Thursday, December 31

Worst News Of The Past Two Days Of The Decade

I TRIED, really, to come up with some End of the Naughts schtick. Okay, not really, but as a thought experiment, which centered not on "come up with an idea for an End of the Naughts column", like about actual events that normal people have long forgotten and couldn't care less about, but on "under what conditions, Riley, could you imagine working in the sort of place that did such things without that knowledge ticking away in your brain for the final fortnight of some arbitrary period, ticking, ticking, knowing that whoever had been given the task considered it a fun assignment, and the ticking just kept getting louder," and I think you know the rest. The answer is "none".

Who th' fuck cares? and is it even worth asking if there's a Decade in anyone's memory they'd less care to relive (in the hyperreal sense, not the sci-fi sense; in some recent decades people who were the loudest supporters of US military action were actually invited to join in, so we know that answer)? The Nineties may not have been that great, but compared to what followed they're like the mundane stroll you took with your beloved, on some nondescript day, that neither of you paid much attention to at the time, and no one said or did anything memorable, and the next day she got run over by a bus driven by Laura Bush.

Th' fuck are we supposed to remember about a Decade that began with Gary Condit and Terrorist Attacks and ended with Tiger Woods and demands for More Terrorist Attack nostalgia? And in which The Same Goddam Thing filled the space between those bookends? How do you talk about history, even fatuously, when everything that happens is now either discounted immediately or slowly backed away from in hopes nobody will ask questions? It's the Decade in which we pretty much decided officially to quit trying to solve problems, due to Problems' pesky habit of making us look at problems, and just see if the fishin' wasn't a little better once we floated downstream a tad.

The Naughts! When the goddam country turned against a war without doing a fucking thing about it, or by electing Democrats, which amounts to the same thing. It's the Decade where cries of "Pearl Harbor II!" were immediately followed by cries of "How dare you investigate Pearl Harbor II?" When previously unrevealed asterisks were discovered in the Geneva Conventions and the U.S. Constitution, where Secondary Financial Market manipulators were Too Big To Fail, and your phone company Too Big To Bother With The Law. When "Classical Liberal" was redefined as "Ravening Right-wing war monger" and "Progressive" as "Would-be Democratic demi-functionary so intent on garnering votes for the Centrist he favors he'll accuse Hillary Clinton of Crypto-Racism By Proxy" ("Conservative", having been devalued two decades earlier, was found to be unassailable. Which is a good thing, as it's nice to know there are still absolutes, even if they're all Absolute Nadirs).

Look: there's an uncountable number of events surrounding the Bush Jr. administration which, related singly, prove without a doubt that no one should want to relive the ten years we're just now undeservedly escaping. Vandalgate. The Crawford Ranch. The Bush Twins, who couldn't keep their privileged petty criminality out of the papers for six months. Nicknames. Journalists paid to shill the Bush line. Complaints about other country's journalists, who didn't. Actors, and later male prostitutes, hired to impersonate journalists. The little matter of our large stockpiles of chemical agents we'd renounced in the 70s; the littler matter of our losing interest in a series of terror attacks involving the same once the idea that the supply came from anywhere else became untenable everywhere except in the New York Times. 9/11 casualty figures knowingly inflated. Ahmad Chalabi. Freedom fries. Mission accomplished. A Few Dead Enders. Don Rumsfeld, the Press' Favorite Straight-shooter. The Jessica Lynch Story. The Lynndie England Story. Purple Fingers. Purple Band-aids. The close-harmony duet of the President's and Vice-President's testimony before the 9/11 Commission. L. Paul Bremer. Schoolrooms painted and soccer balls inflated. John Ashcroft turning out to be the high point of the Bush Justice Department. The Fourth Branch of Government shooting a guy in the face. That guy apologizing for getting in the way. Ari Fleischer. Karen Hughes. David Frum. Scooter Libby. Karl Rove. Medals of Freedom. Fries of Freedom. Lights on in Jackson Square. Unfettered supra-capitalist rapine spoiled by a couple bad apples. I made that list up without even trying, let alone peeking at the record. The only thing I'd want to revisit would be the cold, dead, ashes if we'd'a had enough sense to burn the motherfucker down while there was still time.

And it's all still being narrated to you by the same careerist hair-product endorsers who couldn't find an Inkling, or buy a Vowel, when it all went South the first time around, or who hid under the desk lest MSNBC stamp Finito on his employee folder, and reemerged to slap George W. Bush around after the All Clear had sounded, to resounding "Progressive" applause; by some fat fucking crypto-homicidal Brit who came into my country and called me a Fifth Columnist, after which he belatedly noticed that the Nazi prison guards he was palling around with didn't care much for his kind, either, and suddenly turned into a rational non-partisan. It could be measured out in Slate-brand coffee spoons, in the annual How I Got Iraq So Wrong Despite There Being Ample Evidence the Whole Goddam Thing Was a Sham Being Run by Coked-Up Gangsters Revisited issue. Frank Rich, MoDo, Peggy Noonan, and David Brooks still have Three-Card Monte stands, but at least two of them went to see An Inconvenient Truth as a substitute for a public apology and ritual suicide.

The Naughts are nothing but a measure of our collective failure to even address, let alone work on, the transparent con-game at the center of our downward political spiral, a time when we told the professional liars and justifiers of international atrocity they could quit trying so hard, 'cos we really preferred being hoodwinked to the difficult business of thinking things out, and did they know if anyone was looking for interns? A Time of War is no time to question the President's judgment on military matters, but it's okay to try de-balling him over his birth certificate. It'd be one thing if we were really caught in a traffic jam of political discourse. But we ain't. The culprit isn't lack of clarity, it's the lack of courage to confront an entrenched ruling class that no longer cares about truth or falsehood, and won't so long as it can get away with it. The goddam run-up to our little Iraq fiasco was a friggin' caricature of a 50s Red Scare classroom film, but there was no Edward R. Murrow to (eventually) call it out. We proved, in successive disasters, any of which (maybe excepting Katrina) was not just predictable, but assured, that the Reagan House of Cards would not stand. 'Course, we could'a saved ourselves some trouble by noticing it had blown down in a minor breeze in 1987, but, you know. You don't write a bad review of the hottest new restaurant in town, else people will be convinced you don't know what you're talking about; just try to remember to act surprised when the salmonella outbreak hits the news.

Just fucking spare us all, for once, huh? I don't give a fuck that there were no iPods as of January 1, 2000. It's bad enough that that sorta thing gets reported as though no previous Decade had seen any comparable technological gee-whiz moment it lionized as proof of its own superiority by proxy; it's just that much worse when it sounds like the only thing you can find to celebrate. Last night the forced nostalgia was interrupted briefly so some hairdo could report--with suitably feigned gravitas--that Iran's police chief had promised "No mercy" for protesters, and--yeah, it's just me, but--I couldn't help remembering how the Decade halted for a month, just about in the middle, so we could celebrate the Great American Hero and Single-Handed Smiter of Godless Communism, a man who made his political bones as the No Mercy To Protesters Governor of some Western state.

Just fucking spare us all, for once, huh? Yeah, I know it's too late. And many happy returns. Try the Freedom Fries.

Tuesday, December 29

Six Cups Of Coffee And Four Shots Of Nyquil Later, I'm Back To Normal

Peter Baker, "A Phrase Sets Off Sniping After a Crisis". December 29

I'VE been fighting off a sore throat and cough the last three days, and arguing with my Poor Wife about whose holiday-convocated family is the source of the psycho-Nazi-elementary-school-warfare-germs hacked directly onto unprotected foodstuffs by a couthless, unmanaged, and by this point, frankly unmanageable brood one-third larger than the Monaco Olympic team (guess).

Regular readers have probably already tumbled onto the fact that my health had nothing to do with the fact that I missed the tragic appearance of Janet Napolitano on CNN's State of the Union Sunday with Candy Crowley, Substituting For John King, which, for the record, can be explained, in decreasing order of repugnance, by: 1) Candy Crowley; 2) The network that employs Candy Crowley; 3) Sunday "News" programs in general which, as recently as this past Sunday, announced they consider Newt Fucking Gingrich a "newsmaker" ("Former Speaker of the House" said the promo; "Didn't they leave out 'Disgraced'?" said my Poor Wife); 4) The idea that we need a timely explanation from the Secretary of the Biggest, Most Ill-Conceived Boondoggle of a Department Washington Could, or Ever Will, Rush Into Existence as to How, and Why, some lunatic set his pants on fire on an airplane despite the fact that we employ an entire category of individuals whose job it is to simply wait and watch for the next lunatic on an airplane story and shit bricks about it, that category being "News people", and What She's Going To Do About It.

Which job she apparently failed, and which has sparked the biggest crisis in Washington since the last time the Right went apeshit about something, which I believe was last Thursday. So I'm doubly grateful to Peter Baker for bringing me up to speed on all this.
To the list of phrases it may be best for political leaders to avoid after a major security incident, add “the system worked” right after “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.”

Just as the public did not really share President George W. Bush’s assessment of how things were going after Hurricane Katrina, so too was there a good deal of skepticism when President Obama’s homeland security secretary declared faith in a system that failed to stop a guy who tried to blow up a passenger jet on Christmas Day.

In both instances, the statements were meant to reassure a skittish public but seemed disconnected from the reality they were describing. Even Mr. Bush ultimately concluded that Michael D. Brown, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, was not in fact doing a heck of a job; Mr. Brown was soon out. And in this case, Janet Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security, does not think the system worked across the board, only that it worked in terms of the response after the attempted bombing took place.

And look, I'm not even interested enough in this to look for whatever context this was taken out of, not that I don't expect one could be found, but because it Doesn't Matter. Because when someone has to dig for "there's a good deal of skepticism" to equate some Wingnut Gaffe Outrage with the Bush administration's Katrina response, that person is lying. Even if that person accidentally happens to be telling the truth.

Is this the sort of thing you went to college for, Mr. Baker? Is it the sort of government who think we deserve, and one you'd like to contribute your full measure to preserving? Is it? Government where the tiniest extemporanea uttered, or flubbed, by public officials are picked up by a group of people giving a convincing performance of half-literacy, and pummeled about the head and shoulders? And captured for YouTube? Thereby instituting a crisis?

