Tuesday, October 30

Many Are Babbling, But Few Are Brooks.

THE last thing I remember is reading David Brooks' Friday column about outsourcing cortical function to our modern digital inconveniences--GPS, iPod, internets--which read like zombie Erma Bombeck without the humor. I know I read it, because I found four paragraphs about it on my desktop this morning, even if three of them tried to explain how James Lileks is the comic-book action hero Brooks would invent as an alter-ego, boldly going into Target an' Red Lobster an' stuff, instead of just imagining the horrors and the prices within. At first I thought--you can appreciate why--that this was where Friday's second "vitamin" had kicked in, even though I woke up not in my office but face-down in the upstairs bathtub--despite my long history of such things this was a first, and, if I may say so, a particularly disconcerting combination of color, texture, and temperature, like waking up with your face pressed against a dead Osmond--and, as I figured out after a few unsuccessful minutes of trying to get my legs to move, wearing those Andy Griffith motorcycle boots my wife likes so much.

So the Lileks thing turned out to be more-or-less rational thought, and the more I thought about it the better I liked it: Lileks has Target, Brooks has sociological faux-profundities built of chain-restaurant menus; Lileks has the Clorox Battery-Powered Rotating Toilet Brush, Brooks has the Chicago School of Economics, and each waves it around like a trophy of mighty battle; Lileks may, or may not, have left the Grange Hall of his ancestors for the post-9/11 bomb shelter, just as Brooks may or may not have abandoned Jewish liberalism for the charisma of Milton Friedman. I'm pretty sure comics are the correct medium for Brooks' work, and I think it's the world's loss that he spent all those hours alone in his room imagining that he was Crofts and his imaginary playmate Seals, instead of working with art materials.

After the universe had righted itself, at least visually, I tried checking the news, which I figured couldn't have gotten much worse in the last 72 hours, and saw there was a new Brooks column. "Hair of the dog," I chuckled to myself as I opened it, only to reveal David Brooks doing a David Brooks impression. You would be correct in assuming this had a startling effect on my re-integration efforts:
Researchers from Pew found that 65 percent of Americans are satisfied over all with their own lives — one of the highest rates of personal satisfaction in the world today.

On the other hand, Americans are overwhelmingly pessimistic about their public institutions. That same Pew survey found that only 25 percent of Americans are satisfied with the state of their nation. That 40-point gap between private and public happiness is the fourth-largest gap in the world — behind only Israel, Mexico and Brazil.

Americans are disillusioned with the president and Congress. Eighty percent of Americans think this Congress has accomplished nothing.

Although "nothing," I think it's only fair to point out, would vastly outpoll "Taking unfathomable amounts of treasure, thousands of young lives, the foundation of our personal liberties dating to the Magna Carta, and the most basic sort of respect for the very notion of truth and shoveling them into a bottomless pit at the service of your dimwitted alcoholic uncle and his animal-torturing, sex pervert partner," excepting Pew didn't ask the question.

I did slowly come to realize that this was in fact David Brooks, 10/30/07, reinventing himself with a remarkably old-style conservative frugality, out of whatever leftover junk has survived his last four years of championing the disastrous Bush administration, then pretending it didn't exist. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you...retro-fear mongering! Yes, you loved it in the early Oughts. Now relive the magic on today's high-tech HD DVD or Blu-ray, without all the worrysome decision-making! Your moral confusion and self-centered disengagement never seemed so clear! And if you act now, we'll throw in the revolutionary Gilt-E-Racer™, a $1.2 trillion value! Yes, you'll once again be proud to announce your personal Lifestyle Niche selection to the world through lawn care practices! Pretend you always cared about Global Warming, and supported Universal Heath Care! Convince yourself you knew the difference between Sunni and Shi'a in 2002, and, furthermore, you cared! Amaze 20% of your friends as you convince them that Congress ought to do more about the war you're ambivalent about! Hurry! Quantities are imaginary!

UPDATE: contractually forced on Friday's News Hour to discuss actual events in the actual decade he finds himself in, Brooks coughed up, "I just wish [the Democrats] had an Iran policy and not a[n anti-] Bush policy." As a dedicated gardener, I have to wish him luck getting six-year-old seed to germinate. But as a proud practitioner of sullen, post-punk, anti-Big Business leftist lawn care I have to remind him that he and his party are suffering from a high-speed collision with reality, not a shortage of trite slogans, and that while dummy threats and phony histories have been winning elections in this country for decades, they have yet to un-lose a war.

Friday, October 26

Looking For History With Both Hands

Jonah Goldberg,
" Ted Kennedy’s America: The Borking of American politics". October 26

LET"S start at the bottom. Why the hell not?
Correction: The original text referred to Warren Burger as a "liberal" this was an unintentional error. It has been corrected in the text above.

[Note: Mr. Goldberg's unintentional errors should in no way detract from the veracity of his intentional errors.]

Ignoring for a moment the question of whether the grammar itself proves the NatRev lets Goldberg write his own corrections, let's focus on the evidence of that "unintentional error". Here's the full paragraph:
Kennedy’s assault rallied left-wing interest groups to the anti-Bork banner for an unprecedented assault on a man the late Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Berger dubbed the most qualified nominee he’d seen in his professional lifetime. As Gary McDowell noted recently in the Wall Street Journal , that time span included the careers of Benjamin Cardozo, Hugo Black, and Felix Frankfurter.
[The "Berger" is his mistake, by the way, not McDowell's; cutting and pasting eludes our nation's premier conservative pundit, although he's pretty good at mudpies.]

Now, far be it from us to question Mr. Goldberg's commitment to honesty, but we do have to look at that and notice a practical reason for intentionally describing (or wishin' and hopin') the late conservative Republican functionary and future footnote in Court history as a practicing Liberal at the time of the utterance, instead of the more likely "man who had recently taken a bad fall down some stairs". It is, of course, one thing for that sort of nonsense to turn up in the Journal as part of their anniversary celebration of the modern Right's sorry equivalent of the Edmund Pettis bridge; it's quite another that Goldberg could read it and swallow it whole. Burger was obviously making a political statement. We'd be more than a bit surprised to learn he'd parlayed it and a Tigers-Expos series for five large.

The only other explanation that springs to mind is that the error was "unintentional" in the sense that Goldberg confused the Good "Warren Burger" with the Evil "Earl Warren" from the days of his after-school drilling with those Bircher for Kids brand flashcards. At any rate we note that, just as Roy is constantly pointing out that Goldberg has penned the stupidest thing ever written until he writes again, we note that without fail anytime he speaks of history aside from the history of sci-fi blockbusters he finds ways to get it wrong.

Okay, I suppose we're obligated to glance at the actual piece. If we can understand how Burger, a high-class courtesan who had no reputation to lose save that of always pleasing the client, could utter such a jaw-dropping piece of stupidity, we're yet left to wonder why it is that Goldberg, fast approaching forty, fer chrissakes, can't manage the noble indifference of the junkie streetwalker. He can't write a column without pretending consideration of "both" sides, generally his own and the one he's assigned The Left, yet he's never written a column whose point of view couldn't be guessed ahead of time. There's nothing in this column McDowell didn't say three days earlier, or more sensibly, for that matter. But where McDowell focused (if that's not too misleading a term) on the supposed debate over Constitutional interpretation, Jonah goes right for the sandbox Stratego™ culture war he's most comfortable with:
If you think American politics have gotten nastier, crueler, and more symbolic over the last 20 years, blame Ted Kennedy.

Ah, yes. How well I remember, the day after Kennedy's "tirade", when Robert Novak wrote, "Okay, enough politesse. Let's talk about Chappaquiddick."

What I do remember about the Bork hearings, since I was an adult at the time and not a doughy adolescent dreaming of icing those cinnamon buns on either side of Princess Leia's head, is that Bork was forced under oath to allow for "organic development" of that Constitutional text he insisted was inviolate, thereby giving up the game, something the last twenty years of utter failure to redefine the concept into something workable has double underlined. If 1987 represents anything in the history of partisan politics it's the sunset of the Reagan myth with Iran-Contra and the stock market crash, not that we expect either of those anniversaries to trigger a Goldberg reverie.

Thursday, October 25

World Series Note

Dear City of Boston:

If possible, could you please settle on six different official cap designs and your seven favorite color combinations for them, and stick to those?

Thanking you in advance,

James B.S. Riley ("Doghouse")

I'm Sorry, I Didn't Quite Catch That. Would You Mind Regurgitating It, Eating It, And Regurgitating It Again Several More Times?

Jason Szep, "Are Democrats too confident in 2008 election race?" Reuters, October 24

SPOILER ALERT: You will scour this tree-killer in vain for any discussion of the confidence level, if any, of the Democratic party, its officials, members, affiliates, or well-wishers, or any single person living or dead, now, or previously, identified, self-identified, demographically disposed, or unfoundedly-rumored to be a Democrat or Democrat-friendly or who might have met any one who is.

POSSIBLE HEADLINE ASSUMING TRUTH-IN-ADVERTISING REGULATIONS COULD BE EXTENDED TO HEADLINE WRITING: Niki Tsongas Wins Special Congressional Election By Smaller Than Expected Margin; Someone From A Family Of Democrats May Have Voted Against Her




BROWN (or GREEN or SMITH) IS THE NEW CABBIE: Mary Burns, disgruntled Democrat, is never actually identified as a Democrat; She reports having "a lot of Democratic friends who voted for him because he understood their concerns."

