Friday, April 30

It's A Shame They Did Away With Vaudeville, Pt. 7004

Peggy Noonan, "The Big Alienation: Uncontrolled borders and Washington's lack of self-control". May 1

OKAY, let's answer this one quickly, in case anyone's planning to cut out early for the weekend: No, Peggers; the problem is that people such as yourself followed Ronald Fucking Reagan down the goddam Rathole of Political Insanity thirty-some odd years ago, and never fucking noticed, excusing, along the way, any goddam piece of brain-dead crackpotism you imagined advanced the Sacred Cause: Trickle-down Economics, Flag-burning amendments, opposition to 19th century Biology, manufactured outrage over the Panama Canal, manufactured outrage over the B-1, manufactured outrage over Elian Gonzalez, Filegate, Travelgate, Lincolnbedroomgate, Blowjobgate--you people had Millennial Apoplexy over a Presidential hummer, Ms Noonan--Vandalgate, Giftgate, Pardongate, the Vince Foster hit, 2,200 Hillary Clinton: Homicidal Maniac or Murderous Bitch? books, Al Gore selling the White House to the Chinese, Al Gore: Serial Prevaricator, Al Gore: Beard Sporter, Fifth Columnists, Moslems on Airplanes, Suitcase bombs, Sleeper cells, the imminent nuclear threat posed by Saddam Hussein, Freedom fries, Crescent-shaped Memorials, Prophet cartoons, Bush Derangement Syndrome, Purple bandaids, Purple fingers, John Kerry: Combat Scratch Recipient, John Kerry: Bogus Windsurfer, Liberal Fascism, and that's before we mention Barack Hussein Obama, or how every news outlet in the country is biased against you. Okay, that didn't shorten things much, but maybe you get the picture: you have no business anymore excusing raging dipshitism, not-quite-crypto racism, or full-on certifiable political insanity as the slightly excessive, but fully understandable, acts of a few people driven beyond endurance by the sudden Socialist threat to Their Sacred Way of Life. The only thing that's changed is that some of you, now, recognize the political ramifications of having your bigotry and Xenophobia on display for all to see, as opposed to the last forty years of winking and nodding. There ain't no difference between the Arizona party and the party in general; the Unnecessarily Draconian has been a big part of your appeal since the War. By the same token, daring to criticize the Bush administration equally, now that that comes cost-free, is not the same thing as principled bipartisanship.

Which reminds me: those people in the "middle" who're so riled up? Always were. Maybe you'd know that if you ever met one. Or maybe you do know that, and we've just never heard you talk about it when you thought your mic was off.

Thursday, April 29

May You Live In Interesting Times

INDIANA'S political primaries (Motto: Remember that picture ID!) are just around the corner, which means--thanks to the ungodly amounts of filthy lucre Republicans (almost exclusively) have to spend here to inform voters how fiscally conservative they are--that the contested races have been subject to teevee spot fights for the past month. The contested races being the Republican primaries for the Senate post Evan Bayh is vacating for the good of the country, the 4th District job Steve Buyer is vacating one step ahead of the Law, I mean, in order to support his wife in her forty-year battle with some unnamed terminal illness, and the 5th District seat Dan Burton has been using as a convenient place to get messages for the last 30 years. Yes, indeed: Dan Burton has been such a Congressional scofflaw that he's now facing his third straight, and most serious, primary challenge, in a district which has been manicured just for him, or some other terminal dingbat.

The result--I trust you're sitting down--has resembled nothing so much as the response Detroit has made to changing demands on its vehicle line over the past forty years: 1) the Product all looks the same; 2) how it's described is apparently more important that what's under the hood, or what sort of smoke it belches; and 3) Long-Term Planning might as well be Swahili for "How much for three hours with your daughters?"

Every single one of the candidates who can afford ad time is some sort of "Conservative", which, in this instance at least, should not be taken as evidence that only "Conservatives" have been able to raise money; it's just like finding the Ichthys on some plumber's ad in the Yellow Pages. What we mean, instead, is that every ad identifies the Beggar in Question as a "Conservative", and sometimes Staunchly or Genuinely so, as though there's some other sort of Indiana Republican available to run. They all dislike Nancy Pelosi almost as much as they do the President (somebody--they're mostly a blur to me--tosses in a headshot of Harry Reid alongside Obama and Madam Speaker, but I don't think he's even identified; must be aimed at the cognoscenti vote.) They all voted against, or assure us they would have voted against, Obamacare and the Obama ObamaTax Increases (Once and Future Senator and Former Ambassador to Just Get Him The Fuck Out of Here Dan Coats, who's remarkably lifelike if you catch him in just the right light, promises to Repeal Healthcare, which, once the liberal firebrand Bayh leaves to succor the Poor, should be a snap anyway). All stand at the ready to protect the Second Amendment for the inevitable moment when Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi look at it funny, or something, while Harry Reid looks on; in something of a refutation to the Tea Bagger Non-Social Issue routine they're all in favor of Life, as graphically illustrated by the number of children and grandchildren they use as props.

Several aver that what this country needs is jobs, not a government that does stuff, except help provide jobs, evidentally. That's Burton's Big Answer, though what he was doing the last ten years while all those jobs disappeared goes unmentioned, presumably because everyone knows the answer is "Golf".

The big story among 'em in Hoosierland has not been Burton, who has pretty much been consigned to the embarrassment bin by the state GOP and their friends in local Indianapolis media, though he did get a little attention when it turned out that all the earnest white people (the only African-American face in anybody's ads belongs to the President) expressing their desire to see Dan get a fifteenth term were actually spokesmodels from Ohio. Not sure what the problem was supposed to be, since 85% of his campaign contributions come from out of state and nobody says anything.

No, it's been Coats, who followed up his chair-moistening stint in the Senate of the United States with a decade raking in lobbying bucks. Coats had been living in North Carolina right up to the moment that Bayh announced his retirement, and now says he was spurred to return to politics by the Evil Jim Rockford 180º U-Turn Across Six Lanes of Traffic that is Barack Obama.

And Coats is still getting flak for having voted for the Brady Bill in a previous century, something which underlines what the slightly bemused observer has noted in all this: that the Tea Bagging Party is primed and ready for its next opportunity to defeat Jimmy Carter.

Tuesday, April 27


David Brooks, "The Goldman Drama". April 26

YOU might want to notice who gets to be first on the list:
Between 1997 and 2006, consumers, lenders and builders created a housing bubble, and pretty much the entire establishment missed it.

Isn't it interesting how "the establishment" makes a sudden appearance in a David Brooks column? Ya think there's anything up with that?
It’s easy to see why this happened. People who make it into the establishment work and play well with others. They are part of the same overlapping social networks, and inevitably begin to perceive the world in similar, conventional ways. They thrive in institutions where people are not rewarded for being cantankerous intellectual bomb-throwers.

Not to mention that it happens because the Perpetual 'Establishment' Anilingus Parade informs how all those Bottoms vote, as well, and the party that's the main beneficiary is also the primary rein loosener, skid greaser, and wheel releaser.

'Course I seem to recall that during that same period a major New York City newspaper gave one of its best Op-Ed kiosk locations to some libertoonian Republican who kept insisting that the Markets are perfect, excepting all the needless and counter-productive government regulation they're forced to fight.
Outside the establishment herd, on the other hand, there were contrarians who understood the bubble (which was the easy part) and who figured out how to take counteraction (which was hard).

Hey, wait up. There are always contrarians, though they haven't always have the benefit of collusion with Goldman Sachs. So what?
In this drama, in other words, the establishment was pleasant, respectable and stupid, while the contrarians were smart but hard to love, and sometimes sleazy.

Sometimes sleazy. Perish the thought. Incidentally, what exactly happens to that load-bearing "Conservative" belief in the Imperfectability of Man right at the point where it collides with the Republican donor class?

Note one mystery, solve another: the Voodoo Contrarianism, suddenly noticed for the first time, turns out to be part of the larger Well, those Perfect Markets are Actually Just Cadres of Well-Intentioned Schlubs Who March in Lockstep Most of the Time Defense, which tends to rear its head only when some CEO is in the dock. The Hapless Establishment!
This week the drama comes to Washington in two different ways. First, as is traditional in our culture, the elected leaders of the clueless establishment have summoned the leaders of Goldman Sachs to a hearing so they can have a post-hoc televised conniption fit on the amorality of Wall Street.

Does anyone recall the sinkhole of the Bush administration, and the sinkhole of Iraq, and how every idiot cheerleader of that excursion said, in its Darkest Hour, that the Democrats shouldn't criticize, they should explain their plan for Victory?

And let us take the umpteenth opportunity here to say, again, that while one can never go wrong describing--facilely or no--the Congress of the United States as a collection of camera-hogging gasbags, someone who's decided to spend his life and our times sharing the wisdom in his tiniest political tic ought, really, to take a slightly more nuanced view of Congressional hearings. There are only so many cheap laughs to be scored on the subject of parliamentary procedure, and most all of 'em come from the Gallery. This sort of thing always seems to come from someone who, when his own ox has been backed into a corner, says something like, "But, these are our Elected Representatives! Founders! Freedom! Tradition!" Th' fuck is Congress supposed to do when the criminal acts of a few powerful men bring pain and suffering to the entire country? Ask David Brooks for advice?
This spectacle presents Goldman with an interesting public relations choice. The firm can claim to be dumb but decent, like the rest of the establishment, and emphasize the times it lost money. Or it can present itself as smart and sleazy, and emphasize the times it made money at the expense of its clients. Goldman seems to have chosen dumb but decent, which is probably the smart narrative to get back in the establishment’s good graces, even if it is less accurate.

