Friday, August 31, 2012

Brooks made a funny (addendum)

David Brooks. Image by Driftglass.

I knew it! Or, more accurately, I knew something; Brooks has not actually come out and endorsed Obama as the Burkean conservative in the race, but he has come approximately halfway:
But there is a flaw in the vision the Republicans offered in Tampa. It is contained in its rampant hyperindividualism. Speaker after speaker celebrated the solitary and heroic individual. There was almost no talk of community and compassionate conservatism. There was certainly no conservatism as Edmund Burke understood it, in which individuals are embedded in webs of customs, traditions, habits and governing institutions.
Not that that's exactly true: there was plenty of talk about family at the convention, for one thing. I'll never get over Rick Santorum riffing on his father's hard workingman's hands while his extreme makeup job made it look as if he himself was made of marzipan. And there was tons of church, as well, at least from Mr. and Mrs. Romney, and anecdotes of the churchy helping one another out.

What Brooks really objects to in these conservatives is on display in his opening paragraph:
America was built by materialistic and sometimes superficial strivers. It was built by pioneers who voluntarily subjected themselves to stone-age conditions on the frontier fired by dreams of riches. It was built by immigrants who crammed themselves into hellish tenements because they thought it would lead, for their children, to big houses, big cars and big lives.... Many Americans, and many foreign observers, are ambivalent about or offended by this driving material ambition. Read “The Great Gatsby.” Read D.H. Lawrence on Benjamin Franklin.
 Compare Burke, in his speech on Conciliation with America (1775), criticizing
vulgar and mechanical politicians... a sort of people who think that nothing exists but what is gross and material; and who therefore, far from being qualified to be directors of the great movement of empire, are not fit to turn a wheel in the machine. But to men truly initiated and rightly taught,…ruling and master principles, which, in the opinion of such men as I have mentioned, have no substantial existence, are in truth every thing, and all in all.... (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
It's that—of course Brooks has nothing against them, my no, salt of the earth, but—they're not very classy. Think a lot about money, less about the higher things such as the writings of Burke and Oakeshott. And apparently not joining things in the good old style; what we're looking at is a kind of right-wing Bowling Alone perspective.

The list of great communitarian conservatives of history goes like this: George Washington, Alexis de Tocqueville, Abraham Lincoln, and Condoleeza Rice. I'll just take a pause here, maybe for quite a long time.
Photo by Kilgub.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Airborne Elephant Watch: Tehran!

Thomas P. Friedman (I don't know why I keep calling him that, his middle initial is L) leapt into it at the last minute yesterday as if terrified of missing an opportunity to be totally wrong, as he was, chiding Egypt's president Morsi for attending the meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement in Tehran:
Excuse me, President Morsi, but there is only one reason the Iranian regime wants to hold the meeting in Tehran and have heads of state like you attend, and that is to signal to Iran’s people that the world approves of their country’s clerical leadership and therefore they should never, ever, ever again think about launching a democracy movement — the exact same kind of democracy movement that brought you, Mr. Morsi, to power in Egypt.
Flying Elephants. By Tattoomaus78 at DeviantArt.
Because what Morsi signaled to Iran's people turned out to be quite different, more along the lines of the world disapproves of their country's clerical leadership and democracy movements of the kind that brought him to power are eminently praiseworthy, especially in Syria—the Iranian foreign minister walked out, while poor little president Ahmadinejad squirmed, I guess, on the dais next to the fulminating Egyptian.
“The Syrian people are fighting with courage, looking for freedom and human dignity,” Mr. Morsi said, suggesting that all parties at the gathering shared responsibility for the bloodshed. “We must all be fully aware that this will not stop unless we act.”
Mr. Morsi, pointedly, did not mention unrest in Bahrain, possibly to avoid offending Saudi Arabia, which has helped Bahrain’s monarchy suppress the uprising.
Then the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, noted that the Holocaust really did take place. Actually virtually all educated Iranians, including the country's 25,000 Jews, are aware of this; the purpose of mentioning it was to remind them that Ahmadinejad doesn't care whether people think he is educated or not—the nation's crude, embarrassing brother-in-law. Ban also scolded the leaders for inattention to human rights and for lack of transparency in their nuclear affairs, and a splendid time was had by all.

None of this will persuade Friedman, of course. He's so committed to working out his model of who's bad and who's good that he can't think about anything getting better. But Morsi is fast replacing old Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in my heart as favorite post-Islamist politician. His current démarche on the subject of Syria, cutting Iran in (as is self-evidently necessary) and therefore inevitably cutting the US out, seems like the first idea anybody has had about Syria that could lead to a reduction in the number of killings instead of a further increase.

And Friedman? Suck. On. That.
From The Garlic.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Brooks made a funny

...and a pretty good one, too, in some respects. It's a parody campaign biography of Willard Mitt Romney that takes everything we know about him and turns it into classic American silliness:
Mitt Romney was born on March 12, 1947, in Ohio, Florida, Michigan, Virginia and several other swing states. He emerged, hair first, believing in America, and especially its national parks. He was given the name Mitt, after the Roman god of mutual funds, and launched into the world with the lofty expectation that he would someday become the Arrow shirt man.
The tone of the thing is meant to be affectionate fun-poking, I think--
Always respectful, Mitt and Ann decided to elope with their parents. They went on a trip to Israel, where they tried and failed to introduce the concept of reticence. 
 But it keeps sliding into a certain asperity:
Romney was a precocious and gifted child. He uttered his first words (“I like to fire people”) at age 14 months, made his first gaffe at 15 months and purchased his first nursery school at 24 months. The school, highly leveraged, went under, but Romney made 24 million Jujubes on the deal.
Thalia, Muse of Comedy and Idyllic Poetry, by Jean-Marc Nattier. From Wikipedia.
Brooks really has some comic talent, as you'll remember, maybe, from Bobos in Paradise. The famous 2001 Atlantic article, "One Country, Slightly Divisible",  in which he tried to illustrate our culture war by contrasting the lifestyles of blue Montgomery County, Maryland, and red Franklin County, Pennsylvania, where it turned out that he had made up all the examples of Franklin County lifestyle, was terrible journalism, but terrific shtik.

