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June 2010 Archives

June 1, 2010

My pick for Senator: Nobody

Every so often, when no old girlfriends have shown up on Facebook, when the weather has kept me off the boat, when the clavichord is so out of tune I can't play it, or face tuning it -- on such occasions, I may in despair pick up the New York Times.

Tonight was such a night. Here's what I found, O joy -- I should read the damn thing more often:

So You Still Want to Choose Your Senator?

Few members of the Tea Party have endorsed Rand Paul’s misgivings about the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but a surprising number are calling for the repeal of an older piece of transformative legislation: the 17th Amendment. If you don’t have the Constitution on your smartphone, that’s the one adopted in 1913 that provides for direct popular election of United States senators.

I'm, like, so totally with the Teabaggers on this one. The Senate -- as the Times guy goes on to acknowledge, by the way -- was set up to be an anti-democratic institution (like the Supreme Court, one might add). Popular election just drapes a tactful figleaf over the unlovely organ(*).

Away with the figleaf! Anything that tends to bring the Senate into further discredit is a good thing -- as with the Supreme Court, come to think of it.


(*) "Like an obscure tropical fruit not much prized even by the natives," as I believe Kingsley Amis wrote somewhere. Although Kingsley, if memory serves, was speaking of an organ considerably more prepossessing than the US Senate, if you ask me.

June 3, 2010

Who is behind the deficit hysteria?

Over at Corrente, Lambert recently took Paul Krugman to the woodshed over his use of "passive constructions and flaccid verbs … designed to obfuscate" in Monday's column on the emergence of the need for austerity as a central tenet of the economic conventional wisdom.

Why does Krugman avoid naming the culprits behind the spread of monetary and fiscal hawkishness? Krugman has responded with more evasive manoeuvres. He claims that "it’s not so easy to identify the culprits, and … vested interests aren’t as clearly the villains as one might imagine."

Let's take a closer look at the evasive language being used here: "It's not easy to identify the culprits" is not to say that one cannot identify the culprits, and that "vested interests aren't as clearly the villains as one might imagine" is not to say that vested interests are not the villains.

Is it really so difficult to identify a group of culprits or the links to the vested interests? The relationship between the propaganda, the agents that disseminate it and interests that benefit from it may not be immediately clear those unaccustomed to asking "cui bono?" and following the paper trail, but that hardly applies to us here at SMBIVA, does it?

For culprits, how about the mercenary economists: both high-end academic economists like Ken Rogoff (shown above, explaining his theory about what happens when debt exceeds 90% of GDP to a member of Obama's Fiscal Commission), and their down-market cousins at the think tanks? I'd say that easily takes care of the proximate source, but what of the vested interests that ultimately set the agenda and determine the payscale of said economists? Larry Summers, mercenary economist extraordinaire, has always had a sharp eye for scouting out his next meal ticket, and scoped out the primo patrons a long time ago: the "stateless elite".

Obviously such an elite is a bit amorphous, but it still has one dominant, highly visible social institution through which it seeks its interest: the multi-national corporation. The multi-national corporation enables them to freely move around money and goods, allowing them to exploit the differences in regulations, price levels, tax rates, etc. and scoop up arbitrage profits along the way.

What does this have to do with promoting austerity in the developed nations? If we were to fully stimulate the economy, the huge trade deficit generated in the US (mainly with China) would lead for calls to reinstate tariffs and capital controls, or for harmonization of labour and environmental standards, or for reform of the forex system. That would mean hampering the ability of the stateless elite to move money and goods around the world, and/or eliminating the most lucrative sources of profit (the high dollar, in particular). The stateless elite would rather have the developed countries stagnate than have their perpetual profit machine shut down.

So why the hysteria? No citizen in their right mind would accept policies that are likely to result in their own unemployment, and no politician can campaign on increasing unemployment, but the stateless elite needs to make such policies acceptable as "necessary" evils. Solution: send forth the dismalians.

Angry face

June 4, 2010

Allergic to snakes

The other day, one of my Lefty mailing-list comrades made a comparison -- quite accurate, as far as it went -- between the Israeli attack on the Gaza flotilla, and the hijacking of the Achille Lauro. Mention of the latter reminded me of a Leon Klinghoffer joke, which I shared with the list:

Marilyn Klinghoffer: Honey, are you gonna take a showeh before dinneh?
Leon Klinghoffer: Naah, darling, I'll wash ashore.
It's hard to do justice to the fury this evoked in some of the comrades. I made a few attempts to divert the ranting into an actual discussion of humor and its workings, but these earnest contributions just made matters worse. It put me in mind of how the lady in the clip above responds to an anecdote involving a snake. (The relevant bit begins about five minutes in, though the whole thing is, of course, a gem.)

Here, for example, is let's-call-him Comrade Wellesley, after a few e-mail cycles:

.... You however are getting yourself all worked up over your stupid joke. The joke isn't funny. See, that's part of the problem in providing an ideological defense for just plain old being an asshole.

No shit, we sometimes laugh at things we're afraid of? Fucking profound, dude. Like wow, heavy.

Next thing you know you'll be telling me that we laugh to relieve anxiety, to distance ourselves from a sense of vulnerability.

No shit to that too. You must have aced the Woody Allen course in law school.

No one's asking you to feel a bit [of] sympathy.

It's just your lousy jokes that I find appalling. And your lousy justifications.

The lawyer thing....? That's you. Talk about being blind, and dumb.

(W. appears to be under the impression that I'm a lawyer, which is of course the most wounding aspect of the whole sorry business. )

The thing that struck me most about W's response is, well, how sissy it is. Haven't we all worked in settings where jokes like this are the common coin of daily life? A few other examples, from random memory:

(Told shortly after Clinton's Branch Davidian massacre):
Q: How do you pick up a girl in Waco?
A: Dustbuster.

(Told by a Jewish colleague)
Q: How was copper wire invented?
A: Two Jews fighting over a penny.

(Told by a black colleague)
Q: What did they call the first black test-tube baby?
A: Janitor in a Drum.

Now I found all of these funny, as well as the Klinghoffer one. Not everybody would, of course; humor is a very personal thing; but to respond the way W. did to any of these would have stamped you as a hopeless pathetic mollycoddle. In fact, one of the functions of jokes like this is precisely to find out if you're a hopeless pathetic mollycoddle.

Admittedly, there was a little more going on, for me anyway, with the Klinghoffer joke. I well recall the official indignation about Klinghoffer. But I just couldn't get as worked up as the manufacturers of consent wanted me to. In fact, I felt a perverse impulse to head off in the opposite direction.

One can't go too far with this stuff. I always suspected that Klinghoffer wasn't chosen at random -- that he just annoyed the hijackers so much that they finally snapped; we've all known people like that, and cruise ships' clientele is drawn almost entirely from that demographic.

Still: being annoying doesn't ordinarily carry the death penalty. It would have been better if Leon had been left to live out his time and expire under expert supervision at some sanitary institution designed for that purpose in New Jersey.

