Thursday, January 31

Jonah Goldberg Agrees With You. 'Nuff Said.

I WAS raised a Protestant, and trained as a scientist, but I was born dyspeptic, and that's my real allegiance. I'm a cat owner, and animal lover, but I'm not a sentimentalist. I feed birds, squirrels, raccoons, opossums, rabbits, and I don't know how many other nearby animals. I'd never doubt the results of a study just because I didn't like them, but I wouldn't believe one just because it was in the Times. Aside from the requirements of cheap preteritio, I would never, ever try to impugn a study by mentioning the pointedly, and ironically, criminal behavior of the former Secretary of one of its sponsors. And I can recognize ripe possum shit even from upwind.
For all the adorable images of cats that play the piano, flush the toilet, mew melodiously and find their way back home over hundreds of miles, scientists have identified a shocking new truth: cats are far deadlier than anyone realized.
We are--please put on a hat so you can hold onto it--six whole paragraphs away from noting that the study "admittedly" comes with wide ranges and uncertainty, though who admitted this is not admitted. The fact that the study is a concatenation (sorry) of local surveys and pilot studies, as opposed to, say, observation, will actually turn up as, oh, the next sentence.

So, to begin with, if we expect the great cross-section of the American public to treat scientific evidence with respect, maybe we could start by reporting on it accurately. 

And maybe this is the place to stick in personal experience? Yes, cats are cute and cuddly, but if you don't realize they're the most efficient, and wanton, four-legged (ahem) predators on land then reading it in a newspaper ain't gonna help you.

I've been around cats for fifty years, and the only one in all that time who was an actual serial killer was my first pet, a stray we adopted at my insistence, who'd probably wandered off the farmland they were rapidly turning into suburban streets. He routinely brought home rabbits--full-sized rabbits--and all manner of rodent. Pretty sure his main hunting ground was the farm field across the street they were tearing up to build the new high school. When we moved away his kill rate dropped to almost nothing.

That was a long time ago, but I was a boy, with a boy's curiosity (we played out of doors in those days), and I don't remember finding birds, or parts of birds, in his wake. Probably because birds can fucking fly. We've been in our present house fifteen years. Six cats in that time, though only one was allowed to roam. Four bird kills, total, but only one was actually confirmed. In the meantime we've had three birds die from colliding with windows. So spay or neuter your glazier.  (There are more confirmed kills by hawks, Dr. Cat Hater.) They've killed plenty of voles, field mice, and chipmunks. That's because the place is fucking overrun with voles, field mice, and chipmunks. Take that up with the State of Indiana, which lets you gun down any varmint you see, at any season, day or night. 

There are at least four neighborhood cats allowed to roam who turn up at our house from time to time. Never had any evidence of any catching a bird. And that's hunting over seed. Birds can fucking fly. If we had a native penguin population in the Midwest it might be different.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, that's not the whole answer. Yeah, the study, or the people trying to publicize it, try to disavow the attack on pet cats, who are "only" 30% of the problem. This, in scientific parlance, is known as "lying your ass off for the greater good (grant money)". 
scientists from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that domestic cats in the United States — both the pet Fluffies that spend part of the day outdoors and the unnamed strays and ferals that never leave it — kill a median of 2.4 billion birds and 12.3 billion mammals a year, most of them native mammals like shrews, chipmunks and voles rather than introduced pests like the Norway rat.
Yeah. My cats haven't brought home any nutria, mute swans, zebra mussels, or Chinese honeysuckle, either.

Listen, the results of a study are absolutely nothing without we understand the methodology of the study, the details of peer review, and counter arguments. We're not getting those from the Times. We might get some from the original article itself, assuming we had thirty-two bucks to spend. [This, we might note, for a study funded by the Smithsonian (70% of operating funds from the government), and the (presumably U.S.) Fish and Wildlife Service (100%). ] I'd just steal the thing, but then some Federal prosecutor would hound me to my death. Why is it that professional journals could teach the Indianapolis Star a thing or two about privateering?

I'm not saying I don't believe y'all; I'm just saying that number sounds like maybe we should double check the math. I'm saying that I'd be a little more comfortable if you'd mention the uncounted billions killed by incontinent development and capricious habitat destruction, all of which requires opposable thumbs. North America, last time I travelled there, was a continent, not an island. And when you talk about how feral cats aren't hardscrabblers, like coyotes, I'm reminded of the number of people in these parts willing to shoot, trap, or poison coyotes because there's a rumor one of 'em killed the Widow Henderson's precious Fifi. Thanks for helping them load. 

Maybe we can stow the sensationalism, or save it for NASA's next funding push, which should be any day now. And maybe, if you can't handle predation, then bird watching is not your thing. I hear Norway rat tracking can be quite the amusing little challenge. 

Wednesday, January 30

Listen, Guys, The Comedy Thing Is Just Not Working Out

David Brooks, "A Second G.O.P." January 28

SHORTER David Brooks, Twenty-Five Years in the Making: "Okay, so it turns out that the party won't remake itself in my image. But it should definitely do so in those areas where this would be an instant political winner."

T.H.E. fuck? Can we leave it at that? Can we simply note that, without getting into any details of this or any of his other Yale-approved middlebrow penseés, David Brooks is the freaking embodiment of that bloated, bureaucratic, partisan Washington he claims to distain? He sits in a $6 million house, cranks out 1500 words in a tough week, goes on the teevee to say them in different words, and all of 'em are the fucking same. All of 'em have been the fucking same for a quarter century, since he touched the hem of Milton Friedman's child-labor-factory garment. And all of them are guaranteed, guaranteed, to accomplish nothing. 

Here, just for the record, is The Idea:
It’s probably futile to try to change current Republicans. It’s smarter to build a new wing of the Republican Party, one that can compete in the Northeast, the mid-Atlantic states, in the upper Midwest and along the West Coast. It’s smarter to build a new division that is different the way the Westin is different than the Sheraton. 
The second G.O.P. wouldn’t be based on the Encroachment Story. It would be based on the idea that America is being hit simultaneously by two crises, which you might call the Mancur Olson crisis and the Charles Murray crisis. 
Olson argued that nations decline because their aging institutions get bloated and sclerotic and retard national dynamism. Murray argues that America is coming apart, dividing into two nations — one with high education levels, stable families and good opportunities and the other with low education levels, unstable families and bad opportunities. 
The second G.O.P. would tackle both problems at once. It would be filled with people who recoiled at President Obama’s second Inaugural Address because of its excessive faith in centralized power, but who don’t share the absolute antigovernment story of the current G.O.P.
Now, honestly, after I got over that Sheraton/Westin metaphor--professional word smithery!--I was reminded of P.J. O'Rourke. Not for the reason you might imagine, but because the great NatLamp Sunday newspaper parody included a Mr. Fix-It advice column, where someone wrote in that the morning sun was too strong in his front window, and the columnist recommended lifting the house off its foundation and rotating it 90º.

America is beyond wondering, or caring, whether Brooks actually believes this shit, or even believes there's someone out there who'd find it "thought provoking". We already know how Brooks and his insider ilk--self-proclaimed minorities in a minority party--have come to political prominence over Brooks' working lifetime. No, the single question left is one, really, only specialists can feign interest in: is the Republican party really this inept? 

Remember that if Brooks is to be believed (I kid!) we're talking about the Party of Burkean Weekends. A party he now suggests must be abandoned across the vast empty stretches of its actual influence, to nativist, gun-totin' yahooliganism. Where'd those people even come from? Didn't you used to consider them The Help? (Although, it is the height of magnanimity, giving something you have no claim to over to its actual owners. I do hope this doesn't start a trend.)

In the meantime, where applicable, the Republican party will return to prominence by explaining to East Coast Elitists and Midwestern Progressives that what they really need is a combination of neo-Randianism and Uncut Racism. 

What problem does this solve, now (let alone How)? Losing the popular vote in five of the last six Presidential elections? Who ya gonna run? You had two guys on that dais last time who could, conceivably, have been said to fit that mold; one of 'em was your nominee. The one who'd been running for seven years and had all the money. The other couldn't outpoll Herman Fucking Cain. Your problem isn't changing electoral demographics. It's the fucking Republican party. 

Listen, Professor, most of us understand that none of you really wants to reform the Republican party; the real reformers are the Teabag arsonists. You're only interested in gingering the old nag so somebody'll buy it in 2016. There's a certain amount of schadenfreude involved in seeing you people squirm the way the rest of us have for the past thirty-five years as you gave them power and prominence in exchange for their supporting whatever corporate-friendly (wink wink) candidate you'd selected. But, really, I'd'a just as soon we'd passed on the whole thing.

