Wednesday, November 30

Will No One Rid Me Of This Meddlesome Marionette?

Joe Lieberman, "Our Troops Must Stay, " WSJ OpinionJournal:
"I am disappointed by Democrats who are more focused on how President Bush took America into the war in Iraq almost three years ago, and by Republicans who are more worried about whether the war will bring them down in next November's elections, than they are concerned about how we continue the progress in Iraq in the months and years ahead."
Maybe it was simply an accident of timing, but whatever mass market news I heard yesterday seemed to be covering this week's administration-approved script--Cut and Run or Stay the Course?--as though this now summed up the Iraq Problem and we were about to sit down at the table after dinner and decide next year's vacation destination. I flip on CNN and Bay Buchanan (aka, the Buchanan who wouldn't have dodged the draft but would have wound up being fragged) was telling Wolfe that now that Bush had made the forceful case for remaining in Iraq for infinity x 2, and the Democrats had backed him (Bay apparently being the only English-speaking person who was swayed by that sham vote in the House), he needed to do something or other with his speech tomorrow. Sorry, I stopped listening. My wife got delayed at school, so I went upstairs to read and idly flipped on the radio. All Things Considered was examining what Congresspersons had heard from their constituencies when they went back home. First up was Indiana's Mike Sodrel. I think it was Sodrel, anyway. It could have been Souder or Buyer or Chocola; I can't see much difference and it would require a week's study to find some. For the Democrats they had some guy from Georgia. The choice here, of course, is designed to give the listener a wide range of public opinion, from what people on the eastern edge of the South are thinking to what people on the northern edge of the South are thinking. Surprisingly, it turns out that they're not happy with the way things are going in Iraq, but they don't believe we should just load up Thursday night and sneak out while everyone's asleep. Democracy in action.

Then I caught the first segment of NBC Nightly News with Brian (Get the Hell Out of My Garbage Cans) Williams. They covered Bush's little press availability in El Paso, where he said we wouldn't leave until Victory Was Ours. Then we got a shot of some Anti-War Demonstrators dogging his path.

Look, I like a good anti-war demonstration as much as the next America Hater, but, y'know, it really seemed designed to frame the story as Staunch Commander-in-Chief vs. Dope-Crazed Pacifists. Maybe I'm just too sensitive. But then, 2/3 of the country is sick of him and his policies, and fully half don't believe you can trust what comes out of his mouth, and they weren't all out waving signs on a Tuesday afternoon. My suspicion is that you could find a band of protesters in the vicinity anytime the Prez deigns to breathe the same dangerous air as his subjects, so why show them now? Or put another way, why didn't you show them for the first 3-1/2 years of this shadow government?

NBC followed this with--oh, you'll never guess--a piece following a Congressman home for Thanksgiving where he gauged his constituents' sentiments about Iraq. Mark Foley, the Republican from the 16th District of Florida, to be precise. Voters there told him they weren't particularly happy with how things had gone in Iraq, but they didn't think our military forces should don false beards and start walking home backwards while whistling and hope nobody notices.

So there you have it, a sampling of opinion from the East South, the North South, and the far Southeastern corner of the Moon. I would have liked to have heard from Wyoming, just for the sake of completeness, but they've only got one guy so he was probably pretty busy.

Mind you, I'm not saying this was slanted; I imagine that at least part of the thinking was to see what our Congresscritters are hearing in decidedly Republican-leaning areas of the country. And I understand that the story sort of presented itself, what with all these Dedicated Public Servants going home just after the big Murtha dust-up an' all. These were features, not news. But on the other hand, Red states and Republican districts aren't driving the story anymore. Their vision, like their pet war, is in tatters. They screwed the pooch, and no rallying to the cause or informed reconsideration is going to change things. Republicans could win every House seat and defeat every Democratic Senator next year and it's not going to change anything in Iraq.

Which brings us to the ever-reliable Joe Lieberman, whose warflogger wet pipe dream of a column for the Wall Street Journal Home for the Ideologically Insane just happens to turn up at the beginning of the week when his President needs him. It's simple enough to dismiss him as George W. Bush without the ranch, or to suggest that glowing portrayals of our "success" in Iraq ring a tad hollow coming from the premier WMD hunter in the halls of Congress, whatever the party. Instead, let's turn to today's Q&A with Professor Cole:
US ambassador in Baghdad Zalmay Khalilzad is going to start direct talks with the Iranians.

Say what? Wasn't Scott Ritter saying only last winter that a Bush military attack on Iran was in the offing? What has changed?


1. The security situation in Iraq is deteriorating over time.

2. The Shiite religious parties won the Jan. 30 elections, which was not what Bush had hoped for.

3. The Neocons are going to jail or given sinecures, and their star is falling faster than the Chicxulub meteor that killed off the dinosaurs.

Read the whole thing. Is there some possible explanation for why we'd be ringing the bell at Axis of Evil headquarters if Iraq was all roses and vastly improved electrical service? I don't think it's possible that even the Bush administration believes this neocon fantasy stuff anymore, but there's Joementum dutifully excoriating his own party for 'em.

And Joe's concern--now--that the coming elections might be influencing some Republican behavior is really quite moving in a Hey, Didn't You Used To Be A Member of the Legislative Branch? sort of way. I don't recall him protesting the War Resolution coming up just before the last midterms, but maybe I just missed it. And I really like the whole "now is not the time to be arguing how we got there in the first place" routine. In '02 it was time to stand united and give the President our backing to do what was necessary (after consulting with our allies, of course). In '03 it was immoral to talk about the bottomless pit we were falling into, because we "had troops in the field". '04, of course, was about Who was best qualified to Keep Us Safe. Now, apparently, is the time to shut up and sign up for an endless occupation. After that, I suppose the cockroaches get to sort it out.

Tuesday, November 29

Part II: Hippies Derail America

Look Out, Peter Tork is wielding The Banjo of Satire!

We left Midge Decter in the fetid jungles of Southeast Asia, huddled with the rest of the boys from the 404th Levittown Battalion as tracer fire zipped over their heads, broken only occasionally by Charlie's taunts of "Fuck Pete Rose!" and "Your houses are box-like, identical, and feature shoddy construction, Joe!" We'll get back to her in a moment. But first, here's a little ditty all the privileged kids are singin' along to:

See Mrs. Gray, she's proud today
Because her roses are in blo--oo-oom.
And Mr. Green, he's so serene
He's got a teevee in every ro-oo-oom.

Another Pleasant Valley Sunday,
Charcoal burnin' everywhere.
Rows of houses that are all the same,
And no one seems to care.

Gerry Goffin/Carole King used without permission, you kiddin'?

I bring this up because, filled with some sort of bizarro world Weather Underground nostalgia to Bring the War Home, Midge blames the whole thing on...a pop hit folksong from 1962?
the divide over the war had turned out mainly to be one between the children of privilege, a most significant number of whom spent the war years horsing around in school with drugs and protests while being praised for their moral superiority, and the children of the “ordinary” folk—people who lived, as a very popu­lar and very ugly folk-style song of the time had it, in “ticky-tacky houses” and who, happily or not, submitted loyally to what their government demanded of them.

On a certain level this has the same cringe factor as David Brooks' freestylin' on French gangsta rap a few weeks back. Like Brooks, she grabs the product without checking the expiration date. "Little Boxes", by Malvina Reynolds, was a hit in 1962, when there were less than 200 American military personnel in Vietnam. The song's about middle-class conformity. That was hardly a shocking topic. It was a hit. So was The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit seven years earlier. This sort of lazy stereotyping of capital-D Decades might do for People, or a teevee countdown show, but it shouldn't fly in front of an educated audience, even at the Heritage Foundation.

And forget that we're simply choosing to ignore the Fifties of Paul Goodman and The White Negro and the Beats. Malvina Reynolds was a 62-year old lifelong Socialist who had, unlike most women of her generation, actually worked for a living her whole life, including in war production in the 40s. If you want to impugn her, Ms Decter, at least have the decency to do it to the memory of her face (however much I hate the song).

Having established beyond all reasonable doubt that a bunch of drug-besotted spoiled brats on the other side are responsible for the Culture Wars, Decter delves into their history with her customary scholarship:
...America’s internal battle of warring attitudes and beliefs is one in which no actual bul­lets are exchanged or bombs dropped, no bodies left to fester on some far-off war-torn field. In that sense, it is not bloody like the religious wars of the past (and indeed, those of the present).

Unless you happen to work in the wrong abortion clinic.
Still, it would be a mistake to imagine that wars of words and ideas, and of ways of living, have not claimed lives. They have, sometimes most cruelly. Consider as just one example that corner of the struggle that has, for something like 40 years now, been devoted to the issue of recreational drugs. The debate continues—as if there were anything to debate—and children continue to lose their lives, literally as well as figuratively.

How often, I wonder, is our professed concern over "recreational drugs" (alcohol exempted, of course!) a code for "hot interracial monkey-butt love"? And of course Decter is keenly aware that the federal war on drugs began as a campaign against blacks, Mexicans, and the Chinese:
I will not even speak of the monstrosity that has been made of race and all the lives that have been claimed by it.

Sure. I think that's a good idea. We have maybe 200 heroin deaths per annum, so it's a much bigger deal than a few hundred years of racial hatred and aboriginal genocide. Besides, somebody might have to ask some embarrassing questions about the company you keep, though they wouldn't have come from your audience. Neither will they ask about your own attitude about homosexuality, which might be summed up "If they get back in the closet and keep their hands off our children we'll leave them alone" in terms of a modern-day segregated lunch counter.

