Friday, May 30, 2008

A COUPLE OF LIVE ONES. While we're on artistic subjects, I think we should acknowledge a couple of fallen heroes. Sydney Pollack was a director of, let us say, likeably modest talents; I have always prefered to think that what I saw on his face as he accepted the Oscar for Out of Africa from Billy Wilder, John Huston and Akira Kurosawa (!) included some embarrassment. But he had his moments, and real charm and skill as an actor. I can't compete with David Edelstein's magnificent summation at New York magazine, but I will add that the very thought of Pollack laying it all out for Tom Cruise in Eyes Wide Shut ("Okay. I think I should also tell you that I was there at the house." Tom Cruise: "Well, what an amazing coincidence." Pollack: "The words practically right out of my mouth") gives me the giggles, and I think he precisely caught the mordant Kubrick tone that baffled so many of the film's critics. It stunned me to learn that he'd been acting since the "Playhouse 90" days. Every time I saw him in a movie or on TV I thought, oh, here's Pollack slumming again. Maybe that's what they mean when they talk about making it look easy.

Also, word just came that Harvey Korman has passed. Korman was always willing to go too far, and on the Carol Burnett show you can often see how eager he was to crack up his fellow players. I still recall the impeccable timing of his reaction to Burnett's gushing Shirley Temple routine: he brought his fingertips to the bridge of his nose and, turning a beat into a drum solo, muttered, "Please, madam, I have diabetes." Blazing Saddles was his apotheosis. The movie pitched its tone on the border of hip and vaudeville, and while Cleavon Little and Gene Wilder worked the hipster angle, Korman came on with a fusillade of stutters, mad walks, lazzi and double-takes straight out of the Orpheum circuit. It played as well with stoned teenagers as it did with elderly variety-show fans. Hail and farewell to the last of the great schtickmen.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

THE REICHSTAG ADVENTURE. While everyone else was enjoying Recount, I was attending a film about another great historical disaster, Downfall. It's certainly wonderful to see the great Bruno Ganz impersonate Hitler. We are introduced to him in 1942, where he is not flailing and screaming but visibly strange in a classically narcissistic way; he shows kindness, but at a palpable personal remove -- speaking to his prospective secretaries as if they were dumb creatures requiring soft speech to function properly -- that suggests his later ravings about the insufficiency of the German people didn't come from a last-minute psychological adjustment to disaster, but out of the core of his being.

Later, of course, when things are going less well for the Reich, we do see him flailing and screaming -- some of it has been memorably re-subtitled for YouTube parodies. And we get morose lethargy, truculence, delusory attachment to petty details, and so on. The most interesting section, Hitler-wise, comes in his final meeting with Albert Speer (the excellent Heino Ferch), who reveals that he has consciously failed to carry out the Fuhrer's "orders of destruction" and waits for a reaction. Hitler breaks a pencil -- quietly, with the palms of his hands -- adjusts his hair, stares away; pouts. Speer -- having survived his insufficient act of resistance -- gets up from his chair. "So you're leaving," says Hitler. "Good. Auf wiedersehen." He refuses to shake Speer's hand before he goes. He could have had him shot. That he doesn't is not an act of mercy, but of peevishness.

That's the kind of detail that sometimes makes Downfall more interesting than your run-of-the-mill historical drama. But it's from the Hitler part, and the solitude and mystery of the dictator seem to have spurred the imagination of the filmmakers more than the documentary events that make up most of the film. For these, Downfall is simply an efficient reenactment. It is something to see all these Nazis, infamous and obscure, facing their elaborately choreographed Gotterdammerung. And, to their credit, the filmmakers give enough clues to allow us to backwards-engineer the disaster in our minds: if these guys couldn't disobey orders as the Russians were encircling Berlin, you can imagine what they were like when things were going well.

But there doesn't seem to be much more to it than that: the Third Reich was an awful mistake, as you can see by the result. (It even invites fleeting sarcastic thoughts: Sure, hindsight's always 20-20.) The characters' varied reactions to the approach of disaster (from wild parties to fretful brooding) are believable and sometimes poignant but seldom illuminating. The few heroics and the abundant follies are alike swept up and engulfed in the horrible tide of events.

