Friday, May 30, 2003


"Tonight we blame a friend of my wife's, a charming lass -- no, she's not a lass. Nor is she a colleen, a frail, a skirt, a broad, a womyn, a twist, or any other synonym. Nor is she a gal. 'Person' doesn't do the job -- please. When we're all shave-skulled automatons in white jumpsuits we will all be Persons. Not until. We really need a new gender-specific word for people who come over to pick up something, stay for two hours chatting with your wife and delighting your child, leave you with a stack of reading material, and listen to you expand on the politics of David Lynch on the way down the stairs."

One word? How about "woman"? (Or, if we have room for a few modifiers, "terrified woman buttonholed by lunatic while trying to escape friend's house"?)

James Lileks -- a man's madman!

HEADLINE OF THE MONTH. "San Francisco Fed Chief Says Vegas Economy Performing Well" -- Las Vegas Sun. Seven come eleven, snake eyes watching you.

Thursday, May 29, 2003

THROUGH BEING COOL. Over at The Corner they're still talking about young conservatives, and posting their missives, in which the Tory tykes tell how hip they are. Sample: "By the way, I was a skateboarder for most of my life. I never wore a blue blazer. It was all of my rich girlfriends, who were extreme lefties, that belonged to the Country Club." Rawk on, dude!

Their obsession is understandable. This conservative redoubt, chaired by Jonah "Check out my Simpsons references" Goldberg, is increasingly devoted to redefining Cool in its favor. And why not? They have the country's politics in a headlock, and so have leisure to worry about whether the kids think they're alright.

Let 'em. Youth culture (see entry below) is wholly manipulated and corrupt, and it hardly matters by what guerilla marketing channels the underaged are approached. Truth and bullshit can each be as easily dressed in rad gear. A fixation with fashion is appropriate for posers, though unsuitable to higher minds.

One's experiences teach the lessons that form one's politics. So long as suburbanites devoid of any higher interest than cheaper gas for their SUVs and lower rates for their second mortgages comprise the bulk of the electorate, it is these concerns that will determine our future course. Bush is manipulating both these aforementioned factors to his advantage, and his triumph or defeat will rest on the persistence of their success unto the next electorial showdown. Our politics then are guided not by great issues but by the cynical calculations of well-placed spinmeisters.

How cool is that?
MUSCLEBOUND INDIE ROCKER SPEAKS TRUTH. A friend forwarded an excerpt from a Henry Rollins interview, taken by Michael Dean for a book he's working on and which will no doubt be worth reading, as is this Rollins fragment:

To do what you want to do, you have to be very tough. Especially in this day and age. Not tough like being insensitive, you have to be tough like Miles Davis who protected his art. He was very protective of that thing that he had, he was like a swan -- it's this very graceful creature but if you mess with it, it gets very pugnacious...

I think these days a lot of bands who do their first tour on a Privo bus with shiny new gear are missing out on a lot of things that will keep them in the game after the blush is off the rose. Because you never maintain your popularity -- everyone has an arc. Or ebbs and flows. Guys like Neil Young, they just keep making records and it's never like an up or down thing, it's like a high-tide, low-tide thing. He's just going to keep making records whether you buy them or not. Neil Young makes records. That's what he does... And those bands that were hydrogrown through the Clear Channel thing, they have no roots to the ground so when push comes to shove, they have no anchor.

I used to think Rollins was kind of silly, but these are not the words of a silly man.
SEE YA LATER, BOI. Matthew Yglesias is delighted that Avril Lavigne's "Sk8er Boi" will soon be a major motion picture. He loves Avril, and there I let him alone; de gustibus non disputandum est. But I have a couple of preemptive peeves against the picture.

First, there's the song. A nice piece of radio fluff, but what kind of movie will it make? A stuck-up girl (did ballet, dontcha know) turns down a boy in baggy pants, and winds up a single mom while the eponymous poser becomes a superstar, slammin' on his guitar. My sympathy is with the girl, of course, and I think it's a little creepy that the most noteworthy thing about the boi is that he's popular and rich. Doesn't anyone believe anymore that a heart can broken by anything other than a missed seat on a gravy train?

What seems like more of a problem is the pictoralization of a pop tune. It's rare enough to get that right in a video, let alone a 90 minute feature. I recall the video of the Kinks' "Come Dancin'." A nice tune, and the video has some nice bits, but one scene forever embodies the tendency of filmmakers to crush the life out of a good musical moment. In the bridge of the song, when the "Palais" that was the arena of the older brother's teenage romance, is no more ("The day that they tore down the Palais/my brother broke down and cried"), there's a nice Davies Brothers moment -- Ray sounds sad, and Dave smashes out power chords. It suggests sorrow, futility, and rage. In the video, we see at that moment the younger brother jumping gleefully on his bed, thrashing air-guitar on his tennis racket. It's rhythmically correct, but runs so contrary to the musical moment as to take all the meaning out of it.

When "Sk8er Boi" is all done up nice and Hollywood with James van der Beek and Hillary Duff, or whomever, can we really expect any better?

A NUCLEAR ERA, BUT I HAVE NO FEAR. Way back during the last State of the Union address, the President promised a billion-and-change to develop "hydrogen fuel technologies" that would lead -- here comes the concrete example beloved of speechwriters -- to the development of "clean, hydrogen powered automobiles." This was, as reported by Environmental News Services, the first mention by Bush in a SOTU of environmental issues.

I thought at the time it was a feint, in the midst of a war-ginning speech, to show that he was not all about blood and thunder. (As to the money, well, recent developments demonstrate that Bush is awful free with a public buck.) But it's beginning to dawn on me that the President had a larger agenda.

Pete Domenici (R, NM, and chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee) is promoting a bill to revive the nation's moribund nuclear energy industry. You may, or may not, remember the "No Nukes" movement of a couple decades ago that effectively shut down the proliferation of nuclear plants, partly by convincing insurers to charge sky-high rates on such facilities. Well, Domenici's bill would lower that hurdle by limiting the nuke-makers' liability, and even partially funding the development of plants with taxpayer money.

It is to be remembered that the hydrogen for the Bush car would almost certainly come from nuclear reactors.

Here's where the environmental angle comes into play. There is a lingering fear among sentient humans of nuclear plants leaking radioactive waste, blowing up, and generally Chernobyling. The Republicans are countering the anti-nuclear meme with one more current and cheerful: the promise of decreased reliance on petroleum. As the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) nicely puts it:

In this false future, the nuclear power industry becomes an environmental savior... unless checked, the nuclear power industry will receive "clean air" credits under both state and federal legislation, which will help bolster its unbalanced books. It will produce hydrogen for clean vehicles, while producing more tons of radioactive waste with no viable disposal method...

You can read the White House's case for its "Freedom Fuel" initiative pretty much intact at Science Blog. NIRS is good on the counter-argument, as is this recent Village Voice article, which states that "Scientists have not yet designed a nuclear facility whose safety and efficiency trumps that of gas or coal."

Of course, that puts the anti-nuclear crowd in the position of arguing, however indirectly and unwillingly, for gas and coal, and we all know how dirty they are. That's worth a billion-plus in PR right there -- especially when you consider that select Friends of W will benefit from nuclear power protections. Cynicism, the ever-reliable Virgil in the Inferno of contemporary politics, suggests that the transfer of profits from Halliburton's fossil fuel cost centers to its nuclear ones will be fairly seamless.

I'm still trying to figure how the other touchy-feely talking point of the 2003 SOTU, AIDS in Africa, makes money for Bush backers while softening his image, but I imagine an answer will come soon enough.
CHUM FRINK. As a professional writer who has labored long in corporate vineyards, I have a special affection for, and identification with, T. Cholmondeley (Chum) Frink, the repulsive PR/ad man in Sinclair Lewis' "Babbitt." Frink, wrote Lewis,

was not only the author of "Poemulations," which, syndicated daily in sixty-seven leading newspapers, gave him one of the largest audiences of any poet in the world, but also an optimistic lecturer and the creator of "Ads that Add." Despite the searching philosophy and high morality of his verses, they were humorous and easily understood by any child of twelve...

Of course Frink is revealed in the end to be a self-loathing drunk.

So I am delighted to find that there is a prog-rock group called Chum Frink, and especially delighted that nowhere on their web site do they explain their name. Such restraint in the world of rock is rare and admirable.
CONTEMPT FOR THE PUNTER. I'm not the only ranter around who thinks his own bad customer service experiences are worth reading. Patrick Hayden is angry at his high-speed access provider, Speakeasy, for ripping him off. I'm not surprised. As recounted here, I got fucked over by NorthPoint (Outta business! See ya!) and Verizon (Service doesn't really work with Macs and screws up your operating system and mail agent! See ya!), in ways that were slightly different from those described by Hayden but fundamentally similar in that they reflect a growing trend of what I'll call contempt for the punter.

