Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Everything is About Sex

Except sex, which is about everything else. Amusing and perverse and exaggerated, but there is much of art, and some of life, where that holds.

Sexuality in literature is a language in which what is not said is more important than what is. This principle holds good not only for writers who, for good reasons or bad, tackle sexual themes more or less indirectly, but also for those who invest the entire force of their discourse in them. Even writers whose erotic imagination aspires to pass all bounds often use a language that starts off with the utmost clarity and then passes into a mysterious obscurity precisely at the moments of greatest tension, as if its end result could never be anything but inexpressible. This spiral movement to get around or skim over the inexpressible is shared by writers of the most extreme eroticism, such as Sade and Bataille, and also those writers, such as Henry James, from whose pages sex appears to be strictly banned.

The thick symbolic armor beneath which Eros hides is no other than a system of conscious or unconscious shields that separate desire from the representation of it. From this point of view all literature is erotic, just as all dreams are erotic. In the explicitly erotic writer we may therefore recognize one who uses the symbols of sex to give voice to something else, and this something else, after a series of definitions that tend to take shape in philosophical and religious terms, may in the last instance be redefined as another and ultimate Eros, fundamental, mythical, and unattainable.

[Italo Calvino, "Sex and Laughter," 1970, translated by Guido Almansi]

For a literary critic, Calvino is full of good sense and humanism. Here he is on satire:

One component of satire is moralism, and another is mockery. I would like these two components to remain foreign to me, partly because I do not appreciate them in others. Anyone who plays the moralist thinks he is better than others, whereas anyone who goes in for mockery thinks he is smarter -- or, rather, he believes that things are simpler than they appear to be to others. In any case, satire excludes an attitude of questioning and questing. On the other hand, it does not exclude a large dose of ambivalence, which is the mixture of attraction and repulsion that animates the feelings of every true satirist toward the object of his satire. And if this ambivalence helps to give satire a richer psychological depth, it does not on this account make it a more flexible instrument of poetic knowledge. The satirist is prevented by repulsion from gaining a better knowledge of the world he is attracted to, yet he is forced by attraction to concern himself with the world that repels him.

["Comedy," 1967]

Which, at this moment and in the forum in which I type this, leads me to: And what is this parched little earth of political blog writing but the ugly parts of satire in their unjoined way, moralism over here, mockery over there, without the mild redemption that comes when they work as one under real satire and its forced tension and ambivalence? Questing and questioning never get out of the starting gate. It's why you can read and read so much online and never feel you've read anything, and still be starved for reading.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Earth Art

Breakfast Club

My son, who is 16, has seen some of the teen movies of the 1980s. He's surprised and somewhat dismayed at how much of the normal modern range of youth behavior and self-expression was regarded as wicked and curable as recently as 20 years ago. The Ally Sheedy character gets a makeover from the popular girl at the end of "The Breakfast Club" and winds up attracting the jock. My son found that disappointing.

Nowadays, there's a whole accepted sub-culture in high schools of kids who dress like psychotics about to rampage. They hang out at the entrance of the mall and try to look intimidating to conventional people who shop at the mall. They do this by wearing clothes they all bought at the Hot Topic store in the mall. Nobody aims to "cure" them. That's just how they are. Engaging in one of the endless variants of modern consumer freedom.

I had sort of the same reaction when I was a teenager in the '70s watching movies from the 1950s: "Rebel Without a Cause." What was so bad about any of those kids? They didn't seem like delinquents to me. They seemed pretty normal -- really, almost innocent compared to the kids I knew.

[Warning: Quantum leap ahead] This is the other side of what's gone on in politics and governance in America roughly since the Cold War began. We citizens can do more of whatever we want than we ever could before. But so can the government. We can act out anything, and we do, and we pay less and less attention to what goes on up in the castle. I'd rather be able to choose my range of behaviors than to have them chosen for me. But the price of that freedom seems to be an inattention to the hard things in adult life.

Somehow, the people with a fetish for power seem to sense this. Perhaps 100 years from now what will be noted is how Russia, China, and America all evolved the same way at once: an old paradox was resolved, and governments granted more freedom while they took more power. Or maybe it's just a bad night here.

Boom and Bust

The last laugh of the '60s generation:

We're going to make all of you old like we are--old and dumpy and querulous and fuddled. We're achieving it already. Look at the hip young men walking around in their high-water pants, wearing stupid bowling shirts buttoned up to the collar. A bunch of 28-year-olds are going to Starbucks dressed as their grandpas. And what about teenage droopy drawers? That's gramps's other fashion-forward look, perfect for a weekend of crab grass killing and mulching the hydrangeas. Great big cushy, ugly sneakers--be they ever so expensive or young-athlete-endorsed--are nothing but the dread "comfortable shoes" that have been worn by the geriatric for eons.

We have rendered mere school children as dependent upon Ritalin as we are upon Lipitor and Levitra. And watch those kids go out and play. They can't so much as hop on a bike without being swathed in helmets, knee pads, shin guards, and elbow cushions. It's like seeing John Kerry skateboard. Then there's the Segway, which is nothing but a device to make an able-bodied person in the prime of life look as pathetic as if he were in a walker.

P.J. O'Rourke, of course.


Death Penalty

A frank -- almost blunt -- invitation to talk about the death penalty here:

Could we ask the non-PC question, What do we do with persons who are no longer persons? Once as babies, or as young children appreciably peaceful, but somehow, somewhere along the line, the brain unraveled and deteriorated into a malicious ganglia of kill synapses that looks like, talks like an actual person. But isn’t. And more so, is not in any way fit to live amongst human beings without doing them harm.

We kill animals who have rabies because we don’t know how to heal them. And we execute people who have murdered once, or serially.

I don't object to it. Society ought to have the ability to express its complete rejection of certain extremely defective mentalities and destructive behaviors. But the number of death-row inmates whose convictions have been clouded by new evidence, especially DNA, ought to give anyone reason to reflect whether we're capable of proving who the real rabid animals are.


Earth Art

Earth Art

Earth Art

Earth Art

The Thing Is

Around 1990 I decided to start voting in elections. I had to accept that every person nominated by one of the two parties in the U.S. sooner or later was going to say something I really despised. Anyone who had a chance of being nominated for high office was going to say something so odious to me that properly ought to disqualify him or her from getting my vote. And probably mean it -- probably not misspeak or be misheard.

I voted anyhow, based on the notion that I was governed by a system of laws and arranged powers, to which I voluntarily sacrificed some of my own independence in exchange for the common good, and the benefits that would not otherwise come to me and every other citizen. I was voting for a renewal of that social contract, not because I liked anyone who wanted to work in it.

Now, with the endless electoral season, every candidate has the chance to say multiple things that make me cringe, and to repeat them. And with the bullhorn capabilities of the Internet, those cringe-making comments can be collected and repeated and any candidate can be made to look like someone I'd never trust anywhere near power.

And I'm less and less confident that we're governed by a system of balanced powers, not by personalities and agendas.

The Thing This Year

I went searching with very little hope of finding a video of Dinah Washington actually singing this double-entendre ditty, but I did find this semi-clever British (I think) video accompaniment:

Friday, October 26, 2007

Earth Art

Council Winners

Council winners for the week of Oct. 26 have been posted.

First place in the council went to The MSM's Rush Limbaugh Horror Story by Bookworm Room, which looks at the final chapter (as of this writing) in the contretemps over Rush Limbaugh's "phony soldiers" remark. She rightly scolds the New York Times for printing without qualification the version of what Limbaugh said and meant that was spun by the anti-Limbaugh faction.

The Times even ran a correction of some minor details in that story a couple of days later, but did not correct the big mistake at the core of the story.

On the other hand, I was impressed with the Associated Press coverage of the same story, the same day, which was attentive to the different versions of the story and the fact that the person who said something might know what he meant when he said it:

A letter from Democratic senators blasting conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh for using the phrase "phony soldiers" on his program was sold Friday on eBay for a record $2.1 million.

A private foundation made the winning bid, which eBay spokeswoman Catherine England said set a record for the most expensive item sold for charity by the online auctioneer.

