Friday, June 29, 2012

Cheap shots and chasers 6/29

Slow burner
Have you ever read something extremely difficult—a paragraph, say, by Emanuel Kant—parsed it, and reread it until suddenly you had a clear idea what it meant? And then five minutes later you'd lost it?

Something like that seems to have happened to Representative Darryl Issa at a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms briefing in April 2010, when the Bureau's Fast and Furious program for tracing the paths of the illegal gun trade to Mexico was thoroughly explained. A few months afterwards he started asking questions about it, and he's never stopped since.
At the briefing last year, bureau officials laid out for Issa and other members of Congress from both parties details of several ATF investigations, including Fast and Furious, the sources said. For that program, the briefing covered how many guns had been bought by “straw purchasers,’’ the types of guns and how much money had been spent, said one source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the briefing was not public.
“All of the things [Issa] has been screaming about, he was briefed on,’’ said one source familiar with the session.
He must have had one of those moments at the briefing where he understood something for once, and he's been trying to recapture it ever since. That's why he can't explain to anybody what crime it is he thinks somebody committed—he hasn't got any idea. (h/t YAFB at Rumproast)

This chart is from Down with Tyranny—I don't know who's responsible for it.
I'm embarrassed to say that it's totally false; Romney never outsourced any American jobs overseas, he only offshored them. It's really important to keep this clear, because it makes such a difference to the out-of-work Americans themselves to know they've been offshored but not outsourced. Doesn't it?

Speaking of the privileged
If you're too frivolous to read Emptywheel, you probably missed this rap video by Pakistani comedian Ali Gul Pir about the life of the "feudal's son". English titles (if you don't see them you should hit "CC" at the bottom of the screen).

Where is thy sting?
From Fortune Magazine's wonderful exposé of the ATF's Fast & Furious "scandal"
New facts are still coming to light—and will likely continue to do so with the Justice Department inspector general's report expected in coming months. Among the discoveries: Fast and Furious' top suspects—Sinaloa Cartel operatives and Mexican nationals who were providing the money, ordering the guns, and directing the recruitment of the straw purchasers—turned out to be FBI informants who were receiving money from the bureau. That came as news to the ATF agents in Group VII. 
And these good folks aren't just complaining about the Affordable Care Act and socialist takeover and pernicious anticolonialism and all, they're doing something about it. They have such a surprise coming! (h/t Attaturk)
The sacred facepalm. Artist unknown.

A moment of Burkean minimalism and self-control

I have half a mind to congratulate myself—some friends say that's all the mind I have for any purpose whatever—on Monday's post where I called the Roberts ruling on the PPACA. But it will make me prouder if I handle this with Burkean minimalism and self-control, listening to what others have to say.

Here, incidentally, is some minimalist language from Edmund Burke, on the subject of the ex-Governor General of India, Warren Hastings, whose impeachment Burke was leading in the Commons: he
called Hastings the 'captain-general of iniquity'; who never dined without 'creating a famine'; his heart was 'gangrened to the core' and he resembled both a 'spider of Hell' and a 'ravenous vulture devouring the carcases of the dead'.
James Nixon (1741-1812), The trial of Warren Hastings. From 1st Art Gallery.

David Brooks:
Granted, he had to imagine a law slightly different than the one that was passed in order to get the result he wanted, but Roberts’s decision still represents a moment of Burkean minimalism and self-control.... [jump]

Monday, June 25, 2012

Supremely affordable

Night vision golf. From Incredible Things.
Everybody has to submit a take on the Supreme Court this week and what they're going to do with the Affordable Care Act. One reason for optimism might take a back road, as follows:

We don't know that the Court does everything the Republican Party wants; what we know is that it does everything Big Business wants, by and large, which is not the same thing (Republicans only really care about the bond market and other such bloodsuckers). There are a lot of businesses that have figured out how to do reasonably well or much better with the new law, such as doctors, biotech firms, drug companies, medical schools and teaching hospitals, and many more. It is not in their interest to see the ACA repealed, and John Roberts and Anthony Kennedy may well have heard about this. They play golf, don't they?
Update Monday evening:
With the Court's ruling on Arizona's immigration law out, I just want to brag a little on how it goes along with the above argument. Business, properly speaking, has nothing against illegal immigration, you know: it's a source of cheap labor and growing markets.

Republicans are against illegal immigration because they are tied to this crowd of nativist yahoos that vote for them—if only millionaires voted Republican, they wouldn't be able to win an election even in Scarsdale, so they have to give on these issues that they don't actually care about at all, like abortion and guns, and they have to at least pretend they care about the dusky hordes invading the homeland to speak their foreign languages right in our faces.

But the Supreme Court doesn't need anybody's votes; they are free to represent the millionaires in a more simple and direct way. So they voided all the anti-business provisions of the Arizona law, leaving nearly intact, however, the provision allowing the police to harass anybody that looks like he might not have a birth certificate, because what's life if a cop can't even harass anybody?