KEEP MASSACHUSETTS FOR THE MASSACHUSETS: Ogonowski issued fliers that overlapped images of Tsongas and Bush with the words "Niki Tsongas/George Bush Immigration Plan: Amnesty to 12 million illegal immigrants."

WHY THIS SORT OF THING BODES ILL FOR DEMOCRATIC PROSPECTS NEXT FALL: Because the party is so obviously in the pocket of Big Alien.

WHERE THIS SORT OF THING CAN LEAD: Straight to a Dana Milbank appearance on Olbermann, where the ultra-liberal journalist from the ultra-liberal Washington Post was so in thrall of this shocking new development he worked the following into a discussion of Republican Gaffes and Bleepers: "[Howard] Dean had a nervous breakdown in Iowa," and "the campaign against Hillary is she's a flip-flopper--they want to do a replay of the whole windsurfing thing." Except this time, when she reaches shore she finds it's been declared part of Mexico.

Wednesday, October 24


• Trouble in Pakistan and on the Turkish border? That's un-possible!

If Nancy Pelosi is finished (for the moment) apologizing because a Democrat said something mean, maybe we could get around to investigating how we came to this point before this point is so far in the future we're rewriting it as a victory. We ignored the sort of international diplomacy even the most gun-totin' previous administration had heeded (to some extent, at least) in order to make in into Iraq by the timetable Bush's puppetmasters had set in 1999. By contrast we made a deal with Musharraf, a tin-horn dictator with a known conflict of interest (to put it nicely) and a track record of passing out nuclear weapons technology like trick-or-treat candy, despite the fact that a) we didn't need to, and b) we knew it wouldn't do us any good unless we got bin-Laden in the first place. Lord knows, the neos were (and still are) capable of imagining anything, and Lord knows they've got a soft spot for a man in uniform, but still.... And I don't care how blind you are, the refusal to take the time to get Turkey on board the Coalition Choo-Choo was a blunder obvious at the time, and not just because we had to reroute troop carriers and reformulate our well-vetted war plans. I mean, shit, this administration didn't know where the oil is? The Kurds seem to be the one cultural or religious sub-group we can be sure the President did know about before the invasion. We went to war for purely partisan political reasons, and on a timetime designed for maximum electoral effect, Madam Speaker. The real outrage is that hearing he enjoys it is the worst thing that'll happen to George W. Bush.

• With all due respect for people facing terrible hardships, I would rather hammer pencils up both auditory canals, pointy part first, than listen to any more wildfire coverage, which--in rather stark contrast to the equivalent period in Katrina coverage, which ran, as I recall it, "The Coloreds are stealin' TVs! The Coloreds are stealin' TVs!"--has amounted to a sort of enormous electronic group hug and complimentary unlimited salad bar. I actually heard someone last night saying that there hadn't been any looting (!), and I've heard at least a half-dozen times, without trying to, how quickly aid is arriving compared to Katrina, as though this proves American Has Learned Her Lesson. Bosh. It underlines the fact that the Katrina response lagged--as did any Press recognition of the human scale of the tragedy--because we weren't exactly 100% sure we cared. One of the wealthiest states in the Union is prepared for a seasonally-occurring natural disaster; the Gulf Coast--three of our six poorest states--wasn't prepared for one of the most devastating hurricanes ever to make landfall. And our news hairdos identify with people losing their homes, but wondered why New Orleans' flood victims didn't all jump in their swamp buggies and get the hell out. This is why I'm keeping all the pencils in the other room, and why I'm not visiting the Corner in the near future.

• I swear I ran into the article on my way to the Obituaries: Ellen DeGeneres, serial puppy abandoner. Who could have guessed?

And who could anticipate that the bandwagon of a celebrity in mid-public meltdown would prove to be missing a wheel?

Tuesday, October 23

Fred Takes The Gloves Off, Loses One; Wife Vows To Sew Them To His Snowsuit Before Next Debate

THE once-sputtering Fred Thompson (R-TV) Presidential campaign, buoyed by recent polls showing him pulling even nationally with Joe Biden, unveiled a new tactic in Sunday night's debate (co-sponsored by long-time business associates FOX News and the State of Florida): emphasizing Thompson's superior ability to remain out of touch with the vast majority of Americans.

On a night that saw open sniping break out among all the "leading" Republican candidates, Thompson fired first. “Mayor Giuliani believes in federal funding for abortion,” he said. “He believes in sanctuary cities. He’s for gun control. He supported Mario Cuomo, a liberal Democrat, against a Republican who was running for governor, then opposed the governor’s tax cuts when he was there.”

After pausing in vain for the applause to die down, Thompson continued. "And, sure, most Americans support those things, and they're looking for someone who can rise above the stultifyingly stupid partisan politics of the sort which insists I'm a viable candidate. But those are not the values of the people who conduct elections in Florida. They aren't the values of the sort of people your great state permits to vote. And they aren't the values of the dozens of decent, hard-working Americans who think Chris Wallace is a newsman. And I have to ask those people: 'Which of us do you imagine is better able to sleep through all of that for four years, waking only long enough to veto any legislation you tell me to?' "

Asked for a response, Giuliani fired back. “You know, Fred has his problems, too,” he said, going on to criticize Mr. Thompson, a lawyer, as “the single biggest obstacle to tort reform in the United States Senate,” suggesting that Giuliani mistakenly believes that Senators must be physically lifted out of their chairs in order to end a filibuster, a practice which was actually discarded in 1892 when it appeared WIlliam Howard Taft might mount a Senatorial campaign.

Duncan Hunter, the California assemblyman whose 52nd District is becoming more secure daily as all the America haters have their houses burned down, took the high road by sniping at former Democrat John Fitzgerald Kennedy, who was President of the United States in a previous century, for not getting rid of Fidel Castro. "If I'd have been President, he'd have been out of there," Hunter declared. "I'd have contracted Mafia hitmen and sent him some poisoned cigars. I'm sure one of those would have worked." This momentarily shocked the rest of the candidates and the invitation-only crowd, all of whom thought Hunter dropped out five weeks ago.

The evening also included some actual criticism of actual contemporary Democrats as yet unkilled by right-wing death squads, as well as a touching standing ovation accorded to Senator John McCain for his admission that he'd missed Woodstock. This being the Republican party the reception was unsullied by any recognition of the irony of McCain being saluted for his patriotic service by a stateside audience which considers him a flaming liberal.

Monday, October 22

Happy Birthday

Robert Gaston Fuller
October 22, 1942--July 18, 1966

A Dog And Pony Show, Minus The Pony

OKAY, so I'm a closet authoritarian. I was raised in a passive-aggressive church: theologically liberal, tolerant, forgiving, but also hair-splittingly doctrinaire, and guess which side got the most attention?

So that when something like the Ellen DeGeneres dog 'do worms its way into my consciousness my first impulse is to say, "Try obeying the fucking rules." And my second impulse is to consider that for a moment, then say, "Try obeying the fucking rules." And when Keith Olbermann, appearing in character as Mr. Exasperated Good Sense says, "Give the dog back to the little girl already!" my immediate thought is that it might be time you booked someone on your show to disagree with you once in a while, although my thinking that has not had any noticeable effect to this point.

Maybe it's not emotional; there are good solid reasons why "girl" "cute" and "puppy" should not, taken in any order, trump contract law. And while justice must be tempered with mercy, it shouldn't be tempered with Hallmark card sentimentality. It's beyond sloppy to ignore the reasons why a shelter operation requires a contract, and why that contract specifies the animal can't be transferred on a whim. BILL FUCKING FRIST, Mr. Olbermann? I have no knowledge of the particulars of this operation, but a logical assumption is that the welfare of the animal matters to some extent. When we adopted Larry I managed to get in line behind a woman who wanted to argue (for five minutes) that she needed to have the cat in question declawed (to save her furniture, she kept explaining), despite the fact that the prohibition was item #2 on the contract (which spelled out why), and despite the fact that she was in a pet store where, for about the same amount of money as she was paying in adoption fees she could have purchased a cat she could have declawed, defurred, and given breast implants with no impediment except her bank balance and tiny intellect. I don't know what comparable, lifelong, blindingly-painful indignities are visited upon canines, aside from matching sweater and hair ribbon sets, but it's obvious why a "no-transfer" clause is written into an adoption agreement, and maybe we could save a few tears for the sake of unwanted animals tortured in the pursuit of longer-lasting hair coloration.

I don't know the details, and I'm prevented from learning anything further by the fact that I fucking refuse to read--or care--about Ellen DeGeneres' personal problems, so whether the matter could have been settled to everyone's satisfaction, outside the glare of publicity, I do not know. I do know it couldn't be once DeGeneres used her popular syndicated talk show as a bully pulpit, a fact which seemed to escape Olbermann beyond the cheap laugh provided by the video of her clumsy execution. She wants to go all weepy over the plight of Palestinian refugees or Israeli settlers, fine. She can turn on the waterworks for Gitmo prisoners or against Islamofascism; that's up to her viewers to evaluate. Using her show to pressure a butcher for selling her fatty pork chops, or complain if someone hauls her into small-claims court is beyond the pale.

