The Fruits of Nonsense

*”The tree of nonsense is watered with error, and from its branches swing the pumpkins of disaster.”* – N. Harkaway

So, for 8 years, the Republicans have defined themselves by nothing so much as their foursquare opposition to the Affordable Care Act.

Their opposition was never rooted in the actual policy choices of the bill. They’ve been very clear about that; their problem was always that it was Obama’s bill. (This is also the reason many progressives were disappointed with the bill, since it was crafted from the get-go to be at least marginally palatable to conservatives — you almost certainly recall that it was patterned on a successful plan implemented in Massachusetts by then-governor Mitt Romney.)

Over and over they voted to repeal it wholesale, secure in the knowledge that such a repeal would be unlikely to reach Obama’s desk, and that even if it did, he’d veto it, and that they didn’t have the votes for an override. It was political theater, with no regard for meaning or consequence because it was divorced from either notion by design.

Except the know-nothing base, cultivated over the years by the extreme elements of the party, actually became convinced that Obamacare was bad law. One may quibble with the specifics — it’s certainly not perfect, and certainly needs to evolve — but what isn’t debatable is that it (a) saves money and (b) results in a net increase in people covered by insurance. These are, normally speaking, good things.

Come November, of course, these particular dogs caught this particular car. And now they had a problem: they’ve been telling their idiot base that their first priority was to repeal this terrible, liberty-killing law for the better part of a decade, and that’s exactly what their base expects now (unaware, as they are, that such a repeal will disproportionately harm the working-class whites who make up that base). And now, with control of both houses and the presidency, they had to actually DO it.

Well, turns out, a party devoted almost entirely to watering the tree of error can produce almost nothing of consequence beyond Harkaway’s pumpkins of disaster. The raving nutbird looney portion of the party set its sights on not just repealing the ACA, but also on gutting other existing health care programs (again, because FREEDOM), and dug in their heels against an insufficiently awful bill. The moderates in the party, vulnerable at home to less-stupid constituents, understood that a bill responsible for actual, measurable harm would be a career-limiting move. The GOP, once famous for party discipline, can’t pass their own bill fulfilling one of their key promises of the Obama years.

Their failure here is an unalloyed good for America as a whole, though I wouldn’t look to this incredibly mean-spirited party to stop trying to fuck people over any time soon. More good news is something that analysts on both sides of the aisle have known for years: the longer we have the ACA, the more entrenched it will become, and the harder it will be to roll back.

What would be really neat, though fantastically unlikely, would be if the GOP could evaluate the actual ACA, figure out — based on empirical facts, not ideology — what’s working and what isn’t, and work together with the Democrats to improve it. That’s how Congress is supposed to work. But with this GOP — one that enthusiastically embraced Trump and white nationalism in the last year — that is of course entirely too much to hope for.

Chuck Barris? DEAD.

The father of The Gong Show and subject of Confessions of the Dangerous Mind died yesterday at 87.

It is difficult to adequately explain what a treasure The Gong Show was in its heyday. It was weird and subversive and downright bizarre in a media landscape that, in some markets, had Hee Haw on every other damn channel at 6:30 in the evening. Witness bits like the debut of Oingo Boingo, or the whole IDEA of Gene Gene the Dancing Machine, or inspired stunts like this — a show in which every contestant sang “Feelings.”

(Via MeFi.)

Game Over, Man.

So I finally got to the tab I opened the other day about Bill Paxton, which reminded me of his short-lived New Wave band Martini Ranch, and their two videos, which support my long-held view that all the cool famous people know each other and hang out together.

Martini Ranch was a pair: Paxton was collaborating with the band’s founder, Andrew Todd Rosenthal, and sounded nothing if not period-correct in 1982. Given that it was the 80s, OBVIOUSLY there are music videos — though, sadly, the count is two. Both date from the late 1980s, and boast casts and crew

The first clip was for the improbably named “How Can The Laboring Man Find Time For Self Culture“, and looks and sounds like someone put Metropolis and Devo in a blender. And here’s where the connections start, too, because the cast for the video includes Paxton and some pals of his: Anthony Michael Hall (with whom he’d starred in Weird Science) in 1985, plus Lords of Discipline (1983) cronies Rick Rossovich, Judge Reinhold, and Michael Biehn — the latter, of course, also with Paxton in Aliens in 1986.