Limbaugh's comment during his radio show last month drew broad criticism from Democrats, who said he was smearing soldiers opposed to the Iraq war. Limbaugh and other conservatives responded with outrage of their own, saying Democrats were mischaracterizing comments aimed at one particular former soldier who lied about his service.

Also getting votes were An Inconvenient Demographic Truth by Big Lizards and Walking Back the Cat x 2 by Soccer Dad.

Outside the council, the winner was Michael Yon's latest, Resistance Is Futile. He makes some important points in it, but it's not his typical work and not his strongest. He's out of the combat situations, trying to write about the disconnect between the realities of the war and the perceptions of it everywhere but at the front. That's not unique. But this war offers the reverse of the usual case, in that, in the past, people at home held a positive and sanitized view of the fighting while the men who were in it knew otherwise.

Votes also went to The Massacre at Karsaz Bridge: Analysis of the Bhutto Blast (Part 2) at The Pakistan Policy Blog, which did an excellent job of keeping pace with the horror-bombing as it broke, and to Thompson Gets Immigration Right at Jay

In addition, votes went to a post whose title I hesitate to print, but I will because customarily I list every post in the category into which this one falls: The Niggers of Palestine by Daled Amos. It's not a word I would censor. But it's a word I consider it worthwhile to cross the street to avoid meeting in print, on my own turf.

The topic is the treatment of Jews who lived in Palestine before there was an Israel. The peg is recent commentary on Condoleezza Rice and whether she sees the situation of the Palestinians as on some level comparable to that of blacks in the pre-Civil Rights South of the U.S.

Very well, legitimate topic, but the use of the offensive word seemed gratuitous in the title. It is only mentioned once in the text, in a quote from someone who obviously doesn't know a whole lot of U.S. history (and is talking about actual slaves, not disenfranchised blacks in America). His author is sufficiently aware of this to caveat her statement with a "perhaps."

The whole analogy in the post is fraught with difficulties, which the author seems not to realize as he wades into it. If Rice erred in going there, the same risk stands for everyone else who follows for the sake of upbraiding her.

Extensive statistical comparisons are made, for instance, between the lives of Palestinians in Israel and those outside it. Not surprisingly, those in Israel live better materially. But since the slavery image already hangs over the piece, the reader then remembers that black slaves in the American South lived materially better lives, not only than black Africans of the same era but of free blacks in the North of the U.S. Which doesn't advance the argument being attempted. Better to have left the N-word out of it.


Earth Art

Religion and Magic

This isn't new, but it will stand as my provocative quote on religion and magic for the Halloween season:

Is there a difference between magic and religious practice? Those who say such a difference exists point out that magic does not require a community. Many witches, for instance, are solitaries. Magic has less firm doctrine than organized religion. It requires no conversion experience and--perhaps most marked--it requires no humility or repentance. The magical practitioner may worship, but he is likely to see himself as summoning the gods or evoking powers through actions rather than through any purity of heart or righteousness of petition.

I have found far less bad or black magic being performed than I expected. Western magical traditions and Wicca seem to hew pretty close to Christian ideas about pursuing good and eschewing evil. As Cat Yronwode put it, “Wicca is just Christianity with a goddess.”


Friday Cat Blogging

A double shot. First, "Sadie:"

Next, for all you "Star Wars" fans:


Thursday, October 25, 2007

Race for Home

How would you like to live in a neighborhood of 30 homes, where 20 houses were home to white families, 4 to blacks, 4 to Hispanics, and one to Asians?

Sounds good to me. Sound good to you? Or not? The answer might depend on what race you are And it might not break the way you expect.

Reynolds Farley and his students did studies on black and white preferences in the 1990s. Most black and white Americans would like to live in an integrated neighborhood. The most common African-American preference would be for the neighborhood to be 50% black. Most white Americans would prefer their neighborhood to be no more than about 15% black. You can see the problem -- neighborhoods passing the 15% black threshold are more attractive to African Americans, but less attractive to whites; such neighborhoods tend not to stabilize at 50% black, but keep going to nearly all black.

Since the Farley studies were published, the nation has gotten more diverse, so much so that most researchers would not limit their studies to just black/white integration. This is a good development. The more people see that the options are not just black and white, the harder it is to think of a single tipping point that would make a neighborhood head to all one group or another.

[Hat tip]

But it might be more complicated than that. The sociological study reported on here "found that race and class may be more important than the actual levels of disorder in shaping how whites, blacks and Latinos perceive the health of a neighborhood."

As the proportion of black residents in a neighborhood increased, white residents' perception of disorder also soared -- even in neighborhoods that the raters had judged to be no more ramshackle than others with a smaller proportion of black residents. The researchers found the same thing when they looked at the percentage of families living in poverty: In neighborhoods with more poor people, residents perceived more disorder, regardless of the objective condition of the neighborhood.

Much to the researchers' surprise, they saw the same patterns when they looked at the perceptions of black residents. As the percentage of African Americans in the neighborhood increased, the percentage of black residents who judged their neighborhood to be in disarray also rose -- out of proportion to the neighborhood's rating. In fact, the perceptions of blacks were no less likely than those of whites to be negatively affected by an increasing number of black residents.

Among Latinos, the pattern was even starker. They were far more likely than either blacks or whites to be negatively affected by the increased presence of black residents, the researchers found.

What explains these reactions? For Latinos and whites, the answer might seem obvious: racism. Researchers have known for years that new immigrants quickly learn on their arrival to the United States that blacks are a stigmatized group and are to be avoided at all costs. "Latino immigrants therefore may draw too heavily on the presence of blacks as a proxy for disorder," Sampson and Raudenbush wrote.

But racial bias is not the whole answer, claim Sampson and Raudenbush. If it were, why were blacks as likely as whites to see more disorder than was really there?

The answer, they argue, seems to be that blacks had bought into the same negative stereotypes as whites, and have come to associate black neighborhoods -- any black neighborhood -- with decay and dysfunction, regardless of the objective condition of the area.

This stuff can make your head spin.


Earth Art

Warp Time

Even Atrios of the shrieky left is fed up with the Stuck-in-the-Sixties crowd.

I don't deny that the 60s were a significant historical and cultural time for the US for a variety of reasons, I just don't understand why 40 years later some people can't seem to comprehend any political issue without shoe horning it into some template stamped out back then.

Word, as the kids say.


News Item

Defect Suspected in Fabric of Space-Time

That's going to be one hellacious product recall.


Seeing the Elephant

Michael Yon has a close encounter with the Talented Mr. Beauchamp. Yon's politely asks the detractors to back off:

Beauchamp is young; under pressure he made a dumb mistake. In fact, he has not always been an ideal soldier. But to his credit, the young soldier decided to stay, and he is serving tonight in a dangerous part of Baghdad. He might well be seriously injured or killed here, and he knows it. He could have quit, but he did not. He faced his peers. I can only imagine the cold shoulders, and worse, he must have gotten. He could have left the unit, but LTC Glaze told me that Beauchamp wanted to stay and make it right. Whatever price he has to pay, he is paying it.

The commander said I was welcome to talk with Beauchamp, but clearly he did not want anyone else coming at his soldier. LTC Glaze told me that at least one blog had even called for Beauchamp to be killed, which seems rather extreme even on a very bad day. LTC Glaze wants to keep Beauchamp, and hopes folks will let it rest. I’m with LTC Glaze on this: it’s time to let Beauchamp get back to the war. The young soldier learned his lessons. He paid enough to earn his second chance that he must know he will never get a third.

All of which manages to inspire this odd sort of response:

There's a lesson to be learned here alright but it's for the armchair warriors who think they had any right to judge Beauchamp in the first place. The humiliation belongs to those who mercilessly attacked an active duty soldier for telling a war story -- and it makes no difference whether it was true or not. Even if he made the whole thing up, he earned that right by being there and fighting for his country.

Emphasis added. It reminds me of the story of my friend's divorce, where the judge asked the poetess wife why she could not reconcile with the journalist husband. Caught off-guard by the question, she floundered a bit, then blurted out, "because he believes in an ultimate reality, and I don't."

Nowadays, I suppose, they'd have stayed married, since reality doesn't matter to journalism, either. As long as you've satisfied some faction that you've earned the right to lie indiscriminately.

Meanwhile, on the anti-war side, it really is that ugly.


