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The Apotheosis of Gibberish

[ 0 ] October 1, 2008 |

Go ahead. Interview Palin.

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Turning trick questions

[ 0 ] October 1, 2008 |

Although I haven’t seen it I understand there’s a David Cronenberg movie in which people are subjected to telekinetic bombardment until their heads actually explode. If the increasingly unstable state of my cranium is any indication, the McCain campaign seems to be deploying Sarah Palin for a similar purpose. From her cozy little chat with Hugh Hewitt yesterday:

HH: Now Governor, the Gibson and the Couric interview struck many as sort of pop quizzes designed to embarrass you as opposed to interviews. Do you share that opinion?

SP: Well, I have a degree in journalism also, so it surprises me that so much has changed since I received my education in journalistic ethics all those years ago. But I’m not going to pick a fight with those who buy ink by the barrelful. I’m going to take those shots and those pop quizzes and just say that’s okay, those are good testing grounds. And they can continue on in that mode. That’s good.

Palin’s response has gotten surprisingly little attention. After all, she’s accusing Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric of breaching journalistic ethics, by asking her pop quiz-style trick questions, intentionally designed to embarrass her. This, needless to say, is a serious accusation.

Of course if her response had been to a question from a real journalist instead of an intellectual crack whore, the follow-up would have been, “What specific questions were you asked that in your view were unethical?”

But not everybody is Hugh Hewitt. Somebody ought to ask her now. Does being asked what she thinks of Congress trying to bail out Wall Street count as a pop quiz? How about Couric’s relentless queries regarding her newspaper-reading habits? At this point, what would count as “fair” question to ask Palin? How much she loves her kids?

Also, this column was posted at a couple of the bigger right-wing sites, so I’ve gotten a couple of hundred emails. Although most are devoted to informing me that I am an elitist, an encouraging number are from Republicans or right-leaning independents who say they were going to vote for McCain before he picked Palin, but now won’t.

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[ 12 ] October 1, 2008 |

The Romanovs were victims of political repression:

Russia’s Supreme Court has ruled that the last Tsar, Nicholas II, and his family were victims of political repression and should be rehabilitated.

The rehabilitation has long been demanded by the tsar’s descendants. Nicholas, his wife Alexandra, their five children, doctor and three servants were shot dead by Bolshevik revolutionaries in July, 1918. Lower courts had previously refused to reclassify the killings, which had been categorised as simply murder.

Waiting for the moment when Vladimir Putin discovers he’s actually the long lost heir of Nicholas II…

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Ask an Apocalypse Specialist

[ 72 ] October 1, 2008 |

Dear Dr. Farley,

Should I be preparing a boat or a car?

Distressed in DC

Dear Distressed in DC,

The failure of the modern energy transportation network will make such distinctions irrelevant. It would be better to ask “horse or bike?” I recommend the former; horses can swim, and in a pinch can be eaten.

Dear Dr. Farley,

Is cannibalism really as bad as they say?

Preparing in Peoria

Dear Preparing in Peoria,

As in all things, it depends on who you’re with.

Dear Dr. Farley,

In the event of an apocalypse, is it more important to save our shotgun shells for the zombies out to eat our delicious tasty brain matter or for the mutants that will arise in the radioactive wastelands that were once our cities?


Dear NN,

Neither. Shotgun shells will be ineffective against the monkey-cyborgs that are likely to rise from the ashes of what was once American civilization. I recommend an M-16 with M995 armor piercing cartridges, or a .50 caliber machine gun. Details here. Also, aim for the monkey parts.

Dear Dr. Farley,

As a political science grad who became a journalist, obviously I’m screwed when the apocalypse arrives and absolutely must find a new career. Brewing sounds too complicated — how does one become an accredited acpocalypse specialist? Is there a correspondence course?


Dear RP,

Absolutely! Please send your application, a CV, and your first tuition installment of $5000 to Apocalypse Industries, Box 544460, Terre Haute, Indiana 47802. For obvious reasons we cannot accept credit cards. However, student loans are available to qualified applicants.

