Wednesday, March 31

I'd Omit Them*

Eliot Spitzer. "Without Merit: Even as politics, the states' lawsuit against health care reform makes no sense". March 30

THE last couple days I've been trying desperately to catch or keep up with political news while expending the minimum effort possible, which sounds like I'm auditioning for a slot on local news, but is actually due to Spring Break and Other Obligations. So I have absolutely no excuse for having clicked over to Slate.

Spitzer, you probably know, has made his post-Public Disgrace career on Telling It Like It Is, the Disgracee's secular version of the Finding Jesus ploy, which, similarly, tends to raise the question What Was Holding You Back When You Were On The Taxpayer's Dime? But Truth Telling is such a seller's market at this point we'll snort whatever's offered, no matter how many times it's been stepped on. Nothing new for a seasoned campaigner like myself, and I'm ready to embrace anything even remotely critical of the Mitch "Friend of the Taxpayer" Daniels partial funding of this bit of political street mime. But then we get this:
There are several aspects of this lawsuit that deserve more attention. First, the attorneys' actions represent a last-gasp effort to retain a remnant of the Reagan revolution. The congressional and executive branches of the federal government have squarely turned away from the Reagan worldview of a minimalist government. Expansive new federal statutes, or sweeping new powers granted to executive agencies, already have or are about to redefine the health care, financial services, environmental, educational, and energy sectors. Having lost in the overtly political and democratic branches of government, opponents of health care reform are turning to the one remaining branch of government—the courts.

Now, Spitzer is what we might call an early Reagantot: he's twenty when the Great Prevaricator takes the Oath, a whiz-kid at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School; by the time the Iran/Contra and S&L scandals cap eight years of insane tax policy, income disparity, ballooning budgets, and incontinently-funded military fetishism--or what Norman Podhoretz says we all agree now was "Greatness"--Spitzer has his J.D. from Hahvahd, is working for the Manhattan DA, and appears to've set his sights on a political career. And yet he describes the Reagan "revolution" as the "belief" in "minimal" government.

Is there any hope, whatsoever, or is it best just to write all these people off and pray for Sense to come unexpectedly into fashion? It's one fucking thing when Douthat blames the Free Love 70s (!) for corrupting young Catholic seminarians; it's quite another when someone who presumably paid attention in college, and who has every reason to expose, if not denigrate, the Reagan legacy instead starts gumming that "Revolution" porridge. Jesus, it doesn't require a newly-retrendified belief in Big Gubmint to believe in things like proper regulation of commerce, progressive income tax, or the wisdom, ethics, and self-interest of a social safety net; it takes an ideology based on a self-absorption approaching clinical levels to oppose them under any and all circumstances. If Warren Buffett made a point of tossing an unwanted sandwich into a furnace rather than give it to a starving man, he'd be rightly considered an enemy of mankind. How is it that Republicans are instead considered "people with a different philosophy of governing"? It would be one thing if they'd propose, enacted, or even maintained balanced budgets when they've held the power. But they did precisely the opposite. The question isn't "Whose governing principles?" It's "Why aren't all these fuckers in prison?"


*Oscar Levant's reply to Bernard Herrmann, who asked Levant how he'd handle the first four bars of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony.

Tuesday, March 30

News From Geodisynchronous Orbit

IT'S Spring Break, Dude! which means 1) the high-school aged children of friends, neighbors, associates, casual acquaintances, and other social irritants are jetting off to exotic locales I couldn't afford to go to now, let alone back in college, when one is actually old enough to do so without any supervision beyond local law enforcement and the US Consulate. Seriously, I know someone who put a high-school junior daughter on a plane to Mexico, in between protesting that the healthcare bill had hurled this nation down the Yawning Crevasse of One-World Socialist Government and protesting that the mortgage bail-out bill was rewarding irresponsible behavior. I have, as a result, decided that I do all this typing just for the exercise.

And 2) it means that I watch the neighbor's menagerie while they escape the constraints of living where there are four seasons, one of them Evil, and head out for the subtropics just in time for Ol' Sol to gently warm the blighted prairie, which responds by breaking out in spring bulbs and singing birds. This means the pets themselves receive about the only attention they get all year, this being the sort of suburban Republican household where pets are regarded as a small sop to the nostalgia for sleep-in domestic help.

The dog gets to go for a daily, if not twice-daily, walk, which means his total for Spring Break, Dude! tops the rest of the year. I'm a cat person, in no small part, I think, because I watched my mother and step-father drive a series of yapping suburban Republican household fur decorations stark raving nuts; like my neighbors they inevitably bought pedigreed inbreds and cooped them up in the house in contradistinction to whatever the single-purpose of the original inbreeding had been. The acquisition of Neighbor Dog a decade ago included the added family-politics carnival that the Husband, avidly camouflaged outsmarter of waterfowl, managed to convince the Daughter, then a first-grader, that the thing she wanted most in all the world was a retriever, thus outvoting the Wife 2-1. This was followed by the standard suburban Republican household decision not to neuter, on the grounds that early retirement was just a couple of stud fees away; this misconception, or mental illness, is so common I suspect the commercial breeders of such things encourage it, where it is not due to some deep-seated fear, or experience, of male inadequacy. At any rate, the hound proved a bust at his chosen profession, was more-or-less an afterthought by the age of one, and has spent much of the past ten years in sexual frustration and on his doggie bed.

The cats are allowed to roam free, but not on my watch, which means I have to catch every friend, relative, hanger-on, and militia member who drops by--each with his own key--and ask them--every year--to help keep the cats indoors, which results in my being stared at in mock incomprehension. "They like to go out," is the usual reply, as though the other 51 months of the year they spend in my back yard escape my attention. "Yes, and this is why they ask me to watch the beasts, and not you, and why they will not be returned in a shoebox," is the intended reply, but I generally just let it go. It's already enough that I'm regarded as some sort of environmental animal rights nut just for bringing it up.

Meanwhile, I'd be keeping up with the local news, except the only local news is that Butler--the Indianapolis-based, private, liberal-arts college where East Coast Titans of Industry Financial Services send their progeny who drink too much for the Ivies--has reached the Final Four which, coincidentally, will be held right here in Indianapolis at the Football Multi-Purpose Barn. Seriously, nineteen-and-one-half minutes of every twenty-two are dedicated to telling this same story over and over again from whatever unused angle the cameraman can devise. They managed yesterday to sneak in a ten-second graphic on the proposed sale of our remaining city-owned utilities--these are, mind you, the same keepers of Our Cherished First Amendment Rights which slept through the graft-and-incompetence riddled construction of a new library right up to the moment the thing, and the scheme behind it, collapsed--between a report on a ticket snafu and an interview with the guy who owns, or husbands, or something, the mascot dog.

So you wanna hear how the Mitch Daniels 2012 campaign, oh, I mean the State's Attorney General's office, has joined a dozen other teabag-crazed states in filing suit over the egregious Federal act of providing a few indigents with some medical insurance (something which began with a formal request from Dick "Moderate" Lugar, by the way) you'll probably wanna ask someone from out of state.

Saturday, March 27

Froth Is Stranger Than Friction

[Hey, as long as we're all here, was ours the only household in the aethersphere which spent roughly 48 hours unable to connect to anything Blogger related? I got nothin'. Couldn't connect here, to Roy's, e.g., or Blogger Status, and when it finally returned there's not one word of a problem. I'd ask 'em directly, but as I recall it finding an email addy which is answered by a human is the equivalent of two Easter eggs.]

David Brooks,
"The Return of History". March 25

AH, the dubious joys of one of those Brooks columns which eschew, or "eschew", politics for some community college socio-economic survey course lecture designed to show us Brooks as Fair-Minded Conservative Intellectual, and wind up actually showing us Brooks, the mildly, if unfathomably, successful operator of New York's largest George Eff Will's Gentlemen's Neckwear franchise.

(Brooks seems to imagine, with his career serving as evidence, I suppose, that this sort of thing functions like a few good body blows in the early rounds, softening up his opponent for the headshot knockout in the 8th. Brooks, in case we haven't pointed this out before, is no pugilist.)
Some brilliant scholar has to write a comprehensive history of modern economics because the evolution of this field is clearly one of the most consequential things happening in the world today.

Well, shit, Dave; McDonald's new menu is one of the most consequential things happening in the restaurant business today, too. Doesn't mean I wanna watch someone eating that slop.
Act I in this history would be set in the era of economic scientism: the period when economists based their work on a crude vision of human nature (the perfectly rational, utility-maximizing autonomous individual) and then built elaborate models based on that creature.

Says the guy whose life-changing event was a lecture by a guy who won a freakin' Nobel for saying that all human freedom could be assigned a dollar amount.

Look, if I learned anything at all in college it's this: do not trust the man who claims that before his glorious ratiocination took its present shape all thinking was done by well-intentioned bumpkins. Do not take the word of some guy who glanced at the illustration before telling you that Lamarck thought giraffe necks stretched with the food supply, or Pollock splashed paint around because he was an inferior draftsman. Consider carefully whether your floatation device to that desert island should be the crude pastoral Das Kapital or Free to Choose: A Personal Statement.
Act II would occur over the past few decades, as a few brave economists tried to move beyond this stick-figure view of humanity. Herbert Simon pointed out that people aren’t perfectly rational. Gary Becker analyzed behaviors that don’t seem to be the product of narrow self-interest, like having children and behaving altruistically. Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman pointed out that people seem to have common biases when they try to make objective decisions.

This part of the history would be the story of gradually growing sophistication and of splintering.

Then somebody explain why I thought I was at a regional dinner-theatre production of Rhinoceros.

And listen: no offense to people I will never read, and who, no doubt, are being subjected to the same sort of easy analysis the stock characters of Act I got from Visiting Professor Brooks, but is this really what Economics has been up to? Fighting over which scientificalist model best predicted the slumber party's opinion of Allyson Kidwell's new crush? It's worse than even I imagined.

