Friday, January 29, 2010

FO News Roundup: January 29, 2010

  • Senator John Cornyn would fault Obama for offering substantive criticism of a SCOTUS opinion, with the Justices in the room. Whereas it's just fine to suggest, in the same room, that judges are asking to get shot because of their liberal opinions. Really, the GOP couldn't find someone with more moral authority to argue this point? (P)
  • Really? UBL's quoting Noam Chomsky and ranting about climate change? Guess indiscriminate slaughter of infidels isn't the winner of an issue it once was. (P)
  • Mr. Salinger, meet John Lennon. He's got a bone to pick with you. (P)
  • There's no truth to the rumor that the body was found holding a Monkey's Paw. (P)
  • John Edwards made a sex tape with Rielle Hunter, presumably on the theory that no one would ever want to watch that long enough to confirm who was on it. (P)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Make 'Em Filibuster!

Massachusetts elected a Republican Senator, and the health care bill is dead. Cap and trade is dead, too. And absent any lapse in party discipline — and you can accuse Republicans of lacking all sorts of things (hearts and brains leap to mind) but discipline is one thing they have in spades — pretty much any item on the legislative agenda that matters to Democrats is, to put it bluntly, dead.

There's talk now about what to do about the health care bill. Press ahead, undeterred, on the understanding that this was always going to be a slog? Go back to the drawing board? Take the offensive? Blow up the Senate rules? Push the bill through to a vote before Brown takes up his seat?

There's one option I haven't heard discussed: the Democrats could actually require the Republican Senators to filibuster the bill. Seriously.
You see, nobody actually filibusters in the Senate anymore. The minority simply threatens to filibuster — and the majority, upon realizing it doesn't have the required 60 votes, abandons the bill, at least as currently configured. Per my unimpeachable source on the subject:
Today, the minority just advises the majority leader that the filibuster is on. All debate on the bill is stopped until either cloture is voted by three-fifths (now 60 votes) of the Senate. Some modern Senate critics have called for a return to the old dramatic endurance contest but that would inconvenience all senators who would have to stay in session 24/7 until the filibuster is broken.
If the Democrats truly believe they are on the right side of the question here, they should make the Republicans stand on the floor and drag out the debate, for several reasons:

First, if (as we hear) health care reform really matters to the Senators who support it, they ought to suffer through the "inconvenience" of a prolonged debate.

Second, if (as we hear) health care reform really horrifies the Senators who oppose it, they ought to be able to summon the energy to prolong the debate.

Third, if (as we hear) a significant objection to the bill is that it's been "crammed through" in a great hurry and without due attention to the weightiness of the subject matter, then surely a prolonged debate would vitiate that concern. For that matter — and maybe I'm showing exactly how naïve I am about Washington — the prolonged debate could yield insights or result in amendments that improve the bill.

Fourth, if (as we hear) a significant objection to the bill is that the public, and indeed lawmakers themselves, know so little about what's in it, then we all ought to benefit — understand again that I'm naïve — from a prolonged debate on the bill's merits.

Ah, Phutatorius: you dipshit! This isn't how filibusters work! It's not actually a debate. There's no substance here; it's purely a procedural stall, with one side reading the phone book and reciting "Jabberwocky" from memory. What's to be gained from keeping the lights on all night for this nonsense, when we can assume it all away, consistently with "modern practice?"

But now we're getting to the genius of the proposal (if I do say so my-naïve-self): Democrats can participate, too, and they can make their case on the "moral issue" of universal coverage all the more pointedly by juxtaposition. Imagine a scenario in which a Republican takes the floor, say, to auction off a date with his daughter, and then a corresponding Democrat rises to the podium and tells the story of an uninsured family bankrupted by health care costs and ousted from its house. After a round or two of this, the Republicans will have to make substantive contributions to the debate. If they don't, and the Democrats manage in the interim to make coherent and compelling presentations about the crisis this legislation means to resolve (yes, yes, naïveté, etc.), they'll come off looking spiteful and destructive. They'll look not-so-serious about an important moral issue.

Trust me: the GOP will be arguing substantive points on the floor very quickly. And the Democrats can, taking their turns at the microphone make their case as to why this bill, their bill, will alleviate the crisis. Indeed, with both sides committed to indefinite debate, we might even be able to go point-by-point, section-by-section, through the law. At this point the Democrats could make a second, economic case for the bill.

My point is, this ought to be a debate the Democrats want to have, and by promising to filibuster, it's fair to say their Republican counterparts are determined to give them that debate. If they debate well, surely the tide of public opinion will send one or more of the holdout Senators their way.

And if it doesn't, all this would still make great theater. That ought to count for something.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Privacy Protection

Me: The lease is up on my Prius. I want to exercise the buyout option.

Toyota Customer Service Rep: Great. So we'll send you some forms to fill out, and you just need to return them to us with a check for the buyout amount. We can fax you the forms, or —

Me: Can you email them to me?

TCSR: Unfortunately we can't email them to you, because of privacy laws.

Me: But you can fax them to me? Because my email comes just to me, whereas my fax number is for my whole office. Privacy laws are stupid.

TCSR: [silence]

Me: Yeah, OK. So fax them to me.

TCSR: Great. What's your fax number?

. . . and scene.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

FO News Roundup: January 21, 2010

  • Bowling Alley Turf Wars in Jersey: A Farce in Three Lines. Arsonist 1: “Can you spare a match?” Arsonist 2: “Here’s one, now strike it.” Arsonist 1: “Done. It’s 7:10. We’d better split.” (P, here all week, unfortunately).
  • Cindy McCain has duct tape on her mouth to support same-sex marriage. Can we get some on her husband? (P)
  • Your honor, I move to dismiss this complaint as baseless. The plaintiff didn't slip on butter. She slipped on butter-flavored topping. (P)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

FO News Roundup: January 20, 2010

  • Coakley pollster: this wasn't our fault, Dems will get crushed everywhere in November, you'll see, etc. Translation: it was our fault, here's more proof, and now we're gonna take you all down with us. (P)
  • Sorry, Pudge, but not everything stays fair. (P)
  • Brittany Murphy had a "fear of dying." And then she died. Which makes her just like everyone else, only famouser. (P)
  • You thought the a la carte checked luggage fees were rough. Now Air France proposes to charge you for your carry-on fat. (P)
  • N.Y. dealers to N.J.: quit bogarting our business with your "medicinal purposes" law! (P)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Limbaugh, Parks Book Their Seats on the Jerk Jet

If there were an abundance of justice in this world, and said justice had poetic license to act — certain persons in this world would swap places with the suffering citizens of Haiti. Of course Pat Robertson would be named on the passenger manifest of Justice Air's next flight from Pampered Prosperity to Port-au-Prince. And if I had my way as booking agent, two other nimrod passengers would be joining him.

