Tuesday, January 31


"In politics, looks matter."
-Ezra Klein


Please check in with eRobin, the hardest-working blogger in Blogostan, today, and learn about the Fitzgerald Amendment, the Coalition for Voting Integrity, and what you can do to help. Because, difficult as it may be to believe, sometimes snark is just not enough.

Happy Birthday

John Joseph Lydon
born January 31, 1956

Burke and Hobbes and...

"Conservative" Philosophers in the News:

Debbie Schlussel (link via TBogg; please do not click the first one if you suffer from heart disease, tender digestion, are pregnant or nursing or nursing a hangover, or have a mouthful of liquid and a monitor or keyboard nearby) gets tricked into reading a NY Times science feature because the phrase "Ear Wax" appears in the headline, and concludes that Europeans couldn't have stolen the Americas from Native Americans--whom she refers to as "Native" Americans--because they came from Asia.

I know, I know. The idea is so incredibly stupid it's practically impossible to convey it in words. Just for the hell of it I tried without success putting it in grunts, wacking it out on the seat of my chair with a yardstick, and finally ramming it directly into my skull via a brick wall. Nothing worked. This single post may wind up requiring us to scrap the totality of Post-War linguistic theory.

There's much humor, if you can stand it, to be gleaned from her repeated defense that saying:
So whom did THEY steal the land from? Somebody else, obviously.

doesn't mean she's claiming there was somebody else. But for me the real howler sorta got lost in the shuffle:
But the paper glosses over the most important finding. The study found that Europeans and Africans tend to have wet ear wax, sweat more, and have more under arm body odor than Asians, who have dry ear wax and don't sweat much. But the study also found that "Native" Americans have dry ear wax and body odor similar to Asians, proving they migrated here from Asia.

The paper glosses over the important point that this is further proof of what has been an accepted explanation for at least a century, except in parts of Utah! Meanwhile, Debs has sorta glossed over her own collision with Aristotelian logic (he rides on blithely, she suffers a massive head wound, which fortunately in her case is a trifling matter): the Asian/Native American ear wax connection doesn't prove anything whatever about settlement of the New World; the two could be unrelated, a point which is actually made in the article, though not overtly because, well, it was of necessity written for the literate.

And these are the people who want to tell us how to teach science.

Dennis Prager explains that the Palestinian elections "reveal more about the left than about Palestine", because, you know, he always knew the Palestinians were bloodthirsty Muslims who won't rest until Israel is destroyed, but this business about the Left equivocating around the point caught him by surprise.

This is the spot where I'd normally lead into a quote roughly outlining Dennis' thesis, but there doesn't seem to be one. He seems actually to believe that the elections do reveal more about the Palestinians than about the Left. Hell, let's just cut to the cognitive dissonance:
So the Palestinian vote reveals the falsity of the worldwide Left's view of the Palestinians as committed to peace. It likewise reveals the falsity of the Left's belief that Palestinian terror is supported by a small minority of the Palestinian population.

That is one reason why the Bush doctrine -- we need to spread democracy everywhere possible, including, or even especially, in the Arab world -- is so valid. You cannot deal with any problem in life -- from the most personal to the most macro -- by engaging in wishful thinking and denying reality.

I gotta tell ya, when I got through that second paragraph I immediately went back and reread Schlussel just to bask in her superior reasoning skills for a moment.

It seems that Den's on the cutting edge of a new wingnut talking point regarding Hammas, namely that the elections prove the Bush doctrine is working; now, whenever there are democratic elections in the Middle East we'll know from the results whether we need to kill them all or not. But my real reason for bringing up the soon-to-be-available Mr. Prager was his handy-dandy guide to the beliefs of one Norbizness:
On just about every issue, the Left lives in a childlike fantasy realm. Their views are expressions of what they wish for, not what actually is.

Here is a small sample:

-- Support for terror represents a tiny sliver of the Muslim world.

-- All cultures are essentially morally equivalent.

-- The United Nations is a wonderful institution and the best hope of mankind.

-- Men and women are basically the same.

-- It makes no difference whether children are raised by a loving man and woman or by two loving parents of the same sex.

-- Violent criminals in our society are pushed into crime by socioeconomic circumstances, not because of their own flawed characters and values.

-- War is not the answer.

The list of leftist positions based on a rejection of reality is as long as a list of leftist positions.

War is the answer, Mr. Left. How many more missions do we have to accomplish before you just fucking admit it?

Monday, January 30


Jim VandeHei, "Blogs Attack From Left as Democrats Reach for Center"

Democrats are getting an early glimpse of an intraparty rift that could complicate efforts to win back the White House: fiery liberals raising their voices on Web sites and in interest groups vs. elected officials trying to appeal to a much broader audience.

Hey, Jim, I got an early glimpse of that intraparty rift, too. It was called the year 1951. What's up next for you, "Spring Training Crowds Suggest Some Fans Don't Like the Yankees"?
These activists -- spearheaded by battle-ready bloggers and making their influence felt through relentless e-mail campaigns -- have denounced what they regard as a flaccid Democratic response to the Supreme Court fight, President Bush's upcoming State of the Union address and the Iraq war. In every case, they have portrayed party leaders as gutless sellouts.

Imagine that.
First, liberal Web logs went after Democrats for selecting Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine to deliver the response to Bush's speech next Tuesday. Kaine's political sins: He was too willing to drape his candidacy in references to religion and too unwilling to speak out aggressively against Bush on the Iraq war. Kaine has been lauded by party officials for finding a victory formula in Bush country by running on faith, values and fiscal discipline.

Because remember, Democrats, the Republicans have already shown the intraparty rift which will complicate efforts to retain control of the White House with that Harriet Meiers business. Or Schiavo. Sheesh, I thought VandeHei would never shut up about it, whichever one it was.

Really, now: why is this a story? Is there a prize out there somewhere for the One Millionth Rehash of the Lefties Obstruct Democratic Electoral Success story? 'Cause I'm not sure why anyone got lathered up over Tim Kaine, or who it was, for that matter, but I assume they were voicing their own opinions. As for Alito, I'd like to hear from someone who doesn't regard the Democratic response as flaccid, which by the way is pronounced "flak' sid", not "flassid". Sorry, pet peeve.

That leaves us with Iraq, where, if I understand correctly, moving to the right will not actually connect with some untouched central core of the poll-responding populace.
"The bloggers and online donors represent an important resource for the party, but they are not representative of the majority you need to win elections," said Steve Elmendorf, a Democratic lobbyist who advised Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign. "The trick will be to harness their energy and their money without looking like you are a captive of the activist left."

Man, that is what I love about the Democratic party. It's the real party of opportunity, the only one where a Kerry advisor can still lecture the country on what it takes to win elections.
The blogs-vs.-establishment fight represents the latest version of a familiar Democratic dispute. It boils down to how much national candidates should compromise on what are considered core Democratic values -- such as abortion rights, gun control and opposition to conservative judges -- to win national elections.

Either I need a shower or VandeHei just plopped an unrefrigerated week-old mackerel in the middle of page six. I've got no problem with calling "abortion rights" a core Democratic value, excepting that the battle is more properly over reproductive rights, which itself grows out of the actual core value of privacy, or placing personal liberty over state intrusion. But gun control? Is gun control properly a core Democratic value? And "opposition to conservative judges" just convinces me that VandeHei was typing so fast he'd forgotten how the sentence began.

[Blah blah, Web emerges as powerful political force, blah blah Howard Dean.]
The closest historic parallel would be the talk-radio phenomenon of the early 1980s, when conservatives -- like liberals now -- felt powerless and certain they did not have a way to voice their views because the mainstream media and many of their own leaders considered them out of touch. Through talk radio, often aired in rural parts of the country on the AM dial, conservatives pushed the party to the right on social issues and tax cuts

Or, The Sketch Book of Rip Van VandeHei. If you want to rewrite history it's generally best to choose a period the majority of your readers have no knowledge of. Ronald Reagan was president in the 80s, Jim; he's the guy they renamed one of your airports for. The Press was already behaving like a good lapdog, and the Moral Majority was all the rage. "Conservatives" didn't feel powerless; they played powerless on the radio, on teevee, and in the papers, something they'd been doing at least since Nixon's "Silent Majority" speech. And it's difficult to understand how one is out of touch on abortion rights, the war in Iraq, and, for that matter, gun control when one holds essentially the same positions as the majority of Americans. But I guess that's why I don't write analysis for the Post.


1) Name one battle we lost in the Vietnam war?

You mean after the major influx of US combat troops? Tan Canh.

It's something of a trick question, of course, one that ignores the reality of the conflict and treats war as a very deadly form of football decided by a scorekeeper. Vietnam was not the Eastern front of WWII. There weren't many pitched battles; the Viet Minh had no interest in conquering territory or slugging it out with a superior foe with absolute air superiority. War rarely if ever begins with a level playing field and equal objectives. Too bad we refuse to learn that lesson.

