NPF: PULLING RANK

Posted in No Politics Friday on June 19th, 2009 by Ed

My longtime friend and reader Scott pointed me toward this Daily Telegraph list of the 10 best and worst cities on Earth according to Mercer, Inc., a company which apparently gets paid to come up with really, stunningly obvious (and elitist) information for the corporate titans. Such lists appear regularly and spark time-killing message board debates. I'll save you the trouble of clicking through the list: Europe is good. South America does not exist. Nor does the U.S. Africa is bad. Very, very bad.

Did someone really need to pay Mercer, Inc. to tell us that Bangui, Baghdad, Kinshasa, Khartoum, and most of the Congo are sweltering, violent, and pestilent shitholes? Likewise, did we need yet another slide show-style affirmation of the awesomeness of Vancouver, Auckland, Vienna, Frankfurt, and other places with 99.7% white populations and exorbitant costs of living? I have not yet been in a position to be a world traveller, but I always have a hard time imagining these places to be either as great or as awful as magazine rankings suggest. People tend to see these lists and picture themselves living in the World's #1 Metropolis where the streets are paved in candy and fairies grant one's every wish. At the same time we are to imagine the untold horrors of living in the average African superslum with curiosity and revulsion. Would I bet that Bern, Switzerland or Auckland or Frankfurt are great? Would I bet that Africa's conurbations of 10,000,000 people with no effective government are shitty? Yes and yes. But rather than turning me on or off of these places, such rankings always make me want to go. To find out what it's really like.

More importantly, the cultural and class biases inherent in these lists are interesting. I have a very hard time believing, for instance, that Lahore, Pakistan or any of India's obscenely crowded asylums are any better than N'Djamena or Port-au-Prince. Everything I have ever heard from travellers to the subcontinent suggests that its megacities have everything the suicidal tourist could want: crime (both petty and violent), unfathomable pollution, ineffective governance, oppressive heat, diseases that opportunistically attack our Western constitutions, and an overpowering sense of filth and crapulence. But India is a "good" non-Western country now, ripe with investment and job-siphoning opportunities. Mercer can't say anything bad about Calcutta to its rich, outsource-happy Western clients. That would be rude.

My India-travelling friends also report in the same breath the many things they loved about India or Pakistan. That's why I always greet these lists with skepticism. People live in and travel to "the worst" places every day and it is not always clear to me in what way these cities are supposed to be inferior to the dozens of other shitty cities dotting the globe. These lists feel like little more than periodic reminders of the unfettered glories of teutonic, Aryan European outdoor museums like Vienna and the sweaty, barbaric other-ness of Africa. Coincidentally, the "worst" lists conveniently omit some countries renowned for their horrendous urban ghetto-cities – China, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Southeast Asia, etc. – when they happen to be our latest low-cost trading partners of convenience.

All that said, I do find the topic fascinating. What are the best and worst places you've been?

JOHN STOSSEL GETS THE FJM TREATMENT

Posted in Rants on June 18th, 2009 by Ed

Being a staunch supporter of legal recognition of same-sex couples, this lengthy love letter from 1970s porn star John Stossel to glass-eyed future Federal courthouse bomber Glenn Beck does not offend me on those grounds. Mr. Stossel's burning, animal lust for Mr. Beck is his own business and whatever hot, sloppy things he wants to do to the World's Angriest Mormon in the back room at a gun show is fine with me. But I don't understand what he hopes to gain by making his love letters so public ("A Refreshing Spin on Cable TV"). If you are ready to see a grown man and alleged journalist re-define the adjective "masturbatory" in a fawning paean to a professional colleague, this is not going to disappoint.

Few of us had heard of Glenn Beck a few years ago. Now the conservative talk-jock is everywhere.

Forty years ago, few of us had heard of AIDS. Now that shit is everywhere. Based on World Health Organization data and John Stossel's logic, the sudden and widespread popularity of AIDS means that it deserves our praise. Salut, AIDS!

His radio show reaches eight million people.

Howard Stern has 20 million daily listeners. Just imagine the numbers Beck could put up if he had lesbians, an embarrassingly Uncle Tom-ish black sidekick, and rampant audible flatulence during his show.

