Friday, April 30, 2004

SHORTER JIM LILEKS: After we kick their ass, American liberals will hook up with Al Qaeda. And it's all my fault because I wasn't right-wing in college, for which crime I now atone by cooking up this psychotic fantasy.
CF. LAST POST. In case you were wondering whether I meant that only Christians are addicted to self-referential insularity, here's Hugh Hewitt, fave of right-wing blowhards, suggesting that new LA Times editorial page editor Michael Kinsley (!) hire or retain, in order, Roger L. Simon, Patt Morrison, Susan Estrich, Laura Ingrahm, Max Boot, Jim Lileks, and Mickey Kaus -- wingnuts all, except Morrison (whom Hewitt proposes to "keep LA's hard left happy") and the feeble Estrich.

"I haven't nominated any African-Americans or Latinos or Asian-Americans," says Hewitt, "but I know the folks Janet has pressed into service over the years just don't have the stuff to attract a crowd."

Then Hewitt says of Kinsley's new bailiwick, "It is so irrelevant that few even bother to complain anymore, or even to read it because it just doesn't matter."

See what I mean?

Thursday, April 29, 2004

ELOQUENCE. I've been listening for the three hundredth time or so to Dylan's Slow Train Coming. One might imagine that, with all my harsh words for Jesus freaks, I wouldn't be into it at all. Not so. I have contempt for the idiotic, true, and a lot of Christer blather is worse than idiotic, incoherent, derivative, and absurd, however deeply it is felt.

But I appreciate anything eloquent, and old Bob is crystal clear and compelling in these songs. "How long can you falsify and deny what you feel?" he sings, and I have to listen and nod. "Sheiks walking around like kings," he roars, "wearing gold watches and nose rings/deciding America's future from Amsterdam and Paris," and I have to hear that, too, despite my predilections, so eloquently he does put it.

Dylan has been a star for about forty years. He knows something.

Part of what he knows, being an astute pop critic as well as a pop producer, is that he must help unreceptive listeners like me, too, not just converts, by defusing the political crud that has accrued to much modern J-freak talk ("Karl Marx has got you by the throat, and Henry Kissinger has got you tied into knots"). Note that he isn't betraying his cause here -- only a Ned Flanders would imagine that. He's just hunting where the ducks are. You win followers not by telling them how wrong they are, but how right they might be.

This leads me to one of my longtime semi-guilty pleasures, Roger Ebert's "Great Movies" at the Chicago Sun-Times site.

For a long time I considered Ebert, as Matt Groening did in his "Life in Hell" series, a "TV clown" with "nice sweaters." But Ebert has put in hard work over many years (did you know he co-wrote "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls" and "The Great Rock-and-Roll Swindle"?). And, unlike some longtime filmdom hangers-on, such as Rex Reed, Ebert has been serious about what he's doing throughout, and whatever you think about his contemporaneous reviews, his devotion to the art of film is obvious in these long essays on those movies that have excited his deepest interest.

Despite his exalted position as the go-to guy for late night talk show hosts seeking a telegenic movie reviewer, Ebert's "Great Movies" list is pretty idiosyncratic. There are expected choices (Citizen Kane, Some Like It Hot, The Searchers), some more adventuresome ones (JFK, Stroszek, Fall of the House of Usher), and some that seem either premature or plain crack-brained to me (Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia, Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Body Heat). But Ebert makes a passionate and (that word again) eloquent case for each. He is as diligent about unearthing, unveiling, and explicating what he considers the sublimnities of Alien as of The Bicycle Thief.

Look at some of what he offers in defense of a film I have always liked but never remotely considered "great," Patton:
Scott's performance is not one-level but portrays a many-layered man who desires to appear one-level. Instead of adding tiresome behavioral touches, he allows us small glimpses of what may be going on inside. Having made a fetish of bravery, he obtains a dog that is terrified most of the time, and affectionately drags the cowardly beast wherever he goes...

The most famous scene is the first one, Patton mounting a stage to address his troops from in front of an American flag that fills the huge 70-mm screen. His speech is unapologetically bloodthirsty ("We will cut out their living guts and use them to grease the treads of our tanks"). His uniform and decorations, ribbons and medals, jodhpurs and riding boots and swagger stick fall just a hair short of what Groucho Marx might have worn. Scott's great nose could be the beak of an American Eagle. The closing shot is the other side of the coin, a graying and lonely old man, walking his dog. Even then, we suspect, Patton is acting. But does he know it?
Here Ebert does what critics from the time of Dryden has been supposed to do but only rarely achieve: make us re-examine something with which we have supposed ourselves familiar, to see the deep, deliberate craft and (sometimes) genius of which our pleasure is built. And that makes us more receptive to whatever new pleasures to which he might alert us

I know Ebert is well-publicized, but I have to believe that his staying power as America's favorite film critic is primarily sustained by his actual effort at his real job.

To get back to Christianity again, I have heard many of its advocates refer to Chesterton, for example, as a kind of private totem, not as a subject or even an object that those beyond their own little club might appreciate. I have read Chesterton's Father Brown stories with great pleasure and, as a former Catholic who is still attracted to Christian morality, I should think these guys would want to engage me, either as an apt target for conversion or as a good and intelligent person with whom to discuss the subject. Yet most of what I see from them is insular, self-directed back-patting. They gather in self-selected communities like Crosswalk, where they talk about coverting overseas Muslims while consigning their fellow citizens to hell.

This might also serve as a lesson to Democrats -- one that they are better situated to avail, given their widespread support and genuine connection with possible constituents. The job, as I see it, is not to "energize the base," as the repulsive modern term has it, but to explain the cause to the unconvinced. This does not, as some might think, require dumbing-down or misrepresentation, but unceasing labor at the task of making oneself clear.

This is not about spin -- this is about eloquence. If you believe what you're saying, and have an interest in communicating it to others, your task is not to sugar-coat or misdirect. Leave that wasteful, self-defeating work to the bastards you're running against. Tell the truth and, by assiduous application, make it shine. The victories, as Dylan and Ebert have shown, will come.
BLACK LIKE ME. Some quotes of the day, from an observer of the new production of A Raisin in the Sun:
Shall we, as black Americans, assimilate and become like white Americans? Can we turn back to our African roots to find the truth of our people?...

When the character based on Lorraine Hansbury breaks out in a tribal dance we didn't just laugh with delight, we hooted and hollered.
The author is Crazy Jesus Lady, who looks pretty damn white on TV and in her Wall Street Journal stipple portrait, but what do I know?

Anyway, she is justly proud to see a lot of new people -- her people, one imagines -- in a Broadway audience: "The audience was alive. It was so moving and got me kind of choked. I thought, Maybe this is like what it was like when Shakespeare wrote, 'You tell him, Romeo -- Juliet no, don't!'" (I assume she wrote "Juliet, no you didn't!" but the typesetters mistranslated, not being as fluent as she in black idiomatic speech.)

But later CJL has less fun at the show. "I was startled," she writes (or, should I say, hollas). "I turned to my friend. 'We have just witnessed a terrible cultural moment,' I said. 'Don't I know it,' he responded." The cause: audience members applauded a character's announced intention to have an abortion. Of course it's a strange reaction under the circumstances, and I would be inclined to endorse (or, should I say, give mad props to) CJL's attentiveness to the play's spirit. But it turns out it's the audience's support for abortion, not its reading of the text, that startles her, and she lashes out (or, should I say, goes off) on the "moral dullards" of whom she was previously deceived into approving just because their skin was the same color as hers.

