Monday, March 31, 2003

NO SATIRE, PLEASE, WE'RE MINNESOTAN. James Lileks, a huge Simpsons fan since time immemorial, slags the most recent episode. Key complaint: you can't make fun of British people because the Brits are our allies. To make his point, he invents a guy who can see into the future, and places him at the original Simpsons story conference (a device I thought went out with old krauts in Tyrolean hats muttering "This Hitler will be the end of Germany, mark my words"):

"...Well, I'm just thinking -- say we're at war in a year, with Iraq, okay? Britain would be our closest ally, and it's quite likely we'll be hearing all sorts of stories about battlefield valor, as well as casualties. This line is going to look really stupid. I mean, these guys were there for us in the Afghan thing just a few months ago. The Brits love our show. Why kick them in the yarbles they so obviously possess?"

Got that, America? Stop laughing at Guy Ritchie, Simon Cowell, and the Upper Class Twit of the Year. Willing coalitionists are off-limits! And that goes for Eritrea and Mongolia, too. A list of approved humor targets will be issued by Homeland Security as soon as we figure whether the Solomon Islands are in or out.

Jacked-up prairie pundits, on the other hand, are always good for a larf.
REBUILDING, ALWAYS REBUILDING. I see the Mets stunk up the joint on Opening Day, losing to the Cubs, 15-2. Not a promising start for Glavine (8 hits, 5 runs, less than 4 innings pitched). I was nervous about that trade from the get-go; the Mets seldom acquire big names until they're just about washed up. Atlanta sure didn't fight for him. On the other hand, from all reports Mo Vaughn did not trip over his own big fat ass today, so who knows; this year they could go all the way.
NOONAN: NOW FOR A NICE, HOT SOAK IN THE BLOODBATH. Peggy Noonan tells us that an extended Iraq war will be good for us -- despite the greater loss of life: "Easy means fewer dead and less dread." she admits. "But -- a big if somewhat grim but -- there is some good to be gotten from the long haul."

Chief among Noonan's imagined benefits: "The world will be reminded that America still knows how to suffer." (One pictures America as G. Gordon Liddy, holding its hand over a flame.)

American's fighting men and women -- those who are not killed in this cojones-proving stage of the war -- will also benefit: "They are not going to feel when they return that they got all dressed up and the party was canceled."

I've said this in more entertaining and clever ways before, but this woman is nuts.
DIFFERENT WORLDS. Read the quotations from Yasmin Alibhai-Brown Instapundit is using and ask yourself, does she really sound, as he has it, "very, very thin-skinned"?

I think she sounds extremely reasonable, particularly in describing the atmosphere of the program she was on (taken from IP's site):

As I walked in, people in the front rows were already hissing and hooting to undermine me. Geoff Hoon got massive applause immediately afterwards. Obviously delighted, he looked 10 years younger suddenly. . . .

Now I think Question Time has become much better since it started to allow more assertive challenges from audience members -- the old reverence has gone and an excellent thing too. Panellists should be able to deal with the cut and thrust of hot exchanges. But when it tips over into the Jerry Springer mode the programme loses its stature...

It's interesting that Instapundit chose what to quote, and what he posts still does not support his characterization of Alibhai-Brown (to whom he refers as "Ms. Brown" -- bwa ha ha! Them's some funny right-wing yuks!)

Increasingly we live in different worlds, the left and the right: we haven't spoken the same language for some time, but now, we don't even seem to read the same language.
OI'M A YANKEE-BLEEDIN'-DOODLE-DANDY, MATE! Andrew Sullivan's a piece of work, isn't he? Today he's calling out traitors again. In his current dishonor roll, he equates Nicholas de Genova (whose comments at Columbia are, if reported correctly, genuinely anti-American) with The New York Times.

Let's see. De Genova wished for a million Mogadishus. The Times reports news comprehensively, and has never, to my knowledge, wished aloud that Saddam would win so much as a battle. The paper's headline today reads, "Infantry Attacks Baghdad Defense With First Probes" -- subheads: "Slower Pace, Not a Pause," "Armor Advancing," and "Army and Marines Take on Republican Guard to Shape Big Fight." Not a Mogadishu in sight.

Yet Sullivan characterizes this as "a paper whose editors have already assumed -- or can barely conceal the conjecture -- that the war is lost

Yeah, if they were real Americans, they'd be running New York Post-style "Wipeout!" headlines, not this nuanced shit.

The Times has about seventy thousand Pulitzers, bureaus in every corner of the world, and a reportorial and editorial staff that is the envy of every newsgathering organization on the planet. Sullivan ceaselessly complains that they aren't giving him gigs. Bias may not be the reason, Andy.

Sunday, March 30, 2003

PUT IN MY PLACE. Sasha & Andrew's Roundtable pointed to this "Which Band Member Are You?" quiz, so I went and took it. The result you see here. I started out as a guitarist and lead singer, but the past few years of holding down the bottom for Lach have apparently mutated my personality. (It's easy for anyone familiar with musicians, or musician jokes, to see which way the test responses would lead, and I must say that had I taken the quiz in my chandelier-swinging six-string days, I certainly would have obtained a different result.)

