Thursday, August 31

The Stove-Lid of History

We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it - and stop there; lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove lid. She will never sit on a hot stove lid again - and that is well; but also she will never sit down on a cold one anymore.
-Mark Twain.

I trust you enjoyed Secretary Rumsfeld's history lecture as much as I.

Because I suspect that, like me, you think the only thing which improves being told you haven't learned the lessons of History is hearing it from someone who learned his at the feet of Parson Weems. Not to mention the added enjoyment of hearing a man whose every single public utterance on Iraq has proven to be full of shite criticize a bunch of dead guys for not accurately predicting just what a paragon of evil Adolph Hitler would be in twenty years' time.

The problem for Rummy is that one thing History is good at is debunking the use of history, especially recent history, as hagiography or anti-hagiography. Not even so great a monster as Adolph himself is denied his good points--dynamic speaker, well-organized, easy to turn a smiley-face into. So, once again, an historical defense (if not entirely robust) of the Right Honourable Neville Chamberlain, Conservative PM:

[I apologize for the haphazard nature of the list, and its probable incompleteness, but I've spent most of the last 36 hours reading the apologies, denunciations, and demands for retraction which Right Blogtopia erupted in as soon as a Bush administration official played the Hitler card. Hey, apologies accepted; no need to go overboard. Besides, we understand they're not really your guys. Any more.]

1. Chamberlain didn't have much of a choice. The French had no intention of doing anything but sit behind the Maginot Line, the Russians had signed a non-aggression pact with Germany. Britannia still ruled the waves, but she did not have an army or the money to train and equip one.

2. All of what was given to Hitler in Munich and before was justified--if somewhat dubiously--by the exceeding unfairness of the Treaty of Versailles. (It's curious that one never hears about the lack of basic international fairness leading to the rise of Hitler, just Neville and his damned bumbershoot. For the Right, history always begins when they say it does.) By 1939, when the Germans took Prague, thereby stepping outside the terms of Versailles for the first time, the UK response was more belligerent, if not sufficiently so to our post-war way of thinking. The British did not have a mutual defense pact with Czechoslovakia. France did.

3. There was enormous, and enormously justified, public sentiment against The Great War which is rather conveniently forgotten in a country which arrived for only the tail end of the horrors, and by a Defense Secretary who was mimeographing his signature to dead soldiers' families before he was caught at it.

4. Hitler was seen as a bastion against the greater threat of Communist Russia, something the modern Right in this country ought to be honest enough to congratulate Chamberlain for.

5. Chamberlain, unquestionably, hewed to the Peace line after it stopped being tenable. The Munich Agreement proved to be a disaster, but it was undertaken not as a matter of unilateral airy-fairy daisy-garland manufacture but for reasons which turned out to be drastically misfounded, though not outright fabrications. It should be noted, however, that once Chamberlain's ideas had been demolished by the German invasion of the Low Countries, once events had shown how short his leadership had been of the mark, he had the basic decency to accept responsibility and resign.

Wednesday, August 30

Where Aren't They Now?

Anne Kornblut, "Bush Visits Gulf Coast, Stressing Progress," NY Times August 29

In an event with echoes of his prime-time speech in Jackson Square here last September, Mr. Bush spoke in a working-class neighborhood in Biloxi against a backdrop of neatly reconstructed homes. But just a few feet away, outside the scene captured by the camera, stood gutted houses with wires dangling from ceilings. A tattered piece of crime-scene tape hung from a tree in the field where Mr. Bush spoke. A toilet sat on its side in the grass....

Nearby, along the ocean, ravaged antebellum homes and churches dotted the waterfront. The beach from Gulfport, Miss., to Biloxi, was deserted. Debris hung from trees and motels stood shuttered. Blue tarpaulins still patched the roofs of most dwellings. Written in green spray paint on a fence around a home in Biloxi was “You loot, I shoot.”

Oh, that reminds me: whatever happened to that grassroots "Haley Barbour for President" movement? Y'know, when he looked so competent an' all after Katrina? When his insider knowledge and political savvy was raking in the reconstruction funds for Mississippi?

Boulder Words and Timorous Meaning

Oh, the lessons we've learned since then, huh?
[Photo and the phrase "pedophiliac livestock show" via Betty Bowers]

News Item: DA Drops Case in Ramsey Slaying

Yes, I think the case is important, not near as important as the media coverage (what could be?), nor because of any reasons that coverage might have given us. No, I don't think she was killed because some lurking pedophile got the hots for her in a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader outfit; it's a wholly-unlettered stab in the dark, but my guess is that pedophiles prefer children who look like children. What was and is worthy of attention in the Ramsey case is what is has to tell us about the legal system, law enforcement, money, and "tabloid" television (as if there's any other kind) and how they work today. The little blonde girl aspect of the case is the least interesting thing about it.

To begin with let us see if we can dispose of John Mark Karr even faster than the Boulder DA was forced to, after what Colorado Governor Bill Owens called "the most expensive DNA test in history". Not the easy dismissal of "that sounds more like a sick, sorry-assed fantasy than a confession"; how about a few points CNN et al missed while covering the story wall-to-wall:

• The UC journalism professor (Michael Tracey) who had been swapping emails and phone calls with Karr for four years has produced three documentaries about the case, with the cooperation of the Ramseys, all of which strongly supported the "intruder theory" of the murder, and the last of these actually fingered another man as a suspect and claimed he'd gone missing. It turned out he wasn't a suspect and was selling jewelry over the internet.

• Rumor has it that the Boulder DA hadn't contacted the ex-wife (who seemed to alibi Karr) or investigated Karr's past much at all before filing the arrest warrant. Yet he was no flight risk, because of the pending California charges.

• The much-touted DNA testing which supposedly cleared him couldn't have, because there's no such thing as any "foreign DNA" awaiting a match with the "real killer". There is, at best, some defense-attorney-friendly degraded evidence which will never convict anyone, and which will never be linked directly to the crime except in reverse: unless the killer is caught and proven to be a match.

And this much could have been determined with about five minutes' work.

And, again, it's why the case in interesting despite the tabloid factor and the Hey, Look! A Little Murdered Blonde Girl! syndrome. An inexperienced police force made some serious, potentially crippling mistakes that Christmas morning. The case attracted media attention because of its tabloid aspects--this was before the Missing Blonde Girl of the Week became a teevee news staple--and--a first--a large internet following. Shortly thereafter the Boulder DA tried to take over the case from the cops (there'd be open warfare in short order), and hired as an investigator a retired homicide detective who'd first been brought in by the Boulder police but quit because of its focus on John and Patsy Ramsey. That investigator, Lou Smit, reportedly bonded with the couple because of their shared Christian beliefs. He still works for the Boulder DA, Mary Lacy, successor to her one-time boss Alex Hunter.

Then there's the flip-side of this: the way the Ramseys were convicted in the press without trial.

But the Ramseys had two things going for them: money and more money. It bought politically well-connected criminal attorneys and a big-time PR campaign. Tracey's first documentary was basically lifted by A&E for its American Justice series, with no mention that the Ramseys were involved in the production. That program made much of the Ramsey's presumed innocence under the Law, a heartwarming affirmation of our civil liberties until you stopped to ponder that a couple weeks earlier they'd ignored evidence to paint Klaus von Bulow as a murderer despite the fact that he'd actually been found innocent in a courtroom.

Maybe it's best to just ignore anything so stained by yellow journalism, but on the other hand it's worth pondering how all the media resources of the United States can be focused on one small-town murder yet a decade later they're still getting the facts wrong. And a journalism professor with a big financial interest in the case is giving the local DA a new hot lead every few months.

As always, it's at least cheap entertainment to hear some talking hairdo relay the "controversy swirling around Mary Lacy" while ignoring the credulous coverage she was getting just 24 hours earlier from under the very same hair.

Monday, August 28


David Brooks, "Nonconformity Is Skin Deep", August 27

Last week we asked--without really expecting, or needing, a response--whether there really was a time when Brooks' pseudo-pop sociology was ever taken pseudo-seriously. This week Brooks does his best to provide an answer.

Tattoos! He's ripping on tattoos! Okay, I know it's August. Just take the fookin' week off, already.
We now have to work under the assumption that every American has a tattoo....that under each suit, dress or blouse, there is at least a set of angel wings, a barbed wire armband...We have to assume that any casual antitattoo remark will cause offense, even to those we least suspect of self-marking.

Really? Madeleine Albright? Debby Boone? Ben Shapiro?

Sure, that's the mere comedy version of hunting quail over seed, but how about this: cause offense? In society David Brooks is careful not to cause offense, however inadvertently, by making a chance remark of the sort of thing he puts in his column every week? David Brooks is concerned that a stray antitattoo remark will dismay his companions, result in some lowering of his esteem on the cocktail circuit or perhaps actual fisticuffs? What sort of antitattoo remarks is he prone to make?

Dear reader, I'm going to risk our friendship here, just to make a point. Although I've known you only a brief time, and I have no idea what's under your suit, dress, blouse, or (more likely) bathrobe, I suspect you might be open-minded enough to learn that I don't particularly care for tattoos.