Finally she has a request for her readers (or, should I say, for her peops):
...see this great play, and when the moment comes that the young woman announces she might end the life of the child she is carrying, that you would sit quietly and think about what that moment means. And if anyone cheers or hoots or hollers [sic], give them a look. Let them see your silence. Lead with it. Help the people around you realize: Something big is being spoken of here. And we know what it is. And it is nothing good.
Heretofore I have spoken of this woman's mad propensity for angry stares at blameless people, but I will refrain now. What do I know of the strain she's under as a black woman in this society?
FROM L.A. TO FALLUJAH. General Ralph "Blood 'n' Guts" Peters continues to hold the hard line, calling for Wyatt Earp and/or Rudy Giuliani to ride into Fallujah and tame them Ayrab varmints:
If any adult touches a damaged or destroyed U.S. military vehicle, he must be shot. Start with a one-week warning period to get out the new rules. Then execute. The Iraqis playing trampoline on the hoods of our charred vehicles aren't the ones who will build a better future.

As for the juvies, send them to reformatory camps. No exceptions, even if daddy's the Sheik of Araby.
He also wants to shoot looters, natch.

This kind of thing is Peters' raw meat and blood-infused potatoes: witness his 1996 article, "Our Soldiers, Their Cities," on urban warfare:
The future of warfare lies in the streets, sewers, high-rise buildings, industrial parks, and the sprawl of houses, shacks, and shelters that form the broken cities of our world. We will fight elsewhere, but not so often, rarely as reluctantly, and never so brutally. Our recent military history is punctuated with city names -- Tuzla, Mogadishu, Los Angeles, Beirut, Panama City, Hue, Saigon, Santo Domingo -- but these encounters have been but a prologue, with the real drama still to come. [italics added]
The name "Los Angeles" pops out because General suggests training elite street-fighting units in actual American cities:
Why build that which already exists? In many of our own blighted cities, massive housing projects have become uninhabitable and industrial plants unusable. Yet they would be nearly ideal for combat-in-cities training. While we could not engage in live-fire training (even if the locals do), we could experiment and train in virtually every other regard. Development costs would be a fraction of the price of building a "city" from scratch, and city and state governments would likely compete to gain a US Army (and Marine) presence, since it would bring money, jobs, and development -- as well as a measure of social discipline.
Of course, since then Starbucks and gentrification have stolen the General's march, which may be why he is so eager to experiment in Fallujah. If he can't "discipline" American city-dwellers, for the time being he'll settle for Iraqis.

I recommend the whole 1996 article, which has many undoubtedly sound suggestions, as well as this interesting bit of speculative quartermastering: "Eventually, we may have individual-soldier tactical equipment that can differentiate between male and female body heat distributions and that will even be able to register hostility and intent from smells and sweat." I wouldn't be surprised if General Peters already had this capacity.

But there is plenty to enjoy in the General's more recent article. My favorite passage is this:
I still believe that most Iraqis want democracy -- in some adjusted form that gives them a voice in their country's affairs.
Hey, how do we get that "adjusted form" of democracy?
EXCITING NEW IDEAS. Zell Miller, favorite Democrat of people who hate Democrats, proposes that the 17th Amendment be overturned and the right to directly elect Senators removed from ordinary Joes like us. It's nothing personal, Miller assures the populace: "The individuals are not so much at fault as the rotten and decaying foundation of what is no longer a republic." (Link via Atrios.)

I guess that, considering the numerous other Constitutional Amendments that have been proposed by George W. Bush in recent years, we might consider Donald Wildmon's proposed Bill to "nullify the authority of federal courts to make judgments regarding the public display of the Ten Commandments, the National Motto and the Pledge of Allegiance" a moderate gesture, because (as his website proudly announces) "no Constitutional Amendment is needed."

That folks whose power is near absolute are so eager to expand it, even into the roots of our Government, does not amaze me, as I was not born very recently. I do worry that younger people might imagine that this is the normal way of doing things. Perhaps in the future, national party platforms will come with proposed alternate Constitutions, and a pledge to implement them. By then I expect voting will be handled much as it is on American Idol, which may speed passage of Bills, Amendments, Recalls, and Hot-or-Not plebescites.

I'd say the triumph of consumerism has been underestimated.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

LIT CORNER: CRY ME A RIVER. I've been reading The Late George Apley, which I understand to be out of print. (That endears it to me, as does the fact that, in the old Modern Library edition I'm reading, the word "role" is printed with a circumflex over the o, thus: rôle.) It's a great pleasure, and makes good use of that old standby of English Lit classes, the unreliable narrator (a device which some of us, e.g. Whit Stillman, have been educated to notice).

This puts me in mind of a more recent, popular unreliable-narrator novel, The Remains of the Day. The more I read the Marquand, the more I'm convinced Ishiguro was inspired by it, though I've never heard that he admitted it.

There are a lot of things I like about Remains of the Day, not least that the author had the nerve to plant toward its end a sure-fire tear-jerking moment, which is utterly lost in the movie version. The butler Stevens has been a complete stick throughout the book, observing from a seemingly distant remove the loss of his father, his beloved Miss Kenton, and the English Empire, with a sangfroid that must seem frustratingly ridiculous to moderns (the Time review of the movie had an appropriately glib title: "I say, Jeeves, bit of a wasted life, what?").

Late in the story the aged Stevens has the opportunity to meet with the long-married Miss Kenton (now Mrs. Benn), and to at last venture to tell her, in the rain at a bus-stop, that he has been unhappy and that he notices her unhappiness as well. Mrs. Benn admits that she has sometimes thought of a better life that she might have had -- "a life I might have had with you" -- but that over the years she has learned to content herself with her lot.

Stevens then tells us:
I do not think I responded immediately, for it took me a moment or two to fully digest these words of Miss Kenton. Moreover, as you might appreciate, these words were such as to provoke a certain degree of sorrow within me. Indeed -- why should I not admit it? -- at that moment, my heart was breaking.
I remember reading that, years ago, seated in a steel chair in the sunny Worldwide Plaza near 49th Street, and bursting into helpless tears. I still sniffle a little to think of it.

And this makes me think: what art makes people cry anymore? There are a lot of old movies that can still make me cry: Broken Blossoms, City Lights, Casablanca, Young Mr. Lincoln, and (perhaps harder to understand, but still it moves me) WR: Mysteries of the Organism.

It's not just old movies, either. Dickens, contra Wilde's great crack about Little Nell, can still set me blubbering. Regard with dry eyes, if you can, the death of Jo in Bleak House. Nabakov used to read that passage out loud to his students at Cornell, and afterwards observe, "This is a lesson in style, not in participative emotion" -- a comment that would not have been necessary if the scene were not literally pathetic.

For that matter, while I feel shielded by years of experience and layers of irony from jukebox weepers like "Teen Angel," Joan Morris' version of the ancient parlor song "After the Ball" still rouses in me some absurd sorrow for the lonely maiden.

Do any new songs do that? Does any new anything do that? I can't imagine a writer of this moment in any medium trying or expecting or seeing the point in making his auditors "get out the handkerchiefs," as they used to say. I suppose some TV shows try for this effect, but I can't imagine that they achieve more than a nodding acknowledgement that what they've portrayed is "sad."

Am I wrong? Do people make "weepers" anymore? If so, what are they?
SHORTER PAT BUCHANAN: You must choose: Mel Gibson, or Satan.
ON THE SIDE OF THE ANGELS. At The Corner, Ned Flanders (under his nom de plume, Rod Dreher) reports via a friend that "there are Canadian Christians who are considering emigrating to the United States out of fear of what's going to become of them given the current trends in their homeland."

