Wednesday, May 31

Oh, Come On NOW

So the National Organization for Women thinks Elizabeth Vargas is a cause célèbre? Does she even rank as a garden variety célèbre? When someone says to me, "If it can happen to Elizabeth Vargas it can happen to anyone," I have to assume they're referring to hosting World News Tonight, not getting shoved out the door.

Okay, okay, NOW can look out for its own agenda. But aren't there millions of women out there with no health care, no disability insurance, who can be fired because the boss doesn't like how they say, "Good morning," who are just one religious crackpot with a pharmacy degree away from poverty? Wouldn't most of those women consider one week of Elizabeth Vargas' pay a godsend?

Don't get me wrong, just because Vargas is extremely overpaid because she learned to read and comb her hair doesn't abrogate her rights. But she isn't being dumped for getting pregnant; she's getting dumped because ABC can't do the Ken and Barbie News now since Ken caught some shrapnel in the conk. They waited a decent period. They can't bring on Ken's Best Friend Skippy, and they can't leave Barbie there alone. Barbie is a fluff merchant. Fortune's turned against her, just like Fortune cold-shouldered thousands of other girls and boys who weren't pretty enough to get there in the first place. The difference being that Vargas gets millions for not quite making it, and the 24-hour-a-day nanny service women with real problems will never know.

Besides, nobody's ever had a better opportunity to put something in John Stossel's coffee and failed.

Tuesday, May 30

Martinizing Old Glory

Roger Ailes wonders about the whoopers and whistlers at Arlington National Cemetery.

We get a double dose in Indianapolis, since the Race, which used to be held on Memorial Day and thus had the justification of honoring the departed on their day among 400,000 people who had chosen to go to a sporting event instead, is now held the day before. Like most sermonizing and other public pieties the ceremonies tend to turn the beaters on High and just let 'em run, out of fear that insufficient time will be spent on showing reverence, and the whole thing winds up like a Twinkie without the sponge cake. The moment of silence (with that many people) always impressed me. The moment of Blue Angel (now B1) flyover always impressed me as an excuse for Air Force brass to score some free ducats.

Maybe that's just me, but my guess is that I'm not the only person who can recite the Gettysburg Address (with variants) who's never even bothered to read Edward Everett's two-hour oratory.

But if the Speedway engages in understandable patriotic poshlost, it's left to local teevee news to burst the bonds of dignity and turn the whole thing into one long, breathless shill appropriate to a new mall opening, apparently a reaction to those days when we used to line up and spit on the graves of Vietnam veterans. Used to be they'd cover taps somewhere, and a 21-gun salute and the wreath laying at Arlington. Yesterday it was practically wall-to-wall, with multiple remotes and Civil War reenactments (the heat! the wool!) and microphones stuck in everybody's phiz, including the team of husband and wife war dead buffs who were dressed in identical American flag shirts.

Even so, one moment of truth snuck through, somehow, when a young woman (wife, sister, I didn't catch the ID) said, "I used to spend every Memorial Day picnicking in the state parks. Now I suppose I'll spend every one, for the rest of my life, at Crown Hill (Cemetery)."

Monday, May 29

Holiday Garden Tour

Grüss an Aachen rose ("Jerry") responding quite well to this spring's root pruning.

Close up of Jerry.

My wife had to use the digital camera last week, so I cleared it out and found these tulips reaching for the sun from March. They predate our purchase of the house. There's never been more than three blooms before.

The fern family. Clockwise from the tassel fern at bottom center: Japanese painted fern, Lady fern, Southernwood fern, Japanese beech fern (all but invisible in front of yellow nametag), Lady in Red, another painted fern, and autumn fern just beginning to bloom. Leatherwood and Royal ferns just visible in back. The hosta in the lower left corner is Fire & Ice, one of my favorites.

I have to splurge on something just hitting the market every year. Here's this year's, a heuchera called "Peach flambé".

Japanese fleece flower, heuchera "Palace Purple", dead nettle, hosta "Blue arrow", a hosta I don't know the name of but call "Tie-dye" because it'll exhibit a half-dozen different tints once the weather gets hot, and a $5 garage sale pot my wife found.

Friday, May 26

The Top 50 Liberal Rock Songs of All Time

Please tell me nobody's gonna do this. And if they do, please tell me that "Imagine" isn't going to be #1. Somebody.

Happy Birthday

Dorothea Lange
May 26, 1895--October 11, 1965

Thursday, May 25

Delirium, Revisited

Um. I'm not sure about this. My recent illness had, as the earlier three bouts have had, a certain hallucinatory quality, a clarity, not a fevered delirium, not a spinning turntable of Ray Miland Lost Weekend dementia with mocking laughter and skulls and snakes an' shit. Mescaline, not LSD, if that means anything to you, and if so you ought to be ashamed of yourself. It would kill your mother if she knew.

Sometime in that period I saw George W. Bush standing with the First Lady, he was saying something about immigration, I think, and she was just this incredible phony person standing sorta next to, sorta behind him. It may have been her body language, or my enhanced psychic receptivity, or maybe I made it up. But she seemed to be laboring at the Stepford bit, which seems to come so naturally to her. It was the first time I remember seeing her where I imagined there was something going on in her head. I listened to some Pere Ubu on the grounds that I wanted to do something with this free psychedelic experience, but David Thomas made me laugh and it hurt to laugh. I went to bed. That was Friday.

Then sometime over the weekend Alton Brown pronounced "Herculean" correctly. He might be the only teevee personality I've ever heard do so. I immediately forgave the schtickiness he's descended into in the past few years, but not Iron Chef America. That was Saturday. I went to bed.

The punchline isn't that when I woke up Sunday I was no longer hallucinating but "conservatives" were. They were--David Brooks removed all doubt--right where I'd left them. I was worried, briefly, about the Others, though. The local news, for one. You'll remember that Mitch "Apple Box" Daniels is about as popular as foot odor, and the poor dears are having a hell of a time figuring out who's ass they're supposed to kiss. There was a brief reprieve when the new fireworks law, aka "fuck it, just go ahead and blow shit up", went into effect, giving Channel 8 the opportunity to hand over a film crew and five minutes' air time to the barely literate "owner" of a major fireworks retail barn and site of a future test of local emergency preparedness.

It was the sort of thing that twenty years ago would have run as a "would you look at what sort of toothless cousin-marry-ers are running loose in [name Southern state]?" feature. The "operator" of this business--which, incidentally, neighbors have been trying to close down for years--kept squawking sentence fragments about "Freedom" and "America", and I kept waiting for someone to walk into the shot and give her a doggy treat.

I've lost track of how long this has gone on. In my youth Indiana, like the civilized world, restricted the sale of major explosives to people who had legitimate reasons to topple buildings. It was a rite of summer in certain quarters to drive to Tennessee (ten feet over the border sufficed) and come back with a trunkload of M-80s. I myself enjoyed the occasional Roman candle fight or the amateur theatrics involved in keeping a straight face while somebody's dad demanded to know how the aluminum siding got blackened. Then suddenly such playthings were openly available in Indiana, provided you signed a piece of paper agreeing not to set them off. Seriously.

There was no question about why the law suddenly changed. Fifteen-year-old boys are not, as a rule, politically connected or effective organizers, and emergency rooms, so far as I know, don't have lobbyists out trying to drum up more business. The only question was why the local media seemed oblivious to prima facie evidence of a state legislature with a For Sale sign out front. It's the same legislature which last year removed the restriction on setting the shit off--which, of course, had been roundly ignored--on the grounds that it was "hypocritical". But it wasn't hypocritical, of course. Hypocritical is where you deny the thing you're really doing. In exchange, fireworks retailers will now be collecting a surtax to fund fire safety and preparedness and, I hope, to fund several masses in the Fire Marshal's memory.

Y'know, it's not that I find watching shit blow up to be an obvious substitute for a satisfying adult sex life, though I do. It's not that this is willfully marketed as a question of "Freedom" when real freedoms are trampled with impunity, nor that as we face a national military manpower crisis Indiana is giving our most natural recruiting demographic a good reason to stay home. It's not even the thousands of injuries--mostly to children--these things cause every year. It's the frickin' tawdriness of the culture, the grubby everything's for sale reality behind the Culture of Life sermons and the Support Our President yard signs. It's Chinatown. Where they've been selling firecrackers for generations.

I'm still a bit tetched. I thought this was gonna veer off onto Richard Viguerie's WaPo Op-Ed, not because it or the spectacle of "conservative" rats deserting their own ship is particularly amusing at this point, but because last night Norah "Bot" O'Donnell did a piece on it on MSNBC, and either she couldn't be bothered learning how to pronounce "Viguerie" or the rest of us have been saying it wrong for twenty-five years. Why don't we have a better press corps? Because we deserved the one we do have.

Tuesday, May 23

One Minute Rebuttal

David Brooks, "The Big Sleep", NYTimes, May 21

And for this reason, the hearings must be investigated, for their dullness derived from three catatonic streams. It was, to twist the metaphor of a recent book, a perfect calm.

