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Preview: P J O'Rourke Online

P J O'Rourke Online

An independent index of writings by and about P J O'Rourke

Updated: 2018-03-07T14:18:57.189-05:00


The Times Loses It: Sense and nonsense about Tucson


It was a weekend of great sorrow. On Saturday, January 8, an insane young man tried to kill Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, injuring her horribly. The man then fired his gun into a small political gathering, murdering a nine-year-old girl, a federal judge, a congressional staffer, and three of Giffords’s constituents. Thirteen other people were wounded. In the midst of life we are in death. There is, in this world, no making sense of such events.

Among the worldly, however, there is a temptation to make nonsense. Thus it was that on Sunday, January 9, the New York Times provided a further grief, much less important than the death and mutilation of innocents but shameful nonetheless.

The Times ran, as its second lead, above the fold on the front page, a story about the Tucson shootings headlined “Bloodshed Puts New Focus on Vitriol in Politics.” The article, by Carl Hulse and Kate Zernike, contains almost nothing newsworthy. Nor can it be called news analysis, beginning as it does with an attempt to create a self-fulfilling prophecy: “The shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords ... set off what is likely to be a wrenching debate over anger and violence in American politics.”

If self-fulfilling prophecies were wanted from reporters — ​and they are not ​— ​a better one would have been “Bloodshed Puts New Focus on Mental Health Policies.” The person in custody for the Tucson crimes is, according to all accounts, profoundly crazy. For decades in America there has been an effort to ensure that the rights of those who are not sane are the same as the rights of those who are. Perhaps a wrenching debate over this should be had.

In the article’s second paragraph we are told that the accused, Jared Loughner, had an Internet site that “contained antigovernment ramblings.” The same may be said​ — ​at least in respect to ramblings against the newly sworn-in House of Representatives ​— ​about Internet sites posting speeches by President Obama.

But antigovernment ramblings coming from outside the government are so sinister that they are sinister whether they are sinister or not. “And regardless of what led to the episode,” Hulse and Zernike say, “it quickly focused attention on the degree to which inflammatory language, threats and implicit instigations to violence have become a steady undercurrent in the nation’s political culture.”

To maintain that there’s a lack of evidence for such a sweeping statement would be inaccurate since Hulse and Zernike themselves are doing what they claim is being done. And given the tight deadlines of a Sunday edition they have focused their attention quickly indeed.

Continued here (The Weekly Standard, dated 24 January 2011)

WikiLeaks: Were I An Alien ...


NPR asked PJ what aliens might think of the USA in light of the the WikiLeaks release:

Maybe aliens would think: What amazing lengths the vast right tentacled conspiracy will go to discredit Hillary Clinton.

Or maybe: Earthlings keep no secrets, so they hate each other! This will destroy Earth... every alien's dream!

Or maybe:

Continued here (NPR, broadcast on 8 December 2010)

General Motors should have gone bankrupt


PJ O'Rourke tells the BBC's HARDtalk's Stephen Sackur why he thinks the US car giant General Motors should not have been bailed out with taxpayers' money and explains why he believes US swing states played a large role in the outcome.

Continued here (BBC World News, broadcast on 7 December 2010)

PJ on Political Satire


Every day Five Books interviews an eminent writer, thinker, commentator, politician, academic on five books on their specialist subject. P J O’Rourke talks on Political Satire and selects classics by Swift, Huxley, Orwell and Waugh. He says we now live in the world of 1984 but, instead of being a horror show, a television that looks back at you is just a pain in the ass. It’s 1984-Lite. Sad in one way, but a relief in another.

Continued here

PJ's speech at IQ²


In the wake of his latest book, "Don’t Vote! It Just Encourages the Bastards", P J spoke at Cadogan Hall about the free market, the current economic crisis, Iraq, abortion and Sarah Palin’s prospects of making it to the White House in 2012.

"I'm not that funny," he informed us, "but I guess I am for a Republican".

In his speech, O’Rourke analyses freedom based upon positive and negative ‘rights’. He takes Isaiah Berlin’s distinction and renames them ‘gimme’ rights and ‘get outta here’ rights. The gimme rights, such as healthcare, education, housing and high speed broadband, are the ones that we expect the Government to provide for us, and the ‘get outta here’ rights, such as the right to bear arms and the right to privacy, are those which seek to provide us freedom from both government and our fellow citizens. O’Rourke is particularly concerned with the way in which the baby boomer generation failed to recognise the difference and the true cost of ‘gimme’ rights in both financial and political terms.

Continued here (dated 22 November 2010)

I Think We Lost the Election


I think we lost the election on November 2. Every race was won by a politician. True, we elected some angry nuts. These are preferable to common politicians. Their anger provokes honesty, and their mental illness prevents honesty from being obscured by charm. (What a loss -Barney Frank would have been as an exemplar of the furious, insane left!) We also elected some amateur politicians. However, politics is like vivisection—disturbing as a career, alarming as a hobby. And we may have elected a few reluctant politicians. But not reluctant enough.

We will win an election when all the seats in the House and Senate and the chair behind the desk in the Oval Office and the whole bench of the Supreme Court are filled with people who wish they weren’t there.

