Tuesday, March 31, 2009

That'll Leave A Mark


Obama owns GM, and I don't know about you, Bret, but I'm deeply reassured that the largest company in America is owned by a guy with the vast private sector experience of Barack Obama.

Contra Kaus

Amidst slapping around a bit of Jonathan Chait silliness today, Mickey Kaus makes the following stumble:

I remember Clinton's first term as being rather effective--he passed welfare reform, NAFTA, and put the budget on a path to balance. Second term? Well, there was the "race initiative"! And he managed to preserve the surplus.

With all due respect to Mickey--and he's due plenty--this is something of a whitewash where the budget is concerned. Clinton was never terribly interested in actually balancing the budget (remember the ad that showed about a dozen clips of him promising different dates and amounts for cutting the deficit?), and any serious "path to balance" didn't start until after 1994, when Clinton and the newly-Republican congress were locked in a Mexican standoff over taxes and spending. Clinton wanted more of the above, the congress wanted less, and they both hated each other, so, beneficently, nothing happened. The budget was effectively baselined at inflation plus a moderate amount of pork, and it fell into balance basically by accident.

Clinton was never terribly interested in "preserving the surplus." He had the congress on the ropes with a hefty series of spending initiatives cued up in early 1998, before the remainder of his term was effectively ended by the Lewinsky scandal. And let's not forget Clinton's infamous Buffalo speech when he told an audience they couldn't get any surplus money back in tax cuts because they might not spend it the "right" way. As that quote illustrates, Clinton's main interest in "preserving" the surplus consisted of preserving the government's grasp on that money.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Automotive Welfare

Think being taxed to pay off your irresponsible neighbor's mortgage was bad? Get this, from WSJ.com:

To assure consumers reluctant to buy GM or Chrysler cars, the government plans to take the unusual step of guaranteeing all warrantees on new cars from either company. These guarantees would lapse back to the companies once they return to health.

Sorry to borrow a line from Martini Boy, but you have got to be kidding me.

Hey, Obama-Wan. Do we not have enough open-ended entitlement commitments these days?

Just Curious

I know we're not supposed to ask questions like this, but where exactly in the Constitution is anybody in the government given the power to fire a private citizen?

And Now For Something Completely Different

Three words I never thought I'd see in this order: Moorcock in Mississippi. Wow.

H/T: Lein.

Nice Work, If You Can Get It

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel "earned" approximately $400,000 for attending six meetings of the Fannie Mae Board of Directors, to which he was appointed by Bill Clinton in 2000. I note without comment that at that rate Emanuel pocketed $66,666 per meeting. While Emanuel was "working" at Fannie Mae, the effectively-a-government-entity was committing accounting fraud in order to justify huge bonuses to its executives (sound familiar?), in a scheme that was actually presented to the Board at one of those Number-Of-The-Beast-payoff meetings.

Fannie Mae was long the Democratic Party's favorite sinecure for loyal party hacks, a place where said hacks could get rich at no-work jobs and then repay their elected patrons with vast swaths of campaign donations. Nice work, if you could get it. While Emanuel was a piker compared to other Clinton-era apparatchiks (Franklin Raines collected something north of $90 million in bonuses thanks in no small part to cooked books, an amount that makes the AIG bonus babies look like street vendors), the question remains: why isn't this a huge story?

Ah, never mind, you know why. There are no enemies on the Left, and there are absolutely no crooks filling their own pockets while they burn down the entire economy. No sirree.

Who Watches The AJC?

Back in January, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution held an open audition for their token conservative columnist job (I applied for it, you can read more about that in the archive links titled "Anatomy of a Rejection"). In the original announcement, editor Julia Wallace wrote that the AJC anticipated announcing the new hire "in mid-March."

There's one more day left in March, and other than a page of sample columns from ten still-anonymous finalists over a month ago, so far, no announcement; as far as I can tell there's been no mention of the new columnist search at all in the last several weeks (although I freely admit that I don't exactly read the AJC cover-to-cover--or at all, if I can help it).

So hey, AJC, what's the deal? Can't make a decision? Couldn't find anybody who'd work for peanuts? Too much pushback from the newsroom over hiring an "outsider"? Did Anne Cox Chambers declare that she's not paying for any stinking conservatives?

Inquiring minds are sort of curious.

What He Said

Roger L. Simon:

[T]he obscure peccadilloes of private citizens should remain just that-- obscure. And make no mistake about it, Joseph Biden’s daughter (name deliberately omitted) is a private citizen. She has never, to my knowledge, invited any significant attention to herself. Indeed, we don’t know if she ever wanted her father to do the same. Let’s leave her alone - and her father as well, on that score.

Roger is quite right. The toxic stuff that comes out of Joe Biden's mouth ought to get the media's attention, not whatever substance might or might not be going into his kid's nose.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

All Apologies

As if it weren't pretty obvious already, blogging is going to be light this week. Sorry, but real life intrudes.

Nothing bad or tragic, I'm just busy. Back later.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Deus Ex Galactica

Since watching the series finale of "Battlestar Galactica" over the weekend, the suspicion that I've been had has been growing on me. I turned off the TV thinking, "that was a good ending," but the more I think about it, the more convinced I am that I was kidding myself.

Fair warning: story spoilers abound from here on out. Avert your eyes if you haven't seen the last episode yet, but plan to watch it.

There was a lot to like about the finale, titled "Daybreak," taken as a discrete piece of entertainment. The first hour or so was terrific; a slam-bang, well-executed resolution of the series' fundamental conflict between the human survivors and their would-be exterminators. It was smart, epic, believable if taken on its own terms. Best of all, it had what so much of the third and fourth seasons of BSG lacked so terribly: internal consistency. It was a high point in a series that has had too few over the past 40 or so episodes.

Even after the surviving characters broke away from the battle sequence and drifted towards their final scenes, there were lovely bits. The acting was wonderful throughout, even when the actors were given George Lucas-level ludicrous things to say. The final FX scenes of Galactica and the fleet flying off into history were lovingly done, and accompanying them with the strains of Stu Phillips's score from the original 1978 series (only the third or fourth time it's been heard in the entire new show) was an inspired choice. I also thought the denouement was great, and slyly funny. "You know He doesn't like that name" is one of the best lines in the entire run of BSG.

But, oh, what a mess in between the battle and the epilogue.

There are many deadly sins for writers--certainly more than seven of them. One of the worst is deus ex machina, literally "god from the machine." It's a very old reference to Greek drama, when at the end of a play a god would step in, lowered by a crane, and dictate the ending using his/her magical powers. In modern parlance, it's a term of derision applied to books and screenplays that are neatly wrapped up via the writer's say-so with little or no concern for logic or consistency.

Regarding the conclusion of "Daybreak," perhaps it's time to bring the Latin motto up to the modern era and rechristen it deus ex Galactica. Creator Ron Moore's decision to anchor his story in a deistic framework would have been much more compelling if he'd bothered to lay adequate groundwork for it in a consistent fictional world, but apparently he couldn't be bothered. At the end, so much of this series that started with such enormous promise was simply excused away with, "it's magic, because we say so."

Making Kara "Starbuck" Thrace into the Gandalf of "BSG" is easily the silliest and dumbest single deus in two long seasons worth of bad writing. Starbuck (along with Tigh, who of course was also ruined by being arbitrarily turned into a Cylon) was the most human and the most flawed character in the entire series. Revealing her to be essentially a angel with amnesia retroactively robs her both of her heroism and her fundamental value as an individual. It also makes her entire character arc ridiculous--what good is an angel who's as screwed up as Kara, and what kind of writer thinks it made any sense to turn her into a supernatural being literally at the last minute?

Starbuck's deification is even sillier if you recall that Moore had an out to explain her resurrection without descending to "oh, by the way, she's an angel." Simon the Cylon doctor surgically removed one of Kara's ovaries way back in season two, opening the door to reviving the character as a clone. That would have been sci-fi silly, but what the heck--it's a science fiction show. It would have been an acceptable plot device given the overall structure of BSG. But that loose end, like so many others, was left dangling in the breeze as Moore and company wrapped up their saga in a wash of feel-good nonsense.

