Thursday, April 30, 2009

Masthead Archive: May 1, 2009


Sorry Buckeye fans, but it's Wolverine Day . . .

FO News Roundup: April 30, 2009

One in just under the wire. We gotta meet our April post quota, after all:
  • Police are shocked to find that no other victims have come forward in response to their CraigsList ad. Great police work, guys! I guess the CraigsList Killer didn't kill anyone else after all. (M)
  • Pass legislation the right doesn't like and you're overly partisan, breaking your campaign promise to unite the country; seek compromise and common ground and you're still breaking your campaign promises. It doesn't matter which one, we can always find an angry, negative headline! (M)
  • Fear-mongering again! The last administration never merited such headlines from Fox News. Ahhh, the good old days when we could trust our government! (M)
  • On what grounds? Do we not needs grounds for divorce anymore? Another assault on traditional marriage! (M)
  • No word as yet on whether Hannity well follow through on his talk of getting waterboarded for charity — this notwithstanding that Keith Olbermann is offering a $1000-per-minute pledge. Of course, if you really wanted to rake it in, they'd both be on the slab, and they'd sell tickets. (P)
  • Justice Souter will retire this year, which means Pat Robertson's prayers have been answered — but a year too late. Mysterious ways are a bitch, aren't they, Pat? (P)
  • Here's the perfect gift for anyone who loves to scare the bejeezus out of himself in the middle of the night: a life-sized secondhand wax sculpture of Cher. (P)
  • OK: anyone under 40 with half a brain knows this business was inspired by one of about 35 Grand Theft Auto missions. Which just goes to show that cars don't kill Dutch royal parade bystanders — video games do.

"Teen soils self after deputy surprises him"

I don't have anything to add to this article, but it's high time we had a "He shat hisself" tag on this blog and now's my chance to use it. Some choice snippets from the article follow.
The 16-year-old boy turned and ran, chased by Taylor, who called 911 as he ran after the teen through the neighborhood. The boy was scrambling so fast, Taylor said, he lost his shoes. Centerville police responded to help catch the teen.

"One officer spotted him with night-vision goggles going into a house," Centerville Police Lt. Paul Child said.

The boy dashed into a friend's house, where a party was going on, police said. Officers were let into the house where they found him — and discovered that he had soiled himself, Child said."

You could smell him," Taylor said. "He told us, 'Yeah, I crapped my pants.'"

. . . But I Play One on TV

Know what the best thing is about this very lawyerly op-ed by Sam Waterston in support of the Fair Elections Now Act?

Without doubt, the bit at the end that reads "Sam Waterston is an actor on 'Law and Order.'"

GOP Rebranding Initiative: Sweet, Sweet Elevator Music

The GOP's launched a rebranding initiative today called the "National Council for a New America." The title doesn't quite have the connotative kick of a "Contract with America," but as far as I can figure, that's precisely the point.

Eric Cantor's website carries NCNA's virgin press release, which in turn carries a "Blueprint for our Conversation with America." The Blueprint sets forth the following uncontroversial, unimpeachable positions (nondivisive issues only, please):
Economy: Real Solutions for Economic Recovery

As the country battles through the worst economic crisis in a generation, we must remain focused on the foundations and institutions that have made us the most prosperous people in the world and the ideas that create jobs and grow our economy. At the same time, we must learn from the mistakes that led to the current crisis and to prevent similar situations from ever occurring again.

Healthcare: Building a 21st Century, Patient-Centered System

No one doubts that our nation’s health care system is in need of reform, but we must strike the right balance that builds on what works and fixes what is broken. All Americans deserve access to high-quality, affordable care. But such coverage cannot come at the expense of their ability to choose their own doctor and have access to the right care, at the right time, in the right setting without waiting in line while sick. In addition, we must continue to focus on the innovation and science that have resulted in thousands of treatments and cures for life-threatening or debilitating diseases while allowing America to remain the leader in research and development worldwide.

Education: Preparing Our Children to Succeed

A high-quality education should not be dependent upon a parent’s income or address. All of America’s children deserve an education that will prepare them for the opportunities and the challenges that await them in the global economy. Yet today, thousands of American children, especially in our inner cities, receive a substandard education or find post-secondary education unaffordable. We must return power from Washington to parents and well-paid teachers who know what’s best for our children.

Energy: Solutions for Energy Independence

American families and businesses cannot afford an energy policy where we are held hostage by foreign oil cartels and dictators. As a nation, we can no longer send billions of dollars overseas each year, often to countries that help fund our enemies. We must implement a comprehensive energy policy that includes traditional fuels, alternative energy, and conservation resulting in affordable, reliable domestic energy. Such a policy will stabilize costs for families and businesses while at the same time creating much-needed jobs here at home.

National Security: Defending American Liberty and Freedom

The threats posed to our nation are more varied and evolving more than perhaps at any other time in our history. Modern communications, technology and the proliferation of weapons of all types have empowered our enemies and those who support them. Our national security policy must reflect these realities while allowing us to maintain technological superiority, support the most well-trained and well-equipped military in the world and have the intelligence capabilities to uncover and prevent attacks before they occur.

If you actually managed — as I did (he writes, proudly) — to get through all that insufferable blandness, you might find yourself rather encouraged. A list of national objectives, written at this pleasing-to-everyone level of generality, could as easily have issued verbatim from the White House Communications Office. And that's hardly a fault, given the purpose of this document and the purported mission of NCNA, which is to start an all-inclusive dialogue with the American people.

Surely this is only a first step, a lay-the-groundwork document, and the details are yet to come. But what's astonishing (and pleasing) about this press release is that it's obviously written for general appeal. Oh, it's elevator music, for sure, but that's the beauty of it. There's none of that characteristically Republican (these days) exclusivity in it. There's no attempt to alienate or demonize certain constituencies. No "RINO" accusations, no test oaths or calls to display ideological purity on pain of a tongue-lashing from an AM radio host. By reciting these uncontroversial values, they've started with the biggest tent imaginable — anyone and anything (at least in theory) is in play.

Can it be that the GOP has finally turned a corner? Has the party leadership finally realized that the pandering to the religious right, the Know-Nothing populism, the philosophy of opposition for its own sake are only marginalizing a once-great national institution? One can only hope so. As much as I believe this country desperately needed a President like Barack Obama, I am convinced that it needs as well a credible, serious, thoughtful Republican Party.

The proof will be in the pudding, of course: although it's inoffensive, elevator music ultimately becomes inaudible, when it's played long enough. There will come a part, after this conversation happens, when the NCNA GOP will have to abandon its blandness and develop a signature sound. Some folks will tune in, and others will tune out. But if this conversation really does happen, and the party leadership does as it promises and really engages in dialogue with all of America — and not just Dobson, Limbaugh and Hannity — well, we may hear a new and less grating tune from the party of Abraham Lincoln. One can hope, anyway.

Oh, and Nancy: they all hate you — the reasonable Republicans and "radical right-wingers" alike would be happy to destroy their own party just to spite you. So pipe down and let them do their thing and figure it out themselves.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Good Cop, Bad Cop, or Both?

Last year the New York Times published a feature story about Deuce Martinez, a CIA interrogator who established a singular rapport with captured "9/11 mastermind" Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and, according to the Times report, was instrumental in extracting key bits of intelligence from the terrorist.

The Times article placed described two interrogator camps within the Agency: "the gung-ho paramilitary types" and "the more cerebral interrogators."  Martinez fell into the latter category; he in fact had refused training in waterboarding, an approach he thought fit only for the paramilitary "knuckledraggers."
The article takes pains to point out that interrogators of both sorts went to work on KSM, and it wonders aloud to what extent Martinez's success was, at least in part, attributable to the "knuckledraggers" softening the subject up:
Martinez came in after the rough stuff, the ultimate good cop with the classic skills: an unimposing presence, inexhaustible patience and a willingness to listen to the gripes and musings of a pitiless killer in rambling, imperfect English.  He achieved a rapport with Mr. Mohammed that astonished his fellow C.I.A. officers.

