Friday, August 31

"No Wonder We're Going Down The Tubes,"

SEZ Sergeant Dave Karsnia, and it should be made clear at the start that he isn't talking about Larry Craig's penchant for bathroom sex, or Craig's scared silly lies, the ones he'd rehearsed so often for when--not if--they'd caught the bad, bad boy, when he was looking at the punishment he secretly knew he deserved, the explanations for the casual acts that wouldn't have an explanation if they really were casual--"I reached down to pick up a piece of paper"--or even his attempt to cling to a story that made no sense. Karsnia's used to those things. He's a cop. No, that "Embarrassing, embarrassing"--he'll repeat the word one more time in a moment, just before reading the date and time into the tape recorder, and telling it the interview is finished--refers to Craig's embracing the idea that a lie is the equal of the thing it's designed to dispute, and everyone in earshot is supposed to accept it. No, we aren't going down the tubes because Larry Craig is a hypocrite, or even because he's made himself into the poster boy for Republican entitlement (imagine the uproar if a similarly flimsy tale got someone a new trial in a capital murder case!). It's because the truth doesn't even enter into the equation anymore. It's because there's no reckoning with it required, even behind closed doors, even face to face with a man who knows for a fact that you know for a fact you're lying.

I have no way of knowing Sgt. Karsnia's politics, if any, but if he reads the paper every day I wonder if he could have followed that final "Embarrassing" with a "I suppose they'll be digging up Tom DeLay to defend you once this hits cable news."

That's the one thing that's interesting about Larry Craig, or, rather, it's the locus of what theoretical non-scurrilous interest that might lie beneath the tabloid news. Larry Craig, with his trolling dick suddenly caught in a law-enforcement wringer, squeals exactly like Larry Craig, outraged defender of public morality or steadfast defender of giving the surge time to work or outraged defender of outrage over the--it turns out--more traditional places Bill Clinton's wanger got stuck in. There's no fuckin' difference. Larry Craig might just as well have said he was looking for WMDs, or trying to reform Social Security, or blasting off to Mars. The Republican party lies as unashamedly as Craig did, no matter the evidence to the contrary, and it too imagines that merely offering up an excuse, however transparent, always beats trumps. Craig might as well have told the Sergeant, "Hey, it's okay if you're a Republican!"

This is why we're going down the tubes! Tom DeLay goes on Today, which is abomination enough right there, and says that the only important public point here is that Republicans get rid of such miscreants while Democrats re-elect them, and he doesn't have his mike cut by some Christian technician fearful of God's electronic Wrath. It was, indeed, the same Tom DeLay who, as leader of the most criminal House of Representatives in history, had his minions change the ethics rules so he could remain in office despite being indicted. And he's the spokesman. (The Hammer appears to have lost some weight, and we sincerely hope this is due to diet and an exercise regimen, and not some undisclosed wasting disease, by a 51-49 margin.)

This put me in mind of Fred Kaplan's piece in the Sunday Times Magazine, about rising manifest junior officer dissatisfaction with the Army senior command. I'm nothing if not a dilettante of military matters, but the more I read the more I thought, "This is why it takes a Luther." It requires that someone say, "If you try to fix this it will be worse than before. Tear it out and start over." This is well-nigh impossible for the corporate mindset, absent total disaster. It's why the so-called Powell Doctrine, the so-called realistic assessment of post-Vietnam use of US military force always had the air of the hungover recently-ex-fiancé who imagines a heartfelt letter will get him off the hook: My Darling Sharon, I'm sorry, I'll clean it up, and I promise never to hurl in your purse again. Because the Republican/military brass had no real problem with pointless bloodbaths; the only real problem they saw was the effect of public or press opposition. We'd still be in Vietnam if they could have gotten away with it. Even after the engagement ring comes back registered mail they're not going to do anything so reckless as to consider whether to stop drinking.

General officers today are not a product of the soul-searching post-Nam era. They're a product of the Reagan revisionism. We didn't take "necessary" actions in Libya, or Grenada, or the first Gulf war. We took steps towards reviving the brand. Check the histrionic victory celebrations after Grenada, when the Mighty Arsenal of Democracy managed to defeat two dozen Cubans after first contriving to wedge them between us and the people we supposedly were there to save. The hubris born of sheer firepower never left us. We were itching for more Vietnams, because the next Vietnam would prove that we lost only because of poor hippie hygiene patterns.

This is not to say there was a failure of professional responsibility in the military, only that the prevailing political attitude trumped it far too often. Yes, it's a shame more of the brass did not fulfill its obligation to tell the Bush administration to Go Fuck Itself, but to suppose that some sort of careerist cowardice is to blame is to get the thing wrong way 'round. We don't need general officers who'll consider telling Don Rumsfeld his ideas are simply, totally incompetent and risk disaster. We need general officers who couldn't consider not telling him so. Instead it's Larry Craig Nation: so long as we've got an excuse for what we want to do, all objections are just somebody else's opinion.

Wednesday, August 29

Hair By The (Digital) Bagful

GRATIFICATION last week--it's not something to be taken for granted at my age--came in the form of a sudden local uproar over the now-expunged-from-my-screen local cable provider Comcast (and its regional partners in crime). The Big Ten (Motto: "Only 91.7% As Corrupt As The Big 12") has begun its own sports network, via FOX, and it won't be carried any local cable system, or not soon, anyway. The news that negotiations were at an impasse and that, as a result, some Purdue and Indiana games would not be seen locally (except by subscribers of Direct-TV and astute, handsome, Comcast-hating beta testers of the upstart AT&T U-Verse) resulted in a lot of fist-shaking at all concerned. That is not the really gratifying part. The failure to reach a deal has to do with the Big Ten's insistence that its network be part of the basic cable package, while Comcast (whose Big Fish status makes it the de facto negotiator) wants to put it on a That'll Cost Ya sports tier. Both sides fired away after word was made public, natch, and the bemused outside observer was left to marvel, once again, at the sort of shit some people are willing to be spoon-fed. A Comcast mouthpiece actually said that Big Ten basketball was a niche market in Central Indiana. Or so I read; it's probably not surprising that no one could keep a straight face while reading that on camera.

The Big Ten, meanwhile, pointed out that most of what Comcast did, in fact, offer on basic cable was shit, except they said it in a more academic-sounding way. Perennial ratings-grabbers The Golf Channel and Versus (a version of Spike for people who consider Spike "too cerebral") are embarnacled on the basic schedule possibly because they are owned by Comcast. The Big Ten probably backed this up with statistics or something; if they can fit eleven schools into The Big Ten you know they've got that math thing down cold.

Which is not to let our nation's colleges, including the ten members, or roughly 91%, of the Big Ten schools which are state-supported, off the hook for behaving like money-grubbing agents whose clients share in roughly 0% of the take. Their mouthpiece tried to argue that increased athletic revenues would eliminate the need for increasing tuitions to fund lesser sports, which either means that Logic has become less rigorous in the thirty years since I matriculated, or they figure the rest of us don't know anything about it.

Anyway, word is that the Big Ten wants $1.10 per subscriber, and Comcast--which charges $60 a month for basic "service"--says its customers Just Won't Stand for a rate increase. Again, presumably, this was said this off-camera. I was reminded of the recent loss of Leona Helmsley, whose great contribution to American culture--having The Help perform her Community Service--has gone sadly unmemorialized. There's a lot of talk these days about when America lost Her Greatness. I would point to that morning in 1985 when the much-limned Little People, having seen and heard Leona on the previous night's 60 Minutes, did not march into work and kill their bosses simply on the off-chance they were like her. This was the crucial evidence needed that the Reaganscam had worked beyond anyone's wildest dreams. I believe it was at this point that Dick Cheney said to himself, "Fuck! Let's try war profiteering!"

Which brings me back to my own 190, soon-to-be 191, channel line-up. My Poor Wife got me watching The National Geographic channel when she caught its fine Katrina recap recently, and I taped a couple shows I saw promo'd: a four-hour tick-tock on 9/11 which traces back to the Soviet-Afghan war, and a one-hour Road to War: Iraq, which traces back to My Pet Goat. And I'm still working my way through the former, but I ran through the latter last night. And what was interesting is that despite the fact that it's almost entirely Republicanized (the sole "Liberal" commenter is Bob Graham), not one of its former insiders could make the case anymore, or even be bothered to try, and these are people whose public perceptions will forever be linked to Our Mideast Adventure. Half the fuckin' WHIG group is there (Card, Frum, Matalin, Calio) plus Dick Armitage, and the well just pumps dust and nobody seems inclined to work the handle very hard anyhow. Card does seem to do his best to make Bush seem Presidential in a vague sort of way, but, assuming that is his best, one might be justified in thinking the suggestion that the next administration try hiring people with a spark of intelligence would insult only Armitage. Frum actually finds it necessary to say, over the My Pet Goat footage, that Bush "didn't have a good poker face," which suggests that Frum doesn't play the game much. Granted "total zombie incomprehension" is not your standard approach to the problem, but it's technically quite serviceable.

Tuesday, August 28

Republicans I Pledge To Work With

• Abe Lincoln

• Teddy Roosevelt

• Manuel Azaña Díaz

WHILE we're on the subject, I'd like to remind any Democratic Presidential candidates who are considering announcing similar lists that some of us are old enough to have cast one or more hopeful votes for centrist Democrats, and to have witnessed, as respective results, 1) the consolidation of Bircher control of the Republican party and 2) that whole shebang hurtling into the most colossal example of mass mental derangement since the Cultural Revolution, resulting in, variously, Presidential impeachment over a blow job, a Supreme Court decision that, given the political makeup of the Supreme Court, voters of the opposite persuasion had no right to expect their votes to count (offer void if conditions reversed), the lapdog press, President Moron, Vice President Ripper, and the spectacle of critter-pated spokescreatures for the Party of Patriotism sliming the service, heroism, even, of a Presidential candidate because they didn't like his politics.

