Tuesday, May 31

Catching Up From The Holiday

eRobin at Fact-esque body slams Elisabeth Bumiller, then laughs in her face for good measure, while simultaneously splashing mud on the Bush Twins' prom dresses. You cannot leave the internet unattended for a twenty-four hour period.

Robby Gordon, Lard Ass

In case you missed it, Robby Gordon, the NASCAR ace nicknamed "Back Marker", says he won't race in the IRL until it addresses the "unfair advantage" Danica Patrick has because he outweighs her by 100 pounds. Analysts cited his decision to forego the Indy 500 this year to concentrate on his battle with Kevin Lepage and Hermie Sadler for 39th place in the Nextel Cup standings as the primary reason Indy drew only 400,000 fans this year.

"Whew, that's a tough call," said one industry insider who asked to remain anonymous. "I'm not sure how long Tony George can ignore Robbymania."

The outspoken Gordon, who last year led the Series in accident percentage, including his retaliatory spin of Greg Biffle, which knocked Tony Stewart and Jeremy Mayfield out of Cup contention, said his one league-leading stat was due to "increased passing opportunities" provided by being behind so many other cars. His willingness to speak his mind is a departure from his open wheel days; he was notably silent about the weight issue when his fat butt caused him to run out of fuel while leading the 1999 500, losing to Kenny Brack, the "Svelte Swede". Gordon did not reply to our request for an interview. Pity, too, because we have some other suggestions for him which might get his name in the papers again, something his driving is unlikely to accomplish without further piles of twisted sheet metal:

• Mark Martin is, like, 75 years old. Require all other NASCAR drivers to wear specially fitted contact lenses that make them farsighted. And use actuarial tables to determine by age how full a bladder each driver has to start with.

• Attractive, successful drivers get the lion's share of endorsements. Require facial warts, missing teeth, or surly attitudes to level the playing field.

* Give most drivers a blow to the back of the head just before they put on their helmets, to compensate for their higher intelligence.

• It's not just racing, either. Robby could be an NBA star if only everyone else couldn't jump higher, shoot better, and dribble. Lead weights in the shoes, wearing goalie mitts, and a "No defending Robby Gordon" rule would go a long way towards equalizing the competition. The World Series of Poker would be a lot more interesting if the better players had to show all their cards. How 'bout a special episode of "Iron Chef America" where the secret ingredient is "boiled hot dog on a bun?" Robby could go up against Danica in that one. Oh, wait. Unfair advantage. She's a girl.

Let Us Now Praise Compromise (Now That We're Losing, That Is)

Funny, I don't remember you telling these guys they should compromise

The Sunday Times Week in Review searches for the elusive Middle Ground, wonders Whatever Happened To Compromise, and notices that George Bush just might be a Lame Duck.

Dear me.

WaPo's David "the Dean" Broder was all over this last week, noting that John McCain, the only member of the Gang of 14 who's Presidential timber, y'know, had stolen a march of Bill Frist. The Dean blames the whole thing on, what else, Vietnam, lest anyone get the idea he's been dialing in the conventional wisdom for so long he still uses a rotary phone.

Ah, it must be Spring. The roses have started blooming, bees are buzzing, and major newspapers are telling us that the horseshit they've been peddling for the last five years is no longer ice cream. Oh, was that us thumping the WMD tub? What we meant to say was we need compromise. Those seemingly endless adoring love notes to Bush's "clear, unwavering vision, unaffected by nuance?" Must have been the moon. The paeans to Moral Values voters, who swung the election, that "conservative" mandate we may have mentioned in passing? Well, how were we supposed to know they'd fuck it up in two months?

My favorite, though, was Henry Fountain's piece "Does Science Trump All?", which struggled mightily to balance the history of religious hostility to every scientific advance from heliocentrism to stem cell research by playing the Nazi card:

...those promises run headlong into questions raised by a dark history of research. Take eugenics. According to Christine Rosen, a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington and the author of "Preaching Eugenics," scientists who supported eugenics claimed that it could cure disease and end poverty - involuntary sterilizations were one result.

But the scientific underpinnings cited by early eugenics researchers were often wrong, Ms. Rosen said. "The heritability of certain diseases and eye colors were right, but broader claims they made as a result were incorrect," she said.

Many religious groups tried to stop eugenics, Ms. Rosen said, but they were called obstructionists.

"The only thing that stopped this," Ms. Rosen said, "was war and the lessons of Nazi Germany and improvements in science."

By the way:

The Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC) was established in 1976 to clarify and reinforce the bond between the Judeo-Christian moral tradition and the public debate over domestic and foreign policy issues.

The particular Judeo-Christian moral tradition being upheld here is "telling part of the story". Eugenics found plenty of support from religious circles before the Second World War, as did the racist cultural milieu it thrived in. Yes, it was the Nazi Holocaust and improvements in science which eventually ended forced sterilizations and racial improvement schemes. Outside of the Catholic Church, religious organizations have no cause to portray themselves as heroic champions of the poor and downtrodden caught in the grip of Evil Science.

Saturday, May 28

It's A Sin To Tell A Lie

David Gelernter in the LA Times: Why the Bible Belongs in America's Public Schools

I'm still unclear how the LAT wound up with a Yale computer professor writing op-ed pieces. Maybe his arguments are better in ASCII.

"Without knowing Scripture, kids can't understand literature or U.S. history," says the subhead. One might also ask how they're supposed to understand science while the same people pushing this stuff want them taught that the foundations of biology, geology, and astronomy are unsupportable guesswork.

The agenda isn't really hidden here. For one thing, it would be impossible to do so, and groups like the Bible Literacy Project feel empowered to openly promote religious training in schools these days anyway. Of course we get the standard disclaimers, and of course they are designed not to protect diversity or prevent trampling the Establishment Clause, but to see just how much Christianity they can force taxpayers to foot the bill for and still have a chance at winning court challenges.

"Because our public schools must not be used for preaching religion, they must teach the Bible purely as literature," writes Gelernter, in his one sop to Constitutionality. But both clauses are in error. Public monies can't be used to support an establishment of religion. That goes a long, long way beyond "not preaching". On the other hand, schools most assuredly can teach the Bible as something other than literature. They can teach it as the sacred text of Christianity, and they can teach the Old Testament as the foundation of Judaism, in comparative religion courses. What they cannot do is teach Christianity or Judaism, or Jainism or Zoroastriaism, or Shinto.

But without knowing the Bible, you can't begin to understand English literature or American history. And a recently published survey finds that American teenagers don't know the Bible well enough. (The study was commissioned by a group called the Bible Literacy Project, conducted by Gallup and funded by the John Templeton Foundation.)

We'll leave aside the idea that overtly Christian organizations should be the ones to decide what constitutes knowing the Bible "well enough", and we'll pass without comment the question of just how well most professed Christians know the Bible, because we're really fond of praeteritio. It goes without saying that the Bible has a great deal of relevance in the study of certain aspects, and certain works, of English literature, as do Greek mythology and paganism, for that matter. Can we really "not begin" to teach secondary students English lit without giving them a Bible study course first? I suggest that's why footnotes were invented. As for American history, first, I'd like to hear a defense of the Bible's importance that goes beyond catching a reference in Lincoln's "House Divided" speech or Truman's inaugural. Christianity, yes, is an important force in this country's identity. Knowledge of Bible stories is not. Second, the teaching of history in this country is generally a pathetic exercise in bowdlerized time wasting, and no amount of literary training is going to help students get much out of it beyond exposure to a few commonly agreed-upon myths.

Let's ask the question another way. Can students understand American history without a thorough familiarity with Hobbes' rejection of supernaturalism, of Hume's critique of miracles, of the Deist rejection of Christ? Can you "begin to know" American history by a familiarity with Bible tracts but without knowing why so many of the Founders were not Christian? Are we supposed to justify teaching the Biblical basis of Abolitionism, but not the Biblical basis of slavery?

I have no problem with the teaching of the Bible as literature, or the acknowledgment of its influence, provided what is taught is fair and accurate. I have to wonder how many Bible pushers feel the same. Do they really want an accurate portrayal of the Bible taught in public schools? Jesus' distain for wealth? Paul's distain for women? Abraham's pandering of Sarah, the destruction of Laish and Amalek (e.g.), the erotic poetry of Song of Songs? My guess is that it is religious people who are the most likely to be offended by such courses, who would, despite the insistence on their importance to basic understanding, scream loudest and longest if they weren't sufficiently coated with sugar.

Not surprisingly, for Gelernter the fault for this shocking lack of Biblical knowledge lies with familiar demons: activist judges who are hostile to religion, and the ACLU, which apparently is going around the country warning school districts that Biblical literature courses are unconstitutional. This worn-out partisanship has a tendency to undercut his argument. Or would, if he had one.

Friday, May 27


Jim "Herk" Hurtubise, Terre Haute Action Track

I'll be listening to The Race on the radio at a friend's party Sunday, instead of going to The Track. That's the preferred parlance, by the way. It's "You goin' to the Track this year?", not "the Race", probably because for a lot of people what the cars were doing was of minor importance, especially in its less family-friendly days. I've seen things at that racetrack you can't even print on the internets.

I was an insider by birth. Had free passes to everything, except the race itself (you could still get your pick of tickets, but you paid face value). I got a coveted Silver Badge soon as I was eighteen. Used to work in the office when I was in school, answering phones and eating free pizza. I could get people tickets, which was akin to local celebrity.

It's an engineer's sport now, and so less exciting. I don't think that's nostalgia. The guys in those days were a special breed. They raced for prize money, not sponsorship deals; the didn't have to remember to say, "Well, it's a shame because the guys really had the Quaker State-Pepsi-Motorola car dialed in." They'd say, "Shit. Sumpin' broke." I could walk down Crawfordsville Road to my friend's house and wave at A.J. Watson, who was working on cars that won six Indys, including back-to-back 1-2 finishes, in his garage. I could go with another buddy to the garage that Jim Hurtubise ran as his shop to get Cokes. He always treated us like he'd been waiting all day for us to show up and bother him. He kept what was left of his hands, burned in a horrific crash at Milwaukee, hidden from us. Even the legendarily churlish A.J. Foyt was nice to me, although most strangers were advised to walk around him like a farmboy walks around a nursing sow.