US forces fought extremely well in Vietnam. They were poorly commanded, and their mission was a huge mistake. If you intend to blame The Media for the US defeat then you first need to defend how three Administrations, and a succession of military commanders, mishandled the war for the sake of positive press.

2) Why did it take until 1975 for North Vietnam to conquer South Vietnam when the U.S. had pulled its troops in 1973?

One million ARVN troops, with modern equipment. They fell rather quickly, actually. The North invaded in March '75; Vietnam was officially unified on July 2.

3) Why are pictures of John Kerry and Jane Fonda hanging in Vietnamese war museums?

If you intend to come to this blog and slag off men who served honorably in Vietnam, you send us your verifiable service record first. For starters.

4) Why do records of the former USSR talk about paying agitators within the US peace movement?

Why did the FBI? Why do the Israelis spy on us? Let me clue you to something: anybody who took part in a large anti-war demonstration knew who those people were. There wasn't a massive Communist attack after the war ended. Your fellow citizens protested the war because they were against it, not because they were the dupes of some J. Edgar Hoover fantasy that didn't involve women's garments.

5) Why did the US media refer to battles such as the Tet Offensive as defeats when they were overwhelming US military victories?

Citation? Funny, I was fifteen years old, and I knew the outcome of Tet at the time.

But the "overwhelming victory" thing is another body-count canard. Tet clearly demonstrated that the continual drumbeat of light at the end of the tunnel was just the latest in a series of official lies about imminent victory dating to 1962, when Paul Harkins said it would be over in six months to a year. The Tet Offensive ended the so-called Viet Cong as an effective fighting force, but the ARVN was still plenty capable. It's the difference between "tactics" and "strategy", an effective understanding of which is required for discussion.

Sunday, January 29

Happy Birthday

William Claude Dukenfield
January 29, 1880--December 25, 1946

My favorite Fields story is said to be apocryphal, but that doesn't stop us at BLTR. As Fields lay dying, fading in and out of consciousness, he opened his eyes and croaked to his gathered friends, "The little newsies...sole support of their mothers...working in all sorts of weather...I'd like to do something for them."

"That's very nice, Bill," replied one, and Fields closed his eyes and sank back into his pillow. All was quiet for a moment, til he opened his eyes again and said, "On second thought, fuck 'em."

What, That Old War Again?

Consider this the quick dump of a pilot before Sweeps Month starts Wednesday. I was struck with the idea that once I'd reached the fifth paragraph or 30 minute mark writing a reply on someone else's blog it may be time to post it on my own. And so it was as Daily Pepper covers the Joel Stein tsimmis.

In case you missed it, a quick rundown: Stein writes an opinion column in the LA Times in which he says he doesn't support the troops, because he's against the war; while he's got no problem with the war's supporters supporting the troops, for opponents it's "one of the wussiest positions the pacifists have ever taken..." Mount St. Malkins immediately erupts, assuming we can distinguish between activity and quiescence in that quarter. In a freak occurance, Al Franken and Atrios also take offense.

I happened to have read the thing the day it was published. It was strained, lazy, and to top it off, unfunny. As Pepper says, the VH-1 regular should stick to covering the Dancing With the Stars Master P controversy. Or I take her word for it, anyway, since I'm not quite sure what it is.

Still, Stein has a point. He mostly missed it himself, and he compounded the whiff by displaying his ignorance on a couple of levels. And I can't quite understand why Malkins would take offense rather than trumpet the thing, since Stein seems to be saying exactly what she/they imagine to be the case, but I leave that to her/them. Maybe there was some concern that newer readers thought she/they possess actual reading comprehension.

But as for Stein: "I support the troops but I don't support the war" is a fertile ground for some digging, but he just broadcasts a couple handfuls of seed in a strong breeze. In the first couple hundred words he's equated supporting the troops with bumperstickers and magnetic yellow ribbons, before equating opposition to the war with pacifism. Those are the sort of blasé mistakes that get you invited back to VH-1 for another round of ridiculing the crap commerical culture of your youth, and they might slide as a feature piece somewhere, assuming someone could have applied some genuine humor to the thing. But they shouldn't qualify as an Op-Ed piece in a major metropolitan daily, though god knows it hardly sinks below what else actually does these days.

There's no excuse for Stein not understanding he was shortchanging everyone he wrote about; this is the sorry state of editorial opinion writing in the heyday of Truthiness. Would that the Malkins take a lesson. But what's more interesting, I think, is the casual repetition of history as Dimly Remembered High School Filmstrip:
It's as if the one lesson they [the "pacifists"] took away from Vietnam wasn't to avoid foreign conflicts with no pressing national interest but to remember to throw a parade afterward.

I'm not advocating that we spit on returning veterans like they did after the Vietnam War, but we shouldn't be celebrating people for doing something we don't think was a good idea.

The spitting thing is just pure laziness; that sorry wad of phlegm has been as thoroughly debunked as is theoretically possible. And just the tiniest amount of interest in what the actual troops think about Iraq--here's a hint, Joel: it's roughly as diverse as the general population back home--might have served to open his eyes and maybe even shut his mouth. But so help me, I'm never going to get over the sheer laziness of so many of Stein's contemporaries when it comes to Vietnam. From the "Why are we still talking about that after thirty years?" in blog comments to the idea that an evil cabal of smelly hippies and the Librul Media kept us from winning, the astonishing lack of concern with one's own history, the easy dismissal of the war as something as relevant today as bell-bottoms and rotary phones, the sheer self-indulgence of, not just willful ignorance, but gleefully willful ignorance is just jaw-dropping. What Stein seems to "know" about Vietnam is largely a product of how the war's defenders marketed our defeat a decade after the fact. Which hardly explains his ignorance, since he obviously knows the war was controversial. How is it you come to trust what you're told?

The reason many people opposing the war now see fit to acknowledge their support for the troops is precisely the sort of historical rewrite Stein can't distinguish from the truth. It's precisely because of that spitting story. It's precisely because so many people are so lazy about facts and so easily hoodwinked by urban legends and bullshit on the LA Times editorial pages. You know, there are several people still alive today who lived through Vietnam, Joel. Maybe you could ask them. I think you'd probably find there's a lot more pissed off about the treatment they and their buddies received from the government during and after their service than you'll find pissed off because they didn't get to march through Manhattan. The only guys I know who ever hewed to that line were gung-ho officers and careerist noncoms. Of course their arguments found your ear somehow, while the guys who handled the Agent Orange never got the chance.

And just one more question, Joel. If you think only the war's supporters should display their support for the troops, how is it you now blame the anti-war faction for the lack of parades back then?

This might bring us to the case of one Dough E. Pantload and his vast knowledge of what some other guy told him about Sacco and Vanzetti. But then we already know why Jonah trusts what he's been told.

Saturday, January 28

God Help Us, The Indiana Legislature Used To Meet Only Every Other Year

Okay, the big legislative news in what is supposed to be Indiana's biennial short session, is Governor Mitch "Honorary CEO of Munchkinland" Daniels' headlong rush to gain the statutory right to sell off any piece of state property a private concern covets, under the guise of approving the really, really great deal he got by peddling our childrens' and grandchildrens' birthrights to the highest bidder for ten years worth of roadbuilding. (A Spanish-Australian consortium won the Double Secret bidding for a 75-year lease on the Indiana Toll Road for $3.8 billion, subject to legislative approval. But somehow that deal can't be struck without a bill handing the Guv the right to sell off anything related to transportation, including Indiana's two harbors and its airports, all without further legislative review.)

More about that next week, but I thought you might enjoy a taste of what Indiana's citizen legislators get up to when they're on a tight schedule:

DIGEST OF HB1172 (Updated January 26, 2006 1:51 pm - DI 14)

Information on pain and anesthetic for a fetus. Provides that informed consent to an abortion includes the requirement that a physician inform a pregnant woman that: (1) a fetus may feel pain; (2) an anesthetic or other painkilling medication may be provided during an abortion to a fetus with a probable gestational age of at least 20 weeks; and (3) insurance may or may not cover the service. Provides further that notice must be given in writing at least 18 hours before an abortion concerning the availability of adoptions, physical risks to the woman in having an abortion, and that human life begins when a human ovum is fertilized by a human sperm.

Yes, indeed, metaphysical certitude about When Life Begins from the gang that can't decide what time it is.
DIGEST OF HB 1247 (Updated January 26, 2006 1:46 pm - DI 14)

Wrongful death or injury of a child. Specifies that the law concerning the wrongful death or injury of a child applies to a fetus that has attained viability. Provides that a wrongful death action may not be maintained against a person for: (1) conduct relating to an abortion if the physician in good faith medical judgment believed that the consent of the woman was express or implied; or (2) a lawful medical treatment. Provides that a wrongful death action may not be maintained against a woman for behavior or conduct with respect to her fetus.

I haven't read the relevant statutes, but I'm pretty sure this means a woman who's five months pregnant can walk unbidden up my driveway with the intention of converting me to Jesus, trip over a tree branch her Savior caused to fall thirty seconds earlier, and sue me for the wrongful death of her "child" if she miscarries. And I suppose she could also do so to an amusement park operator after she willingly boards a roller coaster. But she couldn't be sued for downing a fifth of Jim Beam every night.

