Friday, May 28

Jesus Wept II: The Crudening

David Brooks, "Drilling for Certainty". May 27

OKAY, so my earlier plans for vacation (1. Drink; 2. Leave the world unseen; 3. Post that pic of Sora Aoi;

4. Fade into forest dim) didn't quite pan out, though 1-for-4 isn't exactly a slump. And have, in fact, been replaced unintentionally by a sort of theme: the suggestion that the solution to all our problems is returning to The Teat.

Now, I'm a teat man myself, but I try not to make a philosophy of it. But as we're delving, yet again, into David Brooks' oral fantasy world, let's start with the fact that everything is not as it seems.

The Evil Sixties turned the social order on its head, though not without The Placid Fifties doing much of the grunt work. It's the sort of thing that happens periodically, and each time it does the people with a vested interest in the established order insist it was unprecedented. What was perhaps new that time is that instantaneous global communications were peering in, and that, following the 20s, 30s, 40s, and, yes, 50s, the concept of the Decade as a sort of Theme Park of Mass Experience was well established in the minds of most headline writers. Thus the chronological jumble which has subsumed Brown v. Topeka and the Montgomery bus boycott into The Sixties, and rendered the large-scale unpopularity of the Korean War an invisible speck in the glare of Vietnam.

David Brooks is born in 1961. His personal experience of The Sixties, then, is orthodontia, clarinet practice, and daily embarrassment on the kickball diamond. By the time he's old enough to be turned down for dates, the prevailing high school mode is the "Freebird"/Styx parody of Sixties rocker model. This is, of course, already past its sell-by date, assuming it was ever merchantable in the first place, and Brooks is matriculating on The Main Line, where his colleagues of snottier persuasion are likely faux-Punks, and where Geek Chic, Yuppiedom, and noses are in the air. To be fair, Brooks, according to his autobio, is a starry-eyed liberal kid with a Springsteen poster. To be honest, yeah, right.

Our point being this: when you read this shit about the mature viewpoint whose geographic center is Brooks' skull, which rejects both the simplistic, Springsteen-poster-bedecked Socialism to his left, and the worst excesses of the Right, the ones which he mentions, or caricatures, only in cases where the stench has become too great to ignore, you ought to bear in mind that what you are actually reading is Brooks reliving his long-practiced and quickly shot-to-pieces Would You Like To Go To The Prom With Me speech before some cracked Magic Mirror of the mind.
In the weeks since the Deepwater Horizon explosion, the political debate has fallen into predictably partisan and often puerile categories. Conservatives say this is Obama’s Katrina. Liberals say the spill is proof the government should have more control over industry.

But the real issue has to do with risk assessment. It has to do with the bloody crossroads where complex technical systems meet human psychology.

Okay. I'm sure glad we could get to The Real Issue so quickly. I was afraid it might take three or four paragraphs to dismiss the crazy crackpot idea that we might need to regulate private, profit-driven activities which have the potential to fucking eliminate private, oxygen- and food-consuming activities for anyone in their way.

(It's interesting, too, that the sort of wingnuttery Republican Mouthpiece Brooks has been soaking in for his entire professional life only makes an appearance when it's required to show that The Liberals are just as crazy! With their socialism and not understanding that we need oil an' stuff! Y'know, as such things run, "The BP Oil Spill is Obama's Katrina" is about as close to sanity as those people get, not that they didn't defend the Bush administration's Katrina dithering, not that they hadn't just recovered from screaming themselves hoarse over Obama raiding the sacred profits of the insurance industry. It's just that what else they say is even fucking crazier, and no less stupid. The idea that massive ecological disaster caused, and ineffectively planned for or responded to, by unfettered profiteers might be considered ample reason to assert public control is not the opposite of "Barack Hussein Socialst Obama"; it's the opposite of the insistence that all regulation is excessive and all taxation of business is dumped on the consumer. It is, in other words, David Brooks' own position, not the sensible middle ground, though I imagine he'd add "within reason" somewhere to make himself look thoughtful. The opposite of "Obama's Katrina" is the idea that massive oil spills are a natural occurrence, and no sweat if you're not a bivalve. But since that comes from Rush Limbaugh, not the Koo-koo Left, it wouldn't have done Brooks any good.)

Is there any explanation for this phony goddam dichotomy other than the fact that you can't win an argument without it?
Over the past decades, we’ve come to depend on an ever-expanding array of intricate high-tech systems. These hardware and software systems are the guts of financial markets, energy exploration, space exploration, air travel, defense programs and modern production plants.

These systems, which allow us to live as well as we do, are too complex for any single person to understand. Yet every day, individuals are asked to monitor the health of these networks, weigh the risks of a system failure and take appropriate measures to reduce those risks.

If there is one thing we’ve learned, it is that humans are not great at measuring and responding to risk when placed in situations too complicated to understand.

Is there one thing we've learned? If so I doubt that's it. I'd be more inclined to say, "No matter what it is, somebody will come along and excuse it, either because someone pays him to, or because he hopes someone will. And at the end he'll explain that his is the only explanation which takes the mature view."

So, y'know, Fuck You; let's put the goddam pipeline in your back yard and see what you say. Let's make Matt Bai a bright eight-year-old born into inner-city poverty, and then ask him about the evils of affirmative action. I could fucking live without financial markets, energy exploration, Moon explosions, lost wars, lost luggage, 80% of what comes out of modern production plants, and the other 20% provided there was someone around to do it by hand. You can call that naivete if you'd like; I didn't say everyone could do so--especially NASA engineers and defense contractors, since you asked--and I don't say that I do without all those things now. I don't. Nor am I saying I wish to, though that one's more like Undecided. The point is that the assertion that this is all just one big, organically-developed Ball o' Fun we all dearly love and wouldn't dream of doing without is bullshit. And you can't even produce a list of all the essentials for modern life made possible by Hopeless Fucking Complexity Which Might Have A Slight Tendency To Kill Some Unfortunates without 90% of that list being shit that owes its very existence to political manipulation, not basic survival. And which has only incidental connection to most people's lives. Less than half of all Americans travel by air in an average year, and they take less than two trips per annum. They use banks, and gobble energy, but they're not lining up at the Recruitment office, and they care more about science fiction than colonizing Mars, unless it's a movie about colonizing Mars. The people who get to "vote" on whether we have that shit are on Wall St., or in the Senate Cloak Room, and they all specialize in chicanery.

Sure, some of this is organic, and it's likely that areas where we generally agree on the desirability of technological advancement--medicine, say--tend to pull everything else along with them. So you get increasingly sophisticated tests informing increasingly sophisticated procedures, and increasingly large bills to pay for it all, and high-speed porn and low cost storage for it. S'alright by me, but it doesn't erase the fact that we can't afford to keep up our infrastructure, and that we don't have any way to evaluate the benefits of the Next Big Step.

And, for that matter, the fact that the rest of the civilized world recognizes the need for sensible regulation, and it still manages to buy airline tickets, go to the bank, and drown in consumer gizmos. About the only thing it can't do is operate a military fifty times larger than anyone else's. Which, y'know, might tell you something right there. Within reason, I mean.

Thursday, May 27

Dear God, I Think It's Contagious

Dahlia Lithwick, "The Kagan Kids: Why the younger generation doesn't care about the debate over the latest Supreme Court nominee." May 26

JACK Casady is one of the finest players ever to pick up a bass. And he (and Jorma Kaukonen) played with a collection of megalomaniacal gits known as Jefferson Airplane. This is essentially how I feel about Dahlia Lithwick appearing in Slate.

(Unless you were TV Guide, in which case they were The Jefferson Airplane rock combo. The Guiders thought such Way Out monikers had to be explained. Guests: Hal Holbrook, Vickie Lawrence, and The Who rock combo. Special guests The Jimi Hendrix Experience rock combo. Featuring The Procul Harum vocal group. Always with the article, too. The Cream. The Ultimate Spinach. Somehow, though, if The Lettermen were on Sullivan they were just The Lettermen. Apparently the Guide figured sports fans were harder to confuse.)

Every time I've been on a radio show on the subject of Kagan's wardrobe/softball playing/marital status, some twentysomething caller has taken me to school. It turns out, they invariably tell me, that twentysomethings just don't care if their Supreme Court justices are black, white, Jewish, Protestant, gay, or straight. Every day someone under the age of 30 either sends me an e-mail or tweet or a Facebook post reminding me that those of us making a huge big fat media deal about the nominee's race, religion, sexual preferences or marital status are quickly becoming cultural dinosaurs.

Y'know, more than a little of this is because these are the sorts of people who call in, or Tweeter, to shows about Elena Kagan coverage that include Dahlia Lithwick on the panel. Because that's what those people believe, and it's what all their friends say they believe, and so it's what they pretend everyone they'll admit to having in their potential mating pool believes. What're they saying on FOX?
Young people reading Robin Givhan's article on Kagan's scandalously open knees think they're reading something hilarious from their grandparents' stack of dating magazines from the 1950s. When they hear us yelping about racial diversity at the court, they think about the fact that their classrooms are already incredibly diverse and their Facebook friendships span continents. When they hear us shrieking over women's softball, they shake their Title IX heads and figure we're just idiots for thinking straight women don't play sports. And when they hear us whispering behind our hands about whether someone is gay, most of them tell me they think we're just freaking idiots. Just as they embody Barack Obama's post-racial America, they identify almost completely with Kagan's post-gender America—in which womanhood simply isn't defined by skirts, babies, or boyfriends anymore.

