February 27, 2014

Open Letter to an Atheist
— Ace

I published this (in rawer form) as a response to Seattle Slough, who is not really a troll, but does come here to disagree.

I don't mind that he disagrees. He does get a bit insulting, but it's the Internet-- what do you expect? I'm going to insult him (a bit) in this post.

Internet rules. What can you do.

But having written a response to him, and needing some content, I've decided to pop this out as a post.

We start with his quote, in my usual effed-up manner of quotation:

>>> Let me ask you:
Do you believe the Earth is less than 20,000 years old?
Do you believe in a world-wide flood?
Do you deny the theory of evolution?

If the answer to any of these is "yes" you are a fool. If the answer is "no" you deny the Bible as divine truth.

...

Seattle, being a non-believer myself, I agree with you that these things are not true.

Here is where I depart from you: Calling someone who does believe them a fool.

Was Blaise Pascal a fool? Before you answer, you should look him up on Wikipedia. He was quite brilliant. Incredibly brilliant, actually. Also, a religious Christian zealot (I think he'd agree with that characterization).

Was Isaac Newton a fool? I trust you know enough about him to know he was no fool.

Was William Wilberforce a fool? If you have to Wiki him, do so.

What you are doing is taking your lack of inquisitiveness (which I share) for some explanation as to What It All Means (I don't know that it means much of anything, and I suspect you feel similarly) as your demarcation between "fool" and, I guess, a wise man such as yourself.

There are a lot of brilliant men -- far more brilliant than you could dream -- in history, who not only believed in God (and Jesus), and not only were not "fools," but were in fact smarter than you (or, even myself, ego compels me to say, though it's a somewhat closer call) could ever hope to be.

You are guilty not of atheism (which is not a crime) but the great sin of our age, the great Vanity, that of Tribalism.

You believe that your membership in a tribe makes you superior to others; I think your devotion to a tribe makes you inferior.

You are desperately searching for affirmation of self in trivial proofs. I believe this, I don't believe that; ergo, I'm superior.

You might as well be basing your ego upon your favorite ice cream flavor.

Like you, I am an atheist (or, agnostic/Deist/atheist depending on the day). Like you, I do not believe anything in the Bible, except for some small things like I'm pretty sure a man named Jesus lived and caused a bit of ruckus.

But to me, this is about as much evidence of my superiority over my fellow man as my interest in True Detective.

You are establishing, in your mind, a hierarchy of persons, from wise to fool, based upon your own idiosyncratic What's Hot/What's Not list.

Here is an eye-opener for you: Some people wonder more about the First Mover than you or I do. Some people find scientific explanations implausible or unsatisfying.

This does not make them fools; it makes them of a different personality type than you or I.

Now, you will say they're wrong about what they believe; I'll say I agree with you.

But you are essentially doing the same thing a gay-hater does when he knocks him for being gay. The religious were born with a quixotic nature, a need to look beyond the tangible and mundane.

You and I weren't.

We should no more be "proud" of this than we're proud of our sexualities or our eye color.

The Vanity of our age is to find more and more trivial proofs that we matter. That we count. That we're better.

Politics, religion, racial or gender identity, sexual preference... all of it. We stupidly look at the world with eyes full of greed for proof that We Matter. We're Better. We're Special.

There is more to the world than that, if you look. Even if you don't believe in any god.

Some religious people find meaning, and personal validation, in Jesus. Some others seem to find a great deal too much meaning and personal validation in not believing in Jesus.

Let it go. Let vanity go.

I have a theory, which I frankly have not thought about very hard, but my theory is that Vanity is the handmaiden of all other sins.

For no other sin can be undertaken without causing a revulsion in the conscience except that Vanity -- or as a modernist would term it, ego, the Almighty I -- makes up a complicated and nonsense justification for that sin.

Let it go man. Let it go.

So I guess this makes me an agnostic Deist Buddhist or something.

Who knows. Who cares.

Go with God, or, if you like it better, go without him.

But get over your ego. You'll move faster and lighter without it.


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What Happens When Lois Lerner Is Hailed Back to Testify Before Congress?
— Ace

I'ma gonna be lazy again and just say "Hey man, read it."

Meanwhile, Bradley A. Smith argues that Obama and Democrats sicced the IRS on Tea Party groups through public channels. They said this is publicly what they wanted, and my goodness, that's exactly what their subordinates did.


Be fair. I've been writing a lot lately. You have to average the words-per-post out.

Video: Via @niedermeyersdeadhorse (or NDH to you guys), Rep. Trey Gowdy talked about the Lerner case on Fox today.


Posted by: Ace at 11:27 AM | Comments (306)
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Jonathan Turley: We Are At a Constitutional Tipping Point And No One -- Especially the Judiciary -- Seems to Care
— Ace

Yup.

There's an old saying, said of Europeans' endless fretting about fascism growing in America: "Fascism is forever descending upon America, but landing in Europe."

Liberals are pretty sure that fascism is growing whenever there's a Republican in office, but when a progressive president begins asserting he has the right to rewrite the laws by his own personal whim, they just don't notice.

Or they pretend not to.

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Daniel Hannan: Yeah, About the National Socialist Workers Party
— Ace

Great piece from @rdbrewer4 in the sidebar.

Hannan's goal is not prove that the left harbors secret Nazi sympathies. His point is rather more nuanced:

To be absolutely clear, I don’t believe that modern Leftists have subliminal Nazi leanings, or that their loathing of Hitler is in any way feigned. That’s not my argument. What I want to do, by holding up the mirror, is to take on the equally false idea that there is an ideological continuum between free-marketers and fascists.

The idea that Nazism is a more extreme form of conservatism has insinuated its way into popular culture. You hear it, not only when spotty students yell “fascist” at Tories, but when pundits talk of revolutionary anti-capitalist parties, such as the BNP and Golden Dawn, as “far Right”.

What is it based on, this connection? Little beyond a jejune sense that Left-wing means compassionate and Right-wing means nasty and fascists are nasty. When written down like that, the notion sounds idiotic, but think of the groups around the world that the BBC, for example, calls “Right-wing”: the Taliban, who want communal ownership of goods; the Iranian revolutionaries, who abolished the monarchy, seized industries and destroyed the middle class; Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who pined for Stalinism. The “Nazis-were-far-Right” shtick is a symptom of the wider notion that “Right-wing” is a synonym for “baddie”.

One of my constituents once complained to the Beeb about a report on the repression of Mexico's indigenous peoples, in which the government was labelled Right-wing. The governing party, he pointed out, was a member of the Socialist International and, again, the give-away was in its name: Institutional Revolutionary Party. The BBC’s response was priceless. Yes, it accepted that the party was socialist, “but what our correspondent was trying to get across was that it is authoritarian”.

In fact, authoritarianism was the common feature of socialists of both National and Leninist varieties, who rushed to stick each other in prison camps or before firing squads. Each faction loathed the other as heretical, but both scorned free-market individualists as beyond redemption. Their battle was all the fiercer, as Hayek pointed out in 1944, because it was a battle between brothers.

It's very difficult to capture any country's politics in the short-hand you use for your own. For example, do you know who the "bad guys" were to the French Revolutionaries?

Well, the monarchy, of course, and the aristocrats, obviously, and the priests, eventually. But there was a fourth villain despised by those of the French Revolution:

Liberals.

Yes, liberals. Because economic liberals had convinced Louis Capet to reduce the mandates and restrictions on trade in grains (that is, they convinced him to let the farmers sell to foreign buyers at the best price they could find).

This proved unpopular, because, as bad luck would have it, France was hit with a few cold seasons of crop failures just before the French Revolution, and Parisians got very angry about paying more for bread under the new liberalized selling regime. The French farmers were selling French grain to the British, you see, and French bread went up in cost, as the new cost was set not by Louis Capet's ministers but the free market. (And the price of bread was a major factor in sparking the Revolution, but there were a set of about four major factors.)

Treason!

The concept of liberalizing economics and freedom became discredited, and liberals were among the enemies of the Revolution.

When the Revolution went into its decapitation frenzy, those damned farmers and bakers refusing to sell their wares for below cost were explicitly charged with economic treason (hoarding), and beheaded.*

Now, it is common for people to immediately analogize all parties in a foreign country with their "analogues" -- not really their analogues, thus the scare-quotes -- from the country they know, their own.