And then when business and Republican interests are in accord, as in the case of the Montana corporate campaign contributions law, the Court's task is easy.

So will the same logic work with the ACA? We'll see.

Update 6/28
I hate to say I told you so. Told you so!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The curious case of the penitent president. I

I have the funniest feeling President Obama has suddenly remembered us—the loyal imposition, you know, who don't have any objection to a bit of socialism, or to Reverend Wright and Bill Ayres (in his post-terrorist aspect), or to spending a few years per century without a war being on—and is sending us faint signals from his Fortress of Solitude, if we listen carefully.
Playground superhero. From Whiskywords.
One of these was last Wednesday's Times article (by Scott Shane and Charlie Savage) trying to explain how the Obama administration found itself prosecuting six different cases of leaks under the Espionage Act, which, as you've heard, is twice as many as the number of prosecutions under all previous US presidents put together. In the first place Obama is said to have had nothing to do with it: [jump]

Friday, June 22, 2012

He also surfs who only stands and waits

Shorter George Will:
When the Wilson brothers—Brian, Carl, Dennis, and James Q.—formed the Beach Boys in 1961, they represented exactly the same California spirit that made Ronald Reagan governor in 1967.
Didn't use to be that individualistic. Los Angeles beach, from UC Berkeley PlayGreen

Actually he doesn't say that James Q. Wilson belonged to the Beach Boys, but he doesn't deny it. And he doesn't mean to suggest that Californians were mentally ill when they voted for Reagan. He just quotes James Q. to the effect that the Californians of the time were totally alienated, every-man-is-an-island, Hobbesian atoms, but really really happy that way: Southern Californians had
“no identities except their personal identities, no obvious group affiliations to make possible any reference to them by collective nouns. I never heard the phrase ‘ethnic group’ until I was in graduate school....
“The Eastern lifestyle,” Wilson wrote, “produced a feeling of territory, the Western lifestyle a feeling of property... a very conventional and bourgeois sense of property and responsibility.”
I'd say it was that half the population was too stoned to vote—the half that had human connections, unfortunately—and I'd say that Brian would agree, at least if he could remember. And the Beach Boys had such a group affiliation that they were always referred to by a collective noun.

And I'll bet, moreover, that there were brown people within low-rider distance of whatever little-boxes suburb James Q. Wilson grew up in (he was from Denver, and went to college in Redlands, CA, to a Baptist school with compulsory religious services) that knew plenty about group identities, including the ethnic group James Q. himself belonged to (the ethnicity that dare not speak its name!).
Take that, Dr. Turk! Nobody disrespects the Beach Boys around me.

Cheap shots and chasers 6/22

Look out, Tom! It's another one! From the Portland Mercury.

Eat your heart out, Friedman—those benighted North Africans who will never amount to anything because of their uncreative classrooms and rote learning, unlike the Singaporeans and South Koreans with their uncreative classrooms and rote learning, are going to save the world from global warming.

The Tunisian company Saphon Energy is selling a new approach to wind power using an ancient technology, with a four-foot circular sail on the top of a pole where it captures the kinetic energy of the wind that sways it back and forth. It's noiseless, and harmless to birds. Read the whole story at TPM and check out the company's website.

Now that retired pitcher Roger Clemens has been found not guilty of lying to Congress about his alleged use of steroids and HGH in his second trial (the first trial fell apart when prosecutors showed the jury inadmissible evidence), I wanted to take another look at this map, unearthed by bmaz at emptywheel a little while back, illustrating the bases covered in the FBI/Department of Justice investigation of Clemens in the four years they worked on the case, giving you a powerful sense of what an enormous elephant they constructed to pick up this little pea. "Any more questions," bmaz asked plaintively at the time, "why DOJ cannot get around to prosecuting banksters?" And that was when it still seemed likely they might get a conviction!

Still and all, it goes to show you: The arcs of the Department of Justice bend toward the moral universe, but they're too damn long.

What a difference a day makes! Before the elections, Antonis Samaras of Greece's New Democracy Party was such a Gloomy Gus, and now?
“Samaras today is completely different than what he was two weeks ago,” [hard-right politician George] Kirtsos said. “Two weeks ago, he was very negative about cooperating with Pasok.”
You have to read the Times story pretty carefully to find out why, but it's there all the same:
Critics say that Mr. Samaras destabilized Greece with his insistence on calling elections to replace the government led by Lucas Papademos, the technocratic prime minister whose mandate was to sign Greece’s second loan agreement.
“He just wanted to be prime minister,” said Thanos Veremis, a political historian who said he voted for New Democracy as a last resort. “It was pure ambition, pure and simple. Even in this state of collapse, he wanted to be Nero, playing his harp.”
Yes: after the May elections nobody wanted to ask Samaras to be prime minister and he had a great big sad. So they had to have another election—that's €47.9 million, cheaper than the €70.4 million they spent in May, but still a good bit for a bankrupt treasury to shell out. But hey, Antonis feels better now, so it's worth it, right? Thugs.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Being not evil

