Wednesday, December 31, 2003

CAN I PLAY TOO? Richard Brookhiser, having tantalized his fellow Cornerites by pronouncing Visconti's "The Leopard" "one of the two best conservative movies," finally breaks the spell by pronouncing Satyajit Ray's "The Music Room" the other.

I've never seen "The Leopard," but I love "The Music Room," which is about a declining Indian rentier who persists in giving a lavish fete in his crumbling music room, even though he knows the expense will bankrupt him.

It is always hard to know what is going on in the minds of Cornerites (loud explosions and snatches of Wagner, one imagines), but perhaps Brookhiser has here displayed an intuition of the current, very conservative Administration's financial management style.

Another contributor nominates "Mrs. Miniver," perhaps because it's the sort of thing old folks like to watch. Jonah Goldberg, of all people, has some intriguing suggestions.

I've seen a few sessions of this parlor game, and I don't know why no one ever brings up "River's Edge." It's about a bunch of nihilistic teenagers, one of whom kills a girl just because he's wasted and, apparently, doesn't know what else to do with his unchannelled energies. The only meaningful authority figure is a boomer-era teacher who congratulates his own generation because "we stopped a war, man!" The teacher's airheaded idealism is sometimes countered by a values-obsessed nerd (the Ben Shapiro role), whom everyone tells to shut up. If this doesn't fit your typical talkative conservative's world-view, I don't know what would.

I like that movie, and I like Whit Stillman's "The Last Days of Disco," which seems to me a cultural conservative's wet dream.

Well, that was kind of fun, but I think I'll go back to my usual standard, y'know, quality: how well a work of art puts over whatever ideas it happens to have.

comments please

THE BLINGOISIE. When you're very young, you run across nose-pickers who are obsessed with bling, who as they grow older suffer or thrive in direct proportion to the amount of bling they have acquired. Simple folk, God bless them.

Some of these guys, though, are slightly less simple; they need not only money, but also reassurance that everyone else in the world (or at least in their class) is just like they are. They mock the notion that there are any values beyond bling. They clap for people who tell them that yes, they're right, bling is the thing.

Thus are they spared the horrifying realization that, despite all their education and pretentions, they remain to this day nose-pickers with an adolescent spirit of entitlement and values that, however smartly they have been tricked out, are essentially barbarian.

These people are called Dynamists, or, if you want to be sloppy about it (and why not? everyone else is), libertarians, or if you want be accurate about it, assholes.
(Thanks for tip, Matt Yglesias.)

comments please

Tuesday, December 30, 2003


comments please

THE OLD BLACK FLAG. UPI reports bombs delivered to the European Court of Justice and Europol in Den Hague, to the European Central Bank in Frankfurt, and to Romano Prodi, Chairman of the European Commission. All the parcels share a common starting point in northern Italy, and investigators suspect an anarchist group operating thereabouts.

Some bombs came with interesting appurtances:

Italian media reports said the letter[-bomb] bore a sender's address in Bologna, and the name of Emile Henry, a French 19th century anarchist bomber who tossed a bomb into the crowded Cafe Terminus at the Gare St. Lazare railway station in Paris, killing several people. His motto was "There are no innocents"...

The book sent in the packet bomb was Gabriele d'Annunzio's erotic novel "The Child of Pleasure." D'Annunzio, an admirer and supporter of the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, is a literary hero of the Italian extreme right...

UPI reports that "conspiracy-conscious Italians" think someone's trying disuade Prodi from running against Berlusconi when he leaves the Commission. The IHT entertains speculations about the old Red Brigades, and an anti-EU federation called "Euroopposizione." AP says that "An Italian group calling itself the 'Informal Anarchic Federation' took credit for setting two additional time bombs that exploded outside Prodi's house on Dec. 21, causing a small fire."

What to make of this? Setting to one side the decoy theories, it looks like some crazy fuckers are out to do mischief, and they may have gathered under the old black flag.

As chronicled by Barbara Tuchman in "The Proud Tower," the original Anarchists were genuine dead-enders. Around the turn of the last Century, their followers slew no less than six heads of state, including President McKinley. The Anarchists were not spurred by specific grievances against individual regimes, but by hopelessness bred by the elephantine indifference to their plight of all the government that they knew: "They came from the warrens of the poor," wrote Tuchman, "where hunger and dirt were king, where consumptives coughed and the air was thick with the smell of latrines, boiling cabbage and stale beer... where death was the only exit and the only extravagance and the scraped savings of a lifetime would be squandered on a funeral coach with flowers and a parade of mourners to ensure against the anonymity and last ignominy of Potter's Field."

I think it is reasonable to assume that the living conditions of the current letter-bombers are much better than those of their forebears. And at the risk of sounding insensitive to the intellectual attainments of paupers, it seems only a college man would stick D'Annunzio into an exploding package.

So why bomb? One can with a small effort come up with reasons, positive or negative, for any seemingly unreasonable act, but I think that shows more about the speculator than the assailant. I'm beginning to wonder if we're really going to figure out where Timothy McVeigh was coming from. Or Al-Qaeda. Or the Basque separatists, rich as their history may be, who recently put a bomb on railroad tracks in Spain. Or whoever tried to bomb Musharraf. Or the Hamilton County Courthouse. Or Poso, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia. Not to speak of Iraq.

It does appear that an alarming number of people are putting their faith in explosives these days.

comments please

Q.E. FUCKIN' D. "Goodness... another one. I suppose Ms. MacKinnon isn't 'real' either, just like Orson Scott Card was dismissed as not being 'real'." -- guest-blogger Macallan at Tacitus.

The subject is a couple of putative Dems who have publicly stated that they're voting for Bush. Card has been dealt, so to speak, with. Here's a little background on Ms. P. Amy MacKinnon, the latest alleged apostate:

March 24: "My husband is accompanying troops on the front lines, so that we on the home front can vicariously share in the fight with our soldiers... He will use his pen to empower the weak, very often, mute Iraqis who may reclaim their collective voice in a reporter's story... He, like the daring soldiers with whom he now shares tight quarters in a tank heading north through Iraq, is doing our country a noble service. He is presenting us with the truth." MacKinnon's husband is Jules Crittenden; Romanesko links to a story that mentions him under the teaser, "Crittenden wrote about drunk, vomiting U.S. soldiers."

September 25: "I had rationalized my working for a pro-choice legislator by emphasizing all of the other issues we did agree on..." (The guys at Free Republic really liked this one!)

December 18: "The feminist movement gave birth to my generation and it was our legacy to have it all... But as so often happens, the ideals of a generation clashed with their reality." Meaning, MacKinnon, now with three children, wants a "part-time reporting job," a gig hard enough for us single fellas to get, and argues that her experience of "meals, diaper changes, school buses, doctor's appointments, billing cycles, and -- most important -- bedtime" should be seen by editors as a selling point. "So, yes," she explains, "I could understand the importance of the newspaper's deadlines." And all it took was three fucking kids!

So what have we got here? A sob sister with a desire to succeed in journalism, a grudge against feminist baby-killers, and a penchant for Peggy Noonan-style gush. Clearly her best bet is to try and beat Meagan Cox Gurdon to syndication.

Was this woman ever going to vote for any Democrat in 2004? Not a chance in hell. Should we mourn her loss? Well, if we could win without longtime Democrat Strom Thurmond, we can win without her.

comments please

I.T. UPDATE. Still working on the comments feature. Its contributor has run out to buy a puppy. (Volunteer labor -- you know how it is.) We'll attend to all problems at the next big meeting.

comments please

APOLOGIES TO CHRIS WREN. I guess it had been too long since Professor Reynolds pulled out his old "Conservative? Me?" schtick.

This current McGuffin is a USA Today McArticle that refers to the Prof as "right-leaning." As is more and more frequently the case these days, the Professor allows his henchpeople to do the dirty work:
Right-leaner? I guess supporting the war makes you a right-leaner despite your stances on ANYTHING else. Sigh.

Some folks just have to push everyone into right or left labels.

Sigh. Just because I go through a bale of weed each day, dress like Jerry Garcia ca. 1973, have a "HESGONE" vanity license plate, and listen to American Beauty every single morning, people call me a Deadhead. Go figure.

Take any week's worth of the Professor's scribbles and, if you seek his conservatism, look around you.

Take this week: Europe-bashing, Sully-sucking, librul-media-bashing, librul-bias-alerting, DU-trawling, and a tribute to the global spread of Christianity.

