Monday, May 01, 2006

NO END OF HISTORY. Just finished A Distant Mirror, Barbara Tuchman’s history of Western Europe in the 14th Century. Tuchman wrote beautifully and can make any half-attentive reader feel like a history buff for a couple of days at least. I still found parts of it slow going. To supply human detail to her great, turbulent tapestry, Tuchman takes time to explicate several particular intrigues and power struggles. Many of these are rich, as when Jean de Montfort, Duke of Brittany, kidnaps his houseguest, the Constable of France, over a ridiculously small matter:
…Laval cried, "What are you doing? Do not harm my brother-in-law, the Constable!"

"Mount your horse and go from hence, Monfort answered him. "I know what I have to do"… At that moment another of Clisson’s party, Jean de Beaumanoir, hurried up in anxiety. Monfort, who hated him too, pulled his dagger and, rushing upon him as if possessed, cried, "Beaumanoir, do you wish to be like your master?" Beaumanoir said that he would honor him. "Do you wish, do you wish to be just like him?" the Duke cried in a fury, and when Beaumanoir said yes, Montfort screamed, "Well, then, I will put out your eye!"…
The resolution of the case takes months and scuttles a planned invasion of England. I do get a kick out of it, but these clowns were pulling this sort of shit all the time, and after a while it’s just depressing.

Of course, all Europe seems to have been treading the same muddy, bloody circles throughout: ginned-up wars are prosecuted by companies of knights who freely pillage every town in their way, including those in their own country; popular uprisings, driven to the last extremity by this disastrous mismanagement, go berserk and are suppressed mercilessly; the Church flits the papacy from Rome to Avignon and back, taxing the hell out of the people to funds its follies, causing more knightly expeditions and a general dissipation of the Faith. And of course there was the Plague.

It is a blessed relief to get to the epilogue, and the first stirrings of something more like what we recognize as civilization. (I don’t think I realized before what a boon to society was the formation of standing armies.)

Survey-course history, of the sort some of us got in school, is mostly reassuring, in that we are led along thick lines (albeit smudged in places) from the primordial muck to the relatively enlightened present. Americans have a further advantage in that we’ve compressed a lot of action into the last few pages of history, which gives it vigor and a sense of propulsion; even in the Howard Zinn version, we can imagine that another growth-spurt of enlightenment might be up around the corner. But I get a chill whenever I am forced to consider that humankind can slog weary decades through muck before recovering its instinct for higher ground, and that such instincts, under duress and disuse, may be bred out of both animals and men.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

THE WONDER IS, HE HATH ENDURED SO LONG: HE BUT USURP’D HIS LIFE. I am in some sympathy with James Wolcott, who has tired of "The Sopranos":
…Sunday the Sopranos temporarily abandoned Vito to his antiquing and fobbed off an episode partially involving Christopher and associate flying to LA to pitch a film idea to Ben Kingsley poolside at what looked like the Bev Hills Four Seasons… Having The Sopranos slop over into Entourage and Ricky Gervais's Extras starfuckiness made a show already afflicted with acute self-consciousness go even more meta on us.. When Hollywood stars played themselves on I Love Lucy, they weren't catering to cynicism about celebrity and autographing it with their own smirk; they presented genial versions of themselves. I prefer those antics to the hip jadedness that's become de rigueur today and winks at the audience as it winks back. All that winking has degenerated into a spastic tic.
I understand Wolcott’s unease with the current Soprano malaise, but (perhaps because I am not a Vanity Fair type of scribe, to say the least) I have a different interpretation of events.

From the beginning "The Sopranos" has had two major streams. On the one hand, there is the grotesque crudity – the source of many cheap laughs, which is what I think bothers Wolcott about the Kingsley/Bacall storyline, and which also gains most of the water-cooler talking points and tabloid ooh-aahs. Hacked-off heads, surprise deaths, etc.

In opposition to this baseness, there is something larger and more dramatic -- operatic conflicts, behaviors, and emotions. The crude stuff is also outsized, in a grand guignol sort of way, but the latter is the meat of the dramatic interest, because even in this debased age we are still more interested in characters than in splatters, if only slightly so.

True, these characters will go far beyond what most of us would ever dream of doing in the course of business. We expect that from Mafiosa, and if Tony’s crew just killed for fun and profit, it would be a very different show. But often it’s not about business, but about septic souls crying out for vengeance, recognition, or what passes in their peculiar lives for closure.

The Cifaretto/Pie-o-my story line is a great example of this: because Tony lives in a world where sudden violence is common, it’s no big deal when he kills Cifaretto for, essentially, making Tony face who he really is. The filmmakers go out of their way (even availing a dreamlike insert) to equate the stripper girlfriend Ralph murders with Meadow Soprano; and Pie-O-My is, in the show’s terms, a larger version of the baby ducks that kicked this whole thing off. One might say that Ralph Cifaretto dies for Tony’s sins. The quoditian violence is fun, but vengeance against self-knowledge is "The Sopranos"’ aglio e olio.

This is still the case in Season Finito. But, as Wolcott observed, things have gone a bit more sour. As the gears of the show wind down, and we lose dramatic velocity, we are being led – purposefully, I think – toward the natural result, not of the cartoonish violence –- that can and will go on forever, as it has – but of the pathetic disposition of the human cases to which our attention had been previously directed.

Take, for example, Paulie Walnuts’ recent crisis over the identity of his mother -- which leads, as it always does with these people, to a senseless act of violence. In this case the act is linked (by use of bridging shots of foliage) to Tony’s momentary feeling of well-being after he gets home from the hospital.

That is, I think, a very instructive segment. We’ve been watching Tony in therapy for years now. It has been amusing to watch him reduce his alleged therapeutic insights to things his narrow mind can understand – the Art of War, the "circle jerk of life." But I think the show’s creator, David Chase, has from the beginning been after bigger game than the comic juxtaposition of gangster ethics with movie stars, writers, academics, rappers, doctors, politicians, etc.

