IRAN, PART II: COMING THIS FALL ON THE MILITARY CHANNEL

Posted in Rants on September 30th, 2009 by Ed

On Monday I touched on the impracticality and infeasibility of the alleged Iranian plan to initiate war with Israel, specifically with a nuclear strike. There simply is no way to spin this in Iran. Even a conventional weapon strike on Israel would trigger a massive military response from Israel, NATO, and Uncle Sam. A nuclear strike against Israel would result in Iran resembling the surface of Mercury within 24 hours. Whether nuclear or conventional, American or multinational, the response would reduce Iran to the Stone Age and doubtlessly involve many thousands of deaths.

It doesn't sound like something sane people would do, and I despise the neocon "(Insert tinpot dictator here) is a Hitler! He is bent on national suicide!" rhetoric. But disregarding that argument leaves me at a loss to explain their recent missile tests. From the earliest days of the Cold War, missile and warhead tests have been nothing but an exercise in dick-waving and saber-rattling. You do it to give your enemy second thoughts, to instill fear, to give evidence of a "credible deterrent." And what kind of idiot would believe that Western Europe and the U.S. are going to be impressed by short- and medium-range ballistic missiles of primitive design and minimal accuracy? Iran isn't rattling a saber so much as they are rattling a wet noodle. Their current missile technology roughly approximates America's in 1955.

So they're not trying to intimidate us. They are showing off an offensive capability. It could not be considered a deterrent unless the leaders of Iran are literally retarded. So, like North Korea, I am convinced that the government in Iran is composed entirely of unstable, unpredictable morons who now have effective delivery vehicles for a variety of weapons. Since a diplomatic solution is unlikely, I think we're on the path to another military one (with both of those countries, but let's focus on Iran for now). Sure, maybe we'll get lucky and Iran will undergo internal upheaval. The current government barely made it through an election a few months ago. But of course we can't bank on that happening.

Here we see the ultimate folly of our misadventure in Iraq. We simply don't have the manpower, the resources, or the national will to engage in another military escapade in the Middle East. We pissed all of those things away in Iraq while legitimate threats festered in other countries. So what can we do? The answer is simple: we can do the only thing we're any good at doing. We will bomb the everloving shit out of Iran, cripple it, and walk away. Think Gulf War I instead of Gulf War II.

I think that at some point in the next two or three years Iran's belligerence will get to the point that policymakers will decide to act. But rather than get engaged in another ground war, they will punt on "regime change" and simply reduce Iran to smoking rubble. They will provide years and years worth of footage for new series on The Military Channel: bombs laser-guided down chimneys, unmanned Predator drones swooping in to level villages, and night-vision footage of smoldering weapon stashes. They will decide that their only concern is disarmament. They will be more than happy to let the current batch of lunatics stay in power so long as they're neutered. Every inch of Iran's nuclear and military infrastructure is already pre-targeted. It makes too much sense, especially given the depletion of our ground forces, for spineless American politicians to choose any other option.

Think about it. What are we good at anymore? We positively suck at "spreading democracy" and all that horseshit. We've failed at regime change for 100 years. We haven't had a meaningful diplomatic success in decades. We are good at sending our aircraft carriers (of which we have about 95% of the total global supply) to the shores of some unworthy opponent and bombing the sweet holy fuck out of them. Anything that comes before or after that is beyond us. We have military technology, especially of the aeronautical and blowuppable kind, that is light years beyond what the rest of the globe can field. Applying it is our only talent nowadays.

Civilian casualties will be horrific (after all, every video of a bomb surgically flying into a window hides a hundred other videos of bombs missing by half a mile) but we'll do what we usually do and lay the moral culpability for them on Iran's leaders. Look what you made us do! Look at how little they care for the lives of their people! The only silver lining is that I fundamentally believe that Iranians are decent, reasonable, and pragmatic people, and as soon as they realize they are all about to be used for USAF target practice it could spur a change in the country's political system. But if I had to put my life's savings on it, I'd call Vegas right now and say "$53.12 on air strikes in Iran by 2011."

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I WANT TO MARRY A LIGHTHOUSE KEEPER

Posted in Rants on September 29th, 2009 by Ed

(note: Throughout this entry please do as I have been doing for an hour: hum "I want to be a right-wing pundit" to the tune of "I want to marry a lighthouse keeper.")

I am becoming a right winger and changing the format of this blog. My style of argumentation will be changing – perhaps even changing radically – but it's going to be so much easier on me. Harder on you, because everything I write will be terrible, but so long as it saves me time I don't care. Ayn Rand is beaming with pride from beyond the grave.

I have been inspired to make this abrupt change by Dan Riehl, one of the internet's most consistently idiotic bags-o'-dicks finest sources of reasoned political rhetoric, and his recent musings on murdered Census-taker Bill Sparkman. Dan is a to-the-point kind of guy, so he helpfully entitles the piece "Was Census Worker Bill Sparkman a Child Predator?" for readers short on time. Then he reassures the skeptical reader that he has "done a fair amount of crime blogging mixed in with politics over time. One doesn't rule anything in or out without some firm answers" to remind us that he has expertise and knows of what he speaks.