* * *

Mr. Martinez’s success at building a rapport with the most ruthless of terrorists goes to the heart of the interrogation debate. Did it suggest that traditional methods alone might have obtained the same information or more? Or did Mr. Mohammed talk so expansively because he feared more of the brutal treatment he had already endured?

According to the Times article, Martinez would get first crack at a prisoner. If the prisoner proved uncooperative, Martinez would yield the floor to paramilitaries, who would apply enhanced techniques like waterboarding until the prisoner finally agreed to talk. Then Martinez would reenter the scene. This was exactly how it played out with KSM. And we know now that in his case, "the rough stuff," the "brutal treatment" included 183 discrete instances of waterboarding over the course of one month.

This reads like a classic "good cop/bad cop" routine to me, and if we're going to allow ourselves to get drawn into a discussion about the "efficacy" of waterboarding — and I think this is an "if" worth contesting, as a whole lot of unacceptably repressive practices have the merit and appeal of being "effective" — it's worth reviewing the program in its entirety (or at least what we know of it to this point). The information we have is, of course, incomplete. And we may never know what it was exactly that made Khalid Shaikh Mohammed — a mercurial character, if the Times article and his subsequent court appearances are any indication — open up to Martinez. Was it entirely Martinez's "cerebral" approach? Was it all the waterboarding, such that KSM would have given up intel to anyone? Or was it the combination, the alternation of coercion and conversation that finally brought down the terrorist's guard?

I think I'm repeating the questions that the Times reporter asked, and didn't try to answer, in his article. But I think they're worth asking again, now that we know the nature and extent of the "bad cop" treatment leveled at Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.

Who's got answers (besides Dick Cheney)?

It's Funny, But He's NOT Joking . . .

Conservatives know The Colbert Report is funny. After all, they're not stupid. But according to the latest study they just think he's really conservative and making fun of liberals. No joke. But do liberals know that Keith Olbermann is making fun of them?

FO News Roundup: April 29, 2009

April is the cruelest month. Just ask an Indians fan. Here's what's hopping as we look to May:
  • The Supreme Court holds that the FCC can punish networks for "fleeting expletives" uttered on live television broadcasts. The First Amendment in a nutshell: buying reelection for Congressmen is "free speech," but Bono can't say "fuck" on the Golden Globes. (P)
  • Swine flu got you down? Blame this kid. (P)
  • Kathleen Sebelius is confirmed as Secretary of Health and Human Services. Let the mandatory abortions begin! (P)
  • Here's a grim economic reality for you: the Yankees can't sell regular-season game seats for $2500 a pop. The horror! (P)
  • North Korea is going to launch another missile unless the UN says "sorry." And despite the best efforts of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland to promote brotherly love on the peninsula, North Korea's "revolutionary military will utilize all measures including nuclear deterrent" to defend itself. (M)
  • The stock market is unchanged in 100 days, which is a failure. But if the economy rebounds, the citizens will have been duped. Fox is always "fair and balanced," but usually not this fair or this balanced. Nothing like a good screed from the front page of Fox News to get you up in the morning! (M)
  • Another South Korean scientific breakthrough: cloned glowing dogs! Is it as real as the last time? (M)

Monday, April 27, 2009

Swine Flu Stuff

Based on my morning's viewing of Bloomberg News and CNBC, I think I've figured out exactly how the Centers for Disease Control ranks infectious disease problems. Here's the order, from least severe to most severe:


There may be some subtle variations, but I think that's the standard scale.

Tom Hanks

Anyone know what screen name Tom Hanks uses for Twittering? He was sitting right next to me at dinner last night, and I'm curious to see if he mentioned it. He was polite enough not to interrupt my meal, but there's no way he didn't see me - I was sitting three feet away from him all through dinner.

Excellent Advice

Excellent advice from the brilliant Rich Galen: " If you were planning a class trip to a pig farm in Mexico; cancel it."

Sunday, April 26, 2009

FO News Roundup: April 26, 2009

More of a Pirate Than You'll Ever Be. Aaaargh!
  • The Chinese continue to find new and innovative ways to pirate other countries' products. Iranians were relieved, meanwhile, to find that the Jaffa Sweeties were not authentic. (M)
  • "The captain of an Italian cruise ship foiled an attack by pirates off the coast of Somalia on Saturday by ordering his security crew to fire back, Italy's ANSA news agency reported," according to CNN. An Italian cruise ship fended off a Pirate attack? Really? Italians? You're kidding, right? Oh, you are kidding. It was Israelis. But go ahead, ANSA, credit the Italian who said "save us." (M)
  • Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Pirates lead all of baseball with a team ERA of 2.97. They are in second place in the NL Central, marking the first time in over a decade they haven't been virtually eliminated by the end of April. (M)
  • Now look, Google is really doing all it can to fight piracy. That's why you have to type in three words in their search engine to get that new Wolverine movie . . . (M)
  • Finally, the Pirate exhibit at the Field Museum in Chicago is downright dreadful. Well, except for the part at the end about how explorers found treasure from one particular pirate ship buried thirty feet under the sand, despite over three thousand shipwrecks off of Cape Cod. (M)

Friday, April 24, 2009

Phutsie's Urban Slang: Basil-E.-Frankweiler

v. to take up residence, more or less luxuriously, in a place of public accommodation, secretly and without the consent of the landowner.

also, "Frankweiler," "Basil-E."


"Dude, that tricked-out Arby's in Richmond is da bomb. They got free Wi-Fi, flatscreen TVs, experimental menu items like burritos and smoothies, in addition to the straight-up roast beef bling. I could totally Basil-E.-Frankweiler that place, fo shizzle."

Rinse, Ask a Question, Repeat

Look — I'm far from an expert on these things, and I certainly don't have access to all the classified information about the interrogations of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. But still, I'm gonna just throw this out there:
How effective can waterboarding be as an interrogation tool, if you have to do it to a guy 183 times, to get all the information you want out of him?

Seriously: if the standard for an "effective interrogation technique" is that it is more or less successful if you try it 183 times, I can imagine quite a lot of less brutal and controversial approaches that would qualify. For example, I like the song "Jump in the Line" by Harry Belafonte. Wait — I don't just like that song, I love it. But by the time you've played it for me 183 times, I'd probably sell out my family just to get you to stop.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Masthead Archive: April 23, 2009


Strawberry? Check. Gooden? Check. Dykstra? Check.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

FO News Roundup: April 22, 2009

News on Feigned Outrage is always more exciting. We've got Ninjas, devils, enemies, war, swords, robbery, suicide, and Miss California.
  • When are we going to get meaningful sword-control legislation in this country!?! (M)
  • Cheney's got a point. Releasing memos showing what was learned from the interrogations would provide for more honest debate. But wouldn't it help the enemy in wartime to let them know exactly what we learned from them? (M)
  • Speak of the Devil, he's come a long way from "Reagan proved deficits don't matter." (M)
  • In the most important news of the day, the Wall Street Journal reports that twitterer fungirlkelly is "proud of Miss California for sticking to her values." And yes, that sound you just heard was was the death knell of print journalism. (M)
  • So do you suppose Chuck Grassley is feeling a little guilty right now? Or at least stupid? Well, stupider? (P)

Badasses of Songdom: Triangle Man v. The Wizard

Hiatus is over: we're back on track, baby! What can I say? Sometimes karma smiles on you. A wealthy patron swoops down and posts Triangle Man's bail — says it's the least he can do, after T-Man made him a killing on the Bungalow Bill bout.

Turns out BoS has sprung a big secondary gambling market, notwithstanding our relatively low Internet profile. Who knew? The upshot for now is that Triangle Man is back in the swing of things. We've lined up The Wizard to take him on this week. Black Sabbath's Wizard, not L. Frank Baum's. I feel like there's potential here. The challenger's got karma. A while ago he endorsed a consumer electronics chain in New York — and from what I hear, nobody's beat them since.
Big shout-out to Geezer Butler, by the way, who I hear is with us today in the crowd. Where are you, Geez? Stand up, give us a wave. That's right: love your gig, my man.