Like Peter Boyle said in Taxi Driver, a man does a thing and then he becomes what he does. I'm not sure I believe in destiny, but today more than yesterday I do believe in habit.
TRICKLE-DOWN DIVISIVENESS. Fight the real enemy, cries Andrew Sullivan: "The day of reckoning is not just coming for Saddam Hussein. It's coming for the anti-war movement."

Further down, Sullivan advises on "what the anti-war movement must do now if it is to regain credibility." If his ultimate goal is to give millions of his fellow Americans the Saddam Hussein treatment, why would they listen to him?

In Saturday's New York Post, Adam Brodsky writes, "When the big bombs went off in Baghdad on the first night of this war, I felt like beating my chest." He explains: "It tells the world -- in the only language it understands -- that America will defend itself." (emphasis mine)

Intelligent people can disagree about the war on Iraq, but in the war of a handful of American conservatives against pretty much everyone else on the planet, it would appear the sides have been chosen for us. "With us or against us" is having a most ominous trickle-down effect.

THAT TODDLIN' TOWN. My post on Chicago at the Alicublog Archive (soon to be a major motion picture, released directly to Super-8) prompted this response from my filmmaker buddy Steve Baker of Dallas:

I remember being there for a few weeks in the late '70s. I stayed at the
downtown residential "Y" for $4 a night. Very low-budget tourist wanderings
on my part: jazz bars, Polish restaurants, earnest theater, Heileman Old
Style on tap everywhere (pretty shitty beer, actually), and just taking up
the streets and skyline and lake.

I had a feeling that I could like it there very much.

Here in Dallas, a bar opened up recently, calling itself, "The Corner Tap,"
with a subtitle yet: "A Chicago-Style Neighborhood Bar." So with a certain
wary nostalgia, I entered.

Inside, I found a decor that was heavy on neon, post-industrial metal and
glass, with some misplaced retro lamp fixtures that looked purloined from
TGI Friday's. The joint was fairly crowded with a largely yupp-ified bunch,
so I pushed my way to the overly-gelled blonde barkeep, and asked him: "So
what's about this place that makes it 'a Chicago-style' bar?"

"Damned if I know," he shrugged.

A NIGHT ON THE TOWN. We have a "Summer of Sam" dog in our little corner of Williamsburg. (I refer to the dog whose ceaseless barking helped drive David Berkowitz to serial murder, at least in the Spike Lee movie.) At odd times of day or night this animal delivers a series of short, outraged barks that can go on for hours without variation in pitch or volume. The other night he went at it for some time till something went off that sounded like a BB-gun shot and he fell silent. I wondered if maybe that was the end of him.

The dog was still quiet late Saturday night when I went to play bass with the band at some new club in Manhattan. I had to take an amp -- a Randall Jaguar, borrowed months ago when my own rig began to blow farts and I couldn't pay to fix it (still can't) -- and, being hobbled by a sinus infection, eschewed the subway and hauled it in a livery car. I knew, by an instinct honed over long years of rock experience, that my pay from the show wouldn't cover the cost of the ride. It made me think of Chuck Berry in "American Hot Wax," when Alan Freed told him that the payroll for the performance he was about to give had vanished. "Well, rock 'n' roll's been good to me," said Berry, "I guess I'll do this one for rock 'n' roll!" (In reality, of course, Berry always counted out his bread, and probably checked each bill under a blacklight, before setting foot on stage.)

As I walked into the club, a gaggle of young women in downtown nightwear (all accessorized with noteworthy handbags) marched out of it, one of them announcing, "It's just too early! We can come back later!" The place turned out to be a former restaurant, gutted but not appreciably refurbished save for a lacquered little bar. Track lights were screwed into a scarred grey ceiling, and the bands set up at the far end of the filthy, checkered linoleum floor. A handful of people disconsolately wandered the darkened space. Punk and garage tunes played on the crummy sound system. It was like some of the old places I'd played, except the beers cost six dollars and no one seemed happy to be there.

We bashed out a set. I couldn't use my compressor because there weren't enough electrical outlets. I cranked my amp and made do. The bass drum of the small, borrowed kit Billy was beating was inaudible. There were no stage monitors. Lach's guitar sounded like a mandolin run through a boombox. We played, as had the Pinball Wizard, by sense of smell. Nonetheless we found a few grooves and I was drenched in sweat halfway through. But my mind wandered: Too much treble? Somebody's trying to dance, maybe I should push the beat -- too late, they stopped. I wish I'd taken a longer nap. Is this the thousandth show of my "career" yet? Will balloons fall from the ceiling if it is?

The club didn't pay us. Lach tried to slip me a few bucks, but I demurred. In these situations the high road is the only path that bypasses self-disgust.

