives of the Committee on the Present Danger in the 1970s exaggerated Soviet power, the kind of muscular liberal internationalism that Pat Moynihan defended against the left in the 1970s and against Reaganite unilateralism in the 1980s is today's progressive grand strategy.

In case there’s anyone out there still reading me, and wondering why I was still reading this, here it is. “Boomer nostalgia” holds that every domestic issue was resolved in favor of the “Counterculture”.

Now, there may be people, nostalgic or no, who do believe this, and perhaps some of them are no longer institutionalized under court order. But fer crying out loud, if you were there you might still recall that Nixon won in ’68, and then crushed the Counterculture candidate in ’72, while the Scoop Jacksons and the D.P. Moynihans nodded in assent. By ’76 liberal Democrats couldn’t even see to the nomination of one of their own. Then Reagan was elected, while the Scoop Jacksons and the D.P. Moynihans nodded in assent.

Enough’s enough, really, which is what we have to say about the whole exercise. The pretense that the utter disaster wrought by the cascading snowfield of Reaganism has nothing whatever to do with the people up at the top who were lighting the dynamite, that it Couldn’t Possibly Have Been Anticipated before the mid-90s, when some bright Boy Cassandra got a job at Harper’s, and that the mushy middle-ground still occupied by a large percentage of the cowards in the Democratic party represents both its True Home and some sort of intellectual consensus about our incontinent international adventurism is just more right-wing fabulism. It’s just a mostly-forgotten trench where a few stragglers have sheltered, in that pretend war where their real ideas haven’t already been routed. It only works, to the extent it does, because the Game is rigged, because the Mushy Middle isn’t in opposition to far-Right insanity but the boundless swamp that occupies its border. It’s a helluva lot easier to keep your Seat in a Blue State (say, New York) while voting for weapons programs and carrier deployments and dick-contest invasions, than it is to speak in favor of multinationalism, let alone a truly rational evaluation of what all those trillions and trillions have bought us since Korea. Any intellectual tradition would have tumbled onto this a few decades ago, and not because it read all about it in Harper’s. So the Bible says, anyway, the Lady sang, and…you know the rest.

Sunday, September 20

You Say "Puh-Tay-Toe", I Say "There's Nothing Like Being Lectured On The Grand Sweep Of US History By A Man Who Denies It Had A Labor Movement".

David Brooks, "No, It's Not About Race". September 17

WELL, with all the Hoosier-flavored excitement this week, getting the Old, Unglued Mitch Daniels back (Friday the State Bar Association objected to his tirade; Sunday the Indianapolis Racist Beacon treated that news with a gag headline and the distinct air of someone who'd wound up at the bail bondsman's for the fourth time due to his roommate's drunken antics); the panegyric for fallen Mall Developer Mel Simon, whose ritualized amnesia naturally ignored his Pacers holding up the city for an extra $15 mil a year, the better to treat him as a sort of Albert Schweitzer called to live among the pagan Cinnabon franchisees (the local news hairdos reported the day before his funeral--attended by Bill Clinton, by the way--the possibility that George Hamilton would attend. Reader, imagine living in such a world!); a proposal by the Airport Authority to help pay for its $1 billion experiment in whether "boondoggle" or "butt ugly cathedral-slash-warehouse" was the greater insult to a new terminal building now mired in Terminal Red, by--you'll never guess--selling off, I mean "leasing for twice the lifetime of anyone able to read", its assets; and the "restructuring" of Mitch's old slushing grounds, pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, which is the Fourth Sign of the Indianapolcalypse, it's been difficult to focus on national "news", even if Jimmy Carter did say something.

(We suspect, by the way, that like us Carter has passed beyond anger at the fact that everything he ever says publicly--no matter how perceptive or bland or familiar--is treated simultaneously as the sui generis ravings of a street-corner Sterno bum and as though it had the legal force of an ill-considered Presidential directive, passed beyond anger, we say, through boredom, and into a sort of fascination with the process, like watching a bruise turn every color of the visible spectrum.)