We might therefore suggest that "working with Tom Coburn" is something best left to the mental health profession, and that the Senior Sinecured Senator from Indiana, the respected foreign policy voice whose career spans respected foreign policy decisions from Vietnam to Iraq, can be counted on to spare no public vapidity while voting with the extremist "wing" of his party 8 out of 10 times. One need not "find a way" to work with Lugar, or Warner, except perhaps in a Cloakroom sense; just stick your net out downstream and wait for them to float by on the current. For the rest, a quick skimming should do the trick, just after dynamiting the pond.

Monday, August 27

Wait! Don't Answer Yet!

THE Midwest Republican Leadership Conference was in town this weekend, fighting for news coverage with an airshow and a big lottery jackpot (I went to bed early Saturday, worn out from a day of napping, and awoke at 5 AM, stumbled downstairs, turned on the local news--which I think begins at 4 now--just in time to witness tape of some news gatherer sent out the night before to stick a microphone in people's faces in an effort to ascertain what they'd do with the money if they won. Every weather report--and my wife watches them all--was prefaced with something like "Here's the weather for everyone planning on attending the airshow this weekend!" As though watching planes land in a hailstorm wouldn't be at least as entertaining. It's like through some horrid clerical error local teevee has been taken over by people who only have the IQs for radio. Every fucking thing that goes on is Exciting! And You Should Go! Especially if it involves drinking domestic beer. And this pro-drive-around-and-do-shit bias is never addressed. You never have a guy stick a microphone at someone in a lottery line, asking, "You do realize you've got a better chance of being struck by lightning six times between now and the drawing than you do of winning, right? And your gambling problem makes Baby Jesus cry? Mind if I hold your watch while you go in?" Oh, no. If somebody's promoting it, some sorry-assed careerist with a pasted-on smile is telling you you should Go! Before It's Sold Out! There'll Be Beer!).

The one guy who managed to work the system--this was supposed to be the end of that last sentence, but I kinda ran long--was Fred Dumbo Dalton Thompson, who gave an Exclusive! to Channel 8's Deputy Assistant Co-Anchorperson Karen Hensel, who besides having the worst case of Raccoon Eyes in a market this size is also the precise model of the sort of person you hope you'll never find yourself behind at the deli counter ("Do you have any that's less fatty? Would you mind cutting into every other brisket in the shop so I can check? Is there one of them that's more of a cocoa brown? I've just had the dining room repainted.").

Such impudence, of course, is saved for The Help, not aimed at the likes of movie stars. I listened to the excerpts, which only confirmed my suspicions that Thompson is dumber than a recent Law & Order script. Then I found the complete transcript on the Channel 8 site, and it occurred to me that you didn't really need any of Dumbo's answers to enjoy the thing anyway. So without further ado...Karen Hensel, ladies and gentlemen:

Karen: Advice for Peyton as he goes into the game tonight?

Karen: You are used to auditions, now you are auditioning for the career of a lifetime. How do you prepare for that?

Karen: People do compare you to Ronald Reagan, is that fair. Are you similar?

Karen: At a time some people are calling for troop withdrawal, if you were President today, what would be your message-what would be your decision?

Karen: A year ago I was in Iraq and I have focused a lot on roadside bombs and the traumatic brain injuries our troops are getting. As they come back and this war ends are there any military programs you would like to see in place that are not already there or ones we should focus on?

Karen: I know you've said "it won't be long" about making an announcement one way or the other. What's the advantage to showing up in the polls as well as you do, showing up at events and you haven't declared?

Karen: Your producer from Law and Order said when you walk in the room people want to "stand and salute". Is there anything similar between you and the tough guy we know from Law and Order?

That's the Exclusive! I was really disappointed that she didn't ask him whether he thought being married to one of the Bush Twins was helping or hurting his chances. Or if he had some lucky lotto numbers.

Thursday, August 23

News You Can Use

Bush Compares Iraq to Vietnam

Bush Accepts Iraq-Vietnam Comparison

Bush Gambles With Vietnam Reference

Bush Compares Iraq Departure to Vietnam Pullout

THE last one at least gets it right (it's Canadian); in fairness CNN took the same tack in print. But I sat through coverage from three separate sources yesterday that fished the same waters ABC does: "US President George W Bush has adopted the risky strategy of invoking the Vietnam war to bolster his case for why American forces need to stay in Iraq...." Twice I was informed that this reversed a long-standing policy of resisting such comparisons.

Can anyone tell me who this is being written for? People who had a bet on it? People who would read the headline and think "Omigawd, the President has turned against the Iraq War! I'd better buy this paper!"? People who still think there's a "case" to be made, or that he's the man to make it? Fer chrissakes...did he say anything remotely surprising? No. Did he move one degree off his disastrous course? No. Did he do a 180º and suddenly get an historical analogy correct? Are you kidding me? This President removed himself from the Iraq debate in 2003, assuming he was ever part of it; he's congenitally incapable of taking part in one unless the refs are paid off, anyhow. He's irrelevant, except insofar as 24% of the public still says it listens to him. When they all enlist it'll be a story. In the meantime, I understand that the President of the United States, even one as rightly vilified as this one, is news. But that does not mean that every time he says, "Ice cream!" free sundaes rain down upon the nation's children.

And this slumber-party, Meagan-told-Alysia-she-thinks-you're-a-bitch coverage is applied to our national politics, the thing the Free Press is supposed to be about. I don't know if it's what we collectively deserve, but it's what we get. I've flipped on, or past, ESPN three times recently (I still don't know where 179 of my 190 channels actually reside) to see three different anchors discussing with three different journalist/experts the pressing issue of African-American support for Michael Vick. And the consensus was Vick has die-hard fans of the African persuasion who don't care what he's done! Sheesh, Lynndie England has fans who revel in what she did, and presumably none of them has been on the receiving end of two-hundred years of courts martials targeting female soldiers. What's especially disturbing about this is not how they held on to the racial angle like, well, a starving dog, but that this should come from sports reporting, which is generally light-years ahead of the rest of journalism and big chunks of the country on matters of race. And this is why I'm not bothering to mention the two perfectly-coifed CNN news hairdos who were chattering about the case when one (didn't catch the name; they should have uniform numbers) explained that she'd now been in Atlanta for two years, and while it was a GREAT city to live in, there were still some racial problems! (though, thankfully, none of them spill over into the studio). One couldn't help but picture taking the Bug in for service, having the mechanic come out in pearls and half-unbuttoned overalls, and say, "Sorry that took so long. I didn't know the engine was in the back."

Wednesday, August 22

Pyorrhic Victory: Snatching Defeat From The Flapping Gum Disease of History

Victor Davis Hanson, "Why Study War?" City Journal

SINCE he goes on for nearly 5000 words I'm guessing the short answer, "So you can lie about it in service of your crackpot political beliefs", either didn't fill the space, didn't feed the bulldog, or set a dangerous precedent of truth-telling Hanson might never live down.

So, wherever shall we begin, Professor?
Try explaining to a college student that Tet was an American military victory. You’ll provoke not a counterargument—let alone an assent—but a blank stare: Who or what was Tet? Doing interviews about the recent hit movie 300 , I encountered similar bewilderment from listeners and hosts. Not only did most of them not know who the 300 were or what Thermopylae was; they seemed clueless about the Persian Wars altogether.

Oh, Vietnam. Surprising choice.

May we note here, Professor, before we get rolling, that thanks in part to you, ordinary citizens may not know any more about the significance of the Greco-Persian Wars than they did three months ago, but they do now know they were fought by characters out of Tom of Finland. And that in your quest to convince America that supreme importance should be placed on tales of manly men and what they do with each other's innards, that, at least, is a start.

Put another, less suggestive of your own surprising lack of personal military glory, way: Th' fuck? Just what do you imagine the average American, college student or not, knows about most subjects? Ask 'em to name the author associated with madeleines, or the movement associated with Georges Braque. Ask for the dates of the Renaissance or an explanation of the theory of humours. Ask your readers for an explanation of Darwinism, and see how many say, "That man descended from monkeys."

Now ask 'em how many American Idol winners they can name.

The point isn't that people are stupid, or superficial, or that education has let them down. They have other priorities. The reason college students don't know about Tet is 1) it happened before they were born; 2) the constant drumbeat of people like you, for whom history must be a moral lesson and moral lessons must inform the student that your particular take on everything is not only correct but the only true American position. This has resulted in a shocking water-added ham version of our history dominating public school texts, and teachers and school districts happy to avoid anything resembling controversy, even when the sides are right vs. wrong. You think students should know about Tet, because you want them "informed" that Tet was a military victory followed by ignominious defeat courtesy The Media and a bunch of Sixties hopheads. I'd like people to know the whole story of US "involvement" in Indochina. Let's ask a few more questions and see who can answer. Let's ask 'em who blocked the reunification elections in 1956 because its side was going to lose. Let's ask if they can answer a multiple choice question: Who threw the Japanese out of Indochina in 1945? a) the Vietnamese; b) the French; c) the United States? Let's ask if they can tell us who reoccupied Vietnam in the name of colonialism in 1946? Anyone? Bueller? It was Great Fucking Britain, that's who. Who resupplied the French when they took over garrison duties, since the Vichy had left their weapons in the hands of the people who actually lived there? Beginning with Diem, name a leader of South Vietnam whose claim was legitimate. Is there any oil in South East Asia? Did destroying the village actually save it?

Let's ask 'em why you, and your fellow Nam buffs, aren't arguing that we should go back now and correct our little oversights. I'd like to hear the answer to that one.

Y'know why, especially, I think this particular part of our history is important? Because it might teach succeeding generations to recognize who the liars are.

