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Conservatism’s Weird Blind Spot

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Watching the fifth Republican debate the other night, as the nine candidates — six of whom were all wearing the exact same suit, shirt, and tie, incidentally — accused each other of being insufficiently resolute about carpetbombing ISIS, killing ISIS’ friends and families, toppling Syria’s government, shoring up the failed Iraqi government, and abandoning diplomatic efforts with Iran, something struck me kind of funny.

I happen to know more than a few die-hard Republican voters, by virtue of having been born into a gun-loving Midwestern family, and that being the case, I try a little harder than a lot of my left-leaning friends to understand exactly what makes someone vote for a party that seems to be so diametrically opposed from my own beliefs. A lot of lefty types like to point the finger and assume that a Republican voter hates gays, hates women, hates minorities, hates the poor, and above all hates doing anything to assist any of the above.

While I’m sure that there are segments of the GOP electorate that fit that description, the Republicans I know don’t care about abortion or gay marriage or affirmative action. They don’t hate minorities and aren’t particularly hostile to the notion of helping those in need.

What they are is deeply, deeply skeptical of the ability of the government to successfully run a program like, say, food stamps without huge inefficiency, huge fraud, and huge waste of taxpayer dollars.  To some extent, this kind of cynicism is warranted; it doesn’t take more than a visit to the post office or the DMV to see where they’re coming from. During his unsuccessful 1976 presidential campaign, Ronald Reagan was fod of telling the story of a woman in Chicago who was living on food stamps and driving a Cadillac, and the legend of the Welfare Queen — the symbol of the inefficiency and waste and fraud that inevitably follows any kind of effort to help the less fortunate — was born and persists to this day.

I can’t say I agree with this point of view, but at least there is a little bit of logic behind it. Cynicism about the effectiveness of large institutions is easier to understand than just cold-hearted indifference to the plight of your fellow man. And the people who feel this way are remarkably consistent in applying the same logic to nearly any spending initiative, no matter how well intentioned, that the government might propose: food stamps, healthcare, early education, higher education, gun control, you name it.

Which is why I find it so strange that this cynicism seems to evaporate like the morning dew any time the conversation turns to military adventure.

Nothing could be a bigger, more difficult endeavor with more moving parts or opportunities for failure than taking over another country, or removing a foreign leader, or swinging an election. It requires, above all, solid, reliable intelligence: the exact locations of enemy leaders, insight into their plans and strategies, accurate accounting of their weapons and assets. And yet despite the fact that the Unites States has an absolutely miserable track record in this area, starting with the attack on Pearl Harbor and including virtually every foreign military effort we have conducted since then. Either through corruption or plain old incompetence, nearly everything we have done overseas has either failed or made things demonstrably worse. Korea, Iran (’53), Cuba, Vietnam, Iran (’79), Afghanistan (’79), Grenada, Nicaragua, Iran-Contra, Iraq (’91), Afghanistan (’01), Iraq (’03)… failure after bungle after failure. (For far, far, far more depth and detail on each and every one of these debacles, I highly recommend Tim Weiner’s “Legacy of Ashes,” a comprehensive history of the CIA from its post-WWII formation up to 2005.)

So one story about a “welfare queen” means that government efforts to ease the burden on the less fortunate are so manifestly doomed to fail as to be not even worth attempting, but decades of abject failure abroad just means we need to throw more blood and more treasure at the problem.

Understand, I am not saying that ISIS is not a problem that needs to be solved by the military. I am not suggesting that we stick our head in the sand and just hope it all goes away. If our ratio of intelligence failures to successes was a little better than 20-to-1 over the last 50 years, I would be right there with all these Republicans urging Obama to dump 500,000 troops in there and get it sorted out before the start of Spring Training.

But it is not that black and white. You need to speak the language, you need to know the culture, you need to understand the history, you need reliable intelligence sources if you want to go into another country; if you don’t, you’ll only make it worse.

For example, during the debate, Ted Cruz promised to carpetbomb Raqqa, the city that ISIS has taken as its home base. When Wolf Blitzer pointed out that Raqqa is 90% civilians, unaffiliated with ISIS or terrorism, Cruz blithely promised that his carpetbombing campaign would kill only “the right people,” either unaware or unconcerned that the very definition of “carpetbombing” is to drop bombs all over, without regard to casualties. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that when you bomb a city where 90% of the people are civilians, 90% of the casualties are going to be civilians, and you are going to create as many or more new terrorists as you just killed.