(And if they're thinking of coming to the U.S., things must be bad in the Great White North, because, as Flanders himself has reported, "our news media, through heavily biased reporting and analysis, are turning significant numbers of American voters against religious conservatives and are delegitimizing the place believers have made for themselves at the table.")

The source of the panic appears to be Bill C-250, which will add "sexual orientation" to the bases of "hate propaganda," outlawed by Canada's Criminal Code ("Every one who advocates or promotes genocide is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years").

As a member in good standing of the Inner Party, I know it will be uncontroversial among my Satan-worshipping, baby-killing, book-reading circle when I say that the whole idea of hate-speech censorship is entirely bogus, and that adding a new group to the Index is just making a bad thing worse.

There -- with one stroke, I have offered Flanders and his fellow Christers more support than has his NRO editor, Jonah "I do like censorship. I wish there was more of it" Goldberg.

And a lot of thanks I'll get for it, I'm sure

Sunday, April 25, 2004

UPPING THE ANTI. Roger L. Simon rags on Kerry's evasive answers about his medals. I don't much fault guys like Simon for piling onto this, and Mrs. Kerry's Audi, and all that stuff -- it's politics, not beanbag, and Lord knows character assassination is about the strongest arrow in the Bushites' quiver right now.

But in spinning out his theme, Simon goes this bridge too far:
Now I was a war protestor then and, as I have written earlier, I have mixed feelings about those (like Kerry) who claimed to have opposed the war in those days and then went. There were plenty of ways, especially for those in Kerry's economic class, to have avoided it, even if that meant moving to Canada to preserve their ideals, which many did. So the message to me about the Senator has always been one of weakness of character (not physical bravery, which he apparently had), of moral confusion. Sure he's entitled to have changed his opinion or to have made mistakes. Everyone has. But in this era, more perilous to our country and the world than any since World War II, who wants someone in the White House who doesn't take responsibility for his actions?
You have to hand it to Simon. Heretofore the Bushites have been trying to neutralize Kerry's wartime experience by focusing on his antiwar comments after the fact. But Simon steals a march and suggests that Kerry's military service is itself proof of his "weakness of character," "moral confusion," and (my favorite) inability to "take responsibility for his actions."

I'm not suprised by much anymore, but Simon caught me off guard here. Maybe we should start handing out awards for this sort of thing.
WISHING IT INTO THE CORNFIELD. Roger Ailes (the non-evil one) points to Corrente, who succinctly addresses the tsimmis over flag-draped coffins:
So why is it OK for Bush to run a campaign ad of rescue workers taking a flag-draped coffin out of the WTC ruins, and it's not OK for our free press to run a picture of a flag-draped coffin coming back from Iraq?
Curiously (or not so curiously, if you're of a suspicious turn of mind), as these ads are making news, we have been treated to a wave of Insta-ganda about how some newspapers have mistakenly shown non-Iraq-related FDCs in their Iraq stories.

The implication would seem to be that all images of FDCs are tainted; and, in the manner of creation scientists, we may discount this seemingly hard evidence of the human cost of our Iraq adventure, and reasonably assume that the casualties did not come home to mourning friends and loved ones at all, but ascended Rapturously into heaven, giving the thumbs-up as they went.

I noted this strategy back in October 2001, when Zev Chafets bade Americans use their channel flippers as "a tool of modern warfare... that obliterates one of the enemy's main weapons with a single click" by steering sentimental viewers away from visuals of war carnage that might soften their resolve. Looks like the playbook has not been much revised since then.
MORE SILVER LININGS. The Red Sox have won a pair against the Yankees, dropping the hubriscious Bombers to 8-10. I think the Yankees will do much better down the stretch, particularly if Mussina and Contreras come around, but after what seemed like months of A-Rod promo, I confess it does my heart good to see them stumble a bit out of the gate.

We Mets fans have been through this many times: our benighted front office regularly drops a bundle on big names like Bonilla, Saberhagen, and Glavine, only to learn (or, rather, not learn) that the best teams are grown, not purchased. The Mets have about $35 million less than Steinbrenner does to spend on players, but if they had an organization like the Yankees have had over the past ten years, that wouldn't look so bad on them.

Mets fans are used to this, but Yankees fans haven't had to face it in quite some time. Longtime Pinstripe followers will bear this whiff of home truth with grace and wisdom, and if it softens the barroom bellowing of some yuppie whose fandom is, like his taste for $20 cigars, based on the notion that nothing but the best is good enough for him, well, we all have to grow up sometime.

My boys don't look too good right now, either, but their pitching is strong (even Glavine's!) and that bodes well. If it all falls to shit, we've eaten enough dirt in recent years that the taste of a little more won't crush us.
"MAN, YOU FELLAHS GOT A WORD FOR EVERYTHING." Thanks, Tbogg, for pointing out this photo funny. Laughter -- the best medicine, barring regime change.

Saturday, April 24, 2004

IT'S AN ILL WIND THAT BLOWS NO ONE SOME GOOD. "There are times when I regret leaving NYC for the heartland," sniffs Cornerite Ned Flanders. "This is not one of them." He refers to two obstreperous homosexuals who performed sex acts in a Central Park tree for hours before Emergency Services coaxed them down.

The New York Post's coverage of this event is very nice:
...Firefighters set up an inflatable rescue mattress around the base of the tree, where the pair had left their clothes and a plastic bag filled with what cops called an assortment of drugs.

The Parks Department sent in two cherry-picker trucks. Emergency Service Unit cops ascended in harnesses. Police hostage negotiators recorded their demands: One Diet Vanilla Pepsi...

Both were heard shouting that they have AIDS and that their parents disapproved of them. Both remained uncooperative -- except, and apparently to an extreme, with each other. Even the Pepsi bottle was flung back down.

The two finally boughed out of their misadventure at around 8:30 p.m.

"We thought it was an ecological statement for Earth Day, but it's just transvestites," said Brian Mallard, 26, of Long Island City.
Me, I got pure delight from this story. And I'm delighted as well that events such as this (and the strain, apparently, of "riding the NYC subway daily, and having to live with fear and loathing of the violent, profane and altogether anti-social teenagers who make public spaces here their playpens") keep the annoying Flanders out of town. We have too many rubes in this burg as it is.

In fact, from August 30 to September 2, we will have way too many of them. Perhaps at that time we citizens of Sodom should gather for a massive, public, drug- and Diet Vanilla Pepsi-fueled orgy, and purge the place of these weenies for good.

Friday, April 23, 2004

GRUMPY OLD MEN. At OpinionJournal Daniel Henninger devotes an entire, lengthy column to how there's so many swears on the TV these days and in his day they had Rod Serling and nobody used swears. Really, that's all it's about. A web outlet of the mighty Wall Street Journal is now running copy that sounds as if it originated with your cranky grandmother while she was off her meds, then was run through some kind of language software with the "pomposity" setting turned on High.

Meanwhile in Jasperwood Lileks complains of ennui, which is interesting considering what he wrote the day before. That session started promisingly enough, with a happy reverie about old-fashioned newspapering, "when movies regularly showed newspapers as things that spun like propellers before stopping at a jaunty angle," and the papers had great headlines like KILLER GETS DEATH, which Lileks repeated, again in all caps, adding the gloss, "Off to Old Sparky within the month." He seemed as happy as a teenage boy with a jar of Vaseline.