As Laura Miller noted in Salon, the notion that the survivors would willingly give up thousands of years of hard-gained science, technology, medicine and culture in favor of "a fresh start," just based on Lee Adama's notions, doesn't stand up to scrutiny. No sane being would do any such thing; Miller is dead on when observing, "The first case of strep throat would have made short work of that vow." But Ron Moore needed to leave history with no trace of the newcomers' origins, so off into the woods our brave band of highly-specialized spacefarers went, even though "A fresh start" in this case meant little more than condemning themselves to early graves, and their descendants to (being generous) 145,000 years of barbarism.

The great failures of "Battlestar Galactica" are twofold. The first and most disappointing was also the most avoidable: the series was sold to us based on a lie, from the opening of the very first episode: "... And They Have A PLAN." No, they didn't. The Cylons never had a plan, because the writers didn't bother to flesh out what that plan was ahead of time, and as a result spent years just making stuff up to cover for their own failure to think their own story through.

The second great failure was a symptom of the media, episodic television. Harnessed to a network order of 20-odd episodes a season, in the final two years the show's writers were compelled to stretch what was at most twelve to fifteen episodes worth of actual story into forty episodes. It's hardly a wonder that they lost their way amidst the need to fill all that empty air time, but it's also hard to forgive one hour after another of Adama mewling on the floor of his cabin, or Starbuck bleating about not understanding who she was, or Laura getting sick and getting better and getting sick again, or the awful, endless scenes of Cylons delivering philosophical doubletalk on those lousy Baseship sets, or... geez, I can't go on.

In the aftermath of the Star Wars prequels, a number of "fan edit" versions, in which various bits of Lucas nonsense were truncated or edited out entirely, popped up online. The last two seasons of "Battlestar Galactica" could sorely use such a pruning. Pity for us, the long-suffering viewers, that the creators didn't have the sense to limit the series to three years and save those potential fan editors the trouble.

Friday, March 20, 2009

What He Said

John Hinderaker at Powerline:

Can you imagine the Democrats' reaction if the Bush White House had given a European head of state a set of DVDs that can only be played on North American machines? It would have been conclusive proof of Bush's provincialism, lack of sensitivity to our allies' sensibilities, ignorance of the wider world, techno incompetence, failure to appreciate the superiority of European civilization, blah blah blah. That's how it would have been reported and editorialized on in every newspaper. So let's check tomorrow's papers and see whether that's how Obama's gaffe is covered. Or whether it's covered at all.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Fish. Barrel. Bang.

Tom Maguire takes the "JournoList" member claims of not being an "echo chamber" for coordination of leftie memes out behind the blogosphere's woodshed and puts it out if its misery.

Oh, never mind all the mixed metaphors--just click.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Roadkill On Georgia 400

Get this. Atlanta has one toll road, Georgia 400. It's been around since 1993, when a single set of tollbooths on the north side of Buckhead were put in place for the express purpose of paying for 400's expansion to an multi-lane expressway. The plan worked so well, enough money is on hand to pay off the original construction bonds now, about three years early.

So the debt gets paid off, the toll booths get ripped out, the state saves the extra interest money, and everybody's happy, right?

Of course not:

As of this fiscal year, the authority owes $26.6 million in principal and interest on the debt incurred by building Ga. 400, said Cherie Gibson, spokeswoman for the State Road and Tollway Authority. That’s less than the $32 million the state has on hand, sitting in reserve accounts. That money represents tolls collected, as well as interest and investments from the toll money.

But Georgia can’t pay off the Ga. 400 debt, authority officials say, because it has to stick to a payment schedule that runs through 2011.

Any why might that be, you ask? It's simple, really: maintaining the bureaucracy is much more important than paying off the debt, to say nothing of ending any superfluous tax collections:

Of the $22 million or so the state reaps annually from Ga. 400 drivers, about $7 million goes to running the toll authority and $9 million a year goes to paying down the debt, Gibson said.

See, people? If there are no tollbooths and no tolls, then there's no need for a toll authority! You're talking about $7 million a year worth of bureaucracy--can't get rid of that!

Hey, just for the record: why the heck does it cost $7 million a year to pay for one set of tollbooths and write the check for the debt service? That sounds about an order of magnitude too expensive to me.

But wait. It gets better:

[Toll Authority director Gene] Evans said the authority needs to use the excess toll money for salaries of officials who arrange financing for the state Department of Transportation.

So there you have it. A tax that's already made enough money to pay itself out of business, can't... because that would impact the salaries of state bureaucrats.

When's that next tea party, and who's bringing the tar and feathers?

Bonuses For Me, But Not For Thee

Ed Morrissey notes the "retention bonus" structure for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (both of which are orders of magnitude more broke than AIG, and have placed trillions of dollars in prospective debt at the feet of the taxpayers), and asks, "If AIG’s retention bonuses are a problem, why aren’t Freddie Mac’s?"

C'mon, Ed. You know the answer to that. Fannie and Freddie are larded up with political sinecures designed to make party hacks into rich party hacks. It's one thing to expect responsible compensation practices from a business, but if you think the political class is willing to live under those kind of rules, I've got some beachfront property in Kansas with your name on it.

Soccer: Threat Or Menace?

Writing for WSJ, Stephen H. Webb channels Stephen Moore's classic 1998 National Review article on the world's worst sport:

Soccer is running America into the ground, and there is very little anyone can do about it. Social critics have long observed that we live in a therapeutic society that treats young people as if they can do no wrong. Every kid is a winner, and nobody is ever left behind, no matter how many times they watch the ball going the other way. Whether the dumbing down of America or soccer came first is hard to say, but soccer is clearly an important means by which American energy, drive and competitiveness are being undermined to the point of no return.

What other game, to put it bluntly, is so boring to watch? (Bowling and golf come to mind, but the sound of crashing pins and the sight of the well-attired strolling on perfectly kept greens are at least inherently pleasurable activities.) The linear, two-dimensional action of soccer is like the rocking of a boat but without any storm and while the boat has not even left the dock. Think of two posses pursuing their prey in opposite directions without any bullets in their guns.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Chris Dodd: Running Dog Capitalist Lackey


While the Senate was constructing the $787 billion stimulus last month, Dodd added an executive-compensation restriction to the bill. That amendment provides an “exception for contractually obligated bonuses agreed on before Feb. 11, 2009” -- which exempts the very AIG bonuses Dodd and others are now seeking to tax.

The amendment made it into the final version of the bill, and is law.

Separately, Sen. Dodd was AIG’s largest single recipient of campaign donations during the 2008 election cycle with $103,100, according to opensecrets.org.

Dodd’s office did not immediately return a request for comment.

I'll bet they didn't.

Two observations here. First, why exactly would one characterize AIG's contributions to Dodd as "seperately" vis a vis that particular sweetheart clause? Second, at this rate, Dodd is probably thanking his lucky stars that Connecticut doesn't have a recall option for Senators.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Blowback Works Both Ways

When this blog kicked off a couple of weeks ago, I put up a post linking a few self-selected "greatest hits" from my previous lives in the blogosphere. A reader noted the famed "Vodkapundit vs. Steve Lovelady" fracas from 2004 and commented that in the aftermath of the CNN/Eason Jordan debacle,

MSM journalists (following Rather gate and Eason's gaffe) vowed never to give another whiff of oxygen to conservative bloggers under any circumstances. That vow is one of the few things they have successfully navigated in the years since. The overt politicization of the MSM into ever bigger propaganda mouthpieces has accelerated since then and with it the comedic property of the word "journalist".
I've been mulling over Stan's observation ever since, and while my memory may be failing me here, I couldn't recall a similar course of events since the days of Jordan and Rathergate when right-of-center bloggers pushed an issue into the limelight, the MSM reported on it, and subsequent reaction led to a meaningful event (i.e., Jordan's resignation under pressure or Rather's firing).

There have been other "underground" stories that have been much-discussed in the blogosphere while being ignored by the major media--John Edwards' shenanigans leap to mind--but in all cases I can think of, the press has not actively reported on those stories until after the main players themselves felt compelled to respond. The recent step-down of Chas Freeman is a good example; as Mickey Kaus notes, there was hardly a whisper of complaint aired against Freeman in the major papers until after Freeman was effectively forced out.