And yes, it also occurs to me (again, absent any actual knowledge) that she'd also be able to sue the water company if there's anything coming out the tap that might cause birth defects, or any of the pollution manufacturers in this state or whichever way the winds blows. That's not only cold comfort, I expect it's also a loophole that'll close faster'n a legislator's wallet when the per diem's been used up.

I will be erecting "No Access to Pregnant Women" signs on the edge of my property if the second one becomes law, but I'm mostly interested in the first. Despite our legislators' abiding concerns for the rights of Blastocyst-Americans, there's a curious refusal to make the law consistent. They're horrified that a fetus feels pain, for example, but where's the bill requiring anesthesia in infant surgeries, including circumcision (might get some religious objections to that one)? Or for that matter the sorely needed requirement that parents seek medical attention for minors regardless of the parents' religious beliefs (in Indiana, faith healing is an acceptable substitute for, say, going to a hospital when your child's temperature is 108º)? How about the one classifying all miscarriages as homicides? We can go on like this for hours. Hoosiers--trust me on this one--are intellectually overmatched by the concept of the Four Way Stop. T-bone a pregnant woman who runs a stop sign, find yourself up on vehicular manslaughter charges when she miscarries. Time to invest in a videotape system for the dashboard.

This is part and parcel of our having allowed, for thirty years, the anti-rights crowd to simply babble about their superior moral beliefs, rather than demanding answers to the tough questions. I was astonished last Sunday to come across a spokeswoman for National Right to Life rejecting the idea that the Court overturning Roe meant an end to safe and legal abortion. "It would return the issue to the states, where it belongs," she said. This, now that they're faced with the possibility of losing the issue as a national cash cow, is the new talking point. "Yes, my morally-superior belief is that abortion is murder, but I've always felt that's a matter to be decided along jurisdictional boundaries largely established in 18th century England." Y'know, it's one thing to be the party that opposes deficit spending until it's within your power to balance the budget, and you're more than welcome to equate criticism of military action with treason except when Bill Clinton is commander-in-chief, but when your moral values go on the auction block the minute it looks like you'll have to answer for them, that's something else again.

Friday, January 27

Thursday, January 26

Wish I'd Said That, Part MMDCCXLVI

The Editors on Howellapalooza:

When one is an Elder Statesman of the American media, and when one can’t be bothered to look into the particular details of some issue, it is never a bad idea to fall back on Ecclesiastes, and remind the readers - in a tone as wise and weary as you can muster - that the seasons change and the winds blow now this way, now that, turn turn turn, but there is nothing new under the Sun. As there was a time of saying Clinton was a coke-dealing Commie and a serial rapist, now comes the time of saying that George W. Bush shouldn’t run secret torture prisons. Men of Principle lament both of these equally, for they are just two sides of the same lamentable coin. Vanity of vanity, all of it. Can’t we just play nice?

Happy Birthday Coincidence

Stéphane Grappelli Jan 26, 1908--Dec. 1, 1997

UPDATE: I forgot to mention that when he and Django were reuinted in New York after the War, they opened for Duke Ellington. Sheesh, and I thought Elvis Costello/Rockpile/Mink Deville was an untoppable bill.

Taking One Six For The Team

I've been checking in on Wonkette for the past week wondering when our friend Alex Pareene was going to turn up for his new gig, which meant that yesterday I ran into guest blogger Glenn Reynolds, and this:
Over at my own blog, I do podcasts, along with my wife, who’s a blogger, too. We’ve got an interview with Norah Vincent, author of Self Made Man: One Woman’s Journey into Manhood and Back. I thought it was pretty interesting.

Undaunted by dial-up, I listened to the whole thing. And it was pretty interesting. Especially Glenn's contributions, which I'll highlight right off the bat, in case you lack my masochistic streak Classic Male Stamina:

• "I seem to remember a science fiction story where everybody had to spend some time in the opposite gender."

• "That's Scott Adams' point in one of his Dilbert books."

• "It kind of reminds me of the scene in the old teevee shows from the 60s where some well-intentioned but ignorant white guy would sit a black guy down and ask him, "What's it like to be black?"

• "But of course we had Black Like Me," which is sort of a predecessor to your book..."

The link to the podcast is in the Wonkette post, and while I don't really wish it on anybody else, the more demented among you might want to listen to it long enough to hear Mrs. Insty, "Dr. Helen", as she's styled, speak. I've noted before than on occasion my wife will come home and speak to me as to a room full of fifteen-year-olds; Dr. Helen has the same overlapping professional demeanor.

(I like to think I'm a fair man, so I'm not gonna mention the ever-lengthening chain of right-wing pundits who use "Doctor" like it's their given name, despite having a Ph.D. in Whatever. Dr. Laura, Dr. Mike Adams, Dr. Judith Reisman, Dr. Duane Gish, all bandy the thing about regardless of subject. Dr. Helen is the only psychologist in the bunch, and I think she may simply believe she's practicing all the time.)

The really interesting part of the show was the unrelenting tension between the two women, as Dr. Helen kept driving the "poor mistreated men" theme beyond the point where Norah was probably comfortable about it. Of course, Norah's trying to sell a book, and the libertarian feminism hater is her prime, if not her only, audience. But this conflicted with the sales pitch that the book is her insights based on her little charade, free of any preconceived notions. She had to do a couple of backbends to agree with everything Dr. Helen put to her, but it all turned out the way Ozzy and Harriet would have liked it, assuming you ignore what their real homelife was like.

Still, the contradictions are obvious. I stand by my offer of a bowl-off to convince me that Norah spent eight months on the lanes, and let's just say I retain a healthy skepticism about the whole enterprise otherwise. But the other mask--that this is a meditation based on experience and not a rehash of libertarian anti-feminist talking points targeted at those easily impressed by anything they agree with--slips repeatedly.
NORAH, on her dates with women: I could feel them deferring to me, you know, wanting me to take control...they wanted to lean on me and have the sort of traditional male virtues of stoicism and control.

DR. HELEN: So women want somebody who looks like a guy but acts like a woman?

NORAH: See, that's what I went in thinking, but I think that's not the case...there are a lot of women, it surprised me to find out how many, many do appreciate these male virtues and want a manly man.

Come now. How long have we been hearing that? "But women really want a manly man" is a response to Feminism as old as Feminism. This is the first time our lesbian libertarian contrarian ran into the concept?

Oh, maybe not. Later:
There was an upside to being a [stay-at-home] woman--and that's still basically true. I know a lot of women who depend on their husbands to make the money, their husbands bear all the pressure of having to get up at 5 in the morning and do half the baby work, but also go to the office in the morning and write a legal brief, and I feel as thought it's gotta be legitimate to say, hey, you know, being the guy who is the safety net for the entire family, who has to go out there and perform no questions asked, and you can't show weakness, you can't show need, that's really hard, and it should be okay to complain about that, to say, hey, listen to me for once.

So she knows a lot of women who depend on the "traditional" male, but she was surprised to find out they existed when "Ned" proved insufficiently butch. Did I miss something?

Or there's this:
DR. HELEN: Why do you think women have such a hard time seeing men just as human?

NORAH: Well, I think there's a lot of baggage left over from feminism. I think that we've all had our Feminism 101 course, Women's Studies 101, and so we have these notions about the Patriarchy.

It's not an anti-feminist book. It assumes everything from Betty Friedan to Naomi Wolf has been absorbed into the culture.

So it's about how we've assimilated the lessons of Feminism 101, which now sit like used motor oil on the pure spring water of the culture?

Even granting that everything reported in the book happened exactly as she says it did, this still smells like scam. Millions of people have actually lived the life she put on, and if there's some insight here that comes from chromosomal differences rather than political slant I'm still waiting to hear it. My college years coincide with the rise of feminism. Women's Studies were an established major program, Our Bodies, Ourselves and The Female Eunuch were on every bookshelf. I don't recall any personal relationships with women being anything other than personal. Dating and relationships weren't political acts.

I wouldn't dispute that Vincent appreciates that the lessons of everyone from Betty Friedan to Naomi Wolf are important, and far be it from me to deny her the opportunity to discuss how successfully their effect on the culture. I doubt she'd have found much agreement from Dr. Helen if it hadn't been such a gosh-all festival of perfect accord, and that amounts to pandering on her part, if not theirs too. Maybe now she needs to take a look at some of "those old teevee shows from the 60s" to remind herself of the Traditional Male Attitudes that are now so oppressed. The real shows, I mean, not the ones bouncing around in that fantasyland inside Glenn's head. Or better yet, a leisurely stroll through those comments on Dr. Helen's site.

Good Thing Western Civilization Has Already Collapsed

[Headline:] Model Kate Moss Plans Tell-All Memoir

Title contest, anyone? Is This Blows taken?

Wednesday, January 25

He May Be A Mutt, But He's R. Mutt

Just keep him away from the Rembrandts on ironing day.