Whew! Now, those of you who haven't run immediately to Comments, stick around so I can offend you, too. I don't like those Melina Mercouri glasses. I've never liked sandals. Can't abide wing-tip shoes, tie-dye, or those suits that look like they were made from petroleum. I don't own anything plaid, aside from a blanket, and that's in the basement. I've been alienated from every major trend in eye makeup for at least a decade, and I think that woman in the Black Eyed Peas looks like she could use a bath. I don't think I should be able to read your watch from a distance of 50 feet. I don't trust anyone who looks as if he spends more time grooming than reading, and if you smell as though you believe the one thing that improves cheap cologne is using a whole lot of it, and you get on my elevator, I may ask, politely, where you contracted the gangrene you're trying to cover up, even at the risk of causing offense.

And so fuckin' what?

But wait, the middle-aged man is just warming to his task:
Pretty soon you'll go to the beach and find that only the most hardened nonconformists will be un-marked.

And there--though we've had to amputate a bizarre phantom appendage from that thought (we'll get right back to it, promise)--there, I say, is David "Bobo" Brooks, the carnival shill who walks like a Times opinion columnist.

David Brooks was born in 1961, and we promise to stop talking about him as if he were still a high school AV nerd huddled with other AV nerds in the cafeteria as a talisman against roving jock bullies when he promises to stop writing like one. By the time he got to high school, in the latter 70s, this "If you want to be a real non-conformist you'll dress like a normal person" schtick wasn't just patently ridiculous and old hat, it was already part of the public school curriculum. The armies of L7s, Brooks included, were being given daily affirmations on the subject, the same way that today children are praised for swearing to their easily-placated parents that they (the children) won't have sex until they (the parents) have gone to their Heavenly Reward. Or gone blind.

What had really changed by Brook's schooldays was that conformity had a new uniform, a new 8 Track player, and better access to a range of intoxicants beyond sloe gin and 7-UP. Schoolmarms didn't like it. But schoolmarms didn't like the long sideburns and comic books of twenty years previous. You might imagine a pseudo-sociologist would pseudo-recognize the point.

Instead we get this rehash of the weird disconnect with the reality of the 60s which is so instructive of public right-wing arguments in general. The 60s are now an era of simultaneous social conflict and cultural hegemony, with hippies in the role Communists played on the international scene, somehow astride the divide like an evil Colossus and a mouthy minority full of shallow, desperate trend-followers soon to be run off by the real folks.

And just as we knew by the late 50s that the Soviets and the Chinese weren't getting along, yet continued to play International Communism as monolithically intent on world domination, so too must Brooks have known actual people in the day, known each as a writhing mass of contradictory rugged individualism and craven conformity and not pseudo-sociologic ciphers, known or realized shortly thereafter that the whole conformity/rebellion thing was a phony construct, that the social revolutions of the 60s were in fact genuine, for all their susceptibility to mass-market trivialization, that the cracks in American backwoods Calvinism were widening, and that young people were dancing to that racket coming out of their transistors, and having sex with the coloreds, because they enjoyed it, not because some Berkley prof hoodwinked 'em. And, perhaps most disturbing of all, that many people were thumbing their noses at Authority because Authority deserved it.

And this is the David Brooks who's apt to grab any "positive" Gallup poll result about teenagers to insist they are throwing off the shackles of hippie immorality. That brand of conformity doesn't bother him, apparently.

Sorry, I promised you that was just half the paragraph. Behold, the real wonders of self-hypnosis:
Everybody else will be decorated with gothic-lettered AARP logos and Katie Couric 4-EVER tributes, and Democrats will have their Kerry-Edwards bumper stickers scratched across their backs so even their morticians will know which way they voted.

Har har har. Maybe that's the cocktail party antitattoo riff that insulted people. Maybe he didn't inadvertently offend someone with a secret inking. Maybe he just happened to find himself addressing someone with a sense of humor.
The problem is that middle-class types have been appropriating the symbols of marginalized outcasts since at least the 1830's.

e.g. The great "Let's Talk Like Australians" craze of the early frontier.
This is no longer a way to express individuality; it's a way to be part of the mob. Today, fashion trends may originate on Death Row, but it takes about a week and a half for baggy jeans, slut styles and tattoos to migrate from Death Row to Wal-Mart.

Y'know, it just goes to show that if you wait around long enough, huge, rampant African appendages will turn up and get shoved into every orifice of young careless white girls. Death Row? I thought white rockers started the tattoo rebirth in the late 70s, and if "slut styles" and Madonna don't go together like peanut butter and jelly, I'll have a ketchup soda.
And that's the most delightful thing about the whole fad. A cadre of fashion-forward types thought they were doing something to separate themselves from the vanilla middle classes but are now discovering that the signs etched into their skins are absolutely mainstream. They are at the beach looking across acres of similar markings and learning there is nothing more conformist than displays of individuality, nothing more risk-free than rebellion, nothing more conservative than youth culture.

Hey, David. Mr. Keller says you should go pick up the projector in B238.

Friday, August 25

Happy Birthday

Walter Crawford Kelly, Jr.

August 25, 1913--October 18, 1973

Speaking of Idiots Speaking of Idiots Speaking

Kathleen Parker, "Intellectually Curious George", Townhall, August 23

AFTERTHOUGHT: John Hinderacker, "Hail to the Chief"

Like clear cola, it's difficult to say who had the idea first here, but it is clear who's got the bigger psychological problem:
But up close, he is a great communicator, in a way that, in my opinion, Ronald Reagan was not. He was by turns instructive, persuasive, and funny. His persona is very much that of the big brother. Above all, he was impassioned. I have never seen a politician speak so evidently from the heart, about big issues--freedom, most of all.

By contrast, Parker is a paragon of rationality:
Bush-bashing for sport has never lacked fans in the blogosphere, but questioning the president's intelligence lately has gone mainstream.

Okay, wait up. By "going mainstream" she means "was mentioned on Joe Scarborough's show." Is it too late to reconsider who's more delusional? No? Okay, it's still Assrocket.
Scarborough wasn't calling Bush an idiot, mind you. He was just quoting that renowned American intellectual, Linda Ronstadt. Recently, Ronstadt had commented on the president's performance while attending an international summit of heads of state.

Man, that must have stung. Especially coming from Kathleen Parker, who is invited to every important international summit, and so would know.

We might take a moment or two to ponder exactly who Kathleen Parker is to be ridiculing someone else's intellectual standing, but as W.V. Quine once said, "Who?"

Instead let us note that Ronstadt made news for calling Bush an idiot over two years ago, so perhaps a better question is, "Far-right mouthpieces bring this up in an election year just as Republicans are trying to distance themselves from The Idiot? Just how big an idiot do you imagine everyone else is?"

Now then, Ms Parker, the rest of us have been at this for awhile, and we've pretty much caught up with all three possible explanations for Bush's idiocy. And yours' is...?

Language barrier.

This theory occurred to me not long ago at an off-the-record luncheon with Bush and a hundred or so of his supporters. I was the guest of a guest, and welcomed the opportunity to observe the president in his natural habitat.

What I witnessed was revealing. Not only was the man fluent in the English language and intellectually agile, he was knowledgeable on a wide range of subjects raised during a 90-minute Q&A. Someone apparently had been slipping intellectual-curiosity tablets into Bush's cola.

Toward the end, one of the guests said, ``Mr. President, I think if Americans could hear you speak the way you have today, you'd have a 95 percent approval rating.''

And then he got back behind the wheel of his cab.
I think that's almost true. Not 95 percent, obviously, but he'd surely have a higher than 30 percent approval rating were he better able to explain what he's thinking. Bush does know; he just can't seem to say.

The question is why?

My theory dovetails with something one of his most acerbic critics, columnist Molly Ivins, once wrote: ``George W. Bush sounds like English is his second language.'' That's because it's true. ``Washington English'' (BEG ITAL)is(END ITAL) a second language for Bush; ``Texas English'' is his first.

When he tries to speak Washington English, which is the way Bush thinks presidents are supposed to speak -- over-enunciating and sprinkling his comments with awkward aphorisms -- he fumbles. He forgets what he's saying because the thoughts and words are not his own.

This is also when his annoying sibilance kicks in. The ``terroristsssssss," he says when ``terrorists" would do. My guess is he over-enunciates to cover his prairie accent, but the effect is, well, sssssstrange.

Y'know, when I first read this I thought it would be the focus of my response. "Texas English is Bush's first language" is in fact more ridiculous than the image of him as a brush-clearin' cowpoke. He's an effete, cosseted, Eastern prep school party boy who moved to Texas to spend other people's money on the chance that might make him rich. His "Texas" has never been authentic. That's not to say it's put on--he's too much of an idiot for that--but it's the adoption of a generic accentualizing which comes in part from being submerged in a culture with a pervasive and seductive ear--Yanks don't have to live in Britain long before they flatten their "a"s--and in part as the argot of the Texas Rich Guy Club, a sort of aural fraternity handshake.

But fuck that. The comment is too absurd to waste time on. Just as an American must pick up the energy and raise the voicing an octave to do an effective generic British accent, so too does the Easterner or Midwesterner simply lapse into a species of laziness to achieve that drawl. It doesn't mean there isn't some attendant laziness behind it.

Let's have a brief review of the Republican responses to seven years of "Bush is an idiot", shall we?

1. "No he's not."

