Tuesday, February 28

Black History

Popular billboard in certain sections of the country, c. 1963

"I'm amazed that the Pope gave an audience to that degenerate."

--J. Edgar Hoover, internal FBI memo

It occurred to me, like, two days ago that I should have posted a quote for every day of the Month. I'm slow. Oh, well, there's always next year, blogging being a growth industry an' all.

Some fun facts about the FBI surveillance of Dr. King:

• Apparently he was unaware of any bugging until Hoover flipped out at a news conference and freed the cat.

• They arranged a meeting to patch things up. Hoover was under the impression by that time that King had received the Suicide Letter, which included sample audio tapes, but the package was still among his unopened mail (it was Coretta who eventually opened it). John Edgar was quite puzzled when King didn't arrive as a supplicant.

• The original explanation for the wiretapping was the activities of King's lawyer, Stanley Levinson. The surveillance continued even though it was learned that Levinson had broken off his connection to the Communist Party (USA) and had never been a member. It continued even after King severed ties with Levinson. The FBI still refuses to release information on its suspicion of Levinson to this day, citing potential danger to an informant.

• Though the Bureau had credible evidence of plots to assassinate King, it never warned him, and the agents who shadowed him were reminded they were there as "observers".

• Among those enlisted to spead the Bureau's anti-King propaganda: Francis Cardinal Spellman, archbishop of New York, who repeatedly contacted the Vatican to attempt to call off the Papial audience; Washington Post columnist Joseph Alsop, the Dean of political reporters (Hoover had tapes of Alsop engaged in a homosexual tryst); and a young St. Louis Gazette editor named Patrick Buchanan.

• Recipients of the Bureau's "information" about King include: Gustav VI of Sweden (before the Nobel awards), the National Council of Churches, and, oddly enough, Strom Thurmond, who loved African-Americans. Well, some, anyway.

• The first public inkling of the Bureau's anti-King crusade came as the result of the defense's discovery motions in the draft-evasion trial of Muhammad Ali.

• FBI surveillance of the SCLC continued at least two years after Hoover's death.

• Among those still using the "King was a commie" line in the 1980s: William F. Buckley, Jr., and Ronald Reagan, who told Coretta Scott King after he signed the King Holiday legislation he'd fought against, "Your husband's struggle was my struggle." No doubt neither felt it necessary for him to explain which side he was on.

• Just as a point of historical reference, this is the same FBI and J. Edgar Hoover which insisted that organized crime did not exist.

Of course, in fairness to the government side of the equation, we were at war:
"If King wants a war, we'll give it to him."

--Cartha "Deke" DeLoach, Assistant to the Director, internal FBI memo.

Monday, February 27

Once More Unto the Breech, Dear Typists!

I had a busy weekend, by which I mean I didn't do anything, so here, as Lévi-Strauss said about modern painters, is the sort of post I'd have written if by chance I had written one:

Some days I'll read an NRO link, some days I'll hit command-W the minute I see one loading, so after a couple of false starts I finally started nosing around Rod Dreher and the Crunchy Bunch, courtesy of Roy. It's a gold mine and I've barely unpacked my pick, but regulars won't be surprised to learn that this was the first glint to catch my eye:
The Fifties [Rod Dreher 02/22 08:05 PM ]

A reader extrapolated from my discussion of 1950s magazine propaganda aimed at telling women that big business knew better for housewives than tradition that crunchy cons must somehow despise the 1950s. Nope. I prefer the Fifties in most every way except for the institutionalized racism. The music certainly was better (I’m thinking of jazz). And except for the civil rights revolution, I have the same general distaste for the 1960s that most conservatives do. I invite readers of the blog to read the book, and not make sweeping generalizations about what we believe. It’s a lot more nuanced than what you might think.

In any case, one thing I’ve always had to keep in the front of my mind when thinking about how things went to hell in the 1960s is this: if things were so great in the 1950s, they wouldn’t have collapsed so swiftly. It’s real easy for us on the right – especially on the Catholic right, seeing what happened to the Church in the 1960s and 1970s – to idealize and romanticize the 1950s. Shouldn’t happen.

As we have pointed out a few times here, enough that we're tired of deciding whether to use "the 60s" or "the Sixties", that favored decade of the social moralist who isn't writing science fiction did not spring full blown from the head of Bob Dylan, or from the full-blown head of Timmy Leary. The panoply of moral decay and unseemly sexual activity "conservatives" so love to hate traces right to the Golden 50s: desegregation, youth culture, soaring divorce rates and unwed births, drug use, declining church attendance, feminism, anti-Big Business leftism, moral relativism, ban-the-Bomb, "obscene" literature, you name it. Only gay rights lacks much of a connecting thread; we can argue about when porno films went from backroom smokers to store shelves, but it's obvious that the introduction of home video, and not the invention of the Love-in, was responsible for its explosion. A "nuanced view" of the 50s is not all that convincing from someone offering a cartoon take on what came next.