I was keeping all this to myself--okay, I may have vented a teensy bit to my Poor Wife when the major details were rehashed in a promo for one of those execrable "entertainment" shows--but this morning I was cleaning up the three or four dozen browser windows I'd left open over the weekend when I happened to refresh Dean Esmay's site rather than close it, and I wound up chasing his link to The Ballad of Amber Dauge, the latest in Right-wing educational outrage stories driven by mindless local reporting from an upper-middle-class perspective. Ms Dauge, a high-school freshman, ran afoul of the Goose Creek High zero-tolerance weapons policy when a hapless butter knife fell out of her locker. She was suspended and recommended for expulsion, thus becoming the latest folk hero in the Whatever Happened to Common Sense campaign which oddly focuses its energy on "cute" "girls" with "puppies".

I suppose we should be thankful she wasn't packing Christmas-themed cutlery or we'd never hear the end of it.

Now, first, if you bother the read the linked story you may notice that it's remarkably one-sided. The particulars come from Amber; her mother objects to the paperwork timeline; and her father pops up to opine about the limitations of Zero Tolerance as a concept. But there's not word one from the school, its administrators, or the district. Which is always the case, because they aren't permitted to comment as the innocent young student is locked inside an airless cattle car on the Uncaring School Board Bureaucratic Railroad.

But this is not the way it works, and we assume even a teevee news-gathering operation knows it. No public school district serving any area of the country that has electricity can be cavalier about expulsion. There's generally at least two levels of appeal before an expulsion takes place, and the possibility of legal challenge once that runs its course, during which time the student remains in class. (Such rigors are part of the reason Zero Tolerance is spelled out in the first place.) If that's not the case in Berkeley county someone needs to disabuse them of old notions. If it is, then, the story is sensationalized as well as slanted.

I'm married to a teacher, and I'm the last person who'll ever tell you that school administrations are unfailingly wise or even competent. But then I'm also from Indianapolis, and I've watched as the local media remained silent as de jure crypto-segregation robbed our poorest schools of funds, then hopped aboard the Our Schools Are Failing bandwagon with attendant Blackboard Jungle subtext (at one point in the 80s the fact that a white student was punched by a black one was an above the fold story that lasted a week or more; in my day, absent the race angle, we called that Another Day in Gym Class). This sort of coverage went on unimpeded for a decade, until shortly after changing housing patterns and statewide testing removed some of the suburbs' protective coloration. It is still the case that local education reporting focuses on county schools, test scores, and police runs while football Fridays feature sportscasters touring the mega-schools of the white-iced doughnut counties in a helicopter whose annual operating costs exceed the total IPS extra-curricular activities budget.

Zero-tolerance programs in schools are by and large the result of televised sensationalism and the increasing pressure on public schools to respond to it after the fashion of the modern public relations campaign. And there is "zero" tolerance, where there actually is, in part because that makes good PR copy (the new Dress Code for Indianapolis Public Schools--which essentially requires children to dress as if they were working at Best Buy--was universally applauded by local teleprompter readers thrilled that baggy-pantsed ghetto dwellers they occasionally glimpse through their SUV's windshields would be learning sartorial restraint, if not algebra), but mostly because it's the only way to fairly enforce the rules. Either a butter knife is a weapon, or it isn't. Either Amber Dauge, cute puppy-owner, is prohibited from carrying one or she's not, but if she isn't then no one is. There's no rational way to write a rule covering only those people the News4 Team finds acceptable targets.

Friday, October 19

Professional Wordsmithing: A Guide To Being Teached By The Experts

It is true that 54% of the electorate is composed of women...

--Peggy Noonan

In Other Dog News

I'VE spent most of the week in quiet, and unproductive, reflection, that old Zen koan "How did a dumbass like Mitch McConnell come to be leading anything?" running through my head. The only thing I can figure--and they tell me that if you're figuring you've already missed the point--is that the following Trouper Trent and the Kindly Cat Doctor the GOP decided to split the difference and get someone with half of Trent Lott's skills and half of Bill Frist's IQ.

Mission accomplished.

McConnell's an interesting case study insofar as his c.v. neatly matches the American Long March into partisan jackassery and historical obliviousness. He began a successful career of living off taxpayers as a perpetually aggrieved post-Nixon Southern Baptist, then squeaked into the US Senate on Reagan's coattails, where he has remained for twenty-two years, through demands for term limits, promises to cut the deficit and Federal spending, calls for the elimination of the Department of Education, massively wrong-headed reshaping of public school curriculum by the Department of Education, support for heroic rescue missions in Grenada and Panama, support for heroic opposition to rescue missions in Serbia and Bosnia, support for, then opposition to, a rescue mission in Somalia, depending on whose ox got the gore. There was the post-dated celebration of Reagan defeating World Communism, and the fight over reducing military spending in its wake; the Star Wars boondoggle(s) and the S&L debacle; the fight over the right to filibuster, and the fight over the right to restrict filibustering; legislation designed to keep Terri Schiavo a vegetable, and opposition to legislation designed to keep middle class families with sick children out of the Poor House; the complaints about the threat to civil rights in the aftermath of the Murrah bombing, to their wholesale elimination less than a decade later. Plus that series of blank checks in the pursuit of Vietnam II.

Sure, it's easy to point out that in twenty plus years in Washington, many of them spent posturing as an outsider, there's not one piece of significant legislation with McConnell's name on it. But I remind you that there hasn't really been a significant piece of legislation in that time, and that the only half-assed swipe at significance that didn't involve dropping bombs on tenth-rate powers--campaign finance reform--McConnell adamantly opposes. He's spent his time on Rules and Appropriations and the Permanent Subcommittee on Stamp Adhesives, Paper Cuts, and Nipple Twisting, as well as running the Republican National Senatorial campaign committee. By electing this guy four times (mostly narrowly) Kentucky has been repaid with absolutely reliable votes for all major Republican corporate donors, plus his increasing dexterity at shuffling paper, mostly green. (Which, it must be admitted, at least gives The Bluegrassers a chance of having some benefit to average Kentuckians fall into their laps by accident, or greed, compared to the thirty-year sinecure Hoosiers have given Dick Lugar so he could position himself as an important historical footnote. But then what they get from Jim Bunning, besides Commonwealth-wide embarrassment, is anybody's guess.)

McConnell's "Who, Me?" moment this week would be a fitting end to the What The Hell Have Any Voters Ever Actually Received From The Reagan Revolution Era, if only we could be so lucky. I've also spent some time pondering the perfect historian to write its epitaph, in light of David Brooks' funerary oration for the career of Deborah Pryce, the eight-term citizen legislator, former chair of the House Republican Conference, and un-indicted Abramoff Crime Family capo, or, as Brooks would have it, the sotto voce conscience of Republican Motherhood and the tear-jerking story of how she was forced to conduct a Dirty Campaign Only Her Opponent Was Worse. I'm sorry I couldn't find the time Wednesday to dissect the thing before it dissolved into a pool of its own crapitude. Brooks--he's writing for the New York Times, remember, not the South Jersey Auto Trader Monthly--expects us to buy, and share! his professed shock that a Representative sitting down for a fluffy career retrospective would speak of her own participation in ugly campaigning right before excusing herself for it. Another career bound by raising sufficient money to get back to Congress so you can raise more money. That isn't a sad fact of life that Pryce had to steel herself to; it's what she did. Her job was to make sure every Republican voted the same as every other Republican. Tell me who enters politics with that as a driving principle?

And now that her career's over Brooks wants us to imagine she's some sort of independent thinker because in the past few months she's realized Iraq is a disaster. Wow. I remember when these guys were the fearless bloodhounds of abuse of Congressional check-bouncing privileges. Now they can't even tell the cess from the pool. You'll excuse me if my surprise doesn't register.

Thursday, October 18

Meltdown Accomplished

WATCHING a chunk of Wednesday's Ax da President I couldn't help but wonder if, all kidding aside, that guy from Austin disappeared because he realized he really was about to be outstripped by reality. Jesus, this is the country that was hooting at Crazy Mahmoud Ahmedinejad a couple of weeks ago. Like we should talk.

Twenty-four percent. How do you get an approval rating of twenty-four percent? Incest is at twenty-six. Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is at eighteen.

I know, I know: you and I have sat through seven full years of this petulant boy and his smirking smugness, his ticcy compensations, the unfathomable depths of his shallowness. (How does the supposedly chastened White House gaggle continue to chuckle at the man's "witticisms"? Listening to it it occurred to me that things are so bad it would actually be reassuring to know they were afraid that giving him the reception he deserves might result in a bombing run somewhere. But we know better. Twenty-four percent, and this stuff still gets a hearing. If Bill Clinton had fallen that low you'd have seen little trash fires burning everywhere when they panned around the room.) I never expected it to get better. I did expect they'd be able to get him to pronounce "nuclear", and I thought I'd be inured to it by this time, especially since he managed to knock his dick in the dirt so unmistakably that even most Republicans have to ignore it rather than try to deny it. But no such luck. I still cringe every time he goes into his act.

I think the Putin thing clobbered 'em. (I typed "flummoxed" there first, but I believe that to be a perpetual state.) "If you plan on attacking Iran, you might want to come up with an alternative landing site to Azerbaijan." Brilliant, really. And an oddly comforting reminder of a simpler time, when nuclear brinkmanship was all we had to worry about.

