Tuesday, December 28


WORLD O' Crap, which is directly responsible for the existence of this blog, but does really good work otherwise, can presently be found at that link, and not the one on my blogroll which I'll get around to correcting with my usual alacrity.

Monday, December 27

Although, Really, You Can't Beat A Good "Fuck"

ROY carries on without me linking to The 100 Most Beautiful Words in English. The comments are well worth your time.

It got me thinking about Beauty, perhaps as a way not to think about the plethora of Year End Lists, the palimpsests of Feature pages and Entertainment sections of our vestigial daily papers. It reminded me that the old Book of Lists had Somebody or Other's list of Most Beautiful Words in English, and ever' last one of 'em was something stereotypically (or quintessentially) beautiful itself: rainbow, say, or duckling, or some such shit. (Okay, I scrabbled up our copy. The list is Wilfred J. Funk's):


Murmur is lovely, and luminous, but the rest of the list is more likely to induce a diabetic coma. And I'd forgotten it was paired with a list of Worst-Sounding English Words, from a 1946 poll of the National Association of Teachers of Speech, which suffers from the reverse:


And I like flatulent and plump, but if you're going to quote me please do so in context.

What makes a word beautiful? I'm the only semi-musical member of my extended family--you're onto second cousins before you can find someone else who can sing on key--so maybe it's my lack of ear training, but I've gotta go with function over form on this one. I spent an entire afternoon in shear * bliss when I first ran into "oleaginous" (that it was used to describe Confederate Attorney General Judah P. Benjamin was just a lagniappe.) I've been trying without success for the last twenty years to free ruderal from the bonds of Botany. Some of you might've noticed that I think incontinent is the most indispensable word in English (or, at least, in the political lexicon). Is pinguid less lissome than languid?

I like (I said at Roy's) marl as a verb, and purl as an adjective. I don't know where I picked up maze; I thought I was just shortening amazed until I looked and found it was Obsolete. I like anything obsolete. I have no idea why you'd stick with truncation while trucature remains, hanging by the slimmest of threads. I like all words which condemn women whose sexuality trespassed on the divine right of males: strumpet, slattern, trollop (and the related trull!) and especially, for some reason, demirep. Similarly, catamite just provokes almost unquenchable mirth. I'll pass on dame, generally, and broad everywhere, but skirt I like, and an unknown actress on Turner Classics will get me to ask my Poor Wife "Who's the twist?" I like spoor, too; it's like a literary version of "snail trail".

Women should have tresses, of raven or russet, and more should be found in russet, or buckram, or gingham, but not bucolically.

I like gormless, feckless, and aperçu, but I can never quite remember what they mean. Rebarbative and incondite I should use more often. I can never figure out how to fit plerophory in, which causes me to overuse apodictic.

Numbles are the entrails of a deer, and fewmet its excrement. Freshlets are the edible entrails of an animal, which must be consumed soon after butchering. They were once known in the trade as Variety Meats, which is probably the worst euphemism of all time not coined by a Reagan administration official.

Corbels, dentils, and soffits. Just so my Poor Wife can laugh at my complete architectural illiteracy. Insouciant. Laodicean. Replevin. I'm fond of galloping and congenital in the medical sense, as in, "Boy, his galloping Andy Rooneyitis is totally flaring today."


* UPDATE: shear not corrected, per Brandon in comments, on the grounds that it should be preserved for all times. Plus, you know, intentional mistakes in Persian rugs an' stuff. Not that God's keeping Her Eye on this blog for signs of excessive pride.

Thursday, December 23

Back Home Again

SOMEBODY has to say it: Indiana Lt. Governor Becky "GED" Skillman shocked the five people who were paying attention to Hoosier politics this week (and apparently couldn't see an approaching train if it were fifteen feet up the track) by announcing she wouldn't be seeking the Republican gubernatorial nomination for 2012, because a recent health exam had uncovered a "minor problem" which has caused her to reevaluate her life, specifically those energies which would have to be directed toward a strenuous campaign.

I'm sure I don't need to tell you that my internet reputation rests, in equal measure, on my fellow-feeling and concern with public health issues. So my immediate concern was that Skillman had caught whatever non-specific, career-altering but not debilitating in any fashion, photogenic, Hollywood-type anonymous disease that felled Steve Buyer's wife right before the House was going to start looking into that college scholarship program of his, the one that didn't provide any college scholarships. Someone should probably call the CDC. And despite the fact that I wouldn't bet on sunup on a politician's say-so, and I'd give serious consideration to the odds against were he a member of the Daniels administration, I certainly wish Lt. Governor Skillman a fair breeze at her back as she transitions into a contemplative Golden Age and whatever sinecure the Daniels Presidential campaign lined up for her in exchange for clearing out so that Mike "Choirboy" Pence might take the hint and run for Governor. Which would, coincidentally, I'm sure, free Daniels of the difficulties involved in winning his party's Presidential nomination while being the second-most popular candidate in his own state, though it won't do anything for his uphill battle to become the shortest US President since the widespread eradication of rickets.

I was a little surprised they didn't throw in a free set of steak knives. Maybe they aren't quite the entrepreneurs they pretend to be.

The announcement was greeted, everywhere but Chez Riley, with a sort of unspoken skepticism. It wouldn't have been heard had it been spoken, anyway, for all the half-felt expressions of concern for her well-being which might have something to do with the fact that an entire state living on unemployment checks will be footing the bill for her care for the rest of her life. But there was enough skepticism just under the surface to force a second day of the Skillman Farewell Tour yesterday, in which she answered questions just slightly more pointed than previous with empty phraseology just slightly more detailed than the day before. A recent surgery turned up, as did reassurances that she was, indeed, fit enough to continue her duties as Lt. Governor, whatever those may be. So we dodged a bullet there. Neither, of course, answered the actual questions, the ones which weren't being asked, so everybody either went home happy or hit the open bar the Defunct Stillman Campaign had set up, and then went home happy.

The skepticism pantomime was fitting, in that it was directed towards a woman no one familiar with a broad outline of Indiana politics could have seriously imagined was going to be Our Next Governor. Skillman had no Indiana constituency; she certainly hasn't been a presence in the Daniels administration, which only got around to letting her cut the actual ceremonial ribbons marking the creation of vaporjobs this year, once the Daniels Presidential Campaign Committee * decided he didn't need to feign podunkitude anymore. I guess it's possible they wanted to keep him away from making (up) any more inflated jobs creation claims, but that would require a recognition of the dictionary definition of integrity. Trust me, they ain't got it.

Skillman got the nod because Daniels was running against a war hero whose Lt. Governor was a woman. Since the Daniels campaign was unable to manufacture the first ** they opted to neutralize the second, and Skillman was the highest ranking Indiana Republican woman at the time. Daniels--god, you really wanna play poker with the guy; he thinks bluffing and lying are the same skill--was clearly about as comfortable with the choice as he was wolfing down battered pig anus and boiled pig feed at the State Fair.

So the impish among us are now deprived of watching Mitch decide just how much skin he was willing to risk in a contested primary, particularly if his campaign's wet dream of Choirboy Pence suddenly developing a focus on state issues, rather than his larger calling to help instigate Armageddon, both economically and militarily, for which he is almost uniquely qualified among potential Republican presidential hopefuls. And, of course, local pundits have either entirely missed the point, or are actively assisting the Daniels gang in urging Pence to pick up some much-needed executive experience on the taxpayer dime.

To my knowledge no one in the Pence camp has said a word about him wanted to be governor, but it's been hanging out there like an unmated sock on a clothesline ever since the Daniels campaign brought it up. Stranger and stupider things have happened, at least twice, but for all of Pence's bucolic Christian certitude it's difficult to imagine he's missed the fact that the next governor of Indiana will spend a lot of time ducking the brickbats thrown at the long-term results of Danielsism. Meanwhile, a run for President now--however doomed--might garner a Veep nomination for a Teabagging Christer, and would make a fine springboard into 2016. No local pundit seems even slightly interested in considering Daniels Nixonian approach to any and all political opponents, or, well, anything but the CW. But maybe they're just waiting for Mitch to make up his mind about running.

* For the record, "Daniels Presidential Campaign Committee" is synonymous with "Daniels administration" or "Mitch Daniels". Like en-vel-ope and ahn-vel-ope, it's just a question of stress.

**At that point. Considering what they've gotten away with since, don't be surprised to find Swiftboaters For Giving Mitch Daniels the Bronze Star pop up in teevee ads sometime this fall.

