NO VACANCY ON THIS CROSS

Posted in Rants on June 30th, 2009 by Ed

A few days ago one of my Instaputz colleagues brought attention to this piece from Debra Saunders of the SF Chronicle. Entitled "Enough of Sarah Palin, the Victim," Ms. Saunders opines:

I wish Sarah Palin would just go away. During the 2008 presidential campaign, I wrote about the unfair personal treatment to which the political press corps subjected Palin and her children. Now I just want her to stop milking her role as GOP martyr. Palin should stick to her day job – by which I mean, governing Alaska, not being fodder for talk-show humor. Both parties have their umbrage industries – thanks to true believers, who love nothing better than to see themselves as victims of a perceived double standard. Last week, comedian David Letterman's two off-color jokes about a Palin family trip to New York led to an orgy of indignation.

I can only hope that Ms. Saunders survived the shocking orgy of indignation which, like clockwork, streamed forth from America's Favorite Female Alaskan Incumbent Governor last week. While still not quite dismounted from her crucifix over a stupid David Letterman joke, the woman who wants to be your President set her sights on even bigger, even more powerful game: some two-bit Alaska blogger named Linda Kellen Biegel. Ever heard of her? Me neither.

Ms. Biegel did a 30-second photoshopping job on a picture of Palin holding her infant son, replacing his face with the face of an Alaska media personality, AM Radio jockey Eddie Burke, who is (apparently) perceived to be Palin's lackey. Here is the amateurish result:

art_palinpic_cnn

The humor isn't very complex. Palin holds baby. Baby replaced with radio host. Radio host is Palin's baby. I guess the most offense you could take from it is, based on the fact that the baby is Trig, Biegel is insinuating that the radio host is retarded. Personally I find that hilarious. Regardless, Trig is Palin's only baby at the moment. Her other kids are all grown. So if someone wants a picture of Palin holding a baby, it's going to be Trig. God knows she took every possible opportunity to be photographed holding PropTard (facing out, of course) during the election.

The reaction was predictable. "Recently we learned of a malicious desecration of a photo of the Governor and baby Trig that has become an iconic representation of a mother's love for a special needs child," (emphasis mine) Palin spokeswoman Meghan Stapelton told CNN. "Desecration"? This isn't the fuckin' Shroud of Turin. It's a public domain .jpeg of which about 300 billion versions exist. I suppose such a common photo could be "desecrated" if it had, you know, the Dalai Lama or Pope John Paul II on it. I'm not convinced that anything associated with Palin, including this picture, is "iconic." Just a little full of ourselves, aren't we, Meghan Stapleton? Someone photoshops a Palin pic and all of the sudden it's like someone airbrushed a damn Weezer logo on the Magna Carta or pasted Jesus' face on the unfortunate bottom in sadistic gay porn pics.

Stapleton followed that, "The mere idea of someone doctoring the photo of a special needs baby is appalling." So would photoshopping a non-tarded baby be OK? I'm confused. Was the photo "desecrated" in the sense that Palin's child was made part of a partisan attack or is it because said child is "special?" I need clarification.

By the way, this is the 7th picture which comes up when Google image searching "Obama photoshop."

bama

I can't imagine how even the most ardent Palin supporters have the stamina for the level of faux-indignant martyrdom she's embracing at this point. How can anyone be so constantly and so grievously offended by…well, everything? Oh, wait. It's because said person has absolutely nothing else to say. The McCain campaign and Palin's own media handlers have been beating this drum since Day One. As I noted way back when, it's the Spiro Agnew strategy all over again: bring some complete idiot into the limelight, have him/her sit there like a wounded puppy, and try to reel in sympathy votes when the media rips Puppy to shreds. Aww, that's terrible! How could anyone do that to such a helpless little puppy?

Sarah Palin used her kids, whether it's her handicapped baby or her knocked-up teenager, as Social Conservative Credential props more than any national candidate in the last 50 years. Even Bush never stooped to waving his daughters around so the media could attack them and he could benefit from sympathy. The Bush kids spent very little time in the spotlight even though the media badly wanted them on camera (because, of course, they're hot and blond). I have the feeling that if they were Palin's kids she would have had them in thongs, spread-eagle on the hood of a 1968 Pontiac GTO in full view of a few dozen photographers so that the Governor could wring every fake tear out of the ensuing outrage that the privacy of the candidate's family could be so violated.

