Monday, August 30

I Was Concerned About All The Sugar and Artificial Colors In Trix™, But Then I Learned It's Part Of A Nutritious Breakfast!

Ross Douthat,"Has Anybody Used 'Mr. Beck Goes to Washington' Yet?" August 30

BUT I repeat myself: public Christians in this country have been disgruntled since Engle v. Vitale, which (maybe this should be pointed out now and again) protects the children of public Christians from being forced to recite prayers to Cthulhu, Vishnu, or Mitch Daniels same as it does the heathen children from forcible conversion by rote; the Right, in general, has been disgruntled since Eisenhower stopped at the Rhine, compounded by his later refusal to surrender to Arkansas; the Paranoid Right at least since fluoridation, but it's hard to tell, and it might be since public initiatives involving vaccination, sanitation, or Thought; the laissez-faire capitalists who've held the whip over in them parts since The Gilded Age are just naturally disgruntled, but Child Labor laws didn't help matters. You can trace any of those subgroups' shifting fads, focuses, and adopted whipping boys over the past sixty or seventy years, and whaddya get? Fads, shifting focus, and adopted (and abandoned) whipping boys. Hell, they pretended to celebrate one Saturday in DC (note that Riley just called Martin Luther King "boy", which proves who the real racists are).

They can't govern, they won't govern, and they haven't been able to govern since the Closing of the West and the Dawn of Modernity; it's a political movement which occupies an imaginary space. It's a movement manqué. It's a facial tic. It's the inclination to remain mother's dryer-warm cosset. (And one which, tellingly, requires almost constant distraction with the jangling keys of political outrage, lest it recognize the mewling, puking infant in the mirror.)

So, again: so 300,000 disgruntled white people, in Roy's phrase, follow Glenn Beck to Washington in August. So what? Is this Revolution #3 or #4? If it's not time the Times started demanding more of these buffoons, then it's at least time to consider whether dumbing down the coverage to keep their feelings from getting hurt is doing them any favors.

Why, here's Ross Douthat, whose Culture War Division, Ivy League Catholic Brigade is doubly disowned by the Teabaggers, for the moment:
Entering this weekend, I was convinced that Glenn Beck’s star was about to go into eclipse.

Sure you were.
But after spending my Saturday at Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally on the Washington Mall, I’m beginning to think that I underestimated the man.

This is why the insurance company requires three estimates after an accident.
The Fox News host had promised that the rally, billed as a celebration of American values, would be an explicitly apolitical event. And so it came to pass: save for an occasional “Don’t Tread On Me,” banner, the crowded Mall was nearly free of political signs and T-shirt slogans, and there was barely a whisper of the crusade against liberalism that consumes most of Beck’s on-air hours.

I'm sorry; how is it that the only man in America fooled by this has a column in the Times?
Instead, Beck served up something considerably stranger. This was a tent revival crossed with a pep rally intertwined with a history lecture married to a U.S.O. telethon — and that was just in the first hour.

Y'know, the first time through I read that as "U.F.O. telethon". Which I like better.
There was piety — endless piety, as speaker after speaker demanded that Americans rededicate themselves to God. There was patriotism: fund- raising for children of slain Special Forces vets, paeans to military heroism (delivered by Sarah Palin, among others), encomiums to the founding fathers. There was an awards ceremony on the theme of “Faith, Hope and Charity,” in which community-service prizes were handed out to a black minister, a Mormon businessman and the St. Louis Cardinals’ Albert Pujols. And since this was (as you may have heard) the anniversary of the “I Have a Dream” speech, there was a long tribute to Martin Luther King Jr.

Interesting, really: I don't think that stuff, even if it were genuine, amounts to real "piety, patriotism, or photogenically-multicultural altruism". And that's before we get to the idea that facile praise for a Cartoon King abnegates the public racism of the day's two main speakers. Reload, Dr. Laura!
But a suspicious liberal could retort that all the God-and-Christ talk and military tributes were proof enough that a sinister Christian nationalism lurked beneath the surface. (I’m sure The New York Review of Books has already commissioned an essay on that theme.)

Wow. If only this was on blogginheads. You coulda finished by wiping one eyebrow with your pinky.

Look, Ross, maybe I haven't made this clear before, but for our relationship to go any further you're going to have to understand that I don't give a shit what imaginary liberals do or say in your head. Sinister Christian nationalism? You might've noticed we're still in Afghanistan, and we're still in Iraq, while pretending we're not trying to slink home. That's a) the second-poorest nation on earth and b) a country whose tenth-rate military had already lost two wars in twenty years when we came back, and we've spent a decade losing to both. Bring on all the Christian nationalism you got, boyo. Just hastens the day when the Wiccans take over, and at least their robes are cooler than Rehnquist's.
Similarly, one could call the rally a gross affront to the memory of King, who presumably wouldn’t have cared much for Beck’s right-wing politics. But one could also call the day a strange, unlooked-for fulfillment of King’s prophecies: 47 years after the “I Have a Dream” speech, here were tens of thousands of white conservatives roaring their approval of its author.

Just not anything the man stood for.

And look, let's go ahead and call the rally a gross effrontery to the Civil Rights movement, writ large, and not just that guy they put on a stamp, if you'd like. Was it an affront, or no? In fact, go ahead and explore the idea, instead of tossing it off like an amulet against flying cudgels. Doesn't bother me. Neither does the affront. I hope it's the first of hundreds. Glenn Beck Freedom Rides. Glenn Beck marches across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Glenn Beck Lunch-counter sit-ins, which they'll probably have to update to McDonald's drive-thrus. Boycott everything that smacks of Big Gubment. Boycott public transportation, not that you use it. Boycott education (ditto). Boycott hospitals, and health care, and supermarkets that take food stamps. Fuck, I don't care that you won't be risking anything. I care, personally, that you're disrespecting the heroism and self-sacrifice of so many people who fought real injustice in real ways when there were real, physical consequences, but what I think about that isn't going to stop you. If you can't learn the lesson from the total disasters that've followed your every moment in power like bubbles follow a sinking rock, by all means, bring us President Palin. Bring us President Beck. Put 'em on teevee on every channel, all the time. Because at some point your phony movement will get to prove its bravery. When y'all start shooting each other, because there's no one else left.

Sunday, August 29

Fish. Barrel.

DUNNO why it occurred to me to quantify this just now, but among much, much else, on August 28, 1963, participants in the March on Washington:

• Had seen nine-plus years of the Brown decision systematically opposed and legally circumvented across the South, including, at Little Rock, militarily. Two-and-a-half months earlier, George Corley Wallace, elected purely as a racist, had mugged for the cameras in front of Foster Auditorium at the University of Alabama; in a month he'd be back trying to prevent African-American children from enrolling in white elementary schools.

• Had seen, and felt, the power of the White Citizens' Council, the White Collar Klan, and the governments it controlled, over that same period.

• Had seen, two years previous, the Freedom Riders--brave celebrants of the Brown decision, let's recall--beaten and firebombed with the barely covert assistance of state and local law enforcement. And they'd seen incredibly brave men and women dare to continue the Ride in the face of such violence, and who were themselves then set upon--with the help of local law enforcement--in Montgomery, Alabama. John Seigenthaler was beaten unconscious that day; he was an administrative assistant to Attorney General Robert Kennedy. The FBI knew about the attack beforehand. Freedom Rider John Lewis would be a featured speaker.

• Were six weeks past the burial (at Arlington) of Medgar Evers.

• Could still have been drying off from Bull Connor's firehoses (or treating bites from his police dogs).

• Were four months past Good Friday, when King was jailed in Birmingham, and Sheriff "Gator" Johnson was acquitted by an all-white jury of beating and shooting Charlie Ware while Ware was handcuffed in Johnson's police car.

• Had fought for their country, many of them, in segregated units with white officers in WWII, or in segregated units despite Truman's desegregation order in Korea, until the manpower need there was great enough to transcend military tradition.

• Were often the third generation of African-Americans to've experienced the vast Birth of a Nation-era increase in institutionalized racism across the country, not just in the Jim Crow South; and routinely experienced intimidation legal, quasi-legal, and physical, designed to prevent their voting, working in certain trades, living in White areas, lodging in White hotels, eating in White restaurants, joining certain unions or fraternal organizations, attending some schools, of course, marrying "outside their race", or upsetting the delicate ivory flower of Confederate womanhood by ogling, whistling, or occupying the same sidewalk.

Yesterday's Teabaggers, who shamelessly try to deface the living memory of Dr. King, have, by comparison, lost two consecutive national elections. Without J. Edgar Hoover having anything to do with it.

Would now be a good time to note that disgruntled white people, and especially the racist flotsam and jetsam of centuries of hate, have been carrying on like this for forty years, through the two revolutions, the election of a saint and deficit tripler, and the eight-year Presidency of George W. Bush, deficit quadrupler, which I guess the New York Times would describe as a Religious Rebirth and total clusterfuck? Without accomplishing a goddam thing, except the continual evolution of the techniques by which they imagine they hide their racism?

Friday, August 27

Holy Crap

GOOD art takes you places you wouldn't otherwise go, and last night that was Roy taking me to this Kathryn Jean Lopez routine in The National Catholic Register.

No quick synopsis is possible (that doesn't mean I recommend you reading it); there's Mel Gibson (remember him?), there's Kathryn Jean, there's the two of 'em together, on Google, where--and I do not say this just for some cheap K-Lo, the Antidote for Sex bit--her excitement at the virtual overlap is virtually palpable. There's the Holy Mother, and The Real Feminism™, and the angry emails she received for Defending the Faith.

And there's the standard O tempora O mores denunciation of a culture so coarse and heartless that its understandable conditioned salivary response to the beau ideal of Celebrity is mated with the razor in the boot toe, the shark's--make that the hyena's--nose for blood, and the unseemly glee at the crash of idols, which has all but swept away the promise of The Passion II: 3-D. And sullied the beautiful dream that is An Eternity of Blissful Google Contiguity as the quasi-Bride of Christ who was once an Item with a handsome Christian filmmaker.

