Sunday, April 30


I just got to this weekend's comments, and apparently (thank you, Scott C., who was kind enough not to suggest I'd stolen it, even in a subconscious, "My Sweet Lord" sorta way) the Rothko Paint-by-Numbers thing will be headed to court. Here's the sort of thing I'd be advised not to say about it if I had competent legal help:

1. In fact I had the idea around 1973, out of the blue, while thumbing a Oui magazine piece about a rather attractive young woman who had been given a Rothko as a gift but didn't care for it. There were accompanying pictures of the young woman, but not the Rothko. Its absence made me suspicous of her entire backstory, and all this tangential ratiocination spoiled the mood. This is not the sort of thing I'd admit unless I was desperate for people to believe me.

2. I'm not sure whether this was the period when the late Michael O'Donoghue was the editor of Oui, though he was the only reason I read it. At any rate I was unaware at that time that he collected paint-by-numbers works and this is purely a coincidence.

3. Though I was the toast of for about three days in 1997 because my fan club membership (wife, birthday gift) number is in the 800s, I missed practically the whole fourth season, including The Rebel Set, which, I've learned, features Ed ("Chief") Platt as a bearded coffeeshop owner, something I'd remember. I'm not clear why I missed all but a half dozen. It may have been that Comedy Central/Channel screwed around with the time slot, and/or that they didn't do a Thanksgiving Marathon that year, or they did and I missed taping it. I typically caught up with a lot of stuff by swapping VHS tapes every three shows for a 24-hour period on Thanksgiving, because at the time I was a married man with a responsible career and not some punk kid who had nothing else to do but watch teevee.

4. Being a quotidian (in the sense of "fevered") reader of both World O'Crap and its delightful stable of commenters, it would never occur to me to consciously attempt put an MST gag past any of its obsessed, anal-retentive fan base of genetically-mutated memory freaks. I do score in the 99th percentile on any Simpsons quote cascade, but MST, no, although I have set as a goal memorizing the Mike vs. Crow "You watch chick flicks" bit at the end of that Kathy Ireland movie.

Happy Birthday

Reverend Gary Davis
April 30, 1896--May 5, 1972

What a remarkable run of muscian birthdays for April: Duke Ellington, Muddy Waters, Billie Holliday, Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Richard Thompson, Lowell George, Roy Orbison, Don Gibson, Iggy Pop, Albert King, Leon Russell, Johnny Shines, Alberta Hunter, Willie Nelson, Jimmy Cliff, Merle Haggard, Tiny Tim. December has all the commedians. Which explains why my guitar playing is so funny.

Saturday, April 29

Happy Anniversary

To my last funny idea.

Bill Kristol, Serial Prevaricator

Kristol, on C-SPAN, 8/21/2002 responded to two callers who questioned his own military service this way:

1) "I was a little too young to be drafted in Vietnam."

2) "I was a little too young for Vietnam."

At the time I couldn't find a DOB for Kristol, but his age, listed in a couple of bios and a feature story, gave a birthdate of 1952 or '53. Neither was "too young to be drafted", let alone to volunteer, but there is a complicating factor which I happen to know first hand, having been born in '53 myself. On June 28, 1972, Richard Nixon announced that no more draftees would be sent to Vietnam (a decision which sent two of my friends there, as they had volunteered after receiving low lottery numbers). That was the draft class of those born in 1952. The draft lottery for 1973 was held in February, 1972, but Nixon and the Congress fought over an extension of the law, and Congress allowed it to expire in mid-'73. Very few men were drafted that year.

So Kristol, while clearly futzing the issue, and avoiding talking about the chachickenhawk charge behind the two callers' questions, might have been technically correct the first time, though not the second.

And you're probably no more amazed than I to find out that his birthdate was December 23, 1952. Kristol was eligible, and had his number been low enough he very well could have been "drafted in Vietnam". As it turned out, his number was in the 180s while the draft reached only into the 90s that year. (Incidentally, it might be useful to note here that nobody involved in the draft lottery is fuzzy on his own details, assuming his memory still operates.)

Jump to Thursday, April 27, 2006. Kristol is the guest on The Colbert Report, and Stephen's already knocked him silly (his opener, "Project for the New American Century, how's that going?" had Kristol sputtering like an oxygen-starved candle). The interview turned to where manpower is supposed to come from for our next several invasions:

STEPHEN: Were you drafted? You're of Vietnam age, right?

KRISTOL: I was a little too young.

STEPHEN: How old were you in 19...72?

KRISTOL: I was 19.

STEPHEN: That's old enough.

KRISTOL: I was in the lottery for one year, Nixon cancelled the draft, so I didn't volunteer.

Ah, a truthful dependent clause! At this rate Kristol will issue an entire truthful sentence by 2014.

Bill Kristol, News Hour, August 20, 2004, shilling for the Swift boaters:
Some of the charges have I think held up quite well and they're willing to debate these charges against anyone. I think you found this last night against people who know a lot about it; it's really unfair, Mark. You're really slandering someone like John O'Neill who is a perfectly decent man who strongly believes....

7th Heaven

Speaking of Colbert, a comment from Anonymous (he gets around) at TBogg's put me square in the middle of an Althouse/Amba love fest over their superior parsing of Colbert's "real" opinions.

Before you watch this fascinating video of Steve Colbert interviewing -- and utterly bamboozling -- bestselling atheist Sam Harris (The End of Faith), read this post at Althouse: "Colbert and the dissonance between religion and comedy."

If I had not read this post, and the Colbert interviews touching on religion that it links to, I would have assumed, like the friends who are visiting me right now, that Colbert was purely making fun of religion, parodying a fundamentalist believer in Biblical inerrancy. "After all, he was on 'The Daily Show'!" So he must be a straight-up liberal humanist, right? Not exactly.

Professor Althouse, on Stephen's rattling off John 3:16 during his interview with Paul Begala:
I was struck by this moment on the show. The interview was going very well -- Begala speaking crisply (about speaking crisply) and Colbert slipping in perfect zingers. And then Begala wants to use the New Testament to prove a point about how he got through to Clinton. I felt that, reciting the verse, Colbert was not being the Colbert Report character but that his own religion was dictating that he had to say the verse as a demonstration of his own faith, and it wasn't right to fool around with that. I can't say why I feel so sure. The Colbert character would, I think, have been more pleased with himself to know the verse. You'd have felt the preen. I experienced this moment as a startling statement of faith, the kind of thing you don't normally see on TV.

Unless you, y'know, watch one of the six religious channels on your cable, or PAX, or catch a crowd shot in any domestic athletic contest that happens to be on.

Really, now, using a routine on a comedy show to defend your monotheism for you? Isn't that just a tad needy, if not actually sacrilegious? (By the way, it's too bad you ladies missed him bamboozling Peggy Noonan last month.)

Cripes, it's someone who didn't understand the show praising the take of someone who was watching the insides of her eyelids, apparently. Colbert rattled off John 3:16 without looking. So can I. It's not exactly obscure. "That's the Christian sound bite," he told Begala.

There just seems to be no earthly use in trying to explain about acting and movies and fiction and such to these people. Althouse is certainly entitled to her interpretation, but if there's a riskier target than Colbert for analysis by Comcast I'm not sure who it might be. (There was the time, many years ago, when Peewee Herman shared a letter with Dave he'd received after an earlier Letterman appearance. He didn't share the contents with the audience, but the gist was that a doctor had written him informing him that he--Peewee, or Paul, it was unclear if the letter writer even understood this was an act--was suffering from some syndrome or other, involving the gonads, no doubt, that caused extended juvenile traits in men.)

I've known several actors, working actors, students, acting teachers, who could, and did, do exactly what Colbert does on his show: slip into an obvious character at once convincing and recognizable as parody, especially if you knew their real opinions. Hell, I had a teacher in high school who was also a part-time actor/director, and a fake persona was practically his only public persona. For that matter, I--no thespian--became aware in sixth grade, when we had to read a story to the class every week, that I had a talent for deadpan comedy, which coupled with a frightening Germanic visage got me exactly nowhere, but could be used to get people to leave me alone. It's called acting.

And that's what Colbert does, and he's found a remarkable fit for his talents. So did Steve Carrell, but you don't hear a lot of microencephalic bloggers insisting he must be a secret pinhead.

Friday, April 28

Friday Filler

More Top 100 from six grade:

21. Paint It Black, Rolling Stones

I am not now, nor have I ever been, what you would term a Stones fan. I've owned precisely three of their albums, the great run from Beggars Banquet to that one with the zipper on the front (Sticky Fingers, I had to look it up), sandwiching Let It Bleed, one of the all-time great rock and roll records. Before that it was singles, admittedly a pile of 'em: "Satisfaction," "As Tears Go By," "Ruby Tuesday". "Paint It Black" is probably my favorite song from that period, and probably my favorite on this list.

The Stones' schtick just never worked on me, even before I was old enough to appreciate that Mick was a London School of Economics boy trying to be ethnic. Maybe it's just that I was always a Brian Jones man, since he seemed like the only one who didn't take himself too seriously, although as we learned later, he had help. And here you've got his weed-wacky, trebly faux-raga noodling with Charlie threatening to crash through the wall behind him, and Mick not too far in front, for once. And sure, they went on to greater things, but they also became the world's most successful self-parodists in short order.

22. My Love, Petula Clark

I dunno. Someone explain to me how a pushing-40, middling musical theater star with a personable but totally unremarkable voice cranked out like two-dozen Top 40 hits? This was Dionne Warwick-Bacharach/David without Warwick and Bacharach.