There really comes a point in thinking about almost any human endeavor where you have to ask yourself whether the whole thing isn't just a leg-pull devised by three bored sophomores. And we are well beyond that point.
Then the story would come to Act III, the economic crisis of 2008 and 2009. This act is a climax of sorts because it exposed the shortcomings of the whole field. Economists and financiers spent decades building ever more sophisticated models to anticipate market behavior, yet these models did not predict the financial crisis as it approached. In fact, cutting-edge financial models contributed to it by getting behavior so wrong — helping to wipe out $50 trillion in global wealth and causing untold human suffering.

Funny thing: every one of those Burke weekends Brooks attends spends an hour on how Liberalism Believes In The Perfectibility of Man, while Conservatives See Accurately Into His Dirty Jungle Nature and Take Heed. And who kept pushing for us to turn the prison keys over to the descendants of Astor, Vanderbilt, and Morgan. Go fucking figure.

Nobody saw it coming! Like fun, they didn't. Nobody sounded the alarm is an entirely different matter.
This would bring the historian to Act IV, the period of soul-searching that we are living through now. More than a year after the event, there is no consensus on what caused the crisis. Economists are fundamentally re-evaluating their field.

And Willie Sutton is fundamentally re-evaluating where the money is.
In The Wall Street Journal, Russ Roberts of George Mason University wondered why economics is even considered a science. Real sciences make progress. But in economics, old thinkers cycle in and out of fashion. In real sciences, evidence solves problems. Roberts asked his colleagues if they could think of any econometric study so well done that it had definitively settled a dispute. Nobody could think of one.

Okay; the little irony here, that Brooks is busy doing the same thing with his Liberal's Favorite 'Conservative' sinecure that Economics has done with Mathematics, or modern Psychobabble with Linguistics: attach itself to some harder science and assume its mantle for the Class picture, is killing me.

Rules For Using The Sciences (aka the "Real" Sciences) As A Metaphor For Your Little Enterprise

1) You recognize you are using them as a metaphor.
2) You don't say they "progress".
3) In fact, you avoid treating them as factories of any sort, particularly when treating the cosmos like a really enormous factory, and all your co-beings on this little part of it as furnace stokers, is your general stock in trade.
4) You maybe learn something about them first.

Maybe pure mathematics behaves this way; it is the human condition that we don't even agree on that much, and certainly can't know for sure. The hard sciences emphatically do not work that way. Their workers continually add to the store of human knowledge, not always for the good; anyone claiming they continually "progress" isn't paying attention. The principal distinction between "real" scientists and economists is that the former generally temper their declarations.

So I'm not sure who, aside from economists themselves and the willfully credulous, thought economics was a science in the first place, but what's been damned sure all along was that the pretension of expertise was more valuable than expertise itself.

Thirty years after the Keynesians averted total disaster in the Great Depression your boy Friedman decided they didn't really deserve the credit; the Reagan administration was still in power when the Theory of Incontinently Tax Cutting Your Way To Fiscal Heaven was discredited in the most direct way possible, but it still enjoyed a reverse-Renaissance of sorts in the Bush administration. Real science does not do this sort of thing.
“The bottom line is that we should expect less of economists,” Roberts wrote.

Okay, I'll try.
In Act IV, in other words, economists are taking baby steps into the world of emotion, social relationships, imagination, love and virtue. In Act V, I predict, they will blow up their whole field.

Finally, something we call all get behind.
At the end of Act V, economics will be realistic, but it will be an art, not a science.

Good. 'Cause then we can begin the process of creating another mega-disaster, so y'all can learn that the people who were claiming it as a science, and now pretend to embrace Art, are the ones we should have hung in the first place. Real science is all about efficiency, y'know.

Thursday, March 25

Forget It, Jake

John Dickerson, "WTF Did Biden Just Say? A brief history of bad language in Washington". March 23

William Saletan, "Trick or Entreat? Was the bipartisan health care summit a fraud?" March 24

MY abject distain for local Channel 8 news was tempered last week, as CBS was covering college hoops and my Poor Wife had to get her ten-to-the-hour weather updates from Channel 13, which is the top-rated local news, evidently because its anchor team most closely approximates a troop of circus performers.

And 13 was touting its sponsorship of the upcoming Susan B. Komen walk, which meant a promo in which those same anchors had removed half the clown makeup, and were shouting at half-volume, because the one they employ for people with twenty defecating dogs, or toddlers let loose on highways* would be unseemly when blowing one's own horn. 13 Cares! was the tagline, which really tended to underscore, at least for the somewhat partisan viewer, how little 13 seemed to care about reporting larger issue of healthcare with something approaching accuracy. You may say I'm a dreamer.

And without further ado, here are back-to-back Slate columns:
Joe Biden has proved that even after a year of debate over health care reform, not everything had been said. At a White House signing ceremony for the legislation, the vice president turned to the president and said, as he embraced Obama, "This is a big fucking deal." The remark was intended to be private but was picked up by the microphone at the podium.

Let us now resolve that among the unenumerated duties of the vice president is to occasionally uncork an expletive in public. This is not Biden's first time. At a ceremony announcing funding for his beloved Amtrak, he was greeted by a former colleague as "Mr. Vice President." He replied, "Give me a fucking break." Biden's predecessor famously used the same epithet in an exchange with a senator.* [sic] And Vice President George H.W. Bush, when asked how he did against Geraldine Ferraro in the vice-presidential debates in 1984, said, "We tried to kick a little ass."

Biden's remark may have been inappropriate for polite company, but it was apt. It summed up precisely the nature, scope and impact of the legislation better than any of the 627 words he had just spoken. He lavished such praise on the president, Obama was forced to stare at the floor just as my fabulous and accomplished children do when I tell everyone how fabulous and accomplished they are.

Yes, Reader, the author of this piece is old enough to be a parent and doesn't mind you knowing this.

That asterisk, by the way, leads to an explanation that Dickerson had, in his original draft, confused a Cheney expletive, tossed at an opponent on the Senate floor, with the microphone-overheard "major league asshole" from Candidate Bush in 2000. Maybe it's just me and my galloping senility which are shocked, but that Bush thing got a lot of play back then. The remark was made to Cheney, and it may not be too surprising that someone would reverse the attribution a decade later, but forgetting Cheney's Fuck you!, which was first denied, then celebrated, seems more like an example of the sort of Press scrutiny the Bush/Cheney administration got at the time.

Anyway, alert readers may have noticed that I have little problem with that Late 17th century (at least) expletive of uncertain etymology, though I avoid employing anything stronger than "damn" in what bodice-clutching Slate reporters like to call "polite company", not that I'm invited there very often. I'm pretty sure that fucking has been a settled issue since Norman Mailer shocked polite company with fug over sixty years ago, and that the Nixon tapes confirmed that politicians occasionally indulge, just like real folks. Biden now stands accused of saying healthcare legislation is "a big fucking deal"? It is a big fucking deal. What was he supposed to say, "Capital achievement, wot?" Give us a fucking break. It was picked up by a microphone. Let's kill those, and imprison the owners.

And I dunno about you, but as far as I'm concerned, Biden's "give me a fucking break" on being addressed--who knows in what comic seriousness or inborn obsequiousness?--as "Mr. Vice President" by an old colleague (also overheard by the spinsters of the Press) is the highest achievement of this administration so far.

But it's another day, another pressing political issue at Slate, as William "The Solution To The Abortion Question Is For Everyone To Agree With Me" Saletan tries some mouth-to-mouth on the month-old corpse of that Bipartisan Health Care Summit:
A month later, health reform has passed without a single Republican vote, and Democratic aides are boasting about how their bosses used the Feb. 25 meeting to outsmart Republicans. "Behind the scenes, Obama had, in fact, already settled on a strategy," Politico reports. "He would invite Republicans and Democrats to a summit, to give them one last chance at compromise, knowing they wouldn't budge. And privately, he had decided that his favored approach was a comprehensive bill."

The New York Times gives a similar account…

The Wall Street Journal agrees…

So does the Washington Post…

Of these four accounts, only the Post reports any sincerity in the cross-party outreach, and that sincerity, partial at best, is Obama's alone. As for Reid and Pelosi, the Times account suggests their participation was a diversion. At the meeting, Reid denied that Democrats were talking about using budget reconciliation to bypass a filibuster. "No one has talked about reconciliation," he told Republicans. "We as leaders here, the Speaker and I, have not talked about doing reconciliation as the only way out of all this."

Well, if the mass-market Inside Baseball Beltway reporters all agree on a theme, I guess the matter's settled. Q.E.D. Jimmy Carter Brand™ cardigans for everybody!

Y'know, I know everybody at Slate was busy celebrating the imminent removal of the imminent threat that was Saddam Hussein, but someone might have noticed that political grandstanding and legislative maneuver got us into that seven-year-and-counting disaster. What excuse there was for not noting at the time the howls of Bipartisanship Equals Treachery! coming from the Right, except for the fact that the howling is so constant few can pay attention and not go mad, I can't begin to figure.

For us, "as reported by Politico" is enough to resolve the question. But, sheesh, let's grant that the whole thing was a charade. So what? Republicans have been claiming a real concern for healthcare reform for a year now, and they were demanding the bill be scrapped and a new beginning made. And saying so paints them in the most favorable light; what they were really doing was salivating over a Democratic defeat and Republican landslide in November, and that's being nice about it. And they had their hand called. That there was no bipartisan approach possible on this Plane is entirely the doing of Republicans, who have shown, without dispute, except possibly at Slate, that they would vote in unison against Sunrise or the Ten Commandments if there was a hint Barack Obama would benefit from them. I've been suspicious about these guys since I saw my first Impeach Earl Warren billboard, and even I'd be surprised if it turns out they are so far gone en masse they can no longer figure out that every issue has at least two sides.
Is this story false? It's hard to believe four news organizations would independently concoct it. But it's also hard to understand why the reporters' obvious sources—Democratic aides—freely told it. Don't they see how bad it makes their bosses look? Aren't they embarrassed?