And that's just the day after Christmas.

For every lonely pro-sex or free-the-weed reference the Prof posts, there are a couple dozen Left-slagging and Right-rousing items at least. With of course the usual wretched filler.

The only question is whether the Professor is lying to us, or to himself.

comments please

I GUESS WE JUST HAVE HIGHER STANDARDS. Hey, guys, remember when we all agreed that trawling the fever swamps for conservative nutjob quotes was declasse? Well, Mickey Kaus is doing it. Of course, there's a difference -- he's agreeing with a nut:
Hmmmm. .... Update: Freeper "Shermy" had the same reaction, word for word! [It's a one word reaction-ed Word! He had one more "m"-ed There you go. Overwriting.] 7:39 P.M.

See, this is why we have to unilaterally and preemptively invade the offices of Slate and convert them by force to our way of life.
(Thanks roger for the tip.)

comments please

WHAT A CARD! A while back I (and a host of others) marvelled at the Right's new favorite "Longtime Democrat," science fiction writer Orson Scott Card, who tells how he's disgusted with "his" Party's new-fangled ways -- which became new-fangled, judging by Card's beliefs (anti-abortion, pro-Vietnam War), about thirty years ago. Now, via Pagan Prattle, I learn that on gay rights Card may be even too far Right for most Republicans.

Card's 1990 article "Hypocrites of Homosexuality" has, one must admit, a first line worthy of David Sedaris:
When I was an undergraduate theatre student, I was aware, and not happily so, how pervasive was the reach of the underculture of homosexuality among my friends and acquaintances.

The only problem is, he's serious. Card tells us that gays give their "highest allegiance... to their membership in the community that gave them access to sex," and that their presence will cause "destruction of the Church" (in Card's case, LDS), and thereby must be banished, unless they are willing to reform.

Fear not, level-playing-field types, because Card has a keen eye for heterosexual behavior, too. Young people "will be better and happier if they have no memory of sexual intercourse with others to deal with when they finally are married." (What do Mormons use for this, I wonder -- Rohypnol, or chloroform?)

Also, "the Lord even guides the sexual behavior of those who are married, expecting them to use their sexual powers responsibly and in a proportionate role within the marriage." (Card regrettably fails to provide a detailed description of this role, though I imagine it looks pretty much like this.)

Still, it's mainly homos that exercise Card. "Laws against homosexual behavior should remain on the books," he decides, " be used when necessary to send a clear message that those who flagrantly violate society's regulation of sexual behavior cannot be permitted to remain as acceptable, equal citizens within that society."

There's a lot more, including the usual complaint about being called a homophobe for his religious beliefs. (He also complained of this to Donna Minkowitz, who has more crackpot Card quotes.) What's most hilarious about all this, of course, is that Card was quoted, at length and with great approval, on the war by Andrew Sullivan -- which, given Sullivan's sexuality and position on gay rights, is rather like defending one's feelings on, say, public transportation with a quote from Adolf Hitler -- so discordant as to be absurd.

I wonder how much further word of Card's lunacy will have to spread before he will be retired as a GOP operative. If this persists, we may have to get Harlan Ellison to masquerade as a Republican.

comments please

Monday, December 29, 2003

CHRIST ON A CRECHE. Peggy Noonan is telling us about bad people again, this time the folks who want to ban nativity scenes:
They think that if only people would stop being religious, we wouldn't have religion around roiling people's emotions and making them violent. (If you say to them, "Man is prone to violence, and one of the things that tends to make his heart gentle is faith in God," their eyes widen in shock: That couldn't possibly be true!)

Ms. Noonan meets such interesting people, and says such interesting things to them. I wonder if she also sees leprechauns, and asks them where they keep their pots o' gold.

Her solution to anti-crechism is "to fill the public square with the signs and symbols of faith. It is not to banish them from the schools, it is to teach them in the schools... display a menorah and explain what it is... to display a crucifix or a cross and explain what it means to Christians. And, yes, the answer is to show a Koran and explain what it is." The kids should also sing Christmas carols and "other religious songs that are not Christian."

I'm all for it! The children can lift their voices in tribute to Buddah, and Zoroaster, and Lord Mahavira, and Gaia. And in the spirit of true ecumenicanalism, we can tell them about the worship of Satan, and crank some Black Sabbath.

Later comes my favorite line from the whole exercise:

"So I took Mary into the house, and she lived for three years in a closet. "

So that's what happened to her. Ms. Noonan also talks about the wonderful panoply of religious artifacts visible in her neighborhood, just down the road apiece from me in Cobble Hill, unmolested by the atheists who apparently all live on Park Avenue in the dark borough of Manhattan. "May the world in 2004 be more like Brooklyn," she concludes, "and may its arguments over religion and the public square be solved the Brooklyn way."

Here I must agree. Just a short distance from the madonnas and menorahs are several very nice gay bars, which coexist harmoniously with Mary Star of the Sea and the other neighborhood places of worship. If Ms. Noonan is okay with those, I'm okay with the little religious theme park she wants to set up. Just so long as she doesn't use my tax dollars to pay for it. Compassionate and conservative -- what a solution! Why, I'm feeling more Brooklyn already!

comments please

TEST. Well, as the Warden says in A Clockwork Orange, these new, ridiculous ideas have come at last:

comments please

LOVE ME, LOVE ME, LOVE ME, I'm a liberal, says the Christian Science Monitor's "Are U A Neocon?" quiz in response to my answers. (Okay, I made the title up, but basically it's an egghead version of one of those Quizilla things.)

The questions pertain to pre-emptive strikes, the Axis of Evil, the defense/domestic political balance, and other hot topics. The possible results are Neo-Conservative, Isolationist, Realist (!), and Liberal. So I guess me, Wolfowitz, and Pat Buchanan are all livin' in a dream world!

I got a kick out of the Monitor's descriptors for each result. Liberals, for example, "believe political solutions are inherently superior to military solutions." Gosh, how will we ever win elections with goofy ideas like that!

But the fix is in: look at the liberal examplars:
Historical liberal: President Woodrow Wilson
Modern liberal: President Jimmy Carter

Geez, why didn't they just use Percy Dovetonsils and Alan Colmes?

Thanks to Jim at Rittenhouse for the tip.
SOLDIERS' PAY. From Phil Carter's very thoughtful weblog, a Washington Post story on how the Army's using a little-known maneuver to keep soldiers on duty for longer than they expected:
According to their contracts, expectations and desires, all three soldiers should have been civilians by now. But Fontaine and Costas are currently serving in Iraq, and Eagle has just been deployed. On their Army paychecks, the expiration date of their military service is now listed sometime after 2030 -- the payroll computer's way of saying, "Who knows?"

The three are among thousands of soldiers forbidden to leave military service under the Army's "stop-loss" orders, intended to stanch the seepage of troops, through retirement and discharge, from a military stretched thin by its burgeoning overseas missions.

"It reflects the fact that the military is too small, which nobody wants to admit," said Charles Moskos of Northwestern University, a leading military sociologist.

We pay our servicemen shit; it's so bad that Wisconsin is contemplating chipping in to make up the difference between its native sons' and daughters' military pay and a living wage! And now we're holding 'em over by special request.

To be fair, an across-the-board pay raise is in the works. But it ain't much. Yes, I know that in time of war (however nebulously defined), troops may expect to be held over. But since everyone over in Iraq loves us (a highly-placed source tells me, and everyone), you'd think we'd need fewer rather than more troops.

DID YOU EVER FIND BIGS BUNNY ATTRACTIVE WHEN HE'D PUT ON A DRESS AND PLAY A GIRL BUNNY? I see the notorious homophobe John Derbyshire has proposed a "sexy-but-not-pretty" poll for males. (He ran one about women some months back. Derbyshire, by the way, is a grown man who writes books about math.)

When I read this Derb post about the male poll (ahem), I assumed his aim was to give the ladies in the audience some share of the frisson he'd enjoyed fantasizing about Ellen Barkin et alia in the previous poll. I see by his previous post, though, that he had something different in view:
Bates seems to illustrate the male side of the "pretty but not sexy" business I raised in a column some months ago. I always thought him an extremely attractive man, and supposed that if I were a woman, I would have some serious fantasies about him. Yet on the odd occasion I have raised this topic with women, I have got blank stares in return. "Alan Bates? No, nothing special. Why would you think that?...." It's an aspect of the Mars-Venus thing. Women generally have no clue what kind of woman men find attractive, and vice versa

Two things:
  • Saying you would fantasize sexually about someone only under certain conditions means you're already fantasizing about him.
  • Fantasizing about someone and then going around asking your girlfriends if they think he's cute means you want to marry him.

