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9/16/09 - Having a Bad Hair Day? Try Bashing Some Republicans
That Ann Coulter is a fairly smart cookie. She graduated cum laude from Cornell, which is probably more than you did, and she got her law degree from Michigan and made the Law Review there. And she’s sold more books in her time than I did when I worked at Barnes and Noble for several months.

But then she went and raised the question on the Bill O’Reilly show, when talking about health care, of whether “the government ever ran anything better than the private sector has, in the free market .. and the answer is ‘no.’” Such a statement is migraine headache-inducing even for those who only try to dwell on it momentarily.

One suspects that the “in the free market” phrase was tucked in there as a safety clause intended to help her escape the gravitational bonds of logic. But its inclusion is akin to trying to shed light on interplanetary motion relationships using Ptolemaic astronomical precepts.

The government isn’t in the free market, nor when it gets itself directly involved in almost anything is it trying to be. And without that little weasel phrase, why her statement can’t support even its own delicate weight.

The government does lots of things the private sector would, or could, never aspire to do. The space program comes to mind, or the military, or the interstate highway system.

There’s the National Parks Service. The National Weather Service. The Center for Disease Control. The federal and state courts systems. Disease research and vaccine development. Disaster and emergency response. Air traffic control. Local law enforcement and fire fighting. Geez, even the Post Office. And careful before you challenge that last one.*

The plain fact is, little in life is as simple as Coulter’s remark would make you think a public vs. private sector discussion is. The government is good at doing some things. The private sector is good at doing some things.

Both may screw up from time to time or even wander away from their purpose, but rarely if ever are they trying to do the same thing, even when as is often the case they work in concert with each other.

* “The current financial bind for the United States Postal Service is directly related to the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006, which required the Postal Service to deposit $75 billion over a 10-year period into a fund to guarantee payment of the employer's share of health care premiums for future retirees. No other federal or private entity is required to pre-fund this obligation” (Gina Meade, President Keystone Area Local American Postal Workers Union, AFL-CIO). How ironic is that?
Ann Coulter debated Al Franken on TV once, and he tied her up in knots.

If you can’t understand that, then maybe there’s no one who can explain it to you. It should be pretty self evident, but anyone still having trouble should think about this. Why is it that the Post Office will get a first class letter, generally for less than a dollar and in three days or fewer, to places in this country that Federal Express and UPS wouldn’t consider delivering to?

And in the end, why even pick on Ann Coulter about this? She doesn’t pretend to be an objective analyst of the health care or any other situation. Ann has described herself as a polemicist who likes to stir up the pot and, unlike broadcasters, does not pretend to be impartial or balanced. Or even, it would appear, factually accurate, as one suspects she’s proven time and again to the satisfaction of critics.

What, and how large a, role government should play in economic development is a legitimate political topic. Indeed, so is the whole subject of economic development, or at least it ought to be. (For instance, Fred Charles Ikle, former Reagan Undersecretary of State, once warned National Review readers that economic growth invariably leads to bigger government. Imagine that!)

Certainly, whether or not the government should be all or some part of the country’s health care delivery mechanism is an argument worth having. With the traditional caveat that honest people will differ in their views. Honest. But, please, the “reason against” argument shouldn't be shaped around the notion that the government can’t do anything better than the private sector, or even do anything well. This is nonsensical. One is hard pressed to imagine how people as smart as Coulter could allow themselves to stumble into such a simplistic and clumsy contention.

Hell, the government has run this nation for the past 200+ years, and even most pundits think (in this country at least) that it’s done a reasonably good job, all things considered. Certainly, there’s no one yet looking to outsource the task to anyone in the private sector, even if the government can’t seem to turn a profit on it yet.

Bonus Video Feature, Piling On Department: On how the intrinsic nature of the good things in life is to keep on giving, or Saddam you’re rocking the boat.

There now, don’t you feel better? I know it always works for Keith Olbermann. Coming soon in a future posting: Equal time for Democrats. We'll wait for Obama to do something Eric Cantor and John Boehner agree is funny. Shouldn’t take much longer. And those guys know funny.

8/4/09 - "If I could go back in time, I know somehow you’d still be mine...."
The August 1966 issue of Esquire magazine called for an immediate end to the decade of the ‘60s.

Given the frenetic activity of the previous six years, too much had already happened, the editors complained. They were tired. It was time to take a few years off and then just start in with a new decade. How little they knew. If the first six years of the '60s had been a roller coaster ride, the next four would be an acid trip.