It seems terrible to say so, given the seriousness of the subject, but it can't be helped: Downfall is basically a disaster flick: multiple characters trapped in a Reich turned upside-down, each doing a star turn expressing some signal weakness or strength before his or her gruesome death or grateful rescue. In fact, for all its craft it's not up to the standards of Irwin Allen. Paul Newman's architect in The Towering Inferno was only first among glamorous equals; the architect of the Holocaust steals Downfall outright. I can't read Wim Wenders' complaint, available only in German, but I hear he was pissed about that. Maybe I flatter myself by assuming from translated snippets that he shares my view that this is primarily a dramatic problem. I certainly believe the makers meant well, but as Max Bialystock learned to his regret, you can't let Hitler have all the good lines.
EASY MONEY. At National Review, Jim Manzi is outraged that Obama would ask college graduates to heed a call to service. He also doesn't think much of Obama's decision to blow off a traditional career track and instead become a lowly community organizer, because he was just going to wind up a U.S. Senator and best-selling author anyway:
What's funny about his sacrifice is that when Obama took this job, $14,000 was about the average salary for somebody getting out of college. Of course, Obama wasn't just a run-of-the-mill college graduate; he was an Ivy-Leaguer, who graduated from Columbia with a BA in political science. A corporate career would almost certainly have been more lucrative — for a while. Last year, his family income was about $4,200,000. I don't have the data, but I bet that compares reasonably favorably with the average household income of 1983 Columbia political science and 1991 Harvard Law School graduates. Nonetheless, Obama did sacrifice some of his expected credential-based wage premium for a number of years.
Similarly, any well-educated person who decides to pursue a career as an actor can expect to become a Hollywood star, so it's really not that much different from joining Goldman Sachs.

I hope this gets around. A widespread delusion that community organization is a sure path to riches will do wonders for urban blight. Even our worst neighborhoods will be as full of eager volunteers as soup kitchens at Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

YOUR EXCEPTION IS NOTED. A lot of Bush people and their supporters are royally pissed at former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan and his new tell-all book. At NewsBusters, Rich Noyes complains that when Ari Fleischer issued a book that was far more complimentary to Bush than McClellan's, nobody wanted to cover it.

Noyes implies this is due to liberal media bias. Well, baby, you gotta gave a gimmick. Dee Dee Myers wisely chose to write a women's-empowerment book instead of a straight Clinton-era retrospective. Of course, if that former Press Secretary's tome had instead been all about how her boss was full of shit, I suppose that would have worked too. Dog bites man can be a story if the man is its master. Ask Louis Freeh.

But that just has to do with the stink McClellan's book has made and the copies it may sell. In political terms I don't expect much of a long-term impact from it. If Richard Clarke couldn't move the needle, what chance has Scott McClellan?

This got me thinking about David Stockman, first of the great celebrity White House apostates of the contemporary age -- that is, the age of Reagan, which we're still in. William Greider's Atlantic Monthly story in which Stockman spilled his guts about the Reagan Administration's economic malfeasance, and Stockman's own tell-all book, made him the most famous OMB Director in history (excepting, perhaps, Bert Lance).

Some people considered Stockman a hero, and praised his later experiments in enlightened capitalism. That's as may be, his recent criminal indictment on fraud and conspiracy charges notwithstanding (an auto-parts company he was running, and its employee pension fund, went bankrupt). But it's worth noting that Stockman's public disillusionment with the Reaganites gave him more stature than a quiet slinking-away would have accomplished. And other than a blip of bad publicity, it didn't do much harm to Reagan, either, nor to the policies he favored. Everybody won except the governed.

This isn't to suggest bad intent on Stockman's part, or McClellan's, but the way Washington works. No one is obliged to retain loyalty to a cause one has decided is corrupt. But no one can expect to make much of a difference by renouncing it, either. Not having read McClellan's book, I can't judge it as confessional literature or as dish. As a political artifact, it would seem, from the rumblings its digestion by the commentariat have caused (noisy but not clinically significant), to be pretty typical of its kind.
JUST A LITTLE JOKE BETWEEN YOU & ME. My latest jape. Jimbo was actually very nice about it, which of course ruins it for me.

