Saturday, December 30

My Favorite Holiday Gift

Comes from the unlikely source of A&E, the Arts and Entertainment network, presently plugging the imminent basic cable broadcast debut of The Sopranos with Etta James singing "At Last". Great song, written by Mack Gordon and Harry Warren, (who, between them, have four first names and four last names, so that if ever I try to change the billing I'm hopeless lost almost instantaneously), and an absolute primer on R&B balladeering, but especially appreciated this time around for finally removing the echo of that American Idol idolesse--the one in Dreamgirls--who belted NPR listeners out of an episode of Terry Gross' Fresh Air last week. "Belted" is used ironically here, as an ethicist might refer to Hiroshima as "an explosion". She had broken the neck of the song on the downbeat, and the first bar was yet to arrive before she had it stripped of watches, rings, cash, credit and debit cards and dental minerals and begun pummeling the corpse with a drill hammer for insufficient blingitude. The audience doesn't fare much better. I was physically exhausted by the second bar, and it took all my remaining strength to hit the off button and keep the truck on the road.

I am about as innocent of American Idol as an American can be and still own a television set. I recognized the woman's name as someone who was a major crowd favorite but lost due to hinky voting or some soft-core porn in her past or something equally mortifying, but I'd never heard her before. Then later that week--thanks to the fact that Dreamgirls seems to have been given the leftover Borat PR account to play with--I got to see a clip of her mugging what may or may not have been another tune from the movie. I can't imagine the circumstances that would make me want to find out. It's supposed to be Motown, but instead of Holland, Dozier, Holland the songs sound like Andrew Lloyd Webber and Whatever Lyricist He Found Out By The Pool This Week. Anyway, the woman is flailing her arms in close approximation to what she's doing to the scattered carnage of the song, which explains why she's such an enormous hit with the American public, for whom "subtlety" means making sure the gate gets closed after you let your six Great Danes attend to their fecal needs among the neighbor's prize petunias.

Happy Birthday

Patti Smith
born December 30, 1946

Friday, December 29

The Full Newtie

So it turns out that riff on the Roosevelt memorial wasn't Newt spouting off in an interview; it was Newt given an hour on FAUX to prove that Christians are a persecuted majority in this country because our monuments no longer quote the Bible and sweep the sky.

To be sure, that's probably as insightful a comment about Art as one is likely to get from a self-appointed spokesman for Christianity and professional history fabricator, but on the other hand The Wall is without question the most-visited and the most-inspiring (at least currently) monument in D.C. If anybody's taking rubbings off that godawful collection of bronze GI Joes at its base it's probably something actual decent Christians would rather not know about.

The former history professor--I'm still awaiting his response to my exposing his total ignorance of the history of abortion and contraception in this country in the pages of George magazine in 1996, by the way--wrote a blurb for the show on the FAUX site (find it yerself) which began with his usual dedication to accuracy:
It’s like clockwork — every Christmas there’s controversy about religious displays. This year they took down Christmas trees at the Seattle International Airport due to a complaint. A few days later they put them back up, but why was there a problem to begin with?

Well, I'm thinking the real problem was reading comprehension.
As a former professor of history, I can tell you this is not what the Founding Fathers envisioned.
Proving that even a sighted pig can find an acorn now and then. But I'm guessin' Newtie can't tell us why this is so--that even that percentage of the Founding Fathers who were Christian never envisioned anyone celebrating Christmas. Newt seems to imagine the 18th and 19th Centuries as sort of Leave It To Beaver with muskets.

I suppose it's no use to suggest that reading the Founders' intentions through a series of monuments dating no further back that the mid-18th century is a questionable exercise. Dr. Gingrich is the guy with the Ph.D., after all. And the FAUX contract.

ON EDIT: Somebody correct me if I missed Gingrich's protest when the sacred elevator to Heaven's good graces that is the steps of the Lincoln Memorial was used as a backdrop for a Rockettes kick line at the 2000 Bush Coronation Ball.

From The News Hole To The Memory Hole

Senator Tim Johnson, anyone? He was bigger'n Elvis two weeks ago, but the last CNN website mention of him was ten days previous. The Times has been keeping track of his condition, but then the Times didn't drop all other news coverage when he entered surgery.

MSNBC's inexplicable David Shuster was offended that someone at the time termed the coverage "ghoulish". He might explain why he's no longer hovering around Johnson's hospital bed now that his survival seems assured.

Thursday, December 28

Happy Birthday

Neon Park (born Martin Muller)
December 28, 1940--September 1, 1993

Sunday, December 24

Xmas Report, Nought Six

In my neighborhood this sort of thing is called "understated elegance". Sorry the photo crew got there after the enormous inflatable Santa and Polar Bear were already deflated for the night.

Good news this Yuletide for the sincerely religious--our travelling survey racked up another Nativity scene in each category (church property, private property) this year, for a total of three each. The new private creche was discovered because of my half-dozen trips to the hospital in the past week (Mom now released, with some new meds and an "atypical dementia" tag since some of her short-term memory works remarkably well--much better than mine, for example) and had the bonus distinction of being teamed with a couple of those blow-up lawn globe things. Christmas lawn Dada.

The addition to the religious category, alas, was a photo spotted in the Indianapolis Star (the rules being unclear on this point I decided to count it), which seemed to feel that in a notably warm and snowless December Christians themselves could use a little fluffing:
The manger scenes with their baby dolls nestled on the hay are all aglow across the city....

At least a good half-dozen, anyway

The thing I enjoy about this story is the same thing I enjoy every year when they run their "putting the Christ back in Christmas" story, now in its forty-fifth year and showing no signs of being even slightly disconcerted by what outsiders call "reality": how some poor schnook of a reporter, already forced to work Christmas week, gets assigned to collect three quotes (four, if they include a rabbi somewhere for ecumenicalism, which, as you know, is not in fashion this year) and manages to obviate all doctrinal distinctions among the hundreds of Christian sects in our little burg alone. This, despite the fact that many, if not most, denominations recognize that the whole Christmas story thing is mere fable--one some even actively oppose--even before we get to that virgin stuff. This year included a fine bit of preacherese:
Living in a culture in which people go out of their way to avoid pain and suffering is one reason the Christmas story is easier to latch onto than the bloody Crucifixion, said the Rev. Larry P. Crawford, pastor at St. Gabriel the Archangel Catholic Church on the Westside.

As opposed to what culture, exactly? North Korea? Sparta? the Klingons?

There's more cheering news this Advent [note: "Advent" is my new preferred tactic in the War on Xmas, inspired by the Allied POWs at Colditz who infested the place with wood rot knowing it would take fifty years to have any effect. "Have a solemn and mortifying Advent season!" is now my standard greeting for complete strangers. I want to see the professional Christians wriggle out of that one]. The local news hairdos finally got away from all that secular "Black Friday" business and right down to the real Reason for the Season: encouraging people to shop their fucking brains out. It's gone beyond the helicopter-assisted reports on mall parking, which, now that I think of it, I've yet to see this year--they've probably been shelved as "too negative"--and onto actual exhortations to Just Buy Stuff. The change is actually subtle, because a good 30% of the regular news the other eleven months is now taken up with reports of Grand Openings and Site Selections and Zoning Disputes (followed by the inevitable Zoning Variance Announcement, sometimes later in the same newscast) and all other matters of news-esque Shopping Foreplay. The big difference I saw was that the entire final week before Xmas is now given over to scolding viewers for "procrastination". I saw two separate reports on different channels sternly lecturing "Last Minute Shoppers" last Friday, December the Fucking Twenty-Second, with an entire weekend left before the birth of the Lord. This is what happens when all your "news" comes from people who have personal shoppers on their own payrolls.

Thursday, December 21

1st Airborne Unicorn Division Reporting For Duty, Sir!

I was tooling around town in the Doghousemobile this afternoon and heard Fred Kaplan taking on the Surge Mentality, and specifically Fred Kagan's part in it, which led me to his Slate piece on the subject, which is well worth a read.

(One highlight: After 9/11 Congress authorized an increase of 35,000 troops. In the interim we've raised 23,000. Five years, just over 4,000 troops/year. Our training maximum seems to be about 7,000/year. In three years now of researching the subject I had never come across that figure, though I'd kept an eye out. I always assumed we were not overly willing to spread those sorts of numbers around--the military has been fairly coy about recruitment numbers in recent years, for example. Of course I don't have Lexis/Nexis and I may have overlooked it somewhere, but I suspect that there's a new willingness out there to lay this stuff on the line before we compound our Fuck Up in the name of De-Fucking Up.)

The big question now is: where does John McCain, e.g., get off in suggesting 20,000, 50,000, or whatever number anyone wants to dredge up additional troops when we don't have them, except as an accounting trick? These are the people who were in charge through all of this. They're the ones who kept insisting we were making progress. They're the ones who claimed the call for a draft was "playing politics".

