Friday, April 27

Dear Mr. Norbizness,

IT'S the Moon. It's the Planets. It's the Weather. It's six-and-a-half fucking years of the Bush administration, at once the crookedest, most ignorant, and least incompetent ever. It's the fact that not only does such an administration still garner the support of 30% of our fellow citizens but that such support includes sending women and men off to die, first for cynical reasons, now for no reason. It's the wondering if the other 70% of the country deserves that, or what percentage does. It's wondering what portion of that number doesn't give a shit provided they drive a Beemer or have a shot at winning American Idol, or their favorite contestant has a shot at winning American Idol. It's that part of the culture that lies as the only way it knows to take in oxygen.

You, sir, are brilliant, funny, insightful. You have no business being all those things. I turn to you before the tea has finished steeping every morning. I wish that were enough. I wish I could remember how many women I'd said that to over the years.

Look, comments, schmomments. Kevin Drum gets 200 every time he sneezes, and I'll bet he'd trade it all just to be able to tap dance like you. And your commenters are invariably bright, funny, and witty, present company excepted. If I owned a network you'd be producing the news. Okay, cable network.

So my advice is, "Fuck it, I'm not qualified to give you advice." Follow the Muse. Read Chuang-tse:

Starlight asked Non-Entity, "Master, do you exist? Or do you not exist?" He got no answer to his question, however.

We'll wait, dude. Feel free to stop by Indianapolis, where both the booze and the In God We Trust license plates are free, the women are well-rounded, and a weekend's worth of discussing troublesome bare patches under shallow-rooted trees will show you what's important.

Free Legal Advice

IU student arrested in investigation of false IDs
The Associated Press
April 25, 2007 9:21 PM

An Indiana University student was charged Wednesday with making hundreds of fake identification cards that showed up in at least seven other states.

Nicholas Richardson, 21, of Bloomington faces a felony charge of counterfeiting and a misdemeanor charge of distribution of false government-issued identification, Indiana State Excise Police said.

MR. Richardson, have your attorney contact respected news figures such as Jonah Goldberg, Jeff Greenfield, and Chris Matthews as potential character witnesses. They all explained that fake IDs were "no big deal" and "everybody in college did it" back when it was a Bush Twin in the dock.

Thursday, April 26

Happy Birthday

Gertrude Pridgett Rainey
April 26, 1886--December 22, 1939

Spring Fascism Outlook

Jonah Goldberg,"The Will of the Uniformed." Found Wherever Shit Still Floats, April 25.

REALLY, there's nothing for it but to quote the first four paragraphs:
Huge numbers of Americans don’t know jack about their government or politics. According to a Pew Research Center survey released last week, 31 percent of Americans don’t know who the vice president is, fewer than half are aware that Nancy Pelosi is the speaker of the House, a mere 29 percent can identify “Scooter” Libby as the convicted former chief of staff of the vice president, and only 15 percent can name Harry Reid when asked who is the Senate majority leader.

And yet, last week, a Washington Post -ABC News poll found that two-thirds of Americans believe that Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales’s firing of eight U.S. attorneys was “politically motivated.”

So, we are supposed to believe that two-thirds of Americans have studied the details of the U.S. attorney firings and come to an informed conclusion that they were politically motivated — even when Senate Democrats agree that there is no actual evidence that Gonzales did anything improper. Are these the same people who couldn’t pick Pelosi out of a lineup? Or the 85 percent who couldn’t name the Senate majority leader? Are we to imagine that the 31 percent of the electorate who still — after seven years of headlines and demonization — can’t identify the vice president of the United States nonetheless have a studied opinion on the firing of New Mexico U.S. Attorney David Iglesias?

Oh, before we proceed, let me make clear: This isn’t a column defending Gonzales.

Of course it isn't, Jonah. Gosh, none of us expects the half-understood, tenth-generation Xerox mindless partisan drivel you spout to actually mean anything. Since we know by now you've pretty much figured out that anytime you do mean something you'll be retracting it within fifteen minutes.

Oh, and before we proceed, let's make it clear that this isn't a column shooting fish in a barrel. We're not gonna bother making Jonah eat his own words on this one, because, first, they're Jonah Goldberg's words and it's doubtful even he could survive their ingestion, and second, everybody's a hypocrite about polls. Not everybody is a stupid hypocrite about polls, mind you, but we all bask in their warm glow when they're wise enough to agree with us, and talk about how stupid the public is when they don't. It's likely Jonah Goldberg thinks 91% of Americans believe in God, and it's likely he imagines this is something significant. (And Lord, if you think Americans are ignorant about politics...) It's certain he believes Reagan's popularity was genuine and Clinton's debatable. It's Jonah. Who cares?

And this is a country where Paris Hilton is a celebrity, and people who cover Paris Hilton are celebrities, and Bode Miller is a bum for admitting he had a couple of drinks once.

(I just watched Miller winning the Super G title last month. I don't know anything about skiing, except that I've been watching it for forty-five years, but the man, when he's on, is genius.)

It's just that I'd been busy this week. I missed a couple of warnings and casually tuned in to the old Imus slot Wednesday morning to find that Smerconish guy, reportedly on a one-week tryout. The leaky apologies from Steve Capus two weeks earlier become What Has To Pass As a Major Imus Apologist Getting the Slot. Of course, a Big Go Fuck Yourself to common decency and normal brain functioning from NBC News is like a kiss from a beautiful woman. But still, who watches this guy? The target audience is the 75 of 82 people who watched Imus and now feel more put upon than ever?

I caught about five minutes, then checked back in for a couple minutes more, mostly in hope the studio had somehow caught fire. No such luck, but I did manage to miss Camille F. Paglia saying that that maniac shot up Virginia Tech because the hotties didn't come across with some mercy fucks, (and thanks again, Salon for giving our national discourse that soupçon of intellectualisme). And then later that afternoon the Indianapolis Star (motto: "We Were Gun-Totin', Anti-Fluoridation, Commie-Under-Every-Bed Home-Grown Fascist Microencephalics When That Was Considered A Bad Thing") brings me Jonah's latest ruminations.

And my one thought was, "Isn't this over yet?"

Because something is out of whack, and it may be time to take a closer look at those contrails. The natural order of things is this: Teenaged Fantasizes become Craze; Craze dies; Craze revived as slightly comic and generally misunderstood Nostalgia; Nostalgia rapidly leaves same godawful artificial taste in mouth that eating a packet of raspberry Jell-O™ would; Nostalgia is quickly backed away from in hopes that no one was watching. Thus, if you dressed like Fonzie in 1962 you were the Laughingstock of the Pack. Folkies, Hippies, Discomaniacs, Don Cornelius, you name it. If you kept your kit around long enough you'd have the chance to make a fool of yourself when a later generation picked it up as a laugh. Yet this crap--retread 80s Republicanism, something which was a trend only insofar as it could be artificially induced from native racial suspicions and the shame of Tiny Atropied Penis Syndrome--continues unabated. Grown men are paid to mime themselves as chuckled-headed teens. And with the same depth of ideas.

Wednesday, April 25

Laff Riot

SETUP: In 2005 the administration of Governor Mitch "I Am Standing Up" Daniels, the closest thing we have to a control group proving that the L. Paul Bremer III plan doesn't work outside of Iraq either, waits roughly ten minutes after the end of its first legislative session to begin negotiating with Wackenhut The GEO Group (Motto: "When Only An Armed Minimum-Wage Earner With Little or No Health Insurance Will Do") to run Indiana's prisons. Roughly twenty minutes later major Republican campaign contributor highly respected security specialist Wackenhut The GEO Group has a four-year contract (with extensions) to run the New Castle Correctional Facility. The prison, which was built in 2002, was at roughly one-quarter capacity. So before you could say " Major Republican campaign contributor Highly respected security specialist," Indiana went shopping for more felons. After a deal with California fell through, Arizona--whose major export appears to be prisoners--stepped up with an offer of $64 a day plus a wide selection of gang tattoos (Sorry, We Cannot Honor Specific Requests!).

Now, some of you may remember that all of this was occurring at the same time the administration was securing Ultra Top Secret bids for peddling The Indiana Toll Road, and while it was busy characterizing any and all opponents--"opponents" defined here as "anyone who thought we might take a minute to study the proposal"--as toothless inbreds who didn't understand the decimal monetary system. And that they were doing so at the same time major cracks were beginning to appear in other states' road sales programs. Texas has since decided that auctioning off state-owned thoroughfares is not a wise idea. Texas!

And the prisoner shopping is taking place after five riots involving exported inmates--two involving prisoners from Arizona--take place in four years. Which, as any forward-thinking person would suspect, leads to:

...the arrival of the first of the Arizona prisoners six weeks ago. Their number had risen to 600 before yesterday, on the way to a projected 1200. (According to the Arizona DoC, it had temporarily suspended prisoner transfers due to " serious security concerns" with the facility.)