I've seen the start of the race from the pits three times, and it's the sort of phantasmagoria that makes you wish Hunter S. had been a race fan. But the real treat, when I worked there, was to grab a seat high up in Turn Four just before they opened the gates at 6am, and watch as ten thousand cars tried to grab spots close to the fence, or go to the end of the tunnel under the main straight and watch cars fly off the ramp like the Dukes of Hazzard. Now, that's racing. My favorite Indy memory, though, came at the awards banquet in 1966 when the great British world champion Graham Hill won. In place of all the mumbed platitudes and feigned modesty, he closed his speech with, "Did you hear they just developed a new Pill for men? You put it in your shoe and it makes you limp."

I was just old enough to get the joke.

This year, you may have heard, it's all about Danica Patrick, a rookie driving for Rahal-Letterman who happens to be the first woman with a legitimate shot to win the thing. I like Tony Kannan, though something tells me it could just be Dario Franchitti's year, but I'll be rooting for Danica, since it would be such a great story. Then once the drinking's done it's time to come home, catch some of the NASCAR race, then watch the late-name "same day" teevee coverage on Channel 6. Hey, if you like chicken vindaloo, you might as well eat a couple pounds of the stuff one day a year, right? And choose a three-day weekend to do it.

Friday Shuffle, Fictitious County Songs Edition

Foster & Grant, Let's Go Someplace That Ain't So Well Lit
Coy Stumpp, (She's A) Saddletramp
Mason Dixon, How Can I Tell You If I Don't Remember Myself?
Holly Scuggins and Union Dues, (He's Got That) Kyle Petty Hair
Merle McCall, What Goes Around (Is Another Round)
Lacy Lovelace and Conroy Twitt, T-O-G-E-T-H-E-R
Wynnona Patty, Whose Boots Are These?
Broward County, Call Me Again (When I'm Not Home)
Travis Trickle, You're Not Doin' What You Didn't Used To Do All Over Again
Ricky Lee Rupp, My Wife Is Lyin' in That Graveyard, and Sometimes I Wish She Was Dead

You Lie Down With Wonks...

Matt Yglesias (who was actually one of the most cogent of the wonks in the aftermath of the nuclear option) quotes Kenny Baer in TNR. This is the reason I will resort to this sort of thing only in cases of national emergency or roiling sex scandal:

Bush and the GOP provide that vision: the terrorists are evil; democracies are good; America will defeat evil and support and spread good. It's simple, but extraordinarily compelling, especially to pro-Israel voters. Strategically, the Democratic answer to Bush's idealism can't be realpolitik...

Matt thinks the problem here is the focus on pro-Israeli voters, who are not that great a problem for national Democratic interests. Fair enough. But then he muses:

Politics and policy aside, I think those of us who'd classify ourselves as being among the more "hawkish" brand of liberals have a media strategy problem. Roughly speaking, a lot of Democratic voters don't like us very much. What we need to do is convince more liberals that they should like us. That means spending more time trying to convince liberals of the merits of our views, and less time re-enforcing the impression that we're just opportunists searching for votes out there in some ill-defined center. Give the people a convincing argument for a plausible hawkish policy (Kosovo, for example) and plenty of liberals will come along for the party.

Was "re-enforcing" a Freudian slip? Just asking.

Grammarians have a wonderful term, praeteritio, for the inclusion of something by pretending to omit it: "I am not here to question my opponent's relationship with his sheep." So, I'm not going to question Matt's support for the invasion of Iraq, or his later (and ongoing) insistence that he still knows better than those of us who opposed it.

Rather, I'd like to point out something that's been re-enforced by my current rereading of Neil Sheehan's A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam. It is that however "compelling" this Manichaean struggle between Good and Evil may sound to voters, in practice it has been an unmitigated disaster, with Iraq as merely its latest example. We saw the war against Communism as Good vs. Evil, and Vietnam as its laboratory.

The costs of that war are incalculable. Its history points out the salient feature of seeing the world in black and white: those decisions are made by men who have other motives. Had we kept our word to a WWII ally (Good), or extended the Marshall Plan (Good) to non-whites, or supported popular elections (Good), we never would have been in Vietnam. We backhanded Ho Chi Minh in 1948, and propped up the French, because our notion of Good was driven not by Biblical standards or our love of democracy, but by what the powerful considered in their own best interests. Wilsonian internationalism isn't just about an end to US isolationism in our entry into WWI (itself enough of a blunder), but also our insistence on dictating the results of "democratic" elections throughout Central and South America and across the Pacific.

Yes, I've left out WWII. Yes, there was Evil loose in the world which that war halted. But it is equally true that the Axis powers were bent on world domination. Realpolitik did not dictate appeasement or surrender to Nazi aims. It's a case where those ideas happen to coincide. And as Mark Twain noted, we should be careful to learn only those lessons which are in a thing, and no more, lest we be like the cat who sits on a hot stove lid. She will never again sit on a hot stove lid, which is good. But she will never sit on a cold one again, either.

This is not to say there should be no moral component to US foreign policy. Certainly the intervention in Kosovo had moral arguments in its favor, but it was as much a case of the real threat of disaster in the center of Europe as a fight against the Dark Side. Oddly, we don't often find the proponents of fighting Evil showing equal concern when its victims are Africans or Sri Lankans, or Tibetan monks. Being the world's policeman is an impossible task. Being the arbiter of Right and Wrong is a recipe for continued disaster. Had we been blessed with a real leader on 9/11, and not a gang of crooks and liars with some talent for "compelling" moral excuses for another Crusade, we'd all be better off today. Including the liberal hawks.

Thursday, May 26


Lightning-quick Brad Rutter takes the Jeopardy! Ultimate Tournament of Champions, which was almost a foregone conclusion after his breakaway performance on night two, and becomes the largest money-winner in game show history. Mormon wit and my Poor Wife's dream date Ken Jennings finished second, a day after it was announced he's inked a deal to host a game show on Comedy Central.

The Tournament was enormous fun to watch, even if Ken, the sweeps-month ratings guarantee, was given a free pass into the finals. The contestants were amazing. I'm usually pretty damned competitive night-in, night-out, though I've lost a couple of miles-per-hour on my fastball, I suck at geography, and my pop culture needs updating. But no way I'd have made it out of the semifinals, not on my best day.

I do note with some pride that nobody even buzzed in on "mutatis mutandis".

Special shout out to our sentimental favorite, boyish Bluegrass Stater Chris Miller, who made it to the semis and admitted in the panel segment that he was pulling in a lot more from Jeopardy! than he does working at Target. You're an inspiration, Chris. Comedy Central could use a man like you. Maybe you could replace Lauren Corrao, Comedy Central's head of original programming and development, who said, "I wouldn't describe Ken as one of the funniest people in America, but he's the smartest." Well, no, he ain't, but he is damned funny, a fact which probably escaped Ms Corrao because Ken doesn't do nearly as many fart jokes as South Park.


Benjamin Franklin Butler, the Union political general who was appointed military governor of New Orleans in 1862, was given the soubriquet "Spoons" to suggest that even the family silver wasn't safe from his occupying forces. I've always admired the style of the thing. Not as much as I admire Butler's neat solution to his officers being harassed by the good women of Nawlins--the infamous General Order 28, which declared any female showing contempt for Union soldiers would henceforth be treated as a woman of the streets plying her trade--but still, it has an undeniable élan. I'd love to revive it, but the problem is there are two many candidates these days.

Two of the best were in action yesterday, as Michelle Malkin and the Powerline boys were outraged! (imagine that) by the following comment from Ana Marie Cox in the WSJ online:

"[Political blogs] are cliqueish, they're arrogant, they get things wrong." As an example, she cited the Power Line blog (www.powerlineblog.com), whose investigations helped debunk the now-notorious CBS memo about President Bush's National Guard service, but which then got "memo-happy" in the case of the Republican strategy memo on Terri Schiavo, decrying it as a fake. GOP Sen. Mel Martinez later said an aide had written the Schiavo talking points.

"They wouldn't back down -- just like CBS," she said.

Spoons #1 roars back:

The claim that Power Line failed to acknowledge the provenance of the Schiavo "GOP Talking Points" memo continues to be made even though it is demonstrably false .

Designated Spooner #2 Scott Johnson shows his good breeding:

Thank you, Michelle

Michelle Malkin takes issue with a couple of errors in today's free online Wall Street Journal feature .

Before you ask, the other error was an incorrect URL for Powerline in the original edition. But then, I guess no mistake is too small to get worked up over if you're the sort of blogger who sics a stray appostrophe in the possessive form of "it" when you print some "lefty's" email.

The defense? Why, once Sen. Martinez' office admitted it was the source of the memo, the Power Trio acknowledged it! Take that, Wonkette!

Johnson goes one better, pointing out that his regular readers would have learned this before their print edition of the morning paper had arrived! As though the story wasn't all over the internet the previous afternoon.

Say it again: if you had a similar dealing with the local hardware store you'd never trade with them again. No one will ever convince me that Michelle Malkin can't understand the distinction between "wouldn't back down" and "never backed down". I'm fairly confident that, despite their frequent cognitive lapses, Time's Greatest Blog Ever is aware that CBS also "backed down" once the evidence against it was public and incontrovertible. Though I note that neither Spoon was too worked up about Ana Marie's egregious slandering of The Liberal Network.

Wednesday, May 25

Speed! Death! Tortured Metaphors!

