The Lileks Zone


James Lileks

Unparalleled Blather

Among all the people on the left who preen their new-found admiration for Reagan – he was so reasonably, you see, unlike these Teepers – it’s always refreshing to come across someone who’s as dunderheaded about the Gipper as old-style Democrats. This article by Bonnie Blodgett, a masterful fugue of disconnected idiocy about the imminence of American fascism, makes an interesting assertion early on:
Roosevelt had a more nuanced understanding of economics than Reagan did. He knew that fascism is capitalism without boundaries, that both fascism and communism (with a small “c”) are apolitical, and that economics trumps politics every time.
Yes, a nuanced understanding of economics. Like, setting the price of gold arbitrarily. Works every time!   From cfr.org:
Over the summer of 1933, FDR found himself relying increasingly on someone he was sure would say “yes”—Morgenthau, his timid old Dutchess County neighbor who held a post at the Farm Credit Administration. With the aid of his “yes” man, Roosevelt launched a novel gold purchase program. The plan was to drive up the general price level by buying gold. Each morning, FDR set the gold price target, personally. This in turn was supposed to help farmers, who would get higher prices for commodities. Theoretically, Roosevelt’s idea of reflating can be defended. More money might mean more growth. But the exposure to investors that Morgenthau was getting through the gold purchase project of 1933 was already teaching him something. Investors didn’t like the arbitrariness. It took away their confidence. One day Morgenthau asked FDR why the president had chosen to drive up the price of gold by 21 cents. The president cavalierly said he’d done that because 21 was seven times three, and three was a lucky number. “If anyone ever knew how we really set the gold price through a combination of lucky numbers etc., I think they would be frightened,” Morgenthau wrote in his diary. And they were: In the second half of 1933 a powerful stock rally flattened.
Eventually FDR decided people shouldn’t own gold, because, well, because. And he  decided that the best way to run the economy was to set prices. It was a case against a chicken seller that made the court declare the NRA unconstitutional, as this PBS site explains:
In reviewing the conviction of a poultry company for breaking the Live Poultry Code, the Court held that the code violated the Constitution’s separation of powers because it was written by agents of the president with no genuine congressional direction.
But that’s okay because FDR was smart. Let’s look at some of the charges brought against the poultry company, and see if there’s a few that stick out to you:
Schechter Poultry Corporation, the defendant in the case, purchased live poultry from commissioners in New York City and Philadelphia and sold slaughtered poultry to retailers and butchers in Brooklyn. Schechter was charged by the U.S. government with violating the poultry code by selling “unfit chickens,” illegally selling chickens on an individual basis, avoiding inspections by local poultry regulators, falsifying records of poultry sold, and selling poultry to nonlicensed purchasers.
There are two things: selling chickens to someone who does not have a license from the state to buy chickens, and selling chickens individually. Because it is the job of the state to regulate the selling of a single chicken. The state has the right to charge you with a crime if you do not conform to the laws regarding the sale of a single chicken. Ah, but this is getting away from our discussion of fascism, isn’t it. Back to the column, which sums up the mindset Reagan opposed.  Do you know why the Soviet Union had control of the Eastern Bloc? Because they deserved it. Heck, they earned it. Discussing the baleful influence of money in politics she writes:
Most Americans in the 1950s paid scant attention to any of this, thanks in part to the sense of security FDR had provided by ending the Depression and winning the war. To them Stalin was the new Hitler. After all, hadn’t Stalin annexed the entire eastern bloc in a brazen, Nazi-style power grab? Something else FDR understood, having fought with the Soviets and having sat beside their leader at Yalta, was that those countries were the spoils of a war that took 40 million Russian lives.
Isn’t that an interesting standard? If a nation attacks you, and you fight back, everything between his border and you border . . . is yours! Of course they deserved to have Poland. They’d been through so much.  The Berlin Wall speech, as you might imagine, irritated her:
Fast-forward four decades. By the time Reagan imperiously commanded Gorbachev to “tear down that wall,” the evil empire had already imploded. It was in its death throes. The U.S. president relished his opportunity to turn the Russian people’s suffering into a live-action morality tale. The longer the bread lines in Moscow, the more he mocked the austerity that such images displayed. To Reagan, the lesson could not have been simpler. Get out those credit cards, America, and turn up the thermostat. The Cold War’s over and the good guys won.
Stalin’s appropriation of land to create an empire? Payback. Reagan insisting he let those nations go? Imperious. As for Reagan’s love of Soviet suffering, here’s an excerpt from his famous Berlin speech 25 years ago:
The totalitarian world produces backwardness because it does such violence to the spirit, thwarting the human impulse to create, to enjoy, to worship. The totalitarian world finds even symbols of love and of worship an affront. Years ago, before the East Germans began rebuilding their churches, they erected a secular structure: the television tower at Alexander Platz. Virtually ever since, the authorities have been working to correct what they view as the tower’s one major flaw, treating the glass sphere at the top with paints and chemicals of every kind. Yet even today when the sun strikes that sphere—that sphere that towers over all Berlin—the light makes the sign of the cross. There in Berlin, like the city itself, symbols of love, symbols of worship, cannot be suppressed.
Anyway, we’re going to have fascism now because of corporate money, thanks to Citizens United.  Blodgett writes:
it wasn’t socialism that brought Europe to the brink of bankruptcy but American-style capitalism — real-estate deals and other high-risk ventures facilitated by something called the credit default swap that was all the more effective for its inscrutability. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy is learning the hard way that inscrutability is fascism’s ultimate weapon. His was the swing vote in the Citizens United case. He wrote the majority opinion granting corporations the same free-speech rights as people. In the real world, that means unlimited spending on right-wing political causes and candidates . . .
  Citizens United, of course, was brought because a private group wanted to distribute a film that was critical of Hillary Clinton. (You wonder if there had been an attempt by the Bush Administration to ban the distribution of “Fahrenheit 911,” also the product of a private group, if this would have been seen as a sign the system was working to the benefit of free speech.) Now the idea that private individuals can spend money to criticize government policy or put contrary policy ideas forward is fascism, which indicates either a complete inversion of the term’s definition, or an authorial inability to grasp its original meaning. But “Fascism” now means “rule by corporations” in the lazy mind, as if Hitler was just the pawn of IG Farbin, and corporations were free to romp and gambol over Europe in the 40s as untrammeled agents. No. As with the USSR, they were branches of the state, but there was a fictional distinction that kept them as individual entities, even though they had no will. What’s this? An order for our high-quality Zeiss lens, to be used in bombsights? Sorry Adolph, we’re ramping up for Christmas season, and everything has to go for cameras and binoculars. One last thing: would you prefer the economic performance of Reagan, or the work of his nuanced predecessor? Just a thought.