UPDATE. His self-defense. Wilde and Whistler this ain't, but then a lot of things have gone downhill since the 19th Century.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

THE CHICKENS COME HOME TO ROOST. Ron Rosenbaum's "In Praise of Liberal Guilt" at Slate has drawn some responses from conservatives who object, in varying degrees, to the notion that they should feel guilt about American racism.

The conversation is somewhat misguided. Whatever these worthies think about the effect of white guilt (or shame, or whatever they want to call it) on their own souls matters very little. Racism as a public issue is a different story.

Conservatives have built up a strong resistance to guilt trips of any kind over the years. They've learned to dismiss any gripe from anyone aggrieved (except their own constituent groups, of course) as politically correct nonsense. It's been useful for them in some ways, allowing them to project an air of certainty that is easily mistaken for strength, but in this instance it's getting to be a drawback. I never thought I'd say this, but Rod Dreher is actually onto something here:
That is, it's difficult to say, "Yes, conservatives were badly wrong on civil rights, but that doesn't mean that they're wrong today," because the left, in debate, tends to assume that the original sin of having been wrong in 1964 is ineradicable, and won't give any quarter. You can never win with liberals on racial questions, conservatives may figure, so it's better to adopt a defiant insouciance -- even if that attitude is not morally justified by the record.
I would add, though, that "you can never win with liberals" is unduly limited: when you take this sort of attitude, you can't win with a whole lot of people.

If you get around a little bit, you may have noticed that racism hasn't gotten any cooler over the years. Of course it persists -- strongly, in some pockets, and furtively in others under a variety of masks. But if you say outright crazy shit about black people, it doesn't play as widely as it might have in 1952.

We can argue about how much real progress this represents, but if you're the sort of conservative Dreher describes, it's pretty disastrous. If you regard the race card as a vampire regards garlic, it must be depressing to realize that Americans haven't lightened up about it. "Politically incorrect" phenomena such as "South Park" may sometimes buoy your spirits by convincing you that the heat's off, but then people get all bent out of shape about a radio joke, and your mood swing changes course.

You're left with bizarre fantasies in which Obama purposefully loses a state primary in order to slander its citizens as racists.

From this beaten-down perspective, with no hope of being recognized as the lovely race-neutral people they know themselves to be, conservatives looking at a Presidential contest with a black guy on the opposing ticket may worry that they'll have no choice but to energize whatever racist base is available to them. This the more tender-hearted among them must dread, because it may contribute to an unfortunate misperception of themselves. And it may explain why they think the tiresome topic of white guilt is worth discussing in the first place.
THE CHILDREN'S HOUR. Megan McArdle is away from her desk for reasons unknown -- from this photo it seems she may have at last found honest work as a telemarketer -- leaving a bunch of young guest-bloggers to romp and play in her stead. Peter Suderman -- at 17, the elder statesman of the group -- does big-boy blogging; they rest try to get away with the same shit that flew in their college newspapers.

Tim Lee lays out the case for Technology is Awesome. Here he explains that companies sometimes give away digital content because "giving away information goods (which have zero marginal cost) can expand the market for other goods that can then be sold at a profit," but cautions, "Figuring out what to give away and how to monetize the resulting attention is a difficult problem that everyone, from Facebook to the Atlantic is struggling to solve." Yuh don't say! Next he'll be telling us about the challenges facing our next President.

Lee follows up with that evergreen of the neverlaid, How Blogs Will Totally Replace Newspapers. Folks who reflexively assert that the New York Times does a better job of covering world events than a guy with a Wordpress account and several college buddies studying abroad are mired in oldthink:
There are fewer organizations that aspire to cover "all the news that's fit to print." But while that might worry people who are used to the predictability of 20th-century organizational methods, the new system is likely to be better. Specialization allows publications to develop deeper bench of talent in the topics they cover. A swarm of smaller organizations gives the system more flexibility. And the lower barriers to entry allow a proliferation of new voices that provide unique perspectives on the news.
And the great thing is, our Citizen Journalists get paid in buzzwords! I bet Lee prefers Taster's Choice to real coffee because it uses advanced freeze-drying technology.