It is a curious matter of such scholarship that the strategic withdrawals of the Right become, within a decade or so, heroic victories. One wonders just who Decter imagines those now-defeated racists were. And is there some fledgling Decter out there today who will, in fifteen years time, be telling us the less said about that evil homophobia in our past the better? Excepting, of course, the "reverse homophobia" of liberals and their nanny-state coddling?

But I'm getting ahead of the story. How'd we get here, Midge?
I like to say that this conflict began on July 8, 1839. Why that day in that year? Obviously, histor­ical developments can never really be dated quite so neatly, or neatly at all, especially where such developments have to do with culture. Anyway, I am, of course, being somewhat facetious.

Still, a date is sometimes helpful in giving one per­spective, and I have picked the date of July 8, 1839, because that was the day that witnessed the birth of one John Davison Rockefeller, Sr. And some time around that year, too, an already 45-year-old gentle­man named Cornelius Vanderbilt was planning how he would become the owner of a certain public util­ity that would before long prove to be of major importance to the economic development of the United States, namely, the New York Central Rail­road. I could go on and on: a list of John D. Rock­efeller’s and Cornelius Vanderbilt’s contemporaries who were responsible for the explosive creation and expansion of American industry, for business inno­vation, for the newly creative exploitation of natural resources—such a list could keep us here all after­noon, sunk in envy for these men’s visions and the sheer moxie with which they converted their visions into a reality. The government of course helped, but mostly by keeping out of their way.

If by "keeping out of the way" you mean "handing over 193 million acres of federal lands" then, yeah. Or "using Federal troops to break strikes". Or "grabbing its share of public-bilking enterprises like the Crédit Mobilier", or ignoring a fixed stock market, or creating the Interstate Commerce Commission that ruled almost exclusively in the railroad's favor. Yup. Grit and moxie.
So now we come to the question that bears on my unhappy subject—culture: Were these men in their own time blessed, celebrated, honored for their achievement by America’s thinkers and writ­ers? Need I ask? Look in any history book; and look at the writings of the time: These men were then, and have continued to be, designated the “Robber Barons”—with no admiration, let alone gratitude, intended.

It is true that many of these men tended to revel in, and make a great and not necessarily attractive public show of, their wealth. Although, in addition to living like emperors, some of them were also, as we know, very civic-minded—throughout the land there are cities with libraries, opera houses, settle­ment houses, museums that are owed entirely to their largesse. And some of them (though most def­initely not, I regret to say, Cornelius Vanderbilt) were also, in one way or another, charitable toward their less favored fellow citizens.

I believe it was Ambrose Bierce who observed that if you steal a large amount of money and keep it for youself you're a thief, but if you give a small portion of it back before you die you're a philanthropist.

This is nothing but sheer idolotry, as befits faith-based history. We simply delegitimize all opposition by fiat, and toss in a "you're just jealous" for good measure. This may do for selling morality tales to toddlers; it does not measure up to the demands of adult discourse. Who says Decter is right about this? Where, exactly, do we get the notion that "innovative capitalism" trumps the claims of thousands of farmers, ranchers, and small businessmen? There might be an argument if all those Gilded Age advancements really did occur with minimal government action, or if we were talking about the innovations of Morse, or Bell, or Edison, which might have been much delayed were it not for them personally. We aren't. We're talking about a group of men who found themselves in a position to control certain technologies and vast amounts of the natural resources of this and other countries, with the aid (often military) of the United States government. If they hadn't been named Vanderbilt and Rockefeller they could have been named Maloney and Shruggs. If not for war profiteers and corrupt politicians, and the chance occurrence of technological advancement and no government oversight the railroads could have been built by the public for the general welfare, as the Interstate Highway system and Rural Electrification were in the mid-20th century.

As for the rest, well, fill in the blanks for yourself. Cultural elites, yadda, socialism, yadda, hippies, yadda yadda, totalitarian heroes, yadda yadda yadda. I don't expect it from Decter or her brood, but just once it would be nice to find a little honesty from that direction, even if it were only designed to shock.

Monday, November 28

Bowtie (Hearts) Comb-over

George F. Will, "Indiana's Book Of Daniels"

INDIANAPOLIS -- Indiana likes having the nation's highest portion of workers -- 20 percent -- in manufacturing, so five days before Delphi, the Michigan-based automobile parts maker, entered bankruptcy, Gov. Mitch Daniels, a Republican who believes "conservatism can be active," called Delphi and praised Indiana as a paradise for even more Delphi operations than are already there.

Michigan's Democratic governor, Jennifer Granholm, responded to Delphi's travails differently, denouncing Delphi's executives, Washington and globalization. In the game of entrepreneurial federalism -- states competing to lure businesses -- score one for the Hoosier State, which in the four years before Daniels became governor had a net loss of jobs.

Well, George, some of us Hoosiers have noted that this time period roughly corresponded to Mitch's tenure at the OMB, but that's probably just a coincidence. I mean, the rest of the nation was experiencing raging job growth, so the problem was clearly with Indiana Democrats.

Maybe I've mentioned the Delphi business here. Mitch showed up for one of his patented marketing ops wearing a Delphi hat and his "jes folks" workshirt--See? See? I'm not wearing a suit like everyone else on the dais!--to lend a little moral support to the Michigan-based executives who were devastated by the news they'd have to cut average wages from $27 an hour to $9, which Mitch said "would still be considered by many Hoosiers excellent jobs, especially those who consider cardboard boxes and excellent form of shelter and know the nutritional value to be gained from local birdfeeders. And with my help there'll be a lot more of those Hoosiers in the future." Or something like that; I'm quoting from memory.

Anyway, I'm not sure about the political situation in Michigan, but if Jennifer Granholm thinks she can keep her job by pandering to constituents more power to her.
Hoosiers seem suspicious of metropolitans...

You can't blame us. They's allus comin' in here bustin' up our stills and preventing us from marrying our attractive cousins.
...but in 2004 Daniels became the state's first governor from this city.

And in 2005 he became the first Indiana governor from anywhere to post a negative approval rating after eight months in office.
Knowing that the devil is in budget details, "the Blade," as Daniels was known at OMB

He's gained several new colorful nicknames back home again in Indiana.
set about:

Oooh, wait for it:
Ending bottled water for employees of the Bureau of Motor Vehicles (annual savings, $35,000). Ending notification of drivers that their licenses are expiring; letting them be responsible for noticing (saving $200,000). Buying rather than renting floor mats for BMV offices (saving $267,000 this year). Initiating the sale of 2,096 surplus state vehicles (so far, $1.95 million in revenue from 1,514 sales). Changing the state lottery's newsletter from semimonthly and in color to a monthly and black-and-white (annual savings, $21,670). And so on, and on, agency by agency.

Incidentally, I've been a licensed driver in Indiana for 35 years and I've never gotten a letter notifying me my license was expiring. I've lived with my wife for 27 years, and she's never gotten one. I've asked family and friends. Nobody's ever gotten one. Licenses are good for four years here, so best I can figure the state has a list of twenty people to be notified, and they slip a $40,000 check in each envelope.

Will, of course, has missed the real savings at BMV, which came from the wholesale closing of local branches, after which we held some localities upside down to see what change fell out of their pockets. It's ranked right up there in popularity with all but three teams pulling out of the F-1 race on race day.

And would that all these photo-op savings were coming from common-sensical belt tightening. The real plan is selling off state resources: hospitals, a five-fold increase in lumbering state forests, privatizing the Indiana Toll Road and Medicare, both contracts which will go to out-of-state companies. Of course, we need the money, 'cause Mitch has already created a dozen new state agencies with a $1M price tag for their top execs.
Such matters might be dismissed by liberals who think government spending is an index of government "caring," and perhaps by a new sect called "national greatness conservatives" who regard Daniels's kind of parsimony as a small-minded, cheeseparing exercise unworthy of government's great and stately missions.

Or, say, by the bomb throwers who think we shouldn't be slashing education budgets, or the radical syndicalists of both parties who have the crazy notion that passing all these costs onto county and local governments doesn't do much for the individual taxpayer.
But it seems to be an Indiana approach.

Yeah? See the comment about Daniels' poll numbers above.
This tenet of traditional conservatism, although more frequently affirmed than acted on, is producing fresh plans for action. A 24-page RSC proposal calls for rescinding $25 billion in pork spending from the transportation bill, saving $30.8 billion by delaying for one year the start of the Medicare prescription drug entitlement, and much more.

Um, those programs were enacted by a "conservative"-controlled Congress in the first place, and the "savings" are earmarked for spending on hurricane victims, which you couldn't pass on a voice vote if the lights were turned out. Rewarding yourself for being forced to do something seems a little like inventing a term for rapine that makes it seem principled. Say, "Danielsism", for example.
Daniels believes that Danielsism, far from being an exercise in small-mindedness, actually serves a large vision. He subscribes to a distinction made by Virginia Postrel in her book "The Future and Its Enemies" -- the distinction between advocates of stasis and advocates of dynamism. The former believe in managing the unfolding of the future.

The latter believe in minimal management of that unfolding; hence they believe in minimizing government, which has a metabolic urge to manage and a stake in preserving the status quo that government's bureaucracies are comfortable serving.

Yeah, swell sentiments, George. Here's one little problem we're seeing in practice: auctioning off community property on leases lasting longer than your possible term in office seems the very definition of "managing the unfolding of the future." Not that I'm suggesting so small a thing as a contradiction should spoil one of your elegant constructions.

Another Pleasant Valley Sunday: The Preamble

You realize this means War!