QUERYING

Posted in Rants on June 29th, 2009 by Ed

Ever since I was old enough to string words into sentences I have been amazed at how regularly people seem to ask the wrong questions. Throughout the Reagan years (bearing in mind that I was given a daily ration of the era's prevailing wisdom throughout) everyone in white, suburban America was up in arms about "welfare." No one bothered to define exactly what that meant, which was unimportant so long as we all properly understood it to mean theiving government bastards stealing white people's money to give it to the coloreds so they could buy cigarettes and crack and bouncing cars. The problem was explained to Young Ed thusly: welfare was too generous, comparing favorably with the salary one would earn if working full-time at minimum wage. Why, the argument went, would anyone work if sitting at home was worth an equal paycheck?

It was, one must admit, solid logic. Staying home or working 40 hours at Pizza Hut for the same money (or close enough) is a slam dunk decision from a rational choice perspective. Thus the argument carried the appearance of logic and truth. But eight year-old Ed had to spend a lot of time wondering why everyone thought "Is the gap between welfare and minimum wage work big enough to discourage loafing?" was a more appropriate question than "Why does working 40 hours a week at the prevailing wage provide people with a sub-poverty line income which can barely house and feed single individual, if that?" The problem was always that welfare was too generous; it had to come down. Never was the problem that the minimum wage, which was a stunning $3.15 in the early 1980s, was too low. The rational choice game for the welfare recipient wasn't to work and live a decent life or to lay around collecting pitiful checks to live in abject misery – it was between working and living in abject misery or not working and getting the same. Anyone interested in facts (and really, who was back then?) would note that not once in its 80-year history has the minimum wage, if earned 40 hours weekly, hit the Federal poverty line for a family. Not once. Really:

minpov

This is why I concluded at a very young age that adults are bizarre. Reaching adulthood has given me no reason to revise that. I see this kind of red herring-vs.-Occam's Razor questioning all the time, debates which are fierce but avoid more obvious solutions, problems, and questions entirely. For instance.

We're fat. By "we" I mean Americans, although the non-American readers should note that most of the industrialized world is doing yeoman's work to close the obesity gap lately. While I recognize that obesity can result from medical problems or genetics, there's also a whole lot of American obesity that results from shoving heathen portions of disgusting food into our faces and maintaining activity levels somewhere between that of the three-toed sloth and a rock. We're fat and it's a problem. We're lazy and it's a problem.

On account of our fatness the airline industry periodically threatens to start charging us more money if we are too fat to fit in one of their seats. On the surface this is logical. More weight on the plane means more fuel and, if we happen to take up another revenue-paying seat, fewer fare-payers on board. Again, though, I think this argument is a red herring set up to let us bloviate on Fairness and how Fatty should pay up. It misses a more obvious question that I prefer to ask when I fly (which is often): why are the seats so fucking small?

I'm not a large individual. I am usually described as lanky or, in the past, too thin. But at ~6'3", most of which is limb, I am forced to shoehorn myself into coach seats. Especially with the rapid movement of domestic routes to "regional jets" with small cabins, I commonly fly with my knees in my chin. I'm not really that big. There is nothing exceptional about my size. I barely fit myself in Delta's idea of a reasonable seat. What do people who are taller than 6'3" do? What do people who weigh 400 pounds do?

The larger (pun intended) problem, in my opinion, is never discussed: the overwhelming failure of airline deregulation. Having created only the illusion of savings (believe me, you've paid back all that money you "saved" on lower fares in airline bankruptcies, fuel surcharges, and pension bailouts) while doing absolutely nothing to introduce real competition on most routes (try to find a non-Delta flight to/from Atlanta. I dare you.) it has succeeded only in setting up a market in which airlines cut every possible corner to save a nickel. The Heritage Foundation says it has given us lower fares. I say it has given us six-across seating in MD-90s and airline customer service that rivals that of a Nigerian intercity bus line.

