Monday, May 04, 2015

Mad Men: The High Lama Will See You Now

"Lost Horizons" is the title of last night's finale-minus-one episode of Man Men.  It's also a book by James Hilton which was adapted into the 1937 film classic by Frank Capra which begins with Robert Conway ("soldier, diplomat and public hero", played by the preternaturally handsome Ronald Colman) finding himself in charge of rescuing a small group of westerners ("ninety white people") from chaos and revolution in China.  

He succeeds, and barely managing to escape on the last plane out with last four evacuees. 


However en route to safety, the plane is hijacked.

Oh Noes!

Instead of back in the safety and comfort of one of the outposts of British Empire, our travelers instead find themselves (eventually, after a crash and stuff) in the valley of Shangri-La: an earthly paradise, that is protected from the outside world by virtually impassible mountains where the inhabitants enjoy peace, scholarship, good health and amazing longevity.  

And it was no coincidence!

You see, the High Lama (the CEO of Shangri-La) is very old and near death.  And having discretely searched the world for a successor, he believes he has found an ideal new High Lama in the person of Conway: a noble man who shares his ideals, but also a worldly man who would know how to protect paradise from modern, mechanized threats.

For the rest of the story, well, just go rent the movie.  

But of course McCann-Erickson is not Shangri-La.

And Jim Hobart is not the High Lama.

McCann-Erickson is a plantation.  A well-appointed work farm.  A machine.  And as long as everyone goes along with the program (hot and cold running awesome for the alpha males, an 26th floor executive ice floe for redundant tribal elders, and the Madison Avenue version of droit du seigneur for the women) the machine runs smoothly and efficiently.

And when everyone does not go along with the program, the smiling, affable corporate masks are dropped.  The axes fly, and the beast lives at the heart of the corporate machine bares it teeth.

Don's Shangri-La would be someplace else, far away.  A place our hero visited once before, and then left, and has been trying to get back to ever since.  

Someplace out west, perhaps.  

Far beyond Racine, Wisconsin.  

Far beyond St. Paul, Minnesota.  

Over the high mountains.

Don's Shangri-La would be sunny, golden land where reinvention is the norm.  Perhaps out where another child of alcoholic chaos who had also built a life out of optimism and denial...who had also built a career out of pitching products and pretending to be other busy reinventing himself as the governor of California, future Savior of the Republican Party and the ultimate avatar of the affable-mask-hiding-a-brutal-machine. 

Meanwhile, in a defunct office across town...

Two of our plucky heroes -- Peggy and Roger -- are thrown together for one last carouse.  Together they share the best moments of the episode as they skate and drink and reminisce among the ruins. All those thin walls which had once been made so formidable by tradition and status and ritual -- all those doors behind which terrible secrets were shared, shoes were ritually removed, loyalties were betrayed, a child was conceived and a man hung himself -- now just so much flimsy plywood and chip board detritus, torn down and left behind in the mad dash for the exits.

Meanwhile, somewhere in the Midwest where no one lives but beer-consuming men "with very specific qualities".  And their wives.  And Jesus...

Donald Draper/Bill Phillips/Dick Whitman picks up a hitchhiker, and off they head together. rolling West, to the sound of Space Oddity: that hymn of disorientation and loss and commerce and leaving Earth behind by rock and roll's king of perpetual reinvention.

With two more episodes left, I think Don's big Caddy spaceship knows which way to go.
Tell his wives he loves them very much.
(They know)

Saturday, May 02, 2015

The Kentucky Derby Is Still Decadent and Depraved

Derby Day, which means somebody damn well should light a candle for the greatest sports column ever -- Hunter Thompson's piece for Scanlan's on the 1970 Kentucky derby.

Here's a snip:
The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved

Pink faces with a stylish Southern sag, old Ivy styles, seersucker coats and buttondown collars. “Mayblossom Senility” (Steadman’s phrase)…burnt out early or maybe just not much to burn in the first place. Not much energy in the faces, not much curiosity. Suffering in silence, nowhere to go after thirty in this life, just hang on and humor the children. Let the young enjoy themselves while they can. Why not?

The grim reaper comes early in this league…banshees on the lawn at night, screaming out there beside that little iron nigger in jockey clothes. Maybe he’s the one who’s screaming.  Bad DT’s and too many snarls at the bridge club. Going down with the stock market. Oh Jesus, the kid has wrecked the new car, wrapped it around the big stone pillar at the bottom of the driveway. Broken leg? Twisted eye? Send him off to Yale, they can cure anything up there. 
Yale? Did you see today’s paper? New Haven is under siege. Yale is swarming with Black Panthers…I tell you, Colonel, the world has gone mad, stone mad. Why, they tell me a goddam woman jockey might ride in the Derby today.