But then a housewife in a commercial behaved in a manner Lileks found insubordinate. This got him screaming BITCH, again in all caps, and reeling into a Kim Du Toit-style monologue:
it’s something I notice in ads: Guys Dumb, Girls Competent and Patiently Enduring Guys’ Thickheadedness. In the bad old days, in the era of spinning newspapers, it was the other way around -- the frails were dizzy flighty creatures who required an iron infusion of masculine common sense. Now the guys in ads all act like boys in a state of eternally attenuated adolescence, and they require partners who channel their inner Mom to whip them into shape.
He then announced he would amplify on this theme in his next installment. This morning I leapt out of bed and ran to my computer, only to learn that Lileks is too tired to write anything for us except one of those half-hearted Family Circus re-enactments. Little bitch.

Refresh my memory: aren't conservatives supposed to be the hip, fun kids?

Thursday, April 22, 2004

APPETITE FOR DESTRUCTION. I didn't post at all yesterday, partly because the violence in Iraq and Saudi Arabia dispirited me. 68 dead in Basra, four dead in Riyadh, hundreds wounded... it really put me off my feed.

Such atrocities seem to have the opposite effect on Mark Steyn, currently represented by a column called "Mideast Instability? Bring It On":
... The fetishization of stability was a big part of the problem. Falling for the Moussa line would give us another 25 years of the ayatollahs... Washington apparently reached the same conclusion -- that anything was better than the status quo. Or, as Thomas Friedman put it in The New York Times this weekend, "President Bush has stepped in and thrown the whole frozen Middle East chessboard up in the air"...

...If all else fails, then a modified Sam Goldwyn philosophy will do: I'm sick of the old despots, bring me some new despots...

...In Iraq, Libya, Iran, Syria, and elsewhere, the old Middle East is dying, and what replaces it can only be better.
I try to downplay the personal/political axis that animates so much of our discourse these days, but maybe there is a tempermental difference between liberals and conservatives.
ABUSING THE INFOSLAVES. The Cornerites have been beating up librarians and their protective association for opposing the Patriot Act. At one point Jonah Goldberg hauls out one of The Corner's patented anonymous letters, this one purported to be from an actual librarian:
...The dirty secret that no ones wants to own up to about this profession is that it really isn't a profession at all, certainly not in the way lawyers or doctors or engineers use the term. It's more like a trade that any intelligent 20 year old could be trained to do in 6 months... The leftists at the ALA just can't stand that fact that some right wing tax payer would have the gall to object to his or her tax dollars being used to purchase books that they object to (Heather Has Two Daddies, etc.). What they really object to of course is having someone question their "professional" judgment...
One wonders if this is a working librarian speaking. In any case, I'm not sure Goldberg, were he thinking (and what are the odds), would have been so eager to take us down this road.

All of us not suffering from gargantuan self-hatred have some notion that our work is useful, else how could we stand it day after day? (I drink, but that's no recommendation.) Generally speaking, those who are least well-paid (e.g., teachers, soldiers, librarians) are partially recompensed for their poverty with praise for their value to society. If we tell our low-wage info workers that they're just a lot of crybabies who could be easily replaced by high-school graduates, and that their ALA and their MLA and all that is just a bunch of bullshit, what response should we expect? "By God, you're right -- accept my apology and cut my pay"? Or more resentment, a more deeply wounding sense of injustice, and much more resistance all along the line?

I mean, look what such heapings of abuse have done to Goldberg and his brethren. They grow more belligerent and tiresome with each post. Though this may simply be the result of declining mental powers, or of the increasingly stale air in their bunker, I think it may be that some of us have wounded their pride. Maybe if we treated them, and all aggrieved parties, with more kindness, our frail polity might get a chance to heal.

You go first.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

ONE OF 'EM LIKES TO PUSH A PLOW/THE OTHER LIKES TO MILK A COW/BUT THAT STILL AIN'T NO REASON THEY CAN'T BE FRIENDS. Here's another thread at Kevin Drum's site about the difference between liberals and conservatives, a theme which increasingly resembles a Jeff Foxworthy routine:
So what we're left with is little more than conservatives who are appalled with liberalism and liberals who are appalled by conservatism. There's really not much of a vision on either side, unless you consider tearing down the last 60 years of social progress a vision.
Well, actually, I think that is the vision... But then, I'm a liberal and by this philosophy I must despise conservatives reflexively. Sigh. You can't win.

I do believe our discourse is brackish, and it does make sense to observe, as one commentor did, that "It is easy to find that core values [for both camps] are remarkably similar: desire for a good life, friends, viable income to support a family, and a place in community." But as long as each side suspects the other of trying to take those things away from it, we're going to have ugly fights. That most of them don't rise to the level of reasoned argument doesn't mean that they all proceed from unreason. It just means that our schools suck and that we are lazy in the brains.

BTW, at the same forum, one of my old bugbears (the idea, not the person) comes up:
I like my liberal friends, but they are most uncurious and not inclined to explore other views.
In the interests of harmony, I will only wonder whether, not assert that, it is a central tenet of conservativism that you can have a healthy relationship with someone you don't respect.
BITTER ENDERS. A surprisingly moody post by Tacitus (go here and scroll down to "Reprint," April 18), with this money graf:
Retroactive nonsupport does not imply present-day loss of nerve; similarly, just because cause X produced effect Y, it does not follow that cause Y will always result. The Iraqi debacle does not discredit the reverse-domino notion; it does not discredit the idea of societal change via military force; and it does not discredit the notion of unilateral American action. It only discredits the idea of doing these things badly. Keep that in mind.
There seems to be more of this sort of thing coming from war supporters nowadays (from responsible war supporters, I mean -- the idiot kind do not acknowledge any difficulties whatever). Unfortunately, what their admissions boil down to is this: "Just because we were wrong doesn't mean we were wrong."

In a strange way, the 9/11 Commission, however blackly it is painted by its critics, has given those Bushites with chilling feet an opportunity to question the execution, rather than the idea, of the invasion and occupation. With so many kinks in the system, one can after all say: there, that's what went wrong -- a hamungadunga in the whatchamacallit; thus were all our sound plans waylaid!

This musters in such folks the old-fashioned American never-say-die spirit. Back to the drawing board. This time for sure. Declare Chapter 11 (or June 30) and move on.

Likewise the absurd level of optimism in which they engaged last year also provides them with an out. They were only wrong, they can insist, to think it would be easy; and the fact that it is hard merely makes it more of a challenge from which, being American, we will not shrink.

In fact, these difficulties they have only recently begun to acknowledge have also given them an excuse to cast off the laurels, and responsibilities, of the liberator. Already silver linings are being envisioned in Fallujah that could not have been mentioned back when we were first decided that, in the absence of WMDs, we had done it all for the Iraqi children. Now Andrew Sullivan rejoices: We killed ten of them to every one of ours! And soon our enemies will be brought to heel -- for their own good, but mostly for ours.

To some extent I welcome this shift. I have long said that I care much less about the people of Iraq -- even the photogenic children -- than I do about the people of the United States. Back when we were liberators, this made me seem cruel. Now I'm on my way back in the mainstream, which is a relief.

My remaining worries hinge on the next stage of the all-embracing yet undefined War on Terror. If these guys really think we did great except for the execution, I'm afraid they're likely to say, on to Syria -- and this time we do it right!

...BEFORE THE TRUTH PUTS ON ITS BOOTS. Ned Flanders has gotten the word: Orson Scott Card's cover as a "blue dog Democrat," not a "conservative," must be maintained. "My sci-fi fan friend... must only be sending me the right-wing stuff" from Card's oeuvre, explains Flanders. Um, that's because that's all there is, Neddy. See here.