But as the poet says: When there are so many we shall have to mourn -- I'm supposed to get worked up over Leon Klinghoffer? Puh-leeze.

I would have probably laughed at the joke even if I hadn't felt manipulated by Leon's official victimhood. But defying the program of official victimhood gave it an additional fillup.

Clearly Comrade W. doesn't share this impulse at all. Which brings me back to my same old song about the American Left: many of us are really, at bottom, just stock street-legal liberals sporting a set of shiny aftermarket Marxist hubcaps -- born hall-monitors, diction police, and arbiters of something called "good taste".

June 5, 2010

Light unto the Nations strikes again -- or not

It appears that the crew of the Rachel Corrie didn't suffer the same level of Israeli barbarism that the folks on the Mavi Marmara did.

I'm glad for the Corries. It took, you should pardon the expression, balls, to sail that boat toward Gaza after what happened last weekend. Those people deserve a lot of respect.

Why wasn't it a replay? Speculation is rife, as they say. Perhaps Irish people are official white people, whereas Turks are mere Levantines -- the very kind of people Israel was created to crush under its hobnailed heel?

Perhaps. But I wonder whether the answer is even more interesting than that.

Perhaps Israel now finds itself in the awkward position of being a state that can't massacre, and can't not massacre.

Massacre has always been an important tool in the Zionist kit -- an indispensable one, in fact. The Zionist message has always been that resistance is not only futile but suicidal. (Maybe this is why suicide has become an important element of the resistance.) "We can kill you, and get away with it" -- those really ought to be the lyrics of Israel's national anthem.

The body-armored goons dropping from their choppers onto the Mavi's deck, shooting people in the head, and then bewailing their own victimhood -- no doubt they expected that to work. It has in the past, from Deir Yassein through Sabra and Shatila. If it were to stop working -- where would they be?

For whatever reason -- because the Turks are honorary Europeans now, or because we've collectively gotten wise to the Israel scam -- it seems to have stopped working, for a suddenly significant number of people. So did they have to pull back and act like a halfway civilized society in dealing with the Rachel?

If that's what's happened, it's heading into the endgame for the awful little apartheid state on the Med. Once they have to pretend to be civilized, it's all over but the screaming. Pretense seeps in, through skin and sinew into the bone -- and before you know it, you are civilized.

June 6, 2010

Sane person tries to take crazy person seriously

Mondoweiss writes, with deep alarm and puzzlement:

Israeli Strangelove now at Harvard calmly lays out ‘Armageddon scenario’

To understand the news involving Israeli nuclear-armed subs off Iran, I recommend an important post by Jerome Slater on his blog about a crazy/chilling paper from a former high Israeli security adviser now at Harvard, named Chuck Freilich.

Read the whole original post--which includes a link to Freilich's paper--then ask yourself what in heaven's name this guy is doing at Harvard?

One has to be touched by that last plaintive question, doesn't one? Two words: Summers. Kissinger.

Freilich's line is that Israel needs to nuke anybody who might even ever think about getting nuclear weapons of their own. This is pretty logical, actually.

We've known for a long time that it's useless for country A to have nuclear weapons if its antagonist country B also has them. A's nukes are only useful to it if B has no nukes. A's nukes become un-usable once B has its own, and nobody takes seriously any nuclear threat from A -- no matter how much A bays at the moon and chews the carpet and drinks its own bathwater and otherwise acts the madman.

The corollary is surely crystal-clear: if you're worried about Israel doing crazy stuff with its nuclear arsenal, and yes, mondoweiss, you should be -- then you should also be rooting for Iran to get nuclear weapons too, and the sooner the better.

That would recall those Israeli loons to a sense of reality in short order. Harvard or no Harvard.

Seems to me this is the pons asinorum for people who claim to be bothered by Israel: Well, are you willing to support Iran? No? Well then, take two aspirin and don't call me in the morning.

June 7, 2010

Helen Thomas: A woman after my own heart

Seems to be Israel Week, doesn't it?

The Israelis and their "Amen corner", as Pat Buchanan once called it, have seized with visible glee and relief on Helen Thomas' somewhat broad-brush suggestions about the Israel-Palestine perplex. Notoriously, the best defense is a good offense, and if you don't have a good offense, any old offense is better than none.

My son A. and I happened to be riding in a car -- well, actually we were sitting in a car, stuck on Route 4 in Teaneck, New Jersey, going absolutely nowhere -- when we heard the report, probably the last people in North America to do so. Good old Helen's sharp vinegary voice rang out nicely: "Get the hell out of Palestine!" A. and I looked at each other and simultaneously said, Well, yeah, they should!

Of course when you sit down and think calmly about it, once the initial excitement has passed, this idea, appealing as it may be in the abstract, doesn't seem really practical. Nobody, but nobody, is going to welcome a bunch of Israelis anywhere, and who can blame them? Doubtless even Helen wouldn't seriously propose it, if she were on a commission charged with settling the Palestine Problem, and granted the power to make it happen -- and how I wish there were such a commission, and she were on it.

No, Helen was just popping off, as we all do from time to time. She was expressing exasperation; and anybody who doesn't feel highly exasperated with Israel just now isn't quite sane.

Moreover, she holds no post under Government. Even if she had meant to offer serious policy advice, her policy views would be of no more consequence than yours or mine. Sending all the Israelis back to their lands of origin may be a silly idea -- though it's no sillier than sending their grandparents to Palestine in the first place -- but even if she seriously advocates it, so what? People have lots of silly ideas. Even newspaper columnists. Especially newspaper columnists. Two words: Abe. Rosenthal.

It's awfully comical to see the towering moral indignation with which Helen's popoff -- considered or not, silly or not -- has been greeted. Obie's mouthpiece, Robert Gibbs, a man who tells his employer's lies for a living, said that Helen's remarks were "offensive and reprehensible".

Now the moral instincts of a paid shill for a corporate front-man and mass murderer need not detain us. But it gets better:

Lanny Davis, who was also special counsel for Bill Clinton, said: “Helen Thomas, who I used to consider a close friend and who I used to respect, has showed herself to be an anti-Semitic bigot.”

Ari Fleischer, who served George Bush, said in an e-mail to the Huffington Post website that Thomas’s comments amounted to “religious cleansing”.

You've gotta hand it to these guys. They never met a shark they didn't jump.

June 8, 2010

A life of power, between walls of steel and crystal!

I'm so sick of Israel, so sick of reading about it and writing about it and thinking about it, that I'm going to go clean off the rails and talk about music here -- assuming that opera falls into the category of music, admittedly a thesis open to question.

The Metropolitan Opera here in Gotham is putting together a new production of the Ring. The set -- apparently the one and only set -- is shown above. It consists of a row of Brobdingnagian teeter-totters, actuated by mighty hydraulic cylinders.

In order to support this Gargantuan busy-box, the Met's stage has had to be reinforced. The New York Times, which is to the written word what the Met is to music, smacks its institutional lips:

Wagner’s “Ring” cycle concludes with the flaming destruction of Valhalla, the hall of the gods, a scene that will play out when the Metropolitan Opera mounts a new production of the cycle’s four operas over the next two seasons.

