The Ultimate Bore

I first discovered David Brooks 12 or 13 years ago in the shitter where I worked. I went to take a dump and noticed that somebody had left a copy of The Weekly Standard on the toilet paper dispenser, so I opened it up and leafed through it and started reading what seemed to be a satirical essay about exburbanite drones living in cookie-cutter developments and filling the void of their purposeless existences with riding mowers and fancy outdoor cooking equipment. I say “seemed to be” because I recall that the tone of the piece had an edge of mockery to it—albeit an extremely slight edge—and the title, “Bobos in Paradise,” when “paradise” consisted of suburban subdivisions and office parks, just had to be irony. Except, as I kept reading, it became increasingly clear that the author wasn’t really ridiculing these “Bobos” at all, but rather applauding them for their conformity to late 20th-century upper-middle class values (that is, for being obedient corporate automatons and purchasers of stuff).

If I had only known who David Brooks was at the time, I could have spared myself the effort and confusion. For David Brooks, respect for the authority of existing institutions is the supreme virtue, and suspicion—or god forbid, cynicism—towards them is the ultimate vice. So no big surprise then that David doesn’t like the actions of our latest leaker, whose selfish individualism has put us all in danger by revealing (something that was already known, but never mind) to the citizens of a “free country” that their government is spying on them (or compiling shitloads of data that could later be used to justify spying on them). You see, a society isn’t corrupted by the selfish behavior of those who control its major institutions, it’s corrupted by the distrust and (“corrosive”) cynicism of those who are getting shafted by them. You’re not suffering because Jesus is indifferent to your pain; it’s because your faith in Him is weak.

My favorite part, though, is the first paragraph wherein Brooks refers to Snowden as “the ultimate unmediated man.” This is because “he could not successfully work his way through the institution of high school” and because he “failed to navigate his way through community college.” Wasn’t there a time when being independent-minded was considered an indispensable trait in this country? Even if largely a myth, at least it was something to aspire to. Now we have schoolmarm David Brooks telling us that the measure of success is our willingness to submit to the yoke. No wonder I couldn’t figure out whether “Bobos” was meant to be a satire—like everything written by Brooks, it was a satire of itself.

Are we morally obligated to become activists?

In the comments to Pied Cow’s post about the annoying condescension of “radical” anti-war pundits, High Arka writes:

The only honest answer for those of us on this side of the sword is that we’re guilty, rich cowards, playing the same terrible game as the others, only not winning as much treasure.

To which I responded:

This strikes me as an attempt at one-upsmanship on the moral purity scale. Were the pre-2003 residents of Iraq guilty of supporting Saddam’s evil regime? I’m sure George, Donald, and Dick thought so. I guess we’re all complicit on some level because we haven’t overthrown the government in Washington, but I don’t feel particularly guilty about the possibility that Obama might decide to send the drones after some guy on the kill list without asking for my opinion first.

Even though I disagree with Arka’s conclusion, I still think it raises a good question: Are Americans who don’t actively resist the US government (by not paying taxes, moving to another country, etc.) moral cowards who are complicit in its crimes?

Like I said, I tend to disagree with this, for two reasons (implied in the passage above): 1) Because we don’t pay taxes voluntarily and the government does what it does regardless of whether we consent, and 2) I don’t think the average American is morally obligated to pay for Dick Cheney’s crimes.

Thinking Inside the Box

Apparently some of our leading lights have decided that “creativity” is as important as intelligence. That means, of course, that they have to devise more and better ways to quantify it, like everything else, because you can’t mine for a resource until you figure out where to start drilling, and schoolchildren are nothing if not little reservoirs of potential value to be tapped at the whims of “society, business and education.”

One of the test-makers made “an interesting discovery” while testing their test, though:

Elementary school kids scored better on it than high school kids did. “I think the expression that many people use is that the schools have a tendency to suck the creativity out of kids over time,” he says.

And that’s a problem — a problem that will require enormous creativity to solve.

