Wednesday, April 30, 2003

THROUGH PLAYING GAMES. Andrew Sullivan gives a nod to Tech Central Station columnist James D. Miller, who says "avoidable information externalities" explain why, contra Santorum, legalized sodomy doesn't pave the way for legalized incest, and that you can accept the former without accepting the latter. On the one hand, he says,

....whenever incest occurs it creates an informational externality that makes it more rational for relatives to misinterpret non-sexual affection for amorous advances. Incest between consenting adults therefore harms society and consequently is not just a private affair.


Homosexuality can also create informational externalities, but these externalities are unavoidable and so do not provide a justification for criminalizing gay sex.

Also, "Criminalizing gay sex... would not reduce the number of homosexuals and would thus not decrease the probability of someone thinking any given heterosexual man was gay," he says.

It's not his purpose I question, but his argument. I don't know anything about game theory, but I don't think that's why I had a hard time following his logic.

People interpret or misinterpret gestures of affection all the time based on their experience, not social codes. In fact, while Miller says that "In a world in which incest is taboo and rare most people won't interpret a hug from a relative as a sign of sexual interest," I'm guessing that it's the rarity rather than the taboo that causes Niece Becky to interpret Uncle Joe's big, warm hug as avuncular rather than lecherous. And there are nieces who would take their uncle's hug as lecherous. Some uncles are, indeed, leching, and some nieces are damaged by prior experiences that would make them shudder at even an innocent, familial touch.

There are potent taboos, as well as laws, against the sexual abuse of children, and given the negative attention given to cases of such abuse in recent years, we can assume these taboos are stronger, not weaker, than before. But that didn't help the Ameraults and Kelly Michaels, whose insane prosecutions on bogus molestation charges were famously debunked by Dorothy Rabinowitz. These colossal "misinterpretations" were not the result of any weakening of the taboos. In fact, you could argue that they were caused by an obsession with them.

Again, Miller's heart is in the right place, but I don't think the slide-rule approach strengthens his case. In a way, I think his approach makes the argument against sodomy laws more abstruse and difficult.

A lot of the Santorum-centric discussion I've been reading has been about the harm to society, or lack thereof, of gay sex. I take that point as irrelevant, because to a large extent societies police themselves on that score.

It's certainly that way here. Few would dispute that American society is more comfortable now with gay people than it was twenty years ago. (That's why this discussion is hot -- maybe why it's taking place at all.) You couldn't say this development was caused by laws or taboos -- unless you were strongly against tolerance of gay people. Then you might argue that the sexual revolution, Roe v. Wade, Will & Grace, etc., were among those "informational externalities" that have weakened the nation's moral fiber and sent us hurtling down the road to Gomorrah. And you might, within that argument, call for strengthening those taboos by retaining laws against sodomy.

In other words, Miller and Sullivan are playing on the Right's turf. They're accepting the premise that morality is, and should be, as enforcible by law as utility, but raising a wan demurrer: that the externality represented by the homosexual state is "unavoidable," and thereby protected from the terms of that premise. Next, of course, someone will argue with "unavoidable," and we're off to the races again.

Like I said, I don't know about game theory, but I do perceive that sodomy laws do not protect as many real people as they harm, and I'm against them. And I'm frankly more respectful of the counter-argument that these laws give prosecutors extra leverage in convicting rapists than I am of most arguments based on anyone's theory. Because at least that argument's happening on planet Earth.
CHANGED MY MIND. I don't feel bad for Andrew Sullivan anymore. The Santorum interval is now apparently over for all good wingers: The Times reports, "Republican Lawmakers Back Senator in Gay Dispute," and records lovely quotes from Sullivan's partner-in-diversity, Tom DeLay ("It is very dangerous to say that whatever you do behind closed doors is your right to privacy... It undermines a lot of moral questions that we have in this country"). Sullivan appears to be down with the program.

Sullivan's prior angst over the Santorum thing has burned out, as seen in these recent and pathetic comments. He is so shit-out-of-luck in his search for companionable conservatives on sexual privacy issues that he commends as "very sane" James Taranto's extremely (and I mean extremely) lukewarm endorsement of gay civil rights. (Sample Taranto quote: "Many religious Americans are horrified by the symbolism of allowing same-sex couples to marry... Simply to sweep aside such concerns, as the advocates of same-sex marriage seek to do, would be arrogant and contrary to the spirit of American pluralism." Taranto also calls Bowers v. Hardwick "a politically wise ruling.")

Andrew Sullivan, who frequently says Democrats are insufficiently attentive to gay rights, is now reduced to running a geiger-counter over OpinionJournal columnists, looking for trace elements of tolerance.

He has also turned his attention to a whole host of other topics, among them the recent Conquest (which makes him giddy), dragons (which make him roar!), and "male hating" feminists -- which makes him what he's always been: a complete tool who, having perfected a good Bircher imitation to curry favor with his radical right audience, affects not to notice when he is rewarded with the back of their hand.

Someone's been reading my mail!

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

FAILING THE ECLECTIC KOOL-AID ACID TEST. Sasha Castel has posted what I would call a Libertarian Purity Test. Most of the hot buttons are there, from gun ownership to abortion.

It's a great service and has inspired interesting comments. Let me share with you an internal response of my own that, were I actually responding to the quiz, I have a hunch I'd supress for a reason I'll explain later:

While I could give quick agreement to the first five items (yeah, even the guns), on the issue of education I am torn. I want to say yes to an uninfringed right to "educate my children according to my personal values." (I assume everyone does that anyway -- in most cases, with beatings and drunken mockery.) But part of me also feels that a public school system is a good idea, as a means of promulgating the minimal socialization and life skills necessary to keep us from turning into Lord of the Flies West, and that such a system cannot survive without a certain small but real amount of coercion. (Face it -- if school were optional, do you doubt that school attendance would drop to levels that would make the system unsustainable?)

Now, we could argue that point for hours, but I want to focus here on my own reaction. In my heart of hearts I wanted to get all the answers "right." And that's not such a bad thing. Like most people -- really -- I want Certain Inalienable Rights not only for myself, but for others -- everyone else, in fact -- because I understand that my own would not be safe without theirs.

Yet I find myself pulling back on that one issue. And I'm a little ashamed to admit it. Why? Because, let's face it, it's cool to be a libertarian -- so cool that even the guys at NRO pretend to swing that way (especially their resident frat-boy -- except, of course, when he's pretending to be contrarian-authoritarian). Maximum freedom is much more exciting and attractive than the sober, somber, on-the-other-hand-ism of the sort drearily embodied by most Presidential candidates.

Now, I'm going to fade to black on this shot of my hand hesitating over the levers next to Question Six, because what I think doesn't matter so much (no applause, please) as the instinct I described. Is it that I'm afraid of freedom (quick "YES!" from the LP guys), or is it that I'm afraid of purity?

Yes, purity. Let's say it's 1793. We're in France. We took the Tennis Court Oath. So we're old-school and totally down with the Revolution. We have watched with pleasure as all traces of the old tyranny are obliterated -- even the unfortunate but necessary regicide. In for a penny, in for a pound, we say -- no half measures for us. Then they start whispering against our friends. Next it's their heads on the blocks. Next, maybe ours...

This is not a fantasy against liberty, or even against the French Revolution, but against absolutism and its inevitable companion: momentum. What was the big difference between the French Revolution and ours? (Don't say "Frenchmen," please.) I think it was that we had a lot more pushback going against us -- and I don't mean the Redcoats. I mean we appreciated the old order (good, British order!), and the institutions they gave us (and largely maintained afterwards). But we also appreciated liberty, and decided with not a little sadness that circumstances demanded we sue for it, so we had to back away from some of our own best instincts in order to inaugurate a revolution. This made us, in a weird way, circumspect about our new prize of liberty -- whereas the French, bless them, went apeshit.

I'm not suggesting Nick Gillespie and Jacob Sullum will cheerfully wade through bloody gutters come the Revolution. I just mean that something about the Libertarian trip makes me nervous. It's not so much a politics as a creed, of the all-or-nothing sort -- You want the right to anal sex? Well, then you must not interfere with my right to charge dying Africans for water!

In general I think going "all the way" is a great thing on a personal level and a disastrous thing on a political level. But who knows: maybe you know a Messiah somewhere whose program will fix everything if I only follow Him to the ends of the earth. By all means write and let me know.
BALM IN MUDVILLE. The Mets suck so bad, they put the fact on the front page of the Times.

To brighten the day of fans who are true to the Orange and Blue (I know, it's an old song), I commend yesterday's New York Daily News, where the excellent David Hinckley writes about Ralph Kiner, the Hall of Famer and somewhat dim Mets color commentator whose relationship to the English language rather matches the historic relationship between the Mets and success: mostly dysfunctional, sometimes spectacularly so, but glorious and sweet when it works.
PERMALINKS. I think they work now. I got lazy about "republishing." I'm not used to WYSIWYG tools like this -- I code like I do everything else: hard!

