Monday, May 19, 2008

FRAUD SQUAD. At National Review Online's The Corner, Andrew Stuttaford delivers a standard-issue plea for "skepticism" about climate change (or, as he puts it, "'climate change'"), but finishes:
That said, whatever their practical effects (some would be good, others not), McCain’s gestures to greenery are politically shrewd. Environmentalism is these days not only a widely-held civic religion, but, at least amongst some folk, a religion religion. Friendly nods in its direction are therefore a good electoral move, essentially harmless, and in the finest tradition of American political pandering: the equivalent, perhaps, of just another prayer breakfast.

As a wise man once (reportedly) said, “Paris is well worth a Mass.”
The Cornerites previously briefed Rudy Giuliani in the uses of dissimulation in getting over on gun nuts and abortion foes; Stuttaford's post suggests they may be preparing to give McCain lying lessons as well. Having previously been very, very cold toward the man they now embrace, they are certainly qualified to do so.

Obama is at a real disadvantage here. All his hope 'n' change stuff begs for conservatives to attempt to debunk it. Their ploys, from Rev. Wright to "Sweetiegate," have been mostly flimsy, sometimes even admittedly so, as with Jim Geraghty's item at NRO telling readers that though he is a "skeptic" of the rumor that Michelle Obama rails against "whitey" on a videotape, people may be inclined to believe it, which justifies his repeating it.

So they keep it up, throwing whatever they can get hold of, and declaring that their fusillades have penetrated Obama's facade, mask, disguise, fraud, etc. to reveal his socialist agenda, racism, devotion to Islam or the Devil or some damn thing -- because if he weren't guilty of some of it at least, why would people be paying attention? And when Obama pitches it back at them, he is accused of being thin-skinned, whiney, and, of course, guilty.

Obama is thus vulnerable to charges of hypocrisy because he has raised high expectations, and even an imputation of fault can reduce him. A similar counter-offensive against McCain can't be nearly as effective -- not because he is any less of a politician than Obama, but because no one sees in him anything to be hypocritical about.

Small wonder his supporters would so openly advise him to lay on the bullshit. It's their greatest strength.

UPDATE. Regarding the Michelle Obama tape rumor, commenter Julia asks, "Why is it, do you think, that all the angry black person dialogue these people invent for two ivy-educated lawyers with government jobs sound like Link from the Mod Squad?"
NEW VOICE POST UP. They haven't caught on to me yet! By the time they realize what a fraud I am, it will be too late... for everything! Meanwhile enjoy this post about bloggers who turn rightwing frowns upside down by standing history on its head.
SHORTER JAMES LILEKS: Here is my yearly advertorial for Disney World. My only complaint is that the security staff failed to take a woman wearing an obnoxious t-shirt to the basement, but maybe that's because I only complained with mind-rays.
DEPEND ON ME. An old friend came into town this weekend and I went with him to see Graham Parker at Joe's Pub. I hadn't seen Parker since Squeezing Out Sparks days, when he played with the Rumour in a cruddy rock theatre in Long Island. (The Atlantics opened!) Back then he was a stick of a guy, creeping among the players as if they were providing him cover -- not fearfully but cheerfully, a hide-and-seek thing, like the occasional lifting of his sunglasses and flare of his smile through his tight, thin lips.

Friday he was still skinny, still cheeky, but all alone, and obviously used to working that way in small rooms -- my friend saw him in Cleveland once playing for a sadly small crowd, and in a career like Parker's, sustained by memories of glory and the rare custom of afficianadoes, you have to expect a lot of those. Joe's Pub was packed and loving, but Parker still gave out with some chagrined memories -- very amusing and told with a smile, but chagrined -- of bad gigs in unappreciative towns (he named some; chivalry forbids). That was just roughage, though. He sang beautifully -- a little husky at the edges, but pleasingly so, and with the same twang an old fan would recognize from Howlin' Wind.