How long can Derb bang on that closet door before it collapses?

Sunday, December 28, 2003

A LITTLE SANITY FROM MR. VIDAL. I've got the Sunday-morning political shows on TV now. They look a little dumber than usual to me, partly because they're in their year-end what's-it-all-mean mode (which races the shouting heads through a gauntlet of economic to military to legal issues so quickly that their normally reductive analyses become practically incoherent), but mostly because I read Gore Vidal's Washington, D.C. yesterday.

That book, published in 1967, was the first of Vidal's historical fictions (to be followed, in production if not in sequence, by Burr, 1876, Lincoln, et alia), and establishes the themes that run through its successors: the ethics of power, the struggle (not altogether unfriendly) between the self-made and the patrician, the uses of the press, the degeneration of political culture, and, of course, the author's Epicurean view of natural relations between men, and between men and women. (This last is really the underpinning for the political drama: Vidal sees us as selfish creatures who, when we strive for the good as opposed to the merely convenient, do so almost by accident, as a means of attaining something better when the pursuit of power, for whatever reason, ceases or never begins to satisfy.)

The plot, such as it is, runs some ambitious Washingtonians through the Roosevelt and Eisenhower administrations. Blaise Sanford runs a paper, James Burden Day is a perennial Senator; their children and charges marry, have affairs, choose careers, and plot; one of these, Clay Overbury, becomes an immensely successful politician, while another, Peter Sanford, runs a magazine, at first desultorily and later with a grudging sense of purpose.

There are, naturally, good and bad people in the book, or rather good and bad forces with which the characters align themselves. Though this is clearer when seen through the prism of his later writing, in Washington, D.C. Vidal already hints at the less propitious course: when the natural appetite for power is ungoverned by good sense or at least countervailing appetites, enormous follies result that wound the purpose of the nation. In this book, Red-baiting is the most egregious example (brief appearance by hissable McCarthy); today, of course, Vidal sees in the creepy confluence of Christian Fundamentalism and neo-imperialism a likely fatal assault on the remnants of what was once a pretty good Republic.

In 1967, there seemed less of a crisis. Though many of the people in Washington, D.C. are trying to influence the course of government, they at least possess some sense of priorities, and the tone, carried by bitchy conversations, is often breezy. (One of Vidal's stylistic signatures is his ability to sustain drawing-room dialogues without letting his constant, simultaneous translation of intent deflate them.) The main characters are basically serious people playing for serious stakes, but each also has a strong sense of himself, which has the effect of making them all seem rather cynical. Even Overbury, on his surface the most pedestrian of glad-handlers, has private thoughts about people and power that would credit a habitue of Versailles; even Day, who suffers rather more than the others from the necessity of corruption and ambiguity in his line of work, and at times behaves foolishly because of it, tends toward the long view, though in a few flashes that view is very grim indeed:
Burden looked out the window. They were on an unfamiliar road with houses to the right and left, each with its high television anttena drawing from the air crude pictures and lying words. Oh, detestable age! he thought, hating it all...

Padded payrolls and illegal campaign contributions were the usual crimes, momentarily embarrassing to the legislator involved but seldom causing much damage. Americans had always believed that their representatives were corrupt, since, given the same opportunity, they would be, too. As it was, the common folk daily cheated one another, misrepresenting the goods that they sold and otherwise conducting themselves like their governors...

Vidal writes popular, not literary, fiction, though some of us think it is literature because it is built sturdily enough to be read out of season, and because it offers a detailed image (drawn by, as Vidal never tires of telling interviewers, one who knows well the lay of the land) of its time and place. It is interesting that, despite the palpable world-weariness of his view, Vidal keeps churning it out (Peter Sanford turns up again in The Golden Age, published only a few years ago), and also continues to produce long essays on the state of this nation from his villa in Italy.

I don't know how many of us who were not born into Vidal's circumstances, and lack his apparently constitutional imperviousness to bullshit of all sorts, could completely adopt his mordant detachment without giving up entirely on politics, and maybe life. But some people serve as good examples to us even if we we can't go the final mile. Vidal gets a lot of shit for his lonely defense of America as it was, and seems to take pleasure in the low character of these assaults. Here is a description from one of his essays on his appearance on one of those shouting-head shows I was watching:
I was once placed between two waxworks on a program where one of the pair was solemnly indentified as a 'liberal'; appropriately, he seemed to have been dead for some time, while the conservative had the vivacity of someone on speed. For half an hour it is the custom of this duo to 'crossfire' cliches of the sort that would have gotten them laughed out of the Golden Branch Debating Society at Exeter. On air, I identified the conservative as a liberal and vice versa. The conservative fell into the trap. 'No, no!' he hyperventilated. 'I'm the conservative!' (What on earth they think those two words mean no one will ever know.)

I'm glad he's still around. It means that we're not completely nuts, yet.

Saturday, December 27, 2003

COWBOYS AND HOLSTEINS. Scrolling through the Mad Cow news I found that there is such a thing as a Disaster News Network, devoted to really big and bad events. If you're feeling too happy sometime, give it a visit!

Anyway, from their coverage of the U.S. case, I learned that the USDA has fingered a Canadian cow -- "one of a herd of 74 cattle shipped from Alberta to the U.S. in August 2001" -- as the true culprit. And that other nations are in a bit of a panic about U.S. beef now:
If the sick cow is confirmed to be from Canada, the U.S. might possibly retain its "disease free" status. By Saturday, the U.S. had lost 90 percent of its beef exports because of its first case of mad cow disease.

More than two-dozen foreign nations have banned the import of U.S. beef, though USDA officials have insisted the meat is safe.

This seems like an area where the opinion of the rest of the world does have some bearing on how well the U.S. performs economically. I wonder if the nations that threw up bans are at all influenced by the USDA trend toward less rather than more regulation.

Frontline recently examined the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) meat inspection system that the USDA adopted in 1998, and reported, "Previously, federal meat inspectors had been limited to visually inspecting carcasses in processing plants; the new system placed the responsibility for developing a comprehensive safety-procedures program on the companies themselves, and required that they conduct scientific testing of bacteria levels in the meat. The inspectors are to monitor the companies' compliance with their own plans." (emphasis added)

This isn't necessarily a bad thing, and seems to have no direct bearing on the Mad Cow case. But at a time when EU countries are hot for standards on food, particularly beef, they may observe our tendency to let large producers run their own inspections, for example, and be less inclined to give us the benefit of the doubt.

The trend 'round these parts is anti-regulation, goodness knows. Stories like this one about the international regulation of banana imports make us laugh. But if circumstances make it easy for us to flip off foreigners when it comes to matters of war and peace, that may not be so easy when it comes to matters of buying and selling.

UPDATE. Sisyphus Shrugged has more and, naturally, better.
FUCK GATT, FUCK NAFTA. Matthew Yglesias thinks Bob Herbert is wrong to worry about the exodus of American white collar jobs to India:
Say we changed things around and more Americans made more money, more Indians made less money, and all people everywhere had to pay somewhat more for their software. How is that really better? Because it's better for Americans?

Short answer, Matt: Yes. I'm very happy to see consumers worldwide pay a few more pennies so our own economy doesn't fall into the toilet.

The threat to U.S. jobs is real and I wouldn't mind a little protectionism right about now. I know it's unfair, and my sympathies go to the subcontinent, which has been doing a good job of attracting business -- but I live in America and want our citizens to prosper first.

This is not about agricultural subsidies, where a few pennies' worth of fluctuation means starvation for a number of people. Yes, I know that tech activities affect the ability of India and other countries to meet their financial obligation, and that the fiscal health of the U.S. also relies upon global trade. Those are big issues, but first things first: our race to the bottom is getting a little too close to the finish line, and it's time to reverse course.

So fuck NAFTA and GATT. However well these have been managed to benefit American businesses, they're a net loss for American workers. Yet even the Democratic presidential candidates (with the rousing exception of Dennis Kucinich) act as if they were part of the Bill of Rights.

