Wednesday, June 30, 2004

C'MON. A Corner reader points out that Canadian PM Paul Martin says "Flashman and the Dragon" is his favorite book. "I have to think that anyone who can enjoy a Flashman novel has to have some reservations about our country's multiculti mindset," says the reader. John Derbyshire is unimpressed. "I always think the answers have been tailored by some handler after running a few focus groups, and have nothing whatever to do with the actual candidate's actual tastes," he sniffs.

A focus group told Martin to pick "Flashman and the Dragon"? Wonder who turned Bob and Doug McKenzie on to George MacDonald Fraser.

There is such a thing as too much cynicism.

A LITTLE PERSPECTIVE:

"Everyone says liberals love America, too. No they don't. Whenever the nation is under attack, from within or without, liberals side with the enemy." -- Ann Coulter.

"If [the Democrats] win this election thanks to a promise to undo the Reagan-Bush Doctrine, those cheering loudest will be the most evil-loving among us." -- Mark Levin, National Review.

"Make no mistake -- The anti-war voices long for us to lose any war they cannot prevent." -- Ralph Peters.

"Fresno residents and community leaders, outraged by an e-mail message in which City Council Member Jerry Duncan wished he had a 'dirty bomb' to kill every liberal in Fresno, called Thursday for his resignation, recall or reprimand." -- Fresno Bee, August 16, 2003.

"…liberals, whom I regard as traitors in this time of crisis…" -- New York Post columnist and belligerent drunk Steve Dunleavy.

"I don’t hate Michael Moore, I pity him - he’s going to die in 15 years of a massive coronary on a cold tiled bathroom floor, awash in the blasts of his emptied bowels…" -- Jim Lileks.

And these are the credentialed types. Moving down to the even shallower end of the pool, we find:

"THIS IS WHY ALL LIBERALS MUST FUCKING DIE!!!!!!!!!!" -- "I Kill Liberals" at the
Hillary Clinton Forum.

"A typical liberal cry baby faggot with no balls. I have been using you as the perfect example of a cowardly liberal cunt… What a pathetic little piece of shit you are. Remember my favorite advice for you liberal traitors: EAT SHIT AND DIE COWARDS!!!!" -- "NeoCon 21" at the MG Politics Board.

"Now there are some pussy-footing preachers who say that if God chose evolution as his way of creation, that's okay. Those people are pussy-footing right into hell. Some of these liberal pussies are right in my own Southern Baptist Convention. They may call themselves 'moderates'…" -- Ronald L. Ecker.

This and worse has been polluting the Internet since the days of Mosaic and USENET.

And I'm supposed to be concerned that someone put up a parody of Goya's Saturn Devouring Her Children starring Bush?

They can dish it out, but they sure do whine when made to take it.

UPDATE. Upon further review, Ecker is a prank. (I should have paid attention to the Roxanne Pulitzer references.) You may substitute any of 428,282 legitimate alternates. Here's a good one -- though I'm not entirely sure the entire site isn't a prank.


Tuesday, June 29, 2004

BYE BYE, BAGHDAD. It would be too much to say that nothing became our Iraq adventure so much as our leaving of it. Saddam's in the dock rather than the Palace, and that's good (as in "it’s an ill wind that blows no one some").

At the same time, a cautionary note is sounded by our prior liberatees in Istanbul:
President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan pleaded with hesitant NATO leaders today to rush troops to his country to protect officials trying to register voters for coming national elections.

Extra troops promised by NATO should be sent immediately, he said, because violence was disrupting preparations for the vote, set for September, and threatening the country's shaky progress toward democracy.
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"I would like you to please hurry," said Mr. Karzai, whose speech was met with polite applause but no commitment.
NATO presently has about 6500 troops in Afghanistan. There are many times this number of coalition forces in Iraq now, but it's an open question as to how long our allies will want to stick around. Even the Blair Administration is making oddly negative comments about the postwar governance of Iraq.

I'm not sure how much Bush wants to stick around, either. The examples of Kosovo, Haiti, and (most unfortunately) Somalia indicate that we like to go in and kick ass, but we’re less psyched about the mopping-up stage.

Meanwhile the scramble for Iraqi contracts goes on. Members of the Coalition get first dibs, since the U.S. decreed that only countries that supported the war would get reconstruction contracts ("Arabian Oil, Japan's biggest oil supplier, is in early discussions with Iraq's state-owned South Oil to repair and upgrade oil facilities in the south of the country in what would be the first Japanese involvement in the Iraqi oil sector since the 1991 Gulf war." -- Financial Times, June 3). But the handover has some in the Coalition of the Unwilling convinced they’re back in the running:
German firms -- excluded so far from U.S.-awarded contracts as punishment for Berlin's anti-war stance -- are hopeful that the handover of power to the Iraqi interim government will result in lucrative business deals…

In the past, German companies have tried to get involved in business in Iraq as sub-contractors for firms from Kuwait or the United Arab Emirates. Then at least they are not subject to the Americans' goodwill, [Hans-Jürgen] Müller [of the German foreign trade association BGA] pointed out. Since mid-June an office set up by the DIHK in Amman, Jordan aims to put German firms in touch with business partners in Iraq and other Persian Gulf countries. The DIHK also plans to establish a German-Iraqi chamber of commerce.


The new Government of Iraq is preparing for elections. I have little doubt they’ll come off in time. It will interesting to see what choices are then presented to the citizens, and how much say they will have in the disposition of their resources.

ALL AESTHETICS MUST BE PUNISHED! Tim Graham reads about a work of fiction but cannot recognize it as such. Hilarity ensues:
Knopf (publishers of the Clinton memoirs) plan to publish novelist Nicholson Baker's latest work: "Checkpoint," in which the main character really wants to assassinate President Bush. A Knopf flack says "It is not the first time a novelist has chosen fiction to express their point of view about American society or politics." Apparently, his point of view is Bush deserves to die.
In other literary news, Thomas Harris ate a man's liver with fava beans and a nice Chianti, Robert Louis Stevenson turned into Mr. Hyde at night, and Mark Goldblatt is black.

Maybe a deep-seated wish to believe Lynne Cheney's Sisters is autobiographical has globally affected Graham's understanding of dramatic characterization. Or maybe it's the old culture/revolver thing.

Monday, June 28, 2004

POORMOUTHED. Literally, the only interesting thing about Cheney cursing is the weird defenses offered for the Veep's brief bout of coprolalia. Here's a fellow who blames Cheney's outburst on liberal prevarication -- it starts out like this:
But however impolitic his outburst, it's hard to blame him. Lies, distortions, and other types of misrepresentation have become standard rhetorical devices for the disloyal opposition...
...and goes on, and on, like this:
The deeper cause of this cognitive dissonance is postmodern relativism, which makes it too easy to rationalize lies. Thanks to its over-representation in academia and the media, the Democratic Party contains a disproportionate number of people who believe that truth is an illusion, or an imposition of hierarchical power. On the other hand, the Republican Party contains a disproportion of believers in traditional virtues like civility. They have responded to ever-shriller deceits with a constraint that has often disadvantaged them politically. Woe to the Democrats, and the nation, if that constraint disappears. Without civility, we are lost.
If I'm reading this right (if there is a right way to read such a thing, besides quickly, or not at all), Cheney's f-bomb is a wonderful teaching opportunity to discuss the evils of liberalism. But then, what isn't?

And I am loving the idea of Republican civility. You'd think that, with so many countervailing examples widely available, the author would take a moment to try and explain why, those examples notwithstanding, things aren't as bad as they look. Instead, he just bulls on: we are civil, you are moral relativists.

