Tuesday, September 11, 2007

HARDCORE. I have fond memories Canada's Subhumans, whose "Fuck You" and "Slave to My Dick" were party staples back in olden times. I certainly did not know this:
In 1983 [Subhumans founding member] Gerry Hannah was in the news, but not as a musician. Always involved in political issues, including environmentalism - one of his nicknames was “Nature Punk” - he linked up with a group of political activists called Direct Action, whose frustration lead them toward armed struggle. Among other actions, the group blew up an environmentally unfriendly hydroelectric substation on Vancouver Island and bombed the Litton plant near Toronto, which manufactured parts for the American cruise missile, a “first strike” nuclear weapon. Canadian authorities eventually arrested the group, known in the press as the Squamish Five, and Gerry was sentenced to ten years in jail. He was released after serving five years.

In 1995, Gerry and Brian reformed the dormant band for a western Canadian tour...
Blew up a power station and bombed an aircraft plant? Five years in prison? Reformed the band for a western Candian tour? I can't even approve of that. (The violence, I mean.) Sigh. I am officially a poser.

The Subhumans are still at it. Playing music, I mean. Here's a tune from their 2006 album -- or, for old times' sake, you can hear their 1996 remake of "Fuck You."
911PALOOZA! Jim Lileks celebrates Nineeleven by telling us Bogie and Jayne Mansfield would have been on his side and you Commie punks can have James Dean and Marilyn Monroe. Then he predicts that someone will make a shallow joke about him -- but it's the wrong shallow joke! Poor fellow hasn't been right about much of anything:
It seemed right away like it would be a big war, three to four years – Afghanistan first, of course, then Iraq, then Iran.
Instead, it's been a short five-year occupation and no boom-boom in Iran. Sigh. It's amazing what power tortured English Lit grad students exercised over President Bush and a mostly Republican Congress.

Norman Podhoretz also looks back in anger, adding Nixon, who "did not sound an opposing call to fight on to victory," to his list of traitors, along with McGovern, Archibald Cox, and the Internet, which has enabled "virtual demonstrations" as an "all-too-effective substitute" for real ones -- there have been plenty of those, but to admit that would give the Internet a pass and vitiate Podhoretz' shadow thesis that everything went to hell after Making It fell off the best-seller lists.

Melanie Phillips goes for discarded Andrew Sullivan talking points:
The liberal West, which worships at the shrine of reason, does not understand that ideas can kill. As a result Britain, Europe, America, and Israel have all left the battleground of ideas undefended, allowing the advance of falsehood and hatred. Worse still, our intelligentsia and media often act as an Islamists’ fifth column.
If "undefended" means "defended by such as Melanie Phillips," I can sort of see her point.

Around the time of the original attacks, I recall, there was a lot of talk about getting the people who actually sent the planes. The list of targets quickly expanded well beyond that, of course. Six years later, conservatives paint bull's-eyes on everything outside their own shrinking sphere of influence. A grim anniversary, indeed.

Monday, September 10, 2007

SAME SHIT, DIFFERENT DAY. At National Review, Donald Kagan compares anti-war Democrats to Civil War Copperheads and British Hitler appeasers, himself and his fellow neocons to abolitionists, and Bush to Lincoln and Pericles. This is listed among NatRev's responses to the Petraeus interview, and I suspect it sets the tone for forthcoming conservative articles on the subject. A quick look around their precincts bears out this theory: the battle order of the day will not be a defense of the General's charts but a denunciation of Democratic treason.

It is worth noting that today's session was mainly about a plan for withdrawal from an occupation which is disapproved by citizens of the occupying country as well as those of the occupied country. But neither the Democratic leadership nor the Republican Administration perceive a political benefit to themselves from a quick exit. So they talk about timetables and drawdown and leave it to their operatives to spin the analysis to their advantage.

It's as if they were engaged in some sort of game in which the preferred strategy is running out the clock, even though the clock goes to the first Tuesday in November 2008, at least. Of course, some strategists are still thinking about the long bomb.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

SHORTER MARK STEYN. People aren't going for our war narrative the way they should. I blame trial lawyers. Maybe if we keep saying "World War Four" they'll come around.
JEAN JAURÈS WAS A VERY, VERY BAD MAN. Volokh conspirator Ilya Somin asks "Why The Debate Over Socialism Isn't Over." Oddly, he waits till the end of his post to note that "I use the term 'socialism' to refer to government control of all or most of the means of production, not to more moderate departures from the free market, such as welfare statism or government regulation of industries that remain privately owned." For blogospheric purposes this seems to take the juice of out the whole thing, though many of Somin's commenters miss that bit and rave as if straight-up socialism still had a chance in the good old USA.

There have been a few elected Socialists in America. One, Jasper McLevy, was mayor of my old hometown, Bridgeport, from 1933 to 1957. All my dear old mother remembered about him was his policy on snow removal from city streets: "The good Lord put it there, the Good Lord can take it away." That's mainly what Wikipedia remembers about him, too.

You may wonder why a pretty big American city countenanced a Socialist mayor, however denatured, for so many years. Bridgeport was a working-class town that had several large factories which employed many working men and women (Mom was one of those) who wanted for themselves and their families what the labor leader Gompers prescribed: "More." (And in the Depression, when McLevy first took power, that meant "Enough.") The blue collar Bridgeport electorate, and my Mom, didn't give a shit who stood for them so long as he stood firm. That's why they liked McLevy. He embraced the New Deal more forthrightly than his Democratic opposition (which he denounced as "a group whose only interest is to exploit the wage-earner to the last ounce"), put in civil service reform and a Housing Authority, and engaged the capitalist enemy, so to speak, by working with factory owners to rehabilitate the city's finances. He was a roofer before he got into politics and he was less concerned with doctrine (his attachment to socialism was sentimental and Bellamite) than he was with sound management and protecting his constituents from those who would screw them. His 1938 slogan was "Don't let the raiders raid you." Everyone knew what he was talking about.

America has treated socialism the way it treats everything else: as something to be assayed and extracted according to the rigors of common sense. A quick glance at our history will show that some socialist ideas -- trade unionism and social insurance among them -- got traction with working people and were (once moneyed interests had no other recourse) woven into our capitalist system. The rest was chaff.

These are part of our lives now. As for the countries that Somin brings up in his denunciations, they haven't had so good a social laboratory as we. "Hugo Chavez's political success in Venezuela is an example of how some of the most disastrous socialist policies can be successfully sold to the people if combined with nationalism," he writes, "a lesson first taught by Hitler and Mussolini." I assume Somin did not trouble himself to consider the social and economic chaos out of which any of these polities birthed their tyrants, nor how these crises might have been averted.

So he reverts to the method of South Park schoolteachers: the umpteenth replay of "Hitler Was a Very, Very Bad Man," with Hugo Chavez and Kim Jong Il inserted in the lead roles. He wonders why "we have not yet completed the task of driving a stake through [socialism's] heart." He might ask Cartman, or any citizen who has seen in our era capitalism redefined as an ever-worsening deal for the non-rich. The Democrats, for all their faults and foibles, seem more interested, as the redistributive notions some of them are peddling show.

Conservatives often wonder why we don't join them in their nonstop pep rally against Communism, Socialism, etcetera. They say, and seem to believe, that it is because we are actually Communists, Socialists, and etceterists. I'm sort of an etceterist, myself, by which I mean I'm against all forms of political correctness, including Somin's. It warms my heart when Americans show interest in health care policies associated by conservatives with socialism -- not because I am a socialist, but because it shows a shrewdness in our people that ranting lectures about socialism cannot dispel. In a real marketplace of ideas, the idea of national health care would provoke not waves of bluster, but a serious counterproposal. Maybe if we sweat 'em a bit more, we'll get it.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

HOW WOULD BIN LADEN VOTE? This old game got a boost from OBL's recent mentions of Noam Chomsky, American politics, and Chomsky. Of course, in my own home version, the winning objective correlative to the bin Laden project is the sort of apocalyptic nonsense that folks like Rod Dreher spout about our ungodly modern society. In fact, one of the things I usually assume right-wing and left-wing types mutually dislike about jihadists, along with the murder of innocents, is their millenarian call to Come to Allah and revert to a new Dark Age with a Muslim rather than Catholic orthodoxy. But I acknowledge there are fringe players who would approve of such an arrangement.

