Monday, March 31

Okay, I Take Back Everything I've Said About the Royals, and Doctor Who, And I'll Take That Stuff About The Beckhams Under Advisement.

GREAT weekend to be an invalid with free Showtime, as Tracey Ullman's State of the Union debuts, Sundance plays David Buckland's Art from the Arctic, and the previous season of Top Gear makes it to BBC America. I'm sure the kids will have them up on the YouTube at some point.

Really, it's one thing for British car shows to be smarter than our car shows; it's quite another that they're smarter than our news programs.

(Tracey's 5AM Buffalo news anchor, looking over copy for Today's Top International Stories: "Oh, Paris Hilton miscarried in Dubai! So sad.")

Me, I've been climbing stairs since Saturday, used the cane instead of crutches since I got home, and can now sleep on my stomach again, which is what I'm heading upstairs to do more of.

Friday, March 28

All Is, Well...

"THE war that I prefer."  Also translated into French. There's two lines of Italian at the top, but it's too hard to read the print well enough to stick it in a translator. Like the man said, who'd have suspected that fifty years after the war we'd be buying Japanese electronics, driving German cars, and performing cunnilingus?

Thanks for all the good wishes. I did wake up, though apparently about a half-hour later than they expected. I'm about 50% more hobbled than before, and soreness is starting to set in, making it advisable not to sit or lie in one position for very long, but the doc said I could walk on it as I saw fit. He said that in the presence of my Poor Wife, but it didn't take; she's been on my case every time I get up to do something for myself. I getting around with my cane. The crutches are a bit much for motoring between three rooms. The prep nurse wanted me to get a walker, due to my advancing years. That was probably the worst part of the whole experience.

Even though my relationship with allopathy remains chilly, I must say I marvel every time I come into contact with its workers, who do a difficult job with a near-universal good cheer, and always laugh at my jokes.

Too painful right now to consider sitting long enough to write. Enjoy the weekend.

Wednesday, March 26


• I'm spending the day trying to figure out how to survive on one floor of the house for four days, which is not as easy as it sounds. My main concern is having everything I'm gonna want at hand, because asking my Poor Wife to go fetch something is just going to make her want to kill me that much more excruciatingly.

• I have to make sure that, should I fail to wake from anesthesia, I die knowing, if only in a medulla oblongata sort of way, that I once bravely shook an impotent fist at WRTV-6 News, the Six Flags Over Newark of local news teams, an operation remarkably incompetent even by local Indianapolis news standards, which don't even exist.

WRTV began life as WFBM ("Woof-Boom"), Indiana's  first television station. They seriously lost the thread in the late-70s, when the newly-ascendant schlock merchants at ABC demanded more oomph, more zazz, in their local affiliates, and picked up RTV, leaving perennial wallflower WTHR-13 (formerly WLW-I) with the choice of switching to NBC or committing corporate suicide after leaving an ugly, self-pitying note.  (It chose wrong.)   But ABC was a horrible match for 6; it was the home of Nightly "News" with a Speech Impediment, the "triumph" of "style" over information, while 6 News had long since perfected the art of lacking luster with a Hoosier flair. The two never seemed to mesh. A decade ago 6 tried having their married co-anchors have an affair, then divorce their spouses and marry each other, but even that didn't help the ratings. (I remain convinced the station contrived this, perhaps even introducing aphrodisiacs into the office coffee.)

They've been mired in last place now forever, while once-skinned-and-scorned Channel 13, which manages to embrace and embody the concept of wasting a nightly ninety-minutes' worth of television resources on openly self-satisfied pecksniffery and $2 corporate blowjobs, reigns supreme.

Six got desperate enough last fall to tout the selection of a New Anchor Team. I don't know, but I strongly suspect, that people in The Industry realize how fugging futile this sort of thing is. For one thing, what are you going to find with a nationwide Anchor Search? Answer, some permutation of exactly what they got, which is a racially-balanced duo ("One black, one white, one ash blonde") who appear to have majored in Artificiality with a minor in Polished Surfaces. And they promoted these two like Centrally-sited Hoosiers were environmentally-impoverished zoo animals eager to give anything thrown over the bars of their cages a hopeful sniff. Olfaction is very old, and very basic! Desperation unmistakably smells like desperation!

Anyway, it must not have succeeded in accordance with their hopes, since this winter they hit upon the stratagem of running their newscasts when no one else was still on the air--namely at 7PM--which means that my Poor Wife may now grab the controls and tune them in when the other six weather forecasts she's viewed in the past two hours didn't yield satisfactory results. And I happened into the room last night around :20 past just in time to hear their story on--no, I swear, and this time I mean it--Pizza Hut's new delivery menu items.

And...that's not all! Mr. Porn 'Stach kept pronouncing it "Pisa".

Sap's rising: Last week minute "Libertarian" Republican governor Mitch Daniels signed into law a bill requiring new businesses which sell "sexually-explicit materials" to register with the Indiana Attorney General, in order to make it easier for local police to "monitor" them. A booksellers' group is threatening a First Amendment lawsuit, claiming the law would require registration by anyone selling anything containing something an Indiana state legislator would describe as "sexual content" while he perused it on his lunch hour. The group says it first suspected the law was unconstitutionally broad when it realized the Indiana state legislature was considering it.

More fun with unselfconscious public admissions as the fine folks in Carmel return from wherever it is they winter in time to renew objections to scurrilously-posed Victoria's Secret mannequins. The Racist Star attends the debate:
“I’m concerned about our children. Why are they having sex at 12?” Victoria’s Secret protester Lori Baxter said in an interview before the council vote March 17. “Could it be that we’ve promoted sex so long, we’ve become desensitized?”
Maybe you're just doin' it wrong.  

See ya on the Other Side, and thanks again for the cranes, D.

Tuesday, March 25

Sitting Targets

I'M not sure now where I ran into this, a couple weeks back--was someone using it to contrast John McCain's commitment to civilian military leadership, or his willingness to criticize it, then and now? Anyway, it's from his 1999 book Faith of My Fathers:
When I was first on the Forrestal, every man in my squadron had thought Washington’s air war plans were senseless. The target list was so restricted that we had to go back and hit the same targets over and over again. It’s hard to get a sense that you are advancing the war effort when you are prevented from doing anything more than bouncing the rubble of an utterly insignificant target. When President Johnson ordered an end to Operation Rolling Thunder in 1968, the campaign was judged to have had no measurable impact on the enemy. Most of our pilots flying the missions believed that our targets were virtually worthless. In all candor, we thought our civilian commanders were complete idiots who didn’t have the least notion of what it took to win the war. I found no evidence in postwar studies of the Johnson administration’s political and military decision-making during the war that caused me to revise that harsh judgement.

We'd like to avoid calling this complete and utter bullshit; in order to do so, Senator McCain needs to admit that the reason he found no post-war evidence to revise the judgment is that he never looked for any, this being the only possible way it works.

Meanwhile, we'll just pass over the question of how McCain comes to know "what it takes to win a war".

John McCain's combat assignment in Vietnam began in the spring of 1967. The active phase ended when he was shot down on October 26.

For entertainment purposes only, here's a brief timeline of the bombing restrictions imposed on Operation Rolling Thunder (which began on March 2, 1965), which McCain was a part of:

• Until May, 1965, American bombing attacks were confined to the area south of the 20th Parallel unless there was special authorization.

• President Johnson lifted that restriction in May, but maintained a thirty-mile restricted zone around Hanoi and the Chinese border, and a ten-mile zone around Haiphong.

• In April 1966 restrictions were lifted on the rest of the North. In June, petroleum storage facilities in Hanoi and Haiphong were added.

• In February 1967--that is, before the Forrestal was assigned to Operation Rolling Thunder--restrictions on all other Hanoi-area targets was lifted. (John McCain would be shot down over Hanoi.)

In all of this the emphasis was on so-called "armed reconnaissance" missions, in which pilots were free to choose any promising target they found. In 1966--with greater restrictions on choice of target than McCain would experience--only 1000 of our 79,000 sorties were aimed at targets directed by the White House. We flew 108,000 bombing missions in 1967.

There was a restriction on the total number of targets we hit in North Vietnam; we were able to identify fewer than thirty major industrial targets in a country which was basically agricultural. In the event we managed to hit in total nearly a hundred industrial and military targets in the North. This points out something that is seldom remarked upon: not only did we drop more than three times our WWII bomb tonnage on Vietnam, we did so in pursuit of every available target, not the selective bombing of the European theatre.

Oh, it gets better. McCain's "postwar studies" seem to have failed to include a few well-understood aspects of civilian control, such as, oh, the general philosophy behind bombing of the North.

One does not have to be an admirer of the program, or the people behind it, in order to understand it, just as one need not read too far into military history (or any other type of history) to recognize there is often a minimum of two sides per story. Similarly one need not read too much about American involvement Vietnam to get the sense that rewriting that history in an effort to excuse or exonerate the military brass (such as Admiral John S. McCain, who, as Commander-in-Chief of the US Pacific Command from 1968-1972 was directly responsible for all bombing north of the DMZ) for its abysmal performance has been a growth industry for most of the thirty years since we left.  

