Posted in No Politics Friday on February 5th, 2016 by Ed

The Internet has been a part of our culture for long enough and is sufficiently well-understood that I no longer feel any sympathy for people who violate its most basic rules or social dynamics and end up being embarrassed. It is 2016. Everyone knows that if you let people vote for something online, especially in an open ended fashion, people on the internet are going to identify quickly the most ridiculous possible outcome and swarm to it. The NHL just learned this the hard way when its online voting for the All-Star game resulted in a 6'9" oaf-pugilist-Ent named John Scott, a man who has played on every team in organized hockey for about 5 minutes while possessing no skill other than throwing punches at small Canadian men, being voted Captain of the All-Star squad. This embarrassed the league inasmuch as he 1) is terrible, 2) has been cut three times already this season alone, and 3) Scott was not even in the league at the time of the game, having been demoted to his natural environment in the minors.

The same scenario unfolds every time this happens. The entity in question refuses to honor the online vote, which inevitably makes them look even worse. Waves of approbation and indignation crash over them until finally they relent, embarrassing themselves yet again by backtracking and attempting to insist that, no, really, we get the joke ha ha ha. (Hockey enthusiasts with a sense of humor shamed the league into letting Scott into the game, in which he played to the great glee of everyone involved and, to rub it in, fans voted him All-Star MVP as a write-in.)

My favorite example of this phenomenon happened a few years ago when the City of Austin allowed internet voting to choose the name of its new solid waste facility. Either they were shocking naive or they were in the mood for comedy, because when you ask the internet to name a building where human feces fills giant tanks and is chemically processed you are just begging for trouble. The winning entry – Fred Durst Center for the Performing Arts, if I recall – was ultimately vetoed by the city management. Boooooooo.

What are some other good examples?


Posted in Rants on February 4th, 2016 by Ed

So much of political analysis in the mainstream sense is comparison and analogy. This candidate is like these previous candidates, and this candidate for whom no memorable matching candidate who anyone remembers can be found is like this character from a movie. If all else fails, it's like baseball. To say that it's not always the most useful method of analysis is an understatement.

When trying to think of a historical antecedent for the Trump campaign – not that I would not relish the opportunity to never have to think or talk about it again – my first thought was to go overseas where far-right nationalist parties are well-established in most multiparty systems. They are a catch basin for xenophobes, racists, reactionaries, and all manner of dolts broadly defined. In the modern world the closest thing to Trump is a guy like J-M Le Pen in France: blatantly discriminatory, unapologetic, and obsessed with Strength and juvenile dick-waving macho image projection. In the United States the only modern equivalent would be Sarah Palin. Even AM Talk Radio sycophants are more intellectually curious than Trump's people. They have arguments, albeit stupid ones often based on incorrect versions of reality and motivated thinking. A Trump crowd is just a bunch of primates pounding their chests and flinging shit at the slightly different chimps from across the river.

The other one I've thought about a lot is Bernie Sanders. People like Hillary Clinton – mainstream middle-of-road types who are weathervanes to indicate the direction of public opinion and campaign donations – are a dime per dozen. Sanders, due to his age and overall lack of looking the part, is not something we see every election cycle. I still think Elizabeth Warren must be kicking herself, as she declined to run believing that an opportunity would not present itself with Clinton around. She was incorrect. She'd have Sanders' base but with considerably more strength as a candidate on paper.

The most obvious comparison for Sanders would take us back to the Progressive Era in the U.S., someone on the order of Robert LaFollette. Eugene V. Debs doesn't work, as the mold of labor radicals from that era has been broken. We just don't make them like that anymore. Personally I think the best comparison for Sanders comes from overseas, and from the country whose domestic politics and population are most similar to the U.S. – Australia. Sanders strikes me as an American version of Gough Whitlam.