To reiterate, so many service companies make their long green from big clients that they don't think much about customer satisfaction down at the sub-millionaire end of the demo. Like a lot of things businessmen don't really care about, they respond to perceived problems in that area by sprinking some money and programs in places where trade magazine reporters might notice them, all the while leaving the basic problem -- systems designed to extract maximum money with minimum customer benefit -- untouched.

The "We don't use last names" response Hayden got from Speakeasy's rep is hilarious. And I expect that, should that piece of shit company remain in business (or become a wholly-owned part of some mega-corporation, as I suspect its owners are hoping), they will eventually institute a CRM program meant to address the problem -- meaning the customers' reps will give out last names, and lots of soothing baby-talk, but no better service.

As it happens, JP Morgan Chase appears to have fixed the problem they caused for me the other day. I say "appears" because in my discussions with them they left themselves enough rhetorical wiggle room to leave me on edge as to whether this problem is fixed for good, for a day, or what.

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

YOU'VE GOT QUESTIONS, WE'VE GOT ANSWERS. "SO WHY DO I CARE ABOUT THE NEW YORK TIMES STORY?" Because the movement for which you are an operative has always had it in for the Times, and the Blair mess (and the attendant Bragg pseudo-scandal) provides the proverbial shit that brings the proverbial happiness to the proverbial pig. "So why do many people consider [newspapers] more reliable than blogs?" I guess it will be a year or two before the average American is so stupid that he can't tell the difference between a major newsgathering organization with bureaus all over the world and deskbound link-peddlers with catchphrases, so I'll save my explanation for then.

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

CURSE CONT. These days I find it a lot easier to get spitting mad at institutions than at politicians, even. Chase's unhelpfulness mirrors a pattern I've found in many utilities and services. People complain and complain about customer service, and the companies dump billions into CRM and related training and technologies as a "response" to these complaints. They also drill into into their reps' heads that customer service is important, which mainly translates to some increased touchy-feeliness in their scripts -- how often have you heard a rep assure you that it is his or her goal to provide you with "outstanding" (or "excellent") service?

But there's not a lot the reps can do, because it is too often in the interest of the institutions themselves to prevent you from getting what you need.

Think about free-magazine deals. Once you've taken the free magazine, the company has a vested interest in keeping you from cancelling the automatic subscription that's supposed to kick in sometime afterward. They'll put you on hold forever, lose your trouble ticket, offer you some other premium -- whatever it takes to keep you from registering a final and irrefutable cancellation. Suddenly the nice people who gave you a free magazine turn into greedhead sharks.

With big companies it's subtler. First off, you're usually over a barrel: you need a key service rendered, and your only leverage is a threat is to pull your business. But what if they don't care? What if their income mostly derives from much bigger clients -- and an eternally-replenished pool of little fish like yourself? You can go on and pull out -- and endure the massive hassle of transferring providers (usually with fat fees tied on the end). Or you can stand and fight -- and realize that, however many assurances you get that the rep is doing all he or she can, the system is hard-wired to give you as little as it can get away with.

Jules Feiffer had a gag years ago about trouble with the phone company: "You can always take your business to one of our many competitors." Ma Bell was a monopoly then. Well, today we have phone companies out the ass -- and they all act more or less the same. They'll offer you free minutes, hours, cell phones, anything -- and when the going gets tough they'll stonewall you and dare you to fall off the vine, because who needs your piddleyshit patronage when their major scrilla is coming from giant corporate accounts and their own endless mergers and acquisitions?

There are all kinds of good arguments against the consolidation of everything, but the best one I know is that it leaves increasingly fewer vendors with any vested interest in the satisfaction of us peons. When everything on earth is owned by Gog and Magog, try getting an extra phone line put in before September.

They'll probably instruct their agents to break out the phone sex ("Welcome to Magog! It's my goal today to make you cum all over my tits!"), but in the end you still won't get your money shot.
A CURSE. My bank has fucked me up in a major way with an EFT transfer. My bank offers no explanation, and no remedy, for its malfeasance. My bank is JP Morgan Chase, and a more repulsive flock of usurious vultures, with a lower regard for all but its most affluent customers, has never been witnessed. A black curse on their filthy heads.

UPDATE. Chase "made good," as they say, but I'm waiting to see if the effects are permanent before lifting the curse. I will, however, keep my bone rattle and vial of goat's blood handy, just in case.

Monday, May 26, 2003

THE LIMITS OF UTILITARIANISM. At the New York Post this weekend (can't be troubled to find the link -- every access of the Post's files unleashes a reek, and I can't bear it today), author Eric Schlosser talks about his new book, "Reefer Madness," which considers the nuttiness of the drug war.

At one point he brings up the strain drug convictions put on the prison system, and the resulting overcrowding and inhuman conditions.

"Why should we care?" asks the interviewer.

Schlosser makes the perfectly reasonable answer that prisoners thus treated present, when released, an even more intractable problem for the general population than before.

Call me a dreamer, but it would have been nice if Schlosser had responded along these lines: "You should care because you're a human being, asshole."
IT NEVER RAINS IN CALIFORNIA, BUT GIRL, DON'T THEY WARN YA... Kevin Drum is having trouble sleeping and is depressed. I have hectored some web characters about this sort of thing in the past, but Drum is a True Son of Liberty and so I write to offer comfort rather than causticism. That's how rabidly partisan I am.

The news is making Drum unhappy, it seems, not personal, professional, or economic pressures. So my first counsel is perspective. On the latter three counts, I myself regularly hit the trifecta of misery, so for me our parlous political situation is just one damned thing after several others. If he has mental leisure to be depressed about the gang of nuts and sleazebags running our country, he might take that a favorable sign.

There are any number of far wealthier, far more comfortable, and far more highly-placed folk out there who, deprived of any sane reason for singing the blues, fret over the state of European architecture, or of their subjects' lungs. Fortunately Drum has good sense to accompany his penchant for melancholy, and he may take comfort that his expressions of concern are found by enlightened correspondents such as myself to be based in some sort of reality, not in the vaporous nightmares of our latter-day Ludwigs.

Should the strain of seeing plain the depradations of our time become too much for him, he may wish to avoid the news altogether for a small space. I evaded newsprint for most of the Carter Administration and part of Reagan's, to good personal effect, before my restless curiosity overrode my instinct for self-preservation. We would miss his sensible observations of the current scene, but he could just post cat pictures in the interim. Everyone likes kitties -- everyone with any sense, anyway.

Above all, Drum must keep at arm's length any sense of mission. We do what we do because something drives us, but that something is usually either decreased seratonin levels or the gift of gab, not a charge from God. Only the Blues Brothers could accept such a mission with happy results.

When all else fails, devolve into madness. Works for me!

Get well soon, Calpundit.

UPDATE: Now he says he's feeling better. From the yawning pit of hell, I salute him. Now get out there and counter some absurdities!
THE STORY GOES AWAY. Matthew Yglesias points to Josh Marshall, who says the below mentioned DeLay issue is journalistically moot because it's a dog-bites-man story -- DeLay is a notoriously "hardball" type of operative, so no one finds it surprising (or, by that narrow defintion, newsworthy) that he may have misused the resources of a Federal agency in pursuit of a partisan vendetta. Marshall also says that "it's not simply a partisan or bias issue," though I seem to recall an ocean of ink devoted to allegations that Bill Clinton had his operatives shut down LAX so he could get a $200 haircut.

Marshall also brings up the in-some-ways-similar example of Trent Lott, which is all the segue fodder I need. "At least in the first few days, no one gave the Lott situation much attention because pretty much everyone knew that Lott was fairly unreconstructed on racial issues," says Marshall. "(After all, only three years before, his close ties to a white-supremacist group had been widely reported in the Washington Post and other papers.) So it really wasn't such a surprise that he thought this way."

This seems to go against Marshall's point rather than for it, and maybe he's suggesting that the DeLay case, like Lott's, may catch-a-fire over time.

I doubt that. As I wrote copiously about the Lott takedown, Crimson cons/and doves of teel/worked together to cut the Trent Lott deal because each side got something out of it. The liberals got to pile on a noisome conservative, and the conservatives got to show that they do too hate prejudice, so there.

While there are a few conservatives out there in the electronic hustings who view askance the whole Homeland Security trip, I don't see enough percentage for them in a Lott-style takedown of DeLay to motivate a show of outrage.

Blogospheric pressure is thus weakened, and absent, as shown, Big Media interest in the case, the story goes away.

This is a profoundly cyncial analysis, but these days, in so many cases, those are the only kind that make sense.

Sunday, May 25, 2003

DELAW'S DELAY, THE INSOLENCE OF OFFICE. MSNBC pokes light fun at Tom DeLay for saying kaddish at a memorial for a Challenger crew member of the Jewish persuasion. Tee-hee -- super-Christian Tom speaks Hebrew!

To be fair, a slightly more substantive discourse follows about the role of evangelicals in the Israel-Palestine road map thing. All very edifying, in an official-wisdom sort of way, but what shocked me was that no mention was made of a large crime in which the powerful Christer seems to be involved -- namely, involving the Federal Department of Homeland Security in the pursuit of Democratic Texas House members, and the destruction of public records pertaining thereunto.