Monday, April 28, 2003

GIMME SOME TRUTH. Interesting take on the WMD question from, of all people, Sgt. Stryker, who is generally as hardline on Iraq as they come. He starts out predictably enough:

Not even France claimed that Saddam didn't possess chemical weapons. Their contention was that UN inspectors backed by U.S. Forces in Kuwait (at U.S. taxpayer expense I might add) was enough to contain Saddam. No one on the Security Council then seriously believed that Saddam had disarmed, and I still don't.

But then the worm of doubt creeps in:

Something is not adding up here. Why would the Iraqis fail to account for tons of nerve agents and other chemical weapons, and then in the late 90's secretly destroy them? It would be in Saddam's vested interests to have destroyed any weapons in full view of the world, thus removing our primary cause for invasion. I mean, why comply with the UN accords without telling the UN about it? If Saddam had disarmed in secret, then having done so must go down in history as one of the stupidest, most self-defeating acts in history.

The whole point of the weapons inspectors was not to find banned weapons, but to verify the voluntary destruction of said weapons by Iraq. I'm suspicious that some sort of geo-political game or grand-deception is being played out here, exactly what I'm not sure yet.

It does seem strange, doesn't it? It would also seem strange that, having allegedly amassed weapons that were a clear and present danger to civilization itself, Saddam didn't use any of them as his country was overrun by enemy forces. Wouldn't the invasion of one's capital be an umistakable cue to break out the mustard gas?

I haven't heard a satisfying explanation for any of this, either. Some people, of course, are more easily satisfied, and they appear to be carrying the day, public-opinion wise.

I had dinner tonight with a friend who had been reading through some Lyndon LaRouche stuff. My reaction was, look, even if the guy is onto something, without a sackful of extremely hard evidence, as opposed to instincts and inductive reasoning, he can't ever bring us clarity -- he'll only bring us a heightened paranoia that exacerbates any problem he might have wanted to solve.

It's a sad state of affairs when most people with any brains simply take for granted that the Administration can't be trusted -- more sad, even, than the eagerness of many other people, some with brains, to take whatever this Adminstration says without even the tiniest grain of salt. The way things are going, between a fucked-up economy and a fucked-up Middle East, a lot of people will start wondering how the hell it came to this, and unless someone in a position of responsibility starts dishing out some truth, the voices that will come roaring out of the demos will make LaRouche sound like Hubert Humphrey.
MORNING EYE-OPENER.I shouldn't even be picking on WordNetDaily columnists -- half the time I think the site is composed by a bunch of playful liberals who want to give their buddies something to rage on -- but today's Doug Powers column about the Dixie Chicks really screams to have some air let out.

First, some basic fact-checking. "Sales of [the Dixie Chicks'] CD's have plummeted" since Natalie Maines made her infamous comments about Bush, says Powers. Plummeted? Last week they were number one on the Billboard Country chart, and this week they're number three -- respectable numbers for alleged pariahs.

"For some reason," says Powers, "with musicians and actors, 'artist' is the only career in which you should be allowed to open your blithering yapper free of consequence." This is rich coming from a guy whose career is based on such unfettered use of his own yapper. Why do so many of these spouters get mad when celebrities spout off? Is it the traditional jealously of the scrivening idealogue, convinced of his righteousness yet forced to admit that more people know what Alec Baldwin feels about global warming than he does?

As inevitably happens when conservatives talk about women, things get creepy toward the end:

Maybe the Dixies will understand what I'm talking about when they're waiting tables at Denny's, opining on current events to a customer who will probably respond to them in a way similar to how America did: "Yeah, yeah, whatever. Can we get some more ketchup over here, Natalie."

The Dixie Chicks are learning the hard way that, just like the guy at table 8, their fans just wanted some ketchup. In both cases, it'll be reflected in their tip.

I don't care much about the Dixie Chicks, but guys who think tipping is a way to wield power are assholes. And guys who fantasize about powerful women reduced to serving them burgers should put up a suitable ad at rather than unveiling their kink in political columns.

(Hm, that worked out my sleep-stiffened technique some, yet I don't feel really warmed up. Maybe I should try jogging.)

Sunday, April 27, 2003

JOBLESSNESS AS HOLIDAY. Mr. Downs pointed me to an article from today's NYT, "Jobless and Hopeless, Many Quit the Labor Force," by Monica Davey with David Leonhardt:

PITTSBURGH, April 26 — Worn down by job searches that have stretched on for
months, demoralized by disappointing offers or outright rejections, some
unemployed people have simply stopped the search.

As the nation enters a third year of difficult economic times, these
unemployed — from factory workers to investment bankers — have dropped out
of the labor force and entered the invisible ranks of people not counted in
the unemployment rate...

"There aren't any jobs, just not any," Mr. Jacobs said. "I had been waiting
it out. I thought there was a strong possibility that I'd get recalled to
the plant, or I'd get something else, anything that paid at least $10 an
hour. But it turns out there is nothing. It's a dead-end street"...

Over the last two years, the portion of Americans in the labor force — those
who are either working or actively looking for work — has fallen 0.9
percentage points to 66.2 percent, the largest drop in almost 40 years.

The story isn't a total downer. (Who'd read it if it were? Only those who hate America!) Some of the folks interviewed by the Times have responded to the job dearth by going back to school or starting their own businesses ("Still, Mr. Guido said he was pleased to be back in school, learning about
things he cares about, and relieved to be on campus, far away from the
struggle to find a job...").

I can imagine a lot of readers will look at that and say, "See? Joblessness isn't so bad. You can always get your Ph.D., or become an entrepreneur, with the 50 grand you have stashed in your sock drawer."

But what if you don't have any capital for these kinds of activities, and can't get any? What if you actually, like, need a job? I know these days we all like to think of ourselves as economic superheroes, swimming in options -- look at all the financial services companies who advertise in prime time to that demographically desirable group of Americans that can afford to play around with their money (while the high-interest, last-chance moneylenders advertise late at night, when the economically stressed citizens are insomniacally flipping through the channels).

Still, the need to keep food on the table -- and creditors from seizing your car -- is a present, crushing reality for millions of people. With the stock bubble burst, the job market imploding, and the rate-cutting increasingly desperate and laughable, how many people are actually out there anymore that can say, "Ah, well, no jobs this year -- guess I'll study Engineering"?

From what I've seen and experienced over the past few years, we've got a growing number of people who, with all the will in the world, can't make ends meet, and a shrinking but still considerable number of people who are blocking this fact out -- because who wants to worry about the joblessness bogey-man coming after them?

Human nature being what it is, I suspect this latter group will go denying the problem, until the other group gets big enough to wake them up with a few electoral thunderclaps.
THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT. Now here's something that might just save Broadway:

One scene in the performance, by Spanish troupe La Fura Dels Baus, in which an actress appears to perform oral sex on a man from the audience, provoked outrage.

But co-producer and co-writer Carlos Padrissa hit back: "The production serves an educational purpose. It's good for people to be able to experience maximum freedom"...

[The play] centres on naive 18-year-old Eugenie who is introduced to sex by three tutors. It ends with her arranging for her mother to be gang raped.

Bring it over from London with all speed, lest another Rodgers and Hammerstein revival fill its place.

The show is called "XXX," by the way, and the company's title seems to translate as Fury of the Sewers.

(Found via this site, which is a whole lot more edifying than my usual source material.)

MOMMA DIDN'T RAISE NO GEARHEAD. I got around on my newly-purchased bike a bit today, a sweet Columbia Sports III. The springs in the seat are mighty stiff, and the kickstand (a difficult-to-replace model) was missing, but I got a good price on it, and was told it had just been tuned up. It's in my local shop now, though, because the gear cable popped. Some tune-up. I had to take my old bike, an ancient Robin Hood, in for gear-work every couple of months. Is this normally what happens to old three-speeds? Or do the repairmen just see me coming?

There are so many old, sub-optimal makes like mine on the street, ridden by people who aren't enthusiasts but just want to ride a few miles on sunny days instead of taking the subway, that I wouldn't be shocked to learn the bike-shop proprietors were, by unspoken agreement, practicing a little planned obsolescence in their repairs.

After all, the 1956 Sturmey-Archer manual says that "Sturmey-Archer hubs have been designed and built to give a life-time of trouble-free service on the understanding that regular attention is given to correct care and maintenance as outlined below."

Of course, I could stop scanning Google News every two hours, give up the resulting composition of blistering screeds, and take the time saved to learn the ins and out of Toggle Gear repair.

Which might makes things easier on all of us.

