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If we’ve won Katie Couric, we’ve won America!

[ 0 ] September 5, 2007 |

For nearly forty years, a prophecy — known only to the clerics of Outer Wingnuttia — has foretold the arrival of the One True Redeemer, a Chosen One who will recalibrate the scales of national honor by atoning for the sins of Walter Cronkite, one of History’s Greatest Living Monsters, and the CBS network that sponsored his betrayals.

At last, it appears the day of atonement has arrived. Behold Jules Crittenden:

Cronkite made it acceptable to question Vietnam, to accept failure, and ultimately to abandon Vietnam, which at this late date, makes it acceptable to pretend there were no dire consequences for the United States, for millions of Southeast Asians. Couric, best known at CBS for a well-turned ankle, is now bucking convention by daring to say something good is happening there. It would be ironic if TV’s most famously lightweight anchor made it acceptable to think seriously about Iraq, our progress there, our prospects there, the consequences of abandonment there.

Oh, ho, ho, irony! Oh, no, no, we don’t get that here. See, uh, people ski topless here while smoking dope, so irony’s not really a, a high priority. We haven’t had any irony here since about, uh, ’83, when I was the only practitioner of it. And I stopped because I was tired of being stared at.

Loose Quality Control at TAPPED

[ 0 ] September 5, 2007 |

So, what, we’re letting just anyone post at TAPPED now?

…and the fact that he got an Atrios link for this is going to make my campaign to count Atrios-linked posts as publications for tenure purposes so much more difficult…

The War on Gore

[ 0 ] September 5, 2007 |

Until Bob Somerby gets a book contract, this fine Vanity Fair article on the history-changing media war on Al Gore will do. In particular, what’s important about the piece is that it’s not just about the “right-wing noise machine” but calls out, by name and with detail, figures in the so-called “liberal media,” not just columnists but reporters, who spread tall tales about Gore. Particularly egregious was the inept and grossly unprofessional work of Ceci Connolly in the Post and Kit Seelye in the Times. For example, creating the bogus “Love Canal” story out of a straightforward misquote:

On December 1, 1999, Connolly—and Seelye—misquoted Gore in a damning way. Their error was picked up elsewhere and repeated, and snowballed into a political nightmare. Gore was speaking to a group of students at Concord High School, in New Hampshire, about how young people could effect change. He described a letter he had received as a congressman in 1978 from a girl in Toone, Tennessee, about how her father and grandfather had gotten mysteriously ill. He had looked into the matter and found that the town was a toxic-waste site. He went on:

“I looked around the country for other sites like that. I found a little place in upstate New York called Love Canal. I had the first hearing on that issue and Toone, Tennessee. That was the one you didn’t hear of, but that was the one that started it all.… We passed a major national law to clean up hazardous dumpsites, and we had new efforts to stop the practices that ended up poisoning water around the country.… It all happened because one high-school student got involved.”

Jill Hoffman, a high-school senior in the audience who was helping to film the event, says, “I remember thinking, I really, really like what he has to say.” But what Seelye and Connolly zeroed in on was Gore yet again claiming credit for something he didn’t do—”discovering” Love Canal (which was, in fact, discovered by the people who lived there). In addition to mischaracterizing his somewhat ambiguous statement, they misquoted him, claiming he said, “I was the one that started it all,” instead of “that was the one that started it all.” The next day, Seelye offered a friendlier account of Gore’s visit to the school. Connolly repeated the misquote. In an article titled “First ‘Love Story,’ Now Love Canal,” she wrote:

The man who mistakenly claimed to have inspired the movie “Love Story” and to have invented the Internet says he didn’t quite mean to say he discovered a toxic waste site when he said at a high school forum Tuesday in New Hampshire: “I found a little place in upstate New York called Love Canal.” Gore went on to brag about holding the “first hearing on that issue” and said “I was the one that started it all.”

There is, sadly, plenty more where that came from. [Via Kevin Drum.]

All About the Horses

[ 0 ] September 5, 2007 |

This is a 747. Seeing a 747 is not an uncommon experience if one hangs out at airports, unless your preferred airport-of-hanging is Bluegrass Airport in Lexington. At Bluegrass, the only 747s you see are, like this one, from the United Arab Emirates. Kentucky and the UAE have a close connection between one another because of the horses; Rashid al Maktoum, Emir of Dubai, owns several horse farms in the area and regularly flies in (along with others) to buy new horses.

