2011 - %3, July

Michele Bachmann's Redistricting Whopper

| Tue Jul. 5, 2011 10:40 AM EDT
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.)

In successive weeks, GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann has been the subject of fawning profiles in the nation’s two most influential conservative political magazines, the Weekly Standard and the National Review (subscription required). The stories, which lean heavily on interviews with the congresswoman, are revealing in that they more or less present Bachmann's life story as she'd like to portray it—her political conversion after reading Gore Vidal's Burr, her travels in Israel, her unexpected entry into state politics. And her perpetual underdog status: Both stories report that Bachmann had so riled up Minnesota Democrats that, when they drew up new state senate districts in 2002, she was their top target. Here's the Standard's Matthew Continetti:

Bachmann won the state senate seat in November 2000. The question was how long she'd be able to keep the office. Redistricting forced her to run against a 10-year Democratic incumbent, Jane Krentz, in 2002. A committee chairman, Krentz had the support of environmental and women's groups. The Democrats who controlled the state senate had created the new district with her in mind.

National Review's Robert Costa says much the same thing: "Minnesota pols tried to shoo her out of office during the 2002 redistricting process."

You can see why this is an appealing narrative for Bachmann. In her telling, she was exposed early in her career to the ruthless Democratic political machine. Why? Because liberals are afraid of her. This isn't the first time she's parroted this line, either. In 2006, when she was seeking the GOP nomination for her first congressional campaign, she sent out a video stating that she was "the number one target of Minnesota senate Democrats" who "redistricted me out of my Senate seat so I had to run in a completely new district against a 10-year [Democratic] female incumbent." 

But that isn't what happened. At all.

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 5, 2011

Tue Jul. 5, 2011 6:00 AM EDT

Hannah Maher makes a rubbing of the memorial stone honoring her dad, Sgt. Brent Maher, following the Victory Park Ceremony June 29 at Fort Riley. Sgt. Maher was one of 22 Soldiers who died while serving with the division in Iraq or Afghanistan during the past 18 months honored during the ceremony. Photo by Mollie Miller, 1st Infantry Division Public Affairs

Last Vietnam Draftee Finally Leaving Army (VIDEO)

| Tue Jul. 5, 2011 12:41 AM EDT

This summer, the US military will finally become an all-volunteer force.

Sure, technically, America's armed forces have been considered voluntary since the draft was abolished back in 1973. But Command Sgt. Major Jeffrey Mellinger puts the lie to that: He is the last Vietnam-era draftee still serving in the military these many decades later. That will change in a few months, when he retires from the Army after 39 years in uniform.

"Draftees are pretty maligned over time," he told the AP, "but the fact is they are part of every branch of service up to 1973, and when you look at what those military branches accomplished over time, I'll let the record speak for itself." The Army obviously life agreed with Mellinger, whose face is ubiquitous in military public affairs photos. In 2007-8, he served as David Petraeus' senior enlisted adviser with the US coalition in Baghdad, and he recently served a similar role in Afghanistan.

But Mellinger's high-profile successes and enthusiasm for regimentation weren't experiences common to many US conscripts. And in recent years, between stop-loss orders, multiple deployments, and the plucking of reservists and guardsmen for active duty, many "volunteer" service members have had to make big involuntary sacrifices reminiscent of the lottery days. These sacrifices have fallen disproportionately on less affluent Americans who are more likely to volunteer for service. They've also contributed to a yawning gap in civil-military relations, which is why Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y., and himself no great advertisement for upright selfless sacrifice) keeps trying to revive the draft every year.

Strange, isn't it? Left-leaning politicians now seeing social benefits in reviving a government practice whose abolishment was once the raison d'etre of the left? But Rangel's not alone in thinking that an equally applied service requirement could make Americans more circumspect about the use of force in general. It could be an interesting fix for continued unemployment, too. Mellinger recalled his own experience after getting an induction letter from Uncle Sam:

Mellinger told the draft board there was a mistake.

"I...told them I don't need to go into the Army, I've got a job," said Mellinger, who hung drywall for a living. "They just kind of laughed."

What do you think? Could a 21st century draft bring about a more humane, civic-minded American electorate, or would it just provide a new heavy-duty outlet for Jingoism™? Drop us a line in the comments. And in the meantime, hear Mellinger in his own words:

Independence Day Cat Blogging

| Mon Jul. 4, 2011 9:34 AM EDT

Since I forced everyone to go through Inkblot withdrawal on Friday, here's some bonus catblogging for you. This year Inkblot is decked out in all his patriotic finery (i.e., a stars-and-stripes themed tablecloth that now has to be laundered before we can use it for tonight's festivities) and expressing the sentiment on every cat's mind when they think about the greatness that is America. Happy 4th, everyone!

How I (Almost) Became an Air Guitar Fan

| Mon Jul. 4, 2011 6:30 AM EDT
Contestants and crowd mingle at the US Air Guitar regional championships in San Francisco.

Going to an air guitar show is like going to a three-drink-minimum comedy club. You're never sure how you ended up there. You walk into a room where "Jessie's Girl" is playing, sparsely crowded with Saturday-night patrons borrowed from sports bars, heavy metal shows, comic conventions. Things are running an hour late, and you have to wonder why you're waiting around to watch a bunch of people get on stage and pretend to play the guitar. The merchandise is also pretend: They're selling "air vinyls" at $5 a pop. Air vinyls? "There's nothing on it," explains the woman behind the table. "You can take it home and smash it if you want." (None have sold thus far.)

You consider leaving before the show starts. It's still early. You could probably still make the next screening of the new X-Men movie, and by next weekend you'll already have filed away the experience as just another one of those weird encounters. But ultimately you can't justify leaving, because you just paid $20 to get in. So you go to the bar.