But it was the gleam of our old friend, that "except for the institutionalized racism", that caught my eye. I haven't read enough of Mr. Dreher to know how nuanced his view there might be, so I take that merely as a starting point (I wonder, though, if he's aware of the sort of racism that greeted Be-Bop).

There may be an echo in here. But how easy it is forty or fifty years on to denounce institutionalized racism while ignoring, if not outright opposing, what it took to overcome it to the extent we did! How far would the movement have gone with an "originalist" Court? With the assertion that property rights always trump the personal? What would have happened in this country in the dreaded 60s if Lyndon Johnson hadn't thrown his weight behind the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts? There was a twelve month open season on Negro Troublemakers in the South. If Johnson hadn't forced Hoover into sending the FBI into Mississippi in the wake of the murders of Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner, the non-violence of King, now so admired at a distance, would have found its own shallow grave. There were Republicans and Democrats on both sides, to be sure. But where would today's young conservative, so troubled by our racist past, stand if he had to decide today? If it were Bush, not Goldwater, tossing out the generations-long Republican support among those blacks empowered to vote for the sake of white Southern support?

That sacrifice was on my mind when I read World O'Crap's piece on the brave young college Republicans who are fed up, aren't going to take it anymore, and are manning battle stations in the 21st Century Blogosphere. Easy enough to say--as I suggested there--"why aren't you in Iraq?" But maybe an even better question is why, with all the liberal indoctrination you had to endure in public schools, don't you have an inkling of the kind of raw courage in the face of real obstacles people displayed in this country just forty years ago? Why are Winston Churchill and Neville Chamberlain more real to you than Medgar Evars and Sheriff Clark? Why aren't you marching two abreast, after emptying your pockets of pocketknives and coins and combs, into the lair of the oppressor? I think I know the answer, but I'll happily listen to your explanation.

Sunday, February 26

Happy Birthday

John Ray Cash
February 26, 1932--September 12, 2003

It's Brush With Greatness birthday weekend and I didn't even realize it I checked the new week's calendar. In the early 80s some friends of mine owned a restaurant. We were eating there one night and Andy came over to the table and sorta off-handedly asked if we'd like to meet Johnny Cash. He already knew the answer.

One of their patrons ran the summer series at the outdoor theater at Butler, and she had hired them to feed the acts. It was mostly Broadway road companies and middle-aged white bread singers and such, but about once a season they'd manage something good, and that year it was better than good, it was the Man in Black. (I hadn't known about it at the time because the schedule hadn't been released yet.)

So the night came--it was a Saturday, which was why Andy stayed behind and his wife came with us--and my wife and I put on chef's coats and hauled all the stuff backstage, and I fired up a grill and prepared to grill some strip steaks, having already been informed about six times that Mr. Cash's steak had to be burned.

They pulled up around twilight. I was outside watching the coals, and here they come. The Tennessee Three (no Carl Perkins, but still!) and their wives and nieces (okay, no nieces that I recall), then the diminutive June Carter, still striking, with those piercing eyes and high cheekbones, then the Man himself, in black.

Per instructions I started putting the steaks on, but I imagine my mouth was still hanging open as they filed past me to the backstage area, everybody but John saying, "Hi," or "Good evenin'," or "Don't those look good." I know it's a cliché to say some famous person or other was genuine, but these people were genuinely nice, not practiced-smile-for-the-little-people nice. It was like a church potluck dinner.

Everybody but John ate in the common room. June took his plate to him in his dressing room, and I was helping with the cleanup, figuring that was the end of it (I'd gotten to tell June how much I admired their work, and her songwriting, and that I was a fan of her daughter Carleen; it wasn't gushing because she was so gosh-darned nice) when Johnny walked in.

"That was a pretty good steak, young man," he said. (Thanks, I thought; if I'd burned it any more I would have just served you the charcoal.) I told him what a privilege it was, how my grandma gave me some of his 45s when I was five, and how much I missed his teevee show. "We did do some good ones," he said, and yelled something over to W S Holland. I started to get back to the cleanup, and I don't quite remember the segué, but thirty seconds later he launched into a story about trying to tackle a calf with diarrhea. In that voice.

We got seats for the show out of the deal, too.

NEXT: When's Christo's birthday, anyway?

Saturday, February 25

Happy Birthday

"You don't see many of these around any more, do you?"

George Harrison
February 24,1943--November 29, 2001

Good a time as any to explain how the Fab Four turn up on my family's home movies.

The Beatles played Indianapolis on September 3, 1964, part of their second American tour. They were supposed to stay at the swankiest hotel in town, the Essex House, but word got out ahead of time and fans descended on the place, stealing doorknobs and ripping up wallpaper. They switched plans and stayed at the motel at the Track.

We had all sorts of connections there, including the manager of the motel, so it came to pass that on the morning of the 4th I was swimming in the pool directly underneath their rooms as they exited and walked over to the black stretch Caddy they used on that tour. No entourage.

The lodging switch had worked a charm; I was the only one there, besides my Mom, who was working my Uncle Floyd's camera. A couple minutes later I walked over and waved. Ringo waved back. The others ignored me. Then I went back to the pool. I'm a Hoosier. We don't pester.