There are all kinds of ways to parse this, in a "What Liberal Media?" kinda way, but I'm focusing mainly on the "Hella Dumb Media" aspect. DeLay is like Michael Jackson to them. We tag Jackson, these days, for one thing: being a freak who likes little boys. There's more to him than that, for good or ill -- I think his recent bankruptcy claims are pretty interesting, especially considering the convoluted economics of the music business -- but when the editors and producers are lining up their programs, little boys are what Jackson's all about, and anything else would, in their view, muddy up the story.

For MSNBC, DeLay is Mr. Jesus Redneck, and there's a lot to that, but it's downright weird to me that any late-breaking story involving him would totally eschew the Homeland Security angle. I seem to recall that coverage of everything former NJ Senator Bob Torricelli did in recent months mentioned his "allegations of ethical breaches" -- in fact, when he was recently appointed special master of a Honeywell chromium cleanup, ETL (Even The Liberal) Newsday saw fit to bring them up long, long after they were a public issue.

What's up with that? Is any mention of Republican crookedness in states run (formerly or presently) by Bushes automatically downplayed by our (cough, cough) liberal media?

Saturday, May 24, 2003

DANCING ABOUT ARCHITECTURE, BLOGGING ABOUT POLITICS. Neil Young mouths off about Bush in the Guardian (link found via Atrios), which collaboration will make him subject to Vidal/Mailer/Vonnegut treatment in Right-Wing World soon enough, I'm guessing.

The Brit interlocutor says that Young "has never been a political songwriter, unless you count his 1970 hit single Ohio." At first this seems absurd. Hello? "Southern Man"? "Alabama"? "Rockin' in the Free World" (and the rest of the Freedom album? The long rants in Journey Through The Past ("They think they're Roman Senators... and they're full of shit!")?

But maybe the Brit is right on another level. The line between the personal and the political in Young's stuff has often been very porous, but that doesn't make him much of an advocate. He's a crank with several bees in his bonnet, and every so often his personal grudges line up with political ones in an almost accidental way. Sometimes it's a Safeway cart or a Coupe de Ville that tickles his muse, sometimes it's George Bush.

That's why his politics, such as they are, don't follow a steady trend-line. He did defend Reagan, but that doesn't seem to have been a political statement in anything but appearance. "I don't know Ronald Reagan," he said in an interview, "but I have this feeling about him that this is a personal thing... It pisses me off to have anybody ALWAYS attacking, always putting down the leaders. My brother does the same thing."

This makes him a flake to some people who want things predictable -- like David Geffen, who sued him for his stylistic flip-flops, to use a favorite word of political observers, on records like "Trans" and "Everybody's Rockin." I saw Young during that period -- he kept crossing up the buckskinned fans at the Coliseum by playing electonic music between renditions of songs from Harvest, and they all started filing out of the place when he launched into his rockabilly set. I don't doubt Neil Young loves his fans, but he's obviously too committed to going his own way to allow that love to keep him in one place very long. That may be why so many of his songs are about travelling, and about lost love.

Political writing, of the sort we often attempt on these pages, is best when the terms are clear and the facts are straight. So it's usually a little embarrassing when artists interject themselves into that world, because their thinking is a little too free-range. But so what? No one with any sense will rely on even the most astute political art-makers for a convincing argument -- if I quote Brecht to you in defense of the labor movement, that's a filigree, not a proof point. From artists you might get images, metaphors, and turns of phrase that effect the way you think and feel about the world. And that may sustain and inspire you when you argue, under whatever debating society rules you choose to accept, about politics.

It's not bad to be reminded that behind all the online arguments are a bunch of people who go to movies, listen to songs, may have missed a car payment or lost a loved one or had a few cross words with God. That neither invalidates nor bolsters any particular argument, but it may remind us that the endlessly scrolling texts and talking points are not all our correspondents comprise, and instill in us a little merciful perspective.

Now to work up another bellyful of bile for the next fool I come across in my obssessive blogreading!

Or maybe not.

Friday, May 23, 2003

THIS JUST IN: ASSISTANT CONTRIBUTES CONTENT TO CEO MEMO! WHERE'S THE OUTRAGE? Andrew Sullivan continues jihad against his former employers, making a mountainous molehill out of a Times story reported from the Florida Gulf Coast. Turns out the bylined author relied on reporting from a freelancer, but didn't acknowledge it.

In terms of inside baseball, this is maybe a big deal, and the reporter should be censured. But the point is, someone did make the scene and take the notes -- the story would appear to be sound, though the attribution isn't.

The Blair scandal was about making shit up and publishing it as observed reality. Whether a name was left of the credits is not nearly so big a deal -- it sucks for the freelancer, sure, but freelancers get screwed all the time, as boy don't I know. Does it change your perception of the story that the reporter had unaccredited help?

Sullivan's been looking to get back at Raines for a while, and it would be churlish to deny him the golden opportunity presented by the Blair case. Still, I'm getting a little sick of it. It's a good thing that people are paying attention, but Sullivan and the rest of his crew seem a lot less interested in getting the Times to maintain its high journalistic standards than in discrediting it.

When the Times starts running the kind of crap Deborah Orin regularly vomits up onto the "news" pages of the New York Post, I'll worry about it, but till then it's a non-story to me.
A GOOD NIGHT. The Mets pulled out a one-run victory over the Braves tonight. Art Howe may be starting to earn his salary. He played a lot of pitchers tonight, and pulled them each at the right time, including the starter, Trachsel. Weathers put in a particularly gutsy performance in the eighth. And Benitez gave a great show in the ninth, balking to push a Brave into scoring position and nodding in acknowledgment of his transgression, instead of blowing smoke out of his ears like he usually does in tough spots. Shinjo saved the game by throwing out the balk-advanced runner at the plate -- boy, it's good to have him back. Howe grabbed a smiling Benitez afterwards and gleefully shouted something at him -- something along the lines of, "You'll take it, right?" I'm guessing. Bobby V probably would have made Benitez do laps or something.

I believe this was the Mets' first game of the season against Atlanta. Last year the Braves regularly mopped the floor with the Amazin's, but this game didn't look like a fluke at all. That fat lady hasn't even cleared her throat.
MAD MAG'S DEVIL'S BARGAIN. Bee-zarre column I just read called "The Reality of Sex Today" (what -- it changed?) from Maggie Gallagher -- I got it in the NY Post but can't find it online, so maybe I'm not the only one who thought it was over the top.

In the piece, Gallagher references sodomy laws (and Andrew Sullivan!) before devolving to what at first seems like her usual Junior Anti-Sex League stuff, but which quickly veers into deep and choppy waters.

Addressing Sullivan's "We are all sodomites now" idea, Gallagher concedes that sodomy may be well and good for some (and makes the point so mildly that a careless reader might miss the novelty of even this mild hint of toleration from one of America's leading judgment queens), but eventually all non-procreative sex must lead to "what men and women really want: a real sexual union, incarnating love, which makes man and woman one flesh." And that ain't cocksucking and cuntlapping in Maggie's book. Non-procreative sex "does not exist," she says, because once guys and gals start fooling around, vaginal intercourse is as inevitable as death and taxes. "How can normal men and women abandon themselves to sexual desire," she writes, "and expect at the same time to rigidly and ruthlessly exercise self-control to avoid what is for men and women the ultimate act of sexual union?"

Notice what she's avoiding here, besides sanity: the subject of gay sex. None of these concerns she mentions apply to same-sexers. At first I thought this was merely the result of inattention caused by a rush of crazy-juice to Gallagher's brain, but now that I think harder about it, I'm beginning to suspect it's part of a devil's bargain that she is consciously working on.

Before she gets to her final aria, Gallagher returns to sodomy laws, and makes what for her is probably a difficult admission: "Does society and law have any business regulating the sexual and intimate relationships between men? I don't know. Probably not."

Notice that it's a tentative offer -- of the sort that someone who is negotiating for something might put, as it were, on the table. Notice that we're also talking about men here, and men only.

Gallagher concludes: "Do we have any stake in shaping the meaning and purpose of sex between the men and women who yearn for one another? This I do know. The Supreme Court be damned. Yes."

"Shaping the meaning and purpose" can, given the context, only mean the abolition of abortion rights (at the very least -- she might want Griswold v. Connecticut overturned as well). Now add to this her mildly tolerant overtures toward gay men -- specifically the conservative Sullivan.

Can you not see the horse-trade that the Legion of Sex-Mad Cultural Conservatives has sent brave Maggie forth to broker?

I can see it -- her zaftig frame packed into liederhosen and a St. Pauli Girl blouse, a Valkyrie helmet pulled down to her eyebrows, Maggie whispers to the Lost Boys:

We'll let you guys have sex all you want -- if you help us overturn Roe v. Wade. Our fight is not with you. We have only come for the children.