Is Carter wise enough of the ways of such things that he realized, even intended, to goad David Brooks into one of those moments of phony self-deprecation which are in reality a transparent exercise in Slate-style doublereverse counterspin self-aggrandizement? David Brooks jogs! (Okay, he says "runs", but I'm not buying it.) I mean, can you believe that? David Brooks? The man's such an intellectual you wouldn't think he had time for physical exertion, let alone the inclination! Anyway, Jimmy Carter interrupted David Brooks' cardio routine:
Then, as I got to where the Smithsonian museums start, I came across another rally, the Black Family Reunion Celebration. Several thousand people had gathered to celebrate African-American culture. I noticed that the mostly white tea party protesters were mingling in with the mostly black family reunion celebrants. The tea party people were buying lunch from the family reunion food stands. They had joined the audience of a rap concert.

Because sociology is more important than fitness, I stopped to watch the interaction. These two groups were from opposite ends of the political and cultural spectrum. They’d both been energized by eloquent speakers. Yet I couldn’t discern any tension between them. It was just different groups of people milling about like at any park or sports arena.

Okay, now, assuming this has any relationship to what other, old-fashioned thinkers call the truth (this is the guy, remember, who couldn't find a way to spend $20 on a meal in Franklin County, PA, but could find the salad bar at Applebee's), let's note the uni-directional nature of the social osmosis, and its stereotypicality: your 21st century White teabagger does not mind if the Black Man cooks for him, or entertains him with his remarkable musical abilities! Yes, we've truly come a long way.

Meanwhile, and I'm not sure if Mr. Brooks is quite aware of this, but the reason you didn't report on the number of African-American Cultural celebrants drifting the other direction, drawn by the redolence of Burkean freedom, faux-hillbilly music sung through the noses of Music City millionaires, and bologna on white bread with yellow mustard--apart from the obvious reasons, I mean--is that African Americans, as a group, generally stay th' fuck away from crazy people and unleashed curs.
And yet we live in a nation in which some people see every conflict through the prism of race. So over the past few days, many people, from Jimmy Carter on down, have argued that the hostility to President Obama is driven by racism. Some have argued that tea party slogans like “I Want My Country Back” are code words for white supremacy. Others say incivility on Capitol Hill is magnified by Obama’s dark skin.

Well, Christ, Dave, it's a big fuckin' country, and prismatic viewers are sold on every street corner where they're not just given away. A lot of people insist on seeing every conflict through the prism of Post-War European power struggles, Monarchist versions of the French Revolution, and the Divine Right of People With Money to short-change everyone else. They are typically termed "conservatives", around these parts, anyway, and the principal distinction between them and the sort of people who are typically charged with "seeing everything through a prism of Race" is that the former have actually held real political power for much of the last sixty years.
Well, I don’t have a machine for peering into the souls of Obama’s critics,
Y'know, Dave, I bet the IT department could recalibrate the one you use for peering into the souls of Democrats.
so I can’t measure how much racism is in there.
You could always embark on another fact-finding trip.
But my impression is that race is largely beside the point.
Now there's a shocking conclusion. Will you be having the Salad Bar with that?
There are other, equally important strains in American history that are far more germane to the current conflicts.
Do tell. Y'know, if you'd like to tell us now which ones were specifically excluded by Jimmy Carter when he said an "overwhelming portion" of the animosity aimed at the President was due to racism, I'll be sure to take notes. (By the way, I peeked ahead, so if you'd like to go ahead and actually list more than one other contributing strain while you're at it we won't mark off for grammar.)
The populist tendency has always used the same sort of rhetoric: for the ordinary people and against the fat cats and the educated class; for the small towns and against the financial centers.

