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Trump in Roanoke

[ 80 ] July 26, 2016 |

Donald Trump, racist whoopie cushion, appeared this afternoon in my hometown of Roanoke, Virginia, where I’ve relocated my insomnia for the past few weeks. Because I’m pathologically incapable of avoiding cheap and writable discomfort, I stood in line for several unwhiskeyed hours in 100-degree heat to experience the least-amusing civic joke in recent American history. At this point, one could assemble a pretty decent anthology of “I Went to a Trump Rally” narratives, so there’s nothing particularly special about the experience or about anything I might offer here. But today’s event was goddamn predictable and boring in a way that I actually found somewhat horrifying. There’s no question that the Trump campaign remains an ambling shitshow, and his “speech” reminded me of a somewhat less-cranked Spud from Trainspotting, but the normalization of Trump’s weirdness strikes me as more deeply troubling than what we all witnessed earlier in the year, when he was simply tugging his dick and yodeling while career patrons of the local Kum & Go punched hippies and black people. Adding to what Erik observed earlier, conditions like these underscore the horror of recognizing that Trump might actually win.

*

The two-hour wait outside the Hotel Roanoke was for the most part innocuous. It was hot and humid as Lucifer’s taint this morning, which might explain why no one in line near me was particularly chatty. My companion and I spent most of our time getting to know “Austin,” a 20-year-old future alimony delinquent from a nearby town who — if his odyssey was to be believed — had worked a 16-hour shift at a tire factory before driving several hours to spend time in the same room with Donald Trump, a humanoid pimento cheese tub. We talked about his family for a while before detouring into an extended review of his achievements on Call of Duty, interrupted by his occasional hoots of “TRUMP!” and “BLUE LIVES MATTER” when the local constabulary generously rolled by with another cooler of bottled water. When I asked if his parents shared his enthusiasm for politics, he ruefully shook his head, paused for a moment as if to relive an angry moment with Pop over the burn barrel, and explained that his folks preferred Ted Cruz. During a lull in the conversation, he showed me a recent match he’d earned on Badoo; “Scarlett,” as it turned out, was transgender, a deal-breaker for the young rake Austin.

While everyone waited for the hotel doors to open, journeymen plied their trade along the line. Every single one of them was a person of color, engaged in a secondary grift layered atop the primary grift that had drawn people like Austin to Roanoke in the first place. For $20, vendors offered shirts emblazoned with Elizabethan insults like “If you don’t bleed red, white & blue take your bitch ass home” or “If you build it, they won’t come” (featuring Trump waving through the fissure in a nearly-finished brick wall — an image that incongruously puts the shirt’s observer on the other side of the wall from Trump, implicating all of us as Mexican rapists and drug dealers.) In any event, I didn’t know what to make of the fact that literally the only black people in sight were fleecing white folks and selling them new church clothes; it’s difficult to cheer the continued circulation of dumb Lewinsky blowjob jokes (e.g., “Hillary sucks, but not like Monica”), but at least the proceeds were flowing away from the Trump campaign.

*

After gaining entry at long last to the air-conditioned hotel ballroom, we lingered for another two hours before the event began. During the last half-hour, the listless Trumpkins distinguished themselves mostly by failing to sustain any of the predictable chants — “USA,” “Build the Wall,” and “Lock Her Up” — for longer than about ten seconds. It’s been years since I spent much time in Roanoke, and while it may be somewhat less amped than the irate cornholes that seem to populate the campaign’s itinerary, I was mildly surprised that the self-assigned pep-squad deputies scattered around the room were unable to whip up some stiffer peaks of fury before the arrival of TrumpPence. Alas.

While the millennials in front of me Tweeted and Snapchatted and swiped left and right, the Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” played unironically in the background. The song reminded me of The Big Chill, which reminded me of how much I hate The Big Chill, before I remembered that the song plays during the opening scene of The Big Chill, which involves the dressing of a corpse who had filleted his goddamn wrists so his friends could come to his funeral and smoke dope and fuck each other for a few days. It’s not the first tune that would come to mind if I were assembling a “Make America Great Again” playlist, but no one asked me.