The game continues, incrementally adjusting itself over time to unpleasant realities that were undeniable to everyone else forty years ago. We're still fighting over the petty jealousies aroused by Kennedy returning Maxwell Taylor to active duty and eventually making him Chairman of the Joint Chiefs (see H.R. McMaster, Dereliction of Duty),  even though he retired again (to become ambassador to South Vietnam) before we began bombing the North ("officially" should be understood in almost any statement about that war). Taylor supposedly chose ingratiating himself with his civilian masters over relaying the more aggressive approach favored by the "real soldiers" of the Joint Chiefs, which supposedly created a retroactive power vacuum that Johnson/McNamara moved into. It's the classic stab-in-the-back routine, which manages to ignore--in the interest of persuading the uninitiated, apparently--the fact that the Johnson administration nevertheless, in technical parlance, still bombed the living shit out of the North. The much-derided "political considerations" it factored into the equation consisted of a) trying not to provoke a million Chinese from entering the ground war, b) intending to convince the North that we were serious and intended to stay for the duration, which we took to be the bête noir of their ignorant peasant hopes, and c) maintaining the primary targets in the North until last, so that the Viet minh had something worth salvaging to bring them to the bargaining table.   That these considerations were met with derision (or simple ignorance) by McCain's squadron, if true, is one reason we do not conduct military affairs on the basis of a straw poll among fighter jocks.

That this did not work in no way invalidates it as strategy, and, if anything, it points to the fact that a more compact schedule--more compact than the ten months between bombing above the 20th Parallel and essentially removing all restrictions--would have been a bigger failure still. Hanoi anticipated that the US would avail itself of the Big Zoom Zoom Big Boom Boom approach as less costly economically and politically than using infantry (which, of course, we'd manage to do as well). Petroleum storage was already underground before Rolling Thunder began. In places there were ten alternative routes along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Once the US destroyed a steel bridge it was replaced with a pontoon bridge which could be hidden during the day. Industry was moved into the mountains and the jungle; the population of Hanoi decreased by three-quarters. These were a largely agrarian people not just used to throwing out foreign invaders--they were used to dealing with monsoons.

The political and military leadership of the North understood the war to be primarily political. We didn't, and we still don't. We never understood the Vietnamese, or how to fight an insurgency; our commanders tried to refight WWII. Our largely indiscriminate bombing program in the South, and ham-fisted relocation efforts, served to magnify Vietnamese resentment of the Western colonials and their corrupt Catholic puppets. And yet some of us are still trying to argue that if we'd only fought a little more WWII we'd have won. Like the tout sheet says we were supposed to.

And that, really, is all the answer you need.

Monday, March 24

When This Sort Of Impulse Strikes, Sit Down And Try To Remain Calm Until It Passes.

Elaine Sciolino, "A Guide to the French. Handle With Care." Times, March 23

SOMEWHERE  in Nabokov--I can't find the quote online, so I suspect it's not in his fiction but something he relayed somewhere about the strange country he lived in for a time, the one called "America"--is the travel writer who says "The fjords are too famous to mention, and all Norwegians love flowers." It's one of two fjord-based lines with currency Chez Riley, the other coming from Bart and Lisa's disappointment with the predictability of Knightboat ("The Crime-Solving Boat!") scripts:

Bart: Oh, every week there's a canal.
Lisa: Or an inlet.
Bart: Or a fjord.

Sciolino exits the Times Paris bureau she's chiefed since 2002, and she writes a throwaway about how to stereotype Parisians in order to seem more like a stereotypical American. A harmless enough bon-bon, even if it was made out of melted Hershey bars. The only reason I stopped was the quickening dread of sensing Maureen Dowd just pages away.

But then we started off badly, Ms Sciolino and I, not to mention it was the weekend and they'd just refilled my Vicodin prescription:
“Every man has two countries, his own and France,” says a character in a play by the 19th- century poet and playwright Henri de Bornier.

Is it just me, or the Vicodin, or has this construction suddenly taken off like home makeovers? I swear to god I recently saw "The novelist Leo Tolstoy once said...." As opposed to Leo Tolstoy, the upholsterer? Would "wrote Henri de Bornier" have left millions of Times readers stranded before they got past the drop cap? Would the Ombudsman's inbox be flooded with, "Henri de Bornier did not say that. A character in a play he wrote said it. Oh, and he was also a poet. Cancel my subsription." ?

Okay, okay, so maybe it would have left an unconscionable amount of white space.  Still, I would have been in a sunnier mood when I reached:
1: Look in the Rear-View Mirror
To begin to understand France, you have to look back. The French are obsessed with history. Part of this feeling is a genuine affinity for the past, part a desire to cling to lost glory, part an insecurity that comes with a tepid economy and the struggle to integrate a growing Arab and African population.
Marie-Antoinette regularly makes the covers of magazines. So does Napoleon Bonaparte.
No anniversary is too minor to celebrate. In my time here, France has marked the 20th anniversary of France’s sinking of Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior, the 200th anniversary of the high school baccalaureate diploma, the 60th anniversary of the bikini and the 100th anniversary of the brassiere.
For the 100th anniversary of her birth in January, Simone de Beauvoir was celebrated with half a dozen biographies, a DVD series, a three-day scholarly symposium and a cover of the magazine Le Nouvel Observateur with a nude photo of her from the back.

Welcome Home, Ms Sciolino! You'll have plenty of time to unpack before joining your fellow Americans drinking themselves into a stupor for Cinco de Mayo.

But then it got ugly.
2: An Interview Is Sometimes Not an Interview
Their love of history doesn’t mean the French always render it accurately. It has long been common practice for journalists in France to allow their interview subjects to edit their words. “Read and corrected,” the system is called.
I once took part in an interview with Jacques Chirac, when he was president, in which he said it would not be all that dangerous for Iran to have a nuclear weapon or two. That certainly was not French policy. So the official Élysée Palace transcript left out the line and replaced it with this: “I do not see what type of scenario could justify Iran’s recourse to an atomic bomb.”

Sheesh, your own paper has spent most of the past decade "correcting" the statements of George W. Bush to make him sound like a native speaker of English, let alone one not suffering from alcohol-induced brain bubbles. And before that it was busy proving Al Gore was a serial prevaricator by quoting stuff that might have been a lie if he'd said it. The French system sounds like sanity itself compared with that. In fact it sounds close to ideal, avoiding mass hysteria over stupid off-the-cuff gaffes, provided we know what's going on.

And considering the eagerness with which your paper and others granted anonymity to the real, proven liars of the Bush administration, one is forced to conclude that what is missing from the French system in your estimation is the right of journalists to decide who gets gunned down. The continual expressions of working journalists of faith in their field is truly remarkable, especially when you consider you can't find an ounce of it in anyone outside the field.
6: Don’t Wear Jogging Clothes to Buy a Pound of Butter
Rules govern even the smallest activities. I was making chocolate chip cookies one Saturday afternoon and ran out of butter. Dusted with flour, still in my morning jogging clothes, I dashed out to the convenience store up the street. The problem was that it is not just any street. It’s the Rue du Bac, one of the most chic places to see and be seen on Saturdays. I heard my name called and turned to face a senior Foreign Ministry official, dressed in pressed jeans and a soft-as-butter leather jacket, wearing an amused look, and carrying a small Nespresso shopping bag.
We went to a corner cafe for a drink. The Swedish ambassador and his wife stopped as they were riding by on their bikes. Both were in tailored tweed blazers, slim pants and loafers. Then Robert M. Kimmitt, the deputy treasury secretary, walked by.
He and my foreign ministry friend joked that my style didn’t match the setting. I made the point that it was my neighborhood and I could dress however I wanted. But as my French women friends told me afterward, jogging clothes (shoes included) are to be removed as soon as one’s exercise is over.

I like to think it's the casual slobbiness of Americans (moi aussi) which is at fault here, although I'm not exactly certain this holds in all those American versions of the Rue du Bac, either. I get eyeballed at Keystone at the Crossing, fer chrissakes, although the more astute among the haute monde note the $600 sunglasses and $200 rock-climbing shoes and visibly relax, having pegged me as a harmless eccentric. Still, if only Sciolino had skimped on the introduction she could have managed to work in one or two more ambassadors, a mid-level British peer, and the ghosts of F. Scott and Zelda.
7: Feeling Sexy Is a State of Mind, or: Buy Good Lingerie
In her close-fitting sweaters and pants and tailored leather jackets, Eliane Victor is both stylish and alluring. The retired author and journalist is in her late 80s.
For French women, being sexy has nothing to do with age and everything to do with attitude. Arielle Dombasle, the actress and cabaret singer married to the philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy, dared to expose her breasts on the cover of Paris Match and took off her clothes in a song-and-dance revue at Crazy Horse in Paris. Some people feel she tries too hard. But give the lady some credit. She’s turning 50 and has a Barbie-doll body.
A 600-page sociological study of sexuality in France released this month concluded that 9 out of 10 women over 50 are sexually active. The sexiest French women seem naturally skilled in the art of moving, smiling and flirting.

