Tuesday, July 31

Insert Giant Teabag Joke Here

$35.99 for a rented Colonial costume, but not one cent for tribute!

I'VE mentioned before how the Indianapolis Star was where I learned to read, and that in those days the only difference between it and the John Birch Society was the latter didn't have a comics page. My recollection of those days is that 98% of the Letters to the Editor which involved national or international affairs, and 60% of those that didn't, referenced Quemoy and Matsu, or Communist infiltration of the City Council, or the fluoride compounds the writer blamed for the cacophony in his head. The percentages might have been a little higher. I didn't actually read the Letters column all that often.

Still, I read it often enough--for a while, in my teens, it was a perverse delight--that I suspect it explains why today I can't approach an entire day's output at The Corner, or several hours worth of The Malkins, without fortification, and rarely even then. It's not that I had an unhappy childhood. It's that, for good or ill, I eventually grew out of it, yet the A Nuclear First Strike is Preferable to Enduring Repeated Commie Slurs on the Fine Character of Chiang Kai-shek crowd is still there, barely altered. It's slightly unnerving, like walking into your old grade school and seeing that all the water fountains are two feet off the ground.

When the Star passed from the Pulliam family to Gannett there was a seemingly remarkable reduction in the number of letters referencing Alger Hiss or the Last Testament of Peter the Great, although a number of the writers seemed to have developed a personal relationship with Jesus Christ around that time.

As it happened I was glancing through the Op-Ed pages last week when I felt this nostalgic tug:
In my 43 years I have not seen the government fix one problem. In fact, all it does is create more problems and lay heavy tax burdens on our backs as the final solution. The government has gotten us into this current property tax crisis where people are foreclosing on their homes.

Wally Dellenbach

Which, to my surprise, was quoted and answered by Dennis Ryerson, the Star's Editor and Vice President, in his Sunday column.

Ryerson took us on a little travelogue, except he did the driving instead of employing a cabbie, and showed us the Good Things and Necessary that government does: police and fire protection, community health, schools, parks, streets and highways. The only thing wrong with that is that it should need to be pointed out to Mr. Dellenbach in the first place. (Okay, the other thing wrong is it doesn't flat call Mr. Delllenbach a liar, but, hey, this is Old Media we're talking about.)

Okay, make that three: this is the sissy answer. Mr. Dellenbach is already in favor of the police and fire protection he receives, the public green where his children romp, the hospital he can rush the baby to when it swallows the Sore Loserman button it found under the sofa cushions. Mr. Dellenbach already discounts such things. He believes the things which benefit him but offer little opportunity for someone in a poorer section of town to get something for free, other than prison food, are legitimate functions of government whose bills should be borne happily by everyone else. The incompleteness of this view has rarely been challenged in that portion of his 43 years Mr. Dellenbach has been reading or listening to the news.

And eight of his formative years were spent with a man in the White House who routinely told bullshit anecdotes about government waste while he tripled its size. Ryerson takes the same approach: government does good things, things the public demands, it's just wasteful.

Exhibit A is the Indianapolis Central Library fiasco, wherein--we'll labor to be brief, with the usual results--an appointed board decided it could manage a multi-million dollar construction operation itself, thereby saving the cost of a construction manager right up until the time the new garage/foundation started, oh, collapsing into an enormous heap of substandard concrete work, resulting in a mess that will probably never be fully untangled but will result in several lawyers retiring better than they'd hoped. For those of you keeping score, this was not the work of the current board, which was disabused early of the idea it could pass on added costs to the public. It has tried to work its way out of it by budget cutting. Even so, when you wind up with a five-year construction delay and a $50 million cost overrun, taxpayers are going to foot the bill, no matter how much is recovered through the courts.

Poor or wasteful government? Waste of an enormous amount of taxpayer dollars, to be sure. "Better" government would have avoided the problem. So would "better" inspection, and "better" actions on the part of the contractors. Or "better" oversight by the City-County Council. Tell me how we get these things, Dennis. Please.

The joke here is that Ryerson knows the doubling of property taxes on his demi-manse isn't due to the library fiasco, or the expense of superfluous township government offices (for the record: the former was planned and approved at the tail end of thirty-five years of solid Republican control, while the latter was left in place at its beginning, when the city annexed the county, as a fiefdom-and-segregation-perpetuating payoff to the voters who would make that control possible. This is the party which--in public, anyway--loudly proclaims its devotion to the principles Mr. Dellenbach espoused at the beginning of this thing). Like the rest of us, Ryerson's on the receiving end of the elimination of the business inventory tax, enacted by the same Republican-controlled legislature, and signed by the same Republican governor, who fought and defeated the Democratic Indianapolis mayor's attempts to abolish township control. One does not have to be a particular fan of Bart Petersmith to acknowledge that. I do so not out of partisanship, but because, while I have no real answer to greed, stupidity, cupidity, hubris, graft, or political patronage, I do have an answer for the ideology that put them in power in the first place. Unfortunately it can't take effect until November of next year.

Sorry, there are actually two jokes. That same Sunday, three sections north of Ryerson's column, his political columnist, who's been doing his unlevel best to pin the whole mess on local government from the moment the first wealthy white person hand-lettered had the maid hand-letter a protest sign, wrote a column designed as a Clip-N-Send-In protest (including dotted-line-and-scissors graphic! No, really!) where the undersigned vowed to keep a close eye on Marion County politics (and this time, we mean it!), and which included five bold Wherases. My personal favorite, just for the pure poetry of the thing, being #3:
Whereas the importance of state and national matters notwithstanding...

and to which I can only reply I'd like to know how much we spend annually on road repair so that once-bright reporters can turn into hacks fifteen minutes earlier each morning. Oh, and I hope no one checks whether "Ura Toole" actually lives in the county, and pass along that she's sorry she didn't do a better job of cutting on the lines.

Monday, July 30

In Defense of Peggy Noonan. Plus, Prime Florida Real Estate at Bargain Prices!

Peggy Noonan, "I Love America, But The People One Is Forced To Share It With, I Mean, Honestly!" Where Else? July 27

OKAY, so Tom Hilton and D at LG&M have already worked this over sufficiently; I thought it might benefit from the perspective of someone who's been griping about declining service since the Ford administration and who believes the proper response to public cell-phone use is a marihuana-induced psychotic episode, followed shortly afterwards by a grand jury finding of justifiable homicide.

In short, Ms Noonan, the advantage you not-very-crypto-monarchists believe you carry into such conversations bounce off me like rubber guns bounced off George Reeves. Because not only am I a curmudgeon emeritus when it comes to service, I actually know, and, yes, associate with people who do that for a living. Really. Freely, too.

Wait. I'm sorry. You said something about my making an assumption you don't know and/or associate with the Timeclock Classes? Allow me to introduce Exhibit A:
It's funny. In a time of recession, you'd think salespeople would be more aggressive, because so much might hinge on the sale--a commission, a job. In a time of relative wealth, you'd think they might be less aggressive. But the opposite seems true.

Which is the sadder commentary here--that she knows nothing of anyone who actually works for a living, or that she's oblivious of the well-publicized fact that this particular Gilded Age has been balanced on the backs of the bottom 50% of the workforce? For that matter, how do you reach your mid-50s and not seem to understand the rudiments of the economic system?
I walk into a shop on Madison Avenue daydreaming, trying to remember what it was I thought last week I should pick up, what was it . . .

"Hi! Let me help you find what you're looking for!" She is a saleswoman, cracking gum with intensity, about 25 years old, and she has made a beeline to her mark. That would be me.

"Mmmm, actually--"

"We have summer sweaters on sale. What size are you?!" Her style is aggressive friendliness.

In another shop, as soon as I walk in the door, "How are you today? How can I help you?" Those dread words.

"Oh, I'm sort of just looking."

"I like your bag!"

"Um, thanks." What they are forcing you to do is engage. If you engage--"Um, thanks"--you have a relationship. If you have a relationship, it's easier for them to turn you upside down and shake the coins from your pockets.

It is like this in all the shops I go in now, except for the big stores (Macy's, Duane Reade drugstore), where they ignore you.

Maybe they just know you there, Pegs...

That's just a joke. I mean, just because a sizable portion of your own net worth came from lying about the Clintons, just because you've been known to pal around with the likes of Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh, or appear on FAUX News, just because you once said you thought gardeners were "retards with spades", and that attitude obviously carries over to anyone you feel occupies a less exalted station that yours, or doesn't share your personal religious mania, is no excuse for anyone to be rude to you in return, and it's certainly no reason for some two-bit blogger, even if he is an avid gardener, to suggest that large sums of money would probably wind up in the mailbox of any restaurant worker, illegal alien preferred, who could prove he'd spit in your pinot grigio before you drank it. Care to hear about today's specials?
There are strategies. You can do the full Garbo: "Leave me alone." But they'll think you're a shoplifter and watch you. Or the strong lady with boundaries: "Thank you, if I need help I'll ask." But your reverie is broken. Or the acquiescent person: "Take me under your leadership, oh aggressively friendly salesperson." But this is bowing to the pushiness of the Gilded Age.