I've admitted a practically limitless fascination with pointless theological argument. It might be attributable to my own religious upbringing, which occurred back in the early 1960s, back when some Protestants, at least, thought that what distinguished Protestantism from Orthodoxy, and thus filled the seats, was worth pointing out. I was a pre-teen. I took this at face value, like Columbus discovering America, or the International Communist Conspiracy, or the comic genius of Milton Berle. It certainly never occurred to me that this sort of thing was subject to fashion. (And note, by the way, the sort of Slothropian bass-ackwardness of it all: at the time the beatific ecumenicalist John XXIII was Pope; now, when all American Protestants take offense at imaginary slights to the Holy Mother, or the Sacred Advent, and would prefer to see the Catholic version of the Ten Commandments on their courthouse lawns rather than suffer the tyrannies of governmental neutrality, it's Benito Adolphus I.)

At any rate, if I became a sucker for tap-dancing angels on infinitely small pins, it carried the price of its opposite: there is little in the intellectual world I find more contemptible than pandering to a religious audience pre-approved for agreeing with you.

Mel Gibson. Mel Fucking Gibson. Public Christianist of a sort who was already repugnant before he made That Movie, or received his first DUI, or had a mistress with voice mail (and, again--anybody hear a V-2?--much admired on the Catholic Right for the schismatic rejection of the Slightly Evil Except We Can't Say It Vatican II. Somebody owes the Hugenots an apology). "Breaking news: Mel Gibson is a sinner." says coy K-Lo.

Yeah. We get it, already. You apologize for your own, then congratulate yourself on Living Your Faith. Funny how that never applies to the heathen. Funny how it doesn't apply to Feisal Abdul Rauf when somebody brings up things he said--sober, presumably--you don't agree with. Funny how it doesn't apply to the President's embrace of his Muslim heritage. Funny how it only applies to you; how you can virtually confess unnamed sins (which, for the Christian, is like confessing a need for food), and so get right back to asserting the divine superiority of your tiniest metaphysical inclination.

And funny, really, how it always stops right there. "Mel Gibson is a sinner" never concludes with "so he oughta shut his drunken, racist maw and start behaving like he knows the difference".

And one more thing: let's us stop pretending this Ugly Downside of Our Celebrity-Gawking Culture is a) something new or b) something the culture warriors at The Corner, or the Right to Life movement, just to name two, don't engage in at every friggin' opportunity. Ninety years ago Fatty Arbuckle (Libertine!) was pilloried in the press for an imaginary sex act he didn't commit. Seventy years ago Charlie Chaplin (Commie Libertine! Draft Dodger! Secret Jew!) was pilloried in the press for an illegitimate child he didn't father. Sixty years ago the Congress of the United States of America hauled half of Hollywood (Secret Commies!) in and threatened to destroy careers and jail the survivors unless it coughed up the names of the other half, and details of the secret plot to overthrown the Roosevelt administration. We chased Ingrid Bergman out of the country because she had sex. Not to mention the effect a mere rumor of homosexuality had on a career from Edison's first flicker to the death of Rock Hudson. So now being a Big Fucking Public Religious Hypocrite and Woman Basher is added to the list. The only thing that says about The Culture is it's now more of an equal opportunity disposer. And a touch more accurate in its choice of targets, at least for once.

Thursday, August 26

The Best Damn Program That Has Ever Been On Television

LOUIE, from Louis CK. FX, Tuesday nights, check local listings. Honestly. In about eight weeks, for me anyway--I don't get HBO, which is to say I can't be bothered stealing it, so I've yet to see Lucky Louie--he's gone from a remarkably fearless stand-up, and a first-rate comedy writer, to a goddam genius in the art of the 22-minute film. Seriously. My Poor Wife is no longer allowed to snack while we watch it, until I get re-certified in the Heimlich.

Wednesday, August 25

What Is Robbing A Bank Compared To Founding A Bank?

Joshua Lott/Reuters. Remember when the old white guys
who run things were scary creepy, not just regular creepy?

Damien Cave, "Murkowski of Alaska Locked in a Tight Senate Race". August 25

Jon Cohen and Michael D. Shear, "Poll shows more Americans think Obama is a Muslim". August 19

David "Still Employed, But Now He Doesn't Deserve It" Weigel, "Mystery, Alaska". August 25

I'VE been forced to concentrate on personal business for a couple weeks, and in the odd moment when politics has crept back into my brain, waiting for a stoplight or a return phone call, it's been an experience similar to those Out-of-Body reports from people who die momentarily on the operating table: I'm floating up above things, looking down sorta half-disinterested. Just minus the bright light, organ music, and tap-dancing seraphim.

So, first, I'm skeptical about all this, same as I am about all that Near Death stuff. But, hey, even a momentary peaceful calm is nothing to toss aside lightly.

This country is nowhere near as certifiably pathological as it's being made out to be. Which is a far cry from saying it's no fucking crazier than it should be. Maybe it's just me…
The number of Americans who believe -- wrongly -- that President Obama is a Muslim has increased significantly since his inauguration and now accounts for nearly 20 percent of the nation's population.

but for some reason I think the fact that the Washington Post sees fit to report this is a helluva lot more disturbing than how many people supposedly believe it. Even with that wrongly. Maybe especially with it.

Because Who Th' Fuck Believes This? Not the fact that one in five of our--you should pardon the expression--fellow citizens believes it. They'll believe anything, a fact establish beyond refutation by the mid-19th century. Of the global supply of crackpot religious splinter groups, just to grab one example, how many did we invent? The world's largest goddam economy runs on that. No; who believes that in the last year 8% of Americans decided the President was a follower of Islam? Were they previously on the fence about it? Has a twelvemonth's rumination expanded the definition of Muslim for 24,560,524 Americans? Can this possibly make any sense to anyone? To anyone who can read?

Who's the bigger problem? I'd say it's the people who see to it such shit gets reported as though it were a fact to be confronted, or absorbed, and not some piece of shit oddity which belongs in the Ripley Museum between the two-headed cow and the life-size statue of Robert Wadlow, for the amusement of the perpetually slack-jawed.

Oh, it's news. It's a snapshot of a troubled country. It's an important indication of what sort of lunacy (which, naturally, isn't exactly reported as lunacy) is out there. Well, no, it ain't. Let's note, for starters, that you now have a notable congruence between the number of Americans who tell some guy on the phone they think Barack Obama is a Muslim, and the number of Americans who told some other guy on the phone--or maybe the same one--they thought Dick Cheney was the greatest Vice President of the United States since Nathan Bedford Forrest immediately after Disaster Dick mistook his hunting buddy for a penned bird.

No. At some point this has to occur to you. At some point you have to consider the consequences of your actions. If that consideration is bounded entirely by how this sort of shit improves ratings, or circulation, or ad revenues, then it's fucking time to start considering that:
Those results, from a new Pew Research Center survey, were drawn from interviews done before the president's comments about the construction of an Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero, and they suggest that there could be serious political danger for the White House as the debate continues.

Which is what? That at this rate, by 2012 48% of the electorate will think he's running on the Sharia ticket? Just tell me, exactly, what effect this is supposed to have? So the sort of person who believes some patent horseshit just because FOX tells him to isn't on your side, and this is a problem? What, are they deserting the Democratic party in droves over this? I Useta Be A New Dealer, But Since The Ground Zero Mosque I'm Outraged By Obama's Birth Certificate? Is the President required to try to talk some sense into each and every one, thus losing valuable stump time? How many times do we have to hear that sort of nonsense; how many times are we supposed to take The Right seriously just because it's found something else to yell about? Y'know, if you really have to take this shit seriously just because your boss tells you to, it's time to take stock of your expenses.

Wrongly! Thanks for that. Hope it helps you sleep. How 'bout "Pew Research Center Asks Specious Question, Finds Americans Are Badly-Informed, Pouty, Racist Second Graders"? How 'bout "Astonishingly, Only 18% Believe Obama Is a Muslim, Considering That 75% Say They Ask a Dead Jewish Carpenter Who Spoke Aramaic for Career and Relationship Advice"? Y'know, the President and the majority of Congressorganisms claim to be Democrats. They got there by winning elections, despite every insistence that all real Americans think they're Socialists. And it's true that the professional Dems, like professional journalists, fear to ford the shallows of the Mitch McConnell River of Stupid. And--how many times does this need be said, and by how many people?--th' fuck has this gotten us? The Teabagging enthusiasts can't win an election, not a fair one, without roiling the worst, lowest-common denominator, inarticulate rageswamps our backwoods have to offer, something which has resulted, historically, in disaster after disaster after disaster. They can't find a candidate who can string a complete sentence together, or one who, if he can, can couple noun and verb without a lie on either end. It's not just when they win an election and put their crackpot schemes into operation again that they'll be relevant; it's when they put together something approaching Sensibility. And if our newspapers and networks can't tell the difference then it's time to recall everyone's diploma.

Oh, gee, we've got a couple examples of Last Season's Insane Parrottage still handy. Mr. JournoList?
OK -- you're wondering how Joe Miller, a lawyer who has never won an election, is currently leading Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) in a primary she seemed to have in the bag. Didn't Murkowksi have all of the money? Weren't Miller's rallies pretty listless affairs?

Know what, David? I'm not wondering. It's fucking Alaska. It's Frozen Texas, minus the culture. If I've ever wondered anything about Alaska politics it's "How come their Senators get to vote?"

Okay. Yes, the Gray Lady in the front row?
Mr. [sic] Murkowski has been in the Senate since 2002, when her father appointed her to the seat he had held since 1981 so that he could become Governor. She is battling for re-election in a political season in which another Senate incumbent, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, lost a primary after switching party affiliation to Democrat from Republican, setting off fears that a tide of anti-incumbency would spell doom for sitting lawmakers.