Et voilà! You've got a recipe for Prison Riot soufflé even Rachael Ray could manage.

And so yesterday we got one, and were extremely fortunate the only reported injuries (two guards, five inmates) were minor.

PUNCHLINE: In response, the governor's office released a list of a previous disturbances at government-managed Indiana correctional facilities.

(material swiped from my two favorite Indiana political blogs Doug Masson and taking down words plus my least favorite Indianapolis daily newspaper, the

Tuesday, April 24

New DVD Recommendations from the New York Times' Typist

Critic’s Choice

New DVDs

Published: April 24, 2007


3-Disc Collector’s Edition

Disc 3 skips to the later years, with the 1959 television production “Le Testament du Docteur Cordelier” (here called “The Doctor’s Horrible Experiment”), a free-handed interpretation of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” starring the mime Jean-Louis Barrault (“Children of Paradise”).

THE mime Jean-Louis Barrault ("Children of Paradise")! Fer chrissakes, Barrault's turn as Baptiste the mime is one of the fucking transcendent performances in cinema. He directed and acted in the theatre for forty years, running his own highly influential company, and was director of the Théâtre de France before he was removed for siding with the students and workers in the '68 strikes. The mime Jean-Louis Barrault.

Oh, and Kehr also recommends Jane Eyre, largely for the contributions of the radio announcer Orson Welles.

Oh Lord

SO last year America's Third-Worst State Legislature™, ramrodded by Rep. Woody "Yes, Difficult As It Is To Believe, Dan Has A Duller Brother Who Also Has A Political Sinecure" Burton, created the In God We Trust plate, because, you know, they could. And because lawmakers are uniformly devout men--and occasionally, somehow, women--of God.

Well, now it turns out that, unlike the three or four dozen other specialty plates available to the Hoosier motorist desirous of showing something of his personal interests to the guy stuck behind him at a traffic light, the God plate carries no fee. All the other plates include $15 for the BMV, and generally some additional fee which goes to the sponsoring organization. The Indiana ACLU--hands tied over the religious aspect of the plate because white Christian males have already ruled that the "God" of "In God We Trust" is not a religious figure--is now bringing suit over the fee on behalf of a man who purchased an "Environment" plate and paid the $15 fee, plus $25 to a state land-acquisition fund.

We believe in equal protection under the law around here, but it strikes us as fitting that people in Indiana can show their devotion to God without lifting a finger to help anybody else and while, in fact, actually taking from their neighbors, since the plate costs the state an extra 50¢ to produce. (According to Woody--and he wouldn't lie--there's a half million of the plates out there already, meaning the Small Government radicals in the legislature have managed to cost us a quarter million dollars so far on a stunt. And these would be the same guys who spent uncounted numbers of taxpayer dollars challenging a court ruling that told 'em to quit shouting about Jebus from the speaker's podium under the guise of non-denominational prayer.)

I don't really care about the plates. It's the Let's Rub People's Noses In It business I find objectionable, and it would be nice if the Citizen Legislature of Indiana either felt an obligation to respect the beliefs of all its fellows or found something important to worry about, for once. Still, if our public displays of religion must come, not with genuine reverence but with the distinct emotional aura of some punk kid wagging his fingers and sticking out his tongue at you from the safety of his third-story bedroom window, I think it's time the matter were settled once and for all. Put God on every license plate and the Ten Commandments on every courthouse lawn. Put 7th Heaven and old Billy Graham tapes on every channel, 24 hours a day. And if, at the end of twelve months, the 80% of Americans who claim to be Christian are actually attending church every week; if there's no more extramarital sex or killings over Thanksgiving dinner or parking spaces; and if the Cubs win the World Series, then magical thinking rules. Otherwise you keep it to yourself.

Happy Birthday

Carole Robertson
April 24, 1949--September 15, 1963

Monday, April 23

In Former Baathist Iraq, Car Bomb Drives You!

Edward Wong, "The Riddle: Say It Loud. Improvise. Keep 'Em Guessing." New York Times April 22.

THE Times Cold War nostalgia, expressed in three-column Week in Review section front-pagers, continues with this feature on Moktada al-Sadr that reads like one of those "Who Are The Young Turks?" bits you used to get whenever Khrushchev or Mao caught a cold. It comes complete with Commie Ideology Is Just Intended To Confound Us:
For the last month, from a secret location, the young Shiite cleric has fanned the flames of Iraqi nationalism and anti-American sentiment, a sure path to popularity in his frightened, frustrated land.

and the But For All That They're Really Pragmatists twisteroo:
But press his aides for concrete details of a timetable to present to the Americans, and the picture becomes murkier. They say they want the Americans out. But not just yet.

“In order to drive out the occupation, we need to build up the security forces; then we can have a timetable,” said Abdul Mehdi Mutairi, one of Mr. Sadr’s top political officials, as he smoked at his desk inside the main Sadr office in Baghdad, his television tuned to an Iranian-financed satellite network. He was referring to the Iraqi government’s largely Shiite army and police, which by all accounts could not yet control Iraqi violence on their own.

If you'll wait while I go get a hat I'd like to tip it to that "as he smoked at his desk", a breathtaking 21st Century update of the jokes we used to make about Politburo fashions, which ran to the Harry Truman look, twenty-years out of date.

Which is why it's so unfortunate Wong flashes a tell in the very next sentence. The Iraqi military and police "by all accounts" could not "yet" control the violence "on their own"? Sorry, that's not one tell, it's a tic infestation. Has the American military "yet" controlled the violence "on its own"? By any account? Call me an incurable optimist, or old and confused, but when it became obvious to the public at large that our little Mideast adventure was turning irretrievably to shit I thought that would be enough to convince people that the idea was hopelessly wrong in the first place, and that, perhaps, it was in our own best interests to stop believing in a Manichean political universe (whenever that suited us, of course). I didn't expect such soul-searching to include much of the mass media, mind you, which sank so deep (none deeper than the Times) in attempting to prove it was no long that pack of Vietnam-era traitors that it had only the Right's way out of that jungle disaster: find some fifth columnists. Funny how this time that turned out to be the Administration.

So I can't for the life of me understand why the reader interested enough in world events to wade back to the Week in Review could be convinced that al-Sadr's "Iraqi nationalism and anti-American sentiment" is partly staged to woo the crowds, or that his desire to continue to strengthen Shi'a control of Iraq at American expense represents some sort of Bushian bafflement on his part. What's it take to make people face facts if five years of fucking up in Iraq won't do it? Al-Sadr has more reasons to be anti-American than John Kennedy had to be anti-Communist, unless Cuban gunboats turned up outside Hyannisport once and I'm just forgetting.

We might also point out that it's in that established Western democracy the US of A where the leader tromps around in cowboy boots, and reporters tell us how good a cold beer would taste in his convivial presence.

Friday, April 20

Friday Color Scheme Blogging

[Cute but gratuituous cat picture omitted due to problems with New Blogger (!)]

1. You had to change templates to board the new Blogger and its many improvements, or so they tell me, and that meant discarding color changes (I thought I'd done considerable tweaking on the last one, but then jackd pointed out it was still nearly identical to Kung Fu Monkey). There are, roughly, two templates from which to choose. Okay, maybe a dozen, plus two or three color schemes for each, but a third of them are variations on each other, a couple more look like sympathy cards or personal checks, and one appears to be aimed strictly at the Barbie™ collector. So you pretty much see yourself coming and going unless you get extensive (for me) HTML work done.

2. So I chose one, old layout but new colors. Greenish. One of the promised NEW! IMPROVEMENTS! of the new Blogger was the ease of changing colors. This is the point where I should note that in 1985, back when I was first forced to use one of those DOS machines with floppies the size of a lady's evening bag (having graduated from college the same year the first softwareless Heathkit™ build-it-yerself became available) changing color schemes was the only thing I was good at.

3. So after a couple a' housekeeping chores I started playing with the new color controls. I soon learned that the new controls didn't control every background field, so as I moved farther away from the original green some of it remained, like algae in the birdbath.

4. And this is where we come to aesthetics. I'm a guy. I like to imagine myself an arts-lovin' guy, but still, my idea of a tolerable level of concern with décor is cleaning under the toilet seat once a week. I like green. It's one of my seven favorite colors. But I'm allergic to Lime, and considering the amount of exposure to it the entire country has suffered over the past decade and a half (is it fucking over yet?) it's a wonder I still feel alone about that. And the dark greens just don't do it for me as web colors, for whatever reason. I migrated organically from there to a more earthtoned scheme. It's decidedly not in the range of colors I'd own shoes of, but it felt, if not daring, at least an unexpected choice.