2. "Yeah, he's an idiot, all right. An idiot like a fox."

3. "Okay, he sounds like an idiot, he exhibits none of the intellectual curiosity or competent grasp of the issues we'd like in a President, but he WON!"

4. "Wow, that was the most inspiring speech I've ever heard a politician give."

They're all delusional, it's just that some are more delusional than others (guess who?). Bush is an idiot. He's not an idiot in the old sense of IQ deficiency, and he's not an idiot just in the sense of doing something stupid based on a faulty grasp of reality, the way we can say, "What an idiot" when someone trips over an obstacle the rest of us categorized as "in plain sight," the way all of us are idiots sometimes.

For far too long, and at far too great a cost, his supporters were able to hide the real meaning of "Bush is an idiot" behind those two strawmen. But, damn, unless you get all your news from what the Right still seems to insist are unvarnished sources, you have to be aware that that game has been lost for some time. 9/11 and the attendant incessant public cheerleading gave George W. Bush a pass long after the public had written him off as a thinker. It eventually found the courage to write him off as a match for the office. That is simply how things are.

Now, a lot of people don't want to believe it, even people who've felt, or come to believe, that George W. Bush's values don't match their own, that he's less than honest and less than truthful. Some of them may have accepted the idea that the President is simply not a good public speaker, the Texas-sized line of codswallop you expect us to swallow this week. But it's not the case. Any native speaker of English knows that what's going on when George W. Bush speaks in public is not simple stagefright, ADD, regional speech variation, dyslexia, or a tendency towards Malapropisms. Speech is not merely words conveyed by sound, or we'd all be driving Ford Pintos. Bush communicates a lot of things when he speaks; among those is a lack of intellectual curiosity, an intolerance for difference of opinion, a sizeable inferiority complex and the concomitant rich boy's mean streak in response. "Bush is an idiot" means a lot of things, many of them things which come straight out of his mouth.

It's not surprising to hear that George W. does better when he's surrounded by a group of sycophants. It's to be expected. He's the living embodiment of the Gentleman's C. It's bad enough that it's taken you this long to even acknowledge the problem. Don't make it worse by claiming it's next to groundless.

The Hinderrocker piece was not only too delusional to take seriously enough to make fun of, it was also to similar to his "George W. Bush, Smartest Man in the World" thingie from a while back. I'm not sure what it means when you're willing to do that twice. I am sure what this means, though:
I've sometimes worried about how President Bush can withstand the Washington snake pit and deal with a daily barrage of hate from the ignorant left that, in my opinion, dwarfs in both volume and injustice the abuse directed against any prior President. (No one accused Lincoln of planning the attack on Fort Sumter.) Not to worry. He is, of course, miles above his mean-spirited liberal critics. More than that, he clearly derives real joy from the opportunity to serve as President and to participate in the great pageant of American history. And he sees himself as anything but a lame duck, which is why he is stumping for Republican candidates around the country.

It means that before you went completely around the bend you somehow managed to avoid even a cursory familiarity with your own history and your own times.

Thursday, August 24

Happy Birthday

Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup
August 24 , 1905 --March 28, 1976

In Fairness, They Did Run the "Lifestyles of the Pig Ignorant" Section Up the Flagpole, But Nobody Saluted

Oh Glorious Day [Jonah Goldberg ]

The New York Times has seen the light. All of those barbs about its elitism and catering to wealthy blue state readers finally hit a nerve and they are getting back to hard-hitting journalism for the common man:

The New York Times Names Chandler Burr as Its First-Ever Perfume Critic
Tuesday August 22, 3:21 pm ET

Fragrances Will Be Reviewed In New Column Appearing In T: Style Magazine

''Scent Strip'' Fragrance Column Will Debut on August 27

Issue Has Largest Total Advertising Pages Since 1984
Posted at 7:49 PM

What, exactly, do you say about Jonah Goldberg after you've said "What th' Fuck?" several dozen times? I realize he's incapable of understanding, or valuing, anything which can't be reduced to comic book form or fitted onto a bumpersticker, but What the fuck? Can no one prevail upon him to shut up when he has no idea what he's talking about? Has there ever been an adult more completely defined by the phrase, "Hand over yer lunch money, lardass?"

So perfume is an elitist concept now? How about soap? And for cryin' out loud, did you accidentally excise the part which said the Times was replacing its news section with fragrance reviews? Did you bother to read all four lines anytime between cut and paste? Like "largest total advertising since 1984"? Have somebody explain to you what it's like to work for a profit-making organization. Or why the Times can't limit itself to printing an Arts section consisting entirely of long think pieces on the Kirk v. Picard question. Or why they have an Arts section in the first place. Although, on the other hand, maybe somebody should suggest to Bill Keller he could just beg people to pony up $500 to join Adam Nagourney on the buffet line at the Ramada Inn O'Hare.

PS. How many times a week does Jonah's contribution to the national debate consist of running after some liberal target and throwing rocks at it like he's seen the bigger kids do?

PPS. Remember when we were all New Yorkers? Boy, that was a great couple of weeks.

Wednesday, August 23

Group Says New Titanic Deck-Chair Arrangement "Six Months Away, Tops"

Robert Dreyfuss, "A Higher Power: James Baker puts Bush's Iraq policy into rehab." The Washington Monthly, September.

First, a confession: I didn't actually read the piece. I skimmed. It's no matter, because I wasn't intending to critique it. All I wanted to do, after seeing the link to a piece about "James Baker heading a bipartisan group looking at ways to pull our chestnuts out of Iraq" was check out how long it took for Lee Hamilton to pop up.

Answer: It's 1218 words to "Besides Baker, the bipartisan task force is co-chaired by former congressman Lee H. Hamilton..."

It's a ways to go, that, 2/5 of the way through the piece, but I never lost faith. After all, who could imagine "Jim Baker" and "bipartisan" turning up anywhere without the seventeen-term former Congressman from Indiana's 9th District, the House's Hoosier answer to Dick Lugar? Why, it'd be like "Wishy" without "Washy", "Chip n' Dale" without "Alphonse and Gaston", "Effectual" without "In".

Except it ain't funny.

Lee Hamilton chaired the House Iran/Contra Committee, the one that decided following the trail to Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush would be bad for morale. He reprised that role as vice chair in Iran/Contra II: Episode 9/11, which means that Lee Hamilton was the ranking Democratic witness to the President and Vice-President of the United States holding hands as they testified together. Though at least this time they actually testified.

Hamilton and Baker have worked together before, as co-chairs of the Baker-Hamilton Commission to Investigate Certain Security Issues at Los Alamos, [that's the real name--really answered all our questions right there, didn't they?] so it's possible we could save some money on stationery. As a result of their investigation, a vigorously moderate finger was wagged at confused security policies which might have led to the scandalous theft of those missing computer hard drives, had they ever been missing, and had that potential missing-ness been caused by theft. And without Indiana's Lee Hamilton providing the bi for the report's bipartisanship, that possible scandal might never have seen enough coverage to fully obfuscate the Wen Ho Lee story, America's L'Affaire Dreyfus. Which, had it been fully exposed, might have set the government and its teevee network co-conspirators back much more than $1.6 M. And who knows what that might have done for morale?

This--I probably needn't tell you--bodes quite well for the showily bipartisan pseudo-solution to the missing results in Iraq, as the absolute necessity of removing our troops while we still can coincides remarkably well with the report's conclusions. Or so one might guess.

Representative Hamilton has kept busy since leaving the Congress in 1999, as a member of the Homeland Security Advisory Council and the advisory boards of the Central Intelligence Agency and the US Army, all of which have achieved unprecedented successes during this period.

It's a nice match for Baker, the Bush family consigliere, who ran George H.W. Bush's "anti-busing" Senate campaign in 1970 and his "voodoo economics" Presidential campaign in 1980, before becoming Reagan's first Chief of Staff, with particular responsibility for the Gipper's wildly effective voodoo domestic policies and the voodoo tax reforms of 1981, the ones that had to be euthanized between '86-88, while Baker was Treasury secretary. Baker was Secretary of State in the Bush I administration, thus earning the distinction of being the only holder of that office to engineer a war in Iraq we were subsequently able to get back out of. He has since retired from public life, appearing occasionally in a legal capacity to secure the theft of the Presidency or to further the Carlyle Group's world domination plans, or to join with Lee Hamilton in bipartisan efforts to make the Democratic party look worse than it could do all by itself.

The committee has reportedly been quite close-mouthed about its actions, its members refusing to speak on the record, presumably because the group, which was carefully selected for partially-plausible deniability in helping to start the war does not want to take any credit for its vital role in assuring nothing whatever gets said about the issue until after November's midterms. The target date for their report favoring the phased withdrawals any group of ten schoolchildren could have told you two years ago were inevitable is 2007, or roughly the point at which it can be used by potential Republican nominees of whichever end of the right wing of the Party to beat potential Democrats over the head with. That, of course, is the very essence of bipartisanship. And you can thank a Hoosier for it.

AFTERTHOUGHT: A plan. Sure. We haven't seen it in a while, but remember the "Liberals are rooting for bad news in Iraq" thing? Why--assuming I wanted to hear bad news from Iraq--would I have ever bothered rooting for it? With this group it's always been a cinch of the lead-pipe variety. It would be like anxiously awaiting the end of a Perry Mason episode to find out if his client gets off.