23. Lightin' Strikes, Lou Christie

The sequel to the scandalous "Rhapsody in the Rain", which featured presumed teenagers presumably doing the Dirty Hula in a definite car. Great bridge (with the syncopated "Stop!" from the background singers) into Lou's incredible falsetto, but in his normal register he simpers rather than sings, and even back then lines like, "If she's put together fine/And she's readin' my mind" creeped me out. Not from a feminist point of view (I was 12 and it was 1966), but from the braggadocio of the thing. Even though, supposing that someone had "given me a sign that she wants to make time", I probably couldn't have stopped, either.

24. Wild Thing, Troggs

What can I say? The height of garage-punk, in popularity, at least, and good dumb fun. Also part of the progression from The Kinks' early stuff to proto-psychedelica, which has pretty much been relegated, unfairly, to Rhino re-release liner notes. Their ballad "Love Is All Around" is a nice piece of work.

25. Kicks, Paul Revere and The Raiders

An anti-drug song before I got my first toke? Say it ain't so, Sixties haters! But look, I don't care what it says about me, for four or five singles these guys rawked, albeit in a white-bread sorta way and tricorn hats.

26. Sunshine Superman, Donovan

I do wish Mr. Leitch hadn't shown up here, because I have always had a visceral dislike for the guy and his namby-pamby flower power lyrics, but for a while he produced an interesting body of work. I just don't like it.

27. Sunny, Bobby Hebb

Covered by everybody, probably because syrupy optimism never really goes out of style. I guess it's R&B, though it sounds at times like a soul singer's attempt to climb the Country charts. One of those songs that just seems inevitable and you'd be hard pressed to put in its proper decade if you didn't know it.

28. Paperback Writer, The Beatles

Another double-A side (with "Rain") and a pointer to Revolver. It's less than six months from the release of Rubber Soul, yet the boys signal they're not slowing down for nothin'. Incredibly dense--sure, they had the best technology of the day, but it's still forty years old now and still no one's done it better.

I remember the first time I heard it, first week of June, last day of school, in the basement rec room of my girlfriend Rhonda (Help me!). She played this side first; I thought it was great, but it didn't make me forget "Norwegian Wood". Then "Rain", and after I picked myself up off the floor I was more interested in music than girls. At least for a day or two.

29. See You In September, The Happenings

See Seasons, The Four, or Freshmen, The Four. Sneaked through a time warp from 1962. Think "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" without the Symbolism.

30. You Keep Me Hangin' On, Supremes

Not sure how this is at #30 while the much-inferior "You Can't Hurry Love" was just out of the Top Ten. The girls at their best, and whenever, as here, Barry managed to keep Miss Ross' emoting to a minimum her natural wounded haughtiness was like a nail gun. If someone said, "There ain't nothin' I can do about it," to you like that you'd check your teeth for loose filings.

Thursday, April 27

Like Still Trying To Resuscitate Pork Chops A Week Later

Peggy Noonan, "The Big Three: Here's what the president should focus on in his last thousand days"

This slays me:
To criticize the White House--if the criticism is serious, well-grounded and well-meant--is helpful, and part of a long and good tradition. But allowing philosophical estrangement to leave you wishing the administration ill is to give in to the destructive spirit of the age. That too has a tradition, but not a good one. Five years ago this September history took a dark turn, and though we can forget it in the day to day, we're all in this together.

Just who is this supposed to fool? The hunting of Bill Clinton wasn't "giving in to the destructive spirit of the age" (and if it had been, I can name at least one professional Catholic sennightly columnist who danced with the Devil through two terms). It was a concerted and well-financed effort to ensnare a president from the other side. And I don't recall Let's Pull Together, America Is Under Attack! being much of a rallying cry after the first World Trade Center attack, or the bombing of the Murrah Building, or the Iranian Hostage Crisis.

So, no, Peg, as always in this destructive modern age, we're not in the same boat. Your boat sank in the desert some time ago. And no, I'm not mixing my metaphors. That's where you steered it.
With the appointment of Tony Snow the first round of staff changes seems ended, and the desired effect is achieved: a new start, with new people.

The sense of newness will last for a while because the reporters who tell us the news need a storyline. They need, as they say, a narrative. The narrative they will go with now is: "Staff Changes Being Felt Throughout White House / May Signal Policy Changes."

The next story line will either be "Staff Changes Fail to Stop Listless Drift" or "Shakeups Yielded New Dynamism".

So the story now is change, and the story a few months from now is the change that change wrought.

This is a time of opportunity. White House staffers can work to help create the future headline they want.

Ah yes, the calm confidence of the Christian holding four aces *, and who imagines that's the hand she'll ever be dealt over and over.

Look, I know that for the two-three thousand people nationally who Give a Shit, the excitement of Tony Snow's appointment must equal the day it was announced that Larry Bird would be returning to Indiana to coach the Pacers. But there aren't any new flags flying on my block this morning, even though the doofus on Channel 8 news last night reported that the new Press Secretary was "a familiar face". (Familiar to whom? The 1% of the population that watches FAUX News?) No, America isn't waiting for George W. Bush to reinvent himself. It's waiting for him to get the fuck out of town without screwing things up any more than he already has. Kinda funny how the Republican blatherocracy loses sight of the "real America" when it's had enough of them.

That president you've fawned over all these years is done. Unrestrained Republicanism is not just a total failure, it has managed to do what a group of insane religious criminals--or Nazi Germany, for that matter--could not: bring America to her knees in just four years.

This is where we parted company over twenty-five years ago, Peg, not that it would ever have worked out between us: the phony politics of phony feel-good headlines. It was unfortunate that Reagan got 'em, and it was really unfortunate, for all of us, that Bush II did. You imagine now that Commander Codpiece can jump through that open window of opportunity and soar back to his accustomed heights. Take a look. He's that broken rag doll down on the sidewalk, Peg. He's been there for some time, and it'll take much more than the next thousand days to pick up all the glass.

* Mark Twain

Wednesday, April 26

Happy Birthday

Gertrude Pridgett ("Ma") Rainey
April 26, 1886--December 22, 1939

Danse Macabre? Isn't That French?

I'm more behinder than usual, even, but I didn't want to let last Friday's Gallup poll (Gallup News story here; interesting quotes at Mercury News there) pass without a mention. Twenty percent of your fellow citizens say "Immigration" is the most important problem facing the country, trailing only the 29% who answered "Iraq". Our new #2 problem has never polled in double digits before.

No, really. It's like reading that Americans think "Simon Crowell's bad attitude" or "That commercial with the annoying song" is among the nation's most pressing issues. And I have yet to convince myself that saying even that much isn't superfluous.

But there's more: first, among self-identified Republicans and "leaners" immigration actually tops Iraq 27-25, thereby putting to rest for all time the claims that "short" "brown" and "talks funny" have nothing to do with the war. And second, there's the comments of the Poll's editor-in-chief Frank Newport, who apparently was embarrassed enough by the results to just toss all pretense out the office window:
The surprise of the poll was immigration's surge, he said, because it had never polled above the single digits until the issue exploded recently with massive protests and a bitter Senate debate.

"It's not a problem that Americans on their own perceived," Newport said. "They're not anxiety-ridden over immigrants or afraid to see their jobs taken."

While he predicted concern over immigration would fall if politicians stop talking about it, he said the intensity of feelings about Iraq is far deeper.

"In poll after poll, month after month, Iraq is at the top," he said.

Well, now, if it's just a concern because politicians are talking about it, maybe you should just poll politicians. I like the corollary, too, the Grand Old Talking Point ever since 'Nam: if the news would stop talking about it the war would go away.

But seriously, at least one in five Americans is now officially clinically insane, and willing to let a stranger on the telephone in on it. And that doesn't count the ones who aren't polled because we've already locked them up. Until "The basic uninformed ignorance and ovine attention span of a large number of Americans" turns up on the Top Five we're not gettin' out of this.

Indiana: The Third-Best State To Be a Snarky Blogger From, and Rising!™

• That would be South Bend (IN) Dog-Bite Attorney (caution: crazy law-talkin' guy's site), recent Wonkette honoree, and Indiana Second District Congressional candidate (Republican) Tony Zirkle above shredding a copy of the first issue of Playboy, which he found on the internets for a mere $1200. From the Zirkle for Congress (caution: crazy candidate's site) page on his website:

Bin-Laden may be foreign enemy number one, but there is a domestic enemy that has invaded the most intimate areas of our lives, destroyed families, abused children and animals, and by alienating men and women from each other, has tripled the homosexual population in just the last decade. History and economics both demand that this industrial complex be ended immediately.

Tony's running against the 2nd District Republican incumbent, Chris (Count) Chocola. It's part of a growing trend in Indiana politics, rabid nutballs challenging their own party's seated members; it's also happening to the President Pro-tem of the Senate, and last time around they actually unseated a couple of state legislators.

