Monday, November 30

We're Ridin' Out Tonight/ To Foreclose The Promised Land

David "Juke" Brooks, "The Other Education". November 26

I BEGAN the endurance run of the Official Holiday Shopping Season (pause for laughter to die down) with what has become a Riley tradition: full-immersion Avoidance therapy by watching as much as I could stand of the Today Show "talent", aka NBC's Precision Shill Team, narrate the jaw-dropping spectacle that is the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Or up to five minutes, whichever comes first; it's always the former. I'm not sure when the Suits decided that the trio of Matt, Meridith, and That Weather Buffoon were actually embarrassing themselves more in ad-libbing parade coverage than they do on a daily basis at their regular gig--maybe somebody insulted a sponsor last year, which could only be accidental--but what I managed to sit through was a sort of three-part oratorio of teleprompter reading, except, of course, with lip-sync'd show tunes replacing the music. At one point--I wasn't watching straight through, but left it running in hopes I'd be subliminally hardened off--a giant motorized floral arrangement approximating a two-story guitar passed by, and the Meterological Clown read what gave every appearance of being Gibson's Mission Statement. That was it. John Pizzarelli was on the thing, and he might as well've been the Iowa State Fair Pork Queen. And the year's new Jumbo Helium Personalities and Impromptu Lamppost Relocation Program, introduced at the top with palpable artificial excitement, included beloved American Folklore figures Spiderman, Ronald McDonald, and The Pillsbury Doughboy. Your fellow citizens stand in line--I mean on line, sorry--in inclement weather, to have this shit hurled at them from all directions at once.

It didn't work. I don't really expect it to work. I have never felt indebted enough to my Creator to rush out and buy consumer junk. God knows Thursday didn't provide any football to be thankful for.

I skimmed headlines and read a few blogs and tried to avoid anything that would encourage me to write something. Which is how it is that I came to be reading that Brooks piece early Sunday morning, and only after Chris Vosburg tipped me to Roy's Voice piece. Just in case you think I should have been drawn there subconsciously, or by the aroma of white bread frying in oleo.

Now, however tardy, let's begin with what is usually the easiest thing to ignore about a Brooks column: his premise.
But on the night of Feb. 2, 1975, I turned on WMMR in Philadelphia and became mesmerized by a concert the radio station was broadcasting. The concert was by a group I’d never heard of — Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. Thus began a part of my second education.

We don’t usually think of this second education. For reasons having to do with the peculiarities of our civilization, we pay a great deal of attention to our scholastic educations, which are formal and supervised, and we devote much less public thought to our emotional educations, which are unsupervised and haphazard. This is odd, since our emotional educations are much more important to our long-term happiness and the quality of our lives.

We'd give happy provisional assent to Emotional Education, provided you had written it when you were thirteen, not pushing fifty. This sort of thing is unseemly in middle age unless you make your living writing greeting cards.

Likewise, we'd have given you a pass provided your body of work included some hint that this tingly teenage epiphany meant something. Roy:
Brooks has no affinity with Springsteen's old-fashioned Democratic pro-union politics, and where the bard of Jersey shows affection for and identification with the mooks and mookettes in his songs, Brooks' view of people even a few small steps below him on the economic latter is almost zoological in its detachment.

This--unfortunate in a season of bounty and bonhomie--pokes our natural suspiciousness awake just as it had burrowed in for the season. I'm not sure which is the greater challenge: entering the mind of the 13-year-old who will remember the specific date of his first encounter with the E Streeters, or trying to figure what possible attraction The Boss could have for a nebbishy Chamber of Commerce apologist, apart from that moniker.

That date thing bothers me like a milk tooth on its last two threads. I guarantee you that pop music meant more to me as an early adolescent than it ever did to Brooks, and I was astonished to learn, with the publication of The Beatles Anthology, that their show at the State Fairgrounds was in September, not the August of my thirty-year-old memory. So, sorry, I'm not buying it as the short-pants, Frequency-Modulated version of his Road to Damascus encounter with Milton "Big Daddy" Friedman. Not without explanation. I kept a diary! I looked it up on! I'm actually an idiot savant! Something. The idea that the date has stuck in your head all these years because it was central to that Emotional Education you've shown no evidence of in your work just pushes you one rung up the creepy ladder, Dave.

I was in college that fateful night, and my closest circle of friends included several other music obsessives, so someone at this point had played Bruce's first two albums for me, and I was vaguely aware of the New Dylan buzz, or bullshit (it swirled around several Sensitive Singer Songwriters, including the unjustly ignored Elliott Murphy, before Time settled the issue). What was interesting about Springsteen at the time--and this is far from a thirteen-year-old's perspective, granted--is that he revived the Spector/Lieber & Stoller/Brill Building sound, which was being buried by the likes of Linda Ronstadt and the Doobie Brothers, and his lyrics were Smart Enough (If I wanted smart in them days, Dave, I read Pynchon or Eliot or Borges or Keats, and I got at least as much emotional education from them as I did from three-chord rock). The blue-collar ethos of his lyrics was the same, after all, as "Spanish Harlem" or "Under the Boardwalk".

Of course the dark tinge of the Drifters or the Ronettes probably failed to speak to Brooks' personal experience on a different level than how Springsteen's music doesn't. And young Dave was chasing emotional uplift, which probably put "He's a Rebel" and "Charlie Brown" off-limits. Okay, so maybe by '75 the hip radio stations (joke) Brooks favored ('nother joke) as a young liberal (you're probably sensing a pattern) didn't promise Oldies on the Hour!, but, what? he didn't hear the real Dylan? Why Bruce, at thirteen, when you could have waited a couple years and misinterpreted Elvis Costello or David Byrne?

Which brings us to the other side of the suburb: Brooks was a fully-fledged Reaganaut by the time the Gipper's people illegally appropriated, and totally misread, "Born in the U.S.A." You'd think that would engender a little sheepishness, wouldn't you? This apparently glosses over Bruce's power to evoke worlds Brooks knows nothing about, and portray them as filled to brimming with people who inhabit them while maintaining what Brooks has no reason not to imagine as a positive attitude. Provided, of course, that you maintain the tradition of not really listening, and you ignore whose boot is on whose neck.

What's the deal with Springsteen, anyway? Can't you find somebody who isn't so publicly on the other side? Elvis loved his mother. Sinatra became a Republican. Go pester Sammy Cahn for a while, huh?

By the way, $100 says Brooks can't name one Southside Johnny album without looking. On the internets, I mean; he's free to use his record collection or that diary.

Wednesday, November 25

Kids Today

I AM, officially, fascinated by "Ross" "Douthat's" "new" "blog" in the "Newspaper" "of Record", at least until the new Kitchenaid™ Pro 5 Plus stand mixer (imperial gray), with ice cream and sausage-making accessories (guaranteed delivery between November 25-27!) arrives. For a socialist I sure am made giddy by the prospect of my new toys. On the other hand, this is a fine, American-made product with a motor an' gears an' steel an' stuff, and it doesn't kill people, at least not intentionally. So I think it's at least a wash.

Douthat is not nearly so much fun as a mixer, not of cookies, young Singles, nor cement, nor does he do anything remotely as useful. His lethality is open to interpretation, I suppose, and I do feel safe in assuming he consumes more electricity.

He is, though, suddenly rated to turn out tens of dozens, if uncomestible, words per day, or roughly his weekly output as of two weeks previous. I find this curious. Was he holding out for more money? Is there something about blogging, noun or verb, that revs the man up? Or like he can't perform for adults, or with the bathroom door open? Listen, it's not like there's a question of quality here; his "blogging" is, well, blogging: link Megan, link Matt, link Ramesh; or link some other piece he's read on some topic of wingnut importance, an act which is supposed to show he's done his homework, or peered deeply into the pressing issue of Trying Khalid Sheik Mohammed in New York City, or Why Liberals Should Actually Be on the Other Side of an Issue, or Something Else That's Wrong With Pro-Choice Ratiocination, or something, generally followed by a few dozen words of his own which demonstrate that he's done no thinking at all, or none beyond the well-worn wagon ruts of Thoughtful Conservative Careerist Lane. Is this supposed to be fooling someone? Am those someones spose t'be the readers of the New York Times? It reads like a goddam junior-varsity debate practice, complete with fucking Clique.

I wound up there yesterday in order to fact-check what I'd said about him, and I find Khalid Sheik Mohammed ("KSM", of course), Part Umpteen, and Why Liberals Really Ought To Reconsider What Ross Douthat ("DS") Says They Think About The Trial, which turns out to be that according to Someone Else ("SE"), what Holder ("AGEH") is doing is just what Bush ("GWB") did, so naturally Liberals should oppose it. So in other words ("OW"), right off the top, right from the grand outline, the argument runs like this: if someone Ross can find to link to says trying Khalid Sheik Mohammed in US courts is in line with whatever Bush administration action he found to compare it to, then the people who are not working themselves into a foaming fit at the very thought of a Terraist being brought onto actual US soil should switch their position. Or, more accurately, the opposition Douthat assigns to them for purposes of his "argument".