I was conflicted when I wrote about Pat Robertson the other day. What can be said about this nimrod that is new or interesting? And when it's obvious the guy's motivation in saying appalling stupid things is a need for attention, to stay "relevant" and in the public eye, isn't simply ignoring him the better and more constructive thing to do? Yeah, probably. But I'm a weak person, in my soul, and I'm insufferable. Some things I just can't let slide. So it is with Limbaugh, who because of my susceptibility to The Ridiculous wins the moral (if inconsequential) victory of seeing his name in print on Feigned Outrage, on the strength of an obviously calculated bid to "make waves" in the Eastern Caribbean.
Limbaugh took to the airwaves with great vigor and vitriol last week, declaring that President Obama's attention to the crisis in Haiti was a cynical and opportunistic attempt to score political points. Geez, sound familiar, Rush? (Um, er, sound familiar, Phutatorius? All right, Writer's Conscience: knock it off . . .) Rush went on to suggest that Democrats will "use this to burnish their, shall we say, credibility with the black community, both the light-skinned and dark-skinned black community in this country," adding that "Besides, we've already donated to Haiti. It's called the U.S. income tax."

Now let's assume for a moment — this will take effort — that Limbaugh isn't completely full of shit here. Let's assume that the President's "motivations" for rallying citizen support for the Haitian relief effort and his orders to the U.S. military to assist with the transport and distribution of supplies are purely political. So frickin' what? At times I've given change to someone in the street, and I've felt good about myself afterward, and I've asked myself whether the fact that I felt good about myself — and so gained something from it — detracts somewhat from the pure benevolence of the act. The answer to that question is undoubtedly "Yes." No act of kindness is totally and completely selfless, and that fact should never — never ever ever — cause a person to refrain from acting kindly. Barack Obama is our President. He's therefore The Person in the World Best Positioned To Do Good for Haiti. That goodwill might gather to him as a result ought to be a secondary consideration.

We have aisle seats in coach and Business Class still available, Mr. Limbaugh. Please note that federal regulations prohibit smoking in the aircraft cabin, and we'll kick your fat, freaky ass if you tamper with the smoke detectors in the lavs.

Lest it should appear that the work of nutjob politicizing the Haiti crisis is exclusively the province of the American right, let's board our next passenger, Alexia Parks of The Huffington Post. In response to President Obama's appointment of Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush to lead the Haiti Relief Effort writes the following:
No, President Obama. NO! You cannot take this step. It is like opening the door to looters and thieves. This act must be undone. It is not bi-partisan. It
is foolhardy, and shows the degree to which the Bush and Cheney drones are still
undermining real change that must take place, top to bottom in Washington.

* * *

What Haiti needs is visionaries, not vacuous placeholders.
Ms. Parks goes on to suggest that the Bush appointment impliedly introduces Dick Cheney into the relief effort, presumably based solely on Bush's prior association with Cheney, as nothing I've read remotely suggests that Bush and Cheney signed on as a package (or, for that matter, than they're forever joined at the hip).

Somewhere in this post, there might be the shade of a suggestion that the Bush Administration's policies toward Haiti might delegitimize relief efforts led by Dubya. But you'd have to work really hard to extract that logic from Ms. Parks's effusion of outrage. At best, then, this is a lost opportunity to make a plausible point. At worst — and this is what I'm inclined to believe — this comment is politics at its most unreadable.

I'm sorry, Ms. Parks: you'll have to check your ideological baggage at the end of the jetway, as it won't be able to fit in any of the overhead bins.

And it raises an important corollary to the point I just made about Limbaugh: just as it ought to be immaterial why the U.S. is trying to get help to Haitians in great danger and distress, it ought, too, to be immaterial who does it. But this is an observation entirely lost on the likes of Ms. Parks. It puts me in mind of folks on the left who loved to complain that the U.S. government, under Clinton, did not adequately address the Taliban's deplorable treatment of Afghan women. And then, suddenly, when a Republican Administration sends troops in to dislodge that regime by force, many of the same folks objected.

At bottom, I think I need to be a better person. A lot of folks are pulling together to help alleviate the situation in Haiti — with their money, with in-kind donations, with their own blood, sweat, and tears. 99.99999997% of the people in this world have responded to this crisis in ways that attest to our shared human values. That ought to be enough for me.

And maybe it will . . . once we've cleared this Jerk Jet for takeoff.


FO News Roundup: January 19, 2010

Hold those dinner plans. Macaweggie is coming to town.
  • Wait, so he probably isn't even the killer? And he's only getting 5 years knocked off a 30-year sentence? Oh, Boston Herald: you had me nice and hopping mad with the "NJ governor releases murderer" headline, and then those lefties at the AP screwed it up with their facts. (P)
  • Oh, pow! That's ROUGH! Oh, wait: turns out Rachel Alexandra is actually a horse. (P)
  • In business news, Kraft's buying Cadbury. Mac and cheese with creme eggs in 'em. (P)
  • The Chinese government doesn't like Avatar. The American right doesn't like Avatar. Ergo, the American right is just like the Chinese government. Well, they're both buzzkillers, anyway. (P)

Happy Birthday, Doc!

Happy Birthday (celebrated) to one of my favorite people! Judging by the picture shown here, my guess is that Harry Reid would refer (in private) to MLK as a "medium-skinned African-American." And from the speech I listen to every year on this date (try it, you'll like it), I'm pretty sure the Senator would say he speaks with a "Negro dialect."

But if you could talk to him right now, what do you think Dr. King would say about the Senator's controversial comments regarding Barack Obama? I bet it would go something like this:
We have a Negro President!?!? Holy Fucking Shit! We have a Negro President!
OK, fine, I'm just speculating here, and yes, whatever Dr. King said would almost certainly be a bit more eloquent. But I'm going to celebrate the man's birthday with a few observations on the most recent racial scandal.

Racist, un-PC, or both?
Many made the point, but since we normally skewer the guy for the nonsense he puts out, I'm going to give props to Jeff Jacoby for finally writing something half-intelligent. In his column earlier this week, he managed to state the obvious truth that what Harry Reid said was NOT racist. He even went so far as to criticize Republican chairman Michael Steele for saying that Reid got caught "saying racist things." "Negro" may be politically incorrect (for whatever that's worth), but it's a category in the Census, has many other uses, and, as Jacoby points out, Reid is old and has seen several terms used for "African-American," so who cares? Like the mom in Bloom County who didn't understand why we could say United Negro College Fund and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, but couldn't say "Negro" or "colored" [note: the politically correct term at the time was "people of color"]. What Harry Reid said might not have been PC, but it wasn't racist by any stretch. At worst, he was speculating too harshly on racism he perceived in the American electorate. Remember when we could laugh at this stuff?