• Governor-in-Chief Mitch "It's the Pictures that Got Small" Daniels plans to head out to other American cities on what he's dubbed his "Hoosier Comeback Tour". No, it's not his comeback from Bush-level approval ratings, a prospect so remote as to make the waste of gas unattractive even to a Republican, but to--no, really--urge expatriate Hoosiers with college degrees to move back to the state. On close trips, Chicago, say, Mitch will take the crowd-pleasing Mitchmobile RV-One, but he plans to jet to more distant locales, once we lure back someone smart enough to fly a plane. Take it away, Indianapolis Star:
Daniels is sketchy on when he'll begin this expedition or what kind of events he'll hold. "Maybe invite folks to a lunch or a dinner or something," he said.
Depending on his itinerary, this should bring the number of American cities Mitch has spent the night in since becoming governor to over a dozen. Oddly, none of those is Indianapolis.*

As of this AM there's been no response to my emailed suggestion of fittin' that baby up with a couple commercial deep-fryers and a freezer full of White Castles, which would solve the problem of actually locating any former Hoosiers, who probably don't want to be identified in public. Just park the thing somewhere and start fryin' up some Elephant Ears. There'll be a crowd before you can reach for the powdered sugar. And while leaving the state will probably be the most popular thing the beleaguered munchkin has done, a lot of the state's political insiders have questioned the wisdom of courting the Book Larnin' vote. Dick Lugar's a Rhodes Scholar, fer chrissakes, and you rarely hear him use words of more than two syllables.

* Good news for Northsiders: the Guv and his missus actually plan to move into the Governor's mansion in late summer. I'm still offering twenty bucks for a picture of Cheri Daniels walking the dog in that neighborhood, without State Police guard, after dusk.

• Apparently caught up in Indiana Toll Road fever, the City of Chicago is offering to sell the naming rights to the Chicago Skyway, the toll bridge to Indiana whose operating rights were sold last year.

It's something we're all too familiar with here. The Colosseum at the State Fairgrounds has been the Pepsi Colosseum for more than a decade, the Hoosier Dome (we had a contest to name that thing originally, and Hoosier Dome won!) was renamed the RCA dome about the same time RCA basically pulled out of the state, and our new, as-yet-to-reach-the-midway-point-in-cost-overruns football palace multi-use stadium the Republican legislature just had to yank out of the hands of Indianapolis' Democratic mayor will be known as Lucas Oil Stadium. We didn't even get a contest this time. Plus all the money for the naming rights go to the Colts, who otherwise would have had to cough up a token fee for their new digs.

The overruns began about the time the ink dried on the deal now shepherded by a Republican-led commission, when they found they'd managed to overlook the money they were required to pay the Colts for their trouble in leaving the old stadium. That wiped out the rainy-day fund, which might have come in handy for the escalating steel prices and the removal of tons of contaminated soil. Then there's the saga of the M.K. Hurst Co*, which owns a factory and 2.7 acres of property on the corner of what was to be the parking lot. The wise men of the commission decided to play hardball, and sued the Hursts last year even before negotiations had ended. Unexpectedly this sort of pissed off the Hursts, who fought back and will now get to keep their building while swapping the 2.7 acres for one acre owned by the state. As part of the deal the state will buy lunch for the Hurst family. For the next two million years.

And because of the lost parking we're looking at building a $15 million parking garage somewhere. Or talking someone else into doing it, as one of the wise men wisely suggested.

But back to the naming thing, I don't understand why the public, which is footing the bill, of course, doesn't just refuse to use the "new" name. I still insist on calling it the Hoosier Dome. 'Course I also call it the "Exxon-Mobil presents the Pepsi Colosseum, brought to you by Viagra", but that's just my little joke. I'm pretty sure Chicagoans will still be calling it the Skyway no matter who shells out $3 M a year to plaster logos everywhere, but that's life in the real big city.

* Hurst packages beans and bean soup mixes, and for many years their commercials featured cowboy singing star "Peso" Dollar, later joined by his son Mark. The "Mark Dollar" joke didn't dawn on me for several years. He's apparently now called Mark "Buck" Dollar, which just ruins it.

Tuesday, April 25

You're Soaking In It

And even should you decide to return the books and cancel your membership, you keep the "Reagan Revolucion" tee, and the food-service-quality martini glass, as our free gift!

How bad is our public discourse? Well, lemme tell ya. The other day when Mark Kleiman exposed, and mauled with a seemingly effortless swipe, the Red Blogostan fantasy that there are no secret CIA prisons in Eastern Europe, it was just a story Porter Goss planted to catch a Democratic mole, I admit to a minor shrugging of the shoulders at most. And it might have been just one shoulder. Yes, these were the very same people who just weeks before had decried the damage the leak had done in wartime, and yes, it's the very same people who professed indifference at most to the story and the Bush administration legal opinions that justify it. And yes, it seems like it keeping the tale of dire consequences alive would be of greater value than sacrificing it to some game of Blogospheric Telephone that created a fantasy of deniability at best. But such is our public discourse that I didn't even shrug while typing it up. I didn't even shr.

Meanwhile, several real blogs, ones that write about serious issues, if not always in utmost seriousness then at least without referring to their cats or the size of their prostates every other paragraph, noticed the difference of opinion I had with military historian Dafydd ab Hugh, and even dug up the picture of him above. This encouraged me (maybe shamed is the better word) to check back in at Big Creepy Toads or whatever that website of his is called, instead of the article about re-gapping the sparkplug on my lawnmower I had planned (it'll keep!). And sure enough, that Mole Trap game of Telephone had reached his home galaxy. In a 1600-word thought experiment that name-checks Blade Runner, Mission Impossible. (teevee version), and Patriot Games, not to mention his own debugging efforts, we get this:
So is it is, or is it ain't?

Certainly, I have never heard any CIA agent claim actually to have been inside one of these secret prisons; nor have any guards been produced, nor administrators, secretaries, or even janitors. No buildings have been found, and you'd think a building as big and solid as a prison wouldn't be moved around very often.

[Emphasis in original.] Shrug. But then it occurs to me that I have never seen a photograph of Davydd ab Hugh and Steven den Beste together, and the CIA has never denied they're the same person. It may just be a coincidence, but it bears looking in to.

Once in a while, after I've actually looked into some piece of idiocy or other, someone will ask how I can stomach reading the stuff, or warning that I ought to lie in the shade with a cool cloth on my brow for a bit. That's probably a valid concern for the people who do a lot of such stuff (and you know who they are), but I'm not one of 'em. I've found I'm able to read Brooks about once a week, and recently Noonan, and I can plunge right through one of Jonah's think pieces like I'd dive into a pool of Jell-O to save a drowning Shirley Manson, but opening The Corner gives me a shudder, and Powerline is almost out of the question. I tried risking the former earlier this evening, which netted me this:

So Newsweek is reporting that Mary McCarthy denies being the leaker. This despite stories in the press saying that she failed a polygraph and admitted to it. McCarthy's not the the one who told Newsweek. Do you know who did? Her "close friend" Rand Beers. Who's Rand Beers? The National Security Council staffer who quit in 2003 and went to work as John Kerry's senior national security campaign adviser. You know who else is Rand Beers's old friend from the National Security Council staff? Joseph C. Wilson IV. Just saying.

Wow, McCarthy reportedly denies being the leaker, despite stories in the press to the contrary. Now there's a conundrum unique in the annals of American journalism. And this:

Good email from a reader:

Hello -

just a couple of (obvious) comments..libby and/or rove may indeed be
'guilty' of cia-related 'leaks' - but the one thing we can say with complete
confidence is that a special prosecutor empowered to investigate such a leak
has not indicted ANYONE for 'leaking'...perjury; yes - release of classified
information, there is no 'legitimate' - pun intended - comparison...

Secondly, as an ex-washpost reporter, I feel obligated to point out that the
post made an institutional judgment - not a dana priest judgment - about
what it would publish about the 'european renditions/prisons'....dana had
done a story on the planes allegedly carrying suspects/terrorists - replete
with airplane ID numbers - and the post had been covering this aspect of the
'beat' for quite some time...
...if this mccarthy person was, indeed, dana's source and she got caught, we
need to return to the core issue of not merely whether this is a 'good' or a
'bad' leak - truly one of the most stupidly framed dichotomies one can
imagine - but whether the release of this information could put innocent
lives at risk...

...this question is as fair to ask of the plame circumstances as it is for
the 'prisons' - it can now, with benefit of hindsight, be said that we know
of no individual harm that came of the plame 'leak'...she and her family
seem to be doing quite well, god bless 'em...but as for those individuals
who may or may not have been actively involved in aiding the US in
transferring individuals from one country to another...we have no
clue...however, it is now very easy to imagine scenarios under which the
release of this information has made it far more dangerous for individuals,
organizations and nation-states to choose to cooperate with the United
States in the exchange of either terrorists or terrorist information...
Their understandable reluctance to cooperate with the US - why should we if
you can't guarantee our secrecy or discretion in helping you? - means that
American individuals and organizations will likely be exposed to greater
risks of harm...

...bottom line: the mccarthy 'leak' is different in degree and in kind from
the plame 'leak'...we can talk about the ny times/nsa leak at another time

So a) no one's been indicted for leaking in the Plame case, which makes it different from the McCarthy case where no one's been indicted for anything; b) we know that no individual harm came to anyone from the Plame leak, because the Wilsons are doing quite well (with the benefit of hindsight we now know, apparently, that Valerie Plame had no contact with anyone while she was under cover), but we don't know whether anyone connected with the secret prisons has been harmed, because other nation-states might refuse to cooperate with the US, which would likely expose Americans to a greater risk, Q.E.D.; and c) the washpost stylebook on capitalization is one of a kind. I'm not sure whether any of this is qualitatively different from the Mole Trap theory, but any further observations will have to wait until I lie down with that cool cloth for a while.