In a free country government is a dull and onerous responsibility. It is a parent-teacher conference. The teacher is a pompous twit. Our child is a lazy pain in the ass. We undertake this social obligation with weary reluctance. And we only do it at all because the teacher (political authority) deserves cold stares, hard questions, and maybe firing, and the pupil (that portion of society which, alas, needs governing) deserves to be grounded without TV and have its Internet access screened and its allowance docked.

America’s elected and appointed officials ought to be longing to return to their personal lives and private interests. They should feel burdened by their powers, irked with their responsibilities, and embarrassed at their prominence in the public eye. When they say they want to spend more time with their families, they should mean it.

Continued here (The Weekly Standard, dated 13 November 2010)

Facts Meet Freedom: On the Air in Afghanistan


At dinner in Prague with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s president, Jeff Gedmin, and half a dozen RFE/RL staffers, Gedmin said, to no one in particular, “Do you think at any time in the future history will look back and say, ‘I wish they hadn’t broadcast so much information’?”

It will be an unpleasant future if history says that. And it won’t be RFE/RL’s fault. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty broadcasts information to Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and the Middle East in twenty-eight languages. Much of the information comes from the places where those twenty-eight languages are spoken. RFE/RL has five hundred and fifty employees in Prague—speaking the twenty-eight languages and then some—forty more back in Washington, and several hundred full- and part-time correspondents, editors, and technicians at bureaus in eighteen countries. Reporters are also working, sometimes clandestinely, in countries where RFE/RL bureaus aren’t allowed. The mission is to tell people living in those countries what is happening to them.

“I don’t know what’s happening to me” would be a statement of psychological or sociological distress in a liberal democracy, but it’s a plain statement of fact concerning the material world for anyone who doesn’t live in a liberal democracy. Government censorship of media, government influence on or ownership of media, and simple lack of infrastructure keep several billion people uninformed about the most important and intimate matters in their own lives. (And according to Radio Farda, RFE/RL’s Iranian service, the Iranian judiciary has ruled that psychology and sociology should not be taught in schools.)

The concept of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is “surrogate broadcasting”—doing the job that independent media would do if there were any or enough of it in the places RFE/RL serves. Jeff Gedmin calls it “holding up a mirror.” It’s a Cold War idea. Radio Free Europe’s first broadcast was to Czechoslovakia in 1950, as the Communists were using show trials and purges to solidify their control in Prague.

Continued here (World Affairs, dated November/December 2010)

Bloomberg grills PJ


PJ talks about his new book, "Don't Vote, It Just Encourages the Bastards", with Bloomberg Midday Surveillance host Tom Keene:

KEENE: What do you type at now? Do you do it like the original IBM Selectric, an old Royal?

PJ: I do. I do. I have three of them. As people go to computers, they give me their old Selectric and I've got one old guy, who used to work for IBM, who still knows how to fix them and when he goes I don't know what is going to happen.

KEENE: Can you get parts?

PJ: Apparently he knows some crazy company off in Indonesia or someplace who still make parts for these things.

KEENE: The emotion, "Don't Vote, It Just Encourages The Bastards." That's a great photo.

PJ: I had my golf clothes.

KEENE: That's your golf clothes, nice tie. That looks like a bow tie I could wear, no question about that. There's the book. I want to bring up this chart which I think is the backdrop for your wonderful effort here, the humor, the Libertarian sense of it. U6 underemployment, this country is under employed and it a lot different than when you wrote "Modern Manners" in 1994.

PJ: Oh, yes, yes, when the country was over employed, way too busy.

Continued here (Bloomberg Midday Surveillance, dated 27 October 2010)

They Hate Our Guts and they’re drunk on power


Perhaps you’re having a tiny last minute qualm about voting Republican. Take heart. And take the House and the Senate. Yes, there are a few flakes of dander in the fair tresses of the GOP’s crowning glory—an isolated isolationist or two, a hint of gold buggery, and Christine O’Donnell announcing that she’s not a witch. (I ask you, has Hillary Clinton ever cleared this up?) Fret not over Republican peccadilloes such as the Tea Party finding the single, solitary person in Nevada who couldn’t poll ten to one against Harry Reid. Better to have a few cockeyed mutts running the dog pound than Michael Vick.

I take it back. Using the metaphor of Michael Vick for the Democratic party leadership implies they are people with a capacity for moral redemption who want to call good plays on the legislative gridiron. They aren’t. They don’t. The reason is simple. They hate our guts.

They don’t just hate our Republican, conservative, libertarian, strict constructionist, family values guts. They hate everybody’s guts. And they hate everybody who has any. Democrats hate men, women, blacks, whites, Hispanics, gays, straights, the rich, the poor, and the middle class.

Democrats hate Democrats most of all. Witness the policies that Democrats have inflicted on their core constituencies, resulting in vile schools, lawless slums, economic stagnation, and social immobility. Democrats will do anything to make sure that Democratic voters stay helpless and hopeless enough to vote for Democrats.

Continued here (The Weekly Standard, dated 23 October 2010)

New Book: Don't Vote It Just Encourages the Bastards


Put the United States of America’s big, fat political ass on a diet. Lose that drooping deficit. Slim those spreading entitlement programs. Firm up that flabby pair of butt cheeks that are the Senate and the House. Having had a lot of fun with what politicians do, P J O’Rourke now has a lot of fun with what should be thought about those politicians. Nothing good, to be sure.