Of course we cannot expect airlines to provide seats that will comfortably sit any conceivable passenger; if you weigh 400 pounds the experience is still going to be uncomfortable even if the seats are a couple inches wider. But can the airlines really be surprised that their seats, which can barely accomodate people of unexceptional size (and even then cannot do so comfortably) pose problems with obese customers?

Was air travel palatial before deregulation? ("Ah, for the days when aviation was a gentleman's pursuit, back before any Joe Sweatsock could wedge himself behind a lunch tray and jet off to Raleigh-Durham.") I doubt it. The point is that where airlines once competed on amenities, service, and comfort, they now compete on the only basis that American businesses understand: out-cheaping one another. And we're supposed to be thrilled that we can fly AirTran on some winged tin shitbox for $180 while being charged for our baggage and asked to open our wallets by surly, overworked flight attendants who are too busy worrying about what happened to their benefits to care about passengers. Maybe I'm nuts, but asking why airlines are so strapped that they have to charge for the extra few ounces of fuel that a heavy passenger necessitates or why airline seats are apparently designed for small children makes more sense than having an argument about whether or not it's Right to charge fat people more.

JACKPOT JUSTICE

Posted in Quick Hits on June 27th, 2009 by Ed

Are there really still people in this country (world?) who think the verdicts of our justice system have any relationship to reality once the defendant's income drifts into the seven-figure range?

No, Michael Jackson was not convicted of anything. I'll take this opportunity to remind you that R. Kelly is on videotape peeing on and getting a blowjob from a 14 year-old girl and was acquitted of peeing on and getting a blowjob from a 14 year-old girl.

I HOPE TO BE REMEMBERED SO FONDLY

Posted in No Politics Friday on June 26th, 2009 by Ed

About a hundred people – and bear in mind we're talking about people I actually like – have lit up my social networking world with "tributes" to Michael Jackson. Several things.

1. We're going a little overboard remembering a child molestor who we wanted kept alive mostly as a trainwreck/curiosity, no? I mean, it's good that you enjoyed his music but, and I can't stress this part enough, he fingerbangs kids. I realize that a person can create things that entertain us while being criminals, perverts, or plain old assholes in their private lives. Regardless, I'd have a difficult time remembering a child molestor fondly unless he created something a hell of a lot more meaningful than Thriller. I mean, if Frank Lloyd Wright felt up Cub Scouts in his spare time I would look at Fallingwater and grudgingly give him a pass. But Michael Jackson? Come on. Have you listened to that crap lately?

2. It was nice of our media to devote a week's news cycle to Ed McMahon (relevant!), Farrah Fawcett (shocked to discover she didn't die 10 years ago), and "The King of Pop." This is possible because there is no other important news happening anywhere.

3. Did I mention that you need to keep in mind that Michael Jackson fingers 7 year old boys when watching the laudatory retrospectives on his life and career? OK. Just throwing that out there.

CRAIGSLIST UBER ALLES

Posted in Quick Hits on June 25th, 2009 by Ed

Craigslist is a scary place, and this post to the Milwaukee CL (entitled "TO "PHISH" PEOPLE AT ALPINE VALLEY THIS WEEKENED") has to be the greatest thing I have ever seen in the genre. In part:

I HAVE LIVED OFF OF COUNTY HWY D NEAR ALPINE VALLEY FOR THE PAST 24 YEARS AND OFTEN FEEL THE RESIDUAL NEGATIVE EFFECTS OF THE CONCERTS. NEVER HAVE I HAD AN INCIDENT SUCH AS THE ONE THAT OCCURRED ON SATURDY NIGHT (JUN. 20) FOLLOWING A "PHISH" MUSICAL. OUR DOG WOKE US AT 1:30 AM MAKING A RUCKUS. WE HAVE A SMALL WARMING HOUSE NEAR THE EDGE OF THE HIGHWAY THAT I BUILT FOR OUR DAUGHTERS (NOW GROWN) TO WAIT FOR THE SCHOOLBUSES IN. THE LIGHT IN IT WAS ON AND SOMEONE WAS INSIDE. I PUT ON CLOTHES AND APPROACHED AND FOUND HIM DEFECATING ON THE FLOOR. HAD HAIR LOOKED LIKE A DOORMAT. EYES WERE BUGGY LIKE I REMEMBER ON MEN IN VIETNAM. I HAD A SHOTGUN AND TOLD HIM HE WAS GOING TO CLEAN UP THE DEFECATE. BUT I AM OLD (71 NOW) AND MADE A MISTAKE, RETURNING TO THE HOUSE TO GET A HOSE AND BUCKET. HE RAN IN THE DIRECTION OF THE INTERSTATE AND I DIDNOT FOLLOW.