Structural collapse is definitely not the fate you want for your actual theater. But at the Met, that was a distinct possibility. Engineers determined that the set, conceived by Robert Lepage, the Canadian director who is creating this production, would be so heavy — roughly 45 tons — that the floor under the stage might not hold.

So that reality doesn’t imitate art, the Met had a steel company install three 65-foot girders under the stage, a feat of delicate engineering involving thousands of pounds of steel that counts as a permanent structural change to the opera house, the most extensive work yet to prepare for a new production there.

"Structural collapse is definitely not the fate you want for your actual theater." I'm not so sure about that. Now that the World Trade Center is no more, the Metropolitan Opera is arguably the ugliest building in New York, and certainly the ugliest on the West Side. If the whole gaudy gawky cheap bright-and-shiny Brummagem affair folded in on itself during the last scene of Gotterdammerung -- well, wouldn't that be poetic justice? A shoddy overblown building brought down by shoddy overblown music? Now that's the real opera! -- to paraphrase the immortal Oscar Jaffe. Boffo!

But leaving my childish apocalyptic longings aside: isn't it amazing how much support Wagner seems to need -- not just financial support, but actual non-metaphorical steel I-beams? Something there is, in Wagner, that calls for bloat: bloated sopranos, bloated conductors, bloated sets, bloated rhetoric. It's a good thing the B Minor Mass doesn't require this kind of infrastructure, or it would never have lasted as long as it has.

Baby Huey's new Lincoln Center playground falls, I suppose, into the category of "Expressionist" productions. There was a famous one years ago that starred a big ominous hole in the stage, if memory serves, like the Great Red Spot on Jupiter. Slightly more recent productions have been a bit more historicist, featuring genuine Bayreuth-style cement trees and what one critic memorably called "a man in a bear suit." But the pendulum -- or teeter-totter -- appears to have swung back.

What exactly are the semiotics of sets like this? Are they supposed to tell us how "modern" -- or even, Wotan help us, "universal" -- Wagner is?

If so, that's a laugh. There's nothing more period than Wagner -- no composer more firmly situated in the ideas and tastes of a specific time and place. The Tristan chord no longer startles us -- and without the startling, it's just schmaltz. It's like of of those no-longer-funny jokes: You had to be there.

Institutions like the Met really seem to have painted -- or I-beamed -- themselves into a corner, mounting ever more dropsical and ever less interesting readings of an ever more sclerotic repertoire. That's practically the definition of decadence: increasing investment, diminishing returns. More I-beams! Goddammit, keep those I-beams coming!

By contrast, my own Early Music world seems like the picture of health. Oh, we're a niche market, all right; but we don't spend more and more bucks for less and less bang. The same old shabby folk in tweed jackets (with chic leather elbow patches) show up every time, with just enough fresh young faces to make one feel it's not totally hopeless. But we don't do the same two dozen over-familiar items year after year. In fact, we usually do stuff you've never heard before.

For example: A little group I'm part of did Clerambault's Te Deum -- the big one, not the little one -- a couple of weeks ago. Now our singers aren't so large, either physically or in their own self-regard, that they have to be wheeled on stage; and they can't shatter a punchbowl at fifty paces. But they sounded pretty good, as did the fiddlers and the amazing chap who played the cornetto.

More to the point: we did it on a shoestring -- no I-beams required -- and it was something striking and new. It wasn't over-familiar, so it didn't have to be tarted up with some Leni Riefenstahl spectacle to stimulate the jaded tastes of boxholders too rich for their own, or anybody else's good.

He who has ears -- let him hear.

June 9, 2010

The Myth of Competence

Here's something to place stress on the responsible, neutrally technocratic, delegating procedural heart. Obama is neglecting the federal court.

Can Obama Do This Job?

Evidence from appointments suggests not.

In my inbox this morning:

a majority of federal court vacancies remain without a nominee (only 46/104 -- so let's not blame the Senate), and of the 21 known vacancies that will appear in the next year or so, there is only one nominee in place...

A president is, first of all, chief of the executive with the duty to take care that the laws be faithfully exacted. That means, first of all, hiring people to execute the laws. A good president hires people--or makes sure that people are hired. If hiring people does not interest Obama then, as i have said before, he needs to go to a Chris Edley or a John Podesta or an Erskine Bowles and give one of them the baton and his proxy to make sure that the bureaucracy can function.

So far he has not.

Professor DeLong

Adjudication is just not that important to modern corporate management. It suggests a struggle for relatively clear epistemic lines, or at any rate winners and losers, which arrive through a process that circumscribes executive needs and actions. Management is much easier to handle through administrative fiat. No mess. No fuss. Very efficient. The only difficulty lies in marketing the outcome. And that can be outsourced, most often for free.

It's helpful to think of it in business terms. As a rational self-maximizer, Obama would be a fool to spend precious time inserting more middle men. He's the Decider. There are opportunity costs to consider. Selling an appointment, and the intense search for appropriate human capital, consume resources better spent on selling the necessary outcome. Small "r" republicanism is messy, right? It entails small "d" democratic participation, which means (theoretically) that the tin foil hat people have as much say as the cognitive interventionists. We could wind up with laws that mandate the grant of honorary degrees in economics to fainting goats. Groundhog Day could become a federal holiday. The occupations could be defunded. Legislators could face cavity searches before congressional sessions. There's no end! Better to keep the focus focused on core competencies and leverage them into full spectrum market-ready solutions.

To add a touch of clarity to the imperial logic, which one would you prefer to see advising the president on important matters?


* * * * *


There now.

June 10, 2010

Just ignore him and he'll go away

For those who are blissfully unaware, this is the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, Michael Ignatieff. Yes, that Michael Ignatieff.

Since being recruited to lead the party in 2006, Iggy has been doing his best Uriah Heep impression in an attempt to convince the common hoser that he is ever so 'umble and not at all the arrogant, grasping, narcissist fraud that we all know he is. To my delight, he has failed spectacularly.

First he lost the Liberal leadership to the laughably inept Stephane Dion. Then, after a dismal showing in the last election, the ever-unpopular Ignatieff had to be installed as party leader by fiat because it was again unclear that he could garner enough votes to win within his own party. That brings us to the present deadlock:

Conservative - 31.4% Liberal - 26.8% NDP - 16.6% Green - 12.6% Bloc Quebecois - 8.9%

The minority Conservative government lacks the votes to actually pass any legislation, but if Ignatieff were to vote down any important bill, it would trigger an election that he would lose, thus ending his reign as Liberal leader. In order to avoid facing the public, Ignatieff has shamelessly collaborated with the Conservatives to pass all manner of heinous legislation.

The upside to this whole sordid saga is that the Canadian public has yet to be cowed into voting him in as the "lesser evil". Even though 68% of the public is firmly on the left, they have stoically withstood the four year assault on the country's core values, the incompetent leadership, and the international embarrassment without resorting to lesser evilism.

