Friday, August 29, 2003

WHAT, ME WEIMAR? In the most recent issue of The American Prospect (in articles not available at their website, unfortunately). the TAPpers talk about liberal language and image issues. This is meat and drink to me, but the articles made me a little queasy, particularly "Framing the Dems" by cognitive scientist George Lakoff, who compares the conservative and progressive (big word at TAP these days) worldviews to family models, the "strict father family" and the "nurturant parent family." To underline the point, the editors put in pictures of Robert Duvall as the Great Santini, and Bill Cosby as lovable Cliff Huxtable.

Lakoff makes some good points, but I'm not crazy about family analogies in politics because the analogy inevitably extends (though Lakoff makes little of it) to parents and children. I don't wish to be cast in either role, frankly, especially when social scientists are doing the casting.

Deborah Tannen is a little more on the mark in examining Frank Luntz' linguistic tactics for Republicans. She objects to Luntz' read on the appeal to female voters. Based largely on Bill Clinton's success with the ladies (electorally, I mean), Luntz calls for Republicans to "empathize" with distaff citizens. "Understanding may be all that a woman is looking for when telling her husband or boyfriend about something that frustrated her during the day," Tannen retorts. "But when they go to the polls to elect a leader, women as well as men are not electing a soul mate but a public official..."

Right on, sister. When we talk about politics, it's a good thing to examine the contents of the snake oil our adversaries peddle. But when we start working too seriously on our own formulae -- or counter-formulae -- we run the risk of further debasing our politics, which in the long run does everyone a disservice.

The real sad thing about the California recall is not that it may go badly for our side (by which I of course refer to the candidacy of Gary Coleman). It's that the recall is a circus, politics as entertainment. So too the whole Roy Moore/Ten Commandments fiasco, now being exported to Mississippi. Politainment may amuse bored reporters and disgusted voters, but it should make fans of representative government nervous. Because though a lot of politics is about putting on a good show, it's also about finding consensus and keeping the Republic healthy, and we seem to be veering quickly in the goofball direction.

It's the silly season for sure, but it looks sillier by the minute, and in case you haven't noticed, the country has a lot of real problems. We're not whistling a happy tune, we're whistling in the dark, and the marketability of the tune is beginning to matter less and less.
UNCLE ROY, WHAT'S A "STRAW MAN"? Fetch Uncle Roy down the jug and hit this to get Instapundit telling a tale out of school, or rather out of the Moonie Times. The alleged exchange is between 9/11 TV movie auteur Lionel Chetwynd and, it would seem, a brain-damaged person:
Still, the murmurs of pretty much blanket disapproval I'd been hearing from colleagues about Chetwynd's doing the movie did come to a head during one truly absurd exchange:

Question: "You did contribute to [Bush's] campaign?"

Chetwynd: "Yeah, the limit was $1,000...Would it make a better film if I'd given $1,000 to Gore?"

Question: "Yes."

"Chetwynd: "Why?"

"Question: "Because it would show less potential bias."

The questioner was absolutely serious...

"OH, THAT LIBERAL MEDIA" chortles the Perfesser.

Let's assume, nephew, that Chetwynd actually met and spoke with this Mallard Fillmore caricature. An amusing anecdote, but what the hell does it demonstrate or portend? It's sort of like my own anecdote:
The overweight Republican dusted off his top hat with the sleeve of his tuxedo jacket and, moving his fat cigar to one side, sneered to me, "Most days, I tell outrageous lies to the American people because it bamboozles them into keeping my pals and I rich and powerful. But on special days like today, I do it simply to further damage an already enfeebled democracy. Moow-wah-ha-ha!"

What! You doubt the veracity of my tale? Can you prove it isn't true? And, by the way, my anecdote shows that Republicans smoke cigars, wear fancy duds, and feast on the misery of the workers. Boo-yah! Advantage: flash fiction as journalism!

Thursday, August 28, 2003

DOPE, GUNS, AND FREEPING IN THE STREETS. Atrios has flagged this Free Republic discussion of Arnold's old Oui interview (in which he cheerfully flaunts his casual sex and drug use). I have long harbored a morbid fascination with FR, and so try to stay away from it, lest I get sucked forever into their vortex of anti-logic and magical thinking. But this module's too good to resist.

Sample post:
All I'll say about this is that if Bill Clinton had done the things he did prior to 1977 and reformed his act, I'd never have given him the trouble I did.

Bill Clinton was, is and always will be a diseased brain infested likely traitor and felon.

The posting of this article is unfortunate. I can only shake my head that anyone would think it relevant today.

I made some terrible choices in my youth. I congratulate you if you didn't.

In the Nixon era, Ron Ziegler used the curious locution "mistakes were made" to minimize whatever Administration fuckup he was compelled to explain. Well, now we have a new usage for conservatives who want to excuse behavior that, had it been displayed by their enemies rather than their friends, would cause them to spew tidal waves of abuse: "Terrible choices" have been made.