Fuck it, this is not about Janet Napolitano, a high-rising political functionary tasked with running a bloated bureaucratic brand that owes its existence to deep political thinker Joe Lieberman, and which we'd be better off spinning back into its constituent parts. (If we could find someone fit to run the thing it would be no one we ought to give anything resembling that sort of power, not to mention that we'd wind up fifty years later with another century-and-a-half's worth of profound embarrassment on the order of the J. Edgar Hoover Building.) It's about the Press acting as though Gerald Ford whiffing on a line about Eastern Europe, or George H. W. Bush barfing on the Japanese Prime Minister, had real-world rather than sitcom-world consequences. Did Ford really not understand Soviet domination of Poland? Does Napolitano really think someone setting his pants on fire on an airliner is okeh so long as the passengers tackle him and the plane manages to land? Is that the message either was conveying?

And, goddam it, who thought "Heck of a job, Brownie" was the worst of the Katrina mess? Bush could'a said "Brownie, kiss me on the mouth, you beautiful beast" if his administration had been doing its job. The point was, first, that the public soon became aware that "Brownie" was a political hack who had as much business running FEMA as Joe the Plumber would've--and, again, which no one would have cared a fig about if the job had been done--and, second, that the benign neglect visited on Nawlins, and the rest of the Gulf, was a Republican feature, not a bug, and being cheered on the sidelines by a Starship of Jonahs. There aren't any Democrats cheering for terrorists, except in the perpetually fevered imagination; hell, you can't even get the President to keep his word on civil liberties. The only real connection between Katrina and Flaming Pantsgate is the one you're trying, and failing, to make. And again, assuming you really think all this is as serious as you say, you ought'a be the first one to volunteer to shut up about it, for the sake of Civilization Herself.

Monday, December 28

With A Capital T

IF there's anything we learn at the close of Advent, over and over and over, it's that Crap is the one thing that's always in style, that Crap actually informs the further production of Crap (i.e., today's Crap is a crapier version of yesterday's), and that post-Industrial society has a desperate need to entice the young into the worship of Crap as early as possible, lest they grow up knowing the difference.

Extrapolating from my family, anyway.

It was damn-near impossible by Friday night to separate the screaming, battery-operated consumer wallow I'd just endured from the hysterical NBC News pitchmen desperately trying to entice last-minute Boxing Day (Canada) shoppers with discounted al-Qaeda and Pope Assassination remnants.

Maybe it's just me, but if we're so intent on fighting a War on Terra, perhaps we could begin with not helping the agents of terror spread, well, terror. No one with a cursory experience of such things expects The Press to actually remain calm and report established facts only; but what NBC (if I'm unfairly tarring the other nets here, let me say sincerely that I fucking doubt it) was engaged in Friday night was an ad campaign disguised as news, yet another suggestion that the massive failures of the Bush administration now serve as corporate/government templates.

Crazy guy from Nigeria sets leg on fire, claims al-Qaeda told him to! And maybe they did, but for the Love of Spam, how does anyone believe anything a Nigerian says without independent collaboration? Of course, if you were one of literally dozens of Americans who regularly reads the papers, and if you backed that up by reading ten paragraphs into the Times story the next day, you'd'a heard from a suitably anonymous federal official that there was a possibility the claim was aspirational rather than real, which is like waiting ten graphs to have a 700 Club official, on condition of anonymity, admit it was theoretically possible Jebus didn't actually aim Hurricane Katrina at Nawlins just because of the gays.

Of course there's no question why the Qaeda™ Brand would be so attractive to the aspirational human torch, shampoo bomber, or pizza-box booby-trapiste: infomercials.

The Flight 253 story was helpfully illustrated with crazy pictures of crazy Richard Reid, the convicted 2001 shoe bomber, whose al-Qaeda-assisted incompetence was revealed by Mohammed Mansour Jabarah, the former al-Qaeda #2 man who was "questioned" in "Oman", or "Amman", or "Canada", and who also revealed that fiendish al-Qaeda turbulence that brought down that airliner in Queens; evidently Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab hadn't had time to get his Islamic Glamour Shots back. The technique continued when the Potential but Bumped Wall-to-Waller of the Islamo-atheist attack on the Pope called out the clips of some other guy shooting some other Pope, on the grounds that this was much cooler.

The woman turned out to be a Pope-crazed fangirl, not a terrorist, and so was unfairly locked up in the nuthouse (Italian cassia delle castagne) for daring to live the dream of the other 200,000 people in the crowd. The interesting thing, though, was that while the attack had occurred twenty-fours hours earlier, NBC was still left to speculate about the possibility of Evil intent motivating the same crazy woman who'd tried to rush this Ratzenberger guy a year earlier while wearing the same bright red sweatshirt. I guess they didn't have time to check.

[Not coincidentally, in searching for actual entertainment to replace last night's gridiron "contest" between the Washington (DC) Redskins and the Dallas (TX) Palefaces, I accidentally ingested five minutes of some History Channel, or National Geographic Network, or some similar Perpetual Horoscope of the Airwaves, program promising to unleash historians and other scholars on the question of Biblical history. What this apparently entails, so far as The Channel Formerly Known As History is concerned, is checking the Rolodex for people with advanced degrees in Explaining Biblical Nonsense Away. I happened upon an "exposé" of Exodus; it turned out I wasn't interested enough to see if they were doing the whole thing in order. I got there just as Moses had been banished to Midian, and what happened next explains a lot about our news coverage.

There's not a scrap of evidence for Midian, which might give your average scholar pause, but this is teevee. Based on the burning bush episode, which happened on Mount Horeb, a geographic feature remarkable for its ability to pick up and move to wherever Biblical apologists need it to be, we proceed from the assumption that the tale must be describing something literally true, even though the misapprehension of a real physical event would seem to defeat the purpose of insisting on literal truth in the first place. We speculate that the heat source was a volcanic vent; we locate the nearest such vents (in the mountains of Araby); voilà! we've found Midian. Meanwhile, we've found our bush, which happens to be a tree, an acacia which is the most fire-resistant thing in Midian, and we take a blowtorch to one. And through some theological argument I wasn't equipped to follow, we proved that it being reduced to ash was somehow distinct from being "consumed".

Have you followed any of that? Could you explain it to me? So far as I could tell it is metaphysically preferable to have the authors of the Pentateuch, the most learned people of their era, unable to recognize where the heat from a volcanic vent is coming from or to distinguish tree from bramble, ignorant of the burning properties of the local flora, and so simple as to imagine something reduced to ash had not burned, than to admit the great foundation of Western literature occasionally indulges in poetry.]

So a woman--all this is obvious at videophone resolutions--jumps a barrier and is bullrushed, somewhat belatedly, by Il Papa's security detail, but manages to get a hold of him and drags him down with her. And a day later this is still being described as a possible assault. But I guess we should be thankful she's in a mental hospital, considering these are the people who took two centuries to take Galileo off the Index. The Church of Rome, I mean; for all I know NBC is still debating the issue.

Thursday, December 24

The Weather Down There

EVEN some out-of-state readers who come here just to feel superior may recall that in 2005, Peevish Indiana Governor and former lawn jockey model Mitch Daniels, newly elevated (sorry) by an electorate apparently convinced that a man who condescended to tour Indiana in The World's Third Largest Recreational Vehicle, despite his obvious, nay, palpable distaste for the state, the sunburned, chain-smoking denizens whose elbows he was forced to rub and deep-fried fodder to share, and the garish, Hoosier-built, two-rooms-with-kitchenette behemoth-on-wheels he was forced not merely to travel in but to allow, at every stop, those same gawking grease-eaters to tour, as though it was one of Graceland's outbuildings or the reliquary of some Jesus-shaped potato--it was, so far as I know, the first state-wide election in which one of the candidates spent the entire campaign with what looked like an undertaker's vain attempt at a post-mortem smile molded onto his face--that such a man, I say, shouldn't, even if he could, be denied what little he asked for in return, proposed a one-year surtax on incomes over $125,000 in an effort to "balance" Indiana's "budget". Within seventy-two hours Daniels is killed and replaced by his doppelgänger (every candidate for high office has one at the ready, an offshoot, or fringe benefit, depending on your point of view, of Operation Paperclip; you didn't think Mengele was in South America working on his tan, did you?). The surtax proposal disappears quicker'n Sarah Palin from a book signing; the New Mitch never utters the words "tax increase" again.

Experienced observers of the political scene won't even have to brace for the coda--heard yet again this month in the dopedoppelgänger for the Washington Post--which recapitulates the theme of Daniels' political courage while omitting any mention that the entire exercise could'a been clocked with a $2 kitchen timer.

The state GOP, having--this is 2005, remember--assumed its rightful place in the pantheon of Karl Rove's Permanent Majority and disposed of the body (okay, a lot of people think this Nazi Breeding Program for Docile Political Homunculi is a tad farfetched. "Where's the proof?" they say, or "Conspiracy theorist!" or "If you don't cooperate, Mr. Riley, you're going to have to be restrained again". But look, Mitch Daniels has had two sources of income his entire career, at least officially: taxpayers and pharmaceutical sales, first as a college freelancer, then as Eli Lily's VP of International Corporate/Government Synergic Flimflammery. Neither really suggests someone with a whole lotta concern for the customer's point of view ["One: Keep 'Em Waiting. Two: Make Sure They Leave Hungry." could be an interchangeable motto]. Yet now, facing what economists refer to as a massive fucking discrepancy between the sunnier-than-the-sun campaign claims of 2008 and the functional bankruptcy of one year later, the New Mitch turns up at each new crisis, or every two weeks, whichever comes first, to announce more cuts, as though he had discovered the only mathematical equation with just one side.) uh, the state GOP, controlling both sides of the Legislature, and with "Mitch Daniels" "in" the Governor's Mansion (further evidence: Indiana First Lady Cheri-with-an-i Daniels, "Cosmo" to her friends, would never have spent an hour in that dump, something she averred in public right around the time the first Mitch disappeared. She hasn't been heard from since. There've been about four public appearances by "Cheri Daniels" since 2004, but no one even remembers what she looked like, making comparisons impossible. For that matter, the woman is said to have married Mitch Daniels twice. Case closed.) proceeded to brand itself the Party That Balances Budgets, which it did by gaming the count in new and exciting ways, and auctioning off state assets to cover the difference. Of minor note is that fact that the branding effort required both houses, and the new Governor, to ignore the massive Property Tax revenue hurricane which had been approaching at the customary 24 mph since a court decision in 1999, with a precise arrival date of the aforementioned 2005 and a pinpointedly accurate landfall at the Statehouse. Again, the veteran observer could probably predict that the resulting Tax Protest flooding would 1) sweep away Daniels' major "Democratic" rival, who'd had nothing whatever to do with it; and 2) result in Daniels being hailed as a man of unprecedented political courage and concern for the Little Guy.