You'd be hard pressed to find a lot of Americans who can identify that name (pronounced "Goff") but Whitlam was a left-wing PM from the Nixon-Ford years who was unapologetic and full-speed about bringing Australia into the modern world. Prior to 1970, Australia was a backwater. It was the Mississippi of the former British Empire. The White Australia Policy was in effect until almost 1970 and the country was in danger of sliding into the class of global pariahs like Apartheid South Africa. Whitlam was elected in 1972 and was out on his ass (after the fabulously interesting 1975 Constitutional Crisis, which is a story for another day) in less than four years. He was widely reviled after leaving office but in time the country has come to understand how much he did to make it the place it is today. He ended all racially discriminatory policies and made the first steps toward ending the Men's Club nature of Australian politics. He granted aboriginal land tenure. He abolished capital punishment. He championed the Aussie version of the TVA, bringing services to remote areas. He legalized birth control and no-fault divorce. He introduced equal pay legislation for women. He granted independence to colonial vestiges like Papua New Guinea. He established free medical care and college tuition (the latter since rolled back). He ended unconditionally Australian involvement in Vietnam. He quadrupled arts funding. He recognized China under Mao before anyone else.

It wasn't all sunshine and roses. Even his admirers, myself included, recognize that there were some blind spots in his ability to understand economic policy and that he foolishly tried to placate voters by cutting taxes while spending grandly on social and economic programs. But his attitude as their elected leader was, "I will do what is right and you will appreciate it later. Not now, but later." At the advanced age of 75, I think Sanders would be a similar president. Honestly, what can someone at that age care about what the public thinks in the short term? If elected Sanders would be loathed with an intensity that would make Obama look like America's most beloved citizen by comparison. But everything about his ideology has that, "You will thank me later" feeling to it. He has a long view, which is why he seems so different. Everyone else in politics has adapted the business world philosophy of doing what will yield the most dazzling results from quarter to quarter, or at least attempting to do so.

Whitlam paid a heavy political price for his approach. A huge mountain of a man, his philosophy was to charge like a bull and make as much forward progress as possible before inevitably being dragged down. He failed to revive the Australian economy, but every Western economy was in total shambles during the era of the Oil Embargo and the hangover from Vietnam. Short term thinkers complain "Gas is too expensive!" and blame the people in power. People who can take a longer view appreciate changes that will pay dividends over several decades, not in next week's paycheck.

That's what I think is appealing about Sanders, and my affinity for Whitlam might lead me to project a little. Bernie certainly isn't the imposing, commanding figure that Whitlam was in his prime. However, he seems difficult to rattle and entirely focused on the future: 10, 20, 50 years from now. Everyone else sounds petty, small, narrowly focused, and shortsighted in comparison. That's the sign of someone who belongs in a leadership position. I've given up hope that anyone is going to get elected and turn this country around in time for me to reap any of the benefits. Leading a country isn't about that, though. Yes, everyone wants the trains to run tomorrow but that simply is the day-to-day business of making government function. It's not a goal, an agenda, or a plan. Age is often cited as a key argument against Sanders, but frankly I see some very real benefits to being 75 and entering the White House. There's something to be said for being too old to give a shit what Mitch McConnell wants or what Fox & Friends say anymore, after all.


Posted in Quick Hits on February 1st, 2016 by Ed

Today was a very long and exhausting day for me so I'm fighting sleep shortly before midnight. Going to have to bullet point the caucus results.

1. The Sanders-Clinton thing…we're gonna be here a while before this gets resolved. I don't mean Iowa; I mean the nomination. Sanders isn't going to go away and the non-trivial likelihood of Clinton getting indicted at some point is a little appreciated wild card. This could easily be going on in mid-May like we did in 2008.

2. Trump underperformed his poll numbers. Shocking, I know. No ground game. No real campaign. Just a hype machine. He looks like he's already bored with this too. Half-expected him to endorse Cruz during his yawner of a concession speech.