State of the discourse, 2004. How long before it's all just animal noises and explosions?
ANOTHER THEORY SHOT DOWN. Perhaps anticipating that news of the opening grosses for Fahrenheit 9/11 might leave their readership demoralized, the folks at OpinionJournal today supply some soothing pseudo-science to assure the faithful of liberalism's oncoming demise. The idea in Larry L. Eastland's bizarre piece is that the Democratic Party is aborting itself out of existence. He says that liberals have more abortions than conservatives ("The more ideologically Democratic the voters are... the more abortions they have"), and since liberals are likely to spawn liberals, abortions are wiping out future Democratic voters -- in fact, Eastland believes these Missing Voters (yes, the concept is so scientific it rates Initial Caps) turned the tide in the 2000 Presidential Election, and underlines his point with charts tracking the speculated voting patterns of the MVs.

Believe it or not, Eastland's case, despite its highly scientific page layout and capitalization, is not airtight.

First, there's the idea that liberals breed little liberals and conservatives breed little conservatives. Eastland says children "tend to have the same political views as their family." If that were so, then prior to the Roe boom in Missing Voters, wouldn't the left-right division in the electorate have remained more or less constant? Also, I've been hearing for years from right-wing youth recruiters that the young folk have been going GOP because it's smarter, it's hipper, you get better coupons, etc. That's been a big youth-recuiting strategy for these guys. Is Mr. Eastland sure he wants to go with biological determinism on this one? It sends a mixed message.

Neither am I very sure about that polling methodology:
...Wirthlin Worldwide was commissioned to ask 2,000 respondents in a stratified random sample of adults the following question: "As far as you know, has anyone close to you had an abortion?" The emphasis here was on "close to you" in order to bring to mind only those people inside the respondents' circle of socio-demographically homogeneous family and friends.
People do lie about these things, you know. Say you're a Kansas Republican in good standing and you do know someone who (probably in great secrecy and shame, given the cultural environment) had an abortion; might you not tend to compartmentalize such a piece of knowledge sufficiently that you wouldn't admit it even to a pollster? Whereas we liberals might be more likely to boast of it: Oh, yeah, everyone I know has had at least three. We have abortions all the time. And anal sex. Can you put that down on the form somewhere?

Most importantly, though, think about the potential voters that were aborted. Had they been brought to term, they would at best have been but grudgingly accepted, and in many cases just plain unwanted. Many would have grown up under a cloud of insecurity and self-loathing, and so would have tried especially hard to do the correct thing, to conform, to be part of the crowd rather than the outcasts they secretly felt themselves to be.

Isn't that how we get Republicans in the first place?

Saturday, June 26, 2004

MOVIE NIGHT. Saw Fahrenheit 9/11 tonight. Somewhere in this shining land, no doubt, someone is disputing the precise dates and conditions of the bin Laden family's post-9/11 flights, etc. Which reminds me of the prologue to Rush Limbaugh Is A Big Fat Idiot, in which Jeane Kirkpatrick, pressed to review Franken's book, blasts the premise on the grounds that no weight figures are provided to support it.

Since the film was made by an artist and a polemicist, rather than a propagandist, the real theme is not Let's Get Rid of Bush Now (though that is a pleasing corollary) but How Disinformation Works, with the Bush Administration as an appalling object lesson. Someone else could have used the Administrations of Clinton, Bush I, Reagan, Carter, William Henry Harrison et alia, as their lesson. Unfortunately for the other team, the artists mostly swing our way, while the propagandists mostly swing theirs. That's just the way it goes.

The flim was okey-dokey, and the little Brooklyn theatre where I saw it was packed, with a huge line waiting outside for the next show -- the Manhattan theatres had sold out hours earlier. I have no idea what police estimates will show, of course, and any box-office figures supplied by evil Hollywood are naturally suspect, and no doubt Professor Reynolds will mention contervailing demonstrations that prove the American people are still with the President on this one. I can only tell you what I saw.

UPDATE. I think the movie is pretty good, but if films were judged, as some have suggested people should be, by their enemies, then Fahrenheit 9/11 would be Citizen Kane: Both Roger L. Simon ("excrescence") and Andrew Sullivan ("vile, hateful propaganda") have condemned it without (by their own admissions) even seeing it.

Friday, June 25, 2004

GOLDBERG'S ANALYTICAL METHOD EXPLAINED:
MY EXASPERATION [Jonah Goldberg]
I woke up this morning thinking I was being too strident in my post about the Times review. After all, I was working on little sleep, a bit of grog and I'd spent a chunk of the day reading the book. So maybe I was too hopped-up. But no, think I'll let it stand.


Posted at 06:59 AM

(See also here and here.)

No wonder conservatives have no respect for the arts. Because they don't put any effort into their writing, they think it must be this easy for everyone.
WORDS, WORDS, WORDS. Values scold Daniel Henninger thinks the recent rash of beheadings in Saudi Arabia "pose a political problem for John Kerry" because Bush calls the beheaders "evil" at every (media) opportunity, whereas the lily-livered Purple Heart awardee Kerry speaks only of ways to bring peace, and thereby fewer beheadings, to the area, which is apparently neither the manly nor the American way to do things:
Conservatives do believe in evil, and liberals either no longer do or they don't wish to allow the idea of evil to be explicit in our politics. I would guess that Mr. Hertzberg's view is shared by most of the people working on John Kerry's campaign. They would never ask Mr. Kerry to say in public that the beheadings are "evil." Or if he did, it would be merely as a tactical concession for the moment to the "moral vocabulary" of the world inhabited by the sort of people who support George Bush.
If only Jimmy Carter had thought of this in 1980! In the midst of the hostage crisis, he could have been trained to clench his fists and roar, in the manner of Donald Pleasance in the first "Halloween" movie, that the Ayatollah Khomeni was "toe-tally eee-vil!" Then the American people might have thought: well, he sure has made a mess of things, but at least he speaks our moral vocabulary!

"Moral vocabulary" seems in this usage to be the equivalent of "paternoster" or "mumbo-jumbo": words meant to chase away fear in the teeth of disaster. Might Henninger have written "marketing vocabulary," and been mistranscribed?

Thursday, June 24, 2004

THIRD TIME'S THE CHARM. Crazy Jesus Lady wrings a few more laughs out of the Reagan funeral. I've never before heard anyone make reference to Former UN Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick's "still-saucy or potentially saucy eyes." I can only imagine what the long version of that reminiscence was like. Hopefully when CJL passes they'll crack open her Virgin Mary statue like a piñata and find it stuffed with Lynne Cheney style bodice-ripping stories starring a cadaverous public servant with fire, or at least sauce, in her eyes.

We also get to see CJL imagine herself in mortal peril again. The first such incident I noticed was when she saw two turbaned men taking pictures of St. Pat's, and made a promise (alas, unfulfilled) that the next time this happened she would be "tackling them and screaming for help." In the present case, she had better reason to worry, if U.S. Capitol personnel were indeed screaming "Run for your lives!" It turned out a false alarm, thank goodness, but even fake crises come with life lessons in Noonanland. "This is when a generational transfer of power occurred within my family. My son turned to me and in a tone both soft and commanding he said, 'Mom: Move it.'" Strong men are always coming to the rescue of the Crazy Jesus Lady, but it is touching that in this case it was not Reagan or John Wayne but a presumably real member of her own family who undistressed the damsel and was rewarded for his firmness with "a Japanese beer." (Manhood rites have deteriorated a bit since I was a boy.)

No personal attacks this time, but all in all a fun read.

LONG GONE LONESOME. The Hank Williams doc on PBS was pretty good. They focused on old-timers, mostly surviving Drifting Cowboys, so I didn’t have to hear Bono or somebody like that talk about how fantastic and seminal Hank was.

I can’t be neutral on Hank Williams. In every band I’ve ever played in, I endeavored to get at least one of his songs into our repertoire -- even if only in a horrible grinding noise version. In a bar band I played with a million years ago, we'd stretch out "Wedding Bells" and "Jambalaya" to kill time in our night-long sets, and they were always a blessed relief for us and for the audience. I’d rather listen to Hank's worst songs than most other people’s best songs. Hell, I even like the songs with Audrey in them.