5. It took until last night to get my Poor Wife to get around to checking it out. Her verdict? "It's safe," she said, meaning C, C+. I'm not the sort of student who takes a C lying down, unless I was too stoned to move.

6. I went upstairs to discuss the particulars with her. Which is when I realized, or remembered, that my monitor is considerably darker than hers or probably yours. That's when set to maximum brightness. Always has been, but I tend to forget. I thought the page looked awful in IE (I use Mozilla), and switching to Safari didn't improve things much.

7. So it actually became an Ongoing Project last night, and I can now explain that what looks like Gold or Mustard to you is Café au Lait to me, and that the attraction of the title bar background is that it is #666. Sadly, that's probably headed for the scrapheap, but I do have a new idea I think is pretty good, and I'll try to implement it this weekend, assuming the lawn doesn't take up too much time. I think you'll find it just as exciting as I find the New Blogger.

Thursday, April 19

It Stands For Shut The Fuck Up

I'M not even bother asking about the wingnuts: the Sadly, No! Institute observes the raging lunacy that is Debbie Schlussel; Roy spots both the Your Problem is Obvious Ace O. and the Your Obvious Problem Has Been Compounded by Years as a Carnival Charlatan John Derbyshire; T.Bogg lands us D'nesh D'Souza, possible winner by acclamation, who manages somehow to recast the Virginia Tech massacre as an excuse for 19th Century British Colonialism and 16th Century theology (of a sort). We simply note--we're reaching for plaintive here--that the damage is obviously irreversible and whether it has as its root cause the "conservative" self-commitment to that isolation ward in the clouds these past twenty-five years, or that has merely somehow bumped the blender setting from "Aerate" to "Frappé". We leave the question to more skilled minds, possibly in the Future, assuming people in the Future would care to revisit, which, on the whole, I don't.

This looks like a good place to note that the various and sundry calls for some sort of Mental Health Industry solution, frequently but not exclusively envisioned as including a 21st Century synthesis of the Soviet system and the biography of Frances Farmer, fall a bit short when one considers that Cho was actually in these people's hands, and a fat lot of good it did anyone.

No, rather, if the Media refuses to share a neck, let's ask now, 72 hours later, "What have we learned?" And let's save time by answering, "Nothing."

Which is precisely what we were going to learn. Okay, there's some possibility he could have been "involved" with some political cause or other, which fact is 1) going to be uncovered by police work, not Tucker Carlson (I mean "Tucker Carlson" as a synecdoche there, but let's add, "especially not" by Tucker Carlson): and 2) if some sort of connection is uncovered it is almost certain to be disputable. And yet the teevee keeps shoveling oats without noticing the horse choked to death some time ago. The wingnuts had their shining moment with the video-game, Shred Metal, and anti-Christian motives of Klebold and Harris, most of it made up on the spot or High-Pass filtered like the smoke from a Baghdad firefight; they'd missed out when Bob Dole's instant Encyclopedia Brown solution to the Murrah Building ("Looks like the work of A-rabs to me,") proved overly optimistic.

If there's anything more unseemly and less indicative of reasonable intellect that the Wall-to-Wall blathering it's the constant leaping at whatever gets spewed out as a result in support of someone's pet Unified Societal Breakdown Theory. If we were to find Cho's writings expressed an admiration for bin Laden, Hitler, or Borat this would mean, precisely, what? And to save time, we'll answer: the same thing as a fourteen-year-old girl scribbling "Mrs. John Krasinski" all over the front of her notebook. When you catch the accomplices, or when you get the wedding invitation, you have confirmation. Before that all you have is a problem managing your hysteria.

He hated rich people! So fookin' what? Half the rich people I know hate rich people. If you hate rich people, debauchery, and indolent Youth, maybe, just maybe, a major college campus is not your ideal spot, and if you choose instead to seethe until one day your head explodes, well, what the fuck does it matter what you were seething about? If Cho had turned out to be gay, would that be an argument against civil unions? (Note I'm not asking here if it would be advanced as one; that's a given.) If he was a registered Republican is that an argument against tax cuts? It's bad enough looking for an elephant in a matchbox. We find a matchbox and shout, "Hey, now we know the elephants have been here!"

Still, NBC broadcasting that Manifesto crap could, conceivably, be in the running for New Low if such a thing were still possible. I'm not arguing that it shouldn't be shown. I'm arguing that in a just world it wouldn't be Steve Capus' decision to make, as he would be a regional talent coordinator for Girls Gone Wild or somesuch. It's not a question of its newsworthiness, and I reject the idea this somehow "rewards" the killer or "encourages other budding nutjobs". It's that no decent person or organization would have broadcast this stuff, if at all, before people had the chance to bury their dead. NBC did so because it had had to turn the materials over to the police, and it suspected it would lose its Exclusive in short order. We are not merely ill-served by this sort of thing in an information sense or by its lack of human decency; we are choking the life out of the ability to respond rationally and with due deliberation. I realize that the combination of cupidity, stupidity, and the Cult of Perpetual Grievance once looked promising, but it's past time to move on.

Okay, but in Fairness, When You're Polling a Bunch of People Who've Volunteered To Fight in Iraq, You've Gotta Expect...Oh, Wait

April 17, 2007
On Polling

Young People and the War in Iraq

Forty-eight percent of Americans 18 to 29 years old said the United States did the right thing in taking military action against Iraq, while 45 percent said the United States should have stayed out. That is in sharp contrast to the opinions of those 65 and older, who have lived through many other wars. Twenty eight percent of that age group said the United States did the right thing, while 67 percent said the United States should have stayed out.

The Explainer: Is It Possible To Have An Online Magazine Of Politics And Culture Declared Legally Dead?

Jack Shafer, "In Praise of Insensitive Reporters: We'd hate them even more if they didn't overcover the VT story." Slate, April 17.

William Saletan, "Low Tech: Thank God the Blacksburg killer only had guns." Slate, April 18.

SO, how moldy is the Slate schtick at this point? Don't Eat That You Might Take Sick moldy? Instant Proustian Sense Memory of Your Doctor's Office in the Heyday of Penicillin moldy? How 'bout Mass Outbreak of Gangrenous Ergotism?

The third and last time I swore off Slate--the ban has never included an absolute refusal to go there, just a life-long prohibition against ever again opening anything there on the grounds that it appears "interesting"--took place back before the Post Company bought it. They look for all the world to have improved it in the way, as the Sufis say, a dog improves a pool of rosewater, but then I have to judge mainly by how awful whatever the current mistake of a page makeover is. Seeing the names "Mickey Kaus" and "Christopher Hitchens" is enough to let me know whether they've tightened their standards for content.

The place has a distinct Desperate 38-Year-Old Divorced Accounts Manager in a Bar at 2:45 AM Where All The Women Are Fourteen Years Younger Than Him vibe. It's the dilemma of the rapidly-aging late-80s trendy Libertarian, ain't it? Those lights get more unforgiving every fucking time they turn 'em up on you, and whaddya gonna do? Start believing in something? That's why the Iraq war must've looked so promising to these guys, like somebody announced that loose slacks, receeding hairlines, and a slight paunch were the hot new styles for spring. Hey, Rumsfeld is Sexy!

Back in the early days I attributed this to some bizarre Michael Kinsey experiment that assigned writers to cover stories from a point of view drawn from a hat, or possibly after consulting the I Ching; I later recognized it as schtick, once the mathematical probabilities of a large group of people taking almost comic-book "contrarian" positions had been exhausted. I don't actually recall the circumstances of my first swearing-off, or of my awarding it a Second Chance, but I do recall the blinding-light intensity of my later recognition that the reality was Slate had managed to attract a remarkably large contingent of writers whose dedication to Dashing Shit Off was compounded by a Contrarianism not so much mannerist as downright contemptuous of the idea that anybody would be reading the thing.

Thus Saletan, whose point is, no shit, actually encompassed by that stupid headline. It's just the deadliest shooting! he informs the sorry-assed abuse craver who'd read such a column; much bigger numbers have been run up with plastique! (Pan Am 103), fertilizer bombs! (Oklahoma City), and, of course, commercial airliners!! (9/11), for those of you keeping score. Never mind that Cho couldn't have walked into a store and bought $500 worth of C4, or a DC 3, and if he had made it to Ray Earl's Merchantile over t' Scugginsville his request for several hundred pounds of ammonium nitrate would have resulted in the quick appearance of the FBI. (Compare his buying a Glock, thanks so much, do you need a gift receipt? Hurry back!). Guns kill four World Trade Centersworth of Americans every year. This is the sort of detail that's irrelevant at Slate. Along with anything else which might interfere with the "Gee, common sense and everything I've ever witnessed tell me one thing, but this Slate article says I'm wrong! What a find!" reaction they apparently imagine taking place hundreds if not thousands of times an hour, wherever America goes online.