The blogosphere's relationship with major media has been characterized as "the letters to the editor that the editor doesn't want to print" (and if you recall who first coined that one, please let me know in the comments; I couldn't locate the original source). Personally, I think the thing that really perturbs the ranks of newspaper employees is the new ability of "civilians" to go out there and air stories the papers have actively chosen not to talk about. It drives gatekeepers nuts when people get through despite their best efforts, and newspaper editors see themselves as the guardians of what the general public Ought To Know--and what they ought to be kept in the dark about.

Take the Tea Party movement, for example. Since frustration over endless trillions in bailouts boiled over a few weeks ago (pun certainly intended), anti-spending Tea Parties have been springing up all over the country, and they've been growing in attendance every week. Last weekend's rally in Cincinnati was one of the largest yet, but if you search Google News for "tea party," you'll find nary a recent mention in any of the big papers. This is a story Big Media doesn't like and doesn't want to talk about, and in true monopoly fashion, they just aren't going to mention it unless they absolutely have to.

All of the above occured to me today when I ran across a too-rare Steven Den Beste post about the decline of the newspaper:

The new generation of reporters sought to use journalism as a way of improving the world. And they calculated their effectiveness by listening for the screams.

When your newspaper is effectively a monopoly, offended customers and offended readers have no recourse but to continue to deal with you, so there was little consequence for the reporters. The money still flowed in and they still got paid. Indeed, agenda journalists took pride in the fact that they didn't concern themselves with business consequences; it was a demonstration of their dedication to truth and social good.

Over years that built up a significant percentage of both customers (advertisers) and readers who were primed to move to something new once it became available. With the internet, they now have that alternative, and they are leaving in droves.

comments disabledThese are the people who, in public opinion polls, answer "Good riddance" when asked about the pending demise of newspapers.
Indeed. I'd go farther than that and note the endless stream of contempt newspaper employees tend to express towards their own customers; glee over complaint letters and phone calls have long been held as badges of honor by newsprint types, and their internal reactions seep through from time to time at places like Romanesko.

Unless you have a monopoly, you can't get away with sneering at your customers for very long. The newspaper's monopoly died in 1995, when the internet brought information to the fingertips of anybody with a modem. The dinosaur media never understood that they were in a tar pit from that moment on, and now it's too late for them to change their ways and crawl back out.


This brief, haunting photo gallery from Detroit makes a fine complement to Matt Labash's stunning article about the city from a few weeks back. Check out both.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Gamble

From The Hill today:

Some Democrats have started to worry that voters don’t and won’t understand the link between economic revival and Obama’s huge agenda, which includes saving the banking industry, ending home foreclosures, reforming healthcare and developing a national energy policy, among much else.

While lawmakers debate controversial proposals contained in the new president’s debut budget — cutting farm subsidies, raising taxes on charitable contributions, etc. — there is a growing sense that time is running out faster than expected.

Democrats from states racked by recession say Obama needs to produce an uptick by August or face unpleasant consequences. Others say that there is more time, but that voters need to see improvement by the middle of next year.

The most optimistic say Obama and Democrats in Congress will face a political backlash unless the economy improves by Election Day 2010.

“We’ve got to see an uptick by August or the Democratic majority is in jeopardy,” said Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), whose state had an 11.6 percent unemployment rate in January.

This is the gamble the Obama Administration has chosen to take: frontload as much of their agenda as possible this year, and hope that this recession follows postwar historic models and ends no later than early 2010.

No contraction since 1933 has lasted longer than 16 months. Obama is betting his party's congressional majority on this recession following that pattern, quite possibly figuring the American economy is going to recover as a matter of course no matter what he does, so he might as well enact as much of the Democratic agenda as possible while he can play the "crisis" card.

There are two major risks inherent in this wager. First and most obviously, if this recession really is different from previous experience and lasts much longer, the gamble fails and Obama takes the blame. That one is easy to understand.

Secondly, but perhaps more significantly, Obama is taking a terrible risk in possibly short-circuiting a normal recovery by his massive increases in borrowing, spending, and future tax increases. There is precedent for such a crash. FDR killed a nascent recovery by enacting class-warfare tax increases and boosting federal giveway spending to preserve his 1936 reelection. The economy crashed again in 1937 as a result. Obama runs the same risk.

Additionally, nobody in the Obama Administration is talking about inflation right now--and for good reason; they want to spend a whole lot more money, and they don't want voters to associate today's spending with tomorrow's inflation. But blasting an additional couple of trillion in federal borrowing and outright money-printing carries a tremendous inflationary risk. If that inflation kicks in within the next 20 months, congressional Democrats will pay the price in 2010. Even if it holds off past next year, Obama's own re-election bid could very well be hostage to a 1970's-style inflation hangover.

Thus, the gamble: boost up the budget, and the federal government's influence over the economy and as many people's daily lives as possible, hope that a recovery bails you out, or failing that, that you can fall back on the old faithful scheme of "tax and tax, spend and spend, and elect and elect." In other words, lard around as many spending programs as possible, then run on "vote for us, or those mean Republicans will take away all the goodies."

It's an all-in wager. If we were watching a poker game, it'd be great entertainment. The problem, of course, is that Obama's pot is composed of other people's money.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

An Unabashed Plug: Trailer Park Boys

"Trailer Park Boys," a long-running Canadian comedy about petty criminals in Nova Scotia, has finally made it to U.S. televisions. The show started running on DirecTV's T101 Network early in February, and if you can handle a low-rent version of "The Sopranos" played for laughs and minus the body count, you owe it to yourself to check it out.

The show, which ran for seven seasons plus a couple of specials and a theatrical movie from 2001-2008, is centered around the misadventures of three guys with "big plans and small brains," as the show's tagline notes. Dim-bulb Ricky, sharper operator Julian, and oddball with a big heart Bubbles are the core cast, surrounded by a Sunnyvale Trailer Park full of friends, enemies, relations and flunkies, all brought to you via a fictional documentary camera crew following the guys around through one scheme after another. In the words of series creator Mike Clattenburg, it's "'COPS' from the point of view of the criminals."

"TPB" is a genuine phenomenon north of the border. The show has been largely off the air for the better part of the last two years, but the three leads still draw sellout crowds across Canada for in-character appearances. As I found out during a visit to Vancouver a couple of years back, the quickest way to strike up a friendly conversation with a Canuck under forty is to ask them about "Trailer Park Boys."

My wife bought me a season's worth of "Trailer Park" DVDs as a gift, after I'd heard that Rush's Alex Lifeson appeared in an episode and idly put a set on my Amazon wish list. Lifeson turned out to not be in that particular season (he plays himself in one episode of season 3, and a cop in a TPB theatrical movie that came out in 2007), but the show was so funny we got hooked anyway and started accumulating more and more of them on disc (if you get hooked yourself and don't want to wait, check out the dirt-cheap pricing at CDPlus.com, which kicks Amazon's tail for Canadian content).

Now, fair warning--"Trailer Park Boys" is a low-rent "Sopranos" in more ways than one. Odds are you're not going to want to watch it with your kids in the room. The gloriously-unbleeped language would easily land the show an "R" rating, and the Boys' attitudes towards drug distribution and use make the guys at Reason look like Bill Bennett (petty or not, this is a show about criminals).

But oh, my, it's funny. "Trailer Park Boys" is easily the funniest television comedy I've ever seen. It's funnier than "Seinfeld," funnier than "M*A*S*H," funnier than "The Simpsons"--and it was made for pennies on the dollar (Canadian pennies, at that) compared to all of the above.

So if you've got a DirecTV dish, and if you can handle a whole lot of f-bombs, check it out. The Boys have got some major-league laughs for you, in between their stints in jail.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Buy A Ticket

Remember when Newt Gingrich was pilloried for complaining about getting a bad seat on Air Force One? Newt's got nothing on San Fran Nan, who apparently insists on having a military Gulfstream V at her beck and call:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has repeatedly requested military aircraft to shuttle her and her colleagues and family around the country, according to a new report from a conservative watchdog group.