He's performing live before sold-out crowds on a comedy tour.

Two shows. Two! He did two shows which were telecast in movie theaters around the country. He also didn't tell any jokes, unless we count the rape skit as a joke.

He's had No. 1 bestsellers in both fiction and nonfiction

Other #1 best-sellers from recent years include Who Moved My Cheese?, numerous entries from the Left Behind series, the Tori Spelling autobiography sTORI Telling, and You Can Run but You Can't Hide by Dog the Bounty Hunter.

plus a new book, "Common Sense: The Case Against an Out-of-Control Government" came out this week.

Book titles are italicized or underlined, shooter. Also, wow, what a subtle plug! In the first four sentences too! Impressive.

If you think this is fawning, well…John's just loosening up his jaw here. You haven't seen anything yet.

And now he's host of his own Fox News show, which, even though it airs in the ratings desert of late afternoon, has a bigger audience than every show on the other cable news channels.

"And he can ride his bike real fast and he scaled Mount Everest without supplemental oxygen and he can dunk a basketball from the free-throw line and he's hung like Seabiscuit and you haven't lived until you've tried his paella! GOD I just want to blow him. Why won't he like me?"

Why is he so popular?

Why is John Stossel such a colossal tool? Some questions simply have no answer.

Now watch as he unhinges his jaw like a snake and really gets down to business.

Beck says it's because he really believes what he says. I don't buy that. Rachel Maddow and Lou Dobbs believe what they say, but their audience is a fraction of Beck's.

Have we not long since established that liberal talking head shows (remember Air America?) do poorly while mouthbreathing please-digest-my-food-for-me conservatives literally can't get enough of being brayed at like the jackasses they are?

I hope he's popular because of what he says, like: "Both parties only believe in the power of the party"; "if we get out of people's way, the sky's the limit"; and the answers to our problems "never come from Washington."

God, how insightful. It's like Jesus and Kierkegaard had a baby.

Much of the mainstream media despises Beck.

Huh. I wonder if they feel humiliated to be associated with him.

"The Daily Show's" Jon Stewart quipped, "Finally, a guy who says what people who aren't thinking are thinking." MSNBC's Keith Olbermann has repeatedly named Beck "worst person in the world," and one of his MSNBC colleagues compared his TV show to watching a "car accident." On "The View," Whoopi Goldberg called him "a lying sack of dog mess."

It was nice of them to go easy on him.

Some of his critics dislike Beck because they consider him a Republican lapdog, but he attacks both parties. He criticized the Bush administration's spending and bailout of AIG. He says that politicians from both parties are "lying to the people that they're supposed to serve," "flushing our country down the toilet for power" and ignoring the Constitution.

Ah, the ol' "he gives it to both parties" bullshit. This is often cited to make extreme right-wing media figures appear non-partisan. It doesn't really count when his criticism of the GOP is that it isn't conservative enough. That's not indicative of fairness or non-partisan status. It's a sign of mental illness and it makes him a curiosity worthy of gawking, like that guy you see in a restaurant who puts half a shaker of salt on his food but you can't stop staring because holy shit he keeps putting more salt on it.

He points to the takeovers of General Motors and AIG as examples of government grabbing power it doesn't legitimately have. "We're giving our freedoms away," Beck says. "The American experiment was about freedom. Freedom to be stupid, freedom to fail, freedom to succeed."

My God, where does he come up with this kind of fresh, innovative rhetoric? You've sold me, John. Make room, I want to blow him too.

Though Beck is a success now, he struggled for years with serious personal problems. His parents divorced when he was a teenager. "My mother was an alcoholic and a drug addict," he told me when I interviewed him for a "20/20" profile. She later committed suicide.

In most human beings this experience would produce something known as "empathy." For Beck it's just an anecdote cited to defend why he is so fucking crazy.

"When I hit 30, I was going down that same path. I tried for almost two years to stop drinking. I was a jerk. I fired a guy one time for bringing me the wrong kind of pen," Yet, Beck says, "I'd look myself in the mirror every day, and say, "You're not an alcoholic. You don't have a problem."

