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    Pour myself a cup of ambition

    Posted by Sean at 14:30, March 12th, 2010

    If you held out hope that that whole Coffee Party thing might, really and truly, turn out not to be such a bad parallel development to the Tea Parties, it’s disillusionment time (via Ann Althouse)!

    In one chair sits a rural retiree, his financial security shot in the slump, a humble Southerner who’s never thought much about politics. In another seat is a born Northerner, an inner-city native, a relative of a civil rights giant. And nearby, circling a table [like vultures…or maybe just sitting around it?—SRK], are an economist, an artist, a onetime John McCain supporter and a long-haired guy who’s rich in Woodstock memories.

    Meet these members of the Coffee Party Movement, an organically grown, freshly brewed push [BARF!—SRK] that’s marking its official kickoff Saturday. Across the country, even around the globe, they and other Americans in at least several hundred communities are expected to gather in coffeehouses to raise their mugs of java to something new.

    They’re professionals, musicians and housewives. They’re frustrated liberal activists, disheartened conservatives and political newborns. They’re young and old, rich and poor, black, white and all shades of other.

    Flamin’ Norah, lady, we get it, already: the Coffee Party is DIVERSE and INCLUSIVE. Point made.

    Of course, it seems to consist entirely of people you’d dive under the hors d’oeuvres table to get away from if you met them at an actual party. Check out this guy:

    The 27-year-old social entrepreneur and nonprofit consultant works in sustainability.

    Answers on a postcard, please.

    The other interviewees are all given catchy little distinguishing demographic labels, as if they were the Village People or the Spice Girls. They express a lot of soulful concern about obstructionism—which is, of course, one of the only actual good things happening in Washington these days.

    I realize that a lot of the inanity here is attributable to the reporter, who throws in racism and class-warfare angles that leave a pleasantly hazy impression of broad-mindedness but explicate exactly nothing about what policies the Coffee Party people favor. I don’t want to seem to undervalue civilized debate, but no matter how nice and respectful we all are to one another, our disagreements on principle and policy won’t just go away.

    I think I’d rather be tea-bagging.


    Posted by Sean at 23:19, March 11th, 2010

    The Unreligious Right has spotted that rarer organism than the peregrine falcon, the beneficiary of a Stimulus-Created Created or Saved Funded Job.

    Well, he didn’t actually spot the beneficiary. He spotted the little placard that marks it, like an animal at the zoo. Presumably, it only flits into view for those who pay for each show on the hour, 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.:

    Today I actually visited a place benefiting from government stimulus money. In the lobby of the building was a large poster mounted on foamboard and set on an easel. It proclaimed that the location was a recipient of funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, and detailed all sorts of remodelling plans, right down to replacing lightbulbs with new “energy efficient” ones.

    If you haven’t guessed yet, the building happens to be a Federal Building. That’s right, it’s part of the U.S. federal government. Our government is taking taxpayer money, supposedly intended to stimulate the economy, and using it to remodel one of its own buildings — and one that doesn’t even appear to need any work done.

    We never calculate the currency we’ve spent

    Posted by Sean at 20:01, March 11th, 2010

    Dear Former Eric Massa Staffers:

    The Daily News seems to be willing to swallow your implied self-characterization as victimized innocents:

    “It’s like he had people trapped,” said a Hill source.

    At the house on E St. Southeast yesterday, which Massa had shared with five of his staffers, clothes were piled on the floor and half-a-dozen pairs of shoes mingled with dirty towels next to an open pink suitcase in the living room.

    In hindsight, Democratic insiders wondered about activities that before had just seemed odd. They said Massa hired a surprisingly large percentage of young gay men, and paid them so little that staffers were forced to live in the house with him.

    “It’s not the gay part that’s a problem, it’s the abuse, if it’s true,” said one Hill source.

    “The guy’s a freak,” a close friend of one embattled Massa aide told the Daily News.

    I say “implied” because it’s just possible that you all are genuinely thinking of the constituents in your district and working to facilitate a discreet transfer of the seat to a new congressperson. It’d be nice to think so.

