Friday, July 31, 2009

SUMMER REPEAT: This Blog Is Only 43% Manly

[UPDATE: As of this morning, GenderAnalyzer claims, with a 52% certainty, that this blog is written by a woman. You go, GenderAnalyzer! Keep speaking truth to gender-confused power!]

Or at least, this blog is only 43% manly according to GenderAnalyzer, which uses "artificial intelligence to determine if a homepage is written by a man or a woman." It guesses that my blog is actually written by a woman (57% chance), but In My Copious Free Time is also "quite gender neutral."

Only 43% manly. Son of a...

I tell you, this will not stand. Sure, I'm not the tallest guy in the world. Sure, I don't have a particularly muscular build. Yes, I was a fencer rather than a football player, and I'm in touch with my "feminine" side. But this will not stand. Oh, no. It will not.

I have a beard, for crying out loud!

I have a big, rambunctious dog! Cats try to kill me! I've even voted for the Daddy Party!

Maybe I did spend too much time in junior high playing Dungeons & Dragons rather than working out. Maybe I did grow up with two older sisters and no brothers. But I simply will not take this by lying down and thinking of England. I'm going to turn this around.

So, let the "Man Blogging" begin!



Clint Eastwood!

Cool planes!

Captain Kirk!

Attractive women who fly cool planes!


Real football!

That chick who played Batgirl in the Sixties!

Cool ships!

Tim Gunn!

Okay, that one's gonna cost me...

Arnold Schwarzennegger!

Computer games my system is too old to play!

Satellite imagery of a North Korean runway emerging from a mountain!

Jennifer Lopez!



Unrealistic depictions of women in fantasy computer games!



A Two-Fer: Jessica Simpson in uniform! And in a straight-to-DVD movie!

An aging frat boy behaving badly!

Chuck Norris!

And finally, yes, me!

Take that GenderAnalyzer... You gender-confusing, girly-man/manly-girl site, you...

UPDATE: Somehow, this post has actually caused GenderAnalyzer to raise its estimation of my budding femininity. This blog is now only 40% manly.

Son of a (tim) gun(n)...

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Pop Quiz: John Conyers Edition

Which of the following is the real John Conyers?

A) John Conyers then, talking about the Patriot Act with Michael Moore, when not reading a bill before voting on it was considered by Democratic voters to be a bad thing:

B) John Conyers now, talking about health reform legislation, when not reading a bill before voting on it is considered by Republican and Independent voters to be a bad thing:

(Hint: I'll give him this, the man is consistent. And I just hate it when people hire me to edit a book, then expect me to actually read that thousand-page manuscript before I get my salary...)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Summer in My Town

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Exclusive Congressional Health Reform Hearing Video

Congressional Budget Office director Doug Elmendorf attempts to explain to our elected representatives the budgetary implications of draft health reform legislation now being considered by Congress...

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Cunning Plan of Barack Obama

Imagine for a moment that you are President Barack Obama. Your must-pass economic stimulus package is failing to stimulate much of anything except more government debt. Your poll numbers are slipping as your elegant rhetoric meets fiscal reality as well as human nature, whether in the form of dictatorships abroad or deficit-terrified citizens at home. Worst of all, your signature health reform initiative is not only bogged down in Congress but actually heading toward defeat as even members of your own party realize it will further bankrupt an already-bankrupt nation.

Like President Obama, I think you would hatch a cunning plan.

Unlike President Obama, I think you might hatch a better plan than spending almost an hour repeating what even Newsweek and MSNBC contributor Howard Fineman called "[recycled] old patches of rhetoric." And to backtrack on your repeated campaign promise of no tax increase for the middle class, just so long as health reform isn't paid for "primarily" by new tax increases on the middle class. And to accuse doctors of performing "predatory tonsillectomies" (as Ed Morrissey calls them) simply to pad their back accounts. And then to follow all that by acknowledging that even though you don't know all the facts, the Cambridge police "acted stupidly" in arresting your friend Prof. Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

As Howard Fineman asked, "What was THAT all about?"

Then again, maybe I'm just not cunning enough to follow the cunningness of this cunning plan. Prof. Gates, a noted scholar, has apparently described President Obama as an Oval Office "Solomon," and Oprah herself has said that Barack Obama is a man of destiny whose time has come. Maybe he does know something I don't, and that cunning press conference somehow worked to his advantage over the last few days.

Solomon's destiny ain't what it used to be...

Sunday, July 26, 2009

SUMMER REPEAT: 24 Shots At Love: The Lost Episode

Previously on 24 Shots at Love...

TAYLOR: Terrorists have infiltrated a VH1 reality dating show. With the P.L.O.T. Device, they can piggyback the show's signal and hack our nation's entire infrastructure. These madmen can bring our country to its knees, and that's no basic cable double-entendre.

BAUER: Every woman I love ends up dead or hating me. I'm the perfect choice to go undercover on this show and regain the P.L.O.T. Device. What other option do you have, Madam President? Bret Michaels?

MICHAELS: Why am I still getting classified threat briefings? Doesn't President Taylor know I'm hungover? Big John, get these guys out of here.

JOHN: Everything's proceeding according to plan. No one suspects a thing.

BAUER: I shot you dead four seasons ago, Nina. You mind telling me what you're doing here at the Jello-Shot Sniper Challenge?

NINA: Jack, I already said, my name on this show is Position Impossible.


NINA: I'm just trying to win immunity, Jack! Just like all the other girls!


BAUER: You better start dancing on that pole, Renee, or you'll jeopardize both our covers.

RENEE: Let me make this clear, Jack. I'm only here to keep an eye on you. Once the P.L.O.T. Device is recovered, you're coming back with me to face indictment for your crimes.

BAUER: So you're not willing to do whatever it takes to defend this country.

RENEE: It's a pole, Jack! The FBI has strict guidelines regarding the conduct of its agents!

BAUER: And I once killed a man using someone else's hangnail. Why don't you go hide under the Craft Services table with the rest of the UN?

BAUER: What kind of name is New York anyway?

NEW YORK: It's my code name. Like Position Impossible.

BAUER: Your code name?

