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Obama invites Elliot Abrams and Robert Kagan to the White House

[ 58 ] January 31, 2011 |

To discuss what “we” should do about “our” Egypt problem.

The good folks at Commentary are in ecstasy.

What exactly do these people have to do to discredit themselves? Is it even theoretically possible?

Apparently a neo-conservative is a liberal who was mugged by reality, and decided he was never going to visit reality’s neighborhood again.

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Good news and bad news

[ 17 ] January 28, 2011 |

The good news is that the web is awash in reports that Hosni Mubarak has fled Egypt. (Update: Mubarak is currently on TV claiming he’s not going anywhere).

The bad news is that the New York Times is quoting Donald Douglas on the subject. I thought it was bad enough when it was LGM giving this guy’s feverish combination of right-wing paranoia and retarded sexuality any attention. (And yes I recognize the paradoxical ironies inherent in this post).

James Wolcott grapples with the basic dilemma.

A disaster of technology

[ 42 ] January 28, 2011 |

For somewhat obscure reasons the Challenger disaster became, in the USA, what (much more understandably) the assassination of JFK had been for a previous generation: a shocking event whose symbolic resonance was such that, as the cliche has it, everyone can remember where they were when they first heard the news.

One of the odder aspects of the event was the extent to which, in the aftermath, the whole business never took on any real taint of scandal, even though it was a scandal.

First, the whole shuttle program was — and remains — a classic bureaucratic boondoggle: a massive waste of public resources on a venture that never had any good scientific, economic, or even non-utilitarian justification. (It has been noted that using the shuttle to put payloads in to orbit is the equivalent of putting a postcard into a safe before mailing it.) As for the “romance” of human space flight, the original thrill of placing people in low-earth orbit — the shuttle never rises more than a few hundred miles above the earth’s surface — understandably faded long ago.

But beyond that, the specific cause of the disaster, which took the life of a civilian schoolteacher as her own students were watching, was a combination of a very familiar and predictable brand of managerial incompetence, manifested in a willingness, for both psychological and political reasons, to wildly over-estimate the safety and reliability of shuttle flight. That was made clear by Richard Feynman in his understated — and therefore all the more devastating — critique of the program, which he appended to the Challenger Commission’s whitewash of the disaster. Feynman’s short but very detailed report is well worth reading in its entirety, as it captures the essence of what Charles Perrow has since named “normal accidents.”

Ask your doctor if political blogging is right for you

[ 13 ] January 26, 2011 |

One of the disadvantages of this medium is that its messengers are sometimes afflicted by Editor-Absence Dysfunction, or “E.D.”

He still loves his wife. But after 25 years of marriage, he has lost his enthusiasm for sex with her. Still. It is Valentine’s Day. And she has been hinting. So he takes her to a nice dinner, uncharactertistically orders an after-dinner drink, and feels extra discouraged when it only makes him more tired. He is 55. And so tired. Upon returning home, he wants more than anything to just fall asleep, but damnit, he makes the effort. He surprises her with a gift, lights candles, and dutifully makes love to her in the fashion he thinks that she will most enjoy.

It is with similar enthusiasm that some responses to the State of the Union are penned.

Sarah Palin’s America

[ 27 ] January 21, 2011 |

Some amusing nastiness from James Wolcott, on the development of the next hit reality TV show, tentatively entitled Reality.

Like soul brother Beck, Sarah Palin has moonshot herself into a zero-gravity zone that is beyond parody, where brazen self-caricature takes on the bold outlines of cartoon stardom and nothing she does perturbs her fan base. They have adopted her as their mommy savior and the ridicule and criticism she receives only endear her more to the faithful, proof of how much she gets under liberals’ prickly skin. With each new iteration of herself (tweeter, best-selling author, Fox News political analyst, Facebook avenger), Palin becomes more of an infotainment fembot, an irresistible force impervious to the political rules that hamstring lesser phonies. Had Al Gore or John Kerry made the gaffe Palin made over the Korean conflict (“Obviously, we have got to stand with our North Korean allies”), it would have been pin-the-tail-on-their-donkey-butts for weeks, whereas for Palin it’s just another dot in the pointillism of her ongoing cavalcade. Palin’s worst enemies have never been David Letterman, the “lamestream media,” or Katie Couric but her own insatiability for attention, a narcissism with no Off button or volume knob.

Wolcott cites David Seaton for the interesting idea that the bug-eyed craziness of Beck et. al., is a (conscious?) strategy on the part of the Lords of Capital:

A blogger named David Seaton provided the keenest insight into the tactical superiority of Beck’s home-brewed surrealism. “To understand what Beck is doing, to understand him, you must suspend your capacity for rational thought and just let the emotions wash over you and try to take note of them as they assault your endocrine system,” Seaton wrote. As America enters the downward slope of empire—its debt mounting, the disparity between wealthy and poor continuing to chasm, the environmental ravages becoming irreversible, high unemployment becoming the cruel norm—the Richie Riches have a vested interest in misdirecting people by blaming the powerless for the sins of the powerful. Incoherence isn’t a bug in Beck’s software program, it’s the primary directive. Seaton: “That is what the Tea Party, Fox, etc is all about: keeping people from thinking straight. The idea is to play on people’s emotions: fear, hate, racism, xenophobia, just to keep them from doing the math. The Teabaggers, Beck, [Gingrich] and Fox [News] are often criticized for not making any sense This is not a failure of communication or an error on their part That is the object of the exercise: to make rational thought difficult or impossible due to emotional overload.”