In the wake of a different culture wargame, having to do with Hillary Clinton's evocations of African folk wisdom, Daniel Larison says that many modern American conservatives aren't really traditional conservatives at all:
...many conservatives, when pressed, will say that their conservatism is really just a mild classical liberalism, their declared religiosity is balanced by a strong enthusiasm for religious pluralism and their idea of valuable cultural production is the film adaptation of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. While busily exporting the "now much-talked-of system of liberty," to borrow a phrase from Patriarch Anthimus' Paternal Instructions, we create no enduring cultural life worth mentioning. There is some kind of culture out there, of course, but most of it will not be of any lasting significance because one of our main values is utility and our impulse is for building things for the present, not for posterity or eternity.
Larison's link is to a Chronicles rant by Clyde N. Wilson about how the 20th Century "strangled" American culture with "war, industrialism, Yankee pragmatism, and polyglot immigration," leading to "young white men, the heirs of two thousand years of Western civilization, [who] adopt baggy pants, earrings, backwards baseball caps, and primitive music because that is the nearest thing to a cultural expression that their American environment has ever exposed them to."

Wilson ends grimly:
Everything that America has produced in literature and music of enduring cultural value since the mid-20th century has come from Southerners who were raised in an environment that was still incompletely conquered by Yankee pragmatism. Whether our Southern bit of cultural residue will survive for much longer, and whether it can possibly do so without political separation from the American Empire, are questions that will probably be decided in the present rising generation..
Political separation from the American Empire... it seems to me the South tried that one before.

I don't think Larison longs for a deity to put our political affairs aright. (Wilson I'm not so sure about.) I do worry about anyone who thinks his disapproval of American culture is a relevant point of discussion in political affairs. Culture is not an object of reform except accidentally, and history shows very few positive outcomes from the desire to make it one. It's one thing to purify a drinking water supply, and quite another to purify arts and letters.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

A SICK FEELING. Having been highly uncharitable in a previous post, it pleases me to notice there is a sane discussion of health care costs at Dean Esmay's site, at which I am accustomed to hear only ravings. The post is inspired by one by Marc Cooper about a weird discrepancy Cooper observed in his medical bill between what the insured and the uninsured might be charged for the same procedure.

As some commenters notice, an uninsured individual might by various means get a break on his higher price. But the large numbers attached to medical procedures stir sober feelings among nearly all of them, and many have personal reminiscences that inform their tone.

I lately noticed myself the growing concern with health care as a policy issue, and I think this discussion gives a clue as to why that is. Anyone who has looked at a medical bill with his name on it and compared the cost to what he pays for the other necessities of life might experience a memorable moment of terror, even if he is at the moment protected by the blessing of insurance. Health care coverage is, for a lot of us, contingent on employment, and in this groovy entrepreneural era we have learned to think of job security as a joke. Having carried post-employment COBRA payments myself, I know how the nervous feeling increases as one drifts further from the corporate zone of protection. I've gone without coverage, too, for long stretches, but that was back when America and I were younger; we are both greatly changed.

In general, I think this has a lot to do with the recent decline in Republican vote counts. Scandals, bad war management, and other factors aside, the GOP has been pushing its Ownership Society message for a good long time now. Americans have gloried in self-reliance since well before Emerson blew "a whistle from the Spartan fife." But when the numbers run so high against so many, when bankruptcy laws tighten and the possibility of washing the slate clean and starting over in another town is rendered laughable by computer-assisted tracking data, when a mortgage can so easily become the instrument of a working family's catastrophe, even a Spartan may begin to feel that the fix is in.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

THEY LIVE. This is the first GOP debate I've watched, as opposed to relying on transcripts. Tell me: are all of these things animated Ralph Steadman cartoons? Maybe the glaring police-interrogation lights amplify the animal freakishness of these people, but damn. After hearing National Review compare Huckabee to Kevin Spacey, I wasn't prepared for the squint-headed, bug-eyed monster that actually raves under that name. And nearly all the rest of them are just tubes of meat that, when squeezed, emit a display of polished teeth and psychotic ravings.

The only human beings on the stage are Ron Paul and John McCain. McCain, God bless him, carries on a noble campaign for his own idiosyncratic version of insanity, which I admire because his is a recognizably human affliction, inculcated by years of torture followed by years of having to consort with greedy politicians who were certainly his inferiors. His quiet lunacy is very different from the noisy, slavering power-madness evidenced by the rest of these guys. He's like King Lear standing among (but not of) a pack of Pavlov's dogs.

And Paul, of course, stepped out of the 18th Century to defend the Constitution from these nuts. The Fox News scumbags sigh and giggle, but you can tell they're pissed that they foolishly allowed a debate to take place in New Hampshire, where a free man will always command an audience's respect.

The rest are humanoid pus:

Duncan Hunter: We treat our torture victims too well. Someone should drive a stake through this one's heart and bury him in unconsecrated ground. Thank God his spot-welded body, movie-monster eyebrows, and Queeg-like manipulation of his pen remove him from serious consideration.

Mitt Romney: Heh, heh, heh. Heh, heh, heh, heh. Civil liberties are nothing compared to my desire to be become a real boy! He's like a robot who, between 1994 and 1996, tried to follow his dream of becoming America's first animatronic Baptist preacher; didn't make it but, when called upon to pretend interest in the affairs of us puny mortals, often falls into the old evangelical cadences.

Tom Tancredo: Waterboarding? Torture? Where'd you get that? Oddly, when you close your eyes, he sounds like Spalding Gray with hydrophobia.

Rudolph Giuliani: You forget that, while people were criticizing me for flaunting my mistress, I cut taxes 37 times. I think even Fox has given up on him. His head is swiftly turning into a memento-mori AS YOU ARE, I WAS -- AS I AM, SO YOU WILL BE dessicated skull. Someone obviously told him the jig is up about 9/11 -- now he brags endlessly about what a prick he was running New York. Listen close, death's-head whorefucker: no one in Bumfuck -- and, you know, all America is Bumfuck -- gives a good goddamn.

And... oh, fuck this shit. I'm never getting out of the boat again. Next time I'll read the transcripts and lay out pictures of the Isely Brothers and pretend that's what they look like.

UPDATE. The National Review guys are devoted to denying reality. Andy McCarthy enjoys that the incredibly sleazy accusation by Chris Wallace that Ron Paul defers to Al Qaeda drew applause, but seems to have been out of the room when the crowd rallied to Paul's defense. Kathryn J. Lopez seems to think the New Hampshire crowd's obvious disgust with the malignant Giuliani is a baseball thing. Okay, K-Lo, have it your way: fuck the New York Yankees, fuck Rudolph Giuliani, and fuck you.

UPDATE II. Ron Paul is winning the Fox phone poll; Sean Hannity is looking around for a civilian whose head Fox will allow him to gnaw in frustration. I have reformed my views: the whole world should see how these people operate.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

NEW REALITIES. Jonah Goldberg joins his National Review colleague Jonathan Foreman in denouncing anti-American action movies. He says Shooter is leftwing "porn." (Funny, I though porn was our porn.) By way of illustration, he mocks the movie Network:
Ned Beatty could absolutely be a Montana Senator running his own private army of CIA goons and oil-pipeline engineers all around the world! And when asked about it, he'll deliver a stemwinder of a lecture that could have been written by Trotsky! It could happen! Really!
Jonah Goldberg in 2004:
Network is still an astoundingly relevant and good movie.
It may be that Goldberg's tastes have changed. But when did he ever have taste?
DIGGIN' A CHINESE DITCH. Jules Crittenden puts on his big-thinkin' hat:
The thing about China is, no one ever tells China “no.” Not in language China understands. I don’t mean the losers in Cambridge with “Free Tibet” bumper stickers who also do not care to see U.S. power exerted anywhere in the world. I’m talking about parties China might pay attention to. The United States government, the market forces the United States. China would respond well to “no.” Just look at the hoops China is jumping through over a little bad publicity. Money is important to China...
According to the US-China Business Council, China's total FDI [Foreign Direct Investment] inflows for 2006 were $69.5 billion. China's not the only party to whom money is important.

Crittenden mocks the "losers in Cambridge," but his own response to Chinese intransigence and illiberality is to assert that "I don’t think I need cheap Chinese crap that much," and fantasize about war ("The Thing About China is that we are bound to have a war with them... it could be a small war. It could be a big war..."). What makes his resistance any more valuable than that of any other loser -- whom we may define for all relevant purposes as anyone with control of less than a few million dollars?

I don't like China any more than Crittenden does. Maybe if we both write letters to Rupert Murdoch we can turn this thing around.
A LESSON FROM MR. CRAWFORD. Caught The Mob last week on Turner -- a slightly cheesy but tight little 1951 crime pic in which Broderick Crawford plays a cop who goes undercover as a dockworker to solve a case. It's very butch entertainment, with Ernest Borgnine and John Marley as goons, Richard Kiley and Matt Crowley as wiseguys with secrets, wonderfully cruddy cityscapes, and hopelessly flat female characters. At one point the cops trace a car by attaching a slow drip of some sort of liquid to the chassis: they ride a good distance behind the suspect, shining a black light on the road to follow the otherwise invisible trail. I can imagine a theatre full of 50s boys goggle-eyed at this high tech police work.