And it has always had the same morality, which the historian Michael Kazin has called producerism. The idea is that free labor is the essence of Americanism. Hard-working ordinary people, who create wealth in material ways, are the moral backbone of the country. In this free, capitalist nation, people should be held responsible for their own output. Money should not be redistributed to those who do not work, and it should not be sucked off by condescending, manipulative elites.
All right, class, someone returned a copy of My American History Reader with the years 1865 through 1942 ripped out, and no one leaves for summer vacation until he comes forward.
Barack Obama leads a government of the highly educated. His movement includes urban politicians, academics, Hollywood donors and information-age professionals. In his first few months, he has fused federal power with Wall Street, the auto industry, the health care industries and the energy sector.
Which had all gone begging previously.

Krishna H. Vishnu, where were all the Teabagging Populists when the Silver-Spoonfed Cowboy and his Hench-President were handing over energy policy to the Oil Companies, and war profits to their cronies? Or when the Poor marched off to fight yet another Rich Man's war? It's all because Barack Hussein Kenyatta Obama is educated? Please. That's not Jacksonian common-man democracy. It's the bullshit anti-intellectualism the Republican party has been fertilizing its fields with since the 50s, when it began losing every issue on facts and was left with appeals to emotionalism. Those millions gathered in DC a week ago don't give two shits about populism, not any more than the people organizing the things--who are the precise definition of Hamiltonian fat cats, by the way, Dave--do. How popular was the dirt-poor born, kick-the-lazy-bums-off-Welfare reformer Bill Clinton with that bunch? How many fucking times did we hear that George W. Bush, the uneducated man's Winston Churchill, was our nation's first MBA-wielding savior? If they now pay lip service to the "non-elitism" of Sarah Palin, it's not because she's a Woman of the People, but because she's so plug-ignorant despite a college education that you can't pretend it took.

Look, I'm sorry, really, that your youthful fad-following was never adjusted by a later adult reflection, probably because spouting Friedmanisms paid so well and kept you so busy. But to you, and Andrew Sullivan, and everyone else who expresses a temporal mild distaste for the racist dumbasses your party expressly cultivated in the wake of the Civil Rights movement, the better to keep your own white-gloved pinkies clean: Fuck you. You were happy to use the race card to denounce your opponents back when you were on top, and you were happy to declare racism Over rather than work for a more just society, but when you get called on this it's the fault of toothless hillbillies who aren't actually racist, really, so far as you can see from Georgetown. What Carter said was simply self-evident; pretending otherwise, pretending that this ugly stain doesn't exist, or that you don't see it, pretending that I Want My Country Back is just a paean to the barefoot days of Bush/Cheney, pretending, above all, that because the Right has been batshit crazy for forty-years it hasn't been racist as well, y'know, I suppose if it helps you sleep at night we can just add it to the Pile.

Saturday, September 19

I Heart Charles Pierce

VOL. LXXIV:
I came to the not unreasonable conclusion that most of the politicians involved in this business--up to and including the lemon in the White House--don't care about the simple fact that this country is going to allow people to sicken and die because they can't afford to do anything else. Period. Everything else is dumbshow, a WWE card covered by people engaged in a really bad form of sportswriting--people, I might add, who could care less themselves that this country is going to allow people to sicken and die because they can't afford to do anything else.

Does anyone honestly believe that this White House has acted in good faith? With its allies in Congress? With its constituents? Hell, with its own campaign promises? Does anyone honestly believe that, say, Chuck Todd gives a rat's ass how many people out in the country slowly sicken and die as long as Chuck can tell us who's up and who's down, and what's politically feasible and what's not, and that he can still get a good table at the Palm? Never in my long career as a professional cynic have I seen an spasm of Beltway bubblehood so far removed from the actual concerns of people's lives--so far removed that, last weekend, we had a gathering of the politically halt, lame, blind, and crippled in Washington, gathered for the sole purpose of petitioning various oligarchs to keep screwing them with their pants on. Never in my long career as a professional cynic have I seen a spasm of Beltway bubblehood so far beyond even the limits of Irish Smartass to describe it. The political class in this country--politician and journalist, lobbyist and legislator, Republican and Democratic, Executive and Legislative -- has made a collective decision to protect the profits of one of the least popular industries in the history of the Republic, to preserve the iron grip of corporate bureaucrats over the practice of medicine in America, and to refuse vitrually without serious discussion to adopt measures favored by 77 percent of the voting public. It is to be in awe, is what it is.