Saturday, April 26, 2003

JULIA ROBERTS AS WILL AND IDEA. Good heavens. I just saw half an hour of the movie Pretty Woman. I usually manage to avoid such cultural touchstones during their first run, mostly by what the scientists call natural selection ("A new movie with Julia Roberts or an evening drinking in a dank basement? The choice is clear!"). And when I do catch up with them, I am usually disappointed. I saw, for example, Forrest Gump years after its release and found it a depressingly easy and dim-witted sneer against twenty years of American cultural upheaval -- in other words, pretty much what I expected, which is never the desired result of a trip to the Fantasy Factory.

But this movie is genuinely astonishing. A poor but honest prostitute meets cute and makes nice with a sensitive zillionaire john! How could I have missed it in the coming attractions! I wonder if my old friend Professor Hurley has seen it. I'm sure he would appreciate it. The zillionaire woos the prostitute by letting her drive his borrowed status car (that the pedals are close together make it better for women than for men to drive it, she tells him, because "women have smaller feet -- 'course, I'm a size nine-and-a-half"). He pays her for a night of subdued romantic dialogue and sex. I thought it was a bit much that he got sex, too -- after all, $300 is far less than the authors were paid for the subdued romantic dialogue -- but he makes up for it by paying a further $3000 to take over her life for a week. What a catch!

The john is quietly amused (and, from the wisps of foreshadowing blowing through the early scenes, would continue to be quietly amused) by the reaction of his fellow aristos and associated bourgeois to this diamond-in-the-rough-trade. If I were a deconstructionist, I would call this a landmark in the hard bargain made by the powers that be to lure the masses to the consumerism that still afflicts us all: they would allow a great deal more latitude in the area of sexual fantasy if it could be inextricably linked to money. I wonder if Rick Santorum has seen it. I'm sure every hip-hop artist has.

I couldn't keep watching -- my bile-flap inevitably began to quiver -- but I am content that I got the money-shot, as it were.

Now one of these days I'll see My Best Friend's Wedding and really break it down.

Friday, April 25, 2003

HEH. INDEED. UP YOUR ASS. Poor Andy's going apeshit. His beloved Bush can't -- won't, actually -- squeeze a Trent Lott moment out of the Santorum crisis.

But hark! Perfesser Rocky Top rides in on a white SUV to lay the blame at the foot of the Ay-rabs. He notes the resistance of Muslim nations to a UN homosexual human rights proposal. That's telling Ted Rall!

How sad for both of them. (Let me partially withdraw: I have professed sorrow for Sullivan, but the Perfesser is a bridge -- perhaps several -- too far for me.) Shaking the anti-Saddam fist has been a good gig for the Perfesser, but now our focus is on America, not desert shitholes, and it would seem the President's tepid response to the current contretemps cannot logically be softened by reference to Middle Eastern tyrants whose feelings toward sodomites, it is clear, are not very different from his own.

Dan Savage in the Times (fuck the links) is right: the GOP is not going to distance itself from a position that has stood it well in the hinterlands. They're waiting for it to blow over. And it will, with assistance from Poor Andy's buddies in the Republican Party. He'll fall into line soon enough, I'm guessing. But, romantic fool that I am, I'd be delighted if I were proven wrong.

SYMPATHY FOR THE DUMBASS. The Santorum schmegegge proceeds apace. NRO's Kurtz (again) and Enrich see it as an unnecessary distraction, as who could doubt their tolerance of sodomites? Andrew Sullivan, that's who. And maybe it's because, even though Kurtz says he's against sodomy laws, he must, it seems, add a demurrer to this admission, as here: "I feel I have some understanding of the basis of arguments in favor of sodomy laws. I believe that those arguments contain some sound sociological points, but I do not share their religious presuppositions."

I can understand Sullivan's frustration. He's been good to all these guys, lashing out ferociously against the traitorous Left, but when the GOP has a bigot eruption against gays (indeed, against anyone practicing something more than what George Carlin once referred to as "the old man-on-top-get-it-over-with-quick"), his erstwhile compatriots can only give his own basic humanity a most lukewarm endorsement.

They don't know that the reflexive backing-off gestures they always make when they approach this topic are not just political issues to Sullivan. They're personal. It's as if he thought they were friends, and suddenly some guy started beating the shit out of him and they just stood there saying, "Well, I understand the basis of this beating... it contains some sound sociological points."

Who wouldn't be stung by that? I mean, I can't even acknowledge that Sullivan is human most of the time, and I feel for him.
THE LAST REFUGE OF A NATIONAL REVIEW COLUMNIST. John Derbyshire made a few remarks sympathetic to Darwinism and received the (given his venue) expected angry letters. In trying to explain the scientific method to his hillbilly correspondents, he finally resorts to the wooden spoon, comparing them to analysands and Commies:

I think, in fact, that Creationism is part of the larger phenomenon of "science envy" that has gripped all sorts of branches of human knowledge this past couple of centuries. Science has been so stupendously successful at transforming the physical world, everyone wants to claim scientific status for his pet theory. Marxism and Freudianism, the most prominent pseudosciences of the 20th century, both claimed to be scientific. Likewise literary "deconstructionism," etc. etc. It's all science envy. That's the leaky boat the Creationists have got themselves into.

This is the idiot grandchild of the old liberal saw, "If we do this, we become just like our enemies." (Or, as Harlan Ellison put it, "Lie down with pigs, get up smelling like garbage.") Now, this can be powerful stuff if you're telling sensitive, enlightened folks that killing in response to killing is wrong. But what will Cletus at the keyboard think of Derbyshire lumping him in with the Freudians? Pitchfork Pat, come back!

Thursday, April 24, 2003

LIAR'S POKER. I don't think Martin Sheen gets enough credit for his performance on The West Wing. Last night they showed him doing some high-stakes negotiating with the Russian President on the Hot Line. (Boy, that sentence makes me nostalgic.) When the first call, in which the President pretended a unmanned spy plane downed in Russia was only photographing "coastal erosion," fell apart, Sheen looked at the phone and said, "this isn't working," exactly as if he were regarding a defective toaster.

I thought about it today when I read this:

According to US State Department officials, the “blatant and bold” announcement that North Korea possesses nuclear weapons, made to James Kelly, the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian affairs, was followed by the threat to test one.

One State Department official said that Mr Li, attending talks aimed at persuading Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons programme, turned to Mr Kelly after making the claim and said: “Now, what are you going to do about it?”

I can see why folks who like him admire Bush's apparent nonchalance. You want to think confrontations like this are supervised by people who don't sweat much. Now that the people we're playing around with are not penny-ante WMD wannabes (or never-weres), but nuclear-equipped hardline Commies, let us hope he and his know more than how to play poker -- let's hope they also know what they're doing.

NO SUCH THING AS BAD PUBLICITY. Well, I see the Dixie Chicks are trying to stretch their winning streak. I can't say as I blame them. Making music is a hard dollar, so if a controversial remark by your lead singer causes an informal boycott of your band that mysteriously fails to make much of a dent in your CD sales, you probably should see it as an opportunity.

Their decision to strip as a means of making their point is probably going to be more effective than anything they can come up with verbally, if their quoted "Prime Time" remarks are any indication. (Would they have gotten so big if they looked like Alabama?) Still, the words will do their work -- alternately belligerent and contrite, they cover all their bases (like the words stencilled on their torsos).

Political commentators like to talk about it, but it was never about the politics. The only thing I can't figure is what Maines was thinking when she made that comment. I'd like to believe that she knew this all would come of it -- that it was a bald crossover move, like I think Evancescence's "controversy" was. Would that be paranoid of me? Or just giving them too much credit?

SPINNING SANTORUM. Stanley Kurtz’ piece on the Senator Santorum affair (weird comments about gays and incest) is very long and does not mention Andrew Sullivan. This is odd for a few reasons. First, it’s odd because Sullivan, for all his hideous faults, is the best-known conservative crusader against anti-gay discrimination (and the attendant sodomy-law concerns) within the conservative movement. It’s like talking about the Democratic Party in the 1990s without mentioning Clinton – a bald omission that makes sense only if by so doing you’re trying to make a point. Or conceal one.

The latter seems to be the case here, because Sullivan has blogged tirelessly on the subject of Santorum of late (perhaps in hopes of instigating a Trent-Lott-style, zone-flooding repudiation of him among the Right). You'd never know this by Kurtz’ NRO article, which is largely about how unfair the NYT’s coverage was, and, by extension (we might say hyperextension), how liberal journalism ruins everything it touches (“But so long as the mainstream media keeps producing the sort of partisan and ignorant nonsense it has deployed in its effort to destroy Sen. Santorum…”).

Kurtz better go tell Glenn Reynolds that he’s doing Howell Raines dirty work.