I would hope that any commander-in-chief would follow the Hippocratic Oath: First, do no harm — in this case, do no harm to the delicate balance of power. Obama gets this, which is why although he has already ordered 9,000 airstrikes on ISIS targets, he is holding back on committing ground troops or toppling any foreign leaders. He’s showing that he understands the limits of our government’s power. I think they used to call that kind of thinking “conservative.”

The 2015 EnoughAlready Holiday Gift Guide!

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Call it weariness, call it lack of preparation, call it plain old laziness, but I have had an unusually difficult time getting my head into the Christmas game this year. In years past I have prided myself on how thoughtfully and, as importantly, how efficiently I plan and execute my Christmas shopping, but this year is different.

I won’t get into it, but I’ve had a lot going on and a lot on my mind the last few months. It’s been very difficult to focus on buying gifts. Normally what I like to do is think about each member of my family — my wife, my son, my brother and his wife and two kids, and my mom and dad — and think of something they would like. I’m proud that I have rarely had to resort to googling “gift ideas for dad” in order to come up with something thoughtful. But this year I’ve had some trouble getting the engine to turn over, and I had to search for outside inspiration to come up with great gifts.

The good news is, I pretty much nailed it. So if you’re in a similar quandary, having a hard time getting your head in the game, here are a few suggestions for great Christmas gifts for the people in your life that I found:

For the Perfect Wife: NFL Team Logo Wine Shoes

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Add a touch of class to your Sundays! Everyone knows wine is the classiest of all ways to get hammered, and everyone knows that high heels are the classiest shoes. There’s no classier place to keep your wine than in your shoe — everybody knows that. The NFL logo of your choice, embossed in leather and adorned with rare North Georgia Rhinestones® is just the cherry on the classy sundae! ($57.99)

For the ’90s Hip Hop Fan Who Has Everything: The Wu-Tang Clan, Once Upon A Time In Shaolin

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In a move as original and uncompromising as it was dumb and pointless, the Wu-Tang Clan reunited in 2014 to record their long-awaited reunion album, but then announced that only one copy would be created, and that copy would cost $2 million. So if someone you love likes Wu-Tang and you have $2 million dollars and a totally deranged sense of priorities, this is the kind of gift that really makes a statement. Oh wait, that asshole that jacked the price of AIDS drugs 2,000,000 percent already bought it. Although, there is a chance he won’t have it for long. ($2 million)

For the Fine-Motor-Skill-Impaired: Self-Twirling Spaghetti Fork

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We all have that person in the family who can’t seem to twirl their spaghetti without dropping the fork on the edge of their plate. (Full disclosure: Growing up, I was that person.) It makes an awful sound and the merciless teasing that fork-droppers suffer at the hands of their immediate families can scar them for decades, I bet. Spare everyone the therapy bills and get the Self-Twirling Spaghetti Fork; 100% twirling fun guaranteed!* ($9.95; 2 AA batteries not included.)

For the Untrustworthy Strumpet: GPS Lingerie

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Saddled with the kind of woman that refuses to tell you exactly what she’s doing and who she’s with every second of every day? Let her know you care a little too much with a fun, flirty lingerie set with red detailing and a mock negligée with a fully functioning GPS unit. It’s the gift that keeps on giving… her exact coordinates. ($800)

For the Good Guy With A Gun: Gun and Target Recordable Alarm Clock

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We all know the day is coming when we’ll all have to be ready to wake up shooting, and the Gun and Target Recordable Alarm Clock is a great way to prepare for that inevitable, eagerly awaited breakdown of society. Wake to whatever sound you choose to record into the target — maybe a frenzied cry of “Jihad,” the faint sound of your China cabinet being ransacked, or just the local NPR station — and fire a shot into the bullseye to turn off the alarm. The gun has recoil and sound effects for extra realism, as well as an option to play the anguished cries of an accidentally wounded family member when your shots go astray, to keep you vigilant. ($20.47)

For your creepy Uncle/Cousin/Nephew/Son/Father/Husband: The Fleshlight Lanchpad

Everyone knows how difficult it can be to hold your iPad and be intimate with yourself at the same time, right? Well, the geniuses at Fleshlight — the same people who invented the flashlight that feels like a lady — have solved that problem by making it possible to live the best of all possible worlds and just be intimate with your iPad! ($24.95, fake ladypart sold seperately)

For Everyone Reading This And Everyone In Your Immediate and Extended Families: “Relatively Merry” iTunes single

I mean, come on. It’s a dollar. Not even a dollar. You don’t have a dollar? You have a dollar. Buy the song on iTunes, willya? ($0.99)

Merry Christmas!