3. Speaking of rubes and dupes, how about Ben Carson flat-out stealing tens of millions of dollars under the false pretense of using it to run for president? Christ, he's not even pretending. "I'm gonna leave Iowa mid-afternoon on caucus day and also skip New Hampshire and South Carolina, but I'm totes still running. This is a real campaign. Swearsies." Coming soon to an insufferable syndicated radio station near you. (Called it on Nov. 4, by the way. I'll feed ya, baby birds.)

4. As our friends in Britain would say, I think we can conclude with confidence that an endorsement from Sarah Palin is worth fuck-all. They speak to the exact same audience. An audience of old, hard to look at, racist idiots with the maturity level of toddlers.

5. Speaking of trainwrecks, how terrible is Jeb!? He lost to frickin' Rand Paul. He barely beat Carly Fiorina, who in turn barely edged out a rabid muskrat from Davenport. He's urging supporters (who?) to "reset" his campaign, which he also urged them to do in early December when he was floundering like the post-BBQ turd that he is. So if you're keeping track this is his second "reset." Give it up and go back to shilling for fake charter schools. It's still difficult to believe that W. was the smarter one.

6. Jim Gilmore got 11 votes. Granted he hasn't run much of a campaign, but this SOB got on national TV a couple times (at the Kids Table debates) and raised half a million bucks (OK, it pales in comparison but it's still half a million bucks) and he got eleven votes? He finished behind other, for christ's sake. Jim Gilmore, the man who lost to Other.

7. There are about 7 Republicans who need to quit immediately but probably won't: Bush, Fiorina, Christie, Huckabee, Santorum, Kasich, and Carson. They're all wasting their time. But there's no real incentive to stop spending other people's money, is there? So until the money dries up, most of them will keep flailing. (Huckabee quit Monday night)

8. It's barely February and I'm already sick to death of talking about Donald Trump. Honestly I don't think I can do it for 10 more months, although I stand by my insistence that a Trump/Palin ticket would be worth its weight in comedic gold.


Posted in Rants on January 31st, 2016 by Ed

To enter into discussion with a Gun Person is to start a clock and know confidently that before it hits the ten minute mark they will state that private gun ownership is an important check on the tyranny of government. When subjected to logic this statement is roughly equivalent to a toddler playing with a toy steering wheel in the backseat and believing that he is driving the car. What will it take to convince these people that The Government manifestly, demonstrably is not afraid of your guns.

The gaggle of dipshits playing toy soldiers in Oregon right now are learning that the hard way. What The Government appears to fear is the negative public relations that result from using force against white people, which is why this situation dragged on long past a reasonable display of patience. Make no mistake, had these people been Muslims or black or college hippie environmentalists or had there simply been less patience for their stupid antics, The Government could have resolved this in an hour. Kill the power, roll armored vehicles up to the door, and circle the building with every armed Federal agent west of the Mississippi. Give them 60 seconds to come out with their hands up, then roll in and start shooting. Better yet, set the building on fire. That's exactly how this would have played out were they not all redneck white guys. And in that scenario, being armed would not have accomplished a goddamn thing for anyone inside.

Watch this, if you can. I've nicknamed this patriot GI Sloppy Joe:

YouTube comments are rarely a fountain of common sense and reason, but to quote the great philosopher of our time "Boob72", "Just send in a drone and light these cunts up FFS." I'm certainly not one to advocate for the increased use of violence by law enforcement, but given the ridiculous amount commonly used I'd at least enjoy knowing that it's applied consistently. And what this blubbering idiot does not appear to understand is that if his paranoid rantings were based on reality and The Government did in fact give enough of a shit about him to kill him, they would do it. They have a lot more ability to use force than this moron and his handful of like-minded morons. Remember how law enforcement agencies around the nation are absolutely drowning in military surplus equipment? Yeah. When they roll up on Sloppy Joe in a vehicle designed to withstand hits from rocket-propelled grenades and fly overhead with a couple of snipers in a helicopter, what exactly is that gun going to do for him? He may believe that it is protecting him; in reality the only thing keeping him alive is the color of his skin and the number of people almost as stupid and insane as him holding elected office these days.