Jonathan Miles: Review of Jeff MacGregor's Sunday Money: Speed! Lust! Madness! Death! in The New York Times Book Review

Like any serious Zone 5 gardener, mid-May for me is the point of equipoise, the time when the exhaustion from the back-breaking labors of spring stares at the next five months of watering, weeding, and fertilizing across the gulf of things I haven't gotten done yet, and in a low whisper, like a cruel lover, asks me, "Just what the hell's so bad about winter, anyway? "

So I'm way behind. I started in on the Sunday Times Sunday night. By Tuesday's breakfast tea and yogurt I'd reached the Book Reviews, and...a photo from high up in the short chute between One and Two at Martinsville Speedway? Nascar Nation? Slow publishing week, or a Sign of the Times?

For a certain segment of the population, Nascar's raid on American culture...triggers the kind of fearful trembling the citizens of Gaul felt as the Huns came thundering over the hills. To these people, stock-car racing represents all that's unsavory about red-state America: fossil-fuel bingeing; lust for violence; racial segregation; run-away Republicanism...

So...Flyover Land is still a place You Don't Want to be Caught Dead In, but the tart dismissal will now be tinged with the sense that it's more caricature than reality, like it sneers at itself in some funhouse mirror and gets back a hint of smirk. In place of the old urbane New Yorker's idea of Cornball Land, we now have the urbane New Yorker's idea of how they think red staters think New Yorkers think about them. It's a third generation photocopy of condescension.

What’s beyond debate, however, is Nascar’s surging ascendancy in American sports, and thus, by extension, American culture. By Nascar's estimate, stock-car racing now counts 75 million fans--more than a quarter of the United States population...

Suppose I'd written that about Brittany Spears five years ago, or whenever it was we were infested with her. Would the laughter have died down by now, you suppose? And about NASCAR's accounting methods there...a quarter of the population are NASCAR fans. Well, many of them have a unique way of displaying it: they don't go to races or watch them on teevee. The 2005 Daytona 500--the biggest race of the NASCAR season, and one which runs on a Sunday in the coldest month of the year, with no important sporting event being played anywhere else--drew 18.7 million viewers this year, close to the record of 18.8 in 2002. Last year's season ender--with the title up for grabs--drew 9.8 million. Sounds to me like the Huns are inflating their troop numbers a skosh.

Hey, I'm from Indianapolis. I grew up around auto racing. I like it. I'm not a big "stock-car" fan (Miles will try later to convince us that part of the appeal is that people understand NASCAR racing because they drive similar vehicles "to the 7-11 for a pack of smokes"--as opposed to New Yorkers, who are always headed to the opera or something, and use taxis. Well, it's true, assuming that your family vehicle is a racing powerplant with a high-tech chassis and a one-piece fiberglass body with decals for headlights). I'm not about to try to convince you that everyone you'd meet in the infield at some motorsports event is someone you'd like to have a serious political conversation with, assuming they regain consciousness. But there are lots of knowledgeable people who enjoy racing, don't go just to see crashes, and might actually think for themselves on occasion. It's true that NASCAR designs its competition and markets its product and its personalities in a way that appeals to the non-purist. It's also true that it permits--encourages--the sort of door-banging behavior which delights the nine-year-old in many of us but would get people killed on a weekly basis in open-wheeled racing, and gets away with it not through stringent safety regulations but by the simple fact that the driver is surrounded by a 3000 lb. car.

No other sport is so captivating to so many yet so utterly uncaptivating to so many others.

Oh? NFL football's television revenues are ten times NASCAR's, but the rest of the planet has managed to contain its enthusiasm so far. Professional soccer is small potatoes here. Baseball, hockey...can't we make this sort of claim for just about any human pastime? But those don't come with that sexy Red State/Blue State meme attached.

If the latter aren't repulsed by the deep-fried spectacle of a Nascar event, with its schizo mix of beery loutishness and Promise Keeper piety, then they're bored stiff by the racing itself.

I think this is what men of science refer to as "assuming the thing you're trying to prove." I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn there are large numbers of people who are put off by both. But I'll wager that in the former they find many examples in many areas of public life. And in the latter, I'm willing to bet that the vast majority who find NASCAR racing, or all auto racing, boring, never give it a second thought, excepting perhaps when its promotional efforts climb in their faces, or some pundit starts using it as a Metaphor for Our Times.

Most of the boredom with NASCAR I hear expressed comes from racing purists, including people who were fans of NASCAR when it was real stock-car racing.

And I know for a fact there are NASCAR fans who are no fans of public loutishness or pious hypocrisy, just as there are millions of red staters watching Desperate Housewives, people who use Windows who aren't thrilled about Microsoft's business practices, people who go to church but don't want to be lumped with James Dobson's minions. My neighbors the staunch Republicans may not go see Michael Moore's films, but they sure aren't boycotting Starbucks. Most people aren't ideologues. They either like country music, or they don't; they're not interested in the deeper implications of the choice.

Maybe I'm worrying about nothing. I like to watch Jeopardy!, as you know. I usually tune in a couple minutes before it comes on, and I sometimes catch Pat Sejak and Vanna White wrapping up that show of their's, and the other night I heard Pat say something about "bling". I assume this means that middle-aged white people will soon stop saying that. So maybe the front cover of the Times Book Review will be the death of this sorry-assed "Nascar Nation" business. In the meantime, my Blue State friends, you really have nothing to worry about. But if you want to talk politics I suggesting finding someplace quieter.

Tuesday, May 24

The Republic Is Saved! Shades of 1850!

It's dogged as does it. It's not thinking about it.
-Anthony Trollope

Spent the evening reading all the blogs in my "Wonk" folder, and my provisional opinion about the Great Filibuster Compromise is this: I'm not a wonk, nor do I aspire to be one, nor will I accept wonkitude if thrust upon me.

Yeah, I'm glad there are wonks around when I need them, and I'm impressed by many and admire some, but even when I need them it can make me ill at ease to watch them in operation. It's a lot like watching a guy repair something that's too complicated for you to understand. You hope he'll fix the problem, but you know it's possible he's just gonna charge you to change the paradigm instead.

I've read people, left and right, people lots smarter than me, talking about the death of Bill Frist's political asperations. This ended Bill Frist's presidential hopes? Okay, nothing is impossible. Huey Lewis might make a big comeback. Wal-Mart might decide to pay its employees a living wage. James Dobson and Ralph Reed might very well name the next Republican nominee. But Bill Frist it ain't, and weren't never.

I'm also told I'm supposed to be happy that Dobson got himself a black eye. That's all well an' good, but it seems to me it's a lot worse that somebody like Dobson is in a position to get a black eye in the first place, especially when the issue is whether we should keep playing Calvinball until his side wins, or all set down to supper first. If a little schoolyard justice was all we needed we'd be doing fine. What our present situation calls for, though, is tar and feathers.

When I was in college my favorite professor introduced me to wargaming--historical simulations with cardboard counters played across huge maps. This was in the days when "computer" meant either a roomful of IBMs reading punchcards or something that went amok in the second feature at the drive-in, so you had to have actual friends to play. The maps were about the size of USGS topos, and sometimes there were two or three; the rules were fairly complicated and required lots of arguing about who could or couldn't do what when. It sometimes would take a couple hours just to set the thing up. Play and bong hits would commence around 2 pm Saturday and last until the Sunday morning church shows came on television, which was left on for that purpose. My live-in girlfriend actually left me over those games, at which point I learned a lesson more valuable than not relying on the Romanians to watch your flank at Stalingrad: there's such a thing as being a little too involved with the arcana of things.

Admittedly, I'm not just a "the glass is half empty" sort of guy, I'm a "plus there's a goddam lipstick smear left on the thing" type. I don't mean to minimize what the Nuclear Option meant. I just mean to point out that we find ourselves in a time when it could come up in the first place, and when you have to find a reason, and a cover story, for a majority of Senators to uphold the traditions of the Senate. It doesn't thrill me to know that I have more respect for those traditions than they do. It's not much cause for celebration when the cost is two or three more questionable ideologues added to the federal bench.

Sure there are wheels within wheels. The Nuclear Option was in no small measure an internecine fight the radicals lost. Yes, Frist saw himself in the Oval Office and he overreached, but it was his foolish decision to to pander to the religious nuts that doomed him, not the compromise. I'm not breaking out the hats and hooters over a black eye. When you smart boys figure out how to send 'em all to queer street let me know. I'll buy.

Monday, May 23

Mutatis Mutandis, Redux

Via TBogg and Norbizness comes the sad news of the very public (pages of the SF Chronicle) breakup of Keith Thompson and The Left.

I'll give you all a moment to compose yourselves.

Okay, these things always devolve into a He Said/She Said, and it's difficult for those of us caught in the middle, who love them both. So, just a quick synopsis of each side. Keith: "I can no longer abide the simpering voices of self-styled progressives -- people who once championed solidarity." The Left: "Who the fug is Keith Thompson?"

This may be the only argument I have for professional journalists to pay attention to blogs: because then they, like you and me, would have heard this same story umpteen times and so might be able to recognize a con job when they see it.

To his credit, Mr. Thompson does not claim this insight into the mind of the Left came overnight. Which only makes sense, seeing how he appeared on Rush Limbaugh's show thirteen years ago. But as the poet said, breaking up can be hard to do, and today he's a free man. With a new blog.

This is what caught my eye. Thompson offers us the classic "What if the shoe were on the other foot?" routine on judicial filibustering, and lo and behold, he discovers The Left would be acting in a completely opposite manner:

...suppose cries of "Don't be greedy," "Let's compromise," "We'll vote yes on the 3 least liberal nominees" were to go up from: Orrin Hatch, Rick Santorum, Bill Frist, John Kyle(sic), and Kay Bailey Hutchison — all of whom threatened to filibuster the nomination process, in the name of "simple fairness."

Given that scenario, do you think we could expect to hear ringing defenses of the filibuster from Ted Kennedy, Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, Chuck Schumer, Chris Dodd, and Carl Levin? Or do you suppose they would be leading the charge against the filibuster as a "procedural gimmick being used by obstructionists to deny the judicial candidates their right to an up or down vote?"

Just asking.