    But I doubt it. Dignity doesn’t seem to be your strong suit, any of you. First look at the living room of the house you occupied:

    WTF? No potted orchid on the coffee table? Junk left at odd angles on the floor? No decorative screen in front of the space heater? A throw pillow left with a crease? (I just want to reach in there and fluff that poor fellow up! It’s agony.) No self-respecting fag would go near that place.

    Speaking of self-respect: look, I hope Massa gets whatever’s coming to him. It seems pretty clear that he’s been getting excessively familiar with subordinates and then relying on his position of authority to get them to keep quiet about it, for years—an unambiguous abuse of power. But here’s the thing: when he was in the navy, people were presumably assigned to him and thus had no choice but to live in close quarters with him. They really were trapped.

    I find it really difficult to see you in the same light, though. Yes, my small-government-libertarian side makes me instinctively distrust the sort of person who lusts after the sort of career that starts with being a congressperson’s go-fer—I own that up front. But this is about more than just instinct.

    There isn’t an openly gay man in his twenties in America who doesn’t know exactly what it means when some middle-aged straight guy fusses, gets touchy-feely, and compulsively flits around him. And somehow seems to surround himself with lots of other men in their twenties, several of whom are also openly gay. And has five of them living in his house. If your danger signals weren’t flashing from the get-go, you’re award-caliber morons. If your danger signals were flashing, and you overrode them to take advantage of a position with an up-and-coming politician who gave appearances of being susceptible to more about you than your legislative potential, don’t cry about it now.

    America has been laughing at that whole tickle-fight story, but I’m not at all certain it couldn’t have happened pretty much as Massa described it: after hours, the boss’s birthday, a good opportunity to toady, a little of the playful shoving and teasing he likes, then everyone either realizes it’s gotten out of hand and suddenly feels the need to pile on…or just piles on in order to be part of the rowdy fun. (Stand-offishness is no way to work your way up the ladder!) I’m sure the same scenario has played out with male politicians and bevies of young, fresh female staffers plenty of times, too. Tolerating over-the-line behavior in order to ingratiate yourself with a supervisor is one of the oldest stories—sorry, we call them “narratives” now, right?—in history.

    If most staff members were interviewed and hired before they had enough contact with Massa to figure out what his deal was, perhaps we really are talking about a case of aggrieved innocence. And perhaps some of them did draw the line, in no uncertain terms, like adults and had to take some time to decide what to do when they were ignored.

    But, as I say, color me skeptical. And if I’m right, it’s unfortunate. There will always be people who want to leverage their authority to take advantage of underlings, but when the underlings play along until a scandal ends the game, it just sends a signal to the next guy that he might be able to make it work if he’s just a little more discreet about it.

    So many drinks, such pretty flowers

    Posted by Sean at 13:54, March 11th, 2010

    To show how depressingly little exaggeration there is in my little punch-related joke post the other day, there’s this piece at Reason.com by John Stossel about how licensing laws help established businesspeople stymie competition from new entrants:

    In Louisiana, you can’t sell flower arrangements unless you have permission from the government. How do you get permission? You must pass a test that is graded by a board of florists who already have licenses. To prepare for the test, you might have to spend $2,000 on a special course.

    The test requires knowledge of techniques that florists rarely use anymore. One question asks the name of the state’s agriculture commissioner—as though you can’t be a good florist without knowing that piece of vital information.

    The licensing board defends its test, claiming it protects consumers from florists who might sell them unhealthy flowers. I understand the established florists’ wish to protect their profession’s reputation, but in practice such licensing laws mainly serve to limit competition. Making it harder for newcomers to open florist shops lets established florists hog the business.

    Others states have their own sets of ridiculous licensing rules. In Virginia, you need a license to be a yoga instructor. Florida threatened an interior designer with a $25,000 fine if she didn’t do a six-year apprenticeship and pass a test, at a cost of several thousand dollars. Fortunately, the Institute for Justice got that law overturned.

    Actually, the Virginia bit I can kind of see, given that yoga involves bending yourself around into potentially injurious positions. The rest? Give me a break. Among my people, where bad interior design and flower arrangements are considered worse than murder, we use the “Honey, you should see what that bitch did to Dave and Jeff’s front hall!” method—otherwise known, as Stossel points out, as “word of mouth.” It works, and it’s free.