Attacker of Duchamp's Urinal Sentenced

- - - - - - - - - - - -

By PIERRE-ANTOINE SOUCHARD Associated Press Writer

January 24,2006 | PARIS -- A court has convicted a 77-year-old French man for attacking artist Marcel Duchamp's famed porcelain urinal with a hammer, rejecting the defendant's contention that he had increased the value of the art work by making it an "original."

The court gave Pierre Pinoncelli a three-month suspended prison sentence Tuesday and ordered him to pay a $245,490 fine.

Pinoncelli also was ordered to pay $17,616 to repair "Fountain," a work worth millions of dollars that was chipped in the Jan. 4 hammer attack at the Pompidou Center. The work was part of an exhibit of the early 20th century's avant-garde Dada movement.

The Pompidou Center had sought more than $523,930 for the damage.

The January urinal attack was not the first for Pinoncelli. He urinated on the piece during a 1993 exhibition in Nimes in southern France.


• Jack Shafer in Slate on Ombudsmangate:
The mass mau-mauing of Howell may seem like something that could only happen on the Web, but conventional instigators have been known to boost displeasure for media outlets into the stratosphere. Back in 1986, a local radio broadcaster organized a protest against the Washington Post because she thought the debut issue of its relaunched Sunday magazine treated African Americans unfairly. She directed her irate listeners to trek to the Post 's offices once a week to dump stacks of the magazine on its doorstep in protest.

In 1992, politicians and activists convinced about 200 people to picket the Reader, a Chicago alternative weekly, following its publication of what they thought was a racist cartoon of an alderman. In 1990, ACT UP vilified New York Times reporter Gina Kolata by plastering Manhattan with stickers denouncing her as "the worst AIDS reporter in America" and continuing their protest through the U.S. mail by sending her 200 angry Christmas cards. During the great Detroit newspaper strike of the mid-'90s, which was marked by violence and property damage, union organizers attached signs urging shoppers not to buy the struck papers to 30 mice and loosed them in a department store. See also any one of the letter-writing campaigns sponsored over the decades by Accuracy in Media or the perennial Christian protests against the godless TV networks.

Thanks for managing, after you finished with the coloreds and the queers and the unions, to squeeze the Right in there, Jack. They've been at it for only thirty-five years, and one direct result is the very sort of faux-balance that Howell employed in the first place. It shouldn't require any sort of reaction to make reporters tell the truth, but until they stop hiding behind this "both sides attack us" bullshit and actually address the problem, by, say, calling a lie a lie instead of an alternative opinion, then I'm glad people get out of hand about it. Same with Matthews, same with Russert. You guys in the mass media don't seem to want to face up to just how much you have to answer for over the past fifteen years or more. I don't personally think personal attacks are a great idea, but as it is piles of angry, obscenity-laden emails is the least that Wapo, et. al., should expect to endure when they continue to refuse to do their jobs.

Take Newsweek's Richard Wolffe on Countdown Monday night. Keith tosses him a bit about Rove's speech, asking who the Democrats are that Rove implies don't want us to wiretap al-Qaeda:
"Of course those Democrats don't exist...but whether it's truthful or not is another question."

Juan Cole: "Top Ten Mistakes of the Bush Administration in Reacting to Al-Qaeda"
On September 11, 2001, the question was whether we had underestimated al-Qaeda. It appeared to be a Muslim version of the radical seventies groups like the Baader Meinhoff gang or the Japanese Red Army. It was small, only a few hundred really committed members who had sworn fealty to Bin Laden and would actually kill themselves in suicide attacks. There were a few thousand close sympathizers, who had passed through the Afghanistan training camps or otherwise been inducted into the world view. But could a small terrorist group commit mayhem on that scale? Might there be something more to it? Was this the beginning of a new political force in the Middle East that could hope to roll in and take over, the way the Taliban had taken over Afghanistan in the 1990s? People asked such questions.

Over four years later, there is no doubt. Al-Qaeda is a small terrorist network that has spawned a few copy-cats and wannabes. Its breakthrough was to recruit some high-powered engineers in Hamburg, which it immediately used up. Most al-Qaeda recruits are marginal people, people like Zacarias Moussawi and Richard Reid, who would be mere cranks if they hadn't been manipulated into trying something dangerous. Muhammad al-Amir (a.k.a Atta) and Ziad Jarrah were highly competent scientists, who could figure the kinetic energy of a jet plane loaded with fuel. There don't seem to be significant numbers of such people in the organization. They are left mostly with cranks, petty thieves, drug smugglers, bored bank tellers, shopkeepers, and so forth, persons who could pull off a bombing of trains in Madrid or London, but who could not for the life of them do a really big operation.

Study: Army Stretched to Breaking Point

By ROBERT BURNS AP Military Writer

January 24,2006 | WASHINGTON -- Stretched by frequent troop rotations to Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army has become a "thin green line" that could snap unless relief comes soon, according to a study for the Pentagon.

Andrew Krepinevich, a retired Army officer who wrote the report under a Pentagon contract, concluded that the Army cannot sustain the pace of troop deployments to Iraq long enough to break the back of the insurgency. He also suggested that the Pentagon's decision, announced in December, to begin reducing the force in Iraq this year was driven in part by a realization that the Army was overextended.

As evidence, Krepinevich points to the Army's 2005 recruiting slump -- missing its recruiting goal for the first time since 1999 -- and its decision to offer much bigger enlistment bonuses and other incentives.

"You really begin to wonder just how much stress and strain there is on the Army, how much longer it can continue," he said in an interview. He added that the Army is still a highly effective fighting force and is implementing a plan that will expand the number of combat brigades available for rotations to Iraq and Afghanistan.

The 136-page report represents a more sobering picture of the Army's condition than military officials offer in public. While not released publicly, a copy of the report was provided in response to an Associated Press inquiry.

Illustrating his level of concern about strain on the Army, Krepinevich titled one of his report's chapters, "The Thin Green Line."

He wrote that the Army is "in a race against time" to adjust to the demands of war "or risk `breaking' the force in the form of a catastrophic decline" in recruitment and re-enlistment.

Take the two items above. They are 1) the central question of the supposed WoT, and 2) the central question about our continued presence in Iraq, and the most serious, from a purely national security perspective, condemnation of what we've done there to this point. So how many times have you seen or heard either discussed in the news? Neither is a new point. Yet when Jack Murtha told the nation that we were about to break the Army, what was the timbre of the reporting? "Calls for immediate withdrawl." "Bush stays the course." Sometimes the only reason I don't send obscene emails to mass-market media types is that there's no obscenity strong enough.

Happy Birthday

Etta James, born Jamesetta Hawkins January 25,1938

Tuesday, January 24

Gutter Balls

Wow, where did Norah go?

Is there possibly some cosmic significance to the fact that David Kamp, who reviewed Norah Vincent's Self-Made Man for the Times was also the reviewer of A Million Little Pieces?
There's your premise in a nutshell: assertive, opinionated Vincent, best known as a contrarian columnist for The Los Angeles Times, goes undercover as a man to learn how the fellas think and act when them pesky broads ain't around.

Hold it right there. Norah Vincent is assertive, "opinionated", and a "contrarian" the way McDonald's is a fast "food" "restaurant". That is, she's the one-out-of-three which disproves any claim to the other two. Being a lesbian doesn't make her tired "I'm a libertarian with very little use for civil liberties" schtick any fresher. As far as I can tell, it's just what makes it marketable. It sure isn't her prose stylings.

(Here's a little secret for ya. Aside, perhaps, from the Young, Dumb, and Full of Cum crowd that no self-respecting "fellah" wants to be around unless he's a) one of them, and b) dead drunk, we pretty much think and act exactly the same whether the pesky broads is or ain't around. Have any of you broads noticed a particular layer of masculine refinement you imagine comes off when you're not around? Really? Because the only Behavior Formerly Known As Stag I know of is the occasional kneeing each other in the testicles, which is another strike against Norah. But thanks, David, for droppin' in t' th' Beverly Hillbillies dialect.)

And how much longer, O Lord, do we have to endure this contrarian crap? (And isn't it time we start insisting that anyone so-called demonstrate a smattering of familiarity with the arguments they're being contrary to?) The only thing that distinguishes Norah Vincent's work from any of the hackery at the Corner is that she's apparently capable of satisfying a woman.

Okay, enough about Norah, because no amount of money could possibly get me to feign interest in anything she has to say, and God knows I'd never review a book I didn't read and make Kathryn Jean Lopez cry, but apparently being a White Heterosexual Male who supports civil rights for Non-Whites and the Differently Oriented makes me a contrarian, so here's some opinionated assertiveness: being a Lesbian in 2006 does not make you de facto interesting. On the other hand, being a self-promoting Camille Paglia impersonator makes you recursively, almost vertiginously, boring.

Though not, it seems, to David Kamp:
But "Self-Made Man" turns out not to be what it threatens to be, a men-are-scum diatribe destined for best-seller status in the more militant alternative bookstores of Berkeley and Ann Arbor.