Taking a cue from Riehl, I'm going to helpfully summarize the argument in case you don't have the time to learn all there is to be learned from it.

  • 1. What if he was? He might have been. (i.e., "Everyone knows Custer died at Little Bighorn. What this novel presupposes is, maybe he didn't?")
  • 2. All I'm doing is bringing up a possible explanation. Nothing at all should be implied from my immediate leap to "child molester" among the literal millions of things I could have leaned forward and pulled directly out of my puckered ass.
  • 3. We are being irresponsible if we let social mores prevent us from speculating. The Liberal Media could learn a thing or two here. Maybe if they were more willing to make shit up and say it on air they would be better at their jobs.
  • 4. He didn't have a full-time job, a wife, or kids. Two words: KID FUCKER. (Note: he had kids. Nice reporting, Dan!)
  • 5. He was a substitute teacher but didn't have "a teaching degree." (Note: Except for his Bachelor's Degree in Education from Western Governors University. OK, that's an online school, but it's accredited, and he completed the degree requirements. You win at reporting, Riehl-dawg!)
  • 6. He was an Eagle Scout. Why would anyone be in the Boy Scouts unless they wanted to finger kids?

    The only question is how I'm going to spend all of the additional free time this technique will provide. I may trouble myself to churn out a 180 page right-wing best seller over a weekend, but I think I can better serve humanity by applying my sleuthing skills to more crimes. Wait, I no longer give a shit about serving humanity. The book will be on the shelves by October. Email me to reserve an early copy of The Great Fingering: Obama's Army of Preverts and their Plan to Touch Your Child's Bathing Suit Area.

    (Thanks, S,N! You get a free copy of the hardcover)

  • IRAN, PART I: THE JET STREAM

    Posted in Rants on September 28th, 2009 by Ed

    I have some readers who are much older than I am, and this image should look familiar to anyone born before 1970.

    This is the projected effects of nuclear fallout on the continental U.S. after what a Soviet nuclear strike would most likely have looked like. The average person assumes that nuclear war is about killing as many of the other side's civilians as possible. In reality the first two or three waves of targets are all strategic and military with the odd major city thrown in (Moscow, D.C., and New York would most certainly have fried in the first strike because of their economic and political value). But the Commies would have been far, far more interested in striking Grand Forks, ND and Omaha, NE than Chicago or Los Angeles. Their goal would have been to destroy as much of the U.S. retaliatory capacity as possible, which would lead them to the vast ICBM fields scattered across the Great Plains, Strategic Air Command in Omaha, and Cheyenne Mountain in rural Colorado, a.k.a. NORAD. Of course there is no possible way that the Soviets could have destroyed enough of our ability to wage war to prevent themselves from being destroyed in the return fire. The inverse was also true, which is often suggested as the reason there was no World War III. But I digress.

    In targeting the vast empty middle of the U.S. a theoretical limited Soviet strike would seem to have spared a good portion of the population. Unfortunately those dozens of high-megaton explosions in the Plains would have generated enough fallout to irradiate everything and everyone downwind – which just happens to be about 75% of the American population. So people who were spared being fried in an explosion would get to enjoy a slow death from radiation poisoning. Unpleasant stuff to say the least. It may take historians a century or two to figure out A) how humanity came so close to letting it happen and B) how in the hell we managed to avoid it.

    Now consider Iran.

    We are well aware that Iran's leaders talk a good game, especially when the topic is Israel. They go on about "pushing Israel into the sea" and wiping the country from the face of the Earth and blah blah blah. And the global concern over the Iranian nuclear program is focused mostly on Israel. No one seriously thinks Iran could deliver a nuclear weapon to the U.S. or even much of Europe, recent short-range ballistic missile tests notwithstanding. But let's say Bill Kristol and all of his like-minded colleagues are right. Let's take the leap of faith and assume that Iran can enrich enough plutonium to assemble a working warhead. They can deliver it with some accuracy and they intend to use it against Israel.

    Such an attack, if it hit a major city like Tel Aviv, would kill a vast number of Israelis; 50,000 would not be an unreasonable guess, not counting radiation poisoning. It would also irradiate about half of Iran when the winds carried all of the radioactive dust eastward. A larger-scale attack – several warheads hitting multiple sites in Israel – would only compound the problem. So one of three things must be true:

    1. The Iranian leaders are suicidal fanatics who are willing to kill a good portion of their own people (not to mention all of their Muslim brothers in Jordan, Syria, and other nations which would be blanketed with fallout) to inflict some damage which fall far short of destroying Israel. Would it be a terrible loss in Israel? Of course. But factoring in the NATO response, which we must imagine would be swift and utterly devastating to Iran, they would be committing national suicide to inflict a couple hundred thousand deaths on Israel.

