Tuesday, September 30, 2003

NO, "DUDE," IT'S WHAT YOU WOULD DO IF YOU HAD ANY GUTS. "As Jimmy Kimmel, a comedian on ABC-TV, put it: 'People throw the term "politically incorrect" around a lot, and normally it's a lot of bluster, but Vice truly is un-p.c. Their brand of humor is what I would do if there were no "standards and practices" on TV.'" -- New York Times September 28. (Thanks Margaret for the tip.)
IN LIEU OF THE BLOODY SHIRT... My nephew started college in New York this month, and stays with me on school days. He is a fine young man, and I hope college gives him not only a good education in forensic science, but also in the ways of the world.

Therefore I hope no such killjoys as this are lurking in our Statehouse:

[Virginia] Delegate Robert G. Marshall, who last spring denounced James Madison University's "SexFest 2003," is now demanding answers from another state school: Virginia Tech.
Mr. Marshall said Virginia Tech misused taxpayer funds last week when school officials allowed Virginia Tech TV to tape on campus a "Sex Talk Live" show during which students discussed sex.

Apparently the kids discussed and, to some extent, handled sex toys and contraceptives. That doesn't even sound like fun, let alone an outrage. Nonetheless, Marshall is mad:
"Virginia parents do not send their children to Virginia Tech to take part in [sexual] titillation," said Mr. Marshall, Manassas Republican.

Of course they don't, you stupid redneck -- but sexual experimentation has been part of the college experience since time immemorial anyway. Hell, my college dorms looked and smelled at all times like a cross between Animal House and The Harrad Experiment.

I am grateful for many reasons that I do not live in the Confederacy (though I do miss its barbecue and most of its people, whose generosity and excellent manners would, or should, shame us Yankees to blushes), and one of them is the stronger motivation and propensity their politicians have for waving, in lieu of the bloody shirt, the cum-drenched dildo. Of course, we have such jackasses up here, too, but we blow them off more easily -- when they tried a similar stunt at SUNY New Paltz, the Chancellor basically told them to fuck off.

I'm sure many of the Virginia kids' parents don't like the idea of a sex fair. I doubt they much cotton to that there evolution neither, but I assume the college will continue to teach it, because that is their responsibility.

I mean, if the schools don't teach our kids how to use ass-beads, who will?
THE GOVERNMENT WE DESERVE. Tech-tank director Sonia Arrison wonders whether Governor Schwarzenegger will be good for Silicon Valley. Well might she wonder. The sources in her article venture predictions no more trustworthy than the aching bones of a hillbilly weatherman:
"He is a pro-growth, pro-business, low-tax guy and this is what the Valley thrives on and needs," says Chris Alden, entrepreneur and founder of Red Herring magazine.

Red Herring? Say, didn't they go out of business? (Actually, the magazine was reanimated, albeit in web-only form, this month -- perhaps the Arnold election convinced its backers that a strong market for bullshit was in the offing.)

Michael Mahoney, a managing director at EGM Capital, a hedge fund that focuses on technology and telecommunications, agrees. The Valley appears convinced, he says, that Arnold "will get the state back on the right track with regard to finances and regulation."

But how? Arrison's sources caution against taking the fiscally prudent statements of Schwarzenegger advisor Warren Buffett too seriously. "Warren Buffett speaks for Warren Buffett," says "a Republican venture capitalist who recently hosted a huge Arnold fundraising dinner." Really? Then what's Arnold employing him for?

The true value of these prognostications is perhaps inadvertently revealed by another commentator:
James Hong, founder of the Internet dating site HOTorNOT.com, echoes a concern that many were willing to say only off the record: "I don't think he has exposed enough of his viewpoints on some of the issues that I think are important to us."

No shit. Schwarzenegger has in this campaign been a near-perfect cipher, and his fans, accustomed to projecting their hopes and dreams onto his lumpish visage, continue to see in him just what they want to see. This goes double for the internet guys Arrison cites. Remember, it wasn't long ago that these schnooks were cheerfully ushering us into the "New Economy," without warning (or even awareness) of the trap door and steep drop at the other side of the threshold. Now I'm supposed to listen to them on politics?

Monday, September 29, 2003

THERE'LL ALWAYS BE A BILKO. Further proof that the Brits have better taste than we (at least in culture -- I won't vouch for their food): this new Radio Times U.K. poll, in which residents of the Scepter'd Isle voted "The Phil Silvers Show" the best TV comedy show of all time.

How dya like that! as Doberman might have said. Apparently the adventures of Sgt. Bilko were re-run in Britain for some years after the show disappeared from U.S. syndication (I recall seeing a few episodes as a boy). Still, it's noteworthy that the Brits' memories reach back even that far. We have a museum for stuff like Silvers' show over here, yet only TV scholars (and boy, there's a funny concept, huh?) even know who Silvers is anymore.

Maybe Bilko reminds Brits of Jonson's "Volpone." Or maybe they like him because he suits the traditional European view of Americans -- crass and avaricious to the point of insanity, but energetic and amusing in the throes of our greed. Maybe the show stirs half-vengeful, half-fond memories of the "overpaid, oversexed, and over here" Yank servicemen of WWII. Or maybe the bureaucracy of Bilko's Army still has resonance for the notoriously bureaucrat-bound British. After all, "Yes, Minister" also made the list.

The win-place-show was Bilko, "Seinfeld," and "Fawlty Towers" -- not bad! I blush to admit I haven't seen many of the UK offerings that placed (though I have fond memories of the hilariously sour "The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin"), but nearly everything I recognize is choice.

Now could you blokes send us a few decent rock bands, please? And take back your DJs.
DO I STUTTER? Brendan Miniter wants to infuse the dreary social studies cirricula of our schools with good old-fashioned American history. So do I. Of course, Miniter feels the best way to achieve this lofty goal is to repeat GOP fundraiser anecdotes about people who "warned against singing patriotic songs like 'God Bless America'" in the days following 9/11. "Heroes? Pooh!" Miniter imagines such unpatriots saying about traditional history instruction, "Nationalism? Bah! Western civilization? You've gotta be kidding!" So much for consensus-building.

Miniter's piece is rich in sneers at "liberal educators" and "Social-studies theorists," as is the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation-funded document toward which he steers his readers. This document's contributors all have impeccable educrat credentials (CV sample: "Jonathon Burack, a former secondary school history teacher, has for the past 20 years produced secondary school history curriculum materials... He demonstrates the pervasiveness of postmodern cultural relativist epistemology in our nation's schools..."), but I suppose if you're right-wing, you can be forgiven even an education degree.

While these folks favor the same confrontational approach as Miniter ("The keys to Rome are being turned over to the Goths and the Huns"), they are very solicitous of the Bush administration, even though the No Child Left Behind Act signed by our "education President" ignores social studies altogether. "This was not meant, heaven knows, as a hostile act," contributor Chester E. Finn assures us. "The authors of NCLB are patriots..."

The swipes at multiculturalism and "moral relativism" are familiar, ceaselessly repeated, and tiresome, more an incantation than an argument, but if you can make it to the passage by J. Martin Rochester, charmingly titled "The Training of Idiots," you're in for a treat. Rochester blames ahistoricism and its fallout, including our depressingly low voter turnout rates, on "America-Worsters," and prescribes that "we need to create fewer doubters and cynics."

Fewer doubters and cynics! How is this to be achieved -- extra sessions of the Breakfast Club? Sorry, Principal Vernon, but if you want less doubt and cynicism in schools, you shouldn't be yelling at teachers -- you should be yelling at our political class, which has done far more to inculcate our young with these characteristics than any diversity program.

Sunday, September 28, 2003

FEEL-GOOD MOVIE OF THE YEAR. On the entertainment front, I finally caught "American Splendor" last night. A friend had complained to me that the movie doesn't give enough attention Harvey Pekar's real innovation -- the quotidian, working-class life stories in comic-strip form. Those are excellent, of course, and the most interesting of them aren't about Pekar at all -- they usually start with Harvey running into a buddy, and the buddy telling a long story. (My favorite, drawn by Gary Dumm, is about a guy who accompanies his pal to a job interview, decides to fill out an application himself because he's bored, sets the interviewer's trash basket on fire and still gets the job, and quits after one day -- "They wanted me to be a human screwdriver. Fuck that! The next day I went over the wall.")

But the movie's about Pekar. His biographical details are old news to many of us, though it is fun to see them fleshed out on screen. (The scenes of Pekar and Crumb giving birth to the "American Splendor" books are catnip to aging bohemians like me.) The small, private agonies and ecstacies of the old crank, though, are the real meat and drink. Paul Giamatti plays Pekar gnarled -- his default facial expression is a sneer. To me, this seemed like an act at first -- like Pekar's hollering prole routine seemed on Letterman. But when I got used to it, it was perfectly charming. His sneer, it turns out, isn't contempt, but disappointment, with himself and the world (a disappointment made understandable by the wonderfully cruddy Cleveland locales). But sometimes he's not disappointed. Things go well with the books; he finds love; he beats cancer; he takes pleasure from his peculiar friends and from the little stories they give him.