Finally, the Indiana tube sock known as “Mike Pence” emerged to introduce Trump, who apparently developed his “big heart” toward and “understanding” of Americans by building things with them — “skyscrapers and skylines,” Pence explained, which Trump completed by “standing shoulder to shoulder” with the people he employed. No, really. After some armpit fart noises about how Trump would get better trade deals from other countries and how we need a president “who digs coal,” Pence welcomed the man that the better-liberals-than-you in your Facebook feed regard as a threat no more worrisome than Hillary Clinton. It took Trump all of about five seconds to mention all the beautiful property he owns in Virginia and how he signs lots of paychecks in the commonwealth, before he proceeded into a distracted, 45-minute vortex that consisted mostly of scattered commentary on the sectarian drama unfolding within the Democratic Party. He cracked wise about Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, made fun of Tim Kaine for being a “weird little guy,” invoked BENGHAZI! and Pocahontas, and accused Clinton of being a “low-energy” candidate who needs to take lots of naps. I wasn’t aware that this was a thing with Clinton, but evidently Trump believes napping is detrimental to national security, a point he ought to take up with Ronald Reagan someday. The entire speech was an incoherent mess, as if Donald Trump’s brain were a Firefox window, and he sits at his desk every day shuttling between various Breitbart sites, YouTube, and Craigslist Casual Encounters, never bothering to wonder how he managed to wind up with 75 open tabs.

But the audience today didn’t care. In his own distracted way, Trump is a genius who understands that his supporters are simply bundles of dopamine receptors. All he needs to do is invoke BENGHAZI!, or the Second Amendment, or the importance of repealing the Johnson amendment, and he earns a room full of ecstatic eyerolls and jazz hands. During the “town hall” portion of the event — which consisted of three questions and a prayer — someone asked if Trump would promise to support Israel “100 percent” (whatever that means). Trump simply nodded and said “yes,” and the entire room went fucking bazonkers. He barely even needed to mention The Wall, except to promise that it would keep heroin out of New Hampshire and that it would be “as good looking as possible.” His biggest applause line, in fact, came when he griped about the fact that an enclosed hotel ballroom packed with 1200 bodies might get a little warm after two hours. Because he evidently doesn’t understand physics, Trump blamed the hotel itself for being inept — blurting out that he didn’t even know its name — before announcing that the owners “should be ashamed of themselves” and that if he were staying there, he’d skip out on the bill. That’s right: A man who aspires to live in the White House is now trying to earn Bad-Ass Points with his supporters by fantasizing about something equivalent to a dine-and-dash. And at the moment, this is a man who stands a 40 percent chance of winning in November.

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Twitter person finds silver lining in the looming heat death of the universe

[ 66 ] June 4, 2016 |

A day rarely passes in which I don’t congratulate myself for abstaining from Twitter, but fuck me with a roasted gerbil, today offers a special reminder that whatever time I might devote to that everlasting dumpster fire remains better spent gazing hopelessly into the middle distance, sipping Early Times from a half-pint mason jar, and weeping softly as I rank my faults. Rania Khalek — an independent journalist who apparently can’t count and was recently spotted repeating the conspicuously stupid argument that Clinton is “clearly to the right of Trump” on trade issues — now supplies us with the ingenious observation that Trump’s candidacy has actually worked out well for immigrant rights.

To her credit, Khalek is at least consistent in her understanding that heightened contradictions always end up well. While ignoring my children’s pleas for affection and food this afternoon, I spent some time combing through her past “tweets,” as I believe they are known. Here are some of my favorites:

A friend who works on Cherokee rights told me Jackson’s election has been a boon for anti-removal fight. National Repubs will galvanize.

— Rania Khalek (@RaniaKhalek) December 2, 1828

Opponent of war with Mexico told me Polk’s all bluster. Liberty Party will teach the Whigs a lesson! #NeverClay #BirneyOrBust!

— Rania Khalek (@RaniaKhalek) October 7, 1844

Lincoln assassination, though tragic, will be a boon to freedpeople, Radical Repubs. On treason issues, AJohnson way to the left of Abe!

