Thursday, January 28

Damn! That Shoe Pinches When It's On The Other Foot.

David "Can't We All Just Get Along?" Brooks, "The Populist Addiction". January 26

OUR story so far: last summer my tiny pruning scissors broke--well, they broke long before that, more or less by design, when the plastic teeth on the plastic cam of the plastic lock went The Way of All Plastic--meaning I guess it's more accurate to say I finally got tired of wrapping a rubber band around the blades to keep them locked on random occasions, and decided that since I was headed to the garden-slash-hardware store up the street I'd buy a new pair, except they didn't have any, which I figured was no problem since I was going to Lowe's, except they didn't have any, so I went to Target and found the last pair that could conceivably be called "Small".

It's possible that the Blister-Pak tried to warn me--we have a chilly relationship, Blister-Pak and I--but it wasn't until I--need I say finally?--got the thing open that I learned that the fine Finns at Fiskars had decided I'd like a knife blade and Lilliputian tree saw to go along with it, and that the perfect place for those implements was the otherwise unused backs of the scissors blades. Which, if you're still following this, you might realize meant that my lifelong habit of stashing such an implement in a pocket of my work pants was now out of the question, unless I wanted additional, ad-hoc access to those pockets, and/or massive blood loss.

So I wound up having to use the sheath the Finns had thoughtfully provided, after first thoughtfully splashing "Fiskars" across the thing in 128-pt embroidery. This did not actually improve the odds of my wearing a sheath, which is really only a couple rungs up from Blister-Pak on my list to begin with.

We coexisted like the two Koreas for a couple months, but seasons change, and so did I. Came time to clean the gutters, and I figured that if I'd put up with looking like a Hollywood Mescalero this long I should just go Full Metal Village People and get a small, belt-accessorizing tool carrier to save trips up and down the ladder. And besides, I was going to Lowes.

And I got one, in black leather, which turns out to have an added benefit whenever my Poor Wife and I play Handyman's Butt-Crack and the Bored Teacher With a Snow Day, except I wasn't supposed to mention that. But while I was there I noticed--I think for the first time---the selection of camouflage tool belts, tool carriers, cell-phone holders, drill cozies, and the like. And by now it's like a flood: camouflage hats, camouflage gloves, camouflage visors with headlights; I haven't checked but neither camouflaged shovels nor lawn tractors would surprise me. Would you hire a camouflaged landscaper? By the hour? I mean, the odds are that if the majority of these guys are hiding from anything it's ex-wives.

And I got to thinkin', y'know, there oughta be a term for this, like the much-needed Metrosexual or Cougar. Maybe we should have a contest. I was gonna suggest "Cammohag", but I know how sensitive some of you are.

This, of course, is the sort of populism David Brooks gives an even wider personal berth than "Red Lobster Republicans" or "Exoburb Yachtsmen", or whatever else it is he's contributed to the language.
Politics, some believe, is the organization of hatreds. The people who try to divide society on the basis of ethnicity we call racists. The people who try to divide it on the basis of religion we call sectarians. The people who try to divide it on the basis of social class we call either populists or elitists.

Two guesses which one will emerge from this column unscathed.
These two attitudes — populism and elitism — seem different, but they’re really mirror images of one another. They both assume a country fundamentally divided. They both describe politics as a class struggle between the enlightened and the corrupt, the pure and the betrayers.

"It's not like the Golden Age of Reagan," you might hear a little voice saying, "when all the corrupt betrayers aligned like Jupiter and Mars."
Both attitudes will always be with us, but these days populism is in vogue. The Republicans have their populists. Sarah Palin has been known to divide the country between the real Americans and the cultural elites. And the Democrats have their populists. Since the defeat in Massachusetts, many Democrats have apparently decided that their party has to mimic the rhetoric of John Edwards’s presidential campaign. They’ve taken to dividing the country into two supposedly separate groups — real Americans who live on Main Street and the insidious interests of Wall Street.

Y'know, back when Wall Street was our unquestioned Savior, it seems to me that you attributed this attitude to everyone with a D after his name. So I find the implied trendiness there a mite suspicious, but not so suspicious as that careful "Palin has been known" deal. Yeah, and US magazine has been known to fluff celebrities.
It’s easy to see why politicians would be drawn to the populist pose. First, it makes everything so simple. The economic crisis was caused by a complex web of factors, including global imbalances caused by the rise of China. But with the populist narrative, you can just blame Goldman Sachs.

Okay, first, a goddam inflatable sex doll for Trans-Global Laissez-Faire Capitalism is accusing someone else of pushing economic jejunicitousness? Second, it's interesting to me how the Republican party endorses executing prisoners with a mental age of twelve, but when it comes to massive corporate fraud their immediate instinct is to file an amicus brief for the Twinkie defense.
Second, it absolves voters of responsibility for their problems. Over the past few years, many investment bankers behaved like idiots, but so did average Americans, racking up unprecedented levels of personal debt. With the populist narrative, you can accuse the former and absolve the latter.

Okay, so which group got let off the hook, and which had usury "regulations" which already made Mafia loan sharks blush tightened further around their vitals? And I know I've said this before, but the addition of this "Sure A, but B!B!B!B!B!B!" to the Forensic Debaters Stylebook under "Things Reasonable People Say" bears some serious looking into, with an eye to criminal charges.
Third, populism is popular with the ruling class. Ever since I started covering politics, the Democratic ruling class has been driven by one fantasy: that voters will get so furious at people with M.B.A.’s that they will hand power to people with Ph.D.’s. The Republican ruling class has been driven by the fantasy that voters will get so furious at people with Ph.D.’s that they will hand power to people with M.B.A.’s. Members of the ruling class love populism because they think it will help their section of the elite gain power.

1) I thought the Dems just jumped on board after Brown; never let internal consistency get in the way of a boffo construction, huh? 2) I don't have a research staff, but damned if I can find where you evinced anything approaching caution about this Republican proclivity--including "while George W. MBA President Bush was riding high"--before it became patently obvious that the lunatic fringe you thought followed your lead now controls your party, and the laissez-faire rhetoric was a beard for unfettered rapine on a scale previously unimagined.
So it’s easy to see the seductiveness of populism. Nonetheless, it nearly always fails. The history of populism, going back to William Jennings Bryan, is generally a history of defeat.

That’s because voters aren’t as stupid as the populists imagine. Voters are capable of holding two ideas in their heads at one time:

Dear Lord. What's this based on--the helpful young thing at some Midwestern airport information kiosk you asked for directions once when you couldn't get a direct flight? Jesus, Brooks, buy a fucking vowel. Or, hell, read your own fucking column. Like the one last week that limned Obama's reasoned approach to the nation's business. Complex thought's doing him a lot of good with the voting public, ain't it?

For fuck's sake. Look at what we eat. Look at what we watch. Look at what sort of chronic infantilism persuades people to buy whatever juvenilia is being dangled in front of them this week. Look at the intellectual history of your own party, Mr. Brooks, over the last forty years. The single compliment that might be paid the other party over that span is that it took more nuanced positions and was more willing to compromise, before it took one look at the polls and ran screaming down the hall looking for the Exit.

Most "voters" don't; those may be the smart ones. Those that do get to choose between two parties, a distinction which can only really be made based on bumper-sticker sloganeering, after which you use the results to infer complexity of thought?

I'm not saying people are stick-your-finger-in-a-light-socket-to-see-if-the-power's-on Stupid. But I live among them; I see how they decide state and local issues, how readily they adapt advertising bullshit as their own thought, how uninformed, intellectually lazy, or just plain too busy surviving to bother much with complex analysis if they were inclined to do so. Which they aren't. And those are the honest ones. Lack of intellectual rigor is a very different thing from principled anti-ideology.

By the way: th' fuck put you in charge of deciding what is and isn't political stupidity? I seem to recall we just exited a decade when you were wrong about everything, then excused it by saying that at least you were less of a hidebound ideologue than the other people who were wrong about everything.
In fact, this country was built by anti-populists. It was built by people like Alexander Hamilton and Abraham Lincoln who rejected the idea that the national economy is fundamentally divided along class lines. They rejected the zero-sum mentality that is at the heart of populism, the belief that economics is a struggle over finite spoils. Instead, they believed in a united national economy — one interlocking system of labor, trade and investment.

If I might just mention here--we've already dealt with your serial lionizing of Hamilton as some modern investment banker by noting that on the day he met up with Burr there wasn't a single smokestack in the Americas--whatever else they believed, these men did not live in a world where a couple of crooks could plunge the globe into financial crisis.
The populists have an Us versus Them mentality. If they continue their random attacks on enterprise and capital, they will only increase the pervasive feeling of uncertainty, which is now the single biggest factor in holding back investment, job creation and growth. They will end up discrediting good policies (the Obama bank reforms are quite sensible) because they will persuade the country that the government is in the hands of reckless Huey Longs.

Which you were fine with when they were your Hueys. Until you got hit by that ricochet.

I've got more sympathy for the fleas you woke up with than I do for your predicament, Mr. Brooks. And repeated attempts to solve it by insisting on your own blamelessness? Well, it might have a chance of working. If you were blameless.

Wednesday, January 27

Riley™ Brand Balm Of Gilead. Act Now And Get A Second Allusion Free! (Just Pay Separate Shipping & Handling)

OUR Uncle Kvetch, at Roy's:

[Roy] I'm beginning to think this game isn't worth the candle. [/Roy]

I'm with you. What with Mr. Hope & Change revealing himself to be the Clinton redux I suspected he was all along, and with the less-awful party poised to go down as only they know how -- viz., with a 50-foot bellyflop into an empty swimming pool, and with the prospect of a President Snowbilly or Aw-Shuckabee getting less absurd by the day, I'm feeling an ever-greater need to disengage myself from this whole pathetic spectacle and leave it to the pathetic people who inhabit it. But that would mean no longer enjoying the high-octane snark of Roy and those of his ilk, and snark is one of my basic food groups.

What to do?

Which, mind you, doesn't prompt me to offer advice, fer chrissakes, but to consider that I've been trying to answer this since the '68 elections, and if anything I'm further asea. "Become a Midwestern suburban schlub, yell at the teevee, and grow your own pot in the basement," well, it doesn't work for everybody.