Just as we were leaving a very tall woman took the dancefloor and jacked her body to "We Gotta Get Out Of This Place." She wore black hightops, black jeans, black t-shirt and black leather jacket; her hair was dyed black and matted and her pale face was kind and tired. Her jeans rode down on her ample hips a bit, displaying a gentle roll of fat. She reminded me of a girl I used to play music with years and years ago. She lived at Westbeth with her father. She was poetic and punkrock and every time I left her place after rehearsal I kissed her goodnight and she was always reclining and soft-featured when I did, but I only kissed her and took off, except for one time at a party, and I didn't see after that except one time years later, when we ran into each other in the waiting room of a discount psychotherapy place where we were both seeing shrinks, and she had several thin scars across both her arms.

I could easily have crashed when I got back home but I had a promise to keep. Earlier that evening I'd run into an old friend at the laundromat, and he'd told me that tonight was the last night of the Right Bank, a venerable bar at which I'd played back in the day. He'd said I should drop by, however late -- and do you know, as old as the claim of the place was on me, I felt it still. So I washed my face and wandered out.

The Right Bank was emptying out when I got there. Those who remained were of a familiar sort -- young hipsters in rockstar jerseys and flared denim jeans, older demimonders in eccentric hats, a cute and popular bartender in a short, polka-dotted vintage dress and dreadlocks and tattoos who was cheerful and theatrical with everyone and was like that all the time, I guessed, except for the hours and days when she could do nothing but cry and take drugs. The few people I knew talked to me about the things they were doing these days. One was doing campy plays in outlying districts of Los Angeles and working her connections to get an advice column in one of the New York papers -- "because the younger people don't know how to be fabulous," she told me as her boyfriend, an apparently recent college grad, buried his face in her neck. "Like for example, they don't know how that you should wear a big hat. There's a new editor at the New York Press, they were snarky for a while. I want to write about how young people try to take over your personality, like in 'All About Eve,' except for real. Do you know what I mean?" That was the only time she, or anyone else there, asked for my response to anything. The room was like a hangar in which small, brightly-colored egoes hovered.

When I got back to my apartment that dog was barking again.

Friday, March 28, 2003

FUNNY OLD WORLD: "Variety reported that [Michael] Moore is working out a deal with Mel Gibson's production company, Icon Productions, to finance 'Fahrenheit 911.'" -- UPI.

There's a pre-production meeting I'd like to attend:

So ya see, Mr. Gibson, Bush is just as much a terrorist as Bin Laden!

I dunno, Mike... maybe it'll make more sense to me in Aramaic!


UPDATE: Apparently not. I was trying out enetation's comments feature. Help!

FEELING TOO HAPPY? Here's something to bring you right down from the "World Briefing" section of the New York Times:

Clocks in Israel were moved ahead one hour this morning for the country's version of daylight saving time. But clocks in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip stayed in standard time. Since 1987, the Palestinians have refused to change their clocks at the same time as the Israelis.

An old item at the Darwin Times says that this issue actually came up in 1999, when "Israel insisted on a premature switch from Daylight Savings Time to Standard Time to accommodate a week of pre-sunrise prayers." (According to WebExhibits, the Israels decide each year when they'll make their change.) "Palestinians refused to live on 'Zionist Time.' Two weeks of scheduling havoc ensued..."

The Middle East is so fucked, we can't even get these guys to agree what time it is.

DEAR HEARTS & GENTLE PEOPLE: I just got a very nice note from an ideological adversary. That's always disconcerting, as it takes some of the pleasure out of my bedtime fantasies, in which all enemies of freedom roast in Hell.

One of the sweetest people I ever met is now a pretty big-time right-wing writer. I haven't seen him in years, but back in the day he was very civil and patient with my halting attempts to think and speak on politics.

I sometimes think I should be more like that here. And that may be why I've been picking mainly on the blogospheric big boys lately. In addition to being insufferably jacked-up blowhards ("Indeed," indeed!), they're always accusing me and my buddies of loving Saddam, hating America, and murder. Fuck them.

But if I find a new kid on the block talking nonsense, I'll make a point of being sweet reason itself. Till I get called "idiotarian" or "traitor" or such like. Then all bets are off.

DEATH SQUADS II: Just noticed this at Lileks -- there's a picture Salam Pax posted of "the building he says gives him Internet access."

So maybe we haven't heard from SP because someone noticed, and blew it up.

Professor Reynolds! Assemble some of your pro-war protestors outside Jasperwood and yell, "Shame! Shame!"

DEATH SQUADS. I see Instapundit is poised to blame the BBC if anti-Saddam Iraqi blogger Salam Pax is, or has been, killed. Help me out here. SP has been covered to death (so to speak) in the Blogosphere for weeks -- I first heard of him via Lileks. As for his BBC coverage, I have seen only this report, and it had nothing on the guy that I hadn't already read in weblogs.

How then is his peril the Beeb's fault? Maybe there was a BBC broadcast at some point containing something like, "Salam Pax, of 23 Jihad Lane, who likes to take walks, unarmed, around 5 p.m. every weekday..." but I haven't seen it.