Look, Peg, let's just start with some simple math. When salespeople fire broadsides at customers the moment they enter the doors the odds are that that's what they've been instructed to do. Following instructions is, generally, something required of employees whether there's a recession on or everyone owns his own railway car.

There's also a small chance that such boorishness is the result of a personality defect in the clerk. Incontinently cheerful people tend--as do Republicans and the supposedly midlife-converted laity--to believe that their aggressiveness is entire justified by some sort of Cosmic Algebra. It is, god knows, a common enough disease in the service industry these past few decades, Peg, but we run into a problem right off the bat. Unless your New Best Friend also happens to be the owner, her boorishness is getting a pass from a supervisor even if it's not expressly ordered. Bad management, in other words. (We would assume that gum crackling pointed in this direction, but frankly, Peg, we're not sure this particular incident actually occurred in what others around you are apt to call "reality".) It's a concept which is as foreign to your ilk, enamored as you are of the megalomaniacal CEO, the dictatorial school principal, or the stark raving Acting President, provided they are sufficiently martinettish. At any rate, there is someone in that store (or "store") who is presumably responsible for customer satisfaction, and who might actually discuss the matter with you. Not that you and I combined can push back this particular tide.

Because, y'see, Peg, there is a Higher Truth involved in the maneuver, and fighting off possessors of Higher Truth is a thankless task, as you would know if you were forced to actually read your stuff. (Ironic, ain't it?) This vexatious familiarity is, in fact, what has been largely passing for service since sometime in the 70s, by my reckoning, and so it's more than likely that the manager in question has grown to adulthood knowing nothing but. It's also likely that he believes that acknowledging every customer at the door is a deterrent to shoplifters--yes, that horrible suspicion you imagine is allayed by "playing their game", except it isn't, and they'll suspect you or not, as they see fit. Plus you're already on camera, so who gives a shit? You might try actually answering people as though they're people, and telling them something approaching the truth--"Thanks, I'm just shopping," say. You'd be amazed at how the common folk respond to English, even if they don't speak it very well due to all that gum.

But there's more to say about this than "You're full of it," Peggy. I strongly suspect a connection between overly-familiar salespeople and the whole Entrepreneur as Hero business, and you know who I blame for that, Peg. Over-familiarity is frequently--let's make it "directly" --correlated with a sort of lazy, cost-cutting, no real training approach to service. Look around you sometime while you're shopping (I'm trying to maintain the illusion that you actually do your own shopping Peg; give me some credit). Gushy salespeople are always off somewhere gushing with someone else when you need one. They generally have poor product knowledge, since they get by on charm, and as a result they'll sell you anything, anything, especially the crap the boss has decided they should push at you because they're overstocked. I'm not sure how you can reach middle-age and not understand this, unless you live in whatever small town it is Wal*Mart hasn't taken over. If I need hardware advice, I don't go to Lowe's, I go to the Mom & Pop operation across the street. And yes, there is a Mom & Pop Hardware two blocks from my Lowe's, and they've stayed in business all these years because there are plenty of other people who realize this. I sure don't go to my local Marsh "Where Quality Is A Slogan" Supermarket for prime cuts of meat. The butcher's five miles away, and worth the trip. I go to the big boxes for convenience and selection, and if they happen to have a squad of cheerful people on duty I smile and tell 'em, "I'm just looking, thanks." And it works every fucking time. With them. Not with the Christians who pound on my door to let me know they know something I don't, or the cell-phone Yuppies chattering away instead of watching where their personal Panzer is heading, or the people who insisted that George W. Bush was the Second Coming of the Lord of the Dolphins. Especially them.

Saturday, July 28

Happy Birthday

Philip Proctor
born July 28, 1940 (Goshen, Indiana)

And When I Find The People Responsible I'm Gonna Kill 'Em, Julienne 'Em, Put 'Em In Baggies, And Stuff Them Into Women's Shoes.

Pot smoking linked to psychotic disorders
Heavy marijuana use doubles the risk, new research finds.

By Jia-Rui Chong
L.A. Times Staff Writer

July 27, 2007

People who smoke marijuana daily or weekly double their risk of developing a psychotic illness over their lifetime, according to a study published Thursday.

Among all cannabis users, including sporadic experimenters and habitual users, the lifetime risk of psychotic illness increased by 40%, the report said....

The study by Zammit and colleagues, published in the medical journal the Lancet, reanalyzed data from seven long-term studies on psychotic illnesses and marijuana involving 61,000 participants.

The researchers filtered out about 60 factors, such as preexisting mental illness and the use of other illicit drugs, and considered IQ and social class, to try to isolate the effect of marijuana, Zammit said.

Most of the studies that were analyzed indicated a range of increased risk for frequent users from 50% to 200%, with the average being about 100%, or double the risk, [Dr. Stanley] Zammit said.

The researchers also studied the relationship between marijuana use and mood disorders, such as depression and bipolar disorder. They analyzed 22 studies involving 52,000 participants.

The researchers found that any marijuana use increased the lifetime risk for mood disorders by about 40%, and weekly or daily use increased the risk by about 50%.

RESEARCHERS at Cardiff University also said they were unable to conclusively link heavy marijuana use to the so-called "one sentence, one paragraph" craze currently sweeping Los Angeles and other centers of "hippie" culture.

Friday, July 27

Friday Cat and Kitchen Blogging

I'm not coming down until that wallpaper is gone.

Did you know you left this cabinet door open?

Oh, thanks for the new plate rack.

I did thank you for the plate rack, right?

Tinhold Hat, Size 7-3/4

I ADMIT that when I heard the Olbermann teaser about Tillman being fragged I was downright dismissive. He was a Ranger, fer chrissakes. These aren't draftees. Okay, somebody still might have wanted him dead, but...people overreact. Surgeons aren't forensic pathologists (this seems a difficult lesson to learn in the US of A, where "doctor" means either "wise man" or "right-wing schlub with a mail order degree in Religious Education and a jumbo box of business cards."

But, then, holy shit. There wasn't any enemy fire to mistake. As far as we can ever know the truth of something printed in the newspaper, that's exactly what it sounds like happened.

Like the man said, an army is paid to break things and kill people. That must never be forgotten in a democracy, though it's been well-camouflaged since Vietnam, another piece of the post-war cabbala: everyone in uniform is a hero, no one in service to his country could commit an atrocity, and if he does, well, it wasn't really an atrocity. The only people who can talk like that either never served or are psychopaths themselves. Guns, and badges, and uniforms will be used as weapons of personal diplomacy. The unfettered ability to spy or wiretap will be abused. The brass will cover its ass. It's hard to believe anyone who's ever even worked in a large corporation can miss that point.

Two days ago I watched both local and national news breathlessly report on the DHS Dry Run Memo. Last night I watched it get stomped, reduced to a leaky ice pack and a couple of cheese logs. Quelle surprise! The original report conceded no one had been arrested, or even connected--which in LE parlance would have meant "in any way this side of so remote it could not be described in English". None of those stories had made The News when they occurred, in an era where abandoned toiletries in an airport restroom merit a CNN wall-to-wall. But they wound up reported as fact, meaning they wound up reported without anyone bothering to check. If we haven't learned to suspect every word coming from the vicinity of the Bush administration by this point, what hope is there?

Of course, I'm old enough to remember the same experiences with the Nixon and Reagan administrations, though in those days I usually attributed the "Whoa, the ground floor of Reality has collapsed into the basement!" feeling to something else. It astonishes me that anything could make Reagan seem relatively benign, or that when I read a headline (erroneous) that Tony Snow said comparing Nixon and Bush was a stretch, I have to ask "Which direction did he mean?" Still, I wonder when, if, and what will eventually be found out about this administration, and what they tried to lock away about the previous two Republican presidents. Just as the Army brass stood at Pat Tillman's funeral while knowing the whole thing was fabricated, I'm all but convinced--to use just one example--that the administration knew who sent the anthrax bombs, probably within days of the attack on the Capitol, and the big question is: Which of the possible explanations is the right one? There's an XL roll of tinfoil in the kitchen cabinets a box in the dining room somewhere. It's still unopened.

Thursday, July 26

Outrage in the World of...Wait a Minute, Did You Say Journalism?

Rachel Sklar, "Paula Zahn Resigns From CNN: Another Graceless Exit, Courtesy Of Jon Klein." HuffPo, July 26
Wow - is history repeating itself? Because it sure feels like the fall of 2005: Bright young star is built up at CNN as the next big thing, while older, established network stalwart, on the job in earnest since September 11, 2001, is shunted aside with ostentatious silence from the brass and hushed whispers from everyone else. Sound familiar? Today, it's the story of Paula Zahn 's wholly unsurprising resignation from CNN amid the hoopla of Campbell Brown 's ascendancy — but it might as well be the tale of Aaron Brown being not-so-subtly shoved out in favor of Anderson Cooper just over a year and a half ago. What they both have in common: The utter lack of grace and class on the part of CNN, transparently elbowing yesterday's stars out of the way for the newer, younger model.