Indeed, it was famously through his humor that he got his first horse on the wingnut welfare carousel--a college parody of William F. Buckley, Jr., delighted the old man and earned Brooks an internship at the National Review.

So it's odd to see him here misjudging his tone, if I understand it correctly, seesawing between the tease and the out-and-out insult and back:
Some people say he retreated into himself during these years. He had a pet rock, which ran away from home because it was starved of affection. He bought a mood ring, but it remained permanently transparent.
Is it just the long disuse of those comedy muscles, since he became everybody's expert on political philosophy, that makes them hard for him to control? Or is it maybe that he's coming to realize that Edmund Burke would have voted for Obama (and not as the lesser of two evils, but enthusiastically)?

Burke really would, you know. Which doesn't mean I won't. Here's a little reading before the next class.
Edmund Burke. From Wikipedia.

Monday, August 27, 2012

How do you spell "psychopath"?

T-O-M S-M-I-T-H.

That's the Pennsylvania Republican candidate for Senate who believes that abortion should be against the law with no exceptions.
Pressed by a reporter on how he would handle a daughter or granddaughter becoming pregnant as a result of rape, Smith said he had already "lived something similar to that" in his family.

"She chose life, and I commend her for that," he said. "She knew my views. But, fortunately for me, I didn't have to ... she chose the way I thought. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't rape."
When a reporter asked Smith to clarify what kind of situation was similar to becoming pregnant from rape, the candidate responded, "Having a baby out of wedlock."
He added, "Put yourself in a father's position. Yes, it is similar."
Put yourself in a father's position! To the young woman it might seem altogether different, being impregnated by someone you chose to, umm, fuck, and by someone who overcame you violently when you chose not to, but why should a father think about those petty details?

And then that ominous "fortunately for me, I didn't have to..." No need to ask why it wasn't fortunately for her, it wouldn't have occurred to him to ask. But what didn't he have to do that he would have had to do if she not "chosen the way I thought"? Kill her? Ban her from the house and turn her portraits to the wall? Clap her in a convent and keep her there until the little package of sin was delivered?

Note: Vixen Strangely already pretty much said what I wanted to say, but I still wanted to say it.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Mahagonny convention

As the Republican establishment holds its breath in Tampa waiting for tropical storm Isaac to decide what it wants to do, I couldn't help remembering another hurricane, the fictional one that threatens to ravage the city of Mahagonny at the end of act 1 of Brecht's and Weill's great opera. It is the scene in which Mahagonny turns toward the Republican ideology—toward the deregulation of everything except for the crime of lacking money.*

The American tenor Elliot Palay as Paul Ackermann (aka Jimmy Mahoney) in the act 1 finale of Joachim Herz's production of Der Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny at the Komische Oper in East Berlin 1977. Titles provided by Elliot Palay. 

*As in: if abortion is illegal, rich girls will still have abortions; they'll just go to Switzerland to get them, as their foremothers did before them.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

"The real world looks a lot like the Simpson-Bowles commission"

I'm afraid a man who says something like that about how the world looks (Our Mister Brooks) is a man with a jaundiced eye and possibly worse afflictions. Liverish. Sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought, but not thought at a very high level.
Portrait of Alan Simpson, with Erskine Bowles as a boil erupting from the Senator's shoulder. By Donkey Hotey, 2011.

Here's a Shorter Brooks for today (two for the price of one!):
1. I pick Paul Ryan because he knows that rising Medicare costs are the most scariest urgent problem facing our country!
2. But that is like so last Tuesday! Medicare, Medicare, Medicare, it's all he ever thinks about! Get a grip, Congressman, and do your duty!
All because—apparently Brooks just heard about it for the first time—Ryan refused to sign off on the Bowles-Simpson plan for deficit reduction (which Brooks insists on calling "debt reduction") in 2010, and refused precisely because it failed to do anything about rising Medicare costs, thereby showing his willingness to
sacrifice the good for the sake of the ultimate....
Paul Ryan has a great campaign consciousness, and, when it comes to things like Medicare reform, I agree with him. But when he voted no on the Simpson-Bowles plan he missed the chance to show that he also has a governing consciousness. He missed the chance to do something good for the country, even if it wasn’t the best he or I would wish for.
There's something about the Bowles-Simpson Commission, by the way, that hardly anybody left or right has seemed to understand very clearly: it was certain to fail from the outset, as certain as if the president had planned it that way. If the president did plan it that way, I would not be in the least shocked; indeed, I kind of hope he did, since that would tend to suggest that he knows what he's doing.

Because if a great part of the Science of Government (if not absolutely the whole, as Dickens had it) consists of the art of perceiving HOW NOT TO DO IT,  then the bipartisan commission, with its distinguished members chosen from inside and outside the legislature, and its solemn mandate, is the very archetype of the vehicle through which it is not done.

What even Dickens did not understand is that sometimes not doing it is really much the best plan. Thus in 2010, when the great cry came up from the bobbleheads across the land to do something about the deficit ("Mr. President, tear down this deficit!"), actually doing it would have seriously harmed our already badly wounded economy; but not doing it became extremely difficult as the legislators and eventually even the print press began taking up the cry.

I don't want to get into whether President Obama could or could not at this point have said, "No, actually Dr. Krugman is right about this one, we need a bigger deficit just now." He certainly had realized that Republicans in Congress wouldn't vote for anything with his name on it unless they were tricked into it in some extremely subtle way. He seems to have felt up against one of those Tough Decisions, which means a bad decision taken when you didn't want to think about a good one.