Well, it was. But it was also "playing Reality."

Oh, one more note: not that anyone other than Tim Russert can possibly imagine something coming out of Dick Cheney's mouth is worth listening to, but the idea that we could just go in and start wiping out Sunnis with impunity has already been disproven, even absent the idiocy of imagining a monolithic Shi'a. Everybody hates us more than they hate each other, though God knows why that might be.

Happy Birthday

Joshua Gibson
December 21, 1911--January 20, 1947

Today is also the birthday--a full week past the due date, in AD 1953--of one James "Jimbo" Riley, born in the back of a cab on the way to the hospital in Downer's Grove, Illinois, where his parents were appearing in a roadshow revival of Whoops, Dearie!, a series of blackout sketches based on Peter Arno's New Yorker cartoons. Mother had left the show due to being "with child", as the Playbill had it, just a week earlier. The baby's almost supernaturally large cranium caused a cop the cabbie had flagged down to make a crack, and my father spent half the night in jail. The young family was stranded in Indianapolis the following Spring when the promoter absconded with the week's take.

ADDENDUM: At the old Avalon Playhouse, the same place Frances Farmer ended up four years later.

Wednesday, December 20

Life Lessons

First, Hoosiers have always looked upon Kentucky the way the rest of the nation looks at us, i.e., as the mildly Learning-Disabled cousin you try to include in everything so long as nothing important gets broken. And second, it's no secret that our recurring theme here is that we've got practically everything bass-ackwards in this country and there's no improving things until we recognize and try to correct that. So Tara Connor is a perfect object lesson:

A) Who Are We Kidding?

1. Popularity of hot girl/girl action: Large

2. Popularity of leaky drunks: Very small

B) Where Is Our Perspective?

1. Number of recent articles extolling the "role model" status of contestant in a Paleolithic peep show who most successfully parades her surgically reconstructed body in front of a television audience basically consisting of the Powerline boys: Large

2. Number of House bills demanding impeachment of George W. Bush because his daughters are as far from role models as pageants are from civilized behavior: Very small.

C) Extenuating circumstances:

1. Tara Connor: small town girl, Big City

2. Bush Twins: small minds, Big Money

D) Number of additional Chances:

Tara Connor: one

Bush Twins: unlimited

Once Again Missing The Distinction Between "Bullshit" And Aromatherapy

"The army is stressed."

Stressed. Stressed.

Hello? Mrs. Whittington? I sorry to report there's been an accident, ma'm. The Vice-President accidentally stressed your husband's face with birdshot.

Like teenaged Laura Bush stressed her beau at a four-way stop. Like the number of times the "youthful" George W. woke up in a pool of his own stress.

Like Eric Shinseki's career was stressed.

Stressed, motherfucker? You walked outta the shop with a crystal vase and you come back with two handfuls of sand, and stressed is all you have to say?

What stopped you from increasing the size of the army in 2002? In 2003? What in the name of Allah stopped you from asking the American taxpayer, and the American corporation, to pay for it? Certainly not the economic miracle your tax cutting has wrought.

What stopped you from creating a genuine coalition to remove Saddam Hussein? The mess it would have made of your reelection schedule? The precision of defining an actual mission? The potential for competence on the ground, and the lost potential for ill-gotten gain?

What stopped you? What stopped you from making sure the plan in place was sound, or at least finding someone who'd could tell you if it was rather than telling you what you wanted to hear? What stopped you from doing something about the looting? What kept you from immediately, and forcefully, and honestly addressing Abu Ghraib and the attendant breakdown of discipline and ethical behavior and following that trail right into the Pentagon?

What's caused you to stand by while men of both parties who had served honorably, even heroically, in the war of your youth were slimed for your personal political gain? A war they fought and bled and suffered in, a war you relied on string pulling and wheel greasing to keep you clear of (and even then screwed around)?

Now the army is stressed? Time effing Magazine asked the question in 2003. Funny how it didn't trickle up to the White House until after the last midterms.


Thank God it doesn't matter what you say anymore, though I bite my tongue as I type that. It was hard enough to believe that people would vote for you in the 2000 Republican primaries, let alone the general election. It was hard enough to believe an election could be stolen so blatantly, or that a major political party would, far from being apologetic, actually revel in the fact. It was understandable that after 9/11 many people would try to convince themselves that you were competent. Even so those things were bound to come with a price; how much more so the senseless, worthless slaughter in Iraq? By 2004 there was no excuse whatever for anyone to imagine you were something other than the slow-witted, cocksure frat boy you've been all along, the one who has mistaken the toadying deference he's been shown his entire adult life for people, somehow, missing his obvious low self-esteem and even lower IQ. The President of the United States who had to outdo his Daddy.

Mend the army? Fix the army? Soothe its troubled brow? Maybe a nice mudbath, some scented candles, stake it to a half-hour at that Asian massage parlor on Route 12?

Yep, just a little TLC and pretty soon it'll be back to being that army we'd all like to have a beer with. An' guess who's buyin'?

Tuesday, December 19

The Gift That'll Keep On Giving For Another Generation Or Two, Minimum

Buy it through World O'Crap and do a good deed while you're at it.

Rajiv Chandraserkaran, Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone

I'm still fifty pages from the end (I remember the days when this city used to go ballistic over a Colts appearance on Monday Night Football; now it's just an interruption) but so much of this book makes you want to shout out loud I have to start. Paul "Jerry" Bremmer. Doug Feith. Dan Senor. Bernie Karik. Custer Battles, LLC. The 24-year-old real estate salesman who decides to remake the Iraqi bourse.

• The closest thing there was to a study of postwar Iraq, the Future of Iraq Project, had been organized by Thomas Warrick, an international lawyer who had gone to work on war crimes at the State Department. Jay Garner convinced him to come to work for him. Rumsfeld ordered Garner to remove him--on Cheney's orders, because Warrick saw through Ahmad Chalabi.

• The Iraqi people got their news from al-Jazeera, in part because the contract to remake Iraqi television was given to Science Applications International Corporation, a defense contractor with no broadcast experience. They hired a veteran television producer named Don North to head the operation. He was told he didn't need to do any Stateside planning; SAIC had people in Iraq taking care of it. When he arrived he found thirteen camera tripods with no base plates for the camera, a receiver for satellite transmissions with no power cord, and no instruction booklets for anything. "It was like they bought everything from a flea market in London," he said. Bremmer soon had Iraq TV filling air time with American propaganda.

• After the rocket attack on the al-Rasheed hotel, inside the Green Zone, in October 2003--an attack facilitated by the opening of the opening of the nearby Fourteenth of October Bridge just fifteen hours earlier--Maj. Gen. Martin Dempsey, who had told the crowd at the bridge opening ceremony "the safety and security [of Baghdad] has been achieved", informed Paul Wolfowitz that the attack showed the weakness of the insurgent forces, because the rocket launcher was crudely welded.

• In his February 2004 Iraq photo-op, Tommy Thompson used the Ibn Sina Hospital as an example of how the US was "reestablish[ing] Iraq as a center of excellence for medical protection and medical care." The hospital served only the coalition military forces, Provisional Authority personnel, and American contractors. The real Iraqi hospitals were hellholes. The American in charge of the Iraqi health-care system was a Michigan social worker who had been the director of a Christian-proselytizing relief organization who operated one of those anti-abortion adoption agencies back home.

There's more. Believe me, there's more.

Happy Birthday

Philip David Ochs
December 19, 1940--April 9, 1976

Monday, December 18

My Eyes! My Eyes!

I do not get much of my news from television. My Poor Wife watches the local news, or tries to while I yell at the vapid singsong and celeb updates. I watch Olbermann. I may flip to CNN if there's a big story and I want an update, but just as often I click it off again stupider than when I turned it on. If television was the only source for news I would get all my news from the Daily Show.

My mother got moved to the psyche ward Friday--it's so they can monitor her drug regimen for a week or two--so instead of going to see her Sunday mornings as usual I'm stuck with visiting hours. And so I idly turned in on Colin Powell on Face the Nation, just until he started lying, which, due to some careful questioning from Bob Schieffer actually took a good forty-five seconds. I knew my resistance was nearly at an end and I switched over to The Tim Russert Comedy Hour to find I'd missed Newt Gingrich (what the...?) but was just in time for the big panel discussion with everybody's favorite serving of faux-balanced Timesmen, David Brooks and Thomas Friedman.

