Monday, December 22, 2003

NOT ON AGENDA: •DEDICATE •CONSECRATE •HALLOW... Crooked Timber's Chris Bertram tips us to a PowerPoint version of the Gettysburg Address. A good picture of what's wrong with, well, everything.
I KNOW THIS SILLY LIBERAL WHO SAID A BUNCH OF SILLY THINGS. I expect this kind of thing from Victor Davis Hanson and Homer Simpson but not from Tacitus. Disappointing.

At least in T's case the quotes sound authentic. But I still wonder how it is all these conservative guys keep their liberal friends after mocking them in public. I guess we really are a bunch of wimps!
PROPS. I don't say enbough good things about Altercation, but today Charles Pierce, always a good writer, dropped a turn of phrase that bears wider disbursement:
I always had a soft spot for Tom Kean -- even though he said some things about poor Mike Dukakis from which you'd have to dial 18 numbers to place a call to The Pale.

Style, my friends -- as Raymond Chandler said, the most valuable investment a writer can make with his time.
CAN'T HELP LOVING DAT MAN OF MINE. Is Andrew Sullivan suffering from holiday depression? His response to an incomplete quote in the Times is nearly delusional:
One small problem: the president did not say that ["I will support a constitutional amendment which would honor marriage between a man and a woman...]." He said: "If necessary, I will support a constitutional amendment..." In the context of religious right demands for immediate support for the FMA, that's a big difference."

In other words, though Bush has told the world that he's dead against gay marriage -- not even Sullivan denies this -- since he'll only use the FMA to stop it if he really needs to, the Times account is "what amounts to a lie about Bush's position."

"Email [the Times' ombudsman] at," cries Sullivan from his parapet, "and demand a correction but more importantly an explanation for the doctored quote..."

I wonder: were I to send Sullivan a letter, stating, "I want you dead, Sullivan. If necessary, I will kill you myself with my bare hands," he would fail to report it as a death threat, on semantic grounds.

Sullivan's so full of shit, I'm beginning to wonder is he's really gay.
SPEAKING OF DICKENS, that's one sterling parody of conservative thought that Jennifer Graham snuck into the National Review. Graham pretends to be a privileged cunt whose run-in with a misbehaving single mother turns her from a "squishy" conservative to a proudly "compassionless" one. She even quotes Scrooge approvingly, and bylines herself with a full middle name in order, one supposes, to make her literary alter-ego sound more annoyingly patrician.

How could Jonah and the boys not know they were being gulled? Drunk, one supposes.
HUMBUG. Everything is about politics, didn't you know? John J. Miller at National Review:
[Dickens'] A Christmas Carol isn't an especially conservative book, but there's no arguing that Dickens buried a conservative sentiment in the heart of this paragraph. The phrase "dead as a door-nail" was as much a cliché to Dickens as it is to us. It is possible to think of an innovation that improves upon that old standby. But "dead as a coffin-nail" doesn't have nearly the same ring. It seems better in theory, but it fails to work as well in practice: This, in fact, is the essence of liberalism. Old Marley simply needs to be "as dead as a door-nail." He can be no other thing.

"I dunno, John, it's a nice little essay, but where's the liberal-bashing?" "Alright, Jonah, I'll stick something in -- but I warn you: it won't make much sense." "Since when have we cared about that?"

Sunday, December 21, 2003

HOLA, BRACERO! ERES UN "FREE AGENT"! An interesting report from Northeastern University, summarized here, looks at two Department of Labor surveys, and the very different pictures they give of our employment situation.

While the Current Population Survey (CPS) "estimates the number of employed persons has risen by nearly 2.4 million," between November 2001 and November 2003, says the summary, "the CES survey indicates that the number of wage and salary jobs in November 2003 is still some 726,000 below its November 2001 level. This chasm -- to the tune of some 3.11 million jobs -- is historically unique..."

What makes the difference more stark is that the two measurers recorded a roughly similar number of jobs in 2001.

The authors seem to lean toward the more encouraging CPS number, but their analysis of the difference in outlooks is less than encouraging: the CPS, they say,
provides a much broader measure of employment, including farm workers, the self-employed, household workers, contract workers, unpaid family workers, private household workers as well as those working for pay off the books, including legal and illegal immigrants not taken into account by the CES survey.

Also, they say, "the bulk of the difference appears to be attributable to the increased use by firms of independent contractors who will be counted by the CPS but not by the CES, and to the growth of employment in the informal economy, including the hiring of many undocumented immigrants over the past three years."

So, if you take into account "informal economy" laborers such as home-based piece-workers, seasonal fruit-pickers, temp workers who (personal experience leads me to believe) probably can't get a steady gig, those who are paid under the table (and if you've ever had a job like that, you know how dicey those can be), and those who labor without pay, things look pretty good. If not, things suck.

This is a little reductive, of course, and the authors have some good points about what constitutes a true picture of the economy. But I do believe they're more sanguine about the "informal economy" than those of us who are not gainfully employed economists might be. Advocates laud the coming of "Free Agent Nation" as a golden age of autonomy for the American worker. Of course, the American worker was largely autonomous before the dawn of the Labor Movement, and was routinely and royally screwed because of it.

In some ways, it seems, these economists and econometricians are like TV sitcom producers: they act as if everyone is a successful young professional, with tons of options and an impossible large New York apartment.
NAY, NAY, MY LITTLE CHILD, SAID HE, IT WAS A FAMOUS VICTORY. Gaddafi, I see, has decided that it would be better to work his useless WMD program to get paid than to get invaded and deposed.

Imagine how the Soviet satellites might have prospered back in the day from such an approach, had Moscow not intervened? Castro could have worked the missile crisis to end the Cuban embargo, and his country might have grown rich on our tourist dollars.

Lacking such a controlling authority, the junior auxiliary of the Axis of Evil are free to trade in their rusty nuclear gear for trade advantages. This could be a good thing for everyone, at least in the short term. Of course, it doesn't take into account the folks who do their killing with suicide bombs and hijacked airliners, and have nothing to gain by negotiation.

So the question is, how tied up with the big boys are the terrorists on the ground? When Gaddafi (or Kim il Jong, or Khatami) cashes in, do they call it a day? If not, what have we gained besides a new friend -- one who's probably even less useful to us than the Saudis?

I'm sincerely interested in lowering my chances, and those of my countrymen, of being blown to smithereens. Not to minimize the achievement, but I never considered Libyan warheads as much of a threat in this regard. I could be wrong, of course. But I notice that our terror alert has just been upgraded from yellow to orange. In many papers this news runs side-by-side with celebrations of our capture of Saddam and the Libya announcement.

If Tom Ridge isn't impressed, why should I be?

Saturday, December 20, 2003

'LESSEN, OF COURSE, THEM LADIES KNOWS HOW TA SPELL. Ned Flanders harumphs LSU's first crop of Women's Studies graduates:
My friend gets it right when he says, "You know what the next thing we're gonna here [sic] from these gals is? 'You want fries with that, you male chauvinist pig?'"

Friday, December 19, 2003

AT LAST, AN ACCURATE DESCRIPTION OF THE MEDIA! "Let's get this clear: The media are about as organized as the Balkans. The only thing we agree on is free drinks." -- Karen Heller, Philadelphia Inquirer. (Thanks TAPped.)
WEIRD BUSH-IS-AMERICA STATEMENT OF THE DAY. "And the good, pacifist destroyers of the Bush statue were unconsciously leaguing themselves with the army tanks that massacred the Chinese students and trampled their poor plaster version of Lady Liberty..." -- A Patriotic Texican.

Y'ALL THINK O' LOOKING IN ONE O' THEM UNDERGROUND TRAINS? "In related news, authorities are reportedly looking for suicide bombers in New York City, and other major metropolitan areas. I hope that people will keep their eyes open, and not get complacent." -- G.H. Reynolds of Tennessee.

Gee, thanks for the advice, pal.
BE IT RESOLVED that anyone who thinks Scrooge was a better, wiser man before he was visited by the Three Spirits really ought to be read out of Western Civilization. (Thanks Tbogg.)
MAYBE YOU HAVE TO BE A CAT PERSON but I unaccountably love this. (Via the delightful Xax.)
MOMMY, PLEASE DON'T MAKE US TAKE A CARIBBEAN CRUISE WITH MR. GOLDBERG, HE SMELLS LIKE DADDY'S "MEDICINE." "So while you enjoy the glow of finding a place to stow the car, you will also wind up explaining to young listeners for the 800th time that FDR tried to hide the wheels on his chair, not make a feature of them, as the memorial does, and that when he said, 'I Hate War,' it was rather more flavored with pragmatism than modern ears would like. Usually I am just getting pleasantly warmed up on the topic and have progressed to Hitler and Stalin's Non-Aggression Pact, when someone yells, "Wow, look, ducks!" and all the little people run away." -- Megan Cox Gurdon on lugging the brats to the D.C. Mall in (where else?) National Review.
BULLSHIT. Sometimes I worry that this political writing exercise is just a way of hearing my voice thrown back at myself, like an echo. But then I consider the credentialed journalists who like to have public conversations with imaginary friends...