The second video, for a song called “Reach“, was more high concept: a bank robber (Paxton) rolls into a post-apoc western-esque town, pursued by a cadre of improbably attractive female bounty hunters. Where it gets connect-the-dots fun, though, is in the cast and crew.

First, it was directed by James Cameron. Sure, it was only about 1988, but by then he already had a couple directorial successes under his belt (Terminator and Aliens, with Abyss probably already in production); he’s shooting this because they’re pals. Cameron would go on to cast Paxton in 5 films (the first Terminator, Aliens, True Lies, Titanic, and Ghosts of the Abyss), which is more than any other actor. (Cameron’s 4-time club includes Lance Henriksen and Biehn, though the latter got the better deal, as I’m not sure “Piranha II: The Spawning” should be seen as the pinnacle of Cameron’s work.)

Second, the lead bounty hunter is Cameron’s future (and now ex-) wife Kathryn Bigelow, who was also using Paxton in her Near Dark around the same time (1987).

Paxton’s band of outlaws is especially delightful: it includes colleagues from Aliens and Near Dark (Henriksen and Jenette “Vasquez” Goldstein were in both films; the video also includes Paul Reiser from Aliens and Adrian Pasdar from Near Dark) — plus Reinhold makes a return appearance.

Rounding out this delightful crowd is a near-unrecognizable Bud Cort from Harold and Maude, who polishes Paxton’s bike.

The final note is that I’d totally forgotten Pasdar was in Near Dark, and now I can’t remember if he managed to be on Agents of SHIELD at the same time as Paxton as well.

TL;DR? It’s neat to see all this repeat work, even in obscure music videos.

Also? Remember there’s a Bill Paxton pinball machine in this world.

Also also? This brilliant tweet:

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Burying the Lede, Automotive Division

Over at The Awesomer, they have a bit about the new 911 Turbo S that’s kind of fun, but in the blurb I noticed some interesting verbiage; I’ve added some emphasis to point out the shocking bit.

Our friends at DriveWithDave spent an afternoon behind the wheel of the fastest accelerating non-electric production car in the world.

Have we really reached the point already where explosion-powered cars are the slower variety, at least in acceleration? That’s kind of amazing, but according to the list provided (sourced from Motor Trend), it’s the truth. The Tesla S P100D can get you to 60 in 2.3 seconds, and to 30 in 0.9. This 911 matches the 0-30 time, but is slower to 60 by 0.2, and everything else they list (Lambo, GT-R, Audi, Ferrari, McLaren) is slower.

Dept. of Media Archeology

Ars Technica has a pretty interesting piece up about the rise and fall of 8-track, but they miss some bits I wish they’d included.

I grew up in the 70s and 80s, and was always baffled at why those awful things existed in the first place when cassette was also available. The whole weird imposition of the 4 programs, plus the seemingly inevitable need to split songs between programs (complete with fade-out, that chunk-chunk sound, and the fade back in) really put a damper on actual audio pleasure, let me tell you.

Also, contrary to the 2nd graf line (“What went wrong is easily explained with hindsight—though it seemed mysterious at the time.”), there was nothing mysterious to ME about why cassette won, and it’s encapsulated in this fanTAStic Sony ad, which more or less pitches the lack of on-demand rewind as an impediment to getting laid.

That sony ad

In case you can’t read the text, here it is:

If you’ve got 400 horsepower and things still aren’t moving fast enough, try adding the new Sony Automobile Stereo Cassette-Corder(r). One big advantage of the new Sony Model 20 is that it plays cassettes instead of cartridges. And a cassette gives you twice the music of a cartridge (up to two full hours). What’s more, if she wants to hear “Light My Fire” right now, her fire can get lit. Right now. (With a cartridge machine, you’d have to wait for the whole program to recycle.) (Emph. added.)

What they mean, kids, is that there’s no rewind on 8-tracks. The music was broken into 4 “programs,” and to hear a given song again, you hit the “program advance” button 3 times and then waited for your song to come around again. Awesome, right?

The Draper-worthy Makeout Point location and “cassette = sex” positioning isn’t even the most dated thing about the ad. Look at it. It’s got a whole paragraph of intelligently constructed text extolling the virtues of cassette over 8-track, and it’s written as though talking to an intelligent adult. Find an ad in 2017 that has that much text. I dare you.