Yesterday Brave Indiana blogger Doug Masson pointed us at Oliver Willis' "The Liberal Blogosphere Goes Fox News," a remarkable document, assuming you need to be reminded that the argument never fucking ends, or changes:

"Oh, if only everyone to the Left of me would agree to see things my way purely out of fear of a Republican planet, what a bright shiny place this world would be. Instead, they're ruining it for everybody!"

Or maybe my mind's playing tricks on me. Could'a sworn, though, that I heard this 1) through the slow-motion Health Care cave-in; 2) in the run-up to Surge II: Smack Down in Smack Town; 3) after the Nobel speech; 4) as both President and Candidate Obama reneged on FISA; 5) about Tim Geithner, and pretty much everything Tim Geithner has done; 6) as Candidate Obama shamelessly pandered to the anti-choice Right after securing the nomination; 7) excusing the 98% Centrist Democratic field that spawned him, except for Hillary Clinton, who was pilloried for being a Centrist; and 8) enough other times that I could have made it a Top Ten list if I'd bothered to think before typing. Come to think of it, the only time it stops is when the people such types don't agree with are in power, at which point it's just ducky to rail against our corporate imperial masters, at least until we get close enough to an election for Amy Sullivan to lecture us on how to behave in church.

So, lemme just ask ya: Who's in charge here? Who asked for the nomination? Who's supposed to be courting whom? I've got a lot worse to say about that other "major" political "party", but at least it doesn't stint on the lip service to its base, come Hell, high water, or a brick wall Reality facial.

Y'know what else? Spare me th' fucking "Well, those are the positions he took as a candidate" routine, and the attendant "It's the voters' fault if they thought he'd suddenly transform into Howard Zinn" crap. It was the President's stanchest supporters I heard trawling that Mystical, Post-Inaugural Metamorphosis during the campaign (and when those of us who had read his positions pointed them out, what I heard was The Sounds of Silence). Ditto that "Sure, Democratic Presidents don't do enough for their base"--wait for it!--"but…." Acknowledging the facts ("by God you'd better!") doesn't grant you license to ignore them from then on out.

(Incidentally, nice job of defining yourself, Barack Obama, and, by extension, Joe Lieberman, as "center-leftists". When I need Ronald Reagan's opinions I'll ask him.)

Let's try this another way. Suppose that you love country music, and as a young person decide it's the career path you'd like to follow. You have, more or less, two choices: try to insert yourself into the star machinery, at whatever cost to yourself and your self-esteem (maybe none, maybe considerable), or you can do what you want to do from day one, and hope to get recognized for it at some point (probably the only possible path in this day and age if you happen to have been born ugly). Barack Obama wanted to be a star. He's not exempt from critics pointing out he's flat. That goes with the fucking territory. He's obliged to play for applause. He's also obliged to sell a persona. He chose "Really Thoughtful, Well-Spoken Guy Who Considers All Sides of the Issue Without Regard for Ugly Partisanship". This alone calls his judgment into question, not to mention the depth of his understanding of the Reagan Presidency. This was the absolute wrong fucking choice at the absolute wrong fucking moment. It was precisely the time for the anti-Reagan. There's no protecting him from the fallout of that choice. Go argue with the Republicans who claim he's the first Commie in the Oval Office.

Which brings us to that other party. And, as is so often the case, there's a near-perfect example of our point to be found among the cornfields and the steel mills, the limestone quarries and the Linens 'N Things of the great state of Indiana. We mentioned last week, after the Brown victory (damned Leftists!), that there was a sudden groundswell of sump water over a potential challenge to Evan "Damn Leftists!" Bayh by Congressional Choirboy Mike Pence; this was followed by a poll showing Pence leading a theoretical head-to-head matchup. We asked, at the time, what Under God would possibly keep Pence from running, under the circumstances. After all, Bayh's vote is 1% of the Senate total, and (Gentle Reader, hold onto something!) he's pretty much, oh, Howard Zinn with a $500 haircut to the Hoosier Republican laity. And we answered: that shitpot full of money he's been sitting on rather than helping actual Democrats in the actual Indiana. And yesterday Pence announced he wouldn't run, since his expectation of enormous secular power in the Kingdom of the next Republican majority in the House is so great. Meaning that the entire episode played out so we could get one half-truth once it ended. In other words, par.

(By the way, actual Republican functionaries in Indiana--at least the ones who aren't secretly whipping themselves in supplication, or in a men's room, at this hour--know that Bayh's a not-so-closeted Republican. But they also know he's capable of just about anything where money's involved, so they try to keep him on his toes now and again.)

In other words, furthering the cause of True Conservatism, of which Mike Pence is said to be the purest-hearted champion, is less important than holding onto your own fucking perks, even when the Son of a Castroite is in your sights.

So, to return to the real world, Whaddya do when Reason has been dealt out of the hand, and you're escorted from the casino for kibitzing? Wish the fuck I knew. What I do know, though, is this: the Republican party--and the base it manages to cater to, at least in words--is just as fucked as always, and more fucked than ever. Whether this President decides, belatedly, to fight 'em, or just continues to collude, the die is cast. I am at heart a humanitarian; I would sincerely regret seeing my neighbor devoured by wolves, or governed by Mitch Daniels (more than he already is). But what's the prospect of Palin 2012? What th' fuck do they do with the ongoing Reagan-Bush disaster? Cut taxes? What taxes? Figure out how to toss what's left of the working class on the street, and what used to be the middle class into poverty? For a while even Reagan understood he couldn't risk invading even half-assed countries with a depleted military, though you always knew the itch was there and he'd overstep in the Middle East at some point. There are only so many Grenadas, or reasons to send Armadas to 'em. One more military blunder and we'll be fortunate to find the troops to defend Sault Ste. Marie. You don't fix healthcare, the economy follows, and your soft power is tottering, too, not that Repugs care much for that. Sure, Oliver, I admit that a Republican majority means we'll be relaxing pollution standards so they can maximize profits before the Big Flood; who's to blame for letting them up out of the muck in the first place? We've got a party that can't govern, and a party that's afraid to, and both have had a shot in the past decade and chose to keep things just the way they are. I got nothing left to cheer about, so it sure ain't gonna be your custodianship. And, really, I've got little left to fear from a resurgent GOP that I won't get from the "Center Left", except up a different orifice. The American public has decided--in no small part with help from a tenth-rate actor with memory bubbles--that it will have to drown before it recognizes moisture. You can send in the therapists, or send in the clowns. I think regular readers know my preference.

Tuesday, January 26

We'll Be Right Back

MORE Sports news (in my defense, it's pretty hard to ignore it when Your City, however dumpish, is Super Bowl Bound, Baby!): Colts To Rest Starters This Sunday. Huge Mistake or Colossal Blunder?

Yesterday I intended to mention that Manning is the only man in NFL history to have quarterbacked his team to a league championship despite being coached by Tony Dungy; today some unexpected dark-humorist at the Racist Beacon highlighted the fact that every team the Father Confessor of Pro Ball leaves makes it to the Super Bowl the following season. I say, forget the homo-bashing; never trust a former athlete who doesn't gain weight.

Second, Steve Politi of the Newark Star-Ledger with that rarest of rarities, the interesting Tweet:
Love this: Tailgating Colts fans, trying to shut up the chanting Jets fans, respond with "Jer-sey Shore! Jer-sey Shore!

It's damn near impossible to ignore this sort of thing, not that I want to. The Hoosiers went undefeated in '75 and '76 when I was at IU, and I remember how difficult it was to forget basketball and get back to concentrating on sex and drugs.

One thing professional fuhball does, better or more efficiently than almost anything else, is connect you with the rest of America, or with that virtual America which requires constant reassurance that its choice of carbonated beverage, counter-persperational stick, or brokerage firm is the one preferred by most other virtual Americans. And makes you sexier. In other words, the real America.

For one thing, it's always amusing to see what expertise multiple millions of dollars will buy you. Cialis™ Brand PDE5 Inhibitor, for example--fine local product, by the way--will direct you, via boilerplate, to its ad in Golf Digest. How much did Lilly pay for that advice, do you imagine, when it had to be staring them in the face at every Board meeting? Was there ever any discussion about Going Viral? But my favorite, for sentimental reasons dating back to Operation Arc Light, are the military recruitment, I mean, military lifestyle adverts, the latest of which--it's either the Army or the Post Office; who really listens?--promises that after all the parades held in your honor when you get back home--which time isn't specified--you'll have your choice of careers: Astronaut, Stock Car Pilot, or Dynamic Corporate Order Taker Who Doesn't Have To Wear Camouflaged Pajamas During The Daytime and 8000 Miles Away From Anyone You'd Need To Camouflage Yourself From, Aside From Your Fellow Soldiers, Occasionally.

How interesting is it that anyone with a truckload of cash can make anything sound reasonable? The military gave up on people actually serving their country by signing up thirty years ago; now the fact that they advertise like pheromone-scented body gels is simply taken for granted. Like, say, that Hero's Welcome.

I know, I know; this is not exactly a revelation. Still, that After the cheering has died down… routine raised my gorge a bit. First you get the wholly artificial "We're not spitting on our returning War Heroes like those hippies did" routine; then it's used to lure cannon fodder because, for one thing, none of the 18-40 year olds so busy patting themselves on the back for their patriotic spirit will stop long enough for a perpetual two-year hitch. If it wasn't for the Networks stopping every so often to pat themselves on the back for tossing to some Guardsman spending Super Bowl Fortnight risking his ass to salvage our domestic political bluster you'd almost forget we were at War. Wouldn't you?

Monday, January 25

Sports Rap With Da Dawg

• Our National Anthem, that one-point-five octave 17th century drinking song limning a war we lost, was sung at the opening of last night's NFC Championship game by some wanker from FOX's American Idol. In Nouvelle-fucking-Orléans. Seventy-thousand people accepted this as the natural order of things.