So this is what it has come to in America. Or at least Milwaukee.

FORFEIT

Posted in Election 2010 on June 25th, 2009 by Ed

Another day, another moral majoritarian cheating on his wife, buying a reacharound in a public toilet, or exploring the beautiful synergy of crystal meth and gay hookers. When I heard about Senator John Ensign admitting to a lengthy affair with a staffer (who is also married) the only thing that surprised me was that after 10 years in the Senate John Ensign managed to get a headline. We've long since passed the point at which simple adultery from our elected officials is shocking. This Mark Sanford thing, though… It was bizarre. Fortean. Oddly reminiscent of the runaway bride (the person, not the horrible film). Of all the potential outcomes that came to mind when I heard that Gov. Sanford had gone AWOL, "He's in Argentina" was #1,057 on the list. But reality trumps plausability yet again.

From my point of view the real fallout of this whole bizarre episode is that Sanford's political career is over. Don't get me wrong, I think about as much of Mark Sanford as a politician as I do of Glenn Reynolds as a blogger, but he was one of the better, or at least less laughably bad, GOP contenders for 2012. Objectively he had a few things going for him. Popular Governor. Not a Washington insider. New, as opposed to recycled garbage like Gingrich and Haley Barbour. Not a bad looking guy. Good enough verbal skills to make himself sound like he's not retarded even though he is. I'll go as far as to say that he was the leading contender in a horrid GOP field, roughly akin to being the best player on the Washington Nationals.

In that light, the ramifications of this incident on the 2012 race are significant. The pool of Republicans who would make good candidates is empty and they're starting to run out of candidates who are even plausible. I know everyone hates it when I talk about elections too far in advance, but what in the hell is that party going to do in 2012? They might have a hard time scraping up enough candidates to make a competitive field let alone any good ones.

My position on the re-election of the current President hasn't changed and will not. If there is any measurable indication of economic recovery between January 20, 2009 and the onset of the 2012 Election (roughly 1/1/2012) then the race is going to be a 1984-style coronation. The Republicans could run Abraham Lincoln and it wouldn't matter. Obama took office and things sucked. If things do not suck (or suck less) when the next election rolls around the election could be a blowout like we haven't seen in 20+ years. If things get worse or stagnate, a good Republican could take him down.

Now. Find me a good Republican.

Palin is going to be the candidate if scenario #1 happens – with a rosy economy and no chance of beating Obama, the GOP will be more than happy to let some idiot waste her time and money running in a race she will lose by 200 Electoral Votes. She will be the nominee because no one else will be lining up to donate his or her body for that kind of beating. In the second scenario the Party will try a little harder to find a credible nominee. Jindal? Uh, first impressions went poorly. Also, his background has plenty of gossip fodder in it, what with the exorcisms and such. Tim Pawlenty is the only name making the rounds who seems reasonable on paper (Governor, "independent" cred, etc.) but he looks and sounds like a used car salesman. Obama would really have to be on the ropes to lose to a piece of white bread like Pawlenty. Charlie Crist? There's some potential there, but there's also that vicious "arranged marriage/in-closet" rumor. Mitch Daniels? Decent, but really dull. No one will get excited about that guy.

Other than that, we have the reruns like Gingrich, Huckabee (whose Fox show isn't helping, as he comes off like an infomercial host while interviewing "American Idol" contestants and the cast of "The Biggest Loser"), and Romney. Mittens might get the nod over Palin in a sacrificial lamb scenario, as he has more money to blow, but before picking any of these guys the GOP would be better off forfeiting the election and retaining some dignity.