Accusations of racism are thrown around too lightly. As the always-entertaining and enlightening Christopher Hitchens points out in this interview:

Actually, from some people I don't even care if I'm being called a racist. Their standards have become so low that it doesn't hurt like it should . . . And, by the way, that's a disaster. Racism should be a severe accusation. It should be something you are afraid of.

And so truly racist people are able to defend themselves by saying they're just being unfairly attacked by the "politically correct." As David Cross writes to Larry the Cable Guy:

You took umbrage at my calling a lot of your act anti-gay and racist and said that "...according to Cross and the politically correct police, any white comedians who mention the word 'black' or say something humorous but faintly negative about any race are racists." Well, first of all, your act is racist. Maybe not all the time, but it certainly can be. Here, let me quote you back, word for word, some of your "faintly negative" humor and I'll let people judge for themselves.

* * *

"Let me ask some of these commie rag head carpet flying wicker basket on the head balancing scumbags something!"

* * *

"What the hell is this the cartoon network? The Republicans had a muslim give the opening prayer at there (sic) convention! What the hell's going on around here! Is Muslim now the official religion of the United States!...First these peckerheads (...) fly planes into towers and now theys (sic) prayin' before conventions! People say not all of em did that and I say who gives a rats fat ass! That's a fricken slap in the face to New York city by having some muslim sum-bitch give the invocation at the republican convention! This country pretty much bans the Christian religion (the religion of George Washington and John Wayne) virtually from anything public and then they got us watchin' this muslim BS!! Ya wanna pray to allah then drag yer flea infested ass over to where they pray to allah at!" End Quote. So...yeah. There you go.

Yeah, so Larry the Cable Guy might be racist. Thank you, David, for calling him out. Harry Reid just might have been a bit un-PC.

The double-standard double-standard
The "liberal double-standard" feigned outrage of the Fox-Republican-righty blogosphere coalition is always tiresome, but in this case there's simply no case. Steele cries foul:
“What’s interesting here, is when Democrats get caught saying racist things, an apology is enough. If that had been [Senate Minority Leader] Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) saying that about an African-American candidate for president of the president of the United States, trust me, this chairman and the [Democratic National Committee] would be screaming for his head, very much as they were with Trent Lott.”
Of course what Lott said, in a public setting, was "When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years." Thurmond ran on a segregationist platform. Lott had made similar remarks before at a rally in Mississippi in 1980, "You know, if we had elected this man 30 years ago, we wouldn't be in the mess we are today." Lott claimed he wasn't talking about segregation, but fiscal conservatism. That seems implausible, but I guess within the realm of possibility. Even the Wall Street Journal editorial page hammered Trent Lott for this. Lott made repeated public remarks that at best expressed nostalgia for racial segregation; Reid used an un-PC term about a President he supported. Every right-wing pundit who used the Lott-Reid comparison to "prove," once again, that the left maintains a double standard on race is full of crap. The two events simply aren't comparable.

Of course, the Democrats are entirely consistent on the race issue. They'll use the facts that there are no black Republicans in congress, blacks vote overwhelmingly Democratic, and Republican supporters are overwhelmingly white to attack the Republicans as racist every chance they get. They've always done this and always will. The Republicans are perceived as weak on race and the Democrats will take advantage. Just as the Republicans do on national security with their "double standard" regarding failed shoe bomber ("see, we need Bush's policies to keep us safe! Damn liberals!") and failed underwear bomber ("see, Obama's not protecting us! Damn liberals!").

Race Matters
To be PC in the 21st century, Harry Reid should have stuck to "African-American." And one might say we should let people be called whatever they want. The problem is that "African-American" is a terribly imprecise term to use to denote a person's race. Dark-skinned twins from Angola leave home: one moves to NYC, the other to London. One's now an African-American, the other is not. Does anyone in the world believe they're not of the same race?

So who cares? Well, there are consequences. In 2007, commentators on Jackie Robinson Day came out in droves to decry how Jackie would be disapointed with the racial make-up of today's Major League Baseball rosters, noting that only 8-9% of players were African-American. A representative article by ESPN's John Helyar lists MLB's African-American players. Missing from the list, among many others, are the following:

Those guys are all blacker than "African-American" Derek Jeter, but they don't count because they're not American and therefore not African-American. But they certainly couldn't have played before Jackie broke the color barrier. MLB has grown steadily less American, you see, and therefore less everything-American. It's certainly gotten steadily less white.

But at least the fact is true. The worst part is some headlines actually read "Baseball only 8% Black", which is just plain wrong. But you can't blame them for being confused. Just take a look (an actual "look") at any MLB team and it screams racial diversity.

Such bad terms for race lead to things like white South Africans being able to get credit on college applications by checking the "African" box and educators bemoaning the racial mix at Harvard by noting that most of the blacks aren't African-American.

But after all this, I'd have to break the news to Dr. King that we actually have a white President. You see, his mother was white. Oh no wait, my bad. By current racial accounting rules you have to have 100% pure white blood all the way down the line to qualify as white. Any African heritage at all qualifies you — like Derek Jeter, Tiger Woods, and Lenny Kravitz — as African-American. Now how racist is that?

But if you want to take the edge off some of the cynicism . . .

Not bad, huh?

Monday, January 18, 2010

FO News Roundup: January 18, 2009

Stray bullets have their merits, but we prefer to fire off our ammo in concentrated bursts. And so, the Roundup is back:

Sunday, January 17, 2010

BULLETIN: Hey, so that kid you want to abort? He could grow up to be a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback and the World's Best Person Ever. Choice can be a real bitch.

Friday, January 15, 2010

BULLETIN: Scott Brown doesn't think President Obama's views are relevant to the Senate race in Massachusetts. But Curt Schilling's are. What, is he going down there to call balls and strikes?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Haiti and Pat Robertson's Petty and Incompetent God


Pat Robertson says Haitians got their just deserts in the form of a 7.0 earthquake, because their ancestors "made a pact with the Devil" to get out from under the French. At risk of generalizing, I'll venture the notion that a lot of the time people say really stupid things because they don't think before they talk. This is the greatest of gifts to bloggers, because it allows us to do the thinking-through afterward, and so we end up with a fairly newsworthy post.