Y'know, one, I love the technique of concocting your own solution, sticking it in someone else's mouth, and declaring him victorious. Though it does work better when you're holding an Ace kicker.

Once again the historically-minded reader's attention is directed to the Republican party of a few years ago (it should, perhaps, be referred to as the Classic Republican party, since its soul is Advertising) when the mere finessing of extra-marital sex by a sitting President in a civil case threatened to demolish the Very Foundation of Our Liberty.
The second big event in Washington this week is the jostling over a financial reform bill. One might have thought that one of the lessons of this episode was that establishments are prone to groupthink, and that it would be smart to decentralize authority in order to head off future bubbles.

Jesus H. Christ, one might "think" that the lesson--which we've had over and fucking over since the Gilded Age, and not just as the most recent total refutation of Reaganism--is that we're dealing with some of the most larcenous men on the planet, and that turning our backs on them for a minute is an open invitation to appropriate everyone else's wallets. The budding historian is directed to something called the S&L Scandal, and the resulting Evil Bailout, and will have, by now, covered the accomplishments of the Reagan Revolution and thirty years of Republican rule in reverse chronological order.

You'd think, wouldn't you, that the entire episode would have taught the likes of David Brooks to Shut Th' Fuck Up about his magical formula for perfect economic bliss, seeing as how that's the one was in place when it occurred. That is, of course, unless you happen to remember what these guys have been up to for the previous thirty years.

Monday, April 26

I Wake Up Screaming Yawning

Ross Douthat, "Not Even in South Park?" April 25

OVER the past couple generations my extended family has produced two types of late adolescent/ young adult: 1) the conventional, seemingly well-integrated-into-school/ church/ job culture, Future Cube Farmer of America enthusiastic white suburbanite in training, and 2) me. A few years back I had some hope for one of my nieces, a sullen and sarcastic child, but she seems to've grown out of it. I personally put no stock in anyone who has to make it to the nation's hotbeds of campus leftism and binge-drinking in order to notice that Life, at least in some aspects, sucks donkeys, even if it personally gives you iPads and Late Model Vehicles Someone Else Pays For in place of lemons. If your early teen years don't convince you, what's acquired by a little learning is mostly suspect. (The pianist Moriz Rosenthal was once convinced to listen to a child prodigy. "How old are you, my boy?" he asked. "Seven," came the reply. "And what are you going to play for me?" "The Tchaikovsky piano concerto," was the reply. "Too old!" said Rosenthal.)

My Poor Wife's family, though, has in recent decades turned out a number of male children whose adolescence is marked by drug- and alcohol-assisted vehicular mayhem, wanton property damage, and juvenile court appearances, followed by a sort of pregnant pause before they turn into sales reps.

Given the choice I prefer the former. I think that if you're old enough to commandeer a car, and old enough to factor in the likelihood that, as a juvenile offender, you're going to get off light, there's a spiritual dimension that requires you later to commit adult offenses, or one token offense at least, join the military, or become an attorney. And this, of course, doesn't happen; instead this sort of behavior just turns out to be an early warning sign of galloping Republico-Libertarianism and future employment in the Beverage Wholesaling Industry or Commercial Real Estate Market.

The one saving grace, for me personally, is that her family is not the sort to sit down and read Atlas Shrugged, or The Fountainhead, or much other than Sports Illustrated, and that while commode-bound.

It was, then, around Xmas 1997 when the eldest of my Poor Wife's nephews, just entering the febrile stage of the disease and mistakenly seeing in us, the respective family oddballs, a sort of kindred spirituality, asked, "Have you two seen South Park?"

And in a probably unexpected bit of familial bonhomie (it happens, even here; my Poor Wife is so solicitous of her young charges that she once watched Napoleon Dynamite on their recommendation) I tuned in the next week's episode. For ninety seconds. End of South Park interaction.

So sharpest satire in the world today, or longest running fart joke for world's stash of oldest continual 16-year-olds? Dunno. Don't care. Have my suspicions, but they're based on the sort of idiot who keeps insisting on the former. Blind pigs and acorns, y'know. But, finally, in case I didn't mention it: I don't fucking care. If this generation's Gravity's Rainbow played last night on Sci-Fi, or Scythe-Fythe, or whatever the fuck it is now, I don't care enough to wade through it. I suspect that's your audience for a reason. If it's not, and I'm wrong, I'll be dead in a while.

But then, see, I understand why Duchamp would shock the Academy, or why Joyce would flout conventional morality, how Renoir would cause moviegoers to riot, or how it is John Cage can still cause a 23-year-old wonderblogger to break out in Galloping Philistinism. Lighting farts on a program aimed at fratboys seems a lot less challenging. Maybe that's just me.

Oh, look, it's Ross Douthat! everybody:
Two months before 9/11, Comedy Central aired an episode of “South Park” entitled “Super Best Friends,” in which the cartoon show’s foul-mouthed urchins sought assistance from an unusual team of superheroes. These particular superfriends were all religious figures: Jesus, Krishna, Buddha, Mormonism’s Joseph Smith, Taoism’s Lao-tse — and the Prophet Muhammad, depicted with a turban and a 5 o’clock shadow, and introduced as “the Muslim prophet with the powers of flame.”

Jesus Christ, Lao-tse is not a religious figure. Nor even someone whose adherents insist he was real despite any evidence. This sort of thing just kills the satire for me.

And another thing: the sort of person who describes something as "foul-mouthed" ought to have the fucking decency to leave it alone thereafter, unless he wants to complain some more about potty-mouthism.
That was a more permissive time. You can’t portray Muhammad on American television anymore, as South Park’s creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, discovered in 2006, when they tried to parody the Danish cartoon controversy — in which unflattering caricatures of the prophet prompted worldwide riots — by scripting another animated appearance for Muhammad. The episode aired, but the cameo itself was blacked out, replaced by an announcement that Comedy Central had refused to show an image of the prophet.

Okay, are we finished here? Nothing to see, yet again? Major Corporation Shamelessly Kowtows to Islam, Despite Once Poking Fun At Ross Douthat's Personal Religious Guide. And thereby proves that A) Douthat is the more open-minded, and that B) in these Politically-Correct times everyone bends over backwards to be nice to Our Enemies, but it's always Open Season on decent, God-fearing Americans. Cue the Apocalypse.

Or to put it another way, bullshit. It's you who insisted that 9/11 had to change everything, and you who made Islam the grand perpetrator. If Viacom, or whoever, now finds itself treading that turf, well, you're the fucking landscaper. Second, I know this facile It's Reverse Religious Discrimination! bit has been working for you guys since before you were born, Ross, but stow it, huh? There's not a lot of television out there openly insulting Orthodox Judaism either. Been a while since I've seen a blisteringly satirical cartoon depiction of US military warcrimes or Catholic deaf-altarboy buggery. You watch any weekend for whichever Knowledge channel is carrying the Jesus programming this time, and you'll see absolute credulity piled on absolute credulity with little or no notice of the last two-hundred years of actual scholarship. Damn near everything in the culture is compromised, and most of it proudly so. This is a scandal in the same way Rahm Emanuel saying "retard" is, while Rush Limbaugh saying it qualifies as a joke. Because you blow it up into one, but you soon run out of breath.

We should all make fun of the Prophet. And The Prophet. And Jesus, and Moses, and their various self-appointed terrestrial spokesmen. And at each other. And we should laugh when all those self-appointed avengers rush to the rescue. But in doing so we should acknowledge that our grounds are Just How Fucking Ridiculous the whole thing is; the arbiters should not simultaneously be the people grousing about unfair Times coverage of this week's Vatican Sex Follies. And if you believe the Corporation rules supreme in this country, then how one does or doesn't appease some potential group of customers is none of your goddam business.

Friday, April 23

What's That Smell?

Laura E. Huggins, "Earth Day: 40 Years of Imminent Catastrophe". April 22

OUR lesson today is the redemptive power of Love, and the pervasive odor of bullshit.

First, kids, supposing you are suffering from, not Writer's Block, as you're more Just A Guy With Persistent Logorrhea, but an attack of transient global editing, and the distinct suspicion that the World Herself, after a period of benignity, or disinterest, has decided to plot against you once more, as shown by everything you happen to touch turning to complete shit for a 72-hour period. And suppose that near the end of such a period your inexplicably loving spouse comes home, takes one look at you, and asks you what's wrong.

You haven't said a word about it before. She just reads it on you, which, I dunno, may be easier for people without undiagnosed borderline Asperger's than it is for me, but still. Do you want someone reading your thoughts? How much goddam larceny is in your heart, and how much could you risk exposing? And yet she manages to reply with just the right tone of leaving you the space to work on it yourself, and letting you know she's available if you need her to be. And then she leaves you a cute kitten picture, just so you'll laugh at yourself. It's worth the risk, kids. Really.

Now, into such a world, somehow--it's not as if Universal Love isn't supposed to be the fucking cornerstone of Western Civilization or anything--comes the sort of person who imagines this, and everything else, is for sale, that the Hoover Institution is paying top dollar, and that Shit Still Floats, and especially well in a gold commode, while we're at it. Someone, say, like Laura E. Huggins:
On this 40th anniversary of Earth Day, prepare to be bombarded with apocalyptic tales of disaster. But don't let the gloom-and-doom-fest get you down. Odds are the doomsters will be wrong.