I think it's a good thing to be reminded that you don't have to be a grinning, positive-thinking idiot to get something out of life. The movie's being marketed as an offbeat thing ("Weird, different, fascinating!" says Moviechicks), and some of the unusual real Harvey/movie Harvey film tricks point that way, but at bottom it's about a real guy who manages to do alright without being like Rocky or Rudy or any of those fist-pumping clowns. You could call it a "feel-good" movie, in the old usage favored by Hollywood blurb writers. I don't see that one in movie ads anymore, come to think of it; they're more likely to advertise their entertainments as a "thrill ride" -- great synergy for the afilliated theme-park attractions, I guess. I don't like rides, but I don't mind feeling good.

Friday, September 26, 2003

DEM TWO. I only know yesterday's Democratic debate from its transcript, and so cannot offer commentary on John Kerry's haircut or Wesley Clark's podium manner or any other such details of importance in accredited commentators. But the text is not embarrassing, nor even too dispiriting.

Not that the candidates aren't a little silly. With so many participants, these debates currently resemble open auditions for a junior college production of All the King's Men, aspirants for which have been mischievously told that Willie Stark was modeled on John F. Kennedy. Even relying on the transcript, I can see each player strutting and fretting his or her sixty seconds upon the stage, and hear the grinding of gears as the moderators, more spineful than most such I've experienced, redirect a candidate's attention back to the question at hand.

One has to love the evasive answering techniques on display. No one, but no one, directly addressed the "Free Trader or Made in America" question. And rightly so, because it's a very unfair question. But still, since when do politicians need a good reason to wriggle, and since when do I need a good reason to enjoy their wriggling?
WILLIAMS: Beginning with Congressman Gephardt, it's the subject of trade. Do you wear the label "free trader" or "Made in America"?

GEPHARDT: I'm for a progressive trade policy and I will be a president who will lead not only America but the entire world toward a trade policy that will help every business and every worker in the world. That's what we need.

That doesn't just fail to answer Williams' question -- it fails to answer any question.

Lieberman got a few more jokes in, even one playing on the word "fucked." What would Tipper Gore think? More importantly, what Lieberman's really about? A lot of that culture-scold thing he works so assiduously on the hustings falls away at these debates. It's refreshing, and his relaxation shows a keen awareness that nothing at this stage of the campaign means much of anything, a trait which must be admired. It may be that Judgmental Joe dons and doffs the hairshirt as easily as an actor dons and doffs a costume. That would be a relief. Well, his old man did run a package store.

Dean seems a little rattled ("These days I feel my need to restate practically every position I have based on all the things these guys have said about me in the last three or four weeks"). But who wouldn't be? When you're the frontrunner and you've got nine challengers, one of them a late entry with military props, you have a right to some prickliness. Frankly I'd like to see him punch through that hoarse, Jerry-Brown-vintage faux-outrage and show some real anger. You're supposed to be Jed Bartlett, for Chrissakes! Smoke a cigarette or something.

I do find it remarkable that, regarding global trade issues, most of the candidates have staked out an ideological corridor that one might call "mend NAFTA, don't end NAFTA": renegotiate existing treaties so that the global little guy gets a fairer shake. That sounds pretty middle of the road, which is to say, possibly acceptable to a majority of voters. And that's weird, because we tend to think of these issues in apocalyptic terms -- global enslavement vs. anarchy. It's downright soothing to imagine that we might find our global trade routes smoothed by legislation, not littered with molotov cocktail debris. Probably a false hope, but hey, a guy can dream.

I still think the old dogs have the pole position, and if a time-traveller zipped in here now and told me it was all Kerry, I wouldn't be at all surprised. But it's September 2003. Who knows? Moreover, who cares?

I must add that I am pleased at the figure Revered Al is cutting these days. The most cheerful, if not the proudest, vote I ever cast was for Sharpton when he ran for Senate in the 1994 Democratic primary. What a wonderful thing it was to answer "Sharpton!" when my friends asked how I voted, and what entertaining responses I got! If you're a little further down my list this year, Rev, it is not due to lack of affection, but to the nagging fact that in the national crisis we now face, we need the sturdiest beam possible to hold off collapse.
THE SONG IS OVER. The great Tom Lehrer -- author of The Vatican Rag, MLF Lullaby, and Poisoning Pigeons in the Park -- went back to academe a long time ago, but I was still unnerved to hear (via an especially good Altercation this a.m.) that Lehrer is too pissed off to write any of his masterful satirical ditties about our current condition: "'I'm not tempted to write a song about George W.Bush," quoth the master. "I couldn't figure out what sort of song I would write. That's the problem: I don't want to satirise George Bush and his puppeteers, I want to vaporise them."

Lehrer is of course of the old school, with attitudes formed in a time (perhaps really just a brief historical respite) when America didn't start wars, we finished them (and opposed to the current vice-versa), and people were still inclined to laugh bullshit off the national stage.

I wouldn't be surprised to learn that it isn't just anger that prevents Lehrer's Bush song cycle. In the aforementioned interview he has a lot of smack to say about modern comedy ("The people who go to comedy shows are kids that don't know anything, I think, and so you have to make jokes about your girlfriend or your family or that kind of thing -- only make them as vulgar as possible"). Well, yes. There's no point in satirizing something if no one knows what you're talking about, or even, perhaps, what satire is.

I may be mistaken but I detect a bit of sadness in Lehrer's responses. Not maudlin sadness, but the world-weary sort ("I have become, you might call it mature -- I would call it senile -- and I can see both sides..."). This may be the natural state of aged satirists, as the late careers of Twain, Swift, et alia also demonstrate. You watch the Big Show long enough and certain patterns of behavior, mostly brutal and self-defeating, emerge; sooner or later, you get tired of pointing them out to people who came in late. Or decide that it would really be a shame to reveal these plot twists to them, and thus spoil a brash and diverting (if somewhat tawdry) entertainment.

Maybe I'm just projecting here.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

ANOTHER BRICK IN THE WALL. I'm not one of those phony populists who go on about trial (I mean trahhhl) lawyers and tort reform and such like. (I didn't say I wasn't a phony populist, mind -- just that I'm not one of those phony populists.) But this is bullshit: the lawyer for Maurice Clarett, the Ohio State sophomore whose super-early entry to the pros is prevented by NFL rules, seems to claim some sort of bias against his client:
"I see Maurice's case as a league trying to make certain players, young players, who are often poor, wait on earning a living, while the N.F.L. and colleges, either directly or indirectly, make millions off of them," Milstein said. "To me, his situation is about another huge entity trying to take advantage of a smaller group of people who don't necessarily have powerful voices themselves.''

Clarett is entitled to the best defense, of course, and that sometimes means working such specious angles as this. I am not outraged at shady legal tactics per se (not like Sam Waterston seems to be in every single episode of Law & Order). It's all in the game.

Two things do bug me. One is the idea that Clarett has a God-given right to play in the NFL. The NFL is, basically, a club. For those who enter this club as players, a certain amount of rough-housing may be expected. If the proprietors decide that applicants must reach a certain age or level of experience before smashing into their other members, why is that our business at all? Shall we next haul into court those carnival ride operators who display YOU MUST BE THIS TALL TO RIDE signs, on the grounds that their inflexible standards deprive precociously thrill-seeking seven-years-olds of their God-given right to a place on the Tilt-a-Whirl?

The other thing is more under the surface. Clarett is going to Ohio State University. Now, maybe he isn't the best student; maybe he is in fact of that species of jock who disdains all book-learning as "weak." Maybe OSU is wasted on him.

Or maybe he does value the opportunity, but because a man is dangling million-dollar bills to draw him out of it, thinks he should do the "right" thing and earn major scrill instead.

All other things being equal (and they are not, if the NFL still objects), Clarett should have the opportunity to chuck his OSU diploma for a few more years of bigtime money. Isn't it sad, though, that such a choice is increasingly, and for so many people, a settled question -- fuck school, take the cash?

If I get Milstein right, he believes (on behalf of his client) that education is some kind of condition of servitude to be thrown off as soon as a money-earning opportunity turns up. I suppose a libertarian case can be made for this, just as it could be made for child labor, which is one of seven hundred reasons why I'm not a libertarian.

But this really goes beyond policy issues, because laws cannot touch what is rotten about this. Do we really think so little of our minds that we can't even consider their upkeep a nobler thing than a quick buck?
CITY OF SAPS. I hear they had some kind of concert in the Park last night. Dave something. Had a nice crowd, they say.

Unlike any concert in the Park I remember, though, this one required tickets for entry. Now, I don't have any interest in the watery Mr. Matthews, but even if I did, the idea of having to present a ticket stub to get onto the Great Lawn would have turned me right the fuck off. (And at the end of the day, when you get in, it's Dave Matthews. What a rook.)

