A > B, B > C…C > A

Posted in Quick Hits on October 31st, 2012 by Ed

Sorry to do this twice in one week, folks, but I'm really struggling at the moment. Most of what I've written with the intent of posting lately is too depressing and/or angry even by my standards. Birthdays depress the hell out of me, as does living alone in a new (and godawful) place where there's nothing to do and no one to meet. Combined with some well timed lectures on what an awful person I am from people I care about, this has not been the best of times. Fortunately it's…well, no, it's probably not going to get any better.

So here's David Brooks. Everyone line up and kick him around for a while. This column might contain, even given Brooks' lengthy career of logic molestation, the most ass-backwards "logic" I've ever seen. Just try to make sense of it. I dare you. Apparently, Mitt Romney is the better choice because he believes in nothing concretely, and that will allow him to accomplish "bigger" things with…the House Republicans, or moderates, or the Bloc Quebecois, or what in the hell is David Brooks talking about. And that, my friends, is "The Upside of Opportunism."

Make sense? I thought so.

Seriously, I couldn't even do a "shorter David Brooks" let alone a full-scale FJM. Just read it. It's mesmerizing.

SHORTER ROD DREHER

Posted in Quick Hits on October 30th, 2012 by Ed

Rod Dreher in The American Conservative (TAC):

The other day I was sitting at lunch listening to some French and American expat friends talking about the business climate here in France. It was fascinating to hear. They talked about how rigid the situation is, how difficult it is to start a business in France, and how hard it is to get a job if you don’t have the right connections. They spoke about how so much depends on going to the right schools, and cultivating the right social connections within a tightly-circumscribed elite.

At one point I said, "Didn’t y'all have a revolution to do away with this kind of thing?" Everybody laughed, but the point was made.

The next day, a European friend who lived and worked in America some years back said, "You really do have such an advantage in America. In France, it's awful. When we moved back to Paris from Asia in the 1990s, I thought it would be easy to get a job. I speak five languages, including French, and had significant international business experience. That didn't count for anything. People didn’t know what to do with me. I didn’t fit into their French boxes. It took me a year and a half to find something."

This afternoon I spent some time with an American-born friend who is now a French citizen, and is married to a Frenchman. She's been here for 20 years. She and her husband moved back to Paris last year after some years abroad, in which he worked for a French multinational, and she told me that she's having a hell of a time getting a job. Why? Same thing: if you're not in the network, you are out of luck.

Being here in France, and having this kind of conversation over and over with discouraged French people, has given Francophile me a new appreciation for what we have in America, despite our problems (especially our discouraging political class), and why ours is still a land of opportunity like no other. I wrote a piece about it for the November issue of TAC. I hope you'll subscribe to the magazine to read it. You'll also get terrific pieces like Glenn Arbery’s recent reported essay on a traditional farmer in upstate New York, and what he learned about community when his barn burned down. TAC subscribers also got the jump on Patrick Deneen's October cover piece reconsidering Allan Bloom’s conservative bestseller "The Closing Of The American Mind."

Journalism like you see in TAC's pages, and on this blog, costs money. We're not asking you to be charitable; we really have confidence that the reporting, analysis, and commentary we produce here every day is well worth your financial support. Please consider how much this magazine and this website means to you, especially as a voice of alternative conservatism, and consider taking advantage of our great new Election Special offer to subscribers. We're offering a year of the magazine, plus access to our online archives, for only $10 – that's 66 percent off the usual price. And if you are ever dissatisfied, boom, cancel your subscription, and we'll refund your money.

TAC is and will be the voice of the new conservative renewal – and we want you on board to help build this institution. What are you waiting for? Subscribe! We need you. And if you already are a subscriber, and want to help us even more on the mission to stand up to the welfare/warfare state, you can always make a tax-deductible donation.

Shorter Rod Dreher: America is so awesome because freedom and stuff. Networking and who you know plays no role in getting a job. Unlike France, a country I constantly visit and write about in glowing terms. No jobs in France. Thankfully America's shitting jobs. Please send money.

