Monday, May 12, 2008

TOO MUCH AIN'T ENOUGH. That's what the Village Voice thinks, and has engaged me to do a weekly blog roundup at their website. First installment here. This should go over like "Australia's Naughtiest Home Videos," so visit now and you can tell your kids you saw it, back before the Dark Times.
ANOTHER DEPRESSING 80s REVIVAL ACT. I see P.J. O'Rourke is still doing that thing where he tells kids that idealism is stupid and capitalism rocks. Wow, that'll really scandalize the hippies. You can almost hear him leering at his own "jokes" throughout.

I never liked O'Rourke and his "lookit me, I'm smoking a cigar in your precious 'environment'" schtick. Now, after 20+ years of increasing national cynicism, he's like someone who thinks he's flouting convention because he left the office without his vest. And he hasn't learned any new tricks with which to liven up his routine. Maybe he's preparing a contrarian essay about how working on one's writing is for suckers. Zing!

Once I merely thought O'Rourke was no Mark Twain, but I just read The Mysterious Stranger for the first time, and now I think O'Rourke is actually the antithesis of Twain, designed by CIA scientists to vacuum all awareness and ability to appeciate satire out of the minds of the American people. (The boys at Langley are pretty smart, and also supplied R. Emmett Tyrrell*, Michael M. Thomas, and other trinominated blowhards as backup. If O'Rourke goes down, they are under instructions to go to the Blue Bar at the Algonquin and order a certain, exotic single malt that will identify them to their handlers.)

I can enjoy a little nostalgia, but the O'Rourke column and crap like this indicate that we have reached the bottom of the 80's barrel. Let us turn from the past, especially the big-hair and shoulder-pads past, and work to give our children something to be nostalgic for, if only because (if current trends continue) by next decade they probably won't be able to write swears on the internet, or spell.

UPDATE. Thanks to commenter Hogan, who corrected my sequencing here.
THE SORROW AND THE PITY. At National Review Online, Kathryn Jean Lopez puts out the word:
Dance With Me -- An Invite for "Corner" Readers

If you're in D.C. tomorrow and are game for a night out of great fun for a lifesaving cause, consider the Best Friends Foundation's 20th Anniversary gala.

Best Friends is Elayne (Mrs. Bill) Bennett's ministry of hope to schoolkids. With a little love, high expectations, and fun, Best Friends simply changes lives of children who might otherwise fall victim to the soft bigotry of low expectations that remains a fact in many schools and communities of, frankly, all races and income ranges.

The celebration tomorrow night will have the Bennett family's great taste in music on display (you know a little about this if you listen to Bill's Morning in America): Entertainment includes the Drifters, Marilyn McCoo & Billy David Jr., and Chuck Brown.

When I say fun, I mean fun.
Perhaps the young conservative folk will be attracted by the promise of fun! Alas, John J. Miller (head of the NRO "fun" contingent, as shown by his "50 Greatest Conservative Rock Songs"), rather brusquely replies:
Sorry K Lo, but the rest of us will be at the Drive-By Truckers show in DC tonight.
Even a cynical soul such as I must shudder at this rude kiss-off. One thinks of Chaplin on New Year's Eve in The Gold Rush; even if K-Lo ate the Oceana Roll before dozing, it would still present a melancholy scene.

But, I am happy to find, K-Lo is a gamer, and with a brave face reports after the event:
So last night I went to the Best Friends Foundation’s 20th-anniversary celebration. Since I had missed young Colin Powell and Bill Bennett singing “How Sweet It Is” in shades and leather bomber jackets in years past, I was glad to get the flashback during a brief video presentation during dinner. Having been a faithful Solid Gold viewer, I got a kick out of seeing that Marilyn McCoo has not aged a day since Ronald Reagan was president. She’s still in her prime singing “One Less Bell to Answer.”

It was a fun D.C. party unlike any others. Secretary of Ed Margaret Spellings was there. Mike Pence, Jack Kemp, and, of course, Bill Bennett, were all spotted on the dance floor. Best Friends friends Alma Powell, Senator Mel Martinez, and Herb London of the Hudson Institute hung on until the very end last night, through the tireless Chuck Brown.
We imagine that, as K-Lo summarizes the cause advanced by the event, she is thinking of the kids who dissed and missed her:
Sex tends to be near everywhere — amplified and romanticized, free of consequences — in our culture and adults frequently don’t help matters. Present young people with other possibilities — other than instant gratification — make them fun and inviting and constructive and you’ll be surprised what you get out of creative, energetic youngsters.
Her message will certainly reach its target, and it may be that her target stands ready to be hit. Self-awareness may slap one upside the head at any time. It may be that Miller and whatever other young rightwingers he convinced to see DBT with him are full of regrets. Maybe they were surprised that the crowd did not see the Confederate angle on Southern Rock the same way Miller did. Maybe the crowd took it amiss when Miller and his friends booed and yelled "Democracy Whiskey Sexy" during "That Man I Shot." Maybe they realize that they have, after all, a lot more in common with K-Lo's anti-sex league, however corny, than with the fans at a rock concert, however skynyrdish

I hope so. I love redemption narratives. Doesn't everyone?

Saturday, May 10, 2008

FUN WITH THE INTERNET. Why didn't anyone tell me before that you can make talking cards at Blue Mountain?

Friday, May 09, 2008

IT WASN'T YOUR SPEECH ABOUT CLINTON, JIMBO, that drove the light out of the other person's eyes. It was when you hauled out the pictures of your patio furniture.

R.I.P., E.L.E.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

THERE'S A LOT OF THINGS ABOUT ME THAT YOU DON'T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT, DOTTIE. THINGS YOU WOULDN'T UNDERSTAND. THINGS YOU COULDN'T UNDERSTAND. THINGS YOU SHOULDN'T UNDERSTAND. Inside Higher Ed covers a University of New Hampshire study on "Unwanted Sexual Contact" among students at the school. The good news is that the rate of such contact was in steep decline between 1988 and 2000; the bad news is, it has held steady since.

The study has been mostly noticed in the blogosphere for this piquant passage:
Overall, 28 percent of New Hampshire women report at least one incident of unwanted contact, as do 11 percent of men. About 7 percent of women and 4 percent of men report unwanted intercourse. The researchers find that, by and large, the contexts for unwanted sexual contact are similar for women and for men.
Further reading shows that male victims were "more likely to report a same-sex perpetrator," but some males did report bad-touch from females.

I must say that, when it comes to unwanted intercourse (or, as we unlettered souls call it, rape), academic studies should give way to police investigations. Still, I am sufficiently old and insensitive that the idea of a college man receiving unwanted sexual attentions from a co-ed sounds to me more like the plot of an adult film than a subject for serious analysis. I should be grateful, then, for Dean Esmay, who in comments to a post about the article at his own website lays out some background. But...
I’ll buy the unwanted sexual contact–that’s happened to me more than once, especially in my younger more fey days (and yes, I did have them)–but intercourse is trickier. It can and indeed does happen, but it’s difficult, so hard to arrange. Still, erections are not entirely voluntary, especially in young men, and it’s also possible to force one through prostate stimulation.
However, "unwanted intercourse" does not sound like what we think of as rape, unless we dilute the word “rape” down to equating any unwanted sexual advance with what the Duke Lacrosse players were accused of.
Having sex with someone who basically won’t stop pestering you and pushing themselves on you sounds more like what’s being described here, and in that instance, yeah I can see it. The response is what the college crowd used to be called the "mercy fuck" back in the 1990s–basically, "she kept whining until I gave in even though I can’t stand her." I saw that happen in bars even.
Okay, now I'd just give my soul to take out my brain, hold it under the faucet and wash away the dirty pictures you put there tonight. Still, I'm sure I'll eventually get over it. What I can't fathom is, if this is how conservatives think of sex, how is it that they're outbreeding us? Either, as their policies suggest, they have the brains of salmon, or prostate stimulation is more widespread than I ever knew.
NOW HE TELLS US. At the Volokh page, David Bernstein says that the top conservative legal minds didn't really "rush" to defend the Supreme Court decision in Bush v. Gore -- one even spoke against it, with disastrous consequences for himself:
If conservative law professors were rushing to endorse Bush v. Gore, surely the Wall Street Journal's op-ed page would have found room to publish their views. A check of the Journal's archives showed that no such endorsement appeared. The Journal did, however, publish a critique of the opinion by then-Professor Michael McConnell, a piece that is said to have cost McConnell the solicitor general's job, and perhaps a supreme court appointment.
Bernstein then acknowledges rightwing law profs who did support the decision, but took a while to produce their "careful, scholarly works." Under the circumstances, I hardly wonder they were careful.