You want to know how Democrats can win in 2004? Here's a great, yawning need that the do-nothings in the GOP and the DLC are only making worse. Howard Dean, step up and win.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Angels from the realms of glory
Stars shone bright above
Royal David's city
Was bathed in the light of love

Jesus Christ was born today
Jesus Christ was born
Jesus Christ was born today
Jesus Christ was born

Lo, they did rejoice
Fine and pure of voice
And the wrong shall fail
And the right prevail

Jesus Christ was born today
Jesus Christ was born
Jesus Christ was born today
Jesus Christ was born
And we're gonna get born now

-- Alex Chilton
GUNBLOG DIPLOMACY. A typically bright and provocative post at CalPundit asks why Iraq war supporters have not been more distressed by the lack of WMD evidence after the fact. All the responses have been interesting, but one by "Ben" datestamped December 23, 8:29 am seems to boil the cons' case down most aptly:
...The war in Iraq (as I saw it) was primarily about 9/11. (Before anyone screams about "no direct connection between Saddam and OBL, etc.", please realize that I don't care about that). As a matter of US national security, we must remake the Middle East, one nation at a time. This can be done through a combination of diplomacy, economics, war and whatever other tactic advances the cause. Iraq was as good a place to start as any other (and probably better than most for the reasons outlined above).

Iraq was also about sending messages to our other enemies in the Middle East. Hopefully, they will now understand that their bad acts draw a respons from us that will lead to bad consequences for them. Such an understanding on their part will encourage the peaceful resolution (on favorable terms) of issues with our other enemies. In other words, this makes continued terrorism and war sponsored by other rogue regimes less likely.

(Sidebar to alert Amygdala and others that this was an exceptionally well-spoken post and does not violate our covenant against trawling.)

I'd like to thank Ben who, despite the multisyllabic and compound-sentence cloud cover, tells it like it is. Be aware, folks, that this country really is embarked on a course of blowing the shit out of countries in order to send messages.

In support of our drug policy, for instance, we might occupy Amsterdam, London, and other cities famous for their off-message policies of more-than-zero tolerance.

In support of our pharmaceutical policies regarding AIDS, we might attack South Africa, which first imported generic HIV drugs contrary to Big Pharma's wishes.

And once we ram that Defense of Marriage Act through, Belgium and the Netherlands will feel our wrath!

Our policies, the best minds of our generation have determined, are best promoted by military force. It ought to work as well as it did for the Romans. And maybe even as long!

YADDA YADDA, GOVERNOR! "Good news, Lenny! We reversed your conviction!"

"What? Are you putting me on with that? (whistles) Man, that's -- lemme see that paper --"

"See, it says here Governor George Pataki just wiped your New York bust."

"Wow. I mean, (whistles) groovy but talk about a day late and a dollar short -- what, are they gonna reanimate my corpse and let me host the MTV Awards now? 'Good evening ladies and gentlemen... ah, I know I look a little moldy, but screw it, so does Keith Richards!' (throws down paper) Ah, shit, I wouldn't want to do that lousy gig anyway. All those little schmucks sucking up to record executives in their $500 Dolce & Gabbana t-shirts, sick red eyes, tap-dancing on the parquet floor... I'd have to explain the bits to them, I'd have to bring out a newspaper like Mort Sahl..."

"Oh, but the kids are hip now, Lenny!"

"Hip, get the hell outta here -- they think wrestling's legit, are you kidding me with that? And they have this American Idol thing, makes Pat Boone look like Little Richard. Clay Aiken, are you jerking me around -- Johnny Ray could kick his ass! (mimes smacking someone around; sings to the tune of 'Cry") 'If your suh-WEET-heart -- doesn't KNOW -- you're schtupping some guh-UY -- (speaks) POW! POW! C'mon Clay, clean yourself up, we're going to Rock Hudson's place to do show tunes for Nancy Reagan!' Man. At least back in the old days I had a really tight little crowd, you know, and they were kinda square, sure, guys dressed like rabbis, girls in bas-mitzvah dresses and three inches of makeup waiting for some high-class dyke to rescue them -- always looking at the bar, you know, some skinny chick drinking Jim Beam straight, eye contact, head nods, (falsetto) 'Nigel, I'm going to the powder room,' chick comes back three days later with Mattachine Society pamphlets, (coarse voice) 'Nigel, bubby, the patriachy is over, leave the Miles Davis records I loaned you with my roommate or we're all gonna come over there and set your African tribal masks on fire.'"

"Lenny, come on. They did you a solid here."

"Solid? What solid? This Governor, he's from what, Peekskill? You ever been to Peekskill? I knew a magician did a gig there, he pulled a rabbit out of his hat, they burned him as a witch! When they want a bonfire for the homecoming dance they set a bum on fire and throw him into the cornfield! Look at the guy, a major schlub, he should be dropping the handkerchief at a tractor pull, never mind Governor. You think he's heard my bits? Forget about it. If they had a Cardinal like Sheen nowadays, this wouldn't be happening. But now they got this schnook from Bridgeport -- I mean, you ever been to Bridgeport? -- ten minutes after they make him a Cardinal, they find out he was running a whorehouse for little boys. (Father Flotsky voice) 'Y'say Father O'Reilly gave yez communion and it tasted like a really big finger with paste comin' out tha end? Mother a' Mercy! Here's ten grand, keep yer dirty mouth shoot!'"

"But Lenny..."

"You think I don't know what's going on? I'm dead forty years and they pull this? Politics, baby -- nothing but politics. Guys have been working blue for forty years, but it's all bullshit -- I mean you turn on cable and it's like all the comics are like that cop at my trial -- 'Ah, he said cocksucker, your honor, and then he said Jackie Kennedy hauled her ass to save her ass, and then he said motherfucker' -- I mean it's like they know the words but they don't know the music, man, or why it was necessary to say those words in the first place."

"Lenny, I can't argue with you, and you know what? The way things are going in this country, they'll probably reverse this decision pretty soon anyway."

"In the shithouse for good this time. Forget about it."

XMAS MAILBAG. At The Corner, Jonah Goldberg is posting letters about the death of Howard Dean's brother Charlie, who got whacked in Laos in the early '70s. One is from an "NRO reader in California" who claims to have known the Dean boys back in the day, and tells a heartbreaking story:
Charlie was a popular guy (much more outgoing than Howard), a McGovern worker, University of North Carolina, preppie… no chance he went into the CIA from that background... However, I am not going to criticize Howard for the controversy this week about listing Charlie as a possible POW. Charlie’s death was a terrible tragedy, and I know it had a huge impact on Howard... Any of us might wish that our brother died on a mission with some purpose, rather than just an ill-advised adventure, even if we know (as Howard himself has said many times) that the CIA theory is wrong. This theory perhaps lurks in Howard’s heart... To this day, the emotions must make it difficult for him to think or speak clearly about Charlie.

I'n't that nice? Don't you wish you had friends like this? Run well as a Democrat for President of the United States, and you'll find many such friends you never knew you had.

This has inspired me to share with my own readers a note I recently received on the subject of George W. Bush. I have as little reason to doubt its veracity as Goldberg, drunk as he is, has to doubt his own correspondent's.
You shouldn't be so hard on ol' W. He suffered greatly at Harvard. He pretended not to care about what people thought of him, but often expressed his hurt in quiet ways, like having guys who pissed him off blackballed in their chosen fields. There was this one brilliant business student, on scholarship I believe, who got much better grades than W but found himself unwanted by every employer he contacted after graduation. I suspect he went to his self-inflicted death never realizing the pain he'd caused our President-to-be.

Poor George never really got over the ribbing he took in school, which affected his relations with others for years. I recall talking with him in the executive offices of the Texas Rangers after Rafael Palmeiro got himself traded to Baltimore. "Mexican bastard never liked me," he said. "Well, I know a doctor down in Maryland that'll fix him up." I couldn't say for sure whether Rafael's erectile dysfunction had anything to do with this, but I do know that W would laugh maniacally whenever one of those Viagra commercials came on the TV.

This is not even to mention the time, right after the 1992 elections, when I came to the Texas Governor's office and found W stabbing a pillow with Saddam Hussein's face glued to the front.

When George stopped drinking, we all thought he'd turned a corner, but alas, we came to realize that he'd only replaced Scotch with horse tranquilizers, heroin, codeine, OxyContin, and some experimental drug his father's friends in the CIA shipped to him from Langley. "I tole that book-readin' bitch I'd give up the grain and grape," he'd tell me as one of his servants injected the light brown fluid into his spine, "but I never said nothin' about stoppin' this medicine for my 'stress'!" Then he'd wink at me, or rather, his eyelids would flutter spasmodically before he passed out.