WOW, okay, so, like, Dick York has been replaced by Dick Sargent. I'll admit, I'm having a hard time getting too worked up about it. Or maybe it's the eternal optimist in me: I don't really see it as America losing an all-purpose carnival shill. It's more like we're gaining a dedicated Bush fluffer.

And this, I've just learned, follows Klein replacing dime-store mannequin Soledad O'Brien with Malibu-Stacy-soundalike Kiran Chetry (may her adenoids hold out for the 7.25 years she's got). Did the quality of teevee morning news suffer as a result? Is that even theoretically possible? And where do I even find CNN, on the off-chance I'd need it? It's somewhere near Headline News, I think, the sister operation which used to bring you headline news, as I recall it, and now brings you Glenn Beck and Nancy Grace. Gee, I hope there's not a line of Pretty Faces waiting to bump those two off.

Ms Sklar, do you know the one about the English lawn? Gina Lollabrigida tells it in Beat the Devil. Maybe Bogart (they're married; it's a very funny picture) does the punchline. It's been a while since I've seen it. An Italian visitor asks the British peer, "However do you get those wonderful English lawns? I'd love to have one back home." And the reply is, "First you get a piece of land. Then roll it every day for six hundred years..."

It's remarkable, in a disposable culture, how quickly crap becomes the baseline. It seems like only yesterday that Paula Zahn was reading recipes off a teleprompter, and looking around for someone she could push out of an anchor chair, and here I turn around and someone is writing wistfully about her thirty years as a journalist. Journalist? Hughes Rudd was a journalist. His replacement by the smarmy Bill Kurtis and the descent of CBS Morning News into the cess of entertainment news is a tragedy. Linda Ellerbee and Lloyd Dobyns working in promotion is a tragedy. Paula Zahn getting kicked out a the sandbox so the younger kids can play is not. It's an opportunity for her to spend her newly discovered free time on her hobby, chasing nesting birds out of trees. Call it an American success story, circa 2007.

Happy Birthday

Stanley Kubrick
July 26, 1928--March 7, 1999

Wednesday, July 25

Polling The Nation: God Knows, It Deserves It

Jim Rutenberg and Mark Mazetti, "President Links Qaeda of Iraq to Qaeda of 9/11". New York Times, July 24

Peter Baker, "Disfavor for Bush Hits Rare Heights: In Modern Era, Only Nixon Scored Worse, And Only Truman Was Down for So Long". WaPo, July 25

OKAY, how's he still beating Nixon?

At some point last evening I was treated to this line, delivered by the Acting President in his inimitable, Do You Suppose He Knows What He's Saying style:
“Those who justify withdrawing our troops from Iraq by denying the threat of Al Qaeda in Iraq and its ties to Osama bin Laden ignore the clear consequences of such a retreat.”

and I thought about Tricky Dick, even though, I swear, I hadn't seen that WaPo story yet.

Look at that sentence again, if you've got the stomach for it. The only thing about it that isn't a complete fabrication is the period. Look at how these people have come to talk. They can't even keep track of what they're qualifying anymore. It's like the final meltdown of a pathological liar--okay, make that it is the final meltdown of a pathological liar--when every last one of the oh-so-carefully-prepared fallback positions has been overrun by undeniable fact. We are, at the end of the administration's Through the Looking Glass assault on meaning, left with this sad spectacle: absent a genuine impeachment threat, absent, that is, any chance for the real legal prescription of our system for such an occurrence, such a man, such a criminal enterprise--a chance which has been passed on preemptively by a Democratic leadership fearful of political backlash in light of the wholly fraudulent impeachment of Bush's successor--we get to sit and watch him embarrass himself for another year and a half. This must have been what it was like to be Jimmy Swaggart's bass player, except Swaggart didn't have his own nuclear arsenal.

Nixon, on the other hand, was just a liar. "I am not a crook," well, you knew he was, you were embarrassed for the country that he'd been reduced to that point, but he didn't say, "Anyone who justifies an impeachment proceeding by asserting some inherent criminality explaining activities which have been falsely described as illegal is ignoring the results of the last election for purely political motives." He just lied. In English. So did Clinton. About a blowjob. Why is the Acting President of the United States torturing the language when there's no hope left anyone could possibly be persuaded by what he said, even if it made sense? Why are we having this discussion? Wouldn't a real President still talk about the issue, even if it were hopeless, instead of calling twenty times a day, leaving any excuse he could think of on our answering machines? Isn't it within the Congressional purlieu to require network broadcasts to just ignore him? Could we pass a Resolution of Shunning, including stiff fines for anyone who operates a camera or microphone in his vicinity? Aren't we past the point where "Being Bummed Out By The Thought He Has Another Year Left" has become a matter of national security? We're so desperate to believe there's some small glimmer of hope in our politics that we reported the You Tube Debate as if it might prove interesting.

Bush was reduced to admitting that Zarqawi did not "at first" have connections to bin-Laden. This despite the fact that the first mention of his name most Americans heard was as the SMERSH lieutenant whose floppy disks were captured in mid-courierizing to Supreme H.Q. Note again: the nation had a hearty laugh when Ron Ziegler announced the inoperability of a previous statement. A hearty laugh to the point of requiring the Heimlich. This bunch just assumes nobody's keeping score anymore.

Speaking of laughing yourself into oxygen depravation, there's this howler from David Frum in the WaPo piece:
Some analysts believe that even many war supporters deserted him because of his plan to open the door to legal status for illegal immigrants. "You can do an unpopular war or you can do an unpopular immigration policy," said David Frum, a former Bush speechwriter. "Not both."

Yeah, boy, Bush's numbers really bottomed out when he pissed off the couple dozen die-hards who were still answering "Undecided" when Gallup called. I don't know if it's more amusing imagining David Frum alphabetizing the magazines in his bubble, or trying to decide if Peter Baker was able to type "analyst" without cackling maniacally.

BUT the real treat in that one is the Truman Reverse Gambit, a sad and sordid little tale we've caught whiff of before. (It might possibly be topped by the word that Bush was so thrilled by the rugged individualism of that Bill Kristol piece on Bush's "legacy"--if that one was typed with a straight face we'd like to see Kristol's pharmaceutical regimen--that he was pressing copies on everyone left in the office.)
Bush advisers clutch at Truman as if he were a political life preserver. If Bush has experienced a similar collapse in public support while in office, they hope he will enjoy the same post-presidential reassessment that has made Truman look far better today than in his time. A 2004 poll by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner found that 58 percent of Americans viewed Truman favorably.

Which tells us, basically, that fifty years is long enough for even a President to be forgotten. Has Syngman Rhee been quietly creeping back up the charts? Is the dim notion of a bestseller somebody else read going to revive Nixon's reputation, circa 2025?

Of course not; that's not the way such things work. There's no Nixon constituency to reconstitute; he'll remain a noxious weed in the Rose Garden of historian's Best and Worst lists, just as FDR will remain a roadside monument slightly defaced by birdshot from fortnightly right-wing drive-bys. Truman's reputation wasn't suddenly revived fifty years later; it was restored, or at least it was in the process, while he was still alive, and this was mostly the result of the same process that sent Bush's into the crapper, never to return: shamefaced reappraisal of earlier hysteria. Only in Truman's case it was the Right getting around to admitting that maybe some tiny chunk of Red and Yellow hysteria had been a teensy bit overblown, and maybe ol' Give 'Em Hell had been sufficiently anti-Commie. Which was especially touching seeing as how "Who Lost China?" had been eclipsed by "Who Lost That Island 90 Miles Offshore?" and it seemed like a good time for some hatchet burials. Truman certainly had personal charm, though not enough to explain David McCullough's twenty-five pound Valentine.

I remember as a child watching the cameras following Harry S around on his morning constitutional while he kept up a stream of Show Me State patter. Can you imagine someone doing this while Bush chops brush in Crawford in 2018? In this, like in so much else, the premature canonization efforts--Charm Offensive? Nicknames? Someone You'd Have a Beer With?--will make any resuscitation efforts look like one of Lileks' funny food ads. The image of George and Laura at their "ranch", sitting and waiting like Norma Desmond for their close-ups, may be fitting, even funny. But like regrettable food, nobody's gonna actually swallow it.

