Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Two, three, many GOPs

David Brooks writes:
Bette Davis and William Dix in The Nanny, 1965. Via Unimonster's Crypt.
The Republicans have been getting down to cleaning up the place, with admirable dispatch. Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana announced to the National Republican Committee that you actually can go broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people, and that it's time to say goodbye to being the stupid party. Representative Paul Ryan spoke to the National Review Institute on why prudence is preferable to spasmodic protest, and I'm sure Mr. Buckley was smiling down when I typed "spasmodic", a word that young idiot Lowry probably doesn't even know how to spell.

For some reason the Institute didn't ask me to speak, although I'm told Charles Krauthammer did give me a shout out.* Of course it's partly the price I pay for remaining serenely above the fray, as a public intellectual, and I don't really mind. I do have some advice for Republicans, though, to the effect that stupid is as stupid does, and if they want to get out of that hole Obama dug for them, they'd better get smart.
Jindal may have put on his little nanny uniform and spanked the party over its stubborn stupidity, but the only policy ideas he offered were as resolutely stupid as ever, repeating the same old saw about how government is evil but governors are good. There seemed to be a conviction that it was fine to be stupid, as long as you didn't look stupid, which is not the way the party is going to reinvent itself.

In the first place, once you've explained that the government is a vicious all-devouring beast, it becomes problematic to articulate a positive program for doing something with it. It confuses people. Frankly, that myth of Encroaching Government and its endless duel with Liberty is about ready to be retired. It has done a wonderful job of recruiting voters from the South and West since Barry Goldwater first took it on tour in 1964, but it will not going to be able to squeeze out much more, now that they're starting to realize that their disability checks and the little scooters they ride around the WalMart with actually come from Washington.

Those Republicans are probably not going to change. It's hard to dress for dinner if you didn't bring a tux, and it's hard to detach yourself from imprudent old ideas if you don't know where to purchase some new ones. Ideas exist in the brain, like a comfortable old line of rail track, and you can't get a new one simply by derailing; that wouldn't be prudent at all. You need an entrepreneur to buy up the the right of way and bribe all the authorities.

What's needed is an additional Republican party, a Smarty party if you will, suited to the more sophisticated conservatives of the coasts and the Rust Belt from Minneapolis to Cleveland. In place of the tedious old myth of the Encroaching Government, it could make use of some new myths, such as Mancur Olson's myth of the Bloated Government and Charles Murray's myth of the American Split into two nations, one high-IQ and one low-IQ. The new Republicans could develop a cocktail of policy ideas to confront both of these imaginary crises at once. Like spiffy new institutions to replace the bloated and sclerotic ones targeted at the needs of the low-IQs, such as day-trading accounts for seniors instead of social security, and no institutions at all for the high-IQs, how does that sound?
Hulk Hogan as Mr. Nanny, 1993, from Bleacher Report.
*When asked who his favorite liberal columnist was, he answered, “David Brooks”  prompting chuckles from the audience.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Never degrading and humiliating enough for you, Jerry

Ancient Roman military latrine, based on ruins of Vercovicium at Housesteads, Northumberland. Painter uncredited.

Retired General William "Jerry" Boykin, famous for explaining to the Ummah that the God of Islam is an idol—and saying Allah is an idol is kind of like saying Jesus is Athena's husband, so wrong it's not even offensive—has now come forward with his problems with ladies and their lady parts coming into combat.
“What I’ve raised is the issue of mixing the genders in those combat units, where there is no privacy, where they’re out on extended operations and there’s no opportunity for people to have any privacy whatsoever,” the retired lieutenant general insisted.

“Now, as a man who has been there and as a man who has some experience in those kinds of units, I certainly don’t want to be in that environment with a female because it’s degrading and humiliating enough to do your personal hygiene and the other normal functions among your teammates,” Boykin opined. (Raw Story)
Yes, bad enough having those nancy-boys scoping out his manly characteristic in the shower, now it'll be girls peeping when he's on the potty! By all means let them fight, but they have to have their own latrines, just like Mrs. Boykin.

Actually, given that he's now serving as executive vice president of the Family Research Council, he might want to look into doing some Family Research on how many American families are having to cope with the single-toilet lifestyle. Perhaps we ought to move them all into Spartan-style single-sex dorms. So the degradation and humiliation can be held to the appropriate levels.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Veni, vidi, vavavoomsi

Rick Scott Conquistador (2011). From The Reid Report.

Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, the former vice-presidential candidate, said Sunday that President Obama was ignoring the nation’s problems, choosing instead to focus on the “political conquest” of the Republican Party. (New York Times, 1/27/2013)
That explains everything! That Obama never really believed in the two-party solution. He wants to settle Democrats in Republican territory, where they'll take all the water and arable land for themselves, with their God-and-guns, and Republicans will be reduced to working as hospital orderlies and cucumber pickers. Every time he offers to up the Medicare age, every time he fails to prosecute a criminal banker, he's planting another flag in your Right Bank hills.

You guys are so right to not cooperate—probably the only thing that's keeping you from being totally absorbed.
Bush the Crusader (2008). Image from HorsesAss.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Hipster gun nuts

Image from AttentionDoozers.

From the promotion page for the NRA Wine Club.

Mikeb302000 has discovered a softer side to the National Rifle Association: The NRA Wine Club, which will ship you half a dozen carefully selected bottles every month. A little vernaccia, maybe, to enjoy as you clean that AR-15, or pack the heat of a mellow pinot noir in your Cellar Master Wine Tote for afters when you're out on the prowl for intruders or illegal immigrants. And don't forget that you're helping defend basic freedoms with every sip.

Next up: The NRA Record Club Album of the Month—Ted Nugent Sings the Mel Tormé Songbook.

