BOY GENIUS

Posted in Rants on August 16th, 2007 by Ed

You haven't seen a nauseating paean to Karl Rove until you've seen Fred Barnes' nauseating paean to Karl Rove. I don't recommend reading that in its entirety; it's akin to eating a stick of butter rolled in saccharine. Among the cloying highlights:

Rove is the greatest political mind of his generation and probably of any generation. He not only is a breathtakingly smart strategist but also a clever tactician. He knows history, understands the moods of the public, and is a visionary on matters of public policy. (emphasis added)

Can you even imagine writing such horseshit for a living? I think it's safe to say that Fred wrote this one with only one hand on the keyboard. If you catch my drift. And I think you do. This is one of those columns that calls to mind Steve Albini and his "Three pandering sluts" rant: I wonder how Fred Barnes will feel if he clips this piece, puts it in a time capsule, and opens it in 10 years. His sentiments might have made sense as a knee-jerk emotional reaction immediately after Rove's resignation, but once he's done rubbing one out I wonder how proud he will be of what he's written here.

It's an awful lot like flogging a dead horse to point out how idiotic the "Rove is a Genius" trope is when viewed through the lens of reality. What Barnes called the greatest political mind "of any generation" was the "architect" of getting a President re-elected by the skin of his teeth as a wartime incumbent. Wow. I mean, what are the odds? Believe it or not, the historical odds were….100%. Nixon '72. FDR. Wilson 1916. Lincoln 1864. Incumbent presidents simply don't lose elections during wartime. Yet the "brilliant" architect Rove managed the herculean feat of getting one such president re-elected over a horrendous challenger by 1% of the popular vote. Wow. Amazing. True, history would suggest that he should have won by 15%. But the reality-based community misses the point by focusing on such irrelevant "facts."

And how about that "permanent Republican majority" that lasted all of two years? Actually, Karl, we call what happened in 2004 the coattail effect, and it's been identified and studied in political science since approximately the dawn of time. The GOP gained three fucking seats in the House in 2004. Yet the media unhinged its jaw like a snake to swallow more and more of the Ain't Rove a Genius propaganda shoveled toward it. In other words, what happened in 2004 was exactly what 200 years of history would predict. The GOP could have used a rock or an incontinent bear as a strategist and gotten the exact same result.

Let's be clear: Karl Rove is a myopic bag of fluid with a 5th-grade understanding of the political world. Calling him a genius based on what happened in 2004 is akin to applauding a shaman for having succeeded in making the sun rise. His constant pandering to the lowest common denominator and his ridiculous overestimation of the number of far-right religious nutcases in the electorate has set his party back years. If he's a genius, he's a genius along the lines of Charles Keating, Bill Buckner or FEMA in New Orleans. That is, he's noteworthy only for his seemingly preternatural ability to fail spectacularly.

MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE

Posted in Rants on August 14th, 2007 by Ed

While I did a pretty good job of letting my inner eight year-old dominate my reaction to the recent Transformers film, rest assured that my inner dickhead did not take those 2 hours off. OK, 6 hours. I saw it thrice. Shut up.

Like all movies that require (or think they require) the consent of our armed forces in order to film all the neat toys at the DoD's disposal, Transformers devoted a good portion of its first hour to giving our military an enthusiastic handjob. Nothing excites the Army quite like a captive audience of young males waiting to have their basest instincts stimulated, be it by giant anthropomorphic robots or shiny military hardware. Hence the first hour of the film bore a stunning resemblance to some combination of a toy commercial, an episode of Futureweapons, and those 5-minute gee-ain't-the-army-neat commercials that precede most films these days. The editing of some scenes left me wondering if there was actually someone from the Army in the editing room with Michael Bay ("OK, now do a close-up on the Predator UAV….now pan in on the A-10s……pull back and let's see those Raptors. Perfect.")

But the most gratuitous "product" placement award has to go to the backlit movement close-ups on the Army's new V-22 Osprey. It transforms from a helicopter into an airplane. Did you see that, kids? Real live Transformers, and the Army's got'em! Boy, I bet you can't wait to enlist! Those fat cats in Congress won't let us put your name on the recruiting list yet because you're only 10, but rest assured we'll find a loophole around that silly rule.