So the president set up his best defense: not just a bipartisan commission, but a bipartisan commission endowed with special powers. It had a blank check, as it were, endorsed by Congress, which agreed that any plan coming out of the commission should be regarded as law, as if the Congress had already specifically voted for it.

This provided what you could call an extra degree of fail-safe, in that in the unlikely event that Bowles-Simpson really did come up with the plan, Congress could immediately begin on the process of denying that that was what they had meant at all, and starting all over again. *

In the end this was not necessary, as Bowles-Simpson were able to tie themselves into knots without any outside help, thanks partly to Representative Ryan, and no proposal ever emerged from the committee's stringent rules, although one of them did get publicized a great deal. Instead we are now living with a different case of tricking Congress into voting for something it absolutely does not want, the famed "fiscal cliff" which is somehow going to have to be bridged by the lame ducks after the election.

I do wish my emoprog colleagues would stop referring to the Bowles-Simpson "plan" as representing what what that crypto–Gold Bug Barack Obama really wants, though. I'm sure he thinks the deficit ought to be tightened up, just as soon as everybody has lots of money and the tax receipts start rolling in, but not before then, and not with such a nasty instrument.

By the same token, I wish the Central Committee of the Panditry would ban their members from using it as the symbol of some kind of lost centrist paradise where for one brief shining moment everybody agreed to sacrifice themselves to a vision of the world as Tom Friedman wants it to be. It's just a piece of used ordnance in the war of How Not to Do It, that has served its embarrassing purpose and can now be forgotten.

For that matter, so is Paul Ryan. He's the vice presidential candidate, for Pete's sake! He used to be philosophically useful to the panditry as an example of how Republicans Have Intellectuals Too. He used big words and never got cranky if your attention kind of drifted away, and he had his famous budgets, these beautifully bound little pamphlets—say, what do you suppose was in those things?**

*Can God make a stone so big She can't roll it? Good question. Can Congress create a trigger so ineluctable they can't wriggle their way out from in front of it? No.

**Tthe House Budget Committee website offers richly produced propaganda for them, in written and video forms. Wikipedia's article on The Path to Prosperity links to PDFs of two of the pamphlets, which are more in your PowerPoint format, with substantial sections of ordinary prose.
AP photo.
To Brooks, the old symbolic Ryan was something you could really chew on as you thought about your next column, having so many little affinities with yourself, also a more or less clubbable Republican intellectual, and then because his subject was budgetry—eew!—you wouldn't go so far as to find out what he actually thought about anything. Math is for kids who go to public school. But now that he's descended into the fray of the presidential campaign, Brooks must look at any rate at his biography, and is inevitably somewhat shocked, shocked to find that there is negativity—negativity!—in this nominee. Poor Brooksie, you've got a lot of surprises coming in the next few months.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Briefs and boxers

BBC News:
Israel and Jewish groups have protested after South Africa's cabinet approved regulations to label goods made in Israeli settlements as being from the Occupied Palestinian Territories....
South African government spokesman Jimmy Manyi told reporters: "This is in line with South Africa's stance that recognises the 1948 borders delineated by the United Nations and does not recognise occupied territories beyond these borders as being part of the state of Israel."
So they're now claiming not just that the settlements are legal, but that they're actually somehow in Israel? Or is it a new trick in international law to say they're "in the West Bank, but not of it"? Maybe we should just think of each settlement as a great big Israeli embassy complex, or shmir of extraterritoriality. But if they were diplomatic missions, wouldn't they have to engage with the Arabs living around there in some way other than burning their olive trees and knocking down their houses?
But seriously, it appears that a push for a return to the gold standard — the Golden Fetters that played such a large role in propagating the Great Depression — is going to be part of the Republican platform.
If they dare to come out in the open field and defend the gold standard as a good thing, we shall fight them to the uttermost, having behind us the producing masses of the nation and the world. Having behind us the commercial interests and the laboring interests and all the toiling masses, we shall answer their demands for a gold standard by saying to them, you shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns. You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.
And this time I really mean it! Just pray Obama doesn't come back with a compromise proposal like going back to the Sherman Silver Purchase Act.
From Wikipedia.

Talking Points Memo on Todd Akin, the Missouri representative who discovered God's special birth control service for rape victims:
Todd Akin’s campaign advised Democrats on Thursday that their best hope of beating him would be to demand Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) step down as a candidate.
His comments came after pollster Rasmussen released a survey showing him trailing McCaskill 48 percent to 38 percent in Missouri’s Senate race, a stunning implosion, if accurate, given that he led all polls before his “legitimate rape” remarks led GOP leaders to disown his campaign. Akin’s campaign, however, believes the poll is encouraging news.
“The fact that Claire McCaskill is only polling at 48 percent after 72 hours of constant negative attacks on Todd Akin shows just how weak she is.”
 Because it's very rare for people to vote against God's candidate, see? The Lord just kind of stiffens up their fingers.
Cool boxer. From  DogObediences.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Urban light talk

Roy Edroso found this under a rock somewhere, but didn't have time to write about it: a blog called "Conservative Read" with a discussion of Romney's speech to the NAACP, with invidious comparison, I believe, to Vice President Biden:
Last month Mitt Romney spoke to an all black audience. He did not say, “Yall or Yo or any other type of vernacular that could be construed as urban light talk. Instead he remained himself and spoke from his heart. He was not looking for votes, rather looking to open up hearts. He spoke the truth and he spoke with purpose. Barack Obama and the Democrat Party’s policies are hurting the Black community.
The truth sometimes is supposed to hurt and Mitt Romney stuck the needle filled with truth serum deep inside the vein of every single member of the audience when he spoke at the NAACP.
Ouch! Well, maybe not that deep.
Urban light graffiti. From WebUrbanist.
Unlike Romney, the author here is looking for votes: black people should vote Republican on the grounds that that was the progressive party on racial issues a hundred and fifty years ago. We quote Frederick Douglass, who
once famously quipped, “I am a Republican, a black, dyed in the wool Republican, and I never intend to belong to no other party then the party of freedom and progress.”
Oops, is that a little urban light talk sneaking into the conversation? I believe Douglass said "any other party" and wrote "than", not "then"—if he said anything of the kind at all, that is; because the "quip" itself seems likely to be spurious anyway; nobody has been able to find the source in all the well-indexed, largely online corpus of Douglass's writings.