You read (or co-fantasized) it here first!
FROM THE CHURCH NEWSLETTER TO DOW JONES. This is what they're publishing at OpinionJournal these days. It's not a matter of disagreeing with the guy, an apparent suburban dad ruminating about all those gol-durned R-rated movies his young'uns want to see (but he won't let 'em, except if it's "The Patriot," because there the R is earned by blood, not sex). There's nothing to disagree with. It's not an argument of any kind, and has no point of any kind; nor is it distinguished by any grace of style or of observation. It's just chatter of the sort you might see in a small-town penny-saver. And the great Dow Jones has published it.

Meanwhile I'm wearing a cardboard belt.

YOU CAN LOOK BUT -- WELL, YOU CAN'T LOOK EITHER. At work I can't read Matthew Yglesias, or CalPundit, or a lot of other inspirational bloggers because my company employs Websense to prevent us peasants from -- well, let me quote the Websense website: "Websense can be used to promote employee productivity. For a quick illustration of how much casual surfing of the Internet could be costing your organization, choose your currency and complete the form on the next page."

Dollars and cents vs. quality of life. The judges are all wearing expensive suits. Guess who wins?

Websense cites a category -- "gambling," "sex," "personal web site," etc. -- when one of its constituents attempts to enter a verboten site. Sometimes it's overzealous -- I can't go to Neal Pollack's site, for example, because Websense thinks it's "tasteless" -- a fair cop in any case, but Websense seems to be thinking about Polish jokes.

For a while I was actually able to get around these computer cops by adding the "www" I'd been omitting from the filtered URLs. But they caught on to that. That's the creepy thing (well, one of them) about these services -- they observe, they learn, and they adapt.

I state here for the record that I am no slacker, and I generally approve everything my company does, in spades & believe you me. But these internet handcuffs send, I believe, an unhelpful message: that any time spending goofing around with general-interest reading is stolen from the company, and locking out certain sites is like locking down the computers themselves -- a rudimentary precaution against the natural depravity of human beings.

I object. Any intellectual labor, like physical labor, requires timely breaks to keep the laboring apparatus fresh. Even Republicans will agree with that, I think. If they don't trust us to choose our own means of refreshment, maybe they should just send Party functionaries around at intervals to lead us in jumping-jacks and songs of praise to our Leader.

Well, this doesn't bear too much fretting over -- and I do have work to do. Look, Boss! I'm refreshed!
BACK IN THE DAY. Friend'o'mine gave me a mix CD. It has the Ramones doing "Street Fighting Man." Shit! So so so cool.

Following is the Donnas, doing "Dirty Denim." Reminds me of something Chuck D once said about the Knicks: "Yeah, you good, but you ain't winning no World Championships."

I miss Joey.

Thursday, May 22, 2003

IT'S RIGHT WHEN WE DO IT, BUT WRONG WHEN YOU DO IT, and there ain't no more to it than that, all internal tergiversations aside.
THE REBA'ATHIFICATION OF SALAM PAX is near complete. He is gone from the Blogger blogroll. Matt Welch and James Lileks speak no more in his defense. And all because, anti-Saddam as he has been, he did not entirely appreciate (in the flag-waving manner of recent TV Iraqis) the takeover of his country. He reports, firsthand, on the devastation of his surroundings. He works for a group calling itself Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict -- "Who is paying them? And the organization itself appears shady," says NRO. ("He praises the local Communists, who did nothing to liberate Iraq," the NRO operative adds. No shit. Who got the money for that, Dimmy?)

The postwar does not entirely fit the millenarian scenario proposed by the erstwhile warbloggers. "There is absolutely no distribution method. The aid that is coming in gets taken by whomever and sold on the market. You could buy the whole box for 16.000 dinars (a bit more than 16 US dollars by today’s rate)," reports SP. This can't be encouraging news to the many Americans who have been inclined to wonder when the largesse lavished on the official administrators of the world's newest democracy will run off in the form of Democracy! Whiskey! Sexy! approbation unto its oldest. Some might even question the wisdom of this multimillion-dollar expedition. No surprise, then, that conservatives have put him on their shitlist.

Only those of us cursed with an inclination to follow these internecine struggles will notice, probably. But what about the bigger, more domestic propaganda efforts, like the 2004 Republican Convention, slated to be held near September 11 right here, where the planes hit and most of us despise the President? How many web sites will it take to make that work?

A BRIEF REPRIEVE FROM A LITANY OF FAILURES. Alicublog has been receiving props of late, some from longtime favorites and web machers like CalPundit, Tapped, and Ted Barlow, some from guys who are new to me but who obviously know something about pushing words together.

I am flattered, certainly, especially considering the sources. But you can be sure this momentary frisson will not go to my head. Indeed, in this long malaise my life I have many times seen opportunity come and go like a local train suddenly and inconveniently running express, with the conductor thumbing his nose at me as he speeds past. The angels that the Lord sends daily unto me, dressed like the ones in Wings of Desire but less inclined to touch my scalp sympathetically than to beat me with softball bats, will not suddenly change their style of ministration, and neither will my creditors grow less attentive.

And it's only blogging, after all -- not like the sure-fire career path that is rawkn roll!

But I will take my bow and be content.

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

ANOTHER THING THAT MAKES US GREAT IS OUR AWESOME MODESTY. "Anyway, I think the realism of conservative writing has grown to be more valued in part because realism itself is more valued... You could also say, as many do, that it's not realism so much as ideas that makes for good writing. Since liberalism doesn't have good ideas anymore their writing often seems to be cranky defenses of the status quo or continuation of old discredited policies." -- Jonah Goldberg, NRO's The Corner.

Elsewhere Goldberg and other members of his ass-patting society talk about how stuck up Cornel West is. Apparently West allows words of praise directed toward himself to appear on his website. Why, they must wonder, doesn't he just say them about himself, like real intellectuals do?

I CRIED TILL I LAUGHED. This is classic, and I would know, because I was, like, there, man.
HOUSING SCHLOCK. I've been seeing a lot of this kind of anti-rent-stabilization article lately. I think their point would be better expressed by colloquy:

PROFESSOR: So you see, Citizen, if we allow your landlord to charge you anything he wants, your rents will actually go down!

CITIZEN: Gosh, Professor! It sure sounds counterintuitive. How d'ya figure?

PROFESSOR: Without this socialist and stultifying rent stabilization, the market will be free to create new housing units, and when these units compete for your rental dollar, that'll drive prices down -- just like it did Cambridge, MA!

CITIZEN: Are you sure about that, Professor? My buddy lives up in Cambridge, and he says the rents are pretty steep --

PROFESSOR: I'm sure your friend is just a disgruntled hippie, Citizen, grown soft from years on the dole.

CITIZEN: Why, so he is, Prof! But that ain't me! I'll sign that bill for you now.

LANDLORD: (reading bill) Mamma mia! So I can-a charge anything I want? The rent, she a-goin' up!

CITIZEN: But, Professor, you said --

PROFESSOR: Well, you can't expect these things to work overnight. Patience, my friend!

(Two years later, they meet again on the street.)

PROFESSOR: Good to see you again, Citizen. Still living on Gunplay Terrace?

CITIZEN: Yeah. (Yawns) Sorry, Professor -- between the scuttling of the rats in my walls and the nightly artillery barrage, I hardly get any sleep. There's good news, though -- next month they're putting in a Starbucks!

PROFESSOR: It appears the genius of the market has placed us each in domiciles appropriate to our social worth.

CITIZEN: You still living in my old apartment?

PROFESSOR: Of course.

LANDLORD: And dey all live-a happily ever after! Ciao!

RENT-A-RESISTER. Andrea Peyser writes in today's NY Post of "two lefty activists, teachers with advanced degrees in civil disobedience" instructing "stroller-pushing moms and doting dads... proudly American, politically conservative" in Cobble Hill how to conduct themselves during a planned sit-in at a local firehouse. (Engine Co. 204 is one of those slated by our depraved Mayor Richie Rich to close.)

Peyser's tone throughout is sympathetic, and she even tugs at our sleeves, if not our heartstrings (from my experience of her writing, I don't think she knows where those are, either on us or on her), suggesting that these "proudly American" worthies were heroically placing themselves in harm's way for the good of their children. "Folks here in the most populous outer borough feel as if Bloomberg has taken out a contract on their lives," she writes. "The budding domestic protesters were told to arrange for someone to pick up their children to prevent them from being placed in foster care. These dedicated moms deserve better, Mr. Mayor."

Compare and contrast, class! Here's the selfsame Peyser covering an anti-war demo back in March:

Despite the valiant efforts of a few high school hooky players, college class-cutters, trust-funded artists and vintage radicals -- all graced with enough tongue- and nose-piercings to decorate a season of "Survivor" -- yesterday's so-called "die-in" was dead on arrival... the hundreds of cops who were diverted from real emergencies handled the idiot protesters with grace... Not that they liked it. "They took us away from the neighborhoods for this," complained one plainclothes officer. "Don't they know that it's the people who will suffer?"