They took them for a lap around the track before heading for the airport, and the guy who drove the tour van took me around behind them. That was my mother's idea; watching the back of their limo for 2-1/2 miles didn't really excite me much. And so for thirty-five years I told my story, concluding with, "Can you believe we're such hicks we drove The Beatles around the Track before they could leave?"

Then for Christmas 2000 I buy my wife, the Beatle idolator, The Beatles Anthology, and I'm reading about the '64 tour, and after mentioning meeting Fats Domino, George says:

"And Indianapolis was good. As we were leaving, on the way to the airport, they took us round the Indy circuit....It was fantastic."

So now I'm surprised he didn't mention how polite the crowd was.

Friday, February 24

Grade Inflation

Can anyone, in fact, confirm that Young Ben Shapiro is a 2L at Harvard? I mentioned somewhere recently that his Constitutional d'oh-pinions still seem to come from a home schooler's History textbook. Thursday he pens the obligatory Larry Summers Got Screwed by the Leftist Academic Establishment piece, and there's nothing in the thing that couldn't have been written eighteen months ago by someone gleaning a newspaper on the opposite coast. Hey, Ben, he's the president of your university. You don't have a single anecdote about him that hasn't already been in Time?

The kicker is that Summers' departure was occasioned by his forcing out the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences so he could replace him with his own man. The faculty wanted a showdown, but in reality it was the Harvard Corporation that no longer supported him. I grant you that Townhall's readers have no interest in accuracy, let alone complex explanations to life's little differences of opinion, and no doubt Benji knows his audience. But sheesh, kiddo, unless you're planning to become Attorney General after you graduate, you're gonna have to deal with somebody's else's version of the facts someday. Now might be a good time to get in some much-needed practice.

And, Ben? The precocious fifteen-year-old routine may have worked well when you were, well, fifteen, but it's over, son. No one is impressed anymore that Mumsy and Pater drilled you with those Bill Buckley vocabulary flashcards. "Increasingly egregious resume"? That sentence wasn't going to work even if you had managed to get the pronoun to agree in number with the antecedent.

Enigmas on Thin Ice *

Why the Sixties are better than the Noughts:

The Sixties:

Q: What's thick, green and skates?
A: Peggy Phlegm.

The Naughts:

"The difference between Sasha and everyone else is everyone else skates to "Romeo and Juliet"; she is Juliet.

--NBC analyst Sandra Bezic

Having opened the door by mouthing off about the Olympics I felt an obligation to watch as much of the women's figure skating finals as humanly possible. Damn impulsive decision to start a blog. Okay, that wasn't all there was to it; I was also partially irritated by this from Meghan O'Rourke in Slate:
Gymnastics and figure skating are the most popular sports of their respective games because they amp up—and prolong—the viewer's anxiety, while making it possible to absorb a hodge-podge of knowledge about the sport.

But that's because each of them commandeers a week's worth of prime-time coverage every four years! Okay, it's a little like the question of why barns are painted red. ** No question those sports pull in the ratings. On the other hand, tonight I watched Sasha Cohen blowing her nose for twenty seconds before she went out to skate around the ice for another twenty before taking her place to start the routine. That's longer than most feature pieces on other sports' athletes. I watched a Finnish skater drink from her water bottle, cap it, put it down, listen to her coach, pick up the bottle and drink again, cap it, put it down, hold hands with the coach (NBC zoomed in on the hands), before going out to skate around the rink, and she was in 20th place! If I spent any more time with her I could have claimed her as a tax deduction.

I'm thinking, maybe, that if any other sports federation (it's the federations that run things, not the IOC) was given that kind of pull you'd find enough amped-up anxiety and a sufficiently hodge-podged knowledge base to satisfy even the most ardent fan of retroussé noses. Meghan?
Unlike last week's boosterish halfpipe commentators—who were content to ooh and aah over landings that looked pretty wobbly—NBC's figure skating team takes an approach that's more reminiscent of Simon Cowell. In fact, my favorite thing about the women's short program might have been Scott Hamilton and Dick Button's good-cop/bad-cop routine—or, really, just Dick Button's bad-cop routine.

C'mon, that's strictly Button, NBC's wisest move, and what he's doing is called expert commentary. What the other three are doing is called "shouting inanities into a microphone at a volume which suggests they're unfamiliar with the principle of electronic transmission."
But the hero of the night may have been the top Russian: the 27-year-old dynamo Irina Slutskaya. Perhaps to stave off the inevitable jokes about her name, Slutskaya elected to be the first female figure skater in the Olympics to wear pants rather than the traditional flippy skirt

SLOOT-skaya is, like, a three-time World champion, seven-time European champ, and the silver medalist in Salt Lake City. So it's odd that someone who loves figure skating so much is still making slut jokes.
She's not the most graceful skater around—Sasha Cohen or the Japanese Shizuka Arakawa win that label—but she's really, really fast.

