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Of course as a

Of course, as a couple of emailers reminded me, I misremembered the original title of "Smile". It was "Dumb Angel."

I'm off to perform with Judith Owen tonight in Austin (we perform tomorrow and Sunday, too, come on down), so maybe I'll make a farewell post in the midnight hour. Otherwise, I've thoroughly enjoyed this, especially the amazing torrent of feedback. If you want to check out my radio show, Le Show, and you don't know where to find it on the radio or the web, I recommend a wonderful resource: PublicRadioFan.com.

And, because of an emailed request, I turn the remainder of this post over to C. Montgomery Burns....

All right, you chair warts, stop reading TPM and get back to work, or I'll release the Hounds!!!

Emailers have been advising

Emailers have been advising me to weigh in on the Schiavo case, citing the surface absurdity of Congress subpoenaing a brain-dead witness. Ducks in a barrel, there, the brain-dead subpoenaing the--well, you get it. But beyond that I'm loath to go, despite the obvious cable-news-and-blogger code that you have to have an opinion about everything. Part of what's so dispiriting about this place at this time is the sense that, in a totally non-economic sense, the public sector is crowding out the private sector (almost a reverse of what the Administration is trying to do economically--see the BBC's report on the original plans for Iraq's oil, and try to find the good guys in that tussle between the neocons and the oil companies). Laci and Scott Peterson were private people having a private tragedy. Their lives were literally none of our business. Same with this family. I understand that in both cases, the stories were ginned up because they played into the social-conservative agenda, but that's no reason for everybody to jump in. So my lips are zipped.

Away from the media

Away from the media for a while, watching music people at the South by Southwest Conference question Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks about the "Smile" project. My favorite Wilsonian answer, drily typical, came when he was asked why he changed the putative original title of the project, "Dark Angel." "We thought," Brian Wilson said, "that if we called it 'Smile', people would be more likely to buy it."

Re: risk and Social Security: a couple of emailers observed that removing the safety net would make most people more risk-averse and conservative, not less. Of course, they're talking about normal people. I sometimes think the right wing that Brooks was writing about, the right that wants to "create" a more dynamic economy through making more risk-takers out of people, is in fact taking on a project weirdly (I was almost going to say eerily, but I've used up my quota for that word) reminiscent of the New Soviet Man. If the twentieth century taught us anything, and it didn't, it was to be very cautious about large-scale social projects based on the way people "ought to" behave.

Interesting reactions to Sudden

Interesting reactions to Sudden Thought #2: one emailer said this thought had been thoroughly blogified within hours after Thompson's death. If so, I missed it. Most have been appalled that I would compare the sainted Hunter with the devilish Coulter. Ideological (if not teleological) blinders, anyone? I grew up believing Nixon was Satan. But it's undeniable that his domestic policy was to the left of Clinton's. (Yes, I know, Reagan succeeded in moving the perceived center). Hunter's work was better, these emailers suggest, because it was in the service of truth. Sounds like the right's defense of Fox News. Anyway, if the "dog was too fucked up not to eat my homework" style of Gonzo has had any influence on journalism except to have encouraged people like Coulter to ramp up the nastiness, I missed it.

Now, at last, to Social Security (see, Josh, I haven't totally trashed the place). An interesting juxtaposition of NYT op-eds this week, as, on the same page and the same day, Krugman and Brooks get to the heart of the matter. Not that I don't respect the wonkiness of those who can deal with the numbers. But ever since it became common knowledge that the original costing of the new Medicare bill was based on a ten year period, during the first two years of which the bill would not yet have taken effect, I've felt justified in letting my eyes glaze over. Krugman and Brooks, on the other hand, start to address the basic question: risk. Social insurance was meant, in the first place, to insulate people from the effects of a previous regime which assumed that, like it or not, all folks should be risk-takers. Brooks suggests that the right's real goal is a more dynamic society/economy, in which more people choose to be risk takers. Bush in his news conference this week, emphasizing (for the first time, to my ears) the voluntary nature of his plan/non-plan, seemed to be edging very tentatively toward this point. Still, the nagging sense (given the mendacious way the plan/nonplan is being sold) is that people will be compelled to choose to be risk takers. Although I have absolutely no inteest in polls and surveys, I would be interested in more open debate about the level of risk most people would actually like to assume.

