Matt Taibbi: Completely Right

He totally nails it in Lara Logan, You Suck. In case you missed the context, Logan has become the de facto voice of “establishment” journalism that is shocked — Shocked! — that Rolling Stone’s Michael Hastings included the damning and insubordinate comments that sank General McChrystal’s career in his recent story.

Some choice bits:

Anyone who wants to know why network television news hasn’t mattered since the seventies just needs to check out this appearance by Logan. Here’s CBS’s chief foreign correspondent saying out loud on TV that when the man running a war that’s killing thousands of young men and women every year steps on his own dick in front of a journalist, that journalist is supposed to eat the story so as not to embarrass the flag.


See, according to Logan, not only are reporters not supposed to disclose their agendas to sources at all times, but in the case of covering the military, one isn’t even supposed to have an agenda that might upset the brass! Why? Because there is an “element of trust” that you’re supposed to have when you hang around the likes of a McChrystal. You cover a war commander, he’s got to be able to trust that you’re not going to embarrass him. Otherwise, how can he possibly feel confident that the right message will get out?

True, the Pentagon does have perhaps the single largest public relations apparatus on earth — spending $4.7 billion on P.R. in 2009 alone and employing 27,000 people, a staff nearly as large as the 30,000-person State Department — but is that really enough to ensure positive coverage in a society with armed with a constitutionally-guaranteed free press?

And true, most of the major TV outlets are completely in the bag for the Pentagon, with two of them (NBC/GE and Logan’s own CBS, until recently owned by Westinghouse, one of the world’s largest nuclear weapons manufacturers) having operated for years as leaders in both the broadcast media and weapons-making businesses.

But is that enough to guarantee a level playing field? Can a general really feel safe that Americans will get the right message when the only tools he has at his disposal are a $5 billion P.R. budget and the near-total acquiescence of all the major media companies, some of whom happen to be the Pentagon’s biggest contractors?

Taibbi makes another point:

[T]he reason Lara Logan thinks this is because she’s like pretty much every other “reputable” journalist in this country, in that she suffers from a profound confusion about who she’s supposed to be working for. I know this from my years covering presidential campaigns, where the same dynamic applies. Hey, assholes: you do not work for the people you’re covering! Jesus, is this concept that fucking hard?

Go read the whole thing. Really. (HT: @wilw)

The more I hear about FIFA, the more I’m convinced of their bankruptcy

During the Argentina-Mexico match, the refs blew a call on one of Argentina’s goals; the man was offside, which should’ve invalidated the goal — but the officials missed it, and awarded the goal.

However, the cameras in the stadium DID see the action correctly, and the in-stadium replay made the ref’s error obvious to everyone there (in addition to everyone at home).

FIFA’s response? No more in-stadium replays.

Let’s be clear: instead of striving for actual truth and accuracy, their response to this is not that the ref should have better tools to determine correct calls at the highest level of the game; the response is to try to prevent the truth from being known immediately by those in the stadium.

Seriously, fuck them. How can an organization supposedly devoted to fair play care so little for truth?

Destination Burger, or, Cook and Walsh aren’t lying to you

Let’s just say that, on Saturday, Mrs Heathen and I had a little too much fun. It started at Phil’s BBQ for the WC match, and continued for reasons not entirely clear at Beaver’s, where Claire Sprouse made souses of us with her delicious cocktails.

So some recovery was in order on Sunday — although let the record show that Mrs Heathen still went and ran nearly 6 miles on Sunday morning, so three cheers for her. We lazed about, had a nap, watched Argentina dismantle Mexico, and eventually felt the need to venture into the world again as much for fun as for food. And that’s when I remembered something: We’d not yet been to Rockwell Tavern.

I am an unashamed inner-loop snob. I rarely leave Montrose. I consider it a hike if I have to go to the Galleria (seriously: I just mail-ordered a laptop battery rather than go to the Apple store), and most typically am leaving town if I get more than an exit or two beyond 610, so the whole idea of driving to Cypress for a fucking hamburger is something that, well, most of the time I’d just laugh off. But for some reason on a lazy Sunday afternoon it seemed reasonable, so we packed a bag and lit out for the territories. (For the record, Rockwell is 25 miles from our house; on a Sunday at five, you can do that in about half an hour, but God help you during the week.)

