Saturday, December 30, 2006

Posts of the Year, 2006

This year represented my third full calendar year of blogging. It was also the year I suspended the Daily Aneurysm in favor of doing all my current-events blogging at Best of the Blogs because the traffic is higher there. The switch to BotB cost us the contributions of Tom Herbst, who posted occasionally in this space for about a year. We haven't heard from Tom, either via e-mail or in the comments, for a good long while, but I'm hoping he's still out there somewhere, flying his liberal flag in Pennsylvania, where it's needed: After all, Pennsylvania is a place James Carville once described as Pittsburgh on one end and Philadelphia on the other with Alabama in the middle. A couple of Tom's nuggets of wisdom appear on this list of my favorite posts of 2006:

January 12: "We may have reached a new low in American dumbitude, given that the big story to come out of the Alito hearings yesterday was that the mean Democrats made Mrs. Alito cry. Except they didn't. It was South Carolina Repug Senator Lindsey Graham who did, by repeating something a Democrat had said about her husband, or some such damn thing. (I confess I haven't spent a lot of time investigating this story on my own because I am afraid that if I get too close to it, I will get stupidity cooties.)"

January 16: "[T]he opinions of the general run of white people--who know about black American life on a second-hand basis at best--are not entirely reliable. So when you hear that 78 percent of white Americans think that significant progress has been made toward racial equality in the United States, consider the source--and then take note that among black Americans, the figure is 66 percent. The same poll notes, interestingly enough, that more suburbanites believe in progress than urbanites, and more Republicans than Democrats. In other words--if you neither are, nor live with, nor make common cause politically with black Americans, you are more likely to believe progress is being made toward racial equality. You probably could have predicted that without a poll."

January 30: "It's striking that every event that 'changes everything' involves waking us from our national complacency, rather than ushering in a bold era of societal enlightenment. 'Where were you when society as a whole realized that everyone deserves a living wage?' That would be a moment worth remembering." (by Tom Herbst)

March 7: "Honestly, I have no problem linking Dubya to Reagan, since in my view Dubya is the only thing keeping Reagan from being the worst President since Nixon, so right off the bat they're in the same genre. But to stuff Dubya's empty skull and Reagan's corpse full of gold, frankincense, and myrrh seems, well, a little over the top. . . . One can't help note that [Professor Paul Kengor, author of God and Ronald Reagan and God and George W. Bush] has bounced right over our 41st and 42nd Presidents. Presumably that's because there's little money to be made on the piety of Bush the Elder, and even less on the divinity of Clinton. Of course, Clinton has that certain Zeus-like priapic vibe going for him, so maybe there's a book to be had there after all." (by Tom Herbst)

March 19: "Bush can give all the speeches he wants talking about victory, but there are certain facts of history at work here, and more rhetorical dishwater, no matter how vigorously applied, is not going to change them. Not counting the Revolutionary War, every war the United States has ever won was largely over by the three-year mark. The first Gulf War lasted 100 days; the Mexican War lasted two years; the Spanish-American War, three months. Official American involvement in World War I lasted about 18 months. Three years after Pearl Harbor, the forces that invaded Europe on D-Day were rolling up the Germans; victory, while not entirely secure, was in sight. The three-year benchmark even holds for the Civil War. Three years after the war's first major battle, Bull Run in July 1861, Union armies commanded by Ulysses S. Grant were irrevocably on the offensive, an offensive that would end at Appomattox Court House. Even the wars that ended inconclusively, such as the War of 1812 and the Korean War, didn't last three years. Only in Vietnam--the war we lost--did the war drag on for more than three years. (Of course, the list lengthens if you count other losing wars, like the war on drugs or the war on poverty.) Fact: It doesn't take us this long to win wars we're going to win."

March 22: "Cops in Texas have begun going into bars undercover to arrest people who are drunk. I suppose you gotta give them credit for picking the berries where the bushes are the thickest, but this seems a wee bit off. . . . [I]f cops can go into bars looking for drunks, it doesn't seem all that far-fetched that they could, if they chose, drop by your house whenever they wanted to, just to make sure you're not sitting in front of the TV ripped to the tits on $3 chardonnay."

April 13: "[Y]ou already know the argument: Liberals are out to take Easter away from honest, God-fearing Americans who want to celebrate the torture killing of a shadowy figure from first-century Palestine by hiding chocolate eggs and Marshmallow Peeps for their children to find, all the while telling the kids that the candy has been hidden by a giant rabbit."