Monday, August 21

Bobo Lit

David Brooks, "Cracking the Shells," August 20

Peyton Place. No, really. Peyton Place, Grace Metalious' Peyton Place, is the subject of Our Mister Brooks' Sunday sermon:
When critics write about "Peyton Place" today, they tend to see it as a premonition of the glorious achievements of the 1960's. Some describe it as an early revolt against the repressive bourgeois order of the 1950's suburbia. But "Peyton Place" was set in a rural town without radio, TV, or much consumerism--with farms and outhouses instead of split-levels. This was the sort of supposedly quaint rural community people in the 1950's were trying to get out of in order to flee to the suburbs.

Others see "Peyton Place" as a precursor to feminism and [CAUTION, David Brooks witticism dead ahead, please stow all beverages:] the baby boomers' invention of the female orgasm, which apparently took place at Woodstock. But Metalious treats their strength and sexuality as obvious features of human society, and clearly rejects the notion that to be a woman is to be a member of a cause or the sisterhood collective.

Questions: 1) Was there actually a time when people took Brooks' pop pseudo-sociology pseudo-seriously? It's really the reason he has a gig with the Times and News Hour? 2) Is there any reason why I should take Brooks (and others) limitless war on the 60s as something other than a personal confession he (and they) never got laid? 3) Does the Times stylebook really specify enumerating decades with an apostrophe (1950's)? And if so, why?

Let's sort out a couple of the ground rules first. It ought to occur to anyone that this sort of game can't be played with art, which, fortunately, Peyton Place isn't. Second, it ought to be played with some regard for internal consistency. Objecting that Mrs. Medalious did not write an 800-page feminist tract is clearly beside the point. It's like objecting that H. G. Wells never wrote an instruction manual for the microwave oven.

Whether there's some biographical tidbit in Brooks' past that explains his psychedelicaphobia, and whether that or anything else might possibly explain why several inches of the New York Times Op-Ed page in August of 2006 is given over to a discussion of Peyton Place remains moot. But Metalious' bio is relevant: daughter of an alcoholic mother (what she would become) and an absentee father, raised by her grandmother in a female-dominated family; showed an early interest in writing but married at eighteen in 1943 when she became pregnant. Her husband enlisted shortly thereafter, survived the war and returned home, like many, to a wife and child he barely knew. They struggled to get by. Eventually he went to college on the GI Bill while she worked for their support. She had two more children. Peyton Place was her second novel, first published; it happened to catch the eye of a reader in a prestigious firm who then happened to get a job with Kitty Messner, one of the few women of that day to found and run a publishing house. The book became a best seller, but it was in the newfangled paperback market that it really took off.

It is that popularity, and not her literary merit, that Brooks' unnamed critics address, and his Bobo blandishments ("After the class consciousness of the late 1930's, and the national solidarity of the 1940's, Americans in the 1950's were inclined to define problems in moral and psychological terms, not as the products of economic or political forces.") don't seem even to have a point. The book didn't sell millions of copies because it defined problems in psychological terms, or because it told a cautionary tale of grey men in grey flannel, but because of its blunt treatment of S-E-X.

It's hard to figure how Brooks could miss that, or how he could tout the "moral terms" of a book which treats rape as an act of violence and an abortion as a life-saving act of humanity while he claims its proto-pop-feminism as the figment of a buncha hippies. But then this is the pop-culture version of the Right's Lessons of WWII series: a prefabricated moral pasted over historical events in cheap paper. Get it anywhere near the light and you can see right through it.

Of course the point of transforming Peyton Place from rank and horny to (Otto) Rank and (Karen) Horney * is the preservation of the Pre-Fab 50s of popular wingnut imaginings. But there's something a bit odd at work:
Tasting affluence, worried about the power of advertising, troubled by pervasive racism, Americans fixated on the power of social pressure, and the way individual autonomy could be inhibited by the judgments of the crowd.

Hmmmm. Tasting affluence, check. I'm not sure just how many Americans worried about the power of advertising; more of an elitist thing, wasn't that Mr. Brooks? Troubled by racism? Go back and read the Times own coverage of the Civil Rights movement from, say the Montgomery bus boycott through the end of the decade. Longer, if you'd like. I believe you'll discover that most Americans, at least as the story editors and headline writers saw them, were more troubled by Negro misbehavior than pervasive racism.

It's interesting as always to note that while the Right has gotten to have it both ways for a quarter-century now it still can't win an argument. But there's the acrid taste of metal being smelted nearby, of new coins hurriedly struck from old, devalued currency, and not just in the denial of 50s racism. It's as if, with the neo-con agenda a pile of cinders, and most of the rest of the "conservative" program smoldering rubble, the "Crowd", once the arbiter of all things moral and reasonable, decent and American, is now the problem, the dumb dead weight holding down the Libertarian Republican who will enact the real right wing program once and for all. And this time we mean it. Maybe Grace Metalious was trying to tell us we needed John McCain.

*Old joke, sorry.

Friday, August 18

That's Rich

Rich Lowry, "Bush's Vietnam? Not yet--but does Bush realize how close it is?" National Review, Aug 15

Iraq and Vietnam. For someone my age it's not exactly déjà vu all over again. More like being forced to watch Robin Williams in The Birdcage having seen La Cage aux Folles a generation before.
For the past 30 years, left-right debate over America’s wars has traveled a well-worn rut. The Left says whatever war is in question is “another Vietnam,” while the Right denies it. After three decades of being serially wrong, in the Iraq war liberals might be making their first-ever correct diagnosis.

Okay, so right off the bat we get something with no corollary. It could be that in the 60s Birchers and editors of the National Review were claiming that Liberals had just been itching to oppose a war since the first Roosevelt administration, but the truth is that in those simpler times most people aspired to not make glaring howlers in their opening paragraphs. Quaint, I know.

2006 - 30 = 1976. The Mayaguez Incident was '75, and is officially considered part of the Vietnam War. I bring it up only to prove I was paying attention back then. * Then there's Jimmy Carter who, if memory serves, did not send troops anywhere except on the Ill-Fated Hostage Rescue Mission, which conservatives blamed on Vietnam. As always we were dabbling in Central America, but nobody was supposed to know, so no Vietnam comparisons there. There was the Olympics boycott of '80, which Paul Krassner or Marlon Brando or somebody called "the decathlete's Vietnam", I think, but it didn't stick. Next Reagan invaded Grenada, apparently because he misunderstood something Claudette Colbert said into his bad ear, and the US lanched the largest Armada since D-Day against 80 Cuban bricklayers who were menacing some American medical students. Thanks in no small part to our position as the world's premier military power we managed to land our troops in such a way that it put the Cubans between us and the students, but fortunately no one was walled up. The planning here may have recalled Vietnam, but it was over too quickly for any real sloganeering to gain a foothold. Reagan also tried to kill Libyan strongman Muammar Kaddafi, who foiled the attempt by changing the spelling of his name. We're insisting on a strict "No ground troops, no 'Nam" rule here. "There are no quagmires in the air," as Curtis LeMay once said. And, again, there was some stuff going on in Central America, but it was pretty much kept out of the papers.

Which brings us to Bush I, and, in no particular order, Iraq War I ("The Last Good Undeclared War"), the attempted musical irritation of Manuel Noriega, and Somalia, which conservatives liked when Bush started it but hated once Clinton became President. Of these, only Iraq I might have qualified for the Vietnam tag, but at the time "No Blood for Oil" was felt to be catchier. Clinton had Haiti, and the Balkans, but those wars had a different marketing strategy altogether and proved to be, if not wildly popular, at least cult favorites.

So we're sorta left with Afghanistan and Iraq II, and perhaps it's time to point out that those wars do not go back nearly 30 years, and that the Vietnam analogy applies in some respects to both. I think we're safe in saying that the Left has gone no worse than 1 for 3, depending on who's keeping score, while some individual Lefties might claim 2-0 with some justification. The Right, meanwhile, goes 1-1-1. And Rich Lowry's full of shit.
In Iraq, as in Vietnam, we face a vicious insurgency that has worn down the will of the American public.

...and a government which has lied about that insurgency from Day One, and insisted all this time that the end was no more than six months away, tops. The distinction being that the former is a natural result of conflict, while the latter is inexcusable hubris

Quick game of Spot the Vietnam Myth, anyone? How about the notion that insurgencies facing an overwhelming military superiority turn to fighting a battle in the American media? It's a stupid conceit, and it has led--for 30 years now, some might say--to the sort of National Review "We're Winning" cover and all other forms of mind erasure.

Try it for yourself--go out and organize your own insurgency based on the idea that over the course of a decade, with great sacrifice and perhaps the approval of the diety of your choice, you might gradually dishearten the newspaper readers of some other country. Insurgents fight invaders. The North Vietnamese may have learned how to manipulate American news operations--somewhat; not even the President can do that as consistently as the Right claims our enemies do--but the idea that they defeated us by disturbing our natural buoyancy with wave after wave of bad news is just excuse #417 in the conservative post-Vietnam playbook.