Instead of starting with deep political thinkers of yore such as Hume, Locke, and John Stuart Mill, in his new book, DON’T VOTE — It Just Encourages the Bastards, O’Rourke starts with a party game of late-night giggle sessions in all-girls boarding schools: “Kill, F@#%, Marry.” Pick three men — or, in O’Rourke’s version, three political ideologies, ie, Democrat, Republican, and Independent (aka Confused). Then you choose which to terminate with extreme prejudice, which to go for a roll in the hay, and which to settle down with permanently for a boring life in the suburbs.

This astute tool of political analysis works on the parts of government as well as on the political thinking that led to those parts: kill the Department of Education, screw Social Security, and marry the Armed Forces. The same for political policies: screw the bailout, marry a balanced budget, and kill health care reform before it kills you.

O’Rourke explores the basis of American democracy — the power, freedom, and responsibility that are the “Kill, F@#%, Marry” of liberty and self-rule. He favors — reluctantly, he admits — responsibility.

He goes on to examine the hilarious irresponsibility of America’s political establishment on every issue, from the woes of nation building to the financial crisis (“The best investment I’ve made lately? I left a $20 bill in the pocket of my tweed jacket last spring, and I just found it”), the bailout, health care reform (“Something doesn’t add up. Politicians are telling me that I can smoke, drink, gain two hundred pounds, then win an iron man triathlon at age ninety-five”), the stimulus package, climate change (“There’s not a god-damn thing you can do about it ... There are 1.3 billion people in China and they all want a Buick”), trade imbalance, the end of the American automobile industry, U.S. foreign policy and the Family of Nations (“Uncle Russia’s out on parole, drunk, unemployed, and likely to kill some folks next door again soon”), campaign finance reform, gun control, No Child Left Behind (“What if they deserve to be left behind?”), and pretty much everything else under the sun.

Continued here

Innocence Abroad: The Tea Party's Search for Foreign Policy


What is the Tea Party’s foreign policy? It’s a difficult question on two counts. There is no Tea Party foreign policy as far as I can tell, and, on inspection, there is no Tea Party. There are, of course, any number of Tea Party Coalition groups across the country. But these mix and mingle, cooperate, compete, debate, merge, and overlap with countless other groups grouped together as the “Tea Party movement” in the public mind (or the public commentator mind).

Some of these organizations have staffs and salaries and offices, and some—according to the time left over for blogging after job and children—have memberships numbering between one and none. Various domestic policy foundations such as FreedomWorks, Americans for Prosperity, and the Independence Institute have had their influence, as have associations of people with a frame of mind about policy that’s more antinomian, such as FedUpUSA. Then there is the 9/12 Project, promoted by Glenn Beck, which seeks a return to the best of what Americans thought and felt after 9/11 and which is more concerned with values than policy per se. A variety of social conservatives with similar concerns about values—if diverse ideas of what those values are—also have been lumped with the Tea Party movement. Sometimes they’ve lumped themselves.

Disaggregation and multifariousness make it hard to take any policy measure of the Tea Party. But the tougher problem is definitional. “Movement” implies a destination. When you move you’re headed somewhere. Political movements have a place they want government to go. The Tea Party movement has a place it wants government to go—and rot. That’s different. The Tea Party has a political attitude rather than a political ideology.

Nonetheless, every political concept has foreign policy implications. George Washington warned against foreign entanglements. But the friends, enemies, and neighbors of that new concept, the United States, soon found themselves entangled in American foreign policy, even before America knew it had one.

Continued here (World Affairs, dated September/October 2010)

The 72-Hour Expert


If you spend 72 hours in a place you’ve never been, talking to people whose language you don’t speak about social, political, and economic complexities you don’t understand, and you come back as the world’s biggest know-it-all, you’re a reporter. Either that or you’re President Obama. I called my wife. She said, no, she certainly is not vacationing at government expense in some jet-set hot spot with scads of her BFFs. Looks like I’m not President Obama. But I am a reporter, fresh from Kabul. What do you want to know about Afghanistan, past, present, or future? Ask me anything.

As all good reporters do, I prepared for my assignment with extensive research. I went to an Afghan restaurant in Prague. Getting a foretaste—as it were—of my subject, I asked the restaurant’s owner (an actual Afghan), “So what’s up with Afghanistan?” He said, “Americans must understand that Afghanistan is a country of honor. The honor of an Afghan is in his gun, his land, and his women. You take a man’s honor if you take his gun, his land or his women.”

And the same goes for where I live in New Hampshire. I inquired whether exceptions could be made, on the third point of honor, for ex-wives. “Oh yes,” he said.

Afghanistan—so foreign and yet so familiar and, like home, with such wonderful lamb chops. I asked the restaurateur about other similarities between New Hampshire and Afghanistan. “I don’t know,” he said. “Most of my family lives in L.A.”