Representatives for Judicial Watch, which obtained e-mails and other documents from a Freedom of Information request, said the correspondence shows Pelosi has abused the system in place to accommodate congressional leaders and treated the Air Force as her "personal airline."


The group reported that Pelosi was notorious for making special demands for high-end aircraft, lodging last-minute cancellations, and racking up additional expenses for the military.

In one e-mail, aide Kay King complained to the military that they had not made available any aircraft the House speaker wanted for Memorial Day recess.

"It is my understanding there are NO G5s available for the House during the Memorial Day recess. This is totally unacceptable ... The Speaker will want to know where the planes are," King wrote.

In another, when told a certain type of aircraft would not be available, King wrote: "This is not good news, and we will have some very disappointed folks, as well as a very upset Speaker."

Hey, Nancy, a little advice. While you're out there spending money the next generation hasn't even earned yet, it's not terribly seemly to be beyotching about not getting to fly for free in a G-5. Even though it means you might have to actually rub elbows with a taxpayer, you really ought to start buying tickets. The Madame Speaker crap doesn't fly (pardon the pun) outside the Beltway.

The End Of An Era

Per The Consumerist, BMG Music Service is shutting down.

I can't even begin to count all the times during the 80's and 90's when I signed up with BMG, bought my one manditory CD (usually during a three-for-one sale), quit, then signed up again for another introductory package. My CD collection is fairly bursting with old BMG-supplied discs. Apparently they had no quality control at all when it came to policing multiple memberships from people named Ted T. Logan, E.V. Halen, and Phil McCracken.

Ah, the memories.

Tea Party Conservatives vs. Dinner Party Conservatives

Forget the "liberalterian" or "moderates vs. conservatives" manamana being bantered about recently. What we have today is a scism, and it's between the Tea Party Conservatives and Dinner Party Conservatives.

Tea Party Conservatives look at the ongoing spending orgy in Washington and say, "This is nuts. You guys couldn't run a lemonade stand, and you're telling us you need trillions of dollars more to save the economy? Hell, you wrecked it in the first place!" The Tea Party crowd isn't interested in bailing out failures, no matter how well-connected those failures might be.

The Dinner Party Conservatives, hailing mostly from Manhattan and Georgetown, made it clear during the last election that they'd had enough. Eight years of being beaten down by their New Class peers over malapropisms and "Bush is so stupid" jokes have driven them to capitulation. It was the social equivalent of Gletkin keeping Rubashov awake for weeks in "Darkness At Noon;" the Dinner Party crowd just didn't have the stamina to take any more. The noisy rubes from Beyond must be cast out in the name of fewer unpleasant exchanges during the cocktail hour.

The most recent splash from the Dinner Party crowd comes from David Frum, who appears well on his way to becoming the Kevin Phillips of his generation. Frum's nasty jeremiad against decidedly-Tea-Party Rush Limbaugh fit so well into the media blitz being pushed out of the White House by Clinton slime masters James Carville and Paul Begala that Frum was granted not just multiple column-inches, but also the cover of the official weekly of the Obama Administration, Newsweek. Frum is already basking in his own bath of what he once called Strange New Respect, and undoubtably he'll receive plenty of smug adulation at his next few Georgetown dinner parties.

Frum has always loved the idea of playing Cassandra; his last big splash came from the polemic "Dead Right" in 1994, with similar arguments for shutting out the conservative base of the GOP in favor of elite opinion. As noted previously, this particular call to disarm was delightfully thrown on history's ash heap less than three months after its publication, when the Tea Party Conservatives of that age overthrew a four-decades-entrenched Democratic majority in Congress. Not much of anybody credited "Dead Right" as being a catalyst for the Republican Revolution--but one Rush H. Limbaugh, III, a Missouri junior-college dropout and former D.J., was widely touted at the time as "the majority maker." It wouldn't surprise me one bit if that still sticks in the craw of the Yale-and-Harvard-approved Frum.

David Brooks, a Dinner Party potentate even before he reached the lofty summit of the New York Times, can't even manage to be consistent for two columns in a row. Last Tuesday, Brooks tentatively paused in his extended series of Obama tongue-baths to suddenly discover what The Messiah has always been--a hard-left machine pol dedicated to using the public purse as a means of enhancing his party's grip on power. That revelation passed quickly; 48 hours later, an administration-spun Brooks had backed off into merely urging "Senate moderates" to "help shape a budget that allays their anxieties while meeting the president’s goals."

Apparently chastised, Brooks got back on-message this week and set to hectoring the Republicans in Congress (who after all, didn't really go to the best schools or anything) against "know nothing" opposition to The One. During a Sunday appearance with Rahm Emmanuel's conference call BFF George Stephanopolis, Brooks declared, ""There are a lot of Republicans up on Capitol Hill right now who are calling for a spending freeze in the middle of a recession/depression. That is insane."

Um, David. Did you somehow miss the extra trillion dollars of spending (counting interest) that was signed into law last month? Is your memory really that short, or can you not bring yourself to admit that the hicks from the sticks might just have a point? As pointed out by David Freddoso, the congressional Republicans were actually talking about cutting $17 billion in unadulterated pork from the 2009 budget. Is there any limit to government borrow-print-tax-and-spend that would meet with your enlightened approval?

The problem for Brooks and company is, the message of the Tea Party Conservatives is resonating, and that drives the Dinner Party commentariat nuts.

I'm not the world's biggest fan of John Boehner, but I'm happy to give him and the current minority leadership their due on this one: they are listening. Unlike Frum and Brooks (who a few weeks ago wrote, "Individual responsibility doesn't matter much in an economy like this"), they've heard the chord out here in the country that rings out, "Not with my money, buster." If there were ever a time to be standing athwart the spending leviathan, this is that time.

The "spend as fast as you can" crowd is too wrapped up in a combination of fear and over-reliance on their own brillance to see what they're really selling: inflation and massive tax increases. The more bailouts, giveaways and pork that get rolled out of Washington today, the worse things are going to be in the next decade. This very economic crisis was engendered by over-borrowing, and we're not going to get out of it by borrowing still-more trillions to be shuffled off into vote-buying governmental flatulence.

The Dinner Party Conservatives held sway during the election, doing their part to drown out opposition to The One. Now that the emperor is in place and allegedly clothed, the day of the Tea Party Conservatives has arrived, and their voices are getting louder by the dollar.

So tuck into that arugula while you can, boys. While you're reaching for the finger bowl, the rest of us are headed down to the harbor.

A Modest Proposal

I suggest an American response to "The Islamic Response to the Government's Nine Accusations." In the spirit of fiscal responsibility and the early emptying of the Guantanamo Bay facility, it's inexpensive and simple to implement:

Five blindfolds and five bullets.

Monday, March 9, 2009

David Bernard Gaiman, RIP

Neil Gaiman lost his father on Saturday. Condolences can be sent via Neil's blog, here.

Watching Watchmen

Watchmen is being billed one of the more avidly-anticipated movies in recent years. Given that the vast majority of the moviegoing audience have no idea who the Watchmen are, it's more accurate to say that it's avidly-anticipated by the subculture of comic book fans who came of age in the 1980s. Based on a twelve-issue comic that was rechristened a "graphic novel" when republished as a single volume, "Watchmen" was critically heralded as a great dramatic achievement that brought realism to the decidedly unreal genre of superheroes.

After over 20 years in "development hell," the comic has finally made it to the big screen as a way-north-of-$100-million would-be blockbuster. All those dollars resulted in a movie that's as visually arresting as anything you're likely to see this year (or any other), but once again, Hollywood has demonstrated that all the money in the world can't make up for inadequate writing and bad acting.

But oh, it does look magnificent. With the bizarre exception on one FX shot towards the end that wouldn't be out of place in an episode of "Buck Rodgers in the 25th Century," Watchmen dazzles the eyes from start to finish. Director Zack Snyder's talent for bringing a series of comic book panels to life is simply without peer. Original artist Dave Gibbons collaborated with Snyder on the film (writer Alan Moore washed his hands of it years ago), and much of Watchmen looks like it sprang from Gibbons' pen straight onto the screen. Visually, Watchmen is movie magic practiced at its highest level.