The first element in this calm was the rapid fizzling of the N.S.A. scandal. We have been treated in the past year to a panoply of anticlimactic frenzies. For example, we have seen the periodic flaring and the inevitable noneruption of the Valerie Plame affair. Every few weeks, perhaps coinciding with the full moon, the left half of the blogosphere will arise from its habitual state of paranoid rage and soar into a collective paroxysm of anticipatory glee over the thought of Karl Rove's imminent indictment. Alas, the indictment never comes.

Brooks, you PRISSY LITTLE TOAD, if we wind up the the same space someday I'm gonna PUSH YOUR FACE IN so far you'll have to TAKE OFF YOUR SWEATER VEST JUST TO SNEEZE! And NOT just because you wrote another specious column, NOT because you can't seem to choose one key and SING THE ENTIRE FUCKING SONG IN IT, NO, not even because you pull out that ridiculous "left blogosphere" shit when I WILL PAY YOU $5 FOR ANY BLOG BEYOND KOS, ATRIOS, OR KEVIN DRUM YOU'VE EVER READ ON THE SUBJECT, HELL, ever read at all, for that matter, providing you'll pick up the money in person so I can KICK YOUR ASS SO HARD PEOPLE WILL THINK YOU'VE GOT A GOITER! Is my minute up already?

Monday, May 22

White People Amusing Themselves With Tax Money

Lose 10 lbs. This Weekend, Guaranteed: The Sweat and Spasm Diet. I think it's got potential. In the event I doubt I lost more than five; I weigh myself about once a decade just to see where the new baseline is. Thanks for all the good wishes in the meantime.

I felt well enough yesterday to spend 120 bucks at the nursery, actually enjoy a meal (dinner, romaine-and-red-leaf with chicken breast), and read the Sunday paper:

Just north of the extent to which our fair city could annex property in the 60s lies The County Named Appropriately for Alexander Hamilton. It is serving, at only a moderate cost, as an open-air laboratory of Republicanism, something which isn't publicized much; for all I know this puny blog may be the outside world's only source of its progress. Thirty years ago the county was a large pasture speckled with old farming communities, a solid Lincoln Republican land. Noblesville, the county seat, was notable for the two-story chicken that stood on the edge of town. Oh, and there's Geist Reservoir, Indianapolis' Chinatown. There's the remains of a village underneath the water. We don't know where all the other bodies are buried.

In the late 60s the Army Corps of Engineers wanted to flood half the county to increase the size of the reservoir. Personally, I'd like to see them bring that up again.

One of those little villages is Fishers. We lived there for awhile in the late 70s, just at the beginning of the housing boom. The population was just under 2,000. It's twenty-five times that now, nearly wall-to-wall strip malls and McMansion "communities". I used to ride my bike all over that place and the only dangers were the occasional farm dog and excessive bucolic cheeriness. Today you take your life in your hands just driving on those roads. Fishers is also the location of the municipal airport, which is how it found its way into the Sunday paper.

Thanks to Fishers' laissez-faire (French for "greedheads devouring each other") development "program", that airport now sits smack in the middle of "town", meaning on 450 acres of prime strip-mall fodder. Last December Hamilton County asked the Indianapolis Airport Authority, which owns the airport, for permission to move it, which was granted, supposedly provided everyone agree on a new location by June.

Behind closed doors (where else?) they settled on a 1000 acre site in an unincorporated part of the county. The Fishers board agreed. The Hamilton County Commissioners okayed it. The Noblesville City Council votes tomorrow night. Noblesville gets to vote on the grounds that it's the closest annexing (French for "tie down and consume like a roasted pig") authority. Meanwhile, the actual current owners of the land are up in arms and have hired an attorney to fight the takeover.

I thought you might enjoy the dueling quotes:

"This is all about Fishers sitting on beachfront property smack in the middle of their town where the airport is. If this airport is such a great thing, then why isn't Fishers moving the airport to another location in their town?"

--Noblesville Council President Terry Busby

"If this is such a big problem, then why doesn't Noblesville let us annex [the land]? "We'd be happy to put the airport in Fishers and wouldn't think twice about it."
--Fishers Council President Scott Faultless

Meanwhile, the veritable font of Hamilton County incontinent Republican civic boosterism and unchecked economic rapine, Carmel--somewhat quiet on the liebenstraum (German for "obtain the water rights to in exchange for other considerations") front since it got its ass kicked by a bunch of toothless hillibilies*--has decided to arm "stay at home moms and part-time community activists" with radar guns in an effort to combat speeding. Violators aren't ticketed; they receive a friendly letter from the Carmel PD.

No word yet on whether the volunteers are provided with grocery bags in the fight against Carmel's other long-term traffic problem.**

That's it for today. Remember, you can't run an open-air laboratory without the chance a few rats will escape.

* I kid. Home Place, a small unincorporated area now surrounded by Carmel. One of Carmel's actual legal arguments was, "But they get to drive on our streets!"

** For you younger readers, a reference to Driving While Black.

Sunday, May 21

Friday, May 19


Woke up ten minutes ago. Everything drenched in sweat. I'd been asleep for about an hour, the longest stretch since yesterday afternoon. I don't quite feel the mental clarity that usually accompanies a fever break, and the thermometer's battery is dead and I have no idea where my wife put the real one. But I got out of bed okay--peeling off the cover wasn't like plunging into a tub of ice water--and I'm sitting down awright. I can bend over, sorta; it no longer feels like someone's just kicked me in the right nut, more like someone did that yesterday. I'm hungry. I'll probably stick with the surgery diet for awhile, just in case; diverticulosis can mimic appendicitis.

Cool Papa Bell's birthday reminded me of William Wallace's poem "Anthem", which you can download here (.pdf file) along with a key to the nicknames, although "Ducky" should be Joe "Ducky" Medwick, not Robert "Ducky" Detweiler if you ask me, and a section on the Negro leagues is certainly in order. Read in out loud, unless it hurts when you laugh, too. I'm going back to bed. If I wake up later I'll let you know.

Thursday, May 18


Okay, so I check in with this week's Nooners column, "Out of Touch: What the president's immigration speech and "The DaVinci Code" have in common," which--you're not going to believe this--never actually makes the case that either is Out of Touch. She does manage to use "detached elites" as a segue, but it's tacked on, unsatisfying, almost as if she'd merely slapped out her contractual 850 words by glancing at a couple of headlines, though of course we know better.

There's not much more to be said for the rest of the thing, either, except a) What the hell happened to religion over the past twenty years that its most vocal adherents can't handle a figurative accidental jostle on the bus without breaking into hysterics? b) would you please quit quoting that "85% to 90% of Americans identify themselves as Christian"? They don't. (It might have been 85% twenty years ago, but it's been dropping ever since and was below 80% a couple years back.) c) if you've got to make (up) those raw number arguments, kindly bear in mind that nearly that many Americans say they believe in ghosts or ESP, which should at least give you pause, plus a solid minority admit to believing in the predictive power of astrology, and many others attend Bi-Monthly Science Fiction Conventions in costumes they made themselves.

As for the Bush/Immigration part of the equation, it's turned out to be a celebrity marriage reality program between Bush and the Right, hasn't it? The aging drama queen and the no-longer-young stud who fills out a flightsuit but isn't too much in the imagination department? Can somebody explain this to me? Four years ago he was a Colossus, the Solitary Warrior, the man who'd single-handedly saved Civilization Herself from the dastardly Moor. Now he's a bum.

Of course no one puts it quite like that, but how are we to understand it? Nobody asked Noonan or Hinderocket back then to slather on the praise in a way that would make a Scientologist PR flack blush. But having done so, wouldn't you expect they'd stand by him now, instead of griping that he didn't update MacArthur's plan to salt the 38th Parallel with cobalt?

Oh, and one more thing, Peggy. If you're occupationally unable at this point to write about politics without telling us what "the people" want, move to Omaha and shut up for five years.

Speaking of Hiney, he's the second person I'd seen praise this from Wretchard at The Belmont Club:
However that may be, Jaynes' theory intriguingly suggests that hunches, guesses and intuition may hold some validity. They are the end result of a logical process inaccessible to the waking mind. My own hunch is that in the last two or three months there's been a change in the tone of the blogosphere. Nothing definite, simply a change in atmosphere in proportion to the degree of abstract tendencies of the blogger....

My own theory is that all the old divisions so sharply erected between September 11, 2001 and April, 2003 have been slowly eroded by the uncertainties of the world. The Left and the Right have seen their champions turn out to be all too human, and are confounded. Issues which are a wedge on both sides of the spectrum -- like immigration or Darfur -- have scattered interest groups around like balls after a billiard break. New issues like the resurgence of a hostile Russia, the spread of Marxism in Latin America -- even the malicious buffoonery of the Iranian President -- are crowding at the fringes of the now comforting world of the War on Terror. The old play is ending and yet the new one has not yet begun. And this bothers abstract intellectuals far more than it does the men in the field. A soldier can write with perfect conviction that "the world was a slightly better place every time I pulled the trigger" because he lives in a world of specificity, but the agonized thinker can find no such comfort in cold abstractions; abstractions now in need of repair under the weight of experience.