I fixated on Crawford. Most physically heavy actors who work well on film -- Zero Mostel, Victor Buono, and Oliver Hardy come to mind -- seem light on their feet, but Crawford never did. His weightiness made him a hard sell as a leading man. As did his mug: cruel mouth, small eyes, fat cheeks, broken nose. (Crawford described it as "the face of a retired pugilist.") But he had a surprising expressive range as an actor -- check him out as the professor of medicine in Not as a Stranger, where his toughness plays as stoic wisdom.

And he gives a neat little acting lesson in The Mob. As the cop, Crawford seems at first like a bit of a stiff, a conscientious lifer who just wants to do right by his job and his girl. His usual gruff voice seems a little cowed and worried. Then circumstances necessitate his transformation into a belligerent drifter. He walks into a dockside flophouse with his hat pulled down, one hand dug into his pocket, the other swinging a crummy valise, and the rolling gait of a guy used to having nowhere to go. He regards every person and object that falls under his gaze with weary insolence. He talks to the desk clerk and the bartender as if he expects nothing and wants everything. Olivier couldn't have done it better. He couldn't have done it as well.

As a teenager I saw Crawford give a rather lax performance at the Westport County Playhouse as the Coach in That Championship Season. The Playhouse had notoriously short rehearsal schedules and, from what I'd heard about him, I doubt Crawford threw himself into his work. Why would he? He'd been doing TV for decades. He knew the game. So he hit his marks and said his lines. At the end, though, standing down left with the trophy clutched in his hands, he listed to one side and fixed his eyes -- those tiny eyes, nestled in creases -- at the third row. He suddenly looked like three hundred pounds of dead meat. "Basketball," he rasped, "is no longer the white man's game." The audience laughed and his aging players took pictures. Up till then Crawford seemed a little off; now he seemed a million miles away. "I got you, Coach," yelled the photographer. The pile of meat stirred; a sigh. "Yeah." I can still hear it: The low string on a cello, frayed and woolly.

Monday, September 03, 2007

YOU FIRST! "Like J.H. Kunstler likes to say, we are wicked people who deserve to be destroyed." -- Rod Dreher.

In the post before that, Dreher nods approvingly to folks who think Al Qaeda and the Aborigines have it all over us godless humanists.

I used to think Dreher turned against the War on Whatchamacallit because of some late spasm of Christianity. Now I'm convinced it was because he despaired of a Christian revival, and hopes for fundamentalists of whatever stripe to come make us godly. This was sometime a paradox but now the time gives it proof, to quote that Shakespeare play that one of Dreher's anti-humanist heroes likes to bring up.
SKILLZ.

LACK OF SKILLZ.
A few liberal readers have taken offense to my suggestion that the "left" doesn't object to anonymous cruising for gay sex in public places...

First, I deliberately used "left" instead of "liberal" in the relevant sentence. But then I did revert back to liberal for most of the rest of the column. I probably could have been more exacting in the distinction...

Maybe I'm a product of my times, having grown up in New York City in the 1980s, but gay cruising in random places, specifically bathrooms, most certainly was part of the gay rights agenda...

I haven't paid that much attention to the issue in recent years, but I still don't seem to recall a lot of liberals expressing their disgust with bathroom hook-ups when Jim McGreevey's tale was revealed...
It seems fitting to say goodbye to summer '07 with Jonah Goldberg feverishly wrestling a rubber doll to keep it from fucking him in the ass.
NANNY STATUS. Ann Althouse worries about John Edwards' mandatory health care plan:
So, the mental health check is mandatory too? Why does he not even realize how bad that sounds? He's so warmed up about the generous benefits he's promising that he doesn't even hear the repressiveness in his own statements. I'm sure he won't be able to deliver on these promises. I'm just wondering about a person with so little sensitivity toward personal freedom.
Mandatory enrollment in a cradle-to-grave government scheme -- why, that's the stuff of totalitarian dystopias.

I do share Althouse's concern, though. Under this plan it's a coin-toss as to which of us would be locked up first: My anti-social attitudes sound a clear warning bell, as do the Professor's passive aggressive episodes.

I think it's a sign of how crucial the health care debate has become that Edwards is even proposing this. There is little danger for a Democrat in upping the ante this way. (Althouse may see this, too, hence the "I'm sure he won't be able to deliver on these promises" hedge.) And, were Edwards to carry this theme through to the general election campaign, I don't see a Republican getting much traction from claims that the Democrats want to put you in a nuthouse -- especially if Giuliani is the candidate. (Ron Paul might be safe, though.)

The political order of the day is a sort of selective nannyism. In security matters, Americans have already swallowed the idea that the innocent have nothing to fear from preventive detention, enhanced surveillance, etc. As health care climbs the charts as an issue, it may be that citizens will also decide that the sane have nothing to fear from mandatory mental health exams. Your average American is as convinced of his own sanity as he is of his own innocence, and with as much justification.

For amusement purposes, I hope this sort of thing keeps up. I would suggest the Republicans warn the people that a poor mental health grade might deprive some of them of their right to bear arms. Then the Democrats can wheel out James Brady to declare that Republicans want guns in schools. Then the Republicans can tell us that the Democrats' prescription for the mentally ill will be what Janet Reno gave the Branch Davidians. Then Al Gore can come out and explain that freedom doesn't mean much when you're drowning under twenty feet of melted polar icecap...

A few laughs on the way to preventive detention is all I ask.

UPDATE. Concurring Opinions suggests that the totalitarian angle on Edwards' plan is bullshit. I would have checked it out myself if I weren't having so much fun.
DA, DA, WE ARE McLOVIN! Attention comrades! Choose wisely your Labor Day blockbuster! At National Review, comrade Lowry assures us that Superbad is affirming of conservative moral values, while comrade Foreman finds The Bourne Ultimatum "one of the most anti-American movies made since the early 1970s." So enjoy approved tits and swears and avoid double-plus-ungood shoot-'em-up! Enjoy also your popcorn ration.

Ultimatum director Paul Greengrass' previous film United 93 was highly praised by NatRev's culture war review board. (Peter Suderman said, "Asking why this film was made is like asking why we go to funerals... We do it because we must," a pull-quote for the ages.) Greengrass' descent from patriot to traitor has been swift, but he should not despair. In 1999, Brad Bird was excoriated in the New York Post for making The Iron Giant, which had a nice Soviet robot in it. When he made The Incredibles, though, Bird was declared rehabilitated.

Of course Greengrass may still have to worry about the cultural journalism skills of Don Surber:
Based on my experience, women raising boys without fathers and urbanization are ending the hunting tradition. Disney and Warner Brothers certainly did not help the cause by depicting hunters over the years as shoot-em-up yahoos.
Even Bambi and Bugs Bunny aren't safe! I suggest Greengrass take a look at the long-awaited screenplay by Roger L. Simon and Michael Ledeen if he values his citizenship.
ON TOUR WITH OLD BLOOD 'N' GUTS. Ralph "Blood 'n' Guts" Peters has been sending dispatches from Iraq to the New York Post, and they are a delight. Here are some of Peters' most recent "I'll-remember-this moments":
Scrawny Iraqi police recruits chattering like excited birds as they marveled at the tattoos on a Marine weightlifter's torso: A flesh-and-blood metaphor for muscular, over-the-top America and our relationship with malnourished, bewildered Iraq.
Here's what our stateside poets miss: the opportunity to make metaphors of scrawny occupied peoples. Kipling might have appreciated the chance, but I expect he would have made more of it.

Peters continues in this expansive vein:
We were standing in Iraq's Atlanta, discussing Sherman. For one of those lightning instants when you grasp something beyond words, we both felt the timelessness of war and soldiering.
The glory that was total war, the grandeur that was Reconstruction. Well, five years after it was taken, Atlanta didn't have reliable electric service either.
Sitting in a plywood-partition office in a combat outpost with an American captain and an Iraqi Provincial Security Forces general as the Iraqi "complied" with the captain's request for three bids from local firms to deliver gravel to a dirt motor pool before the rains began.

Eager to close a deal that wouldn't do his own retirement savings any harm, the general laid down three pieces of paper. They were identical, except that one specified $800 per truckload, a second $750 and a third $700.