CV-22_Formation.jpg
Not pictured: Optimus Prime, effective Congressional oversight

What you see in the film is two sleek-looking black Ospreys dashing across the sky to save the day or something like that. What you don't see is the dozens of lives and $30 billion in development costs necessary to bring you that Michael Bay eye candy, nor the paper trail of what is undoubtedly the biggest boondoggle/white elephant/choose your metaphor in recent history. Bill Proxmire might need to crawl through the Earth to hand the entire project a special edition of his Golden Fleece awards.

The V-22 was borne of an idea that has danced magically in the minds of the military for more than five decades: something that can take off vertically (eliminating the need for a runway) and hover over a battlefield like a helicopter while retaining the speed and range of a fixed-wing aircraft. Money was shoveled into black holes like the X-22 project and the more recent XV-15 (the immediate forerunner of the V-22) with no feasible solution to the problems inherent in the tiltrotor design. Give the Army folks credit for one thing: they refuse to allow reality or staggering costs to impede their vision.

Encouraged (for some reason) by the XV-15 test program, Congress allocated a development budget of $2.5 billion for the production V-22 in 1986. Within two years, the project's costs managed to climb to $30 billion. To his credit, then-Defense Secretary Cheney zeroed out the budget on what was clearly going to become a monument to cost overruns, but Congress pressed ahead with funding thanks to the enormous political influence of primary contractors Boeing and Bell Helicopter.

The early years of the program were hounded by the enormous technical complexity of the aircraft and the growing realization that the production models would be ass-breakingly expensive. Faced with a massive budget and a design that, well, simply didn't seem to work, so began a decade of follies.

  • 1991: Early tests result in the complete destruction of the first prototype aircraft, which cannot maintain level flight (fun video here; the pilot survived).
  • 1992: Hoping to shore up support in Congress, the military arranges a Dog-and-Pony Show test flight for a Congressional audience. The V-22 plunges into the Potomac in front of the horrified Congressmen, killing 7 military crewmen.
  • April 2000: A "production-ready" V-22 undergoing low-altitude testing of a simulated rescue descends uncontrollably, explodes, and kills 19 military personnel.
  • December 2000: Inherent flaws in the hydraulics of the rotating engines cause a V-22 to become unresponsive during a test and fall from the sky, killing all four crewmen.

    Based on this track record of success and flying colors (i.e. $30 billion in sunk costs and 30 dead bodies) the V-22 was greenlit for full production and roll-out in 2006. So yes, our fighting men and women in the Gulf are saddled with this death trap. Metaphors about good money chasing bad come to mind. True to form, it stalled out and had to make an emergency landing on its first trans-oceanic flight, it has proven remarkably adept at developing uncontrolled engine fires, and it is so poorly designed that the Marines grounded the entire fleet less than 6 months after taking delivery. Nice.

    So why has the military pursued this project so doggedly? Surely it fills a vital need in our nation's defense infrastructure. Well, not so much. The program's proponents (read: Bell, Boeing, and those they've managed to buy in the military chain of command) call the aircraft a resounding success in that it surpasses the performance of the helicopter it is intended to replace, the 40 year-old CH-46 Sea Knight. That is, in case you're wondering, exactly like trumpeting the virtues of your new Playstation 3 by pointing out how much better it is than your Colecovision. Congratulations, guys. 25 years and $30 billion in development, and you finally made a product that's better than a Vietnam-era helicopter. Well…..sort of.

    The V-22 is actually quite inferior to its ancient predecesor. You see, while it is faster in level flight, the good folks at Bell/Boeing never quite worked out a lot of the bugs in the hovering process. Namely, they have yet to conquer the laws of physics and a phenomenon called Vortex Ring State inherent in the twin-rotor design. The only way to keep the V-22 under control in hover/descent is to descend very, very slowly. It also can't engage in any evasive maneuvers in hover mode. In other words, it has to descend very slowly and perfectly level. Oh, and because the final product far exceeded the initial weight estimates, it carries no armaments of any kind – no defensive or offensive weapons. Metaphors about seated ducks spring to mind. Ever read the book or seen the film "Black Hawk Down"? Do I need to explain why this is a useless piece of hardware?