The Vast Mobility

David Brooks writes:
One of the most entertaining spectacles of the Age of Obama in this second act is going to be the gigantic pro wrestling match over inequality in our society, between Nature in the form of meritocracy and Artifice in the form of government. Because meritocracy, the market-driven process that lifts some of us out of the equality in which we were all born to float to the top like the oil in a vinaigrette, is in direct conflict with the collectivism of the Obama government, which aims to leave us all the same, in cheap black suits with no lapels and a Little Red Book to wave in the air as the president drives by in his limousine. Who do you think is going to win? 
We are all born equal, of course, each in his or her appropriate station in life, and then certain things happen to make us less equal. The first thing is our education system, a gigantic crane claw machine that our colleges and universities use to pluck high school kids out of our towns and villages, but at different levels of skill and resources, so that Harvard, with an unlimited supply of quarters, gets all the teddy bears, while Arizona State has to be satisfied with plastic key rings.
From Lindsay and Christian's wedding at the Rockefeller Chapel.
The smart kids from Leipzig, Pennsylvania, Elbow, Nevada, and West New York, New Jersey who make it into the top schools, coming from a situation of happy equality, now find themselves in tooth-and-claw competition with graduates of ivy-covered boarding schools and Montessori programs who have spent the last twelve years taking lessons in getting themselves noticed, acquiring distinctive accomplishments, attitudes, and manners. Used to a social scene that values roots, they are plunged into one in which mobility is what counts, people flitting like hummingbirds from culture to culture and taking just a sip from each, rootless cosmopolitans concerned only with self-fulfillment. Raised to sweep off their caps and tug their forelocks in the presence of the great, now they encounter the great as their slovenly roommates, leaving the dishes in the sink and the underwear on the floor, careless and supremely confident. 
What's amazing is that this works, turning our slum kids and peasant children into elegant young members of the ruling class. Of course they can't go home again, if only because there's nobody there who could afford to employ them, but there are enclaves all over, from Hoboken to Palo Alto, that serve as magnets where they can live with their kind, with a sufficiency of coffee bars, yoga studios, and Korean restaurants. Or they could get a Ph.D. in political science and get a teaching job, because it turns out a degree from one of those same ten or eleven schools is the main thing you need to get a political science teaching job, according to Robert Oprisko (and a good thing too! though Oprisko, for some reason, seems to think graduates of other places might be able to handle the work).
Barack and Michelle Obama come out of these hothouses of aristocracy, as do most of the members of the administration, most of us writers at the Times, and many of our readers—imagine trying to follow my sophisticated prose if you did your lit classes in Austin or Buffalo! And yet they are doing their best to undo the effects of the system, by redistributing money from high to low. The health care bill alone takes $20,000 from the average member of the 1% and divvies it up among between 25 and 50 more or less indigent families.
University of Chicago women's soccer.
In the first place, this is not enough to make a difference: it's like dividing up a spoonful of caviar ("Care for an egg, dear?"). And then it's going to people in places like the San Joaquin valley, where most don't even have high school degrees, and to make matters worse, they have to spend it on health insurance so they don't even have a chance of spending it where it counts, on tuition at Brown or Williams, or getting a pied-à-terre in Dumbo. 
Obama's relentless focus on redistribution ignores the reality that inequality in our country is caused by the fact that there just aren't enough really good schools to take care of everybody. And centralizing all the decision-making in Washington isn't going to stop the Georgetown graduates from staying there instead of moving back to Iowa and Nebraska to teach their cousins how to make a macchiato and wear those little fedoras. It will just mean more of a division than ever between people who know how to use the lobster fork and people who eat at Red Lobster. 
And I'm not saying Republicans have a better plan for dealing with this. In the first place, Republicans don't think it needs to be dealt with. All I'm saying is, there ought to be a second place here somewhere, but Obama doesn't know what it is any more than I do.
If only he'd written the dissertation instead of that book, he could have had a respectable job

Friday, January 25, 2013

Cheap shots 1/25/13: Don't touch that uterus

Senator Paul gesticulated furiously as Secretary Clinton listened, with downcast eyes. Image from Grub Street Lodger.
You think he has mommy issues?
RAND PAUL: I think that ultimately with your leaving you accept responsibility for the worst culpability for the worst tragedy since 9/11. And I really mean that. Had I been president at the time and I found that you did not read the cables from Benghazi, you did read the cables from Ambassador Stevens, I would have relieved you of your post. I think it’s inexcusable. The thing is that, we can understand that you’re not reading every cable. I can understand that maybe you’re not aware of the cable from the ambassador in Vienna that asked for $100,000 for an electrical charging station. I can understand that maybe you’re not aware that your department spent $100,000 on three comedians who went to India on a promotional tour called “Make Chi Not War,” but I think you might be able to understand and might be aware of the $80 million spent on a consulate in Mazar-i-Sharif that will never be built. I think it’s inexcusable that you did not know about this and did not read these cables. (Washington Free Beacon)
Image from Democratic Underground.
The Vixen wonders:
Have we reached infinite football-pull, where it turns out Obama was Lucy all the time? And it's the GOP who will never ever kick the ball? I don't know what that means, but I kind of like it. The GOP can't move the ball without Obama's permission. And he's already said he'll protect our entitlement programs. So what do they get? Niente?  It sort of looks like niente.
In a word, yes. Weird, I know, but we'll just have to start getting used to the idea that you don't always have to be the victim.
11th Doctor vs. a Dalek, by Wild Guru Larry. From Photoree.
Caroli at Crooks & Liars:
[Fox News commentator Keith Ablow] pronounces President Obama's push for gun control in the wake of the Newtown tragedy as a "hijack" of the issue in order to advance his "personal desire for gun control." Ablow then goes on to say that the real problem is "untreated mental illness."
Ah, but whose mental illness? You probably think that Fox is blaming the mental illness of the Newtown shooter, to deflect it from the lethal instrument?