Here's an amazing fact of history: tiny Vietnam ultimately prevailed against, in succession, the Chinese, the French, the Japanese, the British, the French again, and the United States. They displayed a remarkable resilience and savvy leadership more powerful nations thought impossible, and their history includes perhaps the single greatest feat of military genius in the modern era. An agrarian nation defeated the mightiest technological power ever seen on earth, despite being subjected to 3-1/2 times the aerial tonnage of the Second World War. They did so, in no small measure, due to "discipline, bravery, national will, and culture", characteristics Victor Davis Hanson insists our history teachers should instill. Yet for Professor Hanson the only interesting thing about them is that Walter Cronkite and a bunch of dirty hippies let 'em win.

AND so it is that young Victor Davis Hanson, professional student, finds an interest in military history--oh, curse the luck!--just after the Fifth Columnists in the Liberal Media deprived him of the opportunity to see actual combat with his actual eyes and possibly other body parts. And yet, there were battles ahead, bloody in their own way, if by that we mean "tending to violent tear one away from reality":
What lay behind this academic lack of interest? The most obvious explanation: this was the immediate post-Vietnam era. The public perception in the Carter years was that America had lost a war that for moral and practical reasons it should never have fought—a catastrophe, for many in the universities, that it must never repeat. The necessary corrective wasn’t to learn how such wars started, went forward, and were lost. Better to ignore anything that had to do with such odious business in the first place.

Extra credit for working in a sneering reference to Jimmy Carter, actual US veteran, over something he had nothing whatsoever to do with. For the rest, B for bullshit.
Further, the sixties had ushered in a utopian view of society antithetical to serious thinking about war. Government, the military, business, religion, and the family had conspired, the new Rousseauians believed, to warp the naturally peace-loving individual. Conformity and coercion smothered our innately pacifist selves. To assert that wars broke out because bad men, in fear or in pride, sought material advantage or status, or because good men had done too little to stop them, was now seen as antithetical to an enlightened understanding of human nature. “What difference does it make,” in the words of the much-quoted Mahatma Gandhi, “to the dead, the orphans, and the homeless whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty and democracy?”

Yeah. Thank God somebody shot him.
A wartime public illiterate about the conflicts of the past can easily find itself paralyzed in the acrimony of the present. Without standards of historical comparison, it will prove ill equipped to make informed judgments. Neither our politicians nor most of our citizens seem to recall the incompetence and terrible decisions that, in December 1777, December 1941, and November 1950, led to massive American casualties and, for a time, public despair.

Fer cryin' out loud, you're a military historian, even if I am leaving off the quotes for effect. Valley Forge--I would not have cared to have been an enlisted man there, no, but--it was not even a particularly cold winter. As for comparing Truman's little anti-Commie adventure in support of Syngman Fuckin' Rhee--who was twice the man Gandhi was, I guess--with Pearl Harbor, well, fuck you, chickenshit. If you had any shame you'd have died of it by now.
So it’s no surprise that today so many seem to think that the violence in Iraq is unprecedented in our history. Roughly 3,000 combat dead in Iraq in some four years of fighting is, of course, a terrible thing.

It's dollars to doughnuts that there are more Americans who can't find Canada on a map then there are who think the violence in Iraq is "unprecedented in our history". I'd suggest the opposite: most Americans dismiss the death toll in Iraq--total or total American--as bad, but not that bad, provided they aren't being drafted. They sure haven't seen much of it, weren't permitted a view of a flag-draped casket for years, and if they're aware now that our men and women aren't over there playing video games--the image of Iraq War I--it's because of the inadequate equipment we've provided them and the incompetent treatment many of the injured receive once they've returned. Whose fuckin' fault is that, the public's?
Military history teaches us, contrary to popular belief these days, that wars aren’t necessarily the most costly of human calamities. The first Gulf War took few lives in getting Saddam out of Kuwait; doing nothing in Rwanda allowed savage gangs and militias to murder hundreds of thousands with impunity. Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, and Stalin killed far more off the battlefield than on it. The 1918 Spanish flu epidemic brought down more people than World War I did. And more Americans—over 3.2 million—lost their lives driving over the last 90 years than died in combat in this nation’s 231-year history.

And yet, millions of Americans still apply for driver's licenses but we can't scout up 50,000 a year to die for a Victor Davis Hanson-approved military adventure.

By the way, I'm not sure how military history teaches us that stuff, or why the "fairly low" number of casualties in military operations argues for less focus on causes and more on cool gory pictures, but for Hitler--believe it or not--this is not exactly true, unless you add in civilian death by disease and starvation. Nine million murdered Jews, homosexuals, Romanies, political prisoners, and mental defectives still fall short of the 10-15 million military deaths suffered by the Soviet Union alone. Apologies for engaging in these sorts of macabre games, but the suggestion that ~50 million worldwide deaths from a virus somehow ameliorate ~20 million deaths over the internecine squabbles of a tiny bunch of inbreds is execrable. World War I was just wanton slaughter, to no purpose whatsoever, unless you count setting the stage for something worse. It's there, and not in the basically-agreed-upon Good War of 1939-45, where we see the real face of this thing you imagine is so purposeful and so under-appreciated, and it's not made more sensible or less unspeakable than the crimes of Pol Pot or Joe Steel or the Cultural Revolution by virtue of the fact that white people decided to wave banners over it.
Perhaps what bothers us about wars, though, isn’t just their horrific lethality but also that people choose to wage them—which makes them seem avoidable, unlike a flu virus or a car wreck, and their tolls unduly grievous. Yet military history also reminds us that war sometimes has an eerie utility: as British strategist Basil H. Liddell Hart put it, “War is always a matter of doing evil in the hope that good may come of it.” Wars—or threats of wars—put an end to chattel slavery, Nazism, fascism, Japanese militarism, and Soviet Communism.

We're just gonna let that "Soviet Communism" slide by, as the product of a pathetic neediness it would be heartless to crush, but...chattel slavery? Maybe in the United States, although you can find an argument that the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery easily enough, probably by clicking through an ad on your website. But the rest of the world--or that part which has managed to put an end to slavery and near-slavery--generally did so out of moral repugnance, not warfare. And, I will add, if you're all that interested in people learning about abolition, how come that motion comic book you added your name to turned the Persians, who weren't, into slave masters while those leather-bikini Democrats, who were, skipped away free?
The 2003 removal of Saddam refuted doom-and-gloom critics who predicted thousands of deaths and millions of refugees,

I'm that when we stopped counting? Did the ref blow the whistle? Because the UN says there's now over a million refugees in Syria alone, and thousands of deaths, well, at least that would mean it wasn't hundreds of thousands. Yet. What was refuted, right there in 2003, though, was the doom-and-gloom cheerleaders who predicted thousands, if not millions, of deaths unless we captured Hussein's arsenal of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. Plants. Plans. Ideas. Scrapbook. So, good point. Did you scribble it down four years ago and just find it while you were typing the paragraph?
Ultimately, public opinion follows the ups and downs—including the perception of the ups and downs—of the battlefield, since victory excites the most ardent pacifist and defeat silences the most zealous zealot

Not quite.
The American public turned on the Iraq War not because of Cindy Sheehan or Michael Moore but because it felt that the battlefield news had turned uniformly bad and that the price in American lives and treasure for ensuring Iraqi reform was too dear.

Right. The utter lyin' incompetents runnin' the show have nothing to do with it. Military history teaches us that. If we squint hard enough.

Tuesday, August 21

Getting Other People To Die For Your Principles: It's Not Just For The Battlefield Anymore

Jane Galt, on health care Aug. 17

William Saletan, "Kicking Butt: The International Jihad Against Tobacco." Slate, Aug. 17
As a class, the old and sick are already luckier than the young and healthy. Again, for individuals within that class--those with desperate congenital conditions, for example--this is not the case. But I'm not sure it's terribly compelling to argue that we should massively disadvantage a large group of people in order to massively advantage another, equally large group of people, all to help out the few who are needy, or deserving, or unlucky.

YOU may have come upon this via Roy, as I did. Maybe you saw my comment, which garnered some good wishes from the alicubists. Maybe you already knew my mother has atypical dementia, though god knows I've found it near impossible to write about for the past year or so (I had a longish piece about her 81st birthday nearly completed next week and I couldn't go back to edit it. It's not the emotion, and it's not the prognosis, it's the difficulty of getting anything on paper that feels right, that begins to touch the sense of steady erosion of what makes someone human).

If so you might be surprised that I'll start out defending Ms McArdle, at least on a technicality. She started the whole "old people have it comin' " routine with an arguendo, and I'm really not sure how long it was supposed to be in effect, so it's possible she was not being quite as inhuman as she seems on the surface. What's quoted above is the final paragraph, and sounds like a return to her own voice, but I'm just not going to assume.

Besides, there's enough wrong with that, arguendo or no, to give us pause.

Let's begin by noting that the argument over morality, or "social justice", fails in the way such things usually do--it assumes the matter can be sliced thin and prepared as a slide. But why should we imagine it could be? We wouldn't expect to solve a dispute with our neighbor by asking who was more deserving of having things in his favor.

Even so (arguendo), how can we say that asking the young to contribute to the health care needs of the elderly is economically unfair? Aside from the people Objectivists do not care about--the unlucky few born to poverty, or orphaned, the sapling versions of the people they're willing to send to their deaths at age 65 or above in the Great Cosmic Lottery--the young have been fed, clothed, and housed for most of their existence at no charge. They've been educated at someone else's expense, including that same group of the elderly and infirm who've build and defended the businesses where most of those young people earn their money, the roads they take to get there, the infrastructure they use once they do. If they get into an accident on the way they're assisted by police, fire, and hospital services, public or mostly public, of whose costs they personally have borne very little. Maybe, to achieve economic equity, people under 30 should have to get to a hospital under their own power, or else bleed to death. Perhaps we should hand every 21-year-old a bill for the public health services that eradicated smallpox or provided him with drinking water and adequate sanitation. Maybe we should just go whole hog and start a Borgesian Lottery. Maybe we need to reconsider the economic efficiencies of the high-quality protein (tender, too!) that is the human infant. That's the great thing about libertarianism: options.