I also understand that some people paid for their tickets. I assume these guys got preferential seating. If not, they're saps.

But it appears we are increasingly a city of saps. Things that were once ours by right of citizenship are regulated. Next thing you know, there'll be a dress code in Sheep Meadow. Or a red-yellow-green code for Fifth Avenue.

And what do the punters do about it? Nothing. From what I hear, they didn't even boo fucking Bloomberg, the most hated man in the City. I remember going years ago to a Mozart concert in the Park -- not even a rock concert! -- and when some coporate schlub came out and read the name of the corporate sponsor (Citibank or something equally repulsive), the air rang with loud, prolonged howls of outrage. "They're doing this for you," said the corporate schlub, "even if you don't know it." The booing redoubled.

The City has gotten too much into the habit of accomodating transients -- the college punks, the foreign investors, the career burnishers stopping off for a few resume enhancements before fucking off to Vail or St. Paul or where-the -fuck-ever. Once upon a time, you came to town and got kicked in the ass, and either you learned a little something from that or you left. New York was a problem you had to solve. The conflict between you and the Demos was what we used to call an educational experience -- you know, like boot camp. Asking New York to accomodate your own suburban reality would be like asking your drill sergeant to chill out. Not only was it not going to happen, it wasn't supposed to happen -- not if each new citizen were to learn the valuable New York lessons of life among different kinds of people with competing interests.

Now new people come to New York and the Mayor and everyone else try to make it as much like the gated communities whence they came as possible. Look at our lovely Park! You have your pass, of course?

Well, maybe next year we can have a riot or something.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

AND HOW COULD I EVER REFUSE/I FEEL LIKE I WIN WHEN I LOSE. I had not realized that Bush's sole purpose in addressing the U.N. yesterday was the humiliation of our allies. Yet it would seem so, from the fulsome coverage on the Right.

John Podhoretz boo-yahs, "Bush did not say the United Nations was irrelevant. He also didn't say that the ground gets wet when it rains. Some things are irrefutable matters of fact even if they aren't discussed openly." "A diplomatic spanking," crows Clifford D. May.

David Frum likens the Europeans to a sheriff who is "too cowardly – or too corrupt – to do the job," and Bush to... oh, fuck it, you know how that meme goes.

Zev Chafets observes that when Bush got around to what many of us thought was his real business at the General Assembly -- asking for troops and money to clean up the mess he'd made in Iraq -- he "sounded like a bored teacher doling out busywork. Why not help Iraq write a new constitution? (You diplomats are good with fancy words and, anyway, we'll check everything over.)" Chafets even implies that Bush's references to the world sex trade was "slightly malicious" toward the delegates, in that many of them are "famously social." (Of course, Chafets has had other crazy notions in his time.)

The most fiery froth comes from General Ralph "Lock and Loathe" Peters. "Democrats will whine for weeks... Chirac -- a moral pygmy... The only myth greater than that of the French resistance is the myth of French charm," etc. (The General seems to back up Chafets: "The Germans, Belgians and French -- are the most notorious sexual predators in the developing world." Love to see that research report!)

Why does their savagery spike so? Well, it can't have been pleasant for these guys to admit that we wanted the Axis of Weasels' help in the first place. From "Bush signals he may skip U.N." (March) to "U.S. considers UN-backed force for Iraq" (September) is quite a distance to come down in six months. The Washington Times was palpably broken-hearted to report earlier this month that "European commentators reacted to the Bush administration's decision to enlist U.N. help in Iraq with somewhat smug satisfaction." Whut we doin' askin' them frogs fer he'p now?

Since politics is, to many these days, naught but a game of signals and shadow-puppetry, it matters less to these commentators what trade-offs and backstage deals are leading to the lukewarm resolution likely to come out of Turtle Bay this week, and more that it be seen as a smashing victory for President Flight Suit. The best way to wipe away the taint of Bush's reversal is to play up those aspects of his pitch that might be interpretted, however tendentiously, as in-your-face, WWF mockery.

They perhaps hope by this method to arrest the erosion of poll numbers currently suffered by their Leader. But if a speech and some spin could distract our attention from Wesley Clark, how little will it take to distract our attention from the speech and spin as well?

Probable answer: very little and less every time. By the time the election rolls around, expect to see operatives waving bright, shiny objects at voters right outside the polling booths. The only question is, will we go for it?
WORD. If you're a cultural reporter who wants to sell a story to National Review Online, Dan LeRoy ("a freelance writer who has contributed to Vibe, the Hartford Courant and Alternative Press") has the formula worked:

Step one: Pick a topic that no one at the magazine understands -- like hip-hop.

Step two: Focus on an easily-researched group within that category -- like the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network.

Step three: Use lots of proper names, but do no primary reporting.

Step four: Leave the editors in a cheerful mood by imagining the hip-hop community as a potential Republican voting bloc:
..it's hard not to imagine the shockwaves that could ensue if the music was used to fight a different, more destructive, power. Just imagine a Jay-Z or a P. Diddy joining forces with protesters for school choice. Or what might happen if such artists told the world that affirmative action (which didn't help them sell a single album, after all) has gone on long enough.

It looks easy and fun. Maybe I'll try it with, um, let's see, Idlewild. "Could 'You Hold the World in your Arms' be about UN Resolution 1441 after all? 'When you’re secure, do you feel much safer?/When days never change and it’s three years later...' Imagine dreamy frontman Roddy Woomble crooning that to Kofi Annan!" But hell, who wants to listen to that much Idlewild? Maybe I'll just write about my cats. "As Bella stalked the mosquito, her face took on the unflappable, can-do calm of George W. Bush on the deck of the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln. I think I'll buy her a little flight suit, and take her to visit Peggy Noonan."
I THINK God put our organs of reproduction in our laps because it looks funny when we spill stuff there.
CRAPTACULAR! Today my copy of the New York Post (filthy habit, I know, but I can't give it up) came free, thanks to AOL, which bought the edition out, nominally to publicize its Dave Matthews concert in the Park for some educratic boondoggle or other, but obviously, really, to give us mouth-breathers who constitute the Post's core audience a shiny new AOL 9.0 disk that may dazzle and extract money from us.

Then I got into work and turned on my computer, which turned on AOL's Instant Messenger, a nuisance our IT overlords foisted on us as a troubleshooting tool (which is more trouble than it is worth, and whose little running blob mascot I would dearly love to shoot). A little screen popped up, as it always does, showing the AIM homepage. Its "What's Hot!" news feature for the morning was called, "'Hey Mom, Want a Happy Meal?' McDonald's New Menu Item." This linked to a Netscape affiliated page, which linked to a CNN Health page (!!), all trumpeting this non-news event (re McDonald's latest diet swill, concocted with the aid of "Oprah Winfrey's personal trainer") in the guise of a lifestyle "story" or a health "story," though it is in fact nothing more than PR writ large.

Meanwhile one of the many AOL ads in today's Post tells me that AOL 9.0's spam filter makes this latest version of the McDonald's of softwares "about as ad-free as New York gets."

Which is setting the bar abysmally low.

Don't sell me, tell me! In fact, don't even tell me.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

KURTZ' CASE. Stanley Kurtz, normally found in a damp bed in NRO's fever ward, sweatily tracking his many homosexual enemies with play-armies on his pillow, has apparently been wheeled to a nearby window, the autumn light from which seems to have dissipated his dark mania, albeit briefly.

Today he talks about how polarized we are as a nation. I like this game and I know how to play. I even take Kurtz' point that there seem to be many more full-throated political tracts, liberal and conservative, on the bestseller lists than ever before, and that this may imply a more politicized general public. I don't agree with him, of course -- by his logic, that recent era in which only rightwing tomes like The Way Things Ought To Be and Bias clogged the charts implied that we all of us went solidly right-wing for a couple of years -- but at least I can take him seriously...

...and then, alas! He devotes the last half his post to the Dixie Chicks. "The gulf between country fans who see the Chicks’ remarks as dishonorable," he writes, "and the Chicks themselves... shows that we are dealing with a cultural chasm." This isn't the first time he's dealt with the Chicks -- he previously questioned whether Natalie Maines was of Dixie at all, as a true DC would not impugn her President ("I would like her to try to make things right," he also whispered urgently). But it is the first time he has credited the popular singing group with world-historical importance.

Well, it's progress, anyway.

Monday, September 22, 2003

THE PERSONAL (INSULT) IS THE POLITICAL. NRO's Tim Graham on the Emmy Awards: "...funnier jokes. Especially asking the makers of Fox's 'Paradise Hotel' if they send each episode to the Smithsonian for its cultural excellence, or just shoot it into space to tell alien worlds about Earth's values. Nice conservative tinge to that."

Nice conservative tinge...? Did I miss the meeting? When did we treasonous, America-hating Democrats vote to support idiot reality shows?