"What follows is a fair summation of about 20 or so dialogues I had recently with a series of Europeans," writes Victor Davis Hanson, who then proceeds to "report" a series of Rowan and Martin routines in which (though he labels himself with the cheapest of ironies the "Dumb American") the European always plays the patsy:
Europeans: In some ways you're right. After all, over half our population now believes that you -- not the North Koreans or the Iranians -- are the real threat to world peace.

Dumb American: I suppose a similar poll 65 years ago would have revealed the same thing about your fear of a unilateral Churchill and your ease with a multilateral Hitler, who seemed to get a nod from the Russians, Italians, Spanish, Eastern Europeans, and Japanese when he went into Poland. But in any case, we wish you luck with the Iranian mullahs. And as far as Tehran goes, for your sake — as long as we are not yet in missile range -- we hope that your Nobel Prizes, trade credits, lectures, and so-called "soft power" provide better deterrence than an ABM.

Europeans: Our disagreement is not so simplistic as that. But part of the problem is that Americans simply do not know much outside their shores and listen to silly Fox News and Rush Limbaugh for their information.

Yes, it happened just that way, folks. Ol' Vic was hot, he was on fire! Why, his spontaneous comments sounded almost like the sort something he'd spent some time polishing and adding em-dashes to! Und zose Europeans, zey sound so pretentious, no?

An especially interesting aspect of our especially interesting era is that, the more power conservatives get, the deeping into this kind of fantasy they retreat. Why is it, do you suppose? Maybe they're more sensitive than we thought, and can't stand the smell of bullshit even when it's their own.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

SPRINGTIME FOR HITLER. Pick a Cornerite, any Cornerite. OK, this one. Ramesh Ponnuru answers Richard Cohen on the popularity of the death penalty in America as opposed to its unpopularity in old Europa:
How about this: European countries are more disposed than America is to letting elites force through policies the populace doesn't like, and a sizable chunk of the populace is willing to revise its views after the fact. Maybe it has something to do with their experience of fascism, or their susceptibility to it.

Web oldtimers: remember Godwin's Law? That was the notion that if you bring up Hitler as a point of comparison to contemporary events and beliefs, you've lost the argument. It was invoked a lot in usenet days to inhibit liberal and libertarian complaints about encroachments by the State.

Boy, those were the days, huh?

NEW WINDOW. There's something to be said for the "Fresh Blogs" roll at Blogger. That's what connected me to this: guy talking about his dates with other guys. And Beyonce and Oprah. Pepys it ain't, but forthrightly observed and spoken, and I feel like I know this guy better than 90% of the people I actually know.

This ain't a bad thing, this weblog thing, despite, you know, all the political stuff.
TOO MUCH INFORMATION. Remember that crazy lady I was talking about yesterday? The one who was trying to build an argument against gay marriage with intricate diagrams of human sexuality as visualized by herself?

Part Two of her report is out now, and it turns out to be a speech out of classic drama -- you know the kind: a character who has been behaving strangely suddenly breaks down and unburdens himself of some horrible incident from the past that, we surmise, made him the way he is. (See Levee in "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," Martha in "The Children's Hour," etc).

Apparently Ms. Morse can't have a baby. She describes at great length her feelings about it, which she seems to mistake for immutable Laws of the Universe.

Near the end she momentarily returns to her ostensible point -- "Redefining marriage to include homosexual unions will actively lead us astray" -- but by then the spectators are gaping open-mouthed at her, and the damage is done.

Well, if Peggy Noonan ever needs a vacation we'll know where to find backup.
I STOOD AMONG THEM BUT NOT OF THEM. I don't feel much like a blogger today, because unlike many, many, many folks 'round these parts, I couldn't give a shit about that thing with the elves in it, and I don't mean Santa's sled.

So I am grateful to Oliver Willis for observing, "Lord of the Rings for me is like all those idiotic Dungeons and Dragons things mashed into one cinematic orgasm." At least I'm not alone.
THE WAR ON EXCESSIVE SYMPATHY. I see that Professor Reynolds and his mob-not-a-pack have been working overtime to denounce a Catholic Cardinal for showing "excessive sympathy for Saddam" in statements such as this:
Seeing him like this, a man in his tragedy, despite all the heavy blame he bears, I had a sense of compassion for him.

Cardinal Martino spoke in officio on behalf of the Catholic Church, an organization based on the teachings of one Jesus of Nazareth, whose "turn the other cheek" and "whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me" philosophy is really what exercises this mob.

As a Catholic apostate, I am not generally in sympathy with the old Church, but I retain a lingering affection for Jesus. And one of the few enduring nobilities of the Church is that it sometimes speaks for the despised even when it is unpopular, simply because Jesus bade them do so.

I have to admire that, at least. Even most Christians, as bitter experience has shown, will freely indulge their vengefulness and wrathfulness without stopping to think whether the Prince of Peace would approve.

Reynolds et alia don't lean heavily on Christian credentials, though, so I wouldn't say they were being hypocritical (though the Professor's inept attempt to parse theology in support of his own killer Christianity is, let us say, up to his usual standards). In fact, when you look at the broad panoply of their conservatarian beliefs -- Darwinian capitalism plus imperialism -- it in many ways seems an utter repudiation of Christian ethics.

Like I said, I left the Church, but I haven't picked up another one, and if I were to do so, I hope it would be less creepy that the one attended (and, for all I know, run) by Lee Harris, whose weird tract, "The Uses of Compassion" (approved by Reynolds) distinguishes between "moral instincts" and "moral imagination" to explain why we shouldn't feel sorry for bad people. Some of it makes sense, sure. But it reminds me of the right-wing sex paper I spoke about in a previous post: it uses the language of a sociology report to explain the human condition.

I find Harris' techno-rationalism (and Morse's techno-irrationalism) less compelling than the Sermon on the Mount. But I'm old fashioned that way. The new breed doubtless has an algorithm for a spiffy, cost-efficient moral calculus, and based on this some nanotechnologic chip may be developed that can shut our sympathies on and off as mandated by political realities.

The moral utopia: it's just a click away. I'll pass. I saw what technology did to music (crisper sound, shittier product!), and I would rather not look at what it will do for religion.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

SEX MAD. I guess it's just human nature, but it seems that the more power conservatives get in this country, the more irrational they become about those areas of life over which they have no power.

The sexual mores of this country, for example, remain in flux, despite the attempts of some on the Right to arrest their development. The most obvious sign of this is the gay marriage movement: even gay-marriage opponent Jonah Goldberg admits that "Everyone agrees that we are well on our way to living in a country where allowing same-sex marriage is the law of the land." The cultural change seems as inevitable as lava coming down Mt. St. Helens.

So in the last ditch, some conservative scribes have abandoned politics, even reason, and reverted to theology. How else to explain this absolutely crazy National Review piece, "Love and..." by Jennifer Roback Morse?

Morse, in her second paragraph, reveals "the meaning of human sexuality." Under normal circumstances one would expect this to be the money shot, so to speak, but Morse disappoints: "Sexual activity has two natural, organic purposes: procreation and spousal unity. Babies are the most basic and natural consequences of sexual activity. 'Spousal unity' means simply that sex builds attachments between husband and wife." One wonders if Morse writes technical manuals when not employed as a sex scold.

Being a heathen and an Epicurean, I find all articles of this sort a little silly, but I'll say one thing for old-school marriage-thinkers like St. Augustine: he seemed to have some awareness that people have sex because it feels really good -- offers, in fact, a kind of pleasure that's categorically different than any other. But Morse goes out of her way to keep us from even thinking about that aspect of sex even while she's discussing it:
For many people in modern America is a recreational activity, and a consumer good... the sexual partner has become an object that satisfies [one] more or less well.

She makes it sound like lawn darts or something. And so it probably seems to her the most natural thing in the world to talk about the social and political utility of banning gay marriage as if she were talking about the re-jiggering of tax incentives -- a purely utilitarian matter, calculated to produce a social good.