    2. Iran does not understand what nuclear fallout and/or wind are.

    3. This is all just bullshit posturing and bold talk from an unstable regime full of unstable people who realize that their proposed actions would fail to accomplish the goal of destroying Israel while bringing swift and utter destruction to all of Iran.

    Accepting #1 requires one too many drinks off of the right-wing demonization-of-enemies Kool-Aid. To say that this is their strategy is just an updated version of "The bloodthirsty Commie will stop at nothing to kill every last freedom-loving American." Since #2 is highly dubious, that sort of narrows it down…

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    NPF: WHO WILL TELL THE CHILDREN?

    Posted in No Politics Friday on September 25th, 2009 by Ed

    I don't feel particularly old. I may have hit 30 recently, but I act a good decade younger. I feel old only twice annually: when I receive my class rosters and see the birthdates of my students. The late 1980s dates were bad enough, but now they are mostly 1990. These people are adults. They can vote. They can join the Army. They can buy porn. One of the challenges inherent in teaching about politics or history is that one must convey to students meaningful context for events that happened before they were born. In my line of work the biggest problem – and one that will only get worse with time, of course – is realizing that these kids have absolutely no concept of the Cold War or the Soviet Union. The Berlin Wall fell two or three years before they were born. It is troubling enough that they do not understand Communism, but this generation has lost touch with the concept of the Commie.

    I'm talking about the good old fashioned Hollywood Commie and the Red Herring Commie referenced in political campaigns. They were featured so prominently in our culture for so long and now they are, for all intents and purposes, gone. When was the last time the kids these days (If you ever want to feel old, use the phrase "the kids these days") saw a good movie about fighting Commies? When was the last time we had a (serious, non-Teabagging) conversation about how the hardened Soviets live? It is all foreign to today's college student. They know Yakov Smirnoff isn't funny, but they don't really understand why he's not funny.

    Today's movies and television are missing something. They are missing the vodka- and borscht-swilling, square jawed, tough-as-nails caricature Commie with hilariously overdone accent, a comical lack of familiarity with Western culture, and a single-minded obsession with destroying imperialist capitalist aggressors. Our discomfort with all things race related makes terrorists a poor substitute. And besides, what's funny about terrorism? Nothing. But even when our political and social elites were telling us that the Commies were hellbent on killing every last one of us there was something funny about them. They were like Charlie Brown lining up to kick the football; we felt a little sympathy because we knew he was only there to miss it. And rhetoric aside, you just knew that Ivan was too backward (or drunk) to succeed in his Commie goals of world domination. He was the villain, the comic relief, and the sympathetic character rolled into one.

    That is why the Commie is disappearing. In the final verdict the Soviet Union turned out to be hapless, verging on pathetic. They lacked the bone-chilling kind of evil that would have made them suitable Villains in Perpetuity, a la the Nazis. I think we are worse for it as a society. Batman needed the Joker like we needed the Commies. Sure, Batman fought many other villains…but it just wasn't the same.

    KEEPING THE FLAME

    Posted in Rants on September 24th, 2009 by Ed

    Ah, Arizona. The youngest (continental U.S.) state. Land of the mighty cactus, the mighty Grand Canyon, and the mighty Larry Fitzgerald. Reliable, conservative Arizona, the state that hath bequeathed us Johns McCain and Kyl, the Minutemen, and Sheriff Joe Arpaio. It's the kind of state in which an unelected governor could reasonably be expected to declare that she has been sent by God to lead the voters through this dark economic night of the soul.

    It is a sad commentary on our times, and our collective intellectual regression to the Dark Ages, that Gov. Jan Brewer can say the following without raising many eyebrows or striking Americans as out of the ordinary:

    "I firmly believe that God has placed me in this powerful position of Arizona's governor to help guide our state through the difficulty that we are currently facing…And that has caused me, of course, to be grateful that we are a country of Christianity."

    Excellent points, Governor.

    This is the kind of crazy usually reserved for State Reps in Mississippi and the Florida panhandle. But Arizona has been on a tear lately, elevating to elected office a series of nutcases and felons that would make an Illinois Governor blush. Not content to elect the occasional fascist sheriff or State Senator who happens to be on white supremacist email lists, voters have previously filled Brewer's position with people Republicans who can't keep from running afoul of the law.

    Brewer's messiah complex may be a refreshing change for Arizonans after Gov. Fife Symington was convicted of felony bank fraud and hounded out of office in 1997. And he followed into office Evan Mecham, who is, for my money, the elected official in our nation's illustrious history who most perfectly combined disregard for the law with the raw power of batshit insanity. A sanitized biography notes:

    While governor, Mecham became known for statements and actions that were widely perceived as insensitive to minorities. Among these actions were the cancellation of the state's Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, attributing high divorce rates to working women, and his defense of the word "pickaninny."