So they’re all bigots, then?

The news had a picture of an African-American preacher exulting at the results of the North Carolina vote, and it makes you realize what a marvelous opportuniy this represents. The NC vote exposed again the fault lines that run through the various liberal constituencies. In case anyone isn’t clear, there’s a hierarchy: Blacks < Gays < Women.  It’s all great and wonderful when African-Americans get up in robes and sway and sing and do that gospel thing, but when it becomes apparent they’re actually serious about believing that stuff, then it’s something else. At that point they instantly shed any racial identification and become “fundamentalists.” But you can’t call them bigots, so you have to shift the focus to all the inbred rednecks who hate them homersegsuls, which is what my Twitter stream suggests. It needs to be thrown back into the faces of everyone castigating the NC voters: so you hate Black people, then. You are opposed to Black people expressing their views. You do not understand the role of religion in the Black experience, how you are demanding that people change their culture to conform to an overwhelmingly white conception of the way the world should be. This isn’t just racist, it’s cultural imperialism and condescending white privilege at its worst. Right? I mean, using the logic and arguments of the left, that’s the only possible explanation. What’s needed, then, are Freedom Riders: busloads of whites from eastern cities who will go to the beleaguered South and fight for gay rights against the staunch, entrenched   interests in the churches that stand in the way of progress. Norman Rockwell’s modern day equivalent must be called upon to draw a magazine cover of two children of gay parents walking under police escort to a Baptist church. Marxists should be drafted to explain how African-Americans are suffering from a false consciousness, and – – Of course, this won’t happen. Of course, no one would say any of that; people would react like one of those computers Captain Kirk shut down by making them consider contradictory theorems.  Nor will Brian Williams or Anderson Cooper or Soledad O’Brien point out how the DNC’s choice of Charlotte for their convention is a dog-whistle call to the bigots, or at least a subtle reminder of the party’s core constituency’s stance, or a Troubling Issue that may haunt the 2012 convention. Whatever African-Americans may think, it doesn’t matter; they’re taken for granted. Under the bus is better than the back, right?