Saw this at Raw Story and it made me all sorts of heartwarmed:
Google has set out to save the world’s dying languages. In an alliance with scholars and linguists, the Internet powerhouse on Wednesday introduced an Endangered Languages Project website where people can find, share, and store information about dialects in danger of disappearing.
“People can share their knowledge and research directly through the site and help keep the content up-to-date,” project managers Clara Rivera Rodriguez and Jason Rissman said in a Google blog post.
“A diverse group of collaborators have already begun to contribute content ranging from 18th-century manuscripts to modern teaching tools like video and audio language samples and knowledge-sharing articles.”

 The story on Google's own official blog has some great videos: here.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Selective fail

Albertito Gonzales just crept out of the woodwork to warn us that our president might be in violation of the oath of office:
“To halt through executive order the deportation of some undocumented immigrants looks like a political calculation to win Hispanic votes,” Gonzales told the crowd at the Faith & Freedom Coalition conference in Washington, D.C. Saturday, “and subjects him to criticism that he is violating his oath of office by selectively failing to enforce the law.”
Image by Harpyen at DeviantArt.

Before you start throwing up in your mouth, just take a moment to remember that when the Bush administration started selectively failing to enforce the law they weren't doing it for aliens but for job creators
The federal government is moving to eliminate the jobs of nearly half of the lawyers at the Internal Revenue Service who audit tax returns of some of the wealthiest Americans, specifically those who are subject to gift and estate taxes when they transfer parts of their fortunes to their children and others.
The administration plans to cut the jobs of 157 of the agency’s 345 estate tax lawyers, plus 17 support personnel, in less than 70 days. Kevin Brown, an I.R.S. deputy commissioner, confirmed the cuts after The New York Times was given internal documents by people inside the I.R.S. who oppose them. (New York Times, July 23 2006)
—and not to win votes, that's for the little people, but to win campaign contributions.  (Check out what Jim Cook said at the time. And here's some more evidence.)

Not to be confused, of course, with when they were selectively breaking the law.

Monday, June 18, 2012

And it teaches them respect for authority, too

New York City schoolkids are not allowed to carry cell phones to school, by order of the Department of Education—on the grounds that they're a distraction in the classroom, and can be used to cheat or organize other kinds of evil behavior. If a student is caught on school grounds with a mobile phone it will be confiscated, returned only when a parent comes in and asks for it.
From Times of India.
It's not only the kids that don't accept this, it's the parents, for whom it is a safety issue. Now that the phones exist, we all want our children to have one with them at all times so they can call us if they need us and so we can call them if they don't. So they all do have them, naturally. In a well-run middle or high school, like the ones my kids went to, the principal just smiles and says, "If I don't see the phone, I can't confiscate it, can I?" And so everybody including the principal is living in happy defiance of Mayor Bloomberg and his very serious rules.

But this doesn't work for everybody, as the New York Post reported today:
The city’s ban on cellphones in schools is taking an amazing $4.2 million a year out of kids’ pockets, a Post analysis has found.
The students — who attend the nearly 90 high schools and middle schools with permanent metal detectors — pay $1 a day to store their phones either in stores or in trucks that park around the buildings.
The cottage industry has become so profitable, it rakes in $22,800 a day from some of the city’s poorest youngsters, whose families would rather shell out the money than risk their children’s safety.
If there's a metal detector, you see, the principal can't help; the kid gets caught right at the door. And why do some schools have metal detectors? That's because of a fear of weapons, in particular guns, which was certainly justified at one time not too long ago, and may still be. And which schools have them? You guessed it, the ones in the poorest neighborhoods—that's where a schoolchild might have a gun—and where just for that reason the kids need their phones the most.

So why can't the mayor and the chancellor just drop the rule, and let the kids drop the phones in the basket with their keys and coins before they go through the detector and then retrieve them afterwards? Now, thanks to the Post, we have an idea: it's part of the mayor's program for helping out business by bleeding the public's money.