Delightful. If true.

But forgive me for being stuck in The Evil Sixties, when another miracle generation, better educated, more open, and tolerant, and less driven by material acquisition than the doomed reptiles that gave it birth morphed into Reaganaut Yuppie Scum. Jebus Magic was supposed to disappear under 19th century scientific advancement, too. I'm not saying we're going to see Ozzie and Harriet III, or Amos and Andy 2025, or the Get The Gays Back Out Of The Military movement. I am saying that perhaps this is a tad overblown. Perhaps people tend, if not to become their parents, to become a lot more like them once they discover the shocking fact that they aren't going to be twenty-two forever.

I'm saying that the racism, sexism, and homophobia in our present politics come from somewhere, and that somewhere is not restricted to AARP members. None of that stuff was invented by anyone living today, no matter how old or unfashionable, nor how undesirable the demographic. The "attitudes" of "millenials" that "pollsters" detect sure haven't prevented Barack Obama from being slimed, or put FOX News out of business, any more than it prevented the Reagan Counterrevolution, any more than "moving beyond old-style politics" salved the presidencies of Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton. We will see. In the meantime: if you're Way Beyond crypto-Lesbian bashing by softball photo, then either do something about it, or shut th' fuck up. Apparently the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal aren't really scared of you. The Indianapolis Racist Beacon, for whatever this is worth, thinks the way to attract your spendthrift demographic is to display photos of cleavage models hoisting their favorite alcoholic beverages, not to display their careful respect for multicultural diversity. Tell them about it. Or don't fucking care. The one thing you might quit doing, like as of two years ago, is blaming both sides of the argument for some reason.

It's the goddam real world; just because I have a mortgage doesn't mean I like it any better than you do. But who th' fuck's responsible? The Post and the Journal used that softball photo. This blog didn't greet her nomination with "Yay, Lesbians!" If you think you're smart, then try being wise. If you think the culture is going to turn into the perfect paradise of meritorious, color-blind diversity without someone doing the grunt work; if you think such diversity will be achieved, or maintained, simply because of your superior social views, then you aren't paying attention.

Barack Obama has made two Court nominations. The first was attacked for being a Latina, and the second has been attacked for being an insufficient breeder. And both times he was attacked for making the choice "just for diversity's sake". Is this half his fault?
Both Obama and Kagan have been at great pains to distance themselves philosophically from those crazy "judicial activists" of the '60s and '70s. Yet the president and his nominee are also reaping the benefits of an America that every day becomes more accepting of difference and personal choice as a result of that very same judicial activism. When Obama and Kagan talk about the landmark victories of Thurgood Marshall's era with a nostalgic smile and express their confidence that such battles are behind us, they really aren't wrong. But they also ignore the ways in which the Supreme Court has used the argument that the old intolerance is behind us to upend voluntary desegregation programs and threaten affirmative action in recent years. These open-hearted twenty somethings are proof that integrated schools and affirmative action and gay rights have created a more tolerant nation. But what today's twentysomethings should know—and what one hopes Kagan will remember—is that that this tolerance is partially their own choice, and partially an inheritance they need to fight to protect.

And, Dahlia, I still love ya. But let's add that all of the above need to know that partly through ignorance, and partly through a Texas-like, decades-long effort to camouflage inconvenient truths, the incredibly brave sacrifices made in the name of civil rights and cultural diversity have been reduced to King on a Postage Stamp and Chicks on the Court. Just as Vietnam gets treated as a museum piece no one under fifty should be bothered to look at, the very real lessons are lost on people who insist they're Over It, and too advanced to care. We forget the sacrifices made more than a century-and-a-half ago to end chattel slavery at peril of our mortal souls, and at risk that the whole thing gets rewritten for the next generation by Confederate sympathizers. Old French postcards are quaint; Matthew Brady's photographs are not. If young people are "concerned about the economy" then they're concerned with Hamilton vs. Jefferson, with the First World War, and Plessy v. Ferguson. They're concerned with Wounded Knee, and incontinent militarism, with the transcontinental railroad and the subjugation of women. Or else they're just a few more jackdaws which can imitate human speech. Wi-fi doesn't exempt you from this stuff. You stand where you stand because of the sacrifices of others, and that's not just the people who got marched off to war. And if you don't know, or don't care, then people who do have to keep schooling you until you get it.

And don't get me wrong; it's great that the bright young teenager next door told her Republican father to stuff it. It's great that she won't make overtly racist comments in public (though this hasn't proven she's immune). But, y'know, I'll try to report back in a few years, when she's more concerned with property values than looking good.

Wednesday, May 26

Jesus Wept

Matt Bai, "Why Our Politics About Shit I Care Nothing About and Know Even Less, Explained". May 26

SHORTER "Doghouse" Riley, the man who can't even write a Shorter without adding "for once", for once:

"Nothing on earth quite matches reading analysis from someone who claims to have believed that Candidate Obama had banished The Evil Sixties from our political lexicon forever."

"Doghouse" Riley responds: "Unless you can get a bet down that his version of history will come pre-filtered through his own intestines."
Mr. Blumenthal, the Democratic attorney general of Connecticut, is a respected, if somewhat colorless career public servant. Mr. Paul, a Kentucky eye doctor and a Republican, is a doctrinaire libertarian like his father, Ron Paul, the onetime presidential candidate. But last week, both men found themselves unexpectedly sucked into the vortex that pulls us inexorably back to the 1960s.

Y'know, sir, you're forty-one fucking years old. I'm not really sure how you managed it, and I'm metaphysically certain there is no possible explanation for you having done so while still holding that point of view. It's not many people who reach the Big 4-0 without some contemplation of fleeting Youth, of the possibility that they've traversed the healthier half, or more, of their lifespan; without feeling the full force of the Tidal Wave of History pick them up and toss them around like a pop bottle, or without the glance over the shoulder at the young hotshot eyeing their jobs, the one who doesn't know half the shit he should. For that matter, few English speakers make it that far without knowing one, and only one, line of Santayana. I had it here somewhere.

So let's rephrase the question: Why is even the most incidental public mention of the whole panoply of "Sixties" events grounds for the Matt Bais of the typing pool to moan about how "trapped" our politics are? Especially when it's their own profession which is largely responsible, and their own paper which ginned up the Outrage over Richard Blumenthal? (Said outrage would have been equal had he been a non-heroic non-veteran of Iraq War I, Iraq War II, Afghanistan, Kosovo, or a two-day wait for the new iPhone, though, presumably, this would have rendered the argument satisfyingly Contemporary.)
This wrinkle in the political space-time continuum was supposed to have been smoothed out, of course. Barack Obama based his presidential campaign on the notion that the nation needed to step past the cultural chasm of an earlier era, and younger Americans, in particular, endorsed that vision.

And, of course, this had made for smooth political sailing ever since; I'll never forget how Wise Younger Voters came to the rescue of healthcare reform back in Aught Nine.
In both cases, the trite and simplistic debate seems mismatched to the more complex conversations that most Americans are actually trying to have.

Damn! What conversations? Where? We Seniors are always the last to find out about such things.

Listen, the goddam blogosphere erupted about both, and none of us Golden Agers can find the switch that turns the damned thing on.
[T]he controversy, stoked by his Republican opponent, has as much to do with all the 40-year-old emotions around draft boards and deferrals, the lingering bitterness among those who served and the torturous guilt among those who did not, as it does with the straight-up issue of veracity.

Bullshit. The only connection the Blumenthal story has to Vietnam, apart from the coincidence of its historical setting , and the willingness of the Press to lie about it until it's too late, is that the outraged patriotism of so many right-wing combat veterans (who just happen to be stateside while we fight two wars for the future of Civilization Herself) is itself a ginned-up artifact of losing in Vietnam being blamed on spitting Hippies and Walter Cronkite. Of which "torturous guilt among those who did not [serve]" is a sparkling example.
This is all well-trod ground for voters who can easily recall the allegations over Bill Clinton and his draft letter, John Kerry and his Swift boat, George W. Bush and his missing time in the National Guard. But in a country where no one under 50 has ever seen a draft notice, it is increasingly irrelevant; to those Americans, we might as well be having an argument over who sunk the Maine.

No one, evidently; it appears to've blown up accidentally, after which we blamed Spain, declared war (there's a quaint custom for you kids!), and seized a global empire under the pretext. So you're right; I can't understand why anyone would imagine there are any lessons we could learn from that today.

Let's try it this way, Sonny: way back before you were born, and, hence, care, at the end of WWII (just curious: do we care about that one, or not?), the United States (Motto: E Pluribus Unum, which is Latin for "A Great Place to collect a paycheck, buy consumer electronics, and contemplate your navel in print, provided you don't get drafted") and the Soviet Union, late allies in the war against Hitler, began to distrust each other. And with good reason. This led to something called The Cold War, which is a more efficient way of saying "spending untold trillions of dollars on weapons of mass extinction"; it also led to hotter wars in Korea (in which we backed a wretched despot on the grounds that he was anti-Communist, and lost), and Vietnam (in which we backed a series of wretched colonial mandarins and homicidal military strongmen on the grounds that they were anti-Communist, and lost). I'm sorry, could you snore a little more quietly? We also backed a number of proxy wars generally backing authoritarian strongmen on the grounds that the Commies had cornered the National Liberation market, which, anyway, tended to be too anti-Coca-Cola for our tastes. And lost. A lot of this took place in Africa, Asia, and South America. Which are continents, and located elsewhere. You don't have to worry about them.