Dr. Farley, accredited* Apocalypse Specialist, has a twice-weekly column at

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The Sexism of Sarah Palin

[ 0 ] October 1, 2008 |

I see we have a key Republican policy so common that even Sarah Palin can repeat it with some measure of coherence. This “principle,” alas, is the idea that women lack the moral agency to be held accountable for actions that are allegedly so bad that assisting someone in such an action should be a serious crime in all 50 states:

Gov. PALIN: I’m saying that personally I would counsel that person to choose life, despite horrific, horrific circumstances that this person would find themselves in. And if you’re asking, though, kind of foundationally here should anybody end up in jail for having had an abortion, absolutely not. That’s nothing that I would ever support.

There are two ways of explaining this ridiculous position: either Palin has indefensible views about the rationality of women or she doesn’t believe her own “pro-life” rhetoric. There is no third option.

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Sarah Palin’s Self-Parodying Stream-of-Consciousness Affirmation of the Day

[ 0 ] October 1, 2008 |

Holy shit. She even sounds like a dope on Hugh Hewitt’s show.

HH: Governor, let’s turn to a couple of issues that the MSM’s not going to pick up. You’re pro-life, and how much of the virulent opposition to you on the left do you attribute to your pro-life position, and maybe even to the birth of, your decision, your and Todd’s decision to have Trig?

SP: Yeah, you know, I think that that’s been probably the most hurtful and nonsensical slap that we’ve been taking is our position that we have taken, pro-life, me personally, and saying that you know, even though I knew that 13 weeks along that Trig would be born with Down Syndrome, and I said you know, he’s still going to be a most precious ingredient in this sometimes messed-up world that we live in. I know that my son is going to provide a lot of hope and a lot of promise in this world, and I’m so thankful of course that I’ve had the opportunity to give him life and to bring him into this world.

Earlier in the interview, she refers to herself as “Joe six-pack.” Twice.

I don’t know what else there is to say at this point. I really don’t. But if Sarah Palin or Hugh Hewitt can point me to one person — one person, that is, who isn’t a degenerate Ayn Rand fanboy — who’s argued she should have aborted her kid, I will attempt to strangle a wolf with my bare hands.

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I Am Aware of All Internet Traditions…

[ 21 ] October 1, 2008 |

…but unlike Sarah Palin, I do not read all newspapers.

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Simply Because Something Must Happen Doesn’t Mean it Will Happen

[ 73 ] October 1, 2008 |

Settlements, Bailouts, and the Roman Republic

So now Ehud Olmert thinks that Israel needs to uproot the settlements and withdraw from Jerusalem and the West Bank. That’s kind of interesting in the context of this article on radical settlers, which makes pretty clear that any effort to uproot the West Bank settlers will result in a campaign of terror and assassination against Israel’s leaders.

When I was in Israel with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies last June, we were given a lecture on Palestinian terrorist organizations that ended with the surprising (given the FDD sponsorship) argument that the settlements would destroy Israel if they weren’t abandoned in the next ten years or so. The argument (which I substantially agree with) went like this: If not abandoned, the settlements will require either the construction of a full apartheid state, or the extermination/expulsion of the Palestinian inhabitants of the West Bank. Either way, Israeli democracy dies, and Israel cannot survive without democratic institutions. Interestingly enough, a friend and I were speaking with one of the FDD organizers after the lecture, and he made the argument that the settlers could not be moved; there were too many of them, and they held too much political power. When we asked what his solution was, he said “Eventually, one side will develop the political will necessary to resolve the situation”.

I found that claim pretty scary, but then I’m not sure that the political argument is wrong. There is, believe it or not, space for the settlers in Israel, and the border could be drawn or redrawn such that some settlements would be enclosed in Israel, potentially with territorial or other compensation for the Palestinians. But that’s not the problem. The problem, rather, is that the political institutions of Israeli life are insufficient to accomplish the task of removing the settlements. To vastly oversimplify, the Israeli body politic is divided into three groups; those who recognize the threat that the settlements pose and want to uproot them, those who recognize the threat but for instrumental reasons don’t want to uproot them, and those who don’t because they just want to watch the world burn.

The outcome, I fear, is that a majority of the Israeli population will realize the problem that the settlements represent, but that Israeli institutions (in particularly the structure of its political parties) will prevent their uprooting; fear of terrorism on the part of settlers and greed for the votes of settlers will prevent the kind of broad compromise necessary to withdrawing from the West Bank. And so, I’m afraid, Israeli democracy is in serious danger, in spite of the fact that Israel has, in many ways, a more vigorous culture of democratic participation than the United States. Other than those who are happy to watch the world burn, no one wants this outcome; nevertheless, avoiding it is going to be extremely difficult.