Midge Decter, "The Never Ending War: The Battle Over America's Self-Meaning"

I had to swipe this from s.z., not because she hasn't already dispensed with it, but because the brackish swamp of Midge Decter's mind sort of completes our canoe trip through Sixties revisionism. In fact, this thing is a veritable cornucopia of rotting vegetation.

As the inimitable mistress of World O'Crap noted, this is one of the wackiest reads of the year, and since I'm running behind I'm splitting it into two parts.

Decter, like Tom Lehrer's folksinger, is bravely facing down a hostile crowd at The Heritage Foundation. She's gonna fulfill her assignment, but first a little war porn to loosen up the crowd [Note: random hyphenation in original]:
Given the choice, I would much rather talk about America’s military wars of the past century. For with only one exception (well, maybe two exceptions, one of them minor and inconsequential), these wars have brought great good to millions upon millions of differ­ent peoples around the globe. Think about it: Never has a nation played so benign a role in the world.

Faith-based history. I'd suggest China, which in 4000 years has been generally a lot more benign to the rest of the world than the US has been in 200. In the past century and this hemisphere alone we've intervened in Cuba, Nicaragua, Honduras, Panama, Nicaragua, Honduras, Cuba, Panama, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Panama, Honduras, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Panama, Honduras, Panama, El Salvador, Uruguay, Puerto Rico, Guatemala, Panama, Cuba, Cuba, Panama, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Chile, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Grenada, Bolivia, Panama, Haiti, Venezuela, and Haiti, generally to protect our economic interests or overthrow governments we didn't like. Find me one of them that even rises to the level of "benign", let alone brought great good to millions.
The one truly glaring exception to this record, of course, is Vietnam. And we know how and why the United States failed in Vietnam: First, the war was entered into with the kind of high-school bravado that characterized the Kennedy Administration’s foreign policy. It was continued uncertainly, though vastly expanded, by Lyndon Johnson. And finally, for Nixon, conducting the war in Vietnam became pri­marily a strategy for getting out of that poor beset country with at least a shred of honor.

Well, hmm. Kennedy didn't do anything that Eisenhower hadn't already done: send "advisors" to help prop up a government that would have been voted out of office in 1956 if we hadn't blocked the elections. I don't know what justifies saying Johnson conducted the war "uncertainly"; he gave Abrams, and later Westmoreland, everything they asked for until, at the 500,000 troop mark it was plain to everyone the war was lost. The attempt to give Nixon a free pass is just plain laughable, or would be if the whole Vietnam Mind Eraser weren't still costing American lives. The Right loves to try to pin the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge on the US withdrawl, but if there's a proximate US action that was responsible it was Nixon's flubbed Cambodian invasion.
Of course, we know why Johnson and Nixon were unable to turn Vietnam into an honorable and ultimately beneficial military undertaking: not because of what was happening in Vietnam itself but because of the hostilities back here in the Unit­ed States.

Actually, it was because of what happened in Vietnam; saying otherwise is historical illiteracy. One of s.z.'s commenters asked why we couldn't have a political discussion in this country without the V-word popping up. Well, here's your reason. Because a large segment of the population simply will not accept the reality of that war. To them, the United States was too powerful militarily to be defeated. So we've heard for decades that we "weren't allowed to win", an apparent complaint that we refused to use nuclear weapons or were unwilling to risk conflict with one or both of the nuclear powers in the region. It's the Dodgeball theory of war: both sides line up facing each other and fire away. But that model died once and for all at Waterloo, if indeed it lasted that long.

Just as the Vietnam Denial Syndrome requires ignoring the military, political, and economic realities of the conflict, the insistence that "we could have won" ignores the costs. Even if we could have obliterated the Vietnamese with military impunity, could we have obtained a Congressional declaration to do so? On what grounds? Saying "the war was lost at home" ignores the military facts, but it also ignores the fact that public disapproval of the war was the only referendum available when our elected representatives turn over conduct of a war to a President who is not directly answerable to the people.

You'll note that Iraq is the same. You'll note that the very same people were convinced that all that was required for American victory was American will. Even while our adventure in Iraq was turning south they were rattling their sabres at Syria and Iran and moving non-existent battalions across their maps. Iraq is the ultimate refutation of their Vietnam fantasies. We could have learned the lesson the first time.

TOMORROW: How those privileged draft-dodgers ruined everything else while they were at it.

Sunday, November 27

Hey, That's Why I Crawled Under Here In The First Place

"As you may have probably heard unless you've been living under a rock, Topher's character has finally been revealed and he will be playing Venom."

"Unless you've been living under a rock in the past couple of months, you've bounced to [Kanye West's] first single, 'Diamonds From Sierra Leone'."


"Unless you've been living under a rock, you've heard [Madonna's] first single, 'Hung Up'."


"Unless you've been living under a rock for a couple of decades, you've heard of the famous Adidas shell toe."

"Unless you've been living under a rock, you probably know that the Guildhall at SMU has quickly become a Mecca for those seeking the lofty heights of game design knowledge."

"'ve probably heard about the huge media firestorm surrounding Sony BMG's XCP digital rights management (DRM) software."

" no doubt know by now that Microsoft is currently working toward releasing the next version of the Windows operating system, Windows Vista."

--andre: teching it easy

" definitely know that Chewbacca hails from the forest world of Kashyyyk."

"... you've heard of Kelly Clarkson."


"'ve seen Heath Ledger's face."

"'ve seen the term 'Wi-Fi.'"

"'ve seen, smoked, or heard of Phillies cigars."

" probably have noticed that Microsoft's once-laughable MSN unit is suddenly on a roll."

"'ll know that Bowling for Soup isn't the name of a documentary by Michael Moore."

"'ve been inundated with information about mutual funds, stocks, bonds, annuities and IRAs."

"'ve probably heard a lot of talk about electronic commerce."

" know Rancic went on to win a job heading up one of Donald Trump's companies."

--Rieva Lesonsky, Entrepreneur

The Boolean Gambit:

"Unless you've been living under a rock or in a cave for the last few years, chances are you've received your fair share of “Unsolicited Commercial Emails."

"Unless you've been living under a rock, or have been coding all day, you know that KDE 3.0beta2 is out."

"Unless you've been living under a rock, or somehow thought metal was the latest LINKIN PARK album, The Gallery is most likely already in your collection..."

--"markgugs" (Hackensack, NJ United States) Amazon review

"Unless you've been living under a rock or in Ludditopia, you know that double-layer burn speeds are quickly ramping up."

--Felisa Yand, reviews

"...or touring with Phish for the last year..."

"...or buying your music exclusively at Columbia House (same difference, come to think of it)..."

"...or unless you've trained yourself to complete ignore comics (and what a strange, sad person you must be)..."

"...(or worse yet, don't like Star Wars, which means you're a moron)..."

"...under a rock in Tom Sizemore's ice chest ..."

"...or in Iraq (trust me, it's funnier if you read it aloud)..."

"...(or living under Iraq - Kuwait)..."

"...(or in Iraq)..."

"...or not in Hungary..."

Judge's Trophy:

Unless you've been living under a rock, I'm sure you've read about the uses for a Blog.

Friday, November 25

Black Friday

We're traditionalists in this neck of the woods, so I've been waiting for the real beginning of the War on Christmas season like, well, like a kid waiting for Santa. It's not like I've been idle. I mean, you don't just go off to war without planning for the thing, do you?

And we're just a little partisan band here. We don't have the resources to file a bunch of nuisances suits over red and green napkins in public schools or Christmas trees on the lawn of the Governor's mansion, and we just don't go in for vandalism, at least not with the same enthusiasm as when we were young. So in order to further the Glorious Cause of eliminating Christianity and turning the Most Powerful Nation on Earth into a dull grey Socialist workers' paradise, we're just trying to spoil Xmas for as many people as we can. Meaning we're branching out from our friends and relatives.

So I've held off, but starting tomorrow that damn bell-ringer at the grocery store is gonna be challenged to recite Bible verses supporting the notion of Virgin Birth. With any luck we'll make the contents of the bucket the stakes, and I'll donate the winnings to the ACLU. I'm planning to catch youngsters running through stores without parental supervision and tell them there's no Santa Claus, and every time a clerk wishes me a "Merry Christmas" instead of "Happy Secular Winter Solstice" I'm gonna reply, "Try to improve you sex life," and hand them a photocopy of some Kama Sutra positions I've printed up. And I'm gonna sing along with any piped-in Christmas carols, only loud and off-key, throwing in a lot of "Doo-dah, Doo-dahs". Additional suggestions welcomed. Let's join the FAUX team in making this the worst Christmas ever!

My Holiday

Well sir, it's roughly 7:30 AM on Thanksgiving morning--we never know exactly what time it is in Indiana--and I'm lowering myself down the basement stairs on a foot that's still inanimate from sleep attached to a brain that's not much better, and it gradually dawns on me that not only is there not supposed to be a moat in the basement there's not really an explanation for one, since at most we got 1/4 inch of snow on Wednesday and it's long since melted. There's a strip of carpet at the bottom of the stairs which has a crescent moon of an underarm stain on it, and I know from previous flooding activity, as they say on teevee, that this is not good news in terms of water volume. There's enough room to grab some cat food without doing any wading and feed Mr. Stinky, who has noticed that something's changed down here but votes for food over panic. I must have said something along the lines of "what's this fucking water doing down here?" because once I get back upstairs in search of suitable footwear my wife is there with a flashlight preparing to dive in. She goes north, I go south, a reversal of the circumstances of our births, and I hear her say "it's coming from over here" as I'm dragging two bags of cat litter to safety. I peered behind the washing machine. The hot water supply, much like my Uncle Floyd a week previously, had ruptured its aorta. I squeezed in behind it and hit the shutoff which, miraculously, actually shut all the way off.

