Tuesday, January 13, 2004

SHIT IN A CORNER, EPISODE #1,397. One of the fun things about internecine conservative struggles -- like the current one over immigration reform -- is the resulting pissing contest at The Corner over who represents the truest conservatism (or who is most nuts, depending on your perspective).

A strong entrant is Jonathan H. Adler:
There certainly are reasonable conservative arguments both for and against more a more restrictive immigration policy, but I'm simply shocked to read certain arguments in The Corner. Coming to America to take a job is tantamount to stealing? As if anyone is somehow entitled to a given job? I'd expect to read such an argument in The Nation, but not here.

Posted at 05:59 PM
Yes, Americans, if you manage to find a job, consider yourself privileged! This guy's so far out John Fucking Derbyshire has to straighten him out.

Another strong claim is made by Jonah Goldberg, who speaks approvingly of a plan by "My old boss Ben Wattenberg" to "help maintain the demographic balance of the United States -- i.e. prop-up the share of white folks in this country," an idea which, Goldberg helpfully notes, "wasn't racist in the slightest."

Catch this breath-taking, logic-defying show while you can. They'll probably all give it up by Friday and go back to talking about Wesley Clark's sweater.

Monday, January 12, 2004

AND THIRD, WHEN DID CRYSTAL METH COME BACK, AND WHERE CAN I GET SOME? John Derbyshire says that, contrary to the assertions of "homosexualist lobbies" that AIDS "just falls from the sky" (I must have missed that paper), the disease is actually spread by gay men fucked up on crank.

Heterosexuals fucked up on crank, of course, never hurt anyone.

That Derbyshire would vomit up such a thing is not, after all this time, surprising. But I have two questions:

First, why does Derb feign ignorance of crank ("something called 'crystal meth'") when he was clearly speeding his balls off when he wrote this?

Second, when is Tacitus going to do something about it?
BLANKET DAMNESTY. Tacitus catches Hesiod referring to Colin Powell's "Stepin Fetchit routine" and calls for leftists to "do something about it," adding generically, "I'm not hopeful, but in this case, being wrong would be great."

Okay. I disapprove of the remark. (Not much else I can do about it, since I am not Hesiod's mommy.)

And since we liberals are nothing but a herd, marching blindly in lockstep behind ANSWER banners, Tacitus may assume we have all disapproved.

He may also assume that we disapprove of any regrettable remarks by people with whom we generally agree which he, Professor Reynolds, and the rest of the "truth squads" may uncover.

Henceforth I will devote myself, as previously, to the lunatic sentiments with which a good number of conservatives around these parts tend to agree.

Sunday, January 11, 2004

BIG MEDIA. Soon we mom and pop weblogs will be swept away by a wave of megablogs, which will offer first-rate opinions and commentary in bulk from centralized locations. Intelligent consumers will flock to them. No zoning board can defend us; our days are numbered.

Protoype models have done well, and now the not-so-thin end of the wedge is represented by The American Street: David Niewert, Skippy the Bush Kangaroo, Kevin Hayden, Jeralyn Merritt, Luis Toro, with who knows whom else waiting in the wings. How can alicublog compete? Maybe we'll go for retro chic, offering handmade, personalized satire, and thus find our niche. I'll discuss it with the Board as soon as they start returning my phone calls again.

Meantime we remain open here on our dusty byway. Your patronage is appreciated.

Saturday, January 10, 2004

ON TO BOB JONES! Roger Simon is mad because there was a lot of anti-war talk at an MLA conference:
The University Class is one of the most rigid in America in its thinking... At a conference like the MLA, whose primary raison d'etre is job search, the pressure to conform is compounded. Attendees with pro-war views would naturally be reluctant to express themselves for fear of losing out in the marketplace. I know I'd keep my mouth shut in such an atmosphere. I already know not to broadcast my pro-war views when going to a meeting in Hollywood.
One of Simon's commenters is surprised to hear that Simon censors himself. Oh, says Simon, "I had my tongue pretty far in my cheek to make a point. I'm not the kind of personality who could hide his views even if I wanted to."

