When was the last time you wrote a letter? I don't mean an email or a Microsoft Word document; I mean sitting down with a pen and paper to write someone a letter. In my case it has been at least fifteen years, and probably more. It's just not necessary anymore with the internet now omnipresent in the developed world and increasingly pervasive in the developing. What is faster and more convenient is not always better (i.e., frozen fish sticks vs. fresh salmon) and it's becoming popular to appreciate the DIY aspect of antiquated technology, but writing letters lacks the homespun allure of making your own soap or knitting a sweater rather than buying either at Wal-Mart. Count me among those who laments but contributes to the death of letter writing. Between my indecipherable handwriting and the advantages of the electronic medium, I am not about to start communicating with a quill and inkpot to preserve the romance of a bygone era.

The decline of letter writing may be hurting us and our communication skills, but it's definitely killing the Post Office. The fact that we've replaced letters with emails is only the tip of the iceberg; cards have become eCards, bills have become electronic statements, checks have become PayPal and direct deposits, and…well, you get the picture. Combined with the fact that the US Postal Service has never been able to ship larger items as cheaply as competitors like UPS or FedEx, the Norman Rockwell-era mailman has been reduced to delivering, well, shit. Coupons for the elderly, pre-approved credit card offers for the gullible or desperate, and assorted other types of printed detritus that my rats will eventually poop on.

I get the feeling that in another decade or two we'll be telling our kids about how we used to get mail every day and bills used to be printed on paper, and they will listen to tales of the $0.22 stamp (I'm showing my age a little) in the same way that we listened to our grandparents talk of 10 cent gasoline and the mechanics of making a long-distance call in the 1930s. I suppose it's for the best, in the name of progress and all, but that doesn't mean it's without cost. Some people miss telegrams, after all.


I gained about 20 pounds while taking my qualifying field exams three years ago. It took me all of three months to gain it yet for the last three years I've been trying to lose it with zero success. The fact that weight is infinitely easier to gain than it is to lose, combined with the fact that the most attractive people are often the least interesting, is the surest indicator that life simply isn't fair. In an ideal world every journey would be on level ground, but when it comes to our metabolism the process of getting fatter is downhill while getting thinner is uphill. Up an icy hill. Into a tornado.

We have no control over these facts of life, so all we can do is lament them. In the political world, however, we do have control over a lot of things. Californians, if I can run with the analogy, have binged themselves into budgetary oblivion and are now resorting to drastic procedures to combat the reality that it is far easier to fuck up a government's financial health than it is to unfuck it. If the average state's unhealthy financial position today is like a person with 10 or 20 unwanted pounds, California is bedridden, weighs half a ton, and waits patiently for firemen to knock out the bedroom wall and remove him with a crane.

As medical professionals have to resort to dramatic and often risky procedures to treat a person who is 600 pounds overweight, California has been self-administering some radical surgeries lately, whether sending out IOUs instead of checks, wantonly hacking things out of the budget, getting its bond rating downgraded to near junk, jacking up tuitions while slashing education spending, or engaging in waves of mandatory furloughs. And of course none of it is enough. The depressed global and national economy is going to exert significant downward pressure on the state's income and property tax reciepts next year, meaning that whatever gap-fix solution presented today is likely to leave the state in the exact same situation next summer.

How did things get so bad? Well, the state made it easier for itself to get fat than to lose weight. In 1978 voters passed Proposition 13 which required a 2/3 majority in the legislature to impose new taxes or raise existing ones. No one, of course, was smart enough to realize what would happen if the opposite – a 2/3 majority required to cut taxes – was not also imposed. Combined with other portions of the law which limit property tax assessments to 1% of total property value, Prop 13 greased the skids for California to binge on tax cuts while making it difficult and painful to raise taxes. It's a complex situation with many causes, but the impact of the "tax revolt" can't be overstated.