Now, just for starters, Harvard should rescind his diploma for that, and in a better world, the Times would have been so embarrassed by the thing it would have gone back to being a news source. But we're not finished! We're not even finished starting! Because the story the Linkmaster leeched onto, this Jim Comey and Jack Goldsmith piece from last Friday's WaPo, is actually making the reverse argument: critics of the "Holder-Obama" approach ignore the fact that the Bush administration did precisely the same thing. So now--this goddam vertigo is gonna kill me someday--if someone, somewhere, replies to critics (who really exist) that their objections are hypocritical, at least, in that they (in their actual existence) made no complaint when their side took comparable action, the theoretical opponents of the actual complainants are obliged to reconsider their own (fiat) positions.

Wait! Don't call yet--if you pay separate Shipping & Handling we'll double it! Douthat proceeds to try to finesse Comey and Goldsmith's examples ("all save Lindh were arrested by domestic law enforcement rather than the military or the C.I.A., and only Lindh and Padilla were ever actually held as 'enemy combatants' "),

[I'm sorry. There are only two contrary examples! Jesus wept.]

before giving up one sentence later, ["Padilla probably should have been tried as a civilian, since he was a U.S. citizen apprehended by the F.B.I. on American soil — but he only ended up in civilian court because the White House wanted to avoid a Supreme Court ruling on the legitimacy of classifying him as an enemy combatant (and holding him without trial for several years)."] So now Imaginary Liberals should reconsider a position they might possibly have, assuming their position is determined in toto by opposition to whatever the wingnuts are screaming about on FOX at this moment, because if you equivocate about somebody's claims of comparable Bush administration actions without actually paying attention to what 1) they said, or 2) you're saying, you can prove that Bush actually had other motives for what he did. Meaning, if we can just sit long enough for the swirling to abate so we can go back to the start again, that Liberals should reconsider their support for "Obama-Holder", because Bush did exactly the same thing, except that wasn't what he was doing. So Q.E.D., K.S.M! It's just shock. Try to work through it!

And this will be refined, if that's not too big a giggle, by the next 'graph:
Instead, they look like examples of a White House essentially making things up as it goes along, moving detainees back and forth across the criminal defendant/enemy combatant divide for reasons of expedience, rather than principle. And now the Obama administration is … doing exactly the same thing.

Look, I was gonna pass on that altogether, but I was afraid someone would figure I'd done a Bill Holden and call 911. Douthat has begun with a sort of playground Rubber/Glue comparison, and in the space of two paragraphs--paragraphs dashed off, compared to his usual careful constructions--he's made the thing about ten times stupider. Liberals yadda yadda reconsider splork splash because one can manufacture a categorical abstraction which encompasses both Bush and Obama administration actions. And, forgive me, this is not Ross Douthat drunk blogging, squeezed by deadline, or hitting Send prematurely; this is Ross Douthat's fucking MO. He writes for the Times! He went to Harvard! He graduated from high school! and presumably on time! And now he's paid, presumably on time! to argue that the Obama administration's decision--after six years of Bush administration actions which could only be portrayed as legal shenanigans if the term included an almost cosmic sense of shame, disgust, and betrayal of principle--to try the 9/11 mastermind in a court of law, rather than dither around until he became someone else's problem, should be equally repellant to the Left, on the grounds that both men play golf.

Tuesday, November 24

MILTJSATTGOMOEPs: Moms I'd Like To Just Skip Ahead To The Gouging Out My Own Eyes Part

OKAY, so I swore off, and at, the notion that Sarah Palin should be news just because somebody plunked down Bucks for her celebrity tell-naught--even ignoring Ross Douthat's brain-dead Wither the GOP? column yesterday for his equally lively "blogging" efforts. But then more than a couple things happened, chief among them that Roy paid it enough attention to fix it for posterity:
I don't think it occurs to Douthat that maybe Palin was getting out of politics, not because it was too hard, but because the getting was good.

and I was forced, really, to compare the high fiber of of the skeptical realist with the mushy peas of the "real" media diet. Frank Rich, while questioning Palin's intelligence, diligence, track record, and, well, sanity, nevertheless lectured that she'll be able to write her own ticket where 2012 is concerned, and may yet prove a bellwether for the next pseudo-populist demagogue who follows, but without the baggage.

Now, I think this is wrong, for the same reason so much of the CW is, and so frequently: its jumping-off point is its own cozy analysis of events, not the events themselves. Palin doesn't have "baggage". Okay, she does, sure, but it's hardly her major problem, which is, and shall remain, that she's a freaking lunatic, which, however sizable, is nevertheless still a minority viewpoint. This is undoubtedly too coarse and too facile a reading for the nation's Script Supervisors, but that doesn't make it untrue. It really is time we stop elevating FOX News-sponsored spontaneous rallies and bizarre personality cults to the level of populist manifesto. They didn't save Bush; they didn't rescue Iraq or Afghanistan, despite the "mainstream" climbing aboard; they didn't make Fred Dumbo Thompson the Republican nominee nor Sarah Palin Vice-President. This is just the ticcy mannerism of the Beltway insider too lazy to investigate something which would only wind up making his job more difficult and his inbox more vulnerable to the dreaded wingnut complaint.

You can't write an entire column about how the woman is the latest in a long line of cheap chiselers working the religious carnival circuit--evidently you can't--but if you knew something about the Midwest you might have recognized what happened to former Indiana GOP chairman Mike McDaniel last Friday on Indiana Week in Review, which is a sort of local-PBS-produced version of The McLaughlin Group, except, this being Indiana, there's very little crosstalk and absolutely no Democrats. McDaniel squirmed under the blandest inquiry about her chances in 2012, fell to calling her someone who "says what she believes" (you can't believe that!) and "a conservative voice", one which, it was clear, he'd just as soon not lead the party's comeback attempt next time 'round. This is no scruple about her "baggage" or her complete absence of policy, uh, awareness; after all this is the party of Ronald Naptime Reagan and George W. Bush. If a naked Kenyan shaman with severe ringworm had a clear shot at replacing Barack Obama they'd be working on making Africa the 51st state. Even minor party functionaries with a distinct personal stake in returning to power don't want Palin leading the charge, in no small part because they understand what a fucking disaster she'd be, and there's no money in it for them--unlike the gentlemen of the Press--to promote one. True, this may not be enough to keep her from running (as though anything approximating "reality" ever touches her), but if you don't recognize it at this point maybe you should just shut up.

Just shut up. It's true I haven't taken my own advice about her, but in my defense I wasn't offering it to myself. More like Matthew Dowd, Bush campaign strategist and ABC News (surprise!) political analyst, who tells literally hundreds of Washington Post readers today how Palin could become our next President.
Those having concerns about my objectivity or wondering whether I am a "Palinista" should keep in mind that I raised serious questions about her qualifications last fall -- doubts I still have -- and that I predicted John McCain would look back at his vice presidential pick with remorse.

Hey, thanks for eliminating that nagging suspicion for us, Matthew. Meanwhile, he favors a two-pronged approach: Palin should be more like the sort of candidate Matthew Dowd would vote for, and Barack Obama should lose.

Fer cryin' out loud, the woman doesn't need campaign advice. She needs business advice, preferably of the Entertainment variety. Though personally I think she should go with William S. Burroughs: show up late, and leave the buyer hungry. Take the gilt and git, and spend your energies figuring out if there's anyplace farther away than Alaska.

Monday, November 23

They Saved Douthat's Brain Stem

MY Friday night exercise bike viewing was Kill Your Idols, Scott Crary's documentary on the three-point-seven-five minutes of fame Fame granted New York's No Wave scene in the vaunted 70s and 80s, and its tragico-farcical revival in miniature in the Naughts. The thing really gets going in the second half, when middle age descends upon yesterday's iconoclasts and they notice the Kids Today have little concern for the kind of effort a good lawn requires, godamit.

(Full disclosure: at the time I was, by some accounts, the godfather of the No No Wave movement, whose members stayed in the Midwest, declined to pick up instruments we couldn't play, eschewed record contracts altogether, aggressively enjoyed blues-based Rock, and didn't name the bands we didn't form "Fungus" or "Teenage Hitler and the Child Prostitutes" or "Something That Might've Shocked Grandma Fifteen Years Ago". Some of us had actually heard of Edgar Varèse and Iannis Xennakis, or Don Van Vliet, for that matter. Some of the more hard-core among us got jobs. Also, I've never seen what the 70s or 80s had to be so vaunted about.)

I kid, because I love. And it's not like I don't agree with 'em about the cheery middle-class mercenaries who'd rather be famous than posses an actual human soul, or the more cosmic seriousness about the coziness with fame and self-promotion, the placid acceptance of those circumstances, and the self-congratulations for the "maturity" of that viewpoint. (Much of this appears to have been filmed around the heyday of Strokes Hype, and too much of the rest is spent listening, like, to, like, y'know, Karen, y'know, O. like, who may as well, y'know, be the intended target of this from Jim Thilwell:
It seems to me that a lot of the people who are looking back at how things were in 1982…are seeing what the secretaries for investment bankers looked like when they went out on Friday night in 1982.

Which can be writ large to take in, well, the Sixties, say, or the legions of campaign experts who assured us that Obama needed to run to the right to get elected, lest he turn into the George "Che" McGovern of their unlettered imaginings.