Odds are, so's everybody else. In the long run we're all dead; in the short term we're all extended tubes with bullshit at one end and E. coli at the other. This is not a rhetorical Get Out of Jail Free card.
To help "celebrate" the first Earth Day in 1970, biologist Barry Commoner wrote, "We are in an environmental crisis which threatens the survival of this nation, and of the world as a suitable place of human habitation."

In a speech at Swarthmore College that year, ecologist Kenneth Watt said, "If present trends continue, the world will be about 4 degrees colder for the global mean temperature in 1990, but 11 degrees colder in the year 2000. This is about twice what it would take to put us into an ice age." And a New York Times editorial proclaimed: "Man must stop pollution and conserve his resources, not merely to enhance existence but to save the race from intolerable deterioration and possible extinction."

Time has not been gentle with these prophecies. Four decades later, the world hasn't come to an end. Most measures of human welfare show the Earth's population is better off today than at any other time in human history. Life expectancy is increasing, per-capita income is rising, and the air we breathe and the water we drink are cleaner. And, of course, concerns about climate change have shifted from cooling to warming.

Yeah, and back then they told us to put butter on a burn, that drinking water while exercising gave you cramps, and Watergate was a third-rate burglary. The first Earth Day came two years after Walt Rostow saw the Light at the End of the Tunnel in Vietnam; three years after LBJ saw it; five years after Joe Alsop saw it, seventeen years after Lt. General Henri-Eugene Navarre saw it, and eight years after Decca Records told Brian Epstein that guitar groups were on the way out. People are wrong about the stock market every second of the day; the Hoover Institution does not seem to imagine this constitutes an argument against Capitalism.

Ms Huggins' Hoover bio doesn't give her DOB, but we think it's safe to assume she wasn't passing out Ecology flag decals in 1970, and has no memory of just how awful things had become by the time the first Federal pollution controls went into effect, two years later. She's welcome to mix her cocktails with unfiltered Mississippi water from below Baton Rouge if she finds it all too error-filled to live with.

Th' fuck causes you to do this, for money or no? How much better can ya eat? Why do Poor Forlorn Corporations need so much of your love? Exxon Mobil made only $45 billion in 2008, and a mere $19 billion last year; a pittance compared to Big Environment (which doesn't even know if it's hot or cold!), I know.

And whaddya get? What do billions in Astroturf, non-profit fronts, and all the other shenanigans you mouthpieces profit from do for this sacred economy? Assuming Congress were a hot-bed of (ill-informed, natch) environmental radicals, what would we accomplish by turning it into a corrupt one? Perpetual demonization may have made for slightly increased profits, but it's sure made for a crappier society in which to spend 'em.

And, okay, granted that this is how things are going to work so long as people are able to band together to commit crimes they'd go to jail for as individuals, with or without the cooperation of Laura E. Huggins. But, y'know, that doesn't mean this We're Right By Virtue of Pointing Out the Other Side's Mistakes routine is makin' any more sense, or getting anything done. Same with the Science Progresses, Therefore Progress Is Inevitable and Tomorrow Will Always Solve Today's Problems schtick. The question isn't whether it fools the Rubes; the question is whether it actually fools you.

Wednesday, April 21

Next Week On "Doghouse Riley's Build Your Own Doggone Good Bomb Shelter" Blog

Allen Salkin "Newcomer to Food Television Tries for a Little Grit". April 20

MIND you, this is the country which continues unabated its forty-year discussion on just how much carpet bombing is necessary to turn the rest of the world into cut-rate versions of itself:
The people who brought the brassy calorie-pusher Paula Deen, the energetic spice-sprinkler Emeril Lagasse and dozens of other stars to a mass audience are furiously preparing to start a spinoff network on May 31.

Called the Cooking Channel, it is lining up low-key programs targeted at a hipper crowd interested in the grass roots of food culture….

“The feel and style we’re going for is a little grittier, a little edgier, a little hipper,” said Bruce Seidel, the senior vice president for programming and production for the Cooking Channel.

Over/Under on "First Breakout Gritty, Edgy, Hipper Cooking Channel 'Star' Putting His Face on the Same Goddam Cheap-ass Aluminum Cookware Endorsed, in Sequence, by Emeril Lagasse, Rachael Ray, Paula Deen, and Giada De Laurentiis": 16 months. I'm guessing Mr. Seidel sees that as an endorsement.

There is, of course, no reason whatsoever to imagine that anything short of Apocalypse will ever free us from the sort of society where Senior Vice Presidents for Programming, Marketing, or Butt Rape say things like "a little edgier, a little hipper" and aren't immediately stomped into a puddle. And listen, last Saturday afternoon I went shopping at the Bloatville Mall. You cannot underestimate the American consumer. Full stop. And it's not for lack of a goddam conveyor belt of Trying.

I just wanna know how, in the most Bronze-Aged-Superstitious country still left on the planet, the Obviously Soul Dead get away with running things right out in the open. Look, when flailing your arms, scrunching your nose, showing more cleavage every season, or drawling like the hammiest Edmund Pettus impersonator in the entire Civil War Reenactment Biz comes to be taken as Classic Food Show Host Behavior, and too stodgy for the choice Hipster demo, you missed a wakeup call or exit ramp about ten years back.

I was talking to my neighbor last weekend while we were both engaging in garden cleanup, and she mentioned some trick she'd learned on HGTV. "They have gardening shows on HGTV?" I said.

Food Network is concerned about falling ratings. or aging "personalities", or staling concepts? What's the fucking problem? Fer chrissakes, when was the last decade in which Music Television had the remotest thing to do with music? Check with The Learning Channel, Arts and Entertainment, Bravo (the Performing Arts Channel), History Channel, Biography Channel, Discover, or the National Geographic, let alone whatever turned into or became of Spike, G4, Versus, The Nashville Network, and a couple dozen I've forgotten. Why not just do what they did, and turn your programming over to hunky carpenters, tank-topped interior designers, and endless reruns of Jesus/Noah's Ark/Nostradamus infotainment? You don't even need a name change, though you might resort to acronym; the rest of today's viewing day's pleasure on CMT (Country Music Television): The World's Strictest Parents, followed by The World's Strictest Parents; two episodes of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, then two of Trading Spouses: Meet Your New Mommy, then two more Extremes (or the same two again, I didn't bother checking); Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader, and we ask you again, and you can close out your viewing pleasure with four shots of The Singing Bee. Fer chrissakes, that's more colons than have appeared in the eighty-five years of the Grand Ole Opry, just for starters.

And, look, it's bad enough that Vice Presidents of Programming have about as much dedication to honesty, propriety, and reality as former Vice Presidents of the United States Under Bush Administrations; it has to take the same abject unconcern with real world consequences--hell, let's just make that The Very Foundations of Meaning Itself--to say "edgier, grittier, hipper" as to connect Saddam Hussein to 9/11. What's much worse is that we keep rewarding them. How much fucking expertise does it take to say "appeal to a hipper, edgier demographic"? How much did it take to say, "appeal to an ill-informed bunch of Xenophobic nationalists and their desire to bomb the living shit out of someone from 30,000 feet--so long as they don't personally have to leave their living rooms--while the blood is still in their ears?" And how much different do the results usually turn out to be?

Food's one of the lively arts. I sure don't think we have to be stodgy about it, but I do think it'd be nice if something called The Food Network took it semi-seriously as a tradition, as a part of life, as something where real knowledge, not trendy eyewear, is rewarded, rather than as just another vehicle for selling ad time to miracle wipes. And I think it'd be nice if, say once in the next twenty-five years, unlike the last, someone in a similar position said something like, "You know, maybe we could try cutting out the schtick altogether and doing the job right for once."

Monday, April 19

In The Land Of The Blind

I HAVE one rule in dealing with a Douthat column, but it's a two parter: if I doze off during the first paragraph, or five times in the next ten, I look for something else to irritate me.

Here's his opener. You decide:
American conservatives don’t think terribly highly of the British Tories — if, that is, they think of them at all. With the exception of the sainted Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s Conservatives have acquired a reputation among their more populist American cousins for being aristocratic squishes: part Bertie Wooster and part Arlen Specter.

Now, apart from the warm, cheery glow the American Right's love affair with Thatcherism (Version 2.0 now shipping! as Douthat was born the same year Maggie became PM ) has given me over the years, this sounded like nothing so much as a brief experiment where the Times hires a slightly stupider guy to explain David Brooks' columns to a non-existent demographic. Not that he doesn't usually sound that way.

And this follows Douthat squeezing in a column about how CNN could improve its ratings, itself sandwiched like mashed potato on white, extra mayo, between Catholic Church Sex Scandal ruminations (spoiler alert: the 70s did it).

As usual, our interest in this sort of thing is sociological and meager, to use a redundancy, and mostly consists of Douthat unintentionally demonstrating what the Graphic Novel must have been like before someone invented graphics:
Nobody would mistake the Cameron Tories for Tea Partiers. By the statist standards of British politics, though, their manifesto’s emphasis on localism and limited government is quite daring. The Tories may sit to the left of American conservatives on a host of issues, but Cameron is offering a more detailed and specific vision of what conservative reform might mean than almost any English-speaking politician since the Reagan-Thatcher era.

Of course, if you're old enough, and especially if you're Midwestern enough, you've been listening to this cartoon version of Poly Sci 101 for four decades now, and haply have at hand that same four decades worth of contrary evidence detailing what happens when people who insist they're for Limited Government actually get control of one.