There are a few tactical problems with this. For one, it didn't work that way from the start. Your boy Reagan was forced (I'm being kind) to fluff religious maniacs and unrepentant racists. Two things kept those appendages from nominating your last Presidential ticket: the surfeit, and complete insanity, of their Teabagger choices, and the strong desire among the faithful to kick the colored guy out of the White House by voting for "someone electable", who they confused with Mitt Romney. Think it'll be that way next time? Go ahead and bet against Santorum, then. For another, the Money in the Money Party isn't in Eastern banks anymore; it's in the hands of Middle Western and Further Out Western cranks. Again, take it up with Reagan. And Goldwater. 

While you're at it, you might consider that you hooked the easy marks the first time. Jebus, the Flag, and Cheap Oil and Mineral Rights got you in the mess you've finally noticed. You really think you're going to hoodwink your way out of it?

For the life of me, Professor, just what th' hell's wrong with the Democratic party? It's wishy-washy. It caters to Big Business. It'll start just as many wars as the Republicans, though it tends to end them, eventually. Why don't you and your seven followers pretend to be Democrats, instead of pretending to give a fuck about anyone else? Too much ethnic food on the free buffet?

Tuesday, January 29

Abortion Rights Have Nothing To Do With Women, Says Noted Catholic Man

Ross Douthat, "Divided by Abortion, United by Feminism". January 26

EVERY so often I like to ponder Ross Douthat's place in American letters. I always enlarge his Times headshot to screen size and stare at it while I do. It's a real cure for seriousness. Lock yourself away from sharp objects sometime and try it.

Hey, I'm from the American Midwest, and not the particularly hip part. I haven't much cared how other people looked, or dressed, since Disco, and I don't give a fuck if you like my jeans. All I know about the fashion sense of people under thirty is that they have atrocious taste in eyewear, and good taste in hats. Or that pretty much everyone in the boho sections of town dresses like Johnny Depp.

So maybe there's some semiosis of joy in Douthat's teenage beard/receding-hairline-with-the-little-poofy-thing-in-front combo that I'll never get. Maybe blues and browns of exactly the same tint are the perfect choice for his skin tone. I'm no expert. But the eyes! Eyes are not subject to the cruel mockeries of fashion designing. I've done this little experiment three or four times, and I can't decide if those are the eyes of a pudgy sixth grader intimidating a second grade boy on the playground, or those of that same sixth grader caught with his hands in his lap by Sister Immaculata. Do they not allow retakes at the Times? They gave me three at the BMV. Fuck you, pal. Goddam James Reston used the same pic for twenty-five years!

Or is this some sartorial recapitulation, intended or otherwise, of Douthat's intellectual world? He did, after all, consciously choose a worldview which would either stick him in time at age seventeen, or have to be renounced. He hasn't renounced it, and time is up, unless he wants to change sects again, in which case he's gonna have to go in for something with robes, because just another Christian denomination won't cut it.
Those stereotypes link the anti-abortion cause to traditionalist ideas about gender roles — to the belief that a woman’s place is in the home, or at least that her primary identity should be maternal rather than professional. Writing in the Reagan era, the sociologist Kristin Luker argued that this dimension of the debate trumped the question of whether unborn human life has rights: “While on the surface it is the embryo’s fate that seems to be at stake, the abortion debate is actually about the meaning of women’s lives.”

There are two possibilities here: one, that Douthat has carefully considered Luker's work over a thirty-five year career; or, two, that this is a remembered "Reagan era" pull-quote from his prep school debate society.

You decide.

At any rate, since Luker has actually taken the time to argue the point, maybe presenting it as though it is axiomatic to the entire pro-choice movement is, oh, a skosh unfair. Although it probably wowed 'em at Hamden Hall.
This remains a dominant pro-choice understanding of the abortion conflict — and not without reason, since it finds vindication to this day in the idiot “mansplaining” of amateur gynecologists like Todd Akin.

Also Known As the dominant anti-abortion understanding of the issue.

(Mansplaining. Jesus Christ, why do we even care anymore?)
But such an understanding was too simplistic when Nellie Gray founded the March for Life, and it’s grown steadily less compelling with time. As Jon Shields of Claremont McKenna College pointed out last year, pro-life sentiment has been steady over the last four decades even as opposition to women in the work force (or the military, or the White House) has largely collapsed.

"Sure, the metaphysical certainties which serve as the foundation of the anti-abortion movement have, with time, crumbled to dust. But our contemporary apologetics trump your pronouncements from The Reagan Era, so we win."
The pro-life cause has proved unexpectedly resilient, in other words, not because millions of Americans are nostalgists for a world of stricter gender norms, but because they have convinced themselves that the opportunities the feminist revolution won for women can be sustained without unrestricted access to abortion.

Yeah, and these same millions believe you can bomb cities to rubble and kill only bad guys. It's called "having the confidence of not having to think things through".
This conviction is crucial to understanding why opinion on abortion has been a persistent exception to the liberalizing cultural trends that have brought us gay marriage, medical marijuana and now women in combat.

Oh, jeez louise. "Gay marriage, medical marihuana, and now women in combat"? I'll believe you've transcended stereotypical gender roles when you stop sounding like David Gergen debating Abbie Hoffman.
It helps explain, too, why public opinion on the issue doesn’t break down along the gendered lines that many liberals expect — why more women than men, for instance, told the latest Pew survey that abortion was “morally wrong” and (in smaller numbers) that Roe should be overturned. 
It also has long-term implications for how the abortion debate plays out. The best way to argue with a Todd Akin is to dismiss him as a chauvinist, a creep and the enemy of a more enlightened future. But the best pro-choice rebuttal to the young idealists at the March for Life or the professional women who lead today’s anti-abortion groups isn’t that they’re too reactionary — it’s that they’re too utopian, too radical, too naïve.
Thanks for the advice, Ross. I'm sure everyone will take it the way it's intended.

But a couple things, here. First, fuck single-issue responses in a single fucking Pew poll. I will readily concede that the vast majority of Americans, of any of a half-dozen genders, asked if innocent, blue-eyes babies should be freely sacrificed on the altar of Sluttiness, will answer No, if you'll concede that this is, in fact, a too-accurate summary of the debate over the last forty years. Utopian? Naïve? More like self-righteous and devoid of responsibility to fact.

Second: Todd Akin is yours. Evangelical gynecology may be an embarrassment, but it's one even some of your OB/GYNs agree with. Richard Mourdock didn't even bother defining "legitimate rape". He just stated the official Republican position, that rape's not a suitable grounds for terminating a pregnancy. He got slaughtered, in Indiana, in a Republican year (but I repeat myself!), in large measure because a majority of women voters missed that Pew survey.
This means that the abortion rights movement, once utopian in its own fashion, is now at its most effective when it speaks the language of necessary evils, warning Americans that while it might be pretty to think so, the equality they take for granted simply can’t be separated from a practice they find troubling.

Troubling? People do not say they find Murder "troubling".

Look, once again, here's a big part of your problem: your side lost this argument in the late 60s, lost it on simple rational grounds (which, by the by, happen to coincide with that Great Libertarian Inclination your party keeps spouting about) and, as a result, stopped talking to anyone but itself. It's a very simple argument: there are circumstances which develop, sometimes late in pregnancy, where the fetus becomes a threat to the woman's continued existence. And at that point two decisions have to be made: Which will doctors try to save, and Who makes that decision?

There's a (bullshit) Christian folk-theology which requires the mother to go down with the ship, as it were, but this has no real historical existence; the vaunted Roman Catholic respect for Life dates at most to the 19th century, and calls upon some obscure 3rd century text no one pays attention to otherwise for its justification. Into the 20th century all this was moot, because such medical problems couldn't be detected ahead of time, and much less could be done--especially for the fetus--once they were. It is, in short, a modern problem for which the Bronze Age is no guide even if you could clearly demonstrate its beliefs. Which you can't.

So we have, now, the tiny but significantly-placed leak which washes out mighty dams, let alone ad hoc political positions. You can't proclaim the Sanctity of the Zygote and then act like you haven't taken a position on this, and one, in fact, that most Americans would find abhorrent if Pew explained it to them. If a blastocyst is a fully-protected (funny, if you look at it right, innit it?) human being, then terminating one's life is homicide. Doing so willfully is murder. (And it's subject to the various jurisdictions of the various states, according to the lights of the local DA, a rather pleasant artifact of the Let The States Decide argument.) It means that if you're driving along at the speed limit, drop your glasses, reach for them, get into a fender bender with the car in front of you which has stopped suddenly, and the pregnant woman passenger goes into labor, delivering a premature, stillborn infant, you've committed vehicular homicide. Hell, bump into someone with a shopping cart and the same result could obtain. Last week Indiana courts released a woman who'd been jailed for two years on feticide charges because she tried to commit suicide. She was released on a technical objection to the autopsy. The question of whether charges will be refiled is a political football. Your little font fucking overflows with human compassion.