— Rania Khalek (@RaniaKhalek) April 15, 1865

A friend who works on civil rights told me Wallace’s teaching liberal warmonger establishment stooges a lesson. I truly fear Humph > Nixon.

— Rania Khalek (@RaniaKhalek) October 22, 1968

So disappointed Nader only got 685,000 votes. Clintons, neoliberals everywhere rejoice, no lessons this year. *Eyeroll*

— Rania Khalek (@RaniaKhalek) November 6, 1996

2.9 m for Nader/LaDuke! Might have thrown Florida to Bush, but friend who hates neolibs tells me W will be weak prez. No fear!

— Rania Khalek (@RaniaKhalek) November 8, 2000

I you aren’t following her already on the Twitter machine, now’s your chance!

Meditations on reading the transcript of Donald John Trump’s meeting with the Washington Post

[ 59 ] March 23, 2016 |

Donald Trump is that kid who shows up in your basement and wants to play your electric guitar even though he doesn’t know a single chord. He insists that he’s awesome and can totally rock out better than anyone ever, “better than Jimmy Hendrix, even” — and when he says the name you know he’s thinking “Jimmy” and not “Jimi,” because that’s how goddamn dumb he is. But he won’t shut up about your guitar — seriously, he goes on about it for, like, two hours.

Finally, you roll your eyes and placate the mulleted intruder, because he’s eating all your cereal right out of the box with his gross little hands, and you have no idea where they’ve been (but really you do, you just can’t think about it anymore), and you realize it’s only a matter of time before he gets bored and tries to fuck your sister again or your mom or something worse. So you give him the guitar, show him a couple of power chords, and tell him to “take it easy” as you plug him into the amp.

He ignores you, of course, and attacks the guitar like it owes him $20 and a handjob. The breakfast sausages that pass for fingers bend the strings unreasonably, and he’s got that white guy Blues Face going on, and his hair is bobbing like a worn 7-11 mop, and you can’t even look because you’re suddenly embarrassed for the entire human race. Meanwhile, your amp is spitting out black clots of noise that sound like what self-loathing would sound like, or like the audio track to a crush fetish video. You don’t know it yet, but upstairs, your dog is shitting on the kitchen floor.

Trump, the stupid dicknose, actually does a windmill and totally misses the strings, and the pick goes flying across the room, but he’s like, “Nah, fuck it, I meant to do that,” so he drops down to his knees and shoves his fist in the air and screams “Yeah!” like he’s that guy from Metallica and not the absolute worst person in the world at that moment and most moments bracketing either end of that moment. The feedback scrapes the basement walls for another ten seconds or so, and upstairs, another dog turd drops.

Trump stands up as you’re reaching for the bleach bottle, swoops his pig knuckles through his hair, and grunts, “Heh. Fucking awesome, I’ve gotta get one of these,” as you drop the cap and take your first swig.

Salchicha oaxaqueña.png

By Nsaum75 at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10580772

Ah, memories.

[ 16 ] May 31, 2014 |

I started blogging on a lark back in March 2005, mostly out of an interest in doing some non-professional (or unprofessional, if you prefer) writing; within a few weeks, more people—and by that I mean “a few dozen”—had read my blog than had, or ever would, likely read all of my academic publications combined. Everything was horrible and stupid in the spring of 2005. The war in Iraq was a gruesome stew of death and fuckery, Pope John Paul II was weeks away from realizing that God does not in fact exist, and wingnuts aplenty were camped behind the Kum & Go, huffing sacks of glue over Terri Schiavo’s dissolving brain. At some point that month, James Wolcott offered some approving words for a blog called “Lawyers, Guns and Money,” and—lacking all three—I decided to drop by and see what the big deal was.

