White People and Quote Wire-Blogging Unquote
February 28, 2008, 12:12 pm
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The founder of Stuff White People Like mentions in this interview (HT: Steve Sailer) that the idea occurred to him as he and a friend were wondering why more white people don’t like The Wire and ‘wishing’ more white people did (‘wishing other white people liked X’ being a favorite ‘white people’ pastime, of course).

This threw me for a loop because my honest impression is that ‘white people’* love The Wire. Or at least they love talking about how much they love The Wire. They love to say things like “The Wire is the greatest television show in history” even if they are in their, like, 20s and cannot possibly be sufficiently familiar with a sufficient number of television shows to make that statement. If they have a blog, they love posting – repeatedly – sometimes more than once a day – with post subjects like “Wire-Blogging: ____” or some variation – about The Wire, how they love it, how it’s the greatest television show, what it proves about politics, what it proves about economics, what it proves about the universe, etc.

(cf. Matthew Yglesias)

You’d just think the author of Stuff White People Like would know that.

Because as we all know, and as the blog has so ably documented, ‘white people’ like proving that they aren’t racist, figuring out what’s best for poor people (and by implication black people), etc. The Wire embodies so many of these ‘white people’ aspirations in one tidy package: if you watch The Wire then you are automatically hip to the problems of the inner city, and have demonstrated that you are comfortable around black people (at least in TV-character form). I always assumed this was pretty much the only reason anyone would watch The Wire (which is a truly miserable, depressing, irredeemable show2) in the first place.

Speaking seriously for a moment though, the one thing I do wonder about The Wire is why it escapes being called racist. (Indeed, I even hear that actual black people like it – not that I would know.) This is a show in which the majority or at least plurality of characters are black criminals. Of those black criminals on the show who are not violent, the majority are addicted to drugs and essentially purposeless in life. A huge percentage of the black family life it portrays is dysfunctional. Conscience seems to be lacking even among characters we are meant to approve of, relatively speaking. Among the more successful black people we see, most of them are self-seeking if not corruptly swindling politicians.

Overall, in content The Wire resembles nothing so much as a horror show featuring ‘black people’ (as opposed to zombies or vampires) as the monsters. Transport a Klansman from the early 1900s and force him to view The Wire and he would surely see it as more than a vindication of all his worst nightmares and most racist thoughts. All defenses/apologia for the show seem to consist of solemnly declaring “But that’s reality, man. That’s the way things really are.” But doesn’t this only make it worse? Stepin Fetchit is considered a racist stereotype; what if, on top of that, everyone went around gaping at how “real” he was?

Yet ‘white people’ tune into this thing every week and pat themselves on the back for the racial awareness and progressivity it endows them with. How can this be? If this thing were produced & funded by David Duke it would be recognized as vicious propagandistic anti-black slander. So I suspect it escapes the racism charge because The Wire is made largely by ‘white people’, David Simon and HBO (rather than being made simply by white people). This would also explain why Simon insists on having black cameramen, etc.; he needs to demonstrate that it’s not made by white people.

But that’s just a working theory.


*‘white people’ here denotes the subgroup of people that is the implicit subject of the blog Stuff White People Like, not white people in general.

2I’ve seen every episode of The Wire through Season 4 and will probably dutifully watch Season 5 when it comes out on DVD, like all other ‘white people’.

UPDATE 3/12: I was right!

The Gut-Wrenching Internet-Chronicled Financial Suffering of the Lefty Upper Middle Class
February 24, 2008, 1:43 pm
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Matthew Yglesias complained that he was running out of “strategic patience” when it comes to the military contingent that the U.S. currently has stationed in Iraq. This sort of complaint always bothers me to the point of irritability (cf. my sarcastic comment in that thread), but it’s difficult to articulate why. I think Postmodern Conservative comes close to boiling it down to its essence: “Iraq Is Money”.

Matthew Yglesias, and people like him, including possibly you, are complaining almost exclusively about money, when they complain about Iraq.

But so why does this bother me so much?