Now, it's true "The Heroic Pilot Who Laughs at Storm Warnings" didn't work out so well for Mitch's former boss, but nobody says these things are perfect, and the national constituency, with its fancy-larnin' and average IQ approaching the 90s, is somewhat harder to gull. Not that Ignoring the Clear Example That Is California has been all palm branches and torchlight rallies for "Mitch", either, as the joyous, heady days of replacing union, living-wage jobs with minimum wage call-center gigs have turned into times of real economic difficulties which not even middle managers in the financial sector can completely ignore.

And "Daniels" had weathered it--if by "weathered", you mean "managed to preserve his talking points to the extent that some WaPo bidness page hack was still buying the story earlier this month"--until recently, first by having a $6 million campaign chest with which to impress any local teevee types who might otherwise have asked questions, assuming they remember how, and then by playing the short-session Legislature last year into adopting his budget, which was predicated on the idea that the state's Rainy Day Fund is not supposed to be used until Mitch is through with it, say in 2012 or so. Now that budget is inoperative, and in short order Daniels has been forced to publicly threaten Education, which is something we don't have much of to begin with. (Daniels and the Republicans slashed education spending increases in 2005 and 2006; this year the Bantam Menace torpedoed at the 11th hour a budget deal the Legislature had worked out, necessitating a Special Session in which the only significant change was zeroing out the Democratic House's increase in education funding. Experienced news consumers will forgive me the brief explanation that this resulted in Daniels being hailed in his Not-Campaign Literature as "The Education Governor", and that it took about forty-five minutes for him to find a podium short enough from which he could claim credit for a spending increase, based on his canny acceptance of Evil Obama stimulus funds earmarked for schools.) Last month's Monthly Unexpected Revenue Shortfall was met with a Daniels rebuke of Higher Education, on the grounds that we had to slash everything to the marrow before touching secondary education. Which, of course, actually meant "I'll be slashing secondary education, too, just as soon as we figure out how to make that sound like another Heroic increase".

Which, apparently they couldn't figure out in the time allowed--namely "getting it done while all the yahoos are at the Mall"--so the next Monthly Unexpected Revenue Shortfall announcement included his pledge that his cuts could and would be made without reducing the number of teachers, which translates as "When all else fails--and it has--we can still blame the Evil Teachers' Unions".

This led to a sort of combination Kabuki dance and hockey fight, in which there was about a twenty-four hour period before someone helpfully pointed out to the administration and its picket-duty lawyer platoons that teacher contracts were, well, contracts, which "brought" "Daniels" "back out" to declare that, gee, far be it from him to trample anyone's legal rights, but, y'know, if he personally were a teacher he'd be pleased as could be to forgo any pay raises if it meant the teacher across the hall got to keep his job, too.

Now, this is not a perfect world, so no one should be surprised to learn that the nominal owners of the microphones stuck in Mitch's face failed to ask why, if this is such a good argument, he didn't use it on his henchman Mitch Roob's pals at ACS, back when they were being paid the full amount due on their billion-dollar contract each month for delivering 20% of promised Family and Social Services, and that poorly. Nobody asked why he hadn't spoken up when teachers were being laid off across the state in response to that God-given Freedom from Property Tax routine he stepped in front of and pretended to lead. Again, not that I expected it. It would be nice, though, if any of the "Daniels orders cuts to Education" headlines showed some vague recollection that we didn't elect him Oliver P. Morton.

And don't get me wrong: I have no idea whether tax increases are a good idea under the circumstances, but at least I don't pretend apodictic certainty based on the works of Ayn Rand. All I'm saying is that we might think long and hard before we elect another grouchy pathological liar with a chip on his gnomish shoulder the size of that bridge he should be living under. And you gloaters in other states: remain vigilant. Don't be swayed by the next Recreational Vehicle you see.

Tuesday, December 22

This Week On Doghouse Riley's Doggone Good Manga Fansite

"Don't you feel in your heart that these contradictions do not really contradict; that there is a cosmos that contains them all? The soul goes round upon a wheel of stars and all things return…Good and Evil go round in a wheel that is one thing and not many. Do you not realize in your heart, do you not believe behind all your beliefs, that there is but one reality and we are its shadows; and that all things are but aspects of one thing; a center where men melt into Man and Man into God?"

"No," said Father Brown.

--G. K. Chesterton, "The Dagger with Wings"

Shorter Ross Douthat: "Hollywood Is Going To Hell (Again)". December 20

I SAT down the other night--on the exercise bike--to watch Frontline's From Jesus to Christ: The First Christians, not realizing, or remembering, that it was a) a decade old and b) the first of at least thirty-seven parts.

I don't know if you've noticed, or care, but The History Channel is now The Jesus and Nostradamus Network, and, worse yet, peer pressure is starting to get to the National Geographic Channel. One afternoon last weekend NGS was running Secrets of the Shroud of Turin; dissatisfied viewers could switch to History for History's Mysteries: The Shroud of Turin. The former promised to investigate the forensic and evidence [sic] connected to the mysterious Shroud of Turin, which is like tuning in the Science Channel to find they're trying to get to the bottom of this Earth revolves around the Sun business.

Similarly, PBS promised the show included, and I quote, "New Testament theologians, archaeologists and historians who serve as both critics and storytellers", which, as seasoned observers understand, means they couldn't even start the thing without fudge, omitting "Biblical" before that "archaeologists", which leads us to suspect, correctly, as it turns out, that they've left it off "historians" as well. Now, I had an hour of mind-but-not-knee-numbing exercise ahead of me, and if television isn't there to get you through that sort of thing it's there for nothing. And I made twenty-three minutes. (On the bike I lasted the full hour, thanks for asking.)

And maybe I'll go back for some of the rest of it, but look: if you can't win without stacking the deck, then at least have the courtesy to try to stack the deck without anyone noticing. To begin with, if nothing is known of any historical Jesus, and nothing is, don't say "virtually nothing". "Virtually nothing" means "something". If Josephus never so much as casts an eye in Jesus' direction, you should be a little sheepish, if you'll pardon the expression, when you suggest his mentioning John the Baptist grounds everything after in historical fact. If you have to start the thing off with the same disclaimer they used on that old Leonard Nimoy show, then clue your collection of professional Metaphysicians, Sinecures, and Table Knockers that they're not lecturing a bunch of home-schooled Freshmen who've already signaled their willingness to believe absolutely anything Absolute, and have 'em can the wink wink Of Course This Doesn't Quite Jibe With the Historical Record, You Know wink wink winkedy wink routines. Because to many of the rest of us, "doesn't quite jibe" means "making shit up". And if you simply have to keep reminding the audience that your record is 22-0, try to avoid revealing with every other breath that all your fights are fixed.

We bring this up not because Douthat once again has found the black cat in the coal bin at midnight despite the dead batteries in the flashlight he forgot to bring; that damn cat is perched on his shoulder all the time, anyway. We just wish to aver, once again, that epistemological methods developed in the ongoing effort to determine the theoretical average density of tap-dancing angels on a standard metal cloth fastener do not translate well to other areas of inquiry, especially those involving mentally stable people, known inhabitable planets, or factual information.
It’s fitting that James Cameron’s “Avatar” arrived in theaters at Christmastime. Like the holiday season itself, the science fiction epic is a crass embodiment of capitalistic excess wrapped around a deeply felt religious message. It’s at once the blockbuster to end all blockbusters, and the Gospel According to James.

Point one: just as in the "real world" it is considered bad, if not losing form to acknowledge that all the facts are on your opponent's side ("Of course," says Fashionably Rumpled Yale Divinity or Suitably Nerdish West Texas State Biblical Archaelogy prof to PBS cameras, "we know that Caesar Augustus never ordered a worldwide census, nor, had he, would his power have extended to the citizens of Rome's client states, and that, even if it had, commanding them to return to their birthplaces instead of, say, counting them where they stood, seems, on the surface, to have been an invitation for inaccuracy to no apparent purpose whatever. Still, as we have seen…"), pulling the Reverse "But This Is Just Secular Religion!" gambit so early in the game merely acknowledges the weakness of one's own position. It's just the Gospels According to Ross, too, as long as we're going there, with the salient distinction that James Cameron's just making a fucking sci-fi flick, and you're the one who thinks the walls of Sacred Truth are being breeched.

(Point one-a: whose goddam crass commercialism is it, anyway? The other eleven months of the year this is a Christian nation, or a "Judeo-Christian" one if you need to pull some votes from outside, but whenever it does something unseemly it turns into a bunch of horoscope-consulting barbarians. And that Invisible Hand is inerrant, so long as it's being stuck up someone else's bum. Sheesh, either eat what your dog trees, or get a new dog.)
“Avatar” is Cameron’s long apologia for pantheism — a faith that equates God with Nature, and calls humanity into religious communion with the natural world.

In Cameron’s sci-fi universe, this communion is embodied by the blue-skinned, enviably slender Na’Vi, an alien race whose idyllic existence on the planet Pandora is threatened by rapacious human invaders. The Na’Vi are saved by the movie’s hero, a turncoat Marine, but they’re also saved by their faith in Eywa, the “All Mother,” described variously as a network of energy and the sum total of every living thing.