It's bizarre that the issue is even coming up. I guess it's plausible-deniability time on the right. By the time Bush is in the dock at Den Haag*, not even Clarence Thomas will admit to endorsing the result. And soon enough we'll be hearing from Republicans who will claim they were for McCain way back in 2000, but decided to be careful and scholarly about letting it get around.

*UPDATE. Thanx to Thlayli for the spel chek.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

KEEP ON THE SUNNY SIDE. At National Review Online they're looking toward the general election, and prescribing "optimism" for John McCain:
Cohn thinks that the party of optimism is likely to prevail. He is right: If the election is framed the way he suggests it should be, then Obama will indeed win. But even a moderately competent Republican campaign should be able to prevent that from happening. Try flipping the narrative:

McCain wants to cut taxes. Obama says we can't afford it. McCain says we can compete against other countries. Obama says no we can't. McCain says we should empower patients with free-market health care. Obama says it's a pipe dream.
Similarly, McCain should portray our indefinite occupation of Iraq as another blessing of conservative governance: the world's biggest firing range, and perhaps a future destination for adventuresome vacationers -- the natives are exceedingly friendly if you just give them a little air cover and promise not to use their real names.

I don't see McCain as Mr. Sunshine; his wit tends more toward the mordant. I think this is one of his more attractive qualities, but I'm not a Republican looking to revive the old Reagan twinkle. If they can get him to come on with a smile and a shoeshine, the strain might eventually drive him to the swearing and scuffling for which his congressional buddies know him.

But if he can keep it up, there'll be plenty of shills out there to try and get the crowds to grin along with John. First they have to get folks to pack up all their cares and woe. Polls show they have their work cut out for them, especially on the economic front.

It's early days yet, so to warm up the audience they may take the approach of putative Obama supporter Megan McArdle, who insists that the "massive increase in revolving debt" is a "scare statistic" used by evil consumer advocates to make us forget how great things are really going. Maybe an early draft of her essay was leaked, and helped cause consumer borrowing to skyrocket in March. Those folks certainly wouldn't be going into hock if they were worried about paying off debts.

Once we've got those frowns turned upside down, Mark Steyn can lead group singing of "We're In The Money," and McCain can come out with a straw boater and cane to evangelize for optimism. It'll make for quite a show, even if the metal detectors are enhanced to pick up the presence of rotten fruit.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

CULTURE WAR: FIRST TIME AS FARCE, ELEBBENTY-'LEBBENTH TIME AS CHRISTIAN PUPPET SHOW RUN BY ANGRY METH ADDICTS. Attention: all little culture warriors must file into the auditorium to have their penises painted blue and to attend a lecture by Mr. Ace O. Spades on why Iron Man, though not overtly patriotic, is still acceptable to the Board:
And whatever sort of muddied moral [Director Jon Favreau] might be attempting to suggest (or avoid suggesting, more likely), he presents the US military itself as a positive force for good, entirely composed of professional, patriotic, and very human folks just trying to do what's best for America -- and the world, too...

Like any action movie that might attempt to push pacifism as an ideal, [Iron Man] can't avoid the crushing contradiction forced upon it by the action genre: Force works, and some people just can't be dealt with any other way.
Careful, comrade Spades! That sort of world-historical thinking smacks of quietism, implying as it does that popcorn aesthetics will lead inevitably to the dictatorship of the prattletariat, when what is wanted is struggle. You big 'mo.

At least Comrade Spades is tackling important subjects: Michelle Malkin is carefully calculating the limits of acceptable deviation from orthodoxy in her fucking coffee. Malkin got "hooked" on Starbucks in Seattle (no doubt while still an innocent young girl, and by jive-talking beatniks), but "the company’s ridiculous policy barring gift card purchasers from customizing personalized cards with the phrase 'Laissez Faire'" -- and, ahem, a price increase -- unhooked her. "Lots of other consumers are coming to the same conclusion," she says, "Starbucks’ profits are down 28 percent." From this you might get the impression that ordinary people are boycotting Starbucks' socialism rather than its absurd prices. Perhaps they're also turning to Dunkin' Donuts, as Malkin did, because they're "unapologetic supporters of immigration enforcement." I mean, Americans just don't make important decisions like this based on money, especially when the economy is doing so great.

Amusing as we may find the image of Malkin tearing, Harry Caul-like, her kitchen to pieces in search of treasonous condiments, imagine how much worse it must be at the home of Crunchy Rod Dreher. First he credulously repeats the story of a family that fell victim to "synergistic toxicity" of "chemicals dispersed in regular paint," varnish, and stuff like that. Rod can relate: "I know that there are certain cleansers that I can't be in the presence of for more than a minute without getting a splitting headache." But Brother Rod really gets nervous when it is suggested that chemicals in ordinary soft plastic "mimic estrogen" and may "feminize male children." The quoted material posits "a reduction in the length between the anus and the sex organ as an external marker of feminization" -- bedcheck at the Drehers' will soon become a memorable event. An obviously shaken Dreher "went into the kitchen last night and looked around to figure out how we could clear out these plastics ... and was overwhelmed by the difficulty of the task. And that's just the kitchen." I expect Dreher will soon launch the Big Decontamination in earnest -- no phthalate is gonna make a hermaphrodite of my boy! -- and the poor kids will end up lugging water in wooden pails and playing with toys made out of clay and straw. Dreher'd convert to Amish if he weren't afraid his boys would get involved with Hershey's Chocolate.
SHORTER MEGAN McARDLE. There may be other reverse snobs out there, but they haven't the breeding to carry it off.

(At first I thought "I'd march out right now and eat at Outback Steakhouse right now, if they had more vegan options" was a sign of conscious self-parody, till I remembered she never belittles herself but in praise.)

Monday, May 05, 2008

NOT PLAYERS, THEY JUST CRUSH A LOT. In New York magazine, Kurt Andersen talks about the press' alleged "crush on Obama." Andersen writes in a confessional style, portraying himself and the class with which he identifies as something out of a conservative's nightmare/wet dream of liberal vacuousness: prone to childish enthusiasms ("I figure this must be what it feels like to be a hopeful, fretful, stressed-out fan during the Super Bowl or World Series"), childish resentments ("accustomed to feeling a visceral, sputtering disgust with George Bush... visceral suspicion of the Clintonian political M.O. and character... the WTF jealousy Bill Clinton’s fellow boomers felt in 1992"), and just plain childishness ("Plus if all the kids love him and we also love him, that means we’re still kinda sorta youthful ourselves, right?").

Naturally conservatives have risen to the opportunity Andersen presents. He's even better for their purposes than a wacky hippie protester, equivalence of which with run-of-the-mill liberals requires more levels of transference. Andersen is MSM royalty, and his POV is automatically more trustworthy than that of journalists who try and act all serious.

This comes after weeks of Reverend Wright coverage that gave the impression Obama was running for pastoral advisor rather than President, and endless considerations of his "elitism." Were these reporters then disabused of their Obama "crush"? Andersen is clearly still attracted to Obama (and "baseball-geek analogies"), and so we may assume are the other press dorks for whom he speaks. Yet though they were crucial in elevating Obama, they were blindsided by events ("the media didn't see this coming") and powerless to stop the reams of critical stories issuing from their own laptops.