Elaine F. Scolino, born Buffalo, New York, circa 1949, per Wikipedia.

Friday, March 21

A plus ça change Is Gonna Come.

Okay, But Are You Really Sure?
Wright brought Obama to Christianity, officiated at his wedding, baptized his daughters...

-Nedra Pickler, AP

Wright baptized Obama's daughters; he officiated at Obama's wedding...

-Brian Ross and Rehab el-Buri, ABC

Wright baptized Obama's daughters; he officiated at Obama's wedding.

-Jonah Goldberg

Obama's relationship with Wright is a deep one. Wright officiated at the wedding of Obama and his wife, Michelle, baptized their two daughters...

-Scott Helman, Boston Globe

Garrett: OK. Were you and Michelle married there and did Rev. Wright preside?
Obama: Yes.
Garrett: Were your two daughters baptized there and did Rev. Wright preside over the baptisms?
Obama: That is correct, Major.

-interview with Major Garrett of FNC, quoted at vlemx news

he and his wife were married there and their daughters baptised

-Suzanne Goldenberg, Guardian UK

married his wife there, and had his children baptized there

-Kevin Drum

...he didn’t just “marry his wife” there. Wright married them. And the Obama daughters were passively baptized at Trinity. Wright baptized them.

-Kurt Schulzke at I Perceive

Barack HUSSEIN Obama  was married by the minister of this church, his kids were baptized in this church

-sharprightturn, cutting to the chase

LESSEE, Senator Obama says "I was married there; my daughters were baptized there" as a means of emphasizing his connection to Trinity Church, something he was being baited to downplay. This, then, is somehow picked up and parroted as though someone who is married in a church is more of a member than than someone who elopes to Vegas, and as though having the pastor of your church baptize your daughters is just one of many options the young urban couple might avail themselves of (like having the local lifeguard do it, perhaps, or ordering the Home Hot-Tub Baptismal Kit from Ron Popeil). Then his own admission turns somehow sinister...not just a member, MARRIED THERE! as though the Right was prepared to ignore simple God Damn America pew-filling until it discovered Holy Matrimony had been besmirched in the process. Children's ice cream, Mandrake!  Then we're in full I Told You He Was A Muslim mode.

It's like a cosmic game of Telephone, except you're playing for money and the house is crooked.

Thursday, March 20

"Segregated Schools Were, and Are, Inferior Schools..."

WELL Sir, welcome to Indianapolis, where a lot of African-Americans of a certain age can tell you it ain't necessarily so, or not entirely: there's Crispus Attucks, built back in the 1920s when D.C. Stephenson and the Klan controlled the state, and the mayor, and the school board. Attucks recruited top talent for its (also segregated, on the grounds this would make segregation "seem less offensive") teaching staff, and boasted more teachers with advanced degrees than any other public school, though we ought to surround that phrase in quotes, since the state athletic commission decided black schools weren't "public" for competition purposes.

We don't mention this to nit-pick, and certainly not to recommend the practice, but to introduce you to the idea that it's the quality of the schools, not their racial makeup, that should be our first order of business.
we still haven't fixed them, fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education, and the inferior education they provided, then and now, helps explain the pervasive achievement gap between today's black and white students.

As does health care, nutrition, economic opportunities or the lack thereof, home environment, early enrichment programs, and a host of other things. And several of those are more important than the schools.

Or computers. Forty-five percent of African-American students, and 39% of Hispanics, rely on schools for their computer access.

So, once again, welcome to Indianapolis, capitol of a state where what the President, or the next President, or the Congress has to say about education doesn't really change things much. At last count there were forty-nine others.

The Circle City is the very model of what White Flight (and the Black Menace--they work together) and political meddling have accomplished in the fifty years since Brown (which, one feels the need to inform the historicity-challenged Obama campaign, marked a Supreme Court decision, and--pointedly--not the beginning of desegregation of schools).

In the mid-60s Republicans found themselves in complete control of Indianapolis government (under now-Sinecured Senator Dick Lugar) and annexed the entire county for voting purposes, but kept the county township school systems in place. This should be enough to tell you whose votes were being added. In the early 70s, or fifteen years after Brown. the Federal courts ruled that the Indianapolis Public School system was still segregated, on the grounds that it still was. The court ordered the busing of inner-city students (from inside the old city limits) to the township schools. And the court ordered the citizens of the old city to foot the bill.

And this meant that the very people who'd been discriminated against were now taking money from their own schools to pay to desegregate the districts the perpetrators of that system had fled to, and who were now free to spend all the state and federal monies attached to those minority students, as well as all of their own, on their own, still-separate, schools. We are still in the process of phasing-out the program thirty-four years later, at a time when natural population growth has achieved something like racial balance in most of the old county township systems. The other remnants of the old township system--all survived because of their political juice back in the 60s--are gone or in the process of being dismantled. The city police and county sheriff finally merged last year. Most of the fire departments have opted in to city management. Nobody says a word about consolidating schools. Nobody needs to. The (old) city schools are 76% non-white and 72% free lunch.  Like the man said, it's National Brotherhood Week.

And all of this, of course, has occurred to the constant drum beat about Failing Schools.

Welcome to Indianapolis! You can drive around it on I-465 and see the shining whiteness of the doughnut counties school systems, the ones that had no worries about their political boundaries being breached. The ones that experienced explosive growth beginning in the 1980s, although by then no one would call it White Flight, because whites were the new victims.

These are not the bastions of people whose "resentment built over time". They're people who ran for the hills. They want to feel safe, they want to feel their children are safe, they want them to receive a quality education. These things are understandable. What isn't is why they'd just as soon Those Others die poor, and stupid, and somewhere else. Every time I hear someone talk about Our Failing Schools I'm reminded of how long I've been hearing it, and what's happened to urban school districts during that time.

Four years ago the citizens of Indiana--apparently of their own free will--elected as governor the man who'd just finished getting the ball rolling on the Bush II economy. And practically his first act as Entrepreneur-in-Chief was to promote a phony balancing of the budget, which is to say he found a different and more cryptic way to amortize budget shortfalls than the Democrats had been using. The major urban school districts were caught in the crossfire. They took a two-year hit; now they're about to take another of at least equal size because of an orchestrated "revolt" over property taxes. Meanwhile, the governor's two great educational initiatives of his first term involved moving Stupid State Standardized Testing (SSST) from fall to spring, thereby, I dunno, changing the weather patterns that follow it, and changing the law to permit organized volume purchasing by multiple school districts, which proved to be a roaring success when it turned out they already had the right to do so, and in several instances already were.

(Post-revolt and pre-election, the Guv now wants the state to pick up 100% of eduction costs. When this results in something approaching equality of spending per student. let alone putting our money where our mouth has been for thirty years, I'll be sure to let you know.)

Regardless of what a President can do about it, a discussion of race and education in this country is welcome. And an honest one even more so.

Wednesday, March 19

The Audacity of Cluelessness

I watched Senator Obama's speech at YouTube!, where this comment was high up enough to catch my eye without scrolling:

The best! He represents the next generation. Goodbye 60's and babyboomers, hello playstation (or Wii) generation :-D.
Which to many of us educated in a previous century may seem a curious way to celebrate a speech limning American diversity, but which I myself see as a golden opportunity to welcome our new I've Spent My Entire Life In Front Of A Screen, Thumbing Things overlords.

Caution: First Five Rows May Get Wet.

OKAY, before we get started I wanted to take a moment to savor David Brooks' Monday column, in which he basically said, sure, economic libertarianism is fine when there's nothing more at stake than maintaining power, racking up obscene profits, and bankrupting a reasonable number of widows and orphans (and filling column inches), but now that we've got a real crisis the government needs to act now to bail out all the greedheads who behaved precisely as he was claiming as recently as three days ago was still the Answer to Everything. Except, of course, that he pointedly rejects public assistance for them, since that's the reasonable-soundng thing to do and once the program is in place they or their cohort'll get to suck it dry anyway. My daddy always said that if you lived long enough you'd see everything twice, and the real trick was developing enough grace that you could make it look like you thought it was just as funny the second time around.

In Bobo's honor we quote the inimitable R. Porrofatto:
The idea that the sub-prime earthquake is what unleashed the economic tsunami we are about to endure, as opposed to lucrative structural tectonic deformation brought about by decades of deregulation (or in the case of hedge funds, zero regulation) generating billion-dollar bonus fault lines is the cause stupidé to feed the cable news masses.
Now then: I've been painting for the last four days, beginning at 9PM, after Larry's put in his room for the night (washing primer out of his tail once is quite enough, thank you), in an effort to get the inside Spring chores done before next week's horrible medical mix-up waiting to happen robs me of my good leg. I know, I know; this sort of negativism already puts me on the outs with Senator Obama. Well, fuck him. I read the thing was forty-five minutes long, and I vowed to give him thirty, tops; but it turned out to be 37:change, so I met him in the middle. Besides, he's dreamy.