That particular fish-out-of-water gag was old when Billy Wilder used it in Ball of Fire -- but back then, Wilder’s time being what it was, the gangsters were the butt of the jokes. A lot has happened since then, and in "The Sopranos," the gangsters have usually had the edge. Nowadays there’s always a reason to think the straights have it coming. But eventually any viewer will come to think, at some point, that the hoods have gone too far. The Hollywood freebie schtick in the Kingsley episode chafes Wolcott, maybe because he is familiar with that scene and feels that Betty Bacall getting socked in the jaw isn’t funny.

It is and it isn’t. Chase has gone out of his way to link the Mob to just about every aspect of modern society, in an obvious social critque. ("Niggers!" the family man cries when his vehicle is jacked, followed by Tony admiring a Polaroid of his latest hot car.) But I don’t think that means Chase is shrugging to us that the Mob run things and whattaya gonna do –- because big-S Society is not really what the show is about.

Chase dropped a fat clue in the episode involving Charles S. Dutton as a traffic cop reduced by Tony’s pique. Tony tried to buy his psychic way out of the consequences of that cruelty; Dutton refused. That was the same episode (I believe) in which Tony wound up belt-whipping Peter Riegert’s corrupt politician, who had been Tony’s cats-paw in the affair.

By his own lights Tony is justified, and because we’ve been living with him so long, we sort of take his point of view (the politician was fucking Tony's old girlfriend, after all). That’s the power of character identification.

But even as we sympathize, we have to know that Tony's point of view is insane. How long can we keep in sympathy with him? When, as he once predicted for himself, Tony’s "dead or in the can," what will we feel?

Do you remember the episode in which Dr. Melfi sends Carmela to a shrink, who turns out to be an Old Testament Jew who swiftly advises her to take the children and get away from Tony, and refuses to treat her further? I thought of that moment during the current season opener, in which Carmela is childishly delighted with a new car Tony has bought her. It is astonishing to see such a strong character so reduced in the home stretch of a story.

Consider also last week’s agon of Artie Bucco – sort of a fool, but a fool out of Lear, whose privileged position as a noncombatant feeder of the troops and childhood friend to Tony allows him surprising latitude for truth. When Artie mourns in front of Tony the folly of his father’s simple idealism, and then cooks his maliciously-killed rabbit – "Some people don’t like rabbit!" – from a recipe out of his father’s old notebook, clearly we are not being led toward just another fun permutation of the life of a funny mobster-hanger-on. Even the joke of Nuovo Vesuvio turning into a coupon joint is not cheering. Against the impression the show’s previous success has given us, we are led toward an emotion that must (if we are still human) have been present under our laughter and even our sympathy all this time.

That emotion is disgust. The Sopranos and all their works are disgusting. You know it, I know it. Chase probably knew it all along, but now he is hustling whatever chickens have not yet come to roost into the death-coop at last. So now is the perfect time for Tony Jr. to implode, for Vito’s absurd gay-mobster story line, for Christopher to wear out what was left of his welcome -- and, I suspect, a lot more unsettlingly tawdry business to come, which will only seem out of key because the key has suddenly been changed.

This is the blight these mooks were born for. It is not a tragic fall, but an appropriately pathetic collapse. I am put in mind of the end of the ill-received Don Giovanni in Amadeus, when the demon clumsily tears down that upstage drape. It is not pretty and the house may not react favorably, but it is exactly right.

Friday, April 28, 2006

NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT. John J. Miller talks about a Neil Young song he hasn't heard (and "Rockin' In The Free World," which he says he heard, but obviously doesn't understand). Then he talks (and talks) about a movie he hasn't seen.

Warren Bell may be parodying all those previous "a mean liberal was mean to me" stories. But how would one tell?

Over in the logical fallacy department, Tim Graham tells us that the Washington Post is proved "thoroughly liberal" because its theatre critic detected anti-Reagan sentiments in a Tony Kushner play, and that Paul Weitz is the voice of Hollywood.

I understand that National Review pays these guys money.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

SEMI-REGULAR "I MAKE FUN OF LILEKS BECAUSE I AM AN AWFUL, AWFUL MAN" SEGMENT. Ladies and gentlemen, our Top Ten Thousand Laker:
She ate all her apples and declined the fries. I studied the bag, which reminded how McDonald’s always gets the graphics wrong. Maybe they connect with someone, but nearly every single example of McDonald’s graphics leaves me dead. Example from today:

(Thoroughly unremarkable marketing graphic)

Welcome back, 1977! The big quotes, the horrible roundy-edge coffee logo with the unnaturally conjoined U-M – it all shrieks Carter-era design.

Helpful hint, miss: see that thing on top of your portfolio? It’s called “a handle.” Give it a try.
That bastard Carter sans'd our serifs! And, whore -- no online portfolio for you! Is reserved for matchbooks!

(Steps forward, removes Elvis wig, addresses the audience)

I am actually a big fan of Ancillary Lileks: the celebrations of silly detritus, the found objects from dead popcult plus commentary, and so forth. This sketch was inspired by The Left and his uncivil speech. I don't approve of it, and I don't approve of what I just did.

(writhes; second, large and inhuman head emerges from first)

Fuck that cracker asshole! Fuck Lileks! Blood, blood and death to you!

(hissing, spitting, cloud of smoke, finis)

CHRIST NOT MAN IS KING
TELLING A HAWK FROM A HANDSAW. Crazy Jesus Lady is tugging sleeves again, offering unsolicited advice to the Bush Administration. As usual, her monologue includes ripe, flavorful Noonanisms that gladden my wicked heart:
Mr. Snow's White House press briefings are going to be nice to watch. The press does not want to appear to be ungracious and oppositional. They have an investment in demonstrating that the tensions each day in Scott McClellan's press briefings, with David Gregory's rants and Helen Thomas's free-form animosities, were the fault of Mr. McClellan, not the press.
I have no idea what she means. That the press will exalt Snow to slur McClennan? The idea is not to get a story, or even to make Bush look bad, but to lay obloquy at the doorstep of Scotty McClellan? "McClellan delenda est!" snarls the sleeping White House reporter in his pinstriped pajamas, clutching fiercely his saluting John Kerry doll...

But more striking than the mental hiccups is the reasoning. Three foci proposes Noonan for her unwitting freelance clients, and two of them involve getting the President to better explain the actions of his Administration -- the idea being that everything's great but the rabble aren't getting the message.