"Don't they know that it's the people who will suffer?" I wonder if Mayor Rich will roll this out as a talking point, should the firehouse protest materialize. I wonder also if any of the "vintage radicals" from the earlier story were among the "teachers with advanced degrees in civil disobedience" instructing the Cobble Hill group. And I wonder if Peyser would have been nicer about the anti-war protestors if they were dressed more "proudly America" (e.g., in relaxed-fit jeans, shapeless sweatshirts, expensive name-brand athletic shoes, etc).

I do not, though, wonder how Andrea Peyser got a job at the Post. Despite their gleeful, near-daily pounding of the Times, standards at Rupert's Rag are a limbo stick, and it's really just a matter of how low you can go.

HOWARD BEACH. HOWARD BEACH. I was required to attend an employee testimonial out in Howard Beach. All I knew about the neighborhood prior to this evening was that a group of young white guys had chased a black kid onto the Belt Parkway there in 1986. The kid, Michael Griffith, was struck by traffic and killed. Things were ugly in New York for a while after. I remember heading home late one night around that time on the Lower East Side, and noticing some young black guys coming out of a club. As I walked on, I heard someone behind me say, "Let's get the cracker. Howard Beach. Howard Beach." Nothing happened to me, though there were a couple of incidents in that period that probably began the same way.

As Lou Reed said, those were different times.

Tonight's event was at a big old hall called Russo's By The Bay. It's one of those parkway palaces -- a large, filigreed block of stone with thin red carpet and jacketed valets out front, and ornate rooms inside -- good place for your stereotypical Queens wedding reception. As we drove to the place (the company generously spotted me to a car service), I scoped the streets of the neighborhood. Its boundary was announced by gold lettering on a wooden sign painted sky blue, like you'd expect to see at a yacht club. Strolling the streets were young Italian men, and young black men, and young Hispanic men, all in casual clothes and looking comfortable and happy. When I stepped out of the car onto the red carpet, I could smell the sea.

I was seated at a circular table (#9), surrounded mostly by women who sold goods for the company. They were nearly all black, all very well-behaved, happy to be there but not overly demonstrative. I endeavored to draw them out. I drank the wine that flowed. We chatted, had some laughs. I sat next to a very ample middle-aged woman who'd had trouble with her leg, she explained, and this had caused her weight to increase, though she did a lot of walking in her business. She was cheerful and friendly and I was glad to sit with her and hear her deep laughter, though I occasionally turned my attention to an older white woman, very compact in stature and gesture, who announced forthrightly that she had been in the Holocaust, and her son, a chubby fellow wearing a filthy striped shirt and a straw cowboy hat, who seemed primarily interested in the food.

I stepped out to the red carpet every so often to have a smoke. Other guests of the event came out there, all black women. We conversed mildly, except when they were occupied with the company of their friends. One woman sheathed in several layers of diaphonous black fabric laughed uproariously, standing barefoot and sometimes stamping with glee on the thin carpet. One woman with many, many jewel-like encrustations on her black eyeglass frames complained to me, in a good-humored way, that she had been at the job 19 years and had hardly won any of the prizes given out at these events. I wished her luck. Across the street was an Italian restaurant with its roof peaked and striped to look like a circus tent, and a circular passage inside the doorway inscribed with the words FOOD, FAMILY, and FUN.

The event was MC'd by a local bigwig with a Spanish name who looked and acted like a cross between Kevin Spacey and Tim Allen. He energetically announced a series of awards and gifts from the shallow stage, each punctuated by audio stings from a DJ at the other side of the room. The guests were only mildly attentive. They had to work the next day. So did I, but I clapped and attended very attentively, being in the communications business. I noticed that the woman with the jewel-like encrustations had been called up to receive a small box of something or other. I waved and hollered to her; she waved back with a small smile.

I got in the car somewhere between 10:30 and 11 to ride back to my apartment. The car radio played old hits, some of them from the Michael Griffith era. I watched the city roll by, its lights large and bright and imperturbable.

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

A PLEA FOR SLACK. I studied this Salon article by Steven E. Landsburg several minutes, hoping there was some Modest-Proposal satirical angle I was missing. But there was not: he really thinks we should "punish" juries that hand down verdicts that turn out to be "wrong" (more on the second set of quote marks in a bit).

The goal, says Landsburg, is to give jurors "incentive to get their verdicts right in the first place." Good verdicts win you a check; bad ones get you a fine (!).

This is wrong is so many ways it makes the head spin, but I will focus only on two:

First, the idea of a "wrong" verdict. Landsburg uses the Lemrick Nelson case to add punch to his argument -- he got away with murder! -- and another involving a wrongly-convicted, DNA-liberated guy, just to show that he's not just bloodthirsty, I guess. The injustices in both these cases would seem clear to any reader. But has Landsburg never heard of jury nullification? Supposing the jury decided to decide "wrongly" -- that is, contrary to the instructions of the court and even of the law -- in the interests of what they perceive to be justice. Fine 'em, I expect Landsberg would say, maybe twice for being bad sports.

But it's not that simple. Say a bank, acting as plaintiff, wants to attach the pay of a guy whose wife is fighting cancer. The law might be on the bank's side, but the jury might say, fuck this, we're cutting the guy a break. If you're Landsburg, this is an easy call, but If you believe, as I do, the jury retains the right to pronounce however it sees fit for whatever reason, then the idea of reward/punishment for juries is an onerous, indeed unconstitutional, imposition on their franchise -- and, in cases like this one, on justice itself.

The second point is bigger. Landsberg's threatened-jury-is-a-motivated jury concept is very close to a depressing trend of our times -- that is, bullying as an acceptable means of "improving behavior." Quite apart from our government's unconscionable behavior at the international level, there is a tendency for the powerful to leverage their advantage over the less powerful, and Landsberg even acknowledges this in his reasoning: "The way to make workers diligent, as every manager knows, is to reward them when they succeed and punish them when they fail... Every assembly line worker in America, every cab driver, every doctor and lawyer and magazine columnist, reaps financial rewards and punishments that depend on his performance." I like the conflation of line workers and doctors -- but we all know which category of worker is more likely to get canned for being a little slow on a given morning.

God dammit, why do we all have to be so efficient anyway? Our society is lousy with efficiency experts, ergonometricians, etc., but it seems to me a much less happy place than it was before these pests came onto the scene.

That may be my wider reason for disliking this idea so much. I don't think we should be looking to regulate more aspects of our lives. I think we should be doing the opposite.
THESE KIDS TODAY. Teen sex is, now and always, news at the Times. According to this report by Tamar Lewin on findings by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, "About 20 percent of adolescents have had sexual intercourse before their 15th birthday."

Given the subject and the source, my instinct is to take the figures less than seriously. But even so, they are shocking.

I mean, I thought the kids had to be getting laid more than that.

When I was 15, if you'd told me that my chances of imminent sex were 1 in 5, I would have jumped off a bridge. I always had to believe they were at least 2 to 1 in my favor, or I never would have got out of my semen-encrusted bed.

But the story gets worse. An AP story in the same paper says this: "One in three boys ages 15-17 say they feel pressure to have sex."

Pressure? 33 percent of these boys actually think that someone is pushing them into sex? At their age, I mostly felt resistance to the idea, especially from the maidens I woo'd.

Of course, among my fellow adolescent males, sex was always discussed, and accounted a great thing -- both by those who professed to be getting it on a regular basis, and by those of us who did not (indeed, could not with any hope of being believed) make such claims. But that wasn't pressure -- that was, to us, mercy. For even the Lotharios among us were not getting nearly enough sex to satiate the great, slavering beast that was -- in my day, anyway -- male teenage lust, and the rest of us were practically shaking with need, ready to explode like cum-bombs.

The only relief we knew from this pressure was the ribald tales, knowing winks, and coarse laughter with which we acknowledged and sympathized with each other's howling horn-dogliness. We were not spurring each other on to reckless sexual behavior, we were coping with the fact that we had no partners with whom to be reckless. (I suppose we could have beat each other off -- and, as I went to a prep school, I assume some of us did -- but, as Lou Reed said, those were different times.)

The article gives the impression that our current crop of youngbloods feel their male bonding rituals constitute some sort of emotional "bad touch." I pray this is a misapprehension by clueless social workers. That's always a good bet.

But what if it isn't? What if the boys are, in fact, such abject pussies? What if kids aren't living in sexual Valhalla as we've all assumed? What if all those movies about precocious libertines, all those rumors about rampant schoolgirl-on-schoolboy blowjobs, were bullshit?

Any opportunity to feel less jealous of the young is welcome. But it would be depressing to believe that the picture of their generation coming out of the paper is at all accurate. I prefer to think that the intensity of adult scrutiny has Heisenberged teenage behavior -- rendered it unreadably sketchy, perhaps with some help from the kids themselves who must be sick of all the poking and prodding.

I mean, people can't have changed that much. Can they?
AS IF MY SELF-ESTEEM weren't bedraggled enough, along comes this.