Frankly I had no idea he was concerned with such small businesses. I mean, I'm used to him doing it with Snapple, or Princeton Review, but these little trucks? I guess it's just a case of no child's wallet left behind...
The Pure Loyalty truck outside Washington Irving High School. From Huffington Post's Alona Elkayam, according to whom this guy clears some $2500 a day.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Republics and democracies

Democracy is the Athenian way, right, where all the members of the population (δῆμος/dêmos) take part in the governance (κρατία/kratía) of the state, each watching out for their own particular interests no doubt; the republic is the Roman way, where the business (res) of the state is public (publica), common to everybody. A democracy is about people and what they do, a republic is about a thing and what it is.
From the documentary 1981: Un été en rose et noir by Virginie Linhart. Found at Telle est la Télé.
Or is this formulation polluted by an idea, bizarre and totally ahistorical, that American party names, Democrat and Republican, have a meaning? I'm thinking of today's parties, with the Democrats concerned with identity politics and conflict resolution, under the assumption that different people are going to want different things that must inevitably clash, and [jump]

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Romney's Israel policy unveiled

From the LA Times report:
In hawkish remarks that drew cheers from an audience of religious conservatives, Mitt Romney accused President Obama on Saturday of being more afraid that Israel might attack Iran than that Iran will develop a nuclear weapon.

The Republican presidential candidate, who frequently attacks the administration for failing to back Israel’s government more aggressively, ratcheted up his criticism a notch. He responded with ridicule when asked what he would do, if elected, to strengthen U.S. relations with the Jewish state. 
“I think, by and large, you can just look at the things the president has done and do the opposite,” Romney said, to laughter and applause from members of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, an evangelical Christian political organization.
Hmm, let's just see how that works out...
  • June 2012: Candidate Romney, speaking to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac), warns that America's commitment to Israel "could be shaken".
  • July 2012: Visiting Jerusalem, Willard Mitt Romney declines to leave customary prayer note at the Western Wall; cites fears that the contents could be leaked to Israeli journalists, compromising US security. It remains unknown whether he baptized any deceased citizens of the beleaguered little country during his trip.
  • May 2013: President Romney refuses to meet with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, saying he lacks confidence in two-state solution; remarks, "Palestinians can just be more violent if they feel the need, and Israel can keep building those settlements."
  • September 2013: President Romney, in his first meeting since taking office with Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas,  advises them not to rush into peace talks: "Relax, there's no hurry."
  • June 2014: Following the Israeli raid on a flotilla of Turkish boats bringing aid to the besieged Gaza territory, President Romney passes up calling Turkish prime minister Erdogan to express regret for the deaths of Turkish citizens, declares that the US in "not interested in a credible, impartial and transparent investigation of the facts surrounding this tragedy."
  • May 2015: President Romney and Prime Minister Netanyahu announce that there are now "no differences between them." In a major foreign policy speech at the state department, Romney said, "I don't think anything really important is going on in the Middle East anyway, a revolution here and there..."
  • February 2016: The US is not cooperating with Israel to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power, says President Romney. "We just don't feel it's really our business," he explained. "If Prime Minister Netanyahu thinks it's that big a deal, I'm sure he can take care of it."
I'm a little concerned about the way the campaign is developing. Doesn't he think he might alienate the human vote?

I concocted this crude but helpful gloss on Romney's remarks using the Israel-Obama timeline at
Keeping to the treif and narrow. From AllJewishLinks.

And just for fun, here's this golden oldie from the Washington Post Fact Checker:
The Hill amusingly said that in the primary’s waning hours, Gingrich threw the “kosher kitchen sink” at Romney. While we are not sure what this claim says about Romney’s understanding of religious liberty, it turns out that in 2003 he did indeed veto $600,000 in spending to run Massachusetts’s eight kosher nursing home facilities.
Romney’s  campaign said he was practicing fiscal restraint in a time of fiscal crisis, but his veto was quickly overridden by an unanimous vote in the House and an overwhelming vote in the state Senate after tales emerged of people in their 80s and 90s faced with having to leave their homes or break kosher tenets for the first time in their lives.  The New York Post resurrected this story in an article last week.
(Mostly cross-posted at Daily Kos.)

Happy Bloomsday!

Yes, it was on this day in 1904 that Mr Leopold Bloom began his day with "grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine" and headed out towards Paddy Dignam's funeral.

I tried to find a "classical" setting of text from Ulysses but didn't care for anything I found. This is pretty great—especially the brief second and third pieces.

More Cathy Berberian, and Ulysses too, but no music. Only there is. Text provided if you watch this at YouTube.

And the Shannon Colleens (Sinead Murphy and Darina Gallagher) singing Songs of Joyce at Bewleys Cafe Theatre, Dublin, for the Bloomsday Festival June 2010.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Cheap shots and chasers 6/15

Updated 6/16 (with new taco picture)

Ah, fascists! Ilias Kasidiaris of Greece's far-right Golden Dawn party, who tried to beat up two left-wing members of parliament, both women, last Friday, on live national television, was locked up in the TV studio after people called the cops and escaped by busting in the door—now he's announced he's going to sue the women, for "unprovoked defamation", and the TV station for illegal detention.
Steampunk five-lens glasses. From
David Brooks comes out all apocalypytic all of a sudden:
many Republicans have now come to the conclusion that the welfare-state model is in its death throes. Yuval Levin expressed the sentiment perfectly in a definitive essay for The Weekly Standard called “Our Age of Anxiety”:
“We have a sense that the economic order we knew in the second half of the 20th century may not be coming back at all — that we have entered a new era for which we have not been well prepared. ... We are, rather, on the cusp of the fiscal and institutional collapse of our welfare state, which threatens not only the future of government finances but also the future of American capitalism."
Jeez, collapsing due to its internal contradictions! Ever hear that before?*  And after Götterdämmerung, where are we bound? What's the new social order going to be like?