Wednesday, December 22


Justin Miller, "Why Barbour's Civil Rights Remarks May Not Kill a White House Run". December 21

MY Poor Wife must've had the controls last night. I wasn't really paying attention. All I know's that we were suddenly watching John King on CNN, and I got to hear Ed Rollins tell all seven viewers that Robert Byrd was a Klansman.

I'm sure I realized this before, but it was last night which codified it for me: you know the news packagers really believe an issue is about race when the African-American guy on the panel looks less like Lester Holt and more like he used to be with De La Soul.

That would be Obama pollster Cornell Belcher, who I guess did a good job under the circumstances, the circumstances being that you can't go on national teevee, or even CNN, and say that it's entirely possible that racist things keep coming out of Haley Barbour's mouth because he's a racist.

Read the transcript if you want to see how such matters are dealt with, or in case you'd like to be reminded that a country which once built iron steeds and tamed wild rivers now specializes in periodic packaging redesign. Rollins "brought Haley Barbour to Washington, and knows there's not an insensitive bone in his body". King "has known him a long time", which makes Barbour's remarks a puzzlement (though this is in reply to Rollins saying "there's no better politician in America than Haley Barbour", which is either the worst compliment or the most subtle insult anyone's ever been paid, as well as the most succinct debunking of American Exceptionalism I've ever read, so we're left wondering whether King was puzzled by the racist content or by Barbour's ham-fistedness in having let it drop in print). Belcher waited on him at table as a young man, and presumably was satisfied with the tip. Maybe you should have recused yourselves. The real puzzlement is why Barbour declined the invitation to be guest of honor at this High Tea. If it's going to be out of bounds to speculate on Barbour's personal "racial insensitivity" then personal testimonials are irrelevant. The standard disclaimers mean about as much as those "Not responsible for damaged windshields" signs on the backs of gravel trucks. They're meaningless. They're patently meaningless. They're intended to fool enough of the terminally credulous to help keep expenses down.

(Rollins, by the way, goes 32 whole words between bringing up Byrd's Klan membership and the declaration that "I wouldn't want to be held accountable for everything I did in 1982", the date of Barbour's youthful indiscretion with a watermelon. Y'know, back when we didn't understand that racism was wrong. "We" here, of course, meaning "the Reagan administration".)

It ain't a question of Haley Barbour's inner life, nor the rosy tint of his nostalgia goggles. The point is that a man born into the Jim Crow South on the eve of the the brave struggle and the brutal repression of the Civil Rights movement can reach political prominence, and summit seven decades, without it making much of an impact on his thinking. And that's the nice way to put it, avoiding speculation on just what he imagined his Presidential campaign stood to gain by another round of racist code words.

But yes, by all means, What does this mean for his Presidential aspirations, Mr. Miller?
What the Mississippi governor said is damaging, but it's not disqualifying for a potential presidential bid.

The scandal is missing four elements that help kill political careers.

How 'bout it's missing one? It didn't occur in a party that really objects to this sort of thing?
First, there's no audio or video of Barbour's remark.

See Lott, Chester Trent.
Second, the scandal isn't timely. Simply put: Barbour made his gaffe before possibly announcing he'll run for president, well before the GOP primary season, and literally years before the general election. Time will help voters forget about this ugly event and let Barbour reintroduce himself.

Yes, and voters have particularly short memories when it comes to issues the mass-market media starts discounting the minute they happen.
In addition, Barbour was talking about his opinion of civil rights as a young man more than 40 years ago. Should he choose to ask the country to vote for him, Barbour can tell a story of redemption: Admit the error of his youth (the sin), apologize (repent), and demonstrate how he's a different, better man that he was (reach salvation).

Or the youthful indiscretions of, what? nine months ago, when he said slavery didn't amount to diddly?
Third, the story doesn't have legs -- yet. The remarks have set off a fishing expedition by journalists and political hacks to find more damaging history about Barbour and race. Until and unless more dirt is found, this will be a stain on Barbour's reputation but he may escape being characterized as a racist. (That looks less likely now that we've discovered a racist joke he made in 1982 and see that he has a fuzzy memory of his history with blacks.)

Jeez, never let wholly contradictory information brought to light by anyone who could use Google spoil a perfectly good bullet point.
Fourth, there's no offended GOP primary voting constituency. Would Barbour lose the support of all those black Republicans or veteran civil-rights marchers? Some cultural moderates may be turned off by him, but it's hard to argue that lay Republicans would never consider voting for him now. Beltway derision certainly doesn't hurt a Republican running for his party's nomination -- in fact, it almost always helps among the base that loves candidates who are hated by the media, e.g. Sarah Palin.

Y'know, it's one thing to accept this as a truism; it's quite another to behave as though it were Truth.
We don't know if Barbour will run for president. It may turn out this gaffe hurts the GOP more than Barbour in a way: Republicans across the board will now be asked what they think of Barbour's remarks, and then Rand Paul's about the Civil Rights Act, and then Bob McDonnell's "Confederate History Month" proclamation that left out slavery, and so on. Each time a Republican steps in it over race, the GOP's stereotype hardens as an old, white, insensitive -- even intolerant -- party that looks and sounds less like the generation of Americans who'll vote more and more in decades to come.
Ah, so you did remember the Confederate History Month deal while you were typing up #3.

Y'know, that's what we said about Reagan thirty years ago. I sincerely doubt that racism is the exclusive province of the elderly, though I'm handicapped in my assessment by not being invited to power lunches featuring that incredibly diverse stable of Atlantic columnists. Regardless, I don't think Barbour even has to be "the best politician in America" to've tumbled onto the idea that racist dog whistles will connect with the intended audience while our nation's political pundits do another "Hey, did anybody hear anything unpleasant? I didn't" routine.

Monday, December 20

I Can Haz Rum And Lash Now, Too?

IT made my day this last Saturday to hear Maine Senator Olympia Snowe place the blame for two-hundred-fifty years of sodomitic obsession in the military, including the last seventy of reliance on faux-science declaring the mental and religious disturbances of wealthy white European males to be the baseline for Normalcy, on the "repugnant" DADT compromise of 1993. Snowe--who is known as a Centrist to Beltway insider publications like The Hill, as it saves them typing "a Republican who votes against the ACU on some major subcategory of legislative issues" over and over--had, as we all know, worked tirelessly for the repeal of this moral excrescence ever since the previous Wednesday afternoon. Take that, you Clinton-era compromise of the principles of equality and fair place all Americans hold dear, save the lunatics of my own party!

Of course it should come as no surprise that Snowe clung tenaciously to the moral high ground she summited only after somebody counted the votes for her--she is, after all, a Centrist--but I have to admit that even I was taken aback, for a moment, by the irony- accuracy- and ethics-free attempts to blame the whole thing on Bill Clinton. The AP story which thudded on my doorstep Sunday along with the rest of the worthless Indianapolis Racist Beacon was accompanied by a headline celebrating the end of the "17-year ban on openly gay troops", as though Pork Chop Hill had been held by the Pink Triangle Brigade, or the Rough Riders were, well, the Openly Rough Riders.

It's like blaming Jim Crow laws on the Kennedy Justice Department.

DADT--certainly no one's idea of a perfect piece of legislation--has, at least, the distinction of being a prime example of the sort of compromise legislation the horrible leftist activists who hold the Democratic party in sway were being lectured about just a week ago; the Paleolithic attitudes toward sexual orientation it supposedly engendered are alive and well and living like wet rot in the platform of the Republican party. None of this came through the coverage. Just Olympia Snowe's brave stance after only fifteen years in the Senate and the reassurances of the Joint Chiefs.

It is worth noting that the present law--until the current pending legislation replaces it--makes homosexuality grounds for discharge, but sexual activity between members of the same gender is not, provided one can prove that one is not homosexual. It might also be noted that what is actually being repealed is the Pentagon's PR response to the gay and lesbian rights movement of the 1970s, when it stepped up efforts to expel gays as a sop to the officer corps' political beliefs, the way women were not permitted in combat until our desire to smack around every tenth-rate country that sass-mouthed us made it necessary to look the other way, and the way the Air Force Academy is now the third largest evangelical mega-church west of St. Louis. So, too, might we mention the faux-science which helped make all this possible, in the 1940s, by declaring homosexuality a form of psychopathy, an attitude which continues officially to this moment. The military, like the Republican party, has a long history of looking the other way about actual sodomy; its principled opposition to homosexuality as a concept dates merely to the opportunity to oppose The Left in retaliation for its being right about incontinent military adventurism and perpetual world-war funding levels. Not that I was expecting Olympia Snowe to bring that up.