In Kabul I was met at the airport by M. Amin Mudaqiq, bureau chief for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Afghan branch, Radio Azadi. “Our office is just down the main road,” he said, “but since it’s early in the morning we’ll take the back way, because of the Suicides.” That last word, I noticed, was pronounced as a proper noun, the way we would say “Beatles” slightly differently than “beetles.” And, in a sense, suicide bombers do aspire to be the rock stars of the Afghan insurgency (average career span being about the same in both professions).

“The Suicides usually attack early in the morning,” Amin said. “It’s a hot country and the explosive vests are thick and heavy.”

I’d never thought about suicide bombing in terms of comfort. Here’s some guy who’s decided to blow himself gloriously to bits and he’s pounding the pavement all dressed up in the blazing sun, sweat running down his face, thinking, “Gosh this thing itches, I’m pooped, let’s call it off.”

“It’s the same with car bombs,” Amin said. “You don’t want to be driving around the whole day with police everywhere and maybe get a ticket.”

Imagine the indignity of winding up in traffic court instead of the terrorist equivalent of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Continued here (The Weekly Standard, dated 30 August - 6 September 2010)

End Them, Don’t Mend Them


The school year is drawing to a close. Time to balance the educational accounts and see what’s been learned. Though not by my kids. I don’t worry about them. They’re geniuses like your kids and soak up knowledge the way a sponge (or a SpongeBob) does. Muffin, in sixth grade, has learned that Justin Bieber is very talented and doesn’t—really, Dad—sing like a girl. Poppet, third grade, has learned how the Plains Indians made tepees. (They waited until after dinner to announce that their “Lifestyles of the Cheyenne” project was due tomorrow so that all the Cheyenne dads were up until one in the morning gluing dowels and brown wrapping paper to a piece of AstroTurf.) And Buster, kindergarten, has learned he can make himself giggle hysterically by adding “poop” to any phrase. The Little Engine That Could Poop.

No, the accounts that I’m balancing—and it’s quite educational—are bank accounts. What’s been learned is that it costs a fortune to send kids to school. Figures in the Statistical Abstract of the United States show that we are spending $11,749 per pupil per year in the U.S. public schools, grades pre-K through 12. That’s an average. And you, like me, don’t have average children. So we pay the $11,749 in school taxes for the children who are average and then we pay private school tuition for our own outstanding children or we move to a suburb we can’t afford and pay even more property taxes for schools in the belief that this makes every child outstanding.

Continued here (The Weekly Standard, dated 21 June 2010)

Not Dead Yet


I have an idea for a brand new type of newspaper feature. And gosh do newspapers need one. No industry in living memory has collapsed faster than daily print journalism. You can still buy a buggy whip, which is more than can be said for a copy of the Rocky Mountain News, Cincinnati Post, or Seattle Post-Intelligencer. One would think that a business in such dire condition would be—for desperation’s sake—wildly innovative. But newspapers exhibit a fossilization of form and content that’s been preserved in sedimentary rock since the early 1970s when the “Women’s Pages” were converted to the “Leisure Section.” General Motors itself showed more inventive originality on its way to Chapter 11, as the two people who bought Pontiac Azteks can attest.

Readers are fleeing newspapers. What are newspapers offering to lure them back? Out-of-register color photographs have replaced blurry black and white pics. More working women and black people appear in comic strips. (Although comparisons to Walt Kelly’s “Pogo” and Al Capp’s “L’il Abner” show, if anything, a decline in the social relevance of the funny pages, “Marmaduke” always excepted.) Various versions of “Dr. Gridlock” have been instituted so that when you get to work and open your morning paper you can see why you didn’t get to work. That avant-garde broadsheet the New York Times supplemented its dull “Corrections” with a “Public Editor” who combines pomposity with groveling as only a New York Times editor can. And, in “Styles of the Times,” Miss Lonelyhearts and The Day of the Locust have been crossbred with Anna Wintour to produce something for famously overdressed people with scary romantic entanglements that’s known in the trade as the Gay Sports Pages. Then there’s Sudoku. (Tip for silencing airplane seatmates: Take out a Friday Sudoku and rapidly fill every box in ink—it’s not like they’ll check if your numbers are right.)

One bright idea isn’t going to solve the problems of the American newspaper industry, but it’s one bright idea more than the American newspaper industry has had in 40 years. What I propose is “Pre-Obituaries”—official notices that certain people aren’t dead yet accompanied by brief summaries of their lives indicating why we wish they were.

Continued here (The Weekly Standard, dated 7 June 2010)

A Plague of ‘A’ Students


Barack Obama is more irritating than the other nuisances on the left. Nancy Pelosi needs a session on the ducking stool, of course. But everyone with an ugly divorce has had a Nancy. She’s vexatious and expensive to get rid of, but it’s not like we give a damn about her. Harry Reid is going house-to-house selling nothing anybody wants. Slam the door on him and the neighbor’s Rottweiler will do the rest. And Barney Frank is self-punishing. Imagine being trapped inside Barney Frank.