Happy Birthday

Albert King (born Albert Nelson)
April 25, 1923--December 21, 1992

Monday, April 24

Hey, I Was Hatin' On Rod Stewart Before You Were Housebroken

Lousy fucking weekend, despite picture perfect weather, some pretty fair accomplishments in the garden, and a lawnmower that started on the third pull directly out of storage when it usually takes at least five in the middle of the season. We were Obligated both Saturday and Sunday, plus I had to hang around all Saturday morning waiting for the vet to call, even after I called to remind her she was supposed to call. Stinky was about to run out of his medication, and when I explained this to the office person she told me I should have told them that on Thursday so they could have saved me a trip, after which I remained remarkably calm while explaining that I had reminded them of that on Thursday, and polite beyond all reason in not noting that I had in fact told her of that conversation just ninety seconds earlier. The vet finally called me half an hour after the clinic closed, which was also half an hour after the Stone Center closed for the weekend, that being the one stop I really wanted to make before the rest of our weekend belonged to other people.

Which means when I got there she'd already closed the day's accounts and couldn't take my credit card, so instead of saving me a trip they've now cost me two. Late or nonexistent call-backs are getting to be a feature with this vet; it's a little like placing your animals in the care of an irritating college girlfriend or Quaalude dealer. Then it turns out that Stinky has, in fact, become too healthy too fast; whatever number it is they assign to thyroid function (everything in medicine is quantified these days) has gone from 10-point-something right to the near-normal range of 1-point-something when it should be around 2.5. So we've reduced the dosage, which means I now have to cut the pills into quarters, not just halves, and a part of one which earlier tonight was launched somewhere in the kitchen is still up for grabs.

When we finally got home it was 6:30, the grass still wanted cutting, and the weekend was effectively over. I was rehydrating, as they say on teevee, after that effort when I started picking though the Sunday Times. David Brooks is on vacation, your Sunday dose of idiocy will be supplied by John Tierney, something about how Republicans are the real environmentalists and things are really a lot better than anyone believes. (Does this even qualify as libertoonian contrarianism any more?) I was, as one says, not in the mood.

Hunt down the Arts section instead. Christ, it's another above-the-fold time robbery by Kelefa Sanneh, the John Tierney of music reviews.

I don't remember now whether I joined in the general kicking and eye-gouging of Mr./Ms Sanneh back when he/she wrote about how evil "Rockists" refused to give poor Ashley Simpson her due because they only like Bruce Springsteen. If not, I should have. Sanneh, for all I can figure out, has that gig at the Times for the same reason they've been trying to figure out what Red State Americans are really like: he/she seems actually able to tell all those vital hip-hop artists apart.

Okay, okay, I'm grouchy. I'm still calm enough that I won't blame the headline on Kelefa:

New Orleans Hip-Hop Is the Home of Gangsta Gumbo

although that's no great sacrifice because what followed was equally cringe-inducing.
Ever since those awful days last year, the country has been celebrating the rich musical heritage of New Orleans.

There was a blitz of benefit concerts, including "From the Big Apple to the Big Easy," a pair of shows held simultaneously at Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall last September. A New Orleans jam session closed the show at the Grammy Awards in February. There have been scads of well-intentioned compilations, including "Our New Orleans: A Benefit Album for the Gulf Coast" (Nonesuch), "Hurricane Relief: Come Together Now" (Concord) and "Higher Ground Hurricane Relief Benefit Concert" (Blue Note), a live album recorded at the Jazz at Lincoln Center Benefit. At the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony last month, a video segment paid tribute to New Orleans music through the years, from Louis Armstrong to the Neville Brothers; there was also the inevitable New Orleans jam session.

But one thing all these tributes have in common is that they all ignored the thrilling — and wildly popular — sound of New Orleans hip-hop, the music that has been the city's true soundtrack through the last few decades.

Let's hang our banner from the twin poles of Obviousness here: the 15-22 year-old hip hop fans who make the music so wildly popular are not the demo which is in a position to contribute much in the way of funds for Gulf Coast relief. And however thrilling, vital, and popular the city's true soundtrack may be, it is not part of New Orleans' musical heritage. The Crescent City can rightly claim to be the birthplace of Jazz, and at least the site of some illicit trysting that gave us R&B, funk, and rock and roll. Correct the middle-aged suburbanite here if he's wrong, but isn't hip hop generally considered to have been an East Coast invention, picked up by the West, maybe cross-bred in Chicago?
Unlike all the other musicians celebrated at post-Katrina tributes, these ones still show up on the pop charts, often near the top. (Juvenile's most recent album made its debut at No. 1, last month.) Yet when tourists and journalists descend upon the city next weekend, for the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, they'll find only one local rapper on the schedule: Juvenile, who is to appear on the Congo Square Louisiana Rebirth Stage at 6 p.m. Saturday.

The charts? As pathetic as the recourse to sales is when we're supposed to be discussing The Arts, if we're gonna use money, let's use money. Who's makin' it? The top concert draws, that's who: U2, McCartney, the Stones, Springsteen, Green Day, Neil Diamond. I don't like it either, but don't those votes count?

So here's the thing, really, and I'm sorry about the unfortunate juxtaposition of my wallowing in pre-teen nostalgia all weekend: in terms of audience appeal and marketing strategies, hip hop is an agressive response to the perceived anti-youth stance of radio (especially black radio) in the 70s and 80s. Fine. It's short-sighted to imagine that radio in those days was satisfying some monolithic Boomer Culture, anymore than it does today, but that's youth for you. So, fine. Just hold up your end of the bargain and quit whining about stuff you say you don't care about. Sanneh tries to make the point that this supposed slighting of our most popular popular culture is some sort of conspiracy of anti-hip hopism by referencing an upcoming Smithsonian exhibit (!) To which all I can say is, God bless the Sex Pistols. So you face a hulking middle-age culture which refuses to acknowledge the superior good taste of youth. So what? So which generation hasn't, at least since most of us left the family farm?

Jeez Louise, we're not burning piles of rap CDs across America. The big tsimmis over "Cop Killer" and 2 Live Crew happened while you were learning the times table. What the fuck do you want? What happens when the country music fans and NASCAR crowds start insisting on entrée to every last public event based on merchandise sales?

This blog has been at some pains to note that in the vital matters of racial equality and public justice, and in lesser cultural matters like sexual freedom and pop music it is in fact the generation before the Boomer Plague which did the fighting, and it has also pointed out the myth of the Monolithic Woodstock Nation. It's irksome to hear people who've had an unprecedented access to their own culture, who can walk down the street arm in arm with a person of different ethnicity, even, under some circumstances, of the same gender, who can cohabit without penalty, who can smoke a joint without facing hard time or attend public school with a funny haircut without facing explusion (okay, generally), failing to appreciate that the skids have already been greased for them, failing to think what the fight would be like if Tom Wolfe were the voice of authority rather than some dandified crank. Poor, oppressed Mr./Ms Sanneh. Enjoy your visit to the Smithsonian. Best wishes on the effort to become middle-aged before your time.

Sunday, April 23

Happy Birthday

Roy Orbison
April 23, 1936--December 6, 1988

Vladimir Nabokov
April 23 (celebrated), 1899--July 2, 1977

Saturday, April 22

In Brief

Couldn't get to the comments earlier--busy day--so here:

beginningtowonder: no slight to Martha (Reeves) or Mary Wells intended. Or Junior Walker, for that matter, but Marvin and Smokey were both writers and performers, and innovators, so they're at the top of the Motown list for me. Aretha's untouchable, but she was on Columbia. Mitch Ryder will be along shortly. "Louie Louie" was released in '62 or '63, and re-released in '64, after the governor of (where else?) Indiana proposed banning it from the airwaves, somehow.

r.porrofatto: Per the original meme these are the Billboard Top 100 charts. There is/was some sort of methodology in place for determining the rankings of double-A sides, I know, but I can't figure out why "Day Tripper" wouldn't have made the list at all. Seems like it got as much airplay as the flip side.

Corndog: Au, contraire. I simply meant to pile yet more scorn on that benighted twelvemonth of yours.

isabelita: Without checking, I'm almost positive "Walking in the Rain" was Phil Spector, and although I can't quite hear it, The Ronettes. If so, once again, great stuff, but not Motown Records. Keep it in the pocket, Darleen.*

*Spector's way of discouraging Darleen Love from Mariah Careyitis, aka portamento incontinence.

Friday Filler, Late Edition

So I pulled out the calculator, and it turns out that doing the Top 100 ten at a time would require over six weeks to finish, so I figured I'd double up. Besides, it was good to give the Top Ten its own place in the sun. Like mayonnaise.

First of all, though I've told the story before, how it is a 12-year-old Midwestern lad came to be lugging Bringing It All Back Home to school that day: it's because in May of 1965 I was hanging around The Track and "Subterranean Homesick Blues" came in over my transistor radio. I knew about Dylan, the "Blowin' in the Wind" guy, but this stuff knocked me out, and I scraped up the $1.98 or whatever it was and ran to Lyric Records to find it. I was a die-hard Dylan fan before I'd finished reading his liner notes (the Great books've been written. the Great sayings have all been said) right there in the store, and while my contemporaries were boogalooing to the rest of the stuff on this list, I was in my room with my Kay acoustic and harmonica holder working through the Bob Dylan songbook. And all because in those days disc jockeys played stuff they liked, not carefully-crafted playlists cooked up on the opposite coast. Hail to thee, Joe Light and the rest of the WIFE Good Guys! Your graves will remain unmarked, like all the benefactors mankind does not deserve. Or something.