    Posted by Sean at 18:52, March 9th, 2010

    Julie is the best kind of libertarian commenter—mouthy and cynical—but I think she’s going a bit light on Washington here:

    The way things are going, I expect Nancy Pelosi’s staff will want to meet with couples personally to determine whether they are fit to get married and, if so, what type of punch they should serve at the reception.

    The meetings with the staff are a good start, in that they prevent Her Excellency from having to mingle with the churls. I’m not so sure the punch thing would be dispatched quite so expeditiously, though. There’s potential there!

    First, some old friend of Pelosi’s from Baltimore, now founder and CEO of a major manufacturer of punch mixes and serving accessories, could have an intimate little lunch with Pelosi and convince her to sponsor the Wedding Punch Safety and Quality Assurance bill.

    Compliance would require documentation of alcohol content and sourcing or other ingredients, with strictly enforced minimum standards for organic ingredients, green manufacturing practices, and diversity in the workforce. Documentation of compliance could be avoided through the procuring of punch mix and serving accessories from a certified punch vendor with its own compliance division, answerable to a new Punch Safety and Quality Assurance Agency, jurisdiction over which would be held jointly by the FDA and the Department of Health and Human Services.

    Also required would be

    •   a punch distribution permit, obtainable from the local office of the state-level punch distribution board with jurisdiction over the wedding hall, which much be prominently posted not farther than five (5) feet from the punch bowl, the bride’s color scheme be damned
    •   the retention of unionized punch distribution agents to ensure timely service and equal portions, with any celebrants caught trying to avoid shelling out for PDAs by enlisting Great-Aunt Irmgard and Grandma Joyce to pour subject to hefty fines
    •   approval in writing from a certified nutritionist, verifying that the overall array of goodies available at the reception hall enabled each guest to construct a meal that fell within bureaucratically approved healthfulness guidelines (refer to the latest food pyramid, please)

    That enough functionaries? Probably not. We need

    •   for any reception at which the punch to be served is red, an on-call, board-certified child psychologist, to provide counseling in the event that a celebrant under the age of nine (9) suffers psychological trauma when told by a mischievous older cousin that the colorant used was made from squashed bugs

    If the bridal couple still had the impertinence to express opinions about what would actually provide pleasure at their reception, the machinations mechanisms would then be in place by which more enlightened criteria of standardization could be enforced for the good of all.

    Madam must have absolute quiet

    Posted by Sean at 12:15, March 6th, 2010

    Eric posts about the wonderful movie villainy of Claude Rains; he mentions The Invisible Man, and a commenter mentions his most famous role, in Casablanca. But for my money, his most chilling performance is in Notorious, especially in the scene at the beginning of this clip, with help from the wonderfully named Leopoldine Konstantin. Watch out for that innocent-looking coffee:

    I’m not usually one to sit around pissing and moaning about how the movies have declined, but I’d be hard pressed to think of a recent movie that achieved anything like the quiet, oppressive horrifying-ness of that scene (even if the YouTube clip begins at a somewhat odd point). Maybe it’s not surprising that Rains once had to battle a speech impediment: his enunciation is always a little too purposeful to seem natural or sincere. (I mean in the movies, of course—he may have been the most forthright and jolly person alive off-screen.)

    The gifts that keep on giving

    Posted by Sean at 10:43, March 5th, 2010

    Line of the day, from Reason‘s Shikha Dalmia: “By contrast, few besides the government employees who run the no-brainer programs would even notice they were gone—especially because they have long outlived their uselessness.” The no-brainer programs are the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the National Endowment for Democracy.

    Here’s a (pain de brioche) toast to dear old Penn

    Posted by Sean at 13:21, March 4th, 2010

    John Rosenberg at PJM cites a head-scratcher of a policy adopted at my alma mater:

    Inside Higher Ed has just reported (Feb. 26) that the University of Pennsylvania may be the first institution to launch what is described as an “outreach” program for gay students. That program, I think, suggests a number of interesting questions, but before we get to the assumptions underlying and implications flowing from gay outreach, let’s pause a moment at everyday, garden variety outreach. “At many colleges,” IHE’s article begins, “outreach” is

    a standard part of the recruiting process once applicants are admitted. Current students who share individual traits or academic interests help reach out to prospective students with similar backgrounds or interests. So the young woman who expresses an interest in engineering will hear from a female junior in engineering. A black admit might hear from a black student, and so forth. The idea is that these students may be uniquely well positioned to answer questions and to make the case that the college is a good place to be a female engineer, a black undergrad, or whatever.