SETTING THE BASELINE

Posted in Rants on October 29th, 2012 by Ed

This is the latest cover from the Canadian news magazine Maclean's. Unfortunately the story itself is behind a paywall, but the headline and artwork don't exactly leave much to the imagination:

Maclean's is not exactly a rag for right-wing hysterics. It is a mainstream publication with an approximate American equivalent being US News and World Report. It leans right to the extent that much of its target audience is the banking / finance / Wall Street crowd, but this isn't the John Birch Society newsletter. Yet as cultural conservatism takes a stronger hold on right political movements in the U.S., and to a lesser extent Canada, this sort of Limbaugh-Beck-Agnew-Coughlin Culture Wars conspiracy-mongering has become mainstream.

What bothers me about this is not the accusation. In fact, let us assume it is true for the sake of this argument; Canada's teachers (and we may safely assume their union is held responsible as well) are "using the classroom to push their political agenda." It is implied, as it is always implied, that leftist analysis is a loaded, political agenda – "brainwashing" – whereas rightist/free market worship analysis is simply the truth. A left perspective is the challenger or the usurper, something being fed to children to displace the Truth in their minds. That inerrant Truth, of course, is the Chamber of Commerce / Tea Party version of history, economics, politics, and society. Feeding them cherry-picked Adam Smith fragments, supply side economic hogwash, and Reagan Consensus government-is-the-problem boilerplate is never described as brainwashing or an agenda. That's just good learnin' right there.

Yes, it certainly would be extreme if, as the cover art that we may assume is hyperbolic suggests, grade school children were being given lessons on abolishing capitalism. It would not, however, be any more or less a political agenda or nefarious brainwashing scheme than teaching the opposite – that capitalism and liberal democracy is the End of History, government has been proven a failure at solving collective action problems, and that our nation rests on the idea of freedom (from paying taxes and to bear arms; freedom in the Due Process sense yields immediately to the need for security in the face of threats real or perceived).

We know how political the educational system is in the U.S. We have school boards that are taken over by the foot soldiers of FreedomWorks, the Kochs, and the other money-behind-the-power groups that create Astroturfed "movements" like the Tea Party with no intention other than demanding that textbooks are re-written to reflect their beliefs. We also have religious fundamentalists getting involved in local politics so that our children may be told that the Earth is 6,000 years old, that men rode dinosaurs, and other things believed solely by window-licking morons. Yet never is this presented as a political agenda, characterized as brainwashing, or spoken of in ominous tones suggesting that They are taking over. If anything, it is defended as an appropriate response to the alleged stranglehold that (hardcore Communist) academia has on the agenda-setting functions in our society.

That left analysis, from the softest New Democrat form of liberalism to true Marxist or socialist critiques, is universally depicted as the pretender to the throne tells us all we need to know about where the ideological baseline is set in our society. Many liberals in the U.S. flipped out when Beltway media moderation fetishists described America as a "center-right nation" after the thorough drubbing the GOP received in 2008. They were correct – not in that conservatives will win every election, but inasmuch as they don't have to. Having asserted complete control over the political agenda in the last three decades, and with their dogged efforts to re-write history to the satisfaction of Joe McCarthy and Saint Ronnie, they can hold their ground simply by redefining their ideology as the New Normal and characterizing anything from the left of Joe Lieberman as a rogue wave of Communist indoctrination.

This is why they don't fret about losing battles; they've already won the war.

NPF: CAMPAIGN OF THE DAMNED

Posted in No Politics Friday on October 26th, 2012 by Ed

On the Gin and Tacos Facebook page (which you should join even though Facebook is now trying to make us pay them to let you see the things we post) I have a lot of fun with other styles of writing beyond Serious Political Stuff, although there is certainly enough of that too. Many of you are aware that my humor preferences tend toward the absurd. I have been posting these random bits of strangeness for a while, often but not always centered around on fantastical takes on the Romney/Ryan campaign. It has been inspired in no small part by the brilliant twitter account of one Daniel Manitou, as well as my friends Will and Pauline who both excel at this sort of thing. Every time I post one of these bits of surrealism, someone comments that I should collect them all in one place for easy reading. Well, here they are. I'm loosely calling this "Campaign of the Damned" until I concoct a better name.

If you look at this and think something along the lines of, "What in the holy hell is this?" then perhaps this type of humor simply isn't for you. No hard feelings. It's an acquired taste.