It's curious, really, that one of the things that happens is that the supposed party of supposed smaller government embiggens government, and not always just for the purchase of cooler warplanes and bigger aircraft carriers with, like, Presidential parking lanes; y'know, the stuff Smaller Government advocates like. And this gives rise to members of the same party deciding--after they're voted out--that the reason they failed was Insufficient Purity. This, in turn, is responded to as though it had never happened before, and thus must be a genuine, populist, grassroots uprising which means every word it says. In 1964. In 1980. 1984. 2000. Now.

Another is that the clacking magpies of Reaganthatcherism are given protected nesting spots from which to caw their one-sided arguments. "Conservatives" want smaller government, though none has ever produced one; this, they jabber, is not the reverse of the party which wants government to accomplish things, but one which wants to expand government until it reaches 100% and we all earn our living taking in each other's washing. "Conservatives" want Tax Cuts; their opponents don't favor responsible spending, or equitable payment for needed government services, but seizing your personal property until there's none left. Of course, not only is there no such party, but the actual opposition party is so timid, conflicted, and corrupted that it can't even enact the actual ideas it has with actual majorities. And the Timesmen imagine we benighted folk in the hinterland are hungry for them to serve up a series of Harvard boys and U. of Chicago Torontoites to explain to us that's how we think.

Let us respond with the case of Indianapolis, Indiana, the Circle City, Naptown, U.S.A.: two-and-a-half years ago it elected a halfwit Marine Lt. Colonel--but I repeat myself!--in the First Ever in History Teabagging Revolution of the Current Cycle. And at this point we've gotten someone who 1) has refused to publicly uncover any of the $70 million in "fluff" he claimed he would excise from the city budget, let begin the actual defluffing process; 2) retained the County Option Tax which, when Democrats enacted it to deal with a police and fire pension problem bordering on the catastrophic, he called TaxandSpendism run amok; 3) wondered aloud why we need city parks and greenspaces; and 4) now seeks to hand the Pacers $15 million, gratis, off their contract to operate the Fieldhouse we built them the last time they threatened to move, lest they move, while simultaneously closing six library branches, including the most popular one in the system.

The Pacer thing is downright galling, since the $15 million in maintenance they pay justifies their profit-sharing in other events held at the Fieldhouse, but the rumor is that negotiators aren't demanding that money back; because outside legal opinion has held that the vaunted "right to renegotiate the contract after ten years" doesn't actually exist in the contract, jurisprudence generally, nor anywhere other than the profit takers' heads; and since the Simon organization is now entering the umpteenth consecutive year of refusing to observe state law requiring they open their books. And the whole scheme is being run by the Capital Improvement Board, the Skull and Bones of Indianapolis, and the first goddam thing any serious tax revolt should have kicked to the curb.

We'd need twice as much space to begin to deal with what the Daniels administration is now trying to do to public education to entice Presidential donors streamline its destruction, and we'll take it, sometime soon. We're going to leave to praeteritio the fact that Clarian Health, freed of any job-killing risk it might have to provide affordable health care in the future, plans on spending $150 million to add 175-200 beds to Methodist Hospital. In the meantime, y'know, just maybe we could start acting like incontinent tax cutting is not the one issue in the history of Western Civilization, dating all the way back to the year of Ross Douthat's birth, which has only one side.

Friday, April 16

Friday "It's 85º Here, I Guess That Proves Jim Inhofe's Family Are A Bunch Of Inbred Morons" Spring Blogging

Speaking of inbreds, new tulips Caroussel (top) and Monsella:

Greigii tulips and Siberian bugloss:

Herb bed:

Elm, vines, rocks, myrtle, sweet woodruff, intruding tulip:

One is serene, the other not so much:

Thursday, April 15

More Matters Of Taste Phrased As Royal Decrees

• Tarragon is a happy partner in an omelette grand-mere, with parsley, chervil, and chives, in minute amounts, and should not be forsaken; such might be a solution to the cilantro question, excepting that it is apparently impossible for anyone who favors the stuff to use less than the Standard Equine Toxicity Level (SETL), so we'll never know.

• Coriander, on the other hand, is part of God's Own Bounty, indispensable to the sausage maker and damned near so to the preparer of any pork dish worthy of victuals.

• Putting two Homer Simpson stamps on my bloated Indiana state tax return (it's a state which eschews tax progressivism, but the goddam paperwork runs to ten pages) almost made up for needing a second stamp.

This Is What You Do For A Living?

John Dickerson,
"Sarah Palin Is the New Al Gore: The right's answer to the left's biggest political celebrity". April 14

WHATEVER might be interesting about Sarah Palin--and, God rest you merry, gentlemen, it's not how mannish features, a selection of Anita Bryant's old hairdos, and a voice like an agitated raccoon came to be regarded as "sexy"--it's apparently off-limits to the typists of the Press, where her almost preternatural outstripping of George W. Bush in the Totally Unprepared, Utterly Clueless, Obviously Disinterested, and Finally, At Bottom, Just Plain Batshit Crazy Utterance sweepstakes is simply discounted. "Palin? Oh, yeah, completely out of her depth, assuming she has any. Untrainable, venal, empty, even, unless you want to want to count the ability to find someone who could help her cash in personally on her child's Down syndrome, cammo fetishism, and the same Jab It In Your Eye, Pointy-Headed Elitist Libruls demographic that gave us the roaring successes of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush. Not that those people aren't all over any Republican who can attract six votes like flies on roadkill. But what a story!" Assuming, that is, that you gloss over the major parts.

Sure, sure, this is Slate, where the Amazing, No-Hands, Reverse Double-Counterintuitive Special Twist Contrarian story assignments utilize some form of wingnut/libertoonian magnetic poetry--Why is Driving an SUV healthier than Barack Obama?--but, c'mon, Palin is the Right's Al Gore? Because they're politicians and celebrities? Jesus, I know things are tough in the Journalism biz, but would it kill you to skip a meal now an' then, and an assignment?
Your reaction to this [Palin's unshreded Cal State dumpster contract] probably depends on your position on the political spectrum. If you are a liberal, you see it as proof that Palin is no "hockey mom" and that her humble persona was a fraud. If you are a conservative, you see it as proof that the free market has decreed that the Palin brand is more valuable than ever. (If you are fond of maxims, you are simply puzzled. Quitters never prosper, we're told, and yet Palin, who left her job with 17 months to go in her first term, has made $12 million since doing so, according to ABC News.)

Th' fuck? First, like I need any help determining that Palin's "persona" is fraudulent. Second, my reaction to the story totally depended on whether I was helping fund Cal State Stanislaus, which I ain't. Third, almost none of my reaction to Sarah Palin, which might be fairly described as "bemused indifference", derives from my position on the political spectrum. It derives from Sarah Palin, and her position as the spokesquitter for disastrous and discredited ideas, or "ideas". It derives from the cheapening of our public discourse generally, of which she is a recent eruption of skin rash I wish t' hell people like you would quit scratching. And, finally, regardless of the damage caused by decades of this facile "Conservatives think like this; liberals think like this" coverage, and the tin-eared crapola, like the above, it services, I have a strong suspicion that a helluva lot more "conservatives" wish the woman would disappear than will admit it to pollsters.

(By the way: maybe it's just because I'm a liberal, but I love how "trashed her sacred bond with the voters" is somehow counterbalanced by "earned $13 million doing so", apparently on the grounds that any journalist in the country would beat grandma to death with an icing spatula for a similar opportunity. It's as if your husband's surgeon walked out in the middle of his quadruple bypass, and a hospital administration told you, "Before you get upset, you should know a tee time suddenly opened up at Pebble Beach".)
But if you step back and judge Palin by the standards of other celebrities and reality-show hosts, the contract seems pretty benign. She didn't demand white roses or call for a police escort. She doesn't ask that all televisions be tuned to Fox, like the man she wanted to succeed as vice president. She does ask that questions at her events be screened—which, given how thoroughly packaged presidential "town hall" performances are, should be considered a standard political request.

Look, one, why should I judge Sarah Palin as anything other than a stumping, out-of-work politician? Because she needs to be graded on a curve? Second, we have Western Civilization's most risible campaign structure, and "events" are "staged" for maximum coverage by the gentlemen of the Press, who desire to cover anything other than boring old issues. This is bad enough to be termed "completely unacceptable"; what's worse is having that same Press turn around and use the (artificial) values of these tawdry carnival attractions as the standard by which we should judge all public behavior. Either Palin is a politician or she's a reality-show moron; if the latter she should renounce politics and shack up with a series of hunky bartenders, stock-car racers, and rodeo clowns. I have no idea whether President Obama's campaign appearances screen questions or no. I do know that, unlike Palin, the man has actually answered questions put by hostile interviewers, and done so in semantically-valid, complete English sentences.
Still, it is by the celebrity, not the political standard, that Palin should be judged. She is a personality—influential, polarizing, and not likely to be president—who talks about political affairs. In other words, she's a lot like Al Gore.

Albert Arnold Gore, Jr. (b. March 31, 1948) is a five-time US Representative from Tennessee, twice elected US Senator, two-term Vice President of the United States, and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, an Oscar, an Emmy, a Grammy, and the 2000 Presidential election. His record of public service and dedication to principle--far from ideological purity and vapid applause lines--dates to his twenties, and his current "celebrity" is the result of a life-long advocation of environmental issues. So, yeah, just another publicity hound. Palin in drag, pretty much.
Defining Palin as a political celebrity is not to say that she lacks connection or influence with the people she speaks for. But drinks before takeoff and high-thread-count sheets do not necessarily affect her relationship with her audience. Oprah Winfrey is very exacting and very wealthy and yet still has a vast following of regular people. She used her popularity to help Barack Obama. No one would think her request for bendable straws out of line. It might be galling to some that Palin makes so much money by talking so much about regular folk. But is she really any different from a musician who makes millions by singing about the working class?

