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    Posted by Sean at 11:17, December 31st, 2009

    It’s now 2010 in Tokyo, and Atsushi just sent me my first New Year’s greeting. So while it’s anticipatory for those west of Japan, Happy New Year! Best for the next twelve months and the coming ten years. (Yes, dear pedants, the end of the decade is technically a year away, but most of us see the changing of the tens digit as the significant transition.) Lots to complain about these last ten years no matter what your political persuasion, eh? And yet…what a wonderful world we live in! I’ll be spending the run-up to countdown time with friends—safely removed from Times Square, you may be sure—but for now I’m in my apartment gearing up to run a few errands. The evergreens out the kitchen window are dusted with snow and shivering, but boiling-hot water comes out of the tap at will and whistles through the 1940s radiator in the living room. (I’m in a T-shirt and thin silk pajama bottoms.) I’m watching the Alfred Hitchcock collection my little brother gave me for Christmas—fourteen movies in a case the size of a football—and typing this on a machine that will send it to parts unknown as soon as I hit the “Publish” button. Such riches our ancestors have stored up for us, which enterprising people are still building on. Well, until our confiscatory tax system gets ’em.

    Oh, come on—don’t make that face. If you don’t want dyspeptic cracks about big government, even in a holiday post, why are you reading a blog written by a libertarian? Do you have any idea how much effort it takes to preserve my good humor about these things nowadays, even with the bottle of Scotch I got in my stocking?

    Anyway, there’s plenty of time to return to pushing grimly back against nanny-state-ism in January. For now, safe travels to everyone, enjoy your champagne, and here’s to an even freer, even more prosperous, even happier 2010s.

    Added later: Eric has a more detailed post up about what it was like to be a libertarian (of a particular stripe) in the 2000s.

    The vision thing

    Posted by Sean at 18:18, December 27th, 2009

    Heather Mac Donald goes off on one of my pet peeves: the fake-high-minded contempt for “business” constantly poured out by government officials, most of whom wouldn’t know a life-enhancing innovation if it jumped up and bit ’em in the ass:

    Today it’s insurance and drug companies, tomorrow it’s oil producers, toy companies, banks, chemical manufacturers, or any number of other enterprises that offer necessary or simply life-enhancing products and services. The preening self-righteousness towards for-profit economic activity is not specific to any particular legislative initiative such as “health care reform,” it is part of the psychological make-up of many politicians and huge swathes of educated professionals, including virtually the entire academic world and non-profit sector, the media, and many high-paid lawyers. It is simply unbearable to hear these sheltered senators and congressmen look down upon people who have had the guts to try to create something that other people want to buy; who have had to figure out intricate supply chains and methods of financing; who have had to organize and motivate their employees; and who take financial risks with no guarantee of reward. For the anti-business mindset, the fact that businessmen need to make a profit in order to continue operating renders them prima facie suspect, if it doesn’t outright undercut any claim that they might have to contribute to the public good.

    It is the ingratitude that kills me the most among anti-business types. The materials that furnish a single room in an American home required daring, perseverance, and organizational skill from millions of individuals over generations. I hope they all got filthy rich.

    Mac Donald takes some heat in the comments for not noting that big business is plenty blameworthy when it engages in shenanigans designed to block new entrants and hobble competitors, which I think is a fair point but not one that undermines her basic argument. (The most common way for established behemoths to insulate themselves from market forces, after all, is by enthusiastically supporting legislative efforts to establish licensing and “quality” standards that pile on business expenditures that only large organizations can afford.) The idea that government stands disinterestedly apart from private enterprise, defending the public good and (snarf!) increasing cost efficiency, is a joke. The idea that government power somehow tempers human greed in a way private-sector power does not is an exceedingly odd one, though its obvious why some people have an interest in propagating it.


    Posted by Sean at 12:57, December 26th, 2009

    Like President Barack Obama, whose campaign themes he consciously adopted, Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama faces plummeting popularity figures in the latest poll by the Asahi:

    Seventy-four percent of all respondents said the prime minister has failed to exercise leadership.

    Half of those who do not support the Cabinet said the main reason was Hatoyama’s inability to act on his policies.

    “We take the figures (in the Asahi survey) seriously and will reflect them in the management of the government,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano said Sunday.