Everyone does this. At first. But as your read more and understand more, you realize that another nation's politics cannot be reduced the easy-peasy lemon-squeezey third grade level template you began with.

But reporters keep on doing it, don't they? And they claim to be "experts" in the subject matters they report on.

The media does this because they are imbeciles. They ought to know better than to pretend that the politics of any country tracks with the American (or British) models.

In fact, they were probably told a dozen times that they shouldn't do this, as it's false.

But they do it anyway. Because they're shamefully partisan and not-terribly-secretly propagandists for leftism.

They refuse to label any bad-acting regime as "socialist" or "communist," even when they are clearly that (and even when it says that right on the tin), and instead insist on referring to all Baddies as Right-Wing.

When anarchists destroy property in the US, they are referred to as "anarchists" and "anti-globalists" -- never "the far left."

When Occupy Wall Street gets a little stinky and embarrassing, they are "anti-capitalists." Never the "far left," and certainly not "extreme liberals."

But all violent regimes are called rightwing, even the ones that are expressly leftwing.

As Hannan explains, they just say that the nice good leftwing government because shamefully Rightwing when it crushed the opposition and murdered dissidents. (Even when they're crushing opposition and murdering dissidents in the service of redistributing wealth!)

Because you know -- leftwing governments hardly ever do that, except for always. Only rightwing people do that, so if it happens, you know what you're dealing with is a rightwing government.

Real the whole piece. The beginning bit, which I didn't excerpt, constitutes his proof that the Nazis were indeed socialist.

* In the interests of accuracy, I should note that the beginning of the French Revolution contained liberals on the revolutionary side. And it also contained a lot of priests on the revolutionary side, too. It contained aristocrats. Hell, it even contained a member of Louis Capet's royal family, his cousin, the Duke of Orleans (Philippe "Egalité," he would style himself, calling himself an equal, not a lord-- but he did keep his property).

In fact, it contained a lot of monarchists on the revolutionary side -- people like Lafayette (IIRC) supported a constitutional monarchy, like Britain's, not an all-powerful sovereign.

But as the grim, bloody logic of the Revolution continued (as almost all revolutionary regimes do), each of these once-allies were deemed enemies, and either forced to flee or brought to Place de la Revolution to have their heads deducted from their bodies' heights.

Posted by: Ace at 09:32 AM | Comments (298)
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Ronan Farrow Receives the Walter Cronkite Excellence in Journalism Award, After Three Days on MSNBC
— Ace

I don't think he got the award for that. At least I hope not.

Prior to the debut of his show, Ronan Farrow Daily, on Monday, Farrow worked as an adviser to the State Department and with UNICEF, among other humanitarian efforts; he’s contributed to various publications, including the Wall Street Journal, Foreign Policy, and The Atlantic.

This year marks the third year of award: In 2012, television travel host Richard Wiese received the award; in 2013, it went to travel writer and actor Andrew McCarthy.

Eric Wemple's recent column is on this point, and a must-read.

The Post announced the hiring of the New York Times’ Catherine Rampell and called her “one of the smartest, most original journalists of her generation.” Uh-oh — she may have to compete with Politico’s Todd Purdum, who at the time of his hiring was “one of the most perceptive reporters and elegant stylists of his generation.” Politico is full of generational leaders, too, as Editor-in-Chief John Harris said of “Playbook” author Mike Allen: “One of the most exceptional journalists of his generation.” (Allen has a more humble view of himself as “one of Washington’s top journalists.“). Politico Magazine editor Susan Glasser was feted upon her hiring last year as “among the most respected thinkers and editors of her generation.” As opposed to Steve Coll, who was hailed as “one of the most experienced and respected journalists of his generation” upon being selected as dean of Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. Coll has written a great deal about the war on terrorism, so he’s doubtless familiar with the work of Gregory Johnsen, who, upon his selection as a BuzzFeed Michael Hastings fellow, was celebrated as “one of his generation’s wisest and most original voices on national security.” Both Coll and Johnsen, in turn, would be familiar with the work of John Pomfret, who over a quarter-century, per a Post memo, became ”one of the great foreign correspondents of his generation.”

It goes on and on like that. He's just getting warmed up. American journalism seems to be comprised of nothing but The Best and Brightest of Their Generation.

No wonder they have such high opinions of themselves!

I would like to give an award to Eric Wemple's column, one of the best and most courageous of its generation.

Someone asked for silly stuff, here you go.

Posted by: Ace at 08:30 AM | Comments (372)
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Atheism and Conservatism, Continued
— Ace

Three good pieces. I would say these three pieces essentially agree with one another:

Cooke: Atheism and conservatism are perfectly compatible.

A.J. Delgado: This particular group, American Atheists, should have been disinvited.

Goldberg: Both Cooke and Delgado are right.

Note, by the way, that Cooke concedes, early in the piece, that he's not defending this particular atheist group, which is, as I've termed it, particularly obnoxious, not "conservative" at all, and in fact rather partisan-seeming, as the only political targets they go after just happen to be on the right.

Delgado's piece reports this of this particular crew of zealous evangelical atheists:

Speaking of its CPAC sponsorship, the group’s president, David Silverman, said on CNN: “I am not worried about making the Christian Right angry. The Christian Right should be angry that we are going in to enlighten conservatives. The Christian Right should be threatened by us.”

These remarks triggered the revocation of the group’​s sponsorship.

People do have the right to dissent, and to try to persuade other people, and I wouldn't fault an atheist, generally, for preaching atheism to the converted. But these guys, as I said, are especially obnoxious, and are, it seems, pre-announcing their dickishness and combativeness.

In my previous post on this matter I said CPAC could not be faulted for disinviting this crew of obnoxious people, but that I thought it would have been better to be more generous towards the principle of free expression than is necessary. That is, they had every reason to disinvite American Atheists, and every justification, but that it would have been better to bend over backwards to accommodate these guys.

Commenters objected: But they're just there to make trouble, and no one would consider inviting determined troublemakers to a convention of any sort.

After sober reflection, I now say: Commenters were, as they often are, right.

My bend-over-backwards advisory has limits; while I would still urge a bend-over-backwards policy with other atheist groups (including those who wish to preach atheism; everyone wants to preach their religion, after all), these guys have done more and more to make me look foolish for my argument in favor of heroic accommodation with those who disagree.

These guys did not plan to come to CPAC to inform, engage, and persuade convention-goers; they came to pick a fight, and a convention, and its conventioneers, have every right in the book to say, "No, I didn't spend $1500 to get here to be pestered by assholes."

If you read Cooke's piece, or my pieces, you'll note that we're both respectful towards those with whom we disagree over matters religious.*

At the end of the day, persuasion only happens in a climate of respect. No one's going to even listen to someone outright insulting them.

So if these guys were coming in with a disrespectful, we're-gonna-get-them kind of attitude, their efforts at "persuasion" would have been failures anyway, and they would have just been, as commenters said, Trolls With A Leaflet Booth.

Mea culpa.

I still think there is good sense in trying to think of reasons to include dissenting, oddball, or unpopular voices in any group, rather than defaulting to the standard human (not conservative, human) reflex of excluding them.

But when you're announcing as loudly as you can "I intend to Make Grief," you know, at that point I have to stop arguing for the inclusion of dissenting voices.

I'm pro-dissent, not pro-grief.

* You'll also notice that many atheists don't even attempt to persuade anyone that he's wrong about God, because, frankly, we 1, don't care, 2, don't think it's weird to believe in God (belief in God is as old as mankind itself), and 3, do not object particularly strongly to the pro-social effects of a restraining moral code.

One commenter, who was an atheist, told me two things in rapid succession:

1. I'm an atheist.

2. I'm pro-Christianity.

His reason for point 2 is that Christianity has generally served as a powerful force for social cohesion, morality (slavery was extinguished by men with Christian, or at least Deist, beliefs), and freedom, given that Christianity is a religion that does tend to suggest a distinction between Caesar and God.

So his reasons for being "pro-Christianity" have nothing to do with metaphysics, and thus could be said to be "cynical" reasons. He wanted people to believe in things he personally did not believe in, because he saw positive social effects flowing from that (erroneous, in his mind) belief.

But in any event, there are a lot of atheists who really don't care very much what you believe.