Well, I'm sorry, but who, exactly, is it who's been publishing those erroneous Tide Charts all year, if not the same people who now explain to me the Mystery of some Teabagger win in New Bumfuck?

Monday, August 23

The Dog Ate It

REAL life intrudes, a definite sign that I'm not evolving at Internet speed, [one pre-click Caution, among many: written by a memologist and Visiting Professor of Psychology at the University of Plymouth who coined the "term" teme, (for "technological meme")], or else my genes don't contain enough replicator memes, or something.

Anyway, there's an update to the story of Officer David Bisard, of late a member of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, an association now clouded by his having, a couple weeks ago, slammed into half-a-block's worth of stopped motorcyclists while on an emergency run with siren blaring, lights blazing, and a .19 Blood Alcohol Concentration *. (These facts were somewhat obscured, for a time, by the initial IMPD PR campaign blaming the dead and comatose, and the five days it took to get around mentioning the theoretical two or three beers the officer had consumed earlier.)

Oh, and it later turned out that it wasn't an emergency run at all, and even if it had been it wasn't his. Then late last week we learned that he hadn't been drinking, either. Or, at least so far as the Law is concerned. Because, y'see, once someone finally got around to requesting his blood, two hours later--state law specifies that everyone involved in an accident involving death be field-tested or given a Breathalyzer on the scene--the blood was drawn by an uncredentialed technician, which prompted Indianapolis Prosecutor Carl "Taint" Brizzi to withdraw all the charges which involve alcohol. Then, because the law under which he'd automatically surrendered his driver's license comes from a different part of the statute, he got that back.

Now, I'm a civil liberties absolutist; what happens to the law is more important that what happens to Bisard, even in such a heinous example. But I can also tell you from my daily biking encounters with the gaggle of Canadas that hangs out near the creek a couple blocks north--I yell "Government Health Care is Theft!" or "Celine Dion, motherfuckers!" at 'em if they climb onto the road--that I have at least as much sense as God gave one of them, and the whole thing stinks.

(A flock of geese is also a skein, a wedge, or a plump, in flight, none of which covers the single-file of Stupidity I find myself confronted with on a semi-regular basis. On a wholly unrelated note, tomorrow is St. Bartholomew's Day, near which a master printer threw a wayzgoose, an entertainment which celebrated, if that's the word, the return to working by candlelight. The etymology is unknown, and my discovery of the practice was independent of my search for alternative collective nouns for "goose". I'm not sure what that means, but leave us say this: anyone who believes RU RTG? represents a step up, Evolutionary or otherwise, from the days when yeoman printers and illiterate seamen spoke in a rich and nuanced tongue should have every hair ripped out of her head, before it's given back to that guy from Kajagoogoo.)

Well, lots of my fellow Naptownites agree, so much so that the city's Law Enforcement Brain Trust--minus, for the first 48 hours, Mayor Gomer hisself--have been out in front everyday trying to cool things down by repeating "Mistakes were made" over and over while they decided how long they had to throw someone under the gaggle of revving buses. (So far this includes two assistant chiefs, one commander, and the head of the investigation unit). The heat is actually so bad there was a Gomer sighting over the weekend that didn't involve creating a new Charter school.

God knows it's cold comfort seeing--one more sickening time-that people who lie for a living, and the people they lie to, are completely asea when the situation calls for even a pinch of forthrightness. My particular favorite has been Channel 8, which spent the first weekend pinning the thing on dead and mangled motorcyclists because IMPD told them to, and which now can't go two minutes without repeating We Asked The Tough Questions! Which, of course, means they dare now ask a couple obvious ones of the LE triumvirate which has been forced to face 'em. I've got a sawbuck down with my Poor Wife which says the Tough Questions graphic turns up no later than tomorrow at 5.


* I don't remember if we pointed this out before, but among the many examples of Doesn't Anybody Do More Than Mindless Parrotage? there's this: Bisard's BAC is now almost automatically reported as "twice the legal limit" or "more than twice the legal limit" when, aside from the fact that .19 is nearer to two-and-one-half times the legal limit, the blood test was done something like two hours after the accident. And while the effects of alcohol intake varies with the person, humans eliminate alcohol at a fairly predicable rate: 0.15 to 0.2 g/dl/hr. Officer Bisard was at nearly three times the legal limit when the accident occurred.

This shouldn't come as unexpected news to your professional teleprompter reader; the initial verdict in the Klaus and Sunny "von Bülow" Trial of the Century of the Week was overturned in no small part because the ME had discounted Mrs. "von Bülow"'s low blood alcohol level without extrapolating to what it was when she'd stopped drinking. Not much of a surprise, really, since the Press discounts all such manias after they've finished the rake, and there wasn't nearly so much interest in the retrial as there was in the original. In fact, "von Bülow" is routinely treated as a murderer sprung by Alan Dershowitz, rather than as a paragon of American wealth and Society, the Job Creators, who couldn't possibly have attempted to murder his wife in the way the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations claimed.

Friday, August 20

That Weird Kid Eating Space-Age Polymers Instead Of Paste Is Not An Improvement

Paul Tough, "Don't Drop Out of School Innovation". August 19

AT last week's teachers' meeting my Poor Wife's principal blurted out to a roomful of underlings something about massive changes in store for…her school? the entire system? for next year. The extent of the supposed change was unclear, because the blurt was based on rumor, which said principal either a) got second hand; b) had no details to back up; or c) was being coy about sharing, though not so much she avoided causing massive anxiety. At any rate, we're reminded, first, that anyone who imagines the solution to What Ails Our Failing Schools is to turn principals into CEOs and Entrepreneurs should go work for one for six weeks. Or at a dry cleaner's. Or in the PR department at BP.

So my Poor Wife has no idea whether the rumor is true, but it is officially now a rumor. And this led us to a discussion of all the Ground Breaking Innovations, (average life expectancy: four semesters; average time between implementation and system-wide disgust with worthless hoop-jumping: two-point-five; average time between implementation and the people who dreamed it up getting bored and looking around for some new bright shiny object: three weeks) which she's endured during her career. In recent years there's been School CHOICE, which proposed to use the Indianapolis Public Schools transportation system as a taxi service for the lucky 5% who won the Pick Your School Lottery; changing two-year junior high schools into three-year Middle Schools; turning three-year Middle Schools back into two-year junior high schools; the massively-touted School Uniform, Stand Up Straight, and Wipe That Smirk Off Your Face Initiative, based on the frankly unfathomable assumption that the sort of white suburbanite who spouts off about saggy Negro trousers in the comments section of the Racist Beacon does so out of an altruistic concern for genuine education reform.

There was the Small Schools Initiative, a subsidiary of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for Bringing the Sort of Cutting-Edge Innovation Which, Coupled with Cutthroat Restraint of Trade Practices and Copyright Infringement, Made Microsoft What It Is Today to Other Areas of American Life, Tax Free. That one poured millions of gilt-edged Guilt Bucks into--I'm not exaggerating--the Education department at IUPUI, which oversaw the program locally, doling out dollars to IPS administrators for education junkets. The thing never put a single dime into Indianapolis classrooms, but for some reason we were the only major school system to jump in with both feet before testing the depth of the murk below. Meanwhile, students enjoyed all the benefits of Small Learning Communities: teachers who were utterly distracted for the final two months of the previous semester, then the entire following semester, and had spent most of the summer rewriting curriculum so it could be squeezed into the new molds, and mass chaos replacing unseemly localized confusion. The thing lasted two years, after which it was given the sort of burial usually reserved for that goldfish you won at the church fête.

Then, on the grounds that you don't just abandon that Red-headed Stepchild at a highway rest stop without adopting an even bigger and better one on the way home--to prove how committed you are to Innovation!--Indianapolis Public Schools went Magnet happy, at roughly the same time the City of Indianapolis--whose public schools, as any sensible person would imagine, are controlled by the elected members of the Indianapolis Public School Board, as well as those of the other ten independent districts within the city limits which owe their continued existence to the politics of White Flight--gave the Mayor the power to create Charter Schools like God makes mushrooms. (And you'll probably never guess which of the eleven districts serves as a manure field for 95% of the two-dozen-and-counting Charters.) And all this is before we count Test Mania (followed, in Indiana, by Let's Move the Test to the Other End of the School Year! Mania), the successive Clinton and Bush Federal 2¢ Programs, or the Mitch Daniels What We Need To Do Is Lower Standards For Teacher Education Hornswoggle.

Everything I know about NYC schools I learned from not watching The Blackboard Jungle, Fame, the movie, Fame, the teevee spectacle, and missing the recent Indianapolis visit of Bloomberg's designated union buster Joel Klein (in support of that same notion of letting people who can't find employment in their chosen fields go ahead an' give teaching a shot, without the outdated and unreasonable requirements professional training imposes). I have no idea whether Klein has indeed overseen a highly-successful string of Promise Neighborhood charter schools in Harlem and the Bronx, based on the Knowledge Is Power Program, or whether they should received continued Federal Funding.

What I do have is an acute, and probably congenital, allergic reaction whenever I'm bombarded by positive adjectives. I break out in skepticism.
It is no coincidence that charter schools in and near the Harlem Children’s Zone have earned such impressive results. Over the last few years, thanks in part to intensive recruiting by the New York City schools chancellor, Joel Klein, Harlem and the Bronx have become a mecca for a highly successful class of charter schools, all run, to some degree, on the model of the nationwide, nonprofit Knowledge is Power Program: extended hours, energetic young teachers, an emphasis on discipline and character-building, as well as heavy doses of reading and math.

'Cause, see, the thing is I'd like to be convinced, first of all, that low math scores are the real problem in the nation's high-poverty schools, instead of, well, poverty. I'd like to know what Algebra has to do with it. I'd like to know why in every other area of modern American political life the War on Poverty entails aiming at people who're afflicted.