Monday, May 19, 2003

EQUILIBRIUM. Hey, how ya doin'? Okay? Me? Oh, can't complain. Earlier, I was briefly made angry by this guy, who has figured out on his digital slide rule that conservatives are better writers than liberals (he also says, if I'm reading him right, that conservatives are more fun, more intelligent, and more polite; have better breath, whiter teeth, and stronger erections; and their shit don't smell). Elsewhere, usual suspect Jonah Goldberg wrote, "I believe that in the far-flung future we will live in houses full of woods (real or synthetic) and greens and eat increasingly luxurious meals." Yeah, I thought, if by "we" he means himself and his fellow tenured conservatives; the rest of us will probably only see trees if our concentration camps happen to be located on National Park land.

But I was too busy to keep up my anger over things like this. I am struggling to keep many balls in the air (some of them weighing thirty pounds and studded with razor blades), and that prevents me from paying too much mind to the hoots and gibberings coming from the fever swamps. In fact, these days my best moments come when I am perfectly poised between anger at an unjust fate and anger at morons with modems. At such moments I briefly forget who to be mad at, and am content.

Saturday, May 17, 2003

THEIR ARGUMENT. Kathryn Jean Lopez explains it all for you, publishing with approval this NRO reader quote:

I was just watching "The Great Muppet Caper" (last day of the semester) and discovered an overlooked moment of Muppet insight. The gang have just caught jewel thief Charles Grodin red-handed and sweet, earnest Kermit asks, "Why did you do it?" Grodin shrugs and says, "Because I'm a villain." Plain and simple, no "root cause" nonsense. I'll remember that line every time someone tries to tell me we should be more concerned about why "they" hate us.

Let us not forget, as we endeavor to wrest control of the country back from the bellicose idiots that currently misguide her, that we are in fact dealing with bellicose idiots. The bowtied clowns who act all erudite on TV are merely a sideshow for the opinion epicures. The Republican arguments are in the main yahoo bullshit. Whichever one of the Dems picks up the fallen standard in 2004 had better be able to talk to Beavis and Butthead.

I miss Bill Clinton.
UES, US, ME. I took my usual Saturday afternoon walk through the Upper East Side today and had all sorts of thoughts about the neighborhood. One of my first jobs in the City was as a waiter in a now-defunct UES bistro called Daly's Daffodil. That place is a story or twelve in itself (ask me sometime about our three-hundred pound night manager, who would get drunk on Bushmill's every night; we used to pop Irish songs on the jukebox at about 10 pm just to get him roaring along with "Danny Boy," and to get the customers to complain about him). I loathed the district then. I hated its obnoxious wealth. (I was poor.) Moreover, I hated the style of that wealth -- still blow-dried and flair-legged, even in the late 70s, a redoubt of Farrah Fawcett-Majors gloss and cocaine-burnished insouciance in the middle of a City that was still sweatily thrashing its way out of financial default.

In later years, still poor, I took a perverse liking to the Upper East Side, mainly because it was out of style. The mass exodus of otherwise sober youngsters to the hipper precincts downtown (and the more spacious digs to the west) left the place in the custody of dowagers with thick makeup, dazed middle-agers in minks and $500 sport jackets who had not fucked off to the suburbs (or were fucking mistresses or rent boys during the gaps in their appointment books), and young preppies who aped their style and got vomiting drunk each weekend in frat bars along First Avenue. I began also to visually appreciate the queer mix of scrubbed brick townhouses and the blank-faced, modernist architectural abortions that tycoons had placed among them in the 60s and 70s, when they thought the zeitgeist would roll like river branches through their canyons for eternity. Everything was just a little stale and out of mode, though washed each morning with money and daubed with Floris cologne. That, in my jaundiced eye, gave it character. And if that wasn't character enough, you could always go to the Germantown enclave and get some boiled meat, liver dumpling soup, and glass boots full of Weiss beer

Now the Upper East Side is still rich, and its residents still strive to present themselves accordingly. Even their goth granddaughters spend a ton on their dour threads. But what has changed is this: so does everyone else. Even the hippest of hipsters in the hippest of hip nabes drops a wad on his or her dishabbile. Style points vary from geography to geography, but the instinct is the same: if I buy this, I will fit. Which was also true back when, in some places, it cost twenty bucks to fit. But when there's a serious investment at stake, fashion becomes desperation. And that sort of desperation is more far-ranging than once it was.

So of course I don't hate the Upper East Side anymore. How could I? It's just like everywhere else, even though it may be easier for its people to be that way than it is for most.

And, as it happens, the City is still sweatily thrashing its way out of financial default. And, as it happens, so am I.

And Germantown is gone.

Sometimes people ask me if I have soured on our City beause it is so changed. Again, how could I? I carry it inside me, with every increasingly heavy step I take.

Friday, May 16, 2003

THEY LOOKED SO ORDERLY IN THE PUBLICITY SHOTS. Seems like only yesterday that happy Iraqis were smiling for the cameras and waving their brand-new American flags. Back then, OpinionJournal's Daniel Henninger overtly compared the post-Saddam citizens to the liberated East Berliners of 1989.

Funny, I don't recall the conservatives calling for a wave of American soldiers to restore order among newly-freed East Germans. Yet today OpinionJournal says that, in Iraq, "something close to chaos reigns. The lack of security is disrupting the most basic aspects of postwar reconstruction... Rampant lawlessness is the No. 1 complaint of ordinary Iraqis, who are grateful for the new U.S. crackdown on crime."

I love that last sentence. We are so grateful, Mr. Democracy Whiskey Sexy Bush People, for our rampantly lawless crackdown!

"We're not -- repeat, not -- longing for a return to 19th-century colonialism," pledges OJ. (Yeah, and I'm not, repeat not, longing for a thick steak and a good bottle of Chateau Haut-Brion, but put them in front of me and watch them disappear.) OJ reenforces its un-longing for 19th-century colonialism by referring casually to Iraqi administrator L. Paul Bremer as "Lord Bremer" and comparing him to Kitchener.

OJ's editorials have taken on a weird, muzzy, almost drunken feeling since it stopped mattering at all whether what they said made sense or not (approximately late March, I think it was). Check out also the aforementioned Henninger as he writes, joshingly, about how "dull" the economy is -- not "dull" as in listless, which was what I at first thought he meant, but dull as in no fun to talk about.

Well, given how that economy is going, and his own comrades' part in making it so, I shouldn't wonder he would find such conversations tiresome. Henninger's own piece is far from dull, though -- in fact, it proceeds with depraved indifference to human life on a rollicking trip through the economic catastrophes of our age -- such as the dot-com bubble, dismissed here with a hearty "so what if much of it failed?" He then pretends that Olympia Snowe is holding up the economic recovery by being a "downer." No, I'm not kidding. Go see for yourself.

Recently we were all talking about the end of this and that -- History, Ideology, whatever. Reason appears to have taken its place at the egress. The rest of us are next.

Thursday, May 15, 2003

NOEL REDDING. As a man, as a fan, and most importantly as a guitarist turned bass player, I regret to inform you that Noel Redding, bottom-end guy for the Jimi Hendrix Experience, has passed away.

Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell comprised a splendid rhythm section. It's hard to play that fussy and drive that hard all at the same time. Rhythm players leave space between notes so they'll have room to syncopate their parts -- which can give the illusion that a song is hurtling forward even if it's being played in strict time. Ornate players tend to fill up these musical spaces so much that the song actually bogs down and seems to drag. But some guys can be real hyper on the bass and still push the music. Redding managed that. He had a lot of energy, a great feel for the tunes (and the instrument -- hear how he pits the low, sweet, fat notes against the higher, thinner ones on "Fire"), and a freshness-seal hookup with Mitchell. The last bit is crucial. If you isolated Redding's parts, or Mitchell's, you might think, "Manic, but what's it mean, where's it going?" You would never ask that about the Experience, because everyone was up in everyone else's musical business -- I say "tick," you say "tock" etc. -- only their vocabulary was a great deal more advanced, and manifested more like the overlapping dialogue in an Altman movie.

I could go on all day. But I have rehearsal tonight and a show tomorrow. I'll pay my tributes then.
HUH WHAT? #342,099. "Put aside whether race should be used as a hiring criterion. Even people who support affirmative action don't have to support Raines' approach of refusing to hold blacks responsible for anything, from fake reporting to gang-raping a jogger in Central Park. What Raines did to Blair was cruel." -- Ann Coulter. [emphasis mine]

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

RUN, RUN, RUN. Wishing to show common cause with my new employers, I participated in the Corporate Challenge in Central Park this evening. It's a three-and-a-half mile run (or walk, as the new rules allow) that somehow generates bucks for charity, and corporate pride -- you turn up with your colleagues in logo-identifying T-shirts and convey your time to a captain, to be posted in some dark corner of the web. I'd last done this years ago, when all were expected to run for an easier 3.5 kilometers (why is everything easier for the Europeans?); I had never so much as stepped on a treadmill before, I drank heavily the night before (and the night before, and the night before...), and ran in high-tops and surfer jams, breaking the tape at 30 minutes flat.