So I made some tea and told my wife I'd be staying home to to dry the thing out. This is not a culinary loss by any means, and since I'm supposed to avoid gluten most food gatherings are a mixed blessing at best even when someone who can cook is cooking. There is, of course, the family dynamic to think of--my wife understands, I think, that I'm not seizing the opportunity to avoid her family. I like her family, probably more than they like me; it's always been fairly clear they'd have preferred her to marry someone with, oh, social skills and/or a set of priorities more attuned to their own. But we all smile and try make nice. Rather, my wife and her father are just not best of buddies, and her sister at midlife is turning into a deranged cat lady from the deranged suburban Jesus lady of her youth. 'Nuff said. I spent the day filling and emptying the Shop Vac, a process complicated by the fact that the one functioning drain down there will only handle a small stream of water, so you have to crack the waste valve just enough and then find something else to do while it empties. I used the time to start protecting roses in the single-digit windchill, and clean up around the house, and think about things to be thankful for. Like a functioning sump pump.

Editor's Note: Maureen Dowd Is On A Book Tour

One of the things I did yesterday was catch about the last two-thirds of MoDo with Charlie Rose while I was treating my frostbitten extremities. I'd never actually seen her in action before. She's sorta the Victoria Jackson of political columnists, if anybody besides Pepper remembers Victoria Jackson.

I don't give a rat's ass about her book, an opinion which was confirmed by the cutesy tete-a-tete she had with Charlie. My attitude may short-change any nuance in the thing, but there it is. As with Daphne Merkin and her public crush on Strip-Search Sam, I've long since been filled to the eyeballs with whining about cartoonish, straw-womyn feminism and post-feminism and Having It All and the different planets Men and Women inhabit. Go on Jerry Springer, fer chrissakes, or write yourself a stand-up routine. Those are the proper venues for this sort of thing, unless you want to actually do the academic work.

And please, please spare me the "Feminism didn't turn out the way the early Feminists thought it would" routine. What, ever, in the History of Mankind (you should pardon the expression) has? Did Christianity turn out the way the Early Christians envisioned? Did the history of civil rights in this country play out according to the Abolitionist blueprint? Are the Eagles gonna be NFC champs?

People on the Right like to babble about The Law of Unintended Consequences, so long as it applies only to Welfare or Medicare or other programs they want to oppose without acknowledging they don't much care about the underlying problem. That's not an answer, it's a rhetorical flourish, and a fallacious one at that.

The hell of it is, MoDo is a couple years older than I am. Unlike Merkin looking at the 60s through the wrong end of a pair of Warren Beatty aviators, Dowd knows better. She knows that women's issues have nothing to do with sidewalk sociological pronouncements about Relationships or Boboesque anecdotes about What Women Want. Feminism is about civil rights and social justice, not about guaranteeing every holder of two x-chromosomes perpetual bliss.

Sitting on my deck, where I'd been before the cold drove me into the warm embrace of PBS, is a pile of broken concrete that used to be the bowl of our front yard birdbath. It fell apart in the cold a couple of nights ago, the day after my wife left me a note to bring the birdbaths in before they broke. And here's the thing about that: I'm the one who does that stuff. As such I like to imagine I have a better handle on what and how much needs to be done. I'd probably done a hundred winter-prep things in the garden my wife has no idea even need doing. So that evening when she brought up the fact that the birdbaths were still outside despite her note, I got a tad snippy about it. Bear in mind that my wife spends all day telling teenagers what to do, and sometimes she forgets to hit the off switch when she gets home.

The fact is I thought they'd be fine for one more night. And I was wrong. And just to make sure I'd have to acknowledge I was wrong she brought the pieces around to the deck so I wouldn't find them in situ and clean them up. She wanted to force me to submit to an ass kicking. Which I did. And immediately after that I noted in a studiously casual manner that if she could manage to cart the thing to the back yard after it broke, she could have put it in the garage herself and spared the note paper.

It's the course of True Love, Maureen. I know, you claim your book has nothing to do with your personal life, and maybe it doesn't; I'm not shelling out $24.95 for the answer. The Birdbath Incident is now a running gag with us, because that's how relationships work. If I expected my wife to soothe over every last bruise I get from the world, or "complete me", or vice versa, we'd be writing books about how tough it is to have relationships. Try meeting some real people beyond the career- and power-obsessed holes in the rarified atmosphere who Just Can't Connect. You and Charlie kept coming back to the sparkling battle of equals that was Hepburn and Tracey on screen. In real life, Ol' Spence was a sour, womanizing drunk. I'm guessing that not all of their real conversations were all that sparkling.

Thursday, November 24

Somehow He Manages To Make "Editor's Note: Maureen Dowd Is On A Book Tour" Seem Almost Poignant

Thomas Friedman: "George Bush's Third Term".

Okay, I just happened to notice that this was the most emailed story at the Times, pretty rare for a jewel from the Times Select Collection, so I had to slip under the fence and check it out. It's the holidays. I'm hungry for some punditry.
President George W. Bush has just entered his third term.

I'm sure that's wrong. It's still...
That's right. He's a three-term president.

Well, okay. This is the Times, after all.
His first term was from 2001 to 2004, and it was dominated by 9/11, which Mr. Bush skillfully used to take a hard-right Republican agenda on taxes and war with Iraq, which was going nowhere on 9/10, and drive it into a 9/12 world.

Skillfully? Because it seems to me that...
His second term was very brief. It lasted from his re-election in November 2004 until Election Day 2005. This was an utterly wasted term. It was dominated by an attempt to privatize Social Security, which the country rejected, political scandals involving I. Lewis Libby Jr., Tom DeLay and Bill Frist, a ham-fisted response to Katrina and a mishandling of the Iraq war to such a degree that many Democrats and Republicans have begun to vote "no confidence" in the Bush-Cheney war performance. If ours were a parliamentary system, Mr. Bush would have had to resign by now.

That's some fine insightin' there, Tom, but if ours was any sort of system a sane person would wish on...
So now begins Mr. Bush's third term. What will he do with it?

Wait, that's it? Today is the First Day of the Rest of George Bush's Life? Okay, I snuck in here, but some people paid good money for this. What happened to all that shit from the second term? He's calling a mulligan?
Mr. Bush has two choices.

Would one of them involve a gas oven with the pilot light out?
One is to continue governing as though he's still running against John McCain in South Carolina.

Does that mean accuse the entire country of fathering an interracial child?
That means pushing a hard-right strategy based on dividing the country to get the 50.1 percent he needs to push through more tax cuts, while ignoring our real problems: the deficit, health care, energy, climate change and Iraq. More slash-and-burn politics like that will be a disaster.

Yeah. It's a shame, too, 'cause it was so successful the first time around.
Indeed, at a time when a decent outcome in Iraq is still possible and we are at the most important political moment in Baghdad -- the first national election based on an Iraqi-written constitution -- it was appalling to watch Mr. Bush and Dick Cheney using their bully pulpits to act like two Rove attack dogs, accusing Democrats of being less than patriotic on Iraq.

Yeah, I was really disappointed in them, too. Say, about that "decent outcome in Iraq..."
Yes, we need to stay the course for now in Iraq, but we can't stay the course alone or divided. That's the point.

Oh, good, I was beginning to wonder if you had a...
Sure, some Democrats goaded them with reckless remarks...

The rat bastids. Wait, do they get a do-over too?
...but they are not in power. Where are the adults?

Daphne Merkin found some the other day. But you're not gonna like it--one of them is still investigating Bush's second term. Plus they dress funny.
We can't afford this nonsense, while also ignoring our energy crisis, the deficit, health care, climate change and Social Security

Say, Tom, would now be a good time to bring up what you were saying about the war back in...
[S]aid David Rothkopf, author of Running the World: The Inside Story of the National Security Council and the Architects of American Power,..."George W. Bush may well be seen as the president who, by refusing to address these urgent questions when they needed to be addressed, invited America's decline."

Forget biology, he needs to start working on a generation of faith-based historians.
Truly, I hope Mr. Bush rises to the challenge. We do not have three years to waste. To do that, though, Mr. Bush would need to become a very different third-term president, with a much more centrist agenda and style. If he does, he still has time to be a bridge to the future. If he doesn't, the resources he will have squandered and the size of the problems he will have ignored will put him in the running for one of our worst presidents ever.

Wait just a gol'-durned minute. I read all the way to the end of this thing and that's the second choice? George Bush could suddenly morph into someone competent? No "he could invent an army of killer robot monkeys," no "give each American 300 hits of Ecstasy and a free iPod"? 'Cause I really like those better. Especially the second one.

Happy Birthday

Oscar Palmer Robertson
born November 24,1938

• Led segregated Indianapolis Crispus Attucks High School to 45 straight wins and back-to-back state titles, the first all-black school in the nation to win a state title in an integrated sport (story here).

• Three-time NCAA Player of the Year at Cincinnati. Hey, freshmen couldn't play in those days.

• Co-captain of the 1960 U.S. Olympic team, probably the greatest amateur team ever assembled (Jerry West, Walt Bellamy, Jerry Lucas, Terry Dischinger, Adrian Smith).

• 11-time NBA All-Star, 1964 MVP, three-time All-Star game MVP, 1961 Rookie of the Year.