In all, pretty good speech, as long as he used his inside voice--I noticed here for the first time that once the applause thing started rolling in the second half he'd SHOUT over it and then KEEP GOING for half a sentence after it died down. It was almost as if he caught himself. Maybe someone in the campaign reads this blog. For their sake, I hope not.  Stop and let it die down! fer chrissakes.  

Anyway, MOD-u-LA-tion! It can't be stressed enough. I'm married to a teacher, and it's not uncommon for her to come home still using the voice she talks to fifteen-year-olds with. It insults the intelligence, which I have to take from her, but not from Presidential candidates.  Using it on adoring throngs but catching yourself with a roomful of invited guests is going to start looking like a tell. MOD-u-LA-tion!  I much prefer the indoor, pensive Obama, and I'll always vote for unscripted over scripted, but then there's no fire, which he seems able to kindle only with a blowtorch.

That's parole; what about langue? He's got good speech writers, but they're still overmatched by the demands of working in poll-engendered buzzphrases (nice to see Reagan make an appearance sans halo, but you could still see the shoehorn that paragraph was inserted with sticking out), and they're still in need of a competent historian (I'm sorry, but the Constitution enshrined the answer to slavery?  Declaration of Independence on Line two.  And she sounds pissed.)

Or, y'know, maybe that's one and the same problem. This New Generation stuff was crafted years ago as a way to move up from the pack. Its limitations should have been seen fairly quickly, but this is a campaign which took two months to get around to (correctively) bashing Ronald Reagan in front of Democrats. Now, with the obligation to govern--or at least to recapture some traditional Democratic votes next fall--staring him in the face the seams are straining mightily.

(Incidentally: am I the only one who was made more than slightly uncomfortable by Barack Obama explaining the raucous laughter and bawdy humor of the Black church to "the uninitiated"?)

Which brings us to the point of the exercise. Pastor Wright is another prisoner of Old Style Thinking, now reimagined not as the huge bloc of patchouli-scented excess-peddlers of the 60s and 70s, but a more rapidly dwindling demo:
This is the reality in which Reverend Wright and other African-Americans of his generation grew up. They came of age in the late fifties and early sixties, a time when segregation was still the law of the land and opportunity was systematically constricted. What's remarkable is not how many failed in the face of discrimination, but rather how many men and women overcame the odds; how many were able to make a way out of no way for those like me who would come after them.

And kick them to the curb.

This is a crock, and if I may be excused for dredging metaphors from my current chore list, it's the tiny chip of paint that when touched by a scraper leads in short order to replastering an entire ceiling.

First, Jeremiah Wright is 66 years old. Believe it or not, this does not in and of itself mean that he's been oblivious to the world around him for the past three decades. It means that in his early teens he witnessed the Brown decision, and the Montgomery bus boycott (led by another preacher who came of age in the 50s). Seeing segregation and racial restriction was not unique to his generation. Jim Crow laws lasted well into the living memory of Barack Obama, among millions of others. Pastor Wright, in fact, belongs to the first generation of African-Americans who came of age with the knowledge that things might, in fact, actually get better during their lifetimes, and who can personally attest--rather than pay lip service--to the sort of sacrifices that required. I can't vouch for the man himself; maybe Senator Obama is spilling his actual personal history, but if so it dovetails neatly into his campaign sloganeering.

What I can say is this: a hell of a lot of Americans agree with him, even in extremis. Perhaps Wright cynically exploits them for personal gain; I have no idea. If so we might ask--as many already have--where the demands for denunciation of white religious crackpots and charlatans has been hiding the past thirty years. If not, then let us at least respect the more than well-earned right to distrust and dislike the rigged game of American politics, even as we promise to hope things will get better once the sun shines fully on the enlightened playstation (or Wii!) generation.

Tuesday, March 18

The Press Corps We Deserve.

Richard Cohen: "How Did I Get Iraq Wrong? I THOUGHT WE HAD A CHANCE TO STABILIZE AN UNSTABLE REGION, AND—I ADMIT IT—I WANTED TO STRIKE BACK."Slate March 18 [shouting in original]

I wonder if anyone wading through the swamp of forced-faux-contrarian warflogging five years back had any idea they were witnessing the birth of a franchise. I know I didn't. (The faux-contrarianism--they were a little more subtle with it in those days, as the preferred instrument was the trowel, not the skip-loader--was a little tough to pull off at a time when no newscast, network or cable, lacked a ribbon of bunting, but they still managed to act as though Liberal Vietnam Syndrome was the dominant position around the country, the better to bravely face it down.)

So the fifth anniversary is the opportunity for "Liberal" Hawks Do-Over Vol. 2: Stupid Is Forever, in which the painfully obvious is revealed all over again. Today, the deep thoughts of Richard Cohen:
Anthrax. Remember anthrax? It seems no one does anymore—at least it's never mentioned. But right after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, letters laced with anthrax were received at the New York Post and Tom Brokaw's office at NBC. In the following days, more anthrax-contaminated letters were received by other news organizations—CBS News and, presumably, ABC, where traces of anthrax were found in the newsroom. Weirdly, even the Sun, a supermarket tabloid, also got a letter, and a photo editor, Bob Stevens, was fatally infected. Other letters were sent to Sen. Tom Daschle's Capitol Hill office, and in Washington, D.C., a postal worker, Thomas L. Morris Jr., died. There was ample reason to be afraid.

Y'know what else there was ample reason to do? Follow the story.

Not long afterwards there was ample reason to do something else: doubt that it had anything to do with 9/11, Saddam Hussein, or International Islamofascism, Inc. The text of the letters in and of itself was reason for suspicion bordering on dismissal; they could have been written by my A-rab hatin' brother-in-law.

[Left: to the New York Post. Right: to Senator Daschle's office]

Then came the reason to believe the FBI was fogging the case, at least publicly; the understanding that the anthrax used in the later attacks had come from US chemical weapon stocks we had previously claimed had been destroyed, developed in a lab we claimed hadn't done that sort of thing in thirty years; a reasonable certainty that the President of the United States was lying about it at least in part for partisan political gain; and the realization that The Washington Post and the New York Times, whose chemical weapons beat reporter was one Judith Miller, were intent on flogging the It Could Have Been Saddam angle regardless of the baldness of that lie.

Personally, I found it fairly easy to control my desire to get even with Saddam Hussein for the anthrax attacks by that point.

And all this came to me, a guy who had to rely on media reports and a few scientific papers readily available on the internets, and it was all pretty solidly understood by that December. But not to a guy with Cohen's insider status:
The attacks were not entirely unexpected. I had been told soon after Sept. 11 to secure Cipro, the antidote to anthrax. The tip had come in a roundabout way from a high government official, and I immediately acted on it. I was carrying Cipro way before most people had ever heard of it.

Interesting, no? Of course, "news" gathering organizations were a focus of the attacks, and anthrax a rather well-known agent of Scaring the Shit Out of People, with the added benefit of it being the one you can be immunized for. Then again, scaring the shit out of people who own precious inches of journalistic real estate in Our Nation's Capitol might have its benefits, however obscure, even if we want to dismiss the coincidence as  tin-foil hat territory.  You'd think this might have occurred to Cohen himself, but if so he ain't talking. We wonder when's the next time he scheduled to take questions online? Such as:

• Where'd you get the Cipro?

• Did you clue in any of the people at WaPo who might, y'know, actually handle mail?

• Why, after all this time and its role in the establishment of your reputation as a public dipshit* is the "high government official" still anonymous, especially if it came to you as it circled a roundabout?


* meaning "by your own lights".  The rest of us already knew.

Monday, March 17

See, This Is What I Like About Bill Kristol. If You're Going To Get Any Facts From Him You Get 'Em Right At The Top.

"Generation Obama? Perhaps Not."
In this column, I cite a report that Sen. Obama had attended services at Trinity Church on July 22, 2007. The Obama camapaign has provided information showing that Sen. Obama did not attend Trinity that day. I regret the error.

YOU may have already begun to suspect that the reason why the above wasn't simply inserted parenthetically into the piece at the appropriate place was that the "citation" accounted for the entire column, or at least that portion of it that wasn't given over to grousing about Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner.

The source, by the way, was Ronald Kessler, modestly identified as "a journalist who has written about Wright's ministry", but who is in fact the Ronald Kessler who is the chief Washington correspondent for Newsmax and the author of seventeen books, including The CIA at War: Inside the Secret Campaign Against Terror; A Matter of Character: Inside the White House of George W. Bush; and Laura Bush: An Intimate Portrait of the First Lady, which is, so far as I can tell, the only one of the seventeen that would really have benefitted from the Inside he's slapped on most of his other works, generally somewhere around the colon. In fact, Inside Laura Bush's Colon is a book I'd be proud to own. At any rate, in his defense we might note that Kristol could have had no way of knowing that Kessler might be telling a somewhat slanted story, and we ought also to give him props for not identifying the source as "Michelle Malkin".