Trying to spin the statist, pro-sexual-repression gibberish of a Republican Senator into an attack on liberals is a noble bit of chutzpah, but Kurtz is going to have to do better than this.

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

CAUGHT MY EYE. In the Guardian today: "Tony Blair threw down to the gauntlet to Sinn Fein today with a list of three demands the republican movement must meet if next month's elections are to go ahead... Mr Blair also spelled out a new doctrine for negotiations, stating that from now on 'clarity is our friend. Ambiguity is our enemy.'"

I suppose this is Blair pulling a W -- black and white, with us or against us, etc. There's a key difference between Ireland and Iraq, though -- Ireland has already been invaded, occupied, and pissed off enough to mount armed rebellions.

Of course it's not impossible that the Iraqis will get there sooner than later.

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

ALT.JESUS UPDATE: METALLIC N.O. 'member how I said Creed wasn't too convincing as a Godband? Apparently the lead singer is being sued for having turned up on a Chicago stage under the influence of too much Caanan-feast juice:

The disgruntled concertgoers allege in court papers that the band's lead singer Scott Stapp was so 'intoxicated and/or medicated that he was unable to sing the lyrics of a single Creed song.

'Instead ... Stapp left the stage on several occasions during songs for long periods of time, rolled around on the floor of the stage in apparent pain or distress and appeared to pass out while on stage during the performance.'

The rocker's condition was clearly a result of an earlier drink or drugs binge...

I think Scott Stapp has several escape routes available. He could:

  • Claim his state was due to a surfeit of anti-anxiety medication, taken in anticipation of an adverse ruling in the upcoming Bowers vs. Hardwick challenge and the resulting pain to Baby Jesus;

  • Insist he was bamboozled by yobbos posing as Christians who had convinced him that Foster's Lager was the blood of Christ;

  • Throw himself Swaggart-style upon the mercy of his fans, crying "I have sinned against you!"

The obvious question is: would anyone be suing Creed if it were not a Christian band? I'm not suggesting anti-Christian prejudice -- just Creed's obvious vulnerability to such a challenge because they're supposed to be tight with the Messiah.

Or maybe I'm wrong -- I was about to ask, "Who would sue the Stones or the White Stripes on similar grounds?" but, of course, in these times that just might happen. Not because we're a litigious society (although of course we are), but because we're increasingly a pussified one -- neither a band's penchant for, or history of, drug abuse, nor the once substance-friendly nature of rock 'n' roll itself, would prevent some moron from insisting that his rights as a consumer were violated because his bellowing egoist of choice did not come up to snuff due to Bacchic overindulgence.

Because in the commodified era in which we live, even the ancient exemption for rockin' wildmen is denied -- punters arrive expecting product, not anything so spontaneous as a Metallic K.O. Speaking of Iggy, think of the lawsuits he might have endured, were his youthful exploits fast-forwarded to the present day, on the grounds that he got peanut butter on some poseur's velour jacket.

Butt-fuckers trying to run my world indeed.

SERENDIPITY. I'm loving this: see what happens when you transpose a couple of letters in my address:

What amazes me is, this guy thinks my fumble-fingered runoff is worth redirecting to his site.

UPDATE: Aw, shoot -- it happens with any other blogspot site. Mother was right -- I'm not special!
ANOTHER MORNING, ANOTHER OUTRAGE. Now the malefactor is John Derbyshire, whose theme, insofar as one can be detected, is that liberals are snobs, and thereby spiritually inferior to those charming folks who believe that God didn't make man from no monkey. It is a hilarious argument as, for one thing, Derbyshire's writing (here and elsewhere) is pretty much one long sneer, -- he's ill-suited to attack others for holding themselves superior to their fellow mortals. Also, here's the anecdote with which he defends his tree-hugger bad, knuckle-dragger good dichotomy:

Last year one of my neighbors, an elderly widow who was very kind and helpful to us when we first moved into this street, fell and broke her femur... The nursing home was a lovely place, spotlessly clean and well-run, smelling of floor-polish, fresh-cut flowers, and disinfectant. The staff were cheerful, attentive and brisk. I could not help but contrast it with the place in which my own mother spent some of her last days -- a privately-owned but municipally-supported place in England, staffed by ill-tempered slatternly girls and stinking of boiled cabbage and stale urine. Being taken to our neighbor's room, I noticed here and there discreet, plain little crucifixes on the walls. It was a Christian establishment, run by some evangelical group. Probably none of the staff believes in the theory of evolution.

This touching scene reminds me of the anti-Communist filmstrips we were shown in Catholic grammar school, in which the apparatchiks were always shown with fulsome sneers and (the clincher) smoking cigarettes. If they could have found any way to portray the female Commies as "slatternly girls" without bringing the near occasion of sin to us tender kinder, I'm sure they would have done so.

A lot of the reasoning at NRO these days is at about this level. That's one of the interesting things about the current war-gloat the Right's on. The much-vaunted Iraqi WMD seems, so far, to either be non-existent or available in such feeble conditions and quantities as to make any complaint of their imminent threat comical. The liberation of the poor Iraqis -- which became, in the later phases of the war, the new, cuddlier justification for the conflict-- is, as the ashes cool, beginning to manifest its absurdity: Iraq as a Republican-run human rights inititative that cost about a hundred billion dollars, and killed dozens of Americans and untold Iraqis. (Maybe that's what it takes to get Republicans behind a human-rights initiative: the promise of conquest, and contracts for their friends.) Their argument for the Iraq invasion increasingly boils down to "we won, so shut up." Considering how successful this logic has been, they can almost be forgiven for applying it to everything else. It's certainly easier than thinking.

Monday, April 21, 2003

YOUR MORNING IDIOTS. If it bothers you that Iraqi antiquities were looted, Clifford D. May says at NRO, you hate America. And WSJ Ignoramus Emeritus Robert Bartley don't like that there evolution business none too good ("The Scopes Monkey trial of 1925, the great defeat of the fundamentalists, has in particular come in for reassessment"). Which makes sense, because he's a living refutation of it.

Sunday, April 20, 2003

GOOD NEWS, BAD NEWS. In the space of a news cycle, a Pennsylvania girl was kidnapped and her parents killed, and the murderer/abductor apprehended. An Amber Alert had been speedily posted, though it doesn't seem to have figured in the arrest. But it has figured in others, including this recent Texas case.

The Amber Alert is a great thing. Throughout the Internet age we've heard talk of using technology to increase community involvement for the common good. This has mostly gone unrealized, but the Alerts really work, and I'm glad we have them.

I hope we can all spare a thought, though, for the Crime Bill just passed by the Senate that would Federalize the Alert system -- because, not willing to let well enough alone, our legislators have included in it over a hundred pages of additional legislation, including some drug and Internet provisions that have nothing to do with rescuing children, and which would invite judicial challenge sooner than later.

Under the proposed law, reports the Modesto Bee, "Property owners, for instance, can be criminally charged if they 'open, lease, rent, use or maintain any place, either temporarily or permanently,' that's employed in drug use." This provision, following an ugly trend, makes people responsible for events over which they may have no control -- which, apart from being patently unjust, also basically turns landlords into cops -- cops presumed to have powers of precognition, at that -- and that's a recipe for discriminatory renting practices, not to mention a further injection of paranoia into a society that's already dizzy with mistrust.

It would be nice if the Bill were stripped of all this crap and devoted entirely to making an already useful system better.

UPDATE: It should be mentioned that, from what I can find, the achievements of Amber Alerts so far are modest -- the best cases I can find (like the one aforementioned) are sketchy, and it's not always clear that the rescues are due to the system. This Oregon report, for example, is called "Boy Safe After Amber Alert Issued," but it may be that the boy in question was located by a scanner report, not the Amber Alert. I still think it's at least a promising idea, but this is all the more reason why we should be conscientious about its development, and certainly shouldn't be using it as an excuse to put all kinds of vaguely-related nonsense onto the lawbooks.

A PASCHAL MYSTERY THAT BEST REMAINS UNSOLVED. As if Easter weren't depressing enough, I have just seen a promo for Fox's "Mr. Personality." I have it on good authority that the masks the men wear do not conceal wens, port-wine scars, or other entertaining disfigurements. And, as this is a network show, the Story of O intimations will certainly go unfulfilled.

I also hear that there will be a "Ms. Personality" as soon as Fox decides from among these premises:

  • Boys Don't Cry-style breast restraints replace masks;
  • All involved parties wear masks, which completely cover their mouths and eyes, making the host's commentary (and the ballroom dancing and hot tub scenes) vastly more interesting;
  • Masks have beaks stuffed with aromatic herbs to prevent SARS infection;
  • Masks are entirely dispensed with and half-wits of both sexes merely flirt, gibber, and get it on.