The Artificial Honkey

Shaun Mullen calls Clarence Thomas a white man:

Thomas, Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito and John Roberts, nominees of Bush père and his son, are all conservatives except when it comes to their judicial activism, the very outrage that conservatives decried when Bill Clinton was president. And with O’Connor, the great equalizer, retired, these four white men (yes, Thomas, too) will be imposing their agenda on all of us for many years to come.

"Race" is an artificial idea, biologically. However, it is an ironclad reality in American life, past and present. To pretend it can be changed by a person's statements and political votes is, frankly, one of the ugliest, stupidest things anyone every typed into existence.

We've now gone completely mad in the way Orwell warned. Language has become unmoored from reality. Barack Obama, who has better claim to the literal sense of "African-American" than most modern American blacks, is denied the label. But while racial identity has become something bestowed (or withheld) by some self-appointed sanhedrin of social purists, gender is a personal choice and nobody can call you anything but what you decide to call yourself.

Exaggeration? Not where I work. According to the Associated Press stylebook, the newspaper copy editors' bible:

transgender Use the pronoun preferred by the individuals who have acquired the physical characteristics of the opposite sex or present themselves in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth.

If that preference is not expressed, use the pronoun consistent with the way the individuals live publicly.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Just Another Soccer Pitch

View Larger Map

Zeppelinfeld, outside Nuremberg, where Hitler viewed the mass party rallies from the concrete review stand in the upper middle part of the picture. You can still stand there and look out on the field.

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And Now It Gets Weird

"Rubber Duckie," German techno remix:


Painful Contradictions

Famous Marxist historian's grown daughter says she has recovered memory that he abused her sexually. The result is a red house divided and much soul-searching by his disciples. Can the work stand if the man falls? If the public life is devoted to revolt against institutionalized repression, and the private life intimate slavery?

And then the small wreck of one life on the Old Left begins to merge with the larger one of the whole faction in the middle of the last century.

The motif of Intimate Politics that personal life has public implications, however, would seem to make a thoroughgoing reconsideration of Herbert Aptheker inescapable. That moral inventory would necessarily include not only his treatment of his daughter but also the incongruities of the midcentury Communist project he championed, with its admixture of authoritarianism and liberation. Along with paeans to black freedom, Aptheker penned a host of pro-Soviet apologetics, justifying, for example, the crushing of Hungarian workers' councils in 1956. Even his African-American histories found their critics. C.L.R. James regretted his works as "weapons in the Stalinist propaganda armory." Harold Cruse objected to "the sentimental slave hero worship of the Aptheker cult."

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More Old School 'Street"

Two who need no introduction.


Once More

LTC Linda J. M. Holloway, a United States Army Reservist with 22 years experience, is currently serving in Iraq as a Civil Affairs Officer on an ePRT, which stands for Embedded Reconstruction Team, near the town of Haditha. During her many meetings with local Iraqis since the start of her tour in October, 2007, LTC Holloway has realized that "[t]he rebuilding of Iraq is more than just mortar and bricks; it is the rebuilding of people’s lives that have been devastated by the many years of war in Iraq...There is indeed a cry for help and it is the cry of the "War Widows."

And so she started something. And you can help her with it.

It hasn't sunk in to everyone yet, because some have pinned their reputation on the meme of "fiasco and failure," like the U.S. Democrats of 1862 or the British opposition of 1812:

"No man in his senses," said Sir Francis Burdett, " could entertain a hope of the final success of our arms in the Peninsula. Our laurels were great, but barren, and our victories in their effects mere defeats."

But a large and important swath of Iraq has seen a major drop in violence, in part due to the "surge," in part due to the Sunnis turning on al Qaida, and, to a lesser extent, the Shi'ites rejecting the militias.

This is not peace by a long shot, or even success. A lot of it happened without our intention, but that's always the case in a war. What this could be is one of those "end of the beginning" moments. It is not success, but it could clear the path for it. It is success on the tribal level that happens without reference to, or in spite of, the supposed government of that country. For it to be real success, either the government will have to be infected with the same attitudes, or it will have to be replaced, hopefully at the next election. The swerve toward stability can't last unless that happens.

And it can't happen if the American forces suddenly drop out of the picture. Yet every politician, even Bush, is talking about a draw-down of some sort, sensing the voting public has lost the will to advance the cause of the Iraqi people.

Do something. Don't wait for the politicians to lead; they never will. Tens of thousands of our former enemies in Iraq are now working with us. That move was forced on them by the insolent barbarity of the Islamists whom they mistook for their friends. Their friendship with us is so far a matter mostly of convenience. But it can be won in fact if they discover our concern for their lives and futures and our mutual commitment to their prosperity and liberty.

Spirit of America, which I linked above, has done valuable work since the start of the occupation on humanitarian projects in Iraq, reacting to what the military men and women in the country identify as needs and opportunities. In so many cases in the Sunni region, it has cast its seeds on barren soil. Now, however, the seeds might take root.

If you've all but given up on the country, rally what you have left of that original spirit. The sacrifice in this war has touched a few American families intensely and most not at all. Give a little. There's a whole shelf of books written lately by anti-war people describing in excruciating detail how the Sunni Iraqis will never be anything but implacable foes of America. Here's your chance to send them into the remainder bin before the ink is even dry.

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This is how a normal person turns into Andy Rooney.

I stop in to the same coffee shop in my dinner break just about every working day. I'm not totally a creature of habit, but when I find something that works for me, I stick with it. I order the same thing: A double espresso to go, no lid. The girls who work there all know me. The fire up the machine when they see me come through the door. We chat while it's dripping. They and I know to the penny how much it costs, with tax ($1.86).

One creative barrista and I used to amuse ourselves and baffle other customers by occasionally carrying out the entire transaction in an imaginary lively babble-language, complete with hand gestures and facial expressions. We could as easily have done it in complete silence.

Then the owners of the place bought a "computerized" cash register. What a coffee shop needs with that is beyond me, but I'm not a business owner, so maybe there's a point besides simply having new technology. What was clear at once is that it was set up and designed by someone who never worked in a coffee shop. None of the touch-screen entries quite corresponded to anything they sold there. There was no "double espresso" entry, for instance. It's not like that's an exotic drink or anything. I watched one veteran employee there fumble through it, re-start the transaction three times, eventually consult a cheat sheet (which was of no help) and eventually just push buttons till she came up with the combination that yielded the price we both knew was right.

And every time I ordered with a different server, that process was repeated. I'd stand on one side of the counter. She'd stand on the other. We both knew what I was going to get and what I was going to give her. Sometimes I'd have the exact change right on the counter. But we just stood there and nothing could happen till she had deciphered the arcane ritual of the computer cash register. Which, after all, is just a place to stash money, like the old mechanical one was.

How is this better?

Example two. I did something to my shoulder/upper back recently that left me with the feeling like there was an axe embedded in it, and the inability to turn my head 45 degrees. As usual, I did nothing but pop over-the-counter painkillers, complain a lot, and wait for it to heal itself. Because I know that when you go to the doctor, whatever is wrong with you, you end up with that problem plus a headache.

After two weeks, it showed no improvement, so I broke down and went to the doctor. He gave me a scrip for an X-ray and told me to go set it up. I called the hospital and spent much too long on the phone with a receptionist of some sort who couldn't set up my X-ray appointment because she couldn't decide which box to check on her list of "what body part to X-ray." It wasn't shoulder, exactly, but it wasn't lower back. It wasn't neck. It was a bit of all three. In the end, she told me to call the doctor back and try to get him to say something that fit into her list of possible boxes to check.

I could just walk into the X-ray room, reach over my shoulder (which would hurt) or point to an anatomy chart on the wall, and say, "here, this is where it hurts. Take a picture of that." But nooooooo, as Steve Martin would have said if this was 1977. Day two of this attempt begins tomorrow. Along with day two of my journey into Andyrooneyhood.

[And I can't help but note that some people think what's needed in American medical care is yet another layer of bureaucracy, yet another layer of badly designed computers and baffling forms, provided by the people who brought you the Post Office and the 1040. Everyone deserves to be treated if sick. I believe in a safety net. But I pray the gods keep me far from it. When I fall into it, I find the safety net feels like a malicious sticky spider's web.]