Fun With Monogamy, Vol. LXXI

NBC News teaser: "Plus, John McCain makes an unscheduled visit to Baghdad..."

Me: Unscheduled? Th' fuck? Just last year he walked through that market practically unaccompanied, and now he has to go in unannounced?

PW: He probably thought they'd raise prices if they knew he was coming.

Experience Is The Name Everyone Gives To John McCain's Mistakes.

You know what he has in his favor. He's gentleman Johnny McCain, hero, maverick. He has more knowledge on national defense in his pinky than the others will have, after four years in the White House, in their entire bodies. He's the one who should be answering the phone at 3 a.m

S'FUNNY how things work out sometimes. For example, I doubt Peggy Noonan had an inkling that she was writing this on the fifty-fourth anniversary of the siege of Dien Bien Phu, in which a Western force led by a former POW and victim of torture, which was executing the strategy conceived by a career intelligence officer and veteran of two World Wars, was humiliated by an insurgent force led by a guy who'd been a journalist and a school teacher.

And it's not as if this is a minor curiosity; the minute the French realized les couilles were caught in a wringer they paid a visit to the man who'd been bankrolling their noble recolonization efforts, who just happens to have been the most knowledgeable modern President of the United States on national defense by at least a factor of ten, one Dwight David Eisenhower. With the able assistance of Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, a man whose experience almost matched his own, Ike decided the United States would undertake to prop up the shabby remnants of an effete French empire after it had been defeated. Operation Vulture! And towards that end we aided their puppet emperor in selecting as Prime Minister a thuggish religious zealot whose murderous treatment of his own people made Saddam Hussein look like Marcus Aurelius.

I suppose we--let alone the Vietnamese--ought to be grateful that Ike's experience didn't result in the use of tactical nuclear weapons that Dulles and Admiral Arthur Radford, the highly-experienced chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, urged on him.

(Other curio collectors might want to note that the White House meeting with the French chief of staff took place six months after these geniuses overthrew Mosaddeq.)

Experience seems to have taught John McCain some of the same lessons: that it's better to placate domestic crackpots than confront cold realities, better to have an international bogeyman on hand than a sound strategic doctine, better to win elections than tell the truth. That sort of experience runs you about a nickel a gross, plus deposit; having a lot of it is like cornering the market on ragweed.

Friday, March 14

Y'know, I Read The Thing Over Three Times, And I'll Be Damned, But That's What He Said.

David Brooks, "The Rank-Link Imbalance." March 14

HEY, I'm the first to admit there are some things no one should do for money:
They go through the oboe practice, soccer camp, homework marathon childhood. Their parent-teacher conferences are like mini-Hall of Fame enshrinements as all gather to worship at the flame of their incipient success. In high school, they enter their Alpha Geekdom. They rack up great grades and develop that coating of arrogance that forms on those who know that in the long run they will be more successful than the beauties and jocks who get dates.

Then they go into one of those fields like law, medicine or politics, where a person’s identity is defined by career rank. They develop the specific social skills that are useful on the climb up the greasy pole: the capacity to imply false intimacy; the ability to remember first names; the subtle skills of effective deference; the willingness to stand too close to other men while talking and touching them in a manly way.

For some time I've been toying with the idea that a strong undercurrent of our present social troubles is traceable to the collapse of the hegemonic Freudianism of the 30s through the 50s. On the one hand it was by and large a colossal mound of horseshit with a generous dollop of sexism and racism on top, but on the other was still more useful than the idiocy that tried to move into the resultant vacuum even though it was obvious that "vacuum" was both an improvement and unlikely to be improved upon. I think this especially at times when concepts such as "Projection" seem like just the ticket.  I mean, you gotta squirm a little as David Brooks, Republican insider, despoiler of forests, visiting professor at Duke, and television intellectual, pretends to be Joe Lunchcart clucking--more in sorrow than anger!--at the ruins of the Temple of Ozzy Mandus XIV, even if you're laughing your ass off at the time.  

That quote comes as part of a prissy little column on Eliot Spitzer that, among its other notable non-achievements, manages not to mention Eliot Spitzer, nor the high price of high-priced call girls. This is apparently meant to convince the reader that Brooks' water-added-ham-fisted pop psychoanalysis is the result of some serious musing on Our Times. It doesn't.

(Contrariwise, the smart boys on the "Left" used the opportunity to ponder Whether Prostitution Should Be Legalized, leading me, at least, to hope the practice of combining the temporalty of headline news with one's tiniest cerebral events continues into warmer weather, as it might provide us with the recipe for Matt's Favorite Potato Salad.)

Call me a skeptic, but I find it impossible to believe that such a large segment of the typing public is so utterly without feck when it comes to Sex and What People Might Do To Get Some. I mean, c'mon, I personally understand Larry Craig as far as that goes, though I wouldn't want to be seated next to him. Maybe the Young Guns of The Blogging House are still young and gunish enough to hope (irrationally, to judge by appearances) that a free sugar donut might fall out of this evening's sky and land on their dicks, but Brooks is as middle-aged as I. Oboe practice and grade competition and Alpha Male Bullshitism are not required to explain Eliot Spitzer's taste for pussy. It's pussy. Millions of Americans of any or all genders and every socio-economic strata enjoy some on a regular basis, whether or not they played soccer at the academy. For chrissakes.  None of these guys has ever gone to a strip club (which, to us, is a hell of a lot more perverted than paying for some close companionship)?  

At least with Freud we paid equal attention to what sort of pervert pretended he didn't understand what the attraction was.

Thursday, March 13

Back Home Again

• I cannot tell you how satisfying it was to vote for Andre Carson in Tuesday's special election, because unless you live here and talk to white people--especially but not exclusively those from other, mostly-white districts--you cannot fully appreciate the ugly racism directed at his late grandmother, whom he now replaces for the rest of her term. In the 2002 county sheriff election, as the Democratic candidate was about to become the first African-American elected to the post, his opponent not only circulated fliers of him that cropped in Julia Carson (and Bill Clinton), but used a photo of her which had been xeroxed so many times she it made her look like an alleged Bigfoot sighting.

So, as you might have already guessed, this then was the election in which the Indianapolis Racist Star's political columnist Matt Tulley chose to complain about negative political ads two days before the special election. Andre Carson's negative political ads. Which consisted of a mailer, one of four, that characterized Jon Elrod, his Republican opponent, of wanting to privatize Social Security when, in fact, Elrod only suggested younger workers be allowed to opt out. This leads to a charge that Carson was playing on voters' fears, a charge which is remarkably forgotten when Elrod--or Tully himself--blather about the System's "impending insolvency."

• No progress in the World's Third Worst State Legislature™ on my proposal to begin statewide comprehensive testing of edumacation reporters and local school boards, but plenty of new ammo. Last week what seemed like the first forty-seven minutes of the nightly teleprompter-reading festival was taken over by that morning's mysterious disappearance of several Indianapolis Public School buses. And if you'll quit getting ahead of me I'll explain that, by the time the story aired the explanation for the no-shows--a sort of work stoppage by contract drivers for a private contractor of bus services--was well understood, and had been for hours, but it took them five minutes of This Could Have Been A Scandal-mongering to get around to spitting that out.

This is a refutation of sorts of the idea that Faux Balanced News is simply a matter of professional standards occasionally taken to extremes. Bus Drivers Walk Off Job simply didn't have a high enough Oomph Factor, so the story was told in the same aleatoric Bill Burroughs Meets Raymond Queneau Meets Standard Hollywood Potboiler Trailer Meets Junior High School Student With Issues And Very Sharp Scissors narrative technique they use when the local weather isn't scary enough and they have to switch to radar from the Great Plains, or Hudson Bay, or the Cape of Good Hope.

And this was bad enough, but when it finally ended (just after, by the way, shots of their reporter being ordered off the property of the contractor, as though they'd been thwarted trying to get the facts and so had been forced to extemporize), they ran it right into the story of a middle-school student arrested for bringing a knife to school. And the Knife Graphic was done by someone whose sole familiarity with cutlery comes from watching Halloween and its dozen sequels, and the student is identified as attending Custer Baker Middle School. And my Poor Wife and I look the same question at each other, namely, Where th' fuck is that? And the answer turns out to be "forty-five minutes away in Franklin, Indiana, Where You Can Refuse To Stand For The Pledge Provided You've Done Your Legal Research". And I found that out by googling it. The teleprompterette sorta left that minor detail hanging, like if you imagined this was IPS's fault as well it was jake with her.  