Brooks, Friedman and Russert. The Three Self-Inflating Magi in America's Xmas Kitsch Lawn Display. What have we done to deserve this? I know, I know, we've done plenty. But how is it that Russert still hosts a Sunday news program? His conflicted ass should have been tossed a decade or more ago, and would have been under any fair system. Friedman may belong in the world of ideas, perhaps, as a chronicler, but as a thinker? Aren't we now a couple years beyond questioning the analytical powers of everyone who backed "regime change in Iraq", or whatever other justification was popular that day? Isn't having then suggested the French be removed from the UN Security Council for their outrageous failure to toady to us enough to cashier the guy now? Shouldn't everybody who supported the war, or at least those who stuck with it beyond the initial looting phase--I mean looting by people who actually lived there, not the Coalition of Willing Defrauders--be forced to compete for the right to speak in public by eating Madagascar cockroaches washed down with a liter of Haliburton™ Brand Spring Water?

And bad as it is to see those two, what is the point of David Brooks continuing to exist? He's Vaughn Meader after the Kennedy assassination, Stephin Fetchit at the March on Washington, a 27-year-old former touring company Annie. His stint as the prissy but mildly-tolerant spokesmarm of the Right was already on life support before November 7. Absent a Republican height he can sneer down from, Brooks is nothing.

Here are two men, filling two influencial spots in American political life, who have learned exactly nothing about Iraq in four years of (mostly) telling the rest of us our presence there was vital for the continued existence of civilization itself. There is, at best, a grudging acknowledgment that their little plan wound up somewhat south of the mark, and Brooks still trots out his Mad Max of the Middle East video in hopes he can continue to hope about '08, but there's no depth of understanding and no understanding the depth of our failure. There's no recognition of Bush administration duplicity in the run-up to war, no stain of Abu Ghraib, no outrage over a shockingly mismanaged occupation, an assault on the Bill of Rights, of seriously damaged US standing in the world or a worn-out, used-up, shamelessly wasted military at home and abroad. But you guys are the ones who were let down. The level-headed among us expected just what happened.

The National Broadcasting Company brings us Friedman and Brooks as the Yin and Yang of American political thought just six weeks after some Republicans less supportive of the war than what Friedman has been were tossed out of Congress on their ears. Three guys who helped sell this disaster in the first place now sit in our living rooms and rearrange headlines to see what combination would look good in the den.

Sunday, December 17

Happy Birthday

Abe Martin
first appeared December 17, 1904

The Indianapolis News, the afternoon newspaper back when there were such things, and the home of Abe's creator Kin Hubbard, re-ran one every day on its back page when I was a lad. The paper generally hit the screen door about an hour after school let out, and Abe Martin was always the first thing I turned to. Which was a mite odd, since I usually didn't get it.

For one thing, I never could figure out just what I was looking at. That's an early Abe above; Hubbard later stylized him so that the whiskers--you didn't see many of them in the early 60s--looked more like the stuffing was leaking out of a scarecrow. And the humor wasn't always humorous, not to the 9-year-old mind. I don't know how many years of five-a-weeks went by while I earnestly sought some connection between drawing and the caption, as in every other cartoon on the planet, but there never was one. For some reason I stuck with it, and at some point--I don't remember quite when--I became a huge fan. Hubbard moved Abe from Indianapolis to Brown County a couple months after his debut, and he's still a fixture in the half tourist-trap/half artist colony of Nashville, and the inn at Brown County state park is named for him.

I owe him my love of metaplasmus, in particular my mildish apocope addiction (and how cheering it is that my present spellchecker doesn't recognize either!), but particularly for making me understand that what seemed a hundred years old when I was reading it forty years ago was nevertheless smart and funny and modern.

A few favorites:

Nobuddy ever forgets where he buried a hatchet.

Next t' a circus ther hain't nothin' that packs up an' tears out any quicker'n th' Christmas spirit.

Anybuddy that ever tried t' git rid of a chew o' terbacker at an art exhibit kin appreciate how terrifyin' it must be t' try t' stash a torso.

A friend is like a umbreller. He's never there when you want him, an' if he is he's broke.

We'd all like t' vote fer th' best man, but he's never a candidate.

Nothin's as mean as givin' a little child somethin' useful fer Christmas.

Friday, December 15

Regrets, I've Had A Few

For one, there's the fact that Leni Riefenstahl didn't live long enough to film the Rumsfeld Farewell Rally.

Alternately, that somebody tossed out Nixon's old Palace Guard uniforms.

Help, My Clorox™ Brand Revolving Toilet Brush Clashes With My Dated Kitchen Appliances!

Or, yes, I occasionally channel James Lileks, but the difference is the very real possibility that I will hunt some of these people down and kill them.

• Let's say you happen to be, I dunno, let's call you the Rolf C. Hagen (USA) Corporation of Mansfield, MA. And let's speculate further on the odds a rapidly aging but still sexually attractive blogger, in a moment of Yuletide consumerist weakness, picks up some cat water-fountain gizmo you make, or distribute, or something. Let's imagine that his Poor Wife managed to break the cats' water bowl, and that she has demanded it be replaced by something with handles or ears or bowl-circling gargoyles so that she (who never is the one to fill the thing) can pick it up more easily. And let's imagine that this long-suffering dutiful spouse (who's still quite virile) goes in search of one, but in the back of his mind is the nagging realization that leaving the cats without drinking water for a week or two while shopping for Just The Right Bowl is probably unworkable, and, also, that No Corporation or Distributor or Whatever In Its Right Collective Mind would produce such a thing. So he figures on cutting the Gordian Knot with some schlocky gizmo, which you happen to produce a variety of, and here he is holding it, scanning the quatrolingual box for the one bit of information important to him: Does the thing require plugging in? Because the preferred location for it, the one where the cats were, until last evening, accustomed to find potable water, is about fifty feet from any usable outlet. And this gentleman reads the back of the box, in English, Spanish, French, and what he takes to be a sub-dialect of Neo-Phrygian transliterated into Roman characters, and at least three of them appear to say "Detachable AC adapter included".

He is, or perhaps imagines himself to be, justified in two assumptions here, neither of which is supported nor abnegated by any other information he can find on the packaging: one, that the thing is powered by a DC motor, and two, that it will run on either said direct current or, with the detachable adapter in positive attachment mode, by plugging it into a wall socket. He further assumes that this option, which he does not plan to take advantage of, would use standard US plugs and operate on 120V., though this does not enter his conscious mind.

So you might imagine his surprise when, upon unpacking the thing, he finds that the only way the motherfuckin' thing will work is plugged in. In other words, the package did not contain a Detachable Adaptor, but, rather, a Two-Piece Power Cord, without which its merchantability would be, roughly, Zero. And the packaging actually read: "Contains electric appliance and includes the cord you'll need to plug it in," only in a way which made this idiotic statement the subject of a guessing game the consumer doesn't realize he's playing. Supposing he could calm down for a moment--which is not likely since he now must repackage the piece of shit and take it back to the pet store, braving in the interim a surface-roadful of drivers who apparently come out only in December and whose remarkably universal dyslexia causes them to believe the speed limit on every road between here and there is "04", and who through some heretofore unexpected psychic emanation cause their turn signals to behave sympathetically--if he could calm down, I say, it might occur to him to consider some alternative location for the thing, but it's a no-go. So the question for you is, why wouldn't he sneak a mention of it into his blog?

• In my mid-adolescence, during the Pax Nixonia, we used to drive three or four miles one-way just to sneer at a guy who had five or six lighted Xmas monstrosities on his lawn, in his trees, and on his roof. Now, other than my own little suburban castle, I practically have to drive that far to find one that doesn't.

Honest to God, it's like the official symbols of the holy season of White Trash Advent or somethin'. It started, what, half a dozen years ago when those icicle light strings came out, and they looked pretty cool until the second year when they were on every other house. Plus they're uniformly in Glaring Eggshell or Temporary Night Blindness Beige, or something, which really raises the question of how we wound up with so many American homeowners so bereft of drug-induced-trance behavior experience that they choose the brightest possible bulbs for their personal Pink Floyd lawn displays. Then came the wire reindeer and candy canes and shit, also in Flashbulb-in-the-Eyes Frost Tone, and the light blankets, which made it possible to simply hurl the shit in the general direction of where you'd like the display set up, and forget it. Now it's the giant inflatable crap, which collapses like busted styrofoam coolers at a NASCAR short track when the power's turned off, except when it's Santa and he falls just so and looks like the victim of some prison violence. The other day I saw a house with eighteen of the things on a standard suburban lawn. I'm not exaggerating; I nearly caused an accident slowing down to count them, which I felt was the only fitting way to show my appreciation.

Thursday, December 14

Just Fookin' Go Ahead

That's what I think, anyway. Democrats should insist on funding the thrilling conclusion of Our Mideast Adventure on the books, and begin investigating previous spending. But if one-time president George W. Bush wants to keep playing the "not leaving til we complete the mission" idiocy then let him do so, after make him define what it is.