As for Shafer, well, what can you say after you've said, "Eh"? He quotes Michael Kinsley to the effect that reporters who haven't gone too far haven't gone far enough. I'm not sure what reputation Kinsley has left anywhere, but Shafer is quoting him in defense, not of the cable nets going wall-to-wall and offering days worth of half-baked speculation and a stubborn refusal to listen or use higher brain functions, but of sticking microphones in people's faces to ask them how they feel. Fer chrissakes, the real fucking news gathering has broken down. What do we get from that fake Human Element crap we didn't know beforehand? Maybe today's reality is that if there's a reporter within two hundred miles of such a story he hasn't gone far enough. In the opposite direction.

Wednesday, April 18

Happy Birthday

Addie Mae Collins
April 18, 1948--September 15, 1963

After Carefully Sifting Through All The Forensic Evidence...

I GOT around to cutting the grass yesterday afternoon--in my defense, the experts say you're supposed to wait until it's unfrozen--and when I finished I came in the house and got a beverage. My Poor Wife, who'd been watching the Wall to Wall in the living room, yelled back at me.

"Did you hear that?"


"What he just said."

"What who just said?"

"The guy with the bowtie. Tucker something. He said, "Kids that age have emotional problems. They take acid and go crazy."

I didn't hear it, but I'm willing to vouch, in case that's necessary. Which I can't imagine why it would be.

Unfortunate Metaphor Alert, Paragraphs 3 & 4

ON Monday I caught Digby and Ezra making the point that one benefit of the Imus business was that Tim Russert had to give Gwen Ifill what amounted to a free shot, or at least an unaccustomed one. Digby:
guys like Tim Russert rarely have to face black people on the air who will confront their billionaire boys club assumptions. I doubt that Russert sees himself as an intolerant, racist sexist frat boy jerk. And in most interactions he probably doesn't behave that way in the least. But he also didn't see that Imus was feeding a very nasty American Id with his comments, (it was "part of his charm" after all) and since he did it to everyone, it was no harm no foul. Looking Gwen Ifill, his colleague and respected female African American journalist, right in the eye, and having to answer to her concerns is something that could have made a difference long ago.

Ezra, in response:
I'd bet that she never before felt comfortable looking him in the eye and expressing her concerns. Because there's nothing worse -- particularly for a minority who's "made it" -- than becoming known as the "PC" police. Nothing worse than being too humorless to get the joke. Russert had to face Ifill's concerns not because he finally spoke to an African-American, female, journalist, but because the uproar surrounding Imus made it socially acceptable for Ifill to express her long-standing discomfort in a way that wouldn't get her ejected from the club. The Imus Controversy, in other words, comprised a set of "extraordinary circumstances," in which Ifill could make these comments without harming herself or discomfiting her friends. And even in this context, her actions were brave.

My problem with this is it's a deep truth wrapped in shallow error. Ifill was good, but the eye contact--the literal eye contact, I mean--was something else. Russert introduced her with that verb-challenged litany (see Monday) of news organizations, apparently intended (future archaeologists will share our bafflement) to rebut what she'd written about the slow news response and remarkable quiet in a lot of quarters. And while Timmy said this--except when he had to check his notes to make sure he was getting everybody in--he was eyeballing her in the same manner your neighbor, who's decided to be conciliatory about it, reminds you that your children trampled his garden while not bothering to remind you he owns a German shepherd he could forget to chain up.

And yet, and yet! We have to ask: if pretending you don't smell bacon when Tim takes his seat is part of the admission fee, why should Ifill pay it? How much better can ya eat? Gwen Ifill is arguably the most powerful African-American journalist on television. To be sure, it's PBS, not Uncle Walter's old seat, but then how many African-Americans, let alone African-American women, have the opportunity to comment on, and help shape, television news coverage every week? Why does Gwen Ifill need to kiss Tim Russert's ass in order to appear on a program nobody outside the Beltway watches?

And, more importantly, why do we find that to be an "explanation" of anything? What's the difference between an osculum infamum at Imus' gate and one at Russert's? Who made Imus powerful? Who made Russert? It certainly ain't Talent. It's access. It's access to the public airwaves. There'd shouldn't be any question of kowtowing to Tim Russert just to get on Meet the Press. It's not even justified if we consider the News to be just another Entertainment division: the Sundays are a vestigial survival of an era when there were News divisions, and if they play to anything that could be called a Demographic it certainly isn't one that hangs all week for the next gem of wisdom to plop out of Russert's mouth.

Why should we accept this? It's great to hear tales of CBS worker bees telling the Suits that Imus had to go, but why should it be necessary, and why should it be applied only in the most egregious case after years of abuse? Last week, when Imus was on his four-day Contrition Tour, he kept mumbling something about installing an African-American regular--something he'd "been thinking about for a long time", of course--as a sort of counterweight or crossing guard. Who serves that purpose on the Sundays? which are uniformly hosted by middle-aged white guys (okay, middle-aged or just plain elderly), and which have held the Bowtie Chair of Conservative Studies for George Eff Will for nearly thirty years.

As for Ifill, y'know, the weight of four-hundred years of oppression is not hers alone to lift, and there's much to be said for African-Americans getting the opportunity to send their children to the best schools and wear $800 shoes to lunch with the Secretary of State, but the point of diversity was supposed to be, y'know, diversity. If the appearance of a perfect congruence between Conventional Wisdom and her own that we get from Washington Week is real, so be it. But if it is the case that Russert had to look bigotry in the face for one week, it is also the case that he and the rest of the White Guys' Club could have been held accountable every week for the last fifty years, only for most of that time no African-American had the platform from which to do so. It's long past time that platform was held and used.

Monday, April 16

But, But, But, What About Rap Lyrics?

Why, oh why, is this the sort of national debate we get:

Meet the Press Panel with Eugene Robinson, David Brooks, Gwen Ifill, John Harwood, and your host, Tim Russert. April 15.

I'VE never been a big fan of Ifil's, largely because of what's happened to the once-glorious Washington Week, which doubtless isn't all her fault, but after a shaky start yesterday she looked up and calmly squeezed off two rounds, one hitting Russert, the other Brooks, right between the eyes.

She was talking about the silence that had greeted the issue in a lot of media quarters, and she pointedly mentioned that neither Tim nor Dave had written a word about it (discreetly leaving out Russert's appearance as part of the Alibi Parade on Imus' show). It didn't faze Tim, who at this point probably can only be felled by a silver bullet, plus one for every NBC vice-president; he continued to act, unsurprisingly, as defense attorney--it took him ten minutes to work in that Imus "as you know" had been inducted into the Broadcasters' Hall of Fame (say it ain't so, Don!). Brooks, though, was visibly peeved, whether at the criticism of a brother journalist, or at being called out personally for something, or at the fact that under the circumstances he couldn't respond to a black woman, I don't know. (Brooks had already offered in his own defense that, although he'd appeared on the show "about a half dozen times" it "was like C-SPAN", and he never listened to it except for the five minutes before he went on air.)

So I was busy making a mental list of the public figures whose shows I've never been on, to whom I've volunteered less than five minutes of my life in toto, but about whom nevertheless I could still crank out a decent biographical entry, list of political affiliations and alleged sexual proclivities, and a brief overview of arrest record, if any, just by osmosis, when Ifil smacked him. And it dawned on me (I'm a very slow learner) that Brooks' passive-aggressive, third-chair-trombone, petulant simpering functions precisely the way George Eff Will's bowtie does.

But providing the halt and lame with insights of no practical value whatsoever, or delivering "reality" show schadenfreude to the middle-aged shut-in is not what NBC News is in business for. So tell me Why are we watching this? Is Tim Russert not sufficiently intertwined with Imus to give him the week off? I understand that it was necessary to keep up the illusion of being a journalist during the Libby business, but this? The man wasn't even trying to be subtle about it--with his buddy already irretrievably down the crapper the Meet the Press panel was there to be steered into a game of How Many Ways Can We Excuse Tim Russet's Shameless Record of Self-Promotion and Cross-Pollution?

Let me back up for a moment. Here, verbatim, is how Timmy introduced Ifill:
(TO BROOKS): But he also would say he's equal opportunity. And I, got, one who went on a, ah, a lot on Imus, poked fun at for being Irish, for being Catholic, for a whole lot of a' oth...for being "husky", as my mother would say.