Wednesday, October 17

Tuesday, October 16

The Plop Sickens

Janelle Nanos, "Bran Identity: A new and disgusting cereal ad that simulates human excretion". Slate, October 15

HERE'S the thing I like about Slate's "Ad Report Card" column: they either can't, or won't, apply their patented Reverse Double Counter-Intuitive Disestablishment Contrarianism ("Didn't see that comin'? Ha! You're wrong!") to it. One suspects that to the Lazy Libertarian advertising is the only thing like a Sacred Text they've got going. Or else "Report Card" is their way of saying, "Okay, this time we mean it. Ha-ha! Not really!"

(The thing I always forget is that the tagline for the column reads "Advertising Deconstructed", by which they mean "mostly banal half-chewed musings on mostly banal subjects". Double Ha! Just forget I brought it up. Anybody who really wants to do that sort of thing can exhaust the reader without breaking a sweat themselves.)
Who is the All-Bran ad targeting? It begs to be watched over and over, and is filled with juvenile elements that seem designed to make Web-savvy youngsters giggle before e-mailing it along. (Indeed, the spot has notched more than 100,000 views on YouTube.) Could the company be banking on the viral element to bring young people to a brand more popular among older consumers? Is the ad a stealth effort to reach frat boys with dodgy digestive systems?

Nope. According to the company, it's an effort to charm constipated old people with a little frat-boy humor. Kellogg's spokeswoman Allison Costello said the ad's not geared toward the young: "All-Bran has always been marketed to adults and we have no plans to change our approach." All-Bran's target demographic is grown-ups—those 45 and older—and the spot is a nod to the fact that such people can still appreciate potty humor, even at their advanced age. "Talking about regularity is a really tough thing to do," admitted senior brand manager Matt Lindsay, who helped create the ad. "We liked the idea of leveraging visual metaphors to make it a more approachable subject."

Wait...Allison Costello?

Okay, I've seen the ad once, and after the audaciousness of whatever the first visual gag was had set in I found myself rooting for them to keep topping it. It's funny. It'll stop being funny the second or third time I see it. ("It begs to be watched over and over?" It's advertising.) If it's excretory disgust you're looking for, try that Pepto-Bismol campaign where costumed line dancers perform the Diarrhea Lambada. If you can't stand crass, you're in the wrong column, not to mention the wrong country.

Now, I read Slate only so I can appear With It, so I was trying not to fall into the trap of believing that the writer wanted me to think what she was saying was what she thought, but I still wound up off on a tangent (or is that the point?). Being a grown-up, I'm utterly, blissfully, intentionally unaware of the eating habits of those outside my demographic. Of course a little information gets through, but it can hardly be trusted too far: advertisers seem to think people are "into" healthy eating, though I haven't noticed any McDonald's shuttered and plastered with "For Lease" signs lately; there's Soy Dogs at the grocery, but the regular, ground-hooves-and-rectum dogs still command a large amount of cooler space. It never occurred to me that All-Bran was aimed at the Gray Demo. The grown-ups I know do not discuss breakfast choices, bowel movements, or industrial milling processes very often, if at all, and if they occasionally veer off into colonoscopy it's more for the thrill of it than anything else. Kids today might be throwing All Bran parties where everyone eats the stuff with different food coloring and...damn, I hope Katie Couric doesn't read this.

Anyhow, since I actually got the joke, instead of getting bogged down (sorry) in turd-based musings, it was a little disconcerting to get lumped in with a wheelchair-bound demi-monde of teevee-watchin' Mrs. Grundies. For chrissakes, Blazing Saddles was released in 1974. Pink Flamingos is from '72, which means if you're a grown-up of 45 today you were ten when it opened. Who does Nanos imagine was the audience for those things? Or does she think they were parked on a shelf until today's generation of You-Tube peristalsis connoisseurs could show up?

I mean, fine, we've got warehouses of surplus bluenoses and humorless drones if we could just find another country that wants 'em. But it's hardly a function of middle age, just as it's no shining accomplishment to be open-minded enough to laugh at fart jokes. Do the math. Do some research. I suppose it's possible that every Boomer was a drug-and-sexed out hippie in his youth and has now settled into a comfortable Judge Hardy twilight, but the odds are against it, and the reality is, too. You can go on thinking of middle-aged people as, well, middle-aged, right up until you join them (Tip: that's sooner than you imagine), but then drop the pretense that social liberalism was hegemonic in your parents' day, and start earning your right to that cultural superiority on your sleeve.

Monday, October 15

Tear-Styned Letter

[Text of the Telegram here. Text of the more-widely read parsing for Foreign Affairs here.]

VIA Roy, where my comment threatened to match the 8000 (not 5000) words of George Kennan's Amazing Telegram, Mark Steyn:
Peter Robinson, a Reagan speechwriter in the last years of the Cold War, posed an interesting question on “The Corner” the other day. He noted that on February 22, 1946, a mere six months after the end of the Second World War, George Kennan, a U.S. diplomat in Moscow, sent his famous 5,000-word telegram that laid out the stakes of the Cold War and the nature of the enemy, and that that “Long Telegram” in essence shaped the way America thought about the conflict all the way up to the fall of the Berlin Wall four decades later. And what Mr. Robinson wondered was this: “Here we are today, more than six years after 9/11. Does anyone believe a new ‘Long Telegram’ has yet been written? And accepted throughout the senior levels of the government?”

Answer: No. Because, if it had, you’d hear it echoed in public — just as the Long Telegram provided the underpinning of the Truman Doctrine a year later. Kennan himself had differences with Truman and successive presidents over what he regarded as their misinterpretation, but, granted all that, most of what turned up over the next 40 years — the Cuban missile crisis, the Vietnam war, Soviet subversion in Africa, and Europe, Grenada, and Afghanistan — is consistent with the conflict as laid out by one relatively minor State Department functionary decades earlier.

Interesting that Grenada, our historic reenactment of D-Day which was spoiled when Castro could muster only 82 engineers to play the part of Festung Europa, makes the cut but Korea, the first large-scale blunder of the Truman Doctrine, does not. Nor does our non-action in the Chinese civil war, which led to domestic recriminations about who had "lost" China--to the Soviets, who were presumed to be pulling the global strings at that point.

Neither had much to do with the Soviets, and nothing to do with the imaginary Peter the Great Meets 'Marxian' Ideology fantasies of the Cold War warriors (Truman was a devotee of the "political testament of Peter the Great", a sort of Protocols of the Elders of Zion for Russophobes). The Vietnamese had managed to fight against colonizers (it is, basically, their history) for the previous century without any help from the Russians; it was forthcoming only after the US managed to get itself bogged down (thanks, in no small part, to that influential telegram). I get tired of having to type this every few weeks; it'd be nice if Steyn and his ilk could crack a book for once. Soviet "subversion" in Africa pales in comparison to a century-and-a-half of Western European colonial machinations, and, anyway, buttressing your point by claiming they were doing exactly what we were doing, except on the other side, simply reveals a design flaw. They were doing the same thing we're doing in Afghanistan as well--by which I mean "fighting as Islamic insurgency", not "losing".

We might, then, recklessly offer that the Nostradamus aura of the Long Telegram owes rather more to the wishful interpretations of believers than the text itself. Sorta like, oh, Nostradamus.

We might also look at the claim that Kennan disagreed with successive administration over what "he regarded" as misinterpretation. Kennan parsed the telegram for Foreign Affairs at the urging of James Forrestal, with the intention of bringing the Evil Empire argument to the public at large. Anonymously. The reader can see what subtleties Kennan himself erased. As usual--as it is today--the public wasn't being asked to weigh in on the issue. It was being asked to close its eyes and sign a check.

As for the substitution of military for economic confrontation, that is not a matter of "misinterpretation". It's a matter of the government--beginning with the Truman administration--doing as it pleased, doing what drew the most power--and was most financially rewarding--to the people doing the deciding. Kennan's telegram didn't convince anybody. It covered them.

(Here's another little item you can look up: US military doctrine of the 1950s never envisioned a Soviet military juggernaut rolling to the Channel. We knew that the Soviet manpower and economic base was staggered by WWII and would be a generation in recovering, and that our conventional forces would have been enough to push them back to their borders if the need arose. And, as the Telegram makes explicit, we knew whose side history was on, and it wasn't Stalin's. Presumably Steyn thinks keeping this fact from the American people, the better to have them willingly foot the bill for clinically insane levels of conventional and nuclear forces, the better to "contain" what was not going anywhere even had it wanted to, is another admirable Cold War accomplishment. In which case I suggest we send him a bill for his share.)

Which would bring us up-to-date.
Why can’t we do that today?

Well, one reason is we’re not really comfortable with ideology, either ours or anybody else’s. Insofar as we have an ideology it’s a belief in the virtues of “multiculturalism,” “tolerance,” “celebrate diversity” — a bumper-sticker ideology that is, in effect, an anti-ideology which explicitly rejects the very idea of drawing distinctions between your beliefs and anybody else’s.

Less sentimental chaps may (at least privately) regard the above as bunk, and prefer to place their faith in economics and technology. In Britain in the 1960s, the political class declared that the country “needed” mass immigration. When the less enlightened lower orders in northern England fretted that they would lose their towns to the “Pakis,” they were dismissed as paranoid racists. The experts were right in a narrow, economic sense: The immigrants became mill workers and bus drivers. But the paranoid racists were right, too: The mills closed anyway, and mosques sprouted in their place; and Oldham and Dewesbury adopted the arranged cousin-marriage traditions of Mirpur in Pakistan; and Yorkshire can now boast among its native sons the July 7 London Tube bombers. The experts thought economics trumped all; the knuckledragging masses had a more basic unease, convinced that it’s culture that’s determinative.