So if ol' W says and does some things that don't quite make sense, I suggest you cut him some slack, lest he take a personal dislike to you, too.

An alicublog reader from Texas

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

PUTTING THE "JESUS FUCKING CHRIST" BACK INTO XMAS!Pandagon's Jesse (God that sounds like Herlofs Marte to me, maybe because he'll be burned at the stake someday) has keen eyes, and has noticed what a lot of us perhaps willfully failed to see: that the Xmas illo at National Review is pretty bizarre.

Hey, you should have seen it before they changed it:

Monday, December 22, 2003

NOT ON AGENDA: •DEDICATE •CONSECRATE •HALLOW... Crooked Timber's Chris Bertram tips us to a PowerPoint version of the Gettysburg Address. A good picture of what's wrong with, well, everything.
I KNOW THIS SILLY LIBERAL WHO SAID A BUNCH OF SILLY THINGS. I expect this kind of thing from Victor Davis Hanson and Homer Simpson but not from Tacitus. Disappointing.

At least in T's case the quotes sound authentic. But I still wonder how it is all these conservative guys keep their liberal friends after mocking them in public. I guess we really are a bunch of wimps!
PROPS. I don't say enbough good things about Altercation, but today Charles Pierce, always a good writer, dropped a turn of phrase that bears wider disbursement:
I always had a soft spot for Tom Kean -- even though he said some things about poor Mike Dukakis from which you'd have to dial 18 numbers to place a call to The Pale.

Style, my friends -- as Raymond Chandler said, the most valuable investment a writer can make with his time.
CAN'T HELP LOVING DAT MAN OF MINE. Is Andrew Sullivan suffering from holiday depression? His response to an incomplete quote in the Times is nearly delusional:
One small problem: the president did not say that ["I will support a constitutional amendment which would honor marriage between a man and a woman...]." He said: "If necessary, I will support a constitutional amendment..." In the context of religious right demands for immediate support for the FMA, that's a big difference."

In other words, though Bush has told the world that he's dead against gay marriage -- not even Sullivan denies this -- since he'll only use the FMA to stop it if he really needs to, the Times account is "what amounts to a lie about Bush's position."

"Email [the Times' ombudsman] at," cries Sullivan from his parapet, "and demand a correction but more importantly an explanation for the doctored quote..."

I wonder: were I to send Sullivan a letter, stating, "I want you dead, Sullivan. If necessary, I will kill you myself with my bare hands," he would fail to report it as a death threat, on semantic grounds.

Sullivan's so full of shit, I'm beginning to wonder is he's really gay.
SPEAKING OF DICKENS, that's one sterling parody of conservative thought that Jennifer Graham snuck into the National Review. Graham pretends to be a privileged cunt whose run-in with a misbehaving single mother turns her from a "squishy" conservative to a proudly "compassionless" one. She even quotes Scrooge approvingly, and bylines herself with a full middle name in order, one supposes, to make her literary alter-ego sound more annoyingly patrician.

How could Jonah and the boys not know they were being gulled? Drunk, one supposes.
HUMBUG. Everything is about politics, didn't you know? John J. Miller at National Review:
[Dickens'] A Christmas Carol isn't an especially conservative book, but there's no arguing that Dickens buried a conservative sentiment in the heart of this paragraph. The phrase "dead as a door-nail" was as much a cliché to Dickens as it is to us. It is possible to think of an innovation that improves upon that old standby. But "dead as a coffin-nail" doesn't have nearly the same ring. It seems better in theory, but it fails to work as well in practice: This, in fact, is the essence of liberalism. Old Marley simply needs to be "as dead as a door-nail." He can be no other thing.

"I dunno, John, it's a nice little essay, but where's the liberal-bashing?" "Alright, Jonah, I'll stick something in -- but I warn you: it won't make much sense." "Since when have we cared about that?"

Sunday, December 21, 2003

HOLA, BRACERO! ERES UN "FREE AGENT"! An interesting report from Northeastern University, summarized here, looks at two Department of Labor surveys, and the very different pictures they give of our employment situation.

While the Current Population Survey (CPS) "estimates the number of employed persons has risen by nearly 2.4 million," between November 2001 and November 2003, says the summary, "the CES survey indicates that the number of wage and salary jobs in November 2003 is still some 726,000 below its November 2001 level. This chasm -- to the tune of some 3.11 million jobs -- is historically unique..."

What makes the difference more stark is that the two measurers recorded a roughly similar number of jobs in 2001.

The authors seem to lean toward the more encouraging CPS number, but their analysis of the difference in outlooks is less than encouraging: the CPS, they say,
provides a much broader measure of employment, including farm workers, the self-employed, household workers, contract workers, unpaid family workers, private household workers as well as those working for pay off the books, including legal and illegal immigrants not taken into account by the CES survey.

Also, they say, "the bulk of the difference appears to be attributable to the increased use by firms of independent contractors who will be counted by the CPS but not by the CES, and to the growth of employment in the informal economy, including the hiring of many undocumented immigrants over the past three years."

So, if you take into account "informal economy" laborers such as home-based piece-workers, seasonal fruit-pickers, temp workers who (personal experience leads me to believe) probably can't get a steady gig, those who are paid under the table (and if you've ever had a job like that, you know how dicey those can be), and those who labor without pay, things look pretty good. If not, things suck.

This is a little reductive, of course, and the authors have some good points about what constitutes a true picture of the economy. But I do believe they're more sanguine about the "informal economy" than those of us who are not gainfully employed economists might be. Advocates laud the coming of "Free Agent Nation" as a golden age of autonomy for the American worker. Of course, the American worker was largely autonomous before the dawn of the Labor Movement, and was routinely and royally screwed because of it.

In some ways, it seems, these economists and econometricians are like TV sitcom producers: they act as if everyone is a successful young professional, with tons of options and an impossible large New York apartment.
NAY, NAY, MY LITTLE CHILD, SAID HE, IT WAS A FAMOUS VICTORY. Gaddafi, I see, has decided that it would be better to work his useless WMD program to get paid than to get invaded and deposed.

Imagine how the Soviet satellites might have prospered back in the day from such an approach, had Moscow not intervened? Castro could have worked the missile crisis to end the Cuban embargo, and his country might have grown rich on our tourist dollars.

Lacking such a controlling authority, the junior auxiliary of the Axis of Evil are free to trade in their rusty nuclear gear for trade advantages. This could be a good thing for everyone, at least in the short term. Of course, it doesn't take into account the folks who do their killing with suicide bombs and hijacked airliners, and have nothing to gain by negotiation.

So the question is, how tied up with the big boys are the terrorists on the ground? When Gaddafi (or Kim il Jong, or Khatami) cashes in, do they call it a day? If not, what have we gained besides a new friend -- one who's probably even less useful to us than the Saudis?

I'm sincerely interested in lowering my chances, and those of my countrymen, of being blown to smithereens. Not to minimize the achievement, but I never considered Libyan warheads as much of a threat in this regard. I could be wrong, of course. But I notice that our terror alert has just been upgraded from yellow to orange. In many papers this news runs side-by-side with celebrations of our capture of Saddam and the Libya announcement.

If Tom Ridge isn't impressed, why should I be?

Saturday, December 20, 2003

'LESSEN, OF COURSE, THEM LADIES KNOWS HOW TA SPELL. Ned Flanders harumphs LSU's first crop of Women's Studies graduates:
My friend gets it right when he says, "You know what the next thing we're gonna here [sic] from these gals is? 'You want fries with that, you male chauvinist pig?'"

Friday, December 19, 2003

AT LAST, AN ACCURATE DESCRIPTION OF THE MEDIA! "Let's get this clear: The media are about as organized as the Balkans. The only thing we agree on is free drinks." -- Karen Heller, Philadelphia Inquirer. (Thanks TAPped.)
WEIRD BUSH-IS-AMERICA STATEMENT OF THE DAY. "And the good, pacifist destroyers of the Bush statue were unconsciously leaguing themselves with the army tanks that massacred the Chinese students and trampled their poor plaster version of Lady Liberty..." -- A Patriotic Texican.

Y'ALL THINK O' LOOKING IN ONE O' THEM UNDERGROUND TRAINS? "In related news, authorities are reportedly looking for suicide bombers in New York City, and other major metropolitan areas. I hope that people will keep their eyes open, and not get complacent." -- G.H. Reynolds of Tennessee.