You see girls uh, ladies uh, beautiful young accomplished women athletes of Rutgers? Timmy took this stuff in good humor!
But, Gwen Ifill, yours truly, most of the major people at NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox, CNN, PBS, New York Times, Washington Post, Newsweek, New Yorker, and yet you write this:

"Why do my journalistic colleagues appear on Mr. Imus' program? That's for them to defend and others to argue about. I certainly don't know any black journalists who will."

No, I didn't leave out the verb there, and yes, I've been assured that English sentences still pretty much require one. Timmy had to glance at his notes in the middle there to make sure he'd included everybody, so what was he trying to say? That the whole laundry list of journalistic insider Washington had condemned Imus? Or simply weighed in? If so, how'd he wind up (first!) on that list? He joined the celebrity Moderately Hate the Sin, Really, Really Love the Sinner and Everything He's Done For the Disadvantaged Over the Years testimonial breakfast in Imus' Last Days. Is he trying to tell us now that behind the scenes he was among the NBC heroes telling the brass it was Them or Imus? Sure he was. That's why he just got done comparing Imus calling a group of strangers dirty whores with the gladhanding bonhomie of one of Imus' Drunken Irishman jokes. Why are we watching this? Were they afraid that a guest host might put up an insufficient defense of Timmy?

It didn't get any better (sorry, I should have warned you to sit down first). There was the distinct seam-side-out quality that comes from the desperate need to change a subject and the Steer Left and Pray approach to channelling bad news about yourself into an acceptable harbor. Ifill acquitted herself well, noting that Imus-friendly Newsweek, e.g., had kept mum until the suspensions were announced, and Robinson answered the But There's Not A Racist Bone In His Body defense with "You don't have to wear a sheet to be a racist." I wonder when he'll be asked back? In fact, I've always been an irregular and indifferent viewer of Meet the Press in the Russert era, but I think I'll start taping it to see when Gene and Gwen turn up to discuss something other than a Black Issue.

The White Guys tried to shoehorn in Howard Stern and satellite comedy radio (Brooks, who said "I have X-M Radio" which he apparently scans for foul-mouthed comedy bits, and which is why he had no time to realize what Imus was up to), and Al Sharpton and The Daily Show (Harwood, who added an unnamed right-wing minister's brotherly love for Sharpton as a praeteritio--not to worry, Timmy was standing by with "Hymietown" and Tawana Brawley) without much success. It was left to Russert to cut across three lanes at the last minute in order to just make the wrong exit:
Now, Gene Robinson, the discussion, debate, has moved to rap music, hip-hop music...

Really? How's that, Tim?
In today's New York Daily News...

Today's New York Daily News. Proudly Driving the Public Debate Since Early This AM.

Excuse me if I'm just waking up from a coma without knowing it, but Why are we watching this? Haven't we been having that public debate over "rap music, hip-hop music" for the last twenty years? If you'll be so kind as to point me to where the debate over racist, sexist, and homophobic language on talk radio has been taking place during that time? NBC, ABC, CBS, FOX, CNN, PBS? Or, my guess, in an Alternate Fucking Universe?

You don't want me to follow up on Five Middle-Aged People discuss Timbaland--"I must have missed that one, yuk, yuk, yuk"--do you? Good.

Sunday, April 15


A: And you should be careful about what you say around rednecks as you might get knocked on your yellow ass as would serve you right.

D: That's the Charlie used to say at Khe Sanh, too, shitbird. The primary differences being a) that Chalie was smart; b) that he could fight as well as bluster; b) he'd do so even if he was outnumbered and hadn't had twelve Old Milwaukees.

It is inevitable--inevitable--that given that given two minutes and a megaphone the Mr. As of the world make your case for you:
And KY was one border slave state that stayed in the Union only because of leverage. A lot of Americans died at Perryville - read your history.

Sheesh, Perryville, October 8, 1862--the largest, and pretty much the last Civil War battle on Kentucky soil--was a clash of armies in the Western theatre, not some sort of popular uprising. Bragg had moved into Kentucky with two purposes in mind: relieve the pressure on Corinth and Chattanooga, and to swell his ranks with Kentucky recruits. He did neither. His quick exit capped a late summer/early autumn that saw the Union victorious at Corinth, at Iuka, and Lee's retreat from Maryland.

We repeat: Kentuckians voted for the Union in every way it mattered--in the state and national legislatures, in the rebuke of the invasions of Johnston and Bragg in the early part of the war, and in enlisting by a 3-1 margin in the Federal army. The assertion of a "Confederate heritage" on the southern banks of the Ohio is at best a celebration of the minority status of one's ancestors, and at worst a sort of smirking celebration of racism and comic-book history.

Do we ignore the racism of the North? Not then and not to this day. Would we censor individual displays of the accoutrements of slave ownership, even if we could? Nah. We're First Amendment believers here, one of the freedoms our own ancestors fought to extend to all citizens, however imperfectly they believed in that. Besides, we're happy to let y'all mark that particular territory for all the world to see.

Saturday, April 14

And While I've Got You Here, Let's Bring Back The Fairness Doctrine.

"As Advertisers Pull Out Amid Backlash, CBS Director Hopes Host Will Be Fired"

-Washington Post

"Imus Backlash Comes to CT"

-Connecticut Local Politics

"Backlash grows over shock jock Imus' rant"

-San Francisco Chronicle

"Imus comments and backlash"


"Imus tried to stem the backlash from his comments by appearing on the Rev. Al Sharpton's syndicated radio show"


backlash n. E19. 1 An irregular recoil or excessive play in a piece of mechanism. E19. 2 transf. & fig. An excessive or violent reaction; reactionary attitudes or opinion. E20.

-New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary

I bring this up because I started out this AM to write a piece on the actual Imus backlash--that is, the "What about rappers?" "What about Rosie O'Donnell?" "Whatever happened to Free Speech?" crapola--and this is the sort of thing I found on the first five pages of my Google search.

Y'know, I'm perfectly amenable to catachresis as a force for language chance. I think it's nice (formerly "stupid", "wanton" or "slatternly"). I enthuse (formerly "display excessive religious emotionalism"; later "act irrationally or quixotically") over it, even when garbled (which, until the early 19th century meant "to sift or sort out, to cleanse"). I just don't understand why headline writers and other professional wordsmiths should be leading the way, especially when a word is supremely useful the way "backlash" is (and don't get me started on "spin"). The negative reaction to Imus' comments was, in any way we can describe it in this internets age, reasonable, rational, to the point. "What about Jessie Jackson saying 'Hymietown' twenty-five years ago"? or death threats to the Rutgers basketball team, those things are examples of backlash.

And regarding the latter, thank you, Mrs. Imus, for publicly asking that those things stop. And welcome to the real world.

And Welcome To The Real World, Reade W. Seligmann

“This entire experience has opened my eyes up to a tragic world of injustice I never knew existed,” Mr. Seligmann said. “If police officers and a district attorney can systematically railroad us with absolutely no evidence whatsoever, I can’t imagine what they’d do to people who do not have the resources to defend themselves. So rather than relying on disparaging stereotypes and creating political and racial conflicts, all of us need to take a step back from this case and learn from it.

“The Duke lacrosse case has shown that our society has lost sight of the most fundamental principle of our legal system: the presumption of innocence.”

Y'know, Mr. Seligmann, were the races of accuser and accused reversed, and were we but 70 years in the past--Willie Earle was lynched in Greenville in 1947--we'd be apologizing to your corpse now, assuming it was still on the tree.

Good luck to you, young man, and I hope this eye-opening actually results in you taking an interest in history or jurisprudence or current events at some point. Y'see, you did benefit from a presumption of innocence, though I'm sure not quickly enough from your perspective. Mine neither. Your accuser hasn't recanted; the current prosecutor has dropped the case. So far as I know about it--as little as possible--the former prosecutor should have done so a year ago. I guess we'll find that out; he's the one now entitled to a presumption of innocence.

That's a presumption of innocence before the bar, son, not in the court of public opinion. You have no presumption of innocence at the Prosecutor's desk. This was precisely the sort of prosecutorial behavior we demand, from the US Attorney General to characters on Law & Order. Try readin' up on the eight-year fenced-in hunt of the previous President of the United States.

Which, sorry, doesn't make what happened to you right. Prosecutorial misfeasance and malfeasance is a major, major problem in this country, and it's cold comfort for you to know it rarely happens to rich white males.

So, anyway, welcome to the world. The one that contains other people.

Friday, April 13

Oh, My Stars and Bars

Her date wore white.