I can't count the number of links I've chased because somebody said, "X is a really good writer," or "Here's a thought-provoking piece for both sides," and he or it turn out merely to reinforce the blurbist's own prejudices. It's not a right-wing-only phenomenon, but the above is--that popping pressure-value of political angst, the wisp of comradeliness, the assertion that Right and Left have been equally misguided--you can only find that sort of thing on the Right, and then only because they've spent four years blaming the Left and the Media for everything and now find themselves out of ammunition and cover.

So in the spirit of our shared sacrifice, with the now comforting world of the War on Terror receding into the background, let me just say this: What the fuck you talkin' about?

I'm obliged, too, to mention that as it goes with the rest of the world, so it goes with Julian Jaynes and The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind: please do not try to operate it without reading the manual first. Jaynes' discussion of what consciousness is is a delight. The stuff about myth suffers from Academic Out of his Element Syndrome. Jaynes' theory is not reversible, the "bicameral mind" is not something quaintly assigned to "primitive" peoples, and it's not a defense of "intuitive thinking," nor an excuse to toss around "unconscious mind" like it's a scientific term. I think you were probably reaching for Jung, but at times like these, like most times, it's best to keep your hands in your lap.

Wednesday, May 17

Happy Birthday

James Thomas "Cool Papa" Bell
May 17, 1903--March 7, 1991

Adding My .00035 to the Sum Total of Left Blogosphere Nastiness

In my defense, I had to go to the mall today...

A) Waterworks

So, a television reporter just happened to notice Tony Snow's yellow bracelet and asked him about it. Uh-huh. Sure. Right.

I'm not even gonna bother with the "Oh, I'm not bashing Tony Snow and his brave fight against cancer" bizness. I don't really care if this gets misconstrued somewhere, and anyway, so what else is new? Lots of people fight the brave fight with cancer, and a lot of 'em don't have the health care benefits Tony Snow and the White House Press Corps types have. Snow, regardless of whether he once was brave enough, or firmly in grasp of the obvious enough, or desperate enough for attention to call his new boss "a double-digit IQ'd frat boy" is a card-carrying member of the party which has shot down public health care and cheap Canadian prescription drugs. When he weeps openly for everybody who's left out, lemme know.

But mostly it's the fact of this phony fucking set-up on Day One. Oh, looky, the new WH Press Secretary is human! Screw that noise. You people want to have a little party have it on your own time. Tony Snow is the replacement mouthpiece. Ari Fleischer was not the problem. Scott McClellan was not the problem. The people they work for are the problem, and it makes no difference who's doing their lying for them. I'm sure Tony Snow once had a beloved puppy, and may have saved a small Mexican child from drowning once. Give him a cake. Don't give him five minutes of the people's time for his Emmy highlight reel.

B) The Popular Bush

Nora Ephron at HuffPo gives Laura Bush points for saying "Yes" when asked if she's a feminist, even if that's full of shit. It's a point well taken. But someone tell me how the Washable Synthetic First Lady rates a 73% personal approval rating when all she's done is trot out onto the public stage when required and deliver a bunch of mealy-mouthed crap about The Wonderful Man She Married? Okay, and one time, one time, she told a joke about masturbating livestock. So she's got a highlight reel, too.

Oh, and she's in favor of reading. Great. She also took two days longer than her husband to wake up to the fact of Katrina, and once they finally got her up for a couple of walking-three-paces-behind-him photo ops it was so she could inform people who'd actually been paying attention to the thing for a full week that television was misleading them. You know, by showing pictures of people who'd been through the worst natural disaster in American history an' stuff, instead of focusing on the number of schools we'd be repainting.

The worst natural disaster in US history, and she stayed in Crawford to oversee the packing. She couldn't say, "Get me a fucking camera crew down here now so I can film a Red Cross appeal"?

I know, poll numbers are poll numbers, and she's the recipient of a sort of telephonic mercy hump, people saying they like her in a sort of act of contrition for hating her husband now when they know if they'd admitted he was an idiot six years ago and hated him then they wouldn't find themselves dealing with the fact that he's a criminally-inclined idiot now. Still, three-quarters of the population? For an act that bad? Maybe it's time for an Istar remake.

Tuesday, May 16

Michael Barone: Low Bush Approval Ratings "Merely Indicate Unpopularity"

Barone cheers up the Hindrocket who really needed it after this cab ride:
I rode home from the airport in a taxi a few minutes ago. My driver, as is almost always the case in Minnesota, was an African immigrant. No sooner had I gotten into the cab than he began talking about the speech and railing against Bush on the theory that the President is anti-immigrant. I patiently tried to explain that President Bush is in trouble because he is not just pro-immigrant, but pro-illegal immigrant. I explained that he has argued for a guest worker program and a path to citizenship, and has said repeatedly that it would be impossible to deport all the illegals.

My cab driver was completely disoriented by this. I could tell he didn't believe it. Like nearly all African cab drivers, he listens to public radio all day long. Twenty minutes with me wasn't enough to overcome years of liberal indoctrination. He simply wasn't able to absorb the idea that President Bush might not be a racist who hates immigrants. I'm sure he'd forgotten everything I said by the time he left my driveway.

Informal, Unscientific Poll. Is this:

A) Complete horseshit?

B) Utter bullshit?

C) Evidence that this was the driver's first day on the job, as no one working for tips would ever pick up John Hinderocket and imagine a good anti-Bush rant would snag 20%?

D) Evidence that the driver was extremely savvy, recognized immediately that nothing whatsoever would pry a decent tip loose from Mr. Powerline, and proceeded to make his trip as uncomfortable as possible?

So Hiney was damn near inconsolable after Bush's speech, until he read the "most grown-up of American political commentators":
When you look back at all these leaders' job ratings in office, you find an interesting thing. The transformational Thatcher and Reagan had negative to neutral job ratings during most of their longer years in power. Thatcher's peaked upward after the Falklands victory; Reagan peaked from his re-election until the Iran-Contra scandal broke two years later. Their divisiveness, the stark alternative they presented with the policies and conventional wisdom of the past -- all these held down their job ratings.

In contrast, Blair and Clinton for most of their years in office had quite high job ratings. Blair's ratings for his first eight years were probably the highest in British history. Clinton, after he got over his lurch to the left in 1993-94, also enjoyed high job ratings, especially when he was threatened with impeachment. The center-left alternative, by accepting most of the Thatcher and Reagan programs, was relatively uncontroversial, determinedly consensus-minded, widely acceptable to the left, center-left and much of the center-right segments of the electorate.

Thus, the crunchy, confrontational right was in its years in power not so widely popular as the soggy, consensus-minded center-left. Yet surely history will regard Thatcher and Reagan as more consequential leaders than Blair and Clinton.

Warmer than the bartender's smile at the airport Hilton when a grown man orders a Daquiri, Banana, frozen, (and then explains that he ordered it that way because that's how the cash register is set up) isn't it? So is this:

A) Total horseshit?

B) Near-total horseshit?

C) Remarkably horseshit-esque?

Did anyone else notice that the second paragraph seemed to declare war on itself about halfway through?

I'd like to be able to share the whole story with you, perhaps including some impressive four-color graph work, but that would require paying real currency to George Gallup when my religious convictions tell me I should be able to glean his field for free. So let's just point this out: Clinton and Reagan had roughly equal approval numbers over all. Clinton's tanked a year quicker than Reagan's (with Clinton's "lurch left"); they both remained fairly neutral until their second terms. Reagan dropped 20 points with Iran/Contra; Clinton zoomed when the Lewinsky scandal broke. So, sorry, no, America's most grown-up political commentator is doing what grown-ups frequently do: he's lying through his teeth. Just the sort of bedtime tale they prefer on the Line of Power:
Barone applies these lessons to today's political landscape:
It is in this context that we should consider George W. Bush's current poor job ratings. For all the high ratings for center-left leaders, it remains true in America and Britain that the policies of the right are more acceptable than the policies of the left -- and are capable of beating the center-left, too.

It is in the nature of things that the right, while sharply defining the issues and winning most serious arguments, should also stir more bitter opposition than the soothing, consensus-minded center-left. All the more so because Old Media in this country, more than in Britain, is dominated by a left that incessantly peppers the right with ridicule and criticism, while it lavishes the center-left with celebration and praise.

Even so, we continue to live in the world of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, as we once lived in the world of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

As I say, a needed dose of far-sighted optimism on a dark day.

And that, my friends, is how you win most serious arguments. Hold 'em with yourself.

In parting, here's today's retro-Barone poll reading moment. My wife tells me all her kids are crazy for these:
It looks like Bush is headed toward the bright sunlit upland of public approval that Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan enjoyed in the first two years of their second terms.

(Townhall, December 6, 2004)

Monday, May 15

"While Hurtling Over an Embankment to Certain Death" Is the Wrong Time To Decide You're in Favor of Guardrails

David Brooks, "From Freedom to Authority," NY Times, May 14

Psychologists joke that two sorts of people need therapy: those who need to be loosened up and those who need to be tightened up. Now, in the political world, we're moving from what you might call loose conservatism to tight conservatism. We're seeing a conservatism that emphasizes freedom give way to a conservatism that emphasizes authority. Many of George Bush's problems come from the fact that he's awkwardly straddling the transition point between the two.