It's way weirder than that:
Claiming "the autonomy of others did him no favors as a kid when he was abandoned again and again," Ablow goes on to say that this abandonment led Obama to believe "the collective needs to be empowered and all the better if [Obama is] the center of the collective and the most powerful person."

In other words, all this talk of gun control has nothing to do with the rights of children and innocent individuals to live their lives without having them cut short by some lunatic with an assault rifle. No, really, it's just about how Barack Obama's mother left him with her parents in Hawaii while she earned a living and a PhD.
Barack's difficult childhood has left him with an insane compulsion to take your firearms away. He's a ballistokleptomaniac! And his madness inevitably leaves children all over the country unarmed and unable to defend themselves against it. Get that man a psychiatrist quick, or we'll all die!

From ErinEliseMusic.
Don't touch that uterus, Ma'am, it's a crime scene.
Should a recently introduced bill in New Mexico become law, rape victims will be required to carry their pregnancies to term during their sexual assault trials or face charges of “tampering with evidence.” (Think Progress)
Doesn't say where they'll auction the little nippers off after trial.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Concussive evidence

Can't tell you how much I hoped she'd get a chance to say something like this, and say it!

Via ThinkProgress.

What'd I tell you?

Image from Ask the Mighty Italian Moustache.
At +972, Ami Kaufman notes that the Knesset will be a little less fascist than it was before the elections, and with lots more women and social activist types, so that's to the good, and that the biggest losers are American political consultants:
Stan Greenberg: The polls at certain points had Labor well over 20 seats, yet they ended with a mere 15 seats (99% of the vote counted). A mere two seats more than the all-time low that Ehud Barak was responsible for. It takes American genius to only get two more seats after the social protests that should have boosted Labor sky high, if they had played their cards right.
Arthur Finkelstein: According to reports, Finkelstein (who left the country just days before the election) was the architect of unifying Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu, worth 42 seats back then. They’ve dropped to 33, maybe less (99% of the vote counted).
You read it here (for example here) that Netanyahu was a lot weaker than he looked, and knew it, so we're a winner in the prediction stakes, and I suppose his continuing weakness will help the IDF, the Mossad, and the indispensable President Obama keep him from invading Iran, so they're winners too.

Wild man Tom Friedman, Mystax Mysteriorum (Mustache of Mysteries), has an idea on that score:
Rather than negotiating with Iran’s leaders in secret — which, so far, has produced nothing and allows the Iranian leaders to control the narrative and tell their people that they’re suffering sanctions because of U.S. intransigence — why not negotiate with the Iranian people? President Obama should put a simple offer on the table, in Farsi, for all Iranians to see: The U.S. and its allies will permit Iran to maintain a civil nuclear enrichment capability — which it claims is all it wants to meet power needs — provided it agrees to U.N. observers and restrictions that would prevent Tehran from ever assembling a nuclear bomb.
He assumes, I think, that the offer has already been made and rejected in secret. He might get a big surprise! I know if I were his Supreme Leadership I'd be suspicious of such a proposal made in secret—I'd remember what happened with North Korea in 1994—but I'd jump on a public one if the U.S. put out a credible timetable. Friedman's a fool, and it's a fool's idea, but sometimes that's just what one needs, as when the mustached psychotic of Broadway and 79th stops you on the sidewalk to tell you to tie your shoe.

Another foolish idea from Mr. Mystax is this:
On Israel-Palestine, the secretary of state should publicly offer President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority the following: the U.S. would recognize the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank as the independent State of Palestine on the provisional basis of the June 4, 1967, lines, support its full U.N. membership and send an ambassador to Ramallah, on the condition that Palestinians accept the principle of “two states for two peoples” — an Arab state and a Jewish state in line with U.N. General Assembly Resolution 181 — and agree that permanent borders, security and land swaps would be negotiated directly with Israel. The status of the refugees would be negotiated between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, which represents all Palestinians inside and outside of Palestine. Gaza, now a de facto statelet, would be recognized as part of Palestine only when its government recognizes Israel, renounces violence and rejoins the West Bank. 
Or, as his alter id Really Tom Friedman puts it,
In the future we’re all going to speak languages we can’t understand and we must begin with strife in the Middle East. Or North Africa. It works if you just speak loud, simple English. Like: “NO ONE. KNOWS WHAT. JUDEA. AND SAMARIA. ARE SUPPOSED. TO BE. MAYBE THE ROMANS DID.” Or: “I’M SORRY. ABOUT YOUR. GRANDFATHER. YOU CAN’T HAVE. THESE OLIVE GROVES. ANYMORE. BECAUSE SOME HASIDS. FROM LONG ISLAND. LIVE THERE NOW.” 
This time I like the version published in the Times, with the formal recognition, better. In fact it kind of takes my breath away. If Serious People are starting to think like this, perhaps the hopey-changey has really arrived.
Image from Mouse Medicine.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Collective turn of the screw

Shorter David Brooks:
Great speech, Mr. President! I mean, considering you're not me.
Yes, that's the Yale Professor of Humility showing his stuff by patronizing the President of the United States on his second inaugural address, which could have been out of the park if only he'd followed Brooks's advice and not taken that collective turn.
Jimmy Durante's Original New Orleans Jazz Band, 1917. From Red Hot Jazz.
Obama argued that America has to change its approach if it wants to continue its progress. Modern problems like globalization, technological change, widening inequality and wage stagnation compel us to take new collective measures if we’re to pursue the old goals of equality and opportunity. 
There has been too much “me” — too much individualism and narcissism, too much retreating into the private sphere. There hasn’t been enough “us,” not enough communal action for the common good. 
My stars! Is Brooks going to be arguing against Obama that what we need is more narcissism? Apparently yes:
I am not a liberal like Obama, so I was struck by what he left out in his tour through American history. I, too, would celebrate Seneca Falls, Selma and Stonewall, but I’d also mention Wall Street, State Street, Menlo Park and Silicon Valley.
You'd also get crucified in our liberal media for using the pronoun "I" too often, you know. It's all that collectivism in the air. By State Street do you mean the one in Chicago where they do things that they don't do on Broadway? Would you really say that "the most self-evident of truths—that all of us are created equal—guided our forebears through" State Street, and Menlo Park?