In fact, most atheists don't care about these issues because they lack much of an interest in metaphysics whatsoever.

Oh: Another atheist friend and I frequently talk about Tim Tebow-- to praise him, and to knock his detractors.

Our point comes down to this: At the end of the day, it's not us secularists who are devoting our summers to assisting surgeons operating on the poor of the Philippines.

It's Christians (and other religiously-motivated people) who do that. We secularists use our off hours to please ourselves, not others.

So we can pat ourselves on the back all we like for being smart enough to see through this Mystical Hokum, but at the end of the day, we ain't the ones working hard on behalf of others. It's the people who believe who are doing that.

So what's our big claim to superiority? That we've intuited that we should devote ourselves to more Me Time?


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Democratic Congressional Candidate Alex Sink: Without Amnesty, "[W]here are you going to get people to work to clean our hotel rooms or do our landscaping?"
— Ace

Perfect.

Over at Slate, Dave Weigel, of course, doesn't understand the phony, ginned-up outrage. Why it's all just so silly! Republicans have "created" a "gaffe" where none existed!

The Creation of a Gaffe

By Dave Weigel

...

I was sitting next to a Jolly supporter who muttered loudly when Sink answered anything, so I heard a tongue-cluck when she said that. In the larger room, it generated some "huhs," but no follow-ups. After the debate, in their media interviews, neither candidate was asked about Sink's answer.

But a tracker posted the video of that answer. Cue outrage.

So far Weigel's proof that this is not a story is that a room full of progressive, media-voting Democrats merely "clucked" at it, and, get this, asked Sink no follow-ups about it.

Weigel's proof that the media is not biased in failing to ask Democrats about their own racial faux pas is that the media doesn't ask Democrats about their own racial faux pas.

Well I'm convinced.

I'm not sure whether there's a term for this—maybe it's Reductum ad Republicum. In lieu of an argument for why Sink was racist to point out that undocumented immigrants are currently employed as landscapers or hotel workers, they argue that a Republican couldn't say it. But Marco Rubio says it.

Marco Rubio is Latin himself, Dave. Are you playing dumb? Note that Barack Obama called himself a "mongrel," and that was taken as different from Ted Nugent calling him a "mongrel."

I agree with that distinction. So, of course, does Dave. But he pretends he's not aware of it when he needs to defend a Democrat.

By the way, he also goes on to submit that "context" of the whole quote saves Sink. This will be important later.


UPDATE: This post was written in a hurry as I went to catch a plane. Only later did I check my tape of the debate and remember Sink's full answer. After the "hotels" line, Sink praised Marco Rubio's work on the immigration bill, then said this:

For every example that you hear, I think about the high school valedictorian -- I believe he lives in this district now. He was brought here when he was a young man, nine or ten years old. He didn’t choose to come here. His parents brought him. He was undocumented. And what does he do? How does he get an education? He did everything right. He became an incredible student. He even eventually ended up going to law school and becoming a lawyer. But right now he can't practice law because of his undocumented status. That’s not right.

Funny. The tracker didn't include those lines. The conservatives who hectored the media for not covering Sink the way they'd cover a Republican didn't seek out the lines.

Let's be frank about what's going on here: The media believes Republicans are racist. Therefore, any statement about race is taken as confirmation of that pre-existing thesis.

The media believes Democrats -- the party they vote for in each and every election, and the party they fight to elect each cycle in their news coverage/political public relations efforts -- are not racist, and therefore they say "How silly" when conservatives note that Democrats, too, make clumsy remarks when discussing race.

Need I remind either of these fine gentlemen that Rick Perry's renting of a property which once had a rock upon which was written a racial slur (a slur, by the way, Perry painted over), was in fact a major deal in the news media and proof of his hostility towards blacks?

We point out that "Democrats say these things too" for a simple reason: Because they do. And such statements, from Republicans, are the media's case-in-chief of Republican racism.

Now, their actual case relies upon what they think they "know," in background: Republicans are racists, all of them, except for the ones who are liberal, like Jon Huntsman. But they can't report "things they know on a gut level," so they take the statements as their evidence.

And when a Democrat like Sink says something which would be used as proof of racism had a Republican said it, they say: "This is no evidence at all."

Well. I want that same "This is no evidence at all" standard applied to Republicans as well.

The media can believe that Republicans are all racist woman-haters if they want. But they cannot assign different standards to the same sorts of "evidence" for this, depending on whether the speaker is a Democrat or a Republican.

They can't have it both ways, but of course they insist on just that. They want to be free to take vague, ticky-tack, minor statements by Republicans as proof of racism, but the same type of Democrats are merely "clumsy" or "politically dumb" but otherwise no proof of anything at all.

Democrats, to the media, are Just Like Us; Republicans are Not Like Us. And it's easy to demonize the Other, and that's why the media does it: Because it's easy, and they don't work -- or think -- particularly hard.

Meanwhile, Democrats are, by their own confession, ginning up the "War on Women" messaging machine that worked in 2012, and which the media did its level best to make work in 2012.

Will Dave Weigel point out how silly all this is? Or will he gladly join in the Outrage Hunting?

Well, let's check the previous record: Did Weigel poo-poo ginned up Outrage!!! over Mike Huckabee's clumsy (but merely that) comments about birth control?

Dave Weigel's headline:

Mike Huckabee: Democrats Want Women to Think "They Can't Control Their Libido"

Here's what Weigel goes on to say:

Reporters were a little rattled by the line, but Huckabee's used it before—he used it on the latest episode of his Sunday show.

....

So it's a crowd-pleaser, if only to a select audience.

UPDATE: Conservatives have responded to the quote -- well, more accurately, responded to liberals responding to the quote -- by insisting that the media ran it without context. Mea culpa/humblebrag: I was in the room at the time, filing quickly, but preferring not to stop my tape and transcribe the entire line. Here it is now:

I take that as an admission that of course he did not transcribe the entire line before dashing off his hot headline.

And of course that's true; he only gets to actually transcribing it in this update.

The conservative objection is that this full quote is not nearly as dismissive-sounding as the short, Twitter-sized version. That's arguable -- Huckabee's point remains that Democrats are calling women promiscuous and trying to buy them off with birth control. If Democrats want to object to that, they can.

"That's arguable." Weigel buys into the Democrats' interpretation, and does not knock it down, nor call it silly, nor imply, as he did with Sink, that a "gaffe" was "created" by an antagonistic partisan media.

Note that Weigel snidely says "Funny" when he notes that Republicans did not include the "full context" of Sink's remark -- and yet has nothing but excuses when he, and the rest of the Democratic media, failed to quote the full context of Huckabee's remark.

Why, context is sometimes good and sometimes important, and sometimes, when the Democrat media is preparing an attack line, just isn't.

This is the same sort of "rescuing" context-- Sink said something later in the speech praising Latinos (asserting they could be more than landscapers and maids). This is proof of her non-racist intent.

But when Huckabee makes a fulsome statement about women being more than, as Democrats seem to believe, baby-makin' machines, with a lot more interest in politics than crude Gimme Gimme buy-offs, Dave's not quite so certain this helps Huckabee at all.

Why the differing standards on ginned up Fauxtrage, Dave?

Ah, don't answer that. I know the answer. So do you. So does everybody.

Oh: Dave very much wants you to know that only a Republican-paid media tracker reported this line, and that the entirety of the Democrat media present in the room refused to do so.

He says this as if this proves the fact that the line was not objectionable.

I rather take it to prove that the media will consistently and deliberately refuse to report gaffes by Democrats -- even gaffes that Weigel admits rouse a few "huhs" and tongue-clucks from reporters who are present.

A "huh" and a tongue-cluck does not indicate that this is the biggest story-- but it does indicate the media registered it as a story.

And yet every single one of them apparently refused to report it all, leaving it to this damned "tracker" to report.

Weigel thinks this saves him?

Because I think it hangs him.

Posted by: Ace at 05:53 AM | Comments (356)
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Ukraine...Another Day Closer To All Out Civil War And Russian Intervention
— DrewM

[Ben's taking the day off so you no news dump.]

It appears things will get worse, probably much worse, before they begin to get better in Ukraine.