It seems very odd that the blogbrethren, who are always bragging about their reach and effectiveness, now claim their extensive coverage of Salam Pax constituted a secret shared by discreet friends until Big Media deigned to notice.

At least Sgt. Stryker should be happy.

Thursday, March 27, 2003

FEW LAUGHS GOOD, FEWER LAUGHS BETTER! For a satire site, the Onion is pretty even-handed about its political targets -- why, Andrew Sullivan cherry-picks gags from it for his winger readership all the time. But the war seems to have challenged them in this regard, as one can only make so many jokes about stupid protestors and remain hilarious. So the Onion's recent Iraq-related spread, "Operation Piss Off the Planet," has a lot of items that would seem to mock the Bush agenda.

Your basic Onion fan (like this pro-war but reasonable fellow) says that's life and enjoys the jokes. But someone apparently felt the need to redress the balance, and created his own, more conservatively-correct version called The Lemon -- at least, that's the only excuse I can see for aping the format but, instead of parodying the site (as Mad did), just making sure that most of the jokes were about stupid protestors. (Sample headlines: "FOX news condemned for 'Flagrant centrist bias'" and "Saddam praises news coverage of war"). The obligatory Glenn Reynolds shout-out has followed.

As I've written elsewhere, the Right wants American culture and it wants it bad. I would suggest that doing conservative versions of pre-existing cultural artifacts is not the way to go about it -- just as the efforts of some well-meaning folks to find the "liberal Rush Limbaugh" are equally doomed. Culture is made by artists, not rip-off artists.

I expect we'll see an uptick in stridency all across the board as things get uglier here in Nuthouse America. Say, that was pretty strident in itself. See?
ANOTHER DAY IN ANDYLAND: Iraqi forces are fighting hard in Najaf, and Andrew Sullivan observes: "When you're cornered, this is how you fight. But it is also reminiscent of al Qaeda and other Islamist fanatics. The virus has spread far and wide."

Huh? Their country's been invaded, they fight back hard. This is "reminscent" of any army in the same situation.

Pointing out such non-sequiturs these days invites traitor-treatment, which may be why people generally leave them alone. Here's why I can't do that: I notice that, having declared themselves keepers of the Orwell legacy (to throw us off the scent, one imagines), conservatives are using the fog of war as a cover for Orwellian doublethink of the sort I just mentioned. I think it's important to keep a record of this activity -- so that, in days to come, when these guys present even greater offenses to logic as solid fact, and we are inclined to ask ourselves, "Is the world going mad, or is it just me?" we can at least follow the pixel trail back and say, oh, right, this didn't happen overnight -- they've been softening up reality for some time now; if one weren't paying attention, one would not even notice.

Then we can sleep more comfortably in our cells.
OLD SCHOOL: I see Senator Moynihan is dead. Years ago I read an interview with him in Leaders magazine. The interviewer noted that Americans did not have long historical memories -- which observation seemed an cue for the famously tweedy Senator to lament our philistine ahistoricism. But Moynihan said, "That's right, and a good thing, too!" He explained with an anecdote: while touring Northern Ireland, he'd seen spray-painted across a wall the words "REMEMBER 1689!" This is the date of the Siege of Londonderry, an event significant in the endless sectarian struggles of Ireland. That some "street urchin," said Moynihan, could call this date to mind was not a sign of enlightenment, but of bondage to ancient grudges, and he for one was glad that this was much less the case with Americans.

I admire the subtlety of his reasoning. I also admire that he came from Hell's Kitchen but did not, as so many politicians do, exploit his proletarian roots by presenting himself as belly-scratching "man of the people." He wore nice suits and bow ties and spoke like a professor, albeit a jolly, bibulous one. It is amazing to contemplate that voters anywhere at any time would approve a candidate so clearly their intellectual superior. At the same time, he was as capable of muscling pork-barrel projects (like the planned Penn Station revival) through Congress as any dirty-fingernails type.

He was of the old school -- self-invented, but to his own specifications, not those of an image consultant. His kind gets rarer every day.

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

ME OLD BOY, NOW! NRO makes much of an Iraqi child named after Dick Cheney. I suspect his parents hope that, by some naming magic (as when American parents named their kids "Prudence," "Victor," or "Elvis"), the young man will grow into a destiny similar to the original Cheney's, and profit from assaults on Iraq.

The family expects to name their next son George Bush. Well, there's a lot of coca just north of the border...
BY THE WAY: Notice I'm going in for headlined posts now, a la Andrew "forget Raines, the Beeb's the real enemy!" Sullivan.

Much bigger design innovations are pending, but I'm miserably sick and sitting in another Bethesda waiting room, so not just yet.
RED BOROUGH, BLUE BOROUGH? Very strange Ron Rosenbaum column today in the Observer. He says we Brooklynites "sneer" at Manhattan residents because, in a terror attack, we would die less swiftly than they. I have literally no idea what he's talking about.

But who knows what the kind of conversation goes on among Professor Ron and his peeps?

