Let’s All Freak Out, Just Like Every Time

Now Panic and Freak Out

It seems like the time for these signs, right? During World War II, the British government used these “Keep Calm and Carry On” motivational posters to keep morale up as cities were being bombed. But that’s not like us. We don’t go in for that whole “stiff upper lip” thing. Panic and horror are more our way.

Think about the Rambo films. That’s your modern America right there. It isn’t about thinking through things and making the best of a bad situation. It is about taking a bad situation and making it much worse. We believe above all in freaking out, as long as we get a nice happy ending where the mentally broken homicidal hero kills everyone and is safe to do the same thing in the sequel.

So have at it, my fellow Americans! Let’s panic and freak out! I only request one thing: don’t pretend that we are strong. We aren’t. We are like frightened children. And we aren’t rational. We’ve allowed some bad news in the world (And there is always that!) to be used against us to push television ratings up and increase the power of disingenuous politicians. But there is nothing new is that. That’s what we always do!

This is why we are always for the newest war. We chant, “We’re number one! We’re number one!” And then, after a few years, we calm down. The sky wasn’t really falling. There weren’t terrorists under our beds. Heart disease and cancer are still by far the most common ways we die. And we look back and say what we always say, “That was a mistake.”

So let’s sing it all together:

Now panic, panic, panic!
Fear, fear, fear!
It’s time to freak out
The end again is near!

After we calm down
And had our fearful fling
It all goes back to normal
We won’t have learned a thing!

Because that’s the important thing. In fact, that’s the American thing. Overreact to everything. Behave badly. Look back on it with shame. But don’t learn anything, because that might change the cycle. And if Americans didn’t constantly freak out about everything, how would we know we were Americans?

Angering an Audience Is Not a “Sister Souljah” Moment

Dave WeigelJonathan Bernstein is frustrated, Ted Cruz’s Empty “Sister Souljah” Moment. He can’t figure out why people would call this a “Sister Souljah” moment. I share his frustration, but it is easy enough to explain: smarter conservatives are so desperate to find signs of the slightest amount of reasonableness in the Republican Party that they act stupidly. And shockingly, the conservative doing this today is the generally very smart and insightful David Weigel.

What Ted Cruz did was very simple. He blasted some Middle East Christians for not being big enough supporters of Israel. Not surprisingly, the people he spoke to did not like what he said. They booed him. But since when it angering an audience a “Sister Souljah” moment? If that were the case, Chris Christie would have a long line of such moments. But no one thinks he does. Instead, they think he is just a bully.

The point of a “Sister Souljah” moment is to increase your “moderate” credibility by attacking part of your own constituency. Democrats are great at this. The New Democrats don’t seem to believe in anything so much as they do attacking their own base. Criticizing the labor movement is hugely popular. Such moments are extremely rare coming from Republicans. But Bernstein notes a good one: Rand Paul attacking voter ID laws. And how do we know it was a “Sister Souljah” moment? Because he almost immediately backpedaled. What he said really was an offense to his base and an effort to appeal to the middle. The same can be said of Chris Christie’s attack on anti-Muslim bigots.

But what exactly did Ted Cruz risk? Unwavering support for Israel is absolute Republican orthodoxy. Going before unfriendly audiences to tell them that you are just as extreme as ever is not a “Sister Souljah” moment. It shows a little bit of guts. But no one has ever questioned that Ted Cruz is a true believer who is willing to tell anyone that he is right and they are wrong. Weigel is pushing the definition of the term so far that Ted Cruz’s Green Eggs and Ham filibuster could be so named. After all, he was telling all of America things they didn’t want to hear.

But what’s going on with Weigel? It’s got to be that he just got excited. But this kind of thing really calls into question his objectivity. And this is something he clearly prizes. As a libertarian, he takes a kind of centrist position so he can laugh at both sides. But this article is off the rails. It is titled, Watch Ted Cruz Turn a Political Problem Into a Pro-Israel Sister Souljah Moment. And it ends, “Sister Souljah achievement: Unlocked.” That sounds more like cheerleading rather than reporting or even analysis. And this is always the problem with people who have major ideological axes to grind pretending that they don’t.