In his statement, [Ousted President Viktor] Yanukovych said the current government is illegitimate, and he called on the Ukrainian military to resist any orders to interfere in pro-Russian protests in eastern and southern Ukraine. Tensions in Simferopol, the capital of the Crimea, were heightened Thursday when a band of armed men seized two government buildings.

...

A Ukrainian news Web site, lb.ua, also reported that it had spoken with a witness who saw Yanukovych in Moscow, at the Ukraine Hotel, on Tuesday. With him, it said, were the former interior minister, Vitaliy Zakharchenko, and the former chief prosecutor of Ukraine, Viktor Pshonka.

Russian wire services quoted unidentified government spokesmen as saying that Yanukovych’s security would be guaranteed as long as he is on Russian soil.

The new provisional government is speaking in rather blunt terms about the economic situation the country is facing.

The Maidan council - made up of protester groups and activists - announced its nominations at a big gathering of protesters at the camp, which is spread over Kiev's Independence Square.

The council proposed Fatherland Party leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk to lead the cabinet until early presidential elections on 25 May.

Mr Yatsenyuk - a former speaker of parliament and foreign minister - has been one of the main opposition leaders during the protests which first erupted in late November.

"We are to undertake extremely unpopular steps as the previous government and previous president were so corrupted that the country is in a desperate financial plight," Mr Yatsenyuk told BBC Ukrainian.

"We are on the brink of a disaster and this is the government of political suiciders! So welcome to hell," he added.

For the record, "Hell" is a term most political leaders tend to avoid when discussing their country's financial situation. But impending civil war and foreign military intervention tends to make investors nervous about the economic future so they begin to pull out, which in turn leads to more instability, which helps to make civil war and foreign military intervention more likely and....you see where this is going.

As for the reality of who will "win" the Ukraine, the US/EU or Russia, who has more invested in the outcome and the long term commitment to the region?

Yeah.
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Top Headline Comments 2-27-14
— Gabriel Malor

Happy Thursday.

My pal the Anchoress had some thoughts about the "Great-Gay-Marriage-Wedding-Cake-Debacle-of-2014" that everyone should read.

Rep. Camp's new tax reform plan singles out the makers of violent video games for disfavorable tax treatment.

Townhall's Guy Benson went on a Twitter rampage after Sen. Reid claimed on the Senate floor that every person claiming to be harmed by Obamacare is lying.

Nightmare Fuel: I didn't know about this until the report was released yesterday, but there was apparently a NASA spacesuit malfunction in which the wearer could have drowned during a space walk. Yes, drowned in space.

The Republican fight to retake the Senate just seriously improved with the Ken Buck-Cory Gardner switch.

This is how the zombie apocalypse starts, I think.


AoSHQ Weekly Podcast: [rss.png RSS] [itunes_modern.pngOn iTunes] [Download Latest Episode] [Ask The Blog]

Posted by: Gabriel Malor at 01:49 AM | Comments (433)
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February 26, 2014

Overnight Open Thread (2-26-2014)
— Maetenloch

Since I'll be on a plane when you read this, tonight will be a movie night.

And the feature presentation is.... Kingpin (1996)

This lesser known Farrelly brothers comedy stars Woody Harrelson as Roy Munson, a young pro bowler on his way to the top in 1979. That is until he loses his hand while playing on the underground bowling gambling circuit. Fast forward 17 years later and he's a loser barely making it selling alley supplies. But when he comes across a gifted Amish bowler (Randy Quaid) he sees his chance to get back into the pro game and take down the reigning champ who cost him his hand years before. Bill Murray is great as Munson's enemy/rival, Ernie McCracken.

kingpin96

Full movie below the fold.

more...

Posted by: Maetenloch at 03:49 PM | Comments (1184)
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Jan Brewer Does That Thing You All Knew She Would and Vetoes SB 1062
— Ace

This is breaking, so I don't have a link.

In a way, this is a safe move for her, because it has been argued that SB 1062 actually does nothing that Arizona law already doesn't do.

In fact, that Christian Post article claims it's harder to plead your faith as a reason to refuse service under SB 1062 than it is under current Arizona law -- which already has a Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

I don't know if that's exactly true, but that argument is claimed.

The one thing SB 1062 would do to expand that right is to expand the class of people who could plead it.

Here are six important points to understand about the just-passed bill:

1. If Gov. Jan Brewer (R) signs it, the bill, S.B. 1062, would make some modifications to a 1999 Arizona law called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

2. Under current Arizona law, if a business wanted to discriminate against gays, they would not need this bill to be passed to do so. It is not currently illegal for a business to deny service to someone because they are gay. Some cities in Arizona have ordinances against it but there is no state law against it. If business owners in Arizona wanted to deny service to gays, they could do so in most of the state under current law.

...

4. A RFRA law, either state or federal, does not give anyone the license to do anything they want based upon their religious beliefs. Rather, it says what needs to happen for the government to take away someone's religious freedom. RFRA provides citizens with religious freedom protections, but that does not mean that everyone who claims their religious freedom is violated will win a court case using RFRA as their defense.

...

6. Even if a business wanted to claim the right to not serve gays under RFRA, their claim would be even harder to defend under S.B. 1062. So, anyone who is concerned that someone may one day try to use RFRA to discriminate against gays should prefer the bill that was just passed over current law.

I'll let you read the rest of the article, which is quite long. But this is why Brewer might have decided to veto it-- she could claim "the law already protects religious objections to homosexuality" and thereby avoid (sort of) a political clusterfark.

On the other hand, SB 1062 was not without any effect at all. It did seek to clarify the already-existing RFRA, as argued by Powerline:

SB1062 would amend the Arizona RFRA to address two ambiguities that have been the subject of litigation under other RFRAs. It would provide that people are covered when state or local government requires them to violate their religion in the conduct of their business, and it would provide that people are covered when sued by a private citizen invoking state or local law to demand that they violate their religion.

Without that clarification, people will certainly feel more threatened by lawsuit -- or state or local government -- when they seek to exercise their religious conscience.

Because they use the word "clarify" and "ambiguities," I assume the current law is not quite clear on these points (while also not denying the RFRA applies to these cases).

Brewer, who I think frankly is a clumsy, doltish weathervane, was probably also swayed by suggestions by the NFL that they'd take away Arizona's 2015 Super Bowl hosting if this bill passed.

You know, I support gays' freedom. I just wish gays, and their boosters, supported other people's freedoms as well.

Posted by: Ace at 03:26 PM | Comments (255)
Post contains 630 words, total size 4 kb.

On Decadence, Irony, and Humanity
— Ace

I'm not going to extensively quote these pieces; if you're interested, you'll read them.

Ed Driscoll summarizes a current discussion, sparked by Peggy Noonan, about the decadence of our "elites" -- our political elites, our financial elites.

Noonan's piece takes political elites -- Congressmen -- to task for using their time to film themselves repeating the most cynical and evil lines from House of Cards. She also takes financial elites for their Kappa Beta Phi secret fraternity, one meeting of which was just infiltrated by a reporter, who of course writes about it breathlessly.

She faults both groups for highlighting their cynicism about the system they serve -- Congressmen, by having great fun in speaking the evil Frank Underwood's Machiavelli-on-Bath-Salts philosophy, and the Titans of Wall Street, for putting on skits and musical parodies (sometimes in drag-- eek!) in which they make various cynical statements about just calling on "The Fed" should they get into trouble again, or dreaming of their seven-figure bonuses.

The Hannah Arendt Center explores a historical example of the Decadence of the Elites, the Weimar Republic's embrace of The Three Penny Opera. Apparently this was contrary to the author's, Brecht's, intent, as he intended it to be horrifying. Instead, it was greeted with laughs. (I have no earthly idea if this is true; I am second-hand reporting what I've just read.)

Here are some of Noonan's observations:

“House of Cards” very famously does nothing to enhance Washington’s reputation. It reinforces the idea that the capital has no room for clean people. The earnest, the diligent, the idealistic, they have no place there. Why would powerful members of Congress align themselves with this message? Why do they become part of it? I guess they think they’re showing they’re in on the joke and hip to the culture. I guess they think they’re impressing people with their surprising groovelocity.

Or maybe they’re just stupid.

But it’s all vaguely decadent, no? Or maybe not vaguely. America sees Washington as the capital of vacant, empty souls, chattering among the pillars. Suggesting this perception is valid is helpful in what way?

...