We're outdoors today — set up at the old battlefield, because at this point we're homeless. The Shriners canceled our contract. Worried about liability. Go figure. Shitty auditorium, anyway. Screw 'em. But wouldn't you know it? The weather sucks today. It's a misty morning — clouds in the sky. Of course it'll fucking rain on all of us today.

Mithridates reminds me there are families in the crowd. I should tone down the language, he says. Oh, right, Mr. Upstanding McPerfect. I don't see you doing the frickin' writeups.

All right, all right. OK. I'm sorry. I'm just in a mood today. I feel like a bad vibe has set in over the BoS series. It's poisoning the atmosphere. I've got an attitude; the crowd doesn't seem particularly interested. The Wizard isn't here yet. He's twenty minutes late, and the boo-birds are taking over. A rotten tomato just flew over my shoulder. It hit the elm tree behind me and splattered. Smells horrible. You wonder how crowds always get hold of rotten tomatoes. It's not like you can buy them rotten the day of an event. Seems to me like that's something you have to plan for, and you'd have to be loser to go to the trouble.

That's right, asshole: that was me calling you a loser. You got a problem with that? Well, bring it on, pal!

So yeah, I'm thinking that with all the bad feeling here, that tomato could have rotted right on the vine, just this morning. Pfft. Cell phone text from Geezer: WTF? WHERE IS HE? Text to Geezer: Wizard's UR guy. U tell me.

Triangle Man's here, of course. Been here since 8 a.m., and he's feeding off all the bad energy. It only makes him stronger. He's looking ripped. Word is he did nothing in his cell but sit-ups and push-ups during his week Upstate. They say Solitary can break you, but it can also focus your mind. I wouldn't want to be The Wizard right now.

And that, in a nutshell, might explain why The Wizard hasn't showed up.

I give this guy five more minutes before I shut this down. The skies could open up any minute, and this Wizard is jerking my chain. Folks bring their kids out into the cold, they're disappointed and crying. Four more minutes and I call a washout. What an unreliable stoner SOB, this guy.

Three minutes. Two . . .

I hear a tinkling bell. I don't see a tinkling bell, but I hear it. The sound is in my head. Clear as day, and loud. And suddenly, The Wizard is here. I mean, that's gotta be him, right? With the funny clothes? Long, black robes with big open, droopy sleeves. Hooded, with a beard tapering down to his knees. Can't really see his eyes. I swear this guy appeared without warning, and then — pow! — there he is, in front of me. Just walking by. The crowd just frickin' erupts.

The Wizard has arrived. Finally, I should add. But I don't, because I'm just so ecstatic he's here. I've completely forgotten the last two weeks of grief I've had over Triangle Man, the scheduling, the beef with the Shriners. All these grudges, worries, and petty preoccupations I've been carrying around: they're just gone. It's like a wash of good feeling has flooded over me and purged me of negativity. I'm filled to the brim with love, heaped over with joy. I can't even tell you how I feel right now.

I chase after him, like some silly fan-girl running down John Lennon in A Hard Day's Night. "Hey, Wizard — you rock, man. Whoo-hoo!"

He doesn't answer. He doesn't even see me. He just keeps walking, making arcane gestures with his hands. Weaving his spells. He passes through the heart of the crowd, which parts ways to accommodate him. All the people give a sigh. They're all — well, they seem happy, like I do, when The Wizard walks by. Out of the corner of my eye I see Vercingetorix turning cartwheels, and it doesn't even occur to me to laugh at him. All cynicism is gone.

Standing in The Wizard's path is Triangle Man. The clouds have gone, and the sun beams down on these two solitary figures: Triangle Man, the demon, standing stock-still, and The Wizard, who just keeps walking — right up, it seems, into T-Man's grill. Triangle Man seems worried. Just when The Wizard might have collided with him, Triangle Man steps aside. The Wizard just keeps walking, past Triangle Man, across the field and into the woods, spreading his magic.

What? That's it?

"CALL IT!" Mithridates cries out. "Triangle Man stepped aside. The Wizard wins!" The crowd roars its approval.

I'm not sure. I'm not as susceptible to spells as M'dates, V'torix, and the drooling masses. All that magic baloney wears off over time — and for the likes of me, it seems, it happens pretty quickly. The Wizard has left the field of play, and I'm not feeling quite as rapt and enthusiastic as some of the other weaker minds out here. Triangle Man's not so thrilled, either.

"Triangle Man, Triangle Man," he chants. "Triangle Man hates The Wizard. They should have a fight. Where is he?"

"You blew it, T-Man," Mithridates shouts. He has tears in his eyes. "Hooray for The Wizard! Hooray!" (Could M'dates be any more dorked out than he is right now? I've never known him to say the word "hooray.")

"Look, it's just a Jedi mind trick," I tell Mithridates. "From where I'm sitting, it's a forfeit. The Wizard left the field. He walked in — and late, I might add — then walked out. We paid him a truckload of money, and he was here for what — three minutes? He didn't even talk to anyone."

"Hey, man, whatever. Your call. I'm just SO FRICKIN' HAPPY right now. I don't care."

"Look: you make a good point. The Wizard did pacify Triangle Man. Or at least intimidate him. But the forfeit case is at least as strong. And I think that in a case like this, a tie goes to the champion. That's Triangle Man."

"Dude, have I told you? I AM SO HAPPY."

That should do it, then. Triangle Man in an uncontested barnburner, if ever there was such a thing.

The crowd roars once more and carries the indicted and victorious Triangle Man off on its shoulders.

BBC Bowdlerizing

We had a nice discussion a month or two ago about how TV networks horribly dub profanity in order to be able to air R-movies on free TV. I was chatting last night with an Englishman who swears that when the BBC aired Die Hard, Bruce Willis's signature line became "Yippee-kai-yay, melon farmer."

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Extreme Anguish of Body or Mind

President Obama released four memos regarding alleged "torture" during the Bush administration. Cue outrage from all corners:
  • The New York Times editorial page condemns the memos for being "written to provide legal immunity for acts that are clearly illegal, immoral and a violation of this country's most basic values." They contend that "as far as Mr. Bush’s lawyers were concerned, it was not really torture unless it involved breaking bones, burning flesh or pulling teeth." They may be right in this regard. This type of thinking falls way short of the American ideal. But the Times's sin is in omission. The regimes we've been fighting might not even consider those acts "really torture." "They torture, we torture, we're no different" has been a rallying cry of the raving left. It's worth pointing out that it's nonsense.

  • More...
  • "The Memos Prove We Didn't Torture" victoriously screams the Wall Street Journal headline of a David Rivkin and Lee Casey opinion piece. Thank you, WSJ, for saying what the Times wouldn't. Thank you even more for going into even more detail of decidedly un-American activities supported by the Bush Administration. The authors justify these techniques by noting that they've all been tested on US servicemen. They almost have a point. It seems clear — at least from what we know — that the CIA did not engage in any activity that inflicted serious pain. This is not the "torture" of Saddam Hussein's Abu Ghraib. But discovering a captive's worst fear and making him think it's about to be realized is something straight out of 1984. To claim these memos are an acquittal means you haven't read your Orwell.

  • Former head of the CIA Michael Hayden condemns the release of the memos on the ground that it has made us less safe, without making any convincing argument as to why this is true.

  • Meanwhile, the frothing Left is outraged that Obama won't prosecute CIA agents.

  • Some say Obama is obliged to prosecute under the UN Convention against Torture. But we'd have to have a working definition of torture, now, wouldn't we? The CIA techniques may have been un-American and long-term harmful to our cause (we have to take the interrogators' word for it that they conferred tangible short-term gains), but is it really "torture" comparable to what the UN convention was designed to combat? Either way, the Bush Administration's actions and these type of responses will no doubt take the pressure off those engaged in "torture" of a far worse variety.