Point one is "Renew attention to Afghanistan. The American invasion of that country had the support of the world... Talk about what's being done, and how, and why." So hey, how's it going over there?
The Army's chief of staff said Wednesday that he was frustrated by security lapses at Bagram air base in Afghanistan that led to the loss of potentially sensitive data, and that the military must learn how to be more careful with new technology.

Weeks after revelations that flash drives carrying sensitive and classified information have turned up for sale in a bazaar outside Bagram, Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker said the Army was trying to improve how soldiers used and secured flash drives.
annnnnd...
Mariam Rawi, a member of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), has told the forum that despite Afghanistan receiving billions of dollars in aid, little has been done to address the country's lack of health services.

"(Afghanistan) is a land that is facing (a) health disaster worse than (the) tsunami," Ms Rawi told a lecture at the Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre in Adelaide.

"Seven hundred children and 50 to 70 women die on (a) daily basis due to the lack of health services...."
annnnd...
Australia warned Thursday of a high threat of terrorist attacks in the Afghan capital during celebrations marking the overthrow of communist rule by mujahedeen fighters...

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul posted a warning Thursday advising Americans to limit their travel in the next two days due to the holiday and two bombings Tuesday on the road leading to Kabul's airport, which wounded two people...
annnnd... scene. Though you can go back to the well and get corkers like this just about anytime. Curse that Em Ess Em!

Item number two is our wonderful economy, about which The People are not sufficiently sanguine. CJL tries a couple of angles of explanation: first, "Americans, a deeply savvy lot, never want to tell a politician he's doing well on the economy because their applause may lead him to feel he can shift focus to, say, colonizing Mars." (Pffft, yeah, like that'll stop him!)

Then -- and with this passage, the buzzing of a fly or a distant car horn may have suddenly shifted the Crazy Jesus Lady back to our temporal sphere -- "The biggest complaint I hear now from people who email me from all parts of the country is that they're being worked to death, longer hours at the office, can't see the kids. Gas prices are up and up, etc..."

Well, yeah. While even the hated MSM laud our "hot" economy, the punters are none too pleased with how things are going financially. As I've said before, higher productivity numbers mean that people who have jobs are working harder than before, and my uneducated guess is that most of those accelerating rat-racers aren't just laying up extra scratch for a Cayman Islands vacation or a summer home. We're a hardworking people, but in the face of wages and job security that are each going in the wrong direction, who wouldn't wonder why he has to run faster just to stay in place, and suspect that profits benefit from his sweat more than wages?

(Forgive my belaboring the point a moment, but this really is the hardest thing for conservatives to understand. They say things like this: "Pointing out the market's marvels will not console the worker who lost his job to a machine or a foreign worker. To him the process remains vicious and absurd. 'Why cut my job to save a few bucks?'" -- and then console the poor stiff by pointing out that "Job security no longer means fighting to keep the same job for 30 years, it means keeping ourselves marketable." Oh, well, great! I'm different from a 14th Century peasant, because I also have to go to night school! Get a further reality check here.)

The third CJL talking point shows that she is but mad north-by-northwest: when the wind is southerly, she can racebait like a champ. Americans are skeptical about Mexicans working on American soil. The results of the poll are inconclusive -- respondents seem to be responding more to drift in U.S. policy than to xenophobic impulses -- but a less generous reading warms the cockles of Buchananite hearts.

CJL recalls what a split between the Bush family and Pat's pitchfork brigade did in 1992, and hopes that, if she flings herself hard enough against the White House barricades, the Great Man will miraculously walk out and lift her lips to his ear, and take the populist bait. It may be, then, that she buried her lede. She may imagine that she is communicating in a code based upon the Rule of Three, with the first two ridiculous ideas as mere cover. Maybe such a code has been prearranged, and the boys and girls in the West Wing are now reducing it to simple words that the Commander in Chief can understand. We'll see soon enough.
GREETINGS FROM OUR NATION'S CAPITAL II. Thanks for all the well-wishes, folks. No horrible news to report from NIH. I'm still clinically interesting, though, so I'll be back.

Someone mentioned the Dada show at the other wing of the National Gallery -- I got that one in, too. The Dada movement was so successful, as PR and as a polestar for its initiates, that to this day it impedes my view of the actual work. For example, if I had only seen his work here, and hadn't also seen his great retrospective at the Met last year, I might not think much of Max Ernst -- interesting, talented, I might judge, but too much of a clown. Maybe this works against conceptual art more than other kinds, but for dummies like me the Dada brand has the same blinding power as Prada or Versace. (Interestingly, the ones who most easily override this effect, like Grosz and Arp and the unnamed genius layout artists of the Dada publications, are more graphic artists than fine artists. In a visually cheapened environment, good illustration always cuts through.)

The curators were very clever to break the exhibition into sections pertaining to each big Dada scene (Paris, Zurich, etc.), which emphasizes the Dada phenomenon over the art, and to provide lots and lots of signage. This sort of justifies its presence in a DC Mall museum: as soon as you enter the first gallery of grim World War I footage, you can tell this is teaching exhibit suitable to the Smithsonian (I know NGA isn't part of it, but close enough), and at least as these kids feast their eyes on all the weird images they'll be made to know it means something; later, when they're older and if they're interested, they can go a little deeper in.

In this spirit, it was a real pleasure to watch the performance of Antheil's Ballet Mechanique -- now, that's one guy I seriously doubt gets any more substantive -- with a gaggle of Catholic high-school kids, who were visibly amused by the goofy sound effects and dynamic shifts, and visibly bored by those passages unpunctuated by same. Nothing fades faster than last century's wisecracks.

UPDATE. Let me clarify a little. I am neither pro- nor anti-Dada; I love some of the artists, and I may like the rest better when I see more of them. (On the strength of his showing at the National Gallery, for example, I'd certainly like to see more Rudolf Schlichter.) But as the Gallery does a service, I guess, to the historical memory of Dada, I think it does few favors to the artists themselves, encouraging us to read their offerings as artifacts rather than as artworks.