Saturday, April 19, 2003

WHO SAYS THERE ARE NO ROLES FOR WOMEN? Coming soon: Oscar-winner Halle Berry in X2: X-Men United.

I wonder if Louise Fletcher has a bit role.
A MIGHTY WIND. Saw the new Christopher Guest movie last night. It delivered the expected laughs, thank God, as at this stage the price of a movie ticket is a serious investment for me, and if my breathing and/or thinking muscles don't get a good workout I consider myself royally rooked. The movie's goals are modest in the big-picture sense, and all the attention is lavished on versimilitude and comic engineering. The album jackets, archival footage, tunes, and physical and emotional characterizations (from Christopher Guest's quavering Peter Yarrow schtick to the annoyingly hearty New Main Street Singers) are even better-observed than in This is Spinal Tap.

It wasn't as hilarious to me as Spinal Tap for a couple of reasons .Foremost, rock and roll is just funnier than folk -- more bombastic, and more overtly enabling of lunatics at every level. Now there are some freaked-out folkies in the world, true, but you just don't get the kind of dirt on Pete Seeger and Mary Travers you get on their rock equivalents. And folk music just doesn't have Stonehenge (or cucumbers down the pants).

Also, Guest gambled a bit on his Mitch and Mickey characters. When Eugene Levy came out in his zombie mode, I thought we were in for many cheap burn-out jokes (and there were some, and they were all great). But Mitch and Mickey have kind of a sweet, sad story, and its payoff was really touching (though the coda was properly cynical). Roger Ebert thinks Guest went soft on his characters here and that vitiated the humor. Well, maybe -- Albert Brooks' earlier movies have more yuks than his later, gentler ones (like The Muse and Defending Your Life), and the corrosive Real Life is still my favorite. But in a world full of harshness I can't fault anyone for giving us a little more of the human dimension.

I also have to confess that I have a soft spot for 60s folk music of the cleaned-up and canned variety parodied here. My mother had a live Limelighters album, and a few years ago I got my own copy of it. To hear these well-scrubbed boys wailing their arch rendition of "There's a Meetin' Here Tonight," and imagining a bunch of equally well-scrubbed college students getting their groove on to it in some candle-in-the-Chinati-bottle joint, for some reason gives me great pleasure. It's just so square, but energetic at the same time -- full of hope and promise, and maybe embarrassing precisely for that reason. Rock gives you an out by being cynical. With folk at its worst-best (excluding, that is, the Loudon Wainwrights and John Prines, who have their own, different charm, and of course the antifolkies), you have some guy beating strings on a wooden box and trying to get the crowd to howl along about peace and freedom or some immigrant past he read about in a sociology class. It's silly, but it's also sweet -- not "sweet" in the IBM-ad way (I just made a million off some idiot followers of a shitty band! Sweet!), but in its traditional sense.

So Guest cut 'em some slack. And so do I.
MAY I BE AMONG THE FIRST to congratulate CalPundit on his new unblogspotty domain ( and soothing masthead design?

I notice that what might be called KD's personal or portfolio pages remain at an apparent ISP membership site. I've done things the other way 'round -- kept my motherlode at (q.v.) while posting my ephermera via blogspot. To each his own. Drum's much more serious about the daily news analysis than I am, and I have to confess he's better at it too. (But not as explosively offensive as I, so bookmark this site, too!)

Friday, April 18, 2003

A MISSPENT YOUTH. A honey, found on Yglesias -- a 14-year-old conservative author published by World Net Daily Books.

There are precedents for this. Richard Brookhiser was 16, I believe, when he started writing for National Review. (I recall an article he did for them on the anti-Vietnam War Moratorium demo in 1970.)

Brookhiser today is indistinguishable from any other right-wing gasbag. Talented as he is, he could have done anything with his life, yet he spends it writing crap like this.

Brookhiser, from the looks of him, is upper-echelon rightwing and well compensated for his work. Still, the sense of waste is palpable. If he had to write, he could have done short stories, screenplays, punk rock lyrics, etc. After some raps in the mouth, turn-off notices, and reviews of various dispositions, he would have been forced into the decision we all must make -- whether or not writing's worth it even without the money -- and thereafter pursued a destiny of his own making. Whether it be foolhardy or praiseworthy, every man should chart his own course.

But Uncle Bill Buckley and a whole host of enablers clapped for little Richard and set him up a child laborer. Today the former Golden Boy is a functionary, a lifer, an assistant minister of culture for the Forces of Darkness. How his parents must weep. And now little Kyle Williams will be railroaded into a similar fate.

I don't know what's worse -- encouraging a kid to become a writer, or encouraging him to become a political blowhard. Neither is an enviable destiny under the best of circumstances, but to have the die cast for you before the age of consent is downright tragic.

Come to thing of it, Yglesias looks a little young for this sort of work himself.
RIGHT LESSON, WRONG COUNTRY. "We must not let future generations down by bequeathing them a legacy of a society that is divided, a national debt that will break their backs, an educational system that churns out parrots and a society that wallows in self-pity and snivels in mortification at the first sign of a problem."

When I saw it on Instapundit my heart leapt. Then I saw that the guy was talking about Iraq.

Divided society, back-breaking debt, lousy public education, and self-pity that won't quit -- ain't that America?

Thursday, April 17, 2003


SUCH IDIOCY MUST BE COMMEMORATED. "No French goods should be bought here. None. I suggest they have some music at their meeting to set the mood. They should buy a copy of the 'Have You Forgotten?' CD and play it over and over until they understand." -- Jed Babbin, NRO.

"Have You Forgotten?" (for those living in fortunate ignorance of such crap) is a country song telling us that September 11 was the reason for the attack on Saddam Hussein, whose connection with September 11 is as far from proven as Jed Babbin is from common sense.

MIDDAY MIDTOWN. Something I'd never seen before: two Japanese businessmen bowing to each other outside Sushiden. It went on for several seconds, until the elder of the two gave a final head-shake, like a Shriner adjusting the tassel on his fez, spun around and took off.
WITCH-BURNING 101. "What the New York Times and Washington Post may really be afraid of, though, is something Mr. Paige isn't even pushing. That all of this may clear the way for local school boards to allow curriculum to include serious and honest debate about the role religion has played in society." -- Brendan Miniter, Wall Street Journal

I'm not afraid of that at all. Hell, I would like to teach such a class.

Along with Galileo and the Inquisition, we can treat the burning of Tyndale (and Cranmer, Rogers, et alia), such papal insanities as the Trail of Pope Formosus' corpse, the banning of books, the persecution of sects, and all manner of interference with the lives of free men by churches and churchmen, from blue laws to Bowers vs. Hardwick.

I don't think that's what Miniter had in mind. But if he's serious about the subject (just saying, of course), he must know that such negative examples would inevitably come up (unless they are suppressed from the newly-freed religious discussion, and, boy, the levels of irony there would do homage to a HoJo's parfait).

Let's plan ahead for this, since, like most of what our idiot prince's minions propose these days, it will probably come to pass. How should our proposed socio-religious teachers respond to ACLU-style flak during their "Jesus and Our Government" lessons? Here's a suggested response:

"Mistakes were made. Despite their long history of savage persecutions, most religions are now relatively benign units that dispense soup to the needy and pablum to their congregations -- except in some Muslim countries that we're going to take over soon anyway. Look, kids, give me a break -- you know I have to teach this shit. You don't have to pay any more attention to me than you do to the English teachers. All you have to do is pass the Federal test, and you've all got crammers for that. So don't ask so many questions. After all, it's not anything important -- it's just school."
PROGRAM NOTES. I love my employers, really, I do. But I have to get something off my chest. (Long look to the right, long look to the left.) I hate, hate, hate Lotus Notes.

You need a post-doctoral degree to fucking archive. If you have more than five notes in your inbox, all kinds of wack shit takes place.

F'rinstance, say I get a "new mail" alert, but I happen to be mucking around in my Sent mailbox. When I switch over to the Inbox, the new mail is not there. Eventually -- some 10 to 30 minutes later -- the mail will appear. But this bizarre arrangement cuts much of the immediacy out of email, which is a large part of the point of email, isn't it?

Maybe it works differently on Macs. Wait a minute -- I worked with Notes on a Mac in another job. It only sucked slightly less.

But, then, anything does. Bedcause I hate, hate, hate Windows.

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

GREATER NEW YORK. The local Fox affiliate -- that's New York, to those coming late to this epic poem I call a weblog -- showed results of an online poll that asked viewers to name their greatest concern with Mayor Bloomburg's budget decisions. 29 percent of respondents named the proposed commuter tax.