See my earlier piece, "Can We Stop With the Contrarian Crap Already?"
Though there's plenty of humor in "Self-Made Man," Vincent - like her spiritual forebear John Howard Griffin, the white journalist who colored his skin and lived as a black man in the South for his 1961 book "Black Like Me" - treats her self-imposed assignment seriously, not as a stunt.

Honest to God. Y'know, if it weren't for the internets and the large number of very smart young people I read and converse with on a regular basis, I would really consider simply willing every white person born in America after 1970 back to Alabama 1955 and make them tour the place like a zoo before allowing them to return, assuming they could pass a quiz.

In fact, that tears it. I'm switching over to Andrew O'Hehir's "My life as a man" in Salon (you know the drill if you want to read it):
I'd be surprised if these culture-war ideas about the ingrained and inflexible nature of gender weren't views Vincent has long held, and which she summons up at the end of "Self-Made Man" to explain, and depersonalize, the pain and difficulty she experienced as Ned. Vincent's compassion, sympathy and friendship for the men Ned bowls with, works with and drinks with are real; the last thing you can call her is a man-hater.

Okay, sure, I've got plenty of other stuff to call her. And if someone will do me the courtesy of diagramming that first sentence maybe we've got another point of agreement. I'm pretty well convinced that the idea of Homo americanus bowlaramus as a basically swell guy with bedrock values an' all that is a long-held view of Norah's, at least in print. In fact, I'd be shocked to learn she'd come up with something, I dunno, contrarian in her little experiment.

Which I'm here to tell you she might, in the event she meets some. Let's just say I'd make it even money the gang at The Smoking Gun has picked up a copy of the book. Because, look, I'm not sure what passes for quasi-Neanderthal in New York. And I guess we'll never quite know:
In the wake of recent publishing news, and considering Vincent's refusal to name names or identify places (not even cities, or states, or regions of the country), I suppose one has to ask whether the details of Ned's life are invented or embellished. It makes me profoundly uncomfortable that "Self-Made Man" is so thoroughly unverifiable, but I don't think it's a con job. Vincent's moments of sharpest perception -- into the intricacies of male camaraderie, or the dreary, mutually hostile gamesmanship of heterosexual dating -- feel unfakable, and if she were making it all up the material would probably be both more explosive and less ambiguous.
As opposed to predictable and stilted. Let's give the woman some credit.

I wasn't accusing Kamp earlier of missing anything in the Frey book he should have caught, because, again, not only have I not read it, but nothing whatever could get me to read one of Oprah's recommendations, to the extent that I'm considering forgetting I've read Faulkner and One Hundred Years of Solitude now that I've learned she's profaning real literature. But it seems that he ought to be the one mentioning it, certainly if O'Hehir does. And if that earlier experience doesn't make us a bit less credulous than we were, maybe a glance at that picture would do it.

C'mon. Stage makeup works on the stage, sometimes. If a disguise is convincing you'd imagine it would be even more so in a reproduction of a reproduction of a photograph. We've even heard of gaydar out here in the vast emptiness between the oceans. Do you think we imagine it to be the exclusive province of homosexual males? Pah. To begin with, let's just ignore the stylistic points. She looks like k.d. lang made up for an Ed Wood film. Maybe it's different on the coasts, but out here, where we get sunlight, a man's beard does not end at his jawline. In fact, you might try this if you're not repulsed by the idea: choose a clean-shaven man over twenty-five at random and look at him. Even one with Miami Vice stubble. A few years of shaving chews up the neck. You can't fake that anymore than you could fake the hands of a master carpenter. But Norah fools the Quintessential Troglodyte Trio--the plumber, the appliance repairman, and the construction worker who welcome a hapless non-bowler onto their highly competitive squad:
Her bowling chapter ("Friendship") is a mini-masterpiece of sympathetic reporting, and there's no question that it took enormous courage for this New York lesbian intellectual to walk into a highly competitive bowling league somewhere in the American heartland, one of the most male of all male sanctums. Ned completely sucked as a bowler, and as Vincent ruefully admits, by the standards of this working-class environment, even the butchest woman in drag comes off as a girlie man.
(By the way, could we have oh, maybe, a century where the Coasters either find out what they're talking about or shut the hell up about Middle America? Lots of women bowl. Lots.)

So, three regular Joes in a highly-competitive league take an inexperienced gutter-baller under their protective wing. Maybe--but not in any highly-competitive league I've ever known.

Ever, uh, been to a bowling alley? They're brightly lit. Two four-man teams on two lanes take up all the seating. But nobody notices that the new guy just stepped out of a dinner theatre production of Victor/Victoria.

Ever, uh, do any bowling? Full-court hoops it ain't, but it is athletic. Men generally use 16 pound balls. They're not light, not when they're lugged around and hurled over the course of thirty frames in a night.

Ever, uh, play sports? American men grow up throwing and catching balls. My sister is a superb athlete. She played baseball in the backyard with my Dad and me her whole life. My dad was a bowler, and we grew up doing that too. But her arm mechanics are not a man's. The best women bowlers might be able to fool a man who pays some attention. But someone who just picked up a ball for the first time? Prove it.

Norah eventually owns up to her teammates. So why, exactly, has she "changed the names of the characters and obscured the locations to protect the identities of her subjects"? Why do so regardless? Did they sleep with her thinking she was a man? Did they reveal some deep-seated Red state male fear of being fooled by a New York lesbian intellectual in drag? Ever watch the way people behave when they know they're on teevee? Christ, these guys would be braggin' all over town how they were in a book.

If the males sound like stereotypes, check out the women she dated:
the 30-ish single women Ned dates in the "Love" chapter come off as aggressively hostile and profoundly confused creatures -- on one hand, they want sensitive men capable of emotional communication, while on the other they want a take-charge guy who can pay for dinner, open doors and then, a bit later, "pin them to the bed." Wounded in previous relationships, they transformed each new man (even when he wasn't a man) "into the malignancy they were expecting him to be," thereby fueling a "self-perpetuating cycle of unkindness and discontent."

Boy, I bet you weren't ready for that bit of contrarian insight.

Is there something here that couldn't have been written without the masquerade? Is there anything that sounds like genuine insight from a successful charade? Maybe the Smoking Gunsels will tell us; I'm not buying the thing to find out. But, Norah Ned, if you make it back to the heartland, the lane fees are on me.

Monday, January 23

Happy Birthday

Jean Baptiste "Django" Reinhardt
January 23, 1910--May 16, 1953

No Fighting In The War Room

David Brooks, "Hating the Bomb", January 22.
The Iraq debate split the country into two partisan camps, but the Iran debate is much more complicated. It's opening up a rift between conservatives and the Bush administration. It's dividing Democrats into rival factions: those who can contemplate the eventual use of force against Iran and those who can't.

Every so often reading Brooks I'm reminded that the Russians hurling a tin can into space in October, 1957, split the country into two partisan camps: those who flew into a screaming panic at the sound of a discouraging word, and those who didn't. Unfortunately, then as now, the former frequently includes people with their hands on the national purse strings or New York Times columns.

It's amazing how, back when we lived with the real threat of Global Thermonuclear war, we did so. Not that we weren't given to panics, sabre-rattling, bad decisions (the atomic-powered bomber, anyone?) or outright bullshit for domestic consumption (phony "missile gaps" and "Soviet superiority in land-based missiles"), but we carried on as though our cherished Us vs. Them was so vital that the danger was an acceptable, if unfortunate, by-product of that weltanschauung. Now everytime somebody says something we don't like we pull the bedclothes over our heads.

By the way, in case I don't get around to mentioning it, this column is dishonest, and Brooks has fallen in love with the whole "conservatives vs. the administration" thing on the grounds that it distances him from the disaster in Iraq.

It's an anguished debate because all the options are terrible. But this will be the major foreign policy controversy of the 2008 presidential election, and you can already see four different schools emerging:

THE PRE-EMPTIONISTS John McCain and most American conservatives believe the situation reeks of Nazi Germany in 1933. An anti-Semitic demagogue is breaking treaties and threatening to wipe Israel off the map. The madman means what he says and can't be restrained by normal economic or diplomatic incentives....
Pre-emptors would work with Europe and the U.N. to step up pressure on Iran.
Got that? This is not your father's GOP the Republican party of twenty-five minutes ago. This one wants to work with Europe and the U.N., who are, of course, just dying to approve, and sign on as sidekicks of, some more U.S. adventurism in Oil Land the Middle East, if only we'd sweet talk 'em some first.

Let's face a fact or two here, just for the novelty of it. Everybody in Washington knows John Murtha was right. We don't have the troops to invade Iran, or anybody else with something resembling an army, without a massive, multi-year rebuilding program. That would include a draft, and it would include some serious tax increases. When you've named me the "conservative" with the honesty and guts to stand up and say that--and get Murthaed for his trouble, ending the Presidential bid Brooks mentions for Democrats but not McCain--I'll listen.