All over this board, in and among the usual Hillary Clinton fan fiction, you'll observe VRWC factota, usually steadfast against moral relativism in all its forms, experiencing similar, sudden, and glorious conversions to this laissez-faire socially-liberal view -- with exceptions made, of course, for "diseased brain infested likely traitor and felon" Clinton. Love the sin, hate the sinner!

Of course, I'm joking, as in reality this is all Bullshit Libertarianism -- that popular stance adapted by those to who believe in freedom where, when, and for whom it suits themselves (see Carey, Drew). Too bad. If these guys were really listening to themselves, they might undergo a real conversion -- not in politics, perhaps, but in their attitude toward those Commie preverts who do things they wouldn't do except when they did which they wouldn't do now...

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

KELLY'S HEROES. Funny, when you read Instapundit these days on Britain, it would seem that all the Scepter'd Isle is livid with outrage at the BBC over the Kelly affair. Here's a ripe example of his coverage:
...The Beeb, which just can't seem to avoid sexing up weapons stories... ANOTHER UPDATE: Roger Simon is comparing the BBC to Nixon and to The New York Times...

He also observes that "The Guardian is all over this one." The Guardian, which actually originates in Blighty, is indeed all over the BBC story, and here's a fairly typical excerpt:
[Defense Minister Geoff] Hoon also acknowledged that the BBC report had led to a major political crisis for Prime Minister Tony Blair and that his government was under tremendous pressure to disprove the BBC's allegations that Blair had exaggerated the risks of Iraq's weapons before the war...

The BBC's allegations -- and the high-profile inquiry being led by Lord Hutton, a senior appeals judge -- pose the worst crisis for Blair in his six years in power, with the latest polls showing that many Britons question his credibility.

Regular IP readers who have heretofore assumed that Blair was as big a hero in Anglia as in Crawford, TX might want to wipe their exploded heads off their monitors now. The BBC may well be having credibility issues, but they're nothing compared to those of the Prime Minister. (Unless of course you believe that, as promulgators of the international liberal media conspiracy, the Beeb is actually more powerful than Blair...)

All goes to show, you can get a bogus idea of international events from even the more widely-puffed weblogs. Come to think of it, drop the "international."

Monday, August 25, 2003

WESLEY WILLIS R.I.P. Wesley Willis, paranoid schizophrenic songwriter, has passed on. A moment of silence, please, for the author of "I Whupped Batman's Ass." Hopefully Daniel Johnston can pick up the slack.
A SMALL THING BUT STILL WORTH NOTING. In a post about cellphone disruptions during the recent blackout, Professor Reynolds comments, "A reader emails that Verizon wireless was up throughout the blackout, unlike other companies. Bravo!"

Someone tell the Professor that Verizon badly botched the NYPD's emergency cell communications that day. The union with which Verizon has been tussling for months suggests that the telecom's personnel cutbacks might have had something to do with it.

Wouldn't surprise me -- Verizon is the worst public utility company with whom I've ever had the misfortune to do business: sloppy, expensive, and rude. But I'll say this for them: they're very good at guerilla marketing, as witnessed by the abovementioned, probably planted message.
IMMORTAL GREEKS. Jon Landis' reflections on Animal House in the New York Times are slightly surprising. I've long disliked Landis -- whenever I saw him on TV during his trial for supervising the stunt in the 1983 Twilight Zone movie that killed Vic Morrow and a couple of kids, he always had this shitty what's-the-big-deal grin on his face. But he did direct Animal House, and that buys considerable slack. And he said some good stuff in the Times:

  • He went out of his way to credit Doug Kenney, Chris Miller, and Harold Ramis for writing the picture. The first two, particularly, don't get enough credit for their National Lampoon work, and the NYT namecheck is a nice gesture.
  • He said he was trying to make in Animal House his own version of the old-fashioned college pictures with Rudy Vallee and Jack Oakie. That's a good reference, shows scholarship, and may direct some heretofore clueless Blutarsky fan toward silent comedy. (Landis included Buster Keaton here, too, and must have been thinking of the film College, one of my personal favorites.)
  • Landis has an insight that hadn't even occured to me over many years of loving Animal House. He says:
    Why do people romanticize the military and romanticize college? You're 18, and you're out of the house. There's a great line in Animal House: 'We can do anything we want. We're college students!' In addition to everything else, the movie somehow captures that sense of youthful exuberance and excitement, of being out there in the world.

    This adds to my enjoyment of this film, and serves as a useful reminder that, to a large extent, the adventures of Bluto, Flounder, Pinto et alia are not only (or even primarily) antiestablishment nose-thumbing, but constitute an ingenious conflation of the bildungsroman and picaresque traditions. Which is to say, maybe the boys of Delta House remain popular (whereas the boys of Van Wilder and other, similar entertaiments never became so) because they resonate with the eternal. We may not all be frat boys, but we all know the attraction of getting out of the house, and of killing Niedermeyer's horse. Figuratively speaking, of course.