Well, no, that's exactly it: he wouldn't. He'd say that sometimes that most self-evident of truths doesn't make a good guide, and what's needed is some of what J. Pierpont Morgan and Thomas A. Edison and William Henry Gates III were having, by which he'd presumably mean low taxes, and what the federal government needs to do is to get into the storm cellar and wait it out.
I’d emphasize that America has prospered because we have a decentralizing genius.... I would have been more respectful of this decentralizing genius than Obama was, more nervous about dismissing it for the sake of collective action, more concerned that centralization will lead to stultification, as it has in every other historic instance.
Except when it didn't, as in (just sticking to Brooks's own picture) the U.S. during most of the 20th century, when some of that centralizing was what the doctor ordered:
I also think Obama misunderstands this moment. The Progressive Era, New Deal and Great Society laws were enacted when America was still a young and growing nation. They were enacted in a nation that was vibrant, raw, underinstitutionalized and needed taming.
The eight-hour day, the child labor laws, the income tax, the Sherman anti-trust law—once your country's fully cooked, they no longer have a function; peel them off and discard them, like muffin cups.
The task of reinvigorating a mature nation is fundamentally different than the task of civilizing a young and boisterous one. It does require some collective action: investing in human capital. But, in other areas, it also involves stripping away — streamlining the special interest sinecures that have built up over the years and liberating private daring.
A gig typing 1600 words a week for the Times is not a special interest sinecure, by the way. (I guess it's not of any special interest.) What a special interest sinecure typically consists of is getting a monthly check for being old and frail, for eating when you are former human capital as if they could still squeeze some profit out of you, using up money that could have been spent enabling narcissistic individualists to add some value to society by firing inefficient workers.

Reinvigorating a mature nation means using government to give people the tools to compete, but then opening up a wide field so they do so raucously and creatively. It means spending more here but deregulating more there. It means facing the fact that we do have to choose between the current benefits to seniors and investments in our future, and that to pretend we don’t face that choice, as Obama did, is effectively to sacrifice the future to the past.
If Obama would only stick it to those goddamned olds, what a well-made inaugural address it would have been!

And oh, does Brooks know what he's doing with the repetition of the word "collective" throughout this column? You bet your Tailgunner Joe he does.
Note: I am mostly concerned with Brooks's writing styles and strategies and the insights they give into his sad mind and strange powers. For his many direct falsehoods and errors of fact you should always remember to check other sources as well; including, for this column, Driftglass and Dean Baker.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a conservative?

Is the Pope Jewish?
St. Thomas Aquinas. From Wikipedia.
Here's old Steven Hayward at PowerLine explaining how Dr. King was a conservative, and it's something of a surprise.

I always thought (and have written about it here) the only thing they knew about in this connection was the content-of-the-character and color-of-the-skin line which to them proves he opposed affirmative action, as opposed to when he said,
"A society that has done something special against the Negro for hundreds of years must now do something special for the Negro" to compete on a just and equal basis (quoted in Let the Trumpet Sound, by Stephen Oates)
"Within common law we have ample precedents for special compensatory programs.... And you will remember that America adopted a policy of special treatment for her millions of veterans after the war."
since he was in fact totally in favor of affirmative action as long as it was understood to be not charity but just compensation or reparation if you like.

But it seems there's an entirely different approach based on the "Letter from a Birmingham Jail", where in explaining the concept of nonviolent civil disobedience he appeals to the concept of "natural law":
One may well ask: "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all."

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality.
Hayward feels that this passage is
a serious difficulty and deep embarrassment for today’s liberals, who wish to acknowledge and empower nothing higher than an individual’s own will.
Huh? Oh, I get it. He's actually talking about blastocysts. No, really.
St. Augustine of Hippo. Image "commissioned by the New York Times" for a review of James J. O'Donnell's  2005 Augustine: A Biography, according to Professor O'Donnell.

"Natural law" has two different meanings: first there's the one in ordinary philosophical discourse, where it refers to the whole big tradition beginning with Aristotle, according to which there is a morality more basic than the laws encoded in any given society, that you don't legislate but rather discover, in the use of human reason to contemplate human nature, and which comes to us in conservative forms through St. Thomas and liberal ones through Locke (and Jefferson, especially in the Declaration); and then there's the one inside the epistemic closure of conservative Catholicism, where you use the Thomist concept to "prove" that abortion, contraception, embryonic stem cell research, and any sexual expression outside the one-penis one-vagina one–marriage license approach are all intrinsically and "naturally" disordered and sinful abominations which should be illegal everywhere regardless of whether the population is Catholic or not. Just as non-Catholics have laws against murder and theft, they should have laws against, say, fellatio because it has been proven that it's against the "natural law". And people who think fellatio or embryonic stem cell research should be permitted obviously do not believe in "natural law" and must be liberals and individualists or, more or less, beasts.