Monday, July 23

All The MoDo You Need To Know™

Maureen Dowd, "A Woman Who's Man Enough". Sunday Times Select

[Ed. note. This is, apparently, why the Times needs a 54-year-old woman on its Op-Ed pages: so someone can register surprise in the event that traditional gender boundaries are crossed.]

crying over
a top [garment]
on display
Hidden Beauty [™]
mobile men's grooming spa
powdered his nose
on a tear
more assertive than her husband
"sometimes you have to behave as a man" [quotation]
First Laddie
defending his woman
"...trying to be a man" [quotation]
so many women
like Hillary
don't like her
women view her more favorably than men
problem with her own demographic
the land of women's lib
huge step forward for her
both women and men
effective commander in chief
Hillary's biggest problem
don't like her
don't trust her
don't like her values
politically expedient or phony
out there
28 years of Bush-Clinton rule [sic]
most people
not worried
Hillary's ability
feminist icon
leading the attack
husband's mistresses
pillow talk
qualifies her for the presidential pillow
plenty tough
smack around
dictators and other Democrats
John Edwards and Barack Obama
seem more delicate
concerned with looking pretty
easily dominated
without even wearing
towering heels
abetting enemy propaganda
hit back
back up
his own creep
tear ducts removed
sob sister
mist up
with impunity
melt down
dead soldiers
a heroic Marine commander
"the Lion of Falluja"
bullying worldview
worn down by the effort
He and Condi
close Gitmo
without much success
ingenious new ways
top official
incapable of understanding
sunny spirits
Medal of Freedom
captured the sadness
kids trapped in a desert
blown up

Thomas L. Friedman is off today.

Oh, Shut th' Fuck Up

Dean Barnett, "The 9/11 Generation: Better than the Boomers". Weekly Standard, July 30

IT'S already dealt with by better blogs than this one here and here and here and here and no doubt many others; I had an internet-free weekend and I'm still catching up. And one might, in fact, simply invite all the kids in the block over, show 'em that cover, and let everyone write his own critique; there's nothing in Barnett's piece that furthers the argument beyond its title. Or, to be more precise, which makes the argument. (We'd begin with an old favorite, that the Standard's warflogging editor [born December 23, 1952] repeatedly told a CSPAN audience that he "was too young for Vietnam", or that Bartlett's c.v. modestly avoids any mention of his own service. But then, we've always liked to lob a few at the broad side of the barn to warm up.)
In the 1960s, history called the Baby Boomers. They didn't answer the phone.

Over two million Americans served in Vietnam. Two-thirds of them were volunteers. (Compare WWII, where 2/3 of the sixteen million in service were draftees.) Of course they were not all Boomers; the first of those wasn't eligible for military service until 1964. We don't know how many Americans have served in Iraq and Afghanistan (at times it seems like the same 250,000 have simply shuttled between the two), but we know that the National Guard and Reserves account for roughly 40% of the their number, and that their recruitment figures are abysmal, and have been since the debacle in Iraq became clear. So either our standard is "some people showed up", in which case The Boomers wind up lookin' pretty good, or it's "some people didn't", in which case the so-called Nine Eleveners don't. And either way Barnett eats a shit sandwich.
Confronted with a generation-defining conflict, the cold war, the Boomers--those, at any rate, who came to be emblematic of their generation--took the opposite path from their parents during World War II. Sadly, the excesses of Woodstock became the face of the Boomers' response to their moment of challenge. War protests where agitated youths derided American soldiers as baby-killers added no luster to their image.

Okay, the monumental stupidity of the thing has been taken care of elsewhere, and the obvious response--that those who came to be emblematic of the Republican party escaped this "duty" with such frequency that today one may refer to them by a contemporary nickname (that would be "Chickenhawk", Mr. Barnett) and not by appeals to attendance at a forty-year-old concert--is, well, obvious. So let's ask about that "generation-defining conflict" business, shall we? Ready?

Sez who?

Who're you, Dean Barnett, who hasn't put your meat on the line in defense of a war you find vital to Our Very Survival, to tell me how I was supposed to feel about the Cold War or Vietnam? Because you've got a quiverful of third-hand opinions about them?

It is no longer necessary to try to talk sense in response to this. Even if people such as Barnett are too young to realize the truth about Vietnam and too lazy to learn, or too scared to be fully appraised, Iraq has clearly dispelled every last cherished fable about US military invincibility laid low by Fifth Columnists. The Vietnamese were hardened fighters and experienced insurgents, having fought the Chinese, the Japanese, and the French before we volunteered. Compare the mass of Iraqi citizens who at first welcomed us as liberators. The Viet Minh were ultimately supplied by the Soviets, but in the early stages of US involvement they operated a cottage armaments industry to buttress, then replace, their old French weapons. Later their main source of supply was the U.S.--chiefly through black market sales of equipment we'd given our "allies". Compare a U.S. military force driven by a single-minded administration with a rubber-stamp Congress, pulled into a quagmire by improvised devices. If in the former case we were laid low only by protesting hippies, how the hell'd we lose this one?

SOMEHOW the great proxy wars of the Cold War era were fought using very few actual Soviet troops, while the US death toll reached 90,000 in Vietnam and Korea, where we continue to support a large tripwire military presence into infinity, apparently.

For what?

For the sake of domestic politics and the liars who profit from them. One needn't actually crack a history book to understand this stuff, Mr. Barnett. No dominoes fell in SE Asia. Soviet tanks never came across the Fulda Gap. They knew--and plenty of people on our side knew, too--that they could never hope to compete long-term with the economic and military might of the US, and that a post-nuclear world wasn't worth dominating. The Cold War, from a US perspective, was the result of ideological anti-Communists gaining control of State, Defense, and Harry Truman's ears, and using a largely fictitious threat of Soviet aggression to maintain power. Its great accomplishments were the support, even the installation, of brutal military dictatorships in Greece, Turkey, and on Formosa, the propping up of the old Colonial system in Asia and Africa, and, possibly, a two-generation prolonging of Soviet domination of Eastern Europe. Those weren't issues I personally felt a great urge to go kill someone over. The great "generation-defining conflict" of my day was thermonuclear war. And it was clear by the late 60s, Mr. Barnett, that one did not do anything to respond to, certainly not to lessen, that threat by blindly siding with successive US administrations which fueled the conflict.

It's funny how things work out: in the horrid 60s a common refrain from the Right was that it didn't oppose government do-goodism because it disliked the poor and minorities, but rather because its intellectual superiority allowed it to predict the Unintended Consequences of such acts, which were uniformly unfortunate. Not only has that second sight been lost, (and it seems always to have had a blind spot where banging the table about military action was concerned), the ability to see actual results has abandoned them. It's curious that your Standard types never seem to catch on to this, isn't it? The older guys, the ones who were old enough to go to Vietnam and didn't, lived through it, and lived through the bull market in post-Vietnam excuse mongering, with its Librul Media and POW/MIA bracelets and Spitting on Baby Killers urban legend factory and Soviet-heroic statuary at the base of the "defeatist" Wall. Kristol will live with the impacted bolus of his cowardly lyin' about his Vietnam non-service every day of his life. It may not matter to him. But somebody, somewhere, might have considered the consequences of letting people like Barnett run into it headlong. Mr. Barnett, you are no longer the Reaganaut high-school dweeb getting even with the Stoners who got all the tail by drawing stink lines on their caricatures in your notebook.

Or are you?

Friday, July 20

Riley's I Don't Give A Fug If You Believe It!™

• Minor Mom emergency yesterday sent me out to the Westside, since my sister and her family--who live much closer--are staying at their summer place. Really. There's a long stretch of the drive that's one-way with no passing, and I generally try to get around any slow-moving traffic before I hit that. Like I imagine there won't be any slow-moving traffic two blocks later. I'm 53.

Anyway, as usual, I got stuck for about three miles behind a guy doing 30 all the way, and the whole time he never once used a cellphone!

• I was slightly discombobulated by the Mom business, so much so that I stopped for a fast-food breakfast sandwich, always a bad idea. I eventually got home and went back to cleaning the paint from some aluminum grid things I've been using to hang pots on for twenty-five years. I'd tried to paint them without etching them first, which you can't do with aluminum, as any idiot knows.

These things are great. They're like ceiling pot racks, but they hang vertically, 1/2" off the wall. And I can't find them anywhere anymore. The store they came from is no longer with us. It was the place where I began my collection of Taylor & ng mugs, the ones they call "Animates™" and I call "mugs with rabbits fucking on them". The hippos are nice, too.

Anyway, I'd bought some bio-degradable stripper with oranges on the label, and after I was through with the steel brush I put the racks in my cement-mixin' tub and poured the stripper over the top. And it smelled better than the sandwich did!

• Later I decided I deserved shrimp for dinner--I mean my Poor Wife did--and I was standing in line at the seafood counter when the woman in front of me asked if the live lobsters were fresh! *

• This was followed by news that Mitch Daniels' Gordian Knot trick of the day before will result--according to the county assessor, anyway--in the eliminated property tax being added back in to business property tax bills. Plus, the assessor has about $1.28 left in the bank to do the ordered reassement (an honest mistake, since Daniels and the rest of his party keep insisting that every agency of government, and all of its employees, have enormous slush funds of misused taxpayer dollars on hand). And Governor Daniels did not call a prime-time press conference to solve the problems with a wave of his magic wand!