Unfortunately, an Orthrian plot is now afoot, with the Liberal and the NDP party elders discussing a merger. As tempting as it would be to see the Conservatives permanently removed from power, I really hope that this does not come to pass. Why risk 8 years of Ignatieff rule at a time when we could be rid of this scumbag for good? With any luck, the Canadian electorate will be able to follow Schumann Total Management Protocol and "keep the focus focused on core competencies" such as the implacable distrust of Ivy League alumni, until Iggy finally packs his bags and goes back to Boston.

June 12, 2010

Vindictively Infantile Poindexters

The Nudge blog is the online companion to Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein’s “Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness.” Here you’ll find much more about nudging, choice architecture, libertarian paternalism, and many other terms you won’t read about in standard economics books.

Cass Sunstein is currently the Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs and has no affiliation with the Nudge blog.

The Nudge blog is edited by John Balz, a graduate student in political science at the University of Chicago.


Libertarian paternalism is self-consciously oxymoronic. Who but a hopelessly passive aggressive control freak would even think of such a thing? It's a preciously cute name for a throughly odious practice. The concept appears deliberately designed to provoke ridicule and hostility. And needless to say its exponents are proud of it.

But it does look like a good fit for people who spend a lot of time with Republicans. It looks, in fact, like the Democratic answer to the Republicans' moral hygiene crusade. Drop a turd in the punch bowl;create a "choice architecture" that attempts to force people to drink out of it; make it random, impersonal and obfuscate the triggers so no one can point to any of the more obvious biases; scream "fascism and "conspiracy theory" when people object; promote flying monkey cognitive interventions, etc. etc.

Dear readers, libertarian paternalism is the philosophy of Underpants Gnomes who, God help us all, have finally figured out a way to profit. It's the zenith of Progressive social thinking.

June 15, 2010

The Big Picture girl strikes again

Thus Hurricane Katrina, in the Washbowl, erm, Washpost, where she is characterized with deadly delicate accuracy as an "opinion writer":

There's a tension between the Obama administration and the progressive movement, but it's not the one mainstream media have been describing or the White House seems to perceive.

....[W]hat's happening on the left isn't the equivalent of the anti-incumbent anger on the right. Most progressives support Obama and want his agenda to succeed.

...What we see, some 500 days into the Obama administration, is a president obstructed by a partisan Republican opposition, powerful entrenched corporate interests, and a minority of corrupt or conservative Democrats.... [I]f progressives organize independently and forge smart coalitions, building a mass movement for reform with a moral compass that can transcend left-right divisions, we may be able to push Obama beyond the limits of his own politics, overcome the timid incrementalism of the establishment Democratic Party... [and give everyone a pony -- ed.]

That's what key progressive groups -- Labor, netroots activists and others -- were trying to do in supporting a primary challenger to Democratic Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln. But the Obama administration, which had endorsed Lincoln, apparently misinterpreted the progressive position as a threat from its base....

Actually, the point of the exercise was that those opposing Obama's reform agenda will not get a free pass.... Labor will continue to devote resources to accountability primaries in several states this year, MoveOn will be campaigning to counter corporate influence, and the NAACP, SEIU and the Center for Community Change are organizing a march for jobs in October....

The tension between Obama and the progressive movement isn't a threat to the president. Rather, it may be needed to save him.

"Progressive" rhetoric is frequently incoherent, but this is pretty spectacular. Obie & Co. "misinterpreted" the Lincoln primary challenege as a "threat from the base". No such threat was either actual or intended, according to Katie, yet such challenges are this year's Hope for Change(*). "Those opposing Obama's reform agenda" seem to include all the people he has picked to work for him in the White House. "Progressives" don't want to threaten the prez, but to "save" him; and yet the prez -- the smartest prez since Jimmy Carter, without a doubt -- doesn't seem to have grasped this fact.

Or maybe it's the old story -- the Tsar means well, but his advisers are misleading him.


(*)Katie is certainly right about one thing: primary challenges are no threat at all.

Spillage; Or, Obama deploys the hankie

I've spilled a drink or two in my day -- I actually once spilled a glass of wine on Alan Greenspan, no shit, a story that will be told only in my memoirs, to be published when all my grandchildren, if any, are safely dead.

This BP thing, in the Gulf, though -- "spill" doesn't seem like quite the right word, does it? A gamma-ray spill over Hiroshima. An ash spill over Krakatoa. Don't we want a stronger term here?

Our corporatist, centrist president -- Mister Soothe And Reassure If You Possibly Can -- doesn't want a stronger term. "Spill" is fine with him. Whoops! Waiter! Some club soda here, please! Chop-chop! Oh dear, accidents do happen.

The new Decider's speech tonight has been much commented on -- mostly in tones of deep disappointment, which is a good sign, as far as it goes. I started to watch it and after about thirty seconds I was laughing so hard, with such deep strangled painful gut-wrenching guffaws, that I just couldn't go on, for fear of doing myself some serious irreparable physical injury. Here's as far as I got:

...Our nation faces a multitude of challenges. At home, our top priority is to recover and rebuild from a recession that has touched the lives of nearly every American. Abroad, our brave men and women in uniform are taking the fight to al Qaeda wherever it exists. And tonight, I've returned from a trip to the Gulf Coast to speak with you about the battle we're waging against an oil spill that is assaulting our shores and our citizens.

... I assembled a team of our nation's best scientists and engineers to tackle this challenge... led by Dr. Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist.... Scientists at our national labs and experts from academia and other oil companies have also provided ideas and advice.

Well! Then! We can all rest easy. Academia! The Nobel Prize! Other oil companies! Oh, fellow Amurricans, we are in such good hands!

All texts, even boring texts, can really be quite interesting if you have the right attitude, as I learned from reading Livy at an early age. (Cicero, I admit, tests the principle.) For example: why does a speech about BP destroying the Gulf of Mexico have to start with a reference to our brave soldier-boys and -girls?

Answer: Perspective is everything. Hey, a bazillion tons of crude in the Gulf is bad, sure, but compared to a few dozen pissed-off guys in turbans? A mere bag of shells, as Ralph Kramden sagely observed. Eyes on the prize, folks.

Obie's speech has been read as a weak one. Clinton got read the same way. This is an error. There's no weakness here. These men are advocates -- very determined advocates, and effective to the extent of their powers, which is considerable, at least with sob-sisters like Katrina van den Heuvel.

Three words: One Term Wonder. How glad I will be to see the last of this guy -- his sneering lifted upper lip, his knitted brow, his finger-wagging schoolmasterish demeanor.

What happened to the cool charming fella from the campaign?

Answer: He got elected.

June 16, 2010

1976 and all that

With apologies to Sellar & Yeatman:

1976: Yes, I'm a blubber-lipped hick Southern governor with a great fondness for the death penalty. But hey, isn't it time for a change?