I had a similar problem with last year's East Village USA show at the New Museum. Live artistic movements provide energy and community to artists; dead ones are just millstones round their necks. Who wants a Dada study? It reminds me of a kid I saw once at the Tate, copying in his sketchbook some ridiculous squiggle by Tracey Emin. (Maybe he was just making a statement; a few days earlier, a couple of guys had come to the Tate, stripped to their skivvies, and bounced on Emin's Bed yelling "I am Art!" until someone carried them away.)

Maybe part of the issue is the rejection of aesthetics built into the Dada manifesto. I've always looked at it as a brilliant McGuffin that gave some talented people, who'd been stultified by the standards of their time, license to break free. Enlightenment is always in front of us, but some of us need a guy to sell us a mantra. The fuse that lit the Soy Bomb is burnt out, and it is left for each of us to find (to paraphrase the poet Lee Hazlewood) his own brand new box of matches.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

GREETINGS FROM OUR NATION'S CAPITAL. Sorry for the delay in posting, but for this year's edition of Edroso Faces Mortality, budget considerations have forced me to take lodging at a Days Inn in Arlington, VA, which does not have computers available for use by guests. I'm entering this from a clinic waiting room at the National Institutes of Health, Building 10, where I am about to have something called a Dopamine Test. I'm not sure what it is but it sounds bad. Of course, one time they pumped me full of glucagon to make my heart race, then pumped me full of clonidine to slow it down, so this could hardly be worse, unless it involves a catheter. I hate those things. (Last time one of the doctors wanted to give me a test in which a camera -- a very small one, I was assured -- would be sent up my urethra. They couldn't get an anaesthesiologist, so this guy wanted to just do a local and go on ahead. Though a mere layman, I surmised that cramming a camera up my cock with nothing but a little Campho-Phenique to dull the pain was something to be avoided at all costs, and promised to get it done by my own doctors as soon as I got back home. (I still haven't, though. You rush to schedule such a procedure for yourself!)

I have so far had the usual revolting solutions, injections, and scans, but also a bit of liberty. Some of it I have spent traipsing the Mall. The high point so far, not likely to be topped, is the "Cezanne in Provence" show at the National Gallery. I'm not only ignorant but pig-ignorant of Cezanne, but I think this show, despite the absence of didactic signage, taught me a lot about him. The show is mostly landscapes, ranging from youthful effulgences like the Chestnut Tree and Basin at the Jas de Bouffan (in which a stunning lake of peach signifies the sunlit portion of a dirt path) to the severe abstractions of his old age. (A quote by Cezanne implies that deterioration of his eyesight enforced this approach -- he seems to have been resigned about it. Has someone written about the effect of optical disorders on great artists? I still remember an old medical ad that asked whether El Greco painted as he did because he was a genius or because he had astigmatism.) It was wonderful to see how many ways he could make foliage -- dabs, diagonal streaks, little impasto'd chips. Maybe because I'm simple-minded, it never ceases to amaze me that some little dark-green line in a pale-lime cloud of oil can make such an obvious mass of leaves, or that the table in The Cardplayers, which I took completely at face value for two minutes, is just a mass of burnt umber. This is mastery as observed by the children it makes of us.

Nuclear Medicine has paged me. More later.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

THIS IS WHY I TRY TO SLEEP IN ON SUNDAYS. On "Meet the Press" I saw a clip of President Bush delivering an oration with that fervency and straight-forwardness that his supporters love and which we have not seen in a while. He was defending Donald Rumsfeld. No wonder Bush is polling so low. When he defends the Iraq experiment he sounds like he's reading boilerplate, but he gets all hot talking about Donald Rumsfeld.

Then Mike Leavitt from Health & Human Services came on "The McLaughlin Group" to tell us that the problem with U.S. health care is that too many people are getting sick.

Speaking of health care, posting may be light over the next week as I am off to the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD to submit myself for examination pertaining to my mutant tumor-suppressor gene. Ah, well, it could be worse.
AND DON'T GET ME STARTED ON LITTLE DOT. I love the internet! How else would I have learned this breaking news about my dear old childhood friend Baby Huey:
Plans are now afoot to bring Huey back a la "Barney and Friends" in a live-action children's program. He recently appeared in a direct-to-video feature "Baby Huey's Great Easter Adventure" and also appears on Fox Family Channel's "The Harveytoon Show" and in "The Harvey Magazine."
When I was a child I took Baby Huey in stride, but now I realize that I was taking pleasure in the antics of a giant, retarded cartoon duck. With his primitive speech ("Duh-uh, he play good!"), his sudden, tearful rages, and his troubled family relations ("Huey's impatient and ill-tempered Papa usually finds himself at the receiving end of Baby's well-intended gestures," spins the Harvey website), Huey could keep a clinician occupied for years. And he wore a diaper! What could be more politically incorrect? Suck Harvey Comic dick, South Parkers!

Bonus points: the Baby Huey movie was directed by Stephen "Flounder" Furst, stars Maureen McCormick, Joseph Bologna, and Tiffany Taubman as Li'l Audrey, and draws this lovely IMDB comment:
Quite admittedly, this isn't the best movie in the world. But the fact that it's so camp-ish makes it better than if it had seemed terribly serious in nature. Then again, the only reason I have seen this movie so many times is that I am such a huge fan of David L. Lander (who is positively adorable here), and the inclusion of other classic TV stars is fun (if not a little sad that this is the best material some of them can get). My sister said of this movie after watching it, "It's bad, but in a good way." Very true. I love most of the music in here (but try not to laugh at a giant baby duck singing a heart-felt song about not belonging anywhere)...
Now I know what to pair with They Call Me Bruce at my next big double-feature party, assuming Netflix gets on the fucking ball.

Plus which, if there's any market for this at all, I'm sure Harvey will go for my proposed Cursin' Curtis, the Mongoose with Tourette's Syndrome™:



It's little more than a concept now, but with the help of David Mamet I think we might just have something.

Friday, April 21, 2006

'E KNEW ALL THE TRICKS... DRAMATIC IRONY, METAPHOR, BATHOS... Who can take Taranto (who can take Taranto!) and semioticize (semioticize!) until the room is piled with bullshit right up to your eyes... here's Jeff Goldstein on traitors (that's you, me, and us):
Which is to say, in the absense of some provable metaphysical Truth, many in the media or on the anti-war left (and right) have come to believe that there is a relativity to truth that justifies the use of rhetoric and persuasion in any way necessary to reach the desired end of convincing the public of the rectitude of their particular narrative.
In other words, liberals stick up for themselves because they're depraved. Rhetoric and persuasion -- the last refuge of a scoundrel!