It's going to be like 1927! or maybe 1890, before that damned Grover Cleveland pushed the income tax in with the tariff bill! Because
the current model shifts resources away from the innovative sectors of the economy and into the bloated state-supported ones, like health care and education. Successive presidents have layered on regulations and loopholes, creating a form of state capitalism in which big businesses thrive because they have political connections and small businesses struggle.
You didn't think we were going to get Denmark, did you? It's the retroactionary program—when Romney's elected, they're going to Restore the Future, right? get rid of all that sleek blond wood and stainless steel of the future as we know it in favor of what? Steampunk, of course!

*You have to check this out from ExurbanDoug, a quiet Brooks disciple, born to blush unseen and waste his sweetness on the summer air. Presumably he gets these great big ideas atop his great big lawnmower tractor.

¡Todos se asemejan! The website, wooing the Spanish-speaking vote for the Republicans,  wanted a nice picture of jolly brown children to demonstrate their friendly feelings. They probably meant Spanish-speaking children, but what they got was a mixture of kids from different parts of Asia, as you can see from the original at Shutterstock. Apparently the gaffe is being repaired, but here's a screenshot—lest we forget.
From Talking Points Memo.

Bulgogi tacos, with cheese, Korilla BBQ Truck, Los Angeles. From Hungry Taiwanese Girl.
And poetic justice via Raw Story:
Arizona state senator Russell Pearce (R-18), the lawmaker who crafted the state’s controversial anti-immigration law, SB 1070, also known as the “Papers, please” law, was thrice denied a venue for a fundraiser scheduled for Thursday afternoon, June 14. According to the Arizona Capital Times, the former legislator asked two Mexican restaurants and a public school library to host the event, only to be told to please campaign somewhere else.
The fundraising event was originally planned to be held at Macayo’s restaurant in Phoenix, but the plan was scuttled by activist Dee Dee Garcia Blase of Arizona’s Tequila Party, a conservative Latino group formed in reaction to the deportation-happy Tea Party. Garcia Blase organized a protest to be held outside the restaurant during the event and contacted Macayo’s corporate offices, which led the restaurant to cancel the event on Thursday morning.
Arizona state senator Russell Pearce (R-Mesa). From Mesa Arizona Now!

How do you like the outfit? And how do you like this outfit, from Tucker ("I am so not gay") Carlson's Daily Caller, celebrating "with hot American women" for Flag Day on Thursday?

And this one?
Abbie Hoffman. Via Tristero at Digby's Hullaballoo.
Now guess which of these three got busted and jailed for desecrating the American flag? Hint: It wasn't a Republican, even though the rules don't say anything about what party you belong to:
(a) The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.
(b) The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor, water, or merchandise.
(c) The flag should never be carried flat or horizontally, but always aloft and free.
(d) The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery. It should never be festooned, drawn back, nor up, in folds, but always allowed to fall free. Bunting of blue, white, and red, always arranged with the blue above, the white in the middle, and the red below, should be used for covering a speaker’s desk, draping the front of the platform, and for decoration in general.
(e) The flag should never be fastened, displayed, used, or stored in such a manner as to permit it to be easily torn, soiled, or damaged in any way.
 And now guess where that text came from.

(Apologies to Monsieur Bouffant for appropriating all his research here; I didn't mean to, but the image of Senator Pearce is my discovery and once I had that I couldn't stop.)

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Revolving discredit

Washington Post wants to know why presidential campaigns in the US spend so much money on television advertising, even though it is known that it doesn't really work very well in general elections :
The notion that all that TV money will buy relatively little is almost as old as TV itself. Dozens of academic examinations since the 1940s have shown that TV ads have limited persuasive effects on voters in general elections, often accounting for no more than a 1 or 2 percent difference, and often considerably less.
What’s more, outspending a rival on advertising in a general-election campaign doesn’t guarantee anything; John Kerry and his Democratic allies ran almost 200,000 more commercials than George W. Bush did in 2004 and lost in a close election. On the other hand, Obama had a narrower advertising advantage over Sen. John McCain in 2008 and won relatively easily.
Revolving doors by Boon Edam.
They have an idea for an answer, but it seems pretty lame to me; that they "can't afford not to." It's not likely to make any difference, but they figure you never know:
[Former Howard Dean advisor Steve] McMahon says the great danger for any campaign is to lose your “share of voice” — the ability to match or exceed an opponent’s advertising. Such imbalances could crop up more frequently in this election because of unlimited spending by super PACs.
It's like saying we should go spend more money on a clearly ineffective missile defense system because maybe it could help in a real pinch. Oh, wait.*

 I had an idea about this once that might be worth developing. You know the famous revolving door between the military and the defense industry, where muck-a-mucks leave the service to join "private" enterprise and their job is to tell the generals and colonels that were once their junior officers to buy the company's products, whether they need them or not? And the equally famous revolving door between politicians and their staffs and the K Street lobbying firms?

