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And Here’s To You, Mrs. Robinson

[ 0 ] January 9, 2010 |
As I am wearing my Northern Ireland top today (coincidental, and I will not be wearing it come the NI v USA friendly) it seems appropriate to wade into this. At least the big story in the last week in Northern Irish politics has been this, and not the resurgence of a handful of semi-organized Republican assholes who clearly didn’t get the memo.
Juxtapose these paragraphs from The Guardian article:
But no one can have anticipated that this decidedly odd couple – the devout Mrs Robinson, at 59, was old enough to be the then 19-year-old McCambley’s grandmother – would have an affair .

Mrs Robinson’s transgression was the more astonishing given the controversy generated last year when she described homosexuality as an abomination on a par with paedophilia that made her nauseous. As the BBC programme coyly noted, the passage in Leviticus that she quoted contains similar sentiments about adultery.

With this:

“And here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson.
Jesus loves you more than you will know.
Woah, woah, woah.
God bless you please, Mrs. Robinson.
Heaven holds a place for those who pray.
Hey hey hey, Hey hey hey.”

Pure gold.
It’s nearly enough to make me, of a (peaceful) nationalist bent, miss the days of Ian Paisley. Unfortunately, I’m no Paul Simon, and couldn’t get the following to somehow work:
“Where have you gone, Ian Paisley?
Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.
What’s that you say, Mrs. Robinson?
Dr. No has left and gone away.”


The politics of cowardice

[ 0 ] January 9, 2010 |

I think it’s a positive sign that the WSJ published this.

On a related note, in the last two days fighter jets have been scrambled twice to “accompany” flights on which passengers became fractious in some unspecified but ultimately non-terroristic way.

Does it really make everybody feel better that the USAF is apparently primed to shoot down commercial airliners at the drop of a hat?

Also, how much does that sort of nonsense cost?

The death of self-parody

[ 0 ] January 9, 2010 |

Jonah Goldberg looks to Domino’s Pizza to explain how the GOP might renew itself in 2010 and beyond.

I have been staring at the computer for ten minutes now, trying to think of something to add to that. And, I fear, I cannot.

[ 0 ] January 9, 2010 |

Friday Daddy Blogging… Elisha and Miriam

Is Rock Band Stifling My Musical Creativity?

[ 0 ] January 9, 2010 |

Attackerman on David Hadju’s rant against Rock Band:

Oh my God, you stupid motherfucker, shut your idiot mouth. Not a single person who has ever played Rock Band has for a moment ever considered it a replacement for the creation of rock and roll. There is no attempt at this piece to even corrollate the rise of RB & GH with a decline in rock production. You couldn’t find one if you tried! Hajdu is just… inventing a problem. Under the mask of pretending to care about not burdening the youth with the musical tastes of their parents he ends up saying Goddamn kids and their video games! Wipe that filthy look of sheer joy off your face, junior!

I hate to disagree with Ackerman and agree with a TNR wanker, but frankly I’ve noticed a troubling trend lately. Instead of playing air guitar when a favorite song pops into the mix, I’ve now begun to play air Rock Band guitar. If I understand my Baudrillard correctly (and I don’t), this means that objective reality is threatened with imminent destruction.

Running Up The Score

[ 0 ] January 8, 2010 |

I don’t really understand this particular criticism of Saban. If they had the ball with under a minute and no timeouts, OK (although, even then, trying to “run up the score” would actually be against your team’s interests, so who cares?) But if you can’t run down the clock by kneeling, I don’t see the problem with running the ball making it a three-score game to ensure the championship if you can. Then again, while there may be some exceptions in extreme cases, when it comes to big-time college or professional sports, I’m not very sympathetic to bitching about “running up the score” in any case. If you don’t like the other team to run up the score, stop them. You’re not playing squash with a frail grandparent or something.

Rudy can fail

[ 0 ] January 8, 2010 |

One of the curious aspects of 9/11 is that, in an almost literal way, it somehow didn’t happen under the Bush administration’s watch. The self-evidence of this “fact” is illustrated beautifully by this.

(Of course there were many domestic terror attacks under Bush besides 9/11, starting with the anthrax business that so mysteriously went down the collective memory hole).

The reason why 9/11 didn’t happen during the Bush presidency is demonstrated by an elegant and impeccable syllogism:

(1) Terrorism only ever because our leaders are ‘weak,” on national security, i.e., they don’t throw enough crappy little countries against a wall, fail to torture enough people, etc.

(2) Republicans are never weak on national security.

(3) Ergo, 9/11 could not have happened while Bush was president.