Is Your Meat Habit Giving You Diabetes?

| Mon Jul. 4, 2011 5:30 AM EDT

The United States has one of the highest diabetes rates in the developed world—and the malady is spreading faster here than it is in most other rich nations, a recent Lancet study (registration required) found.

I've always associated our diabetes problem with the steady rise in sweetener consumption since the early '80s, triggered by the gusher of cheap high-fructose corn syrup that opened up at that time. But another culprit may be contributing, too: exposure to certain pesticides and other toxic chemicals. A new peer-reviewed study published in the journal Diabetes Care found a strong link between diabetes onset and blood levels of a group of harsh industrial chemicals charmingly known as "persistent organic pollutants" (POPs), most of which have been banned in the United States for years but still end up in our food (hence the "persistent" bit—they degrade very slowly).

The ones with the largest effect were PCBs, a class of highly toxic chemicals widely used as industrial coolants before being banished in 1979. Interestingly, the main US maker of PCBs, Monsanto, apparently knew about and tried to cover up their health-ruining effects long before the ban went into place. Organochlorine pesticides, another once-ubiquitous, now largely banned chemical group, also showed a significant influence on diabetes rates.

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Quote of the Day: "He's a Rotten Prick"

| Sun Jul. 3, 2011 4:56 PM EDT

From New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney, after Gov. Chris Christie used his line item veto in an apparent attempt to punish anyone he's ever had a beef with:

This is all about him being a bully and a punk....You know who he reminds me of? Mr. Potter from It’s a Wonderful Life, the mean old bastard who screws everybody....He’s just a rotten bastard to do what he did....He’s mean-spirited, he’s angry....I liken it to being spoiled, I’m going to get my way, or else....He’s a rotten prick.

But is Christie a dick? The world wants to know.

One Finger OK, But Only Steve Jobs Can Use Two

| Sun Jul. 3, 2011 12:41 PM EDT

From patent blogger Florian Mueller, describing Apple's new patent for multitouch gestures on touchscreen devices:

This patent describes the solution at such a high level that it effectively lays an exclusive claim to the problem itself, and any solutions to it.

Roughly speaking, Apple seems to be claiming that if you use more than one finger to do something on a touchscreen, you're infringing on their intellectual property. In a sense, I guess I don't blame them. So what if Tom Cruise was doing the same thing with arm waving in Minority Report in 2002? If the law lets them get away with this, they'd be fools not to take advantage of it.

Of course, the law is an ass in this regard, but that's our problem, not Apple's. And I'm beginning to wonder if there's any solution at all to this idiocy aside from doing away completely with patents for anything you can't pick up and hold in your hands. One way or another, something really has to give here.

Al Gore and the Referees

| Sat Jul. 2, 2011 3:08 PM EDT

Walter Russell Mead, in yet another lengthy critique of liberals who think that facts and empirical evidence ought to be taken seriously, explains to Al Gore the role of the referee in professional wrestling:

Among other things, professional wrestling works as a kind of folk satire — and well meaning progressives and professionals like Mr. Gore are among its targets. The clownish referee represents exactly the well intentioned bumblers who seek to arbitrate and rationalize the endless competition between the good and the bad guys. It is the way much of the working class looks at ivory tower intellectuals, nanny state do-gooders.

....In other words, the referee in a professional wrestling match strikes a chord in popular culture in part because he is a representation of the class which sets itself up in our society as the arbiter and judge: the professional elite, the expert and the chattering classes. The referee at a wrestling match is a populist portrait of the FCC, the NLRB, NPR, the New York Times editorial board and everyone else who does exactly what Al Gore would like to spend his whole life doing: judging mankind impartially and ruling them well. The referee is part of the entertainment who is funny in part because he thinks he is above the fray.

My first instinct was to mock Mead for writing this drivel, but hell, maybe he's right. Thanks to the now total success of movement conservatism and its assimilation of confederates like him, I guess that anyone still naive enough to care about facts and evidence really is about as ineffectual and irrelevant as your typical WWE referee. I only wish that guys like Mead would fess up to their role in this evolution, instead of pretending that it's the inevitable hydraulic consequence of some vague but inexorable tidal wave of modernism and techno-empowerment engulfing us all. It ain't so. This wasn't a global historical imperative, it was a deliberate, considered choice — and a largely American one — driven by all the usual parochial forces of money, power, privilege, and corporate ascendance that have been with us forever. We could still make a different choice if we wanted to.

Quote of the Day: Sunblock and Sexual Abuse

| Sat Jul. 2, 2011 12:11 PM EDT

From the Washington Post, in a story about a new Maryland regulation preventing adults from helping kids apply sunscreen at summer camp:

Mitchell said he did not know of any cases of inappropriate touching by counselors that might have led to the new regulations.

Sexual abuse is a serious problem, but it's long past time for America to stop reacting to it literally insanely. In this case, not only is it nuts to discourage the use of sunblock on kids ("the biggest known carcinogen that children are exposed to" the story says), but it's doupleplusnuts to do it in response to no known cases of sunblock application causing any actual problems of inappropriate touching.

Anyway, the rules are now being relaxed. However, parents will still have to sign a form giving permission for camp counselors to apply sunblock. I guess that moving from rules that are pathological to rules that are merely neurotic is a step in the right direction, but only a step. It's time to dial the fear level on this stuff way, way back.

Via Michael O'Hare.

UPDATE: I guess this is old news, and it's not just Maryland. It's not even just America. In comments, Syd Egan provides the grim news: "This has been the case in England for a while now — *no* summer camp will allow their staff to apply sunblock — you have to send your child with it, and sign that you've taught him/ her how to apply it themselves... even when the child is 3!!"