Not like the rest of you, he might have added. You're a-scared.

Sigh. You see this kind of thing all the time now. Seen from this POV, liberals are nervous nellies for objecting to the Patriot Act, but such conservative members of the Modern Language Association as may exist are justified in fearing for their very tenures.

"I certainly don't want to be whiny and self-pitying" says one such whiny, self-pitying fellow, but in his freshman year at the University of Michigan (1982!), "there was a whiff of violence in the air, on that campus of mine. There really was. Of course, you have to be careful whom you talk to this way, because you could be marked off as an exaggerator or paranoid or worse." No shit.

His remarks were delivered at the 20th Anniversary celebration of the conservative Harvard Salient. No doubt there were a number in attendance waving prostheses and crutches, legacies of campus battles endured in the second year of the first Reagan Adminstration. Or perhaps no one was there at all, their forces long since decimated by the implacable jackboots of the Left.

Despite the miraculous survival of the Salient and its friends, some folks like David Horowitz want a form of affirmative action to get right-wingers into college professorships. As soon as that one goes through, I want a job at Fox News.

One thing has always puzzled me about this. If liberals have a hammerlock on most faculties, and this is a terrible detriment to our nation (as conservatives from Revilo P. Oliver to Megan McArdle have long known), why not let the marketplace solve the problem?

Instead of sending fat checks or resumes to hotbeds of liberalism like Harvard and Berkeley, why not build new citadels of learning upon foundations already laid by sympathetic educators? Jerry Falwell's Liberty University comes to mind. Or Hillsdale, or Wheaton, or any of a number of Catholic colleges and universities that would happily turn the best and brightest conservative minds to a higher, nobler purpose.

What a great advance for the cause it would be if some parents would find the gumption to say, "I know you've been accepted to Yale, honey, but the American Renaissance demands that we send you to Bob Jones U." Or if Harvey Mansfield were to rise up and shout, "Farewell, Harvard commies, glory calls at Magdalen College!"

The gains, admittedly, would not be immediate. But isn't conservatism about taking the long view?

Friday, January 09, 2004

THE MISANTHROPOGYNIST. I have been reading with pleasure Mencken's "Defense of Women," which seems to have been written as a deliberate outrage and would, with greater contemporary circulation, probably still do the job today.

Like most things written about women by men, the book is mainly about men, but unlike most other authors so disposed, Mencken seems to be aware of it. His playful premise is that women are in every meaningful way superior to our gender, but have been obliged by our mulish resistance to the fact, and by social customs designed to enforce our groundless ascendancy (the word "levantine" occurs frequently), to exercise authority by subterfuge, primarily via marriage.

Already there's plenty to howl over, but Mencken goes on his merry way. The things at which most men excel, he asserts, are mere bagatelles:
A man thinks he is more intelligent than his wife because he can add up a column of figures more accurately...and because he is privy to the minutiae of some sordid and degrading business or profession, say soap-selling or the law. But these empty talents, of course, are not really signs of a profound intelligence... it takes no more sagacity to carry on the everyday hawking and haggling of the world, or to ladle out its normal doses of bad medicine and worse law, than it takes to operate a taxicab or fry a pan of fish.
Imagine Kim du Toit or Glenn Reynolds getting a load of this! But no self-respecting feminist could go for it quite, either. For one thing, Mencken was implacably at odds with the suffragette (the book was first published in 1918), whom he described as "a woman who has stupidly carried her envy of certain of the superficial privileges of men to such a point that it takes on the character of an obsession, and makes her blind to their valueless and often chiefly imaginary nature." While he admits that women would soon enough "shake off their ancient disabilities" and emerge "as free competitors in a harsh world," yet "some of the fair ones, I suspect, will begin to wonder why they didn't let well enough alone."