And because of the epistemic closure they may not even realize that natural law 1 and natural law 2 are not the same thing, and that Dr. King was referring only to the first. Thus Hayward remarks,
 (Interesting, by the way, that a Southern Baptist preacher would invoke the Roman Catholic figures Augustine and Aquinas in this argument.)
Interesting, by the way, that a supposedly educated person would think it's abnormal for Protestants to refer to Augustine (or St. Thomas either, for that matter, but especially Augustine, since Roman Catholicism as such didn't exist in his time, and since Lutherans, in particular, think Augustine belongs to them). Hayward is trying to make Dr. King into a crypto-Catholic!
Fact: He did smile on occasion. Via MyLiteraryQuest.
Really interesting, by the way, to note that Dr. King was a passionate advocate of family planning and treasured the 1966 Margaret Sanger Award he received from Planned Parenthood.

For a more earnest account of King's progressivism (touching the more political than theological aspects) see Igor Volsky at ThinkProgress.

What I typed

Inauguration dog T-shirt. Via Salon.
I decided to open a file after I turned on the TV for the inauguration. This is what I typed with a couple of small additions:

Mrs. Evers-Williams, Senator (D-Brooklyn) Charles Schumer introducing the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir with a very ritzy and I thought not very attractive arrangement of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, and Lamar! Alexander introducing Justice Sotomayor for the vice-presidential oath. [I was going to add a question as to whether it's obligatory to have a Republican or whether this is part of the task of cutting them in half or both. I don't hear the MSNBC crowd commenting on it.]

I noticed in the vice-presidential oath, with a thrill of recognition, the clause according to which you are taking the oath "without any mental reservation"—you know what that is, right? It's to make sure no Jesuit (or presumably Muslim) can falsely take the oath and sneak into the office.

Did Obama refer to "the tenants of your faith" or is that a phonetic thing like the "Uninted States" that people can't help doing?

Truths may be self-evident but they aren't self-executing.

Muskets and militias won't do, and we need science teachers. As one people.

A decade of war is ending, economic recovery has begun.

Reject the notion that we must choose between social safety net and paying down debt. Our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves but to all posterity—we will face down the threat of climate change. The path will be long and sometimes difficult but we must lead the transition. How we will maintain our national treasures and preserve our planet.

We the people still believe that national security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war.

Not because we are naive but because we believe engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear. [later: Chris Matthews thinks that's a callout to Iran, but also that it's meant to enrage neocons. And that avoiding war with Iran is the most important thing he can do, which is maybe some kind of excuse for the rest of the foreign policy...? Like the drone campaigns and detentions are somehow subordinate to and even in support of it?]

We the people declare today that the most evident of truths, that all are created equal...

Long crescendo on: Our journey is not complete until... and the self-evident truths.

Don't treat name-calling as reasoned debate.

And it's over quite suddenly, a superb, crisp, confident speech, not a tear jerker but a great pleasure.

As Kelly Clarkson sings My country 'tis—very quietly, not going up the octave till the God verse—I google my favorite verse from God save the King, more appropriate than ever:
O Lord our God arise,
Scatter her enemies
And make them fall;
Confound their politics,
Frustrate their knavish tricks,
On Thee our hopes we fix,
God save us all!
Saks inaugural popup shop at the Ritz-Carlton in NW. Via USA Today.
In the poem I have a brief moment of confusion mishearing "Adams" as "atoms", alas the most poetic moment we get. A flash of fancy imagery in the "plum blush" of something but I instantly forget what. The "plum blush of snow" can't possibly be it. The poem as a whole sounds exactly like an inaugural address by a writer much less gifted than the president.

During the benediction I get an email from Haaretz begging me once again to subscribe.

The benediction cites Micah what does the lord require of us but to love justice...
A personal blessing for Mr. and Mrs. O in Spanish.

The sound system isn't set up for Beyoncé's tiny lower register in the national anthem, a kind of dumb arrangement in 4/4 time, a horrible idea, and the Marine band. Turns to the normal 3/4 with fermatas at the end. I'll listen to her singing anything of course but I hope she realizes some day that she's really a jazz singer. For what it's worth the most musical moment we got. Other than Obama's crescendo.

Jimmy Carter looks really delighted. Maybe just to be photographed. Leon Panetta kissing a lot of people, including Kerry. Here's Chris Hayes saying it was a radical speech. Selma, Seneca Falls, and Stonewall. Rachel gently corrects him to note that it's not just identity politics but democracy, change through citizens.
Wax Obamas (the real ones don't need a tour) from Mme Tussaud's,  via  UPI.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

West of Eden 1/20/13

So the Palestinians got themselves a promotion in the UN General Assembly, and the Israeli government responded by announcing an entirely new settlement in E-1, between Jerusalem and Maale Adumim, and according to Jeffrey Goldberg President Obama has been going around saying
that this sort of behavior on Netanyahu’s part is what he has come to expect, and he suggested that he has become inured to what he sees as self-defeating policies of his Israeli counterpart.
In the weeks after the UN vote, Obama said privately and repeatedly, “Israel doesn’t know what its own best interests are.” With each new settlement announcement, in Obama’s view, Netanyahu is moving his country down a path toward near-total isolation.
So this morning on NPR, Rachel Martin is asking Aaron David Miller what's up with that "Israel doesn't know what its own best interests are"?

And Miller replies,
there are times, and on certain issues, that the Israelis are simply not being smart. When you're a small country, even if you are a nuclear power and even if you have strong allies like the United States, you have to be much more aware of how your actions influence and shape the attitudes not only of the neighborhood in which you live but of your key ally and I think there is a sense, which is right, that Israeli actions take American policies and interests for granted and that sense of disrespect is I think what the president has identified...
(Audio here.)

No! That's not it! Zero points! Goldberg had it right, it's not about influences and attitudes and respect, it's not about Obama's feelings and veiled threats and public relations as the theater of battle. Obama's not playing for position, he's giving his considered view: it's really about the settlements. Because in the long run there cannot be an Israel unless there is a Palestine. Every time they dig another foundation for a block of flats in the West Bank they are digging the grave of the Jewish state.