Within a few weeks, this blog was probably at the top of my daily reading list; the authors and readers were meditating on important questions, including “who is America’s Worst Blogger?” and when would the Mariners call up Felix Hernandez? (Note: Rob was off by three weeks, but accurately predicted four wins. Though I have no data to back this up, I’m reasonably sure that no one at LGM has ever since predicted anything quite so accurately.) Over the next year, I commented regularly and unctuously linked to LGM at my own blog, doing so at a pace that ought to have raised stalker warnings. Charitably, Rob, Scott and DJW would from time to time link to something I’d written; most touchingly, Rob linked to a series of rather gloomy “This Day in History” posts I wrote in anticipation of my first child. In part because of those posts (and some later, related writing I did at my own place), the OG asked me to join this blog later that summer. I was beyond honored. I have always admired the quality of the writing here by everyone who’s ever participated, and though I don’t quite know what the straight line is that connects me to the vastly superior brains who keep this operation afloat, I don’t exaggerate when I sad that the existence of this blog has been an important part of my intellectual life for the past decade.

Since 9 October 2006, I’ve made some rather eccentric contributions to LGM. I provided us with arguably our most important feline mascot; I wrote a shitload of happy birthday posts to horrible people (especially this monster); there was the Althouse tiny prick fiasco; and of course the internet traditions, about all of which you are doubtlessly aware. Over the years, my writing here has conspicuously tailed off. The challenges of parenthood, combined with a series of unforced personal and professional errors, combined with the fact that I am an agonizingly slow writer prone to fits of undermedicated and over-whiskeyed self-loathing, have from time to time conspired to fuck my life up flatter than hammered shit. I remain grateful, however, to everyone here—co-bloggers and especially commenters with long memories—for indulging my long absences and to return from time to time like a plague of locusts to pester and annoy.

At some point, I will (I hope) return to a more regular schedule of contributions. One idea I’m toying with is a series called “The 25 Percent True Erotic History of the American Presidency,” which would detail the assorted preferences and perversions of the nation’s chief executives. If you’re curious about the famous necrophiliac Millard Fillmore, who hauled his dead wife around in a wheelbarrow for six months after pneumonia took her life in 1853, this series will not disappoint.

Also: There were many reasons George Washington hated wearing dentures. What you learn will shock you!

Also: Though Woodrow Wilson tried to remain neutral on the issue of war in Europe, he was never in doubt about butt plugs.

But, like, don’t hold your breath or anything.

The gluten-free diet has shat its pants

[ 97 ] May 16, 2014 |

The latest and among the more annoying nutritionist fads–the gluten-free diet–is taking a bit of a hit this week, as folks are beginning to look at a study published last August in Gastroenterology demonstrating that eliminating gluten produced no demonstrable effects in a test subjects who rotated between several highly-structured diets over the course of 7-8 weeks.

37 subjects took part, all with self-reported gluten sensitivity who were confirmed to not have celiac’s disease. They were first fed a diet low in FODMAPs for two weeks, then were given one of three diets for a week with either 16 grams per day of added gluten (high-gluten), 2 grams of gluten and 14 grams of whey protein isolate (low-gluten), or 16 grams of whey protein isolate (placebo). Each subject shuffled through every single diet so that they could serve as their own controls, and none ever knew what specific diet he or she was eating. After the main experiment, a second was conducted to ensure that the whey protein placebo was suitable. In this one, 22 of the original subjects shuffled through three different diets — 16 grams of added gluten, 16 grams of added whey protein isolate, or the baseline diet — for three days each.

The authors found that everyone reported improved gastrointestinal symptoms during the two-week low-gluten diet–a baseline diet they seem to have been aware of (at least as I read the abstract)–but then experienced worsening symptoms to identical degrees when they switched to the three rotating diets, one of which was the same as the baseline.

This study–a follow-up to a 2011 paper by the same authors that suggested that “gluten sensitivity” might possibly be a thing–provides the best available evidence that in all likelihood, absent a diagnosis of CD, your gluten-eschewing friends and family may be exhibiting nothing more than nocebo effects, voluntarily eating shitty food in the name of warding off the flatulence, lethargy, and ennui that are, alas, merely the individualized symptoms of a civilization teetering on the brink of an unfathomably nightmarish death.