About 40 minutes later (!) we pulled into the lot. I’ve lived in Houston for 16 years, and this is the first time I’ve been this far out on 290. Cypress is miles past the beltway, for crying out loud. I thought about tweeting a pic, but I had no 3G service out there. The reviews are right; you’re in the ass end of the universe, and it looks like nothing so much as the rural world I visit when I want to shoot at doves.

The strip center itself is an exercise in halfassery — there’s an unfinished something next door to Rockwell, full of piles of building materials. This mode extends to Rockwell’s own facilities, which despite being fairly new (Robb Walsh says they opened in January 2009) is already pretty ramshackle. And features an empty aquarium. The bar itself is a baroque thing distinctly out of place in what amounts to a giant featureless room with insufficient A/C, but stay with me, dear reader, for all sins are forgiven by what comes next.

There was next to no one in the place at about 6 on a Sunday, so we were immediately seated. I was again sad for our hungover state, as the beer selection out there is pretty impressive for any address, let alone one halfway to Bastrop. We weren’t there for beer, though. Mrs Heathen ordered some fried pickles for an appy, and they proved tasty if under-drained; after that, though, came the main courses.

I followed St Walsh’s lead and had the King Bubba, a half-pound of fresh ground meat topped with bacon, cheese, and a fried egg. Mrs Heathen went with the Psychedelic Hendrix (“like Jimi, chock full of ‘shrooms!”). There’s not much I can say that Walsh or Alison Cook didn’t already say, but:

Holy Jesus, these are some good goddamn hamburgers. The slightly sweet egg bun, toasted to perfection, is a fantastic complement to its crispy and greasy cargo (and, shockingly, held up well for the duration of the meal). You need to go here, and eat these. Now. Especially the Bubba. I have not had a better burger, I’m sad to say, and I wish more than anything these cats would open a branch somewhere I don’t need provisions to visit. Both Walsh and Cook ding Rockwell for their onion rings, and they’re absolutely right; skip the rings and go with either their fantastic sweet potato fries or the handcut traditional fries. Both are outstanding. Oh, and don’t bother with an appetizer; we forgot all about the pickles as soon as the burgers and fries hit the table (Which was quick! Service was outstanding.), and had way more food than we needed. Now, if only we didn’t need to take vacation time and pack a change of clothes to eat there again…

Oh, GOP. Never change, okay?

The new Texas GOP platform apparently includes provisions cementing their opposition to all porn, all adult-oriented businesses, sodomy, blow jobs, gay marriage, the Federal Reserve, the IRS, the income tax, anything to do with early childhood development programs, and (basically) the Supreme Court as well. Oh, and it cites the Bible as a reason to continue mollycoddling Israel.

There are two ways to interpret this.

It’s possible that the GOP are genuinely interested in making all the planks of their platform come true, and that they really are this ignorant, mean-spirited, bigoted, and theocratic. If that’s the case, we should run them all out of town on rails, because pretty much nothing in the platform is at all compatible with “land of the free, home of the brave.”

On the other hand, a more likely scenario is that the powers that be in the GOP don’t give a shit about any of this beyond using it to scare uneducated electorate into voting their way, and as a means to direct debate away from the actual agenda of the GOP — i.e., protecting wealthy interests. I’d argue that this is even worse, because it means they’re absolutely courting mob rule tactics in order to pursue antidemocratic goals, in which case they still ought to be run out of the state on rails.

In either case, progressive-minded voters statewide should insist that GOP candidates address this platform completely, explicitly, on every point, and as often as possible. Seriously.

Dept. of OOPS

Actually, this is a double oops; first, the story itself, and second, that I’ve been sitting on this unfinished post for months. Here’s a short bit, but read the whole thing story of a commodities futures trade gone very, very wong:

Brad’s phone rang with the telltale tone of an inner-office call. “Yeah,” he briskly blurted out as he picked up the phone, “what’cha ya need?” That was actually his nice way of answering the phone. As the senior trader at Execor, one of the world’s largest energy trading companies, Brad didn’t need to impress anyone and, in his mind, displaying anything less than vicious hubris would be a sign of weakness.

“Err,” the receptionist nervously answers, “there’s a… err, delivery for you, sir. They–“

“Hmphf,” Brad’s scoff cut her off. “So just sign for it, then! Is that really that hard to do? You can do that, can’t you?”