This is why the concept of "grace" in sports should only be applied in connection to some palpable skill, like hitting a curveball. Arakawa, yes. Graceful, elegant, controlled athleticism. Cohen? Eh. Her spins are graceful. Her best jumps are graceful. But the rest of the time she looks like a high-school theatre student. Her gracefulness has the quarter-second delay of long training. It's in throwing her hands around. Arakawa's grace comes from the solar plexus.

And Slutskaya's grace is animal, not balletic. She's a jock. She's also the only one whose smile looks real, if professional; surely not that Hollywood-starlet-on-the-red-carpet job of her competitors. And if each has the hint of the killer behind it, hers is more of the "Let's wrestle for the trophy," than the "If you beat me I'm sleeping with your boyfriend to get even" variety.

The best skater on the ice last night won the Gold. It wasn't the one I was rooting for, but fair's fair. Besides, after about ten minutes all I was really rooting for was technical difficulties with everybody's mic but Dick's.

* Lickette Naomi Ruth Eisenberg's capsule description of Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks.

** Farmers say it's because that's what color the store stocks; shopkeepers say they stock red because that's the color farmers buy. The real answer, probably, is that red paint is easy to make around a farm: curdled milk and rust.

Wednesday, February 22

Cryptic Blog Comment Erroneously Suggesting There's Something Actually Going On Behind the Scenes Here

Thanks for the invite, Alex.

Love Note to Liberal Hollywood

Last week our Nation's finest young film historian sparked a Repo Man quote cascade. As usual I was late to the party and nearly all the quotes had been snapped up by his gang of smart, youthful, and funny commentators. I hate every last one of 'em.

I wasn't stumped, though, because I had an idiosyncratic favorite up my sleeve: when Lite puts a cassette tape in the player and tells Otto, "I was into these dudes before anybody. Used to party with 'em all the time. They wanted me to be their manager, but I said bullshit on that."

I was stumped, however, by the fact that I had to quote it from memory (forgot the second line, substituted "guys" for "dudes") because my copy of Repo Man is on Beta.

There's no manual for this stuff, so just take my word for it: by the time you reach solid middle age you'll be caught in debates which were rendered moot thirty years earlier, something you may have noticed is a central feature of this blog. So, anyway, I went this evening to get a DVD copy, and along the way I happened to check in on something my Poor Wife had told me about last week: the Alec Baldwin Best of Saturday Night Live.

Although I haven't watched SNL since the day Adam Sandler took over, Baldwin is wonderful, and I salute whoever came up with the idea of giving him his own DVD (he always made me wish it began in the 60s so they could have gotten Cary Grant). But I bought it for one specific sketch, which, thankfully, was illustrated by one of the pics on the back of the box. He played a denim-clad, mirror-shaded cowboy who comes into a breakfast diner and flirts in code with waitress Jan Hooks ("Look at 'im! Sittin' on that stool like he's doin' it a favor!" she says). It may be the wittiest thing that show ever did. It's completely atypical, a throwback to Grant and Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday, rather than a search for the next big catchphrase. It's worth the price of the disc.

We just skimmed the thing this evening, and I caught his De Niro impression which I'd only seen a snippet of before. It appears to be missing his bit as Garbo's secretary, where she pantomimed excuses not to come to the phone while he tried to guess them like he was playing charades ("She's asleep. She's dancing. She's...on a plane! Yes! She's flying to...Europe!"). You do get to see him french kiss the dog in "Greenhilly".

The only question it raises is, "Who finds Adam Sandler funny?"

Tuesday, February 21

Fading Away

My God, they've lost NASCAR:

B. Duane Cross, NASCAR.COM Stewart rubs the competition the wrong way right out of the gate
Or maybe because it was the Daytona 500 and Stewart is the defending series champion that everyone paid more attention to the bright orange blob that is the No. 20 Chevy; it would seem tough to miss all that day-glo in a rear-view mirror.

Unless you're Dick Cheney.

Style Points

• Answers to yesterday's questions: 1) I believe the NBC style book requires the use of "Torino" instead of "Turin" on the grounds that these are officially the Torino Games, or something. I think I read that the Times uses Torino when talking about the Games and Turin when talking about the city. I'm sure NBC figured it was better to have Katie and Matt use one rather than expect them to figure out which condition applied. I salute the choice. It does raise interesting questions about future games in Rome or Munich; 2) yes, Robin, I love the simultaneous skier thingie, the greatest broadcast innovation since the virtual first-down marker which, interestingly enough, was created by the same people.

• Answer to today's question, "Why are you 48 hours behind instead of the usual 24?" Well, lemme tell ya.

When I couldn't find any jewelry for my wife's birthday (two of my many youthful errors were the first piece of jewelry I ever bought her being a tremendous hit, thus dooming me to increasingly nerve-wracking decisions ever since [I think I was just lucky the first time], and being correct but ignored in my preference for the first pair of glasses my wife was required to buy, and turning out to be right, thus necessitating a biennial visit to her optometrist) I decided to get her a gift certificate to a local spa, which is actually a no-tell mo-tel with in-room pools and hot tubs and steam rooms. I ran out there in a driving rain two days before the event, only to find I'd disremembered where the place was, hadn't looked up the address, of course, and was running short of time. So I did it again the next day. It was a big hit as a gift.