The secret to the Obama annoyance is snotty lecturing. His tone of voice sends us back to the worst place in college. We sit once more packed into the vast, dreary confines of a freshman survey course—“Rocks for Jocks,” “Nuts and Sluts,” “Darkness at Noon.” At the lectern is a twerp of a grad student—the prototypical A student—insecure, overbearing, full of himself and contempt for his students. All we want is an easy three credits to fulfill a curriculum requirement in science, social science, or fine arts. We’ve got a mimeographed copy of last year’s final with multiple choice answers already written on our wrists. The grad student could skip his classes, the way we intend to, but there the s.o.b. is, taking attendance. (How else to explain this year’s census?)

America has made the mistake of letting the A student run things. It was A students who briefly took over the business world during the period of derivatives, credit swaps, and collateralized debt obligations. We’re still reeling from the effects. This is why good businessmen have always adhered to the maxim: “A students work for B students.” Or, as a businessman friend of mine put it, “B students work for C students—A students teach.”

It was a bunch of A students at the Defense Department who planned the syllabus for the Iraq war, and to hell with what happened to the Iraqi Class of ’03 after they’d graduated from Shock and Awe. The U.S. tax code was written by A students. Every April 15 we have to pay somebody who got an A in accounting to keep ourselves from being sent to jail. Now there’s health care reform—just the kind of thing that would earn an A on a term paper from that twerp of a grad student who teaches Econ 101.

Why are A students so hateful? I’m sure up at Harvard, over at the New York Times, and inside the White House they think we just envy their smarts. Maybe we are resentful clods gawking with bitter incomprehension at the intellectual magnificence of our betters. If so, why are our betters spending so much time nervously insisting that they’re smarter than Sarah Palin and the Tea Party movement? They are. You can look it up (if you have a fancy education the way our betters do and know what the unabridged Oxford English Dictionary is). “Smart” has its root in the Old English word for being a pain. The adjective has eight other principal definitions ranging from “brisk” to “fashionable” to “neat.” Only two definitions indicate cleverness—smart as in “clever in talk” and smart as in “clever in looking after one’s own interests.” Don’t get smart with me.

Continued here (The Weekly Standard, dated 3 May 2010)

Dear Mr President ... Unhappy in Our Own Way


In your conduct of foreign policy, I had expected you to be wrong. I hadn’t expected you to be a self-righteous bumbler, lecturing humanity on morals while possessing no clear moral vision of your own. You are the kind of thinker who outsmarts no one but himself, by turns too skeptical and too credulous, too permissive and too controlling, too understanding and too obtuse.

You’re acting . . . like me.

That’s exactly the way I behave with my family. The problem is, your family is larger. I’m the head of the O’Rourkes. You’re the head of the Family of Nations.

The Family of Nations is a wrongheaded notion but not without its value as an analytical tool, if the countries of the world are considered as members of a large, raucous, conniving, belligerent Irish clan, some of them inebriated with fanaticism, others fanatically inebriated, and all of them asking each other—as the O’Rourke motto goes—“Is this a private fight, or can anyone join in?”

I suppose you imagine that someday there will be a stirring display of clan loyalty with the tribe uniting in the face of a common foe, such as global warming. The Family of Nations will coalesce to battle a mutual adversary. But until the wingéd apes with ray guns arrive, arrangements such as the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, the World Bank, and the Copenhagen Treaty on Climate Change will be bloody affairs, like a wedding reception at the Friends of Hibernia Hall or a wake at the Shamrock and Pig.

So how are you doing as patriarch in the household of humankind? Here’s one question to gauge your standing with the relatives: Do they all go to you asking for money? You’re good on this count. You’ve displayed an open hand to all who come your way, and you’ve dropped hints that you’ll even go to them to dispense largesse, be they as far away as Tehran or Pyongyang. You’re the soul of generosity, as have been all the chieftains who’ve come before you since Woodrow Wilson (except for Calvin Coolidge). Never mind that it’s not your money, that it belongs to your rich, nervous, high-strung aunt, American Business. Aunt Busy is suffering from a bit of a breakdown at the moment. You’ve gotten your hands on her power of attorney and you’re frittering away her wealth.

Continued here (World Affairs Journal, dated January/February 2010)

Red Warbler


Review of "The Protest Singer - An Intimate Portrait of Pete Seeger" by Alec Wilkinson:

This is an important book. As with any book about which this needs to be said, what's meant is that it isn't important at all. It's a hagiography of Pete Seeger--and not even a proper, thorough one with sheet music, lyrics, and recording history. But there are important aspects to the book, none of them intentional.

Pete Seeger is a modest, unassuming, cheerful, and kind-natured man. He's a good folk singer, if you can stand folk singing. And he's such an excellent banjo player that you almost don't wish you had a pair of wire cutters. His abilities as a composer range from the fairly sublime ("Turn, Turn, Turn") to the fairly awful ("If I Had a Hammer") by way of the fairly ridiculous ("Where Have All the Flowers Gone?").

He built his own house--rather badly, as far as I can tell. And he lives in it--rather well, with a loving wife and frequent visits from doting friends and relatives. He's spent his life being in favor of the right things, such as decent wages, racial equality, peace, and a clean Hudson River, and being opposed to the wrong things such as hunger, bigotry, violence, and a dirty Hudson River. He was also a member of the Communist party long past that organization's youthful-idealism sell-by date.