Thursday, December 16

Go Fuck Yourself, Then

William Saletan, "Incest is Cancer: The David Epstein incest case: If homosexuality is OK, why is incest wrong?" December 14

IF you're like me, you probably regret that the pace of modern life keeps you from staying absolutely current on our nation's sordid, tabloid-trash fascination with what other people do with their pee-pees and wee-wees, and so possibly even missed altogether the fact that some Columbia professor managed to get arrested for performing unspecified (and, reportedly, consensual) sexual acts with his adult daughter, acts we can only imagine, over and over and over again while the very fabric of the Republic is rent, tearing, perhaps, like a cheap chemise, with an audible gasp and the sudden exposure of an inviting fecund fullness, the slightly chill air arousing our ardor in these climactic times, energizing our efforts, plunging us repeatedly into the precious honeypot of Liberty, faster, now, and yet faster still, our singular purpose distilled now to a hot white point of light like a thousand suns before it bursts forth, and we roll over and go to sleep.

Thankfully, this is another problem the internets can, and are eager to, solve, as apparently now the slightest juvenile attraction for any issue which can suggest S-E-X, but from a clean, respectable, metaphysical distance, is like Batman's Kleig Light for Slate's Bill Saletan, the man who recently solved the abortion controversy. This thing was the Most Emailed and Second Most Read story on all of Slate, which should have been enough to warn me off if "By William Saletan" wasn't. I clicked anyway, and damned if Woody Allen wasn't there to help get the Potentially Emailing Slate Reader in the mood.

Now, I have no idea what you think of Allen. I'm old enough to remember him as a sort of Steven Wright punctuation mark to a generation of standups (Bob Newhart, Shelly Berman, Mort Sahl) who were surfing the considerable wake of Lenny Bruce, except that, as a ten-year-old Midwestern teevee aficionado, I didn't know Bruce from Rusty Warren or Redd Foxx; he'd written a dirty book, was all I knew. Like Wright's, Woody's standup seemed to make the ordinary hallucinatory, excepting the hallucinations were from Miltown, not, well, hallucinogens.

I was never that big a fan of his movies. I sat through Bananas twice in a row, but I think that had something to do 1) the mescaline, and 2) the virginal and raven-tressed seventeen-year-old who was rather joyously allowing me to paw her in the dark, although that may've had something to do with 3) the mescaline. All I know is I never got to do it again. I liked Annie Hall a lot, and later Zelig and Broadway Danny Rose. Like much of America I could have done without his Bergman impressions just fine, although, unlike most of that much of America, I enjoy Bergman's Bergman impressions.

So The Great Woody Allen Scandal removed no skin from my nose, but it is the first instance I remember where puncturing my own eardrums with a couple of pencils suggested itself as a reasonable response. Had I known this was to be the template for all news coverage in the succeeding years I might have considered it more fully.

What.The.Fuck. I mean, whatever you think, or thought, of Allen's morals, being convicted in the Press of incestuous child molestation when it is indisputably the case that 1) they were not related, even in the broadest, legal-not-genetic sense; 2) she was a "child" of twenty; and 3) the molestation was consensual and, apparently, mutually satisfactory--they're still together twenty years later, which unquestionably beats the hell out of the romantic track record of at least 60% of Allen's teevee denouncers--was the real abomination. As a scandal, fine, if that's your bowl of soup. As an opportunity to simply make the law, and common understanding, over in your own image for the sake of a few ratings points it had few peers since the heyday of Hearst.

Cue Mr. Saletan:
Incest is for hicks. That's the stereotype among educated liberals: Homosexuality is urbane, polygamy is for Mormons, and incest is for hayseeds. So when David Epstein, a Columbia University political scientist, was charged last week with third-degree incest for allegedly shagging his adult daughter, the blogosphere erupted. Conservatives called it another sign of moral chaos. Liberals said it was gross but shouldn't be prosecuted. One side defends the privacy of all consensual sex; the other side sees an inexorable descent from homosexuality to incest.

Now, first, we might consider whether the fact that your hard news link takes us to a New York Daily News story doesn't tell us all we need to know, even before we note the ham-fisted incitement to outrage that follows. We might then notice that the link to the official Liberal response takes us to the straight news story in Columbia's student daily; perhaps we are to scan its comments section until we find the Liberal position we know must be there. (Maybe the link is screwy; the same page is linked twice, but Christ, you're a professional journalist on a commercial website, and the link's two days old now.) Maybe this would be an excuse if the rest of the 1300 words contained something like, uh, a direct quote from anyone who could be described as a Liberal.

And this is the first paragraph, where "educated liberals" not only believe incest is the exclusive province of toothless provincials, they apparently originated the idea, little realizing that one day they'd be hoist on that particular petard, and forced to reply, hypocritically and by rote, that If It Feels Good Do It still applies to everyone else.

Is there such a thing as an editor at Slate? Is there any reason to care?
At this point, liberals tend to throw up their hands. If both parties are consenting adults and the genetic rationale is bogus, why should the law get involved? Incest may seem icky, but that's what people said about homosexuality, too. It's all private conduct. To which conservatives reply: We told you so. We warned you that if laws against homosexuality were struck down, laws against polygamy and incest would follow. And now you're proving us right.

Okay, look: so Mr. Saletan, for whatever reason, has something I'm sure someone imagines as a "career" here to protect, but is there some rule which says he can't do so without being intellectually dishonest? What distinction is there, really, between calling all "conservatives" social Troglodytes, and calling all hicks inbred? Isn't the new Republican party beyond the Culture Wars, and strictly a grassroots libertarian economic enterprise these days? Did the "liberal" party put NAMBLA on a stamp while I wasn't looking? Who's having this argument, and where?

Or is it possibly made up on the spot for the sake of Saletan's ability to Declare Himself A Tolerant Man who wouldn't dream of actually criminalizing behavior, but has just stopped by to point out that his sharp, objective analysis just happens to show that anti-sex religious opprobrium neatly coincides with the Truth about the matter. Just sayin'. Not that we should take note of any religious objections when we justify throwing people in jail anyway. Because that would be wrong. And it would make Mr. Saletan seem illiberal. Which he isn't. It's just objective analysis.

Which just happens to be identical to his abortion solution.

Wednesday, December 15


Bay District, Florida - A gunman interrupted a school board meeting with a bad temper and a gun Tuesday.

The video is disturbing.

Afterwards, witnesses said the man had a borderline personality.

Yeah. Not to mention a gun.

I had to get up early this AM to take my Poor Wife downtown, because she got called for jury duty during Finals Week and would not take the only avenue available for putting it off temporarily--claiming illness--because "that would be lying." I tried to explain to her that giving that answer was, itself, prima facie evidence of a disqualifying mental condition, or, at the very least, proof that she belongs to no American's peer group. She went anyway.

And I got to watch the crack of dawn news so I could see the video of the Bay District Shootout roughly seventeen times before my second cup of coffee. And I remarked to my Poor Wife---who was in no mood for my political commentary, not that that's ever stopped me--"Y'know, if he'd threatened the Board with a copy of Grand Theft Auto IV or Synthetic Marihuana, Popularly Known As 'Spice', the teleprompter readers would have been demanding it be banned before sundown. But he whips out a roscoe, and the attitude is, "Crazy people really ought to think twice before they point one of those at somebody. Good thing it ended happily."

"Opposition to Health Law Is Steeped in Faux Tradition".

The opposition stems from the tension between two competing traditions in the American economy. One is the laissez-faire tradition that celebrates individuality and risk-taking. The other is the progressive tradition that says people have a right to a minimum standard of living — time off from work, education and the like.

Both traditions have been crucial to creating the most prosperous economy and the largest middle class the world has ever known. Laissez-faire conservatism has helped make the United States a nation of entrepreneurs, while progressivism has helped make prosperity a mass-market phenomenon.

Yet the two traditions have never quite reconciled themselves. In particular, conservatives have often viewed any expansion of government protections as a threat to capitalism.

Even though, of course, it's never proven to have been so. Meanwhile, do these two unreconciled tendencies actually cancel themselves out? Not only have progressive programs served as the bedrock of the improvement in the quality of life since 1800, as we explained to Mr. Brooks yesterday, but is there any sense in which "creating a nation of entrepreneurs" actually responds to "mass-market prosperity" and a reasonable social net? I mean, maybe what you have here isn't really a philosophical debate with roots extending all the way back to the beginnings of Ronald Reagan's second career as a B-actor. Maybe what you have her is one side being so fucking dishonest and obtuse that the debate goes on forever with no rhetorical justification whatsoever.

"Fox News email shows network's slant on climate change."