Friday, August 22, 2003

WINNING ISN'T EVERYTHING... I repeat myself, but isn't it a great indicator of conservatism's basic unseriousness that many of its leading lights are plumping for the apolitically ambitious Arnold Schwarzenegger?

"Schwarzenegger Comes Through!" gushes NRO third-stringer Peter Robinson over Ahnold's transparently Golden-Bear-baiting, non-Bartlett's-contending soundbites (e.g., "Before you promise anything to anyone right now, I think stop. Stop, stop, stop with the spending"). Based on such feeble evidence, Robinson compares Schwarzenegger flatteringly to Ronald Reagan. One is tempted to answer: No, Reagan's feeble-mindedness is caused by Alzheimer's, not steroid abuse, and the Gipper had an at least moderate range of interests (movies, politics, horses, Barnaby Jones), whereas Arnold Schwarzenegger has, judging from his behaviors, a genuine interest in Arnold Schwarzenegger and not much else.

Robinson, say this for him, plays it cagey and leaves his accounting of the Reagan/Schwarzenegger link murky: "The most important parallel between Schwarzenegger and Reagan? That's still developing," Robinson admits; but "when Reagan was elected president in 1980, there was no consensus on what should be done -- but there was a consensus that something had to be done." Well, Ahnold will do something, all right. Invite Rob Lowe and a few "friends" to the Governor's mansion for a sleepover, perhaps, or push through a bill mandating for himself a better seat at the Oscars. But other than that, what? Only his publicist knows for sure.

I am guessing that the real Reagan/Schwarzenegger "parallel" is simply that Ahnold is in movies and can win. Perhaps this is enough. That conservatives would like to lay siege to any Democratic redoubt is unsurprising -- but it's downright alarming to consider the price they're now willing to pay for victory. We knew (via the 2000 election and the 2001 campaigns) that they would employ any means to win, but that they would employ such a flawed vessel as Schwarzenegger shows a definite lowering of standards.

Mere weeks after the massive shitfit pitched by the Right over the Supreme Court's anti-sodomy decision (and amid its lingering cultural fallout -- see Robinson's fellow bench-warmer Tim Graham's bitching about TV gays), the new Great Right Hope is pro-gay, pro-choice, and otherwise not especially on board with the Roger Chillingworth wing of the movement. Poor Judge Roy Moore! As he risks his career for a statue of the Ten Commandments in Alabama, those who should be his natural defenders lavish their attention on a Tinseltown muscleman.

Elsewhere at NRO, Bruce Bartlett bites his nails over "Big-Government Conservatism." It seems to perplex BB that such a lovely, reactionary fellow as W would forsake true conservative principals just to win voter approval with handouts of public money. How I would love to see W reading (or having read to him) Bartlett's piece, and to hear his contemptuous laughter!

At home, as in Iraq, the illusion of victory seems to be enough for these guys. It is fitting that they now prostrate themselves before a showman.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

WELL, THEY CALL ME THE CLEANSER, BABY. From the Washington Post:
GANGRE, Kenya -- The women of this village call Francise Akacha "the terrorist." His breath fumes with the local alcoholic brew. Greasy food droppings hang off his mustache and stain his oily pants and torn shirt....

But for all of his undesirable traits, Akacha has a surprisingly desirable job: He's paid to have sexual relations with the widows and unmarried women of this village. He's known as "the cleanser," one of hundreds of thousands of men in rural villages across Africa who sleep with women after their husbands die to dispel what villagers believe are evil spirits.

As tradition holds, they must sleep with the cleanser to be allowed to attend their husbands' funerals or be inherited by their husbands' brother or relative, another controversial custom that aid workers said is causing the spread of HIV-AIDS. Unmarried women who lose a parent or child must also sleep with the ritual cleanser.

(Thanks to Ken MacLeod for the link.)

The Post says at least some women in rural Kenya are now refusing to take part in this dangerous barbarity, and good for them. But, shallow fellow that I am, I still can't get over that such a line of employment even exists. Also, check out the Post's description of the job qualifications:
A cleanser is typically the village drunkard or someone considered not very bright.

That reminds me: I really need to update my resume.

Looking at the slothful chick-magnet musicians of my acquaintance, it seems there's a touch of the universal here. Perhaps when a well-brought-up young lady of our own time and place chooses to couple with a snaggletoothed wastrel, clubfly, or drummer, she is actually responding to a deep-seated cultural imperative, and will leave the encounter cleansed of something -- illusions, perhaps, or her wallet.

I also enjoyed the town's name, which seems to have been created by Evelyn Waugh.

STILL MORE PROOF THAT JONAH GOLDBERG IS AN ASSHOLE: He doesn't like Vermont. Apparently they have hippies there, and somebody yelled at him.

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

LET'S SEE, WHERE'D I PUT MY STRAW MEN? Today Instapundit spends hundreds of words trying to stick an embarrassing interpretation to a single phrase spoken by Ed Asner.