Well, funny thing there, Keith, and you probably missed it what with being blinded by those dazzling white robes that surround you now. We don't have to talk about this in hypotheticals. Way back in the 90s (the 1990s) when the Republicans were using procedural means including the filibuster to block Clinton appointees from up and down floor votes, the Democrats did not resort to the nuclear option, despite the little tapdance around Robert Byrd your new friends may be giving you. But in all a spirited attempt, and I do like the hypocrisy angle. Mind if I use it?


Cherry Vanilla Dr. Pepper may actually be liquid ambrosia. I don't know. I was traumatized by a Dr. Pepper at age 8-1/2, and I haven't had one since.

I have two basic objections here. One is to the relentless repackaging of trade names in the continual battle to seize (purchase, is more like it) ever more of Your Grocer's Shelf Space and run the other guy out of Dodge. Ever heard the term "handle position?" You should. It means the space closest to the door handle of a freezer or cooler, and merchandizers fight for it. Product placement wars have done more moral damage to this country than both of Janet Jackson's breasts ever could do, even working in tandem.

Second, there is such a thing as propriety, even in this debased age. A Caesar salad is a specific item. Like a Cobb salad, or a Waldorf salad, or, for that matter, Fettuccine Alfredo. There is no such thing as "Caesar dressing". That is mayonnaise flavored with anchovy, garlic, and parmesan. Ditto "alfredo sauce". These are the names of dishes, both named for their inventors, who incidentally did not discover mayonnaise or white sauce.

Should you, in a sudden burst of culinary insight, decide to replace the apples in Waldorf salad with turnips, you do not have "Turnip Waldorf Salad". I don't know what you have, but for chrissakes show a little respect and name the damn thing yourself.

As for chipotle, I like the stuff. There's some in the drawer right now for when I make salsa, but it's an ingredient, not a lifestyle choice. Chipotle should not be used the way Patton used tanks. If I need to be knocked unconscious I'll do it with strong drink, not condiments.

Thank you. I'll be updating the Mission Statement shortly.

Go Thou And Read

Our friend Daily Pepper's excellent work on the Times' series on class.

The Sunday comes over our back fence when my neighbor gets finished with it. I was far too busy with mulch, repotting, and trying to kill myself with paving stones to read much until this evening, when I finally got the chance to satisfy my curiosity as to why two young Ivy Leaguers were bowed in lambent prayer on the front page. [Note: before you think I don't know what "lambent" means, the photo in the online version is considerably better lit.] Did it have anything to do with the murder two Afghan detainees, or the oddly botched Army investigation, just to their left? Maybe they were praying the photographer would choose the right shutter speed. Or some smartass with a blog wouldn't bring up Matthew 6: 1-6.

It was particularly interesting to meet Tim Havens, the supplicant on the left, who presently ministers to this "vanguard of a larger social shift" at Brown, but will be leaving soon for med school:

He is looking forward to having the money a medical degree can bring, and especially to putting his children through college without the scholarships and part-time jobs he needed. But whether he becomes rich, he said, "will depend on how much I keep."

Unlike most of his heathen schoolmates, Mr. Havens comes from modest circumstances. He attended Brown with scholarship money and loans. Not one word about returning to help people like his neighbors. Not even a word about healing the sick. What apparently excites him is the coming windfall and the opportunity to pray with patients. God speed, Mr. Havens. Here's hoping you and your cohorts successfully reclaim the Ivy League for Christianity. Right before the poor reclaim Christianity from you.

Full Moon

It's the full Flower Moon tonight. Also known as the Milk Moon. Frightfully sorry I missed last month's Pink Moon.

Sunday, May 22

Sunday Coupons

No, I'm not stupid enough to poach on Norbizness' preserve, any more than I'd have tried to get my 67 MPH fastball past Ted Williams. Just relaying a domestic conversation with my Poor Wife over this morning's paper:

PW: Jesus, Cherry Vanilla Dr. Pepper! What's next?

DR: Chipotle...

PW: Chipotle.

DR: You didn't let me finish. Chipotle Chicken Caesar.

PW: Alfredo.

DR: Think it comes in Diet?

TV Guide™ Roundup

It never fails...no TV Guide at the grocery when I'm there on Friday, too busy to go on Saturday, then Sunday morning I get caught in the horrific traffic jam as 40% of my fellow citizens try to make it to their weekly church services on time.

On the cover: American Idol's four finalists, three of whom seem to be throwing gang signs while the fourth modestly covers her bosom. Are they pandering for votes? I don't know. I've never seen the show, so maybe someone can answer me this: are we actually short of singers in this country? Wouldn't it make more sense to look for decent songwriters? Or general practitioners? Two-thirds of the country watches this show, and for the life of me I can't figure out what they're hoping to find. It's like, "Ladies and Gentlemen, tonite, YOU will decide: Who will be America's Next Personal Injury Attorney?"

Letters: Last week's irritability continues. J. Fenton from L.A. jeers Smallville for killing off Margot Kidder. Fellow Californian Sharon Kraynick of Perris (beautiful in the spring, I hear) sees no point in watching That 70s Show without Eric and Kelso. Mesa, AZ's Jon Gaiser thinks Survivor has lost its sense of reality. Reader Sandi Smith, of Clinton, TN., belies the Guide's analog demographic by pondering the ancient technology of Bob Barker's long microphone cord. People trip over it all the time, Sandi says, and someday someone could be seriously injured. And from Pottsville, PA., Tanya Kemmerling has had it with Fox, which made her wait forever then didn't even show the finale of Tru Calling, adding insult to injury by airing Simple Life: Interns instead. Patricia Rosenbluth and Neil A. Piar (she hails from Hillsborough, NC; he calls Columbus, OH, home) manage to break through the gloom, she with the joy of seeing Peter MacNicol back in prime time, he because he could join the Alias fold this season without suffering from severe confusion.

News Flashes promises to tell us What Katie Couric Really Thinks About Diane (Sawyer). Turns out she thinks Diane is great. But she finds there's a level of sexism in such discussions, since nobody ever compares Matt Lauer and Charlie Gibson. Well, I meant it to be a surprise, but I'm planning to do just that real soon.

Cheers: The O.C., Cold Case, TV Land, and HBO. Frankly, I'm at a loss to explain why.

Jeers: Bravo, for new reality shows with Howie Mandel, Kathy Griffin, Bobby Brown, Omarosa Manigault Stallworth, and Richard Hatch. Yes, I verified that. And ABC, for passing off clip shows as specials.

Recusing myself: last week I objected to the Jeer of my homeboy David Letterman. This week I will not report on the Jeer of Pat O'Brien. In the late 80s, the NBA All-Star game was played in Indianapolis, and I found myself seated next to Mr. O'Brien at a posh eatery. We'd had a brief conversation about the place earlier, and he seemed quite nice. He ordered a bottle of Conterno Barolo 1970 with the meal, and I complimented him on his choice. "You've had it?" he asked. "No, the '70 is out of my price range, but I've had other vintages," I explained. He insisted my wife and I take a glass. Ambrosia. Pat, you've still got one guy in your corner.

Saturday, May 21

So Whaddya Plan To Do About It, Mr. President? Land On Another Aircraft Carrier?

"I'm very concerned about cloning," the president said. "I worry about a world in which cloning becomes accepted."

Well, with apologies to Tom Lehrer, I've sure gotta admire the courage of a man who stands before the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast and comes out in favor of a "culture of life" knowing everybody else in the room opposes it.

And it doesn't take any courage for me to come to my own blog and say, "So what?' either. But: So What? As you once so eloquently put it yourself, Mr. President, who cares what you think? What could possibly give you the idea that you exert some sort of moral leadership, on the sanctity of life or any other issue, except among those who already agree with you anyway, those who are the intended audience for that silly slogan? Culture of Life. As though Parkinson's sufferers and people with spinal cord injuries are less alive than leftover frozen embryos. Genuine moral leadership wrestles with real problems. You, Mr. President, put stickers on a bumper, and pose in front of banners. Troubling? What's troubling is the easy certitude of the medieval monastery in the world of the 21st century. The rest of the world doesn't await the moral approval of any U.S. President. This one especially.

On second thought, there is something you can do. Demonstrate real personal leadership. Let's see you produce an unbreakable living will expressly forbidding the use of any medical advance based on embryonic stem cell research in your own case. Have a big signing ceremony. Let's hear you take the pledge that in the eventuality that you become a paraplegic, or undergo radiation therapy, or in any of the countless possible conditions such research might some day cure, you will not avail yourself of any. Confine yourself to those 72 lines you approved, the ones which are hopelessly contaminated. Lead on, Mr. Bush.

Happy Birthday

Thomas "Fats" Waller, born 1904.

Available on Nimbus Records: "Fats Waller Sings" and "Fats Waller Doesn't Sing". I suppose you could do that with Nat Cole. Anybody else?

Friday, May 20

We'll Be Back To The End Of The World Right After These Messages

You have to feel for The History Channel. There's that big HISTORY splashed right across its name and that snazzy logo there in the corner. It's thrown them off stride the past few years. Everybody else got to jump on the Lowest Common Denominator bandwagon. Where The Learning Channel could decide all you really wanted to learn about was room makeovers, and Discovery could aid you in discovering the joys of building custom bikes and yelling, The History Channel was just sorta stuck. I suppose somewhere along the line there was a big bi-coastal video conference where someone suggested they could do what The Nashville Network did, become an Acronym Network while nobody was looking and run a continual Bond movie marathon while they negotiated with Spike Lee to use his name, but then someone else must have realized they'd be the THC network in the interim, and that probably killed the deal.

Not to worry though. The programming geniuses were up to the task, and "history" now includes fortnightly weekend marathons on the history of the search for Noah's Arc since the last marathon, or the history of sharks biting people's limbs off on camera. Last night after Jeopardy! I was casting about for some reason not to finish the yard chores before it got too dark, and what should pop up but Countdown to Armageddon, a two-hour special about how file footage of natural disasters can be repackaged with a few interviews to fill out two hours and, hopefully, pander to the all-important moral values crowd which didn't realize The O.C. was on. I love the way these things work, but it does make me nostalgic for In Search Of, that show Leonard Nemoy hosted which began with the disclaimer disavowing any responsibility for accuracy. I guess you could still get sued in those days for selling turds as Tootsie Rolls.