I’m amazed and delighted that Billie Jean Horton is still around. After her death-truncated marriage to Hank, she hooked up with Johnny Horton, and he died young, too, in 1960. She had been a singer, and charted with "Ocean of Tears" in 1960. She looked splendidly old-fashioned, with her flame-red dyed hair and heavy face powder.

I already knew about his back, and his shady homelife growing up, and the Louisiana Hayride and the Opry, and Audrey and the toll of the road and his feeling like he was being "sliced up like baloney" for sale in those awful last years. So I didn’t learn much new, except what sort of fellows he hung out with, and the surviving Drifting Cowboys seemed like the same sort of fellows you see in the background of any country band photograph from the 50s: raw and good-humored and happy to be dressed up nice and doing just what they liked to do. It wasn’t new things I was looking for, anyway. There were several clips of Hank singing his songs, some of the familiar, all of them wonderful. There were two real money shots. One was his duet with Anita Carter on "I Can’t Help It If I’m Still in Love With You." It was like slow lightning -- tender and sexy and strong enough to tear you out of yourself. The other was a slightly rote performance of "Cold, Cold Heart," a song he introduced as the one that had best kept him and the boys "in beans and biscuits." Hank alternated between a heartfelt expression appropriate to the song and a flickering stage smile that seemed alternately show-biz smug and ineffably sad.


Tuesday, June 22, 2004

MADE FOR EACH OTHER. Peggy Noonan's Reagan funeral coverage contained a strange, hard swipe at some of her former White House speechwriting colleagues ("wrote the same speech over and over... I think he spent the rest of his time getting haircuts," "National Hack Memorial," "malignant leprechaun," etc). I have been directed (thanks, Bill) to a hostile response to Noonan by one Jack Wheeler ("cheap, inexcusable," "For all her self-promotion, the facts are that she never wrote many major presidential speeches and had quite limited access to the president," "she was never part of the team," etc).

Wheeler is a true find, with a fascinating backstory: according to his bio, "He has retraced Hannibal’s route over the Alps with elephants;  led numerous expeditions in Central Asia, Tibet, Africa, the Amazon and elsewhere, including 18 expeditions to the North Pole;  and has been listed in The Guinness Book of World Records for the first free fall sky-dive in history at the North Pole." His fullsome reaction to Noonan, whom he once called his "friend," is not surprising once you realize that he reacts rather intemperately to women he doesn't like. In an article about Janet Reno called "America's Saddam?" he says that "the depravity of Waco" will, "Unless expunged through public revulsion of Janet Reno... remain an ineradicable stain on America's soul." On Hillary Clinton: "There is no lie she won't tell, no friend she won't destroy, no pledge she won't break, no slander she won't spread, no political dirty trick she won't employ in order to reside in the White House again, this time as the POTUS." Of Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, top of the Abu Ghraib chain of command, he writes that her failure to respond to (unmade) calls to resign proves that "She has taken them like a woman -- whining, making excuses, and complaining that it’s not her fault, that she’s being 'scapegoated.'"

Given his disdain for "the current hysteria over the 'abuse of Iraqi prisoners," it is hard to see why resignation would be the manly course of action. Maybe it's the vitamins; in his spare time, Wheeler stumps for Life Enhancement pills. In this service he authored an odd piece in which he included, with evident approval, this quote from LE icon Sandy Shaw:
I think that as a whole, women in general tend to vote for people who promise to take care of them. They seem to have an assumption of helplessness that may lie in a genetic tendency to produce less or be less sensitive to noradrenaline. For example, look at the Republicans' problems with the so-called 'soccer moms' who are upset that government programs may be taken away. They are unwilling to say, 'I can handle my situation and don't need some government handout.' Just look around -- how many women do you see fighting the system and being truly politically incorrect? We need a lot more women like Margaret Thatcher or Congresswoman Helen Chenoweth [R-ID], but unfortunately they are rare.
Wheeler also approves of Mrs. Thatcher, presumably because she hasn't done anything to piss him off yet.

We can see that Wheeler would make a formidable nemesis for the Crazy Jesus Lady. I only hope they draw this thing out.

Monday, June 21, 2004

ALL MY FAVORITE CARTOON CHARACTERS COME TO LIFE! Lileks works himself into a lather over Opus the Penguin, though he's "reasonably sure" Berkeley Breathed isn't an anti-Semite. Plus: evil & duplicity from Entertainment Weekly, tensor lamps. "I haven't edited this at all," says Lileks. That's a relief.

"Ol' Blood 'n' Guts" Peters says we are worthless and weak for allowing Al-Jazeera to broadcast, especially since the TV station single-handedly defeated us at Fallujah. (Surely you remember the shock-troops of Arab cameraman filming bombed civilian homes, which our G.I.s were forced to view while strapped to chairs with their eyelids peeled back by John Kerry.) The General explains why this "freedom of speech" thing of which you civilians are so inexplicably fond "doesn't export well" outside the Anglophone world: for one thing, in the U.S. of A., "we have libel and hate-crime laws that work." (That's one of the interesting things about hate-crime laws; while a lot of their backers are gentle folk who think they're outlawing racism, others are of the General's sort: people who will clutch at any excuse to punish not only deeds, but thoughts and words as well.)

Meanwhile Professor Reynolds says he's working really hard, contrary to what his frequent posts in the middle of workdays might imply, and shows us a picture of his car in the faculty parking lot as proof. Save it for the tenure committee, Professor. (Hey, I don't see a datestamp...)

Is the moon full or something?

Friday, June 18, 2004

BUGGING OUT. "Blood 'n' Guts" Peters points the way to disengagement. While "We must remain ferociously aggressive in Iraq and around the globe," the General writes,
If our troops in Iraq are stymied by a web of political deals and need to ask, "Mother, may I?" before confronting terrorists, they'll be condemned to lethal inactivity — turned into targets with bound hands. Morale will plummet. And their lives will be wasted...

We owe Baghdad nothing. Nothing. We've already given Iraq an unprecedented chance to build a humane society and a decent government. If, despite our sacrifices, the Iraqis revert to greed, bigotry and tribalism, we'll need to face the reality of yet another homemade Arab failure and "stand not upon the order of [our] going, but go"...

...if the Iraqis lack the guts to stand up for their own freedom, we needn't hang around to watch as the country bleeds to death, unwilling to apply its own tourniquet.
The General is famously outspoken, but I wouldn't be surprised if his opinions here turned out to be the cutting edge of the new reality. After June 30 we will of course still have a lot of troops in Iraq, but already we see signs that the democratization phase of the enterprise is getting less of our direct attention than did the deSaddamification phase. Of course we are less attentive to Afghanistan than before, too, and things are evolving in some interesting ways there as well.

I suspect the Administration is eager to leave Iraq, and will get less shy about showing it.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

RAISON D'CROIRE. You know, I hate to "support the side," I really do. I hate to go to events like this one, where I'm surrounded by people who, on some prosaic level, agree with me, because my natural distrust of humanity makes me feel as if the cause must be tainted because I agree with it.

Much of the time all that keeps me convinced of my politics is the obvious inanity of the people on the other side. (No link needed; that's what this whole site is about.)

But often I am encouraged by guys who obviously know what they're talking about, and talk about it extremely well. Here's a good one from Kurt Vonnegut that you might have seen before.

I have seen other writers from the WWII Generation, like Vidal and Mailer, denigrated by young right-wing functionaries who would not, in a just universe, be allowed to clean their blotters. But Vonnegut's piece is pretty well disseminated, and if you haven't had the pleasure, you might get a look at it before the rabble hoots it down.

I know a large part of the conservative argument is that the dumb guys know more than the smart guys. Don't you believe it. Read the stuff, use your brains, and see where it takes you. That is, to use an old discredited term, a sufficiently revolutionary act to turn things around.