Absent an invasion force our pre-emptive options are limited. We can try air strikes. We can let the Israelis try air strikes. If the Iranians were unaware of this before we invaded Iraq, they certainly know it now.

And let's review our Current Events, shall we, class? "Pre-emption" and "appealing to Europe and the U.N." are, if not mutually exclusive, certainly a complicated juggling act. As we saw with our phony U.N. consultation in February, 2003, the Pre-emption boys tend to have minimal patience.

THE SANCTIONISTS Democratic presidential contenders like Hillary Clinton and Evan Bayh have begun hitting the Bush administration from the right. But as Ivo Daalder of the Brookings Institution notes, this is not just campaign posturing. Centrist Democrats also believe Iranian nukes are unacceptable. Such nukes would set off a regional arms race. They would lead to Cuban missile crisis standoffs in the world's most unstable region. If Iran completes its program, that would completely delegitimize the international system.

The Sanctionists don't rule out a pre-emptive strike, but they don't emphasize it. Instead, they say the U.S. should be directly involved in negotiating with Iran...

Forgive me, but Ivo Daalder, frequently mentioned as a possible national security advisor, or even Secretary of State, in a DLC cabinet, is not a disinterested observer. That's not to say he isn't speaking the truth as he sees it, just that Brooks and I have very different notions of what constitutes a good wet dream.

A DLC President faces the same issues a Pre-emptor does, with or without emphasizing military action. You wanna keep throwing around military threats you're gonna have to rebuild the Army, pronto. The smoke and mirrors that are so effective domestically don't impress the international community quite so much. Not any more, they don't, thanks in no small part to the war-sanctioning votes of Hillary Clinton and Evan Bayh.

THE REFORMISTS Oddly, the Bush administration finds itself on the cautious, noninterventionist side. Bush officials have been walking away from broad economic sanctions and pre-emptive strikes (while not formally ruling them out). Blustery threats may sound good, they say, but when you are governing you have to consider the consequences; you have to hold the global coalition together; you have to make sure Iran isn't provoked into really dismantling Iraq.

In all my conversations with with senior administration officials, I have never heard them be so cautious about what they can know and tentative about what they can achieve....

Privately, some administration officials believe there is no way to prevent Iran from getting the bomb; we might as well try to make the regime as palatable as possible.

Leave us remember, anytime Mr. Brooks quotes his pals in the administration, his "Multiple Reality Syndrome" piece last month, where he told us how he'd often walk away from conversations with administration officials on Iraq "feeling my intelligence had been insulted," despite the fact that all he wrote about in that period was how honest and candid they were.

I'm not really interested in uplifting tales of the sudden lucidity experienced by habitual drunkards after they've lost everything. Tell it to Oprah. "Blustery threats sound good, but we have to govern?" When does that start?

THE SILENT FATALISTS Mainstream Democrats have been remarkably quiet on this issue. Their main conviction is that American-led military action would be disastrous. This shapes their definition of the problem. A nuclear Iran may no be so cataclysmic, they privately say. Why shouldn't Iran have as much right to the bomb as any other nation? The regime may be nasty, but it's containable with deterrence and engagement.

These liberals argue that if we weren't in Iraq, we'd have a lot more freedom to act against Iran, though you could also say the crisis would be worse if Saddam were still in power.

As always, Brooks' third-chair-trombone insights into Bartok's String Quartets are remarkably convincing, but they'd be even more so with, I dunno, some evidence. No lack of names in the first three, after acknowledging that Bush administration officials do not, in actuality, have names. None here. I'd like to know who's saying "Iran should have as much right to the bomb as everyone else does," thereby implying that they think a nuclear-armed globe would just be a minor irritant? I'm not surprised that these people would be talking to Brooks in private; private is where they ought to be talking to someone like Brooks who imagines the potential for military disaster shouldn't shape your thinking. My problem is that wherever it is they're holding these conversations seems to provide insufficeint nursing care and inadequate security.

Two things should be noted here, on the grounds that our earlier little excursion into fact was rather satisfying. One is the Cuban Missile Crisis Dilemma. A moment's reflection will tell us that Russian missiles in Cuba were a political dodge. They couldn't be used. Either the missiles in Cuba would have been fired first, which would have meant immediate retaliation against Cuba and the assumption that the Soviets were about to fire theirs, or the Soviets would have had to launch first, in which case we would have destroyed Cuba in a minute. An Iranian nuke program suffers from the same problem. They can launch against a much-better armed Israel, and say their prayers, or they can hand some off to the Global Terrorists, in which case they won't be destroyed until several seconds after one gets used. As with Cuba, nukes are a bargaining chip and they're a defensive move against vastly superior forces. As such they're a sound argument for the use of diplomacy, international co-operation, and a dedicated seach for peace in the Middle East. And as such, it's much better to confuse the issue in public if you're not really in favor of those things.

Second, I suppose it's just an unfortunate coincidence for Bobo, but on the same day his column comes out the Washington Post reports that our latest intelligence review puts the Iranians ten years away from getting a bomb, which brings us in line with British and Israeli estimates. The Post, not having Brooks' entrée into the upper reaches of anonymous Bush administration officials, seems to imagine this "contrast[s] with forceful public statements by the White House."

Friday, January 20

Safety Equipment Required

Roy at alicublog staked out the territory. I was too busy to get at it last night, but there's enough here (warning: Mrs. Instapundit site) to keep a dedicated team of insanity miners busy for years.

Puppet Theatre

Olbermann, last night. For those times when one terrorism expert just isn't enough.

Expert #1
Name: Steve Emerson
Graphic: "NBC News Terrorism Analyst"
Day Job: Head of the Investigative Project on Terrorism, author of American Jihad: Terrorists Living Among Us, "spellbing" speaker [per the Harry Walker Agency]

So Why the Truce Business? Keith Asks:

"[He] (bin Laden) wants to appear reasonable. He feels he has the ability to appeal to half the American public. And so he thinks that if he talks about a truce, and appeals to what their sense of the truce is, he can basically sew a tremendous amount of dissention in the American body politic."

Comments, Mr. Riley?

Where does that "half" business come from? Do you really imagine that 50% of the American public is going to be swayed by something in a bin Laden tape? And hasn't Bush been doing a bang-up job of sewing dissention in the body politic these last thirteen months without any help? Why waste a perfectly good audio tape?


"• Foremost Terrorism Expert

Steven Emerson is an internationally recognized expert on terrorism and national security and considered one of the leading world authorities on Islamic extremist networks, financing and operations. He now serves as the Executive Director of The Investigative Project, one of the world's largest archival data and intelligence on Islamic and Middle Eastern terrorist groups." [Harry Walker Agency]


• Won Polk award for his documentary "Jihad in America" (PBS).
• Best-selling author
• "Mr. Emerson is recognized as having been the first and only terrorist expert to have testified and warned about the threat of Islamic militant networks operating in the United States and their connections worldwide. He specifically warned about the threat of Osama Bin Laden's network in pioneering Congressional testimony delivered in 1998. " [Harry Walker Agency]

Slight Omissions:

Was dropped by CBS after he said the Oklahoma City bombing showed "a Middle Eastern trait" because it was carried out "with the intent to inflict as many casualties as possible."

Told CNN the Yugoslavs were the likely suspects in the 1993 WTC bombing.

Said TWA flight 800 was brought down by a bomb.

Principal hounder of Sami Al-Arian.

Multi-million dollar suit against John Sugg (who calls Emerson a self-styled terrorism expert" and "a pseudo-journalist") and FAIR over an article which was highly critical of him was dismissed when he couldn't prove any of his charges. "He ran, " Sugg said.

Bravery Under Fire:
Claims to have received death threats. "Mr. Emerson now lives under false cover in the United States." [Harry Walker Agency]. A CBS "48 Hours" segment showed visitors to the Investigative Project's headquarters being blindfolded before being led through the building. Yet he still shows up at NBC and Fox studios. We could use a man like him in the military.

Anything To Add, Mr. Riley?:
Yeah, even forgetting the "pseudo", the world's top terrorism expert is a journalist?

Expert #2
Name: Ben Venzke
Graphic: "Terrorism Expert"
Day Job: CEO of Tempest Publishing and its intelligence group Intel Center

So Why the Truce Business? Keith Asks:

"It's al-Qaeda giving an opportunity to whatever its targets may be, in this case the United States, the opportunity to change, the opportunity to follow their advice, and what it does, it allows them after an attack, if there's a mass casualty event, many Muslims or other Arabs killed, it gives them the opportunity to say, 'Look, we gave them a chance to change, we gave them numerous opportunities, we can't help it if they don't follow our advice.' And then they move forward and execute an attack. So it fits into the justification and warning process for attacks."

Comments, Mr. Riley?

Yeah, I haven't been able to find out just what makes Mr. Venzke a "terrorism expert"; he's edited a book for first responders and co-wrote The al-Qaeda Threat: An Analytical Guide to al-Qaeda's Tactics & Targets (Tempest Publishing), but that "mass casualty event" and the repeated inability to come up with a synonym for "opportunity" suggest he trained as a teevee meteorologist.