And that's why Netanyahu ought to be listening to the international community, and especially to Obama. Not to placate Obama or pretend he likes him, but to save Israel from his own greedy stupidity. Too bad. And meanwhile in Tuesday's parliamentary vote...
If Arabs voted at the same rate as Jews, they could win more than 20 seats and be the second-largest bloc in Parliament. “It’s in our hands,” said Ghaleb Majadleh, a Parliament member and former minister from the Labor Party whose headquarters is here in Baka al-Gharbiya. Increase turnout by half, he said, and “Netanyahu would not be in the government.”
Too bad about that too.
Image of the West Bank. Reuters/Mohamad Torokman, Jerusalem Post.

Standards deviation

Updated 1/20/2014

This post was written before I understood, as Diane Ravitch has written,
As Secretary Duncan’s chief of staff wrote at the time, the Common Core was intended to create a national market for book publishers, technology companies, testing corporations, and other vendors.
I still think the article mocked here is pretty funny, though.

Via Thundering Herd.
Via Thers: Mary Grabar of Townhall is extremely concerned about how today's kids seem unaware of the Communist menace. You might think it's only to be expected that the Communist menace would be harder to focus on than it was 60 years ago, on account of its not existing any more, but to Mary and her friends it's really real and happening right inside our own American educational system, which is undergoing a forced collectivization where home-school parents, nuns, and charter school patrons are the Ukrainian kulaks of the 21st century!
with the Obama administration’s unconstitutional program of nationalizing education, students will not likely be able to experience the insights and pleasures of novels, like Orwell’s.... The standards, now in place for math and English, emphasize “work and career readiness”--that is for workers who see themselves as global citizens unacquainted with their national and cultural heritage. This became apparent as I read the recent article, “Teachers Get Help with Common Core Lessons Through (sic) CPALMS,” at the NPR site. This was also because one of the CPALMS lessons for English/Language Arts was on Animal Farm.
Really? That bastard Arne Duncan won't let children read novels? Readers of this page know I have my problems with him, but I never imagined he'd go that far!

Which he didn't. That's just a comma error (when the nuns were teaching Mary about the horrors of forced collectivization I'm afraid they neglected the punctuation a little bit); she doesn't mean "novels, like Orwell's", but "novels like Orwell's [Animal Farm]", whose insights and pleasures are in her view limited to teaching you about why Communism is bad, which the CPALMS lesson on Animal Farm in her view refuses to do. Novels will be on the syllabus, but she's not going to find them insightful or pleasant.

She concluded this after traveling from "Teachers Get Help With Common Core Lessons Through CPALMS" (no, I have no idea why she sic'd that preposition—nuns again, I guess—or for that matter why she refused to link to it, as if she were afraid NPR might get your computer dirty) to the CPALMS website (Collaborate Plan Learn Motivate Share), where there is a public preview for the program with a sample lesson plan for a ninth- or tenth-grade English class that happens to deal with Animal Farm, and it doesn't even mention Communism at all, except in passing:
While one small mention is made in a sheet on the “elements of a fable” that Animal Farm is [my turn to be sic] “satirized Stalinist Communism, in particular, and totalitarianism, in general” it is clear that the novel is to be taught in a historic vacuum. The pointed criticisms of communism are generalized to an indictment of a vague sense of too much “power.”
Sadly, no. The fact is that the lesson plan in question isn't on Animal Farm in the strict sense; it's a creative writing lesson following up on the reading of Animal Farm in which students are asked to write a fable of their own—which gives the lie to Grabar's assertion that the national standards are going to wipe out creativity and force students to do only "evidence-based writing", and shows her analysis of the thing to be barking up an altogether imaginary tree: the lesson plans for the reading of Animal Farm aren't at the site, so there isn't any evidence of what they might have left out.

And the funny thing is that, nun jokes aside, her English classes really let her down. She believes that Aesop's fables are only for pre-schoolers, and that the only insight or pleasure you can get from Animal Farm is to learn that Stalinism is bad (like you didn't know already?); and her sense of grammar and punctuation is awfully weak. And as far as "evidence-based writing" goes she could really use some work in it, no? I don't know under what state standards she made it through high school, but she makes the idea of a national standard look pretty good.
Hey, Mary, see if you can find the errors. This lesson teaches you that you can be poorly educated and still make a contribution. Feel better? Via Motifake.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Grand Bargain Basement

David Brooks writes:

