Thursday, December 10, 2009
The President's Nobel acceptance speech was delivered in his usual language of moral overgeneralization and bad analogy, but if there was one line that revealed the thing in all its absurdist glory, it was this:
But perhaps the most profound issue surrounding my receipt of this prize is the fact that I am the Commander-in-Chief of a nation in the midst of two wars.And there you have it. A President goes to Oslo, claims the mantle of military dictator, and proceeds to harangue the whole world about the necessity of war in the name of peace. Our nation has no constitutional Commander (not that that's ever stopped anyone); those powers are explicitly delineated, referring to the Army and Navy and the "militias of the several states." Oh well. Like the boys in the union always say, precedent trumps the contract.
You know, as a Child-of-Privilege, a Sitter-on-Boards, a Server-on-Committees, a certified Homosexual-American, and an occasional featured figure in the local scene-and-style pages, I know a thing or two about the modes and methods of benefit-dinner gatecrashing, and the stodgy insistence of the Washingtonian socialisti that Washington's social life is an outlier because it does not comport to the standards of Manhattan and Los Angeles reeks faintly of a classic inferiority disorder, as a dry floor-drain trap reeks faintly of sewer gas. In reality, Washington's self-vaunted code of conduct is the national norm; a self-same code animates every small town and midsized city in America. "Small-c conservative." Indeed. Welcome to Pittsburgh. It is not a matter of class, nor a particular decorum, but merely a matter of who's been around for long enough, which arrives thusly at the inevitable corrollary: who knows whom. But there is a secondary rule, and it is this: if you can convincingly act like you know everyone, you're golden. And as an aside, things are not so different in NY or LA.
But the naïve New York reporter, poor déclassé thing that he is, has duly transcribed the Capital anonymice as they insist that the Salahis have broken with Washington standards by "embracing fame." Oh, indeed?
The Salahis are also eliciting gasps in Washington by embracing fame with unambivalent gusto. That’s pure Los Angeles, a place where there is very little downside to showing up at a party, or on any blog or gossip page. In Hollywood, famous people gravitate toward each other simply because they hope that by huddling up, their odds of being photographed multiply. In Washington, notoriety can be hazardous to your career and there are dozens of wise men and aides de camp with reputations built, in part, on their near invisibility.As pure a pile of bullshit as you'll find this side of the cattle ranch. Quick, Monsieur la journaliste, name a few of the top Los Angeles press agents. Name me a single Hollywood studio executive vice-president off the top of your head. Name a stylist! Name a top film editor? Name a unit production manager or a line producer. There are dozens of them with reputations built, in part, on near invisibility.
Read The Hollywood Reporter, or US Weekly, or page six; then tell me if they aren't full of the same on-background reportage that graces the front pages of the Post and the Times. The gasps heard in Washington when the Salahis are mentioned aren't gasps of shock, but of recognition.
Wednesday, December 09, 2009
There is a libertarian tendency to read Mencken as an earlier, pithier, and less schematic Ayn Rand, although there is little evidence--indeed, there are mostly counterexamples--in his writing to indicate that he thought much more highly of the Fords and Edisons of the world than the Hardings and Bryanses. He was a powerful advocate for a certain literary taste (if you think highly of Huck Finn, you can thank Mencken), an entertaining fan of German music, and he introduced Nietzsche to America, for the benefit of bombastic undergraduates hereandeverafteramen, and yet insofar as he could be said to hold a particular political philosophy, it would be most accurate to call him a heckler. In his own estimation: "I am not a constructive critic."
But one of the joys of being a part of the posterity for which an author partly writes is that the poor scribbler gets no posthumous say in how his words get deployed in argument, and so Menken's remarkable, quotable arias on the corruption endemic to the practice of democratic and representative government have served every club, clique, and ideology that America has subsequently produced. Despite such . . . democratic usage, I think it's fair to say that the libertarians and marketeers have cornered a fair portion of the Mencken market, and as in the above-linked piece by Rothbardian Doug French, they have deployed Mencken principally in order to advance and propound the benefits of a post-Jeffersonian natural aristocracy, a class of entrepreneurial meritocrats against whose rock-of-ages-like productive rectitude the depredations of the politicla class crashes, sprays, and retreats. I like to think that Mencken would be amused.
It is true that the canny Baltimorean did lament the universial plebianism of America, perhaps most famously in "American Culture":
The capital defect in the culture of These States is the lack of a civilized aristocracy, secure in its position, animated by an intelligent curiosity, skeptical of all facile generalizations, superior to the sentimentality of the mob, and delighting in the battle of ideas for its own sake.Regrettably for Doug French and the Mises institute, I do not think that Mencken was anticipating "Sir Richard Branson--knighted for "services to entrepreneurship"--[who] sticks to business and reportedly owns 360 companies."
Were it not so plainly a result of obvious yet resolutley unexamined intellectual prejudices, I would find it curious that our freemarketarian friends are so dutifully committed to the plainly preposterous notion that within enterprises outside the political realm, true merit and virtue are rewarded; the cream rises; talent is recognized; ability is a boon. On a small scale, this is funny because it presumes the existence of enterprise outside the political realm. On a grand scale, it's funny because its most ardent proponents have so obviously never spent much time in a business enterprise, where the perversities of who does and does not rise are, if anything, even more deranged than in the strictly political territory of electoral politics. While there are certainly some very smart, talented, incisive, conversant, articulate, and well-cultured businesscreatures in the world, most of our captains of industry are even more cretinous, subhuman, moronic, and depraved than the average US senator, and that's no low hurdle or short sprint. There is a reason that the cottage industry of office humor, which is nothing more than the endless retelling of the same joke about The Boss being An Idiot, has exploded into one of our culture's most uniformly popular forms of popular entertainment--behind only the psychosexual thrill of America's greatest single contribution to human civilization, the Law and Order franchise.
Tuesday, December 08, 2009
It is the avowed policy of this blog to approvingly link any criticism of off-brand sleeping aid and diuretic, N+1.
I am pretty sure that Bob Herbert has written this column before, and he's certainly not the first to propose that our profligate war-making is somehow the product of the so-called all-volunteer military, that if only the yutes-of-privilege were likewise called to duty, we would hesitate to commit such blood and treasure. And of course, he is correct. Were it not for the draft and the fair share borne by the children of our élite, our conflict in Vietnam might have dragged on for nearly two decades, costing tens of thousands of of American lives, millions of southeast Asian lives, and billions upon billions of wasted dollars.
Monday, December 07, 2009
It may not be one of the great mid-season collapses, but goddamn, Steelers. Even the best teams can suffer the occasional loss, but to lose a series of close games in the manner they have, well, regrettably admitted: a mark of an inferior squad.
Sunday, December 06, 2009
So. Thomas Friedman. Holy shit. He finds a Cronkite-Kennedy interview:
Cronkite: “Do you think this government still has time to regain the support of the people?”The interview took place on Sept. 2, 1963! One month to the day later, Diem would be dead following a disastrous America-backed coup. One month! Ho Chi Mihn would apocryphally chortle: "I can scarcely believe the Americans could be so stupid."
Kennedy: “I do. With changes in policy and perhaps with personnel I think it can. If it doesn’t make those changes, the chances of winning it would not be very good."
So is this the plan Friedman commends to The Obama?
Not yet a month later, Kennedy would also be dead. The war would persist for another 12 years. Another fifty-odd thousand Americans would die, along with untold millions of Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Laotians.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the New York Times.