So let's get to what I believe to be the considerable flaws in Pat's thesis.
There is some historical support for the suggestion that Haitians conducted a voodoo ritual in advance of the 1791 insurrection against French colonist occupiers:
This event was a Petwo Voodoo service. On the evening of August 14th Dutty Boukman, a houngan and practitioner of the Petwo Voodoo cult, held a service at Bois Caiman. A woman at the service was possessed by Ogoun, the Voodoo warrior spirit. She sacrificed a black pig, and speaking the voice of the spirit, named those who were to lead the slaves and maroons to revolt and seek a stark justice from their white oppressors.
See also Dutty Boukman's Wikipedia entry.

There is no evidence that the Haitians obtained the assistance of the Devil, necessarily, as their Lafayette, but we'll cut Pat a break on this point and assume he was taking some rhetorical license here. The upshot is that Haitians turned on the white Christians who were brutalizing and enslaving them, and they enlisted the aid of a god of their own. That god wasn't Pat Robertson's God, these Haitians weren't practicing as Christians, and so there's basis enough here for divine retribution 220 years later, in Pat's view. Fine. Done.

It's what happens next that doesn't make any sense. First, the Haitians win. That is, the side aided by the Devil triumphs over the Christian French, and the Haitians are awarded independence. You'd think Pat Robertson's God, if He were All That, could have nudged his army, better trained and resourced, to victory over this ragtag bunch of rebels with Ogoun/Satan backing them. But it's commonly the case that Satan presents counterparties to his contracts with earthly spoils, only to have them lose their immortal souls in the process. That's the way divine justice works, after all: win here and now, lose later and Elsewhere. That could well have happened in this instance.

Except it seems Pat Robertson's God was Heaven-bent on earthly retribution, and so, after stewing for some 220 years, PRG slapped this week's earthquake down on Port-au-Prince. These two centuries of delay might seem like the bat of an eyelash to the Embodiment of Eternity, but the practical effect of it is that none of the folks at the voodoo ritual were on hand to suffer the result of the quake. PRG, being omniscient, would have known this, and yet He acted anyway. This starts to look a lot less like justice than it does about revenge — particularly when you consider that God, being omniscient, would be well aware of the old saws that "justice delayed is justice denied," whereas "revenge is a dish best served cold."

But of course even in the case of revenge, you'd want to make sure that your act of vengeance was directed at the very persons who have offended you. Now it may be the case — Pat doesn't discuss this — that certain persons in Haiti continue to practice voodoo in lieu of Christianity. Maybe those folks could fairly be the object of PRG's transferred wrath. Still, though, an earthquake is a rather blunt instrument with which to knock out nonbelievers. One would think that Pat Robertson's God, being omnipotent, would be able to smite and strike down anyone he pleased, with perfect precision. Until I hear otherwise, I'm going to assume that not every victim of this earthquake had it coming, in Pat Robertson's terms.

(And what about folks in the Haitian Diaspora? Some 60,000 Haitian emigrés live up here in Boston, where the ratings for The 700 Club are low and dissipated liberal elites sleep in on Sundays? Why do the emigrés get off scot-free? Shouldn't the scourge have been sinner-centered, and not simply directed at a spot on the globe? God has to be better than this. Seriously: if this is how it works, Pat, don't be surprised to find Mithridates and me slaughtering a pig in your back yard tomorrow. Hey, everybody can dream . . .)

Which leads me to my next quibble with Robertson's thesis: why punish at all? One would think that Pat Robertson's God, being omnipotent, would not be overly concerned about whether folks down here are adequately crediting and revering Him for His works in this earthly realm. It seems to me that if You're not secure in Yourself, then You're not really all that omnipotent. I mean, geez: Your son forgave the Romans.)

Finally, I don't think Pat thought through the implications of his argument. If a nation-state can be so tainted by its close association with a non-Christian faith, then do we not have an obligation, as His agents on Earth, to follow PRG's example and destroy those countries with overwhelming force? Pat, are you endorsing a foreign policy by which we affirmatively act to obliterate all non-Christian nations? I don't think even you would say that out loud.

If Pat's arguments about Haiti are true, then he believes in an insecure, tottering, ham-handed God who holds grudges too long and acts erratically in discharging them. For my part, I think this says more about Pat Robertson than it does about God.

If you liked any of this, donate $100 to the American Red Cross to help the poor people in Haiti. If you didn't, donate $200.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

BULLETIN: "I wish I had never touched steroids," Mark McGwire said. And he's going to give back all the millions he earned when he was one of the three most feared power hitters in the game. Right, Mark?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Precious: The Battered Moviegoer Breaks His Silence

It is the fate of The Man in a relationship to suffer along when the woman (in this case, his "Wife") picks a movie on Date Night. Long ago the Wife acquired a right of veto over the Man, after he selected Plunkett & MacLeane, an MTV-meets-18th century action comedy about highwaymen starring Robert Carlyle, and the Wife, who apparently never saw Adam Ant's "Stand and Deliver" video, walked out during the second act. This Man does not have that right of veto — not necessarily because he hasn't been dragged to some downright brutal movies in the name of love and marital concord, but rather because he always manages to sit through them in their entirety, and in the end he's not too proud to admit that for the most part the movies were pretty darn good.
There's not very much one can say that is new or interesting about the differences between the sexes, but here's something I've hit on: men favor novels and films in which the hero (often, but not always, a man) lashes out, runs roughshod through the landscape, engaging and defeating dozens of nameless and faceless enemies before joining battle with his nemesis in the end and destroying him in a viscerally satisfying way. Women can't wait to tell men how morally objectionable this sort of Man Narrative is. Man Narratives are inhuman and unfeeling; they desensitize us to violence and exploit the basest human appetites. Yeah, fine.

But consider the outright pornography that women favor: consider the hundred thousand books and movies in which the protagonists (often, but not always, women) are threatened, battered, raped, abused, cheated on, imprisoned, humiliated, or afflicted directly or indirectly with terminal or mental illness. They of course never fight back — if they did, the narrative would become a Man Narrative, and the protagonist would likely become something of a sex object to the men in the audience who are silently screaming for the broken woman just to get herself a gun, some numchuks, and a little frickin' payback, for Christ's sake. These women instead soldier on stolidly through the adversity and are cheered for their strength of spirit. It is through (1) suffering, and (2) doing nothing about it, that the Woman Narrative protagonist finds and displays moral courage. It's that very forbearance that confers gravitas and humanity on the Woman's Narrative, and these supply the cover story for the women who, deep in their souls, actually just like to spend their time and money reading about and watching other women get broken right down to the ground. Let's be clear: when woman go on and on about how inspiring it is to watch Character X's forbearance and strength in the face of adversity, they might as well be showing us a Penthouse magazine and talking up the articles.