It's an interesting view of the press -- universally delirious for Obama, yet unrelenting in its attacks on him. Maybe Andersen is trying to tell us, in a roundabout way, that despite their emotional retardation reporters are capable of journalistic integrity, which they demonstrate by endlessly circulating rightwing talking-points. It doesn't matter, as Andersen is now a rightwing talking-point himself. It seems everything and everybody gets to be one, sooner or later.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

WHEN ALL YOU HAVE IS A GUN, EVERY PROBLEM LOOKS LIKE GUN CONTROL. Bob Owens (nee Confederate Yankee) writes on the plan to give Chicago cops assault rifles. If you know Owens' work, you will have guessed that he talks a lot here about gun specs ("The M4 features a shorter barrel [14.5 inches versus 20 inches for the M16] and a multi-position collapsible stock") and finishes with a plea for the end of gun control:
Perhaps instead of up-gunning the police, it is time for Chicago to admit its strict anti-gun laws have failed, and perhaps rescind mandates that only disarm Chicago’s law-abiding citizens in the face of increasing violent criminal activity. Mayor Daley is unlikely to see that logic, however. For him and those like him, guns in the hands of citizens are the problem, not the cure.
As I never tire of pointing out, the most famous urban crime turnaround took place in New York City at the end of the last century and gun control, indeed gun confiscation, was (by the admission of the NYPD, Mayor Giuliani, and even the right-wing City Journal) a huge part of the story.

Other factors included the 1991 "Safe Streets, Safe City" plan which staffed up the beat cops, the 1994 Federal Crime Bill, and a "Broken Windows" Theory emphasis on petty crime. The importance of each of these factors is arguable (especially the last one, as may be shown by the example of San Francisco).

But one thing's clear: the general drop in big-city crime in the 90s and beyond had nothing to do with increasing citizen gun ownership in those jurisdictions.

So why would the likes of Owens and their enablers suggest, against all criminological evidence, ending gun control as a solution to crime? You may have noticed that there's an election revving up, and that Republicans, having of late taken a beating on the issues, are leaning heavily on symbology: scary black people, shot-and-a beer populism, and, of course, the dag-gum gummint and its plot to take our guns from our cold dead hands.

Were these folks serious about the Second Amendment, they'd be arguing for it as a right separate from its utility -- that we should accommodate that right, rather than ameliorating the right to accommodate our current social reality. But that would drastically reduce its effectiveness as a symbol. So they circulate stories about guys who'd be dead if they didn't have a gun, and imply that a President Obama would leave them defenseless.

Every once in a while they'll overreach and deny stark reality, as Owens has done. And why shouldn't they? What has reality ever done for them?

Saturday, May 03, 2008

IMMANENTIZING THE ESCHATON. Victor Davis Hanson's had a good run with Reverend Wright, but he seems ready (or medically advised, perhaps) to pack it in, as shown by his "Wright Postmortem."

Hanson assumes that his own extremely unflattering interpretation of events is shared by Obama supporters, but believes they "have invested too much in Obama and have come too far to accept anything that might end his candidacy," and "privately they acknowledge" (by what evidence he doesn't say) that their man "made a devil’s bargain with a racist," is "inured to de rigueur anti-American speech" and is "hardly a new politician, but instead a very gifted and charismatic actor."

Despite their presumed agreement with Hanson's dire characterization, he predicts they will stick with Obama because he "offers them symbolic capital, making them liked abroad and free of guilt at home... I think he will weather the current storm and get the nomination. Obama evokes pure emotion and raw politics now, and logic, honesty, and accountability have little to do with his nomination bid."

You may wonder why so committed an Obama enemy as Hanson has come to so downcast a conclusion. Obama has indeed taken a hit, and though it is not fatal it has given Republicans some valuable provender and target practice for the general election should Obama be nominated.

One possible explanation is that Hanson had big hopes for the Wright affair, and is bitterly disappointed that it didn't destroy his nemesis outright. Back in March, Hanson was sufficiently optimistic to actually question "seven or eight random (Asian, Mexican-American, and working-class white) Americans in southern California" -- possibly employees on his farm -- on Obama's big post-Wright speech, and was buoyed that "the answers, without exception, were essentially: 'Forget the speech. I would never vote for Obama after listening to Wright.'" His conclusion: "Now it’s too late. Like Hillary’s tear, one only gets a single chance at mea culpa and staged vulnerability — and he blew it."

Most Republican operatives probably saw the full-court-press on Wright as part of the patient wearing-down of opponent support that has been their great strength since the days of Lee Atwater. But Hanson is a true believer who expected this bucket of slop would cause Obama to melt like the Wicked Witch of the West, and is genuinely stunned to see him still on track for the nomination. It puts me in mind of the early days of the Lewinsky scandal, when conservatives were giddy at the impending demise of Bill Clinton, convinced that the truth had come out and the people would come round. When their victory was less than total -- when it provided some ammunition for future campaigns, but not the removal of their sworn enemy -- many of them were devastated, and some never got over it.

Similarly, Hanson views his half-empty glass with despair. "I don’t think I’ve heard or read more white cynicism in my entire lifetime," he claims -- again without sourcing, and probably speaking for himself. "And it is a sort of 'I’m tired' attitude, in which, after what Obama has said and done, the white middling class no longer cares all that much about minority angst, since it senses that minority leadership is hypocritical and shows a hatred of whites as voiced by Wright and euphemized by Obama. We owe all that to our first trans-racial candidate."

Anyone who looks at a mildly liberal black Democrat and sees hatred of whites, however "euphemized," is not going to be satisfied with political solutions. Whatever horrors the campaign has in store for the rest of us, it will be hell itself for Hanson.

Friday, May 02, 2008

SHORTER JAMES LILEKS: I may be a dork, but at least I'm not a hippie.

(Actually... couldn't this be his universal Shorter?)
FOR YOUR ATTENTION. The story is called "Break-ins plague targets of US Attorneys":
In two states where US attorneys are already under fire for serious allegations of political prosecutions, seven people associated with three federal cases have experienced 10 suspicious incidents including break-ins and arson.

These crimes raise serious questions about possible use of deliberate intimidation tactics not only because of who the victims are and the already wide criticism of the prosecutions to begin with, but also because of the suspicious nature of each incident individually as well as the pattern collectively. Typically burglars do not break-into an office or private residence only to rummage through documents, for example, as is the case with most of the burglaries in these two federal cases.

In Alabama, for instance, the home of former Democratic Governor Don Siegelman was burglarized twice during the period of his first indictment. Nothing of value was taken, however, and according to the Siegelman family, the only items of interest to the burglars were the files in Siegelman's home office.

Siegelman's attorney experienced the same type of break-in at her office...
No punchline. Only applause for the reporters, Mses. Alexandrovna, Kane, and Beyerstein. I hate to echo that awful man, but: read the whole thing.
MORE FUN WITH KULTURKAMPFERS. Right-wing film scold site Libertas is excited by a New York magazine item that implies Lauren Conrad and Heidi Montag (both of MTV's The Hills) are Republicans: "Smart and conservative… But I repeat myself."

Where have I heard of these two before?
Heidi Montag says she isn’t to blame for the Lauren Conrad sex tape drama.

“I tried to help her get it back for, like, a year,” Montag said on the Late Show With David Letterman Wednesday. “I was like, ‘You gotta get it back, you gotta do something about this.’”
Sex-scandalized Republicans are so 2006. Can't they get Selena Gomez to come out for McCain? With a little luck she just might keep her top on till November.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

SI-IGNED, NOISE-MAKER. As I mentioned earlier, our culture warriors are a little off their game lately. I blame the Reverend Wright imbroglio, an all-hands-on-deck affair that exhausted the usual squawkers and left them listless in the face of everyday pornification. Even the usually reliable Kathryn J. Lopez is reduced to pretending to notice eight-month-old pro-choice billboards.

So thank Satan that Reverend Sun Myung Moon's Washington Times is keeping hilarity alive:
Dear Abby's pen is double-edged: One side dispenses her solid, homespun advice; the other, according to critics, promotes a faddish, post-traditional, anything-goes approach to sexual morality.

The Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center in Alexandria, analyzed the 365 Dear Abby columns written in 2007 by Jeanne Phillips — daughter of the original writer, Pauline Phillips, who dispensed advice under the pen name Abigail Van Buren from 1956 until her retirement in 2002. They found that 30 percent of the columns dealt with sex and that of those, more than 50 percent rejected traditional morality, the view that sex should be limited to marriage between one man and one woman.
I hear the Institute is working on another study that will blame the Lockhorns comic strip for a decline in marriage rates.

The Times reports that "The institute wants [Dear Abby] columns to carry a disclaimer stating that they should be considered entertainment only." Here is nannyism that I can get behind, if we can carry it to its natural conclusion and apply it to other parts of the papers as well. Horoscopes, sudoku, Billy Kristol columns -- all should have labels which not only warn, but also provide contact information for logic tutors. And let the Federal Government subsidize their instruction. I invite our Presidential candidates to propose such a plan -- call it No Chump Left Behind -- as a remedy for the failures of our education system.