Mr. Grant, You Have To Put Some Back

File this under “Our Ideological Opponents are Incapable of Art or Anything Approaching It Because They are Dumb Sex-Hating Suspicious Morons Without Nuance: A writer at the HuffPo doesn’t think there are any funny people on the right. He has theories, too!  
Comedy is inherently subversive.
  It’s “subversive” only to the extent it believes that soaking strawmen with kerosene and throwing matches is proof of spontaneous combustion. Progressive comedy exists in a tight narrow boxes that proscribe the limits of subject material, according to your membership in various groups. Exemptions are made for people whose misanthropy is all-encompassing, and tend to shout.  
Comedy is often a coping mechanism for adverse situations
  The “adverse situation” here is living in a big country and realizing that someone in Plano, Texas is laughing at Sasha Cohen’s portrayal of a gay person for all the wrong reasons. He goes on: You don’t have to look too far or too deep to realize that comedy speaks to unfairness and injustice. Based on the comedy I hear on my satellite radio channel, this unfairness often involves some woman who does not understand her man’s need for access to a wide variety of females, but I’ll get back to that in a moment. If you haven’t experienced them, if there’s no struggle, there’s less need to find a redeeming quality to your situation by injecting humor into your life. When I hear the word “struggle,” I reach for my whoopee cushion. The word “struggle” in its modern sense – screwing up your face with REALLY SERIOUS ANGER as you pound out a comment on HuffPo – has no place in the discussion of comedy, unless you’re talking about funny struggles, like Harold Lloyd struggling to Not Die.
It is easier to sell to the 99% than the 1%...Comedy is part of entertainment, and entertainment is a business. As a numbers game, its flat out more profitable to mock the establishment when the rest of us will be buying tickets to your shows.
  As I said, I listen to comedy channels on XM radio. No one mocks the establishment as it currently exists; they mock an idea of the establishment, a fantasy of uptight repressed white men in short-sleeved dress shirts whose greatest fear is that women will stop shaving their legs, and what this might do to sales of Tang. The only time modern comics will assault the Establishment is when they’re angry they can’t buy weed at the 7-11. There are two comedy channels, by the way. There’s RAWDOG, which is for people who cannot express themselves very well, swear a great deal, regard women as hectoring faithless harpies, and recount their witless observations to a room of drunks who hoot and holler every time their own plotless existence is validated with an emphatic profanity. Then there’s the Clean Comedy channel, where you will find actual comics who craft quips – Jeff Foxworthy, for example –  or construct elaborate narratives that build and pay off. Bob Newhart is still good. I never laugh at Jerry Clower, a suthin comedian what told tales of his unca Cleetus WHEEEE that man could hunt, but it’s a pleasure to listen to that bygone style. And it’s instructive to hear the audience respond. They had patience.  
Tradition…Let’s face it, the tradition of Card-Carrying, Left-leaning, Pinko comics is a great one. A kid aspiring to comedic greatness can look to Charlie Chaplin, Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Bill Hicks, Janeane Garofalo, Bill Maher, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and Marc Maron, if they care to lean left.
  Hmm. Well. Lenny Bruce had his moments, but the influence was toxic; people took the wrong lessons. I’ll swear and be brutally honest! No. Carlin is an interesting case; I’ve listened to a lot of Carlin. I practically memorized AM / FM when I was in high school. He had a brilliant skill for skewering the sunny uptalk of 60s radio and commercial culture, and when you’re 14 it’s SO BRAVE! It worked because he came out of that industry, knew the tropes and tones. But then he became the Oracle, and the more he came to believe his oracular status, the more tendentious he became. When he fastened on a particular absurdity, he could be brilliant – but towards the end, the concerts were instances of the audience engaged in onanistic self-congratulation, believing that laughing with Carlin somehow insulated them from being the people he was talking about. He hated everyone. Hicks had his moments, but again: the audience was getting a contact high