Monday, April 19, 2004

LILEKS UPDATE. Today he takes Andrew Sullivan to task for proposing a gas tax. To my great disappointment, he does not do so on the grounds that Sullivan's homosexuality makes his argument intrinsically inferior to any heterosexual counterpart -- not this time, anyway.

On the other hand, he does suggest that the cultural "rot" he recently traced back to Guy de Maupassant can also be found in dictionaries ("You have to love [definition] #3, eh? The rot goes deep"). Who knows where Jimbo will discern the rot next? ("In 1713 it turned up in Sicily... in 1840 it reappeared in Paris...") They may find the poor devil poking at his cellar walls at 3 a.m., marvelling at the depth of the rot.
ANOTHER REASON TO BE GLAD YOU'RE A LIBERAL. The doofi at The Corner are fussing over whether it's okay for conservatives to like School of Rock. I shit you not.

Keep this and other similarly moronic discussions in mind next time any of these clowns says word one about other people's Political Correctness.
FROM THE LAND OF THE MONKEY TRIAL. Hey, remember last April when Professor Reynolds was rhapsodizing Iraqi children giving flowers to Marines?

My what a difference a year makes:
...dividing Iraq would certainly send a long-term lesson about what happens to countries that resist the United States.
In our loving embrace in '03, under our heel in '04! Even your humble correspondent has had relationships that took longer than that to go sour.

In the '03 post, the Professor notes, more than once, how "colossally, utterly, unredeemably wrong" Iraq war opponents were about Iraqis' reaction to their liberators. Turns out those opponents' predictions were a lot closer to the mark then what the Professor and his fellow geniuses were expecting. For all the pseudo-folksy touches the Professor sticks into his writing -- frequent use of "yup" and "hey," e.g. -- he seems fairly allergic to common sense.

Saturday, April 17, 2004


Friday, April 16, 2004

COMMENTS seem to be off. For how long I don't know. But don't worry -- even without your constant encouragement, I am always aware that I have THE BEST READERS IN THE UNIVERSE!

(I know these guys claim they do, but they only say it to get suckers to do their research -- and, for all I know, their laundry -- for them. I'm more the giving sort, and I have no compulsion to string along an audience by flattery or fluffery, which is why you chose well to patronize this site, you brilliant, sexy people.)

UPDATE. Fixed!
YOU KNEW THIS WAS COMING (edited). "Well, I have no religious opposition to homosexuality," drawls prairie pundit James Lileks, thumbs fussing with his suspenders. "I think civilized society recognizes that a small percentage of its citizens are drawn to the same sex..."

And then he seems to come out against same-sex marriage -- that's what it looked like to me at first, red-eyed examination. Then it seems like that point was moot, but that gay couples can't be good parents. Then it seems like they could be, but that gay parents -- well, here's an example:
Moms? Any guy can do your job. Dads? Your son or daughter doesn’t need to grow up with a male role model in his or her daily life. It’s the sort of pernicious nonsense that thinks gender is an arbitrary social construct. It’s not enough, apparently, to say that gay couples can be great parents. You have to insist that heterosexual couples have no inherent advantages.
Upon further review, it seems that what the guy doesn't like is an acceptance of gay marriage based on the unavoidable conclusion that gay people can have healthy relationships and happy children, on the grounds that this would make him (i.e., straight people) look like something less than the optimum model of childrearing.

Maybe this is what all those arguments concerning the deleterious effect of gay marriage on straight marriage are really about.

ADDENDUM. When comments come back on, somebody explain this sentence to me: "Just because gay couples can’t be excellent parents doesn’t mean that the inherent nature of the relationship is equal to the inherent nature of heterosexual parenting."

WE'RE A LITTLE SHORT OF FUNDS... Daniel Henninger tells how you, Mr. Citizen, can assist the war effort in Iraq:
The First Marine Expeditionary Force and U.S. Army in Iraq want to equip and upgrade seven defunct Iraqi-owned TV stations in Al Anbar province -- west of Baghdad -- so that average Iraqis have better televised information than the propaganda they get from the notorious Al-Jazeera. If Jim Hake can raise $100,000, his Spirit of America will buy the equipment in the U.S., ship it to the Marines in Iraq and get Iraqi-run TV on the air before the June 30 handover.
Doesn't sound like such a bad idea, but why is this Marine (hopefully aided by what Henninger calls "the coalition of the can-do") compelled to take up a collection for it, rather than can-doing it with government money? Henninger says, to "bypass the slow U.S. procurement bureaucracy." That's nice, we all hate bureaucracy, but isn't the War on Terror a top government priority? If so, why isn't this funded by the cash-glutted Pentagon, rather than a serviceman's tin cup?

I mean, Jesus fucking Christ. The State Department hired a top advertising executive to promote our cause in the Middle East, but they can't jack up a hundred large for a studio and a couple of transmittors?

This sticks in my craw even more than it might have because of a conversation I had recently with a woman whose son was plaguing me to buy raffle tickets for a school fundraiser, the purpose of which was to buy books, paper, and other essentials. The kid goes to a public school. I asked, doesn't the budget cover that? And I was informed that this sort of begging was common; public schools never have enough government green to pay for all the necessities of education.

Even in this era of religious belief in limited government (which, like Christianity, is often invoked and seldom observed), that blows my mind. And now I'm asked to pry open my wallet, not for the widows and orphans whose diminishing share of government funding is a long-standing if bitter reality, but for basic military and educational operations?

What the fuck did I just pay taxes for? Or, maybe more to the point, what the fuck did the wealthiest Americans not just pay taxes for?

Thursday, April 15, 2004

PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY II. "I think perhaps the most compelling arguments from the pro-[drug]-legalization crowd are long-term ones. But in the short run -- a few years to a decade or two -- there would be a lot more drug addicts as the culture worked out the consequences... we would be making peace with the fact that an irreducible number of people would be permanently enslaved to drugs..." -- Jonah "Kegger!" Goldberg, The Corner.

PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY. "BILL CLINTON JUST TRIED TO KILL ME. Really. I'm serious. Honestly. Bill Cllinton just fell off a shelf and hit me in my head..." -- Kathryn Jean "In what area are Christians most persistently persecuted?" Lopez, The Corner.

ENOUGH. Jonah Goldberg and Richard Brookhiser take time out from destroying the country to talk about what a shit George Bernard Shaw was.

I'm all for the marketplace of ideas, but when the gap in talent between yourself and your subject approaches seven light-years, you should just shut the hell up.

THE STORY OF G.I. JIM. Air Raid Marshal Lileks, treating the pop culture industry as his personal Target, demands a 9/11 movie. Not the crappy TV movie he already got -- a big budget production like Wake Island or The Passion of the Christ.

Of course Hollywood is too evil and traitorous to make such a film, so maybe Jimbo and a couple of his buddies should do it in the backyard with some of that technology he's always creaming over. I can see it now:

The door swings open like at the beginning of The Searchers, revealing an idyll of well-fertilized lawns, gas grills, and Volvos. But something is amiss. In the distance, a column of smoke rises.

JAMES strides into frame and silently surveys the column. In the background his entertainment center is tuned to seventeen news feeds and an old episode of
Hoppity Hooper. All but the latter show talking heads, each telling Americans that the attack they have just witnessed is "America's fault," and that, in protest of our even existing as a free society, all network anchorpersons would start wearing Soviet flag pins.