Then there's the argument disguised as bland statement of fact--that the "will of the American people" was fully behind both adventures. But most Americans couldn't have pointed to Vietnam on a map before 1966, if then, and the idea that it was the "will" of the people to invade Iraq is just bluff and bluster, exhibit A being the administration's cowardly refusal to ask for tax increases and military conscription. It's not the public will which has collapsed in the past three years; it's the public's acceptance of what it was told in the first place vs. the harsh reality that has slowly dawned. But yes, this is exactly like Vietnam. So's the attempt to obfuscate it.
In Iraq, as in Vietnam, we have failed to cut off the enemy from re-supply.

This is the difference between a hypothetical and a full-blown case of ergot poisoning. First, for the first several years of US involvement the major source of supply for the North Captured weapons supplimented a large cottage industry in gunsmithing. The Soviets were very hesitant to get involved, as were the Chinese, and some older readers may recall the two didn't actually like each other much. It was only after the North Vietnamese proved they could embarrass the US that Soviet supplies started rolling over Chinese railroads.

There is one bit of truth to be uncovered here. Had we at some point, as a nation, risen up, seized everyone who ever suggested so blithely that we should have carried the war in Vietnam--or Korea, for that matter--into Chinese territory, tied them in a large bag and sunk it in the Marianas somewhere there'd have been a lot smaller fantasy component to our foreign policy these last forty years.
In Iraq, as in Vietnam, we have had ever-shifting military strategies.

That's simply not true about Vietnam, and I doubt there's much truth to it in Iraq. Military thinkers adapt to changing situations, of course; you wouldn't want it any other way. In Vietnam we had basically three strategies, in succession, and they were related to how the military saw the situation: pacification followed by large-scale attrition followed by super-scale bombing. None of them worked (though Lowry will claim attrition would have,) but they were hardly "ever-shifting".

God knows we've had shifting rationales in Iraq, two or more a day at its height, but military strategies? Don't think so.
In Iraq, as in Vietnam, we have had trouble building effective, clean governmental institutions in the soil of an alien culture.

Of course the real democrat in Indochina was Ho Chi Minh; he asked the US for help at the end of the First World War, and again after being our ally in the Second, and was rebuffed both times because we only believed in self-determination for Europeans. Beyond that, of course, we simply obfuscated any cultural details that rose above public indifference (and few if any did). We blocked the July '56 elections in Vietnam, backed Diem's brutalities, kept the utter corruption in the South as quiet as we could, then okayed Diem's assassination and backed a series of corrupt strongmen. I'm still trying to figure out just why that didn't work.

One difference is that in Vietnam the various administrations from Eisenhower to Nixon never spoke of the religious differences at the heart of the conflict, while in Iraq the Bush administration didn't give a shit.
The consequences of that defeat would be remarkably similar to those in the wake of Vietnam. The prestige of the U.S. government would sink around the world, emboldening our enemies and creating a period of American doubt and retreat. A humanitarian catastrophe would likely befall Iraq, just as it did Vietnam. The only significant difference is that in Iraq, radical Islamists harbor ambitions to come to our shores and kill Americans, whereas the Viet Cong never wanted to follow us home.

Well, Rich, it's a great time to be thinking of all that, now isn't it? Though I might object that now, as then, our prestige has already plummeted as a result of a brutal and idiotic foreign policy; defeat won't do much to worsen it. As for humanitarian catastrophe, I'm pretty sure it, like a few million pounds of high explosives, has already befallen Iraq. All over the place.

The consequences of the latest defeat, lad, are the responsibility of those of you who were so all-fired sure we'd get to redeem the earlier one.

* That and the fact that the Khmer were using captured Swift boats. It's always good to mention Swift boats, and it's double good to mention them to a critter-pated "conservative" who's just objected that we didn't halt military supplies to the Communists.

Thursday, August 17

Installing a Plot Device

British Argue 22 Suspects Should Be Kept

By MATT MOORE Associated Press Writer

August 16,2006 | LONDON -- British investigators argued at a closed-door hearing Wednesday that suspects arrested in an alleged plot to blow up as many as 10 trans-Atlantic jetliners should be kept in custody without charge....

Experts say the primary reason police could use nearly a month to complete a probe is because of the complexity of investigations into the alleged plot to smuggle liquid explosives hidden in hand luggage aboard flights.

"You've got laptops, you have to bring in translators to translate all the documents in there, and sometimes it's inopportune to release all your suspects -- particularly terrorism suspects -- while all that is being downloaded and translated," said Cliff Knuckey, a retired police detective who has worked on terrorism investigations.....

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke, who commands the anti-terrorist police branch, said officers had found terrorist training videos spliced in the middle of normal Hollywood films, meaning hours spent scrutinizing videotapes.

Wait a minute, uh, had these guys under surveillance for a year, you've gotten international help, including vital help from the US of A, according to our former President, where we've been tracking this stuff for five years now without regard for, well, much of anything, really, and you still need a month to fast-forward through somebody's videotapes looking for naughty bits?

Say, by any chance did you happen to get all your information from some no-account on the lam from the UK who the Pakistanis tortured ?

Liberal agonies

Tuesday August 15, 2006
The Guardian

Reports from Pakistan suggest that much of the intelligence that led to the raids came from that country and that some of it may have been obtained in ways entirely unacceptable here. In particular Rashid Rauf, a British citizen said to be a prime source of information leading to last week's arrests, has been held without access to full consular or legal assistance. Disturbing reports in Pakistani papers that he had "broken" under interrogation have been echoed by local human rights bodies. The Guardian has quoted one, Asma Jehangir, of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, who has no doubt about the meaning of broken. "I don't deduce, I know - torture," she said.

Wow, the whole case may rest, ultimately, on what was tortured out of someone? That sort of thing could give even La Shawn Barber pause, couldn't it?


Let the Ethnic/Religious Profiling Begin!
Since the people murdering and maiming others are overwhelmingly young men of Middle Eastern descent who also happen to be followers of Allah, isn’t it wiser, safer, smarter, and more efficient to keep a heavier eye on these types of individuals?...

Sure. I mean, it's not like it was a couple of white guy patriots who blew up the Murrah Building, right? Neither was it some right-winger with a security clearance who was mailing anthrax around the country. And even if it had been, those types would never attack a plane.
Karol Sheinin guest-blogging at MM links to a Guardian story that reports torture was used to foil the terror plot. Last year I wrote :

I believe exerting pressure on enemy combatants in order to extract information is sometimes necessary. What I mean by that carefully-worded statement is that yes, I “support” torture as a last resort method to save lives.

Still do.

This, then, is the principal difference between an electronic device and a human being: electronic devices only rarely get stuck in the ON position.

It's not about torture per se, it's about the unreliability of the evidence thus obtained. You twit. By which I simply mean, kindly curb your bloodlust for two seconds, huh?

I'm a little short on free time these days, but since last week's foiling of the Facepowder Plot my mind has occasionally wandered of its own accord to my school days. Somewhere between seventh grade health class and the high school Health and Safety class everyone took at summer school after Driver's Ed just to get the damned requirement out of the way, the Man had discovered The Drug Menace. (In the idyllic days junior high the great threat was homosexual molestation, apparently. One day they divided the boys from the girls, and marched us off, with all the gravitas a junior high gym teacher can command, to watch a film. I remember they brought in the gym teacher specifically to herd us, the regular teacher being female. The movie was short on plot and really short on action; some guy lured a couple of boys off the playground and into his suburban-type house. Then it was Behind the Green Door, except you were on the outside. For all I knew then or now it could have been about Commies. I remember the teacher snapped, "Any questions?" after he snapped on the lights, and I resisted the urge to say, "Yeah, what the fuck was that supposed to be about?"

I never found out what the girls watched. Breakfast at Tiffany's, maybe.

Oh. My best friend in those days was in another class, and his group was shepherded by the football coach, who he reported as being more talkative than my own instructor. "If somebody tries to stick his thing in your butt just shit on him," was his advice, culled from many years of showering in locker rooms, no doubt.)

The Drug Menace struck Middle American squarely in the 70s, and there was a paucity of available classroom film studies. We got two, as I recall, one which was pure Reefer Madness, including implied wanton sex after those inhibitions had been loosened (that scared us straight!), and the other which was late-40s JD stuff with black leather and DAs and a pusher in a Panama hat ("First taste's free!"), and our budding hooligan gets hooked on the weed and looks into a mirror and sees a werewolf or something and goes insane. Based on a true story. Later that year there was another film shown at an all-school convocation conducted by the Sheriff's Dept., a hip updating of the anti-Drug message hosted by Sonny and Cher, whom the hippest among us could actually remember.

And they passed out pamphlets which would help us identify any dangerous drugs we might come into contact with, which had a glossary in the back in case we wanted to fit in or do some undercover work or something, and the glossary was obviously a combination of Harlem street slang from the Mezz Mezzrow era and pure crapola the cops had been sold by some poor unfortunates in their clutches ("Yeah, officer, if you want to buy two marihuana cigarettes you ask for a Gemini, and when you smoke one down to where you can't hold it without burning your fingers, that's a Goojie."). I baffled a generation of hippies by asking sotto voce if anyone had any Muggles.