Th' fuck didn't you just stay home?
If this narrative arc sounds familiar, that’s because pantheism has been Hollywood’s religion of choice for a generation now.

Ross, goddamnit, you're only a generation old. And you give us precious little ("virtually no") evidence you know anything about history except what's been pre-shaped to fit the conclusions you already had. And if any ("virtually every") narrative arc from some popular flicker sounds familiar, it's because there's only three or four to begin with.
It’s the truth that Kevin Costner discovered when he went dancing with wolves. It’s the metaphysic woven through Disney cartoons like “The Lion King” and “Pocahontas.” And it’s the dogma of George Lucas’s Jedi, whose mystical Force “surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together.”

I'm just guessing, Ross-O, but when you couldn't get dates in high school, did you chalk it up to the fact that girls didn't like really smart guys?
Hollywood keeps returning to these themes because millions of Americans respond favorably to them. From Deepak Chopra to Eckhart Tolle, the “religion and inspiration” section in your local bookstore is crowded with titles pushing a pantheistic message.

Funny you bring that up, Ross, because last night I went to my local Barnes & Noble for some last-minute shopping, and--besides the fact that the "Current Events" section was crammed to bursting with wingnut screeds, headshots of Glen Beck melting into Sarah Palin to Laura Ingraham to Mark Levin to Mike Huckabee to the extent that I'm through shopping in the place--the "Christianity" section is now separated from the "Inspiration" section, apparently to appease people who think as you do, that the One True Religion needs to be segregated for its own protection. I guess after this column the Science Fiction section will be moving to a tent in the parking lot.
A recent Pew Forum report on how Americans mix and match theology found that many self-professed Christians hold beliefs about the “spiritual energy” of trees and mountains that would fit right in among the indigo-tinted Na’Vi.

Says the man recently heard bemoaning the crass commercial exploitation of a Sacred Holiday his people swiped from the pagans.
As usual, Alexis de Tocqueville saw it coming.

Jesus Christ, are you sure you're not confusing him with Nostradamus? I mean, it's been a while, and maybe I misread him, but when somebody says "de Tocqueville", I think "Frenchman with an uncanny knack for describing the political egalitarianism, and perhaps something of the national character of the early 19th century European colonizers of the United States", not "Kreskin with a quill pen".
Today there are other forces that expand pantheism’s American appeal. We pine for what we’ve left behind, and divinizing the natural world is an obvious way to express unease about our hyper-technological society. The threat of global warming, meanwhile, has lent the cult of Nature qualities that every successful religion needs — a crusading spirit, a rigorous set of ‘thou shalt nots,” and a piping-hot apocalypse.

O-kay, let's just return to our point, shall we, about what happens when you spend your entire life talking only to people who agree with you, when you play tennis only if the net's down and the baselines have been erased, and when you've already declared yourself the winner. It means that, faced with overwhelming scientific consensus that this facile Christian-slash-Capitalist Dominionism of yours falls something short of perfection, your single solitary Hah-vahd education recourse is to start yelling "Heathen Devils!"

Not to mention that there's about a billion Hindus and 300 million Buddhists who would dispute the remarkably egocentric idea that a "successful" religion "needs" a crusading spirit, a rigorous set of "thou shalt nots,” and a piping-hot apocalypse, or would if they gave a flying fuck what you think.
The question is whether Nature actually deserves a religious response.

Well, it could be that the question is whether Nature can be questioned by a guy who looks like he never got any closer to Her than his family's summer place on the lake.
Traditional theism has to wrestle with the problem of evil: if God is good, why does he allow suffering and death? But Nature is suffering and death. Its harmonies require violence. Its “circle of life” is really a cycle of mortality.

Yes, indeed, Ross; many other thought systems fail to solve the problems that yours invents. And without Law we have Anarchy. What I don't understand is how you reach the threshold of middle age without even considering that the issue could have two sides. I mean, this bundle of Bronze Age apocalyptic terror, Just-So stories for perpetual children, and sanctification of one's tiniest opinions is termed a Faith, ain't it? It all works in your favor if it's true, but that's something you'll never know, let alone prove to anyone else, and over the course of the last two centuries your particular blend of theological certitude and literal-mindedness has come in for a pretty thorough debunking. The Earth isn't the center of the universe, nor is the sun, and for that matter we've got no idea if ours is the only universe in town, or if we're still inhabiting the same one we woke up in this morning. Meanwhile, Nature seems perfectly happy to neither create nor destroy, regardless of what you think, the Universe(s) may be poised between Fire and Ice, or Not, and God knows where Schrödinger's cat got to. Hindus have all the Time in the world, and an uncountable number of other worlds beyond. The Buddhists are probably having a nice cup of tea, and a good laugh about it all. And if there're no crassly commercial After Christmas Sales in the Hereafter a lot of your fellow Christians are gonna be plenty pissed off, Ross. Maybe you should just relax. You know; take in a movie or something.

Monday, December 21


Frank Rich, "Tiger Woods, Person of the Year". December 20

If there’s been a consistent narrative to this year and every other in this decade, it’s that most of us, Bernanke included, have been so easily bamboozled. The men who played us for suckers, whether at Citigroup or Fannie Mae, at the White House or Ted Haggard’s megachurch, are the real movers and shakers of this century’s history so far. That’s why the obvious person of the year is Tiger Woods. His sham beatific image, questioned by almost no one until it collapsed, is nothing if not the farcical reductio ad absurdum of the decade’s flimflams, from the cancerous (the subprime mortgage) to the inane (balloon boy).

As of Friday, the Tiger saga had appeared on 20 consecutive New York Post covers. For The Post, his calamity has become as big a story as 9/11. And the paper may well have it right. We’ve rarely questioned our assumption that 9/11, “the day that changed everything,” was the decade’s defining event. But in retrospect it may not have been. A con like Tiger’s may be more typical of our time than a one-off domestic terrorist attack, however devastating.

Indeed, if we go back to late 2001, the most revealing news story may have been unfolding not in New York but Houston — the site of the Enron scandal. That energy company convinced financial titans, the press and countless investors that it was a business deity. It did so even though very few of its worshipers knew what its business was. Enron is the template for the decade of successful ruses that followed, Tiger’s included.

What makes the golfing superstar’s tale compelling, after all, is not that he’s another celebrity in trouble or another fallen athletic “role model” in a decade lousy with them. His scandal has nothing to tell us about race, and nothing new to say about hypocrisy. The conflict between Tiger’s picture-perfect family life and his marathon womanizing is the oldest of morality tales.
What’s striking instead is the exceptional, Enron-sized gap between this golfer’s public image as a paragon of businesslike discipline and focus and the maniacally reckless life we now know he led. What’s equally striking, if not shocking, is that the American establishment and news media — all of it, not just golf writers or celebrity tabloids — fell for the Woods myth as hard as any fan and actively helped sustain and enhance it.

The most lethal example, of course, were the two illusions marketed to us on the way to Iraq — that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and some link to Al Qaeda. That history has since been rewritten by Bush alumni, Democratic politicians who supported the Iraq invasion and some of the news media that purveyed the White House fictions (especially the television press, which rarely owned up to its failure as print journalists have).

Now look: I'm no historian, but I'm pretty sure that by most reckonings The Naughts were more than a year-and-a-half old when 9/11 Changed Everything, and that much of that time had been given over to a Presidential campaign which was decided on the pressing issues of Al Gore's make-up, Al Gore's sighing, Al Gore's choice of suits, and Al Gore's outlandish claims that he 1) invented the Internet; 2) personally cleaned up Love Canal; 3) wrote, directed, and starred in that Love Story piece of shit, which was based on his cleaning up Love Canal while in college; and 4) did not enlist in the Army, and go to Vietnam, just to show George W. Bush up. And even though there is as yet no historical consensus on whether these matters were Total Fucking Bullshit or simply So Mother-Fucking Trivial as to Bugger Belief, there is no question that among their most ardent champions was one Frank Rich, Times Opinionator.

So do go on, Frank, with that "the television press has rarely owned up to its failure" routine. I can't tell you how fascinating I find that observation, coming as it does in the middle of a piece which ignores your own responsibility for setting this piece of shit decade in motion.

Because, fuck, Frank, teevee news is nothing more than a less-popular version of So You Think You Can Sing Like a Fifth-Grader? It may not have apologized for wrapping Bush's Iraq Adventurism in Old Glory, but then the worst War Whoredoggery on FOX can't have measured one-third the way up Judith Miller's contribution. Print media has a helluva lot to apologize for, Frank. And furthermore, I don't recall authorizing anybody to accept those apologies in my name. And, what's more, I don't.

No, "We" didn't willingly suspend disbelief, the better to enjoy the story. "You" did, and lots of "Us" were begging you to stop. Shock and revenge may have been natural reactions to 9/11. Shock and Awe was a wholly manufactured one. There may've been perfectly good reasons why thinking adults should have abandoned thinking because they "didn't want to question their leaders"--I'll leave that to you folks and your personal experience of the phenomenon--but there's no excuse for the Press having done so. And there was an entire year of Bush administration "hyping misleading intelligence", which, truth be told for once, wasn't as much misleading as "obviously fanciful and at the service of a pre-conceived war plan designed for transparently political ends". What exactly was it supposed to take to get you to snap out of your reverie? (Maybe what it appears to have taken, namely, the total collapse of Bush administration popularity?)

And it's not just the creative excision of Campaign 2000 from the Official Rundown of Shit That Went Wrong in the Naughts, itself an exercise in self-absolution; it's the suggestion that it's just a matter of a couple Bad But Understandable habits we "all" fell into in this particular decade. Television gave up covering news in the 1970s, Frank. The remainder of the Press agreed to sit quietly in its chairs and wait for Ronald Reagan to call on his pre-arranged questioners shortly thereafter. Our newspapers looked like the tabloid press for two decades; now they look like local shopping fliers. We have, in the meantime, gone from the post-Industrialized country with the world's most deceptive and corrupt financial and advertising practices to the post-Industrialized country with the world's most deceptive and corrupt financial and advertising practices which have their own major political party as a defense team.