It was already half over, so I taped the first half on the replay. If you're gonna take the time to learn the signs of the coming Apocalypse you don't really want to start in the middle, and miss half the fun.

"Asteroids! Global warming! Terrorist attacks! Are these simply disasters that could end our very existence?" we begin. "Or are these threats terrifying prophecies from the Bible that are at last coming true?" That is, should I be scared shitless over melting ice caps and the disappearing ozone layer, or should I be worrying about the really important stuff? We start off wandering in a haze the show will be careful to maintain for the next two hours. Though we will touch upon the subject we will not be examining what most objective Biblical scholars know to be the truth: that John was writing about the Roman Empire and his "prophecies", largely a rewriting of Daniel, Zachariah, and Malachi, proved to be, well, a dud. "Many believe such and such," will excuse us ignoring the provenance of the book or the Bible in general--hey, our obligation is discharged if we throw in a little opposition, right? It is a controversy. Besides, Tim LaHaye sure has sold a lot of books.

LaHaye and John Hagee, who has mined the same territory in his books, are the principle spokesmen for the Apocalypse Industry. If you don't know Hagee, he's the spitting image of David Huddleston as the other Jeffrey Lebowski, minus the wheelchair. The man is a powerful preacher, and it's difficult to figure how he's been outsold by the bland-as-dishwater LaHaye and his Rotary Club persona. LaHaye fudges, like any good corporate monolith aware that a wrong word might hurt stock prices; Hagee plunges straight ahead, damn the inconsistencies.

As for the rest, there's the usual sense that the experts--that is, actual geologists, epidemiologists, non-fanatical theologians--were either not quite aware of the subject of the show or had a difficult time sticking to their agreement to tapdance around any direct confrontation. The one theologian who says, essentially, "Bullshit," is onscreen about as long as it takes to say it.

I know this is the ratings pandering of a cable network rather than someone taking dictation from the religious radicals, but is this what they really want? Doesn't LaHaye have enough money by now to finance a few more Kirk Cameron movies and be done with it? Can I have World War II back now? I paid for it.

Friday Shuffle

Terry Riley, 15/16
Robin Hitchcock, Vegetation and Dimes
Spirit, Mr. Skin
Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller), Too Close Together
The Judybats, Daylight
Love, My Little Red Book
Pierre Bensusan, Jigs: Merrily Kissed the Quaker/ Cunla
Walter Becker, Surf and/or Die
X, Burning House of Love
Aztec Camera, Get Outta London

Thursday, May 19

Happy Birthday

Malcolm X (born Malcolm Little, 1925); Joey Ramone (born Jeffrey Hyman, 1951).

"A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country..." Matthew 13:57

Literary Corner

I do a lot of re-reading. Some of it is fairly structured: at least two of Shakespeare's Big Four every year, Lolita and Pale Fire, Garcia Marquez, Huck Finn and others every two or three years. I pick up Borges and James Thurber regularly, though I'm pretty sure I've read every word either of them ever published at least twice.

Some of it is just hit-or-miss. I read Homer straight through a couple years ago. Boswell. Probably 85% of the histories I own, sometimes in full, sometimes just the good stuff. I went through a good three-quarters of Shelby Foote's Civil War narrative last summer (and was surprised at how pro-Lost Cause the whole thing seemed, and how slipshod some of the scholarship--am I getting more critical, or just angrier?). Thanks to a lifetime spent perfecting the art of inattention I can even re-read mysteries, which I don't read for the plots, anyway.

This weekend I picked up The Right Stuff to get my mind off the pain in my back. I should say something about my relationship with Tom Wolfe. I read The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test in high school just to get laid. There was an absolutely ethereal beauty a year behind me who was into Hippie Lit. I managed to avoid Kahlil Gibran, Carlos Castaneda, and all that Tolkien stuff; even Out of Control the head that does my thinking had some standards. That one book, as it turned out, was enough Wolfe for me, in both cases. Thank God for the National Lampoon.

I did read the Rolling Stone pieces that became The Right Stuff back in the days when Hunter was at the top of the masthead, and a couple chapters of Mauve Gloves someone'd left lying around at my summer job one year. For whatever reason, I have a first edition of TRS. And it's a...damn fine!...piece of reporting, he had to admit. But I didn't intend it to be this week's book report. There were a couple of things that struck me this time around. One, that nobody in the X-15 program thought Sputnik was worth one shit, let alone two, meaning that the upper levels of military/political leadership knew it, too. The other was this passage, on the famous first press conference:

It was as if the press in America, for all its vaunted independence, were a great colonial animal, an animal made up of countless clustered organisms responding to a single nervous system. In the late 1950s (as in the late 1970s) the animal seemed determined that in all matters of national importance the proper emotion, the seemly sentiment, the fitting moral tone should be established and should prevail; and all information that muddied the tone and weakened the feeling should simply be thrown down the memory hole.

It made me wonder how Tom might approach that paragraph these days, if he weren't so preoccupied with holes of a different sort.

Wednesday, May 18

Unscientific Science Marches On

John Stossel tests the waters and decides America is getting soaked.

A few years back Pepsi and Coke both featured taste tests in their ads. Both won. Legitimately. I'll tell you how in a moment, but first...

Stossel's "test" seems designed, first and foremost, to suckle the popular notion that people who aspire to "taste" are just self-deluded snobs. I'll be the first to admit the idea has some merit. I'll also be first to say that reverse snobbery, the idea that there's no difference between chicken livers and chicken shit just because some people can't tell the difference, is just as stupid.

I'm not sure who decided drinking Perrier was "cool", or why I should be worried about how such people spend their money, but being convinced by John Stossel's, and I quote, "unscientific test" is hardly any different than choosing a favorite based on label design. Give me those six waters and five minutes to work up a plan, I bet I could make the rankings come out anyway you specify.

(It's funny, by the way, that eight column inches doesn't leave him enough room to tell us the sample size of give us vote totals or percentages.)

"People" do not know how to taste. This is why there's an elaborate ritual for tasting wine, rather than just gulping it down. It's why tea merchants and parfumiers pay big money to highly skilled "noses" instead of testing products on six people found at the mall. If you pulled a dozen people off the street, sticky sweet soda-pop wine would beat Domaine Romanée-Conti ten times out of ten, and you could ask "Why does this stuff cost $300/bottle?" It does, in part, because knowledgeable buyers know better. (Rarity has a lot to do with it, too.)

There's a couple of telling results in Stossel's little act there. First, Aquafina finishes second, ahead of New York tap water. But Aquafina (product of Pepsi) is filtered municipal tap water from Kansas City. Desani (from Coke) is actually New York City water. K-Mart water has to be the same; they're not bottling from some secret spring somewhere.

Poland Spring comes in fifth, and Evian dead last. But Poland Spring is, oddly, spring water, and Evian is mineral water. Of course unsophisticated tasters expecting tastelessness found them odd. They taste of something. Iceland Spring, which I've never had, finished above them, tied with New York City. So looked at one way, tap water wound up in the basement with the funny-tasting stuff.

This is not to say that bottled water is "worth the price". But, clearly it is to a lot of people, and they aren't all delusional. Lots of tap water tastes "funny", or is heavily chlorinated much of the year. Whether "some people" worry about trace amounts of copper or iron is immaterial. You conducted a taste test; don't try to tell me I can't detect minute amounts of copper or iron or chlorine. And, yes, there are some people out there who prefer the taste of Vichy or Appolinaris. The market serves them. Big whoop.

Oh, those Coke/Pepsi tastes tests? Well, Pepsi is sweeter than Coke. Most people react favorably at first to sweetness, so Pepsi had people take a sip of each. But sweetness eventually cloys, so Coke had people taste repeatedly. This ain't rocket science.

Small Wonder

Indianapolis Public Schools, the governing body which oddly enough does not oversee the public schools in Indianapolis, but rather that subset which aren't located in wealthy suburbs, is implementing the Small Learning Community (or SLC to the jargon-besotted world of education) experience in all five of its high schools beginning this fall. This particular solution to the Crisis In Education comes courtesy the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the outgoing IPS superintendent, who has been in on the two years of planning since the $11.3 million grant was announced but won't be there for its implementation, since he announced his retirement last year, right before he started looking for another superintendent's job.

In addition to realigning the existing high schools the grant will create ten new small high schools, presumably more of the charter schools so beloved of Mayor Bart Peterson, whose zeal for improving efficiency and saving tax dollars by eliminating township government and unifying separate city/county functions did not include risking the wrath of suburbanites by proposing to merge the seven separate school districts. The program, and the grant money, are being administered by something called the Center for Excellence in Leadership of Learning (CELL, naturally) at the University of Indianapolis.

The idea, in the public high schools, is to divide each into small "communities" of no more than 400, each with its own focus on "post-secondary options"--college, technical training, fast food--designed to improve achievement of minority students and help those who may fall through the cracks in a large high school environment. The program promises smaller class sizes, more direct adult contact, improved graduation rates and a "sharing of current research and extensive, ongoing professional development" from the folks at CELL.

Great. You'll excuse me for not saluting.

Sure, I'm Gloomy Gus, Nick the Naysayer, Pessimistic Pete. I also know a thing or two about what is actually going on.

IPS was one of the big losers in the Strip Money From Education and Blame It On the Deficit sweepstakes conducted by our new emperor governor, Mitch Daniels (campaign motto: "If I can wreck the federal budget in just one fiscal year, think of what I can do for you!"). IPS is losing $18 million in the next two years. It's losing teachers. It will have a shortfall for special programs for poor, minority, and non-English-speaking students which the government mandates. But somehow dividing schools into quarters will produce smaller classes.

Well, you say, it comes from that $11.3 million grant. You'd say that, but you'd be wrong. None of that money directly benefits students. It doesn't even directly benefit the schools. It's for educational junkets, workshops, and research. The kids are just guinea pigs in all this.