Honestly, the only thing left now that will save Iraqi lives is to getting them out of Iraq. That being beyond our ability, and considering the Bush administration's performance this week in tossing aside even the moderate reality-facing/substantial ass-covering of the ISG, it is time to acknowledge that when it comes to saving American lives a complete and utter repudiation of the still-active neo-neocon approach is essential, or we'll be losing them indefinitely. A party which is still beholden to the 24% (and, incredibly, still dwindling) of the public which refuses to accept reality even after being slammed in the face repeatedly is a party which has not learned its lesson. We have nothing left to sustain our Iraq plan with, assuming there was one. The public--which dozed through things turning bad, then irrevocably bad, signed several blank checks, and was still swayed enough by arguments that Democrats "didn't have a plan", or Republicans "were tougher on defense" to relect a goddam chimpanzee--deserves multiple lessons. The public which does not yet understand that we do not possess a standing army of limitless strength, and which is so clueless about the sustained manpower and matériel drain that last year the public debate was at least partly turned on the idea of John Murtha as a lilly-livered appeaser, has to be shown without chance of contradiction. No better way to do so than to leave Bush playing toy soldier, and leave him holding the bag. Better the continued loss of life which we can at least try to minimize than to wind up with John McCain dreaming up more new sure-fire primary-winning adventures this time next year.


• Alzheimer's has all but pushed real life to the margins the past several days. I keep trying to write about it, but it's tough to stand outside it all and put it on paper. You imagine you're prepared, and that you see how bad things are, and then they get worse, and once in a while you see through that enough to realize the end result is a life erased.

• I never got around to mentioning the November 30 agreement between Indiana Attorney General Steve Carter and Planned Parenthood of Indiana which has ended Carter's attempt to grab the medical records of girls under fourteen years of age. Carter has agreed not to appeal the Appeals Court ruling that upheld Planned Parenthood's request to stop the seizures, which had been described as a naked political ploy pandering to anti-abortion forces by at least one blogger matching my general description. Whether the November elections had anything to do with Carter's decision is merely obvious. Whether there is truth to the rumor that Carter's Medicare Fraud Unit minions obtained the original batch of records by misrepresenting themselves and their legal status to a selected, part-time clerk will apparently not be litigated now that the suit has been upheld, leaving us no choice but to assume there is.

• Reader quiz: In the following comment:

"The genius of Tom DeLay is now seriously in question," said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University.

Which is the ameliorating factor: "political science professor" or "Southern Methodist University"?

Army, Marine Corps To Ask for More Troops

By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 13, 2006; A01

...Senior Pentagon officials stress that the U.S. military has ample air and naval power that could respond immediately to possible contingencies in North Korea, Iran or the Taiwan Strait.

"If you had to go fight another war someplace that somebody sprung upon us, you would keep the people who are currently employed doing what they're doing, and you would use the vast part of the U.S. armed forces that is at home station, to include the enormous strength of our Air Force and our Navy, against the new threat," Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a briefing last month.

Got that? Prior to the Iraq disaster Army doctrine called for 400,000 troops in response to an invasion of South Korea by the North. Now it's 1/4 of that (our strategic reserve, once crack regular troops, now composed of actual reservists) and the Air Force. It's actually been that way since around Spring 2004 at the latest. Jesus (and Bush 41) wept.

Wednesday, December 13

Tuesday, December 12

Reasons I Generally Do Not Watch The Network News

#473) The actuaries say I have about twenty-five years left. There is apparently never going to be a guarantee that on any given night during that time Diana Spencer, late ex-wife of a participant in one of the world's most famous and last-remaining human inbreeding experiments, will not be a major story, no matter how dead she remains.

#474) There is an increasing likelihood that the news itself becomes stupider in an ever-downward spiral chasing the broadcasting of the aforementioned news. For example:

a) It was reported last night that George W. Bush, onetime President of the United States, is concerned about his legacy, and told someone or other that he saw himself as a latter-day Truman, unappreciated but finally justified fifty years hence.

1) This missed the point--which is only to be expected--that that isn't really what happened with Truman's reputation, but instead conflates what might be termed, on the one hand, reality with, on the other, the ad campaigns for a couple of Truman biographies, which is the sort of thing George W. Bush is a lot more likely to be familiar with.

2) It also misses the point that Truman had, even by the end of his life, begun to look better if only by comparison with what followed, and if that happens with George W. Bush (I'm not sure it's even theoretically possible) we'll all be dead and mercifully out of the reach of advertising.

b) This concern, coupled with the latest White House tactic of convening a new, ad hoc Iraq Study Group every seventy-two hours or so, led to further speculation about Bush's relationship with his father, known in common parlance as "Bush 41" the way that Spencer dame is known as "Princess Diana". [Is that just me? Doesn't the boarding-school-locker-room towel-snapping faux conviviality of "41" and "43" make one want to stick one's finger as far down one's throat as it will go? It's a constant reminder, at one and the same time, of the depths to which the public discourse has sunk into sitcom blather and of the fact that these two Bozos of Brahmatude are on our Permanent Record whether we personally deserve them or no, smothered in the rancid gravy of the attendant knowledge that Barbara Bush's sex life is now part of our national treasure. ]

1) It doesn't seem to strike any of the news hairdos that it may be the oddest, and possibly the saddest thing ever, at least since the invention of the vacuum tube, that the President of the United States can be spoken about--with as much seriousness as can be mustered in this comic age--in pop-psychological clinical terms which were, prior to his ascent to the national stage, the exclusive province of early adolescence. To my knowledge, "He's trying to outdo his father" has never before been uttered to explain the actions of anyone old enough to have a driver's license.

2) Which made me wonder, however briefly and insincerely, just what it might be like for the theoretical mentally-balanced wingnut who'd voted for the guy twice and now learns that on top of everything going to hell it has happened, basically, because his boy has the testicles of a hamster.

Monday, December 11

Sorry, You're Caller Number Six, But Thanks For Playing Our Game

ISG must stand for, uh, Inane Strategy Guesswork

December 10, 2006
BY MARK STEYN Sun-Times Columnist

Well, the ISG -- the Illustrious Seniors' Group...

Okay, uh, like, enough with the Depends jokes, already; it already sounds like we've stayed at Open Mike Night an hour and a half too long. The oldest member, William Perry, is about the same age Reagan was when he left the presidency, and Don Rumsfeld, the guy who was in charge of Iraq until recently (in case you'd forgotten) is at roughly the median age for the group, and you've still got dirt on your pantsleg from showing those two your appreciation.

Now Is Not The Time To Be Fixing Blame. Now Is The Time To Lay The Groundwork For Our Future Outrage When It's All Clearly The Democrats' Fault.

David Brooks: "Anybody Wanna Buy a Used Domino Theory?" * New York Times December 10
In fall 2007, the United States began to withdraw troops from Iraq, and so began the Second Thirty Years' War. This war was a bewildering array of small and vast conflicts, which flared and receded and flared again across the entire Middle East, but which were joined by a common theme.

At one point last week, in the artificial excitement over the release of a report which had been openly and purposely delayed so as not to risk injecting facts into a national election, it looked as if we were going to suffer an infestation of artificial nostalgia for the artificial bipartisanship of our pundit class. I heard on two or three occasions that the report "rejected both sides' argument" or "put the Democrats to the task" or somesuch, but it seems to have died a deserving death. It has to be tough these days on our opinion leaders, drovers of conventional wisdom and shapers of clichés, even when they aren't stuck with Brooks' role of overt "conservative". God knows they loved the war, and the war's backstory: how a plucky political party from the right side of the tracks picked itself up and proved that Vietnam was just a bad dream and they were the world's defenders of Right and True and Good and Plenty. So much so that nobody seems to have come up with an exit strategy for all the limning and the hymn-singing, either.

Brooks, if I recall correctly, tucked a brief mention into one of his columns, something along the lines that he was being forced to rethink the whole Iraq thing. That was roughly a year after everything had turned irrevocably to shit, meaning it was about six months after the vanguard of Beltway insiders had figured out that Something Was Up. I don't recall that he ever delivered. It's possible it happened sometime after the Times' Cone of Silence descended and I missed it, but for the most part Brooks has gone blithely forward since that point excusing support of the war as something of a wrong turn taken at an unfamiliar intersection in a bad downpour, a decision that delayed getting to grandma's by forty minutes or so.

Really, it's impossible for me to understand how this:
Chaos spread as governments in Lebanon and Jordan collapsed. The Palestinian Authority fell into complete dysfunction as Hamas and Fatah waged a low-boiling civil war. Al Qaeda reveled in the bloodshed and spread it with rapturous fury. The spreading disorder vindicated an observation that the historian Michael Oren had once made: that there are really only three nations in the Muslim Middle East: Iran, Turkey and Egypt. The other nations are make-believe.

can be taken as anything other than an insult to the intelligence, even of the supposed middle-dwelling, middle-thinking, open-minded non-partisans of the mass media and our Exoburbs. It's not that Brooks couldn't possibly be right--blind pigs and truffles, after all--it's that if the pig, on pretext of finding you that rare, earthy, eukaryotic ambrosia, had previously led you under the wheels of a fucking bus well, you'd have barbecued him three years back.