I'm not really sure why I made the connection. But I do remember last week, driving somewhere, listening to NPR, when their Terror Expert said that while, no, there wasn't any direct link to al-Qaeda, the "complexity of the plot" was certainly al-Qaedaish. "Jackson," I heard myself say out loud, "that's the Aces, Gate."

Wednesday, August 16

We Apologize

for the relative paucity of entries and, especially, more cute cat pictures, but we spent an exhausting evening trying to catch up with all the right-wing blogs distancing themselves from John Spencer's "Hillary is bin-Laden's right hand man" ads and George Allen's creative use of White Supremicist op-talk. Blogger ethics are a powerful force for good in today's world. Better than robot girlfriends, even.

Alpha and Omega

The above search began and ended with Jonah, not that I didn't find a couple of the guys (Tigerhawk, a hand washing, Cap'n Ed, a medium sigh) willing to admit that Allen had said something pretty stupid; one couldn't get around that, no sir. But not racist by any means. Rather, Jonah's continuing substitution of stupor for style just laid me out again, even though I thought I was ready for it:
Frankly I found the original Washington Post story so confusingly written I couldn't figure out what to think.

Which is followed all of two sentences later by:
Garance at Tapped has a pretty detailed discussion of the whole thing which gives me reason to rethink that interpretation.

Now, don't get me wrong; the two lines in between include his decision that it "wasn't such a big deal" and "just boilerplate" to Allen's earlier remarks. It's not incoherence per se I'm on about here, just this: anyone who could write that second sentence has no business complaining that someone else's writing is confusing.

And another, minor point: the Tapped commentary didn't offer reasons for a rethink, say with the Port and Stilton after the ladies had been dismissed. It made explicit what the context had already made obvious: Allen used a racial epithet. Surely Jonah and all the other great admirers of Martin Luther King, Jr., should be the first to denounce it.

I'd been directed to that comment, so I hit "Home" to catch up with all the zany NRO characters, and damn me if there weren't Cheetos stains at the top of the page.
Whatever the merits of the charge that Iraq is a "distraction" from the war on terror, the reality is that arguments about Bush are a larger distraction from the war on terror.

For the love of Mike, how did this man get his job again? If there isn't anybody who can put an end to that incontinent wishy-washiness which is supposed to indicate--what? extended ratiocenation over brandies in the library?--could someone at least try to explain to him that you don't follow that sort of thing by putting quotation marks around the word in question?
For much of the past five years, Democrats not in the Joe Lieberman wing of the party — which is to say the Democratic Party, minus one — have repeatedly pointed to Osama bin Laden's ability to elude capture (as opposed to, say, his inability to once again murder thousands on American soil) as proof that Bush's anti-terror efforts have been a failure.

Jonah's writing from Alaska, by the way, and not Tunisia (4/02), Karachi (5/02), Karachi (6/02), Bali (10/02), Mombasa (10/02), Riyadh (5/03), Casablanca (5/03), Riyadh (11/03), Istanbul (11/03), Madrid (3/04), Khobar (5/04), Jiddah (12/04), London (7/05), Bali (10/05), or Amman (11/05).
It would surely be nice to see bin Laden's head on a pike, but this is childishly partisan.

When U.S. forces killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, bin Laden's "prince" in Iraq, Democrats presented Zarqawi's demise as good but trivial news....

Why shouldn't this same logic apply to bin Laden and the global Islamic insurgency?

Okay, earlier I asked how someone who writes like Jonah could critique anyone else's output; now I'd like to know how he can type the words "the same logic applies" without his monitor exploding?

For God's sakes, how does someone pass through into high school in this country without outgrowing this sort of nonsense? More importantly, what have we done to rate this pathetic twerp as an adversary?

Tuesday, August 15

Friday Cat Blogging

Another rebuke to the "No viable mutations" crowd

I'm not quite sure when my wife and I came up with the "It's your turn to choose a cat" thing, exactly, but Larry was my choice. I have a string of choosing remarkable cats that dates back to the mid-60s, beginning with my insistence my dog-loving parents let me keep the farm kitten that showed up in our front yard, the one who became The Giant Cat, 25 pounds legitimate, head the size of a softball and a growl a full octave below your ordinary cat's. My mother, no real savvy pet owner (she has since middle age driven a succession of pedigreed dogs even crazier than they started out) didn't get him neutered until age three, so he fought more career bouts than Archie Moore and would disappear for weeks at a time. He'd bring home full-grown rabbits, and seemed to regard the neighbor's bird feeder as too unsporting to even acknowledge. He'd jump up on the back fence and taunt the neighbor's German shepherd, who'd eventually take the bait and be dispatched with a couple of slashes across the nose.

I've picked from various litters or up off the street a black Siamese smart enough to crack safes, a face-licking albino who caught, and survived, feline leukemia in the early days of the epidemic, the Boy, possessor of blasé street smarts, first-rate mouser, who was once seen chasing a neighboorhood dog down the street, and the Hoover, the Pure White Light of Irritability.

And compared to that lineup Larry went through kittenhood as a definite C student, most notable for the elán he brought to his obsessive-compulsive disorder and his willingness to run headlong into anything whatsoever. He was also the clumsiest cat I'd ever seen, so much so that I figured he had some mild visual deficit. It was not unusual to watch him get tangled up and fall off the ledge of the picture window in the living room just trying to walk across it.

And he didn't grow. He never grew a neck, or much of a snout, and he kept those Japanese anime eyes. He's a chriper and a whirrer, only rarely a meower.

He was smart, completely incorrigible, and a creature of habit even by cat standards. He had taken over the guest room he'd been locked in for the first few days of his stay while he and Stinky adjusted to each other. Now it was his room, and he expected his 10 PM feeding to be on time and the door shut behind you as you left. Otherwise he came back out and started breaking stuff until you remedied the situation.

This was one of the first two clues that Larry was a special talent, though it didn't appear that way at first. I've had cats do all sorts of things to get attention, particularly if it's time to wake you up for a feeding. I had a cat in college who would jump up on me at 5 AM (I got him the year I had the coffee-and-doughnuts breakfast shift at the conference center), start kneading away and drool in my face. The Hat made the alarm clock connection and knocked that off the nightstand whenever he needed you. Stinky's another kneader, but when that is met with a quick sleepy brush-off he walks up and smacks you in the mouth.

But Larry is pure hellion. He figured out early that whatever it was that got you to yell at him also got you to pay attention to him. Anything and everything gets knocked off the nightstand. Feet (mine typically hang over the end of the bed) are a favorite target. My lampshade has been chewed practically in half. And when you scream at him and drag yourself out of bed with thoughts of murder where just moments before was a beautiful dream he never runs for it. He stands there and chirps. You're up, finally. Get breakfast.

And there's the wastebasket thing. His obsession with wastebaskets started early; the door to the downstairs bath has to be kept closed or its contents will be found all over the kitchen. This was the thing that really got my attention: once he dives headfirst into a wastebasket you cannot get him out. You'd have better luck pulling a terrier out of a rathole.

At around 8 or 9 months he took to demanding a twenty-minute Cat Dancer workout every morning after breakfast. It had to begin in the living room with a few jumps and some rug work, followed by a trip to the hallway so he could bounce off the walls. Literally. From his penchant for crashing into things he'd eventually figured out the technique of springing full force at the wall and using that to propel himself upward. He plays the game above the light switch.

And he never seems to tire of it. He's outgrown the clumsiness, and he's capable of some beautiful layout work, but what's truly remarkable is that he'll crash about like this for hours, hurtling himself against walls, into whatever piece of furniture is in his way. You never have to trick him into playing by mimicking prey movements as with other cats. Just open the door to the closet where the thing is kept. He's in it for the pure love of sport.

Then my wife bought this fish-on-an-elastic-band thing for him. I'm not big on elastic band toys. But Larry, evidently, is. The jumping frenzy is now accompanied by the tug-o-war seen above. And he's damned serious, as you might be able to tell from the picture. He's not hunkered down--he's moving backwards. Get him off the carpet and onto the wood floor and you can slide him around. What you can't do is make him turn loose.

Friday, August 11

Oh, My God. They've Leveled the Playing Field!

“The great problem is that Al Qaeda has moved far beyond being a terrorist organization to being almost a state of mind,” said Simon Reeve, author of a 1999 book on Osama bin Laden and his associates.

"Officials Cite Scale and Complexity of Plane Scheme", New York Times

Name Three

8 p.m. My Name Is Earl (:30) 7861

The lovely Christine Taylor, who to some of us will always be Marcia in the two "Brady Bunch" movies, guest stars as...

--unjustly anonymous "Highlights" writer for TV Week. [Emphasis mine.]


Peter Wallsten, NEWS ANALYSIS: "Partisan Crevasse May Be Widening," LA Times, August 10
CRAWFORD, Texas — Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut says he can win reelection as an "independent Democrat." But his primary defeat signaled that the label may be a contradiction in terms: Many Democrats are hungry not for independents but for junkyard-dog fighters who will counter the aggressive tactics they see from the Republican Party and the Bush administration.

That sentiment now suggests that a partisan Washington may become even more divided.