Friday, September 18

Happy Birthday

Dr. Samuel Johnson, (1709-1784)

The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, (1850-c. 1965)

We're Ready For Your Close-Up, Governor Whiny Titty Baby Pissy Pants

video video video
[Incidentally, that's the sum total of the clips 8 and 13 ran.
Like they say about the latest SNL alumni flicker: If that's the trailer,
how bad must the actual movie be?]


BEAR in mind, Friends, that the man shown above (actual size) is attempting to stammer out a reaction, not to a political tribunal which has handed down controversial indictments of his cronies, nor a court ruling scaling back his plans to sell the state park system to Weyerhaeuser, nor even a summary judgement declaring his wife is still legally married to her middle husband.

He wasn't thwarted by ecoterrorists, nor the ACLU, nor Democratic "car bombers".

In fact, the man didn't actually lose anything at all, and certainly nothing that affects him directly, now that the shade of Richard Lugar has sent word through the OUIJA board that he'll be running for another term.

No, this is Indiana's Bonzai Governor Mitch Daniels reacting yesterday--at a press conference, not ambushed in his bathrobe as he stepped outside the Governor's Residence (inside joke) to get the morning paper--to word that the Indiana Court of Appeals had ruled Indiana's voter ID law unconstitutional, in a suit brought by The League of Women Voters. The gist of the decision is that the requiring a valid picture ID from voters who go to the polls, but nothing from absentee voters, violates Article I, Section 23 of the state constitution, which prohibits the legislature from granting unequal privileges.

Oopsie. No way to've seen that comin', huh?

It's not as though the blatant inequality was part of the boilerplate. It destroyed the premise of the law. It was much noted, commented upon, criticized, and used to demonstrate that political calculation, not vote security, was at the heart of the thing. If this had been some real world solution to a real world problem, Governor, you'd at least have an answer for the criticism, instead of incoherent indignation. What's preposterous, sir, is the suggestion that no conceivable calculus could possibly unearth any problem with the law.

By the way, that's the 3-0 decision, short pants. That Democrat Who's Been Overturned Before, by Frankly Better Judges, was the one who wrote the opinion.

The gentleman with the combover above, may we remind you, has been repeatedly touted as the great hope of the Republican party for 2012 to come up with a competent, proven leader who can voice a complete thought while giving every impression that he finds cutting taxes a bigger thrill than sleeping with women, foreign, domestic, or metaphorical. So at least they went one-for-two yesterday, since he didn't start pawing Lt. Gov. Becky "Prop" Stillman while the cameras were still rolling. Let us also note that he's had four years to prepare for this court defeat, which any rational person would have at least anticipated, even if he devoutly wished otherwise. Instead Daniels sputters and spittles like a schoolboy whose depantsing on the playground has revealed a pair of his sister's panties. That pathetic little hissy fit is one that Hoosiers have seen over and over from the man, whenever he's challenged, fer chrissakes, whenever someone calls into question the apodictic superiority of his Enormous Brain. Although I must admit that yesterday came as something of a shock, at least to me; his handlers had pretty much kept this sort of thing under wraps ever since his approval ratings nose-dived in his first term.

Not surprisingly, he then Just Made It Worse:
"It would be one thing if this thing had not already been litigated from the bottom up through the federal system, and multiple court rulings — including the Supreme Court of the United States — hadn't already spoken," Daniels said.