Reason 1: Quite often, the people doing the complaining – about money – have no tangible reason to complain. I feel fairly secure in asserting that Matthew Yglesias, lefty blogger/commentator with a book coming out soon, is doing just fine, financially. The money that the U.S. government has spent on the occupation of Iraq has not affected him in any tangible way whatsoever. Yet he is “impatient” over it. There is a disconnect here. Indeed, for most of the people out there fond of complaining about the Iraq military contingent, their actual finances in their actual lives are not suffering in any measurable way whatsoever as a result of it. It’s basically an entirely hypothetical concern.

Reason 2: There is a mismatch between what the “anti-war” faction likes to say (and tell each other) they are complaining about (war = bad, the suffering of our soldiers, etc.) and what, it often seems, they are actually complaining about (money). Sure, it need not be an either/or proposition, but the problem is that no matter how bad or well the occupation/counterinsurgency is actually going, they will always fall back to the “but we’re spending lots of money” complaint. This gives the impression that even if the occupation were going near-perfectly, they’d still complain about the money. But in that case what’s the point of discussing how well Iraq is going at all? It’s still going to cost money and ‘money’ remains on the “anti-war” faction’s laundry-list of grievances. In a very real sense, it’s their baseline complaint. But the reason this grates is because they always posture as having nobler concerns – peace, love and understanding, and all that good stuff. But corner one of these people and try to pin down exactly why the Iraq occupation bothers them so much and chances are you’ll end up having to follow their logic down a twisty path that starts with how much money we’re paying, proceeds to how this puts us into debt, meanders vaguely to the idea that interest rates will have to go up, and culminates in an observation such as this will affect their mortgage because it’s an ARM, thus he might end up having higher mortgage payments in 2011 or something. (Yes, I have actually had this conversation with someone.) In other words: take a guy who’s posturing as having selfless peace-loving concerns, squeeze him a little bit, and what oozes out, frustratingly often, is a stinky dollop of self-centered spoiled-brat self-regard. Seriously, we are supposed to urgently abandon the Iraqi government (which requests our military presence) because some upper-middle-class lefty software programmer (or, prominent lefty blogger) is worried about….hypothetically having a higher mortgage payment later?

Yes, Iraq is money. But so many of the people who complain about the money we are spending on Iraq are among the most financially coddled, secure and comfortable people in the history of the world. I believe it is appropriate to discount their concerns accordingly. In any event, the idea that I am supposed to listen to their complaints with a straight face really tests my patience.

The ‘Office Space’-izing of my job continues
February 23, 2008, 1:50 pm
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Going in to work on the weekend. Fun times.

The ironic/infuriating part is I had virtually nothing to do 90% of the time this past week at my BS long-hours job. So of course, I learn on Friday that they ‘need’ me to come in on the weekend because of their emergency (=other peoples’ incompetence, or worse). The open question is whether they will ‘need’ me to actually do anything, or just to show up to prove that my boss’s boss can throw his weight around. I put it at even money.

UPDATE (Sunday): It was the latter. Going in again today. Same reason.

February 21, 2008, 5:01 am
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Michael Totten reports:

Sergeant Dehaan was comfortable with his mission in Iraq and the flaws of the Iraqi Police he was tasked with training and molding.

“I prefer these small and morally ambiguous wars to the big morally black-and-white wars,” he said to me later. “It would be nice if we had more support back home like we did during World War II. But look at how many people were killed in World War II. If a bunch of unpopular small wars prevent another popular big war, I’ll take ’em.”

Sounds about right.

I’m always perplexed by the media’s apparent need to remind us that a war is “unpopular”. The implication being, I suppose, that popular wars are the ideal toward which we should all strive, thus a war being “unpopular” is relevant (and, a criticism).

But what the heck is a “popular” war and is that something to be desired? Is a “popular” war one in which we all go around telling each other “Dude, I’m SOOOOOO glad we’re fighting this war, this is totally awesome, I hope we keep doing this war like FOREVER.”

Would that be better?