I liked this story the first time I heard it from, oh, every celebrity windbag in the past fifty years who went public with his or her "brave struggle against addiction." Dick Van Dyke did a much better job with this material, Glenn.

(snip: pointless "I was such a drunk" anecdote)
That night he went to Alcoholics Anonymous. Not long after, he became a Mormon. I asked him why.

Yes, Glenn, please tell us why you took the monumental step of religious conversion during adulthood. What deep spiritual quest led you to Mormonism, the mightiest and least plausible of all religions?

"I apologize, but guys will understand this. My wife is, like, hot, and she wouldn't have sex with me until we got married. And she wouldn't marry me unless we had a religion." I asked Tania Beck about that. She laughed, saying, "He's not joking."

Awesome. I just checked my groin and I am in fact a "guy," yet for some reason I am not quite "understanding" this powerfully retarded and puerile anecdote/life lesson.

Now Beck says that Mormonism has grounded him, so he's grateful to his wife.

Yeah, he sounds profoundly spiritually moved by the whole experience. He's really grateful to Joseph Smith, the angel Moroni, and his smokin' hot wife with her fat-ass Mormon double-D's. You'd understand this kind of religious re-awakening if you were a guy.

Whatever grounded him, I'm glad something did. Because it's good to have a super-successful cable-TV host

*coughcoughslurp*

"Wow, I'm really giving him the business down here! I hope you're enjoying this as much as I am. By the way, on a completely unrelated note, does anyone have a mint? Maybe some gum?"

arguing that life would be better if government — Democrats and Republicans — just left Americans alone.

I hope he copyrighted this novel message of hope and self-absorbtion.

"We should reject big government and look inside ourselves for all the things that built this country into what it was," Beck says.

Yes, the many things that made us great – subsidized highways and subdivisions, a welfare state which made today's elderly the wealthiest such group in the history of civilization, the GI Bill, the regulatory state, and a now-extinct belief that we could solve problems collectively. No? OK, I guess Glenn is just talking about white male hegemony. And probably slavery.

So now that we've reached the end, can anyone tell me what in the flying hell was the point of this column? This piece is like the perfect hybrid of a ham-fisted sales pitch for Glenn Beck the brand and gay erotica written by a serial killer. It's bad, even for Town Hall Intellectual Chernobyl. If I wanted to read 700 words' worth of a hirsute, mustachioed white guy fellating a Mormon I wouldn't have cancelled my subscription to Boys on a Mission: Under the Magic Underwear.

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THIS WEEK IN G.O.P. OUTREACH

Posted in Rants on June 17th, 2009 by Ed

Perhaps Republicans, as elderly as most of them are, don't quite understand how the Series of Tubes works. Most of what one posts on the internet is for all intents and purposes permanent. Sure, we can scrub whatever we want from our own personal websites and blogs, but what we say on things like Facebook or comment sections of popular websites are like tattoos – a lasting testament to judgment both good and bad.

Last week an aide to South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster posted a humorous news item about a gorilla escaping from a zoo in Columbia. Rusty DePass, a long-time GOP activist in South Carolina and candidate for various state/local offices throughout the years, helpfully and hilariously noted, "I'm sure it's just one of Michelle's ancestors – probably harmless." Charming.

Shortly thereafter, a low-level functionary in the South Carolina GOP saw fit to Tweet the following:

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Note the "thumbs up" from Adam Piper, who has openly discussed throwing his name into the upcoming race for Governor in the Palmetto State.

Moving westward, a staffer for Tennessee State Senator Diane Black decided against the newfangled Twitter and used a good ol' fashioned email forward to send the following photo of our 44 Presidents:

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The quest to build a Big Tent appears to have hit a few snags. That's too bad, because the Michael Steele-led GOP was really starting to make some progress in appealing to non-white voters.