So why worry about Vietnam? In the first place, and rather obviously, because you've swallowed a load of bilge water about it over the last thirty years, and that bilge didn't get in your sippy cup by accident. It got there because the people who wasted the lives of 60,000 American dead have done their damnedest to cover it up since. And because they're still at it today, and because the twin disasters of Iraq and Afghanistan are examples of their handiwork (or are those Old News now, too?) Because otherwise you might recall that, absent a draft, we didn't have enough troops to do either job, let alone both.

Old news, kiddo? Are taxes, or deficits, part of the serious discussion you'd rather be having? Even the G admits to spending 40% of its take on Defense, which is an anodyne way of saying "a gizmo-loaded military larger than the next fifty armies combined". And that's because they subsume things like veterans' benefits and the interest on the debt for past military impulse purchases under "Other".

And they do this year-in, year-out, so you, and your children, and their children, can keep paying for it. While exercising your God-given right as Americans to remain butt-ignorant of the history, and cosseted in the dryer-warm blankie of phony General Consensus.
Why then, to quote the ubiquitous Bono,

Okay, I take it back. Make it "unless you can get down a bet that sooner or later he'll reference one or more of his Aging Cultural Touchstones in the middle of excoriating other people for being stuck in their own time zone."
is our political debate so stuck in a moment it cannot get out of?
….this all probably has as much to do with our basic human tendency toward moral clarity. As much as conservatives may view the decade as the crucible of moral relativism and the beginning of a breakdown in established social order, there remains something powerfully attractive about the binary, simplistic nature of it all, the idea that one could easily distinguish whether he was for war or against, in favor of equality or opposed.

How interesting it is that "conservatives" are never the ones being instructed to give up their own post-sell-by date attachment to The Evil Sixties, which constitutes, what? 95% of their platform? How interesting that Ronald Reagan, a man whose entire political career was an anti-Sixties diatribe with a grin, remains as fresh today as, well, Bono.
By contrast, war today seems more a question of degrees and limits,

Like "the limits of our pocketbooks, and the degree to which the most high-tech military on earth will be flummoxed by boring old WWI explosives".
while equality seems less about the laws of the land than about disparities in economic and educational opportunities that are subtler and harder to address. The choices of our moment are not nearly so neat or so satisfying as they were a generation ago, which makes them less useful as a basis for one’s political identity, and harder to encapsulate in some 30-second spot or prime-time rant.

Bosh. This stuff is only simplistic because your view is cursory at best. The Pentagon Papers run to 7000 pages. Taylor Branch's History of America in the King Years runs to three volumes. There wasn't anything easy about deciding the government was lying to you, and assembling the case to back it up. And the suggestion that it was some moral snap to toss two-hundred years of racism out on its ear--simple, indeed, compared to the painful ratiocination required today to think about affirmative action while surfing for porn--is odious at best. People went to prison, were beaten, and died for the sake of that easy moral clarity.

Y'know, Mr. Bai, the more I hear this shit the more convinced I become that the real problem is a massive intellectual indolence, and the more I prefer ideological gridlock to trendy and facile disinterest.

Tuesday, May 25

Bible Studies

David Brooks, "I Don't Think I've Lectured On Burke This Month". May 24

Mitch "The Dealer Is Standing" Daniels, Commencement speech at Franklin College. May 22

DUNNO how it is in your neighborhood, but around here if someone begins a sentence "When I was in college I took a course in…" and the course in question was not some practical or technical instruction (ceramics, glass-blowing, accounting), and the observation which follows does not merely affirm, or perhaps modify, some general banality ("and it's pronounced 'kill'"; "and math is hard"), then the one thing you are about to learn--have already learned--is that the speaker doesn't know what th' fuck he's talking about.
When I was in college I took a course in the Enlightenment. In those days, when people spoke of the Enlightenment, they usually meant the French Enlightenment — thinkers like Descartes, Rousseau, Voltaire and Condorcet.

"Whereas nowadays, when people say 'Enlightenment' they usually mean ''. Where you get Big Ideas for less!"
These were philosophers who confronted a world of superstition and feudalism and sought to expose it to the clarifying light of reason. Inspired by the scientific revolution, they had great faith in the power of individual reason to detect error and logically arrive at universal truth.

Their great model was Descartes. He aimed to begin human understanding anew. He’d discard the accumulated prejudices of the past and build from the ground up, erecting one logical certainty upon another.

What Descartes was doing for knowledge, others would do for politics: sweep away the old precedents and write new constitutions based on reason. This was the aim of the French Revolution.

Marge: I can give piano lessons!

Lisa: But mom, you can't play the piano.

Marge: I only have to stay one step ahead of the kid.
But there wasn’t just one Enlightenment, headquartered in France. There was another, headquartered in Scotland and Britain and led by David Hume, Adam Smith and Edmund Burke.

So John Locke doesn't make the cut, just so you can squeeze in Smith and Burke? Or did we skip a lesson?
As Gertrude Himmelfarb wrote...

Sorry. Just clearing my throat.
in her 2004 book, “The Roads to Modernity,” if the members of the French Enlightenment focused on the power of reason, members of the British Enlightenment emphasized its limits.

Lemme just ask a question, here; maybe we've covered this before. But th' fuck are American "conservatives" so intent upon this stuff? It's not like they discovered it or something. It isn't like Burke is a towering presence whose pamphleteering caused the earth to tremble. It's not like Adam Smith debunked Marx before he was even born. Hume's a titan, to be sure, but he's not exactly Hayek in a powdered wig. If he were he wouldn't be a titan. None of these fellows is anything like the one-dimensional oracle of Man's Imperfectability, So Let's Take It Slow, Boys his self-described intellectual descendants keep insisting on.

And what if they were? Maybe it would be a good idea to take a second course in the Enlightenment, the one that explained something about history as a competition of Ideas, not a menu from which you're supposed to pick your Rotisserie League philosopher squad. I don't understand whom it is this is supposed to impress, or gull, excepting maybe people who've volunteered to have it hurled at them from a pulpit. I don't think Man is Perfectible, either, at least to the extent I'd ever think about such a silly notion, and I'm unclear what, if anything, that's supposed to tell me about NAFTA, offshore drilling, or the Iraq war. And I sure don't see how this awe-inspiring principle has informed American "conservatism" for the better. I don't believe in social justice, or a strong social safety net, because I believe it's going to perfect people. (And what kind of a fool Indian would say a thing like that?) I believe in those things because a lot of imperfectible shits have hereditary control over the distribution of basic human services, and they're imperfectibly willingly to watch other people starve, drown, or bleed to death unless they're paid up front to do otherwise.

Look, you wanna get all dressed up in period costume before you jerk off, it's all the same to me. Go ahead and strangle yourself, while you're at it. Let's just see the game for what it is, is all I'm sayin'.

Speaking of our natural aristocracy and its bogus philosophizing, Indiana Governor Mitch "2012" Daniels recently gave the commencement address at Franklin College, and I swear to God these are the fifth through tenth paragraphs:

These days we hear constantly about luck on a grand scale. The most recent Powerball winner, a convenience store clerk from Marshall, Missouri, won $258 million dollars. Don't you often wonder what happens to these lucky people? Not everyone knows how to handle luck that good.

I heard about a Hoosier Lottery winner of many millions who turned up dead broke a couple years later. When a reporter asked him how this happened, he said "Well, I spent the first half on liquor and loose women. And, to be perfectly honest, I wasted the rest."

That one's made up, of course, but this does happen in real life, and it's no joking matter. Mack Metcalf, a 42-year-old forklift operator from Kentucky, won $65 million back in 2000. He was dead three years later, his millions dissipated on frivolities and his life dissipated on alcohol. Looking back, it's hard to call him "lucky."

A current lawsuit making its way through Indiana courts caught my eye. In Donovan v. Grand Victoria, plaintiff Thomas Donovan is protesting the practice of Indiana casinos in refusing to permit card counters to play at their blackjack tables. Donovan's sin in the casino's eyes is not that he is inordinately lucky, it's that he's inordinately smart. He has taught himself to count the cards as they are played, then constantly and quickly to calculate the odds on his winning the next hand. In a game where luck still plays a large part, Donovan has through hard work learned to improve his chances.

Around the country, most courts have allowed the casinos to throw the counters out. But the world is not a big casino. We can't banish luck from our lives, but we can all be card counters, who take actions and decisions that move the mathematics of life to our side of the table.

I've never met a card counter. The closest I've knowingly come was watching the movie "21", about the MIT students and their raid on Las Vegas. But what's clear is there's nothing sentimental about what they do; it's all about the numbers, and the data, and it's serious business.

Yes, The Brain not only used the opening portion of a commencement address to make his first public comment about a card-counting lawsuit recently filed in Indiana, but to oppose property rights into the bargain.