Fer chrissakes, Tiger Woods didn't suddenly expose (or reinforce) the ugly hidden truth about ourselves (which somehow we'd only managed to glimpse in wildly popular boob tube excrescences) when fate revealed his hobbyist collection of cocktail waitresses. Tiger Woods "exposed" that truth by being an endorsement magnet, same as Sam Waterson advising people on financial planning, or Pat Boone on acne treatments, or Wallace Reid on quality sock garters. Whatever our Deep Dark Secret is, Tiger Woods selling automobiles, after shave, and brokerage houses ain't it. If his image didn't work on a gullible public he'd have been out on his ass with or without a notarized certificate of virginity in his back pocket; if it wasn't already certain just from talent alone that he'll be back birdieing 17 at Augusta, and being hosannahed for it, when the same Press now sniffing his underwear drawer returns its collective nose Back Where It Belongs, Woods would already have announced his entry into rehab, his sudden religious conversion, or his upcoming Pay Per View wrestling match with Danny Bonaduce. You can't talk about this shit as though it has real meaning anymore, because it doesn't. Whose fault is that? Maybe the same people who couldn't be bothered pointed out that a fully functional Iraqi nuclear program posed no real threat to us, on account'a everybody really wanted the President to do well.

And whose fucking image was it, anyway, Frank? Woods was rather famous for on-course exhibitions of anger and outbursts of profanity that never made televised coverage, while Long John Daly could get arrested for wearing a loud shirt. Either that's selective enforcement, or it's outright protection of the Investment. Am I supposed to feel sorry now that the people trying to cash in got rooked? What promise did Tiger Woods make you or me? Never to three-putt? How do major national advertisers--how does Accenture, fer chrissakes, which, if you don't know, is the shit Arthur Andersen, LLP, left in the bottom of the pot that nobody rinsed out--come to be guarantors of personal merit? I don't trust them to do their own jobs. On occasion I trust some of them to install my brakes, hold my money, or distill my whiskey, but the possibility of failure due to sub-standard materials, shady dealing, or the inclusion of anti-freeze as a cost-cutting measure, respectively, is never entirely out of my consciousness. If the entire Accenture board assured me a $5 check was good I'd still ask for three pieces of ID. Getting dropped by Gillette is supposed to be a black mark on your permanent record? They're the ones who hired Woods to stand stock still in a commercial while cupping his hands to the bill of his cap on the grounds that this would make me want to shave with their product rather than Schick's. Th' fuck would I listen to them?

On the other hand, Frank, your paper does promise me it'll try to print the truth.

Friday, December 18

Just Lie Back And Think Of 9/11

Jonah Goldberg, "America Through The Reality Lens". December 16

Can the rest of us afford to live in a society constantly auditioning to make an ass of itself on TV?

Jonah wrote this, did he?

--Kia, in comments at Roy's

WE end this week's Accidental Three-Part Survey of the Evil Sixties as told by the Pundits Who Missed Them Entirely with poor, conflicted Jonah, who, fittingly, isn't even writing about the Sixties, except he is. As always.

I readily admit the public-school nature of my little obsession with birth dates and mini-generationlets. I went to high school in the early 70s, in white, suburban Indianapolis, which is roughly when The Sixties began to arrive in those parts. I was well aware of living in a Time Warp, one in which The Sixties, literal and figurative, were officially over, but the silly, superficial, suburban battles were still to be fought. At the beginning of my sophomore year the township district to our north was informed by the courts it could not expel a student because it didn't like his haircut; word didn't get around quickly enough to prevent one of the assistant football coaches at my school from holding down one of the players and shearing him.

When I entered high school (three-year) the middle-class kids aspired to look and act like the Omegas of Animal House, and the poorer kids aspired to find beer and steal hubcaps. Student Council or Car Nazi. Free to Choose! By the time I left, the four-barrels and glasspacks were starting to be replaced by as-yet-un-airbrushed vans, with the Moody Blues on the 8-Track and the smell of Hoosier ditch weed at the back of the parking lot. Versus the Student Council.

So it's impossible for me not to see James Lileks (b. 1958) as the second-chair-trombone-and-dental-headgear victim of related Prairie marauders, and the co-incidental Thai-stick-and-Alice Cooper soundtrack accompaniment as his version of Sacher-Masoch's furs. It's hard not to imagine David Brooks' (b. 1961) pre-Conversion "liberalism" as a mild summer flirtation with Cheap Trick at Budokan that got out of hand one evening when he cranked the volume to 5 and Mummy had one of her spells; and Douthat (b. 1979) as the home-schooled religious fanatic who probably would have turned out pretty much the same regardless of era, but wasn't exactly helped by the marriage of wingnut politics and backwoods kerosine-drinking theology that occurred around the time of his birth, nor the Starr Report coming out when he was just old enough to look up "fellatio" in the dictionary.

And then there's Jonah (1969), product of an ill-considered wingnut mating experiment and the full-on Reagan "Hip To Be Square" Cultural Reeducation Program. Goldberg--and I don't mean to give the man the benefit of human-feeling he doesn't deserve--seems like the sad sack who would've swung with it if a) anyone had wanted him to join in, and b) if he dared stand up to the brutal, hulking, belt-wielding tyrant waiting for him at home. Or his father, either.

No, I think Goldberg's a Star Wars nerd by default. Of course, everything he is he seems to be by default, but that's another matter. It doesn't excuse what he chose to become, but it at least helps to explain it. He's old enough that as a Teen he probably could have sneaked around to get high without having anyone take particular notice of it, and without having to answer for his Nixonian politics while doing so. (Has he, even now? He'll be bringing up---wait for it!--Tiger Woods, shortly, to argue that Woods could at least "afford" to be a cad, in financial terms; doesn't that easy, middle-aged White Boy libertarianism apply to him, in spades (sorry), and not to his "It's a battle for the very existence of Civilization; sorry I'm earning too much money to take part" credit?) But he had to watch the popular kids, the funny kids, the smart kids, and, really, pretty much everyone else not religiously corseted or suffering from Elephant Man's Disease pair off and hump like teenaged bunnies, freed of the social strictures which would have made his virginity a mark of achievement.

It's difficult, if not impossible, to look at this collection and wonder at the psychic cost of their being allowed to rebel by being Anti-Rebels, of being told They were Smarter Than all those kids who were having fun, to have paid no cost, other than as a dodgeball target or locker stuffee, for navigating that unnatural state of affairs known as Teenagedness. Brooks, Douthat, and Goldberg look upon The Sixties the way Lileks looks upon Burnt Orange Shag Carpeting, as a benchmark of their self-proclaimed personal superiority. They're the easy beneficiaries of the Civil Rights movement who didn't have to take sides when that meant personal risk, but can now cavil about Affirmative Action and Race Pimps while insisting their own hands remain spotless; they're the guys whose public international bellicosity was never tested by compulsory boot camp (and certainly not by voluntary service), but who can throw stones at Vietnam-era protesters; they can serve as paid apologists for the worst excesses of trash capitalism while still bemoaning the sort of low-class sucker who gobbles up worthless dreck, or aspires to join in the general looting. Mr. Pantload?
Culturally, this has been the decade of the reality show. And what do we have to show for it? Not much more than the contestants themselves.

Survey the wreckage. Richard Hatch, the first Survivor champion, was just released from prison (he didn’t pay taxes on his winnings). The marriage of the Octoparents, Jon and Kate, is a shambles. Richard and Mayumi Heene were so desperate to land a reality series, they concocted an enormous hoax, convincing the country their child had been carried away in a balloon. Michaele and Tareq Salahi tried to claw their way onto the sure-to-be-hideous series Real Housewives of D.C. by brazening their way into a state dinner. And alleged wife-killer Ryan Jenkins, a contestant on two VH1 shows, is a stark reminder that fame is not a reflection of good character.

Okay, let's say, to begin with, that I've never watched any of this shit, but I know who all of those people are, thanks to the news, or "news". So let's take it up with them. Now then, I have no idea how many people, or "people", have appeared on so-called reality shows, but surely it's enough so that one Richard Hatch is not surprising. Nor fifty. What is a little surprising is Jonah Goldberg using tax evasion as the mark of Cain.

And I'm from Indianapolis, where in short order, and with no more Reality prospects beyond the reality of trashy consumption and unfettered greed, Marcus "Flyboy" Schrenker, and now Tim "Indiana GOP Bankroll" Durham, have been entangled in the McMansion version of the Balloon Boy Game. As for fame not being a reflection of good character, fer chrissakes. We're reading a Jonah Goldberg column. Is it actually possible to surgically remove self-awareness?

Whose fucking America is it where grabbing for wealth and fame, however mindlessly, however hollow or fleeting, is the highest calling of Our Way of Life? Demanding laissez-faire rapine and then bemoaning the fact that some people just don't know how to behave--this is a sensible approach? And for fuck's sake, that ratio of miscreants to the merely greed-impelled can't be any higher than what we'd find by "surveying the wreckage" of the DeLay-Gingrich Republican Congresses or the Bush Administration. Balloon Boy's parents may be particularly despicable, but so far as I know nobody else lost his life savings in the deal. The Salahis are garden-variety fame-whores; are we to imagine they didn't exist before Reality teevee? Fuck, a decade ago they might've been seeking their fortune writing scabrous yellowsheets about Bill Clinton's sexual proclivities, if such a thing can be imagined.

And look, I know this isn't lost even on you, Jonah, but these are the very same people who, when they were voting for Ronald Reagan and supporting Bush's Mideast Makeover, y'all insisted were the Conscience of America and the Sensible, Hard-Working Voice of Her International Exceptionalism. Now they're tawdy and self-serving and wear too much cologne?
Don’t get me wrong; it’s great television.

So you're still sneaking off to get high and hoping Mom doesn't notice.
But gladiatorial games would be great TV, too.
Christ, Goldberg, they're on G4 at 8 Eastern, replayed at 11. And you didn't seem to think so back when that short-lived American Warriors: Abu Ghraib was the cinema vérité hit of the season.
The elite minority’s general acceptance of racial and sexual equality as important values has been a moral triumph. But not without costs.