Planning, in the form of your typical meetings, handouts, and administrative directives has been going on all year. Whether the taxpayers are being reinbursed by CELL for all these man hours is unclear. My guess is no; schools have to apply to CELL for funds. I can tell you that at my wife's school the major accomplishment so far, aside from a nice trip to Vegas for a couple of administrators, has been an all-out dogfight over which "family" will get what set of rooms. "Professional development" indeed.

Maybe this will work. Emphasis on the maybe. The Dyspepsic's Hotline says it's 3-1 the thing is quietly junked in three years, after most of the money gets handed out to charters, which take even more money from the neediest students. So the Bible says, and it still is news...

Tuesday, May 17

This Is Not Your Great-Grandfather's Doughboy

Andrew's Newsweek post linked below led me to a piece from last March by Jonah Goldberg which had as its single virtue this opening line:

I am not going to pretend to be a military expert.

In the course of proving the soundness of this decision over 1500 words by insisting we're winning the war because we're killing more of them than they're killing of us, we get this gem:

But the military cannot rely on the press to make the case that we're winning. The Tet Offensive was a colossal military blunder for the enemy, but the press turned it into a victory for them.

A lot of us are taught fables in our youth, but by adulthood we generally learn, say, not to bother putting a lost tooth under our pillows. The Tet Offensive did turn, eventually, into a tactical US victory; a "colossal military blunder" it, obviously, was not. What turned Tet into a victory for the Vietnamese was the contrast between their ability to launch an offensive in the South and the years of being told by the government that we were winning the war because we'd killed some many more of them than they had of us. Ask somebody if you don't know what you're doin'.

Turn That Goddam Racket Down, You Hear Me?

My Poor Wife was watching Antiques Roadshow this evening when I finally made it out of the garage and returned from showering off the urethane dust. I plopped down on my guitar chair (it was a clip show, with big winners, including the woman who'd hung the still life with strawberries sideways for thirty years). My wife's religious about the Mute button. So she'd hit it at the end of the show and gone upstairs to get ready for bed, and I grabbed the guitar and was running scales with the picture still on. Up comes the one-minute news update and...gee whiz, the Newsweek story is the Big Story of the Day.

Now, I'm not going to question the news judgement here, and the hypocritical hysteria has been well-covered by Digby, The Poor Man, and
Arthur Silber.

With our present level of public discourse it's enough for me to learn that Michelle Malkin and The World's Greatest Bloggers are flogging a story to know there's something hinky about it. But I'm fifty years old, and I remember within my adult lifetime when that was neither the case with the Right nor with every political discussion. What has happened, and why it has happened, is a long and complicated story. So let's focus on something simple: Why can't we keep things in perspective? Why isn't the story limited by what's actually there, instead of what political hoopla someone's trying to make of it? Don't we all--whatever our political leanings--recognize the sound a tub makes when thumped?

You would not run your life this way. No one would. You'd wind up drowning in mindless vituperation and lawyer's fees. If you find yourself in a dispute, you try to solve it. You listen to what is being said. You collect facts. You act as if kicking a rock will pain your toe, and if you do so anyway you try to limit it to once. Yes, politics is a dirty business. Yes, I've been known to indulge in the occasional "neener, neener". But not, god help me, as though that were the only thing playing in my head, all day every day. At least I hope not.

Newsweek retracted the story that a Pentagon investigation had found Qur'an abuse at Guantanamo. That's plain English, even if it "puzzles" Scotty McClellan. To turn this into a "Lie", to trumpet it as the work of a "liberal subculture", or blame the "penchant for anonymous sources", in the wake of all that has gone on with this administration in Iraq and elsewhere, and the complacent press coverage both have received, is beyond laughable. One way the "real" media could begin to reclaim its lost reputation is by calling a spade a spade, and making the manufactured hoopla a part of the story, instead of its frame.

UPDATE: My alarm clock radio suffers periodic fits of interference, and sometimes in resetting it I wind up on the other public radio channel. So this morning, right on schedule, I woke up to hear NPR's reporter say that Newsweek had "retracted the story about Qur'an abuse at Guantanamo". This is, I take it, one of those examples of professional journalism bloggers are urged to emulate.

Monday, May 16

The Mystery Of The Three Chairs, Or What The Creeper Saw

Probably the lamest post on any of the internets, ever.

This is how I spent my weekend. Regular readers, and I hope you're doing what it takes to remain regular, will recall our old paint friends Banshee and Vineyard, or as I like to call them, green and purple. Well, when you buy a gallon of paint, you know you've just gotta paint something, and the garden chairs were just sitting there, begging for it.

The sharp-eyed among you will note that not only are there two colors on the chairs but they are, like most wooden patio furniture, slatted. This keeps water from pooling on them and increases painting time by a rough factor of 5000 if you're stupid artistic enough to paint them contrasting colors. Not only did I have to use a sash brush about half the time, some of the details were painted with a #12 artist's brush, which belongs to my wife and I hope I ruined.

And they're not done. My wife's rocker needs a second coat, and then they all get urethaned for added protection and because I so enjoy solvent fumes and hours of hand sanding. Incidentally, that reminds me of another of the joys of matrimony: anytime my wife rises from her rocking chair I say, "Well, you're off your rocker again," and we both laugh maniacally like it's the first time we've heard it, and like it was funny the first time.

But they look nice, don't they? Please use the comments to tell me how nice they look, but try to think up synonyms for "nice". They're actually a bit darker than the photo. My wife thinks they look "elegant". I chose "brooding". She had the last word, though: "Too good for the likes of us."

WTF Is The Matter With Kansas?

I was intending to use this quote from Nick Kristof in the Sunday Times:

In fact, when conservatives quote from the Bible to make moral points, they tend to quote very selectively. After all, while Leviticus bans gay sex, it also forbids touching anything made of pigskin (is playing football banned?) - and some biblical passages seem not so much morally uplifting as genocidal.

and just note that several million trees had died so "Sky Appears Blue" could appear in the Paper of Record. But, what the hell, let's think about it. It's absurd that this mild schoolyard retort is mentioned; it ought to be common knowledge among even the most rabid of fundamentalists. But of course it isn't, and it's a measure of the particular straits we're in that it must pass for liberal commentary just to say that much. I could care less whether Fat Tony Scalia buggers his wife, but anytime Dobson or Falwell or Rick Santorum starts ranting about gay marriage they should be asked, point blank, where they banish their wives and daughters when Mr. Monthly comes to call. You don't? Then the argument's over.

But it doesn't work that way, do it? And it is, in a sense, a form of Christian persecution which really is going on in this country. Decent Christians who don't believe their religion is a justification for hatred and bigotry get tarred with that brush every day.

It is, simply, an obscenity that at the beginning of the 21st century the Kansas Board of Education would want to "debate" the science of the 19th. But what's worse is that the same sort of thing is at work here: the rabid fundamentalists get to state their case without being questioned on it. "Intelligent Design" is not just a smokescreen for the forcible insertion of Biblical literalism into school biology texts; it's a pretext for attacking materialism itself.

And I was educated in the last century, though if I live a few more years that may become a badge of honor rather than an admission of being behind the times. At the time it seemed quite clear: science was materialistic not because science insisted on, or relied upon, an absolute belief in materialism. It was materialistic because, if we were to know anything, the measurable was the only way we could possibly know it. The battle of Kansas is about giving supernatural explanations equal footing with real science, plain and simple. But the crypto-Creationists will not be called upon to defend that position.

Steve Case, chairman of the Kansas Science Curriculum Standards Committee, wrote a response to a Wichita Eagle editorial by the Board's chairman, Steve Abrams, which was read into the record on the final day of the show trial hearings. He said:

Dr Abrams ends his letter with a quote from Thomas Cooper;"only fraud and falsehood dread examination. Truth invites it." I would suggest that he be careful what he wishes for.

Insertion of a particular set of fundamentalist beliefs into science curriculum cannot be the end of it, as the crypto-Creationists know. The next step will be removing supernatural explanations from rationalist critique. It's something Kevin Drum and Matt Yglesias might want to consider carefully before bargaining with other peoples' "unpopular" rights.

Sunday, May 15

TV Guide™ Roundup

After two weeks on the DL with that groin pull, we're ready to shake off the rust and face some real competition. As you can imagine it was tough sitting on the sidelines watching while two consecutive collector's editions (one with that snazzy 3-D thing) went by. But on the other hand, I'd have never been able to come up with any snark for Star Wars or Elvismania anyway, so it was best not to try to come back too soon. I've got a career to think about.

Incidentally, in the interim I received an email from one of TV Guide's™ correspondents which was pleasant enough on the surface but contained a vague hint of menace, or at least miffitude. So this woman not only writes to TV Guide™, she also Googles her own name on a regular basis. If you're still reading the Roundups, ma'm, my advice is to have your house checked for radon.

Letters: I don't know if the contentiousness of our political situation or the stress of the end of another regular season has taken hold, but our correspondents seem particularly on edge this week. Janet F. Caires-Lesgold, of Evanston, IL, is typical of the trend. She wants the producers of Lost to know they've lost a viewer by killing off Ian Somerhalder, the most gorgeous member of the cast! Janet, I don't generally offer advice to letter writers, but listen, I know it's hard to believe now, but some day another hunk will come in to your life. Promise. It's not an affaire de coeur that's bothering Joyce Bowen of Laguna Beach, it's ABC's decision to replace Boston Legal with Grey's Anatomy after only 17 episodes this season. Joyce, I don't generally whine back at letter writers, but now you know how I felt when Sony cancelled the Betamax. Fayetteville, NC's Barbara J. Smith is distressed by the nasty remarks of The Amazing Race's Kelly. Ms Smith thinks "the ugly American" has reared its lack of heart and integrity again! Still more displeasure from Camille Palmer, who resides in Greenwich, CT, and found Conan O'Brien's segment of the Vatican conclave "offensive and disrespectful". Earlier in the show Conan had remarked he had to watch his posture, and Camille thinks he should begin by getting down on his knees! Ms Palmer, I don't generally smart off to letter writers, but you should at least consider that that's how most teevee stars got their gigs in the first place. From Vinton, down Louisiana way, Carol Ann B. Nick says she wasn't thrilled with Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis turning up on the Enterprise finale. And Hermosa Beach's Jo Hilliard wants CBS to know it must be mad to ax Marianne Jean-Baptiste from Without a Trace, as she's the glue that holds the show together.