Eerie similarity between Mark

Eerie similarity between Mark McGwire at the baseball hearing--"I'm not here to discuss the past"--and Porter Goss before Senate Armed Services on whether interrogation techniques used since 2001 have complied with US anti-torture laws--"I am not able to tell you that". Eerier still, to broaden the focus, is the refusal of American media (and bloggers too) to notice the similarities between what's been happening since the runup to the war in the US, UK and Australia. When we're isolated inside our American bubble, our problem seems as if it's only our problem. But, while "extraordinary rendition" worms its ugly way into the national consciousness here, Britain has simultaneously been having a wrenching debate on the government's proposed non-judicial orders for persons "under suspicion", including house arrest and electronic tagging. The debate, especially as it moved between the House of Commons and the House of Lords (recently reformed by Tony Blair to make it less hereditary and more nearly--attention, Pres. Bush--democratic) put the focus sharply on the conflict between the government's desire for security and the (unwritten) British constitution's insistence on protection of individual liberty. Almost makes you wish our discussion of rendition were so focused on the basic principles at issue. Almost makes you wonder why a written Constituion suddenly doesn't seem as robust as an unwritten one. The other similarity rarely commented on here is the fact that three separate (and supposedly first-rate) intelligence agencies made exactly the same schoolboy errors (thin sourcing, neglecting to include caveats, stuff like that) in the pre-war intel on Saddam's WMD. And all three countries had wannabe whistleblowers (Greg Thielmann here, Dr. David Jones in the UK, Andrew Wilkie in Oz) saying, in effect, "this intel stinks". Which would suggest that David Kay was being disingenuous in his testimony to Congress last year: "we" were not "all wrong".

Sudden thought 2 reflecting

Sudden thought #2: reflecting on the other loss to journalism widely subjected to elegaic remembrance in recent days, I couldn't help thinking: Didn't Ann Coulter learn everything she knows about toxic political rhetoric from Hunter S. Thompson?

The longer we wait

"The longer we wait, the more climate change we are committed to in the future." The formulation is eerily similar to Bush's Fram Oil Filter ("Pay me now or pay me later") trope on Social Security. So if it's not the logic he disputes, it must be the science. It would be nice, now that White House news conferences have been rescued from the "Where are they now?" pile, if someone asked the President whose scientific advice he relies upon in rejecting this line of reasoning. Of course, we all suspect that the virtual White House Science Advisor is Dr. James Dobson, but it wouldn't hurt to nail it down.

Symmetry to the day

Symmetry to the day: start with hair parts, end with other parts. A reader sends along this, which suggests that left-right dichotomies are possibly more significant than one might imagine just from watching Crossfire.

I've been posting from Austin, Texas, site of the South by Southwest Festival (if you're in town, come by the Saxon Pub Friday night at 8, all will be explained), but I did catch some of this afternoon's baseball hearing. Two thoughts: if Congresspeople used their allotted time for questions to ACTUALLY ASK QUESTIONS, more information just might be elicited. And, secondly, if baseball didn't specifically intend to piss people off, both about MLB and lawyers in general, they sure miscalculated with the selection of Bob Manfred as the mouthpiece-in-chief. I know baseball has earned a reputation for having the dumbest owners in pro sports, but didn't any of them, upon seeing Manfred's pre-hearing presentation, shout in dismay, "Oh, Christ, he's gonna make 'em hate our guts!"?

For those who've been jonesing, Social Security tomorrow.

Sudden thought watching the

Sudden thought watching the baseball hearings: is the guy sitting to Canseco's right (our left) his lawyer? If so, Jose found the one lawyer in America with a bigger neck than his own. Can we schedule hearings about Lawyers on Steroids?

But seriously, it is de rigeur today to denigrate the Robert Blake jury. Like everyone else outside the courtroom, I found the "She was shot while I rushed into the restaurant to retrieve my gun" defense almost Twinkily shaky. But two things give me pause before deriding this or any jury. One, I was in the jury pool for the Robert Blake trial. True story. Me and Christina Applegate. Still not kidding. One very long day hanging around the courthouse--"Bring a book" is the mantra for jury duty, JD is probably the only thing keeping the publishing industry from going totally under--and the cognitive dissonance between the video assuring us what an important job we're doing and the nature of the treatment we're receiving (as the lowest-paid cogs of the criminal-justice machine) all incline me toward great respect for the people who actually end up serving.

The second thing that keeps me from knee-jerk juror derision was the memory of how cruel we all were toward the O.J. Simpson criminal trial jury. "They only took five hours to deliberate!" was the angry mantra of the time. (Hint: how many hours did the jury in the--pardon me for mentioning something truly trivial, given its prominence in the cable-news universe--Scott Peterson trial deliberate?) But my experience covering the subsequent civil trial brought me to another conclusion: both juries were right. We civilians sometimes forget, but jurors tend to take seriously, the weight of the burden that is wisely placed upon the prosecution to prove something--even something obvious, like OJ's guilt--beyond a reasonable doubt. Would that more highly-paid parts of our government took their legal and Constitutional responsibilities as seriously....

Talking out of both

Talking out of both sides? On the one hand, the Administration is being credited with--did I miss this memo?--nuance. Check out Robin Wright in Tuesday's WaPo. As many of us freedom-haters long suspected, one man's terrorist really is another man's newly-installed democratic leader. But adherence to the Other N-word only goes so far. There are also the thumb-in-the-eye appointments of Bolton to the UN and now, Wolfowitz to the World Bank (does your surname have to begin with "Wolf" to hold that job?). The French, masters of the cool riposte, have responded in a manner true to form. The rest of the world seems to get the message, as well. See the third paragraph here. Google includes headlines that say the appointment has world leaders "scratching their heads". At least it doesn't have them spit-combing.

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