Now, don't get me wrong; I think card-counting, absent the use of any mechanical device, should be legal, and for the same reason denial of health insurance over pre-existing conditions should be illegal: the law already allows you to rig the system for profit; it shouldn't, on top of that, allow you to refuse to do business when that profit's not to your liking.

What I don't understand is why Mitch Daniels thinks so. I mean, I'm not the one going around telling everybody that the Market takes care of all things if we just sit back, close our eyes, and let go of the wheel. Th' fuck's Hard Work got to do with it? Man had no concern about the Hard Work the (hourly) folks at Delco-Remy put in, or the sort of wisdom involved in organizing for better working conditions.

Of course, this is Indiana, where Big Brewing, in-state liquor distributors, and fireworks peddlers have already established What We Are, so that now we're just Haggling Over the Price; come Monday the Bantam Menace was quick to announce he "had no plans" to ask the state gaming commission to step in. Which just means he's obeying an even higher principle: that if you can't reach the wallet, you might see if kicking 'em in the balls gets their attention.

Monday, May 24

Why Do We Need This, Again?

Ross Douthat, "The Principles of Rand Paul". May 23 or so

IT'S almost Summer Vacation! What th' hell, let's read Douthat; he might not have a paper to work at by the time the thing's over.

Which would be a shame, especially since it's precisely the sort of internet savvy that allows Young Ross to comment on last week's news even though it's only Monday of the next week which the newspaper business so sorely needs.

Okay, okay, so you can't rush craftsmanship:
No ideology survives the collision with real-world politics perfectly intact. General principles have to bend to accommodate the complexities of history, and justice is sometimes better served by compromise than by zealous intellectual consistency.

Are you sure the Pope is okay with you saying that?
This was all that Rand Paul needed to admit, after his victory in Kentucky’s Republican Senate primary, when NPR and Rachel Maddow asked about his views of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. “As a principled critic of federal power,” he could have said, “I oppose efforts to impose Washington’s will on states and private institutions. As a student of the history of segregation and slavery, however, I would have made an exception for the Civil Rights Act.”

In other words, Paul should have told his supporters and his principles to Suck It, now that he had the nomination, lest Ross Douthat be reminded of the post-1964 pedigree of the party he shills for. Assuming he knows what that is.
But Paul just couldn’t help himself. He had to play Hamlet, to hem and haw about the distinction between public and private discrimination, to insist on his sympathy for the civil rights movement while conspicuously avoiding saying that he would have voted for the bill that outlawed segregation.

By the weekend (and under duress), he finally said it. But the tap-dancing route he took to get there was offensive, tone deaf and politically crazy.

In other words, it was a prime example of how facile glibertarians have been allowed to be, and how quickly they turn tail when they collide with real world consequences.

And not even "real" world consequences; all that happened to Paul was he was asked a legitimate question, one he's had at least thirty years to prepare for, and he not only proved unprepared, he then proved to be a political coward to boot. If he'd said, instead, "Y'know, Rachel, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is an exception to the rule I claim should guide every other public action" he might've avoided a public outcry, but he'd'a been just as big a liar and just as much a coward. The reason you wish for this, Ross, has nothing to do with ethics and everything to do with electing Republicans so they can hope that someday there'll be enough cover that they don't have to scurry off every time someone unfurls the Stars and Bars.
It was also sadly typical of the political persuasion that Rand Paul represents.

It might be, if anyone had been in the habit of asking them pointed questions since Reagan's States Rights speech, and if they'd been in the habit of answering honestly, not ducking the way enlightened Republicans such as yourself prefer.
This persuasion shouldn’t be confused with the Tea Party movement, whose inchoate antideficit enthusiasms Paul rode to victory last Tuesday.

Just because Teabaggers openly clasped him to their prodigious man bosoms is no reason to tar them with the same oil spill. Especially when you'll be needing their votes in five months.
Nor is it just libertarianism in general, a label that gets slapped on everyone from Idaho milita members to Silicon Valley utopians to pro-choice Republicans in Greenwich.

Unlike the care and precision with which the Right has hurled "Commie", "Traitor", and "Baby Killer".

Who th' fuck devalued "libertarian" exactly, if not the very people who claim the label, the very people who are little more than Reagan Republicans who smoke dope? Libertarianism--small L--has come to mean "anti-taxation, pro-gun rights, or gun lobby, and opposed to all government regulation of business", while large-L Libertarianism has been essentially taken over by 2nd Amendment types who've kept a DIY approach to Federal Narcotics schedules around as a sort of political equivalent of Marilyn Monroe's beauty mark. If these are not the same ideas which have been driving the Republican party--or at least its election-year sloganizing--for thirty years, then what has?
Paul is a libertarian, certainly, but more importantly he’s a particular kind of a libertarian. He’s culturally conservative (opposing both abortion and illegal immigration), radically noninterventionist (he’s against the Iraq war and the United Nations), and so stringently constitutionalist that he views nearly everything today’s federal government does as a violation of the founding fathers’ vision.

This worldview goes by many names, including “paleoconservatism,” “the old right” and “paleolibertarianism.” But its adherents — Paul and his father, Ron, included — view themselves as America’s only true conservatives, arguing that the modern conservative movement has sold out to both big government and the military-industrial complex.

Let's hie ourselves over to the Paul for Senate website, shall we? Whadda we see on the home page? "On the Issues" with subheads for "Taxes and Debt", "Health Care", "Federal Reserve", "Privacy & Liberty", "Energy Innovation", and "(I'm Pro-) Life". Nothing there about "The Military-Industrial Complex" or "Ending the War in Afghanistan Now", or much of anything that wouldn't appear on a Douthat for Congress site, god help us all, except maybe the business about De-fluoridating the Fed. Even "Privacy and Liberty" pays the required homage to national security threats, but is a little light on the Wall of Separation. Clicking the "MORE" button gives you "National Defense" (he's for it, the "most important function of government"; that must have the boys at Boeing quaking in their loafers), "Bailouts", "Term Limits" (when it comes to comedy, you can't beat the classics), "Homeschooling", and "Campaign Finance". Find the brave, iconoclastic stance that doesn't come straight from a GOP platform from the last forty years and win a prize. But lose a primary.

Look, short answer, except, as always, it's too late for that: nobody who uses "paleoliberal" without cracking up has any right to complain there's been some semantic drift in political labeling.
In an age of lockstep partisanship, there’s a lot to admire about this unusual constellation of ideas, and its sweeping critique of American politics as usual.

Yeah, so long as you don't bring it into focus.
Like many outside-the-box thinkers, they’re good at applying their principles more consistently than your average partisan, but lousy at knowing when to stop. (Hence the tendency to see civil rights legislation as just another unjustified expansion of federal power.)

Here's today's pop political quiz: The last Republican to run for national office as a political pragmatist, rather than a raging ideologue, died how many years before Ross Douthat was born (within five)? ____

Friday, May 21

That De-Explains It.

John Dickerson, "Rand Old Party: Why Democrats can't wait to use Rand Paul against the GOP". May 20

SHEESH, John, this would be considered an anemic money shot on the set of Geezers and Pleezers IV: Back Porch Swingin':
Democrats are pressing Paul so hard for several reasons. It's not just that they want to win his seat. They want to make every Republican defend Paul. Democrats need African-American turnout to be high this election. Getting into a debate about civil rights would help that. But they'll also try to keep Republicans responding to Paul's other non-establishment views—such as the need to abolish much of the federal government, including the Federal Reserve and Social Security Administration.

Parties always try to do this with extreme figures: They impute their views to the party as a whole. Long after she stopped being a politician and became a political celebrity, Democrats are still trying to make Republicans answer for Sarah Palin. They'll have an easier time with Paul because before today's moving away, Republican officials were rushing toward him.

"Parties always try to do this." I spent about five minutes trying to figure out why this wasn't your entire column, before I glanced up and saw "Slate."

Now, first, maybe I got this wrong, but my recollection is that Sarah Palin was the unanimous VP choice of the Republican National Convention less than two years ago, a move which may have been de rigueur, or pro forma, or abusus non tollit usum, but was noted at the time for its having energized the base; if her subsequent mid-term resignation and second career as an itinerant Mom Someone Else Would Like To Fuck and Dan Quayle impressionist is supposed to exempt her from political criticism or being held up as a paragon for the views she makes so much money off, kindly inform the party which is still running against Jimmy Carter thirty years after he became a house painter. Second, the fact that you, sir, or your Slate ilk, tend to take Republicatoonianism seriously, and would not have it sullied by the likes of Mrs. Malaprop of the Tundra, is beside the point.

But on to Dr. Paul: doesn't the concept of "Tarring with the same brush" require, or at least imply, that some of the people getting coated are innocent? Or at least somehow distinct? There may be some Republicans out there who aren't dyed-in-the-wool Teabaggers, but they sure take some effort to spot; the party's been in the thrall of high-volume Free Marketeers since 1980. Just because the party now admits it has a little PR problem with its fringiest religious nutjobs doesn't mean it's having an ongoing internal debate about Friedmanomics.
Maddow spent about 20 minutes last night quizzing Paul about his views on the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and he and the Republican Party have spent the last 24 hours cleaning up the mess. Paul said he believed that the federal government should not tell private businesses whether they could discriminate. He hated racism as much as anyone, he said, but believes that businesses that discriminate should be forced to change through private action: speaking out, boycotts, and the like.