Well, I don't know about that. But what I like about this, besides the great writing, is Mencken's detachment from the ordinary terms of debate. A good deal of reason and unreason was then (as now) being employed on the topic, and Mencken just staked out his own territory and had at it. He speaks approvingly of Havelock Ellis, but in general seems not to mind what anyone else has to say on the subject, prefering to make his own judgments based on what history and observation showed him. His instinct seems to be that his own reason was authority enough, and though most of us would disagree with a large part of it, in his case the analysis is at least coherent and compelling.

Mencken is shamelessly rhetorical and his style bears him along more reliably than his reason; he's frequently disingenuous and even self-contradictory, but in a way that would leave anyone trying to pin him looking pedantic. I think that's why so many intelligent people get a kick out of him, but also why anyone who identifies too closely with him inevitably looks foolish. Columns by the awful R. Emmett Tyrell, for example, used to run with a byline picture that aped a famous Mencken photo, and Tyrell's contraction-averse style still imitates the cadences of the Baltimore master, albeit stiffly. Even the initialized first name seems a forlorn sort of tribute, as it does, doubly, for P.J. O'Rourke, another professional contrarian whose obvious striving for the mantle of misanthropist-in-chief renders the homage somewhat pathetic.

All good writers make good examples, but as we were cautioned by the old Hai Karate ads, you have to be careful how you use them. It's never a good idea to try and be the "new" anything. (Look at Jet, a band that seems to want to be the new Black Crowes, an ambition that mystifies me.) From Mencken it might be best to take the lesson that it never hurts to take the lofty perspective once in a while, especially at a time when the political weblog scene more and more resembles a giant scrum trying, with grunts and curses, to push consensus one way or the other.

SHOT BY BOTH SIDES. Michael Totten is a pro-war type who till recently identified himself as a liberal. Some people think about him the way I think about "Democrat" Orson Scott Card -- as a living straw man who serves mainly as an "even the liberal" decoy to make real liberals look bad.

Who knows. David Horowitz and Roger L. Simon love the guy, and they're fairly satanic. He wrote in the Wall Street Journal that, essentially, liberals don't know anything about foreign policy. To the extent that he has a public profile, it seems based on his criticism of liberals.

But I forebear to judge. Totten, however, didn't, and recently declared himself an Independent, pushed, he said, by the "heretic-banishers" who are "purging non-conformists." Unsurprisingly, he mentions Orwell.

No sooner has Totten thrown off the yoke of orthodoxy when he notices the famous Club-for-Growth ad castigating "tax-hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading... Hollywood-loving, left-wing" fellow citizens. It offends him. "Over-the-top Bush-hatred is matched by over-the-top Dean-hatred," he declares. "...the right's new bigoted ad disgusts me."

But a lot of Totten's commentators -- legacy pledges, one imagines, from his even-the-liberal days -- don't understand why he's so upset. "Whoa!" writes one, "A lotta you girls need to take a deep breath. This is political theatre, not the Nuremberg laws." "To those on the left," declares another, "saying anything that is politically incorrect but is too close to the truth is over the top."

Now, I haven't dug too deep into Totten's oeuvre, and at first glance he seems like a smart enough guy. But I find it interesting and, to use a badly overworked modifier, ironic, that the minute he declares his independence, and steps out his front door to breathe the sweet air of freedom, he runs smack into the new neighbors, who think everyone who reads, eats, and drinks like him is a menace to their way of life.

Whether that's ironic-sigh or ironic-hardeharhar-serves-ya-right I'll leave to one side for right now, but I do think it's a good picture of the state of our discourse at present.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

WE TRULY LIVE IN AN AGE OF WONDERS. Well, at least now I can stop worrying about the dangers of smoking.

UPDATE. Some people think farmed salmon is still safe. I'm ignoring them. I don't want it to be true! I want my friends to come find in me in some low seafood dive, and grab my arm, crying, "You're killin' yourself with that stuff!"
ROSE'S TURN. What a lot of bullshit has been written about Pete Rose lately. The relevant part of the Hall of Fame's mission statement says that it seeks to honor "those individuals who had exceptional careers." If Rose had used babies for batting practice, he would still meet this requirement.