I left Steadman sketching in the Paddock bar and went off to place our bets on the fourth race. When I came back he was staring intently at a group of young men around a table not far away. “Jesus, look at the corruption in that face!” he whispered. “Look at the madness, the fear, the greed!” I looked, then quickly turned my back on the table he was sketching.  The face he’d picked out to draw was the face of an old friend of mine, a prep school football star in the good old days with a sleek red Chevy convertible and a very quick hand, it was said, with the snaps of a 32 B brassiere. They called him “Cat Man.”

But now, a dozen years later, I wouldn’t have recognized him anywhere but here, where I should have expected to find him, in the Paddock bar on Derby Day…fat slanted eyes and a pimp’s smile, blue silk suit and his friends looking like crooked bank tellers on a binge…

Steadman wanted to see some Kentucky Colonels, but he wasn’t sure what they looked like.  I told him to go back to the clubhouse men’s rooms and look for men in white linen suits vomitting in the urinals. “They’ll usually have large brown whiskey stains on the front of their suits,” I said. “But watch the shoes, that’s the tip-off. Most of them manage to avoid vomitting on their own clothes, but they never miss their shoes.”


Quote of the Day: Charles Krauthammer

Today our quote comes from Charles Krauthammer writing about the literary merits and historical liberties tp be found side-by-side in the excellent "Wolf Hall".  Attend, children, and see what a Conservative with a permanent national media sinecure and zero self awareness sounds like (emphasis added because I can!):

However, “Wolf Hall” poses questions not just political but literary. When such a distortion of history produces such a wonderfully successful piece of fiction, we are forced to ask: What license are we to grant to the historical novel?

For all the learned answers, in reality it comes down to temporal proximity. If the event is in the recent past, you’d better be accurate. Oliver Stone’s paranoid and libelous “JFK” will be harmless in 50 years, but it will take that long for the stench to dissipate. On the other hand, does anyone care that Shakespeare diverges from the record (such as it is) in his Caesar or Macbeth or his Henrys?
What is the Modern Conservative movement but a successful and very lucrative piece of fiction?

And what is there to add but...Benghaaaaazi!

Paul Krugman and Strategic Forgettery

Longtime readers of this blog know that one of the themes I have returned to year after year is that a conspiracy of ongoing and radical denial of the recent past has become the central pillar of Conservatism in America.  And that Conservatism's program of mass "Strategic Forgettery" continues to succeed because it is actively aided and abetted by the mainstream media.

So imagine my delight when I found the awesome Paul Krugman taking that theme and running with it in the New York Times, reaching more readers in an afternoon that I could reach in a year of  daily blogging and weekly podcasting combined.  
Ideology and Integrity

Times like these call for a combination of open-mindedness — willingness to entertain different ideas — and determination to do the best you can. As Franklin Roosevelt put it in a celebrated speech, “The country demands bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.”

What we see instead in many public figures is, however, the behavior George Orwell described in one of his essays: “Believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right.” Did I predict runaway inflation that never arrived? Well, the government is cooking the books, and besides, I never said what I said.

Just to be clear, I’m not calling for an end to ideology in politics, because that’s impossible. Everyone has an ideology, a view about how the world does and should work. Indeed, the most reckless and dangerous ideologues are often those who imagine themselves ideology-free — for example, self-proclaimed centrists — and are, therefore, unaware of their own biases. What you should seek, in yourself and others, is not an absence of ideology but an open mind, willing to consider the possibility that parts of the ideology may be wrong.
... far as I can tell no important Republican figure has admitted that none of the terrible consequences that were supposed to follow health reform — mass cancellation of existing policies, soaring premiums, job destruction — has actually happened.

The point is that we’re not just talking about being wrong on specific policy questions. We’re talking about never admitting error, and never revising one’s views. Never being able to say that you were wrong is a serious character flaw even if the consequences of that refusal to admit error fall only on a few people. But moral cowardice should be outright disqualifying in anyone seeking high office.

I still think this election should turn almost entirely on the issues. But if we must talk about character, let’s talk about what matters, namely intellectual integrity.

It is heartening to see public thinkers and writers I admire eventually arriving at the same place and describing the topography of the most important ideological battlefield of our times in the same terms we on the Left have been using for decades.

We on the Left remain a ragged and mostly ignored or despised few.  We are perpetually outspent and outnumbered by the Crazy Right and the Enabling Center by many, many orders of magnitude, and we're also kinda tired of punching away at the same fucking brick wall with our bare fists year after year and having little more than chipped paint and sore hands to show for it.


But at least we know we are punching away at the right wall.

And, more importantly, we know exactly why the wall is there in the first place and why it is so heavily defended.