Also, please advise: are Chris Rock and Jimmy Durante conservative or liberal humor? I want to make sure I'm not laughing at anything that might get me in trouble with the Central Committee.

Then we have that Lileks guy, who notes the very sweet story of the Honor Guard that stands watch on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington -- they were given the opportunity to leave their posts during the hurricane, and declined to do so -- and then reflexively feels the need to turn it into a smear upon his fellow citizens: "You can break down the entire country into two camps, two reactions to the story: 1. Bemusement. 2. Gratitude." Meaning, one supposes (all one can do in this case is suppose, the statement is so slovenly), that those of us who live in them there Big Cities are confused by this simple tale of honor or duty, as it has no references to deviant sex or Foucault-- while simple sod-bustin' souls such as hisself are moved to hum "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" in time to them clackin' keystrokes.

I despair for my country frequently, and one reliable source of such despair is this kind of bullshit, whereby folks identify themselves and their enemies by lifestyle and mistake this for political analysis. Don't these guys hang out with anyone who doesn't agree with them? If so, how do they explain to them the insulting and reductive portraits they scrawl of them every day?

That's why, though filled with poison myself, I try to confine my commentary to actual perpetrators and spare their peeps. When I go over the cliff, I want to take only the guilty with me. We belong dead!
FREE TO BE YOU AND ME, BUT NOT ON THE DIME OF THE BEE. The cool-kid bloggers ("the thing today is to care passionately, and be right-wing") are honking like geese about the Sacramento Bee blogger who, because of a "contentious statement" (sez the Bee ombudsman), is now subject to the horrible indignity of editorial oversight.

Imagine! A bylined writer for a major daily has to report to an editor! B. Franklin spins in his grave! Why, the whole idea is "inimical to sound and well-established blogging practices," sez Kaus (for an example of these practices in action, see here).

Like I could give a good rat's ass. As a longtime pro writer, I am aware that taking a publisher's shilling is not that different from taking the king's shilling -- it automatically puts one's deathless contributions to the journalistic arts at the mercy of others and their diverse agendas.

This sometimes leads to hair-raising abuses, such as this reported insertion of an uncalled-for and abusive editorial POV to a news story. But look -- you're reading about that abuse right now. Because ultimately the only meaningful oversight of overzealous or ignominious editorial practice is other papers (or magazines or weblogs or whatever). They're the only entities with a strong motivation to uncover this kind of stuff. I thought that, as free-market enthusiasts, the cool kids would understand that.

I wouldn't be shocked if more people have read about blogger Weintraub's problems than read his original post.

BTW, in case you were wondering, here's what got Weintraub in trouble (per the ombudsman's report):
Weintraub wrote that Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante "certainly owed his elevation to the job of Assembly speaker to his ethnic background and to the support he received from fellow Latinos. If his name had been Charles Bustmont rather than Cruz Bustamante, he would have finished his legislative career as an anonymous back-bencher."

Further, he alleged, "it's indisputably true that the Legislature's Latino Caucus advocates policies that are destructive to their own people and to greater California, in the name of ethnic unity." The caucus protested in a letter to Bee Publisher Janis Besler Heaphy.

I defend to the death, and all that, Weintraub's right to tell us that Bustamante got everything handed to him because he's Mexifornian, but that doesn't really imply a God-given right to paychecks from the Bee. If he chafes at his treatment, Weintraub can always go work for his defender, Matt Welch. A cut in pay may result, but isn't that what integrity is all about?

Sunday, September 21, 2003

OLD SCHOOL TIES. Andrew Sullivan on Rhodes Scholars: "Almost to a man and woman, they are mega-losers, curriculum-vitae fetishists, with huge ambition and no concept of what to do with it."

Sullivan, according to his booking agents, "came to the U.S. on a Harkness Fellowship, the British equivalent of the Rhodes Scholarship."

Who knows what personal demons drive Sullivan? We are aware of his longstanding animus against Bill Clinton, a Rhodes Scholar who, having won the U.S. Presidency twice, hardly qualifies by any rational standard as a "mega-loser." Maybe he's talking about Kris Kristofferson, an entertainer whose audience is not limited to a small number of well-off conservatives.

Maybe he doesn't know what he's talking about, either.
FOUND OBJECT OF THE DAY. If you want to know why America is fat, check out this innovation from Pepperidge Farm: "Giant Goldfish Sandwich Crackers." The adorable little critters we used to put in our soup have mutated into three-inch-long monsters containing "Real Peanut Butter." 10 grams of fat and 190 calories per serving.

I love the pure products of America, as crazy as they've gone, but these once-cute cracker-fish, now swollen and menacing, dangled by marketers to set off our brand-loyalty bells and tempt us unto arteriosclerosis, depress me.

I suppose I can take comfort in the fact that milk and cereal are now available in bar form. All the sugared goodness of a bowl of Cocoa Puffs available in four quick bites, and portable enough to be consumed on the way to the school cafeteria.

And at least when a bowel obstruction claims us, we'll be conveyed to the hospital in comfort:
The patient weighed more than 600 pounds, said Cusick, Kaiser's director of emergency medical services and AMR's medical director.

The ambulance that transported her may be the first of its kind in the country outfitted -- to the tune of $10,000 -- to handle obese patients.

As more and more Americans become seriously overweight, they are putting a strain on hospital beds, wheelchairs, imaging equipment and even scales. Many hospitals now have extra-wide wheelchairs and extra-strong beds, but hospitals and medical equipment providers are straining to keep up.

The ambulance, a project of Kaiser and American Medical Response, or AMR, is designed for patients between 300 and 1,000 pounds. Kaiser and AMR introduced the ambulance to the public Thursday.

It's a good first step, said Walter Lindstrom Jr., founder of the Obesity Law and Advocacy Center in San Diego.

And not the last one, I'll bet.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

QUICK TRIP TO AN ALTERNATE UNIVERSE. This ridiculous Charles Krauthammer column has been well and truly spanked already, but I want to direct your attention to one detail from it, which I believe represents a genuine advance in the use of unreason in defense of the occupation of Iraq:
The current complaint is that Bush is a deceiver, misleading the country into a war, after which there turned out to be no weapons of mass destruction. But it is hard to credit the deception charge when every intelligence agency on the planet thought Iraq had these weapons and, indeed, when the weapons there still remain unaccounted for. Moreover, this is a post-facto rationale.

A post-facto rationale! I love it. Sure, now you liberals can say the WMD claim was bullshit, since events have shown it to be so. So post-facto of you!

I also note with interest the reference to "every intelligence agency on the planet," and marvel at Krauthammer's conversion to multilateralism. A short time ago, most of the countries in the civilized world thought we should stay out of Iraq, and Krauthammer told them to go to hell. Now our leaders are caught in an apparent falsehood, and Krauthammer points to a bunch of foreigners for backup.

Yes, yes, I see the distinction. World governments, most of them elected, would naturally be an object of Krauthammer's contempt; but intelligence agencies, even the Russkies', he can respect. Maybe they're where he learned his disinformation techniques.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

ABOUT LAST POST AND ABOUT LAST NIGHT. As recently observered here, there is a lot of silliness on both sides of the political divide. I do get more annoyed at the stuff on the Right because, well, that's not my side. And I get very annoyed when conservative commentators are forever challenging liberals to say something bad about ANSWER or Al Sharpton or even the more obviously bad actors like the old Politburo. For one thing, that sort of thing is just hectoring -- instead of Say You Love Satan, it's Say You Hate Stalin, and who needs it?

For another, noting these outrages are what NRO and Instapundit and a zillion other, similar outfits are for. I know speech codes are bad. You know speech codes are bad. But rather than put my shoulder to that already well-advanced wheel, I prefer to talk about Daniel Pipes and the other loons who want to regulate the content of college cirricula they suspect of anti-Americanism. Political Correctness was a cover subject in Time years ago. So sue me if I choose to join the ten or twelve guys on Pipes' case instead.

You know who my favorite web conservative is right about now? Terry Teachout. God knows he's pissed me off in the past, and will again I'm sure, but his About Last Night weblog gives me great pleasure. Sure, he's from the Right. But he's a very astute cultural observer, he knows his subjects, and he writes well.

Recently he did a long bit on Shostakovich and one of his interpreters. There's a lot in the piece about the horrors of the old USSR. That's a popular bloody shirt in some circles, and in lesser hands often causes my eyes to glaze over. But it's absolutely appropriate to Teachout's point, and he writes feelingly about it. I have to say, he ain't wrong.

It's always good to see someone pushing words together toward a greater purpose than the old nyah-nyah. Hell, I might try to do a little more of it myself.
THE LIMITS OF EVEN-HANDEDNESS. At Slate Will Saletan says do not trouble your lefty selves about the splinters in conservative eyes when etc. mote etc. Liberal complaints about conservative bullshit are "shrill," he says, because Clinton lied about arsenic and Gore and David Boies made a bad case to the Supreme Court in 2000.

