NPF: PRANKING BAD

Posted in No Politics Friday on September 30th, 2011 by Ed

In 1953, the rivalry between Harvard's two student newspapers was spiced up when Crimson partisans stole a statue that sat atop the Lampoon's office. Not content with Level One mischief, the Crimsonites contacted the Soviet embassy and offered them the statue as a peace offering between nations. The USSR accepted (and was probably somewhat confused). In a brilliant response, Lampoon staffers contacted Senator Joseph McCarthy and demanded that he launch a full investigation of the Crimson for its Communist sympathies and dealings with the enemy. Sadly, McCarthy crashed and burned before he could inadvertently help the students close the Prank Circle of Life.

In 1896, Auburn students prepared for the arrival of the arch-rival Georgia Tech football team (I guess Auburn vs. Alabama was not yet a thing in the 19th Century) by covering several miles of railroad tracks into the campus with lubricants. When Tech's train came rolling into town, it helplessly slid several miles out of town in the opposite direction. Legend has it – although this part may be apocryphal – that the Yellowjackets had to walk back to town in the heat and, exhausted, lost 45-0.

In 1961, Caltech nerds sabotaged the preparations for the Rose Bowl. When fans in the stadium held up cards that were supposed to spell "Washington" (whose Huskies were competing in the game) the TV audience saw "Caltech", which has no football team let alone one that would play in the Rose Bowl.

This week I overheard a group of undergraduates talking about pranking our arch-rival, coincidentally also Georgia Tech, before this year's football clash. One proposal involved swiping the beloved Ramblin' Wreck (a golden 1930 Ford Model A, the school's unofficial mascot) and parading it down the Interstate to our stadium. Ultimately they concluded, and I had to agree, that they'd probably all end up in jail, buried under a hundred charges for trespassing, theft, damage to public property, and so on.

I don't want to get all Andy Rooney "Ya Can't Do Anything Without Someone Suing You Anymore" on you, but I do think it's somewhat sad that college students are no longer encouraged to express their creativity like this anymore. Instead they grew up in a post-Reagan America in which the threat of every incident being blown wildly out of proportion by law enforcement ("Tough on crime! Grr!") is greater than their sense of fun. I mean, can you imagine the Auburn-Tech prank today? Good lord, those Auburn kids would have Homeland Security and a dozen SWAT teams all over them for sabotaging the nation's transportation infrastructure. When we do see "pranks" today they look like malicious acts – like the idiot Alabama football fan who poisoned and killed Auburn's 150 year old oak trees – as often as they look like fun.

So please, restore my faith in humanity and convince me that all is not lost. Use the comment section to recount great pranks from recent years – whether or not you were involved – as well as any clever hijinks you may have observed or engaged in during your college years. I need to believe that the beautiful art of being a clever bastard while doing no real harm is not yet dead.

RUINS OF EMPIRE

Posted in Rants on September 29th, 2011 by Ed

I lived in Southern Indiana for nearly seven years, during which I made the 90-minute trip to Louisville, KY any number of times when I needed big city amenities. It's a nice place. I always enjoyed the drive from Indiana across the Ohio River on one of the many bridges connecting the two states. One of the major routes into the city connects L-Ville and New Albany, Indiana via I-64/US 150. That is, it did until a few weeks ago when the Sherman Minton Bridge was declared structurally unsound and closed due to cracks in its main supports.

The bridge, named after a New Albany native who served in the Senate and on the U.S. Supreme Court, is a six-lane, two-deck design completed in 1962. As it nears its 50th birthday, the millions of cars, trucks, and trains that have crossed it have taken their toll. It is in the approximate condition we would expect of a major piece of infrastructure that was built during flush times and, the occasional re-paving notwithstanding, left to its own devices since.

Stories like this should be a great embarrassment to Americans, a tangible sign that our nation hit its high water mark in 1960 and has been sliding into disrepair ever since. We have numerous examples of major pieces of infrastructure literally crumbling around us – our power grid, the water and sewage systems in our major cities, our highways and bridges, and even our slowest-in-the-world internet/telecommunications network – and yet all anyone can do is whine about taxes, get hard-ons for austerity, and wonder why everything isn't repaired to their liking.