As a practical matter, that ignores history and the human behavior of the time. But as a political matter, this just isn't something a candidate says out loud—even if he believes it. At worst, it makes him seem to take racism lightly, and at best, it's distracting. Before lunch, Paul had put out a statement that he would not support the repeal of the law.

Hold up. The man's a 47-year-old afflicted with congenital libertarianism; this means, at the very least, that his treatment was his own responsibility. Enough, already, with the "he's not a savvy politician, or he would have kept his mouth shut" routine. He's a guy with The Answer. That's his point. Why then can't he just answer a simple question, and one which not only goes to the heart of his, you should pardon the expression, philosophy, but one which he couldn't possibly have avoided answering already if that philosophy is come by honestly? Why th' hell would ducking, or side-stepping, the question have been preferable to affirming that his core beliefs include the idea that laissez-faire property rights trump personal rights, even in the most egregious cases? In a perfect world this wouldn't even be a story; it would be old news.

Truth is, the guy got himself hauled up onto the national stage--hell, onto MSNBC--and suddenly The Answer runs into actual questions. And, in response, it tries to reshape the story, blames the liberal media for yelling Racist in a crowded time slot, and vows it's learned its lesson: never go on the Rachel Maddox Show again. That's not a shortcoming to be exploited; it's a long-overdue demonstration of basic principles.

Thursday, May 20

The Calm Confidence Of A Christian Holding Four Aces

George Eff Will, "American politics of late: Now that's entertaining". May 20

WILL gets paid to do this stuff, as I, justifiably, do not. This confers upon me the advantage that whenever all this dreck becomes too taxing I get to turn it off, and am not required to think of something to say about it anyway just so Cokie and Peggers won't have to fill a bunch of dead air on Sunday. Though that prospect, now that I mention it, would be sufficient.
The candidate who on Tuesday won the special election in a Pennsylvania congressional district is right-to-life and pro-gun. He accused his opponent of wanting heavier taxes. He said he would have voted against Barack Obama's health-care plan and promised to vote against cap-and-trade legislation, which is a tax increase supposedly somehow related to turning down the planet's thermostat. This candidate, Mark Critz, is a Democrat.

Another thing: I live in Indiana, not Head Up My Ass To The Level Of My Symbolic Haberdashery, ℅ The Beltway, Washington, D.C. This means I'm not required to pretend that cap-and-trade is too arcane or convoluted for me to understand the justifications offered for it, and I'm not required to be shocked! shocked! when a public Democrat turns out to be located somewhere to the Right of Professor Chomsky. In fact I'd be at risk of a coronary if I found one who wasn't, almost as much as if I found some professional pundit behaving as though the supposed ideological divide between our competing major political parties wasn't broad and inviolate, or displaying some basic understanding of precisely how four years of Democratic majorities in both Houses have behaved on the five issues Will suggests we use in place of litmus paper.
And that just about exhausts the good news for Democrats on a surreal Tuesday when their presumptive candidate for the U.S. Senate in Connecticut -- the state's attorney general, Richard Blumenthal -- chose to hold a news conference at a Veterans of Foreign Wars hall to discuss why he had falsely said he fought in a foreign war.

Say, buddy, could you spare some eyeball deglazer?

Bob Somerby has been good on this; there's plenty of reason to at least question whether Blumenthal really claimed to be a Vietnam vet; he's said twice--twice--in the past seven years "I served in Vietnam". While extemporizing. He didn't put it on his cv, or bold it in campaign literature. He didn't begin a standard speech with "One thing I learned from Charlie.…" You'd think that maybe a leading "conservative" intellectual would be rushing to the defense of language, if nothing else. My god, the shit that came out of George W. Bush's mouth had to be translated into English before the Post could even typeset it (though Bush, wisely for once, pretty much chose to keep mum about his military experiences).

But, look: beyond that, it's the Democratic primary for a New England Senate seat. The reverberations didn't exactly shake us out of bed in the Midwest.
National Democrats may try to find a less damaged candidate for Connecticut, but first they may have to do that in Illinois.

Corrupt Illinois politics is to the right-wing pundit with column inches to fill what Stupid Texas Legislation is to the Left, or airline food to the stand-up comic.
Proving his credentials as a disciple of the president, Giannoulias blamed the bank's failure on George W. Bush.

Zing! Look, George, why don't we make a list of all the things The Second Execrable Bush is blamed for, and if we find anything he should be exonerated of we'll apologize. Soon as y'all take responsibility for all the shit that does belong on that list.
Democrats and, not amazingly, many commentators

A man who parades around in 19th century finery paid for, for the last thirty years, by ABC and the Washington Post Company, despite the fact that the record of his public dishonesty predates the former association and neatly coincides with the latter is carping because some commentators appear to lean Democratic.
say Republicans are the ones with the worries because they are nominating strange and extreme candidates. Their Exhibit A is Rand Paul, winner of Kentucky's Republican primary for the U.S. Senate.

Well. It may seem strange for a Republican to have opposed, as Paul did, the invasion of Iraq. But in the eighth year of that war, many Kentuckians may think he was strangely prescient. To some it may seem extreme to say, as Paul does, that although the invasion of Afghanistan was proper, our current mission there is "murky." But many Kentuckians may think this is an extreme understatement.

Y'know, somehow, I don't think that's the sort of kookiness they have in mind, exactly.
Recently Utah's conservative three-term senator, Robert Bennett, was eliminated from contention for this year's Senate nomination by two even more conservative candidates. Many Democrats and commentators who had not hitherto been histrionic about their high regard for Bennett mourned his loss as evidence that the Republican Party, the health of which they say concerns them greatly, is becoming unhealthy.

Whereas Republicans (and commentators) would never ever stoop to offering falsely sympathetic advice to their opponents.
One of the two Utah candidates, Mike Lee, a former law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Sam Alito, has been in Washington espousing such strange aspirations as the repeal of Obamacare and No Child Left Behind. He is extremely eager for the Supreme Court to stop construing the Constitution's commerce clause as a license for Congress to do whatever it wants as long as it asserts that what it wants involves regulating interstate commerce. Lee and Rand Paul will get along.

Which is good, since they'll be sharing back-marker status until forever. (It's curious, ain't it, how Libertoonians--even those with legal degrees--always seem to imagine that the last century-and-a-quarter of precedent regarding the Commerce clause can be hurled aside without affecting their cherished laissez-faire notions which that precedent ushered in. And how you never hear a principled peep out of 'em about the Fourteenth amendment? Shit, do you really want the Texas legislature, let alone the Arizona legislature, controlling commerce within their borders? Really? How 'bout if you lived there?)
Ron Paul's book "End the Fed," which explains his animus against the central bank, has on its dust jacket just one blurb. It is a famous name, but given a million guesses you would not hit upon it: Arlo Guthrie.

Shit, George, if the game was "Name a Folksinger" I wouldn't get Arlo in a million guesses. But at least that explains why all the kids are talkin' about it...
More than four decades later, Arlo evidently decided he shares Ron Paul's hot dislike for the subject of Paul's book, the Federal Reserve Act of 1913. Has American politics ever been this entertaining?

Well, I suppose that depends on your definition of "entertaining". Though I think we can all agree that that's about as entertaining as Arlo's ever been.

Every so often, and generally in response to The Stupidest Thing Jonah Goldberg's ever said, someone will raise the specter of what St. Buckley would have made of his progeny. But we have the clear example of George Eff Will: the appreciation of abject ignorance depends on whether you expect your side to win or lose the next election cycle.

Wednesday, May 19

I Looked It Up. Turns Out "Staff Up Your Ass, Colors Used As A Blindfold" Is Not The Proper Way To Display The Flag.

Larry Pressler, "The Technicality Generation". May 18

FIRST, let's note about Indiana Representative Mark "Abstinence" Souder that the malformed and disappearing Indiana Republican Amphibian--Souder, Buyer, Burton, Hostetler, Randall Tobias, and the poisonous Pygmy Daniels among them--sends a clear message about our damaged environment which is too often being ignored.

Anyhow, if you've been around here a while you know that the only thing I enjoy more than admiring the legislative accomplishments of Prairie Republicans over the past thirty years, it's listening to someone draw sweeping conclusions about some Generation or Other, based, as usual, on several hundred sitcom scripts written by someone who wasn't there:
THE problems faced by Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut’s attorney general, over his depiction of his military service are indicative of a broader disease in our society. The issues of integrity in business and politics that plague us today — the way elites are no longer trusted — are rooted in the dishonesty that surrounded the Vietnam-era draft.

Okay, minor quibble: I'm sorta leaning toward the idea that "the issues of integrity in business and politics"--it's a bit like "the issue of underreporting celebrity activity", or "the problem of excessive literacy on network television", innit?--have less to do with "the way elites are no longer trusted" than "the fact that said elites turn out, almost invariably, to be pathological jackals whose sole allegiance is to self-enrichment".

But set that aside. Let's take a trip down Memory Lane, and the glorious era before the Vietnam-era draft first taught humans to be dishonest:

"The American aid program in Vietnam has proved an enormous success, one of the major victories of American policy."

General John O'Daniel
Spetember 7, 1959

"The training, transportation and logistical support we are providing in Vietnam has succeeded in turning the tide against the Vietcong."