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

More Old School 'Street'

OK, now check this out. I popped in a classic "Sesame Street" DVD while Li'l Boogie was playing on the floor (more for background; she generally ignores it) while I did something on the computer. And there amid Ernie's snickering and Big Bird's puerility (Big Bird is the most annoying fucking character ever put on TV) I heard a voice -- a cadence -- that sounded really familiar. I turned around and it took me a minute to recognize him -- this was 1970 or '71. But there he was:

Me, I'm a big fan. Not necessarily his politics, but his politicking. If you ever get to hear him give a speech at a rally, don't miss it. It's a taste of how things used to be.


The Party I'm Looking For

In the middle of this piece comes this pair of quotes:

“I would like to see us try to restrain ourselves in condemning through resolutions all of that with which we disagree,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said at the time, though he also said, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”

By "at the same time" meaning, I suppose, in the same conversation. Which means at least he sees the connection. Which is, I suppose a sign of hope.

You see, the party I'm looking for is the one that will take the high ground and condemn the act when the opposition party does something contrary to good American habits (like legislatively condemning political speech by citizens), and then, when the opportunity comes to do the same, will let it pass -- and give the same reason for doing so.

Even if it's done only to avoid alienating voters.

Because that means that party is at least aware of the number of people out here who who think what's good for the goose may be good for the gander and still be bad for the republic.

A Good Start

My own test for spotting a phoney liberal is as follows. If you think Bush is a fascist and Castro is a progressive, you are not a democrat. If you think cultural traditions can trump women’s rights, you are not a feminist. And if you think antisemitic rants are simply an expression of frustration with American and Israeli policy, you have learnt nothing from history.

Sarah Baxter, who goes on with:

It is no longer possible to tell at a glance which side people are on. My husband, a photographer, has long hair and wears T-shirts and cargo pants. We live in stuffy Washington, where almost everybody wears a suit and tie but secretly longs to be artistic and hip. On the school run, nice lawyers confide to him that they hate George Bush, despise the Iraq war and are not as reactionary as they look. They are completely thrown if he tells them he dislikes Islamo-fascism more than Bush, is glad to see the back of Saddam Hussein, supports Nato against the Taliban and thinks the Iranian mullahs should never be trusted with a nuclear bomb. He considers himself an antifascist who believes in the secular values of the Enlightenment and human rights. There is nothing radical about being tolerant of the intolerant, he says.

While you're at it, check out Emily Hill on Martin Amis, who features in Baxter's piece. Hill would pass Baxter's test for a genuine liberal, I suspect. She has her blind spots: Islamic zealots were "nurtured" by the West "as a counterweight to genuinely secular and anti-imperialist mass movements" -- genuinely run by the Soviet Union. Often writers from her perspective find it convenient to forget there ever was a Cold War. The U.S. made its bad choices during that war, but they were not unforced errors.

Yet she can see something:

Put your hands up, said Amis, if you think you are morally superior to the Taliban. When a minority of the audience did so, Amis muttered: ‘About 30 per cent…’ His implication is that, in our current relativistic climate, it is taboo to assert your superiority to anything – even the Taliban. Anyone who values freedom, Amis says, should have a problem with Islamism. He graphically went through some of the feudal punishments that the Taliban metes out to women who step out of line. ‘We’re in a pious paralysis when we can’t say we’re morally superior to the Taliban’, he said. His attack on cultural relativism is welcome, and it certainly exposed moral sheepishness amongst the assembled at the ICA. But I couldn’t help thinking: is that it? Is that what it means to be ‘Enlightened’ and principled today – to be Not-The-Taliban?

There's enough shared reality in that that I can talk to that person and be confident we're using the same words to mean the same things, mostly.

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Council Winners

Watchers Council winners for the week of October 19 have been posted.

In a tiebreaker, the winning vote went to Carrolling from right here, over Texas Gang Rape and Murder Case Puts America's Sovereignty In Jeopardy at Joshuapundit.

Votes also went to NY Times, Al Gore and the "Stolen" 2000 Election at The Colossus of Rhodey; Private Anti-terror Efforts by Soccer Dad; and Gore Derangement Syndrome? at Cheat Seeking Missiles.

Outside the council, the winner was The Problems and Course of Rebuilding in Iraq at Dumb Looks Still Free.

Votes also went to MSM Bias and Pallywood: Incompetence or Malice? at ShrinkWrapped; When Heidi Met Mehmet in the Meadow at The Brussels Journal; Timeline of the Amazing Disappearing Blog Posts and Comments at the L.A. Times at Patterico's Pontifications; and A Thought Experiment for Civil Libertarians at Atlas Blogged.


From My Head to Yours

I don't know. Parenting without television doesn't mean parenting without a television. The wife's been renting some classic "Sesame Street" DVDs. You take this stuff for granted when you've grown up around it. But some of it is wickedly good. And some of it is just stupidly catchy. I want to learn more about who did the music and songs.



Apologies for light posting. There's an interesting debate underway here, for you red meat fans.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Legalize It, But ...

When it comes to marijuana, I'm a straight-up "legalize it, regulate it, tax it" American. But I understand that has to be done deliberately and carefully. And I'm alert to the innocence of hemp and those who wish to grow it for fabrics.

But I also understand that legalizing commercial-grade hemp is effectively legalizing pot. There's no simple way to tell the kind of hemp you make a tote bag from from the kind of hemp you fire up and listen to Morcheeba with the headphones on. Unless you want to sift through a 500-acre field of plants one by one.

It would make the business of enforcing the law impossibly expensive and difficult. It would be a back-door to legalization. And while I'm in favor of legalization, I prefer it to be done through the front door.



First, let's have some fun with the historical parallel:

Such is why President Bush has recently had some nice things to say about Hillary Clinton, leading some to speculate that Bush sees her as the Eisenhower to his Truman—a candidate from the opposing party who criticizes his foreign policy during the campaign, but will likely pursue a very similar policy should she be elected.

So, that mean she'll act stupid, play a lot of golf, and let the CIA overthrow the government of Iran, right?

OK, get it out of your system, then tell me; is this realistic? I know the netroots fear Hillary for just this reason, but I don't trust their eyesight. I know it's a neo-con's dream that she'll turn out to be the white knight who does it all right, but I think they're too punch-drunk to be trustworthy at this point. [What's the old Chinese proverb? Damsel in distress mistakes the pounding of her own heart for the hoofbeats of her rescuer.]

One reason I don't think it will be so is that the mechanism of government is different since Ike's day. The Republicans had been out of office forever by the time he took over. They literally had no one in the ideological core of the party in any real leadership positions. The Democratic administration, however, based on the wartime spirit, had taken in a few good Republicans and given them some positions of middling importance. Foster Dulles in State is a key example. He served under Acheson and was conversant in all the important policies until the summer of the election, when he hit the campaign trail as a critic of the very administration he had helped shape. Naturally, when he became Sec. of State himself, there was no radical shift in policies.


Pop Music and Race

Here's an extraordinarily good meditation on the topic.

Friday, October 19, 2007

But Not Forgotten

It's not uncommon, even in reading reputable sources on the Pacific part of World War II, to encounter this:

The only American carrier to survive the war was USS Enterprise.

I don't know how that ever took root. It ignores "Stripe-Stacked Sara," the USS Saratoga.

The Saratoga (above) was one of the sleeker-looking carriers in the old fleet (if you can stand the top-heavy profile). That's because her keel had been laid during World War I as a battle cruiser, but after postwar armaments treaties limited that class of ships, the Navy switched it over and made an aircraft carrier out of it. Aircraft carriers turned out to be the major punishing weapon in the next war, and battle cruisers played a relatively small part. The Japanese Kaga (begun as a battleship) and Akagi (battle cruiser) underwent the same conversion, for the same reason, and their planes led the attack on Pearl Harbor. So much for creating peace by restricting armaments.

The Saratoga dealt a lot of pain and took a lot of harm during the war, but she came through it in one piece (unlike her twin the "Lady Lex", which went to the bottom at Coral Sea).

Here's what the Saratoga looks like today:

In relatively shallow waters off Bikini atoll. After the war, the government was curious what nuclear bombs would do to warships, so they parked a bunch of them at Bikini and set off a few bombs. Saratoga actually survived the first blast, but the second one did her in on July 25, 1946.