    Only 18 percent of the respondents said Hatoyama has shown leadership. Some members of his own government are now voicing concerns about Hatoyama’s abilities.

    “Although the Futenma issue, the budget and financing are all difficult problems, the prime minister could say, ‘Here’s what we’re going to do.’ But he doesn’t. People are wondering if he is OK,” a Cabinet minister said.

    Along with the abstract charges of dithery passivity, Hatoyama has had to respond to concrete charges that his employees use public funds improperly:

    On Thursday, two of Hatoyama’s former secretaries were indicted without arrest over falsified fund reports in violation of the Political Funds Control Law.

    Hatoyama’s former state-funded first secretary was indicted for entering false statements in official political funds reports. Prosecutors also filed a summary indictment against another former secretary over the case.

    Hatoyama spoke to the media not at the Prime Minister’s Office–where he normally holds press conferences–but at a Tokyo hotel. He selected Tenzo Okumura, a Democratic Party of Japan member who does not hold a government position, to moderate the press conference, because the prime minister wanted to keep the issue separate from his government and minimize any fallout from the matter.

    Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano also kept the matter at arm’s length at a press conference Thursday evening.

    “That’s a problem that happened at an individual politician’s office,” he said.

    Hatoyama reveled in being one of the most ardent critics of the then ruling Liberal Democratic Party whenever problems involving “politics and money” came to light when he was in opposition. He had insisted that LDP lawmakers “should be punished for crimes committed by their secretaries.”

    The opposition parties plan to pursue Hatoyama over whether he will walk the walk in dealing with his scandal after talking the talk when others were in similar straits.

    When reminded about these remarks at Thursday’s press conference, Hatoyama only said he did not think he had lined his pockets or had gained illegal profits, despite the fact he would have to file amended gift tax returns.

    Hatoyama occasionally put on a defiant face at the press conference, saying, “Even though I’ve tried to give as full an account as possible, there are some details that the public won’t understand.”

    It’s different for politicians, you see.

    Frankly, I don’t have much trouble believing that a man of Hatoyama’s personality and approach did, in fact, entrust too much to the wrong underlings and therefore wasn’t involved in any book-cooking. But when hope-change types get their parties into power by implying that the opposition could easily clean house if it just tried hard enough to let in sunshine and sweep out the dirt, they’re asking to be held to that standard.

    And, of course, one reason every misstep by the Hatoyama administration so grates on the public is that there’s a lot riding on the results of whatever policies is decides on. As a Mainichi editorial puts it:

    To be sure, some policies to distribute money directly to households, which are just what you’d expect from a Hatoyama administration, will be realized: deep cuts in expenditures for public works, its having waved “from concrete to people” aloft as its slogan, and the implementation of allowances for children and an income-subsidy system for farmers. Because a “project reclassification” has been executed, the degree to which attention of the citizenry has been fixed on “use of tax revenues” is also probably unprecedented.

    However, there’s a conspicuous lack of direction when it comes to prioritizing the elements of its core manifesto and setting a ceiling on the amount that can be issued in government bonds. In the background, there’s not only the absence of a command center for economic policy but also a lack of clarity about the future shame of the Japanese economy, including the financial restructuring policy that is the Hatoyama administration’s aim. No matter how much of the budget is scattered around with the aim of supporting people’s lives, if there’s no change in the sluggishness of the economy and the instability of the foundations of finance, the burden will ultimately fall on the way the citizenry lives.

    Which is to say, someone’s going to have to start creating new wealth rather than spreading existing wealth around.

    Hovering in there, of course, is also the Futenma relocation, which raises a lot of thorny questions on how Japan is positioning itself geopolitically.

    In part, of course, expecting a Japanese cabinet to act decisively is unrealistic. Japan has, if anything, even more checks and balances than the US, though many are informal. But Hatoyama and the other DPJ candidates encouraged the Japanese to dream big about reform, and people are understandably less inclined to be content with the usual mealy-mouthed, study-the-problem-until-it-goes-away-by-itself approach.