• The reason my third favorite moment of the playoffs so far was the Colts win over the Jersey Jets has little to do with fandom, and almost everything to do with the fact that the goddam citizenry booed a 14-0 team because it rested its starters through two meaningless games.

• Which, by the way, led the NFL (Motto: All The Competence of the NASCAR Competition Committee, Applied To Sports!) to make grumbling noises about "the integrity of the game" while simultaneously "affirming" that the Colts did nothing wrong, unethical, or even questionable. Someday archaeologists are going to have to explain how dozens, even hundreds, of our fellow citizens could be driven into the nation's streets, public parks, and dirt tracks to protest a possible 5% improvement in the health-care system that was bankrupting them, but blatant, self-serving fabrication flies like a weather balloon over the tundra.

• Speaking of NFL rules, it would seem to behoove them to either 1) let the refs in on them or 2) let the rest of us in on the Double Golden Top Secret Rule Book they actually work from. (The latter is not a crack, nor a figment of my imagination; alone among major sports, the league keeps the exact rules given its refs a secret). They passed The Brady Rules to protect quarterbacks, then let Brett Fah-vu-ruh get shellacked, apparently on the grounds that the Saints were doing it strategically rather than tactically. And yes, the Colts got away with one, too, although it wasn't much of a hit, so far as you could tell from the only replay shot CBS had, which seemed to come from the Blimp. I'll be glad to trade the penalty if we can have the ref move off the ball when he was supposed to on that quarterback sneak, rather than standing over it while the Jets completed their substitutions. And for the life of me, how do they keep missing replay calls? I'm not sure where they saw the interference, let alone a catchable ball, on that OT call against the Vikes, and the following reception call is difficult to explain, though we have to allow that they've now fucked with the rules to the extent that the fan has no real idea what does or doesn't constitute a catch.

• But then, ye gods, can someone who knows the game explain th' fuck Minnesota was doing on that last series? I don't care who your kicker is, displaying beatific plerophory at the thought of a 51 yard attempt is religious insanity. And I know you'd displayed an inability to hang on to the football that rivaled George W. Bush's inability to find an exit door, but sheesh. We're spoiled in Indy, but the Colts would've run two plays in the time it took you guys to get up to the thirty-five and run up the middle for a loss.

• Which brings up an attendant point: how come the Colts do the hurry-up/ no huddle so much better than anyone else? When Miami had a little success with the Wildcat early in the season, half the league started direct snapping. The Colts have been doing this for ten years.

• Speaking of ten years, my second favorite moment of the playoffs has been when the Colts-Ravens announcers (Dan Dierdorf and Greg Gumble, IIRC) riffed on Manning's "happy feet", which was the CW knock on the man for nearly a decade. Ooooh, look, he's moving his feet in the pocket! He's afraid to get hit! Shifting your weight quickly from foot to foot in the pocket is apparently the one cardinal sin in all of sports mechanics and a Tell bigger'n Boris Becker's tongue. Dierdorf allowed as how maybe that sort of talk was now, oh, disproven. No, Dan, that sort of talk is now, officially, idiotic. Disproven is what it was at the time. But props to you guys for bringing it up in an industry where the shelf life of the average expert comment is twenty seconds.

• My favorite playoff moment, though, comes courtesy our local media, one division of which went around sticking microphones in the faces of Jets fans in town for the game, asking them how Indianapolis compared to New York. Really. I'm not sure what they expected; maybe "Nice clean place you got here" or "Where do you hide the attractive hookers?". I was left to ponder whether, if the Pope ever comes to town, they'll ask his entourage how that Robert Indiana "LOVE" sculpture compares with the Pietà. And one guy says, "Are you kiddin' me? [my Poor Wife recalls this as "Have you looked outside?"] This place is a dump!" Which was not just hysterical in its own right (it had the distinct vibe of Bush being interviewed by that Irish journalist who unexpectedly asked him questions, except with the roles reversed) but doubled the amusement when they went back to the anchor desk and at least one of the hairdos was visibly upset about it. Though my guess is if the guy'd said, "This place is a dump, but lemme tell ya, you've got some first-rate reporters here," it would've gone down like mint tea with honey.

Friday, January 22

Friday Olio: Not Funny

• Kee-rist, why do I know there is something out there called (something like) The Co-Co Army, and how is it anyone could possibly care what Conan O'Brien does? He got shafted by NBC and Leno. And as a result he walks off with a king's ransom. Find someone with real problems to care about.

It might be different if he was funny, but as far as I can tell, some suit told him in 1993 that they saw him as an edgier Steve Allen, and it stuck. I've never seen the man when anything he did didn't come with calculation marks all over it. It's like watching SNL, circa 1976, and learning that Belushi has demanded they do nothing but Bee skits.

• I happened upon Letterman last night while I was trying to find something to accompany bicycling. He was busy slagging Carson Daly and Jay Leno. Not funny slagging, either; just meanness. Which I'm all for, except what possible reason would anyone have to be rude about Carson Fucking Daly? It's like starting a feud with the woman at the grocery store who refills the lotto ticket dispenser.

Look, David, we'll always have Clover Power, and it's not like I've been part of your audience the last fifteen years or so, but th' fuck? If you're not even going to try to be funny at least let the audience smoke dope openly so we'll know why they're howling at this shit.

• This reminded me that last weekend my neighbor forced us to take home his copy of The Hangover, the comedy sensation of the summer, and, being not merely a vocational salesman but a congenitally avocational one, prefaced the handoff with "Do you guys wanna go home and laugh your asses off?" I was tempted to respond, "Hey, I've got The Comedians of Comedy on disc. Want me to bring that over so you can stare uncomfortably at Zach Galifianakis' stand-up for two hours?"

I didn't, and it would have been unfair--he's not unintelligent, for a Republican, and a very funny guy--he might even know Galifianakis' stand-up, and it's possible I will laugh my ass off at The Hangover, although it's also possible I will finish reading the Great Works of Western Civ first, since I have only about 5000 to go.

I said this before, but you go through their rather extensive DVD collection and there's every piece of wildly popular trash of the last twenty years. I'm long past trying to understand this, but it does have the saving grace that, as middle-class Middle American Republicans they're supposed to hate Hollywood with a passion, and they're the ones keeping it afloat. (And, again, while the aesthetic portion of my attitude dates to being a high-school know-it-all, my one practical lesson, which scarred me for life, is the fault of George Lucas, the general population of Indianapolis, and my dick, not necessarily in that order. I squired a remarkably Amazonian Bible College freshman to a first-run showing of Star Wars, at her request, and the hooting, clapping, hissing, booing, and foot-stomping of the crowd, which suggested it had more in common with the slack-jawed audience of Orson Welles' War of the Worlds, or possibly the hayseeds of the 20s who thought William S. Hart and Tom Mix were actually killing actual Injuns, or that players who walked off-screen could be located in the appropriate wing, than it did a crowd of people which had recently lived through a rash of political assassinations, the forcible and violent defense of Jim Crow, and the public disgracing of a petty thug and felon who was simultaneously their President, left me speechless. I'd'a walked out within ten minutes, but my dick decided to stay. The number of times I have ventured into a public theatre since then without first confirming that the flick in question was subtitled you can count on any other appendage.)

• Not only that, but for some reason, probably my Poor Wife's remote habits, I not only know that Tiger Woods is in rehab--and if you can rehab "being a wealthy, attractive celebrity who likes to fuck" then I guess the nation's Strategic Celebrity Rehab Capacity is a tad excessive--but that he's been allowed to bring in help to clean his toilet, something lesser celebrity poon-hounds apparently are forced to do for themselves. How fucking hard is it to clean a toilet? How fucking far gone do you have to be that you simply must have someone else do it? Isn't that goddam pendulum supposed to swing back at some point, and some generation of American citizens, force-fed this crap from infancy, to take umbrage?

• And local news last night, of the Channel 8 variety, took forty minutes to get to anything that might possibly have resembled news, because they were busy doing live remotes from a Colts Pep Rally. I believe those of us who didn't care to attend were allowed to take an extra period of study hall in the cafeteria. At any rate, the one bit of "news" they did cram into the first half-hour was the exciting word--it excited them no end, at any rate--that ion-battery producer EnerDel is set to open a new plant in Hancock county, creating 500 new jobs, and all thanks to Mitch Daniels and Indiana's business-friendly environment, according to the EnerDel mouthpiece 8 quoted.

Well, they seem to've left out a couple of small details. Like the fact that zoning hasn't been approved, not that the rights of local governments would stop the Bantam Menace from fluffing the story at a presser. Jes' to help move the process along, y'know. Or that EnerDel at this point seems to be largely floating on a sea of Federal loans and grants. Or that the last deal resulted in fewer jobs than promised. Or that there's apparently no financing secured for the new one. Or, y'know, that Indiana's business-friendly environment has had it hemorrhaging jobs the past two years at a higher-than-national average. Success! Jobs! More corporate political contributions so we might be running campaign ads from this April to November, 2012!

There's not even any sense that they should try to hide this stuff anymore, which leads me to believe Depressing The Fuck Out Of Anyone With Reading Comprehension has always been Job 1.

Thursday, January 21

Lessons In Love

I THINK I've finally been able to codify the worst thing about one of these Earth-shaking Political Moments of the Moment: they turn the whole friggin' country into Slate.

In the eighteen hours following the close of the Massachusetts polls I've seen: What It All Means, What It Doesn't Mean, Why It Doesn't Mean What You Think It Means, How It Might Turn Out to Mean Something Else, What Obama Will/Won't/Might Do Now, What He Didn't Do Then, Why It Kills or Doesn't Kill Health Care, The Amazing Revitalization of The Republican Party, So Recently Deceased, Why Democrats Will Move Rightward, Why They Shouldn't, Why They Shouldn't But Will Anyway, Why "Progressives" Should Be Troubled, Why "Teabaggers" Should, and, my personal favorite, Why The Dems Will Now Focus On Jobs. And that was without trying. Or reading Slate.