I’m not sure if it demonstrates “enormous creativity” or not, but here’s a thought: If you’re looking for more creative kids, and more school tends to result in less creative kids, how about less school? Not likely to happen, I know. Something tells me it would be resisted as an example of “premature closure.” Instead, they’ll probably start teaching courses in creativity and bludgeon it out of them by the time they’re in third grade.

Unmanned Killer Aircraft: Coming to a Town Near You

I thought this was noteworthy, since the air base where the new live video gaming center command center will be located is just a few miles from my house. Contrary to the ominous-sounding title, though, this is good news. No, really. Just ask a local official:

Local officials praised the move. State Rep. Todd Stephens, R-151, said “the beauty of it is we get the jobs but no impact on air traffic in and out of Willow Grove. That’s a terrific scenario.”

Bill Walker, manager of Horsham Township, said the news is positive for both the base and municipality.

“The only difference we’ll see is in the economy,” he said. “If people are being relocated, it will help the housing market. And it’s all good news for the banks and barbershops, dry cleaners and restaurants.”

I see that no Pakistanis were interviewed for this article. Just as well, I guess. They’d probably find some reason to pooh-pooh this boon to pizza shop and adult DVD store owners in southeastern Pennsylvania. On the other hand, it’s good to see that my representative in congress is doing her job, digging her snout in the trough and fattening herself–sorry, us–on federal largesse.

As for the two sourpusses who are all worried about drones being used to spy on citizens, I say get a grip. The US government doesn’t need drones to spy on us. That’s what we have Telecoms for.

None of the Above

I noticed yesterday that people were “celebrating” “President’s Day” by naming their favorite president or creating lists of “the best” presidents.  (If this is a typical thing I’ve honestly never noticed it before.)  My wife’s aunt asked my nine-year-old daughter who her favorite president was, and of course my daughter said “Barack Obama” because she doesn’t know any other presidents.  I can’t imagine the criteria used by adults were much better though.  I mean, what is the average person (someone who hasn’t actually studied history, that is) basing her opinion on?  Given the laughably simplistic hagiographies we get from the media and our K-12 indoctrination facilities, I’d have to say: not much.  George Washington beat the British and chopped down some cherry trees.  Abe Lincoln freed the slaves, and he was honest.  Ronnie Reagan told the guy with the stain on his head to tear down that wall and he liked jelly beans.  Slick Willy really seemed to care.  It reminds me of the scene in Back to School where the lit prof asks Thornton Mellon to tell her about the The Great Gatsby, and Thornton says, “He was…uh…great!”

So who’s my favorite president?  The one who died a few months after taking office (I never said I studied history) because he wasn’t in the job long enough to do any damage.

Go to faraway place, lose limb, be used by large automaker to sell cars

My favorite ad (meaning the one that jumped out as the most shameless piece of manipulative shit) that ran during the Commercial Bowl the other day was the one that tried to pass itself off as a “tribute” to our heroic heroes in uniform (whose sacrifice makes all of this endless whoring possible, no doubt) before revealing itself at the last moment as a sales pitch for Jeep.  The ad itself consisted of a video collage of picturesque small towns, rosy-cheeked marines in their dress uniforms, and rippling flags, underscored by maudlin music and a voice-over spouting all the usual platitudes about the military.  I love cynical appeals to the patriotism of the ignorant as a sales ploy.  It makes me proud to be an American.  Next time I think they should go whole hog, though.  I want to see smoking Humvees, triple amputees, and body bags, with the message: Buy a Jeep.  You don’t want these lives to have been ruined for nothing, do you?

Give me beer at 7-Eleven or give me death

I know “privatization” gets a bad rap, most of it well-earned, but this is the kind all forward-thinking people ought to be able to get behind.  Seriously, what is even the argument for the need to maintain Pennsylvania’s monopoly on the sale of liquor?  Because it’s a cash cow for the state?  Because it allows for greater control over the consumption of alcohol?  Get it done already, then.  The idea that we need laws dictating which stores can sell what kind of beverages in what quantities is beneath stupid.  For those worried about the clerks losing their union jobs, I’d be all for just handing the stores over to the people currently working in them.  Now, somebody get to work on that licensing racket.