Yes, Ms McArdle, older people hold a large proportion of the wealth. Some because they're the sort of lucky duckies you celebrate, some through dint of hard work, many because they've saved for the time when that money would be needed. That would include my mother, who's 81, whose mind and brain are being taken away from her as they were my grandmother. She has enough money to last a decade or so. In a way she's fortunate, beyond having enough to pay for her care, since she's no longer able to live on her own and be preyed upon by some young go-getter who thinks the rest of the world can go fuck itself so long as he gets his. She has a lawyer and a financial consultant who are family friends, who work for free (incomprehensible, ain't it?), who won't appropriate what's hers because they think it would look better if it were theirs. Not all the elderly are so lucky. Not by a long shot.

Her second husband, now, there was a man you could objectify. Died of complications from mandibular cancer. Not pretty. He was a life-long smoker. He was a life-long Republican, too, and stayed well just long enough to welcome in the Reagan Revolution, which would repay his faith by declared him not disabled, despite the fact that he couldn't eat solid food, couldn't lift anything with what they'd left of his left arm, couldn't walk more than about twenty feet without being exhausted. The ruling allowed his employer--one of the five largest in the country--to more or less fire him and get out from under his medical insurance. He smoked, so this was all volunteer work.

Another thing he volunteered for was 3-1/2 years of war in the Pacific. Surely your mother having not been born an Imperial Army sex slave, or bayonet practice, is worth something? I'm sure my mom'll take a check, though we have to help her endorse any. Once you get her started in the right spot, and make her understand she's supposed to sign her name, she's an autograph champ.

MEANWHILE, over at Slate (Motto: We're Contrarian! Hah! Did You Even Notice? Remember When We Were For The War Just Because Everyone Else Was? Gotcha That Time!), William Saletan has a novel take on The War on Tobacco: it's fine, so far as it goes, but it goes too far!
The problem with tobacco all along was that politicians and the public didn't recognize it as a drug. They called it a tradition, a "crop," and a "legal product." As though coca and marijuana weren't crops. As though a product's legality should decide its morality, instead of the other way around. When it came to smoking, culture overpowered reason.

Shit! The War on Drugs is hypocritical! Wish I'd thought of that.
Now public opinion and governments have turned against tobacco. But the anti-smoking jihad, born of science, is beginning to outrun it. Culture is trampling reason again, this time in the other direction.

While we search for an example in your piece, Bill, tell me...just where would Culture run into Reason these days?
Nonsmoking areas in restaurants haven't worked too well. The smoke just drifts from one area to the other.

To fix this, European countries are now isolating smokers in sealed rooms with separate ventilation . Lest any waitress encounter a toxic cloud, Holland, Slovenia, and other countries have outlawed eating in the smoking rooms . That's pretty harsh. I thought we were trying to remove smoke from eaters, not food from smokers.

So "lest any waitress..." was just a rhetorical device?
Likewise, the point of recognizing tobacco as a drug was to regulate it as strictly as comparable drugs, not more so.

Say whut? Comparable drugs to nicotine are mostly illegal, and the ones that ain't are Federally regulated. In Indiana, you have to go to the pharmacy, present I.D., and sign for your perfectly legal, "over-the-counter" allergy medicine, and buy only one small package at a time, because otherwise someone somewhere might use it to make meth. Compared to that, being locked in your own filtration system and allowed to smoke until your eyeballs turn beige sounds like a weekend trip to Paris.
Five months ago, a report by a British commission found that the financial health costs of alcohol and tobacco were equal. Tobacco was by far the bigger killer, but when the analysis moved beyond self-destruction to harming others, the annual death toll from alcohol-related car accidents exceeded the toll from secondhand smoke in the workplace. Drinking, unlike smoking, played a role in 78 percent of assaults and 88 percent of criminal damage. The commission concluded that if legal drugs were classified like illegal ones, alcohol would be judged more serious than tobacco. Instead, British law allows advertising of booze but not cigarettes.

Stop me if I've said this before. There is no way to take this sort of argument seriously. We're being asked to accept an argument that, if the author really accepted it, or even imagined it made a point, would lead us to the inevitable conclusion that he's too stupid to have successfully crossed busy streets for thirty years. They draw this shit out of a hat. "Okay, Saletan, you'll love this one: 'Sure cigarette smoking is a public health risk, and secondary smoke causes cancer, but there's a law in...wait for it...Slovakia we think is absurd!' " There must be a prize for the guy who keeps a straight face the longest.

Yes, there is second-hand risk from alcohol; as shown above, it's that someone will commit an act which is classified as a crime while under the influence (though to claim that it played a role in 80% of the assaults in Britain--they're all gud lads, m'Lord, they just had a wee dram!--gives the game away). If you're smoking three tables away you're depriving me of non-toxic air, and possibly a lifetime of health. If you're drinking three tables away my only current risk is that it's karaoke night.

Is this really all that difficult to understand? Is the distinction between freedom and license too esoteric or something? We enact laws, not morality, and though you're free to argue how, or whether the latter should inform the former, suggesting that the law should be determined by some sort of moral bracketology (Next up: Alcohol vs. Topless Dancing) is just boneheaded. Or a Salon assignment. If that's a distinction.

Monday, August 20

What're You, ein Simpleton?

Jonah Goldberg, "Sinful: The Politics of Envy." Aug. 17

Peggy Noonan, "Hatred Begins at Home The NYPD looks at what turns young Westerners into jihadis." Aug. 17

THE best thing about either of these two is that there's no such thing as the August doldrums with either, because the weather never changes in their heads--discounting the electrical storms that race across the prairie of Noonan's noggin.

Let's start with Goldberg. Despite his odious opinions, his lack of any appreciable skill, in particular any which might even remotely justify his employment, and the dimness of his wits, I can't help feeling avuncular towards the boy. Especially, as here, when he trots out another vintage Cold War argument with no apparent awareness that a) he's doing so or b) that anyone could be old enough to notice.

As with our puny abilities to grasp the mysteries of the Cat, what vistas of stupidity would open for us if we could map the provenance of Goldbergian thought! He leaves such a tantalizing trail of Cheetos crumbs, Birch Society shavings, pop-culture inanities, and peer-pressure induced petty vandalisms, and you keep imagining they're eventually going to lead to terra firma. Called upon to display his deepest thoughts--let's make that "core beliefs"--Goldberg sounds for all the world like a die-hard Nixonian Red-baiter forced to smile and sing the Ronald Reagan Will Make Us All Happy Song. All of which took place before he was old enough to drive. Ponder what became of Cheney or Rumsfeld, Young Nixon administration Turks who had to pretend to have been out of power for forty years when Reagan took office, even though their office furniture was probably still there, and who had to endure eight years of his new-found folksy grandpa FDR of the Right routine, all the while wondering when their chance to shoot hippies in a public park was coming. Goldberg, of course, is the Scarecrow to Cheney's Tin Man.

I just wish he could learn to tell a joke:
As my wife will attest, I often suffer from futterneid. This is the term Germans use to describe the envy we feel when, for example, someone orders a better meal than ours. I’m also prone to schadenfreude, the tendency to take pleasure in the misfortune of others. So if I get the braised short ribs and you get stuck with the snail tartare, your futterneid will fuel my schadenfreude.

Now, to begin with, he's somehow taken a genuinely interesting word, futterneid (do they not have a style book at NRO? Is that a stupid question? Or is it just that Jonah doesn't know how to do italics?), and turns it into mush. "This is the term Germans use to describe...when, for example..."? There may well be some occasion to write as if one is the current storyteller at a slumber party, but political commentary is not it.

Second, as awful as that construction is, it's made worse by overselling the premise of the "joke" to come. Futterneid--I have no German whatever--is literally "fodder envy". Would that not have been enough information for your readers to catch the snail tartare gag? It's like prefacing the bit about the hooker who tells the guy she'll do anything he wants for $300 by saying "Have you gotten an estimate on painting a house lately? It's astronomical! Anyway, this guy is sitting at the bar..." Except, of course, that that joke is funny.

Now, snail tartare is mildly amusing, as most of his readership would consider snails inedible, hopelessly French, an affectation rather than a choice, and raw snails a nauseating reality show stunt. Plus there's that reverse snobbery they get such a kick of but which in Jonah reminds us that he doesn't have the taste to be a snob if he tried. (Fred Astaire and Archy Bunker might each refuse a proffered plate of escargots à la bourguignonne with a scowl, but we should not imagine we have witnessed the very same reaction.)

But the real problem, joke-wise, is that he can't ever resist over-egging the pudding. Braised short ribs may be a fine dish and worthy, but it's not likely that the cheapest cut of meat on the menu, which is, on top of it, one-half bone, will induce fodder envy in someone who has the money to eat in the same place. And they're rather unlikely to be served in the sort of place you'd sneer at for serving some real-world version of "snail tartare". (For the record, snails have to be purged before consuming. a process that requires several days and generally culminates in their being boiled. You would be hard-pressed to find a restaurant in the United States that ever dealt with fresh snails. We do not intend this as a too-literal criticism of your gag, Mr. Goldberg. We just mean to point out that if you were 25% smarter you'd have been given pause, and come up with something better. Witness Jay Leno, who I saw do a version of the joke in the 1970s, when he was still funny. He used "colon tartare". This is funny in large part because it pretends a complete bewilderment with the whole issue, not a commonplace dismissal of everyone who eats anything more adventurous than your personal choice of fodder.)