That's before we come to rape, and the complete insanity (and inhumanity) of the Defenders of Life. It's before we come to the question of whether a woman who has too much to drink one night should be sentenced to twenty years hard labor. It's before we ask whether a citizen should control her health, or have the state explain what's best.

It's before we talk about contraception.

The right to privacy was the best, smartest, and most enlightened solution to the question. The legitimate response (thanks, Todd) of anti-abortionists, and religious absolutists, and the Life affirmers, should be to offer lifelong support for mothers and infants. Not to do the old wink wink We Won't Object to Abortions for Rape or to Save Mothers' Lives if You Just Let Us Ban the Rest routine. Especially when it comes from Catholic males.

Call me when you've got that sorted out, Ross.

Monday, January 28

And Boy Are My Arms Tired

I COULDN'T resist taping "The National Review Conference Highlights"--yes, all 2-1/2 hours of highlights--on CSPAN. My efforts were rewarded with incontrovertible proof that CSPAN and I do not agree on the definition of "highlight".

Theirs includes "speeches by Paul Ryan, Scott Walker, and Ted Cruz"--which did, at least, purport to show that they aren't the same person--while mine doesn't.

Instead here's my Highlights of the Highlights of The National Review Conference, from the nation's Toastmaster General, the Guy Who Brings the Yucks to the Big Bucks, Rich Lowry, introducing Ryan:
When Congressman Ryan was picked as Mitt Romney's running mates [sic] last year he became a subject of fascination [sic], everything about him, extending even to his work-out routine.

Well, actually only his work-out routine, but do go on.
P90X blah blah blah... Actually his most innovative workout
Oh-oh! Comedy warning light!
has been caught on tape and broadcast very broadly--I'm sure you've seen it--
"Conservative" women must be in constant danger of being driven mad with foreplay.
involves running through woods pushing old ladies in wheelchairs
off of cliffs.
Don't get me wrong; that's not the highlight. It's where Lowry took it:
And if you think about it this is just a tremendous work out
because as you're pushing the wheelchair it's a lot of effort, it gets the legs really good
[titter, or dropped cocktail tray]
and you're running so the cardio is there.
[throat clearing]
and then, this is the key thing, depending on your technique of pushing the wheelchair off the cliff
[self-satisfied smirk, utter silence]
it can involve the tris, too.
[points to elbow]
So you get the arms there
as well.
Talk about a Rocket Room....

Now the beautiful thing about "conservative" humor is that analysis can't kill it, as it does real humor, because it's already deader than their memories of George W. Bush. So Rich, if you're out there, and we know you are….

First, y'know, I've spent a lot of time in the hospital lately, and a lot of the people visiting my dad are his fellow churchgoing types, and it's remarkable that the only possible way to relate to any of them is on their own terms. I've been reminded over and over of the Lawrence Welk Conundrum, which is that the Welk show, which was almost wholly inexplicable in its day, still plays every week on PBS to audiences which may now be old and infirm, but certainly weren't then. My dad's 92. He used to watch Welk, but how much of the audience is made up of nonagenarians? Sixty and seventy year-olds today were in the prime of youth when that dreck was aimed at the nation the first time. Th' fuck do they watch it now? People who were actual fans of the Big Bands despised Welk as a schlock merchant (and, difficult to believe, but he apparently dialed down the schmaltz for teevee). Is there some sort of Aging Ray out there I've somehow managed to duck so far? It's like somebody said about Harry Connick, Jr.: "It's one thing to revere Sinatra, or Ella Fitzgerald. It's another to pretend Bob Dylan never existed."

Anyway, Lowry apparently grew up having never seen anything funny. And as he went on, and on, and ononandon, despite the fact that the One Big Yuck came from people who'd caught the drift immediately, as one would, I could only think that this was what a dance recital would look like if the kid in question learned everything he knew watching that overripe Mouseketeer on Welk replays over the last fifteen years.

Friday, January 25

Here's Your Enormous Campaign War Chest, What's Your Hurry?

DEAR me, now Senatorial Gangster of Six Saxby Chambliss is leaving Congress because we just can't be bipartisan, like the old days.

The good news is that, so long as Tom Coburn's staying, the average ACU rating for Bipartisan Republicans will remain above 97%.

The bad news is that, with so many disgruntled bipartisans retiring, we'll no longer be able to give each one a piece of the True Cross as a parting gift.

Thursday, January 24

Cough Cough

David Weigel, "The Bengazi Show: Republicans wanted to grill Hillary Clinton on the death of four Americans in Libya. They blew it." January 23

I HEART Pierce:
It only came to me late in the afternoon, and with some prompting by a commenter, why the Secretary was able to handle so easily the feral children of the House, and the feral pre-adolescents like Ron Johnson in the Senate. It's not because she was a senator, although that probably helped. And it's not because she spent four years eating canapes with various dictators and democrats around the world. It's because she was First Lady -- and therefore, Target 1A -- during the craziest four years anyone ever saw. The whole Republican Benghazi legend is spun from the same ball of fantasy whence came Vince Foster's death, and the billing records, and the cattle futures, and her lesbianism, and the crack pipes on the White House Christmas tree. And, of course, the original Whitewater scandal, a nothingburger that was peddled by every poolroom liar in Arkansas to many of our oh-so-civil members of the elite political press, until it came somehow to include bill-padding (Webster Hubbell), local influence-peddling (the very dubious conviction of Jim Guy Tucker), the conviction of people who swindled the Clintons themselves, which was somehow proof that the Clintons were swindling people, and, remarkably, at the end of the day, the wandering penis of the president of the United States. 
That was what Benghazi was going to be. You could see them working it. "Benghazi" was going to be the secret conjuring mist within which this president's assumed anti-Americanism, and his essential Otherness, would swirl around what actually happened in Libya until it became an all-encompassing cloud in which nothing had to be proven because everything was "out there." Benghazi was going to be the Arkansas Project with an actual body count.
I've spent most of this week at my dad's bedside, in the hospital where he was taken with congestive heart failure. He's doing okay, thanks, but he's 92 ("and three-quarters"), so he's gonna be watched for a while.

My dad would almost assuredly by identified as a FOX News Old if he were to enter the internet political arena, which he won't. He's a lifelong Indiana Republican. Oddly, or perhaps not, this is more like hometown sports rooting than recitation of the noxious fumes that FOX emits. He never was an ideologue, and certainly not a ranter. He believed, and still believes, in a sort of White Christian sense of propriety. It rides around in him unchallenged, and it's informed by his grasping the wrong end of the stick, the one FOX conveniently holds out for him on an hourly basis.

I returned to the cardiac ward from a trip home for dinner yesterday evening. He had some cable news on, though, thankfuly, not the evil Roger Ailes variety. Maybe they block it at the hospital; I haven't had the controls to check. Any road, clips of Secretary Clinton were playing; I couldn't really hear (the damn thing has its speaker in the control, and if there's any more compelling counter-argument to the Randoid Miracle of Entrepreneurial Tech Magic than the sound quality of any and every modern electronic device with a speaker, I haven't unearthed it). I was, of course, in all likelihood her "exchange" with "Senator" Ron Johnson (R-Does It Fucking Matter Where Anymore?). And my dad says, "She's good. She's really changed."

This was by no means the haze of FOX lifting; it was FOX itself, where Hitlery is now "respected", like her husband, and in case you've forgotten their previous opinion of him for some reason, see Pierce, above.

Before we squint at Weigel's retelling, let's take a moment to ask ourselves: how much would we have to reshape the universe to imagine a world where the Republican--the official Republican, let alone the FOX Nation Republican--response to Benghazi would resemble the way a rational person responded? These people are orders of fucking magnitude away from sanity. And they've built themselves a redoubt where they won't get called on it.
Republicans wanted answers about Benghazi. They wanted them yesterday. They wanted them now. “Why was security at the consulate so inadequate?” asked four Republican senators in an October op-ed. “Did anyone order U.S. military and intelligence personnel in Benghazi or nearby in the region who offered help to stand down?” One week ago, three of those senators published 14 more questions about the Sept. 11, 2012, attack that killed four Americans. Why was the FBI investigating an “act of terrorism?” Why wasn’t a military response ready in a hurry, when the consulate came under attack? And “what were the secretary of State's activities during this time?”