Continued here (The Weekly Standard, dated 12 October 2009)

Outsourcing Hate


Whew, I'm pooped. Jimmy Carter has got me run ragged with all the hating I'm supposed to do. Jimmy says I'm a racist because I oppose President Obama's health care reform program. Even Jimmy Carter can't be wrong all the time. And since Jimmy Carter has been wrong about every single thing for the past 44 years, maybe--just as a matter of statistical probability--he's right this time. I hadn't noticed I was a racist, but that was no doubt because I was too busy being a homophobe. Nancy Pelosi says the angry opposition to health care reform is like the angry opposition to gay rights that led to Harvey Milk being shot. Since I do not want America to suffer another Sean Penn movie, I will accept that I'm a homophobe, too. And I'm a male chauvinist due to the fact that I think Nancy Pelosi is blowing smoke--excuse me, carbon neutral, biodegradable airborne particulate matter--out her pantsuit. Also, I'm pretty sure Rahm Emanuel is Jewish, and you can't be against (or even for) President Obama without the involvement of Rahm Emanuel, so I'm an anti-Semite. Furthermore, although I personally happen to be a libertarian on immigration issues, I do agree with Joe Wilson that you can't say you're expanding health care to the poor and then pretend you're going to turn those poor away if their driver's licenses look a little Xeroxy and what's on their Social Security cards turns out to be a toll-free number for a La Raza hotline. Thus I'm prejudiced against Hispanics as well.I'm a 61-year-old man with three young children and a yard to rake. While I appreciate the attention from our most ex- of ex-presidents, I'm really too busy to properly accomplish all this loathing and detestation. I quit smoking so I don't even have a lighter to set crosses on fire. We don't happen to own white bed sheets and I'm five nine and--dressed in Ralph Lauren candy stripes and tripping on fitted corners--I'd feel like a fool at Klan rallies (and Tea Parties and Town Hall meetings, to the extent that there's a difference). Then I have the task of finding people to disrespect, denigrate, and discriminate against. I know people who are black, gay, Jewish, and Hispanic. But, unfortunately, I like them. When you like a person it's difficult to treat him (or even her) with the kind of vigorous and unrestrained bigotry that Jimmy Carter expects me to engage in. I have to go looking for people (people of the proper race, creed, and ethnic origin) whom I can't stand. That jackass from the gas company who kicked my dog (even though Valkyrie hardly broke the skin) won't do. The meter reader is a New Hampshire Yankee. This is exactly the problem. I live in rural New Hampshire and we are, frankly, short on people who are black, gay, Jewish, and Hispanic. In fact, we're short on people. My town has a population of 301. When it comes to bias we're pretty much reduced to an occasional slur against French-Canadians. But my grandfather was French-Canadian, so I feel that it is somewhat inappropriate for me to express scorn for Frenchies. That is, liberals have a monopoly on self-loathing as a result of neurosis entitlements and affirmative anxiety programs for which I, as a Republican, do not qualify. Thus it is that I have to drive all the way to Dorchester and then out to Provincetown and down to New York City and back to be narrow minded enough to satisfy Jimmy Carter, Nancy Pelosi, Rahm Emmanuel, and their friend Hugo Chávez. Continued here (The Weekly Standard, dated 5 October 2009)[...]

Still 'Crazy' -- And Proud of It


Us right-wing nuts sure is scary! That's the message from the Washington Post. To put this in language a conservative would understand, the fourth estate has been alarmed once again by the Burkean proclivities of our nation's citizens. The Post is in a panic about (to use its own descriptive terms) "birthers," "anti-tax tea-partiers," and "town hall hecklers."

If, last Sunday, you spent a profitless hour reading the Washington Post (itself not too profitable), you noticed the loud yapping and desperate nipping at those who disagree with liberal orthodoxy. It was as if top management were a toy schnauzer accidentally mistaken for a duster and traumatized by being run back and forth through the venetian blinds. The wise and prestigious broadsheet institution was so barking mad that it sent three (Three! In these times of hardship for the print media! When reporters are being laid off right and left--well, mostly right--and stories are going uncovered from rapidly warming pole to pole! Three!) journalists to do battle with "The Return of Right-Wing Rage."

That was the subtitle of Rick Perlstein's section B leader. The title was "In America, Crazy Is a Preexisting Condition." Perlstein wrote the book Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus so you can intuit (or "grok" as Perlstein might put it, given his prose style) the contents of his article. Yes, Rick, right-wing rage has returned. It was up at my place for the weekend. But it's back, and it's not like right-wing rage ever really went away. It didn't, as you would say, Rick, "move on."

Accompanying the Perlstein screed was a sidebar by Alec MacGillis explaining how "health care reform is not that hard to understand, and those who tell you otherwise most likely have an ulterior motive."

All you town hall hecklers, calm down and go home. Never mind that Alec MacGillis is a rat, something that's evident by the sixth sentence of his piece: "Fixing [health care] could be very simple: a single-payer system." And never mind that his writing is more than uninformative, it is informationally subtractive. Read him and you'll know less than you know now about what the government is going to do to you and your doctor. Read him carefully and you'll know nothing.