So then here's the thing: maybe you "less sentimental chaps" could stop cleaning your guns (both literal and metaphorical) long enough to look up, take note of how badly you and you alone have fucked this up, and try to construct an argument instead of flinging around pathetic crap like "waaahh, the bad multiculturalists won't let us win". In the days following 9/11 your boy had a 90% approval rating, and even if a lot of that was wishful thinking it's still higher than Tolerance is ever likely to score. Plenty of us asked at the time to hear even a bald-faced propaganda War on Terra version of the Long Telegram, but none was forthcoming. That was a choice, not an oversight; you wanted partisan advantage, you wanted a war or wars to reshape the Middle East in your ideological image, you didn't want imput from traitors. And you knew the public wouldn't buy it had it been explained ahead of time, in the same way that an earlier generation bought the Evil Empire argument but largely rejected the specifics of Korea or Vietnam. The difference is that this time anyone with any honest sense of history knew the name of the game before the whistle blew, and this time there was no pretense that The Enemy had anything like equal military footing or constituted a global threat. You didn't make the argument because you couldn't, and, most of all, because you didn't want to. And now that it's been exposed as vaporous, and poorly managed into the bargain, you decide maybe you'd like a do-over. It's a measure, sir, of the results of sixty years of phony history that we now can ask, without a trace of humor, "You and whose Army?"

Saturday, October 13

Just Explain One Thing To Me

HOW, in 2007, do we come to write "an all-white jury" acquitted eight defendants in the Michael Lee Anderson case?

Because, god help me, you don't have to explain the rest of it.

My Dishwasher Senses How Dirty The Dishes Are. My Dryer Figures Out How Dry Clothes Need To Be. So Why Don't Microphones Shut Off Automatically?

I happened to turn past CNN yesterday morning--"happened", because I still don't know where 787 of my 823 channels are--just in time to see the warm-up for live coverage of Al Gore's brief remarks, and I was soon kicking myself for waiting for the actual stupidity to begin before I thought of recording it.

But then, wonders of technology, of the sort that lets Steve Johnson insist that Teevee Is Better Than Ever!--the DVR actually records backwards, so I get to share this with you verbatim.

I don't know who played Ken or Barbie, as they were never identified during what I taped. But she was inexplicably attired in one the the girls' jumpers of my youth, a fact which might have cheered me considerably under different circumstances.

What happened is this: we were waiting for the Vice-President and Nobel recipient (or "Gore", as Barbie repeatedly referred to him) to appear. Meanwhile, they ran a canned report, which included a statement that he would be donating his share of the monetary prize to the Alliance for Climate Protection. Then we returned to the one in the jumper, who was faced with filing the time--oh, she was prepared, as we'll see, but that doesn't make the extemporizing any less witless--and told us that "Gore's gonna be donating part of that prize money"--it's interesting how often sloppy construction serves the underlying stupidity--before she was asked to read "some of the comments" about the Prize.

Now, I'm not sure if it was the fact that those comments, back-to-back, were from Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, or if the graphics cards, rather than her face, filling the screen had something to do with it, but there was the unmistakable smell of seething in the air while she read (so much so that I had to double check to make sure Daryn Kagan was still dead). When she finished, Ken obligingly lifted the pressure valve:
KEN: Hmmmm. But there's also been criticism, too. I mean, there are folks who are saying, you know, um, ah, there are much larger issues. What about Mother Teresa and that kind of stuff. So, yeah...

BARBIE: Well, critics are also coming out, in fact there's a judge, uh, Sir Michael John Burton, a judge of the High Court in Queen's Bench Division there has come out with nine points were he says that some of the things that were brought up in An Inconvenient Truth were just absolutely not true, uh, and so, yeah, you're right, there's been a lot of criticism.


[sic] [sic] [sic] [sic] [sic] [sic] [sic] [sic] [sic] [sic] [sic]

Just put 'em in wherever you please. Stand on a chair and drop them to the floor. Invite your friends over and play Pin The [sic] On The Anchor. You cannot miss.

In a better time and place, one ruled by the better instincts and higher longings of Humankind, you would be forgiven for imagining I made up what followed. Here and now, though, you know better. Ken, the suit who wondered if kidnapping lepers for Christ wasn't somehow, um, ah, you know, more larger, and Barbie, who jotted down the name of a British jurist from a convenient and utterly irrelevant WaPo story without bothering to read it, were next tasked with handling the toss on Breaking Anna Nicole news. To my great disappointment, Ken did segue to it with "Boy, if they gave out a Nobel Prize for knockers..."

Thursday, October 11

Flaggin' A Dead Horse

THEY'RE Dicks! And here I spent two days trying to figure out what to say about Lapelgate.

In my defense, Mr. Edroso is smarter, more savvy, and younger, which means among other things that his recollection of the Flag Decal is more theoretical than my own; I was a surly, anti-war, anti-nuke, anti-haircut teen when those things became the must-own accessory for your 1970 Ford Country Squire, and I took it personally. Which means my post turned into a thesis right away, something that wasn't helped by the fact that the first partisan use of the flag that I recall was the Impeach Earl Warren billboard the Birch Society put up across the street from the Track in Speedway in the early 60s. To my ten-year-old nose he thing had a distinct odor of violence, like they planned to plant the thing in the poor man's chest as a way of marking territory. It's another sad commentary on a society that pisses its Bloomers at the thought of a child glimpsing a human breast but gleefully allows a national symbol to be linked with the sort of partisan disagreements that frequently wind up with someone under the treads of a tank.

There is, of course, the other thing, namely that beyond freely co-opting Old Glory for partisan political purposes the flag idolaters routinely disrespect it, the primary example here being that the flag is not a decorative item and doesn't belong on civilian clothing. (For that matter, "uniform" in this case means "Army, Navy, Air Force, Firefighter..." and not "Ladies and Gentlemen...YOUR ST. LOUIS RAMMMMMMS!" Y'know, counting the refs there's roughly ninety men on the field every Sunday with flags on their chests, sleeves, helmets and possibly socks, in an average of sixteen locations for an average of sixteen weeks, and yet when one of those men--Pat Tillman, that is--actually volunteered to serve that flag the whole fuckin' country was dumbfounded!) I would have been tickled to death to hear Barack Obama say, "The flag isn't a piece of dime-store jewelry, and everyone who wears it like one is showing disrespect."

I have another problem with The Flag, and I've been a secret sufferer for years: aesthetically, it sucks. The opposite ends of the visible spectrum rarely go together well, and horizontal stripes!? Also there's that violation of the fundamental design principle One Flag At A Time. The whole upper-left-hand-corner thing doesn't work for me, nor the pennant-within-a-flag bit like Cuba, or Djibouti, or The Bahamas. Greece looks like a test for astigmatism. Personally, if I'm going to get nabbed by a Press Gang I'm hoping it's Belgian. There's a flag looks good on a beret.

The best thing about The Flag is the bold graphic elements put us near the top when it comes to bunting, but even there we should acknowledge that Liberia, with that Jasper Johns crossed with Folk Art thing going on, went us one better. as they can just recycle old flags for the purpose if they want to.

I think it's time to admit we shoulda stuck with Don't Tread On Me, and get to work doing what we do best: slapping a new label on things. If we don't want to go with that retro-snake thing, what about tie-dye? I'm not sure we invented it, but we sure perfected it. Every flag would be different, reflecting the whole E Pluribus Unum thing, but instantly recognizable as well. Plus every faux-hippie would become an instant patriot. And to keep the dicks happy we could switch from Red White and Blue to Woodland Cammo so they could wear it on everything.

Wednesday, October 10

Non-Post, Day Two

OKAY, I was already pissed off--difficult as that is to believe--because late last week Channel 8 (Indiana's Own; I liked 'em better when they were the Action News Team, but I'm guessing they ran afoul of some truth in advertising regulation or other) had their fourth-string weather reader, the one who dresses like a dinner-theatre extra from Guys and Dolls, inform an entire market's worth of suburbanites they'd better water those lawns, and be quick about it, before they died. The lawns, they meant.

He read this over the same footage they'd used six weeks ago as they told the same drought-stricken burghers they could safely comply with those pesky No-Water orders since their lawns were only going dormant, not dying.

This is more than just rhetorically annoying, though I would like to point out first that I don't even listen to these maroons about the weather, let alone lawn care, about which I am remarkably indifferent for an avid gardener. The real irritation stems from the fact that the No Water order--always accompanied by the stern warning that The City May Start Fining Violators, And This Time We Mean It--is basically at the service of the (recently privatized) water company's desire not to upgrade its 19th century delivery system in light of our new, post-agrarian living patterns. Instead of increasing capacity as suburbanites flew into the farthest reaches of the county and beyond, they've simply jacked up the pressure at peak times, and every intervening flapper, valve, and gasket blows out, on average, every eighteen months, plus I'm sure they've killed or severely injured numerous devotees of nozzle fun, although the Star doesn't publish statistics.