11. You Can't Hurry Love, Supremes

Okay, okay, I can bash Miss Ross with the best of 'em, but I think the real story here is that we're poised between the Holland-Dozier-Holland of 1965's "Stop! In the Name of Love" and 1967's "The Happening", which occurred around the time that they decided to leave Motown altogether and begin dueling lawsuits. There was always a razor-thin line between Diana conveying real emotion and Diana ladling on the schlock, and this one starts out straddling that line at best. But then we hit the bridge and suddenly there's iron in that velvet glove and you're on the floor. Or in the First Church of Motown with full sun on all the stained glass.

12. What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted, Jimmy Ruffin

Jimmy Ruffin, David's big brother, and just another Motown masterpiece. Jeez we were spoiled in those days...

13. These Boots Are Made For Walkin', Nancy Sinatra

Really, I suppose I should be happy this wasn't in the Top Ten. The damn thing was ubiquitious, and I started out indifferent to it and reached the point where I wanted to jab pencils in my ears. Now viewed as some sort of proto-feminist anthem, and I suppose the song itself has some charm in that area, but this misses the fact that the singer and her three-note range got the gig because of her last name. Nancy Schwartz couldn't have landed a job doing car-wash jingles.

14. Born Free, Roger Williams

Movie theme song piano tune which for some reason is not presently hyped as a proto-ecology movement instrumental.

15. Strangers In The Night, Frank Sinatra

Dooby-dooby-doo. I could go on all night about Frankie Blue Eyes. I won't.

16. We Can Work It Out, The Beatles

'Allo, ducks. Where ya been keepin' yourselves?

And why are the lovable Mop Tops barely in the Top 20 this time 'round? I guess they were busy turning the pop music universe on its head with Rubber Soul, which came out the preceding Christmas. Smoke from the numerous Beatle bonfires in the wake of Lennon's "more popular than Jesus" remark might have had an effect as well.

Anyway, the song ("Day Tripper" was the other side; not sure why it's not on the list) is an absolute gem. From the famous Paul verses (begging Jane Asher to give up her career and "see things my way", apparently) and John's dour "Life is very short..." bridge, to the use of the harmonium, to yet another remarkable Beatle Ending (truncated, but somehow recapitulating the whole song), it's another of the Lads' works where the closer you look the more you ask yourself just how the fuck they did it. The melody propels the urgency of the lyrics. The sixteen-bar verses are divided into three phrases instead of the expected four, and the bridge suddenly jumps into 3/4 without actually slowing down. And these sorts of touches are everywhere in their work, folks. And none of 'em could read a note of music.

17. When A Man Loves A Woman, Percy Sledge

Jeez, just one of the greatest soul numbers of all time. Okay, the horns are a little ragged, but Percy's voice just conveys, you know what I'm sayin'? He and Wilson Pickett were like losing your virginity unofficially.

18. Winchester Cathedral, New Vaudeville Band

Kitschy novelty tune, but definitely in line with the Paul McCartney/Ray Davies (and later Harry Nilsson) 20s English music hall vibe. I think the lead singer used a megaphone. Hurricane Smith's "Oh Babe (What Would You Say?)" tops this one as a one-off, based on sincerity.

19. Hanky Panky, Tommy James and The Shondells

Even here, four years before I'd find myself trapped painting a tin roof under the July sun while somebody let "Crystal Blue Persuasion" play twenty times in a row two stories below me, I hated Tommy James and The Shondells. Trying to explain why in this case would require a dissertation on Good Songs about Sluts vs. Bad ones. This is a bad one. You can take it from there.

20. Good Lovin', Young Rascals

Great little pop tune forever marred by the fact that somebody put these guys in Little Lord Fauntleroy outfits. And they've got a fine oeuvre ("I Ain't Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore","I've Been Lonely Too Long", "How Can I Be Sure") marred by hippie schlock ("Groovin'", "People Got To Be Free") and the biggest egos this side of a Crosby Stills Nash and Young reunion. Or any of their solo shows. Felix Cavaliere: "Marvin Gaye's voice, Ray Charles' piano, Jimmy Smith's organ, Phil Spector's production and The Beatles' writing -- put them all together and you've got what I wanted to do."

NEXT: Take that, 1978!

Friday, April 21

Friday Filler

Stinky heads to the vet to check on the progress of his thyroid treatment in an hour; can't be fed, can't go out, and the yowling about that has stopped, meaning he's figured out Something is Up and he's probably hidden himself under the basement stairs and I'd better start trying to get him out.

Instead, dedicated to Corndog and the emailed vitriol he received for his ruthless attack on Anne Murray, here's the long-awaited first installment of the idea I had when that "Top 100 Hits of the Year You Graduated from High School" thing first started going around. I didn't listen to Top 40 radio when I was in high school. Sixth grade! I thought. That's when I was most attuned to radio tastes. Let's look at Nos. 1-10 and see how long that lasted:

1. The Ballad Of The Green Berets, Sgt. Barry Sadler

Oooh, two seconds into the first round and a straight right finds his nose! He's out! This one is over before it begins! Wait...wait...he's struggling to his feet...

But he's on Queer Street from here on out. Two positive things about this: one, it's a snappy answer to all those people who think, or pretend to think, that hippies ruled the universe in the 60s. Second, Sadler (actually billed as Staff Sergeant Barry Sadler, and a genuine Green Beret), imagined he was going to become a singing sensation, so I bet there's a cover of "Yesterday" out there somewhere begging for re-release.

2. Cherish, Association

California turtleneck-dickie folk, treacly enough to give you diabetes, only marginally redeemed by the fact that in their first hit, "Along Comes Mary," the Mary in question was Mary Jane.

3. (You're My) Soul And Inspiration, Righteous Brothers

Without checking the discography, I think we're nearing the end of the divinely-inspired melding of the "Little Latin Lupe Lu" guys and the "Tossed on the Fish Wrap Pile After the Beatles Arrived" Phil Spector. It's hard to believe they argued. This is probably my least favorite of their hits together, but man, that was a helluva comet while it burned.

4. Monday, Monday, The Mama's and The Papa's

I don't think they used apostrophes. Never liked 'em, except for Cass' pipes, though I later came to appreciate John Phillips production a little.

5. 96 Tears, ? and The Mysterians

In late '66, now in seventh grade, our music teacher was the worst maniac I ever took a class from (he died two years later of a brain tumor). He set aside one day for the class to bring in its favorite songs, and naturally somebody brought this garage band classic. At the "Ooooh!" near the end I thought he appeared to be having a seizure. I think his intention had been to harangue us into next week about our musical tastes, but it wound up overwhelming him and I just remember him sputtering for the rest of the semester.

I took "Bob Dylan's 116th Dream", and the line, "They asked me for some collateral and I/Pulled down my pants" landed me in the principal's office. Which was okay, actually, because he scratched the hell out of the album when he ripped the tonearm off it, and my Mom made 'em buy me a new one. Anyhow, Love's "My Little Red Book" beats this all t' hell.

6. Last Train To Clarksville, The Monkees

I cannot bring myself to loathe these guys, especially considering that in the history of prefab pop music they're head and shoulders above anything else, from the Bobby Rydell-Frankie Avalon teen idol days through the American Idol quagmire. This, their first hit, is not their best and is far from their worst, but the scientifically measured point at which dumb but well-crafted pop is supplanted by mindless shake-yer-ass is six drinks, at least for me.

7. Reach Out I'll Be There, Four Tops

After the two geniuses, Marvin and Smokey, and Eddie Kendricks' falsetto, the Tops were the best thing Motown had goin', but they always got the b-material. My guess is Levi Stubbs refused to sleep with Barry Gordy.

8. Summer In The City, Lovin' Spoonful

John Sebastian is one hell of a songwriter ("beach boy" and "hoi polloi" is a rhyme worthy of John Hiatt), and this is the band at the height of its powers, before limited musicianship and excessive good-timey-ness caught up with them.

9. Poor Side Of Town, Johnny Rivers

Does anybody remember Johnny Rivers, except maybe for "Secret Agent Man"? He was a rock-and-roll Zelig, from go-go Chuck Berry cover specialist to teen idol/Gene Pitney type balladeer, to psychedelica, to retro rocker; when I finally lost track of him completely in the early 70s he was a sort of proto-John Denver hippie lite. This is one of the ballads, competently done, over orchestrated, but with his fine soft soulful Southern voice.

10. California Dreamin', The Mama's and The Papa's

Again with the apostrophes. Aw, well, their first hit, probably their best.

NEXT: Where the hell are all the English blokes?
(From Help! [1966]:

Scotland Yard Man: How long do you think you'll last?
John: Great Train Robbery, ay? How's that one going?)

Happy Birthday

James Newell "Jimbo" Osterberg, Jr.

born April 21, 1947

Thursday, April 20

Like Trying To Resuscitate Pork Chops

Peggy Noonan: "Y'know that steely-eyed, religious, High Noon, straight-talkin' cowboy of a flyboy of a President I've been lionizing for six years? Well, he's taken it a bit too far. Of course, that's just his personal stamp."

Peggy reveals that while other Presidents have also put their personal stamp on the office--and backs this startling insight up by actually naming several of the more recent ones--none has ever tried this by being completely disengaged from reality before. (This leads, by the way, to one of those amusing Psych 101 experiments, where Noonan describes the same precise trait as benign toleration or sadism, depending on whether it was Reagan or FDR who exhibited it.)