It was obvious that the bids were all from the same source and that the drill was simply to do things in the peculiar way Americans expected.
Who says they don't know how democracy works? Wait'll they get internet access. They'll be selling our own weapons back to us.
An old sheik, who had done nicely under Saddam, reminiscing about the days of no-nonsense law and order when he could drive safely on the spur of the moment from Fallujah to Basra. As the polite old man continued telling stories, it became heartbreakingly obvious that much of the post-liberation fighting between Iraqis and Americans had been the result of confounded expectations on both sides.

Living so long under Saddam - and previous stern regimes - men such as the sheik simply couldn't comprehend our rules or assumptions or philosophy, nor did we grasp the accommodations Iraqis had made with the concept of "laws."

We began by shouting past each other, and ended by shooting at each other.
This piqued my interest, till I read on and found Peters was speaking of Americans and Iraqis in general, and not of himself and the polite old man.

Peters closes with a long, funny description of one of Saddam's old palaces, during which he remembers that he hasn't said anything bad about liberals yet. "But maybe we could organize a tour that would take them to a few of Saddam's palaces," he says, "then to see the squalor in which most Iraqis live." I suppose we all have some idea of both pictures, and look forward to the day when both the palaces and the squalor will be eradicated. But I see we are almost done building a new palace in Baghdad, while the Army Corps of Engineers projects that Iraq will get sufficient power services sometime in the next decade. Also, I doubt even Peters could vouch for the security of our tour bus. So I'll pass on the offer, and continue to rely on Peters' dispatches, which are very revealing in their way.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

ART TRIALS. Well, I did my best with Clive James' Cultural Amnesia, but after 500 pages I had to set it aside, not out of fatigue but out of irritation. The writing's not the problem. In and among the dozens of essays, each dedicated to (but not necessarily about) a major figure of the 20th Century (and sometimes others), James reliably produces insights that have both force and delicacy, as with this bit on Pound:
Pound vaunted his ability to form explanatory relationships, but it was the very thing he could never truly do, even though, like any other paranoid psychotic, he tried to all the time. Nevertheless he had the talent to demonstrate that to go mad for detail might yield something, whereas to go mad for generalization leads nowhere... he thought that he could judge an empire by the metallic composition of its small change, just as he thought he could extract the meaning of a Chinese ideogram by the way it looked. In both cases he was too far from the mark for sanity. But if he didn't get the picture, he could at least see it...
When he likes his subjects James is even better: "Montesquieu can delay his judgement on Tiberius: a forebearance that not even Tacitus can show... Tacitus, as much fascinated as repelled, had his sense of irony exhausted by a satanically gifted individual. Montesquieu, less emotionally involved, saw a point about Tiberius that extended to all mankind." If you can't get with this sort of material, he also writes elegantly about Dick Cavett and Tony Curtis.

The book isn't all about art, though. James' 20th Century is a slaughterhouse, so by his lights Hitler, Goebbels, Stalin, Mao, Pinochet and other such like must be considered, as well as artists who either opposed or collabrated with them, or were their victims. On these subjects, too, James can be forceful and even subtle: Goebbels, for example, "was the preeminent Nazi advocate of Total War... but he was also a realist in a surreal world, the madhouse he had helped create." On Nadezhda Mandelstam, whose husband was executed by Stalin, James is even poetic:
Akhmatova encapsulated the anguish of millions of devastated women when she wrote: "Husband dead, son in jail: pray for me." But a romantic she remained, still believing in the imaginative validity of a love affair beyond time. In Hope Abandoned, Nadezhda was able to say firmly that her friend was mistaken. Love affairs beyond time were impossible to take seriously when violent separations are the stuff of reality. With real life so disturbed, the nature of romanticism had been changed. In the new reality, all love affairs were beyond time.
James is so good at finding such aesthetic kernels in the tragedies that came with totalitarianism that I was prepared and even eager to hear a lot more of them. Alas, I did, and the kernels lost their savor soon enough. Part of it perhaps could not be helped; the horrors of the century may have been unprecedented, but they certainly begin to resemble one another over long stretches of description, and after the thirtieth or fortieth outrage I wished an editor had gently told James that we get it already. When Dante went to Hell he took Virgil, and you need a guide at that level to keep the infernal circles from closing into a blind spiral on you.

James' solution is to place the artists -- or, when they won't serve, polemicists -- in the context of relevant totalitarianisms. Did they perform admirably? Ernst Junger, despite being "incomparably the most gifted writer to remain on the scene" -- that is, in the Reich, though never quite a collaborator -- "no amount of horrifying truth could induce him fully to admit that he made a mistake. His way out of such an admission was to blame the style of the times; i.e., to console himself that everyone was at it..." If you think that's harsh, see what European Reds like Saramago get:
When Democracy finally arrived in 1974, Saramago didn't trust it. Saramago had good reason to suspect that justice would never come by reasonable means. But when it showed signs of doing so, he did nothing in his discursive writings to justify his position the only way it could have been justified... but it was wholly untrue to go on claiming that the far left offered an alternative in itself. The price of sticking to such a proposition was to restrict his own frame of reference to the size of his study. There was a world elsewhere in which the common people, all over the planet, had been massacred by the millions...
You soon see there is no Third Way with James. Authors who don't get the message are failures on that basis, despite the merit of their prose. James does not quite descend to the sort of Konservetkult nonsense we regularly lampoon here because he is a true critic with a rigorous standard: as with Pound, the ability to see the object is some recompense, but to get the picture is what art should be doing, particularly when the picture is of an oncoming holocaust. This is an arguable point, and certainly not the same thing as the blind weighing and sorting of the propagandist, but weighing and sorting is done and sometimes to an absurd degree:
In the long view of history, Brecht's fame as a creep will prevail, as it ought to. An unblushing apologist for organized frightfulness against the common people whose welfare he claimed to prize above his own, he was really no better than Oswald Mosley and a lot more dangerous. Brecht's fame as a poet will depend upon a wide appreciation of what he could do with language, and there lies the drawback: because the more you appreciate what he could do with language, the more you realize how clearly he could see, and so the more you are faced with how he left things out. You are faced, that is, with what he did not do with language.
What Brecht did do with language James never addresses, but you can pick up his plays and poems and enjoy them, I would say, even if you are not an apologist for Stalin.

This sort of hectoring eventually wore me down, but I am still getting some pleasure out of riffling it, because now I can desultorily enjoy James' lovely anecdotes, textual analyses, appreciations, and even some history lessons, without having to fidget in anticipation of another session of his grim tribunal.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

WE ARE NOT DRUNKS. WE'RE MULTIMILLIONAIRES. The official end of summer is weeks away, but Labor Day announces the bell lap. Students are schlepping in; the nights grow less sultry. Have we wrung all the possible good out of our blessed time near the sun? Maybe not. So let's make the most of the short space left before the dropping of the iron leaf, and face life with the proper attitude. Here is an inspirational message from Withnail & I:



Enjoy your weekend.
POSITIVELY THE LAST LARRY CRAIG POST. Conservatives continue to contend that there's no hypocrisy in Larry Craig's actions. First, Jonah Goldberg tells us that "one can simply believe as a matter of principle or faith that marriage is the union of a man and a woman and that’s that while at the same time having much love or sympathy in your heart for gay people." Then he calls Craig a "pervert." Rod Dreher adds to this his usual obsession with gay men and bathrooms.

And... but why bother? The tools of reason are useless against people who are in full flight from reason. Better to contemplate how this argument would go down with normal people who are not in the semantic hair-splitting business. Hell, try it at Free Republic. Those guys may be bigots but they're no intellectuals. I should like to see Dreher exhort these proud members of the Republican base to oppose gay rights only in a spirit of Christian love. Soon enough they'll come to the conclusion that there's somethin' funny about Brother Rod.

I'm sick of it already. Bring on the next gay Republican!
SHORTER JOHN DERBYSHIRE. I say, deuced liberals won't allow one to enjoy racial humor, wot? (puts on ridiculous nightshirt, brushes rotten teeth with Marmite, and buggers a lad)

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

THE HEALING POWER OF LAUGHTER. Remember when National Review’s David Frum argued in defense of Ted Haggard that there was no such thing as hypocrisy? That must have been a trial balloon, because some conservatives are now using the idea as a defense of Larry Craig.

Mona Charen claims that she can’t find evidence that Craig “ran on family values” so, despite Craig’s support of Idaho's version of the Defense of Marriage Act, he can’t officially be a hypocrite:
I have no trouble saying that Craig should resign in disgrace. But the rest of the folks out there, particularly the lefties, who disbelieve in sexual disgrace (except perhaps where children are involved) can exult in cases like Craig’s only because this supposedly makes him a hypocrite. But what if he’s not a hypocrite? Suppose, as my admittedly hasty search suggests, he’s been pretty quiet about family values?  Doesn’t that mean the Democrats should be defending him?
I imagine Charen asking these questions in the manner of “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” and getting, as was gotten in the original context, the Big Ig.