Thursday, October 18, 2007


There is a comments thread below that morphed into a topic I always find fascinating: Break up the American experience in modern times into coherent blocks of years that can be grouped together under one zeitgeist -- roughly the way we mean when we talk about "the sixties" or "the seventies." In the middle of it, I threw down this gauntlet:

1947-1956 = "true fifties"
1957-1964 "early sixties"
1965-1974 "late sixties"*
1975-1980 "seventies"

The '80s and '90s seemed to obey the calendar pretty well.

* specifically, to the day Nixon quit.

Those who have advanced that commets conversation since then are invited to repeat themselves here. Thosse who weren't aware this was going on are invited to dive in.

No Place Like Home

This, purporting to be a serious policy proposal from two of the "serious people" in the mainstream Democratic Party, is frankly stupid.

It's titled "Ending the Stalemate on Iraq." At least that much is accurate, but the authors probably didn't write the headline. It's about ending the domestic U.S. political stalemate over what America should do in Iraq. Iraqi realities barely get their head above water in this piece the requisite three times before they're allowed to drown.

Unfortunately, it's pretty typical writing from the centerish-left. The gist is: we can't get Congress to end the war, and the stalemate just lets Bush do what he wants, as CinC. We need some plan that looks like a win for us but can siphon off enough GOP votes to pass.

Lovely politics. Wretched policy. What does it look like in action? "a small sustainable military presence in Iraq for the foreseeable future to guard our strategic interests in the region. The size of the force should be determined by conditions on the ground [ed. -- "the ground" doesn't make decisions; the president does], but it should be significantly smaller than our current force."

What will it not do? "The smaller American military force should be deployed away from the fault lines of the civil war."

Natch! But what will it do? "[T]rain the Iraqi military, interdict terrorists from coming over the borders of Iran and Syria into Iraq, carry on the fight against Al Qaeda and prevent genocide in Iraq."

All without going anywhere near that stinky ol' civil war! Solve all the problems, without getting dirty. Just make sure the civil war happens way over there, while all these problems get solved way over here.

"A smaller military force can achieve all of these objectives, while preventing the Iraq War from turning into a wider conflict in the region." Did they remember to don the red shoes and click their heels before they started chanting that?

"Last month General David Petraeus was asked by Senator Warner if Americans were safer because of the war we are waging in Iraq. The General said he could not say for sure. This is the most credible acknowledgement we have that we need to change our strategy."

No, it's credible evidence that Petraeus is 1. honest, 2. sane. If you'd asked, say, Eisenhower on the eve of D-Day if it was going to succeed or fail, he'd have to have given the same answer. What Ford and From seem to want is generals who will give positive assurances, no matter what. That certainly would help their domestic political situation. As for Iraq, I could not say for sure. But it's already vanished beneath the waves of their think-piece by this time.

Honestly, if this is the best they've got, bring on Code Pink. Ford and From could learn some sense about realities outside the Beltway from the likes of Lawrence Wright:

As the Republican and Democratic Presidential contenders debate whether we should leave now, or soon, or years from now, they should remember that it’s not just an American decision. We didn’t ask the Iraqis if we could invade their country; we didn’t ask them if we could occupy it; and now we are not asking them if we should leave. Whatever we end up doing, we need to remember that eventually the only people who are going to occupy Iraq are the Iraqis, and that the decision of when we leave, as inevitably we will, should be as much theirs as ours.

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The Kick

From the New York Times obituary of Joey Bishop:

He refused to memorize jokes. "The kick is to think quickly," he told The Los Angeles Times in 1966. "It's a great kick." ... He got laughs one night when, in middle of a performance at the Copacabana in Manhattan, Marilyn Monroe suddenly appeared, swathed in white ermine. Bishop was quick. "Marilyn, I told you to sit in the truck," he said.

Lost Brain Cell Found Alive

For some reason, I've been remembering this all day.

Before It Goes Cold

Before the amusing Randi Rhodes incident (her injury was not amusing; the reaction to it was) fades into obscurity, let us recall that in the first flush of excitement many of our friends on the left cried out that Hitler, too, would arrange to have his vocal political opponents roughed up on the streets of Berlin.

So let us recall, too, that Hitler would spread outrageous lies about the vast web of plots and conspiracies his enemies were actively spinning to stop his march of truth.

Newsroom Conversation

Editor 1: "Martina McBride's new album has a song on it about Santorum's daughter crying at his concession speech."

Editor 2: "Making fun of the girl?"

Editor 3, grinning: "I hope so."

Alas, my boss is doomed to be disappointed:

In these times in which we live
Where the worst of what we live
Is laid out for all the world on the front page
And the sound of someone’s heartbreak
Is a sound bite at the news break
With a close shot of the tears rollin’ down their face
Blessed be the child who turns a loving eye
And stops to pray
For these times in which we live

As I read that verse, if anyone's being held up for rebuke here, it's not a crying little girl.


Slave Trade

Marcus Rediker's new book, "The Slave Ship , A Human History," looks like it could be a valuable contribution. It certainly attempts to fill one of the big holes in American historical scholarship. As Rediker himself notes here, and suggests a reason:

Perhaps the most significant reason for lack of scholarship, he says, is an assumption that "history happens on land, that the landed masses of the world are the real places and that the seas in between are a kind of void."

I would suggest a different one. The slave trade was carried on almost exclusively by New Englanders, who profited mightily from it. Curiously, I don't see this emphasized much in the writing about Rediker's book or his own comments on it.

In the wake of the Civil War, the national history narrative, shaped naturally by the victorious faction, took pains to write around the embarrassing facts about the slave trade. Later, in the national reckoning with institutional racism, America "solved" the problem by scapegoating the South as the locus of racism, then purging and curing it there. This allowed the bulk of the nation to feel like the good guys, the righters of wrongs perpetrated by others.

In all these various currents, the story of the North's extensive involvement in, and reliance on, slavery never became a convenient truth.


Do Ya Think?

Interesting hypothetical question (addressed to the snarky left) by Jeff G.:

Here’s a though experiment you might wish to try: ask yourself how you feel about the Buchananites and White Supremacists and the nativists who wish to see the US rid of the mongrels (kufr) who have diluted its cultural purity. Should, hypothetically, a band of 19 Aryans fly a bunch of planes into the heart of Mexico City — protesting how the Mexican government has foisted its immigration agenda onto the US in an attempt to one day take back California — would you be sympathetic to such arguments? Would Ward Churchill call all those who died in the attack “Little Eichmanns?”

Or would you each call them reactionary racists whose real goal was to gain power for themselves?

Don’t answer. That was rhetorical.

Leaving Las Vegas

[reposted more or less from 2004, in memory of Joey Bishop and the East Coast Sands]

When we were kids, an evening on the couch looking at the family slides was good for a hoot. You got to see yourself or your siblings or other relatives caught in grimacing facial gestures or bent over picnic tables. The occasional upside-down or sideways slide in the tray only added to the festive atmosphere.

OK, we were dull.

But one of the memorable chunks of my parents' slide collection was the set of pictures they took in Las Vegas when the lived there in the mid-50s. Those were the years when Sin City was still more than half a sleepy desert town, just beginning to flush full of mob money and sex and glitz. My dad was stationed in the Army near there. He was one of those GIs you see in the old "Dawn of the Atomic Age" newsreels. Their officers handed them sunglasses and said, "here, watch this nuclear bomb go off." Somehow, he still had enough sperm left after the irradiation to produce three children.

The slides I remembered would make a tremendous historical resource. You'd see the mobsters' cars parked by the side of the main street, and a local high school band parading down the middle of it. When I went through the slide boxes recently, I kept an eye out for those. But I found very few shots from my parents' days in the West. Perhaps they'll still turn up, but I asked my mom and my dad thinks they got moldy and he threw them away.

Here's a few that I did find. Click on the picture for a bigger version.

My mom in the car, somewhere on the California coast, probably near Monterey.

The house they lived in in Las Vegas.

This is one of the few Vegas pictures I found in the box of slides. The Sands, back in the Day.