Great to be alive in this high, unmean decade! But we must do something about irony!

What do you mean "we," old boy? You'll be incinerated immediately in a dirty bomb attack! Best leave irony to those of us who will only experience severe radiation poisoning!

Ha, ha! More non-French wine, chum?


Then RR interrupts his transmission to tell us about the column he yanked before filing his current dog's-Sunday-brunch. It had to do with Rosenbaum's Hitler book and a TV special bearing a sub-title that came too close for comfort to one of Rosenbaum's. That sounds every bit as uninteresting as the substitute; why'd he switch? "With war about to start," he writes, "it seemed just too self-involved to devote an entire column to my own concerns. "

Then he writes about stuff he read in the New Yorkerand "Lunch with Farrar, Straus & Giroux editor in chief Jonathan Galassi."

If you want to know how New York intellectuals got so bad, you might start by viewing Pennebaker's "Town Bloody Hall" and reading some back issues of Commentary.But you know, it's a lovely day outside. Maybe you should take a walk instead.

Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Finally caught up with that "See No Evil" article at Salon, in which Edward W. Lempinen says the Left should support the war because Saddam is a tyrant and liberals should be against tyrants. His article is the best portrayal I've seen of this case, which is usually presented in the degenerate "Why don't you go protest Saddam" form by the warbloggers.

Lempinen has a good point if he's talking about the wider mission of the international (or even internationalist) Left. As an old-fashioned Yankee liberal, I am sensible to the plight of the world's Amina Lawals. And in terms which for want of a better word I'll call humanitarian, it seems from that perspective anti-American not to help these people.

But I have to also take up another point raised by Lempinen at the outset: in pursuing liberal democracy worldwide, where do you start, and where do you stop? If your only motivation is "to help people," you'll never answer those questions -- you'll be too busy do-gooding. I'm a little more selfish, and directed, about it -- my first interest is in the health and survival of America -- as nation, and as idea. I also think that, in the long run, making sure that America sticks with the Founders' program would also be the best thing for the world's oppressed peoples, too. After all, we've done great things for millions of refugees from countries that we didn't even invade.

Lempinen, echoing Christopher Hitchens, says we must liberate Iraq even though we screwed up the region in the first place -- maybe even especially since we screwed it up, because that makes it all the more our responsibility. A noble sentiment, and if Bush and his administration were also saying this, I'm sure a lot of us would have more faith in the current enterprise.

But they aren't. And here's the sticking point. The common plaint is, if you're against the war, it's just because you hate Bush, and that blinds you to the humanitarian benefits of the invasion.

OK, pal, ya got me: I do think the President is a very bad leader with sinister objectives. But I don't see why that should be irrelevant to this argument. The reasons why Bush is doing this are relevant, not for vague philosophical reasons, but because it will affect his follow-through.

To put it in an analogy, there have been any number of wealthy benefactors who found young guttersnipes on the street, took them into their homes, cleaned them up, fed them, and gave them nice clothes. Some of these benefactors were motivated by Christian charity to improve troubled youths. Some, though, just wanted to fuck them.

I see the removal of Saddam's tyranny as a large and potentially wonderful collateral benefit for the people of Iraq. But though they will benefit, I'm afraid we may not -- not when the cost of national-rebuilding and region-restabilizing becomes an onerous burden.

I really think it has been a bad mistake to cut ourselves loose of the world community -- and not for sentimental one-worlder reasons. The U.N. disarmament dance was in many ways silly and corrupt -- but so is most diplomacy, even much of U.S. diplomacy. And it still gets things done. It even boxed the Soviets into a corner, eventually. Non-war options work more slowly and less spectacularly than wars, of course. But I will take a Council, a Diet, or a Joint Resolution over a war pretty much any day of the week.

I read an item today -- where, I can't recall -- in which someone argued that Truman was wrong not to take out Russia right after the Second World War, since the Soviets didn't have the bomb yet. The author says that millions of lives would have been spared by this single, audacious act -- in the gulags, in the satellite states, etc. Perhaps. But do you think Truman, of all people, was being soft-hearted? Or did he tote up the potential costs of empire and find it unsustainable? Truman read a lot of history and loved to talk about it. Perhaps his vision of the future was a little more expansive than that of today's author. Perhaps he knew that if America kept a little humility, it could eventually change the course of history for the better -- but if it lost that humility, it would end up as just another imperial contender that perished in overreach.

I think Truman was right and Bush is wrong. I'm happy the Iraqis will soon be free of a tyrant's grip. Maybe that'll be the end of that -- dictator gone, case closed, let's go home. But I doubt it.
CATS & DOGS ETC. At The Corner, Brookhiser chalks the snide attitude at up to "Israeli arrogance." And none of his colleagues called him an anti-Semite! Lemme check Sullivan -- nope, nothing there either. (But of course Brookhiser is not French.)

Actually I have met some Israelis who were all a pain in the ass in the same way -- insufferably superior and completely deaf to the opinions or needs of others. Of course that's not a Jewish thing -- most Jews I know are exactly the opposite. I put it down to life in a heavily militarized nation, surrounded by enemies.