Fox News Channel's top Washington editor ordered the network's reporters to couple any mention of global climate change with skepticism about the data underlying such a scientific conclusion, according to an e-mail released by a liberal media-watchdog group Wednesday.

Well, one, this is right up there with the shocking news that diplomats give each other the razzberries behind their backs, and that Saudi Arabia runs whatever portion of our Middle East policy isn't already set aside for Israel. I mean, I'm all for releasing this stuff, however obvious, but let's consider what it would take nowadays to find a target which could feel shame. And second, when somebody figures out a way to make Americans think that doing whatever their economic superior orders is anything other than the highest moral standard mankind has ever achieved, lemme know.

Tuesday, December 14

Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before

David Brooks, "Ben Franklin's Nation". December 13

I DON'T know about you, but indolence is about the most exhausting pursuit I can manage. I wonder, sometimes, about the mental labor required to, say, make Al Hamilton, who never saw a smokestack, into a facilitator of foundries and prophet of Silicon Valley. Does Brooks have to train for this sort of thing? I need a nap just thinking about it. I know he makes a lot more money at it than I do (for one thing, he makes money), but the fact that there's not enough money in the world to get me to say shit like that isn't entirely due to the fact that I'm required to confront my own reflection every so often.

Today it's Ben Franklin: Champion of the Suburbite; we might note right off the bat that the case consists of Brooks declaring it, three-quarters of the way through the piece, and then steadfastly ignoring anything that might qualify as nuance, say, or biography, or evidence. I suppose it's possible Brooks at some point opened Franklin's autobiography, in which the great man comes across as a callow, money-grubbing young printer at a time when running a printing press was the equivalent of owning the rights to a wildly popular video game title today. That's not the Franklin we revere, or at least it's not the one we used to revere before Texas re-wrote the history books.

It's not important, because Brooks has about as much interest in Franklin--even the sort of Franklin who might be invoked the way another hack might put Don Quixote on Wall Street or Hamlet in the Republican caucus--as the Texas legislature has in History. No, we are gathered here today to hear the surprising tale of how Global Capitalism just keeps making the world better for everybody, especially the American Middle Class, which really needs to lighten up on the expectation of being paid more than Mexicans, but should stick with the Hard Work/Don't Ask Questions/Vote for your Betters program which got it this far.
After you read this column, go to YouTube and search “Hans Rosling and 200 countries.” You’ll see a Swedish professor describe the growth of global wealth and well-being over the past 200 years.

He presents an animated time-lapse chart. It starts in 1810, when the nations of the world were clumped on the bottom left-hand side of the chart because they had low income and low life expectancy. Then the industrial revolution kicks in and the nations of the West surge upward and to the right as they get richer and healthier. By 1948, it’s like a race, with the United States out front and the other nations of the world stretched in a long tail behind.

Proving the old adage "Anyone who found the two World Wars to be an enormity didn't own enough GM stock".
Then, over the last few decades, the social structure of the world changes. The Asian and Latin American countries begin to catch up. With the exception of the African nations, living standards start to converge. Now most countries are clumped toward the top end of the chart, thanks to the incredible reductions in global poverty and improvements in health.

Well, that, and the chart scale.

I know I may have said this before, but Th' fuck makes these guys go on about this shit interminably? And why are they so quick to chalk it up to the thoughtful generosity of 19th century English mill owners? The major improvement in the quality of life since 1810 is public health. Sewage disposal. Safe drinking water. Vaccinations. Food inspection. Y'know the entire litany of stuff the Brookses in this country oppose, obstruct, and applaud Ronald Reagan for gutting before turning the remnants over to industry groups to regulate for themselves. The sort of thing they spend half their allotted annual column inches trying to convince the lower classes to elect Republicans to prevent. The sort of thing they expect will be provided for themselves, gratis and regardless, of course.

Mine isn't a partisan argument--although the argument it opposes is--it's an epistemological one. Back in the perfect 50s we didn't teach children that All The Modern Advancements they enjoyed were due to a reasonable rate of return, free from confiscatory taxes. We taught them they were due to Louis Pasteur and Jane Addams, to Helen Keller and Joseph Lister and John Snow and Jonas Salk and Sara Josephine Baker. All of whom, nowadays, would apparently be running hedge funds or operating import/export businesses or social networking sites.
To be middle class is to have money to spend on non-necessities. But it also involves a shift in values. Middle-class parents have fewer kids but spend more time and money cultivating each one. They often adopt the bourgeois values — emphasizing industry, prudence, ambition, neatness, order, moderation and continual self-improvement. They teach their children to lead different lives from their own, and as Karl Marx was among the first to observe, unleash a relentless spirit of improvement and openness that alters every ancient institution.

Last year, the Pew Research Center surveyed the global middle class and found that middle-class people are more likely than their poorer countrymen to value democracy, free speech and an objective judiciary. They were more likely to embrace religious pluralism and say that you don’t have to believe in God to be good.

Although there has been a slight decline in "Sending their own sons off to fight brown people." Hey, times change.
To do this, we’d have to do a better job of celebrating and defining middle-class values. We’d have to do a better job of nurturing our own middle class. We’d have to have the American business class doing what it does best: catering to every nook and cranny of the middle-class lifestyle. And we’d have to emphasize that capitalism didn’t create the American bourgeoisie. It was the social context undergirding capitalism — the community clubs, the professional societies, the religious charities and Little Leagues.

What, red-lining real estate cartels, exclusive country clubs, de facto segregated Northern schools, and White Citizens Councils can't get any love?

Look, I understand where this sort of thing comes from: there's a helluva lot riding on the once-Middle class' continued delusion of the importance of keeping the congenitally wealthy in the style to which they are accustomed. I just don't understand what makes someone keep doing it after fifty. As Basho once said, How much better can ya eat?

Monday, December 13

You're Not Helping. Not That We Aren't Beyond Help Anyway.

Scott Shane, "Keeping Secrets WikiSafe". December 11

I'VE spent a lot of time lately wondering whether the Second Coming of Richard Nixon will answer the age old question If History's A Farce The First Time 'Round, How Does It Get Repeated? or, maybe, How Many Idiots Can Tapdance On The Edge Of An Apocalypse? I don't believe in Apocalypse, for reasons having less to do with a rejection of Semitic fairy-tales, and more to do with the question of what level of collateral damage would be required to make the elimination of the species something other than a net positive, but I think if one does then one should probably admit that if God is perfection, then Her comic timing has got to require milking this gag for a while yet.

And let's have this much clear: I do think the Republican party is a big part of this. I do think that the Nixonian Impulse, which I would describe as the hyperreality created at the intersection of the abject and squalid profit-taking which has hidden behind American Exceptionalism for decades and an infantile sexuality that would have put Krafft-Ebing off his lunch, is the very juice and marrow of the modern Republican party. And I think that, having in yet another election managed to milk a bull and produce ice cream, it will be drawn once again to demonstrate its essential nature the way a flasher inhabits a playground.

My question, though, is more stimulated by Wikileaks than the prospect of the horrifying but relatively survivable Reagan Dime, or the unsurvivable, but promising-in-a-Weimar-Republic-Let's-All-Have-Sex-With-Each-Other-While-We-Still-Can sense Palin administration. I'm not sure, frankly, how many more times I can take seeing Brian Williams self-satisfied, expense-account-fed phiz spouting off about State Secrets as though the issue was closed, let alone as though his profession was just naturally supposed to be on the government's side. It's funny how rapidly that government went from pre-election Mammoth Devouring Tax Monster to Fragile Lamb in a Killer Snowstorm.

Okay, so like you I still recall 2003, when Our Fighting Men marched bravely off to repossess those WMDs the Reagan administration sold Saddam Hussein, or Sodom, as he liked to be called, and when you couldn't actually see the outline of William's tanning-booth glasses for all the fucking bunting they surrounded the screen with. Times have changed. Teevees are bigger.

Hey, don't take my word for it. I unwrapped the blizzard-proofed Sunday Times yesterday to find the Op-Ed section demanding I consider

How To Wikiproof Our Vital Secrets

Which seemed to me wrong on at least two counts, only one of which was You're the People Who Helped Disseminate Them. Because the even larger questions--Why were these Secret, and what's so fucking Vital?--seem to go unasked, despite the constant yammering. And then I discovered that we weren't even asking questions here, just molding Our Serious Concerns into something which would fit on an iPhone:
Even two decades ago, in the days of kilobytes and floppy discs, such an ocean of data would have been far more difficult to capture and carry away. Four decades ago, using a photocopier, a leaker might have needed a great many reams of paper and a tractor-trailer.