It's already a truism that conservatives, despite their libertarian affectations, have fallen in love with social engineering, especially as regards marriage and childbearing. As this House Committee on Ways and Means document from 2001 demonstrates, they like to think of government programs from Social Security to the Earned Income Tax Credit as ways to affect the stability of marriage as an institution. This is narrow-minded, but not quite as mad as the extreme to which Morse has taken it: trying to shore up marriage by reforming the way we have sex, and reforming the way we have sex via an essay in the National Review. (Did Maxim turn it down?)

Of course, just because her idea is crazy doesn't mean it's doomed. But this does: Morse has no leverage. She's not peddling the old fire-and-brimstone like Augie Dog. The worst she can threaten is that, if you persist in accepting gay marriage, you'll be shut out of the really spiritually fulfilling aspect of sex as diagrammed in Paragraph 2. "We will be happier if we face reality on its own terms," she says. That's nice. And we'll be happier when you take your religious pamphlets to some other rental unit, so me and my partner can have hot, tolerant sex.
HEY LOOK: John Derbyshire has a new website.

Look, since the Big Kids told us brats to play nice, I have this uncontrollable urge to take really cheap shots.

The title of this post is a tribute to Harvey Kurtzman.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

THE OLYMPIC-SIZED DUMPSTER. Amygdala (and, in emulation, Philosoraptor and Ted Barlow) have all come out against "The War on Straw" or "Dumpster-Diving" -- that is, going to one of those nutcake web collectives (DU and are Amygdala's examples), pulling out a fistful of ravings and crying, "See, we're not nuts, you're nuts!"

I can see the merit in the idea. Dumpster-diving is a pretty cheap way to score points on the opposition by using mouth-breathers who happen to be wearing the wrong electoral badges. A ban would probably raise the level of discourse among subscribers.

I see two problems with it, though.

First and foremost, where do you draw the line? I can see that, say, Free Republic would be out of bounds. That rat's-nest of Clinton obsessives and neo-Confederates obviously fits Amygdala's description of "a site known to be full of... sub-simian mewlings." It's just too easy to find an outrageous statement there.

But, in my experience, it's nearly as easy to find outrageous statements at The Corner. From the butt-plugged John Derbyshire to the totally wasted Jonah Goldberg, the denizens of this intellectual hovel have been responsible for a full 20% of my snarkiest prose. In fact, I'd say at times of great pitch and moment (like the recent Saddam-fest), The Corner is basically Free Republic with a type designer. Yet it is aligned with National Review, a mainstream publication. If it's just too much like shooting fish in a barrel to make fun of Freepers, shouldn't we also give a pass to these guys?

And how about Andrew Sullivan? When he is in his 12-year-old-girl-into-Keats-and-on-Ecstasy mode, one almost feels sorry for him. Listen to this delusional passage:
I feel a lump in my throat. I am so proud of the country I was born in and the country I have made my home. I have never been prouder to be an Anglo-American, to have done in our time what so many before us have done -- to broaden the possibilities of liberty, to bring hope, to restrain the violent men and evil ideologies that are each generation's responsibility.

Does Sullivan's self-evident mental affliction disqualify him from our attention?

What about all the various lunatics -- like Kim du Toit, to take an especially egregious example -- who have been adopted and lionized by the alleged opinion leaders of the internet? Were they just nuts with websites, I'm sure the Committee would rule them off-limits; but given that the poobahs treat them like they're the second coming of Westbrook Pegler, shouldn't we then have leave to mock them, despite the subnormal nature of their commentary?

Heavy questions all. Oh, yeah, the other problem with this program -- it just wouldn't be as much fun.
MARKED CARD. At OpinionJournal, scifi scribe Orson Scott Card identifies himself as a Democrat -- one of the real ones, of course. And here's what this real Democrat believes:
  • The Democratic Party is "self-destructive," "extremist-dominated," and "insane."
  • The media are doing their best "to win this for the Democrats."
  • We only lost Vietnam because we weren't aggressive enough, and because "the Democrat-controlled Congress specifically banned all military aid to South Vietnam."
  • America should invade Syria, Iran, Sudan and Libya.
  • "If Mr. Bush does not win, we will certainly lose the war."

Therefore the author promises to "vote not just for George W. Bush, but also for every other candidate of the only party that seems committed to fighting abroad to destroy the enemies that seek to kill us and our friends at home."

A sane person might ask: Uh, so you are a Democrat how?

A quick trawl reveals that Card has referred to himself as a "Tony Blair Democrat" But he has not identified what that might possibly mean in terms of policy presciptions -- unless, of course, it means the same thing as "George Bush Republican."

We do know that he doesn't like New Yorkers, particularly "New York Intellectuals," very much. Nor does he favor abortion rights, nor maybe even contraception ("judges... created the 'right of privacy' out of thin air"). He does approve of affirmative action -- but only "to stock up on conservatives and traditionally religious faculty and staff" at colleges where, you know, they're all godless and shit.

Conservatives get the message, of course:
On point after point, Card comes down precisely where I stand. Yet he considers himself a Democrat, while my own leanings are generally conservative. I think if the Democratic Party he envisions still existed, I might have more respect for (and cast more votes for) such an entity.

And if George W. Bush were more like Thomas Jefferson, I might like him too.

So what have we got? A guy who claims to be a Democrat, but whose main expressed belief is that Democrats are evil traitors for whom decent people should never vote.

Taking Card's example, I am repositioning myself:
I, Roy Edroso, am a loyal Republican. And I'd really like to vote for a Republican someday. But how can I, with the current batch of greedy, stupid Republicans? They are not at all like the real Republicans with whom I grew up -- men like John Lindsay and "Fightin' Bob" La Follette.

Today, I consider myself a Nelson Mandela Republican. By which I mean, until the Republican party returns to its roots and embraces abortion rights, national health insurance, legalization of drugs, gay marriage, and doubling the budget of the National Endowment for the Arts, I will by God vote for the Democrats, difficult as that is for an old GOP loyalist such as myself.

AM I DIDEROT OR NOT. Thanks to En Banc for pointing to this Ethical Philosophy Selector -- a kind of "What Famous Philosopher R U?" quiz that ranks the relevance of a number of philosophers' to your outlook as revealed by a cloze test.

En Banc's PG, for example, scored 100% on Kant and 99% on John Stuart Mill, but only 7% on Thomas Hobbes and 9% on the Cynics. This led me unto doubt about the test: From his writing, PG seems like he'd be a fun guy to drink with, but if you'd just shown me his scores, I would have imagined him a dullard and a grind.

So take it with a grain of salt, but my lowest-scoring avatar was that stupid cunt Ayn Rand, while I scored a hundred percent match with... the Epicureans!

Well, it makes some sense: " The sage who has a crust of bread, said Epicurus, has no reason to envy Zeus." And so say I.
FROM THE SUBLIME TO THE RIDICULOUS. Baseball fans will enjoy these sports- and sports-promo-writing catastrophes astutely noted by Wrapped Up Like a Douche.

Mentally retarded sociopaths will enjoy "Saddam Now Supporting Howard Dean" which, while a total loss as satire, gives a clear example of the current Bush political strategery.
BUT WE'RE NOT GOING TO SIT HERE AND LISTEN TO YOU BADMOUTH THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA! In the 1980s, John Podhoretz wrote for the Moonie magazine Insight a film column that featured a little meter, on which he rated the political content of current movies on a left-to-right scale -- presumably to spare his subscribers, even in their unguarded leisure hours, exposure to modes of thought unapproved by Arnaud de Borchgrave.

Excellent training as these ideological cat's-cradles may have been for, say, a potential Ministry of Propaganda functionary, they seem to have left Podhoretz ill-equipped to judge the speech and actions of real people.

In today's New York Post, Podhoretz considers Howard Dean's recent foreign policy speech, and denounces it. The odd thing is that he doesn't overtly disapprove of much that Dean had to say. The Doctor and the Spin Doctor disagree on Iraq, of course, but in the main, Podhoretz admits that "Dean actually sounded rather belligerent" -- that's always a plus wih conservatives, isn't it? -- and that Dean seems "a big fan of American military action in every case he could name except where Iraq is concerned."

Yet Podhoretz ends by saying that Dean "is still the right candidate for a pacifist and the wrong person for the Oval Office." Why? Because Podhoretz doesn't believe Dean means what he says:'s a relief to hear that the man who is the most likely Democrat to go on and garner a minimum of 40 million votes in November 2004 understands the importance of our commitment to the military. Or, at least, understands the importance of lip service... as is increasingly the case with Dean, his assertion is a little hard to believe. (Italics added)

And how does Podhoretz know that Dean is a liar? Because he can't find any evidence that Dean isn't lying... and in this case the burden of proof lies not with the accuser but with Dean, because he comes from (cue scary music) New England:
There is no contemporaneous record anywhere in the comprehensive Nexis database to prove that Dean supported the 1991 war against Saddam or U.S. efforts in the Balkans. Given that only two moderate Democrats from New England in Congress voted for the first Gulf War -- Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut and then-Rep. Dick Swett of New Hampshire -- I hope I may be forgiven for feeling skeptical about Dean's sudden protestation of his hawkishness toward Saddam Hussein.