If you haven't guessed by now, this blog post is a Woman Narrative, and I'm the protagonist (as I said, not all of them are women). Because, you see, I tried to exercise a veto power on Sunday night. I said absolutely no way no how was I gonna see The Lovely Bones. I've waited all week to get out of the house. I'm the father of a beautiful two-year-old girl. So no, my idea of fun and games isn't a movie about a little girl who gets raped and murdered by her neighbor.

So instead, naturally, we saw Precious. Oh, my frickin' God. Eat your heart out, Jodi Picoult. Law and Order: SVU: you've been lapped. Title character Clarise "Precious" Jones is obese, illiterate, and pregnant. She lives in a darkened Harlem apartment with her chain-smoking mother, who farms her daughter's uterus out to her boyfriend, Precious's father, to augment her case for continued welfare support. Precious has been raped by her father since she was three years old. Her daughter has Down's Syndrome and lives with her grandmother. Her mother, far and away the most loathsome character I've ever seen on the silver screen, verbally abuses and humiliates Precious, attacks her with frying pans, and very nearly kills her second child. Boys in the street shove Precious face down on the pavement for kicks. Would it surprise you to learn that Oprah Winfrey co-produced this movie?

Anyone in this world who has a soul has to agree that Precious is a form of psychological abuse. It's the cinematic equivalent of being whacked over the head with a lead pipe over a period of 110 minutes. Every other scene would deliver another concussive blow — Precious, you're in school now and looking to take your GED, you've moved away from your mother into a halfway house, and you're looking after your toddler son. Well, guess what? Your father just died of AIDS, AND YOU HAVE IT, TOO. HOW YA LIKE US NOW? Signed, The Screenwriters. Every new moment of abhorrent violence, each soul-shattering revelation would elicit audible gasps from the women in the audience, Wife included. Audible, gleeful, quasi-orgasmic gasps.

And in the end, does Precious get to empty a machine gun clip into her Mama? Does she get to take her turn with the frying pan and beat Mama into the floor? Expect no satisfaction, Gentlemen. Oh, there's a bit of a mother-daughter rumble at one point, but the joy we might take from that scene is considerably mitigated by the fact that there's a newborn baby pitched in the middle of it, and we're left to believe that the baby's been severely injured or killed for five minutes before the movie lets us off the hook. No, in the end Precious confronts her Mama in front of a welfare case worker (played by Mariah Carey, who, she says, "had to lose all vanity" and "change layers of who [she is]" to play so mundane and plain a character) and vindicates herself basically by shaking her head at her and leaving the office.

I came out of this movie dazed, shaken and upset. Resentful, even, because looking up at the marquee I remembered the surge of hope I felt as we approached the theater, as it occurred to me that maybe, just maybe, she had picked The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. This movie broke me. And here's the Turn — that last bit that closes the loop on the Woman's Narrative and makes it something slightly better decorated than straight pornography: it was a pretty frickin' awesome movie. Yargh! Growth through Suffering. Son of a bitch. And I haven't even covered the movie's exploitation of the tired old "teacher inspires inner city kids with [_____]" gimmick, with "journal writing" filling the blank in this instance. I saw that old standby coming a mile away, I saw it loosening its belt, reaching into the Vaseline jar — got a problem with these images? they're taken directly from the movie — and I let it have its way with me and leave me in the dust.

One of these days I'm going to fight back.
BULLETIN: Moviegoers are depressed, considering suicide because life on the Avatar planet isn't real or attainable. Class action, anyone? (P)


In today's Boston Globe, Neal Gabler takes on the issue of "meritocracy" in college admissions. His thesis — one that's been made before — is that the admissions process at elite schools isn't meritocratic at all, but based more on wealth and privilege. It's not exactly a courageous, or new, position to take — tearing down our great academic institutions is a great pastime for populists on the right, who resent East Coast intellectuals, and the left, who make their living telling people that the system is designed by the rich to keep the poor in their place.

Gabler says the admissions process isn't meritocratic. He keeps using that word, but I do not think it means what he thinks it means. Let's go with Merriam-Webster on this one:
Main Entry: mer·i·toc·ra·cy
Pronunciation: \ˌmer-ə-ˈtä-krə-sē\
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural mer·i·toc·ra·cies
Etymology: 1merit + -o- + -cracy
Date: 1958
1 : a system in which the talented are chosen and moved ahead on the basis of their achievement
2 : leadership selected on the basis of intellectual criteria
So let's look at Gabler's analysis:

They [high school seniors] know that America, for all its professions of meritocracy, is a virtual oligarchy where the graduates of the Ivies and the other best schools enjoy tremendous advantages in the job market.

According to the above definition, in a meritocracy people move ahead based on their accomplishments. This opening salvo is a poor attempt at proof by assumption. Moving people ahead based on their academic pedigree is only un-meritocratic if you believe earning a degree from MIT or Stanford is no accomplishment at all. Gabler himself doesn't even appear to accept that premise, so moving people ahead based on graduating from the best schools is actually evidence in support of a meritocratic society in the post-college world.

So let's look at the admissions process itself.

Daniel Golden demonstrated in a Pulitzer Prize-winning series for the Wall Street Journal and then in his book, The Price of Admission,’’ the so-called “best’’ schools give heavy preferences to the wealthy; as many as one-third of admissions, he writes, are flagged for special treatment at the elite universities, one-half at the elite liberal arts colleges, and the number of open spaces for the non-privileged is reduced accordingly. As Golden puts it, the privileged take so many spots that the “admissions odds against middle-class and working-class students with outstanding records are even longer than the colleges acknowledge.’’

Some of this is undeniably true, and obviously un-meritocratic. But the development process at Duke analyzed by Goldman represented 3% to 5% of the enrolled student body. It's possible that Goldman selected a year and school that helped make his point, so that the figures might be even less at most schools. Legacies, however, make up a far bigger portion of the student body at the top schools. From Golden:

Sons and daughters of graduates make up 10% to 15% of students at most Ivy League schools and enjoy sharply higher rates of acceptance. Harvard accepts 40% of legacy applicants, compared with an 11% overall acceptance rate. Princeton took 35% of alumni children who applied last year, and 11% of overall applicants. The University of Pennsylvania accepts 41% of legacy applicants, compared with 21% overall.
While I'd personally like to see legacy criteria dropped from my alma mater's admission process (sorry, Junior), it's unclear how much of an advantage it really is. The naive analysis of the above numbers suggests it's huge, but without any explicit advantage given to legacies, we'd expect them to have higher admission rates anyway. Why? Well, lots of reasons. If Mommy was smart (or had some other quality that got her admitted), some of those genes might have passed on to Junior; Harvard grad Dad probably corrected Junior's English and helped him with his homework; rich parents got Junior tutors, paid for piano lessons, and put him in private school; finally, when Joe the Plumber's son came home with Bs he got a pat on the back, but Yale Junior got sent to his room without supper.