Got that? The great hope of the States Rights party, of the End Judicial Activism crowd, thinks that one of Justice Kennedy's recent public flatus episodes should moot a question of Indiana constitutional law for Indiana courts. For fuck's sake, Mitch, the suit was filed almost a year and a half ago. I know you were real busy hiding from the collapse of Indiana's Economic Miracle for much of that time, but couldn't somebody have explained to you what was going on?

And this is the other thing the skeptical observer has noted over the past six years: when the man is pushed he falls into these little wingnut screeds and sorry-assed talking points, like his failed attempt at the Activist Judges Gambit here, not just with zero believability but with scant evidence of fluency. There are ten-thousand internet scribblers in the ten-thousand basements of their ten-thousand mothers who could have extemporized a better attack on the decision, and without having been the ones who signed it into law four years ago. If you've got to sell yourself as The Amazing Colossal Cranium maybe you could start by figuring out a way to avoid extemporizing to the Press while there's a chip on your shoulder. In other words, find a way to avoid extemporizing to the Press.

After five years of his reign, four-and-one-half of them spent sick to death of his megalomania, it's impossible to watch him fumble for words, then come up with worse than nothing, without seeing those uh uh and uhs as Daniels trying to calculate how much wingnuttery he can play out without being arrested for fishing without a license. He's not stupid. But, as I've said before, trying to figure out some core Daniels value, some reason why he's a politician, instead of just another rich guy showing off at his favorite restaurant by sending the wine back, is like staring in the eyes of a chicken. He's like a guy who starts a small business, not to get rich, not for love of his product, but just so he can fire minimum-wage earners at will.

Every so often I'm required to admit that I'm not political pipe-dreamer, that I realize Eugene Debs is never going to be elected Chief of the Hoosiers. I had some hopes for Mitch Daniels, within reason. Yes, he ran a fairly repugnant campaign in 2004, aimed a low blow or two at Joe Kiernan, War Hero, when it suited him. Yes, his campaign was transparently, laughably, insultingly crafted by the worst sort of Lowest-Common-Denominator-market manipulators, with his Jes' Folks RV tour and a plaid shirt that made Lamar Alexander look like an actual lumberjack. But he wasn't a Jebus-humper, and his quick proposal of relieving the state's "deficit"--a one-year surtax on incomes over $150,000--held the promise of a man willing to think outside the envelope. But then that one was shot down by his own party before his secretary had collated twenty-five copies, and the failure of the Democratic minority in both houses to enact his programs by acclamation apparently triggered memories of being crammed in a locker at North Central High, or having that girl in homeroom he dreamed about for four years laugh in his face when he asked her to the Prom. Not that I imagine those are ever far from his conscious mind.

Why are you in politics? Like Nicholson asked John Huston: How much better can ya eat? If you weren't busy serving corporate interests in Indiana do you think they'd go begging? Jesus, Mitch, the Negroes have been voting for several years now--okay, not all of 'em--and you reached high office. With the help of that step stool. Give us a fucking break, huh?

Thursday, September 17

Remember the Sabbath Day Sale. Now Through Advent.

FIRST, Your Moment of Praeteritio: We are simply going to ignore the fact that, having more-or-less accidentally stumbled upon the inexplicable Megan McArdle's inexplicable Atlantic blog this AM, we find at the top some cute wildlife vid labeled "Mental Health Break". For one thing, the best response we could come up with is "Katie Couric Takes a Week Off To Recharge Her Gravitas" or "Bush to Conduct Camus Symposium".

But mostly because we've spent most of the week in the chilling thrall of the succubus of Hoosier politics, which is a lot like accidentally falling in love with a 38-year-old pole dancer with three kids, a pack-and-a-half-a-day Misty Slims Ultra Light Menthols habit, "in the box if they've got it, hon", and a missing eyetooth.