The story of how I found the ad itself is pretty hilarious, too, if you’ll indulge me. My dad passed away when I was a teenager, and it fell to me to clean out his office at his veterinary clinic. In a seldom-used drawer, I found a stack of random documents and folded-over magazines — professional journals, newspapers, and popular rags, too. The ad in question was in one of those popular mags, but it was folded over in a way that showed only a page of text on one side and this full-page ad on the other. I was so tickled by the ad, though, that I didn’t notice until several minutes later that it was from Playboy. Which, apparently, my dad really DID have for the articles. ;)

The ACA, and what it means as a microcosm of modern Republicanism.

Nobody really disputes that health care in the US, in 2007, had some serious issues with both cost and access.

The Obama administration attempted to address this in a way that, with a sane opposition party, might product bipartisan support: they chose a plan actually authored by Republicans (the Heritage Foundation), and that had been used successfully at a state level by prominent Republican Mitt Romney.

This, in retrospect, as a terrible mistake, because the GOP of 2008 defined itself not by any principles, but by being opposed to literally anything Obama or the Democrats wanted to do. Consequently, the ACA — despite being an objectively conservative, market-based plan instead of a more liberal approach — came to be painted as a horrible liberal plot to destroy American health care (remember all the babble about “death panels?”). It didn’t matter to the GOP that it was a market-based approach that focused mostly on insurance market regulation; what mattered was that it had been achieved by the Democrats, and therefore it had to be destroyed.

That being the case, the Republicans have made repealing the ACA a key goal, notwithstanding the effects of said, and, again, not because of any policy reason, but simply because it was a Democratic achievement. They were safe in making these noises when a Democrat lived in 1600 Pennsylvania, because no such bill would get signed. They could get credit for fighting tyranny, or whatever they told their rabid base, without having to pay the piper. Now, they’re on the spot: they have the power, and a good chunk of their low-information base expects this evil Obamacare law to get repealed.

And so the GOP is preparing to repeal it wholesale, and without having an replacement on hand. Doing so will end coverage for millions of Americans, and will cost the Federal government no small amount of money. The GOP knows this, which is why they’ve taken steps to prevent the Congressional Budget Office from tallying any such cost overrun. From Fox News, of all places:

Part of the challenge lies in the potential cost of repeal. Estimates vary wildly on how much an ObamaCare repeal would add to the deficit. It hinges on who you talk to and what metric they use. Various figures range from $350 billion to $1 trillion to $9 trillion over a longer period.

But one thing is clear: Republicans already prepped a provision to ignore internal congressional budgetary rules if the repeal is successful and explodes the federal deficit.

Efforts to defang the House’s quasi-official ethics watchdog office scored most of the attention early this week as the GOP advanced a “rules” package to govern the body during this Congress. But Republicans tucked a provision into the plan which bars the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) from counting a dramatic spike in deficit spending spurred by an ObamaCare repeal. Language in the resolution bars the CBO from tallying the cost of any ObamaCare repeal bill that bloats deficit spending by more than $5 billion over the next decade and $20 billion over the next four decades.

And, again: that’s from Fox News, hardly an ACA cheerleader.

This is what happens when politics becomes a game and not a means of governance. Since Clinton, the GOP has been a party that cared far more about winning than they did about policy and the society those policies create. As Bill Kristol noted back during the Clintons’ foray into health care policy:

But the long-term political effects of a successful Clinton health care bill will be even worse–much worse. It will relegitimize middle-class dependence for “security” on government spending and regulation. It will revive the reputation of the party that spends and regulates, the Democrats, as the generous protector of middle-class interests. And it will at the same time strike a punishing blow against Republican claims to defend the middle class by restraining government.

Even 25 years ago, opposition to Democratic efforts on health care policy was positioned as game strategy, not as what was best for the country. This is because the Republican party has long since abandoned any pursuit other than perpetuating the Republican party.

Republicans clearly do not give one single damn about medical bankruptcy, or lack of coverage, or the shrinking middle class that is increasingly vulnerable to these problems. They are no longer a party of policies and ideas. In my life, the Republicans have mostly been the party of Fear. Fear the Russians, sure, but when the Cold War ended, they had a hard time finding something else to make us afraid of for a little while before deciding the right targets were minorities. Fear the gays. Fear the immigrants. Fear the muslims. Fear the transgender boogeymen hiding in the rest room to molest your daughters. There are no meaningful Republican policy proposals for the problems of medical bankruptcy, or lack of coverage, or for how the increasingly struggling middle class should handle high premiums and pre-existing conditions. (ProTIP: A HSA isn’t gonna help much when you earn $50K a year and need $200,000 worth of care.)