(So many standout self-parodic features appear in this single Insta-incident that I have gone italic mad!)

Among the techniques availed by the Perfesser is snippets of commentary from his stooges, mostly saying that Asner probably didn't mean what IP thought he might have meant, but is still a big jerk who smells bad anyway.

This really blows away IP's standard disclaimer that he's not a conservative. Only a died-in-the-wool winger would get this worked up about Ed Asner.

(My original question was going to be, "What is it with conservatives and Ed Asner?" But I'll just leave it at "What is it with conservatives?")

Well, fuck 'em. Ed Asner rocks. He was Lou Grant. Also did a great turn in Rich Man, Poor Man ("I am in hell, making Parker House Rolls"). And he was going to be in that banned Harlan Ellison New Twilight Zone episode as a racist Santa Claus before CBS intervened.

By the way, Alan Alda's a pretty good actor, too.

Sunday, August 17, 2003

JUST IN CASE YOU WERE WONDERING: This is how I come out in Quizilla's What Leader Were You in a Past Life Test:

Funny, I don't remember being asked about the disposition of six million Jews. I most certainly would have answered, "Let them run the banking and entertainment industries!" I think my Spartan lifestyle threw the Quizmasters.

Thanks to Sasha Castel for the link. Achtung, baby!
THE GIULIANIFICATION OF BUSH. I see by the Chicago Tribune (via Alterman) that Bush's Pentagon wants to cut the pay of American soldiers in Iraq. This put me in mind of our late, accursed mayor Giuliani, who rode to glory on the backs of City cops and then fucked them over on pay raises.

Of course, Giuliani used the NYPD ill in many ways. Here's an interesting case revealed in New York Newsday last month:
Last week, City Comptroller William Thompson Jr. released his "Claims Report 2001-2002." Buried in parentheses amid the pie charts and bar graphs, was a line that said the city paid out $141.7 million in claims against the Police Department in fiscal 2001 - $63 million more than before or since.

The reason was a class action suit involving 7,000 citizens. Cost to the city: $50 million.

The case involved the strip-searching of 65,000 people for such minor first offenses as littering under former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's "quality of life" crime crackdown.

This massive payout is one major reason for the massive deficits that plague us still. (The others, including Hizzoner's largesse to large local businesses, would fill several columns.)

Yet the country worships "Rudy" as a savior, and doubtless Bush expects similar on-the-cheap veneration. To a large extent, it's a cultural thing. Cops and soliders identify with the Republican crackdown vision, and are, it seems, more easily flim-flammed than, say, hospital workers when it is quietly announced that they will not be compensated for their part in the new order. And the public is easily brought on board with the NYPD Blue, Third Watch, Law & Order narrative of tough leaders guiding tough civil servants through a world of skels.

These bastards have it worked good and proper. Come the Republican Convention in New York next year, the cops will, no doubt, efficiently pen protestors far from the media eye. They will be paid far less than they deserve or even require for doing so, but they will do it, and be part of the whole, carefully managed spectacle of muscular righteousness the Republicans have planned.

And some people call us useful idiots!

Saturday, August 16, 2003

BLACKOUT NOTES. A little deprivation is good for the soul. I'm just not used to sharing it. Not on this scale, anyway.

My walk from Midtown West to Williamsburg was delayed for a variety of reasons until 7:30 pm yesterday. The atmosphere up around those parts was at first survivalesque, then carnivalesque. The street-choking mobs near Port Authority in the first hour were purposeful and dour (especially when we got a load of the closed doors and scant chance of escape), but once we started to radiate back into the neighborhoods, a cheerful determination took over. I talked to one friend through the window of a stalled bus, another on the street as he made his sweaty way to his girlfriend's place in the West 40's. (It never ceases to amaze me whom you run into, and how, in the City.)

Far West in the more Puerto Rican environs, bright acceptance was the rule. In a NYCHA building west of Tenth Avenue, they were hauling food down from the useless fridges for barbecue, and chatting amiably in the darkened stairwells as they conveyed themselves or their hobbled relations up and down. The kids were happy as shit, playing ball in the yards and screeching merrily to one another, like the gathering darkness was a pleasure to anticipate and the blackout a holiday. I can't imagine this town without Spanish people. I think the rest of us would have killed each other by now without them.

As I made my way dowtown in the last moments of sunlight, streets, sidewalks, and stoops had become social centers, sometimes with lawn chairs and frequently with coolers, or just piles, of drinks. Guys hauled bags of ice ("Cost me five bucks!" one guy yelled. "You wouldn't believe the line!"), at least half yapped on cell phones or stood diligently tapping the keys, trying to get through. At Rudy's on Ninth, where I stopped for a beer (knowing this would all be a little easier with one at least under my belt), the warm, stinky dimness reminded me of bars I'd frequented when A/C was not so ubiquitous: in the languor of the barflies, content on their stools, I felt again the old New York of pleasure amid squalor and lack.