*Not guaranteed

Terrorism-ism

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In what’s fast becoming a more terrifying holiday tradition than the Elf on the Shelf, we rang in the Christmas season with a mass shooting — this one at a Planned Parenthood office in Colorado Springs — and then another at a holiday party in a social services facility in San Bernardino. It would be crazy at this point to say with any confidence that there won’t be another, or two or three or four, before the ball drops.

These came just two weeks after a coordinated massacre in Paris, in which three teams of ISIS assholes killed 128 people and wounded hundreds more.

Over the last, I don’t know, half dozen? of these incidents, we seem to have added a new wrinkle to our well-rehearsed post-shooting routine: after we offer thoughts and prayers, and before we start the next go-round of the endless, pointless debate over gun laws that to date has changed exactly zero minds ever, we start to speculate over whether the latest wholesale slaughter was or was not “terrorism.”

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Guns N’ Roses Reunion: Audience Rider

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11/16/2015

Dear Axl and Slash,

I hear you two have finally buried the hatchet. That’s nice. It’s not good to hold grudges against old friends, particularly friends that have accomplished so much together. So congratulations on letting bygones be bygones and reconnecting. Did you hug it out? I bet that smelled weird.

I also hear that now that you’re pals again, you’ve decided to get Guns N’ Roses back together for a world tour that will presumably make all the money (adjusted for inflation). That sounds interesting at first blush, but it also raises a lot of questions. As declining attendance and brutal reviews for recent “Guns N’ Roses” shows suggests, even the hugest GNR fans — of whom I was certainly one back in the day — don’t want to go to just anything labeled “Guns N’ Roses.”

If the legendary excess of the 1991 Use Your Illusion tour (which I saw in both D.C. and Philadelphia) is any indication, I assume that the rider for this tour will be roughly the size of a phone book, and given that you’ll be earning the GDP of a midsize industrialized nation, that is to be expected. But there are a few things we will need in order to fulfill our side of the contract, so before you announce the tour you’ll want to take a look at our rider:

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The Media’s Ben Carson Bias

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Presidential candidate, retired brain surgeon, and champion squinter Ben Carson has had a big couple of weeks. Now the frontrunner for the Republican nomination, he’s facing a level of scrutiny he had apparently not previously imagined, which suggests that this isn’t just the first presidential campaign he’s ever run, it’s the first one he has ever seen.

The coordinated media conspiracy to discredit Carson began when they fact-checked his autobiography, a totally unprecedented, shockingly underhanded attack. CNN found that Carson’s tales of a violent youth spent trying to murder his immediate family — presumably played up to set his the triumph of his religious conversion into sharper relief — were not entirely true, and Politico found his tale of being offered a scholarship to West Point by General William Westmoreland in Ronald Reagan’s living room while Barry Goldwater played the piano while Ayn Rand sang “Silent Night” did not strictly actually literally happen.

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Clinton Needs A Kubrick

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Congressional Republicans’ three-year inquiry into the deaths of four Americans during a violent 2012 incident at the U.S. Embassy in Libya entered its eighth (waxing gibbous) phase last week when the newly empaneled House Select Subcommittee on Benghazi followed in the footsteps of seven previous Congressional committees, convening for their first and only hearing with their one and only witness: former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Coming off a relatively shart-free performance in the first Democratic debate, Clinton’s stock was rising: every media outlet insisted that she won the debate, even though public polling and that one annoying guy in your News Feed told a different story.

In any case, Republicans reasoned, whatever bounce Clinton might have seen in the days after the debate would certainly crumble when the valiant Trey Gowdy, armed with two stacks of printed emails and an overmatched antiperspirant would rip off her mask and reveal the malevolent puppet master that engineered the attack. Or ignored it? Mislabeled it! She definitely did something wrong, and it probably had to do with her email, and the Republicans were all set to keep her in that hearing room until she confessed to something.

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Live at Brit Pack NYC, 10/9/2015

0:00 — “Your Little Finger”
3:45 — “Chosen Girl”
8:30 — “Gentrify”

 

Parting Ways with Bernie

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As much as it pains me to say it, I’m afraid Hillary Clinton wrapped up the Democratic Presidential nomination this week, roughly nine months ahead of schedule, at the CNN-Facebook debate in Las Vegas. Not because she had a particularly strong performance, because she didn’t. Not because she ritually sacrificed a donkey wearing a tousled white wig and drank its blood backstage, though she probably did. But because Bernie Sanders, the rival she never saw coming, whose fundraising and poll numbers improbably grew to challenge her own without the 15-year head start, name recognition, war chest, or flexible moral compass inexplicably handed it to her for no apparent reason.