10/23/2012
ROMNEY RESPONDS TO A QUESTION ABOUT LIBYA BY PROJECTING A RAINBOW COLORED PARABOLIC ARC OF VOMIT ACROSS THE DESK AND INTO BOB SCHIEFFER’S WAITING MAW. THE FOCUS GROUP LINES JERK UPWARD IN APPROVAL. HE APOLOGIZES IN A CHORUS OF FIVE DISTINCT VOICES EMANATING FROM THE SAME MOUTH. "I ATE RAFALCA," HE SAYS BY WAY OF EXPLANATION. THIS IS THE KIND OF DIMENSIONLESS WRAITH YOU WOULD LIKE TO HAVE A BEER WITH.

10/18/2012
SANDRA LEE HANDS YOU HER RECIPE. IT CALLS FOR "STAR ANUS." IT IS NOT A MISPRINT.

10/16/2012
CARL, A SOYBEAN DEHULLER FROM UTICA, ASKS ABOUT TAX CUTS FOR WORKING MOMS. MITT ROMNEY OPENS A PORTAL TO ANOTHER DIMENSION ONSTAGE. HIS RAMBLING, FOUR MINUTE ANSWER USES THE WORD "FISTULA" 12 TIMES. HE NEVER EXPLAINS THE PORTAL.

10/13/2012
IS IT FRIDAY OR IS IT SATURDAY? DOES IT EVEN MATTER ANYMORE?
::FLINGS FECES::

10/3/2012
ROMNEY SCANS THE AUDIENCE FOR C.H.U.D.s BEFORE THROWING BACK HIS HEAD, UNHINGING HIS JAW, AND EMITTING A LUNG-SHATTERING WHINE. THE ROOM IS SILENT. HE THRUSTS A FIST SKYWARD AND COMMANDS THE PEOPLE OF EARTH NEVER TO TRUST A BIG BUTT AND A SMILE. JIM LEHRER SHIFTS IMPERCEPTIBLY; "MR. OBAMA. 60 SECONDS FOR YOUR REBUTTAL." HE INHALES DEEPLY THE SMELL OF SINGED HAIR.

9/26/2012
GET UP YOU SONOFABITCH, 'CAUSE MICKEY LOVES YA.

9/24/2012
MITT ROMNEY REFERS TO THE POOR AS "GENETIC DETRITUS" ONSTAGE. THE ENTIRE CAMPAIGN RECEIVES THE TEXT MESSAGE THEY HAVE LONG DREADED: "CREATE DIVERSION." A TOPLESS BAY BUCHANAN UNICYCLES ACROSS THE STAGE; JOHN SUNUNU REACHES INTO A DUFFEL BAG AND WITHDRAWS THE SEVERED HEAD OF DARIUS RUCKER; PAUL RYAN EMERGES IN BLACKFACE AND BEGINS A MINSTREL SHOW. THE CROWD QUIETLY ENVIES THE DEAD.

9/18/2012
SECRET FUND RAISER VIDEO REVEALS MITT ROMNEY RELEASING AN EGG SAC FROM HIS CLOACA AS ANN SHOUTS "PUT ON SOME CLOWN MAKEUP AND FUNNY FUCK ME" TO NO ONE IN PARTICULAR.

9/12/2012
YOU HAVE BEEN SENTENCED TO: *DEATH*. TO APPEAL YOUR SENTENCE OF *DEATH*, PRESS OR SAY "ONE". TO ACCEPT YOUR SENTENCE, PRESS OR SAY "SURRENDER." TO LEARN ABOUT EXCITING OFFERS ON VACATION PROPERTIES, REMAIN ON THE LINE OR MASH THE KEYPAD AGAINST YOUR FOREHEAD. TO HEAR THESE OPTIONS AGAIN, INSERT THE CRAB KNIFE FROM YOUR SEAFOOD PREPARATION KIT INTO YOUR ABDOMEN NOW.