So it's hard to tease out the explicit advantage a legacy gets over a similarly qualified non-legacy from the numbers above. But we have this, again from Golden, about the University of Michigan's admissions process:

The University of Michigan has a 150-point "Selection Index" for undergraduates, with 100 points usually enough to get in. The university awards a four-point bonus to children and stepchildren of alumni, or one point to grandchildren, spouses or siblings of alumni.

Michigan also gives an automatic 20-point bonus to blacks, Hispanics and native Americans (though not to Asian-Americans).

So yes, there's an explicit legacy advantage, but it's one-fifth the advantage given to under-represented racial minorities. While I'd personally like to see it go away altogether, it's a very small advantage compared with other selection criteria. Certainly nowhere near enough to claim the admissions process is devoid of meritocracy. As far as privilege itself, Gabler points out:
They are aiming instead for a diverse student body: an exceptional athlete, an exceptional musician, an exceptional scientist, an exceptional poet. Except that exceptionality, as most parents can attest, doesn’t come cheap. Athletes require coaching and often traveling teams; musicians require lessons and instruments; scientists require labs and internships; poets require classes and opportunities for publication.
Meritocracy means that the selection should be made based on "achievement." It does not say that said achievement can't be aided by wealth, genes, or other opportunity and advantages. That is, to be meritocratic the schools should accept the best violinist. Period. Not the richest , not the poorest, but the best — however she got to be the best. Those tutors and instructors, as noted above, might have been awarded to young, richer children based on wealth — but the decision to admit based on accomplishment conforms to the very ideal of meritocracy.

One more note from Gabler about poorer applicants.
The prognosis is equally poor for economically disadvantaged students, whether black or white. According to Golden, economic diversity counts the least in admission considerations, and only 3-to-11 percent of admittees come from the lowest economic quartile.
See the above "legacy" analysis to see why this might happen naturally, without any explicit preferences. You wouldn't expect 25% in a meritocratic admissions process — or even in an entirely meritocratic society. Genes, environment, expectations, and other opportunities would keep this number well below even if the college admissions process were 100% "meritocratic." In fact, 11% from the lowest quartile suggests a pretty healthy opportunity for social mobility and refutes Gabler's following statement:
Indeed, the system exists not to provide social mobility but to prevent it and to perpetuate the prevailing social order.
Gabler also laments that SAT scores correlate with wealth, but the same argument applies for the most part. Studies suggest that paying for coaching helps a little bit (and I'd personally like to see that entire industry go away), but for the most part you'd expect richer children to be better at math and have stronger vocabularies. You want to make the process more meritocratic by ignoring verbal and math skills in the admissions process? That seems silly. How exactly would removing the part of the application process most associated with intellect promote "leadership selected on the basis of intellectual criteria?"
A good compromise might be to recognize that a poor person who got a 1200 despite their background has achieved something more impressive than a rich kid who got the same. Some colleges claim they do this, but its hard to say for sure how much this is really done.

[Interesting side note, in his commentary in the Economist, Lexington notes that more emphasis should be placed on test scores to make the process more meritocratic.]

Yes, we'd have an even more meritocratic society if tutors, trainers, educated parents, and private schooling were allocated to the most promising students instead of the richest. That seems true enough, but would require an awful lot of socialism and government interference in raising our children. But the lack of meritocracy is in the years leading up to college admissions — the evidence is lacking that the admissions process itself is significantly un-meritocratic. Could it — should it — be more meritocatic? Yes, I think. But the numbers actually suggest that our top academic institutions are doing a good job of accepting the best and allowing for advancement.

Final note: while tangential to the rest of this post, as often occurs when we try to discuss race in America, Gabler doesn't seem to understand what "race" actually means.
Nor does diversity extend to racial composition. Of course every college boasts about its efforts to enroll a more racially diverse student body. But here are the facts: A New York Times article in 2004 revealed that Harvard’s incoming freshman class was 9 percent black, but between one-half and two-thirds of those black students were actually West Indian or African immigrants or the children of immigrants, and many others were biracial. In short, they weren’t African-American.
Hmm, so Harvard's class had about the same mix of blacks as the US population as a whole, but this doesn't count as racial diversity because many of those blacks are from other countries or are the children of immigrants? Racial diversity is about race, not country of residence. If more of those blacks were from the US, the student body wouldn't be any more racially diverse.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

BULLETIN: Hey, Beck: aren't all words "made up?" You douchebag. (P)
BULLETIN: From CEO of Domino's Pizza to Athletic Director at the University of Michigan — David A. Brandon promises to deliver a winning football season in 30 years or less. (P, heh heh)
BULLETIN: Every black Republican in Congress is demanding a personal apology from Harry Reid for his remarkably stupid remarks. (M)

Friday, January 08, 2010

Shiny, Happy, Useless Thought of the Day

It may not be stupid enough to qualify for Idiot Watch, but Nicholas Kristoff's most recent column in the New York Times certainly qualifies as inane blather. He notes that Costa Rica ranks at the top of several Happiness Index lists and wonders what lessons the US can learn from its tiny neighbor. He starts off with this potential reason for its happiness:
Hmmm. You think it’s a coincidence? Costa Rica is one of the very few countries to have abolished its army, and it’s also arguably the happiest nation on earth.
And having grasped this straw, he doesn't let it go:
What sets Costa Rica apart is its remarkable decision in 1949 to dissolve its armed forces and invest instead in education.
I’m not antimilitary. But the evidence is strong that education is often a far better investment than artillery.
And finally:
But what does seem quite clear is that Costa Rica’s national decision to invest in education rather than arms has paid rich dividends. Maybe the lesson for the United States is that we should devote fewer resources to shoring up foreign armies and more to bolstering schools both at home and abroad.
Oh, don't get me wrong, I think the Switzerland of Central America did a smart (and good) thing by disbanding its military. Of course they have security forces with military equipment, but we can even ignore that for the time being.
But all this is a luxury of a tiny nation residing in the shadow of the world's most powerful military force, with which it has maintained very friendly relations since disbandment. Costa Rica has a coast guard, which trains and cooperates with its US counterparts via the U.S.-Costa Rica Maritime Cooperation Agreement. Beyond that, a naval assault from a foreign country against Costa Rica within a few hundred miles of the home of the most dominant navy in the history of the world would be laughable. It has land borders with two impoverished nations (Nicaragua perhaps occasionally a bit bellicose), who, even if they had the inclination to invade, would be repelled in about six seconds by el Gigante del Norte.