And while I grant you that people tend to water their lawns like complete idiots, the whole question of individual vs. corporate good citizenship is solved by simply acting like it doesn't exist. No one tells swimming pools or water parks to close. Every golf course I pass is still green. The big lawn care companies are still showing up with their water tanks, the better to achieve the right dilution of Agent Orange so that your dog won't die on contact with the stuff but linger a couple years while guarding your nice, green grass.

And this is, by my count, one of two ecologically responsible stands taken by the locals (Ozone Action Days being the other) without the required Faux Environment Balance (which is distinguishable from regular Faux Balance in that the two sides are not presumed equal, but linked by Our Knowing Sadness: yes, we're concerned about the environment, but we need jobs, too, so the viewer gets to feel good about himself without giving up the M-1 Abrams he tools around town in). If the residents of some one-time farming community try to fend off a new Wal*Mart it's a controversy. If some auto-parts manufacturer in Anderson dumps a half-ton of solvents into the sewers, resulting in a 150-mile fish kill, it's an industrial accident. For that matter, if there's a line of killer storms that looks promising on radar they send off all fourteen staff weather readers in their personal helicopters so the home-bound weather buff can see what the wind in Shelbyville does to an exposed parka.

And so it was that after a second hour spent raking thatch last Sunday, after which I plopped down to watch the Colts game, I came face to virtual face with a local weekend talking hairdo (I had the wrong channel; it was an NFC game for broadcast purposes) who in succession touted a) The Bi-Monthly Anti-Abortion Shout At Passing Cars Fest, which was held under a bridge because it was, like, 97º outside, a matter which failed to daunt the cameraman, who still managed to make the crowd of a dozen protestors look as big as that Saddam-statue-toppling one; and b) the aforementioned "largest Christian pornography site", which, at least, provided some laughs and the impetus to find the correct channel.

Tuesday, October 9

In Brief

DUE to some unknown and unintended offense I've given a minor diety, today's post, a charming, Thurberesque tale of autumn lawn care, power tool rental, a comic misapprehension, and the resultant 911 call which segued into a report of a local news channel running a story about a suburban church partnering with "the leading Christian pornography site", which, it turns out, is, if anything, the leading Christian anti- pornography site (which the viewer was supposed to have understood), before denouncing local news and everyone involved in it while briefly reprising the lawn-care theme and adding, as a icy wind blowing off the frozen river of American competence, that the zebra-striped professional arbiters of Sunday night's Bears-Packers game could not manage to get a Too Many Men on the Field call correct despite access to videotape from a dozen cameras, will not be completed in time. Refunds are available at the counter.

Saturday, October 6

Burke and (Bags of) Hair

David Brooks, "The Republican Collapse." October 5

Modern conservatism begins with Edmund Burke.

MY, what a novel idea for a column...

What Burke articulated was not an ideology or a creed, but a disposition, a reverence for tradition, a suspicion of radical change.

Okay, maybe it's me. I like to think of myself as pretty well read considering my lifelong addiction to indolence. I sought out a liberal education both as a student and an autodidact, and I've succeeded at least to the extent that I grow more confused every day. But there are two things I'm reasonably certain of regarding intellectual life: one, that should one imagine one has found the answers to life's great questions, or a substantial portion thereof, one should immediately lie down with a cold cloth on the forehead, and seek medical help if the feeling doesn't pass within a few hours; and, two, if the answers to that/those question/s came from Philosophy, Political Science, Ayn Rand, a graphic novel, or any class numbered "101" one should skip the cold cloth and go directly to step two.

This is not to say that the world would be better off without Burkeans, Kantians, Mohists, Shakespeareans, Raphaelites, Pre-Raphaelites, Authentic Performance, Hard-Boiled Detective Fiction, or Duckpin Bowlers. It's that in every instance there comes a point when the devotee has to recognize the existence of the rest of the fucking planet and give it a rest. It's one thing to insist you'll listen to Bach only if the krumhorns were hand-carved of European birch; it's quite another if you punch your neighbor in the nose for humming some Western swing. Say it again: it is simply not possible to accept someone reaching middle-age while still insisting he believes this stuff, unless he's a certain species of religious fanatic or has a history of going off his medications.

Normal adults do not talk like this (I know, what's that got to do with Brooks?) except in such a limited range of conduct that the thing borders on self-parody: "That's my philosophy of football," say, or ""Bob's Guide to American Recreation Vehicles is the Bible of RVing". You might patronize an auto mechanic with an ichthys on his Yellow Pages ad, but you'd think twice about returning if instead of explaining what was causing that thumping noise he expounded on what Gurdjieff, Cezanne, or Tolstoy had taught him about internal combustion.

Over the past six years, the Republican Party has championed the spread of democracy in the Middle East. But the temperamental conservative is suspicious of rapid reform, believing that efforts to quickly transform anything will have, as Burke wrote “pleasing commencements” but “lamentable conclusions.”

Do tell. Because I can name at least one self-described Burkean who writes a column for the New York Times who was a full-throated supporter of that very campaign until it was well past defensible, at which time he told his readers he was going to have to rethink matters. Whereupon he simply fell silent on the question for two years.

Over the past few years, the vice president and the former attorney general have sought to expand executive power as much as possible in the name of protecting Americans from terror. But the temperamental conservative believes that power must always be clothed in constitutionalism.

See above.

Over the past decade, religious conservatives within the G.O.P. have argued that social policies should be guided by the eternal truths of natural law and that questions about stem cell research and euthanasia should reflect the immutable sacredness of human life.

But temperamental conservatives are suspicious of the idea of settling issues on the basis of abstract truth. These kinds of conservatives hold that moral laws emerge through deliberation and practice and that if legislation is going to be passed that slows medical progress, it shouldn’t be on the basis of abstract theological orthodoxy.

And so on and so on, through governmental legitimacy, championing individuality over social cohesion, tax cuts and transformational leadership. Where ya been, Dave? Aside from at the Times, and the Weekly Standard, and the PBS News Hour? Huh? If Burke is the Godfather of "Modern conservativism," where was the principled debate while this disaster was occurring? And who are those people in the White House, and the Congress? Where were the concerns about the hidden streams of social interconnectedness and the great mystic jigsaw puzzle while you were dismantling the social safety net? As someone who's watched with no small degree of agitation while these "false" conservatives seized power far beyond their numerical strength and exercised it far beyond Constitutional constraints, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that it only could have happened with your acquiescence, Dave--to say nothing of the cheerleading--and that of every other principled "Burkean" in the land.

The disaster that is modern conservatism (American, that is; it's another odd trait of you Burkeans to act as though you're It) has as little to do with Burke as the movement itself does, and we've been listening to various versions of this But But But That's Not Real Conservatism routine for several years now, beginning when a few souls capable of recognizing disaster without going through two dozen months of denial tried to separate "conservatism" from "neo-con adventurism", followed some time after by Andrew Sullivan's let-us-say tardy recognition that his party really didn't like gays, followed by any number of economic conservative and libertarian types suddenly recognizing, with Schiavo, that they'd been sharing the party with religious crackpots for twenty-five years. All of which suggests more than anything that y'all should spend a little less time on slavish admiration of dead Irish guys who clucked about the overthrow of the French monarchy and a little more on current events.

And in all of this there's a notable absence of mea to go with all the culpa. If Burke (or Hobbes or Hayek or Friedman--say, whatever happened to Adam Smith neckties?) is the progenitor of modern conservatism then either he's culpable--not just for a recently mishandled war, though that is the most serious charge possible--but for the regular and organized attacks on personal liberties and Constitutional rights, for being on the wrong side of the civl rights movement, for knee-jerk opposition to feminism, reproductive freedom, and gay and lesbian rights, knee-jerk support for "enlightened" rapaciousness, big-ticket military spending, tax cuts, and increasing social stratification, for the descent--if it was--into manqué conservatism, the cult of Reagan personality, the selling of the public's right to the public airwaves, the rise of scabrous talk radio and twisted television news, and presidential campaigns run like late-night advertising for Naked Drunk Chick videos, but without the dignity. And, with apologies to the noble shade of Robin Harris, I didn't stop typing there because I ran out of items; I stopped typing because my hands cramped up.

Burke doesn't deserve to be saddled with a bunch of mid-20th century anti-democratic wannabee grandees with a nostalgia for the Gilded Age, let alone the following generation of crypto-racists, over-ripe juveniles, and sons of privilege who surf in their wake. It should have been enough for you, Mr. Brooks, to have seen the distinction between Burkean (or Lockean) political theory and the economic treatment of the poorest of your fellow citizens, regardless of whatever Road to Damascus or Dan Ryan Expressway Home From A Friedman Lecture revelation you'd undergone. No idea about inherent Rights or Natural Order turns J. Edgar Hoover into a giant and Martin Luther King into a pariah. Nothing prevented you from learning the lessons of Vietnam, or Korea, before you urged us to repeat those mistakes in Iraq on the grounds that the people who claim to revere Burke know better than history. The story of post-war--or, better, anti-New Deal--conservatism is not the sad tale of a principled movement gradually or suddenly brought down by a collision of theory and reality or human failure; it's a long tale of the increasingly unprincipled search for a permanent electoral majority regardless of what that took. Truth was the first casualty; I'm pretty sure that at the least she gave Burke a severe concussion when she fell.