UPDATE. There seems to be some misunderstanding, so let me make plain that my inability to feel trust or give comradeship in a good cause is something I regret, and to whatever extent I compare myself to the people doing the good grunt work of getting Kerry elected, the comparison is meant to be unflattering to me.
INTERLUDE. Saw a little TV last night. Method Man & Red is, from the five minutes I could bear to watch, an unholy union of Malcolm in the Middle and Birth of a Nation.

Speaking of jokes about how white people have names like "Lenny" and black people have names like "Carl," I also watched some of Last Comic Standing. There were lots of inserts of celebrity judges Drew Carey, Jay Mohr, etc., laughing like hyenas at the rather dull comedians. Believe me, this show is much funnier if you can convince yourself that they're actually laughing at old Flintstones episodes, or footage of the Nuremberg Trials.
A PERFECT SPECIMEN. Longtime readers of this site know that I like to follow the "liberal friends" schtick, whereby a conservative tells how he made his lefty acquaintances look stupid at some social occasion or other. The veracity of such anecdotes is in every instance questionable (see the aforelinked examples and judge for yourself whether they are consonant with normal human behavior) but their utility as parables is self-evident. Take this new example from the comments section of some imbecilic "Christian Nation" screed at OpinionJournal:
I was the recent lone conservative at dinner with seven Bush-loathing liberals, who respect me even while not understanding my views, and this topic came up, America and Christianity. Since President Bush was outvoted seven to one over dinner, who were his supporters and why?

I explained that the U.S. was a Christian country, by numbers, as your author states, and by the Judeo-Christian humanistic view of individual freedoms, and that W was a Christian, even if of the born-again variety. The diners had never quite thought of this, and were stopped for a while, although momentum kept them loathing nonetheless.
This anecdote offers evidence, however poorly expressed and suspect, of classic liberal shortcomings, such as their failure to "understand" realities self-evident to the Elect, and their obstinancy in the face of even such brilliant counter-arguments as the author has here mustered.

I still wonder: why do these liberals keep inviting these conservatives to parties? To shoot intruders, perhaps, or to tell racist jokes when things get a little slow.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

BURDEN OF DREAMS. Thus sprach Tacitus (scroll to June 14, "assumed elision" -- Tac has encrypted his permalinks and I don't have a Turing Machine):
With all respect to those who operated on a thesis of Administration incompetence from day one, most of them have all the rational quality of the Randy Quaid character from ID4: just because an alien invasion did finally happen doesn't mean you're no longer a nutcake. You're just a very lucky nutcake. And you will be tomorrow. Rational, sane people could and did believe that the occupation would be pursued along rational, sane lines. I'm among them, and I see no reason to apologize for it. We were wrong, of course, but if you think that invalidates our judgment for the rest of time, well, think again...


Remember that, sons of Lenin: even when you're right, you're wrong. Or nuts. Or something.

Actually I know how he feels. During the Reagan years, I saw that the country was turning into a nuthouse in which money-worship unhinged my fellow-citizens sufficiently that, like medieval peasants, they became awestruck at the very presence of riches and even ceased to recall that some, at least, of that money had once been available for their own use. This madness never entirely passed, as many aspects of our hellish present condition -- in which Middle Easterners we once paid off to fight proxy wars on our behalf have become our most dangerous enemies, and people eat worms on TV for money -- stem directly from it.

I never doubted that it was my country, not me, that was going nuts. So I can imagine how it must be for Tacitus. Now he's talking about abolishing the Department of Education -- something even Reagan couldn't do. Similarly, I dream of a world where abortions, teenage group sex, and blasphemy are mandatory. I suppose we'll both fall a little short. If you have a dream, any dream, you are sometimes going to sound like a visionary, which is to say, like a fucking nut. I know I do; but I am surrounded by a warm and loving community that enables my ravings with praise, as others might throw dollars into a cockfighting pit, and this makes things a little easier. Tacitus has his own readers, and whatever military operation he keeps slipping off to assist (I like to think he's on a top-secret mission to develop Captain Shotover's mind ray).

In the end age (in my case, senility) will bring the wisdom that heat-sinks all emotional power surges, and we will relax, he in his armory, I in my charity hospital, and watch with equanimity the world growing madder and madder.
HEH INDEED. I thought the Lakers were supposed to have won by now. What do you mean, there's no more games?

At least Roger L. Simon doesn't have to feel sorry for Larry Brown anymore.

And, Roger, for once I agree with you: I would definitely like to see Bush "be like Kobe," at least in this instance.

I will now devote the remainder of my summer (and fall, too, if needed) to growing my hair like Ben Wallace.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

FUN WITH WORDS. Frozen, batter-dipped french fries are a fresh vegetable, says George Chartier, a spokesman for the USDS's Agricultural Marketing Service (per USA Today), and Federal District Judge Richard Schell of Beaumont, Texas agrees.

This is not (despite Julia's headline) another ketchup-as-vegetable school-lunch tsimmis. The ruling does not apply to nutritional standards. It's meant to fulfill some Soviet-style scheme to place Tater Tots and such like under the authority of the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act (PACA), which, the USDA says, "prohibits unfair and fraudulent practices and provides a means of enforcing contracts. Under the PACA, anyone buying or selling commercial quantities of fruit and vegetables must be licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture."

Unfortunately, according to USA Today, this change in status has fucked with the Fleming Companies' Chapter 11 filing. Because the deep-fried 'n' breaded goodies Fleming distributed to supermarkets are now, voila, fresh vegetables, under PACA Fleming must pay back every bit of what they owe on said commodities, instead than whatever fraction the bankruptcy court would have allowed.

I'd say this is a reminder of the profound unfairness of life, but who the hell needs to be reminded?
POLITICAL CORRECTNESS, NEW-STYLEE. A perfectly reasonable objection, and good for her, from Michele Catalano, to a new Hollywood blacklist (yes, in so many words) proposed by some guy. "What a soundly terrible idea," she says. "It mocks everything America is about, as well as gives credence to the left's mantra that conservatives and/or Republicans want to crush dissent and block free speech."

As you might imagine, though, some of the comments are hilarious. Here's my personal "Courage of His Convictions" nominee:
There are some actors and directors whose work I simply won't patronize. Michael Moore, Robert Altman, Alec Baldwin, and a few others are on the "won't see no matter what" list, and Viggo Mortenson is on the "won't see except for LoTR" list.
Second place winner: "Like, Robert Altman's a gibbering moron through and through, but I really like the old Combat television show, and I plan on buying the season sets on DVD. I'll probably skip his commentaries, though."

The guy behind AllahPundit writes in with this:
Let me make one more point, Michele. I'm sure you realize that there are more than a few employers in and around New York City who would pass you over for a job because of the political opinions you've expressed on ASV. In my case, I realize it well enough to leave "Allah" off my resume. So you and I, for all intents and purposes, are on an informal, unwritten blacklist maintained by leftist business owners.
So that's why no one puts BLOGGER (11/01-present): Numchuck.com, a journal of random thoughts on terrorism and Buffy ('A must read!' -- Clayton Cramer) on their resumes -- to keep under the radar of those evil hippies who run corporations! We've all been in those interviews, haven't we:
LEFTIST BUSINESS OWNER: As you know, young man, the purpose of Greenbelt Securities is to redistribute our clients' wealth to the black, Latino, and trangendered community.

FREEDOM-LOVING BLOGGER DESPERATE FOR WORK: C-count me in, comrade! More power to the people.

LEFTIST BUSINESS OWNER: (narrowing his eyes) Your voice... I've heard it before... yes... in a .wav file distributed by the Central Committee! (Stands, points, makes 70s Invasion of the Body Snatchers noise.)
Some responses, however, are downright spooky:
If I misuse my Second Amendment rights I LOSE THEM. If I drive irresponsibly, I LOSE THAT RIGHT. Same with every other right Americans have... except one. That one, you can abuse and misuse and willingly use as a tool to damage your country and endanger your fellow citizens- with no comebacks at all, and people will line up around the block to defend your ability to do so.