Available in the Lobby: The Intel Center's catalogue includes five pages of Terrorism DVDs ("Raw Terrorist Video Indexed and Formatted for Briefers, Analysts, Operators and Trainers"), audio enhanced in Dolby™ Digital, for $39.95 each. Or get the complete set of 24 for $1,015, a savings of over $23! Or, if you've happen to be a military, law enforcement, or intelligence agency in the US or allied country, why not spring for the government restricted set, 30 quality titles for only $1,315?

Slight omission: The name of Mr. Venzke's co-author is left off The al-Qaeda Threat page, though he wrote the blub himself.

Guest Blogosphere self-correcting function: In November, doorguy at Kos asked just what sort of outfit openly advertises itself as "doing support work for the intelligence community"?

Mr. Riley, you look as though you have something to add?:
Yeah, well, aren't we spending enough on Homeland Security that military, law enforcement, and intelligence agencies can get their DVDs for free? Or, like, swap 'em out with each other?

Thursday, January 19

Happy Birthday

Dolly Rebecca Parton: born January 19, 1946

All right, there was an internal debate at BLTR over that picture, but I'm using it for a point of sorts, which is as good an excuse as any. We try to keep the Lileksian hilarity to a minimum here.

That's Dolly from the old Porter Wagoner Show, where she got her Big Break. We used to watch the thing for its mockery quotient: the faux Down Home set, Porter in his sequined Nudie suits and white Duck's Ass hair, and...Dolly, five feet of the what-the-hell is that? They did a can't-miss commercial for Breeze laundry detergent. Breeze came with a towel in every box. A washcloth in the smallest, up to a beach towel in the Jumbo Economy Size. People told me there wasn't much soap left in the box after you tugged the premium out.

Dolly was priceless. After Porter displayed the towel, Dolly elaborated: "A candy-striped towel!" Only with her accent it was more like "caindee stropped talle." "But you can't buy 'em," says Porter. "Ah cain't bahum?" she replied, momentarily nonplussed.

We never paid attention to the music. But then one day Dolly got a spotlight. She sang "Jolene." What a freakin' voice! How'd I miss that? And she wrote the damn thing, too, a remarkably good storyteller number in complete contrast to the dreck Wagoner usually did.

I never underestimated Dolly after that. I rooted for her. Still do. I was even glad when her pop dreck went platinum. Even Kenny Rogers couldn't change that. (Although Kenny's rehabilitated himself on Reno 911 lately.) Not to say I bought any, but still.

And Dolly had the smarts, and the gall, to tell Colonel Tom where he could insert his demand for 50% of the publishing rights to "I Will Always Love You" in exchange for Elvis recording it. (That was Elvis' standard deal, apparently. Great racket. The Colonel screwed him, and he and the Colonel screwed Arthur "Big Boy" Cruddup.) So she, not Lisa Marie, got the dough when Whitney hit with it.

Dolly, dammit, if all Christians were like you the world would be a much better place.

James Lileks in the Amazing Battery-Powered Foaming Bowl-a-Rama

Y'know, I will gladly leave the analysis of James Lileks' Third-Chair-Trombone-With-Asperations-To-First-Chair-By-Senior-Year political and cultural observations in the capable hands of Pepper and TBogg, but this was too good to pass up:
I picked up a cartridge for the Clorox Foamy Wand, or whatever it’s called – it’s a toilet brush that spews bowl cleaner at the touch of a button. I bought the item under the impression that the brush revolved. It did not. My disappointment was keen. Sharper than a daughter’s tooth, it was. But a few months ago I made my peace with the device and restocked the foamy tubes. Today I saw the unit on “CLEARANCE,” which is distinct from “SALE.” If it’s on CLEARANCE it’s on the way out. Do I stock up on foamy tubes and hold out, or just buy one and deal with the product’s end when the day comes?

TBogg's commenters had had plenty of fun psychoanalyzing Lileks need for a battery-operated foamy wand, so we don't have to go there. At least not directly. Instead I recalled the first time I'd seen that thing advertised, and how I immediately wondered what sort of maroon would get conned into buying an electric toothbrush for his toilet.

Now I've got my answer.

I'm not claiming any prescience about that gizmo; I gave up imagining I could point to the moment when the cultural/commercial auger struck the bedrock of stupidity many moons ago. Had it become the One Item on Everyone's Christmas List I wouldn't have been surprised. But what exactly was going on behind that fivehead of Jimmy's that caused him to shell out money to be a beta tester for the thing?

I think Camus said somewhere that America was the only culture which tries to prove that Life is not ultimately a tragedy. To which should to be added that we're the only one that routinely tries to cover the existential stench of death that hovers over every moment with a Glade Plug-In County Potpourri air freshener.

This is not just something that suddenly dawned on me. I remember back in 10th grade the audible gasp of my classmates when a Psych 1 & 2 student giving a report noted that prior to 1950 most Americans had no idea what deodorant was. I think they had visions of people dropping down dead on the sidewalks from B.O. I'm pretty sure I was the only one in class whose immediate reaction was "Cool!" I attend to the daily requirements of American hygiene standards. I do. That has never included aftershave or cologne. I buy my wife expensive perfume because she knows a drop is better than a half-cup. I have no idea what goes on in the heads of people so drenched in smelly stuff you can't breathe within five yards of 'em. Sexual asphyxia? Gangrene?

And the toilet thing. Toilet mints on a little wire hanger, which I think must have gone the way of rotary phones, okay. You have to clean a toilet, like anything else. Blue water never disturbed me, though I never found the Tidy-Bol man quite the font of hilarity they did on the Carson show. It was with the sudden nation-wide concern over Getting Under the Rim when I began to feel the national psyche had taken an unfortunate and possibly dangerous turn for something already so fragile. A few years ago, at the urging of commercial hucksters the, well, odd psycho-sexual obsession with excretory functions and their aftermath suddenly, um, exploded in a frenzy of ergonomically correct, uh, rim fixation. Suddenly every container of toilet bowl cleanser was shaped like a novelty Chianti bottle, and any new toilet brush came with a greenstick neck fracture. Get Under There! The Rim! You never noticed the Rim before? Your Family is at risk because of You! What exactly was lurking under there that was so important? That couldn't be eradicated with conventional weapons? How were you coming into contact with it, exactly? It reminded me of a bit by the late, lamented Dennis Wolfberg, that weird and wonderful hybrid of Robert Klein and Gilbert Gottfried (whose voice and inflections so matched Gottfried's that the first time I heard him, before I realized how funny he was, I thought he was a bad impressionist). Speaking of teaching sixth grade sex ed in the Bronx, he said he was told to answer all student questions truthfully and in detail. One of them was, "Is it true you can catch VD from kissing a toilet seat?" "Kissing a toilet seat? Young man, if you go around kissing toilet seats, getting VD is the last thing you should be worried about."

Rest in Peace, Dennis.

I don't know how to put this delicately. I shit there. It's how I was taught. All this time I've assumed everybody else did too. As such I expect the thing to be a toilet. If I was that concerned about it I'd put a cut flower arrangement in the bowl and build an outhouse.

This really came to a head (sorry) in the aftermath of 9/11. Remember in the months that followed all the Norman Rockwell advertisements, four generations in lambent light sitting down to some tomato soup? Soviet-heroic pans of cops and firemen doing nice, normal things, followed by Old Glory and a wholesome message like "Velveeta. We're Proud To Be Part of the American Grilled Cheese Experience."? The culture gurus and advertising swamis who told us that this was the face of the new, post WTC, irony-free environment? (They were, if I'm not mistaken, the same people who insisted that Silverado would usher in a rebirth of the Western, or Chicago presaged the return of the Big Movie Musical.) My personal favorite was the T.G.I. Friday's clone chain O'Charley's, which added the tag line, "The American Grill with the Irish Name," like they were afraid of losing business in some 9/12 IRA backlash.

Well, sometime after the Iraqi cakewalk got left out in the rain, I noticed a new trend in bathroom advertising: Daddy had made a big stinky mess. Call for mom, bring out the air freshener or the scented toilet paper or whatever. There were at least three of them. I wasn't quite convinced there was a semiotic message at work, at least not a conscious one, and I didn't want to make too much of it. But then these were the very people who eighteen months earlier had shown pictures of Dad breathing freedom air on a small but friendly and regular Maple Street. Who could say for sure?

As I thought back on it I became convinced of one thing: over the past couple decades it's become clear that America's collective subconscious is now more trustworthy than the things it blurts out in public conversation.