8/28/2012
A NUDE OCTOGENARIAN SPLAYS HERSELF ACROSS THE HOOD. A MAN IN A CATTLE SKULL AND LOINCLOTH POINTS HIS DOWSING ROD MENACINGLY. DRUIDS CIRCLE YOUR CAR CHANTING "REINCE PRIEBUS, REINCE PRIEBUS" WHILE SELF-FLAGELLATING. YOU CAN NO LONGER REMEMBER IF YOU ARE AT THE REPUBLICAN NATIONAL CONVENTION OR BURNING MAN.

8/16/2012
YOU ARE LED INTO A DANK GYMNASIUM. THE ROOM IS EMPTY BUT FOR YOU AND ANN ROMNEY'S DRESSAGE HORSE. YOU EXCHANGE KNOWING GLANCES. IT BEGINS ITS SURREAL HORSE BALLET. BETWEEN MOVEMENTS YOU COULD SWEAR IT MOUTHS "HELP ME." THIS IS NOT THE BIRTHDAY GIFT YOU WANTED; IT IS THE ONE YOU DESERVED.

7/30/2012
CELEBRITYBLUMPKIN.ORG RECEIVES ITS TEN MILLIONTH VISITOR. YOU WERE WISE TO REGISTER THE DOMAIN. YOU ARE THE MASTER OF ALL YOU SURVEY. IN THE DISTANCE YOU HEAR THE MOURNFUL CRY OF THE LOON.

7/23/2012
INFORMATION SUPREMACY IS THE HOT NEW LOOK FOR THE FALL. GREAT DEALS FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY. ENTER YOUR SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER AND A LIST OF YOUR FEARS.

7/13/2012
YOU SIT ALONE IN YOUR APARTMENT LISTLESSLY PERUSING MITT ROMNEY'S WEBSITE. A BUTTON ENCOURAGES YOU TO DONATE TODAY. YOU CLICK IT. YOUR COMPUTER BEGINS TO EMIT AN OMINOUS SOUND AND ODOR. CHILDREN OUTSIDE YOUR WINDOW BEGIN WALKING ON ALL FOURS. THE DOG STARES AT YOU. WHY DID YOU HAVE TO CLICK THAT BUTTON.

5/18/2012
TEN ASSHOLES FOUND ASSHOLES THEY WENT TO HIGH SCHOOL WITH USING ASSHOLE FINDER. FIND YOUR ASSHOLES NOW.

4/24/2012
THE SKELETON IS COATED WITH A THIN LAYER OF SPACE-AGE LUBRICANTS. EACH SLIMY, OFF-PINK CADAVER MUSCLE IS CAREFULLY STAPLED INTO PLACE – THEY LOOK AND SMELL LIKE PUTREFYING TUNA. TECHNICIANS CHECK EACH SERVO-ACTIVATOR ONE LAST TIME. THEY FIND NO FAULTS. THE MOURNFUL CALL OF AN ALPENHORN SUMMONS THE DWARF LABORERS. IT IS TIME.

ANN ROMNEY IS READY TO BE REINSERTED INTO HER SKIN.

3/31/2012
THE NATION WAITS PENSIVELY FOR THE LOTTERY WINNER TO COME FORWARD. CHILDREN GATHER STONES.

2/17/2012
THE SANTORUMS ENJOY A LOVELY VALENTINE'S DINNER. RICK SLOWLY REALIZES THAT THE WAITER IS A GAY. THE MOON ABRUPTLY SHIFTS TO A RETROGRADE ORBIT. THE CRUST SPLITS BENEATH HIS FEET. SATAN EMERGES, URGING YOU TO TRY THE MEATLOAF. IT SMELLS OF JACKFRUIT AND BURNING TIRES. YOU HAVE NEVER TASTED ANYTHING QUITE LIKE IT.

You know, it didn't strike me that I might be a crazy person until I saw them all in one place.

BUDDY

Posted in Quick Hits on October 24th, 2012 by Ed

Buddy died on Tuesday at the age of three years and six days. He had a long and happy rat life, although it saddened both of us that he spent his last year without a rat companion after the death of his brother Seymour. He and I had a really strong bond, and we spent a ton of time together. As he got weaker over his last two weeks, he slept next to me on my pillow. He was the first rat I've owned from thumb size to old age. I'm sad that I was at work when he died. I just wanted to make him feel loved, and like he wasn't alone. But on a selfish note, I'm glad that he died at home rather than getting jabbed with a needle at the vet. That doesn't seem like a good way to go.