I don't think so. I think they're proud of it. That's why they're telling the tale to one reporter after another. When you've been in politics too long, shrewdness becomes more important than earnestness. You'd rather get credit for suckering the other side than be accused of having been suckered by them. So you reduce the summit to a stunt. You exaggerate your boss's gamesmanship and minimize his naiveté. Better to be thought a liar than a fool.

Jesus wept.
That's too bad. One of Obama's best qualities—a quality he shares with George W. Bush—is his overall sincerity.

Jesus fucking wept.


* Two episodes of highway-toddling escapees in the past week, and they've been quite instructive. First, the infants in question are inevitably described as being "clad only in a diaper", as though decent parents dress theirs in morning jackets and prom dresses. Second, it's always noted that Child Protective Services have been Called In, and all children in the home removed temporarily to government care (unless somebody at the house once smoked a joint, in which case everyone's headed for state receivership of some sort or other), but the actual dispensation of the case is never reported. In the first incident last week, a reporter was on the spot checking the screen door successfully for an absent or malfunctioning lock, and then later to interview the (Hispanic) uncle who showed up to fix it. You may compare--the "news" people sure aren't going to do it for you--the coverage earlier this month when the boat-encrusted Hamilton county ice at Morse reservoir proved no match for seven- and four-year-old sisters who, fortunately, were wearing more than diapers. That one was a miraculous rescue tale, with God in a major role.

Tuesday, March 23

Piker. Mine Was Day-Glo.

David Brooks, "Blah Blah Healthcare Blah Blah Democrats Blah Blah". March 22

LET'S us just stop pretending. Out of the crucible of The Sixties the Powers of Reaction, the Defenders of Status and Quo, so long as it's Theirs, the Superfriends of Superfund Sites and Paraphilic Infantilists for Christ, aka The Republican Party, developed a line of patter which appeared, on the surface, to work for it. Simply put--which is precisely how it should be put--this involved reducing all complex issues--which had been going badly for them since 1929--to bumper-sticker slogans. I'm thinking that the boys in Advertising decided "Goldwater: In Your Heart, You Know He's Right" had unnecessarily alienated voters who found beginning a sentence with a prepositional phrase to be suspiciously foreign-ish (compare "Who among us does not love NASCAR?"), as well as those who preferred to listen to any of the other viscera. "Heart", in fact, seems to've disappeared completely from the Republican lexicon, save for "If you've got 'em by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow", which was more of a specialist item.

Thereafter Nixon was The One, followed by the Obamadrone meets Nuremburg Rally Four More Years!, which, unless you lived through it, you cannot really appreciate for the resoundingly euphemistic Fuck Everyone Else! it actually was. Reagan had Morning in America, but, really, practically every thing the man said belonged just above an exhaust pipe.

And along the way the rank and file have had any number of successes in expressing one-dimensional thought in one-dimensional language: "Right to Life"; the Peace symbol labelled "Footprint of the American Chicken"; "Nobody Drowned at Watergate"; and "Nigger Go Home" to name just a few. Of course nothing has come close to simply slapping the American flag on any and every issue from Interminable Useless Warfare in Southeast Asia to Environmental Rapine.

Your Patrician Republican has about as much luck with this sort of thing as he has break dancing: George Herbert Walker Morgan Stanley Smith Barney Bush turned the thing over to Peggy Noonan, with the result that his ("Thousand Points of Light", "Kinder, Gentler") sounded like a Catholic schoolgirl trying to finish a concrete poetry assignment while slugging NyQuil. Older readers may recall this nonetheless received a certain amount of artificial admiration. Poor Bob Dole was reduced to repeating his own name over and over, apparently the victim of a missed communication.

And Brooks has I ♥ Burke, and that whole set of mock-sociology suburbanite monikers on which his reputation rests, but you really don't picture him as a bumper-sticker guy, more like a guy with a sackful of pickup lines gleaned from Poly Sci 101. So this is what I found interesting about today's regrettable column ("Passage of the healthcare bill means the destruction of the Noble Reagan Experiment in Freedom to Bankrupt Everyone but the Wealthy, Thereby Returning the Country to the Vision of Alexander Hamilton, as I Ascribe It"):

• He's just as fucking nuts as his partymates who think "Edmund Burke" was that liberal who used to be on with Hannity.

• He views the entire left half of the political spectrum in this country as composed of people who've inhaled too much incense.

• His Red Badge of Pinkitude was a Hubert Humphrey poster on the wall of his Democratic parents' home.

Look, he said it, not me. And he appears to've meant it, despite the fact that, unless you happen to be from Minnesota, or the collector of memorabilia from the 1960 election, a Humphrey poster meant you were backing the pro-war Democrat in 1968. Liberals didn't vote for Humphrey; that's how he managed to lose to Richard Milhous McRatfucker.
Yet I confess, watching all this, I feel again why I’m no longer spiritually attached to the Democratic Party. The essence of America is energy — the vibrancy of the market, the mobility of the people and the disruptive creativity of the entrepreneurs. This vibrancy grew up accidentally, out of a cocktail of religious fervor and material abundance, but it was nurtured by choice. It was nurtured by our founders, who created national capital markets to disrupt the ossifying grip of the agricultural landholders. It was nurtured by 19th-century Republicans who built the railroads and the land-grant colleges to weave free markets across great distances. It was nurtured by Progressives who broke the stultifying grip of the trusts.

I'm glad we got a step or two closer to what kind of Liberal Brooks was before he saw the Light. Maybe now we can concentrate a little more on "What sort of adult writes a paragraph like that?"

Monday, March 22

If It's Not Too Much To Ask, Could You, Oh, Bother Looking First Next Time?

David E. Sanger, "News Analysis: Big Win for Obama, but at What Cost?" March 21

I'M pretty sure by now that I'm on record as completely baffled by what people--or journalists--think they get out of the entire complex of Conventional Wisdom, Faux Balance, and the convenient pocket-sizing of everything which has happened politically over the past fifty years into an insipid fairy tale about "Conservatives" and "Liberals" and Evil Hippie Stepmothers.

I mean, at some point aren't you supposed to take stock of things on your own? Maybe it's lost in the Haze, but I don't recall spending my twenties and thirties--and forties, Mr. Sanger--parading finger puppets of Churchill and Joe Stalin across my desk and making 'em fight it out like G.I. Joes. Whom does this sort of reporting satisfy? Whom does it benefit? It solves a "problem" of media bias which dates to the Nixon administration and your own first pair of Garanimals, sir, the "problem", in general, being that Red Scare ratfuckers like Nixon were cheesed off about being portrayed as Red Scare ratfuckers, and, in the specific, that his expectations of the Popular Press continuing to do the White House's stenography on Vietnam were not being met. In both instances we might note--as if it still made a difference--that the Press (eventually) got it right, that Nixon was the most prolific cornholer of small mammals to hold high elective office since Jefferson Davis, and that our little Jungle Excursion was so swathed in lies, mis- and malfeasance as to make Iraq II look like a decent investment. Again, as if it still made a difference.

I don't get it, and I don't get why anyone would be willing to churn this shit out, or how he'd possibly take offense when people don't believe it. Doesn't, for example the CW include a sort of sneering condescension to anything labelled "PC"? That when we are "forced" to trim our sails to the prevailing breeze which says that people with learning disabilities should not be referred to as Retards, nor every mosque as a Terrorist training facility, we are somehow being artificial ? What's more artificial than the idea that the Right in this country is always loyal, always honest, and always entitled to have its opinions frame one side of the debate?
WASHINGTON — The House’s passage of health care legislation late Sunday night assures that whatever the ultimate cost, President Obama will go down in history as one of the handful of presidents who found a way to reshape the nation’s social welfare system.

Okay, not to get too sensitive right off the bat, but why is this said this way, like you stayed up all night reading opera librettos? Did anyone use the hyperbole, or the "social welfare system" rhetoric, when Bush got Left No Child Behind? Can you really get to be the Chief Washington Correspondent for the Newspaper of Record without realizing that "reshaping the nation's social welfare system" is precisely the Right Wing critique of the thing?
At the core of Mr. Obama’s strategy stands a bet that the Republicans, in trying to portray the bill as veering toward socialism, overplayed their hand. Fueled by the antigovernment anger of the Tea Party movement, Republicans have staked much on the idea that they can protect the country by acting as what the Democrats gleefully call the “Party of No.”

I'm sorry; gleefully? Sheesh, they're the party of historic majorities in both Houses. If they'd been a little more gleeful about their opponents being the "Party of Complete Irrelevance, Utter Failure, and No Ideas Except More of the Same" to start off with maybe we'd have avoided this mess altogether.
But there is no doubt that in the course of this debate, Mr. Obama has lost something — and lost it for good. Gone is the promise on which he rode to victory less than a year and a half ago — the promise of a “postpartisan” Washington in which rationality and calm discourse replaced partisan bickering.

Y'know, Mr. Sanger, you tell me. Like Faux Balance reportage, the goddam thing was so preposterous on the face of it you couldn't seriously imagine a rational man would say such a thing. So he was either lying to get elected, or he got an Ivy League degree in political science, was president of the Harvard Law Review, taught Constitution Law at the U. of Chicago, and served a term in the US Senate while being utterly oblivious of the last fifty years of American history, or he has the most complete case of naiveté known to medical science. I don't need your answer to that, mind you. Just tell me why it reverberated among a certain segment of the public, half of them bloggers, and where they disappeared to the minute the thing got tough.

There was never any "promise" of postpartisanship. Take him to task for having trotted it out, or give him credit for playing Rope A Dope with the GOP, if you choose, but fer chrissakes, healthcare didn't shred our Precious Hopes of Capitol Kumbaya. The Republicans will vote in lockstep to refuse the Pope a visa if they think it would benefit Obama. There's nothing whatsoever he could do about that, though he could have predicted it, like every casual observer of American politics.