The Horror! Ya know, I've been waiting twenty-five years as the Partisan Crevasse yawned, through the most corrupt administration in history, through the hunting of the "liberal" Bill Clinton, through the near-quadrupling of the national debt under a President who had run--for sixteen years!--on the scandal of the National Debt, through the biggest picking of American pockets in history, through lobbyists and industry groups writing the legislation that allowed them to do that and more, through a sham Congressional "revolution" by "citizen" legislators, through the censure of a Speaker of the House led by a man who then became Speaker himself and did the very same thing, through the filibustering of one President's nominees by a party which, in power scant months later, tried to eliminate the filibuster, through God knows what legislative shenanigans from the most corrupt House of Representatives in the history of the Republic, to a Bush administration for which any adjective of opprobrium is hopelessly insufficient, and I finally hear specific concerns about partisanship only when Holy Joe Lieberman loses a primary. And the irony of that is, by this point I'm in favor of a widening crevasse, or at least no longer worried about it; we've got enough justifiable candidates for Dropping Down One that we'll fill it back up in no time.

Thursday, August 10

Happy Birthday

Ian Scott Anderson
born August 10, 1947

"Abandoned By His Party"

I forgot to set the VCR, what with all the excitement of Jane Powell Day on Turner Classic Movies,, wait. It's Jane Powell Day on Turner Classic Movies. The thinking man's June Allyson. This is, I believe, the third August's worth of Star of the Day, a promotional schtick designed to prove there are very few stars whose careers include more than three movies you'd care to watch, and almost none you can take for more two in a row. And that list emphatically does not include Jane Powell, not that you'd try.

So I forgot to set the VCR and I can report on last night's CBS Evening News only from what's left of my memory. I was curious about how they'd cover the Lieberman story, or rather I was curious to see if their Lieberman coverage would be as bad as I assumed. And it was worse, which was a real accomplishment since my assumption was already that it would be worse than I assumed.

To begin with, though it was apparently coincidental, Harry Smith was guest anchor. Harry Smith is that rarity among teevee news hairdos in that a) he has no hair and b) he has actually gotten worse as time goes on, not through ego or insertion of a personal agenda but as a direct result of Image Consultation. Whatever they did to him to make him morning-show compliant was indeliable. He's now a sort of Urban Midwest Charles Kurault. Which is a major problem, because Midwesterners in this day and age cannot be folksy, especially if they've elbowed their way through the crowd at CBS all the way to the guest anchor chair. The American Middle West is a place where most every kid with a modicum of brains aspires very early to lose the local color, as much as possible, and it's damn near impossible to reverse the process and seem anywhere close to genuine. The War put an end to it. Call it the Herb Shriner Line.

Anyhow, they gave Harry the interview with the President of BP, and you could actually see the moment, after the response to his first softball, when he remembered that he wasn't interviewing the guy about his new movie. But it didn't help.

Lieberman was the lead story, just as I figured, which is about all you really need to know about the coverage, considering what else it bumped from that spot. It's a frickin' primary election. In Connecticut. Okay, okay, so an incumbent got bumped off. Sure, he was a VP nominee, more's the pity. But referendum on the war? On George W. Bush? Don't we already know what people think about those atrocities? This had all the distinct news scripting value of a junior-high student hiding behind an open door to find out what her boyfriend said about her when she wasn't around.

And to that end they gave the story to Trish "Kneepads. Literally, Kneepads" Regan, the former Miss New Hampshire, who uttered the memorable phrase which gives us our title. I'm sorry I can't do a transcript, but here's a recap: Blah, blah, blah, Democratic stalwart. Blah, blah, anti-war. Blah, blah, November elections, blah, bloggers, blah, blah, Far Left, blah, here's Tony Snow. Regan closed by noting that Lieberman going independent might be a positive note, since there are more registered Independents in Connecticut than there are Republicans or Democrats.

And that's no shit, if I may borrow Herb Shriner's old radio catchphrase.

Wednesday, August 9

Fight, Team, Fight! Oh, Wait.

Assuming that your memory, unlike that of the idealized news consumer, actually goes back five months, you might recall the story of The First Little Columbine of Spring, where an overheard remark on a Johnson County (IN) school bus led to the timely arrest and conviction of four international terrorists teenaged homicidal maniacs fifteen-year-old boys, three of whom had fallen in with one who was disturbed enough to fantasize about killing his principal and holding the school hostage. In case you don't, the story pushed everything else off the local news for 72 hours; the county prosecutor announced within a couple hours of their arrest he'd seek to try them as adults; the boys were said to be upset at student athletes for making fun of them; having failed to turn up any weapons to go with the plot, the local Sheriff told the press that at least one of the boys "had access" to guns, a newly-discovered criminal act; the principal professed not to know too much about them; and the fact that three of them were special education students didn't crop up in news reports until a couple of weeks later.

Three of the four, all except the supposed mastermind, were quietly released, and by "quietly" I mean "without local media owning up to having sensationalized a story that wouldn't have sold nearly so much soap if they'd actually uncovered, and reported on, the basic facts of the matter from day one."

Well, wouldn't ya know it, just five months later and they've learned their lesson:
Police: Center Grove teen assaulted in locker room

August 6, 2006

Police in Johnson County are investigating allegations that a Center Grove High School freshman football player was assaulted in a locker room by his teammates.
According to a police report, a 15-year-old boy said he was attending football practice and "horsing around" with some other students when they ganged up on him.
The boy said another youth pinned him to the floor and told others to take a "free shot." Several team members then allegedly struck and kicked him.
The boy also told police that another boy dropped his own pants, then rubbed his buttocks on the boy's head.
Finally, the boy said that while he was pinned down, an unknown upperclassman placed a 2-foot round metal rod next to him and said, "Defend yourself." The older boy then allegedly attempted to insert the rod into the youth's rectum.
When the boy screamed, which alerted coaches, the teammates scattered.

Because this story wasn't sensationalized, oh no. No screaming black ink on the front pages for this baby. It appeared next to the obituaries in the Metro section. In other words, on the inside back page.

Oh, sure, the Conspiracy Freaks will claim that this one gets buried because there's a double standard which lets athletes get away with sexual assault while students with autism are threatened with hard time for some other student's notebook-scribbled fantasies. But I say if we equate the two then the terrorists have already won. Wait, does that still work?

Anyway, innocent until proven guilty, blah blah blah. Honestly, I have no real opinion about what happened, just about how the story plays out, and how the school is reacting. Tuesday's Star brought new details:
Johnson County Sheriff's Maj. Steve Byerly said that once the school turns over the results of its investigation, the case would be submitted.
High school officials were preparing to file their police report late Monday, said Superintendent Candace Milhon-Baer.

So, the Sheriff is waiting for the school to investigate. An interesting choice, especially since the school didn't bother to call the sheriff. The boy's father did.
The incident should be classified as "bullying," Milhon-Baer said Monday. She said administrators have met twice with football team members about bullying and other actions.

And we've met twice with team members about bullying, this despite the fact that bullying by student athletes was the supposed reason for four students trying to blow the school up and kill the principal last spring. Well, at least they're avoiding message fatigue.

But lemme go out on a limb here. Sure, the incident could be classified as "bullying". But no, it "shouldn't". If it happened as the victim alleges it should be classified as a physical assault, and if the details are correct--I include here the application of one's buttocks to the "head" of an individual who is being forcibly held down, not just the supposed attempt at rectal penetration--then it's sexual assault, and the prosecutor should be making noises about trying that in adult court. This is one of the ways this sort of thing gets dismissed as "PC bullshit"--halfhearted mutterings about "bullying" used to defuse a situation the school doesn't want to publicize, as opposed to March's all-out Columbine offensive, which it did. Regardless of the facts in the case, if it determined that an assault took place, anything beyond a teenaged shoving match, the school should have acted immediately by forfeiting the first game of the season. That's before we determine individual culpability. And the coaches--blameless or no--need to be reminded that they are there to supervise a group of fifteen-year-old boys, not to conduct a training camp for NFL wannabees. And just how is it they come upon the scene after the perpetrators "scatter" and they don't immediately grab every last kid and make him tell what he knows? That's second nature for a teacher.

(Geezer alert): Okay, I was a high school athlete, and a certain amount of shenanigans went on, but if there was any bullying it was mostly confined to the field. I think a couple of freshmen got stuffed into lockers along the way, but just in fun. The hallway and lunchroom bullies were no-account JDs. If you had a reputation for hooliganism you were drummed out of the athletic department. And that was in the days before you had to keep one eye on the weird-lookin' kid doodling skulls n' shit all over the cover of his notebook.

We've had thirteen murders in Indianapolis in the last four days, and I didn't expect this sort of thing to push that sort of thing off the front pages. What I do expect is that it be given the proper amount of attention given all the excitement last spring. Your kid and my kid are a lot more likely to be bullied at school than they are to be blown up by autistic pipe-bomb builders. But that's not the way the newspapers think you see it.

Tuesday, August 8

Same Shit, Different Sunday

David Brooks, "Talking About Terror"

Maybe the Islamists have simply come up with a conceptual breakthrough that makes them difficult to defeat. They've grasped that the more the endanger their own people and get them killed, the better it is for them politically. Israel or the U.S. gets blamed. That's like a superweapon in the media war.

The word that springs immediately to mind is "Wow." The phrase that follows is "the most disingenuous thing I've ever read in my life."