Alternatively we could have the Feds raid the Institute and pull out any minors -- on the evidence of this study, I'm sure they have more than a few on staff -- or (the longest shot by far) have someone with great patience and a soothing voice explain the free market to them.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

THE KINDEST, BRAVEST, WARMEST, MOST WONDERFUL HUMAN BEING I'VE EVER KNOWN IN MY LIFE. In the Wall Street Journal, Karl Rove tells us what a great guy John McCain is. At the New Republic, Jonathan Chait tells us how full of shit Rove is to praise McCain after the way Rove's campaign slurred the Senator in 2000.

What interested me in Rove's testimonial, though, is the device with which he explains why he's giving it:
...I heard things about Sen. McCain that were deeply moving and politically troubling. Moving because they told me things about him the American people need to know. And troubling because it is clear that Mr. McCain is one of the most private individuals to run for president in history...

Private people like Mr. McCain are rare in politics for a reason. Candidates who are uncomfortable sharing their interior lives limit their appeal. But if Mr. McCain is to win the election this fall, he has to open up.
The notion that a very successful American politician who has written a popular autobiography has trouble opening up to people is so hilarious that I have to think Rove chose it as an in-joke for the political community.

History is a better topic for McCain than current events. He has lately spoken out on health care, proposing to provide a "$5,000 refundable tax credit"; citizens may choose an insurance provider "by mail or online" to "inform the government of your selection. And the money to help pay for your health care would be sent straight to that insurance provider." This familiar Republican alternative is dressed up with assurances that "modern information technology" will make it work, with "advances in Web technology" allowing doctors "to practice across state lines," though there has so far been no mention of Federal mandates to provide us with x-ray webcams or laptop condenser microphones sufficiently sensitive to detect mitral valve dilation.

On Iraq McCain takes a mistakes-were-made approach, allowing friendly news outlets to use "McCain Blasts Bush Admin. Errors" headlines, while below the fold the candidate lauds the "significant political progress" that excuses our continued occupation.

Every once in a while he takes a stand unpopular among his listeners (though it may be much better received elsewhere), which perhaps helps his "maverick" status. But most of the work currently being done for McCain is done in sideshows -- not only in the Obama campaign, but also in his own.

In short, everything is working for McCain except for the issues. Fortunately for him, no one, least of all the press, is paying much attention to those right now. For him to win, this state of play must persist through the election. Those of us who have lived through a couple of these things have to like his chances. I'm sure Karl Rove does.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

THE DEATH OF OUTRAGE. The Miley Cyrus story is not much, and so not much that even Howard Stern has denounced her Vanity Fair photo spread. (The odd bit is that her father Billy Ray is a former Pax TV actor and Jesus testimonialist. Well, to be fair, Israel in 4 B.C. had no mass communication.)

Maybe I don't have much of a story either, as my favorite God-botherers are taking this rather lightly. Rod Dreher, having perhaps exhausted his compassion on Britney Spears and Amy Winehouse, cuts the little tart no slack. "The dear thing is shocked," he says. "She was, she claims, hoodwinked by the evil Annie Leibovitz into appearing semi-nude after her parents left the set (never mind that her publicist, her granny and her manager were still there)..." Then, for laughs, a Brother Theodore routine on nymphets. I guess Dreher has finally decided that the Benedict Option is in full effect, and is preparing for a new Zion where the Cyruses will be unwelcome and the nubiles will dress less provocatively when not screwing fogeys.

James Poulos does offer a wistfully Benedictine closer ("It's going to take a long time to untangle the psychosexual web this culture's woven. Maybe forever") but defends the principle of "marvelous fresh fecundity and youthful radiance" in representational art, which is inevitably reduced in our corrupting times to "the erotic appeal of a giant confection. In an earlier era, this picture would in fact be a painting of a nameless young girl, and it would be a work of art. In this era, it's a brick in a long, high wall." So maybe the real problem is mass production -- in a nobler time, we had to wait for geniuses to laboriously hand-paint our softcore porn, and it was shown in galleries where jacking off was frowned upon. Supply and demand being what it is, the Masters wouldn't have bothered with Miley, who is "not particularly gorgeous," and the Cyruses would have been content with a simple, rustic existence, with Dad appearing in Passion Plays and singing with his daughter in the church choir. I wonder that Poulos chooses to contribute to the degrading march of technology by writing online; doesn't he realize that every new reader he brings to this fetid trough will be degraded beyond redemption? The more the merrier, I say, but he should consider switching to illuminated manuscripts.

Ross Douthat figures the Cyruses have it macked: because "the Cyruses are stage-managing this whole 'controversy,'" they probably have "enough worldliness and self-awareness to navigate Miley's adolescence without letting the celebrity machine grind her down into Britney Redux." He saves his tears for "the weak and the damaged and the dumb" who suffer in the maw of the machine. Well, that's capitalism, comrade -- most of us writers are likewise too weak and damaged and dumb to score a prestigious gig (like an Atlantic blog), and will wear away our souls scribbling unprofitably, maddened by the prospect of fame, pathetic victims of the opinionating machine. Weep for us!

We could easily go downmarket for some real ravings, but when the major thinkers of culture war can't pop a stiffy over a half-dressed teenager, America may be on the verge of losing her moral compass, and alicublog of losing some valuable material. I hope at the next Restoration Weekend Bill Bennett gives them a good talking-to.
THE NEVER-ENDING STORY. Obama put a little more daylight between himself and the Reverend Wright -- divisive, destructive, outrageous, appalling, etc. I guess I should put my own disappointment aside, and focus on the political capital this has won Obama among those citizens sincerely troubled by his connections:

"Too Little, Too Late..."

"No 'Sister Souljah' Moment for Barack Obama..."

"Of course, in reality, Obama's nature and (especially) nurture left him worried that he won't be perceived as 'black enough,' so he has devoted much of his career to working to extract money from whites and spend it on blacks... (Bonus quote: "I'm always being denounced as 'obsessed' about race...")

You may find more measured stories in the old-fashioned news outlets, but all of them end something like this:
Whatever happens to the Reverend Wright story now, one thing is clear: the long relationship between the pastor and the politician is forever changed. And Obama has had to spend yet another day trying to regain the narrative of his campaign.
Update at 11! And so it goes. You can't win the game when they keep changing the rules. Somewhere John Hagee is laughing his ass off.
A METS GAME IS NOT A DINNER PARTY. I went to Shea on Saturday, and heard the heavy boos for the slumping Carlos Delgado. So I can understand his reticence to take a bow after his second homer on Sunday. The New York Post's Joel Sherman affects concern for the relationship of the Mets and their fans:
The Met loyalists turn verbally pessimistic at the first sign of trouble in a nine-inning game. The booing feels like the in thing; hey everyone is doing it, so why not me?... There is no let-bygones-be-bygones here. There is a lack of trust toward the team, a lack of faith that the manager or management knows what they are truly doing, a lack of conviviality toward the roster.

And as one player asked, "Do they think that is helping us?" In other words, it is hard to win, harder yet when you are playing either in anticipation of the boos or to try and ward them off. Both media and fans have become harsher over the years, but there is a quick, energy-sapping maliciousness at Shea that is hard to match anywhere.
This is a little rich. Booing makes it hard to win? Major league ballplayers have earplugs made of 24 karat gold. They haven't heard anything besides "Your contract demands have been accepted" and "My name is Tiffany, can I ride in your limo" since Triple A. On those rare occasions when our displeasure reaches them, their response is Delgado's: a quiet Fuck You.

I have followed the Mets through seasons in which booing was about the only cheap pleasure to be had at Shea. The team has gotten better, but the years of overpayment and underperformance have left us a little jaded, maybe even slightly depraved. Last year's collapse was certainly no fun for anyone, but the fans who paid both keen attention and a good chunk of the players' salaries -- and who later learned that Paul Lo Duca's combativeness in the home stretch may not have revealed the heart of a gamer, but the long-term effects of steroid abuse -- had good cause to be bitter.

Soon the franchise will relocate to a new stadium, where everything will certainly cost more: tickets, beer, hot dogs. I think fans who notice, for example, a decreased willingness among Met infielders to dive for ground balls may be forgiven a little vociferation.