The worst thing is not the blather. Hell, if you don't have the means to survive blather in this age you're already dead. It's the demonstrable truth and the justifiable fear that the Blather Congregate, having travelled two or three times around in a massive game of Telephone, returns, misshapen, warty, and indistinguishable from the original to the half-assed observer and becomes Conventional Wisdom emeritus, like the McGovern candidacy, Vietnam, or Melina Mercouri's eyeglasses. Because all of this crap, so seemingly dichotomous, is just the Twitterizing of the CW. The deviation between people who're saying Now Health Care Has Been Teabagged and those who think Now The Democrats Will Act To Distinguish Themselves isn't worth mentioning, even if you think you spot it.

The barking madness of the previous generation becomes the sweet melody of unconventional truth for the next. Sixty years ago, when Richard Nixon defeated his first Commie and embarked on a distinguished career as a Federal officeholder, he won despite, or perhaps because, he and his constituents knew it to be a bald-faced lie; today his rightful heirs think stop signs are a mark of creeping Socialism, and the mass market media doesn't dare laugh, because somebody sent it an angry letter back in 1971. So too the Democrats, who've been eschewing liberalism since 1972 because someone called 'em yellow for opposing 1000 US casualties a week in a military fiasco that was lost before it started. An' besides, the Pope thinks abortion is murder. This would lead to "Progressives", a generation later, eschewing that same liberalism because it was too closely associated with men with porn 'staches.

The loss of a Senate seat is supposed to fucking matter? Has the whole country forgotten that the loss of an actual Senate majority didn't slow the Republicans down one whit in 2001? For damn near forty years the Democratic party motto has been Our Principles Are Sound, But People Throw Things When We Try To Put Them In Action, So Whaddya Gonna Do? After which they passed whatever Defense budget came down the pike at 'em after six hours' debate, with an implicit promise to fund all the really important stuff off the books. Yes, yes: as Jay B has been forced to point out on numerous occasions, the worst Democrat still worthy of the name is preferable to the average Republican. Sure, the gang at Wonkette can call this Defeatism Forever and I'll still love 'em, but then th' fuck's the Democratic party ever done for me in forty years? Or you, unless you work for it? Is it worth the gas money to vote for a 5% improvement in Titanic deck chair arrangements, and a 300% increase in excuse mongering? What use is a "good first step" when the next Teabag President writes it off with a signing statement? (By the way: I've reached the age when I excuse youthful ignorance of history, unless it's displayed as wisdom, but th' fuck did everyone under the age of 35 think was the lesson of the 2006 Democratic takeover of Congress? Let alone that, no thanks to themselves, party wigs had been granted a triple-high political biorhythm chart courtesy of George W. Bush--who'd gotten everything he wanted from them before his poll numbers went South and stayed there--being the poster boy for the Disaster of the Naughts, and they still ran--and convinced people--as the Party That's Too Afraid To Be Rude To The Howling Drunks Outside Its Window For Thirty Years Of 4 A.M.s. Also, and this is a bit tardy, but th' fuck was Ana Marie Cox ever a wonk?)

George Romney's political career was destroyed because he used the word "brainwashed" to describe what US leadership in Vietnam tried to pull on him. Gerald Ford lost an election because he said something about the Eastern bloc which, if held up to a broken light bulb in a dark cellar could be made to look like he didn't know what he was saying. George H. W. LS/MFT Bush vomited on a guy. It's interesting to me that the hung-over Barney Frank of the Cold Light of Day has to apologize for what the irate drunken Barney Frank said about health care the night before, when it's the drunk who made sense. I'm with that one, at least philosophically: political cowardice and graft brought us legislation that didn't address the real problem, and then it was car-bombed in the Senate; if some major tectonic shift has taken place as a result, if the Democrats really can't pass legislation with 59 votes, just like they couldn't with 60, well, withdraw the piece of shit and let Republicans do it. And maybe the President could, like, wake-up and announce that Federal monies will be doled out as starvation rations until he gets what he campaigned for. Reagan left office twenty years ago with us on the road to bankruptcy, and he's celebrated for fiscal responsibility; maybe what you say you stand for is more impressive to people that how good a listener you say you are. And in the interim we've seen a continuation of the Strategic Kid/Candy Store Defense Appropriations Synergism and spiraling medical costs which are going to bankrupt us all. In exchange we've created a military which can blow up the fucking Moon but can't defeat a goatherd with $20 worth of explosives and a model airplane controller, and we've got a healthcare system that's the envy of the 18% of the world that has none. How much longer do you think this fucking continues? If the minority holds the whip hand by virtue of shouting the loudest and most incoherently, then let it write the legislation, or drop it altogether. How much worse can it be than "tailor-made to the demands of the insurance industry"? Let employers take the opportunity to stop insuring people, let every tenth middle-class homeowner who hasn't lost his house to financial shenanigans lose it to medical necessity; let's let emergency rooms throughout the country become the only recourse for 70% of the population. I don't say this because I imagine the Teabaggers, or the Republican party, will be rendered sadder but wiser by coming face to face with the logical consequences of their "beliefs". You'd have to be a moran to believe, at this point, that there's any capacity for learning there whatsoever. No. I say this because the United States has become the only island nation in the history of the world that isn't surrounded by water. I say it because our politics is somehow dedicated to preserving what we don't have, and to hastening the return of perpetual serfdom in the name of Ayn Rand, and I say it because I was raised a Christian, and a little part of me still believes your ideals aren't shit unless you've been impaled for them.

Meanwhile, this blog modestly offers a couple lessons for the week which it hopes rearranges the Convention Wisdom in new and exciting ways:

1) Y'know, if a Teabagger can win in Massachusetts, maybe an actual liberal could win in Kansas, say, or Montana, by actually being a liberal. Okay, so maybe not Montana. I'm not an expert. But how many have lost while Not Being Too Liberal For the State in the past forty years?

2) My favorite local pseudo-story has Mike Pence, the Altar Boy of the Indiana Congressional delegation, now pondering a run at Evan "I Surrender, Dear" Bayh in this year's beige-on-ecru Indiana Senate race. Which maybe he will, maybe he won't, but the idea that it suddenly occurred to him after Tuesday's Special Election is like the idea that he'd have never daydreamed about buggering the Pastor's wife except he innocently tried to google up some advice on getting the family organ out his back door. Why in the world does anybody trust a self-aggrandizing Christian when it's obvious right off the bat that his reading comprehension is damn near zero? Anyway, the thing that struck me when I saw the headline was, "Why isn't he running already? If Bayh voting with his 'fellow' 'Democrats' nearly one-third of the time is such a grave threat to the Republic, why aren't you already out there?"

3) Finally, consider that the "Conservative" columnists in the New York Times have both made their bones "opposing" the "radical elements" of their party. Doesn't Brown's victory mean it's time to cashier both, and replace them with "real" "Conservatives", Mr. Keller?

Meanwhile, to reiterate a pledge I made elsewhere, if Uncle Sugar figures out a way to force me to watch a full hour of this Sunday's Meet the Press I will give up al-Qaeda's #2 man in fifteen seconds, tops.

Wednesday, January 20

I Blame McGovern

I'M from Indiana, a state which, oddly, had its political boundaries set by being what was left over when the old Indiana Territory was carved into attractive places to settle once the original settlers had been moved someplace worse. Hell, most aboriginal Americans had the good sense to live somewhere else, and only came here to hunt, scout unsuccessfully for large rivers or mountains they could put between themselves and the Iroquois, or go to the Race.

My fellow Hoosiers--I helped once--have elected Birch Evans Bayh Secretary of State (that's the waiting room for the Governor's mansion), Governor, twice, and now United States Senator twice. This actually doesn't seem so bad if you keep reminding yourself that both Dan Burton and his little brother Woody were available.

And here's the thing: I have a passing interest in politics, and I'll be damned if I've ever met anyone who was a fan of Evan Bayh. I've never heard anyone express an admiration for his principles, wax lyrical about his character, or compliment his legislative record (which is a physical impossibility at any rate). I've never heard an eager and dewy-limbed youth name Evan Bayh as his or her inspiration in choosing Politics, or the Law, as a career path. Hell, I have to check to see if I've got the "y" and the "h" in the right order every time I write his name, and I stuffed envelopes for his father back in '68.

Sure, there are people who campaign for him, generally under the weight of the persistent delusion that he's a Democrat, or else because they like his hair, and the whole state, or that part of it the Indianapolis media deigns to cover, was in an artificial tizzy for the two days he spent on Barack Obama's VP short list, but then this is a state where any suggestion of national infamy or temporary celebrity, coupled with a territorial connection to the state at or exceeding the level of holding a library card, gets the connection touted in perpetuity. I'm pretty sure Axl Rose and Claude Akins are in the State Hall of Fame, and likely that Rupert guy from Survivor, and no Charlie Manson anniversary, parole denial, or attempted immolation goes by without the locals pointing out that he learned his trade at the Indiana Boys' School. In fact the only time you see Bayh praised for anything that might broadly be described as "character" or "competence" is when some wingnut correspondent to the Indianapolis Racist Beacon checks in to "thank" Bayh for his "bravery" in supporting whatever wingnut position he's taken this week "despite being a Democrat". Which is like an unassisted triple play of erroneousness.

Bayh has made absolutely no contribution to the legislative history of the Republic, and that's grading on the Senate Gentlemen's curve. He's neither said nor done anything remotely original, thought-provoking, or indicative of the potential for original thought. His entire political career has been dedicated to moving Evan Bayh up the ladder. When he didn't get the VP nod in '08 he rather conspicuously went home and wept into his war chest, never campaigning for the hard-pressed Democrat trying to rid us of Mitch Daniels, not that he's ever demonstrated any coattails in Indiana. He's spent his time in Washington greasing the skids for the Empty Quarter Republicans who get to control every piece of federal legislation based on our cherished 18th century notions of the intellectual superiority of white men who own lots of land, while being greased in return. If there is some alternative explanation for this behavior I've missed it. I understand what Bayh gets out of it, but why Indiana should be so all-fired interested in helping Western water, oil, and mineral interests keep feeding at that Federal trough Hoosiers are a traditional net contributor to, when they have nothing whatsoever in common is beyond me. Oh course, I can't figure out why his senior sinecure gets sent to DC over and over to turn down the Agriculture Committee chair so he can earn his International Nuclear Proliferation Eagle Scout badge, either. Maybe "rationally" isn't the way to think about this.