Here's a little-appreciated fact for the urban hipster: bullshit makes decent fuel, or a building material if you find yourself on the Plains, but it is of almost no use to the fertilizer salesman. Most stuff won't grow on it.
They were supposed to find out today. Hillary Clinton, who’s leaving the State Department as soon as she can toss the baton to Sen. John Kerry, spent the morning with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the afternoon with the House. She would have come in December, but events got away from her: an unexplained illness, a pack of Republicans speculating that she had “Benghazi flu,” the revelation that she’d had a blood clot, followed by some furtive Republican apologies.

Six different ways to refer to Clinton's single illness, five of them about loony speculation ungrounded by fact, reasonable speculation, or gravity. One more and it would be a metaphor for the Benghazi investigation itself.
They blew it. All congressional hearings are invitations for preening, showboating, and not-a-question-but-a-comment speeches. The grilling of Hillary Clinton was worse: a repetitive series of losing rematches, of Republicans asking questions that had been asked and answered and asked and answered. They coaxed one new piece of information from her, but they didn’t seem to notice, as their press offices once again tried to shame her for ever suggesting that the Benghazi attack grew out of protests against an anti-Islam video.

Look, we're long past the chance that there'd be someone on the right end of the spectrum politically savvy enough to understand this was a losing draw in the first place. Honestly, all that's left to wonder is whether, at some point in the future, the Republican party will be able to attract someone sane enough to glimpse the problem.

This thing began with the "suggestion" that the attack grew out of one of the many demonstrations about that fool video. It was a pinhead notion to begin with: The administration didn't label the attack Terrism! Which was only meaningful for people with a deep-seated need to hear the word repeated as often as possible. It amounted to complaining that the hooker didn't fake an orgasm while she was blowing you. It settled on Rice, who, it was later established, had not been cleared to say that a murderous band (Terrists! Islamonazis!) had used the cover of the demonstration to stage a raid; this is like complaining that a police spokesman didn't give away all the clues the cops were holding to themselves. It then began to collect the detritus of wingnut thought: "They won't admit it was terrism, because that will tarnish The Messiah's so-called killing of bin-Laden, on which his slim chances of reelection hang." Wingnut Marine dad chimes in that his son wasn't allowed bullets; some other military genius proposed that F-16s could'a flown in really low and non-violently put out the fire.
But the hearing wasn’t supposed to be about her. It was the Republicans’ chance to get answers. Even McCain mostly muffed the chance, using his time with Clinton to recite a litany of questions, giving her time for one evasive response. “When were you made aware of the attack on the British ambassador?” he asked. “What was the president’s activities during that seven-hour period?”

Maybe you guys should be meeting in private, on your own time, and trying to figure out why your pre-election polling was so godawful. Not to mention your candidates. If you decide to, I know where you can find a stenographer.

Monday, January 21

The Default Setting Is Now "Effing Liar". Sorry.

Rick Reilly, "Manti Te'o wondered in 2010 if Lennay Kekua situation was 'a prank'". January 19

Frontline: The Education of Michelle Rhee  Check Local Listings

ODDS are that you're a good deal smarter than me, and on the question of sanity no one will even lay the bet. So let me bring you up to date on the Manti Te'o story.

First, the haters at Deadspin reveal to the world that the inspiring story of Manti Te'o's dead girlfriend was a slight exaggeration, in that she wasn't his girlfriend, had not, in fact, died, and was slightly non-existent. As luck would have it, this was revealed just before Te'o, his agents, and/or the University of Notre Dame was set to fess up, publicly.

This inspiring Story for the Ages had been promulgated throughout the college football season by Sports Illustrated, ESPN, the cable sports megalith, and ESPN, the online heaping mess, despite the fact that, in each instance, the reporters who cover the story (now) report that they couldn't find a trace of Lennay Kekua.

Since the story broke, ESPN has been your go-to source for news, if by "news" you mean "a collection of successive spin attempts from Te'o, his agents, his family, the University of Notre Dame, and, basically, anyone who saw the opportunity to grab a stick of the refreshing chewing gum of American media fame." ESPN's Jeremy Schaap agreed, essentially, to sit down with Te'o and his attorney for a No Recording Devices Allowed interview, or, in other words, as practice swing for Te'o's agents. Then Shelley Smith "broke" the "story" that a friend of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, the man Deadspin had already identified as a central figure in the hoax, had revealed that Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, the man Deadspin had already identified as a central figure in the hoax, admitted to being a central figure in the hoax.

Now Reilly confirms the latter non-story while actually naming his source. Naming her, in fact, "a former Miss South Pacific."
Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o was completely and cruelly fooled in a fake girlfriend hoax, and clearly not in on the con, one of his childhood friends said Friday. 
Tessi Tolutau, a former Miss South Pacific, grew up five doors from Te'o in Hawaii. She has Facebook messages from Te'o as far back as September 2010, checking on the legitimacy of the fictitious Polynesian beauty Lennay Kekua, who would become his "girlfriend." Te'o even wondered out loud if Kekua might be "a prank."
And just in case there's still someone out there wishing God would send him a sign, this comes in the exact same motherfucking week that Rick Reilly broke off his decades-long mancrush on Lance Armstrong. Yes, Rick Reilly was still defending--vociferously--the World's Ugliest Sports Thug until a sennight ago, or, roughly, five years after the next last person on earth.

I tuned into Sportscenter at some point this weekend and was astonished to learn that somehow the entire episode now revolves around the question of whether Manti Te'o can be proven, as of this minute, to've masterminded the entire thing. Otherwise he's completely innocent, apodictically, no tag backs. A victim. And one of the few Notre Dame actually gives a shit about.

You people have zero credibility. None. Jack Swarbrick is not a "responsible spokesman" because he's got the weight of Notre Dame behind him. He's automatically suspicious, for precisely that reason. From the moment the Virtual Girlfriend Is Virtual story was confirmed, Manti Te'o was revealed as a public liar, or else a confabulating head case. We can debate the seriousness of his crime, his complicity in the creation of Lennay Kekua, his motive, his intent, the accuracy of his post-revelation stories. What we cannot argue is whether Manti Te'o was telling the truth when the national sports spotlight was turned on him. He wasn't.

And, sorry, but you people are stuck with this world. The rest of us don't need to be, but to free ourselves we have to assume everything you ever say is a fucking, self-serving lie unless proven otherwise. If you don't care for this maybe you should have considered that twenty years ago or so. If by chance you give a shit, and would rather see a generation raised where credibility is something which could be assumed until it is irrevocably lost--say two generations from now, considering how much shit the last two or three generations have left for someone else to remove--then you can begin working, right now, to atone.  And yes, that is me you hear chuckling softly to himself.

Speaking of pathological pocket-lining, I missed taping that Frontline piece on Michelle Rhee when it first aired, caught it the following weekend, and finally watched it yesterday. The woman had cameras following her around from the moment she shut her car door on her first day at work. Perhaps this is not enough to've convinced the average voter, or councilman; but it should have convinced Frontline who, or what, it was dealing with.

It was not question of a news organization smelling a story, or objectively gathering "facts". Michelle Rhee was already proven a liar, her "education miracle" during her six weeks in a Baltimore kindergarten as real and substantial as a tissue-paper chrysanthemum. Not only was that information readily available, it was patently obvious. But Frontline played it straight; Rhee was seen walking into D.C. schools as a hard-nosed education reformer tackling the most difficult school system in America, not as a self-promoting serial liar with a PR agenda, no experience, and not much of anything else.

And it's true: you can't shine a light on Rhee, or a late-night kitchen sink, without noticing something unsavory skittering away. Rhee had a list of clay pigeons she was going to down before tackling anything real. Early on she (and the mayor, and the teevee cameras) marched through the district's central supply depot so she could point at pallets of sorely-needed supplies just sitting there. Rhee was allowed to portray this as a culture of bureaucratic neglect (and is given the right by the D.C. council, to fire at whim and en masse, upon which--wait for it!--she does.) Did this solve a problem? Was there even a problem? No school district loads its trucks with goodies and drives around letting teachers help themselves. Schools operate on budgets, and teachers requisition materials within those budgets, a semester or a year in advance. Is that why there were supplies in a warehouse? No one bothered to look. After all, this was education reform! Down with PATCO!

Rhee had a program: attack easy targets first, consolidate power and PR, and put the rank-and-file in fear of their jobs so they "saw the light". Which they did. By cheating, mostly, so the Rhee Miracle could make more headlines.