Meanwhile Dean Esmay 's Kevin D.* offers the argument that secularists are the real hypocrites, man:
When pushing out one idea the void must be filled with another. You can't, as [David] Limbaugh points out, complain one group is legislating morality when you yourself seek to do the same thing.
So if you think, say, we should legislate against the persecution of homosexuals, you must also respect my legislation persecuting homosexuals. Otherwise you’re a hypocrite. Q. E. Duh.

As usual in cases involving gay people, Roger L. Simon pleads for tolerance, causing (again as usual) his commenters to roar their displeasure. One circulates a talking point from James Taranto’s Wall Street Journal defense of escort enthusiast David Vitter:
Hypocrisy does not mean saying one thing and doing the opposite. It means saying something that one does not believe…
So don’t call him a hypocrite -- he’s just someone who “weakened” under the awful strain of pretended heterosexuality.

We’re used to winger sophistries, of course. But this one’s in a special category. These guys are eager to defend Craig against charges of hypocrisy even as they accede to, and even demand, his resignation. Clearly they don’t give a damn about Craig, but they care deeply about negating the idea that their champions are hypocrites. They do it, I think, because hypocrisy inspires derision, which makes one's high horse about other people's morals less of an electoral asset, and that's an asset without which the modern American conservative movement is seriously weakened.

Hell, they're even making jokes about Craig themselves. Probably to keep from crying.

UPDATE. New reality: Larry Craig was set up. Defenders still want him out of the Senate, though. Sympathy and condemnation at the same time! This must be what they mean by "compassionate conservatism."

The Wall Street Journal:
Defenders of "outing" politicians argue that the cruelty is not gratuitous--that politicians are in a position of power, which they are using to harm gay citizens, and therefore their private lives are fair game. But if the politician in question is a mere legislator, his power consists only of the ability to cast one vote among hundreds. The actual amount of harm that he is able to inflict is minimal.
Clearly liberals should stop bothering gay anti-gay members of Congress until their number reaches at least a plurality. Which, given the trend, should be any day now.
Anyway, most lawmakers who oppose gay-rights measures are not homosexual. To single out those who are for special vituperation is itself a form of antigay prejudice. Liberals pride themselves on their compassion, but often are unwilling to extend it to those with whose politics they disagree.
OK, I've got a new idea: Keep the pressure on till growing conservative dismay at liberal "antigay prejudice" leads to sweeping legislative protections for homosexuals.

UPDATE II.Shorter Jonah Goldberg: Conservatives aren't uptight about sex. We laff at fags! Oh, and harumph harumph the humanity. (Must put that first.)

*UPDATE III. Fixed attribution on Esmay quote; thanks, apostropher.

Monday, August 27, 2007

LARRY CRAIG COVERAGE, CITIZEN-JOURNALIST STYLE. Democrats were Larry Craig first. Larry Craig is about the liberal media, semiotistics show. Larry Craig improves Republican prospects of retaining this Senate seat. Larry Craig should have punched plainclothes cop to demonstrate masculinity. Larry Craig is wrong on immigration, making his sexuality a legitimate issue. Larry Craig proves that active homosexuals must be purged from the Republican Party. Larry Craig proves that homosexuals are overrepresented in Congress. Larry Craig shows that closeted gay Congressmen can still be valuable allies in the war against non-closeted gay non-Congressmen.

Also, Citizen Journalist shocked to hear that gay people are targets of law enforcement.
BABY BOOM. A correspondent at Gates of Vienna charts declining birth rates in the West and blames "the disincentives to childbearing so readily provided by the welfare systems of Western countries." Those of us brought up on stories about welfare mothers churning out brats in order to collect more welfare may find this strange. GoV commenter Geraldo suggests that "Most of the problem is in school. Many girls/young women (ex, my daughter) dont want to have children because she was taught at school about a catastrophic world that is coming." As Gates of Vienna's primary subject matter is the coming clash of civilizations, I should think Geraldo's daughter, and anyone related to Gates of Vienna readers, would be used to such teachings.
HORATIO ALGER AT 9 PERCENT INTEREST. At National Review's Phi Beta Cons blog, George Leef notices a Harvard Business Online article about the choice to either stay in college or leave to seek one's fortune. The HBO author is sympathetic to the latter choice:
There are several arguments to be made on that side of the coin. First: as competition for college-educated employees increases, companies will become more and more motivated to use those without college degrees effectively in the workforce, in jobs that today would routinely require a diploma-in-hand as the price of admission. They will come to screen candidates in different ways, searching, perhaps, for the Simon Cowells among them: those who are bright, motivated, and will make them money.

A second argument: in their desperate search for college talent, companies will join professional sports franchises in recruiting individuals earlier and earlier in the pipeline. It will become a sign of your exceptional talent to proclaim that you were hired in your junior or even sophomore year in college. Only those in the lower ranks of the class will make it through as seniors.
The Phi Beta Con perspective in general is that all our citadels of learning are run by Marxist lunatics, which may explain why Leef highlights the author's claim that "a perception that at least parts of today's college education are actually not particularly relevant may pervade more and more young people's (and older employers') consciousness."

But an increasing number of Americans are going after college degrees -- including graduate degrees. The most recent Digest of Educational Statistics from the U.S. Department of Education:
College enrollment hit a record level of 17.5 million in fall 2005. Another record of 17.6 million is anticipated for fall 2006 (table 3). Enrollment is expected to increase by an additional 13 percent between 2006 and 2015... The traditional college-age population (18 to 24 years old) rose 15 percent between 1995 and 2005, which was reflected by an increase in college enrollment...
And (pdf):
Undergraduate enrollment rose 21 percent between 1996 and 2005. Graduate enrollment had been steady at about 1.3 million in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but rose about 59 percent between 1985 and 2005 (table 191)...

Growing numbers of people are completing college degrees. Between 1994–95 and 2004–05, the number of associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, first-professional, and doctor’s degrees rose (table 251). Associate’s degrees increased 29 percent, bachelor’s degrees increased 24 percent, master’s degrees increased 45 percent, and doctor’s degrees increased 18 percent during this period. The number of first-professional degrees was 15 percent higher in 2004–05 than it was in 1994–95.
I'll go out on a limb here and suggest that this upward trend in college enrollment and degrees has less to do with an increased thirst for the joy of learning than it does with students' (and parents') hopes that degrees will get them good jobs. The cost of degrees is steep and people are getting ridiculously deep in debt to obtain them. The shift toward private loans to pay for schooling has been a bonanza for a certain kind of lender:
Overall, student lending has been an extraordinarily profitable business. Sallie's return on equity, which was over 30 percent in 2006, is one of the highest among American companies, and its executives are compensated lavishly. From 1999 through 2004, former CEO and current chairman Albert Lord took home over $200 million. In 2006, current CEO Tim Fitzpatrick was paid $16.6 million in salary, bonuses and stock.
I have discussed here the popular notion among conservatives that our economy is doing so well that any negative perception by citizens of their own financial prospects is unjustified, and excited not by personal experiences but by liberal propaganda. From this point of view, I can see why they might also wish to believe that expensive degrees are unnecessary -- if your boy or girl has to drop out, he or she may still become a Simon Cowell. It's an optimistic view, in its way, of the sort that one might express casually when a friend finds that he just can't make the tuition payments. And in some happy cases it may even come true.

But people are digging deep to get those degrees if there's any way in hell they can be gotten. It's not easy for most of them, but they persist because they believe that opportunity comes with an ever-increasing price of admission, and they'd better pay it now before it goes up again. Because everything is going up, constantly. Maybe your grandpa went to the mill to earn the money to house and feed his family, but those days are gone: Your best bet is the diploma mill.

It doesn't look like a happy picture to me, but regular readers will know that I am not much of an optimist.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

FACE OF THE ENEMY UPDATE. Jules Crittenden, on vacation, gives the floor to one Theo Spark:
The West’s biggest problem however is…..the cancer of liberalism that is infecting our society. These are the fools who, having failed to turn the planet into a socialist ‘wonderland’ are now concentrating their attentions on the myths of ‘global warming’, the continuing struggle against capitalism (which gave them the internet, their new weapon of choice), and their standard anti-US mantra. They relish in the death of every ‘allied’ serviceman, fighting to preserve the very freedoms which give them a voice...