(We often use mockery, too. Not that Goldstein would notice.)
SHORTER JIM LILEKS: Dance critics don't know as much about dance as right-wing radio hosts do. What, you think I'm some kind of puritan? I went to a museum today!
AND I SWEAR THAT I DON'T HAVE A GUN. As a qualified fan of the Second Amendment, I'm always surprised when gun nuts turn to New York as an arena for their obsessions. It's about the crappiest 2A argument imaginable: Our City's famous crime drop was largely based on confiscation of guns. And isn't social utility -- "an armed society is a polite society" -- the strongest, or at least the most popular, argument those guys have?

Thus I am pleased to hear of the great gun giveback in New Orleans, mandated by an NRA lawsuit, and some of the humorous details pertaining thereunto:
Some gun owners found the weapons were evidence in a crime and not eligible for release. Others did not have the proper paperwork...

Police Superintendent Warren Riley said police had legitimate reasons for confiscating weapons.

"We took guns that were stolen that were stashed in alleyways. If we went into an abandoned house and a gun was there, absolutely we took the weapons," he said. "Obviously there were looters out there. We didn't want some burglar or looter to have an opportunity to arm themselves."
All due respect to those who reflexively question police motives in witholding firearms, but I applaud the officers' reticence. In civil society, where you and I presumably live, a gun is usually not diddy's shootin' arn mounted over the fireplace, nor an exact equivalent of speech, but a portable deadly weapon obtained with a view toward use. Lord knows that in a semi-lawless jurisdiction, good people may wish to have them, and I would like to see them better able to do so, but I also see no earthly reason why they should not be required to own up to their possession.

So I'm not a purist. At least I'm not as anti-gun as Ronald Reagan.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

FIRST AMENDMENT "USE IT AND LOSE IT" ARGUMENT OF THE WEEK: Christopher "Glug Glug" Hitchens, talking about the Plame case at Hugh Hewitt:
There's been a terrible collapse of, and surrender of, the 1st Amendment in the last few years, and it's very largely the fault of a press that's lost all sense of proportion in its determination to get Karl Rove.
There is no zeal like that of a convert, but I'm amazed that anyone as proud of his intellect as Hitchens would be willing to mouth stark absurdities such as this on the radio. I guess he figured that, on Hewitt's show, no one would notice.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

CHINA SYNDROME. Chinese President Hu Jintao has come to see President Bush. He stopped off in Seattle first:
Mr Hu was all business at the start of his tour. Dinner at Bill Gates' house in Seattle, followed by a cafe latte with Howard Schultz, chairman of the Starbucks chain of coffee shops, then on to the Boeing plant, before moving to the east coast, with an itinerary that includes a speech at Mr Bush's alma mater, Yale.
This is not surprising. China is our valued business partner. Per this interesting story in China's People's Daily,
In 2005, bilateral trade between China and the United States rose to 211.63 billion U.S. dollars, an increase of more than 86 times over 1979, when the two countries established diplomatic relations.

China has become the third largest trading partner and the fourth largest export market for the United States, which in turn, is now China's second largest trading partner, with bilateral trade rising 27.4 percent annually between 2001 and 2005.
"Bilateral trade" is a polite term. "...in 2005, China's surplus with the United States surged more than 43 percent, to a record $114.7 billion, compared with $80 billion the prior year and $28 billion in 2001," reports the New York Times via CFO magazine. China sends us goods and services, made cheap by their gigantic and modestly-paid workforce, and we send them lots and lots of dollars.

This is not the sort of thing that roils conservatives much anymore, though a few get a little more exercised about Google, which a few days ago pathetically excused the censored version of its product it has exported for use in China. "It is not an option for us to broadly make information available that is illegal, inappropriate or immoral or what have you," said Google's Eric Schmidt.

One almost wishes he'd said, "Murdoch did it first." (And still does.) But Murdoch and Schmidt are not the only ones who cross a rather muddy culture gap to grab market share in China; while clothing wholesalers do not generally deal with censorship issues, they do benefit from the Chinese approach to labor relations.

As, one may say, we all do. We perhaps fear what might happen to our economy if we applied to our trading partners the sort of rigorous behavioral standards we occasionally, and selectively, apply to Arab dictatorships. Of course, it may be that we have reasons to fear in any case. But we ease our consciences a bit with the thought that it is not our decision in any case, but that of our business classes and their political enablers, who long ago won an argument about the primacy of the free market, and so have been allowed to work their will in he world unobstructed by noisome regulations, or even a second thought.

UPDATE. They seem to come up every time the President meets with folks like Hu: fantasies that our government will send a "message" to the tyrants -- a pro-democracy one, that is, rather than "Keep them cheap shirts and blouses a-comin'!" Are these fantasists trying to fool other people, or themselves? I could spend a lot of time wondering, if I had time to spend.
WHAT I WAS DOING 17 YEARS AGO. Found on YouTube:


Clearly things went downhill after that.

I don't know the etiquette of these things, but I have to thank EuckyCheese for getting this out in the open.
MULTIPLE PULITZER-PRIZE LOSERS SPEAK! This year's Pulitzer Prize winners are traitors, complain many conservatives in no danger of ever winning one (some of whom take time to graphically demonstrate why.)

Others complain that Pulitzer laureates are insufficiently respectful of powerful Republicans. "We'll have more to say about this year's Pulitzers as time goes by," darkly mutter the guys from Power Line, whose Time Blog of 2004 award must be looking awful lonely on the mantlepiece these days.

You hear it every year. It is a mystery. They brag constantly on the superiority of that alternate universe they call the blogosphere, yet piss and moan about the Pulitzers as if Joseph P. personally broke their prom date.

As usual here at this hardcore libertarian blog, my solution is market-based: Why don't these whiners just set up their own journamalism awards? They could call them the Coughlins.