Continued here (The Weekly Standard, dated 31 August 2009)

Sex, Drugs, Music, Mud - Woodstock at 40


Reviews of "The Road to Woodstock" by Michael Lang, "Woodstock Revisited" by Susan Reynolds and "Woodstock" by Brad Littleproud and Joanne Hague:

No social phenomenon can be completely analyzed, thoroughly critiqued, and given its full philosophical due in just one word. Except Woodstock. Altamont.

And that--except for the shaded sidebar containing the titles of the reviewed books--should be the end of this book review. However, the long weekend of August 15-17, 1969, was one of the great where-weren't-you? moments of recent history. Along with 202,177,000 other Americans, where I wasn't was at Woodstock.

Though it was not for lack of trying. I was 21 and smitten with a girl--call her Sunflower--from exotic Massapequa, Long Island. I had come by motorcycle from Ohio with the idea of Sunflower riding pillion to a "Woodstock Music and Arts Fair" which, according to a poster in a record shop back in Yellow Springs, was "An Aquarian Exposition" featuring "Three Days of Peace and Music." I pictured something on the order of a wind chime sale with evening hootenannies and maybe a surprise guest appearance by Mimi Fariña.

Sunflower, alas, chose the Sunday prior to make a feeble gesture at doing away with herself. (Such feeble gestures were more or less obligatory among fine arts major co-eds in those days. There was a bridge at an Ohio women's college from which at least one art student per semester would plunge.

Continued here (The Weekly Standard, dated 22 August 2009)

Twittering the Constitution


I will Twitter the Constitution of the United States of America. And the Bill of Rights. You may well ask, why? The Constitution is readily available, in print and online, set down in full without the distraction or annoyance of abridgments, elisions, abbreviations, acronyms, emoticons, and constructions such as "i h8 u" to express our feeling about inherited nobility once it had ceased to be our BFF. The Constitution is there for everyone to read. Ah, reading. People just don't do much of that these days. Especially not kids. Of course today's young people are able to read (thanks to No Child Left Behind and other brilliant improvements in public education). But I see no evidence that youths actually do read anything except text messages. Thus my project. Tech-savvy parents can use their BlackBerry phones to send the 140-characters-or-less items of cyberspeak that I have prepared and thereby fill their children's minds with substantive tweets.

"Tweet" is what I mean, isn't it? I'm not a tech-savvy parent. I communicate with my children via the old-media format called yelling. I have never Twittered or Tweeted or even Chirped. (I have Quacked, but only to lure mallards toward my duck blind.) Excuse me if I don't get the jargon right. Nor am I conversant with all the initialism that adds speed and convenience to typing with one's thumbs. LOL may mean "laughing out loud" or it may mean "lardy, otiose loptopophiles." I'm not sure.

Speaking of clueless squares, I have a second reason for Twittering the Constitution. I understand Twitter has become popular among politicians. This technology allows them to stay in perpetual contact with their constituents. The electorate now has instant information about what politicians have been up to. Considering what Governor Mark Sanford, Senator John Ensign, ex-Governor Eliot Spitzer, et al, have been up to, is this a good thing? And imagine the embarrassment of the Sarah Palin Twitter feed letting everyone in America know what she's been doing when she herself hasn't the slightest. She has to consult her own Tweets.

Giving politicians a Twitter-ready version of the U.S. Constitution to send to voters in place of the politicians' own thoughts will raise the tone of America's political discourse while sparing us the pain and humiliation of learning anything more about our dreadful elected representatives, their idiot ideas, or their unwelcome whereabouts.

Continued here (The Weekly Standard, dated 20 July 2009)

Manifesto for Banana Republicans


The other day a journalist friend of mine in Washington got a phone call from a colleague in South America. "How's it feel to be a fellow citizen of the Third World?" my friend's friend asked.

"What?" said my friend.

"You know," said the Latin reporter, "the new government gets in office, the old government goes to jail."

The caller was referring, of course, to the prosecution--or threatened prosecution or mooted prosecution or proposal for prosecution to be publicly disavowed but tacitly permitted to go forward--of six Bush administration officials involved with the legal issues concerning "enhanced interrogation techniques."

Note that Attorney General Eric Holder and assorted Obama allies and ilk have been picking on people of whom you've mostly never heard. Aside from former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, it is unknown notables who are suffering besmirchment, sabotage, shredding, and wreckage of their characters, careers, reputations, and personal lives. John Yoo was a lawyer at the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel. Jay Bybee was in charge of that office. Douglas Feith was an undersecretary of defense. William Haynes was the Defense Department's general counsel. And David Addington was the vice president's chief of staff.

The targets of calumny do not include any people who actually employed enhanced interrogation techniques. No CIA agents or agency contractors are on the black list. Of course not. It's beneath the dignity of Dianne Feinstein to have to get down on her knees every morning and look under her Prius to see if there's an IED from The Firm.

Nor has there been proscription of the political leaders who decreed how Guantánamo miscreants and associate miscreants were to be questioned. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney aren't threatened with legal action, not even by lunatic Iberian jurist Balthasar Garzón. (I received a post-cocktail hour email from a redneck pal: "Hope Don Greaser tries to serve the subpoenas in person. Body mount of Spanish judge in full plumage sure would dress up my game room.")