In the spirit of this astonishing bit of "logic," I hope I may be forgiven for doubting that John Podhoretz was ever against tying black people to trucks and dragging them to their deaths. And I have proof! I Googled "tying black people to trucks and dragging them to their deaths" and "John Podhoretz," and came up with nothing!

Are we going to let this advocate of tying black people to trucks and dragging them to their deaths pull the wool over our eyes? Let me get my meter!

Monday, December 15, 2003

THE VERY LATEST THING IN TRAITOR-BAITING. Tacitus: "I don't see any Democrat -- save perhaps Wesley Clark -- whose election will do anything but harm the war on terror. There, I said it."

But he makes a little joke in the next graf and in comments ("I'm just doing my best to fulfill the stereotype"), signaling that if you take exception to his statement, you're just being a humorless liberal scold.

Which is kind of like some guy saying in a light, laughing voice that he's going to kick you in the nuts, and then kicking you in the nuts.

Will they fall for it? What won't they fall for?

UPDATE. Talked to T and he says I have him all wrong. As he is a gentleman, I am obliged to believe him. The rest of you may make your own judgments. It may be that I get oversensitive when opponents, however worthy, tell me that my candidates will "harm the war on terror." (Yeah, and that's why I'm supporting them -- I hate this fucking country and want it to lose to militant Islam, which totally rocks!)

Well, the accommodations are decent. The staff here is curt and sometimes a little snide, but in general they treat me OK. The cell is clean and the food, while unimaginative, is hot and nutritious.

After all those months on the lam, frankly, that's a relief. Life underground was no bed of roses, let me tell you. I had always imagined that, if I had to return to the life of deprivation I knew as a boy, it would be a cleansing experience, sort of like fasting. I told myself that it would revive my natural killer instincts. (Don't laugh. Putting people in a shredder isn't the same thing as hand-to-hand fighting.) Down in the valley, scrambling from house to house, my pistol at the ready -- that's adventure! I figured I might even lose a little of that "palace flab" I'd picked up during the fat years.

I guess that's why I was so glib about the invasion. My people thought I was being brave, but I was really being reckless. I had gotten sick of thinking about how it would go when it all came down, and I wanted to get it over with. Or rather, to get on with it.

Of course, when Baghdad fell, I saw very quickly that I had been romanticizing way too much. My flight was mostly tedious and exhausting. For the first little while I was in shock, and after the boys got killed, I hardly knew who I was anymore. (Maybe that's why I was so hard to catch!)

My natural instincts did come back to me -- but not the ones I'd expected. Mostly I felt fear. I hadn't felt that -- not really -- since I was a child. When I joined the Ba'ath Party, when I became an assassin, I'd said goodbye to fear, because I fully expected to be killed at any moment. But when I was a boy, especially right after I moved in with my uncle, any little thing would scare me: howling wolves, thunderstorms. Now, lying flat under a blanket on the backseats of old cars, my ears cocked for American accents, I felt again the quivering fear of uncertainty.

But that passed, you know, just before they got me. I had a feeling it would all be over soon, and it made things much easier to bear. I wouldn't say I was at peace, quite, but I didn't worry so much.

Now I've just had my first really good night's sleep in a while, despite the fluorescent light that's always on here. Already I'm feeling stronger. This afternoon I think I'll start exercising.

I'm turning my attention to the trial. I feel pretty confident. Whether they hold it in Den Hague or Baghdad, I know the Americans will be running the show. And that's my ace in the hole. Because anxious as they are to dispatch me, they also want something that only I can give them. Wouldn't they love it if I would tell the world that I had weapons of mass destruction out the yin-yang? Or that I was the real mastermind behind 9/11? (Of course it would be very hard to make these things sound plausible, but I'll leave it to their people to invent something -- they're experts at it.) How much would Bush be willing to give me for that -- especially in October? Life in prison would be sweeter than the hangman's noose, especially if my friends can get some of that cash I made off with into the right hands.

And I do want to stick around awhile. There's no telling what the next few years will bring. When the Americans get sick of running my country, when Chalabi and the other puppets lose favor, who knows but that they might not come running to me again? Stranger things have happened. Rumsfeld may yet turn up to shake my hand one more time.

But if it doesn't work out -- eh. All told, I've had a pretty good run for a farm boy. I've done a few things I'm not proud of, but who hasn't? As for posterity, let the world turn a few more times and then we'll see. They want to make my country a laboratory for what they call a Western-style democracy. It's all bullshit, of course, but if my people decide to take it seriously, they'll start thinking about how much oil they're sitting on top of and what kind of power it represents. I assure you Assad and Khatami and the rest of them are already thinking about it. Then the Americans may wind up wishing they had me around to run the torture chambers again.

Well, no sense working myself up about it. The army barber is coming soon to shave me. Perhaps I can get them to give me a TV. If not, there's always writing. Maybe I'll work on an autobiography. Allah knows, I've no end of stories.

Friday, December 12, 2003

Last month, the U.S. Labor Department in Washington said that employers added a net 126,000 payroll jobs in October. In all, the economy has added 286,000 positions over the last three months -- the best showing since early 2001.

But 2.4 million more jobs would be needed to regain all the ground lost since March 2001, when the last recession began. When, or even if, those positions will come back is far from clear.

Here's the problem: Many companies like the notion of a jobless recovery. The leaner they can keep their U.S. payrolls -- by using overtime, automating the production process and outsourcing jobs overseas -- the higher their profits.

See, businesses aspire to increase their profits, and if they can earn more while paying fewer people, they will. That's what drives productivity up.

Yet more and more, Bush apologists act as if productivity jumps were caused by increased self-esteem. Here's former GE head Jack Welch -- previously known as a hard-headed businessman -- telling reporters to stop talking down our Tinkerbell recovery:
Not only can millions of hardworking people celebrate -- they should. They've earned the right. That's why we can't rain all over their efforts --their motivation and innovative spirit and can-do attitudes. Those good feelings, as any economist will tell you, are key drivers of company productivity and consumer confidence. The fact is a recovery will be a lot harder if we keep saying "but" about damn good news. (Italics mine.)

"As any economist will tell you?" Sure, maybe after three hours of open bar at an AEI dinner, one of them will slur, "Yeah, it's all a buncha bullshit, who knows what makes the economy work, I sure as hell don't." But does Welch really think that happy thoughts are what squeeze extra juice out of the American worker? (Also, does he think we really "celebrate" increased productivity? Maybe he saw some white-collar slaves slogging to the bar after an 18-hour day to get drunk and pass out, and thought, "Oh look -- they're celebrating!)

Isn't there something screwy here? Liberals -- allegedly airy, unrealistic, pie-in-the-sky sorts -- are patiently pointing out the common-sense fact that increased productivity will not necessarily boost employment, and may actually depress it, while conservatives -- allegedly the tough, practical, businesslike "grown-ups" -- are asking us to clap our hands if we believe.

The administration's note of disapproval on the upcoming Taiwan referendum and subsequent trade agreements with China struck me as decidedly odd. I thought that for sure that issue would be a no-brainer, on pure ideology... My thoughts on this matter were crystallized by a passage in a column by John Patrick Diggins:
...The American presidency remained almost as indifferent as the public when, in Hungary in 1956, the Red Army turned the Budapest uprising into a bloodbath, and when, in China in 1989, a young man stood alone and defiantly halted a tank in Tiananmen Square...

..., if we are truly interested in bringing democracy to those who want it, then why haven't we been applying that standard across the board, and stand with those opposed to communist tyranny?

A: Money.

Next question, please.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

PERSPECTIVE, GUYS. If I read the esteemed Mr. Teachout correctly, and I fear that I do, he believes that the passing of the JenniCam means Internet users have moved on from gratuitous displays of pretty girls with their clothes off to sober little weblogs like, well, his.

When the blogging industry is pulling down $2.5 billion a year, give me a call.
BATTLE OF THE BARKING MOONBATS. Thanks for the tip, Jacob Sullum: Disgustipated by the evasions and tergiversations of the contemporary Right, the American Conservative Union (hey, noted below) have created their own online rag with the rhythmically awkward name of Conservative Battleline Online.