Though unlike many a paid observer:
“Let’s face it, he’s failed in the effort to be the nonpolarizing president, the one who can use rationality and calm debate to bridge our traditional divides,” said Peter Beinart, a liberal essayist who is publishing a history of hubris in politics. “It turns out he’s our third highly polarizing president in a row. But for his liberal base, it confirms that they were right to believe in the guy — and they had their doubts.”

Doubts allayed? I missed the memo, but then those guys don't send me any, anyway. You still have a bunch which decided to fritter away an historic election (they're "Revolutions" when the Republicans get victories of that magnitude) and who somehow managed to get held hostage to the likes of Ben Nelson, Evan Bayh, and the anti-choicers of his own party. The administration let single payer die without so much as touring the trenches, let protection of the insurance industry's PAC contributions take precedence over protecting people, and only got seriously involved when it became obvious he was up flail creek without a personal flotation device. Six months after his inauguration the hard-core of a party which had left the country in shambles, and which he had defeated that previous autumn, in no small part because of its disastrous track record, had taken over the national debate with crudely-lettered misspellings of serious misrepresentations. Then the whole thing comes down to Democrats facing the choice between electoral disaster for doing nothing, or electoral disaster for doing what they'd pledged to do, and it takes 'em nine more months to make up their minds. If this alleviates Doubt the word has a definition I'm not familiar with.
“In the short term Obama will get a boost, because the narrative is that he came back from the dead and got done what no president has managed to do in 70 years,” said Peter Wehner, who was a political adviser to President Bush. “But once people discover that their Medicare taxes are going up, that there are deeper cuts in Medicare Advantage, that there are court challenges to many provisions, and that the process of getting it passed created a portrait of corruption, it won’t sit well.”

Okay, now, pardon us for a moment. Peter Wehner, formerly a functionary for the Worst President in United States History, makes a half-dozen, highly partisan, and unfounded claims about the legislation, including "creating" a "portrait of corruption". So what does the Times' man have to say about this?
Perhaps so

"Perhaps", in this instance, meaning "well, a Republican said it, and maybe there is some evidence somewhere which might be formed in such a way as to back this up, although he provided none and I can't investigate it, since this would be unfair to conservatives".

Listen: what we really ought to have learned by our majority, from fast-food commercials if nowhere else, is that these people can use the I'm Being Honest approach same as someone who's actually Being Honest; it's the default position. This is how grifters, hookers, and House Minority Leaders stay in business.

Y'know, Mr. Sanger, I hate to keep pointing this out, but it's your country too, the one which has a military force, and the attendant price tag, greater than the next fifty countries combined. And it's that same country, yours, too, which has a healthcare system that ranks between Costa Rica's and Slovenia's, except in cost per capita, where we are again Unparalleled. These are factual matters, but somehow you can't fit them in to 1300 words, which do manage to include the infokibble that "many have come to believe" that Social Security "must change or go broke". It's your country, too. If the truth isn't important, then why do you do what you do? If it is, then why do you do what you do?

Friday, March 19

I'll Just Go And Have A Tidy First, M'Lord.

David Brooks, "The Broken Society". March 18

HERE'S Brooks' goddam Tell, and I know we've said this a hundred times, but for such an "open-minded" "moderate" "conservative" he sure seems oblivious to practically all liberal thinking beyond his own characterization of its lawn care habits. For all this David in the Lion's Den bullshit, he never seems to namecheck anyone or anything those Liberals at the Times or PBS have tossed his way. In seven years.

Of course, Brooks himself "was" "a Liberal" prior to his conversion to Friedmanomics, but that liberalism seems to be encompassed by that War Is Not Healthy For Children And Other Living Things poster he had in his bedroom before Mater objected.
The United States is becoming a broken society. The public has contempt for the political class. Public debt is piling up at an astonishing and unrelenting pace. Middle-class wages have lagged. Unemployment will remain high. It will take years to fully recover from the financial crisis.

Well, by golly. Y'know, maybe we've failed to point this out before, but public contempt for politicians ("the political class"?) is almost as old as the Republic, and it's returned in spades. St. Ronnie ran--and won--on it twice, and I don't remember hearing a peep out of you. He ran on the Horrors of the Public Debt, too, and then nearly quadrupled it. ("Oh, but he had a good excuse" y'all said.) The goddam debt's been piling up since you were in nappies, Brooks, and the one administration which reversed it met with something less than your full-throated approval, although you did spend a good portion of it talking about full throats. Once it was the Bush II administration's turn to play Incontinent Tax Cutting Is The Solution To Everything, here's which side you were on:
The Bayh Democrats are centrist but not visionary, and they seem to worry more about adding an extra $10 billion to the deficit than about the future of the Middle East. They may have read memos from the Democratic pollsters on the unpopularity of the $87 billion plan, but they don't seem to have read about the Versailles Treaty and what happens when strong nations impose punitive burdens on proud ones.

That's from October of 2003, when, we'll remind you, if we ever stop laughing at that "$87 billion", that "Six Months, Tops" Excursion to End All Excursions had already begun to morph into a multi-$trillion Vietnam remake. Oh, but you had good reasons. I almost forgot.

Of course the Heroic Drunken Marine Warriors of the Bush/Cheney administration came in for a little criticism in June 2004:
The final and most serious argument is that whatever the short-term benefits, the tax cuts have left us with a long-term fiscal mess. When you ask administration folks about the deficit problem, they argue that it isn't caused primarily by the cuts, but by rising health care costs and the aging baby boomers. That's true, but it evades the fact that the tax cuts made the situation worse.

'Course, their subsequent refusal to do anything but obstruct attempts to address rising health care costs have sorta made that situation worse, too.
This confluence of crises has produced a surge in vehement libertarianism. People are disgusted with Washington. The Tea Party movement rallies against big government, big business and the ruling class in general. Even beyond their ranks, there is a corrosive cynicism about public action.

Fuck you. On at least two occasions your column has quoted approvingly the fluff-headed theologizing of MeganJane McGalt. So either there's such a thing as too much libertarianism, or it shouldn't get into the hands of the Wrong Sort. Maybe Rand should have been published in Latin, like the dirty parts of old psychological studies.

As for "corrosive cynicism about public action", well, fuck you again. This sort of thing just never occurred to you between 1980 and 2008, huh? Like Douthat; you guys just didn't realize what your party was up to during all that time. Too many Burke weekends, maybe? At any rate, it's like a Coca-Cola™ salesman saying he didn't realize the stuff contained high-fructose corn syrup.

I know; let's ask the Tories for help!
But there is another way to respond to these problems that is more communitarian and less libertarian. This alternative has been explored most fully by the British writer Phillip Blond.

He grew up in working-class Liverpool. “I lived in the city when it was being eviscerated,” he told The New Statesman. “It was a beautiful city, one of the few in Britain to have a genuinely indigenous culture. And that whole way of life was destroyed.” Industry died. Political power was centralized in London.

The Rabble started wearing track suits, and calling their Betters by their Christian names.
Blond argues that over the past generation we have witnessed two revolutions, both of which liberated the individual and decimated local associations. First, there was a revolution from the left: a cultural revolution that displaced traditional manners and mores; a legal revolution that emphasized individual rights instead of responsibilities; a welfare revolution in which social workers displaced mutual aid societies and self-organized associations.

For cryin' out loud, the goddam virus has jumped the Pond. Lord Blond was born in 1966. He was thirteen fucking years old when Lady Thatcher rode to the rescue.

Not that Britain didn't have a couple thousand years of the Divine Right of Inbred Warmongers ("Can you get your servants to eat rook?") to contend with; not that Tradition is ever any less formidable for being ridiculous on the face of it (at least this one isn't wholly manufactured of Ozzie and Harriet reruns and guided tours of Diamond Jim Brady's private dining car). But, please; try WWI, not Carnaby Street.
Then there was the market revolution from the right. In the age of deregulation, giant chains like Wal-Mart decimated local shop owners. Global financial markets took over small banks, so that the local knowledge of a town banker was replaced by a manic herd of traders thousands of miles away. Unions withered.

The two revolutions talked the language of individual freedom, but they perversely ended up creating greater centralization. They created an atomized, segmented society and then the state had to come in and attempt to repair the damage.

Look, God knows, I'm sorry hippies stole your lunch money, or gang-bonged that girl you had a crush on in homeroom; I'm sorry that, today, you are occasionally forced to deal with surly underlings, unkempt go-fers, tattooed baristas, and coloreds where there didn't used to be coloreds. But the suggestion that this calamitous turn of events came about through some accidentally enshrined, psilocybin-flavored Sixties craze, rather than centuries of righteous struggle which included the social reformations following both global wars of the 20th century and the American Fucking Revolution, in case you've forgotten, is just politically-motivated crapola. And it's particularly ironic coming as part of a "rebuke" to excessively disrespectful Tea Baggers, whose perpetual aggrievedness comes in no small part to their having been fed that crap about elitist left-wingers eradicating the Perfect Social Order that existed for two hundred years previous, back when you were only interested in harvesting their votes. Do you really imagine that we would have gone from 1946 to 2010 without addressing Civil Rights, or gender equality, except for the evil machinations of a few lefty professors? That without the throbbing beat of Race Records the internet today would be a place where Nice Girls and their Beaux did wholesome, patriotic, family-oriented activities instead of having group buttsex? Really? And you think this somehow equates with the past thirty years of multinational corporations running the government, and the global economy, for their own benefit, and fuck everyone else? Y'know, somehow, the more you guys demonstrate a twisted perception of history, the more understandable the Reign of Terror looks in retrospect.