The more I read Noonan on a regular basis, as opposed to when somebody's link made me curious enough to rubberneck at the scene of the accident, the more I find that my favorite moments are not the ecstatic religious hallucinations, but the more natural, down-to-earth, sitting-around-the-hearth-completely-insane moments when she spews some orthodox "conservative" history she hasn't bothered to check:
He [Bush] is not, like Jimmy Carter, a man who seeks to gain a sense of control by focusing on details. He would not, as Mr. Carter did at Desert One, instruct the leaders of a high-risk military rescue mission not to shoot on any Teheran crowds if they move against the mission. (See Mark Bowden's recounting of that failed endeavor in this month's Atlantic.)

Well, the rules of engagement in Iraq, at least initially, were said to be the most stringent US troops ever fought under, and somebody issued those instructions. The Desert One forces were there to rescue 52 American hostages, and they, not the hostages, were expendable. That's the point behind those rules; the minute they fired on a crowd those hostages would have been dead. As it was, despite a failed military operation all 52 eventually came out alive, thanks in no small part to President Carter's restraint, and only slightly delayed thanks to your boy Ron.

The Iraq rules of engagement, in contrast, look suspiciously like an attempt to invade a country without making it look too much like war, or at least one that civilians might get caught up in. There's a real distinction between what a commando force might have to endure on a mission and the average soldier does on a day-to-day basis.

Back in the day I used to ask the screaming rightists I knew whether they'd have rather seen the hostages killed, but that was at a time when people took a single position and tried to be consistent about it. Today's "conservative" would rather the military operation failed, the hostages executed, and then everybody rescued by Ronald Reagan. At the head of his own squadron of tanks.

Wednesday, April 19

Olio: Hoosier Edition

• The city of Kokomo, which is not a Caribbean island but is an under-appreciated euphemism for sexual intercourse, has been ordered to pay $11,000 in attorney's fees for the legal representation of 16-year-old Kokomo Western High School student Ryan Nees. Attorney William Groth had taken the case pro-bono.

Nees made national headlines last year when he sued the city under Indiana public access law for its refusal to hand over its email list. He had subscribed to the city newsletter, and shortly thereafter began receiving campaign messages from Mayor Matt McKillip. Kokomo lost that case earlier this year. Nees said he actually favored keeping such lists private, but that if one party had access to them for political purposes, other parties should as well.

Never one to ignore public concerns, America's Third-Worst State Legislature™ promptly amended the law to keep email lists private. An amendment to the bill which would have prohibited political use of such lists was...defeated.

• The four juveniles detained in the Johnson County Little Columbine case will not be tried as adults. Johnson County Prosecutor Lance Hamner, who originally jumped at the chance to announce his office would seek to try the four in adult court, while simultaneously missing the opportunity to inform the public the four were special education students, told the Star the decision was based on the just-returned psychological evaluation of the boys and their criminal histories:

"In these cases, none of the kids had any significant juvenile record," Hamner said.

Although the psychological profiles are confidential, the information in them would impel a court to retain the cases in the juvenile system, he added.

Incidentally, I had an email exchange with Paul Bird, the Star reporter who wrote or co-wrote most of its coverage. Specifically, I asked him why it took nearly three weeks before the information that the boys were special education students came out. I was not particularly blaming the paper, and my email mentioned that the prosecutor, the sheriff, and the Center Grove principal had all failed to mention that fact while fanning the initial flames. Mr. Bird wrote back to tell me that information had been in the original story. I wrote back to him saying that I had copies of the original story, the later online update, and the next day's longer coverage, and it wasn't in any of them. I think at that point he misplaced my addy.

• Meanwhile, on Monday local teevee news caught up with the story that Indianapolis Public Schools ordered the elimination of forty-two percent of the teachers at one high school, and 35 percent at another. None of those teachers was informed whether they'd have a job next year. Channel 8's Leslie Olsen (who my wife says is the best of the locals by far) says that IPS has tried to keep the story quiet.

Or until Tuesday they did. The spur apparently found someplace tender, as Channel 13 was reporting at first that layoffs might not be a large as feared, and then that someone downtown had used the wrong figures and the numbers were out of whack.

We'll see. Official pink slips must reach teachers by May 1.

Olsen actually took a swipe at tackling the issue head-on on Tuesday, when she covered "teacher complaints" that IPS administration was bloated at a time when teaching staffs were being skeletonized due to budget cuts. Olsen engaged in a little faux-balance, reporting that the state education website showed administrative positions down slightly from last year, but the fact is that new Superintendent Eugene White has added several layers of insulation around his own office, and nobody's been talking about cutting that by forty percent.

It's a massive cluster-fuck in an already troubled and impoverished system, and a prime example of how the real problem in public education, pace John Stossel, can generally be traced to its administration, and that to control by elected officials, not convenient bugbears like the International Teachers' Union Conspiracy.

Naturally I'll have more to say about this, but for now another mention of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's Small Schools Initiative, which the outgoing superintendent signed IPS up for whole-hog beginning this year. IPS was by far the largest, and the only major urban school district to do so in all its high schools at once.

It's predicated on the idea that dividing large schools into smaller "learning communities" allows teachers to get to know students better and be more attentive to individual needs. It's an $11.3 M project locally, administered by something called the Center of Excellence in Leadership of Learning at the University of Indianapolis.

Okay so far, except for that Operation Infinite Justice moniker. But first of all, the money doesn't go into the classroom. Students won't see a penny of it. It goes for training and conventions and junkets, and the administration of the program. For this we completely reorganized our high schools from one year to the next, which resulted in horrible turf wars at my wife's school, which was said to have been the best-implemented of the bunch.

And it's interesting that now that we're facing an increase in class sizes nearing 50% in a lot of cases, the U of I professor who heads the boondoggle program says that research indicates larger high school class sizes can still work within the small school framework if class sessions are longer. Which you'd think sorta defeated the idea behind "small learning communities", even if you weren't wondering why they didn't just propose making classes longer in the first place, or why a professor of education doesn't seem to know that class time is a matter of law and not amenable to instantaneous change just to keep someone's reputation from taking a hit.

• Oh, and our voting machines are so fucked that school board ballots in 150 precincts will have to be counted by hand. Marion County Clerk Doris Anne Sadler, who has now presided over three screwed-up elections, but, on the plus side, is pretty hot for a County Clerk, tried to explain how this problem, unlike all the other problems which have cropped up statewide during testing, was not the fault of software provider ES&S (Motto: "We're Not Diebold, We Just Have Interlocking Directorates"). Unfortunately, my Gibberish is a little rusty. It sounded like she was saying the school board races were too complicated for the software, and that there would have been the same problem with the old lever machines. Either that, or she was asking for some Valium in Esperanto.

Tuesday, April 18

War Is Too Important To Be Left to the Trekkies

Y'know, some days I just pace next to the keyboard and wonder, "What comes after insanity?"

Here's Paul "The Zeppo of Powerline" Mirengoff on "Those Griping Ex-Generals":
Dafydd ab Hugh has an excellent post about the retired generals who have lambasted Defense Secretary Rumsfeld recently. Dafydd notes that the generals in question are (1) mostly, in effect, Clinton appointees and (2) "old school" generals who object to Rumsfeld's pet theories of pushing towards smaller units, more unit independence, much greater reliance on Special Forces, and a reorganization of units to be self-sufficient rather than specialized. As to the second point, Dafydd compares the griping generals to "vice presidents at General Motors or IBM who furiously denounce splitting those companies into self-reliant business units instead of the normal corporate divisions they've had for twenty years." He also notes that "the fact that an old general dislikes the new style of warfare is not a refutation of that style. It just [the general] is 'Old School.' But Old School is not necessary the best school." You should definitely read the whole thing.

Noted historian Dafydd ab Hugh, military advisor to the Powerline Boys, whose personal records in that regard are, oh, somewhat lacking? No, I hadn't heard of him either, I'm proud to say. But somebody Wikied him:
Hugh is most noted for writing fiction in media franchise, including several novels for the Star Trek franchise. He also wrote four novels associated with the game Doom . However he also did some short fiction . His most noted story, "The Coon Rolled Down and Ruptured His Larinks, A Squeezed Novel by Mr. Skunk", received Hugo Award and Nebula Award nominations. It concerns sentient animals and inter-species sex.

He and his wife Sachi currently run a right-leaning blog, Big Lizards

What comes after insanity? And why aren't any of these fucks in uniform (other than those spiffy Star Fleet Academy jobs)?

In case you haven't been keeping your own box score, let's begin by running down the Old School Clintonistas these brilliant strategists see fit to slime because they disagreed in public with Donald Rumsfeld:

Marine General Anthony Zinni, former C-in-C of CENTCOM, a man with two masters degrees, and special envoy to Israel and the Palestinian Authority in 2002.

Marine Lieutenant General Gregory Newbold, Director of Operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff 2000-2002.

Marine Lieutenant General Paul Van Ripper, former Director of the Command and Staff College, and the commander of the Iraqi side in the Millenium Challenge wargame. He won. Or he would have if they hadn't called time out.

Maj. General Charles Swannack, former commander of the 82nd Airborne in Iraq.

Maj. General John Batiste, former commander of the 1st Infantry in Iraq.

Maj. General John Riggs, former director of the Objective Force Task Force.