But if the recognition that one does not eat raw snails (which may, in fact, be poisonous due to their diet, regardless of species) requires some sort of specialist knowledge, the idea that one would "get stuck" with snails when tantalizingly slow-cooked standard American stevedore ballast was available makes no sense at all. Snails are expensive, so one would not wind up with them as a cost-cutting, envy-stoking measure. Both "escargot" and "tartare" are widely understood, enough so that Jonah could use the latter as the linchpin of the gag, without one of his mood-killing explanations. I suppose a neophyte could accidentally wind up with mutton stew in a bistro somewhere, but not raw snails or snipe eyeballs.

The point is, Mr. Goldberg, that you coast. You give every indication of having done so for twenty-five years. It's not that you ruined what might have been a good joke--it wasn't--but that you can't avoid covering a piece with greasy fingerprints before we've exited the first paragraph.

I'm sorry--we were musing about the provenance of Goldberg's "ideas". This is clearly not a Spare Rib Epiphany. Somewhere along the line--1989, 1997, one hour before he wrote the column--Jonah became aware of a 1965 Christian Democrat anti-New Left pamphlet entitled Envy: A Theory of Social Behavior, by Helmut Schoeck (note to Jonah: there is no such thing as a "timeless masterpiece" of sociology, any more than there is an "immortal classic" of cowboy fiction). The New Left! Jesus Christ, the closest Goldberg ever came to The New Left was Jerry Brown's 1992 Presidential campaign. This is why he took us on that little gastronomical linguistic tour--so he could link a forty-year-old defense of capitalism to German expansionism, Soviet Communism, and, of course, to complete the Unholy Trinity...John Edwards? Yes, Hitler envied Poland, Marx envied the bourgeoisie, and John Edwards envies Jonah Goldberg's choice of take-out, despite the fact that he could buy and sell him a few thousand times over, and doubtless knows his escargot fork from his dessert spoon. And somehow it never occurs to Jonah that between them, Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani own the other six Deadly Sins.

And so it was that, after the vertigo subsided, I clicked over to Noonan. Not in search of an antidote, but more by way of a counterbalancing insanity. Peg's the self-hypnotized Reaganaut whose inner Nixon can be summoned only in extreme circumstances, like a Democrat Being President, running for President, or saying something. Compared to Jonah, she's largely sui generis, and unlike the Corner gang, once the Iraq adventure she blessed and the President she canonized both turned unmistakably to pillars of shit, she's mostly seen fit to bubble away incoherently rather than try resuscitation.

But Peggers, who knows why, decides to draw a lesson about US standing in the world from, of all places, the North of Ireland:
Whenever I think of war, I think of this: It was 1982 or '83, I was in Northern Ireland, and a local reporter was showing me around Derry, then a center of the Protestant-Catholic conflict. The neighborhood we were in was beat up, poor, with Irish Republican Army graffiti on tired walls. There were some scraggly kids on the street.

Suddenly an armored British army vehicle slowly rounded the corner, and the street came alive with kids pouring out of houses, grabbing the heavy metal lids of garbage bins, and smashing them against the pavement. They made quite a racket.

A woman came out. She was 35 or 40, her short hair standing up, uncombed. It was late afternoon, but she was in an old robe, and you could tell it was the robe she lived in. She stood there and smirked as the soldiers went by. She'd come out to register her dislike for the Brits, and to show the children she approved of their protest.

As I watched this nothing sort of scene, I thought: That's where it comes from. That's what keeps it alive.

And I thought: Holy Shit. Peggy O'Noonan, the public face of 21st Century American Catholic toe-kissing and weeping Madonna on a grilled cheese sandwich, the Crazy Dolphin Lady, is excoriating Irish Catholics for perpetuating hatred of the thievin' Brits and their military occupation? She's not even vaguely aware that there was some small question about whether they should be there in the first place, or what they'd accomplished? Or some small metaphorical suggestion of how her once-sainted President had condemned his own soldiers to die an Irish Sea half-a-world wide away, for God knows how long, for the sake of a centuries-old religious squabble?

And yet, this is what's great about this country. Not that an Irish Catholic can turn into a Thatcherite, or any dim bulb with contacts can get a book deal and never write a book. It's that, even in the middle of a swampy August you can always find somebody with a raging fever who'll make you feel more comfortable just by comparison.

Friday, August 17

Toenails Release Slick Peas: Playing Telephone on the Hot Line with Rudy G

Rudolph Giuliani, "Toward a Realistic Peace", Foreign Affairs September/October

THIS is, I think, the most ignorant thing I've ever seen attached to a politician's name, and I've heard Everett Dirksen, S.I. Hayakawa, and Steve Symms speak.
We are all members of the 9/11 generation.

And that's it. He could have stopped there, for all the evidence he supplies, all the analysis that flows from this "fact". This is a man asking us to name him to follow the most incompetent administration in our history, to take charge of the colossal mess created precisely because we relied on this sort of sloganeering instead of looking for ways to create a realistic peace.

Or any peace, for that matter, because in the heyday of the use of Red White an' Blue as a charm against falling objects we had no interest in peace whatever. If that's ever changed for Giuliani you won't hear it about it here, just as you'll never hear it on the campaign trail. Peace, a solution (other than the Final one), these are not even a part of the narrative, as they would be in any real war, no matter how odious the enemy. It's Ultimate Victory Which Demonstrates for All Time God's Righteous Guidance of our Tax-Cutting Program vs. Demoralizing, Humiliating Defeat Which Turns Our Brave Heroes Gay. If you want an accurate title here, or at least one that refers to what's in the body of the piece, it's "How to Recycle Cold War and Post-Vietnam Rhetoric In Such A Way That It Might Win Us One More Election."

Okay, I know that Giuliani's just saying things to win a nomination--not that I think he's shamming--but this is Foreign Affairs, not NASCAR in Pictures Monthly. The base ain't listenin'. So we're forced to conclude he learned international relations playing Telephone with Young Republicans during the Reagan administration. After suggesting that our every international concern is the result of, or has been exacerbated by, our short-sighted refusal to simply explain to the other nations of the world why our system is logically the best for them if they would like to prosper, join in a secure community of nations, and avoid having us blow their fucking heads off--said persuasion to be accomplished by submarine, "paramilitary groups" (I kid you not!), and the Voice of America--Rudy assures us that, like all responsible Presidential candidates, he's already got the exploratory committee on his own canonization hard at work:
Our cultural and commercial influence can also have a positive impact. They did during the Cold War. The steadfast leadership of President Reagan, working alongside British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II, helped the Soviet Union understand that it could not bully the West into submission. Although such leadership was essential, alone it might not have toppled the Soviet Union in the time that it did. But it was effective because it came with Western economic investment and cultural influence that inspired people in the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact countries. Companies such as Pepsi, Coca-Cola, McDonald's, and Levi's helped win the Cold War by entering the Soviet market. Cultural events, such as Van Cliburn's concerts in the Soviet Union and Mstislav Rostropovich's in the United States, also hastened change.

Good Lord, it's history as told to People magazine. No, make that Us. Reagan steadfastly ran from Lebanon, after getting a couple hundred Marines killed to no purpose whatsoever, all because Realism Informed by Idealism dictated that he toss out the Camp David Accords as being, if I recall, "too accomplished by Jimmy Carter". As a result, of course, there hasn't been a bit of trouble on the Israel/Lebanon border since, and we've developed a special relationship with the Saudi royal family, once it understood the benefits of free elections and unfettered trade. The Pope managed to muzzle some mouthy South American priests and give hope to millions around the world who felt that the 19th Century was moving just a little too fast. Thatcher, meanwhile, took a failing British economy and, by dint of superior principles, drove it into the dumpster. Plus, in a certain light, she looked a little like Churchill. And who can forget that she kicked some Argentine ass, a move roundly applauded in the United States by people who couldn't have pointed to the Falklands on a map, and who apparently sided with the British in the hopes that one day we'd get our own Spice Girl out of the deal.
The next U.S. president should take inspiration from Ronald Reagan's actions during his summit with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in Reykjavík in 1986: he was open to the possibility of negotiations but ready to walk away if talking went nowhere. The lesson is never talk for the sake of talking and never accept a bad deal for the sake of making a deal. Those with whom we negotiate -- whether ally or adversary -- must know that America has other options. The theocrats ruling Iran need to understand that we can wield the stick as well as the carrot, by undermining popular support for their regime, damaging the Iranian economy, weakening Iran's military, and, should all else fail, destroying its nuclear infrastructure.

It's amazing that the party which used to grouse about Unintended Consequences now seems to imagine there are no consequences of any sort, or where there are some, however unpleasant, it's because we haven't doubled down enough yet. Elsewhere Giuliani spits out the recent commonplace that the Iranian people "actually like us"--the whole thing is current events as scrapbook--but somehow they'll be happy to have us fuck with them from 30,000 metaphorical feet provided we've got a really good reason to do so.

This, by the way, is the essence of Giuliani's military thinking, a return to 9/12 and the infinite possibilities of crafting military action using logistical maps and vapor.
The U.S. Army needs a minimum of ten new combat brigades. It may need more, but this is an appropriate baseline increase while we reevaluate our strategies and resources. We must also take a hard look at other requirements, especially in terms of submarines, modern long-range bombers, and in-flight refueling tankers. Rebuilding will not be cheap, but it is necessary. And the benefits will outweigh the costs.

Which, of course, doesn't mean we can afford it, or even that it's a good idea. But let's look at this one from the top, beginning atop the spires of the alabaster castle he's erecting in the clouds and continuing down to the crater we'll leave when we climb onto the thing.