NEW YORK: Yeah. The producers gave us all a sexy code name—


NEW YORK: Conspiracy?! What are you buggin' about now, crazy man?!


NEW YORK: You think you scare me?! I stalked Flavor Flav! Twice!


NEW YORK: Oh, you did not just get racial on me, you profiling son of a—


Poolside, with four women and Jack Bauer.

BAUER: I have four beautiful, suspicious women before me, but only three Security Clearances. This elimination has been my hardest mission yet. Sextreme Prejudice, you won the Field Medic Lap Dance Challenge, so you've earned this week's stay of execution.

SEXTREME: Yea for me!


SEXTREME: I just wanted some exposure for my music career!


Sextreme Prejudice pouts quietly.

BAUER: Now, then. Double-Dee Seven, you've provided me with so much meaningful intel during our private debriefings. At this point in my life, I never thought—

CHLOE: (on radio) Jack! It's Chloe!

BAUER: Go ahead, Chloe.

CHLOE: (on radio) Jack, I've been monitoring the infrared and biometric satellite data for your coordinates, and Position Impossible's heart rate just shot way up when you mentioned Double-Dee Seven giving you meaningful intel!


NINA: I don't—


NINA: We're all here for you, Jack!


NINA: Yes! Yes! I'm here for you, Jack!

Jack shoots Nina dead. Again.

BAUER: Well, then. This week's elimination has apparently just been taken care of, but this is also the episode where I tell you that we're off to some scenic, tropical resort for our final elimination challenge. So pack your bags, ladies! We're going to Guantanamo Bay!

SEXTREME: Yea for me!


SEXTREME: I thought this was television!


Saturday, July 25, 2009

Health Reform Press Conference, with President Morpheus

You know, I have to say that I am not familiar with the provision you are talking about. In fact, I don't even know which of the many separate versions of health reform now being drafted in Congress is the one you are referring to. I can't tell you what will be outlawed, what will be made new law, or even what exactly will be changed and reformed. I can't even tell you how much this is going to cost, or how we are going to pay for it.

So let me be clear...

We must pass this still-unwritten bill to reform all health care for 300 million Americans in the next two weeks, or our entire economy will be destroyed! Don't listen to those fear-mongering Republicans who just want my awesome new presidency to meet its political Waterloo! Or those Blue Dog Democrats who don't believe that we actually spend less by spending a whole lot more! Phone your Senators, and call your Representatives, and tell them to support my health care reform initiative -- whatever it finally turns out to be! After all, we know they're not actually going to read the bill before they vote for it, so why should anyone waste the time to write one?!

Now, about those Massachusetts cops who acted so stupidly by arresting my dear friend, Professor Henry Louis Gates...

Friday, July 24, 2009

"Talking Crap," with Andrew Klavan

I have a blog where one of the post labels is crap-tacular. How could I not post this?

Ain't free speech grand?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Tonsillectomies of Greed

I didn't watch President Obama's health care-heavy news conference last night. As I mentioned in an earlier post, yesterday was my fourth wedding anniversary, and I had a feeling that if I spent 60 minutes watching President Morpheus and the White House Press Corps, I would be in too foul a mood to celebrate four years of marriage the way it should be celebrated.

This morning, I read the transcript of that news conference, and I realized the wisdom of that decision.

As always, the President said a lot of things I take issue with. And as always, one comment in particular jumped out and really made me shake my head:

Right now, doctors a lot of times are forced to make decisions based on the fee payment schedule that's out there. So if they're looking and you come in and you've got a bad sore throat or your child has a bad sore throat or has repeated sore throats, the doctor may look at the reimbursement system and say to himself, "You know what? I make a lot more money if I take this kid's tonsils out."
I grew up in a medical family. I've worked in the business side of a medical practice. And I've edited medical journals and textbooks for closing in on 20 years now. I've literally lost track of how many specialists, general practitioners, registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, medical assistants, and even medical billing clerks I've had conversations and dealings with over my life. And not once have I ever heard of a doctor ordering a unnecessary surgical procedure on a child simply because he thought he could "make a lot more money" that way.

Not once.

That's just my own experience, of course. So if you have an actual example, Mr. President, please share it with us. Because I'd like to have that doctor reported to his or her state medical licensing board.

I do, unfortunately, know of some possibly unnecessary tonsillectomies that have been performed, but not because of the chance to "make a lot more money," as President Obama suggests. These were performed as protection against potential malpractice lawsuits, in case at some point down the line the decision not to perform the procedure turned out to be the wrong one. These were performed for the same reason a lot of potentially unnecessary tests and procedures are -- as defensive medicine. But to acknowledge that fact of our current health care system would mean dealing with medical malpractice premiums, lawsuits, and jury awards. And how many Democrats currently involved with health care reform are highlighting medical malpractice reform as a priority in this debate?

Besides, greedy doctors cutting open children for higher profits is much easier for President Obama to argue against than, say, trial lawyers like Democratic icon John Edwards, who once famously channeled the words and thoughts of an unborn fetus before a jury to help secure a $6.5 million judgment. But then maybe doctors have been performing a lot more cesarean sections in recent years simply because they can "make a lot more money" from those procedures compared with natural childbirth, and not because of previous jury awards (one of which reached $112 million) in malpractice suits when not performing a cesarean at the first hint of trouble turned out to have been the wrong call.

Or maybe it's all some lesser kind of greed. After all, if performing unnecessary procedures protects you against future malpractice lawsuits and allows you to stay in practice, you can "make a lot more money" over your career than you will if you try to avoid those procedures and eventually make the wrong call.

Now, in the interests of full disclosure, I actually do know of a medical practice (no longer practicing) that did perform unnecessary procedures simply for the money. Primarily made up of Medicare patients, that practice would routinely obtain an electrocardiogram on those patients, whether or not an electrocardiogram was actually needed. And the practice did this for the money. Not to pad their profits, mind you, but to help minimize, given the Medicare reimbursement schedule, the financial losses that practice incurred when providing necessary procedures for those patients.

It was a futile attempt in the end, but it did help them to continue providing necessary care for long-time patients, at least for a few years. The fee schedule drove that practice to do this, yes, but greed had nothing to do with it.