Several suburban school boards, meanwhile, have taken to open competition for the coveted title of Miss Incompetence of 2008. In Perry Township they couldn't figure out a way to discipline a 27-year veteran teacher who assigned a book with Very Bad Words in it without turning it into a cause célèbre; and up in Fishers ("The Selma of the North, Except With Traffic and Reservoir-front Property") they fired the superintendent in an emergency session--necessitating a six-figure buyout--and then had to come back a week later with a new explanation for why they did so. And the second one involved the fact that some of her staff (whom the Racist Star referred to as "underlings") were threatening to boycott a day of school because she was snotty with them, or the lounge didn't have a cappuccino machine, or something. Mind you, that was the revised explanation. Democracy simply does not work.

• But there may yet be some life in the old Faux Balance nag, as last week's sudden Republican love-fest on Property Tax Reform switching pockets to pick was described as "a grandstanding move according to some Democrats". As well as any objective observers that might have happened by, since what the Republican minority in the House agreed to was somewhat overshadowed by the fact that they were in the minority.

Senate Republicans, a Very Small Governor, and the minority House members got together to say how much they all supported the Guv's plan, which they'd had two months to do by that point, but suddenly History comes with an eraser.   In other words, at some point ("A") on March 7 last the Republicans had not held a photo-op presser on the matter, and at some later point ("A+n") they had, and the only difference was that your watch battery had wound down some imperceptible amount, and yet it was news.  

We are, thankfully, just hours away from completing the full gestation of the Property Tax pig, which the local media has been, with apologies to David "Homey" Shuster, pimping since last summer, and breathlessly reporting the imminent passage of corrective legislation since the first day of the session last January, which not even they could have possibly believed. And the arrival of that happy little bundle will mark the beginning of the countdown to the arrival of this year's property tax bills, and voter recognition that they're not appreciably lower in most cases, whereupon the whole matter will be dropped.

• Good news, though, in that despite more snow than average we managed to complete the clean-up of the Water Co. Canal downtown just in time to dye the thing green to celebrate St. Patrick, the original mythical Irishman.

Wednesday, March 12

Happy Birthday

The Truman Doctrine
b. March 12, 1947

You Heard It Here Last

• If there's some simple-minded answer for why Barack Obama stands athwart the Democratic party's nominating process today--some reason not related to his popularity as a candidate, say--then let me suggest to Ms Ferraro that the best place to look might be the massively sucking black hole at its center dating to the party's capitulation to the Reagan mystique, its abandonment of every principle save the principle of getting re-elected, and its failure--during a period when Ms Ferraro herself was nominally the second-most powerful person in the party--to distinguish itself from the clinically-insane bunch across the aisle to the extent that an entire generation of Obama supporters now imagine partisanship to be a two-way traffic jam. I'm no Obama fan, but he's managed to turn keynote-speaker/rising star buzz into a viable candidacy, which must to count for something and in fact counts for a lot. Compare Harold Ford, Evan Bayh, Mario Cuomo, and Mo Udall, who didn't, as well as Ann Richards and Barbara Jordan, who had no chance.

• I've been busy--I'll bring a doctor's note if you insist--so is there a reward out for the first person who can name a single solitary patriotic thing Jonah Goldberg has ever done in his nearly forty years of caloric intake?

Tuesday, March 11

He Paid Up, Right? And She's Not Dead? Okay, So What's The Problem?

I KNOW I speak for most Americans this morning when I convey my profound shock upon learning, yesterday, that there's only one "L" in "Eliot Spitzer".

This sort of thing, however, can't possibly surprise anyone: Christopher Beam in Slate's We-Put-The-'Conventional'-In-Conventional Wisdom snoozefest, the "Trailhead":
One problem, though: Addressing the Spitzer flap raises the ghosts of scandals past, namely Monica Lewinsky. Clinton has so far managed during this campaign to avoid public mention of her husband’s diddling. If the Spitzer controversy drags out, it could become a painful reminder of the final White House years. (Of course, you could argue that it would make people sympathize with her all over again.)

Once again, the mind would reel, if the mind hadn't long since shut down and begun consuming its own proteins.

Okay, fine, it's news. If you live in New York it's even real news. If you're a Republican, and you've been a consistent voice against corruption, public misconduct and private miscreancy, and if you've never uttered the phrase "limousine liberal", "class warfare", or remarked on the size of John Edwards' home or the price of his haircuts, have at it. In other words, if you're a Republican, shut up. You ceded Sex to the Democratic party long ago in exchange for the right to stuff yourselves at the public trough. If Spitzer had been caught manipulating the futures market you'd have something. If he'd dedicated his gubernatorial campaign to eliminating prostitution, or to bringing down high prices, you'd have something. As it is, he's a horndog who got caught.

All three nets ran the story first last night (I didn't actually check; my Poor Wife was at the controls, so three channels in ten seconds was something approaching slow motion), and we settled on ABC, which executed a toss about three minutes in (after the entire story had been laid out, and after they'd aired Spitzer's comments) apparently in order to show a picture that included Spitzer and Hillary Clinton. The were part of a line. They might have been marching for Breast Cancer Awareness or taking part in an amateur production of A Chorus Line for all I know. Or for all ABC cared. It was obvious they were in their element.

Still, it's an ill wind that blows any politician no good and doesn't provide me with a least a bitter chuckle, so here's mine. The wine store down the street from me used to be owned by a husband and wife team. They were each third-or-fourth generation money and acted like it, and they'd bought the place--formerly a neighborhood package store--in late middle age because they thought it would be "fun". They began turning it into a wine specialty shop on the grounds that this would keep the riff-raff out. They were, indeed, the sort of people who used "riff-raff" without irony, and who referred to their intended client base as "The Quality".

This was the late 70s, and the beginning of my wine collecting phase, so I frequented the place, because the nascent wine boom was not due to hit Indianapolis for another eight years and it was one of the few local spots where "Wine Section" didn't mean "Where do you keep the Gallo jugs?" The wife was the Expert, while the husband watched the books, and it was obvious even in my fairly green connoisseurship that she didn't know what th' fuck she was talking about and had turned a pastime of bullshitting about stuff she didn't know with other clueless snobs into a second career. So I took to coming in at times when she wouldn't be there, and I got to know the staff pretty well, and they loved to relay tales of their evil inbred masters.

Now, the husband--you might want to sit down--was a rock-ribbed Republican, goddamned-Democrats-steal-my-money type who once made a major production out of removing the appliance bulb from the EXIT sign when he learned he wasn't covered by regulations requiring it be lit. And one day the major story in the Indianapolis Racist Star concerns a local grocery magnate who's been caught by the feds skimming proceeds from his pop machines. And he was caught because he'd opened two accounts for his gilt and he put more than $10,000 in each.

(Sorry to interrupt the hilarity, but we would like to note that Spitzer didn't run afoul of the law, unless you, like ABC News, believe we're still enforcing the Mann Act; he ran afoul of financial institutions being "encouraged" to report whatever they consider to be attempts to skirt the law. Aaron Nimzowitsch, the great chess Grandmaster, once complained to officials about his opponent's smoking. He came back ten minutes later to complain again. "But he stopped smoking," they said. "Yes," Nimzowitsch replied, "but he looks as if he wants to.")

So the guy at the register is astonished when the Boss starts talking about the deal with one of the Quality who'd stopped by, and seems really critical of it, repeating, "How could he have done it?" over and over.

"I thought, jeez, this is a side of him I'd never seen," the register guy tells me. "Maybe he'd turned over a new leaf or this scared the shit out of him. And then he says, 'He had to know you only put $9000 in a single account.' "

Friday, March 7

Your Moment Of Schiavo.

NO. Really.

I don't get around much, and I'm used to the cool kids not letting me in on their plans, and I've been scrambling of late to get some things done before there's a horrible mixup during knee surgery and I wind up with a baboon heart. Plus there's nothing on this earth that could make me a Kos reader, so just in case everybody's already talked this to death I'm sorry, but via brave Indiana blogger Doug Masson I find I'm a couple days late for this:

Yes, the Clinton campaign has turned Barack Obama into a black man! Because, I guess, a considerable number of people who vote in Democratic primaries were unaware of the fact.

The unspeakable, worse-than-Hitler, Mussolini, and Jonah Goldberg-combined racism of every Democrat who does not support Barack Obama--and, frankly, we're beginning to suspect that mere support is not enough--was proven shortly afterwards when The Kos himself floated to earth bearing an email with the professional testimony from a guy who works as a copywriter. No, really.

Enough's enough. The Democratic party has borne the brunt of overt racism in this country from  before your grandparents were old enough to vote, and it explicitly created a forty-year-and-still-ongoing electoral hole for itself by doing what was right on race, rather than what was politically expedient. Are you simply too stupid to realize the import of your suggestion here, or are you all just really high? It's a goddam motherfucking insult to people whose shoelaces you aren't fit to tie, to people who marched and bled and died to fight domestic terrorism because it was right to do so, not because it gave them a feeling of superiority to buttress empty little lives.  They struggled, for decades, not one election season, in places where the simple fact of their pigmentation would have led Barack Obama's parents to find shallow graves. This is the part of the legacy of the 20th century Democratic party that used to make it something one could be proud to belong to.