Indicting the top members of the ousted Republican government would attract attention from the wrong people--regular people. Public opinionmakers are vehement in their fastidiously ethical support of the Democratic party's stand on anti-cruelty to terrorists. Public opinion is not so certain. Broad polling might uncover opinions to the effect of, "Water-boarding? What's with water-boarding. How about kerosene-boarding!"

Continued here (The Weekly Standard, dated 1 June 2009)

The End of the Affair


The phrase “bankrupt General Motors,” which we expect to hear uttered on Monday, leaves Americans my age in economic shock. The words are as melodramatic as “Mom’s nude photos.” And, indeed, if we want to understand what doomed the American automobile, we should give up on economics and turn to melodrama.

Politicians, journalists, financial analysts and other purveyors of banality have been looking at cars as if a convertible were a business. Fire the MBAs and hire a poet. The fate of Detroit isn’t a matter of financial crisis, foreign competition, corporate greed, union intransigence, energy costs or measuring the shoe size of the footprints in the carbon. It’s a tragic romance—unleashed passions, titanic clashes, lost love and wild horses.

Foremost are the horses. Cars can’t be comprehended without them. A hundred and some years ago Rudyard Kipling wrote “The Ballad of the King’s Jest,” in which an Afghan tribesman avers: Four things greater than all things are,—Women and Horses and Power and War.

Insert another “power” after the horse and the verse was as true in the suburbs of my 1950s boyhood as it was in the Khyber Pass.

Horsepower is not a quaint leftover of linguistics or a vague metaphoric anachronism. James Watt, father of the steam engine and progenitor of the industrial revolution, lacked a measurement for the movement of weight over distance in time—what we call energy. (What we call energy wasn’t even an intellectual concept in the late 18th century—in case you think the recent collapse of global capitalism was history’s most transformative moment.) Mr. Watt did research using draft animals and found that, under optimal conditions, a dray horse could lift 33,000 pounds one foot off the ground in one minute. Mr. Watt—the eponymous watt not yet existing—called this unit of energy “1 horse-power.”

In 1970 a Pontiac GTO (may the brand name rest in peace) had horsepower to the number of 370. In the time of one minute, for the space of one foot, it could move 12,210,000 pounds. And it could move those pounds down every foot of every mile of all the roads to the ends of the earth for every minute of every hour until the driver nodded off at the wheel. Forty years ago the pimply kid down the block, using $3,500 in saved-up soda-jerking money, procured might and main beyond the wildest dreams of Genghis Khan, whose hordes went forth to pillage mounted upon less oomph than is in a modern leaf blower.

Horses and horsepower alike are about status and being cool. A knight in ancient Rome was bluntly called “guy on horseback,” Equesitis. Chevalier means the same, as does Cavalier. Lose the capitalization and the dictionary says, “insouciant and debonair; marked by a lofty disregard of others’ interests, rights, or feelings; high-handed and arrogant and supercilious.” How cool is that? Then there are cowboys—always cool—and the U.S. cavalry that coolly comes to their rescue plus the proverbially cool-handed “Man on Horseback” to whom we turn in troubled times.

Continue here (Wall Street Journal, dated 30 May 2009)

Interview: O'Rourke on Australian Radio


PJ O'Rourke maintains that the writings of Adam Smith are still important, especially his lesser known work The Theory of Moral Sentiments, which shows why enlightened self-interest does not equate to selfishness.

Interviewer Paul Comrie-Thomson also questions PJ about classic American cars, rock and roll, and the European adulation of Barack Obama.

Continue here (Transcript of original broadcast on ABC Radio National's Counterpoint on 20 April 2009)

Print paupers could use bailout


HELLO? Bailout people? Mr Secretary of the Treasury Hank Paulson? Aren't you forgetting somebody? Like me? I'm a print journalist. Talk about financial meltdown! Print journalists may soon have to send their kids to public schools, feed dry food to their cats and give up their leases on Prius automobiles and get the Hummers that are being offered at such deep discounts these days.

The print journalism industry is taking a beating, circling the drain, running on fumes. Especially running on fumes. You could smell Frank Rich all the way to Nome when Sarah Palin was nominated. Not that print journalism actually emits much in the way of greenhouse gases. We have an itty-bitty carbon footprint. We're earth-friendly. The press run of an average big-city daily newspaper can be made from one tree. Compare that to the global warming hot air produced by talk radio, cable television and Andrew Sullivan.

There are many compelling reasons to save America's print journalism. And I'll think of some while the waiter brings me another drink. In the first place, one out of three American households is dependent on print journalism.* And if you think home foreclosures are disruptive to American society, imagine what would happen if USA Today stopped publishing. Lose your home and you become homeless: a member of an important interest group with many respected advocates and a powerful political lobbying arm. But lose your newspaper and what are you going to do for covers on a cold night while you're sleeping on a park bench? Try blanketing yourself with Matt Drudge to keep warm.

The Government is bailing out Wall Street for being evil and the car companies for being stupid. But print journalism brings you Paul Krugman and Anna Quindlen. Also, in 1898 Joseph Pulitzer of the New York World and William Randolph Hearst of the New York Journal started the Spanish-American War. All of the Lehman Brothers put together couldn't cause as much evil stupidity as that.

Continue here (The Australian, dated 11 December 2008)