Federal funds for highway and bridge projects come from a gasoline surtax, one which hasn't been raised (not even to meet inflation) since Bill Clinton raised it an astonishing four cents in 1996. Since raising taxes is, you know, completely off the table, states have had to repair an aging and increasingly creaky highway network with a pool of money that, in real terms, is shrinking annually.

We are very much a country clinging to faded glory, and I don't think there is a better symbol of where we are right now than dilapidated Cold War era bridges. They're falling apart and all we can do is fill comment sections with bitching and moaning about big government, tax-and-spend libruls, and how the problem would already be solved if the government didn't spend so much on (insert thing that does not directly benefit the person using this rhetorical tactic). When we finally take time out from congratulating ourselves on being the #1 super-greatest country in the history of the world to recognize that, frankly, this place is turning into kind of a dump, it will already be too late.

NORMS

Posted in Rants on September 28th, 2011 by Ed

Although we're not shy about calling him a d-bag when he deserves it, which is often, David Frum gets credit where credit is due for being one of the few "Hey wait a minute, this party used to have some non-insane people" Republicans with a high media profile. This weekend, believe it or not, he wrote what may be the best commentary yet on the breakdown of the governing process in Washington over the last few years. His point is simple: Congress has become a clusterfuck because its informal behavioral norms have broken down.

He offers a few useful examples. First, we are all familiar with the explosion in the number of filibusters over the past decade. The rules of the chamber have remained constant; what has changed is that the stigma of using a filibuster has evaporated. For most of its history, to filibuster something in the Senate was widely seen as, for lack of a better term, a dick move. This perception was strengthened when one of its rare uses was to block civil rights legislation in the post-War period. A member who suggested filibustering every goddamn thing that appears on the Senate agenda would have been dealt with harshly by A) the leadership, who would deny him benefits like prime committee assignments, and B) other members, who would reinforce the social norms of the chamber to make it clear that he is out of line. Today neither happens. The member who proposes filibustering everything, at least on the Republican side, is right in line with his colleagues. The leadership will probably see him as a rising star.

Hold on nominations are another former taboo that has become commonplace. Senate Republicans have taken to blocking nominations just for the hell of blocking nominations, as did Democrats (in much smaller numbers) during the Bush years. Holds have gone from a "Really? Are you serious?" maneuver to standard operating procedure in just a few years. Frum offers similar examples, like the refusal of the current House leadership to schedule votes:

Under the old rules, there were certain things that political parties did not do — even though theoretically they could. If one party controlled the Senate and another party controlled the presidency, the Senate party did not reject all the president's nominees. The party that controlled the House did not refuse to schedule votes on the president's budgets. Individual senators did not use secret holds to sway national policy. The filibuster was reserved for rare circumstances — not as a routine 60-vote requirement on every Senate vote.

It's incredible to look back now on how the Reagan tax cut passed the Democratic House in 1981. The Democratic House leaderships could have refused to schedule votes on Reagan's tax plans. Instead, they not only allowed the tax plan to proceed — but they allowed 48 of 243 Democrats to break ranks on the key procedural vote without negative consequences to their careers in the Democratic party.

This reminds me of a good quote from then-Senator Joe Biden talking in 2005 about his experience with judicial appointments during the Reagan years:

"Let me tell you how we did it in the Reagan Administration," Biden, who chaired the Judiciary Committee for several of those years, said. "They came to me and told me whom they were going to nominate, and I'd say, 'You're going to have a problem with this one or that one'-maybe a dozen out of the hundreds of judges that Reagan appointed. And I'd say, 'If you want to push that guy, all the others will wait in line behind him.' And the problems generally were removed. We did business that way for years, and it worked. Now this crowd wants to shove everything down our throats. They don't pull back on anybody. So we escalated with the filibusters. And they escalate with the nuclear option."

Frum says little about two important components of the question: why things have changed or what can be done about it. I have no persuasive answer to the second question except that at some point the nation will face a crisis severe enough to enforce a spirit of cooperation in Congress. As for the first part, the answer is clear – and this is not partisan, but objective based on the former Speaker's own account of his governing philosophy: things changed in 1994 and the vast majority of what we must live with today is Newt Gingrich's doing. He openly campaigned for the speakership on the idea that the GOP would cease to be a "go along, get along" party and would start opposing the Democrats wherever possible. It took only a few sessions of Congress for "wherever possible" to mutate into "on every single bill, vote, or issue in Congress."