But are there really lessons here for US domestic or foreign policy? Perhaps we could follow the Costa Rican model and have our debts forgiven in exchange for our creditors investing in US forest preservation, as the US did for Costa Rica in 2007. Maybe Obama should ask Costa Rica for around $75 billion in economic aid to invest in education here in the US, which would be per capita what the US gave to them in the 1980s. Maybe they should invest in sustainable development in the US, like the US did there in the 1990s.

Costa Rica made a bet on friendship with the US, and it's paid off. The US provides security, half its tourism, buys most of its exports, and has invested heavily in Costa Rica so they could build the educational system lauded by Kristof. There is no analogous "U.S." for the U.S.

Kristof wants us to learn the lesson from Costa Rica and invest in other countries' schools, uh, like we did in Costa Rica. Maybe Kristof means we should learn from that great bit of investment we already did and try to replicate it elsewhere. Should we — could we — encourage other countries to do the same, and invest along with them? Maybe, but its hard to find others with the geographic luxury of Costa Rica who are so friendly to the US.

The best thing the US has done recently in Latin American foreign policy has been the military aid given to Colombia, helping that country move back from the precipice of failure. Would Colombians be happier if they disbanded their military? With FARC destroying the country from the inside and Chavez lining tanks on the border?

We're building schools in Afghanistan as fast as the Taliban can blow them up. Maybe if Afghanistan disbands its military and we stop giving it military aid, the Taliban will leave them alone and let their daughters go to school.

Once the nations of Western Europe stopped fighting among themselves (check that, after the US stopped them from fighting among themselves) and moved under our security umbrella, we invested in their economy, too. Most places, you see, need that bit of security first.

I'd love to see us invest more in education. I wish the countries to which we gave military aid had Costa Rica's secure geography and could put that money to other use. Other Central American countries would probably be wise to follow Costa Rica's lead — if they could convince their respective militaries — and live under the US's protection and spend their (and our) money elsewhere. But what real lesson is there for the US? Mr. Kristoff?

Thursday, January 07, 2010

More, More, Better, More

Today, President Obama outlined steps we are taking to improve security in the wake of the near-disaster on Christmas Day. There are four:
First, I'm directing that our intelligence community immediately begin assigning specific responsibility for investigating all leads on high-priority threats so that these leads are pursued and acted upon aggressively -- not just most of the time, but all of the time. We must follow the leads that we get. And we must pursue them until plots are disrupted. And that mean assigning clear lines of responsibility.
OK, so step one is pursue more leads and pursue them longer.
Second, I'm directing that intelligence reports, especially those involving potential threats to the United States, be distributed more rapidly and more widely. We can't sit on information that could protect the American people.
Step two is have more people read the reports.
Third, I'm directing that we strengthen the analytical process, how our analysis -- how our analysts process and integrate the intelligence that they receive. My Director of National Intelligence, Denny Blair, will take the lead in improving our day-to-day efforts. My Intelligence Advisory Board will examine the longer-term challenge of sifting through vast universes of intelligence and data in our Information Age.
Step three is analyze better.
And finally, I'm ordering an immediate effort to strengthen the criteria used to add individuals to our terrorist watchlists, especially the "no fly" list. We must do better in keeping dangerous people off airplanes, while still facilitating air travel.
Step four is put more people on watch lists.

Look, all these things sound great to me. But all of them (except the "do a better job" third fix) require more people spending more time. So are we going to hire more people or just spread our existing people thinner? Putting more people on the sex offender registry, for example, sounds good to the "tough on crime" types, but means fewer resources protecting our children from the really dangerous ones — unless you spend more government money and hire proportionately more police. Unless our intelligence folks are sitting around all day with nothing to do, giving them more leads to pursue means less time on the higher priority leads, no? Sounds like a net loss to me unless you're willing to step up the investment . . .

Stands for "Big Crock of . . ."

Bill Hancock took over as Executive Director of the Bowl Championship Series today and immediately proved his aptitude for the job — and his fit in the organization. Hancock took advantage of his first day at work to recite the party line on Why a Football Bowl Series (Division I-A) Playoff Is a Bad Idea. This is, of course, a crucial part of the job — justifying the continued existence of your organization in the face of congressional rumblings and a growing consensus disfavoring its business. I won't take the time (today) to shoot down all of the self-serving arguments Hancock served up, many of which come now with bulletholes already built in, courtesy of the BCS's newest hired PR gun Ari Fleischer. (Need someone to provide a bedraggled and hopeless defense of The Indefensible? Hire a former Bush Administration Press Secretary!)

No: I've only got one bone to pick here. Hancock actually took the position that fans would not turn out at FBS playoff games, arguing from low attendance figures at Football Championship Series (I-AA) playoff games. The FCS, you see, has a four-round 16-team playoff, with high seeds playing home games until the neutral-site championship game late in December. Here's Hancock:
It works at that level, I can't deny it, but if you look attendance for those games, only Montana had decent attendance. Many teams didn't draw as well as they did in the regular season.

There are few things in this world that Little Ol' Me (Little Ol' I?) feel I can predict with absolute certainty. But I would STAKE MY LIFE on the proposition that if an FBS playoff game were played at Ohio Stadium, the Swamp, Beaver Stadium, Tiger Stadium, Darrell Royal Stadium, the L.A. Coliseum, or Rocky Top — just to take a few examples — fans of the pertinent teams would turn off The Biggest Loser, pry themselves off their couches, and come out to watch. COME ON!

FO News Roundup: January 7, 2010

"Hey, I heard you missed us, WE'RE BACK!" Thank you, David Lee Roth.
  • Mass. lawmaker blames failed Breathalyzer test on his toothpaste. An unlikely story, indeed, and we're toasting the Boston Herald for road-testing the defense. Here's to you, boys! (P, downs Sensodyne and soda)
  • Why is there a cork on the chopstick? To prevent Ruprecht from hurting himself. (P, M)
  • "Coated in Controversy" over a picture of the President, "Obama made mistake", "Advantage GOP?", "Right optimistic", "Health Care: Critics eye deficit", "Fox Forum: Balance of power starting to tip", "You Decide: Most troubling issues for Dems". I believe that's a new record: seven anti-Dem/pro-Rep bits in the tiny headline box all at once. (M)
  • Amend for Arnold! Let's play "Count the Democratic Weasels Who Won't Support This for Fear of Their Union Paymasters." Now let's play "Count the Republican Weasels Who Will Criticize Supporters for Any Repeat Offender Released before the End of His Natural Life." (M)
  • In the beginning, there was Jared Fogle. Now Taco Bell's touting this Christine Dougherty character. Fame and fortune await you, if you can lose weight eating nothing but a single restaurant chain's fast food. I'll do McDonald's! Oh, wait. Crap. (P)