    Reading that, I couldn’t help wondering, what if that “black student” were a female engineering major? Would she be tasked with reaching out only to black female prospective engineering majors? To all black females? To all blacks, whether prospective engineering majors or not? Given that heavy workload, shouldn’t Penn take “affirmative action” to make sure it has more than one black female engineering major? Moreover, since everyone knows (doesn’t everyone?) that Asians tend to be geeks who segregate themselves in math and science, shouldn’t Penn have an Asian literature major to reach out to prospective Asian English or philosophy majors (or two: one male and one female)? Doesn’t “diversity” require such an effort.

    I’m not sure how much outrage is called for here. Rosenberg is aware that the policy here is not said to apply to admissions decisions, because he writes:

    Does Penn do for not-yet-admitted gay applicants what it does “for many other groups of students”? That is, does it now engage in what might be termed “sex preference-conscious” admissions that parallels its race conscious admissions?

    If not, why not?

    Okay, but then why does the subhead (which Rosenberg may not have written or approved, note well) say, “Schools like the University of Pennsylvania twist themselves into pretzels trying to pretend they admit students ‘without regard’ to race or sexual preference”? The issue here isn’t admissions, from what I can gather.

    According to the Inside Higher Ed article, when we talk about “recruitment,” we seem to be talking about two things: “reaching out” to gay students to try to convince them to submit applications, and then “reaching out” to already “admitted gay applicants” to try to convince them to matriculate. I’m not sure that sits well with me, but I’m also not sure it counts as discrimination. Colleges like having low acceptance rates, which make them look more selective, so it’s not surprising that they’ll do what they can to convince every possible constituency that it’s worth applying. Once you’re actually admitted to a college, it presumably wants you (and your money), so it’s not surprising that it’ll do what it can to convince you that it’s the right place for you. Savvy advertising and deal-closing may not be things we like to associate with higher education, but in context they strike me as having more to do with all-American commerce than with special favors for gays.

    Now, if we were talking about actual admissions set-asides for gay students, that would be an ethical issue, and it’s possible that Penn and other institutions are skirting that line pretty perilously. I kind of doubt it, though, for the simple reason that there are plenty of gay students who are going to get in anyway without special treatment. I’m not sure that we’re greatly overrepresented in the populations at elite colleges and universities, but there was certainly no shortage of gay students at Penn when I was an undergrad nearly two decades ago, and I can’t imagine it’s gotten worse since then. It’s possible that some students win sympathy points for writing application essays about the trials and tribulations of coming out, but it’s also true that applicants have long used dead grandparents, childhood pets, and sports injuries before the Big Game to get admissions officers on their side. As long as character and eloquence are what help get them accepted, I don’t think being frank about being gay means they’re asking for special treatment.

    I remember the packet I got from Penn with my acceptance letter in 1991. It included several open letters from minority-student groups to potential members, encouraging them to matriculate. We then spent much of orientation week learning about “multiculturalism” and “diversity.” (My friends who’d gone to Ivy-feeder prep schools had already been force-fed those things for years and were sick of them from day one.) I would have much preferred messages that said, “Look, everyone, for the next four years, you will experience the unfettered life of the mind. Your full-time job, for the last time in your lives, will be to learn as much as you can and to argue ideas. Take advantage of it. Your thinking becomes stronger when it hits opposition and develops in response to it. Don’t look for ‘safe spaces'; look for different points of view. If you haven’t yet learned how to have a rough-and-tumble debate without hurling personal insults or taking what others say personally, you must do so immediately. Your sense of self and purpose will be refined and clarified through contact with all the other possibilities your classmates represent. The universe is way bigger than you are. Start getting to know it as best you can. Now.”