Friday, October 5

Keith, Keith, Keith

I'M sure we've been over this before.

It's one thing, sorta, to call Giuliani on having voted for McGovern. He's allowed to change his mind over the course of thirty-five years, but he's required to explain it when he does. The problem with bringing it up this way--aside from the fact that precious few Giuliani supporters are watching you--is that the reply is just that simple. What Giuliani should be required to explain is his own health-care plan and his reversion to Campaign Libertarianism.

It's something else, though, when we decide there's some mid-size fun to be had when Fred Dumbo Thompson says "Soviet Union." There might be a comedy nugget in there but it wasn't worth strip-mining to get. "Soviet Union" was a slip; if Thompson ever becomes an actual threat to win the nomination, this Alzheimer's Candidate stuff might find some play. In the meantime the real joke wasn't that Fred can't be trusted to command a submarine, it's that the fair copy of his remarks is dumber than one of Adam Sandler's rejected scripts. Thompson didn't mean to say "Soviet Union" (unless he's crazy...like a weasel!), but he does mean to talk like he's Dean Acheson's aide-de-camp.

It'd be nice if once in a while the response to these sorts of things could be a little more substantive. The why of Thompson's Cold War stupidity is a lot more important than the Watch This Political Football Hit Him In The Crotch of it, and it's a richer vein, while you're at it.

And while we're at it, when does the Let's Get More Perspective From Ex-Warfloggers Dana Milbank and Jonathan Alter Who Are Now Ten Times Smarter Than Bush Era end, Mr. I Couldn't Say Anything About Imus While He Worked For MSNBC, Mr. Let's Talk To NBC's Tim Russert About His Brave Courtroom Appearance in the Libby Case? There's a hundred bloggers out there who are uncompromised, twice as intelligent, and not duty bound to flog the conventional wisdom, and you wouldn't have to ask them leading questions ("Doesn't this just show that the administration wasn't really serious about ending torture?") to cut through the faux-balance and the faux insights. Dumping Alberto "Gonzo" Gonzales is all well and good, but unless we get at the stupidity and cupidity that enabled this administration in the first place, having a lying psychopath or malaprop-prone halfwit in the office will only be half our problem.

Thursday, October 4

Happy Birthday

Sputnik I
launched October 4, 1957

IN other news, I read ESPN too much. Gregg Easterbrook:
Although the great technical achievement of 1957 -- the artificial satellite -- and the main consumer-industrial product of that year -- the Edsel -- seem crude in retrospect, great artistic achievements of that same year, such as "West Side Story" and "Doctor Zhivago," seem magnificent in retrospect....

Now think what has happened in technical and artistic trends in the 50 years since 1957. Scientific endeavors have made fantastic strides in quality, complexity and significance. Consumer product quality has increased dramatically -- new cars are packed with features unknown in 1957 yet are far safer and more reliable, and the cell phone in your pocket and the computer you're reading this on, to say nothing of the Internet it's transmitted over, would have been viewed as supernatural by the engineers who built Explorer I. At the same time, the quality of art has plummeted. There hasn't been a musical of artistic merit to open on Broadway in many moons -- right now, it's all vapid dreck. (In fact, I think the show "Vapid Dreck," based on a remake of a remake, opens at the Brooks Atkinson soon.) And although good books are still written, what truly great novel has been produced in the past decade or two? Fifty years ago, technical stuff was buckets of bolts and art was splendid; now, the technical stuff is splendid and the art is in poor repair. This tells us something -- I just wish I knew what.

Well, for starters, that you shouldn't write about the Arts.

Easterbrook and I were born the same year, and if I may say so his point of view strikes me as something shy of inevitable. I sure don't look at cell phones or plasma screens and think what marvelous strides scientific endeavors have made "in significance", and I don't think that improved handling and crush zones are miraculous developments. In fact, I've watched them occur over the years with the same perspective as Mr. Easterbrook, and I think it's reasonable to state that the pace of technological advancement in the past fifty years should not really astonish someone who grew up under the tutelage of people who had experienced the previous fifty. I have the internets. I grew up with color teevee. My first-grade teacher watched the launch of the first American in space on a television brought into class for the purpose. She'd grown up riding a buggy to a schoolroom with no electricity or running water.

I don't mean to trivialize advancements in micro-miniaturization or industrial production, but it seems to me that many great scientific advancements of the last fifty years--the acceptance of plate tectonics, the rise of ecological science, improved notions of human health--are partly or wholly the result of shifting mindsets, (which were often opposed by earlier versions of Mr. Easterbrook's global-climate-change denial) and that much of the rest--in astronomy, genetics, communications--are the result of new tools developed at a not-unanticipated pace. The Sputnik team might be surprised to learn, fifty years on, that we've yet to harness nuclear fusion, but I suspect the two-way wrist telephone wouldn't lead to their establishing a cargo cult.

Which is to say they differ from today's glibertarian exaulters of consumer electronic gizmos. Computer technology did not march forward because consumers wanted it; it marched forward because business and governments did, and at some point some bright boys figured out how to convince ordinary citizens to need them. Weapons technology proceeds apace even though it doesn't make your Ford Escape any safer (though properly applied it could improve the aesthetics). As for the Arts, they're best left alone if we can't avoid playing a species of Fantasy Football with them, but if we must we might harken back to the green real grass fields of our youth and note that our fourth grade teacher said the exact same thing, except she added that her six-year-old niece could paint better than the Modernists. We will also note that in 2007 daubing the Next Natalie Wood with ochre and having her break into inexplicably impromptu song with a "Puerto Rican" "accent" is damned near aesthetically prohibited, an advancement we consider on par with automatic parallel parking, at the least.

Wednesday, October 3

Next Week: Generous Resort Owners Let Poorer Johnstown Residents Swim For Free!

WE were incomparably gratified last week that Bob Somerby would ask the same question and reach the same conclusion that we have: respectively, "Can [insert pundit name here; Somerby was writing about Tim Russert] really believe the things he/she is saying?" and "No."

Aggressive ignorance in the pundit class is facilitated in a number of ways: from above (Russert gets to be Jack Welch's pool boy) most importantly, but also from below, from the mistaken impression that Russert asking John Edwards about his haircuts, or fumbling his Hillary Clinton Gotcha! (we say he can't believe what he says; we don't say he's smart) are examples of him doing his job. The fact is that Russert could not actually do his job (that of "journalist", charitably defined, we mean) if he believed haircuts to be serious matters, or was incapable of distinguishing between the declarative and the rhetorical (it may have been lost in the hubub, but the Mystery Quote did not condone or defend torture; Bill Clinton merely restated the ticking-time-bomb argument). Russert asks those questions not because there's some theoretical interest in the answer, but because the frame runs thus: Democrats are Limousine Liberals, Democrats aren't tough on defense, Democrats play to constituencies which are outside the mainstream of American thought and can thus be exposed during these See The Wheels Spinning moments. The difference between Russert and Les Kinsolving is quantitative, not qualitative.

(In fact we have to ask whether Russert actually believed he was setting up a Gotcha! moment--what Gotcha! is there, really, in what someone else said?--or if he was, as we think more likely, just trying to wrong-foot her. If Senator Clinton is in a rested, relaxed state, how far does "here's a quote from 'a guest' on Meet the Press" get? Particularly when it's vaguely right-wing sounding, who is she going to imagine the Mystery Guest will turn out to be?)

It may be a little tougher to defend the idea with strictly wingnut punditry, in no small measure because Jonah Goldberg gives every impression of being even stupider than he gives every impression of being. Still, as we have argued before, you cannot simultaneously hold ideas like "assault weapons should not be banned because they aren't really assault weapons" or "there's no scientific consensus on global warming" or "Fred Thompson is a viable candidate" and make it to middle age without being killed while attempting to cross a busy street. The skill sets are mutually exclusive.

And so we approach the third installment of what we hope is Michael Medved's trilogy on what American history would look like if explained by the reanimated corpse of a Confederate drummer boy to a group of small children who'd just ingested large quantities of nutmeg. "The Founders Intended A Christian, Not Secular, Society" follows last week's classic "Slavery? The Coloreds Never Had It So Good!" and the previous "The Indians All Died Of Smallpox, And That Huge Pile Of Bison Skulls Was Put There By Jesus After He Built The Grand Canyon."

I don't think this really merits a response, any more than his review of, say, Father of the Bride 6: The Rebridening would. Like most semi-rational people and certain members of his own family, I've had as little to do with Medved as I possibly could. There was a brief attempt to impress him upon the unsuspecting warm-blooded and able-to-feed-themselves public in the 1970s with that Golden Turkeys thing, which found enough of an audience that it created the James Lileks People Who Are Desperate To Feel Superior To Carpeting demographic. This he parlayed inexplicably into a gig as the inexplicable host of PBS's inexplicable decision to replace the departed middlebrow duo of Siskel and Ebert with the no-brow duo of Medved and Jeffrey Lyons. All of this was later explicaled, as Medved was outed yelling "Stop tape!" so he could appropriate a bon mot Lyons had dropped. Medved may very well be the only person for whom paid whoring for the Right is a moral step up.

What I didn't know before today is that the adjective besotted author of:
The ludicrous indignation about Senator McCain’s recent remarks remains an expression of both ignorance and intolerance, and a mean-spirited refusal to recognize the simple truth in his statements.

entered Yale at sixteen. And yet now, forty-four years later, he's struggling to complete his home-schooling GED. "How much better can ya eat?" a wise man once asked.

