News, nihil obstatrics, and gynecommodity

In the gossip-driven feeding frenzy that keeps alive the tawdry tale of rising and declining wannabe John Edwards (now with video), the New York Daily News wins quip of the day :

Hunter had been hired by the Edwards campaign to videotape the candidate’s movements, but this one is said to have shown him taking positions that weren’t on his official platform.

The commodification of sexual scandal is nothing new, of course, and in times like these more than ever the media are motivated to regard as "news" whatever will maximize sales.  Thus, there's a regrettable tendency to spew rather than eschew.

What's cheapened in yellowing press, beyond the players' tattered reputations, is a factor arguably worth conserving: the vitality of sexual allusion as a literary device. Continue reading….

Turn the Other Shoe

By now, you have all seen the footage of Bush nimbly ducking two thrown shoes in Iraq. My favorite part of the the video is the token effort at defense the Iraqi Prime Minister makes with the second shoe. Actually, the whole video is pretty spectacular, if you haven't seen it, definitely check it out. The attack, by an Egyptian journalist, led to some breathless, unintentionally funny reporting. For instance, this handy cultural tip:

"In Iraqi culture, throwing shoes at someone is a sign of contempt."

As opposed to other cultures, where it is just a sign of contempt. Seriously, how does that tradition evolve? I mean giving someone the finger isn't good enough, so go ahead and throw that loafer. That will properly demonstrate how much you don't like the person.

On the other side, ably demonstrating our deep understanding of the situation in Iraq, Bush had this to say after the incident: "So what if a guy threw his shoe at me?"

That sentence could pretty well sum up our attitude towards Iraq.

DOJ Firings Update

Back in November I wrote about how Dan Levin, a former colleague of mine from the U.S. Attorney's Office, submitted to waterboarding as part of a process of writing a memorandum on torture while at DoJ. At the time ABC reported that he had been forced out after writing a memo harshly criticizing torture and classifying waterboarding as torture.

ABC News has a new report discussing Levin's recent Congressional testimony and additional information from DoJ sources confirming that Dan was forced out. Moreover, the sources suggest that former AG Alberto Gonzales dangled a potential future U.S. Attorney spot in front of Levin to smooth over the transition to a far less prestigious position at the NSC. That explains why DoJ would have been putting Dan on a short list for USAO spots even after he had been forced out.

But Dan's no dummy.

Levin took the NSC job in March 2005. The U.S. attorney position never materialized, and sources close to Levin say he never believed Gonzales was serious. He went on to take a job in private practice.

Texas GOP: What's Wrong With this Country? Iron Boobies.

More deep thinking deep in the heart of Texas: via Nobody's Business, an article that in a more normal country would be parody, but in this country is not:

HOUSTON – Robert Hurt went to Washington and didn't like what he saw – nudity in the nation's capital.

"Nude women, sculptured women," he told the state Republican platform committee, which sat in rapt attention.

Of all the evils in Washington that the Texas GOP took aim at this week, removing art with naked people from public view was high on the list for Mr. Hurt, a delegate from Kerrville.

"You don't have nude art on your front porch," he explained. "You possibly don't have nude art in your living rooms. So why is it important to have that in the common places of Washington, D.C.?"

Mr. Hurt offered statistics: He'd heard that 20 percent of the art in the National Gallery of Art is of nudes.

He offered detail: On Arlington Memorial Bridge overlooking the famed national cemetery, "there are two Lady Godivas, two women on horses with no shirt on and long hair."

Actually, they are classical sculptures about war – one called Valor, depicting a male equestrian and a female with a shield, and Sacrifice, a female accompanying the rider Mars.

I'm glad that the Texas Republican Party has what it takes to address this burning issue, which has to date languished for the simple and inadequate reason that no one else was shallow, insufferably prudish, and fucking moronic enough to take it up.

It's not clear whether the policy scouring the National Gallery of Art of Botticellis until a more respectable 98% of art is boob-free will make it into the platform, which is currently full of other issues burning and not so burning:

In this, a presidential year, it advocates prayer in school, getting out of the United Nations, teaching intelligent design with evolution in science classes, repealing of the minimum wage, declaring illegal immigrants criminals and outlawing abortion with no exceptions.

Maybe in the intelligent design classes they could ask why God made us with dirty sculptor-enticing parts in the first place, and then pray for all the naughty art to be magically transformed into Thomas Kincaide paintings of glowy red-state hunting lodges or something. That would be awesome.

National Press Club: We Cherish Ethics, Truth, and…waitaminute. Can you pay cash?

The National Press Club, well known venue for luminous events and addresses by Presidents, monarchs, ambassadors, and public intellectuals of the day, is proud, very proud, of its ethics and reputation for truth and rigor:

Ethics
Walter William's Journalist's Creed

This creed was written by Walter Williams (1864-1935), the man who founded the world's first school of journalism at the University of Missouri and perhaps contributed more toward the promotion of professional journalism than any other person of his time.

I believe in the profession of Journalism.

I believe that the public journal is a public trust; that all connected with it are, to the full measure of responsibility, trustees for the public; that acceptance of lesser service than the public service is a betrayal of this trust.

I believe that clear thinking, clear statement, accuracy and fairness are fundamental to good journalism.

That's why the National Press Club hosts so many important events and speakers.

Oh, and it also booked Larry Sinclair for next Wednesday at 3:00 P.M. in the "Veritas Room."

Wait a minute, you say. That name is familiar. Who is Larry Sinclair again?