I'd like to know whether, when his house in invaded by bedbugs, and his toilets back up, Joel Klein calls an experienced exterminator or some recent grad with a biology minor, a master plumber or his neighbor, the plunger enthusiast.

I'd like to know why these Highly Successful Impressively Energetic Innovations require public monies go to private concerns, and why those concerns must be staffed with dewy-eyed young idealists who have no idea that, if they stick with the profession, they'll be tossed for the next generation of over-enthusiers right about the time they start figuring out the whole thing's a Merry-go-round of Big Ideas.
Geoffrey Canada, the founder of the Harlem Children’s Zone, premised his organization on the idea that schools like KIPP’s, though needed, are not enough on their own. To solve the problem of academic underperformance by low-income children, he argues, we must surround great schools with an effective system of additional services for poor families.

I'd like to know why these resources should be made available to Gung-Ho Academy, but PS 123 is supposed to make do with less.

I'd like to know who thinks like this, who leaves out all contrary evidence, and who gets swayed by them without suspecting their motives.

Hey, I believe in Knowledge for its own sake. I believe in making a variety of educational opportunities available to every child in America, beginning with the most needy. I don't believe in turning schools into prisons, or training schools for Wal*Mart cashiers or McDonald's prep cooks or aerospace engineers, not before the child has received a good general survey of human knowledge, including art, music, and languages. I don't believe state legislatures are the best places to find people qualified to make those decisions, but, then, I'm from Indiana.

And I read the literature, so I know that, in 2010, anyone claiming the sort of miraculous results for Charter schools which were being predicted a decade ago is a bigger liar than the prognosticators were. Not that there aren't success stories. There are. Maybe those KIPP schools are among 'em. But the results aren't general, and they aren't Charter-specific, and--as has been clear all along, and denied by Charter proponents all along--customizing a program for one student while ten go without is not an improvement, unless you happen to be the one.

In other words, call me when you've distilled these innovations into something that works outside a test market; call me when you can point to teaching innovation, not plump it up with adjectives. Call me when you've got a real product to go with that snazzy label. As un-American a concept as that may be.

Thursday, August 19

Second-Hand Revenge: A Dish Inevitably Served As A Thin, Tepid Gruel

George Eff Will, "Israel Can Do No Wrong, Pt. 3.5 x 10 7". August 19

QUICK sketch of our current political situation: 35% of the populace apparently will not rest until it can marry another girl just like Reagan, overlooking, somehow, the result of our eight years of bliss with Bush-Cheney, aka The Bride Formerly Known as Reagan II. (The fact that the Reagan wedding album itself used more Vaseline on the lens than Brycreem on the hair we will simply leave aside.) This, of course, is where the charitable divide garden-variety unwarranted hopefulness from serious and irreversible mental instability. I am not charitable. They've been fucking crazy for years, now they're fucking crazy at DSL speeds.

I'm not inured to this, but I am temperamentally disposed to expect it, plus I'm from Indiana, which amounts to forty-plus years of almost daily practice. Even so, I've found myself of late lost in a nostalgia de la merde for the Nixon administration.

Whatever else you can say about him--and that's plenty--Nixon was a goddam pro. He didn't fucking go crazy at the first sign of opposition, nor at the very thought of opposition. He was already fucking crazy. He didn't slowly begin to confuse himself with the roles he'd once played, or something he read in Reader's Digest. He didn't fly off the handle because Carson made a joke about Tricia. He may've been our most clinically paranoid President, or just or most obvious one, but his Enemies List was, at most, about 1500 names, and sorted into categories; if there were a Palin Enemies List, what would be the Over/Under? 90 million? Nixon wanted the North Vietnamese to think he was crazy. This, of course, doesn't make him sane; a pathological liar may yet know when (and when not to) bluff. But he wanted them to believe he was crazy enough to bomb indiscriminately, even with nuclear weapons. Imagine George Bush trying to pull that one off. Everyone would know he was faking, because everyone would know the thought nuking anyone who looks at us crosswise was a perfectly reasonable approach.

I'm too young to know Nixon-Gahagan, or his Red-baiting days, except as history. To me, Nixon's insane politics seemed more like the logical harbor for his insanity-driven ambitions. This made the world a more optimistic place: just wait out all the old Red Baiters, and Nixon's idiosyncratic pathologies, and the world might right itself, assuming it survived. I don't need to remind you how that one worked out.

Enter George Eff Will, the Missing Link: chronic Reaganite by trade, Nixonian at heart (but stomach only for petty larceny). Will first comes to national attention at the Nixon-era National Review; he's soon given credit for criticizing Nixon administration corruption, which is like giving someone credit for denouncing child labor: just because you expect Republicans to be in favor of it is no reason to go overboard when one or two exhibit some public sensitivity at no cost to themselves. (Of course Will's tua culpa didn't extend to Nixon's conduct of the war; he's been a faithful re-imaginer of that history his entire career.)

So Will, rising careerist, gets associated with Reagan, via one of the lesser criminal acts that helped his election, rather than Nixon, despite the fact that he's much more like Heinz Kissinger than one of Reagan's Cracked Lt. Colonel advisors. He's the sort who, during its ten-minute heyday between the invasion of Iraq and the disaster of the invasion of Iraq, would have been described as a "paleocon", but probably not to his face, since his support was needed. And so, now, to the Nixonian Lament that the end of the Cold War has deprived the Right of its best reasons for Continual Nuclear Brinkmanship, or maybe just the fun of playing it two-hand. Of course it's not really a Lament, since they just change the reality to correspond to new circumstances, but still: one supposes the withered charlatan in his dressing room at ABC, ten minutes to air, shedding a solitary tear for the old days, when you could actually mean what you said, however crazed.
In the intifada that began in 2000, Palestinian terrorism killed more than 1,000 Israelis.

And Israeli Self-Defense killed 5000 Palestinians.
As a portion of U.S. population, that would be 42,000….

How much is that in Swedes? What's the conversion rate for Native Americans? How many Dresdens? Most importantly, how's it compare to the homicide rate in Detroit?
approaching the toll of America's eight years in Vietnam.

Assuming you think 72% approaches totality, in which case you must imagine that US public schools are in excellent shape. (Not, mind you, that I intend on trading equations with a guy who's pulling his out of his ass.)
During the onslaught, which began 10 Septembers ago, Israeli parents sending two children to a school would put them on separate buses to decrease the chance that neither would return for dinner. Surely most Americans can imagine, even if their tone-deaf leaders cannot, how grating it is when those leaders lecture Israel on the need to take "risks for peace."

Okay, two things: we might consider whether the lesson here, as in Vietnam, is "When you decide to take over someone else's playground, consider the neighborhood". And, y'know, if the Israeli government doesn't like the Risks for Peace argument, maybe it could consider what resisting it for sixty years has wrought. Or maybe we could switch the lecture to "Mumsy and Pater may seem to be made out of money, but if you expect to keep driving a new Ferrari every week on our dime you can start behaving, let alone driving, responsibly."
Also, before the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel within the borders established by the 1949 armistice was in one place just nine miles wide, a fact that moved George W. Bush to say: In Texas we have driveways that long.

Well, I don't like the man, but I've admitted many a time that in the field of international relations no one's ever topped George W. Bush when it comes to asphalt metaphors.

And Jesus Christ, isn't that the land God gave the Ancient Israelites so a few millennia later some rabid and self-declared heirs could demand it back, by any means necessary, so He could get this whole Armageddon thing back on schedule? Whaddya fucking want?
Israel exchanged a lot of land to achieve a chilly peace with Egypt, yielding the Sinai, which is almost three times larger than Israel and was 89 percent of the land captured in the process of repelling the 1967 aggression.

Well, forgive me if I disremember slightly, but didn't the Israeli government always declare it would return that land in enhance for peace, however "chilly"? Okay, maybe it did specify "body temperature". I really don't remember. But that agreement--the only genuine breakthrough in the Middle East since the Partition, by the way, and one which owes its existence to Jimmy Carter and his willingness to make our client state "take risks for peace"--has assured Israel's existence. The preceding paragraph from Mr. Will shows just how thoroughly that's been appreciated by its staunchest defenders, 6000 Miles Away Division. The Oslo Accords--following another twelve years of Hands-Off Republican administration policy which refused to build on Camp David, or even acknowledge it--would have been the next step. Even in the crazy Middle East we can be pretty clear about who sunk those.
The rest of the world seems to have no memory at all concerning the intersecting histories of Palestine and the Jewish people.

The creation of Israel did not involve the destruction of a Palestinian state, there having been no such state since the Romans arrived.

Sheesh, talk about the Pot lecturing the Kettle on carbon content. There was no State of Palestine in 1947 because it was yet another bronze-tinged corner of the globe the British had thoughtfully agreed to command. There were enough Zionists in it by War's end to terrorize the Brits into giving up because they'd spent the previous fifty years looking the other way while they emigrated, in opposition to international agreements. (Of course in fairness, those international agreements, like Zionist terrorism, don't count.) And the reason there's no Palestinian State there today is that the US, which thoughtfully stepped in when Britain and France were unable to keep 1/3 of the world subjugated on their own anymore, simply ignored that part of the agreement.
After a uniquely hazardous passage through two millennia without a homeland, there are 13 million Jews.

How much is that in undisclosed megatonage? Hey, anybody got change for a Finn?

Y'know, we can keep on saying this until it takes: you wanna complain about taxing Future Generations, start here. Start with the immense amounts of treasure which go to Israel every year to help enforce our unilateral decision in 1946, treasure which allows the Israelis to continue thumbing their noses at the rest of the international community. Start there. Israel can defend itself; its overkill ratio is nearly as great as our own. What it can't do, and what we can't do, either, is turn that enormous technological advantage into the leverage required to dictate everyone else's actions. And that's clearly proven by the last sixty years of people resenting that the bargain comes with the government of Israel getting an occasional earful. So, fine, let's remove the basis for the lecture.