If you want to think about how Republicans will govern in the real world or look at the GOP philosophy in practice, there are vibrant examples to examine in New Jersey, Mississippi, California, and Virginia. In these places, conservatives are struggling to put ideas into practice that require real trade-offs and bring real consequences. These places are a better starting point for a legitimate debate about conservative politics and policy.

Reader, just for fun, imagine yourself the harried English teacher of a typical junior high school. Give this piece of shit a letter grade. That, or imagine you're Bruce Springsteen, and Slate has just asked you to pen an article about how much John "Inside the Beltway" Dickerson has taught you about Real Americans.

Wednesday, April 14

The Sun Is Shining, The Birds Are Singing, The Tulips Are In Bloom. Shut th' F*ck Up.

Jon Lackman, "It's Time To Retire 'Kabuki': The word doesn't mean what pundits think it does". April 14

Harold McGee, "Cilantro Haters, It's Not Your Fault". April 13

I'M BUSY, but it's mostly Kabuki. I did the lawnmower kabuki yesterday evening; I've been doing the new lighting kabuki for a week now, with only stylized success; I'll have to kabuki the hibachi, as soon as I get an hibachi.

I think I've mentioned my friend Cowboy Clint before, a real working cowboy who'd been forced to relocate to the midwest after a Class B Felony Messing with Texas beef one drunken night, who experienced the Urban Cowboy contagion personally, not just metaphorically: he had to change his entire wardrobe or look like a Disco refugee. (I had to give up cigars twenty years ago, when the likes of California's health-nut governor started smoking them as symbols of the trendy Non-PC kabuki, and how massive wealth gave you the right to spit in everyone else's face, but that's not nearly the same.) Sort of thing happens with language all the time; particularly, in politics, with the lamentable death-by-overuse-and-unlettered-semantic-shift of the once-useful spin. It happens often enough--as in constantly--that it ought go unremarked. Or, assuming you are Slate, to have the unremarkability remarked upon:
It may seem P.C. or peevish to ask writers to resist kabuki. (Is Kabuki resistance itself Kabuki?) The request is impractical, I admit

But how would you feel if your favorite art form, ballet or truckers' quilts, say, became another nation's derogatory epithet? How many Americans today steer clear of actual Kabuki (it is regularly performed here) because of the word's reputation?

I'm guessing "none".

If pesto is Out, bring us two orders of what's In! (Missed a segue, there, but nobody bats 1000.) If this sort of thing is a problem, it'll self-correct, because the same overusers are the same mid-craze adaptors ready to kill what's next via unreflective overexposure. It's more disturbing by several orders of magnitude that some Slate-y arbiter of political phrasemaking still uses "P.C." to mean "raising niggling objections" thirty years after that one was driven off the rails.

But Lackman's real point, or "point", is not that kabuki should be banished for Incipient Trendiness Wasting Disease, nor Overuse by the Unfashionably Middle-Aged, but that it's being misused altogether:
Health care reform recently brought Kabuki to mind for both Rush Limbaugh—"what you have here is 'Kabuki theater' "—and New York Times columnist Frank Rich: "[I]f I were to place an incautious bet on which political event will prove the most significant of February 2010, I wouldn't choose the kabuki health care summit." For The New Yorker's George Packer, all the capital's a Far Eastern stage, and all its men and women merely players. "I looked for answers outside the Kabuki theatre of Washington personalities."

Pundits use Kabuki as a synonym for "posturing." The New Republic's Michael Crowley, for example, has defined it as a "performance, in which nothing substantive is done." But there's nothing "kabuki" about the real Kabuki. Kabuki, I'll have you know, is one of UNESCO's Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity! And it's nothing like politics. It does indeed use stylized gestures, expressions, and intonations, but it's far from empty and monotonous.

Well, the Healthcare Summit, e.g., may have been monotonous--like everything more complicated that a Tweet in some circles--but it wasn't empty, either. To me (pace Rush and Packer) its use has always referred to Kabuki dance, stylized movements which can be read by the knowledgeable, but are incomprehensible, or easily misconstrued, by everyone else. Limbaugh and Rich might easily help kill the thing through overuse, but mindlessness (and I wouldn't say either is de facto wrong, above) is strictly on them.

The fat lady has to sing before the opera's over, a delightful, useful, and, yes, overused folk observation which hasn't affected my enjoyment of 19th century musical theatre one whit. It's a sort of cultural enallage, where the effective but incorrect grammatical form ("We was robbed!") is replaced by a comic Philistinism. Kabuki is a stylized mishmash to yer average American. Even your above-average American. And the last people on earth who have a right to take offense at some other culture's portrayal of them are the Japanese.

Where'd I put that segue? Anyhow:
FOOD partisanship doesn’t usually reach the same heights of animosity as the political variety, except in the case of the anti-cilantro party.

Well, I am still working on my food blog…
Culinary sophistication is no guarantee of immunity from cilantrophobia. In a television interview in 2002, Larry King asked Julia Child which foods she hated. She responded: “Cilantro and arugula I don’t like at all. They’re both green herbs, they have kind of a dead taste to me.”

“So you would never order it?” Mr. King asked.

“Never,” she responded. “I would pick it out if I saw it and throw it on the floor.”

God bless that woman, and would she'd lived to be 200. (There's a greeting card my neighbors sent me hanging on the fridge now, with her wonderful line "It's so beautifully arranged on the plate you just know someone's fingers have been all over it".) She overstates the case against, ahem, roquette, no doubt due to the power of sledgehammer trendiness….

[Which reminds me. I have to travel two miles to the specialty birdfeeding store to get plain suet. There are fourteen different suets at the grocery store, and they all read like salsas Rachael Ray's production staff spitballed. Blueberry Mango. Peanut Graham. Cilantro.]

But if anything she lets cilantro off far too easy. Throwing it on the floor would mean you could still smell it. Cilantro should be taken immediately to the dumpster, and a note pinned to the thing apologizing to the garbage man. It's the chef who should be hurled to the floor.

And look, yes indeedy, I don't care for the smell. But I've made my own curries, I make my own sausage, I've et three-year-old goat cheese. It's not the vile reek, whether or not that's genetically or culturally affected; it's the goddam incontinent use, which is wedded to, and symbolic of, the rampant food idiocy which holds that food--and, worse, every fucking dish on the table--is supposed not so much to be seasoned as wrestled to the ground and lemon-cilantro-peppersprayed into submission. Alberto Moravia once remarked that, while the ratio of literacy to illiteracy was constant, nowadays the illiterates can read; and nowadays the ham-fisted imagine they are producing something edible, like the kid who imagines burning ants with a magnifying glass makes him a research biologist.
Helen Leach, an anthropologist at the University of Otago in New Zealand, has traced unflattering remarks about cilantro flavor and the bug etymology — not endorsed by modern dictionaries —

May we just note here that, so far as we are aware, no lexicographers dabble in ethnography?
back to English garden books and French farming books from around 1600, when medieval dishes had fallen out of fashion. She suggests that cilantro was disparaged as part of a general effort to define the new European table against the flavors of the old.

So, cilantro was unfairly banned 400 years ago? Explains why my neighbor put four centuries' worth of the stuff in that salsa he made.
The senses of smell and taste evolved to evoke strong emotions, [Dr. Jay Gottfried, neuroscientist] explained, because they were critical to finding food and mates and avoiding poisons and predators. When we taste a food, the brain searches its memory to find a pattern from past experience that the flavor belongs to. Then it uses that pattern to create a perception of flavor, including an evaluation of its desirability.

If the flavor doesn’t fit a familiar food experience, and instead fits into a pattern that involves chemical cleaning agents and dirt, or crawly insects, then the brain highlights the mismatch and the potential threat to our safety.

Well, except, of course, that crawly insects and dirt have been on the menu for several million years. And if you're thinking of putting cilantro, which is Greek for "Mediterranean Death Herb" by the way, in my salad, I'll just have the Lemon Pledge instead.

Tuesday, April 13

But Then If You Really Think About It, How Much Sentience Is Required To Crank This Shit Out?

J'accepte le régime, pas manie.

--The Chef, in Rules of the Game

Christopher Cox, "Consider the Oyster: Why even strict vegans should feel comfortable eating oysters by the boatload". April 7

Ross Douthat, "The Better Pope". April 11

WHY, I hear you ask yourself, are these two linked together, other than the obvious suggestion that both belong in Slate, though only one actually is?

And I'm glad you asked that; I've been asking it, too. But then, for one, I think it's important to note that if you're going to carve off a chunk of the public airwaves, pending Comcast approval, to excuse your personal eating or religious habits, assuming the two are distinct, you really ought to consider that the topic's been covered for a couple thousand years now, and by better, more thoughtful writers than you'll ever be, and aim somewhere above the general standards of your employer, if that happens to be Slate, or the Special Rules for 'Conservative' Op-Ed Sinecures, if the Times, which I believe are identical, namely, if a native speaker would recognize it as attempted English, you're good to go, just this once.