Of course Brooks makes no mention of how we got to this point, anymore than he acknowledges that this Domino Theory is the exact opposite of the one we were promised four years ago. Whether it has penetrated anywhere near the skull of Mr. Brooks that we will not be able to keep troops in Iraq indefinitely**, whatever the circumstances, remains unclear. But we do know that we are now being asked to accept the idea that it is the removal of those troops--not the ideas that sent them there on an ill-defined mission they were in no way able to complete, nor the men who allowed them to stay, or to return for three or four tours, who fractured the army--it's the removal of those troops which will be the cause of whatever disaster unfolds in Iraq. Take it from the people who got us into it in the first place.

* Not the actual title, but it should be.
** There's some Superman tie-in commercial out there I've paid little attention to, but it repeats a common comic-book idiocy as Superman catches a flying train or a falling building or something and stands there holding it up. In reality it'd fall apart, and it'd crush him like an ant, no matter how strong he was. This is a precise model for the Go Big and Go Long fantasies.

Friday, December 8

Happy Birthday

Dmitri Kasterine photo

Samuel Burl Kinison
December 8, 1953--April 10, 1992

"You're five feet away. Give the kid a fuckin' sandwich!"

Those Who Refuse To Learn From History, Teach

Victor Davis Hanson, "Our Pearl Harbor" Townhall, December 7

Lemme say first of all that I resent this. Beyond the intellectual dishonesty of the Pearl Harbor metaphor industry, it's simply disgusting that Hanson uses Pearl Harbor on Pearl Harbor Day as an excuse to jump to Iraq by paragraph three and never look back. It's a pathetic War on Xmas skirmish over crappy consumer nicknacks in the Name of the Lord, except with charred and mangled corpses. Though it is the sort of thing one finds with some frequency among the celebrators of military posturing who come to it later in life, like, say, after they've avoided actually serving themselves.

The men who died that day, and in the days and weeks following, do not deserve to be someone else's GI Joe dolls in a diorama contest. Not on December 7.

Even in the days of shock that followed the WTC/Pentagon attacks, the whole "9/11 Is This Generation's Pearl Harbor" thing rang hollow. We knew, deep down, that 9/11 was the work of a murderous terrorist gang--a large portion of whom were now dead--and not the first blow in a titanic military struggle. Our reality is Hollywood F/X and teevee actioners. We think in scripts. We're connoisseurs of cheap melodrama. We knew the butler didn't do it. The Pearl Harbor business was always an just an opportunistic political argument disguised as history lesson.

[We did, however, tell phone interviewers we thought Saddam Hussein had booked all the flights, but I'd argue that this actually reinforces my point. How does 60% of the public "know" something that isn't true? Not because Dick Cheney told them to--60% of the public does not watch Tim Russert--but because a popular villain had been recast as the story's Mr. Big. It was like using a Gallup poll to cast the next Batman sequel.]

Which brings us back to Hanson, and the current state of Pearl Harbor Metaphor sales: once an excuse for, or a fantasy of, responding to 9/11 with our superpower military abilities, they now must account for why putting those fantasies into practice gave us the vaporous War on Terra and its sadly all-too-real attendant clashes without experiencing anything like the success of WWII. Or much of anything like success, period, for that matter. (This is actually a fairly easy thing to answer at Townhall: we haven't killed enough people.)

There's a weird sort of nostalgia that goes along with reading Hanson. It takes me back to the early days of teevee, when picture tubes would last on the order of two years or so, and then they'd begin doing weird stuff like going all fish-eyed or exhibiting central black holes or something. Hanson's pop scholarship always seems in danger of simply blinking out altogether:
It’s been five years since Sept. 11. After such a terrible provocation, why can’t we bring the ongoing “global war on terror” — whether in Afghanistan, Iraq or elsewhere — to a close as our forefathers fighting World War II could?

Is our generation less competent?

Not really. The United States routed the Taliban from Afghanistan by early December 2001. America’s first clear-cut victory against the Japanese, at Midway, came six months after Pearl Harbor.

It's just breathtakingly stupid and twice as dishonest. What does a WWII carrier battle have to do with a superpower routing a bunch of mountain guerillas in the poorest nation in Asia, apart from the fact that Hanson now needs to compare timelines? If you made the argument in 2001 that we'd still be fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2006 you got your traitorous ass scoffed off the continent by the likes of Victor Davis Hanson. Now, somehow, it's simple historical perspective. We could have predicted this, except we were busy selling a different set of lies at the time.

Okay, small point of rebuttal anyway: having won the Battle of Midway in June of 1942, we did not have to refight the Battle of Midway on a weekly basis for the next five years and counting. We won at Midway--at a time when we were sending the bulk of our resources to Europe, and which represented the defeat of an enemy which was superior to us in quality and quantity of manpower, matériel, and experience--the way most battles are won: the enemy made more mistakes, and it still turned on luck. If the Japanese of the 40s had had a relative version of the technological advantages we have in Afghanistan today, June 1942 would be remembered for the Battle of St. Louis.
Do we lack the unity of the past?

Perhaps. But we should at least remember that after Pearl Harbor, a national furor immediately arose over the intelligence failure that had allowed an enormous Japanese fleet to approach the Hawaiian Islands undetected. Extremists went further — clamoring that the Roosevelt administration had deliberately lowered our guard as part of a conspiracy to pave the way for America’s entrance into the war.

Of the latter: there were certainly extremists who had been charging Roosevelt with all sorts of dastardly deeds from the moment he was elected. They called them "Republicans". So while I would certainly not deny they were charging FDR with inviting the attack on Pearl during the war, I've never read of it. That business came later, at the end of the war, after it was revealed that we had broken the Japanese code. Such speculation is, now, another conspiracy theory cottage industry, but it came about after the war. Dewey famously had that information (from George Marshall) in 1944 but refused to use it. An act of partriotism, they say, since that would have revealed we'd broken the code; but the fact is it would have been scandalous and self-defeating as well. It didn't win him the Election of '48, either.

As for the former, yes, indeed. Pearl Harbor was investigated twice during the war--the first time just a couple weeks after the attack--and more than a dozen times after. Compare the twelve months and mounting political pressure from the victims' families it too to get the Bush administration to sign off on a blue-ribbon 9/11 panel. Not to mention the attendant cries of "treason!"
But there are significant differences between the “global war on terror” and World War II that do explain why victory is taking so much longer this time.

Yeah, I thought there might be.
The most obvious is that, against Japan and Germany, we faced easily identifiable nation states with conventional militaries. Today’s terrorists blend in with civilians, and it’s hard to tie them to their patron governments or enablers in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Pakistan, who all deny any culpability. We also tread carefully in an age of ubiquitous frightening weapons, when any war at any time might without much warning bring in a nuclear, non-democratic belligerent.

It's impossible to choose just one answer to this. The most obvious, perhaps, is that we chose to invade actual nation states and fight conventional wars with what passed for their armies. So saying now that we aren't fighting conventional armies just sorta begs the question of what it is we think we've been doing. It's not as if this little difficulty isn't inherent in the very concept of a War on Terra--something you might expect a professional war buff to have picked up on--and, again, it isn't as if people weren't saying this in 2001, only to be shouted down.

On a positive note, though, we are winning the War of Excuses. Big, big lead on that one.

Excuses do not turn battlefield losses into victories, but excuses did work to mitigate our defeat in Vietnam in the glorious domestic public relations campaigns that followed, so we get "Today's terrorist blend[s] in with civilians" (yesterday's didn't?), a reenactment of the old VC argument with new costumes. And we remind the Professor, once again, that the people who prosecuted the war told the public three years ago that these amounted to a few Dead Enders.

As I've said before, Hanson's job now seems to be rewriting select moments in military history as Moral Tales for Young Children. There's no epistemological justification for acting as if guerilla warfare was invented four years ago, or acting as if it's dashed unsporting of the enemy not to show up in infantry squares like Friedrich the Great.

Not surprisingly, Hanson's frequently genocidal, but uniformly stateside and cozy commenters see in this sad little exercise in wish fulfillment and counting on one's fingers a second coming of Clausewitz. It is no doubt impossible to convince any of them there's a distinction between war and video gaming, for that matter, between war and commercials for video games. But we suspect that Professor Hanson himself is actually aware of the distinction between global war taking place in a half-dozen theatres of operation, and a five-year and counting slog which has fractured the most powerful army on earth and accomplished less than nothing. We know that he has no use for war coverage, unless it be uniformly positive, but let us at least acknowledge that the Homefront public of the 1940s knew its men were still at war in 1944, if not exactly where. So let's perform our own comparison: had WWII been a one-nation battlefield, like Iraq or Afghanistan today, how long do you suppose the public would have remained supportive of Mark Clark's dithering incompetence in Italy? Four years?