Well, I was willing to admit he sort of has a point. Partisanship cuts both ways, and we are all sometimes guilty of overemphasis, selective exampling, and other tendentious traits.

But. Then I saw this shit at the Wall Street Journal opinion page, with Jay Nordlinger (two for two today, Mr. Nordlinger! Congratulations!) telling us what a bunch of sissies Democrats are. And so I figure, I'll be more inclined to go along with Saletan's other-cheekism if he can show me something in today's mainstream liberal media anywhere near as psycho.

If he finds something that qualifies tomorrow, that's okay. I'll probably find something even worse. Without trying too hard.
WORDS FAIL HIM. AT NRO Jay Nordlinger talks about the great rhetoric of George W. Bush. "When all is said and done," Nordlinger shouts over derisive laughter, "his presidency may be known for its rhetoric (among other things). Then George W. Bush, the tongue-tied embarrassment, will have the last laugh — yet another last laugh. 'Misunderestimated' once more."

That'll show us. So what examples does Nordlinger offer? Here are all of them from the first half of Nordlinger's article (the thing just goes on and on), freed of his rah-rah framings and attaboy interjections:

He may be alive. If he is, we'll get him. If he's not, we got him.

Ozzy Osbourne: Mr. President, you should wear your hair like mine!
Bush: Second term, Ozzy, second term.

I fully understand... there will be times when people feel a sense of normalcy -- and I hope that happens sooner rather than later -- and that September 11th may be a distant memory to some. But not to me...

One of my jobs is to make sure nobody gets complacent. One of my jobs is to remind people of the stark realities that we face. See, every morning I go into that great Oval Office and read threats to our country -- every morning... Some of them are blowhards, but we take every one of them seriously. It's the new reality.

We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.

America has stood down enemies before, and we will do so this time. None of us will ever forget this day. Yet we go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world.

Some worry that it is somehow undiplomatic or impolite to speak the language of right and wrong. I disagree. Different circumstances require different methods, but not different moralities... Moral truth is the same in every culture, in every time, and in every place. Targeting innocent civilians for murder is always and everywhere wrong. Brutality against women is always and everywhere wrong. There can be no neutrality between justice and cruelty, between the innocent and the guilty. We are in a conflict between good and evil, and America will call evil by its name. By confronting evil and lawless regimes, we do not create a problem, we reveal a problem. And we will lead the world in opposing it.

I'm encouraging schoolchildren to write letters of friendship to Muslim children in different countries.

I'm going to talk about homeland security, but the best way to secure our homeland is to hunt the killers down one by one and bring them to justice, and that is what we're going to do.

In the face of today's new threat, the only way to pursue peace is to pursue those who threaten it.

My attitude is, the best way to secure the homeland is to unleash the mighty United States military and hunt them down and bring them to justice. And the best way to fight evil at home is to love your neighbor like you'd like to be loved yourself.

There will be times of swift, dramatic action. There will be times of steady, quiet progress.

This is an unusual kind of war because it sometimes will show up on your TV screens and sometimes it won't. Sometimes there will be moments of high drama, and, of course, good reporters will be going -- all kinds of hyperventilating, about this action or that action. And sometimes you won't see a thing.

Remember, these examples are offered as a defense of Bush's rhetoric. But seen plain, of what do they consist, really? One coherent if otherwise unremarkable attack on moral relativism, a bunch of threats that wouldn't pass muster in a Vin Diesel script conference, a few non-sequiturs (including the strangest application of "Love Thy Neighbor" this side of these guys), one decent joke, and a lot of filler.

While the editors of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations are probably tearing their hair out, I imagine Nordlinger is chuckling, and perhaps collecting a few C-notes from Jonah Goldberg. ("I never thought you'd have the balls to do it, Jay!" "I know. Sometimes I surprise myself.")

Monday, September 15, 2003

DECLINE OF WESTERN CIV: LATEST UPDATE. Tim Blair makes a snotty comment about Gore Vidal, one of our last readable novelists. One of Blair's commentators is excited to learn that Buckley once called Vidal a queer on TV ("My opinion of, Buckley already pretty high....has now attained Stratospheric proportions...."). Another says, apparently with a straight face (no emoticon visible), "Insults are the last refuge of the loser. And Vidal is a loser, big time."

I do hope that, after we have finally returned to outright barbarism, and some future Brother of St. Liebowitz manages to rev up the Internet again, he may find on some long-slumbering server this cautionary tale of what happens when you replace the monkeys' typewriters with Movable Type 2.64. Next Renaissance, let's get this thing right, shall we?
WELL, OK. What a story Peggy Noonan tells today! Apparently the U.S. Catholic Bishops had her over for some church talk. They were obliged to do so, Noonan says, because a previously invited group had included "only those who might be characterized as church liberals." So she and an unnamed cadre of hardcore old-church types (dressed like Knights of Columbus, chanting in Latin, and tinkling little bells, I like to imagine) were called in for balance, demonstrating once again that conservatives can indeed be convinced to support a fairness doctrine, so long as it benefits only themselves.

"In some small way the meeting was historic," says Noonan, showing her customary sense of proportion. Contrary to popular belief and outward appearances, she explains, the ermine-clad Bishops and Cardinals are a bunch of communistic, Dorothy Day types devoted to sharing the wealth and that Kiss-of-Peace thing everyone's been talking about since Vatican II, and for them to invite the likes of Peggy and her Opus Dei buddies is extraordinary -- which has me wondering: if it's really that way, then who muscled the peacenik prelates into it? Jesus? Their PR agency?

Noonan "had planned to address the teaching of Catholic doctrine" (no doubt demanding the reinstatement of metal ruler discipline in parochial schools), but the Holy Spirit gets up in that goblin-infested skull-stuffing of hers and she starts talking about predatory pervert priests. Aside from a few dollops of her patented suburban sense-memory schtik ("a man in the suburbs of America... in his Gap khaki slacks and his plaid shirt ironed so freshly this morning that you can still smell the spray starch"), this doesn't seem to be anything the Bishops couldn't have gotten from a year-old copy of Newsweek.

But then she starts talking about The Passion, Mel Gibson's Jesus epic, and how powerful she found one of its scenes. "When I said the words Christ spoke in the film," she reports, "my voice broke, and I couldn't continue speaking. I was embarrassed by this, but at the same time I thought, Well, OK. "

(And this solves a mystery for me: I had often wondered whether Noonan ever felt embarrassment at all. I thought maybe the little clouds of righteousness and Reaganism that suffocate her prose also insulate her from any awareness of her own preposterousness. Now I know how she deals: Well, OK. I plan to try it myself sometime, next time I get shitfaced drunk and embarrass myself at a party, or at a department meeting.)

And then she makes her pitch:
I said the leaders of the church should now -- 'tomorrow, first thing' -- take the mansions they live in and turn them into schools for children who have nothing, and take the big black cars they ride in and turn them into school buses... And take the subway to work like the other Americans, and talk to the people there... they could tell you how hard it is to reconcile the world with their belief and faith, and you could say to them, Buddy, ain't it the truth.

Can you imagine how this must have gone over with the Bishops? Sadly, Noonan cannot. "The response from the bishops and the cardinal was not clear to me," she writes. "They did not refer to any of my points in their remarks afterward. When the meeting ended I tried to find Cardinal McCarrick to speak with him, but he was gone."

No doubt His Eminence was hiding in the men's room, waiting for one of his aides to let him know when the crazy lady was gone.

This is Noonan's first column since June. Perhaps they haven't let her handle anything sharp in the interim, but I'm thrilled to see she's taken up the pen again. I have a feeling she's on a cusp of some truly memorable prose, comparable to Nijinsky's Diaries or De Quincey's Confessions. Remember: you heard it here first.
THE LATE, GREAT JOHNNY CASH. There isn't much to say about his passing. I will say that I kept thinking of a couple of his songs all weekend. "Pickin' Time" is about his family's experience as sharecroppers in the deep South. It's either his father's or his mother's voice in this bit:
Ev'ry night when I go to bed
I thank the Lord that my kids are fed
They live on beans eight days and nine
But I get 'em fat come Pickin' Time

But the song that really kept coming up was one I know better from Ry Cooder's version, but was one of Cash's early hits. It's a song about how the joy of music is available to anyone who can feel it in every motion he makes. The subject is a shoeshine boy that catches the author's eye. Given the time and circumstances, we have to assume the kid is black. He has nothing but his shoeshine kit and a song in his heart, and pops his rag on "the windy corner of a dirty street" with gusto and as if things were better than they were.

The song makes me think about all the lousy jobs I've had, and about how whenever things were really tough a song would pop into my own head, whether I was loading a truck or delivering a package or bussing tables or even (and this really is a reach, but I swear it's true) working the keys as a writer. It's as if melody and rhthym were gifts from God that made life, even dull, lead-footed, quotidian working life, something that we should be happy to have received.