We are living, for better or worse (hint: it's worse), in Newt Gingrich's America. There may be some merit to the argument that politics become more contentious when economic times are tough. Nonetheless, the current dysfunction in Congress is largely a direct result of the "vision" of Republican upstarts who, in the late 1980s, wanted to break the party out of its accommodating mindset and into the role of an aggressive opposition party. The problem is, our system is not a parliamentary one wherein the majority has so many advantages that the minority cannot be faulted for using chicanery in an effort to stop them. Ours is a system that relies on cooperation, at least on the most basic level. We do not need to agree on policy, but Congress must be able to agree on basics – like, "We will schedule votes on stuff, and then vote on it" – or else it will not work at all.

In a half-assed attempt at a counterpoint, Bill Bennett argues, as many duplicitous defenders of Republican obstructionism do, that this is somehow what the Founders intended. He points out that government was intended to move slowly and be deliberative. It's a shame no one can take the time to point out to Bennett the difference between a slow, deliberative legislative process and someone walking up to the gears with a wrench, his colleagues cheering him on as he grinds the process to a complete halt for no useful reason.

CONDITIONING

Posted in Rants on September 27th, 2011 by Ed

Whether we end up doing a postmortem on the Obama presidency in 2012 or 2016, the diagnosis will be identical barring a dramatic and unforeseen change in governing style in a potential second term. Rather than bickering about individual decisions he has made or his ideological tendencies, I think the biggest single factor in his current low standing with the American public stems from his baffling but complete lack of passion. As people like George W. Bush or Bill Clinton understood, the presidency is about that nebulous concept of "leadership." Leadership is an emotional quality, an ability to inspire confidence in people and make them want to follow you. It's the ability to make people turn to you in a crisis and trust that you will have things under control. You have to project confidence, competence, and vision.

What Obama has most clearly failed to do, for lack of a better term, is to show some fight. To have a core principle other than "compromise is good." To draw a line in the sand occasionally and stand up for something. To propose something and not immediately back down from it. Instead of a president who commands respect, we have a situation in which every two-bit hillbilly freshman in the House feels free to take shots at him because he knows there will be no consequences. We have an opposition party that effectively controls the entire Federal government because they know he'll back down every time some AM radio host or group of yokels make loud noises in condemnation of him.

What Barack Obama really needs to do is to get angry, and that is why he will never succeed. He has spent his entire life preparing to fail in this position, because for a half-century Obama has worked hard to master the art of not coming off as the Angry Black Man. No matter how much he or the nation might benefit from a "Yes they deserve to die, and I hope they burn in hell!" moment, it's just not going to happen. No matter how much it would help to get eye to eye with Eric Cantor and say, "Let me explain what happened to the last guy who tried to fuck with me," it's just not going to happen.

While the idea that race is a factor in his lack of success is not novel, I don't think it is a factor in the way most often assumed. He isn't failing because Americans are racist (though they may be) or because the nation "isn't ready for a black president" or something like that. He's failing in part because, since childhood, he has seen the pathway to success defined by the expectations of (primarily white) people in positions of power. And the message has been reinforced hundreds of times over: do not scare the white people. Do not start yelling and pointing your finger and going off on the twisted history of race in this country. They'll treat you as a threat like Malcolm X or write you off as a hysterical demagogue a la Jesse Jackson. Rick Perry can yell and scream all he wants and he will be "passionate"; but the black guy can't do the same and expect to be applauded for it. Always be calm. Always be in control. Always be measured and rational. Never raise your voice.

Throughout his life Barack Obama has taken careful note of what happens to the ambitious, intelligent black men before him who failed to remember this cardinal rule. They were marginalized and he wanted to succeed. Being the Nonthreatening Black Man has been the only pathway to success for someone like Obama. Note that it doesn't entail "acting white", because white people are allowed to get angry in public. It entails acting like white people expect you to act. I'm not making excuses for him, but merely pointing out that he lives between a rock and a hard place. To be the president Americans want, occasionally one must throw down. To be the black man Americans will accept, he has to be nonthreatening.

Maybe he's wrong about that, and a majority of the country would like it if he got pissed off and threw a folding chair at the refs. But as someone who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s and internalized all of the race-based expectations of rural America, the Ivy League, and the political system, I doubt anyone could convince him to try it.