Obviously, there is a small portion of the population–about one percent–for whom gluten consumption is indeed dangerous. Celiac disease is horrific but symptomatically protean, so it can be easily confused with other medical problems; though it’s relatively easy to diagnose with a blood test, biopsy, and change in diet, individuals with CD endure an average of 11 years between initial symptoms and diagnosis. Those folks should stay the fuck away from gluten, and people exhibiting symptoms of CD ought to see a fucking doctor before adopting trendy and possibly unnecessary dietary restrictions. Everyone else should just shut up and eat your fucking pasta already, or there will be no goddamn dessert for you.

What’s funny about all this, I suppose, is that the gluten-free craze–while luring millions of suckers into a diet of crumbly food–has in the very least made food options more tolerable for the one percent of folks who actually need to avoid gluten. So there’s that, at least.

Christ, I hate Blackboard

[ 245 ] January 24, 2014 |

Hundreds of years from now, after disease and fire and famine have thinned the human herd to a shrunken patchwork of sagging, skeletal bands of jagged, half-mad wraiths — when the parched soil chokes forth desiccated roots and the air is a toxic brume slumping down on the arched, knotted backs of the still-barely-living — a remote spur of humanity will somehow recover the capacity to speak, an ability long since abandoned by their ancestors, who were mute-struck with the unfathomable despair of those cursed to watch everything they love die. After generations of dry-throated croaking and lung-starched wheezing, their tongues swollen with thirst and punctured with abscesses that never heal, these distant people will bring forth a new language to survey the boundaries of their pain.

At first, their speech will flow together in single, blasphemous strands of adjectival protest; they will speak without subjects, no proper names or pronouns to jolt them into the kind of self-recognition that could only serve as a spur to mass, urgent suicide. In time, their words will be hacked into tinier fragments of salivated fury, as their lips and tongues and few-remaining-teeth jostle ruthlessly to disgorge themselves into the foul space that separates one antagonist from another. With arm-sized splinters of trees that were fortunate enough to perish centuries before, they will jab massive holes into their upper palates to accommodate the new sounds needed to register their misfortune and threaten each other with gross physical harm. Inbred mutants with hideous nasocranial deformities will gain selective advantage in the linguistic struggle for existence. They will use this new language to enslave one another, to plot out gristly sprees that might be called murder if there were anything near to law restraining them, like a weak sphincter, from unleashing their worst. There will be decades of forced labor, violent spasms of resistance and recrimination carried out with grossly disproportionate injury to bystanders who are, alas, never as innocent as they seem.

On the outskirts of this new language, lurking on its crimsoned frontier, will lie words that will themselves have been cast into exile – foul offgassings within a lexicon that itself stands as a towering monument to the boundlessly obscene, words that will curve backward and devour themselves, each one an afflicted universe in the process of total collapse, words that exist for microseconds before streaking, unremembered and unmourned, into the void.

These are the words, if I could shit them into being, that I would use to catalogue the depth of my loathing for Blackboard. When I die, I want my whiskey-pickled body larded into a cryonic chamber, then buried deep in the earth. A thousand years from now, I want these loping, crookspined human gargoyles to dig me up and reanimate me. I will learn their language; I will amble to the profane horizon of their blood-gorged vernacular; I will force them at spear-point to build me a time machine; then I will murder them all with my bare hands. I will return to all of you then to bear witness, in a rapturous tornado of filth, to my contempt for that unholy system of course mismanagement software.

“There will be a lot of rats”

[ 142 ] January 23, 2014 |

This story is fantastic in every possible way:

A ghost ship carrying nothing but disease-ridden rats could be about to make land on Britain’s shore, experts have warned. 

The Lyubov Orlova cruise liner has been drifting across the north Atlantic for the better part of a year, and salvage hunters say there is a strong chance it is heading this way….

Experts say the ship, which is likely to still contain hundreds of rats that have been eating each other to survive, must still be out there somewhere because not all of its lifeboat emergency beacons have been set off.

Two signals were picked up on the 12 and 23 March last year, presumably from lifeboats which fell away and hit the water, showing the vessel had made it two-thirds of the way across the Atlantic and was heading east.