1980: I'm not a blubber-lipped hick Southern governer. And besides, I'm a movie star, sort of.

1988: I'm not a repulsive squinting dwarf from Massachusetts.

1992: See 1976.

2000: I have a real hick accent, not a fake one. Okay, less fake. -- What? Okay, okay, less obviously fake. Sheesh.

2008: I'm hip, I'm cool, I have less than 3% body fat!

Elena Kagan's crooked dad...

... sued me for libel , almost thirty years ago, for, what, a million dollars? Seven million dollars? I don't quite recall. Hey, a million here, a million there...

Kagan's dad was an Upper West Side lawyer named Robert Kagan. Based on the sketchy bio one finds online, I think this must be the same Robert Kagan -- shown above -- who was exposed as a first-class crook in a little community paper I used to edit, back in the late 70s-early 80s. The paper was called Heights and Valley News (HVN).

HVN was so obscure that it's not even online. We covered the landlord-tenant struggle on the Upper West Side -- a battle which the tenants notoriously lost, and the landlords won, with ample help from high-minded West Side liberals and their institutional excrescence, the Democratic Party.

Robert Kagan had a scam in which he "represented" tenants who were resisting co-op efforts, which were the great engine of gentrification in New York back then. As soon as Robert signed up to represent the tenants, he would form a partnership with other speculators and send the tenants -- his clients -- letters offering to buy out their "insider" rights, under some such soothing name as "Apartment Investors Associates".

Needless to say, the tenants had no idea that "Apartment Investors Associates" included their lawyer, who thus stood to benefit from losing their case -- not to put too fine a point on it.

There were other fiddles, too -- non-resident fictitious "tenants" who were sockpuppets of Kagan's, for example.

No doubt this all sounds very arcane, but it was a big deal at the time. Kagan was the chair of the local community board's "ethics committee" -- you can't make this stuff up. He was either dumped, or had to resign from that position of honor, and he sued me, me personally, for libel, and claimed damages to the amount of a lot of dollars. Millions. I don't remember how many. A few more than I had, anyway.

Of course we laughed the suit off, and it went nowhere -- a very sad and ineffectual attempt at intimidation. After all, we had the documents. There was no surmising about it.

I've scanned some of the old HVN stories and posted them on Tumblr, though the resolution isn't very good on some of them. Will try to find a better alternative.

What of it, you say? Dad is one thing, daughter's another.

But there has been a good deal of speculation on what Kagan's background might tell us about her. The conventional narrative is that she comes from an idealistic high-minded left-wing milieu; so maybe we're not completely fucked. Kagan pere, in particular, is invariably characterized as a "tenant lawyer", a man who fought for the little guy against the rapacious landlords, etc., etc. Here's a particularly gaga example:

Elena Kagan and Family: Best of the Upper Left Side, with a Pro-Union Brother

​It's about time that a child of Manhattan's Upper Left Side was nominated for the Supreme Court. There is no better school for debate than the corridors of upper Broadway and the aisles of Zabar's, where the opinions are stronger than the garlic bagels.

Obama nominee Elena Kagan, 50, has impeccable ULS credentials and genes: Mom Gloria taught public school's best and brightest at Hunter College Elementary School; dad Robert was a lawyer who represented tenants.

This rave comes from the Village Voice -- which was a great supporter of gentrification, back in the day when it could actually claim to be a real newspaper.

Now if Elena is in fact the daughter of my Robert Kagan -- and it seems pretty certain she is -- then this self-flattering West Side story needs to be brought more into line with what we old-timers know to be West Side reality. Elena was raised in comfort, and plied with all the garlic bagels she could eat, on the proceeds of real-estate speculation and a crooked lawyer's fraudulent dealings with his clients.

So if background means anything -- then I guess we're fucked after all.


Update: I was originally somewhat tentative in identifying my Robert Kagan with Elena Kagan's father. It now seems clear that they are in fact one and the same -- see comment #1 -- so I've adjusted the language accordingly. --MJS

June 18, 2010

Just the facts, Ma'am

The Nation magazine has me on its mailing list. (I signed up because I find Katrina van den Heuvel intensely attractive, and I sorta hoped she might want to date me. That bony face, those sleepy eyelids, those lush wryly-curved lips...)

*Mops brow*

Where was I? -- Oh yes, The Nation, capital T, capital N. They sent me a survey -- here's the link:


It probably won't work for you -- that last bit looks like a 'nonce' tag, and I used it up. But give it a whirl.

Some of the questions were pretty easy to answer -- though I lied on all of them, a thing I always do in surveys, and encourage everyone else to do. But still: "How old are you?" has a reasonable range of responses, from zero to 100-plus. Ten thousand is not believeable, pace Mel Brooks.

What stymied me was this question:

What would you like to read more of on TheNation.com? (Check all that apply.)
  • Human rights issues
  • Healthcare reform
  • Corporate social responsibility
  • Environmental issues
  • Social/economic justice
  • Public policy or legislation
  • Political candidates/elections
  • Gender issues
  • Media issues
  • Investigative/watchdog journalism
I ground to a creaking halt on this one.

Note that "none of the above" is not an option; hell, even the SAT usually gives you that escape hatch. But TheNation.com is allowing no evasions here. These are your options. No others are imaginable. In fact, it's not even imaginable that others might be imaginable.

I wanted to be sure all my other lies were counted, so finally, in despair, I picked the last alternative -- "investigative/watchog journalism", a thing the Nation doesn't do, hasn't done in my lifetime, and clearly doesn't want to do.

When you're under the gun, it's surprising how the truth comes out. This was probably the least mendacious answer I gave.

Facts are always fun. But from The Nation -- capital T, capital N -- fantasy seems to be what we get.

June 19, 2010

Pulled Pork

John Stuart Mill is famous for having expanded Bentham’s utilitarianism to incorporate ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ pleasures. Nowhere is this better exemplified than in the dictum “better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied.” In this paper I argue that this dictum is inconsistent with utilitarianism’s own conception of the ‘good’. My argument shall proceed through several stages: In section one I present and defend a form of ‘hedonic calculus’, the use of which will be essential if we are to quantify happiness (as utilitarianism aims to do.) The calculus I suggest will be based on considerations as to how we might compare a human being’s happiness with that of a lower animal. I present some arguments as to why I think a utilitarian should accept this calculus. In section two I examine Mill’s conception of the ‘good’, and analyze his famous quotation in the light of this. I argue that, by this very criterion, it is not necessarily better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied. In section three I examine how best to extricate ourselves from this situation, and I put forward the suggestion that if we want to maintain the belief that it is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied (a belief which, intuitively, we probably do wish to maintain), it cannot be based on utilitarian considerations.

The rest, sort of via Monsieur IOZ.

In one of those ghastly academic ironies, the author has recapitulated the worst possible method of creating pulled pork. The meat must never be steamed. One might legitimately argue that it's hard to ruin factory farmed pork, and who really cares what happens to it anyway? thus dismissing the whole discussion, but as the Deontological Chef noted on NPR last week: it's not the meat, it's the motion. As long as the recipe is semi-plausibly followed, the outcome is going to be better than anything a wingnut could concoct. Procedure is everything! Failing that, the appearance of procedure and complete sentence-like verbal program activities will do.