    But I think that blurring the distinction between collectivist thinking in campus life and collectivist thinking in admissions is still a bad idea. The issues are closely related, but they’re not the same. Trying to charm gay students into applying or matriculating is not the same as granting them acceptance over more deserving applicants. Rosenberg is probably right about the “assumptions underlying” gay outreach, but I wish he’d given firmer arguments for what he appears to think are the “implications flowing” from it.

    I had some dreams/They were clouds in my coffee

    Posted by Sean at 17:44, March 2nd, 2010

    This made me laugh aloud (via Instapundit):

    Fed up with government gridlock, but put off by the flavor of the Tea Party, people in cities across the country are offering an alternative: the Coffee Party.

    It’s like those ads in the ’80s: “If you like Calvin Klein’s Obsession, you’ll LOVE Compulsion!”

    The Coffee Party soi-disant movement is pitching itself as a friendly alternative to the Tea Parties—disingenuously, as it turns out. But even if it were representing itself accurately, it would be tiresome. This is from the NYT profile, and…I mean, talk about someone who doesn’t get it:

    The slogan is “Wake Up and Stand Up.” The mission statement declares that the federal government is “not the enemy of the people, but the expression of our collective will, and that we must participate in the democratic process in order to address the challenges we face as Americans.”

    “The way I see it,” Ms. Park said, “our government is diseased, but you don’t abandon it because it’s ill. It’s the only body we have to address collective problems. You can’t bound government according to state borders when companies don’t do that, air doesn’t. [AIR?! WTF?–SRK] It just doesn’t fit with the world.”

    Dear lady, I Wake Up and Stand Up every morning and then read and watch the news so I know what’s going on. I voted by absentee ballot every even year of the dozen I lived abroad, and in November 2008 I got in line at my polling station at 6:15. Participating in the democratic process is important. I don’t gainsay that point.

    The part that drives me nuts is that Washington has its greasy little tentacles insinuated into so many areas of American life that I don’t feel informed unless I’m constantly aware of what Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Rahm Emmanuel, Valerie Jarrett, David Axelrod, Tim Geithner, Janet Napolitano, Eric Holder, Ben Bernanke, Evan Bayh, Lindsey Graham, Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, Maxine Waters, Blanche Lincoln, Sarah Palin, Arne Duncan, Charles Rangel, Kathleen Sibelius, Robert Gates, and Peter Orszag have been getting their mitts all over during the last 72 hours. Note that that list doesn’t include Hillary Clinton—the Secretary of State—or my own damned senators and congresswoman. And we’re just talking about people I can now recall off the top of my head while agitated.

    I don’t really do this because I’m a politics junkie. I would far rather spend a free eight minutes fantasizing about eating brioche crumbs out of Clive Owen’s chest hair than watching and listening to the unappetizing Barney Frank. But there’s so much to pay attention to that keeping informed feels practically like a full-time job. Enough, already.

    Yes, the federal government is an instrument—“expression” sounds weird to me there—of our collective will. That’s exactly why it should be smaller. Americans have principled disagreements over a lot of issues. Getting together and talking about them can help establish goodwill and make things less contentious, but that doesn’t mean we’re ever going to be able to agree on most of them. Whatever you want to say about the air, state power would be better used if it were contained as much as possible. Competition and the right of exit allow citizens to make the trade-offs that best suit them; collectivism and central planning force citizens to adjust their aspirations to Washington’s master plan. It’s all very well to use the federal government to “address collective problems,” but we still have to decide what those problems are and are not.

    The insouciant wag at the NYT writes, “The party has inspired the requisite jokes: why not a latte party, a chai party, a Red Bull party?” Heh-heh…funny! Me, I’ve informally decided to re-appropriate the Whiskey Rebellion. There’s one chapter (based in my apartment) with one member (guess who). The organizing principle is simple: Every time some DC hack or collectivist gasbag makes an authoritative-sounding public statement about a social or economic sector he or she clearly knows nothing about, I take a restorative sip of Laphroaig.

    Added on 4 March: Thanks to Eric for the link. He has more on nanny-state-ism, as usual.

    Added on 10 March: I always forget there’s only one m in Emanuel. Why can’t annoying people at least have names that are easy to spell?

    Drink up the melody/Bite the dust, blues

    Posted by Sean at 08:14, March 1st, 2010

    Damn. Phoebe Snow has had a stroke. According to the short message from her manager, the prognosis is good. Glad to hear it. She’s been one of my favorites since I was little.