ANONYMOUS, in comments:

When did Clinton depants Russert? During what debate or interview?

The one we like to think of  as a Great Moment in American political history is from last August's debate when Mr. Sharp As A Spud set what he must have imagined was a brilliant trap by quoting An Unnamed Guest on his show favoring a Presidential exception to a ban on torture, going for a response first to Senator Obama, then Senator Biden, then to Hillary, who echoed them in disagreeing with the sentiment. At which point Timmy reveals--ho ho!--that unnamed guest was none other than William Jefferson Clinton!  To which Senator Clinton replied, "Well, he's not standing here. I am."

And, with apologies to the pudding we're about to over-egg, this is so far superior to Reagan's overpraised (and slightly misquoted) "I paid for this microphone" bit that we're obliged to ask why it's not even more famous, other than the fact that it was directed at a Big Media Star while Ronnie was just lecturing a small-town reporter (IIRC). (Not to mention the fact that the line just doesn't scan: it has all the charm and wit of your half-drunk father telling you you'll eat peas and like it as long as you're living under his roof, and it was at the service--this is sometimes forgotten--of the Reagan campaign seeking to toss all the other candidates off the stage excepting George H.W. Bush. )

First, Russert, with the NBC research division behind him and nothing to do but concoct questions, comes up with what is clearly designed as a Gotcha! Leaving aside the question of whether this is what Mr. Russert is supposed to be doing, we still run into a couple of problems right out of the box. The first is that Bill Clinton is quoted out of context; he raised the Ticking Time Bomb scenario in order to note that both the President and military command already possess the right to use extreme measures under the stilted circumstances, and he went on to deny it supported the case for what he called "sweeping authority." So either Russert willfully misused the quote, or he doesn't know the difference between a declarative statement and a figure of speech, and either instance suggests he ought to be in the upholstery business. And the reasonable presumption that crack NBC staffers were helping him along means it's likely someone along the line recognized the discrepancy, so either they're all dishonest or the staff is afraid to look Miss Ross Mr. Potato Head in the eyes.  (Potato.  Eyes.  Some times I tickle myself.)

Second, this is a gotcha? Assuming there really was some yawning maw of philosophical difference on display, what would that have to do with anything? If we are sufficiently Clinton averse we might say, Well, she's lying! Because Bill already gave the game away! Except if we are sufficient Clinton averse we don't need that sort of thing, and we believe their marriage is the greatest sham in the history of Western Civ anyway. The reasonably sane are left to conclude that the intention seen in the most favorable light possible for Russert, suggests he was simply trawling for half-baked headline material.

The only basis for what he did is deception. Granted, the man sells used cars for a living, but we might ask that he transcend that sort of thing for a single evening with the direction of a troubled country at stake. But then, look at the question again. An "unnamed guest, ho ho!" The clever trap is predicated on the prey missing the bait. Is it conceivable Mrs. Clinton could do so? Only if distracted by the arduousness of the serious task before her, now being moderated with unserious buffoonery; such distractedness would amount to nothing but might possibly generate Press dumbassery. Were we in that situation we'd begin our answer with, "Russert, you shitbag, who do you think you're trying to kid?" But Clinton waited long enough to let Timmy slam the trap closed on his own foot, and then gutted him. "He isn't standing here. I am." is superior to any of the twenty-seven other ways I can think of to say that, and I'm just typing away in a basement, with Russertesque time on my hands.  

Thursday, March 6

Free Curmudgeonry.

• Why is it only the Youth are allowed to construct Official Lists of post-dated cultural jetsam? "Shot of Jager" (see, or don't, Andrew Sullivan ) is now officially as dead as the goldfish in Walt "Clyde" Frasier's platform shoes. Because I say so. You hear me, punk? It is freaking inexcusable for a forty-five year old man to be writing about quaffing execrable alcoholic beverages by referring to them by their frat-boy nicknames. In fact, it's inexcusable to write about slugging any spiritous potable which has a frat-boy nickname. This doesn't mean you can't employ it, if you wish; drink raspberry-peach merlot or Purple Passion, for all I care. In fact, do me a favor and drink a lot more of them. But in writing about it, act like you've learned by this point in life that taste and experience matter, and that they are something either to be acquired or rejected, not flouted cluelessly.  Surely this would not be the first time you'd lied to the world about something just for appearance's sake. 

• What Tom Watson said:
Let's look at the scope of Hillary Clinton's victory. She'd lost 11 straight contests to Barack Obama, the most beloved candidate in either party since at least the halcyon days of Ronald Reagan and possibly since FDR's reelection in 1936. Obama's campaign outspent Clinton in Texas and Ohio by four to one, according to some estimates. His field operation was the stuff of organizing legend, and his big rallies made hers seem like church suppers. His online fundraising doubled hers. He led in all the national polls, and her leads in those big states had evaporated. Her imminent departure from the race was declared.

Hillary Clinton was laying on the canvas and the ref was pretty much at nine.

And unlike John "The Amazing Comeback Kid" McCain, she did this without the luxury of waiting for everyone else to lose, yet I didn't hear a bit of coverage which played that up. Then again, I avoided MSNBC. Maybe Tweety was gushing all night.

• That's not curmudgeonly, exactly, but we're building our way to a complete halt. I found it rather notable that most Clinton Bashing Progressives didn't miss a beat in defeat. "On the one hand, [Ohio] was a big win for her," notes young Ezra, the most ambidextrous of bloggers; on the other, "[her] trends in Ohio weren't that promising." This was demonstrated by the fact that Senator Obama cut into her lead once he started campaigning there, a remarkable occurrence assuming this is the first time you've ever looked.  Matt tips the boater to CNN for revealing that Clinton cornered the racist vote.   And yes, that was what he did.  Josh, befitting his greater experience, waits a decent interval before urging us to return the campaign to the issues, namely, the question of how much we all hate Mark Penn.

Or maybe he just has a lower tolerance for Jager shots and slept late.

• The more I read incontinent primary coverage the more I've come to appreciate the vast majority of the electorate, which couldn't fucking care less and yet, somehow, winds up being no more idiotic than the punditry.

• "This is my real hair. If it were a wig it would look much more natural."
--Quentin Crisp

Okay, I'll say it: Dante makes me sick, * and Barack Obama is overrated as a public speaker. And Will Ferrell making fun of 1970s hairdos is beginning to wear a little thin.

Modulate! The microphone is there to take care of volume concerns. You don't have to worry about being heard over the El anymore.

I was watching him the other night thinking, y'know, I'm sure the campaign thinks he's much better on the stump, since he's a little gaffe-prone in a smaller setting, but I think he's a lot more effective using his inside voice; the best I've ever seen him was on The Daily Show.   I'm not saying he's not impressive, au contraire, but that I think he's benefitted from the judging standards being set by people who are more familiar with Bob Barker than Martin Luther King (who, since we're speaking of standards, C. L. Franklin famously referred to as "a baby preacher").

Call it the Quentin Crisp Effect: Senator Clinton, no better than mediocre, over time begins to seem more real on the grounds that she isn't any better. And Senator Obama begins to sound like a guy who watched JFK shout "Ask not..." too many times for his own good.

This campaign has seen two moments I've waited for ever since Reagan made his reputation through paying for a microphone. One was Hillary depantsing Tim Russert. It doesn't matter that it didn't fold him up for good and pitch him in the dumpster; what matters is that it should have, and Russert knows it, and that it proved, however fleetingly, that our best politicians are 20x smarter than those guys, even if the rest of 'em bring the average way down.

The second was Senator Obama's reply to McCain's "al-Qaeda in Iraq" comment. One, here's the sort of thing the blogosphere makes plain, over and over, without making a dent in the CW, and two, it was long past time for a Democrat to start talking that way. And then Obama hits the all-caps key: I HAVE SOME NEWS FOR JOHN MCCAIN.... Dude, you didn't have to make sure he could hear it from the podium.

* Lope de Vega, on being assured that he was dying.

Wednesday, March 5

More Pantsuit Politics

Barack Obama, the Tito Jackson of hope.

John McCain shamelessly panders to the Noel Coward 
Lounging Pajamas in the Afternoon set.

You Do The Math.

MoDo: "Duel of Historical Guilts." March 5

WELL, that's settled. Maureen Dowd does write her own headlines.

Correction: That should read Pulitzer Prize-winning author Maureen Dowd writes her own headlines.

Okay, look: we are so far beyond the point of saying Dowd is a worthless gibberer with the taste and consistency of wet cardboard that I've lost track of what exponent goes with "cliché" when describing the sentiment. I believe we may even be beyond the point of wondering whether the language of Shakespeare, Swift, and Raymond Chandler is sufficient to do her real justice, and we know the psychiatric literature avails us nothing. I believe all that's left us is to wonder how many dead hookers and live donkeys there are in her blackmail photo files. We already know it's not enough.