He went through a couple of different procedures over the past month, but the vet and I agreed that Buddy reached a point at which more treatment wasn't going to help him. As hard as it is to make that decision with a pet, I really don't envy anyone who has to make these kinds of decisions with (human) loved ones.

Thanks for everything, Budward. I'm glad I got to know you.

DEBATE III: GOING THROUGH THE MOTIONS

Posted in Quick Hits on October 23rd, 2012 by Ed

Quick reactions:

1. The way that the candidates and the parties they represent have fundamentally identical views on foreign policy issues – Drones? Cool! Israel? My favorite! Iran? Bad! – goes a long way toward explaining why some Americans feel like there is no real difference. Granted, those differences appear stark on social issues and kinda-sorta-I-guess there are economic differences. But if this debate was the only thing you saw, it would be easy to conclude that these are two sides of the same coin.

2. Mitt's dead eyes made it more obvious than in the previous debates that he really doesn't give a flying shit about any of this, he's just saying whatever he thinks he needs to say to round up enough votes to get into office and address the only issue he cares about: insulating his economic bracket from any threats from below. That's it. Everything else is so much noise to him. His self-presentation in this debate was, "Look, I know I've taken like five different positions on this. I know that you know. And frankly I give zero shits."

3. I can't even imagine how much you would have to hate Obama to listen to Romney and think "Yeah, this guy sounds great!" He doesn't sound interested, he talks in circles, he takes scripted potshots at Obama and then admits that his positions are basically identical (i.e. on Afghanistan), and he talks about comprehensive strategies that he never explains. Unlike in the economic-themed debates where he throws out slogans people can respond to – Low taxes! Job Creators! Loud Noises! – he can't even do that much with foreign policy. How anyone convinces themselves that he scored a resounding victory on Monday night is beyond me. First debate? Sure. Yesterday? He did everything but take a dump on the stage.

4. The overwhelming sense I get when Romney talks is a guy shaking a handful of beads at some Indians and saying in an unnaturally loud voice, "LOOK! SHINY! I GIVE YOU BEADS, YOU GIVE ME ISLAND!" It's so easy to picture him alone with his advisers back-slapping and laughing, telling each other, boy, I bet those morons just ate that up. Can you believe they're buying this crap?

I can't either, Mitt.

THE FRAYED ENDS OF SANITY

Posted in Rants on October 22nd, 2012 by Ed

For people who feel strongly about politics, election outcomes can be a real kick in the balls sometimes. Yes, you win some and you lose some, and we all get used to it. On occasion, though, there's a candidate who really gets under your skin; someone who represents everything you hate about politics, everything that is wrong with America. Then he wins and you feel like punching a wall and/or telling the entire country to screw itself and/or swearing off politics forever because it's all hopeless. And then of course you get over it.

I felt that way for a few days after the 2004 election. Good lord did I hate George W. Bush. Still do. Whatever the idiotic run-up to the Iraq War didn't destroy of my sanity, that election did. I'm fairly certain that even if I live for another fifty years, 2002 and 2003 will be the worst I'll ever see from this country. Then Bush got re-elected after a campaign that never seemed to end and was truly hard to watch. It felt like the country had completely lost its mind and there was no turning back.

Then I settled down and started to think about it. Bush was just slightly over 50% approval at the time of the election, so based on history we would have expected him to win. John Kerry was the Mitt Romney of the Democratic Party, a guy who got nominated because he was rich and had decent name recognition and there really wasn't anyone else to nominate. He didn't inspire anyone except for people who really, really hated Bush and would have voted for Carrot Top if it meant getting rid of him. By the end of 2005 the nation was largely sick of BushCo's bullshit, and the next two elections were Democratic routs. You know, the world didn't end.

There are quite a few people out there who have the same viscerally negative reaction to Obama that many of us did to Bush. Just like lots of us swore and fumed and said mean things after the 2004 election, lots of people will have plenty of swearing and venting to do if Obama is re-elected in two weeks. I'm a bit nervous, though. The anti-Obama rhetoric has a flavor all its own, which is to say apocalyptic and violent and tribalist. It worries me not because I think it represents the thinking of the average Republican – it doesn't – but because there is some minority, however small, that seems primed for a major over-reaction if Obama wins.