Specifically, there's the curious case of the World's Third-Worst State Legislature™, which, in my youth, met biennially without anyone noticing, but which now seems to have become some sort of floating twelvemonth advice bureau. Or else it recently discovered Television. This began when the powerful Senate Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee, chaired by the powerful Luke Kenley, declared a half-dozen-or-so per diemfests to examine the shocking, shocking behavior of Indiana's land-grant colleges, which had, in response to the Indiana State Legislature torpedoing its own budget agreement at the 11th Hour of the regular session, so that it could be called into special session by Governor Whazisname, in order to more blatantly showcase his dedication to preserving the "Surplus" he's created in part by flatlining the proposed modest increase in state education spending, had, I say, raised tuition. This is known, when it's being used as an argument against raising any taxes, any time, anywhere, which might unfairly fall on people with money, as "costs being passed on to the consumer". When such cost-passing makes the incontinent redlining of government funding by a party of demagogic corporate shills look something less that thoughtful, however, it's grounds for arm-twisting threats of political retaliation nine months before the World's Third-Worst State Legislature™ is scheduled to meet again.

Fans of the genre will enjoy learning that the local teleprompter readers repeatedly referred to the hearings as "bi-partisan", based, apparently, on the fact that the Democrats on the committee showed up to collect their largess, too. They will not require a reminder that when said Whazisname was serving as Federal Budget Ratiocinator for the Bush administration, "Surplus" was defined as "Unconscionably holding onto The People's money you seized as if it were your own".

Now comes the Interim Study Committee on Alcoholic Beverages Issues and Expense-Account Restaurant Dining (I added that last part) to examine the pressing issue of Sunday off-premises liquor sales (which have been illegal in Indiana since forever), since, apparently, there won't be time to consider this when the actual legislature actually meets next year. This prompted the usual local teevee news hysteria, and caused brave Indiana blogger Doug Masson to write a couple thoughtful posts, which prompted me to start ranting, which, in turn, prompted me to stop mid-fourth-rant and decide I ought to post about it on my own fucking site for once and spread the misery around.

So, first, the background. The 21st Amendment ceded control of alcoholic beverages to the States, which predictably resulted in a coast-to-coast festival of Rationality. Indiana's resulting alcoholic beverage laws are largely untouched since the 1930s, with the predictable result that what "upgrades" do get addressed are generally those Alcoholic Beverages Issues which concern the people who benefit from the sale of Alcoholic Beverages and the lobbyists who love them. It's the sort of The Customer Doesn't Exist approach which has made recent releases of Microsoft Windows so successful.

Like most of the rest of the country, Indiana's laws had their oddlings (grocery-store-permit holders can't sell cold beer; liquor stores can't sell cold sodas), their Blueness (no Sunday sales), and Just Plain Slack-jawed Backwoods Religious Manias (until the mid-60s women could not sit on barstools); like most of the rest of the country, I suppose, budding liquor clerks must tire of hearing out-of-state customers comment on how "weird" Indiana liquor laws are before they've collected that first paycheck. (I was in a liquor store--wineshop, really--once when the fellow who'd already wasted a couple minutes of good Getting Wasted time arguing over whether the "No Shirt No Service" sign applied to people such as himself who were "just going to get some beer", loudly appraised the clerk, myself, and everyone else in the joint how mind-blowingly unfathomable he found it that one "couldn't buy cold beer in a gas station in Indiana". The clerk and I both looked at him as though he'd demanded to know why there wasn't a haberdasher's on the second floor, as in any decent dramshop or public house.)