This is something that occurs to me now and then: New York City stations actually broadcast well beyond our city limits, into what's called the Tri-State Area. So it's not so weird that many Fox viewers would take a suburban view of our crisis (Just don't charge me for anything!). Nor is it weird that so many segments on the local news shows will be about something going on in other jurisdictions, nor that the weather, traffic updates, and calendar events shift focus from the City That Never Sleeps to the Towns, Villages, and Hamlets That Never Wake Up.

But the poll made clear to me something I usually only dimly acknowledge: that a lot of people outside the City have a stake in New York. We employ thousands of out-of-towners, and entertain and play host to thousands more. Whatever the civic integrity of the many smaller units that surround us, they all have an eye turned toward us. Will it be tough getting through the tunnel tomorrow morning? Will some parade or state visit impede traffic? How long's the Orchid Show running?

And this extends even to an offhand kind of empathy. Our news is to a large extent their news. They probably are more aware of the bouncer that was killed in the East Village last weekend than they would be of a bouncer killed in the next Township. We all cluck our tongues or feel badly about the trials and travails of nationally-broadcast news subjects, but once Elizabeth Smart is off the tube, Laci Peterson is on it, and here comes Michael Skakel for a repeat performance. That camera jumps from locale to locale. But New York is a fixed stage which three states, at least, take in on a daily basis.

That ought to make me feel closer to at least this nearby bloc of non-New Yorkers. But it just makes me feel further from them. We're the ones drowning in debt and intermittently occupied by rifle-toting troopers. They're living in green acres and watching us go broke from well-appointed rec rooms. And whenever we ask for a hand, we usually get the back of it. Sheldon Silver is trying to squeeze a couple billion out of the state assembly for the City, and the Governor's office calls it "outrageous." Peekskill Pataki knows where his bread is buttered.

After Giulianification and everything else, we remain the place where they'd never want to live but would certainly visit to take in dinner and a show -- just so long as the streets are clean and well-patrolled, and no one asks them to take a personal interest in how they might remain so.
ALT.JESUS. I see Evanescence has made its big crossover move. Let's see where they take it from here. However, I have to say that it's getting harder to pick the rockin' Christers out of a lineup. It was months before I knew Creed, Evanescence's erstwhile labelmate, was singing to me about Jesus. (I only knew that I'd had enough of that particular vocal affectation about two verses in, and Nickelback hadn't even broken yet.) I ain't seeing too much overt prosletyzing at Creed's website, either. Of course, I don't watch many videos, and I notice they have at least one with stigmata, so maybe their message is just pitched sufficiently on the downlow to make it a cool-factor -- you know, like drugs used to be.

The Byrds, The Rolling Stones, Lou Reed -- they've all name-checked the Messiah. Maybe one of them should negotiate for Evanescence's old slot.

MISTAH KURTZ, HE NUTS. All you really need is the title of the new Stanley Kurtz joint: "Democratic Imperialism: A Blueprint." You can slog through the whole thing if you like, and learn how John Stuart Mill's nervous breakdown changed the course of British policy in India (Sigh -- remember when "the personal is the political" was the left's screwy idea?), but I warn you, it's basically about how to pacify the wogs -- er, ragheads -- er, whomever. (Sample quote: "The trick is to encourage electoral experiments on the local level while still keeping hold of national power." I'd say "trick" is the very word.)

You know, wingers froth over Noam Chomsky, but the Professor's "client state" paradigm is holding up pretty good at the moment.

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

ON THE BRIGHT SIDE. The weather is gorgeous. People midtown seem to be running less on nervous energy than on bright-eyedness and bushy-tailedness. Jackets are draped over single shoulders, sunglasses are proudly perched on upturned nose-bridges. And the goat-footed balloon man whistles far and wee.
MORE TRICKS OF THE TRADE. A fascinating story in the NY Sun (to which rag I won't link because they require subscription, and because they suck -- though I will link to a hilarious site that daily calls the bastards out) about a movement among Congressional mouth-breathers to mandate "ideological diversity" at universities -- here's a taste of the plan:

The Senate Republican aide said no official method of measuring "ideological diversity" has been set, as the legislation has not been drafted yet. But the aide said such factors as religion and party registration could be used.

It wouldn’t be the first time there’s been a law banning ideological discrimination; the District of Columbia, for example, bars discrimination based on party affiliation as well as race, gender and sexual orientation.

Notice the author's quick dash from the harsh facts of the first graf -- in which he glibly informs us that soon professors may be hired and fired on the overt basis of personal beliefs -- to the assurance that such a law would be no different from a D.C. anti-discrimination ordinance (notwithstanding, though, that the D.C. law prevents exclusion, whereas the proposed fiat would seem to demand it). But you wouldn't have to notice it to know that something's up.

One partial tipoff is the headline, "Universities Resist Efforts To Require Ideological Diversity On Campuses," which has the classically awkward backward construction (for isn't the proposed law itself, draconian yet little-covered, the more newsworthy subject?) of a soft-soap job.

Another is the mention of anti-Semitism, prominent in the lead graf and sprinkled elsewhere. As portrayed, the law would not specifically protect Jews, and creating quotas based on "religion and party registration" to get at anti-Semites is akin to blowing up a mountain to shake some oranges from a nearby tree. Real anti-Semitism is a serious thing (oy -- what a pain in the ass is this blogospheric due-diligence!), but we can safely assume that in the case of this "reporter" -- one Timothy Starks -- brandishment of anti-Semitism is merely the refuge (though probably not the last) of a scoundrel.

See how it works?
"MEME" IS A PRETTIER WORD THAN "LIE". This guy, a Murdoch scrivener approved by a couple of blog-machers, drops an article gloating over about a dozen Aussie leftists who have been proved wrong in their Iraq casualty estimates.

So far so what, as most sane people on either side of the fence never doubted our caissons would roll over the Iraqi military. (The more interesting argument remains: how good is this sort of 'diplomacy by other means' in the long run for the U.S.?)

But it's all in the padding: the columnist in question lards his jest with statements like these:

So where are you today, you whom Saddam reckoned among his friends?
Where are you who waved anti-war banners that pouted: "Not In Our Name"?...

But when we say the Left got this war wrong, we must be clear that this was no innocent error of judgment. Too many wilfully let a self-indulgent loathing of capitalism, or the US or John Howard blind them to the real truths and the real evil.
NOR can we let the myth grow that the Left always knew the war would be won easily, and was worried more by the peace...

...they dreamed of a war in which millions died, and Iraqis greeted our soldiers not with kisses but bullets. Overseas, too, anti-war propagandists luridly dreamed of American honour drowning in Iraqi blood... How lovingly they linger on news of looting...

Aside from a couple of home-grown De Genovas among them, these guys appear just to have been wrong (albeit spectacularly so) about the conditions of the road to victory. To say that they are pro-Saddam, or dreaming of blood, on the basis of this evidence is rather a bridge too far.

But his fustian and frothing is not meant for them, but for the rest of us -- that is, anyone else who thinks our new Middle Eastern adventurism might not be the best use of our lives and lucre, however much was spent (or has been, so far). If you went to an anti-war rally, you're pals with Saddam. If you note with alarm the chaos in Baghdad, it is only because your dream of blood was interrupted by victory. And when the bill for this famous victory is presented, should you wonder aloud at the great cost and the small return, it will doubtless be motivated by your hatred of America and lust for carnage.

Saddam's two-minute hate is up -- yours is just beginning.

Monday, April 14, 2003

I TOLD YOU HE HAD STYLE. I really ought to read Bahrain's Gulf Daily News more often. They had a lovely story today called "Ex-banker 'helped Saddam hide cash in Satan's account'."

Some highlights:

A retired banker living in Switzerland spent 10 years helping Iraqi President Saddam Hussein hide millions of dollars via a bank account under the name of Satan, Britain's Sunday Times reported...

One of Saddam's relatives, Saad Al Mahdi, who controlled the "Satan" account with the Banca del Gottardo in the Bahamas, was beheaded by the Iraqi leader, possibly because he was skimming cash from the account, the report said, labelling him "something of a playboy"...

According to the paper, the former banker cannot remember details of his work for Saddam, whom he described as "a blood-thirsty, crazy man", having met him on several occasions.

That "having met him on several occasions" is the work of a true prose stylist. As for Saddam, he'll leave behind more anecdotes than Jerry Lee Lewis and Phil Spector put together.

PERMALINKS WORK, I THINK. Apparently I have to update the archive every time I post though. Drag.

