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Nation:

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that Colbert is preferred by 13% of voters as an independent candidate challenging Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Rudy Giuliani.

Via Yglesias

I suppose this means that Colbert has also received the “Colbert bump.”

Here’s something on the lighter side.

Alex Massie recovers from the shock of Maureen Dowd attempting to write about European politics and delivers some of the best ridicule aimed at Dowd I have seen.  He achieves this mostly by letting Dowd speak for herself, which is always calamitous and bad for her reputation.

The elder Podhoretz warns against a modern equivalent of “Finlandization.”  And not a moment too soon!  Just imagine: if we yielded to a fate of Finlandising, we might suffer from the blights of prodigious cell phone production, EuroVision contests and reindeer!  Stop the madness!*

* I refuse to answer seriously any article that takes the existence of something called “Islamofascism” as a given. 

Today Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez is cloning himself in Bolivia and Ecuador. ~Peter Beinart

If that doesn’t create a bipartisan consensus against cloning, I don’t know what will!

No one will ever accuse me of being a marketing genius, but I do have a piece of advice for Joel Surnow, chief of the torture-cons: when writing an appeal to conservatives to watch your fake news comedy show, do not begin with the line, “Hello, I’m Joel Surnow, co-creator and executive producer of the TV show 24.”  The 24 reference will garner some interest, but starting an article with “Hello, I’m…” makes you sound like a telemarketer.  No one likes telemarketers.  I don’t even pick up the phone when I see a toll-free number come up on the caller ID, except for the two seconds it takes me to lift the receiver and slam it back down again.  That is much the same impulse I had when reading your self-promotional article, but I pressed on in the interest of my readers, who may be curious why a producer of good, successful television shows would decide to stop producing those sorts of shows and do something so radically different.

Oh, and one more thing–when you start telling jokes in the article about your fake news comedy show, make sure that the jokes are funny.  That will encourage people to think that your show will also be funny, which is pretty much what most observers have concluded that your show isn’t.  For example, under no circumstances should you tell jokes in your article in a Q&A format.  You may as well tell knock-knock jokes if this is the best way you can find to present your material.  Furthermore, you should not then use that Q&A format to tell jokes this worn-out:

What is the show like?

It’s a “Weekend Update”/Daily Show/The McLaughlin Group hybrid, which makes The Half Hour News Hour the first hybrid ever endorsed by the FOX News Channel, its management, or its parent company, Halliburton.

Oh, you slay me, Joel.  Not quite as effectively as Jack Bauer would with a Glock 9mm, of course, but I certainly do feel a kind of shooting pain after having read that one.  A pun on hybrid!  And that Halliburton bit at the end, well…it was pretty forced actually.  The last line at the expense of Limbaugh and Coulter is, however, slightly funny, but there has so far seemed to be no indication of any of that sense of irony making its way into the show.

Seriously: “The 1/2 Hour News Hour” is so unfunny as to be affirmatively insulting. Do the programmers at Fox really think that we their viewers are this dumb? ~David Frum

This is what’s so amusing about Surnow’s little project.  Indeed, it is probably the only amusing thing about this project.  Yes, they think their conservative viewers are this dumb and easily amused because, well, FoxNews’ entire portrayal of what passes for conservatism operates at a pretty low, visceral level–and their viewers apparently can’t get enough of it.  They just aimed a little too low in this case, but in the world of Idiocracy (which is effectively the ideal world as imagined by FoxNews pundits 500 years from now with a Costco as large as a lake and a President who fires off a machine gun during his State of the Union) it would be the perfect fit.  That’s it–Surnow was just ahead of his time!  This is a depressing phenomenon to observe, but what it isn’t is surprising.  This is the same audience that regularly tunes in to hear Bill Kristol’s thoughts on foreign policy, which they apparently must regard as informed and interesting, so how sharp could they really be?   

There is comedy in all of this–it just doesn’t come from the show’s own skits.  This show has been conceived by avowed torture-con Joel Surnow and Roger Ailes for the explicit purpose of providing the “conservative” fake news comedy we’ve all supposedly been dying to have, and it appears on FoxNews, where all good Republicans go to receive their reprogramming lessons.  Its pedigree as a product of the nightmare that is Murdoch’s empire is unsurpassed.  Its self-conscious pretensions to conservatism are at least as great and as false as those of David Frum himself.  And it is horrible!  Absolutely horrible!  So horrible that even Frum must turn away in disgust–now he understands how the rest of us feel. 

Frum’s review of the show reminds me of the suggestion that was made not that long ago that Michael Savage had to be some kind of double agent working for the left to make people on the right appear to be lunatics (in the same way, I suppose, that Cindy Sheehan and Michael Moore are actually secretly doing the bidding of Karl Rove, right?).  That his ranting performance has a fairly large and loyal following did not seem to shake the doubter’s view that Savage couldn’t really be what he claimed he was.  Apparently, the would-be high-brow set in the movement don’t get down into the muck of the madness that is lgf nor do they wade into the Freeper fever swamp very often.  This allows them plausible deniability: “No one on our side advocates torture!  That would be wrong!”   