Help, I've lost my segue! The next day I was grocery shopping when I was assaulted by some obnoxious ringtone, followed by one side of a personal conversation which took place at roughly the same decibel level, interrupted by the woman ramming her cart into my person, not simply accidentally but evidently from some deep metaphysical assurance that the rest of the cosmos, if real, halts whenever that demonic brass section she carries around with her goes off. She looked up at me for about a half-second, less apologetic than to make sure I'd noticed she was on the phone and was therefore exempt from all other considerations. The conversation never stopped; this had the unexpected result of actually giving pause to my homicidal fantasizing, since the woman was obviously mentally unbalanced. Or was that just my (outdated) perception of someone willing to broadcast the Tawdry Carnival Prize details of her personal life without consideration for audience or tort law? I felt partly to blame; I mean, I didn't actually have to pick up that loaf of bread right that minute, just because I was in the bread aisle, if it was inconvenient for her.

You'd know better than I: is there a cellphone out there which doesn't double as mp3 player, address book, inch-square cinema, or hotplate, but which can shoot a jet of mild caustic solution fifteen to twenty feet? Because I'd love to just hose somebody down under the circumstances, and when they looked at me I'd give 'em a shrug that says, "Sorry, but that's my ringtone. Oh, gotta take this."

And the two fused in my mind while I was driving back home: it's really more to me than just the utter lack of consideration for anyone else on the planet with these things, and it's even more than the depressingly invariable evidence, where none was needed in the first place, that that small portion of the race which is not completely absorbed by events which can only be described as Beneath the Fucking Trivial is, in fact, busy shopping when it is supposed to be working, and thus requires this digital tether to an automatic dispensation dispenser. No; it's that people are so goddam willing to hand over chunks of cash to some Phone Company.

I know. I'm old. I have to admit that it was my one Idealistic, mescaline-fueled adolescent conviction that this sort of thing would be impossible to sell people by the 21st century. Not telecommunications, nor commerce in general, but the Hard Sell, the Useless Tube, the Cult of the Gimcrack. You need a phone. It does not follow that you need the ability to tell Chaz, or Dylan, or Annessa what you're doing On Demand. It's a hard bitter lesson that so many people are so desperately afraid of What's Out There that they'll do anything to cling to the Familiar, the Reassuring, and the Sleek and Convenient.

Which, dammit, I was sure I left that segue here somewhere, brought me to Saturday night and the belated, if that's the right word for something you'd just as soon have never come face to face with, discovery that last week someone at the Times, having possibly realized just how little Ross Douthat was doing for a paycheck, gave him a blog, or "blog".

Now, I dunno about you, but to me a newspaper's "blog" section is like some indie singer with Marlo Thomas' That Girl wardrobe. Whom do you think you're fooling, again? I don't understand how there can be people who reach some level of authority over such things and yet continue the search for the next New Coke™. Fer chrissakes, it's like you're Merchant Ivory and you decide to pepper The Tragic Muse or something with YouTube videos. Y'know, so the kids'll dig.

The man's your columnist. This is damning enough, and maybe you could concentrate on having him produce something original, or thought-provoking, or, I dunno, halfway fucking competent at the grueling pace of once a week. If you've gotta do the Blog bit--and, apparently, you do--Ross Douthat is the last person who should be turned loose to jot. He should not show his work; think Legislation and Blood Pudding, not Math test. In four days the man links to Rod Dreher, Megan McArdle, Ezra Klein, Ramesh Ponnuru, the Atlantic a couple more times, The Democratic Virtues of the Christian Right, and someone else's thoughts on health care, Stupak, and video games. Plus an attempt to do to Chuck Schumer what The Daily Show actually accomplished with Rudy Giuliani, namely, catch him talking out of both sides of his mouth. This Douthat does by conflating Schumer's comments about a hypothetical bin Laden trial eight years ago with what he says today about the trial of Khalid Sheik Mohammed. Remember, kids, 9/11 was the Death of Ever Wising Up about anything.

This is the flaky detritus of a prematurely ossified intellect. I don't need to know what Ross Douthat is reading; he needs to figure out how to make something of it for once.

Friday, November 20

Friday Andy Rooney Impressions

(Star photo, Matt Dial) One: Don't you have a relative who employs the Tactical Don't-Ever-Say-Anything-Even-Remotely-Serious-Around-Me Open-Mouthed Gesture of Low-IQ Geniality every time her picture is snapped? And would you vote for her to run anything? And two: it's a book signing. Really professional, there, turning up encumbered.

Six. That's the number of separate reports Channel 8 had on last evening's Palin book-signing event in 38 minutes. Which is the point where I paused dinner preparations long enough to go to the living room and turn it off. Lead fucking story, then a toss to the remote, then a recap of the lead story twenty minutes in, another toss, then two tosses as it led off the second half hour, including one where "political reporter" Jim Shella told us the full-screen shot of as much of her bus as they could get showed the actual door where she, or She, would actually be exiting to actually walk among us.

The signing took place in Noblesville, which is the county seat of Hamilton county, the frozen engine block of Cash-for-Clunkers Republicanism, and far from the snooty, literate, but equally Republican exoburbias on the Marion county line. Let's just say that Noblesville does not have a reputation as an arts center. Let's just say that unless your conversation is regularly peppered with "holler" and "shucks," each used as both a noun and a verb, the only reason you'd ever go to Noblesville is that you were arrested in one of the few areas left which the strip mall towns haven't annexed. Let's just say that Palin's advance team made an extraordinarily prescient choice.

• Sorta nudged "Dick Lugar's wife slams into a parked car while drunk" outa the headlines.

• Lugar, one of two Indiana Senators regularly referred to as "Dick", expressed embarrassment over the incident, which is something he's never done about cashing thirty-years worth of government checks while campaigning for President, campaigning for the Nobel Peace Prize, and helping Indiana remain the only solid Red state that regularly watches its Federal tax monies go somewhere else. This was also more than what was expressed by Pastor Bob Parker when this got him noticed:

(Terre Haute Tribune-Star photo, Bob Poynter)
The use of the word “Allah” in the sign may seem to challenge Islam, but Pastor Bob Parker of Bible Baptist Center at 25th Street and Margaret Avenue said the intent was not derogatory.

“People are making it a political statement,” said Parker when asked about the meaning of the sign’s statement.

“It just means the founder of Christianity still lives,” Parker said.

Now, as might be imagined, no one in the story, or anywhere else so far as we know, is "making it a political statement"; the objections raised in the article were religious. But what really raised this to the level of, well, Noblesvillian Hoosieritude followed.
He pointed out that the statement about Allah did not have a question mark behind it, so he did not think it was an attack. However, Parker also said the church does not have punctuation lettering for the sign.

I won't even begin to try to explain the first part. But five bucks says they've got at least four exclamation points somewhere.

• Via My Poor Wife, the bi-monthly media excitement over the bi-monthly concert appearance of Miley Cyrus earlier this week was dimmed when she dressed like a strumpet. Or so it seemed to the last remaining excessive hair-gel victim at local Fox affiliate 59's morning news desk. She took her six-year-old daughter to the corporate hoe-down (on a school night) and found Cyrus' attire entirely inappropriate for the budding incontinent consumer of disposable crap she's trying to bring up sensibly, god damn it. This, by the way, is the last survivor of 59's ill-considered attempt, a few years back, to turn its morning news program into a sort of Bob and Tom Show, but with more frat-boy smirkiness and less funny jokes. The program, so far as I can tell, was centered around the Booty Cam, which would periodically zoom in on someone's ass, then zoom in and out real quick in the universal non-verbal sign of hilarity. Female asses, I mean; it's not like they were immoral about it or anything.

Presumably, being a conscientious mother an' all, she didn't let the nanny let her daughter watch that sort of filth.

Wednesday, November 18

Remind Yourself That These Are The Descendants Of The People Who Claimed The Peace Symbol Was A Broken Cross

Above: the exact position of a dying Yeti, from the Rutland Book of the Dead

Jake "FOX News' Favorite Sister" Tapper, "On President Obama's Bow to the Japanese Emperor, An Academic Friend Writes That Both the Left and the Right Are Wrong". November 15

ONE thing I meant to say about Sarah Palin yesterday, and neglected to (I keep forgetting that the stuff's too strong nowadays to roll one as soon as you get out of bed), is that at some point someone has to acknowledge the chain of deceit and what it's done, and continues to do, to this country. And, perhaps, even take a stab at severing it. Why not Hitchens? Why not Oprah? This is not specifically about Palin. I'm satisfied she's embarked on that Celebritainment cruise which guarantees that half the people who come into casual contact with your pseudopersona will hate you immediately--something she had covered already--while of the remaining half familiarity will eventually breed whatever passes for contempt among the short-attention-spanned. It's about the whole complex of 1) "Fame", however fleeting, marginal, or trivial; or 1a) Notoriety, same; followed by 2) PR-sculptured teevee appearances; followed by 3) book deal; followed by 4) teevee appearances in support of book deal, followed by follow-up book deal. The only reason Sarah Palin is "news" this week is she wrote, I mean "wrote", a book which goes precisely as far as calculated in serving up the pseudo-juicy: a couple pull quotes for "news" stories (McCain campaign, Couric, Levi Johnston for the 50th percentile reader); great slabs of grievance and anti-Washington, anti-Em Ess Em for the Base, hedged just enough so the Tappers and the Hitchenseses can pretend to find evidences of complex thought while the mic is on. It's all measured to the sixteenth inch and held together in the cheapest way possible, just long enough to make the sale, like the savviest plywood bric-a-brac. And it's news like the direction of this AM's sunrise is news. Just say No! Does Oprah Winfrey, the Woman Who Gave You Barack Obama, really need Sarah Palin on her show? How much better can she eat? And why?