How long before we start acting like that?

I forgot to mention that Bob Dole was on the plane with me last night. He traveled alone, coming back, I guess, from his guest appearance on the Letterman show. He's very tall, and has a lumbering gait, and his hair is a strange copper color, and his skin is weirdly dun-colored, like clay. He has remarkably large, flat ears plastered against his skull. He looks both old and not old, if you know what I mean -- if you don't I'll try to explain: he seems very alert and has the air of someone who's got things to do (something a lot of old people lose, of course), and is so used to dealing with the public that he cannot degenerate into Sansa-belt social torpor, but looks upon everyone he meets (ticket agents and Reagan Airport lobby personnel, in this case) as someone toward whom he should make at least an effort. (I know some codgers who don't even respond to 'hello.' Some younger people, too.) But of course no one's hair is really the color his seems to be; either it's a dye job, or the side-effect of special mineral compounds his D.C. Doctor Feelgood prescribes to keep him youthful. Also he has a rumpled face, like he's been working it so strenuously for so long that when he's not in front of the camera or the teleprompter or the Ladies' Home Auxiliary, the skin that fronts his skull settles into something like a horizontal pile of laundry. Dun-colored laundry.

Building 10 at the National Institutes of Health is just like I left it -- but with even more through security precautions. Metal detectors, wands, etc. at the very few access doors. Flyers posted reminding us that we are on ORANGE alert. The clinics are the same as I remember, though -- non-threatening fabrics and colors, friendly if slightly rushed staff, and folks of all sorts from all over America waiting for their piece of the Federal health-care pie. Even though most of them, like me, are getting treatment they most likely couldn't begin to afford anywhere else, they still behave like they're in a waiting room -- albeit a little more cheerful about delays -- slouching, lolling, thumbing through ancient magazines. The desk attendants play old soul tunes out of their iMacs and talk about home renovations.

I slept poorly last night. This respiratory infection has a vicious grip on me. I asked the clinic personnel if I could perhaps get treatment for this -- it's not sexy or clinically significant, but it is illness and this is a medical facility. They said I could "try" to get the ENT guy to treat me when I see him for my study protocol Wednesday.

My poor fever-clouded mind turned in on itself. Immediately I thought of Bukowski's Life and Death in the Charity Ward. "'We can't let you have any blood, Mr. Bukowski.' The nurse was smiling. She was telling me that they were going to let me die..." I get very blue and paranoid about (relatively) minor illnesses. I guess that's because all I ask of life is an even chance, and when I'm running a mild fever and blowing green party-balloons out my nostrils, I feel trammelled -- and for an all-or-nothing sort of fellow like me, trammelled is almost worse than totally wiped out. Because I still feel compelled to compete on the unsick level. It's just a cold, I tell myself, brace up. I try to have robust, friendly conversations, but no one can make out what I'm saying because my nose is so clogged, and every time I laugh I have a 20-second coughing fit, and the cough sounds like a dog barking underwater. I take a little stroll downtown, and after a few blocks I'm gleaming with sweat and my legs are all rubbery. At least when I have a tumor, I get to lie down.

Monday, March 24, 2003

Well, here I am in D.C. By the luck of the cheap-hotels-website draw, I'm staying at the Washington Plaza -- a massive, angled, Dead Zone of pastel carpets, dinging elevators, and polyester uniforms. I'm typing from a Kinko's which the bellman described as "nearby" -- a fifteen-minute walk in reality. At home that wouldn't bug me at all, but I expect the rest of America to conform to my stereotype of it: a fat-assed Valhalla where no one walks more than 40 feet for anything.

I always dread doing this NIH thing, even though it's the best thing for me. Short explanation: I have a rare genetic condition which the National Institutes of Health is studying. For the loan of my body a few days a year, NIH takes care of any little mishaps that are caused by the condition (e.g., tumors). So far I think I'm ahead on the deal, but who knows? Maybe years from now I'll discover that every time I came down here, they secretly shot me up with something that paralyzed my ability to earn decent amounts of money and talk to strangers. Well, it would be nice to have an explanation, anyway.

I think I'll go back to the room now and have a nice steam; it may loosen up some of the phlegm. Meanwhile I see that Andrew Sullivan is going after Frida Kahlo. Perhaps this sort of thing will earn him a gig at the New Criterion in his declining years, which should be coming along any day now.
Whoa. Don't post drunk.

Last night I needed a respite from my two-week-old cold/sinus infection/Black Death -- the kind of respite only Budweiser can provide. Plus I'm going to Bethesda this week for my semi-annual medical review. So I'm a little delicate at the moment.

Nonetheless, in the future I will try and provide less rambling posts. I do owe you something -- you did type an address into a field, after all, and hit the "return" button, and that kind of effort deserves nothing but the very best I can give.
Gotta ask:

"'Huge' Suspected Weapons Plant Found in Iraq," says Fox News.