No quarter asked, no quarter given, and Delgado was well within his rights to go Ted Williams on the boo-birds on Sunday. I would be pleased if Delgado hit many more homers and circled the bases each time with two middle fingers held proudly aloft. In fact, maybe the key to 2008 is to keep hate alive. If the Jose Song fails to motivate Reyes to realize his considerable potential, maybe "You suck" will; I would happily trade that stupid song for some timely base hits. Athletes know that the best way to shut a big mouth is with a big win, and if they want to stick it to us ingrates by cruising to a World Championship, that would suit me fine.

Monday, April 28, 2008

SOME GET STONED, SOME GET STRANGE, SOONER OR LATER IT ALL GETS REAL, WALK ON. Jeremiah Wright says, "I said to Barack Obama, last year, 'If you get elected, November the 5th, I'm coming after you, because you'll be representing a government whose policies grind under people.'" Barack Obama says, "[Wright] does not speak for me... He does not speak for the campaign." So reporters and commentators have them twinned as never before.

Obama wore a flag pin the other day, so there is more news than ever about his refusal to wear a flag pin.

The conventional wisdom is that Obama has to do something drastic about all this -- maybe hit Wright with a blackjack, or go around dressed as Captain America. But under this kind of ridiculous hazing, there's really not much he can do. Though he may try and paint the corners now and again, Obama is clearly disinclined toward the grand renunciatory gestures the press has prescribed for him. I suspect he realizes that this course could fatally derail his Presidential run, but would rather fail going forward than in retreat.

We think of these crises as a test for Obama, but as things are currently playing out, they strike me as more of a test of our politics -- that is, of whether we are so fatally addicted to sideshows that we can't have a national election about even the most pressing national issues. Obama's political fortunes, or those of any candidate, are small potatoes compared to that.
RETRO FIT. You have to pity the leftover 80s Republicans. People no longer tolerate the cigars, zoot suits, and swing dancing with which they once attempted to insert themselves into American culture, and the attempted transition to South Park Conservatism never quite took. Many of them now brood in their condos, riffling dog-eared P.J. O'Rourke and Tom Wolfe books and dreaming of what might have been.

Give credit then to libertarians Matt Welch and Nick Gillespie: where we behold only a pathetic scene, they see a market opportunity, and following the Time-Life method of repackaging old crap for new profits seek to re-sell the old crapcom "Dallas" as the Le nozze di Figaro of the Reagan Revolution.
"Dallas" wasn't simply a television show. It was an atmosphere-altering cultural force. Lasting nearly as long as recovering alcoholic Larry Hagman's second liver, it helped define the 1980s as a glorious "decade of greed," ushering in an era in which capitalism became cool, even though weighted with manifold moral quandaries...

After a long hip parade of unironic countercultural icons such as Luke of "Cool Hand Luke" and Randle Patrick McMurphy of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," "Dallas" created a new archetype of the anti-hero we loved to hate and hated to love: an establishment tycoon who's always controlling politicians, cheating on his boozy wife and scheming against his own stubbornly loyal family. But no matter how evil various translators tried to make J.R. and his milieu... viewers in the nearly 100 countries that gobbled up the show, including in the Warsaw Pact nations, came to believe that they, too, deserved cars as big as boats and a swimming pool the size of a small mansion.
I have no trouble believing that the gangster brand of capitalism practiced in much of the old Soviet bloc is inspired by shitty old TV shows. It takes nerve to brag about it, though.

For obvious reasons I prefer to think of these things as diversions rather than as a cultural signposts. Maybe in years to come we'll look back at "The Sopranos" as part of a magical time when we all decided, the hell with it, America's really just a large criminal enterprise so let's get ours while the getting's good. And at "American Idol" as when American popular music began to really, really suck. Maybe that explains our culture in general these days: the cynicism of the audience has caught up with that of the advertisers.

Friday, April 25, 2008

SHORTER DAN RIEHL: Liberals make a big deal about so-called "human rights," yet they refuse to defend a celebrity tax evader.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

THE OVERCLASS STRIKES BACK. George F.ucking Will today:
After 1962, when New York City signed the nation's first collective bargaining contract with teachers, teachers began changing from members of a respected profession into just another muscular faction fighting for more government money.
August 1, 2007: "Firefighters, Scientists And Teachers Top List As 'Most Prestigious Occupations,' According To Latest Harris Poll."

Will, forever the callow young lord whose noblesse oblige turns to viciousness when the servants ask for a raise, probably never knew what normal people still (thank God) remember: disrespect for the nobler enterprises of society is one of the real signs of social collapse.
ASK AN EXPERT. People are stockpiling rice -- perhaps on the advice of the Wall Street Journal -- in sufficient quantities that Costco and Sam's Club are limiting purchases. I sure hope this panic over staple foods among heartland citizens is unjustified. But I lack the economics training to read the situation. So let's see what the top libertarian thinkers say about it. That always makes me feel better. ChicagoBoyz:
Back about 15 years ago I attended a seminar put on by Honeywell. The presenter arrived with several loaves of bread and brought the receipt from the store for them. This initiated a discussion of the whys and hows of choice, and marketing. Some people want more expensive bread because of the ingredients, some want a healthier fortified bread for the nutrition, and some people just want the cheapest thing they can find, any quality perceptions or realities be damned. I don’t remember what the point of the seminar was, but I always remembered the bread demo. I recently ran into this gentleman at a convention and he was happy that I recalled him as “the bread guy."
That's nice. The price of wheat has increased a gazillion percent in the past year, so I can see why the author is feeling nostalgic for 1993. (He also tells us about a really cheap can of shaving cream folks can buy. I don't see why -- you don't need shaving cream to slash your wrists.)

Commenters -- and the author, in a follow up ("The media is full of stories of doom and gloom about how food is skyrocketing in price, so let’s take the opposite tack...") -- talk about all the cheap foodstuffs (mac & cheese, ramen noodles, etc) with which complainers over food prices may shut their pie holes instead of pie, which would be too expensive.

I hope the Boyz get a gig with the McCain campaign, and disseminate this message of hope all over our great land. America: Home of the Mayonnaise Sandwich!

(Maybe I'm reaching, but they asked for it.)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

BURN THE HONKY TONK DOWN. I predicted they'd go after Obama for Richard Pryor. They're getting closer. After a detour -- Malcolm X? Blogger, please! -- Human Events' Evan Gahr goes after "Obama's Other Jeremiah Wrights," namely Ludacris and Jay-Z. After tittilating Human Events readers with some expurgated lyrics, Gahr says:
Obama thus far has equivocated on rappers. He has criticized their language, but adamantly refused to denounce the whole sordid genre as the unique cultural problem that it is.
Suppose we apply this root-and-branch approach to country music. From the old murder ballads through the works of modern-era superstars, we can see a normative attitude toward drink, drugs, and violence against women. Many country songs promote alcoholism, loyalty to anti-social homies, and brawling. Even the female stars are getting in on the act, a sure sign of social breakdown.

Yet John McCain has failed to denounce country music. Maybe Gahr can persuade him to appear in an appropriate venue -- Gilley's, perhaps -- for a Sister Souljah moment. I would advise him to bring plenty of chicken wire.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

FOR DUMMIES. Julie Nixon Eisenhower made large contributions to the Obama campaign, and National Review Online's Lisa Shiffren draws what I'm sure she thinks are the inevitable conclusions:
Perhaps we humans are psychologically limited in our options, to following in the footsteps of, or rejecting and rebelling against our various patrimonies. Or, given the linked picture, perhaps the fact that she looks like a carbon copy of her mother — a bit mad, but with a little more iron about the jaw — suggests that she is not her father's daughter after all. The picture is more shocking than the deed. Trisha Nixon Cox, (the blond, putatively less ambitious, "pretty one") still looks like the girl America knew, and, recognizably, has given her campaign donations to John McCain...
Many NRO scribes betray a stunted view of life and human nature, but Schiffren's actually seems heavily informed by fairy tales about princesses and wicked stepsisters. (She also characterizes Hillary Clinton's marriage as a "deal with the devil.") I know there are other adults who think this way, but Schiffren's the first I've seen who could write complete sentences.
SNAKE OIL. Let's suppose you're an educated man, a Perfesser even, who sometimes likes to wax anti-intellectual -- whether out of self-disgust, philosophical confusion, or just for funsies, we'll leave for another hypothetical. These bagatelles attract hordes of winger yahoos, delighted that a college man is saying, or quoting, the sort of things they normal hear only on Fox News and from that guy who lives under the bridge.