The gift card was enough to cover one overnight stay or two afternoon "romantic getaways." She went for the twofer idea, which I thought best, and said Presidents' Day seemed like a good time for an inaugural visit. So last week I call to make a reservation. When I give the guy my name he pops up with my address, so I know I was put in the system when I bought the card. He asks for the card number. I read it off. There's a pause. "I'm not finding it." Read it again. Still nothing. "Let me put you on hold."

I'm already aware I'm doomed before he returns to say, "What I'm going to need you to do is bring the card in." I love that construction. What he needs me to do. I'm in your system, and it should tell you I've never stayed there before, so what am I doing there? Do you suppose I broke in, stole a card, and entered myself in the computer? But it's a gift, and a popular one, so instead of telling him to forget the whole thing I drive back over.

A brief clicking of screens later and I'm informed that "she wrote the wrong number down on your card." No she didn't. The card has a printed number on the back, which corresponds to the printed number on the announcement; what "she" did was enter the wrong number in the system. And not by a little. She missed three frickin' digits. Okay, at least all's well now. But I've been through this enough now that anytime some operation makes a mistake like this I assume that everything else will be fucked as well. So before I leave I ask--twice--about the reservation the other gentleman had entered for me an hour earlier, which he said he'd hold until I came in. Got it? Check. Room with a pool, right? February 20th, right? Check, double-check, please get out of the lobby, sir, you're scaring the escorts.

Oh, don't get ahead of me. Still suspicious, I called Monday morning to confirm the reservation. My first sign of impending doom is she asks for my address. Pause. I'm not finding it. Are you sure it was for today? Why, yes. Are you sure you'd like to hear how proficient I am at swearing? It's no problem, we have rooms available, I'll just put you down for one. Okay, fine. Make her repeat it twice. Then comes that little moment when something happens that should make you say Wait A Fucking Minute, but your brain just freezes. Just before hanging up she says, "And you'll just need to pay the balance of $38.27 when you get here."

It takes about thirty seconds before I suddenly see my entire near-term future run in front of my eyes like a movie. And I'll finish the story for you, though I probably don't have to. Get there, and there's no reservation. It's been cancelled. I remain calm, since I've seen it all before, but there's an older woman there, some sort of supervisor no doubt, savvy enough to catch the vague tinge of menage in my manner that even I didn't know was there. I was about two sentences into my explanation when she came over and told the clerk, "Get the room, we'll have Tom fix this later." Thank you so much.

The younger woman goes about entering all the necessary info, gathering the paperwork, getting my serial signatures and license plate number, explaining this and that. And the last thing I remember her saying to me is, "That'll be $38.27."

Happy Birthday

U.S. Rep. John Robert Lewis (D-Ga)
born February 21, 1940

Happy Birthday

Andrés Segovia
February 21, 1893--June 3, 1987

Monday, February 20

Two Minutes Bode Hate

Olivier Morin/Agence France-Presse--Getty Images

Bill Pennington,
NY Times: Hitched to Miller, U.S. Skiing Slips Off Course
Bob Kravitz, Indianapolis Star: Gold medal was important to this champ

Exhibit A:
Miller, the defending world champion, a pre-Olympic news media star and a medal contender in five events, made it 0 for 3 Saturday when he slammed into a gate in the men's super-G, then teetered off the course like a weekend novice looking for somewhere soft to fall.

I'm not a skier, basically for the same reason I'm neither a yachtsman nor a polo player: I wasn't born anywhere near where those things are a part of everyday life, and my family isn't filthy rich. But of those three, skiing is the one I do watch on television, year in year out, not just when the Olympics tell me to. And Miller's recovery from hitting that gate--not with his skis, but with his face--looked like a thing of beauty to me. It knocked him onto one ski. He kept in solid contact on that ski as he gradually brought the other one around. A weekend novice would have been in the trees. So too, I think, would roughly 90% of World Cup skiers.

Then there's Kravitz. The Star sends him to the Games every two years, presumably for the change in buffet:
For most of these Olympics, the Americans have not only underachieved, but revealed themselves as a bunch of candy-pants, New Age, everybody-is-a-winner softies who are just happy to participate.

Bode Miller, who is now oh-for-3 after getting disqualified in Saturday's super-G. The clown prince of these Games recently said, "At least I don't have to go (all the way into Turin) for the medal ceremony.''

Snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis, who blew a gold medal by hot-dogging and then falling just yards from the finish line. Think she isn't a product of the look-at-me, ESPN Play of the Day culture? Her act should be required viewing for every young athlete.

Figure skater Johnny Weir, who imploded in the long program, then cited bad biorhythms, lousy auras and a late bus.

Skier Steven Nyman, who gave us the famous, "Medals -- screw medals,'' then was last among those who finished the super-G.

All of them are sons and daughters of the Baby Boom generation. All of them brought up in a culture where everybody is a champion, and fifth-best is fine as long as you tried hard, and it really doesn't matter that Johnny's standardized test scores don't rate with kids in New Delhi. All of it, mush-headed nonsense, and part of the reason we've become a second-rate nation in so many areas.