Wednesday, August 18


Yellow and Black Garden spider (Argiope aurantia) aka the Writing spider. She turned up outside our kitchen window this morning; fortunately I saw her before my Poor Wife dropped her morning coffee. She's about 2-1/2 inches long overall. I'm hoping for puppies.

This Is Your Brain Frying On The Sidewalk.

SO it takes Gregg "Some of My Best Friends Are" Easterbrook more than a thousand words before this year's initial Tuesday Morning Quarterback gets to the really big off-season story: Al Gore's divorce. Not really sure what caused the delay, but he makes up for it by including a picture of The Kiss, which leads to another of those brilliant insights which only Gregg "Saying There's No Such Thing As Global Warming Doesn't Mean There's No Such Thing As Global Warming" Easterbrook believes he has:
In retrospect, could that nationally televised kiss have been more evidence that everything about Al Gore is phony?

Now I dunno about you. I'm not the world's biggest Al Gore fan; I do think he doesn't receive anything close to enough credit for actually doing what everybody else claims they want done, which is reducing government expenditures, and, absent everything else about Gore and his history as a public figure, I think you kinda gotta scratch your head about that one, or conclude that the country is chock-a-bloc with lying assholes; regular readers are familiar with my choice in the matter. Remember that in 2000 Al Gore is Wooden! trumped George W. Bush is a Barely Literate Kleptomaniac by a factor of fifty. Al Gore's a Liar! Al Gore's a Phony! Assuming you, as I, occasionally survey the major players on the national political scene, is, or has it ever been, Al Gore you would single out as the paragon of those traits? Would you even bother pointing that shit out at all? Reader, if you need more than one hand to tally all the public figures in this country, of whatever stripe, whom you believe to be Genuine, either you know a lot of celebrities I've never heard of, or you're missing several fingers.

Okay, The Kiss was staged. So was Saddam Hussein's nuclear arsenal. Which one's still bothering you a decade later?

I haven't piled on Easterbrook. I grew up reading the columns of Indianapolis Racist Beacon (at that time the Birch Society Weekly Denouncer and Fluoridation Report) sports editor Bob Collins, and the syndicated West Coast legend Jim Murray, neither of whom could go 800 words in the Sixties without mentioning Muhammad Ali's religion or Joe Namath's Fu Manchu. So I've got a sort of built-up immunity. Easterbrook was a Global Warming denier until 2006, when he decided to half-bow (not the Full Obama) to the the scientific consensus which had suddenly appeared. I don't really care. It's been obvious all along that bigger and more powerful idiots are controlling the tilt of the table on this one. Easterbrook's position on Global Warming, Space Weapons, and Feminine Pulchritude are just things you have to strain out to get to the plankton of those columns of his.

Two things do bother me, though. The first is the assumption of superiority based on being wrong first, on the grounds that this proves your skepticism. (It's notable how often this attitude correlates with a lifelong religious belief.) The second is how the original belief, like the Fog, pads along on little cat feet. I've trained a lot of cats, to some extent or other, and usually not much. If you get a cat to halt at a line, and go no further, it will not be long before the first paw is on the line, then half over the line, and then both are on the other side. Thus Easterbrook, formerly dead wrong by his own admission:
Check this recent researchers' statement in Science magazine. I'll exempt the statement from my normal complaint about science papers with an unrealistic numbers of authors -- it's signed by 255 people! -- since it is intended as a political declaration. The statement shows there is a strong, but also mild, scientific consensus: Climate is changing in part owing to human action. That's not the doomsday view beloved on the left, nor the denier view beloved on the right, but is a reason to begin greenhouse-gas regulation.

So "The Left" was correct because it loves it some Doomsday. And moderates like, oh, Gregg Easterbrook--moderates who just might happen to have a book out arguing that Everything Is Always Getting Better But We Won't Admit It--are More Correcter Still, because they only want us to treat the Doomsday potential, without all the celebrating.

And without, presumably, The Spice, though first I'd like to suggest that if modern life is Two Scoops of Triple Chocolate Fudge Ripple at Affordable Prices, that the well-born and well-off Easterbrook simply renounce all his belongings and income above the American average, and have himself a ball.

Now then: the locals in Boone County have discovered Spice, the herbal "incense" and secret Marihuana substitute which is turning our nation's children into a pack of drooling imbeciles when it doesn't kill them outright. They banned the stuff Monday, so, effective next week, teenagers will have to smoke real pot, or buy it online, or drive ten miles to the next county.

They apparently learned about the stuff from local Channel 8 which, mired in a ratings slump coupled with a stable of "talent" that makes Fox and Friends look professional, has decided that Screaming Sensationalism is the one idea sure to put 'em back on top.

They gave the story to Deanna Dewberry, apparently on the grounds that she was the only anchor out of two-dozen who hadn't yet sacrificed every last shred of decency in the cause. Dewberry came to the market five years ago as a reasonably competent teleprompter reader, something which was almost refreshing, considering. It took 8 about two months to correct that. She now gives the impression of auditioning for the Bette Davis role in some dinner-theater musical version of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? In the last couple weeks she's added a lunge to her repertoire, which came in handy for this forty-year-old retread of Dragnet. I swear to God, yesterday she reported the stuff contains THC. My Poor Wife and I have a friendly bet on the next escalation: she's going with the classic "Jumped off a building thinking he could fly"; I'm going with "Got high, stared at the sun until their eyeballs melted". That leaves "Put the turkey to bed and the baby in the oven" open, if anyone's interested.

Tuesday, August 17

We're Doing This For Your Own Good

Ross Douthat, "Islam in Two Americas". August 16

THIS weeks grant proposal: comb the collected Times Op-Ed contributions of its two "reasonable conservative" columnists. Note the number of times either was forced to admit, even to freely declare, that a particular position held by the vast majority on their end of the political spectrum is ignorant, vile, shot through with racism or bigotry, or ill-considered partisan shit-flinging--either as part of the ongoing "reasonable conservative" ploy or because the position in question was, in fact, ignorant, vile, shot through with racism or bigotry, or ill-considered partisan shit-flinging--and subtract the number of times the column in question was actually about that position, or took the Right to task for holding it. Or, simply, one in which the "condemnation" of the position was not followed immediately by "Yes, but…." We're guessing the minuend and the remainder are identical.

Why is this? Tax cuts? Endorsement deals? Death squads? Reader, you, presumably, occupy one end of this country's political spectrum or other, to some extent, at least as commonly defined: when you find yourself in disagreement with your fellows, is it invariably the case that the other side is worse? And if so, do you go around waving your Moderate credentials in spite of it? Who thinks like this? And who's supposed to buy it? (To be fair about it, both Brooks and Douthat have spent their adult lives--one via conversion by Grace from Springsteen-bepostered Rebel, the other ascending directly from serial religious plerophory--defending an ideology which had been reduced--if that is indeed the word--to insisting that a decade of affirmative action trumped four centuries of racial oppression, that providing basic nutrition and access to emergency medical care hurt the Poor and Elderly, and that dropping three times the ordnance used in all theaters in WWII on a small area of Indochina in an attempt to reinstate a colonial system which had rotted away internally thirty years previous was an act of selfless humanitarianism. The American Right is, in fact, our longest surviving field experiment in whether, at some point, aping insanity is not the same thing as genuine insanity. And all signs point to Yes. In for a dime, in for a dollar, right Ross-O?)
This is typical of how these debates usually play out. The first America tends to make the finer-sounding speeches, and the second America often strikes cruder, more xenophobic notes. The first America welcomed the poor, the tired, the huddled masses; the second America demanded that they change their names and drop their native languages, and often threw up hurdles to stop them coming altogether. The first America celebrated religious liberty; the second America persecuted Mormons and discriminated against Catholics.

But both understandings of this country have real wisdom to offer, and both have been necessary to the American experiment’s success.

Especially, but not limited to, its success in getting cotton harvests in on time, and with remarkably low labor costs.

Sorry, I jumped ahead a bit there; let's back up and try to understand the intellectual basis for these competing, but equally beneficial approaches. (Ha! Did you catch the leg-pull in that sentence?)
There’s an America where it doesn’t matter what language you speak, what god you worship, or how deep your New World roots run. An America where allegiance to the Constitution trumps ethnic differences, language barriers and religious divides. An America where the newest arrival to our shores is no less American than the ever-so-great granddaughter of the Pilgrims.

Known, sporadically, as the Judicial branch.
But there’s another America as well, one that understands itself as a distinctive culture, rather than just a set of political propositions. This America speaks English, not Spanish or Chinese or Arabic.

Known, to itself at least, as the Staunch Upholders of those Political Propositions it defenestrates at the first sign of inconvenience. (And pray tell us, Master Douthat, how one comes to miss that?)
It looks back to a particular religious heritage: Protestantism originally, and then a Judeo-Christian consensus that accommodated Jews and Catholics as well.

How convenient for it, and for the thirty-year-old snake handler turned Papist. And what excellent timing, to go in just sixty years from Jews as Christ-killers, and Catholics as secret cabalists intent on running the US from Rome, to one big happy, if oddly oppressed, mega-majority willing to publicly ignore irreconcilable core beliefs sent by God for the sake of political power.

(By the way, I still would like to know when, exactly, the Jews voted themselves in on all this delicious ecumenicalism. Or do they just leave all such decisions to Dennis Prager?)