What do you call a right with no responsibility attached?

The First Amendment.
(Insert Dragnet theme here.)

I suggest these guys use their time more constructively.
ANOTHER MYSTERY SOLVED. I finally figured out that Day by Day comic strip: it's Mallard Fillmore for people who spend more that $30 a year on hair conditioner.

Two reasons to never see it again.
WHAT'S OPERA, DOC? Terry Teachout's OpinionJournal complaint against the Ground Zero arts companies selections pretends to be a righteous jeremiad against "culture by committee." The recent theatre, dance, and museum choices are "modest and safe" and "very, very small," says Teachout, when the committee, had they any guts, could have made "the boldest possible declaration of faith in the power and glory of Western culture" by including Teachout's favored candidate, the New York City Opera. "What a disappointment," he cries, rending his garment. "What a wasted opportunity."

Now, any critic whose candidate fails to receive its piece of the funded pie is entitled to a good huff. But c'mon, doc: an opera company?

Don't get me wrong (especially you, Sasha). I respect opera (more by breach than observance) and take Teachout's word that City Opera is a good pick. But let's not kid ourselves: the Ground Zero selections were never going to be about grandeur -- not even the fake grandeur of the hideous neoWTC building design. They were picked for their potential appeal to the area's prime constituencies: tourists and yuppies.

As John Rockwell observes in the Times:
...the very name of the body that made these choices — a "development corporation" — indicates the true rationale behind its selection, and behind the decision to involve arts organizations in the first place. The winners were picked not because anyone gave first thought to their worthiness as art, but because they represented a canny mix of institutions likely to make downtown a better place to live and do business.
The selections are modest because that is what the punters will pay for. The Freedom Center is an unknown quantity, and the Drawing Center unknown, alas, to me; but the Signature, best known for its one-playwright-a-season schtick, and the Joyce are solid and reasonably popular art-brands that will edify without scaring anyone. They are perfectly suitable for Mr. and Mrs. (or Mr. and Mr.) New York Striver who, after a hard week of shuffling papers, don't mind dropping a few bills for the quality art these vendors provide, any more than they would mind dropping a few bills at Dean & Deluca, Kenneth Cole, or Design Within Reach. The stuff goes down easy and has the smell of quality.

You don't even have to know much about art to patronize these establishments. The Signature is practically a missionary enterprise, reviving and (where needed) resuscitating moribund reputations. If they're doing a whole year of this Maria Irene Fornes, well then, honey, she must be damn good.

Museums have the advantage of sitting perfectly still for gawkers from Iowa to tromp through. What they'll see at the Drawing Center will probably be good draughtsmanship at least, and you don't have to be Bernard Berenson to appreciate that. As to the Freedom Museum, well, one can only imagine. They'll clean up in "Remember 9/11" hanky sales alone.

One might wonder how a modern dance company would be more pleasing to the constituents than an opera company. The answer is simple: bodies. Now, maybe you watch dance entirely, and chastely, for love of technique. And maybe old Uncle Roy watches women's gymnastics events on TV because he admires athleticism in all its forms. Please. As a tired businessman observed years ago (in the presence of my friend Bob Schaffer) at some spectacular gyrations in a Pina Bausch performance, "Now that's what I like to see -- bottoms up!"

Art can be grand, but it doesn't have to be, and hardly ever is. If the voice of God comes to Ground Zero, chances are it will be in a much different form than opera. Sorry, doc. The people, through their elected time-servers and jobsworths, have spoken!

Monday, June 14, 2004

AN OLD PRO SHOWS HOW IT'S DONE. They unveiled the Clintons' portraits at the White House today, and there was a rather playful ceremony with Bush and Bubba doing some of their lighter material. I note that Clinton worked this into his remarks:
This is a great country.Politics is noble work.... yesterday, I said, "You know, Most the people I've known in this business, Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, were good people, honest people, and they did what they thought was right. And I hope that I'll live long enough to see American politics return to vigorous debates where we argue who's right and wrong, not who's good and bad."
Regular readers of this site will know that's not how I operate, but I'm not running for anything. John Kerry is, and I hope he was was paying attention. There are worse guys to take rhetorical tips from.
PRO-DEATH REPUBLICAN. It's rare indeed (or should I say "heh indeed") when I admit a debt of gratitude to the Ole Perfesser over t' the U of Tenn. But one of his posts has alerted me to an entertaining character named Clayton Cramer.

The Perfesser, it seems, had written a TCS piece about his desire to have his life extended to infinity and beyond via government-funded research -- said moneys to be taken, one imagines, from boondoggles like Workmen's Compensation. But let us move on -- the Perfesser's own lunacy is a tired subject.

Cramer argues that life is not worth extending. Now, this is a defensible position based on an understanding of human nature. But Cramer doesn't want a shorter life on valid Motorhead "Ace of Spades" grounds ("That's the way I like it baby/I don't want to live forever") -- he wants it because kids today are having all kinds of deviant sex, probably because they can't easily buy guns, thanks to "smart, arrogant, and immoral" judges. And it's only going to get worse:
When I was growing up, there was drug abuse. There were orgies and other forms of casual sex, where people were just used, and feelings got hurt. But that was largely high school and college, not junior high and upper grades of elementary school. I am not sure that I want to live another hundred years, and see the evil that will become the norm.
Perhaps Cramer would be less exercised if the target demographic for orgies were trending older rather than younger. But that seems unlikely. Note the world-weariness of his opening remarks:
When I was 23, I got married. We drove away from the church in our 1979 Pontiac Grand Am for our honeymoon... It is 24 years later, and I am still married to that same woman. Life was fresh and new, full of optimism and hopes.

As you get older, your high hopes and ambitions inevitably collapse around you. The wonders of travel turn into a series of disappointments. Your high hopes for your children come crashing down, especially when you discover the moral ugliness of the culture in which you are raising them.
That paragraph break seems awkward, and I like to think that, in an early draft, two sentences in Cramer's middle section were inverted:
Life was fresh and new, full of optimism and hopes. It is 24 years later, and I am still married to that same woman. As you get older, your high hopes and ambitions inevitably collapse around you.
Doesn't that sound more natural? Then Cramer weeps over the tedium of having to work for a living:
The job that you enjoyed at 23, and 25, and even 28, by 35 or 40 has lost its luster. You do it because you need the money to pay your bills.
People working to make money to live! Forbid it, almighty God! Yet the thought of changing jobs also terrifies Cramer: "Imagine having to do a career change 30 or 40 times over a lifetime! No thank you!" Actually, that's called the New Economy, or the Old Poverty, and millions of us are stuck in it. Maybe we should all just kill ourselves. Between the orgies and the careers, what's left for us?

How did I miss this guy before?

Sunday, June 13, 2004

DON'T PLAY US CHEAP. It has been suggested that New Yorkers refrain from showing displeasure at this year's Republican Convention, lest we alienate our good neighbors in the red states. Here's an example of why I can't buy that.

Saturday's New York Post, the Republican pamphlet distrubuted daily here at great expense (one might say "investment") by Rupert Murdoch, ran a story called "Big Apple Salute," referring to the recent Reagan necromonia.

The idea was to show the City's love for our departed Gipper. Most of the quotes, however, come from outlanders, visiting from Wichita, Chicago, and Hillsborough, NJ.

Two actual citizens are cited. One is a fifth-grader on a field trip. "I feel bad for his family," says 11-year-old Melissa Compere. "He was real important and a lot of people loved him. It makes me want to learn more about him."

The other is an adult, presumably, who "was watching the rites at Rosie O'Grady's on West 46th Street because the TV reception in his office was poor."

One can only imagine the strain on the Post reporters tasked with this beat, trying to get regular New Yorkers to talk about their love for Reagan. All they could produce, aside from predictable tourist bleats, is an 11-year-old and a guy who cut work to go to a bar.