My favorite is Conor Friedersdorf. First, there's the name: can't you picture him, peachfuzz painstakingly sculpted into a French Beard, smoking jacket carrying a crest of his own invention, snifter filled with Pibb Xtra? And Young Friedersdorf has a poetic streak:
Consider Las Vegas after 12 hours: already there is an urge to escape. The once quaint sounds of the casino floor clank against the nerves. You discern wrinkles beneath the caked-on makeup of haggard cocktail waitresses and paunch on black-jack dealers whose slouches gradually deepen.
Well, timor mortis conturbat me silly! Can't wait for the next installment, in which cackling crones of 28 are compared to witches and someone puts a cigarette out in a plate of eggs.

Friedersdorf also has posts about how New York is exciting, and conservatives aren't racist, look at Clarence Thomas, but really anything he writes is worth savoring. I hope McArdle is thinking legacy, and not only because that would mean she was leaving.
NEW VOICE COLUMN UP here. It's about the many ways in which wingers use unverified rumors to spread mischief. See, rather than merely assert that the stories are true, they -- hey, hey, you drifted off there. Yeah, I know. Starting next week I'm going with this sort of thing. As my dear old mother used to say: "That's what people want to see, not your stupid bullshit."

UPDATE. Second link Not Safe For Work, you squares. No, I said the second -- oh, wait I meant the first! Yeah, the first!
Well, I don't think that food prices aren't up. I do the grocery shopping for my household, and believe me, I've noticed; my average grocery run costs about 20 bucks more than last year. Rather, my point was the lameness of media efforts to report on that -- interviewing people at fancy gourmet markets? -- and the cheesiness of their "holiday" angle. As is often the case, even as they try hard to manufacture one bit of bad news, they're actually missing the real bad news, because reporting on that usefully would require actual work. As I've noted on this topic before, their bias is exceeded only by their laziness and ignorance. The data in the AP story don't prove its ostensible point -- that holiday barbecues (by which they mean cookouts, not actual barbecue) are vastly more expensive -- but to do an actual story on what food prices are up across the board, and why, would be actual work and wouldn't produce the "holiday angle" that editors want.
This has been a sneak preview of John McCain's response to economic questions in the forthcoming Presidential debates, minus reminders that the subject was a prisoner of war. Republican operatives will be dazzled by the anger at wire services, parsing of the words "cookout" and "barbecue," and reference to "fancy gourmet markets"; ordinary Americans, not so much.
SHORTER JIM LILEKS MEMORIAL DAY POST: Fucking Australian hippies, I'll show you! I've boycotted Mescan vodka and I'll boycott Green vodka! We shall fight on the benches, we shall fight on Jasperwood's various garden areas, we shall fight in the Lunds and Byerlys and Kowalskis, we shall fight about the bags; we shall never surrender.

UPDATE. According to the Greenhouse Calculator that so incensed Lileks, I should have died a long, long time ago. This fills me with joy, for I consider my entire life a gleeful evasion of what society expects of me, and the Calculator just confirms it. Poor Jimbo has internalized political correctness to such an extent that he must rage at the New Order that dares inform him he has transgressed. Young Republicans, past and present, take note: as the Captain told Babu in Benito Cereno, this is your future.

Monday, May 26, 2008

MEMORIAL DAY: ANNUAL LIGHTING OF THE LOGO. The folks at National Review Online haven't posted their usual complaints (yet) about Google's lack of a Memorial Day logo. The Ole Perfesser picks up the fallen standard (and pimps a link to a search engine that seems designed for lonely masturbators, though I didn't enjoy it at all).

CORRECTION: NRO's K-Lo did get to it, and early. I must have my filters on "high."

I thought we had this problem solved. But, hell, some prefer barbecue on Memorial Day, and some like to shop; everyone has his own tradition. Billy Kristol wants us to say thanks to soldiers on the street. Most Americans would like to show them more tangible appreciation.

Nothing wrong with that, but though the sentiments of Memorial Day accrue naturally to standing servicemembers, it was invented to honor the fallen. Whatever I think about this nation's military adventures, past and present, I know that millions died in them. That's worth a thought at least, and let contemplation take us where it may.