Monday, April 17, 2006

OLD, YES. BURNED-OUT, YES. BUT I CAN TELL YOU THAT THE MEMORIES ARE STILL THERE. Hey look, Spencer Tracy's speech from the end of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner has been published on the web! It's even longer and more tedious than I remember. The faux-crusty attempt to show what a good, tolerant liberal he is -- man, that hasn't aged well at all. Some of the lines surprise me -- "The anti-Americanism now infecting so much left-liberal (and some conservative) thinking" I don't quite recall, but maybe he was thinking of the kids who embarrassed him at the drive-through or something.

Anyway it doesn't play as well on the page as on the stage, but I'm sure we'll see plenty of public readings of this hooey in the near future. With such muscular liberals as Michael Ledeen supporting it, it's sure to be a big hit among the blogeoisie.

Friday, April 14, 2006

SHORTER ROSS DOUTHAT: I'll still jerk off to Jennifer Aniston, but it won't be the same.
I HAD TO GIVE MYSELF AN EMERGENCY BAPTISM WITH BEER. Sister Mary Anchoress has hiked up her habit and hopped on that South Park bandwagon. Good news, Catholic-school classmates: pooping on Jesus is a-ok with the penguin if it makes the Anchoress look tolerant:
The “pooping” was designed, I’m sure, to see if some of the religious and right-winged folks who lionized the series last week (like me) would pop blood vessels this week - these Libertarian boys are still sly enough to make sure they push the right buttons! But I think they didn’t give folks on the right, and some religious folk, enough credit. We’re not babies, and we don’t spend all of our time crying victim and carrying on about “hurtful” messages and “mean-spirited” words. That’s a different gang of folk...
Different gang of folk? Does she mean the one that helped her write the first part of the same post?
(Please note: Comedy Central is owned by Viacom, which also owns MTV, which is doing THIS because it’s okay to mock Catholics and the Crucifixion. They don’t pose a threat.)
The THIS that riles the Anchoress is a "full-page advertisements depicting Jesus, wearing a crown of thorns but descended from the cross, enjoying a television program."

So right after bitching and moaning, she says her kind doesn't bitch and moan. Maybe ecstatic visions are affecting her short-term memory.

Coming next: the War on Whitsuntide!

UPDATE. Why do I get the impression that these people don't actually laugh at South Park? From the stiff way they write about it, they seem not to enjoy its jokes per se. If your reaction to a cartoon is, "Me, I was just happy to see someone, anyone, in the pop culture world confront some of the fundamental issues raised by the Cartoon Jihad for a mainstream American audience," I wouldn't consider that a rave. (Raving, maybe.) Is everything politics to them?

UPDATE II. I suppose I needn't link to the millions of extant examples of Catholics being all free-speechy and unwhiney, but this one is just too appropriate.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

WHO THREW THE IMMIGRANTS IN PEGGY NOONAN'S CHOWDER? PARTE DOS.
One night [after 9/11], about 11 p.m., I was walking home with friends, going north on the wide, dark highway, and we came upon a woman, a thick middle-aged woman, dark skinned and dark haired. She was with a baby in a stroller. She was, I think, not the mother but the grandmother. They were there alone, in the darkness. Affixed to the stroller was a hand-lettered sign, and on the sign were these words: "American You Are Not Alone -- Mexico Is With You." All alone and she came out with that sign, at that time. I have tried to tell that story in speeches and I can never make my way through it, and as I write my eyes fill with tears...
...of laughter, Peggy? Please say they were tears of laughter, provoked by the sight of new Mexican ambassador Juanita la Loca, offering America the protection of Mexico, and perhaps a bag of peeled oranges!

No, the Crazy Jesus Lady is still Crazy and Jesus and Lady, and now she's on about immigrants, in this case Hispanics who recently marched gleefully in New York while other ethnic stereotypes labored:
In fact, I did not see a single Asian in the march. They were all working, in the shops and on the street. They had no intention of letting yet another New York march get in the way of business. And you know, the marchers seemed to sense it. They didn't spend long in Chinatown. As far as I could see they didn't make it to Little Italy, either.
Actually I understand the Italians didn't march because they were all in jail. Or was it church? I do remember that the blacks were washing their cars -- oh wait, shit! That was the Puerto Ricans!* How did this march ever get started?

In the main CJL wants to tell us Routine Twelve, aka The Responsible Republican Position That Is No Position at All: "I think those whose primary concern is preserving the Hispanic vote for the Democratic Party, or not losing the Hispanic vote for the Republican Party, are being cynical, selfish, and stupid, too." The solution being a furrowed brow, an insistence on "continuing a system of laws" (which has obviously not worked and thus means the status quo), and another round of Johnny Jameson.

Things were no different in the days of Pegeen's immigrant forebears, as is shown by a recent black-and-white two-reeler that has mysteriously come into my possession:
East Side, New York. Someone plays "She's the Daughter of Rosie O'Grady" on a concertina. Camera pans up from kids playing skelly and stickball in the streets, along the blackened bricks of a tenement, to the window of the Noonans' two-room apartment. We enter as PA NOONAN holds forth to MA NOONAN and their brood of 19 children:

PA NOONAN: Can yez believe it! They're givin' our jobs t'a doorty Eye-talians! An' thim livin' roight down oor strait! Ha, but tonight -- (Holds a paving stone in one hand and a bottle of whiskey in the other) we'll giv 'em a party, complete wit' Oirish confetti! (Drinks deeply).

MA NOONAN: (Eyes rolled back in her head) Yerra, 'tis a power o' sorrow surely! Holy Mary, mither a' Gawd, pray fer us sinners...

(Six babies cry at once. MOIKE, a fellow-bricklayer of PA NOONAN's, comes into the apartment.)

PA NOONAN: Moike, ye stink loik a brewery, ye doorty beast!

MOIKE: Is it me, is it? I t'aught it was a diaper. (Quietly) I'm after sendin' the guns to Michael Collins an' the' boys. Sure an' Oirlan' will be a Republic afore Spring, I'm t'inkin, if we spill enough innocent blood! Here's yer cut o' the loot. (hands him money.)

PA NOONAN: Saints be praised! Now I c'n buy more whiskey! An' git Thomas Nast t' do me por-trait!

MA NOONAN: Now, Pa Noonan, ye should lay that money up. We c'n be good citizens now, I'm thinkin', an' be Senators and Presidents and maybe even socially-conscious fellas as sings on th' grammaphone.