JAMES' fist clenches; his rock-hard abs quiver. Wiping the Bisquick from her hands with her apron, WHATSHERNAME rushes to his side.

WHATSHERNAME: James, you're only one man! What can you do about it?

JAMES: What can any man do who cares about his country? I'ma write me a column!

He strides with grim determination to the staircase. Little GNAT looks up at him.

GNAT: Daddy, I made potty.

JAMES freezes, smiles, ruffles her hair.

JAMES: That's my girl. (quietly, to WHATSHERNAME) Hide her in the tool shed till I get back.
And wait'll you see when the posse catches up with Michael Moore!

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

HOUSECLEANING. I cleaned up a few of the blogrollees:

Whiskey Bar had a dead link, and Billmon's too hot right now to have me steering potential converts into a blind alley.

Duly noted also is Kevin Drum's move to Washington Monthly, where in a world gone mad he clings tenaciously to that tiny, flooded islet known as the moderate position.

...This guy is the most sincere man I have ever seen hold public office and I will tell you guys I have met and known a lot. This is an asset that speaks to the heart and soul. It carries more weight then any flowery words could ever do. These are traits that wear well with people. It is not rooted in first impressions, but in lasting impressions. My impressions of this man will permeate my soul my entire life. I never expect these impressions to be exceeded by any other public figure. He is my Reagan, my Churchill, my FDR, my JFK, my Lincoln, or my whatever. He is a once in a lifetime. He is a gem, he is a godsend, one day more people will know and understand what gift we have been given.

    -- Roger L. Simon commentor "Samuel"
...that question can best be answered by Morpheus: there is no press conference.

The brainwashed we can pity. The paid operatives just roil our contempt. "No one should be fooled by the way he stumbled through some of his answers," cautioned John Podhoretz. "Bush knew exactly what he was doing..." I'll say he did -- the dazed look on his face last night clearly showed that he knew he wasn't making much sense. But with spin doctor/journalists like he's got, why should he care? If Bush came out eating a rat, Podhoretz would tell us how such displays of machismo endear the President to his people.

War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, and Bush is Churchill.

CHIVALRY. Some of you may remember the outrage Ted Rall generated with his ungenerous treatment of 9/11 widows ("bug," "ignorant little rant," "ugly, nonsensical," "evasive, gutless, dirt-eating," etc).

You will find a new Dorothy Rabinowitz piece at right-wing redoubt OpinionJournal, entitled, "The 9/11 Widows: Americans are Beginning to Tire of Them" and treating thus a group of WTC survivors who have spoken unfavorably about the President:
The venerable status accorded this group of widows comes as no surprise given our times, an age quick to confer both celebrity and authority on those who have suffered. As the experience of the Jersey Girls shows, that authority isn't necessarily limited to matters moral or spiritual. All that the widows have had to say -- including wisdom mind-numbingly obvious, or obviously false and irrelevant -- on the failures of this or that government agency... has been received by most of the media and members of Congress with utmost wonder and admiration. They had become prosecutors and investigators, unearthing clues and connections related to 9/11, with, we're regularly informed, unrivalled dedication and skill.
Surely James Lileks, Little Green Footballs, Tim Blair, Aaron Rantberg, et alia, will rise to these 9/11 widows' defense?

Chirp. Chirp.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

QUICK TAKE. The opening statement was clear on the Iraq plan, and also contained the information, which really needed to be spoken aloud in a very public way, that the plan has no clear ending: June 30 is a waystation, after which we may (read: probably will) still be in Iraq ("our military commitment will continue... coalition military forces... protect their government... Our commitment will not end June 30th"). It helped Bush that he was able to surround this truth with expressions of support for the military and their families, a sense of a widespread and nefarious threat (Jerusalem, Bali, Madrid, etc.), several references to the United Nations, and compound sentences clearly not of his own devising.

This doesn't work so well when people are asking impertinent questions. I don't know if anyone was really expecting Bush to apologize or admit mistakes about 9/11, but he seemed awfully dodgy when they asked him about it, with his endless inklings and war footings. Also, if only the threat of terrorist mischief, not the presence of weapons of mass destruction, were reason enough for dislodging Saddam, why not just dismiss the subject forthrightly, rather than speculate on a possible second turkey farm in Iraq?

He finished by saying the American people knew that he meant what he said -- which seems like a way of excusing his ragged public speaking skills as proof of his sincerity. But you don't have to be slick (as in Willie) to seem as if you're hiding something. Doubling back, inane repetition, and off-topic answers can also signal prevarication. If I were advising the President, I'd tell him to butch it up.

COME, LET US REASON TOGETHER. So much strife, so much misunderstanding. Surely Red and Blue can agree on something? Well, yes. Andrew Stuttaford is quite right to approve the bird Rheingold Beer flipped at Mayor Bloomberg and his smoking ban.

I haven't had a Rheingold in a while, and remember it tasting like chilled lighter fluid, but I reckon I owe it another chance.

IN HIS DARK, DRAFTY SKULL A TINY EMBER GLEAMED. "Part of what is happening in Iraq seems to be an understandable nationalist reaction to being governed by a foreign occupying power." -- Rich Lowry, National Review.

NEW FISH, SAME OLD BARREL. I understand this nut is somebody's idea of a deep thinker. Let us see.

"We know who most of America's enemies are," writes Michele Catalano. "Now there is a new group to add to that list: the anti-war crowd."

Her proof points regarding the beliefs and behaviors of the "anti-war crowd" are taken from one fairly mild paragraph by Ted Rall, and a couple of possibly authentic protest signs. Thin gruel indeed, but so far as she's concerned these demonstrate that all Americans who doubt the wisdom of our Iraq adventure "support the taking of American hostages, the killing of American soldiers and, by proxy, the jihad against America."

Then she laments the polarization of our country.

Then she says she wants to drive a wooden stake through a protester's eye socket.

Gary, does A Small Victory qualify as one of those "foaming at the mouth" sites that are supposed to lie beneath our notice? If not, why not?

Monday, April 12, 2004

HIS WAR. At first glance I was ready to give Roger L. Simon credit for coming out strongly in favor of war with Iran. At a time when even the most bellicose warbloggers concentrate on spinning the Iraq debacle ("All is well!"), how refreshing to see one of them pushing for a second front.

Alas, upon closer inspection Simon's petition is for something more modest:
And I'm not talking about all out war. I'm talking about keeping the issue on the front burner, forcing those in authority to take a militant stand against the mullahs [of Iran].
In other words, let's get all the bloggers to make a lot of noise about the Iranian threat, and the result may be a "militant stand." (As opposed to what -- our current entante cordiale?)

We also learn from Simon that partisan bickering is bad, and that everything is the Democrats' fault. He can say that, you see, because he's a Democrat, for some reason that no one remembers.

Do you know, I sometimes get the most frightful feeling that maintaining one of these weblogs is rather a waste of time.

Friday, April 09, 2004

GROOVY HATE FUCK. As I've said before, I am always puzzled by those articles in which conservatives talk about what morons their liberal friends are. If these guys think so little of liberals, why do they hang out with them? Now, thanks to Andrew Sullivan, at last I have it figured out: for sex.
...Her heroes are Ted Kennedy and Hillary. (not Sir Edmund) We share everything in common except politics. I am able to accept and understand her values while not agreeing with them, but am perplexed by her difficulty with mine. She is like the robot on the old Lost In Space TV show. When I explain rationally that I do not think that Rush Limbaugh is 'evil', and that perhaps Al Qaeda might better illustrate that concept, she starts spinning around and yammers "It does not compute, It does not compute".... This is causing her no end of confusion. She is actually having dinner with and making love to one of "THEM".
I'll agree she's confused if she sees a future with a guy (I assume it's a guy -- he punctuates like one) who talks about her like that.

