Friday, February 26, 2010

Moar of the Same - Plus Moar!

John Bright's definition of imperialism, via AJP Taylor:

A gigantic system of out-relief for the British aristocracy.

Yes, and where the British sent dullard baronets' sons to India, America sends Simone Ledeen types to Iraq*. Upper class welfare for laissez-faire worshiping hypocrites and monsters. Same as it ever was... except we have an even more manly type of Elite for whom even riding the Green Zone gravy train is too dangerous. These people get a different, easier sort of welfare, more lucrative in terms of steady cash and, most importantly, direct access to power: it's called punditry.

*Cf. this and this.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Pissedopher Hitchens, a couple weeks ago, very disappointed in the lack of civility, the crudeness, the total degradation zOMG:

[A]n obviously shocked Mr. Hari tried for a change of pace and asked Vidal if he felt like saying anything about his recently deceased rivals, John Updike, William F. Buckley Jr., and Norman Mailer. He didn’t manage to complete his question before being interrupted. “Updike was nothing. Buckley was nothing with a flair for publicity. Mailer was a flawed publicist, too, but at least there were signs every now and then of a working brain.” One sadly notices, as with the foregoing barking and effusions, the utter want of any grace or generosity, as well as the entire absence of any wit or profundity. Sarcastic, tired flippancy has stolen the place of the first, and lugubrious resentment has deposed the second. Oh, just in closing, then, since Vidal was in London, did he have a word to say about England? “This isn’t a country, it’s an American aircraft carrier.” Good grief.

Pissedopher Hitchens yesterday:

Al Haig was a neurotic narcissist with an unquenchable craving for power.... "Nobody has a higher opinion of General Alexander Haig than I do," I once wrote. "And I think he is a homicidal buffoon." ...Indeed, the bulk of Haig's awful political career was an example of banana-republic principles and the related phenomenon of an overambitious man in uniform who mastered the essential art of licking the derrières of those above him while simultaneously (see above) bullying and menacing those below.... His manically authoritarian personality frightened even many on the right... and his career was one of contempt for democracy at home and abroad. From his squalid life one can learn to detect the diseased symptoms of Caesarism and the urgency of combating it.

And here's Hitchens from a good while back:

The stupidity of Ronald Reagan.... I only saw him once up close, which happened to be when he got a question he didn't like. Was it true that his staff in the 1980 debates had stolen President Carter's briefing book? (They had.) The famously genial grin turned into a rictus of senile fury: I was looking at a cruel and stupid lizard.... Ronald Reagan was neither a fox nor a hedgehog. He was as dumb as a stump. He could have had anyone in the world to dinner, any night of the week, but took most of his meals on a White House TV tray. He had no friends, only cronies. His children didn't like him all that much. He met his second wife—the one that you remember—because she needed to get off a Hollywood blacklist and he was the man to see.

The only thing wrong with any of this -- a feast of crude truths -- is Hitchens's hypocrisy. And BTW, Vidal, age 85, was speaking impromptu; Hitchens, whose liver may be 85 but the rest of him is 60ish, took the time to craft his wonderfully graceless, ungenerous, snotty remarks on the recently deceased. Hitchens would like you to think he's disappointed in Vidal's tone, but it's a classic heads I win, tails you lose set-up. Had Vidal beautifully and baroquely slagged, say, Buckley, with purple flying all over the place, Hitchens would have concentrated on condemning the bitterness and florid mean-spiritedness in the older man's heart. Since Vidal insulted Buckley generically, Hitchens is free to play -- and does play -- the "bitter and witless" card.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Pundit Is Ah-scared

George F. Will sez:

America, its luck exhausted, at last has a president from the academic culture, that grating blend of knowingness and unrealism.

While I'll agree that academic culture sucks, George Fwill is hardly the person to point fingers at Elites. Academics do indeed produce dreamy impracticalities, often using the near-slave labor of grad students. But at least academics usually know their subjects; most have at least some ammo where it counts: in their noggins. Is this so much worse than pompous douchebag pundits who produce utter crap, using the near-slave labor of research assistants; such pundits who pretend to be so well-read, but who in real life have absolutely no ammo except that provided by a gopher who knows how to plunder a Bartlett's? The Preznit's an academic who knows some things; Pundit-weasel hybrid is a fake know-it-all who knows nothing. I know who I prefer.

But the reaction against this must somewhat please him. That reaction is populism, a celebration of intellectual ordinariness.

Uh, no. Populism is resentment, often righteous, of Elites, economic, political, and cultural, more or less in that order, who are perceived as thieving, corrupt, or otherwise unworthy. That populism can be anti-intellectual doesn't mean that it inherently is anti-intellectual; perhaps in a genuine meritocracy it would be, but then the fact that America is flagrantly not a meritocracy is one of the major inspirations of populism.

This is not a stance that will strengthen the Republican Party, which recently has become ruinously weak among highly educated whites. Besides, full-throated populism has not won a national election in 178 years, since Andrew Jackson was reelected in 1832.