April 16: "When cable TV news producers dream, they dream of weekends like this: On Thursday, a little girl gets eaten by a bear. On Friday, a suspected cannibal is arrested in Oklahoma. On the same day, the cat trapped in a New York City building for two weeks is rescued. Yesterday, there's an arrest in the Natalee Holloway case. If Angelina Jolie or Katie Holmes gives birth today, the Rapture could happen and they'd never notice."

April 26: "[Republican candidate for Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen says] 'There are terrorists training in Wisconsin, except that they're not physically training, or doing anything you would hear or see, and they aren't doing anything illegal.' Well, by that definition, if you're standing in the bathroom scratching your ass, you're doing more evil than the terrorists are."

June 6: "If you think that you're going to be raptured out of here any minute, you'd treat this planet about like we're treating it now. You wouldn't care all that much about the environment, because what's the point in preserving it if it's going to be burnt to a cinder pretty soon anyhow? Why not use it up? You'd oppose energy conservation for the same reason. Why worry about leaving oil in the tank? You wouldn't worry about rising national debts or your country's image in the world. You might even push hysterical social programs like same-sex marriage bans and moral indoctrination masquerading as sex education, caring not a whit about the long-term social damage they do to your fellow humans, because you want your ducks in a row when Jesus comes back." (This post was featured at the Carnival of the Godless.)

June 19: "[C]ertain overarching facts do not change. There is always going to be a percentage of the population that wants to medicate itself illegally, and 80 years of throwing their asses in jail hasn't changed a thing. If you think that might suggest the wisdom of taking a different approach to the problem of drug abuse, you'd be right. If you think that such wisdom is likely to prevail in the United States anytime soon, you're probably smoking crack right now."

July 14: "The broad philosophical outline of the House debate essentially shook down to the stand taken by Georgia representative Lynn Westmoreland, who argued that in the Voting Rights Act, Southern states are still being punished for their sins of 40 years ago, and that times have changed. Except they haven't. Just yesterday, Georgia's controversial voter ID law was tossed by a judge again. The law is a thinly-disguised poll tax, because people would be required to pay for an acceptable form of ID. Plus, the attitudes that made the Voting Rights Act necessary haven't gone away. I know it; you know it. We're not past the Civil Rights Era yet. Hell, we're not past the Civil War era yet."

(A server crash at BotB in early December caused about three months' worth of archives to vanish into the ozone, so I can't link to the original versions of the following several posts. Instead of admiring my rhetorical mojo in its entirety, you'll have to settle for excerpts.)

August 11: "When you're standing in line at the airport today, and when they take your bottle of water away from you--because they consider you a potential terrorist until you prove otherwise--the reason you're in that line is because the terrorists really are winning. Instead of taking [strategic long-term steps] to make us safer . . . our leaders, our self-proclaimed tough and pragmatic fighters of evil, are wetting their pants with fear like five-year-old girls."

August 21: "One woman quoted in the story [about the switch from country to R&B at KZLA, Los Angeles] said, 'I think it's racist. This is becoming a nation of minorities. I'm not going to turn on my radio anymore. Country music promotes patriotism and family values, and they've replaced it with something that just promotes money and hate.' You'd be hard-pressed to find four sentences that better encapsulate our current culture wars. You've got A) a white person claiming to be the victim of racism; B) the demonstrably correct statement that the country is becoming a nation of minorities, but made with the conviction that the situation is highly regrettable; C) the insistence that country music is a bastion of 'patriotism and family values,' as if non-whites are incapable of valuing their families; and D) the insistence, likely without having heard note one of it, that beat-heavy R&B and dance tunes automatically promote materialism and hatred. That part is true, to a point: some R&B/dance songs do indeed promote values that run counter to what some people believe in--just as some country songs glorify alcohol, adultery, and anti-intellectualism, which runs counter to the values of others." (A somewhat different version of this post appeared at The Hits Just Keep On Comin'.)

August 22: "My town (Madison, Wisconsin) is all abuzz over a Nazi rally coming to the steps of the State Capitol this Saturday. When The Mrs. first mentioned this to me, I asked, 'Real Nazis, or just Republicans?' But it's real Nazis, or what passes for them these days, and the rally has become a very big deal. . . . The rally is being organized by the Madison, Green Bay, and Milwaukee branches of a Minnesota-based Nazi group. So they're not merely Nazis--they're MINNESOTA Nazis. To paraphrase Elwood Blues, I hate Minnesota Nazis."

August 25: "In Colorado, it's not enough for the American flag savers to preserve the American flag--it's apparently necessary for them to hide the flags of other countries, as if love of country were a zero-sum game, or as if some kid pledging allegiance to the American flag would accidentally pledge allegiance to the Chinese flag and become a Communist."