JIMBO'S PROGRESS. I've been too busy to post much. Also I figured, if you didn't want to buy my porn bumper sticker, the hell with you. But I'll be keeping an eye on Lileks for you. Days after he was fascinated by a man in a dress, he discovered, thanks to The New Criterion, that the "rot" of moral relativism goes back to Guy deMaupassant at least -- possibly further!

Maybe soon Lileks will put himself, Gnat, Jasper, and Whatshername on a raft and head down to the Mosquito Coast in search of moral certainties. That is, if he can take his iPod with him.

Well, Easter is the season of hope!

CONSERVATIVE POPULISM IN A NUTSHELL: Daniel Henninger tells us to go see The Passion, which he hasn't seen ("sounds a bit too much for me").

NEVER MIND ALL THAT -- HOWELL RAINES WAS A SOUTHERN LIBERAL! The New York Post outdoes itself today. No, not in that "Headless Body in Topless Bar" way -- the Murdoch rag hasn't shown that kind of brio in decades. I mean that its function as a Republican Party propaganda vehicle has seldom been so self-evident. It would seem the editors, finding the testimony of Condi Rice something of a wash (no bombshell revelations, no Joseph Welch moments), saw in the neutrality of the event a fine canvas upon which to paint a fantasy.

"THE LADY IS A CHAMP," cries the cover, "Tough Condi wins raves." The "raves" to which this refers might be the ones coming from the Post's own headline editors, who are egregiously eager to pump up our impression of the Security Advisor's performance. For example, while the news analysis of Deborah Orin is actually less doggedly spun than usual, it appears under the headline, "As 'great' as W knew she'd be," and the banner spread, "RICE THRIVES IN THE COOKER." We are also shown a large picture of Bob Kerrey appearing to reel from a head wound in a who's-hot-who's-not roundup called "Grading panel's partisan leanings."

The prize, however, goes to "SHE'S CAN-DO CONDI," the oddly titled report by Dan Kadison on the findings of five people hauled in off the street to give impressions of Rice's testimony. They are described as a "politically diverse" group of New Yorkers, comprising two Republicans, two Democrats, and two "Independents." (In New York City voter registration, by the way, Democrats outnumber Republicans five to one, and the last Republican Presidential candidate to carry the City was, I believe, Calvin Coolidge.) Highlights of the group's praise for Can-Do Condi: "She was blatantly evasive at times, but at other times just pretty honest." "I thought her opening statement was great, [as were] the questions and responses." "She was pretty much what I expected." Wow! When's the ticker-tape parade?

The Post is usually beneath notice, but it seemed instructive to note the howlingly obvious agenda of a large American newspaper that is not the New York Times. The Post has a greater circulation than the Chicago Sun-Times or the Miami Herald. It is, however, unable to survive on the quarters it collects from willing customers, and so must be sustained by funding from its publisher, the international villain Rupert Murdoch. This largesse permits the Post to daily pour its right-wing bilge into the same sluices served by Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, et alia, and thence down into the American mainstream, which has grown so brackish and distasteful after years of such pollution that its friends scarcely recognize it, and only the most desperate or deluded try to refresh themselves by its waters.

Meanwhile some people are complaining that Bob Kerrey is on TV.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

...BUT SOMEBODY'S GOTTA DO IT.The Ashcroft anti-porn push has attracted attention and even some Republicans have begun to complain. Of course, Ashcroft has his defenders, like this guy, who asks, " if the public really is as enamored of smut as Ashcroft's critics believe, why not campaign to change the law" enabling the most recent purge?

Let it never be said that I ran from a fight (except the physical kind, of course)! I know not what course others may take, but as for me:

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

NED FLANDERS DEFENDS HIS HOME AGAINST CHARGES OF BOLSHEVISM. Dissatisfied with his first strike, he adds that his architectural lifestyle choice is "masculine." Then he calls in a buddy (anonymous, of course -- this is National Review Online) for backup: "I have a hard time understanding how anyone with a decent education and knowledge of history, art and culture could consent -- much less eagerly elect -- to live in the suburbs, in houses as shoddily constructed and flawed as the logic of a whining liberal."

And they say conservatives don't got no culture!

EXIT STRATEGY. Richard Clarke tells Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker why he believes the Administration hasn't put enough troops into Afghanistan:
In retrospect, Clarke said, he believes that the President and his men did not respond for three reasons: "One, they did not want to get involved in Afghanistan like Russia did. Two, they were saving forces for the war in Iraq. And, three, Rumsfeld wanted to have a laboratory to prove his theory about the ability of small numbers of ground troops, coupled with airpower, to win decisive battles."
The wider effects of Rumsfield's plan are being felt in Iraq, but the Sec Def still plans no increase in U.S. troop strength there, either. Why should he? In a few months it won't be his problem anymore.

Rumsfeld today treated reporters to the NATO Secretary General, who made an interesting statement about the issue of a wider NATO role in Iraq -- especially after the planned June 30 handoff:
SEC.-GEN. DE HOOP SCHEFFER: As I said, 17 out of the 26 NATO nations have their forces on the ground and will have the transfer of sovereignty on the 30th of June, 1st of July. After that date, we'll have a sovereign Iraqi government. Then it is, of course, up to that Iraqi government, let's say, to decide what that government wants, because then we have a, clearly, cut-off between what is the situation now in the Iraq and what will be the situation after the 1st of July. And if that will come to a discussion in the NATO alliance, it is not easy to say, too hard to say at the moment, but I repeat, 17 out of 26 NATO nations are on the ground in Iraq, although it's not a NATO operation as such.
They're watching the clock. I expect the Iraqi Governing Council will certainly want, and need, all the heavily-armed help it can get at that point. President Mission Accomplished will hold onto that withdrawal date, and if the country is still a mess, well, it'll be a multinational mess, not ours (or his).

I think the political idea is to turn Iraq, in the popular imagination, into another Bosnia or Haiti -- an ongoing, far-away problem with which, thank God, we are only tangentially involved. We did the liberation -- let others do the mopping up.

(Oh, the Sec Gen also hopes for "a new [U.N.] Security Council resolution mandating specifically an international stabilization force in the longer term in Iraq. It will, of course, be... an important role, I hope, the crucial role." He's watching his ass, too.)

Monday, April 05, 2004

LIT CORNER. Been on a nice run with high art. Finally got around to reading Calderón's Life is a Dream. It plays hard on modern ears, with its long and literary declamations. Rosaura's famously interminable speech in Act III scene 4 goes on for four tightly-leaded pages in my little paperback, but when the writing is this beautiful -- "Violante broke open the prison of my woes; then in troops they surged out of my breast, tumbling over one another" -- who cares? Segismundo, a prince bound in chains from infancy, then restored to his birthright under the pretense that what he experiences is all a dream, is a proto-existential hero to rival Hamlet. That this profound play turns out a comedy seems very Spanish, as does the scene where the restored Segismundo, told he dare not throw his enemy off a parapet, does so with a childish sense of challenge. Even the clown dies nobly. They sure could write back in the 17th Century.