I made my way through Times Square in the first hints of gloom, thinking only, I don't want to be here when it's really dark. But that was silly of me in retrospect. The big dead electronic billboards were something to see -- those vast panels of desire looking a little dull, frankly, without all the juice coursing through them, like constructions for a trade show before the crowds showed. But the people were -- well, cool would be the best world, were this not August -- they were damp and sizzled a little, not angrily, but complacently, like carriage horses waiting for custom around Central Park. I saw the now-storied sidewalk loungers, their nice shirts matted with sweat, their hair disarrayed, their name-brand shoes stretched uselessly before them, as they parked their haunches on backpacks, on newspapers, or just on concrete, and looked surprisingly resigned that their hotels or trains home were out of the question. They chatted and laughed as if their bus had been briefly stuck in traffic, or as if the ferry to their weekend house had been delayed by a storm and there was nothing to do but have another drink (of bottled water, in most cases) and make conversation with fellow-sufferers.

Further downtown, darker still. The clots of pedestrians were thick and took advantage of every available byway -- sidewalk, temporarily empty street, park, traffic island. Some sought assistance. A well-dressed man stood proudly at the edge of Sixth Avenue, holding five or six twenty-dollar bills fanned out in front of him. A cab miraculously stopped for two older women with shopping bags, who hobbled with delighted laughter toward it and toppled, still laughing, into the back seat.

Traffic was tentative. Cops in thin plastic reflective ponchos waved flashlights. One bicyclist, a chubby black guy in overalls and a tank top, skidded to stop for a sudden lurch of sidestreet traffic. "DUDE," yelled a cop, "THERE'S NO LIGHTS. TAKE IT EASY." The biker yet angled his front wheel for a break in the traffic. "IF YOU GET HIT," the cop loudly advised, "SANITATION'S GONNA BE A LONG TIME PICKING YOUR ASS OFF THE STREET."

As I got further down I thought of my cats and checked several of the open delis for comida del gato. Supplies were dwindling and lines were long. Sometimes Coleman Lanterns lit the stores; in one case at least, a parked car shone hi-beams through the glass front. Mister Softee trucks were everywhere, and had long lines. On Houston, in an amazingly stinky and hot bodega, I got the cat food, and some Gatorade and a Luna Bar to keep myself going. By then it was very dark. The Lower East Side was all it usually was, but with the revelry now mostly (though some boites were lit by candlelight, like sets from Gangs of New York) on the street: on Ludlow, blocked to traffic and nearly pitch black, residents straggled or sat in the streets with six-packs and howled and bayed and sang. You had to step lively to keep from toppling over them.

Crowds gathered on Delancey for access to the Williamsburg Bridge. A fat, black female cop, with a proper mesh vest emblazoned TRAFFIC, yelled into the night, "GOING OVER THE WILLIAMSBURG BRIDGE? WAIT RIGHT HERE." So we stood attentively like schoolchildren, waiting for the signal, and were conveyed through a sideways-waving gauntlet of cops to the walkway. The path across was dark and crowded. I passed several couples talking energetically, earnestly, and wondered if not a few of them had never before had this chance for uninterrupted and (it must be said) romantic talk before, and what might come of it. I kept peeping also over my shoulder (for the traffic moved quickly and almost in a mass) at Manhattan, in the moonlight and harborlight an awesome sight, the festival glow of its windows and streetlamps dead (but for one full-blazing building midtown and I'm still wondering which one it was). It looked gray and vast, like a rock formation exquisitely carved.

At the far end of the Bridge volunteers from the local Hasidic ambulance service deferentially handed out tiny cups of water. Some journeyers dunked their heads in a gush of water from an open hydrant. On my block I noted a crowd cheering around a lantern-lit bodega. A middle-aged woman in a short, frilly black dress was humping a gray folding chair to music from a boombox. At the corner, some youngsters burned scrap wood in a metal garbage can.

My own corner store sold me a beer, still cold, and I trooped up my dark, dark steps, gripping the railing and counting the flights, till I got to my own lightless piece of the City. I turned on my lantern, fed my cats, and sprawled on the bed. Through the open window came a light breeze, distant cries of roving groups of citizens, and firecracker explosions.

Around 3:30 the next afternoon we got power out my way. But of course, though they don't know it (though maybe they do, now, a little bit), the people had the power all along.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

WE WILL FLEE THE NUCLEAR WINTER ON OUR SEGWAYS! Whatshisname (God, I hate linking to him) points us to Schwarzenegger's official site. "Where's the campaign blog?" is the only question Whatshisname advances. What I want to know is: where's the part of the site where the candidate tells us, oh, what he would do as Governor of a large, debt-ridden state?

(Of course a weblog would be more likely to appear at the site, as the ill-spoken Arnold could use PR specialists to invent for himself a voice that is free from gutteral friction, careless misuse of basic English, and meaning -- which last is, while do-able, a slightly harder trick in the "policy paper" format.)

I wrote this because the bile was overflowing and I couldn't help myself. I do realize that we Americans are now totally detached from our government, and that elections of Governors and elections of Star Search winners are more or less the same to us.