I'll be the first to say the American health care system needs reform. I don't know of anyone, Democrat or Republican or Independent, who thinks the status quo should be kept unchanged. But if a person's underlying assumption is that greedy doctors performing, say, unnecessary tonsillectomies to pad their bank accounts are what's driving the explosion in health care costs, then no wonder that same person can believe that "two-thirds of the cost of reform can be paid for by reallocating money that is simply being wasted in federal health care programs."

Two-thirds of a trillion or more dollars, just by reallocating waste.

God help us all.

UPDATE: Welcome, Instapundit readers!

UPDATE II: My use of the phrase "possibly unnecessary tonsillectomies" is intentional. I'm not a physician, and I don't claim to be. These are three cases I've been told about over the years, in each case by one of the professionals involved, in which fear of a future lawsuit was given as the deciding factor. I can't judge the medical merits of those cases myself, obviously, but I've had no reason to doubt their word.

Health Care Matrix, with President Morpheus and Neo(Con)

PRESIDENT MORPHEUS: "If there's a blue pill and a red pill, and the blue pill is half the price of the red pill and works just as well, why not pay half-price for the thing that's going to make you well?"

NEO(CON): "Now, there’s a good idea. Why hasn’t anyone else thought of that? For this reform, we need to spend $1 trillion?"

SUMMER REPEAT: Susan Roesgen: The Lost Episode

[UPDATE: Two days after her now-infamous Chicago Tea Party report for CNN, intrepid reporter Susan Roesgen disappeared on a "previously planned vacation." She was off the air for almost a month. Last week, it was reported that CNN will not renew her contract with the network.]

KYRA PHILLIPS: Welcome back to CNN. I'm Kyra Phillips, with continuing coverage of the Tax Day Tea Party Protests. Let's go back on the scene with ace CNN reporter Susan Roesgen in Chicago. Susan, are you still with us?

SUSAN ROESGEN: It's hell on earth here, Kyra!

KYRA: Well, our viewers and right-thinking people everywhere appreciate your bravery and spunk, Susan.

SUSAN: Joan Allen is going to play me in the movie version of this day, Kyra!

KYRA: Susan, just in the time it took for our brief commercial break, your report has become infamous. It's been called unfair, untruthful, and a prime example of liberal media bias.

SUSAN: I'm a martyr for the truth, Kyra!

KYRA: And we thank you for it. Susan, I want to review your last report and give you a chance to respond to these many baseless accusations. Let's start at your courageous encounter with that man who claimed President Barack Obama was a fascist.

SUSAN: He had a picture of President Obama dressed up as Adolf Hitler, Kyra!

KYRA: The President of the United States being compared to Hitler? Shocking!

SUSAN: That's right, Kyra! Can you imagine?! This is absolutely unheard of in the annals of political protest, and every reporter has a duty to shine a light on such offensiveness!

KYRA: Weren't there also reports during the last administration of President George W. Bush being likened to Hitler during protests?

SUSAN: You mean President Bushitler?!

KYRA: Exactly.

SUSAN: Unconfirmed reports, Kyra! All of them!

KYRA: An urban legend, you might say.

SUSAN: That's right, Kyra! And those photographs were PhotoShopped!

KYRA: PhotoShop?

SUSAN: Spy software developed under a no-bid contract awarded to Haliburton!

KYRA: You heard it here first, people. Now, let's talk about your heroic encounter with that man who thought he understood what President Abraham Lincoln believed.

SUSAN: A true student of revisionist history, Kyra!

KYRA: My thoughts exactly. But tell us more of your thoughts.

SUSAN: He had his child with him, Kyra! And who brings their child to a protest?! Anti-abortion fanatics who want to blow up women's health clinics, Kyra, that's who!

KYRA: Fascinating reporting, Susan. My initial impression was simply that the child was there to soften the rough edges of his obvious political extremism.

SUSAN: As reporters, we need to dig beneath the surface, Kyra! And did you see that child?! Light hair! Light skin! Straight out of Central Casting for the Aryan Nation!

KYRA: This is mind-boggling, Susan. Are you saying that the Aryan Nation has been organizing and directing these Tax Day Tea Party protests?

SUSAN: And Fox News!

KYRA: Terrifying. Now, Susan, did you call the protesters "wimpy, whiny weasels" who "don't love their country"?

SUSAN: No, Kyra! That was iconic Democratic advisor Paul Begala!

KYRA: Did you say, "Let's be very honest about what this is about: It's not about bashing Democrats, it's not about taxes, they have no idea what the Boston Tea Party was about, they don't know their history at all. This was about hating a black man in the White House ... This is racism straight up. That is nothing but a bunch of tea-bagging rednecks and there is no way around that"?

SUSAN: No, Kyra! That was progressive political darling Janeane Garofalo!

KYRA: What about "The limbic brain of a right-winger or Republican or conservative or your average white power activist ... is much larger in their head space than in a reasonable person and it's pushing against the frontal lobe so their synapses are misfiring"?

SUSAN: Janeane Garofalo again! Where is that woman's Oscar, Kyra?!

KYRA: I've wondered that myself, Susan. But getting back on topic, how did you describe this protest?

SUSAN: Kyra, I called the protest anti-government, anti-Democrat, anti-CNN, and anti-Obama. That this was, in fact, a party for "Obama bashers"!

KYRA: Right after your interview, though, didn't one protestor point out an actual anti-Republican sign in the crowd?

SUSAN: As I told that racist, synapse-misfiring threat to a decent America, that sign and all the others like it were not in my field of view!

KYRA: Even though it was right behind you, right in the front, at the very start of your interview, Susan?

SUSAN: Do I look like I have eyes in the back of my head, Kyra?! I was watching the camera, not the protest I was reporting on!

KYRA: Excellent point, Susan. So in no way did you mischaracterize this protest by picking out a few fringe views and then applying those to the protestors as a whole?

SUSAN: I'm a martyr for the truth, Kyra! Like Janeane and Paul! Jennifer Aniston is going to play the younger me in all the flashbacks during the movie version of this day!

KYRA: Susan, some have asserted, incredibly enough, that these tea parties are in fact a true grass roots movement of public discontent with the largest fiscal deficits in the history of the world and not some thinly disguised tool of shadowy, behind-the-scenes, far-right fat cats.