We Hold These Truths To Be Self-Evident

Last night, on The Twitter.  Mr. James Fallows (The Atlantic) and Mr. Chris Hayes (MSNBC) had this exchange:

I humbly interjected to following --
-- knowing, of course, that no one in a position to explain from the inside exactly why the Beltway is so conspicuously mute on this monumental and vital subject will ever do so.

Friday, May 01, 2015

The Church of Lyin'tology, Ctd. -- UPDATE

David Brooks decided International Worker's Day would be an excellent day to tell the world what really causes poverty (Spoiler:  According to Mr. Brooks, poverty has nothing to do with lack of money, or community investment, or jobs.  It's not deindustrialization or food deserts or shitty schools.  It's nothing to do with class or race or a war on drugs that long ago became a brand new way of ruining minority lives and communities.)

Twitter went satisfyingly ballistic and articles began pouring from the keyboards of people who could count and/or who had actually met one of The Poors at some point in the last 20 years.

Sun as this
David Brooks Is Not Buying Your Excuses, Poor People.
And this.
David Brooks and the Federal Government's $14,000 Per Year Per Poor Person

Published: 01 May 2015

In the United States it's considered fine to just make crap up when talking about the government, especially when it comes to programs for poor people. That is why Ronald Reagan ran around the country telling people about the welfare queen who drove up to the welfare office every month in her new Cadillac to pick up her check.

Today, David Brooks does the welfare queen routine in his NYT column, telling readers...
And this.
David Brooks’ Baltimore column might be his dumbest of the year (We didn’t think it was possible, either)

And this:
Is there a greater hack in America than David Fucking Brooks?

And this:
Annals of derp: The poverty of poverty studies
And this:
And, perhaps, there will be even more of this insufferable David Brooks meeping about how this isn't about poverty and systemic abuse and racism, but about people fking on their sofas without the permission of their betters.
And this:
Why David Brooks Shouldn’t Talk About Poor People
And this:
Yes. The New York Times Is Toxic. Why Do You Ask?
And this:
David Brooks’ Really Bad Math
And while it is rewarding to see one's theories and opinions validated (if not recognized :-) by others, none of this matters much now that Mr. Brooks has transcended mere factual reality and made himself the Pope of his own Church of Lyin'tology.

And just in case you think I'm kidding about the quasi-religious shield-wall of moralizing catch phrases and revisionist history Mr. Brooks is building so that he and his cronies can continue right on running their same old scams, on the very same day that Mr. Brooks once again used his incredibly privileged and powerful position at the New York Times to take the truth out The Poors into the deep, deep woods and shoot it in the head three or four times...

...not one... not two... but three well-synchronized fawning interviews with Mr. Brooks on the subject of his Profound Spiritual Depths and Sensitivities appear in print. There was this embarassing reacharound in the Washington Post:
Interview: David Brooks on sin, Augustine and the state of his soul
BONUS INTERVIEW: NYT’s David Brooks talks humility, technology, and more
And slabs of exactly the same interview from RNS which have been ground up and served as a slightly different interview in Sojourners:
Q&A: David Brooks on Character, Sin, and Rumors About His Religious Journey
The astute reader will note that whenever Mr. Brooks lectures gassily and from far, far away about the plight of The Poors, he is never shy about using his amazing moral x-ray vision to penetrate their lives and communities and pronounce judgement on these children of a lesser God.

But when it comes to the question Clarice Starling posed to serial-cannibal Hannibal Lecter --
"You see a lot, Doctor. But are you strong enough to point that high-powered perception at yourself? What about it? Why don't you - why don't you look at yourself and write down what you see? Or maybe you're afraid to."
-- it turns out that Mr. Brooks' own inner life, his own failed marriage and his own motives for all the terrible things he has said and done are none of your fucking business, thank you very much (emphasis added for your spiritual betterment):
Can you talk about the state of your faith?

I’m still not talking about it. I do think it is personal. The book has some self revelatory things. But I try to keep a limit on all aspects of my life. I only go so deep with no specifics because the book is a defense of privacy and reticence. I want to talk in general about my life but not in detail. Some things are so delicate in everybody’s lives, they should only be shared with people who you trust. You do some violence to private emotion and private thought when you reduce it to simplicities of public conversation. I was asked on NPR, and I said everything is so green and fresh, it’s particularly unsettled and particularly fragile.
And that, dear friends, is what privilege looks like.

Professional Left Podcast #282


“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.”
-- C.S. Lewis, writer


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

RIP Dan Walker

An interesting and innovative populist candidate (he walked the entire length of the state), a reformer who lost a political knife-fight with the Daley Machine --
The enmity between Walker and Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley's political organization was deep. In 1974, Walker supported state legislative candidates against Daley allies. Walker's deputy governor, Victor deGrazia, later said: "... I knew from the beginning that every time Daley looked at Walker, he saw the Church of England and the British suppression of the Irish, and when Dan would look at Daley, he would see the quintessential politician who was only interested in political gain."