Zoomed in on the entertainment billing at the Sands that day. "Page & Bray" were a dance team you'd occasionally see mid-show on Sullivan.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Who's a Good Man?

I have read another, similar, review of it elsewhere, but this New Yorker piece gets at the gist of the new Charles Schulz biography:

Later in the same section, he writes, “Charlie Brown has to be the one who suffers, because he is a caricature of the average person. Most of us are much more acquainted with losing than we are with winning.” This from a man who was making four million dollars in 1975 and was to receive, in the twenty-five years ahead, as much as sixty-two million a year, from the proceeds of the world’s most widely syndicated strip and of shrewdly managed licenses for merchandise (clothing, books, toys, greeting cards), advertising (cameras, cars, cupcakes, life insurance), translations (Arabic, Basque, Malay, Tlingit, Welsh), animated television specials, and the musical comedy “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” which went through forty thousand productions, involving two hundred and forty thousand different performers. Behind the bland face a fiercely competitive spirit blazed; as Snoopy challenged Charlie Brown for the starring role in the strip, his creator bragged, “He is the most recognized character in the world, much more so than Mickey Mouse”—a gratuitous put-down of his mightiest predecessor in multimedia self-exploitation, Walt Disney.

Who wrote that passage? Updike. Which makes perfect sense, when you consider the chronology of their fame. But also when you look into the interplay of imaginative personality and small-town background, the Cold War backdrop of their work, the cleavage between fantasy and reality, and their reaction to it, and how it propelled their art.

(I wrote about Schulz earlier here).

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Hybrid Monster

When newspapers think that blogs are just another medium, and if you publish a major-circulation newspaper you can automatically "do" blogs, too, they tend to make asses of themselves.


David Crosby thinks American soldiers are out to kill women. Of course Graham Nash thinks “dialogue” is the answer to suicidal jihadism.

Speaking here as someone who's had the delightful experience of watching David Crosby nod off from substance abuse during an interview in a club backstage room outside Philadelphia in the 1980s:

Part of me honestly can't wait for a great many people of "that generation" to go to their eternal reward. I recognize that as one of the most ungenerous and cruel thoughts I have. But I can't deny it.

Yet some other part of me wants to keep these coprolites around as long as possible, as an antidote to the continuous attempt by Hollywood, "Rolling Stone" and others of that breed to force-feed fresh generations of youth the false "Sixties were the Righteous Golden Age" poison. When to be young was very heaven and all would be right with the world today if only everyone else had listened more to the Flower People then.

I don't think that part of me that wants to see them live forever is more generous than the one that is impatiently watching the clock over them.

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Smells Like Victory

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Hey, Wait a Minute

He wasn't viciously assaulted by politically motivated thugs seeking to silence his brave voice of dissent. I was viciously assaulted by politically motivated thugs seeking to silence my brave voice of dissent. If by "viciously assaulted by politically motivated thugs seeking to silence my brave voice of dissent" you mean "slept all funny, probably while goofed up on something, and pinched a nerve in my shoulder so it hurts like a summbitch and makes it difficult to type."

Truer Words

Hey, Shaun, don't forget Jeff's Amendment of Warhol's Dictum: "In the future, everyone will be Hitler for 15 minutes."

Monday, October 15, 2007

Historical Anecdote of the Day

Is found in this:

Bess Truman was asked to get the president to say fertilizer instead of manure and she replied, "You have no idea how long it took me to get him to say manure."

That Was Then

Americans have two completely divergent ways of seeing themselves, the first as a nation of individualists who fiercely resist authority and strike out for themselves, the second as a united and indivisible nation seeking a common objective. Victory at Sea’s episode about Guadalcanal talks about the long, heroic struggle of the Marines on the island once Japanese airpower cut them off from their sources of supply. But unlike the Ken Burns movie, it never presents the story from the standpoint of a single individual. At the height of the battle, the film rather strangely cuts away from the jungle to scenes of American economic might—wheat fields, steel mills, truck factories, warehouses overflowing with supplies, airplanes coming off the assembly line, and then crowds of faceless Americans in factories, offices, and farms, concluding with soldiers parading in lock step to Rogers’ memorable Guadalcanal March. The series’ emphasis on the home front is particularly interesting: the humblest office clerk or assembly line worker was dignified by being part of a national project much larger than him or herself. Similar films could have been and were made in Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia. The collectivism of the war effort is something that has entered America’s national consciousness, and is one of the reasons for people still remembering this a “the good war.”

Compare, contrast with:

What interests [Susan Faludi] is not Islamic terrorism as an actual phenomenon that has already claimed many thousands of American lives, in Baghdad and Kabul as in New York and Washington. Instead, in a way that is natural to people who make their living by analyzing culture, Ms. Faludi concentrates solely on America's imaginative response to terrorism. She is more at ease talking about the psychodrama of our "terror dream" than about terror itself, to the extent that terror comes to seem like just a dream, a blank screen on which we project our fantasies.

Ms. Faludi means to be tough-minded in the manner of the Freudian analyst, who forces us to confront our damaging illusions. But in fact, her approach has the effect of reinforcing our deepest fantasies of omnipotence. If what matters in the post-September 11 age is not our enemies but our dreams, then we remain effectively invulnerable: only we can hurt ourselves. Ms. Faludi offers a perfect symbol of this delusion in her book's first pages. Early on September 11, 2001, she writes, she had a dream about being on a hijacked airliner, only to wake to the news of the twin towers attacks. She has literally replaced reality with her own dream.

People yet alive have been citizens of both nations here described, without ever leaving the same house. No wonder they look increasingly bewildered.


Council Winners

Watchers Council winners for the week of October 12 have been posted.

First place in the council went to Murtha: Underhanded and Overlawyered by Big Lizards.

Votes also went to The Enormous Damage Done To Our Space Program By "The Space Race" by Right Wing Nut House; What We Stand For by Bookworm Room; Fulfill the Old Commitments First by Soccer Dad; Don't Get Madison from right here; and Why I Oppose a War Surtax by Rhymes With Right.

Outside the council, the winner was Battleground Che, an excellent piece at Publius Pundit. (The revolting affection in certain circles for Che was one of the first topics I took up on this blog. The post is here).

Votes also went to Mission Accomplished at Prospect Magazine and 'Journalists' Tell Howard Kurtz Why Good News from Iraq Shouldn't Get Reported at NewsBusters.

Hillary's Verbs

I read with interest Hillary Clinton's big essay in Foreign Affairs. I decided to leave aside the many quibbles I might have with her painting of things as they now stand. I'm more interested in what she proposes to do differently.

The list of goals is predictable: More multilateralism, building relations with allies, "recovering" the "respect" of the world. Less military work, more diplomacy. Talking to our enemies.

Very well, but she presents herself at the same time as a hard-nosed and experienced "realist." So when she gets around to the knotty places in the world, where her kinder-gentler vision of foreign affairs seems to gain no traction, she resorts to some interesting verbs.

On international institutions (such as the U.N.) that conspicuously fail to do anything worthwhile:

When they do not work, their procedures serve as pretexts for endless delays, as in the case of Darfur, or descend into farce, as in the case of Sudan's election to the UN Commission on Human Rights. But instead of disparaging these institutions for their failures, we should bring them in line with the power realities of the twenty-first century and the basic values embodied in such documents as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Emphasis added. How Hillary pictures "bringing (someone) in line" is perhaps an image that would make Bill wince. It doesn't seem to be encompassed in her list of tactics in this article, however.

On the al Qaida safe havens in the lawless regions of Pakistan:

We must also strengthen the national and local governments and resolve the problems along Afghanistan's border. Terrorists are increasingly finding safe havens in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan. Redoubling our efforts with Pakistan would not only help root out terrorist elements there; it would also signal to our NATO partners that the war in Afghanistan and the broader fight against extremism in South Asia are battles that we can and must win.

Resolving? Redoubling? These verbs kill no terrorists. They create even less of a mental picture of a policy than does "bringing them in line."

On China's challenge:

We must persuade China to join global institutions and support international rules by building on areas where our interests converge and working to narrow our differences. Although the United States must stand ready to challenge China when its conduct is at odds with U.S. vital interests, we should work for a cooperative future.