I'm way overdue in tipping my hat to Erik Loomis at Alterdestiny and the redoubtable Robert Farley at LGM for their fine work in support of Treason in Support of Slavery Month. I meant to do so last week; my only defense is that I am badly in need of a haircut. I briefly considered swiping Erik's "Forgotten American" idea to feature a few historical repudiations of the whole Lost Cause business, and I thought about shining a brief spotlight on Shelby Foote, the charming, grandfatherly Nathan Bedford Forrest hagiographer from Ken Burns' Civil War. But it's been a good five years since I re-read his trilogy, and doing so again, even to cherry-pick a few Late Unpleasantness whoppers, was too great a demand. Foote's narrative is as sprightly as anything can be coursing over 2800 pages, but wherever it pauses the essence of magnolia can drive a grown man to his knees, gasping for air. One is again asked to believe that the war was fought over the right to secede, and left to wonder how the South managed to lose a war where it won all the battles. In quickly pulling the volumes off the shelf this morning I noted that in only the last--©1974--does "Slavery" make it into the index.

Instead we wish to promote Jacqueline Duty, seen above, as Confederate Heritage Cotillion Queen, 2007. Just four years ago the Russell, Kentucky, teen was prevented from "celebrating her Southern heritage" with that self-designed Confederate Battle Flag prom dress. In support of our proposal we remind the committee that Kentucky was a Union state, that it sent three times as many soldiers into the Union Army as the Slavery Defense League, and that, assuming Ms Duty can manage to trace her ancestry back to some genuine Confederate participation that represents four years out of a few hundred. Hers is just the sort of dedication which makes the defense of Southern Heritage what it is today. You cracker-asses.

Thursday, April 12

Thank God That's Finally Settled

Oh, and thanks again, Salon.


My Poor Wife and I were watching Olbermann last night--don't go away Keith, I want a word with you--and he led off with Imus, Imus, and More Imus, which was probably a mistake to begin with. What's certain is that turning the program over to NBC News President Steve Capus was a large blunder, assuming you wish to preserve the idea of News reporting as some sort of Platonic ideal in which the NBC family of networks regularly engage. Capus blathered on for what seemed like half an hour--he finally drove my wife from the room, and she's all but unflappable--in a wholly self-serving exercise that had to gall Countdown's intended audience. Unless, that is...

...uh, unless, that is, the intention is to solidify Countdown's modest ratings climb of late by turning the show into The Same But More So. First Olbermann, who is not exactly the most unassuming of teevee personalities, let us say, gets over-praised for one of his Special Comments. Then for a while there was a New One every three days or so, and they were the focus of the show's advertising. Enough with the Mr. President, the Constitution does not give you the right... already. And while that seems to've slowed, Olbermann has now taken to leading his guests by the nose. Doesn't this show that the administration is out of ideas? he'll ask Howie Fineman or Richard Wolffe, who are supposed to reply what? "Brilliant insight, Keith. We're all frankly flummoxed to find the administration lied so brazenly"? The audience is parsecs ahead of you at this point, and all it really accomplishes is running a neon highlighter over the fact that Newsweek and WaPo and the other institutions who feed your guests, as well as many of the guests themselves--Fineman being the obvious example--couldn't hang onto this story if it'd been velcroed to a butterfly net. That's until Bush's approval ratings tanked. "George W. Bush is an incompetent bozo" is not only not news, it obfuscates the real problems, the criminal behavior, and the complicity of three Republican-controlled Congresses and the Right in general.

Okay, let's assume you can't turn down the boss (is the same true of Russert, who got a pass on his Libby involvement plus some Expert Commentator slots?). How is it that a half-hour later, on Scarborough, there's a guest making the point that the "difficult financial decision" Capus claims he made at the insistence of the NBC family of employees (presumably not including Imus character witness, the aforementioned Timmy) was in fact a move made only after a litany of major advertisers pulled out, and came after a week in which a lot of the NBC family claimed its protests were being ignored? Granted he was immediately jumped by a Columbia prof-slash-paid NBC shill, but even so the point was raised. But not on Countdown, which would never have let Dana Perino bring that weak shit to the plate.

Okay, that was twice as much as I intended to say about Keith, and maybe the less said about the slimy self-service of Capus' the better, except that after last night one might wish for some wall-to-wall crisis to hit a different network news operation each week so American could see all these guys doing a CYA until it figured it out. The only thing I wanted to add about Imus is that this is the first public uproar of its sort for which I find the hyperventilating, shit-slinging, and unseemly Corporate Wagon Circling to be exactly, exactly the sort of national discourse we deserve. But there's a weird sense in which this is passing, like van Gogh's blob of spittle on the wall, from boredom into fascination, from the inevitable meta phase to a point where the stark issues--Racism and Sexism--have to be confronted directly. I could be wrong. I surely don't imagine this improves the stench coming from the public airwaves in any permanent way. Let's remember that yesterday Steve Capus' crocodile tears fell on the boardroom table where four years ago they decided to give Michael Wiener Savage a television program. But that ugly, burning, infected toenail that advertisers have suffered may yet be trod upon another time or two before it heals over.

Wednesday, April 11

Today in History

"...we have won a great victory in Iraq, and an even greater one in the world. The next time we say to someone, "Don't make us come over there", they won't. America's already-great diplomatic power has now been massively enhanced, through a clear demonstration that any explicit or implicit threats of military operations we might make are not empty."

Steven Den Beste, April 11, 2003

That's Funny. In My Day, Those Who Couldn't Teach Taught Gym.

Dennis Prager, "Britain Was Once Great Britain," Townhall, April 10.
It is painful to see the decline of Great Britain.

Greatness in individuals is rare; in countries it is almost unique. And Great Britain was great.

I'm sorry. There's a lot more like this. If you'd like to take a moment to get some Dramamine™ now would be a good time.

I had a long illustration of this, but let's begin by accepting just for the sake of argument that one constant in the forty years of the modern American "Conservative" Movement is a complete disregard of History, at least as a matter where established fact and its interpretation are something engaged in as an ongoing attempt to hone the truth as much as humanly possible, in favor of molding the whole business into Simple Moral Tales for Simple Moral Children. We have seen quite clearly now how this plays out when these people have hold of the reins: facts don't last two minutes around 'em. People, dedicated, idealistic people, worked long hours for little money so that you could be educated, Mr. Prager. What a bunch of maroons they were.

Let's just throw this out before we go any farther, because Prager has no interest in the real British Empire: Dynastic Egypt lasted three thousand five hundred years, though it wasn't challenged much until near the end. China--is it still Red China in his balliwick?--has had a central government and recognizable cultural identity for twenty-five hundred years and counting. India is about half a millennium behind. Ups and downs, no doubt, even some instances of foreign domination, but still, undeniably, there. Both are still going strong, and are undoubtedly Great Civilizations, despite never feeling the need to conquer the World.

This "almost unique" Great British Empire, meanwhile, hung in for about three hundred years of maritime subjugation and institutionalized racism, and near-constant, eventually bankrupting land wars on four continents. And left in their wake, we might add, the very mess in the Middle East which gives Denny such delicious frisson. Great.
It used to be said that "The sun never sets on the British empire." That is how vast Britain's influence was. And that influence, on balance, was far more positive than negative. Ask the Indians -- or the Americans, for that matter.

Ask 'em what, exactly? Why they were willing to die by the thousands just to throw the buggers out?
The British colonies learned about individual rights, parliamentary government, civil service and courts of justice, to name of few of the benefits that the British brought with them.

Wait a do realize that a scant two weeks ago we were all Spartans, right? I mean, shit. This is mere sycophancy. The entire Subcontinent--to name just one beneficiary of British imperial largesse--was devoid of culture, government, or any notion of jurisprudence or liberty before the benevolent Anglo-Saxons showed up, passed out some democratic institutions, and went back to minding their own business?

And I would like to take a moment to point out that "individual rights, parliamentary government, civil service and courts of justice" are not exactly on the top of the Townhall Most Admired Political Concepts List, except for the part about the individual's right not to pay taxes to support parliamentary government, civil service and courts of justice.
Were it not for British involvement, India might still have sati (burning wives on the funeral pyre of their husband),

Well, they do still practice the pre-historic barbarism of capital punishment. Oh, wait.

Anyway, you gotta love the Mondo Cane view of history. It'd be better still with some pics of topless native girls, jet black hair plastered against their faces as they struggle helplessly against their tight bonds, their eyes speaking the horrors facing all brides of Qkakitl, the Volcano God...
...would have no unifying language, and probably no parliamentary democracy or other institutions and values that have made that country a democratic giant, now on its way to becoming an economic one as well. But today, the sun not only literally sets on an extinct British empire; it is figuratively setting on Britain itself.

In fairness, those "I gave India the Basis of Democratic Society and the Foundation of Its 21st Century Economic Miracle, and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt" tees are pretty sweet.
Two recent examples provide evidence:

Wait, wait. Can I try to guess the first one?
One is the way Britain handled the recent act of war against it by Iran. Everything about the British reaction revealed a civilization in decline.