But a Big Apple Salute must be made, for, by Murdochian logic, every corner of the Republic must be shown to mourn the Gipper, especially the putative hometown of the rag itself.

The game plan -- and you know, in this Age of Propaganda, there is always a game plan -- is obviously to portray us as fellow travellers aboard the Republican juggernaut, despite our history, despite our character, despite our proud record of 17 straight elections without supporting a Republican Presidential candidate, despite our relatively huge population of artists, educators, gays, blacks, Hispanics, intellectuals, and naysayers, despite everything blazingly obvious about us to anyone who actually knows us.

No thanks and fuck you.
A CONEY ISLAND OF THE MIND. I took Editor Martin out to Coney. He's leaving town soon, and he had to see it before he left. It was a cool, clear day, sky pale blue and the boardwalk crowded with the usual Coney folk, which these days is about two-thirds deep-Brooklyn locals of every race taking their raucous ease, and one-third young hipsters and tourists out to catch one of the least gentrified scenes in the City. It's a good mix and everyone was having fun. Well, one hulking Italian fellow, drunk off his ass, took issue with Martin and myself when he thought we'd nicked his plastic chair, but that was easily defused. Anyway, what's a day at Coney without a little street hassle? Like the bumper cars and the kids wrestling good-naturedly on the sand, Brooklyn pleasure must always involve a few rude shocks.

How I wish the doubters of multiculturalism could have seen it. Puerto Rican flags got a pre-parade workout, and after the boardwalk salsa band closed down, a couple of rogue percussionists worked their cowbells and shakers into a merengue beat, moving a fat couple to dance ballroom-style in their t-shirts and shorts. At sunset a few hundred folks in kinte cloth, skull caps, and billowing white robes marched to African drums toward the shore to throw flowers into the water in memory of the Middle Passage. At the boardwalk bars would-be wiseguys pounded Coronas and their own chests. This was no grad-school wishful thinking, no professorial pipe-dream, but the way we live.

Take the Republican Conventioneers on a field trip to Coney. We could all profit by it.

Friday, June 11, 2004

WELL, THEY CAN ALWAYS PATRONIZE THE HOOKERS. An unbylined OpinionJournal piece picks apart the Tony Award winners and declares them hostile to red state Americans. Witches! Homosexuals! Assassins! Puppets! The author wonders if the Republican conventioneers coming in August will be pleased. "We'll happily concede that much of it may be clever," he generously allows. "It may even be, at times, pretty good. But put yourself in the shoes of those on the New York City Host Committee and you can see why they might conclude that this is not the sort of stuff that plays well to our guests from Peoria."

There is no real sourcing in the piece -- "news columns had good sport with Republican plans for the theater," the author claims, with no attributions -- but it seems odd to me that that the three delegates profiled at the RNC's own Convention website all look forward to taking in a Broadway show. They say they want to see "The Lion King", and will presumably not be troubled by the touchy-feely, circle-of-life, diversity message (the profiled delegates themselves seem to have been selected to promote a diversity message); but even if they somehow find themselves at "Avenue Q," "Wicked," or "I Am My Own Wife," I suspect they will still enjoy themselves on grounds of craft, spectacle, and fun, just as people of all sorts have enjoyed "La Cage Aux Folles," "Sweeney Todd," and other Tony winners of which neither they nor the OpinionJournal author may have approved on ideological grounds.

The culture war is a wearying beat.
POSITIVELY OUR LAST CRAZY CORNER REAGAN FUNERAL POST: "I remember someone saying once that RR was the kind of actor who improved the performances of the other actors on the set. I thought of this during the funeral -- during RR's final performance, as it were, everybody else put on a great show."

When I go, I hope I, too, will be remembered as the sort of corpse that made his friends look good.
A COCKEYED DYNAMIST. Reaganfest '04 is nearly over, thank God. This first collective, posthumous effort to muscle history on the old fraud's behalf has seen several very low points, some choice examples of which have been nimbly tagged and bagged by Wonkette. Generally, unreason has reigned, which of course is perfectly appropriate for a Reaganfest.

For example, in her hagiograph, Virginia Postrel says that "the late 1960s and 1970s were a scary time to grow up." That's interesting. I grew up in roughly the same time frame, and though I was depressed and unloved, I wasn't often scared. In fact, like most children throughout human history, I looked forward to the challenges and privileges of adulthood with an unreasonable fearlessness I often wish I had back.

What struck terror into young Virginia's heart? I've had a hard time tracking down details on her childhood, so I suppose Postrel might have grown up on the mean streets of East L.A. or some such, but looking at her I doubt it. She has said that "from childhood, we have developed a sort of advertising literacy," which could be very scary, in a Count Floyd sort of way.

Further down, she explains the horror of youth in the age of tie-dye and denim:
The Soviets were expanding, and the Cold War seemed destined to end in defeat or destruction...
So unlike the age of peace and security in which we now live.
The Saudis could -- and did -- cut off the oil whenever they got mad. People in the northeast froze from lack of natural gas; my father turned our thermostats down to 65, as though it would help...
Is this not the most pathetic tell-that-to-the-young-people-of-today-and-they-won't-believe-you jape you've ever heard? When I was a young girl, we had to wear light sweaters indoors! And that was because we were at the mercy of the House of Saud, with whom we have much better relations now. Why, we can get them to move the price of oil up or down, as needed. And all we have to do in return is help them out with airline reservations.
Prices went up and up, not just on a few things but on everything.
Again, not like now. Of course, it has been suggested that we are not better off than we were -- we just don't feel the effects of our economic distress, thanks to easy credit, which allows us to off-load our horrendous debts onto the next generation. (Now those kids have reason to live in fear!)

I could go on, but why bother. The thing about the cheery "Dynamist" Postrel is that her optimism, like Reagan's, requires a backstory about the collectivist horrors that her creed happily vanquished, so that we'll keep on believing that this is the best of all possible worlds. Of course, this would work better if the world weren't such a fucking mess.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

AGAIN, MORE SLOWLY: WHAT. LIBERAL. MEDIA? Every bit I've seen of the Reagan mourning media coverage has been obsequious and flattering to the old fraud in the extreme. This is not noted by the usual bias obsessives of the Right (nor, I expect, will they remember it afterwards), but it is obvious. Even the "media critics" at NRO, hypersensitive to even the faintest slights, have been reduced to complaining about Tom Brokaw's tone of voice, and so devote most of their time to bizarre monarchist and millenarian observations more suitable to that other great Republican, Reverend Moon.

Meanwhile Alterman's showing off his hate mail from Reaganauts enraged by his perfectly reasonable complaints about the Gipper Administration. Sample lines: "We'll die before that godless scum takes our country from us once again! Go and cry with your homosexual friends..." "Call me and I will persoanlly buy you a first class ticket to whatever country you want to go live in." "You sir, are a low down miserable scum bag oppotunist..." "So please, continue to ramble on as the bitter, pathetic idiot your are so that Americans can thank God for giving us a leader like Ronald Reagan." "I see that you still have your communist party membership! You faggot!"

There you have it, folks: our opposition.

(Hey, if Michael Totten gets to pull this kind of shit, why can't I?)

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

THE WHOLE WORLD IS WATCHING. In today's New York Observer (not in the web edition), Jim Callaghan suggests that those sincerely wishing to stop Bush should refrain from demonstrating in New York during the upcoming Republican Convention. He worries that the Cause will be damaged by TVs bearing to the hinterlands images of "angry youths and assorted lefties, joined by antiwar activists who are against war even after 3,000 people were slaughtered." That last, bloody-shirted bit may have you wondering whether Callaghan is really playing for the other side, but he insists he's only playing devil's advocate: "We all know that Nixon and his felons had provocateurs at the 1972 Republican Convention to make sure that America wouldn't forget that he was the white man's President, the voice of the 'Silent Majority'... Don't discount the theory that the G.O.P. picked New York for the 2004 Convention for the same reason: the prospect of demonstrators behaving badly."