    We know of Arizona's troubled history with the MLK holiday, a history in which Mecham played the role of peacemaker by stating that "King doesn't deserve a holiday" and telling black community leaders "You folks don't need another holiday. What you folks need are jobs." In response to charges that he was racist, he reassured voters that "I've got black friends. I employ black people. I don't employ them because they are black; I employ them because they are the best people who applied for the cotton-picking job." He was quite the uniter. He also had a penchant for filling his executive appointments with felons:

    Mecham appointed Alberto Rodriguez as superintendent of the Arizona Department of Liquor Licenses and Control while he was under investigation for murder. Other questionable nominations included a director of the Department of Revenue whose company was in arrears by US$25,000 on employment compensation payments, an appointee for head of prison construction who had served prison time for armed robbery, and a former Marine nominated as a state investigator who had been court-martialled twice. Other political appointees who caused Mecham embarrassment were an education adviser, James Cooper, who told a legislative committee "If a student wants to say the world is flat, the teacher doesn't have the right to prove otherwise," and Sam Steiger, the Governor's special assistant, who was charged with extortion.

    After running the state's economy into the ground, thanks in no small part to the MLK-related boycott, and serially pissing off every member of his own party or any other, Mecham scored an unprecedented and since unequaled feat in the history of American democracy. He is the only elected official to simultaneously be under impeachment, subject to a recall election (which he blamed on "a band of homosexuals and dissident Democrats"), and under felony indictment (for embezzling campaign money). Read that again. There was a race to indict him before he could be impeached before he could be taken down at the polls. It's the Asshole Trifecta!tm

    I can't say whether Jan Brewer represents an improvement over this parade of losers but it is clear that Arizona might need to stop foisting presidential candidates onto the country until it can elect a Governor who isn't insane, a felon, or an insane felon. It's not looking good for Brewer in the 2010 Governor's race, but it's not looking good for Arizona that she made it within a mile of the Governor's chair let alone in it.

    EPIC COMMIE RED HERRING FAIL

    Posted in Ed vs. Logical Fallacies on September 23rd, 2009 by Ed

    As Congress (and allegedly the White House) kick around the idea of a sin tax on sugar-laden beverages of no nutritional value – namely sodas, of course – disinterested observer and Coca Cola CEO Muthar Kent recently made a statement that proves absurd on several levels. Bloomberg.com relays his comments as follows:

    Coca-Cola Co. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Muhtar Kent said the idea of a federal tax on soft drinks, under consideration by the U.S. Congress and President Barack Obama, is “outrageous.”

    “I have never seen it work where a government tells people what to eat and what to drink,” Kent said today, responding to an audience question at the Rotary Club of Atlanta. “If it worked, the Soviet Union would still be around."

    If there is a lamer or more transparently juvenile way to defend a right-wing argument than by invoking the Soviet Union – which serves as a combination Red Herring, Straw Man, and false dilemma – I don't know what it is. It has surpassed Reductio ad Hitlerum as the favored fallacy of irrelevance given our new "socialist" President and a nation full of people who don't know what socialism is but are quite sure it's going to rape their daughters. But there are some very good reasons why Mr. Kent should tread more lightly than most in bashing centralized planning.

    Our government doesn't tell people what to drink – although "suggestions" abound in the form of dietary guidelines and public health campaigns – but it sure as hell has spent the last century telling them what to grow. Namely corn. Metric shitloads of corn. The Federal government pays people to grow corn. It pays people not to grow corn. It pays people to think about growing corn. This is neither debatable nor controversial, having entered the mainstream of political knowledge with the ethanol debate and popular edutainment like the film Food, Inc. or books like Fast Food Nation, Animal Vegetable Miracle, or The Omnivore's Dilemma. Government policy has rewarded farmers (OK, agribuisness) for growing heathen quantities of corn without regard for the market or consequences and has thus engineered the flooding of the planet with mountains of cheap corn.

    No person or entity has benefited more from this legislatively-mandated glut of cheap corn than the soft drink industry dominated by Mr. Kent's company. The pro-corn policy (Cornservative policy? Yes, I like that better.) has created an entire industry of chemists and biologists dedicated to finding some way to use all this shit that Congress pays farmers to grow. One of their earliest successes, aided heavily by the legislatively mandated ban on Cuban sugarcane, was corn-based liquid sweeteners. Expensive sugar would have produced expensive soda but cheap corn syrup produces oceans of cheap soda. And to call corn sweeteners "cheap" is an understatement. The market is so saturated that we could feasibly fill Lake Baikal with Karo for about $50.

    OK, not quite that cheap. But the point is that the government has spent a century "telling people what to drink." It has been telling them to drink Coke by going to great lengths at public expense to ensure that a two-liter soda is half the price of a half-gallon of orange juice (which, if from concentrate, has corn in it anyway). Maybe Comrade Kent should thank the Politburo for raiding the public till to help his Collective Beverage Farm push its 200 calorie cans of corn syrup on the lard-assed Proletariat with no risk of failure. Raise your Sprite to the Motherland!

    THE TROIKA OF STUPID

    Posted in Rants on September 22nd, 2009 by Ed

    Behold the conservative pant-shitting over the President's decision to remove "anti-ballistic missile" (ABM) systems from Poland. It's a cowardly retreat, a stab-in-the-back, an unspeakable betrayal of our noble Polish allies. As the internet's resident Polack I feel compelled to point out three things.