Wednesday, March 17


Kirk Johnson, "States' Rights Is Rallying Cry of Resistance for Lawmakers". March 16

FIRST, what Pierce said, as a general maxim:
Ask me what I'd do, and I'd probably vote for the ongoing POS that is the Senate bill. However, I would like both Kevin and Matt -- or John -- to explain the "stepping-stone" argument to me. Why , precisely, should I believe that, that once we pass the POS, any opportunity to improve it, largely by the process of political evolution, will remain? Am I to believe that, gifted with a federal mandate requiring people to buy their products, the insurance companies will drop over time their resistance to the kind of health-care system that exists everywhere else in the industrialized world? That they will desist from the practice of buying enough legislators to eviscerate any subsequent attempts to reform the new system to the advantage of their consumers? Why would they do this? Please show your work.

Nothing, nothing whatsoever supports naiveté about Centrists and Centrism anymore. The only Exit door in that direction leads you to rejoining the Right, like y'all did for Iraq. There was no excuse, in 2008, for anyone of voting age to've been innocent of the eight-year attempted palace coup of 1992-2000; there was no excuse for anyone with a passing familiarity with domestic politics, let alone someone with an Ivy League BA in political science, to imagine there'd been anyone in the Republican party interested in vanquishing the Evils of Partisanship, except insofar as it was liberal Democratic partisanship, for the past forty years. There was no reason to imagine that Reagan's "successes" were due to anything other than the accident of "conservative" legislative hegemony by states with more livestock than people, and the cowardly retreat of real Democrats faced with losing an election they lost anyway. There's no getting around what (Nothing) Congress accomplished after being given a clear mandate for change in 2006. And Nothing is more than it accomplished with historical majorities in 2008.
In Utah, lawmakers embraced states’ rights with a vengeance in the final days of the legislative session last week. One measure said Congress and the federal government could not carry out health care reform, not in Utah anyway, without approval of the Legislature. Another bill declared state authority to take federal lands under the eminent domain process. A resolution asserted the “inviolable sovereignty of the State of Utah under the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution.”

Y'know, I remain unconvinced the idiots in Utah can run Utah, without adding in the 70% the Feds take care of so the locals can busy themselves marrying their 14-year-old cousins and waiting for the Archangel Monsanto to bring 'em some more Heavenly Dinner Plates. So fuckin' let 'em try, already. It's obvious the only thing that's ever gonna meet these illiterate fits of teenaged pique is calling 'em on it. They think canned sheep hunts in Former National Parks are going to make up the revenue difference when the people who now tour Utah no longer want to go to the Former National Parks because of the canned sheep hunts? Okay. Only let's set twenty years operating expenses, in advance, as the price for taking them back next time.

Utah, not surprisingly, has been a net recipient of Federal tax money 17 of the last 25 years (okay, so maybe those eight other years are surprising); seems like a fine time for the New Hampshire and Minnesota and Illinois legislatures to turn off the spigot. South Dakota's averaged a 40% lagniappe over that period. Let 'em make up the difference taxing ammo.

Forget missing George Bush; can't anybody here remember him? These fucks can't run a million-dollar parade. They can't beat a country with no army. Run the modern world? Fuck, they can't even figure out how to run from it. In Utah. Jesus H. Christ With An Assault Rifle, whatever happened to the good ol' country wisdom that when you catch your smartass ten-year-old smoking a cigarette you make him smoke the whole pack?

Let Kansas teach its schoolchildren that Jesus rode dinosaurs. What, exactly, will the rest of us lose? The bright kids in Kansas will figure it out anyway, and move someplace civilized, and the rest of the state can listen to the corn grow and hope to die before it gets sick. Okay, so this doesn't bode well for the sheep, but the hip-wader industry will flourish. It's an Ill Wind.

Incidentally, an interesting object lesson in the sort of mindlessness which got us here when, snug in its American Exceptionalist cocoon, it decided to humor these 19th century frontier inbreds in the name of Faux Balance, has been on view in, of all places, local Indianapolis teevee news, where, for one, Reconcilliation is the first parliamentary procedure they've ever paid any attention to, and, two, some guy with a phony diploma who's been practicing as a psychologist has gotten more attention than all the phony practitioners of the Daniels administration combined, even after they were caught tossing a billion at Mitch Roob's former employer. Never mind that the sort of harm the guy could have caused by pretending to be a psychologist is about the same as what a real psychologist can. It's the biggest story ever, helped along by every teaser and graphic that says he was pretending to be a doctor. If the guy's office had been a housekeeping disaster, or full of cats, and he'd left a baby in his car while he ran in for cigarettes, I swear at least one of the anchors would be having uncontrolled orgasms on screen.

Tuesday, March 16

Meet The New Math

As Bush's OMB Director, the Big Brain
erased a $127 billion surplus in 2-1/2 years.
As Indiana Governor he's erased
a $1.5 billion surplus * in five.
{127/50} / 2.5=1.016. He's improved
his Deficiency Rating by 70% in just one decade!

LAST week on Colbert Charlie Cook said something about the plight of one-term Democrats from Red districts, which, of course, sorta raised the question of why one would want to be a Democratic representative of a scary Republican district if being a de facto Republican were the only way to remain one. But then, of course, this sort of kowtowing to the conventional wisdom is what accounts for the Dems' roaring successes over the past three decades, so who am I to argue?

This segued nicely with a discussion at Tex Edroso's about the insufficient Evangelicalisticism of the Teabaggers, which reminded me of two things: one, the "resurgent" Republican party is the same fucking train wreck it was in 2005, and, two, Mitch Daniels hasn't got a prayer with either major faction.

Today's Racist Beacon--which, incidentally, has blocked comments on all Carmel High School basketball team sexual battery/hazing stories, while continuing to permit all manner of "Give 'em some watermelon. That'll keep 'em busy" analysis of the Indianapolis public schools whenever stories touch on them (or not)--brings the cheering news that while the state's experiment in being just like California has pretty much resulted in our being just like California, at least the dominant prairie/abandoned strip mall topography should keep mudslide damage to a bare minimum:
If state revenue doesn't rebound soon, the partisan battles of the 2010 legislative session that ended last week will be child's play compared with challenges lawmakers will face next year.

Under the state's revenue forecast, all of Indiana's $1 billion surplus will be drained when the current two-year budget cycle ends in June 2011 -- and that's if the economic experts are correct.

So far, they haven't been.

Which, we remind the reader fortunate enough to view Indiana politics as a distant farce, is precisely due to the orchestrated Property Tax revolt, and the resulting reliance on sales and income taxes just in time for the malingering Bush/Daniels Decade of Economic Anemia to develop full-blown sepsis.

Naturally, this is known as Fiscal Responsibility.

But fear not; it's not like Mitch Daniels is using that Big Brain just to grow hair:
In fact, revenue has missed projections for 17 consecutive months, leading Gov. Mitch Daniels to order 20 percent in cuts to state agencies, a $150 million -- or 6 percent -- cut to state universities, and a $300 million -- or 3 percent -- trim to K-12 schools.

Those cuts were needed just to keep from spending beyond what the state has in savings. Daniels warned Monday that the decisions aren't likely to get easier unless the national economy strengthens soon.

"If we don't see a really significant improvement from anything I see right now, it'll be extraordinarily difficult next year," Daniels said. "In the 10 months between now and the beginning of the next legislature, our number one priority is going to be to try to maintain Indiana's solvency, Indiana's AAA credit rating, Indiana's position as one of the handful of states that only nicked, as opposed to gouged, education and didn't raise taxes.

"That's going to be a tough thing to bring off."

Gee, I dunno, Mitch. A man who can raise the state sales tax almost 20%, making Indiana's rate the second highest in the nation, after…I've got it here somewhere…oh, California, and then claim he "hasn't raised taxes" seems pretty much capable of anything. Which is what I've been saying about you all along.

And "nicking" education, well, the only thing that prevented big tuition increases this year was the disgraceful Senate Permanent Committee on Finance and Per Diem Collection holding university presidents hostage. Ain't happenin' again. Public schools are already making big teacher cuts and shutting down buildings; once you reach that point there's only more of the same left. (Well, they could ask for Property Tax increases, and good luck with that.) And all this was with one-time Federal education money preventing the considerably larger disaster if it'd just been up to Mitch and the Boys.

It is interesting how this is suddenly a question of the national economy, when up until November, 2008--the first month of those missed tax projections, oddly enough--Mitch was the Miracle Worker who'd created the Indiana Island of Prosperity. And, of course, 2011 is not about to see the return of Fearless Mitch Daniels, courageous, non-ideological tax raiser from January 11, 2005, AM, thru January 11, 2005, PM. Better to have your "legacy"--as the Dean of Local Political Reporters and Expense Account Luncheon Guests Jim Shella put it, with, I have to give him this, a straight face--turn up on someone else's account books.

It'd be funny if it weren't so goddam depressingly familiar: newly crowned State Emperor, with newly-minted legislative majority, ignores looming Property Tax disaster, along with all other tough decisions, then is credited with "balancing" the budget while prominent state rival is blamed for Property Tax increases he had nothing to do with, which clears the path to re-election, and the start of Daniels for President, Oh, Gosh, No, I Have No Intention of Running Except Some People Are Asking Campaign. (And, really, is there anything sadder than a sixty-year-old, five-foot two inch coquette with a combover?) After which the very real problems which had been swept under other people's rugs to get him to this point jump up and bite everyone in the ass anyway. Wow. Who could've predicted it?

* Daniels Indiana budget surplus numbers. For amusement purposes only.

Monday, March 15

Ross Douthat. Nuance. You Write The Rest Of The Post.

Ross Douthat, "Hollywood's Political Fictions". March 14-ish

TINSELTOWN has again disappointed Young Ross, this time by failing to scrape away the cardboard facade of the Bush administration to get at the real cardboard underneath.

