This from the wonderfully insightful Dr. Theodore Dalrymple, writing in National Review about the proliferation of bureaucratic paperwork seeking to combat terrorism by asking citizens who have dealings with government agencies to reveal any subversive activities and criminal intent:
"The fact is that bureaucrats are inclined to believe that to every problem there is an equal and opposite form, whose completion by enough people will solve it: or if not solve it, at least prove that they, the bureaucrats, have done everything in their power about the problem, and are therefore doing their jobs properly."
So I'm standing in the grocery store checkout line, trying to soothe my screaming infant, when an old woman walks up and says loudly, "Are you pinching that baby?"
For those of you who don't have children, people older than 60 believe this is a clever thing to say when they see parents with fussy babies. I always vow to remember it should I ever get the opportunity to vote for reductions in Social Security, under the theory that hungry old people wouldn't be nearly so flippant.
Until that blessed day of recompense arrives, I've constructed some alternative responses for you parents who find yourselves beset by your local Wal-Mart's version of Don Rickles:
Are you pinching that baby?
"That's the only way to see if they're fresh."
"No, I don't know what . . . Oh My God! His finger came off!! Somebody help me!! Dear God, somebody help me!!!!"
I took the family to McDonald's for lunch recently. As I sat there watching my son worry a soggy french fry into paste while clutching it in a grubby paw and climbing all over his seat, the seat behind him, the table beside us, and the lady sitting at that table, I began to reminisce about the better days at McDonald's.
You know, before unhinged vegetarians made them stop cooking french fries with beef tallow, or pig fat, or sacrificial blood -- whatever it was that made them taste like little fried heaven sticks, instead of what I imagine a styrofoam tray used to package grocery store chicken would taste like if I were to cut it in strips and boil them until they resemble Michael Moore's manhood (such as it is).
Those were the days, when no tragedy -- losing a big game, catching your girlfriend wearing somebody else's letter jacket, nothing -- could depress your spirits once you held a hot bag of golden fries in one hand, and a thick chocolate milk shake in the other. Now the fries are greasy and lukewarm, and the milkshake is more likely a "milk" shake with the consistency of that nutritional gruel the U.N. foists on starving African children who, like me, just want a freaking bag of french fries cooked the way God intended.
The worst part of the McDonald's experience, though, is not choking down the miserable fare, it's watching the sad sacks who flip, scrape, and slop it into grease-stained bags. It is, for starters, more often than not a Tower of Babel experience of the sort that drives Pat Buchanan to wet his bed (or worse, write books). In my local branch the West Indian manager routinely shouts in bad English at a slouching, tattooed Latino who is too busy flirting with the Filipino french fry technician to wave the flies away from meat patties that flop naked and sweating on an uncovered tray. Everyone is slow, nobody is happy, and they all look like they've eaten nothing but Extra Value Meals for years, lumbering about with their flabby arms and perhaps half the ADA-recommended number of teeth in their heads. Their lack of training and passion, responsibility for which rests squarely on the shoulders of the sorry lot of bean-counters who run the McDonald's corporation, is manifested in everything from their filthy bathrooms to their incompetently constructed hamburgers.
That's right, it is possible to build a burger badly. Case in point, my meal that day. Apparently the bean counters allow their franchisees to place exactly two pickle slices on each burger. A large burger has about eight square inches of real estate on which one can place the two pickles. Now, I'm not an expert in hamburger technology, but I am fairly confident that of all the places on the patty to place a second pickle, the one place where it clearly doesn't belong is precisely on top of the first pickle. What's more, odds are that if ketchup tastes good in one place on the burger, it would taste even better were it spread across the entire thing, instead of gestating tightly like a fetus at the very center of my soggy bun.
But nobody at McDonald's is paying attention to any of this, because they're all too busy trying to figure out what surreal plastic toy-like garbage they can stuff into Happy Meals in order to bring back all the customers they've been losing to Subway for the past decade. Here's an idea: how about putting something edible in there for a change, like a Whopper with cheese?
I>The New York Times reports that the pro-market Bush administration's energy policy is, shockingly, pro-market, and favored by the energy industry. This is scandalous, if one is to believe the wink-wink verbiage that has come to characterize national media reporting. This takes roughly the following form:
Paragraph One: Bush administration action, statement of benefits for industry (but never consumers or employees)
Paragraph Two: Outraged statement from self-styled left-wing activist.
Paragraph Three: Report of how much campaign support Bush received from industry in question.