If Iraq had this WMD at its disposal, and knew we were poised to attack them for many, many months, why has this weapon not been used against our troops?

I think I know the answer already: "TRAITOR!"
Roman Polanski!

Why's it so appropriate that Harrison "Nothing wrong with me!" Ford accepted his award?

Sunday, March 23, 2003

I guess they're gonna do this Past Oscar Winners thing every year. And good for them. They deserve it. But it's a little weird that they're doing it before the writing awards. I mean, don't they normally get the scribes out of the way earlier than this? If I were less cynical, I'd say this was because the writers are better valued in Hollywood than once they were. I am not less cynical. (Than what? -- ed. Than anything.)

I'm glad chunky Marcia Gay Harden came out in an off-the-shoulder number. I'm also glad chunky Geena Davis came out, perioid. I'm just glad for chunk, period. So sue me.

The writer of The Pianist did nicely. Pedro Almodovar! Bless him, he's doing the antiwar thing too, but very apologetically. But let's stop a moment -- Pedro Almodovar won a fucking Oscar!

Peter. Fucking. O'Toole.

"As I totter into antiquity...." How wonderful to have a winner who can speak. "...and from whom I grab energy in handfuls." "You're very good. Good night, and God bless you."

This, my friends, is an actor. I loved that they began this with his Charlie Rose interview. I saw that interview, and O'Toole was marvelous -- especially talking about what a disastrous thing the dying of the repertory system in English theatre has been for acting. They should have played the whole thing. O'Toole is a treasure, not just to film but to Anglophone culture.

Someday I'll see that Nicole Kidman movie, but not because of her rambling speech.

She's good, though. Some good actors are smart, some, much less so. A funny thing about art, and about life.

Frank Pierson is funny. Who knew?
Adrien Brody did a beautiful job -- heartfelt, eloquent, everything one could want. I liked his interruption of the Oscar timeout much better than Julia Roberts'.

I also liked the shot of Cameron Diaz chewing gum while Eminem's collaborator accepted his award.

And I like the loosey-goosey behavior of all the presenters. This is supposed to be fun, so thanks to them for making sure the fun is brought.

Boy, that didn't take long. Stupid cunt Ned Flanders jumps on Michael Moore: "I say send his privileged white butt to do taste-testing at that chemical weapons factory we just discovered. I'd like him to see if it's baby milk."

Interesting, isn't it, how Jesus freaks are so quick to propose violence against people with whom they disagree?

This from a guy who cries thanks to Jeebus that he has been relocated from New York to Dull-ass, TX.

Don't let the door hit your ass on your way out, hayseed.

Martin Scorsese led the standing O for Michael Moore. Sweet.

No, I haven't seen it. Maybe it's as evil as all our rightwing brethren say (doubt it). But he made Roger & Me. So God bless him.

God bless him too for his silly speech. I expect some will go apeshit about it (especially since he said "fictitious." Heh. Indeed. Fuck you). But shit -- Moore's right.

I liked Steve Martin's joke about him too. Some of us can do that -- enjoy conflicting ideas. Lucky us.

BTW I am watching the Oscars now. It's a good, Chuck-Workman-like production. Steve Martin's funny, the glitz is edifying. I'll have to take their word for it that the set direction of Chicago is better than that of Gangs of New York. (Gangs is the only nominee I've seen.) It's nice to see you can still rely on the Oscars for distraction. I'm especially loving the tribute to Oscar musical numbers (is this Chuck, too?).

Oscar can make fun of itself, and other people can make fun of it, too, but when all's said and done, it represents admirably the big entertainment machine that has given pleasure to millions -- including even snooty Frenchmen like Jean-Luc Godard.

I know Hollywood is not too enlightened on digital copyright now, but as a celebrant of, and believer in, excellence wherever it occurs, I expect Hollywood will get that act together at some point. It's a huge nest of vipers, but it's also a huge nest of talent, and the latter, not the former, is its primary cultural tradition.

I mean, they're handling the short-speech thing well. That shows they've got something on the ball.
Just got back from my old home town Bridgeport -- home also of Joe Ganim, disgraced mayor, P.T. Barnum, celebrity mayor, and Jasper McLevy, five-term Socialist mayor (helluva town). Mom had a scare and is in St. Vincent Hospital, resting comfortably with good vitals, thanks for asking.

I was born in St. Vincent's, and hospitalized there at the age of 12 (my vitals are currently good, too -- again, thanks for asking -- though I currently have a vicious sinus infection). Physically the place is completely and rather nicely renovated, but when I walked in I felt a nostalgic twinge. Late in the visit, I walked out to get myself and another visitor some chow, and walked past my old grade school. Back then it was St. Patrick's. Boys wore charcoal grey slacks, green jackets with an "SPS" crest on the breast pocket, and green-and-grey plaid ties. If I could get one man-sized, I'd wear this every day. The girls wore green-and-grey checked jumpers, calf socks, and black patent-leather shoes. Yes, you saw the next joke coming, and I refuse to do it. There were two entrances, one marked BOYS, one marked GIRLS, and these were engraved in stone over the portals to Catholic indoctrination (the light stone building was built in 1922, by Freemasons, one expects), and for the first year at least we by God lined up when the old gnarled nun rang the big brass bell and lined up and MARCHED, single file, into the appropriate doors. We had corporal punishment, too, that first year -- kneeling on rulers and the like -- which, when Vatican II finally caught up with the archdiocese, was eschewed in favor of psychological intimidation (though I do recall Sister Mildred, exasperated with Willie Carpanelli's intransigence, knocking him out of his seat -- old habits die hard, ha ha).