I think Cash knew what the kid was about, and never forgot it through the many years of his career, swallowing pills, playing for prisoners, stomping his feet, running with the devil, getting right with Jesus, and stroking that old pine box as if a bigger answer than any man knew could be coaxed out that way:
Well, I sat down to listen to the shoeshine boy
And I thought I was gonna jump for joy
Slapped on the shoe polish left and right
He took a shoeshine rag and he held it tight
He stopped once to wipe the sweat away
I said you're a mighty little boy to be-a workin' that way
He said I like it with a big wide grin
Kept on a poppin' and he said again
Get rhythm when you get the blues
Hey, get rhythm when you get the blues
Get a rock 'n' roll feelin' in your bones
Get taps on your toes and get gone
Get rhythm when you get the blues

Friday, September 12, 2003

MY KARMA IS 0. At Hit & Run Nick Gillespie praises Plastic: "It may not have made money," he says, "but it's great that it's around."

I can't tell you how refreshing it is to hear a libertarian praise something that hasn't been rewarded by the market. It was also a pleasure to be reminded that Plastic is still going, if not going strong, and still good. And the current edition of Plastic contains this bit:
A national survey by Oxford Health plans found that one out of six Americans who receive paid vacation are unable to use it, nearly one-third of employees work through lunch and 19 percent reported feeling obligated to work even when sick or injured. Whether such numbers reflect workers' anxiety or a stronger work ethic, experts worry about the physical and psychological ramifications while policymakers argue over proposed solutions.

Hands up -- who here believes (will you wait till I've asked the question first, please, Mr. Kudlow?) that these numbers reflect a "a stronger work ethic" among American drones? While anecdotal evidence is notoriously shaky, I think it's pretty damn universally observable that most workers don't love their work, and do it primarily if not solely to get paid. Despite what TV commercials tell us, this is not, for most of us, a world of endless options. Kids get born, houses get mortgaged, and before you know it that dream of being a pro skateboarder soon's you raise enough seed money temping is nothing but a rueful memory. And that's speaking of the folks who had a dream in the first place. So you go to work.

Again, this seems self-evident -- a life lesson, not an economic hypothesis. So it's remarkable how gullible (well, willfully self-deceiving is probably more like it) the Wall Street Journal was on the same issue this past Labor Day, taking workers' mildly positive responses to survey questions about their jobs as proof that Americans are work-lovin' happyfaces. Look: how comfortable would you be telling complete strangers that you spend a third of your week doing something with which you feel no connection and, best case, hope to get out of someday or, worst case, have learned to endure by running the theme music from Monday Night Football in your head every time you feel like screaming? Are you the kind of person who will share his private griefs and disappointments with a guy on line at the RiteAid? Most of us aren't. So if Mr. Clipboard asks me how I like my job, I won't say I despise it even if I do (and I don't! Really! I love my job, folks! And you know me, I wouldn't lie about that to swell folks like you!).

No, we don't like to work, and if we don't avail every opportunity to do less of it, it's because we're either politicking our way to a promotion or scared shitless we'll be fired -- which, in our current "jobless recovery," is not an unreasonable fear.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

A BAD DAY MADE WORSE. This morning I perused several 9/11 tributes online, and so far every single one of them has been crap -- unfocused, incoherent, alternately maudlin and belligerent. This is not surprising. The topic is huge, and might defeat even a real writer, not to speak of the special-pleading pygmies who pass for geniuses on the Web.

Many of these pieces start out as tributes to the fallen and the heroic of two years back, but wind up (sooner than later in most cases) as assessments of the current War effort. There is anger but, interestingly, outside those few reliable stokeholes of rage that ever and always spew naught but cinders and ash (and you have to hand it to Misha: it takes a special talent to devise a layout that makes Free Republic look like GQ), most of the anger is not directed at the guys who flew the planes into the WTC, or at Osama "Forgotten But Not Gone" Bin Laden, but at Americans insufficiently on-board with the Bush program. Three excellent cases come conveniently packaged in today's New York Post.

"There are unmistakable signs that many in the nation's elite are forgetting," says John Podhoretz. ("Elite" apparently refers not to children of famous writers who mysteriously wind up with plush editorial gigs, but to people who don't believe what Podhoretz believes.) Brookhiser bitches about the "carpers" and "self-haters" who "have been a feature of New York life for decades." (He dreams, one guesses, of a City stripped of its Mailers and malcontents, and a day when unelite Podhoretzes and Kristols will run the works.)

But my favorite is Ralph "That's Colonel Peters to You, Maggot!" Peters. "In the War Against Terror, no other power or organization can defeat America," barks the Colonel. "But America remains dangerously capable of defeating itself." Some sissy-marys would "like a nicely wrapped-up Hollywood ending, thanks," but "Wars do not necessarily conform to the victor's desires. Outcomes surprise." (Who knew, for example, that Saddam's WMD were not sitting on a launch-pad ready and waiting for the dictator's go-code?) And "we shall never see a final victory over terror in our lifetimes." (At last: our no-exit strategy!) So all you "intellectual classes," "'opinion-makers,'" and "Democrats," suck it up. We're in this to the finish -- literally!

It's obvious why these memorialists' targets are Americans, not residents of a hostile state. This is a War on Terror, or on Militant Islam, or on Islamofascists, or, to put it more succinctly, "a pathological ideology that still holds a whole region of the world in its grip." But those aren't people, they're abstractions. Our leaders occasionally stick to a face on them -- now Bin Laden's, now Saddam's. But currently there is no credible Public Enemy #1.

Today the anniversary of a living nightmare stirs our rage. But on whom can we turn it? Some people in situations like this meditate and pray for peace. Some people smash chairs and punch walls. And some grab hold someone they never much liked anyway and scream, "This is all your fault!"

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

HALF A ROLL IS BETTER THAN NONE. People ask why I don't have comments, or a blogroll. Well, for one thing, I figure if you want to tell me what you think, you'll take the trouble to write to me (just like in the good old days of wax seals, quills, and pistols at dawn!) or scathe me in your own blog. Let my little fame be spread widely if not thickly. Anyway, why should I support your squawks with my hard-earned web hosting fees? That's the sort of Bullshit Libertarian I am!

Also: I think even my most communitarian readers will admit that most on-premises commentary either starts as crap or devolves to it. Interestingly (and remember, you didn't hear this from me), some of the group gripes at Free Republic are more interesting than what you see in the usual vaccs or ratemymusic daughter windows. Within the winger community there are many cadres and schismatics, and their internecine slugfests can turn into donnybrooks a la Donovan's Reef, crashing through walls of logic and spilling into tide pools of paranoid conspiracy.

The only problem with those exhilirating spectacles is, those people are nuts -- starking, staring splitters of insanely fine and even insubstantial hairs. If you want to see sane people talking, you may find that at sites like CalPundit, where the topics are always meaty and draw an intellectually appetitive and often eloquent crowd. That's where the old dream of web community yet lives, and I salute its enablers.

But whom does Alicublog draw? I don't know. Never put in a Counter -- prefer to write as if no one is reading; question of epistolary discipline. I do know that what winds up on these pages is mostly dark mutterings, sometimes sardonic, on occasion comedic, and seldom general enough to facilitate roundtable discussion. I like to think I follow my subjects down rabbit-holes of extrapolative logic too narrow and winding for crowds to comfortably follow. Is that selfish? Should I not instead lay the floor open for a massive Maoist group criticism? ("Comrade Edroso is guilty of the crime of obscurantism! The Dixie Chicks are a topic great enough for all workers to share, yet Edroso would pound it into a nugget that would not last one hour in the furnace of the Collective Waste Processing Plant!") Sorry, comrade. Though I care what you think (do correspond! I shall read your letters in the light of the piazza!), I can't bring myself to lay the doors of my mansion wide open just yet.

(As to the second reason: I'm just hella lazy. Me and my 98-pound sidekick, Dial-Up Modem, muscle our way into Blogger, lay the incendiaries, and vamoose -- not leaving much time for redesign.)

That said, I will commend you to some spiffy weblogists who give me some fun and edification, and might do as well for you:

Roger Ailes. The Hunting and the Snark. Possessed of an attitude shittier (in the best sense) than mine, and more sharply on point.

Very Very Happy. Ailes pointed me here, to a superb post at a generally very keen site. And it's all good. Sample quote: "Holy hell, I can hear Luskin's erection. And I'm half a continent away from him."

Busy Busy Busy. Custodians of the "Shorter" format. My only complaint is that they should post more frequently. So many fools be blogging!

Fables of the Reconstruction. A reliable pisser. Nota bene: I give any poster of Victorian porn ten extra points.

Cursor. Not commentary (much) -- links. A pointer site, in the old pre-bust jargon. And chances are they'll be here, pointing powerlessness to truth, after the bust has gone nationwide (ETA: a coupla months).