So begins another in the weekly series "David Brooks Redefines 'Conservatism' According To This Week's Requirements", brought to you with rapidly decreasing justification by the Liberal New York Times.

It hasn't been pretty watching The Conservative Liberals Love yank desperately at a set of imaginary controls as he watches Commander Codpiece's irreversible death spiral, just as, pace the supposed Credo of Bush Hatred, it isn't pretty watching the Franco-like demise of Reaganaut "conservatism" from its admixture of hubris and self-serving delusion. This is not comeuppance; it's disaster. Yet still there's the hopeful spin each week, though it's become less and less anchored in talking points and more and more in the search for some enlightening, self-confidence restoring piece of psych-or-sociological wisdom that'll float in high seas.

So shut up and die like an aviator, already.

There are some forms of idiocy which, if they don't require a Ph.D to promulgate, are at least unavailable to the man who can't, or needn't, hide his copy of Maxim behind Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France. You wouldn't keep going back to the transmission repairman who told you your car was fixed, then that might take years longer to fix and cost several hundred times the original estimate, then that things were looking much better, and finally that the car was supposed to run exclusively in reverse.
In the 1970's and 80's, conservatives felt the primary threat was the overweening nanny state. Ronald Reagan tried to loosen the structures that restricted individual initiative and led to national sclerosis.

Brooks is writing this on the cusp of the anniversary of Bloody Thursday. Reagan made his "conservative" bones as the anti-hippie, anti-student demonstrator, anti-civil-rights authoritarian. It's understandable that for there even to be Reagan hero worship a lot of unpleasant realities have to be ignored, but does Brooks even know this stuff?
Times change. Now the chief problem is not sclerosis but disorder. The biggest threats come not from nanny states but from failed states and rogue states. There is less popular fear of bureaucrats possessing too much control than of ungoverned forces surging out of control: immigration, the federal debt, Iraqi sectarianism, Islamic radicalism, Chinese mercantilism, domestic rage and polarization.

Times change. And how conveniently they change!
The chief challenge these days is to restore legitimate centers of authority.

Restore them from the hash the Bush administration has made of them? Or from the hash the Right tried to make of them because Clinton was president?
Middle-class suburbanites understood this shift far more quickly than the professional conservatives in Washington. What people wanted post-9/11 was Giuliani-ism on a global scale -- someone who was assertive and decisive enough to assume authority and take situations that seemed ungovernable and make them governable.

Enough, already. You'd think the unmitigated disaster that's followed in the wake of this authoritarian yearning would at least slow down the Post-Nine-Eleven stuff, but no. If Middle America pined for more Giuliani-ism it was because it didn't know him. If it found the Runaway President's bullhorn moment "inspiring" it was because it desperately needed to. It was obvious at the time that America would respond with wrath untempered by the facts, and that we had the misfortune to have in power a particular set of politicians who would milk that for every advantage. Giuliani knew for weeks that the death toll he was using was twice the actual, but "twice as many deaths as Pearl Harbor" was a sexier rallying cry than "roughly the same." But rallying to do what? Bush's "retired fireman" was a Republican ward-heeler, and the police badge the dead man's mother wanted him to have was seized by the Secret Service. That Middle America you keep claiming to know, Mr. Brooks, was already united and already fear-stricken. What it needed was someone to calm, to explain, to establish national priorities and reestablish the democratic impulse. It's the authoritarians who strongly desired an Authority, apparently imagining they were getting a cross between Octavian, Peter the Great, and George Patton; what they, and we, got was Nero, Jr. And don't try to sell us on that Reluctant Caesar business. George Bush may have realized in his marrow that he'd faked his way to this point and was now way out of his depth, but is there any question about what side God was gonna come down on when He spoke up?
In many ways, President Bush was sensitive to the changing nature of the times. Bush had never believed that his job as president was to cut government to enhance freedom. He never promised to reduce the size of government. His education reforms didn't enhance personal choice; they turned the federal government into an accountability cop.

Yeah, yeah. Bush is not a conservative. Why were you guys so enthusiastic about him, then?
As Fred Barnes wrote in his book "Rebel-in-Chief," Bush and his team operate in Washington like an occupying army of insurgents, an "alien in the realm of the governing class." Ever the visionary, Bush told Barnes that his interest "is not the means, it is the results."

Y'know, reading those two sentences is a lot like watching one of those Hollywood Arabian Nights fantasies of the 40s or 50s, where everybody wore contemporary hairdos and Technicolor harem pants.
But statesmanship consists precisely of understanding the relationship between the means at your disposal and the ends you seek to pursue. Bush has had trouble exerting authority because he and some of his advisers have been aloof from or hostile to the inescapable and legitimate institutions of authority in this country.

How fortunate for all of us y'all could figure this out in less than six years.
Furthermore, Bush and his team have generally not shared information with the people with whom they share power. They've been slow to open reciprocal communication with people on Capitol Hill and elsewhere in Washington who could do them some good.

Now, here's the thing: this is the party Brooks claims superiority for on the grounds of its weekend Burke retreats and intellectual bullpen, yet every last time-honored conundrum known to Western Civilization sneaks up behind these guys and kicks 'em in the ass. Those people on Capitol Hill and elsewhere were makin' with the Hosannas as recently as last year, right up to the point that the poll numbers fell off the table and started rolling toward the basement stairs. Nobody went public, David. Nobody said Bush wasn't "conservative" enough until Bush was a dirty word. 'Course, you're the guy who recently told us how troubled all the insiders were about Iraq, the same ones that you had assured us earlier were uniformly optimistic.
Finally, members of the Bush administration did not respect government enough to understand that a strong one had to be established in postwar Iraq. They had too much faith in spontaneous social order, a libertarian myth from the 1980's that has been sadly refuted by events.

Only because, sadly, its refutation by easily understood rational argument was ignored.
For a hundred years we debated the economic reach of the state, but that debate's basically done. The next one will be over where the state should erect guardrails in a mobile and fragmented world.

How is it that the party of Burke seems to imagine that history began twenty years ago?

Happy Birthday

Diane Nash
born May 15, 1938

Friday, May 12

Happy Birthday

Ian Dury
May 12, 1942--March 27, 2000

Friday Frivolous Interruptus, Part One

To those of you out there who may be tempted to entertain the idea that we now have sufficient suspicions of high crimes and misdemeanors to initiate an impeachment investigation even in this House, or that, say, the GOP has one final chance, deserved or no, to show that it actually puts freedom, the law, and love of country above electoral success and criminal means of personal enrichment, or to those who might be wondering whether the Democratic party is intending to show up, like, ever again, I'd just like to ask you to think for one moment: the NSA has been logging the phone calls of practically everyone in the country for the past three years. I know, it sounds unconstitutional, and downright unAmerican, but just think for one minute how many terrorists we've caught in the interim.

Friday Frivolous Interruptus, Part Two

Or, that Roy is really too nice for his own good. Or maybe he just tuned in to The Corner a bit early:
SPEAKING OF RU 486 [Ramesh Ponnuru]

Judicial Watch's report on the topic has a lot of eye-opening information, but the letter from Ron Weddington, the co-counsel on Roe v. Wade , to President-elect Bill Clinton is especially worth checking out. It's on pages 61-64.

A sampling:

[Y]ou can start immediately to eliminate the barely educated, unhealthy and poor segment of our country. No, I'm not advocating some sort of mass extinction (sic) of these unfortunate people. Crime, drugs and disease are already doing that. The problem is that their numbers are not only replaced but increased by the birth of millions of babies to people who can't afford to have babies. There, I've said it. It's what we all know is true. . . .

I am not proposing that you send federal agents armed with Depo-Provera dart guns to the ghetto. You should use persuasion rather than coercion. . . . You made a good start when you appointed Dr. Elders, but she will need a lot of help. . . .

[G]overnment is also going to have to provide vasectomies, tubal ligations and abortions. . . . There have been about 30 million abortions in this country since Roe v. Wade. Think of all the poverty, crime and misery. . . and then add 30 million unwanted babies to the scenario. We lost a lot of ground during the Reagan-Bush religious orgy. We don't have a lot of time left.

We don't need more cannon fodder. We don't need more parishioners. We don't need more cheap labor. We don't need more poor babies

Now of course these sorts of sentiments aren't shared by all or even most supporters of legal abortion, but I suspect they are more widely thought than voiced.
Posted at 9:02 PM

Not shared by all or even most supporters of legal abortion. I guess that's the sort of keen insight and knowledge of your subject that gets you a book deal, huh?


Y'know, you could walk outside the NRO offices and interview the first 100 people you see, and I betcha the most sophisticated psychological trap wouldn't catch too many people even thinking about eugenics, crackpot or otherwise, and it it did I'd put it at even money those thoughts were thunk by an abortion opponent, as their political commitment to life begins at conception and ends at birth.

Really, Ramesh, go pleasure yourself repeatedly with a thatch rake in a hot airless room. And that's an idea I voice more than think, and I suggest others join me.