The funny thing is, Dick Morris seems to realize this, too, though, less unusually, his further analysis is less acute. "Why are voters so cynical, apathetic and downright surly?" the disgraced consultant writes. "Count the reasons. In 2000, the supposedly nonpartisan United States Supreme Court voted, almost along party lines, to deny the voters a chance for a recount in the presidential election..." Of the California debacle he adds, "Voters know that the political system is fundamentally corrupted by special interests and their campaign contributions. They realize that Gov. Gray Davis can no more cut the budget or close tax loopholes than could one of a Roman galley's slaves steer the boat."

Sounds about right. Despair will lead to desperate measures, and voters, like malcontented children, have good reason to believe that they will only be attended when they misbehave.

But that isn't what Morris means at all."Is there a salvation for our democracy?" he asks. "Yes. It will come through the Internet."


"...Dean campaign spread virally through the 'Net..." blah blah blah "...the free communication of the Internet will create an alternative to top-down manipulation..." blah blah blah "flow of information" blah blah "This is a revolutionary era we are entering." Blah.

Almost as reliable as Algren's classic formulation about places called Mom's and card players callded Doc is the (I should hope) by-now universal maxim that anything that has to be revolutioned by "the 'Net" is doomed already.

"The 'Net" was supposed to revolutionize music. Music now sucks. "The 'Net" was supposed to revolutionize publishing. Literature now sucks. (At least it hasn't been completely digitized, though. Remember hypernovels?) The only areas of human life web communications have improved are special-interest community building (which, while very nice, tends to militate against consensus politics, not for it) and access to porn (also very nice, but -- well, just very nice).

Sad, no? Reynolds and Morris, two reputable pundits, look at Conan the Barbarian's candidacy and ask, hm, what's the technology angle? I guess that's why they're both so chipper in these parlous times: in their view, as long at the iPods and Blackberries are running, Western Civ is advancing.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

HIATUS, SORTA. Between these projects that I'll tell you about later, I haven't had much chance to get up in here and dish out karma. I shall return. Meantime check me out as guest columnist at Katie Lukas' Funny That, a daily review of the comics appearing in the New York Daily News. If that ain't meta, I'll kiss your ass.

Friday, August 08, 2003

ELECTION IN PROGRESS. I see the Administration has called out the good cop to announce a continuation of our moratorium on nuclear testing. This barely needed mentioning, as our avowed enemies of the moment crouch in caves fiddling with gelginite and whatnot, and hardly call the question as to whether America's WMD are sufficient -- we can kill anybody we need to, at any time.

This is a signal to no one but the American electorate, meant to convey that we are not totally nuts, at a time when more than a few citizens might be wondering about it.

Why would anyone else care? Russia is hardly at issue, especially given Putin's recent overtures toward an international moderate Islamic organization (yes, such things exist -- someone tell Den Beste!).

It might be argued that this move shows that the Bushites take the North Korean threat less than seriously. That would be a good argument. The Holy Ghost of the Axis of Evil is getting soothing words from Condi Rice, which will only surprise those who imagined that the tinpot despots of NK were as dangerous as was advertised in the President's long-forgotten war-fever speeches.

Meanwhile Homeland Security is generating income for some folks peddling ass-covering methods and devices by which security firms may demonstrate to clients that they are duly diligent in the matter of local terrorism. "On one side of the Jack Reardon Civic Center on Tuesday," reports the Kansas City Star of one such, "you could buy the HRI Hot Suit, perfect for braving a 600-degree fire after a terrorist strike. The cost: $80,000, which covers a package of three suits with supporting equipment."

One might wonder about the Saudis, but these days there hardly seems any point to that, does there? The folks at NRO's Corner have been as complaisant on that score of late as they have been on the pro-choice candidacy of the Terminator in California. (Even the reliable scold Lopez, having dropped a sour note on Ahnold at one point, later nollied it with some on-message boosterism.)

Election in progress! Turn off principles before merging with the one available lane.

Thursday, August 07, 2003

CRAZY LIKE A FOX NEWSMAN. I used to make fun of Jim Lileks a lot, till my focus inevitably and happily drifted. My thought back then was that the guy was nuts, and his dire visions of nuclear death for New York and so forth still read like Bremeresque ravings found in motel drawers after killing sprees.

But Lileks has calmed. From the evidence of his most recent column, he would seem to have shifted his job description from the Jeremiah of Jasperwood to good-natured Republican hack.

He has developed, for example, a sunny side attitude toward the risible candidacy of Arnold Schwarzenegger, supporting the former Mr. Universe because he is "more likable and trustworthy than the alternatives... he’ll bring new voters to the polls." He sounds like an excitable Jaycee pimping his high school football teammate for County Executive. He adds, "We saw this in Minnesota with Jesse." I never noticed Lileks calling the surly Minnesota governor "Jesse" before -- either he and Ventura recently bonded over a secret stash of Battlestar Gallactica figurines, or the prairie pundit has begun adopting icons as journalistic pets. Talk of "Jack," "Bobby," "Rudy," or "Jesse" is a sure sign of incipient hackdom -- see any Pete Hamill column for details.