There was less aggression in his voice. Some of that might have been in deference to the size of the room or the rigors of the road or to a diminution of his strength, but it felt as if Parker had turned a few corners and come naturally to a gentler approach. So "Local Girls" was a romp, not an indictment, and "Passion is No Ordinary Word" was passionate but in a more rounded and reflective way than it had been in that noisy Rumour show. The later material, which I hadn't followed, suited his new gentility even better. Those songs were as lit from within as his others, well-crafted and deeply felt, but with rue and accommodation built into the lyrics. "Depend on Me" stuck with me particularly. There isn't a lot of very clever wordplay in it (though "if you lose your mind, it's only in your head" is very good), but the clarity of the sentiment makes up for it. It's the sort of song you get when you don't have to try so hard because you've been doing this long enough that you can let the feeling take over. I don't know how "Come on, baby, take my word/My word's about as good as it gets/I know the language of your heart/Better than the alphabet" looks printed out like this to people who haven't heard him sing it, but in context it's just damned lovely. One might with some justice see it as a lazy trope, built out of common speech, but rhythm-and-bluesmen -- and that's what Parker has always been -- know how to make common speech luminous. It sounded to me, not like it came from his heart, but like it came from mine, and was saying things I couldn't say. That's not just a good song. That's why songs exist in the first place.
MORE IN ANGER THAN IN SORROW. At the Wall Street Journal, Kimberley Strassel sees that voters are angry (you don't say), and concludes -- how's this for counter-intuitive thinking? -- that it's good news for the Republican Party:
The presidential candidates tapped into this anger early, no one more so than Mr. Change, Barack Obama. John McCain laid out his first-term vision in a speech this week, but also bashed the Washington "politics of selfishness, stalemate, and delay." This McCain refrain helps explain why he remains competitive with Mr. Obama – in particular among independents.

Mr. McCain's agenda is not "centrist," but conservative. Independents are behind it because the Republican has convinced them he is apart from the status quo, and will get things done.
McCain is indeed polling better among independents than he has a right to expect, but the more cynical among us may attribute this to his whiteness, his relative invisibility, and the as-yet great distance between today and the day on which voters have to face the terrifying possibility that he could become President. Certainly there's not much indication that the conservatism Strassel attributes to his agenda is what's putting independents "behind it" (read: almost polling as well as Obama) considering that the nation's foremost conservative avatar is the least-approved President in recorded history.

Strassel also sees reason for cheer further down the ticket:
House Republicans appear to be catching on. This week they rolled out the first part of an election-year agenda that pointedly lists their legislative "solutions" to the problems of today. It is aimed at women, and includes innovative proposals to help families struggling to balance work and home. To follow will be calls for more domestic energy production, a free-market health agenda, national security and entitlement reform.
Take a look at the National Republican Congressional Committee site. They're bragging on Medicare reform, No Child Left Behind, border security, Homeland Security, and, of all things, the economy ("Thanks to Republican economic policies, the U.S. economy is robust and job creation is strong"). They're applauding themselves on veterans' issues, which looks ridiculous already and will look worse come the Bush G.I. Bill veto. On every issue they're basically inserting new buzzwords into the same agenda that delivered them to ignominious defeat in 2006. Calling this "aimed at women," "innovative," and "free-market" isn't a substantial improvement.

I don't take much pleasure in refuting standard-issue Republican talking points as if I were a Sunday morning talk-show dipshit, and I certainly don't hold out much hope for the next election or indeed the future of this country, whose lucky streak seems to be drawing to a close. But Strassel's lazy new-beginnings crap is just too much to stand. One Dick Morris is more than enough. Now I see Andrew Sullivan is reverting to form, talking about McCain's "long record with Latinos" and "green McCain logo, with a recycling symbol on it" as if they meant anything at all, and plumping for "McCameronism" as if he were fresh off the boat with New Tory scripture under his arm, seeing Mrs. Thatcher in every hammy Republican face and babbling about an "Anglosphere" that will save us all from socialized medicine and fifth columnists. It was hard enough to live through the revival of hair bands and leg-warmers; now I have to watch Sullivan fall in love with the Republican Party all over again just because it's doing its hair a little different these days.