SUSAN: Grass roots, Kyra?! Do these people look like the grass roots in your neighborhood?!

KYRA: Well, I --

SUSAN: And didn't you hear what Janeane said?! The president is black!

KYRA: At this point, Susan, I just try to get through the day without bad mouthing my sister-in-law on national television because I walked into the ladies' room without realizing my microphone was still live.

SUSAN: You're a martyr for hygiene, Kyra!

KYRA: Respect from my peers means everything to me, Susan. Any final thoughts on your experience today?

SUSAN: Only that the talented professionals over at MSNBC stole all my adolescent sexual "teabagging" jokes, which were going to make up the bulk of my mockery during this second segment!

KYRA: Once again, that's ace CNN reporter Susan Roesgen, reporting live from the Tax Day Tea Party protest in Chicago. Enjoy your previously planned vacation, Susan.

SUSAN: Get me out of here, Kyra! These average, everyday Americans with minds of their own scare me!

KYRA: They scare all of us here at CNN, Susan. They scare us all.

SUSAN: Save me!!!!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Four Years Ago Today

Four years ago today, I married a brilliant, beautiful Canadian. And looking back on the past four years, the only thing I would do differently is that I would have married her even sooner.

If our lives were a sitcom, today would be a "Very Special Episode."

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Arab Street, with Barack and Hillary

"This, Barack, is the notorious Arab Street. A land of seething rage and unemployment --"

"Rage and unemployment? You mean like Ohio? My poll numbers are taking a real beating in Ohio, what with all that unemployment the stimulus was supposed to prevent."

"No, Barack, I don't mean like Ohio. I mean a land of conspiracy theories --"

"Conspiracy theories? You mean like the vast right-wing conspiracy? I didn't know Limbaugh's show was broadcast in the Middle East, too. Maybe I can do some outreach with the Chinese and explain how helpful it would be if they could take out his satellite --"

"No, Barack, I don't mean like the vast right-wing conspiracy, or Rush Limbaugh. I mean conspiracies like the Jews brought down the Twin Towers on 9/11 to make the Arabs look bad, use the blood of Palestinian children to bake matzo, that sort of thing."


"Oh, indeed. Now, the thing to know about the Arab Street, Barack, is that it always threatens to explode and engulf the entire Middle East in utter chaos whenever the United States even thinks about saying or doing anything."

"I have deep concern about this Arab Street, Hillary. Tell me, how can we keep from offending this Street so that it will never explode?"

"You're missing the point, Barack."

"No, I can see the talking points on the teleprompter just fine."

"Barack, listen to your secretary of state. Administrations always worry that the Arab Street will explode in some giant catastrophe, but it never actually does. Even the War in Iraq didn't set it off like we always feared. Instead, we got the Cedar Revolution of 2005 in Lebanon, when the average people rose up, forced the Syrian troops occupying their country to withdraw, and brought down the pro-Syrian puppet government."

"I'd like to meet the community organizer who put that one together!"

"Barack --"

"No, no, I hear you, Hillary. You're saying that I don't need to base my every word and policy around fear of the Arab Street."

"Yes, Barack. Yes. That's exactly what I'm saying."

"Because when the Lebanese people rose up against their occupier and oppressor, the Syrians, that was a good thing."

"Yes, Barack. It was a very good thing."

"Because if the people of Lebanon were to do something like that today, it could really mess up my outreach to the Syrians, like how all those Iranians taking to the streets for freedom and justice these last few weeks are throwing such a big honkin' monkey wrench into my awesome engagement strategy with the ayatollahs who rule them. And then I'd have the Arab Street and the Persian Street to worry about."


"You say something, Hill?"

"Nothing, Barack. Nothing."

"I didn't think so."


Monday, July 20, 2009

Forty Years Ago Today

No self-respecting space junkie could let today go unremarked. And no self-respecting blogger would ramble on when Peggy Noonan has already written what he had hoped to say:

Everyone is noting the 40th anniversary, on July 20, of the moon landing. Good. It was an epic moment in history, though its memory is accompanied by an unsatisfied feeling, as if Columbus came to America and then no one followed. People will ask again why we've stopped visiting other places and have instead spent the past few decades watching the space shuttle orbit the Earth. There are many reasons for this (budgets, the end of the space race, an inability to understand the human imagination) but let me throw forward this one: The space program of the past 32 years unconsciously mirrored a change in American psychology. Once, we saw ourselves as a breakthrough people, a nation with a mission to push beyond ourselves. Now, in the age of soft narcissism, we just circle ourselves. Which is what the shuttle does: It is on an endless loop, going 'round and 'round and looking down at: us.

We should take our eyes off ourselves. We should go someplace again. It would remind us who we've been, which would remind us who we are.

Something about the steely-eyed rocket men of the Mercury and Apollo programs: They weren't criers. Now, on TV every day as people remember some trauma or triumph, they stop as if on cue—they know this is expected of them—and weep. They think this shows sincerity and sensitivity. But they feel too much about their struggles. I sometimes watch with fascination those shows where people lose weight. They often begin to sob as they fall off the treadmill or remember the Twinkie they didn't eat. This is now the national style. It makes Europeans laugh. When they're about to be mawkish or overly emotional they say, "I don't mean to get American on you." The men who took the moon will be all over TV the next few days. I bet they don't cry as they remember "Tranquility Base here, the Eagle has landed." How moving their dry eyes will be.
Then again, if anything is worth a not-quite-dry eye, isn't this?

Take a good look, and be reminded of who we could be again.

UPDATE: From William Katz:
The flight to the moon celebrated American greatness - imagination, capability, determination. President Kennedy had set the goal, and the goal was reached. Few Americans complained about the cost because they understood that there was something larger than material gain in the moon flight - there was a spiritual quest that defines, more than budgets and scientific equations, a great nation.

Are we a great nation today? Of course we are. But we are suffering under the weight of failing institutions - our universities, our media - that are diminishing our greatness, and even mocking it. After all, the most covered story of 1969 was the flight to the moon. The most covered story so far in 2009 was the death of Michael Jackson. Please compare.
UPDATE II: Video of the Apollo astronauts calling for a mission to Mars, and related thoughts from Boris Johnson, here. Though given the tragic history of the Shuttle program, I think Boris is a little over the top with his idea that the safety ninnies are keeping us from returning to the moon and beyond.