George Will, naturally, talks the most outright nonsense about Rose, offering this deathless example of a hack who thinks he's found a "contrarian" angle:
His dwindling band of defenders responds that it is unfair to judge Rose not by what he does but by the way he does it. Yet regarding repentance, the way you do it is what you do.
The putative point of this streak of rhetorical puke is that Rose should behave more penitently -- perhaps, in Will's imaginings, by travelling barefoot to the grave of Bart Giamatti -- to preserve the fiction that baseball cares deeply about the conduct of its players.

This and other such moral posturings share the childish premise that current residents of the Hall, and the brotherhood of baseballers generally, would be sullied by Rose's company. What a laugh this would get from Ty Cobb and other immortals who were in life a good deal more rapacious and destructive than Rose. What a laugh it would draw from the many steroid abusers in MLB, if they had a sense of humor, or less pharmacetical damage to their facial muscles.

Well, baseball's fan base is aging, and filled at this stage with a bunch of maudlin, would-be Billy Crystals blubbering over The Mick and The Babe and The Catch as superstitious Irish grandmothers once blubbered over saints and sacred relics. Such like may value tent-meeting hysteria and bathos over clear-eyed justice, but that doesn't mean I have to.

I love baseball, and I insist it needs no romanticizing -- its traditions, its place in American history, and the achievements of its players are what they are, large in actual fact, not because publicists pumped them up; no Field of Dreams mists are needed to make them interesting and worthy of respect. The current ginned-up show of moral outrage is an embarrassment, and the Rose ban absurd.

UPDATE. A commentator to this post has kindly informed me of Rule 21, which mandates ineligibility for a player caught betting on his own club. Them's the rules, and since this is baseball we're talking about, not something trivial like politics, I have to agree Rose should stay out.

Also, while in the past I have simply taken down my posts when in the sober light of morning (or afternoon) they seemed less than convincing or coherent, I'm just leaving this one be, as a monument to my own incompetence.

I still don't like Will's more mystical assault on Rose, and in another context I might argue that the rule is bad and should be changed. But Rose accepted the terms by playing in the League and didn't abide by them, so that's that.
YEAH -- ANYONE CAN DO IT, AND MOST OF IT IS CRAP. "And it inspired me to the realization that blogging is a lot like producing techno..." -- InstaPundit.

PUSSY. An article by Jed Babbin is introduced on National Review Online's front page with the tag "Air marshals are making us safer." The graphic says "Safer with AFMs." The article is entitled "Thank Your FAMs." There is, of course, nothing in the article demonstrating that air mashals have done anything at all except draw salary, but we are told why we should believe that they have: "But fortunately for us, and our economy, the skies are safe -- despite what terrorists may think." You don't think like one of those terrorists, now, do you?

More interesting than the alogical approach (which is rather common at NRO) are the purposefully butch insertions Babbin uses to bolster his non-argument. The thing is parfaited with Cheneyspeak, which attempts to convey masculinity by emulating the simple babbles of childhood. Thus Babbin refers to terrorists as "bad guys," and to American forces as "our guys"; grouped by speciality, American intelligence agents are "our intel guys," while troops trained in special operations are "spec-op guys."

The FAMs "get it," meaning "our guys know you can shoot a whole bunch of holes though the skin of an airliner without anything really bad happening," and at one point Babbin asks his subject "what message he'd pass along to the bad guys, baiting him for a growly, macho message." To be fair, Babbin does not use the phrase "big time," or go "HOO-ahh" at any point.

If want more of this kind of thing, you can go here and read Babbin on how his terrorist-attack survival methods are better than those of his effete liberal neighbors, because his "pal," a "a retired SEAL senior officer," forwarded him some advice from Red Thomas, who has "seen it all, and trained the young ’uns to fight..." The article is from last February; I wonder if Babbin still has his "go bag" of water-purification and other post-apocalyptic necessities stashed in his car.