June 20, 2010

Brain rotter deplores brain rot

The Wall Street Journal is very worried about our brains:

Does the Internet Make You Dumber?

The cognitive effects are measurable: We're turning into shallow thinkers, says Nicholas Carr.

The Roman philosopher Seneca may have put it best 2,000 years ago: "To be everywhere is to be nowhere." Today, the Internet grants us easy access to unprecedented amounts of information. But a growing body of scientific evidence suggests that the Net, with its constant distractions and interruptions, is also turning us into scattered and superficial thinkers.

You know you're in trouble when an essay starts by citing "the Roman philosopher Seneca," a thinker than whom only Cicero was shallower. One suspects that a thesaurus lurks somewhere backstage. As Carr begins, so he drives on:
The picture emerging from the research is deeply troubling, at least to anyone who values the depth, rather than just the velocity, of human thought....

Only when we pay deep attention to a new piece of information are we able to associate it "meaningfully and systematically with knowledge already well established in memory," writes the Nobel Prize-winning neuroscientist Eric Kandel....

In an article published in Science last year, Patricia Greenfield, a leading developmental psychologist, reviewed dozens of studies on how different media technologies influence our cognitive abilities. Some of the studies indicated that certain computer tasks, like playing video games, can enhance "visual literacy skills," increasing the speed at which people can shift their focus among icons and other images on screens. Other studies, however, found that such rapid shifts in focus, even if performed adeptly, result in less rigorous and "more automatic" thinking.

More dazzling science:
In one experiment conducted at Cornell University, for example, half a class of students was allowed to use Internet-connected laptops during a lecture, while the other had to keep their computers shut. Those who browsed the Web performed much worse on a subsequent test of how well they retained the lecture's content.
You mean... when they had something else to listen to, they ignored the droning bore in the tweed jacket, scrawling his unlovely diagrams on the blackboard in grating chalk? O what rough beast!

There's more where that came from:

In another experiment, recently conducted at Stanford University's Communication Between Humans and Interactive Media Lab, a team of researchers gave various cognitive tests to 49 people who do a lot of media multitasking and 52 people who multitask much less frequently. The heavy multitaskers performed poorly on all the tests. They were more easily distracted, had less control over their attention, and were much less able to distinguish important information from trivia.
It's droll to note that no links are provided by the brain-rotter par excellence to these definitive scientific studies. One might have wondered, for example, what distinguished "important information" from "trivia" in these studies and whether the experimental subjects would have agreed with these assessments. But presumably the WSJ doesn't want to distract our attention from the message, and lose what few neurons we have left, neurons which would be better employed poring over the deep sequacious thought we get from the Journal's own stable of thinkers.
The pioneering neuroscientist Michael Merzenich believes our brains are being "massively remodeled" by our ever-intensifying use of the Web and related media. In the 1970s and 1980s, Mr. Merzenich, now a professor emeritus at the University of California in San Francisco, conducted a famous series of experiments on primate brains...
Oh my God. A doddering old monkey-molester in California is worried. Let's pull the plug on this Interrawebz thang right away, People's brains might be changing -- and more to the point, the Wall Street Journal's business model might be doomed.

June 22, 2010

Captain Boycott, and his Israeli friends

Shown above is Captain Charles Boycott, apparently wearing a jacket derived from his Norfolk homeland. The Captain gave his name to a fine old custom, in the course of his work as land agent for Lord Erne, an absentee landlord in the County Mayo, and a right grasping old bugger too, by all accounts.

The Captain has his contemporary friends -- among them Bernard Avishai, Israeli professor, financial finagler, and editor of the Harvard Business Review, whose pissy sour puss is shown at left. Bernie writes in the Nation -- yes, the Nation! -- as follows:

Against Boycott and Divestment

[T]he Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.... will be coming soon to a campus near you.

...professors, students, union activists, etc. torturing logic to depict Israel's faults—which are serious enough to be unique—as "apartheid," while rehearsing the principles of action that arguably worked against South Africa a generation ago.

I say "arguably" because some of apartheid's most courageous critics, who helped to bring about an end to white rule, were opposed to B and D, even when they cautiously favored S.... Tony Bloom, CEO of the South African food processing giant Premier Group... rejected apartheid's foundations... [and was generally wonderful; some eulogy snipped --ed.] Though he eventually moved to London, he continued to transform his conglomerate into a model postapartheid firm.

What Bloom told me in 1987 was that, yes, foreign government sanctions on South African trade made sense in certain cases. But the boycott of South African universities and business people, and especially divestment campaigns against international companies doing business in the country, were seriously counterproductive. Why? Because those actions generally undermined the very people who advanced cosmopolitan values in the country. To get social change, you need social champions, in management as in universities.

This is rich, isn't it? Enlightened corporate honchos like Bloom, and beautiful professorial souls like Avishai -- relatively beautiful, anyway, compared to, say, Bugsy Siegel -- are the folks we have to rely on to vanquish Israeli apartheid.

(Lemma: The Palestinians themselves have no agency in the matter, and need to shut the fuck up and behave themselves while the Blooms and Avishais work their magic.)

This is an awfully familiar argument. It seems to be especially compelling among academics, who know in their bones that they are the unacknowledged legislators of the world, and feel a tender guild solicitude for their brothers of the mortarboard in Fort Zion. For example, a correspondent of mine at a well-known university writes:

[WKU] has a Holocaust Studies Center, founded by the late [famous name], the dean of Holocaust Studies. So an academic boycott would be a particularly hard sell. The current chair of Holocaust Studies has already written complaining how such a boycott would interfere with the work of his center given that many of the scholars are in Israel.
It would certainly be an awful tragedy if some "studies center" were interfered with, and particularly a Holocaust studies center, considering how poorly studied the Holocaust has been.

But of course this is all complete nonsense; boycott or no boycott, people will continue to study history, and use or misuse it to the top of their bent. There is really no fear that the "work" of the Holocaust Studies Center, for what it's worth, will grind to a halt if Israeli academics get the Quaker shunning treatment, or that people will stop scratching their heads about string theory or what have you.

Even if it were interfered with -- thought experiment here -- really, what's the downside? Some splendid monograph appears a few years later than it otherwise might. An Israeli mathematician who might have been first past the post with a proof of Scheisskopf's Conjecture has to content himself with place position. Bernard Avishai has to stay in one spot, instead of dividing his time, academic jet-setter that he is, between the Promised Land and the bosky dells of New Hampshire.

(I have no great love for New Hampshire -- more of a Vermont- and Maine-type guy, myself -- but even so, for New Hampshire's sake, I hope Bernard is enough of a Zionist patriot to choose the Mousehole on the Med, to borrow a phrase from my old pal Lenni Brenner.)