Friday, May 23, 2008

A SAD AND LONELY WORLD. Michelle Malkin, who has been boycotting Starbucks and supporting Dunkin' Donuts, not for sound gustatory reasons but for political reasons no ordinary person could understand, considers extending her jihad to Dunkin' Donuts because their spokesman Rachel Ray briefly appeared in something that looked like a scarf a Palestinian might wear.

When Sadly, No! first tauntingly proferred the keffiyah thing to Malkin, I thought: not even she is insane enough to actually take this bait. Now that she has, I'm beginning to get an unaccustomed feeling of Christian sympathy for her. What a small, strange world she lives in -- one in which even simple breakfast choices are fraught with peril. What are her lunch and dinner choices like? When she goes to a restaurant, does she peer into the waiters' station and wonder which servers are gays who wish to be married, peer into the kitchen and wonder which dishwashers are illegal aliens? When she makes her own meals, does she claw through the fridge and pantry like Harry Caul at the end of The Conversation, frantically searching the labels for signs of politically incorrect associations?

I rescued a kitten in Chinatown once. Her time on the streets had traumatized her, and while she was with me, she hissed at anything that moved, however slightly: toys, fingers, curtains caught in the wind, CD changer drawers, etc. I called her Spit. She finally found a nice home and, I'm told, calmed down and began to enjoy life. The idea of any living creature retaining such a horrible, all-embracing phobia into maturity chills me to the bone.

Of course, maybe she's just faking it for bucks, in which case I feel better and she should be thrown off a cliff.
JOKERS TO THE RIGHT. John McCain has repudiated Reverend Hagee's endorsement. This is probably a good piece of deck-clearing in advance of McCain's planned Grandpa Simpson offensive against Obama, and gets good notices from credentialed rightwing operatives. But at the fringes of the movement, he gets pushback. Michelle Malkin, tying it to the Parsley rejection:
The Straight Talk Express is starting to look like its 2000 model. Repudiationmania!... How much further can he go in playing chicken with Christian conservatives? “Outreach” ain’t going to carry him through...
She also asks McCain to repudiate Michael Bloomberg. At Free Republic, commenters are even more direct:
Soneone needs to get the word to McCain- QUIT PANDERING TO THE LEFT WING!!!!

..and what about LA RAZA ? Are they next..?

I guess the RINO relic can say with a straight face, I was again’ him, before I was with him, before I was again’ him again.

You f with Hagee you f’in with the REAL evangelicals. This could cost him dearly. I hope it does.
We usually leave the Freepers out of it, but these people are the baser part of the base, and they've had to be dragged kicking and screaming onto the Straight Talk Express. Now you see why.

It has been something of a talking point that Obama has known Reverend Wright forever while McCain's link to Hagee was very shallow. And so it was -- but endorsements, as opposed to friendships, are made for political purposes, and rejected for the same reason. No doubt some cost-benefit analysis was done before McCain finally pulled the pin. Hagee was part of what was supposed to shore up McCain's support among the red-meat conservatives -- not the National Review crowd, but the folks who want to save the fetuses by firing on the NEA with cannons stuffed with black people. Rejecting Wright was obviously painful for Obama, but the pain McCain will suffer from this is of a different kind. Obama doesn't have to worry about losing the Kill Whitey vote in consequence. The Hagee supporters, in contrast, may just reckon that God's kingdom is not of this earth, and stay home on Election Day to whittle and beat their children.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

ISSUES ARE FOR PUSSIES. Obama briefly and rather gently rebukes McCain for his position on the GI Bill; McCain responds berserkly:
It is typical, but no less offensive that Senator Obama uses the Senate floor to take cheap shots at an opponent and easy advantage of an issue he has less than zero understanding of. Let me say first in response to Senator Obama, running for President is different than serving as President. The office comes with responsibilities so serious that the occupant can't always take the politically easy route without hurting the country he is sworn to defend. Unlike Senator Obama, my admiration, respect and deep gratitude for America's veterans is something more than a convenient campaign pledge. I think I have earned the right to make that claim.

When I was five years old, a car pulled up in front of our house in New London, Connecticut, and a Navy officer rolled down the window, and shouted at my father that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor...
"The Battle Hymn of the Republic" was playing in the background, and Rambo came out at the end to strafe reporters with machine-gun fire.