from a guy who burned with anger that some idiot out there believed in God. Garafalo: I thought we were talking about comedians. Bill Maher: So there was a scientific experiment that implanted “Chomsky for Dummies” into the cerebellum of a ferret. Who knew. Jon Stewart: funny guy; I suspect some times he feels a larger social obligation to STIFLE, as Archie Bunker would say, and it gripes him. Charlie Chaplin: Yes, he was a leftie, and aside from “The Great Dictator” – which you could read as “leftie” in the sense it was anti-fascist – his politics are mostly absent from his greatest work. His speech in “Monsieur Verdoux,” is lefty enough, in the sense that it’s cut from the same dun-hued bolt of fatuous moral equivalence you find by the yard in any sophomore bong-session.  If the left remade “City Lights” today, the Tramp would go to Washington to demand Federal funding for stem-cell research to cure the flower-girl’s blindness. “The Kid” would be a brief for national day-care. “The Circus” would protest the cruelty of using monkeys in tight-rope acts.
The truth…it is undeniable that the Right seems to be in a high speed dive towards absurdity so transparently errant, that it makes for simple fodder to those looking to mock. As Rory Albanese of The Daily Show pointed out during our panel,” Santorum is Anti-College! How can you not make fun of that?”
Go ahead; have fun. And realize that you’ve just said higher education is off-limits as a subject of comedy. If you can’t find humor in stories about colleges having classes on Zombie Apocalypse Preparation or the kicking out Christian groups for wanting to restrict memberships to Christians, or find the humor in the endless parade of humorless grievances that flutter around like sodden moths in the hothouse of academia, great. Leave that to us. This isn’t to say the Left isn’t funny. Tom Lehrer still makes me laugh. He’s a brilliant lyricist and master of genre parody, and there’s a bright, crystalline intelligence that delights even as it appalls. Ricky Gervais is a tiresome atheist who’s probably dependent on his writing partner to make his ideas gel and breath, but I’ve split my sides over the radio shows and podcasts he did with his team. I’ll bet everyone who wrote and acted in the Mary Tyler Moore show “Veal Prince Orloff” episode voted for Carter; doesn’t stop it from being eye-wateringly hilarious. But why? Was it subversive? Yes: it played against the idea that a confident, capable career woman could manage a small dinner party. Was it a coping mechanism for adverse circumstances? Absolutely: there was the unexpected guest Rhoda brought, and then Mr. Grant took half the veal. Mister Grant you have to put some back. Was it easier to sell to the 99% than the 1%? Of course: we’ve all had a party that went awry, because we couldn’t hire pros and had to rely on a friend with her own agenda. Was there Tradition in the vein of old leftist comedians? Sure: at any moment, Phyllis Lindstrom might flounce into the room and complain that Lars had cut up her credit cards. (Phyllis was a liberal all the way, but the good kind. The rich kind. The useful kind.) In short, absolutely everyone involved in this scene would have voted for nationalized health care and a unilateral nuclear disarmament. And this is still funny, because you can’t tell that from this.   Note: Ted Baxter was the idiot, of course, the empty suit, the miser, the buffoon. You never knew how he voted, except, well, you knew. But when the show ended, what did we have? Unlike Mary, Ted got married; unlike Murray, he wasn’t tempted by another woman; unlike Lou, his wife didn’t leave him to “find herself” when the kids were gone. Ted adopted a Vietnamese child, had another with his wife, and kept his job. That last point was intended as the bitter, ironic punchline: all the good people got fired. The idiot stuck around. But when I was doing the TV news show for our paper’s online video, I would describe myself as playing Ted Baxter, and people who got the reference would nod: you poor man. And I’d smile: yes. If you think so.   (PS: When I did a mockumentary on the opening credits of the Mary Tyler Moore show for public TV many years ago, we reenacted as much as we could. We found the original car Mary Tyler Moore was washing, and I washed it. It belonged to a local politician, who was the first – and, I believe, only – transgendered person elected to the City Council. Trust me when I say I don’t intend this to be insulting. But isn’t that . . . funny?)