No, The 1/2 Hour News Hour doesn’t count as dazzling, deathless television but if it fails — particurly after the collapse of the Dennis Miller Show — it will be a long, long time before right-wingers get another shot at entertaining our own troops via TV and demonstrating that conservatives do, after all, possess a sense of humor. ~Michael Medved

I love that bit where he says, “especially after the collapse of the Dennis Miller Show.”  As if that painful experience were something that anyone would want to remember!  What does this new show seem to have in common with Dennis Miller’s act?  It’s pompous and it isn’t terribly funny.  Fortunately, the nation has at least been spared Joel Surnow’s brand of comedy on Monday Night Football.  He talks of it as if this were the last chance for conservatives to ever have their own comedy show, when I’m fairly sure the Murdoch empire would be only too glad to keep trying to come up with a formula that doesn’t peel the paint off of walls.      

You can almost feel Medved suffering as he writes this sorry apologia for what appears to be some of the worst television FoxNews has produced since, well…probably since their last program aired earlier tonight.  Consider these clips and this promo as evidence of cruelty to viewers–if you dare to watch them in their entirety.  It is really too easy to knock the show as an elaborate version of the kind of torture Jack Bauer might use on suspected terrorists (the upside is that it might be more effective in gaining information than inflicting physical pain), but what could Joel Surnow expect when he tried his hand at comedy if not jokes about torturing the audience?

What is it that drives some conservatives to want to imitate things like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report?  I suppose I understand the desire to have a popular and entertaining medium that caters to your side of the political street, but it seems to me that it’s an odd response to the success of your political rivals.  First of all, it completely misses that the two shows are capable of mocking the pretensions of most kinds of people, and they are not simply focused on their political enemies.  To the extent that they do focus on the administration and the GOP, you have to admit that these have proved to be rich targets for comedians of all stripes, just as Clinton was in the ’90s.  It also misses the reality that the shows rely heavily on the talent of their hosts–the format of fake news/fake talk does not necessarily make for great television.  Those of us who remember the Craig Kilborn era of The Daily Show understand the difference that Stewart made to the quality of the show.  Those of us who saw the early days of Colbert’s effort remember cringing at some of his weaker efforts–and even those weak shows were much better than any clip of this new show that I’ve seen.   

Producing this new show is the act of someone who can perceive the outward form of someone else’s success and thinks that if he starts dressing like the other person, takes up the same hobbies and begins going to the same social gatherings that he, too, will be as successful.  This conservative mimicry of left-leaning pop culture successes is a bit like Ottoman programs of Westernisation: they are completely artificial adaptations of the merely external products of another culture, one that the imitator does not even attempt to really understand.  All the mimic knows is that the other guy seems to be popular, successful or powerful and he wants to receive the same accolades and rewards.  So, shave your beards, wear European fashions and put your soldiers in Western uniforms as you teach them to march like Prussians, and you will finally stop losing wars to the Europeans!  How did that work out? 

One way that you can be sure that the creators of the new show don’t get the appeal of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report–which extends far beyond a purely left-liberal audience–is the way in which the “anchors” on the new show project the kind of appalling smugness that Colbert projects as part of his riff on…FoxNews talk show hosts.  Even in their ”satire,” the people at FoxNews apparently can’t help but take themselves way too seriously, thereby playing directly into the hands of Colbert’s persona of the right-wing blowhard host.  Then they take the perfect subject for satire–Barack Obama–and somehow manage to miss the target.  On top of it all, they have laugh tracks–laugh tracks on a satire show!      

Obviously, I must have answered some of the questions wrong.  Gene Healy outscored me!

Via Doug Bandow

As we are reminded in the latest TAC, in May 2004 James Pinkerton in The American Conservative (sorry, article not online) started the Bring Back Hussein gallows humour that has become increasingly popular over the past two years.  These efforts at satire (which is all anyone has dared to try so far) have not always succeeded entirely as satire or serious policy proposal for the reasons Ross outlined recently.  It is a dramatic way of making a point, because nobody would seriously advocate such a thing.  Right?  Actually, that is right.  But if nobody was seriously advocating such a thing at any point, why do some people write as if someone has been advocating it?  That Chait had to write an exculpatory post saying, “No, but, seriously, folks…” highlights just how bereft of ideas about Iraq the pundits are (I don’t say this accusingly–I have no magical fixes or solutions, either), since there was a 40/60 chance that Chait was perfectly in earnest in that funny TNR counterintuitive style that we all pretend to regard so highly. Next on the line-up of funny counterintuitive ideas: maybe we should give Iraq WMDs!   