Anyway, there was a drawn-out fight in the Sixties which eventually resulted in Sunday sales, by the glass, in certain restaurants, which is where the matter has stood for a quarter-century. In the interim, Indiana allowed multi-state chain pharmacies to become major liquor players, permitted grocery-store-licensees to sell hard liquor, not just beer and wine, and, perhaps most tellingly, repealed--after a decade's pointed blathering--Indiana's "beer baron" law, which had prohibited brewers from establishing exclusive distributorships. The law had had the unintended but highly fortuitous effect of a) keeping beer prices lower in Indiana than surrounding states and b) keeping out Coors, which insists on exclusive distributorships since its products require specialized handling to preserve their high quality. That one kicked around for a decade--once falling to an Evan Bayh veto--just like the current Sunday sales law has, all the while growing ever more important in the eyes of local media. I suppose a cynic might suspect there's some money changing hands somewhere, and that the delay represents nothing more than a sort of auction period. The law eventually passed, enriching a family of Rocky Mountain gun-tottin' fluoridation nuts while raising beer prices for actual Indiana citizens about 20% overnight. My own compromise suggestion, foolishly based on rationality, was for Indiana to simply declare that Coors did not produce anything which could rightly be called an alcoholic beverage. Never got a proper hearing.

Now it's Sunday sales, which have been coming down the pike long enough that the Interim Study Committee on Alcoholic Beverages Issues meeting gets covered in the local "news" as though a) it had the power to decide something right there; and b) there was any question about the eventual decision. Liquor stores oppose the change, since they're currently closed by law on Sundays, while the Big Box retailers they now must compete with are open anyway. And the issue gets reported as an insider fight over the question of "freedom" to buy booze on Sunday "as in most other states". Which, to my knowledge, has never been raised as an issue in any other context, and certainly not recently, as in "most states manage to conduct reasonable facsimiles of fair elections without requiring every voter to produce his identity papers".

I'm not personally opposed to Sunday sales in any way. I am more than a little disconcerted at the ease at which Wal*Mart, or Coors, or fireworks distributors, come into the state, spread green manure around for a few years, and get state laws changed, but apparently I'm the only one, plus I'm used to it by this point. What honks me off, really, is the ease with which the whole thing gets portrayed as a question of "the right to buy" without anyone ever peeking under the hood.

Because, y'see, I've been collecting wines, modestly, for over thirty years now. I've run headlong into Indiana's real concern for consumer "rights" and other states' practices more times than I can count. Freedom? I cannot buy on the internet from anyone out of state--not from winespecialist.com, not from Sam's in Chicago, not directly from any small winery, brewery, or distiller outside Indiana--unless I first go there in person and prove I'm over 21. And that, the result of a recent SCOTUS decision, is an improvement over the first thirty years of my collecting, when I couldn't buy from out of state at all, except in person, and could not legally return to Indiana with my purchase.

And what I can buy in-state is entirely at the mercy of state-licensed distributors; I can't cultivate a relationship with my local wine guy and have him try to get me some Williams-Selyem pinot, because he can't order from anyone but those distributors. If a guy with a distributor's license decides to bring in a single case of some very rare Barolo, and sell it only to one Italian restaurant where it will be made available to me, if at all, at exorbitant markup, he can get away with doing so. Highly-sought-after collector wines (I'm not in that market) are parceled out like Christmas toys. And I'm in Indianapolis, where the lion's share of this stuff goes. Half the people in Evansville who don't care how much farmland and how many bird sanctuaries we destroy to build I-69 are just trying to get halfway decent wine without an eight-hour round trip.

So, increasingly, the For Sale sign on the Indiana General Assembly the Interim Study of alcoholic beverages produces bigger dinner plates for the gargantuan tastes of organizations which count very accurately but don't do anything else very well, and the consumer, in between lectures about how his freedom is being enhanced, never knows what hit him when that item he bought regularly gets replaced by something the distributor got a better deal on. (There used to be a shortcut to the complex problem of understanding the insanity that is Burgundy available to the Hoosier oenophile: if a particular vintage was available in Indiana, you knew it was so bad the importer couldn't sell it elsewhere.) Okay, so the fact that grocers sell little that isn't mass-produced crap, nor care one whit, is partly the fault of consumers who don't give a shit, either. I'm not asking for that to change, and what if I did? How 'bout just a little freedom from it, in the Interim?