Today is the last day of what we now must refer to as President Obama's first term, since we are well beyond the point where anything could prevent him from embarking on a second one, and it seems like a suitable time to take a break from my labors as America's premier public intellectual and pull one, old-school style, out of my ass, with political predictions for the next four years.
Photo by kk+ on Flickr. Some rights reserved. Via The Guardian.
It's an interesting time to hold an inauguration. You could think of it as the end of the Era of Bipartisanship because, although Democrats and Republicans failed to achieve any actual bipartisanship, I kept telling them they should, and I didn't hear anybody disagreeing. It was like something in the air. 
It all started with old Erskine Bowles and old Alan Simpson coming out of retirement to design the general format of a Grand Bargain of bipartisanship, in which Democrats would agree to the partial dismantling of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid as a way to eliminate our potentially crushing annual deficit and Republicans would agree not to dismantle them any further even if it meant the whole yacht club would have to forgo the next round of tax cuts. Before you knew it Obama and John Boehner were working together on little bargains of their own, and America's great think tanks were applying all the tonnage of their collective brains to the question. 
I can hardly believe how good things looked back then, now that we're straggling blindly along the floor of Fiscal Canyon wondering how we ever got here from there, and the Smart People I socialize with are telling me that Grand Bargain time has slipped away, even though you can still get some pretty good deals for the Martin Luther King weekend. It's the incompetence of the political class that got us into this pickle, and they're hardly capable of pulling the kinds of sophisticated maneuvers for which Bowles and Simpson called. You might as well ask a bunch of fifth-graders to take over Estonia. Are you kidding? With their national debt? What we need is a new controlling narrative to explain to ourselves what we're going to be up to for the next presidential term. 
As long-time readers are aware, I take the view that policy should be serious rather than silly and government should be good rather than bad. I know bad-government types are all the rage these days, but that's just not how I roll. What I'd like to see is a kind of Simple English government, where it learns to express itself with a vocabulary of seven or eight hundred words, in crisp little one-verb sentences, before it moves on to any more advanced communications. So Congress should start making little tiny laws, just to get back into the habit, so they'll be ready to move once Marco Rubio is president in 2017. 
But serious as I may be, I wasn't born yesterday. People have become too partisan for one-step-at-a-time incrementalism. It's more likely that the Democratic majority will adopt the strategy I call "burn the fields, salt the furrows, kidnap the women, and kill whatever you can't use".  They'll be speaking in one of those big Safire-type monologues, and what they'll be saying is along these lines: 
"We may never see another moment like this again, my hearties. The Republicans are treading the shark-infested water, dazed and disoriented with the smoke and noise. Now is no time to lower the lifeboats and let them clamber in. So we'll have no whiggery and modesty and half-measures here: we're going to blow them away!
All-Story Weekly, November 2, 1918.
"First thing we do is chop up the narrative and feed it to the fish, because we need a new one. No more little homilies like in 2008 about how Washington is dysfunctional and both parties do it and the president needs to have cocktails with the speaker. The president isn't having cocktails with the speaker because the Secret Service is worried about poison! Or the speaker might undergo spontaneous combustion. 
"Anyway, the new story is that Republicans are worse than we are, and possibly insane. They don't believe in evolution, they don't believe in climate change, they think Thomas Jefferson was a Bible-believing Christian and Ronald Reagan was a trained economist. Or they pretend to believe it because that's what their voters expect. And all their campaign cash comes from huge, soulless corporations who don't care if they think all rape victims are liars, as long as it doesn't push up their tax bills. The media already halfway believe this story, I have no idea why, unless it's from seeing so many Republicans on TV, and independents might swallow it too. 
"And then different Republicans have a different threshold for how insane they're willing to look, and we can use that to divide them. The president's already started doing that: with the tax cut side of the fiscal cliff and the hurricane Sandy relief—he's smashed that stupid Hastert rule to smithereens. And gun control is next, where he's maneuvering the crazies into voting in favor of mass murder! Of first-graders! Fiendish, no? Bwahahaha! 
"And our secret weapon? The public! They like the president's program, when they can find out what it is. Even our own bankers won't be able to stop us. It's a bizarre strategy, but what have we got to lose?" 
It's a sad thing for democracy, when a majority party uses its popularity to put its program through as if that somehow made it better. It isn't the Washington I want to cover, but luckily I haven't been a reporter for decades, not since poor old Mr. Buckley took me under his wing. I could live in a world of my own, or maybe the humility business will take off...
Pirate Smiley Cookies.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Declare victory and go home

Via Pulp Serenade.
Apparently it was that old-school Republican New Dealer George Aiken of Vermont—the oldest Republican in the Senate, though not yet the Dean all round—that said that, or rather:
Actually, what he said was that "the United States could well declare unilaterally ... that we have 'won' in the sense that our armed forces are in control of most of the field and no potential enemy is in a position to establish its authority over South Vietnam," and that such a declaration "would herald the resumption of political warfare as the dominant theme in Vietnam." 
This was in October 1966, a year that began with Operation Masher (some bright spark eventually noted that that did not sound very nation-building-ish and it was changed to the prettier "Operation White Wing") and the Fulbright hearings, where the Senators were told,
"If there is a God, and he is very kind to us, and given a million men, and five years, and a miracle in making the South Vietnamese people like us, we stand an outside chance—of a stalemate"
and was culminating, as Aiken spoke, with Operation Prairie (for a nation-building exercise in which every valley would be exalted, the crooked straight, and the rough places plain?):
Operation Prairie continued well into October with continuous heavy contact between Marines and the 324B Division, causing the enemy well over 1000 men killed. The north Vietnamese were prevented from establishing a major operating base in northern Quang Tri, although intelligence sources indicated that the 341st NVA Division had replaced the 324B Division in the area.
I imagine that even as early as that, if President Johnson had followed Aiken's advice, the declaration of victory would have been, even in Aiken's cautious sense, a lie. I even thought so then, though, truth to tell, it was only out of some proto-hippie intuition; I was a pretty profoundly ignorant kid.

And now we're getting do-overs, first in Iraq, then in Afghanistan. It's pretty horrifying, of course; the death doesn't stop. I've been reading the beginnings of the analysis unfolding at Down with Tyranny and a couple of great links. I gather there are some people on the side of peace who are upset with Obama because when he says we have "achieved our objectives" it isn't true. Well, duh.
Operation Prairie. Photo by Larry Burrows.

Will he bomb in New Haven?

Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom. (Proverbs 11:2

Happy real birthday to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.!

And sharpen up your pencils and whip out your notebooks! Today's the first Humility lesson with noted humilist David Brooks, B.A., at Yale College of Yale University, and the syllabus is floating around the Web (I got mine via Balloon Juice).

The Prof humiliates himself with a few minor typos and errors, such as misspelling the name of the psychologist Carl Rogers, matching a singular verb to a plural subject, making up a very unconventional way of saying "Niebuhrian", and allowing the adverb just to swim out to a dangerous part of the sentence:
We will explore the cultural shift that took place between 1950s and today against the character code of the old elite, including the thinking of Carl Rodgers and a more meritocratic system. 
How was MLK and the civil rights movement influenced by Niebuhran thought?
Edmund Burke argued that the power of reason is weak and that people are wiser to rely upon just prejudices and tradition.
(Or is he referring to Thomas Aquinas's theory of Just Prejudice?) (I'm thinking you probably have to pay for your own copy editing out there in Connecticut. Friendly hint: You could hire a grad student; she or he would be too grateful to laugh in your face.)