  • At least one Feigned Outrage author thinks this a victory for transparency in government. Let the critics rant all they want, but find me another country where an organization like the ACLU openly sues for the release of top secret documents and the President agrees to release them. We're back on track to leading the way in democratic government. Keep this up and those who admired us before Bush will start to admire us again. And we'll be safer for it. So a shout-out to Obama for enraging the Right (and his own CIA director) by shedding some light on our past sins. Another shout-out for stating emphatically that the US will not engage in such activities any more. And a final shout-out for enraging the Left by refusing to undermine the CIA completely by prosecuting agents walking a fine line between defending their country and obeying the laws of human decency.

War on Bridges

Some folks don't think our infrastructure is in bad shape — or at least don't think it should be a priority of the federal government. As Bill Kristol wrote a few months back, if the government wants to spend, it should spend on national security above all else:


If you think some government action is inevitable, you might instead point out that the most unambiguous public good is national defense. You might then suggest spending a good chunk of the stimulus on national security — directing dollars to much-needed and underfunded defense procurement rather than to fanciful green technologies, making sure funds are available for the needed expansion of the Army and Marines before rushing to create make-work civilian jobs. Obama wants to spend much of the stimulus on transportation infrastructure and schools. Fine, but lots of schools and airports seem to me to have been refurbished more recently and more generously than military bases I’ve visited.

First of all, having bridges that don't fall down, faster trains, and pot-hole free roads is an "unambiguous public good." Increased productivity, better safety, and lower auto maintenance costs all come with the package. It's not "make-work" if it improves all those things. The "recentness of refurbishment" argument is amusing in its absurdity and irrelevance, but not worth any more ink (pixels?). I don't mean to argue that expansion of the army and national defense aren't important (they are), but let's move beyond the knee-jerk rejectionists and accept that it is a necessary and good thing to invest in infrastructure improvements.

But we've got another problem. Returning soldiers are more prone to suicide, violence, and unemployment than the rest of society. There are some programs to help find employment for returning veterans, such as Hire Vets First, but according to Veterans Today, many service members "possess limited transferable job skills or very little civilian work experience".

So what do these two problems have to do with each other? Simple. Besides toppling armies, killing terrorists, and maintaining order, a great deal of the work in Iraq and Afghanistan has been — you guessed it — improving infrastructure. By building roads, bridges, and schools the US military is not just trying to win hearts and minds, but improve the economy of these war-ravaged countries so that the populace has better alternatives than opium-harvesting and suicide-bombing. These soldiers with supposedly "limited transferable job skills" have been improving infrastructure while under fire from the Taliban, Sadrites, and Al Qaeda.

If we are going to spend billions — trillions? — on war and infrastructure, it seems sensible to leverage the skills - and assist in the transition to civilian life - of our veterans. And — cue feigned outrage from the Right — this is a case where direct involvement from that most fearsome institution, the federal government, might do better than piecemeal tax incentives and local organizations. A vet might not have any clout trying to get a union card to work construction the man said "son if it was up to me . . ." — but a dedicated federal infrastructure corps could easily transition returning soldiers to good (and needed) jobs at relatively little cost and great benefit to us and them.

This need not be limited to regular infrastructure improvements. We can keep the Right happy — or at least less sad — by adding the Mexico security fence to the top of the list of projects. This is a win-win opportunity, and there's a cost to doing nothing . .

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

That Godawful Filet o' Fish Ad

Here's how this sort of tragedy happens: Somebody at McDonald's decides to cut the chain's losses to the Lenten beef embargo and emphasize the Filet o' Fish sandwich. There's a meeting. Advertising geniuses sit around a big table, and someone asks, "All right what do we know about fish? What's funny about fish?

And someone mentions that old Billy Bass toy that sings "Take Me to the River."
Boom! Done. The meeting's attendees decide, as one, that America hasn't yet wrung the last few drops of thud-headed glee from the singing-fish-on-the-wall novelty. Or maybe they conclude that enough time has passed since that item was first popular to permit its reintroduction to a whole new generation of slack-jawed children who had never seen it. In any event, once they latched on to the singing-fish motif, they had their commercial.

It doesn't matter that the resulting ad spot is logically impenetrable and a complete non sequitur. The fish intones — and I quote:
Give me back that Filet o' Fish!
Give me that fish!
What if it were you hanging up on this wall?
If it were you in that sandwich,
you wouldn't be laughing at all!

All of this is, on its face, incomprehensible gibberish. Vacuity of the first order. The fish wants his Filet "back" and calls upon us to think about how we'd feel if we were in the sandwich. But of course the fish isn't in the sandwich. Part of the fish could be in the sandwich, but this much is hardly apparent: the singing fish in fact resides on his plaque, perfectly intact.

Now I suppose the filet could have been cut from the side of the fish that is affixed to the plaque, and that the fish's apparent "completeness" is merely the result of an extensive undertaking of reconstruction-through-taxidermy. Thus might the fish simultaneously subsist on the wall and in the sandwich.

But what of the fact that the fish is calling for the return not just of a "filet," which we might interpret to mean a demand that a cut of meat be restored to him, but he also cries to be given back "that fish?" What fish? Is there another fish in play here? I suppose certain fish eat certain other fish. Is the mounted fish complaining that his fish sandwich was taken from him, and that he's not in a position to do anything about it, stuck as he is on a wall? But this would render indefinite the last bit about "if it were you in that sandwich," as it would seem hypocritical to fault a human for eating a fish sandwich, while at the same time complaining that you had been deprived of the same opportunity.

I'm coming to believe that the sense of the commercial depends upon an obscure, complicated and necessarily speculative back story that we know nothing about. It's not clear to me whether we're better or worse off not knowing it, but we're surely worse off after having seen this commercial than we might be if we'd have been able to proceed in our lives unmolested by this godawful nonsense.

And finally, I'd like to note that the fish charges his listeners with laughing, apparently at his expense. I think that's pretty presumptuous. The two human characters in the ad are not laughing. Their faces toggle subtly between expressions of bemusement and concern. This leaves only the television audience — the rest of us in T.V. Land who have been subjected to this inanity — and I'm not laughing. I am, in fact, far from laughing. I don't buy that a singing fish translates of necessity into laughter, and I don't like that I've been made the presumptive target of this fish's indignation.

But again: none of this matters. There's a singing fish, right? Boom! Done. There's your commercial. Building a compelling, comprehensible character-based narrative around that singing fish would only be gravy.

And nobody eats a Filet o' Fish with gravy.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Jackie's 62nd Anniversary? Really?

Major League Baseball plans to have all its players wear the number 42 tomorrow, to celebrate the 62nd anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the leagues' color barrier. I'm going to court controversy here and argue that this anniversary isn't worth celebrating.
[First, a disclaimer for the folks who will surely say, "You don't want to celebrate Jackie? You racist!": I'm a great admirer of Jackie Robinson and what he did for baseball. I like to think that if I were living in 1947, I'd have been in the pro-Jackie camp, just as I'm in this country's minority of same-sex marriage supporters today. So don't read this as coming from some curmudgeonly white guy who snorts his nose at Black History Month and complains that we're too preoccupied, as a nation, with our racist past (or present, for that matter). Folks who know me get that I'm not that guy.]

I've often complained about the arbitrariness of "milestones" and "anniversaries." It's only our base-10 numbering system, after all, that makes a baseball player's every 100th home run "special" and a cause for a curtain call or commemoration in the papers. The constant celebration of these milestone events gets tiresome. (Paul Konerko and Jermaine Dye hit each hit his 300th home run yesterday. Whoop-de-frickin'-doo.) As for anniversaries, it seems we can't be satisfied postponing our moments of wistful nostalgia until the nice, round number of ten years have passed. No, it's every five years the newspapers invite us to remember "where we were when Kennedy was shot," as if there's something about 1826 or 1827 days (it's possible to straddle two leap years in a five-year span) that triggers our common cultural compulsion to reflect on an important event from the past.