Prepare yourselves, brothers and sister, for a new avalanche of bullshit.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

BIRTH TRAUMA. At Sadly, No! Gavin does a fine job of twitting Pat Buchanan's latest Death of the West column. Buchanan is concerned that the Jewish people are being outbred by the jihadists, and blames the secularization of many Chosen, specifically "American Jews themselves, who have led the battles for birth control and a woman's right to choose."

This sort of thing comes up fairly often in conservative circles. Along with everything else the West is doing wrong, it isn't having enough children. Yet I have seldom seen a mechanism proposed for solving the problem. Criminalizing abortion is usually implied, but not often stated outright, perhaps because the moment such authors find themselves typing a simple declarative sentence stating that we must force people to have babies so the West can outnumber its enemies, they start to imagine how normal people would react. Better to just throw up the numbers and let the punters figure it out themselves.

Some authors, of course, are not so reticent. Way back in 2000 Steve Sailer proposed a very specific program of incentives and disincentives, including this:
Start a campaign telling citizens it's their patriotic duty to have more kids. Most Europeans are probably too self-destructively sophisticated to respond to this, but the Greeks might, since the Turks give them somebody to hate and fear.
But you see the problem. Hate and fear may be a sufficient aphrodisiac in some cultures, but we in the decadent West are, by Sailer's own admission, too self-destructive for this demographically-driven sort of hate-fuck, and prefer scented candles and maybe a nice dinner with wine. Maybe by now Sailer has moved on to edible body paint subsidies; I haven't got the stomach to look.

The most comprehensive program I ever saw was Stanley's Kurtz's, which involved reversing or destroying enough social programs that "people will once again begin to look to family for security in old age — and childbearing might commensurately appear more personally necessary." In fact, on at least an unconscious level, the Republican Party seems to have been following this plan for years. But they've been getting a lot of push-back lately, so the collapse of the safety nets that encourage birth control may not be effected in time.

If they were really serious about all this, they might consider a different approach.

For years conservatives complained about the babies welfare mothers were having on the public dime. We got welfare reform, and conservatives have been cheered by what they see as the resulting decline in our illegitimate birthrate, especially among black people.

Maybe it's time the demographic-suicide wing of the movement communicated to their brethren at the City Journal and the Heritage Foundation the pressing need for more American children, and proposed a welfare counter-reformation to jack up the birth rate by any means necessary. In fact, if they really think the issue is as important as they portray it, maybe our welfare programs should be made more generous than before. What matter that many of the babies may be illegitimate and impoverished? All the better for the "hate and fear" conditions that will make committed anti-jihadists out of them.

This will be expensive, but we are at war, after all. Instead of fooling with untried plans and issuing dolorous rants, why not go with what has been shown to work in the not-so-distant past?

UPDATE. Commenter aw points out that Australia has already got a "baby bonus" program in place. But, alas, the new Labor Government is chipping away at it. Next year they introduce a means test, so upscale parents will have no incentive to procreate. And if a Centrelink officer thinks a household suffers from one or more of a list of social maladies, their payment is broken into fortnightly payments, presumably to keep the parents from spending the loot on plasma TVs, and the Government is pushing to substitute vouchers for cash payments in some hard cases.

With Australia's birth rate at a 10-year high, this seems no time to go wobbly. If Mama wants a wide-screen telly and a full bar for her efforts, I say let her have them.

Friday, May 16, 2008

SHORTER ENTIRE CONSERVATIVE BLOGOSPHERE: The voters hate us -- here's hoping they hate faggots worse!

Special credit to Bench Memos' Gerard V. Bradley (last of the abovelinked), who labors valiantly to extract a pro-gay-marriage angle out of Obama's anti-gay-marriage statements, eventually seizing on the fact that Obama favors civil unions and McCain does not -- in other words, while there's not much between them on the Constitutional question, Obama is nicer to gays who wish to live as partners, which Bradley sees as a fatal weakness.