A TEST OF ENDURANCE

Posted in Election 2012 on September 26th, 2011 by Ed

So the Federal government is once again on the verge of shutting down – at least partially – if a House-Senate deal on funding disaster relief cannot be reached by Thursday.

I have to be honest: that sentence took me about 10 minutes to write. I lost interest in it so many times I could hardly focus long enough to finish it. The reason you have not heard much about the latest and impending "shutdown crisis" may be no more complex than simple fatigue. No one cares. The media lost interest after the debt ceiling three ring circus. People who follow politics have seen this show before and we already know the ending. Just cave in to the Tea Party and get it the hell over with.

On a personal level I've been dealing with this problem for the past year, a problem getting myself to pay attention to current political events as they get increasingly ridiculous. I'm supposed to be all earnest and deeply interested and devoting my mental energy to understanding this pseudo-gamesmanship as fully as possible. But I just don't care, because the outcomes do not vary. Cynicism always feels lazy in the realm of politics, yet I think we've reached the point at which it is warranted.

This is all academic, though. I can do my job and even keep up a reasonably interesting blog about politics without getting emotionally invested in congressional dick-waving and the antics of overgrown children in the world's most expensive sandbox. One thing I can't punt on is the election. And holy crap, people, am I going to have a hard time making myself take a detailed interest in this magnificent shitshow. Somehow I get the feeling that I am not alone.

The GOP, seeing Fred Thompson 2012 (aka Rick Perry) begin the crash-and-burn phase of his campaign, are furiously looking for yet another savior. The fact that they are begging Chris Christie to run is less a ringing endorsement of the New Jersey Governor than a tacit admission that their current crop of candidates is an embarrassment of historic proportions. Whoever the party ends up nominating, the majority of Republicans and potential Republican voters are going to be seriously unhappy and faced with the prospect of supporting a candidate they don't like.

Democrats already have their candidate, the guy who has spent three years giving the finger to all those people who went crazy for him back in 2008 (and in many cases devoted dozens or hundreds of hours to his election). His quest to win over moderates and independents by being all compromise-y and bipartisan-y has been a spectacular failure, meaning that he will need those core supporters from 2008 in order to survive the election with his 40% approval rating. Of course, they won't believe his happy horseshit and endless, empty speeches a second time. Most of them will sit this one out, and some portion of them will look at the nutbag nominated by the GOP and dejectedly agree to campaign for Obama one more time….

This is going to be little more than an endurance test, an obstacle course of empty promises, hollow rhetoric, inane commercials, manufactured controversies, and constant pleas for your time, money, and support from candidates who will produce indistinguishable outcomes if elected by catering to nearly identical special interests. Republicans are supposed to vote just to get rid of Obama. Democrats are supposed to vote just to keep the nutty Republican away from the White House. Everyone hates the person they're voting for, the process is interminable, nobody's happy at the end, and the whole thing somehow costs fifteen billion dollars and the better part of a year. Sounds like fun. Can't wait.

I don't think I can do it, people. I don't think I have it in me to take this sad excuse for a process seriously this time around.

NPF: WE FOUND SOMETHING WORSE THAN SUFFOCATION

Posted in No Politics Friday on September 23rd, 2011 by Ed

Here's a scenario.

You're an astronaut in the early decades of the space program. You're orbiting the Earth alone in a tiny capsule when suddenly you and the folks on the ground realize that some technical problem will prevent you from returning to Earth. Unlike an airplane pilot, you can't simply strap a parachute on your back, eject, and float safely to the ground.

Or can you?

The good folks at General Electric have designed a neat, compact emergency bailout system called MOOSE ("Man Out of Space Easiest") for the astronaut on the go who likes being alive. "But Ed, you can't just jump out of a goddamn spaceship," you say. Well here's how it works.