Now, were Douthat himself one of Hollywood's sausage links, he'd be the sort you went to just because your date insisted, gave up on in the first five minutes, and spent the rest of the picture checking the background for fly-catching extras, inadvertent boom shadows, and cultural anachronisms, like the whole Douthat clan speaking in tongues after they'd switched over to Papism. So let's do that.

1) Bald announcement of "what Americans think" from guy whose Hahvahd education was socially leavened by prepping at Hamden Hall? Check.
Americans believe in evil, but we’re uncomfortable with tragedy. We accept that there are wicked people in the world, with malice in their hearts and a devil whispering in their ears. But the idea that many debacles flow from choices made by decent, well-intentioned human beings is more difficult for us to wrap our minds around.
Okay, first, eighty-five percent of Americans say they carry on a regular conversation with a 2000-year-old Jewish carpenter, too, and one of them is you. And somehow the incredulous are supposed to meet this with hushed respect, and pull to the curb while Tradition races by with its lights flashing. Chose a side, Ross, and stick with it.

2) "Moderate" credentials presented by means of allowing how just-announced Universal Americanism sometimes goes too far, while avoiding placing the blame on any particular group? Check.
This is apparent in our politics, where we’re swift to impute the worst of motives to anyone slightly to our left or right. It’s apparent in our popular culture, thick with white hats and black hats, superheroes and supervillains. But it’s most egregious where the two spheres intersect: in our political fictions, which are nearly always Manichaean, simplistic and naïve.

Most egregious? Really? 'Cause I'd say political news writing and puditatin', both of which are supposed to avoid the simplistic and naive, knocked political fiction out in the first round back in '78.

3) Immediate reversal of 2) by placing blame solely on your opponents? Check.
Consider “Green Zone,” the new Matt Damon thriller that doubles as a meditation on Why We Are in Iraq.
4) Spurious remark or counterfeit observation made to butress original claim, thus officially rendering the entire operation Self- Annihilating? I'm going to turn all the cards over, Panel:
The source material is Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s “Imperial Life in the Emerald City,” a dense and nuanced account of the Iraq occupation’s disastrous first year.
Sure, assuming your idea of "nuance" is being left to decide whether Paul Bremer or Donald Rumsfeld is the bigger bungler, or George Bush or Dick Cheney the more complete disaster. True, Jay Garner was not ten pounds of Ugly American in a five-pound sweatsuit, but he was shitcanned in about seventy-two hours so Bremer could come in and fulfill the adminstration's Vision. Which one got the Presidential Medal of Freedom, again?

There's nothing in that book, nor the rest of the public record, that suggests nuance got anywhere near the planning or execution of Our Little Iraq Adventure. Hell, saying so is an insult to the neocon cabal that ran the thing, let alone those of us who opposed 'em.
But the film itself, a slam-bang account of the hunt for weapons of mass destruction, has the same problem as nearly every other Hollywood gloss on recent political events: it refuses to stare real tragedy in the face, preferring the comforts of a “Bush lied, people died” reductionism.
Well, one man's reductionism is another's pure distilled essence, Ross. That's nuance for ya. But let's us just assume for the moment, for the sake of making the argument you fail to, that Green Zone is a ham-fisted attempt to propagandize the simple, naive American moviegoing public, rather than sell it more popcorn. So what? What's robbing a bank compared to founding one? What's turning Donald Rumsfeld into a less than open-minded political fixer in a movie, compared to turning Sadam Hussein into a sui-generis nuclear madman so you can launch a war calculated for maximum political advantage?
The narrative of the Iraq invasion, properly told, resembles a story out of Shakespeare. You had a nation reeling from a terrorist attack and hungry for a response that would be righteous, bold and comprehensive. You had an inexperienced president trying to tackle a problem that his predecessors (one of them his own father) had left to fester since the first gulf war. You had a cause — the removal of a brutal dictator, and the spread of democracy to the Arab world — that inspired a swath of the liberal intelligentsia to play George Orwell and embrace the case for war. You had a casus belli — those weapons of mass destruction — that even many of the invasion’s opponents believed to be a real danger to world peace. And you had Saddam Hussein himself, the dictator in his labyrinth, apparently convinced that pretending to have W.M.D. was the best way to keep his grip on power.
Okay, then you write the fucker, Ross. Th' fuck do you do all week anyway?

Or maybe you could try your hand at writing an argument that doesn't disintegrate while we watch.

Shock, fear, anger, the desire for vengeance? Predictable human emotional responses to 9/11. But as an excuse to extract a bloodthirsty revenge--while suffering the minimal number of casualties ourselves, and hoping to amortize our costs by seizing someone else's oil--on a nation, even a tyrant, who had absolutely nothing to do with it? Well, that's the recipe for Cartoon Movie Villain. Liberal intelligentsia? That's just a product of your stilted politics, Ross, wherein milky Centrists are indistinguishable from Bomb-Throwing Syndicalists and Broken Down Trots. The Democrats aren't any better on American military hegemony than the "Conservatives"; they just try to think up better reasons for it. Although I will grant you Keanu would make a good Yglesias. As for "the invasion's opponents", when did you listen to them? And even if you didn't, you might recall that the Bush administration was doing the furious Nixonian Backpedal (it's an expert maneuver wherein one gives every appearance of reversing the feet, while continuing to move forward) on "imminent threat". The more accurate description of events there is "not even many warfloggers believed that, and the ones who did were, like, double certifiable."

But hell, let's just deal 'em out. I'm not going to argue the art of the cinema with you, any more than I'm going to argue interior decoration with Stevie Wonder. You don't care about Art, unless it's taxpayer supported, and you sure don't care whether it requires complex characterization or just cars that blow up. You just want us all to say that the Bush administration tried its best, dammit, and had lots of good reasons--including Liberal! reasons--to go to war, and it shouldn't be viewed as an unmitigated disaster just because it all turned to shit, because Ross Douthat supported the thing enthusiastically, and he's all about nuance. Well, no fucking sale, and who th' hell d'you think you're kiddin'? Y'all were quick to reject nuance at the time; now you crave it, because otherwise you're just collection of lyin' motherfuckers who got caught. Should'a thought of that then. Don't they teach that at Harvard anymore?

"What kills me is that everyone has his reasons," says Renoir in Rules of the Game, one of the rare examples of Art in the cinema. Such does not make George W. Bush Hamlet. Or Richard III, for that matter. And, meanwhile, you have a column every week in the New York Times. How 'bout you try nuancing that for once?

Thursday, March 11

Wait. On Second Thought, Let's Do Make Ken Starr News.

JOE Conason, whom The Daily Show really should consider hiring as The Questioner, à la Mark Green on Firing Line, to handle blobs of human ambergris like Marc Thiessen:
Now that the moldy remnants of "Filegate" have at last been properly trashed, can anything relevant be learned from its distasteful history? Certain of the most assiduous promoters of the phony scandal are dead or retired from public life. But others are still around, exaggerating in the same old style when attacking the Obama White House, ACORN, and Democrats in Congress. So the pronouncements of all those responsible for pushing the bogus FBI file controversy are forever subject to the deepest doubt. Googling the term "Filegate" brings up stories that should embarrass the Wall Street Journal editorial page; the Media Research Center, whose chief wingnut Brent Bozell continued to flog this discredited fake as late as November 2007; National Review Online; WorldNetDaily; Fox News Channel, then in its noisome infancy; and indeed, nearly every other organ-grinder and kazoo-blower of the Republican noise machine.

If you've got a couple minutes, read his old piece on Safir(e), too. And remember that the paranoia and the pathological lying of "Conservatives" is their one true birthright. Or that the invention of an alternative "reality" to counter the one the Librul Media was treasonously manufacturing dates to the Civil Rights Movement and Vietnam, two events so distant by the time Liz Cheney was in high school that the lies, which side was lying, and the ethical swampland of a political agenda they were using them to sell were matters of established fucking fact, not opinion, and there's no earthly excuse for her not recognizing it. This goddam Xenophobia for Hire, coupled with a beatific conviction that the Tokyo Fire Raids represent both God's Own Imprimatur on American Exceptionalism and a template for dealing with whatever international annoyance these people decide to focus on next, is just a fucking tic at this point.

Y'know, every time Hugo Chavez or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says something obnoxious enough that the News finds it worthy of lowering the impermeable barrier against the non-natural-disaster outside world enough to report it, it comes accompanied with the man's full psychotic history. So why don't we point out that "Conservatives" have run this game since Yalta, at least, and the only time it remotely came true--a one-off terror attack--they were the ones in charge of national security? We do not need to have a debate on whether their approach is superior to the Obama administration's. That question has been answered. Too bad they're not the only ones who'd been better off if it hadn't.

And let's say this again: if you had a neighbor who ranted about low-hanging powerlines every fucking day for forty years, you wouldn't still be giving him a hearing. You wouldn't be searching the Google, the Classifieds, or the Insane Asylums for a more reasonable spokesman, a "moderate" who thought that low-hanging powerlines were, indeed, a threat, but that your neighbor may have overstated the risk slightly. No. You'd just stay th' fuck indoors whenever you saw him on his lawn.

We're always a day behind on Daily Shows here, so yesterday I'd hadn't seen Thiessen ooze onto the set and light into a fake newscaster for ridiculing Chuckles Krauthammer . "But, but, but, John Adams…

[Okay, sorry to interrupt, but not only did Adams not say "The Constitution is not a suicide pact"--if Dr. Merkwuerdigliebe is gonna invent the quote, you think he'd add "except for the Second Amendment!" just to keep things tidy--if he had said it it would have been in defense of the Sedition Act. ]

"…but John Adams clients were criminal defendants!" This is apparently what the man was steaming about in the Green Room for fifteen minutes. Forget that Krauthammer had it wrong; forget that the legal issue was precisely the detainees' status; forget that the Court, not exactly a hotbed of civil libertarians, had--oh, sorry, except for the Second Amendment!--ruled precisely that way. These second-generation Nixonians don't even realize there's any other game out there. They don't even realize they're Nixonians, for fuck's sake. The supposed massive failure of today's public schools to teach reading and math pales in comparison to the faux-balanced malarky these Reagantots were fed in their day, and then never took the personal responsibility to double-check.