Y'know, really. I can't for the life of me understand who th' fuck cares about this stuff. It's like watching one of those risible Star Treks (but I repeat myself!) when suddenly, with some slight provocation you or I might not even notice, or perhaps a bit too much Antarian Qoom Nectar, DeForest "Bones" Kelley would sham an emotional breakdown over the thought that, back in the 20th century, doctors actually cut people open!

This, of course, is prima facie evidence that the author is playing with the net down, on a court the size of a mall parking lot, and with no opponent. But the slightly more realistic option--that Bones would have spent much of his time crowing over how advanced the Third Quarter of the 23rd century was compared to the Second--is not exactly notable for the rigor of its results, either. What does "now we've got thumb drives" have to do with anything? And isn't what it does have to do with anything, well, sort of obvious? Do we get to avoid--or are we permitted to reopen--every ethical issue each time someone invents a new storage device?
Or consider the speed at which news travels. During the Iran-contra affair, American arms sales to Iran were first reported by a Beirut weekly, Al Shiraa, in November 1986; it was a few days before the American press picked up the story. “Now it would take a few minutes,” said [Steven] Aftergood.

Weepers! Y'know, maybe we could use some of that time we save to, oh, consider fully the implications of the news, rather than gawking like a Depression-era Iowa farm boy who's just seen his first monoplane.
Long before WikiLeaks, of course, reporters often met bureaucrats with troubled consciences or agendas, and produced sensational disclosures. The Pentagon Papers is the iconic case. More recently, the classic muckraking model unveiled closely guarded programs that the Bush administration put into place after Sept. 11, 2001: the Central Intelligence Agency’s secret prisons; waterboarding and other brutal interrogation methods; the National Security Agency’s eavesdropping without court warrants on American soil.

Okay, well, now I see why a major news organization would be equivocal about this sort of information getting out.
All those disclosures led to public debate and to action: the prisons were closed; coercive interrogations were banned; the N.S.A. program was brought under court supervision. But the disclosures also fed a bipartisan sense in Congress and across the intelligence agencies that secrets were too casually whispered to reporters. One unexpected result in the first two years of the Obama administration has been four prosecutions of government employees on charges of disclosing classified information, more such prosecutions than under any previous president.

Governments are still informed by the totalitarian impulse, but now it comes in a convenient purse-sized mister!
That is a reason to suspect that the openness of this new era will have limits.

No, the reason to "suspect" it will have limits is the natural toadying instinct of the average human with a comfortable job.
Now, with the third WikiLeaks collection linked to Private Manning in the news, members of Congress have called with new ferocity for punishing the group and its provocateur-in-chief, Julian Assange. Representative Peter King, a New York Republican, has asked the State Department to consider designating WikiLeaks a terrorist group; Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the Senate Intelligence Committee’s top Democrat, has called for espionage charges against Mr. Assange, an idea that legal experts say is problematic.

Unlike "naming WikiLeaks a terrorist group"?
“They’ve actually embraced” the mainstream media, “which they used to treat as a cuss word,” [Thomas S.] Blanton said. “I’m watching WikiLeaks grow up. What they’re doing with these diplomatic documents so far is very responsible.”

Thank God revelations of our dirty, homicidal international shit-dealing for profit aren't sliding into disreputability.
It is a 21st-century threat, and one the Obama administration is taking very seriously.

Yes, for just kilobytes a day, you can assure that one little diplomatic boy or girl won't go to bed embarrassed tonight.

Friday, December 10

And Every Day You Take Another Bite

SO maybe it's just me, but when "House Democrats in an Uproar" is the lead story on the network news my immediate reaction is "Who needs to tell the story that way?" rather than, say, "Yeah!" Maybe that's mostly a mark of just how long it's been since Congressional Democrats were in an uproar about anything. Or even a dullroar. Not Gitmo, "extraordinary rendition", wholesale spying on Americans. Not Abu Ghraib, not the utterly incompetent aftermath of the invasion of Iraq, not the war profiteering and missing billions that accompanied it. Not the war itself, or the mendacious run-up that led to it, or its own leadership's inept performance in scheduling an authorization vote just before midterms. Not the war itself. Not the shoddy protective vests and unarmored Humvees that cost American lives, not the cluster bombing, not the senseless destruction of Fallujah after everyone but civilians had left. Not the transparent news manipulation that surrounded Jessica Lynch or Pat Tillman, R.I.P. Not collusion between Dick Cheney and Judy Miller. Not the brusque incompetence in missing "bin-Laden Determined To Strike US". Not the Cheney Energy Giveaways. Not the execrable No Child Left Behind, or the political payoffs of Faith Based Boondoggling. Not even the election of 2000 or the pornographic Court decision that sealed it.

Not the Vandalgate/Pardongate/Giftgate bullshit. Not the juvenile coverage of the Gore Campaign on the public airwaves. Not the hunting of Bill Clinton, not the five Federal investigations of Whitewater, or the two illegal extensions of Ken Starr's mandate, politically timed. Not the sliming of Gore's fundraising by a committee which adjourned sine die just before it was scheduled to look at Republican fundraising. Not Travelgate, RoseLawFirmgate, or the Vince Foster hit. Not the collusion between the licensed, tax-free beggars of the religious right and Clinton Scandals, Inc. Not the S&L scandals. Not the racist Republican campaign of 1988, nor the gutting of the Fairness Doctrine and relaxation of media ownership rules that helped facilitate it.

In fact the last time I recall anything that resembled a large-scale Democratic Congressional grumble was the early days of Iran/Contra, before they learned that Reagan really was culpable and brain-bubbled, which destroyed the party atmosphere. Can't take on the Great Communicator. Let's make a right-wing media star of some crazy Looey Bird Marine (but I repeat myself!) instead.

Krugman's got a nice piece up about how bass-ackwards the Deal is for the White House from a political perspective.

And whatever you have to say fer or agin the Obama administration, there's this: how in the world does anyone get the timing so wrong? Inherited disaster, sure. That much was clear, even to Centrist Democrats, by 2006. What did you think you were running for? The Bush/Cheney administration encouraged the recession of 2001, as it gave them some bit of economic bad news to blame on the otherwise charmed Bill Clinton. Unquestionably, encouraging or even failing to try to stop the global financial meltdown of 2008 would have been irresponsible well beyond the point of criminality, not that "criminality" and "President" weren't firmly established at that point as nestling in the same pod. That, then, left the opposite tack, the one that should have/ would have been at the top of most other lists: Do Something Seriously Fucking Dramatic. And instead he called a big confab of…Republicans. From which he got Less than Zero, which resulted in…insisting bipartisanship was some sort of magic amulet he'd work on the public by…not showing up to fight for anything. He had FDR as a model--I want this shit done in 100 days, or I'm closing every cracker-state military base for two years to pay for these wars I inherited--but he had to be Reagan. It's just hard to fathom who argued for it. This is the sort of thing which ruins long-running teevee series: contracts come back up, and all the actors start demanding to write their own characters and story arcs. This Presidency started--in the middle of utter shit--with Obama trying to figure out which profile he should use on his stamp.

And now it's "Give Republicans everything they want, now, and maybe they'll like me enough to not defeat me too badly in 2012." Fuck it, we're goddam doomed. There's serious unemployment in Indiana, despite the best Miracles Mitch has to offer, and people are suffering. I don't want to see anyone lose what paltry sums they get in extended unemployment. But for fuck's sake: in one month's time this is the Republican's problem. Right now it is de facto their problem, since everyone has believed, for some reason, that 40% of the Congress controls everything if it yells loud enough. Healthcare, whenever that's scheduled to start, can be blamed on the President. For the rest of it, fuck, it's already a Republican economy. It's been a Republican economy from the moment they pinned the Bush administration bailouts on Democrats. You cannot lose at this point, Mr. President, by doing shit. Shit other than "compromising". Unless you think looking more incompetent than totally incompetent is some real worry.

Thursday, December 9


Michelle Rhee, "What I've Learned". December 6

I HAD to run to the drugstore last night to get some more Cobra Venom for my Poor Wife's ailing foot (not really, but doesn't the whole OTC section being taken over by actual snake oil give anyone pause? Remarkable thing, really, how much the Invisible hand busies itself with updating the labels of one generation's nostrums for the next). I cut down the magazine aisle. And Michelle Rhee was staring at me (from Newsweek. Tina Brown, du bist eine Genie!).

So, first, someone needs to explain to me how it is that, in the late 1970s some time, we decided that the real problem with this country is that the privileged didn't have enough privilege. I don't recall being asked. And why thirty years of results don't seem to budge the idea. Thirty years of tax cuts somehow has not led to the conclusion that wealthy individuals keep the windfall, and wealthy corporations use it to ship jobs to wherever's cheapest. Because, I guess, iPhones.