Here's the thing: Kravitz is nowhere near that insane when he's home. Maybe someone dares him to eat snails at these things. Not that I don't disagree with 85% of what he has to say anyway, something that, if I'd have backed it up in Vegas over the last decade, would have bought me my own yacht and one for my polo ponies. But send him to the Olympics and he starts channelling Curt Gowdy. (Of the international uproar occasioned by the Salt Lake City opening ceremonies, a tradition-smashing celebration of John Wayne's America as told by a group of Disney designers held in a pure oxygen environment, Kravitz replied, "The world can kiss my Red, White, and Blue ass.")

And here's the funny part: this comes about in an easy (now) defense of Shani Davis, the first black athlete to win individual Gold in the Winter Games, in part, perhaps, because of his controversial decision to refuse to skate in the pursuit in order to concentrate on his own plan:
Well, thank heavens for Shani Davis. Thank heavens somebody out here understood that for three years and 364 days a year, we pay no attention to most of these sports, and if you want to make a splash, you have to make it on the one day we truly care. Thank heavens one American chased the gold medal like it was the single greatest pursuit of his life.
If he's a selfish lout and a lousy teammate, well, the U.S. could use a bunch more just like him.

Apparently the Ouija board connection to Gowdy was broken before the last two paragraphs. Good thing Davis didn't fall in the 1000 meters or he'd be the #2 dog on the anti-American checklist. And good thing he had the sense to wait until 2006 to take Gold, or we'd have heard about what a credit he is to his race, just after we lynched him for his selfishness.

Let's review. There was much chatter, most of it coming from the people who pay no attention to these sports for three years and 364 days of the fourth, that the U.S. men's team was in line for a serious medal haul. And that chatter was the result of one man: Bode Miller, the reigning World Cup champion, not that 99% of the chatterers could have picked him out of a lineup last year or told you which particular World Cup he had possession of. And Miller, after being the fastest man through the Downhill practice runs, finishes fifth after conditions changed and the U.S. team changed skis. The whole team went slower. Nobody used that as an excuse.

Then Miller leads after the downhill portion of the combined before hitting a gate in the slalom, which is his weakest event and which everybody on earth knew was the part that might deny him a medal.

Finally, in the Super G he cuts a gate a fraction too close at 60 mph, in part because he was taking a faster line than any other competitor, and has the misfortune of being whacked by the flag.

Goddamn cosseted New Age hippie ninja.

These guys are supposed to be sportswriters. They're sportswriters because, like most of us, they're failed athletes. But unlike most of us, the get to sit at court level, or at ringside, and talk to world-class athletes on a daily basis. You'd imagine there was some appreciation for the difficulty of the thing, if nothing else, for the fraction of inches between success and failure, for the fact that no one, not Gretsky, not MJ, not Tiger, is unbeatable. You'd imagine they'd run into a fair share of flakes. You'd think, especially, that the sports editor of the Indianapolis Star might be familiar with one Robert Montgomery Knight, a man who teaches that you play against the game, not the scoreboard. (For those of you who might not follow sports too closely, Bobby Knight is not exactly a fuzzy-minded "here's your ribbon for trying" sort of fellow.)

Pshaw. Two days ago Kravitz told us (in between the requisite complaints about his quarters and the long bus rides) that the X-games stuff was the future of the Winter Olympics he doesn't care about. Presumably that has something to do with the attraction of the Skater ethos he just slammed as what's wrong with America.

What's wrong with America! Christ on a Cracker, this is America. Our television money bought the very sort of Olympics we wanted: professional athletes, sponsored by major corporations, so they could be turned into Red, White, and Blue shoe and credit card pitchmen. Bode Miller makes no secret of his disgust at the Fame part of the equation. He's out on the hustings because that's required of him. Johnny Weir is a world-class figure skater who's also a flake who gets microphones shoved at him. God bless 'em. Neither of them shot a man in the face last week.

Friday, February 17

The News from Indiana

Wee Willie Comb-Over Either Debating a Toll-Road Protester From a Block Away,
or Using Archaic Hand Gestures in an Attempt to Sell Him a Lid

First, thanks to two hard-working Indiana blogs: taking down words, from whom I swiped the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette photo above, and Doug at Masson's Blog, from whom I'm about the swipe an excellent overview of the Indiana Toll Road Shenanigans.

• Our Boy Mitch has taken his 39% approval rating on the road to try to sell his lipsticked, rouged, and mascara'ed pig of a 75-year lease sale of the Toll Road in exchange for enough cash up front for him to finance his highway building games, followed by 65 years of squat. The bill giving him the right to do what he's already decided to do passed the House on a straight party-line vote, after the liberal (pardon the expression) application of pork grease to hesitant northerners, whose constituents will bear the brunt of the unchecked toll increases over the next four generations, or at least until they all get their atomic flying cars, and the threat to southerners to blow up the proposed Ohio River bridge the legislation also gives him the right to auction off--this time with no further oversight.