Wars aren’t supposed to be “popular”, any more than cancer treatments are supposed to be “pleasant”. Also, I suspect it’s something of a Hollywood myth that, for example, WW2 was somehow “popular” as it was occurring. (Much of our warfare expectations have been unhealthily warped by Hollywood movies, from John Wayne to Star Wars.) No one would count it as newsworthy that one’s cancer treatment was “unpleasant”. It certainly wouldn’t be a good argument for ceasing the treatment. By pushing the “unpopular” line, the media (and, to be sure, the anti-war faction) create a false impression of warfare – that we’re supposed to enjoy it, and if we’re not, that’s bad.

This is, to say the least, an ironic stance to take when it comes from supposed peace-lovers.

Two Words: Lith. Gow.
February 20, 2008, 4:07 am
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Sheila brings up overacting. I agree with her on this:

i think meryl streep is best when she’s over-the-top in comedies

Because my favorite Meryl Streep performance ever (almost by default, since it’s really the only one I can say I’ve consciously liked, as opposed to endured) was a hammy ‘Jewish mother’ in something called Prime.

Sheila’s post links to a longish discussion of over-the-top performances. I’d like to nominate John Lithgow for a Lifetime Achievement Award. Some might say he deserves it for his extended 3rd Rock From The Sun performance alone, but many fans of that character may not realize that Lithgow established his over-the-top cred way before that.

Lithgow had a rather impressive run of Needlessly Super-evil Villains (with or without Needlessly Fake British Accents) in cheesy action pics like Ricochet and Renny Harlin’s (soon to be sequelized?) Cliffhanger. For a while in the ’90s, if you needed a cheap but convincingly over-the-top evil villain, Lithgow was the go-to guy in my book.

I’m so evil even the other bad guys think I’m evil.

But for his crowning achievement, there was Brian de Palma’s so-bad-it’s-brilliant Raising Cain:

I’m not crazy! I’m the one that’s crazy!

Other career highlights (as if we needed any more):

  • reprising the William Shatner (!) role in the “monster on the airplane wing” segment of the Twilight Zone movie
  • the Footloose preacher who won’t allow dancing
  • many more I’m sure I’m leaving out.

Is John Lithgow over the top? No. He got over the top long, long ago and started back around. Pretty soon we’ll hear him coming up on us from behind. With a fake British accent, which we won’t care is fake. Because he’s that good.

Because Sometimes Movies Are Confusing Without My Help
February 19, 2008, 3:59 am
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Handy tip to keep in mind if you ever watch Death Wish (1974) for the first time: The criminals are the guys that can’t stop wiggling around.

In the Death Wishiverse, normal law-abiding people stay relatively still (sitting, or walking in a fixed trajectory), whereas criminals bounce/shimmy/hop/skip/galavante around in wild, unpredictable paths. Slaloming around subway-car poles, touching everything, touching each other, whispering in each others’ ears. Writhing. Like the zombies in 28 Days Later or the dancers in Michael Jackson’s Thriller video, of which they are clearly precursors in all their skinny Jeff Goldblum speed-freak glory.

In fact, Death Wish is probably best understood as a dance piece.

I make this note because without this viewing tip, Death Wish would simply go over your head as you miss its depths and subtleties. You’re welcome. Let’s hope that the Stallone remake will adhere to this useful motif.

You can’t tell from this still photo, but I assure you the guy on the right is the criminal, because of how much he was wiggling leading up to this moment.

Ahead Of Their Time
February 17, 2008, 8:02 pm
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Meet STAROCK: “the only band in the world to use a projection TV set as an actual band member”!


February 16, 2008, 3:33 pm
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These are the concrete things I did at my “job” on Thursday and Friday:

Thursday. No work done of note. Total actual work time: 0 minutes.

Friday. Had a ‘meeting’ at 11 where my boss’s boss tried to reassure our group that everything’s ok. He did a good job (of speaking in reassuring ways) even though nobody believed him, because he’s a big phony. But very charismatic!