That's right—odds are he never did say that. Sad thing for the Republicans, too, because they're starting to like it just as much as Dr. King's "judged by the content of their character."

Douglass really was a Republican, of course, or at least worked with Republicans, because he was an escaped slave and an abolitionist, and they were the abolitionist party, and proved it by fighting the Civil War. That does not quite prove that he would be a Republican now, or even in 1882.

The current Republican idea is that slavery was actually a liberal institution, as I have had occasion to mention here briefly before, brought about by creating a "dependency culture" among the enslaved, getting their food and clothing, like charity, from the Big House and never needing to develop an entrepreneurial spirit. Young bucks hanging outside their shacks all day, you know, playing their banjos, with no clue as to how to dress for an interview, speaking that heavy rustic talk.

I don't know quite how they square that with states' rights, though, and tentherism. They've been telling us all along that the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery, and was fought over the purest of constitutional issues. This may take some getting used to.

 If the Civil War era Republicans were the conservative party and the Democrats were the liberal party doesn't that make your South Carolina nullificationists and Texas secessionists of today liberals too?

Oh, well. Here's something Frederick Douglass really did write, in October 1882, in a letter to a friend in Paris. This was when the Republican party was halfway through its evolution into its hideous modern or postmodern self, from the party of radical liberation to that of insatiable greed, not so long after the wholesale takedown of Reconstruction, and just when President Arthur couldn't get any Republican votes for getting rid of the endemic corruption of the civil service and had to go to the Democrats (who won the midterms that November in a big way, incidentally):
 It is sad just now to see
the once great and powerful Republican
party which has done so much for
our country, for humanity and
civilization being now literally stabbed
to death, assassinated by men who
have hitherto been its staunch defenders.
A spirit of rule or ruin is
abroad here. 
Rather more appropriate than the fake one they've been bandying around.
Frederic Douglass, Radical. From Agabus.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Stone walls do not a prism make

I wonder if David Brooks is looking a little enviously over at David Frum—the way Islamic Jihad might have looked at Hamas after Hamas got out of Syria—for freeing himself from the Republican yoke before it became really unspeakably embarrassing.
Infinitely long green cuboid seen through a Dove-prism array. From Wikipedia.
In today's column, he starts with a "look first upon this picture, then on this" that certainly makes you suspect something of the kind:
You look at the Romney-Ryan ticket and see that they are much more conservative than you. They don’t believe in tax increases ever. You think tax increases have to be a part of a budget deal. They want to slash social spending to the bone. You think that would be harsh on the vulnerable and bad for social cohesion.
You look at the Obama-Biden ticket. You like them personally. But you’re not sure what they want to achieve over the next four years. The country needs big changes, and they don’t seem to be offering many. Where’s the leadership? 
Tough decision, eh, Sparky? Which is it to be? Wrecking the weak and discombobulating the community, or getting only a couple of those beloved big changes? Six of one and half a dozen of the other, eh?

It's not easy for Brooks to work his way through to a decision either. He manages, but his heart may not be quite in it.

The chosen method is to look at the candidates through what he calls a "prism": that is, in terms of the one item he regards as the most crucial to be dealt with, putting a damper on escalating Medicare costs.
Looking at the candidates through this prism, you see that President Obama deserves some credit for taking on entitlement spending. He had the courage to chop roughly $700 billion out of Medicare reimbursements.... Still, you wouldn’t call Obama a passionate reformer....
When you look at Mitt Romney through this prism, you see surprising passion. By picking Paul Ryan as his running mate, Romney has put Medicare at the center of the national debate. Possibly for the first time, he has done something politically perilous. He has made it clear that restructuring Medicare will be a high priority. This is impressive. If you believe entitlement reform is essential for national solvency, then Romney-Ryan is the only train leaving the station.
Yes, by selecting his vice presidential candidate, Romney has demonstrated surprising passion for Medicare reform. (All Obama has done is to restructure the entire health care delivery system.) And not only that, but the Romney program is surprising, too:
Moreover, when you look at the Medicare reform package Romney and Ryan have proposed, you find yourself a little surprised. You think of them of as free-market purists, but this proposal features heavy government activism, flexibility and rampant pragmatism.
It's surprises all round! Especially the rampant pragmatism part. (Do you think Obama's pragmatism is more sejant erect—"Sitting, but with the front paws raised up"?)

So there you have it. Since Obama merely does things to hold down the growth in Medicare costs, without showing an adequate degree of passion, Romney is clearly the better man, since he picked a nominee for vice president. Moreover—and this is just icing on the cake—they have a plan, and not just any plan, but one that is directly opposed to their most passionately held principles. (Obama could presumably come up with something like that, given that he is himself opposed to those principles, but would it be passionate? Would it be surprising?)

But did you never look at anything through a prism before, then, Brooksie? (I know, I know, his mother made him go to one of those girly schools where you never get to touch anything--she was afraid, with his personality, he'd end up getting hydrochloric acid poured on his head.) Let's just say it's not the best way to find out what it looks like, on account of the light-bending.
Wedge prism. From Wikipedia.

