Sunday, June 25, 2006

It's all in the game

I was having a chat with my father about this morning's latest revelation in the Washington Post about the Jack Abramoff business and I got to thinking about the nature of corruption.

I have a theory of political corruption, which is somewhat simplistic but it does work generally. It seems to me that there are four kinds of corruption (Using this in a broad sense, to include anything that is a serious perversion of the political process, whether for explicit personal enrichment or not, although all four do contain elements of self-gratification):

First is the old-fashion "make me rich" stuff - run of the mill money deals like Duke Cunningham.

The second is what I would call "public good" corruption. In this, the miscreant does, at least to some degree, care about public policy and getting something done. He wants to govern effectively, but doesn't see any harm in helping himself a little bit in so doing. He justifies his graft because he's so good at making the trains run on time and getting the streets paved. This is Tammany Hall stuff. This is also, I think, where most of the Congressional fund-raising type scandals fall - the justification is that I am doing good for my constitutents and it's only natural that they should want to reward me.

The third is a "Power at any cost" type, wherein the badguy doesn't much give a damn what gets done, as long as he is the one calling the shots and receiving the rightful perks. This is Tom Delay/Marion Barry stuff.

Then there is this interesting fourth type, represented by Abramoff, Norquist, Karl Rove and some others, who have become fixated on the process and game of politics itself, divorced from any policy consequences. They may or may not have real ideological concerns and goals, in fact every example I can think of, with the arguable exception of Rove, did start with actual political and policy goals. But somewhere along the line, the game of politics has trancended any goals, or even to a large degree the wielding of power, as an end in itself. They are perpetually scheming, campaigning, playing the game. Power is not the end in itself, except to the degree that it is a material measure of winning. Once they have that power, however, they seem to be disinterested in wielding it in any significant way except to the degree that it advances their next political move. In that sense, it is similar to compulsive gambling - money ceases to be the point and instead becomes merely the vehicle to playing the next game. It is the game itself - the cards, the one-armed bandit - that becomes the end to be desired. Someone like Rove or Norquist cares very much whether he wins or loses, obviously, but unlike Delay, who just wants to be in charge no matter what, or Duke Cunningham, who just wants to drive cool cars and park his butt on nice antique chairs, these guys see winning as part of a continuum of strategy, like a football coach gone mad. This is why I quickly become suspicious of anyone whose delight in politics is too pure and childlike - if one is incapable of seeing the dark side, or the pain of the process, or of judging the actual policy consequences of politics, then there is a real problem. In this kind of world-view, everything is a game - even the personal destruction of opponents, the weakening of institutions, or the very fabric of law, custom and society - it's all part of one-upping your opponent, and nothing else matters, or even exists.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Journalism at its finest

The Los Angeles Alternative this week has what must be the best bit of journalism in the nation - they sent a group of bloggers to explore Los Angeles County's worst restaurants. The results are hilarious:

"Our picked-over appetizers are mercifully euthenized by our waitress, and now we’re waiting for main courses. A farfalle with a pornographic sounding “pink meat sauce” shows up. I can only judge its appearance, but it is a fairly dismal looking congealed slop practically brimming over on an undersized salad plate. For some reason I ordered the proscuitto hero, which arrives on the traditional Italian sesame steak roll. This may well be the most unremarkable sandwich ever put on a plate and sold for money. There is a single slip of proscuitto ham in there somewhere. A side salad is a couple of tears of iceberg topped with what is apparently some slimy artichoke heart. Not the kind of textures you want to be dealing with in the dark."

In order for this story to make sense, though, you have to understand LA's health department system for grading restaurants. Like health departments everywhere, LA County gives restaurants a 1-100 point grade. But unlike most other places in the world, LA County requires every restaurant to prominently post its grade in the form of an A, B, or C (anything less than C gets closed). The C sign is printed in bright orange and is a sure sign of a gut-punishing dive. A few other counties in the area have adopted a similar system, but I am told LA county pioneered the idea.

That's what it's all about

From the president's press conference this morning:

Q. Do you have a specific target for how much you want that violence to be reduced?

THE PRESIDENT: Enough for the government to succeed. In other words, the Iraqi people have got to have confidence in this unity government, and reduction in violence will enable the people to have confidence.

And you said something about troop levels. Our policy is stand up/stand down; as the Iraqis stand up, we'll stand down.

You do the Hokey Pokey and you turn yourself around. That's what it's all about.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Bid now while there is time!

Holy Fishpaste! Has there ever been a better EBay auction than this one? It even demolishes the various "Britney's Chewing Gum" auctions, because you get to have lunch with a Real Live Wresting Legend.

Here's the offer:

Win lunch for two at the Hard Rock Cafe in Baltimore with WWE Hall of Famer Nikolai Volkoff! Discuss anything you want with the legend over great food in a fun environment! Get your picture taken and autographs signed by Nikolai as well! All proceeds go to benefit his campaign for House of Delegates in Maryland. The time of this lunch will be arranged and agreed upon by both the winning bidder and Nikolai at auction end.

This auction is for the lunch alone and does not cover transportation to and from the meeting place. All transportation of the winning bidder is to be taken care of by the winning bidder. This auction also does not cover the purchase of alcoholic beverages at the event.

Damn. The only thing better than this would be if Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka would run for Senate. I'd so volunteer.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Sign Me Up Pt. II

Just when I thought my day couldn't get better, I get this solicitation for a job, under the heading "Open Vacancy:"

You might have noticed how the recent changes of all kinds influence your life. Constant growth of prices, low wages, employment problems. If you aren't satisfied with your present income or it doesn't comply with your capabilities; If you constantly lack money; If you want to better your financial status or you are just looking for a part-time job, then this job is what you need. Consider the advantages of the work we offer: Extra incomeYou might have noticed how the recent changes of all kinds influence your life. Constant growth of prices, low wages, employment problems. If you aren't satisfied with your present income or it doesn't comply with your capabilities; If you constantly lack money; If you want to better your financial status or you are just looking for a part-time job, then this job is what you need. Consider the advantages of the work we offer: Extra income
Minimal expenses and no expenditures at all (only I-net and e-mail)
The easiness of work. - Possibility to combine this work with your occupations (you just need to check your e-mail several times a day) For this work you don't need a special education possessing some special skills or knowledge possessing storehouse, office, special equipment.
The job we offer is related to mail. It is an easy job which doesn't require leaving your main occupation. You will have to receive to your home address parcels from our clients and ship them out further following our manager's instructions ($30 for each shipped out box). Contact us by e-mail and you will be sent a list of vacancies available at the present time. You work will be paid for without any delays.
You may work with several orders at a time as well as work with each one separately.

safety hanger transmitting set heating coil
swan-drawn world-civilizing rod epithelium
shrimp red smut ball Bamberg bible
set temper boiler coverer slow-footed
box green intelligence officer green-boled
round-table Bermuda cress pole pitch
power-operated heaven tree much-worshiped
straight-falling frame gate pike-gray

Perhaps I will offer myself up to work as their editor.

Sign me up

Ever look through the pile of junk mail and see something you just have to open? Today I received a solicitation to "save 50%" on something called JLC - the "Journal of Light Construction." This amused me, seeing as how I am more inclined to read the "Journal of No Construction Whatsoever."

This is so absurdly specific that I was momentarily tempted to subscribe. I mean, God, it's only $1.67 an issue.

I can hardly wait for the piece on Coil Framing Nailers. And who wouldn't want to read about "Profiled stools and aprons with applied moldings."