Maybe there's the same kind of thing going on between campaign operatives and pollsters and media folk, advising politicians to make themselves known and then moving back to their ad agencies and PR firms, convincing each other that that TV market is really really important precisely because it's so expensive, i.e., profitable for the company, just like an F-35 or a $640 toilet seat.

And look how much money and fame there is in it! Look at the late William Safire, if you will, an advertising man from the start, or George Stephanopoulos**; look at the abominable Mark Penn!

So it's basically a con game, with Sheldon Adelson as the hapless mark. Looking at it this way really ought to make me laugh out loud, but it doesn't somehow. Not because, or not just because the relatively good guys must do it as well as the relatively bad; and certainly not because of what it does to my own TV, since we get almost none of that here, New York not being a swing market.

No, it's because of what advertising is primarily used for, to give value—buzz value, or wishful elegance, or significance—to the crappy stuff we are expected to buy, McDonalds food, the Adam Sandler movie, Paloma Picasso earrings. It's that our candidates see themselves as intrinsically valueless, as needing that kind of semiotic inflation. Which is true, in a sense, because the amount of money you raise governs the amount of attention you get from the news media, broadcast and print, such that only a candidate with x many millions of dollars is a serious candidate, and a striking ad is a news story in itself, with made-to-order visuals, way better than a policy speech.

And who sells advertising? Exactly. It's another revolving door.

*That's what poor old Mr. Cheney called the 1% doctrine, isn't it? That was a funny one, anyway. Even the most skeptical skeptic would admit that there's at least a 1% chance that human-created global warming would make our planet uninhabitable within a couple of generations, but that didn't rouse the Big Dick to action. Or maybe that probability is just too high; like, "OMG, Mr. Vice President, looks like the North Koreans are going to build a nuclear weapon!" "Well, there's just a 1% chance Iraq might do it first, so let's go whack them."

**I saw George Stephanopoulos once, toddling up West 79th St. from Riverside. I don't know why I'm telling you this, but in 20 years of living in New York that is my biggest celebrity spotting, unless you prefer Julia Child, which I do—Julia Child was gratifying, because I was studying an interesting restaurant menu, and I thought she beamed at me. Now she's gone, of course, and Stephanopoulos is still around, even though Blogger thinks his name is misspelled and underlines it with angry red dots.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Eugenics, I genics

Shorter Ross Douthat:
Is the reproductive selection by some parents today entirely different from the eugenics of an earlier era?
This is another one of those cases where the Times copy department has strangely written their own Shorter. But you can't find it online, it's only on the page 3 teaser section in the paper paper.

The answer to the question, needless to say, is probably no for the Apostolic Nuncio to 42nd Street, but yes for the rest of us.

It is entirely different. The eugenics of the early 20th century was fascist in character, even if many persons of an otherwise progressive bent (Theodore Roosevelt and Margaret Sanger) favored it.  That "otherwise progressive", by the way, doesn't mean they weren't racists, because they were. It was concerned with what the state ought to do about other people's children—not ours!
Blastocysts, closed and open. From Stem Cell Bioethics.
The folks now planning to bless their heirs with longer legs and a tighter brain than they have themselves as soon as the science permits are working out a private-enterprise program to do something about their own children—not anybody else's. Except to the extent that one of the benefits they hope to score from it is the admiration of everybody else of their blonde, straight-nosed, Yale-alumnus scions, alongside that of an amusement for their early adult years and a staff of support for their old age.

You could say it is boboist in character, since it is the behavior of people imagined by Ross's partner-in-pandritry David Brooks. Supposing there are any such folks, at any rate.

In the real world as we currently know it, there are basically two legitimate reasons for choosing or rejecting to have a baby based on its genes: parents-to-be practicing in vitro fertilization may use genetic information to decide which of their blastocysts they should toss out, assuming they don't want sextuplets; and some women may choose to have an abortion rather than keep a fetus doomed to intense suffering and an early death.

Oh! Did you say "abortion"? Alternative shorter Ross Douthat:
Nazis practiced forced abortion, so anybody who gets an abortion is a Nazi.
 It's just the same old column after all.