In fact it's hard to decide what layer of dishonesty to peel back first: the "conceptual breakthrough" of a centuries-old concept? The reduction of Israel to Robot State, incapable of preventing itself from actions not in its own interests? How 'bout Post-Vietnam Excuse Mongering, Volume 26?

Okay, coin toss. Heads. Conceptual breakthrough.

I dunno about you, but where I was educated, in the public schools of the previous century, word managed to leak out that the stories of all those Hun atrocities which had led us into the Great War were, well, occasionally unverifiable. And further reading suggests that the technique was what you might call Old Hat by 1914.

How is it that matters of insurgency, guerilla warfare, even--dare I say it?--terrorism so fully confound folks like David Brooks, folks on the True Intellectual end of our political spectrum? This country clings to the sacred (tho' false) notion that it was created by an insurgency, that American patriots defeated the Mightiest Army of Its Day by fighting "Indian style" while the lost-in-the-17th-century Brits marched out in their bright red woolens to easy slaughter. We celebrate it in everything from the faux-Cavalier traditions of the Late Rebellion to the comforting fables of the vanquished Noble Red Man, right on through Merrill's Marauders and the partisans in France and the Philippines in WWII, to today's special forces.

But turn the tables and use those techniques on us, or on the "us" the neocons mistake Israel for, and suddenly it's barbaric, inhuman, and just plain bad manners--and wholly unforeseen for some reason. (And what is that reason? The fact that neoconiacal hubris created an insurgency in Iraq?) Our enemies aren't supposed to have "superweapons". We have the superweapons. So if we're thwarted in some way it must be unfairly.

This is the Vietnam defense as it's known today to the Burkean masterminds of Brooks' party (we lost because the media convinced us we did), but it wasn't contemporary. At the time--when the public, whatever side of the argument it lined up on, was so well aware of the string of broken promises and claims of sporatic lighting at the end of various tunnels that the idea that the Times had lost the war was simply risable--the argument was "we weren't allowed to win", apparently as a result of there being rules of engagement. But the media meme won out in the long run, because the other argument was untenable, too, and the rewriting of history took care of any factual objections. So that it is now sufficient, if you're David Brooks, merely to point in the direction of The Media to cast a special Reverse Bad News spell, though that's somewhat surprising considering how Brooks earns a living.

I lived through it in the Vietnam years, and that was enough to convince me that the conceit would never go away. There's too much invested in it for people like Brooks, the skybox-dwellin' war fans for whom any and every defeat now means the refs cheated us. Interesting how easily that bunch went from promising to restore decency to insisting we all ignore it.

Monday, August 7

Happy Birthday

Felice Bryant (born Matilda Genevieve Scaduto)
August 7, 1925--April 22, 2003

Friday, August 4

Castrogasms it just me, or is there a distinct odor of crashing Saddam statues, Van Halen-blaring-at-the-Panamanian-Presidential-Palace, and prewar victory celebrations circa March 2003 about this? And a soupçon of chickenhawk? Third-generation dispossessed petit-nobility, none of whom has any intention of returning to Cuba, none of whom knows any more about Cuba today than about Cuba in the 50s.

Okay, you're 20 years old. Fidel is 80. Unless the state of Florida begins executing people for bad taste (and what a slaughter that would entail) you're almost certain to outlive him. Celebrating a polyp seems a teensy bit overdone.

And look, the US of A didn't give a shit about how Castro treated dissidents, anymore than we cared how Batista did, right up until Fidel started appropriating the property of United Fruit and offering compensation based on the absurd valuations it had placed on its holdings for tax purposes. Get it? The source of our disagreement with Fidel was actuarial tables. Frankly, that the expat Cuban community in south Florida has cried for Castro's head for fifty years while saying nothing whatever about the exploitation of Cubans by foreign companies before he came along was a good enough reason to ignore it.

And yes, that's an oversimplification, just as there aren't really all that many camera-hogging Mambo Revolutionaries out there, and even some strident anti-Castro Miamians have condemned the parading. But it's also the sort of thing the US government plays to in announcing it will "aid the transition to democracy in Cuba" with $80 M above the table. And the Cuban patriots among us should bear in mind how many soccer balls that money'll buy, and how many schools it'll paint, assuming everything goes well.

Thursday, August 3

Happy Birthday

Ernest Taylor Pyle
August 3, 1900--April 18, 1945

Storm, Meet Port

I saved the story, partly as a talisman, partly because it was so tough living through it I couldn't think of writing it down. Still can't, not the whole story, not a round by round recap. The important thing is that a few hours after I post this Mom and I will walk into one of the nicest assisted living operations in town, and then one of us will walk out, presumably me.

Two weeks ago she came for an unscheduled weekend when she refused to join my sister's family at The Lake, followed by the rest of the week with me as my sister started her new job--she's a professional cog--and my wife went north for a summer course. I was already pissed at my sister for the argument, convinced that avoiding conflict as much as possible was key, while she and her husband seemed to be taking every opportunity to say, "Mom, you are now old and out of your head and you have to let us decide." I was still thinking this about 45 minutes after my wife left, when my dear old gray-haired mother swung a pick-axe at me. I came to understand that when she wants an argument she will get it.

She wanted to go to Florida. Now. Off to the airport. Now. Don't tell anyone. You can come back in two days.

I tried ignoring her. Then I tried calmly changing the subject, then even more calmly explaining why I couldn't suddenly disappear into the swamps even if I wanted to. And all the while she got nastier and more hurtful.

And this essentially went on for four days, with her sleeping for hours in between bouts and me not sleeping at all. By Monday morning she was calling her Florida bank every half-hour and telling them she was being held prisoner. Thank God she was such an obvious lunatic. Monday afternoon, when I went upstairs and caught an hour's sleep she put post-it notes all over the house. Tuesday morning her bags were packed and placed at the front door, and she was poring over the Yellow Pages for "Airport Transportation", though she seemed to have no ability to actually dial the numbers correctly. I unplugged the downstairs phone and told her the battery was dead. She managed to let Larry escape, a fact I discovered about an hour later, though fortunately he was still on the deck. Then she refused to eat, and by Wednesday morning she was refusing to speak to me, either. Her bags, which had returned to her room, were now in the hallway by the bathroom, and she was going through the Yellow Pages again. I fixed some breakfast and took it in to her, hoping she'd eat once I left, but no dice. I deadbolted the doors and got another hour's sleep.

When I came downstairs she was still giving me the silent treatment, so I went outside and watered plants. I came back in, walked across the kitchen, and she was out the back door like an 80-year-old flash.

And so was Larry, who decided now was a good time for a backyard game of Catch the Cat, and as I went after him I caught in the corner of my eye my dear old arthritic mother hoofing it down the deck steps, out the gate, and down the driveway. Our street's pretty quiet, and anyway at this point if I was going to lose my mother or my cat it was going to be the one my wife wouldn't blame me for for the rest of our lives. I concentrated on the cat.

She was 600 yards ahead of me by the time I got to the street, chugging away in the 90º heat with her purse tucked under her arm, darting surreptitious looks back to make sure I was following her. I marched her back without much concern for the pace. Back home, she called her lawyer and told him she'd gone out for a walk and I'd come after her and threatened to knock her down. "But I don't think he'd really do it," she added.

And, totally unexpectedly, that broke the fever, and coincidentally solved the problem. The lawyer--who'd handled granting my sister power of attorney and who was an old friend of hers--told her she couldn't go anywhere until her doctor visit, then set up a meeting with us for the next morning. Mom went to sleep for a few hours, and when she woke up she told me, "You have a lot of nice birds in your backyard," and asked for a cup of coffee.

The meeting was infuriating. The guy started right in with "You have Alzheimer's. Even though we don't know that you do, it's almost certain, and you have to let your children take care of you." This was precisely what I had been avoiding saying to her, because we do not know yet. The Alzheimer's thing is an extrapolation (by my sister) based on one of the drugs she's taking and what the children of Mom's late husband said. The very word panicked her. She has an appointment in three weeks time, and once we get the results we'll know what's behind her condition from a clinical standpoint, but until then my focus was on insisting she needed security. And here I think I'm going to a meeting, and we'll be discussing things, and this guy starts in with the "you've got an incurable brain disorder" business.

And the goddam thing was, she sat there and took it. She started to lash out at him and then stopped and listened. And then she "got it."

And that was all the law-talkin' guy was interested in, and he'd pretty much gotten up to leave when I said, "Wait a minute. She can't go back to Florida right away, we need to get her into assisted living. Which I thought would be the whole focus of the meeting.

"One thing at a time," he says to me, sotto voce, and I'm about to go sotto voce all over his ass, when Mom says she thinks that's a good idea. And lawyer guy talks about his own mother, and mentions one of the places I'd looked at, and now Mom is rarin' to go see it.

And so it hasn't exactly been smooth sailing since that moment, but we went on the tour and she put down a deposit on a one-bedroom, and my sister reports she's remained excited about moving in. She goes this morning to stay for a few days gratis, as a try-out, and we hope she'll find it a lot of fun and the constant barrage of events and daily trips (Euchre three times a week at the Y; I have to find out if they play for money) and the new companions will do her some good. The place wasn't my first choice (that one had an indoor pool), but it's highly thought of and she likes it. Plus there's a wise-cracking receptionist with a heart of gold. Really.