Posts by Ezra and Hilzoy make this point in reference to the bailout bill. There seems to be fairly broad consensus that something ought to be done, strong differences of opinion on this particular bailout bill notwithstanding. These differences are strong, however, and are by and large seriously held; people from legitimately different perspectives on the economy are going to have different bailout priorities, even within each major party. And there is also a group that is content to watch the world burn; this group constitutes the greater portion (although, I think, not the entirety) of the Republican Party. Within this context it should be possible to put together some kind of bill that will ward off the worst economic consequences of the financial collapse, but it is wrong to assume that a bill will actually happen. The Democrats could push the bill through with a party line vote, but such a bill might well be vetoed by the President, or filibustered by the Senate. Any concession either way on the current bill could easily alienate as many votes on the one side as it brings on the other. It is not at all difficult for me to believe that no bailout bill will pass; the consequences of that may or may not be grave, but in any case the risk is worrisome. Although there’s plenty of perfidy to go around on the bailout, this outcome is not dependent on that perfidy; institutions can fail without any help from the evil or stupid.

Both the settlements problem and the bailout problem remind me of something I wrote a while ago in reference to the Roman Republic. Simply because something must happen does not mean that it will happen. The Roman Republic faced a series of internal crises that were evident to all and that desperately required political solution; moreover, the contours of such solution were evident to most of the relevant political players, and in the abstract were achievable. The Republic had been designed to manage the political affairs of a small city-state. The achievement of Empire made those institutions quaint; provincial governors would make war on their own authority, and return to Rome at the head of Legions bound by personal loyalty and with more money than the whole of the Roman state. The institutions of the Roman Republic, solid enough for five hundred years, were insufficient to actually achieving the necessary solutions. In the face of crises that demanded solution, the Roman Republic crumbled, because the institutional structure created vested interests and veto points that prevented the achievement of any solution. The Republic could not save itself because its very structure prevented it from doing the things that were necessary to reform. Almost no one wanted this outcome, but no one could stop it from happening. It’s not that people are stupid (although many are) or dishonest (although many are); its that the institutions make certain outcomes difficult to achieve.

This doesn’t mean that everything is going to fall apart. The United States, I think, faces a crisis far less substantial than that of Israel or of the Roman Republic. I’m not so sure about Israel’s crisis; I do think that the settlements problem could, in the end, be as devastating to the Israeli state as the problems that the Roman Republic faced in the first century BCE. This is to say that the Israeli state may cease to exist in its current form in the same sense that the Roman Republic ceased to exist in the latter half of the first century. This also isn’t a call for bipartisan hand-holding; the Republican Party has essentially ceased to be an organization interested in policymaking of any sort, and can’t be regarded as a legitimate partner for the making of responsible legislation. Still, politics can fail even when almost everyone knows that they want to succeed. In the context of both the settlements and the bailout, that can be kind of scary.

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Random sports stuff

[ 39 ] September 30, 2008 |

(1) A statistic that will appeal to any baseball fan’s inner geek: Alex Rodriguez has scored one fewer run than he’s batted in in his career, and he’s consequently 691 RBI short of Hank Aaron’s career record, and 690 runs scored short of Rickey Henderson’s career mark. Bill James’s favorite toy formula gives him a 39% chance of breaking the RBI record and a 36% shot at the runs scored crown. It also projects him to finish with exactly 760 career home runs (somehow I doubt he’ll stop at just that number), which of course means he’s projected at even money to break Bonds’ record.

(2) As a Detroit Lions fan, it gives me a certain grim comfort to know that Oakland Raiders fans are in an even worse position, given that their franchise is being held hostage by a senile madman. Al Davis’ latest stunt is that he’s flatly refusing to pay the millions he owes newly fired coach Lane Kiffin. Davis has a history of doing this (he still owes Mike Shanahan a lot of money). Davis, who is 79, claims that he won’t quit until “he” wins two more Super Bowls.