Maj. General Paul Eaton, who ran the Iraqi security force training 2003-04.

Got that? The commander of the motherfuckin' 82nd Airborne has been dismissed by some third-chair high school oboist from Red Wing.

Let's start with Powerline. Believe me, if anything, Mirengoff has actually made Lizard boy sound reasonable. 1) Promotions to general officer are approved by the President. They are not "appointees", and while no one--not even those who know something about it--will deny the importance of politics at the highest reaches of command, it's not the simple-minded partisanship these boys can't seem to see beyond. I couldn't find an easy source for biographies of the above, but Zinni made general during the Reagan administration, and Van Ripper before Clinton, so far as I could tell. If these men are "Clintonistas" you'll note from the above that the Bush administration did not exactly shunt them off to desk commands. Mediocrities, and sometimes raving lunatics, may rise through the ranks. Complete idiots remain colonels. 2) Nice ellipsis over the part where Rumsfeld is the appointed political overseer of the DoD, and not the Grand Generalissimo. Let's try to put this in terms a shyster hack could understand. Bringing in an experienced attorney to manage your law firm would be one thing; appointing a paralegal to do so would be another. Rumsfeld may be our longest-serving Secretary of Defense. He is also, without question, our worst. New Ideas are not virtuous by reason of being new, and when they fail it's the people who warned against them who get to do the crowing.

That meme apparently comes from somebody reading somewhere that generals are always prepared to fight the last war, probably in a Nebula-nominated graphic novel. This is carried to the height of interspecies-sexual absurdity over at the suspiciously-named-under-the-circumstances Big Lizards:
All generals have been in the service for decades. For decades, we have refought World War II -- in Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Bosnia, and Kosovo... by which I mean using more or less the same tactics (mass bombings, invasion by massive, centrally commanded divisions, and so forth). Those at the warfare styles to which these generals were long accustomed.

We've been sucked into some sort of wormhole here--if you'll pardon the use of "suck", "hole", and a potential hermaphroditic interspecies breeding experiment in the same sentence--linking to a region of the universe that is remarkably dull, if not unexpected. We may keep refighting WWII in political terms; that's a problem for politicians. But to say we refought WWII in a military sense is not even true for Korea, which resembled a Napoleonic land war with WWII naval batteries, massive interdiction bombing, and jet fighters. Without question Vietnam was disastrously led at both the strategic and political levels, but that was due the hubris of a major power fighting a ragtag, ill-equipped foe, not to outmoded tactics. It was all high-tech and overkill and a failure to understand the opponent. Find me a guerilla or jungle war in the Second World War that was fought like Vietnam. First, you might want to learn something about the latter. (Interesting, though, that once it becomes politically expedient we're willing to blame the US military, and not Dan Rather, for Vietnam.)

And the crapola about "mass bombings, invasion by massive, centrally commanded divisions" is just a ham-fisted attempt to paint things in monochrome. It's not even true as a generalization about WWII--the word "blitzkrieg" springs immediately to mind, or Merrill's Marauders, the lightning overruns in North Africa, the early German panzer attacks on the Eastern front or the early American landings on Japanese-held islands. Mass force was used against massed force, on the Eastern front, on D-Day. It had to be. And American forces in particular have always been known for the initiative shown by lower-ranking officers, even enlisted men.

This is not to impugn the idea of lightning force in the modern age. It's just to say it is an argument, not an invention, which Rumsfeld made in public, and as we've pointed out many times it just happens to be a convenient MO when one wanted to go to war on a strict timetable and avoid conscription. That it worked against a tenth-rate Iraq army which was already demoralized was no miracle. That it failed to secure the objective after, as could have been predicted by minds half as knowledgeable as those seven above, is indisputable. "I doubt six months," said the Prophet of the New Era.

Is there any history lesson, military or otherwise, more potent than the warning to learn from one's mistakes? The Army, in fact, did precisely that after Vietnam. There was a great deal of soul searching, and no refusal to look at the facts without sentimentality and excuse-mongering as we continue to be treated to from the Right (and from far behind the front lines). But we have an army which does not choose its emperor, and just like Vietnam the failure in Iraq is a failure of leadership. Any idiot can see it. Some idiots choose not to.

Monday, April 17

Shit Still Floats

David Brooks, "The Good Fight, Done Badly," April 16; "Rumsfeld's Blinkers," March 16, The Paper of Record

I've been wracking my brain--in the sense that in my youth we called taking a bad hop in the testicles "getting wracked"--to find a fitting metaphor for Dave's latest column, for the shallow and dishonest analysis of endlessly shifting surfaces. Like last week's bizarre denunciation of sociological explanations (from David Brooks! Using Tom Wolfe!! as a paragon!) we again find Our Mister Brooks jumping off from pop novelizations (The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit) and pop sociopsychoanalysis (The Organization Man) to land on another weird world of his own manufacture, one where Richard Nixon and George W. Bush--and Donald Rumsfeld, his ostensible target--are anti-establishment rebels:
Athletic, heroic, he never met an organization he didn't try to upend. He made it to Congress in the early 1960's and challenged the existing order. He was hired by Richard Nixon and quickly reorganized the Office of Economic Opportunity, slashing jobs and focusing the organization. He wrote to Nixon that he would upset the education bureaucrats and destroy "their comfortable world."

As his career went on, he took his streamlining zeal to the Pentagon, and then to G. D. Searle & Company, where he dismissed hundreds of executives, spun off losing businesses and streamlined the bureaucracy.

Rumsfeld's style appealed to political leaders who were allied with the corporate world, but hostile to self-satisfied corporate fat cats. Nixon loved Rumsfeld, and George W. Bush, the rebel in chief, quickly hired him.

I've spent thirty-five years arguing with these people, only to discover too late I'm a frog in a beaker and the water temperature has been going up imperceptibly all these years. Conservatives, in the days when I didn't automatically surround that with quotes, were people who clung to notions about half useful and half crackpot, in which, as is usual in such cases, the crackpot predominated. Suddenly they're people who leap from supposition to supposition contradicting, even denouncing, positions they held as recently as two hours ago, a pace of reinvention that would have given the young David Bowie vertigo.

George W. Bush, rebel-in-chief! Here's Brooks' capsule description of the Anti-Organization Man:
At about this time, smarter and more daring young men were also entering the work force. But these renegades rebelled against the organizational mediocrity they saw around them. They may have looked and dressed like all the other corporate cogs, and they tended to go into business like the others. But inside they were hostile to stultifying organizations, and contemptuous of protective, slow-moving bureaucracies. They saw themselves as anti-Organization Men, as bureaucratic barbarians who would crash through the comfy old routines and wipe out corporate sloth.

Sounds like the flyleaf of every Bush biography ever written, don't it? George W. Bush, Slothbuster! The man whose hostility to stultifying organizations and contempt of slow-moving bureaucracy caused him to fire Donald Rumsfeld when:
Unfortunately, we've learned that though Rumsfeld is a perfect warrior for peaceful times, his virtues turn into vices during wartime. War is nothing but a catalog of errors, and in fluid, unpredictable circumstances, the redundancies of the World War II style of organization actually make sense. When you don't know what you will need, sometimes it is best just to throw gigantic resources at a problem. You can adapt later on.

Rumsfeld the reformer never adjusted to the circumstances of wartime. Once the initiator of new ideas, he now strangles ideas. Once the modernizer, he's now the dinosaur. Amid the war on terror, he has unleashed a reign of terror on his subordinates.

Sorry, I should have suggested you try to focus on the same spot with each revolution of the head. They say it cuts down on the nausea. Try to catch your breath. I feel a couple of triple toe loops and a flying camel comin' on.

It's instructive that when Brooks was writing a month ago his starting point was Cobra II:
The officers on the front lines saw the same thing the smart pundits saw, and in more detail. But Rumsfeld and Franks stifled the free exchange of ideas, and shut out the National Security Council.

Our time frame here, by the way, was the week of March 24, 2003, and the "smart pundits" who were predicting "the U.S. was not in the midst of a conventional war, but was in the first days of a guerrilla war," include Michael Kelly and David Ignatius.

Cobra II may be a top-five best seller, but it'll never reach anything like the audience which last week heard about the growing list of retired general officers calling for Rumsfeld's head. So last month Rumsfeld was arrogantly ignoring sharp-eyed pundits who saw the truth on the ground, but this month, with the more general and more generally correct understanding that the real criticism comes from competent military minds, he's just suffering from a character flaw, highly valuable under most circumstances but unfortunately misplaced here.

Allow me to return for a moment to David Ignatius and the late Michael Kelly, because their inclusion stunned me (unlike, say, the predictable absence of any anti-war pundits who'd been crying quagmire all along). I don't know of an unlocked door in the corridors of WaPo archives, so all I could get was the short summary of Ignatius' piece, which includes the following:
U.S. strategists had assumed that in their race toward Baghdad, they could initially bypass many of the smaller towns and cities of southern Iraq. As Marine Staff Sgt. Brian Koenig put it, relaxing in the shade of his amphibious vehicle parked along the road north toward Nasiriyah and Baghdad, each U.S. combat team has a "bypass criterion" that allows it to focus on the biggest battles, and leave the little ones for later.

Similarly, a tough battle was being fought for the city of Basra, with Iraqi forces showing stronger than expected resistance. Some analysts had expected Basra to be a cakewalk for the coalition, because its largely Shiite population dislikes [Saddam Hussein]. Basra will doubtless fall soon, but probably not in the act of anti-Hussein insurgency some American planners may have expected. The danger is that it will feel like a defeated city, rather than a liberated one.