A week later, an unidentified object of about the right size was spotted on radar just off the coast of Scotland – but search planes never verified the find.

Pim de Rhoodes, a Belgian salvage hunter who is among a number looking for the Lyubov Orlova off the UK coastline, told The Sun: “She is floating around out there somewhere.”

If this doesn’t end in some sort of horrific tornado of cannibalistic zombie-rats overwhelming Great Britain–erm, sorry, Brockington–would someone please develop a film in which it does?

DB: According to the local paper down here, if I play my cards right I could land a walk on part in the film. I’ll keep you posted. Could be the best thing to happen to this town since the blitz.

And by the way, for all you kids watching at home, ancient sea creatures just were white.

[ 52 ] January 9, 2014 |

The menace of political correctness continues in the Age of Obama. Apparently, Microraptor and and Archaeopteryx were also black, or partly black.

This is some bullshit. Fucking Microraptor didn’t even exist when I was a kid. Liberal paleontologists are just making stuff up now. Time to burn some of my kids’ books.

January 1: Ecce Foreskin

[ 85 ] January 1, 2014 |

According to Christian tradition, January 1 marks the eighth day of Jesus’ life. Among other things, it is the day on which — following Jewish custom — the Son of Man would have been circumcised. And while the rest of his body would presumably have ascended to heaven on the third day after his gruesome execution, early followers believed it quite possible that he had neglected to retrieve his long-excised foreskin before taking a seat at his father’s right hand.

For medieval and early modern Christians, Jesus’ foreskin remained an object of peculiar veneration, with as many as eighteen different reliquary nubs of flesh competing for attention and honor. Charlemagne allegedly offered one to Pope Leo III as a gesture of gratitude for being crowned emperor in 800. Another, purchased from a vendor in Jerusalem at the end of the 11th century, was brought back to Antwerp as a souvenir from the first Crusade.

Nearly 300 years later, St. Catherine of Siena purported to wear the foreskin as a ring, while the 13th century Austrian mystic Agnes Blannbekin had an even more unusual relationship with the sacred relic. By Agnes’ own account, she tasted the carne vera sancta — the “true and holy meat” — numerous times during communion. As she revealed to an anonymous Franciscan scribe, she had long pondered the whereabouts of Christ’s foreskin until she experienced a revelation one year on the Feast of the Circumcision.

And behold, soon she felt with the greatest sweetness on her tongue a little piece of skin alike the skin in an egg, which she swallowed. After she had swallowed it, she again felt the little skin on her tongue with sweetness as before, and again she swallowed it. And this happened to her about a hundred times . . . . And so great was the sweetness of tasting that little skin that she felt in all limbs and parts of the limbs a sweet transformation. 

Similarly graphic, often erotic accounts helped assure that Agnes’ Life and Revelations would remain unpublished until the 20th century.

Like most Catholic relics, the Holy Prepuce was believed to possess extraordinary powers, including (not surprisingly) the enhancement of fertility and sexuality. And so in 1421, the English King Henry V retrieved one of the rumored foreskins from the French village of Coulombs to aid his wife, Catherine of Valois, in the delivery of their first son. Alas, while the relic may have helped bring the future King Henry VI into the world, it did his father little enduring good. The king died less than a year later, felled by dysentery.

The Reformation helped to undermine Catholic traditions of all kinds, including its centuries of speculation on the provenance and status of Christ’s foreskin. In 1900, the Church issued an edict than any discussion of the Holy Prepuce would result in excommunication and shunning; since the Vatican II reforms of the 1960s, Roman Catholics have not officially recognized the Feast of the Circumcision, though it continues to be observed in some Anglican and most Lutheran churches. The last public appearance of one of Jesus’ alleged foreskins took place in the Italian village of Calcata, which had hosted the tip of the Redeemer’s penis since 1557. Residents of Calcata and Catholic pilgrims continued to celebrate the Feast of the Circumcision until 1983, when thieves absconded with the foreskin and the jewel-encrusted box that contained it. Neither it nor any other alleged foreskins have ever turned up.