Three cheers for meathead schismatics! But is it as funny as GoPatGo's American Conservative magazine?

Let us compare features of their current issues:

CBO: "The Problem of National Review" is written more in sorrow than in anger ("National Review taught us conservatism in our youth," blubbers the unnamed author), but offers a few nice bits of incomprehensible internecine gobbledegook, e.g., "But would the editor really publicly claim that his goal is to passionately express and defend fusionist conservatism as opposed to providing journalistic objectivity from a moderately right of center position? I think not." Hear, hear!

Bob Barr weighs in, too, but not in his libertarian mode. "No F***ing Way" is a soggy, Cal Thomas-style grumble about all them swears on the TV. Only stylistic filigree: Clinton is implicated ("Clinton and his bevy of contextual lawyers would be proud"), but we don't even give points for that one anymore.

The recent Congressional Medicare rook leads Stephen Moore to declare that "We now have two big government parties in Washington." But old loyalties die hard. Says Moore of one of the Republicans who turned the tide toward financial ruin, "Poor Trent Franks looked like he was white as a ghost when he walked off the House floor. Trent is terrific guy... I have no doubt his conscience is gnawing away at him -- and will do so for a long time." Comes the revolution, comrade, you'll get off with time served (and whiteness of face, of course).

Then there's Mark Shields on.... wait, Mark Shields?

AmConMag: "In Rumsfeld's Shop" uses a brilliant device to strip the bark off neo Rummy: testimony by an actual soldier! "At this point," confides our undercover grunt (actually a Lt. Col.), "I didn’t know what a neocon was or that they had already swarmed over the Pentagon, populating various hives of policy and planning like African hybrids..." But the Lt. Col. learns good! Patriotic bureaucrats are kicked out ("Word was that he was even-handed with Israel"); an "anti-Arab orientation" is held. By nightmare's end, "I now understood that neoconservatism was both unhistorical and based on the organizing construct of 'permanent revolution.'"

Only one problem, conservatively speaking, with the witness: she's a she, Karen Kwiatkowski. What's she doin' in This Straight Man's Army? Say, maybe this permanent revolution thing goes back further than AmConMag imagines...

Big Daddy Buchanan examines Dixiephobia among his erstwhile comrades. "Why the Hollywood Left hates Dixie is easy to understand," writes Papa Pitchfork. "But why do the neocons?" After all, they have one big thing in common: "The neocons are pro-Israel. So, too, are these folks who believe in standing by Israel because the Bible tells them so." Pat aims most of his venom at Charles Krauthammer, who used the term "white trash" and has kind of a big nose, if ya know what I mean (and he called the rebel flag an "American swastika" -- need I say more?). Pat also reveals that he himself belongs to the Sons of Confederate Veterans. East-Coast Irish bully boy and an unrepentant Rebel -- why isn't this man President?

Taki is in a valedictory mood over two old chums -- no racial slurs this month. Try again later!

Conclusion: Honors are easy. AmConMag has the edge (and the head start), but CBO is a comer, and if it picks up on some of that underutilized young conservative talent that's lying around, it might steal a march.
BALANCED BUDGET SOLECISM. Cornerite Tim Graham is pissing on the fresh grave of Sen. Paul Simon. Graham says the claim, inspired by Simon's work toward a balanced federal budget, that the late Illinois Senator was a "social liberal, fiscal conservative," is bogus -- a surprising judgment, but a necessary tactic, I guess, if your job is to talk up those conservatives currently "balancing" our budget into insolvency on behalf of their greedy pals.

Graham's evidence against Simon's bifurcated designation: he had a low American Conservative Union rating ("which is partially on fiscal issues"). And he wanted single-payer health care. Within a balanced budget.

In other words, he wanted liberal programs, but only if they were within the means of the government. If that isn't "social liberal, fiscal conservative," what is?

The real money quote, though, is this breathtaking statement:
To win the battle of defining conservatism, conservatives are going to have to reject the notion that balanced-budget socialism can be defined as “fiscally conservative.” Fiscal conservatism should be defined as a preference for low taxes and strictly limited government.

When people talk about culture wars, too often they mean this: the power to "define," or rather to redefine, heretofore simple and commonly understood concepts by new and usually absurd standards. If the current program of spending rampages, from which the public is occasionally distracted by tax rebates, is what now passes for fiscal conservatism, then they certainly don't make fiscal conservatives the way they did when I was a boy.

And you have to love that syndrome from which Graham thinks we should be protected: "balanced-budget socialism." We'll get right on it, chief, as soon as someone explains what it is.

WOE IS WE [Kathryn Jean Lopez]
Andy Pettitte is leaving the Yanks for the Astros (NBC just confirmed, too). Weeping can be heard throughout NYC. Wait with anticipation for Rich wisdom on this breaking news.

Posted at 09:29 AM

Well, "K-Lo," some of us are crying -- with laughter! As a fan who's true to the Orange and Blue, I applaud the Astros on their acquisition, and wish the Bosox luck with Curt Schilling. And I look forward to following the progress of Mr. Steinbrenner's "Dynasty" next season. The humbled shall be exalted, and the exalted shall be humbled.
PRODUCTIVITY. What Daniel Drezner takes hundreds of words to misapprehend, Ted Rall makes clear in four panels.

Yes, I know your mommy said he was a traitor. Your mommy is a cracker asshole.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

THE MARKETPLACE OF IDEAS. "But I think it would be remarkably short-sighted for those of us on the libertarian end of the conservative movement to underestimate the amount of betrayal that many social conservatives feel... Libertarians often treat social conservatives as useful idiots -- folks who are good to have around because they tend to vote Republican, but not really the folks you want to have sitting at the 'grown up table' deciding social policy."

Let us indulge for a moment the dream-world scenario posited by this approvingly-quoted poster to Andrew Sullivan's site, and imagine a conversation at that 'grown up table' with all hands on deck:

"Come, brother conservative, let us reason together. May we have your input on gay marriage?"

"Romans 1:26-27."


"OK, anything else?"

"Well, with all due respect to my gay brethren, same-sex marriage — by itself, and by leading to state-sanctioned polygamy and polyamory — will undermine monogamy [and] initiate a process likely to terminate in the abolition of legal marriage. It will also cause earthquakes and plagues of frogs. Ha! Just kidding. What I really mean is, Romans 1:26-27. Guards, take this man away."

(Guy wakes up in a Log Cabin, the residents of which ask him, "Is it safe to come out yet?")

(MUSIC: Little Rascals outro)
THE DEVIL PROBABLY. Last night PBS ran a little documentary about Galileo and his persecution by the Church -- simplistic and preachy, as is their wont, and Simon Callow is a terrible ham, but overall a decent, compact dramatization. It reminded me of Jonah Goldberg.

Yes, dear reader, I know how strange that sounds -- that, intellectually, Galileo and Goldberg are not even in the same time-space continuum. Let me explain: the PBS show reminded me of, and sent me back to, Goldberg's truly bizarre take on the Galileo story in 1999:
A lovable old scientist is condemned to Hell for refusing to deny the truth of the cosmos (in this case the Copernican notion of heliocentricity... The problem is, it's spin. Ancient, pro-enlightenment, zealot spin.

Goldberg's article does not refute the well-known facts of the Galielo case, but seeks to drive them from the reader's mind with mitigating circumstances. Some of these are just irrelevant and lame: for example, that Galileo's fellow scientists were jealous and really started the campaign against him. (Perhaps, but scientists didn't run the Inquisition.) Others are inversions not only of history, but also of logic:
Galileo's James Carville was no preacher, but a scientist named Schreiner (it helps if you say his name the way Seinfeld says "Neumann"). He fanned the flames in Rome until the Pope felt obliged to call a trial under the Inquisition. The head of the Inquisition was a Galileo supporter, who hoped to get the whole thing over with quickly by just giving him a formal reprimand. Unfortunately, rabble-rousers and opportunists turned the heat up. The trial is very complicated but the result was that Galileo got house arrest, which is where he did all of his research anyway. He was permitted to correspond with any scientist he wanted and he wrote the Dialogue Concerning Two New Sciences while under the Man's thumb.

All the hallmarks of Goldberg's wormy style are here: the gratuitous and irrelevant personal slurs, the jarring insertion of hipster language, and the reflexive minimization of injustices suffered by others (Wow, house arrest was like that time I had detention for a week! Least it got me to read Atlas Shrugged).