    First, you do realize that ABMs don't actually work, right? I don't mean that in the grand strategic sense. I mean they don't work. In the illustrious history there have been some impressively expensive and idiotic boondoggles, but the five-decade quest to develop a missile that can intercept and destroy another missile is easily the most grandiose. From Nike Zeus to Skybolt to Skybolt II to "Star Wars" to the Patriot Missile to the latest iteration of this stupidity (THAAD), ABMs have been Moby Dick to generations of Republicans and military fetishists. Just imagine, a protective umbrella under which we could act with impunity! The problem is that after pouring literally billions of dollars on this problem for five decades we are no closer to solving the monumental technical obstacles from basic target-launch-intercept issues to they systems' vulnerability to simple countermeasures. Jack Hitt and Frontline do an excellent job of explaining that no matter how hard Raytheon, the DoD, and others try to rig the tests to make these things look successful, they're not. The long version is too long, so the short version is that under optimal conditions (i.e., a DoD test in which the slowest, biggest, simplest, easiest-to-hit target is fired on a predetermined flight path and the ABM system is given all of the target flight characteristics in advance) these things stand about a 15% chance of intercepting a target as sophisticated as a 1960s Soviet IRBM. In real world conditions – you know, the exact opposite of all of that – that falls to 1 or 2%. If it rains, it's effectively zero. Or if the entity launching the missile invests $100 in hollow metal or plastic decoy warheads (i.e., one real warhead and a slew of dummies on one missile in a MIRV configuration) and the offensive warhead has a better chance of being struck by lightning than an ABM. Understand that. Even if we vomit another $100 billion into this technology, any advances we achieve can be defeated by cheap metal cylinders shaped like warheads.

    These things are fucking useless. That's kinda important.

    Second, no offense intended to any of my Polish brethren, but the United States does not give two shits about Poland. Nor should it. Sorry. Russia is in the top five nations on Earth in terms of military size and oil & gas reserves (which they are currently using to strangle Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and, increasingly, Western Europe into submission). They are an economic and military power. Poland is Poland. Strategically – and American strategic interests are supposed to be the important thing here, right? – it is about the least important place on Earth. It is surrounded by nations either far more powerful (Germany, France, etc.) or far crappier (Belarus, Estonia, Moldova, etc.) and thus more desperate and easily bought when the U.S. decides it needs an ally of convenience in the area. That Barack Obama is unwilling to antagonize the unstable Russians over Poland shouldn't be flooring anyone. Bellyache all you want about "betrayal" or how we "sold Poland out." You're goddamn right we did, because doing otherwise doesn't make the slightest sense if it complicates our relationship with Russia. My people are in an unenviable position. If the U.S. needs something it will ask Germany, and if it wants something it will dangle some money in front of Azerbaijan or some other collection of hovels. Poland's smack in the middle and thus irrelevant.

    Third, in what universe is "We can't show weakness in front of the Russians!!" a winning issue in 2010, 2012, and beyond? Does the GOP think that resonates with anyone under the age of 55 anymore? We know these people just cannot come to grips with the end of the Cold War and they've been searching for a way to keep fighting it since its conclusion, but this is how the Republicans are going to claw their way back to electoral relevance? Good luck with that, kids. Seriously. You really have your finger on the pulse of the American voter, not to mention a keen understanding of contemporary geopolitics.

    Those three things need to be said; they provide crucial context in which to frame the pant-shitting.

    DAVID BROOKS HITS THE FJM TRIFECTA

    Posted in Rants on September 21st, 2009 by Ed

    Thrice. Thrice, David Brooks. It's unprecedented. It's spectacular. It was heretofore inconceivable. First you got the FJM treatment. Then you returned for seconds. It was preposterous even to think of gracing this page a third time. That you actually pulled off the three-peat defies comprehension.

    Jimmy Carter asserts that the histrionic opposition to the President, and notably the teabagging "movement", is about race. The ensuing controversy has more how-dare-yous than a mid-90s Harrison Ford movie and is slightly more predictable than an episode of Alf. A divided and confused nation yearned for a bespectacled pantload to step in and resolve this issue once and for all. Thank sweet baby Jesus that David Brooks is willing to step in and resolve things with "No, It's Not About Race." Seriously, that's the title. America thanks you for putting in overtime on that one, DB. Keeping in mind that this is not about race, let's go. David Brooks is both verbose and dull, so stick with me. There is payoff.

    You wouldn’t know it to look at me, but I go running several times a week. My favorite route, because it’s so flat, is from the Lincoln Memorial to the U.S. Capitol and back.

    Uh oh…..

    I was there last Saturday and found myself plodding through tens of thousands of anti-government “tea party” protesters.