Babbin's article, by the way, includes a picture of himself. He looks like a total pussy.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

SHORTER MAGGIE GALLAGHER. This college kid I met hasn't given much thought to fatherhood, demonstrating that homosexuals are selfish destroyers of everything we hold dear.

STATES' (LAST) RITES. As is well known, our formerly solvent nation is running a record $374.2 billion deficit -- in contrast to the $230 billion surplus Clinton left us with in 2000.

But the states aren't doing much better. Not that they're getting less money from the Feds: While in 1998 the Census Bureau reported $25.3 billion in "federal government grants and other payments" to U.S. state governments ($29.8 billion went to California), in 2002 that rose to $36.2 billion for the states (and $41.6 billion to California.)

Yet state budgets are still a mess. Conservatives like to leave California as the only visible object-lesson of state spending run amok, as it had been piloted by a hapless Democrat before the telegenic Wolfcastle putsch. But Republican governors like Mike Huckabee of Arkansas and John Rowland of Connecticut are asking for tax increases to bail their asses out, reports the Christian Science Monitor, which also says we're currently seeing the "Deepest State Deficits in 50 Years."

The problem, says CSM, "is that tax revenues are way down and costs are exploding, particularly in healthcare, which represents 30 percent of state budgets." This has led to some heartwarming scenes, such as this one reported by AP:
Linda Garner of Columbus wrote [Georgia Governor Sonny] Perdue recently after the state terminated her quadriplegic daughter's benefits when she turned 21. The daughter, Melissa, was struck by a drunk driver when she was 6, and relies on a ventilator.

Perdue's reply to her was sympathetic but, after carefully explaining the state's budget difficulties, it offered her no help.
Costs are going up and revenues are going down, but no one wants to look like a tax-and-spend liberal so people get screwed. And until things gets to the Huckabee-Rowland stage, games are played to try and hide the damage for one more season. From a hilarious story in the Applebee (WI) Post-Crescent, optimistically titled "State Tax Burden Down in 2003":
The study found Wisconsin’s total tax burden was 33 percent of personal income in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2003. That’s down from 33.7 percent in 2002, 34.4 percent in 2001 and 37.4 percent in 2000.
The total tax burden is a combination of all federal, state and local taxes Wisconsin residents and businesses pay.
“That’s encouraging,” Wood County Supv. Donna Rozar said. Her county decreased its property tax levy 12.3 percent this past year, but offset about 50 percent of that loss with a half-percent county sales tax, she said. [italics mine]
“I think we’re an overtaxed people,” she said.
Total taxes down 0.7 percent! Happy days are here again! And you have to love the property tax-sales tax shuffle.

Clearly this country is, at every level, financially fucked. Yet no one from the President down to the lowliest Town Supervisor wants to face up to our impending bankruptcy. For one thing, they have jerks like this saying that the states are only suffering now because they "went on a spending binge in the 1990s," presumably on such frills as ventilators for crippled teenagers. For another, they have voters howling for reform on the cheap.

So the various government agents, excepting those who have yet to run out of bullshit, juggle and fumble like bankrupt housekeepers, hiding the credit card bills and turn-off notices from the spouse and kids, hoping to get through one more day.

Meanwhile, half a world away, we teach democracy.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

PLAYING TO THE CHEAP SEATS. "My hankering for Dean is therefore a little like Bill Kristol's." -- Andrew Sullivan.

(Sound effect.)


Yes, I'm goin' for the easy laffs, friends, because alicublog has just been nominated for the "Best Humorous Blog" Koufax Award. Nominees were restricted to leftish sites, which is as it should be, as we are all about speech codes and political correctness.

A blue ribbon panel will soon winnow the 3,429 nominees in this category down to a select few, so I will celebrate now and hopefully sober up before it comes time to drown my sorrows.