Back to that toilet brush thing: if Lileks had just said he bought the damn thing, maybe with an appropriate What Was I Thinking?, I'd have just chuckled at him. Winguts like Lileks are now stuck defending the second coming of the Robber Barons and the Panglossification of American commercial culture as if they can't see it any other way, as if they're not allowed to recognize that the one thing we're really good at these days is finding attractive, up-to-date packaging for the Same Old Useless Shit. That's doubly inexplicable in Lileks, with his flair for comically anachronistic advertisements. But it's that "I thought it rotated!" that really floored me. For what reason, exactly? So you wouldn't have to apply any arm strength? Or even look Down There? Just release the Hounds of Hygiene? From a man who's made a few shekles ridiculing the poshlost tastes of days gone by, how strongly does this resonate with leftover 50s Mass Futurism? It's like the atomic can-opener of the war on toilet terror.

Wednesday, January 18

Yeah, But It's No Travelgate

His lips are movin' again.

White House Silent on Abramoff Meetings

By Nedra Pickler, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON - The White House is refusing to reveal details of tainted lobbyist Jack Abramoff's visits with President Bush's staff.

Abramoff had "a few staff-level meetings" at the Bush White House, presidential spokesman Scott McClellan said Tuesday. But he would not say with whom Abramoff met, which interests he was representing or how he got access to the White House.

Since Abramoff pleaded guilty two weeks ago to conspiracy, mail fraud and tax evasion charges in an influence-peddling scandal, McClellan has told reporters he was checking into Abramoff's meetings. "I'm making sure that I have a thorough report back to you on that," he said in his press briefing Jan. 5. "And I'll get that to you, hopefully very soon."

McClellan said Tuesday that he checked on it at reporters' requests, but wouldn't discuss the private staff-level meetings. "We are not going to engage in a fishing expedition," he said

But that's not a "fishing expedition": it's a request for specific information. A fishing expedition is when...wait, who'm I talking to?

Bob Somerby Takes On Stossel's Stupid Show

Incomparably, of course.

Them! Them!

Mail's here!

Believe I've mentioned before that we get some organization's magazines in an ever-revolving carousel of double-digit IQ nausea (okay, I actually read Rolling Stone, but only in the john). The name on the subscription tag doesn't provide enough information to track the owner down, there's no way to figure why our address would repeatedly turn up as theirs, and the mailman won't take 'em back. That was established when we were getting six TV Guides™ each week; he told me I could go to the Post Office and fill out a form. But driving to the local Post Office is a daredevil act, caught between elderly 15-mph-with-the-wrong-turn-signal-flashing motorists and two nearby sidestreets where shortcutting maniacs routinely blow the stop signs. I've had three very near misses. Besides, after the second one started arriving it got to be fun, in a perverse sort of way. But then, we're a perverse sort of couple.

Last week brought the bonanza of all time: Us Weekly, the celebrity rag for those who find People a bit stuffy. I meant to report on it at the time, but my wife managed to lose it some where. So I confiscated this one.

Sad to report, but Us, which really deserves an exclamation point, is something of a disappointment on the only magazine rating scale that means anything: there's no letters column. My lonely search for a TV Guide™ replacement goes on. So here's a quick rundown on Tinseltown anyway; just don't get too attached:

COVER: Lindsay Confesses Extreme Diet Dangers.
Some underage talent sausage who's been operating in public for far too long with or without adult supervision couldn't handle fame, and now we're supposed to be concerned. But then I guess if you read Us you probably are.


"You have to hit rock bottom sometimes to get yourself back up to the top,"-Lindsay

"She's not letting herself worry about weight anymore.
-Lohan's mom, Dina. In what I can only hope was a letter from prison.

Is Peer Pressure To Blame? Thoughts from Dr. Joel Jahraus, eating disorders expert.

Angelina: Her Big Secrets
Jessica: Crying As Nick Parties
SPLIT!: Hilary Swank and Chad Lowe.

Well, there's a two-page spread to start things off called "Red Carpet", which features six celebs in J. Mendel eveningware. The last one is Lauren Bush, whose gown and hair were both applied by pitchfork. But I didn't notice her on the first pass.

This is followed by a single page of three celebs in coats, who were rated by "100 people in NYC's Rockefeller Center." I'm hoping they were tourists. Managed to turn the page.

Then, some red meat, and a page with actual words: "Loose Talk: What The Stars Said This Week". A page too far, as it turns out:

"I was sick of me. But I'm over that now. I'm ready to return to your TV 24 hours a day!" -Justin Timberlake, On why he took a break from recording.

Look, I didn't get this old without learning anything, so I was careful to read the thing while lying on a futon, with no glass or sharp objects nearby. The spinning sensation abated in a couple of minutes, and by the time five had passed, and I'd tossed down some Booker Noe's, I was even able to wonder why Justin Timberlake's presence would be required at one of his recording sessions.

You're probably ahead of me at this point; I shouldn't have had that drink. It steadied me enough to flip the page, where I found "Hot Pics!" (I guess they save the exclamation points for inside.) Suitably warned, I pulled my sweatshirt sleeve over my hand before I handled any. Our first hottie was Sienna Miller, "munch[ing] on honeydew melon Jan. 9 on the Louisiana set of her upcoming Andy Warhol flick, Factory Girl, in which she plays 1960s drug addict Edie Sedgwick." 1960s drug addict! They said it like it's a bad thing, when the truth is there isn't a single celebrity in the damn magazine who wouldn't be improved by a serious scag habit.

Happy Birthday

Phil Everly: born January 18, 1939

Tuesday, January 17

Happy Birthday

Muhammad Ali: born January 17, 1942

In one of his fights (Zora Folley?) shortly before they stripped him of his title, he slips five straights punches to the head moving only his upper body, his hands held straight down at his sides. I've found tears rolling down my face just watching it, not for what too many fights have done to him but for the incredible beauty of the man in and out of the ring.

Gotta get those DVDs.

Final Exam

A big thank you to all our participants. After two days of cleansing, spleen-venting, freeform comments, today the monopoly reasserts itself and you get to answer my questions. In keeping with our liberal, touchy-feely, soft-bias-of-low-expectations mission, you may answer as many or as few as you like, and there'll be no self-esteem-damaging "grading" or "labeling". But do try to color within the lines:

1. What is the purpose of public education? a) exposure of students to the widest possible variety of learning and instilling lifelong habits; b) achieving student competence in "core" subjects; c) identifying student aptitude; d) gearing students towards the current job market; e) providing comfy slots for low-SAT scoring college students.

2. Tying teacher "merit" raises, or job retention, to standardized testing should include: a) simple comparison of raw test scores; b) only improvement over baseline scores; c) comparison to national averages adjusted for socio-economic factors, class size, and per-student spending; d) giving teachers the right to fire underperforming students.

3. Vouchers: a) are a union-busting canard; b) are a wealth-redistribution system akin to Lotto; c) amount to taxing individuals without school-aged children without representation when used to send children to private schools or outside their district; d) should be prorated to the amount the parent pays for his own student, not the full per-pupil cost; e) are peachy.

4. The "single manager" principal system: a) will introduce accountability into the public schools; b) will result in petty-tyrant bean counters following the safest possible course; c) will replace the collective wisdom of specialists in various subjects with the careerist decisions of a desk jockey; d) should do wonders for domestic bullhorn sales.

5. Art, music, athletics, and vocational training: a) should be maintained as full partners in the educational process; b) should be eliminated and left to the private sector; c) should be paid for by a tax on museums, CDs, and professional sports.

6) The high relative performance of US fourth graders on international tests suggests: a) comprehensive public education in the US works well but we need to understand the reasons scores fall off by age 15: b) our primary teachers aren't unionized; c) there must be some hidden competition in elementary schools the Liberal Media won't tell us about: d) now would be a good time for a clip from Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

Bonus questions:

1) The period during which an IPS teacher can be dismissed for incompetence is: a) his first six months; b) his first year; c) his first two years; d) never, without a union-mandated flow chart as long as your arm.

2) The period after which an IPS teacher has tenure is: a) three years; b) five years; c) dependent on the subject; e) no tenure.

3) I choose a barber or hairdresser based on: a) his algebra scores; b) his grammar; c) whether he makes my hair look the way I want; d) trade union affiliation.

Thanks again. There's apple juice and healthy snacks in the lobby.

Monday, January 16

Holiday Greetings

Robert Kennedy spoke to a mostly African-American crowd in Indianapolis the night Martin Luther King, Jr., was shot. You can download the audio here .

Happy Birthday

Jay (sometimes given as "Jerome") Hanna "Dizzy" Dean
January 16, 1910--July 17, 1974

The last National League pitcher to win thirty games, Diz and Peewee Reese doing the Saturday Game of the Week was a fixture of my childhood. Diz's English was not up to PISA standards: runners "slud" into base; good hitters had "parr" in their swings. "Nonchalant" was one of his favorite words. Players stood, knelt in the on-deck circle, swung or fielded nonchalant. Once after a play at first, when a cameraman was caught slightly off guard and the screen filled with a shot of Yogi from the knees down, Dizzy announced, "Here comes Berra's shin guards walkin' nonchalant back to the plate."

Diz was part natural philosopher. After remarking that somebody's bat "looked like a big ol' stump," he continued: "Now, some of you city people might not know what a stump is. Well, a stump is a wood thing...it's somethin' a tree has been cut down offa."