Ten combat brigades. That's 50,000 men, plus materiel, plus the neglected-to-mention-'em-because-they-ain't-sexy support troops. Forget where they're supposed to come from when we haven't been able to recruit 50,000 a year despite raising the age limit and lowering the physical and mental requirements to "Present". Every recruit receives an automatic $90,000 ($20K in cash) benefit package upon acceptance, plus unknown future educational benefits and whatever medical care we don't cheat them out of when they're no longer of any use. We spend between $50-100,000 on training each soldier in his first year. That's a commitment to a minimum $7 billion dollar increase before anyone gets a haircut, and doesn't include feeding, housing, or equipping him, and it presumably comes after we re-equip and re-man the existing ten divisions. The current Pentagon wish list is for an increase of two divisions (roughly 30,000 troops). Rudy wants half again as many at a minimum while we're sitting around trying to figure out what we really need to do. This at a time when combat readiness is at an historic low, when we may need to requisition Yellowstone for use as a parking lot for junk equipment (sorry, I shouldn't have said that out loud), and at a time when we've already transferred the responsibilities of the Army's "Ready Brigade" to the 101st Airborne--which is by training and equipment incapable of performing all the doctrinal requirements--so that we could send every brigade of the 82nd Airborne--which can--to assist in The Surge. At the best of times--like, say, when we had a standing army that was equipped and prepared to do its job--creating a single division would require a minimum of five years. Forget who's supposed to pay for all this and how--presumably vapor taxpayers and vapor money are as easy to conjure up as ghost brigades--who's going to train them? You'll have to retain practically the entire fighting force we have left, promote them, and a corresponding increase in benefits and pensions, as a training force.

Wait, we've barely begun. We've created an army of soldiers many of whom are not yet born, and saddled their younger siblings with the bill. But what th' fuck is the mission? We've already seen that a standing force of 1.1 million--double that with Reservists and Guard--was unable to deploy, let alone maintain, much more than 200,000 troops between Iraq and Afghanistan. Which force, as everybody but the Republican Presidential contenders now knows, was woefully inadequate for the job, which was to occupy the poorest country in the world, with little more than a leftover insurgent force to defend it (albeit in favorable terrain, but that terrain did miraculously get tougher on September 11), and a tenth-rate military power still more than decimated by the pounding we gave it twelve years earlier. Neither of them is Iran, and Iran is no Pakistan. Where are we sending these boys and girls, Rudy? What're they supposed to do once they get there? Or has Camille Paglia--who mused last week that we might have to return to Iraq sometime in the near future and bomb the hell out of 'em this time, as though to emphasize the fact that this was another subject she didn't know a fucking thing about--signed on as your secret military advisor?

I told myself I was going to ignore it this time, but the song of the sirens is too persuasive. It's not just current military matters on which Rudy is certifiably insane:
America must remember one of the lessons of the Vietnam War. Then, as now, we fought a war with the wrong strategy for several years. And then, as now, we corrected course and began to show real progress. Many historians today believe that by about 1972 we and our South Vietnamese partners had succeeded in defeating the Vietcong insurgency and in setting South Vietnam on a path to political self-sufficiency. But America then withdrew its support, allowing the communist North to conquer the South. The consequences were dire, and not only in Vietnam: numerous deaths in places such as the killing fields of Cambodia, a newly energized and expansionist Soviet Union, and a weaker America. The consequences of abandoning Iraq would be worse.

Fiction. absolute fiction from beginning to end. Wrong in every particular. (For the record, Your Honor, America needs to learn the lessons of Vietnam before it worries that it's getting a little fuzzy about the details. And perhaps you'd care to go first?) And it perfectly underscores the depth of the problem in front of us--not just the eventual breakdown of what remains of US forces in Iraq, which the Bush administration determined several years ago was preferable to its admission of error (these are the patriots, folks), not the wresting of temporal political control from a party of lunatics, in order to hand it over to a party of lunatic enablers, but the complete reversal of sixty years of military fetishism, insane spending priorities, and a view of history somewhere between "Unlettered" and "Hallucinated", all of it transfered from ear to ear, one whisper at a time.

Wednesday, August 15

Welcome Liberators

Jonah Goldberg, "Republican or Conservative? About Karl Rove." August 15.

There’s an old maxim
YEAH, the new ones just don't seem to make it. Get yourself an editor, young Goldberg. Preferably a mean one. Maybe you could bleg it: "Do any of you readers speak and write English?"
that if Napoleon had been struck by a cannon ball on his way toward Moscow, he would be remembered as an unrivaled military genius and liberator.
Y'know, I've never heard that, and I'm always curious when I pick up a new old maxim, especially now that I'm old enough to have authored some had I tried. I'm not saying you made this up--the history alone is beyond you--I'm just curious about the provenance. Napoleon is unrivaled in the modern era as a military genius, Russian campaign or no, and while his contemporary rep might have been improved by a well-timed demise, he'd have eventually come under the jaundiced gaze of history; idolators are required to work the Churchill section. Maybe "Quit while you're ahead" is the real old maxim you're after. But then you'd have said "quit", which you people never do--ahead, behind, or hopelessly mired in an unwinnable war you never should have gotten into in the first place.
In this and other respects, Karl Rove strikes me as a Napoleonic figure.
I'm going to predict that shortly after this howler you're going to excoriate the left blogosphere for hysterically suggesting that Rove was a dictator with scant regard for civil liberties. I'm not sure how I do this. Sometimes I just get the tingle.
He won an impressive string of campaigns. He dreamed of erecting a new political order on the ashes of the old. He’d look awfully dashing in one of those bicorn hats.

[rimshot] Damn, an actual joke from Jonah Goldberg, with timing and everything. Not a particularly funny one, but you know what Dr. Johnson said about women preaching and dogs walking on their hind legs.
And, most of all, Rove — who announced he will retire Aug. 31 — stubbornly refused to depart the scene on a historic high note.
I wasn't really gonna take on that old maxim, old boy, but Napoleon did not invade Russia because he'd been at his desk too long. If that old maxim is out there, somewhere, it's as a caution against over-reaching, not bad timing. Rove could have sold hubris to Napoleon for sous on the dollar. As for that "historic", well, we'll see.
Now of course, the comparison has its limits. Rove is not a bloody-minded invader or a dictator with scant regard for civil liberties — though you might think otherwise if you get all of your news from left-wing blogs.

Would you...could there any way you could just quit this? I don't mean accusing anonymous leftists of saying things you'd like them to say--I have no reason to care what you think, Jonah--but the hedging every motherfucking thing you ever write? Just quit? Go through everything and strike it all out, if you refuse to be edited? Because whatever you imagine it accomplishes (razor-sharp accuracy? the illusion of razor-sharp accuracy? why would you even try?) it's just an annoying tic, and god knows you're the last writer on earth who needs one. We've already established that the Napoleon bit was "an old maxim". Thus we've already established that you're applying it as a concept. Were I to say, for some reason, probably brain fever, "It's been said that the truly great players--think Michael Jordan--want the ball when the game is on the line, and no one at NRO fits that description more than Jonah Goldberg," I would not need to add, "of course he's not African-American, or athletic, or accomplished".
Yet he fits the picture, because if Rove had left the White House after George W. Bush’s reelection in 2004, he would have been a hero, a man remembered as one of the great political master-tacticians of the last half a century.

Name three.
Obviously, Rove was aided in his 2004 task by the fact that the Democrats nominated John Kerry, a Michael Dukakis without the brains. But Rove and then-Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman managed to help Bush increase his support among blacks, women, Latinos, independents and urbanites and defeat an opponent who got 8 million more votes than Al Gore. The Republicans held on to the House and Senate too — a feat not equaled since FDR’s reelection in 1936.

Okay, first let's fill in the blanks for Jonah--we're all his unpaid editors at some point--I believe what he means to say is that Bush was the first president since '36 to gain re-election while his party increased its Congressional majority. FDR's wins in 1940 and '44 were accompanied by Democrats holding on to both houses, with a net loss of seats in the former and a wash in the latter.

But let's try something Jonah can't--let's look at this with some sense of American history. Since 1936, how many Presidents had the opportunity to do this? Answer: one, FDR, and he did it, and if you switch the requirement back to what Jonah actually said, he went three for three. No President standing for re-election since has held Congressional majorities.
Coming on top of GOP gains in 2002, it was a truly remarkable achievement.

Shut up, Jonah, I wasn't finished. If we permit Johnson as a substitute Kennedy in 1964, then there were two. And in '64 the Democrats not only increased their majorities in the House and the Senate, they achieved a 2/3 majority in each, the only time either has been accomplished postwar. (Would Kennedy have done worse?) Which must make that an extra truly double-plus remarkable achievement x 2, with a scoop of butterscotch ice cream.

So now we're at 3-for-3, or 4-for-4, with asterisk. Not such an astronomical achievement, eh? But let's keep going. You've got four men who stood for re-election in that period without Congressional majorities. Eisenhower, who lost a House majority in his first midterm, lost two more House seats and had a draw in the Senate. Nixon lost a couple of Senate seats and gained several in the House, but did not overturn the Democratic majority. Reagan picked up House seats and lost Senate seats, but neither reversed their control. Clinton, like Ike a loser of his House majority in the preceding midterms, gained House seats and lost two in the Senate, with both majorities holding serve. We've gone from "Rove joins Bill Wambsganss as the only man to record an unassisted triple play in World Series history" to "That's just the second time this month that a left-handed middle reliever of Polish extraction has thrown three scoreless innings after a rain delay." Or, in other words, big fuckin' deal.
And then winter came.

Bush traded his political capital for the magic beans of Social Security reform, but the ground was too frozen for the seeds to take hold.

Please, please, do not do that again.
Rove deserves mixed praise for the effort.

Excuse me, did you say "mixed praise"?
It was courageous, but, as Bush’s political brain, he should have seen that it was doomed to failure and hence ill-conceived. As Napoleon said, if you set out to take Vienna, take Vienna.