We could press on, but let's enjoy the shade here for a moment. Not that my opinion counts, but it counts as much as Douthat's, apart from his natural advantage in real estate holdings; this is absolutely the worst feature of modern American religiosity: the willingness of the Right, particularly the Protestant Right, to (pretend to) abrogate its very identity for the sake of political gain. We can begin with that (fittingly, Reagan-era) "Judeo-Christian" nonsense. We can add on the Right to Life and pro-military hegemony positions (the politics of which, and not theology, has driven the "Judeo-Christian consensus"), and follow right down the rabbit hole to the War on Televised Smut (the Christian Right don't do so hot when it's abandoned by its Brothers in Ecumenicism, huh?), Religious insult (until Mel insults the Jews--in a movie, I mean, not on voicemail--or anybody insults Islam), and the risible Wars on Christmas, The Ten Commandments, and the Plej-uh-lejunce. Individual Protestants, and any of the 225-plus denominations of the One True Church, are free to take whatever positions they choose here, and defend it with scriptural excerpts if they wish. What they can't do is declare all Protestantism on their side. Pacifism is certainly an older Christian tradition than standing armies; only the most Anglican of denominations pay attention to the liturgical calendar; plenty of American Christians find the orgy of Christmas commerce something less than holy. One hundred fifty years ago nobody but a few non-English speakers celebrated the Gratuitously Solsticesque Birth of the Lord, and anyone was free to get an abortion without fear of being gunned down by someone better informed theologically, unless it was the man who owned her. The bemused observer of this game of Bronze-Age musical chairs may go so far as to suggest "Judeo-Christian consensus" as the late 20th century refuge of the congenital authoritarian nostalgic for the 15th. You'd think someone who had switched from extremist Protestant Glossolaligist to full-on Papism would have some sort of personal insight into that.

Else we could simply ask, "Okay, so whose True Version of the Ten Commandments goes on the courthouse lawn, then?" with the understanding that the other two are agreeing to permanent religious vassalage.
It draws its social norms from the mores of the Anglo-Saxon diaspora — and it expects new arrivals to assimilate themselves to these norms, and quickly.

Well, first, you say "diaspora", I say "global subjugation of less populous, less technological peoples". Second, is there some history of the United States which teaches this, and isn't aimed at homeschooled preteens? The cliché was Three Generations, where the first retained its old cultural identity, the second moved into the new culture, and the third readily embraced it. And there were exceptions: the notably legally-segregated Chinese, the religiously-segregated Orthodox Jews, and imported Africans, who were discouraged from full participation in such cultural institutions as education, land ownership, and noticing white women.

We ought really to consider that such began to change only after two world wars, and then via the law and the political confrontation which slowly changed it and the perceptions behind it, not because of any advances in Persuasion Technology. We ought to, really, but of course if we're a right-wing apologist we're required to treat sixty years ago as ancient history.
The second America begs to differ. It sees the project as an affront to the memory of 9/11, and a sign of disrespect for the values of a country where Islam has only recently become part of the public consciousness.

Aside from the Barbary Pirates, you mean.

This is rich: de jure racial discrimination, ended (officially) in a process which takes us at least from Brown (1954) to Loving (1967), without counting the years--even decades--it took for the culprits to come into compliance, is supposed to be seen as a long-established fact; contemporary unlettered recognition of Islam, which, assuming one has never heard of Standard Oil, dates to the US-led creation of Israel (1947), accelerates through the Six Day War (1967), the rise of Yasser Arafat and the PLO in its wake, followed by his thirty-year demonization in the US, the Iranian hostage crisis, and scores of paperback and cinematic potboilers featuring swarthy terrorists who dine on tenderloin of unbaptized baby, is, to Douthat, an angry butt boil he woke up with yesterday morning. Oh, I mean to the second America, of course; Douthat is an Ivie.
The steady pressure to conform to American norms, exerted through fair means and foul, eventually persuaded the Mormons to abandon polygamy, smoothing their assimilation into the American mainstream.

Well, actually, the requirements of Utah statehood, admittedly driven by religious bigotry, and the concomitant Federal largesse and opportunities for private aggrandizement are what actually did the trick.
Nativist concerns about Catholicism’s illiberal tendencies inspired American Catholics to prod their church toward a recognition of the virtues of democracy,

Oooh, that reminds me, Ross-boy. When I want you to pass the baloney, I'll say "Pass the baloney." Old Protestant-American custom.
So it is today with Islam. The first America is correct to insist on Muslims’ absolute right to build and worship where they wish. But the second America is right to press for something more from Muslim Americans — particularly from figures like Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam behind the mosque — than simple protestations of good faith.

And, y'know, somehow one has the sneaking suspicion that should Feisal Abdul Rauf, or any other American of Islamic tendency, turn up in a backwards baseball cap and Mets jersey, downing Red Bull and vodkas, that Second America would be convinced. That he was covering his terrorist activities.

Thursday, August 12

Blind. And Not Homer/Milton/Borges/Ray Charles Blind.

WE have in Indiana an annual tradition known as the State Fair--maybe you've got one, too--which celebrates a way of life none of us wants anything to do with anymore, because it involves hard work, careful husbandry, and precious few opportunities to get over on other people by being the bigger liar. About the only part of agriculture your average Hoosier finds attractive these days is selling the theoretical family farm to strip mall developers.

In fact, tracking the Fair over the last fifty years--I was last dragged to one in 1960, and expressed my complete lack of interest in ever returning in, apparently, a remarkably efficacious manner for a six-year-old--should be worthy of a grant, moving, as it did, from a celebration of the early days of a post-war economy, still operating on an agricultural calendar of sorts, through some serious doldrums occasioned by the fact that there weren't any farmers left, to its rescue by the artificial Americana craze begun under Reagan, in which genuine American Rural Life was replaced by aggressively marketed Vague Ruralishness, the Hee-Hawing of America, the Bob Evansification of the Heartland, if you will. The template for all this--alongside Nixon's Southern Strategy, I mean--was Nashville, Music City USA, which had responded to a dwindling audience for the nasal charms of the Louvin Brothers, Red Foley, and Ernest Tubb by chasing anything that worked, as you will, and finally settling on the Aggrieved Hard Workin' Patriotic Murrican Beset By Hippies routine, which, somehow, a short generation from the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, and the Hobo Jungles had aligned itself with the Banks, the Cops, and the Strategic Air Command. In fact, from 1980-2004 or so you could get the jump on the summer release of the Fair's entertainment line-up by reading the Country music trades to see who was on tour.

Fair time is also the one time in the year when the Hoosier fixation on weather coincides with Hoosiers actually being outside; heat stroke is, of course, the frequent result. It's sorta the meteorological equivalent of a drinking holiday.

My Poor Wife, for example, must see six weather-prediction routines a day, three of which may not be her fault; the damned weather is fifty percent of local news, and the lead story three days of four.

I know she'd just as soon watch actual news on the news, but good luck with that.

This frequently leads to one of our favorite games, unofficially known as You Fucking Moron! in which I make wild accusations about what the idiot teleprompter readers said--or what they really meant--about some issue of local import, she tells me I wasn't listening, and I ignore her. The best thing about this game is that everybody wins.

Case in point: last Friday morning an Indianapolis policeman on an emergency run hit a group of motorcyclists, killing one and critically injuring two others. My recollection of that evening's coverage is one long Make the Point That Vehicles Which Can't Pull Over Are Supposed To Freeze In Place lecture, which I remember because, at the time, there was no explanation of how the accident had occurred, which made the suggestion that the motorcyclists had behaved improperly somewhat suspicious. My Poor Wife, when the game began in earnest 24 hours later, claimed to've heard that very evening a report that the bikers were properly stationary when they were struck.

And I didn't hear that, not that I doubt her; it's just that I heard over and over, the next day as well, about What You're Supposed To Do when there's an emergency run flying up your backside, suggesting They Hadn't Done So, with tragic results.

It turns out that this was a parrot's version of the official statement from IMPD spokesman Brian Dixon, who earlier Friday said
"Several vehicles yielded and moved to the right shoulder. . . . However, three motorcycles were stopped in traffic in the left lane and did not move. The officer slowed, braked and swerved trying to avoid colliding with the motorcycles, but was unable to do so."

And, y'know, you or I might have been just the tiniest bit skeptical, seeing as how this was the police investigating their own, and the city which was on the hook for any liability costs. But then you and I are not local news celebrities, and they know best.

Except one of the things they didn't know at the time, and which might or might not've fallen under the rubric of Things You Might At Least Have Considered, was what we all finally learned yesterday: that the officer involved had a Blood Alcohol Level of 0.19 two hours after the crash.

Tuesday, August 10

Daniels 2012: Who's Selling Rope To Whom?

GREETINGS from the Land of the Doughnut Burger, which, in case you've been living under a rock, is the Taste Sensation That's Sweeping the Indiana State Fair, and God Knows It Needs Sweeping. That's David Letterman's line, and if I recall correctly, the Indiana State Fair was what inspired it in the first place. Here's the recipe:

1. Find a cow which died of something.

2. Grind up all the parts no one would eat if they were recognizable.

3. Form into patties. Fry if there's time.

4. Serve, replacing the traditional bun with Krispy Kreme™ doughnuts, which, so far as I can tell, are just like real doughnuts, except in place of a doughnut fryer they use Petrie dishes.

Fellow connoisseurs of the Signs of the Apocalypse will recognize this as just another false positive, like American Idol, ice cream for dogs, and kudzu; what appears promising at first turns out to be neither Providential nor demonic, in the cosmic sense at least, but merely another example of how you can't possibly imagine what lows somebody out there will sink to to make a nickel. It turns out that there's a family in Corydon--Indiana's first state capital, which has been trying to make the rest of the state pay for moving it ever since--which spends its non-carny hours dreaming this shit up, then test-marketing it all over the South, where, if anyone with a triple-digit IQ likes the stuff they scrap it and start over. Doughnut Burger tested well in Florida, they say. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the prosecution rests.

There's a relative selling deep-fried butter two stalls--the term is fortuitous--down.

Now, I live in Indiana, so if I actually cared what other people eat I'd've blown my brains out years ago. The key piece of information here is that these people make their living thinking up ever more stupid-sounding shit for people to eat, and that a big portion of the income-generating potential is that it's guaranteed to get prominent space on all local news venues. (The Racist Beacon elicited "diner" responses; one Prairie gourmand noted that "the sweetness of the doughnut and the saltiness of the meat" equalled culinary triumph.)