Speaking of Firing Line, the he's dead, we're grateful, racist who hosted the thing has garnered a lot of press lately for his supposed expulsion of the Anti-fluoridationists at the dawn of the Goldwater Era. Like, you know, because "Conservatism" has been so goddam sensible since. Like some Extremely White Knight is gonna ride in again and purge their precious party of 98% of its membership, and leave Ken Starr in charge. Bring Buckley back all the way, too. Orson Welles once said that happy endings require you to end the story before it's finished; Right-wing reasonableness depends on leaving vast chunks out altogether.

[SECOND Conason link fixed, thanks to Brendan.]

Wednesday, March 10

Notes On A Turner Classics Kurosawa Festival

THRONE of Blood: Toshiro Mifune is the Tommy Lee Jones* of Japan.

Get well soon, Ivan.

* "If Tommy Lee Jones did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him".
--J.B.S. Riley

Dick Cheney. Before She Dicks You.

John Schwartz, "Attacks on Detainee Lawyers Split Conservatives". March 9

WHO th' fuck is Liz Cheney? For that matter, who th' fuck's Dick Cheney? Or Ken Starr? Or Billy Kristol, or John Yoo, or the goddam Federalist Society? A stench of liars, crooks, myrmidons, and cutpurses, and a plague of unindicted co-rodents.

Liz Cheney and Billy Kristol, two honest, hard-working Americans, put out a video (it's from "Keep America Safe"; the Timesmen thoughtfully link to both. Welcome to the Roberts Court's America, Americans) that slagged unnamed DOJ lawyers for having defended Bush administration detainees. This raised a ruckus, as I suppose it must, though one can dream of a better world, a world where "it's from Liz Cheney and Billy Kristol" would be sufficient to bury it in polite society, and/or initiate criminal investigations. FOX, learning of the controversy for the first time, shortly names names.

The uproar becomes "news", then Ken Fucking Starr emerges from whatever bridge he serves home detention under to "denounce" the theoretical violation of American legal values--which, by the way, is like George Bush joining Dick Nixon on the OUIJA phone to denounce the Imperial Presidency--and now it's news again, a "Conservative" Tempest soufflé, topped with a trowelworth of the non-dairy dessert topping of Principled Dedication to the Law from a bunch of white male squirearchs. Plus links.

Which, of course, just helps rake the manure in more completely, not that the Times might be expected to understand that with only several hundred thousand earlier examples to've learned from. Of the attendant opportunity for members--by which I mean "tiny penises"-- of the Federalist Society--an organization dedicated to turning the Constitution into a sort of shit soup of their own concoction--to pretend concern for an attack on our cherished Constitutional heritage I, for one, remain agnostic. I mean, who would Ken Starr be playing to, anyway?

Doesn't matter if it's his real opinion, or just a "clever" ruse to get a two-day extension on a story whose entire purpose was stashing more ammo and liquor for an already sated Republican base. The question is, why th' fuck is that news? Ken Starr swore--twice--to Congress that his investigation should be extended because he was about to issue indictments. Those indictments never came, but they did serve to keep it going through the '96 elections. Never mind that his office--unquestionably with his approval, if not participation--was such an open sluice to the Washington Post that children sailed toy boats down it in summer, or that he tried to peddle his job into a sinecure at the Richard Melon Scaife School of Law at Pepperdine while the investigation was ongoing. And when you look at the Bush II DOJ, Ken Starr's a first-year Teaching Assistant. Th' fuck would anyone ever talk to these people?

But if we're going to, then this: 1) it's a matter of established law and the minimum amount of common sense which should be required before you're let out in public; 2) the video was clearly a political stunt, which is Cheney's right, but it's other people's right to point out that she's a steaming pile, and the Times right to ignore it for both reasons; 3) it's the same old National Security whine from the same old white people who were responsible for the biggest failure of the National Security apparatus in our history, and who launched two meaningless, futile, and bankrupting wars to cover their first mistake; 4) this sort of wistful admiration for Nazi justice and its ability to make the crematoriums run on time is a hallmark of the Republican POV since the Lawn Order days of President Nixon and Governor Reagan; and 5) maybe the Federalist Society could spend a little more of its time coming up with a defense of Originalism/Textualism that actually uses actual words to make an actual argument. The idea that Ken Starr suddenly experienced a "Conservative" pale trampling last week is just fucking laughable. Yet:
But beyond the expected liberal outrage…

For "expected" read "discounted". Why th' fuck shouldn't everyone be outraged, excepting that minority party and its minority functionaries, flunkies, and flimflammers who're behind this, and who've demonstrated a willingness to do absolutely anything for this sort of PR? The fact that a few Federalist Society members who ought to be invisible in public--if that's not redundant--ran to divorce themselves from this--maybe--doesn't change the fact that a "Conservative" is someone for whom the System just isn't rigged enough. When does that get to be the story, Mr. Schwartz?

Tuesday, March 9

Here's An Idea: You Go First

Ross "Hollow Be Thy Name" Douthat, "Mysticism for All". March 7ish

Synopsis: Young Master Douthat reads what somebody else said about Mysticism and Modern Society, enjoys it enough to create a Lite version.

I'VE noted before that my own religious instruction, which lasted until I was old enough to say "I'm staying home" and make it stick, took place in a Mainstream Protestant denomination so theologically liberal it makes your eyes sting. Practically anarchic. As I read its tenets today I get the impression I'm still a member in decent, if not Good, standing. That theologically liberal.

It's not that a swingin'-medallion-wearing Sammy Davis Jr. was our hip young pastor; Sammy was more welcome in Vegas, if you get my drift. We weren't encouraged to Do Our Own Things, or Find Our Own Bags every Sunday. In fact, I don't recall being encouraged to do much of anything. Liked the singing part, and the stained glass. The semantics largely centered around how we differed from Catholics, which gave the whole thing the air of a perpetual pep rally before the big game with a hated rival, except the rival was supposed to be more pitied than hated, and all the cheerleaders were just waking up from heavy sedation.

And yet somehow I came away from it with an oddball love of theological dispute, which I suppose is why the people who run these carnivals wanna get you early and keep you from learning about the 19th century as long as possible, or forever, whichever comes first. For that matter, I remain somewhat unconvinced that most loudly professing Christians have ever really adjusted to the discovery of Fire. So there was no way I was passin' this dude up:
Mysticism is dying, and taking true religion with it. Monasteries have dwindled. Contemplative orders have declined. Our religious leaders no longer preach the renunciation of the world; our culture scoffs at the idea. The closest most Americans come to real asceticism is giving up chocolate, cappuccinos, or (in my own not-quite-Francis-of-Assisi case) meat for lunch for Lent.

You gave up meat for lunch for Lent? What, even pickle loaf? Don't sell yourself short there, Ross. You're a goddam plaster saint.
This, at least, is the stern message of Luke Timothy Johnson, writing in the latest issue of the Catholic journal Commonweal. As society has become steadily more materialistic, Johnson declares, our churches have followed suit, giving up on the ascetic and ecstatic aspects of religion and emphasizing only the more worldly expressions of faith.

Okay, again, I'm definitely commin' at you from Luther Land here, but since when hasn't the Roman Catholic Church been about worldly expression of faith, with a minor in hair shirt? On the other hand, I think we can safely say that over the past thirty years American Protestanism has pretty thoroughly auctioned off its birthright on eBay in exchange for a solid merchandising deal. Unless you want to argue that Hucksterism has always been one of its major tenets. At any rate, who missed this while it was going on?
Conservative believers fixate on the culture wars, religious liberals preach social justice, and neither leaves room for what should be a central focus of religion — the quest for the numinous, the pursuit of the unnamable, the tremor of bliss and the dark night of the soul.

Reagantots. Sheesh. It just never occurs to you to look, does it? Those things aren't mutually exclusive, and they aren't equal. The reason there's a divide isn't focus. it's the unyielding opposition to the other guy's focus, which is largely one-sided. Since Paul VI, with the exception of a thirty-day break, the hierarchy of the Roman church has been coming down on the side of the "conservatives". Personally, I sorta lost the distinction between Catholicism and a single-issue PAC 'long about 1973, and it wasn't because its spokesmen were out on the hustings for social justice.
Yet by some measures, mysticism’s place in contemporary religious life looks more secure than ever. Our opinion polls suggest that we’re encountering the divine all over the place. In 1962, after a decade-long boom in church attendance and public religiosity, Gallup found that just 22 percent of Americans reported having what they termed “a religious or mystical experience.” Flash forward to 2009, in a supposedly more secular United States, and that number had climbed to nearly 50 percent.

In fairness to 1962, back then if you had "a religious or mystical experience" you were more or less expected to do something about it, like become a better parent, help the less fortunate, or give up swindling widows and orphans for a living.
In a sense, Americans seem to have done with mysticism what we’ve done with every other kind of human experience: We’ve democratized it, diversified it, and taken it mass market.

Not to mention "discovered huge reserves of corrupt pitchmen and pigeons ripe for fleecing."
No previous society has offered seekers so many different ways to chase after nirvana, so many different paths to unity with God or Gaia or Whomever. A would-be mystic can attend a Pentecostal healing service one day and a class on Buddhism the next, dabble in Kabbalah in February and experiment with crystals in March, practice yoga every morning and spend weekends at an Eastern Orthodox retreat center. Sufi prayer techniques, Eucharistic adoration, peyote, tantric sex — name your preferred path to spiritual epiphany, and it’s probably on the table.

I tried that tantric sex on the table thing, myself. It makes it hard to keep a straight face during supper.
This democratization has been in many ways a blessing. Our horizons have been broadened, our religious resources have expanded, and we’ve even recovered spiritual practices that seemed to have died out long ago.