    Everything but the oink

    Posted by Sean at 08:20, December 22nd, 2009

    Advice Goddess Amy Alkon posts about successful lobbying on behalf of blocs that will not, as a result, be among the “special interests” that health-care reform does anything to keep at bay:

    White House budget director Peter Orszag has claimed that the bill’s 40% excise tax on high-cost insurance plans is key to reducing health costs. Yet the Senate Majority Leader’s new version specifically exempts “individuals whose primary work is longshore work.” That would be the longshoremen’s union, which has negotiated very costly insurance benefits. The well-connected dock workers join other union interests such as miners, electrical linemen, EMTs, construction workers, some farmers, fishermen, foresters, early retirees and others who are absolved from this tax.

    So the rule of thumb is, if you could appear in a men-in-uniform fantasy on a gay porn site, you’re exempted. And they say Washington in the Obama era isn’t being kind to us homos! The WSJ summarizes things this way:

    In other words, controlling insurance costs is enormously important, unless your very costly insurance is provided by an important Democratic constituency.

    To libertarians, the lesson from this, of course, is that concentrating power in federal hands facilitates these sorts of machinations by making DC a one-stop-shopping source for favors and deals. To big-government fans, the lesson is, as the WSJ puts it:

    The press corps is passing this favoritism off as sausage-making necessary to “make history,” but that’s an insult to sausages.

    Yeah. No food processor could hope to get away with putting a product with so much filler over on the buying public.

    * And yes, being from PA, I’m aware that the post title refers to scrapple, not sausage. It’s a metaphorical fit.

    And the world can look so sad/Only you make me feel good

    Posted by Sean at 12:02, December 20th, 2009

    I’m really getting sick of hearing how shocked and back-stabbed people feel by President Obama’s betrayals. Now do you understand why we crabby, cynical libertarians keep telling you it’s not a good idea to put implicit trust in politicians, even if they really, really sound like they mean it this time?

    Matt Welch of Reason has a good piece on the subject in the New York Post. I do think he’s wrong about one thing, though:

    When finding themselves on the opposing side of the president’s policy, his former admirers on the left are discovering something that the right has known for a while now: Obama will look you in the eye and lie. When the president said last week that “every health care economist out there” agrees that the reform package includes “whatever ideas exist in terms of bending the cost curve,” it wasn’t just free marketeers who cried foul.

    “You know it is a lie,” thundered health care writer Jon Walker at the popular progressive Web site FireDogLake. “The PhRMA lobbyists you cut the secret deal they know it is a lie, health care reform experts know it is a lie, and the American people should know it is a lie.”

    For those of us who don’t necessarily take their policy cues from Ralph Nader or FireDogLake, it’s tempting to just sit back and laugh at the festival of left-on-left recriminations. These guys are like Elin Nordegren with a golf club, swinging away at yet another betrayal.

    But let’s also give some credit where it’s due. Conservatives didn’t get around to hating on George W. Bush until after he’d safely been elected to a second term. There were no tea parties in the streets 14 months ago, when the 43rd president rushed through the Troubled Assets Relief Program, on the heels of an eight-year spending and regulatory binge (including vast new medical entitlements) the likes of which hadn’t been seen since Lyndon Johnson. No one eats their own like the Democratic Party. No one does blind loyalty like the Republicans.

    Conservative public figures didn’t start whaling away consistently at Bush until after 2004, no; but it’s useful to remember that they never idolized him to begin with, either. In 2000, Bush was already a compromise candidate. “Not Al Gore” was one of his strongest assets as a politician. Conservatives liked his druggie-rich-kid-finds-God-and-keeps-love-of-good-woman redemption story, they liked the Bush clan’s GOP loyalty, and they liked his stance on gun rights. Many of them approved of government-funded faith-based initiatives. But it was obvious from both his record as Texas governor and his presidential-campaign platform that he wasn’t the man to limit government spending.

    After 9/11, conservatives felt duty-bound to rally around a president who robustly defended America and American interests. There was less debate on the right over, say, the PATRIOT Act than many of us would have liked. Still, I remember quite a bit of criticism for the prescription-drug benefit and, once its provisions were known, for No Child Left Behind. Perhaps those complaints lacked the white-hot fury of betrayal we’re seeing from the left now, but a good reason for that is that the right had known all along that Bush was going to be a mixed bag.