This evening's field was much more crammed than the last one I'd joined; it took those of us proceeding from the "non-competitive area" (the default gathering spot -- I guess you had to demonstrate a subscription to Runner's World or pass a hamstring-to-beer-belly ratio examination to start further up) four or five minutes to even reach the official starting line.

Thereafter the field was still crowded but navigable. I noticed a lot of different and distinct breathing patterns around me: steady pants, wheezes, grunts, and sharp, horror-movie gasps. To further remove my mind of numbing boredom and intimations of death, I checked out chicks' butts. The Corporate Challenge is a feast for ass-men; I wonder if this isn't a large, undisclosed come-on for events like this. Maybe all the strain and sweat is a turn-on too for some -- the TV ads for health clubs, with their crypto-pornographic close-ups of straining torsos, certainly suggest this.

The clock said 36:32 when I hauled myself across the finish. My captain allowed two minutes for starting-line congestion, which I didn't dispute. Even by this conservative estimate I'm in no worse shape than I was back in the day, at least physically, which amazes me, given the time I spend parked on my keister, crunching verbiage.

The real test will be whether I can get my pants on tomorrow.
ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK -- PLEASE! NYC's budget woes have got conservatives going after Bloomberg, and good for them, as I dislike our depraved rich-boy mayor at least as much as they do. But they're also starting to run down New York itself -- or, to be more precise, they're reverting to their traditional loathing of Moscow on the Hudson. Brendan "Save Western Civ!" Miniter lets fly a gob of spit headlined "Apple Without Appeal: High taxes are only one reason to hate New York." Makes ya nostalgic, don't it?

Miniter starts by telling us that "except for the very rich, the quality of life in this city is worse than it should be and far below most of the rest of America." That much is true. Part of the reason is that we send a disproportionate number of tax dollars to the Federal Government so that farmland Republicans can ladle them out amongst their constituents. But this reason Miniter leaves unmentioned.

Miniter does mention rent-controlled apartments -- or, rather "rent-controlled or rent-stabilized" apartments. This conflation is mindful, as it gives Miniter's readers the false impression that a large number of lucky New Yorkers are paying $100 a month for suites at the Plaza, and helps put over the conservative howler that this, not the enforced scarcities of large realtors who sit on vacant apartments, is what makes the rent so high. In truth the rent-controlled tenants are dying out or being hounded out, while most of the rent-stabilized apartments, a sizable group, have been around for so long that renters pay something close to market value for them.

Miniter's no better on prescriptions. Consider this:

...the mayor needs to be looking for ways to reduce the cost of living in the city. A good place to start would be to cut taxes and urge the state Legislature to let rent regulation die when it comes up for renewal next month. But it can't stop there. The city needs more housing and business space. The mayor needs to find ways to encourage more construction. That means taking on powerful and entrenched unions and streamlining construction regulations to scrap union work rules...

Let's see: in order to improve our standard of living, we should cut taxes (which, I hate to tell him, means less money for city services that help define quality of life), let landlords jack up rents (which of them will greet the death of rent stabilization by crying, "Good news -- now I can lower your rent"?), build more apartments (out of what, I wonder, that would make them affordable? Cardboard?), and screw the unions (and the hundreds of thousands for whom they negotiate -- whose quality of life, we must assume, will plummet).

There's nothing wrong with being contrarian or counterintuitive, but when Miniter talks nonsense like this and fails to explain how it's supposed to work, he just sounds like some ivory-tower guy shaking his head at us poor sods and muttering, "Don't they know that landlords are a market force, and must be respected?"

As to the rest of the apartments are so small! I saw a rat in the subway! crap, I've long held that the pussies who can't put up with urban life should fuck off to the suburbs and leave the rest of us in peace.
DON'T YOU KNOW WHO I THINK I AM? At the Voice, Daniel King sticks up for Stanley Crouch, fired from JazzTimes right after it published Crouch's stinging rebuke to white jazz critics -- which rebuke, and Crouch's subsequent claims of persecution, are seconded by King, to wit: "And, we should ask, who are we, white editors and writers, who've appointed ourselves guardians of this year's jazz criticism?" Even Amiri Baraka, a frequent target of Crouch's abuse in the past, sticks up for Crouch, as do honkies Nat Hentoff and Gary Giddins.

My true interest in this is as mild as my interest in contemporary jazz. But Crouch's wounded tone is piquant. He isn't such a hot writer, as anyone who has perused his wan Daily News columns can see. But he is an excellent self-promoter. His is probably the best known (and certainly the most widely-circulated) black critic in America. He actually got the New Yorker to run a long piece on him and his impending first novel, Don't the Moon Look Lonesome (a piece of shit, as it turns out), and he is a frequent TV talking head (he was one of that nightmarish platoon of rotating commentators which 60 Minutes inflicted upon a shocked and disdainful public a few years back).

Given the scarcity of his talent, whence came his popularity? In the 1980s, writing for the Voice, Crouch, theretofore known as a jazz critic, came out in support of Reagan's layoff of striking air traffic controllers, which action broke their union and presaged the general collapse of organized labor in that decade. Crouch thereafter cultivated a harsh, right-wing, get-over-yourself image -- tough on race-baiters, tough on rappers, tough on anyone who would ask for anything, even respect, simply on the basis of what he happened to be. This distinguished him, certainly, and per the law of supply and demand, made him a marketable commodity.

Now Crouch, scourge of the air traffic controllers, says, "That a writer of my status and reputation would be dismissed in this way, with no discussion at all, constitutes some serious brand of injustice..."

Isn't that rich? The self-professed "hanging judge" wishes a stay of execution on the basis of his celebrity. To which I say: That's capitalism, comrade! A column in a magazine is not a Constitutional right or a set-aside program. The editors of JazzTimes had as much right to fire you as -- oh, as Reagan had to can the air traffic controllers.

Surely Crouch isn't going soft on us? No, only on himself.
MAYBE THAT'S WHY THE TIMES DOESN'T WANT HIM. Andrew Sullivan reviews Blumenthal's The Clinton Wars. He pulls this quote on Clinton:

"His mind was filled with great plans: universal healthcare, reducing the federal deficit, investments in education and the environment, cutting crime, remaking the welfare system, ending discrimination, to begin with."

Sullivan's reaction: "To begin with? What on earth would be next? A space colony on Mars?"

Has Sullivan ever recognized a joke that wasn't about cheese-eating surrender monkeys?

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

LOOK TO YOUR HEART. Two items about writing, sort of, one from a defender of liberty (Atrios) and one from an enemy of same (Andrew Sullivan), both wrong-headed.

Atrios disputes Eric Alterman's sensible statement that Roth's The Human Stain, which draws some inspiration from Clinton's impeachment, is primarily a work of art and not a "political" book. (I haven't read this book -- I address here the general principle.) And Sullivan gives another one of his poseur alerts on a piece of writing that actually isn't bad -- though it is literary, which must infuriate the ceaselessly polemical Sullivan.

People of an overtly political persuasion too frequently suffer from a utilitarian syndrome best expressed by the saying, "If all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail." Too many of them are true and total apparatchiks: what is the use of this poem or that play, they think as they study texts, if it advance not our agenda?

I can get pretty wrapped up in this bullshit myself. But I know there have to be protected areas where politics doesn't penetrate. Politics is a fire that warms some passions, and burns out others. Historically, art has been more often consumed than warmed by politics (sometimes literally!), so practitioners had better beware.

Brecht did great political drama, but he understood that a recognizable depiction of humanity is the best way to get people to pay attention to anything -- which is why his plays command the attention even of bloated capitalists such as ourselves. I wouldn't be surprised if he, and many other artists with propaganda in their hearts, started out to epater the bourgeois, or smash the state, but were seduced or subsumed by the artistic process itself -- by color, by light, by the joy of the materials, by contact with a force that is ultimately more powerful than politics.

Sir Philip Sidney wrote:

Loving in truth, and fain in verse my love to show,
That the dear she might take some pleasure of my pain,
Pleasure might cause her read, reading might make her know,
Knowledge might pity win, and pity grace obtain,
I sought fit words to paint the blackest face of woe...

Biting my truant pen, beating myself for spite:
"Fool," said my Muse to me, "look in thy heart, and write."

Sidney was talking about a lover trying to make an amorous, not a political, case (well, by some interpretations, anyway), but you see the connection: putting the goal before the process is great for drafting strategy statements and position papers and such like, where you want to get people to act rather than to understand -- indeed, often these days, to act in defiance of understanding. But this doesn't go for love poems, or any other works of art, which should express and seek to share tender feelings, rather than exploit or manipulate them.
CALL ME 'SCHOOL BULLY,' CLOTH-EARS! Today on Instapundit, the Perfesser suggests that a writer should be "warming a cell" because he gave a cell phone to Osama bin Laden in 1996. (I forget -- was the U.S. still pals with Osama then, or was that a few years earlier?) Further down he reliably snipes at the Times, links to an article on "MALE-BASHING in the media, and in public policy," and shouts, "I HAVE A FRIEND WHOSE LIFE WAS RUINED BY ANNIE HALL. Okay, that's an exaggeration, but not as much of one as it ought to be."