...The liberals are weakening our society, allowing our enemies to gain strength for the final onslaught. The worlds despots are surviving due to this weakness and millions are suffering as a result.

The title of this piece is ‘Is the West heading for Civil War? Unless we face down and defeat liberals the world over, we are headed for a civil war between the good and the gormless and the only people who will benefit will be our enemies.
Not finding in this post Sparks' recipe for the defeat of liberalism -- much less examples of our alleged glee at the death of coalition forces -- I visited his own blog. While it is clear that he likes girls except when they talk, he is short on policy prescriptions, which is perhaps for the best.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

WHY DON'T YOU GO TO THE STARDUST BALLROOM? IT'S LOADED WITH TOMATOES. Speaking of poor, misunderstood right wingers, a gay conservatarian says it's been hard for him to get a date because liberals are prejudiced against conservatives. At the end, though, he reveals he has found a boyfriend ("though more liberal than I"). I wonder if he observed the usual controls for such a study. Did he change his haircut, for example, or lose a few pounds during his dateless period? The data is unclear.

This stimulates discussion from the hetero perspective at Volokh Conspiracy, where Ilya Somin claims that "A great many people believe that it is wrong to date anyone whose political views differ significantly from their own." Again, the data is unclear, and Somin denies experiencing this alleged problem himself.

Plenty of discussion at both boards. My take is, getting laid is more fun than talking about how other people are to blame that you're not getting laid.
THE SOFTER SIDE OF RUSH. Our subject found himself at the tender age of 37 accused of being "racist, sexist, bigot, homophobe, mean-spirited, angry." But he overcame:
There are certain areas in the business that I am the most successful person in the world where I cannot work because of what I think. Now, I have not run around and bellyached and whined and moaned about it. I have accepted it as a badge of honor because I do not allow myself to believe that those people are better or more important than I am. Just the exact opposite. And I have found a way to work around it and found my niche here. I know what I'm good at. I'm doing what I was born to do...

Everybody has obstacles to overcome. Now, Eric said that he's heard me bellyache and whine and complain about things. Not within the context of being discriminated against! I've found ways to work around it. Everybody has to.
The speaker is Rush Limbaugh, and he's tired of people who can't see this is a land of opportunity, because if Rush Limbaugh can make it, despite his disadvantages, then anyone can. The tirade is set off by a mention of racism. And he accuses Democrats of exploiting the feelings of "a country half full of unsatisfied, malcontent, miserable, unhappy people" with bellyaching about racism and poverty, and rock concerts.

I am in general sympathetic to the notion that we should try to rise above our circumstances. Still, I would be shy about citing my own history as a white man with a college education (notwithstanding my humble beginnings) as a counterweight to historic racial discrimination.

Of course I don't know what it's like to be as rich and powerful as Rush Limbaugh. And it may be that when you've attained such heights, you might lose your awareness -- if you ever had it to begin with -- of what it's like to be without money and power. Then the people who do know what it's like, either by experience or observation, might look to you like miserable malcontents.

To give him some credit, I imagine he has noticed that there are more malcontents than there used to be. He may also understand that a healthy chunk of those malcontents in the half-a-country have been peeled away from the large Republican majority that was in effect when he was battling discrimination as a radio celebrity back in the Reagan era.

In politics as in market share, the game is to win such people back. If you're confident, you restate your case more boldly. If you're less confident, you complain -- that people don't understand you, that your enemies lie about you, that you, too, are a victim. It's actually your opponents who are the bigots, while you are "America's Real Civil Rights Leader." In advertising they call it repositioning, and Sears did have some success proclaiming its Softer Side. But it tends to work best when you can justify it with your product line. And it never helps to be so defensive.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

STOOPID ACE IZ STOOPID. Lofty social thinking, of the White Guy Trying to Be Helpful variety, from Mr. Ace O. Spades:
I guess this might be a reason to discuss the aggressively anti-intellectual -- or more accurately, pro-ignorance -- "Cult of the Authentic" which is more responsible for black failure than all the racism in the world.
Thereafter comes discussion of "thug life" and "culture of authenticity" -- as well as helpless laughter, as we discover Mr. Spades is talking about a black guy's entries in a freaking Facebook quiz -- a matter of cultural concern, according to Mr. Spades, because such language from a college man means that, among our dusky brethren, "this idea that intelligence is a sell-out to The Man persists."

I hope Mr. Spades will next bring his analytic skills to LOLcats, which phenomenon features lots of misspellings, and therefore must have been created by African Americans trying to make themselves look dumb for Al Sharpton or something.

I mean what else could it be? Humor? Maybe Ace can't see it because no one made fun of faggots.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

CENSORSHIT. Iraq bitter-ender Armed Liberal says that "we don't do purges, and that's a good thing," and has invented a derogatory "Moon Unit" award which he will give " to people who think that gagging someone -- with or without a spoon -- is an appropriate political response."

His first honoree is Atrios, who wrote:
Is Tom Friedman a Bad Person?

All signs point to "pretty hideous human being, one which all good people should shun."
Even Armed Liberal's commenters cannot achieve consensus as to whether Duncan Black's gag constitutes an attempt to silence Tom Friedman. Nonetheless, Armed Liberal predicts that "the progblogs are going to be racking up a huge number of these 'Moon Units.'"

I should think "gagging" would look more like this:
Life in an FBI muzzle is no fun. Two Connecticut librarians on Sunday described what it was like to be slapped with an FBI national security letter and accompanying gag order. It sounded like a spy movie or, gulp, something that happens under a repressive foreign government. Peter Chase and Barbara Bailey, librarians in Plainville, Connecticut, received an NSL to turn over computer records in their library on July 13, 2005. Unlike a suspected thousands of other people around the country, Chase, Bailey and two of their colleagues stood up to the Man and refused to comply, convinced that the feds had no right to intrude on anyone's privacy without a court order (NSLs don't require a judge's approval). That's when things turned ugly.

The four librarians under the gag order weren't allowed to talk to each other by phone. So they e-mailed. Later, they weren't allowed to e-mail.

After the ACLU took on the case and it went to court in Bridgeport, the librarians were not allowed to attend their own hearing. Instead, they had to watch it on closed circuit TV from a locked courtroom in Hartford, 60 miles away. "Our presence in the courtroom was declared a threat to national security," Chase said.
Or it might look more like this bullshit libel suit against PZ Myers.

Or it might look more like what the Army does to milbloggers. They're largely rightwing, of course, and censored by their own superiors, but I'm sure there's some angle by which liberals of the unArmed kind can be blamed.

But what do I know? I say mean things about conservatives all the time. Obviously I'm a one-man Legion of Indecency, trampling the free speech of wingnuts 'round with the world with the legally-non-binding force of my invective.

UPDATE. Gulagmaster Norbizness says of Christopher Walken's latest poor choice of vehicle, "I think it's official... nobody should remember anything good that Christopher Walken has ever done in his acting career." Not even Hollywood is safe from liberal terror! And I'm pretty sure I heard some hippie say, "Christ, what an asshole" about Bush. Developing...
AND NO, RED DAWN DOESN'T COUNT. Perfesser Glenn Reynolds on the War on Whatchamacallit:
In a decade or two we'll get a new revisionist history in which America was united against the threat, much like we're hearing today about the Cold War.
My memory's not what it used to be, but I think there were several Democratic Congresses during the Cold War, and even a few Democratic Presidents. How is it that the Sovet Union never invaded? America was obviously ripe for the plucking.

Yet not even the traitors' victory in Vietnam brought us even close to Soviet domination. A less convinced soul than the Perfesser might get the impression that the United States sometimes engages its forces in error.

Monday, August 20, 2007

ANNALS OF LIBERTARIANISM. Talking about the Giuliani health care plan, Megan McArdle argues that "As a class, the old and sick are already luckier than the young and healthy":
Moreover, as a class, the old and sick have some culpability in their ill health. They didn't eat right or excercise; they smoked; they didn't go to the doctor as often as they ought; they drank to much, or took drugs, or sped, or engaged in dangerous sports. Again, in individual cases this will not be true; but as a class, the old and sick bear some of the responsibility for their own ill health, while younger, healthier people have almost no causal role in the ill-health of others.