“Well sir,” the receptionist winced, “they’re asking for mooring instructions? And we need to pay wharfage charges? They said you’d know. I’m at a loss.”

“Fine,” Brad scowled, “I guess I have to do everything around here!” He slammed down the phone and marched out of his corner office. Despite Execor’s location — the “old docks” district — their office was one of the most posh in the city. On one end of the expansive, former warehouse sat the executive suites, which had a tremendous view of the city skyline. The other end — where Brad was headed towards — was the reception which overlooked its own, private bay on the river.

“Okay, I’m here!” he angrily announced once he stepped foot in the lobby. “So let’s do this! What do I need to–“

Brad stopped mid-sentence. His eyes were immediately drawn through the floor-to-ceiling windows and onto the river bay that Execor’s building overlooked. There was an absolutely gigantic barge — nay, an armada of tightly-connected barges — overfilled with enormous piles of coal that was attempting to dock in front of the building. “What… the… fuuu–“

Eleven Hours and Five Minutes Later…

Game, set, and match to John Isner, who managed to convert only his fifth break point of the set to win:

 Isner (23)636770

Final ace count: Mahut 103, Isner 112. There are more stats at the Wimbledon site, but I’ll also point out that Mahut actually won more points (502 to Isner’s 478). A “regular” match will usually play no more than 300 total points, but there were about twice that many in the final set of this match.

Isner’s last ace was a 135MPH rocket that helped him dig out of trouble when he was down Love – 30 in what turned out to be Mahut’s last opportunity to win.

Last night, a TennisChannel blogger posted something worth reading:

And then, at 59-59, the match was suspended for lack of light.

As much as delayed gratification is about my least favorite thing in life, I’m ultimately relieved. For a few hours anyway, there are no losers. And you can say there are no losers in this match, and you’d be 100% right, but tell that to the guy who doesn’t walk off with the W.

John, you were exhausted, each groundstroke accompanied not by a grunt but by a full-body heave, but you kept going.

Nicolas, 55. That’s the number of times you had to walk up to the line and serve to stay in this match. And 55 is the number of times you held. God bless Andy Roddick and his 16-14 fifth set last year, but you sir are a stud.

So while one of you will get the W tomorrow (presumably, this match may never end), this right here is how I’ll remember it. Suspended, and suspended in time. Two boxers going at it, giving the world something to talk about and be inspired by.

So thank you. For not only making tennis history, and getting people talking about tennis who otherwise wouldn’t be, and entertaining us all with your strength of will and strength of legs. For not just breaking records and making Pam Shriver misty and leaving Federer, Djokovic, Venus et al at a lack of words to describe your awesomeness. For not just creating this communal experience for everyone. But for showing me all over again why two random guys on Court 18 can create something truly beautiful.

Screw FIFA. This is beauty.

Meanwhile, something extraordinary was happening in Wimbledon

The longest match in tennis history has just suspended play for the second day due to darkness. No, this is not cricket. The Wikipedia article notes that the date of this tennis match is “22-24 June 2010.”

France’s Nicolas Mahut and American John Isner started their first round match yesterday, and played nearly three hours before calling it a day with two sets apiece. Today, as they walk off for the night, the match stands at ten hours, with the score:

 Isner (23)636759

As it stands now, Mahut has 94 aces, and Isner 98. Not only is it now the longest match in tennis history; its final set alone would qualify. And it’s not over.

I wonder if Isner will tweet something tonight?

So, Why ARE the last matches of group play simultaneous?

Because of this game in 1982:

Although the teams were regarded as rivals (Austria beat West Germany 3–2 in a remarkable game in the previous 1978 World Cup), the game is widely seen as being fixed, with both sides having an unspoken agreement to play for a 1–0 German win. As a result, FIFA ruled that in the future both final group matches must start at the same time, so as to prevent such an event ever occurring again.


After 10 minutes of furious attack, West Germany succeeded in scoring through a goal by Horst Hrubesch. After the goal was scored, the teams appeared to kick the ball around aimlessly for the rest of the match. The team in possession of the ball passed between themselves in their own half until an opposition player came into the vicinity of the ball. The ball was then passed back to the goalkeeper. Isolated long balls were played into the opposition’s half, with little consequence. For the next 80 minutes there were virtually no serious attempts on goal. The only player who seemed to make any effort at livening the game up was Walter Schachner, though he had little success.