McCain was recently described by Karl Rove as "one of the most private individuals to run for president in history" and one of those "who are uncomfortable sharing their interior lives." Well, he got over that quick. His new plan is apparently to go Grandpa Simpson on Obama ("who did not feel it was his responsibility to serve our country in uniform") in hopes that America will prefer a belligerent war hero to a skinny civilian who pauses when he talks.

It's not a bad ploy. Democrats, having been inextricably tied in the public mind to draft-dodging hippies, don't have the luxury Republicans lately availed of talking down McCain's service, so Obama can only react to McCain's rage by (as he did in this instance) attempting to return attention to the actual subject. And when has that ever worked?

This country is fucked, but at least we're in for some lively Presidential debates on our way to the ash-heap of history. Expect cries of "Why, you young punk!" and "I'm a U.S. Serviceman, who the fuck are you?" and Charlie Gibson whistling for the MPs.
THE SELF AS SUBJECT. There's already some mocking reaction to the Emily Gould NYT Magazine article on her life and blog times, and seen one way her story is eminently mockable. She describes her ascent from just another me-blogger to internet "celebrity" via Gawker, and the personal details that she couldn't keep from broadcasting throughout, and background on those details that she hadn't previously shared. Of course it's appalling narcissistic, and the fact that it's a cover story in the Times magazine might give any sensitive soul in a bad mood the impression that the world has gone mad.

But I wound up feeling sympathy for Gould. First, because writing's a hard dollar, and writers must get it how they can: if the Times (or the Voice) comes knocking, why would you turn away? Her own story was what she had to sell. I doubt they would have let her cover the Balkans.

I also sympathize because narcissism is an occupational hazard of writers, or maybe a precondition. It takes tremendous gall to publish anything, even on the easy terms of blogging. Few writers start out as an authority on anything except themselves, and often have to be pulled like mules toward another subject. Journalism is very often the writer's introduction to the world outside himself, and ideally the demands of the craft take over, leaving style and sensibility as the pleasing distinctions that make Jane's coverage different from John's.

But Gould's Gawker beat encouraged her to more overt forms of self-revelation:
Injecting a personal aside into a post that wasn’t otherwise about me not only kept things interesting for me, it was also a surefire way of evoking a chorus of assenting or dissenting opinions, turning the solitary work of writing posts into something that felt more social, almost like a conversation.
Not being familiar with her work, I can't say whether this tendency was good or bad for it there (it obviously wasn't good for her personally, as her panic attacks indicate), but I can say that some of the most entertaining writers of the web are not above this sort of thing, and in fact their writing benefits from it. Terry Teachout's journalistic credentials are impeccable, but he writes about himself a fair amount, and makes it resonant, about something bigger than himself, and even illuminative of the points he makes in his arts criticism.

So that, in and of itself, isn't such a bad thing. There's always someone underneath all the words, and if he isn't too overeager to come out and steal the show, he may play a useful part on the surface of the writing, maybe even the main role. It takes a great deal of self-awareness to get that right, and that may be (along with the punishing hours, lousy pay, and enforced solitude) why so many writers drink, take drugs, behave badly in public, and have troubled relationships and, well, panic attacks.

The difference between Teachout's writing and Gould's is large but not categorical. Any subject can be worthwhile, even yourself, so long as you don't forget that it's a subject. Time and craft will take care of the rest if you heed them. This is not meant as advice to Gould -- who, being vastly more successful than I, doesn't need it -- but as a reminder to myself, which I share because that's what this gig is all about: the occasional residue of observation and thought that might be worth someone else's attention.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

NO-BRAINER. George Packer's New Yorker article on the decline of the American conservative movement is okay, but it has two major themes and only sustains one of them.

The successful point, that conservative thinking is now moribund, is simple enough to show, and Stephen Bainbridge does a good job of underlining it by complaining on his blog that conservatives don't need new ideas, that they've been right all along, and that their mystical devotion to a Kirkean "people’s historic continuity of experience" is all that's needed. Next to this kind of fierce certainty, the tinkering of rightwing New Jacks Reihan Salam and Ross Douthat (the latter of whom describes his work to Packer, hilariously, as "a data-driven attempt at political imagination") seems absurdly twee, like trying to advance the Ratzinger Catholic agenda with a better kind of Folk Mass.