Principals were the first to go, then teachers, then masses of teachers. The game was given away early (to those who hadn't been paying attention all along) when it was leaked that she planned to close dozens of schools, and Rhee admits that she kept that information secret while awaiting a propitious time to spring it on everyone. Parents from those schools erupt, and Rhee lies to them. Natural born leader.

The reports of high wrong-to-right erasures on the tests of nearly all Achiever Schools prompts Rhee to hire a firm to investigate. It doesn't diagnose the test results, but it does give the district the Big Thumbs Up. (Who bought this at the time?) To this revelation Rhee--who ordered, paid for, and, presumably, received the results--is shocked! Shocked! to learn the job was less than thorough. Or competent. Or adequate.To the larger revelation that the miracle-performing schools were all cheating, Rhee claims she can point to "dozens and dozens" of shoals where the gains were real, and sustainable. Unfortunately, she seems to've left her pointer at home.

It's bullshit. It's plain and simple bullshit. If Rhee had a magic formula she should have been able to produce it, in writing, not cough up that combination of facile platitudes and warmed-over rightist entrepreneurial heroism. She should have been able to say something about what education means. She should have been able to, if not silence, at least contribute to the debate over high-stakes testing. She did none of that. She cheated, she promoted herself, and she landed on a pile of tax-free dollars.

We're smarter than this. Yes, it's rare that we show it, but we are, collectively. We don't have to give charlatans like Rhee the time of day, or a "fair" hearing. Shit still floats, but since the 19th century it's been flushable, too.

Friday, January 18

Back Home Again

INDIANA inaugurated Mike "Choirboy" Pence its fiftieth governor earlier this week--apparently we had to--and while I can pretty much swear I'll have nothing nice to say about the man from here on out, I will grant that he gave every impression of a man who was wearing a tuxedo for the second time in his life.

I've lived here most of my life--in my defense, I am congenitally indolent--and Mike Pence is the sort of man I've been expecting to have to survive the governorship of for most of the last forty years. He's a religious huckster with no other discernible qualities. He was essentially ushered into the Governor's mansion by his predecessor--who gave then Lt. Governor Becky "GED" Skillman the same chronic and asymptomatic disease Mark Souder's wife came down with right after Souder was caught dipping into the office help and needed to spend more time with the family--so that Pence wouldn't either a) come back to Indiana and challenge Dick Lugar in last year's primary or b) come back to Indiana and wait out Lugar's last term.

Pence had been the #3 Republican in the House, in case that tells you anything you didn't already know about Republicans in the House, but quit his post after the 2010 elections because the party wasn't mixing enough Religious with its Mania anymore, and said that would be his final term. It's possible, I suppose, that he was self-aware enough to realize that the Jesus game had been played out a couple years earlier. It's possible that he had fixed his eye on the governor's job all along. (Skillman would'a put up less fight than an Italian quartermaster brigade, but running roughshod over the sitting Lt. Governor, who happened to be a woman, might have given some people the wrong impression about the Republican party's gender politics.) The talk at the time was that Pence was planning his own Presidential run, perhaps as a stalking horse for Herman Cain, at a time when Daniels was still milking his own non-candidacy. Then, suddenly, the whole thing arrived like Athena. Or the 2000 candidacy of George W. Bush. Pence suddenly wanted to be governor, Skillman suddenly wanted to be barely ambulatory, and Daniels wanted to tote up some more "campaign" contributions.

Pence's campaign for governor basically consisted of him assuring concerned Hoosiers that he was a practicing heterosexual. As a result he managed to win by 70,000 votes in a state Mitt "Remember Me?" Romney won by a quarter million.

Pence was, of course, hamstrung by the requirement that he continue the pretense that Mitch Daniels had solved all of Indiana's economic problems, with his magic formula (this often felt like something he was required to say because voters believed it, not because he did). So Pence was left to promise to fix the future. Especially with a 10% tax cut.

Which is already chafing the incoming veto-proof Republican General Assembly, which now finds itself walking the line between the Double Super Plus Robust financial shape Daniels left the state in, and what might be called the reality of being a broke shithole that's done no maintenance on anything but Mitch Daniels' image the past eight years.

We can't cut taxes any further without white suburbanites noticing something is up with education. We don't have anything left to sell, though I probably shouldn't say that out loud. Pence's first budget includes the 10% cut, increases education spending, and winds up with a couple billion to add to our "surplus". Which apparently means he found Mitch's old blueprints in a drawer somewhere.

Ain't gonna happen. And Evangelical Mike has between now and next year to okay putting the state's We're Not Recognizing Anybody Else's Homo Marriage Constitutional amendment on the ballot. And this year ain't his first choice.

Like I said: this is the governor I've been preparing myself for since the Nixon administration. But in the interim the country elected Reagan, Hoosiers elected Evan Bayh, and Mitch Daniels became a respected Republican intellectual. Hell, I can do eight years of Pence standing on my head.

Thursday, January 17

And Why Isn't "Bridge Salesman" At The Top Of Everyone's "Hot Careers" List?

OUR story so far: The University of Notre Dame is a lot more concerned--a lot more--with imaginary dead girls than real live dead girls.

On an unnerving night when it was hard to know what to believe and who to trust, Jack Swarbrick convinced me. 
Chin quivering and voice catching, the Notre Dame athletic director fought emotion in describing Manti Te'o as "the single most trusting individual I have ever met." I know Swarbrick fairly well over the course of maybe two dozen interactions, both professional and personal – well enough to have a read on his personality. This was not a high-paid suit engaged in damage control; this was a man who sincerely believes that the most popular Fighting Irish football player in decades was wronged far more than he was wrong.
Pat Forde is not a stupid man. Neither is Mike Greenberg, who took the same tack this morning. 

I don't know Jack Swarbrick. Maybe he's the last honest man in America. If so, then, maybe he could hire some investigators to look into those two rapes, the reports of victim intimidation, and the death by suicide linked to his football team. Now would be a good time. When they happened would have been even better. 

Because otherwise, Jack Swarbrick is the mouthpiece for a bunch of well-heeled and self-righteous sharpers, and the only damage they're concerned about is damage to the brand. You wanna vouch for him personally, fine. Do so in person. In public, Jack Swarbrick is not entitled to wring his hands, and shed a couple tears, and have the rest of us, including professionals, lose our senses. He is entitled to call a press conference and fall on his sword as a momentary distraction. But that moment has now passed. You wanna take a wait-and-see attitude, fine. Please, do the rest of us the courtesy--we're the ones who do not have any accused rapists playing ball for us--of leaving the insults to our intelligence to the people who have a buck to lose.
Stories like these leave knots in our stomachs, because we so desperately want to believe our sports heroes are pure. We have the audacity to hope, too, that our politicians are at least competent. It's the same for movie stars, CEOs, pastors, generals, teachers, cops and leaders of all sorts: We build them up and break them down because we expect so much out of our national institutions. 
And, as I wrote nearly a year ago, most institutions are failing to adapt to these times of great change. What if, in the future, that trust isn't restored?
I did not "find it hard to know what to believe" last night, and I have no marrow-deep desire to find a sports hero, let alone wish for his purity. I won't claim that either opinion certifies me sane. I will say that the opposite should at least give you pause.

I appreciate the sentiment, Mr. Fournier. I even clung to it once, in my salad days. I'm not sure how a ten-year-old child could harbor any illusions about public honesty any more; maybe we should just fucking go ahead and break the news to 'em. I agree with you that trust needs to be restored. But not in the future. Yesterday.

But politicians take note? Please. You're at least sixty years late, in terms of the current cycle. Lies are the fucking official denomination of our politics. Half of your fellow citizens pledge fealty to a political party which believes in nothing but self-aggrandizement, full speed ahead, and it doesn't matter to it which side of a Sacred Principle it comes down on, or was espousing as recently as yesterday afternoon. That's the party of Principle, of course. The other is a set of craven careerists and bagmen, dedicated to the unspoken Principle that it's really best not to make too big a deal about things. Like the slaughter of a couple dozen elementary school students. Enjoying that debate, are we? Utter, jaw-dislocating stupidity and little of it coming from actual politicians, aside from the few who can reliably be found sucking up whatever nickels are lying around loose. That debate is Money vs. Reluctant Sensibility. Wanna bet on the possibility of simple, sensible control measures ever appearing in a fucking bill, let alone beginning to ease, slightly, a national disgrace?

For that matter, anybody wanna put money on Jack Swarbrick? 

Wednesday, January 16


SO I've got local teevee news on this morning, and suddenly there's a 1990s hipster on the screen explaining to me that "Mom" "didn't like Starbucks dark-roast coffee" so "he" "bought her some new Starbucks Blonde Roast" and "now" she loves Starbucks coffee.