Your career, to name one.
As part of this transformation, society has embraced what social scientist Charles Murray calls “ecumenical niceness.” A core tenet of ecumenical niceness is that harsh judgments of the underclass — or people with underclass values — are forbidden. A corollary: People with old-fashioned notions of decency are fair game.

Well, far be it from me to contradict as man with as blameless a track record as Dr. Charles Murray, Ph.D, social scientist--his doctorate's in political science, by the way, and his employer is the University of Libertoonian Think Tank Sinecures, which means he's a "social scientist" in the same way that Newt Gingrich is a "Catholic theologian"--but lemme just ask you--maybe if you two removed the hoods you'd hear this a little clearer--Have you ever seen a Frank Capra movie?
Long before the rise of reality shows, ecumenical niceness created a moral vacuum. Out-of-wedlock birth was once a great shame; now it’s something of a happy lifestyle choice. The cavalier use of profanity was once crude; now it’s increasingly conversational. Self-discipline was once a virtue; now self-expression is king.

And so we return to those Evil Sixties, before which no one ever had sex with the lights on, or for longer than three minutes, and women knew they weren't supposed to enjoy it, which was a good thing, since sodomy laws made that difficult to achieve anyway. And when innocent Authority, trying merely to uphold its God-given charge to keep the races separate, the perverts closeted, and the traffic moving smoothly was tossed on its ear by a bunch of dirty hippies Herbert Marcuse riled up...hell, those Jersey Shore humps wouldn't even know what sex was without Hugh Hefner, unless Douthat's gang had stuffed 'em into our still under-utilized prisons. And so we end the week right where it began. Fucking depressing, ain't it, if you'll excuse the cavalier use of profanity?

Wednesday, December 16

And Another Thing...

RARELY do I type as purple-faced as I sound, but that Brooks column yesterday made me madder each time I went back to pick something out of it, until, by the time he'd finally reached the President's speech--ostensibly his topic--I wasn't bored with him, as usual, but simply wrung out. Of course it's often the case that Brooks' dishonest set-ups are more irritating than his faux-cryptic wingnut-talking-point conclusions, but then, those're rarely introduced by
As a young thoughtful black man, he would have become familiar with prophetic Christianity and the human tendency toward corruption…

And thank God, else as we speak he'd be out offin' Whitey. David Brooks talking about the Black Christian experience: it's the McRib sandwich of punditatin'.

This brought on a brief reverie in Brooks for Obama's legendary 2002 "anti-Iraq War" speech. Not, of course, for the anti-war bit that was sold to the rubes, but the rest of it, the support of Good Wars and the general acceptance of the, sadly necessary!, Right To Get Belligerent Once Something Really Pisses You Off, provided you're only in it for the democracy.

And so we reached the Oslo speech, and let me just note that, to me, presuming to lecture an international audience on the joys of "Centrist" American foreign policy when there is a very good chance that, apart from Mr. and Mrs. Smith there, you understand less about it than anyone in the house, is more amusing than anything else, same as gathering up your trophy, your giant novelty check, and hitting Air Force One without so much as a quick wave at the kaffeeklatsch afterwards. What is sufficient about the whole episode, for me, is that the President--unlike Dr. Kissinger--might actually be possessed of a soul which could be haunted by the thing for the rest of his life.

(What is it with the Right and platitudes, anyway? I've known pet dogs that required less constant reassurance. Brooks may have tilted US history until international pugnacity looks efficacious--I have my doubts about that--but, still, there's no way anyone over the age of nine believes this nonsense. Is there?)

And yesterday I thought it best at that point to stop typing and start drinking seriously, but then this morning I woke up--really--with this in my head:
Obama has not always gotten this balance right. He misjudged the emotional moment when Iranians were marching in Tehran.

And--I was still half-dreaming--my response(s) laid out like they were spread across a Christmas buffet. I'll leave you with three:

1) Yeah. Insufficiently pro-Chalabi.

2) Not like when Dick Cheney freed the Georgians.

3) Well, his hands were tied. It's not like he had an Iranian Benazir Bhutto to bring out of exile.

Tuesday, December 15

Maybe It's Me

Lt. Col. David Brooks, "Obama's Christian Realism". December 14

SHORTER David Brooks: the real reason to see the world in black and white is that way, every time you tell yourself you're inherently right, you'll know it's true.
If you were graduating from Princeton in the first part of the 20th century, you probably heard the university president, John Hibben, deliver one of his commencement addresses. Hibben’s running theme, which was common at that time, was that each person is part angel, part devil. Life is a struggle to push back against the evils of the world without succumbing to the passions of the beast lurking inside.

You might not have been paying attention during the speech, but as you got older a similar moral framework was floating around the culture, and it probably got lodged in your mind.

Most likely in or near the canyons.

Is there some reason why we are near-ceaselessly obliged to remind David Brooks of something like the following?: "Of course, if you happened to have been born female you wouldn't have heard one, unless there was a bleacher section for helpmeets, and if you couldn't pass the paper bag test you wouldn't be taking any other tests at Princeton, though they might've referred you to Tuskegee for a blood test. If you were African-American, and the speech carried to the kitchens, you got to hear snippets of platitudes from the man whose immediate predecessor would go on--or had gone on--to become President of the whole dang country, and whose own moral education had recently been informed by a showing of The Birth of a Nation.

We're not replying "Bu..bu..but…Racism! Sexism!" because that trumps Brooks' argument (although, it does). We're saying so because, somehow, the merest recognition never seems to rise to his level of consciousness. Privileged white guy (and Presbyterian minister), called upon to deliver annual obsequies to a crowd of (mostly) equally-privileged college grads (his tenure, from 1912-1932, spans the distance from college as an almost exclusive province of the wealthy, through the first admissions testing, through the post-WWI boom) and the falls back upon the easy Manichaeanism of the well-off, a battle in which, after due reflection no doubt, he sides with Good. Huzzah! And never mind that 60% of the population of his own country was excluded even before the financial screening. And anyway, if you slept through the speech the Volstead and Mann Acts would school you soon enough. USA! USA!

How many other examples are there that make Brooks' point, or "point"? How many alternate ways to use the one he chose without the wistful shrug and the tiny tear for those better days of yore, and the clear moral distinctions that facilitated the reenslavement of black Americans and the retrenchment of Progressive reforms?
You, and others of your era, would have been aware that there is evil in the world,

For one thing, it's mostly all they talked about at your Klan meetings.
and if you weren’t aware, the presence of Hitler and Stalin would have confirmed it. You would have known it is necessary to fight that evil.

Or, as in this case, to look on while they fought each other.

Okay, just a couple things here. One: Stalin was our ally in WWII, and, in fact, it is the Soviets who defeated the German war machine. You can look this sort of thing up, except on the History Channel. This does not absolve him of duplicity in the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact, nor his crimes against humanity, nor of his half in holding the world hostage to nuclear annihilation. Two: the Degree of Difficulty in finding yourself, working schlub with limited military forces at your disposal, morally superior to Joe Steel and Crazy Al McSchickelgruber is zero. And remember, that's a multiplier.

Finally, as points one and two are frequently compounded by those who choose to miss them entirely, the enormities of Stalin do not make your brand of economic exploitation morally superior by default; the Polish partition and occupation of the Baltic countries do not absolve the West of colonialism, nor the US, in particular, of the way it operates in the rest of "its" hemisphere; and Nixon--not exactly a man who had to stay up nights looking for just the right balance in his Nobel speech--that was Kissinger--shook hands with Mao. We didn't go to war with Hitler because he was Evil; he'd been demonstrating that for a decade before we got involved (after he thoughtfully declared war on us, which I used to think Every Schoolboy knew). Assuming we knew what Evil was, and assuming we decide to fight It, rather than trade with It, we'd never have time for anything but. And if the last Evil Empire we invaded has taught us anything (not that I have much reason to believe it did, or could) it's that it's a helluva lot easier to establish a military force that threatens the globe in the name of Good than it is to find replacement parts once you actually start breaking it.
At the same time, you would have had a lingering awareness of the sinfulness within yourself. As the cold war strategist George F. Kennan would put it: “The fact of the matter is that there is a little bit of the totalitarian buried somewhere, way down deep, in each and every one of us.”

Okay, that's enough self-reflection. I think that Islamic-looking guy over there's got a burger sack.
As a matter of policy, you would have thought it wise to constrain your own power within institutions. America should fight the Soviet Union, but it should girdle its might within NATO.

Which was especially helpful since that's where the battlefield was located.
As Harry Truman said: “We all have to recognize, no matter how great our strength, that we must deny ourselves the license to do always as we please.”

Always with the quips, that Harry. Did he say that to Syngman Rhea, or John L. Lewis?
You would, in short, have been a cold war liberal.

Just like David Brooks! I love it when equations work out.
But after Vietnam, most liberals moved on. It became unfashionable to talk about evil. Some liberals came to believe in the inherent goodness of man and the limitless possibilities of negotiation. Some blamed conflicts on weapons systems and pursued arms control. Some based their foreign-policy thinking on being against whatever George W. Bush was for. If Bush was an idealistic nation-builder, they became Nixonian realists.

If Bush was an Ivy Leaguer, they considered dropping out of high school. If he was sober, they reconsidered constant inebriation. If he was qualified to be a major party's candidate for President, they wondered who wasn't.

And who could blame 'em?

Y'know, I was born ten days before the close of 1953, and I've never tried to change that. It means I was eligible to get my Learner's Permit just as the Evil Sixties officially ended. It means I was in the last draft class eligible to help teach the Vietnamese the theological benefits of democracy, the liberal use of herbicides, and shooting at things from helicopters, just like John Kerry did before me, to such popular acclaim from Mr. Brooks' cohort. So maybe I'm not the best judge of this sort of thing, since the nightly slaughter of American youth sent to defend the democratically-elected government of Whichever Military Strongman Had Staged The Latest US-approved Coup coincides almost precisely with my learning to read, and think about, the actual history of my country. I remember thinking--or hallucinating--at the time that Vietnam was just the latest in a long line of neocolonialist killfests being excused by inflated international threats at the service of corporate profits. So it's hard for me to say which one influenced the other, though I'm sure someone with Brooks' perspective--that is, someone who was in the 7th grade when Nixon resigned, and who spent half his career cashing checks from William "Too Young For Vietnam" Kristol--can see all this a lot clearer.