Sunday, April 13, 2003

FOUND TREASURES. I went looking for info about the new Christopher Guest film, "A Mighty Wind," and got an entirely different "A Mighty Wind." I'm not sure I wouldn't prefer to see their film. Solar energy, "Meteor judgement coming to Earth," and Messianic Judaism -- this could be the next "Left Behind."
JUNK FEAST. I'm mildly briefly happy. And why? Because fortune has placed Let's Do It Again on my telescreen. Yes, the even-lamer reprise to Uptown Saturday Night with Bill Cosby and Sidney Poitier (who also lamely directed) and an all-black-star cast including Ossie Davis in a fez, J. J. "Dy-no-mite" Walker as a middleweight (!) boxer, John Amos as a kingpin, Calvin Lockhart (!!) as Biggie Smalls (see where they got it, kids?) and Denise Nicholas looking as be-a-utiful as she did on "Room 222" (and if she looks any different now I don't want to know about it). Goofy gags (some including hypnosis!), Poitier and Cosby in pimpwear (though Cosby is also fetching in his courderoy pork-pie hat), lots of ostentatious black supernumeraries (shouts to Louis Farrakhan!), and a reeeeal nice Curtis Mayfield soundtrack. It's a low-budget blessing, especially with Budweiser (though I expect Mickey's would do at least as well). Kudos to the African History Network for the viewing.

(On the "Room 222" tip, did you know Lloyd Haynes died of cancer in 1986? Pause in memoriam. The dude was a dude. I saw another 222er, Karen Valentine, in "Breaking Legs" off-Broadway some years back. She was fine, of course. (Larry Storch was in the same production!) And we all know about Michael Constantine's fat role in the fat Greek wedding. Ah, early 70s TV. Bliss it was to be alive.)

MY BUDDY. "The emerging US administration in Baghdad intends to use screened members of Saddam Hussein's municipal police force to keep order in the capital...another civil affairs officer, Major David Cooper, said: 'An awful lot of these people were police officers first and Ba'athists second. If we can identify those who were not hardline Ba'athists but are hardline Iraqi policemen, we can use them to maintain order.'" --Guardian.

Sergeant, this is Officer Mohammed. You'll be partnering with him on foot patrol

American pig, there is looter! Let us go cut out his tongue!

Ease up, Officer. He's only got a bag of groceries and a microwave.

I did not see the microwave. Is grand theft! I cut off his testicles as well!

(cue music and credits: Marcus and Mohammed -- teleplay by Bud Yorkin)

American pig, I have here prisoner. Come, let us interrogate him!

Officer, this man is dead!

What? Is impossible! I applied the electrodes for only one hour! He must have heart condition.

Ooooooh, you'll be the death of me, Officer Mohammed!

I see this one as more of a Desmond Wilson vehicle.

SHIT IN A CORNER II. Wow, they're still nuts over at the NRO blog. Fave line: "My new media analysis column suggests that many people labelled 'peace activists' would be properly labelled 'war activists.'" Fight the power, brother. And Lord bless us, Ned Flanders is back. Isn't Dallas a big enough market, or hasn't his local prayer group made him comfortable yet?

But the best is this record review:

Want to celebrate the liberation of Iraq? Like patriotic music? Interested in new independent artists? Then check out the superb new album by Eric Free... Free sings, "There's no God in old Bin Laden, Just the Devil grinnin' there...Bin Laden, America is comin' after you! You got no place to run or hide, Your killin' days are through!...Them crazy Taliban hate women, Treat 'em all like slaves. They bag 'em up from head to toe, Can't even show their face." Kim Il-Jong gets a bluegrass treatment... The title track "Saddam Insane" proclaims, "Saddam Insane, twisted brain, Gotta say g'bye to his evil reign! Sad Iraqis' house of pain, Saddam, Saddam, Saddam Insane!" Inspiring songs such as "United We Stand," "Flight 93," "American Heroes (At Ground Zero)," and "America Will Win" celebrate American freedom, valor, and determination...

Promising, but he's got nothin' on the Goldwaters.
METS UPDATE. Noo Yawk dropped one to the Expos tonight. Piazza stranded seven baserunners. Ty Whatshisname (Wigglesworth? Worthington?) hit well, but Cedeno's not batting his weight. Timo Perez caught a pitch on his hand. It didn't look good, and he got called for strike three, having come around with the bat while trying to avoid the ball. Shinjo made a nice leaping catch -- highlight of the Mets' game. It'll be a long season.

Saturday, April 12, 2003

CORPORATE CITIZENS.The afterwar is an annoying subject, so how about a Den Beste-size post on the European Union? I notice that Hungary is in. Oddly, their referendum drew less than half the eligible voters. You don't expect that kind of apathy from the newly-freed. And some people believe that Poland's June EU vote will be similarly light.

The Polish prediction (great title for something, huh?) factors in a general "disarray" in Polish politics. But you don't have to be politically fragile, it seems, to have a weak EU turnout.

According to this 1999 BBC report, as the EU's power has grown, voter interest has actually declined:

The UK turnout - the lowest in the union at just 23.3% - also followed the pan-European downward trend since the last elections in 1994, when 36% of UK voters made it to the polling stations.

This year, all countries but Ireland have seen fewer people putting a cross on ballot slips.

"What people don't realise is they have failed to vote for people who have the power to change their lives," said Mr Brittan.

This EU voting roundup shows a few high vote-producing states (e.g. Luxembourg, Italy, and Greece, which all cracked 70 percent), but generally the major nations did not recruit many balloters. Germany, the UK, and France were under 50 percent compliance. The Dutch returned 29.9 percent. MEP (Member of European Parliament) voting played out to an average of 60 percent that year, but this would appear to represent a very wide range of national results. According to the EU's own research, "Although around 7 in 10 respondents said they intended to vote in the June 1999 elections, actual turnout rates were far lower, ranging from 24 percent in the UK to 90 percent in Belgium where voting is compulsory." [emphasis mine -- hey, how do you enforce compulsory voting, anyway?]

The Danes, bless them, had a record high turnout (87 percent) in 2000 -- in which they rejected the European Union.

According to this paper by Hilary Silver out of Brown University:

Nor are European Union institutions sufficiently democratic and responsive to popular opinion. Only half the Europeans surveyed by Eurobarometers support their country’s membership in the EU, and less than 45 percent feel satisfied with the way EU democracy works....

During times of rapid social change, citizens need reassurance that their sacrifices and risk-taking will be justified in the long run. That takes leadership. Given the weakness of the European Parliament, national elections serve as the main outlets for sentiments of malaise, mistrust or misery.

My quick gloss is that the more real the benefits of membership are to the citizens, the more likely they are to come out and vote. Slovenia, which could use some backup, got 60 percent out to approve the EU -- though that may have been inflated by the simultaneous referendum on NATO, which offers military support that voters in that troubled region might appreciate.

It may also suggest that the EU is, to many European citizens, a done deal. But that doesn't mean they expect anything of it. The Union is first and foremost an economic entity -- a way for the members to exponentiate their bargaining power in big, global deals. And as we have seen from our own globalization efforts hereabouts, that doesn't necessarily help the working folks -- not in any way we can feel (or spend), anyway.

In 2002 the Irish, having rejected in 2001 the eastward expansion of the EU to include 12 new members, were given a second chance to approve it by a nervous Irish government. It got over that time, but the turnout was under 50 percent. Seems like they responded, weakly, to badgering -- OK, OK, quit bugging me, I'll sign up.

Increasingly, here and abroad, we are becoming disengaged from our politics. The establishment of a new level of governance doesn't excite the Europeans any more than a new management structure would excite the workers in your average corporation. Maybe that's the new paradigm for what we are used to calling democracies -- corporate citizenship. The big boys propose the plan, and wait for it (or push for it) to gain momentum. We do vote, still, but with diminishing interest. Eventually, maybe, we'll just get the memo.
A LANDMARK DECISION. I just deleted a post. It wasn't all that bad -- a small shriek of outrage at Matt Welch -- but I hadn't thought it through and I wasn't happy with it. Rather than do reeks and wrecks on it, I threw it out. (The other post I put up while equally drunk ain't the best either, but it's close enough for blog 'n' roil and so it stands.)

After all, this isn't a diary. It's a priceless work of art.
KEEP ON ROCKIN' IN THE FREE WORLD. "Kurds Looting Sweeps Across Liberated Kirkuk" says the Washington Post. The Red Cross and others are asking the U.S. to do its duty by its newly liberated charges, the same paper reports. But to no avail. Hospitals in Iraq are crowded with the dying (dying? in our surgical strike? how did that happen?), with the lights out and the water run dry. From the Guardian:

The man had been dumped near the rubbish bins at the back, blood spreading across his chequered shirt. An orderly, who had been burying bloated corpses in a mass grave in the hospital grounds, recited the Muslim last rites. "Dead, dead, he's died, what can we do?" and returned to his shovel. But the man was breathing, in slow laborious gurgles, and his flesh was warm.