They are not afraid of you and they're not afraid of your gun. There are more of them than you. They are far better armed. They have body armor, air assets, armored vehicles, and they're (probably) much smarter than you because they've dealt with idiots like you before. If there's one thing American law enforcement at every level have proven over and over again – Aren't these very Patriots always bringing up Waco? – it's that if they decide you're not being taken alive, you're not being taken alive. They're not exactly hesitant to apply lethal force when they see someone holding a gun, which even by a cynic's definition would be one of the few instances when a cop could say "I feared for my life" and not be full of shit.

I'm sure we could fill a warehouse with everything the man in that video fails to understand. Of all his misconceptions, though, the fact that he thinks his scoped penis extension is keeping him safe is the most egregious. The law merely has gotten sick of indulging these children and even still he can't recognize how he's being handled with kid gloves.


Posted in No Politics Friday on January 29th, 2016 by Ed

Anyone who has taken an English class at the high school level probably can respond with "Moby Dick!" when hearing Herman Melville's name. Fans or English Lit major types during college can go farther and tell you about Benito Cereno, Billy Budd, and Bartleby. Melville fans will also tell you that Moby Dick received no attention during the author's lifetime save for a few viciously negative reviews and it was not until 1920 that the literary world re-discovered it and decided it is great. But if you find someone who can name the books Melville wrote that actually were successful and popular, that's rare.

Today nobody in their right mind would read Omoo or Typee, and in fact you'd have a hard time finding someone who has heard of either. They were Melville's Hits, both in the once terribly popular "high seas adventure" genre. As the titles imply, both tales were set in the South Pacific (and were based on Melville's own experiences traveling there). These books are not good. "Dated" doesn't begin to explain how irrelevant this kind of writing feels today. In its time, though, these stories about adventures in foreign and exotic lands were popular given that most readers in the 1840s were unlikely to see much if any of the world during their lives. Today there's nothing mysterious or exotic about the South Pacific, for example, because at a moment's notice you can watch videos, see pictures, or get on a surprisingly affordable (although certainly not cheap) flight to see it for yourself. Traveling around the world doesn't impress us anymore. And it takes a lot more to titillate the imaginations of modern Americans than some "natives" speaking pidgin English in an island setting. We have movies about robots punching monsters, for christ's sake.

As a kid I was (OK, I still am) fascinated by maps and globes. I'd stare at them for hours sometimes, looking at different places with strange names and wondering if I would ever be there at some point in my life. And I'm not going to lie, well into adulthood I maintained the illusion of the Pacific islands as idyllic paradises. On more than a handful of bad days I imagined myself running away to a tiny island and living on the tropical beaches. The reality is not hard to uncover, and it isn't pleasant. Most of the Pacific islands are floating slums. They're tiny, packed with people, and largely devoid of economic activity. Oh, and the planet is going to swallow most of them soon due to rising sea levels. The Times ran a piece in December that I've read probably a dozen times about the Marshall Islands, a former US possession and now not-really but-kinda-still a US possession. Look at the videos and photos with that story. That place sucks. I don't want to dwell right now on the myriad reasons the Pacific is full of slums (hint: It's basically our fault) but it's difficult to think of a better term to describe what has become of these places. Suffice it to say that the fantasy is better than reality.

The more of the world you see, the less magical any of it seems. We can't expect that other parts of the world will be frozen in time for our enjoyment and appreciation as rich Westerners, but it strikes me as particularly sad that we've exported only the absolute worst parts of America to places that were doing fine on their own before Europeans arrived. Staggering obesity, even more staggering environmental degradation (remember the guano post?), Spam, Coke, McDonald's, shitty beer, and about 75 nuclear detonations by the US and France that leave several areas uninhabitable even 50-plus years later.

It's sad that reality and the shrinking of the world in general have burst our fantasy bubble of island paradises. It's even sadder to think of what it must be like to live there now, and the changes that a 70 year old person living there today must have seen during his lifetime.