Then Lileks gets to that gay bishop, and suddenly he's channeling Maggie Gallagher. "It has nothing to do with Rev. Robinson’s sexual orientation," he assures. "The guy left his wife and kids to go do the hokey-pokey with someone else... 'I want to have sex with other people' is not a valid reason for depriving two little girls of a daddy who lives with them, gets up at night when they're sick, kisses them in the morning when they wake."

In just a few tear-stained cliches he's got the soccer moms on board with the Derbyshire wing, all the while maintaining plausible toleration! Is this the work of a madman? No, my friends, this is the work of a crafty wordsmith angling for the A. M. Rosenthal Chair, which is always well-padded, at some bigger daily than that he currently serves. All he has to do now is minimize the trips to Target and desperate declarations of fealty to his widdle girl, and tone down the keening pitch to which his longer pieces usually escalate, and he's a cinch the next time great Rupert has an opening.

SPRINGER OUT, SCHWARZENEGGER IN. Somehow I don't think this is what the Founders had in mind by check and balances. We have had some celebrity guest leaders, but at least Congressman Davy Crockett had some relevant work experience (most notably killing a b'ar when he was only three) before entering the legislature. And Max Frost could sing! asks us to wait a bit for a statement, but there is much verbiage at the "Arnold4Gov" site, unsurprisingly short on policy details, though we do learn that the candidate loves America and that he "earned his first million not in movies but in business," by which I assume is meant the business of bodybuilding, unless he had a dry-goods store or something that I haven't heard about.

Arnold will have to start articulating soon. I expect mush, given what his consultant George Gorton has been telling the press ("When Arnold walks into a gym, these guys come up to him and tell their stories," Gorton told the Washington Post. "They'll say, 'I used to be a 90-pound weakling, but then I read your book and saw your video and whatever.' Arnold's like a god to these people.")

Mush may work. Whoever wins, I can't imagine anyone expects the victor to fix Cali's budget problems, so what the hell? Might as well have a good time on the way down the drain. One wonders how long these circuses may last without bread.

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

WAY TO GO, BISH. I normally don't trouble myself with the internal affairs of large, superstition-based organizations, but I am pleased at this new Episcopal bishop, if only because his appointment has set John Derbyshire to crying "For shame! For shame!" Next Derb will, one hopes, walk barefoot a la George Fox through the streets of Concord, crying "Woe unto the bloody state of New Hampshire."

Monday, August 04, 2003

EITHER WAY YOU LOOK AT IT, YOU LOSE. According to the Ole Perfesser, even when we're right, we're wrong. After approvingly quoting a few of the elect on the Administration's penchant for unconstitutional detentions, he claims that
Sadly, the Bush Administration's best friends in all this are those who have repeatedly cried wolf, and who now cast Bush as Hitler, thus discrediting the more serious civil libertarians who raise valid concerns like these.
"...and who now cast Bush as Hitler." Ted Rall is Bush's best friend?

Actually, who can tell who the Perfesser is talking about? Wesley Clark? Nat Hentoff? To what wolf-crying does he refer? At what point did it become prudent to complain about the Patriot Acts? After it was too late, apparently.

Funny, this guy is always writing about the Left's hatred of Bush. But he'd rather put his name to an outrageous and illogical statement like the one quoted here than side with a liberal on anything.
LESS THAN AUGUST. Columnists are often at their most revealing in silly-season thumbsuckers. Here's a passage from Dave Shiflett, "a member of the White House Writers Group," on Americans at the beach or some damned thing:
It is true that some fellow citizens have taken the Super Size craze a bit too seriously, growing to the size of fully adult manatees, to the point of having difficulty staying above ground in areas where the sand is not thoroughly packed. The larger point, however is that chunking up must now be considered an act of civil disobedience. In the current context, eating that extra ├ęclair is a heroic act.
I'm cheating a bit, but not much, by not showing first Shiflett's run-up to this bizarre statement. He starts by castigating the anti-smoking law of the despised Bloomberg before hailing gluttony as a blow against the empire. See, first they banned smoking in bars -- clearly their next step is to padlock the freezer case at the Stop 'n' Shop.

The thing is, I sometimes have thoughts like Shiflett's, too: I hate Bloomberg's smoking ban (hell, I hate Bloomberg, with his depraved little "It's fun to play Mayor!" grin), and I can sympathize with anyone's annoyance at our therapeutic society. No one likes being told what to do, and some of us really don't like. (That's the secret of my success, certainly.) But within seconds of having them, I usually have this corollary thought: Congratulations, you're the one millionth writer to whine about "health nazis" and how they ruin everyone's good time. Here's your rattle.