(This reminds me: I was casting about Monday night for something to gaze at while I rode the stationary bike, since for some reason ESPN had replaced Monday Night Football with a Ravens-Browns game. I landed on a repeat of Bill "The Tucker Carlson of News" Kurtis' Cold Case Files on the Black Dahlia case. And the big reveal in the first half is that Kurtis gets to do a walk-through with the author (Steve Hodel) of one of, at last count, fourteen trillion books which have solved the case. And Kurtis tags along pitching nothing but softballs, which is irritating enough on its own, doubly so when it's obviously done as a condition to get the author of a best-seller to fill the first 20 minutes for you. But what's worse is that Kurtis then moves on and tries to get the current detective "on" the case, and an LA Times reporter who did the 50th anniversary story, to throw hardballs for him.)

Anyway, you know I have no stomach for watching FOX News, or reading comments at Red State in order to get riled up about something which was permanently settled for all rational people in 1964. Thankfully, skilled internet chefs arrange and package the stuff into individual delicacies so I won't feel completely out of touch.

And then despite myself, sometimes, I'll poke it around the edges a bit, which is how the American Broadcasting Company wound up on my radar half a week late. (Incidentally, Tapper caught some flak for calling FOX a "sister organization" from people who apparently ignored the fact that he works at ABC News, the Ur-FOX, which pulled itself up from A. C. Nielsen's sub-basement in the 1970s by out-Silent-Majoritizing CBS and NBC, which led directly to some bright (or just utterly embarrassed) boy in Roone Arledge's stable figuring out that America was ready to dispense with news altogether. Which, of course, it did, beginning when Arledge got control and gave half the ABC anchor desk to a real-estate pitchwoman with a crippling speech impediment and absolutely no idea what she was reading. My only objection is that "fraternal twin network" might have been closer to the truth, if one can even use that word in this company without spontaneously combusting.)

Both Right and Left Wrong! Sez My Cabbie Academic Friend. Gee, maybe we'll start seeing the Em Ess Em use that on a regular basis.
"This picture shows two things," my friend writes.

"1) The 'right' is wrong about Obama's bow.

"2) The 'left' is wrong about Obama's bow.

"His bow is neither (1) unprecedented nor (2) a sign of cultural understanding.

First of all, and don't take this the wrong way, but eat shit. Second, when did The Left weigh in on this, apart from the standard mirth/disgust/outrage at the latest bat droppings from FOX being picked up by her "mainstream" sisters? And that's pretty much a continual process at this point. You've got a "news organization" going ape over this for forty-eight hours, and you've got CNN, ABC, and print outlets picking up the "controversy". Considering how few Leftists are ever spotted in those environs it ought to be easy enough to name the one you saw. We had four cedar waxwings in the evergreen out back one day last year and I can still tell you what time of day it was.

Third, the Right "called the bow unprecedented"? That's your parse? "Unprecedented"--which was not simply Wrong but Dead on Arrival, by the way--was actually one of the more sane and rational reactions in Wingnut Land, and we're talking here about its "news" "reporting" arm, not what some dickhead typed on his blog. What the Right actually was saying is that the President, with a moment's gesture in a moment of Protocol, had, voluntarily or no, symbolically or in fact, surrendered the fucking sovereignty of the United States of America, in perpetuity, to the Japanese, or would have if he hadn't already deeded it to the Saudis. And to get the full flavor of it I'd have to type the parse in ALL CAPS. You contrast that with somebody claiming it was culturally sensitive? And wind up with a wash?

Incidentally, not that I care one whit more than this will ever mean, which is Not a Fucking Thing, but the two men shook hands first, which is about as Japanese as the quick shower, dignified game shows, or thinking for yourself. Doesn't that count as a Double Reverse Slate negation of the bow, and no tag backs? Lessee, bad parse, glossed-over details, and pre-ordained pseudo-conclusion. What did you say your "friend's" academic discipline was, again, Jake?
"But if Obama can get the dollar to stop bowing to the Yen I take it all back."

Oh, Economics. At least we solved one mystery.

Tuesday, November 17

Lying With Dogs

Christopher Hitchens, "Palin's Base Appeal". November 14 via Brendan

JUST before he turns to go Hitch gives a shout-out to Edmund Burke (the quickest way to my heart, as you know, so if the rest of this gushes like a schoolgirl please forgive it). Burke, fer chrissakes, in a Palin piece.

And this is something of an entree to my own increasingly inattentive take on Hitchens: that he misread American politics long before his feet got tangled with Sid Blumenthal's, that it is in fact impossible for the rational non-American Westerner to apprehend even the murky outline of backwoods American religious mania, and hence America Herself. America's most famous Burkean is David Brooks. Burke's writings have as much relationship to the American Right as The City of God has to televangelism. Okay, a skoosh more, maybe: Brooks believes the landed gentry make the best decisions, and he'd like to re-fight the French Revolution. But the salient distinction between his teleology and Sarah Palin's is that Brooks would never use "Judeo-Christian" in print if he could help it.

Seriously, unless you grew up surrounded by this stuff I don't think you can overcome that inherent rationality that keeps telling you that people in the 21st century can't possibly be as roundly insane as your progenitors were in the 14th. To you "Christianity" is something that traces to the 1st century, through Councils and Schisms and Reformations, and the Church is something which sided, early and often, with Princes and Emperors and Lucre. That is only slightly more useful than your Daily Horoscope in understanding American Christianity.

So there's always a hedge, and you can't understand the modern Republican party as it has existed at least since the late 1940s by hedging. You assume--it's natural to assume--that when you see a "libertarian" wing or a "Hayek faction" being advertised that its devotees not only take a dim view of the magical cosmology of their Party mates but actually act on those beliefs. Then you discover they pretty much save their skepticism for scientific consensus. From the outside I think you have to imagine that grown men in the Third Millennium parading around intellectually in knee-breeches and powdered wigs, and their children cycling through town masquerading as The Rover Boys, are having a bit of a leg pull. They aren't.
To hear the woman talk, you would imagine that populism was a magic formula that had never been tried before (though Continetti and his colleagues at the conservative Weekly Standard eagerly compare Palin to the raucous demagogue and onetime Klan-fan William Jennings Bryan: remember—they said it, not me).

But the problem with populism is not just that it stirs prejudice against the "big cities" where most Americans actually live, or against the academies where many of them would like to send their children. No, the difficulty with populism is that it exploits the very "people" to whose grievances it claims to give vent.

Again: I know it's difficult to overcome the idea that people who hail from the great unpopulated sections of the country, or from regions where it is still 1809, must represent "the populace", and hence their politics amount to "populism", but they don't. They're disgruntled middle- and working-class white people whose ancestors migrated to the Republican party during the Civil Rights Movement. They are Republicans. The extent to which their barely-coherent rage mimics the occasional soot-covered European bread riot may very well confuse the outside observer, but it has the same authenticity as your average French blues singer.

This is not to say they aren't largely hoodwinked; it is only to acknowledge that they like it that way. Vehemently. They were fine with the Bush bailout of Wall Street, just as they were fine with his Daddy's bailout of the S&Ls. They were fine with the expansion of Medicare, provided a Republican did it. One had to travel to the far reaches of the careerist Republican commentariat--far indeed from our "populists"-- to find criticism of the profligate spending of Bush II; finding the equivalent with Reagan is a Fool's errand. It's conditional populism.
Look at the charges that surfaced against Palin during the past election, and then look at how they played out. It was alleged that she was a member or supporter of the Alaska Independence Party (AIP); that she had been an endorser of Pat Buchanan's "Reform" Party candidacy in 2000; that she was a skeptic about man-made global warming; that she thought God was on our side in Iraq; that she favored the teaching of creationism in schools; that she attended a wacko church where exorcism of witches was enthusiastically celebrated. Later fact-checking modified a number of these allegations—Continetti is on better ground here—and we can now say that Palin did no more than attend a couple of conventions of the AIP, of which her husband was a member, and send it one friendly video message while she was governor of the state in question. It further turns out that she attended that Buchanan rally, wearing a pro-Buchanan button, only because she thought it was the polite thing to do. As for Iraq, all she meant was that she hoped God would be on our side, or we on his. On global warming she now splits the difference: it could be cyclical or it could be man-made. As for the theory of evolution, the most she really asks is that both sides of the discussion be taught. (On the witch-exorcism stuff, not even her stoutest apologists have been able to help her out: it's all on YouTube, as is the quasi-coherent speech with which she bid farewell to her governorship without a word of warning to her voters or backers. I would urge you to scan both links and see if they don't make you feel suddenly much more elitist.)