Posted in Quick Hits on January 28th, 2016 by Ed

1. Before a brief appearance on local AM radio regarding the presidential primaries, the hosts told me a very interesting tidbit. This station has both Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh (syndicated, obviously, not live in studio) and loses money on both of them. Limbaugh in particular is poison to local advertisers, who specifically ask that their ads not run during his show. I asked, quite logically I thought, why the station maintains this arrangement if it actively loses money. Turns out that it is a defensive strategy, essentially, to prevent any other competing station in the broadcasting area from getting Beck or Limbaugh and using them as an anchor to establish a presence. Advertisers don't like them but they both continue to draw an audience (with an average age of about 70, they said off the cuff) and having them in syndication is more about denying that potential audience to other stations than it is about Beck/Limbaugh raking in dough. This is anecdotal; I wonder how widespread this arrangement of spite is among the many stations that carry these turds.

2. Conspiracy theory time. Is it possible that Donald Trump is actively trying to get himself out of the GOP nomination process at this point? His ego is so massive that I can't imagine how he will spin losing, if and when he does lose. The ideal scenario for him, it seems, is to get out before much if any actual voting takes place so he can claim essentially, "They didn't fire me; I quit." He seems like the willingness of his supporters to take anything he says in stride no matter how insane surprises even him. There isn't much room left in the neo-Bircher issue spectrum that he hasn't covered. Other than embracing explicit antisemitism or shouting "niggerrrrrrrr!" during a live TV appearance I don't know what else he can do to try to offend people and actually succeed at this point. This theory is probably bunk but I see him as a petulant child with a short attention span who probably got into this race solely to draw attention to himself and now faces the challenge of finding a graceful exit given that he is losing interest and previously thought it impossible that he would do as well as he is polling given how asinine his entire persona and campaign are.


Posted in Rants on January 26th, 2016 by Ed

Defeatism and liberalism go hand in hand in the US. Those voters who survived disasters like the candidacies of George McGovern and Michael Dukakis are no doubt scarred by the experience, and the younger generation of voters will never again trust the American public after watching it re-elect George W. Bush in 2004 (ignoring context and the feebleness of the Kerry candidacy in favor of an endless "How could you?" aimed at the electorate). This makes sense. It is also, however, terribly counterproductive. In 2008, for example, resources that could have been put to productive use in competitive races were instead wasted on the Obama campaign in states in which it had double-digit leads in the polls. "The polls must all be wrong," they thought. "Oh god, the McGovern dreams are happening again," they said, followed by soft weeping.

Certainly overconfidence is a bad attribute to bring to an election. A balance between that and paranoia exists, though, and we're seeing considerably more of the latter from Democrats who are absolutely convinced that we are a mere 11 months away from President Trump. I have listened to an entire Carlos Mencia comedy special and yet this is still the dumbest thing I have ever heard. Like Trump's supporters must do, Chicken Liberals (gosh I'm clever) must do a handful of things to convince themselves of this possibility. And by handful I mean like a dozen, every one of which must work out in reality in Trump's favor.

1. Pretend the Electoral College isn't a thing. Lacking a basic understanding of the way the president is actually elected will greatly enable this fantasy. Just pretend it's a popular vote or, I don't know, a contest to see who can get interviewed more on CNN.

2. Ignore every previous election. "Who needs data when I've got this theory!" said every person in history who was terrible at constructing logical arguments.

3. Pretend that Trump is better and more likeable than previous Republican losers. Media darling and widely respected war hero John McCain and plastic billionaire Mitt Romney, both charming in that unpleasant, avuncular way that people who like Republicans tend to find Republicans charming, fell dramatically short of getting elected. They didn't lose – they were crushed in the Electoral College (which, for a refresher, is how presidents are elected). Despite being generally not entirely horrific human beings, they failed, and yet the most repugnant person on the planet is going to be more appealing. Somehow. But certainly…

4. Pretend that Trump is going to bring new voters out. Millions upon millions of them. It is crucial to ignore the fact that his core supporters, uneducated white people, don't vote. Half of the people at his rallies probably aren't even registered, and since his campaign is rudderless and unprofessional nobody is in charge of making sure they're registered. Also, the ones who vote aren't already voting Republican. No. They must be disaffected Democrats.