Thanks to all who supported me, and remember, if I am not among the finalists, take it out on your loved ones, not the voters.
DEAD HORSE. A guy at Tacitus talks up Seabiscuit, a movie he liked so well that he's sorry he saw it on his "decent home theater set-up" instead of in a theatre.

I can see why he liked it -- which is not to say that it's good. I saw the thing last year. A bad feeling came over me at the opening credits, when the voice of that guy who narrates PBS history specials came on over some sepia-toned stills. Did I just pay 10 bucks to watch Ken Burns' American Stories on a big screen? I wondered.

Thereafter came a story about misfits banding together and keeping their dreams alive -- kind of a cross between Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Flashdance, only not as subtle as either. Here are some quotes from Seabiscuit, and yes, these paltry examples are representative of its eloquence.

As for its visual storytelling, I will remember forever a scene in which Chris Cooper, charged with matching a jockey to his horse, regards Tobey McGuire fighting off a bunch of guys, then turns to regard Seabiscuit fighting off a bunch of guys, then faces forward and broods on the metaphor a-forming in his mind. To be fair, he did not then snap his fingers, widen his eyes, tear off his cap and light out to tell Mr. Howard, but he might as well have.

All the acting and craft elements were dandy, but the story was so hectoring on its points as to be insulting. The sad thing is, I am very susceptible to the idea of America as a land of hope and opportunity that offers even to the damaged a path to glory and redemption. But a witless repetition of cliches on the subject just makes me want to snort.

Which, come to think of it, kind of explains this weblog.

MORE OLD BUSINESS. It has been 54 days since I wondered aloud at Andrew Sullivan's description of Howard Dean as "from Vermont, one of the home bases of what's being called 'the Starbucks Metrosexual elite.'" So I went to Google to see if anyone on the Web has actually used that term in relation to anything except Sullivan's use of it.

Chirp. Chirp.

Odd, I thought the guy knew a lot of bloggers.

Monday, January 05, 2004

A GIMME -- WITH AN EXPLANATION. Tan, wretched and ready Andrew Sullivan is celebrating his return to workaday life with a long post about the NYT's alleged distortion of Bush's gay marriage statement.

The post has absolutely no significant new information and mainly repeats a previous Sullivan charge, made to shore up the insane idea that Bush is somehow sympathetic to gay marriage.

Two can play at that game, Sullivan: why waste our readers' time and our own, when we can just waste our readers'? I herewith repost what I said about Sullivan's bullshit last month.
[Sullivan reports:] "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"...

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.
Beats workin'.

OL' BLOOD 'N' GUTS' FINAL SOLUTION. I am a dedicated follower of General Ralph "Blood 'n' Guts" Peters (last sighting here), and look forward to each new column as eagerly as if it were a new Lockhorns installment.

His most recent column, though, has me worried. Not that it is stylistically off the mark -- it is in some ways the apotheosis of his style. But I fear he may have shot his wad.

The column opens with a graf of breathtaking logical inversion:
It's fashionable in left-wing circles to describe anyone who admires America as a fascist. But the real totalitarian threats of our time come from the left. And no public figure embodies the left's contempt for basic freedoms more perfectly than Howard Dean.
First a grotesque mischaracterization of a mischaracterization (us dirty hippies call tough-talking law-and-order types fascists, General -- people who "admire America" we call saps!), then a sweeping and undemonstrable historical generalization, closing with an outrageous slur against Dean and all Democrats that actually mirrors the liberal name-calling Peter first complained about! It's so wrong it's beautiful, like Beavis & Butthead with battle decorations.

Peters claims that Dean supporters are against free speech because they "try to intimidate other presidential aspirants by surrounding the cars delivering them to their rallies and chanting to drown out their speech... These are the techniques employed by Hitler's Brownshirts." I'm not sure what real-world events, if any, he's referring to -- the
Washington Post did report that Dean supporters chanted outside a Gephardt speech; Gephardt's people were obliged to close the windows, and his spokesperson called the act "a little bit disrespectful," which hardly summons up visions of Kristallnacht. (I can't find any reference in actual news to the car thing, which may exist only in one of Peters' brain-bubbles.)