MOIKE: (pointing out the window) Look, Pat! Chinkees!

PA NOONAN: (runs to window, roaring) Ye yella bastards'll niver take jobs from proper Americans such as oursilvs!

(They heave everything but the money and the whiskey out the window as the music swells.)
* It is well-established, of course, that the Polish thought it was Sunday.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

CULTURE WAR FOR DUMMIES. Here's a complaint at The Corner that an advertising campaign for a bank is "warm-and-fuzzy liberal hocus-pocus." The parody version that follows defies rational analysis.

UPDATE. The item has been pulled and updated since I first saw it. In case they pull it again, here's a screenshot.

The new wording is marginally less incendiary, but amazingly they left the parody ad. I doubt that whatever equivalence it is meant to demonstrate could be expressed in words; I suggest the author try interpretive dance.

In other world news, the Ole Perfesser suggests that the MSM is lying to you about Cheney getting booed on Opening Day. Nobody ever yells "Yankees Suck" or "Jeter is a faggot" at Fenway, either -- I mean, you never hear it in the broadcasts.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

SHORTER MATT WELCH: So long, suckers!

LONGER ROY EDROSO*: (* That's me, joy-poppers.) With all due respect, Welch has considerable credits as a journalist, and demonstrates keen intelligence on a daily basis, so when he writes something like this reassessment of his 2001 thinking --
“What do warbloggers have in common, that most pundits do not?” I enthused. “I’d say a yen for critical thinking, a sense of humor that actually translates into people laughing out loud, a willingness to engage (and encourage) readers, a hostility to the Culture War and other artifacts of the professionalized left-right split of the 1990s…a readiness to admit error [and] a sense of collegial yet brutal peer review.”

Man, was I wrong.
-- I have to ask: are you 12? Because the blogosphere was observably as big a bunch of bullshit in 2001 as it is now. Many of us who are certainly no smarter than Welch were pretty clear on this as far back as March 2002:
...witness the puffery (self-administered and otherwise) exhibited by the various "war bloggers." These are mostly right-wing operatives who every day spew great clouds of Bush Administration rah-rah (much of it devoted calling Noam Chomsky et alia some variant of "poo-poo head"), heavily scented with plugs for one another's sites and chest-pounding assertions that war blogs have saved America from being overrun by antiwar demonstrators. Therein politics is ostensibly the raison d'etre, but everything at these blogs ultimately devolves into a pissing contest: What a traitor this guy is! I get more hits than you, you're just jealous! Boy, that Rachael Klein is a dish!
(Rachael Klein, some of you may remember, was a Berkeley sex columnist whose work was sometimes used by internet dorks when they wished to portray themselves as fun-loving regular guys.)

I mean, was it not obvious to anyone who had attained a Deep South age of consent that the big names of the scene -- Den Beste, Reynolds, Goldberg, and so forth -- were posturing blowhards whose collective lack of talent was in a perpetual race to the bottom with their collective lack of common sense?

Remember crap like this?:
The only thing that would even remotely mollify American Jacksonians would be a clear indication that the people of France and Germany had themselves repudiated the leaders responsible for this. If French and German voters clearly indicate that they hate what happened, and dump all of the leaders responsible, and put a lot of them in jail, and if the new governments there clearly state that those who did it were indeed renegades, and apologize, then America's Jacksonians would then permit relations at a somewhat cooler level to continue.
Ngnnyah. And some people thought he was "the Thomas Paine of our age."

In times of high stress (like right after a massive terrorist attack), these guys sometimes expressed thoughts and feelings that were similar to those experienced by intelligent people. This did not make them intelligent.

Don't get me wrong. I'm glad the genuinely talented Welch has found a job in one of those squaresville MSM outlets, where he will presumably be recompensed for his loss of cred with cash. And when it comes to disillusionment, better late than never. But I still don't get how smart people (along with the bazillions of fools) got taken in by this scam. Hell, even when I was taking Internet Bubble money, I kept wondering when I was going to get caught.

Monday, April 10, 2006

OUTTA TRACTION, BACK IN ACTION. Thanks a lot to everyone who responded to my previous post about Mom. The death of a parent can make a person re-examine his value system. I'm not sure I can get too interested anymore in the puerilities that were once the stock in trade of this website. Maybe I should devote more of my time to holy shit a National Review nerd talking about Kids Today!
Torino's Winter Olympics showed what's the matter with kids: Many are rude, narcissistic, and spoiled to the gills.
Man, NatRev has long lead times! Maybe I should send them my review of Brokeback Mountain.
The Olympics once represented the best of America's best man- and maidenhood. Bob Richards: reverend and decatholoner. Rafer Johnson: sprinter and pioneer. Peggy Flemming: girl next door. Each etched deference, teamwork, and stoic heroism -- we, not me.
Three solo-event athletes offered as examples of "teamwork"! Long lead times and no editors!

Long story short, some Winter Olympians fucked up and the reason is a "culture... as toxic as Love Canal" in which "Self-esteem trumps the Golden Rule" and "Obscenity floods film." "By contrast," says the author, Curt Smith, at his own website, "Nixon's still The One -- the most enduring American of our time." He may have shit on the Constitution, but he never once grabbed his crotch.

I expand my thanks to include such purveyors of low-hanging fruitiness, for reminding me that it's always Crappy Hour somewhere. Like Mom used to say: "What is he, stupid?"

Sunday, April 09, 2006

THE FACTORY GIRL. She was born in 1922 in Hartford, Connecticut. Her family moved to Canada when she was young. We never quite got why, nor do we know why at age 15 she left her family to live with her Aunt Jo in Bridgeport. Evelyn didn’t like to talk about her past. We figured she had her reasons.

But she did come to Bridgeport, which was then a factory town full of jobs. Though Evelyn had only an eighth-grade education, she actually found work as a payroll clerk at Harvey Hubbel and then IGA Rubber, I think. It is easy to imagine her among the thousands clocking out at 5 pm of a weekday, walking with the crowd from the industrial district near the Housatonic River up to Main Street. Some days I suppose she grabbed a bus; on nice days maybe she walked home to Aunt Jo’s. I’m sure sometimes she stopped at Sol’s for a drink with friends. People liked her. She had the sweetness that often comes out of hurt.