So I really was at a loss a couple weeks back when he got some touts as a serious backroom player trying to rescue health care, since I'd seen little previously analyzing his role as a major impediment to the sort of real health care reform that might jeopardize some fraction of his wife's $ multi-million slush career as a pharmaceutical industry board decoration. And I'm especially confused as to why, suddenly, ABC thinks he's capable of saying things that make sense, let alone a difference.
What is the lesson of Massachusetts – where Democrats face the prospects of losing a Senate seat they’ve held since 1952? For Senator Bayh the lesson is that the party pushed an agenda that is too far to the left, alienating moderate and independent voters.

“It’s why moderates and independents even in a state as Democratic as Massachusetts just aren’t buying our message,” he said. “They just don’t believe the answers we are currently proposing are solving their problems. That’s something that has to be corrected.”

Is there really any need to say it?

Let's just note that, as there's no conceivable non-Euclidean geometry where this makes a bit of sense, the actual news here is "Senatorial cypher finds in Coakley defeat sufficient cloak to crawl out of the cloakroom and predict Catastrophe! unless more Democrats join him in pursuing the sort of fiscal and political sensibleness he facilitated for eight years of the Bush administration, despite the fact that any honest person whose wife had been caught luxuriating up to both elbows in health-care payola would have resigned immediately, and any with half an ounce of real sensibleness would have shut th' fuck up at minimum."

Look: you tell me when we might see that sort of thing as a headline, and I'll tell you when we might see something approaching the sort of decent basic health care system that might move us to the middle of the list of Industrialized Nations. Or even Substantially Literate ones.

Meanwhile, who'd like to admit they urged the Goddam Populace to elect a filibuster-proof Senate?

Who'll admit they thought we'd get something approaching universal health care after '08, despite the porn-sticky fingerprints of Congressional slatterns it was sure to accrue? (I did.)

Who'd care to locate Republican moderation in the face of absolute loss of electoral control, not just loss of the mythical "Ooooh, this might be tough, and we might have to take a stand" type? Th' fuck were you doing with 60 votes, anyway? It's a lot like worrying that Tim Wakefield has lost 2 mph from his fastball.

Who wants to see the elimination of Congressional health care? Wouldn't that move us to the Center? Real term limits, with no grandfathering? How 'bout a President who finally gets the message, and starts using signing statements to refuse to spend tax allotments in districts that block even the crappy reforms approved by the insurance and pharmaceutical industries? Christ, the man's mimicked everything else Bush did.

Anybody itching to see the Republican health care plan necessitated by hardball Democratic politics after November? (Don't hold yer breath; won't be covered.)

Finally, anybody want a "Democratic" Senator? I've got one I'm dying to get rid of; I'll trade even for a nude-model teabagger at this point.

Tuesday, January 19

And Psychotics Live In Them

David Brooks, "The Pragmatic Leviathan". January 18

HOUSEKEEPING: yesterday's were a sampling of the recently discovered Montgomery bus boycott mug shots of the eighty-nine persons arrested for engaging in an illegal boycott. That's the great, somewhat forgotten Jo Ann Robinson at top middle, I think; Rosa Parks is on the second row at the right, and Ralph Abernathy seventh row left.

Mr. Brooks, you have something to add?
When I was in college, I was assigned “Leviathan,” by Thomas Hobbes.

Wow, you kids had it easy. In my day we were assigned several books. At any rate, y'know, somebody was supposed to tell you you could put it down and move on once the semester was over.
On the cover was an image from the first edition of the book, published in 1651. It shows the British nation as a large man. The people make up the muscles and flesh. Then at the top, there is the king, who is the head and the mind.

Yeah. I tried to fake my way through finals that way, too.
When the Pilgrims left Britain to come to America, they left behind that metaphor as well. For these settlers, and the immigrants who have come since, the American nation is not a body with the government as the brain. Instead, America has been defined by its vast landscape and the sprawling energy of its entrepreneurs, scientists and community-builders.

In times of crisis, Americans rally around their government, but most of the time they have treated it as a supporting actor in national life. Americans are an unusual people, with less deference to central authority and an unparalleled faith in themselves. They seem to want a government that is helpful but not imperious, strong but subordinate.

Okay, Dave; we get the fact that the overthrow of European monarchies has robbed the world of one of its great natural footmen, and forced you to toady for Free Enterprise, Inc. and pick out your own clothes. We get it.

So I'm inured to the fact that you're going to write this column over and over and over, until the whole damn paper disappears one way or another. But is it possible, just once, for you to do so without that "Americans have a unique faith in themselves…" horseshit? Or, barring that, just once tell us who it's supposed to gull? I'll settle for a plug: This week's pinhead version of American Exceptionalism brought to you by Bristol-Meyers Squibb, which reminds you to take two Taxol™ every day. Or some such.
Over the years, American voters have reacted against any party that threatens that basic sense of proportion. They have reacted against a liberalism that sought an enlarged and corrosive government and a conservatism that threatened to dismantle the government’s supportive role.

And another thing: as much as you'd like it to be, the Presidency of Ronald Reagan, and the quasi-constituency which is credited with electing him, is not some sort of magic midpoint, or the Kundalini of the Body Politic. Nor do the '64 landslide and the '84 landslide bind the American experience in a nuthouse. I mean shell. No, had it right the first time.

If you've got to try to camouflage an argument as history, at least have the courtesy to try to get the history right. If I say "over the years the American people have sought a proportion between States' Rights and the unfettered racial and social terrorism of Petty Princes" I'm no more incendiary than you, but I at least have the virtue of being to back the statement up with evidence from before my 21st birthday.

We've enlarged our corrosive government for a century, now, with little philosophical debate--in fact, with a goddam free hand when it comes to the expansion of Presidential power and "Defense" spending--except when Republicans were out of power. The Teabaggers aren't opposed by the Marxist Coalition for Incontinent and Wasteful Government Spending. They're opposed by people who think the government ought to do what's necessary to maintain a sensible society, however defined. I mean, I realize this was a winning proposition for you, once, and the nostalgia is almost too much to bear. But the fact of that support for "government's supporting role"--even absent the massive government support we receive for outspending the rest of the world on military gee-gaws--negates your argument. It doesn't complete it. The "people" want all services, delivered now, absent any snags or snafus, and they don't want to pay anything for it. This is not a philosophical quandary. It's a psychological category.
A year ago, the country rallied behind a new president who promised to end the pendulumlike swings, who seemed likely to restore equilibrium with his moderate temper and pragmatic mind.

In other words, they were finally wise enough to hope they'd get a President just like you, rather than the sort you've wholeheartedly supported since you touched the hem of Milton Friedman's trousers.
In many ways, Barack Obama has lived up to his promise. He has created a thoughtful, pragmatic administration marked by a culture of honest and vigorous debate. When Obama makes a decision, you can be sure that he has heard and accounted for every opposing argument. If he senses an important viewpoint is not represented at a meeting, he will stop the proceedings and demand that it gets included.

Y'know, Dave, you're right. He is sort of a clueless dweeb.
But his has become a voracious pragmatism. Driven by circumstances and self-confidence, the president has made himself the star performer in the national drama. He has been ubiquitous, appearing everywhere, trying to overhaul most sectors of national life: finance, health, energy, automobiles and transportation, housing, and education, among others.

_PP_TY. Can I buy a vowel, Pat?
He is no ideologue, but over the past year he has come to seem like the sovereign on the cover of “Leviathan” — the brain of the nation to which all the cells in the body and the nervous system must report and defer.

I heard someone say exactly that while I was waiting in line at Appleby's salad bar the other night.
Americans, with their deep, vestigial sense of proportion, have reacted. The crucial movement came between April and June, when the president’s approval rating among independents fell by 15 percentage points and the percentage of independents who regarded him as liberal or very liberal rose by 18 points. Since then, the public has rejected any effort to centralize authority or increase the role of government.

So the real dichotomy in American politics is between thoughtful pragmatism and Sky Is Falling flightiness spurred by massive disinformation campaigns financed by entrenched, vested interests? Why didn't you say so in the first place?
Trust in government has fallen. The share of Americans who say the country is on the wrong track has risen. The share who call themselves conservative has risen. The share who believe government is “doing too many things better left to business” has risen.

The percentage who think we shouldn't be mining unobtanium in other solar systems has skyrocketed.
The country is now split on Obama, because he is temperate, thoughtful and pragmatic, but his policies are almost all unpopular. If you aggregate the last seven polls on health care reform, 41 percent support it and 51 percent oppose.

Because nothing improves a poll like subjecting it to arithmetic operations guided by people who don't understand them.
Many Democrats, as always, are caught in their insular liberal information loop.

Y'know, despite my low regard for Democrats, I still think it would take some species of swift and utter mass mental deterioration to get them to fucking approach the insular "conservative" information loop.
They think the polls are bad simply because the economy is bad. They tell each other health care is unpopular because the people aren’t sophisticated enough to understand it.

Really? Even after "the people" picked right up on that Death Panel provision? You'd think they'd give 'em more credit.

Let us speak, for a moment, of the concept of the Self-Annihilating argument. Let's suppose, arguendo, that there are people out there called "Democrats" who desperately wish to destroy the delicate political balance between Sensible Government Inactivity and Misguided Do-gooderism on a Flying Pony by, oh, giving people affordable health care. And let's further suppose that as their efforts grow less and less popular, assuming one adds together numbers at random then divides by his birthdate, they chalk this up to a lack of sophistication on the part of the audience. Wasn't there some point at which they might have recognized this was happening and, I dunno, fucking done something about it? Like, oh, opting for the relative simplicity of the promised single-payer system over, uh, pragmatic Leviathanism in the form of gorging the insurance company tapeworms in its belly? Shit, I'm all for Democrats being called to account for standing on principle, but I think that should wait until they demonstrate some.
Some believe they can still pass health care even if their candidate, Martha Coakley, loses the Senate race in Massachusetts on Tuesday.