It’s all supposed to be amusing, supposed to show you’re an insider who sees right through this town. But I’m not sure it shows that.

We’re at a funny point in our political culture. To have judgment is to be an elitist. To have dignity is to be yesterday. To have standards is to be a hypocrite—you won’t always meet standards even when they’re your own, so why have them?

* * *


And all of it feels so decadent.

No one wants to be the earnest outsider now, no one wants to play the sober steward, no one wants to be the grind, the guy carrying around a cross of dignity. No one wants to be accused of being staid. No one wants to say, “This isn’t good for the country, and it isn’t good for our profession.”

...

They’re all kind of running America.

They all seem increasingly decadent.

What are the implications of this, do you think?

...

[Y]ou see these little clips on the Net where the wealthy sing about how great taxpayer bailouts are and you feel like . . . they’re laughing at you.

What happens to a nation whose elites laugh at its citizens?

What happens to its elites?

Okay so some people probably like Noonan's general anti-"elite" message. I usually respond to this kind of message-- but not this one.

Here's my problem:

I wonder if the titans of Wall Street understand how they look in this.

At least they tried to keep it secret. That was good of them!

...

All of this is supposed to be merry, high-jinksy, unpretentious, wickedly self-spoofing. But it seems more self-exposing, doesn’t it?

And all of it feels so decadent.

Don't they know how frivolous they look when they behave frivolously?

I don't dig this idea that we must maintain what is essentially a Corporate Rulebook Code of Conduct in our individual lives at each and every moment, including our private ones.

While Peggy Noonan gets knocked a lot for her politics, one thing I like is her actual writing style. She manages to convey a tone of seriousness while nevertheless remaining graceful and light, and she does this through (read her closely) a wonderful rhythm of her sentences.

But having praised Noonan's writing, let me say next: She has never been funny. I'm not sure she even tries. If she's attempted forays into irony, dark humor, gallows humor, or sardonic bite, I don't know them.

She is usually fairly earnest. And I like that. I like the earnest mode of expression. I use it myself. I'm using it now. To the extent I criticize people on the earnestness vs. sarcasm front, it's usually telling people to stop trying to make everything into a sarcastic one-liner, and occasionally attempt the novel innovation of the Simple Declarative Sentence.

But while I certainly respect the earnest mode of expression, I often get the feeling that those who only write in that mode do not at all respect the ironic mode of expression. I see things claimed like "You shouldn't even say that!," as if saying something with obvious ironic intent was close enough to actual endorsement as to be worthy of forbiddance.

There was a young kid, back in 2004 or so I think, who wrote a book called "The End of Irony" or something like that, basically calling the entire mode of expression worthless and ready for the rubbish bin.

Now I do think that the Wall Street guys, in their sketches, reveal some truth. Jokes -- dark jokes, gallows humor -- is often used as means of revealing a truth which would be unpalatable or unacceptable were it expressed by any direct means. People prefer a distancing lens for their harsh truths.

So when the Wall Street guys say something along the lines of having The Fed in their pocket-- I do take that as a kidding-on-the-square admission that perhaps they have far too much pull with the Fed, to the point where even they are uncomfortable with it, and have to express this discomfort through a joke.

I would say the same thing about the Congresspeople delighting in Frank Underwood's cynical lines-- I'm sure these people are fully aware of the hypocrisies of high public office, and feel that parroting Kevin Spacey's line is a "safe" way to express this.

So I'd take this all as somewhat meaningful. I'd look into it. I'd add this data to the vague pile of Things I Think I Suspect I Know.

But I hate this idea that we're all supposed to act like Boy Scouts, or Corporate Spokesman Representing an Important Family-Friendly Brand, at literally every moment of every day.

Humans are built this way. They're not made to be Feel-Good Pro-Social Messaging Machines. At least not every hour of every day, even in their private moments. Even in their stupid-sketch-revues in their secret-society-parties. Some people would go crazy if they were compelled to utter nothing but Positive and Affirming Messages all day. I think I'm one of them.

If Noonan can manage this, even in her private conversations when she thinks no one's watching, well, I guess that's... good?

But I don't want to live under this standard, where the entire world is ready, willing, and eager to patrol my private sardonic, sarcastic, obviously not seriously intended statements for any deviation away from the Corporate Rulebook Code of Proper Employee Conduct.

We have to give each other some space for humanity here, for crying out loud.

I guess what I'm saying is I'm far more worried about actual corruption and self-dealing among Congressmen and Wall Street guys than I am about them making gallows humor jokes about such things.

It's the actual corruption and self-dealing that would be a concern, not their expression about it, nor their lack of concern about "how it looks."

Doctors have a famously cynical saying:

"You're not really a doctor until you've killed your first patient."

Does that make them monsters? Do doctors despise life, and laugh about the loss of it?

Of course not. It's a dark joke they tell to cope with the unsettling fact that many patients will die under their care, and some of those patients will die because they screwed up.

Most occupations have a risk of bad outcomes if the practitioner errs. Doctors, soldiers, cops, firefighters, and EMTs are the workers whose screw-ups result in actual human deaths.

So yes, I'd expect each of these professions to have crafted some dark, cynical humor about the deadly stakes of their occupations.

And no, I wouldn't assume that every casual soldier-joke about killing someone accidentally is actually proof that the soldier is indifferent to killing someone accidentally.

I'd assume it was a joke. Gallows humor, and not the sort of thing that would play outside the profession, but within the profession, a commonplace method of dealing with uncomfortable truths.

The New Yorker article about infiltrating the Wall Street Kappa Beta Phi party contains this statement:

Whenever I’d interviewed CEOs and chairmen at big Wall Street firms, they were always too guarded, too on-message and wrapped in media-relations armor to reveal anything interesting about the psychology of the ultra-wealthy.

Well! I guess now you know why they've made themselves into boring robots who won't tell you anything at all except to quote from the Corporate Guide to Media Relations. Because the moment they get a little real, get a little human, get a little raunchy, get a little I-don't-give-an-eff, you make a federal case about it.

But you already knew that, right?

I just wonder how many of these Secular Saints who push for this kind of absolutist zero-tolerance rule regarding any edgy or Non-Corporate-Approved Messaging could possibly survive under that regime if they themselves were put under this kind of scrutiny, this kind of Talmudic searching of every word, inflection, and metaphor for Hidden Evils.

Posted by: Ace at 02:00 PM | Comments (314)
Post contains 1679 words, total size 11 kb.

On Decadence, Irony, and Humanity
— Ace

I'm not going to extensively quote these pieces; if you're interested, you'll read them.

Ed Driscoll summarizes a current discussion, sparked by Peggy Noonan, about the decadence of our "elites" -- our political elites, our financial elites.

Noonan's piece takes political elites -- Congressmen -- to task for using their time to film themselves repeating the most cynical and evil lines from House of Cards. She also takes financial elites for their Kappa Beta Phi secret fraternity, one meeting of which was just infiltrated by a reporter, who of course writes about it breathlessly.

She faults both groups for highlighting their cynicism about the system they serve -- Congressmen, by having great fun in speaking the evil Frank Underwood's Machiavelli-on-Bath-Salts philosophy, and the Titans of Wall Street, for putting on skits and musical parodies (sometimes in drag-- eek!) in which they make various cynical statements about just calling on "The Fed" should they get into trouble again, or dreaming of their seven-figure bonuses.

The Hannah Arendt Center explores a historical example of the Decadence of the Elites, the Weimar Republic's embrace of The Three Penny Opera. Apparently this was contrary to the author's, Brecht's, intent, as he intended it to be horrifying. Instead, it was greeted with laughs. (I have no earthly idea if this is true; I am second-hand reporting what I've just read.)

Here are some of Noonan's observations:

“House of Cards” very famously does nothing to enhance Washington’s reputation. It reinforces the idea that the capital has no room for clean people. The earnest, the diligent, the idealistic, they have no place there. Why would powerful members of Congress align themselves with this message? Why do they become part of it? I guess they think they’re showing they’re in on the joke and hip to the culture. I guess they think they’re impressing people with their surprising groovelocity.

Or maybe they’re just stupid.

But it’s all vaguely decadent, no? Or maybe not vaguely. America sees Washington as the capital of vacant, empty souls, chattering among the pillars. Suggesting this perception is valid is helpful in what way?