The problem is Packer's second point: that citizens are now unreceptive to the traditional conservative approaches. Pat Buchanan describes these to Packer as elemental: "... you can write columns and things like that, but they don't engage the heart. The heart was engaged by law and order. You reached into people -- there was feeling." Covering a rural John McCain campaign stop, Packer focuses on McCain's discomfort with the red-meat politicking the event required of him -- but nonetheless McCain did it, and it seemed to go over.

There's plenty of evidence that the voters are increasingly receptive to Democrats, but as you can see by the early anti-Obama campaigning apparent on the blogs and in the press, sometimes covered here, you can still get a lot of mileage out of calling Democrats elitist and out of touch, and even by tying them to ancient radical menaces like the Black Power movement. An intellectual might consider this approach shopworn, but political battles in this country are not exclusively intellectual events. You don't have to believe that the dead-enders are right to acknowledge that voters may yet be susceptible to their themes.

The main problem is that Packer treats the conservative movement as a serious intellectual force, and thinks its diminution as such will lead inevitably to defeat. Pitchfork Pat may have been trying to throw Packer a clue when he quoted Eric Hoffer to him: "Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket." The conservative heavy thinkers to whom Packer gives much credence may feel as if the world has passed them by, but the racketeers really run the show. As formerly grumbling conservative operatives learn to love McCain and go all-in for the big win, philosophy is the least of their concerns, and their whither-conservatism thumb-suckers become mere padding for pages filled with stories about Obama's Muslim past, inability to bowl, and other such boob-bait. If you think they can't pull it off because their approach lacks intellectual vitality, you may be overthinking the whole thing.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

YOU'RE RIGHT. THIS ACT HAS GOTTEN STALE. I'M GOING TO SEEK NEW HORIZONS. I forgot what I had against libertarians (Eloise at the Atlantic being a poor example of, well, anything) so I went to Reason's Hit and Run blog to refresh my enmity. There I found
  • A lengthy example of the "I saw a silly liberal who said a silly thing" genre mastered by Alan Bromley and other conservative writers with active imaginations and absent editors -- very fine of its kind, but lacking a cab driver.

  • A proposal that New Orleans replace Somalia as the official Libertarian Paradise since the citizens are "rebuilding on their own" thanks to a lack of competent Federal assistance. (Oddly, the author fails to make the obvious connection with the recent Chinese earthquake, the effects of which we may assume will teach self-reliance to millions.)

  • Appreciative guffaws over Tim Cavanaugh's jovial response to the latest gay marriage controversy, basically saying that the concerns of silly gays are "boring" and their opponents are much more fun, and like who cares because someday we'll all look back on these days of second-class citizenship and laugh, especially if we're first-class citizens ourselves. (A timeline for the looking-back-with-laughter is not offered, but I'd advise those looking forward to it to find something to pass the waiting time, such as reading every book in their local library or knitting a cover for the barn.)
Actually most of it was inoffensive and some of it was even trenchant, at least to this statist's tired old government-worshipping eyes. But the fact remains: libertarians stand too close to you when they talk, sing along with Frank Zappa songs (even the obscure ones), and smell.
THE TREASON OF TECTONIC PLATES. Gazillion-Star General Ralph "Blood 'n' Guts" Peters says that not only is the press lying about our glorious war in Iraq, it's enlisting Communist help:
When Iraq seemed destined to become a huge American embarrassment, our media couldn't get enough of it. Now that Iraq looks like a success in the making, there's a virtual news blackout.

Of course, the front pages need copy. So you can read all you want about the heroic efforts of the Chinese People's Army in the wake of the earthquake.

Tells you all you really need to know about our media: American soldiers bad, Red Chinese troops good.

Is Jane Fonda on her way to the earthquake zone yet?
Today the top stories on the website of the New York Post, which carries Peters' column, concern Governor Patterson's migraine headache, a pay raise for the NYPD, and SPITZER AND THE HOOKER BY TV'S "LAW & ORDER" -- GOV. SCANDAL INSPIRES SHOW. Not a word about victory! Maybe Jane Fonda will bring Rupert Murdoch to the People's Republic. Oh wait -- he's already there.

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.