    Son of a bitch. I knew this was coming, David. I knew it. This opening stanza foreshadows the bread-and-butter of the right wing columnist's trade: the "I saw some shit while at the mall / driving to work / having lunch; let's draw the most ambitious, wildly speculative conclusions one could possibly derive from my anecdotal, selectively remembered evidence" column. Undeterred by Thomas Friedman's utter perfection of this art form, David decides to play along. Every right-winger is contractually obligated to do this at least biannually. For every ten "normal" columns they must write one about how they asked a cab driver about taxes and he said "Taxes are too high!" and thus the public is strongly in favor of tax cuts.

    They were carrying “Don’t Tread on Me” flags, “End the Fed” placards and signs condemning big government, Barack Obama, socialist health care and various elite institutions.

    This is an overly tame, albeit not inaccurate, description of the kind of batshittery on display at these events. There's a difference between a bunch of people holding signs and this kind of stupid. But OK David. It was a protest.

    Then, as I got to where the Smithsonian museums start, I came across another rally, the Black Family Reunion Celebration. Several thousand people had gathered to celebrate African-American culture.

    You really don't need to be Magellan to plot the course for the rest of this column, do you?

    I noticed that the mostly white tea party protesters were mingling in with the mostly black family reunion celebrants. The tea party people were buying lunch from the family reunion food stands.

    This is important, because people with A Black Friend or who willingly speak to black strangers or, most impressive of all, purchase goods or services from a black person cannot be racist.

    They had joined the audience of a rap concert.

    Let me guess. It was these guys.

    Because sociology is more important than fitness, I stopped to watch the interaction. These two groups were from opposite ends of the political and cultural spectrum. They’d both been energized by eloquent speakers.Because sociology is more important than fitness, I stopped to watch the interaction. These two groups were from opposite ends of the political and cultural spectrum. They’d both been energized by eloquent speakers.

    Well President Obama is probably one. I give up, DB. Who was the other eloquent speaker? The DC Teabagging keynote speakers on 9/12 were Dick Armey, Stephen Baldwin, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, and Bob Levy of the Cato Institute. In all seriousness David (you being the Seriousest of the Serious) who in the hell gets inspired by listening to that? It might inspire some people to re-assess or end their lives, but inspire to political action? Dick Armey?

    Yet I couldn’t discern any tension between them. It was just different groups of people milling about like at any park or sports arena.

    "I noted that the coloreds and the whites were not engaged in an open, Mad Max-style pitched battle. If anyone there was racist, wouldn't we have seen some of that? Of course. Of course we would have."

    And yet we live in a nation in which some people see every conflict through the prism of race. So over the past few days, many people, from Jimmy Carter on down, have argued that the hostility to President Obama is driven by racism.

    I cannot imagine where anyone would get such an idea.

    Some have argued that tea party slogans like “I Want My Country Back” are code words for white supremacy. Others say incivility on Capitol Hill is magnified by Obama’s dark skin.

    Tell me, David. What does "We need to go take our country back!" mean coming out of Glenn Beck's mouth? Who has had "their" country taken away from them? The message would appear – and remember, I'm not as smart as David Brooks! – to be that creationist rednecks with murderous levels of anger, shitty spelling skills, and no health insurance are the rightful owners of this country and it has been taken away by liberals, coloreds, and colored liberals. That's not too much of a stretch, David, considering that no one "took (their) country" away. The political leadership of the country changed hands. Via the voting booth. Leaving aside the fact that the country doesn't rightfully belong to Glenn Beck's listeners, no one took anything away. If anything, they gave it away by making the 2006 and 2008 elections such a goddamn easy choice for voters.

    Well, I don’t have a machine for peering into the souls of Obama’s critics, so I can’t measure how much racism is in there. But my impression is that race is largely beside the point.

    My impression is that you saw what you wanted to see. My impression is that your impression means absolutely nothing, being based on anecdotes and pulled directly out of your ass.

    There are other, equally important strains in American history that are far more germane to the current conflicts.

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    For example, for generations schoolchildren studied the long debate between Hamiltonians and Jeffersonians. Hamiltonians stood for urbanism, industrialism and federal power. Jeffersonians were suspicious of urban elites and financial concentration and believed in small-town virtues and limited government. Jefferson advocated “a wise and frugal government” that will keep people from hurting each other, but will otherwise leave them free and “shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.”

    I agree. Black-and-white isn't half as relevant to our contemporary social cleavages as Hamiltonians and Jeffersonians! Sure, rural folk vs. urban folk is an old debate. You know what else is an old debate? Whitey-no-likey-blacky.

    Jefferson’s philosophy inspired Andrew Jackson, who led a movement of plain people against the cosmopolitan elites. Jackson dismantled the Second Bank of the United States because he feared the fusion of federal and financial power.

    Furthermore, in September 1833 Secretary of the Treasury Roger B. Taney transferred the government's Pennsylvania deposits in the Second Bank of the United States to the Bank of Girard in Philadelphia. This was the successor bank to what in the flying fuck does this have to do with anything David?