Well, at least it's not like the old days, when some of these clowns played patty-cake with Andrew Sullivan and acted like it was merely some procedural or philosophical question that kept gay folks and right-wingers from achieving perfect union, one they could work out with more Op-Ed pieces. In the last ditch (and for them, that's what this is), they'll quickly sell their old debate buddies up the river. Let's be charitable about it: In one sense, this does show that conservatives are prepared to treat gay people the same as anybody else.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

WINGERS ON A BUM TRIP. As the young hero proudly proclaims in Ah, Wilderness!, I'm a pessimist, so the happy talk in liberal circles about the coming Democratic blowout doesn't really set my world on fire. Americans have voted their own asses down the river before, and they can do it again, so let's not get carried away.

On the other hand, the nervous anticipation of defeat among Republicans -- that's something I can endorse wholeheartedly. It was running like Larry Kudlow's nose throughout National Review Online's The Corner today.

First, the Cornerites discussed boycotting McCain as a means to... well, I still don't know even after reading Mark Steyn: "A McCain victory with Democrat gains in Congress," he says, "would be an invitation to a one-term 'maverick' president to go on an almighty bipartisan binge." Much better, I guess, to let the Democrats run everything, so when Jesus shows up Republicans can say none of it was their fault.

Andrew Stuttaford disagrees:
If McCain is defeated, the conventional wisdom will be that the American people have decisively turned away from conservatism. The reality will, of course, be something far more complex...
Yeah, like, "The American people actually wanted to either strangle or eviscerate (slowly, in either case) every Republican they could catch, but democracy only afforded the less satisfactory alternative of voting."
...but, in the aftermath of a Democratic sweep, that's not the "narrative" that will be constructed, popularized and believed, and believed almost as much as on the right as the left.
Those bastards! And they've probably also say that their "victories" mean they have a "right" to "govern."

Nothing is settled and everyone is grumpy about McCain. Iain Murray is disturbed at the fleeting image of windmills used to symbolize "energy independence" in a McCain ad. "So what's he getting at here?" he asks. "More hybrid-electric cars?" -- and it's really too bad The Corner doesn't employ a webcam so we could see Murray rolling his eyes and mincing suggestively on the phrase "hybrid-electric." The upshot is, McCain should refrain from implying that anything but major oil companies can make America go.

Andy McCarthy denounces McCain's "Democracy fetish." (McCarthy dearly misses the glory days of preemptive war, but apparently never bought all that bullshit about bringing democracy to the invaded countries; guess he just liked blowing them up.) His solution: don't just boycott McCain -- abandon the Republican Party! Conversation wanes at that point.

And of course the specter of state-sanctified butt-fucking lower'd o'er all. "The California supreme court," reads Kathryn J. Lopez in a shaking voice, "creates a right to same-sex marriage." Not possessing the elegant legal language of their Bench Memo colleagues to conceal their homo-hatred sufficiently for public consumption, the Cornerites grow terse. Young fogey David Freddoso suggests California's "robust referendum process" will stop the sodomites, which is perhaps a comfort to his elders, reviving their fond memories of Howard Jarvis and Orange County honky power. But even that dim crew may perceive that Cali ain't what it used to be, and enough bullet-headed Nixonites may have gone to the big Bebe Rebozo picnic in the sky that the referendum will not catch fire. Gasp! Has even the old Man On Dog lost its electorial charm?

Into the grim scene wanders, like a party clown into a funeral home, Jonah Goldberg. Since the publication of his lousy book, Goldberg's Corner posts have been even stupider than before -- not in the side-splitting way that once made him an alicublog staple, but in the insolently checked-out manner of a rock star who won't take his headphones off when you're talking to him and answers all your questions with non-sequiturs. And so, with all his colleagues mired in ennui, Goldberg tips them to an essay: "Rousing stuff, with some neat insights, but I think his commenters have a better hold on the science and the economics." The link goes to one of those rants by Peak-Oil crank Patrick Deneen. Deneen says that the people calling themselves "conservatives" are all frauds and libertarian sybarites, and that the worrrrrld is a-comin' to an end.