The rocking and rolling crescendo came in the summer of '69. With a quick succession of events from mid-July to Mid-August that would leave today’s journalists, who think they live in the maelstrom of an unrelenting news cycle, gasping for air: The Moon Walk, Chappaquiddick, the Manson Family murders and Woodstock, all in a period of 30 days.

Even today, few people have it fixed in their minds that these four events, unconnected save in time and any one of them capable of changing the way we looked at things forever, unfolded within such a brief period.

Possibly people were already too benumbed to take lasting notice of the timing. The truth is, contrary to the fond wishes of the Esquire editors, in 1966 the '60s were just beginning to heat up.

Saturday, July 19: the morning after. Sen. Ted Kennedy's '67 Oldsmobile Delmont 88 gets pulled out of Poucha Pond on Chappaquiddick Island.

The summer following the Esquire protestation was the “Summer of Love,” a fairly mind-altering indication, felt mostly in San Francisco but well reported on everywhere, that things were not slowing down any. Then, in 1968, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy would be gunned down, and Lyndon Johnson, faced with the terribly gone-wrong war in Vietnam, announced he would not seek another term as President.

That summer Chicago hosted the riot-torn Democratic convention. Mayor Richard J. Daley defended his police against charges of brutal overreaction with a malapropism for the ages: "The police are not here to create disorder, they're here to preserve disorder."

Saturday & Sunday, August 8-9: The Tate/LaBianca murders. Manson Family members Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten at the time of their arrest.

But surging upon us one after the other, the events of the summer of '69 simply overwhelmed life as we knew it. They obliterated whatever sense of context we had left on top of all that had gone before. Whatever we had been thinking about, or thought we knew, just didn’t matter anymore.

Wednesday, July 16, the Apollo 11 Space Mission carried Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, Jr., from Kennedy Space Center to the moon. The following Sunday, July 20, Armstrong and Aldrin became the first humans to walk on the moon.

In 2009, NASA officials marked the fortieth anniversary of the historic event by admitting they'd somehow misplaced the original video footage. No matter. A dedicated minority of Americans persist in believing even today that the whole thing was a hoax. Probably the same people who are convinced Obama was born in Kenya.

But in truth, the fuzzy images being broadcast back to earth and shown in every home and restaurant and bar in America that Sunday looked and felt every bit as otherworldly as they actually were. It seemed eerily like it was not just the astronauts on some weird new journey, and it was as strange and unsettling as it was exciting.

Friday night, July 18, after the lunar launch but before the landing, Sen. Ted Kennedy drove a car off a narrow bridge on Chappaquiddick Island, just off Martha's Vineyard, into a pond deep enough to drown a car. He escaped from his sinking vehicle, but his passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne, 28, from Wilkes-Barre, Pa, did not. Kennedy would report the accident some 17 hours later, after police had already found the submerged car.

Aug. 15-17: Woodstock. Billed as "Three days of Peace and Music," and that's pretty much what it was, although more crowded than expected.

The press did not treat the incident, or the Senator, gently. Too many questions, too few straight answers. It might have gone far worse had the accident not occurred amidst the distractions of Apollo 11. Kennedy got off with a slap on the wrist, pleading guilty to leaving the scene, with the sentence suspended.

Who knows what plans he might have had for that night, or for the years thereafter? No matter. All undone by a wrong turn. He made a late and half-hearted Presidential run in 1980, losing the nomination to incumbent Jimmy Carter.

Over the years, Kennedy built a distinguished Senate career. But the family mystique was lost to him. Scratched out by unplanned-for events on the dark night in the summer of '69, along with the life of Mary Joe Kopechne.

Sunday, August 9, Angelinos awoke to the unsettling news that actress Sharon Tate and four other people had been savagely murdered in a grisly attack the previous evening at the home the actress was renting in Beverly Hills. Tate was eight months pregnant; her unborn baby died with her. One of the assailants wrote the word “pig” in Tate’s blood on the front door. The victims in the Tate home had been stabbed 102 times.

The next night, an elderly wealthy couple, Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, were killed in their Los Angeles home in equally brutal fashion. Rosemary LaBianca was stabbed 16 times. Leno LaBianca had twelve stab wounds including a knife stuck in his throat, along with seven fork wounds. The word "war" had been carved on his stomach.

On their living room wall, in blood, were the words "Death to pigs" and "Rise," and on the refrigerator door was written, "Healter Skelter," the misspelled title of a Beatles song from the "White Album."
Sunday, July 20: Buzz Aldren salutes the flag, on the surface of the moon

Patricia Krenwinkle, Susanne Atkins, Linda Kasabian, Leslie Van Houten and Charles "Tex" Watson were eventually charged with the murders. All were members of a quasi-religious cult led by Charles Manson, a charismatic drifter, aspiring musician and petty criminal. Manson (who took part in the LaBianca but not the Tate killings) was accused of directing his followers’ actions. It was believed he regarded the killings as the impetus that would ignite an apocalyptic race war.

