Archives for May, 2007

Oh, That Shiny Writer’s Plow

Apropos of the recent New Republic piece on Karl Zinsmeister, senior domestic policy adviser to Bush, late of AEI. The question it raised for me is, just what is it that happens to a person that allows them to send an email like this:

In his e-mail to friends yesterday, Mr. Zinsmeister wrote, “I am an admirer of Cincinnatus, and had intended to return quietly to my writer’s plow after I completed my last issue of the American Enterprise. … The plow still shines for me, but at this delicate moment for our country it is time for me to serve.”

And this is a guy who didn’t even live here full-time. What kills the little internal regulator, the little voice that’s supposed to say, “Jesus, Karl, you sound like a pompous ass here” before you hit send? Maybe a better question is, what keeps it alive? This city is poison.

Posted on May 29, 2007 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Useless Facts File

Sean Connery had a piece in Saturday’s Post pimping the Scottish National Party. Ordinarily, I’d be all for that sort of thing, but the SNP are a bunch of commies for whom Scottish independence really means further integration into the EU mega-mono-whatever-lith. But none of that’s important right now. What is important is that I recently discovered that in addition to playing a badass on the silver screen, Connery actually was kind of a badass.

If you saw LA Confidential, you may remember the mobster-character Johnny Stompanato, perhaps from the scene where Edmund Exley confronts him and tells his date “a hooker cut up to look like Lana Turner is still a hooker.” Stompanato, of course, was a real guy–bodyguard to Mickey Cohen and jealous boyfriend to the real Lana Turner. But:

In the fall of 1957, Stompanato followed Turner to England where she was filming Another Time, Another Place, costarring Sean Connery, later of James Bond fame. Fearful that Turner was having an affair with Connery, Stompanato stormed onto the set brandishing a gun. Connery managed to land a single punch to Stompanato’s jaw and took away his gun. Stompanato was soon after escorted away by security guards.

The rest of the story is pretty good too.

Posted on May 29, 2007 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Jonestown

On the other hand, “joy” is not the word I’d use to describe watching this, but I give it a thumbs up anyway. In fact, it made me a little reluctant to use the phrase “drinking the Kool-Aid” again. (Turns out it was actually Flavor-Aid at any rate).

I knew the story. Had forgotten they killed a congressman. But the first hour or so goes much as expected: yeah, yeah, wacky cult, etc. But the last half hour or so is horrifically mesmerizing. They have audio of Jones ranting over the PA system as 909 people die, interspersed with interviews of three of the five people who ran into the jungle during the thing and got away. It’s just so damned creepy. Maybe the most disturbing thing I’ve ever seen on film. From the transcript [spoiler alert!]:

Continue reading this post »

Posted on May 24, 2007 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The Tao of Sam, Jim, and Steve

Oh man, that was a joy to watch. I’m a little peeved nobody told me about it before. Directed by Sam Peckinpah and based on a story by pulp-god Jim Thompson, The Getaway is about as good as a shoot-‘em-up chase movie gets.

It’s just full of surprises, intentional and otherwise. Sally Struthers as a thin, cute chick. Steve McQueen decking Sally Struthers with a straight right. (Peckinpah, uh, had some issues).

I’m not totally sold on the Steve McQueen mystique yet, but there was something cool about him moving methodically down the hotel hallway, blasting hicks with his shotgun, all the while clad in a wash and wear black suit with a black tie. Today it would be some overmuscled clown in an $80 tank top. People don’t dress up for mayhem any more and it’s a shame.

Posted on May 24, 2007 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

The Bush Commitment to Excellence

(Cross-posted at the Agitator)

I haven’t followed the US Attorneys’ scandal very closely, so I don’t know if there’s any there, there. Seems to me if the Senate is going to go ahead and confirm the guy who was in charge of OLC during its elaborate attempt to rationalize the divine right of elected kings, it’s not on very firm ground getting upset over what, if true, is a misdemeanor offense by comparison.

Of course, that’s not to deny that the scandal has its amusing aspects. Take Monica Goodling for example. She’s living proof that Tracy Flick wasn’t a figment of Alexander Payne’s imagination. This Legal Times profile tells the fascinating story of how Stakhanovite devotion to the president and first rate brownie-baking skills get a graduate of Pat Robertson’s law school (“top 10.5 percent of class“!) into a position where she’s hiring and firing US attorneys. As the friend who sent the article asks, “Can you imagine having this appended to every email you send?”:

“There were many chances to lose our heart, our nerve, or our way. But Americans have always held firm, because we have always believed in certain truths. … And we know that when the work is hard, the proper response is not retreat; it is courage.”
–President George w. Bush

Posted on May 24, 2007 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Arrrgggh.

Thinking back on it, I’m still appalled. I didn’t watch the recent Democratic debate. But how bad could it be? By my count, the biggest applause lines at the GOP candidates’ South Carolina debate were:

Huckabee: John Edwards is a swish!
Giuliani: “Any method they can think of!”
Romney: “Double Guantanamo!”
Tancredo: “I’m lookin’ for Jack Bauer!” (Awesome: I myself am lookin’ for Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.!)
nickfurylive.jpg

And, finally, Giuliani: readin’ hurts my brain.