As satire, the Hussein gag really only works if we all believed that bringing Saddam Hussein back was some unthinkable, horrific thing that, like devouring one’s own children, would stand out as so ludicrous that everyone would understand that it was all a roundabout way of saying something else, such as, “Toppling Hussein sure was stupid!” or saying, ”The situation in Iraq is so bad that even this psycho idea sounds remotely plausible.”  But it is just slightly plausible enough that it might be considered daringly counterintuitive and forward-thinking.  When all else fails, try Saddam!  A surprisingly large number of people might grimacingly nod their heads and say, Kinky Friedman-style, “Why the hell not?”  That is why the satire fails as satire, but the satire doesn’t fail badly enough to make the joke seem like an acceptable replacement for the current joke of an Iraq policy that we already have in place.

There are a good arguments to be made for establishing some sort of new authoritarian regime in Iraq.  Or, rather, there might have been good arguments for it three years ago, but we are well past the point of no return.  Had a new strongman been put in place straightaway in 2003 and been left to secure his position, it just might have worked in a clunky, ugly sort of way.  But we might as well be talking about what Iraq might be like now had we not disbanded the Iraqi army or purged the Baathists.  At this stage, this kind of talk, while amusing to disillusioned and cynical pundits and political junkies, is as productive as thinking that the answer for Iran policy is, ”Bring the Pahlavis back!”  Unfortunately, the ideas about Iran policy in circulation right now aren’t really much better than that.   

Alas and alack, two of the three most corrupt nations also happen to be America nation-building projects. ~Doug Bandow

In my view, we can hardly claim global hegemony if we allow one of the three most corrupt countries to be corrupt all on its own.  We can only take credit (admittedly only partial credit at that–the locals have done most of the heavy lifting on this one) for Haiti and Iraq, but not Burma.  Burma clearly needs the steady guiding hand (which is firmly placed in the till) of a government that we have approved.  Did I mention that corruption will help bring peace to the world?  “The country that bribes together, thrives together,” I always say. 

If Burma has managed to be this corrupt without our support, imagine how much more corrupt it can become!  It just needs a little dose of democratisation and the free flow of taxpayers’ dollars into a society that probably places no great value on transparency or institutional integrity.  We need to support Burmese non-reformers, cads and all around crooks, just as we once supported the INC.  I believe we can do it!   

How can the administration have allowed a Chinese client state to get the silver in the corruption race?  We cannot allow a corruption gap! 

White people are funny like that. There is a reason Morgan Freeman has played God in film. A lot of white people automatically credit articulate black men with special spiritual wisdom. ~Michael Brendan Dougherty

Funny, and I thought it was just because George Burns was no longer with us.

As Mr. Bush might say, never put a comma where George Burns has given humanity the gift of universal freedom.

Clark Stooksbury cites my paleo pickup line and offers his own: 

“Would you like to come up and see my etchings of Chesterton?”

“You are as pretty as the cover of Chronicles.”

“Here with a loaf of bread beneath the bough, a flask of wine, I’ll Take My Stand — and thou . . .”

Needless to say, paleo pickup artists–if such a thing existed–would almost certainly have to be anti-Straussians.

Update: Speaking of the question of paleo pickup artists, isn’t this kind of blogging really more Michael’s cup of tea (or glass of gin, as the case may be)?  After all, I would never have heard of Neil Strauss but for him.  Of course, this would all be purely theoretical and not have anything to do with Michael himself, you understand.  What say you, Michael?

And so, of course, is Borat–a fictional character created and played by the brilliant British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, himself an observant Jew. The ADL knows both of these facts–indeed, the organization has praised Cohen for being “proudly Jewish” and for trying “to use humor to unmask the absurd and irrational side of anti-Semitism”–and yet it is still fretting about Cohen’s forthcoming film, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. The reason? The ADL, according to a statement it released last week, is “concerned … that the audience may not always be sophisticated enough to get the joke.” 

——————

Just consider the case of Borat. While the ADL may kvetch, there is no greater critic of Borat than Kazakhstan’s president Nursultan A. Nazarbayev, who evidently finds nothing funny about Borat’s portrayal of his country–and, by extension, his regime–as benighted and backward. Last year, a Kazakh foreign ministry spokesman issued a public denunciation of Cohen’s Borat performance and threatened to take legal action against the comic; around the same time, Nazarbayev’s government also stripped Cohen’s Borat website of its original domain name, .kz. The Kazakh Embassy in Washington has already denounced the forthcoming Borat film, and a foreign ministry spokesman has said that Nazarbayev’s government will do everything in its considerable power to stop it from playing in Kazakhstan. Indeed, there were even reports–later denied–that Nazarbayev planned to ask President Bush to do something about Borat during their meeting at the White House last week. 