"Persuade ... building ... cooperative ..." Sure. But it seems China regards itself as a player, not just something to be acted upon and influenced by America's own policies. In fact, it seems willing to play this game itself, "persuading" us that some of our own values are not in the interest of some of our "realistic" goals.

That at least is my reading of the lede of an AP story tonight: "China is protesting U.S. honors for the Dalai Lama this week by pulling out of a planned international strategy session on Iran sought by the United States, a State Department official said Monday." I'd like to see Hillary's solution to that one. China won't let you have both: Which is the "vital U.S. interest?"

In fact, if there seems to be an overriding flaw in the thinking of the left of Hillary's generation (and it's not limited to Hillary), it's that the rest of the world simply does nothing on its own. It is either enraged and turned into terrorists by American militaristic and capitalistic policies (i.e., when a Republican is president), or else it is passively and happily following our lead when we are persuasive and intelligent (i.e. when a Democrat is president).

As when John Kerry's 2004 platform on Iraq consisted largely of getting the French and Germans involved in the country, without first asking them if they had any intention of going there, John Kerry or no John Kerry. [They didn't.]

And Hillary's contention that "Rapidly emerging countries, such as China, will not curb their own carbon emissions until the United States has demonstrated a serious commitment to reducing its own through a market-based cap-and-trade approach" is such a clear echo of the unilateral nuclear disarmament rhetoric of the late Cold War that you wonder if she didn't crib it from something she wrote in 1979.

Her Iraq plan, as far as she spells it out, is sadly contradictory. It looks at first blush like a big, noisy pull-out to finally shut up the netroots:

We must withdraw from Iraq in a way that brings our troops home safely, begins to restore stability to the region, and replaces military force with a new diplomatic initiative to engage countries around the world in securing Iraq's future. To that end, as president, I will convene the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the secretary of defense, and the National Security Council and direct them to draw up a clear, viable plan to bring our troops home, starting within the first 60 days of my administration.

Which certainly advances the goal of bringing the troops home, but seems to be contrary to regional stability. Never fear: She's got that goal covered, too. But by a fig leaf:

As we leave Iraq militarily, I will replace our military force with an intensive diplomatic initiative in the region. The Bush administration has belatedly begun to engage Iran and Syria in talks about the future of Iraq. This is a step in the right direction, but much more must be done. As president, I will convene a regional stabilization group composed of key allies, other global powers, and all the states bordering Iraq. Working with the newly appointed UN special representative for Iraq, the group will be charged with developing and implementing a strategy for achieving a stable Iraq that provides incentives for Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Turkey to stay out of the civil war.

Sure; they'd all much rather hand Hillary her diplomatic victory than continue to mess with our power and fight their proxy wars in Iraq. Sure they'd rather see Iraq as a viable and flourishing democracy than as a weak and miserable example to their own populations of what happens when you evict the strong, mustachioed man.

And exactly what "incentives" is she willing to offer to Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia? Can we get some specifics on that?

But as it turns out, she's not really taking about getting out of Iraq. We'll still hold the keys to all its doors. And we'll still be there, even after we leave. You see?

I will order specialized units to engage in targeted operations against al Qaeda in Iraq and other terrorist organizations in the region. These units will also provide security for U.S. troops and personnel in Iraq and train and equip Iraqi security services to keep order and promote stability in the country, but only to the extent that such training is actually working. I will also consider leaving some forces in the Kurdish area of northern Iraq in order to protect the fragile but real democracy and relative peace and security that have developed there, but with the clear understanding that the terrorist organization the PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party) must be dealt with and the Turkish border must be respected.

It's hard for me to decide whether this sketch of a policy is meant to mollify the left while continuing to nation-build in Iraq, or to "stay" in Iraq just enough so that the inevitable pyre that follows our withdrawal of commitment will seem not to be connected to it, but rather a doom of the entire operation, inevitable from the start. Probably the latter. It seems to offer no real commitment to the Iraqi people to help them sustain what they've sacrificed so much to attain with our help. If I were an Iraqi, I'd feel a chill wind on reading this.

As for "to the extent that such training is actually working," does that mean like it is now? What metric of "success" (other than "withdrawal") will the realist Democrats use to measure themselves in Iraq, having pooh-poohed, in various ways, all of the usual ones already, and all of the people capable of reporting them?

That preserved right to rush in and fight terrorists any time we choose would seem to create some problems for the image of Hillary's less aggressive, more cooperative America. "In the region?" Meaning beyond Iraq? Places such as ...?

Really, stripped of the rhetoric, Hillary's foreign policy would be remarkably interventionist. The difference between Republicans and Democrats, it seems, is no longer that one party is less interested in getting into people's lives, either at home or abroad, but that they shoot at different targets.

Hillary doesn't talk about draining swamps or spreading freedom. She does, however, say, "We must help strengthen police, prosecutorial, and judicial systems abroad; improve intelligence; and implement more stringent border controls, especially in developing countries," and "I will press for quick passage of the Education for All Act, which would provide $10 billion over a five-year period to train teachers and build schools in the developing world. This program would channel funds to those countries that provide the best plans for how to use them and rigorously measure performance to ensure that our dollars deliver results for children."

As though American direction in policing or education would be welcomed around the world. As though all this resentment piled up against the Western superpower will clear like a cloudy day once Bush is out of office. As though she really believes the world loved us before 9/11, and was our bosom buddy after it, and only the evil neo-cons drove the lovers apart. And here I can't help but note how much of its scribbling and speechifying Hillary's generation has devoted to dragging down America's historical image of itself as benign and benevolent, as a caretaker of great human liberties. The strident rhetoric probably was meant for domestic audiences -- what the '60s kids thought of as unthinking flag-wavers and ignorant enablers of corporate fascism or some such nonsense. But it had its effect around the world. Not everything that comes home to roost starts out in the top henhouse.

Her section on Iran is dizzyingly disconnected. She lays out the list of Iran's transgressions -- essentially the same list Bush has in his hand when he talks. But then she raps Bush because "The Bush administration refuses to talk to Iran about its nuclear program, preferring to ignore bad behavior rather than challenge it." Well, with some attempts at provocation, ignoring it is the right approach. Is this such a case? She doesn't say why not.

As a result, we have lost precious time. Iran must conform to its nonproliferation obligations and must not be permitted to build or acquire nuclear weapons. If Iran does not comply with its own commitments and the will of the international community, all options must remain on the table.

On the other hand, if Iran is in fact willing to end its nuclear weapons program, renounce sponsorship of terrorism, support Middle East peace, and play a constructive role in stabilizing Iraq, the United States should be prepared to offer Iran a carefully calibrated package of incentives. This will let the Iranian people know that our quarrel is not with them but with their government and show the world that the United States is prepared to pursue every diplomatic option.

And this differs from the Bush program how? It essentially involves waiting for the government of Iran to turn into the exact opposite of what has let it survive to this point, as a result, no doubt, of "talking" to it. In exchange for "incentives." Teacher training or border patrols, no doubt.

Finally, there's this:

To build the world we want, we must begin by speaking honestly about the problems we face. We will have to talk about the consequences of our invasion of Iraq for the Iraqi people and others in the region. We will have to talk about Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib.

More talk. More talk about what's already been talked to death. Is she suggesting apologies here? Exactly what sort of "talk" does she envision? I'm content to let the other side do the talking about those problems. Lord knows they won't shut up about them any time soon. In the ivory tower world where American history = slavery/genocide/imperialism, naturally, in Iraq, the only things that matter or are worth talking about are "Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib."

But if we're to do talking, it ought to be to put those problems in the context of the hopes and opportunities for the Iraqi people and others in the region, which we, and they, still have a commitment to fulfilling. Which certainly no one else is going to talk about. And which no one but the U.S., currently, is offering to help them realize.

At least until January 2009.



So what did we learn from all the bruising Frost family saga? Evidently, nothing. This post on the Republicans begins with this clause:

"With the party taking a bit of a beating over its resistance to expanding access to healthcare for low-income children ..."

But if there was anything substantive that came out of last week's war, it was that the Democrats' proposed SCHIP expansion would include families in the middle class:

[T]he Frost family owned two properties, as well as a couple cars, and had a $45,000 income. The accusation against Democrats, and by extension the Frost family, is that they are too middle class to be granted any subsidized health insurance for their children.