Another plausible theory was that the murders were merely intended to distract law enforcement authorities from some drug deals that had gone dangerously bad and had put Manson and his coterie on the wrong side of some Black Panther members. See Denise Noe's reportage in "The Manson Myth" on the Crime Magazine website. Eventually all were convicted. Manson has remained a figure of morbid public fascination for forty years. In most of his pictures, he certainly looks crazy.

Fri.-Sun., August 15-17, The "Woodstock Music & Art Fair" was held at a 600 acre dairy farm in the rural town of Bethel in update New York. Bethel is 43 miles southwest of Woodstock, the site originally intended for the festival. Thirty-two of the best-known musicians of the day appeared in front of nearly half a million "concert-goers." Woodstock is still regarded as one of the greatest moments in popular music history. It is included on Rolling Stone's list of 50 Moments That Changed the History of Rock and Roll.

Woodstock started out as a venture capital project, more or less. John Roberts and Joel Rosenman, looking for investment opportunities, got together with record producer Artie Kornfeld and concert promoter Michael Lang, and eventually they came up with the idea of producing a Rock music festival. It succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.

The festival was promoted on New York radio stations. Tickets were sold at record stores and by mail. A three-day pass was priced at $18 ($24 at the door). There were a reported $1.3 million in advance ticket sales, and overall 186,000 tickets were sold before promoters bowed to fate and reality and declared the festival a free event. Total attendance mushroomed to about 400,000.

Dr. Frankenstein: "Damn your eyes!"
Igor: "Too late."

There were two deaths (a heroin overdose and an occupied sleeping bag accidently run over by a tractor in a nearby field). There were four miscarriages and supposedly two births.

It's estimated the concert eventually cost the promoters $2.6 million. It had immediately outgrown its original Woodstock site, and it soon outgrew the Bethel site as well. Huge additional provisions of food and fluids had to be rushed in over the weekend, as well as some 50 doctors Eventually the festival got so crowded it had to be closed to new admittances. New York radio stations aired public service messages urging people to stay away.

In time the festival proved too big for the entire state of New York. Traffic headed to the festival began to back up so many miles that troopers reportedly closed the New York State Thruway. An additional 250,000 people, it's estimated, tried and failed to reach the site.

Those who made it to the scene experienced three days of a remarkably peaceful, joyful and love-filled (literally and figuratively) social scene, a couple of downpours and some exceptionally good music. The festival took on a life of its own, evolving into a raised-consciousness, countercultural hippie nation, at peace with itself and the world.

As the only reporter at the Festival for its first 36 hours, Barnard Collier had to struggle continuously with his New York Times editors who were looking for stories of social mayhem and disaster. They were simply not prepared to hear stories of cooperation, caring and politeness on the part of 400,000 long-haired freaks stoned in a cow field in the rain. (There were about 450 cows in attendance inside the fence with the audience. The cows were straight mostly.)

Woodstock was not a financial bloodbath either. The venue itself, obviously, lost money, but just the movie filmed of the event, arranged for in advance by Kornfeld in a deal with Warner Bros. and released in theaters in 1970, eventually grossed $50 million.

What was it that had so worn out Esquire's editors way back in 1966? Well, mostly it was "luminaries coming and going faster than a speeding bullet,” and “fads and fashions flaming up and burning out in a week.”

They cited Kennedy’s assassination, of course, and the Oswald shooting, the Civil Rights struggles, the Christine Keeler Affair—Profumo Affair if you’re more interested in politicians than hookers. Okay, but also James Bond, Liz and Dick, Happy Rockefeller, the execution of Caryl Chessman, Malcolm X., the Beatles, Mary Poppins, Sinatra taking a poke at an insurance salesman, Barbra Streisand, Eichmann, Valachi and Bobby Baker. Tired yet?

In fairness, such a list probably did seem like a lot to adjust to coming out of the ‘50s. But today that stuff wouldn’t wear us out if it all happened before lunch. A different era, to be sure. You need no more proof than this. It wasn’t until the summer of 1967 that Time magazine declared the bikini had finally gained acceptance among “the young set” on American beaches and the mature crowd was expected to shortly follow suit.

The editors at Esquire be damned. The decade of the '60s was not going to end until the fat lady sang about triumph, disaster, horror and bliss. A last, lingering 30-day exclamation point at the end of a ten-year adrenalin rush. That's the way it was, as Uncle Walter would have said.

You’ve come a long way, baby.