Refresh my memory. Why is this man treated with respect? What's the difference between Glenn Reynolds and Rush Limbaugh or Bill O'Reilly?

Oh, yeah: Reynolds knows HTML. And talks about cool gadgets he likes. And occasionally makes libertarian-sounding farts that are about 3 degrees cooler than the ones Jonah Goldberg used to emit before the Santorum and Bennett incidents sent him scrambling back to the Old Standard.

I notice even collegial CalPundit has shown impatience with the Perfesser of late ("Even by his usual standards, this piece by Glenn Reynolds last week was remarkably self-serving..."). By and large, though, bloggers treat Reynolds the way Sidney Falco used to treat J.J. Hunsecker.

Sunday, May 11, 2003

WE ARE THE WORLD. Matthew Yglesias observes the good sense of Rich Lowry, a usually intolerable writer (my slur, not MY's), in coming out strong against prison rape.

Well, yes. There are so many gags on TV and in movies about prison rape that any unbiased observer would assume it one of our cultural values. It would be nice if that stopped.

Activists like the late Stephen Donaldson have been working this issue for years, but it's important that conservatives are picking up the standard. Even the impeccably rightwing Washington Times is getting with the program -- as these things go, that's practically a groundswell.

One reason it's important is sheer mass -- the U.S. has an appalling and ever-growing number of prisoners, and both rape and HIV are widespread in the pens. Back in my medical journalism days, I reported on gay barebacking and HIV, and I must say that even a glance at the figures shows that prison rapists are more likely than "gift-givers" to become our equivalent of Central Africa's long-distance truckers in making AIDS numbers go the wrong way.

It's also important because prison rape is cruel, in every sense of the word, including the Founders'. We make a very bad habit of excluding large segments of our population from basic human respect. Prisoners are near the top of that list. I often wonder that so many people seem to believe that whatever happens to jailbirds serves them right -- that the old notion of "paying your debt to society" now includes whatever brutality accompanies it. Even the time-honored American tradition of rooting for the underdog seems to be fading away. We are increasingly the land of the foam "#1" finger, and devil take the hindmost.

Here, then, is an opportunity to get a consensus on the right side for once. When prominent scolds (including Democrats like Judgin' Joe Lieberman) complain about the coarsening of our culture, they usually focus on the behaviors of consenting adults, which alienates liberals and conservatives of a libertarian streak. Of course, both liberals and conservatives of whatever stripe are generally convinced that the guys on the other side don't care about people at all, and both camps have kit-bags full of anecdotes to prove it.

This is sad, because I think most of us -- even fans of invective (guess I should include myself, huh?) -- can agree that there is too much cruelty in the world. The notion that we could make common cause on this issue warms my heart.

Later, we can discuss the sugar-coated poison of the tax cut, evil sodomy laws, draconian bankruptcy bills, the shameful lack of a national healthcare system, and the other just plain evil attributes of the scumbags with whom we will now join hands, briefly.
BUT IT'S NO JOKE, IT'S DOIN' ME HARM. I have just returned from Mother's Day in Bridgeport. I had four hours sleep last night, as I had on each of the previous two nights. As I tried to nap on the train home, a little girl five feet away tooted nonstop on a plastic pennywhistle. Please don't be too hard on anything I write from now till... well, who knows.

Saturday, May 10, 2003

A HELL OF A VIENNA. Along 10th Street, very far east, I walked behind four middle-aged Puerto Rican guys. A pretty young girl was walking toward them, then shifted her path to walk diagonally across the street. She was wearing a t-shirt and some sort of muslin pants that billowed a bit from her legs but not from her ass, and the thin fabric strained against it each time she stepped.

The four men did not break stride but turned their heads, then their shoulders, with admirable slowness. This is the patience that comes with age,

One of them made a soft noise, which seemed to me not disrespectful but appreciative.

"Go talk to her," the man next to him said.

The man said nothing and his friend repeated it.

They were wearing grey slacks, all of them, different shades of grey, with a slight flair at the cuff that was raffish in an early-80s way, though the slacks were of a roomier cut than they might have favored back in the day. They wore sport jackets -- one of them, worn by the man who had made the noise, was of mustard yellow leather -- and patterned, button-down shirts.

"She a schoolteacher," said the man in the mustard yellow jacket.


"We got nothing in common."

I immediately flashed on this Bukowski poem:

and all of us
getting together later
in pete's room
a small cube of space under a stairway, there we were,
packed in there
without women
without cigarettes
without anything to drink,
while the rich pawed away at their many
choices and the young girls let
the same girls who spit at our shadows as we
walked past.

it was a hell of a

3 of us under that stairway
were killed in world war II.

another one is now manager of a mattress

me? I'm 30 years older,
the town is 4 or 5 times as big
but just as rotten
and the girls still spit on my
shadow, another war is building for another
reason, and I can hardly get a job now
for the same reason I couldn't then:
i don't know anything, I can't do

Boethius found consolation in philosophy while under an unjust sentence of death. For rest of us, if we're lucky enough to have it, there's poetry.

Friday, May 09, 2003

I AM EMBARRASSED TO REPORT I got one wrong in the U.S. Citizenship Test. Twenty-seven Amendments? I thought it was twenty-three. (BTW my fave alternate choice: among the answers for "What ship brought the Pilgrims to America?" was c. Titanic.)

Let's look at the Amendments I overlooked:

AMENDMENT XXIV. Anti-poll tax. Now I am embarrassed.

AMENDMENT XXV. Presidential succession. This came up after Agnew's resignation, then Nixon's. Congress was empowered to create an Act in 1947 that laid out the succession in offices subordinate to the VP's. The bad news is, Rummy's #7.

AMENDMENT XXVI. 18-year-old vote. Fat lot of good it's done us. Though after Vietnam I guess it was necessary.

AMENDMENT XXVII. Congressional raises. This one doesn't go far enough. Had I and my confidant, elementary justice, our way, the Amendment would look more like this.

Most Interesting Amendment: XI. "The action of the Supreme Court in accepting jurisdiction of a suit against a State by a citizen of another State in 1793 provoked such angry reaction in Georgia and such anxieties in other States that at the first meeting of Congress following the decision the Eleventh Amendment was proposed by an overwhelming vote of both Houses and ratified with, what was for that day, 'vehement speed.'" According to the University of Missouri at Kansas City, "The Eleventh Amendment was a response to the Supreme Court's unpopular decision in Chisholm v Georgia, in which the Court ordered Georgia to pay two South Carolina residents a debt the Court found was owed them.  Georgia legislators were so outraged by the decision that the passed a law declaring that anyone who attempted to carrry out the Court's mandate would be hanged with benefit of clergy!" Over time, interpretations of this Amendment expanded to prevent a citizen from citing Federal statutes to sue his own state; this was relaxed a bit in a 1908 case (again per UMKC) when the Supremes determined that "if a state official violated the Constitution he can't be acting on behalf of a state, which can only act constitutionally.  Thus, state officials -- but not states -- might be sued when they violate the Constitution, even when they do so in the name of the state." Later decisions -- even unto the 1990s -- get even murkier ("...Seminole and Printz extended constitutional protection to states sued in their own STATE courts for federal law violations. Clearly, as the Court recognized, this result is not dictated (or even supported) by the language of the Eleventh Amendment.  Instead, the Court concluded that the English common-law notion of sovereign immunity -- reaching even suits against sovereigns in their own courts -- was implicitly adopted by the framers and ratifiers of the Constitution"). In other words, states' rights ain't dead; look for the next comeback tour in a jurisdiction near you.

Fave Amendment: Numero Uno.

WHAT'S TO READ? I spend a lot of time monitoring a small clutch of right-wing sites, but eventually I suppose I will have to establish some more positive blogroll of my own (Ugh! I hate the very sound of the word "blog." Its pronunciation mandates a flaccid facial state, like "blah," or anything in a Shropshire dialect and I don't mean Philip).

For now I will point out a few sites of interest. There's the unclassifiable Mark Shea who calls his site Catholic and Enjoying It! and actually addresses the Caesar v. God issues most of the godly righties overgloss. He likes the abominable Ned Flanders, lately removed from the Bunker to the civic atrocity of Dallas (from whence he sends back to his old stomping ground web pix of his hobbyhorse), but hey, one can agree to disagree when the style and verve run this high.

Speaking of Flanders, the original, fictional one is referenced by this site, one of the "fun" kind I can endorse without hyperglemic shock.

Also Bertram Online is back in session, for some reason with our poor journal on his own list. The content has character.

I would be remiss to overlook Andrew & Sasha, two of the Cool Kids who are for some reason nice to me. To paraphrase Lee Ermey in Full Metal Jacket, they are silly and foolish, but they have guts, and guts is enough.