Someone ought to render that service to Shiflett. It is genuinely weird to see a grown man (assuming Shiflett is grown) going out for a stroll on the boardwalk and observing of every expression of human pleasure he comes across that it is a "targetted activity" that some flying squad of blue-noses wants to ban. Well, yes, I suppose it is, but so what? When they come for the beer wagon, let me know.

You'd think the activities that are not targetted would please Shiflett, but no:
If we are going to go after rib eating, tobacco smoking, and beer drinking because they are drains on the health-care system, why not also clamp down on other behaviors that make people ill and cost lots of money, such as certain sexual practices?
Haw haw! That's tellin' them airy fairies what wants to take away our eclairs!

Here's why I can't be a conservative: I do not believe that the Surgeon General is the modern equivalent of the Grand Inquisitor. I would rather have sex than eat eclairs. And when a conservative columnist writes something that's supposed to be fun, like a beach blurb in August, I usually find it painful to read.

Sunday, August 03, 2003

ATTENTION WHORES. "Web Hookups Blamed for Rise in AIDS" reads a headline out of the National HIV Prevention Conference and based on the new CDC numbers. You know, I do believe that a lot of the stuff people in this medium are saying about weblogs -- the kind of triumphalism I'm always dismissing -- is really based on the immense flood of traffic drawn by people's need to connect on more primal levels.

Even here I am happy to be linked, as 'twere, to like-minded blatherers -- I'm always pleased to be cited, answered, blogrolled. I believe the internet is really driven by a hunger for connection, and if you just look at the political weblog piece of it, you're missing the bigger picture. Behind most of the allegedly political, ideological, and journalistic impulses given for the weblog phenomenon are several millions of lonelinesses looking for surcease, a sign that someone feels as we feel. I strongly feel it when I scrawl (or post to) the comments sections of allegedly political weblogs -- that canker of isolation begging the balm of electronic contact.

This doesn't negate the good sense spoken by some of us, or even the nonsense spoken by others. But I think it should provide context for the exorbitant claims sometimes made for this little patch of public discourse. The desire to be heard (or to share on a grosser, in the Elizabethan sense, level) drives so strong that we should take it with a grain of salt, or sense.

It ill becomes me to say so, but if you haven't figured it out already (and you probably have), I'm a bit of an attention whore. I would suggest that most of the opinion vendors hereabouts tend that way, too.

"We are arrant knaves, all of us; believe none of us; to a nunnery, go!" Hamlet had that much right.
ORLANDO FURIOSO. Lord. Had to work this Convention in Orlando, and my preliminary response is, Orlando blows.

Well, that's grossly unfair, of course. I mainly saw the Convention Center and a Kinko's about 15 miles from it (and the infinite stretches of swamp grass, highway, and tourist trappings in between), and some other hotel bar where the art director and myself repaired for thrills (finding none) during our few free hours. As I am at present dead beat, I will just bullet-point you a bit of what I observed:

  • Cabbies in Orlando could teach their NYC brethren something about thieving. Most routes were circuitous, most quotes outrageous. One driver offered to confirm his quote while driving to the destination! (We quickly pulled him over.) I can see this shit in New York or any other great, traditionally larcenous metropolis, but Orlando? Home of Mickey and Shamu? Small wonder the late Presidential election was so easily ganked here.

  • In the Convention Center sodas cost $2.50. And the soda machines have credit card readers. I bought Mountain Dews with a credit card. I felt like Naomi Klein.

  • But having experienced the vastness of the Orange County Convention Center, I begrudge Americans less their reliance on cars. The place comprises the equivalent of several football fields (10? 20? I cannot say), and having traversed these many times in the course of my various duties, and awakened after my few hours of allowed sleep with charley-horses, I began to hunger for the motorized carts availed by the more fat-assed among the attendees. America is big! Who knew?

  • Everyone was very friendly, which I had expected, as I do make infrequent trips to America from the den of vice and intelligence I call home. But it was comforting to be reminded that the Bush-loving rabble are at bottom decent, well-meaning, sociable souls. It gave me hope that they may be right where they seem wrong, or if indeed wrong, then correctable.

More later, but I must reacclimate. God how I missed my City! My flight back took me over Manhattan. Ground Zero, which I had never observed from that height, looked like the space where one puts the battery panel on a laptop: flat, slightly irregular, asking to be filled.
TEE HEE. Gotta love this, via Google News:

Waiting for the usual suspects to blame the picture placement on the liberal media.

Saturday, August 02, 2003

WHERE'S ROY? Sorry for the long absence. Weblog etiquette seems to require that we put up Out of Office messages when we're away. Most of the top bloggers do that, anyway, before they fuck off to some paradisical retreat paid for by the blood of the workers. I have always been a silently-slip-away sort, and I regret any resulting confusion or concern (fat chance).

I'm in Orlando on a job for my unnamed employers. I've spent most of the past three days running around the Orange County Convention Center. I can't stay long on the Mac right now (have to go get some tech support on a shitty Dell laptop) but I will get back to you soon about the fascinating, ugly place.