The only Hurricane Irene news you really need: Michele Bachmann says God sent it to get the attention of American politicians

She really did.  And yes, I know she came back and said she was only kidding—great kidder, this one.  Thing is, no one would have ever thought she was serious except for the fact that she’s running for president as an evangelical conservative who was taught that the U.S. Constitution is based on biblical law, and very little else.

But what if she wasn’t kidding?  Philip Bump thinks just maybe she could be on to something here…

How do we determine which disasters are messages from God, and which ones aren’t his fault, but instead should appeal to Him to fix?


Even if we figure out that God is sending a message, how do we know who the message is to?


Does the severity of the disaster indicate the degree to which God is angry?  If so, why was God so much madder at Joplin, Missouri, than at the entire East Coast?

Faster? I’m trying to write at all

For anyone else who has faced a blank screen—and for those old enough, a blank sheet of paper—and wondered, “What the hell do I think I’m doing here?” and need another distraction/excuse to keep from typing, have a look at this fun column about how to write faster.  Here’s a taste:

Hunched over my keyboard, I’m haunted by anecdotes of faster writers. Christopher Hitchens composing a Slate column in 20 minutes—after a chemo session, after a "full" dinner party, late on a Sunday night. The infamously productive Trollope, who used customized paper! "He had a note pad that had been indexed to indicate intervals of 250 words," William F. Buckley told the Paris Review. "He would force himself to write 250 words per 15 minutes. Now, if at the end of 15 minutes he hadn’t reached one of those little marks on his page, he would write faster." Buckley himself was a legend of speed—writing a complete book review in crosstown cabs and the like.


[Ronald Kellogg:] "Writing extended texts for publication is a major cognitive challenge, even for professionals who compose for a living." See, Dad! This is hard work.


Kellogg is always careful to emphasize the extreme cognitive demands of writing, which is very flattering. "Serious writing is at once a thinking task, a language task, and a memory task," he declares.


Kellogg terms the highest level of writing as "knowledge-crafting." In that state, the writer’s brain is juggling three things: the actual text, what you plan to say next, and—most crucially—theories of how your imagined readership will interpret what’s being written. A highly skilled writer can simultaneously be a writer, editor, and audience.

Since writing is such a cognitively intense task, the key to becoming faster is to develop strategies to make writing literally less mind-blowing.

There are tips for “would-be writers” at the end…but don’t jump ahead, do the work!

For more on the politics of saving the economy, we bring in Bob in the Heights

From time to time, HIPRB! feels the need to turn over the front page for a spirited diatribe on issues of the day (or on something else).  Today is one of those days: my friend Bob Eddy takes issue with a thing or three out of the recent contretemps over raising the federal debt ceiling, and links us to quite an interesting examination of Barack Obama’s fear of confrontation.

That little congressional Mexican standoff was the sorriest and most shameful display of our democratic system that I’ve seen in a long time.  And come Monday morning I brought up the Times with a heavy heart, knowing as sure as the sunrise what I would see—yet another capitulating choke by the president and his party that will once again lamely be defended with that upbeat and reassuring phrase that has become this administration’s slogan: “Well, better than nothing…”  

“We tried, but…”

Like the coach telling the team owner “Well, we only lost by 10…”

“Our offense looked really good in the third quarter…”

“Our new kicker has some real potential…”

And of course I knew also that in the ensuing days we would be treated to the smiling but worn congressional faces of our brave representatives who rolled up their sleeves, set their differences aside, and hammered out a solution just before the clock ran out.  Whew, another global crisis avoided!  And once again we’ll all be reminded that democracy sometimes gets ugly, messy, and contentious, but that’s what makes this country great, and in the end rational compromise will win out for the betterment of the people and what’s best for America.  You know what?  Hey Harry, your catheter is leaking into your socks. 

The saddest part?  Watching the president of the United States spend 20 minutes addressing the nation to plead his case for a sharing of the fiscal burden, and John Boner barely taking 5 to sternly tell him that the dishes were piling up in the congressional cafeteria, and this is what his party will do and won’t do – sweet.  I’ve got to admit, I was taken back by the bluntness of his rebuttal, void of any hint at compromise or even respect.

I knew from the moment Obama got called out as a liar that there was going to be trouble with this crowd.  And I’m sorry, as much as Obama and everyone would like to think the hatred has nothing to do with color, come on, let’s be honest: no president in our lifetime has been this openly treated with hostility, disdain, and lack of decorum.  Not that I don’t have my own issues with our president.  You know, I wasn’t one of the foolishly naive who put him on a pedestal and thought upon his entering office we were all going to put on rainbow glasses and America was going to become Shangri-La West, but at the least I did expect some f****** backbone.

It just seems like his administration thus far has been more a cold slap of reality as far as what the president can do and (mostly) can’t do, than anything resembling hope and change.  He regularly treats his voting base like his third choice for the senior prom, and like me they’re all screaming “When are you going to give up this ridiculous fantasy of reaching across the aisle, of working together for the common good!?  Of expecting anything other than contempt and obstruction from this crowd!?”

Some say he’s playing the long game; I say the strategy has so far brought us next to nothing in the win column – it’s the age old “well now you’re pissing everyone off.”  Stop this ridiculous quest for the Holy Grail of the political center where your number crunchers assure you the percentages predict the most votes…to be the off-white shirt that goes with the most jackets in your closet.  When Leonard Pitts suggested in a recent column that it was time to start throwing some elbows on your way to the basket, my thoughts were “what took you so long to write this column?” 