• It's often noted that in the 1962-63 season he averaged a triple double. Less frequently is it mentioned that he nearly did that six years running:
Year  Reb    Asst   Pts
61 10.1 9.7 30.5
62 12.5 11.4 30.8
63 10.4 9.5 28.3
64 9.9 11.0 31.4
65 9.0 11.5 30.4
66 7.7 11.1 31.3
• Totaling points and assists he's far and away the all-time NBA leader, averaging 44.7 ppg. Magic Johnson is second at 41.9, but The Big O didn't have the benefit of the Lakers' scorekeepers.

Wednesday, November 23

Happy Birthday

Adolph Arthur Marx
November 23, 1888--September 28, 1964

Daphne Merkin Loves A Man In Uniform

Daphne Merkin on Sam Alito: Authentically Unhip in the New York Times Magazine.
Characterize (or smear) Sam Alito, who is beleagured Dubya's latest, uncronyist pick for the Supreme Court with whatever disdainful moniker you like, but it still doesn't change the fact that his sort - the undersung and often-scorned Traditional Catholic Male - seems to be carrying the day. So what's the big whoop about these men who toil assiduously in their eager-beaver professions, early-to-bed, teetotaling types who live in gelato-free suburbs, where they bag their own groceries at the local ShopRite (as Alito has evidently been spotted doing) and prefer the tried-and-true uniform of a shirt, tie and (sometimes unlaced) lace-up shoes?

Well, for one thing, the recent ascension of this quiescent type in the form of Patrick Fitzgerald, John Roberts and Sam Alito has demonstrated that being grown-up and resolutely square has its advantages, including the ability to keep your randier impulses in check and your repression control set to high. For another, the visibility of this trio suggests that the more principled-seeming aspects of the Republican franchise - what were once billed as prudent but compassionate values - are not entirely in tatters. In an era of packaged personalities and political philosophes on the order of Bono and Angelina Jolie, these guys tend to trust their instincts, pointedly old-fashioned or conservative as they may be, instead of fretting about projecting the correct image to bloggers and Jon Stewart devotees. These fellows may be shy or awkward, but they are relatively at ease with inhabiting themselves instead of the GQ-mandated version, where life is lived in the eye of the hipper-than-thou beholder.

Oh, joy! The grownups are here to save us! Again. (Okay, I probably should have warned you to put on your waders before attempting to cross that paragraph.)

And we got there from one of those sidewalk psychoanalyses that send me rushing to find the author's DOB, an exercise that inevitably uncovers the fact that she sussed out the deep symbiotic relationship between fashion and politics in the late 60s/early 70s while watching Saturday morning cartoons and working on her 12 times table. See if you can spot the Dead Giveaway:
Lord knows, you have only to take one look at Sam Alito's college yearbook photo, Princeton class of '72, to spot all the fateful symptoms, the revealing semiotic trail of blatant uncoolness, even if you didn't know that he was a Nixon supporter and an R.O.T.C. recruit at a time when campuses across the country were jumpy with activism. First, consider those totemic Clark Kent glasses, a sure giveaway of hopeless doofusness when everyone was on to Warren Beatty-imprimatured aviators. Then there's the ear-clearing hairstyle, which looks as if a mother had lovingly combed it, not to mention the lack of character-obscuring sideburns. And what about the set of the jaw, which appears pleasantly determined but not uncompliant, as if this guy actually believed people over 21 might have some wisdom to impart.

Did you catch it? Want a hint? Google "Warren Beatty" and "filmography".

Yes, I entered college in 1972, many hundreds of miles from Princeton and admittedly in the vast cultural backwaters between the coasts, but the only guy I knew who wore aviators aviator, and the only guy I knew who looked to Warren's cultural imprimatur was...nobody. He was the star of Bonny and Clyde, Mickey One, and McCabe and Mrs. Miller, and I don't remember him wearing shades in any of those. In fact I don't remember anybody's fashion sense being particularly influenced by any movie idols in those days. I remember that in high school a few guys who'd been sporting 1964 Beach Boys surfer bangs wanted to upgrade to a Peter Fonda Easy Rider 'do, and I myself had one of those refueller's jackets, but that was because I found it at the surplus store, not because I was mimicing Steve McQueen.

By the turn of the decade everybody in the Corn Belt was wearing prole chic: workshirts, jeans, and boots. Shades were for the beach, and we don't have many of those. Too Rat Pack. Shades didn't return as a fashion statement until the Fonzie Generation grew up. I do remember seeing a guy wearing a guy wearing a pair of ELTON glasses once, but I think it was at a Halloween party.

I'm not being flippant, and I'm not just gathering nits for the protein they provide. Despite her protestations, Merkin's reading belongs to her own, ten-years-after, imaginings. If she looked at my '72 yearbook she'd find that 80% of my male classmates looked like that. And granted, that's the Middle West, and that's high school, but isn't high school the last time anybody's concerned about that sort of thing? I don't recall sniggering about anybody's fashion sense in college; I had better things to do. There were plenty of Alito-imprimaturs around, and they covered the entire political spectrum. The reason we make pronouncements now about "nerds" (the word was not current in those days; I remember the first time I heard it I thought they were saying "Nerf", the popular indoor-football material) is precisely that we know he was a Nixon-supporting ROTC recruit. Though we might note that his brave authenticity did not translate into volunteering for combat in Vietnam, or even joining the regular Army.

No, it's not the sloppy history of hemlines business, it's the continued reliance on a cartoon view of the Sixties as a Parable for Our Times that irritates me. Vietnam was never as unpopular in the polls as Iraq is now, and we were shipping home 1,000 casualties a week. It's long past the time that people like Merkin understood that you don't get a 50/50 split in public opinion without a sizeable portion of the Young being on the Pro side. It's past time to acknowledge that the current understanding of the "counterculture" of the Sixties owes much to the views of the Right as to the Left. And the length of one's sideburns had very little to do with it.

Tuesday, November 22

Happy Birthday

Hoagland Howard Carmichael
born November 22, 1899, Bloomington, Indiana
died December 27, 1981

Permission Slip

"People should feel comfortable about expressing their opinions about Iraq."

-George W. Bush

"I do not believe it is wrong to criticize the war on terror or any aspect thereof."

-Dick Cheney

Thanks, and my I say that for myself, this newfound privilege will only be used with the utmost respect and decorum such matters of global import deserve. You lyin', thievin', hypocritical sacks of shit.

Wait, Aren't You The Same Donald H. Rumsfeld Who Planned To Reduce Troop Levels To 30,000 By September 2003?

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, addressing the renewed debate over American troops in Iraq , said today that any paring down of the forces there would depend on military and security conditions, and that current troop levels must be maintained at least until the December elections in Iraq.

Daily Pepper has the story of Bob Schieffer catching Rummy with his pants down. Assuming he was wearing any to begin with.

Say, Aren't You the David Brooks Who, Flush With Purple-Fingered Excitement, Told Us The US Could "Spark" The Debate But Not Conduct It?

If the U.S. leaves, Iraq will descend into a full-scale civil war. The Iranians will come in on the side of the Shiites. The Syrians, Saudis, and God knows who else will be tempted to come in on the side of the Sunnis. The Turks will be tempted to come in to take care of the Kurds. We might be looking at the Middle East version of World War I.

How positively Hobbesian of them.

Kathy, I know this is shooting porpoises in a barrel, but they keep refilling the damn barrel. And remind me to remind everyone about Brooks' preview of Bush's second term. It's Bobo-riffic!

Um, Aren't You The Same Paper That Employs Bob Woodward To Give Us A Peek Inside Washington Machinery?

Washington Post-Flogger editorial:
If there is to be any chance of that war being won, the United States will have to commit its own forces to the fight for years, though perhaps not at current levels. The alternative is to risk a defeat that would be devastating to U.S. security. That's a hard truth to face: It can't be done amid a partisan free-for-all.
Perhaps I should point out that the prime example of "partisan free-for-all" here involved slagging John Murtha for "smearing Mr. Cheney and Mr. Bush as 'guys who got five deferments and never been there, and send people to war.'" Leaving aside the fact that it was Cheney, not Bush, who collected deferments like other people collect Hummel figurines (to be fair, it may be that they don't know about this at the Post), and that Rep. Murtha is being criticized for a one-punch knock-out of the mofo who jumped him in an alley, it's really quite simple. Just as you can end the nasty partisan debate over the WMDs (not to mention your credulous war-time coverage of same) by showing us some, just tell us how many more decades we need to be in Iraq until everyone in the Middle East is linking arms and singing Kumbaya. I'm sure we'll all sign on for the duration. And be pleasant about it.

Wait, Aren't You The Same "Dean" Broder Who Died in 1989?

When I saw McCain, he had not yet read James Fallows's cover story in the December Atlantic magazine, titled "Why Iraq Has No Army." In an amply documented and deeply disturbing account, Fallows shows how hollow has been the administration claim to "standing up" Iraqi security forces capable of replacing the U.S. troops. Fallows also argues that doing so at this point would require fundamental shifts in Pentagon priorities -- on everything from troop rotation to the allocation of weapons budgets -- that are not likely to come from Rumsfeld or Bush.

One, I love the chattering classes' love affair with the Senator from Arizona. The idea of McCain as Our Moderate Republican Savior ranks right up there with the idea of being welcomed as liberators by the Iraqis.

However, I have to acknowledge the tiny but disturbing voice in my head which suggests that we ought not pin too many hopes on Senator Stay-the-Course considering that James Fallows has better intel.

Sunday, November 20


...everyone, for your concerns about my wife's condition. She's much improved, sleeping through the night and the horrendous coughing fits are much reduced. The reason I didn't bring it up sooner is that we've gone through this nearly every year for the past decade, and she gets better only to have it rebound and stick around until February. I'm cautiously optimistic that this time she'll listen to me and start doing some breathing exercises.