    This populist tendency continued through the centuries. Sometimes it took right-wing forms, sometimes left-wing ones. Sometimes it was agrarian. Sometimes it was more union-oriented. Often it was extreme, conspiratorial and rude.

    This is a great historiography, David. "In the 1830s Andrew Jackson opposed a National Bank. That is why we have teabaggers." In 541 A.D. the Plague of Justinian killed thousands in Constantinople, and that's why Republicans do poorly in New England. Copernicus established the heliocentric view of the universe, which is where babies come from.

    The populist tendency has always used the same sort of rhetoric: for the ordinary people and against the fat cats and the educated class; for the small towns and against the financial centers. And it has always had the same morality, which the historian Michael Kazin has called producerism. The idea is that free labor is the essence of Americanism. Hard-working ordinary people, who create wealth in material ways, are the moral backbone of the country. In this free, capitalist nation, people should be held responsible for their own output. Money should not be redistributed to those who do not work, and it should not be sucked off by condescending, manipulative elites.

    First of all, this is not the essence of Americanism. It is the essence of the GOP platform. Second, this is very, very far from any definition of populism. Populism is almost exclusively about redistribution. From the overt (Huey Long, FDR) to the Glenn Becks of the world (in what world is demanding reform of the tax code or an end to affirmative action anything but redistributive?) populism is all about Yours becoming Ours.

    Barack Obama leads a government of the highly educated…In his first few months, he has fused federal power with Wall Street, the auto industry, the health care industries and the energy sector. Given all of this, it was guaranteed that he would spark a populist backlash, regardless of his skin color.

    You do not know what populism is, David. If anything, the man promising Healthcare for All and the handover of the economy from the Few to the Many should be accused of leading a populist backlash. Teabaggers are about themselves. Everything they say amounts to Me, Me, Me. They are solipsists. We could tiptoe toward terms like "selfish" or "greedy" if we were in a mood to impose our values on them. But let me be emphatic: "taking back our country" from a duly elected person because his distributive policies infuriate you is the antithesis of populism.

    And it was guaranteed that this backlash would be ill mannered, conspiratorial and over the top — since these movements always are, whether they were led by Huey Long, Father Coughlin or anybody else.

    Yes, Huey Long. The great individualist. Scourge of the government handout. And Father Coughlin, champion of individual liberty. Better known as "Live and Let Live" Coughlin.

    That's some good populism.

    What we’re seeing is the latest iteration of that populist tendency and the militant progressive reaction to it. We now have a populist news media that exaggerates the importance of the Van Jones and Acorn stories to prove the elites are decadent and un-American, and we have a progressive news media that exaggerates stories like the Joe Wilson shout and the opposition to the Obama schools speech to show that small-town folks are dumb wackos.

    See, that's where you're wrong, my assheaded friend. Dead wrong. This is not anger directed toward "elites." It is anger directed toward all that which is not like Us. These people are perfectly fine with Elites as long as they're named Cheney or Bush or Our Corporate Overlords. They are the half of the working class that Henry Frick swore he could pay to kill the other half. These "populists" and their ideology are all about fighting for the rights of little guys like Wal-Mart. They fight for a government that will leave agribusiness unregulated so they can eat shit- and ammonia-tainted meat. They fight for Kimberly-Clark's right to dump thousands of gallons of benzene into their drinking water. They fight against safety regulations and enforcement in their own places of work. They fight against unions so that they might win a lower wage, fewer benefits, and the right to see their jobs exported to Indonesia.

    These people are populists like loggers are environmentalists. They are blades of grass angrily demanding a visit from the lawnmower. They are, in short, idiots.

    “One could argue that this country is on the verge of a crisis of legitimacy,” the economic blogger Arnold Kling writes. “The progressive elite is starting to dismiss rural white America as illegitimate, and vice versa.”

    "On the verge" my ass. Yes and yes. Fortunately for the progressive elite, it could not matter less what rural white America thinks. They are far too inarticulate, illiterate, and flat-out stupid to mount a serious challenge. Suburban white America, with their college degrees and high incomes, matters. They swing elections. Rural white America is a carnival sideshow that exists largely for our condescending entertainment.

    It’s not race. It’s another type of conflict, equally deep and old.

    Right. Hamiltonians vs. Jeffersonians! Except they're Jeffersonians who can barely wait to grab their ankles for their elite betters and will go to any length, up to and including spilling blood, to surrender what little power they might have and call it "freedom" and "liberty."

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    NPF: RATIONAL CHOICE FAIL

    Posted in No Politics Friday on September 18th, 2009 by Ed

    Upon moving to Georgia my eldest rat developed some wheezing and shortness of breath. Respiratory problems are common in the species, especially in their golden years. Fortunately my current institution happens to have one of the nation's premier small animal veterinary programs complete with an impressive small animal teaching hospital staffed by Ph.D.s, veterinarians, and students. They actually have a rat cardiologist on staff. A rat cardiologist. To shorten the story, Bear received outstanding care (including rat x-rays!). The staff identified his enlarged right ventricle, treated it appropriately, and returned him to his bright-eyed and bushy ring-tailed state.