...

It’s all supposed to be amusing, supposed to show you’re an insider who sees right through this town. But I’m not sure it shows that.

We’re at a funny point in our political culture. To have judgment is to be an elitist. To have dignity is to be yesterday. To have standards is to be a hypocrite—you won’t always meet standards even when they’re your own, so why have them?

* * *

I wonder if the titans of Wall Street understand how they look in this.

At least they tried to keep it secret. That was good of them!

They are America’s putative great business leaders. They are laughing, singing, drinking, posing in drag and acting out skits. The skits make fun of their greed and cynicism. In doing this they declare and make clear, just in case you had any doubts, that they are greedy and cynical.

All of this is supposed to be merry, high-jinksy, unpretentious, wickedly self-spoofing. But it seems more self-exposing, doesn’t it?

And all of it feels so decadent.

No one wants to be the earnest outsider now, no one wants to play the sober steward, no one wants to be the grind, the guy carrying around a cross of dignity. No one wants to be accused of being staid. No one wants to say, “This isn’t good for the country, and it isn’t good for our profession.”

...

They’re all kind of running America.

They all seem increasingly decadent.

What are the implications of this, do you think?

...

[Y]ou see these little clips on the Net where the wealthy sing about how great taxpayer bailouts are and you feel like . . . they’re laughing at you.

What happens to a nation whose elites laugh at its citizens?

What happens to its elites?

Okay so some people probably like Noonan's general anti-"elite" message. I usually respond to this kind of message-- but not this one.

Here's my problem:

I wonder if the titans of Wall Street understand how they look in this.

At least they tried to keep it secret. That was good of them!

...

All of this is supposed to be merry, high-jinksy, unpretentious, wickedly self-spoofing. But it seems more self-exposing, doesn’t it?

And all of it feels so decadent.

Don't they know how frivolous they look when they behave frivolously?

I don't dig this idea that we must maintain what is essentially a Corporate Rulebook Code of Conduct in our individual lives at each and every moment, including our private ones.

While Peggy Noonan gets knocked a lot for her politics, one thing I like is her actual writing style. She manages to convey a tone of seriousness while nevertheless remaining graceful and light, and she does this through (read her closely) a wonderful rhythm of her sentences.

But having praised Noonan's writing, let me say next: She has never been funny. I'm not sure she even tries. If she's attempted forays into irony, dark humor, gallows humor, or sardonic bite, I don't know them.

She is usually fairly earnest. And I like that. I like the earnest mode of expression. I use it myself. I'm using it now. To the extent I criticize people on the earnestness vs. sarcasm front, it's usually telling people to stop trying to make everything into a sarcastic one-liner, and occasionally attempt the novel innovation of the Simple Declarative Sentence.

But while I certainly respect the earnest mode of expression, I often get the feeling that those who only write in that mode do not at all respect the ironic mode of expression. I see things claimed like "You shouldn't even say that!," as if saying something with obvious ironic intent was close enough to actual endorsement as to be worthy of forbiddance.

There was a young kid, back in 2004 or so I think, who wrote a book called "The End of Irony" or something like that, basically calling the entire mode of expression worthless and ready for the rubbish bin.

Now I do think that the Wall Street guys, in their sketches, reveal some truth. Jokes -- dark jokes, gallows humor -- is often used as means of revealing a truth which would be unpalatable or unacceptable were it expressed by any direct means. People prefer a distancing lens for their harsh truths.

So when the Wall Street guys say something along the lines of having The Fed in their pocket-- I do take that as a kidding-on-the-square admission that perhaps they have far too much pull with the Fed, to the point where even they are uncomfortable with it, and have to express this discomfort through a joke.

I would say the same thing about the Congresspeople delighting in Frank Underwood's cynical lines-- I'm sure these people are fully aware of the hypocrisies of high public office, and feel that parroting Kevin Spacey's line is a "safe" way to express this.

So I'd take this all as somewhat meaningful. I'd look into it. I'd add this data to the vague pile of Things I Think I Suspect I Know.

But I hate this idea that we're all supposed to act like Boy Scouts, or Corporate Spokesman Representing an Important Family-Friendly Brand, at literally every moment of every day.

Humans are built this way. They're not made to be Feel-Good Pro-Social Messaging Machines. At least not every hour of every day, even in their private moments. Even in their stupid-sketch-revues in their secret-society-parties. Some people would go crazy if they were compelled to utter nothing but Positive and Affirming Messages all day. I think I'm one of them.

If Noonan can manage this, even in her private conversations when she thinks no one's watching, well, I guess that's... good?

But I don't want to live under this standard, where the entire world is ready, willing, and eager to patrol my private sardonic, sarcastic, obviously not seriously intended statements for any deviation away from the Corporate Rulebook Code of Proper Employee Conduct.

We have to give each other some space for humanity here, for crying out loud.

I guess what I'm saying is I'm far more worried about actual corruption and self-dealing among Congressmen and Wall Street guys than I am about them making gallows humor jokes about such things.

It's the actual corruption and self-dealing that would be a concern, not their expression about it, nor their lack of concern about "how it looks."

The New Yorker article about infiltrating the Wall Street Kappa Beta Phi party contains this statement:

Whenever I’d interviewed CEOs and chairmen at big Wall Street firms, they were always too guarded, too on-message and wrapped in media-relations armor to reveal anything interesting about the psychology of the ultra-wealthy.

Well! I guess now you know why they've made themselves into boring robots who won't tell you anything at all except to quote from the Corporate Guide to Media Relations. Because the moment they get a little real, get a little human, get a little raunchy, get a little I-don't-give-an-eff, you make a federal case about it.

But you already knew that, right?

I just wonder how many of these Secular Saints who push for this kind of absolutist zero-tolerance rule regarding any edgy or Non-Corporate-Approved Messaging could possibly survive under that regime if they themselves were put under this kind of scrutiny, this kind of Talmudic searching of every word, inflection, and metaphor for Hidden Evils.

Posted by: Ace at 01:59 PM | Add Comment
Post contains 1600 words, total size 10 kb.

Breaking: Obamacare is a Train Wreck
— Ace

Jim Geraghty rounds up the latest disasters of Obamacare, with .gifs of train collisions.

I find this interesting and would like to subscribe to his newsletter. Oh wait I already do.

Just a big round-up here.

I'm not going to quote this, because Geraghty has summarized the news, and to summarize his summary would be silly. And seriously, who out there is lazy enough to require a summary of a summary?

Among the items he collects are -- get this -- employers reducing hours and number of workers to avoid Obamacare. In Illinois.

Who would have predicted that apart from everybody not named "The Obama Administration" or "The Allegedly Mainstream Media."

And this seems... interesting.

Carolyn Lawson, the IT expert who tried and failed to build Oregon’s online insurance exchange, complained to an Oregon Health Authority official that she was forced to leave under false pretenses in an email uncovered by the On Your Side Investigators.

Lawson emailed OHA chief operating officer Suzanne Hoffman in January to complain that a reporter had been given her personal cell phone number, and asked that the state “allow me to move on with privacy and grace,” after one of the worst health-care-exchange website launches in the nation left her career in tatters.

“I have done everything I have been asked to do,” Lawson wrote. “I stuck to the talking points even though I protested . . . that they were not accurate. I walked away quietly when asked to resign. I wrote the resignation letter per the script I was given.”



That's pretty bad. It's all pretty bad: She also claims, in an email, that a Cover Oregon official claimed that she (Lawson) had misled him (the interim director) about whether or not the website would be up and running on time. She says in another email:

“That never happened,” Lawson wrote. ”I provided all the information I had and never withheld anything.”

Now, I'm sure this is actually all Lawson's fault, and not the case of politicians and high bureaucrats throwing subordinates under the bus. I'm sure that OHA will be providing a full and complete refutation of Lawson's claims immediately.

On Thursday, OHA refused to comment on the emails on the ground personnel matters are classified.

Oh. Ohhhhhhhhh.


Posted by: Ace at 12:30 PM | Comments (294)
Post contains 389 words, total size 3 kb.

"Rising Star" Congressional Republican Jumps into Senate Race to Unseat Democrat Mark Udall
— Ace

Udall is perceived as weak, but this seat wasn't viewed as a likely pickup because of a perceived "weak field."