Let us suppose, oh vegan-in-everything-except-mollusk-consumption, that your dietary choices are known to us, and that you will be our dinner guest. You will dine according to your strictures, unless they include 1) everyone else observing them as well, and/or 2) a demand that separate utensils or food-prep areas be kept pristine for all such occasions. We accept regimens and tolerate manias!, to a point. And here it is:
Because I eat oysters, I shouldn't call myself a vegan. I'm not even a vegetarian. I am a pescetarian, or a flexitarian, or maybe there's an even more awkward word to describe my diet.


This, sir, is the line. You could discuss vegetarianism, and we'd forbear, but it'd be a long time before another invite. You could critique the squash and chickpea stew, vegan pizza, or gâteau de crepes with spring vegetables, in blunt terms if you like. (Oysters, well, we're in the middle of a cornfield here.)
At first I despaired over losing the vegan badge of honor—I do everything else vegans do—but I got over it. Oysters may be animals, but even the strictest ethicist should feel comfortable eating them by the boatload.

But the minute you started justifying crap like this you and your hemp beanie would find yourselves sprawling on the front lawn.

Do not, do not change "sentience" to "suffering" in order to justify your lusts, or, if you must, keep it to yourself. It's sorry-assed excuse-mongering. And it ain't made any better by the fact that the only "expert" opinionator you can dredge up to agree changed his mind some years ago, let alone by dragging Poor Ralph Waldo and "foolish consistency" into it. I know, it's tempting when you see the sort of hypocrisy organized religions get away with on a daily basis to grab for your own piece of the cruelty-free lemon meringue; control yourself.

I knew there was a segue in there somewhere, if I just kept going long enough.
The world didn’t always agree with Pope John Paul II, but it always seemed to love him. Handsome and charismatic, with an actor’s flair and a statesman’s confidence, he transformed the papacy from an Italian anachronism into a globe-trotting phenomenon. His authority stabilized a reeling church; his personal holiness inspired a generation of young Catholics. “Santo subito!” the Roman crowds chanted as he lay dying. Sainthood now!

Well, I gotta be honest with ya, Ross old boy: I heard this for a quarter-century, and somehow I never heard anybody actually say it, aside from people who were already in the bag for Popery, or Anti-communism, and had paying jobs trying to sell the attitude to everyone else. I don't know anyone who converted to either position because of his charisma, his actor's flair, statesman's confidence, or his stage outfits. I know a lot of people who feigned a generation-long swooning fit for his politics--a lot like Reagan--but I never could understand what either man was actually solving. He came down on your side, and you pretended that was an accomplishment, and a universal triumph into the bargain. It wasn't. It was more mania than regimen.
But there’s another story to be told about John Paul II and his besieged successor. The last pope was a great man, but he was also a weak administrator, a poor delegator, and sometimes a dreadful judge of character.

Ah, well, now you tell us. And Cardinal Ratsky-Watsky was the only one who didn't get his beak wet. How inspirational. As in it would inspire me to demand accounting from, and removal of, all those other miscreants, not fluff the one guy who didn't.

But then, it's like the fish monger who's sold out of Point Reyes today, after he touted 'em to you for a week, telling you they weren't really all that great and what you really want is some quahog.

I knew there was a reverse segue in there somewhere.

Monday, April 12

A Waste Of Good Plantation Land

FIRST, kudos to CBS for making sure its announcing team for the Masters perfectly mirrored the uniformly white, 100% evidently male membership of Augusta. Not that I suppose this required anything more strenuous than hitting Redial, but in an age where even our sacred remembrance of the men who killed 110,000 Americans because their betters wanted to confer the political benefits of the 3/5 Compromise upon their descendants in perpetuity is smeared by Political Correctness run amok, it's good to see that at least one corporate megagiant understands the value of buttering the right side of the bread, as well as good old-fashioned trowel work.

I was prepared to ignore that Nike ad, as fascinating a cultural artifact as it is, but not Augusta Chairman Billy Payne delivering a moral rebuke to a guy who had boffed a few cocktail waitresses from the pulpit of America's most hallowed shrine to racism and sexism in Sport.

Then I tuned in yesterday* just in time to hear Jim Nantz take Tiger to task for issuing a swear or two on Five the day before, despite his promise not to. Yes, this is the same Jim Nantz who admitted "dating" a 29-year-old during his weepy testimony at his divorce proceedings last November, and, yes, that would be on the same CBS network which had for the previous fourteen years studiously avoided showing any of Tiger's legendary bad on-course behavior, while doing endless slo-mo replays any time Long John Daily belched.

And, y'know, I'm well beyond asking if anyone has any shame left, or a modicum of self-respect, or enough historical perspective to produce a moment's pause here. And the only danger I see in golf disappearing from the face of the planet tomorrow is that it might give Huey Lewis an excuse to go back in the studio. I don't suppose it occurred to anyone to check if the hookers in Augusta were holding a bake sale this weekend, what with all the suddenly celibate tourists leavin' their Cialis at home an' all.

No, I just say again: whenever you hear all this pious Judeo-Christian claptrap, just note how willing these pious hypocrites are to risk Eternal Gehenna Fire provided there's a buck or two in it.

* Amazin', really, what the anonymity of the internets gets people to admit.

Friday, April 9

And We Had To Waterboard People To Extract Information?

"Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld knew most Gitmo detainees were innocent. " Now there's a shocker.

I was in the grocery store yesterday, behaving as lawfully as I generally do, when I was suddenly and without warning placed in a hammerlock by the store's "music" system, specifically by a crap-filled sappinessfest called "I'm Your Lady", which--my sympathies if you already knew this--was perpetrated by the Bottomless Cup o' Awful that is Celine Dion. Seriously, four bars in--she hadn't even unleashed the rolling artillery barrage of bunker-busting melismas yet--I was using the cart to steady myself, and looking around for someone who'd agree to turn the thing off if I promised to buy a carload of Hawaiian Punch, American cheese singles, and every greeting card in the place that made a funny noise when you opened it. By the beginning of the chorus an enterprising store manager could have had my bank account and credit card numbers, plus the hours my teenaged nieces would be home alone.

They're walking around free, folks. All of 'em, walking around free.

Thursday, April 8

Jon Stewart Is Hurting America

MONDAY night's guest was Reza Aslan, discussing Afghanistan, and the segment answered the question "Why is it occupying either end of the 'responsible' and 'sensible' centrist political spectrum in this country precludes one from actually being responsible or sensible?"

The question had been raised earlier in the show, when The Daily Show decided to take offense for all Americans because Hamid Karzai said something mean about us for domestic Afghani consumption. (Please. Even if we're just being funny, can we leave the transformation of every two-bit strongman into Khrushchev, every tenth-rate military power we're willing to confront into the Soviet Nazi Global Empire, and every loaded translation of a public utterance into "We will bury you!" to the professional pants-pissers of the Right? They've been at it for sixty-five years now. Give 'em room to work.) And it was answered quickly, when Aslan said:
"We've got this military in Afghanistan, the greatest military this country has ever seen…"

Which, to begin with, is like an Assistant Professor of Mathematics saying, "Toyota builds the safest cars the world has ever seen." And continues:
which by the way, after nine years of war in Iraq, is now a much smarter, much stronger, much more capable military...

Causing Stewart to chime in:
Our military now knows how to handle counterinsurgency.

Which was a little like Mort Sahl announcing our CIA now knows how to handle assassinations. Y'know, The Awesomest Military Like, Evah, has cost us $4.5 trillion dollars that we know of in that time, and about 20% of that figure that we know of are our twin Mideast adventures. For that kind of jack In just ten years we've figured out what we are doing! sets the bar pretty low, like three feet underground. And even supposing this idea relies on incomplete information conveniently spun, rather than outright Galloping Pollyannaism, it tends to raise inconvenient questions about what The Arsenal of Democracy had been doing with comparable levels of funding over the previous fifty years, a period during which it basically fought only insurgencies, or helped create them. Or both.

Not to mention that the supposed miraculous learning curve of My Favorite Military involved going back and implementing the counterinsurgency doctrine it already had in place. The main reasons we had an insurgency problem in the first place were: 1) The Greatest Levels of Military Hubris the World Has Ever Seen; 2) Fifty years of passing notes in sophomore lit when we were supposed to be studying "Ozymandius". 3) The convenient idiocy, promoted by the Worst Administration America Has Ever Seen, and excused--then and now--by the idea that we had a right to be too pissed-off to think clearly--that there was no insurgency, could not be any insurgency, and would never be any insurgency, because we represent The Good to a freedom-starved world hungry for Big Macs; and 4) because a bull elephant is not the most efficient killer of mosquito swarms. Improper counterinsurgency doctrine isn't even close. We didn't want to fight a counterinsurgent action, or anything else that meant Americans coming home in body bags. Remember, we were stuck outside Mazar-i-Sharif until we figured out what it took to get the Northern Alliance to do the ground fighting for us. That wasn't due to faulty doctrine; it was do to the perpetual use of the Tokyo Fire Raids as the template for military success and minimum hair-mussing.

Aslan continued:
The problem is that nine years ago the Afghan people actually liked us.

And gee (again, assuming this qualifies as something residing in the neighborhood of Truth), I guess nobody could have foreseen than an endless foreign occupation would have such a negative effect on people.

But by now the dam had busted, and Stewart's complaints that the Afghans seem to want feudalism--like it's their choice or something--and that "our" "plan" to spread "democracy" seemed to be moving in the wrong direction, morphed into Fuck 'Em if They Don't Want Our Help:
We have the money and the lives [which gave Jon a moment's pause about what he'd just said]. I'm sure we could actually do this. The question is why? Can our policy possibly be to go in, topple these governments, and use 100-150 thousand troops for twenty years to stabilize these countries?