Thank goodness it's not all Sturm und Drang in viewer land. Amy Toombs, who calls Park Hills, MO home, was very excited to read that Kojak was being remade with Ving Rhames, as she numbers him among her favorite thespians. And after viewing several episodes, she couldn't be happier. And Tustin, CA's Jean Cameron asks if anyone besides her has noticed the strong resemblance between Lost's sexy Josh Holloway and the young Don Johnson. The Guide thoughtfully provides headshots of each for comparison purposes.

Insider explains how we wound up with eight actresses nominated for Daytime Emmys. My question, "How can you possibly give awards to people on soap operas?" goes unanswered for the 32nd year.

Cheers: Madchen Amick (appearing on three shows in one night), TV Land (bringing back David Steinberg), William Sanderson (deft performance).
Jeers: Kelly of The Amazing Race (those insensitive comments again), America's Top Model (morbidity and bad timing), a couple of reality show contestants (quitters), and David Letterman (too many vacations). I think I'm gonna write them a letter about that last one. Lessee: Dear TV Guide™ Jeers to your Jeer of David Letterman. The man has a right to enjoy his success and to spend time with his young son. I think you have your priorities reversed on that one. (Signed) A Loyal Reader, Anytown, USA.

Saturday, May 14

Believe Me, I'm Just As Puzzled About This Post As You Are

I have an enormous head. It's huge. Freakishly, genetic-mutation, upper-limits-of-the-birth-canal huge. I stand right at six feet, (or did in the days when I was measured; I'm sure the Bush administration has cost me a half-inch at least), yet depending on the manufacturer my hat size is 7 5/8 or 7 7/8. That's an important distinction, chapeau-wise, as 7 5/8 is about the upper limit of "extra large" in the millinery world, while 7 7/8 will put you in the "Special Order" category, or the "Hats to Cover Extensive Bandaging" category, with a corresponding loss of selection. Every adjustable hat I own is set at the very last little peg, and sometimes even that doesn't work.

I love the fedora. I have three, though I'm never dressed up enough to wear one. I don't wear a porkpie quite as well, but I get more use out of them since they work in more casual settings. I've got a dark gray felt Dizzy Gillespie number, and a straw Slammin' Sammy Sneed special, only it's black and the band is a tasteful cream, black, and brown, not one of those technicolor assaults. Of course the real problem with wearing hats out in public these days is that once you get there there's no place to put them. Sic transit.

Decent hats--and what's more important, decent hat wearing--can make even a boring Turner Classic Movie a must-watch. A couple months ago there was a Ray Milland movie on, no idea what it was, but man, he looked like you'd cut yourself on his clothes if you brushed up against him. Hats are like tuxedos. Some people wear them, but for most people it's the other way around.

What brought this on is my wife was able to get me a team cap from her high school baseball nine, and...it's fitted, not adjustable, and they had one in my size! So I was breaking it in, you know, getting the roll just right, and it occurred to me that the roll is perhaps the single greatest fashion innovation ever, and if you're reading this you know I'm no slave to fashion. When I was a kid you crowned your cap (and called it a "hat"), meaning you creased the top above the logo so it stood up. Some guys tucked baseball cards in theirs to stiffen 'em. And when I look at those old pictures today it reminds me that "dorky" had not yet entered the lingo.

And two-toned shoes.. Oh, baby! And yes, ladies, I've got big feet, too.

Friday, May 13


Howie Kurtz trades meaningful glances with John Tierney, whose column about how reports of Iraqi violence are so Last Week had already been knocked into a cocked hat by Scott Rosenberg, whose piece I'd forgotten to link to. Heeeeere's Howie:

And that's the point. Why give terrorists the publicity they crave? Why try to divine the motivation of psychopaths who are willing to kill innocents along with themselves? Of course such attacks can't be ignored, but can a totally accurate article, correct in every detail, still contribute to a warped view of the dangers in Iraq, or Israel, or other places plagued by suicide bombers?

After I'd read Scott (and TBogg) I found I didn't have anything to add about Tierney's piece. But why do we have this national tic about calling terrorists madmen? Not all psychopaths kill people, not everyone who takes innocent lives is a psychopath, and the majority of people who invoke madness to explain things have no idea what they're talking about. It would be one thing if the exercise was intended to assuage our consciences about the innocents we kill in response, but most people who invoke the term seem rather willing to accept the notion of "collateral damage" and go on with their daily lives. Look, terrorism is a tactic, like it or not. It's an effective use of manpower when faced by a vastly superior foe. The United States has used terrorism and has sponsored terrorism elsewhere. The modern state of Israel was founded by a group of people who used terror as a weapon. It's madness because war is madness, but if it's psychopathy then we're buying $400 billion a year of it.

And what's with the notion of terrorists craving publicity? Are they keeping scrapbooks, do you imagine? How far up your ass does your head have to be to think the rest of the world could point to St. Louis on a map, let alone worry about what people there are seeing on the morning news? The Iraqi insurgency exists because we invaded the country. It's not Afghanistan, it's not Grenada. It's the middle of the fucking Middle East, and what happens there is international news. Sticking your head in the sand may be preferable to its present location, but do it on your own time.

Programming Note

In response to my suggestion at Corndoggerel that the new ruling junta at PBS would have a hard time making their public affairs programming--which currently consists of a shout fest moderated by Nixon's favorite Jesuit, a weekly half-hour of cowering featuring "The Press", and a bow-tied dick--any worse, the Phantom Scribbler reminded me of Buster, the lesbian friendly rabbit. I rashly predicted that Buster would soon be befriending oil-drilling voles and land-developing beavers. Rashly, because this is the sort of thing I should be selling to the New Public Broadcasting System. I got a couple of scripts ready yesterday, and I have a few more ideas I'll sketch out here:

Mean ol' Mr. Peecee demands the city enforce its leash laws on Clifford, the Big Red Dog. But when Clifford puts out a fire at Mr. Peecee's house he learns we shouldn't rely on Big Government to solve our problems, and besides, the giants among us know best.

In one of those crossover two-parters so beloved of network programmers, Thomas the Tank Engine is sad because he can't visit Yellowstone Park, so Bob the Builder lays some track though the middle of it for him.

Reparative therapy cures Tinky Winky's bad case of gay. Dr. Robert Spitzer guest stars.

Sesame St.: Letter: M; Numbers: 3,4; Concepts: firing warning shots at illegal immigrants.

Arthur's liberal, feminist, trade-unionist teacher makes him memorize unpleasant facts about American history. Arthur tells the police she's a Satanist child molester.

The American Experience is now The Judeo-Christian American Experience, Nova will be replaced by Science with John Stossel and Frontline will be in reruns while its replacement, The Ann Coulter Comedy Hour is readied.

You know where to find me, Mr. Ferree.

Friday Shuffle, Steveland Morris Birthday Edition

Theme shuffle discovered by Kathy in the same week I thought of it but didn't use it, making her the Charles Darwin to my Alfred Russel Wallace. Or that's my story.

Ray Charles, I'll Drown in My Own Tears
Blind Lemon Jefferson, Black Snake Moan
Blind Willie McTell, Talkin' To You, Mama
Ben Harper and the Five Blind Boys of Alabama, Take My Hand
Stevie Wonder, Ordinary Pain
Reverend Gary Davis, Lord, I Feel Just Like Going On
Doc Watson, Black Mountain Rag
Blind Willie Johnson, Nobody's Fault But Mine
Blind Blake, Poker Woman Blues
Sonny Terry & Blind Boy Fuller (twofer), I Want Some of Your Pie

Thursday, May 12

Cessna Of Terror

I took a tea break at 12:45 and for some reason switched on CNN and found myself in the middle of Scotty's press conference. Hung on to the top of the hour hoping for some genuine wall-to-wall insanity. Say what you want to about it, there are some things you can count on CNN to provide. In spades.

The anchor was Kyra Phillips. She may be charitably described as having been incoherent. She kept babbling something about having "trained with NORAD", and running over some procedural checklist. I guess the story by that point (and have you ever noticed how often you have to fill in the story for yourself while they blather on about tangents?) was how effective the command procedures had been, seeing that we had shots of the decidedly non-threatening-looking two seater prop job on the ground, and the decidedly non-swarthy pilot in handcuffs. I decided to wait out the first commercial break, which by happy coincidence began with a promo about how CNN is your stop for security news. Because security isn't just about politics, it's personal. Which would be a nice tag line if only they'd cover how it sometimes is just about politics, but apparently they don't have Tom Ridge's home number. When we came back Kyra tossed it over to Kelli Arena in the field. Kelli was somewhat calmer, though she couldn't quite decide if the field in question was in Frederick or Fredericksburg. I'm guessing she's been training with some Civil War reinactors. Kelli informed us of the "two very important questions" which reporters had apparently shouted at that man who plays the President on teevee. "Did he think he was personally targeted?" and "Did he give the shoot to kill order?" And, she explained, "The President did not decide to answer."

He did not decide to answer. Now, okay, people speaking extemporaneously get tripped up from time to time. But the mental process behind that one fascinates me. Are we still playing the "Oh, yes, despite all appearances, George W. Bush makes decisions!" game? Or did she just get caught in a time warp?

I love wall-to-wall coverage, though I admit it's gone from the thrill of watching semi-competent cliff divers to merely watching another battered corpse float down river. The afternoon Reagan was shot I watched Dan Rather interviewing a doctor about what might be happening in surgery, and the doc said something about "opening up the chest". I channel-hopped after that, and within five minutes both ABC and NBC were announcing there were reports of Reagan undergoing open-heart surgery. But the gold standard was CNN's coverage of TWA flight 800, where the same helicopter shot of lights on the sea accompanied two hours of speculation so wild it had to top a group of nine-year-olds at a slumber party discussing sex. Things have improved greatly since then. At one point Ms Arena noted that some bit of pure invention she'd just got done reporting "was just a rumor!" She moved her hands up and down for emphasis, for fear somebody listening to her might believe what she'd just said.