[ 2 ] January 7, 2010 |

It’s actually kind of impressive how many obvious errors of analysis Charles Lane packs into a few paragraphs here:

I can’t remember a more breathtaking 48 hours in politics since Barack Obama’s election in November 2008. Byron Dorgan is out; Chris Dodd is out; Bill Ritter is out. Who would have thought that just one year into Obama’s promising presidency, the Democrats who had pinned their hopes on him would be dangerously close to political meltdown?


Dick Morris sees a “New Two-Party System” in which centrist Democrats are getting squeezed out of a liberal party that has no real place for them any more.

That’s about half right. It’s more like we have four political parties stuffed into two. Roughly speaking, the Democrats consist of a liberal wing (epitomized by, say, Howard Dean) and a centrist wing (think of Arkansas’s Blanche Lincoln). The Republicans include a conservative wing (e.g., Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio) and an ultra-conservative wing (Sarah Palin). These are not recent developments. Both parties have been ideological and regional coalitions for decades.


Now, however, under the Internet-intensified pressure of recession, terrorism and global uncertainty, the four parties are breaking out of the two-party mold that had previously contained them. On the Democratic side, President Obama finds himself torn between progressives demanding an ideologically pure health-care program, among other agenda items, and a pragmatic wing desperately attempting to hold together 60 Senate votes by whatever means necessary.


The past is not prologue, but party instability of this magnitude could be the harbinger of even bigger changes. The U.S. political system actually fractured into four major parties in 1860 — and we all know what happened next.

I suppose one could just note that he quotes Dick Morris as a serious political analyst and then go home, but for the record:

  • The idea that there’s “no room” for centrists in the Democratic Party couldn’t be more absurd. There remain plenty in the Democratic caucus, and as we’ve seen all too vividly they wield an enormous amount of leverage.
  • What Dorgan’s decision not to run again has to do with a split between progressives and “centrists” is, to put it mildly, unclear. As far as I can tell, no significant progressive blogger sees Dorgan’s resignation as a good thing, he wasn’t facing a primary threat, etc. etc.
  • Chris Dodd was, as Senators go, progressive. And far from being part of a “political meltdown,” his decision not to run makes it nearly certain that the Dems will hold a formerly vulnerable seat.
  • The idea that progressives are unwilling to compromise on health care, in contrast to a “pragmatic wing” of centrists, is a near-perfect inversion of the truth. Progressives have, in fact, been willing to accept any number of odious compromises in order to get a health care bill passed. It’s the Liebermans and Stupaks who are the nihilists willing to kill health care reform in order to (in the latter case) restrict abortion rights or (in the former case) indulge in unprincipled narcissism.
  • The fact that teabaggers sometimes want the Republican Party to run more conservative candidates hardly means that they aren’t willing to work within the party.
  • All of the large, “brokerage” parties that characterize two-party systems contain tensions. But, of course, American parties are in fact far more disciplined and ideologically coherent than has been the case historically. The idea that there’s an unusual degree of partly instability is utterly wrong. As for Lane’s suggestion that we could be on the verge of an 1860-like party crackup — care to make it interesting?

An impressive piece of work.

On Sending Messages

[ 0 ] January 7, 2010 |

I love this commercial:

The point, apart from some self-mockery of ESPN’s Brett Farve obsession, is that the message sent isn’t necessarily the message received. If there’s any kind of mistaken interpretation along the way, the receiver can draw a conclusion that’s exactly the opposite of what the sender intends. It’s useful to remember this in the context of international politics, because communication can be staggeringly difficult. Actors have to deal with domestic audiences and have strong incentives to deceive, making it extremely difficult to convey accurate information, especially in relationships characterized by hostility.

These problems are multiplied when the message itself lacks clarity. In the midst of one of my seemingly endless twitter feuds with Eli Lake this morning, he wrote “It was obvious to any honest observer by 2006 that Bush would not bomb Iran. The options on table talk was a negotiating ploy.” There’s a basic contradiction inherent to that tweet; if it was obvious that bombing was off the table, then the threat was pretty useless as a negotiating ploy. Setting that aside, however, it seems to me that there’s an implicit argument about message sending. Without putting words into Eli’s mouth, I think it’s fair to say that a consistent element of the neocon worldview is that the enemy only understands force, and that they’ll “get the message” if we accompany it with sufficient amounts of high explosive. Force, the argument goes, has a clarity all its own. For neocons, I think that the Iraq invasion was intended as a message to the rest of the world, with the precise content of that message being more or less:

The United States is prepared to use force in a responsible manner in order to pursue and defend its interests. We are now engaging in a high cost operation that will demonstrate our resolve and commitment.

Unfortunately, this does not appear to have been the message that either domestic opponents of the Bush administration or the international audience received. The message actually received seems to have been closer to this:

We are batshit crazy, and plan to invade random countries based on nothing more than whim.

Or maybe:

We hate Muslims (either because of 9/11 because we’re just mean), and plan to kill as many as possible.