Wait. No they weren't. There was the Southern California GOP group that sent out a mailer in the style of a "food stamp" bearing the image of the President…along with watermelons, ribs, fried chicken, and Kool-Aid (note: I thought the stereotype was grape/strawberry soda. Am I so out of touch with contemporary racism?). And the California mayor who sent out the "White House watermelon garden" email from his government email account. Or the South Carolina mayor – lot of South Carolinians here, no? – who wondered aloud to his constituents if our Muslim President is the antichrist. Or the Georgia mayor who responded to the flap over Obama's lame gift to Gordon Brown and the rest of the British delegation by expressing relief that Obama had not given them Negro gifts like malt liquor and cigarettes. And who could forget "Barack the Magic Negro" as a campaign jingle for one Tennesseean's effort to win the chairmanship of the RNC? I'm sure there are other incidents I'm failing to extract from my memory at the moment.

These incidents underscore the challenges inherent in diversifying a party whose bedrock constituencies are nativists, unreformed segregationists, frothing-at-the-mouth anti-immigration zealots, and various other rural white people with Confederate flags on their bumpers. This leads me to ask an open question to America's Hispanic, Asian, and black Republicans: What the hell is wrong with you? Is this a race-based version of the "self-hating Jew" phenomenon? I am reminded of the calls for Michael Steele to resign which came from, among others, Dr. Ada Fisher, one of only three black members of the RNC. Dr. Fisher (who, by the way, backed South Carolina GOP Chair Katon Dawson, a segregationist who proudly belongs to a whites-only country club) complained about Steele's efforts to reach out to black voters:

"I don't want to hear anymore [sic] language trying to be cool about the bling in the stimulus package or appealing to D.L. Hughley and blacks in a way that isn't going to win us any votes and makes us frankly appear to many blacks as quite foolish."

Steele isn't making you appear foolish to black voters, Dr. Fisher. The simple fact that you are a Republican already accomplished that.

WHITEWASHING, INC.

Posted in Rants on June 16th, 2009 by Ed

(Dearest reader, the author of the piece on Ms. Harris informs me that the photograph and story are satirical. Ginandtacos.com salutes the author and admits to being duped along with my friends at Crooks & Liars. I will leave this post intact as a monument to my shame and because the portions which are not about Ms. Harris are still worth something. Sucker, I am.)

Hey, good news! Katherine Harris, star of the 2000 Election in Florida, has moved past her overwhelming defeat in the 2006 Senate race to find paying work. Doing what? Why, she's selling her services as an election monitor to foreign countries. I can prove it. Here is photographic evidence of a Fox News banner under what appears to be either an old catcher's mitt or Julia Roberts after a six-week vacation on the surface of the sun:

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I'll give you a minute to recover from that image and crack up at the idea of Katherine Fucking Harris, Guarantor of Fair and Reliable Elections (for a few dollars more, Michael Vick will care for your dogs, the town drunk will drive you home from the bar, and Sarah Palin will proofread your doctoral thesis). I'm willing to suffer a few more minutes of Ms. Harris in the public spotlight to bring more attention to the booming industry of former U.S. elected officials selling their names, their reputations, and human dignity for a cold buck. The days of Jimmy Carter and the non-profit do-gooders monitoring elections in banana republics are over. Election monitoring is now a very profitable industry, as kleptocrats and dictators are more than willing to shell out cash for the stamp of legitimacy on the clusterfucks they call elections.

When Ms. Harris stopped swallowing Satan's cock long enough to choke out a verbal affirmation of the overwhelming fairness of the recent Iranian election she proved to the world that neither the truth nor principles will get in the way of profiteering when American public servants are concerned. She's far from the first. Washed-up politicos have interest groups to market their lack of shame. For example, the U.S. Association of Former Members of Congress proudly advertises the availability of its members as election monitors. Cameroon dictator Paul Biya availed himself of this service in 2004, hiring former House members Michael Forbes (D-NY), Webb Franklin (R-MS), Ronnie Shows (D-MS), Andrew Maguire (D-NJ), Joe Wyatt, Jr. (D-TX), and Dick Schulze (D-PA) to lend legitimacy to his sham re-election. They obliged by breathlessly assuring the world that Mr. Biya won fair and square while a not-for-profit Commonwealth delegation led by former Canadian PM Joe Clark noted that the Americans were too busy being wined, dined, and lavishly entertained by Biya to actually monitor the registration of voters or observe more than a handful of polling places in what Clark called a "deeply flawed" election. Thus six Congressmen sold their reputations to legitimize the regime of what David Wallechinsky notes is one of the most corrupt, brutal regimes on the planet.