It is gratifying to note that there are people in the world who are more intelligent and more principled than college professors, or The Nation magazine (what were they thinking of, to publish this bolus of reactionary Chamber Of Commerce bromides?).

For a quasi-nautical and quasi-musical guy like me it's particularly nice to see that the honest intelligent stand-up folk include longshoremen and rock musicians:


Sweden to launch weeklong boycott on Israeli ships

Swedish dockworkers are set to launch a weeklong boycott of Israeli ships and goods to protest Monday's raid on a Gaza-destined aid flotilla, a union spokesman said.



Britain's largest union, Unite, has unanimously passed a motion to boycott Israeli companies at its first policy conference in Manchester on Wednesday.


June 4, 2010 -- At its central executive committee (CEC) meeting Friday, SAMWU unanimously endorsed a motion to immediately work towards every municipality in South Africa to become an Apartheid Israel free zone.

As part of the global Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions Campaign (BDS) SAMWU has agreed to engage every single municipality to ensure that there are no commercial, academic, cultural, sporting or other linkages whatsoever with the Israeli regime. Every SAMWU branch will immediately approach municipal and water authorities to become part of the BDS campaign, and to publicly declare their solidarity with the Palestinian people.




The Associated Press reports (http://www.billboard.com/news/pixies-calls-off-israel-concert-after-gaza-1004095841.story#/news/pixies-calls-off-israel-concert-after-gaza-1004095841.story) that several bands have canceled scheduled concerts in Israel in the wake of international outcry against the country.

Pixies (http://pitchfork.com/artists/3324-pixies/), Gorillaz (http://pitchfork.com/artists/1767-gorillaz/), and Klaxons (http://pitchfork.com/artists/4964-klaxons/) were among the bands scheduled to play Tel Aviv's Pic.Nic festival (http://picnic2010.walla.co.il/) this week, but all three groups have pulled out. According to festival organizers, the cancellations are related to the naval raid, AP reports.

Elvis Costello (http://pitchfork.com/artists/835-elvis-costello/) was also scheduled to play a pair of Israeli shows this summer, but he also pulled out, though he did so before the flotilla raid. On his website, Costello wrote an entry explaining his decision (http://www.elviscostello.com/news/it-is-after-considerable-contemplation/44):

"There are occasions when merely having your name added to a concert schedule may be interpreted as a political act that resonates more than anything that might be sung and it may be assumed that one has no mind for the suffering of the innocent... It is a matter of instinct and conscience."


Responding to calls by the Palestinian Workers Union and other calls by different workers unions and organizations around the world, the Norwegian Ports Union decided to join its Swedish counterpart in boycotting all Israeli ships starting on June 15.



*Activists prevent Israeli ship from unloading at US port *

For the first time in US history, a peaceful protest was able to stop workers from unloading an Israeli cargo ship on Sunday, 20 June, in the San Francisco Bay area. From 5:30am until 7pm, social justice activists and labor union organizers blocked and picketed several entrances at the Port of Oakland, preventing two shifts of longshoremen with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) to come to work and unload the Israeli Zim Lines cargo ship.


June 23, 2010

Lots more where Stan came from

It's funny, sometimes you can really tell, just from the look on a guy's face, that he's crazy as a bedbug. I always found Stan McChrystal an easy diagnosis that way.

Everybody by now has read the Rolling Stone piece -- which is an enviably good read, I must say. My favorite bit:

"I'd rather have my ass kicked by a roomful of people than go out to this dinner," McChrystal says.

He pauses a beat.

"Unfortunately," he adds, "no one in this room could do it."

Let the record show this is a 55-year-old senior manager in a large corporation, talking in a way that would embarrass an 18-year-old frat boy. What a weird strange world the US military must have become, staffed in large part by serious cases of arrested development.

It's been pretty strange for quite a while, of course. The obvious comparison to McChrystal is Douglas MacArthur. First time as farce, second time as... as... what's downstream from farce? Sitcom, that's it. Sitcom. It even sounds like soldierspeak: SECDEF, CENTCOM, POTUS, SITCOM. Starring Bill Cosby as the President. Here's Dougie:

There was something so lovably naif about image-making in those days, wasn't there?

The interesting question, of course, is this: If any fool can plainly see, just from a picture in a newspaper, that Stan McChrystal was a first-class loon, how does it come about that Obie decided to make him Proconsul of Afghanistan in the first place?

Obie has placed a number of other obviously deranged individuals in positions of authority and emolument. One might mention, off the top of one's head, Larry "El Puerco" Summers, Arne "Dotheboys Hall" Duncan, and Hillary "Whatever Israel Wants" Cllinton. So the McChrystal appointment can't be dismissed as a fluke. We're looking at a pattern here. These are the people he wants -- perseverative Mad Hatters. His idea of a military commander is a gaunt hagridden insomniac stunted psychic dwarf, permanently damaged as only an alum of some "elite" regiment can be. His idea of a diplomat is Lady Macbeth. His idea of an educator is a man who should be managing a Chicago slaughterhouse. His idea of an economist is... Larry Summers.

McChrystal, so far, is the only one who's actually dropped trou and shat on the Oval Office carpet, however. Hmm. What do we make of that?

A fine old phrase, beloved by my hero Richard Nixon, creeps into mind here: "Crazy like a fox." I can't take credit for this hypothesis -- it floated across one of my lefty mailing lists:

I think it’s a brilliant move on McChrystal’s part. There’s no way he can achieve a real victory in Afghanistan. Why not play the tough guy, get himself fired, and when things fall apart strut about claiming that had he been allowed to run things victory will be assured.
The only thing I might object to in this otherwise brilliant insight is the slightly weaselly phrase "real victory". The Empire is not going to see any victory in Afghanistan, real, unreal, virtual, or even colorable. But my correspondent has grasped the essence of the matter: Stan didn't want to be holding the bag when the spooks start scrambling from the embassy roof for the last chopper out of Kabul.

I suspect Mad Stan will have the last laugh.

June 25, 2010

Hiking in Iran; or, pwog dawgs of war

The Nation (yes, The Nation) seems to have hit the big time with its recent report -- after a "five month investigation", no less -- that the three hikers arrested last July by the Iranians in the border area with Iraq were in fact on the Iraqi side of the border when the Iranians grabbed 'em. Those fiendish Iranians! Needless to say, the story, written by one "Babak Sarfaraz", which the mag notes is "a pseudonym for a journalist in Iran", has been gleefully picked up by all the major media war-drummers.

Sarfaraz relies, rather uncritically, on mostly Kurdish sources, some of them very fishy indeed; these need to be sifted very carefully for obvious reasons. But there's nothing intrinsically far-fetched about the narrative in itself (though doubts have been raised).