Yes, once all the evidence is in--provided we ignore the part which was actually caught on tape--we can plainly see that there may be room to hedge on Sarah Palin's marrow-deep crackpottery, either on grounds that no one could really be that idiotic, or that anyone savvy enough to try to wring every last dollar out of the rubes must be smarter than she sounds. Because people are always (willfully) confusing things she says or does with things she means to say or do. Whoever it was "alleged" that "she was a member or supporter of the Alaska Independence Party" had erroneously conflated her conditional support and helpmeetly appearances at the side of her politically-deranged husband with full-on membership. By the same lights, people who said she'd attended "several" times were wrong. Or "twenty-nine". As were people who said she went there in a pumpkin Jesus had turned into a gleaming white coach. For that matter, the millions of people who claim they regularly converse with a 2000-year-dead Jewish carpenter for whom--oddly--there is not one scrap of historical evidence, contrasted with the incontrovertible hokum his earthly correspondents--Sarah Palin, to name one--insist they believe, are, in fact, wrong every fucking day, and not getting any righter with time.

And there has simply got to be some special place in Hell for anyone who, for whatever reason, is willing to try to distinguish "support for teaching Creationism in public schools" from "asking that both sides of the controversy be taught". Okay, maybe Newsweek or Slate qualify.
The Palin problem, then, might be that she cynically incites a crowd that she has no real intention of pleasing. If she were ever to get herself to the nation's capital, the teabaggers would be just as much on the outside as they are now, and would simply have been the instruments that helped get her elected.

Dear Lord, you think that's not enough for them? George W. Bush's approval ratings only approached the lows of Truman or Nixon; who do you think was propping them up? Politics isn't about achieving anything for these people--not anything positive, which has proven to be too damn hard without making concessions to what Nabokov called "reality"--it's about the home team winning. It's about jabbing a stick in the eye of anything that moves differently than they do. Real populism is the last thing they, or Palin, or her PR team, would want.

Monday, November 16

Who Says Ironing Is Dead?

Dan Zak, "Tweed ride comes to the District: Freewheeling dandies bike through town". November 16

"He used to dress like Jumpin' Jack Flash; now he dresses like Jack Nicklaus."

--my Poor Wife's friend Nadine, on the evolution of her husband's style

ORDINARILY I'd give these people

Washington Post photos: Evy Mages

a pass, conditional upon them staying the hell off my lawn; I myself have heard the sirens' song of elegance gone by. I used to dress like the Stu Sutcliff of Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks. I own three fedoras, two porkpies, and both light and dark hat brushes, and have been known to threaten to affect a boater only half-jokingly. I'm an opponent of school dress codes precisely because I believe the youthful fantasy that the way one is turned out may initiate some cosmic behavioral shift should be encouraged, if only because it keeps them occupied.

But look: when this sort of thing turns out to be a Facebook-generated Chinese fire drill of the Trendies, aping something that happened in London ten months before, it's time to 'fees up. Y'know, kids, it's okay. We all wanna get laid.
The chap in charge is District resident Eric Brewer, 41, a longtime cyclist who espouses a modern dandy's lifestyle: the fashion (skinny ties and porkpie hats) and the ethos (socially mobile, culturally savvy).

"I think dandyism could build bridges from different crowds through attire," says Brewer, who works in video production and is a partner in the H Street art gallery Dissident Display. "You dress to find your social clique in D.C., from Georgetown preppy to hipster central along 14th Street and H Street. And I think dandyism can sort of unify people, where you don't stay within the confines of an accepted appearance."

I'm sorry, I forgot to add "Don't copy the mannerisms of Londoners commenting on their own culture", "Don't ever imagine Americans can affect Anglophilia and be taken seriously", and "Don't follow anyone who 'espouses a lifestyle', or who can be described as both 'trendy' and '41' ".

These guys do get a pass, since they're willing to risk their necks for the cause.

It leads, children, to this:
Heather Guichard, 24, sits astride her silver '71 or '72 Gitane cruiser, wearing a cardigan, tweed knickers and a flapperish hat. She says our hyper, sloppy, postmodern society has begotten a longing for the classic elements of any era, for purposeful fashion and polished behavior.

"I miss the style," she says wistfully, then catches herself. "Well, I can't say I miss it because I wasn't alive then."

Look, lady: you wanna dress like a Gibson Girl every day, be my guest; my money's on the Under. But spare us the wistful paeans to a bygone Era you just hallucinated, even if you did catch yourself at it. If you're going to ride a '72 Gitane, wear bell-bottoms with an elastic band on your chain side, and a white tee-shirt, or hike up a sun-dress you made from an India-print bedspread, and ditch the bra. Now that was style. Then you can ride up and down my yard all you want, especially if it's raining. Plus you might actually learn something. You aren't reaching out to a world desperate for a Return to Style. You're staying inside to keep your skin as pale as possible, because all the peasants are sunburned from fieldwork. I won't spoil your fun, if you'll quit trying to spoil my digestion.

Sunday, November 15

O Brother, Why Art Thou?

YOU may recall that last August the Indianapolis City-Country Council, hoping to breathe some new life into an old local government tradition--enacting blatant and fundamentally un-Constitutional legislation designed to salve the Continual Itch of Wingnut Voter Disgruntlement--we have, in the past few years, gone after Porn in general, Bondage Porn in the specific (as "Abusive to Women", by the lights of the party which didn't bother removing the scalp of the Equal Rights Amendment from its belt before the press conference), Adult Bookstore owners, the owners of the property those bookstores sat on, the name "adult bookstore" (which led to a glorious season for the easily amused, such as, well, me, when they all changed their names to "Museum of Adult Literature," since the law had exempted museums), and violent video games, sometimes modeling the fight on laws which had already been overturned, and all of them doomed to death by adjudication--upgraded local panhandling statutes to keep the unsightly 50 feet back from intersections, stop signs, crosswalks, and Republicans.

Since it's vitally important to preserve the appearance of observing the legal niceties when trampling the basic rights of the skinned and the scorned--once they're pointed out to you at least--the law, uh, eventually was rewritten to apply to anyone soliciting for any purpose, not just those trying to Feed the Nutrition Monkey. Meaning that next year sometime people will start appearing at street corners announcing they will curate your museum of adult literature for food.

That message didn't get to Channel 13 ("Indiana's News Leader"), apparently, since in graphic and in fact they're crass enough to refer to the law by its intended victims. And to celebrate the Tenth Week Anniversary (the traditional gift, ironically, is Discarded Cardboard), 13 dispatches a reporter making $80-100 grand per to harass the homeless.

Okay, here you have people who never miss a meal, and don't even pay for all of their own, haranguing the down-on-their-luck for trying to secure one, and that's certainly awful enough. But this is two-and-one-half months since the ordnance passed, after a long debate which did not stint the Constitutional or enforcement questions involved, and commercially-sanctioned reporters of local news seem oblivious to all that. It's Against the Law! The ordinance passed 15-13! The People have spoken! Why Are You Still Here?

Sure, sure, this sort of tenth-rate sensationalism is their stock in trade, which is lucky since it's about the only item they have in stock. But does that exempt you from a sense of proportion as it absolves you from fellow-feeling? Leave us assume this really was a story worthy of the gas money. Let's be especially generous and allow there's any reason whatsoever to treat it as a Scandal! Three questions spring immediately to mind, and they're each informed by the heated debate that surrounded the measure in the first place: 1) Is the city trying to get its ducks in a row before enforcement brings the inevitable Constitutional challenge? 2) Are the cops really supposed to spend manpower on this now, when existing laws were only rarely, and selectively, enforced? and 3) Are the City Fathers trying to keep this one in reserve until it's time to sweep the streets in February 2012 for the Mayan Calendar of Death Final Countdown to Super Bowl the Last?

Now, if I were looking for answers to the above I think I'd call the City Attorney, the IMPD, or the Mayor's barracks, not ask the first guy I found inhaling car exhaust for five bucks an hour. And I hope that doesn't sound elitist, because if my goal were honest answers that'd be reversed. Turns out the cops say they're waiting for legal clarification. Answer, or Non-answer, that would have taken all of fifteen seconds to spit out.

Instead it's Why am I still looking at your unfashionable phiz? Which does nothing so much as underline the real agenda. As if we needed it.

Thursday, November 12

Speech Enjoyed By All

Adam Liptak, "From Justice Kennedy, a Lesson in Journalism". November 11

PAPERWORK. Groucho Engels, in comments:
How exactly is metaphysics to blame for anything? Metaphysics is simply the realm of inquiry related to the non(or not currently)-emperically verifiable aspects fo the universe like free will, physicalism versus dualism, etc. It's very similar and related to epistemology and ontology.

Unless you are taking some hard-line materialist or positivist stance that contends to reject the very existence of these issues then your use of the word metaphysics makes no sense.

Metaphysics is not a synonym for religion or spirituality or the supernaturalism. Metaphysics is not heir to murderousness any more than the scientific method is heir to it for it's role in being used by those who invented the atomic bomb.

Please either show me what accepted definition of metaphysics you are basing your use of the word on or tell me what you meant by using the term and we can look for a more accurate word.

Okay, first, I'm a guy. A dude. A schlub. And I happen to have a blog, the way some people have bulimia. It's not much of a gig, but it's at least as lucrative as the one it replaced: smoking a joint, going to the Mall, and telling passing women what I thought of their tits. I am not responsible for anything I say. I realize this flies in the face of that accepted, Voltaire-like dedication to public discourse an' all, but there you are. I don't defend the things I say, let alone your right to object to 'em.

However, I do promise not to trip you just because no one's looking. Which, I think you'll agree, at least distinguishes me from 98% of the people who want you to believe they're speaking to you seriously.