The good folks of Kentucky seem unfazed by all of this, although on Monday there was some good natured gawking at the size of the aircraft. In Kentucky, partiality for horses excuses many sins. Debbie Schlussel, of course, is not one of the good folks of Kentucky. For a chuckle, check out these two old posts on the relationship between Kentucky and the UAE.

Why My Life Has Been a Monstrous Success, vol. MMCMVIII

[ 0 ] September 4, 2007 |

Since we’re transcribing conversations today, here’s an illuminating, cautionary moment for anyone who might, say, want to remain gainfully employed for a while. After three hours of teaching, and while retrieving the day’s 40th cup of coffee, this is pretty much the chat I had with someone as we exchanged a thermos of cream.

Me: [weary, unnecessarily self-pitying sigh.]
Stranger: Well, you sound wiped out.
Me: Yeah, I don’t know how I ever make it through the first day. My wife teaches middle school, and I honestly don’t know how she gets through it.

[Stranger offers what I, with my crackerjack perception, interpret as the universal facial expression for, "Oh? Amuse me some more, you clever young man."]

Me: Seriously. If I worked more than ten hours a week, I’d have to be hospitalized.

Today is the first day of my sixth year teaching at a small public university, where I have evidently not absorbed any number of powerful lessons about not saying the first thing that comes to mind. The stranger, I have come to find out, is the new dean of my college. Although I’m pretty sure my annual evaluations will indicate that I have devoted nearly all of my waking hours to laboring on behalf of the state, I have to marvel at my ability to start things off on the wrong foot.

If I were a character in a mob film, I’d probably be wearing concrete shoes within the first half hour.

The Glamor of Labor

[ 0 ] September 4, 2007 |

Given that pregnancy has become oh-so-trendy, we had to know this was coming: a line of clothing for laboring women. Yes, you read that right, clothes for women in labor. To wear during labor and delivery.

While I was at first repulsed, I tried to keep an open mind about the company, Binsi. After all, they do seem to consider various places in which to labor (home, hospital), and to be centered around the idea of a vaginal (as opposed to cesarean) birth. In fact, the website in its FAQs almost turns up its nose at the idea of hospital births (albeit, in the context of supporting their own sales):

What if my nurses don’t want me to wear my Binsi clothes?

If you are giving birth at a hospital, you may be surprised at how much courage it takes to ask for things that are important to you, but they want the same outcome you do: a happy patient that has a good experience. Whether it is the courage to ask to wear your Binsi clothes, or something (anything!) else that you feel you need—all you need to do is ask.

But that’s where my appreciation ends. Because, as a friend of Jezebel’s Anna notes, there’s another side to this:

“The end times are near. We are no longer allowed to have any moment in which we are not sexualized. Even at the ultimate conclusion of sex. I feel like that fact that a woman created this makes it even more horrific. Why do we do this to each other? No man would conceive of this product.

Exactly. While I can understand that good intentions might be behind this (“this is going to be on video forever, so look the best you can!” or something), the end result is to focus attention on women’s appearances and to continue their sexualization. Some might say that this move is not out of place during a moment so intimately connected to a sexual act. But I think the reverse is true (full disclosure: I have never given birth so this is theoretical rather than from experience). I mean, if a woman still has to worry about her appearance when pushing a bowling ball through her vagina, what hope is there for us to escape an appearance-focused sexualizing and objectifying society?

Anti-State Building

[ 0 ] September 4, 2007 |

Reading this Michael Gordon piece, I’m struck by the extent to which the strategy of allying with Sunni tribes amounts to a renunciation of US state-building aims in Iraq. Put simply, enhancing the prestige and capabilities of multiple non-state actors in Iraq is directly contradictory to the aim of constructing a viable nation-state. Indeed, I’m not sure I could envision a strategy less likely to produce a viable state; these groups are going to contend against what amounts to the Iraqi government at the earliest convenient opportunity. State-building is a nasty, violent business during which the central government becomes more militarily powerful than other societal groups, eventually disarming and delegitimizing its competitors. Current US policy is to rearm and relegitimize the competitors; any idiot should be able to see the contradiction.