Let us close with this picture of the Cornerites regarding with stricken faces this gift from their Local Hero that is as insulting for its thoughtlessness as for its message, while Goldberg waddles away, calling after himself, "He who smelt it dealt it." The tableau captures their movement and the moment, don't you think?

UPDATE. Like all great works of art, The Corner of May 15, 2008 yields new riches each time you revisit it. Further frissons:
  • John J. Miller's celebration of a "bronze" statue (which actually looks like it's made out of butterscotch) of Margaret Thatcher, who writes that the icon's location, Hillsdale College, symbolizes "everything that is good and true in America" -- by which she of course means sex with your daughter-in-law, her suicide, and no consequences.
  • Mark R. Levin challenging Obama to challenge Hitler to negotiate. Levin's tone is highly conversational ("Well, Senator Obama, would you have met with Adolph Hitler... I think you would have... But the question remains..."), which makes it sound as if he's acting it out with dolls. Again, The Corner badly needs a webcam. I'd love to confirm my suspicion that Levin dubs Obama with the voice of Will Smith.
If any grad school's interested, I'm available for guest lectures.
GOT IT BAD, HATE FOR TEACHER. At The Atlantic (thank God I have James Russell Lowell's spinning corpse tied to my generator, or I would not be able to post these messages to the internet), Megan McArdle does one of her hit-jobs on teachers' unions, declaring:
This sort of thing is hard to disprove conclusively, of course. But here's a data point: New Orleans smashes it's teachers union; test scores rise dramatically, even though it's still ministering to poor kids testing substantially below grade level.
Commenters tell her so strenuously how full of shit she is that she has to restate:
I agree that there's a sample problem, but it also seems that more kids in New Orleans now are qualifying for free lunch than did before, so I'm skeptical that this explains the change. Also, the test scores improved from 2007 to 2008. And the pattern of improvement--strongest in the younger grades--is what you'd expect if the school were the major factor rather than the demographics.

I'm familiar with the research on parental skills and early childhood intervention. I just don't know what to do with it.
Yeah thanks. Later:
You can disprove any position if you force your imaginary opponents to take the maximal side. So if you say of teacher's unions "smashing them will not magically raise test scores", all I can say is, "Well, d'uh".
Why not leave it all at d'uh, and spare James Russell Lowell and me this misery? Further down:
But while taking away much of the teacher's union's power is definitely not sufficient, it does seem to be necessary. They resist changes to their work practices that the best evidence (see Ayers, Supercrunchers) seems to show works with disadvantaged kids: rote memorization, and phonics. These replace the tools that upper middle class give their kids earlier--even if you went to a whole language school, if you're reading this blog it's a safe bet you had phonics, too, when your parents taught you to "sound it out".
You'd think the littlebrains of the evil teachers' union had denounced phonics. But here's the AFT's "Where We Stand: K-12 Literacy":
Young students must develop phonemic awareness—the recognition that all words are made up of separate sounds, or phonemes. They must learn phonics—the ability to link these sounds to the specific letters or combinations of letters that are used to represent them in written language.
This cuts no ice with McArdle. "Instead," she complains, "they agitate for things like smaller class sizes." Jesus Christ! Will these overpaid child-minders never be satisfied! Don't they know the Randian superchildren will ascend regardless, and that the rest should be given what Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons require, and their tenders paid the same as gardeners -- well, unless the gardeners organize, in which case we'll be stuck in the same rut, and have to wait for the Gs, Ds, and Es to mature sufficiently to tend their own without socialist interference.

If I were her I'd be mad at teachers too.

UPDATE. Thanks, Brendan, for the proofreading.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

CHARM OFFENSIVE. At the Wall Street Journal, Zachary Karabell reports:
According to the most recent polls, more than 75% of the American public believes the economy is in bad shape. All three remaining candidates for president are treating the economy as the biggest electoral issue, and all agree the situation is dire.