Thursday, December 7

Okay, That Much Is Settled: They Are That Stupid, And They're Liars

Neocons by Nigel Parry for Vanity Fair:
Five Gummos in search of a brother with talent.

David Rose's
piece in the January Vanity Fair is well worth the read, and provides us with much to talk about, the first on that list being, "If the Democrats do not haul these guys and every other Republican thug associated with the Bush Crime family in front of committees, under oath, and squeeze them until their eyeballs bleed there is no hope left for this country."

For now I'll just leave you with this. David Frum:

"I always believed as a speechwriter that if you could persuade the president to commit himself to certain words, he would feel himself committed to the ideas that underlay those words. And the big shock to me has been that, although the president said the words, he just did not absorb the ideas. And that is the root of, maybe, everything."

Statement of Senator Feingold

On the Iraq Study Group Report

December 6, 2006

“Unfortunately, the Iraq Study Group report does too little to change the flawed mind-set that led to the misguided war in Iraq. Maybe there are still people in Washington who need a study group to tell them that the policy in Iraq isn’t working, but the American people are way ahead of this report.

While the report has regenerated a few good ideas, it doesn’t adequately put Iraq in the context of a broader national security strategy. We need an Iraq policy that is guided by our top national security priority – defeating the terrorist network that attacked us on 9/11 and its allies. We can’t continue to just look at Iraq in isolation. Unless we set a serious timetable for redeploying our troops from Iraq, we will be unable to effectively address these global threats. In the end, this report is a regrettable example of ‘official Washington’ missing the point.”

On Olbermann:

"The fact is this commission was composed apparently entirely of people who did not have the judgment to oppose this Iraq war in the first place, and did not have the judgment to realize it was not a wise move in the fight against terrorism. So that's who is doing this report. Then I looked at the list of who testified before them. There is virtually no one who opposed the war in the first place. Virtually no one who has been really calling for a different strategy that goes for a global approach to the war on terrorism. So this is really a Washington inside job and it shows not in the description of what's happened - that's fairly accurate - but it shows in the recommendations. "

Happy Birthday

Avram Noam Chomsky
born December 7, 1928

Wednesday, December 6

Ol' Weepy

Sure, a day after you've spent two hours discussing your own mother's deteriorating mental condition with her doctor is not exactly the time you want to be making fun of some elderly gent's embarrassing public breakdown, but so help me the first thing that crossed my mind was "You'd better be crying for the rest of us and not yourself there, old man." And the second was, "Of all the families in the United States of America, how did this one become a dynasty?"

Matters were not helped when the Bush family biographer, whose name I've forgotten, noted on Olbermann that Jeb was considered the intellect of the family. Athough this was mitigated a bit later when he noted that the Bush name was now so radioactive that "[Jeb Jr.] won't be able to run for dog catcher."

Happy Birthday

Wallace Maynard Cox
December 6, 1924--February 15, 1973

Tuesday, December 5

Small Wonder He Features So Prominently in The Waste Land

It's Mistah Stanley Kurtz, the incredible human linkage-feedback loop, via Roy, and if there's a Presidential Medal of Freedom awaiting the to-this-point badly misused neck of John Bolton, shouldn't there be one for a man who has made it possible for thousands of his fellow citizens to avoid reading Kathryn Jean Lopez? I ask as a humble, tax-paying citizen.

I already took up too much space in Roy's comments, but I still have more to say about this:
Take the congressional example I gave (an example Marshall has not addressed): Democratic Congressman Charles Rangel’s plan to restart the draft. Rangel’s plan is making news right now, but he first introduced it about a year before the last presidential election. Rangel and the Democrats hoped to raise the specter of a draft as a way of undercutting public support for the war, for the Republicans, and for President Bush....

My point is that this kind of political strategy, and the larger dovish sensibility behind it, puts constraints on our military policy in Iraq and beyond. That, in fact, is the purpose of these proposals. They are a kind of political shot across the bow, designed to warn Republicans that the war on terror is going to have to be fought without a larger military. Even if the president had tried to expand the military on a strictly volunteer basis, Rangel would have pointed to the danger that enough recruits might not be found. So just by raising the prospect of a larger military, the Republicans would have fed dovish claims that a draft was on the way.

Okay, okay, this is so counter-rational that even responding to it on its own terms would risk what scientists call "Brain bubbles", so I'd like to jump right to the basis of the argument that Kurtz earlier linked to himself making, namely, that the administration--for whatever reason, Rumsfeld Doctrine or Dirty-Hippie-Based Panic Attack--stinted on the number of troops sent to Iraq.

Let us suppose, reader, that you are in charge of the invasion of Iraq set for March, 2003, and it is the early stages of the planning, say June of 1999. Okay, that was unfair; I don't think the invasion was set much before August. To avoid arguments let's make it January, 2002. And let's say you sincerely believe, as everyone did back then, that Saddam Hussein has a WMD program wish-list planning event scheduled at which he's finally going to decide on a napkin and dinner mint color scheme, which makes it something like an imminent threat without the imminence. You have decided that this linchpin of the Clash of Civilizations requires such a commitment that the US must abandon its treaty commitments, forsake its standing in the international community, and, frankly, its common sense the last vestiges of its common sense the pretense of Bush administration competence and mental stability. Throwing caution to the breezes you decide to call every last US serviceman home from Bosnia, Germany, Japan, Korea, Okinawa, Italy, Great Britain, and elsewhere. Keenly ignoring the fact (you are a Republican, remember) that most of the personnel thus obtained are winguts and data reduction clerks* and not trained and equipped combat forces, you add every last boot to your Planned Invasion Force Tote Board.

Congratulations! You now have a force of roughly 380,000 mostly untrained and unequipped men and women, many of them belonging to branches of the service which do not, as a rule, do much on solid ground except decompress. This motley gets you to approximately 1.09 times the generally accepted minimum amount required to actively occupy the country for, say, one year, assuming you had a plan to do so, which you don't because somebody's dog ate it.

Oh, by the way, on the off chance that that little hairdresser who runs North Korea, Kim Something, decides he wants to invade the South while you're otherwise occupied, you now have a Reserve Readiness force of 100,000. This is, in fact, an actual combat-ready force (at least it was in 2002). Its two major drawbacks are 1) its location is the US of A, not Korea, and 2) current military thinking, dating at least to the perfection of the internal combustion engine, holds that we need at least four times that number to respond adequately.

As we have mentioned here, and could, were we Professor Kurtz, link to again and again and again, there is one reason we invaded Iraq with 150,000 troops, and that reason has nothing whatever to do with any Rumsfeld Doctrine. We invaded on a political timetable, period, and we did so with what troops were available. We could not have developed a sufficient occupying force in less than two years' time, minimum, assuming a vigorous conscription program begun at the very time Rangel was proposing one. And that assumes that, alongside all the other problems a conscription army presents, we could have trained people that fast. Five years is probably more like it. Five years would be enough time to try to raise the levels of an all-volunteer army as well. Of course, both of these programs would have suffered from a big problem, bigger even than not facing Saddam's imminent threat imminently, bigger perhaps even than having to wait out the election cycle the whole thing was designed to influence in the first place:

We would have had to pay for it ahead of time.

What's the answer to that, Professor Kurtz? What Democratic dirty trick or Woodstock Nation hangover caused the administration to try to run the war off the books? Was there a danger that Democratic operatives would spread the ugly rumor that we had to pay for the thing? (Let's remember, reader--oh, I forgot, you're no longer in charge of the planning. Relax. The Big Idea was to keep the war off budget until the return from summer recess in '03, by which time it was supposed to be over.) For that matter, why'd we wait until October 2002 to get Congressional authorization, when we knew all along that he had those WMDs (since we kept the receipts. Wish I knew who said that.)?

Hey, while we're at it, Stan, let's remember that at the same time your bunch were making rumbling noises about Syria and Iran.

Our only real options were to invade with 150,000 troops, a level sustainable only until the winter of 2004 under optimal conditions, and that by an unprecedented use of the Reserve and National Guard, or to obtain the necessary 200,000-300,000 troops by forming a broad international coalition, which would have meant giving UN sanctions another twelve months to create doubt in a misled US public's mind of the imminence of (We Never Said "imminent") that imminent threat. And it would have meant waiting until spring 2004 at least, dissipating the time alloted to $30 million victory parades back home before the elections.

So, bullshit, Professor Kurtz. It was neither the Bush Wehrmacht's blitzkrieg theories (Guderian, at least, had the good sense to have territory-securing infantry following the tanks), nor the defeat-loving Democrats, nor any combination which resulted in our Iraq fiasco. It was the incompetence and the hubris of small men, and the larger hubris of a larger party, and their political wet dreams, which includes--and still does, somehow, in some quarters--that it could reverse the outcome of Vietnam and silence its critics forever. So much so that it couldn't be bothered to look at any inconvenient facts, before, during, or after.