Gee, thanks for the advice, pal.
BE IT RESOLVED that anyone who thinks Scrooge was a better, wiser man before he was visited by the Three Spirits really ought to be read out of Western Civilization. (Thanks Tbogg.)
MAYBE YOU HAVE TO BE A CAT PERSON but I unaccountably love this. (Via the delightful Xax.)
MOMMY, PLEASE DON'T MAKE US TAKE A CARIBBEAN CRUISE WITH MR. GOLDBERG, HE SMELLS LIKE DADDY'S "MEDICINE." "So while you enjoy the glow of finding a place to stow the car, you will also wind up explaining to young listeners for the 800th time that FDR tried to hide the wheels on his chair, not make a feature of them, as the memorial does, and that when he said, 'I Hate War,' it was rather more flavored with pragmatism than modern ears would like. Usually I am just getting pleasantly warmed up on the topic and have progressed to Hitler and Stalin's Non-Aggression Pact, when someone yells, "Wow, look, ducks!" and all the little people run away." -- Megan Cox Gurdon on lugging the brats to the D.C. Mall in (where else?) National Review.
BULLSHIT. Sometimes I worry that this political writing exercise is just a way of hearing my voice thrown back at myself, like an echo. But then I consider the credentialed journalists who like to have public conversations with imaginary friends...

"What follows is a fair summation of about 20 or so dialogues I had recently with a series of Europeans," writes Victor Davis Hanson, who then proceeds to "report" a series of Rowan and Martin routines in which (though he labels himself with the cheapest of ironies the "Dumb American") the European always plays the patsy:
Europeans: In some ways you're right. After all, over half our population now believes that you -- not the North Koreans or the Iranians -- are the real threat to world peace.

Dumb American: I suppose a similar poll 65 years ago would have revealed the same thing about your fear of a unilateral Churchill and your ease with a multilateral Hitler, who seemed to get a nod from the Russians, Italians, Spanish, Eastern Europeans, and Japanese when he went into Poland. But in any case, we wish you luck with the Iranian mullahs. And as far as Tehran goes, for your sake — as long as we are not yet in missile range -- we hope that your Nobel Prizes, trade credits, lectures, and so-called "soft power" provide better deterrence than an ABM.

Europeans: Our disagreement is not so simplistic as that. But part of the problem is that Americans simply do not know much outside their shores and listen to silly Fox News and Rush Limbaugh for their information.

Yes, it happened just that way, folks. Ol' Vic was hot, he was on fire! Why, his spontaneous comments sounded almost like the sort something he'd spent some time polishing and adding em-dashes to! Und zose Europeans, zey sound so pretentious, no?

An especially interesting aspect of our especially interesting era is that, the more power conservatives get, the deeping into this kind of fantasy they retreat. Why is it, do you suppose? Maybe they're more sensitive than we thought, and can't stand the smell of bullshit even when it's their own.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

SPRINGTIME FOR HITLER. Pick a Cornerite, any Cornerite. OK, this one. Ramesh Ponnuru answers Richard Cohen on the popularity of the death penalty in America as opposed to its unpopularity in old Europa:
How about this: European countries are more disposed than America is to letting elites force through policies the populace doesn't like, and a sizable chunk of the populace is willing to revise its views after the fact. Maybe it has something to do with their experience of fascism, or their susceptibility to it.

Web oldtimers: remember Godwin's Law? That was the notion that if you bring up Hitler as a point of comparison to contemporary events and beliefs, you've lost the argument. It was invoked a lot in usenet days to inhibit liberal and libertarian complaints about encroachments by the State.

Boy, those were the days, huh?

NEW WINDOW. There's something to be said for the "Fresh Blogs" roll at Blogger. That's what connected me to this: guy talking about his dates with other guys. And Beyonce and Oprah. Pepys it ain't, but forthrightly observed and spoken, and I feel like I know this guy better than 90% of the people I actually know.

This ain't a bad thing, this weblog thing, despite, you know, all the political stuff.
TOO MUCH INFORMATION. Remember that crazy lady I was talking about yesterday? The one who was trying to build an argument against gay marriage with intricate diagrams of human sexuality as visualized by herself?

Part Two of her report is out now, and it turns out to be a speech out of classic drama -- you know the kind: a character who has been behaving strangely suddenly breaks down and unburdens himself of some horrible incident from the past that, we surmise, made him the way he is. (See Levee in "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," Martha in "The Children's Hour," etc).

Apparently Ms. Morse can't have a baby. She describes at great length her feelings about it, which she seems to mistake for immutable Laws of the Universe.

Near the end she momentarily returns to her ostensible point -- "Redefining marriage to include homosexual unions will actively lead us astray" -- but by then the spectators are gaping open-mouthed at her, and the damage is done.

Well, if Peggy Noonan ever needs a vacation we'll know where to find backup.
I STOOD AMONG THEM BUT NOT OF THEM. I don't feel much like a blogger today, because unlike many, many, many folks 'round these parts, I couldn't give a shit about that thing with the elves in it, and I don't mean Santa's sled.

So I am grateful to Oliver Willis for observing, "Lord of the Rings for me is like all those idiotic Dungeons and Dragons things mashed into one cinematic orgasm." At least I'm not alone.
THE WAR ON EXCESSIVE SYMPATHY. I see that Professor Reynolds and his mob-not-a-pack have been working overtime to denounce a Catholic Cardinal for showing "excessive sympathy for Saddam" in statements such as this:
Seeing him like this, a man in his tragedy, despite all the heavy blame he bears, I had a sense of compassion for him.

Cardinal Martino spoke in officio on behalf of the Catholic Church, an organization based on the teachings of one Jesus of Nazareth, whose "turn the other cheek" and "whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me" philosophy is really what exercises this mob.

As a Catholic apostate, I am not generally in sympathy with the old Church, but I retain a lingering affection for Jesus. And one of the few enduring nobilities of the Church is that it sometimes speaks for the despised even when it is unpopular, simply because Jesus bade them do so.

I have to admire that, at least. Even most Christians, as bitter experience has shown, will freely indulge their vengefulness and wrathfulness without stopping to think whether the Prince of Peace would approve.

Reynolds et alia don't lean heavily on Christian credentials, though, so I wouldn't say they were being hypocritical (though the Professor's inept attempt to parse theology in support of his own killer Christianity is, let us say, up to his usual standards). In fact, when you look at the broad panoply of their conservatarian beliefs -- Darwinian capitalism plus imperialism -- it in many ways seems an utter repudiation of Christian ethics.

Like I said, I left the Church, but I haven't picked up another one, and if I were to do so, I hope it would be less creepy that the one attended (and, for all I know, run) by Lee Harris, whose weird tract, "The Uses of Compassion" (approved by Reynolds) distinguishes between "moral instincts" and "moral imagination" to explain why we shouldn't feel sorry for bad people. Some of it makes sense, sure. But it reminds me of the right-wing sex paper I spoke about in a previous post: it uses the language of a sociology report to explain the human condition.

I find Harris' techno-rationalism (and Morse's techno-irrationalism) less compelling than the Sermon on the Mount. But I'm old fashioned that way. The new breed doubtless has an algorithm for a spiffy, cost-efficient moral calculus, and based on this some nanotechnologic chip may be developed that can shut our sympathies on and off as mandated by political realities.

The moral utopia: it's just a click away. I'll pass. I saw what technology did to music (crisper sound, shittier product!), and I would rather not look at what it will do for religion.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

SEX MAD. I guess it's just human nature, but it seems that the more power conservatives get in this country, the more irrational they become about those areas of life over which they have no power.

The sexual mores of this country, for example, remain in flux, despite the attempts of some on the Right to arrest their development. The most obvious sign of this is the gay marriage movement: even gay-marriage opponent Jonah Goldberg admits that "Everyone agrees that we are well on our way to living in a country where allowing same-sex marriage is the law of the land." The cultural change seems as inevitable as lava coming down Mt. St. Helens.

So in the last ditch, some conservative scribes have abandoned politics, even reason, and reverted to theology. How else to explain this absolutely crazy National Review piece, "Love and..." by Jennifer Roback Morse?

Morse, in her second paragraph, reveals "the meaning of human sexuality." Under normal circumstances one would expect this to be the money shot, so to speak, but Morse disappoints: "Sexual activity has two natural, organic purposes: procreation and spousal unity. Babies are the most basic and natural consequences of sexual activity. 'Spousal unity' means simply that sex builds attachments between husband and wife." One wonders if Morse writes technical manuals when not employed as a sex scold.