Then at various way stations on the route we've restated the original problem which, of course, our "efforts" have done nothing to alter, in order to justify doing some more.

If we really want to condemn American education as a failure, why do we look any farther than that? Why don't we point to our politicians? Our issues? Our public forums and private Twitterings? It's just one man's opinion, but you're welcome to it: Shelf Life. I've not exactly made a study of it, but from the various sounds of shit raining down on me over the years I've convinced myself that the 60s was when we stopped making things and started figuring out how to sell the things we didn't make anymore; the 70s was when this began to turn a profit. The 60s, then, would be the time when "cutting edge" multi-megacorporations began shaping our brave new world, when Coca-Cola went from selling the unspeakable concoction which for an earlier, saner world had merely camouflaged the taste of cocaine, to plastering the Coca-Cola name on everything, on the grounds that the high level of quality the name conveyed to the swilling public would allow it to produce even cheaper versions of the product and make more money.

And the point, of course, is not that someone discovered the idea--GM had been marketing cars that way for decades, and if George Westinghouse didn't invent Planned Obsolescence it's because someone else already had. It's that this is the point where we reach critical mass, where post-War economic hegemony begins to lose some steam, where we speed the process along trying to keep some sorry-assed mandarins in power in Southeast Asia, where little brown people fuck with our right to cheap and limitless gasoline, and where the technological wizardry that will have us all in videophones, robot sex, and up to eight channels on your satellite teevee by 1980 raises the happy dream that someday, someday, corporations will be able to actually market the Fascist Soul-Death they can, at that point, only practice on their employees.

And Lo, it came to pass.

And no small part of this, of course, is the way people began to internalize feel-good fraudulence for themselves (again, we may have invented snake oil, and it's not like our history books were models of dispassionate scholarship prior to Reagan; it's just that before his time a portion of the populace actually frowned on mendacity). It's but a half-step from there to believing that the most honest-seeming liars are the most trustworthy, rather than the ones who ought to get the first-run tar and virgin feathers.

And then there was Michelle Rhee staring at me.

Two years teaching experience parlayed into the post of superintendent of DC schools. That's not a tribute to her "ideas" mind you, but a mile marker on the off-ramp to Hell. Three years as superintendent, spent in stereotypical union bashing and all-too-familiar resumé padding. Injected herself into this year's DC mayoral race in support of her boss--who was running way ahead--then griped that the voters didn't understand all she'd done for them when he lost. Refused to resign after the general election until cornered, apparently sensing there's good money in martyrdom, but not realizing that voters who tossed her man out on his graft-padded keister wouldn't consider her one. Tried to parlay Waiting for Superman into a job she insisted she was refusing to look for. Now has "her own" lobbying group, StudentsFirst, hoping to prove that a plucky little Mom&Pop startup can compete with the big boys in the rough-and-tumble world of funneling cash to crooked politicians.

All of which makes her the perfect person to write about Education reform for the new Newsweek. Or, rather, to write about herself writing about Education reform:

After my boss, Washington, D.C., mayor Adrian Fenty, lost his primary in September, I was stunned. I had never imagined he wouldn’t win the contest, given the progress that was visible throughout the city—the new recreation centers, the turnaround of once struggling neighborhoods, and, yes, the improvements in the schools. Three and a half years ago, when I first met with Fenty about becoming chancellor of the D.C. public-school system, I had warned him that he wouldn’t want to hire me. If we did the job right for the city’s children, I told him, it would upset the status quo—I was sure I would be a political problem. But Fenty was adamant. He said he would back me—and my changes—100 percent. He never wavered, and I convinced myself the public would see the progress and want it to continue. But now I have no doubt this cost him the election.

The timing couldn’t have been more ironic. The new movie Waiting for Superman—which aimed to generate public passion for school reform the way An Inconvenient Truth had for climate change—premiered in Washington the night after the election. The film championed the progress Fenty and I had been making in the District, and lamented the roadblocks we’d faced from the teachers’ union. In the pro-reform crowd, you could feel the shock that voters had just rejected this mayor and, to some extent, the reforms in their schools.

When I started as chancellor in 2007, I never had any illusions about how tough it would be to turn around a failing system like D.C.’s; the city had gone through seven chancellors in the 10 years before me. While I had to make many structural changes—overhauling the system for evaluating teachers and principals, adopting new reading and math programs, making sure textbooks got delivered on time—I believed the hardest thing would be changing the culture. We had to raise the expectations that people had about what was possible for our kids.

I quickly announced a plan to close almost two dozen schools, which provoked community outrage. We cut the central office administration in half. And I also proposed a new contract for teachers that would increase their salaries dramatically if they abandoned the tenure system and agreed to be paid based on their effectiveness.

Though all of these actions caused turmoil in the district, they were long overdue and reaped benefits quickly. In my first two years in office, the D.C. schools went from being the worst performing on the National Assessment of Educational Progress examination, the national test, to leading the nation in gains at both the fourth and eighth grade in reading as well as math. By this school year we reversed a trend of declining enrollment and increased the number of families choosing District schools for the first time in 41 years.

Y'know, it's funny. Decades of blather about education reform, and school accountability, and such, and the NAEP is the only test we have that can be used for those sorts of comparisons. But it's not comprehensive; the test is given to a representative sample of schools. And the results are on the state level, which means it's an accident of geography that DC is the only single school district competing against other state's averages.

As such it's not really designed for, or intended to be used as, a comparison of the ring records of All-Star Superintendents. Even so, DC could crow about its achievements, excepting that little matter of Rhee comparing ordinal rank ("worst performing") with "leading the nation in gains", which might send the cynic off to check the actual NAEP figures, assuming he wasn't already familiar with Rhee's creative relationship with the truth.

Maybe the NAEP has a page which compares such things, or gives out awards for Most Improved, or whatnot. I didn't find it. I did find the state-by-state results which--sitting down, are we?--show that the improvement in DC schools has been going on for the last decade, long before Rhee's Three Year Miracle began, and following closely the improvement in African-American test scores nationwide over that period.

Oh, she manages to lie about the PISA results, too, though she's altered her numbers somewhat (apparently there've been new results since her appearance on Colbert. This was also her MO with her miracle two-year stint in Balamer; the numbers fly high and then disappear altogether, just after independent observers train on 'em.)

Mea, meet culpa:
Still, I could have done a better job of communicating. I did a particularly bad job letting the many good teachers know that I considered them to be the most important part of the equation. I should have said to the effective teachers, “You don’t have anything to worry about. My job is to make your life better, offer you more support, and pay you more.” I totally fell down on doing that. As a result, my comments about ineffective teachers were often perceived as an attack on all teachers. I also underestimated how much teachers would be relying on the blogs, random rumors, and innuendo. Over the last 18 to 24 months, I held teacher-listening sessions a couple of times a week. But fear was already locked in. In the end, the changes that we needed to make meant that some teachers and principals would lose their jobs in a punishing economy. I don’t know if there was any good way to do that.

Some people believed I had disdain for the public. I read a quote where a woman said it seemed like I was listening, but I didn’t do what she told me to do. There’s a big difference there. It’s not that I wasn’t listening; I just didn’t agree and went in a different direction. There’s no way you can please everyone.

Or fool them, as a wise man, who really did listen, once noted.

I'm destroying your union protections to help you! Why, oh why, must you listen to the internet? Once I get rid of all those bad teachers--it's not you, of course--why, everyone left will share in a King's ransom, which the legislature will keep turned on full forever! I mean, just take a walk down any charter school hallway, and note all the highly experience, well-paid, proven performers on the staff.

I'll say this for Rhee. She's right about how we can't keep politics out of school reform. Because doing what that requires would land you in the Big House for life.

Tuesday, December 7

Nixon's The One

SHORTER David Brooks: In which I take a break from last week's strenuously argued case that Democrats have a slavish faith in the Social Sciences to phone-in some amusing, context-free anecdotes from the Social Sciences, which explicate the Human Condition perfectly.

I sure don't wanna talk about Brooks' column, but I do want to say this about Brooks: I'm coming to view him as the Crimean peninsula in the battle of Cupidity and Stupidity. I'm not sure which side he really roots for (doesn't matter, since it will ultimately be Whichever wins), but they now stand on either side of a line that one or the other has to cross. Of course to my Shock, Shock! Brooks' party just signaled its complete willingness to ignore the Deficit entirely, provided Democrats will ride along and take the blame when the time comes. I am, of course, too old, too semi-conscious, and partially competent in English, so I'm not asking how Brooks, or any of the other geniuses on the Right, will justify this, or explain it, or confront its existential dilemma. I just wanna know what piece of trumped-up outrage with Twinkie filling they'll try marketing as the next distraction.