Eschaton. Because he's/she's there.

Jesus' General. Super spotty posting -- but if you've never gone, go. He is especially eloquent on how Clinton damaged his "little soldier."

Orcinus. Prisoners incarcerated with G. Gordon "Will" Liddy used to say, "Better not mess with Liddy -- he knows something!" Orcinus knows quite a bit. Former Black Ops, or just an especially keen observer? I bow to his compound sentence structure.

Like Father Like Sun. He has spent his days capering with fools at the New York Sun when he should have been shaking all East Anglia with the thunder of his genius. But 'sokay. Plenty more where that came from.

Sasha Castel. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong BUT: sometimes capable of very sound advice.
A GREAT COUNTRY OR WHAT? (CORRECT ANSWER: WHAT?) "Already, actors Tom Hanks, Cybill Shepherd and Martin Sheen have spoken out against Arnie [Schwarzenegger]'s campaign," reports WOKR-TV in Rochester. But now it's serious, the station reports: Arnold has been dissed by The Dixie Chicks.

"He is a great film star," admitted DC Emily Robinson. "But I find his idea to run for governor absolutely insane. America should be governed by people who have a clue."

How weird this country has become. Political protests against a film that hasn't even opened. An actor running for California Governor on a platform so free of substance (and crammed with happythink pronouncements like "I want to become an expert in all education") that it tramples the already low bar for candidate accountability into the dirt. And now performers from nowhere near the state that candidate intends to govern making headlines by weighing in.

We're fighting in Iraq to ensure the "triumph of democracy," the President says. Well, maybe the Iraqis will make a better job of it than we have.
NINE-ELEVENMANIA! This comes, predictably, from the New York Post, but, less predictably (indeed, almost refreshingly for students of advanced inanity), in a restaurant review:
Church & Dey, with a knockout third-floor view over Ground Zero, would be a disgrace anywhere. But at a site indelibly scored by horror and heroism, it borders on scandal...

Church & Dey's disregard for even minimal standards demeans all who have given their best at the World Trade Center site -- from the 9/11 rescuers to those striving to create something new and inspiring there...

It is a blemish on the Millenium Hilton, whose owners and staff are due all credit for the hotel's rebirth. It's an insult to the restaurant's own hard-working employees, some of whom worked there on 9/11 and whose return was fraught with anguished memories...

See, it's not just pinko Democrats who soil the memory of 9/11. It's also those who poorly prepare wild mushroom compote mere yards away from the site of an upcoming Republican photo opportunity!

I'm gonna spend tomorrow night at the fucking movies.

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

TREMORS. I guess 9/11 is getting close, because the gibberish vendors are hauling out the industrial-grade traitor bait.

Tacitus, for example, tells us how "domestic opposition can lend moral support to America's enemies," in that charming, I'm-just-sayin' manner that has made him a beloved figure in American letters. By the way, spot the motif in this passage:
Remember the pro-French Jeffersonians and their, er, staunch patriotism as whipped up by Citizen Genet back in the 1790s? Remember the Confederate hopes for a Democratic victory in the 1864 election? Remember Aguinaldo's hopes for a Democratic victory in the 1900 election? Remember the Vietnamese communists' expressed appreciation for the antiwar movement in the 1960s? Remember the Soviet endorsement of Western movements for nuclear freeze and disarmament? Remember Saddam Hussein's statement of support for the 18 January ANSWER protests this year?

Democrats! Democrats all -- including the filthy Francophile Jefferson! (No mention, interestingly, of the America Firsters.)

One hardly needs to read Brendan Miniter's OpinionJournal peroration any further than its grand title, "Where Were You? And where do you stand two years after Sept. 11?" Sounds like a HUAC Chairman grilling a witness. The body copy is more poetic (well... are there any such words as "poetastic" or "poetasterrific?"). "Someday someone will ask you that perennial question of historical events," Miniter sententiously starts, and one's ears perk -- what might that perennial question be? Hope it's the Riddle of the Sphinx -- I know that one!

But it turns out this "someone," who sounds suspiciously like Raymond Massey in "Things to Come," has more than one question to ask from his lonely promontory in the Asgardian wastes of the future: "Were you willing to control your fear and make the sacrifices necessary to defeat the terrorists and their murderous ideology?" Moreover, "Were you willing to leave the United Nations in its moral confusion and confront the enemy in his sanctuaries?" Yes to a, no to b? Depart from me, ye wicked, into everlasting darkness!

Here, too, Democrats are pictured as out of step with regular Americans: "Howard Dean says the Iraq war was based on a lie and that there are now more terrorists there than when Saddam ruled. Wesley Clark claims America is failing in Iraq and throughout the Middle East. Other Democrats running for president have launched similar attacks. These are the words of those who would offer us the middle ground between good and evil." [emphasis mine] In this bad-editorial-cartoon world Miniter has created, we may picture this middle ground as an alley, behind the church and abutting a speakeasy, where truant Dems loiter, deaf to the entreaties of the Preacher, and thus drift into ruinous contact with libertine dictators and scarlet anchorwomen.

Fear not, there are prescriptions: "...we must also move toward rebuilding the civil institutions that ensure the strength of our republic. In the schools we must rescue civics from the social-studies teachers who teach anti-Americanism." (That again?) "In the public square we must fight to preserve the right of religious expression. Within our churches we must demand that our religious leaders lead..."

Demand that our religious leaders lead! One envisions Miniter hauling Father Flotsky up the nave for pulpit-pounding lessons. "Shake your fist thus, priest," instructs the columnist, "for he leads best that maketh a baleful noise unto the Lord."

It'll just get worse, I'm sure. But I do note that the hooey-meter has gone up and down in off-season, so perhaps it were best to batten down the hatches till the patriots (is there such a word as "patriotaster"?) have blown their respective wads.

UPDATE 9/10: Tactitus says, "Roy Edroso is annoyed that all the examples I give of domestic opposition lending support to the enemy are of Democrats. Well. So they are." Yes, the record is clear: Democrats have been aiding and abetting the enemy since the 18th Century. How is it that the heads of Jefferson, Jackson, FDR et alia didn't end up on spikes overlooking the Potomac? Must be an eternal-evil, LOTR thing.

While I appreciate and indeed often share T's Hatfield/McCoy approach to American politics, this is probably a good time to say out loud that just because a foreign power, even a belligerent, sees some gain for themselves in an American policy development does not mean that such a development constitutes "support to the enemy" in any but the most uselessly pedantic sense. This country currently engages in trade with China -- evil, evil China! -- and is probably the only force preventing the Palestinians from obliteration. Is Bush then guilty of giving aid and comfort to Wen Jiabao and Yasser Arafat? (Well, some people probably think so, but...)

Disregard this if T is joking. And he well be, for all I know. I am notoriously bereft of a sense of humor.

Monday, September 08, 2003

GODWIN'S LAW BE DAMNED. CalPundit links to Quaker in a Basement (o roll dem blogs!) on Republican legislators' plans to enforce "intellectual diversity" in Colorado schools via gummint action. These plans were allegedly inspired by David "Tell the Black People to Stop Staring at Me" Horowitz.

As I noted back in ought-two (scroll down to November 14), Daniel Pipes has floated a similar plan, by which "outsiders (alumni, state legislators, non-university specialists, parents of students and others)" would "take steps to create a politically balanced atmosphere, critique failed scholarship, establish standards for media statements by faculty and broaden the range of campus discourse." This, Pipes reasoned, is made necessary by a preponderance of "American Academics Who Hate America" -- and the need is made more pressing because "we are at war."

CalPundit and the Quaker are good on the legal problems with this approach (not to mention its rank hypocracy), but a strong word should be raised about the moral issue of sending flying squads of "outsiders" to monitor and correct ideological balance in colleges and universities. I know we've been cautioned by various Basil Fawltys not to mention the War but this really is perilously close to Nazi shit:
The first indications of an emerging cultural policy in Germany were barely noticed by the general public. On April 13, 1933 the German Student Association posted a twelve point "Proclamation" at the entrance doors of the Univerity of Berlin, demanding from the universities a greater sense of responsibility toward the German race, the German language, and German literature...

The Nazification of Germany in the 1930s did not happen overnight. A key part of this Nazification process was the campaign called "Gleichschaltung" -- which means "getting everyone in step." The Nazis announced that a proud, new, patriotic Germany was being born out of pain and danger... For a decade from the late '20s to the late '30s, communists, radicals, progressives and Jews were targeted in the universities and other institutions -- and so were many who defended them. The emergence of a "new normalcy" in the late '30s was a prelude to wider war and greater horrors.

Bringing up the bad boys of Berlin is a blogger no-no, a blowing of one's cool in a hypercool medium. And of course the Nazis weren't asking for diversity, while Pipes and Horowitz seek only a limited outside intervention in the affairs of academia. And it's not the Student Affairs Bureau that would administer the plan between concert bookings and theme nights in the cafeteria. Besides, there's speech codes, and that was the other side. And Horowitz is Jewish, etc.