General Barksdale Hamlett
October 10, 1962

"Victory is in sight."
General Paul D. Harkins
March 5, 1963

"The Vietcong are going to collapse within weeks. Not months, but weeks."

Walt Rostow
July 1965

"It's silly talking about how many years we will have to spend in the jungles of Vietnam when we could pave the whole country and put parking stripes on it and still be home by Christmas."

Ronald "Gipper" Reagan
October 10, 1965

"Hold on a little longer and pretty soon we will have them on their knees at the bargaining table."

Everett Dirksen
January 9, 1966

"The North Vietnamese cannot take the punishment anymore in the South. I think we can bring the war to a conclusion within the next year, possibly the next six months."

General S. L. A. Marshall
September 12, 1966

"The enemy cannot achieve a military victory; he cannot even mount another major offensive."

Admiral John S. McCain, Jr.
February, 1969

"[L]ight at the end of the tunnel."

Joseph Alsop
September 13, 1965

"[A] light at the end of what has been a long and lonely tunnel."

Lyndon B. Johnson
September 21, 1966

"I see light at the end of the tunnel."

Walt Rostow
December 12, 1967

"Come see the light at the end of the tunnel."

Official invitation to New Year's Eve Party at the US Embassy in Saigon
December 1967
one month before Tet

I'm sorry, Senator; if I recall, you were saying something about dishonesty?
The Vietnam War drove members of my generation in different directions. Some served because they believed in the war, others didn’t believe in the war and protested, but when drafted felt an obligation to go. Others were simply drafted. Some refused service out of principle, others out of fear, and still others because they felt that taking the time to go to Vietnam would slow their careers.

I smell "sweeping trans-generational miniseries set in rural Kansas, but with suitable urban subplot featuring Alfre Woodard and a bedraggled but lovable mutt" coming this fall to ABC". Or maybe just a Hair revival.
Many of those who didn’t serve were helped by an inherently unfair draft. I don’t fault anyone for taking advantage of the law. Where I do find fault is among those who say they were avoiding the draft because they were idealistically opposed to the war — when, in fact, they mostly didn’t want to make the sacrifice.

Ah, the old Footprint of the American Chicken routine! And I thought that one died of shame back in 1996, when Al Franken included "Operation Chickenhawk" in Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot And Other Observations".

But, hell, if you wanna bring it back, fine. Maybe you could start by showing your work.

To you the greatest sin was an 18, 19, 20-year-old kid claiming opposition to the war just because he didn't want to serve? Really? That trumps collecting multiple deferments, specious medical or religious exemptions, or pulling strings to land a stateside job while vocally supporting the war, or supporting it in retrospect? How about skipping your own opportunity to serve before becoming a war hawk once safely out of range?
The problem is that for every person who won a deferment or a spot in a special National Guard unit, someone poorer or less educated, and usually African-American, had to serve.

Hey, Harvard-educated guy in the New York Times: here in the sticks we don't really need anyone to tell us that the poor and less educated wind up on the firing line, draft or no draft. Thanks anyway. Meanwhile, African-Americans served in Vietnam roughly in proportion to their numbers in the general population. You, and Tom DeLay, can look this sort of thing up, although, granted, getting something right about Vietnam might establish an unfortunate precedent.
Thus, many in my generation knew they were using a broken (but legal) system to shirk their duty. They cloaked themselves in idealism but deep down had to know they were engaging in a charade. (I, too, was against the Vietnam war and felt that people should protest, but not dodge their draft responsibility.)

Hold up. In what sense did one "oppose" the Vietnam war, yet feel morally that it should be fought? I can see opposing it on pacifist or humanitarian grounds, in which case one would also oppose taking part; I can see opposing it as a bad idea, politically, one was yet obligated to serve in, if called, but I don't see how that constrains other people's response; and I can see opposing the war because it was an immoral skein of lies, profiteering, and faux-patriotic militarism which sought to prop up the decayed corpse of European colonialism in the name of "our" opposition to someone else's economic system at a cost of millions of lives and the international moral high ground we'd claimed after WWII, which tossed our young men into the cauldron so our old men could win elections.

The correct answer is [c].
This intellectual justification continues to this day, only now these men are among our country’s leaders.

I'm sorry; what intellectual justification continues to this day? Lying your ass off? Hiding behind vague moralisms? Grabbing the brass ring? I think those date to 1492. On this continent, I mean.
I had a unique opportunity to observe the best and brightest of my generation — first as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford in 1964 and then when I attended Harvard Law School after serving in Vietnam. Among both sets of my classmates were some who used elaborate steps to avoid the draft. (At school, I recall articles circulating that explained how to fail Army physicals.)

In private conversations with my classmates, I was told over and over that they didn’t want to serve in the military because it would hold up their careers. To the outside world, though, many would proclaim they weren’t going because they were opposed to the war and we should end all wars. Eventually they began to believe their “idealism” was superior to that of those who did serve. They said that it was courageous to resist the draft — something that would have been true if they had actually become conscientious objectors and gone to prison.

I take it back. Don't show your work.

Some guys at Oxford and Hahvahd Yahd. Jesus Christ. A veritable Domesday Book.
Now that flawed thinking has been carried forward. Many of these men who evaded service but claimed idealism lead our elite institutions. The concept of using legal technicalities to evade responsibility has been carried over to playing with derivatives, or to short-changing shareholders. Once my generation got in the habit of saying one thing and believing another, it couldn’t stop.

Y'know, Senator, maybe it's late, but: our governing document originally counted African-Americans as 3/5 human. The list of our broken treaties with the aboriginal inhabitants of this ground is almost totally congruent with the list of treaties. We were the last Western nation to outlaw the slave trade, and did so only after the half our citizenry who chose to fight to perpetuate it had been defeated; more's the pity more of them didn't look for loopholes. We abdicated our responsibility for Reconstruction, and we twisted the Reconstruction Amendments so they benefitted everyone except freed slaves. A succession of immigrants fared little better. We fomented war with Mexico and Spain in order to seize territory, and we used our military and economic might to subjugate the rest of the Hemisphere. In the 20th century we turned a blind eye to the reinstitution of racism in many ways worse than the slave times. We played forty years of Global Thermonuclear Brinkmanship. Despite our Marshall Plan and United Nations rhetoric we propped up the British at the end of the War so they could prop up the despicable colonialism of the French in Indochina, lest someone start asking questions; then we just went ahead and did the job ourselves. And when that still didn't work we just rewrote the history so it was all Walter Cronkite's fault. And it's still going on as of May 18, 2010, in the Op-Ed pages of the Times. It occurs to me, Senator, that if your Hahvahd colleagues learned to lie from the Selective Service Act they must not've paid any more attention to history than you have.

Tuesday, May 18

Because It's My Blog, That's Why

It's the fearsome Carmel "Fence Post Flex" defense.

Bob Kravitz, "Here's where the responsibility belongs: If allegations are true, perpetrators are the only ones to blame". May 18 [note: link to hyper-valuable Indianapolis Racist Beacon* material subject to expire in twenty minutes]

OUR story so far: sleepy farm-market village (Carmel, IN) north of Indianapolis grows explosively from 1960-2000 thanks to White Flight, Federally-funded, conveniently located interstate ring around Marion county, and Republican "zoning" "laws". (The population boom continued into the Naughts, but in part because it annexed every bit of unincorporated land that didn't have the money to defend itself.) Becomes the wealthiest city in the wealthiest county in the state, and even more Republican, though only about as white as it ever was. Or could be theoretically.

Now, much of what follows is even ranker speculation than is normal around here, sprinkled liberally (get it?) with class envy. And the simple reason for that--okay, the former--is that these are not the sort of people who volunteer information, or generally have it demanded of them by investigative reporters, police interrogators, or an opposition party. So, to begin with, back when I was in high school the town had a population of around 6500. Today it is almost 70,000 (they bought themselves a Special Census back in Naught Seven so they could gobble up more tax revenues. Republicans.) and the high school's almost the size the town was back when. Because it's still the same high school, expanded several times; it's whispered in educational circles ** that the intention is to maintain the benefits of super-sizing in athletic and other competitive, trophy-awarding educational tussles.

So: last February it suddenly became public knowledge that some sort of "hazing" incident had occurred on a Carmel bus heading home from a boy's basketball game in southern Indiana a month before. And that, as a result of this information--which had come to light only because schoolyard gossip had gotten back to some parents--three seniors had been thrown off the team. Rumors did what rumors do: they swirled, enough to disturb the slumber of the Local Media, which stuck a microphone in front of the principal so he could announce--this is not speculation, but observation--that the incident hadn't risen to the level of criminal behavior, that the suspensions were the appropriate and sufficient response, and there was nothing more to see here, folks.

But among the rumors was a report that one of the attacked freshmen had required a trip to the emergency room, and that the attack was sexual in nature. The latter, of course, kept the news hounds on the scent, and the school's story fell apart like a substandard library parking garage. By the next week the Carmel cops and Hamilton county prosecutor were launching investigations which somehow hadn't been triggered by the hospital's incident report of a month earlier.