We expect amoral hookers like Katherine Harris to sell themselves to the highest bidder and willingly bend over for strongmen of exceedingly dubious character. That's why we're not shocked to hear Harris say that Iran's sham elections were "free and fair" and castigate the opposition with, "This is just sour grapes. The time has now come to move on." Chalk up yet another example of free markets failing; the transition of election monitoring from Moral Duty to Marketable Commodity has the predictable consequences in terms of quality and accuracy. Sadly it is now necessary for us to be skeptical and ask whether the opinions of international observers are bought and paid for. George W. liked to talk about spreading democracy and free elections to our foreign bretheren; putting the stamp of American Approval up for sale isn't furthering that goal unless the 2000 election in Florida represents the standard by which we hope to judge all others.

BUT I DIDN'T SIGN OFF ON THIS.

Posted in Rants on June 15th, 2009 by Ed

I finally found an editorial in defense of the Federal bailouts of Chrysler and GM, provided on the personal blog of sometime-WSJ editorial writer Robert Farago. It's pretty poorly argued, but the moment I saw the title I knew I was in for some comment section gold. Dredging internet comments and finding something stupid is like jamming both hands in your back pockets and finding an ass. Regardless, the repetition of one theme caught my eye. To wit:

Listen, I didn’t ask nor do I want to be part owner of GM and Chrysler. Fair? This is not about the producers of things in an economy…its about the consumers. American consumers have the right to do whatever they want. Bailouts circumvent consumer preference at the expense of everyone except those luck few “chosen” ones (UAW). It’s called freedom.

Charming, right? As easy as it is to laugh at shit like this ("It's called freedom!" and the querulous repetition of "Fair? Fair?" in a manner that reminds me of Jim Mora's "Playoffs? Playoffs?" rant) I am more inclined to be worried about it. While 99.999% of the suburban commandos venting their complete political impotence in every available venue are harmless or at least too lazy to be dangerous, the idea that government simply cannot do that with which hardcore conservatives disagree is pervasive and, I'm afraid, going to contribute to the eight years of extremist freakouts which are already underway.

Note the opening phrase in the above comment: " I didn’t ask nor do I want to be part owner of GM and Chrysler." Could it ever have occured to the comment author that no one gives a flying fuck what he wants? Can any of these people handle the idea of a world that does not revolve around their wants? I don't recall signing off on that whole Iraq War thing, but I do seem to recall it happening anyway. It happened because people voted for the guy who wanted it to happen.

See, "freedom" and "democracy" and "fairness" mean that we have elections which present the nation with reasonably distinct alternatives. This time we had the option to pick the guy who opposed bailouts (at least when he was trying to appeal to wingers – who knows what he would actually have done if elected) and his sidekick MILF Spice. Instead the nation chose the other guy. They voted for the guy who would be far, far more likely to respond to domestic economic problems with wads of government cash. He won the election. By ten million votes. So this might be a good example of truth in advertising. The President is behaving much like any voter who knows what a Democrat is would have expected under these circumstances. We knew what we were signing up for.

On the right, though, "I don't agree with this" isn't in the phrasebook; that with which they disagree is wrong, immoral, illegal, unconstitutional, and on many dark corners of the conservative movement, signs of our desperate need for a violent revolution. I'm not a psychologist, but I'd estimate that people with this mentality stopped maturing around age 10. People older than that can handle a world that does not always do what we want. Whether it's some guy killing three cops because Obama was coming to take his guns, some militiamen in Montana making truck bombs in their "U.S. OUT OF U.N." compounds, some old Nazi trying to shoot his way into the headquarters of the International Jewry, or just some dipshit unloading his impotent rage into blog comments, the sentiment is the same: this is not what I want, therefore it is Wrong and It Must Be Stopped.