Perhaps they deserve it by virtue of suffering? But again, most of them are suffering because they have gotten old, often in high style...
Try to imagine this woman on a lifeboat.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

WRITING LESSON. Two interesting views of what was so awesome about 9/11, from two very different writers. First Christopher Hitchens:
In order to get my own emotions out of the way, I should say briefly that on that day I shared the general register of feeling, from disgust to rage, but was also aware of something that would not quite disclose itself. It only became fully evident quite late that evening. And to my surprise (and pleasure), it was exhilaration. I am not particularly a war lover, and on the occasions when I have seen warfare as a traveling writer, I have tended to shudder. But here was a direct, unmistakable confrontation between everything I loved and everything I hated. On one side, the ethics of the multicultural, the secular, the skeptical, and the cosmopolitan. (Those are the ones I love, by the way.) On the other, the arid monochrome of dull and vicious theocratic fascism. I am prepared for this war to go on for a very long time. I will never become tired of waging it, because it is a fight over essentials. And because it is so interesting.
Second, the man who quotes him, Rod Dreher:
I didn't, and don't, ultimately value the same things as Hitchens, but in reading this passage, I recognize his sentiment. To walk around New York City on that day and on the days that followed -- and probably to walk around where you live too -- was to see things with crystal clarity. As I've written elsewhere, that clarity, or perception of clarity, was more of an illusion than we could have recognized, and it led many of us to make bad decisions. Nevertheless, whatever one's view of the Iraq War, the feeling all, or nearly all, of us had on 9/11 and in its immediate aftermath was one of ultimate meaning returned to the world. Irony was suspended, and it was possible to feel not only real love for your neighbor, but love for your country, and a recognition of what you really did love, but took for granted -- until it was threatened. It couldn't last, but it was -- I have to confess -- a great feeling. All the usual bitching and moaning we do as part of our everyday lives ceased. We saw pure, uncut evil, and we knew it wanted to kill us, and we didn't know what we were going to do in response, but we knew we'd do something. And we were clear that Everything Mattered. Whatever else life was, it was no longer boring. We lived in interesting times.
One of the things I still admire about Hitchens' writing is that I believe him: not his belligerent analyses, but his portrayal of his own thoughts and feelings. He identifies clearly the personal obsessions that informed his strange reaction to the horrible event -- the multicultural versus the monochrome. He puts responsibility for his feelings on himself, and dares the reader to find him insane, because he doesn't care what the reader thinks. Hitchens seeks not to beg his reader's attention and understanding, but to command it.

Dreher has none of this. To speak in the first place of "the feeling all, or nearly all, of us had on 9/11" is a glaring sign that even in confessional mode, Dreher thinks in groupthink, and his announcement that our group feeling was "one of ultimate meaning returned to the world" shows that he can't even get groupthink right. "It couldn't last, but it was -- I have to confess -- a great feeling... And we were clear that Everything Mattered." Even if you weren't there, you'd have to doubt this, it's so phony. The problem is that Dreher can't take ownership of his own strange thoughts -- he has to project them on all of us. I think in the back of his mind he knew he was saying something awful, and so sought to offload responsibility for them.

If you can't take responsibility for what you're saying, you might as well shut up.
THE FACE OF THE ENEMY. The Times ran a lengthy disquisition by filmmaker Errol Morris about the famous picture of the "Hooded Man" from Abu Ghraib, and the guy who said he was that guy but wasn't really:
The problem was not a lack of research. Yes, there was archival material that could have cast suspicion on the claim that Clawman was the Hooded Man. But the mistaken identification was driven by Clawman’s own desire to be the iconic victim, to be the Hooded Man, and our own need to believe him. It is an error engendered by photography and perpetuated by us. And it comes from a desire for “the ocular proof.” A proof that turns out to be no proof at all. Indeed. What we see is not independent of our beliefs. Photographs provide evidence, but no shortcut to reality. Photographic evidence – like all evidence – needs to be seen in context. It needs to be evaluated. If seeing itself is belief-laden, then there is no seeing independent of believing, and the “truism” has to be reversed. Believing is seeing and not the other way around.
Uh huh. Well, it was a picture of somebody with electrical wires stuck to him. Which is why I was at first puzzled by a post at the site of war journalist/supporter Michael Yon which linked to it:
While we sleep, enemies define us.
What enemies did Yon mean, I wondered? Ali Shalal Qaissi, aka Clawman? Was his quest for fame some sort of Al Qaeda psy ops? Did his moment in the spotlight convince people there was torture at Abu Ghraib, or did all the photos of other tortured subjects, and the subsequent courts-martial, do most of the convincing? Was Yon suggesting that Qaissi's story proved the whole thing was a hoax -- one that took in even the United States Army?

I got a clue as to his meaning from the commenters on the Morris story who, it is reasonable to assume, would not have bothered with some artist's musings in the treasonous Times unless directed there by a higher authority:
...How many Iraqi prisoners died as a result of “torture” at Abu Ghraib? Now compare that to the number of American soldiers who have died as a result of an emboldened insurgency, emboldened by an agenda driven New York Times splashing 40 straight front page stories on this self-esteem “war crime"...

...To the left, gwbush is the real enemy. nothing else matters. More muslims are free than any time in history but their diseased minds can only fixate on that which he had no direct control (and if you THINK about it, was direct result of the clinton policy of eliminating regular army divisions and using national guardsmen and women to do jobs professionals used to handle)but what difference does any of that make. If a republican does it, its EVIL...

... Show me beheadings, severed ears, fingers, genitals, etc., then I’ll buy “torture”. Oh wait, that’s the ENEMY who does that. Until then, this constant braying about how this is “torture” only serves to embolden the enemy...

...The self loathing hate America leftists so overplayed this story that my perception of the overwhelmingly leftist American media becoming cemented in it’s disgust...
For them, Abu Ghraib's just another Beauchamp -- another MSM assault on our fighting men who guard us, as Kipling said, while we sleep. And that is what they mean by "enemies."

Thursday, August 16, 2007

RACE MEN. Daniel Henninger offers an especially incoherent Wall Street Journal column today, perhaps owing to the high excitement in which it was commenced.

We may surmise that, good culture cop that he is, Henninger was on the prowl for proofs that Diversity is Bad when he hit the jackpot: Robert Putnam’s alleged findings that ethnic variety causes a lack of faith in some institutions among some people.

Henninger, like Rod Dreher before him, is overjoyed to find academic support for his own miscegnophobia:
Now comes words that diversity as an ideology may be dead, or not worth saving... Short version: People in ethnically diverse settings don't want to have much of anything to do with each other. "Social capital" erodes. Diversity has a downside.
If you, like tens of millions of other Americans, actually live among different kinds of people, yet consider your social life happy and vigorous, don’t bother to tell Henninger –- not only will he characterize your tone of voice in the traditional rightwing way; he will also rebut your daily personal experience with a 43-year-old anecdote:
Give me a break! you scream. What about New York City or L.A.? From the time of Sherwood Anderson's "Winesburg, Ohio" through "Peyton Place" and beyond, people have fled the flat-lined, gossip-driven homogeneity of small American "communities" for the welcome anonymity of big-city apartment building--so long as your name wasn't Kitty Genovese, the famous New York woman who bled to death crying for help.
The fellow who killed her was black, you know. So you just wait, liberals –- your precious ethnic friends will murder your daughter, and then who’ll be the racist? (Both of you, Henninger clearly hopes.)

After this noirgasm, Henninger’s thematic force dwindles, and seemingly at the edge of sleep he murmurs all sorts of right-romantic nonsense: Don’t trust foreigners, but trust them enough to leave immigration unrestricted; we could make a religious exception for anti-diversity, but better we should magically make everyone middle-class, etc.

Clearly, for Henninger the Big One was the opportunity to broach the politically-incorrect solution of getting everyone segregated for their own good. Even church talk offers but faint thrills after that.

What animates conservative commentators against diversity so? Their complaints against silly seminars and such like are easily shared, but columns like Henninger's suggest that in their heart of hearts "diversity" is not just a nuisance, but a code word for "integration," which people such as they have been fighting since Brown vs. Board of Ed at least. It's telling that Henninger starts by denouncing diversity classes and comes (or cums) so quickly to Kitty Genovese.

The sulfuric whiff pervades even the work of younger conservatives who do not -- I don't think, anyway -- feel racism in their very loins. Take Ross Douthat, opining on Glenn Loury’s findings on race and imprisonment rates in America:
Loury's essay emphasizes the racial elements at work in the system, and they're real enough, but our incarceration policy is sustained by cool reason as much as racism. Mass incarceration emerged out of prejudice, yes, but also as a rational, albeit draconian, response to a social crisis: We lock up young black men by the hundreds of thousands because it's the only sustained response that we were willing to muster to the large-scale familial and social breakdown that helped sustain America's thirty-year crime wave.
Cool reason? Rational albeit draconian? He seems to be saying that we just had to lock up lots of dark-skinned people to make our white asses (feel) safe.