Later: One guy asked me for four numbers that we had created for him a while ago, but he lost the paper with the numbers on it when everyone moved desks. I found and reprinted the spreadsheet with the four numbers on them, and gave him the piece of paper. This was some of the most substantial work I have done since starting this job. Total work time: 1 minute.

The rest of my work day is primarily spent reading news – mostly, business news – on the internet.

Oh: you really don’t want to know where I work.

By the way, if I show up ‘late’ or leave ‘early’ from this ‘job’, my boss gives me a look and makes snide comments. Because I’m so crucial, you see.

Bless Hillary For This Divine Bounty She Has Bequeathed Us
February 16, 2008, 12:01 am
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Matthew Yglesias objects to a Hillary Clinton line that goes like this:

Speeches don’t put food on the table. Speeches don’t fill up your tank, or fill up your prescription, or do anything about that stack of bills that keeps you up at night. My opponent gives speeches. I offer solutions.

But tellingly, his criticism of Hillary’s statement has nothing to do with her ridiculous implication that she does put food on our table, fill up our tank, fill “up” our prescription, and pays our bills. Apparently, that part makes perfect sense to him and his readers. To ‘liberals’, you see, all of that stuff is just what government does.

A Million Brides For A Million Bubbas?
February 15, 2008, 10:00 pm
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CNN: Mao offered U.S. 10 million women

“You know, China is a very poor country,” Mao said, according to a document released by the State Department’s historian office.

“We don’t have much. What we have in excess is women. So if you want them we can give a few of those to you, some tens of thousands.”

A few minutes later, Mao circled back to the offer. “Do you want our Chinese women?” he asked. “We can give you 10 million.”

I think we should’ve taken him up on it. It’s interesting to ponder how and under what circumstances the gift would have been delivered. :-)

But seriously, this is a very interesting revelation. Great nations don’t often give up their women willingly. Sometimes the loss of large numbers of their women represent a nation in decline, or following a defeat (see Russia and much of the former USSR). Sometimes nations who feel surrounded and under assault guard their women jealously to the point where a woman marrying outside of the nation is a dishonor so deep she must be killed, and indeed much of their society and culture often appears as if it’s geared entirely towards preventing outsiders from having sex with ‘their’ women (see many modern-day Arab/Muslim nations). And of course, there was that whole Helen incident.

On the other hand, I seem to recall instances in the Bible where an offering of a nation’s women to an enemy was made in the hopes of establishing peace. Romeo and Juliet’s romance also seemed to smooth things over, albeit with tragic consequences….

So I wonder which was the case for Mao in 1973?

Comment: I
February 15, 2008, 4:33 am
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Fire Megan McArdle continues to simply RIP Megan’s capillary to shreds with another great argument. This time, they deftly rebut Megan’s (semi tongue in cheek) post musing about ways to cool the atmosphere with what is essentially an argument from ignorance: the atmosphere is too COMPLEX to possibly know how doing anything will affect anything! Chaos, you see!

The person who I take it is supposed to be considered FMM’s resident scientist even cited the ridiculous Jeff-Goldblum-in-Jurassic-Park character as if that was supposed to lend credence to what he is saying, but I’m trying – I’m trying real hard – to let that slide. (Will his next post brag about how he can recognize a “UNIX system”?)

Anyway, I detected a slight inconsistency in this ‘we can’t possibly model the atmosphere it’s so COMPLEX’ point of view coming from someone who evidently believes1 in the predictions made by scientist-crafted computer models of the atmosphere, and said so.

1CORRECTION: The author of the piece Nutella claims to be a skeptic about claims of model-predicted climate change, so I seem to have misrepresented his views. I got the wrong impression from the fact that (despite the skepticism he claims to have) he writes as if climate-change claims are correct and reducing CO2 output is a worthwhile goal in itself. My mistake.

M. Explains Steam
February 14, 2008, 3:23 am
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“If you make waffles, it goes up in the clouds.”

My Take On The Roger Clemens In Congress Thing, And The Baseball-Steroids Scandal In General
February 14, 2008, 2:01 am
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I still can’t figure out why the heck any of these grandstanding, blowhard Congressmen think that any of this is part of their job description. The end.