UPDATE III: More from William Katz:
[R]emarkably, one quarter of all young people believe it was a hoax. What a comment on the "educational" system that serves us, and which has, in the four decades since the depressing sixties, done so much to tear down the image of America in the minds of its young.
UPDATE IV: Video of Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin punching out that guy who kept arguing that the Moon Landing was a hoax.

UPDATE V: Forty years ago, the big space story was the first steps of humanity on the Moon. Today, the big space story is an "out of service" toilet on the International Space Station. Doesn't that just say it all?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

SUMMER REPEAT: Bonekickers

During my insomnia hours, I watch a lot of non-American television. Sometimes, you find a real gem, like Australia's The Hollowmen. Other times, you realize that Hollywood doesn't hold the patent on crap-tacular programming. You couldn't pay me enough to sit through another episode of Canada's Little Mosque on the Prairie or jPod, for instance. And then there are those shows that are just so bizarre, so relentlessly focused on making their point, and so unbelievably weird, they exist in a category all their own.

Bonekickers is that kind of show.

Think of it as Indiana Jones, only made by and for people who would be ashamed to watch an actual Indiana Jones movie because of its lack of redeeming social activism. Bonekickers follows feisty Dr. Gillian Magwilde and her gender-balanced, racially mixed team of bonekicking archaeologists and put-upon post-grads as they dig their way through one life-threatening adventure after another. I first had the feeling this was going to be a message show when I realized the two white males in the regular cast were the lovable if lecherous drunkard (Professor Gregory "Dolly" Parton) and the weaselly, funding-hungry, and self-absorbed department head.

Despite all this, I desperately wanted to like this show. I really did. Gillian Magwilde looks better in work boots and a flannel shirt than Harrison Ford ever did. Give her that Indiana Jones hat, and I would gladly edit Dr. Magwilde's next book for free. "Dolly" Parton is actually kind of fun to watch, too, even if it is in a too-cuddly-to-ever-really-get-sued-for-sexual-harassment-like-he-should-be sort of way. The show is beautifully shot as well, and the concept so off-beat that no one here in the States, not even Showtime or HBO, would ever dare touch it. And besides, I owed one to the BBC for bringing back Doctor Who and not mucking it up, so I gave Bonekickers a chance.

I lasted two episodes. And I watched the second only to see if the show could possibly get any worse. (It did.)

Now, you might be thinking I'm just an uncouth American, unable to appreciate the subtleties of the government-funded, Euro-entertainment ethic. And you might even be right. In my defense, however, even the reviews in England itself were savage: "mind-bogglingly dreadful," "dramatic goo," "utterly bonkers," and "a clattering bag of madness."


In the first episode, "Army of God," a piece of the True Cross is found in someone's backyard, setting up a heavy-handed tale of peaceful, soft-spoken Muslims and muscular Christians with buzz cuts. You know the Muslim characters are peaceful, because every single one is no more than five-foot-eight, is thinner than even I am, and repeatedly tells everyone how peaceful they are. They also tend to wear glasses, which in the visual shorthand of minor characters lets you know they're thoughtful as well. On the other hand, you know the Christian characters are fanatics, because they lop off a Muslim's head with a broadsword.

Subtlety, thy name is Bonekickers.

In fairness (sort of), there is a very appealing young Christian nurse who works at a hospice. After pricking her finger on a piece of the True Cross (don't ask), she develops miraculous powers of healing. This immediately results in her becoming the unwitting dupe of a televangelist who also happens to be leader of the Knights Templar (don't ask). By the end of the episode, however, she's learned that it's best to remove splinters as soon as you feel them. And that curing terminally ill seniors just complicates everyone's life.

Oh, did I mention the Matrix-style sword fight while hanging from ropes in a cavern filled with burning crosses?

The second episode, "Warriors," made "Army of God" seem like a feathery wisp of understatement. Because in "Warriors," Gillian and her intrepid team help to elect Barack Obama.

In fairness (sort of), the candidate—named, with trademark Bonekickers subtlety, "Senator Joy"—was a strange mish-mash of the charisma and personality of Barack Obama, the Swiftboated war heroism of John Kerry, and the deep, comforting voice of David Palmer from 24. Which is a good, because each time Senator Joy's security platoon surprised Gillian and her bonekickers with guns drawn, he could apologize for startling them, and they were instantly soothed despite all the American firepower and dress shoes trampling their dig sites.

Senator Joy is losing the election, you see. "They" will never allow a black man to become president, so of course, Senator Joy's only hope is traveling to England and joining forces with a band of European academics. This is not the long shot you might think, however, because American history holds a dirty, shameful secret, one that only Gillian and her team can bring to light.

It turns out that during the Revolutionary War, the Battle of Yorktown was not actually won by Generals George Washington and Comte de Rochambeau, as all the history books say. In fact, it was actually won by a runaway slave named Oban, who just happens to be a direct ancestor of Senator Joy. The Father of Our Country, however, repaid this hero and military genius by turning him over to the defeated British forces so that he could be shipped back to England for execution. Because "They" would never share credit with a black man.

Oh, did I mention that Oban also won the Battle of Yorktown by wielding Excalibur?

That's right, Excalibur. The sword.

And did I mention that along with Oban, General Washington also handed Excalibur over to the defeated British forces?

Needless to say, in spite of gunfights with the shadowy "They" ("Them"?), and much non-gunfighting time spent just generally standing around and praising Senator Joy ("He's even more impressive in person." "He can make a difference." "He can change things." "He gives me hope again."), Gillian and her bonekickers dig up the evidence the good Senator needs to make his case. The episode ends with Senator Joy walking out on stage at Gillian's university, ready to destroy the cult of America's One Indispensable Man, and on foreign soil no less, which in the minds of the Bonekickers production team is somehow going to salvage Senator Joy's poll numbers and gain him the White House.

Uh, yeah. And I'm going to write a new script in which Elizabeth May of Canada's Green Party becomes Prime Minister by revealing that Canadian Founding Father Sir John A. Macdonald was actually a cannibal, and during a press conference held at the University of Alabama.