The completion of the investigation and announcement of possible charges was delayed, and delayed again; another senior joined the suspended when an earlier incident came to light. At some point someone pointed out that the alleged attack on the alleged bus allegedly occurred in Hendricks county, which somehow turned the thing into some sort of ad-hoc cross-jurisdictional extra-legal CYA fest. And then yesterday, after an extra weekend's delay, prosecutors signed off on the recommendations of a grand jury. The four were charged with varying degrees of misdemeanor activity, though the rumored charges of criminal deviate conduct--which requires forced sexual behavior--were not among them.

Connoisseurs of political hegemony, small-town shenanigans, and the Constitutionally-enshrined privilege granted wealthy real-estate developers and corporation lawyers gathered in mid-sized groups probably have already guessed that the excessive redaction of the original investigation continued unabated into the release of actual charges. Out of concern for the victims, of course. Professor emeritus of Law Henry Karlson called it "one of the
most outrageous cover-ups I've ever seen." If you'd like a little whipped cream with that, the security tape from the bus, said for months to've been taped over the following week, turned up like magic Monday.

Which brings us to Bob "Contraindication" Kravitz, Indianapolis Racist Beacon sports columnist:
When it happens, when something as twisted and inexplicable as the Carmel hazing case happens, our base instinct is to cast blame. Who is responsible for the kind of venal behavior that landed four former Carmel basketball players with misdemeanor charges Monday? How could this happen on the parents' watch, on the coaches' watch, on the school administration's watch?

Let me simplify this:

The four young men -- Scott Laskowski, Oscar Falodun, Brandon Hoge and Robert Kitzinger -- would be the ones to blame, and nobody else.


Here's what is generally accepted as established: the bus assault occurred on the freshman team bus, which was not supposed to be carrying any upperclassmen. There were three (!) freshman coaches on that bus, said to be sitting in the front and talking shop. The seniors boarded that bus at a rest stop, and the alleged assaults allegedly occurred in the back.

Let's just note for starters that teachers in many ways have a stricter legal responsibility towards their charges than even the parents, and that this is precisely the way it should be. "It was dark back there" or "Who knew?" or "The perps are the real criminals" are not excuses. It should be second nature for any teacher to watch for bullying, especially of younger students, and especially where athletic teams are concerned. Three coaches; none supervised the reloading of the bus, none walked to the back and checked out his charges, none noticed that two seniors got on board. As a result one student, whose crime was playing basketball, wound up in the emergency room, and who knows what else was visited upon those boys. At least one of the victims is said to no longer be enrolled at Carmel. We'll accept for the moment the Grand Jury's decision that none of the coaches should be indicted, but spare us the idea that they're simple victims of circumstance. They had a serious responsibility and they failed to live up to it. All were released as of yesterday, apparently, as was the head coach, but that should have happened at the onset, by their accepting responsibility and resigning in shame, if not by administrative action. Instead, once this became public knowledge, the head coach released a statement about "facing adversity", not facing up to your obligations and taking blame for not doing so.
Understand, I am not coming close to comparing the horror of Columbine, which happened just miles from my old house, with what happened at Carmel. I am only saying that when bad things happen, we, as a community, look for a way to place blame. Maybe it comforts us to believe that there's a reason, that this wasn't some completely random act that cannot begin to be understood.

As we've pointed out before, the principal of Columbine High took the stage shortly after the massacre to announce he didn't really know Harris and Klebold and had never heard of the Trenchcoat Mafia, despite a rather obvious and fairly disturbing yearbook picture from the year before. Columbine is a school no bigger than one class at Carmel. In both instances information well-known to the student body didn't seem to reach the ears of the administration. Is it not your job as an administrator to know what's going on in your school? Or as a coach to know what's up with a dozen students in your charge? If anything, it's the enormity of Columbine which could not have been fully anticipated. Hazing in the Carmel athletic program? The district had already been sued over it.

And it ain't like this is some unforeseen problem; the state just passed a (toothless) anti-school-bullying law a couple years ago. This is a serious problem in the forefront of educational issues, and people who're caught flat-footed by it aren't innocent bystanders. They're complicit.

The Carmel school board is going to vote in a new hazing rule, after which everyone will congratulate each other on bravely facing the problem head-on. Then they'll announce they're busy looking forward. Through the same old prescription lenses.


* As has been the case since shortly after the story broke, the Racist Beacon has closed comments on any Carmel stories. Which, of course, merely serves to underline that the blatant racist garbage which half their stories attract are there at their sufferance.

** Joke. As with all circles, nothing in education is "whispered".

Monday, May 17


Matt Davies

• I don't suppose there's any reason for you to've seen last night's 60 Minutes, aside from anyone who checks in for my uncanny Andy Rooney impression, but the interview with Deepwater Horizon survivor (cut into convenient bite-sized chucks for you here) Mike Williams was a reminder that teevee journalism could be riveting if anyone ever decided to try some. Interesting, though, how no amount of repetition of the same damned story can quell our Shock! Shock! that corporate drones behave like corporate drones, that the upper-level management of corporate behemoths is utterly, irredeemably amoral, and that both groups' first inclination is to lie their asses off preparatory to dragging the whole thing out through the courts for two-and-one-half lifetimes.

Is it a shock that BP had no intention of protecting the rest of us from the catastrophic failure of its profit-making schemes? That corporations in general view the world the way my cats view a sandbox? I, on the other hand, am not permitted to drive a mile to the store without carrying proof any accidental harm I cause will be paid for by me or by proxy.

Kill a couple dozen workers--that's before you unleash an environmental disaster--pay a fine equal to a half-day's profits. Eventually. Drive the getaway car for some guy you don't know plans to rob the bank he goes into, drops his weapon and has it discharge, killing a security guard, you get a date with a lethal injection. There is a major political party in this country dedicated to the idea that these people shouldn't pay taxes, be subject to any regulations they didn't write themselves, or ask permission before they start drilling on public lands. And the New York Times thinks tomorrow's primaries will be a referendum on just how widespread the psychosis is.

• Speaking of the Times and massive flumes of noxious substances, this Douthat column is noteworthy in that the man can write a column (take the rest of the week off, Ross!) based on a reasonable, if watery, analysis of the facts ("The response to repeated hammer-blows to the global economy has been to consolidate power in the same hands that caused the problem") and still be full of shit ("It's all Robert Rubin's fault, and federal healthcare is the same thing as bailing out Goldman Sachs"). This is partly the inevitable, I suppose, result of spending your entire life in absolute certainty that the Vatican position on reproduction and US law ought to be identical; it leaves no room to recognize the validity of anyone else's point of view, let alone space in which to compromise. On matters of lesser ethical importance--war, say, or theft--it allows you to simply appropriate someone else's viewpoint and claim it as your own. With, naturally, a little anti-Obama rhetoric thrown in just to keep straight which sideline you're prowling. But discovering the Peter Principle eighteen months after George W. Bush left office?

• Speaking of the Peter Principle, Indiana Emperor Mitch "The Spork" Daniels is now facing a countersuit by IBM over the failed ("failed" is actually the kindest way you can put it) billion-dollar privatization of the state's Family and Social Services Agency, which was overseen by Republican Slush-Collector Designate Mitch Roob. Daniels was forced to cancel the program last fall after paying full dollar for eighteen months for a program which never met its goals (and "never met its goals" is actually a compliment). The state is now suing IBM for $400 million it paid in order to keep the whole Ponzi scheme going until after the 2008 elections. IBM is countersuing for an additional $50 million it claims it's owed. And it plans on offering as evidence the rosy public pronouncements Daniels kept making rather than admit he's a lying sack of excrement. (h/t Doug Masson)

By the way, it's nice to sit back and reflect on the times those of us who opposed The Brain's underhanded dealing on Daylight Savings, or the sale of the Toll Road, or the FSSA and other "privatization" schemes, were branded as hopeless hicks stuck in horse-and-buggy days, too dim to see that Mitch was bravely accomplishing for Indiana what he'd already done for the Iraq War.

Friday, May 14

A Small Malignancy

I DON'T generally single out local teleprompter readers by name, because a) it seems unduly harsh, and b) it's like choosing the whitest alto in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Now and then, though, one volunteers.

We've actually met Karen Hensel before, back in '07, when she threw an ice-cream and softball party for Fred Dumbo Thompson's 45-minute Presidential campaign. Channel 8 has decided to style her an Investigative Reporter, which is Happy Talk Newspeak for "someone who covers stories we might get complaints about". This has the added benefit--or, perhaps, the only benefit--that they're free to sensationalize to their hearts' content, making for damn good teasers.

Which is what caught my eye last night--I'm not made of stone, Your Honor!--and led me to assume the Big Panhandling Exposé being teased involved 2009's Anti-Panhandling ordinance, not to be confused with 1999's Anti-Panhandling ordinance. The 2009 law, reluctantly rewritten, for Constitutional reasons, to include everyone, not just the unsightly and odiferous, had gone unenforced while the police sought "clarification"; said clarity almost certainly will illuminate all of Downtown just before Super Bowl 2012. (It's, well, amazing how periodic tax-appropriation-funded Big Events spur draconian efforts to keep the skinned and scorned out of sight for a while. That 1999 law preceded the 2000 Final Four; the practice dates to 1986, when then-Prosecutor for Life Stephen Goldsmythe--you're welcome, New York City--used the upcoming Pan-American Games to try to run all the massage parlors and adult bookstores out of business. This did not noticeably improve public morals, or anything else besides Goldsmythe's campaign treasury, but it did make you drive all the way to Clermont for a handjob.)