Monday, August 20, 2012

A question of legitimacy

So Todd ("Hot Toddie") Akin, Republican candidate for Claire McCaskill's Missouri Senate seat, asked by KTVI television if he really meant it should be illegal for a woman impregnated by an act of rape to get an abortion, replied,
"First of all, from what I understand from doctors, that is really rare. If it is a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try and shut that whole thing down."
To which there soon followed a monumental hue and cry of gotchaists, political correctors, rogue gynecologists, and the like, calling the representative down for this statement, with very few defenders, among them CNN's Dana Loesch, who tweeted a reaction:
Long-time readers may recall Dana as the person who insisted that no would-be abortion patient could complain about a transvaginal ultrasound exam because it was just like the activity that had gotten her pregnant in the first place. (Ms. Loesch believes that most penises are made of a smooth, luminescent ceramic material. By a curious coincidence, her husband has a chin composed of exactly the same substance!)
Chris & Dana Loesch. From Gateway Pundit.
But in fact, as Mr. Akin soon confessed, he had merely "misspoken". So what remains to us is simply to work out what he meant to say.

My guess is that he was using the word "legitimate" in an idiosyncratic way, to describe acts that it is legitimate to refer to as rape (in his opinion); because Akin and his like don't think statutory rape is bad enough to call rape, or raping a person who was just "asking for it", or somebody who is known not to be a virgin. What he was actually trying to talk about was the bad ones in this view, which it might be better to call illegitimate rapes, that is, what he and his colleague Paul Ryan were referring to not long ago as "forcible" rapes, a concept for which he was criticized a good deal last year.

As every Republican knows, women desire above all things to be whacked on the head, dragged into the bedroom, have their bodices ripped from their bodies, and so on, unless it is by the wrong man (a liberal, perhaps), or unless  they are nuns, under 16, or your sister. 

A "legitimate rape" would be what Republicans normally refer to as "good sex" or, more colloquially, "having a Dagny". The fundamental criterion for this is that when the woman involved says "no" she means "yes", as signalled, perhaps, by her being dressed provocatively, or seen drinking an alcoholic beverage, or otherwise tempting the caveman she wishes to attract to her cave.  An "illegitimate" or "forcible" rape is when these criteria are not met, when "no" actually does mean "no", for whatever reason.

Now, it is widely believed that a legitimate rape in this sense often leads to pregnancy. For example, I think it happened to Anna Magnani in the The Rose Tattoo. It's kind of the way God planned it, if you're a person of faith:
for conjugal love naturally tends to be fruitful. A child does not come from outside as something added on to the mutual love of the spouses, but springs from the very heart of that mutual giving, as its fruit and fulfillment. So the Church, which is "on the side of life," teaches that "it is necessary that each and every marriage act remain ordered per se to the procreation of human life." (Catechism of the Catholic Church #2366)
Whereas in the case of an illegitimate rape, obviously, such a blessing is not to be expected. So that's all poor Representative Akin meant to say--is that so terrible?
Anna Magnani. From Art Carousel by Pasolininuc.
Hahahahaha! While I was futilely trying to make so-called "satire" out of this occasion, Akin clarified: he did mean to say "forcible rape", expecting that would just calm everybody down. You can't keep up with these guys.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Cheap shots 8/17

The armed forces will take two years to recover from their involvement in the Olympic Games because so many personnel have been deployed at short notice and taken away from normal duties, the military's chief planner for the Games has said.
All right, people? Invading England between now and 2015 is not cricket, and anybody who tries it is an unspeakable cad. I'm looking at you, Ecuador. Verbum sap and all that.
British infantry uniforms. From Wikipedia.

Think Progress on Romney's Medicare plan:
Just a day after Mitt Romney told reporters, “my plan for Medicare is very similar to [Paul Ryan's] plan for Medicare,” former New Hampshire governor and Romney campaign chair John Sununu insisted on Tuesday morning that the former Massachusetts governor’s vision form Medicare reform is “very different” from Ryan’s proposal.
Thanks for setting us straight on that, Governor Sununu. Where'd you get a look at that plan, anyway? Any plans to let Romney see it?

Jennifer Rubin in the Washington Post:
During their travels the pair clearly had a ball. At one point, I was told, Ryan was busy in the car -- "eating cherry pie with the governor." In other words, this was a buddy movie in the making....
Ryan, a protégé of conservative intellectuals Bill Bennett and Jack Kemp, has always been a man in love with ideas.
One hardly knows where to start. You don't think "eating cherry pie" has some bizarre sexual reference? No, guess not. 

I was wondering which buddy movie: Easy Rider? Thelma and Louise? Never mind.

And don't fall in love with ideas!
If you fall in love with an idea, you won't notice all the other beautiful ideas you bump into, and you could miss some really spectacular dates. One of life's great pleasures is dumping a previously adored idea: then you're back in the game and free to flirt. What's the prettiest part of your idea's body?  Now, what's the ugliest part? Does your idea respect you?
From the businessy website Logic + Emotion, from which the above text is palimpsested.
As of this morning, members of the Russian punk group Pussy Riot have been given sentences of two years for "hooliganism" (Jeez, haven't heard that word since Andropov was party leader!) in Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior. It seems like a pretty harsh sentence. Demonstrators arrested outside the courtroom included the great Garry Kasparov, said to have been beaten as they hustled him away. We'll see how Tsar Vladimir, who appears to have enjoyed looking magnanimous on the subject a couple of weeks ago, follows up.

They are musicians too. Here is the offending piece with moderately good sound. I think Musorgsky might have kind of liked it.

Obama made me do it!

Rick Santorum's latest sally, as Think Progress reports it:
We have a president who, for the first time in American history, is directly assaulting the First Amendment and freedom of religion. He is going to tell you what to do in the practice of your faith. He is forcing business people right now to do things that are against their conscience, that they will have to — if you’re a Catholic — you’ll have to go to confession … to confess that you are complying with a government program that is a sin in the Catholic Church.
Confession? Confession? The padre must be pretty horrified to know what you've been up to, too! Try breaking it gently: "Well, Father, I didn't exactly rape any altar boys, saving your presence... but I... You know I run this very large and Catholic business, and I have to get the employees health insurance, and they... Oh, God, Father, they made me get the kind with the birth control included! I was helpless in their fiendish grasp!" Long as you don't get in the booth with a bishop you should be OK...