    Its massive tiltrotors also preclude the standard Army/Marines practice of exiting helicopters via ropes and side doors. The only available exit on the V-22 is the rear and utilizing it requires the use of parachutes. Once on the ground, the enormous turboprop engines are so loud that soldiers can only communicate via hand signals* and the "propwash" (downforce from the spinning rotors) is so intense that ground troops can be blown over and pinned to the ground. This latter feature also renders the V-22 useless for rescue roles. While helicopters are adept at plucking flood victims from rivers, the V-22 would just drown them.

    So after 25 years and untold billions of tax dollars, our soldiers have been rewarded with an unarmed, stationary target for RPGs that they can't get out of very quickly and near which they can't function or communicate. As an added bonus, the engines occasionally explode in flames and the laws of physics randomly pluck a V-22 out of the sky now and then. But other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln? I kid, I kid. Aside from the fact that it is unmaneuverable, awkward, obscenely expensive, defenseless, and prone to crashing, it really is pretty swell.

    Job well done, military-industrial complex! Job well done. Since I'm sure that the failure to provide you with all this important background information was an innocent omission from the Transformers film, I'll direct you to some additional reading. The 2007 Congressional Research Service report does an irritatingly neutral job of documenting the program's history. The notoriously pro-military website Blackfive has a piece entitled "The V-22: A plane or a boondoggle?" that I find quite thorough, as is Wired Magazine's "Saving the Pentagon's Killer Chopper-Plane."

    *Anecdotally, I had the experience of having a V-22 fly overhead at a very low altitude during a test flight out of Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico. It was beyond any doubt the loudest thing I've ever heard. It exceeded the volume I experienced at the legendary 1995 Ministry concert at the Aragon Brawlroom, the "Hearing Damage" show during which Al Jourgensen allegedly had his stage monitors set at 125 dB.

  • AN OPEN LETTER TO AMERICA'S PHARMACISTS

    Posted in Rants on August 13th, 2007 by Ed

    Dear Pharmacist,

    You are a valued part of America's healthcare apparatus. You stand behind your slightly-elevated counter, accept our illegibile prescriptions, and dole out the portion of your magical collection to which we are entitled. We count on you. We count on you to tell us about drug interactions, to alert us to cheaper generic options, and to help us navigate the world of prescription co-pays. For all of this we thank you.

    What we explicitly do not count on you for is moral guidance. As valued of a member of our healthcare chain as you are, you are essentially a turnkey. We hand you a slip of paper, you hand us something we can't be trusted to get ourselves. Fine. We accept the need for the pharmacist-as-middleman. But middlemen you are. We don't want to argue with you, lecture you, be lectured by you, or experience delays on account of your hissy fits/moral grandstanding.

    In short, when we enter a pharmacy with a prescription – be it for narcotic painkillers, simple antibiotics, or, yes, emergency contraception – your job is to fill it, at which point we go our separate ways. Any necessary hand-wringing or moral pondering has long since been completed in the appropriate environment: the doctor's office. If you are "unable" to give us a prescription, the necessity of which has already been determined by doctor and patient, well, frankly, you're not much good to us. Your job is simple and clear, as is the line between doing it well and not doing it at all. You are important, but keep it in perspective. You are important like the Quartermaster is important to the Army; on the one hand, everyone in the Army depends on the guy who gives them bullets. On the other hand, the job of handing out bullets could be performed by a properly-motivated chimpanzee.

    In closing, your job is important to us. So either do it or get the hell out of the way for someone who will. Plenty of other careers can accomodate your phony, painfully misinformed moral rectitude.

    Regards,
    Ed

    (Feel free to print this and hand it to your uppity Wal-Mart pharmacist of choice)

    ROLE REVERSAL

    Posted in Rants on August 9th, 2007 by Ed

    I'm pretty happy with this blog. I write long, rambling brain-dumps and the astute readers leave succinct comments. Today – partly because I'm still sick as shit and partly because it fits the issue – we shall reverse the roles.

    I don't get Harry Potter. Someone explain the Harry Potter thing to me. Really. Please. I'm begging. I understand why children flip out over these things, but watching adults go bat-shit insane over what is essentially a new version of the same kind of story told in children's literature for 200 years is….disturbing. You can go on and on about what fabulous writing this is, and I will not believe you. You can tell me how creative and original the story is, and you will be wrong.