Unless the next Democratic debate looks exactly like this, then what we just watched is the leading edge of the coming Idiocracy.

Posted on May 18, 2007 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Moral Panics

[cross-posted at the Agitator]

I’m thinking out loud here, which is no sin on the Internets, apparently, so bear with me. There are certain risks that most rational people evaluate rationally. The relative risk of driving versus flying, for example. It certainly seems more dangerous to travel aloft in a big aluminum tube that doesn’t really seem like it should stay aloft than it does to drive to Costco to pick up a case of Diet Red Bull. But most of us know that it’s less dangerous to fly to New York from D.C. So we don’t worry much when we’re told to turn off our electronic devices and put our seats in the upright position.

But the flying versus driving risk calculus has no political/ideological backdrop that would skew our risk analysis. Also, it’s a known quantity in the aggregate and easily checkable.

There are other risks that are more speculative and uncertain. And for some of them, our ideological preconceptions seem to crowd out any sort of rational calculus. Why are some of us worried about school shootings, while others treat that risk like the risk of dying in a fiery plane crash or getting Lou Gehrig’s disease? Why do some of us worry about terrorism, while others stress about the risks of global warming?

Isn’t the determining factor here our respective ideologically-charged narratives about American society and what may be wrong with it? Why in the 1980s did one side of the political spectrum panic about Alar on apples, while others waxed dystopic about Soviet aggression? How does your average Blue-Teamer decide that global warming poses enormous threats to our way of life? Has he (masculine as universal, sorry) examined the various scenarios offered by the IPCC and arrived at his position through a sober reflection on the evidence? Or do the most dangerous scenarios fit in with a general notion that late capitalist America consumes too much and too blithely and cares too little about long-term consequences? Why are so many Red-Teamers convinced, on the basis of one horrific strike on American soil, that we face a threat of enormous proportions, even though the post-September 11th world looks much like the pre-September 11th world in terms of terrorism on the home front? Could it be that the narrative of impending doom fits in with what conservatives have long felt about American society, that liberal societies are weak and vacillating and unwilling to defend themselves? Anyone who’s spent much time in the conservative movement must be familiar with the sort of character who fancies himself a poor man’s Whitaker Chambers, and flatters himself that his fellow countrymen do not recognize the grave threats to our way of life and lack the moral fortitude he’s blessed with, to do what is necessary to defeat the Other. The concept of the “moral panic” is instructive here, as is the old line by H.L. Mencken, “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”

Posted on May 18, 2007 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Tough Guys Don’t Read

I have to disagree with everybody who says that 10 candidates in the GOP debate are way too many and the answers are too short. Not having to listen to these guys for more than a minute at time makes this thing go down pretty easily. That and being able to Tivo from one Ron Paul answer to another. He didn’t quite nail the first Iraq question (though the Reagan/Lebanon gambit would have been terrific if he got it out quicker). But it was oh so sweet when the guy asked Tommy Thompson to name three federal programs he’d eliminate, Thompson didn’t answer, then the followup, “I didn’t hear the three programs. Can you give me one?” Thompson–who ran HHS–sputtered something incomprehensible about the vaccine stockpile (I think)–then it went to Paul, who said he’d eliminate three cabinet departments, including the Department of Homeland Security.

And my God, Giuliani is contemptible. Jumping in after Paul dared suggest that American foreign policy had something to do with the rise of Al Qaeda, he said (paraphrasing): “that’s an extraordinary statement. I’ve heard a lot of absurd things. But I’ve never heard anyone suggest that us bombing Iraq for 10 years had anything to do with 9/11,” then went on to demand a retraction from Paul.

Maybe Giuliani should crack a book about Al Qaeda. Here’s the ’98 Fatwa for example:

First, for over seven years the United States has been occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of places, the Arabian Peninsula, plundering its riches, dictating to its rulers, humiliating its people, terrorizing its neighbors, and turning its bases in the Peninsula into a spearhead through which to fight the neighboring Muslim peoples.

If some people have in the past argued about the fact of the occupation, all the people of the Peninsula have now acknowledged it. The best proof of this is the Americans’ continuing aggression against the Iraqi people using the Peninsula as a staging post, even though all its rulers are against their territories being used to that end, but they are helpless.

Remember, the war on terror, Giuliani says, is something he understands “better than anyone else running for president.”

Now, Ron Paul didn’t do a good job clarifying the distinction between courting “blowback” (we did) and deserving it (we didn’t). But maybe it’s not that easy to do when you’re on a stage full of shameless demagogues.

Posted on May 15, 2007 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Party of Death

Over at Radley’s, I lament the fact that for conservatives, all other ideological priorities seem to have collapsed into the black hole of the war.

Come on, send the poor guy some traffic. He’s trying to build up his little blog.