Y'know, the big problem with Democracy--and I'm sure India will back me up on this--is that when masses of witlings start talking about bullshit like "reverse discrimination" or "Vince Foster murders" you cannot simply open their heads and pour out the worthless goo, and before you know it you've got "wars on Terrors" and "Guantanamos". Whatever the truth of the little matter of who was in whose territorial waters, seizing fifteen British military personnel and their little dinghies, without harming any of them, is not an "act of war", unless the US seizing Cat Stevens was, too. This is one of the cherished lessons I learned from a beloved seventh-grade English teacher: your argument isn't made any stronger by being a Fucking Liar.

Bear in mind--and this is what made me read Prager in the first place--he's talking about our closest ally in the fucking universe. Maybe our only one. Without Lapradoole Tony where would Townhall's pet war be, exactly? What's the next step below Total Fuckup?

But no, the Brits, who've hung in this far with the military genius that is the Bush administration despite the unleashing of home-grown terror attacks in response, get some New York curb service from Prager who, sadly, missed his opportunity for an all-expenses paid vacation at the Hanoi Hilton somehow.
Whether the British sailors and marines should have put up more resistance -- i.e., any resistance -- to the unprovoked Iranian military attack is something for military and other experts to decide. Whether the captured sailors and marines offered more information and more cooperation, and more smiles than was necessary to the leader of their kidnappers, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, will also be determined in ongoing investigations. Whether the British government engaged in appeasement of Iran or ineffective diplomacy will also have to be judged.

By whom? The Townhall Battalion of the Way Way Inside the Homeland Defense Force? Too bad the thing didn't go on another week--maybe we could have worked out an exchange.
The other current example of Great Britain's decline is the widely reported (in the UK) decision of schools in various parts of that country to stop teaching about the Holocaust in history classes. The reason?

As reported by the BBC, "Some schools avoid teaching the Holocaust and other controversial history subjects as they do not want to cause offence, research has claimed. Teachers fear meeting anti-Semitic sentiment, particularly from Muslim pupils, the government-funded study by the Historical Association said."

No comment necessary.

Nor any study, apparently. Prager has just quoted the headline and subhead of the online Beeb story. This is not a case of investigative reporting; it's coverage of the release of a commissioned report by the Historical Association on "the Challenges and Opportunities for Teaching Emotive History." It's not a survey of the state of Holocaust instruction in the British Isles. There is precisely one, that's one, or "1", if you prefer, anecdotal report of a history department (not a "school") "avoid[ing] selecting the Holocaust as a topic for GCSE coursework for fear of confronting anti-Semitic sentiment and Holocaust denial among some Muslim pupils." So let's be clear about this. In one instance, that's "1", a history department chose not to make the Holocaust a special course of study because the department "feared" confronting anti-Semitic sentiment. Perhaps there are more instances, but two things are clear: one, this is not a governmental decision, and, two, it's not something done because every Muslim in Britain is a Holocaust denier. This is, in fact, a case where the British are studying the problem of how political and cultural pressures affect what's taught in the classroom. It's a mark of facing the issue, in other words. Compare the United States, where 19th Century science is still held hostage to religious mania. I'd urge Mr. Prager to pick up a history text from his local high school--it matters not which one; they've all been sanitized--and examine how the subject of slavery is approached, say, or the re-institutionalization of racism in the 1920s, how Columbus is portrayed, or Helen Keller, and how much space the Ludlow Massacre or the Klan are accorded. Then again, I'm guessing he doesn't really have any idea what to look for.
But a word of caution: If Great Britain can cease to be great in so short a time span, any country can. All you need is an elite that no longer believes in their country, that manipulates history texts to make students feel good about themselves, that prefers multiculturalism to its own culture, and that has abandoned its religious underpinnings. Sound familiar, America?

Yeah, it sounds precisely like your weekly laundry list of supposed grievances. What it doesn't sound like is any matter which contributed to the decline of the British or any other Empire.

Tuesday, April 10


My solution? Put four or five drinks in the trophy wife and put her on the air. We'll know the truth inside three minutes.

First off, in all the instances of public outrage--real, imagined, or ginned up for public consumption--of the past two decades, my suspicion is that Imus is one of the few examples of someone who's genuinely sorry, and not simply for any possible damage to his career. It is a suspicion, and it doesn't mean I think he's necessarily sorry for what he should be sorry for. (He's said more than once now that the Rutgers women "didn't deserve those comments". Which of course leaves open the question, "Who does"?) My guess is that a couple of shriveled-dick overpaid white guys say "nappy-headed ho" on the radio because they think they're being hip. They truly imagine they're not racist (or, alternately--it is Our Little Secret, no?--they are racist and imagine they aren't because they don't wear sheets with eye-holes in public).

Let's back up a minute. Why are we listening to a disc jockey's opinions in the first place (and by "we" I mean "presumably someone out there")? I'm old enough to remember the late 60s, when Imus was being marketed as funny, which he was if your world is rocked by wacky sound effects and prank phone calls. His career neatly encompasses the decline, fall, and utter degradation of radio, beginning at the precise moment when disc jockeys went from guys playing music they liked to corporate automatons pushing the buttons on consultant-approved playlists while on their way to serious mid-life alcohol and cocaine "issues". [Alan Freed died for this?] Imus is a bridge from Cousin Brucie to Rick Dees. It's a bridge we needed about as much as that one in Alaska.

I tuned in MSNBC this morning, where Imus has long been an irritant to me, not for his schtick--who can watch that shit?--but because once in a while I'd like to get some teevee news perspective in the morning, and you can forget about that with the network gossip shows or the CNN team of comedy O'Briens John Roberts and Former FAUX Mouthpiece Hire of the Month. I thought maybe by some rip in the fabric of spacetime they'd decide to put on a news program. Instead, Imus is still on! He's suspended beginning next week! And so I got there just in time for the Phone Log of Sycophants to get crankin'. First up was Jeff Greenfield, who chastised Imus for "stupid, juvenile remarks" and noted that all impressions of black people on the show were all tracings of the same Stepin' Fetchit meets 50-Cent template. A fair cop, I thought, under the circumstances, until he went on. "We have to realize that times have changed," scolded Greenfield, thus underlining our main point, namely, that Public Racism is now, to the clueless white people who for some reason continue to run the things they've been fucking up for decades now, a simple Fashion Faux-pas, a rhetorical polyester slacks-and-matching-tie set with suspected comb-over for good measure. Civility, in the form of Not Using Bad Words to Describe the Darkies is the burden we must bear in lieu of actually understanding the four-hundred year history of racism and genocide on the continent. After an MSNBC news break, which consisted of replaying Matt Lauer's interview with both Imus and Al Sharpton, Bill Maher got on the horn to say that "after you say you're sorry several times it becomes other people's problem, not yours", that it was another case of "fake outrage", and that "While I'm a big fan of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, and have them on my show a lot..." This made me glad I'd stayed with it. I didn't think I'd get to hear the Some of My Best Friends Are Niggers, and That's What They Call Themselves defense. It was a magic moment, seeing Don Imus behave with more class that one of his guests.

(Two things about Maher: first, I was looking up his date of birth--it's something of an obsession with me--when I was reminded that not only had he gone through a messy palimony thing but he acknowledged "dating" Ann Coulter. That he could do so without being forced to publicly pantomime entering rehab tells you where this country is. Second, he's always occupied the position Dennis Miller had before he stopped being a comedian: he's roughly 40% smart enough to carry his schtick off, while continually reminding us that he's blissfully unaware of falling even half a point short.)

Last week Roy put this as well as it's ever going to be put:
The Perfesser tumbled early to right-wing market realities: for example, that while Rush Limbaugh's politics was a factor, it was his self-presentation as a callous, self-satisfied douchebag that reminded suburban burghers enough of themselves that they made him a god.

That's why Imus is on the air, and that's why the Washington elite flock to him like secretly-resentful debs at a birthday party: he's precisely the corporate idea of the much-put-upon white male, a fiction they've fed for a quarter-century now without let-up. Imus now, no matter how contrite, finds himself surrounded by the flies in the marketplace that he helped attract; no apology, however sincere, will be free of the taint of careerists and franchise-savers and toadies looking to preserve a meal ticket. Imus being a tasteless, insensitive boor is just Imus following his job description. If somebody should be suspended it's the suits who put him and keep him on the air. (Instead, of course, they take twenty-four hours to come up with what looks for all the world like a price-fixing scheme rather than the public reaction of a corporation to racist remarks made on its nickel.) If he's not going to be fired, Imus' punishment should be that "there's some nappy-headed hos" should become the tagline for all his intros, exits, and promos for the next twelve months. It ain't four hundred years, but it's a start.