If you were to sit on my couch, and for some reason think to check, you'd notice that there's nothing nearby one might hurl at the teevee screen sufficient to cause real damage. This is by design. My Poor Wife's, not mine.

Where do we begin? Starbucks is a paragon of the Après-Reagan economy, a huge, manipulative chain and creator of low-paying jobs. Unless you confuse lingo with expertise there is nothing in a Starbucks operation which suggests a better, fuller, quicker, or more nuanced experience, or more intelligence than a dozen average locally-owned coffee shops could bring you in any medium-sized American city. It's a suburban, strip-mall marketing program in urban threads, disguised as a bistro. It succeeded because it found the right time to combine America's love of coffee and froufrou ice cream flavors. It succeeded because it found the capital to put a store on every corner, and because it did a good job of creating and protecting a brand. A brand that has fuck-all to do with coffee, or anything, really. Starbucks sucks.

Maybe you love it. More power to ya. If Starbucks happens to do what you like, and you don't mind overpaying for it, drastically, then at least it's convenient. And I've made but three brave excursions into one, so I'm not the last word on product.

I do, however, happen to know chicory from Kenya AA, and I'd like to take another look at that fine cross-section of American advertising sprung on me this morning. Mom doesn't like Starbucks dark roast. Because Mom isn't a hipster, though she did raise one, so he'll give her a break, and show a little kindness. As will Starbucks which, of course, wasn't at fault for the previous three decades of incinerated coffee, oh no. Burned coffee is real; all the hipsters say so. But they're big enough ($8.2 billion) to deign to throw grandma there some love.

Now, never mind, make that Nevermind, that this is a corporate global megalith assuming a virtue, either from necessity (a slowly awakening and rapidly aging client base that may've discovered the coffee at MickeyD's is at least as good), or from the smell of Mom's coin purse; they tell me that in the Advertising game falseness is sometimes encouraged. No, listen: I've got no idea how old Mom is, but, since presumably she's no older than I, I need to ask where she's been going for lighter-roasted coffee for the past three decades. In fact, unless she's actually been patronizing a real coffee shop, and was savvy enough to know the difference between roasts (yes, some geriatrics retain that ability well past their fortieth birthdays!), that Starbucks roast couldn't possibly have surprised her; until you add cinnamon, nougat, and a can of whipped cream, Starbucks coffee is precisely the coffee Mom finds elsewhere. The great expanse of commerically-available cuppa out there is dominated by coffee brewed on the percolator-era template, in which Dark and Strong substitute for Flavorful and Full-Bodied. This is merely the non-semi-alcoholic version of mass-produced American beer, which has convinced generations that fine ale needs to be consumed at roughly the temperature where carbon dioxide sublimates. It substitutes sensation for taste, and hopes you'll be too snockered by the initial assault to ask questions, or even form words.

It's far more likely you can control the output of a commercial roasting operation than you can get every hash-house waitress in the country to brew a fresh pot regularly, or get every hard-pressed local heroic entrepreneur to train people, and pay to keep materials clean. Hell, as we've noted here before, particularly in connection to that notoriously misreported lawsuit, McArnold's Home Office apparently (still) confuses brewing and serving temperatures, for whatever reason, probably Simple and Pure Evil.

I'm not unaware of the concept of "espresso". I merely point out that this is, or was, before marketing trumped everything, one end of a spectrum. Insisting that all coffee is supposed to taste like that is the equivalent of opening a wine store and selling nothing but one of those California zinfandels that's 14% alcohol and should only be drunk while wearing a HANS device.

I went online this morning to find that commercial, and instead found this. From a foodie. Ladies and gentlemen, the Defense rests:

A nation which, we're informed, doesn't understand that "real" coffee tastes like the crap that Paula Forbes doesn't know any better than. Which brings us to Lance Armstrong, triathlete and former Michelob pitchman.

That Armstrong was a notorious grifter, drug cheat, and strong-arm man was so clearly understood at the time that the question isn't whether he comes clean to whatever global media hack lands the interview, or even what he might wind up saying under oath. The two questions still remaining concerning Lance Armstrong: which officials did he pay off, and how much? Lance Armstrong "admitting" he doped should be of zero interest to anyone.

Oh, and how long does Phil Liggett keep his job? Liggett is the dean of cycling journalists. Liggett stood by Armstrong long after that was tenable. That's his right. Doing so by claiming that the twenty or so witnesses who eventually came forward did so for personal enrichment was, too, but that bill has come due.

It's interesting, provided one can keep his gorge in place, to note the sort of comments that have flown around Armstrong in recent years from his die-hard fellators. The first was the passive-aggressive "Who cares about cycling?" As though Lance Armstrong became famous for riding a bike, rather than famous for beating cancer, then riding a bike. Most people in America are utterly indifferent to professional cycling; most of the rest actively despise it. Armstrong was a hotshot rider at an early age. He could have made a comfortable living in Europe. Might even have won the Tour. That he won it multiple times, in a slick, Hollywood fairy-tale fashion, isn't a tribute to his cycling prowess; it's a tribute to what the money he attracted could and did buy.

The second, more recent, has been to insist that Armstrong's victories came over a group of competitors who have basically been accused, convicted, or admitted cheating themselves, so it all comes out in the wash.*

I suppose it should flabbergast me that there are people out there who believe "Everyone connected with this enterprise deserves to do hard time" is an argument for letting everyone go, and keep his ill-gotten gains into the bargain. Except I spend too much time paying attention to American politics.

[Oh, things are looking up, though. Phil Liggett assures us that the last two Tour winners were clean.]

* Cf. "Ty Cobb was an ugly racist, so we must give every cheater a free pass into the Hall."

Monday, January 14

Thank God. We're Saved!

Joe Manchin and and Jon Huntsman, "Turning Congress' partisans into problem solvers." January 13

LISTEN, first, can anyone explain to me th' fuck could take something called The Feminist and the Cowboy seriously? Forget the fact that we're supposed to believe that forty-year-old feminists are yet ill-prepared to meet handsome strangers in tight-fitting jeans.  Let's have a look at what the Real Man looks like. Over to Rosin's review of a week earlier:
The verbal instructions the cowboy gives Valdes once she agrees to submit to him are a guide to daily living. No back-talking; no second-guessing; no sarcastic, smart-ass remarks. She must never exit the car unless he opens the door for her. She must never walk on the street side of the sidewalk.

In what sort of female fantasy world do Real Men worry about this sort of shit? That's not a man's outlook. It's a collection of political tics from the Christian Right. You'd think a life-long feminist might'a picked up on that sort of thing in one of her four decades. Just like you think the Marlboro Man there might'a extended his concern and respect for the weaker sex into not using them as sex toys.

But then I guess he wouldn't be masculine.

Rosin says that in the galleys the book was called Learning to Submit. What was wrong with The Hack and the Hackie? You can't see the fit of a cab driver's jeans?

If we can't spot obvious, self-serving phonies in wholly manufactured settings, what hope is there with this?
Joe Manchin, a Democrat, represents West Virginia in the U.S. Senate and is one of the two dozen “Problem Solvers.” Jon Huntsman, a former governor of Utah, was a Republican candidate for president last year. They are the national leaders of No Labels.

Shit. So Just Anybody can publish a WaPo opinion piece? (Asked, and answered, long ago, I know.) Jon Huntsman, who was the slightly sane wingnut alternative in the glorious Republican primary season just past, managed to narrowly avoid ever outpolling anyone, including Tim Pawlenty, Herman Cain, Haley Barbour, and Oliver Closoff. Senator Joe Manchin receives a stocking full of coal from Santa each Christmas, which he promptly exchanges for Krugerrands at the preferred Gentlemen's Club rate. If there's any change left over he uses it to nickel and dime the EPA.
Much ink has been spilled over what’s wrong with Washington. 
The rise of partisan media, too much money in politics and congressional gerrymandering that rewards ideologues with safe seats have all been offered as diagnoses for government dysfunction. 
These explanations are accurate — but almost totally irrelevant to the urgent challenges at hand.
"If we are to continue to fail to address the actual reasons for Washington gridlock, not to mention the serious issues behind them, it is vital that we agree to pretend our pants are on fire."
The American people can’t just hope for the creation of a better “system.” Reducing money in politics and building a better election system are worthy and important endeavors — but they are tough, multi-year, state-by state slogs.

"You people are fucked. Won't you at least help us bail ourselves out? For the sake of simple decency?"
We need to attempt those things and to seek solutions now from the system and the leaders we already have. Businesses are not hiring, and investors are not investing as a direct result of the uncertainty created by Washington. Too many would-be workers are not working. The coming generations are being doomed to a worse standard of living than previous generations.