Orange County, birthplace of the "tax revolt" (along with the subdivision, the strip mall, and the eponymous and christ-awful TV show), went bankrupt in 1994. It remains the largest Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy in the nation's history, and the final nail in its coffin was the rejection by voters of a 1991 ballot proposition to raise sales taxes by half a fucking cent to pay for county courts and jails (you know, to handle that War on Drugs of which Orange County's meatheaded legions were the most fervent supporters).

The only options at this point are painful budget cuts or painful (and nearly impossible to achieve) tax increases. When the budget is finally pared down to the point at which the state's voters can tolerate no further cuts in education, services, and policing, maybe they will have learned enough to revisit the wisdom of their 1978 decision to make slashing taxes as easy and mindless for the legislature as wolfing down the entire damn bag of chips while staring at the TV is for us.


A comment from an Instaputz post about Public Choice Theory, the Megan McArdle version…

Public choice theory…(is) not really part of economics. It’s basically just right-wing prejudice turned into a theory – the entire intellectual content is in the initial assumption “We assume that all public officials are venial and self-seeking”, and thence to derive the entire right-wing worldview.

…reminds me of my favorite joke to tell among academics.

A chemist, a physicist, and an economist are trapped on a desert island. They have canned food but no tools. To solve the problem, the physicist proposes using sticks and a rock to create a lever and pop the lids off the cans. The chemist suggests heating the cans so the contents will expand and burst them open. The economist criticizes both and says he has a far better plan. He begins, "OK, now assume a can opener…"


We all harbor the lingering fear that there is no idiot so ignorant or so vulgar that the American public will not elect him or her to office. Hence the last eight years and the cold dread we all feel as we watch Sarah Palin drool her way through public life. We stare and think "We couldn't possibly…" but stop because deep down we know that we could. Hence my hesitation to say "This is too far." about any outgrowth of stupidity from our political culture. It will inevitably lead to eating my words. Nonetheless…

If its elected officials do not take a stronger stand against it – and, God help them, if they continue to flirt with embracing it – this Obama birth certificate conspiracism is going to be the death of the GOP. Like the "secret Muslim" stuff during the 2008 Election, this issue is forcing mainstream Republicans to face up to just how bat-shit insane their party base is these days. Note the parallels between these two videos, one from last summer and the other from just a few days ago:

If you can't watch a/v at the moment, the first video is the infamous clip of McCain confronted with a supporter who insists that Obama "is an Arab." The second is Delaware Republican Rep. Mike Castle dealing with a "birther" – and from the sounds of it, quite a few fellow travellers in the background – at a town hall meeting. Apparently Castle's antagonist is well-known as a lunatic who has actually been banned from calling the local right-wing talk radio station. Note both men's pained "Oh my God, what has become of my party" demeanor as they attempt to be calm and speak Logic to what are obviously unhinged and potentially dangerous rubes.

If birtherism sounds like something dreamt up by the tinfoil-hatted, it is. But if it sounds like something that is confined to the realm of the tinfoil-hatted, it isn't. As my Instaputz colleague notes, with helpful links, in response to Rich "Little Starbursts" Lowry's claim that birthers are just a tiny fringe blown out of proportion by the liberal media:

Let me see now, those "few" include, just off the top of my head: at least 17 elected Republicans in Congress, numerous Republican state legislators, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Lou Dobbs, Liz Cheney, Michael Savage, Alan Keyes, G. Gordon Liddy, Fox News, World Net Daily, Newsmax and Free Republic.

Oh, and the National Review.

Just a few cranks!

This is to credibility among conservatives what 9/11 twoofers were to the anti-Bush crowd. Look. Here is a picture of his birth certificate. Regarding the claims that he must produce a second long-form certificate with multiple signatures, please read the bottom of this one: "This copy serves as prima facie evidence of the fact of birth in any court proceeding." There is no longer a requirement, politically or legally, for the President to continue to entertain this fantasy. While I understand the whole "Well, just release it and be done with it" argument, which sounds suspiciously like an effort to endorse the possibility of the legitimacy of these claims without overtly stating it, there is no good reason for Obama to get suckered into a debate here. If he produces the long-form certificate they will just claim it is forged. He should stick with the sanitized version of, "You need more evidence? Fuck you. That's my evidence." from now on.