After William Jennings Bryan's defeat in 1908, his third as the Democrats' presidential nominee, this prototypical populist said he felt like the man who, thrown out of a bar for a third time, dusted himself off and said, "I'm beginning to think those fellows don't want me in there."

That's not quite fair: Bryan would have won in 1896 had Mark Hanna not bought, with Robber Baron money, the election for McKinley. Theodore Roosevelt would have won in 1912 had the Robber Barons not used Taft as a spoiler. It's not that populism isn't popular enough to succeed, it's that populism is so scary to the Rulers of the country that they will use any means to see it fail.

In 1976, Jimmy Carter -- peanut farmer; carried his own suitcase, imagine that -- somewhat tapped America's durable but shallow reservoir of populism. By 1980, ordinariness in high office had lost its allure.

Who won in 1980? Oh yeah; Ronald Reagan, the least intellectual president between Harding and George W. Bush. Presumably, Will thinks Reagan rises above ordinary because the president was coached by a certain pundit...

In 1968, George Wallace, promising to toss the briefcases of pointy-headed intellectuals into the Potomac, won 46 electoral votes with 13.5 percent of the popular vote. He had the populist's trifecta -- a vivid personality, a regional base and a burning issue. Actually, he had three such issues -- backlash against the civil rights revolution, social disintegration (urban riots, rising crime) and resentment of the progressive projects of Great Society social engineers (e.g., forced busing of other people's children).

Populism has had as many incarnations as it has had provocations, but its constant ingredient has been resentment, and hence whininess. Populism does not wax in tranquil times; it is a cathartic response to serious problems. But it always wanes because it never seems serious as a solution.

Hmm, and who completely stole Wallace's thunder, and to great success? Will doesn't say, because it would fuck-up his thesis. Nixon fanned the flames of the worst kind of populism (racial resentment), but also the good kind, albeit hypocritically.

Typically, liberals get mad at me for bashing academics-in-government, a.k.a. technocrats. I've been called Spiro Agnew. But millions of Indochinese owe their incineration to the best and brightest academic experts like McNamara and McGenghis Bundy. Yes, that was then. Now, millions of Americans owe their joblessness or job-degradedness to pointy-headed experts like Larry Summers and Brad DeLong. And of course many Muslims owe their misery and/or deaths to Neocon and Liberal Hawk Perfessers. Nixon exploited righteous anger at these types, then put Dr. Kissinger from Harvard in charge, promptly guaranteeing the incineration of moar Indochinese not to mention the torture and murder of Chileans, Timorese, Cypriots, Argentines, Angolans, etc. etc.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

You Will Never Stop The Lulz

Sez Mary Elizabeth Williams:

George Carlin, who knew a thing or two about linguistics, once memorably declared that there are "no bad words." There are "bad thoughts, bad intentions," he explained. "And words." Ah, would that it were that simple.

It is that simple.

Were we to draw up a new list of verboten phrases du jour, surely right near the top would be "retard."

Happily, no.

While I generally try to err on the side of sensitivity (and often fall impressively flat), I also don't get my own knickers in a twist when I hear an occasional "retard" among friends.

Good, you're not completely into Ampersand territory, then -- which means you're not completely fucking retarded.

Silverman and "Family Guy," in contrast, built their material on the apparent hilarity of the mentally challenged -- or in a cheap send-up of "political correctness," if that's how they prefer to view it. But the material smacks of artless cruelty. That's why it's offensive, because it's the same comedically lazy, "Look at me! I'm so transgressive! Can you handle it?" routine they've both been hiding behind since the freakin' '90s.

It's easy to be offensive. It's easy to make people uncomfortable. And it's petty and mean to get laughs at the expense of people who actually are laughed at and teased all the time, and then pass it off as edgy social commentary.

It is, in general, easy to be offensive and make people feel uncomfortable; however, it's hard to be funny at the same time: Witness what passes for humor on "Identity Politics" blogs, whether Stalinist or wingnut. Both FG and Silverman manage to be funny; it's called having talent. All good comedy is ultimately transgressive; all great comedians are assholes in their own way, but they are clever assholes. Moreover, "mean" (insult comic) assholes, who mildly transgress against the general in order to severely wound the deserving particular, are usually freakin' righteous -- and that's really what people like Ms. Williams can't abide.

The belief that one can be nice and be funny is just as delusional as the belief in the virgin birth.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Triumph Of Will

...Grant went off to his first war. Offandedly, he gives us what I take to be the key if not to his character to his success: "One of my superstitions had always been when I started to go any where, or to do anything, not to turn back, or stop until the thing intended was accomplished." This defines not only a certain sort of military genius but explains field-commander Grant who would throw wave after wave of troops into battle, counting on superior numbers to shatter the enemy while himself ignoring losses.
-- Gore Vidal, The Grants, Sept. 18, 1975

107. A sign of strong character, when once the resolution has been taken, to shut the ear even to the best counter-arguments. Occasionally, therefore, a will to stupidity.
-- Nietzsche, BG&E