Yes, uh, Your Eminences? Jim Riley, Clueless Gazette. Yeah, listen, aren't you already making an argument just in the shape of a description? I mean, thanks for including "the workers" in there, at the back, an' all, but what makes the government…
Knowing that should light a fire under everybody in Washington. But it hasn’t. The gridlock continues, most recently with the “fiscal cliff” fiasco, and the fight over the debt ceiling looms.

Of course, these were both wholly artificial constructs of this do-nothing Congress you're so on about, or belong to, so you're urging us to ignore them, right? Right?
From our perspective, there is only one way for leaders in Washington to step up: They need an attitude adjustment. Everyone needs to be willing to sit down with anyone — conservative, liberal or anyone in between — to work together to achieve success for our nation. Everyone needs to recognize that principled and deeply held political beliefs don’t require an all-or-nothing approach to governance and that the letter behind a person’s name does not automatically make them stupid or treasonous.

Tell ya what, though. I'll give you a million dollars for every Democrat who's committed treason, and you give me a million bucks for every Republican who can't explain the reproductive process in the human female.
To be clear, we are not naïve about the challenge of fostering cooperation across the aisle.  
There are philosophical differences between Democrats and Republicans that can’t be papered over with nice words about civility.  
But adopting an attitude focused on problem solving is a deeply pragmatic response to Washington’s dysfunction. With Democrats controlling the Senate and Republicans controlling the House, no one can get everything they want. We will either work across the aisle to fix problems or we will achieve nothing.
Luckily, we are not the only ones who recognize this. On Monday morning, the group No Labels — a collection of Democrats, Republicans and independents dedicated to promoting a new politics of problem solving — will unveil two dozen “Problem Solvers”: a group of House and Senate members evenly split between Republicans and Democrats who have agreed to hold monthly meetings in 2013 to build trust across the aisle.Yeah, the sky's the limit.
This is a big deal. While in past years members of Congress used to interact regularly with members of the opposite party, today members of Congress interact very little with people from the other party — or even members of their own party in the opposite body. Members’ daily lives are dominated by party caucus, policy and fundraising meetings that are focused on winning elections or destroying the opposing party. There isn’t much time left over to actually govern.
But isn't this Spit the Difference shit really a political victory for these very people, not The People at large? Isn't…
But the Problem Solvers can and will seek to change this. In the next year, No Labels’ grass-roots supporters will strive to expand the number of problem solvers, with a goal of recruiting 75 members by year’s end. This could transform how Washington works. And it won’t be long before members start hearing demands from their constituents to join the group. Millions of Americans who have tired of the hyper-partisanship have realized that there is an organized group that can finally give them a voice in our political system. They have gone to and are telling their friends and neighbors to as well.

It's a Washday Miracle!
Despite the gloomy outlook in Washington, the United States has great potential and promise. The American people need their leaders in Washington to start supporting our economy and stop subtracting from it.

Lousy Mine Safety and Health Administration.
We can begin tapping our potential the moment we stop taking score and begin taking steps to start solving problems. That’s the only realistic way forward for America.

No Labels: No Solutions, But Plenty of Back-Room Deals '16!

Friday, January 11

If You Can't Stand The Resistive Heating Produced By An Oscillating Magnetic Field…

The narrower issue has to do with kitchens. Here's [Ryan] Avent's summary of a common argument about kitchen progress: 
The third argument is the simplest: the evidence of your senses. The recent rate of progress seems slow compared with that of the early and mid-20th century. Take kitchens. In 1900 kitchens in even the poshest of households were primitive things. Perishables were kept cool in ice boxes, fed by blocks of ice delivered on horse-drawn wagons. Most households lacked electric lighting and running water. Fast forward to 1970 and middle-class kitchens in America and Europe feature gas and electric hobs and ovens, fridges, food processors, microwaves and dishwashers. Move forward another 40 years, though, and things scarcely change. The gizmos are more numerous and digital displays ubiquitous, but cooking is done much as it was by grandma. 
I think people making this argument ought to watch a few episodes of Iron Chef America. They'll see cooks working with immersion circulators, commercial grade vacuum sealers, blow torches, French tops, pressure cookers, convection ovens, and blast chillers. Most people don't cook with that stuff. A huge share of Americans has an old-fashioned electric stove rather than an induction stove that heats much more rapidly and efficiently. Even things like high-quality enameled cast iron and multi-clad metal cookware aren't that common. In all those cases it's not because the technology doesn't exist but because that stuff is expensive. If we'd had a more equitable distribution of income over the past 35 years, more people would own the most advanced kitchenware.
Okay, first, Standard Disclaimer: I'd rather take up cutting children's hair or editing the collected works of Jonah Goldberg than study economics for a second five minutes.

Second: No. No one should watch a few episodes of Iron Chef America. Nor a single episode. Nor an ep. For the sake of the culture. For the sake of cuisine. For, if you prefer simple reasons, the simple reason that Bobby Flay is involved.

Hell, let's combine these, shall we? Food is particularly that arena where the social science heart of Economics, which economists like to pretend is not a cacophony of discursive thought but a science, is laid bare. To your average economy prestidigitator, a Hershey bar is a Hershey bar, a beer a beer, and a T-bone and T-bone. Never mind that a still-sizable portion of the population can tell you of a time--in their lifetimes--when a Hershey bar tasted like something called chocolate, and mass-market beer had flavor. And when "USDA Prime" did not mean "Whatever th' Fuck Cattlemen Want To Sell You, Regardless of What It Died of". There's no profit (and no pretend empiricism) in talking about such things, because there isn't any more of it to sell. Shit's out of stock, permanently. And economists are salesmen with advanced degrees; where the average commissioned sales rep, college-educated or street-smart, tries to dazzle you with footwork, the economist tries to make sure you don't notice you're being waltzed around.

But there isn't any fucking question about this. I'm not some geezer talking about the good old days (not at the moment, anyway). In my youth, Hershey bars were made of chocolate; I watched as the percentage of cardboard and wood shavings was increased in the 70s. That shit is unrecognizable as chocolate these days, but people who've grown up without experiencing the difference don't know it. I come from a line of teetotalers, but the fact is that beer market consolidation and greed resulted in the bland leading the bland, and lead to the unspeakably swillish. One need only one glance at his grocer's shelves to understand there was a need, a lack, later filled by microbrewers, and that lack was real beer, which the Big Three breweries could easy have produced once they divvied up the market, but it would have cost them an extra 1/2 ¢ per unit.  The indifferent amateur historian can determine the exact date and hour when Ronald Reagan's pen (and millions in "campaign contributions" from meat packers and cattle ranchers) turned Choice into Prime, one miracle the Free Market couldn't achieve for itself.

Look, unless he's bored, no wine salesman wants to talk to you about '45, or '61, or '85, because he doesn't have any to sell you. That may make the past immaterial, but it does not make it irrelevant. There are pressures today on even the greatest wine producers to make their product more accessible early in its life. That's economic pressure. Philosophically and oenologically it's vandalism. Economics gets a free pass from making value judgements. So long as something sells the "market", or the "consumer" has accepted it. But on the scale of Bud and Miller taking over the national market, what choice did the disgruntled consumer have? None, for forty years. Maybe imports, assuming someone near him carried any.

Excuse me while I clear my throat.

Let's ask ourselves this: why does the modern economist simply assume that labor-saving devices save labor? Because he doesn't do any? Because he was born in the middle of that stagnation that Avent so rightly identified, and doesn't really give a fuck so long as Mom/the wife/the Girl//Armando has dinner on the table on time? Seems to me that what the modern kitchen basically reduces is drudgery, which for people, that is to say women in the19th century, was a major, and inescapable fact of life. Within a generation, indoor plumbing had begun to erase the memory of hauling water, but the time spent was transferred to other pursuits (such as cleaning sinks and bathrooms).

The peak of labor-saving in the kitchen occurred for my mother's (The Greatest) generation, which had been educated for life as farm wives, or urban farm wives, but then found, out there, the continual reduction of drudgery Avent notes. It reached the middle class in the 60s and 70s. And what my mother did with the time saved was go get a job so we could afford more shit.

For me the damned dishwasher is drudgery. My mother, who was a good cook, embraced convenience foods. I've gone out of my way to avoid them. And part of that is the amount of money saved by doing things from scratch. But mostly it's because that's a better way to do things.