Too bad we didn't recover the embarrassment which killed 'em, while we were at it.
The unexpected revival of glossolalia (speaking in tongues, that is), the oldest and strangest form of Christian worship, remains one of the more remarkable stories of 20th-century religion.

Especially remarkable, since we know, we know empirically, that it's utter nonsense.

Now, before we get to the "But…" that's been hanging over this thing like a rotten tree branch for four paragraphs, let's just note something about this convenient Ecumenicism. The Church hasn't suddenly gone lax on the question of Sufism, or Buddhism, or Lingam Massage, and Lord knows that Douthat isn't going to include Paganism--the country's fastest-growing religion--in that litany. It's no measure of "spiritual democratization" that you can invent a yogic Pentecostal crystal-wearin' Sufi; it's a measure of the sort of religious diversity Christian "conservatives" would love to ignore, or imprison, but can't anymore. It's not a theological argument, it's more patting yourself on the back for your tolerance because you now are forced to recognize what you used to denounce. It's like forgiving Galileo in the late 20th century, then announcing that science is on your side. It's precisely the "conservative" MO on Civil Rights in this country: oppose until that's no longer tenable, then hope the glacial slowness of your "conversion" means there's no one left alive who remembers where you started from. The real answer is that this isn't a theological observation at all; it's a political program. Posit that all these "spiritual" paths are essentially the same, then argue that their mystical (and mythical) combined weight brings heft to your own politico-religious arguments. "85% of Americans believe in God" is always, somehow, supposed to transubstantiate high school biology into "humanist religion", or plop two tons of Commandments on the courthouse lawn. Somehow it's never supposed to make you mind your own business, or respect other people's, or keep your plerophory to yourself.
And yet Johnson may be right that something important is being lost as well. By making mysticism more democratic, we’ve also made it more bourgeois, more comfortable, and more dilettantish.

Yeah, I guess it just sorta snuck up on y'all over the last thirty years of a major political party--it's the one you're a member of, Ross--screaming for America to return to its materialistic religious fundament.
It’s become something we pursue as a complement to an upwardly mobile existence, rather than a radical alternative to the ladder of success.

Yeah. Go figure. Oh, well, it's not like you spent ten years spewing culture war claptrap and GOP talking points while claiming Jesus agreed with you, eh Ross? Nothing like a clear conscience to help a man sleep at night.
Going to yoga classes isn’t the same thing as becoming a yogi;

And here's the interesting thing about that: it's not supposed to, although you can find people who'll argue that it's not supposed to be undertaken as just a series of flexibility exercises. It's a practice. (We mention this only because every time some American Christer starts talking Ecumenicalism you can set your watch by how long it takes him to mischaracterize Hinduism or Buddhism as sorta weird offshoots of the divinely accurate Semitic religions, except with brighter colors.)
spending a week in a retreat center doesn’t make me Thomas Merton or Thérèse of Lisieux. Our kind of mysticism is more likely to be a pleasant hobby than a transformative vocation.

I dunno, Ross; I'll always think of you as Thérèse of Lisieux. Excepting, of course, that she cured blindness, and you make me think of it as a mixed blessing.

Monday, March 8

The Gift Plumbing Fixture That Keeps On Giving Backing Up

IT occurred to me, reading that Brooks piece Friday, that there were at least a dozen approaches to cracking its idiocy, of which I probably considered three before saying the hell with it and just ranting. R. Porrofatto, in comments, notes, for example, that Teabaggers have the same relationship to Wal*Mart that salad bar aficionados have to Appleby's.

I was outside Sunday morning, pretending that Spring might get here before Daylight Savings Time, and chewing on this some (which reminds me: two things which have disappeared since my youth, and aren't my hair, are time to read books and hobbies/pastimes which take my mind off everything else. The one exception to the latter being playing guitar and singing. I'm not sure if the first two are common or idiosyncratic, but I suspect that Song is the warm bath of the mind, which is why I believe we should issue every child a harmonica at birth). This teleported me to 1979, my Poor Wife and I riding in the back seat of a vehicle driven by her father, while her sixteen-year-old…cousin, yeah, that's it…rode shotgun. I've got no idea where we were going, or where the rest of the clan was, but I remember the news coming on the radio, and this being the early days of the Iranian Hostage Crisis, the two were synonymous. And somewhere along the line her baby…nephew…says something like, "We should just grab 400 of them and say we're gonna kill 'em unless ours are released."

Now, the sentiment itself was not particularly surprising, in the family car no more so than out: both of us are products of a Goldwaterite upbringing, although mine was more Religious Hypocrite and hers Divine Right of Property Holdings. As I've mentioned before, every family gathering for our first twenty years or so included the First To Make Eye Contact Game, where we vied to catch the other in mid-head-swivel as he recognized the first entirely gratuitous racial comment of the festivities had been unwrapped, uncorked, or replaced the angel on the top of the tree. The game didn't so much end as finally just depress the hell out of both of us. But before that point there was a solid four-five year run during the Reagan administration when it would be one of my Poor Wife's innocent answers to the question "How's school?"--recounting, as one does, some some recent episode of teenage pillage which had dominated her psychic workspace that week--which set things running: "Oh, we had a big fight in the cafeteria Tuesday" or "Oh, I separated two girls having a hair-pulling contest" or "We had three seniors flunk off the team" would inevitably cause the questioner, or someone nearby, to ask "Were they black?" It didn't matter which family, any more than it mattered that at the time she taught in an exoburban district where the odds of unfortunate pigmentation in any particular student were about 98.753 to 1, nor that she coached swimming. We finally had to make a formal exemption for direct replies, since the requirement of keeping a straight face under the circumstances was too much for her, and the torque they generated gave her whiplash one Thanksgiving.

So it wasn't like the paramilitary bloodlust of his comments came out of left field, or shocked my delicate liberal sensibilities. It wasn't even the fact that this boy had to that point evinced no discernible interest in politics, history, current events, or anything else generally subsumed under the broad heading of Knowledge, or, it probably goes without saying, interest in the sort of Infantry career which would have afforded him a personal opportunity to respond, however military-judiciously, to Towel Heads and Camel Jockeys (my recollection is that, in the event, he settled for the more prudent course of purchasing a copyright-infringing jersey depicting Mickey Mouse flipping Iran the bird, which must've wowed 'em at the Mall). No; what startled me was the fact that to this point his primary contribution to the Republic he now rose to defend was in wrapping its second-hand vehicle reserves around local trees or street lights while blitzed on Quaaludes, keeping insurance adjusters, body-shop mechanics, and court reporters busy in the depths of the Carter economy.

This is, come to think of it, the genesis of my interest in Reagantots, the generationlet which came of age at the Dawn of Morning in America and accepted the attendant hoopla as evidence to support its facile wingnuttery, hopeless nerdism, principled rejection of shag carpeting, and/or collection of Rush albums. Nothing particularly wrong with this, of course, except the remarkable refusal to grow out of it, or reconsider unquestioned tenets in light of the twenty years of total disaster that followed.

And even that might be excused as political gamesmanship (by someone more generous than I), but what explains this?
Conservatism is built on the idea of original sin — on the assumption of human fallibility and uncertainty. To remedy our fallen condition, conservatives believe in civilization — in social structures, permanent institutions and just authorities, which embody the accumulated wisdom of the ages and structure individual longings.

Who says that sorta thing in middle age? Who still believes it? And who still believes it even after everything that "conservatism" has wrought over his entire adult lifetime? From "liberal" Brooks seeing the Light at a Milton Friedman concert there's a direct line to the flotsam of the Bush administration--moving through, by the way, a Reagan administration which not only looks so much worse in retrospect that the blowhole moving to put him on the fifty is reduced to saying he "transformed our Nation's political and economic thinking", as though those two triumphs belong to the Ages, but one which looked increasingly dismal, let alone criminal, as its eight years went on--yet Brooks remains convinced that an idea which (supposedly) suddenly hit him at 21 is still as theologically valid as the day it struck him blind. When do "moderate" "conservatives" moderate their conservatism? It's not just that Brooks never owns up; it's that no one ever forces him to. His is a free-floating "conservatism" which is allowed to proclaim itself the only defender of Civilization, to claim an intellectual heritage based on its devotion to a couple of dead writers it agrees with, and let others do the bare-knuckle work. He's been consoling himself--in public--with the idea that he's the adult for his entire adult life. And still, when the chips are down, he takes a swing at Hippies.

And, at the bottom there's this: faux-bashing Tea Baggers is the the easiest thing in the fucking world. It's a Free Pass. It's one of those phony Libertarians railing against tax "seizure" while driving down the highway accessing the internet, and using the GPS to find the shortest route from Mom's house to the doctor who'll charge Medicare for her visit. It's the self-aggrandizing backwoods teevee preacher crying damnation over teevee or internet porn before he and half his congregation that still has blood in its veins go home to watch some. Brooks may not like the Tea Baggers, nor they him, but they're not going to be toting around Brooks=Hitler signs. And they'll both be voting Republican in November. That they do so for slightly different reasons might be of interest if we were charged with making the seating arrangements for some soirée; in politics, in a party which's marched in lockstep since 1964, it makes absolutely no difference. It's just an easy way for Brooks to play moderate. Me, I'd rather spend four years of President Palin than four years of Mitch Daniels' Big Brain doing precisely the same things while dreaming up more "moderate" excuses for them. Not that the results would be any more palatable; not that Exaulted Stupidity hasn't lost its novelty; not that Palin, or the Teabaggers, are any more honest, or any less devious, than Brooks and his ilk; not that any of these liars will own up to the disaster that follows, any more than they did Reagan's or Bush's. It's just that I'll enjoy the three weeks between Brooks' final hope for one of his own getting the nomination and his sudden admiration for Palin's "style" and her "new command" of "substantive issues". The fade-out after looks the same, regardless.