Monday, April 9


Well, it was an excellent weekend for the connoisseur of pig-headed American We Don't Need to Know Nothingism, one which actually began a couple days early with the Whatever Happened To Name, Rank, and Serial Number? Parade honoring our coalition comrades from the British Isles. This was unfortunately cut short, that is to say before our brave warriors on the stateside front were rewarded with any Anglo-Saxon martyrs and before they could be appraised that the US military Code of Conduct dropped the Name Rank Serial Number business thirty years ago. Which would be two years after the needless sacrifice of fourteen Marines in an effort to rescue the already-released crew of the Mayagüez in an act of political expediency by an unelected President of the United States who now has not just a carrier but a carrier class named after him.

Still, our comrades' sacrifice--72 hours with neither banger nor mash, and the possibility of imminent dental care hanging over their heads--was not entirely in vain, as it gave my local news hairdos an opportunity to try out some Cold War rhetoric most of them were too young to have understood, let alone employed, when it was current. The Marines were now "recanting" the "lies" they had been "forced" to tell, as though there was a fear that someone in the audience might miss how he was supposed to feel about this. I kept waiting for someone to call Ahmadinejad a godless Red, but, again, this all took place before their time and the lingo doesn't come easy. It was the 70s as recreated by people who imagine everybody dressed like Earth Wind and Fire.

(Which reminds me--this is actually not off topic--yesterday the Indy Star ran a blurb about a call for 500 extras for the next Will Ferrell howler, which concluded:
"Just normal people who want to come and work with us and dress in 1970s costumes, or wear a wig and sideburns."

which can be overlooked in the same spirit we've overlooked the rack-like stretching the term "film comedy" has undergone in recent years. Showing what a crowd might actually look and dress like in them days, this side of Woodstock, that is, would risk sending today's moviegoing audience into a maelstrom of anachronistic confusion it might never recover from. But the premise:
Crews plan location shots in the last week of April and the first week of May for "Semi-Pro," which stars Ferrell as a player, coach and owner of a Flint, Mich.-based team in the 1970s American Basketball Association who is trying to get into the NBA.

Is a friggin' insult. The ABA of the 1970s--the league of Dr. J, George McGinnis, Artis Gilmore, Dan Issel, Rick Berry, George Gervin, Billy Cunningham, Roger "the Rajah" Brown, Moses Malone, Connie Hawkins, Mel Daniels, and Bad News Barnes, off the top of my head--inferior? The only reason someone would have wanted to "get into" the NBA would have been money, and money is the reason all of the above played with the red, white, and blue ball [excepting Roger Brown, who was banned from the other league]. Say it again: it cannot possibly be any tougher to write a script which conforms to the reality. Go ahead and wring another four ounces of hilarity out of enormous Afros and tiny short-shorts, but there's no call to disrespect the most entertaining professional sports league of all time.)

Real sports--though we use the term advisedly--figured, one way or another, in the weekend's activities. It was good to see one-time African American Tiger Woods come roaring back to lose at the Exalted Outdoor Temple of American Bigotry in Augusta, GA. It's also nice to be reminded annually that there's something called the Eisenhower Tree at the 17th, since just like Little Rock Ike was forced to play it despite his real feelings. Tiger, of course, is famous for confronting the long-standing racism in golf whenever and wherever Nike paid him to do so, and for saying of Augusta National's "once"-racist and still sexist policies, "There's nothing I can do about it." One hopes this will be carved on his memorial when the time comes. In fact, since Woods was born on December 30 it should be possible to combine his birthday with Dr. King's the way we have Washington's and Lincoln's, thus leavening King's unpleasant aggressiveness. I'm guessing this one'd be a lot easier to pass in Arizona.

NASCAR, which races on three-dozen Sabbaths a year, takes Holy Week off, which always adds a touch of solemnity to the proceedings for me.

I doubt much of the "stock" car fan base used the time after church to read Russell Shorto's cover story on Pope Ratsky-Watsky in the Times Magazine. I did, and regretted it less than halfway in, as I'd already absorbed the empty calories from six or eight cups of coffee before I sat down. The tag line on the cover was, "Can Pope Benedict XVI re-Christianize Europe?" which, in a way, was helpful, because I can never remember if he's Benedict X, or XL, or XXL, but it would have saved me some time if Shorto had reduced his 8300 words to a single No and been done with it. Just because the Catholic Church isn't the province of mouth-breathing, cherry-picked literalism, just because during its period of European hegemony it was able to append itself in the popular imagination with the great philosophical tradition of Ancient Greece, which it otherwise has nothing in common with, just because there is a great intellectual tradition within the Church itself, that does not make it a friend of Reason. Easter is not an excuse to pretend otherwise, not that much of an excuse seems to be needed (I'm lookin' at you, History Channel). I don't recall Europe being a paradise on earth for much of the laity during Christianity's reign. Europeans--unlike historically-challenged readers this side of the Atlantic--know whom the Church has sided with for the last seventeen centuries at least, and it's not the Poor or the rational.

Which reminds me, I didn't want to leave without mentioning this from The Happy Feminist, again via LGM. which garnered this comment:
Actually, as a Christian I can tell you there are many branches of Evangelical Christianity that teach women's bodies "are not their own" and that means when your husband has the urge as a good Christian wife you will see to your husbands needs and not be so "selfish" as to not put his needs over anything you happen to be feeling at the time. Fortunately, my Christian husband takes his role seriously in loving me as Christ loved the church and is considerate of my feelings in all matters. There is a huge emphasis in Evangelical circles right now for women to be "Biblical Women" unfortunately it's creating these monster men who think they have the right to dictate what their woman wears, thinks, and does in every aspect.

Posted by: Mary

Y'know, I'm hard-pressed to think of what Rationalism does that requires a good dose of that sort of thing as a corrective.

Thursday, April 5


Georges Seurat, Tout le Monde est allé à la maison regarder «l'Idole Américain» 1884, oil on canvas

• Chicago toddles, if it ever does, at still too high a rate for my geriatric ass, and it's the least alien great city for me. I spent a lot of time in Da Region in my college days, and weeks at a time Downtown and in Oak Park shortly thereafter, enough to recognize that I'd never get the rhythms of such a place. I'm a natural Stick-in-the-Mud, for one thing. And back then it wasn't yet the case that I needed to look at my own driveway and see my own vehicle, or see stuff in my backyard I'd planted--in the ground--and I couldn't even cook in those days, let alone developing a need to know just who'd handled my food last, so all that's gotten worse. Plus now, when I do decide to have sex outdoors I'm a lot more concerned with who's watching, let alone videotaping. The Art Institute is incredible, of course, given the opportunity to see Nighthawks and American Gothic in the same afternoon, and La Grande Jatte is the closest I've ever come to Stendhal Syndrome; we should take up a collection to send Norbizness to Facets, Sam's is oenophile heaven, the food is great--if you overlook the customary placing of pizza ingredients atop a pan half-filled with doughnut batter--the skyline is too famous to mention, and all the ethnic groups love sausage.* Still, I like to get where I'm going and back within an hour and a half, at least generally, even if it's a pale imitation of those things. Is there one of those "What sort of international dance craze are you?" quizzes somewhere? I've gone from Tarantella to Bossa Nova. Stop me when I hit Minuet.

91% of Americans tell Newsweek they believe in God. And so far as we can tell, Newsweek believes them. And so long as it's got them on the phone, why not ask about Evolution? Forty-eight percent reject it; 73% of Evangelical Protestants say Man was created in situ in the last 10,000 years.

To which we say, once again, Newsweek: Indianapolis, Indiana, USA. You're invited for Sunday brunch. But first we're gonna stand in the middle of my street for half an hour and see how much danger of being run over by speeding churchgoers we can get in.

How, exactly, do those two things get linked, and no other issue? Not belief in God and support for the death penalty for contraceptive use, or stoning adulterous neighbors, or the elimination of divorce. No Evangelical Protestant gets asked if he's given his coat and his cloak to a homeless person when asked. Evolution, but not, "You believe in God. Do you also believe in Algebra? Vaccines? Air pressure?"

•The one thing that needs to be remembered above all else concerning the flubbed serial candidacies of John McCain is the simple fact that the Press loved the guy. Bought the maverick crap and the straight-shooter shit like it was nickel beer, even though the high bullshit content was right there on the label, even though reading said label is said to be its job.

• Forgive me, I've sorta been on vacation: there's a scandal over something Keith Richards said and/or did? Did I hear that correctly? 1) Who decides these things? 2) Are we absolutely sure there's nothing to those Contrail Conspiracy Theories? 3) Why aren't Americans in their fuckin' houses of worship instead of glued to the tube for the next round of Open Mouthed Celebrity Gawk Fest?

• Thanks for keepin' the place warm.

*With apologies to Vladimir Nabokov.