The normally sanguine Alan Greenspan recently observed that the current economic mess is "the most wrenching" since World War II; Fortune magazine's Allan Sloan, who's been covering the business of business for decades says, "I'm more nervous about the world financial system than I've ever been in 40 years."
Then he tells Obama, Clinton, McCain, Greenspan, Fortune, and the rest of us not to be so gloomy, because it was worse in the Great Depression and the Carter Administration. And folks in other nations don't have our confidence problem: "Today, in China or in Dubai, you can feel the electric hum of activity, ambition and sheer optimism about the future... China's stock market was down almost 50% in the past months, yet that has hardly dented the optimism."

China's enthusiasm is touching. If only we could be more like those people. Maybe representative democracy is our problem. Karabell doesn't say, which is frustrating, as his essay is titled "Who Stole the American Spirit?" But he does say that "our deep pessimism and fear places us at serious disadvantage globally." First candidate to propose universal Xanax distribution wins his vote, I expect.

Don Surber also wants us to cheer up, but being a downmarket vendor he can eschew Karabell's bipartisan bullshit. He explicitly blames Democrats and their handmaiden the Associated Press, whose "reports only reflect a pampered society that expects stocks to go up, prices to remain constant and employment to be permanent."

Both writers want America to snap out of it. I am in some sympathy with them. For years I've been telling my fellow Americans how wrong they are, and a grim job it has been, though I have learned to leaven my lot with laughter. Fortunately I haven't had to do it so much lately, as the citizens seem to be catching on.

Now Surber, Karabell, and a lot of other people are in the box, and I don't envy them, particularly as they seem deeply invested in getting people to vote for their candidates, and inclined to take it personally if they don't.

I am not naturally disposed to give them good advice, but I can afford this suggestion, since it is unlikely that they will take it: telling Americans how stupid they are to feel discontented never, ever works. Sell optimism as strenuously as you like -- if the punters aren't buying it, the sale cannot be made.

Other strategies are available to the GOP, and Lord knows they're exploring them. But the smiley-face strategy, however inappropriate it seems now, has been part of their DNA since the Reagan days, and they are as unlikely to abandon it as any salesman who has been selling damaged goods at top dollar for twenty-odd years. So come Convention time expect, along with the racist palaver, a lot of happy-clappy talk about America's economic might. We won't believe it, and they won't either. But as we are all Americans, and inclined to think well even of our lesser brethren, it will be easier for all of us to pretend that they have something to offer besides bigotry and naked self-interest.
CUE THE THEME FROM DELIVERANCE. Some people are so strenuously devoted to being assholes that they can override even their noblest impulses. Jules Crittenden notes at first that a picture of a monkey with the caption "Obama '08" is "Stupid, vile, not funny... If you’re going to be a racist throwback, at least be honest about it." But then maybe Mom left the room or something:
At the same time, anyone who’s ever called George Bush a chimp has no business squawking... And I guess by the same token, if this guy has peddled Chimpy Bush t-tshirts, then he’s in the clear.
I can see Crittenden in high school, explaining "According to Webster's Dictionary, a faggot is a bundle of sticks, twigs, or branches" to the opposing debate team as his coach buries his head in his hands.

Further down, Crittenden references a Washington Post article in which Obama operatives describe hearing such japes against their candidate as "he's a half-breed" and "hang that darky from a tree," and being chased by dogs. Crittenden shrugs: "Mailmen get chased by dogs, too" and "the Muslim thing... that’s hardly racist." Then he gets the giggles: "Hussein. Hussein, Hussein, Hussein. There, I said it. I’ve known a few Husseins. Every last one of them was a Muslim." 'Course he don't mean nothin' by it, and adds, "Sorry divergence," which is either a thunderbolt of self-awareness or even sloppier grammar than Crittenden usually employs.