But first...

Maybe the party of Obscure Kerning Samples could learn not to jump quite so far so fast. (In case you're interested, you can download the .pdf file here.) The letter from Mr. Weddington, which Judicial Watch apparently considers a "relevant document" fills the last four pages.

I wrote Mr. Weddington at his law office last evening asking whether he claims authorship. So perhaps we'll learn, and in the meantime, well, you read the "sampling". Only a low-grade commerical liar would try to pass that thing off as representative of anything other than some insane ramblings someone sent to the President. Maybe that's what they are. But at the risk of sounding like the Powerline boys on a corndog and Super Squishee bender, there's at least a few reasons to think for a moment:

1) It's a photocopy.

2) It's undated and without an inside address.

3) It addresses the President-elect as "Dear President-To-Be Clinton" (comma).

4) There are no typist initials.

5) The attitude ("hey, just between us liberals, we know we need to use RU-486 to decrease the number of poor people") looks suspiciously like it came from the same book of templates as the Anthrax Letters and the Jon Benet Ramsey kidnapping note.

6) Both Judicial Watch and Ramesh Ponnuru are trying to make hay out of it.

Is it a fake? I have no way of knowing one way or another, and that's just to debate which sort of meaninglessness it belongs under. I'm only suggesting that it gave me pause, and I wouldn't be staking a whole lot on its authenticity--unless I had no reputation to lose anyway.

Friday Frivolity

This Just in [Jonah Goldberg ]

The Stone Age sucked:

A survey of British skulls from the early part of the New Stone Age, or Neolithic, shows societies then were more violent than was supposed.

Early Neolithic Britons had a one in 20 chance of suffering a skull fracture at the hands of someone else and a one in 50 chance of dying from their injuries.

Details were presented at a meeting of the Society for American Archaeology and reported in New Scientist magazine.

Blunt instruments such as clubs were responsible for most of the trauma.

This is not the first time human-induced injuries have been identified in Neolithic people. But the authors say it is the first study to give some idea of the overall frequency of such trauma.

Rick Schulting of Queen's University Belfast and Michael Wysocki from the University of Central Lancashire looked at 350 skulls spanning the period from 4000 BC to 3200 BC.

"We generally think of Neolithic people as living peaceful lives - they were busy looking after cereal crops and rearing livestock," Mr Wysocki told the BBC News website.

"But it was a much more violent society."

Posted at 3:27 PM

Uh, just to point out that if you're a Space Age American you stand a 1 in 10,000 chance of dying from firearms misadventure this year, and a considerably greater chance if you happen to be young, male, African-American, and especially all three. If you're a woman you stand a 1 in 3 chance of being raped or physically assaulted by a spouse, partner, or date at some point in your life. And, dude, it really sucked to be in Falluja.

We already know Neolithic peoples were violent; I'm not quite sure what British archaeologists imagined their little rock was so different. In historic times the Iroquois tried to eradicate every last Huron, and when the Erie hid them, every last one of them as well. And they damned near succeeded. Which still made them pikers compared to the Europeans (see Columbus, Christopher, e.g.). And that's just your own history, Jonah. If you'll take the time to learn a bit about it you won't walk around with your jaw hanging open all the time.

Thursday, May 11

Hour of the Wolf News

Sooner or later I'll be guest-blogging at Blanton's and Ashton's, assuming something comes to me. I'm going through one of those periods where there's fifteen unfinished pieces floating on my desktop, most of which have been rewritten twice and rejected three times. I rewrote that Cohen piece yesterday as a sort of housewarming gift for B's & A's and never finished it. I knocked around the internets for three hours last night without anything irritating me sufficiently for comment, although the twin idiocies of K-Lo and Jonah at The Corner, grousing about an American Idol vote and posting "Trek humor. Deal with it," respectively came close.

It's spring and I've been lightly kissed by allergies, I'm bone-weary from gardening and stonescaping, and I gave up smoking five days ago. Pipe smoking, that is; I've never tasted a cigarette. I smoked maybe two dozen cigars between my teenaged plastic-tipped blueberry monstrosity days and the drugstore A & C's of my late twenties, when I developed a taste for the real item. Cigar smoking gave way to pipe usage when cigars got trendy and prices got ridiculous, though the latter wouldn't have been a deal breaker by itself. A month ago I just took a notion to quit once the last pouch was finished. No physical addiction involved, only slight cravings and the occasional need to find something to do with my hands, but tobacco does tend to focus the mind wonderfully, its one redeeming feature beyond the old-fashioned joys of cigar connoisseurship now rendered hollow and magazine-slick.

It's like there's a seasonal hole in my personal ozone layer, one that used to be plugged by a haze of African tobaccos from that shop in the Village, and I'm walking around like I know I've forgotten something important but I've not idea if it's Sorry I forgot your birthday important or Oh shit, I burned down the house important.

Or maybe it's just that the Blogosphere is talking about...the Blogosphere, not its most attractive quality, to be sure, but it is difficult to keep coming up with new ways to say George W. Bush is the incompetent inheritor of a global criminal enterprise and that his supporters, both current and erstwhile, have juvenile sexual psychoses obvious to everyone but themselves. Whattya gonna do?

What I did was go to sleep for a few hours, just shortly after I found this from Jane Hamsher:
There is a very good article on Richard Cohen by journalist Gene Lyons , whose work I respect a great deal. In it he notes:

The larger point is that Beltway courtiers like Cohen, Time’s Joe Klein and others currently succumbing to the vapors over critical e-mails from fans thrilled by Colbert’s gutsy performance are on their way out. The brief reign of the celebrity pundit began with cable TV and appears to be ending with the Internet. Washington socialites are quickly being replaced in public esteem by politically oriented bloggers like Josh Marshall, Kevin Drum, the inimitable Digby, Glenn Greenwald, Billmon, Atrios and many others. As Greg Sargent recently pointed out in The American Prospect, “Readers are choosing between the words on a screen offered by Klein and other commentators and the words on a screen offered by bloggers on the basis of one thing alone: The quality of the work.”

I mention this because I’ve seen this same list floated recently as reflecting some ideal future punditocracy. And if the people Lyons mentions were all to step into the roles of the principal political pundits in our culture, I’d be standing under a banner saying "Mission Accomplished" with my own codpiece. But much like my predecessor-in-photo-op it would not be time to declare victory. I agree with Lyons that every single one of the people named is fantastic and worthy of a public stage for their commentary, but to the best that their race and genders are publicly known (and I admit I do not know them all) these are all white men....

Now I don’t think there is any big conspiracy to keep women out of the discourse; just the opposite in fact, I’ve found that liberal male bloggers actually bend over backwards to help us. I can assure you that nobody would probably be reading this blog today if TBogg hadn’t put us on the map by linking to us prominently 4 or 5 times a week until we got our sea legs. And I am just as guilty as everyone else of not linking to women bloggers enough; it’s just laziness. In a rush to feed a hungry blog every day I just don’t take the time to cruise around the blogosphere and listen to new voices the way I used to. That’s a problem.

So here are a list of my favorite women bloggers, it’s off the top of my head and by no means exhaustive so if I left someone out it was accidental:

Pam Spaulding at Pam’s House Blend
Taylor Marsh
Arianna Huffington
Watertiger at Dependable Renegade
Belle Waring at Crooked Timber
Laura Rozen at War and Piece
Barbara O’Brien at Mahablog
Avedon Carol at the Sideshow
Susie Mandrak at Suburban Guerilla
Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon
Sheri Zollinger at World ‘o Crap
Xan, Leah and Chicago Dyke at Corrente
Georgia10 and McJoan at Kos
Emptywheel at The Next Hurrah
Jeralyn at TalkLeft
Ellen Nagler at The Broad View
SusanG at Booman
MaryScott O’Connor at My Left Wing
Lindsey Beyerstein at Majikthise
Athenae at First Draft
Echide of the Snakes
Roxanne at Rox Populi
Elayne Riggs
Julia at Sisypus Shrugged
Shakespeare’s Sister

Okay, she left herself off, and Christy, and the top of her head missed eRobin, who belongs near the top of the list, none of which is to the point. Firedoglake is a terrific site, one which belonged on Gene Lyons' list (not a criticism; I'm sure he has other things to do besides read blogs). And, indeed, it's one that benefited from TBogg's links, which ran to "Why don't you two get a room?" levels, but it's a great blog which would have climbed into the upper reaches without it. So my question is, Where are your goddam links to these women? I've seen an awful lot of links to Atrios, Digby, or TBogg.

Yeah, I understand it's a lot of work putting together a blog, and I just do it in my spare time. And maybe I'm being a bit unfair, because I don't read any of the multi-megablogs on a daily basis. But it seems sorta pandemic with them. Is it any less work for Julia or Roxanne, who are always linking to someplace interesting, and rarely to Kevin Drum?

Really, though, my point--and I'll make it before I run to the car to see if there's any year-old tobacco in the glove box--is What's wrong with the blogosphere being the blogosphere? Why do we want any of these people to "replace" the celebrity punditocracy? Off with their friggin' heads. I already lived through "My Sharona" as a substitute for the Ramones. Replacing Laura Ingraham's headshot with Ana Marie Cox's is not my idea of a rallying cry.