This performance was widely deplored by all observers. ARD commentator Eberhard Stanjek at one point refused to comment on the game any longer. Austrian commentator Robert Seeger bemoaned the spectacle and actually requested that the viewers should switch off their television sets.

Likewise, many spectators were not impressed and voiced their disgust with the players. Chants of “Fuera, fuera” (“Out, out”) were screamed by the appalled Spanish crowd, while angry Algerian supporters waved banknotes at the players. The match was criticized even by the German and Austrian fans who had hoped for a hot rematch of the 1978 World Cup match, in which Austria had beaten West Germany; one German fan burned the national flag in protest.

The Algerian football officials were furious and lodged an official protest. FIFA ruled that the result be allowed to stand, but they introduced a revised qualification system at subsequent World Cups in which the final two games in each group were played simultaneously.

Amusingly, some people are super annoyed by this. To me, people whining about it are just not paying attention to the rules. Sure, the rules of a soccer match are one thing, but the rules of a tournament — especially one as important as the World Cup — can produce other incentives for play not strictly speaking in line with the goals of a single match. West Germany and Austria didn’t have to overtly collude to get to this point; they just had to both realize that they could both advance with a given result, and behave accordingly. It’s absurd to insist they should have behaved any other way.

This isn’t the only example of soccer tourney weirdness, either: check out the 1994 Shell Caribbean Cup.

There was an unusual match between Barbados and Grenada.

Grenada went into the match with a superior goal difference, meaning that Barbados needed to win by two goals to progress to the finals. The trouble was caused by two things. First, unlike most group stages in football competitions, the organizers had deemed that all games must have a winner. All games drawn over 90 minutes would go to sudden death extra time. Secondly and most importantly, there was an unusual rule which stated that in the event of a game going to sudden death extra time the goal would count double, meaning that the winner would be awarded a two goal victory.

Barbados was leading 2-0 until the 83rd minute, when Grenada scored, making it 2-1. Approaching the dying moments, the Barbadians realized they had no chance of scoring past Grenada’s mass defense, so they deliberately scored an own goal to tie the game. This would send the game into extra time and give them another half hour to break down the defense. The Grenadians realized what was happening and attempted to score an own goal as well, which would put Barbados back in front by one goal and would eliminate Barbados from the competition.

However, the Barbados players started defending their opposition’s goal to prevent them from doing this, and during the game’s last five minutes, the fans were treated to the incredible sight of Grenada trying to score in either goal. Barbados also defended both ends of the pitch, and held off Grenada for the final five minutes, sending the game into extra time. In extra time, Barbados notched the game-winner, and, according to the rules, was awarded a 4-2 victory, which put them through to the next round.

Again, whining about the players’ actions is absurd. The tournament rules created the incentive, and footballers generally want to win. Q.E.D.

Good new, bad news

The good news in the Houston food world is that uber-food-writer Robb Walsh is a partner in a new Tex-Mex joint opening in the old Tower Theater location in the heart of Montrose.

Imagine my disappointment to discover his partners, which means I’ll never eat there. I had one of the worst customer service experiences of my life at Caswell’s Reef, when his valets wrecked my pal’s brand-new car and then refused to own up or pressure the valet firm to properly repair it. I’ll be damned if I spend a single dime at any restaurant he’s a part of despite how much I’d like to partake of Mr Walsh’s venture.

Here’s something weird: Consider the Potatohead

File under “my brane works weird”, but I realized the other day that, when it was introduced in the 50s, the Mr Potatohead toy was actually just a kit of attachments and bits you’d shove into an actual potato.

At some point (Wikipedia says it’s the mid-60s), the manufacturers started providing an ersatz tuber with pre-selected holes, and now the whole idea of using plastic bits to make faces in cheap footstuffs probably strikes most people as weird, wasteful, or somehow gross — but, at introduction, it was probably seen as a frugal and inventive toy because the tater provided a sort of tabula rasa that was available in virtually any home.