And I Don't Give a Fug if you believe it.

*A technically permissible question, since captive lobsters do not eat, which, I suppose, is lucky for them since they aren't fed, either, but trust me, the customer in question wouldn't have gotten that right on a true-false test.

Thursday, July 19

Standing Tall

HERE, let's let The Star tell it:
Governor ordering new assessment

By Mary Beth Schneider

July 18, 2007

Citing evidence that commercial property assessments were either undone or inaccurately performed, Gov. Mitch Daniels today ordered a full reassessment of all parcels in Marion County and said he’d freeze tax bills at 2006 levels.
“We’re here to solve problems, and we’re beginning with the immediate -- at least in Marion County — today. People need relief now, and we can’t have people losing their homes because of unfair taxes,” Daniels said.

Wow. How'd he do that???

You might well ask. It's not clear where the Governor gets the power to overturn the lawful (if awful) actions of other elected officials (excepting, of course, his recognized veto power, the one that might have stopped all the mess before it started). It would have been nice, seeing how hundreds of thousands of Hoosiers would be reluctant to accept a personal check from the man, if he'd seen fit to explain it. Doug Masson unearths the Department of Local Government Finance (formerly the State Board of Tax Commissioners--yeah, it's news to me, and I live here) which apparently does have the statutory authority to order, and conduct, a reassessment, but only after a public hearing. To this end the hearing has been scheduled, now, after the decision to reassess has already been made. Sometimes I imagine things have not been quite right ever since I read Gravity's Rainbow.

Now--you may want to sit down--I think the Daniels "solution" has some merit, principally as a temporary solution to some people's astronomical property tax increases. But he wasn't elected--contrary to his own beliefs, apparently--the official Hoosier Gordian Knot Untangler. He's the governor. The same "solution" would be enacted by following the law as by short-circuiting it. The difference, of course, being that Daniels couldn't have ridden in and saved the day, per the tax protester who told the teevee cameras last evening she'd been looking for a Hero and now she may have found one.

To which we reply: you've been looking in the wrong place. The theatres are air-conditioned. What we're looking for, ourselves, is a competent plumber, which is not the same as a guy who sticks a wad of chewing gum around a leak and hopes you don't notice the size of the bill before you sign it.

But for once, really, I don't mean to be hyper-critical of Mitch Daniels. I just wish he'd have timed it better and not made me write about the Indiana Property Tax Crisis again today, which he could have by following the law. And I'm not gonna talk about (praeteritio alert) the potentially major can of worms he's opened up for local spending, or the small number of people whose tax bills actually went down (the news'll be finding them in the next couple days) only to be yanked back up, or the people in other counties who are equally pissed about their tax bills and have just watched squeaky wheel meet grease gun.

Instead, let's note that just a few days ago Mitch was talking about how these are local taxes caused by local spending, hence a local problem, and now that he's inserted himself he's gonna be forced to lead America's Third Worst State Legislature™ in an election year, with everyone's eyes, for once, on how it handles money instead of what it's doing to impede abortion rights or put Jesus on the courthouse lawn. And best of luck with that, G'v'ner; one of the most powerful Republicans in in the House, Indianapolis' Phil Hinkle, was on the tube last night insisting we should solve the problem by eliminating property taxes altogether, and being cagey about where the money would come from to replace them. (And there's nothing new about that: House Republicans introduced a bill in 2005, when they were in the majority, which would have done exactly that without raising a dime of replacement revenue.) The estimate I saw was that state sales tax would go from 6-10% and income tax double. Meaning, of course, that the poor subsidize the wealthy, the young subsidize higher property values for retirees, and everyone continues to subsidize the big box fireworks store up the block, until the block blows up.

Channel 8 actually went wall-to-wall for an hour about the issue last night, including a panel discussion and everything (we can only hope that someone saw fit to buy the switchboard lady a couple of drinks after her shift, since she obviously listened to an hour of irate callers demanding to know what happened to The Paris Hilton Show). It could be an interesting precedent: local news covering local news. Maybe then we'd have an actual informed electorate, one which understood the difference between an equitable system and irresponsible, pocket-lining giveaways in the name of "fairness". Maybe if people got to listen to actual experts, such as economist Morton Marcus last night, they'd have a fuller appreciation of the requirement of balancing necessary and desirable services with a tax system designed to pay for them, and back up all the No Child Left Behind and First Responder Hero rhetoric with a happy willingness to foot the bill. Maybe the ninety minute block of local news each evening could inform people about serious issues like air quality and the antiquated sewer system, or teach them about their less fortunate fellow citizens, examine health care, education, gang and domestic violence in depth and not anecdotally at best, and leave the celebrity gossip and promotion of their network's evening line-up to more appropriate venues.

Nah, just playin' witcha.

Wednesday, July 18

Let's Look on the Bright Side. At Least We Made Some Scratch Selling Fissionable Material to India.

Bush Aides See Failure in Fight With Al Qaeda in Pakistan


WASHINGTON, July 17 — President Bush’s top counterterrorism advisers acknowledged Tuesday that the strategy for fighting Osama bin Laden’s leadership of Al Qaeda in Pakistan had failed, as the White House released a grim new intelligence assessment that has forced the administration to consider more aggressive measures inside Pakistan.

The intelligence report, the most formal assessment since the Sept. 11 attacks about the terrorist threat facing the United States, concludes that the United States is losing ground on a number of fronts in the fight against Al Qaeda, and describes the terrorist organization as having significantly strengthened over the past two years.

In identifying the main reasons for Al Qaeda’s resurgence, intelligence officials and White House aides pointed the finger squarely at a hands-off approach toward the tribal areas by Pakistan’s president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who last year brokered a cease-fire with tribal leaders in an effort to drain support for Islamic extremism in the region.

“It hasn’t worked for Pakistan,” said Frances Fragos Townsend, who heads the Homeland Security Council at the White House. “It hasn’t worked for the United States.”

YEAH. Who could have imagined it?

Let's remember that the Bush administration approach to Afghanistan after 9/11 was to insist the Taliban hand us everyone we demanded without regard for its own sovereignty, before we could count to three. That's not to suggest they would have cooperated eventually, if we'd asked nicer. It's to suggest that we might have used the time a reasonable appearance of diplomacy would have given us to allow international pressure to build on Musharraf, instead of kissing the ass of a military strongman with a tentative hold on his own people and control of one the world's three non-NPT-signator nuclear arsenals.

(Oh, right. I'm supposed to believe that Musharraf cooperated because Dick Armitage threatened to cut his nuts off. Not that I can't imagine him doing so. I just have to wonder what our answer to the response that "Thirty seconds after the first American bombs fall New Delhi glows in the dark" would have been. In the same way, I'm supposed to believe he "recently" made arrangements with Islamic extremists in the north. The answer is in that deal we made with India, reparations for whatever deal with made with Pakistan.)

I mean, it's not like we would have lost our chance to capture bin-Laden if we waited an extra week or two, now is it?

Sir, The Taxpayers Are Revolting

IF Monday--Day 47 of Homeowners Held Hostage by my slightly giddy reckoning--didn't exactly change the complexion of the great Property Tax debate it did at least emphasize it, as interested commenters of the Caucasian persuasion pointed at the (85% minority) Indianapolis Public Schools as a symbol, if not a major cause, of their woes. A woman protesting at the Governor's Former Residence told Channel 8 that "The streets are full of potholes and you can't send your kids to the public schools", while a gentleman explained to the Star that it wasn't the money so much as the poor return on the investment, noting that "Of all the things that chafe me the most over this is that 50 percent of that money, or in my case $10,000, goes to the Indianapolis Public Schools. This is a school system that graduates less than 35 percent of its kids."

We don't mean to point to this gratuitously. We don't exactly point with pride to the fact that the DoE thinks the graduation rate is 52%; it's still unacceptable. A lot of the sign-waving shown on teevee has singled out the new football stadium, which, like those potholes, isn't actually covered by property taxes. But then, feeling you've been overcharged at a restaurant doesn't preclude you from criticizing the service while you're at it. The main distinction here is that I know where the stadium is being built, but I'll be damned if I'm aware of any streets full of potholes in mid-July; perhaps the poor woman imagines the very existence of potholes is due to local taxes. In fact the public thoroughfares are well cared-for in these parts, if comparison to thirty years ago, when the city didn't own any snowplows and chuckholes sometimes lasted longer than paint, is any indication.