The major violators of the Ordinance, at least as far as I can tell by touring the Midwest's Largest Continuous Strip Mall as infrequently as I can, are fast-food joints and fly-by-night storefront scammers who send minimum-wage-earning and shame-free young people to the street to dance in stupid costumes, thus, apparently, convincing passers-by that this is just the spot to fulfill their gastronomic longings or turn their unused jewelry into cash. Or just a great location to take their eyes off the road while driving, assuming they hadn't already. This, of course, presents a major dilemma, as the sort of person who finds panhandlers an unspeakable nuisance is almost guaranteed to be the sort of person who finds any behavior, no matter how loud, annoying, ceaseless, disquieting, or insulting, to be sacred protected speech provided it's in the pursuit of Profit. With the possible exception of handjobs.

But the 8 Investigation neatly sidestepped any tricky ethical considerations by simply focusing on panhandlers themselves, and following them around with hidden cameras.

And, as disturbing as that might sound, what grabbed me by the sigmoid colon was Hensel's apparently unself-conscious announcement in the intro that she'd noticed these people while driving in to work each morning and begun to wonder if they really were Homeless and in Need of Food, or whether they truly did beseech God to bless donors. Maybe they weren't even monotheists at all! There's nothing like a reporter's nose for a story, even if said nose has been surgically reconstructed three or four times.

Oh, you can throw in the proud declaration that the following is the result of a Six Month Investigation, if you like, but that was more of a garnish than a turd sandwich.

Okay, okay; these people are scofflaws at best. News flash. I'm not quite sure who was supposed to have believed otherwise, or how their behavior is distinguished from the Makers of Airborne™, Emeril Lagasse™ Signature Cookware, or the Daniels administration. But, sheesh, a six-month investigation triggered by something which disturbed your view out the SUV windshield one morning? It's the local business paper, not the considerably better-funded local network affiliates, which exposed Tim Durham and his connection to sleazy Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi (a man you people gave nightly face-time to so he could flack his political career); we have to wait for them, or local bloggers, to fill us in on Brizzi's contributors and business partners getting questionable deals in murder and drug cases. You stovepiped the Ur-Teabagging Property Tax Protests without ever identifying the Governor, and the state Republican party (the primary beneficiaries of all that "grassroots" anger) as the people who'd fucked the system up in the first place. You missed the Capital Improvement Board losing $45 million tax dollars per year, but you didn't miss the free buffet at the new Football Barn. The Goldsmythe-era New Main Library Palace nearly had to collapse into a heap of substandard concrete and insufficient support before you stopped touting it as an architectural marvel, and you never did show much interest in just who wasted millions of tax dollars by not hiring a general contractor. The Simons demand an extra $15 million/year lest they find some other city which wants the Crappiest Product in the NBA; Indiana Barrister suggests the "renegotiation clause" in the Pacers' lease agreement doesn't actually exist; you people seem too busy calculating how much Simon Malls spend on advertising to get around to looking in to it.

Hey, by all means: scammers don't deserve a free pass just because they're small. My point is that we deserve news reporting which also looks up, at least once in a while.

Thursday, May 13


• I'm one of the maybe two dozen living Americans who listened to Nick Drake while he was alive, and I spent the next twenty-five years like some gormless junior-high swain, pushing his stuff on anyone I thought would listen. (In fact, I didn't actually see the Pink Moon Volkswagen ad that kick-started his career until much later; the first notice I got was an email from someone I'd turned into a fan years before, who wrote to ask how Nick could've turned into a sell-out (!), to which I had to point out that his death twenty-six years previous was the likely cause.)

So, of course: that new AT&T ad, which not only abuses Nick but the recently bereaved Christo into the bargain. And, y'know, Art has always been co-opted, and sometimes even advanced, by rich shits and their stolen loot; I thought the VW ad did well by the Estate, and I'm glad more people found out about him. But the AT&T ad hacks "From the Morning" into a sound effect. Fucking unlistenable to anyone who knows the song, which, I might add, was the last any of us got to hear from him while he was alive, as it's the last cut of Pink Moon.

And yet that beautiful soul, painful and anodyne at the same time, still comes through. But whoever's responsible for that cut should be cast adrift. In the Gulf.

(Joe Boyd, whose memoir White Bicycles is a worthy read, had a clause in his contract requiring Island Records keep the Drake catalogue in print. Imagine such stupidity these days.)

Eric Lipton, "With Obama, Regulations Are Back in Fashion".
Jesus wept.

• If All Your Friends Jumped Off A Cliff, Would You Jump, Too? State Senator Mike Delph (R-Carmel) will introduce a proposal to empower anyone with Indiana police powers to enforce immigration laws. As though it hasn't been against the law since the 19th century to drive, stroll, or remove oxygen from The Alabaster City while colored. I suppose the good news is we don't really have anything for anyone to boycott.

• Speaking of America's Third-Worst State Legislature and its unfortunate habit of meeting, State Senator Luke Kenley, whose standing Senate committee on Government Finance, Daniels PR Damage Control, and Covered Per Diem Expenses is now in permanent session, found hisself an actuary willing to claim that Indiana's share of the Obama/Hitler Healthcare program will be twice the national average, provided you approach it with that result in mind. This, of course, led local teleprompter readers to read this off their teleprompters as though the results had been carved in stone by Cecil B. DeMille.

Kenley, whose sad descent into Wingnuttery has been traceable by the hour over the past three-four years, suggested that as a result Indiana should withdraw from the Medicaid program, thereby eliminating all healthcare costs for everyone who remains in the state. Save, of course, footing the bill for state legislators.

• Speaking of which: last Friday afternoon I developed a pain in me guts, which only got worse, and after an early bedtime I woke in the middle of the night, stood up, and discovered I had a fever and the sort of chills generally associated with epidemics stemming from 18th century hygiene practices (which, with any luck, Indiana's Republican majorities will be reinstating in January 2011). This meant one thing: my first diverticulitis attack in three years. I slept away 22 of the next 24 hours, waking only long enough to ponder the fact that what I needed were antibiotics, and that what I was likely to get from a visit to clinic, or direct to the emergency room the clinic would have directed me to after extracting $200 for its trouble, was a date with MRI, an effort to keep me there for 72 hours, and another opportunity to be reminded that Medical Insurance Accounting is a far more creative activity than I imagined back on Senior Careers Day. And I'm one of the fortunate who has sufficient insurance to prevent penury in case of catastrophic illness. Unless the insurance company gets involved.

Because, of course, it was a weekend. Now, if what I'd needed was access to fireworks and/or liquor...

A couple things are worth mentioning here. One, Indiana has limited medical malpractice awards since the mid-70s reign of Governor Otis R. "Kindly Doc" Bowen, the Unindicted Bremen Physician, so I am presumably benefitting, cost-wise, from all the inattention I can stand. And so the incontinent testing is either a) excessive caution; b) a professional tic; or c) pure profit. Take your pick. The other thing is that I shelled out $600 my cost for some Glamor Shots of my damaged knee a couple years back, and the surgeon still found some surprises once he got inside; this is the same industry which informed us that my severely demented Mother was "just a little blue" and probably needed a dog or something. Though this does lessen the threat of Indiana's impending return to leeching and Humour Balancing, at least somewhat.

Wednesday, May 12

Reasons To Just Stay On The Futon

1. Because Roy and R. Porrofatto handled this Brooks excrescence, a helluva lot quicker than I ever would, the latter by the simple expedient of pointing out how recently (say, during the nomination of Sam Alito) Brooks was part of the vogue for Gray Organizational Mantypes.

2. Because somebody's gonna invite Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction and Mitch Daniels Luggage Assistant Tony Bennett to Washington, specifically to the House Committee on Education and Labor, so he can say this:
Our greatest challenge is to unite aggressively against all forces working to oppose reform that benefits school children. In Indiana and states across the nation, the most striking, most powerful impediment to improving instructional quality and school leadership has been those organizations charged, principally, to protect the integrity of the teaching profession: teachers’ unions.

Y'know, it's funny, but Bennett, who's been increasingly at odds with Indiana's teachers ever since Mitch Daniels decided he'd run for President a little--"at odds" here being defined as "refusing to talk to, then blaming them for their lack of communication"--doesn't actually talk like this for local consumption, even though his position as Daniels torpedo is well understood. He didn't talk like that during the 2008 campaign (the position used to be appointed, but The Bantam Menace found himself saddled with an Uppity Woman, albeit a Republican one, and the World's Third-Worst State Legislature™ obligingly changed the rules so the all-important "ability to pander to campaign contributors" was added to the list of qualifications). In 2008, for some unknown reason, the big Daniels Team theme (throw in the Attorney General candidate) was some vague weirdness about Defending Teachers Against Nuisance Assault Charges For Telling Children To Sit Down, something which became part of the landmark Omnibus Educational Sassmouth legislation passed last year.

And Bennett doesn't seem to've done much reforming back when he was Superintendent of a public school district, though he did have his hands full making sure the Greater Clark County Schools continued to underperform on state proficiency tests. In fairness, though, I guess that's how you learn.

3. Because this:

unfortunately, is the link to the article, not the whole thing.