Cory Gardner is apparently considered strong. He had apparently refused previous attempts to recruit him for this race because he was rising in the House leadership and I guess he felt like a sure thing is better than a risky one.

But he's been jawboned into getting into the race. Or maybe he thinks Udall is so weak that this bid isn't quite so risky as it once seemed.

Various politics-watchers on Twitter, @HotlineJosh, @AaronBlakeWP, @TheFix, call this either a "game changer" or a "huge recruitment" for the GOP.

CAC will post this when his erection is no longer sore.

By the way, for anyone still saying "It doesn't matter who wins or loses" or "I'd actually prefer to lose" or that sort of thing, let Harry Reid congratulate you on your dubious wisdom.

more...

Posted by: Ace at 11:28 AM | Comments (382)
Post contains 180 words, total size 1 kb.

On Decadence, Irony, and Individuality
— Ace

I'm not going to extensively quote these pieces; if you're interested, you'll read them.

Ed Driscoll summarizes a current discussion, sparked by Peggy Noonan, about the decadence of our "elites" -- our political elites, our financial elites.

Noonan's piece takes political elites -- Congressmen -- to task for using their time to film themselves repeating the most cynical and evil lines from House of Cards. She also takes financial elites for their Kappa Beta Phi secret fraternity, one meeting of which was just infiltrated by a reporter, who of course writes about it breathlessly.

She faults both groups for highlighting their cynicism about the system they serve -- Congressmen, by having great fun in speaking the evil Frank Underwood's Machiavelli-on-Bath-Salts philosophy, and the Titans of Wall Street, for putting on skits and musical parodies (sometimes in drag-- eek!) in which they make various cynical statements about just calling on "The Fed" should they get into trouble again, or dreaming of their seven-figure bonuses.

The Hannah Arendt Center explores a historical example of the Decadence of the Elites, the Weimar Republic's embrace of The Three Penny Opera. Apparently this was contrary to the author's, Brecht's, intent, as he intended it to be horrifying. Instead, it was greeted with laughs. (I have no earthly idea if this is true; I am second-hand reporting what I've just read.)

Here are some of Noonan's observations:

“House of Cards” very famously does nothing to enhance Washington’s reputation. It reinforces the idea that the capital has no room for clean people. The earnest, the diligent, the idealistic, they have no place there. Why would powerful members of Congress align themselves with this message? Why do they become part of it? I guess they think they’re showing they’re in on the joke and hip to the culture. I guess they think they’re impressing people with their surprising groovelocity.

Or maybe they’re just stupid.

But it’s all vaguely decadent, no? Or maybe not vaguely. America sees Washington as the capital of vacant, empty souls, chattering among the pillars. Suggesting this perception is valid is helpful in what way?

...

It’s all supposed to be amusing, supposed to show you’re an insider who sees right through this town. But I’m not sure it shows that.

We’re at a funny point in our political culture. To have judgment is to be an elitist. To have dignity is to be yesterday. To have standards is to be a hypocrite—you won’t always meet standards even when they’re your own, so why have them?

* * *

I wonder if the titans of Wall Street understand how they look in this.

At least they tried to keep it secret. That was good of them!

They are America’s putative great business leaders. They are laughing, singing, drinking, posing in drag and acting out skits. The skits make fun of their greed and cynicism. In doing this they declare and make clear, just in case you had any doubts, that they are greedy and cynical.

All of this is supposed to be merry, high-jinksy, unpretentious, wickedly self-spoofing. But it seems more self-exposing, doesn’t it?

And all of it feels so decadent.

No one wants to be the earnest outsider now, no one wants to play the sober steward, no one wants to be the grind, the guy carrying around a cross of dignity. No one wants to be accused of being staid. No one wants to say, “This isn’t good for the country, and it isn’t good for our profession.”

...

They’re all kind of running America.

They all seem increasingly decadent.

What are the implications of this, do you think?

...

[Y]ou see these little clips on the Net where the wealthy sing about how great taxpayer bailouts are and you feel like . . . they’re laughing at you.

What happens to a nation whose elites laugh at its citizens?

What happens to its elites?

Okay so some people probably like Noonan's general anti-"elite" message. I usually respond to this kind of message-- but not this one.

Here's my problem:

I wonder if the titans of Wall Street understand how they look in this.

At least they tried to keep it secret. That was good of them!

...

All of this is supposed to be merry, high-jinksy, unpretentious, wickedly self-spoofing. But it seems more self-exposing, doesn’t it?

And all of it feels so decadent.

Don't they know how frivolous they look when they behave frivolously?

I don't dig this idea that we must maintain what is essentially a Corporate Rulebook Code of Conduct in our individual lives at each and every moment, including our private ones.

While Peggy Noonan gets knocked a lot for her politics, one thing I like is her actual writing style. She manages to convey a tone of seriousness while nevertheless remaining graceful and light, and she does this through (read her closely) a wonderful rhythm of her sentences.

But having praised Noonan's writing, let me say next: She has never been funny. I'm not sure she even tries. If she's attempted forays into irony, dark humor, gallows humor, or sardonic bite, I don't know them.

She is usually fairly earnest. And I like that. I like the earnest mode of expression. I use it myself. I'm using it now. To the extent I criticize people on the earnestness vs. sarcasm front, it's usually telling people to stop trying to make everything into a sarcastic one-liner, and occasionally attempt the novel innovation of the Simple Declarative Sentence.

But while I certainly respect the earnest mode of expression, I often get the feeling that those who only write in that mode do not at all respect the ironic mode of expression. I see things claimed like "You shouldn't even say that!," as if saying something with obvious ironic intent was close enough to actual endorsement as to be worthy of forbiddance.

There was a young kid, back in 2004 or so I think, who wrote a book called "The End of Irony" or something like that, basically calling the entire mode of expression worthless and ready for the rubbish bin.

Now I do think that the Wall Street guys, in their sketches, reveal some truth. Jokes -- dark jokes, gallows humor -- is often used as means of revealing a truth which would be unpalatable or unacceptable were it expressed by any direct means. People prefer a distancing lens for their harsh truths.

So when the Wall Street guys say something along the lines of having The Fed in their pocket-- I do take that as a kidding-on-the-square admission that perhaps they have far too much pull with the Fed, to the point where even they are uncomfortable with it, and have to express this discomfort through a joke.

I would say the same thing about the Congresspeople delighting in Frank Underwood's cynical lines-- I'm sure these people are fully aware of the hypocrisies of high public office, and feel that parroting Kevin Spacey's line is a "safe" way to express this.

So I'd take this all as somewhat meaningful. I'd look into it. I'd add this data to the vague pile of Things I Think I Suspect I Know.

But I hate this idea that we're all supposed to act like Boy Scouts, or Corporate Spokesman Representing an Important Family-Friendly Brand, at literally every moment of every day.

Humans are built this way. They're not made to be Feel-Good Pro-Social Messaging Machines. At least not every hour of every day, even in their private moments. Even in their stupid-sketch-revues in their secret-society-parties. Some people would go crazy if they were compelled to utter nothing but Positive and Affirming Messages all day. I think I'm one of them.

If Noonan can manage this, even in her private conversations when she thinks no one's watching, well, I guess that's... good?

But I don't want to live under this standard, where the entire world is ready, willing, and eager to patrol my private sardonic, sarcastic, obviously not seriously intended statements for any deviation away from the Corporate Rulebook Code of Proper Employee Conduct.

We have to give each other some space for humanity here, for crying out loud.

I guess what I'm saying is I'm far more worried about actual corruption and self-dealing among Congressmen and Wall Street guys than I am about them making gallows humor jokes about such things.

It's the actual corruption and self-dealing that would be a concern, not their expression about it, nor their lack of concern about "how it looks."

The New Yorker article about infiltrating the Wall Street Kappa Beta Phi party contains this statement:

Whenever I’d interviewed CEOs and chairmen at big Wall Street firms, they were always too guarded, too on-message and wrapped in media-relations armor to reveal anything interesting about the psychology of the ultra-wealthy.

Well! I guess now you know why they've made themselves into boring robots who won't tell you anything at all except to quote from the Corporate Guide to Media Relations. Because the moment they get a little real, get a little human, get a little raunchy, get a little I-don't-give-an-eff, you make a federal case about it.

But you already knew that, right?