Or maybe:

We wish to control the world’s supply of oil, and will buy or conquer every state that stands as an obstacle to that project.

I’m a charitable guy, and so I think that the message that most of the relevant policymakers intended to send was closest to number one. I can certainly understand, however, how the message that people around the world received was one of the latter three. Indeed, because I know a bit about social psychology, I can even appreciate how states and organizations hostile to the United States are MORE likely to hear one of the latter three messages rather than the first one.

Each of the messages carry radically different policy implications. If, for example, you believe that the United States is an incorrigibly hostile, semi-random aggressor, then the incentives for accomodation are rather low. To bring this back to the disagreement with Eli, however, the problem is that many honest observers could come to many different conclusions, depending on what messages they received about US behavior and intentions. While Eli may have believed that it would be crazy for the Bush administration to attack Iran after 2006, and consequently may view anyone who was concerned about such an attack as either ill-informed or fundamentally dishonest, I have rather a different view. The message that the administration sent to me was:

We are fantastically strategically incompetent, can’t really be trusted to make serious, rational decisions about national security, and consequently might just try to bomb our way out of this mess.

And so the takeaway is that we don’t own our messages, and we can’t control how others view us. I have serious doubts about the sincerity of the alleged neocon commitment to human rights, but even if I believed that the Weekly Standard crew were utterly committed to human freedom, I wouldn’t expect anyone else to believe it. Consequently, we can’t expect that what’s obvious to us will be obvious to others. Basic mistakes of communication are exceedingly likely to beset any effort at message sending in the international system.

The Politics of Glory

[ 0 ] January 7, 2010 |

Scott’s thoughts on the latest HOF ballot got me thinking about the whole “the first ballot ought to be sacred” line of thinking, this year ably represented by Jay Mariotti’s nonsensical preening.

Although I think the apparently increasingly common practice of having a different voting standard for players on the ballot for the first time is silly, it does highlight a problem with institutions like the HOF, which this year can be called the Andre Dawson Dilemma. Was Dawson an outstanding player for a long time, and a truly great player for a short one? Absolutely. Can he be compared to, say, Willie Mays without laughing? Absolutely not. Now there are some people who think the HOF should be reserved for players who can be more less reasonably compared to Willie Mays, which would mean that, ballparking it, there would be maybe 50 in there, tops.

I’m not saying, of course, that there have been 50 players as good as Mays — I’m saying that the difference between Mays and, say, Stan Musial is one of degree. The difference between Mays and Dawson is more one of kind.

But it seems a shame to have a Hall of Fame that is so restrictive that you end up shutting out lots of legitimately great players, including guys like (to just stick with Dawson’s fellow right fielders) Clemente and Kaline and Gwynn, all of whom in my opinion flunk the Willie Mays Test. On the other hand you don’t want to start putting Paul O’Neill and Jesse Barfield in there either, at least if you’re trying to maintain some standard of greatness as opposed to nostalgia-drenched pretty goodness. Dawson, who is south of Kaline but well north of Barfield, is very much in my particular gray zone.

One solution to this dilemma has been suggested by Bill James, who recommended having a Hall of Fame with different circles. Mays and Musial would get monuments. Kaline and Gwynn would get plaques. And there could be a place for the Jesse Barfields as well.

For now, the only division the voters have is this unwieldy informal business of not voting for guys on the first ballot, which seems arbitrary and ultimately pointless. (There’s the Veterans Committee of course but that’s another post).

Back to Af-Pak

[ 0 ] January 7, 2010 |

David Axe and the folks at War is Boring have an ambitious journalistic project, and could use your assistance. If you have a chance, drop a quarter in the jar.

"We want to her to be a really powerful female character, you know, a role model for young women. What you got?"

[ 0 ] January 7, 2010 |

“I think you’re gonna love her, sir. Check her out.”


“I like what I see there, Ferguson, but she doesn’t really seem powerful. She needs—”

“A more muscular physique?”

“Don’t talk crazy, Ferguson. She has to be sexy.”

“So you need her to be more powerful, but also still sexy?”

“Why don’t you give her one of those things?”

“What things?”

“You know … one of those things.”

“I don’t follow.”

“Sure you do. One of those things.”

“I think I feel you now. You mean like this?”


“Perfect! Still sexy, but now that she has a thing, she’s powerful too. Great work, Ferguson!”

Because, as we all know, female characters can’t be powerful unless they have a thing, as the good folks at Detective Comics took pains to remind us this month:


Unlike the other example above, her thing isn’t even a psychoanalytic surrogate for a thing and its thingly power. Her thing is shaped like a thing and is used for stabbing. I have nothing more to add but this: please stop publishing comics that make me think of Lacan.

(By the by, I’m still getting acclimated to posting here, so I didn’t realize that all my comic posts should appear here too. I learn something new every day.)