Y'know, Jon, you were born in 1962. Why are you sure the US military can do something in Afghanistan it hasn't done in your lifetime (and not from lack of trying)?
Iraq was a different situation. It was a war of choice, and as Colin Powell says you broke it you bought it. Afghanistan we went in there because they were the guys who were holding Osama bin Laden and allowing them to do it.

Yeah. And by the mere expedient of spending 100 times the value of the opium harvest per annum, or 50 times the Afghan GDP, we managed to push them into Waziristan. Why, oh why, didn't the Taliban just do that in the 48 hours we demanded?
Here's my plan: leave. But leave a forwarding address, and tell them if the whole Taliban thing starts up again, with al-Qaeda, we will bomb the shit out of you.

Remember, kids: we started this conversation off celebrating how much we'd learned in nine years.

And by the way: I don't think even Dick Cheney ever suggested the Taliban was in on bin Laden's plans. And the casus belli was the Afghan government refusing to turn these people over before sundown. It took us about a month to strike a deal with the Northern Alliance, once our fat was in the fire. It took a little longer with Pakistan, since Musharraf actually held some cards, didn't come cheap, and may or may not have been insulted by what may or may not have been our initial policy of having Dick Armitage threaten his ass. We've spent 50 times the Afghan GDP annually for almost ten years; th' fuck would it have cost to buy off the Taliban, you think? We wanted to play Cowboys and Brownskins. This was enormously popular; I'm not sure that even a sane, emotionally stable, and competent President could have completely avoided the urge to military action, but we didn't have one. But if our stated purpose--apprehension of the Masterminds behind 9/11--had really been our intention the application of sufficient grease would have gotten the job done. Once you launched military operations then, yes, Jon, you are fucking bound to stay there twenty years or more if you expect to change things. We broke this motherfucker the same as we broke Iraq, except with less cynicism.

And, look: when you break something, and have to buy it, it's a damned good time to examine how you broke the fucking thing in the first place, rather than expressing a grudging admiration for the sensibleness of the policy itself.

Tuesday, April 6

A Chicken Is Just An Egg's Idea Of How To Get More Eggs

KIA, in comments at Roy's:
I'm disposed just now to think that the worldview (stingy, sordid, narrow, unimaginative, seeing all value as money value, incapacity not to translate the money value into actual experience while at the same time cherishing the conviction that they have achieved all that culture achieved in their very own special exceptional persons--in a word, your basic Babbittry) predates the politics, it is deeply ingrained, it has been around for a long time, it's what for many years distinguished Americans from the rest of the world (see for example Edith Wharton's "The Custom of the Country" where she savages these traits in the character of Undine Spragg, or Trollope's "The American Senator"). Now they feel themselves to be under assault, and the politics is an instrument for the survival of their sense of the world and of their place in it. But there's even another layer to it, which is the desire to empty themselves of experience in order to sustain this world view, which is, at least now (if not in Wharton's time), a sort of mass-produced artifact that they think is a "personality," that is sort of churned and recycled endlessly out of this legacy of smug romanticizing self-regard.

My dad turns 90 in a couple weeks. He's pretty much sharp as he ever was, which means you adjust for a certain level of befuddlement, something I inherited, but we apply to different aspects of modern life. That befuddlement is the centerpiece of his gentle humor. He's a funny guy. He was the youngest survivor of eight children, and his sisters cooed over him, and petted him, until he was seventy-five. And it shows. He's sweet. He's kindly. He goes to church every week. He'd give you the shirt off his back.

He's a lifelong Republican, from a family tradition of Kentucky Union supporters. He's a racist. He's a captive of FOX News.

It colors, and it tempers (believe it or not) the things I have to say about his party and his cohort. I know he's a good man, and I grew up with a more-or-less overt racist stepfather after my parents divorced (my mother, too, was--is--considerably worse, and until the dementia confined her you had to try to steer her clear of any opportunity for blurting. In the early days I took her to the bank--before we realized she had a banking fixation--and she told the teller he spoke very well for a colored boy), so I've seen the difference intent makes. I understand, or I just pretend, that the pervasive racism of his generation, the racism I grew up with, was partly cultural. That doesn't mean I think it was excusable, just that I know that back then he wouldn't have donned a sheet, and would have helped the first African-American family on the block move in, right before he put up the For Sale sign. (Ten years later my stepfather--another lifelong Lincoln Republican--would have blamed the whole thing on Ted Kennedy.)

I've seen this close up. Those two men were both working-class kids. No African-American ever did them any harm, but both knew that the natural order of things required everyone--especially everyone else--to know his place. One lived long enough to have the Reagan Paradise he'd agitated for for years deny him Social Security benefits--"new rules, sorry"--and his twenty-year employer fire him to rob him of his health insurance when the cancer that would kill him in three years left him too weak to work, or walk much. The other's been cashing his Social Security checks, and charging his healthcare costs to Medicare, for twenty-five years. And he thinks Sean Hannity is a keen observer of the ship of state.

Now, maybe some ninety-year-old is not indicative of the Teabaggers, or maybe it's just mutatis mutandis. He had the Red Scare, and Goldwater, both failures; they had Reagan, who was too Great for his disasters to be attributed to him. He had Jim Crow; the next generation had to keep its powder dry until Jessie Jackson or Al Sharpton said something in public, or Katrina wiped out a major American city, or a black man running for President garnered the sort of fawning support they themselves gave Nixon or Reagan or Bush II or Palin. My dad, it seemed, could simply assume that post-war white, American, and Christian hegemony was the natural order of the Universe. But as time passed, and as those were revealed as mere artifacts of a kaleidoscopic "reality", the "desire to empty themselves of experience in order to sustain this world view" became more and more necessary, until it became a badge of honor to complain about the PC police giving all the good parking places to cripples.

The attitude behind that sort of thing has been with us since we crawled out of the primordial soup, probably. But take a look sometime at Reagan's speeches from early on in his manufactured political career. Perpetual aggrievedness, perpetual demonization, I-was-a-Liberal-Democrat-before-FDR-went-to-Yalta, or King went to Birmingham, or Madalyn Murray went to Court. Or Darwin boarded the Beagle. Why people buy this may have more to do with innate attitudes than politics; it certainly tends to fly in the face of political common sense often enough. But one party has been willing to double down on Stupid for decades to take advantage of it. And, I blame it more than I blame my old man. For whatever reason.

Monday, April 5

Holy Sh*t

Timothy Shriver, "Can the pope restore the purity of Catholicism?" April 5

FRANKLY, it's a bad time to be discussing religion with me: I've just been subjected to yet another rubber buffet in celebration of my faceless, agricultural forebears residing in Europe and deifying celestial seasonal markers and phases of the Moon. Carrying on a tradition, we were booked into the zeppelin hanger of a local golf club, which has been converted into a Holiday Dining Hall by--this is the one interesting part, in a perverse sort of way--measuring to a tolerance most carpenters eschew the distance a chair must be moved in order to claim that it moved, and extrapolating from that how many the place could fit. The Black Hole of Brunch, I call it, without either trying to be funny or succeeding.

The Rileys, of course, pillaged their way around the British Isles beginning a couple millennia ago, so it's superfluous to add that whichever of my relatives makes these reservations year after year hasn't got a clue as to what food is supposed to taste like. And couples this with the self-defeating notion that all twenty-seven of us need to sit at a single table, as though we fear missing a chance to have some delightful bon mot from one of the incontinently made-up fourteen-year-olds from the breeding wing of the family relayed to us in four stages. The whole thing was salvaged, if that's not too strong a word, first by the second cousin who finally told the Nazi floor manager, quote, Stop shouting at me! I can see the fucking empty chair! (occasioned by the fact that the entire entourage stopped dead upon entering this barn to count, and argue over, the total number of chairs available before anyone would agree to sit in one), and, second by some unsung hero of crumbcake who had the rare, practically unique understanding that cinnamon is a spice, not a reason to live.

And this followed Holy Weekend festivities, which began, for me, when some local teleprompter reader informed me that Christians All Over The World were observing Good Friday (she may have said "celebrating", for that matter), something the church I grew up in, which I'm sure considered itself Christian, since it was right there in the logo, regarded as the worst sort of Popery. The same hairdo later muttered something about Saints, which just served to remind us that, at least where television is concerned, whoever has the flashiest pageants wins, no matter what they're celebrating.

(The Church claims over 64 million adherents in the USA and its protectorates, but, let's face it, they aren't selling toothpaste. It doesn't matter to Coca-Cola™ whether half, or two-thirds, or all of its customers also drink Snapple. But when you're in the Absolute Truth business, the fact that over 230 million Americans don't buy your product ought to count for a lot more than it does.)

This was accompanied by Turner Classics dedicating the weekend to showing just how indistinguishable religious kitsch is from the general, not to mention the full-body-wax Jesus (underarms included!) of King of Kings, and, more egregiously, every last one of the channels my wife's students call "Goin' to College"--Science, Discovery, National Geographic, et allia--squeezing out Hunts for This and Biblical Mysteries That, of which we should speak no more. Honestly, is there much worse to be said about what has become of Christianity in this country than to note there are people out there disrupting military funerals in the name of Holy Hatred of Gays, while this candy-assed faux-ecumenicalism peddles soap, free credit reporting, and adult diapers without a wimpier of protest?