Unfortunately, most of the acting is lousy; a notable exception being Jackie Earle Haley, who is riveting in the crucial role of Rorschach. Malin Akerman is particularly awful as the story's female lead. What's worse, the screenplay, by David Hayter and Alex Tse, is pretty bad.

I tend to be a defender of fealty to the original text when it comes to movie adaptations, but Watchmen is a classic case of adhering too closely to the source material. Hayter, Tse and Synder are too focused on cramming every bit of nearly 400 pages of densely-rendered comic into their movie, and the result is a jumbled, ponderous mess. Dialogue that should have been translated from word balloons to English remains unchanged, to the film's considerable detriment (although that particular mistake is not as pronounced here as it is in, say, Sin City--but then again, Alan Moore's dialogue isn't as ridiculous as Frank Miller's). If you've read the original you'll find yourself nodding again and again at the meticulous recreation of pages and dialogue, but if you haven't, I doubt you'll be able to make heads or tails of this movie.

Take the case of Peter Jackson's three-movie adaptation of The Lord Of The Rings as a positive example. Even though Jackson and his own screenwriters blundered badly whenever they stepped away from Tolkien's story (particularly in the second and third installments), their overall achievement was a success because they did capture the essence of Tolkien's world and worldview as well as the big plot points and pretty scenery. With Watchmen, the filmmakers got the words, but lost the music.

Speaking of music, Watchmen's filmic father is pretty obviously Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas--the 80's rock soundtrack is a dead giveaway--but Snyder is entirely lacking in Scorsese's directorial chops when it comes to simple dramatic scenes. Snyder can block the hell out of a fight or epic tracking shot, but he's completely at a loss when it comes to filming two or three people having a conversation. That deficiency really shows in Watchmen's last 45 minutes or so, going as far as to rob the book's emotional climax (Rorschach's final scene) of its dramatic punch.

Finally, and perhaps least importantly, Watchmen is Zach Snyder's political apology to Hollywood for having made the conservative-embraced 300. The Comedian, a ridiculous characature of American conservatives in the comic, is rendered even more evil and psychotic on the big screen, as is every other character to the right of, say, Lenin. The original book was, by author Alan Moore's own admission, deliberately written as an anti-Reagan screed, but as an attendee at an early screening noted (as recounted by reviewer Alexandra DuPont at AICN),

"Watchmen's brand of dystopian misanthropy has been specifically refuted by events. It's one thing to worry about the evil U.S. policies of containment and mutually-assured destruction in 1986. It's one thing to paint a particular political party as being unconstitutionally obsessed with the possession of power and recklessly in pursuit of nuclear confrontation with an enemy who probably wasn't so bad.

"But as it turns out, that entire worldview was vitiated by events. In 1989 the Berlin Wall fell and the Cold War ended. Reagan's strategic policy decisions vis-a-vis the Soviet Union were completely vindicated. MAD proved to be an effective deterrent. The conflict between the East and West was settled without a shot being fired. And, perhaps most importantly, the Truman/Kennedy/Reagan view of communism as an insidious ideology which led to violent, repressive authoritarianism was borne out.

"So Moore was wrong. His fears were wrong. His warnings were wrong. His fundamental view of the world was wrong. And 'Watchmen,' in particular, is left as a bizarre cultural artifact. A pretentious piece of commentary masquerading as philosophy."

Not only does Snyder's film fail to even remotely acknowledge how thoroughly wrong Moore's by-the-numbers leftism turned out to be, he lards on additional political cheap shots to go with Moore's 80's-era Reagan Derangement Syndrome, to the point of lauding an American-Soviet alliance at the end of the movie. Just what moral sense an alliance with the dictatorship that spent most of the 20th Century with its boot in the face of half the planet makes, is a question neither Snyder nor Moore ever bothered to ask of themselves.

One thing that the movie did get right in the aggregate was mimicking the comic's use of flashbacks to flesh out the backstory and major characters. It's a little like watching several episodes of the TV series "Lost" on fast-forward (now that I think about it, it wouldn't surprise me at all if "Lost" creator J.J. Abrams borrowed that recurring plot device from the "Watchmen" comic). The multiple flashback sequences add to the overall jumble of the story, and most should have been trimmed back (the Dr. Manhattan scenes in particular), but as a narrative device, but I think Snyder makes good use of that technique. Snyder did change Moore's ending slightly, but this at least was not to the movie's detriment, since Moore's ending was famously dumb. Snyder's, at least, is no dumber.

So, that's Watchmen. Like so much of Hollywood's effluence these days, it's a feast for the eyes, but rarely better than pablum for the heart and garbage for the brain.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

This Is Our Future

Life--and death--under socialized medicine looks like this:

Thousands of patients with terminal cancer were dealt a blow last night after a decision was made to deny them life prolonging drugs.

The Government's rationing body said two drugs for advanced breast cancer and a rare form of stomach cancer were too expensive for the NHS.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence is expected to confirm guidance in the next few weeks that will effectively ban their use.


Dr Gillian Leng, Nice deputy chief executive, said 'The committee concluded that Lapatinib is not a cost-effective use of NHS resources when compared with current treatment.'

Up to 1,500 stomach cancer patients also face a ban on Sutent – the only drug that can extend their lives.

Medicine a by committee of government bean-counters. Can't wait.


Sometimes this gig really is as easy as, Fish, Barrel, Bang. For instance, the UK Guardian's crusade du jour is against... toilet paper.

A campaign by Greenpeace seeks to raise consciousness among Americans about the environmental costs of their toilet habits and counter an aggressive new push by the paper industry giants to market so-called luxury brands.


The campaigning group says it produced the guide to counter an aggressive marketing push by the big paper product makers in which celebrities talk about the comforts of luxury brands of toilet paper and tissue.

I would like to personally thank Greenpeace and the Guardian for supplying myself and other bloggers with the opportunity to make fun of any celebutards who go out there and campaign against toilet paper. I mean, the posts will write themselves: "If you thought Sean Penn's movies stink, just wait until you hear this..."

And, of course, there is one major figure in American popular culture who will not take kindly to losing his T.P.:

Beware the wrath, lefties. Beware. The. Wrath.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

An Afterthought for the Winner

A final thought before we bid adieu to the AJC and its quest for a new token conservative.

Even given my low opinion of the newspaper business in general and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in particular, I wouldn't have put in the time to apply for their "lone conservative" job if I didn't think that it's a great gig. I won't even pretend to deny that the idea of making a living reading and thinking and writing about what you're thinking is an intoxicating one. Whomever gets the job is going to be the beneficiary of a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I sincerely hope they not only make the most of it, but are able to stay in that job for a long time. Whether that's going to be possible at a paper that's losing a million dollars a week, I have my doubts, but all the same: feature columnist for a big daily is still a great gig.

But I do have one word of warning for the eventual winner of the columnist search, especially if that individual is not already a member of the "journalism" fraternity: Watch your back.

Whomever you are, you are about to become a living, breathing target. It would be bad enough if you had been plucked out of the newsroom and given this rarely-awarded sinecure, but if you came from Outside, brother/sister, you are going to draw a hell of a lot of fire. Every bozo in the country who managed to eke out a BA in Journalism thinks he/she should have your job. Some will make it their mission in life to make you into an example of why no media outlet should ever give so much as an inch of column space to anybody who didn't spend ten years of their lives covering junior-high track meets, and it only makes things worse that you're one of those evil, stupid, backwards (RACIST!) conservatives.

They're going to be coming after you every single day, in the newsroom, on Romenesko and Kos and TPM and every vile corner of the anti-conservative internet, so you watch your back. You're not going to get the benefit of the doubt, even once. A Molly Ivins could get away with plagiarism because she had the "right" (actually Left) ideological bona fides. A Rick Bragg could get away with faking bylines and still get hired for big magazine features, because besides being a leftie, he's got the right credentialist boxes checked on his resume. You won't.

I could go on and on, but chances are you already know the dishonor roll. You have to be better than them, every single day, in getting your facts right and your arguments tight. Their knives are out for you, and they'll be out every single time you publish a single word, so be ready. Don't give them the opportunity.