He might also have said, if you set out to pacify Baghdad, pacify Baghdad. Yet as the American public soured on the Iraq project, Bush’s political ear — i.e. the receiver of advice from Rove — transmogrified from gold to tin. Hurricane Katrina, Harriet Miers, delaying the defenestration of Don Rumsfeld until after the ‘06 election, immigration reform: All of these moves conspired to make the Bush White House’s grasp of the times seem increasingly thumbless.

Not "seem" lad, no. And all this from"one of the great political master-tacticians of the last half a century"? What'd the other guys do, chose our successive puppets in Vietnam? Tell Bush Sr to be sure to try the octopus sashimi? And those--save Katrina, which I thought Jonah blamed on the inability of African-Americans to mutate on command--are the Republican complaints.
Even Bush’s first-term gems tarnished rapidly.

So quickly, in fact, and so thoroughly, that neither of us seems to be able to name one.
While much of the criticism was disingenuous, few can doubt the White House regrets that “mission accomplished” stunt.

Well, we're used to all sorts of weather in the Midwest, but that's the first time I ever saw a sentence turn to slush in mid-thought. I suppose the disingenuous criticism will be extensively footnoted in that new book?
The Medicare prescription drug benefit may be surprisingly popular,

Surprisingly, given that everyone else in America hates social spending as much as Jonah wishes they would.
but the promised political windfall never materialized.
Again, surprisingly so, since the ham-fisted way in which it was handled usually assures popular acclaim.
Meanwhile, Bush’s two most important domestic accomplishments in the second term

Wait, what happened to the first term? Too much scrubbing required on that tarnish, and no intern around to do it for you?
have been the appointments of John G. Roberts Jr. and Samuel Alito Jr. to the U.S. Supreme Court. But even these masterstrokes ran at least partly against the first instincts of Bush and Rove. If they’d had their druthers, Miers and Alberto Gonzales would be on the court today — a calamity from which neither the republic nor the Republican Party would soon have recovered
First, is the appointment of a Supreme Court justice an "accomplishment"? Was there a danger that someone else would jump in and do it while he was napping? Second, that Miers/Gonzo thing is just another Republican complaint; most of us who get all our news from the left blogosphere don't see much downside left after Roberts and Alito, or much evidence of other "conservative" concern with national calamity. (And à propos of nothing: number of words spoken by Justice Thomas during oral arguments since February 2006? 132.)
The lesson here is particularly acute for conservatives. Rove engineered Bush’s victory in 2000 by

promising a different kind of Republican, a.k.a. a “compassionate conservative.” That meant generally staying mute on racial issues, luring Latinos into the GOP fold by any means necessary and advocating federal activism on everything from single motherhood to education.

I'm sorry, I didn't quite catch that. Would you mind removing the hood before you speak?
The story is complex, of course. Bush won tax cuts and was stronger on defense than Gore or Kerry would have been. But the central point remains: Rove’s strategic vision involved securing a Republican victory at the expense of conservative principles.

Jesus H. Christ on a Low-Sodium Ritz. Compassionate fucking conservatism? I'm surprised anyone even remembers the fucker. It was test-marketed in '99, if I recall, and lasted about as long as Crystal Pepsi. Leaving aside how "stronger on defense" can mean "willing to fracture our military manpower and materiel into the foreseeable future in exchange for, roughly, squat", what "conservative principles" did the Bush administration violate? Aside from tax cuts and the undesirability of Latino luring, what "conservative principles" have survived the last two decades?
Partisan victories are nice, but they aren’t an end in themselves.

Right. Something I remember you saying so often when you're winning.
Harry Truman, whom Rove and others see as role models for Bush, himself liked to quote Napoleon on his fateful encounter with the Russians: “I beat them in every battle, but it does not get me anywhere.”

Look, Truman, who was our most over-rated President until Reagan rendered the phrase meaningless, like to quote The Testament of Peter the Great, too. He may have loved history, but it was largely unrequited.
Compassionate conservatism succeeded as a political tactic by coopting liberal assumptions in much the same way that Bill Clinton’s triangulation stole conservative thunder.

Oh, yeah. I remember how in each instance the opposition was largely struck dumb.
Rove was, famously, the architect of this strategy, and as such the left hated him not for his ideas but for his successes, which they now want to emulate at all costs. The net-root “fighting Dems” who care about partisan victory above all else are in many respects the children of Karl Rove.

Shit. First, Richard Nixon, not Karl Rove, is the architect of the so-called Republican majority, aka, the grafting of the rejected Dixiecrats, and it wasn't a move that required any great political genius--Johnson had remarked after ramrodding the Civil Rights Act that he'd created a Republican majority for a generation--just ruthlessness and a willingness to trade decades of partisan chaos for temporal political gain. Rove is just a campaign fixer for the least competent President in US history, and his "magic", his "genius", amounted to tinkering with the Nixon formula. Unlike Tricky Dick, Rove apparently actually believed the hype. Unlike Nixon, he had the press on his side. He still managed to lose one election and squeak through another despite "wartime" status. After the stolen 2000 election, and an incredibly negligent press corps/cheering section (Vandalgate, the Charm Offensive, the Commander Bush in Charge! coverage of the Chinese Spy Plane Imbroglio) Bush's popularity was about to take a major swing downward when the Towers fell, which, in retrospect, should have resulted in demands for his impeachment, but instead saved his ass through 2004. Rove may be a good tactician--it's impossible to say for sure when no one can figure out who did what when and why in this godawful mess of a government--but he clearly was no sort of strategist at all. He made binary decisions, and he made them in the most short-sighted fashion imaginable, and his assisted luck held for a time. If he was really willing to scuttle "conservative principles" for political gain he'd have done so after the election, not before and via slogan. I don't give a fuck for your principles, Mr. Goldberg, and I've no idea where you keep them--Thomas Sowell's columns?--but not even you can deny that every move the Bush administration made was designed to stoke the base and stiff the opposition. That's not brains, it's schoolyard bullying, and it's no surprise it didn't work. George W. Bush, the first loser of the popular vote in 100 years to seize the Office anyway, was in a unique position to reach out to the other side. That he did not--and that, as a result, he's going to be remembered a lot longer than he would have been otherwise, and in a way that will make him wish he'd just been forgotten--is not something to be chalked up to Brainpower. Quite the opposite, as Napoleon used to say.

Tuesday, August 14

Nuts: Real, Imaginary, Metaphorical, and Interjectory

I KNEW I was going to regret it, but The Editors had so much fun at Camille Paglia's expense that I clicked on the link, like I expected it might have wiped the smug off her caricature or somethin'. And the title was "Art Movies: R.I.P. Long before Bergman and Antonioni died, the mystical art-house film experience faded to black." And I was fucking stuck reading it. Nothing forces me to link to it, though, and I'm sure you can find your way there if you simply have to.
On the culture front, fabled film directors Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni dying on the same day was certainly a cold douche for my narcissistic generation of the 1960s.

Well, it's a touching tribute. With any luck, cold douching will replace Taps.

Is there some container somewhere for that "my narcissistic generation of the 60s" bit, or have we discovered the Universal Solvent? Leaving aside the atrocious phrasemaking, is it perhaps time now, after an intervening four generations' respective Decades, to ask ourselves whether her generation of the 1960s was a particularly narcissistic one? Have you noticed a pronounced lack of self-absorption in those born in the 1970s, say? Is it possible that this supposed narcissism is an artifact of life lived in the Global Village, or buried under a constant barrage of Advertising and manufactured acquisitiveness and consumerism run amok? Or an artifact of our reaching a critical mass of people paid to say stupid shit? Or is it just an artifact of looking at people as though they're defined by what somebody said in a magazine somewhere?

It's one thing to use The Sixties as shorthand for the commonly accepted laundry list of poorly-understood and facilely-connected major events that occurred within its Gregorian borders (or within the popular imagining of those borders). It's another to hold a loaded metaphor to everyone else's head and deprive them of loose change. Camille Paglia watched European films while in her twenties. Wow. It was The Sixties. Wow again. She saw them in art houses in the company of friends. Totally unexpected. I'd have guessed "on DVD, while playing Tetris™".

Th' fuck? It's like me saying "The Sixties. The Decade When My Generation Played Little League Baseball." Antonioni's mature period, by proclamation, falls inside The Sixties based on release dates, but L'Avventura, from 1960, and La Dolce Vita, from the year before, are the capstones of 50s European cinema, as well as bellwethers for the decade ahead. Bergman was a rehab project by the mid-60s, when Persona restored some luster from his Fifties output. But has there ever been an artist working in a collaborative medium who was so strikingly individualistic? It's not just that Bergman doesn't "belong to" the Sixties. It's that I can't understand anyone watching The Virgin Spring and Wild Strawberries on a double bill in the Village in 1967 stepping back onto the streets saying, "Well, that was groovy."
We who revered those great artists, we who sat stunned and spellbound before their masterpieces -- what have we achieved? Aside from Francis Ford Coppola's "Godfather" series, with its deft flashbacks and gritty social realism, is there a single film produced over the past 35 years that is arguably of equal philosophical weight or virtuosity of execution to Bergman's "The Seventh Seal" or "Persona"? Perhaps only George Lucas' multilayered, six-film "Star Wars" epic can genuinely claim classic status, and it descends not from Bergman or Antonioni but from Stanley Kubrick and his pop antecedents in Hollywood science fiction.

Shit. Merde. Cockie-doody.

Okay, I may be in the minority here, but 1) I don't consider Stanley Kurbrick to be a Sci-Fi director, and 2) I don't recall any flashbacks in The Godfather, nor Part II, which moves forward and backward in time as a story-telling device but doesn't do so by triggering some character's memory, and if your definition of "gritty realism" includes "epically expensive period scenes shot on a backlot" then it differs from mine. I'm not trying to put Coppola down; The Godfather, particularly viewed in Saga form, deserves a place in the pantheon, if perhaps somewhat lower than idol worship and an unfamiliarity with the competition put it on the Internet. I'm just trying to point out that tossing off a couple of pop-Auteur theory boneheadisms does not salvage that gawdawful "Where is this generation's Bergman?", especially when they don't even apply. Francis Ford Coppola is Francis Ford Coppola, not the answer to something else, and he is also Not a Boomer, which would make things even worsest still if that were possible. And Martin Scorsese is, apparently, chopped liver.