Of Course This Could Just Mean That The Earth's Magnetic Poles Are About To Reverse

It comes as a complete surprise to me, but I actually like the blogging at Arianna's. I'd figured to check in once and then love to hate it, but at least for the present I'm going to try to keep up. Nice to see Harry Shearer and Paul Krassner, even if I can find them elsewhere if I need to. Nice mix of opinion, and the clunkiness is really rather charming. Too slick would have been a black mark.

The Show Must Go Off

Reportedly, Dennis Miller's show will expire tomorrow. Which may explain his rebranding efforts a couple weeks ago on The Daily Show (as well as Jon's tender treatment of him).

Enough said about Miller, but I never understood why he saddled himself with doing Dennis Miller schtick in the first place. Hell, if Howie Mandell can work without props without notably increasing his cringe-inducing factor, surely Dennis can get a new act.

(Now that I think on it, maybe it was metaphysically impossible for Howie Mandell to become any more of an embarrassment. He was on Comedy Central last week, and I tuned in just to see how much I could take. Twenty-three seconds.)

Dennis Miller's sin was not in siding with the wingnuts (or "being a libertarian", which he seems to think is something distinct). It was in announcing he was giving George Bush a free pass. That wasn't an insult to the audience. It was an insult to Dame Comedy herself.

Wednesday, May 11

For Art's Sake

Grant Wood, Parson Weems' Fable 1939 Oil on canvas
Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas

Dishonest Dave

Okay, this has been nagging at me and it's not gonna stop unless I say something. Last week David Brooks did yet another in his long line of "the religious right isn't really all that powerful and besides the militant secularists I invent are just as bad" routines which stretch back to his first whiff of the "moral values" bushwa. Poor Bobo is caught in this horrifying tug-of-war, y'see, which he wants us to believe is between extremists on either side but is really between his cosy little Reagan-era homilies and the brick wall they've run into. As you probably know already, he's gone an' drug Honest Abe into it:

Abraham Lincoln gathered his cabinet to tell them he was going to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. He said he had made a solemn vow to the Almighty that if God gave him victory at Antietam, Lincoln would issue the decree.

Now, I've seen that story, variously quoted. I don't know the source for it; presumably it came from a member of the cabinet. But there are a couple of problems with Brooks' telling of it. The minor one is the reference to Antietam. It was, indeed, the Bloodiest Day which gave Lincoln the victory he needed to issue the Proclamation. But every history I've even read agrees that Lincoln had actually made the decision some weeks earlier, before Lee invaded Maryland.

That revisionism might be of no importance, but the larger problem is. In Brooks' tale Lincoln appears to be playing the Lotto with God. Victory at Antietam thus becomes some sort of confirmation of His existence to the famously doubt-filled Great Emancipator. It's a Parson Weems job, a sorry political hack turning a great and complex political leader into an elementary-school morality skit.

Here's what Lincoln said on September 13, the same day the Federals entered Frederick:

These are not, however, the days of miracles, and I suppose it will be granted that I am not to expect a direct revelation. I must study the plain physical facts of the case, ascertain what is possible and learn what appears to be wise and right.

I'll not waste time suggesting Brooks could do the same.

Latest Line

Runaway bride enters treatment program

By Charles Odum

May 10, 2005  |  Atlanta -- Runaway bride Jennifer Wilbanks has checked herself into an inpatient medical treatment program to deal with “physical and mental issues” that drove her to skip town just days before her wedding, a spokesman for her family's church said Tuesday.

Which puts the over/under on her appearance with Barbara Walters or Diane Sawyer at four weeks.

Book deal: signed before she is "released". My guess, she'll be staring at you when you walk in Barnes & Noble sometime in July.

Last tattered remnants of celebrity and dignity swapped for slot on reality program: November sweeps. Maybe February. I'm can't be as accurate as the weatherman, y'know.

Go ahead, prove me wrong, Jen. Please.

Tuesday, May 10

3 Bedrooms, 2 Baths, Mild Psychosis

With a terminally ill cat around no vacuum cleaner or other implement of feline terror was operated last week--Stinky is so attuned to the threat of death by vacuum that he dashes for the basement if you move the ottoman to the side of the living room in preparation, and opening the closet door where the beast is kept risks his leaving claw marks on the rug and upsetting floor lamps--so a lot of household chores fell by the wayside. Thus Sunday wound up a sort of suburban triathlon, with lawn care and car washing and marginally successful toilet repair, shop vacs and pressure washers and leaf blowers actually drowning out the guy up the next street who seems to be running a commercial logging operation. I'm not quite sure why so many people who wind up living in mature suburban splendor seem to hate any plant that grows over two feet high, but there you are. Sorta like all those Beltway Republican fixtures who hate government so much.

The toilet was saved until after sundown, when the neighbors would think the loud stream of profanity was coming from the teevee. This toilet I suspect is as old as the house, meaning it's older than me, and every couple of years the flush valve seat works loose and has to be fixed with plumbers' epoxy. I love plumbers' epoxy. It's like Play-Doh with lead in it. It fixes anything. Even under water, which is a situation I frequently find myself in where plumbing is involved. Plumbers' epoxy is to duct tape what the Jupiter symphony is to In-a-gadda-da-vida. It has the added benefit that you have to wash your hands six times just to get the smell off, thereby encouraging good hygene when you may need it most.

Sunday's first order of business was painting the garage-sale bench my wife found a couple weeks ago. The thing was an absolutely perfect solution for what the designer types like to call a Problem Area. It had but one problem of its own. Its previous master had painted it white. Sunstroke White. Glossy Sunstroke White. It was going to require three coats, not simply to cover but to eradicate the memory.

This had led to one of those magical monogamous moments where you get to actually spit in the other person's direction all the while knowing it's just a lark. None of the seven gallons of exterior paint we had on hand suited my wife's vision. My wife is an artist. She knows color. She knows paint. My only recourse is Long Suffering.

What she doesn't do is blog, so I get to pretend I'm strictly rational in all this. In truth, I'm the one who plays Edgar Kennedy to her Chico Marx. "The goddam thing has sat there for two weeks!" I explained mildly, as though there aren't half-finished projects of mine from the 90s left for some archaeologist of the future to puzzle over. So she goes to the hardware store and comes back with 120 color samples. Seriously, I counted them. "You like Gargoyle," she asks, "or Nottingham? Or would you rather go with Vagabond?" "Bugger all," I replied, since I've been reading English mystery novels for the last two weeks. "Hey, I like your idea of painting the top a different color," she says. Dirty pool. Shrug. "Okay, let me see those."

It's "Banshee". The top and the lower shelf are "Vineyard". And it looks great. But how much do they pay them daft sods to think up them poncy names?

Monday, May 9

Ya Gotta Love The Playoffs

Alex Pareene's on fire!

The Poor Man owns the paint!

James Wolcott from downtown!

Driftglass: money!

Next Stop, Quemoy and Matsu

ABC: Bush apologizes for Yalta.

Bush, in an interview on Russian television, acknowledged that the United States and Britain played a major role in reshaping Europe at the 1943 Yalta conference of Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Josef Stalin. "I think that the main complaint would be that the form of government that the Baltics had to live under was not of their choosing," Bush said. "But, no, there's no question three leaders made the decision."

There appear to be two directions he can take this, and either would make a fine follow-up to the wildly successful Social Security Victory Tour.

The first is to continue apologizing for the whole laundry list of Birch Society bugbears: "losing China", fluoridating water, letting Commies make motion pictures. I don't have the entire list handy, but while he's in Russia he should definitely apologize for our not having destroyed them in '46, when we were the only ones with the Bomb. And it'd be a nice touch if when he returns he makes amends to African-Americans for saddling them with the burden of voting and civil rights. He might also apologize to the bankers for FDR's bank holiday, but I think the nice gifts he's sent them already more than make up for that horrifying misstep.

The alternative would be to issue a weekly apology summarizing the mistakes of past presidents. "I'm sorry Bill Clinton caused 9/11." "I'm sorry my Daddy didn't liberate the Iraqis." "Beg pardon for Reagan's trip to Bittburg." That sort of thing. Because, after this latest performance, he owes Native Americans and the whole of Central and South America a really, really nice fruit basket. How ironic that the first U.S. president who decides to start apologizing for our mistakes is the one who never made any.

Sunday, May 8

In Passing

Hoover and The Boy, sunny day.

Hoover died quietly Saturday afternoon. Because she wasn't in any pain she got to die at home in the care of the people who loved her, and not in some scary smelly vet's office.

I never intended to write about the pain of losing a friend, just about the joys of having her around in her decline. The way the timing worked out it wound up being more like therapy, something I hadn't foreseen about blogging. My wife and I were touched by the good wishes and the stories so many people shared.

If I have anything like an abiding principle or a guiding light it's something Alan Watts said, to the effect that we imagine ourselves as discrete individuals walking through a world which is "out there" and different from us, when the truth of the matter is we're like apples growing out of a tree. Then we fall off, and rot, and get eaten by worms. I added that last part. I'll never be as spiritual as Alan. But I like to think he'd have laughed if I could have said it to him.

We're granted an illusion of time and we get to share it with others. Then it's gone. And we cry because we can't hold it back.

She never told me her favorite song, so I played Tom Wait's "Time". If she could have, I know she'd have appreciated the growling. Managed to give her a nice spot next to the Boy (with all the big tree roots you never know til you start digging), with her favorite toy (plastic bottle cap) and a coin for the ferryman. If there's a Heaven I trust the bathroom faucet trickles endlessly and the mice are slow.

Breathe in, breathe out. Hug somebody today if you're fortunate enough. And thanks again, everyone.