It has been a long time – perhaps the 1996 GOP nomination or the 1988 Democratic field which settled on Michael "The Hindenburg" Dukakis by default – since I've seen a field this bad, bearing in mind that the 2008 GOP field was really bad. I guess that is the logical end result of a party that has been shrinking continuously for 25 years, a regional party which can't feasibly hope to win statewide offices outside of the former Confederacy or the southwestern Sun Belt. A shrinking party produces a shrinking pool of good candidates and, as we see in Sanford's case, the pool of candidates is shrinking itself as well.

(OK, should we just start the Jeb Bush betting pool now?)

THE TOOTH FAIRY

Posted in Rants on June 24th, 2009 by Ed

Local conditions may be different wherever you live, dear reader, but in my city the graffiti, stickers, and other public displays of the "9/11 was an inside job" movement are so numerous that they have become part of the urban landscape, no more noteworthy than stop signs or flyers for band shows. That we are nearing the eighth anniversary of the events in question and the conspiracy theories are only getting more popular is more depressing than it is alarming. Are our lives really so fucking dreary that we've resorted en masse to this kind of delusion as a preferred alternative to reality?

These theories are popular and, if you spend a lot of time reading things with comment sections on the internet, on some days it seems like half the country believes them. The internet isn't a random sample, of course, but the evidence for the popularity of these theories is clear. A Scripps-Howard poll from 2006 showed 16% of people believing it is "likely" that "controlled demolition with explosives" brought down the WTC while a whopping 36% believe that the government knew of the attacks in advance and willingly chose not to act. On the plus side, we might applaud Americans for these "low" numbers…compared to the 55% who believe they are protected by a guardian angel, 20% who believe that God has spoken directly to them, and the full one-third of your friends and neighbors who believe in alien abductions, astrology, and witchcraft. Compared to those figures we look like a nation of solemn skeptics regarding 9/11.

To paraphrase the argument in The Great Derangement, there are three major explanations for the popularity of such opinions. First, Americans are stupid and, in contradiction of everything known about the relationship between wealth and education in the history of civilization, getting stupider. Second, conspiracies about shocking, unbelievable events have always been popular because we can't accept boring explanations for traumatic events. Third, the post-Watergate public is so jaded to governmental malfeasance that even the most idiotic claims seem downright plausible. So many things that we would have considered implausible have actually happened that in order to stay one step ahead of the real news coming out of Washington our imaginations have had to delve into the truly ridiculous.

Of course all three explanations are relevant. We are dumb. We like to think things are more exciting than they are. Watergate, Iran-Contra, Kuwaiti incubator baby hoaxes, and eight years of Bush featuring a war in Iraq based entirely on pure bullshit have put many people in the mindset that no conspiracy is too outlandish to be true. Hell, if I just woke up from a 30-year coma I'd find the possibility of the government having planned 9/11 and a bunch of jurassic neocons starting a war with the evidence used in 2002/2003 to be equally implausible. And one of those things actually happened.

That's not a statement of support for 9/11 conspiracism, i.e. If Iraq happened then maybe this is plausible too. One argument has facts beneath it and the other doesn't. But pushing more and more people to the fringes of plausibility in their beliefs about what our elected leaders are capable of doing is just another negative externality of our carnival sideshow in Iraq. It re-defined what is plausible to younger generations like Watergate did for those before us.

The sad thing is that I love a good conspiracy theory, especially when there are tantalizing shreds of evidence to support them. I do not believe that we know everything we will ever know about 9/11. Over time we will see more information declassified, more offical "we fucked up" admissions (i.e., NORAD admitting that it lied its ass off to the 9/11 Commission), and more facts/evidence uncovered. Personally, I will not be shocked if we someday find conclusive evidence that the Bush administration had far more advance warning about potential attacks than it has thus far admitted. But natural skepticism based on our political system's tendency to withhold information is a far cry from swallowing theories about controlled demolitions, "inside jobs", computer-generated planes, and all of the other horseshit these people believe.

In an era in which the availability of information makes us all self-appointed experts ("I watched WTC 7 videos on YouTube and there was a lot of stuff flying out the windows, which totally looked like an explosion!") this is inevitable, of course. I divide the blame and my anger at the American public for being dumb enough to swallow something so stupid and elected leaders whose actions have gotten so brazen and so corrupt that our imaginations have been forced to go beyond the merely implausible and take up the downright ridiculous in order to stay one step ahead.