There is some number of people out there – I have no idea if it's ten, a hundred, or a million, but they exist – who are going to, for lack of a classier term, completely and totally lose their shit if Romney does not win. It has little to do with Romney and everything to do with confirming their paranoid suspicion about what has happened to Their country. It has been stolen from them by the Muslim Usurper, who of course will have stolen the election (how could he win legitimately?) with busloads of illegal immigrants and Welfare Queens bribed with Obama Phones and the New Black Panthers and the U.N. and every other neo-Bircher boogeyman in the modern pantheon. If you thought the 1990s were bad under Clinton – Waco, Oklahoma City, the Michigan Militia, the Montana Freemen, etc. – I don't want to think about the level of anti-government insanity we might be primed to see in the next four years.

Maybe I'm wrong and the reaction to an Obama win will be pretty uneventful. They'll kick around Romney for a few weeks, piss and moan about Obama, try to float some baseless conspiracy theories about the loss, and then get over it. Hell, the right wing media will probably be thrilled on the inside; nothing drives their audience quite like having The Enemy in power. But man, some of these people seem remarkably unhinged. To hear them talk, to see what they write all over the internet, to see what their heroes say on TV and talk radio…they do not seem to be tethered to reality. If they have a relationship with sanity, it's their own special version of it. The overheated rhetoric certainly makes it plausible that "Second Amendment remedies" and homemade truck bombs in front of Federal courthouses will seem like a decent option among the angry, frustrated, and half-crazy people who want so badly to take Their Country back.

NPF: EXCELSIOR!

Posted in No Politics Friday on October 19th, 2012 by Ed

By now you have all seen Felix Baumgartner's parachute leap from over 100,000 feet. This is mightily impressive and nothing can diminish the magnitude of this accomplishment. I cannot help but be even more impressed, however, by the fact that someone already did this. 52 years ago. With equipment that was beyond rudimentary for the task.

In 1960 the Air Force conducted Project Excelsior, an experiment to test parachutes from obscenely high altitudes to determine the feasibility of pilots ejecting from new (at the time) super-high flying aircraft like the U-2 spy plane, the SR-71 Blackbird, and the (later canceled, but possibly the most incredible aircraft ever constructed) XB-70 Valkyrie. A retired USAF pilot named Joseph Kittinger volunteered to make a jump from 100,000 feet to test a drogue parachute. So, to be clear, he volunteered to don a ramshackle pressure suit, ride a flimsy helium balloon to altitudes no human had seen without the protection of a spacecraft, and then jump out to test a parachute that nobody could be certain would work.

The real question is where they found a balloon with enough lifting capacity to accommodate Kittinger (150 lbs), his gear (155 lbs), and his gargantuan balls (3 short tons).

On the way up the glove on his space suit depressurized, but he didn't tell anyone because he was afraid they would cancel the mission. So instead he went up there with a part of his body exposed to space. His hand swelled to twice its size and did not return to normal for several days after he landed.

I have always been fascinated by this, even from a very early age when I saw a Life Magazine photo spread in a coffee table book about NASA. One of the great pleasures I had while living in Indiana was visiting the USAF Museum in Dayton and seeing the actual balloon and basket that carried Kittinger into space. I don't have the words to express how small and flimsy it was. "Tiny" might be more accurate than small, and I'm pretty sure it was made of canvas. He basically floated up into space in a potato sack.

It's an impressive feat regardless of when it is or was done. I want to make a minor contribution, though, to making sure Joseph Kittinger gets some well deserved attention for having done this a half century ago under spartan conditions and with a substantial risk that he was just going to plow into the Earth and die. It would be as if someone had climbed Everest 52 years before Hillary and Tenzig wearing bulky wool coats and sleeping in a canvas tent. (Cue the George Mallory link)

HELPING HAND

Posted in Rants on October 18th, 2012 by Ed

On Wednesday we saw the latest in the long line of Foiled Terrorist stories that pop up intermittently. A lone 21 year old man hatched a plot to blow up the New York Fed with what he thought was a half-ton bomb. The bomb supplier, of course, was an undercover FBI agent. We have seen this script play out many times, and it always ends with law enforcement and Dick Cheney and your right-wing uncle reminding us that, you see, They are still trying to kill us.