    It’s that part that I just do not understand about current reactions to Obama. People expected him to be a different kind of politician who delivered on his promises. Fine. It’s good to be optimistic. But it’s frightening to encounter so many adults, free to run about loose on the streets, who seem not to have considered it within the realm of possibility that a politician, once in office, might turn his back on supporters, waffle, do 180s, and talk a lot of self-serving nonsense—and who therefore have not steeled themselves to deal with it now that it’s happening. I hate to choose this time of year to sound uncharitable, but I’m finding them hard to sympathize with. Obama gave good speeches that made his supporters feel good about themselves and their own motivations. He had no record of successful policy-making. Now we all get to share in the fun of being whipsawed repeatedly as his administration figures out that it can’t just roll into Washington and change the way politics is done. (Or maybe what it’s discovering is that now that it is the executive branch, it kind of likes that way politics is done.)

    And, of course, it’s not just the executive branch. As things are shaping up, we’re likely to end up with lots of lovely, top-flight health care at reduced costs for everyone! President Obama says of the looming vote on the current health care bill (a gallingly apt word, that), “With today’s developments, it now appears that the American people will have the vote they deserve,” and in many cases, I can’t help thinking he’s right.

    Added after deciding anew that my personal health plan must include several fingers of Scotch while reading the political news: Eric has posted more extensively on the turkey of a health-care bill we’re apparently getting. Best line:

    Maybe they’re planning on passing it first, then writing it later.

    It’s hard to see why they shouldn’t. The prevailing idea seems to be that it’s more important for Washington to ACT NOW! than to get all bogged down with explaining to the electorate what it’s, like, actually going to do and stuff, anyway. Considering how dumb we all are, as evidenced by the pointlessness of having these things open to review in plenty of time before they’re voted on, these people are presumably thanking their lucky stars we were perspicacious enough to see the necessity of electing them.

    Are you ready to jump?

    Added on 21 December: This morning while I was in my last ten minutes of dreaming about limited government (well, and Clive Owen without a shirt on, but he’s off topic), the Unreligious Right was posting about this beaut, also in the New York Post. It starts with the sentence, “I am a baby boomer, which is to say my life has coincided with turbulent and awesome times,” and actually manages to get worse from there. UNRR picks out the, er, choicest bits and draws this conclusion:

    How do you oppose “big government theocrats,” government takeover of health care, the UN and crazy internationalism and vote for Barack Obama?

    If you wonder how we managed to get stuck with Obama as president, look no further than Michael Goodwin, the author of the article I am referencing.

    Again, the most insufferable part—to me, I mean, since I can’t speak for UNRR or anyone else—is the strident tone, with its blend of you-have-no-idea-the-suffering-he’s-causing-me woundedness and I-only-wanted-what’s-best-for-everyone self-righteousness. Bonus points to Michael Godwin for jacking up the egotism by bringing in the Baby-Boomer identity-crisis routine.

    (Thanks to Eric for the link.)

    This is why I do crossword puzzles instead of reading the political news half the time

    Posted by Sean at 14:15, December 16th, 2009

    The reliably insufferable Chuck Schumer—a walking, talking argument for term limits if ever there was one*—apparently got his knickers in a twist over a flight attendant who was following FAA regulations this weekend and was, delightfully, overheard by someone else on the plane showing his true ruling-caste arrogance (via Instapundit):

    According to a House Republican aide who happened to be seated nearby, the notoriously chatty New York Democrat referred to a flight attendant as a “bitch” after she ordered him to turn off his phone before takeoff.

    Schumer and his seatmate, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), were chatting on their phones before takeoff when an announcement indicated that it was time to turn off the phones.

    Both senators kept talking.

    According to the GOP aide, a flight attendant then approached Schumer and told him the entire plane was waiting on him to shut down his phone.

    Schumer asked if he could finish his conversation. When the flight attendant said “no,” Schumer ended his call but continued to argue his case.

    He said he was entitled to keep his phone on until the cabin door was closed. The flight attendant said he was obliged to turn it off whenever a flight attendant asked.

    Through her office, Gillibrand said Schumer was “polite” with the flight attendant Sunday and “turned off his phone when asked to.”

    But moments after the flight attendant had told Schumer to shut it off, the phone rang again.

    “It’s Harry Reid calling,” the source quoted Schumer as saying. “I guess health care will have to wait until we land.”