(3) The NFL replay rule, which gives coaches three challenges per game, plus unlimited replay discretion for the officals in the last two minutes of halves, is vastly superior to the college version, where every play is subject to potential review at the discretion of the officials. This leads to pointless delays as the refs review trivial plays, compounded by their occasional failure to review crucial plays that absolutely should be looked at again. A flaw with both systems is the standard of review, which is far too high — “indisputable visual evidence,” which is supposed to be a beyond a reasonable doubt standard. If you’re going to review the play, it should be done on a de novo basis, or maybe with a clear and convincing standard, which in effect is what a lot of replay officals end up using informally.

(4) This is pretty awesome:

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Bad Strategy and Double-Crosses

[ 13 ] September 30, 2008 |

Yglesias makes a couple good points about the failure of the bailout bill. I especially agree that Paulson isn’t getting nearly enough blame for having completely botched the process at the start. Paulson’s initial proposal reminds me of the great scene in A Civil Action where Schlichtmann opens up settlement negotiations with an utterly outrageous proposal, which rather than bringing a counter-offer simply causes the other parties to walk away from the table, starting a spiral that would lead to him losing his shirt although he had a good case against one of the defendants. While an initial proposal should be more than you think you can get, Paulson’s proposal was so baldly indefensible that it made getting even an improved plan passed much more difficult, and initial negotiations should have occurred in private.

I think this is also right:

The House conservatives who sank the bailout didn’t do so because they were listening to loud and angry voices. They sank the plan by accident. They were trying to double-cross the Democrats. First, they wrung lots of concessions out of Democrats at the negotiating table as the price for delivering 80 votes. Then, by not delivering 80 votes and forcing Pelosi to pass the bill as a partisan Democratic bill, they were going to wage a demagogic anti-bailout campaign. But Pelosi refused to be played for a sucker and so the conservative inadvertently sank a bill that, all evidence suggests, they actually wanted to pass. They just wanted to vote “no” on it for short-term political gain.

It seems pretty obvious that if Boehner can’t get enough of the people sharing his clown car to vote for a bill, then the Dems simply need to pass a better bill and take responsibility for it (since they’ll get it anyway.) If the GOP wants to make a big issue out of maintaining stringent bankruptcy laws in this economic climate, let ‘em.

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Ask an Apocalypse Specialist

[ 36 ] September 30, 2008 |

Dear Dr. Farley,

In view of the impending financial distress, I’m worried about my cats. Should I stock up on cat food, or will it be available in post-apocalypse America?


Worried in Dubuque

Dear Worried in Dubuque,

No. You should concentrate on stocking up on firearms, clean water, and canned goods. Cat food will most certainly not be available in post-apocalypse America; any housecats will only be a drain on your resources. Your cats should be eaten at the first opportunity, followed by the eating of any surplus cat food. Most such food is edible by humans, and while you may be tempted to “fatten up” your cats, much of the energy in the cat food is lost when its eaten by the cat.

Dear Dr. Farley,

Will they need political scientists in post-financial apocalypse America?

Tenured at Texas Tech

Dear Tenured at Texas Tech,

No. They don’t need political scientists now, and certainly won’t need them after the apocalypse. I suggest you find a new profession, such as trapper, tanner, mercenary, or apocalypse specialist.

Dr. Farley, accredited* Apocalypse Specialist, has a twice-weekly column at Update here.

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Not everything you learned about history in grade school is actually true

[ 15 ] September 30, 2008 |

I missed this from Tapper the other day. Commenting on the fact that Obama and Biden appeared in a Virginia rainstorm, he wrote:

Astute students of history have noted, weather is not something politicians should take lightly. The presidency of William Henry Harrison, indeed Harrison’s life lasted a mere month after after he caught a cold at his inauguration, which was held outside on a chilly Washington morning.

I won’t be too hard on the guy here, since I only learned about two years ago that Harrison actually didn’t fall ill after delivering his inaugural address, but instead developed a cold — and soon after pneumonia and pleurisy — three weeks into his presidency. But still. If you’re going to make a medically untrue observation about how people actually get sick, and if you’re unwilling to spend a few seconds on the internets to weigh the historical veracity of your irrelevant aside, you’d do well not to open the sentence by invoking what “astute students” happen to think.

He could have salvaged himself, though, by at least linking to this definitive account of Harrison’s life:

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