We had a death in the family Friday, so I probably won't return until Tuesday. Thanks again. And keep washing those hands.

Friday, November 18

I Am Big! It's the Pre-war Intelligence That Got Small!

I was out of it yesterday, not that I'm exactly plugged into the news or anything, but when the alarm went off this morning I heard Ray Suarez say Scott McClellan had criticized John Murtha for "endorsing the policy positions of Michael Moore"(?) Did I hear that right? "Michael Moore is fat" is now the official level of discourse from The Greatest Nation on Earth? Really?

Or is this the start of a whole new rhetorical trend? "We can't allow this issue to become mired in the sticky sentimentality of a Taylor Hackford"? "The times call for start contrast, not the lambent prissiness of a Merchant-Ivory"? "The French position may look attractive, but we don't think Americans will have any patience for this mise-en-scene shit"? Is it time to fire back that Murtha has displayed Gregg Toland-esque depth of focus, or that he's breathed new life into the moribund war drama genre?

Or how 'bout this: Scotty, you're box office poison, sweetheart. Maybe what you guys need is to check out the view from the top of the HOLLYWOOD sign.


OK, I just emerged from my day-long coma (see explanation below) and everybody's jumping on Amy Anderson, whoever she is, for this (Atrios via Roger Ailes). The suggestion that they do it for free seems to have offended a few blogger sensibilities almost as much as the contention that Kos is white.

Now, as you may recall, I'm not exactly overwhelmed by blogtopia aggrandizement, and if you catch me in a bad mood I'm liable to toss a "Glen Reynolds--now there's a successful blogger," or "How 'bout that revolutionary All-Star Blogger Convention coverage, eh?" at you. But today I'm just tickled, but not as much as I was by Amy herself:
Then there is the amount of space that many bloggers spend on minutiae. Who cares where they went over the weekend or how their children did in the science fair and what movies they saw? I mean, if I don't have the time and patience to read such ephemera, I suspect that you don't, either.

Because, one, it's certain she's never read what such ephemera can be in the hands of Chris Clarke or Michael Bérubé, e.g., and two, she seems to have an odd blind spot over just how much mindlessness is perpetrated by important, that is to say, paid journalists, despite the fact that the empty calories of Missing White Girl of the Week and Tom Cruise Watch make up such a high percentage of the National diet. It's just a guess, but I'd bet the Enquirer has a greater circulation than Dissent and Commentary combined (which would make them Dissentary, if I may steal the best gag Woody ever wrote). And I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Rita "Howlin' Wolf" Cosby outearns James "James Wilcox" Wolcott.

That the worldview of the terminal journalistic careerist is impervious to any assault from self-reflection doesn't surprise me anymore; I remember catching a panel discussion retrospective on the 2000 election coverage, which included "Dean" Broder and "Steno Sue" Schmidt, giving themselves high marks for their work. I mean, Corporate Medicine, Inc., spends a lot of time going after midwives and chiropractors and herbal remedies, but they manage to examine their own practices from time to time, don't they?

Health Care Makes Me Sick

After opening day of the Upper Respiratory Distress Season I intended to write about how Ah-nuld was fulla shit and nurses deserved twice what they make minimum, and how, if the experience went on much longer I planned to write about my admiration for the famous scene in Kiss of Death were Richard Widmark pushes a wheelchair-bound woman down a flight of stairs. Which was a joke, mostly.

But then at 3AM Thursday morning, just I as was finally putting down the guitar and heading for bed there was a large commotion upstairs. My Poor Wife, who'd been sleeping, if somewhat fitfully, was up and having trouble breathing or standing. There's a procedure to be followed, or maybe it's a game to be played, under these circumstances. I have to ask her what she wants to do. She will not say, "Get me to a doctor." I have to coax it out of her being careful not to slight my known aversion to the medical profession. "Would some broth help? Do you want some steam?" Finally it's decided we need to go to MedCheck. Yes, dear, I know the one closest to us is closed. That is, shuttered; both the nearest and second nearest 24-hour doctor shops have shut down in the last three years. Still, there's one a couple miles away. Start the car. It's decided to turn cold, and it's around 20º with a 15-mile-an-hour wind. Get her bundled up and half-carry her to the car. I didn't take the time to call the place, so of course we get there to find it closed at 11.

Not a big deal, because it's on the way to the hospital. Now, I've spent enough time in emergency rooms to dread them, but it's cold and a good hour after the bars closed and we're on the city's Preferred North Side, so it's all but deserted and there's even a place to park for free, although it's still a block and a half from the door. Got her through admissions and into a room. She was feeling slightly better at this point, because it's the panoply of modern science as much as the care she craves. My opinion, anyway. And people were coming in and out and listening to her lungs and playing Twenty Questions and making one of the machines on the wall spit out oxygen; I meant to ask if it could get me a Scotch, neat, but I forgot. I was doing my usual health care patter; the doctors seem to enjoy it and I like to take 'em out of their routine and see what happens. Plus, my wife and I have been together nearly thirty years now, and we've got the Bickersons routine down so well we sometimes convulse total strangers in stores. Only she wasn't really up to playing much, so it was mostly a monologue.

Now somebody else comes in and listens to her, and they wheel her out for chest x-rays, and I get to concentrate on just how fucking uncomfortable I am. The teevee is playing a Lakers game I already know the result of, and it's up in the corner for the benefit of the bedridden, so it kills your neck just to look at it. And I'm sitting on a plastic chair which is the most uncomfortable thing I've even sat in. Ever. It's a Catholic hospital and my speculation is the things are made by a community of Flagellants. They bring her back. Time passes. I managed to grab a copy of Montaigne's Essays off my nightstand but I'm so sleepy the text just keeps floating around. Doctor comes back after reading the X-rays. No pneumonia, so they make the thing on the wall spit out some vapor concoction. It's like a Dremel Moto-tool for hospitals. Five minutes of this, then some time for her heart rate to return to normal, then another listen. No go. We're going to have to give you the long version.

The hour-long version.

And this In-a-Gadda-da-Vida of pharmacology sends the heart rate to the moon, so by now I'm sitting on this hair-shirt of a stool of theirs with my neck cocked at an unnatural angle watching the sunrise on the local morning shows I'd be screaming about except the speaker is over by my wife's bedside so I can't hear the inanities. What I can hear, clearly, is the woman on the morning shift at the nurses station who is counted among the masses who believe that "goes" is synonymous with "said". "She goes" this, then "He goes" that, probably fifteen times. I have a headache, a neck cramp, an imputed rash on my butt, and a throbbing pain from plantar fasciitis. I'd ask for an aspirin, except I'm sure it'd wind up on the bill for $40.

I amused myself by duplicating the hand gestures the "reporters" made; I highly recommend it if you find yourself in similar circumstances. Finally they check back, but she still doesn't sound good enough, so it's one more shot before they admit her. Five more minutes--this time the tech tells her to breathe deeply, which they haven't mentioned before. I'm thinking of seeing if I can figure out how to make the Dremel spit out morphine, but there's always someone around. I start pacing. There's room for three of 'em before I turn around. Now we're into what used to be called the morning news programs but now consist of interviews with idiots who line up on the street to say Hi to the Folks Back Home, plus a very special in-the-studio performance by Carlos Santana with Michelle Branch, who left her voice with her producer somewhere.

I'm trying, really, to be solicitous of my poor sick wife but I'm about to ask to be admitted myself. It obviously showed on my face since a nice employee caught my mug as I was taking the three steps toward the door and asked if he could get me a coffee or anything. He was probably surprised to learn later that my wife had finally been released, since my scowl must have suggested terminal cancer to him.

Thursday, November 17

Cue Carnac the Magnificent

Slate asks: What's the most influential book you read in college?

David Brooks, columnist, the New York Times
This is going to sound awfully pompous (but hey, I went to the University of Chicago), but the two most important books I read in college were Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France and Hobbes' Leviathan . I loathed both books at first reading, but they both explained how little we can rationally know about the world around us and how much we have to rely on habits, traditions, and intuition. I've been exemplifying our ignorance on a daily basis ever since.

Har, har, har. Really. Is there a center to David Brooks at all? Jeez Louise, if you asked me that question when I was in my mid-twenties I might have apologized for sounding pompous. In middle age I realize that everything I did back then was pompous. You're supposed to be discovering new intellectual continents in college, unless you're just there hoping to add to the world's sum total of knowledge in marketing techniques. If it sounds so pompous now to say it changed your world then, what are we supposed to make of that column a couple months back that insisted on "Conservative" intellectual superiority because y'all sit around discussing Burke and Hobbes on weekends?

And David, really, if you're gonna try the self-deprecation schtick, do it as an aside. This isn't the first time you've erected a twenty-five foot billboard reading "DAVID BROOKS IS DISARMINGLY MODEST".

Mr. Run Amok

Funny how the mind works. Because of my nursing duties it wasn't until this evening that I heard about Bob Woodward getting caught in FItzgerald's net (note to NY Times, NBC, et. al.: let's call it for what happened, or what we found out about, today. What this does or doesn't do to the case against Libby is speculation. What Libby's laywers say about the news is a response. The story today is that Bob Woodward, media hotshot and a managing editor of the Washington Post, sat on his story for two years. Bob Woodward, Press Titan, spent two years trying to duck a subpoena while he used his journalistic standing to slag Patrick Fitzgerald and agitate for a Federal shield law). And the first thing I thought about was three or four years ago when Howie Kurtz conducted a reader poll on media bias and allowed he was shocked, shocked! to learn that some readers imagined there was a right-wing tilt to the press when everybody knew it learned so far left it needed corrective shoes.