“Nostalgia admits no other remedy than a return to the homeland”

[ 169 ] December 6, 2013 |

The ignorant hayseeds at White American History Month — currently working their way through a bout of masturbatory frenzy over Nelson Mandela’s death — spent some time yesterday celebrating the work of the noted non-white supremacist Norman Rockwell. Since I have a tangential family connection to Rockwell, and since nostalgia is a suitable affliction for racists, I decided to have a bit of a piss at their expense.

I’m wondering which other artists’ fabricated versions of the national past have been systematically wrecked by Democrats and the progressive left. Which America do you want back?

When “the other perspective” is crowded with morons, there’s no reason to offer them a platform

[ 115 ] December 6, 2013 |

Wonderful.

“The HPV vaccine is considered a life-saving cancer preventer, but is it a potentially deadly dose for girls?” This was the promo for Wednesday’s episode of Katie, Katie Couric’s daytime talk show on ABC. Couric, whose husband passed away from colon cancer, is known for being a relatively responsible journalist when it comes to health care issues, so despite this needlessly alarmist advertising, I held out hope that her show would demonstrate that no matter how adamant a very small group of people are that their health problems are caused by the HPV vaccine, there is no evidence that the HPV vaccine is dangerous. Sadly, my hopes were dashed as Couric spent a half-hour of her show drumming up fears that the vaccine will make you very ill or even kill you.

For at least the ten thousandth time, it’s worth pointing out that “debating” the science on vaccine safety and efficacy is about as fruitful or necessary as debating the veracity of the moon landing. Perhaps next week, Couric will host a thoughtful discussion on children’s dental care. Yes, she encouraged her own children to brush their teeth several times a day, but some people have concerns that deserve a balanced hearing. Most young people who die unexpectedly, for example, have brushed their teeth with fluoride toothpaste [insert “precious bodily fluids” joke here] sometime in the previous 24 hours. That ominous correlation deserves a closer look. Indeed, perhaps other correlations will emerge when we do. There’s no way to know for sure. We’re simply asking questions.

See also Phil Plait and Seth Mnookin, who was evidently considered as a guest on the show before the producers realized they weren’t very good at their jobs.

“…the Chief Magistrate of a great and confiding people was suddenly struck down…”

[ 124 ] November 22, 2013 |

While everyone is busy commemorating the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination at the hands of Lee Harvey Oswald, you morons the Mob, the CIA, Castro, the Freemasons, the Rothschilds, Marilyn Manson, and the Reverse Vampires, let’s pause briefly to remember William Henry Harrison, our first presidential stiff, felled by an alliance of germy-handed office-seekers, pre-scientific medicine, and being old as fuck. Harrison’s death was an odd national affair altogether. Though certainly known well enough to Whig voters and electors around the nation (especially for his over-hyped 1811 victory over Tecumseh and the Shawnee) he was primarily a creature of the emerging Midwest—a believer in internal improvements, a stable banking system, a solid protective tariff, and Indian removal executed with slightly more tasteful methods than the party of Jacksonian Democracy. Harrison enjoyed his new job only long enough to deliver a gaseous, 8000-word inaugural address, meet with hordes of groveling patrons looking for federal employment, and summon Congress into early session to deal with “sundry important and weighty matters.” (The national economy had shat its knickers four years earlier, and Harrison was among those who believed a restoration of the National Bank would help relieve the ongoing depression.) After contracting some sort of pneumonia-inducing virus or bacterial infection in late March 1841, Harrison submitted himself to the good work of his doctors, who—between sessions of jabbing him with a lancet—barraged him with leeches, snakeweed, castor oil and opium.