On Banning Dante

The Telegraph reports a shocker:
Gherush 92, a human rights organisation which acts as a consultant to UN bodies on racism and discrimination. Dante’s epic is “offensive and discriminatory” and has no place in a modern classroom, said Valentina Sereni, the group’s president. Divided into three parts – Hell, Purgatory and Heaven – the poem consists of 100 cantos, of which half a dozen were marked out for particular criticism by the group. It represents Islam as a heresy and Mohammed as a schismatic and refers to Jews as greedy, scheming moneylenders and traitors, Miss Sereni told the Adnkronos news agency.  “The Prophet Mohammed was subjected to a horrific punishment – his body was split from end to end so that his entrails dangled out, an image that offends Islamic culture,” she said.
Like I say, shocking: I had no idea the book was assigned in any classroom. I cannot imagine a public school curriculum would make anyone read Dante, let along drag them all the way through Paradise. But apparently the work is taught in colleges as well. The full horror is described thus:
Schoolchildren and university students who studied the work lacked “the filters” to appreciate its historical context and were being fed a poisonous diet of anti-Semitism and racism, the group said. It called for the Divine Comedy to be removed from schools and universities or at least have its more offensive sections fully explained.
Yes, a university student has insufficient filters, and cannot understand that a particular work of art is a product of a time and a culture. They must either be shielded from the work itself, lest they be exposed to something that offends someone else, or someone must take the tender dears aside, dry their tears, and explain that the mean man with the prominent nose was a bad man who wrote bad things about bad thoughts, and sometimes – I know this is tough – sometimes it’s necessary to expose one’s self to those bad thoughts, voluntarily even, and understand why they’re bad. The Telegraph said this nonsense came from Gherush92, a “human rights organization” affiliated with the UN. Well, it is, inasmuch as it’s one of ten specifically useless NGOs advising the generally useless UN Human Rights committee. (Members this session include China and Cuba.) I wouldn’t put much stock in it, and if the organization ever came up in conversation I would say “gesundheit.” But it is indicative of a certain mindset. Six out of a 100 cantos were deemed offensive and discriminatory, and that’s enough to boot the whole book? Of course: they poison every syllable, you know.  The presence of discrimination – which is to say, the literary expression of an intellectual and cultural preference – is unacceptable. Naturally, there’s pushback:
“The Divine Comedy is the pillar of Italian literature and a cornerstone of Italian literature and the educational formation of the country’s students,”
Oh, wait – that’s a quote from Valentina Serini, the intellectual lint-trap running the ban campaign. Those are the very reasons it should be banned, can’t you see? That such a wretched work should be a pillar, AND a cornerstone – well, you cannot remake the next generation when such miserable examples are the basis by which students gain an understanding of their cultural tradition. There are no cultural traditions worth preserving, in the end. They’re all impediments – except for the cultural traditions of other people, which are generally wonderful, certainly more wonderful than ours, which led to imperialism and colonialism and racism, which was never practiced by any other culture in the world at any time. Class dismissed!    

One more thing about Andrew.

it seems we’ve forgotten Andrew’s great omission. Constant listeners to Hugh’s show may recall how our host checked the preface of Breitbart’s book, looking for his name among the innumerable luminaries the author thanked. It’s natural! Everyone in the media world does it, if they think there’s a chance they might be listed. But Hugh’s name wasn’t in the list. You might recall the show where he brought this fact to Andrew’s attention, and did so with the usual playful cheer he normally reserves for tormenting Duane. Breitbart was mortified. He felt horrible. You might think: well, a guy gets called out on a radio show for a faux pas like that, he’s going to work up all the contrition he can muster, salve the host’s tender ego, then hang up the phone and think “Dude. Really? Okay, next book, whatever.” After the interview my phone rang; it was Andrew. He started to explain why he was calling, and I had to cut him off: look, pal, you do that to my friend Hugh,  you got no business coming around here. He laughed, said okay, you heard: now what can I do to make it right? He wanted to know Hugh’s hobbies or tastes or side interests so he could do something to apologize. So Hugh, if you’re reading this – that explains the strippergram at the office. Mystery solved, eh? I don’t know what he did, but it was typical. He was a generous man in every sense that matters, I suspect – generous to family, to friends, allies, and even to his enemies, inasmuch as he gave them so many reasons to amp up their hate and feel better about himself. Whether the generosity extended to himself, I can’t say – but it seems as if he lived his life in broadcast mode, a tall tower shooting out rays in all directions, wires taut and quivering. And finally they snapped. According to a story about his last hours, he was talking with a liberal in a bar – someone he’d just met and befriended. Not yelling or telling him he was an idiot, but talking. There’s the big grand stage events that grab headlines, and there’s the small moments when you can insert a sliver of doubt into someone’s ideas, or at least make them realize that the other side isn’t a bunch of lemon-sucking old prudes. It’s not enough to confront. You have to convince. The left may have disliked him for the first one. They hated his power to do the second.

