As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

The Da McCain Code

John McCain's new flirtation with Twitter as a platform for his condensed and ill-considered crusade against earmarks is a perfect blend of form and function. It's as substance-free as the medium itself, which is why Maureen Dowd just ate it up. But Jonathan Chait actually cracked the code on this one (h/t Steve Benen)

McCain's method of indentifying waste, gleefully repeated by Dowd, is a disgrace. His technique is to focus on programs that mention animals or food, or anythign that sounds silly. He's clearly not interested in learning whether any of the programs he targets have merit. Here is Dowd recording McCain's twitter postings:

$1 million for Mormon cricket control in Utah. “Is that the species of cricket or a game played by the brits?” McCain tweeted. ...

$2 million “for the promotion of astronomy” in Hawaii, as McCain twittered, “because nothing says new jobs for average Americans like investing in astronomy.” ...

$200,000 for a tattoo removal violence outreach program to help gang members or others shed visible signs of their past. “REALLY?” McCain twittered.

I don't know whether or not cricket control is a necessary program. Maybe crickets are doing many times that amount in crop damage every year. Maybe it's a boondoggle. I don't know about the astronomy program, either, though I do think there's a role for federal support of the sciences, even in silly-sounding places like Hawaii.

I do know that the tattoo-removal program is an effective anti-crime initiative -- it allows rehabilitated former to reenter society shorn of visible markings that cut them off from middle-class culture. McCain and Dowd don't know this, and they don't care. What's on display is the worst elements of political demagoguery meeting the worst elements of the instant-reaction internet culture. They think the very idea of trying to learn about something before you take a position on it is a joke.

Here's where my knowledge of weird subsets of human experience comes into play. I worked on a show about Mormon crickets. They are a blight and can reproduce quickly. They are so relentless in their search for food that they will eat the cricket in front of them in the swarm, if they are lagging behind, providing an, er, incentive to keep moving forward. Swarms can last years and involve hundreds of millions of individual crickets. There's a legend that in 1848, Mormon crickets destroyed the wheat crop of the first Utah settlers, causing a near-famine (they were saved by gulls who swooped in and ate the crickets, which Mormons elevated to a heroic moment). There is an expectation of a planned Mormon cricket infestation in Elko County, Nevada this year, which could get very bad for ranchers in the region.

This year's infestation is expected to be similar to last year, when an estimated one million acres were infested with the insects, with "hot spots" around Tuscarora, Mountain City and Jarbidge in the northeastern Nevada county, state entomologist Jeff Knight said.

Though cricket numbers were down drastically from 2004 through 2006 when more than 10 million acres were infested, commissioners expressed frustration that the infestation remains more of a problem in Elko County than any other part of the state.

"To me, I think we dropped the ball. If you think I'm happy with what happened (last year), I'm not," Commissioner John Ellison said.

Ellison noted wildfires in recent years have scorched two million acres in the county.

"We cannot lose any more grazing land up there because of crickets and that's why we try to be highly aggressive ... All we want from you guys is a promise you guys are going to be aggressive this year," he told Knight.

Maybe some federal money to combat cricket swarms and reduce the prospect of total deforestation would be, I don't know, an economic and societal good.

But it sounds so funny! "Mormon cricket control." John McCain can spin a one-liner off that as fast as he can send a Twitter message! And insipid hacks like MoDo can parrot them. This is part of the insidious nature of the mismanaged use of social media by politicians, basically as electronic bumper stickers that have no context, no import, and seemingly no thought.

McCain didn't get away with today's tweet, chuckling like the kid in the back of the class he is about solar energy:

The Arizona Republican posted his first anti-pork list under the Twitter name @SenJohnMcCain late last week, calling attention to projects like $650,000 for beaver management and $1.7 million for pig odor research. He brought the Top 10 list “back by popular demand” the first two days of this week. The project in the No. 1 slot today: “$951,500 for the Oregon Solar Highway.”

That dishonor didn’t sit well with Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer, whose home state stands to benefit from the earmark. Tweeting as @repblumenauer, he mocked McCain.

“McCain wasn’t familiar with a Blackberry [during the 2008 presidential campaign], right?” tweeted Blumenauer, who quickly issued a press release celebrating earmarks for Oregon when the House passed its version of the spending bill last week. “How’s he supposed to understand a solar highway utilizing right-of-way to generate solar power?”

That's a bit of Tweeting I can believe in.

McCain is a sad man, but as you can see he still can generate headlines among the fawning chattering class, even after his disgraceful Presidential campaign (which they seem to have all forgotten). Eventually, this nonsense about earmarks needs to be fought - and McCain called out for his ignorance.

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