She was 34 before she trusted a man enough to marry him. He was a handsome fellow with brown eyes and tightly-waved hair – I bet some of her girlfriends called him a greaser. He was about Evelyn’s age, and had been to the war, and then had knocked around Bridgeport at different jobs without ever really lighting on a career. His own father had a little success, but the son didn’t seem to have the same drive, or luck. Still, he was a good man, he worked hard, he dressed nicely, and he had a beautiful smile. They married, and quickly had a son.

They moved to a little house on the North End. They had a daughter, and I believe that was just what they wanted: a little boy and a little girl. Maybe that was when she was happy.

Evelyn stayed home while her husband worked, or looked for work. She got pregnant again. Her husband got a job driving trucks for General Electric. On his days off he re-sided their little house, worked in the little yard. He’d always worked hard, but now he seemed to work harder than ever, sweating more than a man should. One night he got up to go to the bathroom and it was only a few steps from their bed to the toilet but he couldn’t make it. He fell like a tree, and she couldn’t get him up.

Evelyn took her children to the funeral. She sat with them as her husband’s relatives came to the house and took food from the kitchen table and tools from her husband’s basement workbench. Her baby was stillborn. They dug up the cemetary plot, a little coffin was placed on the coffin of her husband, and the dirt was poured back into the hole.

Evelyn made sure that her living children were alright. She enrolled them in St. Patrick’s, a working-class Catholic grammar school with separate entrances for boys and girls, an asphalt recess yard, and nuns. She car-pooled with other parents to bring them to and from school. Every day she fed her children three meals appropriate to what she had been taught about nutrition. Each dinner contained one portion of meat, one portion of starch, and one vegetable. Sometimes she included a little bowl of salad. "Eat your salad," she told her children. "It digests your food."

Her children were different from other children: less secure, easier to tease. The best Evelyn knew to do for them was to make sure they had nothing to be ashamed of. She dressed them meticulously, and made God-damned sure that they did their homework and minded their manners. Adults appreciated this more than children did, but at least her kids knew they were right about something, and that helped them, to a greater or lesser degree, through their days.

While her children were at school Evelyn cleaned her house methodically, vacuuming the curtains, standing on chairs to dust the cabinets, pushing her mop deep into every corner and twisting it fiercely. She was still cleaning when her children got home. They heard her iron hiss and fizz as she worked it into the ironing table she had set up in the living room, as sunlight streamed through the little rectangular windows of the side door. They watched her mend clothes on a Singer sewing machine in the kitchen, and heard the dark hum of the motor when she pushed the plastic lever with her knee. And they saw her rubbing her skull at the kitchen table every month as she studied the bills.

She always managed. When her husband’s Social Security and Veterans’ Administration benefits weren’t going to make it, Evelyn worked part-time at some of the places that had employed her when she was a single girl. She didn’t take the bus or walk now, though; she drove; downtown Bridgeport had become lawless and scary. She didn’t stop at Sol’s for a drink either. She would have her drink on weekends, when old friends would come to her house and sit at her kitchen table and drink and play pinochle and sing old songs. Or she would have it at night, when the kids were in bed, and listen to sad country music on the record player. I don’t know where she picked up country music, but it seemed to suit her.

Her children got restless and talked back sometimes, but they never became bad kids, nor bad adults. The daughter lived with own family down the road; the son went to New York, and didn’t visit as often as Evelyn liked. The house was always clean. Friends came over sometimes with bottles and chips, and Evelyn took pleasure from that until the friends either died off or couldn’t get around much any more.

By then she couldn’t get around too well either. Her daughter visited often, cooking for her when she couldn’t handle it herself, and finally taking her into her own home. Evelyn’s son started coming to see her more frequently, but there was not much time left. And then time was gone.

Not all the gaps in this story are due to interests of space. There is a lot I don’t know about her. As I said, she didn’t like to talk about the past. I have just a few facts to work with, and some of them are shaky. The only thing that I am quite sure of is that she loved my sister and me. It may be the only thing in the world that I am sure of.

Here is a strange thing about that: I thought that when she died I would feel, besides the obvious sorrow, a very specific loss, the loss of her love. But I don’t feel that. I guess her love for us is something that has a life outside of hers. She had made it with her own hands, and she built it, as they used to build things in those old factory days, to last.

Good job, Evelyn.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

SERVICE ADVISORY. Family business; posting will be infrequent till further notice. The blogs in the left margin (the ones that still work, anyway) are good company.

Monday, April 03, 2006

90-PERCENTER.
Drudge's expose of a wacko environmentalist looking forward to the end of humanity through massive plagues was telling to me. In the long run, right-wing fundamentalism and left-wing fundamentalism end up in the same place.
This is so wrong in so many ways that only Andrew Sullivan could have come up with it.

First of all, Professor Pianka's notion that (per the source) "the Earth would be better off with 90 percent of the human population dead" is one that any intelligent human being will understand and, at times, share. Don't you bright young things feel this way at least occasionally? No? Well, read more English literature, then.

Misanthropy aside, Sullivan attributes without evidence a "left-wing" political POV to a single, eccentic herpetologist, and uses him to demonstrate an equivalence between "left-wing fundamentalism" and the millions of Fundamentalist Christians who think that the authority of the U.S. Government is secondary to that of their favorite imaginary beings as interpreted by TV preachers.

Why does Sully-Bear do it? My current guess is that he thinks moderation will come back into fashion and, having ridden the gay-conservative thing into the ground, he wants to stake out his new territory with a lot of pull quotes. (God knows Roger L. Simon and Michael Totten have vacated those premises, if they ever occupied them.) Plaguing both their houses is easy and fun. You can even insist strongly on your own rights as a gay citizen, so long as you also reach out, concerning same-sex matters, to conservatives of good will -- such as Pope Benedict XVI:
Yes, he reiterates the official doctrine about the exclusivity of heterosexuality for the God-given state of matrimony. But the logic of "Deus Caritas Est" can be read to include gay love as well, and lose none of its power.
I picture Rodney King asking "Can't we all get along?" while he's getting his ass beat.