Get it? If a pro-market conservative favors policy that is pro-market and conservative, then he must be doing so because of campaign contributions, rather than political and economic principles. If an anti-market leftist favors policy that is anti-market and leftist, then he must be doing so because of his principles, and not because he is in the pocket of unions, trial attorneys, anti-trade industries, corporate welfare recipients, and environmental groups. Does anyone recall a newspaper article on the ergonomics debate which cast Democrats as favoring onerous regulation because it was backed by unions and trial attorneys? Of course not. The Democrats were cast as wanting to protect the little man, while Republicans were cast as protecting their contributors.
But let's assume, for sake of an additional point, that journalists are right, that conservatives act on contributions rather than ideology, while liberals act on ideology rather than contributions. Is the latter really better? Both are behaving in self-interested fashion; one simply wants a new vacation home, while the other wants to force you to use a toilet that only consumes one teaspoon of water per flush.
At least if you know someone is for sale, you can take up a collection to try to sway him. And if enough people agree with you, there's a good chance you can buy him off. What's more, you know his decisions aren't personal -- he's not out to get you, he's just a guy trying to make a living by selling his vote to the highest bidder.
But when a politician is driven by ideology, you will have little sway over him. And when he comes to shut down your business, or throw you in jail for accidentally stepping on a Northeastern Slippery Snail, or threaten you with prison for speaking your mind about him when he is running for re-election, then you can be darn sure that it is personal.
Yet the latter is exactly the kind of person who routinely wins the Kennedy "Profile in Courage" award. The real courage, it seems to me, lies with leaders willing to do what's best for the country even when they know they'll be savaged by the likes of New York Times reporters.
It's always enjoyable to hear Libertarians give electoral advice. But something that undermines sanctimonious Libertarian claims about sanctimonious Republicans scaring off potential voters with excessive moralizing is the wealth of survey data indicating that the majority of Americans are not, in fact, "live and let live" types. If moral issues do affect electoral behavior, more often than not they affect it in a way that favors Republicans, e.g., voters for whom abortion is the single most important issue are more likely to be pro-life than pro-choice.
So while Republicans forego the vast crowds of Libertarian voters currently casting their lots with the Democrats, perhaps they gain more votes in the process -- a good trade for a party concerned with actually placing candidates in office.
My team, Anyone But Duke, won the NCAA men's basketball championship last night. It's not that I have anything against the Duke players, or even their rat-faced, take-a-year-off-when-my-team-is-likely-to-have-a-losing-record coach. It's their students. The students who threw sugar packets on the court during their first home game against Maryland following Len Bias's cocaine overdose. The students who taunted North Carolina player Scott Williams after his father killed his mother before shooting himself. The thousands of pasty, vile, displaced New Jerseyites whose presence is a perpetual stain on the honor and dignity of my home state.
Nope, no bitter feelings toward them at all.
Interesting commercial during last night's championship game. For $14 I can get a Final Four program. But that's not the best part. The $14 also buys me immortality. I'll quote the commercial:
"Now you can relive the excitement forever, without ever leaving your living room."
Life without end, from the comfort of my living room. I wonder if that includes cable.
Conversation during the closing ceremonies:
Me: "When are they going to have the "One Shining Moment" video tribute? I'm sick of watching these guys take turns cutting down the net."
Wife: "Why don't they just leave the scissors up there on the ladder instead of carrying them up and down? It's dangerous."
Me: (scribble scribble scribble)
Wife: "What did you just write?"
Wife: "You're putting what I said on your website, aren't you?"
Wal-Mart has moved to the top of the Fortune 500 List. Because this is a list of the highest revenue-earning companies, it is also a list of potential targets for the host of parasites spawned in American law schools and diversity studies classrooms. Of course Wal-Mart is already beset by such attacks, but its newfound prominence will attract the same in much larger scale, because it increasingly offers not only a payout, but also the publicity that these types crave. I predict that in the next twelve months Wal-Mart will face at least one of the following:
1. Protests by Jesse Jackson and his ilk demanding that the company place more minorities in executive positions and build small-scale (i.e., unprofitable) stores in depressed urban neighborhoods. The protests will end when Wal-Mart wisely joins Jackson's inner circle of supporters.
2. A class action lawsuit brought by well-heeled ambulance chasers seeking damages on behalf of people injured by guns/prescription drugs/infant carriers sold at Wal-Mart.
3. Protests and lawsuits brought by the AFL-CIO alleging that Wal-Mart illegally discourages unionization.