During the same sequence of years, Americans as a rule have become more and more removed from the sources of their food, and using a plastic potato probably struck folks as upmarket or modern or more appealing by the prosperous mid-60s. The whole thing is emblematic of the rise of brands in American culture (nothing is more generic than a potato, but imagine a kid with a hand-me-down real-potato set being taunted by schoolmates for not having a “real” Mr Potatohead, complete with fake potato), and the acceleration of consumer culture that followed.


God Bless The Onion

Massive Flow Of Bullshit Continues To Gush From BP Headquarters skewers all the right people — and, deliciously, actually quotes the BP CEO accurately.

LONDON—As the crisis in the Gulf of Mexico entered its eighth week Wednesday, fears continued to grow that the massive flow of bullshit still gushing from the headquarters of oil giant BP could prove catastrophic if nothing is done to contain it.

The toxic bullshit, which began to spew from the mouths of BP executives shortly after the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in April, has completely devastated the Gulf region, delaying cleanup efforts, affecting thousands of jobs, and endangering the lives of all nearby wildlife.

“Everything we can see at the moment suggests that the overall environmental impact of this will be very, very modest,” said BP CEO Tony Hayward, letting loose a colossal stream of undiluted bullshit. “The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean, and the volume of oil we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total volume of water.”

Yeah, he said that. And:

“I’m as devastated as you are by this,” Hayward said after a meeting with cleanup crews on Louisiana’s Fourchon Beach. “We will clean every last drop up and we will remediate all of the environmental damage.”

“There’s no one that wants this thing over with more than I do,” he added a week later, just absolutely defying belief with the thickest, most dangerous bullshit yet. “I’d like my life back.”

Millions of Americans reported feeling ill and disoriented upon contact with that particularly vile plume of bullshit.

Roger that; we are Go For Launch

Via the recently resurfaced Agent Mantler, Heathen proudly point you to Go For Launch over at Air & Space:

In this unique time-lapse video created from thousands of individual frames, photographers Scott Andrews, Stan Jirman and Philip Scott Andrews condense six weeks of painstaking work [preparing the Discovery] into three minutes, 52 seconds.

Chris Dishes

Ol’ man Mohney wonders about the protocol, and then ultimately spills the beans about a truly tedious and pretentious gal he dated back in the day.

I only remember her because he had the poor form to bring her to my apartment, whereupon her attitude produced near-immediate ridicule. And now, 20 years later, she’s become — per Mohney — a “Sarah Palin-like figure” back in Aladamnbama, apparently poised for election to statewide office, complete with a web site boasting of her right-winger bona fides and (I kid you not) the fact that her daddy was a star quarterback at Bama, played for Bear, etc.

Granted, the state in question is Alabama. But still.

By all means, let’s remember the CSA

Salon writer Michael Lind takes on the absurd lost cause in the wake of my adoptive state’s new textbook requirements:

By all means, let schoolchildren in Texas read Jefferson Davis’s inaugural address. But there should be more material from the Confederate side of the conflict than that. For generations, apologists for the Confederacy have claimed that secession was really about the tariff, or states’ rights, or something else — anything other than preserving the right of some human beings to own, buy and sell other human beings.

That being the case, the education of schoolchildren in my state should include a reading of the Cornerstone Speech made by Alexander Stephens, the vice-president of the Confederacy, on March 21, 1861. With remarkable candor, Stephens pointed out that whereas the United States was founded on the idea, enshrined in Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, that “all men are created equal,” the new Confederacy was founded on the opposite conception:

The prevailing ideas entertained by [Thomas Jefferson] and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically … Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the “storm came and the wind blew.”

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.

Let the children of Texas compare what Stephens had to say about natural rights and human equality with Lincoln’s views on the subject, and contrast the ideals of the American and Confederate Foundings. That should make for interesting classroom discussions.

And more:

Toward the end of the war, Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis came up with a plan. Following Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, they proposed to save the Confederacy by freeing and arming slaves. In “Confederate Emancipation: Southern Plans to Free and Arm Slaves During the Civil War,” Bruce Levine quotes some typical responses. Brig. Gen. Clement H. Stevens: “If slavery is to be abolished then I take no more interest in our fight.” Gov. Zebulon Vance of North Carolina: “Our independence is chiefly desirable for the preservation of our political institutions, the principal of which is slavery.” Once it became clear that the only way to save slavery and anti-statism in the South was to abolish slavery and adopt statism, the malfunctioning Confederate Mind short-circuited completely.