Forty-eight hours after Baghdad was liberated - as President George Bush would call it - by American forces, the city yesterday was in the throes of chaos. Men with Kalashnikovs dragged drivers from their cars at gunpoint, babies were killed by cluster bombs, and hospitals that had carried on right through the bombing were transformed into visions of hell.

But ignore that. Ignore the officially-unnumbered dead. Look at the fallen statue of Saddam! Read the propaganda that tells you how grateful you should be for this sweeping victory of freedom, bought with blood and billions. Learn to hate those that objected. Got fuel to burn, got roads to drive. Keep on rockin' in the free world.

Thursday, April 10, 2003

CITY LIFE. According to Newsday, Governor Pataki is still against addressing our City's budget shortfalls with a commuter tax, but likes several alternatives, the most remunerative among these "tolls on East River bridges." If he has his druthers (and he will, friends, he will), out-of-towners who use our facilities every weekday will continue to pay bupkis toward their upkeep, while folks who drive from Brooklyn to Manhattan and back will be dunned a couple bucks a pop.

On the plus side, he also suggests a "50 percent surcharge on absentee landlord-owned apartment buildings," which will at least inspire a few sitcom pilots:

Listen, Achmed, if anyone asks, you're the landlord, get me? Look, I got papers made out and everything!

Oh, sir! To think that I, a humble rat-catcher, should rise to become the proprietor of such a fine slum! I shall not fail you, sir! As my first official act, I will install an intercom!

Look, smart guy, don't get any ideas! See this address? That's where you deposit the rent checks!

Oh my goodness, sir! This bank is in the Cayman Islands! Please tell me, what subway do I take to get there?

Oo-oo-oo-oo-oo-ooh, you'll be the death of me,
Achmed of Bushwick! (cue music)

You think Danny DeVito's up for another sitcom?
FATHER OF LIES.“New Yorkers broke into cheers yesterday as they gathered in cold drizzle in Times Square to watch on live TV the end of Saddam’s reign of terror.”

The New York Post reporters (three of them on this story!) decline to give a crowd estimate. The accompanying photo shows images of Baghdad on the Jumbotron high over Times Square, and a couple of umbrellas. Four passers-by are quoted.

At this point, careful readers will tumble to the fact that the Post reporters were tasked with creating a “V-I Day” (or is it V-S?) story to make the world see how dizzy with liberation fever are the citizens of 9/11-ville. Unfortunately most of us were busy at, or looking for, work. So, instead of an iconic clinch, they gave us a picture of a big TV and the headline “Cheers of Victory in Times Square.” (Also unfortunately, the primary audience for the Post does not include too many careful readers.)

Meanwhile the hapless reporters’ boss, Rupert Murdoch, has gained control of Direct TV in the United States, making him, per The World Today, “the dominant player in Pay TV on the world stage.” So expect this sort of crack journalism to expand unabated into every home that is equipped with a telescreen.

IT'S A JOKE, ANDY. Andrew Sullivan, physiologically unable to produce humor, proves himself equally unable to recognize it. He carries a quote by Eric Alterman from the New York Observer, which said Alterman "was 'enormously gratified' by the reception to his book (good review in The Times), but added that he was also disappointed because the book had 'been crowded out by the war,' and thus it had been hard to get 'traction.' 'I had a lot of reasons to be anti-war, and the book was a small one,' he said."

Sullivan's gloss: "Did your jaw just break your coffee mug?"

I thought Brits were supposed to appreciate drollery, what?

Wednesday, April 09, 2003

HOW SPIN WORKS: A CONTINUING SERIES. "The White House warned North Korea, Iran and Syria on Wednesday to 'draw the appropriate lesson from Iraq' as the UN Security Council struggled to respond to Pyongyang's apparent revival of its nuclear weapons program." --International Herald Tribune.

"Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Az., said Wednesday that comments reportedly uttered by ex-President Bill Clinton falsely accusing President Bush of preparing to invade North Korea could be 'very damaging' to efforts to ease tensions between Washington, D.C. and Pyongyang... The Arizona Republican said he feared that Clinton's remark could prompt Kim to 'try to do something preemptively. And that would be very, very bad.'" -- NewsMax.

"You're gonna kick yourselves when I show you how he did this, it's so simple. 'Cause magic is all about...misdirection."--"The Amazing Maleeni," The X-Files.
UH-OH, #3,452. "Congressional Republicans, working with the Bush administration, are maneuvering to make permanent the sweeping anti-terrorism powers granted to federal law enforcement agents after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, officials said Tuesday." -- San Francisco Chronicle.

ANDY'S GANG. I keep thinking of Al Pacino and Tony Roberts in Serpico -- "Ooh, anudder guy! We got anudder guy here!" On the heels of Andrew Sullivan's latest veiled traitor-baiting (see below), we get Donald Luskin at NRO: "The liberal punditocracy is about to face the sum of all fears: a world in which President Bush took the nation to war over all their objections, doubts, and second-guesses -- and won."

For those of you who need it more carefully explained: right-wing propagandists -- whether motivated by meme or marching order, I can't tell -- have started talking as if liberals had backed Saddam Hussein in the recent war (an even more slanderous extension of the "objectively pro-Saddam" slur). Luskin's particular take ("The left-leaning pundits must think of something — anything! — about which they can conclude: 'If that happens, we will have lost the war, whatever happens on the battlefield'") is particularly instructive. He takes the liberal suggestion that an ill-advised war may lead to unfortunate consequences for the United States, and willfully misreads it as an attempt to make the President look like a Big Loser. We're just saying that, in other words, to make him look bad.

When criticism is presumed to be nothing more than a tactic, it need not be addressed. See how it works?

The wingers will need this head of steam, as the jubilation of Baghdad may not long distract the American public from the horrible state of our own nation's economy. But it does make things easier when you can just call your opponent a traitor.
FURTHER ADVENTURES IN ANDYLAND. "Monsieur Mohammed Said Sahaf (why do I think of these Iraqi nutjobs as somehow French?)..." --Andrew Sullivan.

(Best Elaine Benes voice:) Well, that's because you're an idiot.

Elsewhere in Andyland, the proprietor sneers that Maureen Dowd "writes with astonishing glibness, 'We were always going to win the war with Iraq.' Oh, really? I don't remember her saying such a thing before." Similarly, her failure to note that E=Mc2 proves she doesn't believe in the Theory of Relativity.

Or maybe he's saying that MoDo had her money on the Iraqi Republican Guard. That's the thing about Sullivan: you can never tell quite he's trying to say, but you can bet it's something stupid.
FOR THAT HE CREEPS. West Hollywood, CA, has made it illegal to declaw cats within its city limits. I must applaud this enlightened development. These magnificent critters were worshipped in ancient Egypt, yet in our own time they are subject to myriad humiliations -- none more disgusting than the preeminent cat character on TV, Salem in Sabrina the Teenage Witch, portrayed by some kind of animatronic puppet as a true Uncle Tomcat.

Their storied independence, their celebration by great English poets, and the way my Nelson and Bella forthrightly demand (never begging, as dogs would) their meals, and lazily admire every good thing that comes to them, such as the sunlight streaming through the living room window, as their due rather than as a gift, tesifies to the superiority of their spirit. It makes sense that they would win such a victory well before any community of dogs was liberated from, say, choke collars or ugly sweaters. At this rate, they'll achieve independence sooner than Guam.

Tuesday, April 08, 2003

"DON'T WORRY, GOVERNOR STEVENSON, THE THINKING PEOPLE OF THE COUNTRY ARE WITH YOU!" "YES, BUT I NEED A MAJORITY." The war is in its endgame, and already the war advocates are taking the opportunity to slander their opposition: You're all traitors, you love Saddam, no one likes you...

In case some of you youngsters who haven't been through this before are feeling a great sense of injustice right about now, let me tell you straight: you have every reason to feel that way. Nothing succeeds like success, and everyone wants to be on the winning team, even if they missed the first three quarters. Also, when faced with the choice between, on the one hand, believing that their Government would spend billions of dollars and dozens of American lives on a selfless mission of mercy, and, on the other hand, believing that their Government cynically overinflated a threat through lies and jingoism in order to take over a large, oil-rich country, the American people are going to make the choice that's easiest on themselves. I mean, when they have to travel a hundred yards to pick up a bottle of milk, they usually take a car -- how drawn to challenge do you think they are?

So, for a while, it'll be a little lonely for thinking people. As I spent more than a year demonstrating, nonsense is in fashion right now. You just won't be cool for some time.

Whether you can stick it depends on how devoted you are to being right. If you doubt your devotion, you might as well pick up your pennant and head off to the night rally right now. If your understanding of what it means to be an American doesn't absolutely force you to insist that two and two make four, then the historical observation that these things tend to run in cycles, and that our day will come, will not hold you to it. There's only one reason to choose what's right over what's wrong, and that's because it's right.