Speaking of Spaniards, I'm crawling through a history of the Jesuits by Jean Lacouture. Having been educated by Jebbies in the dim days of my youth (on scholarship -- marvel at it, ye sons of Reagan!), I am fascinated to learn that this most pedantic of orders was founded by a crazed mystic who, between his callings (he had many) to an educational mission, would do mitzvahs like wading into a freezing lake to shame a fornicator, crying, "I will stay here until I have assuaged the Wrath of God on your behalf!" Flipping around the story, I am less surprised to see that John Paul II is an implacable anti-Jesuit, who drove Father Drinan from Congress and, when Top Jeb and liberation theology sympathizer Pedro Arrupe was rendered incompetent by a stroke, refused to accept his resignation, the better to grind the order under his heel. Boo hiss. Things seem dire for the Jesuits now, but they've come back from worse (like the French Revolution), and I see great things for them in the eons to come.

Saw a few movies too. I was tickled to see Mighty Aphrodite, not least to observe how Woody Allen overtly pitch-modulates the old Greek goatsong into the voice of the turtle, as if to say, hey, numbskulls, you didn't notice? I've been doing this all along! He's not a failed borscht-belt comic, he's our Plautus. Stressing on his resistance to contemporary fads and lingo is a mug's game. They'll be laughing at his shit when kids stop wearing flaired trousers, again. And it was instructive to see Herzog's Woyzeck for the first time in years. The Büchner script is just a fragment, and Herzog, the perv, actually cuts dialogue. He stages it in what looks like an early 19th Century Austrian village, and makes you feel (as he does in Kaspar Hauser) as if the absurd, inhuman society his modern films describe were born there of scientific hubris and petty cruelty. In the leads, Klaus Kinski and Eva Mattes make the candles flare and blow out.

With treasures like these at my disposal, is it any wonder I haven't gotten to the movies lately?

GIVE 'EM A LITTLE CREDIT. Some people have asked me why I insist on characterizing my opponents as either duplicitious or insane. The answer is that I was well-brought-up. My friends will tell you that, when I have not had too much whiskey, I am a highly social creature who seeks to promote harmony and fellow-feeling in all encounters. To that end, when forced to discuss something, or someone, unpleasant, I put forth the most charitable interpretation possible. I will call a fat person "big-boned," for example, or a moron "refreshingly free of academic pretentions," etc. Call me polite to a fault, or politically correct, but there it is.

Consequently, when confronted with plain inanity from a person whose career depends upon an illusion of sagacity, I do my best to avoid questioning his intelligence, knowing such a charge would be a painful blow to his self-esteem. So I suggest that the person is deranged, which implies a medical condition over which he has no control, or a prevaricator, which is more than halfway a compliment in a culture such as ours that prizes success over honesty.

I must say, though, that Andrew Sullivan challenges my good manners. In his latest hand-wringing over gay marriage, he contemplates and even partially excerpts the late Sonny Bono's semi-coherent statement on the subject. Sample Bono quote:
So I think we go beyond the Constitution here. I think we go beyond these brilliant interpretations here, and I think we have hit feelings, and we've hit what people can handle and what they can't handle, and it's that simple...
It would be easy to dismiss the guy as an idiot, but Bono had achieved both pop celebrity and a House seat; he probably wasn't as dumb as her made himself out to be, and may have been a genius of sorts.

Bono's daughter, you see, was a lesbian, and this fact was known; but as a Republican Congressman Bono had to give props to the bigot wing of his party. So he did what any canny politican would do: he fudged, he personalized, he endeavored to turn attention toward the difficulty his choice forced upon himself -- and away from the difficulty his choice would cause millions of his fellow citizens. Sonny Bono was a clown, but he was no fool.

Sullivan, however, reads the situation differently: "I loved Bono's sentiments not because they were particularly coherent, but because they were so honest." Honest? Now look at what Sullivan says about other anti-gay-marriage Republicans with gay progeny:
I'm not privy to the strain the Cheney family must be under, nor would I want to be, but this is an issue that is hard to seal off from one's heart, because it is about the heart. And it's certainly sad that figures like Phyllis Shlafly should also have gay offspring…
Sad?Oh, let’s give these rich and powerful people more credit than that!

Sullivan seems to have missed that these people's prestige allows them to assume, quite reasonably, that they and their loved ones will be sealed from the consequences of their own political actions -- that no one will challenge Mary Cheney's money on the grounds that a lesbian handled it. Of course, they may be even more deep-thinking than that, and consider their kids a worthy sacrifice to the cause of their own power.

Is their case tragic? Potentially. But Cheney is no Creon -- he hasn't the moral stature of Creon. Actually, he hasn't the moral stature of a starving jackal. But he sure is smart.

As for Sullivan -- well, if one can't say anything nice…

Friday, April 02, 2004

MAKING AN EXAMPLE. The recent events in Fallujah were literally an outrage, and any human being who hasn't forgotten he is one has to be horrified at them. The representatives of our government are not exempt from this, but of course it was not a desire for vengeance that animated Paul Bremer's promise, echoed by Brigadier-General Kimmitt, to "pacify that city... at the time and place of our choosing." Put simply, on the terms of this occupation, it would of course be absolutely necessary to react in such a way as to pacify Fallujah.

What will that reaction be? The planned response is described in terms of justice, not vengeance. Kimmitt has promised to be "precise" in that response, as the Marines will "hunt down the people responsible for this bestial act." That job should be made easier by videotape of the atrocity's celebrants.

But what if, next time, the attackers not so foolhardy as to dance for the cameras?

Bush has re-emphasized that we are not going to withdraw any sooner from Iraq because of this. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage says, "There will be a price extracted. There will be a response and it will be obvious to all."

That "obvious to all" is important. As usual, Ralph "Blood and Guts" Peters is less circumspect than our leadership as to what is needed:
...our strong American values worked against us...

We didn't even have the common sense to declare martial law. It convinced our enemies that we were naive and weak.

When dealing with opponents whose power you have taken away, you start with an emphasis on the mailed fist, granting velvet-glove privileges as they're earned. Instead, we kidded ourselves that building playgrounds would persuade murderers to love us.

...when the cities of the Sunni Triangle, such as Fallujah, Ramadi or Tikrit, engaged in acts of terror, we needed to make an example of one of them to demonstrate our power and resolve to the others.

Again, on the terms of this occupation, this is absolutely correct. I've treated Peters as a buffoon in the pages before, but the hard fact is, despite his apparent instability, he continually spells out an outrageous fact which our government tries hard to leave unclear: that despite the attempted repackaging of our Iraq incursion as a social uplift program, we took over the country by force and have to hold it, for however long we are to hold it, by force as well.

(He also seems a buffoon because, had this fiasco taken place on the watch of, say, Bill Clinton, you know he'd be coming over the White House fence with a knife in his teeth.)

The clock is ticking off till June 30, when we hand control of this mess over to the Governing Council. I expect the Administration is anxious for this moment to arrive. Meanwhile (and, who knows? maybe for some time thereafter), the "Mission Accomplished" banner must remain furled, and the pacification of Fallujah is still on the agenda. If you believe that we are in Iraq by right, you might think of this as a police operation -- a crackdown meant to send a message to (or, to use Peters' language, "make an example" of) criminals in an unruly neighborhood. You might even accept a certain amount of collateral damage, as some people have been doing since the troops rolled in. But if you doubt the wisdom of this enterprise, it may seem like tragedy compounded by tragedy -- a mistake that no one has the will to stop making.

SHORTER CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: The answer to your questions about Fallujah is "Saddam Hussein." In fact, that is the answer to all your questions. Glug, glug, glug.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

RECOMMENDED. Can't imagine why I haven't done it before, but Norbizness now ascends to my Fellow Traveller list. Y'all must have something good to read when I finally cut my wrists.