We're even susceptible to a bit of this arbitrariness here at FO, with our 200 years of Lincoln and Poe and 100 years of The Futurist Manifesto. It is, after all, nice to think about our forebears, and anniversaries give us an occasion to single out great events and great people. So while these numbers 10, 15, 20, 25, 50, 100, 200 don't really mean anything, we make good use of them to ensure that we look regularly to the past, but not so regularly that these great people and events are no longer "special."

Which brings me to Jackie, an unquestionably great man whose moment was unquestionably great and important — not just to baseball, but to society writ large. He should be celebrated; he should be remembered. But is it not enough to celebrate him within the standard cultural parameters of Base 10 and the Five-Year Corollary? Do we have to celebrate his 62nd anniversary? Really? Because where does it stop? 62.5 is actually a more meaningful number. Maybe the ballplayers should save their 42s until October, when they can celebrate 1/16 of a millennium of integrated baseball under the bright lights of playoff baseball.

62? Really? You get the impression that the folks running MLB's maketing department are behind this, that they see Jackie Robinson as a way to tie baseball to society, to continue to impress us with the sport's cultural relevance — when this much should be apparent just from the natural ebb and flow of the game. Or maybe they just want to remind us about something good that the sport did once — but of course the events of April 15, 1947 had nothing to do with the National League and everything to do with just two men: Branch Rickey and Jackie. I'm not averse to the notion that 30 baseball teams, their owners, and league officials can celebrate what none of their predecessors really wanted back in the day. It just gets a little awkward — and starts to seem a little exploitative — now that they're reaching for the number 62 to have their feel-good moment.

62? Really?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Thumbs Up to Obama's Revised Cuba Policy

Today the Obama Administration announced that it will relax longstanding sanctions on Cuba just a little.

These gestures — allowing emigres to travel and send remittances to their family members in Castroland, opening up communications channels for U.S. based cellular and satellite television carriers to broadcast into Cuba — could not but elicit criticism from the right, simply because we're talking about the lifting of restrictions on Cuba. And in due course, two Republican Cuban-American representatives posted this sharp critique of the policy change:
Unilateral concessions to the dictatorship embolden it to further isolate, imprison and brutalize pro-democracy activists, to continue to dictate which Cubans and Cuban-Americans are able to enter the island, and this unilateral concession provides the dictatorship with critical financial support.

But this sort of talk doesn't really enrich the discourse: the statement says nothing about the nature of the "concessions"; it chooses instead to blather about how awful the Castro regime is, presumably in support of the thesis that any treatment that doesn't consist of a stiffarm constitutes an indulgence to dictatorship. This is too bad, because I should think that the Diaz-Balart brothers are peculiarly positioned to make some nuanced contribution to the discourse on Cuba.

I'm not wholly averse to the notion that we have to "get tough" with dictators, but in the case of Cuba, it ought to be clear by now that a wholesale reevaluation of the United States' policy of "disengagement" is in order. It's been fifty years now, and I think it's fair to say that our isolation strategy has not been effective. Castro is still hanging on. There's no better indicator of Castro's growing sense of comfort than the evolution of his wardrobe — from his signature Revolution-evoking fatigues into a politician's suit, and then from there into pajamas and Adidas. Clearly, Fidel is letting it all hang out in his isolation and old age, and all signs point to an orderly transfer of power to Raul down the road. Maybe it's time to say that our policy just hasn't worked.  Why don't we put pride and spite aside for just a moment and consider the possibility that softening up the line just a little doesn't translate to "letting Fidel win?"  I think by most measures — at least those important to him — he's already won.  If you'd asked Castro in a candid moment back in 1960 to set the odds that he would be (1) alive, (2) still in Cuba, and (3) its head of state in 2009, even he would have laughed you out of the room.

And it's worth examining a bit more closely exactly the specific moves the Obama Administration has made. They haven't abandoned The Embargo outright. They're not sending champagne and Omaha Steaks to Fidel (or even DVDs). The relaxed restrictions are directed not at the Castro regime, but at the people suffering under it.  It seems not just benevolent to allow Cuban-Americans to reestablish ties with and lend material support to their families on the island — it's actually pretty clever. These families can see how their relations have prospered under the American system. The President gets that the isolation actually supports Castro's grip on power, because it makes it easier for him to suppress the evidence of working alternatives to the regime's ideology.  It's no coincidence that Obama relaxed the travel and remittance restrictions at the same time he opened up cellular and satellite concessions: these, too, will get word out to Cubans of the grand, beautiful world that subsists beyond the socialist writ of El Presidente Fidel.

Whether or not you might think this sort of opening-up is advisable with, say, Iran or North Korea, here it seems to be a no-brainer, given 50 years of failure and it's the only thing we haven't tried. So maybe Castro's government absorbs some of the proceeds of the check you write to Grandma in Havana. I'd be quite surprised if that revenue makes the difference between a surviving and a failing regime. The Cuban people deserve better — they deserve to know that there's better out there — and that's what will ultimately drive out the Communists. And I think we should place just a little bit of faith in Obama's strategy: here's a guy who knows a thing or two about bottom-up political movements.

Vercingetorix, tell me why I'm wrong.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Used Vinyl: Ohio and Indiana Edition

Count among the many joys of vinyl its ability to make a roundtrip drive from Chitown to Columbus, OH remotely bearable. I didn't have time to stop at every independent record store on the way, but did manage to stop by two gems.
First stop: Luna Records, Indianapolis
Luna feels more like one of those soul-destroying Virgin "Records" stores than your average vinyl shop, but only because it's clean and well-lit. I suppose a "good-for-them" is in order for not feeling the need to dingy up the place just to look authentic, but then again, let's face it, some of us like record stores because we can at least pretend the faux-authenticity is genuine.

But that's the only strike against the place. Used records are rotated in to the shelves and the rest are in egg crates below the CD racks (we forgive you). They don't have a grading system, but they let me play a few seemingly underpriced Dylan and Stones gems to make sure they played through OK (they did!). Vintage Hot Rocks; John Wesley Harding; Blue Hawaii; Last of the Mohicans; Meaty, Beaty, Big, and Bouncy. All in good enough condition. All relatively cheap.

And OK, it's not the most original, but Frank Horrigan likes it (and he saved the President!) so I had to pick up a re-released Miles Davis' (my high school jazz instructor thinks Bill Evans actually wrote most of it) Kind of Blue. Miles, what would you do if you had an hour to live? If somebody told me I only had an hour to live, I'd spend it choking a white man. I'd do it nice and slow. Oh, uh, that's nice Miles. Uh, how about you just play something for us . . .

Oh, and unlike what some used record store hipsters are wont to do, the cashier actually told me "those are all great records." I'm pretty sure it's against German speech laws to call The Sound of Musik by Falco a great record. Craptastic maybe. But great? Please.

Second stop: Used Kids, Columbus

Situated near the home of the universally acknowledged "most obnoxious fans in the midwest", Used Kids is what you'd expect from an establishment specializing in "previously enjoyed" LPs. Up the dingy staircase, plastered with postings, dimly lit. Perfect. The nephews came along for the trip and were given instructions to go out and find anything good.

The younger one came back with Deep Purple, Meet the Beatles ($1), and Appetite for Destruction. All keepers. Well done, young Jedi. "This kind of place makes me want to get a record player."

The elder came back with the orignial Run DMC ($3). At least the rapophile knows who started it all. "I can see why people spend lots of time in record stores," he said. There's hope for the next generation, after all . . .

Fifty bucks for Layla, Rubber Soul and Rock n' Roll Music Vols. I and II; Thirty-three bucks for the other twenty-one records. That's right. This place has the best dollar record section on the planet.

There's still apparently a little bit of originality left out there among the manufactured villages and chain stores . . .