Attack of the Six-Step Process

E.J. Dionne said something revealing on the Wednesday’s show: Obama couldn’t be anti-Catholic; he had worked for them as a community organizer, and they’d paid his way. As if this translates to anything. As if there’s any gratitude given to an employer for any reason. That’s what they’re supposed to do: give people money, right? But if he think this means that Obama has some deep appreciation for the church because they gave him money, it explains why liberals think people’s opinions aren’t the result of study and consideration of the issues, but because they work for a company that once had a contract to buy paper towels from the Koch Brothers. Speaking of the Post: got a tweet from a Washington Post columnist. He’s a very funny and talented writer. But.
This is so true.  Watch: Next, they’ll resurrect the flag-burning threat.  http://t.co/RIqZYmVp
Sigh. It goes to a Balloon Juice post:
Why Republicans are Crawling Into Women’s Vaginas More good news: jobless claims are down again. Here’s a graph of jobless claims from Steve B (click to embiggen) that explains why the Republican Party is ginning up the culture war—it’s easier than acknowledging that the economy is getting better.
It’s all a ploy to distract the masses, and it arose only because desperate conservatives are looking for an issue. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t have been a big deal. But now that the economy is booming again, fizzy with exuberance, they have to puff up something completely unobjectionable to distract the lowing masses. Hence this BIZARRE kerfluffle over making Catholic organizations pay for “women’s health,” the fuzzy cover-all euphemism for everything from mammograms to ninth-month abortions. It’s not like they’re forcing anyone to use it. Right? What could possibly be the problem? Don’t tell me it’s abridgment of religious liberty. It’s hatred of women and the desire to see them all get sick and die. (Conservatives are awful misogynists.) This is not an opinion, but settled fact. And they’re control-freak theocrats to boot!  From the New Republic:
. . . the fight that the church’s defenders thought was about protecting Catholic Charities and St. Mary’s school down the street from purchasing health plans that violate their leaders’ conscience is now, as the Church sees it, also about protecting the right of all employers — including, apparently, fast food franchises — to deny contraception coverage to their employees.
Horrors. In a just and decent world the owner of a restaurant must assist his employees to pay for contraception. He must, if so requested by the fry cook, go to the store and buy a box of condoms, if the fry cook intends to get busy when the shift’s over. The owner of the restaurant is not permitted to say “buy your own, or don’t have sex,” because there should be no impediment to recreational frottage. Another blogger at free  weekly in Minneapolis noted the injustice of allowing employers – any employers! – to impose their religious conceptions of, well, conception on its employees. Not paying for something is equivalent to denying it. Makes sense. This backs up my theory about any change in social mores: it’s a six-step sequence. First you have to tolerate the new idea, because tolerance is good (except when the object has been branded an unacceptable impediment to the nifty new progressive world just over the horizon.) Tolerance might mask an uncomplimentary opinion, though, and even though it’s held and private and never expressed, it’s not enough. So the next step is Acceptance. You have to accept something. This is swiftly followed by Approval, lest the people who embody the new mores feel bad about your lack of approval; next the change must be seen as the equal of the previous standard, and shortly thereafter it must be admitted that in some ways it is superior. The last step: you have to pay for it. We seem to be moving through these steps faster and faster these days. Each one wears down the sandpaper that kept ideas from swift adoption. In the end, what do you get? A world in which all of a sudden a married lesbian can have an abortion against her spouse’s wishes, and demand that it be paid for by someone against their own convictions. To the progressives, that’s all good. That’s a sign we’re doing it right. By the way: The Think Progress comments on the matter are as delightful as you’d expect, full of the roiling anti-religious hatred that abounds on these sites.
Lets make a deal. Catholic bishops can have a say in how our government works when they decide to pay their taxes for the privilege. Until then, stay in your churches and STFU!
Rejecting a law that requires you to violate your beliefs = having a say in how government works. Got it. The next one:
Catholic Bishops…. KEEP YOUR GRUBBY HANDS OFF MY GOVERNMENT!
It’s as revealing as Dionne’s remarks, and in both cases, the speakers don’t seem to understand the implications. MY government? Not ours? No. Not ours. Government belongs to them. Society conforms to the dictates of government. Individuals confirm to the dictates of society. The only personal freedom you have is the only one that matters: sexual freedom. Any questions? Enjoy!  