I'm not trying to make a point about racism, crypto- or otherwise. That is, as they say on Wall Street, already discounted. The reason these people pay property taxes to support Indianapolis Public Schools is not because they live in Indianapolis. It's because they live in Center Township. When the city annexed all the land out to the county line forty years ago it preserved the old township system with regard to schools, which preserved the old Indianapolis Public Schools boundaries, which preserved de facto segregation. It's the political legacy of the mayoral stint of Sinecured Senator Richard "I Know Iraq is a Disaster, But What Am I?" Lugar. People who live in million-dollar homes near the Governless Mansion do not send their children to public schools. in part because they wouldn't at any rate and in part because they've long since abandoned them to the poor and only give them a thought when the tax bill arrives. People whose personal finances dictate sending their children to public schools and "can't" have them rubbing elbows with brown elbows have long since fled the county altogether and crowded into McMansionland in the doughnut counties.

If we're better than we used to be at taking care of our streets, we're no better at conducting political debate. There's a fairly straightforward explanation for what's happened to Indiana's property taxes: the state Supreme Court found the assessment system unconstitutional; successive state legislatures found it more prudent, from a re-election standpoint, to punt the issue; a single-party gained control, including an incompetent, self-aggrandizing Governor who used the budget process to make himself look good; and most directly, the ill-considered abolition of the business inventory tax with no specification as to its replacement. Yet there's a continual drumbeat of "don't point fingers, just solve the problem," notably from the Indianapolis Star, as well as other Daniels die-hards who realize their man has fucked up Big Time. Daniels, who has been lauded--by no one so much as himself--for his "fearless" leadership, simply refused to have anything to do with the issue, hoping, perhaps, that astronomical local tax increases would gnaw a chunk from the man once considered his most likely '08 challenger, Indianapolis mayor Bart Peterson. Now he sits on a state budget surplus, not to mention what he's raked in selling off taxpayer assets, and does his best Hamlet--assuming Hamlet was played by a 58-year-old with a comb-over (which he sometimes was) and assuming he tried to get his picture in the paper every day (which he didn't). Why shouldn't we point fingers? How do you fix a problem without knowing what caused it?

Say it again: the problem is the result of four years of shenanigans. The people who began protesting two weeks ago, when the tax bills arrived, are largely people who ignored what was going on as it was happening. They are, in other words, the irate father screaming about his teenaged daughter's pregnancy now that she's showing, when eight months ago he was too lazy to go find out why her bedsprings were making so much noise during a "study session". They are precisely the people who should have to listen to an argument now.

Tuesday, July 17

Now, George, Let's Not Be Too Hasty.

CNN: Senator Voinovich tells Karl Rove Bush legacy "on the line" in Iraq.

SPEAKING on condition of anonymity, top aides of the Ohio Republican have revealed that the frank discussion with the President's top political advisor has emboldened him to take other steps without regard for how long it's been since they might have done some good. "We're going to let the chips fall where they may," Voinovich is reported to have told his staff, and is said to be weighing a warning to Michael Richards that ranting about "niggers" could be detrimental to his career, urging the San Diego Chargers to draft "someone other than Ryan Leaf", and has assigned staffers to find a way to "gently convince" the Elvis Presley estate that he might be abusing prescription drugs and eating improperly. A proposal to recommend that citizens of Johnstown move upstream with all due haste has been tabled for now. "That's more of a Pennsylvania problem," sources said. "Besides, we don't think rushing into something like that serves much of a purpose."

Riley Labs Pick

The Novophone Retro handset.

Remember, Riley Labs accepts no advertising.

Where There's Smoke

Virginia Heffernan, "The Beautiful People, the Uglier the Better." Sunday Times

WHEN I was a boy, back in the reign of Charles the Bald, the Sunday Indianapolis Star included two Sunday magazines (nowadays if you forget to fold your breakfast napkin before you put it on the table you're in danger of losing the whole paper) one local, one national. I forget the name of the latter; at some point it was replaced by Parade, before the Star became a Gannett paper, but the MO then was identical to today's: celebrity fluff, recipes, low-cal articles, the difference being that back then those things didn't dominate the other six days of the week.

But if the name is lost, one piece has stuck with me forever. It was a short no-thinker about Len Berry, who, at the time, had a Top 40 hit with "I-2-3". Berry was a sort of past-the-expiration-date Bobby Rydell who'd made it just in time to get wiped out by the British Invasion (Wikipedia describes him as "a blue-eyed soul singer", but "a blue-eyed Chris Montez" is more like it.) Anyway, there was the usual Q&A, during which he was asked about those long-haired Limeys. And I've never forgotten his reply. It's rare when an adult says something stupid enough to make a ten-year-old blanch. "I don't like long-hair when it's done just for shock value, like The Beatles, but I don't mind it on really talented people like Freddy and the Dreamers."

I was, at the time, smack dab in the middle of the Freddy and the Dreamers target demo--the 9-to-11 year old with no discretion and fifty cents for a record--and even I realized how stupid that was.

And so we come to our semi-annual meeting with New York Times television critic Virginia Heffernan, who we suspect doesn't mind long hair on talented songwriters like Neil Peart, and who was last seen in these parts turning a supposed review of Josh Karp's book about Doug Kenney into Nancy Reagan's revenge. This was the piece that tried to sell us on the idea that it was P.J. O'Rourke and not the co-founder of the National Lampoon and scriptwriter of Animal House and Caddyshack who changed comedy forever in the 1970s. Do the Freddy!

This week, Heffernan wants us to consider the poor abused celebrity:
Celebrity magazines that in earlier incarnations used to peddle a fantasy of loveliness now traffic in dismantling that same fantasy. In collusion with ever more Johnny-on-the-spot Web sites, tabloids have invited viewers first to evaluate photos of celebrities for evidence of normalcy (Stars: they’re just like us!) and now for evidence of monstrosity. ( Nicole Richie : pregnant at 85 pounds and loaded on 73,000 pills!)

Certain celebrities lend themselves especially well to the new form of high-resolution scrutiny. Displaying weight loss and gain, unstable pigmentation, shadowy pregnancies, ocular dilations and erratic body language, figures like Nicole Richie, Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears have become favored specimens, inviting analysis and, like little Mona Lisas — repaying those who are willing to look and look and look.

Okay, a few questions to start off with. 1) I realize that as a former staffer, Heffernan is fully accredited in the Slate Counter-Anti-Reverse-Contrived-Contrarian Contrianess technique. At what point does that simply fold back on itself and become just another regurgitation of the zeitgeist? (My suggestion: five years ago.) Am I supposed to be fooled into believing that Heffernan has discovered a new phenomenon, or a new insight into an existing one, or that she herself imagines she has (the last is problematical, as we shall see.)? 2) How long is this "meanwhile on the wild-and-wooly, speed-of-light internets thing" going to play? A guess is that I'm roughly twice her age, and that she is still younger than I was the first time I had a computer to call my own, yet she's still astonished by tabloid web sites and their 24-hour digital rowdiness? 3) And shouldn't that go double for the "Look, somebody left a nasty comment at one of those sites!" which she indulges in three paragraphs later? 4) "Celebrity magazines" may once have offered pure PR puffery, but Daily GraphiC and the later Confidential were as chock-a-bloc with tabloid nastiness, if less explicit, as anything today , and any celebrity who got on the wrong side of Walter Winchell or Louella Parsons was in more trouble than Lindsay Lohan at a gymkhana. Is Heffernan exempt from knowing about the Blacklist? Or that Charlie Chaplin and Ingrid Bergman were driven out of the country largely by celebrity columnists?
It’s almost hard to remember now, but the old frustration of entertainment news was that celebrities made almost no false moves: a phalanx of publicists and stylists monitored them so closely that they always seemed composed, styled, scripted and (in the bygone idiom) “airbrushed.”

Only five years ago I remember watching a taped David Frost interview with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in which everyone smoked, appeared drunk and insulted one another. I was sure nothing like that would appear on any screen ever again.

It's almost hard to remember now, especially if you don't remember it, and your evidence comes from reruns you saw five years ago (everyone smoked! no one ate a bug!). Fatty Arbuckle? Wallace Reid? Francis Farmer? Paul Robeson? Should any of these ring a bell with people born after 1970? Should they skirt the attention of the New York Times television columnist? But Heffernan would rather tell the story of our decreasing civility thanks to The Internets, and, presumably, her editors would rather tell that tale than risk accuracy, and the whole thing has to be wrapped in Here's a New! Trend! You'll Want!
Us Weekly and its copycats quickly reinvented celebrity photography, eschewing production stills and party pictures in favor of snapshots. But they didn’t only go for red-carpet fashion photos, or the gotchas that come along once in a lifetime: Gary Hart with Donna Rice, Kate Moss with cocaine. Instead they focused on the mundane: stars in supermarkets, dog parks, parking lots. In all that natural light they looked indistinct, sometimes homely. At first I thought, who cares? But then the magazines taught me to care, and mistake the new unkempt images for intimacy, if intimacy is something I might achieve by rooming with a celebrity at a mental hospital.