    I picked up one of the novels way back when the fad first started, and I was absolutely bored shitless after about 50 pages. There was nothing wrong with it, but I was 23 and reading a book intended for 9 year olds. I really shouldn't have been entertained by it any more than I should be entertained by Sesame Street. There ended my experiment with the "novels", although I did have the colossal misfortune of seeing two of the films against my will. Calling them "unwatchable" is exceptionally generous.

    Methinks this is just another example of the power of mass hysteria combined with the sad, sad fact that adult America reads at approximately a 4th-grade level. So please, Harry Potter fans (zing!), explain this to me.

    PERSONAL AD

    Posted in Rants on August 7th, 2007 by Ed

    28 y/o white male graduate student. I enjoy the outdoors, long walks on the beach, and contracting exotic diseases. Seeking S/DF (race and age unimportant) to share in these adventures with me. NS only.

    So a specialist in infectious diseases has determined I have something called Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. It is tick-borne and found in AZ, CO, UT, and NM (i.e. where I just vacationed). Having enjoyed the RMSF experience for 5 days, I must regrettably report that I do not recommend it. While it is the most effective diet plan I've ever encountered ("You too can lose 20 pounds – in five days! With no diet or exercise!") it carries with it too much baggage.

    I will not go into the gory details of what this tiny bacteria has made my body do lately, but let's just say that my doctor was really excited when my fever got down to 102 this morning.

    I'll get back to the usual entries as soon as possible – hopefully tomorrow.

    SO IT'S COME TO THIS, PART 2

    Posted in Rants on August 6th, 2007 by Ed

    So the medical community is convinced I have the Hanta virus or meningitis. I confess that I've always wondered how I'd feel after hearing the phrase "We're not sure if you have the Hanta virus or meningitis" uttered in reference to me. As it turns out, it did not make me happy and I wished I hadn't heard it. But by then it was too late to prevent it.

    Two updates on two stories, one very old and one very recent:

    1. 2005 Ginandtacos Cocksucker of the Year Dennis Miller is now a Fox News contributor. If there is any more telling sign that someone has lost all credibility, I don't know what it is. Most semi-respectable right-wing commentators can hold down a job as "Token Republican" on CBS, CNN, MSNBC, etc. But when one is so desperate for a paycheck that he or she becomes another right-wing parrot on the Jerry Springer of journalism, well, that's a good sign that you're out of options. Get a nasty letter from the IRS, Dennis?

    2. Looks like the recent experiment has made (a portion of) California come to its senses about Electro-Mechanical Fraud Boxes. They won't be used in LA County. Well that's a darn shame. They're just so efficient!

    Chicagoland Exurbs

    Posted in Uncategorized on August 5th, 2007 by Mike

    Get well soon Ed!

    We have a lot of readers from Chicago(land), and I just want to drop a quick mention of a nytimes magazine article on Carpentersville, Il. attempt to make life miserable for immigrants. There has been a lot written about local politics and immigration; this is interesting because (1) in some ways it is removed from the real hot flashes of immigration and (2) you get to see how slippery the "English First" arguments, especially when turned into law, turn into "We Don't want Lower-Class people around!" which turn into "We Hate Hispanics."

    Confession: I used to work around that area, and I even worked in one of the companies name-dropped (Motorola) for people looking to buy in Carpentersville (I knew several buyers there). It struck me as a town that was created as a satellite city for the booming centers of Schaumburg – one patch of housing for the executives, and one patch of housing for the service industry workings filling out the rest of the labor force (Two Americas!).

    As such, it was built on that uniquely American combination of "cheap land, cheaper foreign capital, and even cheaper illegal labor" equation for city planning. The idea that their "culture" (which is poorly defined outside of English speaking and flag waving) is worth passing repressive, anti-business and anti-community laws to save (as if that was even the stakes) is completely beyond me.