I think it'll be a big, big hit. Or at least help some Canadian with insomnia finally get to sleep.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Doorbell of Financial Doom

"Holy crap! It's the Chinese, come to collect all that money we borrowed to finance our deficits! Everyone stay quiet and pretend we're not here!"

Friday, July 17, 2009

SUMMER REPEAT: The Endless Adolescence of Joel Stein

I first became aware of Joel Stein after his now-infamous column "Warriors and Wusses" was published back in 2006. It caused quite a stir at the time, because Joel wrote that not only did he oppose the War in Iraq, he also didn't support the troops:

I know this is all easy to say for a guy who grew up with money, did well in school and hasn't so much as served on jury duty for his country. But it's really not that easy to say because anyone remotely affiliated with the military could easily beat me up, and I'm listed in the phone book.

I'm not advocating that we spit on returning veterans like they did after the Vietnam War, but we shouldn't be celebrating people for doing something we don't think was a good idea. All I'm asking is that we give our returning soldiers what they need: hospitals, pensions, mental health and a safe, immediate return. But, please, no parades.

Seriously, the traffic is insufferable.
The sentiment itself bothered a lot of people. Some of us were also troubled by his glib, flippant tone. That kind of snarkiness may be perfect for a scathing review of a television show like Bonekickers, but in a Los Angeles Times column about those who voluntarily risk their lives to serve their country?

A reasonable person could make a reasonable argument that maybe it is, in fact, hypocritical to oppose the Iraq War and then claim to "support the troops." I probably wouldn't agree with that person, but I could at least respect the attempt, and maybe even the position, depending on the reasoning behind it. Stein, however, seemed more determined to prove that he could craft a joke for every paragraph than he was to actually make that case. Not that he's without empathy for the troops, of course:
I'm sure I'd like the troops. They seem gutsy, young and up for anything. If you're wandering into a recruiter's office and signing up for eight years of unknown danger, I want to hang with you in Vegas.
Whether the gusty, young, and up for anything troops would want to hang with Joel was never addressed, but I suspect most of them might pass. They understand the difference between a rough night outside the Green Zone and a rough night in Vegas better than Joel—or I—ever will. And they might be a bit skeptical about hanging with someone who also thinks they're "willingly signing up to be a fighting tool of American imperialism, for better or worse."

I came away thinking that Joel Stein was a probably decent guy at heart, but also someone who never outgrew his too-smart-for-his-own-good adolescent phase, that time when you absolutely know, without a doubt, that the book you just read has given you an understanding all those people who have actually been there and done that somehow lack.

Basically, I found myself agreeing with the first line of Joel's bio on his homepage:
Joel Stein is desperate for attention.
After that column, I lived a relatively Stein-free couple of years. I had stopped reading the LA Times well before "Warriors and Wusses," so his weekly columns generally escaped my attention. I can't say he even crossed my mind much, either, unless he popped up on one of those VH1 I Love The Which Decade Are We Doing Now? nostalgia-fests. And even then, all I ever really thought was how much funnier Michael Ian Black was in comparison.

Joel recently caught my eye again, though, with his column "Republicans Are Blinded By Love":
I don't love America. That's what conservatives are always telling liberals like me. Their love, they insist, is truer, deeper and more complete. Then liberals, like all people who are accused of not loving something, stammer, get defensive and try to have sex with America even though America will then accuse us of wanting it for its body and not its soul. When America gets like that, there's no winning.
Are we paying attention yet? Because if we're not, Joel might have to tell us how America always complains that he never takes the time to really get her in the mood.
But I've come to believe conservatives are right. They do love America more. Sure, we liberals claim that our love is deeper because we seek to improve the United States by pointing out its flaws. But calling your wife fat isn't love. True love is the blind belief that your child is the smartest, cutest, most charming person in the world, one you would gladly die for. I'm more in "like" with my country.
If I were hanging with Joel in Vegas, I'd bet it all on Stein-Has-No-Children.

Neither do I, true. But while nearly all the parents I know would gladly die for their child, like Joel says, the love that those same parents feel doesn't blind them to their child's flaws. In fact, they love their child in spite of those flaws, which is exactly the way so many conservatives and, yes, even liberals feel about this country. Unconditional love does not mean unconditional approval. That's a distinction many adolescents have trouble grasping, however.
Fox News' Sean Hannity loves this country so much, he did an entire episode of "Hannity's America" titled "The Greatest Nation on Earth." In that one hour he said, several times, "the U.S. is the greatest, best country God has ever given man on the face of the Earth." One of the surest signs of love is it makes you talk stupid.
Joel Stein must be in love a lot. And all those American liberals I know who would agree with Sean Hannity on this—and only on this—must be talking stupid, too.
Conservatives feel personally blessed to have been born in the only country worth living in. I, on the other hand, just feel lucky to have grown up in a wealthy democracy. If it had been Australia, Britain, Ireland, Canada, Italy, Spain, France, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Japan, Israel or one of those Scandinavian countries with more relaxed attitudes toward sex, that would have been fine with me too.
Sorry, America. Joel's just not that into you.

I understand the appeal of Joel's post-nationalist, "Citizen of the World" ideal. In my younger days, I even bought into it myself. And he does at least limit his range to "wealthy" democracies. No young, still-struggling, Eastern European democracy for Joel. But the United States is not Canada (as my Canadian wife keeps reminding me), and Canada is not Germany, and Germany is not Sweden. Maybe Joel thinks its impolite to express a preference among those countries, or maybe he really, truly doesn't have one.