These aren't Cassandra-like utterances about an insurrection of many years duration. They don't even qualify as punditry. It's more like straight reporting, and anyone paying the slightest attention knew on Day Two that the failure to take Basra (and be greeted as liberators) did not bode well. We are talking here (as Kelly no doubt was about Najaf) about unexpected, and possibly catastrophic, threats to US lines of communication that developed as we sped towards Baghdad. Everybody knew about this.

Really, if you're careful you can boil a frog slowly before he escapes, but I've never heard anyone suggest you can plop one down in a bucket of horseshit and convince him it's a nice warm pond. There's no mystery to why we didn't go into Iraq with sufficient troops, just as there's no mystery why we didn't just send more after David Ignatius informed us of the dangers of war. We didn't have them, we don't have them now, and raising sufficient numbers means a draft. Even if we accept that the conduct of the war was all Rumsfeld's fault, the decision to go to war wasn't, and that was the real mistake. If anybody can find an example of Kelly or Ignatius warning us about that ahead of time, I'd appreciate an email.

Saturday, April 15

Joys of Monogamy #73

My Poor Wife had to go set up a student show early this AM. She had a cuppa and took off around 7 (in this as in most other things we're complete opposites; I need at least 90 minutes to reach a consensus that I'm awake and functioning). I saw to it the cats' needs were met, had my toast and tea, started a load of laundry and spent an hour or so cleaning up from yesterday's storms (four cells passed us in 24 hours, including the biggest hailstorm I've ever been in, ten minutes of flying golfballs). Then I took two aleve for a naiscent headache and lay down for a bit with the heating pad on my grousing back. I heard her drive up. I stayed in bed for a minute. The phone (sister, Easter dinner) got me up.

Got downstairs with the help of the handrail. Couldn't find my wife. Finally located her in Larry's room.

"I was wondering where you were. I just heard you drive up."

"I've been home for forty-five minutes. You were upstairs snoring."

"Liar. I don't snore, and I'm tired of you saying that."

"I already fixed breakfast."

"Now I know you're lying. I would have heard the smoke alarm."

Happy Birthday

Bessie Smith

April 15, 1894--September 26, 1937

Um, No

Andrew Sullivan:
I should address a point made by Ross Douthat about the intersection of religion and politics. Ross equates what the Republican party has been doing for some time with the civil rights movement. He argues that just as the civil rights movement was inspired by faith, so too is the religious tenor of the current GOP. Surely, you can't praise one and dismiss the other? Here's what I'd say. The civil rights movement was indeed a fundamentally religious phenomenon, and you cannot understand it without understanding that. It was also multi-denominational and included Democrats and Republicans. Its core religious principle was non-violence, and it drew enormous inspiration from Gandhi. It included Jews and Muslims, Catholics and Protestants, atheists and agnostics. And it never, in King's time, became a vehicle for one political party to win elections. Never. And in so far as it subsequently did, in so far as people like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton used religion to buttress a partisan machine, what was left of the civil rights movement lost moral authority. And deserved to.

Far be it from me to minimize the contribution of people of faith, and of faith itself, to the Civil Rights movement, but despite the addition of multiple denominations, Jews and Muslims, atheists and agnostics, this is just another easy substitution of King hagiography for actual history. "You cannot understand the movement without understanding it as a fundamentally religious phenomenon"? All we can do is try.

Apart from a single praeteritio, we'll ignore what both Sullivan and Douthat ignore with motives opposite to mine: the slave holders of the 19th Century and the segregationists of the 20th had their own churches and quoted the Bible quite expertly. But let's begin with the easy part: the Civil Rights movement did not begin with Martin Luther King, Jr. And while it's true that the Abolitionist movement opposed slavery as a sin. there was no opportunity to oppose it from a legal standpoint; the Constitution was clear, and the Congress enacted a gag rule prohibiting anti-slavery legislation. Once the issue reached the level of civil war the abolitionists pushed for a military solution to slavery, and at its end a legal one in the 14th and 15th Amendments. With the re-installation of legalized racism at the collapse of the Reconstruction, and the second wave under Wilson, came the rise of the NAACP, which led the battle for civil rights for five decades, seeking legal redress through the courts, culminating in the Brown decision of 1954. I don't understand any of those to be fundamentally religious propositions.

It was the NAACP that organized the Montgomery bus boycott (Rosa Parks was the local chapter secretary). The state of Alabama responded by effectively banning the organization. The ban was later overturned by the Supreme Court, but in the interim the local churches, the closest thing to free black organizations in the segregated South, and of which King and Ralph Abernathy were the two most prominent leaders, took up the slack.

Out of that success came the Southern Christian Leadership Council with King at its head. The NAACP wanted to pursue legal solutions to segregation; the SCLU, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, favored direct confrontation. King and Ralph Wilkins battled for years, though they aided each other as well. The NAACP's approach fell out of favor for its slow, legalistic, and some felt overly solicitous of white America, approach.

Non-violence for Dr. King was a political method, not a religious tenet, a distinction he made explicit in interviews. The part of the movement he led wasn't Gandhian by creed, but rather by pragmatism. SNCC later advocated violence in self-defense, and later as part of revolutionary violence.

So, no, Andrew, I don't have to conceded the movement was fundamentally religious in order to understand it. In fact it's just the opposite. Religious conviction, and people of faith, were a fundamental part of a movement which was about civil rights for the disenfranchised. It was not a fifteen-year revival meeting. It was a 150-year slog through ugly and violent repression.

Sorry, too, but the bipartisanship of the movement is somewhat overplayed. It's true that both Republicans and Democrats fought on both sides. It's true that Dr. King was carefully non-partisan. But to say the movement "never became a vehicle for one political party to win elections" in King's time is a latter-day sugar-coating, largely of Republican party actions. The movement was used as a negative factor to gain votes. The Eisenhower administration did all it could to distance itself from Brown, for fear that the Republican party would be seen as the party of integration. Eisenhower, who supported voting rights but was personally opposed to integration, sent troops into Little Rock in support of the rule of law. He didn't send in the Airborne when Arkansas closed all public schools a year later.

After LBJ dared risk the wrath of racist voters by doing what was right, Goldwater sealed the deal in '64 by kicking Southern blacks--who had been voting Republican when they could for a hundred years--out of the party in order to attract the racists to his side, a process which would be completed under Reagan. The suggestion that "people like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton used religion to buttress a partisan machine" is a prime example of the willful failure to understand the history, as well as an insult to people's intelligence. African-Americans don't vote overwhelmingly Democratic because they've been hoodwinked by a couple of Republican bugbears, and furthermore, they understand what is meant when people suggest they do. The movement may have lost its force after thousands risked and sacrificed much for important gains, but it hasn't lost its moral authority. We just have one party full of professional deniers these days.

Wednesday, April 12

Yes, It's Shooting Fish in a Barrel, but if It's Good Enough for the Vice-President...

So I see that Lileks is being vexed by the guy who's fixing his "water feature":

The Water Feature contractor came today. He’s the new guy. Just signed on to the team. Burly mofo, too. I think that’s his new name for the duration of this episode of contractor clusterfargery. (Boy, I’m not swearing as much as possible, eh? The Water Feature does that to me.) But he’s a genial guy, so I’ll call him G. Burlymofo. He took a look at the project, and since it’s hard to tell what’s wrong by looking at dirt and a pile of rocks, I filled him in on my suspicions: insufficient water in the lower tank, and /or a fatal leak somewhere. Keep in mind that the contractor told me a few weeks ago that his new guy pegged the problem without even examining the site: not enough water! Apparently that was a different new guy than G. Burleymofo, because he was agnostic on the issue of water volume.

He said he’d have it up and running the next day. I smiled and said he didn’t have to say that. Really.

“There’s no reason we can’t,” he said.

Sigh. I wanted to give him a volume I have in the archives downstairs, a book about Strange and Curious Things science can never explain.

First, "water feature" is the worst sort of jargonese. Like "plant material" and "thunderstorm activity" it doesn't even rate as jargon; it's hair-splitting done by professionals (landscape designers and teevee weather forecasters, respectively) who operate on the periphery of science but don't do any themselves. And it gets picked up via the tube, which for my money makes it worse than the incessant misuse of "parameter" we endured half a generation ago, which at least was based on misunderstanding what you read.

Second, aren't "water features" played out yet, even among habitués of Target? Don't get me wrong; I have a couple of friends with gorgeous outdoor fishponds, and we considered putting in one ourselves a decade ago before realizing there's nowhere on the property that gets enough sun. But good Lord, the casual viewer of HGTV has now seen 2,120 of the things installed, and there must be enough artificial waterfalls across American back yards to negatively effect salmon fishing.

I know, I know, kicking at Lileks is often akin to arguing with Andy Rooney, but here's the thing: Rooney, at least, is a genuine curmudgeon. His problem is he's about 50% shy of the needed intelligence to pull it off in public. And yes, I turned curmudgeon sometime before I got my driver's license. But you cannot do it while simultaneously enthusing about battery-operated toilet brushes or a child successfully coloring within the lines for once. The only time Lileks manages a convincing sneer is when he's talking shit about someone who works for a living.

Which is, I think, a metaphor for his other career. He's got new graphics on the site; lo and behold, it's a series of comically anachronistic Fifties era domestic illustrations. Stop, you're killing me.