All of which has only served to illustrate the true character of Nazarbayev. Long accustomed to ruling his country with relative impunity–earlier this year, the State Department rated his government’s human rights record as “poor,” citing its encroachments on political rights, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion–Nazarbayev refuses to tolerate even a fictional character like Borat. And, in that refusal, Cohen has revealed Nazarbayev’s intolerance in a way that no State Department report ever will. Here’s hoping the ADL’s plea to keep audiences away from Borat’s film works as well as it did for The Passion of the Christ. ~The New Republic

Naturally, instead of taking consolation in the reality that the success of the Borat character shows how broad and instinctive the English-speaking world’s rejection of anti-Semitism actually is (Cohen’s jokes about “the dirty Jew”–which he uses to refer to himself, i.e., to Cohen, while in character to answer the Kazakh government’s complaints about his Borat act–and “The Running of the Jew” are funny only to people who already regard anti-Semitic attitudes as inherently ridiculous and obnoxious), the ADL assumes that someone watching this satire will fail to realise that it is a satire.  C’mon, folks, it’s not that subtle of a joke.  More than that, they claim that the movie might “reinforce” existing bigotry in some people, because, of course, so many anti-Semites (and we are supposed to believe there are so very many of them in this country) are going to run out and watch Cohen’s comedy routine and come away thinking, “That Borat guy made a lot of good points about the Jews!” 

Th ADL’s contempt for the decency and “sophistication” of ordinary Americans is not surprising, since they evidently assume that a lot of us must be anti-Semites in hiding, but it has to be an all-time first for them to complain about something that actually exposes anti-Semitism to ridicule.  Their complaining about the movie provides a perfect contrast and explains why Borat is popular and why the ADL is widely loathed: Cohen-as-Borat accomplishes the goal of fighting anti-Semitism in a way markedly different from their own humourless, activist method of denunciation and intimidation, and there is nothing more annoying to the dreadfully serious than the delightfully comic people who ridicule with laughter what they spend their entire lives combating with venom.    

Update: The ADL also laments that Cohen chose to make fun of Kazakhstan in particular, rather than making up a “mythological country.”  But then the joke wouldn’t be nearly as funny.  It isn’t crucial to the joke that he uses a real country (not that a lot of Cohen’s audience would know one way or the other, judging from geography tests in this country), but it probably helps make the joke work (if only to underline the satirical nature of the act) and does no real harm to the Kazakhs.    

One question remains: What would possess the Kazakhs to battle seriously and actively the only popular image of their country? ~Igor Khrestin

It is surprising that Kazakhstan has not taken a page from the Opus Dei playbook (I can almost guarantee that the previous sentence has never been written before in the course of the history of the English language and will probably never be written again) that made their response to the abominable The DaVinci Code so successful as a PR coup for their order.  DVC really only deserved mockery and scorn, but they set about showing what their order was really like and even won some converts in the process. 

Imagine the free press Kazakhstan could get if the government there invited Borat to official state functions!  Better yet, they could invent their own comically over-the-top caricature of a Kazakh and beat Borat at his own game.  But that might be expecting to much, and it isn’t likely to happen.  Irony is not exactly a common Central Asian cultural habit, though you would think decades under Soviet rule would sharpen a people’s love of satire.  In any case, think about all of the positive things you could tell journalists by way of telling the story of the Real Kazakhstan: “No, gentlemen, in fact we do not keep our women in cages.  We don’t have that many cages to start with, and we wouldn’t want to waste them on the women.” 

Of course that is terribly unfair (Kazakhstan is perfectly charming and full of empty, arid desert, and they have a shiny, new capital city to boot), but then Yakov Smirnov was rather unfair to the poor folks of Cleveland, which is almost as bad as Kazakhstan for some people in this country.  Yet it must be said that, without Yakov and Spinal Tap, most people in the world (and perhaps the country) would not give a second thought to the city of Cleveland.  They were not as fortunate as the nearby city of Youngstown, which had its own memorable representative: James “Beam Me Up” Traficant, who was just as ludicrous and colourful as Borat without needing to put on an act. 

Borat has put Kazakhstan on the map–he has, as he would put it, made benefit for glorious nation.  The least they could do is laugh a little.  But then laughing at ourselves more often is something that all of us could stand to try.   

Blogging is a highly competitive, heavy attrition environment. Rival blogs that seek to do harm to Untethered are many. Therefore, I will not wait for other blogs to attack, but will concentrate on identifying threats not only before they reveal themselves, but before they develop; before they even exist. In today’s environment of heightened competitiveness, it is necessary to anticipate not only your competitor’s next move, but his next thought as well. I will destroy potentially hostile rogue blogs before even they know they are a threat. Indeed, many will not realize that they were destined to be threats. ~Dennis Dale

Here (via Thomas Woods) is one of the more sane responses to this episode that I have seen so far.