I just wonder how many of these Secular Saints who push for this kind of absolutist zero-tolerance rule regarding any edgy or Non-Corporate-Approved Messaging could possibly survive under that regime if they themselves were put under this kind of scrutiny, this kind of Talmudic searching of every word, inflection, and metaphor for Hidden Evils.


Posted by: Ace at 01:58 PM | Add Comment
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One Picture Tells The Tale of Syria
— Ace

I have no political point here. I am only posting this because some photographs are so arresting. So this is one of the few times I'm saying something nice about journalists.

The Daily Mail reports:

Hundreds of men, women and children fight to get to the front of the queue as a refugee camp in Damascus receives food parcels after being cut off for months.

Today the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) called on rebel forces and Al-Assad’s troops alike to allow ‘safe and unhindered humanitarian access’ to thousands of civilians in Yarmouk, a Palestinian district in the Syrian capital.

Yarmouk has seen some of the worst fighting in the capital, leading to severe food shortages and widespread hunger.

See the below picture for as powerful a proof as imaginable that one picture is worth a thousand words.

more...

Posted by: Ace at 09:07 AM | Comments (424)
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In Early (and Likely Inconsequential) Polling, Christie Fades, Opening the Door to the Republicans' Newest Frontrunner for President: Jeb Bush
— Ace

Read this. I didn't.

No but seriously I did skim it. It seems like news, especially today when I really don't feel like working, but I do think it's kind of, you know. Way early.

For the case that Rand Paul is the early frontrunner, see the National Journal through this Instapundit link.

At the end of the day, we're not even at beginning of sunrise.

Unrelated, But Interesting: Putin opposes fracking. Because, Environment.

No just kidding. Stop laughing.

Russia actually fracks like the wind. But he speaks up against fracking because he sees it as a threat to Russia's power, given that Russia exports so much gas and oil.

And specifically, he doesn't like the fact that Ukraine has signed deals with Chevron and Dutch Royal Shell to explore and exploit its own considerable shale wealth.

Posted by: Ace at 08:27 AM | Comments (284)
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Rand Paul: Don't Rub Putin's Nose in Ukraine Failure
— Ace

Eh, sound enough advice, as a general matter, but people will disagree sharply on what constitutes "tweaking" or "rubbing a face-culture leader's nose" in a failure.

Foreign policy is always discussed in these broad principles that barely anyone disagrees with.

On one hand: "We must not be the world's policeman." Applause applause.

On the other hand: "We must take a leadership role on peace and freedom and human dignity, and we must intervene by military force when it is in America's strong national interests to do so." Applause applause.

Mostly everyone agrees with these two propositions, and yet will disagree sharply how either or both apply to a particular set of facts.

Paul's statement -- to not overly rouse the ire of the Russian bear, which, being a frankly more primitive political culture, will meet humiliation with military force and slaughter -- is wise enough. Diplomatic.

On the other hand, there is the Reaganite core principle that we must not shy away from calling evil "evil." Even if we don't intervene militarily (and despite the absurd characterization of Reagan as some kind of warmonger, his military interventions were rare and brief), it's important to at least speak up for freedom and human rights.

You really can only glean a sense of where a politician falls on this spectrum. Rand Paul, by saying this, puts himself on the dove-ish side of things, not only opposed to military action as a general matter, but also more willing to mute criticism (or express it diplomatically) of global bad actors.

John McCain, meanwhile, is much more confrontational.

Of course we already knew all that.

In the case of Ukraine, I have no idea which policy will "work." My idea of "working" is that the Ukraine is ultimately set free, even if Russia does work to grab back the Crimea.

I don't want to set it up as a "failure" for Putin if he fails to hold all of Ukraine, because I know what a face-culture leader will do if he sees the world calling him a failure. He'll resort to the primitive assertion of strength -- enslaving a people to show just how tough he is.

I do think it's important to establish a face-saving path for Putin, because, at the end of the day, I think it's more important that Ukraine be liberated (or at least, most of it) than that we deliver an immediate humiliation to Putin.

Meanwhile, documents show just how far the Ukrainian government was willing to go to crush the Maidan opposition.

This blog links a Financial Times article, which it says discloses these facts, but the FT is behind a paywall.

The Yanukovich regime had drawn up plans for a massive crackdown on protesters in Kiev using thousands of police and troops – and the chief of Ukraine's armed forces on Thursday last week ordered 2,500 army troops into the capital for an "antiterrorist" operation. . . .

The documents, which a senior official confirmed were genuine to the Financial Times late on Tuesday, were among large numbers of government papers beginning to emerge in the wake of president Viktor Yanukovich's dramatic ousting on Saturday. . . .

But the most chilling were military and security papers. One set revealed that snipers who killed dozens of protesters on Kiev's central square last Thursday came from Ukraine's "Omega" special forces.


...

A cable signed by Yuri Ilyin, chief of staff, on Thursday last week ordered three army units from southern and southeastern Ukraine to move into Kiev...

The pretext for the use of the army to kill protesters was alleged "intelligence" suggesting that the protesters were really (wait for it...!) "terrorists."

What? Flatbush Joe quotes this tweet:

The Interpreter ‏@Interpreter_Mag
Ukraine Liveblog: Russian govt-linked news channel LifeNews is reporting Yanukovych is in Russia. http://bit.ly/1pty04r

Posted by: Ace at 07:28 AM | Comments (277)
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Michael Barone: No Matter What the Media-Fashioned "National Dialogue" on Guns, America's Culture Has Shifted Dramatically in Favor of Gun Rights
— Ace

Via @benk84 (follow him on twitter) and his Morning Dump, Barone's short piece is worth reading in full.

The result [of state concealed-carry legislation and Heller] has been that over the years the entire nation has become carry-concealed-weapons territory, as shown in a neat graphic in a Volokh Conspiracy blog post by Dave Kopel. Back in 1987, some people, myself included, worried that such laws would lead to frequent shootouts on the streets arising from traffic altercations and the like. That has not happened -- something we can be sure of since the mainstream media would be delighted to headline such events.

To the contrary, violent crime rates have declined drastically during the last quarter-century....

One lesson, I think, is that responsible citizens tend to behave like responsible citizens, even if — or perhaps especially if — they’re armed. Another lesson is that the national political dialogue can be totally irrelevant to what really happens in American life.

Anytime someone opposes a policy, they cry about the "parade of horribles" that will flow from it. In the case of guns, those horribles have always included the specter of Wild West shootouts breaking out all over the place. While there have in fact been two well-known bad shootings (Dunn, the Popcorn Vigilante) and one legal shooting which was nevertheless controversial (Zimmerman), the facts have not been kind to this theory of America Turned Dodge City.

Freedom is always scary. Freedom always carries with it the risk that people will use that freedom for bad ends. That's why it's been so easy, over 200 years, to erode and repeal the freedoms we began with.

Those against freedom prey on this fear and overstate it. And they fight like the Dickens to keep even an experimental program in freedom in a single state from going forward, because they fear the actual facts -- the policy in actual practice -- will not support their Narrative of Fear.

As a hypothetical matter, you could always, without being quite disproven, postulate that if law-abiding citizens were armed with guns, those law-abiding citizens would suddenly become reckless, angry vigilantes just looking for an excuse to plug someone.

But when it's no longer hypothetical -- when there's a factual record to go on -- it's harder to make this case.

Crucial to this argument's effectiveness is "Otherization." People are willing to believe the absolute worst about People Not Like Us. If you can portray gun-owners as exotic and strange -- Not Like Us -- the public will be willing, and maybe even eager, to believe that possession of a weapon will turn your average law-abiding, mortgage-paying, soccer-practice-ferrying United States Citizen into a hotheaded kill machine.

This argument was always restrained by the fact that so many Americans owned guns, and so many law-abiding American citizens continued abiding the law even in a state of, as the gun controllers would call it, Armed and Dangerous Murder Ecstasy. But a great number of people did not own guns, and so were willing to believe gun ownership was weird, and any gun owner was therefore weird, and who can trust a gun in the hands of a weirdo?

As more people own guns and carry them responsibly, this "weirdness" message so beloved by the gun controllers grows weaker and weaker. We're probably at the good tipping point now, or at least very close to it.

Posted by: Ace at 05:41 AM | Comments (266)
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