As is so often the case in this postmodern world, what was once satire is now sociology:

In its second minute the Hate rose to a frenzy. People were leaping up and down in their places and shouting at the tops of their voices in an effort to drown the maddening bleating voice that came from the screen. The little sandy-haired woman had turned bright pink, and her mouth was opening and shutting like that of a landed fish. Even O’Brien’s heavy face was flushed. He was sitting very straight in his chair, his powerful chest swelling and quivering as though he were standing up to the assault of a wave. The dark-haired girl behind Winston had begun crying out ‘Swine! Swine! Swine!’ and suddenly she picked up a heavy Newspeak dictionary and flung it at the screen. It struck Goldstein’s nose and bounced off; the voice continued inexorably. In a lucid moment Winston found that he was shouting with the others and kicking his heel violently against the rung of his chair. The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but, on the contrary, that it was impossible to avoid joining in. Within thirty seconds any pretence was always unnecessary. A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledge-hammer, seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current, turning one even against one’s will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic


GOP discovers filibusters are wrong as a matter of principle

[ 39 ] January 19, 2011 |

A bill to repeal the health care law drew the full force of both parties Tuesday as debate on the measure opened in the House, launching a two-year battle over President Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement.

Ahead of the vote Wednesday, House Republican leaders pressed a new line of attack, accusing Democrats of thwarting the will of the people by not committing to give the bill an up-or-down vote in the Senate.

I defer to H. L. Mencken and (the apocryphal) P.T. Barnum.

…UPDATE [SL]: Some useful data to put this highly principled Republican claim in context.

Drug violence

[ 3 ] January 19, 2011 |

Read the original story.

Then watch the video:

Subsequent reporting.

See also Radley Balko.

R.I.P. Don Kirshner

[ 14 ] January 18, 2011 |

Don Kirshner, the man responsible for the music behind the Monkees, has died. The Monkees represented everything that was most crass and reprehensible about the pop music scene of the time, and Kirshner, the impresario behind the Brill Building music machine, was the perfect man to exploit all that crassness and reprehensibility for maximum profit. But just as the Hollywood studio system couldn’t avoid creating some great movies, Don Kirshner couldn’t avoid helping create some great pop music.

(After the Monkees rebelled against Kirschner’s dictatorial ways, he went on to create the Archies, who, being cartoon characters,were more willing to indulge his artistic whims).

Those of us of a certain age remember Kirshner best for the Midnight Special, his eponymous Rock Concert, which would, in those pre-American Idol days, occasionally expose a bemused network TV audience to something like a seven-minute four-song full frontal assault from the Ramones:

How white is Matthew Yglesias?

[ 74 ] January 17, 2011 |

Yglesias notes that, for the first time in nearly a half century, an Ohio governor appointed an all-white cabinet.

It should be unnecessary to point out that, in 2011, a governor of a state with around 1.3 million African American residents who appoints a cabinet that looks like this is doing so for a specific political purpose. That purpose is (of course) to illustrate that, like Stephen Colbert, John Kasich doesn’t “see” race. Are all 20 members of his cabinet white? Black? Purple? Green? Kasich couldn’t tell you . . because all he knows is that each and every one of them is the most qualified person he could find for the job. (Indeed one suspects those who think otherwise are themselves the “real racists.”)

I’m tempted to tip my metaphorical cap to the contemporary GOP: in an increasingly non-white nation they’re finding a way to turn being the semi-official party of white America into a successful marketing strategy (the linked CNN poll found that white tea partiers outnumbered black ones by a 40-1 margin).

It’s interesting to note that, even as America has become less white, the cultural definition of whiteness has been slowly liberalized. A couple of generations ago Yglesias — a Jew of Cuban-Spanish descent — would have been considered only most imperfectly white. At that time “white” meant Protestants of northern European extraction. (As I believe Nik Cohn pointed out in Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom, Italians were what the pop music industry used for “soul” before they invented black people).

Indeed, even the claim that America will be a minority white country by the middle of this century is based on the dubious premise that Hispanics/Latinos aren’t or will not be “white” by that point. In fact census data indicates that nearly two thirds of the nation’s more than fifty million Hispanics/Latinos (a category that includes Yglesias) already consider themselves “white.” Most of the rest classify themselves under the government’s new “Some Other Race” category.

Anyway, the GOP finds itself in something of a demographic bind. On the one hand, as Rick Perlstein’s Nixonland so powerfully documented, for more than 40 years now the anxiety and ressentiment of “white” people in an increasingly non-white America has been a key element in the party’s electoral success. The composition of Gov. Kasich’s cabinet can be seen as a kind of not very subtle tribute to that fact. On the other, over the next few decades a lot of people who currently aren’t very white are going to have to get a lot whiter, if a party that only white people vote for is going to keep winning national elections.

Putting his best foot forward

[ 19 ] January 13, 2011 |


Now that my beloved University of Michigan football program has been hijacked and destroyed by a meglo-maniacal erstwhile purveyor of crappy pizza, I’m looking for my pigskin thrills elsewhere.

Bless you, Wes Welker.

The paranoid style and American politics

[ 142 ] January 8, 2011 |


Gabrielle Giffords.

Update: Sarah Palin and gun fetishism.

We can only imagine what would happen if the shooter turned out to be a young Muslim. Since he appears to be a white guy it’ll be probably be considered in bad taste to use the t word.

Alomar and Blyleven elected to the HOF

[ 69 ] January 5, 2011 |



Alomar was a slam dunk once the idiot “first ballot” convention was dispensed with, and his name was on 90% of the ballots. Blyleven’s election (79.8%) is a bit of a tribute to the power of saber-knowledge.

Others: Larkin 62%, Morris, 53.5%, Lee Smith 45%, Bagwell 41.3%, Raines 37%, Trammell 24.3%.

McGwire was named on 19.8% of the ballots; Palmiero on 11%.

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