Posted on May 14, 2007 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

The Internet Is Handy

Handy as a shirt pocket. I’m listening to the radio and working, and the Flaming Lips cover of Bohemian Rhapsody comes on the XM. It reminds me that in college, whenever the song came on and my friend Chris Miller was around, we’d sing “Chris Miller! We will not let you go! (Let him go!) We would not let him go!” etc., sometimes, depending on the level of alchohol-induced frivolity, accompanied by actual physical seizure of Chris Miller. And I realize, sitting here, that unlike “Blinded by the Light,” I have no idea what the actual words to the song are, and I have the power to get them.

Lo and behold, it turns out that Queen may have been proto-Islamonazi sympathizers. “Bismillah,” huh? Somebody alert Glenn Beck.

Also, Scaramouche, which I’ve never read, has one of the great first lines in the history of the novel. “He was born with a gift for laughter and a sense that world was mad.”

Posted on May 12, 2007 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The Cult of the Presidency

Over at Radley’s, I’ve posted the beginning section of my book proposal, and I’ll post a few paragraphs from it below. My motivational theory is that if I blog about it, I’ll feel compelled to follow through and actually finish it. On a similar note, I plan to have at least a four-pack of abs by midsummer. Look out, world.

Er, anyhow, here’s a taste of the proposal. If you want to look at the rest, head over to Radley’s.

The Cult of the Presidency: America’s Dangerous Romance with Executive Power
Book Proposal by Gene Healy

Every would-be author needs a short answer to the question “What’s your book about?” As friends and coworkers have asked me, mine has been, “It’s about the presidency. I’m against it.” It’s a flip answer, but it’s not far off.

What I’m against—what the book takes aim at—is the expansive modern vision of the presidency that dominates American political life. Over the course of the 20th century, both political elites and the general public came to view the president as a national father-protector—a larger-than life figure expected to “fix” all large national problems and to unite us all in the service of a higher calling. That vision of the president as national guardian and redeemer suffuses American political discourse—so ubiquitous that it goes unnoticed.

Today, politics is as bitterly partisan as it’s been in three decades, and the Bush presidency is at the center of that fight. But amid all the bitterness, it can be hard to discern that, at bottom, both Left and Right agree on the boundless nature of presidential responsibility. Neither Left nor Right sees the president as the Framers saw him: a constitutionally constrained chief executive charged with faithful execution of the laws. For both camps, it is the president’s job to “grow the economy,” to teach our children well, to rescue Americans from natural disasters, to spread democracy and American ideals abroad, and to heal cultural division and spiritual malaise—whether that takes the form of a “sleeping sickness of the soul,” as Hillary Clinton would have it, or an “if it feels good, do it” ethic, as diagnosed by George W. Bush.

That unconfined conception of presidential responsibility is the source of much of our political woe and some of the gravest threats to our liberties. If the public expects the president to solve all national problems, physical or spiritual, the president will seek—or seize—the power necessary to handle that responsibility. As a result, powers that the Constitution leaves to the states or the people increasingly flow to the center, and increasingly become concentrated in the hands of one person.

What was the point of that Revolution again?

Posted on May 10, 2007 in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Guest-Agitating

I’m guest-blogging this week over at Radley Balko’s The Agitator, so there may be some cross-posting going on. Here’s the beginning of my first post for Radley:

To kick things off, yesterday’s big story about the Jersey jihadi arrests contains an interesting detail. It seems that the plot “was foiled when the men asked a store clerk to copy a video of them firing assault weapons and screaming about jihad.”

Hmmm.

Now, I know, I know: we face a dedicated, determined threat that’s so deadly, (so “existential,” man) that dangerous distractions like the Constitution and critical thinking must be suspended for the duration while we duct tape ourselves to our recliners and dutifully watch Fox News…

To read the rest, go here.

Posted on May 9, 2007 in Uncategorized | 10 Comments

Sopranosblogging

After Sunday night’s episode, I think my prediction that the Sopranos will go on to an arcless end looks less likely. But I feel better about my notion that a critique of our therapuetic culture is a major theme of the show.

In his always-excellent Sopranos recap, Matt Zoller Seitz writes “There are at least five sequences in “Walk Like a Man” that depict therapy or something like it. None are comforting.” Click here for more.

I see via Hit and Run that the Weekly Standard noticed that Carmela was reading Fred Barnes’ Rebel in Chief, and they whine a little about “Hollywood” (close!). There’s a fair amount of indirect GOP-bashing on the show, with various characters signalling their support for the administration, like Paulie here and my favorite here from Christopher after Adriana lies about being concerned about terrorism:

“Don’t you listen to the president? We’re gonna mop the floor with the whole f**king world; The whole world’s gonna be under our control. So whaddaya worried about?”

Posted on May 7, 2007 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Sisterhood is Mythical

Isn’t the most obvious explanation for this, this? I’m just saying.

Posted on May 7, 2007 in Uncategorized | 9 Comments

Leave No Hoaxster Behind

Courtesy of Jim Harper, this has to be the stupidest bill title in quite some time: “The Terrorist Hoax Improvements Act of 2007.”

Posted on May 5, 2007 in Uncategorized | 8 Comments