That, of course, would be political suicide. It would be the act of a party so arrogant, elitist and contemptuous of popular wisdom that it would not deserve to govern. Marie Antoinette would applaud, but voters would rage.

Yeah, just imagine. Passing legislation without a filibuster-proof majority! What would the Founders have said?

Brooks is like a man trapped in a donut shop who wonders why taxpayers are forced to support a ratio of three cops to every four civilians, isn't he?

Monday, January 18

None Of Your Damn Business *

* explanation E. D. Nixon was given when he inquired about the reason Rosa Parks had been arrested.

Friday, January 15

I (Heart) Charles Pierce

"...the execrable Mark Halperin, who is to political journalism what E. coli is to steakhouses."

It's De Voodoos, Ah Tells Ya

David Brooks, "The Underlying Tragedy". January 14

IN which Dave the Brave boldly tackles The Issue Which Can't Be Named, Except In Broad Hints That Come Approximately 100% of the Time when "Conservatives" Sadly, Reluctantly, Have To Discuss Allude To Issues of Race.
We’re all supposed to politely respect each other’s cultures. But some cultures are more progress-resistant than others, and a horrible tragedy was just exacerbated by one of them.

Well, sure. It's the dead of winter, and it's been pow'ful cold; I've been feeling a little Katrina nostalgia myself. Nothing like a good natural disaster to make you feel the warm glow of superiority to the poor people at the bottom of the pile.

But this, of course, is not purely a feelgood column, or an excise in facing down the twin demons of Political Correctness and Historical Fact, no. It's Duke Visiting Professor Brooks. It's science. However dismal. (The writing, I mean.)
On Thursday, President Obama told the people of Haiti: “You will not be forsaken; you will not be forgotten.” If he is going to remain faithful to that vow then he is going to have to use this tragedy as an occasion to rethink our approach to global poverty. He’s going to have to acknowledge a few difficult truths.

Really? He can't just cut a check and luxuriate in having done a Good Deed? You really don't think he's an American, do you?
The first of those truths is that we don’t know how to use aid to reduce poverty. Over the past few decades, the world has spent trillions of dollars to generate growth in the developing world. The countries that have not received much aid, like China, have seen tremendous growth and tremendous poverty reductions. The countries that have received aid, like Haiti, have not.

First, lemme just say that, whatever our differences, Mr. Colonel Brooks, we certainly appreciate your heartfelt efforts over the past decades, and we're sorry to see you conclude they were worthless.

Now, some might quibble about comparing the most populous, and oldest, nation on earth to 10,000 square miles on half a Caribbean island whose population, the descendants of a slave revolt and beneficiaries of a couple centuries of our Monroe Doctrinaire munificence and Hemispheric Police Protection, have received all the credit for their struggle our own history would lead you to imagine.

But I'd rather quibble about the notion of China "not receiving aid", since it has been the great beneficiary of our policy of unfettered acquisitiveness at no cost to the importer and retailer. It's like the old saying: Give a man a fish, and he'll have lunch; give a man license to set up a chain of seafood restaurants built and maintained by slave labor, designed to skirt US environmental and product safety laws, and those pesky near-living-wage labor costs while making "selling cheap shit cheap" the ridgepole of your economic policy, and he'll wind up eating your lunch.

Still, I do want to congratulate you on this new-found demand for results (or, perhaps more accurately, re-descovered from the Clinton era). When does it begin applying to the US defense budget? And when does the magical Aid/No Aid equation get applied to Israel?
In the recent anthology “What Works in Development?,” a group of economists try to sort out what we’ve learned. The picture is grim. There are no policy levers that consistently correlate to increased growth. There is nearly zero correlation between how a developing economy does one decade and how it does the next. There is no consistently proven way to reduce corruption. Even improving governing institutions doesn’t seem to produce the expected results.

Here's the thing, Dave. I'm guessing that if you brought together the great theologians of the age (I'm joking, but just play along) and asked them to contribute to an anthology entitled "What Works in Spirituality?" that you'd learn the continuing existence of Evil in the world, despite our having discovered the One True Religion any number of times over, is the fault of practically everyone except theologians.

Look, in addition to the big greasy thumbprint we've left over the entire hemisphere, the US occupied Haiti from 1915-1934 because we didn't care for anyone else monkeying with Haiti's national railroad, which we owned, or risking the profitability of its national bank, which we dominated. We then let Trujillo slaughter the blacks on his half the island because he was a good Francoesque Anti-Communist, and we let Poppa and Baby Doc and the Tonton Macoutes terrorize the population for thirty years, apparently in the hopes that this would make our pal Marcos look good by comparison. Of course, we did send the Duvaliers plenty of economic and military aid, so, by your rubric, maybe we were just trying to drown them in dollars.

In fact the only time the US has seen fit to directly intervene to preserve precious Haitian freedoms is when it looked like those might break out in a bad case of socialism.

So, look: no doubt there's "a complex web of progress-resistant cultural influences" afflicting Haitian society, something we don't really need David Brooks quoting some other authority to tell us, and we don't need you giving us "the voodoo religion, which spreads the message that life is capricious and planning futile" as a prime example. Y'know, the Chinese kinda see things that way too, in a sense, and they're miracle workers. For that matter, so does much of the adult world, or at least that portion of it that isn't yet convinced that manufacturing colossal mounds of junk in order to afford a mortgage in Suburbia is the highest aspiration of Man.

But really: feel free to talk about this sort of thing all day long if you wish. Who th' fuck's stopping you? I don't offer Western racism, military threat, and economic tyranny as perpetual Get Out of Jail Free cards. I'd just like to know why, every time you feel compelled to struggle against the bonds of Political Correctness, which so prevent you from Telling It Like It Is, you evince nothing resembling the slightest familiarity with those practices or their long-term effects? You're really Telling It How You Want It To Be, aren't you, in the same way we could defeat whatever insurgency we're currently losing to if they'd just come out in the open and fight like 18th century Englishmen? The Haitian people are responsible for all that Boogety-boo, and for not making the most of their economic opportunities the way those nice Dominicas, the ones who insure Mr. Limbaugh enjoys his vacations on the other side of Hispaniola, do. Go ahead and say it, Dave. Just spare us the tale of how this all occurs despite our bestest humanitarian efforts--which our Best Economic Minds just can't quite understand--and because of our failure to insist on finding just the right strongman to run the joint for us.

Wednesday, January 13

Congenital Stockholm Syndrome

Michael Sherer, "As Mascot and Martyr, Sarah Palin Debuts On Fox News". January 12

MANY years ago, in my days as a corporate lackey, I wound up responsible for the details of a catered banquet, though I hadn't chosen the caterer. He turned out to be a guy who's now a species of local teevee demi-celeb as a health food shill, even though it's obvious his expertise consists of having a trunkful of stock nutritional comments of dubious quality, and being a vegetarian who knows how to sauté. And his schtick consists of saying things like "Well, we could put some lard in it for you!" to the forced merriment of persons high enough on the local demi-celeb chain that they're the one holding the microphone.

(He actually said just that, a couple weeks back, either totally unaware that lard's mostly monounsaturated fat and high smoking point had turned it into, if the the health-food craze du jour, at least something worth a trendy reappraisal, or else simply because "lard" is the worst insult he can imagine hurling at someone since he himself wouldn't eat it. Which is like the proselytizing street-corner Christian saying he hopes three nude women meet you at the door when you get home.)

But back then he was a Chef, with his name on his lab coat to prove it. At some point we got into an argument over a plating charge, or a time restriction or something, and I suggested that buffet service would solve the problem. "I do not do buffets!" he said. "When I arrange a plate, it's Art!"

"Geez, pal, I take kitchen scraps to my compost pile in a bowl, too, but that doesn't make me Rembrandt," I said. We never really hit it off, somehow.
It's been said before, but let me say it again: Fox News creator Roger Ailes is a genius. His peers in the executive suites of rival networks, newspapers and media conglomerates still hire talent for their abilities. Ailes knows you can also hire talent for who they anger, who they unite and what they represent.

No, Mozart is a genius. Cézanne is a genius. Jorge Luis Borges is a genius. Roger Ailes is a cheap thug and political fixer who turns Rupert Murdock's billions into 2.5 million cable viewers a night. That's not a politically-motivated criticism. It's an aesthetically-motivated one.

Here's the political criticism: why should we witness a third generation of journalists give the extremist Right a free pass on the grounds that they (the journalists) are too establishment, hence too elitist, to understand the Great Middle Class of the Great Middle of the Country, which obviously agrees with everything FOX News ever says, or, on the off chance it doesn't, who's some East Coast elitist to say so?
[Before I continue, I must make a disclosure: I am not, as a member of the professional media, qualified to describe Sarah Palin's debut appearance as a Fox News analyst. As Fox pundit Monica Crowley explained on the network after the former Alaska governor left Tuesday night, Palin “was actually talking over the heads of the media to the American people.” This, explained Crowley, is Palin's great talent—a rare ability to connect directly with Americans through television. “Nixon did it,” Crowley added, driving home her point. Lacking access to Palin's most important frequencies, therefore, I must ask that you take this analysis for what it is—an incomplete rendering.]

Look: if you aren't qualified to say "Monica Crowley is full of shit," then you aren't qualified for anything. This sort of "Oh, ha-ha, the Rubes don't like me" routine is just meant to simultaneously assert your real superiority, assert your superior sense of fairness in "not" responding, and, most importantly, justify the fact that you do not call Monica Crowley a steaming slo-cooker of malformed, hepatitis-laden feces, on the grounds that she represents an alternative universe, where it's possible Tureen of Floating Turd is viewed as a delicacy.

The reader is supposed to make the case for you. Which might be a literary technique, except that you spend the rest of the piece making the opposite case.
The set up was unmistakable. Ailes had not hired another talking head in Palin. He had hired a mascot for Fox News, a living breathing symbol of all that the network hopes to be: a place for the forgotten, besieged, suburban and rural American middle, long victimized, often dismissed, beset on all sides by elites and liberals, haters and foes. Palin took her cue perfectly. “They don't like the message,” she said. “They don't like the commonsense conservative solutions that I think I represent, and I articulate as I explain what I believe are some solutions to the great challenges facing America.”