Why We Are Still Listening to Cheney and Company

Dick CheneyIt’s 9/11, there is another drumbeat for war with Iraq, and the neoconservatives are everywhere telling us we must make the same mistakes they helped us make a decade earlier. This raises the question, why does anyone care what they have to say? Jonathan Chait wrote a very good article about the neoconservative reaction to the threat from ISIS, Dick Cheney and the Neocons Would Like to Celebrate This 9/11 by Freaking Out Over Iraq Again. Before Chait has a chance to write a corresponding article about people like me on the other side of the question, I thought I would run through his insights and see if there is anything there worth thinking about.

His intensions were not to explain why the neoconservatives act as they do, but only to describe the basis of their arguments. There are four aspects. First, there is the focus on being “serious” in response to the threat. Second, there is an apocalyptic assessment of the threat. Third, there is the blurring or complete erasure of the distinctions between various parties. And fourth, there is the dismissal of the possibility that anything bad might happen because of overreaction; the only threat comes from not reacting enough.

Ted CruzWhat’s especially interesting about this is the focus of on “seriousness.” The truth is that their ideas are deeply unserious. The overall vision is this: we should go to war with everyone we don’t like in the region because ISIS is an existential threat to us and the only thing that might hurt us is if we don’t act right now with overwhelming force. Last night, Ted Cruz went on Fox News and said that there is a threat that ISIS is coming through the Mexico border, even though when pressed he admitted that there were no credible indications that this was happening.

What this all reminds me of is Malcolm Nance’s observation of the neocons at the State Department under Bush after 9/11 and their desire for “Tom Clancy Combat Concepts”:

They came out and just started reading these books and magazines and start thinking, “We’re going to be hard, we’re going to do these things, we’re going to go out and start popping people on the streets and we’re going to start renditioning people.” The decision makers were almost childlike in wanting to do high, Dungeons and Dragons, you know, dagger and intrigue all the time.

The key word in that description is “childlike.” It’s like a game to these people. This is why the major neoconservatives are chicken hawks. They have to be. They can’t understand anything about real war. And they don’t understand what Karl von Clausewitz laid out 200 years ago, although the idea is far older than that, “War is not merely a political act but a real political instrument, a continuation of political intercourse, a carrying out of the same by other means.”

What’s amazing is how the media take all this posturing as serious enough for coverage. What the neocons offer in terms of policy is far less serious than what the Quakers offers on the other side: war is always wrong. Yet no major news outlet thinks that the Quaker take on geopolitics needs to be considered. In fact, even people of my persuasion who think that war should be the last option are not considered serious enough for much coverage. Instead, the “liberal” response to any problem is just to drop bombs on people, which is still, you know, war.

I know what the media would say about this. People like Cheney and Cruz running around doing their Chicken Little routine has to be covered. They are obviously passionate about the threat they see, even if it is not a substantial threat. But these same media apologists don’t seem to think that the far larger group of people who are worried about global warming need to be given a huge amount of coverage.

I doubt that anyone seriously thinks that the neoconservatives have any credibility at this point. But the media have a vested interest in pushing for war. It’s good for ratings. Getting everyone worried about global warming would only result in policy and, you know, people working to fix the problem. But Cheney and company running around frightening the nation would result in super cool war footage that would likely go on for years.

Eat More Salt or Just Don’t Care

SaltYesterday, Aaron Carroll brought my attention to something over at The Incidental Economist, The CDC Is Now Making Me Go ARGH! As you may know, Carroll is a doctor, healthcare policy analyst, and all around good iconoclast. So you can depend upon him to tell you surprising things that also happen to be true.