In 1976 Walker was defeated in the Democratic primary, losing to Secretary of State Michael Howlett, the candidate supported by Mayor Daley, by a 54% to 46% margin. In the general election, Howlett was overwhelmingly defeated by James R. Thompson.
-- and became one of Illinois' many, many, many elected officials who did time in a House of Many Doors for forgetting that stuff about not breaking the the law.

From the Southern Illinoisian:
Illinois' 36th governor Dan Walker dead at 92 
SPRINGFIELD -- Illinois' 36th governor was remembered Wednesday as an energetic but confrontational chief executive who would later join the state's legion of elected officials who have served time in prison.

Dan Walker, who served as governor from 1973 to 1976, died at his home in California Wednesday. He was 92.

Ushered into office after a populist campaign that included a nearly 1,197-mile walk across the state, the one-term governor ran into a buzz saw of controversy with the General Assembly. Although elected as a reformer, leaders of the House and Senate characterized the lawyer as arrogant and uncompromising, hampering his ability to carry out his initiatives.

His relationship with his fellow Democrats fizzled and he lost his reelection bid in a stunning primary defeat to Michael Howlett. His departure from politics in 1977 ushered in a quarter century of Republican control of the governor's office.

Ten years after leaving office, Walker served 18 months in a federal lock-up for bank fraud unrelated to his time as governor.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Church of Lyin'tology

Y'know, we're all wasting our time writing this hack science fiction! You wanta make real money, you gotta start a religion! 
Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society clubhouse in the 1940s.

"If you don't like what's being said, change the conversation."
-- Don Draper, Mad Men

Eventually even very high-powered, very highly-paid and very public political con men like Mr. David Brooks of the New York Times start to run out of road.  After enough years have passed, a career's worth of public bullshit and bad faith start to roll downhill faster than he can outrun them. And then, no matter how many of his cronies lock arms to protect him and the scam he's running, his past begins to nip at his heels.

Like the ghost of Jacob Marley, over the course of his professional life, Mr. Brooks has forged a vast and heavy chain of absurd claims, asinine pronouncements, outright lies and venomous slanders. He made it link by link and yard by yard. He gartered it on of his own free will and by his own free will he wore it!

And now Mr. Brooks would very much like for this ponderous and inconvenient chain which clanks along behind him to magically disappear (at no personal or professional cost to himself of course.)

Straight-up denial (I never said those things!) has worked for awhile, because there is not one living soul above Mr. Brooks who is interested in lowering the boom on him, and his aforementioned cronies have grown so dependent on the Both Siderist Big Lie he has pioneered that they dare not raise their voices even when the lies get embarrassingly ridiculous .

But flat denial is not a sustainable proposition over the long term, especially since that long and terrible chain is welded to together with names and dates and facts and figures and clearly enunciated positions and predictions.  It is not merely a boo-boo or two or a misstep or two from which Mr. Brooks is trying to separate himself: he is seeking to annul thirty years of well-documented facts.

He is filing for divorce from his own past, and factual reality does not grant such requests.

And so, like Henry VIII, Mr. Brooks has had to invent a brand new church which would grant his divorce.  A church from which history and causality have been excommunicated in favor of cheerful fairy tales.  (from Mr. Brooks today, "Goodness and Power")
Maybe once upon a time there was an environment in which ruthless Machiavellians had room to work their dark arts, but we don’t live in Renaissance Italy. We live in a world of universal media attention. Once there is a hint of scandal of any kind, the political world goes into maximum frenzy and everything stops.

We live in a world in which power is dispersed. You can’t intimidate people by chopping your enemies to bits in the town square. Even the presidency isn’t a powerful enough office to allow a leader to rule by fear. You have to build coalitions by appealing to people’s self-interest and by luring them voluntarily to your side.

Modern politics, like private morality, is about building trust and enduring personal relationships. That means being fair, empathetic, honest and trustworthy. If you stink at establishing trust, you stink at politics.
Three words: Bengahaaazi!Bengahaaazi!Bengahaaazi!

Also death panels and birth certificates.  

Also Vince Foster and "It's been pretty well confirmed..."

Also a thousand other very real atrocities which Mr. Brooks' Conservatism has committed against the common good but which have been exiled from Mr. Brooks' new church for unrepentant cowards and con men: a church which purloins the language of morality and humility from honorable faiths in order to cobble together an infinitely flexible dogma of ouchless redemption without confession or atonement for Mr. Brooks and the rest of our loathsome media elect.

The Church of Lyin'tology.