And here the stinkiest chunk of Limburger at his own cheese shop was a Bush administration stenographer. (Your winnings, sir.)

In fairness, Howie wrote the "Woodward Apologizes" piece and it was a quotefest about his journalistic ethics. Meaning their lack. One can only hope it signals the beginning of a staff-wide attack of conscience like they had at the Times.

A couple things are now quite clear, and all the jibber-jabber about "how this affects the case" aren't going to make them disappear. There's no justification for a Federal shield law (the Soviet-Heroic "Free Flow of Information Act of 2005", cosponsored by Indiana's non-narcotic sleep aid and "respected foreign affairs authority" Senator Dick Lugar, and 6th District Congressman Mike Pence, about whom I can't say too little) when the Press cannot be trusted not to abuse the privilege it already enjoys. That thing now looks like the "Guaranteed Sobriety and Save Driving Habits of Bush Family Children Act".

The other is that WaPo, and the Times, are going to have to find a way to face up to their actions, and I suggest a race to see who can tell the truth first about the hunting of Bill Clinton from 1992 onward as a nice springboard into the Bush years. Otherwise, as I think we all know, this Pajamas Media thing is gonna eat both their lunches.

Wednesday, November 16

Shut The Fuck Up

Via the remarkable Fact-esque, this from Stephen Hadley:
But ... you see the dilemma. What happens if on September 7th of 2001, we had gotten one of the hijackers and based on information associated with that arrest, believed that within four days, there's going to be a devastating attack on the United States...

And what if Superman had worked for the Nazis? God, I love this game.

Here's what I don't get: this sort of shit would be laughed out of a Freshman-year logic class, but at the highest reaches of the US government it goes unchallenged. Show your work, Mr. have we "gotten" one of the hijackers? Speeding While Arab? Alleged throat-slashing gesture aimed at hysterical suburban airline passenger? That's enough to bring out the brass knuckles and the crank telephone, just to see if we can come up with anything interesting?

Or the alternative: we get wind of nefarious activities. What do we need torture for? Any information gained from torture is suspect, and you've already got some sort of lead, presumably even enough for the pre-9/11 Bush administration to take some action. You're either in possession of some solid evidence, or you're advocating wanton torture, which I think even a die-hard sports fan like yourself, Mr. Hadley, will admit has a few drawbacks.

All right, for the sake of argument, let's do the Full Cheney. You've "gotten" your suspect, and you know he's planted a mythical suitcase bomb which will take out a major American city in 24 hours. He won't talk. The clock is ticking. So fucking torture him already if that's going to save the world. Just shut up about it. Law or no law, who's going to complain?

This has nothing whatsoever to do with sanctioning torture as an instrument of the US government or its third-party S&M chums. Licensed torture isn't going to be employed only in your Doomsday scenario. It's going to be employed routinely, to extract mundane information or to break up an otherwise boring day. War is hell. Motherfucking awful things happen in a war which no sane person would wish on anybody. In the wholly unlikely event of someone in the field being faced with this Hollywood plotline of yours, he'd do what had to be done. He'd do it just to save the lives of a few of his comrades. But the least that a civilized world demands, if it's not too late for that, is that he'd be praying to God he was right.

Surely there's someone sitting in Mr. Hadley's audience with a laptop. Surely there's someone who can google up a pic of Lynndie Englund and say, "Here, sir, is this the world we need to save?"

Grab Bag

Indianapolis Star photo by Matt Detrich.

I had just finished dinner with my Poor Wife (who yesterday brought home the annual High School Student Walking Petri Dish Death Germs cold she gets every year--the warm weather this year has delayed it from its usual end-of-September starting date) when there was a loud boom and an intense, magnesium flash and the lights flickered once and went out. I went into the kitchen to grab a flashlight and there was another flash, kinda brown at the edges.

We in Hoosierland went another round yesterday with what the teevee weather hairdos like to call Possible Tornadic Activity. All we'd gotten here was some high wind activity and a couple of precipitation events, but that had passed already. I got a couple more flashlights going and went outside, and just across the property line was a large sycamore limb on the power line burning like a Yule log. I ran over to the neighbors', not sure if they were home, but they were busy grabbing their own flashlights. They'd been outside when it happened and were still purblind from the flashes. The branch was throwing off sparks like crazy in the wind, but everything was too wet to burn, and power, and modern life, was restored in thirty minutes.

Not so my notes for today's posts, so just imagine they are funnier.

The bloggy goodness that is Corndog featured some exorbitant praise for a comment I'd left there. Ordinarily this sort of thing embarrasses the hell out of me, and this is no exception, but since I really have to make every idea count I would like to mention my fondness for the idea that the Bee Gees squandering of their harmonic talents was like Bach writing strictly for the accordian. Even if it was my idea. I'd like to teach the World to simile. Shut up.

And at the risk of causing the ever-delightful Julia any more respiratory distress, I was driving home this afternoon and the story of a gag popped into my head. I don't remember the comic's name, but I'd recognize his face if that helps any. It's a bit about a blind skydiver, and the punchline is, "Did you ever hear a German shepherd scream at 20,000 feet?" And then he explains that he originally told the joke as, "Did you ever hear a dog..." and nobody got it. And he's right, in a way that can't really be explained. Wording is everything.

So, I wanted to note that the third blurb for "Santa's Letters to Penthouse" was supposed to come from "the WettSpott DOT COM". I meant to put a .com in there somewhere and just forgot. And I think third is the right place.

Likewise, in the post about grandma's candies a couple weeks back my Viet Vet cousin really should have awakened screaming, in a cold sweat, and had his wife say, "What is it, honey? Charlie again?" To which he'd reply, "No, dammit...BRACH'S!"

Okay, I think this is about how long the thing was supposed to be.

Happy Birthday

Chinua Achebe: born November 16, 1930

Tuesday, November 15

Rumsfeld: I Was Just Issuing Orders

Sunday Washington Post: "Wrestling With History" by David Von Drehle
If only he could show us the memo.

"It's still classified, I suppose?" says Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, looking toward his assistant.

"It's still classified," Lawrence DiRita replies, "along with a lot of the underlying planning."

Rumsfeld nods, apparently disappointed. He is interested in sharing the memo because the memo, as he outlines it, demonstrates that his critics are utterly mistaken. He did not dash heedless and underprepared into Iraq. Rumsfeld foresaw the things that could go wrong -- and not just foresaw them, but wrote them up in a classically Rumsfeldian list, one brisk bullet point after another, 29 potential pitfalls in all. Then he distributed the memo at the highest levels, fed it into the super-secret planning process and personally walked the president through the warnings.

It's not all that surprising that Rumsfeld would morph into the administration's version of Terrell Owens, aggrandizing himself at the expense of his quarterback and his teammates when things go south. Think back to those Pentagon briefings, the ones the Press just couldn't get enough of. The days when Rummy was the cantankerous star of the wildly successful, seven-nights-a-week ratings powerhouse, The Shock and Awe Show.

So now it turns out he wasn't 100% on board with this war thing. Well, Mr. Secretary, let's take a look at TO. He's a cog who imagined himself to be the whole Swiss movement. He's a man who plays a boy's game for a living. He shouldn't have said what he said the way he said it, and he was justifiably suspended, but I think we can all agree that he was under no obligation to resign. You sir, on the other hand, are the Secretary of Defense, with direct responsibility for the most powerful military force in the world. If you didn't agree with the way the war was planned you did have an obligation to resign.

Sure, we can still find a few useful idiots to speak up in your defense:
Victor Davis Hanson of the Hoover Institution chalked up America's troubles in Iraq to the huge cuts in active-duty troops that were begun by the first President Bush and continued under President Clinton. "In reality, [Rumsfeld] has carefully allotted troops in Iraq because he has few to spare elsewhere -- and all for reasons beyond his control," Hanson argued.

but the game is up. We know the ability to fug the facts is part of the playbook. That too went spectacularly wrong. And you have seen it, even if Hanson can't focus for having spent twelve years in close-up examination of the former President's genitals.

Previous administrations did not cut our standing troop strength in a vacuum. We produced a lighter-weight military (the one you've tried post-facto to take credit for) as part of a new strategic alignment with a new world political situation. We had no need to maintain an Army that could take on the Soviet Union on two fronts when there wasn't one anymore. We didn't need sufficient troops to occupy a sizable chunk of the Middle East because the idea was absurd and obviously self-destructive.

We know, for example, that you're the one who overruled the professionals' request for more troops. We know you saw Iraq as a laboratory for your ideas. What we don't know is why we would commit our citizens to a war where we'd planned for only the rosiest of rosy scenarios.

And we don't know exactly how many of the 2200 and rising coalition deaths should be laid directly at your office door, to say nothing of the Iraqis we've liberated from all earthly care.

It's the modern American disease, the Big Idea. You were going to transform the military, "bring it into the 21st century" in that smarmy catchphrase of Republicans everywhere who want to ignore the unpleasant realities that interfere with their Vision. But every Tom, Dick, and Sheila in this country has a Vision. The smart guys--and you're supposed to be one of them, Mr. Secretary--are supposed to understand that there's also nuts and bolts that have to be tightened and gears to be kept oiled. The DoD is not a fantasy football league. At least it's not supposed to be.