Then again, if you look at the following, from a National Catholic Reporter survey of October 2011 (via Catholic Globe),  you might take an alternative view:
Mass attendance by "pre-Vatican II" Catholics, born in 1940 or before, slipped to 54 percent, down 10 percentage points from the high recorded in the 1999 survey, but it still topped all age groups. The rate for "Vatican II" Catholics, those born 1941-60, is 31 percent; for "post-Vatican II" Catholics born 1961-78, 29 percent; and for "millennial" Catholics born since 1979, 23 percent.
Older Catholics cited "I'm just not a religious person" as the reason they don't go to Mass more often, while younger Catholics cited family responsibilities as their principal reason.
Still, healthy majorities in all age groups agreed with the statements, "I cannot imagine being anything but a Catholic" and "being a Catholic is a very important part of who I am." But no majority in any age group agreed with the statement, "Church is among the most important influences on my life."
If Obama's really getting them into church, and confessing, that's a lot better than you all are doing. You owe him a vote of thanks, and if you ask me you should really canonize the guy. Santo Subito!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Persian blinds

Updated 10/14

FurReal Friends butterscotch pony.
Heard on the BBC this morning a remarkable story about the blogger Richard Silverstein having been leaked a secret document from someone in Israeli security circles detailing the order of operations in an upcoming Israeli strike against Iran. A cyber attack destroys all the country's communications and compromises their electrical grid, planes come to bomb all the nuclear facilities, cruise missiles are used to assassinate all the top echelon of nuclear officials. Equipment and strategies that have never been tested will all work in seamless coordination with each other, Iran will be unable even to respond, Israelis will suffer nothing more than maybe a little whiplash. And you'll get a pony, if you're extra good. You can read an English version at the blog, Tikun Olam, and it's pretty scary; as Silverstein says,
This is Shock and Awe, Israel-style. It is Bibi’s effort to persuade high-level Israeli officials that Israel can prosecute a pure technology war that involves relatively few human beings (Israeli, that is) who may be put in harm’s way, and will certainly cost few lives of IDF personnel.
Bibi’s sleight of hand here involves no mention whatsoever of an Iranian counter-attack against Israel. The presumption must be that the bells and whistles of all those marvelous new weapons systems will decapitate Iran’s war-making ability and render it paralyzed. The likelihood of this actually happening is nearly nil.
There will be those who will dispute the authenticity of this document. I’m convinced it is what my source claims, based on his prior track record and the level of specificity offered in the document. It references cities by name and the facilities they contain. It names new weapons systems including one Israel supposedly hasn’t even shared with the U.S.
No, it’s real. Or I should say that while it’s real, it is the product of the Israeli dream factory which manufactures threats and then creates fabulist military strategies to address them. The dream factory always breaks the hearts of the families of those whose members fall victim to it. It never produces the result it promises, nor will it do so here.
Then, in the comments, a startling twist: a different version of what appears to be the same document, in Hebrew, appeared on the Israeli web portal Fresh a few days ago as a work of fiction, by "an old friend of the Forum who wishes to remain anonymous" and with all information "based on foreign sources and open only" (this is Google Translate, you really don't have to trust me). It seems to have rather less technical detail than Silverstein's and a good deal more wish fulfillment, down to an elaborate reconstruction of how Hezbollah will behave.

It looks to me, in fact, as if each of these is a different redaction of some document prior to both, edited perhaps for different purposes. Silverstein, insists that this is not so: his is a translation of the original official paper, given to him to help expose how crazy Netanyahu and Barak really are. But I'd like to hear some speculation about what the other one is.

The drumbeat, meanwhile, seems to have become as intense as it was in the spring, before the formation of the Great National Unity Government that is now, of course, gone once again, apparently broken over the issue of the Haredim doing national service for a couple of years--once again Iran is reaching that threshold of something or other before which they must be stopped; or, to the more cynical, Netanyahu is reaching that threshold where he just won't be able to control himself.

Whatever it is seems keyed in timing to the US elections, whether it's his hatred for Obama, his love for his old pal Willard, or his dependence on Willard's patrons Mr. and Mrs. Adelson. I'm more convinced than ever that it's all bluff--hope it is, because if he really intends to lead his country to war on the basis of a plan as flimsy as the one Richard Silverstein describes then he is delusional and the outcome could be very horrible indeed.
A herd of Shetlands, from Horse and Man.
Update 10/14
I note somebody's been looking at this old thing. Its fearful tone (or rather Silverstein's) has become outdated now that it's quite clear that Netanyahu was bluffing, as I mostly expected. That explains, by the way, why this plan was so weird, so amateurish and incomplete: it wasn't written for the IDF, it was written for the Israeli (and maybe US) press.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


Let's say about halfway through the natural course of the revolution the military steps in—not, according to them, as counterrevolution or more revolution, but as a kind of compromise between the two, an acceptance of the revolution and an effort to slow it down. The astonished old president, biting his lip purple, is put under arrest and charged with various crimes: murderous assault on the peaceful revolutionaries, massive corruption.
Elephant hang gliding. From Toys Period.

The military commissions a constitution, stages a couple of elections, for a parliament and a president. The most popular party wins, not the one the military likes, or the one the old president likes, or the ones (dozens, of course) the revolutionaries like, but the one ordinary people, not thinking too hard about it, incline to.

The military appears to be having second thoughts, being quite nervous about this winning party, which is sort of religious: they sack the constitution-writing committee, dismiss the new parliament, constitute a cabinet in which they play the principal roles, announce an emergency. The old president is convicted of murder, or something like it, but they drop the corruption charges.

The new president then calls the parliament into session, just to say hello, and appoints his own defense minister and what not, sending the semi-dictators into an unexpected elder statesmanship, all very politely. Younger officers (who have been complaining all along about waiting for promotions and witnessing corruption) join the cabinet. The semi-dictators don't even whine; they just do as they're told.