HOW TO LIE WITH STATISTICS; ALSO, LAZINESS.

Posted in Rants on June 23rd, 2009 by Ed

I am astounded daily at the lack of shame, originality, effort, and reading comprehension skills shared by the right-wing luminaries on the internet. Having just written up the phenomenal laziness of Glenn Reynolds yesterday afternoon, he forces me to do so again less than 12 hours later. Here is a post from Instarube, late Monday evening:

LARRY KUDLOW: “According to a recent ABC News/USA Today/Kaiser Family Foundation survey, 89 percent of Americans are satisfied with their health care. That could mean up to 250 million people are happy. So why is it that we need Obama’s big-bang health-care overhaul in the first place?”

Note Professor Assrocket's original contribution to this post ("LARRY KUDLOW:"). Keep up the good work, G-Ren. Mr. Kudlow, for his part, hasn't done much more work. He's cherry-picked a single statistic which (he believes) supports his predetermined conclusion. Here are some facts that Mr. Kudlow either refrains from mentioning or was too lazy to learn in the first place.

  • 1. He doesn't link to the survey he mentions, probably because he doesn't want you to realize that it's two years old. Took me about 45 seconds to find it, and it would have taken less if I weren't simultaneously downloading so much Ann Althouse/Jonah Goldberg slash porn. Here. Survey date: September 12, 2006. Before the financial crisis, before the recession, before millions of layoffs, before the last midterm election. On Monday, June 22, 2009 Larry Kudlow is making a point about a contemporaneous health care debate using a survey from two thousand and fucking six. But I'm sure his omission was accidental.

  • 2. Using a slightly more recent survey (June 8, 2009) the Kaiser Family Foundation tells us that 55% of Americans have put off needed health care – filling prescriptions, getting a lab test, seeing a doctor at all – because of cost in the past year. But apparently all 55% were happy to do it. It also tells us that 61% of Americans believe that serious health care reform is "now more important than ever", down from…62% in October of 2008. Happy, though! And a majority of survey respondents believe that reform should be financed through cigarette taxes, reduced Medicare payments, and/or taxing people with incomes above $250,000. Support for several specific reform proposals is high. 75% of those polled favor (either "strongly" or "somewhat") expanding Medicare down to age 55 while 69% favor "Requiring employers to either offer health insurance or pay money into a government pool," i.e. a Wal-Mart Law.

  • 3. Note Mr. Kudlow's fallacious conclusion that "satisfaction" as measured by his two year-old survey implies a lack of support for reform. I am satisfied with the amount of tax I pay on my income, yet I support reforming the tax code. I am satisfied with my housing costs, but I believe that fundamental reform in the mortgage lending industry is necessary. I am satisfied with the number of times I have been raped today, but I believe sexual assault is a major problem in our society which requires action. If only Larry could conceive of a world in which people give a shit about anything but their own interests.

  • 4. While the KFF has a good reputation, I'm going to go out on a limb and assume that, like all surveys, both the 2006 and 2009 examples discussed here did a mediocre or worse job of getting actual poor or uninsured people to participate. The people who are most likely to be polled are the same middle-class people more likely than not to be "satisfied" with their own personal health care arrangements.

    I often complain about the imbalance of effort that goes into left-right political discourse. Conservatives just make shit up as fast as possible – if it sounds good, it is good – and their opponents waste endless hours researching and looking up the facts to counter their pant-seat arguments. But in this instance it took me all of a minute to figure out that Larry Kudlow is absolutely bursting at the seams with bullshit. Perhaps he's intentionally omitting facts to strengthen his argument or perhaps he's too lazy to have done any research. As for Professor Cut-Paste-Link-Heh-Indeed, I have taken dumps that had more integrity than him. At least they didn't lie about being turds or try to claim that they didn't reek.

  • LAZINESS INCARNATE

    Posted in Quick Hits on June 22nd, 2009 by Ed

    Even several months into my reading-Instapundit-daily experiment I am still floored by the sheer laziness of Glenn Reynolds.