N.B. I was able to write the foregoing virtually without looking at the column itself, on the basis of the teaser alone. Having read it, I need to make only a couple of further remarks.

First, the opening paragraph is an appeal to an article from the Yale Alumni Magazine. I initially assumed it was there to remind us that Ross went to Yale—to let us know, as it were, that when he finally mates with that chunky Reese Witherspoon, nobody needs to worry about how smart the baby will be. But Wikipedia tells us he went to Harvard, raising an irrelevant but fascinating question: What kind of person not a Yale alumnus could possibly find time to read the Yale Alumni Magazine? (I know: he only looks at it for the nude pictures.)

Second, in the sentence on which the teaser was based, he gets part of the point about the difference between the fascist state and the hopeful mother:
Is this sort of “liberal eugenics,” in which the agents of reproductive selection are parents rather than the state, entirely different from the eugenics of Fisher’s era, which forced sterilization on unwilling men and women?
But he misses the rest of it: the all-important difference between their kids and our kids, allowing him to move straight into his false equivalency through an idiotic strawman—
From a rigorously pro-choice perspective, the in utero phase is a space in human development where disease and disability can be eradicated, and our impulse toward perfection given ever-freer rein, without necessarily doing any violence to human dignity and human rights
—to the metaphysical peroration on what makes us just like Nazis:
First, a relentless desire for mastery and control, not only over our own lives but over the very marrow and sinew of generations yet unborn. And second, a belief in our own fundamental goodness, no matter to what ends our mastery is turned.
(Failing to distinguish the liberal belief that people are fundamentally good from the conservative belief that I'm fundamentally good and frack you...)

Friday, June 8, 2012

Cheap shots and chasers 6/8

Shorter David Brooks: Endorsing Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker in Tuesday's recall election:
Walker is an obnoxious, hyperpartisan brute who exemplifies everything in movement conservatives I've been complaining about for years now, but you should vote for him because he thinks exactly the way I do.
 That's only part of the column; for the rest, Dean Baker offers an enjoyably acid takedown.

Walker himself won, of course, but not everybody believes it's because Wisconsin agrees with him, as Roy Edroso translated it into our language,
that the problem with our economy is that garbagemen and schoolteachers make too much money.
 Zandar at Balloon Juice and assorted colleagues argue persuasively from exit polls that Wisconsin just doesn't like recalls. Then again it seems that this recall has given control of the state senate to Democrats, so Walker will not be able to railroad any more of his ghastly program through it.

To Walker, naturally,
Tonight, we tell Wisconsin, we tell our country and we tell people all across the globe that voters really do want leaders who stand up and make the tough decisions.
Edible dried zombie skin, From Crosstalknet.
That "tough decisions" phrase has to be one of the most abused in the zombie rhetoric repertoire, by the way. It sounds like a brave decision made by a politician without regard to cheap popularity, a "profiles in courage" choice. But it is invariably used to describe a decision that is self-evidently bad—a bogus solution to a problem that may not even exist presented as the only alternative, like trying to jail all the undocumented immigrants in Arizona—to conform with some kind of pharisaically pinched, narrow-minded notion of moral hazard: cutting off somebody else's nose to spite your own face, and ensure the votes of the nastiest people in your constituency.

Another piece of zombie rhetoric was used this week by secretary of defense Leon Panetta:
“We have made clear to the Pakistanis that the United States of America is going to defend ourselves against those who attack us,” Mr. Panetta said. “This is not just about protecting the United States. It’s also about protecting Pakistan. And we have made it very clear that we are going to continue to defend ourselves.”
 Panetta is here answering, or refusing to answer, the question of  whether drone strikes in Pakistan violate that country's sovereignty. The usage, as a rhetorical trick, comes from Israel: every time the Israeli government is caught committing some abuse against somebody in the neighborhood they cry, "Israel has a right to defend itself."

The implication is always that this is a plea: justifiable crime, because it's self-defense. But they never actually argue it, because it isn't arguable—self-defense doesn't justify everything. If the United States is violating Pakistani sovereignty by dropping bombs there maybe it is truly somebody's idea of self-defense, but it's still violating Pakistani sovereignty nevertheless, and no amount of zombie rhetoric can change it.

Truth terrorists: China
Wu Xiaoqing, the vice minister for environmental protection, demanded that foreign governments stop releasing data on China’s air.
In a criticism clearly aimed at the United States, Mr. Wu said at a news conference that the public release of air-quality data by foreign governments’ consulates “not only doesn’t abide by the spirits of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, but also violates relevant provisions of environmental protection.” (New York Times, June 6, 2012)
What's supposedly wrong with the data is that it's not "representative"—I guess in the sense that instead of building its consulates in a very large random sample of locations, the US puts them only in major cities, the very places most likely to suffer from pollution; you get no idea of the bracing atmosphere in Inner Mongolia or at the North Korean border, or the sultry breeze in semitropical Hainan.
Cycling Hainan. From
What's really wrong is that it's data the Chinese government didn't get a chance to edit—those consulates are nothing but a bunch of truth terrorists. Anyway Wu's statement shouldn't be interpreted as some kind of threat; the vice minister simply wanted to clear the air, heh-heh.