Finally, mercifully, the end comes:
OK, 87 years ago they were raving racists. Much like other large sections of this country. The article notes that apparently they aren’t any more. So what’s it going to be, are they racists or not?
Usually I'm inclined to think professed confusion over racial ettiquette -- What, they don't like to be called Negroes any more? How was I supposed to know? -- is faked, but having read a mess (in every sense) of Crittenden's prose, I'm inclined to think he may really be as obtuse as he pretends.
A PRIMARY WRAP-UP, with thanks to my friends at Blue Mountain. (NSFW)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

5 O'CLOCK WORLD. Rod Dreher is inspired by Matthew Crawford's 2006 essay "Shop Class As Soulcraft," which traces the "degradation of blue-collar work" (and white-collar work) to the efficiency movement of the early 20th Century, and proposes turning young minds and hands to the pleasures of craftsmanship as a spiritual remedy. At National Review Online a few writers pick up the theme.

The overall idea seems to be that modern man took a wrong turn way back when, via consumerism, Marxism ("Stalin was a big fan" of Frederick Winslow Taylor's Principles of Scientific Management, notes Crawford), and the removal of women from the home ("Cooking may not leave you with some exquisite, handcrafted thing to show for your labors," observes NRO's Lisa Schiffren, "But it is certainly hands on, physically real, often a source of pleasure..."), and that a revival of craft will help bring us back around, spiritually speaking.

Getting kids, and adults too, interested in doing things that yield pleasures beyond profit is not a bad idea all around, but I think these authors are missing a step, which was picked up in 2006 by James Kurth in The American Conservative:
The conditions of the working class, including the conditions conducive to political organization, are one thing in an industrial economy and a very different thing in a post-industrial, or information, economy such as our own... When we remember that unions of industrial workers were a fundamental and major pillar of the Democratic Party in America, the Labour Party in Britain, and the socialist and Marxist parties in continental Europe, we can see how, by itself, the shift to an information economy has removed the most powerful political constraint on growing economic inequality.
Our big switch to an "information economy" dovetailed with the decline of American manufacturing, and part of the upshot was that pushing paper came to be seen as a better bet for someone who wanted to earn a living than engaging in manual trades that were considered moribund. Those who did not wind up in the cubicle farms -- soul-killing though they may be -- found themselves in a new kind of working class, with fewer protections and opportunities than it once had.

Needless to say, the authors are not agitating for the revival of industrial unions, or anything else that might tangibly assist working people in finding and learning a trade. It's all about soul.

But when we discuss the "soulcraft" fallout of economic shifts, let's not forget that money is involved. The prospect of a sustainable livelihood will do more to encourage people to get busy with their hands than any exhortation to spiritual revival.

When he tired of his think-tank work, Crawford was able to open a motorcycle repair shop, and God bless him. Other folks, in different conditions, may be taking a long look at mastering a craft as an alternative to the increasingly expensive educational ticket to corporate life, but they are probably also looking at the odds. If they can go somewhere to learn to make something and at the same time afford housing and groceries, that would help. They might consider apprenticing as tool and die makers: 2,000 hours of on-the-job training, 144 hours of class, and a decent living at the end. But even the U.S. Department of Labor warns that employment in this trade "is projected to decline because of strong foreign competition and advancements in automation."

Opportunities do exist; some will find them regardless, and no doubt be held up as exemplars to remind less fortunate working stiffs that only their own lack of luck, pluck, and virtue holds them back. Maybe eventually they'll be told that they lack soul, too, or else they'd be profitably running a suitably soulcrafty business. See, modern conservatism isn't out of ideas; it's still finding ways to instruct working people in their deficiencies.
STINK UP AT SHEA. The Mets are selling lots of tickets but Shea was largely empty tonight because of the weather (cold, threat of rain) and Monday. Only the devoted, local, and obnoxious stuck it out through a groaner starring Nelson Figueroa, newly granted entrance music ("Lose Yourself") that gained extra relevance as he hit two batters, threw wide on a play at the plate, and left after five with 100+ pitches. But my hero, 63-year-old Moises Alou, played well, Easley hit a slow-mo homer over the center field fence, and when the game was out of reach the die-hards still bellowed and chanted because that's what you do. I've been to hopeless late-season games where they only stay to bitch and boo, and the odds are I'll see a few more, but it's nice when it's early and we have games to give away.

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.