    It cost $400.

    This brought me to two moral dilemmas that every responsible and socially conscious pet owner deals with at some point. First, from a rational choice perspective it makes no sense to provide that level of treatment to a rat. Why spend $400 on a rat when one can stroll into a pet store and get a new one for $8? Second, how does one justify this kind of expense to give a rat better medical care than many people on this planet receive? Wouldn't $400 be better spent on a person who needs to see a doctor?

    On the first point, only an economist (or their jug-band cousin, the MBA student) would apply such logic to a pet. Yes, it is "just a pet." Regardless they are not interchangeable. One does not simply toss a companion animal in the trash and replace it any more than having another child can replace a deceased one. The second point troubles me considerably more. I feel some guilt when I see a team of three people x-raying a rat and projecting the image onto a 60" plasma monitor so I can see Bear's aorta. Could such resources be re-directed to people in need? Yes. Could my $400 help a person who would not otherwise see a doctor do so? Yes. But to me it is a matter of principle rather than a practical one. When we purchase a pet we accept responsibility for its well-being. This does not stop at feeding it and giving it the occasional heartworm pill. And whether I have an $8 rat, a dog, an endangered Namibian antelope, or a child of my own, any living thing for which I am responsible is going to receive whatever level of medical care I have the means to obtain when necessary.

    It's hard to justify the fact that this little guy goes to a better hospital than half of the Earth's population. Letting him die wouldn't change that, though. Besides, your parents were right when they lectured you about getting your first goldfish: being responsible for something's well-being is a big commitment, not one we can opt out of when the price goes up. We do what we do for our pets because we are not characters from an economics textbook. We do it because we love them and because it is the right thing to do.

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    HOLIER THAN THOU

    Posted in Rants on September 17th, 2009 by Ed

    For the past decade, every prominent Democratic politician who describes him- or herself as a Catholic has at some point been subjected to the manufactured controversy of "Should he be allowed the sacraments? Should he get a Catholic funeral?" It is inevitably the product of an individual clergyman (or even worse, a commentator or PR-for-hire man like Bill Donahue) seeking to use his tax-exempt organization as an entry into the political arena. As I have said many times, I have no problem with Focus on the Family, Pat Robertson, or the Catholic Church operating as partisan political groups. Just surrender the tax exemption and then do as you please. Alas, they choose to hold onto it and remain "non-partisan."

    I am very, very far from a moral authority on Catholicism or any other religion. But when we hear questions about whether John Kerry should be allowed the sacraments or, more recently, if Ted Kennedy should be permitted a Catholic burial (K-Lo wants to know too!) because of their failure to back a pro life agenda, it strikes me as, if not the lamest argument on Earth, a strong contender for the title. The Catholic Church considers abortion a moral evil and a mortal sin. This cannot be debated. What is so stupid is the idea that the Church can or should pick and choose, making ad hoc decisions to deny aspects of the faith to well known politicians.

    Allow me to fill K-Lo and Bill Donahue in on a little secret. Every weekend – nay, every day – there are millions and millions of people in the world who receive Communion while seriously disagreeing with (or blatantly violating) some aspect of the Church doctrine. We can take that even further. There are people who sit in St. Whatever's every Sunday, receive Communion, and give all the outward signs of being practicing Catholics without believing a single word of it. What is the moral justification for providing services (for lack of a better term) to silent non-believers and people who routinely flaunt nearly every aspect of the Catholic faith in their daily lives yet denying the same to Kerry or Kennedy? There is none. We can only recognize it for what it is: a cheap attempt to score publicity and engage in politicking behind the shield of a tax exemption.

    At no point in my years as a practicing Catholic did anyone quiz me to make sure that I was ideologically qualified to receive sacraments. No one ever said, "He doesn't think being gay is a sin! NO COMMUNION FOR YOU." My alcoholic great-aunt tried to murder her husband with a handgun – twice – yet when she died I attended her Catholic funeral and burial. Beyond what anecdotes I can offer you, famous Catholics are never called to account for their very non-Catholic behavior unless it involves casting pro-choice votes in Congress; no one, to the best of my knowledge, suggested denying Ted Kennedy's departed brother John a Catholic funeral despite the fact that he spent 8 hours per day being President and the other 16 balling every woman he could get his hands on, and I don't mean Jackie. Never is Arnold Schwarzenegger's eligibility for Communion questioned despite the colorful tales of steroid abuse, gangbangs, and insanely violent films that made up the bulk of his adult life. And once again these examples all pale in comparison to the hundreds of thousands of people who take Communion every Sunday while believing that the whole of Catholicism is complete bunk.

    Sadly (from the Church's perspective) Ted Kennedy is probably an example of one of the more observant Catholics in public life. Yes, he departed from Church teachings on a number of issues. This differs little from the overwhelming majority of people who call themselves Catholics, keep such disagreements to themselves, and have the good fortune to be nobodies and therefore useless for the purpose of political grandstanding.