Which brings us to Mitch Daniels, a man who has simultaneously pretended to celebrate the sham-folkway of fried abomination on a bun as Authentically Hoosier and pretended to spend tax money out of concern for our collective health. Okay, first it brings us to that same local media, which yesterday treated Daniels' appearance on FOX News Sunday as a sort of combination Mellencamp ticket announcement and Rupert from Survivor sighting, which is to say they treated it like news that Rob Reiner was in town, or that KISS was playing the Fair, or the remains of Jack Nicholson were going to be propped up at the start of the 500 holding a green flag. Which is to say, just combine the artificial smile/grimace of the average beauty queen fourth-runner-up with the Jaycee hucksterism of the second largest car dealer in a small town, and you're in the ballpark. Channel 8, though, also brought on Jim "The Dean (Broder) of Local Political Reporters" Shella to "analyze" Daniels' comments, and he concluded that The Brain was actually trying to gain leverage "to effect the changes he wants to bring to Indiana". This is local Republican-speak for "elect a Republican majority in the House", and thereby grease the skids under the rug Daniels needs to yank from under state expenditures in order to preserve his so-called Budget Surplus for 2012; meaning either that The Dean of Local Political Reporters is the one guy in the state who hasn't caught on to Daniels Presidential campaign, or he's the one guy who thinks it can still be finessed past voters who remember how Daniels was promising not to run as recently as November 2008.

Anyway, just for the record, let's note that we are now at the "I have no plans to visit Iowa or New Hampshire, as I'm focusing on the challenges facing Indiana" portion of the Daniels Kabuki, emphasis mine, and that the Randian Hoodoo--as well as the devout Christianity he suddenly discovered just after his "benign neglect of social issues" comment in his last big non-campaign, non-Presidential interview threatened to scuttle him before he left the cossets of Coytown Bay--is morphing into full-on Teabaggerism. Mitch got some attention among the non-Hoosier press for calling deficit spending "literal child abuse", but for me the real treat was this 'un:
"I truly believe for the first time in my life, our nation in facing challenges that threaten the survival of America as we know it."

Princeton '71, ladies and gentlemen. Georgetown Law.

The "child abuse" business was--wait for it--in response to a question about social programs. Funny, ain't it, how the future is always served by, say, $44 billion (in 1997 dollars) worth of B-2 bombers with nowhere to go, and eleven $4.5 billion each (construction cost, 2000 dollars) with three $9 billion (2009 dollars, exclusive of development costs) Ford class improvements on the way? The Future'll greet us as liberators, I suppose, provided we live that long, which we won't if Mitch Daniels gets his hands on national healthcare and Social Security.

Monday, August 9

We Win! Vol. DCCLVI

Times Op-Ed, "Correction: The Lavelle Case". August 7

IT was Rules of Engagement Week last week (but then, isn't it always Rules of Engagement Week in this country?). President Barack "Vietnam is So Over" Obama restored Mad Bomber Lavelle to his rightful rank, and one of Jon Stewart's periodic fainting spells gave Bruce Henderson--author of a book whose publicity blurb refers to " 'neutral' Laos"--On to Damascus!--the chance to go all DeForest Kelley on the Unfair Restrictions on Our Brave Airmen Who Otherwise Would Have Won the War For Sure. Henderson served two years as a Navy weatherman, which means the only Rules of Engagement he personally experienced involved not taking more than two scoops of ice cream on any one trip through the chow line.

Okay, so I sound like a crackpot, or even more of a crackpot than usual, but look: I'm all for righting historical wrongs, provided we recognize the process as a salve for the living. But to me, if the President really wanted to right the Lavelle Case what he should have done is posthumously impeach Nixon, and deport Heinz Kissinger while there's still blood in him. Lavelle the man deserved vindication, and he got it when the truth became known. If we don't feel that's right, or enough, then let's stop keeping political secrets disguised as national security. Lavelle the Air Force commander got off easy. Men of lower rank are aren't reduced a couple of pay grades to cover their superiors' asses; more likely they're reduced to a fine pink mist.

It was a criminal war which fell into the hands of a criminal President. Lavelle took a bullet for his commander; that was his duty. If he didn't want to he didn't have to. Those two extra stars on his collar were for commanding Nixon's Indochina air war in the early 1970s, not for dropping Hersey bars and soccer balls for the kids. He didn't get there by accident, and if he got there without knowing that bombing doesn't win wars, the history of US involvement in Vietnam, or the kind of Dick Nixon was, then he had it comin'. (The Times, by the way, now simply accepts Lavelle's Henry II Defense that his orders that flight reports "could not show 'No response' by bombing targets" was misinterpreted by underlings to mean that flight reports could not show "No Response" by bombing targets.)

Yeah, yeah; I'm the crackpot. I'm the last dirty hippie still spittin' on Our Returning Heroes. That doesn't change the history of US involvement in Vietnam, the Original Operation Shifting Rationale. It doesn't do so even if you're a "liberal" like Barack Obama or a liberal like Jon Stewart. (And I'm not blaming the President, mind you. But that sure went quick once the "facts" were "known". Compare the sixty-five years it took to exonerate Charles McVay, captain of the Indianapolis, and we knew all along he was innocent. Compare the Times retraction of an item which was factual when it was covered with how it handled Judy Miller's outright lies.)

Is this the deal, then? "Why can't you Boomers just get over it, already?" leaves off the "and treat Vietnam as yet another heroic chapter in our glorious martial history"? Wow, what a surprise.

And here's what, kids, since you refuse to even look. Since you refuse to even consider why we had the rules of engagement we did, in Vietnam, or in Korea, and listen only to the second-hand gripes of professional veterans. This didn't happen in a vacuum. We weren't just arguing about tactics. The issue wasn't bounded by whether it was a Good Idea to bomb the North, or Laos, or whomever; it would have been militarily expedient to bomb the Soviet and Chinese rail lines and rolling stock, too. Chew on that for a bit. We weren't arguing over extending the war; we were arguing over extending an involvement which had already gone on five, ten, twenty years, and which, at each and every stop, the public had been assured we were just one more step from winning, right up until we had a half-million men in the field, and a sharply-divided public at home, and it was clear through all the bullshit that we'd failed. And if it wasn't clear previously, it was certainly clear two years before Lavelle took command, when a real hero, Daniel Ellsburg, who faced as much as Dieter Dengler did, and who took a helluva lot more shit for it from the Nixon administration than Lavelle did, decided that the American people deserved to know the truth.

And the Times printed it. Maybe they'd like to apologize now.

Thursday, August 5

Is This Really Too Complicated For You?

Rod Nordland, "Portrait of Pain Ignites Debate Over Afghan War". August 4 [Caution: second-hand war porn if you scroll down]

OKAY, so Time's an ever bigger piece of pre-digested Twinkie filling than it was back when it was a news magazine. But surely there was someone at an editorial-decision level who took a look at the caption--What Happens if We Leave Afghanistan No Punctuation--and said--right out loud an' stuff--"This happened while we were in Afghanistan!" If I'm too much of an optimist for the modern world let's just kiss it all goodbye right now and enjoy the sweet thrill ride to the bottom.

Use of graphic, shocking, even, photographs to make a point? With you 100%. It just doesn't absolve you from the requirements of rhetorical honesty. "Taliban: Medieval Barbarians Who Think God Is With Them"? Sure.

But the treatment of women is not part of the debate. It's there only because the people who got us into this debacle desperately needed--and still need--some way to make themselves look noble, since there's no way left for them to look astute. Or semi-competent. Yes, in many parts of the world women are chattel. In many parts of the world religion, or some similarly plerophoric system based on race or economic certitude, functions as a cudgel to keep people in line, and thank God we're beyond that here. Such is not recognized under international law as grounds for invasions unilateral or multilateral; feel free to lobby to change that if you wish. If it were it doesn't make the saintly observers in the US of A (Motto: Proudly Permitting Many Negresses To Vote Since 1964) the sole arbitrators, nor does it make it a Good Idea in every instance, and it sure don't make it possible, as The Longest War In US History If You Look At It In Just The Right Light keeps pointing out to us on a regular basis. Furthermore, it's not why we're in Afghanistan. Let us remind you, merely, that the Taliban crime family controlled Afghanistan for five years while no one at Time gave a shit. For that matter, in 2001 then-Acting President Bush announced that, theoretically, at least (the word comes to us from the Greek, theoretikos, meaning "try to keep a straight face when you hear this"), that the Taliban could just hand over bin Laden & Crew and we'd let 'em get back to defacing women and monuments next morning. If you weren't arguing for the United States to invade Afghanistan on human rights grounds in the 90s, then your argument now is tainted; if you were--or if you've since added our perfect track record in establishing and preserving the rights of women and minorities in countries we hate to the list--then it's your responsibility to tell us how we leave while keeping the craziest motherfuckers in a lawless land from doing pretty much whatever they please. And if you've got that plan, by all means, please share. I'd like to see if it would work on cable news.

Tuesday, August 3

Back Home Again

BLUE Indiana reminds us that the predictive powers of Mitch "The Pocket Kreskin" Daniels remain sharp as ever, and extend beyond one month in every eighteen of his own state's revenues:
Back in 2008, when it became apparent that GM and Chrysler would become victims of the economic collapse, taking more than a million jobs with them, Daniels confidently predicted that efforts to save them would fail:

"Let's give Congress a chance, but there's nothing in recent history that suggests they have an answer for this," Daniels said. "The only thing we know for certain is the way they've been doing business does not work and throwing taxpayer dollars after it won't make it work." (emphasis added)

Y'know, you really can't underestimate the value of having all the answers, or The Single Answer, can you?