Tuesday, October 2

Everything Newt Is Old Again

NEWTON Leroy Gingrich, Republican of Georgia, former Speaker of the House, the Painful Rectal Itch of the Body Politic. Do I need to say it? He's not only my favorite politician of the modern era, he's my favorite professor of alternate history like, ever.

Like, I'm sure, most of you, my disappointment at the weekend's announcement that Newt would not be running for President was somewhat overshadowed by the total fucking shock that there was still anyone out there wondering whether Newt Gingrich was going to run for President. Which I'm assuming was precisely the same number as expected Fred Thompson to catch fire two weeks back.

And so it's no great wonder that my only connection to the story was a glance at a headline somewhere, followed by someone--maybe some news hairdo with a full-blown case of obliviousness, or maybe Newt himself--explaining that Newtie just couldn't bear to part company with whatever new tax-exempt scam he's running these days, Renew America or Restore America or Retrofit America (it's no coincidence these things always sound like some sketchy remodeling operation with a rural route address and a clip-art eagle for a logo). After all, the man can't really use his family as an excuse for not running, now can he? Which leaves Good Works.

As a legacy Lincoln Republican I'm congenitally inclined to view Newt as George Wallace Mark II. The genius of Newt Gingrich is the well-tailored beige polyester Rotarian luncheon speaker persona that covers the Dixiecrat underneath. He was the perfect Southern politician for national prominence, in part because he wasn't really a Southerner, and so avoided the whole party-affiliation-switching thing and the obligation of bib-and-tucker authenticity. In the difficult adolescence of civil rights, voting rights, and desegregation, Newt was the guy whose skin stayed clear. His was the generation which could no longer express its admiration for segregation forthrightly, so its heroes became, not the grandstanding demagogue in the schoolhouse door, but the state bureaucrats who'd just shut down all public education instead.

So I'm watching Newt with Stephanopoulos, and I'm admiring his speaking style, in part because he never says anything of consequence and in part because I haven't seen him in public in a while, a situation one might describe as "justified". The construction is damned near seamless. He's not built to speak to anything larger than a conference room, and the teevee audience or the single caucus member he's holding by the lapels or lower is the ideal. He's not the rally type. As he told Georgie how McCain-Feingold had "criminalized" him out of the Presidential race I began to wonder if he'd had a spittlectomy a couple decades before. He revealingly spoke of Republicans needing to learn the lesson of skiing, that all motion necessary to keep one's balance was counterintuitive. I'm guessing he never tried to put that one over in Georgia.

In fact he skis with his face. When his words indicate fierce emotion, like that "criminalization" crack, he doesn't scrunch up but expands from his temples to the corners of his mouth (it is another way in which he's a man of the Teevee Chatter era, and not the thronged-temple orator. The whole of his animation lies within a 4:3 aspect ratio from eyebrows to lower lip). I suspect it's the result of long practice, but it functions as a tell; his video breadbasket goes wide when he's projecting emotion, but lying, and it elongates when he's feigning disinterested analysis while feeling the ancient twinge of Desktop Blowjobs Past down below. If his public persona is artifice there's yet one area he can't keep nature from seeping through: that light behind his eyes when he gets to speak (even hypothetically, as here) of the poltician-like double-dealing of other politicians. Is there some deep-seated Gingrich on view there? The only accomplishments of his political life have involved chopping other people down ethically when his own sin was at least equal. He can call Bill Clinton "the most accomplished politician of our generation" as he did here, and the concluding "because he cheated even more effectively than I did" hangs in the air like skywriting.

Stephanopoulos asked him--"now that you're not in the race"--for his blueprint for beating Hillary:
...the Left is fundamentally wrong from the standpoint of most Americans on issue after issue. Let me give you an example. A substantial plurality of Americans would abolish the capital gains tax. The Democrats would raise it. A substantial majority--like 70%--would actually provide a tax break for corporations that kept their corporate headquarters in the U.S. The Democrats couldn't think of something like that. You'd have a list of these things. 91% of Americans want to keep the Pledge of Allegiance saying "one nation under God", and are deeply offended by the current Court's attitude. So you go through all these things...

Which leaves me wondering what percentage are deeply troubled that a man with his finger so obviously on the pulse of the nation can't run for President because McCain-Feingold criminalizes him. I'm guessing the answer is "smaller than he had hoped".

83% support for English As Our Official Language and Hillary Opposes It worked its way in there, too. This is the result of thirty years of public life from the man who has continually pledged to lead us forward into the 1980s? The next election should be fought over the Plejullejunts? Asked to critique the current standing of his party, as well as the possibility of current Republican candidates breaking with the White House, Gingrich offered two causes for the current malaise: Immigration and Katrina. The man who claims that a scant 48 hours ago he was all set to enter the race can't even utter the word Iraq. The man who once assured us the Republic would be rent assunder by a crooked book deal is silent on the worst corruption since the Grant administration, much of it orchestrated by his Texas doppleganger He says "New Orleans is still a disaster" but wants to paint Democrats as unstoppable tax accessors. Gone is the high-minded gobbledegook about Laptops for All and State-Run Orphanages For Some, replaced by a wistful nostalgia for the days of Cows Cause Pollution. Maybe Newt's Time Machine got stuck in reverse somehow. Maybe in another decade he'll be urging Republicans to run on a simple message of Race Mixin' and Fluoridation. At least he'd be able to give his facial muscles a rest.

Monday, October 1

If God Is Love, Why Does It Take So Long For Regional Dialects To Evolve Into Mutually Incomprehensible Languages?

BILL Simmons, ESPN's The Sports Guy, Friday:
Broncos (+9.5) over COLTS

Come on, this line shouldn't be higher than 7.

For the benefit of those of you who do not gamble on football or who do have ESPN columns advising those people who do, the betting line is designed, not to predict the outcome of the game, but to attract equal wagering on each side. And the final score of yesterday's game--Indianapolis 38, Denver 20--means that the Colts, by virtue of winning by eighteen, did what is known as "covering".
I'm not paying the Colts Tax because Denver has two quality CBs to handle Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne,

That would be two-time Pro Bowler Dré Bly, acquired this year from Detroit, and seven-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro Roland "Champ" Bailey, one of the best to ever play the position.

Since Denver acquired Bailey in 2004 they have faced the Colts five times, including twice in the post-season. In one of those games, Week 17 of the 2004 season, the Colts had already clinched their playoff spot and Peyton Manning played only the first series of a Broncos 33-14 win. In the other four, all Colts wins, Manning:

is 101 of 125 (80.8%) for 1373 yards, 15 touchdowns, and 1 interception as the Colts have put up 162 points

after going 20-27, 193, with 3 TDs and no picks yesterday in a game where Marvin Harrison went out in the first quarter and the Colts offense didn't get untracked until late in the first half.

So I suppose it's understandable why The Sports Guy would think the addition of Bly was the missing piece which would shut the Colts down completely:
which means Joe Addai has to run all over them for Indy to cover this spread. (I'm not ruling it out, but it seems like a stretch.)

Addai went for 139 on 19 carries with one touchdown. It's the highest yardage total of his second-year career, but he went for 118 against New Orleans in Week one, and he gained 1000 yards last year despite splitting RB duties with Dominic Rhodes all season, so calling this "a stretch" is something of, well, a stretch. Backup RB Kenton Keith added 80 yards on 10 carries after Addai left the game at the beginning of the fourth quarter. Maybe the stretch was believing the Broncos, whose rushing defense ranked 29th going in, could stay in deep coverage all day and still keep Indianapolis from running the ball, let alone stopping the short passing game while they were at it.
And if that's not enough, everyone and their degenerate brother will be throwing the Chargers, Cowboys and Colts into a three-team teaser on Sunday. That's never good. Out of those three, the Colts seem like the shakiest link, don't they?

You tell me, Bill. The spread in those other two games was a dozen points, and the Chargers, last year's designated West Coast sportswriter fluff object, who're already this year's designated Two Bagger and who were getting the twelve couldn't crack it. Looks like the bookmaking industry has survived another week's encounter with the Simmons brain.

Look, I'm sure nobody in the country appreciates Simmons' four-sport, twelve-month/year mock-comic Beantown homerism any more than I do, especially those times when he imagines we aren't sated by his own production and reprints a half-dozen emails saying the same thing, except without the mock-comedy. Which is, roughly, every goddam column.

But, y'know, is it too much to ask that you remove your head from Bill Belichick's lap long enough to, say, look at the teams before you make your picks?

And aside from the joy there was in imagining you'd actually bet the mortgage on Denver, there was this:
(Random fantasy note: On my 3-0 West Coast team that's morphing into the 2007 Pats of fantasy teams, I have Kenton Keith and Selvin Young stocked on my bench just in case Addai or Travis Henry get injured and I can trade Keith or Young to the teams that have Addai or Henry. That means I'll be watching this game rooting for the starting running backs to get injured every time they touch the ball. Can you think of another avenue in life when you'd openly and shamelessly root for two human beings to pull a hamstring, sprain a knee or break a foot for three straight hours? Me neither. I love fantasy football.)

They both got hurt. Did that mean you had to wash your own underwear so your wife wouldn't see what you did to it, or is she used to that sort of thing by now?