The astronaut unfolds the compact kit, dons his spacesuit, and exits his wounded capsule. Then, floating untethered in the icy blackness of space, he crawls into a 6' long plastic bag (You know, like a body bag.) Next he zips himself into the plastic bag and activates two cans of condensed polyurethane foam. So he is now floating aimlessly in space in a sealed plastic bag, completely blind and immobilized in hardening foam. Then, via a rocket pack poked through the exterior of the plastic bag (Does burning rocket fuel melt plastic? Nah.) the astronaut decelerates himself enough to begin reentering the atmosphere. He is protected (or "protected") during this process by a heat shield consisting of one-half inch of flexible plastic on one side of the bag in which he is enclosed. Can 1/2" of plastic withstand the 500-3000 degrees Fahrenheit generated by atmospheric reentry?

Sure! Why not! Assuming all of the previous steps went flawlessly, the final stage was a 150,000 foot atmospheric free-fall slowed by a single parachute – you guessed it – poked through the plastic bag.

The MOOSE, detailed in this obscure NASA technical report from 1969, was never sent into space. Perhaps NASA realized that slowly running out of oxygen would be strongly preferred by most astronauts when the alternative was attempting to reenter the Earth's atmosphere in a goddamn trash bag. Were I in that unfortunate position, I'd gladly go the 'phone call from the President, bring my wife to the control room to say goodbye' route before I would attempt something so cockamamie. And likely to end in fiery death.

Don't ask me why I know that this exists.

PULLING THE SWITCH

Posted in Rants on September 22nd, 2011 by Ed

Here are a few things you probably didn't know about Troy Davis' case.

1. After the victim was shot, Davis fled Savannah and went to his mother's house in Atlanta. After getting a tip from an informant, police entered the house without a warrant in an attempt to apprehend Davis. He escaped through a window and eluded the police until a minister convinced him to turn himself in. Police seized several items of Davis' clothing, which they determined (note: unverified) had biological evidence, most likely the blood of the victim. All of the biological evidence was suppressed before trial because police obtained it without a warrant.

2. Because of #1, the state's case against Davis relied almost entirely on witness testimony. Lost in the shuffle is that none of the non-police witnesses against Davis actually identified him as the shooter. The witnesses only stated that whichever of the pair of suspects (Davis and alleged accomplice "Red" Coles) shot at the homeless man was also the one who shot the officer. No one said, yes, that man, Troy Davis, shot the officer.

Stay with me. This gets tricky.

3. Much has been made of the witnesses who recanted. Courts treat recantations with a high degree of skepticism, understandably. At one of his appeals in 2010, two witnesses claimed that Coles had confessed to being the shooter…but because the defense team refused to present Coles for questioning on that point, the judge had no choice but to dismiss it as hearsay. And despite the eyewitnesses who have recanted, many others who identified (or "identified") Davis have not.

4. Davis' attorneys may have made a fatal (literally) error in basing the appeals on a claim of actual innocence. That is a swing-for-the-fences approach to an appeal in a murder trial. By setting the bar as high as possible – in other words, the appellate lawyers had not merely to create doubt but to provide evidence of actual innocence – Davis severely weakened his chances of winning on appeal.

5. In Georgia, an accomplice cannot be given the death penalty. It must be proven beyond any reasonable doubt that the defendant actually committed the murder.

6. Troy Davis would probably have life in prison right now had he appealed for a commutation to a life sentence based on the (seemingly easily defensible, based on the facts of the case) claim that no conclusive evidence exists to prove that he, not Coles, was the assailant. In fact, the evidence that Davis and Coles were even at the scene is based on witnesses, not physical evidence. These two facts combined could have created enough reasonable doubt that Davis was the shooter to persuade an appellate court to commute him to life without parole. Beats lethal injection, I guess. But that's not what the defense team did. They argued actual innocence. No one can be shocked that the appellate courts declined to accept that argument. He may be, or he may not be, but the evidence to prove actual innocence does not appear to be there.

7. At a new trial, because of the new doctrine of "inevitable discovery" adopted since the crime was committed in 1989, whatever biological evidence the judge suppressed in the initial trial would likely be admissible this time. Perhaps the defense team's risky actual innocence strategy was based on knowledge of that physical evidence, probably that it would place Davis at the scene. That would not help his claim of innocence at all. Sp proving actual innocence in the appeals process seemed like the better shot. But it was still a bad shot.

8. Seven of the jurors who convicted him in 1989 were black.

What does all of this mean?