Now you can argue fairly whether middle-class families ought to have such guaranteed insurance, or whether this is just a way to accomplish universal government health coverage incrementally. But to pretend it's only about poor kids is dishonest. The Democrats hold the advantage at the moment, but they already risk it with a typical bonehead play: Talking to the middle class and lumping it in with the poor. John Kerry did that all the time. I suppose when you stand atop a pile of cash as big as Kerry's, there doesn't appear to be much difference between a family making $30,000 a year and one making $70,000. But there is a vast difference in the minds of middle-class Americans. You start telling them they're in the same situation as the poor, and you're going to lose them real fast. Which is how the Democrats tend to do it.

Working Men

There are always the old men.

Men in their 60s; working men all their lives. Their greeting to one another is, "how's work?" None of my friends would greet each other like that. Some of them, I'm not even sure what it is they do to make their money.

Work, job, career -- for the old men there was no distinction. My great-uncle Charlie was a train conductor. My grandfather worked in a tool factory. One worked on a grounds crew, one was an engineer, one sold insurance. It was their work.

There are always the old men, but they are not the same old men. The old men I first knew were born in the darkling years of the 19th century. When my grandfather and great-uncle were in their prime, most men didn't go to college. Unless you were going to be a scientist or a minister or something. It was the odd kid from the neighborhood who got himself into college. The rest of them, they went to work.

Now it's different. Jim, who was the night watchman in our building, died suddenly a few days ago. He worked like the old men I knew: He cared about it, but in a way you wouldn't notice unless you paid attention to him. And a lot of people didn't. A lot of us came in to this building treating it like the sad joke it is to have a career making money for other people, disguising it as a positive political good or a public service. We came to nickel and dime the owners just a little more than they did us on a given day.

So people kidded Jim, and he kidded them back. The women appreciated him more. The older women, coming to and from their cars, at night, sometimes in bad weather. Jim had a way of knowing where they were and what they needed. He had that tall, beefy build of a man who had been strong when he was young, but hadn't been young for a long time.

I learned that at his memorial service. They gave a memorial service for him, and the room filled up and every single person who was there was someone he worked with. When they found him slumped in the alley after the stroke, nobody knew who to call. He didn't have any family. A niece in Pittsburgh or something. Had to give the word to unhook the ventilator.

People he worked with who didn't even know each other sat knee to knee in the banquet room of the restaurant that was part of his "beat." The owners weren't there. The managers were, though, and the secretaries and the waitresses. Nobody was sure if he was a Christian or not. Some thought he might have been Irish. Another security guard who happened to do a little preaching on the side gave a reflection on the Sermon on the Mount, and it was one of the best damn bits of memorializing I've ever heard.

At my first wedding, we invited a lot of people from what was then my office. Within five years I was working somewhere else, and if I still had that wedding album, I'd be at a loss to name some of the faces in it. It seems silly now to include co-workers in something theoretically personal and meaningful.

It would not have seemed so to Jim, I think. He was only 13 years older than I, but what a world apart.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

A New Low?

[posted by Callimachus]

This is based on a minor side-plot the Frost family/SCHIP story, a plot that I've watched mostly via Protein Wisdom, who is reporting on the goings-on at a blog called The American Populist, who is reporting on what it says someone told it. So the usual caveats apply. But the thing that's getting under my skin here is something tangential to even that sub-plot.

When Michelle Malkin published information on the Frost family, The American Populist struck back by "publishing Malkin’s home address, telephone number and an aerial shot of her home" [PW]. A day or so later, that post disappeared and this explanation was offered:

It’s not here anymore. Yeah, I killed it. Why? Because I received an e-mail from a Newspaper Reporter/Blogger telling me that they’re doing a investigative piece on Michelle Malkin. She didn’t want Malkin playing the victim card. So, it’s gone.

If she’d been just a run of the mill Blogger, I would have told her to get bent… But she’s a reporter, She writes for a living. (lucky bastard! ) So, out of respect. I removed the article.

So, wait a minute. A news reporter who is working on a story is calling someone to change the narrative of the story before she has written it. She says (or, he says she says) she wants to make the subject of her story appear less sympathetic than she might appear. So she alters the reality to suit the pre-set bias of the story.

That, in my book, would be a new low. It's possible that this is just one of the many self-described "journalists" of the Internet who mistake having a blog with a masthead for being a newspaper reporter. But if this later comment, which PW traces to the author of the American Populist posts, is an indication, it is a reporter for a major, respected American big city daily newspaper:

The cute part is how I was attacked… I said it on my blog and I’ll say it here. I wasn’t defending SCHIP, not at all, I was defending that families [sic] right to privacy. That’s why I put malkin’s real address, Phone number and Arial [sic] picture of her house on my blog. I removed it after a reporter for the Baltimore Sun asked me to kill it, because they were doing a story on Malkin.

If Malkin wants to try painting me as moonbat, fine. I’ll just paint her as the right wing fascist that she is.

Emphasis added by me.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007


[Found here.]


[posted by Callimachus]

Since it's likely to be more interesting than anything I have to say right now, here's a selective look at what some of our blogfriends have been up to. Please don't be offended if you're not included.

  • If you want to get a visceral sense of the disaffection of traditional Republican base voters with the party as it is today, don't take the MSM's word for it: Go read this blistering post at Three Rounds Brisk.

  • The Beiderbecke Affair continues a theme that seems to be a bee in the bonnet of the bloggers Reader favors: How popular songs take on new meaning when performed by singers of the opposite gender from the author.

    In this case, "Landslide," which I used to perform as a duet with a girl I knew in high school. She sang, I played the guitar, and it was one of my favorites to finger-pick because there was one chord you could pick without a hand on the fret board. I always made a point of doing something obvious with the free hand, like scratching my head or drinking a glass of water at that point in the song. See? I have nothing to say today.

    The written-by-a-woman song I'd really like to see done by a man? Jill Sobule's "I Kissed a Girl."

  • Via "Isaac Schrodinger", we learn fanatics in the Islamic world are still burning, looting, and killing over cartoons that may or may not have been meant to offend them.

  • Icepick is picking on the poor defenseless AP.

  • Maggies Farm reminds us Erich Fromm remains relevant. Yes, on freedom, but I still can't forgive him his attempt to scientifically define "love."

  • Sideways has memories of Lobster Boy. You'll never guess what it reminds him of.

  • Amba offers up a macabre image from nature as a metaphor for human obsession. That one is going to stick, I'm afraid. That spider-wasp relationship is so nasty it almost serves as a single-point argument against a nature created by a just and loving god.

    And she also explores the ugliness of the atheist auto-da-fe:

    [W]hen something becomes a movement, it becomes a blunt instrument, gaining power at the expense of truth. People seek the power of unanimity and begin to purge those heretics who might deflect or slow the momentum of the rolling, growing snowball. But after a while, a human snowball either becomes destructive or stops growing, because precisely the people of reason want only to get out of its way.

  • Gaius is braver than I am and charges into the Frost family/SCHIP pyre. Me, I had the Admiral Akbar reaction to all that: "It's a trap!"

    But I'm just going to every time I want to advocate something dicey and controversial run a picture of a basket of kittens with the post, and relate the idea to the health of kittens, and if anyone criticizes me, say "you just like to stomp on kittens."

  • Pastor Jeff has some worthy reflections inspired by Columbus Day:

    America gets trashed regularly by all kinds of people because it's our culture that has survived and is currently at the top of the heap. If I were a Native American, I'd probably hate Columbus Day, too. But building your identity around an attitude of perpetually outraged victimhood doesn't change history, doesn't help anyone, and keeps you stuck in the past. It's a sad way to live, and a sorry way to remember history -- both the good and bad.

    Of all the holidays on the secular calendar, little-noted Columbus Day seems to be the favorite target for mugging by the virulent America-blamer contingent.

  • Dyre Portents looks at Ron Paul on his own terms, which is refreshing, and concludes, "Politics is about doing the possible rather than the ideal and that truth will prove to be Mr. Paul's unmaking." Americans like to think of themselves as libertarians. They like to talk like libertarians. Occasionally, 20 percent or so will even vote that way. But in daily operation we're no more a libertarian nation than we are a Christian one.