Jesus H. Christ, if Mr. Obama will pardon the expression: one day Douthat, next day Brooks, the Evil Sixties neither experienced while fully potty trained, if at all, and Poor Forlorn Authority, humming along, minding its own business, trying to share the Democratic Love, viciously mugged one moonless night by a bunch of thrill-crazed bong enthusiasts. And so convinced they're right that it doesn't even occur to either to check.

Okay, forget asking about which side of the equation we've come down on most often, or why the people so enamored of making the world madatorily safe for Democracy are so often outraged when it threatens to break out in their own country. If we might just ask: when, exactly, has this equation worked? The defeat of Imperial Japan. Kosovo? I seem to remember most of your side being agin' that one, Dave. I know you like to claim The Collapse of the Soviet Empire Starring Ronald Reagan, but let's be serious. We didn't confront that particular Evil, we just out-shopped it, and the odds are pretty good that we'd'a been busy creating the Most Expensive Military Apparatus the World's Ever Seen after 1946 whether the Soviets existed or we had to invent them. We're still in Korea, we got thrown out of Vietnam and Lebanon, and we'll eventually leave Afghanistan pretty much the way we found it, unless we love democracy enough to start a nuclear war with Pakistan. At a couple $ trillion we could've just started peeling off million-dollar T-bills until Saddam Hussein agreed to move to Libya. What's left? Grenada? Do you even care if there's any evidence that this shit works, let alone how much it costs (so long as your own taxes don't go up)?

Let's just do a little thought experiment. Let's make you the eighteen-year-old in 1972, facing induction--no more college deferments, mind you; those were all used up by Cheney--and a sudden unexpected and irresistible career path change. How long would it have been before David Brooks was Canadian again?

Barack Obama never bought into these shifts. In the past few weeks, he has revived the Christian realism that undergirded cold war liberal thinking and tried to apply it to a different world….

His speeches at West Point and Oslo this year are pitch-perfect explications of the liberal internationalist approach. Other Democrats talk tough in a secular way, but Obama’s speeches were thoroughly theological. He talked about the “core struggle of human nature” between love and evil.

Well, y'know, that's great, and I really, sincerely hope the President appreciates the fact that he's managed to get David Brooks on his side, at the low, low cost of most of the rest of his actual constituency. And I hope he'll enjoy it, right up until you start slagging him again.

Monday, December 14

Is There An Emoticon For "God, That Smells Disgusting! Here, You Taste It."?

Ross Douthat, "Prisons of Our Own Making". December 14

NOTE that we will shortly be quoting an actual sentence perpetrated by the above referenced Mr. Douthat, Opinionater of Record. Those of you who require helmets, safety nets, or who need to assume the crash position under such circumstances, please prepare now.

I grew up, or "grew up", in Indianapolis, where the local news trade was dominated by the Gene Pulliam-owned Star and News, (there was also the pinko Indianapolis Times, the one which fought Klan control of the state, as opposed to pining for its return. The Times folded in the mid-60s. It was never allowed to cross our threshold.) Gene Pulliam swung so far to the Right that I remember thinking that the one good thing about the election of Richard Nixon in 1968 was that Pulliam would be forced to support a moderate.

And reading the Star at the breakfast table was a big part of my learning to read--something I overcame later--so I think I can say with apodictic assurance that the New York Times has managed to hire a guy whose work falls short of that army of anilinguists commanded by journalism's answer to Curtis LeMay, forty-five years ago, in the Mid-fucking-West. In the name of balance.

Here's Monday's opener. It's not the one you need to strap yourselves in for; I'll give a special heads-up on that:
If you’re a governor with presidential aspirations, you should never, under any circumstances, pardon a convict or reduce a sentence. That’s the lesson everyone seems to have drawn from the dreadful case of Maurice Clemmons, an Arkansas native who murdered four Lakewood, Wash., police officers over Thanksgiving weekend — nine years after Mike Huckabee, then governor, commuted his sentence and the Arkansas parole board set him free.

Even before Clemmons was shot dead the following Tuesday by Seattle police officers, a chorus of pundits had declared Huckabee’s presidential ambitions all but finished. His prospective 2012 rivals — Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty and Sarah Palin — hastened to suggest that they never considered issuing a pardon while governor. And even observers sympathetic to Huckabee’s decision (Clemmons’s original 108-year sentence was handed down when he was only 16, and for burglary and robbery, not murder) tended to emphasize its folly. Joe Carter, who handled rapid-response for Huckabee’s 2008 campaign, acknowledged that the “prudent tactic would have been to simply refuse to grant any leniency — ever.”

Okay, one: upon reading this, my estimated time between the endquotes and the first mention of Willie Horton: 114 words. Actual: 133. Two: in an era of dwindling ad revenues, shouldn't the Times consider offering a million-dollar prize for whoever can complete a Douthat "think-piece" word-for-word from just the first two paragraphs? It's not like they'd lose anything of value by throwing the rest of one away. Three: they gave this guy a blog, which, in addition to being a Good First Step (#2: stop paying him), ought at the very least to mean that his once-a-week 800-word sleep aids would begin to approach, I dunno, timeliness? Clemons was shot to death two weeks ago. I'm not saying this ended the issue, mind you, but maybe you could have covered it last week, or blogged it to a tortuous death in the interim? Baring that, maybe you could turn up with something, anything, that exhibited an original thought, as opposed to coughing up a refried George Wallace stump speech from 1967?
This calculus has recent American history as well as crude political logic on its side.

Sorry to interrupt, but in case you're keeping score at home, that's Major Premise: make Democrats responsible for Mike Huckabee being hoist on Lee Atwater's petard; Minor Premise: grant that Sarah Palin--in case she winds up being the nominee--has "logic" on her side, albeit not as refined as The Thirty-Year-Old Guy With the Teenage Beard would like.
Without conservative lawmakers willing to “err on the side of punishing” (as Palin put it after the Clemmons shooting), America might still be swamped by the crime wave that engulfed the country in the 1960s and ’70s.
Estimated time between that "and the [Arkansas] parole board set him free" and "first mention of the Sixties": 140 words. Actual: 154. I'm getting pretty good at this.

Incidently, Ross, and just out of curiosity, how'd it take you two weeks to wind up blaming The Sixtes for this one?

Okay, )))))))) time to buckle up! (((((((( (And Please remain seated until the attendant gives the all clear. Just because Retroactively blaming crack for the 60s, the 70s, and the Dillinger Gang can't be topped doesn't mean he's not going to try):
The surge in crime rates, which lasted until the early 1990s, was driven by a variety of factors — the demographic bulge created by the baby boom, the crisis of authority in the late ’60s, and the heroin and crack epidemics that followed.

Similarly, the Titanic sunk because of a variety of factors: hitting an iceberg, sailing on water, and coed polka.

Ross Douthat was born in 1979.

But it was abetted by a softheaded liberalism that emphasized rehabilitation to the exclusion of retribution and deterrence. (Across the Great Society era, as crime rates started to take off, America’s prison population actually went down.)

Okay, it's more or less safe now.

So, first, we've narrowed down that two-week delay to either 1) "research", or 2) diagramming that roller-coaster ride of decades, crime statistics, and finger-pointing. Second, we've perhaps spied the hazards of giving fucking prime newspaper space to some talentless wingnut so he can lecture us on the pitfalls of The Permissive Sixties based on the fact that, growing up, he listened to any number of lectures on the pitfalls of The Permissive Sixties.

We will, momentarily, enter Full Linkmaster Ross mode, where those of you interested enough will be able to go search for the evidence Douthat is too busy being inherently correct to explain, or get right. Meanwhile, a quick racism break:
The case of Willie Horton remains the exemplary instance of rehabilitative folly.

"Exemplary" being synonymous with "the first time in my wingnut youth I heard such a thing blamed on Democrats".
In 1986, a furlough program in Michael Dukakis’s Massachusetts enabled Horton to commit rape and battery midway through what was supposed to be a life sentence for murder.
Unlike Arkansas, where the Parole Board frees future felons, in Massachusetts the whole damn liberal-ass state does, enabled by the governor.
Liberals remember the Horton story, which Republicans used to derail Dukakis’s presidential bid, as an example of right-wing race-bating.

Yeah. They do. And that's pretty much the way Lee Atwater recalled it, too, once he was dying of brain bubbles and no longer in the employ of the Bush Crime Family.
But they rarely recall the damning details — from Dukakis’s veto of a bill exempting first-degree murderers from furloughs (it would “cut the heart out of efforts at inmate rehabilitation,” he claimed), to the self-parodic way his administration responded to the tragedy. (“Don’t forget that Mr. Horton had nine previous successful furloughs,” Dukakis’s secretary of human services told the press.)

Look, Ross, I can appreciate how difficult it must be to remember the complex legal details of a matter than happened when you were four, but it's not really helped by that adult somewhere inside you insisting on lying about it. The program wasn't Dukakis', but his predecessor's (a Republican, for whatever that's worth). The bill "exempting first-degree murderers" was a response to the Massachusetts Supreme Court overturning that provision. I have no idea how Dukakis responded to that, nor to the crimes Horton committed while on furlough, and, furthermore, I'm not sure what you imagine the relevance to be now that it's no longer 1988.
There are superficial resemblances, much cited in the last two weeks, between the Horton case and the tragic parole of Maurice Clemmons.

Fuck; there are two salient differences: today it's a Republican (and highly-public Christian) being roasted for an executive connection to a freed felon, and there's no major campaign advertising budget at work juxtaposing Clemons' scary black mug with the white female victim. The "distinction between clemency and a furlough program?" Well, Dukakis was administering a statewide program, while Huckabee personally granted clemency. Beyond that, y'know, either take your own medicine or stop trying to force it on everyone else.
But the political context is completely different. The age of furloughs is long gone. For a generation now, conservatives, not Dukakis-style liberals, have been making policy on crime. They’ve built more prisons, imposed harsher sentences and locked up as many lawbreakers as possible.