Anatomy of a Rejection, part 5

Finally, the AJC application asked for a set of sample column topics, five local and five national. Here are mine:

• Politicians in Atlanta and Georgia, like their counterparts across the country, over-promised lavish pension plans to buy the votes of government employees. Now the bills are due, and the rest of us are expected to meekly pay up, regardless of our own financial situations. Good luck with that.
• Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is a magnet for corruption and graft. The airport should be privatized and taken out of the hands of a political class that has proven itself incapable of running it in an effective and ethical manner.
• Education in Georgia can’t be fixed by continuing to throw more money, bureaucracy and unions at our problems. Education is broken because of social pathologies and misplaced egalitarianism, and those things can’t be repaired by legislation.
• Georgia Power wants to build new nuclear power plants. It’s about time we got over being scared of a bad Jane Fonda movie, but the power company and regulatory bodies are too tied to old, expensive technology. Why not bring in the new generation of cheaper, smaller reactors instead of huge, billion-dollar complexes?
• “Commuter rail” is nothing more than a pork project. It’s a “service” that would go unused, and a fiscal burden we don’t need. [Congressman] David Scott says, “We have $119 million sitting there in the bank.” Here’s a radical idea: why not give it back to the taxpayers?

• The idea that an elite in Washington can “run the economy” is a dangerous myth, and particularly dangerous in times of economic crisis. The government has proven that it can wreck our economy, but it’s not capable of fixing it.
• “Campaign finance reform” was a fetish of the legacy media while Republicans were winning elections, but unsurprisingly, the press has fallen silent on the subject since Barack Obama’s fundraising made a mockery of it.
• Forgiving corruption or misfeasance out of ethnic solidarity or political correctness must stop. David Scott, Barney Frank and Charley Rangel don’t deserve the cover their supporters are giving them. (This could easily be a “local” column as well.)
• First Washington told us they needed $700 billion because of bad mortgages. Then they decided it was really for banks and bankrupt car companies. Now they’re telling us they need a trillion more for “stimulus,” which amounts to little more than a huge payoff to the Democratic Party’s campaign contributors. All they’re really accomplishing is making taxpayers a lot more broke.
• Iran has been waging war on the United States for thirty years. It’s long past time for America to accept that fact—and act accordingly.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Gyrate This!

From ABC News:

Obama said he wasn't focused on "the day-to-day gyrations of the stock market, but the long-term ability for the United States and the entire world economy to regain its footing." he compared the Dow Jones Industrial Average to a daily tracking poll in politics. "You know, it bobs up and down day to day," he said. "And if you spend all your time worrying about that, then you're probably going to get the long-term strategy wrong."

I know this kind of thing may be hard to grasp for a lawyer who openly disdained the idea of working in the private sector, but Prez, this is not a "gyration":

(Chart from the Wall Street Journal)

...that is a collapse. It's the result of the free market (I know, you're not all that familiar with it, but try and keep up) looking at your policies and finding them wanting.

Oh, and comparing the market to "daily tracking polls?" These numbers aren't something generated by your political minions for use in targeting campaign ads, those are real dollars being lost by real people while you pursue an ideological jeremiad against the free market. You know, the same people you're apparently expecting to foot the bill for all those umpteen trillions you're in the process of shoveling around.

Try and figure out the difference, would you? Because things have changed since November. From now on, when you open your mouth and spout blather, the words that come out actually matter.

Mac Pro or Hack Pro?

I've been an Apple computer owner since 1987, and a Mac user since 1989. After I finished grad school, I worked at Apple's phone support facility in Austin while sticking around town to raise hell --uh, that is, interview for "real" jobs. By my rough count, there are at least five Apple products in regular use in our household, and that doesn't count a bunch of retired machines stashed away in storage.

In other words, I'm a fan, and a big believer in the Apple/Mac ethos. That doesn't keep me from rolling my eyes at Apple's product announcements today, specifically regarding the Mac Pro line of tower computers. They're surely all fine products, but their price tags go a long way towards confirming the legion of nerdy Apple-haters' complaints about inflated hardware pricing from One Infinite Loop.

Since the Power Macintosh line was retired in favor of the Mac Pros a few years back, Apple has made no effort at all to purse the Mac enthusiast market, which is to say Mac users who want to get under the hood and tinker. During the Power Mac era, you could get an expandable Macintosh for around $1200. With one of these boxes, the more tech-oriented Mac fan could snap open the hood and slap in new drives, expansion cards, more memory, even different processors with relative ease.

Since the release of the Mac Pros, however, Apple has made it clear that only businesses or independently-wealthy enthusiasts need apply when it comes to user-expandable computers. The newest Mac Pros start at $2500, a staggering price in today's computer market--and they're the cheapest towers Apple has sold in several years. If you want a Macintosh within the normal price range for a desktop computer, let's say $600 to $1500, you'd better get used to the idea of the sealed-box iMac or Mac Mini.

There's no mystery as to why the Pros cost so much, and it's not because their innards are magically delicious. From the very beginning of the Mac era, Apple has always made its bones with astronomical markups on its highest-end products. The company has something approaching a captive market in the design and entertainment worlds, where high-performance, high-dollar Mac Pros predominate, and that cluster of safe, guaranteed sales has gone a long way towards building and maintaining Apple's ginormous pile of cash reserves.

It used to be kind of difficult to make an apples-to-apples pricing comparison (so to speak) on Mac products, but since Apple converted from PowerPC chips to the Intel standard, it's much easier to approximate how much it would cost to build your own machine with about the same performance.

Using the specifications listed at the online Apple Store for the new bottom-of-the-line Mac Pro, I surfed over to online retailer NewEgg and priced out similar (or identical, when available) hardware for a roughly equivalent system. You can click through for examples of the motherboard, i7 processor, video card, memory, case and power supply, hard drive and DVD burner. All of that stuff added up to $811.92 plus shipping. I didn't bother scraping together stuff like Bluetooth or TOSLINK audio, but let's generously estimate another $250 for the various cats and dogs, which brings us to $1061.92.

"But Will," you say, "That's all interesting, but you aren't figuring in the cost of the Mac operating system. You can't put a price on Apple's R&D to get you the thing that makes a Mac a Mac!"

But sure I can. A copy of the retail OS X 10.5 installer disc costs $129, and the set of iLife applications included with every Mac is another $79. Anybody who'd bother going to the trouble to buy a box full of computer parts and then put them together themselves should have no trouble Googling up the instructions for getting that OS X installer to work on generic PC hardware (and the vast majority who think that's way too much hassle have already bought iMacs--or Dells).

Tack on the software prices, and you've got an equivalent Mac Pro for around $1270, or roughly $1330 less than Apple's sticker price. If you're a business that depends on constant uptime and factory warranty support, that extra money is most likely worth it.

But if you're an individual who's happy being their own technical support line, and who wants top performance for bottom dollars... that's another story. And that's why the Mac enthusiast market has been effectively outsourced by Apple to the burgeoning Hackintosh scene--something yours truly sort-of predicted on the very day Apple announced it was signing on with their new Intel overlords.

Anatomy of a Rejection, part 4

The last command column asked for 500 words or less, "delving into whether taxpayers in suburban areas have an obligation to support homeless shelters, public hospitals, schools or similar services in the central city." This is a particular bugaboo in much of Atlanta's liberal press (which is to say pretty much all of Atlanta's press), in which those greedy, un-hip (and, of course, RACIST!) suburbanites are entirely too mean with their money when it comes to funding the ever-growing demands of the city of Atlanta and Fulton County.

I'm still quite satisfied with this one.

The editorial board wonders whether “taxpayers in suburban areas have an obligation to support homeless shelters, public hospitals, schools or similar services in the central city.”

Plenty of people in the metro who don’t live within the ‘central city’ certainly do feel a moral compulsion to provide aid to the destitute and uneducated. Citizens of Cobb, DeKalb and Gwinnett counties gave a combined $1.5 billion to charity in 2005.* Of course, those are voluntary contributions, and what we’re really talking about here is taxes—a very different matter.

“Support” in this context is a euphemism for “pay for.” In metro Atlanta, what we’re really talking about is taxpayers being obliged to pay money to particular governments—in this case the City of Atlanta and Fulton County.