To be fair, Douthat does offer an alternative plan to mass black arrests: Bill Clinton’s ("more cops on the beat"!), of which plan (and its success) Douthat seems never to have heard, but which he thinks conservatives should claim in a “Nixon can go to China” sense. Still, he might have argued against the relevance of race, and focused on the classes of crimes that draw disproportionately heavy prison sentences (like drug offenses).

I guess he couldn't help himself; it's a right-wing thing. Between the fall of Jim Crow and the publication of Charles Murray's famous sociological treatise, Niggers are Stupid, most conservative writers were -- perhaps out of a (justifiable) sense of guilt -- somewhat reluctant to touch on race. Now they're fascinated by it and spout all kinds of gibberish to the effect that the dark are indeed different from you and me (assuming you and me are white) and we only need new, academically-approved ways to explain it to Americans who, unfortunately for their cause, have been brainwashed by decades of integration against accepting their message in its original Lester Maddox version.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

WILLING SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF. Wayne Barrett's epic examination of Rudy Giuliani's 9/11 claims hasn't been refuted much by Giuliani's online fans. Maybe that's because it would be difficult: Barrett's work is very solid. But they're more likely hoping the story, being contrary to the well-engineered "America's Mayor" narrative, will fade away. Ross Douthat is plain about it:
No doubt such a story would draw the most blood if it appeared in N[ational] R[eview], but really, it would draw more blood, or at least attract more right-wing attention, if it appeared almost anywhere other than the Village Voice. I'm no great Rudy booster, but I'm much, much more likely to take this kind of story with a grain of salt because it appears in an extremely left-wing alternative weekly (but I repeat myself) that did nothing but bash Hizzoner, sometimes fairly but usually not, throughout his mayoralty.
Even without answering a single point in the story -- or in any other "unfair" piece of reportage -- Douthat says that its publication in the Voice "makes me automatically inclined to approach it with more skepticism that it may deserve."

As I've said before, Giuliani's fans love his blazing authoritarian streak so much that they'll overlook his inconvenient abortion politics. Why should this topic be any different?

Speaking of which, ten years after Giuliani lost his Federal suit to sustain a Koch-era executive order that "barred city employees from turning in illegal immigrants who seek city services like police protection, schooling and medical care" -- a reversal Giuliani had said would "create chaos in New York City" -- the former Mayor has pledged to end illegal immigration. At National Review Rich Lowry proclaims, "When Rudy says that, you can believe it."

I might fatalistically welcome a Giuliani Presidency on the grounds that it will inevitably force these folks to reckon with the fact that Rudy Giuliani is implacably and irreversibly devoted to nothing except Rudy Giuliani. But that day will never come. If Giuliani dismembered a fetus in the Oval Office, they'd register a strong complaint and then get back to cheering our invasion of wherever. They want a bully, and seem to understand, if dimly, that he will sometimes choose to practice on them.

UPDATE. Fixed some of the historical data.
THE TROUBLE WITH LIBERTARIANS, PART 45,882. If there's one thing libertarians care about more than your rights and mine, it's the rights of people with lots of money:
The Washington Times reports that Clarian Health, an Indiana hospital chain, has started charging obese employees and smokers more for their health insurance coverage—$30 and $5 more, respectively, per paycheck. As in the case of companies that refuse to hire smokers (or fire them when they test positive for nicotine), I think decisions like these should be left to individual employers, who cannot force people to work for them and, by the same token, should not be forced to hire people on terms unilaterally imposed by one party. Still, I understand the complaints about increasingly nosy bosses who seek to pressure or punish workers into changing their off-the-clock behavior even when it has nothing to do with job performance...
Jacob Sullum understands those complaints, but as von Hayek once said, money talks and bullshit walks. Why should corporations have to take care of a bunch of feebs? Healthy, strapping youths -- that's what's wanted. Surely you see the laissez-faireness in that.

And anyway, the real danger is universal health care. As Sullum points out, the government can be positively nannyish about smoking and such like, nagging and scolding. How much better to be financially penalized for it by employers. And if you don't like it, you can always quit your job and find another one, hopefully before this trend spreads widely enough (who doubts that it will?) that clean piss, blood, and lung-tissue samples become a de facto condition of employment, leaving those of us who drink, smoke, etc. to fight for scraps with the ex-cons and illegals.

Libertarians do seem to understand that each man should be free to go to hell in his own way. Unfortunately they never seem to catch on sometimes people are sent to hell by whims and quirks of fate -- catastrophic illness, say, or a shift in the employer class' understanding of what they can get away with. No doubt the staff of Reason is comprised of Randian supermen who will rise above all adversity, but when the rest of us schmoes observe a working world where it becomes easier to lose what few protections we have, the horror of intrusive government is very, very far from our minds.
SHORTER JAMES "BUZZ" LILEKS: I and Minnesota ain't dumb. Are we, Minnesota?

("My, they do have a grand opinion of themselves," says Lileks of "Poses," who turns out to be "a Santa Monica-based entrepreneur" who won the licensing rights for a New Yorker cartoon board game to be sold at Target. The actual New Yorker staff quoted in the LA Times story think the game's a great idea. To be fair, maybe "have a grand opinion of themselves" refers to some lady with a Democratic bumper sticker on her car, and a hippie.)

Monday, August 13, 2007

KONSERVETKULT UPDATE. The Friday after Brad Reed's and my American Prospect article appeared, I could find no film reviews at National Review Online. Shaming works! I thought; advantage: blogosneer!

Hubris, my friends, that's what that was. Conservatives still see culture war in some unlikely places.

The encouraging thing about this Weekly Standard article is it focuses on conservative artists who are actually trying to do work. You may think actor Steve Shub silly to say "I don't want to know what [movie actors'] agenda is in life because the whole idea is that you're supposed to seduce people into suspending their disbelief, just see the character," when of course he's in the article because he has consented to lay out his own agenda ("radical Objectivist") to the reporter -- but at least he's working a venerable show-biz PR hustle (like the actresses of olden times who annnounced they would only do nude scenes if they had artistic merit, whether or not anybody was observably asking them), and I can respect that. If artists can con moneyed wingers into giving them financing -- "the Human Rights Foundation will sponsor Schub's 'Afro-Celtic Yiddish ska' band, the Fenwicks, on a mini-tour this fall" -- I say swindle, comrades, and God go with you.

The reporter, alas, opens the show with a smoke-and-flashpots vision of Hollywood evil: Larry David.
...the very attractive female lead in the musical invites Larry into her dressing room for a quick fling. The liberal New Yorker is game, making out with the starlet until he notices something not quite right: a picture of George W. Bush beside her vanity mirror. Disgusted, he turns away, deciding he'd rather let his gift expire than have sex with a Republican.

To many conservatives, this vignette neatly sums up Hollywood's ideological monomania: Left-wing politics trumps even a good old fashioned roll in the hay.
I'm surprised his editor didn't query this: a TV star turning down sex? Maybe it's part of this "comedy" thing we've been hearing about.

At Red State we are encouraged to consider "Is Fight Club a 'Morally Serious' Movie?" Not necessarily a ridiculous topic, but get a load of author Leon H. Wolf's terms:
The moral objection to the first half of the movie typically goes that the movie is violent, and that violence on the screen is objectionable. This is an idea in which I find little merit, from a Judeo-Christian perspective. Recall that in the Old Testament, stonings (a particularly violent form of execution) were to be performed in front of the entire community, so as to encourage the rest of the community would learn to have the proper fear...
Why all those people in the multiplexes are cheering the Dolby explosions when they should be running in terror to their pastors is beyond me.

Later the author admits that "the movie pays homage to objectionable Rousseauian ideas concerning the primitive state of nature." C.S. Lewis is quoted -- the bit about men without chests. You can smell the rat there. Not all his observations are crazy, but his idea of the "morally serious" comes out of the same stew-pot as a thousand conservative essays on the Dark Age of feminazism and self-esteem. It gives the whole thing an air of peg-cramming to make an obstreperous film fit into depressingly standardized value hole.

And guess who Dr. Helen doesn't like anymore? Drew Carey. He made jokes about Bush, and speciously interpretted data on feminism ("The questions may be phrased in a way that does not allow one to know why the pollee answered the way he or she did"), which is of course vitally important in a freaking TV game show, from which these offenses are culled. Carey "was much more politically incorrect" a few years ago, sighs Dr. Helen; "I wonder what happened to him?" Some commenters suggest his Big Media masters jerked his chain. (Does that explain Leno's Bush jokes?) Another suggests his taste for "pron" is "starting to have a negative impact." Finally someone says "TV is a waste." In the kingdom of the blind, etc.