August 30: "[T]he religious and cultural stupidity [of railing against the phrase 'happy holidays'] is one thing--the linguistic stupidity is another. There's more than one holiday at the end of the year, even for Christians. (Coming next: the War on Plurals.)"

October 22: "Many Americans confuse things with what they represent. So the act of burning a flag, for instance, is perceived as doing actual damage to the country. Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell are important symbols of this country's ideals, but they are, after all, just symbols. Even if the symbols were destroyed, the ideals would endure. But in the United States at this moment, as The Mrs. deftly put it this morning, 'We're preserving the symbols but destroying the ideals.'"

November 1: "A friend e-mails this morning: 'What can we do to get John Kerry to go away?' My response: 'Two percent in the 2008 Iowa caucuses ought to do it.'"

November 19: "When historians start writing the history of this era, George W. Bush will get all the attention James Buchanan gets in histories of the Civil War--he'll be remembered as someone badly out of his depth, a placeholder who had little impact, and what impact he had was generally for the worse. Cheney's the figure who will fascinate historians 100 years hence. His malevolent spirit will preside over this era in memory like Lincoln's presides over the Civil War Era. Like Lincoln, Cheney will be studied as the one who had the brains, the philosophical grounding, and most of all, the necessary chutzpah to frame the enterprise for everyone else. Like Lincoln, he's the indispensable personality of the era--the one without whom nothing happens the way it did."

December 18: "The greatest pleasures of this life come from our relationships with other people, and it's not wrong to celebrate that and that alone. And not only that: Christmas is the time of year when we are most like the people we want to be--and given the way we are the other 11 months of the year, the mere fact that our aspiration to be better people still exists is worth celebrating, too."

Some other posts I'm especially proud of this year include:
Empty Streets


Left Behind

We Say It, You Learn It, That Settles It
Some favorite post titles this year include:
The State of the Union Is Blotto

Cub Scouts Unbuckle, Open Fire

Jesus Doesn't Love You, He Thinks You're a Jerk

If Everyone Hates You, You're Not Necessarily Right--Maybe You're Just Really, Really Wrong
My favorite post of the year, however, is one I can't link you to directly--it, too, perished in the server crash at Best of the Blogs. It's about my favorite historical figure, Abraham Lincoln, and this summer's Lincoln-centric presidential reading list. The post, which appeared at BotB on August 5, was called "Two Presidents, Talking."
Today, the White House released Bush's reading list for his vacation. It reportedly includes the following:
Polio: An American Story by David M. Oshinsky

Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power by Richard Carwardine

Lincoln's Greatest Speech: The Second Inaugural, by Ronald C. White Jr.
I''m guessing that Bush is reading Lincoln's Greatest Speech first. After all, it's the shortest. That the least-eloquent president of our lifetimes is reading about the most eloquent president in history is intriguing--but that he's reading about the Second Inaugural is even more interesting. Lincoln's Second Inaugural, after all, is the most fearsome speech ever given by an American politician. It's a speech no modern American politician would have the stones to give--especially not George W. Bush.

In the speech, delivered as a war nobody expected to be so hard ground toward the end of its fourth year, Lincoln did urge his audience to "stay the course," in his way: "let us strive on to finish the work we are in." But his speech was not a rehash of the same platitudes he'd been repeating since the war began; neither did it promise that "striving on to finish the work we are in" would automatically result in victory. In fact, he told his audience that victory was by no means assured. The end, whatever the end was going to be, was beyond his--or any American's--control. He even went so far as to say that if it were God's will that the United States be destroyed as expiation for its sins, then there was nothing anyone could or should do but accept the punishment, for it was surely just.

It is likely that Bush's interest in the Second Inaugural is sparked by the rich religious language of the speech. Although Lincoln frequently used religious language and imagery in public addresses, the Second Inaugural is the most theologically loaded of his major speeches. But unlike Bush's theology, which is based on simple certainties, Lincoln's theology was ambiguous at best. As a young man, Lincoln famously scoffed at religion. As president, he came to believe that a cataclysm like the Civil War could not happen by accident--that there must be a divine purpose for it (as the Second Inaugural makes clear). So Lincoln became a religious seeker. As his search continued, he frequently said that he hoped to be an instrument of God. He possessed nothing like Bush's certainty that he is an instrument of God. Lincoln's belief in a higher power made him resolute, but his uncertainty about that power's intentions made him adaptable. As a result, he could believe in happy endings, but did not promise them.

And in that, Lincoln and Bush couldn't be more different.
My thanks to all of you who bother with this bilge on a regular basis. I am grateful for your attention and your devotion. I hope that the small steps we've recently taken as a nation toward restoring what we're all about will pick up steam in 2007. And I wish you a happy new year.

(A selection of my favorite quotes of the year is here.)

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