I once heard a Jewish professor state that she refused to debate Holocaust deniers in a public forum because if 1000 people watch, only one will leave convinced by the denialists' argument but all 1000 will leave thinking the issue is open for debate. There is nothing to be gained by debating some people and legitimizing their claims, however insignificantly, can be damaging. Nothing Barack Obama says or does will make any difference to this movement. They will simply move on to something else or disregard whatever additional evidence he provides as forged or biased. So to engage them does nothing except make them look relevant. "Secret Muslim" and "Where's the birth certificate?" are really just sanitized PC-era euphemisms for "nigger" anyway, the desperate Hail Mary play from a group of people choking on their rage over the idea that a liberal black guy with a funny-soundin' foreigny name beat the tar out of his Republican opponents. There are only so many times one can show conspiracists the evidence before concluding that they have no interest whatsoever in drawing conclusions based on evidence. While the unanimous vote on the House resolution affirming Hawaii as Obama's birthplace is a step in the right direction, mainstream Republicans have their work cut out for them in squashing this nonsense without alienating the retards who make up 2/3rds of their party base these days.


I could live a very complete and satisfying life on the internet simply by trolling the opinion columns at From the profoundly mentally ill Doug Giles to K-Lo's supplicating feminism to idiot relatives of Newt Gingrich, it is a regular parade of the lame, the halt, the ugly, and the stupid. And I know – after years of lurking, my senses are sharp – as soon as I see a news story about racially-charged police misadventures I can head over to TownHall and they will feature the work of an objective commentator to get to the heart of the matter. Like, for example, 50-something year-old white "former law enforcement officer" Gary Aldrich. Does that name sound familiar? Good lord I hope not. We'll talk about how Gary achieved fame in the 1990s as we mournfully plow through "Race Baiter in Chief." The incident in question, of course, is the arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates. This is going to hurt.

I am angry and I am offended.

Stop the presses! A white man is offended! We must give an indeterminate but substantial number of shits!

As a former law enforcement officer who spent 26 years carrying a badge and a gun,

OK, you weren't a cop. You worked behind a desk at the FBI. Your job was to run background checks on White House hires. You were one step above the Equifax website. I'm sure you love regaling your buddies with harrowing tales of how you threw down on some serious paper jams in the copier, though.

when the President of the United States talks about law enforcement, believe me, I listen.

And when Gary Aldrich talks, America listens. We eagerly await the opinions of the man who got hounded out of his FBI desk job for writing Unlimited Access, an entirely fictional hatchet-job on the Clintons which a CNN book review summarized as "filled … with second-hand, unsubstantiated sexual rumors about and bitter attacks against President and Mrs. Clinton." When the author who wrote a book about how the Clintons decorated the White House Christmas tree with dildoes, latex vaginas, bongs, and assorted other drug paraphernalia talks, you stop whatever the fuck you are doing and you listen.

So when the president says something really ignorant – when he should know better – I am doubly disappointed.

I wonder if this will be followed immediately by an ignorant statement. Nah. That would be too funny.

If the country wanted to elect Jessie Jackson or Al Sharpton as president we already had that chance.

"Jesse." Also, come on, Gary. Say "uppity." Do it. You're too old and fat to tap dance.

Instead, I think we have just had confirmed what some feared and suspected: we have elected the Race Baiter in Chief.

Do you know what hyperbole is, Gary? Also, race-baiting and dog-whistle politics are the exclusive province of socialists such as Ronald Reagan.

What other conclusion can one make when the facts of the incident in Cambridge, Massachusetts are closely examined and weighed against training, experience, common sense, and logic?