    ED VS. THE HANTAVIRUS

    Posted in Rants on August 2nd, 2007 by Ed

    So when my fever climbed to 104.1 on Wednesday evening, I realized that medical attention was needed (*someone* was wise enough to tell me so). Unfortunately by then I could not move. After graciously being ferried to the ER, 2 Liters of saline and anti-emetics brought my temperature down….to 102.

    Apparently I brought back a souvenir from the desert southwest.

    As I am still exceedingly febrile and have no home internet access, No Politics Friday probably won't happen. I'll try to compensate this weekend.

    Damn rodents.

    2008 SENATE RACES: COMPETITIVE SEATS, PART ONE

    Posted in Rants on August 2nd, 2007 by Ed

    As I discussed earlier in my Senate 2008 introduction, there are very few competitive races to be found in 2008. The GOP is at a disadvantage due to the fact that it must defend 21 of the 33 seats up for grabs, but many are in the deep south and legitimate Democratic challenges are unlikely. In the last piece, I counted 7 races that look highly competitive.

    Make it 8. After Ted "Series of Tubes" Stevens' home (the same home that was allegedly and illegally lavished with remodeling work by contractors) was raided by the FBI, the odds of the octogenarian even running again (let alone being safe) are nil. Today I'll offer a brief introduction to the first four competitive races and offer early predictions.

    1. Colorado (Wayne Allard, R, retiring) – Sen. Allard is keeping his word to limit himself for two terms. The state GOP tried badly to woo former Broncos superstar John Elway (the GOP is always against celebrities until it finds some that carry water for it) and former Governor Bill Owens. The latter would have been formidable, but he doesn't like the odds for the GOP in 2008. Smart man.

    The Democrats will be represented by Congressman Mark Udall, a very high-quality challenger. If the GOP cannot put up a better candidate than the current choices (former Congressman Bob Schaeffer and a local Denver talk show host) this race, which should be close, could turn into a laugher.
    Prediction: leaning D

    2. Maine (Susan Collins, R) – Collins, W's bestest of buddies in the Senate, is trying very hard to play the part of the moderate with her voting record for the last few months. I take that as a clear sign that she understands that she is in trouble. Collins remains personally popular, but a GOP Senator in a fairly "blue" state can't consider herself safe by any means. The Democrats look to counter with Congressman Tom Allen; his success will hinge on getting voters to pay attention to Collins' party rather than Collins herself.
    Prediction: Collins retains seat

    3. Minnesota (Norm Coleman, R) – In the past 8 years, the Democrats have had a field day in the land of 10,000 lakes. Professional nobody Amy Klobuchar handily defeated GOP incumbent Mark Kennedy in the 2006 Senate race, and Coleman has never been considered safe. This is a seat the GOP knows it is lucky to have and will have to fight to retain. The wild card, of course, is whether Al Franken wins the Democratic nomination. Financially he is the 900-pound gorilla in this race. If he is nominated, the race will be entertaining if nothing else.
    Prediction: Coin flip until Democratic nominee is determined

    4. Alaska (Ted Stevens, R) – Series of Tubes will be 85 in 2008, and his son has already been indicted for taking a quarter-million dollars in bribes. With the recent "suprise visit" to the Stevens home from the IRS and FBI, I'd have to imagine that Teddy is going to retire. He has adamantly denied any intention of doing so, but that was before he stood ready to be indicted. It would appear to be in the GOP's interest to replace him. Unfortunately, Congressman Don "Bridge to Nowhere" Young is also on the cusp of being indicted. Whoops.

    Stevens has won several times in some of the most lopsided blowouts in recent Senate history (78% in 2002). It is a very conservative state. However, absent Young and Stevens I fail to see another good GOP nominee (Sarah Pralin has been governor for about 3 minutes), whereas the Democrats are going to run popular Anchorage mayor Mark Begich. It's still a longshot, but this race feels (12 months out) like Webb-Allen felt a year in advance of the 2006 race: one's immediate reaction is to say "No way will the D's take that one" but the right challenger, the right technique, and the right amount of resources (i.e. every damn cent the party can give him) could turn the tide.
    Prediction: GOP retains seat by a hair; Democrats become slight favorites if Stevens or Young are formally indicted.

    That's all for now, but there's plenty more to talk about. Take any predictions with a grain of salt at this point; in many instances the nominees aren't even settled yet, and a lot can change on the national scale in 14 months.