This makes you a few dollars and a big name. And the elusiveness of your style -- usually just a link and a simple interjection -- prevents you from looking like too much of a yahoo yourself to casual observers or Perfessorial colleagues.

By and large, you've got it made. But like all sinecures, yours presents opportunities for comic dilemmas. Sometimes, despite the grand claims made for blogging, you have to go to long-form political blather in the MSM -- you are not yet as well-known or well-compensated as Katie Couric, or even Heather Nauert, so your pool of prospective suckers must be expanded if you and your family are to afford the robot bunker of your dreams.

So, good news, you have an assignment from New York Post, where the suckers are plentiful. Bad news: it's Earth Day Week, and the topic is global warming. As your rare substantive comments on the subject reveal, you are not totally insane about it. But your yahoo followers are; so, over and over and over you have portrayed global warming as a fraud and a joke. Now you have to appear outside your comfort zone, minus the protective cover of your usual fortune-cookie style, and try to avoid looking like a sell-out to your usual dopes and a lunatic to big-paper readers.

The result is comedy gold from the first paragraph, which sort of contains its quintessence:
I HAVEN'T been able to get very excited about the big global-warming debate - but I am excited about some solutions to global warming. These are just as worthwhile even if you don't believe that human-created climate change is a big problem, or even a reality.
The charitable explanation for this would be that the Perfesser so loves science that he would like to see it tackle non-existent problems just for grins, much as a young WWE enthusiast might like to know whether The Undertaker could beat up Batman. Alas, the Perfesser's quick reference to the "religious wars" between the "Church of Green" and the "Church of Carbon" -- suggesting that the scientific community is just being as silly as those lovable scamps in the PR firms of the oil and gas industries -- does little to win our charity.

The Perfesser comes out loud and proud against "hair-shirt" scientists with their demands of "impossible sacrifice," but picks an unfortunate example of the more realistic view:
Just ask people in China - now the world's No. 1 carbon emitter - how interested they are in returning to the economic conditions they suffered a few decades ago when their carbon emissions were lower.
Just ask people in China how they feel about Tibet, while you're at it. You'll probably get a similar answer -- that is to say, muffled screams. They're giving us a nice, protest-free Olympics, what more do you want?

Meanwhile, "many scientific champions of global-warming theory" are proclaimed to be on the Perfesser's side because they're against "impoverishing the world" to appease Gaia. Plus which "some environmentalists" are for nuclear power. It's a coalition of unnamed, innumerable exceptions! The problem, non-existent as it is, is half solved.

All that's needed for a big finish is the 21st Century version of the last refuge of a scoundrel: technology. If the solar power cited by the Perfesser sets his homeboys to grumbling, "nanotech" ought to shut them up, as it is new, highly speculative, and not yet associated with hippies. Plus it can be explained in consumerist terms -- "Imagine how much more efficient a family car could be if you cut the weight in half" -- offering further proof that the Perfesser offers hope and cool cars, while all the stupid scientists (or "some" of them, or "many" of them, depending) want to do is make us and our friends in Red China go to their Church, eat flavorless health food, and generally bum out.

It may be said that the Perfesser's dilemma is solved, too: neither his customary blog readers nor his new MSM ones will find much fault with his column, because they'll never be able to figure out what he's saying. He who heh's last heh's best!

UPDATE. Commenter Craig points out that the "not totally insane" global warming post mentioned above wasn't written by the Perfesser, but by his guest-blogger Megan McArdle, so the credit for marginal sanity goes in that instance to her. This is a better example of Reynolds' grudging global warning acceptance.

Monday, April 21, 2008

GO FOR IT, DERB! I usually rejoice in John Derbyshire's unfiltered Asperger's rants on race, and today's celebration of Enoch "Rivers of Blood" Powell started promisingly enough, with a declaration that "Powellite sentiments" -- segregation and expulsion of dark people, in case you didn't know -- "were brow-beaten out of the public square" via a "campaign of propaganda, brainwashing, and intimidation."

When he got to "[Powell's] first trip ever to the United States," I looked forward to ravings about the British statesman's clear-eyed appraisal of the intractability of Negro anger, and how right he was, as the United States has become a place where African-Americans cannot be avoided, even at most country clubs. Alas, Derbyshire changes the subject to Vietnam.

What a disappointment! It's not like he needed to blaze a trail; rehabilitation of Powell's racially "contrarian" views has been going on among legacy-hungry conservatives for some time. I suspect even Derbyshire is feeling the heel of political correctness on his neck. Let us hope he wrenches free of it and, his ardor engorged by the spirit of resistance, unleashes a stemwinder on what he really thinks.

Till then, it's pretty sweet to see even Derb's watered-down racial obsessiveness share a page with Andy McCarthy's lament that Obama consorts with extremists. Spasms of self-awareness sometimes trammel (though unconsciously) individual National Review writers, but the magazine's institutional memory seems not to register with them at all.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

SERVICE ADVISORY. Going soon for my annual trip to Medical Disneyland. (Explanation here.) Will try to keep in touch. If I don't make it back, a final thought: don't mourn, organizize. (Also: Thimk.)
BARELY LEGAL. I've been rough on Rod Dreher for siding with Islamic fundamentalists against the pornography that made this nation great, but maybe I merely misunderstand him. Maybe he's really just a cultural adventurer, curious about and tolerant of strangeways around the globe. For instance:
In our culture, it is abnormal for 14 year olds to marry. The fundamentalist LDSers have a communal structure built to accomodate married 14 year olds (well, "married"). I happen to think it's terrible to force a 14 year old to "marry" a 50 year old man who has five other "wives." I would put a stop to it. But shouldn't we at least ask ourselves on what ground we stand to criminalize the practice, when many of us are perfectly willing to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples.
If you're surprised Dreher, who doesn't even want high-school girls to engage in inter-gender wrestling, is relatively cool with Church of Lolita-Day Sex, you shouldn't be. The cultists have a skygod and the sort of "Benedict Option" separatism that gets Dreher mistily reminiscing about David Koresh. With God all things are normative!

I think this presents an opportunity to advocates of gay marriage: simply declare homosexuality a faith and gay marriage one of its sacraments. Not only might they finally get Dreher's respect (and that of a wider, momentarily-confused redneck populace), they would be eligible for government grants.

They would obtain other rights, too, it appears:
On January 10, 2004, the church suffered major upheaval when Dan Barlow, the mayor of Colorado City, and about 20 men were excommunicated from the church and stripped of their wives and children (who would be reassigned to other men), and the right to live in the town.
If I'd known when I was younger that there were churches that followed the ways of Gor I might have rethought this whole atheism thing. Well, too late for me now: I'm too strong in my lack of faith and values to endorse such religious practices, except on a fantasy role-playing level.
RAISING THE FLAG. TBogg's right; the whole Green Iwo Jima uproar is worse than ridiculous. Or, as he puts it:
You really have to wonder what is wrong with these people that their rage richters are constantly cranked up to 11. These are the kind of people you read about whose crushed lifeless bodies are found underneath capsized vending machines all because they went DefCon 1 when their Zagnut refused to fall.
I see him his Canned Heat album cover and raise him this failed start-up. Jock was meant to be a thinking man's sports mag; its debut issue had articles by Woody Allen and William F. Buckley Jr., it was edited by Mickey Herskowitz, and its graphics consultant was Helmut Krone. As nobility of failures goes, that ain't bad.

Contrary to what you might think if you only know the hypercrazy media environment in which we now live, Jock was not taken down by "outraged" veterans; like Gablinger's Diet Beer it suffered from storming a niche that hadn't been chiseled yet.

That the people who dig so deep to find offense are the same ones who constantly bitch that "political correctness" limits free speech would qualify as a irony if irony still existed.