How I Realized That I Think Obama Will Win
February 13, 2008, 3:02 am
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It was a multi-step parallel process. It happened this evening, talking with a friend on the subway.

1. He asked “So do you think Clinton will win?” and I thought of Bill & didn’t understand the question. Took a moment to realize he was speaking of Hillary.

2. I answered him “No, I don’t”, somewhat to my surprise.

3. When I asked what he thought, he said “Well, I’m not optimistic” – and I didn’t get his point. He thinks Obama will lose? I was assuming he was for Obama you see (like everyone?). In other words, I’m mentally treating Obama as the front-runner already, and if someone demonstrates (D) tendencies (as this guy did by asking about the (D) primary in the first place) I assume they’re for Obama. So it took my brain forever to parse his statement and realize that he was, in fact, in favor of Clinton.

The fact that I apparently think Obama will win means, of course, absolutely nothing. But it is a change from the previous year+, because I have thought all that time that the next President would be Hillary Clinton. Evidently, now I don’t.

No he can’t (think)
February 12, 2008, 3:27 am
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It’s dawning on me that I’m going to have to start paying a bit more attention to John McCain, given that he’s almost certainly going to get my vote for the Presidency in November (despite the fact that I find him creepy and in some ways kinda despise him).

It seems almost universally agreed that the key to understanding and unraveling the creepy fiery fireplug that is John McCain has got something or another to do with “honor”. The only question is what does “honor” mean to John McCain, or as an explanation for John McCain. This old piece seems to come pretty close to the truth of the matter, and yet it leaves so many things unexplained. Like, how can a man who claims to be so obsessed with “honor” not see that in nurturing his “maverick” (i.e. traitorous) role within his political party, he was behaving in a way that was the opposite of honorable? Does he, in fact, think that “honor” is merely about endlessly insisting how honorable he is?

Today I caught this on Youtube:

Which, of course, I knew was coming. I didn’t get the whole way through but the one McCain quote/incident that really struck me, which I had forgotten about, was the bizarre one that went like this:

Now, my friends, I’ll offer anybody here $50 an hour if you’ll go pick lettuce in Yuma this season and pick for the whole season. So — OK? Sign up. OK.

You sign up. You sign up, and you’ll be there for the whole season, the whole season. OK? Not just one day. Because you can’t do it, my friend.

This, of course, embodies a truly idiotic economic argument. It is, quite simply, the argument of an economic illiterate.

So that’s when it hit me, why McCain seems like such a paradox to me. I’d been missing a key factor in the McCain conundrum. Yes he is honorable, but he is also downright stupid. The man is a dummy. This is the only thing that makes sense. On issues like this, he falls for some dumb-ass argument or another, probably that some trusted friend has told him (honor is all about trusting in friends), and then sticks with it against all logic and reason. And this explains his bitterness and vehemence too: after all, if you argue against McCain’s dumb-ass lettuce-Yuma argument, that’s like you’re dissing McCain’s friend Joe Bloe (or whoever told him the argument), and DAMMIT, Joe Bloe is a veteran and an honorable man, &c.! So McCain ain’t having that.

It is in that sense that McCain is “honorable”. And indeed, there’s something to be said for that sort of personal loyalty. In fact, by figuring out that John McCain is stupid, I’ve actually increased my estimation of him a notch or so. But maybe that’s just me, because that’s the weird way I think.

Okay, there’s no “maybes” about it. It’s just me.

February 11, 2008, 1:44 am
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Sheila O’Malley made me aware of an old-photograph blog called Shorpy, and now I’m hooked. Just what I needed, another addiction.

This one’s called Grand Central Terminal, New York City. I don’t even know what to say about it. Actually whatever I could say would be superfluous.

I’ve been clicking ‘Next Page’ on that site like a trained monkey. You’ve been warned.

Faith and Symbolism
February 10, 2008, 9:11 pm
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Let’s say you consider yourself a progressive who’s interested in protecting the environment. What do you think about the Kyoto Protocol?