He unwittingly reveals some details of his working methods:
One core finding is that much of our thinking happens below awareness at a cognitive level that is fast, associative, sloppy and sometimes misleading. How should we make decisions and calculate risks if we can’t even be sure of our own thinking.
The stress of getting ready for his 80 minutes has forced him to take a day off from the Times today.

One of the two readings he manages to assign from his own work (the other is an Atlantic article) is the Life Reports of October 2011 in the space of the Times where other columnists keep their blogs—Tom Sawyer–style, he got some readers to do it for him, posted them as is, and left the space forever. Too busy entertaining in those vast spaces and preparing himself for the Yale undergrads.
Via James Altucher.
He is obliged at the end to have a reference to the Yale code on cheating and plagiarism, according to which
If one uses a source for a paper, one must acknowledge it. What counts as a source varies greatly depending on the assignment, but the list certainly includes readings, lectures, websites, conversations, interviews, and other students’ papers. Every academic discipline has its own conventions for acknowledging sources. Instructors should make clear which conventions students must use. In all situations, students who are confused about the specific punctuation and formatting must nonetheless make clear in written work where they have borrowed from others—whether it be a matter of data, opinions, questions, ideas, or specific language. This obligation holds whether the sources are published or unpublished. (Bold added)
Readers of this page know that he doesn't always meet that criterion. That fast, associative, sloppy, and sometimes misleading thinking leads him astray, I guess.
Via tpisarro.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Honni soit qui Mali pense

Timbuktu. Photograph by Naftali Hilger, laif/Redux, from National Geographic.

Like everybody else, I've read my share of explanations over the past dozen years of why our Overseas Contingency Operations are taking place, but I don't think I ever learned as much as I did from a few paragraphs in this morning's Times about an ostensibly quite different adventure, the ongoing French invasion of Mali:
For years, the United States tried to stem the spread of Islamic militancy in the region by conducting its most ambitious counterterrorism program ever across these vast, turbulent stretches of the Sahara,
But as insurgents swept through the desert last year, commanders of this nation’s elite army units, the fruit of years of careful American training, defected when they were needed most — taking troops, guns, trucks and their newfound skills to the enemy in the heat of battle, according to senior Malian military officials.

“It was a disaster,” said one of several senior Malian officers to confirm the defections.

Then an American-trained officer overthrew Mali’s elected government, setting the stage for more than half of the country to fall into the hands of Islamic extremists. American spy planes and surveillance drones have tried to make sense of the mess, but American officials and their allies are still scrambling even to get a detailed picture of who they are up against.

Now, in the face of longstanding American warnings that a Western assault on the Islamist stronghold could rally jihadists around the world and prompt terrorist attacks as far away as Europe, the French have entered the war themselves.
1. The purpose of the OsCOps (as I propose they should be called; previously I tried OsCO) is to prevent terrorist attacks "as far away" (from, for example, Mali) "as Europe"—or North America (from, for example, Yemen). This does not include the crazed original invasion of Iraq, or if it did they were even crazier than we thought, but it evidently includes Iraq now, with whatver ongoing OsCOps are still being staged there, after Proconsul Bremer and General Franks had finished constructing a local Al Qa'eda within the country. President Obama may be regarded as telling the truth about this (or may not, I just want to note the possibility).

2. They are not a War (GWOT) because they are not a war, but rather counterterrorism, which seems to be a particular kind of counterinsurgency in which the insurgents are terrorists, or Terrorists. The Terrorists are, if they exist, Jihadists, that is a branch of Sunni Islam which is more or less Salafist in theology and terroristic in politics; we know they have existed in the past because we helped create them, in Afghanistan during the counter-counterinsurgency of the 1980s, but we don't know if those currently active are true Terrorists or merely terrorists. Keep in mind that some of this is really true: there have been real suicide attackers and real attacks, notably right here in New York City.

3. But OsCOps don't actually work very well, even if they did in Malaya and British East Africa 60 years ago (it certainly wasn't so great in Algeria, or Vietnam). Troops you train may be secret enemies, and the weapons you give them can be turned against you. Villagers can turn a blind eye when the bad guys murder hundreds of people at a shot, but if you mistakenly drop a bomb on a single funeral party they'll never forgive you. Why? Because they can visualize the funeral party. Because you obviously don't belong, and they're only hired friends; didn't your mother teach you that you can't buy friendship? Because killing somebody with a bomb launched from a computer console 10,000 miles away is cowardly (according to their exotic native culture). They don't respect you.

4. President Obama and his Gray Eminence Cardinal Brennan do not find this easy to understand. Although Aristotle and St. Thomas never laid out the rules for a Just Counterinsurgency, it seems obvious to them that it is juster than a just war. Far fewer people get hurt, and they get something back, like roads, and girls' schools, and village councils. Democracy! Actually Obama understands it better than any US president since Eisenhower, but he can only understand it one country at a time, so as we start packing up in Afghanistan—Yay!—things in Somalia and Yemen start getting worse. And Mali? Who knew!? But Obama didn't start it:
American officials defended their training, saying it was never intended to be nearly as comprehensive as what the United States has done in Iraq and Afghanistan. “We trained five units over five years but is that going to make a fully fledged, rock-solid military?” asked an American military official familiar with the region.
(They don't say it straight out, but luckily we're good at arithmetic, like 2013 minus 5.)

I'm sorry, emoprogs, but Obama is probably the very best we can do.