Then Peters compares Howard Dean to Hitler, Goebbels, Big Brother, Lenin, Brezhnev, and Gorbachev.

All good fun, but you see the problem, don't you? The election is ten months away, and Peters has already gone to the money shot. After you've repeatedly compared a candidate and his followers to Nazis, what else is left? Maybe you could compare them to evil space aliens who are a hundred times worse than Hitler -- or Saddam Hussein. But nothing else quite has that Hitler zing.

Now Peters is stuck with the Hitler parallel. He may try to find another metaphor -- comparing Dean to a dung-beetle, say, or an artichoke, or a stagecoach -- but Peters' gift is not so much for creative writing as for monomania, and he will revert. And after a few months of screaming Hitler at the Democrats, Peters will sound like your typical Free Republic poster talking about Lincoln.

The General has given good froth for a few seasons, but it may be that -- like that other great General, Coriolanus -- he has o'erreached.

Sunday, January 04, 2004

DON'T FEED THE TROLLS, DOC. Rachel Marsden is harshing on Howard Dean. (Thanks, Kevin, for the link.) It's mostly the sort of ad hominem bilge (Democrats are "sex-starved, party-deprived" "new age hippies" who have "run out of beer money") that all right-wing pin-ups from Coulter on down use establish their media profiles.

But even ambitious up-and-comers must do their grunt work at the Mighty Wurlitzer, and Marsden takes time to assist in the now widespread misrepresentation regarding Dean's "comments... about not wanting to pin the blame for 9/11 on poor Osama bin Laden."

What Dean actually said, even as excerpted by the vile Washington Times, is very sensible: "I've resisted pronouncing a sentence before guilt is found... I still have this old-fashioned notion that even with people like Osama, who is very likely guilty, we should do our best not to, in positions of executive power, not to prejudge jury trials."

If you think about it for more than two seconds (as I know a few of us have), it shows a healthy respect for, and confidence in, our system of justice. Of course, thinking is frowned upon in the current media environment, and our outrage merchants have found Dean's comments an easy layup in the game of Gotcha, and have egregiously manipulated them.

This quickly pushed Dean into an unfortunate attempt at clarification: "As a president, I would have to defend the process of the rule of law. But as an American, I want to make sure he gets the death penalty he deserves."

AP helpfully adds that "The former Vermont governor said he was simply trying to state in The Concord Monitor interview [the original source of the first quote] that the process of trying bin Laden needs to be fair and credible." But it still sounds like backtracking: if you don't want your comments to prejudice Osama bin Laden's trial, why say you want him dead?

In the short term, Dean got the politically convenient headlines he probably wanted ("Dean: Death to Osama" -- CBS News). But you know that, once the usual suspects are convinced that the original tsimmis has been played out, this second quote will be labelled another Dean flip-flop, further proving his volatility, unreliability, insanity, or whatever. (In fact, one or two fever-swamp opinion leaders have already done so.)

This may turn out to be a worthwhile trade-off for the Doc. Dean probably remembers how bad Mike Dukakis looked when CNN's Bernard Shaw asked him, during the 1988 Presidential debates, if he would not be tempted to favor the death penalty if someone raped and murdered his wife. Dukakis, clearly blind-sided, hemmed and hawed like a second-string high-school debater with a bad flu. Maybe Dean figured a small expression of righteous indignation, however flawed, might disabuse voters who had been manipulated into thinking that he was soft on bin Laden.

The problem, as I see it, is that Dean's kill-Osama gambit doesn't address his original statement -- it addresses the misinterpretation of that statement. He's playing on his opponents' terms. He might seem more aggressive than Dukakis here because he's using aggressive language. But in the long term, the other guys could turn it all around and say that mad, red-faced Howard has been only been aggressive in defending himself.