It means that, as a fervent opponent of capital punishment, Troy Davis isn't the best cause celebre. His legal team chose to risk everything on actual innocence and they appear to have lost. More evidence tends to suggest his guilt than his innocence. But that is the problem with capital punishment, the idea that Good Enough is good enough. Well, we convinced a jury of his guilt, so now let's apply a punishment that can't be reversed if we later realize that a mistake was made.

This case is not the best example of the kind of Innocent Man on Death Row scenario that capital punishment opponents like to publicize. It is a great example, however, of how the process of determining guilt simply does not allow us to be as certain as we would need to be to apply an irreversible sentence. The limited ballistic evidence is disputed by opposing experts. Some witnesses have recanted. Other witnesses failed to definitively identify Davis as the shooter with certainty. I don't expect that the legal system will release people back into society at the slightest doubt of their guilt. But with the death penalty, the slightest doubt should be enough. Irrespective of the choice of legal tactics on the part of his defense, the simple fact remains: If there is any doubt, you can't pull that switch.

The degree to which we as a society and political system are callous about this issue is sickening. To hear people who know nothing about the case loudly cheering on the state's efforts to kill him is almost as disturbing as listening to suburban tough guys rattle off the list of countries on which we should drop lots of bombs. The death penalty is merely a tool for elected officials to win the trust of that kind of voter. Politicians love the death penalty, because it is just about the only way to make a bunch of old, fat, candy-assed white guys sound tough. More frustrating than any doubts or arguments about Davis' guilt or role in the shooting is the sad reality that he is a game to these people, a topic to spout off about at the water cooler or on the campaign trail to prove that one is a tough guy who Means Business and ain't about to coddle no murderer. The Davis fiasco, like all high profile death penalty cases, is breathtaking in the extent to which we disregard the fact that a man's life is at stake.

TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES

Posted in Rants on September 21st, 2011 by Ed

Several times in the past I have talked about the problems I have with the novel 1984 and its place in American education and culture. It is by no means a bad piece of required reading for high school students, but I believe it reflects the ways in which Americans are afraid of the wrong things in politics and society. It depicts the straw man enemy against which most Liberty loving Americans think they must do battle: the all-powerful, oppressive government controlling the flow of information with monopoly power and armies of jackbooted thugs. For my money, Brave New World did a far superior job of predicting the problems we would face in the future. Important information is available, but it is drowned out in a cacophony of nonsense. And we're all too busy entertaining ourselves with meaningless diversions to bother looking for the truth. But I digress.

The point is that Americans are thoroughly paranoid about government and specifically its attempts to influence the flow of information. Hell, the founders wrote the press into the Constitution specifically to guarantee that The Government could not maintain a monopoly on information. Unfortunately, people concerned about the freedom of ideas and information today are vigilant against the wrong enemy. While they keep a wary eye on government's alleged desire to become Big Brother, the actual threats to the free exchange of information are running wild in the private sector.

Several internet outlets have reported that Yahoo! appears to have censored emails about the "Occupy Wall Street" protests in New York City. While emails to groups such as Tea Party Patriots could be sent without issue, emails containing the name of the Wall Street group were blocked for "suspicious activity." It is fair to note that there could (at least plausibly) be a benign explanation. A sudden surge of outgoing emails with a specific phrase could trigger some kind of spam blocker. However, the protest hardly seems large enough to have generated the high volume of emails presumably required to raise that red flag. Yahoo's mea culpa announcement relied on a vague spam filter-related explanation, which in their phrasing sounded only slightly more believable than the BTN's explanation that Old Bailey collapsed due to a premature but planned demolition in V for Vendetta.

An objective analysis of our current information/media environment would conclude that there's absolutely no reason for Big Government to censor us; the private sector, to which the airwaves and cables have been handed over in their entirety, is doing a perfectly fine job of that on its own. When we're oppressed by governments there is at least recourse in theory if not in practice. When the eventual abandonment of things like postal mail, books, and printed documents leaves us entirely at the mercy of Google and the other information giants, we will realize what "censorship" really is only when it is too late to reverse our course. This one example should not be blown out of proportion, but it is a stark reminder of the direction in which we're heading. While we stand guard against the government boogeyman, massive telecommunication and internet concerns are slowly developing a stranglehold on our ability to communicate with one another and access information.

But, uh, I guess the real threat is Barack Obama and the Fairness Doctrine. Or something.