Oh, I don't know, maybe that the cops are assholes and not terribly bright? Note how law enforcement are unable to make arguments in their own defense without referring to their extra-special "training" and "experience." In other words, we don't really know what we're talking about because we haven't had their training (on how to racially profile) and experience (racially profiling and having their behavior positively reinforced from above). So, it makes perfect sense. If you spent any time in the law enforcement system which treats all black men like felons you'd understand why these cops made completely reasonable decisions. Whoops, the logic machine just took a shit and died.

And yet when the president was asked his opinion of the arrest by a member of the media, he used the occasion to reveal his true heart, thus lending us a preview of what the next four years will probably bring.

Well, we are in for four years of race-baiting. Here's an image emailed to a Tea Party listserv by a prominent Florida neurosurgeon and opponent of the President:

Image Hosted by

Which makes Obama no different than the agenda driven college professor, who having broken into his home, is apparently astonished that a well meaning neighbor, trying to protect his home, called the police – thinking he was, “Trying to jigger his way” into his own home.

Explain how this is a sentence. Also, I don't think anyone is upset that the police showed up. You appear to be missing both the point and a chromosome, Gary.

These are the president's words, not mine.

The President speaks in sentences, which is why he was elected.

The police arrived and adopted the only posture they are trained to take – to be on guard, perhaps catching a thief in the act who could turn out to be very dangerous.

Yes. And when they determine that they are not in fact confronted with a dangerous suspect but instead a rumpled 60 year old man who is unarmed, perhaps another posture is in order.

After all, they would like to end their shift safely and return to their families – to their homes – alive.

Young black men who have encounters with the police, on the other hand, want to be shot in the back while handcuffed.

The college professor knows who they are by their uniforms, and thus he has the advantage.

Yeah, ordinary citizens have a definite leg up in police encounters. Be fair, Gary: uniforms let us know who the police are, but black skin lets police know exactly who the criminals are, too! So it's really one of those level playing fields your kind so adores.

But they don't know who he is – yet. He protests that he is the owner of the home, but the police see the jimmied door and they are not convinced by his words alone. They ask for identification so that they may compare the man's face with his photo ID, and confirm the address. Instead of quickly sizing up the situation and seeing the humor in the misunderstanding, the college professor resorts to form and accuses the police of treating him differently because he is black.

You omitted the part where he produced his Driver's License, which included his home address, and his Harvard ID. I mean, the cop retroactively claimed that Gates was belligerent (this is the standard cop narrative in these incidents – the black suspect is always a rage-driven monster with the strength of 20 men, angrily flipping over cars and uprooting trees with his bare hands) and never showed an ID, so I guess we should just take him at his retroactive word, no? What incentive would he have to lie?

He misses an opportunity to build good relations between himself and the police

It is definitely the obligation of citizens, and black men in particular, to build good relations with the police. It is our responsibility, not that of the police. It's not like we pay them or anything. It's not like they serve us; we serve them. If we all bowed a little more deeply in their presence, incidents like this could be avoided.

This may shock Gary, but the basis of our criminal justice system from the street cop up to the Supreme Court is that the burden of proof rests with the state. And the duty of law enforcement is to serve and protect, not to act like a jagoff to citizens who do not work hard to earn the right to be treated well.

and maybe that's because he has no interest in building good relations.

Or maybe it's because we are not guilty and dangerously violent until we prove otherwise to every yahoo who amasses enough community college credits to make it through the Pigsknuckle County Sheriff's Department training program.

Maybe his entire career is built on highlighting the bad relations that he can find – or manufacture – between whites and blacks.

Manufacture. Definitely manufactured. I mean, one doesn't just find examples of bad relations between white and black in this country.

He is not grateful to a neighbor for watching his property for him.

He thanked his neighbor.

He is not grateful for a quick response by the police, acting professionally and competently – protecting everybody's safety as they are trained to do – oh no – he is not grateful, he is angry and so he “cops” an attitude.