Taxpayers in Sandy Springs and Dunwoody and John’s Creek voted to break the political bands that had connected them to Fulton County not thanks to “suburban greed,” but out of frustration over being treated like an ATM machine by a political apparatus that held them in open contempt. Constantly ignored by the central authority, they quite naturally revolted against taxation without representation.

A more accurate question would be, “Why should taxpayers in suburban areas have any reason to believe their money would be spent well or wisely if given to politicians in the central city?” The sewer line debacle, financial scandals at MARTA, the County Commission and City Council, plus a former mayor in prison are evidence that taxing the ‘burbs would be throwing good money after bad.

While there will inevitably be pro forma accusations of “racism” leveled against anyone who questions giving more money to Atlanta or Fulton County, corruption and waste are hardly “black” issues. One need look no farther than the sublimely-named Mitch Skandalakis, a white, Republican and corrupt former Fulton County Commissioner who earned a prison term in 2004. Waste and malfeasance at the heart of the metro are not related to melanin; insider back-scratching at the cost of the taxpayers knows no color.

Atlanta’s schools are a disaster. Check the rankings at psk12.com, where you’ll find “Atlanta City” listed over and over again at the tail end of the lists, and that’s not because of underfunding. The tax take for Atlanta Public Schools in 2008 was about $662 million, a staggering $13,500 per student.** That’s nearly as much as tuition at Marietta’s pricey Walker School, but APS isn’t getting similar results for the same money. Where taxpayer dollars are actually going is an obvious problem, but an overall lack of money isn’t the issue.

Then there’s the issue of whether government “services” serve mostly to attract more dependency, rather than to cure actual ills. Who can walk past the ranks of panhandlers—particularly thick on the hospital staff’s paydays—outside Grady Hospital and doubt whether governmental largesse attracts supplicants?

Here’s a better question: why don’t the voters in the “central city” demand political leadership that isn’t comprised mostly of wastrels, machine pols and outright crooks?

*Reference 1
**Reference 2

Anatomy of a Rejection, Part 3

The second AJC command-performance column asked, "What makes you a conservative?" My immediate reaction to this column was that I did not want to write a dry, academic treatise on Burke and Friedman and such. I would guess that they probably got quite a few of those, and I was looking to stand out from the crowd. That either didn't happen at all, or it happened too much, but I'm still quite happy with this one, some of which was copped from an old piece I wrote on the tenth anniversary of the liberation of East Berlin.

In March of 1991, I was alone in a train car crossing northern Germany. All I wanted out of a long train ride from Wilhelmshaven to Berlin was sleep, and lots of it. When the sunrise woke me up, I reached for the window shade—and bolted fully alert.

The train had just crossed the old border between West and East Germany. The change in the scenery was riveting--and horrible. It was like stepping out of a manicured garden and into a decrepit slum.

The landscape itself changed, from burgeoning spring farmlands to unending rows carved into the grayish soil with no regard for the land's contours, spotted here and there with stunted crops. The train passed the ruins of a station, a mess of blasted, crumbling concrete, scarred with ancient black soot. It had been bombed out during World War II, but nobody had bothered to clear the debris over the intervening forty-five years.

Humorist P.J. O'Rourke once wrote about the Soviet Union, "In the end, every little detail starts to get to you--the overwhelming oppressiveness of the place, the plain godawfulness of it." The Leftist government of East Germany did its best to turn a quarter of Germany into a facsimile of Stalin's USSR, and a year and a half after its liberation, it was still the godawfulest place I've ever seen.

The houses were the worst. Imagine the most run-down, decrepit wrong-side-of-the-tracks shacks you've ever seen, for mile after mile. Every home in the East German countryside looked like those shacks, only older. And it dawned on me that the whole country was like this.

East Berlin was nearly as bad as the countryside. The buildings and the people were a uniform color, all covered with a thick sprinkling of grime and sickly-grey dust. The "Osties" themselves still had the haunted, hunted look of a people left to the tender mercies of a police state.

While I was hardly a left-winger at the time of that train ride, the experiences of those few days have served as an aggregate, merging with the cement of conservative and libertarian ideas to create the concrete of my beliefs.

They were proof of the results when the individual is subsumed into the collective, of when a government runs a nation instead of the other way around, when the whims of elite "experts" are held up as rationale to dictate the lives of a population. No theory of "fairness" or "social justice" justifies turning a people into servants, and a nation into a shanty town.

In 1955, William F. Buckley, Jr. called his brand of conservatism "Standing athwart history, yelling Stop." Buckley and Soviet communism are both gone—and thankfully so, in the latter case—but vigilance against the rule of those who "know better" how we should live, how we may do business with one another, and most importantly, what we should think is an eternal charge.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Latched On Launch

I haven't had a chance to read all of this very long Matt Bai piece on Newt Gingrich yet, but this snippet (also noted by Ramesh Ponnuru) caught my eye:

"Most Republicans are not entrepreneurial," he lamented to me. "They’re corporatists. They like the security and the comfort of a well-thought-out, highly boring boardroom meeting in which they do a PowerPoint once. And it worries them to have ideas, because ideas have edges, and they’re not totally formed, and you’ve got to prove them, and they sound strange because they’re new, and if it’s new how do you know it’s any good, because, after all, it’s new and you’ve never heard it before."
It's a great point, and the quote, as well as the article itself as far as I can tell, touches directly on Newt's greatest strength: he's one of the only people in American political life (and I include both politicians and the media commentariat here) who really cares about ideas. Unfortunately, it also reminds us of Newt's greatest weakness, which is that he has no internal filter whatsoever for really bad ideas.

That weakness will prevent him from ever becoming president, but the strength will insure that he's always going to be worth listening to. Even if you discard half of everything he says, the other half is liable to be more thought-provoking than anything else you're likely to hear in political discourse.

Anatomy of a Rejection, Part 2

The AJC application asked for three sample 500-word columns, and somewhat annoyingly, provided the topics for all three. For the first, the topic was, reasonably enough, "Why do you think you are the best person for this job?"

I very deliberately set out to be combative and more than a little arrogant here. I wanted to get the message across that if the paper was looking for a nice, safe David Brooks "conservative," I was not their guy, but if they were serious about trying to reach a vast readership that they'd been spending the last few decades alternately ignoring and insulting, as well as get access to an existing readership entirely apart from the AJC's normal "base," I was the ideal choice.

I wanted to remind this specific audience that their paper is in dire trouble, and if they want to recover, they're going to have to stop sneering at their potential customers and start speaking a language those would-be readers haven't been hearing for a long time.

For a movie analogy, you can break this column down to one line from The Road Warrior: You want to get out of here, talk to me.

Like many newspapers across the country, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution is hemorrhaging subscribers and casual readers at an accelerating clip.

One reason for the decline is obviously the internet, but the AJC has problems that go deeper than lost advertising sales to Cragslist. Intentionally or not, since the death of Lewis Grizzard the AJC has lost the eyes of conservatives—who just happen to comprise a hefty majority of the paper’s potential readership.

Anyone who thinks political correctness is ripe for mockery, anyone who finds the science fiction of Al Gore to be risible, anyone who dares question the deification of Barack Obama—these people have long since given up on the AJC, because the AJC has given them few reasons to pick up the paper.

If the AJC is ever going to bring these people back, the paper has to give them something—or someone—who’s not only on their side, but also engaging enough to make them want a regular helping.

There are a lot of conservatives in Atlanta. No doubt many of them can write well. What the AJC needs is a writer who can connect with the region’s conservatives and build an audience eager to come back for more.

That would be me.

Over the past dozen years, I’ve built a readership online. After I joined VodkaPundit, that blog’s readership nearly doubled. “Will Collier” is a familiar name to the vast audiences of Instapundit and National Review Online, arguably the two most prominent sites in the right-of-center blogosphere. I can bring that readership to the AJC and AJC.com starting on day one.

As a one-man show responsible for maintaining my own credibility, I’ve built a track record for solid analysis as well as entertaining copy. I’m a known quantity to major media figures like Howard Kurtz and Andrew Breitbart. You are unlikely to find any candidate more wired in to the modern conservative/libertarian ecosphere, while simultaneously not beholden to the Republican Party apparatus—with a prior career working alongside the uniformed military to boot.