The serious answer to your inquiry is one I'd rather not give, but here it is: I was using "metaphysics" in the sense in which David Brooks used it first:
But unlike the other animals, people do have a drive to seek coherence and meaning. We have a need to tell ourselves stories that explain it all. We use these stories to supply the metaphysics, without which life seems pointless and empty.

which, I think, carries all the (mis)connotations you object to. Brooks' intent was to make religious belief a biological imperative. He wasn't including the search for Beauty, or Self, or Parking. He meant religion, and specifically organized religion. My intent was to be funny. I was mocking Brooks. I thought that was clear.

Also not funny, but also true: I took exactly two weeks of Philosophy in college. It was my first semester and, unless I'm conflating it with some other class I couldn't wait to drop, it was held that hot August in Ernie Pyle Hall, which was originally built as a storage shed. I'm not making that up. Tiny row of windows at the very top of the back wall, and the Professor was a droner. Worse yet, to my eighteen-year-old mind, he started the thing off with four sessions on Alfred Jules Ayer. I mention this because, like a lot of idiots, I would realize fifteen years or so later that I was sneering when I should have been listening. I was in fact some species of intuitive logical positivist, and as jumbled up as that phrase implies. So, yes, I do reject the idea that there's any meaning in that parenthetical "not currently", though I would not go so far as to deny the non-existence of non-things.

As though banging a drum in search of a fugitive!


There's a lot of other stuff wrong with me, too. For instance, I read Gregg Easterbrook's football column, or football * column, as last year he absolved himself of the responsibility of watching all the games, and this year he's absolved himself from writing about football. But he does go on about minor civil servants and their majorly-expensive tax-supported bodyguards, which is one of the things that crossed my mind when I read this:
WASHINGTON — The school newspaper at Dalton, a private school in Manhattan, contained a cryptic note from its editors last Friday.

“We are not able to cover the recent visit by a Supreme Court justice due to numerous publication constraints,” the note said. It promised “an explanation of the regrettable delay” in the next issue.

It turns out that Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, widely regarded as one of the court’s most vigilant defenders of First Amendment values, had provided the newspaper, The Daltonian, with a lesson about journalistic independence. Justice Kennedy’s office had insisted on approving any article about a talk he gave to an assembly of Dalton high school students on Oct. 28.

Okay, so the bodyguard thing, or more accurately a tangent of the bodyguard thing, actually came in around third or fourth, since my first thought was, "I wonder if the FBI Light Opera Society** seamstress has already stitched up a closetful of Kennedy's self-designed Rehnquistian Mikado Impeachment Get-ups, or if he's still in the sketching phase?" Followed by the idea that if we could just combine America's Next Top Designer Whose Flakiness or Poor Impulse Control Titillates the Nation's Terminally Teevee Captive with next year's Docket we'd have ratings dynamite with little or no discernible effect on the Court's actions.

The bodyguard thing, really, is just that I believe we need to take advantage of modern technology, not just to get to know the quote real end quote people who govern with our consent (Kidding, kidding!), but to more closely approximate the will of the Founders, who intended our choices to be made more manageable, in their case by limiting the gender, color, and net worth of the electable. I have, on this very internet, suggested that we'd be better off if once a year every opinionator using the public airwaves and making more than the $250 K per Charlie Gibson thinks puts you squarely in the middle-class had to open his or her primary home to the cameras, with all the Help lined up, in their required livery, and, for the sake of time constraints, we truncated a complete tour of the place by just looking into every bathroom. With a handy numerical counter in the lower right corner. I think political commentary would be improved overnight.

So, too: this view of Justice Kennedy's Roman gravitas and Hahvahd Law grandeur should not be limited to a few staff members at some $33,000/yr. Ivy-pipeline academy and the two- or three-hundred of our fellow citizens who still read newspapers. No. (And th' fuck does Justice Kennedy even have to ask that sort of company for the osculum infamum of Rank?)
Ellen Stein, Dalton’s head of school, defended the practice in a telephone interview. “This allows student publications to be correct,” she said. “I think fact checking is a good thing.”

And that barking dog belonged in the cornfield. He's happier there.

Anyway, I'm just spit-ballin' here, but there's this: everybody hates the droning, interminable, not to mention unfair questioning the Other Side subjects his side's Court nominees to. How 'bout we leave it to a vote of the people who've waited on them at table, or shined their shoes in the clubhouse over the past year or two? How much worse could it get?

* Graphic element, not a footnote.

** That's two. Did you spot the other one?

Wednesday, November 11

The Old Lie

Dulce Et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,

Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,

Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs

And towards our distant rest began to trudge.

Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots

But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;

Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots

Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.

GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!-- An ecstasy of fumbling,

Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;

But someone still was yelling out and stumbling

And floundering like a man in fire or lime.--

Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light

As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,

He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace

Behind the wagon that we flung him in,

And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,

His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood

Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,

Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud

Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest

To children ardent for some desperate glory,

The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est

Pro patria mori.

-Wilfred Owen

[On November 11, 1918, Wilfred Owen's parents were listening to the cathedral bells ringing in celebration of the war's end when a telegram arrived informing them of their son's death seven days earlier, at Ors.]

Return Armistice Day. Even at the expense of taking it off the Federal calendar and creating a Veterans' Day somewhere else, if Memorial Day, Armed Forces Day, and the individual services' days aren't enough to amortize our bunting expenses.

Return it to the solemn remembrance of The Great War and all who died, on both sides. Let us have one day to remember the horror, the futility, the enormity of War, and the human vanity which tries to cover the suffering with Glory, and swears in the aftermath it will never make the same mistakes again.

Return to us the memory of a conflict which gave us the tank, the military use of air power, and modern infantry strategy, which gave us mass-market propaganda and mass starvation. Let us remember, despite the efforts of those who would have us forget, just Who we bleed and die for, and not just What. Let us remember--even those who would have us remember Munich and forget Verdun and Ypres--that it was the insistence on Honor above Humanity, on Spoils which no one had won, which brought the guns back just twenty years later.

Safe for Democracy! Give back the Armistice, even if it finds a rank grave in a lost and forgotten field. The bells of 11/11 belong to her dead, as surely as the Arizona belongs to hers. If we cannot set aside a Day, even a sacred Hour, to remind ourselves that not all the madness is on the other side, that Glory will not feed the dead nor comfort the living, then we are cowards unworthy of honoring the Brave whose graves we festoon, deaf to what they might tell us if they still could.

Tuesday, November 10

And This Guy Writes For The Times! Vol. MMDLXXXI

David Brooks, "The Rush to Therapy". November 10

MY Poor Wife took a break from teaching at one point and spent a few years as an artisan in a small shop. And, as is no doubt universally true, found herself working alongside someone who was utterly unreliable, whose attendance was a die-roll, and whose frequent absences never came with more than about ten-minutes' notice. This was little more than a slight rash--the woman in question was no more than a minor cog--until they talked my Poor Wife into being shop steward.

And, y'know, cue the montage of two weeks of last-minute absences, the straighten-up-and-fly-right talk, the earnest this-can't-go-on talk, after which it does, after which my wife goes to the owners and says, "She's got to be fired," knowing full well that the reason she hadn't been fired long ago is that the owners liked her. Which was their reply.

"Well, then," says PW, "for the sake of efficiency, could we just create a list of numbered excuses, so I wouldn't have to spend so much time on the phone with her? You know, 'Hi, I won't be coming in today. Number 19.' "

Maybe the Times could do that with Brooks. Maybe "#12" could be "Night School Sociology Lecture", with "12a" meaning "veers off into defense of corporate rapine" and "12b" as "includes sudden insertion of right-wing talking point Brooks imagines is subtle".

Not, mind you, that I'm shirking personal responsibility for continuing to read something that starts out like this:
We’re all born late. We’re born into history that is well under way. We’re born into cultures, nations and languages that we didn’t choose. On top of that, we’re born with certain brain chemicals and genetic predispositions that we can’t control. We’re thrust into social conditions that we detest. Often, we react in ways we regret even while we’re doing them.

But unlike the other animals, people do have a drive to seek coherence and meaning. We have a need to tell ourselves stories that explain it all. We use these stories to supply the metaphysics, without which life seems pointless and empty.

Okay, sorry to break in here, but this is going to go on for another six or eight paragraphs before we find out what he's really on about ("12b"), so, first, I'm willing to sit through the first lecture, or the second, reserving the right to be bored out of my fucking skull. But not both, and when the second argument has already been annihilated by the first, I want my money back, to boot. "Coherence" and "meaning" are as much a product of our language, and culture, and our "place" in history as blogging, tramp stamps, or nebbishy "conservative" apologists. Second, isn't it interesting that no matter how much pseudo-science gets front-loaded into the argument, in the end we're always urged to Make Room for Metaphysics! on the grounds that we're "supposed" to want to "feel that way", as the alternative is "emptiness" ?

Most people select stories that lead toward cooperation and goodness. But over the past few decades a malevolent narrative has emerged.

Who, O, Who, I wonder, has disturbed the entire 6000 years of the warm bathwater of human history?
That narrative has emerged on the fringes of the Muslim world. It is a narrative that sees human history as a war between Islam on the one side and Christianity and Judaism on the other.