The problem, I think, is that things have been so bad for so long in Iraq that US military and political officials were willing to jump on anything that looked like good news. The political and institutional pressure on Petraeus to produce good news and evidence of progress has led to the intensification of these programs of support for Sunni tribes, in spite of the fact that these programs directly contradict stated US aims in Iraq and would be fatal to Iraqi nation-state project, were than project not already dead. Yet, because of the political pressure from Washington and the institutional desire to produce a “win”, we continue to pursue a policy that is guaranteed to make the civil war worse, rather than better.

Cross-posted to TAPPED.

Mainstream Movie Report: Apatow Edition

[ 0 ] September 4, 2007 |

I’m way behind on my movie blogging, so the two Apatow movies seem like a good place to start. Asthetically, they’re evidently both extremely funny. The first two-thirds of Knocked Up are more consistently funny as any Hollywood movie in a long, long time. Perhaps even more relevant than Freaks and Geeks (and the underrated Undeclared) is Apatow’s involvement in the best television comedy of my lifetime; it’s nice to see the art of the multiple good one-liners come back. It does sag a bit towards the end. I wasn’t surprised that, having systematically recycled the most exhausted sitcom cliches for his clever ploy to demonstrate the ineptitude of most television critics Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip Aaron Sorkin climaxed with a childbirth plot — highly appropriate because whereas most cliches are cliches because they used to be good hooks as far as I can tell a childbirth plot has never led to a comedically or dramatically good episode of television ever. The last part of Knocked Up isn’t nearly as bad, of course, but it does tail off noticeably as things move to the hospital. Even with that, it produces so many more laughs than the typical comedy that it seems churlish to complain. Superbad doesn’t peak as high and is more consistent, although it does overdo the sitcommy reaction shots and as many people have noted the cop subplot gets too much screentime. Obviously, the evolution of the teen sex comedy is unusually rapid: Porky’s-American Pie-Road Trip-Superbad is a lot of progress.

One potential complaint about both, which bleeds into the quality of the films, is that Apatow & co. haven’t created enough movement with the gender paradigm. Enjoying Knocked Up as much as the quality of the comedy merits does require getting over the utter implausibility of virtually every aspect of the central relationship. (This isn’t to say that any aesthetically mismatched relationship will be implausible, but this one isn’t convincing in its details.) Interestingly, Ezra tries to salvage Superbad from similar charges with a charitable reading of the conclusion. I would like to agree but while I’m open to change my mind on a second viewing I don’t really buy it. IIRC Jules carefully avoids giving Seth even a sub silento permanent rejection at the party and the conclusion does nothing to negate the possibility of a mutual pairing-off rather than Jules strictly running interference.

Admittedly, it must be said that tensions derived from mismatches are a fruitful source of comedy, as both of these movies ultimately prove. Still, it would be nice to see some fruitful tensions other than the “shlubby guy scores with smart, nice, extremely hot woman for no obvious reason” relationship. At least Superbad avoids the “girl who looks like a model portrayed as ugly because she wears glasses and inevitably looks better before the makeover than after” routine…

The Little Things…

[ 0 ] September 4, 2007 |

On my way out of Chicago on Saturday, I stopped by a friend’s house for breakfast. The fast having been broken, we sat and chatted for a while, since my flight didn’t leave until 1:45pm. Of course, it takes at least half an hour to get to O’Hare from anywhere in Chicago, and I’m always paranoid about arriving late at the airport, so I called a cab company at 11:30am. I got the automatic system, which correctly identified my location, and asked whether I wanted a cab immediately or wanted to schedule one for the future. I pressed “1″ for immediately, and the system responded that a cab would arrive shortly.

Half an hour later, I began to get concerned. I called back, and this time was put immediately on hold. After waiting for ten minutes (You’re business is very important to us. Please stay on the line”), I finally got an operator, and the following conversation ensued:

  • Rob: Hi; I ordered a cab at 2321 W. Weston about 40 minutes ago, and it hasn’t shown up yet.
  • Operator: Oh, yes. A cab hasn’t been dispatched.
  • Rob: Uh… why not?
  • Operator: We don’t serve your area.
  • Rob: …. Couldn’t someone have told me that before?
  • Operator: You used the automated system.
  • Rob: So?
  • Operator: You have to call back to find out that a cab isn’t coming.
  • Rob: …. That’s great; thanks very much!