There are no great Republican proposals for how to address the increasing gap between rich and poor, in part because the Republicans seem to love everything about the 1950s except the tax rates, which they’ve been hammering downward for decades despite obvious signs that this is a very, very bad idea (see: deficit; infrastructure spending; state of education in the US; state of health care in the US).

What we get instead are policies pursued to please a right-wing base no matter the cost (like the ongoing assault on Planned Parenthood, which has produced a measurable uptick in infant mortality), or policies designed to inflame that base and vote (for example, bathroom bills), with utterly no regard for the real world effects. Our soon-to-be vice president, Mike Pence, has his own home-state version of this problem, as his resistance to needle-exchange programs in Indiana literally created an HIV explosion.

Republicans do not care about food insecurity in the US; instead, we get bills that insist on drug tests for welfare recipients (it will surprise no one to discover that there are almost zero positive tests in states with such laws, which as a bonus cost a whole bunch of money).

Republican solutions to homelessness involve busing them to other towns.

When asked about these problems, Republicans — like Kristol back in 1992 — wave their hands and mutter about tax credits and markets, but there will never and can never be a market-based approach to health care that covers everyone (or education, for that matter). And the older I get, the harder it is for me to believe that anyone outside of 18-year-old proto-Objectivists actually believe that a full market based policy system would actually work. I think they just don’t care what happens to the people who don’t end up on top.

And, as it turns out, enough voters agree — though not, of course, most of the voters — that we’ll get to see what happens when they get control, starting later this month.

(N.B. that none of this is about Trump. He’s a whole OTHER problem; this post is about the party, not the absurd candidate they embraced.)

Dept. of Unnerving Overlap with Republicans

I had, until today, somehow escaped knowing that Joe Scarborough also (a) went to UA (class of 1985, according to Wikipedia) and (b) is an R.E.M. fan.

This particular fact came to my attention because of this tweet,

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Vinyl Solution (singular, Joe, not plural) is gone now, but when I was in Tuscaloosa (summer ’87, and then ’88-’94), VS was the place to go for new music. There were chain stores (including a Turtle’s, back when they gave out stamps), but VS was place to be. I bought my first Dylan there, my first Velvet Underground, and my copy of the #1 Record/Radio City combo disk from the owner’s favorite band, Big Star. On my infrequent visits back after leaving, I still made a point of dropping in and buying something. When George closed it to retire, it was like my youth shutting its doors, but, you know, sic transit gloria mundi.

“The statement neglects to clarify if Treadway’s nanny worked as a line-nanny or a sous-nanny”

Houston’s formerly fair-haired restaurant group Treadsack (Down House, Foreign Correspondents, Hunky Dory, Bernadine’s, etc.) is in serious trouble; stories have been circulating for a while now about payroll problems, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the problems are directly tied to a ridiculously over-ambitious expansion program probably timed to take advantage of the regional and national press accolades they were piling up.

Finally, the Houston Press gets to the bottom of it and — spoiler alert — it ain’t pretty. The Texas Comptroller’s Office has frozen their accounts; the IRS has over a million bucks in liens against them; and at least two banks aren’t honoring their checks. I’m pretty sure this is how you spell “fucked.”

it’s a damn shame, because the food at Down House was legit, and both Hunky Dory and Bernadine’s were delightful (if overpriced). I guess the good news is that someone’s gonna snap those locations up, though — they’re lovely.

Chris Onstad: “It was 1982. We were young.”

Oh, for the love of God and all that is holy, go read this.

Here is a sample:

Gerald Ford, my birth President, flew in an Air Force One that allowed not just smoking, but hoot-fueled, wildly heteronormative screenings of Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens. Parker House rolls and empty fifths of Cutty Sark were no doubt chucked at the closing credits with a simian brio the likes of which dignitary air travel rarely sees any more. Children born under this President are generally thought to display alpha behavior, as well as a natural tendency toward easing relations with Soviet nations.