When “Granny” Harrison at last went toes-up on April 4, the nation had to figure out how to properly mourn a president who had died in office and who’d achieved literally nothing other than verifying (with his election) the emergence of a competitive two-party system and demonstrating (with his inauguration) the successful transfer of power to a new administration—the latter, having taken place seven times already, being something of an underwhelming accomplishment by this point. Nevertheless, Harrison’s death was by most accounts a shock to the country (here’s a description of his funeral), and it provoked an outpouring of non-specific grief. Eulogies focused on the inopportune passing of a good man from a good family with a long record of public service and a dying wish—left to the living to fulfill—that government remain useful and effective. This one happens to be my favorite, with its odd “one dies, get another” message:

The operation of our system never seemed happier than at this very moment. In the season of a wide exultation, the Chief Magistrate of a great and confiding people was suddenly struck down. What then? No confusion follows—no trepidation—no revolutionary outcry—no rush to arms. The government moves right onward. Not a wheel stops. Not a jar is felt. One name indeed is blotted out—to thousands, a dear and honored name. Another is written in its place, and all is quiet as before. Meantime, the nation puts on her weeds awhile and silently deplores her loss. Again, she puts them off, and goes joyously forth like a strong man armed or a giant panting for the race.

Harrison’s poor wife, Anna—who had been ill herself prior to the inauguration and never left Indiana Ohio (thus making her the only First Lady never to set foot in the White House)—was eased in her grief by a $20,000 pension and Congressional franking privileges, which she enjoyed for the rest of her life.

Meantime, the nation did sally forth “like a strong man armed.” Harrison’s Vice President, John Tyler, was among other things not much of a Whig. A slaveholder, erstwhile Democrat and future Confederate, Tyler was affiliated with the Whigs only because he loathed Andrew Jackson, not because he shared a political vision that aligned well with party leaders like Henry Clay or Daniel Webster. As a Whig apostate, he was much less concerned about the perils of national expansion than his predecessor, and he looked to the annexation of Texas—the dickthrob du jour of the Slave Power—to enlarge the national domain and secure for himself a political future. His fellow Whigs had stricken him from their ranks, and Tyler—now cast adrift in a highly partisan political culture—imagined that perhaps his old party might reward him with the Democratic presidential nomination in 1844 if he were able to deliver on the Texas question. Long story short, the Democrats joined the Whigs in thwarting Tyler’s ambition, but Tyler nevertheless secured the passage of an annexation resolution during the final, lame-duck weeks of his accidental presidency. And with the ruthlessly expansionist Democrats restored to power with the election of “Young Hickory” Polk, war with Mexico was all but assured a year before it actually began in the Spring of 1846. The Whigs would have one last go at the presidency—botching that effort as well, electing the soon-to-be-dead Zachary Taylor in 1848—before slavery and nativism ripped the party to shreds.

We are fond of asking “what if” questions about presidents who croak in office. What kind of reconstruction policy might Lincoln have pursued? Would FDR have used atomic weapons over Japan? Would JFK have deepened our involvement in Vietnam? Would Nixon have been evicted from office if the famously carnivorous White House raccoons hadn’t gotten to him first? And so on. But it’s perhaps also worth asking how a non-dead William Henry Harrison reshapes American history. If Harrison doesn’t succumb to pneumonia, it’s entirely possible that the Whigs keep their shit together long enough to elect Henry Clay in 1844; certainly, the Democrats would have ridden the Texas issue with whip and spur, and maybe the Liberty Party still siphons away enough Clay voters in the North to keep him out of the White House. But if the Whigs had spent four years actually governing as a coherent party and not struggling against the fake Whig Tyler, their chances of winning in 1844 would have been vastly improved. If Clay—or another Whig—had won that year, there would likely have been no Texas annexation (at least not then, and possibly not ever); with a Whig in office, there would also certainly have been no war of conquest with Mexico. And with no war against Mexico, there would have been no room to renew the debate over slavery’s expansion, no precedent of “popular sovereignty” in New Mexico to guide Stephen Douglas toward the Kansas-Nebraska Act, no party disintegration in the 1850s, and quite probably no civil war two decades after Harrison’s inauguration.

Or maybe everything goes to hell anyway. Americans were some ghastly violent motherfuckers in the 19th century, and it’s hard to imagine they wouldn’t have found some way to devour one another eventually. But at least William Henry Harrison didn’t have to live to see it.

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