    It’s unsurprising that someone who sailed from undergrad to law school to the State Assembly to the United States House of Representatives to the United States Senate wouldn’t know this, but all those rules that get made in Washington (or Albany)? Little people working in private industry follow them. To my knowledge, the FAA says it’s the operator of the aircraft that gets to determine whether you’re allowed to use your “portable electronic device,” no matter what health-care shenanigans you and Harry Reid are brainstorming over at the time. As always, these people need to be reminded that they work for us. Eric has it exactly right:

    First, we have one of the quintessential champions of massive federal power — a guy whose daily existence consists of figuring out new ways to tell people what to do and how to run their lives — demonstrating for all the world that he does not think the rules should apply to him. It would difficult to find a better example of the pure arrogance of power.

    Second, there’s the rudeness issue.

    Yeah, from the Chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, no less. Cad.

    Amy Alkon also identifies what exactly it is that Schumer probably “regrets.” (Hint: It’s not his unseemly behavior.)

    * And he’s only on his second senate term, I think.


    Also via Instapundit (and Ace of Spades), another mask-slip, this one alerting AndrewSullivan.com readers to the fact that Sullivan himself doesn’t post everything that appears on the site:

    As always [writes Patrick Appel], it a pleasure to step in while Andrew gets some much needed rest. Guest-blogging is not all that different than my day-to-day activities on the Dish – 24 of the 50 posts currently on the front page were written by me. All the substantive posts are Andrew’s work, but it’s my and Chris’s job to read through the blogosphere and pick out the choicest bits. Andrew edits, approves, and spins what we find, but the illusion of an all-reading blogger is maintained by employing two extra sets of eyes.

    Appel seems puzzled that some readers were taken aback at this revelation, but I’m not sure why. Even he referred to it as “the illusion of an all-reading blogger,” which is a pretty candid acknowledgment that there’s a false front being maintained. In real terms, I doubt it matters very much; it’s been clear for years that Sullivan considers himself a marketable brand, so I don’t see why he shouldn’t have a Sullivan-branded website that others help him maintain. But considering how quick Sullivan (assuming he wrote the posts I’m thinking of—what qualifies as “substantive” over there is clearly a matter of opinion) is to label other people liars, evaders, and what-not, I’d say it behooves him to set us all an example of the transparency he so histrionically professes to hold dear.

    Also, can we please not hear any more about Sullivan’s juices, cerebral or otherwise?

    And that excuse about the bylines? (“We tried bylines once and it made the blog read funny. […] Bylines would fracture the solitary voice of the blog.”) Bilge of the lowest quality. If Sullivan or his marinatee thinks he’s going to put it over on us that a 9-point byline tucked under a 13.5-point, bold, color title line is altering the flow of the blog, he has even more contempt for his audience than I thought. Boo.


    Posted by Sean at 22:02, December 15th, 2009

    The lead editorial in the Nikkei this morning carries the headline “Crisis in US-Japan alliance that Futenma postponement will deepen”:

    The postponement of a decision on the relocation of the US military Futenma Base on Okinawa will result in the deepening further the current state of crisis surrounding the US-Japan alliance. We feel concern regarding the gutting of the US-Japan alliance and the tilt toward China indicated by the Hatoyama administration’s actions, which empty the phrase “US-Japan axis” of meaning.

    On 15 December, the administration convened a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Basic Policies at the prime minister’s residence, and it decided to (1) conduct a joint study among the three parties in the ruling coalition of candidate sites for relocation, including that currently planned, (2) propose to the US side the establishment of a US-Japan cooperative organization, and (3) incorporate into calculations for the FY 2010 budget the relocation expenses, based on the current plan—thereby postponing until next year its resolution on where to relocate the Futenma Base facilities.

    Minister of Foreign Affairs Katsuya Okada and Minister of Defense Toshimi Kitazawa, who are in charge of the management and nuts-and-bolts operations of the US-Japan alliance, had sought to have an agreement between the two countries confirmed within the year, but Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama put a higher priority on consideration toward the Social Democratic Party. Spokesman [Ian] Kelly of the United States Department of State stated on the 14th*, “The optimal plan would be to have a roadmap for US military restructuring on which agreement had been reached,” but there are no signs that the gulf between the US and Japan will be bridged.