Interestingly, it is in some ways comparable to the article on Galileo in the Catholic Encyclopedia, which makes a number of similar non-arguments -- here's one interesting variation:
It is in the first place constantly assumed, especially at the present day, that the opposition which Copernicanism encountered at the hands of ecclesiastical authority was prompted by hatred of science and a desire to keep the minds of men in the darkness of ignorance. To suppose that any body of men could deliberately adopt such a course is ridiculous, especially a body which, with whatever defects of method, had for so long been the only one which concerned itself with science at all.

Actually, this rather elegant sophism -- if we support scientists, we are incapable of doing anything that would harm science -- is quite beyond Goldberg's skill-set, but its author does show something of the same passion for the subversion of plain facts.

Of course, the Catholic Encyclopedia author is laboring for the world's greatest wholesale dealer of dogma. When the cause is holy, no obfuscation can be too dense, no twists of logic too tortuous. Goldberg, however, labors for National Review. Eternal salvation is not in the contract. Why then work so hard to promulgate such outright bullshit, when one could, with less trouble and spiritual damage to oneself, simply kick back and shoot spitballs at Al Gore and PETA?

In my brief time scrupling over the political writing of my time, I have often been insulting and short-tempered. This is not so much because I fault the reasoning of my subjects, in most cases, but because there seems to be no reasoning, or reason, in them at all.

But, as my good friend Bob Schaffer has observed, hell has no floor -- things can always get worse. I really believe Goldberg represents -- and he may not be the best representative, but he is the one at hand -- a newer, lower order of propagandist: one who prevaricates because he thinks it's cool.

Think of it. You're born into a prominent right-wing family. You have a facility for language, and can do tricks with it that make the grown-ups clap. No biggie, but positive attention beats negative. Over time, they put you to work in one of the acceptable venues. You shake hands with their former young, with-it guy correspondent, a tedious boomer. Dude, your thought balloon reads, you are way old and I am so not you.

So you're sitting in the office with your feet up and your "colleagues" are all clacking away at stern denunciations of the welfare state and you couldn't give a lukewarm shit. But you can still sling phrases and so, in your boredom, you decide to drop some bombs: for example, a thousand words on how the Church actually did Galilieo a favor. Audacious! Even the greybeards must applaud your chutzpah.

You keep it up. You'll see their bitching about racial sensitivity -- "There is not a college course in the humanities which does not overly dwell on race" -- and raise them: "It's so depressing that 'people of color' has replaced 'colored people.' In a very important sense, the old phrase was better..." Your gloss does not advance any argument, but gives a tingle to every staffer sick of black bellyaching. Boo-yah!

Eventually your method becomes easy: you don't have to outrage any particular constituency -- outrages to common sense will do just as well. You can give off some particularly sloppy dorm-room windbaggery about Tolkein and make it into an article; the whiplash of your train of thought will provide fans with the confused feeling they learned as undergrads to identify with big ideas.

Boredom's a bitch, though, and sometimes you stretch yourself. When the Big Boss lays down the law on A&F's pornographic catalogue, you know what you have to do: establish yourself as a connoisseur of anime and commercial fleshpix while decrying "peddling what amounts to stylized smut." Makes no sense? Dude, sense is like so over.

Well, Western Civ had a good run. I'll be interested to see what's on next.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

FUZZY MATH. Brookhiser at The Corner: "Why did Gore do it?... After decades of self-discipline and deprivations, the experience of being repudiated by the voters, especially in a presidential run, has powerful and disturbing effects."

Ahem. Getting more votes than the other guy is not "being repudiated by the voters."

God, they really do hate Gore, don't they? He must have something going for him.
DID YOU MISS ME? A stomach virus plus computer problems equalled a longer than usual layoff from blogging here at alicublog, so some small inanities, like this moron who only recently discovered that Randy Newman thinks bad thoughts, went unattended. Sorry.
HOMAGE TO DUSTIN DIAMOND. Actually this David Brooks column isn't too, too terrible, but I had to notice this right-wing tic:
So when a Republican starts a perfectly normal conversation about the glories of his powerboat, snowmobile, combine or hemi, the liberal is likely to screech out something about the ozone layer.

Have you noticed that nearly every conservative characterization of everyday liberals involves screeching? There's the "santimonious [sic] liberal screech," for example, and the "whacko lefties screech." This guy claims that "the whine of the North American liberal can often be mistaken for the sound of a screech owl." Another one says "You say 'Republican' to a liberal gay activist, they'll make a face or screech or whine or say, 'Republicans cannot be good'" (though, in this case, it seems possible that the author attributes his subject's screeching to gayness rather than liberalism). Ann Coulter notes all the things "that would cause a liberal to screech."

And so on. See here for more. I guess it has something to do with the portrayal of leftism as less than manly, an electorally useful gambit in the Bible and Ethanol Belt States. (Congresscritter Evans wants to give more money to schools -- 'cuz that's where screechy types like him likes to hide, while us real men is out playin' football and makin' ethanol!). I can understand this kind of idiocy among the hoi polloi, but isn't it odd that the bespectacled, wimpish Brooks feels the need to play along? Maybe it's his way of telling his fellow conservatives, "I may have manicured nails and the speaking manner of a small-town theatre critic, but at least I don't screech!"
POTS & KETTLES, PART 7,595,044. David Brooks talks about a Presidential candidate who came from wealth and privilege yet affects the demeanor of a regular Joe. He "doesn't worry about having a coherent political philosophy," and "when you actually try to pin him down on a policy, you often find there is nothing there."

OK, you knew as soon as I said "David Brooks" that the column wasn't about our tough-talkin', silver-spoon-chewin', free-spendin', tariff-placin'-then-revokin' President. It's Howard Dean that's a phony! Whereas our Dear Leader believes in things. Like nation building. Of course, he believes different things about it at different times, but -- boy, that Dean, he's a crazy fucker, huh?

Sigh. This sort of thing makes me miss the moral clarity of Walter Duranty.

Friday, December 05, 2003


HEY THERE, BIG SPENDER [Jonathan H. Adler]
At a time when libertarians and economic conservatives are already grumbling about Republicans' profligate spending, what does the Bush Administration do? Think up new big-ticket spending items for a second term. Is KArl Rove trying to make such voters stay home in 2004?

(italics mine)

Yeah, those 300 votes might cost the GOP Nevada. Again!
EARLY CHRISTMAS PRESENT: Jesse Pandagon's "20 most annoying conservatives of 2003." Check especially the Jonah Goldberg comic, and the origin of Roy's Rock. (Thanks, Atrios from whom all blessings flow.)
LIT CORNER. I picked up some old books for a song (well, 50 cents apiece) at a sale. Fascinating specimens. One was Gene Fowler's bio of Jimmy Walker, the Roaring Twenties mayor of New York, called "Beau James." With Fowler I was previously acquainted; I'd read his cheapy bio of Jimmy Durante, "Schnozzola," and the Walker book follows a similar pattern: anecdotes and witty sayings bridged by historical data seemingly recited from imperfect, but compulsively perfecting, memory -- the polar opposite of those meticulous 800-page biographies that win the Pulitzers. Fowler seems to have been pals with both Durante and Walker, and with Damon Runyon, whose style he shares a bit. That this style also intrudes into the "quotations" of his subjects only adds to the charm, if not the versimilitude. Here's a Walker tale, via Fowler:
Whenever Jim shaved he used 'Champagne' toilet water, his only perfume, as a lotion. He paid six dollars a bottle for this dressing, which he also used after a bath. One of his servants seemed unable to buy the toilet water for less than ten dollars a bottle.

Jim was not the man to quibble about expenses, but somehow he had set his mind upon six dollars as a fair price for his favorite toilet water.

"I wonder," Jim said to the servant one day, "if we might strike a bargain, you and I? I'm going to raise your salary on the condition that you find a place that sells the toilet water for six dollars a bottle."

The servant qualified for the wage increase. "You know," Jimmy once said to his friend Johnny O'Connor, "if someone stole Brooklyn Bridge I'd be the last person in town to miss it. But when someone gyps me on toilet water, I feel that I am being more used than usual."

Does this sound stenographically accurate? Who cares?Walker had style, and so did Fowler, and if one owed some of his style to the other, I don't care to know of it. We're always hearing about how eloquent Bush is, but are offered very flat champagne (or toilet water) as evidence. At least Fowler had the decency to gussy up his subject so that we might believe him to be as smooth as advertised. Not truth, then, but legend, and we who revere "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" know what choice to make.