As Sarfaraz mentions, the rugged and remote region, with its "porous" and poorly-demarcated border, is full of smugglers, not to mention the

... Party for Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK)... affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers' Party, a Kurdish separatist organization that engages in armed conflict within Turkey and has been labeled a terrorist organization by the United States and other governments. Since 2005 PJAK, based in the mountains in Kurdish Iraq, has been in open conflict with Tehran and has claimed responsibility for killing dozens of Revolutionary Guards soldiers in cross-border raids on Iranian military bases, as well as for the February 2007 downing of an Iranian military helicopter by a shoulder-launched missile in Khoy, in Western Azerbaijan province, which killed thirteen Iranian soldiers....

Seymour Hersh reported in The New Yorker that "Israel and the United States have also been working together in support of [PJAK] and that a government consultant told him that the Israeli government had provided "equipment and training" to PJAK.

Sarfaraz theorizes that the hikers' original capture and remand to Tehran was a local initiative by a rogue Revolutionary Guards commander in the area, on whose checkered career the magazine expends a good deal of somewhat wasted ink. But here again, the narrative, though quite hypothetical, doesn't strain credulity.

What The Nation doesn't discuss is the reasons why the authorities in Tehran might have decided to hang tough on three footloose, adventurous American expats, who really do seem unlikely to be spies or any other variety of American spooktown assets. KvdH and Sarfaraz seem content to leave us thinking that those Iranian madmen are either paranoid or gratuitously cruel or both.

But the unmentioned elephant in the Heuvel Hoffice is a long-standing American/Israeli practice of kidnapping and even assassinating Iranians -- scientists like Shahram Amiri, a particularly weird story with some juicy recent twists(*), or Ardeshire Hassanpour, and government functionaries like Amir Ardebili.

It's likely enough, as the Nation article suggests, that the capture of the three hikers was a fortuitous event, not an action of centrally-directed policy. But once they were in Tehran, at least some of the country's contending influential elements may have seen an opportunity to make a point, which can be concisely stated: "Two can play at that game."


(*) Amiri was kidnapped last year, while on pilgrimage in Mecca, a few weeks before the three hikers were captured.

A message from the laboratory

I'm tinkering a bit with the blog software. If you notice anything weird, let me know. Weird, I mean, in an unusual way. stopmebeforeivoteagain {AT} yahoo.com.

June 28, 2010

Those crazy Canadians

I must say, it's nice to see police cars burning, even if it was reptile-fund provocateurs that did it. (There seems to be some reason to believe that's what happened, or part of what happened.)

Provocateurs are an old story, but I wonder whether they're really an effective tactic for our rulers. The idea is to "discredit" the opposition and give a pretext for a crackdown. But since when did they need a pretext for a crackdown? Isn't cracking down just what they do?

Could the opposition already be more "discredited", by the unrelenting efforts of the ideological apparatus? And isn't there some risk that people, seeing a police car burning, might start to think, Hmmm, not a bad idea?

One wonders if this isn't a case of the Enforcement Sector trying to create work for itself (and, of course, increased levels of funding.)

Our earnest northern neighbors are said to have spent something on the order of a billion dollars on "security" for this politicians' schmoozefest. Now there's absolutely nothing rational about this. They could meet in the Falkland Islands, or Antarctica, or St Helena, or just do a videoconference, for a fraction of the cost.

It's theater on both sides -- the Authorities with their stolid mook battalions, and the Black Bloc, perhaps including but clearly not limited to provocateurs, on the other.

Sitting as I do in the gallery, I find the Authorities a bore. More burning police cars is what I want to see, and I don't care who's burning 'em.

Frick vs. Frack

The clip above arrived via one of my lefty mailing lists. Funny, right? I mean, the guy clearly has no idea at all what he's talking about. McCarthy, Stalin, Venona fer Chrissake -- way out of his depth, right? How could anybody possibly take this seriously, apart from a few brain-dead shut-ins?

Contrast with this clip:

The difference is that Beck is trying to talk about something that's actually interesting, and failing, because he's a laughable ignoramus. Whereas Obie is trying very hard to talk about nothing at all, and succeeding, because he's so incredibly smart.

Earnest idiots, and highly intelligent swindlers. You pays your money and you takes your choice. It's actually sorta understandable why many people might prefer the idiot.

June 29, 2010

A fellow Kentucky bear

An old pal of mine from my home state just sent me this wonderful item:

A black bear remained on the loose Tuesday despite traps set after the animal mauled a hiker in the Daniel Boone National Forest, the first recorded bear attack on a human in Kentucky.

State tourism spokeswoman Barbara Atwood said wildlife officers haven't been able to find the animal that attacked, bit and shook Tim Scott of Springfield on Sunday in a remote area known as the Red River Gorge, near Stanton in eastern Kentucky.

"They had a bear sighting yesterday. However, they could not confirm that it was the bear in question," Atwood said. "But they feel confident the bear is still in the area."

... Considering that no bears have been seen boarding planes in Frankfort. -- No, IOZ, not that kind of bears.
Scott said he was hiking in the Red River Gorge Geological Area... when he spotted the bear about 25 feet away. He ... took a few photos with his cell phone until the bear disappeared under a ledge. Scott said he was about to call his wife to tell her to take another trail when the bear reappeared.
"Geological area"? What has happened to my home state? I thought the whole crazy place was a geological area, as indeed is every place.

But I digress. This is the point in the story where I really started rooting for the bear. The poor animal is clearly as fed up with cell phones as I am, and he just snapped.

Wildlife Division Director Karen Waldrop said the agency's policy is to kill any bear that behaves aggressively toward humans, and officials have closed the popular scenic area and set traps to try to capture the animal.

Atwood said the closure also will help keep the bear from being scared out of the area.

So they won't let any bears out, or any people in, until Order Has Been Restored. The last thing the Kentucky Wildlife Division wants to see on its patch is... wildlife. Perhaps they will soon be seeding the woods with animatronic bears, guaranteed not to bite anybody.

Kentucky in my salad days was not such a sissy place. If I had gone out in the woods and been bitten by a bear, I would have been soundly beaten when I dragged my sorry bloody ass back home. "What the hell did you go annoyin' a bear for, you pore born fool?" my elders and betters, my pastors and masters, would have said. And they would have been right.

Scott himself doesn't sound like such a bad egg, even allowing for the cell phone, and he strikes an amiable and very Kentucky note in his closing quote:

"I was chomped on by a bear, and he was a bad bear, but that doesn't speak of all bears," he said.
It would be hard to improve on this, from a literary point of view, but I have to disagree about the "bad bear" part. I think the bear was an exceptionally good bear, and ought to get the Ursine Medal Of Honor.

June 30, 2010

Chief Egg-In-The-Face

I guess everybody has heard by now that the haute-wonquerie polls that Daily Kos has been touting for so long were, apparently, largely made up by the whiz kids Kos hired to do the work. (These polls have been an occasional source of amusement here.)

This comes at a very nice time, as I prepare to sail off for a few computerless days on the boat with my lovely wife, whom I can seldom entice onto the boat but has gamely agreed to this jaunt.

Happy Fourth, everyone. Perhaps I will come back to an Interraweb where Daily Kos is no more. Hey, a guy can dream, right?

Still afloat

About June 2010

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