    Foreign Minister Okada has expressed a sense of urgency about the state of the US-Japan alliance, but in diplomatic terms, real damages have already manifested themselves.

    If the [chance for a] US-Japan heads-of-state summit in an official format in Copenhagen is missed, Japan will lose the position from which it can persuade the American side on [global] warming issues. For Hatoyama, who is passionate on environmental issues, could there really be any realization that his own judgments are bringing about that sort of result?

    “The US-Japan relationship has gotten rheumaticky. First solidifying the Japan-China relationship, then resolving issues with the US, is the realistic process.” Diet Affairs Committee Chairman Kenji Yamaoka of the Democratic Party of Japan’s Shanghai declaration [saying so] on the 14th will also raise the specter of doubts about the diplomatic path of the Hatoyama administration.

    The diplomatic path of the Hatoyama administration, over which DPJ General Secretary Ichiro Ozawa wields great influence, reflects, in foreign-affairs terms, a distancing from the United States and tilt toward China. That will sow uneasiness in the nations of Southeast Asia, which have complicated feelings about a growing China.

    The editors bounce all over the map, but their overall point is a coherent one: the Hatoyama administration is sucking up to Beijing without, perhaps, really thinking through where that might land it in the future. Of course, it’s not just the DPJ brain trust that’s producing this result; President Obama is hardly presenting America as an ally that means business and is worth continuing to cultivate.

    * Yes, that was fun to write.

    Is this my most incoherent post ever? I think it might be.

    Posted by Sean at 20:25, December 13th, 2009

    Eric writes about who’s intimidating whom lately:

    President Barack Obama has told the Republicans to “stop trying to frighten the American people.”

    Surely he jests.

    There are a lot of things that might be said about the Republicans, but right now they are no position to frighten the American people. They couldn’t frighten their way out of a paper bag.

    No kidding. And I don’t think it’s just lately. I bought the Rolling Stone decade wrap-up issue, more out of habit than anything, to read on a train ride I had this past week. I perversely enjoy reading overwritten rock reviews. Occasionally, I’m even prompted to buy an album that has songs I’d always liked but that I was never moved to buy when it was released. And this round of nostalgizing was especially entertaining, since the re-flowering of U2’s and Bruce Springsteen’s careers gave the geezer bloc at RS a chance to heap them with the same accolades they used two or three decades ago. Naturally, I disagree with the rankings, but who cares?

    This is all related to what Eric wrote because, on the 2004 page in the year-by-year retrospective, there was a sidebar headlined “Rockers Speak Out Against Bush.” The subhead was “Hard-fought John Kerry campaign sows the seeds for 2008’s unprecedented rock activism.” Wow. What sort of hard fighting did our valorous rock stars participate in? Well, you probably remember most of it: the Vote for Change tour, Green Day’s American Idiot album, the Dixie Chicks’ shame at being from the same state as W, and Kanye West’s claim, after Hurricane Katrina, that Bush didn’t care about black people. RS called that last outburst “awesomely off-script,” but while that may be true in literal terms, it isn’t in any larger sense. All these were standard-issue flip-offs by multi-millionaires who faced no punishment for their political candor beyond the alienation of part of the market, which makes it somewhat strange to call what they do “speaking out.” For decades, but especially since the advent of the Internet—which predated the Bush administration, of course—famous musicians have eagerly told us what they think about child-rearing, plastic surgery, dieting, Our Environment, spirituality, exercise fads, making relationships work, and plenty else on which Kindness itself must conclude that their expertise is, to judge based on empirical data, shaky. That those who add politics to their roster of natter-about-in-front-of-a-microphone topics should be credited with boldly “speaking out” is not obvious, at least to me. Thrilling as it may have been to pretend to be all scared by Karl Rove, none of these people risked anything close to the midnight knock at the door.

    And as for “activism”—baloney. I’ll never agree with leftist policies, but I respect those who get down in the dirt and do the patient work of reasoning with the opposition one person at a time, which is how minds get changed. The day a rock star counts as an activist is the day Natalie Maines goes door to door through a town in north Texas to explain to citizens why they should vote for Big Government.