11:38 AM fixed Robin link.

Wednesday, May 10

Happy Birthday

Maybelle Addington Carter
May 10, 1909--October 23, 1978

At Least Our Lynch Mobs Are Digital

Richard Cohen, "Digital Lynch Mob", Washington Post, May 9.

Of Cohen's take on Stephen Colbert's Correspondents' Dinner performance enough, or almost enough, has been said: in light of his harassment by Left Blogostan he should be reminded that a) he wrote a piece which took a few gratituitous swipes at the blogosphere; b) he wasn't funny; and c) he wrote about the thing a week after the event, one he had not attended.

So Cohen's claim people wrote in response to a column saying Colbert was not funny is not exactly so. Cohen begged for this, and like some David Blaine street stunt it's impossible to decide with these types if it's a fake or just completely phony.

[Regular readers are aware that I have no interest whatsoever in Tales of Blogtopia, being that I currently totter at the intersection of "Seen That Sorta Thing Come An' Go A Hundred Times, Sonny" and "I'm Old And There Are Wolves Out There". And I'm congenitally disinterested in any form of Utopia, Anti-Utopia, Dystopia, or Todd Rundgren's Utopia, whom I once walked out on (I had a temperature of 102º, which didn't make them any less boring). Blaming something called the Blogosphere for public rudeness is like blaming Alexander Graham Bell for telemarketing. ]

Cohen stepped into that knowing there was already an uproar and frankly he's no longer good enough to warrant as much of a response as he got, which is not the same thing as saying he didn't deserve it. On the other hand, it did get me to check out his Tuesday column all on my own, without first reading elsewhere that he'd performed another public sex act with a once-popular President. And here again, not only has the "mean people sent me rude emails and all I did was antagonize them" story been more than handled, Cohen is apparently unaware that it became a cliché exactly three weeks after the term "blog" was coined.

This, though, caught my eye:
But the message in this case truly is the medium. The e-mails pulse in my queue, emanating raw hatred. This spells trouble -- not for Bush or, in 2008, the next GOP presidential candidate, but for Democrats. The anger festering on the Democratic left will be taken out on the Democratic middle. (Watch out, Hillary!) I have seen this anger before -- back in the Vietnam War era. That's when the antiwar wing of the Democratic Party helped elect Richard Nixon. In this way, they managed to prolong the very war they so hated.

Please, Dick, you've already earned the admiring glances of Kathryn Jean Lopez and Jonah Goldberg (warning: links take you to stuff written by those people). Personally, I'd rather have strangers calling me bad names.

Anyway, watch out, Hillary! because there are afoot in the land people who actually don't believe it's best to just shut up and let you conduct the disaster for a while, and if the word around the WaPo Pundits Only water cooler is to be believed they may be armed with Patchouli. And I don't remember exactly what we were smoking back in the Sixties, but I do remember why nobody shared any with Little Dickie Cohen. It was because he kept babbling about how, if we'd all just tow the line, the party responsible for the quagmire in Southeast Asia would straighten it up just as soon as it defeated Nixon. And we all believed that whatever he was on he'd had way too much of it already.

Tuesday, May 9

Programming Note

Note: I haven't the slightest idea why Olbermann has Howard Fineman on. This is different from asking why Tweety has him on, or why he's considered a pundit, or what his job description is, or why anyone would listen to him. I'm long resigned to living in a world where somebody with enough money to make it happen wants Howard the Suck to impersonate a journalist, and I know will never be able to figure out why. If you were choosing up sides Howard Fineman is the last person anyone would pick. For anything.

But why the hell does he turn up on Olbermann, which if nothing else at least is not Hardball. Is it to make the interminable WaPo contingent seem witty, or informed, or vaguely interesting? Mission Unaccomplished.

Monday night Fineman was in full Bush Ass Covering mode, and it was not at all a pretty sight. Catching Keith's toss of the Bush fish story, Fineman did a rendition of "Melancholy Baby" worthy of its reputation as the Drunk's Lament:
He [Bush] told me once in the middle of the 2000 campaign when things were going badly, he said, y'know, if this doesn't work out I'd be just as happy sitting on my lake in a fishing boat fishing.

And for a guy who was out at Stanford not too long ago talking about setting up his post-Presidential think tank, I think in some ways when you got a 31% approval rating and things aren't going too well you start thinking about what you're going to be doing after you're President, and I think that's sort what he was doing.

Well, what I'd like to see him do after he's President is time, but I'm really glad Howie got to share that personal moment with all of us. We can't bring ourselves to say the guy's an idiot, we can't summon up the balls to say that this is self-inflicted and that no President has ever deserved low poll numbers like George W. Bush. Things haven't been going well for him, and doggone it, George could probably use some cheering up right about now. Never mind the sort of shit that rained down on the rest of us when he was on top. Things haven't been going well.

Maybe you could come up with a new nickname for him, Howard. That sort of thing always used to give you boys a couple of them leg-humpin' doggie boners.

Part IV

"The man who comes to you to set up the meeting--that's the traitor."
--Vito Corleone

GRAPEVINE, Texas (AP) — Arnold Schwarzenegger doesn't want one NFL team in Los Angeles. He wants two.

The California governor will probably have to be satisfied with half of his wish — at least in the near future.

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and a committee of 11 owners heard presentations Tuesday from officials representing Los Angeles, Anaheim and Pasadena, three cities that want a club. The area has been without an NFL franchise for more than a decade.

Schwarzenegger went first. After meeting with the owners, the actor-turned-politician emerged to say he was there to make sure "we're getting not only one NFL team to the Los Angeles area, Southern California, but to actually get two teams. That's why I came. Why limit it?"

I dunno...because your constituents don't want 'em?

Or maybe they do. But they sure held the door open to make sure both the Rams and Raiders made it out safely a decade ago, and nobody squawked too much when the league expanded twice without glancing to its left. But then several mid-market teams--Indianapolis, San Diego, Arizona, Minnesota--faced stadium contract expiration dates. Suddenly the league was almost desperate to regain a foothold in the nation's Number Two Teevee Market.


The NFL is aware that it milked the LA business as far as it could go without making a realistic-looking move toward getting back into the market, and booster groups sprung up around renovating the LA Colosseum, the Rose Bowl, or building a new $800,000 M complex in Anaheim.

Even assuming that people care, why would they care enough to want two? Why would a politician, even one as tone-deaf as Arnie (who could've seen that comin', huh?) call for dueling franchises at god knows what expense in a state whose budget crises brought about his unlikely election in the first place? Schwarzenegger isn't going to be anywhere near an elected office should a second expansion club come So Cal's way, and he probably doesn't have much say about the first one, either. You'll forgive me if my primary focus is on the cost overruns for Hey Rube Lube Stadium in my own backyard, but I can look up long enough to wonder whether Arnie gets paid by the inanity, or whether threatening the rest of the league with another round of "We'll move to LA!" is part of the up-front money Cali had to provide.

Friday, May 5

Happy Birthday

Blind Willie McTell
May 5, 1901--August 15, 1959

Bollocks of Steele

Shelby Steele, "White Guilt and the Western Past," Opinion Journal, May 2

I spent two days staring at this thing, angry enough to jump in a mud puddle on the off chance that Shelby Steele would wander by and get splashed.

Sure, David Neiwert had pretty much taken him out with a headline. It still gnawed at me, because the whole End of Racism thing pisses me off. It's more personal than many other political issues. White people who proclaim that racism died a generation ago don't know what they're talking about. (In case you don't know, Steele is African-American, a Hoover Institute sinecure paid to tell the Right what it wants to hear from Black folk.) Racism is not Jim Crow laws. It's not Separate but Equal, but Separate and Brutally Kept in Place.

But then something else occurred to me, a good excuse to deal with this briefly since I'd go on forever otherwise. The bravery shown by people who marched and sat-in and boycotted and died to begin to put an end to an exceedingly long and ugly stain on this society cannot be dismissed like last year's faded singing sensation. Their contribution was as great as that of our military veterans and as deserving of eternal recognition. And as with our armed forces, that means remembering precisely what they did for us, not sticking somebody on a stamp and calling it even.

The thing that occurred to me was that Steele's dependent clause, that we have taken to fighting wars at less than full measure, was as full of shit as the racism hangover that supposedly engenders it:
There is something rather odd in the way America has come to fight its wars since World War II.

For one thing, it is now unimaginable that we would use anything approaching the full measure of our military power (the nuclear option aside) in the wars we fight.

Just for starters, why "the nuclear option aside"? If the argument is for the full measure of military power, why aren't nukes included? Because they suggest public insanity? Because we must provide a measure of plausible humanity along with the slaughter? What? Y'know, the "Nuke Baghdad/Tehran/France" crowd can avail itself of the same argument. And the use of nuclear weapons is the one sure way the US has of imposing its will on everybody else--on the surface, that is--so I think we're owed an explanation as to why "the nuclear option aside".