And of course, Obama’s haggling capabilities leave something to be desired…

Obama at a pricey estate auction somewhere in Georgetown, where he spies a 19th century French coffee table that would like great in his study:

“Hmmm…$2,000, seems a little steep…I’ll give you $1,975!”

“$1,990 and not a penny less.”

“Michelle, get my wallet!”

Anyways, it’s never too early to start thinking about campaign slogans.  I thought maybe this one might look good on the presidential limo’s bumper, or certainly emblazoned across the side of the Marine One helicopter:

“2012 – Guarded Optimism & Mostly Disappointment”

This was a really good piece in the Times last weekend, pretty much sums it up for me.

I recommend the column Bob just referred to: it’s a very interesting examination of President Obama’s seeming aversion to confrontation, and not just confrontation with Republicans on the economy and the debt ceiling, and his failure (so far) to use the mandate he received when elected to get the American people behind him on substantive changes to strengthen the economy and regulate big money interests.  Even if you think he shouldn’t have done anything in those areas, it’s worth the read.

Denial is not a river in Egypt, but it does water the root of America’s economic trouble

Please read this column.  Loren Steffy, the excellent business columnist at Houston’s Leading Information Source, makes a point that he and others have been making for a long time, but he does it today in such a clear and simple and straightforward manner that this truth must now be self-evident after any honest appraisal of the economic facts as they are recognized here in the reality-based community.

We know that increasing spending faster than revenue is unsustainable.  We know that fixing our problems will require both cutting spending significantly and increasing revenue.

We just don’t want to do it.

We haven’t even wanted to think about it for generations.  We elected representatives who promised programs that benefitted us; incumbents campaigned on a record of “bringing home the bacon” and we rewarded them with re-election; we treated the federal treasury as an ATM machine with no limits on withdrawals; and any candidates who spoke honestly of a need to raise revenue to meet government obligations were thrashed.  When the rising tide of the tech revolution lifted all boats and left the government with an actual surplus, we thought we were crapping platinum.  Our aversion to reality was so strong that rather than raise taxes to pay for two simultaneous wars we chose to trust that all would be well since we were on the side of the angels.

All those expenditures through all those years, without enough real money in the bank to pay the bill, added up: more than $14.5 trillion and counting.  As Steffy says, it doesn’t matter now whether President Obama lacks leadership or Congress lacks backbone or Standard & Poor’s bears some of the blame for the subprime mortgage crisis and subsequent recession that led to the bailouts which contributed to the debt:

If we’re honest with ourselves, we know that S&P’s analysis rings painfully true.  We can blame whomever we want, but it’s a couple of decades past time to do something about it.

The leaders of the House and Senate are announcing their selections for the deficit reduction committee called for in the debt ceiling deal; that’s where the work has to start, now.  Let’s please pull our heads out of ___ _____ (you fill in the blanks) and find a solution to our problem.

Upon further review, we’ve determined that the deal isn’t really much of a deal

Well, everything turned out just swell after all the drama over the debt ceiling debate, didn’t it?  I mean, so long as you don’t mind that:

–the sorry spectacle of the political fight led one rating agency to drop America’s debt rating a notch below AAA anyway: it doesn’t doubt that the U.S. can pay its debts, but feels the political stalemate raised questions about the government’s willingness to pay its debts, and so lowered the rating as a warning to investors;

–the deal doesn’t actually reduce the nation’s debt, it just lowers the rate at which it is rising; and

–taking the nation’s financial health hostage in a political negotiation was shown to be an effective tactic, so we can expect to see it used again in the future.

Among the lessons learned:

–the deal assumes the elimination of the so-called Bush tax cuts at the end of 2012, meaning Republicans gave up the very thing they fought so hard for a year ago.

Plucking flaccid compromise from obstinacy should not be mistaken for victory, just as the smell emanating from Washington after this deal shouldn’t be mistaken for success.

82% of Americans are unhappy (disgusted?) with the performance of Congress on the debt issue, nearly half are unhappy with the president’s handling of the situation, and 40% view the Tea Party unfavorably.

More than four out of five people surveyed said that the recent debt-ceiling debate was more about gaining political advantage than about doing what is best for the country. Nearly three-quarters said that the debate had harmed the image of the United States in the world.

–the political system in Washington, D.C. is becoming more and more unproductive, and may not be able to help us with anything.

The president has tried reasonableness and he has failed. It has been astonishing to watch Obama’s sheer unwillingness to give up on his opponents after their refusal to work with him on the stimulus package, health care reform, or the extension of the Bush tax cuts last fall. A Congress dominated by mindless cannibals is now feasting on a supine president. But surely even he now realizes there’s no middle ground with antagonists whose only interest is in seeing him humiliated.

More real fun is going to come later in the year when a new federal fiscal commission tries to come up with a plan to solve the federal government’s money problems.  If it’s anything like the most recent such commissions, it will find that cutting the budget just can’t produce enough savings to right the ship and it will also look for equitable ways to increase revenue.  It could start by checking this week’s local paper: Ezra Klein outlines a plan for Democrats to boost revenue by negotiating like Republicans, and Charles Krauthammer offers a very rational outline for reforming and simplifying taxes so our representatives in Washington could have a fresh starting point on the coming negotiations on tax rates and entitlement reforms…and they are coming.