    SO IT'S COME TO THIS

    Posted in Rants on August 1st, 2007 by Ed

    Last week I had the fortune/misfortune* of visiting Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado. Through a series of machinations I needn't elaborate here, I ended up "filling in" for one of two park rangers guiding a tour group to the (stunning) ruins. As such, the (real) ranger briefly introduced me and noted my day job in the Political Science department at IU.

    At the conclusion of the tour, a very sunburnt gentleman with an overpowering Dixie accent (I'd soon learn that he hails from Birmingham, AL) approached me quite urgently and said "I need to know who you think is going to win the presidential election." Taken slightly aback, I gave him a thoroughly noncommittal but accurate answer: it's too early to say, but the lay of the land certainly looks unfavorable for the GOP. However, the nomination of Hillary Clinton could be a wild-card because of her high negative numbers.

    Following that stock response, he began to unburden himself in what I have decided to call the Republican Unburdening of the Soul ritual. He started telling me about how he is an upper-middle class (pilot for NW Airlines, apparently) white guy from the Bible Belt who has been a Republican since he could walk, he voted for George Bush (twice), he supported the War in Iraq, etc etc. But the RUotS always ends as familiarly as it begins. After describing his lifelong committment to Republican principles, he revealed that he now despises George W. Bush and loathes the failed Iraq debacle.

    I have decided to name this ritual because it is happening so damn frequently lately. Its source is quite obvious: a major, major case of the guilts coupled with the embarassment of having been misled (or having deluded oneself) so thoroughly and easily. I swear to God, today's average Republican cannot avoid telling every liberal they meet how much they hate the war and the president. They're like sinners desperately seeking absolution and willing to solicit it from strangers. Failing absolution, they'll settle for conscience balm. Both ordinary people and elected officials (note the "rats fleeing a sinking ship" Senators like Lugar suddenly condemning the war they blindly supported for 4 years) are performing the RUotS lately.

    Back to this gentleman, I (gently, and as non-confrontationally as possible) joked that I can't figure out why he voted for Bush a second time if he felt this way. He replied that his faith in the party and its principles was strong enough to trust Bush with more time to achieve a favorable outcome. While this is singularly piss-poor logic, I nonetheless understood his response as a reasonable emotional one. Then he said something that floored me in several respects:

    "See, you (meaning 'liberals', even though I had not offered him any political affiliation; all academics are liberals) hate George Bush because he represents everything you hate. I hate George Bush because he represents everything I believe in being completely fucked up and ruined."

    The profundity of that struck me. I've not yet heard a more concise, eloquent explanation of what the non-brainwashed part of the right-leaning electorate is experiencing these days. It also struck me as incredible that this is what political discourse v2007 sounds like: two people of opposing ideologies arguing about who hates George Bush more.

    Unfortunately but predictably, the conversation ended with him describing his openness to Democratic candidates in 2008….but not without the caveat of his hatred of Hillary Clinton. And therein lies the disingenuousness of the RUotS ritual and conservative hand-wringing in general. They're like fat people who are always about to start dieting and exercising "tomorrow." They go on and on about how much they hate Bush, the war, and their more extreme party compatriots…but not without conjuring up a reason to vote for them again anyway. In short, this gentleman told me that he's completely disillusioned with his party while implying "I will use HRC as an excuse to vote for them again anyway."

    It's a very convenient, and cowardly, coulda-woulda-shoulda defense. "I was totally ready to jump ship, but that Hillary Clinton was just too awful so I had to vote for the guy who baited me with more tax cuts." Pardon me if, under such qualified circumstances, I decline to end such conversations with "Ego te absolvo, my son."

    *Mesa Verde belongs on that list of parks (Yellowstone, Rocky Mountain, Grand Canyon, etc) that a real outdoorsperson simply cannot visit between Memorial and Labor Days. It was just overwhelmed with traffic and lard-assed suburban white guys dragging their 5 miserable children around the country in a Suburban loudly wondering why they had to walk so far to see the ruins. Anyone looking for solitude and natural splendor finds this intolerable. In contrast, I spent 2 days at the nearby (and nearly as incredible) Chaco Canyon and was essentially the only person there.