While we're at it someone might want to consider whether there's some set of numbers between the natural and the integers, since without occupying negative space Dowd manages to crawl under Zero on a regular basis, with room to spare, even as we reset Zero to accommodate her previous efforts.  Go take a look at her freaking archive. The last time she wrote a column about anything other than Hillary Clinton was thirty-eight days ago, that one being a Thanks for breaking the story! post-mortem of the Giuliani campaign--a campaign she'd covered in a single column to that point--that mentioned "Clinton" nearly as often as "Rudy". Is there another columnist anywhere with that sort of record? Is there anyone who's been so completely left in the dust by this internets thing? The worst Clinton-bashing bloggers I know occasionally write about something else--even if they seem to share the notion that Senator Clinton ought to avoid saying anything that supports her own candidacy--and they turn out copy every day, and no innocent trees die in the process. The woman is the Taco Bell of columnists, except some people actually swallow Taco Bell's stuff. Today's combination of beans, cheese, and roadkill skunk begins:
Some women in their 30s, 40s and early-50s who favor Barack Obama have a phrase to describe what they don’t like about Hillary Clinton: Shoulder-pad feminism.

Go ahead. Google it and find out how many of them aren't Maureen Dowd.
They feel that women have moved past that men-are-pigs, woe-is-me, sisters-must-stick-together, pantsuits-are-powerful era that Hillary’s campaign has lately revived with a vengeance.

Can't wait 'til "They" start callin' 'em "Mustache Petes".

Look, I'm sorry for quoting her once, let alone twice. But, one, MoDo and I are the same age. (Actually, she's two years older but looks much better, because I've spent forty-some years trying to do Math and she doesn't have to bother.) I have no idea what she was doing in the early Seventies, but I was trying to nail Feminists, which gives me a certain species of expertise in the matter. Surprisingly few of them thought I was a pig, though fewer still let me in their pantsuits. In fact, I don't remember any of them actually wearing pantsuits (which I suspect may just be anti-Hillary invective), or Zoot suits, or bustles. I think it was mostly jeans and dresses. You know, like normal people when they aren't dressing for something.  I don't recall any of them demeaning entire classes of people by connecting them with some twenty-years-out-of-date fashion trend, Junior-high style, either.

I don't recall any woe, either, beyond the natural if buoyant gloominess that comes from being in your early twenties and taking a hard look at your world and your culture. Au-fucking-contraire; what I recall was a spirited determination to Call This White European Male Shit out, and an optimistic sense that a rotten structure would crumble from common sense resistance, and that any shoring up it received on the Times' Op-Ed pages from hopeless misogynists would come from men. Ah, youth.

It's bad enough that valuable Times real estate is given over to Dowd so she can work out her personal problems. But it's beyond forgivable that those problems center on the six years following and two years before the first appearance of pubic hair.

Dowd knows better, but the loss of one's mind is an absolute excuse (as well as a good excuse to stop publishing). But if any of "today's Feminists" are tempted to judge their predecessors according to hairstyle let them hang their heads in shame. The Seventies are not exactly running neck-and-neck with the Icelandic Sagas in the Mists of Time race. The evidence of how (much more) bigoted society was against women a generation ago is all around you. It still has the power to astound me, and I lived through it the first time. And the idea that we've somehow transcended it for all time, along with whalebone stays and shag carpeting, is repudiated regularly. On the pages of the goddam New York Times.

Tuesday, March 4

The Mick Jagger Of American Conservatism

PANEGYRIC has its place; being forced to sit through it while maintaining a hypocritical silence is, like the occasional cold shower, not exactly the worst thing in the world. Bill Buckley himself waited over a week to slag the deceased Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, his major rival for the crown of Preeminent Psychopathic Chronicler of the 1960s in American Letters. But then noblesse oblige perched on Buckley's shoulders as naturally as the shoulders of those Pee Wee Herman suits of his.   

(It's interesting to note that Buckley and Thompson were not just polar opposites politically, but theatrically as well; one was left wondering how much Hunter just made up, while with Bill it was a question of just what, and how much, he was managing to keep bottled up with that twitchy ticciness. One always wondered--and I think I owe apologies to Roy here--whether a particularly bad performance, like his being depantsed   by Noam Chomsky, say, meant that his body servant would receive a particularly strenuous lashing that evening, or if that was just how he got himself up for a performance in the first place.)

The faster we're carried, the less time we have! my townsman Mr. Tarkington observed--in 1918--without ever dreaming that just over a lifetime later that would apply to how fast we hit the remote button when there wasn't a shirtless moron swallowing a Madagascar cockroach onscreen. But my quiet contemplation  and display of good manners (okay, by Internet standards, and, okay, except for that Vidal quote) was rewarded as first David Brooks, then Bill Kristol, turned out to have nothing to say about the man, and instead spent a total of over 1500 words worth of prime New York real estate reminiscing about Sophomore Year. (Which, I almost forgot, manages to make Kristol mention his 1970 prep school graduation, which sorta blows that whole "I was too young for Vietnam thing", huh?) 

So why is that? Neither the Last Cold Warrior Still Wobbling, nor the Libertarian AV Nerd, mentions a single book of Buckley's. In the dozen or so journalistic eulogies I read only George Eff Will mentioned anything other than God and Man at Yale, and that was something his quote boy dug out from the introduction to an essay collection. Most left it at "nearly fifty books", occasionally tossing in a discreet reference to his spy novels without mention of their dreadfulness. This, then, is the Father of Modern American Conservatism, the Intellectual whose allusions to Edmund Burke launched a thousand David Brooks columns. Half a century, fifty books, and one idea. And that not a very good one.

(Okay, so I haven't read them either, aside from wading into God and Man at Yale when a copy fell into my hands in college, but if Buckley's disciples can't cough up any contribution he made to serious thought then the matter's closed.)

I think we'd all be better off today if he'd have focused on yachting.

Okay, I take that back, at least to the extent that I was a regular, if not faithful, viewer of Firing Line in its heyday, if only for the bitter college-student satisfaction of noting that a freakish High Latin vocabulary combined with post-graduate dining club manners and the stage presence of a precocious fifteen-year-old essaying Miss Havisham in the Spring Play could convince any number of Americans that one was an Intellectual without the bother of genuine ideas or personal honesty. It was fairly amusing to read, multiple times (I think first at The Corner, but I managed to lose a page of notes to a cat-induced power outage and I'm not going back there to check) the Wither Bill Buckley? pieces which asked about how he might view the crew of  mental midgets bobbing in his wake (the Corner piece said something like "The Left is sure to bring this up") when, in fact, those people are his legacy, along with George Eff Will's bowties. "Conservatism" hasn't been dumbed down. It's been exhausted after producing a few ounces of low-grade ore and a mountain of slag. David Brooks is Bill Buckley after fifty washings; Jonah Goldberg after one-hundred-twenty, except he was beaten with a stick on a big flat rock, Old Skool.

The Dead Buckley was also given credit for "dekookifying" the American Right, by which is meant he kept Birch Society anti-fluoridationists and anti-Semites off the pages of his magazine, leaving more room for scholarly considerations of whether we were wasting time trying to cram Algebra into those smallish Negro skulls. Buckley's supposed opposition to the Iraq War got a nod or two, as did his brave decision to sail outside the then-Twelve Mile limit to do some bong hits. Here we repeat our gratitude that anyone on the Right who takes a reasonable, sensible, or nuanced position, or rejects any species of bigotry, hedged or no, is hailed as a Maverick, and our hope that the underlying point will some day soon be more widely appreciated. 

We're not going to quibble that his racism was left out of all the Buckley blather. He lived long enough to see it widely disseminated, thanks to new technologies, to see his crypto-Nazi AIDS stance jackboot its way up his own walk, and to receive an advance copy of Liberal Fascism. He lived long enough that even David Brooks, whose career he kick-started, could find precious little to say about him in the flotsam of that movement they share.  We do wish that whoever it was--the Times, maybe--who saw fit to mention his threatening to knock Gore Vidal's teeth down his throat had either not done so, or had refrained from editing out the "God damn" and the "you little queer".  (And we love the fact that Brooks--who keeps repeating that God damn story of his brilliant underclassman lampooning of Buckley as his single 'I was a Liberal' bona fide--is the only person on the planet left convinced that in offering him a job Buckley was demonstrating some sort of trans-partisan bonhomie, rather than a practiced eye for spotting the sniveling toady in his natural habitat.)

But that's just us, and at the end of the day we have to admit that the emptiness of the panegyric suits the man and his movement, but--as with the first of two disastrous Presidents it engendered--the nonsense should be buried with him. We add our own:  that thanks to Bill Buckley's movement the United States did not go Marxist in his lifetime, just as thanks to the lucky rock I keep under my pillow my home has not been overrun by marmosets.