No, Gary, he is not thankful for how quickly the police managed to arrive to drag him from his own home in handcuffs. This is like saying "The rape victim did not thank her assailant for his politeness and remarkable sexual abilities." A positive gleaned from a comprehensively bad set of events is not relevant.

In time we will find out what he did and said that forced the police to arrest him.

Wait, you already concluded it was justified, assrocket! This is without, as you now claim, relevant information about what happened. We are indeed discovering some new information like the fact that the 911 caller did not state the race of the "burglar," meaning that the police had absolutely no empirical basis for thinking the suspect was black. Except, of course, for their immediate mental association between "burglary call" and "black guy."

But the Commander in Chief – the new race baiter in town – cannot wait for the facts.

Gary wrote this column on August 30, 2009, shortly after all of the facts came out, and beamed it back to our time. He will now make millions of dollars betting on sporting events to which he already knows the outcome because he is from the future. You know, same basic plot as Back to the Future 2.

Like his college professor friend he too misses an opportunity to help heal relations between the races. He went so far as to accuse the police of acting stupidly. His golden opportunity came and went, and he blew it.

It really would have helped relations between the races for the President to blindly and unquestioningly back the police – before we have the facts, Gary claims – in a cop-on-old-black-man incident. That would have been very healing. For white people who read Gary Aldrich columns.

Maybe the stupid act on the part of the police here is choosing law enforcement as a career, thinking they were actually going to make a difference – actually going to help people. All people.

This accurately describes why not only some cops, but all cops, enter law enforcement. They just want to help people.

Obama and his administration have already maligned the military by suggesting that returning veterans may be closet terrorists.

No, they were citing statistics. Most people use facts and research as the basis for drawing conclusions.

Now the president himself makes numerous unfortunate statements that suggest behind every police badge may hide the evil soul of a racist.

Oh, that's hogwash. It's probably only 30 or 40 percent of them.

He says and I quote, “you know, race remains a factor in this society.” I assure you, sir, the race factor may remain in your heart – but not in mine.

I think the preceding column has made it abundantly clear that Gary Aldrich does not see race and harbors no animosity based on it.

And, not in the hearts of the thousands of police officers who protect all citizens regardless of race, gender, or any other difference, even if you and your college professor friend choose to believe otherwise.

As for the thousands of others, well, we're pretending they don't exist for the moment. As long as we confine our generalizations to the universe of "good cops," Gary's argument is airtight. Like a nun's butthole. For the purposes of this analogy, pretend that nuns have airtight buttholes.

Frankly I find your position on race matters to be disappointing, repugnant, and threatening to the health of our culture which is, by its very nature, both generous and diverse.

Gary then galloped away on his moral high horse to address a crowd of literally tens of people at the annual meeting of his tax shelter, the Patrick Henry Center, at the Pocatello airport Radisson.

I think the millions of black families who have their homes and persons protected by the police every night and day of the week would disagree with your ugly characterization of all police officers.

"I have a black friend. I watch The Cosby Show. I am not racist."

What we are witness to here is the amazing spectacle of a black man elected to the highest office in our land

Gary Aldrich doesn't see race. In addition to this amazing spectacle, he has also been blown away by a woman appearing in public unescorted by a male, a Hispanic man speaking English, and a gaggle of Chinamen wearing shoes!!!

continuing the claim that America is a nation plagued with racism.

In 1928, Oscar de Priest was the first African-American elected to Congress post-Reconstruction. He was elected to Congress forty years before he would have been served lunch in a restaurant in many states. In 1950, twenty-two years after his election, it was still illegal in eighteen states for him to marry a white woman (an act for which he might merely have been lynched in many other states).

Surely only the most gullible would continue to believe race baiting claptrap like that.

Surely. You'd have to be a complete idiot to not understand that electing a black President means that there is no more racism. Then again, this is a man who knows claptrap.

The fact is, the professor's hatred for “Whitey” overwhelmed his judgment and he lost his temper – and that is all that has happened here.