Anyway, as you no doubt by now have caught a hint of, Roman™ Brand Christianity has got a little corporate image problem, which is the point where there's too much bad news to ignore, and said entity stops being a paragon and starts transforming into a nuanced collection of individuals, some of whom made Bad Choices. In fact, the Catholic child sex abuse scandals--lately reenergized, by Timothy Shriver's way of thinking--have reached Phase II, where its presence in the very bloodstream and marrow of an organization becomes almost as serious as ACORN using tax dollars to pimp twelve-year-olds, and people start demanding high-level resignations as a way of making the original problem vanish.
The scandal facing Catholics today looks a lot like the Watergate scandal that engulfed the United States in the early 1970s. Then, what started as a crime committed by a few burglars slowly escalated to reveal corruption at the highest levels of authority. The White House counsel, senior advisers and others were punished for their roles. In the end, the president of the United States was implicated and forced to resign.

Is the Catholic Church on a similar pathway to the resignation of a pope?

This is what those of us in the Facile Brickbat Delivery industry call "Time to scrap the lede and start over".

Watergate, by the way, did not begin with a tenth-rate burglary. The discovery and publicizing of "Watergate" did. The criminality behind it all probably began when some dewy-limbed girleen refused young Dick's bumbling advances, or some older kids stole his sled, and it was in full force long before Bob Haldeman first maced a Trick-or-Treater.
On the surface, there are many similarities. A few years ago, the church was embarrassed by revelations that some priests were involved in the abuse of minors -- unlike the Watergate break-in, a major crime. Those priests were largely in Boston, but other abusers were exposed around the country. Reforms followed, and the scandal seemed to pass.

More recently, the equivalent of the Watergate tapes have blown open the church's calm. The Cardinal Archbishop of Ireland was involved in not only a failure to act but appears to have been an active agent of cover-up. And the trail seems to be leading even higher: the pope himself, while an archbishop in Munich, may have played a role in failing to respond to abuse.

Must he resign?

Well, uh…
That's where the parallels break down.

See, now, that's funny, because you're the one who brought them up, what was it, three paragraphs ago?
Watergate was not only a scandal; it was a threat to the republic itself. The head had to be removed for the country to survive.

Look, for you younger readers, it's true there were people back then who talked like this: pundits, desperate Republicans who'd given up defending the man, and a sort of Ur-DLC Democrat who just couldn't bear hearing bad news about his Commander-in-Chief. You may rightly ask just how successfully the country "survived", and what it is that any of those groups has been right about since.
The church is not a democracy. Bishops (and popes) are not answerable to polls; they're supposed to be dismissive of popular trends in search of a higher truth.

Again, I'm not a subscriber, but I'm pretty sure "Not turn Ireland into a catamite-staffed gay resort" was on that list of 'spose tos" as well.
The first part of the answer will depend on justice: Catholics and non-Catholics alike must hear a full confession -- evidence of contrition so pure that it cannot be mistaken. We must see bishops leave their teaching positions because their moral authority is lost. We must believe that civil justice will be served when crimes are committed.

Y'know what? I'll pass, thanks. Maybe you could better use the time being honest with yourselves for once.

Here's what you can do for me: renounce the "moral authority" you've presumed to exercise over Catholics and non-Catholics alike in domestic issue after domestic issue: conception, contraception, gender equality and sexual identity. Then I'll believe you believe what you say. The grander scheme of making the modern world conform to a magical set of medieval strictures? All yours. And try the crumbcake.

Friday, April 2

Your Friday Moment of Doug*

Or, the reply I shoulda made to this and didn't:

"Gee, I've wanted to do this ever since I first heard Negro music!"

*Kenney, RIP, you whippersnappers. At least have the decency to read the credits the next fifteen times you watch Caddyshack.

Thursday, April 1

Oh, Sh*t, I Just Read Daniel Henninger

Daniel Henninger, "Would the Founders Love ObamaCare? The resistance to ObamaCare is about a lot more than the 10th Amendment." April 1

APRIL Tools:
The American people can and do change the nation's collective mind on the ordering of our political system. The civil rights years of the 1960s is the most well-known modern example. (The idea that resistance to Mr. Obama's health plan is rooted in racist resentment of equal rights is beyond the pale, even by current standards of political punditry.)

Okay, so maybe "beyond the pale" (Wagner, Max!) isn't Freudian, but restricting oneself to the "modern" in order to select "the civil rights years" as the shining template of your little hate movement is at least suggestive, especially coming from someone who wonders aloud what the 3/5 Compromise Framers would have thought of Obamacare. The obvious "modern" choice would be the New Deal, which I suppose is out of the question on grounds that doing so in the WSJ would legitimize it as an actual reordering of our political system, rather than the disastrous power grab of that class-traitor Roosevelt. (And thanks, by the way, for all the years the Anti-Fluoridationist Right has endured that without once stooping to unfair criticism.) In fact I'm not exactly sure how the "civil rights years" reordered our political system, exactly (and, yet again, note how these guys invariably place that Movement they so admire in their belovéd "Sixties", either through a complete lack of familiarity with the actual struggle for Civil Rights, or the habitual demonization of that Decade that Ruined Everything); the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts merely enforced the Reconstruction Amendments, after a brief hundred-year oversight. The Fair Housing Act proscribed certain behaviors, which US legislators have been doing since the Articles of Confederation. The Civil Rights Commission (it was created in 1957, Danny-boy) addressed the glaring discrepancies between the sort of things the sort of people who insist on name-checking The Founders said, and the sorts of things they did.

What I do know is this: one party has consistently tried to roll those back, and it's yours, Mr. Henninger. I know which party enacted the Southern Strategy, and which is still home to the Dixiecrats; I know which one worships above all a man who began his umpteenth and finally successful Presidential campaign with a States' Right speech in Philadelphia, Mississippi; I know who made Willie Horton a campaign issue and Barack Obama a Magic Negro. Not to mention the history of code words and end runs and shock, shock! that someone would still be rubbing your nose in it. This is the "modern example" of your party, sir. I'll be happy to discuss what is or isn't beyond the pale--maybe not with you--after you people cut the shit.
The tea party movement is getting the most attention because it is the most vulnerable to the standard tool kit of mockery and ridicule.

Okay, so you aren't responsible for the racists you associate with (because you bravely wish them away in print), and you aren't responsible for the ludicrous crap the base of your party makes of your "principles", because they're, well, scuggins. It may be a sweet little set-up, but I seem to've missed the part where it convinces someone. You guys have been playing both sides of this street since St. Ronnie, and your record on actual governance is 0-3. What do you propose to do now you couldn't do when you were popular, and before you had a track record?
It is more difficult to mock the legitimacy of Scott Brown's overthrow of the Kennedy legacy, the election results in Virginia and New Jersey, an economic discomfort that is both generalized and specific to the disintegration of state and federal fiscs, and indeed the array of state attorneys general who filed a constitutional complaint against the new health-care law. What's going on may be getting past the reach of mere mockery.

Damn! And just when I landed this sweet, sweet blogging gig.

At least we'll always have the Journal. And, shish, Scott Brown is beyond mockery? Or the Confederate States Attorneys General? I guess the Humor Gap is a lot wider than I imagined, even after listening to Incomplete Governor Palin murder that Arizona Borscht Belt routine the other day.
Constitutional professors quoted in the press and across the Web explain that much about the federal government's modern authority is "settled" law. Even so, many of these legal commentators are quite close to arguing that the national government's economic and political powers are now limitless and unfettered. I wonder if Justice Kennedy believes that.

I wonder if any of 'em is on Spring Break, and might take a moment to explain to a lowly Deputy Editorial Page Editor with a degree from Georgetown what "settled law" means.
In a country that holds elections, that question is both legal and political. The political issue rumbling toward both the Supreme Court and the electorate is whether Washington's size and power has finally grown beyond the comfort zone of the American people. That is what lies beneath the chatter about federalism and the 10th Amendment.

And which, oddly enough, just didn't occur to any of y'all when it was the Reagan or Bush pere et fils administrations spending the future into the Poor House. Who do you imagine this flummoxes? Swear to god I'd like to believe that none of you really imagines it, but the past three decades of doubling down every single fucking time you lose has changed my mind.

Where is the tiniest complaint from all you fiscal hawks about what is spent on "Defense" to provide a technological playpen capable of eventually sorta defeating a handful of tribesman with improvised WWI weapons in mere decades? Why is it we never hear a fucking peep out of all you principled teabaggers on that one? Or speculation about how the Founders would have reacted to a twenty-carrier Navy?
My reading of the American public...

Whadja do, Dan? Fly over it this weekend?
The 10th Amendment tumult does not mean anyone is going to secede. It doesn't mean "nullification" is coming back. We are not going to refight the Civil War or the Voting Rights Act. Richard Russell isn't rising from his Georgia grave.

Ah, so the black cat in the unlighted coal bin at midnight--the one that doesn't exist--is not much threat to scratch us. Wasn't this sort of thing beyond the pale a couple paragraphs ago?
It means that the current edition of the Democratic Party has disconnected itself from the average American's sense of political modesty. The party's members and theorists now defend expanding government authority with the same arrogance that brought Progressive Era reforms down upon untethered industrial interests.

Or randy Negro bucks upon the ivory virginity of Southern womanhood.
Faced with a challenge to his vision last week, President Obama laughingly replied to these people: "Go for it."

They will.

As to the condescension and sniffing left-wing elitism this opposition seems to bring forth from Manhattan media castles, one must say it does recall another, earlier ancien regime.

I guess we'll just move on. Nothin' to mock or ridicule here.