If you were born a citizen of a Western, liberal (small-"ell") democracy, or managed to gain residency there, then I agree, you've won life's lottery. But if you were born a citizen of the United States, or managed to gain residency here, then you've also won the Mega-Ball Power Number. And that's hardly a "conservative" attitude, unless the world outside our borders is bursting with "conservatives" willing to do whatever it takes, legally or illegally, and even risk their lives to make their way to America as opposed to, say, Luxembourg.
When a Democrat loses the presidential race, real lefties talk a lot about moving to Canada. When Republicans lose, they don't do that. Though, to be fair, they don't have a lot of nearby conservative options. Not even Hannity is a committed enough conservative to yell, "If Obama wins, I'm moving to Singapore."
Or, Republicans have an attachment to this country that runs deeper than "like," so they don't feel the desire to run away from home because an election doesn't go their way. But again, this is hardly a "conservative" attitude, which makes me think Joel needs to start hanging out with a better class of liberal, even if the "real lefties" might stop inviting him to all the really good parties.
This doesn't mean I'm not fascinated by American history, impressed by our Constitution or don't appreciate our optimism and entrepreneurial spirit. In fact, I love everything Hannity listed on his TV special other than Madonna. But there are plenty of things I don't like about America: our foreign policy, our religious fundamentalism, our provincialism, our intellectual laziness, our acceptance of sweat suits in public.
Sweat suits in public? I guess Joel has never seen a German tourist in Miami. Or maybe he has, and that's why he didn't actually include Germany by name in his list of potentially "OK With Me" homelands. And "intellectual laziness" is just too easy a target.

I've disagreed with American foreign policy many times as well, though I doubt Joel and I would agree on our disagreements. I also doubt that our definitions of "religious fundamentalism" are the same. And I've come to realize that our supposed "provincialism" has often contained more wisdom than the supposedly sophisticated cosmopolitanism that it's compared to so frequently, and so unfavorably.

It's an imperfect world, Joel, and as long as America is inhabited and governed by imperfect people, our country will also have plenty of things to irk us both. But like the parents of a child who tries but often stumbles, I don't demand perfection from my country as a condition for my love.

Unlike an adolescent, who so often demands an impossible perfection from his parents. And who dreams of living with that other family, where the mom and dad seem so much cooler and less embarrassing.
When I ran the idea that liberals don't love America as much as conservatives by talk-show host Glenn Beck, who will move from CNN Headline News to Fox News next month, he totally agreed with me, which is precisely why I called him. "It's absolutely true, deep love. As a parent loves a child," he said. "But I think liberals laugh that off, the way the rest of the country laughs off the love Texans have for their state. Texans don't think, 'Oklahoma, you suck.' Well, yes they do—but they don't think other states suck. They just have a love for the republic of Texas. I don't have disdain for other countries. Well, except for France."
Glenn Beck gets it. And like Michael Ian Black, he's also much funnier in comparison.
I asked Beck why Democrats rarely share his overwhelming sense of American exceptionalism and Francophobia. "I think it's because in the late 1800s up until the 1930s, the progressive movement started to think the European ideals are pretty good, that it's one big world," he said. "Well, it's not. If you look at all the countries like people, there are differences between people. And I happen to like this person the best." When I look at the countries like people, I love Sweden the best.
Sorry, Sweden. But Joel only wants you for that relaxed attitude about your body.
I accused Beck of loving America just out of birthplace convenience, which is kind of like loving the girl who happens to sit in front of you in homeroom. "If I were born in Great Britain and read about Britain and America, I'd love the values and principles and the men who founded this country," he said. "I love that we crossed these mountains and didn't know what was on the other side. I love that the Pilgrims didn't want to come here, but they came here because they felt prompted to by God. There's always been a spirit of adventure and awe in this land. And I don't think any other country has that." Beck, it seemed, loves America the same way little boys love camping.
And all those Cubans trying to reach America by crossing the Florida Straits in homemade rafts were actually, it seems, just looking for a macho afternoon of kayaking adventure.
Despite Beck's rationalization, I still think conservatives love America for the same tribalistic reasons people love whatever groups they belong to. These are the people who are sure Christianity is the only right religion, that America is the best country, that the Republicans have the only good candidates, that gays have cooties.
Despite Joel's rationalization, I still think this "Citizen of the Wealthy Democracies" can't, or won't, make distinctions and judgments for the same tribalistic reasons as everyone else in the group that he belongs to. And Joel does belong to a group. These are the people who are sure that every religion contains truth (even if that's generally thought to be "not much"), that no country is really any better than any other, that John McCain was the only good Republican (at least until he had a real shot at becoming president), and that conservatives have a hardy subspecies of red-white-and-blue head lice.

Well then. Did I use as unfairly broad a brush as Joel?

Truth be told, I once thought all that as well. This kind of equivalence and objectivity is a fragile thing, though. It's hard to keep that such intellectual diversity intact unless you surround yourself with like-minded people. Because the minute you start thinking that someone on the other side might not be a caricature and might actually have a point, then you start thinking that someone on your own side might actually not have a point. And that leads to making distinctions, which then leads to making judgments, and before you know it, you've gone from being 23 years old and thinking that America is the root of all evil in the world to being 43 and realizing just how blessed you actually are to have spent your life a country that let you get all that out of your system while still giving you such an incredible life. And that few countries in this world, even among the "wealthy democracies," would have given you the same, or all the other opportunities and freedoms that you've enjoyed.

And then you find yourself loving this country, despite its flaws. And maybe even thinking that among all the other nations of the world, it actually is unique in some very important ways. And that those ways aren't necessarily bad, either.
I wish I felt such certainty. Sure, it makes life less interesting and nuanced, and absolute conviction can lead to dangerous extremism, but I suspect it makes people happier. I'll never experience the joy of Hannity-level patriotism. I'm the type who always wonders if some other idea or place or system is better and I'm missing out. And, as I figured out shortly after meeting my wife, that is no way to love.
Poor Joel. Married, successful, and living in the wealthiest democracy in the history of our world, and yet still so troubled and unhappy. Because America has remained rigidly unchanging in its ideas and system since 1776, others can't see the nuances he does and actually prefer the dangerous extremism of the original Star Wars trilogy ("Do, or do not. There is no try.") to the subtle insights of Episodes One through Three ("Only a Sith deals in absolutes!"), and the grass might actually be greener in Amsterdam.

I have hope for Joel, though. And I'm pulling for him. Because as I figured out myself after far too many years, perpetual adolescence is no way to live.

Or love.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Pop Quiz: Keith Olbermann Edition

Which of the following people does the best parody of MSNBC star Keith Olbermann?