This narrative causes its adherents to shrink their circle of concern. They don’t see others as fully human. They come to believe others can be blamelessly murdered and that, in fact, it is admirable to do so.

Jesus Christ, Mr. Brooks. You familiar with the Old Testament?
This narrative is embraced by a small minority. But it has caused incredible amounts of suffering within the Muslim world, in Israel, in the U.S. and elsewhere. With their suicide bombings and terrorist acts, adherents to this narrative have made themselves central to global politics. They are the ones who go into crowded rooms, shout “Allahu akbar,” or “God is great,” and then start murdering.

So let's put the blame precisely where it belongs. On Metaphysics.

Look, how far are we removed, in 2009, from the time when the disingenuousness of this argument was supposed to fly right over everyone's head? Either it's a religious matter or it isn't. If it is, then accept the frequent murderousness that Metaphysics is heir to; if it's not, then quit portraying the other side as religious automatons. There's plenty of murderous intent to go 'round. There're plenty of political reasons to resent Israel, and the Island that gave in to terrorists and abdicated its international responsibilities, which were partly the result of its self-righteous Christian self-assurance that it was ordained to rule over simple brown peoples, and the country which created the modern state of Israel out of other people's land to atone for still other people's murderousness.
When Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan did that in Fort Hood, Tex., last week, many Americans had an understandable and, in some ways, admirable reaction. They didn’t want the horror to become a pretext for anti-Muslim bigotry.

So immediately the coverage took on a certain cast. The possibility of Islamic extremism was immediately played down. This was an isolated personal breakdown, not an ideological assault, many people emphasized.

So, anyone wanna bet on how long it takes for "understandable and in some ways admirable" resistance to anti-Muslim bigotry to become "Objectively pro-terrorist"? Do I hear two paragraphs?

And here, again, we navigate the treacherous waters of a strait. Everyone admits the waters are treacherous, and everyone admits there's a strait, but somehow, Mr. Brooks, you always wind up describing the terrain on one side only. I don't give a fuck about minimizing anti-Muslim bigotry, which is out there, in spades, and is the lookout of your side. The grandfatherly Sikh gentleman who works at the Target doesn't have any worries that I'll sneak up behind him and bash his somewhat-suggestive-of-an-Arabian-Nights-movie-I-saw-once head in. I haven't waterboarded anybody, or locked 'em in a cell for six years because I mistook their identities. That's you. The guy whose Metaphysics resembles theirs about fifty-times more than my own.

All I want, sir--and I'm beyond expecting it--is fair fucking coverage. As in, coverage which did not begin speculating about "terrorism" the moment Major Hasan's name became public, when it wouldn't have if the perpetrator of yet another Second Amendment Freakout was called O'Malley or Cohen. Coverage that either keeps its powder dry about the man's religious affiliation, or which calls Christianity or Judaism to account whenever their adherents go Postal. If there was some reticence on the part of the mass-market media to immediately denounce Islam as the Devil's religion, let's say, one, it's overdue, and two, it's not the result of some Wingnut PC Run Amok fantasy but a baby step in the appropriate direction.
This response was understandable. It’s important to tamp down vengeful hatreds in moments of passion. But it was also patronizing. Public commentators assumed the air of kindergarten teachers who had to protect their children from thinking certain impermissible and intolerant thoughts. If public commentary wasn’t carefully policed, the assumption seemed to be, then the great mass of unwashed yahoos in Middle America would go off on a racist rampage.

And this from the guy who announced to the world that "neocon" was an anti-Semitic slur. Do you not have enough Decency at this point, sir, to stop pretending you speak for pretend Midwesterners?

Or at least to cough up evidence that you actually read that Red Lobster menu this time? Who're you talking about? Which network was most unfairly Fair to Muslims? Why th' fuck would anyone watch teevee coverage of whatever Wall-to-Wall expecting accuracy? Why would anyone be surprised to find a zeitgeist-placating script? The early bulletins said Hasan had been killed and his two accomplices were still at large. Izzat the sort of coverage you think there should be more of?
It denied, before the evidence was in, the possibility of evil. It sought to reduce a heinous act to social maladjustment. It wasn’t the reaction of a morally or politically serious nation.

Neither's ignoring war crimes, which hold the distinction of being officially sanctioned. I dunno why you'd need, or want, a bunch of fluff-headed teleprompter readers to analyze this, or anything beyond the Season's hot new giftables, for you. But I do know that performance was influenced by our culture, our nation, and our language. So're the contents of our landfills, but I don't see why we should roll around in them just so we all smell like your opinions.

Monday, November 9

The Calm Confidence Of A Christian Holding Four Aces

Ross "Ozzie Mandius" Douthat, "Life After The End Of History". November 9

YES, it's Monday, which means it's time once again to play See, I'm A Deep Thinker, Because Sometimes I Criticize A Right-Wing Strawman, Too, starring America's Favorite Thirty-Year-Old Teenager with a job at the Times.

Maybe you're ahead of me. Maybe you've been counting the hours until this Ooooh, 20th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall stuff crammed me with enough bile to reply, "Great. And as a result 'Right Here Right Now' joins the ranks of 'Like a Rock' and 'Melt With You' as rock anthems which will be serially adopted as commercial jingles by multi-national corporations which would've gladly given the Commies a volume discount on the concrete had that come up for competitive bid".

Sure, part of this is congenital irascibility--it's more than a little irritating to me that a nation so conflicted and Calvinist that its favorite professional sport has to penalize on-field celebrations on the grounds that the paying white customers are more than a little disturbed by the sight of gyrating African buttocks yet appends this thing to every CNN intro, Super Bowl halftime extravaganza, and Christmas in July advert for two decades without the merest sign of approaching the saturation point--and part of it is Reagan, and, yes, even if the man deserved 1% of the credit that's heaped on him I'd still work to minimize it, assuming something which wouldn't break a sweat qualifies as "work".

The history of the thing is a triple-dip cone of shit ice cream. And so, without further ado:
For most of the last century, the West faced real enemies: totalitarian, aggressive, armed to the teeth. Between 1918 and 1989, it was possible to believe that liberal democracy was a parenthesis in history, destined to be undone by revolution, ground under by jackboots, or burned like chaff in the fire of the atom bomb.

Mauled, by the Russian Bear. Burned, by the Chilean Pepper. Sandwiched, by the Westphalian Ham…*

Look, Ross-boy, there's a reason you couldn't write that sentence, over and above your collection of inadequate tools: you don't fucking care. The Cold War extremists you parrot didn't believe it, except to the extent that they convinced themselves it was boffo PR; twenty years later, spouted by someone who was busy being picked last for kickball When The Wall Fell, it's nothing but the most happenin' excuse for right-wing Cold War excesses and the utter confusion "Conservatism" falls into without a handy scapegoat. The people who ran this mega-scam didn't think Democracy was going to disappear, not that I'd go so far as to affirm they really cared any more about "liberal democracy" than your contemporary Republican cares about "term limits". Y'know, kid, back before hyperreality vanquished its competitors, most people understood Red Dawn was a stupid shoot-em-up, not a documentary. "The West" was in fact confident it would come out on top of a nuclear conflict, and the resultant losses were acceptable so long as the people who conducted it made it through okay. Just consider how for the last seven years we've imagined we'll prevail over an Idea, and how we still limit our debate to the question of precisely how much force we need to apply to get the job done. Now square the number of years, and make the idea Godless Communism instead of Islamowhatsit, and you have the Right's attitude to the Cold War. "Saving Democracy" had nothing to do with it. No doubt there was serious pants-fouling going on in some quarters at the height of the thing, but the notion that Fear Of Our Imminent Destruction was the engine that drove it? As false then as it is now.
Twenty years ago today, this threat disappeared.

No it didn't. That threat--to the extent it was real, not theoretical--dissipated in the 1970s, because the Soviets couldn't keep up, because they'd backed the wrong technology and crippled scientific advancement by subjecting it to ideological litmus testing, because the thawing of our relationship, and theirs with Western Europe--a direct result of our belated recognition that Godless International Communism, Inc. wasn't bent on global takeover the way Coca-Cola™ was, nor nearly as capable of it, and which permitted Nixon to recognize China--created a consumerist demand they couldn't answer. They then sealed the deal with an invasion of Afghanistan that made Vietnam look like a paragon of sound military planning.
An East German functionary named Günther Schabowski threw open his country’s border crossings, and by nightfall the youth of Germany were dancing atop the Berlin Wall, taking hammers to its graffiti-scarred facade.

Hey, I'm not sayin' this was purely a local question of a hated obstacle to public transport, but then again, if I ever get the chance to take a mattock to those trendy roundabouts up in Carmel I won't care if they are blaring Pink Floyd all night, either.
There will be speeches and celebrations to mark this anniversary, but not as many as the day deserves. (Barack Obama couldn’t even fit a visit to Berlin into his schedule.)

Damn! Missed a prime opportunity to conflate his Messianic Complex with his secret Reagan envy.
Never has liberation come to so many people all at once — to Eastern Europe’s millions, released from decades of bondage; to the world, freed from the shadow of nuclear Armageddon; and to the democratic West, victorious after a century of ideological struggle.