That’s pretty close to verbatim, and the operator’s tone was matter of fact; no indication that there might have been anything wrong with the system, and no hint of apology. Fortunately my friend was able to take me to the airport, so I didn’t miss my flight.

Suckered By Specter

[ 0 ] September 3, 2007 |

While this certainly doesn’t let Dianne Feinstein off the hook for casting the decisive vote to let Southern-Fried Alito Leslie Southwick onto the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, Christy Hardin Smith argues that Judiciary Committee Chair Pat Leahy could have preempted the nomination from coming to a vote. He failed to do so as part of a gentleman’s agreement with Arlen Specter and then let the Republicans browbeat Feinstein into focusing on Southwick’s personal qualities rather than his judicial record (also, you’ll remember, the strategy with Alito: “He likes baseball! He’s nice to his grandmother! He doesn’t raise his voice! How could he be the doctrinaire conservative that his judicial record makes clear that he is?”) Depressing stuff.

State Subsidy Libertarianism

[ 0 ] September 3, 2007 |

Great stuff from Mark Schmitt about the massive-state-subsidies-for-me-but-not-for-thee rural western version of small-government conservatism and self-reliance, from Larry Craig’s likely replacement:

A year ago, Risch was the acting governor of Idaho. He told this newspaper’s Oliver Burkeman how he viewed the victims of Katrina:

“Here in Idaho, we couldn’t understand how people could sit around on the kerbs waiting for the federal government to come and do something. We had a dam break in 1976, but we didn’t whine about it. We got out our backhoes and we rebuilt the roads and replanted the fields and got on with our lives. That’s the culture here. Not waiting for the federal government to bring you drinking water. In Idaho there would have been entrepreneurs selling the drinking water.”

Taken on its own terms, this is a cruel and unsympathetic statement, assuming that the deeply impoverished people of a city that had washed away could and should have just taken care of themselves. But if you look at what Risch was talking about, it’s truly astonishing.

The dam that broke in 1976 was the Teton dam, built on the Snake River just a few months earlier, at a cost of $100m. (That’s worth almost $500m today.) Built not by entrepreneurs, but by the federal government’s bureau of reclamation. It was built at the political insistence of a few millionaire ranchers and potato-growers, whose political allies had persuaded the government to build a series of dams that transformed a desert into some of the richest and wettest agricultural land in the country. And it was built despite predictions that it would fail.

And when it did fail, it was not the self-sufficient entrepreneurs of Idaho who “rebuilt the roads and replanted the fields.” It was, once again, the federal government. According to the government’s official history of the incident, federal agencies quickly rebuilt all the irrigation systems, and paid more than $850 million in claims to about 15,000 people who had lost property in the flood.

This, not Larry Craig’s awkwardly closeted sexuality, is the hypocrisy that matters. This hypocrisy consists not in a failure to reconcile public and private life, but in two public positions that are in absolute contradiction to one another: The belief that people must make it on their own, with no “whining” and no help from government, coexisting with a staggering, slavish dependence on government – and the federal government, and thus taxpayers of the rest of America, in particular.

Indeed. Cf. also “States’ rights and the Tennessee Valley Authority.”

Catastrophe Keeps Us Out of the Playoffs

[ 0 ] September 3, 2007 |

Admittedly, you always had to make Little Orphan Annie look like a cynic to think that the Mariners would make the playoffs, but still, even I didn’t expect a collapse of quite this immediacy and magnitude. And things figure to get worse before they get better.

Note to self: Pedro “Better Than Koufax” Martinez is coming back today; put it on, and then lock the remote away somewhere to protect against any twisted desire you might have to turn to the Yankees/Mariners game…

…wow, no commercials between the half-inning so you can watch Pedro’s warmup tosses! Cool. Nice thing to own your own network, I guess…

just as I have predicted all along! All hail King Felix! Yankees are the suxxor!!!111ONE11!! When it comes to signing Roger Clemens I can only agree with Suzyn Waldman!

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