More expert analysis on North Korea

Kim Jong-Il is dead, and boo-hoo-hoo. Everyone’s passing around the Official Weeping Interval video today. This hellish ululation is either genuine, or it’s not. Either option is unnerving. If it’s genuine, then you see the end result of a few generations of socialization and isolation: automatons whose depthless grief is matched only by their fear of a future without  Dear Leader’s hand on the till. Or the locomotive throttle. Or the golf cart steering wheel, or the movie camera’s focus control, or the agricultural biology lab’s special microscope he used to cure wheat smut, or any of the other things in which he excelled. But surely all is not lost; if he was the greatest at absolutely everything, then he was Top Best Sperm Man of All-Time, and his son will be just as smart. Certainly has his looks and charisma.   On the other hand: c’mon. What a bunch of fakers! Round up all the people who work in the local offices, the ones who aren’t starving and have probably had real coffee and a piece of meat in the last couple weeks. Line ‘em up and shout “express your grief” and give everyone a close-up, so you can study the tape later and see who didn’t seem consumed with despondency.   Who knows? Well, I do. Last summer I read “A Corpse in the Koryo,”  a murder mystery set in North Korea, and that makes me an expert on the place. The author wrote under a pseudonym of James Church, because he was a real secret intelligence officer, or because he wasn’t and wanted to make you think he was. The hero, Inspector O, floats through a mirror-palace world of corruption and suspicion; everything is broken, no one has everything, the black market thrives, the army is the mob, and so on. I’m not sure if it had a plot, or what it was, or who died at the end, but there was a sequel, so I’m pretty sure the hero survived. If there’s one thing I learned from the book, it’s that no one in Pyongyang believes in any of that Juche drivel. The entire state is performance art. Nothing will change as long as the regime is enabled by the outside world. And that’s my expert opinion! Only slightly less useful than the rest of the speculation we’ll get this week. No one knows what will happen, but we all know what didn’t happen. Ten years after President Bush named the Axis of Evil, the regime is still around. Still building Nork-nukes; still trying to figure out a way to sell a few to keep the top brass in cognac and imported Russian hookers for another year or two. In 2001 we figured they’d be toast within the next few years, once the world got serious about dealing with the threat, but no. We’ve been kicking the can down the road for a decade, even though we know it’ll be filled one day with nitroglycerine. Expect more of the same for Kim Jung-D’oh, or whatever Number Three Son is called. There’s no good end for this story; the only question is whose innocents eventually pay: theirs, or ours.