Back in 1964 the Johnson administration refused to allow a popular election to resolve the North-South split in Vietnam because they knew that 90% of the Vietnamese would have chosen Ho and the Communists. It is but one example of America's history of supporting democracy only inasmuch as people will choose what we want them to choose. It is also a good example of what the right means when it invokes "freedom" or fairness or democracy – it is the right of free people everywhere to choose their government unless or until they elect someone to the left of Curtis LeMay. Just as most Americans cannot wrap their minds around people on this planet choosing to live in a socialist state or choosing to live in a monarchy, it appears that we can barely comprehend the results of our own elections anymore. We picked this guy with a pretty good idea of how he would act. Those who dislike his decisions are more than free to cast a vote for Romney/Gingrich 2012. While the majority is always required to respect the fundamental rights of the electoral minority (momentarily overlook the fact that the GOP, when in power, summarily rejects this notion) it never has been nor will be required to make political decisions to the liking of the people who can't scrape up enough votes to keep their Senate delegation over 40.

NPF: THE HALL OF LOSERS

Posted in No Politics Friday on June 12th, 2009 by Ed

Everyone seemed to like Obscure Presidential Trivia a few Fridays ago and I have little doubt that there is more amusement to be had along those lines. For instance, how much do you really know about the illustrious history of the Vice-Presidency and the parade of losers who have occupied it for the past 230 years?

Former VP Thomas Marshall (1912-1920) of Indiana once was asked why his state produced so many VPs; counting Dan Quayle, the Hoosier State has now produced five. His response was that "Indiana produces the finest second-rate men" in the nation and is thus a breeding ground for VPs. He's not wrong, as the office has been filled by second-rate imitations of statesmen more often than not for more than two centuries. That is, when it was filled.

The fundamental problem of the Vice-Presidency is…well, there are a couple. First, it is historically a political graveyard. The idea of the VP as a future Presidential candidate in training is a recent one. Second, there's absolutely nothing to do. If you're the kind of lazy, unmotivated politico who thinks that going to the state funerals of Eastern European prime ministers is a dream job, then the VP is awesome. Such an uninspired attitude should – but doesn't – disqualify one from being a heartbeat away from the White House. Thus we see the fundamental dilemma of the office; it is simultaneously very important and utterly irrelevant. To wit, the VP might be called upon to command the nation in a world war at a moment's notice, a la Truman, yet the office didn't even have a Top Secret security clearance until Mondale insisted on it in 1978 (No, seriously).

So important was the office that it was not until the passage of the 25th Amendment in 1967 that we even bothered to replace the VP if he died or otherwise left the office vacant. James Madison, who killed off two VPs – George Clinton (no, not that one) and Elbridge Gerry (yes, that one) – spent almost his entire eight year tenure in the White House without a VP. Nobody noticed. The job was so irrelevant that in 1832 John C. Calhoun, VP under John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson, quit to go back into the Senate. Think about that. He just stood up one day and said "Fuck this. I want my old job back."**


"I am insane. Also, bored."

Some people get flowers, plaques, or gold watches when they retire. William King got the Vice-Presidency as a thank-you gift for his many years of service in government. In 1852 King was the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, a ceremonial position filled by the longest-serving member of the majority party. He had to quit that job when tuberculosis left him on death's door…so he was promptly nominated for the VP under Franklin Pierce. When Pierce won, King was too sick to show up at the inauguration. So he was sworn in – in Cuba – before returning to the U.S. and immediately dying 36 hours later. Thus the man remembered only for being the roommate and possibly "roommate" of James Buchanan basked in the power and glory of the VP for all of 45 days, for all of which which he was either in Cuba, shitty wasted on laudanum, or shitty wasted on laudanum in Cuba.


The Inauguration of William King

Alas, the office has one overwhelming benefit which trumps all the monotony and irrelevance – if you're lucky (or if the President is particularly unlucky) you get to be President. That is, unless you're Garret Hobart. Hobart turned down the Vice-Presidency in 1881. Had he accepted, he would have become President upon the death of James Garfield at the hands of an assassin. Instead that honor went to Chester A. Arthur. Hobart learned his lesson, though, and accepted the office in 1896. Then he died in 1899. Had he lived just 18 more months he would have assumed the Presidency upon the death of William McKinley, also struck down by an assassin, in 1901.