Meanwhile, is it permissible to ask that if Paglia can't do either of the two things she's paid to do she at least familiarize herself with their rudiments? Film is collaborative. It is also enormously expensive. One might, by talent, determination and some good luck, manage to get noticed and permitted to direct motion pictures with something like the budget required for general release and sufficient marketing to get a shot at wide viewership. Those tens of millions of dollars will not come one's way so that one may comment on the Social Condition, the Conflict between our Inner and Outer Lives, nor even the Dearth of Great Cinema. Teapots that talk, telekinetic kids who solve crimes, and lasers blowing shit up is more like it.

For which we may, if we wish, thank George Lucas and that talented director pal of his who also has nothing whatsoever to say but does so in a way that pleases the ticket-buyer. Their success in the mid-70s ended the brief American Golden Age, and relegated art films to the back of the video store. But why blame them? It's money, which neither of them invented. Money has everything to do with it. Narcissism nothing at all, except perhaps as a driving force behind talentless self-promoters grabbing seats on the gravy train. So what? There was a magical time in the cinema when in the ruins of Europe and Japan young talented people were able--in part because it was both financially and culturally feasible--to take film into audacious new directions. If it's Bergman you want, watch Bergman, and be glad to have it. And let us remember that it was the Academy Awards recognizing the great achievement of post-war Italian and Japanese filmaking which led to both critical acclaim and a surprising popularity of foreign film in the 19-fucking-50s, which made their continuing production financially feasible. Sure, it was partly tits, but it was also serious art speaking to people in serious times. Trendies watching that stuff in the 60s were, for the most part, worshiping at an altar which had been erected by their predecessors. If we're more frivolous now--and more solitary--well, let's just note that people who call Star Wars a "classic" aren't really helping matters.

(Almost forgot: Paglia says the title of Sexual Personae was an "explicit homage" to Bergman. I'm not about to try to discover just when and where that was made explicit, but I am required to state that if so it's like filling a Twinkie with birdlime and calling it an homage to Carême.)

Monday, August 13

Wicked and Bristling With Dots

LAST week we alluded to our upcoming AT&T U-Verse installation, which went by pretty painlessly Friday excepting an apparently standard glitch with sending email. In exchange we now have DSL (3 down, 1 up) and 190 channels of IP-video television, plus DVR recording of four shows at once, live pause, and a free year of all the premium channels that aren't part of the HBO universe, and I have just finished watching 71 hours of television.

The whole thing is an accident. I had recently explained the continuing dial-up misery of our existence to my Poor Wife (akin to explaining the difference between convection and conduction roasting to a vegetarian) viz, that our long-time service provider did not have DSL yet in Indianapolis for some reason, and that I had begun pondering severing a link that dates back to the mists of BBS dial-up. A few days later I was cooking dinner on a stove jutting at odd angle into the remains of our kitchen when she got a sales call, heard "DSL", and made an appointment to meet with a salesman the next morning. Next thing I know I'm dragging the card table up from the basement (the dining room table being buried under mounds of items that used to be in what used to be the kitchen), so the guy can whip out his laptop and start trying to sell me a replacement for cable teevee. Any other topic, save, probably, robot monkey household servants or a combination home cappuccino maker and mescaline factory, and I'd've thrown him out on his ear. As it was, I signed up greedily, and so far so good, especially since the math works out that we get this service for the cost of the old basic cable plus one of the two dial-up accounts, and we get to boot a dedicated phone line, plus we're rid of Comcast.

All this is almost enough to quiet the little voices in my head (I mean, the ones specific to this project, not the permanent consort) which have, as you might expect, been saying that getting more teevee is traveling in the wrong direction, and adding on occasion that I should consider that it takes twenty minutes now just to check what is on teevee in the first place, let alone the time spent in brain-softening "enjoyment". For a brief time they had been drowned out by a splinter group with a quite inventive a cappella rendition of "It may be the last advance in entertainment technology you live to see, and it's at least even money you won't be able to understand the next one, and you damn sure won't be reading the fine print on any diagrams six months from now. Drink up, sailor." This ended after a bit, but left me strangely elated, like good church singing; I've regained some of the old fondness for the seventeen cubic meters of still-halfway-organized videotape I've stashed in various locations around town. I'm not quite sure why that is.

It's too much teevee, and it's too much time spent working on the minutiae of personal emotional assuagement at a time when the world is going to hell faster than ever. On the other hand, when wasn't it? Plus I got to see several minutes of An Inconvenient Truth, which is probably about all I'd have wanted to see anyway, and without wasting any gas, although, to be fair, there's a Gogolplex three blocks away. Then again, at one point this evening I think I had my pick of four movies starring former Saturday Night Live funnymen, and none of them was Chevy Chase. In rebuttal (shut up, voices!) Comcast's most recent Allow Us To Yank A Portion of the Ugly Stained Rug You Rented From Us Out From Under You maneuver was to remove The Game Show Network off to Digital Cable Land and replace it with a sign saying There's No Longer Anything on Channel 34 You Drooling Apes. Go Ahead, Choose Another Cable Company. P.S. You Can't. Ha Ha Ha. And without the newly returned GSN I wouldn't have realized that Dennis Miller's New Last Career Move is to co-host an in-house Game Show Network Production. Co-host. Maybe Kennedy should have warned him.

(Is the standard right-wing best-seller sinecure not enough money for Dennis? Is this Objectivism in action? Z-List=Z-List? Tell me, does Howard Roark wind up supervising Stuckey's remodels for the Southwest Region? Really, tell me. I never finished it. Which is not surprising, since I never started it, either.)

The channel line-up is, briefly, every cable channel there is, plus the west coast feeds. This means I now have Sundance, BBC-America, Sleuth, IFC, Military History, and a half-dozen things I haven't discovered yet. I get two gay channels, which is only one fewer than the number of country music channels I was receiving as recently as last Thursday. I can order, a la carte, TV Japan, which means if I can find somebody who reads Kanji I'll be able to tape every Sumo honbasho. Please do not tell my wife this, as I've already begun hinting I needed to learn Japanese for professional development.

This embarrassment of riches reminded me that I was among the suscribers of one of the earliest CATV systems (Bloomington, Indiana, caught as it was in a sort of no-man's market in the rolling hills between Indianapolis and Louisville) and one of the most tardy (Indianapolis, outside the old city limits, when the city, which had sold the rights in the late 60s, figured that this did not include the area it annexed in '68 and managed to sell a second monopoly to a different company). And I remembered how, once we finally did get big-city cable television, it provided about the same fucking number of stations as basic cable today, for something like one-third the price adjusted for inflation (kudos, Minneapolis Fed for the online consumer price index calculator). I think it's curious that, when we do decide that government-sanctioned monopoly is the only way to provide a service, we allow the "provide increasingly crappier service while costs rise faster than inflation model" to overcome any potential public admiration for the process. Think Post Office. Is there any earthly reason why Fed-Ex should kick the Post Office's ass? Do not tell me it's The Genius of Free Enterprise or Innovation Born of Personal Investment or any such nonsense (and not, for that matter, that the Postal Service is required to deliver all sorts of mail, either). No. When the wind is right there's a UPS plane over my head every two minutes all night long. Tell me the government couldn't have thought that up. No. The first guy who ever suggested that found himself inspecting the levers on those stamp machines they used to have in grocery stores, in Alabama, for the rest of his career. The government, or the people who manage its private monopolies, do not want the service to be too good, lest people start to ask why they don't go ahead and run gas stations and doctor's offices while they're at it.

I have no idea how cable is run in your neck of the woods, but I suspect "Poorly" would be the way to bet. For a while, when it was just basic cable plus whatever "premium" channels you forked out for, Comcast added channels at a rate just far enough above Glacial to keep subscribers satisfied. Once digital showed them a path to removing services in order to charge more for them in another guise they showed they could move a little faster. When the premium channels left the dial the channels were never reassigned; I think the old Cinemax number eventually became another shopping channel, maybe. They didn't even move anyone off the channels with really crappy reception. The last channel added to the basic line-up was FAUX News, whenever that was. As far as I can tell the only money they did spend went into annoying advertising about how the evils of satellite dishes is especially visited on stay-at-home Moms, and how your family would remarkably stop hating each other's guts the minute you bought their digital phone service. I think they might have had a little left over for lobbying against the phone companies getting into the cable business. As they would.

Central Indiana's other Chinatown, Geist reservoir, the area northeast of town where in the 50s the Water Company flooded an existing town so it could sell waterfront lots in a new one, was in a tizzy this week after a warning that the blue-green algae now covering what's left of the "lake" this blistering August is toxic. This resulted in some charming soundbite television, as many of the residents of this little slice o' Caucasian boating heaven blame the government for not dredging the thing so they'd have unlimited recreational opportunities paid for by the descendants of the ratepayers who built the reservoir under the impression it was, well, a reservoir. The complaints were often accompanied by some anti-property tax rhetoric of the sort that erupts when you gently squeeze a white person of a certain age anywhere in the Central Indiana region. The refrain is familiar to anyone who's listened to the idea that we could continue to send troops to police whatever we felt like policing forever, yet no one would have to serve. These same people want the nearby interstate expanded to relieve the traffic congestion caused by thousands of white people fleeing to the suburbs buying "lakefront" property along a glorified drainage ditch, in an area whose infrastructure was designed for the passage of the occasional tractor. I do have to admit, all that blue-green algae looked mighty impressive on my new IP-teevee. Gonna have to spring for Hi-Def someday.