What we could have done differently

  Everyone’s spending the day on recollections and remembrances, and I’ve said enough of that. Started wondering: What should we have done differently? In no particular order of importance, some thoughts. Nomenclature. The Department of Homeland Security: hated the term then, hate it just as much now. It’s a tin-eared appellation with overtones of paternalistic daddy-states. Couldn’t say Motherland; Russia has the copyright on that. Can’t say “Fatherland,” for obvious reasons. How about Yankeeland? No, insults the south. Doodleland, then? An amusement park. Office of Domestic Security? No, too totalitarian . . . except it’s not, really. It’s just blunt. It’s true. If there’d been a Bogart movie in WW2 where he worked for the Office of Domestic Security, smashing Nazi spy-rings, the term would feel right, and would connote diligence and competence and authority. But the language has changed; we’ve been trained by movies and TV and the rest of the popular culture to believe that every such agency is really an apparatus for doing something horrible to Americans at the behest of the Shadowy Forces who use national paranoia for their own dark purposes. So we have the DHS, and no one knows what it does. Beyond that: “homeland” is different from “nation.” People don’t think of America as a “homeland,” which sounds pre-national, rooted in place and tribe, not an idea. Americans don’t set foot in Hawaii and think “ah, the homeland.” They think of the ideas and values that make this place familiar. Likewise: The War on Terror. This was the first sign of careful locutions intended to reassure the world we weren’t going to go all Crusader on everyone. “War on Evil” would have sounded ridiculous, of course, and impractical; so many fronts. “The Axis of Evil” was derided as the sort of term you’d find in an old movie serial, and who’s to say what’s evil, anyway? One man’s evil is another man’s shining sweet goodness with sprinkles on top. Can’t say on “War on Islamists” because that would insult everyone was Muslim, even though we were constantly told that Islamists weren’t really acting in the name of Islam, and were horrified by Islamists, and by-gosh would expunge them from civil society, except there were only about six or seven, so it wasn’t worth the bother. World War Four would have been an apt name, but since no one really named the Cold War for what it was – number three – it would seem like we’d skipped an episode. My daughter once said she was scared of thinking about World War Three, and I said we already had it. We won. Now we’re having Number Four. This seemed a relief, somehow.  Post-war Iraq. There’s either the school that says “leave after Saddam was toppled, and let the brutes sort it out” but we would have got Al-Qaeda or some such indistinguishable band of medieval totalitarians. Another school said “install an SOB who’ll keep the lid on, and leave,” and that has a certain appeal – but it went against the Bush approach to draining the swamp and planting the flower of democracy in the stony earth of the Middle East. Hindsight, 20-20, etc., but it’s clear that the post-occupation clusterbungle sapped the United States of every atom of momentum we had. Speaking of which: Iran. Recall a cover of the Weekly Standard after the fall of Baghdad? “On to Iran!” We’ll probably never know what the US and its allies have been doing to Iran in the last decade, but if they go nuclear and use them, history will look back at a country that was flanked on two sides by a powerful adversary that stayed its hand when it could have struck. History will be scratching its head over that one. Likewise, North Korea: it’s not as if we couldn’t take them out. As a member in good standing of the Axis of Evil, as the nation voted Most Likely To Sell a Nuke for a Case of Hennessey,  they need to go. But the necessary steps – flattening Pyongyang, sowing the border with daisy-cutters, giving the Chinese a wink if they decide to gun down anyone who tries to cross the border – were always unacceptable, unthinkable, inhumane, and will continue to be so right up until the moment they discover that the nuke that took our an American city came from Kim Il-Jong. Then it’ll seem like the right thing to do. But not until. We have to wait for the “until” part. Reconstruction. The new World Trade Center is an underwhelming, mediocre, undistinguished group of buildings that could be built anywhere  – except that it took them ten years, which means it could only be built in New York.  The architecture is rootless and universal, divorced from our own vocabulary; the monuments are pits that speak of sadness without anger, remembrance without a nod to a future where the struggle is won. It was unthinkable that they would build the towers again, because – . . . well, why, exactly? Can you think of a better rebuke, a better response? The towers weren’t great architecture in the first place, but as Paul Goldberger of the NYT said, the fact that there were two banal towers instead of one transformed them into abstract sculpture, and he’s right. Over time they became an icon, a symbol of New York as powerful as the Empire State Building, and replacing them with a tower that twists as if it’s been slapped, and another that looks as if its top has been sheared by a giant’s angry scythe is a lost opportunity. For all that, we did so many things right, and we’ll never know most of them. We weren’t hit again. Everyone thought we’d be hit again. Most everyone still does. It will be different; our reaction will be confused, unsure how to reply. But one thing will be the same, at least for the left. It’ll be Bush’s fault.

A Modest Proposal

. . . which is what writers say when they want to be ridiculous. Well then: A little-known, unforseen consequence of Obamacare – don’t worry, there can’t be more than one or two – is discussed here, at Commentary. New restaurant nutritional signage requirements. Domino’s Pizza is hit particularly hard, since A) there are an almost infinite number of permutations, and B) hardly anyone goes to the store to see the sign anyway. You can get all the information online, and apparently by phone as well. Doesn’t matter: people who go to the store to pick up a meat-laden pizza may be unaware that they are exceeding their caloric intake for the meal, and that makes Michelle Obama cry, so stores – which average $40K in profits – have to spend almost $5K to put in the signs. And again when they add an item. So profits go down, or prices go up, which means profits will probably go down. Or the manager can get the staff together, and ask them who voted for Obama. The rest can leave. The manager tells them he’s going to have to fire one of them because of Obama’s regulations, and he’s choosing the driver who makes the most, because he should pay his fair share. Since the owner’s not cold-hearted, he announces he will subtract ten percent from everyone salary to give to the fired driver, and if the driver doesn’t find another job, this will be extended, and extended again, until the driver gets another job. Any questions? Have a nice day.

Any minute now

The President, about to speak on jobs. It’s apparent the Teleprompter is running Mac OS 7, and takes a while to boot up. Too many extensions!