5. Insist that Trump's effect on the Republican voter is solely additive. Yep, he's just gonna bring all these new people out in droves. And of course there's no chance that he could drive anyone who would otherwise vote Republican to stay away, right? He's only the most disgusting person in the country after all. There's zero chance that, like, the GOP would lose in Hispanics what it gains (theoretically, allegedly) in white morons. And it's impossible that something like, let's lowball it and say 1 out of 20 Mitt Romney voters finds Trump too repulsive to support. Five percent isn't much, right? Wait it's actually three million people.

6. Exaggerate the flaws of the Democratic candidates. Even though the Democratic field clearly has two strong candidates similar to the dynamic it had in 2008, make up some theory about how everyone who would support them will magically turn away at some point because, I don't know, let's say "the media."

7. Imagine that the GOP candidates are going to fall in line to support this asshole, whom they all loathe. I bet the process of getting their 57 candidates to rally around this human excrement will go smoothly!

8. Live in a world in which no one from the GOP's high rollers would bankroll an independent run by a moderate, or at least what Republicans call a moderate. The Koch Brothers seem like the type to take a Trump candidacy in stride. Lying down, even.

9. Forget that Donald Trump has never succeeded at anything, ever. This, the hardest thing to do in this country, will be the first thing he succeeds at. That seems plausible. Granted we're already pretending he has the attention span necessary to see this through 11 months of hard campaigning so I guess we can take it a step further.

10. Ignore the fact that Trump hasn't even won a single primary yet, and that his "team" does not appear to understand or to be executing even the most basic fundamentals of campaigning. Just get on TV a lot, say a bunch of stupid shit, and magically everyone comes out to vote for you. Yep, that's how our nomination process works.

I could go on but I'm already bored with the stupidity of this entire scenario. When you have no choice but to speak to someone who is claiming that Donald Trump can win the election, ask them to tell you which are the states that superficially pleasant, charmingly incompetent upper class twit Mitt Romney lost in the Electoral College but Trump is going to win. Keep asking the question until you get a list of states or an admission that they don't know what the Electoral College is. Look for a convenient exit. Point at a bird or something. They distract easily.


Posted in No Politics Friday on January 22nd, 2016 by Ed

Did you know that stereotypes didn't exist before 1922?

Alright, more accurately the use of the term stereotype in the sense of an oversimplified generalization about a particular type of person or thing is less than a century old. Walter Lippmann's classic text Public Opinion – read it and you'll feel like it was written last year rather than during World War I – debuted the term to the mass public. Oddly enough, though, he drops it in the text cold without introducing or defining it, leaving open the possibility that the term may already have been circulating in literate circles at the time. Alternatively he may simply have assumed that readers could understand it from context. So the follow-up question is: Where did Lippmann get it from? He certainly was a great writer. Perhaps he just made it up?

Not exactly. Stereotype was the name of a printing process invented in 1795 by a Frenchman named Firmin Didot, the son of the man who invented the Didot typeface for those of you who are into such things. Firmin coined it, as was the style of the time, by combining two Latin terms: stereo (solid) and typos (impression). Therefore in the literal sense a stereotype is a solid impression of a group of people. "Solid" in this case has no positive connotation (e.g., "a solid victory" or "do me a solid brah") but to its firmness and lack of variation. The stereotype printing process involved a means of reproducing printing plates efficiently and then using the reproduced (stereotyped) plates to print rather than the original. This allowed extremely consistent printing at a good rate of production, and Didot was very successful. In short, he pioneered a process of churning out unvarying, nearly identical copies of a single source.

I have no idea how or why Walter Lippmann was acquainted with the technical details of antiquated French printing processes. It is inarguable that the term is uniquely suited to conveying the spirit and concept of the modern use of the word.