I also got an 1899 edition of Norris' "McTeague." This of course is the source material for von Stroheim's ill-fated "Greed," and for William Bolcom's opera (libretto by Arnold Weinstein and Robert Altman!). I can see why grand stylists are attracted to this property, even though the novel's pitch is tuned to the first faint notes of naturalism coming then out of Europe. Norris seems to have caught the Zola bug bad. Every squalid flat is rendered down to the last rusted coathook and battered chair-rail, and all relations are inevitably reduced to their grubby essence, often with disdainful and sometimes horrified commentary by the author, as in this passage detailing the quack dentist McTeague's infatuation with the childlike Trina:
The poor crude dentist of Polk Street, stupid, ignorant, vulgar, with his sham education and plebean tastes, whose only relaxations were to eat, to drink steam beer, and to play upon his concertina, was living through his first romance...

Ugh. Before McTeague first kisses Trina while she is anaesthetized in his dentist's chair (!), his inner struggle is rendered thusly:
He was alone with her, and she was absolutely without defence. Suddenly the animal in the man stirred and woke; the evil instincts that in him were so close to the surface leaped to life, shouting and clamoring... it was the old battle, old as the world, wide as the world -- the sudden panther leap of the animal, lips drawn, fangs aflash, hideous, monstrous, not to be be resisted...

Double ugh. One sympathizes with Eugene O'Neill's old man, who, after seeing his son's "Beyond the Horizon," asked him, "What are you trying to do, send the audience home to commit suicide?" For there is something purposefully ugly about the early attempts of American writers to not only grab hold of the truth as they saw it, but to thrust it under the nose of the bourgeoisie.

And yet... along this muddy track the novel proceeds single-mindedly and gathers great force and even beauty. One can see where Dreiser got it from -- the ham-handed, club-footed narrative style that, seemingly by brute force, draws readers in and carries them down into the muck. Mencken, that great champion of these authors, once said of the oratory of Warren G. Harding, a very different kind of writer, that it reminded him of "a string of wet sponges; it reminds me of tattered washing on the line; it reminds me of stale bean soup, of college yells, of dogs barking idiotically through endless nights. It is so bad that a sort of grandeur creeps into it." I wonder if Mencken, whose aversion to poetry is legendary, might not have admired something of idiotic barking-dog grandeur in Norris and his decedents as well?

Thursday, December 04, 2003

BAD SANTA? I see the ACLU has griped because a minister dressed as Santa Claus was allowed to address a Baldwin City, KS classroom about the meaning of Christmas.

The Topeka Capital-Journal dispatch doesn't give much detail on the talk, though the Lawrence (KS) Journal-World reports that the ACLU has "urged the school district to investigate elementary schools allowing a Christian minister dressed as Santa Claus to discuss the meaning of Christmas, referral of students who appear to need guidance to Christian resources and granting Christian 'missionaries' access to students in after-school programs"

Well, that's the ACLU's job, I guess. And I wouldn't presume to pronounce on this case without more evidence. Maybe the Rev was counselling persecution of homosexuals, say, while under cover of Kringle.

But more and more I figure this is the sort of case where the ACLU ought to just let go of the rope. It's a bitter thing to say, but most cowtown kids have no strong motivation to think and act freely anyway, and trying to protect them from the depradations of organized religion is probably going to work about as well as trying to protect them from Wal-Mart and reality TV shows. Meanwhile complaints like this give wingers and Jesus freaks another chance to bitch about how liberals spoiled their Christmas.

I think the ACLU should take its contingency fund for events of this sort and invest it in copies of The Origin of Species, Babbitt, A People's History of the United States et alia, and send copies to safe houses throughout the Bible and Ethanol Belts, where young people who wish to escape the stifling stupidity of their parents and warders may take refuge. The cultivation of a few free minds might do more for our freedoms in the long run than blanket deChristianization of the public square.

13 Beautiful Women Versus One Hideous President."
Thanks for the tip, World O'Crap. I just don't see how Oliver Willis has been missing this.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

SHORTER JOHN DERBYSHIRE. My youngest has been enlisted into some sort of Negro musicale, and I mean to get to the bottom of it. Mayhap some of you have fought or lived amongst the fuzzy-wuzzies. Have you a notion of their dialect? I am interested in a translation of this sinister fragment: "Hakuna Matata."

(I guess it wasn't much shorter, but it was fun!)
FOX NEWS ETHICS EXPLAINED. "There is no presumption of innocence in the court of opinion... The court of opinion can convict anyone on any basis." -- Wendy McElroy,
FIRST "CRUNCHY CONSERVATIVES," NOW THIS. That awful man points us to another front organization masquerading as a hipster 'zine (not, though, the one Reynolds works for), which tries to squeeze a few more innings out of the "'South Park' Republican" thing. Key quotes:
Conservatives once defined themselves as “standing athwart history yelling ‘Stop!’” This antiquated thinking doesn’t suit (if it ever did) young generations who see the future as promising more freedom, more prosperity, and more potential. We don’t want to freeze progress; we want to unbridle it.

The Republicans have a moment here that they could seize. They can dig in with the conservatives and continue to muck about with the peripheral issues; or they can shed the conservative tag, embrace the reptilian “South Park Republicans” and get to work on the fundamental issues: freedom, prosperity, promise.

It should be explained, to those who understandably wish to avoid reading a whole page of this nonsense, that the Popshot author means "reptilian" in a good way. It has something to do with P.J. O'Rourke, who is to this sort of frat-boy federalist as Raymond Carver is to that legion of workshop-haunting, chain-smoking authors who lay up in cabins for weeks at a time to purge themselves of modifiers.

Popshot's take is fairly typical, and typically thin. SPRs believe pop-culture artifacts and leisure-time options constitute a political identity. They are encouraged, for example, to hear "Sean Hannity talking about sex (gasp!) on his radio show or Pejman talking about Grand Theft Auto (whoa!), one of the most violent video games ever made, in a favorable light," taking this to mean that "free market advocates have certainly come a long way."

A long way from where to where, one wonders. If a free-market advocate prefers to live like, say, John Derbyshire, listening to Hank Williams and blissfully solving calculus problems till the sun comes up, what makes him politically distinct from the sexed-up game-boy? For SPRs to be remarkable (and it seems one of their goals is to be remarkable), they would need to offer something that plain old Republicanism can't match. What, besides a shitty attitude, would that be?

Some commentators equate SPR with libertarianism. This seems to me wishful thinking, a sort of Police Athletic League approach to libertarian recruiting: Let's just channel these hooligans' natural energy into basketball and anti-tax initiatives!

It could work, I guess. Assuming most of the SPRs are young, they wouldn't feel much immediate impact from a "starving the beast" approach to government. But that's just a passive association: I haven't seen anyone crying, "As a South Park Republican, I'm strongly opposed to pork-laden Republican budgets and Medicare plans" -- oh sure, maybe in an Andrew Sullivan "it's shameful the way my President spends money on -- oh look! a bird" way, in which the grumble is dutifully made and then ignored as weightier matters (like who's a traitor) are gleefully picked over.

Really, it seems SPRs have only one strong belief: that they should have what they want -- i.e., attention and cool stuff. So do the rest of us, of course, but their want is more mediagenic because of the man-bites-dog angle -- Betcha didn't know that the kid in the Stüssy gear thinks Bush rulez! Hella counterintuitive!

I don't know how long the thing will last. Maybe a while. Punk lasted way beyond any earthly reason; Johnny Lydon packed it in a quarter-century ago, yet we still have kids walking around with "Anarchy" tattoos and mohawks. But of course, to be a punk in the old days was a little more demanding -- what with the social unacceptability and all. Whereas SPR has a remarkably low barrier to entry, as seen by this bit from yet another TCS "Hey Kids, Join The SPR Revolution" article:
Different South Park Republicans often describe themselves as conservatives, libertarians, classical liberals, pragmatists, constitutionalists, or "just your average Joe." However, when election day comes around, they all generally vote for Republican candidates.

As a wise old one said: Do the pose, all you have to do is wear the clothes.

PS: And what would a clique be without way stringent standards? Here's a guy who thinks South Park itself isn't SPR enough anymore.

A WARNING. You know, sometimes I get tired of acting like George Sanders in All About Eve, and when I read something like this...
AND FOR THE LADIES [Kathryn Jean Lopez]
The fun is not all Derb's: There are Rumsfeld and Bush in a Flight Suit talking dolls ("action figures" if you give them to your son for Christmas). Both are sitting with me as I write right now, courtesy of the folks. So excuse me if I sound distracted.

...I'm less likely to raise eyebrow and martini glass simultaneously and emit some sparkling aperçu, and more inclined to smash an empty rum bottle against a brick wall and yell something about cunt, ass, KY and DP.

Just a warning in case you think "Hey Salam, fuck you" is, like, cutting edge.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

CORPOETRY. Coming down the elevator of the glass tower where I work, I overheard one suit say to another with no irony apparent:

"So, what's your read on our take?"