Masthead Archive: April 10, 2009


Take that Ivy League Political Correctness!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Badasses of Songdom: SUSPENDED This Week, Until Triangle Man Posts Bail

I'm sorry to say that the rumors in the blogosphere are true: there will be no Badasses of Songdom fight this week. We thought long and hard about going ahead without Triangle Man: we have a pretty thick reserve of worthy combatants, after all. Mithridates proposed that I pluck two names out of my Badasses Rolodex, call up the lucky lottery winners and put 'em in a ring together. But I just didn't feel right moving forward on that. Our undefeated champion is in the lock-up, the hoosegow — he's "indisposed" — and it seems a bit cheap, a bit fraudulent, to schedule a title bout without him. I mean, we don't even have the frickin' title belt: the cops locked it away with T-Man's personal effects at the booking.

No, I've decided. We're not gonna budge on the Badasses series until (1) Triangle Man posts bail, or (2) somebody springs him.

All I can do today is tell you how we got here.
Now I know some of you saw the big mess of cop cars and ambulances in the parking lot after the Rigby fight. We've had emails about it, and folks have been anxious to find out what transpired there. Well, it shouldn't surprise anyone to learn that this darned holding pattern we're in right now has everything to do with the events that took place outside the Shriners Auditorium last Thursday night.

I'll say right off the bat that one of the ambulances was, of course, taking Eleanor Rigby "to hospital" (as they say in her neck of the woods). We're legally required to keep a crew of paramedics on hand to cart off one or more fallen combatants, as necessary. That's standard operating procedure, and nothing fishy about it.

The rest of the sirens, lights, and hullabaloo had to do with some "extracurricular" business involving Triangle Man (who else?) as he went out to his car after the fight. Now I was not a firsthand eyewitness to any of this, and I'm still piecing the story together from the police reports and court transcripts from the arraignment. But as best I can figure it, some guy who calls himself the Taxman approached Triangle Man just outside the doors of the Auditorium. He flashed some kind of documentation and demanded to know what T-Man's fight purse was.

"What's it to ya?" Triangle Man said. (I'm paraphrasing.)

The Taxman said he was entitled to a 95% cut of Triangle Man's BoS earnings to date. As you can imagine, that didn't go over well. Onlookers reported that in his sudden fury Triangle Man actually hit himself in the face, Woody Hayes-style, before proceeding to deal a flurry of blows to Taxman, taking him down to the asphalt.

"THAT'S ONE FOR ME, AND NINETEEN FOR YOU," Triangle Man shouted. Some libertarians in the crowd egged him on, and it took a dozen other people to pull him off the Taxman.

Folks had cell phones: they called the police. Someone shouted for medical assistance, but the paramedics had already blown the joint with Rigby.

"IS THERE A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE?" At which point a guy named Robert answered the call — who knew, with this audience demographic, that there would actually be a doctor handy? He went over to the Taxman, who was still down, and picked him up. "HE'S DYING THERE!" somebody shouted.

"I'll do everything I can," he said, calmly. He pulled out a flask from one jacket pocket, and a cup from another. The Taxman took a drink from the cup, swallowed, cleared his throat, and spat.

"YOU MOTHER FUC —" Taxman sprang to his feet and charged Triangle Man, who was still restrained (but barely).

"Well, well, well — YOU'RE feeling fine," Doctor Robert said. Something special was in that cup. The police would later have it swabbed for testing in their forensic lab. They're thinking PCP.

Depending on the witness, Taxman actually landed between one and five blows on Triangle Man, before the latter broke free from the crowd and beat the tar out of him. In the ensuing melee Doctor Robert broke his collarbone, and about a dozen other onlookers were injured. I recognized one of them from the police file: a guy from the town where I was born. He'd spent some time at sea and was always telling stories about submarines. Hadn't seen him in years, but I'm glad he's following the blog.

Four squad cars reported to the scene, and it took six cops and four Taser discharges to subdue Triangle Man. He had totally lost it and was screaming "SURRENDER TO THE VOID! IT IS SHINING!" over and over as they dragged him to the car.

At his arraignment the next morning, the court ruled that Triangle Man was a flight risk. Apparently he had escaped from his cell several times by turning himself sideways and slipping between the bars, only to find his bid for freedom thwarted by the solid locked door to the cell block. Bail is set at $5 million. They have him in solitary, in a bricked-up cell. It didn't help that the judge owned up to be a Beatles fan. The guy nearly killed everybody on the Revolver album.

Redneck, M'dates and I are pooling our resources, calling the few influential people we know. We should know by early next week whether we can get Triangle Man out of prison and back into action (pending trial on these aggravated assault charges, of course). We'll keep you posted.

Student Hippies Ride Again

Okay, so if these civilly disobedient students are correct when they shout that "This is what democracy looks like," then I'll concede that democracy looks like she slept under a bridge in a pile of discarded sandwich wrappers and hasn't combed her hair in a while. 

Now that I've made that concession, will you go back to your dorm rooms, or do I have to fund a program in hemp studies too?

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

FO News Roundup: April 8, 2009

We know you don't get your news anywhere else. Here's what's been going on in the world the past few days . . .
  • Oh, good. Russian and/or Chinese spies have hacked into the U.S. power grid. Didn't this just happen in 24? What's next? A firefight with an African warlord in the West Wing? (P)
  • Lindsay Lohan says she's in "absolute hell" right now. She also says she's taking a break to "focus on [her]self." Anybody see the connection? (P)
  • Our nation's esteemed newspapers (which are going under, by the way) continue to run stories about developments in TV shows. (P)
  • One of those hanging-by-a-thread papers asks, "Is Ping Pong the new foosball?" (P)
  • That's right, bitch. You don't mess with an American ship. (P)
  • Congrats to CNN, which managed to publish the Mainstream Media's millionth "teen sexting" story in the past week. (P)
  • It's not putting opinion in its headlines. Political Correctness is the only possible explanation for the decision to stop honoring a questionable figure. Fox does even more good for the country by gratuitously demonizing some of the best of our world-leading educational institutions. (M)

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Dear Lawn-Dart Manufacturer . . .

Dear Lawn-Dart Manufacturer:

I fondly remember your product from my childhood, and I was aggrieved to read recently that the federal Consumer Products Safety Commission has banned the manufacture and sale of lawn darts within the United States. I understand that the CPSC's prohibition on your livelihood has been in place for over 20 years, but it occurs to me presently that there may be a workaround — a loophole — that you haven't considered.
As I understand the regulation, the Commission decided to proceed with the lawn-dart ban (notwithstanding the considerable sporting enthusiasm for your product) after finding that irresponsible lawn-dart use had resulted in a number of accidental injuries and deaths. The CPSC lays out a pretty compelling case, after all: 670 ER visits? Three children killed between 1970 and 1988? Your goose sounds pretty cooked, Mr. Lawn-Dart Manufacturer.

But what if I told you it wasn't? What if I told you there's a product out there that, according to the Centers for Disease Control, caused 30,694 deaths in 2004 alone — and it's still on the market?

Your problem, LDM, isn't the inherently dangerous nature of your product. It's your marketing. You've promoted lawn darts as a toy — a game for suburbanites to play at summer barbecues. It seems like fun, but it ends in blood and disaster: enter the killjoys at CPSC. But what if you — and this might sound crazy, Lawn-Dart Manufacturer, but bear with me — what if you marketed lawn darts as instruments designed for the express purpose of causing grievous bodily harm to other people? In short, what if you marketed them as "arms?"

Bingo. There's your magic word. I should clarify: the magic word isn't bingo (although magicians are known to use it), but arms. Arms — that is, products that don't just accidentally injure and kill people, but are actually designed, marketed, and sold for the very purpose of injuring and killing people — are protected by a constitutional amendment. You can impose modest conditions and requirements on the sales of arms, but just you try to ban their manufacture and sale in these free United States.