But fuck it. I say it's fascist and I say the hell with it.

FAT CATS. "U.S. Report: 1 in 4 Pets Obese." -- CNN. At first I thought it said, "1 in 4 Pets Obsess," and I thought, so now it's come to this.

Actually I still feel that way. This is the sort of headline that drives some of us crazy. Oh boy, we think, next they're be providing obstetric service to snakes, and they we realize, they already do.

Well, to echo the warden in A Clockwork Orange, these new, ridiculous ideas have come at last. But this rope is a little easier to let go of than some. No doubt in the near future most people will consider paunchy pooches a newsworthy outrage nearly equal to those is-your-child-safe scare stories on the local news. Lead paint chips today, tabby treadmills tomorrow! And maybe it's a good thing. Not many years ago, as was pointed on in the aforereferenced New Yorker story (which is quite good, but I can't find it online -- it's by Burkhard Bilger in last week's issue, find it if you can), animals were left to sicken and starve, and gradually we came to feel sufficiently for our animal friends to provide them medicine and shelters. Animal wellness is already a common theme on boxes of Purina Cat Chow, and now it's a big media story. Maybe this is the next step in our evolution.

We are told that it is right and noble to stand athwart history, yelling "Stop!" but the future is rushing in from all directions and we have to pick our shots. It is a strange thought for an old liberal, but this story may be a sign that the new breed (of people, I mean) is becoming more humane, so to speak, than ever we thought to be, and as long as no multibillion dollar government plan is in the offing (cut to some future President holding up a dog tag and announcing veterinary coverage that is yours at whelping and can never be taken away, while a translator goes "Woof, woof, woof, woof"), I guess I can let this one slide.

Friday, September 05, 2003

REMEMBRANCE DAY. Lileks today:

This reminds me of a gentle tut-tutting I got from some guy on a webpage I stumbled across post 9/11 -- he was just so... bemused at how I’d lost my grasp on reality. I had been describing my reaction to the men who’d kill my daughter for the glory of Allah: give me the gun, show me the cave. The author of the piece suggested I would be perfect for the role of the WW2 black-out warden who scolds people for half-closed windowshades.

Why, it’s almost as if I thought we were at war, or something.

Oooh, I gushed, jumping up and down in my poodle skirt and cradling my "Gallery of Regrettable Food" to my chest, he noticed!

My official position is that everyone's entitled to a personal, even a personalized, reaction. My own personal reaction in those days was that we had gone through something terrible and hysteria was not helping. It still sort of reminds me of when Harry Carey Jr., crazed with grief at the savage murder of his girl, went running at the Comanche in The Searchers and got himself killed. I don't think the Duke loved the girl any less because he didn't follow suit.

Well, that was then, and this is... then, I guess. We're ramping up to the Memorial and encouraged to get mad. At whom? The Talented Mr. Bin Laden? I have no love for the surviving "Islamic fascists," and if I worked myself into a grand mal seizure over them I imagine it might momentarily banish my disappointment that we have conducted our struggle against them haphazardly, leaving thousands dead, a fat albatross of a ruined nation in our hands, and murderous would-be viziers stoking oil-fires of resentment against us. But that would bring no victims back to life, no honor to their memory, and no solution any nearer.

I think the worst thing we could do to the folks Lileks wants to murdalize is put their ignorant, feudal, vengeful, priest-ridden, savage way of life into the past tense, forever. I have a hunch that in the long run it will take more convincing than killing. Call that bleeding-heart traitorousness if you like. I prefer to call it what we did back when we used that strategy against the Soviet Union: victory.

If you think shaking fists at the cave-dwellers will speed that event, God go with you. If you prefer to shake your fist at me for showing insufficient respect for your shaking fist, have fun. Ignorance is my only real enemy, and I know it is too weak to prevail.
THE RACE IS ON. Last night's Democratic Presidential Candidate Debate draws the expected results: dismissive, "who cares?" snot-blowing from right-wingers, who still think disdain is a strategy, and from conservatarians, who are perplexed that no challenger has come out strongly against public roads, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and other such extraconstitutional abominations.

Myself, I thought it was refreshing to see seven people who didn't like President Bush on TV together. (Has there been some sort of federal law against that since 9/11?) And, as a proud partisan, I enjoyed even the lame cracks on W, including Gephardt's "miserable failure" mantra.

Some random notes:

None of the candidates seemed barking mad. Well, Kucinich was... astringent I think is the best word, his gaunt face pained as he roared truth to powerlessness. But though his jihad against NAFTA is strong medicine, it's no more so than Pat Buchanan's, and we all respect him, right? Everyone else was pretty avuncular, including Moseley-Braun, which was suprising, since the righties are always unleashing the vilest invective against her (black, female, and not a complete tool? Into the briar patch with you!).

Bob Graham is running for Vice-President. He's too old and dull for the top job, but his offering is clear: put me on the ticket, and I'll have my goons stop Jeb's goons from stealing a second election. It ain't a bad case. I just hope he doesn't get bored pretending to run for President.

Joe Lieberman really is the candidate from, to paraphrase Doctor Dean, the Republican wing of the Democratic party. But it was impressive from a tactical viewpoint to see such a centrist handling the (I imagine) largely union-educrat audience so well. On Free Trade, for example, he proclaimed his concern for exploited workers worldwide so passionately that I almost didn't notice he was really saying that he wouldn't do a damn thing to help them. That's the kind of savvy you get from working the hustings for decades, and I came away admiring his professionalism, if nothing else about him.

In fact, it was interesting to see how well all the old dogs (Graham partly excepted) performed. The format suits them more than the new school. Kerry is good at smoothly reframing questions to suit his own talking points. When Gephardt's voice rose in a denunciation of Bush that suddenly segued into reminder that he (Gephardt) had worked with BILL CLINTON to GROW THE ECONOMY, I was as aware of the efficacy of the ploy as I was of its transparency.

I don't know if it's a New Mexico thing, but the mix of Spanish and English subtitles and announcements threw me. I appreciate that it must have driven the Peter Brimelow types crazy -- imagine the xenophobic Brit wincing as EX SENADOR DE ILLINOIS appeared under CMB's big, black face! But it seemed like an empty, tokenish gesture. Isn't that was SAP is for? Also, all the candidates more or less endorsed the idea of amnesty for illegals. I would say, in their place: No, amnesty is for people who have done something criminal. I would decriminalize coming to America -- but hold all residents, from the oldest to the newest, to the same standards of law.

Hold your pace, John Edwards. The race has a long way to go and the middle of the pack is a good place to be. But if you get there, it'll be without my help.

Thursday, September 04, 2003

IN MY DAY, WE DIDN'T HAVE CAPS TO BUST! I know we asked the last person denouncing Britney and Madonna in a column to turn off the lights when he left. But there's Grandpa from The Boondocks -- I mean, Stanley Crouch -- still sitting in the dark, cursing it. Someone get a flashlight and give Grandpa a hand.

His every -- what, third? Fourth? -- column is about some bad thing on MTV that he hates and why decent people must band together and crush it. This time it's black performers who act like they want to kill you, and female performers who act like they want to fuck you.

"The black thug evolved into a hero because he went against what were dismissed as white middle-class values," sayeth Stanley. "And the prostitute was projected as the liberated woman because she was willing to strut her stuff against all conventions and follow her glands wherever they led her."

You have to admit that he sort of makes some mild, old-man-on-the-porch sense about the ludicrous (or Ludacris) gangsta fronting in hip hop. But it's nuts to ramble about it in a newspaper column, as if it were of any import whatsoever: it's like writing an angry column denouncing pistachio ice cream as an abomination before God.

(Wait, didn't Jim Lileks write one of those? Oh, you follow me, guys -- it's my theme for most of these columns: people who still think the personal is the political, and thereby diminish them both.)

You know, I bet that Crouch guy actually hangs out with black people. But he certainly can't have had any meaningful exposure to females! I mean, I've known some horny chicks, but none who could be said to have "followed her glands."

But that's alright, Gramps, think we got the formula:
  • hip hop -- performed by blacks, enjoyed by whites, therefore bad for blacks.
  • "slut chic" -- indulged by girls, enjoyed by boys, therefore bad for girls.

GO BACK TO THE ADIRONDACKS! "New Yorker" R. Brookhiser responding to one of his asshole buddies at National Review Online: "The quotations you cited represent a strain of NYC anti-naturism. But many Gothamites require the country as a place of refuge."

Correction: some Gothamites can afford the country as a place of refuge.

For the rest of us there's Central Park. Prospect Park. Tompkins Square Park. Riverside Park. Flushing Meadows Corona Park...

Not so bad, actually. Beats the hell out of the "refuge" offered by NRO, anyway.