Callaghan seems to forget that New York has played host to hundreds of thousands of anti-Iraq-war demonstrators without serious incident. The net effect has been to remind people that not everyone is on board with this Administration's policies, even in the former home of the twin towers. So well-behaved were they that even reliable Republican propagandists could only fudge the numbers and point to smaller, pro-war demos as a true reflection of the Will of the People.

Crazier still is the idea that Bush picked this site so that ABC could show dirty hippies disturbing the peace. In locating here, so close to the 9/11 anniversary, he obviously wants America to believe -- in the absence of any countervailing visual evidence -- in a New York shell-shocked and agreeable to his Iraqi vengeance, no matter how disconnected that was from the actual attacks. He wants us, in other words, as a prop, mute and serviceable to his purpose. Here's a supporting quote from Mayor/Nanny Bloomberg in Scholastic magazine: "When the Republican convention comes to New York we are going to remember those young men and women who died on September 11 and those that are fighting for us today." It's a good bet that Bloomberg and his comrades expect this line of reasoning to go over as well with grown-ups as it surely did with the pre-teen readers of Scholastic.

The Republicans are fully expecting New Yorkers to play their part in this charade: a local newspaper and subway campaign featuring former Mayor/Clown Ed Koch exhorts us to "be nice" to the visiting Republicans. The idea, articulated in many outlets (including the current Mayor's own news service), is that the sons and daughters of the Oatmeal, Nebraska Rotary Club will drop a bundle here and revivify our sagging economy. Everyone knows where the city's heart is (we haven't electorally supported a Republican candidate since Coolidge), but as the local GOP web site puts it, "the city has been welcoming, from the labor unions with which Republicans have traditionally had rocky relations, to everyday people who want the convention to succeed, if not Bush's re-election bid. The Democrats might hope it is a mismatch on the magnitude of ordering a corned beef sandwich on white with mayo, but officially they support whatever helps the New York economy."

In the days of Catherine the Great, the real residents of Potemkin villages only had to stay out of sight. Now we are expected to do a full-on meet-and-greet, in hopes that we may be thrown a few kopeks.

I expect all good citizens to be civil to such Republicans as fortune sends our way this summer, but civility is not silence. If they don't like demonstrations, if they prefer New York to behave like a hick town bowing and scraping to Wal-Mart, too fucking bad for them.
BLANKER GENERATION. I'm sure there's more than one reason why the death of Robert Quine bothers me this much.

I didn't know the guy, but I would often see him around the East Village back in the 70s and early 80s. He was usually wearing The Uniform: motorcycle jacket, frayed black jeans, and Keds. His minor variation was a nearly bald pate and thick, black-framed glasses. (He also had a splay-footed, schlubby walk, not unlike that of Robert Ludlam, whom I also often saw walking those streets.)

I saw him play with the Voidoids twice: once opening for Patti Smith at CBGB-2, Hilly's ill-fated concert venue on 2nd Avenue (it's now the Orpheum, where I believe Stomp is still playing); once at the Paradise Garage disco, in a rare "new wave" night at which Teenage Jesus & The Jerks opened and drove everyone but me and about a dozen other freaks out of the room. "We're gonna play one more song because we're so great!" yelled Lydia Lunch.

Those of us on that particular fringe thought Lunch was harsh and interesting, but I don't think many of us would have made a case for her as a musician. But Quine actually praised Lunch's guitar playing; in fact, he produced a record for her and played on a few others. Quine had been to the Berkeley School of Music, and he was digging this chick that basically just beat on the strings.

I guess he knew, though, that technique was only worth having if it produced something worth listening to. If it was brilliant but produced something dead, it wasn't as good as something that was brutal but produced something alive. Richard Hell recalls:
Though Bob, of all the “punk” musicians, was the most musically sophisticated (unless you count [Tom] Verlaine who’d come in pretty close), as much so as anybody who ever played in a rock and roll band in fact, he still belonged beyond a doubt to the genre if you want to discuss that issue, by virtue of his anger and his musical values. He wasn’t interested in virtuosity but in feeling and invention.


Maybe that's why the news is especially sad to me. So much of what comes off the musical assembly line these days sounds like a late edition of what has come before -- usually a few months before. It seems nearly every band in America got the blink-182 guitar effects box several Christmases ago; I expect many of them are tired of it, but just can't bring themselves to put it away. It isn't really any easier to be derivative than it is to be original, but originality is a loss-leader and what you invite by indulging it is the heartbreak of rejection. For young people especially, that's a tough one.

It seems amazing then to contemplate that Quine and his mates actually courted rejection, producing something that seemed out of sync with what was considered "good" at the time. To a large extent, they won their battle -- now they're accepted as pioneers. But what equivalent to them now exists? I don't just mean something good -- a higher-class, more "rockin'" version of the same old -- I mean something wild.

I expect some kid somewhere is doing something like that. I just hope we'll get to hear him, or her. And I certainly hope he or she reaches a happier end than Quine.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

THIS IS JUST NICE. From 1700: Scenes from London Life by Maureen Waller:
The man in the pillory at the Royal Exchange is standing on tiptoe. It is not a position he will be able to maintain for long, but for the moment it eases his discomfort as his neck is wedged into the "wooden ruff" and his arms are twisted at an unnatural angle into the holes at either side of his head. He is aware of the excitement of the heaving crowd before him, of those jostling for a position at the front, but he keeps his eyes shut tight. Any second now and the mob will release their arsenal of filth and brickbats as thick and fast as hail at his defenseless body... Involuntarily he cringes against the imagined stones injuring his face and head, damaging his eyesight, pounding his legs and the small of his back. There is a dreadful moment of pause. Something soft brushes his cheek. It is as if warm snow is descending upon him. He dares to open his eyes a fraction, then opens them fully in amazement. The Londoners are pelting him with flowers.
The man in the pillory is Daniel Defoe, who had been sentenced for publishing a satirical pamphlet called The Shortest Way with the Dissenters, which had made some harshly intolerant churchmen look foolish. Defoe would go on to father the English novel with Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders.
IRISH WAKE. Dignified as the funerary proceedings (and the posthumous ass-licking by the Liberal Media) have been, I say there's no event, including the death of a President, that cannot be rendered hilarious by National Review Online.

Jonah Goldberg, who at any given time seems 2/3 of the way through somebody's Irish wake, responds to claims that Clinton was more popular than Reagan with this: "...the fact that Clinton's numbers were so high is a testament to the fact that Clinton desired to be popular more than he desired to be effective" (italics his).

In other words, Clinton's popularity is due to a character defect -- just like everything else about him! In support of his absurd idea, Goldberg says Clinton did only "a few bold or semi-bold things." He doesn't mention gays in the military or national health care, which is odd, number one, because it's a spectacularly stupid omission, and number two, because a few years ago Goldberg was gloating that these two Clinton policy initiatives "largely created the Republican Juggernaut in 1994."

For pure laffs, though, this D'Souza memoir (via KJL) of a meeting between Reagan and Mother Teresa is the best I've heard all mourning:
He was convinced when he returned from the hospital that he had a limited amount of time to achieve his ambitious agenda. Yet his goals were not only political but also personal. With Cardinal Cooke, who came to visit him, Reagan struck a spiritual note: "I have decided that whatever time I have left is for Him." The late Mother Teresa, who visited the White House that June, told Reagan, "You have suffered the passion of the cross and have received grace. There is a purpose to this. Because of your suffering and pain you will now understand the suffering and pain of the world. This has happened to you at this time because your country and the world needs you." Reagan was speechless...
Well, who wouldn't be?

Monday, June 07, 2004

THE NICE OLD MAN WHO LOOTED OUR TREASURY. In the late 1970s I lived in the East Village and worked as a busboy. I made less than ten thousand dollars a year, but that wasn't so bad because I was getting food stamps, and my rent was only $125 a month. When I had health problems, I went to the public clinics -- $5 got me in the door.