*Frank Zappa, Billy the Mountain, August, 1971

Happy Birthday

Friedrich Anton Christian Lang
December 5, 1890--August 2, 1976

Monday, December 4

Log, Meet Mote Another Log

Frank Rich, "Has He Started Talking to the Walls?", NY Times Op-Ed, December 4
When news organizations, politicians and bloggers had their own civil war about the proper usage of that designation last week, it was highly instructive--but about America, not Iraq. The intensity of the squabble showed the corrosive effect the president's subversion of language has had on our larger culture. Iraq arguably passed beyond civil war months ago into what might more accurately be termed ethnic cleansing or chaos. That we were fighting over "civil war" at this late date was a reminder that wittingly or not, we have all taken to following Mr. Bush's lead in retreating from English as we once knew it.

I can't disagree with anything he says, including what's left behind the Wall of Selectness, but it's still a bit like a guy who arrives 20 minutes before the dinner is supposed to end lecturing others on etiquette. Didn't the New York Times have something to do with that retreat from English, specifically in regards to Iraq? Maybe I'm disremembering. There's been quite a lot to wade through of late.

Hey, Presidents, like all politicians, lie. So too do reporters. The thing is, though, they're not supposed to lie about matters of utmost national seriousness just so they can get invited to the right parties. That isn't something George Bush invented. It isn't something Judy Miller invented, either, though she raised it to previously unsuspected heights. If you want to talk about the origins of the non-consensual forcible public sodomy upon the English language you go straight to the Nixon administration [mouthing the words of Timesman Bill Safir(e)], Roe v. Wade, and the birth of Happy Talk, Faux Balance news that's coursed through journalistic veins in place of ink for a generation now.

America's a two-part question now, Frank. Can it figure out how it fucked up so badly in the world (we have a partial answer to that by now: at least a third of our fellow citizens cannot understand a simple declarative sentence anymore unless it condemns the political party they vote against)? And does it have the will to correct the wildly erroneous but cherished notions that brought it to that point in the first place?

A month after an election which at least threw a large percentage of the bums responsible for the current version of this malaise on its collective ear and we're still talking about the foibles of a President who's been a lame-duck for nearly two years now, and we're debating why some people can't seem to understand how wrong they are? Maybe it's because they've been told for thirty-some years now that their opinions, no matter how wrong, how ill-conceived, or how unpopular, were just as good as any other opinion.

Bush isn't responsible for that. He's just the pimple on the forehead it broke out in, the one everybody walked around trying to be too polite to stare at. We rewrote the history of the Vietnam War, Frank, just so the gang at the Corner could imagine forty years later that it was all the fault of dirty hippies. We decided that Ronald Reagan, the Butcher of People's Park, was A Nice Guy, then that he was too enfeebled to be bothered obeying the law of the land, then we put him on Mount Rushmore. We don't even need to get to George W., who was so clearly out of his league in the 2000 campaign that there's no excuse for anyone having followed him anywhere in the first place, let alone for blaming his addled pate six years later for where we all wound up.

Friday, December 1


Peggy Noonan, "Grace Under Pressure:
Difficult times call for less-contentious politics." OJ, December 1

We're going to need grace. We are going to need a great outbreak of grace to navigate the next difficult months.

The cynical middle-aged guy I sometimes talk to mentioned that there are two times you hear calls for civility in politics: immediately after Republicans have finished sliming someone, and then again after they've fucked things up as his replacement.

And the cynical middle-aged guy turns to me and says, "Remember the backhand slaps at Clinton in Bush's first inaugural address? Remember that it took him nearly two months--and the exhaustion of the news cycle--to allow as how Air Force One hadn't been trashed, and that meanwhile the six weeks' tubthumping about Vandalgate, Giftgate, and Pardongate, all led by his press secretary, all complete bullshit, got a "we're putting that behind us. My administration is all about being positive? Remember? Republicans deserve exactly the same Grace they exhibit."

I am thinking about getting him a hack license.
Much has been strained. We were all concussed by 9/11--we reeled--and came down where we came down. For the administration, extreme events prompted radical thinking. American exceptionalism was yesterday. They would be universalists, their operating style at once dreamy and aggressive: All men want the same thing, and we're giving it to them whether they want it or not. Now the dreamers hope to be saved by men--James Baker, Vernon Jordan--they once dismissed as cynics.

Reading Peggers this AM I was suddenly reminded of what Mailer said in The White Negro, something about how actual Negroes, because they'd been forced to suppress the tiniest emotional response for generations for fear of being unexpectedly gifted with a new necktie, had achieved a curious reversal: their deepest thoughts played on the surface, while their surface emotions remained buried. And after the last couple weeks of viewing or listening to reporters playing Ring Around the Rosy with the corpse of US politics--breathlessly awaiting the withered foregone conclusion that is the Baker-Hamilton commission, reporting one-time President George W. Bush's pre-response as though the man still has a gauntlet to throw down, trying to inflate the House Majority Leader vote into something big enough to qualify as a story--it occurred to me that Nooners is the Hipster Reporter. She can't help blurting out her deepest fears as everyday banter. Angels, or the Elect, or a guy in a big white hat are always coming to her rescue. But all the surface stuff, like "George W. is a bonehead", "all that Reaganaut stuff has been reduced to ashes while I stood by and cheered", or "despite my faith, my brain still feels like there's something crawling around in there", all those things remain out of sight though, unfortunately for Peggy, far from hidden.

Happy Birthday

Richard Franklin Lennox Thomas Pryor III
December 1, 1940--December 10, 2005

Thursday, November 30

Sold A Quart Of Blood And Bought A Half A Pint Of Scotch

Indy Star:
Wasting little time after learning its site developer beat back a rezoning challenge, the gourmet organic grocer said it has signed a lease to open its first Indianapolis store at 86th Street and Keystone Avenue.

That "rezoning challenge" there was an attempt by neighbors to beat back the proposed bulldozing of the last thirteen wooded acres within a mile of the place (more if you discount the nearby White River floodplain on which the city is rapidly issuing building permits) so what the Star calls the "earthy, yet upscale" retailer can build a 60,000 sq. ft. store.

Which store will be an enormous benefit to local nature lovers who don't want to drive the mile and a quarter to Wild Oats, or 2-1/2 miles to Trader Joe's, or the four miles to that place in the Village whose name I refuse to remember since they installed four self-service checkout lines two weeks after they opened. And it'll be just the other side of the overpass from Saks, Crate & Barrel, and the new Nordstrom, so you can get you couture and your cuisine while it's haute.

There's a good two miles of solid asphalt in either direction from that site. Just five miles away, ten blocks south of the 465/I-69 exchange, the only southern exit from the development insanity that is the town of Fishers, there's an entire three-block shopping center that's been distressed for several years, but sits in the same $80K annual household income bullseye. They're just beginning to revitalize it. The neighbors would have killed for it. They would even have paid earthy yet upscale mark-ups.

But that wouldn't have been as much fun as knocking down trees, I guess.

Go To Hell


"Atheists Agonistes," by Richard Shweder, NY Times November 27

is what I'd been working on when my wife's blasted civic-mindedness interrupted. The logic had already been demolished by PZ and his commenters; I'd like to take a different tack. Namely, just where th' fuck did these numbers come from?
Books dictated or co-written by God sell quite well among the 2.1 billion self-declared Christians and 1.3 billion self-declared Muslims of the world.

There are 2.1 billion self-declared Christians and 1.3 billion self-declared Muslims? To whom did they declare themselves?

A quibble? Perhaps, but if nothing else it's a sloppy way for an anthropologist to conduct himself, and "self-declared" carries an undeniable weight that the more accurate "claimed by the religion industry" does not.

And then it's one of those quibbles where belatedly asking the question leads us to a hidden lake of unknown depth we were supposed to cross dry-shod. Who is a Christian? If I'm supposed to acknowledge a system of thought strictly on the number of its adherents I think I can reasonably demand something like an accurate accounting first.

Damned if that water hasn't started turning murky. We can be reasonably certain that the Gallup numbers which get trotted out in support of America's Christianity, Sincere Monotheism, Regular Church Attendance and Habit of Tithing are inflated, the latter two, at least, by a factor of 2 or greater. So what about the rest? When Barna looks a little closer, as opposed to relying on "self-description", the argument begins to get a little odd:

• 9% of Americans meet the criteria to be called Evangelical; 14% of Americans do not follow any organized religion. 10% are atheist or agnostic. 10% follow some religion other than Christianity. (So who gets all the press?)

• 36% of Americans qualify as "Born Again" but not Evangelical. 50% of Southern adults do.