The reality is quite the opposite--any situation calling for the full measure of our military might would at the very least cause us to consider the use of nuclear weapons. It's a situation we actually lived under for a couple decades, Mr. Steele--you can look it up--and fortunately, cooler saner heads than yours prevailed. These are the circumstances of the modern world, no matter how some of us might wish for an era of kingly combat and comely indentured serving wenches.
And this seems only reasonable given the relative weakness of our Third World enemies in Vietnam and in the Middle East.

There are at least a half-dozen responses to this, and I hope I'll get around to them all. But I wanted to single this sentence out for its betrayal of a mindset which refuses to die despite being rebuked in toto and before our very eyes over the past three years.

This is, in fact, the Vietnam version of "the end of racism". For years the war's defenders insisted we didn't lose at all: "We weren't allowed to win," being the battle cry of terminal denial. You will still see claims the US "never lost a battle" (not exactly so), followed by the insistence that "We eradicated the Viet Cong in the Tet Offensive, but the media reported it as a loss" (true as to the first part, bass-ackwards in the second). Now that, for whatever reason, it's not longer considered expedient to avoid the D word, it's claimed that the loss somehow did not occur in the field, or didn't really count because we brought the wrong shoes. This amounts to a rather shocking admission of ignorance even of recent history (if you prefer a de-politicized example, try the Soviets in Afghanistan), let alone military history, let alone common sense. It's why so many of our warfloggers, up to and including the ones at the Pentagon, imagined war as being as settled as a Division I football factory taking on a state college on week two of the season. It ain't.
But the fact is that we lost in Vietnam, and today, despite our vast power, we are only slogging along--if admirably--in Iraq against a hit-and-run insurgency that cannot stop us even as we seem unable to stop it. Yet no one--including, very likely, the insurgents themselves--believes that America lacks the raw power to defeat this insurgency if it wants to. So clearly it is America that determines the scale of this war. It is America, in fact, that fights so as to make a little room for an insurgency.

Oh, poop. We're divining the beliefs of the insurgents themselves without even understanding the nature of an insurgency. An insurgency arises only when there is considerable difference in the weight of the forces. You "make room" for an insurgency by being an invader, a large target, and by having enormous communication and supply networks to defend. You "make room" for an insurgency because leveling everything within a 1500-mile radius is not what you set out to do. Is this really so hard to think through? The US is not going to attack Carthage, raze it, and sew the fields with salt. And so long as we keep picking fights with kiddies 1/100 our size, we're not going to face an adversary who pulls on red jackets and marches onto an open field to have it out under Marquis of Queensbury rules. That's just stupid.

Unfortunately, it's not so stupid that it wasn't roughly all we prepared for in Iraq.
Certainly since Vietnam, America has increasingly practiced a policy of minimalism and restraint in war. And now this unacknowledged policy, which always makes a space for the enemy, has us in another long and rather passionless war against a weak enemy.

One: while it's not my intention to answer the White Guilt Thesis here, it's absurd to suggest that the concept of "limited war" derives solely from tender-heartedness, a misapplication of resources, an unfamiliarity with guerilla war, or creeping hippie dogma. Two: it's both ridiculous and, well, amusing, given the circumstances, to suggest that the US should mobilize maximum force (nuclear option aside) against tenth-rate powers when, given the overheated rhetoric about WMDs and Infinite Clashes of Civilization vs Evil that preceded our most recent episode, this wasn't even considered. And it wasn't considered because the merest mention of conscription would have blown the whole program to smithereens, while actually taxing the current generation to pay for the thing would have led to outright revolt from the Right. Despite the fact that the American public largely swallowed the idea that Saddam Hussein personally planned 9/11 they still aren't flocking to enlistment centers. That's a very impressive sword you're waving there in the hallways of the Hudson Institute there, Mr. Steele, but in the future you might consider tempering.

Three: there were damned good reasons to wage limited war in Korea and Vietnam, and to avoid large-scale support of Afghan rebels, just as the Soviets avoided massive support of the Vietnamese. Even absent the Cold War our level of "involvement" in Iraq has caused us a considerable international migrane. All-out war would do worse, and perhaps much much worse. As it is there's no question the potential other major powers of the planet are watching us with an eye to thwarting our further schemes. I know it's a requirement on the Right to affect macho unconcern with international realities, but like most macho posturing it uses the wrong head to think with.
Why this new minimalism in war?

It began, I believe, in a late-20th-century event that transformed the world more profoundly than the collapse of communism: the world-wide collapse of white supremacy as a source of moral authority, political legitimacy and even sovereignty. This idea had organized the entire world, divided up its resources, imposed the nation-state system across the globe, and delivered the majority of the world's population into servitude and oppression. After World War II, revolutions across the globe, from India to Algeria and from Indonesia to the American civil rights revolution, defeated the authority inherent in white supremacy, if not the idea itself. And this defeat exacted a price: the West was left stigmatized by its sins. Today, the white West--like Germany after the Nazi defeat--lives in a kind of secular penitence in which the slightest echo of past sins brings down withering condemnation. There is now a cloud over white skin where there once was unquestioned authority.

I mostly quote this in case you missed the real flavor of this leftover wad of 19th century bubblegum. And to address the fact that the politics behind this are as screwy as the military notions. We are not going to reinstitute The Great Game, sad as that may be to some folks. We could, I suppose, attempt to get away with totalitarian control of as much of the globe as we think profitable, just as we could have flattened Vietnam, or the Soviets destroyed Afghanistan. It works so long as you can deny there's any price to be paid, any legitimacy to any other viewpoint, and so long as you are not personally responsible for the actual nuts-and-bolts of putting the thing together.

Our "limited activity" in Indochina--which could have been avoided altogether had we extended our pledge of the right of self-determination to people who (shudder) weren't White Like Us, Mr. Steele--included the dropping of five times the total bomb tonnage we dropped on Germany in WWII. The Vietnamese were our allies in that one, sir, somehow managing to maintain an effective insurgency in the face of a Japanese invader who scrupled at nothing to control conquered territory.

"The iniquities of the fathers shall be visited unto the third and fourth generation". Doesn't it go something like that? (And White people wrote the Bible, of course.) But that isn't the case here, Mr. Steele. The iniquities are all too quickly forgiven, and forgotten, once they're finally exposed. It's the hard lessons of colonialism abroad and White Supremacy at home which keep smacking us upside the head, if you'll pardon the expression.

Thursday, May 4

A Palate-Cleansing Lemon Granita Intermezzo

David Neiwert, "The End of the End of Racism" responds to that Shelby Steele Opinion Journal piece in a way I couldn't even if my brain weren't at the moment an inert mass trapped in a freakishly large skull. More inert than usual, I mean.

All I have the strength to add at the moment is this:

Mascot: Rebels
School Colors: Gray and Red

Mission Statement (abridged):

"Our mission at Nathan Bedford Forrest High School is to meet
the needs of a diverse group of students by offering quality
programs in academics, technology, fine arts, vocational, and
extra-curricular activities. "

Go Rebs!
(In case it's too small to make out, the Scales of Justice in the upper left corner of the shield are a particularly fine touch.)

Let us move along to something refreshing and slushy, with a hint of self-indulgence and a touch of brave, politically incorrect high living we used to enjoy in the old days, before White European Civilization (is that a redundancy?) was illegal and the servant problem became impossible. Let us take as our inspiration the example of Professor Doctor Dr. Mike S. Adams, Ph.D., who is courageously celebrating not wasting any ammo on his imaginary adversaries this week by smoking three cigars of two ring sizes which I hope are reproduced actual size below:

because that was a lot more work than it looks like it would be. As Freud said, "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, but in your case I wouldn't try it."

Where was I? Oh, the sorbet course:

Jonah Goldberg, "Is Bush the New Nixon?" (warning: this passes for thought in some quarters).

Maybe I can save us all some time and at least one of us an impending Category 3 headache. Abstract: Now that there's nothing redeemable left in George W. Bush the likes of Jonah can cough up, he's no Reaganite. In fact, one more disaster and he's a Liberal. A gay Liberal.
That cackling you're hearing comes from the chorus of Bush critics (an all-inclusive term that accounts for spittle-flecked bloggers and moderate liberal finger-waggers alike) giddy over Bush's basement-level poll numbers. Several bloggers have gone to the trouble of showing side-by-side charts of Bush's approval rating following close behind former President Richard Nixon's. At the end of the trail is the X-marks-the-spot treasure trove "Nixon resigns."

Now, there's a great deal that's wrong with the comparison. Nixon didn't resign because his poll numbers were low. The causation worked the other way. His poll numbers were low because he was involved in an impeachment-level scandal that prompted him to resign. I know there are many Bush-haters clicking their ruby slippers together about how impeachment is around the corner, but let's keep at least one foot on terra firma.

Sure, so long as we can use the other to repeatedly kick your lard ass.
There are other problems with the comparison. The economy was a mess toward the end of Nixon's term. It's going gangbusters now. As bad as the Iraq war may be going, it hardly compares to the bloodshed of Vietnam. And as loud as the antiwar movement may be today, it amounts to little more than a historical re-enactment of the antiwar protests of the 1960s and 1970s.