What the hell happened that Us became required reading, let alone the Young Professional's Compendium of Life Lessons? Is it not the easiest thing in the world not to read Us? Granted, an unpleasant amount of celeb blather gets through no matter what you do to avoid it. This is something which should be taken up with, among others, the New York Times. Or Keith Olbermann, the source of nearly everything I know about Heffernan's trio of fabulously rich Unfortunates. I've never found myself digitally dragged to Perez Hilton's site against my will. Maybe Heffernan was forced by the condition of her employment. Maybe there's a 12-Step Program for people who will never get over Brad and Jen's breakup. I hope it includes high fences:
Weakly I have hoped reading portraits in this way might strengthen some evolutionary skill, the way gossiping is said to make you better at forging allegiances.

Sure you have. We appreciate the struggle.
One possibility presented itself last summer when I spoke to a lawyer I met on a “Lonelygirl15” message board. He and I were both obsessed with figuring out whether she was an actress or an ordinary girl.

And that was something which took a lawyer and a reporter more than, oh, thirty seconds?
“What do you do with your time when you’re not studying Web images?” I asked him in an e-mail message.

“I usually stick to stuff like Rathergate or the doctored Reuters photographs,” he wrote back, referring first to the bloggers who questioned documents cited by Dan Rather about President Bush’s National Guard service, and then to a well-known falsified news picture. “But this is fascinating.”

Okay, the unconscious pull of this little faux reveal had to be what got me to read the whole piece. And I'm still not sure whether Heffernan was fully aware of it, or whether she's trying to send cryptic messages to some Randian underground she's heard tell of. At any rate, it's obvious she imagines that lawyer + Rathergate + Reuters contrast adjusting = serious-minded individual whose stature speaks well--facts are so contrarian!--of the Internet Age pastime of celebrity nipple-slip reconnaissance.

I don't think that celebrity fixations are necessarily a bad thing. I think the real problem today is the public's atrocious record of celebrity selection. If there's a connection between Reutersgate and second-hard celebrity stalking isn't in technological advancements in digital enhancement. It's in the (phony) assumption of "Normality". This was the thing about the charms of The Simple Life that escaped me. You're watching a show whose concept is the delicious frisson between a couple of cosseted no-nothings and "real" people. But the supposed point of your viewing--your shared "normality"--is annihilated by the fact that you're spending time watching socialites. Who was the sucker there, exactly? By the same token, you have people born fifty years after the death of Eugène Atget who have suddenly discovered that you can adjust the contrast of a photograph! Or that a news organization might do so to accentuate the point of the picture! As with Rathergate, it's not a question of truth-seeking Internet obsessives dispassionately unearthing arcane mysteries; it's a text lesson in how easily scientism can be made to sound like science if you generate enough background noise. In this, too, there's nothing new, unless you still find the concept of digital photography shocking. When seeing is believing, instead of vice-versa, then you'll have a story.

Sunday, July 15

Fun With Monogamy, The Kitchen Remodeling Years

I LIKE to imagine that the one thing this blog has accomplished is bringing together thousands of people who, like me, deal everyday with the strains of a beloved spouse, a dedicated educator, who talks to them like they're just another idiot 10-year-old holding an incomplete assignment. Hey, you're not alone.

So Friday I was outside applying a third coat of paint to one of the cabinet boxes, and my Poor Wife--under the weather recently--was making a rare outdoor appearance and an impression on a deck chair ten feet away. And she says to me:
Did you wash those before you started painting?

Now, my wife is not just a painter of some artistic merit, she also once earned her living as a house painter, so I value her opinions above my own. I, on the contrary, am a mediocre hand who has learned over the years to rely on preparation and sound practices to turn out a reasonably decent product. It was I who argued, briefly, for the use of oil rather than latex paints for the cabinet, and it is I who has done the work of preparing the chosen latex to look as good and last as long as possible. So by this time (my fourth cabinet box) I had already gotten into a rhythm of 1) Coarse wash with green soap and scrub pad, and use of Goo remover and razor blade where needed; 2) Two scrubbings with environmentally-correct phosphate-free TSP substitute; 3) Wood putty; 4) Two coats of primer; and 5) Three coats of paint. It was the last of these I was applying when she asked the question.

I am, as you know, pretty much used to being spoken to as if I were an errant fifteen-year-old sneaking out of class without having cleaned up his mess. Still, I have my good days and my bad days. And so rather without thinking I replied, "Gee, I'm glad you happened to be out here, because it never would have occurred to me that something needed to be cleaned before it was painted. How could they have gotten dirty just by hanging in a kitchen for thirty years? I suppose I would have asked, but I guess I thought that wiping half the cobwebs off the things with my face as I removed them was cleaning enough."

We glared at each other for a moment. Rather, I mock-glared. I never turn on the full glare, which has been known--I swear this is the truth--to chase off snarling dogs almost instantaneously. It's a gift. I'm not sure my wife even knows about it.

I had realized as I was speaking that I'd probably gone a step too far, even for the anything-goes world of the Matrimonial Roast, so I said, in a voice that tried to avoid both sarcasm and any sign of culpability, "Yes, honey. I've washed everything twice, with TSP substitute."

She looked at me like she'd've spit if it weren't so windy.

"Is the box handy? 'Cos I need to know if it cleans up blood spatter as well as the real TSP does."

How Macho!

I WAS on my fourth or fifth Lowe's trip of the weekend, headed back to my truck when I noticed the bumper sticker on the SUV parked next to me.
If You Can Read This, Thank A Teacher. If You Can Read This In English, Thank A Soldier

I was losing the light (even in Indiana, Land of the Midnight Sun Since 2006™), and had more painting to do, so I quickly passed on the urge to stick around and engage the owner in some linguistic fencing.

"You admire soldiers? Thank the French; it's their word. Marine, too. Maybe you should be thanking the Celts, for the poor soldiering that made way for the Angles and the Saxons and the Jutes, the much-less cultured invaders whose language proved flexible enough to evolve into modern English. Or the Vikings, the fearsome raiders from the north who left you the ability to lift your leg or take a husband. They came back two centuries later as Normans, and brought with them 10,000 items from Old French and a spur for the shift from Old to Middle English. For that matter, you might thank them if you didn't have to read Beowulf. While you're at it you can doff (contraction of do + off, both French) your hat (Old Norse) to Charlemagne for keeping literacy alive, and if you can count the number of words on your bumper sticker, hug an Arab. If there's a zero involved, hug an Indian, too. As in native of the Subcontinent, but go ahead and thank aboriginal North and South Americans for corn, beans, potatoes, tomatoes, chocolate, squash...and the land your Family Panzer was parked on.

"Y'see, that's the best thing about English, I think: the way it was able to take both high and low, from conquerer and subject, trading partner and scorned captive alike. English is wonderfully egalitarian; excepting a few dialects that Thou and You stuff died out before the Declaration of Independence ever switched on its beacon. With all due respect to Jonah Goldberg (thanks again, Subcontinent!) English has never had need of that Official Language and Culture crap because it's naturally resilient, and it's naturally resilient because of its openness. Ever tried to buy a French copy of Roget's Thesaurus? Or Dutch, Portuguese, Lap? You can't, because those vocabularies are tiny. They're closed. English is open to the world.

"Whazzat? Oh, you didn't mean that nativist crap? Just trying to celebrate the American citizen soldier? Well, you ought to be careful about that sort of thing, since The Liberals have a field day with that whole warflogger/anti-brown person bigot thing, y'know. But if you want to put it that way, I might suggest that while you're thanking the teacher who taught you to read you might look up the history teacher for a refresher course. The only time we were anything more than vaguely, theoretically in danger of being conquered our opponent spoke English, too, probably better than we did, unless you want to add some Newt Gingrich wet dream of a War of the Late Rebellion that would have resulted in the whole country pronouncing grits like it has three syllables, like that woman on the Food Network does. We could thank Russian soldiers that we don't speak German, I suppose; they'd beaten Hitler before we got off the transports. I don't think US conquest was ever considered a real possibility in Tokyo, but even so I don't think avoiding Kanji class is the real reason to remember the men who died on Tarawa or the nurses who lived in Japanese captivity on Luzon. If we avoided some real chance that we might be reading bumper stickers in Cyrillic or Chinese by now, you can thank diplomacy and the cooler heads who avoided war, not the sons and daughters of America who sacrificed in stupid, worthless, proxy wars, although that's not their fault, of course.

"No harm ever in remembering those who serve. That's what those three magnetic yellow ribbons on your hatch do. But twisting history--and glorifying bigotry in the process--is not what they fought and died for, and nothing we need send anyone else to die for, either."

Friday, July 13

Weapons of Mass Marketing

I see...you are...a sailor...