So what is the opposite of a coup?

One thing, Thomas P. Friedman's head must be exploding. No wonder he's on vacation. He could tell himself it's the education problem—with no decent schools, the Egyptians don't have a clue what's normal (i.e., what Thomas P. Friedman expects), so they're doing everything backwards. But don't worry, Tom, Bahrain's going according to plan!
Leaf Elephant. Atelier Pour Enfants.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Poseur or prophet? Potentially pwned putz?

They're already giving young Paul Ryan a hard time for wanting to gut the Social Security system although when he was a teenager and his father died he collected Social Security survivor benefits himself, and he didn't even need the money. Like it's ironic or something. This is unfair on just a massive series of levels, and somebody really needs to speak out about it.

In the first place, Ryan has never wanted to gut the Social Security system. To the contrary he wants it to live forever. He just doesn't want it to turn over all its money to a bunch of stupid old people!

He believes, as perhaps Congress's number one expert in cranky-person economics,  that it should have a more legitimately financial-type purpose, like providing a constant supply [jump]
From CoinNews.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

American dream

When I was a kid riding around town with my dad and we passed some particularly fine piece of domestic architecture along the way with a spiffy little Morgan in the driveway, he didn't say, "Fucking rentiers sucking the working man's blood." He was more likely to say something like, "You think those guys have a dog? I could get in at the second floor easy, but a dog would make it a problem."

But sometimes he'd say, "You know, sonny? If you work hard and play by the rules, you can own a place like that one day. In fact you can own three or four of them. Then you can flip [jump]
From HGTV Front Door.

The boldly pro-human candidate

What does Paul Ryan stand for?
“…America is not just a nationality its not just a mass of land from Hawaii to Maine, from Wisconsin to Florida. America is an idea. Its the most pro-human idea ever designed by mankind. Our founders got it right, when they wrote in the Declaration of Independence that our rights come from nature and nature’s God – - not from government. Should we now subscribe to an ideology where government creates rights, is solely responsible for delivering these artificial rights, and then systematically rations these rights?” (In Congress, March 21 2010; transcribed apparently by Ryan and staff)
He said something similar today—
But America is more than just a's an idea. It's the only country founded on an idea. Our rights come from nature and God, not government. We promise equal opportunity, not equal outcomes.
This idea is founded on the principles of liberty, freedom, free enterprise, self-determination and government by consent of the governed. (Acceptance of the vice presidential nod, 8/11/2012, advance text)
 —but without the pro-human angle, which was maybe a little too controversial for the occasion (after all, Romney hasn't committed himself as to whether he's pro-human or not, though his claim that corporations are people might be read that way; since he is certainly pro-corporation, if corporations are people he must be pro-people as well).

However, it's hard to get a fix on what the pro-human position actually entails. For instance, nobody in the online community seems to want to admit to being pro-human, except for one lonely Danish blogger whose experience with humans may possibly be somewhat limited.

Perhaps we should focus our inquiry on the idea that America is an idea. America is clearly not just a mass of land from Hawaii to Maine, if only because of the intervening water, which comprises a significant fraction of the Pacific Ocean. But this is probably not what the congressman has in mind.
“America is not a place. America is an idea that died along with my grandfather. And I’m sorry to say that I shot them both.”
— Jarod Kintz, A Story That Talks about Talking Is Like Chatter to Chattering Teeth, and Every Set of Dentures Can Attest to the Fact That No.
One of Jarod Kintz's favorite quotes, in turn, is
“I have left orders to be awakened at any time during national emergency, even if I'm in a cabinet meeting.”
Ronald Reagan
I think that begins to give you the measure of the man Paul Ryan, not just an idea but a human, a human who flies from Wisconsin to Washington, and back; a human who whips up budget proposals like pancakes and never gets any eggshells in the mix. He's pro-human because he knows what it is to be a human from long, and sweaty, personal experience; indeed he's never tried anything else, though he did work for the family business for a little while awaiting his first election.

Also, he's not a skaarj;
The Skaarj are a powerful, imperial reptilian race with aims of subordinating or destroying all other species, under the justification that the Skaarj are naturally superior to all others. [T]hey typically stand between seven and nine feet tall (8 feet on average) and weigh around 385 lbs.; they have scales ranging in color from dark and light green to blue or yellow. They have an overhanging forehead with glowing eyes burning underneath, short, curved tusks, and, in the case of the Warrior caste, long, braided, scaly, dreadlocks arcing off the back of their heads. Most Skaarj have thick tails, though this feature seems to become increasingly reduced the farther along the Trooper caste a Skaarj progresses. 
Skaarj are notably anti-human. This means Ryan will never, ever eliminate Medicare, or milk price supports for that matter, unless it's really cool with everybody else in the room. Because that's just the kind of human he is.

I'd like to get around sometime to Ryan's opponents who believe that rights come from government, but I'm having a hard time locating them too.

But I did find some anti-human propaganda, from YouTubist SkaarjSoldier:

Friday, August 10, 2012

Cheap shots 8/10

Lindsey Graham:
“And I just can’t let that pass. I just cannot believe that the majority leader of the United States Senate would take the floor twice, make accusations that are absolutely unfounded in my view, and quite frankly making things up to divert the campaign away from the real issues.”
I can't believe it either! There must be some logical explanation, some—flaw—in the way we're perceiving it, like—I don't know—if he weren't making things up? Or if these were the real issues?
Ice cream taco. From Tried and True Recipes.
"Oh, thank you, Little Father, for saving us from Pussy Riot!"
So what exactly didn't Putin like about it?
(a) The pony tail—never let a man with a pony tail kiss you.
(b) He's afraid his hand is going to get all garlicky now.
(c) The priest is actually his embarrassing derelict dad.
(d) Nobody's supposed to know he's Tsar until after the presidential term ends.