I'M AFRAID OF AMERICANS

Posted in Rants on September 20th, 2011 by Ed

Conservatives have a tendency to use some very strange analogies, but none is more curiously chosen than the "starve the beast" analogy popularized by Cult of Austerity commandant Grover Norquist. This analogy, which is intended to represent a government that shrinks because the resources available to it have been restricted, strongly implies that these people do not know what an animal is. Perhaps it is unfair to take an analogy literally. Perhaps it illustrates something about the way conservatives want government to behave in addition to how much of it they want.

Wild animals that are starving make dangerous, irrational decisions that they would not make when well fed. Hunger leads deer onto public highways and into the path of moving vehicles. It leads lions to attempt to take down elephants and end up with a flattened head. More importantly, though, it makes animals uncharacteristically aggressive. Animals that could easily hunt humans – bears, big cats, etc. – rarely do so unless they're starving and desperate. Those man-eating tigers and grizzly bears inevitably turn out to be the old, weak ones that have been chased away and can no longer catch prey. Hell, even a well behaved pet dog will snap at you if you leave it without food for too long.

So, yes. A starving "beast" gets smaller and weaker. It also gets aggressive, violent, and more risk tolerant, the last of which is a polite way of saying it makes bad decisions out of desperation. Which goes a long way toward explaining why, as our politics grow increasingly unhinged and our global hegemony grows more precarious and impractical, most of the world is scared shitless of us. It's not the kind of "Boy, they sure do respect our strength!" kind of fear that serves as the sole source of erections for neocons. It's more like a "Holy crap, that monkey has figured out how to operate a flamethrower" fear.


Grover wants a woman, Grover wants to think of a joke.

People with a rudimentary understanding of history – a class that admittedly excludes Grover Norquist – understand that when empires "starve" they don't tend to crawl under a tree and wither away quietly. They use their massive but inevitably overextended militaries to lash out at their enemies, real or contrived, in a desperate quest for treasure and a stronger grip on their fading superpower status.

I know that the average person in other countries understands that there is no reason to fear Americans individually – really, they might be loud assholes but all they want to do is buy tacky, overpriced souvenirs – but there is ample reason to fear America as a whole. The political majority is not guided by anything approaching reason and is obsessed with reliving the Gilded Age. The nation as a whole is unhealthily obsessed with its former glory and isn't good at much anymore except turning foreign countries into smoldering piles of rubble.

Given those circumstances, what could go wrong?

BOY THESE NEXT FOUR YEARS ARE GONNA BE AWESOME

Posted in Quick Hits on September 19th, 2011 by Ed

I have a good topic for today but I am too fatigued from a long weekend of travel and wedding joy (note: after someone divorces you, going to weddings is kinda depressing) I lack the 1:00 AM strength to do it justice. Instead, let's all console ourselves with some comforting thoughts about the next four years under President Perry/Bachmann/Tancredo/Camacho.

The poll, which was conducted after Mr. Obama’s economic address to Congress last week, contains considerable warning signs for the president. The poll found a 12-point jump since late June, to 43 percent, in the number of Americans who say the economy is getting worse. And for the first time since taking office, his disapproval rating has reached 50 percent in the Times and CBS News polls.

“I don’t disapprove of Barack Obama as a person, but as a president he has disappointed me greatly,” said Ann Sheets, 69, a Democrat from Chattanooga, Tenn., speaking in a follow-up interview. Ms. Sheets added, “I’m realistic enough to know how difficult it is and I am not against compromise, but I voted for a backbone. You have to draw some lines in the sand, and I don’t think he has done that.”

The poll found a 43 percent approval rating for Mr. Obama. It is significantly higher than Jimmy Carter, who had an approval rating of 31 percent at a similar time in his presidency, according to the Times and CBS News poll, which showed Ronald Reagan with an approval of 46 percent and the elder George Bush at 70 percent.

The president’s support has fallen to its lowest levels across parts of the diverse coalition of voters who elected him, from women to suburbanites to college graduates. And a persistent effort over the past year to reclaim his appeal to independent voters has shown few signs of bearing fruit, with 59 percent of this critical electoral group voicing their disapproval.

Good idea trying to win "moderates" by being all bipartisany and compromisey.

In other news, I want to hang out with 69 year old Ann Sheets of Chattanooga, TN. She sounds pretty cool.