And somehow we owe it all to your good sense to be born white, privileged, and American, Ross.
Twenty years later, we still haven’t come to terms with the scope of our deliverance. Francis Fukuyama famously described the post-Communist era as “the end of history.” By this, he didn’t mean the end of events — wars and famines, financial panics and terrorist bombings. He meant the disappearance of any enduring, existential threat to liberal democracy and free-market capitalism.

Well, it is difference of opinion that makes horse races, but I'll always remember Francis as the guy who finally realized--after it hit him for the tenth time or so--what a load of crap the above argument is. Which either made him a fast learner by "conservative" standards, or a secret agent of the Devil.
This thesis has been much contested, but it holds up remarkably well.

Sure. It belongs now to Immortality, having survived for two-thirds of of the span since you first created the world in your diaper.
Even 9/11 didn’t undo the work of ’89. Osama bin Laden is no Hitler, and Islamism isn’t in the same league as the last century’s totalitarianisms.

"Offer subject to sudden Jim Rockford 180ºs, not to mention the same sort of slow, sheepish recognition of reality that got us to this bald admission from World War IV in just eight years."
Marxism and fascism seduced the West’s elite; Islamic radicalism seduces men like the Fort Hood shooter.

Our enemies resort to terrorism because they’re weak, and because we’re so astonishingly strong.

Okay, panel, I'm going to flip over all the cards, and you can remove your blindfolds. Look, here's the remarkable thing, Ross-boy, and it's not that you'd like one day a year to pretend you like Europeans, and it's certainly not that you can prattle on without the slightest inkling of what you're pontificating about (speaking of which, doesn't an hour of Mass every week, plus all the trimmings, ever get this sort of thing out of your system for a spell?). You might wanna take an actual look at our military record since 1946 some time. That Astonishing Strength, Now with Eternalol™! costs us an arm and a leg with no way out. (Remember which side it was screamed bloody treason at the merest mention of a Peace Dividend after St. Reagan banished The Wall? It was back when you were roughly as old as your beard is now.)

We have an active supercarrier fleet of eleven. Ten are Nimitz-class (we're also keeping the older Enterprise around, just in case we need to threaten an eleventh country with a shoreline and no anti-aircraft capabilities in the near future). The Nimitz class is now to be superseded by the Gerald R. Ford class.

Those ten supercarriers cost about $4 billion each to build, in 1990 dollars. They have, to date, shot down two, that's (2), that's two Libyan jets, in 1981. Each one costs about $160 mil to operate annually, absent flight operations or the expense of their 5000+ crewmen. Their only real mission is intimidating tenth-rate military powers; in a real shooting war (play along and pretend there's still such a thing as History, Ross) carriers would be forced to drop all offensive operations in order to defend themselves. (Here, however, we're in an agreement of sorts with Fukuyama: no other country on earth is likely to be foolish enough to try and build a comparable number of these Elephants of the Sea. The Ford class carriers are projected to cost $8 billion each, in 2005 dollars, and if you believe projected military costs quit bogartin'. We've pretty much committed future generations (you remember them, right? They're the ones you weep for when we spend tax money to help citizens who do not hold military contracts) to building ten of the things, to replace the Nimitz class by 2040.

That's carriers, Ross. It doesn't even count the aircraft, nor the half-dozen other ships in a strike force, or the rest of our blue-water Navy, or the Marines, or those "invisible" planes that can't fly supersonic.

'Course the good news there is that it probably still costs the Chinese a couple thousand yen to destroy the electronics and/or space-based telemetries these things depend on, so it's still cheaper and easier for them, if we piss 'em off, to just pull the plug on our credit and watch us sink. So it looks like we'll still be able to impress those weaker, terrorist countries, right up to the time where we invade and lose to another insurgency. The lousy cheaters.


*with apologies to SCTV.

Sunday, November 8

Because The Light's Better Over Here

Little Evidence Of Terror Plot In Base Killings

WASHINGTON — After two days of inquiry into the mass shooting at Fort Hood, investigators have tentatively concluded that it was not part of a terrorist plot.

S'FUNNY, but there's ample evidence to suggest that Maj. Hassan was a highly-trained devotee of the shadowy global torture network known as Psychiatry, yet nobody's asking any questions about that.

Friday, November 6

The Bloodshot Eye In The Rear-View Mirror

• We Don't Do Shorters David Brooks: "Did you know there were elections last Tuesday? And some Republicans won? You did? Well, here's the notes for the lecture I'd have delivered to a roomful of bored community college students only taking my stupid Sociology 101 class because it was supposed to be cake anyway".

• This is the only way I can think of to make the bullet line up:
I don’t think he’ll change—at twenty-one or twenty-two so many things appear solid and permanent and terrible which forty sees are nothing but disappearing miasma. Forty can’t tell twenty about this; that’s the pity of it!

Thus Booth Tarkington, in The Magnificent Ambersons. Similarly, Michelle Bachman is smarter than you! This would scare you into permanent mazed silence, if you weren't stupider than Michelle Bachman.

• I promise to stop typing and start writing some time soon, but as for now I was up in the middle of the night baking treats for the generous, if workplace-ordered, volunteers for Community Service Day who're planting trees at my Poor Wife's school. I'm not sure how it is that she wound up shepherding the thing, except that I know that school administrators are very, very, busy people. This is the exact same reason why she agreed to teach one more class than she's contractually obligated to do: because school administrators are very, very busy, even in summer, when you think they'd be taking the time to make sure student schedules aren't a freaking catastrophe for once.

And this is the attitude I take with me when approaching the continuing attempts by Mitch Daniels' Education Ramora, Dr. Tony "Not That One" Bennett, to find just the spot for one of those Force 10 From Navarone trickle bombs to destroy teacher's unions. He and his boss are currently on Plan B or C, which involves showing the Liberal Education Establishment what's what by requiring candidates for teaching degrees to "get" more "credit hours" in "the subjects they teach", and fewer taking education courses. This is the secret of the Republican party, by the way: making statements that appear to have some merit unless you actually think about them.

Now, perhaps you are a Concerned Parent, and think Little Carson or Rachille or Zachariah would be learning his or her times table that much faster if Teacher had just had an extra semester of M347, Transformational Non-Euclidian Geometries or something; I happen to think it's more likely he'd have said, "Fuck this, I'm taking six more math hours, earning a major, and finding a decent job". And Indiana already has one of the most stringent specialization requirements in the country for secondary teachers, though, under the typical political-football-dribbling of the past few decades there's now an out for licensed teachers to teach in areas they aren't licensed in while they seek one. My own opinion, born of long observation, is that prospective teachers would be much better prepared if they were required to minor in "Working for Officious Careerists With No Particular Qualifications". But, then, 1) wouldn't we all? and, 2) living in Indiana and observing what passes for governance ought to qualify you for a Life Credit.

• The Indianapolis Racist Beacon somehow managed to assign much of the credit for Tuesday's Wishard Hospital bond vote to Accidental Mayor Gomer F. Ballard, USMC, for "coming out in favor of it early". By which they must mean "at 4 AM on July 5th", because I sure missed the guy who ran as the Great Teabagging Hope urging Hoosiers to vote for increased tax liability.

• The week would not be complete without finally getting around to the latest George Eff Will think piece on Afghanistan, which bravely mentioned George W. Bush once, or precisely one more time than his celebrated call for Barack Obama to withdraw and take the blame a couple months back. And mentions him as the guy who introduced Karzai as the interim leader of Afghanistan in his 2002 State of the Union.
Interim no more, he has won -- or at least secured -- another five years in office.

Not a word about how he lost the "Interim" in 2004. Karzai is now Obama's creation, apparently.

If you suddenly See the Light on Afghanistan, doesn't it at least imply that you realize how we got there in the first place? And how the getting there is what keeps us there, over and beyond cheap political grandstanding?

• This, from Pierce:
Of all the shoddy reactions to last Tuesday's orgy of marginal significance, this (John Cornyn's declaration that the party won't spend money on contested primaries) this may be the most IMPORTANT. If you're keeping score at home, the national Republican party just sent a message to the nutters that, any time they can muster up a candidate from the Island Of Misfit TOYS, the party will take a pass on the race. Now, if you think Cornyn's a little smarter than I think he is --and I think he's pretty much a blockhead--you could argue that he's giving The Base just enough rope to hang itself. (The establishment candidates who get crisped as collateral damage--Hi there, Charlie Crist!--are just SOL, I guess.) However, if you are burdened with common sense, it's plain that the national GOP is scared right down to the tassels on its loafers by what's going on in the hinterlands, its trembling exacerbated this week when Congresswoman Batshit J. Crazee called for direct ACTION. They may learn to channel all this by 2012; the redoubtable Digby OPINES that the whole business is just the same old plutocratic weasels sub-contracting the job of rebuilding their movement. That may be, but, for now, and for whatever reason, one of the country's two major political parties has surrendered itself utterly to the monkeyhouse. While undoubtedly entertaining, this is in no way a good thing.

And look, I think Cornyn's dumber'n a Winona Forever tattoo; this (getting the foot soldiers to do the bleeding, and paying off the survivors in script) is institutional memory at work, and apparently nothing but the Grave will ever erase those golden months when feebs like Cornyn thought Reagan was gonna get them laid. Gorging the Base on cheap organ meats is a long-term losing proposition. You've been doing it for thirty years, and where's that Permanent Republican majority from any of your--how many was it, again--Revolutions?