Which brings us to Julian Assange, or, rather, brings us to the nightly-news coverage of Julian Assange. I don't really have much of an opinion about Assange, though the official script seems to demand I take one: I was a much less accomplished vandal, in my youth, but I did master the technique of not calling attention to myself. I will admit I'm convinced this would be a much, much better world if 25-30% of the people with access to government or corporate secrets revealed 'em, as they should. If history didn't confirm this idea, simple human contact would.

And, again, simple knowledge--this time of the nature of American politics since we single-handedly won WWII--prepares one to expect, if not accept with jaw in place--the jackbooted Nixonry which greeted the latest release of Not Very Important Information About Inveterate and Professional Liars. (In fairness, as I write, the International Diplomatic System is managing to hold on by the proverbial thread; when it collapses in a heap I may be singing a different song. Or so they tell me.) PayPal! MasterCard! It's good to see that international scofflaws are still taking it upon themselves to help preserve Order, undeterred by the swift punishment meted out to the Telecoms.

(If I might just mention here--I'm sorry to impersonate the PR firm for International Anarchy, Ltd.--saying "Touch me and I'll release some really bad stuff" is pretty much in line with Walter Mondale promising to raise taxes; I'm not sure who, exactly, is supposed to be cowed. The US colludes with Yemen, fer chrissakes. It's not prepared to turn anything you might possibly say against you in the beat of an eyelash? What could that possibly be? Proof that Bush planned 9/11? Proof that the Trilateral Commission runs everything? Proof that Soylent Green is more Filler than People? The only way you get vast numbers of Americans to believe this sort of shit is to pitch it to the red-meat Right. Vince Foster. Mena. Shocking photos of Barack Obama bowing to a foreign lady as he lets her get on an elevator first. Who came up with this silly-assed threat? Compare and contrast: the effect the Chinese had on America by gesturing wildly about their nuclear program, vs the effect the Chinese had by buying all our shit and loaning it back to us at interest. Threaten to disrupt all cell phone communications for a fortnight, Jack. That'll get our attention.)

One understands, by the way, why modern "journalism" would fear the Free Range Cat Debagger at least as much as Bank of America or Milton Bradley might.

Slate, meanwhile--sorry to change the subject from journalism--offers up a road map for prosecuting Assange in the US which, among other things, simply assumes arguendo that "we" get him into a US court, perhaps after drone-bombing his hideout and blasting Møtlèy Crëu 24 hours a day. Th' fuck, really, is the matter with people? How much better do you eat spending your adult working life defending Exxon from unfair pinpricks and malicious paper cuts?

Which brings us to Christopher Hitchens, whose latest memoir seeks--no, really--to equate "The Left's" "uproar" over the Plame case with the Wikileaks business, and--no, really--finds it guilty of hypocrisy:
As for the public's right to know and the accountability of our covert or confidential agencies, it is only a short time since the entire American liberal consensus was witlessly applauding a clumsy and fruitless prosecution, directed entirely at the hopelessly overdramatized exposure of a relatively minor CIA official, married to a monster of conceit who makes Assange look bashful. It then turned out that Valerie Plame's job description had been made public by Robert Novak and Richard Armitage, who also had in common with Assange a rooted opposition to the administration's Iraq policy. Elements of the left and the right appear to have switched positions on full disclosure since then.

And this is coming from a guy who is actually in the middle of switching positions himself as he writes.

It's been popular for some time to insist the Right has led us Through the Looking Glass; this is more like playing Vulcan chess, or whatever it was, in a mirror while hanging upside down and blind drunk, in the dark. Or else it's not; or else it's much simpler, and, shorn of all excuses, revealed, naked and shivering, as complete buffoons, petty thugs, and cheap bullies, shown, dead to rights, to be utterly wrong about practically everything, the American Right, its corporate fascist pals, and their paid mouthpieces all demonstrate that, at bottom, they are Congressman Richard M. Nixon, circa 1948: petty, spiteful, paranoid and unlovable, and in need of a decent shave.

Monday, December 6

Jesus Christ

Ross Douthat, "The Changing Culture War". December 6

IT'S curious to me, in a The Dog That Didn't Bark sense, that the slow-motion disintegration of The America at the Center of the American Century seems to've been predicted not by the cutting edge of Art, as Modernism declined fifty years ago, but by the GM board of directors in the 1970s.

Nicholas von Hoffman once called GM management "an Affirmative Action program for well-born idiots". And it's one which has never been challenged in court, or renounced as Bothersome Old News by Andrew Sullivan.

Consider Ross Douthat. Consider it a personal favor. Every Douthat column reads like an 800-word memo from a junior legacy hire just out of pre-law at Michigan State to his uncle, the VP of Dealer Relations, who's spearheading the drive to get the 1969 Emission Standards Act rolled back, if not repealed outright.

There came a time in the still-fairly-recent past--let's call it, for want of a better term, The Nixon administration--when the Right, having clearly lost its battle with the 19th Century (though, like the Sons of the Confederacy--but I repeat myself!--not necessarily having conceded) decided if it couldn't win arguments intellectually, or ethically, it would try the time-tested gambit of Knee to the Corner of the Board! The Silent Majority! We're dead wrong, but millions of Americans who don't know what they're talking about and are racist into the bargain agree with us!

Now, needless to say, this wasn't exactly explained that way, in Nixon's famous speech, and it's been explicitly, if unconvincingly, denied ever since by a generation of Burkeans. But that's what it was, and the repercussions, both for the country and for the internal organs of the American Right, are still screwing up everybody's bowel movements.

So it is that in 2010 Ross Douthat can pretty much say whatever he wants to without the slightest consideration for intellectual consistency, intellectual honesty, or, well, intellect, at the cost of every utterance having any meaning whatsoever. Douthat can pretend that he's not a culture warrior, merely a puditological observer with a taste for Catholic ritual and medieval notions of conception. He can frame an argument over nothing any way he thinks will benefit his Superiors, Roman or Republican, based on nothing at all, and declare himself the winner. He can say this:
Decades of punditry, pop sociology and prejudice have been premised on this neat division — from the religious right’s Reagan-era claim to be a “Moral Majority” oppressed by a secular elite, to Barack Obama’s unfortunate description of heartland America “clinging” to religion. Like any binary, it oversimplified a complicated picture.

Which not only equates a decades-long, tax-deductible scheme to fund and fuel the party of corporate interests with the tithes and backwoods moral opprobrium of the Southern Baptist Church, Convention of 1845, with a choice of words the current President used, once, but pretends that Douthat himself has not made a career surfing the wake of that "oversimplification".

Ross, boy-o: without Oversimplification you'd be stamping cafeteria-worker's time sheets at some Mid-Atlantic seminary.
That may no longer be the case. This week, the National Marriage Project is releasing a study charting the decline of the two-parent family among what it calls the “moderately educated middle” — the 58 percent of Americans with high school diplomas and often some college education, but no four-year degree.

This decline is depressing, but it isn’t surprising. We’ve known for a while that America has a marriage gap: college graduates divorce infrequently and bear few children out of wedlock, while in the rest of the country unwed parenthood and family breakdown are becoming a new normal. This gap has been one of the paradoxes of the culture war: highly educated Americans live like Ozzie and Harriet despite being cultural liberals, while middle America hews to traditional values but has trouble living up to them.

Let's put this in theological terms. There's a distinction between being all-powerful and omnipotent. God, so far as we know, is reduced to contriving historians since he can't alter the Past. You guys gamed the system, and when you still didn't get the results you wanted you decided to change how it's scored, retroactively. You're fast approaching middle age, Ross. You're Pious, and you're professionally obligated to pretend to be concerned. One would think that such matters would churn you enough that you'd spit out something other than oleo once in a while. The Great Unwashed aren't "having a hard time" living up to your sexual mores. They don't have any sexual mores, your's, Christianity's in general, or Time-Warner's. Or at least none that they apply to themselves. They're Catholics without the obligation of Confession. Take a gander at the skin-color range of African-Americans, Ross. Then tell me about how sexually upright everybody was in the Golden Age.
That division held a generation ago, but now it’s diminishing. In the 1970s, for instance, college-educated Americans overwhelmingly supported liberal divorce laws, while the rest of the country was ambivalent. Likewise, college graduates were much less likely than high school graduates to say that premarital sex was “always wrong.” Flash forward to the 2000s, though, and college graduates have grown more socially conservative on both fronts (50 percent now favor making divorces harder to get, up from 34 percent in the age of key parties), while the least educated Americans have become more permissive.