Envious? You should be. Not of my life, of course -- I wouldn't wish that nightmare on anyone. No, you should envy America as it was for a little while, after the Great War and before Reagan.

Because back then, we all got a little more slack. One did not have to work day and night to break even. There were lots of people who kept small families in modest homes on a single income, believe it or not. The idea that the Mom and Pop of a family would both be working and still have money trouble -- sometimes bad money trouble -- was absurd.

If you stumbled, the government would help you up -- after all, that's what we pay taxes for (as people used to say quite a lot, back when they were in fact getting something from their taxes besides foreign wars). Easy access to benefits meant not only that you didn't have to starve, but also that you didn't have to worry too much. Life was good.

That was the post-war West. Then Reagan came in, and the slack got considerably taken up.

Many of us got some tax relief -- though ordinary earners got less of this (and had some of it taken back by other means) than the more wealthy, who cleaned up. Entitlements petered out, and public service agencies were replaced by your dwindling savings account and the credit card companies -- just like welfare, except you have to pay it back at 26% interest! Our current leaders may not like the resulting, massive personal bankruptcy rate, but at least (I imagine them laughing to themselves), they don't have to pay for it.

In the Reagan era you were hooted off the carpet if you sought money for milk and bread -- but you had much better luck if you had a business plan. Entrepreneurs were lionized for their grit and determination, even if they bent the rules a little (this thinking seems since then to have developed into a full-fledged alterative culture, of which the Enron generation represents the highest stage of development). Entrepreneurs became the new avatars of American individualism, and people talked seriously of electing boardroom clowns like Lew Lehrman and Donald Trump to high office.

All this was sluiced and greased by an enormous hemorrhage of public funds. This now-chronic superdebt, which only abated under Clinton and is of course being run up again, necessitates drastic actions just to keep us out of the global poor house. So we sell an increasingly large chunk of our debt to foreign speculators. And we stress productivity -- the mantra of the age, the leading indicator of leading indicators for Reaganite economists. We work harder and harder every year to maintain this "economy" -- which word was once a plain descriptive term for a large abstraction, but is now apparently the name of some cruel bitch-goddess that must be served and offered sacrifice.

Reagan did that. With a smile and a shoeshine he turned off the spigots of slack. Today very few of us head home when we hear the five o'clock whistle; either overtime is semi-mandatory for us, or we don't have a job. DVD players are cheap, but milk costs $4 a gallon. We worship money and success, yet prate about values. All this is his legacy. You can thank him for it if you like.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

A SUPPOSEDLY FUN THING THAT WAS ACTUALLY FUN. Awards shows are one of my weaknesses, but I often miss the Tonys. I go to the theatre so rarely that I don’t know what’s at stake, and I figure if I wanted to feel left out I’d go to a family reunion. This year I’ve been watching, though, and it’s been a pleasure. Hugh Jackman is an adroit and personable host -- he even high-kicked with the Rockettes, and made a comical show of being winded from it. The pace is brisk, even the winners (alternately weepy and hysterical) keep it up. The speeches are more articulate and often surprising, as when Bryan F. O’Byrne turned his into an ad for his show. But the whole thing was great advertising for theatre in general. The production numbers were fun. There was even a Roger Miller song! (And a few of the usual award-show howlers: LL Cool J brought out Carol Channing, and in the audience theatre newbie Sean Combs stared at her like he didn't know who she was.) What a pleasure to watch a special event that really was.

Saturday, June 05, 2004

COME BACK TO THE HUSTINGS, AL HONEY! It has been my pleasure, nay, my glee, to vote for the Reverend Al Sharpton every time he appears in a Democratic primary. But now (via Wonkette) I fear he may have gone Hollywood on us:
Reverend Al Sharpton will join CNBC's political team of contributors and commentators covering the upcoming Democratic and Republican National Conventions, it was announced today by Cheryl Gould, Vice President, CNBC and supervisor of CNBC's political coverage. In this role, Sharpton will share his insights and perspectives on "Capital Report" (T-F, 7-8 p.m. ET), "Dennis Miller" (M-F, 9-10 ET/PT) and "McEnroe" (debuting Wednesday, July 7 at 10 p.m. ET, airing M-F, 10-11 p.m. ET/PT) as well as other CNBC weekend programming.

"Having run for the Democratic nomination, Reverend Sharpton brings to our viewers an insider's perspective on Presidential politics," said Gould.
"McEnroe"?

When I first heard the news I'd hoped the Rev would be doing economic commentary along the lines of his magnificently muddled response to Peter Jennings' question about the Federal Reserve in a Democratic debate earlier this year. He will be engaging in his new role, I'm sure. But we really need him up there at the various lecterns of electoral pretense, speaking gibberish to power. The grim pleasures afforded by our less overtly buffoonish candidates make too thin a gruel without him.

Let us hope the Reverend imagines this a springboard from which to launch a Mayoral run. (I'm already pledged to Freddy Ferrer, but I could be persuaded.)
CONDITIONAL RESPONSE. Roger L. Simon (the "L" is for conservative) wonders why liberals who were so exercised about the murders committed by the Pinochet regime aren't complaining about the crimes committed by the Saddam Hussein regime.

As a credible spokesperson for the entire left, let me say that the crimes of Saddam Hussein were a very bad thing. Any disagreement, fellow traitors? Good.

The Nixon Adminstration, of course, assisted Pinochet in his bloody overthrow of the elected Allende Government and the Ford Administration was practically complicit in some of the ensuing Pinochet-era "disappearances". I don't recall anyone suggesting that we invade Chile, take over, and install a more democratic government. That would hardly make sense, since we had done so much to ensure the opposite result.

As for other points of comparison, I have a hard time keeping straight the various rationales for the Iraq invasion -- WMDs, stabilization of the region, freedom for the Iraqi people -- so I'll wait until they get that sorted out before treating it further. I will say that Simon's former comrades do show some consistency in objecting when the Government engages in foreign adventures that make no fucking sense.

Friday, June 04, 2004

A DOG FROM HELL. Saw the Bukowski doc, Born Into This. Rather a shambles, but worth an afficionado's while. It puts a little cement into the cracks of his life story.

Since he came into his own in middle age, Bukowski's younger days have been poorly documented, except by himself, and no one tells his own story quite straight. It was then a special pleasure to see one of his old post office colleagues, enjoying what appears to be a middle-class California retirement and sounding like a Brooklyn wiseguy out to pasture, tell how Bukowski's bad clothing, "heavy features" and thuglike bearing made him hard to get to know. He also says that the great author referred to his then-missus "in a derogatory way that men sometimes talk about women." (He notes that, when he finally met her, he had to agree that Bukowski's wife did have a fat ass. "I mean," he adds generously, "if you like 'em big...")

But the colleague agreed that Post Office, which describes events he must have witnessed, is "true to life." And another guy in the film talks about seeing an ordinary Joe, on an L.A. bus in the 60s, laughing his ass off at a Bukowski piece in Open City. (This is the hippie journal Bukowski calls "Open Pussy" in his stories about it, and it is a howl to see his byline on its mangey, off-the-pigs pages.) This made me wonder momentarily: why isn't Bukowski better known, better read? His descriptions of the struggles of men and women, and of men and men, and of the "gut-wringing machine" that endeavors to take hold of nearly everyone in this society, can't be too far out for ordinary Joes to appreciate.

But of course there are impediments: a lot of dirty words and dirty scenes, of course. And the bleakness, or what could be taken for bleakness if you don't or can't believe that happiness is mostly a fleeting, accidental, and poetic thing.

There's more archival footage of Bukowski in Born Into This than I'd ever seen before. In one of the clips he says that love is like the fog that gathers on the fields at dawn before the sun burns it off. Seen one way, this is a bleak, even morose, way to look at it. But to the poetic mind, the fog is no less beautiful for being evanescent. And, of course, it always comes back.