The public is opposed, the people in the north are practically in open rebellion, and a lot of the stuff Mitch has been telling us the lease requires--like spending on maintenance--aren't actually found in the contract. As promised, Doug provides the overview:
This whole process has been bass ackward. Solicitation for bids first, followed by a request for authority to do what they requested bids for, with the whole process done in secret. Meanwhile, the Governor has misrepresented what the terms of the proposed lease actually are (no requirement specifying at least $4.4 billion in maintenance, no enforcement mechanism for maintenance standards, only a 90% Buy Indiana “goal” rather than a requirement.) All of this the Governor is trying to ram through the legislature with heavy pork for waivering Republicans in affected counties.

The legislation also provides that the losing bids won't be revealed until after the deal is inked, which apparently violates Indiana law, but lives up to the promise of running the state like a business. Oh, and Mitch and his glee club get all cranky an' stuff if you happen to call the deal a sale--though why you shouldn't refer to something that way when it gives up property no one old enough to read about now will be alive to see returned--but it seems the contract actually refers to the process as a sale at least once--so the winning bidder can collect tax incentives.

Story assignment for some intrepid Old Media investigative reporter: what country are all these guys planning to move to when the whole thing goes South? Texas?

• Winter Games

These Olympics are simply not providing the entertainment fodder they're supposed to--this blog may, on occasion, cast a peripheral glance at the odd Matador costume or tasteful naked curling babe calendar, but entertainment requires either more or less continual subject matter of pleasing aspect or a sustained level of corporate analingus sufficient to raise my blood pressure. Not enough of either from NBC, which continues taking backward baby steps away from the worst excesses of the Olympics as metaphorical display of the inherent superiority of all things United Statesian of the past twenty years, but it might be nice if they found something to replace the lost jingoism besides Mountain Dew Sports.

But Riley, I hear you butting, isn't this the Indiana news? Well, right you are, and I found an out: it's this recent "email from Tourin" from the Indy Star's sports editor Bob Kravitz, a man I sometimes enjoy despite not having agreed with a word he's written in over a decade. Here 'tis:
A lot of the old-timers dismiss the moguls, aerials and snowboard events as a bunch of U.S.-inspired, TV-driven trash sports. But I'm telling you now, this is the future of the Olympics.

First, I'm relieved to know that the U.S.-inspired, TV-driven comma trash sports now carry Bob's imprimatur, since this means that my suspicion they'll be an embarrassment by 2014 is on the right track. But for now I'll just say this: they got fucking pounded in the ratings by American Idol. Shred some a' that, dude.

• HB 1009 seeks to legalize all fireworks in Indiana except what's prohibited by Federal law (M80s and the like). This will "correct" the "hypocrisy" of current Indiana "law" which, after several years of "lobbying" involving a number of "dead Presidents" currently permits fireworks sales, but "bans" their use except by licensed pyrotechnicians or in specially designated areas. As you can imagine, compliance with those restrictions has been less than total.

The measure creates a 4% surcharge, part of which will go to fire departments for "training". This has prompted the state Fire Marshal to decide he's "okay" with the new law, though he'd really rather fireworks be banned outright. Got that? There's a certain level of tax incentive which will convince the state's top firefighting officer that giving 9-year-olds the "freedom" to handle incendiary devices that shoot 200 feet in the air is an okey-dokey compromise between two reasonably held positions. Thanks for your imput.

Assuming the fireworks industry already has the graft requirements of the Indiana Senate worked out, it's probably a good time to announce that this blog will cease to exist on July 5, 2006, after I'm arrested for murdering the guy across the street.

Thursday, February 16

Well, Somebody Had To Go First

It's Malkins. No surprise there:
Funny thing is, I can't recall the mainstream media melting down over the 30-hour delay -- presided over by Hillary Clinton, according to internal records -- in releasing the late White House counsel Vincent Foster's suicide note to authorities and her own husband. Can you?

Well, you got 'em bang to rights there, Michelles. There were actually two (and only two) pieces of Clinton Scandals, Inc. shit the press refused to eat: the Foster Hit and the Mena Drug Cartel. I do remember a three-day frenzy over $200 haircuts and disruption of all air traffic west of the Mississippi, and I'm sure you expressed your outrage at our frivolous press and its hyperventillations over that nothing story. My fault for not being able to find it in your archives, I'm sure.

But I'm here for you, dears. Anytime you wanna start up the Hillary Whacked Vince thing again, I'll be paying close attention.

Shot 'n A Beer

This from the replacement story for the one MSNBC originally scrubbed of the beer reference:
‘No comment’ on blood test
At a news conference Wednesday outside Whittington’s hospital in Corpus Christi, reporters asked hospital officials whether Whittington’s blood-alcohol level had been tested. The officials responded with a "no comment."

Um, er, uh. Well of course they tested his blood-alcohol level. He's a 78-year-old man with birdshot in 'im, and that means he very well could have been facing emergency surgery even if he wasn't in any particular danger right then. That's assuming it wouldn't be done routinely on a gunshot victim.