He should have just said, "Yeah, I believe in jury trials and the American people -- you got a problem with that?" Then let the trolls tear themselves to shreds. (I'm sure that within days you'd have a nest of commentators explaining to the American people that they are not fit to serve on a bin Laden jury. That would be worth any number of "Death to Osama" headlines.)

I like Dean and applaud his success. So I'd hate to see him pecked to death on stuff like this. Dean's obviously confident enough in his views -- else why run for President? I hope he can communicate that confidence more strongly in the future.
BOOK CHAT. Aren't you tired of politics already? I sure as fuck am.

Been reading a bunch of John O'Hara stories. This guy sold a lot mid-century, and it's easy to see why. Alice in Wonderland said, "What's the use of a book without pictures and conversations?" and if O'Hara didn't provide pictures (though his descriptions of settings are often rendered in clinical detail), boy oh boy did he provide conversations. No matter how dim or introverted, his characters fill their quote marks like senators on a filibuster. During one story particularly, "Andrea," about a long-term affair between two chronic unmarriageables, I kept thinking Shut up! Shut up and get to the punch line already! The punch line, alas, is usually dreary and unsatisfying.

Every once in a while, though, he rings a bell. Gore Vidal, who summed him up in 1964, thought O'Hara rang it in "The Trip," which I haven't read. I heard the bell in "Flight," which starts with an old playwright taking a spectacular fall on an icy sidewalk and, before he (unexpectedly) dies from his injury, having a long, pertinent conversation with his ex-actress wife, and an equally pertinent monologue, addresed to his dead son in a dream:
If you lead a completely useless life, but do it with style and die young enough, you're quite likely to be remembered with more affection than the man who has a record of accomplishment. But the secret is to die young enough. If you think you're going to live to a ripe old age, it's better to pile up a record of accomplishment of some sort. It may be bridge-building, or money-making, or butterfly-collecting, but it has to be something. People don't like to see longevity wasted on a do-nothing. And as a rule, it isn't...

Vidal thought O'Hara's writing overly improvisational, without a strong sense of direction. But the most skilled and dogged improvisers do develop a knack for bringing it all back home, as they say.

Also read most of George Gissing's "The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft," a made-up collection of journal writings by a Grub Street hack who has found leisure to pen some arty occasional pieces in his old age. (Gissing wrote "New Grub Street," the novel that gave him a brief vogue in his own time and also in the late 1990s, based equally, one imagines, on his experiences as, well, a Grub Street hack.) It's mostly pretty dreadful -- the wheezes of a petty bourgeois playing at Thoreau -- but I find it instructive sometimes to read bad writing from a previous era. This one's sort of like "Tuesdays with Morrie" from the turn of the last Century, with treacly amateur naturalism, imbecile social analysis, and breast-clasping swoons over ancient literature ("But I am thinking of the Anabasis. Were this the sole book existing in Greek, it would be abundantly worth while to to learn the language in order to read it") that remind me of the insufferable David Denby after he took a course in the Great Books.

Speaking of vintage crap, I've also been leafing through "The Spike," the 1980 novel by Arnaud de Borchgrave and Robert Moss about a Woodwardesque reporter who learns that the CIA was right about everything and that the American government is worm-eaten by Soviet moles (reaching as high as the Vice-Presidency) who yearn for a CCCP takeover. This piece of shit follows the Ludlam-Drury playbook, with villainous collectivists ("'All we need to do,' Barisov continued, 'is to help a few people -- journalists, junior officials -- to follow their own instincts'") that would make Ayn Rand blush, and softcore porn that would make anyone blush ("His hands were already moving over her slim, exquisitely molded body... Before he was sure she was ready, her deft, slender fingers pulled him deep inside her"). But the political impetus is stark and obvious: hippies and liberals are pawns of the Reds and those with some integrity left must be turned toward the light so that America can finally do something about Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia! Well, it worked, of course, and we see its bitter fruit falling around us now. Never underestimate the power of bad fiction.

There's more, but aren't you tired of art already?