Their approach has worked. The violent crime rate has been cut by nearly 40 percent since its early-1990s peak. The murder rate is at its lowest point since Lyndon Johnson was president.

I see…so that earlier equation, that crime rose in the 60s and 70s because of generational demographics, the "crisis of authority", and the Kreskinesque retroactive effects of crack should have read "because of Democrats"? Who was President the early 90s, when the homicide rate took a nose dive? Why'd it flatline in 2000, instead of continuing to drop as you tough "conservative" types took over again? How is it that the penal system is run for a generation by Republicans, while the Liberal Elites in Washington thwart all their other plans? And half the population of these super-cool prisons you and your buddies build instead of inner-city schools are inside for drug offenses. So how'd you manage to lose that war, too, Bright Boy?

For that matter, how is it that back in '04 Baghdad was still so much safer than Detroit?

Y'know, I really don't care how it is that you come to believe that the whole Punishment/Rehabilitation argument comes down to something Mater told you about the Evil 60s; and I'm really not concerned with your problems in defending Mike Huckabee from his own side's weapons. I'd just like to know how you reach 30 years old, with an Ivy education, and given (for whatever reason) a plot of intellectual influence people ten time more capable would have killed for, and you spend your time recapitulating a previous generation's arguments, except with all the stuffing removed so you can win this time.

Friday, December 11

At Least Ask The Man Who Owns One, Why Doncha?

A principled but practical conservative respecting
the intelligence of the voters from a discreet distance.

AN alert, and possibly sadistic, reader points me to the latest in the seemingly interminable series of national Press remakes of Honest Mitch Daniels: Hoosier Railsplitter, the pugnacious gnome's Stealth Presidential Campaign bio, relayed with a straight face by people who seem to imagine, perhaps with grounds, that if we'll believe he's not yet running for President we'll believe just about anything.

This one, from WaPo's Business columnist Steven Pearlstein, is entitled "One Problem with Republicans: They've got the wrong Mitch". Using the same data, we arrive at "Two". So let's show our work.

This is at least the fourth installment this year, beginning, IIRC, with his cover story in the National Review, the Sports Illustrated Curse of politics, and here's an interesting note for anyone who's just got a Kitchenaid Pro 5 mixer in Imperial Gray: every single loaf arrives already staled. Which is great if all you want is crutons.

But if you've been paying attention in Indiana since 2005--it's harder than it sounds--by now you've watched Mitch take this same victory lap about seventy-three times. And the only thing that changes is that the results which can't be fudged get rotated in and out at the dictates of fashion or potential indictment.
Daniels is a rarity these days, an incredibly popular Republican politician who overcame last year's Democratic tide in his state to win a second term as governor with nearly 60 percent of the vote.

This is the principal distinction between politics and the 100 meter dash: they've both been dominated by lying cheaters in recent decades, but in track if there's a thirty mph. wind at your back the record doesn't count.

Daniels had a war chest sufficient to buy teevee time from April straight through the election. That his ads, as the sainted Mr. Clemens might've put it, contained a few stretchers we'll consider grist for that mill, but it didn't hurt that his opponent, after a contentious primary, was a woman either clinically depressed or legally dead. Or both.
On this day, Daniels is describing how, in his first term, he won bipartisan support for a program known as Healthy Indiana, which provides health insurance for Hoosiers who aren't poor enough to qualify for Medicaid but earn too little to afford buying coverage for themselves.

I'm sorry, but you or I, listening to a politician of either party stumping for our benefit, would probably take this sort of thing with a pinch of salt, assuming our health care plan covers that, assuming we have health care. Bi-partisanship! might be a little more impressive if 1) it didn't involve the party he referred to as a "bunch of car-bombers", and 2) it didn't involve a piece of feel-good legislation; "provided health insurance" might be a bit more impressive if 1) it actually "provided" health insurance, rather than allowing low-income Hoosiers to buy into health savings accounts, and 2) it wasn't necessary to "allow" them the right to exempt their pre-existing conditions just to get coverage.

Or, say, if the thing wasn't administered by the state's Family and Social Services Administration, which, under The Knife's watchful eye, managed to turn a billion-dollar privatization scheme into a total clusterfuck we're still paying for as we take it back over. Or if it hadn't been accomplished by raising taxes, contrary to Mitch's "conservative credentials".

Okay, it was cigarette taxes, but still: I'm certainly not against a program which has helped provide health care for 130,000 Hoosiers who might not get any otherwise. What I'm against is tossing out this mindless--pointedly mindless--crap to suggest that Daniels' track record says he's the guy who can lead a nationwide solution to the health care crisis without paying for it.
As he's talking, a thought suddenly occurs to me: They've got the wrong Mitch! Instead of relying on Mitch McConnell to lead Senate Republicans into battle over health care (or anything else, for that matter), they should have turned to Daniels instead.

The bad Mitch, as most Americans know by now, is the charmless and shameless hypocrite who offers up a steady stream of stale ideology and snarky talking points but almost never a constructive idea. McConnell has decided that the only way for Republicans to win is for President Obama to lose, and he will use lies, threats and all manner of parliamentary subterfuge to obstruct the president's programs.

Which effort, by the way, has been assisted by Indiana's two Republican Senators, the "Democratic" one and the "Moderate" Republican one, as well as every Republican in its House delegation. You think Mitch Daniels would be there bucking that tide?

If you ask me, I'd ask you why Mitch McConnell's propensity for Evil Parliamentary Abracadabra and Ideological Insanity aren't qualifications for leading the entire damned party. If you economic "conservatives" are so troubled by the red-meat, social-issues know-nothings among you how do you explain that thirty-year courtship? In what universe does the set of circumstances that put Daniels in the Oval Office in 2013 not also make McConnell, or something similar, Senate majority leader, then, or in 2011? What happens then? A sudden conversion to sanity? Quit bogartin'.

It's suggested that Mitch has no personal taste for the religious nuts in his party; I suggest that any scrap of moral fiber at his core is probably shredded balance sheets. The one act of political courage he's exhibited as governor--suggesting a one-year surtax on incomes over $150,000--went in the crapper about ten minutes later. If Palin isn't in the race he'll be caught in the stampede to grab the Palinistas; if she is--and god, I can't tell you how much I hope they both run--he's going to be faced with the decision to attack or no, and if he manages to stay in it'll come up time and again. I haven't seen any recent evidence that you can even run in the primaries without a sop to the extremists, let alone win, and all our evidence comes pre-Sarah.
The good Mitch, by contrast, is a principled but practical conservative who respects the intelligence of voters and would rather get something done than score political points.

Now I know you spent an afternoon at the Statehouse and an evening at the hotel bar, and didn't speak to anyone in between.
Daniels is a genuine fiscal conservative who took a $600 million state budget deficit and turned it into a $1 billion surplus but managed to do so without cutting spending for education and even increased funding for child welfare services.

Nor read the papers. Jesus H. Christ! He was hacking at education while you were typing this shit, and he'd already been forced to publicly declare that it would be cut before he allowed that precious Specious Campaign Talking Point "Budget Surplus" to be touched before he's out of office. If you'd'a poked around for two minutes you'd have tumbled onto the fact that that Surplus--which you guys sure do seem to love so long as the appellation "Clinton" isn't attached to it--is one part accounting sleight of hand, and several parts sloughing off responsibilities onto local governments. At the very least, to be fair about it, that "budget deficit" he inherited should go from "$600 million" to "zero", since that's where the accounting tricks in use at the time placed it. Either that, or subtract the $1.3 billion FSSA boondoggle before we start raving about the child welfare services it managed to snag in red tape and incompetence.
He pushed hard to lower property taxes but didn't hesitate to propose temporary hikes in income and sales taxes to keep the state in the black.

1) His inaction, and that of the Republican majorities in the 2005 Legislature, were the proximate cause of the property tax crisis he "solved". 2) That proposal to hike taxes to "reduce" the "deficit" lasted about 36 hours while his party screamed bloody murder. Some backbone. Some flexibility.
He privatized the state's toll road and then used the $4 billion proceeds to launch a major public works investment program.

Okay, he didn't "privatize" the Toll Road, he leased it, for seventy-five years (his supporters still tend to go ballistic if someone says he "sold" it, so fair's fair). And this may be a "good" deal, provided one uses money to keep score and calls the game seventy years before the final buzzer, and without bothering to consider what's happening to tolls or road maintenance. It's also possible that Daniels sharped the company which had already paid for the Chicago Skyway, and had to have the Indiana Toll Road, too, since that's the only way to get on the damn thing from the east. Either requires us to simply allow as how governments ought to be in the business of trading the people's assets like so many mortgage-backed derivatives, which some of us dasn't, and to imagine that any and every such deal will be a good one financially and free of insider monkey business. The latter two points being ones which are incontestably refuted by Mitch's other big deal, the FSSA swindle. So, y'know, it's something of a wash even viewed in best light, and without noting that the whole thing was supposed to build us a new superhighway no one needs, through wetlands and farms we do, except that now, with the downturn in the economy, the powers that be deny it was ever supposed to pay for more than the concrete and lane painting.
Tellingly, both Mitches like to talk about the Department of Motor Vehicles. The Washington Mitch conjures the image of long lines and uncaring bureaucrats and asks, cynically, whether you want folks like that determining your medical care. The Indiana Mitch, by contrast, rolled up his sleeves and transformed his DMV into an efficient, consumer-friendly operation.

Oh for fuck's sake, Pearlstein, how did you spend your time? Yeah, the BMV is much improved, now, after his boy initially fucked it up so badly that Hoosiers actually forgot how awful it had been previously; it hums, now, thanks mostly to the updated computer system the previous administration bought, and he had rushed online before, y'know, any complicated testing or stuff.

Sheesh, th' fuck makes you guys imagine we're going to get different results from the same old Republican shit if we just find the right kind of sugar coating? Don't they teach caveat emptor in business school?