Von Drehle implies, to say the least, that Colin Powell was brought on board largely to buoy what many saw as an illegitimate presidency, and was immediately tag-teamed by Rumsfeld and Cheney. So we can certainly add part of the blame the smug refusal to build an international coalition before the invasion to the list.
Anything Powell favored, the Defense Department opposed. Powell suggested more allies; Rumsfeld announced he was ready to go it alone. Powell favored a larger force; Rumsfeld weeded out troops unit by unit. Ultimately, the invasion was a repudiation of the Powell Doctrine in U.S. military affairs. The force deployed was light and lethal -- but not, history has clearly shown, the master of all contingencies. Nor was there a clear exit strategy, merely the hope of garlands and easy reconstruction -- a point war critics have often made and Rumsfeld has never rebutted in detail.

Still, there's one thing to be said for the wanton destruction of our international standing...we can travel even lighter.

And we haven't even touched on the over-reliance on National Guard and reserve troops, the logistical failures, the reduction in training, and, of course, the use of torture, all of which passed across Rumsfeld's desk, though there can be little doubt the last of those came from above.

The final irony is that Rummy's leaner, meaner, fighting machine has wound up costing us uncounted hundreds of billions of dollars, flushed recruitment down the drain, and fractured our manpower and materiel, probably for a generation. Some laboratory.

Monday, November 14

Best Sign at Yesterday's Game

"Houston, You Have A Problem"

Which reminded me of my all-time favorite. Back in the early days after Indianapolis stole the Colts (in case I haven't apologized to Baltimore recently, I'm sorry; as much for keeping the name as swiping the team) it was fairly standard for teevee announcers to slip up and say "Baltimore" two or three times a game. They usually caught themselves at it. But when Joe Willie Namath came to town he must have said "Baltimore" twenty times, and never looked back once. I happened to go to the next game were he was in the booth, and hanging from the second deck was a bedsheet reading:

"Indianapolis Welcomes Broadway Jim Namath"

which almost made watching the Ol' Dolts lose by thirty worth it.


The War on Christmas Just Got Hotter...

A Lot Hotter!

"No question about it; the man knows Naughty!"
--The Erotic Reader

"A real stocking stuffer, if you catch my drift. Ho ho ho."

"Oh, come all ye faithful!"
--The Wett Spott

$24.95 wherever fine books are sold and Christians persecuted

Saturday, November 12


That's a screenshot from the cached Wikipedia entry for Scooter Libby. I was up late futzing around, and I decided to check if I'd missed a new post at World O'Crap. There were new comments on the thread devoted to me (okay, that's the real reason I went there in the first place), with both Beth and Rowan Berkeley (who'd left a comment to my original post) raising questions about the accuracy of the Liebowitz story. I checked the Wiki entry and there was no "Irving Lewis Liebowitz" in the story. I thought for a moment I'd hallucinated the whole thing, until it occurred to me to check the cache.

I should have known better than to use Wikipedia as a source without attribution. I did pose my comments in the form of a question, but I'll admit that, as I said, I thought this was something I'd missed. It didn't occur to me that it might'nt be the case.

One more thing: I was not trying to portray Libby as hiding or denying Jewish ancestry, nor the Republican party as a place where one would find that advisable. I asked only why I couldn't find any info about the change. I'd have asked the same question if it had claimed he was born Irving Lewis Bongo-Shaftsbury.

Okay, Where Was I?

As I noted at Blogsome I've decided to come back here for now, at the risk of becoming a passive-aggressive co-culprit. It's easier than trying to divide up the record collection.

Happy Birthday

Roland Barthes: November 12, 1915--March 25, 1980

Dear Jesus, Happy Birthday, Love Dateline NBC

In a special edition of 'Dateline NBC,' Keith Morrison asks, "What if everything you thought you knew wasn’t the whole story?

Oh no, a major network is trying to challenge my beliefs!
STONE PHILLIPS: With this report, we're not trying to challenge or change anyone's beliefs. We just wanted to take one more look at this revered and much-beloved story to learn more about the theology and the history behind it ....We turned to experts of history, theology and religious studies. The aim is to shed a new, fuller light on the birth of a child believers call the "Light of the World."

So, you 79% of the American public so concerned about Holy lightning bolts shooting through your telephone at the merest hint of blasphemy that you tell pollsters you believe the virgin birth story is literally true--even if the Bible doesn't say so--relax, stop whipping the children, sit back and prepare to have all your prejudices soothingly confirmed by people who have college degrees, just like real scientists! Oh, and be sure to patronize our many fine sponsors.

Here's the list of experts. Note that one of them is a "liberal" and another is Jewish! That's balance. See if you can spot the "historian" Stone told you about:

•John Dominic Crossan : Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies, DePaul University and a prolific author of books about the historical Jesus , former priest, and liberal theologian
•Craig Evans: professor of New Testament, Acadia Divinity College, moderate evangelical
•Scott Hahn : professor of Scripture, Franciscan University, traditional Catholic scholar and teacher
•Lesley Hazleton: author of "A Flesh-And-Blood biography of the Virgin Mother"
•Amy Jill Levine: Jewish scholar and teacher of the New Testament at Vanderbilt University
•Ben Witherington : author and professor of New Testament Interpretation at Asbury Theological Seminary, a conservative evangelical

Okay, I admit it. When I saw the promo last week I took it on faith that there wouldn't be a single non-believer on hand. Which just goes to show that faith can work miracles.

We begin our scholarly exegesis with a couple minutes discussing how rough Mary must have had it tending goats, based on no history whatever but a keen understanding of how hard it is to walk in thin sandals, and how we don't know anything about Joseph, either, but that's of no importance since nobody worships him. Let's get to the controversy, already:
In fact, you may be surprised to learn the Nativity story is based on just two brief, quite different, and sometimes apparently conflicting New Testament accounts—the Gospels of Luke and Matthew. Over the years, the two versions have blurred into one—the Christmas story most people celebrate.

Most scholars believe both stories were written some 70 to 80 years  after the birth of Jesus. Secular history contains no mention, anywhere, of events in the story.

Now, unlike NBC, I don't claim to know what most scholars believe, but I do know that you'll typically find a range of about 60-80 AD for Matthew and 80-100 AD for Luke, and there are still some people around who think Matthew preceded Mark; it's probably best, when things aren't established, to acknowledge the fact instead of resoving the matter with a straw poll, but never mind. Oh, and that "sometimes apparently conflicting?" I defy the most fervent literalist to show how Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2 do not outright contradict one another. But let's get to it; I'm sure with that range of experts on hand this'll be a lively discussion:
Evans: Our records are admittedly sparse, sometimes just nothing is there. And so there’s always a certain amount of guesswork, a certain amount of just, well, probability, and we have to learn to live with that.

That's it? Two sentences and our in-depth look at the birth of Jesus is now finished dealing with its total lack of historicity or coherence? Oh, I see, we need to spend five more minutes discussing how tough life was in Nazareth when the Romans were always in a bad mood and your sandals were really thin.

Pah. At a time when many of our nation's respected theologians and Non-practicing-Christian television buffoons are demanding everyone else respect their sacred holiday, they don't have enough self-respect to confront problems head on? The two "sometimes apparently conflicting" Nativity stories in the Gospels are, quite simply, pieces of historical fiction. They don't make sense internally, they don't jibe with the historical record, and they contradict one another. That much has been known since the 19th Century. It's beyond dispute. To give a panel of experts a chunk of prime time to discuss the matter while ignoring the question is like debating Intelligent Design with the assumption that the earth is 6000 years old as a given.

The Nativity stories were written at a time when the early Church's recruiting efforts were aimed at Jews. They jump through all sorts of hoops--sometimes comically--to show Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. Keith Morrison thoughtfully holds some up for the panel to jump through:
And why, according to Luke, were they heading to Bethlehem?  A decree that everyone in the empire would travel to his or her ancestral home to register in a census so they could be taxed. 

Or so Luke tells us, but there’s a problem in the story: a problem that has occupied many generations of scholars.
Crossnan: Luke tells us the story that at the time Jesus was born Augustus had to create a census of the whole earth. Now every scholar can tell you there was no such census ever.
Witherington: Well, I wouldn’t say so.  I mean, it’s an absence of evidence.  Which is not the same as evidence of absence. Augustus wanted the provinces  enrolled. “We want taxes.  We want money.  We want every part of the empire doing their duty.” We have plenty of records of Augustus taking census all over the empire.

Oops, the liberal spilled a little truth there. Let me wipe that up for you.

Here's the little problem with that "absence of evidence isn't evidence of absence" thing (which worked so well for Rumsfeld, eh Professor Witherington?): it couldn't have worked that way. Judea wasn't part of the Roman empire, it was a client state. Rome had no power to tax Judeans, and if it had it wouldn't have sent them all on trips to their imaginary homelands; it would have taxed them where they were.

Which is another problem for Luke, because where Joseph was was Galilee, and Galilee was an independent empire. Joseph would have been exempt from the whole thing.

Look, don't mind me. Please, get along to the discussion of whether Bethlehem would have had an inn, even though it has no connection to the story, and the details of 1st century midwifery, though presumably God would have made sure the birth went okey-dokey. I'm not even gonna mention the bit about the virgin birth being the result of an inexcusable misreading of Isaiah. I'll just sit here and thrill to your speculation that Luke got the story Mary, marvel at the brave debunking of Christmas-pageant Magi as "kings", and wait for the inevitable moment when Professor Witherington tells us that even though there's no evidence for the Slaughter of the Innocents, it's true because he knows Herod could have done it, the meanie. I won't even mention that the chronology is so screwy we don't even know which Herod it's supposed to be. That's why God created the remote.