    Of course, all this would be easier to forgive if so much superstar output weren’t so lame. Mark has some thoughts on that—not new, but very succinctly put:

    There was a reason that music overtook the consciousness of so many people in the ’60s and it didn’t have anything to do with hippie ways or political movements. It had to do with who was running the record companies and their outlook toward their “product.” In fact, I would peg the start of the decline in the industry that we see the other end of today to the period in time when use of the term “product” to describe music became current and acceptable.

    I think those who approach music-making as professionals can produce really good stuff. Kylie, for example, has never deluded herself that she’s an artiste; she’s an entertainer, and in an odd way, that allows her to pour herself into everything she does in a way that makes it persuasive. She’s a girl who enjoys playing dress-up for concerts and acting in videos and being the diva in front of a microphone. She genuinely seems to love being a star, in a straightforward, un-ironic, princess-fantasy way. When her first album after her recovery from breast cancer didn’t consist entirely of songs about her new-found love of life and living each moment as it comes and finding inner strength, some people complained. I cheered. Good on her for not milking a private matter for sympathy downloads, I say. A woman who has just faced death and says, “What I really want to do now is get back on the dance floor and make my fans happy!” is an international treasure.

    In the main, though, I think Mark’s right. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be the best-selling act in the world, but when it’s obvious even in the music that your highest priority is raw numbers, the magic is lost.

    And it’s not just the music that seems manufactured. Just take a gander at this post about Kylie’s and Madonna’s elder sister in divadom, Olivia Newton-John. Olivia has great bones and a fair complexion, a combination that usually ages to a moving, lovely, crinkled-kidskin softness when nature takes its course. But Olivia is a rich woman, and it’s 2009, so nature is not taking its course.


    And let’s not even talk about Madge, who until five or six years ago was doing us all proud by keeping the procedures discreet and unnoticeable. At least, to this point, Kylie’s only excess in that area is with Botox. I’m sure the blatant face-yank is coming, though. She may end up looking even scarier than a Republican, though the American mass audience is unlikely to see enough of her to decide. At least, given precedent, we can probably count on her not boring us all by becoming an “activist.”

    High and dry / Out of the rain

    Posted by Sean at 03:49, December 8th, 2009

    Just in case you were looking for more reasons to like John Stossel, here’s a great one: Peter Jennings apparently couldn’t stand him. Via Reason, this Daily Beast interview:

    The late Peter Jennings was embarrassed by you and wouldn’t even look at you when you passed in the hall, and you’d been at ABC since 1981. Did it get increasingly difficult for you to thrive in that corporate environment?

    That didn’t change.  I was on World News Tonight once, I was on Nightline maybe once. There was never an appetite for John Stossel on those programs. And Peter felt he was upholding the objectivity of ABC and I was violating that, I was bad for ABC. What changed was, I had more passion about doing economics. And they had less, and suddenly there was Fox, which had more room.

    On the down side, Stossel apparently lives on the Upper West Side.


    Posted by Sean at 11:08, December 4th, 2009

    Wonderful.  Today President Obama descends on my hometown for part of his “listening tour” on the economy and employment.  I suppose I should be happy:  a day spent jabbering about trying to rearrange the United States economy, as if it were a fort made of Legos, is a day that can’t actually be spent doing it.  And it’ll be fun to see these people trying, say, to eat funnel cake for their photo op without getting powdered sugar on their ties.  All the same, it’s annoying.  Here’s John Stossel:

    Today, the White House holds its “Jobs Summit” stunt. It’s typical Washington-think: Assemble interest groups and concoct special tax credits and handouts to the politically connected. What conceit. The political class think that economies revolve around them, that Washington makes things happen, that politicians are the most important players

    Their micromanagement kills jobs.  When Washington threatens to drastically change the rules of the game with health care mandates, cap and trade, financial regulation, a second stimulus, and (of course) a “jobs bill”, the private sector can’t make investments with any confidence.

    And the most obnoxious part is the way the president has been asking the private sector to “help,” as if its function in job creation were ancillary.  How many of these people would know a lean, profitable operation if it fell on top of them in the street, after all?  Career academics and public-sector employees are not exactly in the position to be chiding entrepreneurs about not getting out there and risking themselves in the hurly-burly of the marketplace.

    Added later: I put together a sentence about this week’s jobs-forum proceedings with one about Obama’s visit to the Lehigh Valley and then forgot to revise it before posting; it’s fixed now, for anyone who saw the error in the original.