Being a heathen and an Epicurean, I find all articles of this sort a little silly, but I'll say one thing for old-school marriage-thinkers like St. Augustine: he seemed to have some awareness that people have sex because it feels really good -- offers, in fact, a kind of pleasure that's categorically different than any other. But Morse goes out of her way to keep us from even thinking about that aspect of sex even while she's discussing it:
For many people in modern America is a recreational activity, and a consumer good... the sexual partner has become an object that satisfies [one] more or less well.

She makes it sound like lawn darts or something. And so it probably seems to her the most natural thing in the world to talk about the social and political utility of banning gay marriage as if she were talking about the re-jiggering of tax incentives -- a purely utilitarian matter, calculated to produce a social good.

It's already a truism that conservatives, despite their libertarian affectations, have fallen in love with social engineering, especially as regards marriage and childbearing. As this House Committee on Ways and Means document from 2001 demonstrates, they like to think of government programs from Social Security to the Earned Income Tax Credit as ways to affect the stability of marriage as an institution. This is narrow-minded, but not quite as mad as the extreme to which Morse has taken it: trying to shore up marriage by reforming the way we have sex, and reforming the way we have sex via an essay in the National Review. (Did Maxim turn it down?)

Of course, just because her idea is crazy doesn't mean it's doomed. But this does: Morse has no leverage. She's not peddling the old fire-and-brimstone like Augie Dog. The worst she can threaten is that, if you persist in accepting gay marriage, you'll be shut out of the really spiritually fulfilling aspect of sex as diagrammed in Paragraph 2. "We will be happier if we face reality on its own terms," she says. That's nice. And we'll be happier when you take your religious pamphlets to some other rental unit, so me and my partner can have hot, tolerant sex.
HEY LOOK: John Derbyshire has a new website.

Look, since the Big Kids told us brats to play nice, I have this uncontrollable urge to take really cheap shots.

The title of this post is a tribute to Harvey Kurtzman.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

THE OLYMPIC-SIZED DUMPSTER. Amygdala (and, in emulation, Philosoraptor and Ted Barlow) have all come out against "The War on Straw" or "Dumpster-Diving" -- that is, going to one of those nutcake web collectives (DU and are Amygdala's examples), pulling out a fistful of ravings and crying, "See, we're not nuts, you're nuts!"

I can see the merit in the idea. Dumpster-diving is a pretty cheap way to score points on the opposition by using mouth-breathers who happen to be wearing the wrong electoral badges. A ban would probably raise the level of discourse among subscribers.

I see two problems with it, though.

First and foremost, where do you draw the line? I can see that, say, Free Republic would be out of bounds. That rat's-nest of Clinton obsessives and neo-Confederates obviously fits Amygdala's description of "a site known to be full of... sub-simian mewlings." It's just too easy to find an outrageous statement there.

But, in my experience, it's nearly as easy to find outrageous statements at The Corner. From the butt-plugged John Derbyshire to the totally wasted Jonah Goldberg, the denizens of this intellectual hovel have been responsible for a full 20% of my snarkiest prose. In fact, I'd say at times of great pitch and moment (like the recent Saddam-fest), The Corner is basically Free Republic with a type designer. Yet it is aligned with National Review, a mainstream publication. If it's just too much like shooting fish in a barrel to make fun of Freepers, shouldn't we also give a pass to these guys?

And how about Andrew Sullivan? When he is in his 12-year-old-girl-into-Keats-and-on-Ecstasy mode, one almost feels sorry for him. Listen to this delusional passage:
I feel a lump in my throat. I am so proud of the country I was born in and the country I have made my home. I have never been prouder to be an Anglo-American, to have done in our time what so many before us have done -- to broaden the possibilities of liberty, to bring hope, to restrain the violent men and evil ideologies that are each generation's responsibility.

Does Sullivan's self-evident mental affliction disqualify him from our attention?

What about all the various lunatics -- like Kim du Toit, to take an especially egregious example -- who have been adopted and lionized by the alleged opinion leaders of the internet? Were they just nuts with websites, I'm sure the Committee would rule them off-limits; but given that the poobahs treat them like they're the second coming of Westbrook Pegler, shouldn't we then have leave to mock them, despite the subnormal nature of their commentary?

Heavy questions all. Oh, yeah, the other problem with this program -- it just wouldn't be as much fun.
MARKED CARD. At OpinionJournal, scifi scribe Orson Scott Card identifies himself as a Democrat -- one of the real ones, of course. And here's what this real Democrat believes:
  • The Democratic Party is "self-destructive," "extremist-dominated," and "insane."
  • The media are doing their best "to win this for the Democrats."
  • We only lost Vietnam because we weren't aggressive enough, and because "the Democrat-controlled Congress specifically banned all military aid to South Vietnam."
  • America should invade Syria, Iran, Sudan and Libya.
  • "If Mr. Bush does not win, we will certainly lose the war."

Therefore the author promises to "vote not just for George W. Bush, but also for every other candidate of the only party that seems committed to fighting abroad to destroy the enemies that seek to kill us and our friends at home."

A sane person might ask: Uh, so you are a Democrat how?

A quick trawl reveals that Card has referred to himself as a "Tony Blair Democrat" But he has not identified what that might possibly mean in terms of policy presciptions -- unless, of course, it means the same thing as "George Bush Republican."

We do know that he doesn't like New Yorkers, particularly "New York Intellectuals," very much. Nor does he favor abortion rights, nor maybe even contraception ("judges... created the 'right of privacy' out of thin air"). He does approve of affirmative action -- but only "to stock up on conservatives and traditionally religious faculty and staff" at colleges where, you know, they're all godless and shit.

Conservatives get the message, of course:
On point after point, Card comes down precisely where I stand. Yet he considers himself a Democrat, while my own leanings are generally conservative. I think if the Democratic Party he envisions still existed, I might have more respect for (and cast more votes for) such an entity.

And if George W. Bush were more like Thomas Jefferson, I might like him too.

So what have we got? A guy who claims to be a Democrat, but whose main expressed belief is that Democrats are evil traitors for whom decent people should never vote.

Taking Card's example, I am repositioning myself:
I, Roy Edroso, am a loyal Republican. And I'd really like to vote for a Republican someday. But how can I, with the current batch of greedy, stupid Republicans? They are not at all like the real Republicans with whom I grew up -- men like John Lindsay and "Fightin' Bob" La Follette.

Today, I consider myself a Nelson Mandela Republican. By which I mean, until the Republican party returns to its roots and embraces abortion rights, national health insurance, legalization of drugs, gay marriage, and doubling the budget of the National Endowment for the Arts, I will by God vote for the Democrats, difficult as that is for an old GOP loyalist such as myself.

AM I DIDEROT OR NOT. Thanks to En Banc for pointing to this Ethical Philosophy Selector -- a kind of "What Famous Philosopher R U?" quiz that ranks the relevance of a number of philosophers' to your outlook as revealed by a cloze test.

En Banc's PG, for example, scored 100% on Kant and 99% on John Stuart Mill, but only 7% on Thomas Hobbes and 9% on the Cynics. This led me unto doubt about the test: From his writing, PG seems like he'd be a fun guy to drink with, but if you'd just shown me his scores, I would have imagined him a dullard and a grind.

So take it with a grain of salt, but my lowest-scoring avatar was that stupid cunt Ayn Rand, while I scored a hundred percent match with... the Epicureans!

Well, it makes some sense: " The sage who has a crust of bread, said Epicurus, has no reason to envy Zeus." And so say I.
FROM THE SUBLIME TO THE RIDICULOUS. Baseball fans will enjoy these sports- and sports-promo-writing catastrophes astutely noted by Wrapped Up Like a Douche.

Mentally retarded sociopaths will enjoy "Saddam Now Supporting Howard Dean" which, while a total loss as satire, gives a clear example of the current Bush political strategery.
BUT WE'RE NOT GOING TO SIT HERE AND LISTEN TO YOU BADMOUTH THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA! In the 1980s, John Podhoretz wrote for the Moonie magazine Insight a film column that featured a little meter, on which he rated the political content of current movies on a left-to-right scale -- presumably to spare his subscribers, even in their unguarded leisure hours, exposure to modes of thought unapproved by Arnaud de Borchgrave.

Excellent training as these ideological cat's-cradles may have been for, say, a potential Ministry of Propaganda functionary, they seem to have left Podhoretz ill-equipped to judge the speech and actions of real people.