Oh, yeah. He's the lunatic who went on YouTube with his claims of having had a drug-fueled gay sex romp with Barack Obama in the back of a limousine 1999. He's the one who, in exchange for $10,000 offered by a former porn site, agreed to a polygraph test and flunked it. He's the nutcase who also sued Obama, David Axelrod, and the Democratic National Committee, alleging they defamed him in denying that Obama smoked crack and had sex with him in 1999.

Larry is crowing about how now he's achieved respectability and credibility since the National Press Club is hosting him for a payment of $3,000. I'm not surprised; if they gave me a podium I'd feel the same way.

Let this be a clarion call to all of our nation's tinfoil-wearers, conspiracy theorists, freaks, and deinstitutionalized mentally ill: for the cost of a good vacation to Hawaii, you can have a nationally prestigious platform from which to spout your views. Does the "Veritas Room" give you insufficient gravitas? Don't worry, the Edward R. Murrow room is available. Make sure you book soon; presidents and monarchs are always trying to get on the schedule. Flat-earther? Foe of ZOG? Holocaust denier? Alien abductee? Ron Paul supporter? Fear not, there's no discrimination here. In journalism, accuracy, and fairness we trust — but $3,000 is $3,000, Jack.

I'm sure the National Press Club would love to hear from you.

Via.

Next Up: European Truckers Angry About Night, Gravity

European truckers and other frequent drivers are protesting high fuel prices. Various government luminaries are proposing a McCain/Clinton style repeal of gas taxes, which in the red-tape-intensive Europe would require the sign-off of the entire freaking EU, a task that would be described as Herculean if Hercules were a bureaucratic wonk.

Yet it's not clear what truckers are hoping to accomplish by cursing the darkness. Even in Europe, the government is not price-fixing gasoline. Market forces largely out of the government's control, and evidently out of its comprehension, are fixing gasoline prices. As was discussed here in America earlier during the Obama/Clinton smackdown, cutting the taxes is a Hello Kitty bandaid on an arterial gusher. What's worse, you're going to drop the price an insignificant fraction, encourage people to drive significantly more because of irrational human behavior, and thereby drive up demand and drive up the prices even higher. That's stupid. Unfortunately, many politicians would rather do a stupid, stupid thing than admit that government is at best powerless and at worst actively harmful when it addresses some economic forces. If they admitted that, people might have less faith in the government, and therefore less faith in them. Prestige would dwindle. Power would wane. Politics would cease to be even show business for ugly people; it would be merely ugly people for ugly people. Who wants that?

Not John McCain, at least. He's back to calling for a gas tax holiday. At least he hasn't yet stooped to the Clintonian levels of sneering at economists.

Bob Barr Says He Was Wrong About the Drug War

I'm very unlikely to vote for Bob Barr. I'm more of a civil libertarian and he's more of a federalist libertarian. But that's a discussion for another day. For today, via John Cole, I see that Barr has made a statement that I wish more (relatively) serious candidates would stand up and say: the War on Drugs is a failure.

And let me just say, if you have to flip-flop on an issue, this is the way to do it:

[Read more…]

Sometimes You've Got To Just Quit The Club

Looks like the U.S. has decided to give up on playing a role in the farce that is the U.N. Human Rights Council — or, at least, has decided to posture as if it is doing so. From a State Department press briefing last Friday:

QUESTION: Another subject? Did U.S. decide to cut all cooperation with the Council on Human Rights?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, no. Look, our skepticism regarding the function of the UN Council on Human Rights in terms of fulfilling its mandate and its mission is well known. It has a rather pathetic record in that regard. Instead of focusing on some of the real and deep human rights issues around the world, it has really turned into a forum that seems to be almost solely focused on bashing Israel.

In the – the Secretary has taken the decision that we will engage the Human Rights Council really only when we believe that there are matters of deep national interest before the Council and we feel compelled; otherwise, we are not going to. Part of our strategy is to take a look at any suggestions or thoughts we might have to improve the performance of the Council. There’s a five-year review period, and that review period is going to fall outside the term of this Administration, but of course, we’ll – we feel as stewards of the national interest, we are going to think about ways that might improve the function of the Council.

QUESTION: So what does that mean, and when was this decision made?

MR. MCCORMACK: I can’t tell you what day, but recently.

QUESTION: Well, what does it mean that you will engage the Council only when there are matters of deep national interest? I notice that today – that, I mean, at the (inaudible) today, they were speaking about Burma. Isn’t that something of deep national interest to the United States? You didn’t speak to – they didn’t speak to that.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right. You know, simply put, Matt, because we don’t think it is a serious institution in dealing with human rights —

QUESTION: No, no, I understand that.

MR. MCCORMACK: — human rights issues, we are going to take a more reserved approach in terms of engaging the Council, just because the – our ability and the ability of others to really influence this body is proven to be rather minimal over the past couple of years, and as a result we are just – we’re going to choose more selectively how and when to engage the Council.

The Council currently includes China, Cuba, and Egypt. That's like having a U.N. Council on Physical Fitness staffed by Fat Bastard, Keith Richards, and me.

This is probably the right call for now. The Council's a joke. It's ineffectual at actually protecting human rights — probably because it's staffed by countries for whom human rights is at best a low priority and at worst a slogan used by Western countries to criticize them. It's obsessed with foolishness like banning "defamation of religion." It's unapologetically and transparently biased against Israel. Continued participation by the U.S. would just give it more credibility than it deserves. And it's not like the U.S. itself has much human rights credibility these days. Though a colorable argument can be made that anything we've done since 9/11 pales in comparison to routine human rights abuses in other countries, we certainly are not covering ourselves in human rights glory, and it's unlikely that any country is interested in sitting still to hear us talk about it.

Although this administration's decision to walk away from the Council is almost certainly posturing and in support of policies with which I disagree, I think it's the right step.