Brilliant, right? Now what I've done is, I've taken the liberty of drawing up some promotional brochures — storyboards of an old woman drawing her concealed lawn-dart, whirling it expertly through the air and piercing the spleen of a masked assailant in a city street. I've got another one where gangs are lined up in a back alley, hurling lawn-darts at each other in a pitched battle to claim a city block of turf. And see this one here? This is a photo of lawn-dart enthusiasts who formed a militia in Michigan. They meet on Saturdays and talk about overthrowing the government. Send these alongside a strongly-worded cover letter to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and we'll have your darts back on sale in Army-Navy stores in a week. (Of course, we'll have to keep them locked in display cases with the numchuks and Rambo knives, but that just adds mystique, doesn't it?)

Before signing off, I want to say that I offer this advice not expecting any remuneration or royalty payments. Might be nice if you made a modest donation to the Feigned Outrage Web Development Fund, but it's not necessary. It's enough to know that I made a difference.




Monday, April 06, 2009

Forbes Tops List of Worst Lists

Isn't it fun to rank things? Look, I like my lists as much as the next guy (on the list) and I don't ask much: only that the people making the list are not completely and irretrievably mentally deficient like the sponge-for-brains editors at Forbes.
Portland, ME recently topped the magazine's list of Most Livable Cities. This is almost plausible. It's a nice place. I might even live there. And I can't say enough about the great state of Maine. And the New Englander in me loves to see his native land come out on top. But let's move on down the list a bit more to see — there it is at number 9 — Worcester, MA!

That's it. Throw the list in the trash. Right now. Worcester, MA — the Youngstown, OH of New England — shouldn't be in the top 50 in its own state. Not by any reasonable measure by reasonable people. Even worse now that Moses has been toppled in a fit of rage.

But let's be a bit more objective just for kicks. Here are two impossibly stupid things the Forbes folks did:
  • They looked only at Metropolitan Statistical Areas with over 500,000 people. This might be a sensible thing to do. What makes it completely insensible is to then look at the metrics for tiny towns within those MSAs and apply the tiny town metric to the whole area. Not following me? Here's an example:

    Portland, ME has about 64,000 people living in it. They claim the Portland metro area ranks high on five key metrics and then write about the "513,000 residents living the good life in the Portland metropolitan area". OK, so we must be talking about MSAs and not tiny towns within the MSAs, right?

    Peabody, MA — a harmless, but mediocre tiny town just outside of Boston that by some miracle of pseudo-science is #14 on any list — is indeed in an MSA over 500,000 people. You may have heard of it. It's called BOSTON.

    Look, Boston has its charms, but it's way too expensive ever to make it onto one of these "livable" lists. So these imbeciles at Forbes must be looking at metrics for just the town of Peabody, in which case they're inconsistent buffoons; OR they're looking at the whole MSA, their list is dumber than I imagined, and they badly mispelled (sorry) Boston.

  • At this point do we even need to mention that even a imbecilic chimpanzee would know that income growth over the past five years does not measure how affordable a place is compared with its cost-of-living, as Forbes suggests in commenting that "residents can afford the relatively high cost of living because of a 6.3% income growth rate over the past five years?"
Still think it's one big MENSA meeting over there in the Forbes editorial room? These cretins put Baltimore, MD as the #8 most livable city in the US. My God, how far we've fallen, if that's true. In the real world, Baltimore slugs it out with Green Bay and Detroit for worst places in North America. Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum, Chicago is somehow the 3rd most miserable city in the US!

But I guess in the end it's all good. Darwin's always at work. If you believe the nonsense these fools are selling you, pack up your Chi-town bags and head for BeMore. Both cities just just raised their average IQ. But otherwise cancel your subscription and use your dollars to save some other magazine that might be worth the ink.

Men vs Women


I've lost something like fifty pounds since I got married a few years ago, pretty evenly over time. As a result, when I run into people I haven't seen in a long time, it's not unusual for them to comment on my weight loss. 

Here's the interesting part: the men frequently say something like "Wow, your wife must be taking great care of you." And the women will often say something like "Gosh, is your wife not feeding you?"

Now, not everyone makes a connection between the weight loss and my marriage, but whenever it happens, the men put a positive spin on it, and the women a negative one.

I don't know what this all means, but I find it interesting.


The Western diplomat said the council might take up a resolution or a non-binding statement that would reaffirm existing sanctions.
I'll just leave it at that for my commentary on the North Korean missile launch response.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Varnum Decision: Well Said, Your Honors

Here is a copy of the decision handed down by the Iowa Supreme Court in Varnum v. Brien, which invalidated Iowa's "man and woman only" marriage law.
I've argued more than once (to M'dates and V'torix in email, on The Volokh Conspiracy whenever I get worked up) that, despite the chorus of complaints from the right every time one of these decisions issues, it's really not the worst thing in the world to deposit with the judiciary the final authority on interpreting constitutional commands like equal protection.

I realize that conferring that authority on a small group of human beings requires a certain amount of blind trust. Quis custodet custodes? everybody on the losing side of a constitutional decision wants to know, when that decision comes down. Who watches the watchmen? And it has become a common practice for people to wrap their displeasure with the decision in an indictment of "runaway ativist judges." "The people make a decision," the complainers complain, "and these judges, who answer to nobody, overrule it. It's undemocratic."

To which I answer: the buck has to stop somewhere. We have constitutions — and the provisions for equal protection within them — precisely because we're not all that trusting, either, of public officials and the political majorities who shuttle them in and out of office. We need someone to measure our laws, the actions taken by our government under them, against our constitutional principles. We could let government actors self-police, or we could refer the questions to another authority.

The more, the better when that other authority employs in its decisionmaking the kind of thoughtfulness, intellectual rigor, and sound argumentation that the Iowa Supreme Court supplied here. Of course I support this outcome, because I support the rights of gays and lesbians and, among them, the right to same-sex marriage. But putting my own prejudices (or lack thereof) aside as best I can, I want to say that anyone who cares about how our government works — including those who profess to be so very concerned about the powers of judges — should take great heart from reading the Varnum decision. By the time one finishes reading it, it's hard to conclude that the Iowa justices took this matter lightly or regarded the case as an occasion simply to impress their own personal whims on the public.

And this is important to remember: it may not seem like much, but there is a centuries-old tradition of jurisprudence by which judges recognize that, when they reach a decision like this, the public is entitled to a careful, written explanation of how they reached it. They recognize, too, that in these writings they need to show deference to the determinations of the political branches, and they need to follow or distinguish with compelling argumentation existing precedents from other courts. Even where a highest court, like Iowa's here, is in a position to announce a new binding interpretation of law, or to depart from precedent in favor of a new rule — even here, judges more often than not do the good work of ensuring that their decisions are factually, logically, and rhetorically defensible. This is an institutional check on judging that has, as I've written, centuries of momentum behind it, and judges do not lightly dismiss it.

Oh, sure: it's worth remembering that judges were once lawyers, and so they have years of training and experience in self-serving justification, the manipulation of language, and so on. But at least they're required to go through the exercise of writing up their decisions. I'd be surprised if any one of the state legislators who voted on the law invalidated here (for or against) put anything close to 10% of the thinking into the question that these Iowa judges did.

So yeah, I don't feel great that somebody has to (and therefore gets to) make supreme, binding interpretations of what our federal and state constitutions say. But that's a fact of life, and I do feel pretty good about the sort of people to whom we entrust this great responsibility. Especially when they're as respectful, cogent, deliberate, and complete as the Iowa judges who signed on to this decision.

Well written (both case and commentary). A few thoughts to add:
  • The pros and cons cited by the plaintiffs and defendants are quite telling (pp. 9-11). The plaintiffs outline a number of tangible ways in which their lives are negatively affected; the defendants speculate about unsubstantiated negative repercussions — which the plaintiffs refute with scientific evidence. There are real benefits to allowing civil marriage, but the defendants can't provide any real disadvantages.
  • The justices do an excellent job of explaining why the courts should, on occasion, overrule the other branches of government:
The idea that courts, free from the political
influences in the other two branches of government, are better suited to protect individual rights was recognized at the time our Iowa Constitution was formed.