Jennifer Rubin writes;
Obama also has wrecked havoc in the the Democratic Party.
No, you do not wreck havoc. Unless the meaning is, "You had some perfectly good havoc in the Democratic Party, and he went and wrecked it." Which would be a pretty odd thing—talk about concern trolling!

One wreaks havoc (past tense and participle wreaked) or occasionally works it (past tense and participle wrought). Not knowing this is illiterate, and illiteracy is a disqualification for writing a column in a national newspaper. See Zandar, again, for demonstration that the content of this column is even worse than the English usage.


Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Bishopric watch

At one point in Anthony Trollope's Framley Parsonage,  the Liberals are out and the Conservatives are in, and considering reviving a failed Liberal bill to add two bishops to the C of E roster, much to the delight of Dr. Grantly, the High-Tory archdeacon of Barchester, though he thought it was devil's work when the Whigs were sponsoring it; as a Conservative bill, though, it might lead to a bishopric for himself! [jump]
Perpendicular fan vaulting, Peterborough Cathedral. From An Illustrated Dictionary of British Churches.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Bubble boys

Digby reports an amazing anecdote from Daniel Klaidman's Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and the Soul of the Obama Presidency. It seems what convinced Eric Holder that there was something wrong with waterboarding was Christopher Hitchens's 2008 Vanity Fair article and the appended video about his own being waterboarded: [jump]

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Old school

Lest you think the picture of education in New York City is unrelievedly grim, the Times runs a story today about (mostly elementary) schools where the PTA raises a million dollars or so a year in pledge campaigns that are largely supplanting bake sales and auctions as money makers. [jump]

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Cheap shots and chasers 6/2

Jonah Goldberg on CNN:
[I]t is a simple fact of science that nothing correlates more with ignorance and stupidity than youth. We’re all born idiots, and we only get over that condition as we get less young. And yet there’s this thing in this culture where, ‘Oh, young people are for it so it must be special.’ No, the reason young people are for it because they don’t know better. That’s why we call them young people. [...]

The fact that young people think socialism is better than capitalism. That’s proof of what social scientists call their stupidity and their ignorance. And that’s something that conservatives have to beat out of them. Either literally or figuratively as far as I’m concerned. (cited from Think Progress)
Maybe Jonah (who got his first winger-welfare sinecure at the American Enterprise Institute when he was 22 or 23) was just born old, but I'm guessing he must have been beaten pretty thoroughly.
Governor Cuomo's plan to build a casino and convention center adjacent to the Aqueduct racetrack in one of the most forlorn parts of Queens appears to have fallen through, as our Malaysian partner, Genting, withdrew, whether because of uncertainty as to whether the necessary changes to the state constitution would be made, or because they were expecting exclusive rights to gambling in New York City and not getting them, or maybe because it was just an awful idea. Because why on earth would anyone book a convention next door to JFK Airport—so they could walk over from the terminal? If you're visiting New York, you at least want to visit Williamsburg, right?
Skyway to the original Genting property, Genting Highlands in West Malaysia. Wouldn't work in Queens.
The Turkish pianist and composer Fazıl Say is in trouble for irreverent tweeting: as the Digital Journal reports,
In an apparent reference to Islam's enticement to men about the afterlife, Say quoted from a verse by the famous Islamic poet Omar Khayyam, tweeting,
You say wine will flow from its rivers,
Is heaven a pub?
You say two women per believer,
Is heaven a brothel?
Say also tweeted that he's an atheist and proud of it. In another tweet he made fun of a muezzin that finished the call to prayer in 22 seconds. He asked, "What's the rush, a lover or the raki (booze) table waiting for you?"
An Istanbul court has charged him with “publicly insulting religious values that are adopted by a part of the nation,” with a trial date of October 18, and he could get up to 18 months.

If you think quoting Omar Khayyam is rude, you should see what he does to Brahms and Rakhmaninov:

A little intelligence

As we know, President Obama's counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, has backed down a little from his claim a year ago that there had been no civilian deaths in drone strikes since 2010:
Brennan was asked about his claim last June that for almost a year “there hasn’t been a single collateral death because of the exceptional proficiency, precision of the capabilities we’ve been able to develop.”

On Sunday, he appeared to qualify his statement. "Well, what I said was that over a period of time before my public remarks that we had no information about a single civilian, a noncombatant, being killed," he said. (Los Angeles Times, April 29, 2012)
Now we've learned from the New York Times how they manage to avoid the information: [jump]
Water-ordeal. From Wikipedia.