It is indisputable that the suspect in this case is, by intent alone, a criminal and I'm glad law enforcement was able to intercede. It is fair to ask, however, how real the danger is in these situations. There are tens of thousands of lone wolf nutbars out there, from Islamic terrorists to bunker-dwelling survivalists and white supremacists. Many of them have the intent to commit this kind of act and their heads are likely full of various "plots" and schemes to strike at their enemies. The overwhelming majority – 99 percent plus – never advance beyond the idea stage, and 99% of the ones that progress beyond that point fail due to a lack of money, equipment, or sufficient intelligence to hatch a workable plot.

Of the remarkably small fraction that remain – people who are really, actively attempting to execute a terrorist attack – would any of them even get close to completion without undercover law enforcement showing up to offer, remarkably enough, whatever the plotter happens to need in terms of weapons or supplies? Would this guy plotting to blow up the Fed ever have managed to get his hands on a real bomb, or did he walk into a law enforcement trap specifically because he couldn't figure out how to get one?

These cases follow the same pattern and leave themselves open to the same question: Are these people "real" terrorists, capable of executing a plot of any complexity, or are they wannabes, so clueless that they couldn't knock off a liquor store until the FBI came waltzing in to offer them bombs, vehicles, technical skills (bomb-making manuals, etc) and other things they wouldn't otherwise get? Logically, if it is possible to get thousand-pound bombs (real ones) from some terrorist source there would be a greater number of terror attacks. I mean, law enforcement couldn't intercept and halt all of them. Some plotters would end up getting their "bomb" from the FBI but others would acquire a real one from a real criminal/terrorist.

The fact that this is not happening suggests that the only people out there offering to make 1000 pound bombs available to terrorists are…undercover FBI agents. People have almost exclusively fear- and gut-based reactions to the dangers posed by terrorism so it's no surprise that we don't think very deeply about these cases. It is worth asking, though, just how much danger this person actually presented on his own without the helping hand of the FBI. Did we just have a narrow miss from a major terrorist attack? Or did we just arrest a person with evil intentions that would never have materialized if left to his own resources?

DEBATE 2: THE RE-DEBATENING

Posted in Election 2012, Quick Hits on October 17th, 2012 by Ed

A couple of rapid reactions:

1. If the last 20 minutes were not a shitshow, they'll do until the shitshow gets here. They have got to find some way to effectively moderate these things if they are to be anything other than entertainment. That AK-47 question was an immediate and obvious shark-jumping point.

2. Romney is so stiff and robotic and prone to saying ridiculous things when he is not in a structured environment. And Obama's the one who needs a teleprompter? He manages not to tell half the country to suck it or say things like "binders full of women" when he's improvising.

3. Mittens did alright for someone whose primary strategy is to lie and hope it goes unchallenged, but he had two absolute shit-the-bed moments: the Libya question and the "How are you different than George Bush" thing. On Libya he ended up standing there with an "Um…" look on his face after he tried to press a "what he said and when he said it" point that he was wrong about. Bad preparation. On the Bush thing, Romney's response was not bad but Obama's rejoinder was an uppercut:

There are some areas where Gov. Romney is different than George Bush. George Bush didn't support turning Medicare into a voucher program. George Bush supported comprehensive immigration reform. George Bush didn't oppose contraception.

I believe Ice Cube said it best: No Vaseline, just a match and a little bit of gasoline.

4. The internet is getting to be a terrifying place with respect to its ability to create memes in near real time. The mad rush to register "bindersfullofwomen.tumblr.com" must have been goddamn epic, an electronic version of the chariot race in Ben-Hur. The Facebook page had 100,000 "likes" in about five minutes after he said it. Also, "I have binders full of women" isn't a very good phrase to use when fighting the misconception that Mormons are polygamous. See #2.

5. Romney really hates birds. And poor people.

6. He sounds like a total moron talking about China. All the sudden he's what, Mitt Romney the Protectionist? Bitch, please.

7. I didn't realize until last night that Mitt was a small businessman.

8. Remember, it probably doesn't matter.