Posted in Quick Hits on January 20th, 2016 by Ed

Putting Sarah Palin and Donald Trump together is so beautiful I can hardly stand it. It feels like a beautiful waking dream. "Now our cause is one," said the trailer trash fascist, less than 24 hours after her son was arrested for punching his girlfriend in the face. Marcel Duchamp could not script a better shitshow than a Trump-Palin campaign would inevitably be.

It's a natural fit given that both demagogues transparently hate their army of rubes and lead what is essentially America's version of Europe's far-right nationalist movement. If it isn't fascism proper it's close enough. Why not join forces to create the most cynical, meanest performance art piece the country has ever seen, elevated to near perfection by the fact that their supporters are not in on the gag? What is the limit to the amount you would pay to watch media outlets awkwardly take them seriously? Personally, I'm ready to drain my bank accounts to see the spectacle.

As an added bonus, Trump as the GOP nominee (which, again, remains an unlikely outcome but let's dream big for a second) with Palin's tongue attached to his O-ring would not only lose and lose big but they would also take the entire Republican Party down with them. They would do what the Civil War did to the Whigs and what Brian Mulroney did to the Progressive Conservatives in Canada. That we would get to watch a moron who can't talk as the potential running mate of a man who acts like he is auditioning for the lead role in a Goebbels biopic is almost too sweet. "Icing on the cake" understates how wonderful that would be, unless the icing is made of $100 bills and 90 minute massage gift certificates.

For the first time, I am a little excited about the 2016 Election. If you invited me to a demolition derby I'd have very little interest in going. If you invited me to a demolition derby where all of the vehicles had mounted rocket launchers and were driven by drunk men with neurological deficits that left them permanently without depth perception, wild horses wouldn't be enough to keep me away.


Posted in Rants on January 18th, 2016 by Ed

It's hard to overstate what a non-event last week's "capture" of U.S. Navy personnel who were detained in Iran for all of about 15 hours after straying into Iranian territorial waters. Information released by the Navy today underscores how routine the incident was, with the exception of the sailors being taken off the ships briefly for clumsy Iranian military propaganda purposes.

That timeline and the White House response are an example of how international relations are supposed to work in a world run by adults. Since provoking war with Iran while trying to get them to accede to the terms of an agreement to limit their nuclear program presumably is not on the agenda, we can be pretty confident that, conspiracy theories aside, the detour from international waters was either a pure accident or a simple case of young officers trying to shave some time and fuel off their route with a quick shortcut. As Ben Carson and the other GOP candidates were busy trying to turn this into Iranian Hostage Crisis 2016, the non-incident was over before they could even settle on alarmist rhetoric.

The psychology of elected officials and voices in the media that demand that the U.S. "look tough" and "stand up to" Iran, suggesting that somehow what happened is a source of enduring national shame, is both obvious and sad. Why were Iranians able to board the ships? Presumably because the Navy personnel judged correctly that their minor detour was not worth starting a bullet exchange over. Why didn't Obama stand up and start beating his chest and issuing ultimatums? Presumably because we made a mistake and that's OK. It happens. We made a very, very insignificant mistake and nobody got hurt and it doesn't amount to a hill of beans. The best way to play this isn't to escalate it, but to give Iran a good, condescending, "A propaganda video? Come on dude, that's so North Korea."

There are a lot of people in this country who appear, at least in their political views, unable to admit a mistake without being struck dead by shame and humiliation. I feel really sorry for them and the people who have to interact with them. What an exhausting, pointless waste of energy it must require to keep up that facade, to choose to saber-rattle and fight over every little thing lest one Shows Weakness in Front of the Russians. It's nothing short of amazing how much the words "I'm sorry" can simplify life, even if, as is often the case in international affairs, you aren't entirely sincere. There's nothing wrong with that. Especially when dealing with an incident so insignificant that no amount of histrionics can make anyone care about it let alone look at it as a great national crisis.