Well, there may be a problem or two with the problems there. For one, that "gangbusters" schtick isn't exactly playing everywhere, particularly among, oh, the public. Then there's Iraq. Bad as it may be going, it's still worse than you lot want to admit. I realize how comforting it is that the numbers of US deaths don't approach Vietnam's at its height, just as it's comforting that your ass is home in a Barcolounger in front of a teevee that isn't reminding you of the sacrifice of young men and women every night on the news. But as Phil Carter (whose ass is over there, God bring him home safely) and Owen West pointed out at the end of 2004, once you factor in improved medical care (in Vietnam a soldier was 1.5 times more likely to die of his wounds), adjust for troop levels, and take out Air Force deaths, Iraq is pretty damn close to as lethal as Indochina was. And as for that "historical re-enactment" of anti-war protests, it's beside the point. The public is far more opposed to our Iraq adventure than the roughly 50-50 split over Vietnam professional Sixties revisionists would have us forget.
Blah, blah, Nixon was the last of the New Dealers, blah, blah, Bush once said government should solve a problem, blah, blah, he's loyal to his father, who was a Nixonite, blah, blah, blah.

Okay, that's not a quote, exactly. This is:
Perhaps this unnoticed fact explains part of Bush's falling poll numbers more than most observers are willing to admit. The modern conservative movement, from Goldwater to Reagan, was formed as a backlash against Nixonism. Today, Reaganite conservatives make up a majority of the Republican Party. If Bush held the Reaganite line on liberty at home the way he does on liberty abroad, he'd be in a lot better shape. After all, if Bush's own base supported him at their natural level, his job approval numbers wouldn't be stellar, but they wouldn't have his enemies cackling, either.

Goldwater and Reagan were a Nixon backlash? Have you explained this to Mr. Buckley?

I skipped over Jonah's schoolyard witticism about Kevin Phillips. Phillips recently, rather famously, said that the GOP has become the first religious party in America. I think that can be stood on its head; rather than a religious party, the modern GOP, the spawn of the intellectually inbred Reaganaut Right, is now the party which behaves like a religion. It treats reality like pulpit fodder. Whoever or whatever makes it look bad may suddenly be out of the club, excommunicated, eyes closed with holy dread. The war's a Reaganaut war, and clearly still popular with the base. Jonah's still touting the economy. What has he got against Bush, aside from the fact he's a total failure? And one who got that way as the farthest-Right President evah? There's no principled opposition to Bush on the Right. Stop kiddin' yourself and realize that Bush's approval numbers are way higher than they have any right to be because you Republicans still cling to him, because he's your man.

Wednesday, May 3

Happy Birthday

Septima Poinsette Clark
May 3, 1898--December 15, 1987

"While We're Sure Mr. Parker and Mr. Gilespie Are Considered Highly Competent, We Were Led To Believe Mr. Welk Would Be Performing All Evening"

I had no intention of writing about Stephen Colbert's performance at the Correspondents' Dinner. Just of savoring it, and ignoring the wingnut backlash. Then I checked in with Robin yesterday morning and read "How I know that Dan Froomkin isn't a liberal blogger" and I realized it wasn't just the right-wing jackdaws pecking at Colbert; the fêted correspondent herd was stamping and snorting, too.

It turned out I was a day late, and the link took me to Froomkin's Tuesday column, which now covered the print reaction to Colbert instead of the event itself. I'm grateful that Dan had collected so much of that sorry mess in one place, and I'm forced to disagree with my friend Robin. In singing the Conventional Wisdom song one day, then penning a testosterone-free column on the controversy, Froomkin was behaving precisely as what passes for a liberal among Washington insiders.

Back up to Monday and the column Robin objected to. Froomkin wrote:
The boozy bonhomie of the annual event is intended to serve as a balm for the often tense relationship between the White House and the reporters who cover it.

Bush largely delivered on his side of the bargain. Colbert delivered something else entirely.
Now, perhaps you too find a hive of bees buzzing inside your head. Just as with last year's incredible performance when the First Lady delivered a monotoned monologue that had 'em rolling in the aisles, it's damn near impossible for me to believe that a roomful of insiders attending an event whose stated purpose is to poke fun suddenly go ga-ga because the Bushes proceed to read prepared skits which actually do so; and having watched both performances, there's simply no way I can describe either one as amusing. Hell, I can't even describe them as self-deprecating, since it's so obvious neither the President nor his wifebot believe a thing they're saying. It would be one thing to toss them a bone for the attempt. It's quite another to insist one actually found it funny. There's a world of difference between skewering yourself and poking imaginary fun at a caricature of your foibles. The former is a leveling experience. The latter just serves to build you up by pretending to knock yourself down. Neither Bush laid a glove on themselves, and anybody who doesn't see that is disqualified from acting as a public bullshit detector when it counts.

(And really, now, I understand this is not professional comedy, but for God's sakes, can't you find a lookalike who can make a fucking stab at the accent? It didn't take Bush himself too long to learn it. Or would that have hit something vital?)

So Colbert comes on, in the words of John Stewart, mistakenly believing he's been hired to do the thing he does four nights a week, and he doesn't go over. Okay, I understand that his comedy might be a little difficult for the Bob Hope mindset. Ann Althouse, who, to her credit, stood by her man, sort of, recognized that Colbert the actor couldn't just "supply some perfectly pitched stand-up humor, the way Drew Carey has done in the past," though perhaps if he'd borrowed Carey's practice of laughing at everything he says it might have eased the audience along. The fact that it pinched a lot of people in the audience in a tender spot is just a credit to its incisiveness, although to be honest much of that crowd seems to be tender all over. But to step beyond that and claim that Colbert wasn't funny? Horseshit, and whore's shit:
• I believe the government that governs best is the government that governs least. And by these standards, we have set up a fabulous government in Iraq.

• I stand by this man. I stand by this man because he stands for things. Not only for things, he stands on things. Things like aircraft carriers and rubble and recently flooded city squares. And that sends a strong message, that no matter what happens to America, she will always rebound -- with the most powerfully staged photo ops in the world.

• The greatest thing about this man is he's steady. You know where he stands. He believes the same thing Wednesday that he believed on Monday, no matter what happened Tuesday.

• But the rest of you, what are you thinking, reporting on NSA wiretapping or secret prisons in eastern Europe? Those things are secret for a very important reason: they're super-depressing. And if that's your goal, well, misery accomplished. Over the last five years you people were so good -- over tax cuts, WMD intelligence, the effect of global warming. We Americans didn't want to know, and you had the courtesy not to try to find out. Those were good times, as far as we knew.
The reaction?
Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts write in The Washington Post's gossip column: "The reviews from the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner are in, and the consensus is that President Bush and Bush impersonator Steve Bridges stole Saturday's show -- and Comedy Central host Stephen Colbert's cutting satire fell flat because he ignored the cardinal rule of Washington humor: Make fun of yourself, not the other guy.
Huh? Colbert was hired to make fun of Colbert? I don't recall anybody saying that about Darryl Hammond doing his lame-ass Clinton impression in 2001. In fact, I don't remember anybody saying the dinner was supposed to poke fun at the current President, not the previous one.
Frank James writes in the Chicago Tribune's Washington blog: "I sensed a lot of uneasiness in the audience during Colbert's routine. It would make Republican partisans uneasy for obvious reasons.

"But I also had the sense that Colbert's toughness on Bush made people squirm because it raised that age-old question that goes back to the republic's start. How do you criticize the president without disrespecting the presidency?"

One order of Alien and Sedition Acts coming up for Mr. James.

On MSNBC, Keith Olbermann asked Washington Post political columnist Dana Milbank if Colbert crossed the line.

Milbank: "I don't think he really crossed the line. I just think he wasn't terribly funny. And he had the misfortune of following Bush, who actually did put on one of the better performances of his presidency."

He added: "The president's used to getting abused. He didn't get anything worse than he got at Coretta Scott King's funeral, which was certainly a bit more outlandish than this. So I think he probably comes out ahead in this whole thing."

Mrs. King's funeral was more outlandish than Colbert's routine? Sheesh, Dana, I sure hope you tip your caddie well.

Noam Scheiber, on The Plank: My sense is that the blogosphere response is more evidence of a new Stalinist aesthetic on the left--until recently more common on the right--wherein the political content of a performance or work of art is actually more important than its entertainment value.

Opinion noted, Noam. Thanks for refraining from going over the top. (Oh, and a side note: if you intend to convince us of your opposition to the Iraq war "from the get-go" it would probably help to link to a piece you wrote before July of 2005. That sort of thing merely encourages the utterly disinterested reader to start leafing through your blog entries for the relevant period. Like, you know, the one which suggested we should pretend to use diplomacy just to keep the little guys in line, while having no intention of being constrained while facing mass death at the hands of terrorists, or the one that questioned Al Gore's political motivation for objecting to Bush's Iraq plans. You know, the plans you opposed from the get-go.)

All I can say is, thank God I've had thirty years to absorb the mendaciousness of our Free Press; I'm not sure my youthful idealism, such as it was, could have withstood it. Oh, and thank God for Stephen Colbert, and some of the best and bravest writers in the biz.