In this case, it is that the Dietary Guidelines for Americans regarding intake of salt are totally wrong. The Center for Disease Control recently announced the very disturbing information that, “About 9 in 10 US children eat more sodium than recommended.” How much? 3.3 grams per day. And our dietary overlords have decided that the most we should eat is 2.3 grams per day. Oh! My! God! There must be kids in school cafeterias having heart attacks right there in front of the pizza bread or whatever it is we are feeding kids these days.

The problem is that the government guidelines are a crock:

Was it really that long ago that I wroterepeatedly — about how studies found that, yes, consuming more than 7 grams of sodium a day was really bad for you compared to consuming 3-6 grams? But that eating less than 3 grams was associated with even worse outcomes?

I don’t pay much attention to nutrition information. In addition to everything else, I really don’t want to live that long. The idea that I would make unpleasant changes to my diet for the sake of my health just seems stupid. I mean, what is the point of living a longer life if you aren’t enjoying the life? It would be one thing if eating more broccoli made me feel better the way that exercise does. But it doesn’t. I do still eat broccoli now and then because sometimes I’m in the mood for it. But I certainly don’t do it because it is good for me.

But this new information about salt just reinforces what I’ve always felt: what if tomorrow they tell me that broccoli is associated with early death? (Suicide, I’d assume.) Starting with my mother when I was as young as I can remember, I didn’t trust people who told me what was good for me. And at this point, I’ve lived far longer than anyone expected. So there!

Just the same, last week Aaron Carroll reported, Low Carb Crushes Low Fat. Screw You Guys! I’m Going Home. It turns out that recent studies indicate that people on low carbohydrate diets are much more healthy than people on low fat diets. I don’t know what my diet is. I seem to eat a lot of fats and a lot of carbohydrates. But there is absolutely no way I am going to change. Potatoes, bread, and rice are the three greatest foods ever (in that order) when combined with the fourth: butter.

In addition to all this, we still have the broccoli problem. If I stopped eating potatoes today (which would be absolutely impossible), what would stop Aaron Carroll from alerting me tomorrow that it turns out if you eat a lot of potatoes you will be dancing into your 120s, but broccoli is associated weak ankles and an early death? And for that matter, what would stop me from just killing myself today?

Let us eat and drink whatever the hell we want, for tomorrow we die!

Tony Gilroy Is 58 but I Don’t Talk Much About Him

Tony GilroyTony Gilroy is 58 today.

In the early 1990s, while still in graduate school, I got an idea for a little two-minute film about a rumor I had heard that the “generic” beer they sold in the state of Washington was actually Pabst Blue Ribbon. But my nature is not to write anything short and so the screenplay got longer and longer and ended up feature-length, having little to do with the original idea but filled with many of the obsessions that are clear enough to anyone who has read this blog even a little. It was an extremely silly comedy called, “The Pabst Conspiracy.”

As a result of this, I wrote a number of other screenplays, bought a camera, and immersed myself in the craft of filmmaking. Other than being a decent writer, I was totally out of my depth. But I learned a great deal about filmmaking. And I remember going to see a film at that time, Dolores Claiborne, and thinking, “That is a perfect screenplay.” The film itself is really quite good. But you are never likely to see a more finely crafted script.

That script was one of the first of Tony Gilroy who is probably best known for having written the Bourne films. And yes, they are hardly great films, but as action films go, they are some of the best around. He also wrote and directed Michael Clayton. I really like that film, but I haven’t bothered to watch the films he’s made since. I’m sure his directing is as competent as ever.

Gilroy comes from Hollywood family. His brother John Gilroy is a very successful editor. His other brother Dan Gilroy is a successful screenwriter and the husband of Rene Russo. And his father is the great playwright and independent filmmaker Frank Gilroy. He is probably best known for his play (later made into a film) The Subject Was Roses. I know him especially from one of the films he produced, wrote, and directed, The Gig. But of most interest here is that at the time I was learning film craft and enjoying his son’s writing, I read Frank Gilroy’s I Wake Up Screening: Everything You Need to Know about Independent Films Including a Thousand Reasons Not To.

Happy birthday Tony Gilroy!