A statute inconsistent with the Iowa Constitution must be declared void, even though it may be supported by strong and deep-seated traditional
beliefs and popular opinion.
  • Finally, I just thought this quote was great. Times change. Society advances. So must the law. Thank you, Oliver Wendell Holmes:
It is revolting to have no better reason for a rule of law than that so it was laid down in the time of Henry IV. It is still more revolting if the grounds upon which it was laid down have vanished long since, and the rule simply persists from blind imitation of the past.

Yours are good points. One thing that is not very apparent from the political streetfights on this issue is that the stakes for practical living are considerably higher for one side than they are for the other. When a court is asked to do the nuts-and-bolts work of weighing these competing interests, it helps clear a lot of the rhetorical fog.

This was definitely a case written not just for the consumption of the lawyers, but of the public, too. You can always tell a significant case from the length of its preamble — the ideas being (1) that the public will want an explanation that isn't peppered to death with citations (like much of the legal discussion that follows), and (2) that lazy journalists will cherrypick their quotations from just the first part.

Two sections jump to mind as directed specifically to the public and really novel and interesting in their approach. First, there's the bit in which the court describes cases where judges very controversially (at the time) struck down discriminatory laws and shows that years later, these decisions are hardly controversial, and the laws (laws that returned escaped slaves, laws that kept women from practicing law) are relics of history. Second, there's the bit in which the court confronts religion — the elephant in the room — and explains that religious belief does not present a compelling argument for rejecting same-sex marriages (given that a number of religions tolerate them), and even if it did, that basis would not be a proper consideration to guide the court.

There was clearly an effort here to confront and address every facet of this question — even those, like the religious dimension — that hover palpably over the case but are not discussed in court.

Oh, and one more thing: not a single dissenting vote on the court. Beat that, California, Massachusetts.

" . . . lazy journalists will cherrypick their quotations from just the first part." Busted.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Masthead Archive: April 2, 2009


Yeah? Well, you should see the other guy. (not really)

Badasses of Songdom: Triangle Man v. Eleanor Rigby

All right. Let's just get this one over with. Nobody on our side wanted it, but McCartney insisted on a package deal: no Bungalow Bill unless we took Eleanor Rigby, too. You drive a hard bargain, Macca. Fine. Whatever. Kill this series before it gets any kind of momentum behind it. You're the pop star.

We didn't expect much in the way of attendance tonight — this Rigby woman isn't easy to promote — but we've had a lot of walkups, folks all on their lonesome, buying single tickets. All these lonely people plunking down hard-earned dollars to see Triangle Man kick around an old maid: where did they come from?

Mithridates and Redneck pooled their savings and shelled out for the "Let's Get Ready To Rumble" Guy: anything to give this bout a little bit of the luster it's so obviously lacking. LGRTR Guy does his bit in style — the guy's a professional — but whatever the hell intern chimpanzee they have running the lights here at the Shriners Auditorium is having the damnedest time landing his spotlight on The Challenger. To the left . . . no. Try over there. Other corner. That her? Think so.

Pale woman, middle-aged — I don't know why I'm trying: she's the definition of non-descript — bent over eating spilled rice off the floor. Carbo-loading? M'dates tells me there was a wedding in the venue earlier in the day.

Triangle Man's in the Red Corner, jacked up on Yoo-Hoo and speed, making confrontational and obscene gestures to the crowd. They just stare back at him, blank-faced and alienated; they can't be bothered even to communicate their baser emotions. Seriously, where did these people come from? T-Man has gone razor-sharp isoceles today. He's thinking bum-rush impalement. Gonna kebab this old bat, stick her clean through to the sandbags in her corner. You can read it in his eyes.

Rigby showed some foresight: she brought her own cut man. Man of the cloth, apparently. He's got a Bible with him, a pair of darning needles (darning needles? really? not forceps?) and a roll of sutures. A 2-fer-1 proposition: he can stitch her up or administer last rites, as necessary.

Over/under here is 35 seconds before KO, TKO. I'm taking the under.

National anthem, invocation from this Father Mackenzie (not that anybody was listening), the band plays "Silly Love Songs" — another contractual concession to McCartney — and they ring the bell. Triangle Man stalks across the ring with the ugliest of intentions.

"Triangle Man. Triangle Man. Triangle Man hates Eleanor Rigby."

That doesn't read all that intimidating, I know, but until you've seen him say it, you have no idea. Ten, fifteen seconds tick off. No contact. Triangle Man circles the ring. He looks confused. It's like — it's like he can't find her. Weirdest thing: she's standing there in plain sight, but T-Man keeps streaking past her. She's managed to place herself beneath his notice. A neat trick: I don't even see her half the time — my eyes are fixed on Triangle Man, and she only flashes across my field of vision as he blows by her.

Fifteen, twenty seconds. Triangle Man is beside himself. "DAMMIT, RIGBY, WHERE ARE YOU?!?" he bellows. He stabs his acute angle into the ring's canvas floor and angrily tears it to shreds.

"There goes our deposit," Mithridates sighs from behind me.

Twenty-five seconds. Rigby steps lightly aside to avoid colliding with her ranting, pacing opponent. Unfortunately, she steps into one of the tears in the floor. She sprains an ankle and cries out. Triangle Man turns toward the sound and sights his prey.

Thirty seconds. Get her! GET HER QUICK! I've got a hundred bucks riding on the over/under!

Triangle Man pauses. He actually stops, lets his raised razor-sharp point droop to the canvas. He seems . . . touched. Rigby's wearing the most pitiful face you've ever seen. It's frickin' ridiculous. What a caricature of a sad-sack personality. Who does she think she's gonna win over with that? Well, Triangle Man, apparently. He's struggling with himself. Pangs of conscience I've never seen before: he can't bring himself to move on her.

Thirty-two seconds.

Triangle Man is fighting back tears. You've got to be kidding me.

Thirty-four seconds.

"I'm sorry," Triangle Man. This leanest, meanest, most merciless and unforgiving son-of-a-polygon is apologizing to Eleanor Rigby. His stomach heaves, and he sighs. It's a dramatic over/under-straddling sigh of empathy and resignation.

Thirty-six seconds. Triangle Man shrugs, checks his watch, and finally drops his kebab move on her. Game over. They had a fight (sort of). Triangle wins. Triangle Man.

And I'm down a C-note to Vercingetorix. Pfft.

Better matchup next week, Brothers and Sisters. We promise.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Leave My Dog Alone

From the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" department. Apparently Fenway Franks are being remade and the new supplier "is hoping to wow Fenway's Faithful with a frank that it says is meatier with more distinct flavors of garlic and smoke than anything previously served in the shadow of the Green Monster."
I don't want meatier. I don't want garlic and smoke. I want the same lightly-steamed, no-protein, bland, mystery-animal-by-product wiener served in a wonder-bread style bun with mustard and relish that I've had since I can remember. I'm paying for gastronomical nostalgia here. If I want fine dining I'll go to L'Espalier.

Apparently they're using "leaner cuts of meat than in the old Fenway Frank!" Come on people! I'm not on a diet! I'm at the ballgame, making myself fatter and loving it.
As the first hot dogs rolled off the production line last week at the Chelsea factory, [Kayem Foods Inc., VP Matt] Monkiewicz took a deep breath and smiled: "It smells like Fenway Park."
Great, they're replacing one of the few perfect foods in the world with a wienerwurst that smells like stale urine and sweaty fat guy.

Look, I know everyone prefers their own ballpark cylindrical meat sausage and that's fine. I'm OK with that. Let them have their Dodger Dog if they can be bothered to show up to the game on time. Let them ruin their second-rate Yankee Dog with ketchup. It's not my concern. Really.

But for the love of god, don't mess with my perfect weenie!