Chances are: you’re in favor of it. You want us to sign it. You want the politicians who represent you to be in favor of it. You want them to pledge to sign it. If/when they get in office you want them to sign it. Anyone who is against or expresses doubts or negative views about the Kyoto Protocol, and the prospect of the U.S. signing it, you are against. You will criticize them. You may even consider such a person a Neanderthal, anti-science, regressive, against progress. Or worse.

Chances also are: You’ve never read a single word of the ‘Kyoto Protocol’ and have no real idea what’s in it. (Is it a document, or something? Is there some single manuscript called ‘The Kyoto Protocol’ with 173 pages that you could read, or whatever? No, I don’t know either.) This thing, which you consider SO important and SO mandatory for our nation to sign and SO crucial that our politicians pledge support for – when it comes right down to it, you know virtually nothing about it.

Other than the fact, of course, that – you’ve heard, or read in articles – it’s ‘for the environment’ (in some way) and that it would ‘limit CO2′ somehow. You don’t really know how – the mechanisms, the legal strictures, the bureaucratic bodies involved. You don’t know whether its method would be cost-effective or have unintended consequences. If its method costs 173 trillion dollars you wouldn’t know it. If it sets up a world dictator with execution power over every other human, you wouldn’t know it. If it had a secret tiny clause that mandated gassing everyone whose last name begins with the letter ‘K’ you wouldn’t know it. These are all mere details and you (chances are) consider them unimportant; after all, you haven’t taken the trouble to investigate them, have you? Be honest.

Neverthless, supporting Kyoto is NECESSARY and not supporting it is EVIL.

Again: this all (chances are) applies to you if you consider yourself ‘progressive’ and ‘pro-science’. You have faith that the ‘Kyoto Protocol’, whatever is actually in it, is a-ok. Perhaps this is because (you assume) the document was written by Scientists, or whatever. And your insistence that politicians be in favor of it despite the fact that you don’t know anything about it? This is explainable by the following: the actual outcome of the ‘Kyoto Protocol’ is less important than the fact that your politician, your guy, express support for it. It’s a symbolic thing, you see: at least he is on the correct side of the issue.

It is just interesting, the irrational, faith-based and symbolic stances people can take in the name of rationality and reason.

February 9, 2008, 2:24 am
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M.’s reaction to the new Pixar trailer posted here, which I explained was about a robot:

“Robots are kinda like penguins.”

Astute. You know, she has a point.

For the record
February 7, 2008, 2:03 am
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I would have voted for Obama yesterday, had I had the foresight to:

  • register to vote
  • foresee that by the time the primary got around to my state, I would find all surviving (R) candidates supremely yawnworthy (or creepy), thus not care much who wins the (R) nomination, and thus
  • register as a (D) so as to at least influence the election in a way I cared about.

And, of course, if – after doing all that – I had voted at all.

Why? Well, of course there is the fact that Obama is all kinds of Orwellian cool. But there is also the important fact that he is not Hillary Clinton. I am really tired of having to see/pay attention to Hillary Clinton.

February 6, 2008, 2:14 am
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Yay! I’ve gotten some feedback about comments I made in the this thread. The blog seems to be devoted to, well, firing Megan McArdle (I’m more in favor of firing Joe Morgan myself, but I do applaud the passion behind this sort of thing either way, just on general principle ;-) ) so do click on over to Fire Megan McArdle and read what they have to say, and if you’re Megan McArdle’s boss, maybe they will even convince you, with their blog, to do just that.

P.S. I have no particular response to their criticism of my comment because, I am sad to report, it is devoted to arguing against things I did not say and a rebuttal to the things I actually did say does not seem to have been attempted. Pity. I like arguments.

UPDATE 2/6: You can see me tangle with them here. The context is their vicious, substantive charge against Megan McArdle that she is – gasp – and I quote – “not an econo-blogger”. (That is brad’s ongoing “thesis”, you see.) Tough stuff. They really know how to go for the capillary over at Fire Megan McArdle, don’t they?


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