Fuck dat. If Ailes is a genius for hiring the World's Most Popular Wingnut Celebrity for the World's Most Popular Wingnut Cable Operation, then I'm a genius for hitting the brakes when I see a stop sign.

Look, you wanna talk about genius, of the political type, then Crowley had it right: Nixon. Only leaving out "Evil" renders the equation less than truthful. All FOX does is harvest an audience he predisposed to the crap it sells, Southern Strategy, perpetually shoulder-chipped, no use for facts and rapidly losing the ability to process any it happens to find. Ailes' pedigree dates to Nixon. Just like Cheney, just like Rumsfeld. In a world where Democrats are still being asked to atone for McGovern and Carter, why do these fucks get a pass? FOX draws 2.5 million a night. That's pretty good for cable. Fully one-third of what ESPN draws for an NBA semifinal. But how is it for politics? FOX is the only game in town for its adherents (and what percentage are they of its viewership? How many people who disagree with FOX watch it?). No one asks what's accomplished with this awesome force behind it, just as, among certain sycophants and journalists, Sarah Palin has no responsibility for losing the 2008 election or quitting the post she'd asked those besieged suburban and rural Alaskans to grant her.

And fuck dat, too: Palin picks up cues about…Sarah Palin? It's the one fucking subject she might be qualified to speak on, although that doesn't make her trustworthy or coherent. The fact that Sarah Palin is a bizarrely popular side-show performer, whose act consists of her doing an impression of a brain-damaged parrot, or that Roger Ailes has his fat finger on the pulse of Stupidity, doesn't disqualify either of them from responsibility for the crap they produce. And even if it did, the onus doesn't disappear; it just shifts to the audience.

And spare me the idea that Ailes has gone meta with this remarkable coup. That's just the sort of bullshit people say when they don't want to say what they should say. "Sarah Palin, FOX News Mascot"? You mean she wasn't before? She has to actually go on the air and erase whatever lingering doubts over her mental competence might still be out there for the two to be linked? Please…maybe it really is best you avoid commenting on that portion of the country that doesn't reside in your skin.
To quibble with any of these utterances, in form or substance, would be to simply help fulfill her Fox News destiny. She exists to enrage and rile those paid to pay attention to this stuff, a group who a great bulk of the American people long ago began to dislike for its phony self-importance and its monopoly on their attentions.

Quibble? Since when do opinion journalists "quibble" with politicians and paid mouthpieces? And since when is an imaginary confrontation between a journalist and an audience member who disagrees with him grounds for his not saying anything in the first place? (Yeah, I know. Since. 1968.) The Press, like the Democrats, have been running scared from "helping fulfill wingnut destiny" since Reagan, if I'm not mistaken; if I am please let me know who tried otherwise, and when. Why do more people trust The Daily Show, and Colbert than "real" news? Well, for one, because those two don't run from this shit and then congratulate themselves for covering distance. If Palin says nothing which should be disputed--let's go ahead and make that "shredded"--in public, then she says nothing which should be covered at all. So shut up about her. She shouldn't be covered as a real-life logo just because you tried to make her into a metaphorical one two paragraphs back.

Y'know, that America which doesn't like you doesn't dislike you any less just because you tap-dance around the intellectual condyloma that is Sarah Palin, or FOX News in general. When you back away from the obvious truth, that America is more convinced than ever that what you do say is a lie. This isn't judo, and it's not--or not supposed to be--some slumber-partygoer's version of passive-aggression in pursuit of the right to wear lipstick. Hyperreality is a communications theory, not a lifestyle choice. If it's not "okay" to subject Sarah Palin or Her Network to scrutiny on the grounds that some people out there believe her, or It, then it's not okay to make fun of someone wearing Klingon ears or a porn 'stache.

It makes no difference to me whether anyone at Time ever comes out and says, "Sarah Palin is a double-talking bumblespeaker too ignorant to be taken seriously, let alone seriously as a candidate". I just object to her being excused for it because other idiots agree with her. I just wanna know what you went to J-school for if "putting the truth on paper" isn't it?

Monday, January 11

Helene Cooper: Shill Or Succubus?

Roger Ailes cracks up the help. From the front page of Sunday's
New York Times fluffery of Ailes' business acumen. Separately, or together,
all you need to know about the decline of Western Civilization in the 21st century.

Helene Cooper, "The Label Factor: Is Obama a Wimp or a Warrior?" January 10

IT'S certainly possible we've always been a Nation of Liars, but I think--at least I like to think--a Nation that Can't Tell the Fucking Difference is of much more recent vintage.

Y'know, I distinctly remember the first time I opened a candy bar and found that the internal cardboard form was 20% larger than the bar itself. And I distinctly remember the feeling of having just been snookered, which means 1) that I was old enough to know that grown-ups didn't necessarily have your best interests at heart, and 2) that I was used to candy bars being roughly the size of their wrappers. And I'm reasonably secure in the belief that each succeeding generation has had its comparable commercial example readily at hand.

Somewhere along the line we reached critical mass; at some point the constant push of legalized rapine became not just excused, or even acceptable, behavior, but the standard by which all other human achievement is judged.

And yet I find it impossible to believe that perniciously induced greed and self-centeredness makes anyone imagine that driving a Street Panzer with one hand while yammering away on the phone is a good idea. And I find it difficult to explain how one writes this:
WASHINGTON — Like every Democratic president since John F. Kennedy, President Obama is battling the perception that he’s a wimp on national security.

It’s not just coming from Republicans (for example, Dick Cheney’s accusation that Mr. Obama is trying to pretend that the country isn’t at war). Now barbs are coming from the center too. This week’s Foreign Policy magazine has a provocative cover: Mr. Obama next to Jimmy Carter with — gasp — an “equals” sign in the middle. New York Times/CBS polling shows that public approval of Mr. Obama’s foreign policy dropped 9 points to 50 percent between last April and November. Leslie H. Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote on the Daily Beast blog two weeks ago that Mr. Obama needs to toughen up with his adversaries. “He puts far too much store on being the smartest guy in the room,” Mr. Gelb wrote. “He’d do well to remember that Jimmy Carter also rang all the I.Q. bells.”

…while somehow missing the point that one has now defined "the center" as "'Doctor' Heinz 'Henry' Kissinger".

That Foreign Policy corker was authored by Walter Russell Mead, who is the Kissinger Senior Fellow at the…shit, I meant to write this down…oh, yeah, something called the Council on Foreign Relations. Reader, tasked with turning that into something the Times found sufficiently solicitous of its rabid right-wing and devoutly religious readership to be included in the "Week in Review" section, I doubt you would come up with "centrist" to describe it. But there you go.

[Later we will hear from former Clinton official Stephen Sestanovich, who is now at the Council on Something or Other, former Clinton official David J. Rothkopf, who isn't, but who left the Clinton adminstration to become managing partner of Kissinger and Associates, and some guy who's a Middle East security policy fellow at the Center for American Progress. Y'know, just to make sure we're hearing all sides.]

Believing that the world functions best on lies, whether through some epistemological tap dance, or because you think whatever benefits the guy signing your paycheck is the right way to go (Oh, Mr. Ailes, you are a stitch!), is one thing; writing as though this sort of nonsense is perceived wisdom is something else. The Council--the fine folks who brought you Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq--presented in part by your local Coca-Cola™ bottler--might represent what passes for centrism in a Washington where, in some cases, Barack Obama passes for liberal, but it's hardly the median in the "US Foreign Policy has been an unmitigated disaster" to "Bomb Bomb Iran" continuum. Put another way, some aspect of foreign policy under President Obama is now being criticized as deficient in flashy swordplay not merely by despised, draft-dodging war criminals, but also by highly-paid mouthpieces for American military hegemony. You can almost feel the momentum, can't you?

And let's put it another way, as long as we're at it: in one year in office, the precise amount of time it took his predecessor to pull troops out of Afghanistan in order to conduct a more thorough clusterfuck in Iraq, which is why the current President has the opportunity to be twice a Wimp in the first place, the Obama State Department seems to have occasionally engaged in diplomacy. Which threatens to turn him into History's Second Greatest Monster, and America into the sort of Pitiful Helpless Giant afraid to ship its blood and treasure overseas to lose to improvised WWI technologies.

Th' fuck are these people even still in the Arena, let alone holding the whip hand in the Big Race?
Of course, accusations that Democrats are genetically softer on threats to the Republic are nothing new. After World War II, Republicans mostly stopped attacking the Democrats as the party that had gotten America into two world wars, and began calling it soft on Communism. Roosevelt’s agreement to the postwar division of Europe at Yalta, followed by China’s fall in 1949 while Truman was president, spurred that on. John Kennedy managed to emerge from an early fiasco at the Bay of Pigs and achieve the counter-image of a cold war liberal, thanks to the Berlin and Cuban-missile crises; then Lyndon Johnson’s fear of being labeled “soft on Communism” helped him override his doubts about getting deeper into Vietnam. But after that, the ill-fated antiwar candidacy of George McGovern, followed by Jimmy Carter’s inability to rescue American hostages in Iran, sealed a stereotype of Democrats as, well, wimps.

Look, Ms Cooper: it's the United States, where a lot of native-born citizens who actually lived through those events have absolutely no idea of the history, so I'm going to give you a provisional pass. But, fuck, does it make sense that Republicans "stopped" attacking Democrats as "the party which got us into two world wars" after the Second World War? Meaning that criticism was current during that War? Y'know, the one everybody loved, and supported, while behaving like Ozzie and Harriet, or respectful, in the case of the Coloreds, and immigrants? Do you think "soft on Communism" was inherently threatening, or was it, you know, accentuated at times? At whom do you think it was hurled? (Here's a hint: one of 'em's got a birthday coming up.) Yalta? Who fucking lost China? Listen, that might've played at the time, but suggesting that these were one-way arguments, with Republicans as the Top, is not just to view them through the fog of the selective retelling or Manichaean oversimplification that's gone on since, but to confuse the overtly Republican version with, well, the center. Yes, indeed, we agreed, at Yalta, to the demands of our allies the Soviets--who had been the ones to actually, y'know, defeat the German army, at a cost somewhere above 14 million military casualties-- for a buffer in Eastern Europe; yes, indeed, they proved to be liars and brigands. What, exactly, should we have done? The Truman administration didn't exactly knock itself out upholding our end of the bargain, and the Brits proved, as always, to be masters of the art of international passive-aggression and the bare-bottom spank. What were we supposed to do in China? Fine, these matters were grist for the mill then, and you're free to report them as such. But if you wanna use them now to cast aspersions on FDR--let alone Truman, who's personally responsible for fifty years of tub-thumping Cold Warfare spending--then you might try looking into facts.