Asked by moderator Anderson Cooper about her use of a private e-mail server, Clinton gave a long, rambling answer about how it was allowed by the State Department, but it was still a mistake, and anyway it’s nothing but a political witch hunt, and anyway she’s cooperating and wouldn’t we all rather be talking about something else, like what a great president she’s going to be?!

It wasn’t a great answer, and it did little to convince anyone that their misgivings about the secret email server were overblown, but in the middle of it Sanders raised his hand to indicate he wanted to respond. When Clinton finished, Cooper called on Sanders, who bafflingly didn’t just throw her a life preserver, he pulled up alongside her in a 50-foot yacht, helped her aboard, and handed her a chilled prosecco.

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Guns N’ Assholes

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So another one of these assholes armed himself like the Terminator and indiscriminately shot a bunch of strangers, this time at a community college in Oregon, killing nine people and wounding 10 more. It seems that This Asshole, like so many Assholes before him, purchased his weapons legally. It also appears that he blogged on a bit-torrent site about previous assholes, specifically the Last Asshole, the one who shot the newscasters:

I have noticed that so many people like [the Last Asshole] are alone and unknown, yet when they spill a little blood, the whole world knows who they are. A man who was known by no one, is now known by everyone. His face splashed across every screen, his name across the lips of every person on the planet, all in the course of one day. Seems like the more people you kill, the more you’re in the limelight.

It’s unclear whether This Asshole was in it strictly for the limelight, or if there were other factors. It seems he had some religious hangups, and he closed his eyes knowing he’d be famous forever.

But the joke’s on him, because we hardly even notice these things anymore. It’s a big thing on social media for a day or two and then pffft. And this was pretty garden variety stuff. Just marching around shooting everyone in sight? That’s been done. The next asshole is going to really have to do something special if he wants to be remembered for more than a couple of news cycles. Like put on a RoboCop outfit, or commit the massacre from the seat of a unicycle. He could broadcast the whole thing on Periscope and get all super theatrical about it, like a 21st-century Zodiac! In today’s super-competitive asshole marketplace, you’ve really got to go the extra mile.

Does anyone remember the Last Asshole’s name? What about the Charleston Asshole? Anyone? Anyone even remember which Asshole came before Charleston? Was it the “Trainwreck” Asshole, or the Santa Barbara Asshole? I feel like the Fort Hood Asshole was in there somewhere. No, not the first Fort Hood Asshole that killed 17 people, that was 2009. There’s been like a dozen more assholes since then. I’m talking about the second Fort Hood Asshole, he only got like three. You don’t remember the second Fort Hood Asshole?

Since the 1999 Columbine Assholes, when (half) the nation first sat up straight and resolved to Do Something About This, when Michael Moore made BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE and became the Right wing’s favorite piñata, there have been 31 Flavors of these Assholes, so many that I had forgotten most of them.

I certainly seem to have grown some thick emotional calluses. These things used to bring me to tears, and now they rate little more than a solemn head shake, a deep sigh, and then back to business. My Facebook is full of all the same arguments as the last time, and the time before that, with both sides saying all the same things as last time, and nobody’s minds changing, myself included.

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Could Pope Francis Save Volkswagen?

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I’m no historian, but when I was in school there are two facts I learned about the 1960 presidential election that always stayed with me:

  1. John F. Kennedy won the election largely on the strength of his performance in the televised debate. Although people who listened to the debate on the radio thought his opponent, Richard Nixon, got the better of him, TV watchers were hypnotized by Kennedy’s steady, handsome gaze and repulsed by Nixon’s nervous, sweaty, shifty, beady, slightly creepy, overcaffeinated, underrested, shockingly visible difficulty hiding an unslakeable thirst for power and lust to punish his enemies, and, uh… what was I talking about again?
  2. Oh yeah: Despite his youth, vigor, good looks, war record, and clearly articulated vision for the country, there was one thing about Kennedy that made people uneasy: he was Catholic. Critics worried that Kennedy would take his orders from the Vatican, rather than from the Constitution, that the Pope would have his own Batphone in the Oval Office, which he would use to order Kennedy to… what? I don’t know what kind of treason people thought Kennedy might commit in the service of the pontiff, but it was a big deal at the time.

What a difference a half century makes. Judging by Pope Francis’ rapturous reception in the U.S. over the last couple of days, we aren’t just okay with the pope having an influence in Washington; we’re holding a televised competition to see who can get down on their bellies and lick his boots the cleanest.

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