Who says the kid is shallow?
He's doing his homework, and he's not afraid to ask the tough questions. But Luke, Luke, if you let everybody see what you've got they're going to scoop you!

Photo from Coloribus Advertising Archive.

The Times of Israel noted progress within the Haredi community: Instead of being forced to throw rocks at immodestly dressed women, ultra-Orthodox men can now take responsibility for their own irrepressible lusts by buying special blurring stickers to fix on the lenses of their glasses, making the women that wander into their field of vision indistinguishable from one another.
Determined to provide a solution for everyone, the committee also offers non-prescription glasses at NIS 130 ($32.50). Those who are blessed with good vision and don’t require corrective glasses can buy a pair and then apply the stickers to the lenses, reducing their vision to a safe blur.
The organization also offers head scarfs that extend over the eyes for added protection against concupiscence.
Rommey's new strategy:
The Romney campaign got the Times to run a story about how nice the candidate is; years ago he was trying to sell a bunch of houses he'd picked up cheap and the couple who was renting one of them couldn't find a mortgage they could afford. So he loaned them the money himself. Fifteen years later he's still collecting that $600 a month. Does this mean if he gets elected he'll do that for everybody, making himself big enough that he can drown government single-handedly?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Practical rectification

Emin Milli was one of the Azerbaijani bloggers who mocked the government in 2009 for spending $180,000 to import 15 donkeys from Turkey—not that Azerbaijan  was suffering from any shortage of donkeys, but these were just—I don't know, more Presidential? The story is told in English by Ali Novruzov here. Milli and his fellow blogger Adnan Hajizade made a glorious film of a really ritzy, Vivaldi-playing donkey giving a press conference to let everyone know how much it's enjoying Azerbaijan hospitality.

For this bloodthirsty demagoguery they were given two and a half and two years in jail respectively, and were released a bit early in November 2010.

Milli is still writing, including this for PEN Atlas:
how is it possible to make the whole nation believe that words do not really matter, that they are empty and meaningless? How is it possible? Well, it is possible when people who present themselves or are presented to a society as masters of words, written or spoken, shapers of forms and meanings of the words, start to use the words as barriers behind which they hide their cowardice, venality and hypocrisy.
To corrupt the whole of society the regime decided to corrupt words first, to deprive them of their true meaning. Corrupt authoritarianism needs words to lose their meaning. But the victory of corruption here is only temporary. It is temporary because we always have rebels who believe that words are not dead and who bring the words back to life by standing behind them and often suffering the consequences....
One of those courageous people is Azerbaijani journalist Khadija Ismayilova. She started to investigate and write about businesses owned by the family of the president in Azerbaijan and around the world. Of course, she had to be punished for writing the truth and exposing the regime. It was decided that her private life would be exposed in order to tarnish her reputation and to provoke “natural” attacks on her. The regime planted a hidden camera in her bedroom. Her relatives received the incriminating photos of her with her boyfriend. When she refused to be silenced, a video of her and her boyfriend was put online. The official newspaper of the ruling party started to accuse her of lax morals hinting at the video with its intimate content available online.
 The end of the story may not be what you expected:
The most conservative religious circles issued a statement in her support praising her courage in exposing the lies and corruption of the ruling elite. Everyone was appalled and even those who usually remain silent and live in fear, spoke up against such an immoral attack against a powerless woman. The government suddenly formally condemned “this crime” despite the prosecutor’s office ignoring Khadija’s officially lodged complaint for several days. The video was not shown on any television in Azerbaijan during prime time, something that had happened before with other journalists and unfortunately had silenced them.
You can follow up on Khadija Ismayilova's case here.
Photo by Rövşən lbrahimov.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Average is overrated

In Singapore in the early 1980s some bright spark in the Ministry of Transport decided that the old Singapore Bus Service needed competition; so they started one up, Trans-Island Bus Services, and then they proceeded to divide up the routes: one for SBS, one for TIBS, another one for SBS, and so on.

Of course it isn't really competition. There are now the two companies, each pretty much dependent on government to tell them what to do, where to do it, and how it should be priced. The price is great, too, and of course there are more routes than there otherwise would be, and probably additional jobs as well, so nobody is losing anything. But nobody's gaining anything from that famous market discipline, because you can't tell the SBS driver to go stuff it and take the TIBS instead, because the TIBS (nowadays, SMRT) isn't going to your stop, and the prices aren't going down because the government likes them where they are.

The only real good it does to have two bus companies in one town is when Tom Friedman comes to visit and he can get it into the Times that this little country is so terrific it's introduced market mechanisms into the local bus service.*

Which brings me to Tom ("Average is Over") Friedman, who's hawking some more tests this week as the ticket to getting the whole country to the Lake Wobegon condition of having all our kids be above average. This time it is the Program for International Student Assessment or PISA, made by OECD, which is going to rank all the 15-year-olds in 70 countries;
“Imagine, in a few years, you could sign onto a Web site and see this is how my school compares with a similar school anywhere in the world,” says [OECD staffer Andreas] Schleicher. “And then you take this information to your local superintendent and ask: ‘Why are we not doing as well as schools in China or Finland?’ ”
And then what? Are you moving the family to Finland, as the superintendent kneels at your feet, hugging your knees and begging you not to go? Or do you think there's going to be a SMRT school you can threaten to go to, with a teacher turnover rate of under 40% and God-free biology classes?

It's never going to be competition until (a) there's a real excess of supply over demand and (b) parents ("customers") have real economic power. An alternative, trying to make all the schools good, isn't happening either as long as you want to do it on the cheap. (Do you think they go around threatening to close schools and fire everybody in Singapore or Finland, by the way?) Otherwise, average is not going be over at all—

"But you wouldn't know about that, would you? Little thing called regression to the mean?"

*In general, privatization is necessary because socialism in Singapore works so well it's deflationary; gotta leak some of that surplus value out into the public.