But let's go ahead and look at that recent history, up to the now clearly-successful bailout of GM and Chrysler, and the stimulus of Cash for Clunkers, shall we? Here's a chronology of recent bailout history in convenient balloon form:

So, left to right: Penn Central, 1971, the government provides $676 million in loan guarantees. By 1976 it consolidates what's left of the rail system in this country to form Conrail. In 1981 Conrail began turning a profit. In 1987 under pressure from the administration of Ronald "Government is the Problem" F. Reagan the G sells Conrail for $3.1 billion, something like a $15 billion loss all told. Once it's returned to private hands Conrail becomes really profitable; economically healthy railroads bought up the stock and cannibalized the system, an economic disaster for communities which lost rail service, and a grand excuse to put even more trucks on the road.

Lockheed, 1971, paid off its loans by 1977; government makes about $112 million on the deal.

Franklin National Bank, 1974: Yes, Virginia, bankers were well-known crooks even before the current era; the FDIC winds up being owed $185 million in interest.

New York City, 1975, receives government assistance until 1986; all the money, interest, and fees have been repaid.

Chrysler, 1980: paid back in full seven years early; G earns $660 million in profits into the bargain.

Continental Illinois Bank and Trust, 1984. Gee, more banking criminality. FDIC loses $1.8 billion.

S&L Debacle, 1989. Everybody sing. You surely know the words by now.

Airlines, 2001: Eventual $150-300 million profit for the government, depending on whom you ask. Minus a $23 million loss when ATA declared bankruptcy.

Of the Wall Street/Global banking bailouts in the interim, well, some say they averted global financial collapse, which would be worth somewhere between nothing and infinity, depending on whom you ask. As to what was wrong with those, and how he, the man who brought in the Iraq war for three easy payments of $19.99, would have handled it, I guess we'll just have to wait until Candidate Daniels faces the bulldog questioners of the nation's Press. At any rate, "recent history" doesn't merely suggest, it tells us that bailouts really do rescue vital industry, save jobs and tax bases, and even turn a profit sometimes, unless you get libertarians and other crooks involved.

Meanwhile, after giving a little facetime last week to perennial 7th District Republican loser Dr. Marvin Scott for his "Andre Carson is a dangerous, polygamous, adulteress-stoning Muslin!" campaign, Channel 8's Jim "the Dean Broder of Local Indiana Politics" Shella turned his searing analysis of the approved script towards Indiana's Second, where incumbent Democrat Joe Donnelly is facing Republican challenger Jackie "Five Bricks Short of a Hod" Walorski; Shella informed his viewership that Donnelly was so frighted by "the current political landscape"--Dean Broder Shella loves him some "current political landscape"--that he'd Gone Negative, Even Though It Is Just August. Later it was explained that Going Negative in this instance consisted of criticizing Walorski in his campaign ads while she, as is proper, merely called on Jebus to smite every Healthcare-loving Liberal Democrat, Donnelly included, before they finished destroying America Herself.

So, in light of this newfound information, I will refrain from claiming that Jim Shella has been bought by the increasingly insane ruling party of Indiana for the price of a few cocktails. I now understand that this would constitute Negativity. Instead, let me just point out that every political reporter everywhere is a lying sack, a whore-dog, and a cheap booze nozzle. I think that's got it. And wow, I suddenly feel fresh all over.

Monday, August 2

The Best And The Brightest II: Bester And Brighterer

David Sanger, "Rethinking the Afghanistan War's What-Ifs". August 1

I'M unscrambling that egg as fast as I can:
WASHINGTON — Long before Afghanistan became the longest shooting war in American history, the question loomed: Could it have turned out differently?

Yes. You're welcome.
If only we had been smart enough, the arguments went, the “good war” might not have gone bad. If only we had gone into Tora Bora with overwhelming force in the winter of 2001, and captured Osama bin Laden. If only we had put a substantial force into the country in 2002, rather than assuming that the Taliban had been “eviscerated,” the term used, and now regretted, by American military briefers. If only we had carried through on President George W. Bush’s promise of a “Marshall Plan” for Afghanistan.

Okay, you might recognize the beginnings of a theme here, but: either your hypothetical questions are somehow related to reality, or you're writing science fiction (or Bush apologetics, which is like hallucinatory science fiction).

First, we did not have an "overwhelming force" to send after bin Laden in 2001. I'm not sure why that has proven damn near impossible for people to grasp. We've got a standing army of about 1.5 million; that's counting every file clerk, mechanic, fry cook, fife player, and caddy, not to mention the girls, who, despite all the feel-good stories you've heard, really don't get to go out and kill people all that often.

Then there's our overseas commitments: the troops protecting the Philippines from Spain, keeping Korea safe for Syngman Rhee, the troops guarding the Fulda Gap in case Stalin gets any ideas. It's something like forty countries altogether. You might recall that at one of its many points of desperation the Bush administration considered radically altering that equation, and did make the biggest changes in our postwar history, mostly by stripping our emergency response capabilities for Korea--which now consists of the motor pool attendant and a couple of bartenders on Okinawa--and the formerly sacrosanct, for obvious reasons, US Army Strategic reserve.

Now me, I'm willing to believe just about anything in regards to the Bush administration, but I stop short at cannibalizing our ground forces while hundreds of thousands of troops stood idle. Nothing remotely like that happened, as a cursory glance at the evidence shows. So why are we still asking the question? Because it's not what we want to believe, not how we want to think about US hard power, and because we don't want to examine in cool daylight what we refused to even consider when the blood was up, which is what created the problem in the first place.

We were sold a bill of goods, and by a gang we had every reason to believe, no, one which we knew combined the public honesty of the barnstorming evangelist, the abiding sense of fair dealing of the traveling medicine show, the vigilance of Arthur Andersen, LLP, and the combined military acumen of the British High Command in WWI. "Invading Afghanistan with sufficient force" is a fantasy, not an alternative plan. As long as we're just doing conjuring tricks, What If we'd had a President who was willing to acknowledge the reality, to speak honestly about it, and maybe even to act as though the reality really was the reality? I'm not sure we can even dream a President who behaves much differently when 98% of the fucking populace just wants to go out and kill brown people.

Of course what we had in the event, in George Watch This Drive Bush, was the opposite, a guy who didn't want to waste time with no fancy talkin'; just tell the Bad Guy he's got to the count of three to draw, or til sundown to git outta town, then sit back and watch those 2004 campaign contributions roll in. And 1/3 of the electorate finds this is precisely what they're looking for in a President, provided he's perceived to be on their team.

So we can't play Sufficient Force What If without playing Why'd We Do It That Way In The First Place? and the attendant Where's The Draft? and Where's The War Tax? Or maybe we could play "How Come At Least One Major Party Wants To Refight Vietnam Over and Over Until We Win"?

Removing the Taliban from power in 2001 was deceptively easy, leading Washington to believe that the Afghans could largely take it from there.

"Deceptive" being the operative word, here as so many other places. We were stalled at the beginning of winter, which convinced us to hire the Northern Alliance to do the fighting for us, because for all our righteous bloodlust we didn't have the stomach for taking casualties. (We don't really have the stomach for using mercenaries or privatizing war to well-connected contractors, either, or, rather, for being known for it.) Of course, once you start peeling off Benjamins for the locals you raise the question of why you involved a middleman. It's possible the Taliban's Islamic sense of hospitality towards bin Laden wasn't for sale at any price. But if so it's the first religious scruple in recorded history that wasn't.

As for "letting Afghans take it from here": Yeah. Right. People in the United States of America really believed that brown people who live without malls, McDonald's, and indoor plumbing could "take it from here." And that Hamid Karzai was Our Kinda Guy.

In the Vietnam War, the misleading metric was “body counts”: Each day, the military would announce how many of the enemy had been killed, as if that was a measure of progress. In Afghanistan, the misleading metric was attacks against American forces. From 2002 to 2005, the numbers were small. In intelligence briefings to American officials and visiting NATO diplomats, this was cited as evidence that the Taliban had been vanquished.

Wrong again.

“They were anything but dead; they were biding their time,” said Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow at the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution, who conducted President Obama’s review of Afghan policy in 2009. By 2006, attacks were spiking. “This was the moment to clip the Taliban before they got out of control,” Mr. Riedel said.

Except for that lack of necessary forces thing, right Bruce?

C'mon, how long exactly did we imagine we had to wait before we could leave Afghanistan without leaving it to Afghanis? Is this not the crux of our problem? Selective prognostication? "If we leave now Afghanistan will just become an al-Qaeda base again." Well, you sure can't argue with people who missed that Infinite Loop in the first place.

By the way, "attacks on Americans", like "body count", was not, precisely speaking, a combat metric. It was more, I believe the military term is, "PR bullshit".
As the Afghanistan problem grew more intractable during the Bush presidency, Washington’s stated goals grew grander. And grander….

“The mistaken mission creep in Afghanistan during the Bush years was moving from counterterrorism after 9/11 — to destroy Al Qaeda — to nation building and the objective of implanting Western-style democracy,” said Robert Blackwill, who coordinated the policy for Mr. Bush at the National Security Council. “Given the history and culture of Afghanistan, that was always many bridges too far.”

No one knows what would have happened if those efforts had succeeded.

The same way no one knows what would happen if when we woke up tomorrow "Red" was a flavor. Because it is not something which will happen without the fabric of reality changing its thread count.

And, look: we didn't have Mission Creep under the Bush administration; we had Mission Collapse. Sure they changed the rules. And did so because "Capture bin Laden" worked out just as well as "Locate WMDs". Did anyone really expect them to admit error? Maybe resign in disgrace?
President Obama added a new element to the ever-evolving Afghan strategy last December: deadlines. Or at least the hint of one….

But the Taliban exploit and twist Mr. Obama’s schedule, declaring menacingly that after the Americans leave, they will still be around.

Which is true whether or not there's a deadline. Like the man says, sooner or later, everybody quits smoking.

Is it my turn to play yet? What If we learned our lesson? What If we started asking ourselves what we get for our half-trillion-dollar military budgets, wars and batteries not included, besides this feeling of supreme self-confidence that leads to fuck up after fuck up? What If we stopped pretending that all these fuck ups were really victories, if we just change the rules enough later?