A) Ben Affleck:

B) Steven Crowder:

C) Michael Terry:

D) Keith Olbermann:


Marginally related:

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

One Sentence That Gives Me Some Small Sliver of Hope

From Roll Call:

House Democrats’ health care bill has been delayed indefinitely as leaders continue negotiations with fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats.
To put this sentence in context, let's see that deficit graph again!

You go, fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats! You may be our last hope to be left with anything more than change in our pockets by the time this is over!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Kirk Korner

Monday, July 13, 2009

SUMMER REPEAT: Credit Card-tastic!

Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States...

Thank you all for coming today. As you know, I've just met with the chief executives of the American credit card industry, and we've had a very productive, even eye-opening meeting. As you also know, China and other nations are becoming less willing to fund our deficit spending to bring about economic recovery, provide increased government benefits, and create a green future. So, at this time, I'd like to update you on our progress in these negotiations to secure a new credit card for the United States.

At the start of these negotiations, I requested one of those cool, personalized credit cards. The kind where you can put the picture of a cute little kitten or a hip campaign logo on it. I'm happy to report that these fine representatives of the financial sector agreed that such a credit card was indeed possible, though with additional fees and a higher interest rate.

After filling out and processing our country's application, however, my request for a new United States credit card was rejected. It seems that our nation's debt-to-income ratio is too high. "Gargantuan," one of the people across the table from me called it. As I told him at the time, this kind of rhetoric is not helpful, and he should remember that I recently fired the head of General Motors.

At this point, the chief executives from the credit card industry offered to issue a new card for the United States if our great nation could find a co-signer. Patriots that we are, Michelle and I immediately offered our own signatures. After filling out and processing that application, however, Michelle and I were also rejected. "Dude," I said across the table, "we made $2.7 million last year!"

As it turned out, a credit card account of which I had no prior knowledge had been opened under my name. We traced this account to Hugh Chavez, who apparently used it to buy a book and extend a runway to accommodate some Russian long-range strategic bombers. I immediately phoned President Chavez and told him that identity theft was not helpful. He then explained this must have been a data entry error on the part of the credit card issuer. The chief executives here at the table with me denied this was the case, but as a fellow statesman, I took President Chavez at his word, and laughs were shared all around. In fact, I look forward without preconditions to landing on President Chavez's new runway during my upcoming state visit to Venezuela.

This was when our negotiations took an unexpected turn. Apparently, the application that Michelle and I put in to co-sign for a new credit card for the United States triggered a threshold criterion of which I had no prior knowledge and lowered our own credit scores. This resulted in the APR on all our personal credit cards being raised to 29.8%. Naturally, I told the fine businesspeople across the table from me that this was not helpful. They referred me to several separate credit reporting agencies, who promised to separately mail me several separate forms to fill out and separately return, after which they have assured me they will separately investigate this matter fully. And separately. I thank them for their patriotism and support, and promise again that their bailout money is on the way.

These contacts with the various credit reporting agencies actually turned out to be rather fortuitous. During these conversations, I learned that that United States had been reported to a collection agency for a zombie debt. This explains the many recent harassing phone calls received here at the White House, which until today we had been chalking up to domestic right-wing extremists, though in fairness, a few intelligence analysts did suspect the Crank Yankers, as these callers ended each conversation with the phrase "Bill Clinton in the true Man from Hope!" This also explains why my own credit card was declined while trying to purchase a DVD box set for Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Luckily, Secret Service Agent 27 lent me his Discover Card to complete that purchase, thus avoiding a serious breach of international protocol. Agent 27, if you're listening, just let me say that this time, I really will have the money for you next Tuesday. I promise.

Where was I? Oh, yes, the collection agency...

As it turns out, this debt was handed over to the collection agency by Kim Jong-Il of North Korea and involves an unpaid balance of heavy fuel oil, food aid, and a light-water nuclear reactor. I have no knowledge of the United States ever receiving a collection notice regarding this matter, but the agency swears they sent it. Therefore, I can only assume this notice was in fact received but somehow got mixed with all those unread pieces of legislation sent over from Congress for my signature. My bad.

I immediately initiated a phone call to the Dear Leader. It took some time to get him on the line, and it was while we were all being kept on hold that my top economic adviser Larry Summers fell asleep.

After Kim Jong-Il finally picked up the extension and we got Larry to wake up, I told the Dear Leader that reporting the United States to a collection agency was not helpful. In response, someone in the background with an Iranian accent shouted something that, in the majority opinion of those clustered around the speakerphone, translated as "Bring it on, Big Bad Daddy Satan!" I should note here, however, that I believe the correct translation is actually "Bring it on, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy," an obvious reference to the swing band that helped repopularize that style of music in the late 1990s. North Korea is, after all, several years behind us in terms of all the popular lifestyle trends. Just to cautious, however, I responded that either translation was not helpful.

At this point, the Dear Leader explained that the telephone wires had obviously been crossed with another line somewhere in the Middle East, thus defusing a very tense situation. Unfortunately, this was also the point that Larry Summers, who had fallen back asleep, graced us with one of those explosive, choking snores, which Kim Jong-Il took as an expression of our disbelief in his thoughtful explanation. As a result, the Dear Leader threatened to have the collection agency ding our credit score again for refusal to pay, and I realized it would be both cheaper and less time-intensive to simply pay off this forgotten debt rather than going through the process of again contacting several separate credit reporting agencies, who would promise to separately mail me several separate forms to fill out and separately return, after which they would assure me that they would separately investigate this matter fully. The Dear Leader found my logic compelling and agreed to this compromise of payment in full. I ended the call with my best wishes that his next satellite launch would be a resounding success.

It was at this point that I sadly realized a new, unsecured credit card for the United States was simply not a possibility. I share the frustration of all Americans at this lack of available credit. We, as a nation, are no longer credit-worthy, for which I blame the previous administration and their horrendous fiscal irresponsibility. Fortunately, however, I am pleased to announce that the good executives across this table from me have offered the United States a new, secured credit card.

Unfortunately, the credit limit on this card will be low, and the interest rate will be high. This new card also will not be able to carry a photo of a cute kitten or a hip campaign logo.

Details regarding my upcoming, gargantuan tax increase to cover the check I just deposited into the country's new secured credit card account will be announced shortly...