Yes, in a climate of political insanity both Kennedy and Johnson felt forced to display sufficiently warlike mien. But--we're beginning to see a trend here--the actual results are actually in: not just the Bay of Pigs and Vietnam, but an American President playing global thermonuclear brinkmanship over no real threat to American security. Maybe it's time that got included in the lesson. Kennedy knew Soviet missiles in Cuba posed no real threat, or none beyond the standard insanity of the Cold War; Johnson knew that Vietnam was unwinnable before he escalated it. Bush II knew there was no imminent threat from Iraq. Maybe it's the goddam war mongering that's the problem, Ms Cooper.

And look, I'm really fucking tired of defending the results of the '72 election, the one won by a war criminal and petty felon, or of debating Malaise Forever! with someone who was wearing training bras at the time. If there's some way Vietnam, or the domestic economy, would have turned out worse if George McGovern had been elected, please let me know. His public immolation by the Democratic party following that loss sure didn't prevent it from losing again, or by bigger margins. As for Carter, you can make the case--though you have to be the sort of person who's interested in making cases--that we'd not be in our current state of pants-pissedness had we followed through on those "wimpy" foreign policy objectives--fairness, cooperation, even-handedness, human rights--instead of arming the Saudis, cozying up to Sadam Hussein, and Presidential decisions made in "fear" of appearing to understand the distinction between the modern State of Israel and the Biblical Israelites. Though I note, here, that we've suddenly decided that history does count, if sporadically: "failed to rescue the hostages"? Remember the Mayaguez!

And, y'know, I'm tired of defending Obama. If you would like to look at the actual process of labeling and conclude he's being forced to make stupider decisions than he'd make otherwise, be my guest. I remain agnostic. But arguing that he's making insufficiently stupid ones just boggles the imagination.

Thursday, January 7


Risible, cut-rate impersonator in a cheap suit poses
next to a fire extinguisher and Col. Sanders.

• The Joy-A-Minute Thrill Ride That Is Ross Douthat's NYT Blog (and, supposing you, Reader, had just returned home from Amnesia, innocent of the whole Blogging Mystique: what would you make of the Times paying one of its columnists--let alone the one with the bad teenage beard--to fucking think out loud?) "informs" us that there is a popular entertainment known as Avatar which might be the most hypocritical thing ever produced in the name of Entertainment, since it extols the virtues of primitivism and--Ross' genuflecting was audible--pantheism, but uses modern technology in place of the pinhole camera.

Then again, says hopeful Ross, maybe not; this "much-discussed irony" may be a mere artifact of director James Cameron, the perpetrator of The Titanic, cynically using Eden, pantheism, and the enormities of self-assured conquest cynically, just because he knew it would put people in the seats.

In standard Douthat Blogging fashion, his real point is that he found somebody he could link to who makes the case better than he can, and cheaper, which somebody turns out to be a guy who got a headache from Avatar's 3-D effects (Good. It's the least you should have expected.), or, perhaps, from its "anti-imperialism and anti-corporate attitudinizing". Which contrast, apparently, with its blockbuster cousin The Matrix, whose "moral lesson…is that the glossy magic of life inside a simulation distracts from painful truth", and which reserved its headaches for people who read the sort of reviewers who find moral lessons in big-screen comic-books, and follow this up by discussing whether the "fun" the movie seems to have vitiates the value of the lesson.

I suspect you may have heard some of the "much discussion", because I had, despite all the precautions I take around anything communicable. And I'm left with two questions. One: as far as you guys are concerned, isn't the idea of Cameron as a 3-D Svengali, luring impressionable Americans into debbil worship, cultural relativism, and maybe even thoughtful consideration of incontinent military-assisted rapaciousness actually preferable to the idea of Cameron as a carbonated beverage salesman who's hit upon a marketable truth about the real American soul? And two: wasn't the world a lot better off when these fucks just wore hair shirts and kept their itching to themselves?

• Shorter, no really, Farhad Manjoo: It's 2010! I can't believe I, Farhad Majoo, still have to plug one device into another! With my hands! What th' hell kind of a world is this? Also, what an outrage that Google Voice--nothing short of a reinvention of the phone!--was only passed out to bigwigs. Oh, and here's my review.

• That's Accidental Mayor of Indianapolis Gomer F. Ballard, USMC, pictured above at yesterday's Photo Op/Awards Ceremony for his having secured $2500 worth of fire extinguishers--some with minor blemishes, and all with "KFC Fiery Grilled Wings" emblazoned on 'em--with just the simple expedient of handing the corporate behemoth and fine member of the Yum! Brands family of slow poisoners advertising worth about twenty times that.

The extinguishers will be going to the same city parks system that the fledgling Mayor Gomer was heard to ask why we needed? back before someone shoved a cork in him.

Y'know, this is precisely why we need constitutional protection from privatizing more than, say, property taxes. There's at least a self-correcting feature of tax increases. But privatization means some suit somewhere is either bending over for the first deal he gets, or holding Macquarie Infrastructure Group underwater until they agree to his demands. The allure is sexual. It's BDSM Republican style.

• Have no fear, Murrica. Indiana Wizened Senate Sinecure Dick "Statesman" Lugar, the man who cautioned us about the Iraq war before voting for it before saying I Told You So before voting for it several more times, has asked Indiana Attorney General Greg "Dude, Your Shoes Are Supposed To Remain Visible Outside Mitch Daniels' Rectum" Zoeller to review the constitutionality of the health care reform bill that the Senate passed last month, apparently while Lugar was in attendance.

Specifically, Lugar wants Zoeller to rule on whether "the bill’s requirement that most people buy insurance or face a penalty violates the Constitution’s ban on taking private property for public purpose without just compensation", and whether a provision that could treat some insurance companies in Nebraska and Michigan different from others is a violation of the 14th Amendment's “equal protection” clause. Zoeller is empowered to do so under Indiana's "Useless Fucking Gestures by Grandstanding Public Officials" Act.

Lugar, of course, is the Senate's longest-serving Republican, a perch he's achieved while basically ignoring the concerns of actual Hoosiers in favor of positioning himself as, first, Presidential timber, and, second, as a roundly-rejected former Presidential candidate with trans-partisan appeal as a statesman-like protector of the rest of the world from employing more nuclear weapons than the US would like. And, of course, he's backed this up by voting for every last Defense budget, weapon system, black op, and minor military incursion that's crossed his desk.

But Zoeller, now, is part of the new breed of Indiana politician who sees statewide office as a fine place from which to conduct a permanent campaign for Governor, even if you aren't Secretary of State (i.e., even if your job has real duties which you really ought to, you know, be doing), although, historically, no one's ever vaulted to the top spot from elsewhere. In fact, if these guys had any respect for tradition, they'd be working as after dinner speakers, Ministers to Prussa, Klan lawyers, or helping the Bush administration destroy the national economy.

Then again, maybe I'm just touchy. A couple months ago we started receiving what I think are called in the annoyance industry "vacated" calls, which are robocalls that connect to an available human if you pick up, and if there's an available human available. They came two per day, every business day and occasionally on Saturday, around 8 AM and 6 PM. And there was never anyone there.

Now, my understanding of Indiana's No-Call law is that these calls are illegal. Indiana law exempts (wait for it) politicians and newspapers, but even they are required to have someone standing by who will disconnect you on demand.

Once I tumbled onto the fact that this one was of those Warner Brothers cartoons with The Robot House of Tomorrow Run Amok to the Appropriated Strains of Raymond Scott's Powerhouse, I chased down the caller ID, which led me to the out-of-state call center employed by the Indianapolis Racist Beacon to harass people into buying its product. This was followed by the parody of a call-center employee assuring me the problem would be fixed, and my name taken off the list, and, of course, by the calls continuing that very evening at a time when the Call Center was closed for the night. I did what I generally do in such circumstances; I endured two more calls while they were closed for the weekend, then got an actual human, told him I wanted to speak to the woman who'd assured me the problem would end, was told she wasn't available, asked, under the circumstances, then, to speak to the supervisor whose name she gave me but wouldn't connect me to, waited while the current operator tried and failed to confirm his existence, after which I allowed as how, whether or not the call was being recorded, I'd be just as satisfied driving to Louisville to shoot him in the face. After which the problem went away.

But not the memory. I tried calling the Racist Beacon a dozen times to speak to someone in the circulation department, and kept getting connected to the Executive Assistant in charge of Not Speaking English, so I called the Attorney General's hotline.

I went out of my way to explain, right off the bat, that I knew newspapers were legally permitted to drive any citizen with a phone out of his or her mind, but that this one was robocalling me. The attractive voice at the other end of the line then informed me that newspapers had the right to call me. I thanked her for the information, and then undertook to begin the conversation over again, at which point she managed to grasp it, and told me she didn't actually know whether that was unlawful or not. I inquired about the odds on her finding someone in the office who might. She informed me that she wasn't actually in the AGs office. She worked for a call center.

So I eventually was mailed a complaint form, which required me to swear (God knows I'd done enough of that already) that I'd turn up to testify in court, even though this seemed unlikely. I filled the thing out, taking special care to add in the optional comments that Yes, I motherfucking understand that newspapers are exempt from Indiana's no-call statute, unlike bloggers, but that what said motherfucking newspaper was doing violated the law anyway.

About three weeks later I got a piece of return mail. In it, Attorney General Greg Zoeller informed me that newspapers are exempt from Indiana's no-call law.