The frissons fly, and we are well advised to keep our eyes and ears open for them.
JULIA, look at the Blogroll and stop crying.

People act like this is an honor. Don't they know how worthless I am?
NUT, INTERRUPTED. TBogg, bless him:
Lileks isn't blogging for the month of December in order to work on his new book, Who Moved The DVD Racks?: An Amazing Trip To Aisle 14 At Target...

And lots more! Onto the blogroll with you!
I was kind of disappointed myself when I visited Lileks' site and saw the CLOSED sign up. He's been in rare form lately, raging at the little brown ones for not appreciating our "visit" (see a nice precis here). I had hoped he would start channeling Kipling ("Take up the Web Scribe's burden!") but I fear his momentum has been broken.
MAKE WAY, CRYBABIES! The New York Post's op-ed editor, Mark Cunningham, has for the first time I can recall (and I religiously read the piece of shit) pushed his way into the spotlight with an op-ed of his own. Don't know how his underlings felt about it, but I note with interest that Cunningham calls the Pulitzer Prize winning author of Maus "Ted Spiegelman," and it is hard to imagine that none of his colleagues noticed the mistake before it went to press.

Cunningham's theme is the pride of place to be given the 9/11 Memorial component of the new World Trade Center. This has been a bugbear of the Post's editorial pages for many months, and getting the top guy involved shows just how pissed they are about it; maybe next week Old Man Murdoch himself will pen a few stanzas, retaining some of his stateside lackeys to lard Americanisms into his text. ("'Don't go there!' By jingo, Smithers, what a corking turn of phrase!")

"The worst thing about putting the memorial first," says Cunningham, "is that it is choosing as the site's core identity -- as a definition of our city, our collective self -- the loss and grief."

One may agree, in principle, that it is no good to let the attacks overwhelm and define our lives. But one wonders: isn't Cunningham the same editor in whose Post pages 9/11 is regularly used as a bloody shirt to be flailed at all opponents, foreign and domestic, at all times and regardless of merit?

Just a few days ago the Post devoted its front page to a "dirty little secret" involving FDNY employees who fell in love with the 9/11 widows they had been assigned to comfort. As the Post will apparently wring dollars from 9/11-related stories no matter how petty and disgusting they are, where do they get room to talk down anyone else's take on it?

In the end, it's about one thing with Cunningham and his whole rag:

"Let us acknowledge that, insofar as we rebuild anything commercial at Ground Zero -- offices or stores -- we tread hard on genuine feeling. Yet rebuild we will, for other needs for that site and its future are more compelling: The need to forge an answer of life...

And the nation and the city must deny that evil its triumph... by reviving the symbol they set out to destroy, honoring the good of commerce - a good that was a central part of so many of the lives snuffed out that day."

Money, in other words. In order to commemorate the fallen properly, we must not in any way cut into the valuable square footage of retail and parking space, rights to which will be shoveled in sweetheart deals to the same moguls who made money on the old World Trade Center. So stuff your "floating trees," cry-babies, and make way for another Gap.

Monday, December 01, 2003

BLOGROLL BEGUN at lower left. I just couldn't go on being a rock, being an i-i-island. That Jim guy from Rittenhouse pushed me too far, see, by bookmarking alicublog "even though I can’t seem to find a blogroll of any kind over there." Lots of people have been that gracious, and whattaya know, nearly all of them are geniuses you should read!

THE BLOGROLL IS MERELY BEGUN, so please allow a few days for me to catch up.
AND YOUR ONLY COMPETITION IS IDIOTS. OpinionJournal gives the floor to Professor Robert P. George, who delivers a long philosophical assault on the Goodridge decision. He pleads for "sexually complementary spouses," which phrase summons the unfortunate image of lamb chops with mint jelly. He also claims that while the Massachusetts judges "usurped the authority of the people's elected representatives" and advocate a view "common in elite circles," there is little hope of passing a Constitutional Amendment outlawing gay marriage. Why so little hope, one wonders, if only usurping elitists would resist it?

Let us not forget where the Professor is coming from. The following is from Reason's account of a speech George gave a few years back to the American Enterprise Institute (!) entitled, "What's Sex Got to Do with It: Marriage, Morality, and Rationality":
Citing an earlier lecture by James Q. Wilson, George explained that it all went bad when individuals, not families, started to choose marital partners. Then came the "tradition-trumping rationalist impulse" of the Enlightenment and pretty soon marriage was a "mere contract," and "sex outside the bond of marriage" was "understood [as] some sort of Constitutional right."

George also informed his hearers that night that "Masturbatory, sodomitical, and other sexual acts which are not reproductive in type, cannot unite persons organically."

There's our opposition, folks. Maybe George has good reason to fret over the chances of his Amendment. The American people don't much go for "elite circles," but they don't much go for raving lunatics, either.
DÖPPELDUMBASS. In this Sunday's New York Post, TV critic Adam Buckman talks about "The Reagans" on Showtime. He castigates CBS for selling off the controversial program, pronounces the miniseries "too tame to have kicked up such a commotion," and "marvel[s]" at "the small minds that raised such a ruckus over it" and "their knee-jerk reaction."

These "small minds" remain unnamed in Buckman's column, but here's a November 5th piece that seems like a pretty relevant example, titled "It's So Pathetically Bad That It's Hysterically Funny":
IT WAS one of the funniest tapes I had ever received from a TV network.

It was a special promo reel sent over early last month for "The Reagans," a miniseries about Ronald and Nancy Reagan -- the very same miniseries that became so embroiled in controversy that CBS finally dumped it yesterday.

I never saw the finished product, but if it were anything like the promo, this four-hour miniseries was about to go down in history as one of the worst made-for-TV movies ever. This tape was so hysterical, I thought it was a joke...

Funny as it all was, it was also seriously offensive. I thought CBS had taken leave of its senses.

Ronald Reagan will always have his detractors, but it seems that right now, at age 92 and suffering from Alzheimer's disease, he is by and large an admired figure, remembered as the man whose infectious enthusiasm restored Americans' confidence in their country following the upheavals of the 1970s - and who also finished off communism...

CBS, however, is looking like a gang of idiots for deciding that now would be the perfect time to air a miniseries attacking this elderly couple beloved by millions.

Maybe CBS got off easy, because I guarantee that, based on its production qualities alone, "The Reagans" would have been one of the most critically lambasted miniseries in many seasons.

No points for guessing that this review of a CBS promo tape of "The Reagans" is by Adam Buckman, and ran in the Post. November 5 Buckman also says that James Brolin's performance as Reagan has "all the emotion of a piece of wood," though November 30 Buckman judges that Brolin's "affable, aloof protrayal of Reagan is right on the mark."

In the newer story, Buckman never acknowledges that he was part of the "bunch of loony, paranoid alarmists" who "made such a big stink" about the show.

To be fair, Buckman never once, in either column, used the word "imminent."
THANKSGIVING MISCELLANY.While the world watched Flight Suit II, I took in much of the Fish at Dallas, and was amazed at how slow the 'Boys looked; even the superpatriotic halftime show, with lots of wildly gesticulating Cowgirls and a giant golden eagle that looked like a Simpsons prop ("From sea to shi-ning sea!") rising from the dry ice, could not rouse the home team from its torpor.

Speaking of shining sea: When I read Patrick O'Brien's Master and Commander last year, I saw Russell Crowe in the lead, and last weekend I saw him again, this time for real, as Captain Jack Aubrey in the movie version. The Crowe/Aubrey I saw in my head was a good deal wilder than the thoughtful Crowe in Peter Weir's movie, and that's the crux of my problem with it. I enjoyed the film, but at times it felt as becalmed as a skiff in the Doldrums, despite a great crowding of lovely incident and detail. H.M.S. Surprise is pursuing a French warship, but most of the screen time is devoted to private crises of conscience, naturalism in Galapagos, and string duets. Couldn't "Lucky Jack" have swashed his buckle a little more? Think what Charles Laughton, who was closer in poundage to the literary Aubrey, would have made of the role! Then it all comes down to one of those modern movie battles cut so choppily and paced so fast that you can't see who's doing what.

All told, a great-looking picture and all hands did their duty, but I prefer Mutiny on the Bounty and the old style of moviemaking that took its cues from stage melodrama. These days its seems all the gasps go to the CGI effects, not to the behavior of the characters (though Maturin's self-surgery was way rad). It's more "realistic," I guess, in a narrow way, but if something's going to make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, I'd rather it were actors than nautical models in giant tanks of water.

Finally: I like the way these guys think.