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Attack of the Shopping Carts

There's a great creeping threat confronting our nation's cities. It's not homegrown Islamic extremism, and it has nothing to do with the health care industry or undocumented foreign-born residents. I'm talking about a commonplace and seemingly innocuous object, a simple metal basket with a handle and four wheels attached. Yes, I'm talking about a Shopping Cart, that very totem and mascot of our modern consumer-based economy. Sure: it seems harmless enough, as you trundle it up and down the produce aisle dropping shrink-wrapped rutabagas into its bottom. It's docile, unquestioning, and but for that one shuddery and skittish front wheel (standard issue, it seems), it does its work.
But what if I told you that the nation's Shopping Carts are rebelling? That they're escaping their grocery masters in ever-growing numbers? That they're swarming into our streets, tumbling down highway embankments, cluttering our pristine cityscapes, even — gasp!nicking our bumpers? You'd laugh, is what you'd do. But then I'm not just trumping up the threat here. I have evidence:

In June 2006, municipal officials in Long Beach, California embarked on a "sweep" of their fair city for Abandoned Shopping Carts. The sweep, which was conducted over the course of a single Saturday, turned up 699 ASCs. If you'll allow me the blogger's privilege of rounding up, I'll be able to say that at least SEVEN HUNDRED shopping carts had gone astray of a single city's supermarkets and were parked in plain view for the city to collect. I understand that some 500,000 people live in Long Beach. By my calculation, that's 1400 "[c]arts per million," to paraphrase a preferred term of the Climate Change Cassandras. And that's just what's out in the open: who knows how many more were secreted away in hiding?

Long Beach had to act, and act they did: the City passed an Abandoned Shopping Cart Ordinance that condemned the ASC an "eyesore, potential hazard, and nuisance." Henceforward, Long Beach supermarket owners are required to warn shoppers against removing carts from their property; the ordinance specifies that the warnings must appear in at least two languages (which two is a question left, apparently, to the cart owner's discretion: Cherokee & Finnish? Inuit & Urdu?), and in block lettering at least two inches tall. Under the Long Beach Ordinance, it is now unlawful to make off with a shopping cart without the owner's permission — thank heavens this loophole, this gaping lacuna in the law has been closed! — and certain store owners are required to maintain a "physical containment system" to keep shopping carts from making a break for it when no one's looking. (This latter requirement might seem a costly imposition, but when you consider that some chains have already implemented similar confinement schemes for their employees, in many cases it's just a matter of tinkering with systems already on-site.)

Lest you should think this plague was confined to Southern California, take note that lawmakers in Fresno; Worcester, Massachusetts; and Florida's Hillsborough County (that's Tampa) have also taken steps to combat the Abandoned Shopping Cart menace. Indeed, the Northwest Grocery Association, a nonprofit organization of grocery retailers, wholesalers and suppliers in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho, has devised a Shopping Cart Retrieval Service to help its constituent businesses comply with laws of municipalities in those states. It looks as though our nation's cities and towns are finally getting the upper hand on this crisis. One could, I suppose, object that these laws have a quality of micromanagement to them. But when you consider the alternative — unmanned grocery carts careering willy-nilly around the landscape, scattering Stop & Shop coupon circulars in their wake — it becomes clear that we're surely better off with these laws than we'd be without them.

We at Feigned Outrage tip our caps to you, Town and City Councils of America, for wrestling this matter to the ground.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Of Underwear Bombers, Senate Holds, and Lousy Journalism


The Washington Post has a story about a hold Senator Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) has placed on President Obama's nominee for TSA Director. DeMint's beef with the nomination, apparently, is that he has no clear statement of position from the nominee regarding unionization of TSA employees (which, being a Republican, he doesn't want). I had sent off a triumphant link to this article to Mithridates and Vercingetorix earlier in the week: AHA! was my thesis. Republicans fiddle while an aircraft [nearly] burns! Who's "soft on security" now, bitch?

But then I thought a little about it, and I realized that as rich and fan-the-flameworthy as this little tidbit is, there's plenty of room for complication here. Complication that can both aggravate and mitigate the "outrage" of the hold.
Look past the obvious politicking here. DeMint holds up the nomination to stick it to Obama, to burnish his pro-management/ anti-union credentials, and to argue points about how Democrats are lousy on national security — the theory being that a union worker is a lazy, entitled worker, and anyone who would tolerate unionization of TSA workers would subordinate the safety of travelers to labor interests. Some points are due to DeMint for the relatively intricate argumentation, which, by requiring the listener to two logical steps, therefore exceeds in complexity most of the rhetoric we citizens get from the Senatorial class. The Post article takes care to present DeMint's side of the question, but of course its very appearance in the paper at this point in time (dateline: December 29, 2009) is a testament to superficiality. The hold has been in place for quite some time now, apparently, but only now does it bear discussion, after Freaky Farouk clears security and sets his lap on fire on an inbound Northwest flight.

But would the result have been any different if Erroll Southers were sitting at the director's desk in TSA HQ, rather than an "acting administrator?" Would galvanized agency officials have taken to their work with such vigor and concentration as to ensure that the Amsterdam airport security officers pulled the bomber off the flight? If not, there's not much fire here to go with this controversy's smoke (if you'll pardon the epxression).

Other complicating questions jump to mind. Can we say for sure one way or the other that TSA workers shouldn't unionize? We don't want our security screeners lazy and entitled, for sure. But we don't want them overworked, embittered and disinterested, either. Policemen form unions. Are we more or less safe, as a result? And even assuming unionization is a bad thing, would Erroll Southers even be in a position to stop it? If the National Labor Relations Act entitles TSA employees to unionize (and I assume there is no specific exception for TSA employees, or DeMint would not have cause for concern), an agency director can't legally stand in their way. If he had DeMint's view of the matter, he might try to litigate the question before the NLRB. But it would be Board members — some appointed by Obama, others by preceding administrations — who ultimately decided the question, certainly not Southers himself. Right?

It seems to me a Better Class of Politician would consider these questions before placing holds on nominations, or for that matter before blaming the Other Guy who placed a hold on a nomination. A Better Class of Journalist would consider these matters, and possibly even write about them, prior to publishing a story tying the hold (even impliedly) to the Christmas Day bombing attempt. Maybe the Best Class of Journalist doesn't write the story at all.

I suppose I'm raining on the parade here. We have a juicy political controversy here, after all. Dems have a basis to attack the GOP — and the conventional wisdom that favors the Republicans on security issues. Under fire now, DeMint gets to stand his ground and draw positive attention from conservatives. Don't you see, Phutatorius? Everybody wins! Pack away your unanswerable questions. Nobody here wants any of your furor-quelling complexity.