The moral of the story is, don't be friends with Garret Hobart. Death stalks him.

To be continued!

**May not be an actual quote

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SHEPARD STRAYS FROM THE FLOCK

Posted in Rants on June 11th, 2009 by Ed

You know it's getting bad when Fox anchors start cracking up on the air.

I have to hand it to Smith, who apparently has a conscience, for his restraint. He does everything except stare into the camera and scream "What the fuck is wrong with you people?" Unfortunately for Shep, it's going to be hard to develop his line of argument without addressing the key role played by his employer and colleagues in stoking exactly the kind of paranoid, apocalyptic attitude which so horrifies him.

Does anyone doubt him when he says he gets thousands of those emails daily? I don't. But he takes an easy out in trying to explain why, blaming "the blogs" and implying that if only we all got our news from Professional Journalists this wouldn't happen. Is Smith capable of understanding, if not admitting, the role of his own network in promoting the grab-your-guns hysteria that seems to grip this nation every time someone to the left of Pinochet is in the White House? My friend David Niewert has a good write-up on the kind of lunatic fringe viewpoints Glenn Beck regularly promotes, from "states' rights" to "Obama is the anti-Christ" to running around like he's totally fucking bonkers and pouring fake gas on people. In fact David has catalogued many years' worth of violent it's-time-to-start-killing-liberals / Jews / Negroes / Enemies rhetoric on his blog and in a recent best-selling book (The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right) which discusses in detail the pivotal role of Fox personalities like Hannity, Coulter, O'Reilly, Beck, and Malkin in actively promoting violence. Yet no matter how many violent incidents spring forth from the bubbling cauldron of far-right paranoia and insanity, these same people seem utterly incapable of understanding the role they play in these incidents. It's never about ideology or an endemic problem with violent rhetoric on the right – it's always "just some crazy person." Since December one might care to note that we've had one or two "just some crazy person"s each month.

I wrote two months ago, echoing a sentiment that many people in the reality-based community expressed when Obama won, that the fringe right – which is far bigger and more dangerous than their patron saints on Fox and Talk Radio will admit – is going to go absolutely apopleptic for the next eight years. Obama is just a red flag being waved in front of people too inarticulate, too insane, and too deluded to respond using anything but violence. He's black, has an A-rab soundin' name, and is godless communism incarnate. Whatever tenuous connection these mouthbreathers have to reality has been severed and their bat-shit insanity is on full display. Shepard Smith seems to understand that. Now if only he could figure out from where, other than "the blogs," these people get their insane ideas. In the meantime, we all get to live with the consequences.

SYMBOLIC VICTORIES

Posted in Rants on June 10th, 2009 by Ed

Our Dear Leader former President George W. Bush had a fetish, as is common among Republicans, for "looking tough" and sending the Right Message. When American interests are attacked we must respond with force; to fail to do so will invite further aggression against us. We can never negotiate with aggressors, lest the message be sent that a little pressure will cause Uncle Sam to cave to one's demands.

To a certain extent, Bush and his Republican ilk have a point. When terrorists attacked targets in New York and Washington, D.C. a forceful response was necessary and justified. If the response had been to accede to the demands of the aggressors – the withdrawl of the American presence in the Middle East and Israel – it's not hard to see how that would set a dangerous precedent. Even if one considers such a withdrawl to be appropriate, to do it in response to the demands of a terrorist would send an unequivocal message: blow up a plane or two and America will grab its ankles for you. A response was certainly called for, although I would have preferred a useful one rather than a tangential misadventure in Iraq. But I agree with the former President that one cannot bend to the demands of a violent loner or group of extremists.

It is in this spirit that I am deeply disturbed by the news that Women's Health Care Services of Wichita, KS, the clinic of recently-murdered Dr. George Tiller, is being closed. Like many Americans, I have a real hard time condoning the practice of third-trimester abortion. Regardless of where one stands on the issue, however, the bigger problem here is the message being sent here: murder the right person and your demands will be met. If President Bush was ideologically consistent (*guffaw*) he'd emerge to remind us all that if we bend to terrorists' demands, they've already won. In this case I can't see the decision doing anything but convincing the fringes of the pro-life movement that they've found an effective way to achieve their ends: lone wolf-style terrorism.