"Which we will see as soon as the facts come out, which, as I noted three paragraphs ago, hasn't happened. Also, I was there. Well, I wasn't there, but I've chosen to believe the cop's story, the reliability of which is not affected by his own motives and interests."

That is, until the president decided to weigh in.

It's Obama's fault. Obama is the real racist. I'm indescribably fucking bored with you, Gary. Carry on while I amuse myself with this collection of "Cathy" comic strips.

When he did, he revealed his heart on the matter of race and it's sad to find out where he really stands on race relations. It appears that he will not be an agent of change, and that is a real shame.

Oh, you're done? Thank God.

In summary, healing race relations means placating white people. Assuaging their guilt. Reassuring them that only whiny, entitlement-hungry colored people keep racism alive in the United States. Convincing them that once the weekly lynchings stopped and politicians stopped saying "nigger" in public, racism disappeared. Unquestioningly taking the side of the police when their motives and actions are criticized. This is what it means to foster good relations among races. I'm glad we had this talk. I look forward to your well-researched, fact-laden book about Barack Obama. May it stand alongside your earlier work in both quality and relevance.


If the legislators firmly attached to the NRA's wang believe so strongly that people should be allowed to carry guns into my classroom, why are there metal detectors in the Capitol? Why not inspire the world by standing behind their beliefs and allowing people to be armed in their place of business? EJ Dionne wants to know. So do I.


If only we could tell ourselves that this video of Sarah Palin's going away speech, of which I believe there were about 12, would be the last time we'd be subjected to her punctuation free, stream-of-consciousness, Mad Lib-meets-Esperanto oratory. Every word of her farewell makes it clear just how amazing the McCain/RNC speechwriters must be to have been to make her sound like a semiliterate human being during her primetime Convention speech. Their efforts were ripped straight from the pages of Great Expectations.

My first question is, why was this given live all-networks coverage? If anyone can point out the news value in giving an admitted self-promoting shill who is now a private citizen live coverage to sell her crap about why she quit (For Alaska! So selfless of her!) I'd love to hear it. Second, why are we still talking about Sarah Palin? This goes far, far beyond beating a dead horse at this point. Then it hit me, as I drifted into altered states of consciousness during her rambling exercise in luring the English language into her windowless van and fingering it. It's our fault. Not "we" as in the American public. Left-wingers. The media are pouring gas on this trainwreck because they think we enjoy watching it burn.

We have to look at Palin on TV for the same reason that the Bravo network plays Showgirls regularly; because our kind are absolutely addicted to sarcasm. Palin exists as a media entity at this point not because anyone takes her seriously and not because her kamikaze run for the White House is going everywhere (The RNC is sitting around thinking "You know what Americans want? Someone who is dumb as a bag of doorknobs and dangerously erratic!"). She is an attempt by the news networks to rope in cynical, smart-assed 24 year olds. She is the Snakes on a Plane of political figures.

She's not going away because she is useful to Tina Fey and Letterman. She's not going away because we desperately want to see her run in 2012 so that, unless Obama starts huffing glue on camera, the election will be a non-starter. She's not going away because she's a complete rube who got a little taste of Manhattan shopping sprees and doesn't want to let go. I am blaming the victims, in essence. It's our fault that we have to watch this shit.

Our love of snark and camp creates perverse incentives. When I rent You Got Served to make fun of it, it encourages the studio to make more. When we all rush to YouTube to view and mock "My Humps" it increases the notoriety of the "artists" who make such crap. I think a good deal of caution is required here. Not only does the continued attention encourage her, it plays directly into the plan that her handlers and the RNC have been operating under since Day One: winning sympathy. The idea of throwing an adorable puppy into a shark tank and making none-too-bright Americans teary-eyed watching it get ripped to shreds is not a new one. History tells us that she is so badly damaged at this point that she can't be taken seriously as a candidate, but why push the envelope? A good strategy at this point, now that she holds no elected office, is to ignore her entirely until she does something newsworthy. Which is to say until she announces her candidacy for 2012.