NEARLY lost in the shuffle of Cabinet-level gastro-intestinal seers and the resurgence of the al-Qaeda Division of SPECTRE (it was simply amazing to hear how this news was received and relayed by the same teevee hairdos who have been dutifully using "al-Qaeda" as a generic term for "anyone in Iraq we're shooting at who shoots back" since the beginning of The Surge. Of course they're resurgent. We've been helping them with branding for the last six years. My god, don't we even understand the things we do well in this country anymore? ) was the GAO "Dirty Bomb" sting of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. It's a shame, too. The damn story has it all: the ham-fisted conflation of "dirty bomb" with "nuclear device", the solemn intonation about terrorists "expressing an interest in obtaining nuclear material" (from the US, now that they've been thwarted in Niger), the seeming afterthought-mention that such a bomb wouldn't actually damage anything or contaminate anyone, followed by that but... ("but it could have serious economic consequences"). I remind you that this is a country which had a long "serious" debate over the reality of second-hand smoke.

The GAO created a dummy company, got the NRC to approve the purchase of industrial equipment containing americium-241 and cesium-137, forged the security-free documents to permit the purchase of dozens of the gizmos, then arranged for purchase from two suppliers.

Now might be a good time to mention that this is same NRC which, prior to that little misunderstanding at Three Mile Island, wanted to put a nuclear power plant at the end of your block. It's the successor to the Atomic Energy Commission, the guys who, in the days of above-ground testing, used to assure us in the Midwest that no radiation had been detected east of the Mississippi, without adding that no detectors had been detected there, either. I would also add that in these post-9/11 times, when you can buy pre-urine stained pants at Sears ("look for the Perma-Pist™ label"), it might be helpful if the American Industrial Equipment Sales and Rental industry took it upon itself to examine security-challenged typewritten sheets authorizing the sale of potential terror bombs for, I dunno, signs of tampering? Hell, we've been known to throw bartenders in jail in this state for accepting fake IDs. Don't businesses tend to ask who's placing the order? Set up new account information? I can't even put money into my bank account without showing my driver's license.

But then, of course, the point wasn't to examine a potential terror problem which ranks right up there with shooting laser pointers into pilots' eyes or toppling the Sears Tower with a couple of Roman candles. It was to scare people who read only headlines into incontinence.

And I dunno about you, but what it did for me was make me wonder if there was anyone out there who still imagines that Karl Rove is an evil genius or that this stuff comes out specifically timed to counteract bad news (say, for instance, last weekend's revelation that Rummy prevented a black-op against al-Qaeda, Div. of SPECTRE, Ltd.? As if our intel has been picture-perfect in that area? Damn, we had 'em!). You might care to argue that, well, it's just all gone to hell for them (who could've predicted?), but I suggest it points out that there's so much love and such enormous profits involved that most professionals, and a passel of dedicated amateurs, no doubt, don't even have to think twice about it. Which, of course, is the real problem: these are the people who've been running the War on Drugs for forty years. It would no more occur to them to ask why a potential baddie would want to go through all that rigamarole--for what turned out to be a 50% chance at getting a coveted NRC permission slip--in order to accomplish little if anything beyond what the explosives themselves would do than it would occur to the Coca-Cola™ board to ask themselves if Pepsi™ really does taste better. The money's in sales, kid. Reality's for chumps.

Thursday, July 12

May You Live In Interesting Times, And May You Be Required To Have Them Reported To You By People Who Aren't, Even Remotely.

I had the opportunity to catch some local news Wednesday. I'm now considering giving it up altogether.

No matter how many times you go through it, no matter how inured you imagine you've managed to become, it's a mouthful of rue to recognize that modern local news never, ever, transcends the bourgeois worldview of the hopeful careerists who read it off teleprompters for you, something no amount of "diversity" at the news desk seems capable of budging, and when you add in a story their monied masters wish to tell--like the joys of inventory tax elimination--it's gall and wormwood. And a Coke.

And so we begin once again with the Property Tax crisis, which I swore I was done talking about for a couple of days at least, except that my nose has been rubbed in it for the last five days now. Yesterday morning the Star suddenly discovered the disparity in assessment increases for business vs. residential property. Maybe with a few more years' shoveling, or a Republican mayor, it'll discover that the new assessments, ordered by the state Supreme Court in 1998 in response to a blatantly unfair system, had always assessed business properties at closer to market value than private residences. When the die-hard anti-New Dealers at the Star start sounding like raging populists it's best to keep a firm grip on your wallet, unlock the gun cabinet, and check the facts, in that order. (Another rule of thumb: when dyed-in-the-wool partisans start urging people to "stop finger pointing" you can take any odds offered their side is to blame.)

The teevee folks aimed their cameras at former Speaker of the House, now minority leader Brian Bosma, so he could propose that "certain localities" (namely, those Indiana state capitals with Democratic mayors) agree to no spending increases for the next year. The really remarkable thing about this call for other people to sacrifice their way out of his mess is that Bosma was eventually persuaded to give up the microphone. I've forwarded my own proposal--that the city charge all former Speakers of the House $14,500 a day for parking--to his office.

Then the eye that never blinks was turned onto the tragic plight of Evil Landlords who just learned the price of Evil went up another 85%. It was the sort of investigative reporting you rarely see anymore, as the hairdo turned up two landlords whose properties were within a few blocks of each other, thereby avoiding any unfortunate lack of similarity in their stories, plus she scored a real coup in getting an industry lobbyist to admit the whole thing was unfair to her constituents, who mostly missed out on the big boondoggle of inventory tax elimination and have therefore been forced to eke out a living by taking accelerated depreciation and passing cost increases on to renters, who receive a state income tax credit for their share. Then, I suppose, it was time for lunch.

Channel 8, my choice only because it has fewer "personalities" whose voices induce blackouts, does have the distinction of being the station which does five minutes on Iraq every day. Today's story told of Democrats' efforts (this is a state whose Republican senator recently called for a troop redeployment, remember) to "effect an early withdrawal" from Iraq. An early withdrawal! Compared to what? The Crusades? This was followed by a toss to CBS' Lisa Myers, so she could inform us that "al-Qaeda will likely react to American gains", thereby packing four fictions into seven words. There's a real pro. At that rate I'd have time to watch and still get the kitchen remodeled.

Wednesday, July 11

It's 2007? Wow, Good Weed.

Michael Scherer, "Hilary is from Mars, Obama is from Venus: In the Democratic presidential pack, the leading man is a woman and the leading woman is a man." Salon, July 12

JEEZ Louise, is there a truck somewhere missing its turnip? Do they let Camille Paglia drink right from the spigot at the Salon water cooler?
Throughout history, American presidents have been men's men who puff their out chests against evil. Think Teddy Roosevelt on safari, Jack Kennedy in PT-109, Ronald Reagan on his horse, or George W. Bush with a chain saw clearing brush. If leaders show any slackening of testosterone, especially in wartime, they are quickly derided as wimps (George H.W. Bush), a Frenchmen (John Kerry) or weaklings (Jimmy Carter). But on the Democratic campaign trail these days, where the first woman in U.S. history is making a serious run at the White House, gender roles are being swapped.

Throughout history, people who've begun sentences with "Throughout history..." have mostly sought to convey something about history in the following lines. Something, I dunno, verifiable. Accurate. More-or-less reality-based. At the very least they did the audience the courtesy of trying to lie convincingly.

Even assuming that Scherer knows no more of history than to spout off about "wimpy" George H. W. Bush or Jimmy Carter, you'd think the bit about George "Sis, Boom, Bah!" Walker Bush, brush-clearin' he-man, would have, at this late date, at least have given him pause, fer chrissakes.

As I recall it, we've had a goodly number of lawyers in the White House, a gentleman planter or two, a couple of backwoods ruffians, a haberdasher, a fuller, and at least one closet queen, in addition to a number of military men. The common thread seems to be a successful political career, sometimes replaced by dumb luck, rather than acute chest-puffery. But if we have to make the point, of our post-war Presidents, both Eisenhower and Ford were college football stars. So Scherer, naturally, chooses the guy who rode horsies in the movies.
Clara Oleson, an Iowa Democrat and former labor lawyer, explained all these distinctions on a riverbank in Iowa City last week, while waiting to hear Clinton speak to a crowd of about 1,000. "Obama is the female candidate. Obama is the woman," she said, after admitting that she was one of his supporters. "He is the warm candidate, self-deprecating, soft, tender, sad eyes, great smile."

So what does that make Hillary Clinton? "She is the male candidate -- in your face, authoritative, know-it-all." To be clear, Oleson was not doubting the symbolic power that Clinton retains as a woman. But she was calling it as she saw it, using the language of Iowa City, a university town. "It's what the academes would call the difference between sex and gender," Oleson explained.

And it's what others of us would call "sorry-assed gender stereotyping in the guise of progressive politics." Women can be tough. Men can be gentle. And we can select a candidate based on the issues, instead of turning everything in life into a bad reality show.

But then whatever would we write about?