These people have already convinced themselves that murder is morally justified regarding this issue. If we follow that with positive reinforcement, then from a rational choice perspective there's very little reason for pro-life zealots not to kill a doctor who performs abortions. They see it as trading one life to "save" thousands more. Closing clinics provides a symbolic victory if not a practical one, a victory which lets them know that if they are willing to go to prison (a small price to pay, certainly, for saving the lives of thousands!) they can get what they want.

Now, if we really wanted to go President Bush on this problem we'd pre-emptively arrest every pro-lifer and apply some "enhanced" interrogation techniques. I'd settle for a simpler and more rational response, a response that doesn't tell an unhinged group of fanatics with the voices of God and the Virgin Mary rattling around in their heads that if one kills enough of these people, access to abortion will disappear.

DOPING, NASCAR-STYLE

Posted in Quick Hits on June 9th, 2009 by Ed

Baseball, the Olympics, and every other high-profile sport have been rocked by drug scandals in recent years as athletes turn to science to make them grow, heal, and move faster. These sports aren't immune from the occasional recreational drug scandal either, as millionaire athletes with 9th-grade educations indulge their love of weed or, in rarer cases, rich man's party drugs like heroin or coke.

Then there's NASCAR, which ends up suspending superstar driver Jeremy Mayfield for failing a drug test…for Adderall XL and crystal meth. The last person I knew who did either of those drugs was 18, unemployed, and lived in a mobile home in Janesville, Wisconsin. Keep it classy, NASCAR.

NEWS THAT MATTERS

Posted in Rants on June 9th, 2009 by Ed

Like most news media, CNN devoted heavy amounts of coverage today to the potential and later the confirmed release of a new version of the iPhone. Being something of a Luddite and in any case insufficiently wealthy to purchase one of these sacred, life-affirming gadgets, this "news" is not relevant to me. But more to the point, it simply isn't relevant. The number of things wrong with this coverage go a long way toward explaining why the mainstream media, the alleged Hard News, is indistinguishable from Stuff magazine. You own an iPhone? You're interested in it? You like electronic gadgets? That's all great. It doesn't change the fact that this. is. not. news.

Information about the release of a new consumer product used to be called advertising; apparently the media now believe that if enough yuppies in their target demographic people own said product it becomes news. The media plead that their hands are tied. News about new cars, hot fashion accessories, and new beeping gadgets is What Viewers Want. And if children want to eat Pixy Stix and a jar of Smuckers for dinner, then by God, that's what their parents should give them.

We need a little paternalism from our media. We need them to take the attitude that, goddammit, you're going to sit down and watch this story about Afghanistan or read this lengthy piece about Congressional spending bills because it's important. Because you need to know in order for our society to function like a reasonable approximation of an informed democracy. Instead we are so conditioned to believe that what we want is what we must get, the real news is pared down gradually but continually and coverage of the iPhone fills the void – news which is indistinguishable from advertising in any significant way.

I try to impress upon my students that discussions of "bias" in the media are a red herring; our society is hypersensitive to the specter of political bias when the damage is being done by more subtle commercial bias. In short, CNN and FOX carry segments about the iPhone because they want people to tune in, not because they have an insidious agenda to eliminate hard news. Their fates are dictated by Nielsen ratings, subscription figures, and advertising rates. If running actual news brings in x viewers and crap about a phone brings in 10x, the decision is made for them.

So it's your fault. And the media's fault. It's everyone's fault. Decades of anti-intellectualism, atrophy of basic reading comprehension skills, and the decline of civic-mindedness have produced a citizenry that neither wants nor is capable of understanding a real and potentially complex news story. Indeed we feel it is right that the media respond to market incentives and give us what we want. We really want to know about SpacePhone and its new apps! How does it match up with the Palm and Blackberry competitors? Such stories have always been legitimate fodder for journalists but were understood as dessert items, just-for-fun pieces provided as a refreshment after the real news. Alas, we've done away with any pretense of eating a balanced meal and our media obligingly provide a buffet of candy.