In 2003 this building houses something called Maplewood Annex. It's not a Catholic school anymore. No one has knocked the crucifix from the crest of the facade, but the new school's mission statement says it means to "provide each student with the opportunity to attain his/her highest potential academically, socially, and cognitively," so a lot has changed.

I walked around the place, noted that the hurricane fence around our old recess yard was, in places, knocked down (one local kid was standing on a defeated stretch of chain-link as I passed), that the GIRLS and BOYS inscriptions were covered by whitewashed wooden canopies, and that there was some sort of play-set for the younger kids (we'd had only jump-ropes, wiffle ball, and childish cruelty to occupy us). I walked down Wells Street, where once we'd met Mrs. Gillespie or my Mom for rides home after school. The houses along that strip are downcast now -- clapboard chipped, paint worn, front walks cracked and weedy. The lower middle class, happy and comfortable in the McLevy days and even when I was a boy, is desperate and despairing now, though its children (and, at this late date, many of the parents) are unaware that it was ever any different, and cheerfully rove the downcast streets, looking for whatever joy the poor town has to offer.

At the diner a waitress and her friend smoked long cigarettes and chatted with me while the food was being prepared. Both had suffered great losses in the past year. The waitress' boyfriend had been shot dead. The friend's sister, after a long fight with drugs (during which she'd been shot, stabbed, raped, and kidnapped), succumbed to an overdose. "The whole family had just gotten together," the friend said. "We were laughing and happy. I guess God waited till we were together to take her for a reason."

The waitress said she was mad that her boyfriend had been taken. At whom? I asked. "I never thought about that before," she said.

When I came back to the hospital, a nurse put my Mom on a nebulizer -- a face mask connected to a tube that pumped light steam into her nose and mouth. There was some broncho-dilator mixed with the steam. She liked it, became giddy. She offered me the mask, tried to pull it from her face; we stopped her. "Lookit those soldiers on TV, racing to Baghdad," she said. "They're racing to get killed."

The train ride home was long and tedious. At one point a state trooper roamed the aisles slowly, looking into our faces.
Between 100,000 (police estimate) and 200,000 (San Jose Mercury News estimate) anti-war demonstrators marched in New York yesterday. A quarter-million marched against the war in London. There were several other such protests around the world.

Here's the coverage from the warblogs. Instapundit, quoting someone named Jeff Jarvis:

DENVILLE -- Holding signs that read "Honk if you hate Saddam" and "Honk if you support our troops," about 50 boisterous but orderly Denville middle school students held a pro-war rally Friday on Main Street.

Andrew Sullivan:

HEADLINE OF THE DAY: "Peace demonstrators in France stab 2 Jewish boys." - from the Jerusalem Post.

Rod Dreher at The Corner:

As I write this, a large throng of anti-war protesters are massed in City Hall Park, just two or three blocks from Ground Zero. Police are ordering them to disperse, telling them their demonstration is over. They are ignoring the cops. (no follow-up -- ed.)

Volokh Conspiracy:

An antiwar march is proceeding down the street outside my apartment right now. Lots of the protesters are holding antiwar signs from International A.N.S.W.E.R... In a strange coincidence, the protesters reached my neighborhood when I just happened to be reading news reports that Glenn Reynolds linked to over at Instapundit...

The new journalism, folks. The great ones can do it with their eyes closed.

Saturday, March 22, 2003

Things are moving right along. The last installment (for the time being, of course -- keep hope alive!) of alicubi's Crank Watch is up. It's called "The War At Home," and it's about some interesting second fronts opened up by the commentariat. The whole CW archive, and all the rest of our back catalogue, is still available, still.

I hope to get a comments feature up, but Blogger is new to me and I am disappointed to learn that the most popular of those third-party systems are closed to newcomers. How it hurts my pride to struggle with no-longer-new technology! If you have any suggestions about this (or anything else), feel free to drop me a line.

Friday, March 21, 2003

In the beginning was alicubi, a web magazine edited by Martin Downs (chief) and Roy Edroso (cook & bottle-washer). Then came alicublog, an online journal for the editors' more time-sensitive, fragmentary writings. We hand-coded and ftp'd the contents on a more or less daily basis. It was a pain in the ass.

Alicubi is in limbo for a while. But Martin and I cannot stand the silence, and so have decided to open this alternate venue for our journal posts, utilizing the more convenient Blogger technology. Where it all will end, knows God.