    This parody is as predictable as they come, but it’s still good, wicked fun (via The Unreligious Right). Write to “Ask Nanny State,” and she explains—very clearly and carefully so that it’s understandable even to, well, you—how abandoning silly old self-reliance and giving the government power over yet more of your life will make things work out better. Funniest post of all, IMO:

    Dear Nanny State:
    Like most Americans nowadays, I pay no income tax. So it really gets on my nerves when I read about the Nazi wingnuts wanting tax cuts to encourage economic growth or some such malarkey. What the hell is a tax cut gonna do for me? I don’t pay any taxes as it is! I may have failed math 5 or 6 times but ain’t nuthin’ lower than zero?????

    And another thing: why do rich people need ENCOURAGEMENT to make more money? Ain’t making lots of money encouragement enough? I mean, if I were married to some beautiful babe and having sex three times a night, would sending another beautiful babe over to my motel room encourage me to have MORE SEX? Is that idea stupid or is it me?
    – Progressive Tax

    Dear Progressive:
    You have a keen and perceptive mind like most people who agree with me. Tax cuts for the rich are just like taking Michael Moore to an all-you-can-eat buffet. I mean, what’s the point? And since people like yourself are no good with money (if you were, you’d have some, if you catch my drift) there’s nothing to be gained in giving you any. The best thing to do is to let government keep the money and do things with it that will benefit society instead of letting rich people spend it on themselves like the greedy b*st*&ds they are.

    Think of it this way: when Bill Gates buys a 757 airplane, it is Bill Gates’s airplane. When Nancy Pelosi buys a 757 airplane, it is the PUBLIC’S AIRPLANE and Nancy Pelosi just gets to use it for awhile. Only really smart people can grasp the subtle difference.

    Naturally, there’s a big Nancy Pelosi theme running throughout the page. American statism without Pelosi would be kind of like The Far Side without cows.


    This is the first article by Jonathan Rauch that I’ve run across in a long time, but it’s a good one (via Hit and Run). I’m not sure that I agree that the parallels Sarah Palin and George C. Wallace—seriously, read it before you decide what Rauch is trying to say—illustrate much more than that all politicians turn on the same shtick when courting voters, but it’s impossible to state enough how much disgust with the GOP comes from its fiscal irresponsibility:

    The House Republican leadership “distanced the party from the road map [by Rep. Paul Ryan] almost as soon as it was released,” writes the Cato Institute’s Gene Healy, who points out that Republicans’ recent rush to position themselves as defenders of Medicare makes it “pretty clear that the GOP isn’t serious about reducing spending.”

    It does seem serious about pandering to cultural resentment. Speaking to a conservative conference in February, Tim Pawlenty, the governor of Minnesota and a possible 2012 Republican presidential contender, denounced “elites” who “hang out at… Chablis-drinking, Brie-eating parties in San Francisco” and who look down on conservatives as “bumpkins.” The only substantial difference from Wallace’s resentful rhetoric is that Wallace did it much better (“They’ve called us rednecks…. Well, we’re going to show, there sure are a lot of rednecks in this country!”). When Pawlenty called on the crowd to “take a nine iron and smash the window out of Big Government in this country,” you knew you were deep into Wallace territory.

    I am not saying that today’s Republicans are a bunch of Wallace clones. Or that everything Wallace did or said was wrong, or that Republicans should shun all of his themes just because he used them. I am saying three things.

    First, with the important exception of race, not one of Wallace’s central themes, from his bristling nationalism and his court-bashing to his anti-intellectualism and his aggressive provincialism, would seem out of place at any major Republican gathering today.

    Second, and again leaving race aside, any Republican politician who publicly renounced the Wallace playbook would be finished as a national leader.

    Third, by becoming George Wallace’s party, the GOP is abandoning rather than embracing conservatism, and it is thereby mortgaging both its integrity and its political future. Wallaceism was not sufficiently mainstream or coherent to sustain a national party in 1968, and the same is true today.

    Of course, Palin’s record as governor is better than Wallace’s was (to extent that I know it), but the question of when she would stand firm and when she would strike deals remains operative.D