In today's New York Post, Podhoretz considers Howard Dean's recent foreign policy speech, and denounces it. The odd thing is that he doesn't overtly disapprove of much that Dean had to say. The Doctor and the Spin Doctor disagree on Iraq, of course, but in the main, Podhoretz admits that "Dean actually sounded rather belligerent" -- that's always a plus wih conservatives, isn't it? -- and that Dean seems "a big fan of American military action in every case he could name except where Iraq is concerned."

Yet Podhoretz ends by saying that Dean "is still the right candidate for a pacifist and the wrong person for the Oval Office." Why? Because Podhoretz doesn't believe Dean means what he says:'s a relief to hear that the man who is the most likely Democrat to go on and garner a minimum of 40 million votes in November 2004 understands the importance of our commitment to the military. Or, at least, understands the importance of lip service... as is increasingly the case with Dean, his assertion is a little hard to believe. (Italics added)

And how does Podhoretz know that Dean is a liar? Because he can't find any evidence that Dean isn't lying... and in this case the burden of proof lies not with the accuser but with Dean, because he comes from (cue scary music) New England:
There is no contemporaneous record anywhere in the comprehensive Nexis database to prove that Dean supported the 1991 war against Saddam or U.S. efforts in the Balkans. Given that only two moderate Democrats from New England in Congress voted for the first Gulf War -- Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut and then-Rep. Dick Swett of New Hampshire -- I hope I may be forgiven for feeling skeptical about Dean's sudden protestation of his hawkishness toward Saddam Hussein.

In the spirit of this astonishing bit of "logic," I hope I may be forgiven for doubting that John Podhoretz was ever against tying black people to trucks and dragging them to their deaths. And I have proof! I Googled "tying black people to trucks and dragging them to their deaths" and "John Podhoretz," and came up with nothing!

Are we going to let this advocate of tying black people to trucks and dragging them to their deaths pull the wool over our eyes? Let me get my meter!

Monday, December 15, 2003

THE VERY LATEST THING IN TRAITOR-BAITING. Tacitus: "I don't see any Democrat -- save perhaps Wesley Clark -- whose election will do anything but harm the war on terror. There, I said it."

But he makes a little joke in the next graf and in comments ("I'm just doing my best to fulfill the stereotype"), signaling that if you take exception to his statement, you're just being a humorless liberal scold.

Which is kind of like some guy saying in a light, laughing voice that he's going to kick you in the nuts, and then kicking you in the nuts.

Will they fall for it? What won't they fall for?

UPDATE. Talked to T and he says I have him all wrong. As he is a gentleman, I am obliged to believe him. The rest of you may make your own judgments. It may be that I get oversensitive when opponents, however worthy, tell me that my candidates will "harm the war on terror." (Yeah, and that's why I'm supporting them -- I hate this fucking country and want it to lose to militant Islam, which totally rocks!)

Well, the accommodations are decent. The staff here is curt and sometimes a little snide, but in general they treat me OK. The cell is clean and the food, while unimaginative, is hot and nutritious.

After all those months on the lam, frankly, that's a relief. Life underground was no bed of roses, let me tell you. I had always imagined that, if I had to return to the life of deprivation I knew as a boy, it would be a cleansing experience, sort of like fasting. I told myself that it would revive my natural killer instincts. (Don't laugh. Putting people in a shredder isn't the same thing as hand-to-hand fighting.) Down in the valley, scrambling from house to house, my pistol at the ready -- that's adventure! I figured I might even lose a little of that "palace flab" I'd picked up during the fat years.

I guess that's why I was so glib about the invasion. My people thought I was being brave, but I was really being reckless. I had gotten sick of thinking about how it would go when it all came down, and I wanted to get it over with. Or rather, to get on with it.

Of course, when Baghdad fell, I saw very quickly that I had been romanticizing way too much. My flight was mostly tedious and exhausting. For the first little while I was in shock, and after the boys got killed, I hardly knew who I was anymore. (Maybe that's why I was so hard to catch!)

My natural instincts did come back to me -- but not the ones I'd expected. Mostly I felt fear. I hadn't felt that -- not really -- since I was a child. When I joined the Ba'ath Party, when I became an assassin, I'd said goodbye to fear, because I fully expected to be killed at any moment. But when I was a boy, especially right after I moved in with my uncle, any little thing would scare me: howling wolves, thunderstorms. Now, lying flat under a blanket on the backseats of old cars, my ears cocked for American accents, I felt again the quivering fear of uncertainty.

But that passed, you know, just before they got me. I had a feeling it would all be over soon, and it made things much easier to bear. I wouldn't say I was at peace, quite, but I didn't worry so much.

Now I've just had my first really good night's sleep in a while, despite the fluorescent light that's always on here. Already I'm feeling stronger. This afternoon I think I'll start exercising.

I'm turning my attention to the trial. I feel pretty confident. Whether they hold it in Den Hague or Baghdad, I know the Americans will be running the show. And that's my ace in the hole. Because anxious as they are to dispatch me, they also want something that only I can give them. Wouldn't they love it if I would tell the world that I had weapons of mass destruction out the yin-yang? Or that I was the real mastermind behind 9/11? (Of course it would be very hard to make these things sound plausible, but I'll leave it to their people to invent something -- they're experts at it.) How much would Bush be willing to give me for that -- especially in October? Life in prison would be sweeter than the hangman's noose, especially if my friends can get some of that cash I made off with into the right hands.

And I do want to stick around awhile. There's no telling what the next few years will bring. When the Americans get sick of running my country, when Chalabi and the other puppets lose favor, who knows but that they might not come running to me again? Stranger things have happened. Rumsfeld may yet turn up to shake my hand one more time.

But if it doesn't work out -- eh. All told, I've had a pretty good run for a farm boy. I've done a few things I'm not proud of, but who hasn't? As for posterity, let the world turn a few more times and then we'll see. They want to make my country a laboratory for what they call a Western-style democracy. It's all bullshit, of course, but if my people decide to take it seriously, they'll start thinking about how much oil they're sitting on top of and what kind of power it represents. I assure you Assad and Khatami and the rest of them are already thinking about it. Then the Americans may wind up wishing they had me around to run the torture chambers again.

Well, no sense working myself up about it. The army barber is coming soon to shave me. Perhaps I can get them to give me a TV. If not, there's always writing. Maybe I'll work on an autobiography. Allah knows, I've no end of stories.

Friday, December 12, 2003

Last month, the U.S. Labor Department in Washington said that employers added a net 126,000 payroll jobs in October. In all, the economy has added 286,000 positions over the last three months -- the best showing since early 2001.

But 2.4 million more jobs would be needed to regain all the ground lost since March 2001, when the last recession began. When, or even if, those positions will come back is far from clear.

Here's the problem: Many companies like the notion of a jobless recovery. The leaner they can keep their U.S. payrolls -- by using overtime, automating the production process and outsourcing jobs overseas -- the higher their profits.

See, businesses aspire to increase their profits, and if they can earn more while paying fewer people, they will. That's what drives productivity up.

Yet more and more, Bush apologists act as if productivity jumps were caused by increased self-esteem. Here's former GE head Jack Welch -- previously known as a hard-headed businessman -- telling reporters to stop talking down our Tinkerbell recovery:
Not only can millions of hardworking people celebrate -- they should. They've earned the right. That's why we can't rain all over their efforts --their motivation and innovative spirit and can-do attitudes. Those good feelings, as any economist will tell you, are key drivers of company productivity and consumer confidence. The fact is a recovery will be a lot harder if we keep saying "but" about damn good news. (Italics mine.)

"As any economist will tell you?" Sure, maybe after three hours of open bar at an AEI dinner, one of them will slur, "Yeah, it's all a buncha bullshit, who knows what makes the economy work, I sure as hell don't." But does Welch really think that happy thoughts are what squeeze extra juice out of the American worker? (Also, does he think we really "celebrate" increased productivity? Maybe he saw some white-collar slaves slogging to the bar after an 18-hour day to get drunk and pass out, and thought, "Oh look -- they're celebrating!)

Isn't there something screwy here? Liberals -- allegedly airy, unrealistic, pie-in-the-sky sorts -- are patiently pointing out the common-sense fact that increased productivity will not necessarily boost employment, and may actually depress it, while conservatives -- allegedly the tough, practical, businesslike "grown-ups" -- are asking us to clap our hands if we believe.