Friday, April 18, 2008

A QUICK ONE WHILE SHE'S AWRY. Two days after accusing me of "snide sexism and heteronormative stereotypes," Megan McArdle (of, we never tire of adding, The Atlantic Monthly) writes
I don't know that I agree with Mark Kleiman that Barack Obama's masculinity won't be an issue in the coming election. On the one hand he's tall, but he's kind of, well, scrawny looking. But also, the political space I think he's trying to occupy--building understanding and reconciliation between hostile voter grops--is generally seen as a woman's role...
I don't have a joke here. I'm only bringing it up to provoke her into another 2,000 word defense of double standards. I love when she does those. They're like brain teasers with no solutions.
IN THIS VERSION, SALLY BOWLES CAUSES THE HOLOCAUST. Talk show host Dori Monson denounces a Nicaraguan art installation in which a dog was starved. His conclusion:
You want an example of the slippery slope of an art world where anything goes? This is just an extension of the moral depravity of artists like Robert Mapplethorpe with his bullwhip in the anus... of Andrew Serrano with "Piss Christ"... when you have acceptance of works like those, it is not a tremendous moral leap to starving a dog.
Well said, comrade! When nothing is true, everything is permitted! I feel empowered to graduate from my occasionally obscene writings to a killing spree. Who's with me? (If you feel unqualified because you only swear recreationally, in the manner of the Wizard of Oz I'll give you some hokey-looking certificate, and then we can go hit the homeless encampments.)

As I've noticed before, these people really don't understand the idea of consent.

UPDATE. When Matthew Yglesias made the Obama-Jay-Z connection, I thought: oh no, soon they'll be demanding Obama identify and explain the 99 problems of which a bitch is not one! Sure enough, here comes the thin end of the wedge: Stop The ACLU brings up the Jay-Z thing, then suggest that Obama gave Hillary the finger, something he clearly learned from his gangsta rap homies. And since, as we have seen, engagement in obscenity leads to a reckless disregard for life itself, it's only a matter of time before Clinton makes a citizen's arrest, claiming there's a guy in Allentown who swears the man who shot him looked just like Obama.

UPDATE II. Well, that got around. RedState commenter: "It might not have been intentional, but if it was, it makes me like him more. Although I'd still use it to trash him in the general election." Laugh about it, shout about it, when you've got to choose/Either way you look at it you lose.

UPDATE III. As some commenters point out, this dovetails nicely with the Yale miscarriage artist whose possibly hypothetical stunt incurred the wrath of seriously underqualified art critics all along the reactionary fringe. My favorite, from a commenter at a well-known libertarian site: "And we come to the crux of what I hate about art." Well, yeah: as we have discussed before, the instinctual reaction of propagandists to anything more complex than a Morning Memo will always be High Boorishness.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

RAISING THE BAR. At The Hill Byron York has made a whole column's worth of conservative talking-point out of Obama's bit about his friendships with former Weatherman Bill Ayers and Republican Senator Tom Coburn. After paragraphs of meaningless comparison of Ayers with Coburn (with such horror-movie intertitles as "And then, the Coburn Card"), York finally gets to the relevant point of Obama's argument:
Sen. Coburn and I disagree on some things, and yet we’re still friendly. Bill Ayers and I disagree on some things, and yet we’re still friendly. So what’s the problem?
That was a relief -- for about a nanosecond:
That’s not quite good enough. [cue sinister music]

Obama needs to tell us more about his relationship with Ayers. It’s important because voters might well wonder whether that relationship, coupled with Obama’s longtime relationship with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, is the beginning of a pattern...
...a pattern which, unlike most china, dressmaking, and test patterns, currently consists only of two elements, Ayers and Rev. Wright. But York did say the beginning of a pattern! And who knows what other undesirable friends and acquaintances Obama might have? Turn over your Blackberry and old matchbook covers, Senator!

The nonsense has spread all down the conservative lunchtable ("Does Obama Believe Coburn=Ayers?" asks The American Pundit; "Obama Equates Conservative Republican to Terrorist Bomber" says Gateway Pundit, etc).

One would think Obama had proposed Ayers for Secretary of State instead of just hanging out with him. In a few weeks, they'll find security camera footage of Obama shaking hands at a rally with a guy who later drove drunk and killed a rabbi, and then we'll hear about Obama's beginning of the genesis of a theme of a pattern of anti-Semitic violence.

Well, at least people have stopped referring to him as an affirmative action case -- because it's clear no candidate has ever been held to this kind of ridiculous standard.
THEIR LITTLE ROCK AND ROLL. A few people who (lucky them) didn't know much about this blog crap before they read my Voice article have questions. The most common is, "Why would anyone want to read about this?" The next most common concerns those bloggers who, though their history and attitude show that they're extremely unlikely to vote Republican in November, still complain that my "arrogance" and "demonizing" are driving them away from the Democrats. What, they ask, is the point of this charade? Whom does it convince?

When short of time or just too drunk to speak, I hand them the glossary. Pretense of sympathy is one of those rhetorical tropes that even the unsophisticated can work, as seen on playground where kids yell, "Too bad you're such a retard."

The bigger question is, what is concern trolling and its home-field equivalents meant to achieve? Because I have never seen it even begin to change anyone's mind on issues or candidates.

The simple answer is, it's not about the argument, it's about keeping the crowds coming in. Like other kinds of masquerade, it's an easy way to make your blogging sexier.

In all but a few cases, political blogging is meant to reenforce the prejudices of its readers. Simple chest-pounding and foam-finger-waving get tiresome after a while, so bloggers who want to keep their audiences try to mix things up. But most don't have much in the way of mixers in their cabinets, and certainly can't write well enough to cruise on style.

So, as some of our ancestors developed prehensile thumbs, the more advanced bloggers develop more complicated arguments which, while they may lead to the same conclusions as before, take the reader on byways of reason that make the journey more rewarding and might even (if he is really ambitious) enrich the blogger's point of view, too. This is the point where, it may be said, blogging starts to turn into writing.

But if you're not interested in writing, or any more complex achievement than the leading of online pep rallies, there is a shortcut: instead of feeding complexities into your work, you feed them into your online persona.

Instead of merely being the member of the tribe who holds the talking stick, you can become a fascinating person with unexpected depths. It's not that hard. Since you are constructing rather than revealing a personality (you don't have the artistic control for that), you can start throwing quirky, contrarian things about yourself into your posts. Add as many as you like; you don't have to worry too much about making the effect believable or coherent. It's sort of like writing a screenplay for Madonna. Just make sure that, in the end, you make your readers feel good about themselves.

I just found a great example of this in one Rachel Lucas. In a recent tirade, "The Core of What Liberals Just Don't Get," she states:
If most of us do not, in fact, feel good about our country (which is a whole other question again), the source of that lack of good feeling stems almost completely from the results of liberal/progressive thinking and behavior. In other words, it’s people like Obama who make us feel bad about our country.
Okay. I guess we know how she feels... or do we?
This might be another great time to point out that I’m not even a conservative, and I still feel this way.
Following that last link, we hear about the things that exempt her from conservatism. Anyone want to guess... oh, I see you got it right away: pro-choice, pro-legalization of weed, not too religious. (Funny how easy that was; I said "wants national health care" just to mix things up and I got burned.)

But don't worry, she's not going to hassle you about that. Instead, she'll tell you how nice conservatives are, and that "liberals tend to be assholes."

To be fair, she does argue with conservatives sometimes: here's a post in which she chides them for insufficient enthusiasm for John McCain: "You’d rather have Hillary Clinton, a bona fide socialist, liar, all-around bad person, as president. You’d rather have Obama, the senator with the most liberal voting record, as president." Eventually she explains again that she's not a conservative, this time in all capital letters.

You may be asking yourself what the effective difference would be between this non-conservative and a conservative. The answer is marketing. She offers her conservative readers the thrill of apostasy -- someone who doesn't go to church hates Hillary too! -- without ever challenging or discomfiting them. For a few minutes, they can believe that no one would disagree with them if they knew them like Rachel knows them.

And we get what in American political discourse is the optimal result: no one learns anything and everybody's happy.

UPDATE. In comments, Susan of Texas finds the McArdle connection ("We all have multiple potential selves within us, none of which is more 'real' than any other..."), and better Susan than me, because if I said it you know it would be heteronormative, somehow.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

PAPAL BULL. During Benedict XVI's American tour, you may tire of watching the pontiff work his small range of expressions and resemblances (when he is enthused and engaged, Dracula; when he is not, Sam Jaffe in The Scarlet Empress). But conservative bloggers -- whether out of allegiance to Opus Dei or just out of collegial feelings for a fellow dogmatist -- are riveted. From The Corner at National Review comes this awestruck Michael Novak reportage from the Pope's D.C. lodgings:
...hanging on the wall, a life size portrait of [Benedict] by the great Russian émigré painter, Igor Babailov.

Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the Apostolic Nuncio, said in advance that the portrait catches the pope’s shyness, strength, and almost physical presence, in stirring colors of light gold against the dark.
An "almost physical presence"? Maybe it's actually a hologram that blinks on and off. Also:
Best of all, the figure of the risen Christ towers above Pope Benedict...
If Benedict is, as Novak says, "life size" in the picture, and Christ towers above him, the whole thing must be the size of a small billboard. Imagine being comfortable with a near-mural starring oneself in one's apartment -- especially one that, "in its style and presentation," Novak reports, "reaches back to the traditions of the great artists of the Renaissance." I imagine this would be a little much for Siegfried and Roy, let alone a simple man of God.

But this ostentation is just funny; some forms of Pope worship are creepier. At the Weekly Standard, Mark Shea compares the relationship between Benedict and Americans to that of St. Paul and the Corinthians -- and no, I didn't mean "American Catholics," because neither does Shea: he means the lot of us, whom he blasts as a "Paris Hilton kind of people" with "a culture that is desperately in need of the clarity, humility, beauty, and love of Christ that [Benedict] preaches with such marvelous grace."

So if you ain't a congregent, you best congregate anyway! And if you aren't so inclined, too bad, because the TV stations are all tuned to the former Inquisitor performing his Stations of the Crass: zipping around in his motorized vitrine, listening to ecclesiastical yammering (where the dazed Sam Jaffe look comes into play), and explaining to Americans (alongside their despised leader) that they aren't entitled to freedom, because it isn't a right at all -- just something God grants. If you're lucky. And he's in a good mood.

No doubt some of us will get lulled by the incessant coverage, and begin to think, well, the man talks about religion and we all know religion is a good thing, and he certainly wears nice dresses. Let me explain something:

Back when I was in the first grade of a Catholic school, the nuns used to slap us and make us kneel on metal rulers as punishment. Then came Vatican II, and corporal punishment ceased. Eventually we could eat meat on Fridays, and even take a swig of the sacramental wine. It was like the Prague Spring. We still had to do catechism drills and go to Mass every First Friday, but the small kindnesses inspired by John XXIII's Council gave us the notion, however faint, that we were not just souls to be processed for redemption, but also human beings. That may be why I was eventually able to escape.

Now consider this: Benedict and his guys want to roll back Vatican II. He didn't come to America to be your best friend: he came to lay down the law on the faithful, and tell them that "Any tendency to treat religion as a private matter must be resisted." He doesn't want the souls trapped in his net to get one little breath of freedom, lest they develop a taste for it.

The simultaneous pomp and boredom of the TV coverage tends to minimize it, but the Pope's message, to put it in the mildest possible terms, is not necessarily consonant with the traditional American idea of liberty. Of course no one will ask any hard questions about it of the Americans who support and choose to stand with Benedict -- the Catholic Church has way more juice than the Trinity United Church of Christ. But it's worth keeping in mind during all the ring-kissing.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

MY BLATHER WRIT LARGE. Until the lawsuits commence, my longform blog coverage is up at the Village Voice. Also available in paper form at your local head shop.

UPDATE. I knew there was a good reason for you to see this -- illos by Tom Tomorrow!

UPDATE II. First cavil, from a commenter at MetaFilter: "And the 'large-breasted' blogger attacked by Althouse was Jessica Valenti at Feministing, and she's a perfectly normal-looking person; Althouse and her hurf-durf-breasts fellow bloggers were simply insane. I wish the writer had pointed that out, instead of making Jessica sound somehow freakish." No imputation of freakishness, I assure you, was meant toward Ms. Valenti, whose most prominent attribute is her writing skill, seen regularly here. And I must say, these attacks from our own side will fatally harm our Presidential chances come November!

UPDATE III. Ace O'Spades, after a "yawn" (good media strategy!), is pleased at his 99/1 Stupid-to-Evil Ratio, as well he should be -- it will come in handy at his tribunal in The Hague. He seems to blame James Wolcott, for some reason, and gives Wolcott writing criticism, which is like John Gielgud getting elocution lessons from Moms Mabley.

UPDATE IV. La Althouse says I "put a lot of work into this thing," which is really all I was hoping for, though I'm tired of doing all the work in this relationship, frankly. Commenters are less pleased. "Wow, too bad no one could do this about the oh-so-pretty left blogosphere," grumbles one. But you can, bunky; go get some Prestype and construction paper and build an empire; the common people are with you.

UPDATE V. At Protein Wisdom, Jeff Goldstein stuntman Dan Collins calls me "Pink Ed," says my article "demonstrates perfectly the left’s contention that if you disagree with them, you’re either stupid or evil, or some combination of both." We always strive for perfection, but never dared hope to achieve it in this lifetime. (For grins you might knock around Protein Wisdom and get a load of their idea of polite discussion.)

UPDATE VI. Megan McArdle, freedom-loving, bravely politically-incorrect libertarian that she is, cries sexism. I will charitably assume she doesn't know what a lipstick lesbian is, and is missing the joke. Maybe I should have classified her as a Libertarian Until Graduation -- or changed her "Modus Operandi" to "missing the joke."

UPDATE VI-AND-A-I/II. McUpdate: "Yes, I know the many uses of the phrase 'lipstick lesbian'; indeed, I count several as friends and loved ones." Yet in my mouth it's a horrible slur. Either I poison everything I touch -- the theory endorsed by my family and ex-girlfriends -- or victim status is the new Gold Standard.

UPDATE VII. "One of the dumbest excuses for a politically motivated character assassination piece I’ve ever read," says Little Green Footballs (as commenter AJB notes, copy and paste the link, don't click it -- Johnson likes his redirect tricks). I knew I'd get some pull-quotes out of this thing!

His commenters are, as always, a pleasure: "They called for the EXECUTION of all Republicans some time back." (I missed that -- anybody got a link?) "The only thing impressive about Edroso is his unrelenting stupidity." (And there is only thing in the world worse than being witty, and that is not being witty.) My favorite: "I know you're reading, Roy. Fuck you." Noted! Oh wait... my new favorite: "There are better men and women than Edroso overseas right now who are making sure Edroso can continue to waste his time in comfort..." For it's "Tommy" this, and "Tommy" that, and "Tommy, in the Voice/Which is run by 'omosexuals, and wickedly pro-choice/They're makin' mock of rightwing Tommies, mock of you 'n' me/But they'll laugh with bloody mouths come our big fagtown killin' spree!"

UPDATE VIII. McMegan keeps digging: "The point, aimai, is that 'lipstick' is being used as a perjorative. Lipstick is only something that is worn by women." Christ Jesus. I guess I can no longer refer to men who "skirt" the issue or "dress" themselves, lest I be jailed by the Canadian Human Rights Commission for gendered criticism. Maybe I'll share a cellblock with Mark Steyn, and we can reenact the bathhouse scene from Quadrophenia, only with show tunes.

UPDATE IX. Been away, what'd I miss? I see Prof. Althouse has joined McArdle in denouncing me for sexist vocabulary -- using precisely the same kind of Bizarro logic I mocked in her entry. Boy, these two are about ready for a Freaky Friday remake, aren't they?

And I'm not just saying that because they're chicks: I feel similarly about Jonah Goldberg and Frank J. of IMAO, Goldberg's sometime collaborator, whose contribution is mostly imputations of girlishness ("The Pink Frilly Paper for Sissies"). I'd especially love to see them in an environmental production which locked them in a room together with only a single Wii remote to sustain them. We should have the audience out of there in 20 minutes.

Rising above the rest is Armed Liberal, who thinks that by making fun of opinion journalists, I am harming the Democratic Party's prospects with ordinary people. Yeah, I can hear them in shot-and-a-beer joints all over America: "My daddy was a Claremont Institute fellow! Don't these Democrats have any respect for our think tanks?"

Well, that about wraps it up. Back to our regularly scheduled sexism, elitism, and divisive "humor" soon!