There has been a similar change in religious practice. In the 1970s, college- educated Americans were slightly less likely to attend church than high school graduates. Today, piety increasingly correlates with education: college graduates are America’s most faithful churchgoers, while religious observance has dropped precipitously among the less-educated.

It's curious how these tectonic shifts don't affect your perception of what's Good and what Depressing. I've got no idea whether those poll results are accurate, or what they might mean if they are; a lot of churches today are less like religious institutions and more like permanent personal growth seminars. I'm not sure what it means when someone tells the other end of the phone he believes "divorce should be harder to get"; as a lapsed Protestant, albeit of 20th century vintage, I'm a long way from convinced that Divorce is even a moral issue at all. Maybe married couples with college educations get divorced less often these days because they don't have to marry for sex. Maybe their condemnation of easy divorce simply means that White American Reagantots succumbed to the Moral Majority blather of their youth, just as today's youth will no doubt be permanently warped because the President once said "cling to". Maybe it's time you tried being smart, or consistent, or thoughtful, Ross. Or maybe it's time you asked well-to-do Americans to give up internet porn. That'd be a poll I'd believe in.

Friday, December 3

The 5:02, Right On Schedule

ON the heels of yesterday's rant, La Palin turns up for her third visit to Indiana, which is to say her third book-hawking in Hamilton County, Indianapolis' restricted country club, and the local news hairdos treat the thing like an Erik Estrada sighting. In contradistinction to the President's visit last week, which was turned over to the political reporters, Palin was covered by the news crews (8 sent one of its six anchors, coincidentally, I'm sure, the same one who lobbed puffballs at the corpse of Fred Thompson in her '08 exclusive).

Which is to say that they sent reporters to cover the grand spectacle of a couple hundred white people lining up to buy a book. And held out microphones so a select few--one with "Palin 4 Prez" written on his forehead--could let us know whether or not they liked her.

8 did eventually bring on Jim "The Dean Broder of Local Pundity" Shella, who offered the stunning insight that Presidential politics is often about celebrity. (No, really; that's as close to a political analysis as he dared come.)

And lemme just say this: I'm not really too fond of this Dueling Media Bias stuff. It's awfully easy to see what you believe; in fact it's damned near impossible not to. The point isn't that there's a conscious personal bias, though there certainly is some. The point is that there's no seeming awareness of the solid reasons, as well as the ethical obligation, for simply being fair. This is greatly magnified on the local level, and, of course, it's made much worse by news management and self-congratulatory appeals to ratings. Jim Shella is a comfortable white suburbanite. His employer is licensed to use the public airwaves to serve the population of the city of Indianapolis, not the Ultima Thule and The Woods of the Ultima Thule subdivisions where its white population fled. The city of Indianapolis is 25% African-American; furthermore, that community has a long and storied history: the third-oldest African-American newspaper in the country, the Klan takeover of state and local government in the 20s, de jure segregation in the schools and de facto segregation everywhere else, a lively history in the Arts, and the dilution of the inner-city vote, and the near-abandonment of its schools, by the Dick Lugar-led unification of local government in the late 60s. Shella displays no knowledge of this. Neither do the other stations' political reporters. It is, instead, just another special interest group after tax dollars. There's precisely one African-American reporter on local teevee with career longevity who gets to do political stories. The rest of the "minority" presence on air is basically talent hired from elsewhere.

And that includes the woman who tossed it to Shella two weeks ago when Al Sharpton came to town as part of an ongoing effort in response to the police beating of a fifteen-year-old kid last May. She got to hear Sharpton described, repeatedly, as "controversial" (assuming she bothers to pay attention.) Another anchor would later remark that Sharpton had some "surprisingly conciliatory" comments about the police. Or Da Police.

This is the world these people inhabit: not just one where Al Sharpton's middle name is Controversial, and Sarah Palin is a celebrity, freed from responsibility for the things she says, but one where there's no apparent awareness that anyone could possibly see it any differently.

And I have no idea what prodigies of cancer of the bowels an African-American woman feels while she reads off a teleprompter under such conditions. I only know that it isn't supposed to work that way, and that we're much the worse because of it.

Thursday, December 2

Back Home Again

SO last week was taken up with all the excitement of Black Friday and a royal wedding (and I've given up trying to understand how this perpetually bunting-bedecked Republic comes to go gaga over every trivial incident involving the same inbred rotters whose expulsion gave it birth, and am now looking for someone to explain how the Saxe-Coburg und Gothas morphed into Prince Charming and the Very Glass of Fashion something like six weeks after estranged sister-in-law is caught hawking access to her ex-husband the way some trailer-park denizen might peddle an infant, not that I'm expecting an answer to that one, either), but there were a couple of news items I did want to mention.

First, both the President and Vice-President came to Kokomo a couple days before Thanksgiving, to herald the success of the Stimulus in the auto industry. Kokomo's a parts-manufacturing town, and it's still suffering, but there's little doubt that that suffering has been lessened by the administration's program.

Political visit? Yep. But this is Indiana, where Eric Estrada is still a star of the first magnitude because he did some reality wannabe cop show in Muncie. It's the place where anyone who spent six months of his childhood here, then got the fourth lead in a sitcom which was cancelled after half a season can count on a lifetime's free publicity whenever he changes planes here. Florence Henderson is considered the First Lady of the American Stage in these parts. Hell, Axl Rose could probably still get laid here.

Presidents? Even in primary season a Presidential visit gets treated like a gift from the Gods, and fly-ins for fundraisers are treated like royal visits. I remember an enormous hoopla over Nixon coming to town in '71. Even the second-term George W. Bush came and went twice with little more than a mention of the slime trail in his wake. Fuck, Fred Dumbo Thompson made himself available for local interviews during his fifteen-minute (eight of them awake) campaign, and he was allowed to swat fungoes.

There are a couple of exceptions, both named Clinton: Bill's visit to the Speedway caught some flack, in light of the disgraceful eight years of prosperity he'd presided over, and Hillary Clinton ordered a shot in a Crown Point dive, was given Crown Royal, and didn't immediately cuss the barkeep and demand rotgut. Jim Shella, the Dean Broder of local political reporters, was still gettin' a laugh over that one a month after it had been explained that she didn't ask Who Among Us Wouldn't Order a Single Barrel Scotch and Spring Water? but accepted what the 'tender tendered.

So I think maybe you see where this is going: the President of the United States comes to Kokomo to tout the success of his economic programs in a place where those programs have had quite an effect, and it's time to call in the analysts. At least on the two channels I caught. On 8 Shella asked whether Obama's claims were true, then proceeded to answer "Sort of", which at least kept the proceedings neat. This is the same Jim Shella who sat through the 2008 gubernatorial race where for nine months every other commercial on his program was a Mitch Daniels promo that lied outright about his economic record. But then, I suppose pointing that sort of thing out wouldn't be Balanced. (It didn't seem to occur to Shella, or at least to faze him, that in pinning how horrible things had been in Kokomo he was slagging Daniels as well.)

Imagine, if you will, what sort of fucked-up punditological climate produces a guy who questions the validity of a program which gave hundreds of his fellow citizens the opportunity to buy the crappy products that keep him on the air, at least between political ad seasons.

Speaking of Small Things, the revolving door scandal with Mitch's Indiana Utilities Regulatory Commission keeps getting worse, despite the quick, affirmative action Daniels took when he got over his Shock! Shock! that the IURC was playing footsie with Duke Energy. The scandal has now reached Daniel's Chief of Staff Earl A. Goode, meaning--you might want to sit down--that the thing went higher and was known a lot longer than has been previously suggested. Duke, for its part, fired its Indiana President (there's apparently a redundancy, so all's well) in its Shock! Shock! that, in violation of clear company guidelines, he didn't hide his side of the Trail any better, and the IURC ethics officer has been reassigned and, presumably, given a less comfortable chair. All of which raises a couple of questions: 1) Why did Mitch Daniels need the legislature to create his own Permanent Inquisitor General if the whole state can collapse in misfeasance without him noticing? and 2) The IURC has an ethics official?

Finally, there's the big scary talk of a Teabag challenger to Dick Lugar in 2012, about which you should note three things: the local Teabaggers are talking about a Republican primary challenge, not looking for a Democrat to run against him in the general, a more than passing odd stratagem for an extra-party grassroots movement; the Teabag bench is worse than the Timberwolves'; and anybody saying this sort of thing doesn't know shit about Indiana.