I’m a native Southerner, born and raised in Alabama, and a metro Atlantan who found his home here eight years ago. I’ve lived in both of Georgia’s worlds, with half a lifetime spent in a small town, and an adulthood here in this city that I very quickly came to love.

The AJC is making an attempt to reach out to conservatives—and it’s about time. Make the most of it by giving them a columnist they can look forward to reading, one who is as conversant in technology, blog parlance, popular culture and the South’s political history as he is in national affairs. Do yourself a favor by hiring a columnist who’s proven he can build an audience among the people you want to reach.

Again: that would be me.

Postscript: This column contains--or rather does not contain--my one regret out of this entire experience, in that it gives no shrift at all to Jim Wooten, the AJC's outgoing conservative columnist. Wooten emphatically did not deserve any sort of snub. He is a fine, clever writer and a clear thinker at a paper that's sorely lacking in all of the above. I should have found at least a few words out of that five hundred to say as much.

Otherwise, I stand by this one in its entirety. I don't know what the AJC is actually looking for in this token conservative position, but if they wind up with a David Brooks, or worse, for somebody whose real job is to serve as a talisman against liberal-bias criticism, then they're just putting a new coat of paint an old rattletrap.

Greatest Hits

First off, welcome to Corner readers, and a big thank-you to Jonah Goldberg for the kind plug. I'm still winching my jaw up off the floor from seeing the hit counter turn into a blur.

Since WillCollier.com is a brand-new blog, I though it'd be worth the effort to post links to some of my prior writing. This "Greatest Hits" rundown contains a few of my quickly-selected favorite pieces from the Blogs Of Yore over in the left-hand column of this page.

In honor of the aforementioned plug, here's I Was An eBay Voldemort from NRO, retelling a fairly eventful 24 hours from last summer involving me, eBay and a mysteriously-early copy of the last Harry Potter book.

Some highlights from VodkaPundit:

My post-election day post mortem from last November

Elegy for New Orleans

Vodkapundit vs. Steve Lovelady, Part I

Vodkapundit vs. Steve Lovelady, Part II

Vodkapundit vs. Steve Lovelady, Part III

MSM, Heal Thyself

From Will's World:

Ten Years After

Abandon In Place

Second Skin

Anatomy of a Rejection, Part 1

Last month, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution did something it is not particularly known for, which is to say something unusual. The paper put out a general invitation for applications for its token conservative columnist position, with an application deadline of February 1. According to the paper, there were over 200 applicants; I was one of them. I was not selected for the "semi-final round" which is currently underway.

The AJC is a big, bland, liberal, very politically correct monopoly daily. Like many other big, bland, liberal, very politically correct monopoly dailies, it's losing money hand over fist, as much as $1 million a week according to a story in Creative Loafing, the city's obligatory leftist alt-weekly (which is itself in bankruptcy).

Even before Craigslist and eBay demolished the paper's advertising revenues, circulation had been on a long decline. A quick glance through any given issue gives easy indications as to why: the paper's voice is a mushy mix of bland j-school speak mixed in with an unreadable mass of entirely predictable party-line Democratic cheerleading on the editorial page. The paper's lone conservative is Jim Wooten, who is retiring from his regular column in a few months. I say "lone conservative" because Wooten certainly must be the only one, or else the AJC would have promoted somebody from the newsroom to take his place. Feature column slots are highly prized jobs that don't open up very often, and the fact that they didn't have even one single person who could step into Wooten's space says volumes about the internal makeup of the AJC.

I think monopoly newspapers are very much like other monopolies, for instance cable companies, phone companies, Microsoft in the 1990's. With no significant competition, they tend to treat their customers with a general contempt--after all, where else were you going to go for phone service in the 1970's, or cable TV in the 80's, or an operating system in the 90's? I remember ten or fifteen years ago hearing my dad expressing his disgust with the two lousy papers that "served" my old hometown. When I asked him why he didn't just drop his subscriptions, he shrugged and said, "Where else am I going to find out things?"

Atlantans and Georgians in general didn't have many choices when it came to newspapers for a very long time. The old Atlanta Journal folded up in 2001, when evening papers died off en masse, but even at that point the Journal and Constitution had already been a combined entity for nearly 20 years, and the monopoly mentality was well-entrenched.

When wildly-popular conservative humorist Lewis Grizzard died young in 1994, the paper thumbed its nose at Grizzard's readership by appointing the nastily liberal Rheta Johnson in his place. Johnson's tenure was relatively brief, but her appointment was a clear signal that the AJC's decision makers didn't much care what the rubes in what we might now call "Red Georgia" thought about the content of their paper.

Clearly determined never to be associated with the reactionary hicks again, the paper has become progressively (pun intended) liberal, and politically correct to the point of self-parody. The AJC even dropped its lovely and age-old motto, "Covering Dixie Like The Dew" a few years back, apparently since printing the dreaded "D-word" (much less putting it on every masthead) might be deemed insensitive. All that came back to haunt the AJC when its monopoly ended during this decade. The internet finally freed Atlantans from needing that sole source of football scores and stock quotes and reprinted Associated Press stories, and voting with their wallets, the paper's former readership has simply walked--or rather surfed--away.

All of which begs the question, "so why the heck did you apply for a job there?", and it's a reasonable query. I applied mostly to see what would happen. I thought I had a pretty good shot at making it as far as the interview stage, and I was very much hoping I'd get to blog about that interview. And what the hell, even given my low opinion of newspapers in general and the AJC in particular, what they're offering really is a great job. A regular column in a big-city daily is a big deal, and a whale of an opportunity.

That said, I did not have any serious expectations of actually being offered the job. I still don't think the AJC as an institution is even remotely ready to admit to itself why it is so unpopular in this city, and they certainly aren't ready to do anything about it.

Taking now-idle speculation a step further, on the slim chance that an offer might have been tendered, I don't think there's a snowball's chance in Aruba that I'd have accepted it. To be perfectly blunt, a business that's losing on the order of $50 million a year was unlikely to pay me enough to make it worth trashing my current career, and even if they were, I don't like the looks of anybody's job security down there on Marietta Street. Newspapers are a dying industry, and it would be a considerable leap of faith to bet my family's financial security on them. With all that in mind, the AJC's form-letter email of rejection last week came as more than a bit of a relief.

AJC.com has posted two columns each from the ten semi-finalists (all still anonymous as of now) for public comment, although I note with some interest that they don't appear to be posing a reader poll. I haven't really read many of them myself yet, but I'll have a look later on. In the meantime, I though it might be interesting for people to see what my own application looked like, so I'll be posting the three sample columns the AJC asked for here over the next couple of days.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

You Only Blog Thrice

Hi there, and welcome to my third life as a blogger.

When I started writing online in 1997, as far as I knew there was no such thing as a "blogger," and in fact, the word "blog" wouldn't even be coined for another two years. I remember being interviewed on live radio in 1998 and trying vainly to explain just what this website of mine was, and why I was doing it in the first place, to an incredulous Paul Finebaum. I can't really blame Paul for being nonplussed; that long ago we didn't even have the language to describe blogging. Today, it's a part of our daily lives.

My original site, "Will's World," ran from 1997 into 2001 before tapering off more-or-less completely. Three years seems to be the standard burnout time for a blogger, and I hit that point before I read the word "blog" for the first time myself--naturally right at the moment when blogs came out from behind the techie curtain to reach a general audience. Timing is everything, and mine was pretty awful.

In 2004, I got back in the saddle again at the kind request of Steve Green, who invited me to guest on his madly-popular VodkaPundit blog, and I've been happily butting in on his blog ever since. I want to state right up front here that this stepping out on my own in no way indicates any kind of falling-out with Steve. I can't begin to thank him enough for the last five years of access and trust and friendship, and we're certainly not on the outs. This is just a good time for me to hang my own banner out again, and for Steve to press on in his budding career as a multi-media superstar.

Oh, and Steve--those bets to see who will be the first to drink with Hitchens and P.J. O'Rourke? So still on.

Thanks are also due to Stephanie Sherling for doing the new blog's artwork. The design is still very much in progress (thus the Blogger template), and that's my fault, not hers. There will be more to come on that front.

So, welcome, and let's get started, shall we?