• Roughly 40% of adults never attend church.

• The fastest growing religion in the US is Wicca. The biggest trend in Christianity is the shift of aging Boomers toward born-again Christianity.

• 52% of Americans say they believe the Bible is inerrant truth.

• 58% describe themselves as "skeptical".

And this doesn't begin to approach the doctrinal differences which account for eight divisions of Christianity in the world or 2000 Protestant denominations in the USA alone.

If due respect requires atheists to help foot the bill for C.B. Demillesque Ten Commandment momuments aren't they at least permitted to wonder aloud if it'll be the Protestant, Catholic, or Jewish versions? Or if we need all three? Whose version of the Virgin Birth are they supposed to respect? Whose concept of heaven? Shouldn't we at least ask that all Baptists believe the same thing before we ask non-believers to pay homage?

Back in the last century they used to tell us about something called the esoteric/exoteric function of small groups, that is, that they have collections of narratives about themselves (generally positive) and about The Others (usually negative) which serve to increase group coherence. I haven't checked in a while, but I'm guessing it still works that way, and that this:
Instead of waging intellectual battles over the existence of god(s), those of us who live in secular society might profit by being slower to judge others and by trying very hard to understand how it is possible for John Locke and our many atheist friends to continue to gaze at each other in such a state of mutual misunderstanding.

amounts to a call for non-believers to accept the by-laws of those Christian sects which have to scream the loudest to keep their flock intact. Atheism, on the other hand, is not generally a team sport.

Frankly, if you hang around with "ordinary" Americans, as opposed to taking the occasional faculty dinner at the U. of Chicago, you'll discover that a big reason why over half of American Protestants aren't in the Born Again/Evangelical demo is they actively reject religious extremism. The rational, secular, pluralist cabal which so bedevils the religious right isn't atheist; it's mainstream America, outside Dixie.

Addendum: I didn't engage Shweder's argument, which, as I say, was handled quite nicely by PZ's bunch, but I would like to add that as much damage is done the literalist position by books from within the Christian tradition (e.g. Robin Lane Fox, The Unauthorized Version) as by anything Richard Dawkins has to say.

Wednesday, November 29

I Should Have Taken The Other Car. Its Radio Is Broken.

My Poor Wife got called for jury duty yesterday, and since I was available to ferry her and avoid parking fees I did so, and scheduled that responsibility around some household chores and finishing a post which isn't this one. The phone rang a scant hour and a half later. She was free (she had a personal connection to the case she was called for, and they kicked her back to the pool, where she was told she could go home). So I drove back downtown and saw my schedule disrupted enough that I tossed it out altogether and went Christmas shopping.

I had stuck the new Yo La Tengo CD in my sweatshirt pocket, or at least I thought I had, until I opened it at the end of the block and learned the actual CD, the part with the music on it, was back on the turntable at home. So I switched on NPR in time for Terry Gross to tell me her guest would be our old friend Ariel Levy, the author of Female Chauvinist Pigs, now in paperback. For someone whose ideas are so ill-formed, Levy is remarkably poorly-spoken. That may be unfair; she was extemporizing on radio, after all, and it's not her medium. Still, as if the early holiday shopping traffic wasn't maddening enough (following two rush-hour-esque trips downtown and back) Levy has her lubricated and latex-safe finger poised just close enough to the rim of truth to be excruciating without any promise of a payoff. People's Exhibit A:
When I was doing this research I was constantly struck by all (the accomplishments of feminism) that I take for granted.

And B:
We've sort of reduced [sex] down to implants, polyester underpants*, and Brazilian bikini waxes, all these things that can be bought and sold. And it strikes me that once you make sex not about weird complicated things and you make it about that...stuff...then it's just another thing to buy and sell.

Well, yes, if I can put it so simply. Is there any possibility we can start connecting the dots sometime in the near future?

Let us take the first comment first. I do not and cannot understand this. Levy is in her early 30s. She buttressed that comment with a note that pre-feminism women could not get checking accounts without a husband or father co-signing, let alone access to safe and legal contraception or abortions. She says this as though we are to accept it as the most natural thing in the world that any thirty-year-old would be completely ignorant of the world as it existed fifteen years before her birth without a specialized course of study. Someone my height and coloring might suggest that this is, instead, a measure of the sheer lack of intellectual curiosity in American life, and if we need some way to understand Wildness and the Girls Who Go There it would be a more fruitful place to start.

Let us pause for a couple pieces of salient information. Levy describes her parents as 60s vintage boho feminists, which makes her former cluelessness about the entire history of her own gender in her own country prior to her own giving a shit that much more mysterious. The second is her admission that she sees "raunch culture" as a reaction to the "PC tightness that was big in the 80s and early 90s".

So I'm listening to this, and it's really difficult to decide what qualifies as Thought and what is simply rearranging scraps of newspaper found on the floor of your cage. "PC tightness"? I don't understand how a label convinces you to stop thinking about something, and I'm fairly convinced, having lived through it, that the war on so-called political correctness was in full swing by that time, as evinced by the very existence of the term. In other words, even had one found oneself in a college hotbed of PC in the 80s or early 90s one needn't have felt windlashed and helpless. (Levy, by the way, reports the opposite: she was even tempted to throw away her leg razor for a time.)

So we wind up with the same old conundrum. If you were delusional to some extent in those days, why should your testimony be trusted now?

Which brings us to implants and underpants and bikini waxing, and the real puzzlement to me: what is it that's so difficult to understand here? Yes, indeedy, the reduction of sex to a plastic commodity costs us a great deal, and it saddles a following generation with Paris and Brittany disease one can only hope they'll be able to climb up out of right side up. But it is the abiding faith in Consumerism which is the problem, not some generational response to torments of PC humorlessness. If a 32-year-old who's published a book on the subject is only recently aware of the accomplishments of mid-20th century Feminism, I have my doubts that drunken nubiles are flashing their tits at the camera as an act of political defiance.

* This one is news to me. Sic transit.

Monday, November 27

Who Left the Ouzo Unlocked?

David Brooks, "The Education of Robert Kennedy", New York Times, November 27

Summary: After his brother's cranium exploded in public, Bobby Kennedy reportedly found surcease in Edith Hamilton's lightly regarded version of Greek Classics Illustrated. If you find three different ways to say this it will fill up a Times Op-Ed column. And if you throw in a wholly gratuitous reference to Winston Churchill, the most casual 5% of your readers might imagine you had a point.

Question from the floor: If Brooks and his ilk are so enamored of the Dead Kennedys and ML King, how is it they never saw fit to emulate them in the slightest? When it could have made a difference they threw in with Milton Friedman and Ayn Rand.

On the other hand: "Classical scholars often scorn Hamilton because she wrote in a breathless 'all the glory that was Greece' mode, but her book changed Robert Kennedy's life." Y'know, passive-aggressiveness is not all that attractive in a supposed pundit in the the first place, and Brooks really manages to take it to a You Wanna Trip Him In The Hallway While He's Got An Armload Of Books level. Supposing that classical scholars have nothing better to do than feel superior to 70-year-old popularizations of their subject matter, I'm guessin' they could find a lot more to be critical of than Hamilton's prose stylings.

Brooks didn't even have to mention this--we're talking about Bobby Kennedy's tastes, not his own--or he might have stated it as simple fact. Hamilton wasn't working as a scholar. She wrote popular books on scholarly subjects. There was more than a hint of fust about her books back when Bobby read The Greek Way. But Brooks means to uncork that Bowtied Right manqué classicism, and so is required to blame everything he doesn't like about contemporary scholarship on a few arbitrary eggheads.

The Money: "And the lesson, of course, is about the need to step outside your own immediate experience into the past, to learn about problems that never change, and bring back some of that inheritance. The leaders who founded the country [and who appear here, in the penultimate sentence, for the first time -ed.] were steeped in the classics, Kennedy found them in crisis, and today's students are lucky if they stumble on them by happenstance."

Funny thing about that. I happen to do volunteer work in the public schools, and in these parts, at least, the math and language requirements are double what they were thirty years ago when I was in school, and probably twenty some years ago when Brooks was. I am, frankly, astonished at the work load placed on kids and I sometimes wonder how I would have reacted, being that I was always more interested in what I found than what they were trying to teach me, and the pace back then allowed me to indulge that. These workloads are mandated by public officials tasked with--or taking an immense amateur interest in--"improving" education. They are, in these parts, largely Republican and/or disproportionately solicitous of Republican chamber-of-commerce type concerns, and there seems to be very little demand for an entire section of Aeschylus on the graduation qualifying exam.

Then again, Indianapolis parents now have the opportunity to send their students to a charter school with a classics-based curriculum, or, baring that, of buying a copy of Mythology for a buck fifty at Half Price Books and having their kids read it. Though that takes all of the fun out of being a scold.