In terms of kitchen gadgets my mother didn't have in the 60s, I've got a food processor (the time it saves can be invested in cleaning it), but I've got my eye on a first-rate mandoline; I've got a microwave that doubles as an exhaust hood, there's one of those immersion blenders in the basement somewhere, and a slow cooker. Oh, and a convection oven (they're pretty standard except at the low end of ovens these days, Matt). None of it saves time. At best it lets me do things in a better or more efficient way. The reason I don't have a circulator, induction-coil cooktop, or a vacuum sealer is I don't run a fucking professional kitchen. Nor am I on teevee for the people who manufacture gizmos to gift me them. The reason I don't cook with a blowtorch, by the way, is that I'm not a 10 year-old child.

Hey, I'm not coming down on Avent's side in some metaphysical sense; I would, sorta, agree that gee-whiz technical gimmickry has collided with practical considerations, in the same way that real technological advancement, in physics, say, or medicine, has occurred in the absence of ideas, or much apparent interest, in how to make it accessible and universal. On the other hand Matt's correct; if we hadn't instituted massive income disparity beginning with the Reagan administration, we might see as much effort put into the home kitchen as into corporate jets or boner pills.

Then again, we might have seen more progress if Milton Friedman hadn't received such acclaim, or if we weren't busy fighting his progeny over their absolute certainty that our corporate people must be taken better care of than our real people.

Thursday, January 10

What Did We Learn From Politico Today?

MONEY, shit, and The Word. And thank God that at least they don't kill trees for this crap.



"Say nothing, and say it boldly. Sorta." 

Expectations for consensus? Or gunplay?

Those plurals tell you exactly how much research went into this.


Finally some serious news. 

Wednesday, January 9

It Is The Height Of Idiocy To Insult The Cook

THIS, via Early Onset of Night:

Okay, so, several things, and you're probably way ahead of me. First, this is the courage of the Typical Gaultian, beginning with Ayn "Medicare" Rand herself. Second, it's the typical intelligence of the Typical Gaultian (beginning loc.cit.), who imagines his solipsism trumps everyone else's. One wonders just how large a town this bozo lives in; he'd best travel, because no town is that large, and traveling might grant him an extra week before he needs to hire both a personal chef and a taster, like a good little Jobs Creator.

Look, Dick--if I may call you Dick--in the first place the person you're ultimately fucking is the Randian superman who owns the joint, and who gets to pay (in most locations) half the minimum wage to tipped employees, one of whom now gets to pay taxes on 8% of your sale despite making nothing, thanks to your principles. If the server can show that he or she did not make the difference in tips the owner has to pony up. If you think this will spread--Rise!--keep it up (remember, a healthy adult can generally ward off even a large E. coli infestation) and see how long it takes a class of people already on the lookout for bums and cheapskates to ID you, and all your pals. Sad, but true, there are many more of them than there are Morally Superior Men such as yourself. Believe me, it'll take about three of these before the people you think you're screwing start keeping records that the Gestapo would envy.

Anyone who's worked in a retail or restaurant establishment long enough--say, one afternoon--knows there are five-hundred ways to screw over a deserving customer without ever being suspected. Go on. Test the theory.

Me? When I turned 21 my intellectual mentor in college got me a waiter's job at the place where he worked supplementing his T.A. "income". It was a college town, and this was quite possibly the only white tablecloth establishment, aside from the ones the university ran. So it attracted a species of local maroon known as High Schoolers On Prom Night. I was warned ahead of time.

The place did tableside service: Caesar salad, cherries jubilee, that sorta thing. Waiters were busy. The local agriculture progeny were unfamiliar with a food establishment where the food didn't wait on you.

In truth, I did not really have the personality necessary for a successful career in haute cuisine. I was the new guy. I got the shittiest stations. Usually including tables by the kitchen door, which were the least desirable from the customer's viewpoint. So I'd get loaded down with children, and I couldn't detour around the tables because I had to go through the kitchen.

Prime Prom Time. I get a four top. Two couples, whose formal wear had be applied with a pitchfork. They were okay to begin with, but something went wrong, or something. I don't honestly remember. They started demanding their food every time I walked by, which was every time, and grabbing my sleeve to speed it along. Then they hit on the plan of ordering refills for their unspeakable Nehis, or whatever it was, one at a time. Ha ha ha!

I took it for about ten minutes. Then I stopped at the table on my way back to the kitchen.

"I'm very sorry that we got off on the wrong foot here somehow, and I want you to know that I do hope it won't spoil this wonderful night you have ahead of you. I would like to explain something to you. I'm going to go back into the kitchen now and check on your entrees. If they're ready, just like the salads you just ate, and the drinks you've been consuming, I'm going to pick them up, put them on a tray, and carry them out to you. Most of this is going to occur behind that door, where you don't see it. I just wanted to make sure everybody understood one another."

I swear to God, before I was finished both of the girls were the color of winter lawns. Their food was up, I delivered it pronto, and never heard another peep out of any of them.

Left a 10% tip, too, which, for high schoolers, was Diamond Jim Brady territory.

Monday, January 7

It's Your Freakin' Problem, Vol. I've Lost Count

Ross Douthat, "Boehner, American Hero". January 5

FIRST, if I may take a moment, after an entire season thank God Dan Snyder and the Washington Football Club are back in the news as the cheap, thoughtless, entitled bastards we know them to be. I personally don't care if their record does determine every Presidential election. But granting Snyder a grain of respectability is the sort of thing that could ruin the karma of 400 million people.

Now then, the only way to dispose of this Douthat think piece and not spend any more time on it than it deserves is to have someone else blow it a raspberry. Even a shorter is too long, and anyway, I don't do 'em. But "John Boehner has, thankfully, saved the Republican party from the sort of people who elect John Boehner" would be one.

And who th' fuck cares? Four years ago Douthat "tried" to "reform" the Republican party, by lending it some of his hip, youthful sheen; that went over like lead Astroturf, aside from the fact that it got him the gig at the Times. Four months later he was recoiling from the Teabaggers. A month after that he was celebrating them. There is no reforming the Republican party. None. Because the problem with the Republican party is as much Ross Douthat, or John Boehner, as it is all those messy partisans Douthat and Boehner basically agree with. *

Look: there is no difference between Paul Ryan, who wants to find a cliff to drive over out of principle, and John Boehner, or Ross Douthat, who fully support the principles but don't want their fingerprints on the wheel when the wreck is found. Because those so-called principles are a crock, they've been clearly proven as such, they're rejected by most of the population, and Paul Ryan doesn't really believe them any stronger than do the "moderate" voices of his party. You gave up your ability to pretend moderation in exchange for two Reagan terms. You doubled down at every succeeding opportunity since. If you want to save the Republican party, leave it. Find common cause with centrist Democrats; Lord knows you've got enough. You're gonna have to admit that the only sovereignty over a woman's reproductive system belongs to her own brain, and you're going to have to admit that the government can do good things, and really ought to pay lip service to the poor, the sick, and the needy while it stockpiles carrier fleets. That is, you're going to have to appear sensible,, and you're going to have to get your Bronze Age impulses cut down to where they'll fit in your own garage again.

Go on. I dare you.

In the meantime, Ross-O, spare me the "dysfunctional government" routine. Your party hasn't had the slightest intention to be functional since before you were born.


* Okay, so it may be that Boehner does not actually believe in anything whatsoever. We're not trying to solve metaphysical problems here.

Saturday, January 5

Michelle Rhee Is Not The Lance Armstrong Of Education

SHE'S the BALCO of Education.

And look, this stuff was known some time ago. Not only that, but the Theory of Zero-Cost Lunch was disproven in the 19th century. But Rhee has gotten away with claims of miraculous (and instantaneous) improvement both as Teacher for a Fortnight and then as Chancellor of D.C. schools. In both cases those students remained in the system; their further progress was of no interest to anyone. The fact that there were suspiciously-, make that impossibly-, high levels of wrong-to-right answer changes was spotted a short time later. The fact that D.C. schools then undertook a completely phony "review" which didn't actually look for cheating before giving the system ten thumbs up for honesty was known right away. When she was voted out by proxy in 2010 she landed with her own tax-exempt slush fund, which noted skeptic Oprah Winfrey helped launch. (Then, sadly, unqualified fluffing from Colbert while she was helping peddle Waiting for Superman and waiting for her closeup. With her new sinecure came her sudden support of school vouchers, a Jim Rockford 180º as the last piece of the Rich Guy Wingnut Education Invasion she hadn't previously endorsed.

Any single bite of this crap salad should have been enough for anyone to cast a wary eye at Michelle Rhee and the rest of the "reform" movement. Very few did. There's your evidence for the shortcoming of American education. Unless it's something else entirely.