And I'm assuming the reporter knew that. The purpose of the question was to elicit the response; a "no comment" is as telling as taking the Fifth when all the evidence is against you. The only thing it accomplishes is you've avoided an actual confession.

But then, why doesn't the story say that? Easy enough to get a medical expert to admit to it. But the real tell, I think, is that Cheney copped to beer at lunch. Anything else is deniable, but if/when it comes out that Whittington was half popped before he was really popped a denial would be worth less than Cheney's word usually is. If that's even imaginable.

Wednesday, February 15

Yeah, I'll Bet

CNN.com: Cheney Prays for Hunt Victim

At Thirty Yards (White Pepper #1)

photo from the Corpus Christi Caller-Times

Previously Unknown Orange-Purple Colorblindness Discovered

Yeah, it's too bad Malkins' site doesn't house photos for two months; it was missing from the cached version too and I didn't feel like supplying my own. I pretty sure you all get it. For the record, when Dana Milbank turned up on Olbermann in orange hat and safety vest it was funny. When Begala did the same thing a day later it wasn't funny. It was Begala. Somebody wants to turn him over to Michelles for re-education it's fine by me. But not right this minute; the poor dear is too distraught by all the Cheney jokes. This sort of thing plays havoc with our Olympians' morale.

Happy Birthday

James "Kokomo" Arnold
February 15, 1901--November 8, 1968

Not a Hoosier, he got his name from covering one: Scrapper Blackwell's Kokomo Blues, which later became Robert Johnson's Sweet Home Chicago. He was forced back into music full time in 1933 when the 21st Amendment ended his successful bootlegging business.

Tuesday, February 14

Adventures in the Pepper Trade

I see your problem right here.

Yes, that reference to Claudine Longet was a deliberate anachronism, though I imagined that some younger readers may have seen Michael O'Donoghue's "Claudine Longet Invitational Ski Tournament."

But so help me, it never occurred to me he'd actually need an alibi, and how it is, in 2006, it still didn't register that nothing whatever about this administration can be contained in the rubric "normal" I simply cannot explain. Likewise, how I can imagine I understand a story before Scotty McClellan has a chance to squeeze a few more turds into the pool; I despair of ever getting the hang of truthiness. I knew about the 18-hour reporting delay, which I figured was intended to keep the news of a hunting accident off the Sunday news shows and their rabid anti-Cheney agenda. So I'm indebted to commenter Puppethead at Firedoglake for pointing out that the Assistant Chickenhawk-in-Chief doesn't hunt; he goes on canned killing expeditions. What a surprise, indeed.

Here's the thing that caught my attention. It's from the Times story about Bush being informed on Saturday:
"Chief of Staff Andy Card called the president around 7:30 p.m. to inform him that there was a hunting accident," a statement released today by the White House said. "He did not know the vice president was involved at that time. Subsequent to the call, Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove spoke with Mrs. Armstrong. He then called the president shortly before 8 p.m. to update him and let him know the vice president had accidentally shot Mr. Whittington."

So why, with the Vice-President and the Secret Service involved, would Karl be getting the details from Mrs. Armstrong?

Answer: he wouldn't. Single explanation: Cheney not only "hunts" caged birds, he's gotta get liquored up in order to enjoy the experience. I do believe we've all come to Casablanca for the waters.

Happy Birthday

Frederick Douglass (born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey )
February 14*, 1818--February 20, 1895

*Douglass didn't know his birthdate; he chose February 14th to celebrate it.

Winter Games Update

I got a late start Monday morning, so I switched on USA network with my tea to see what Olympic sport NBC feels is so lacking in appeal to the 18-34 demo it can safely air it live. And I run into their dedicated squish merchant, an LA Times sports reporter named Alan Abrahamson.

Okay, maybe he's not the dedicated squish merchant; it's too early to tell, but my assumption was that he's there for the same reason that Jimmy Roberts is on the parent network in prime time: to coat the Winter Games with enough red-white-and-blue sprinkles to give the audience diabetes. In rapid succession he: seconded the proposed canonization of Michelle Kwan, as if he imagined the issue hadn't quite gotten the coverage it deserved; told us that snowboarder Shaun White was going to be a really big crossover star with middle aged white guys and earn millions in endorsements, adding "he's a skateboarder, too!", like that makes him the Orson Welles of tearing shit up; and noted that former inline skater Chad Hedrick's speedskating gold showed that the US was way ahead of the rest of the world in converting inline skaters to speedskating Olympian medalists. At which point I noted--to the screen, unfortunately, not to him--that the US is far and away the world leader in converting Humvees into stretch limo Humvees, an accomplishment which generates about as much excitement, but probably more money.

First, the snowboarding. Not my cup of tea. My wife likes the dirt-bike and skateboarding versions, and I'll admit their (decidedly minor) attractions, but what the addition of a friction-free surface does for them is beyond me. To me the thing is a combination of the worst features of golf (not real athletes, rather, people who have mastered a physical skill beginning at age 8) and rhythmic gymnastics minus the organizing influence of balls and ribbons.

It's not that I don't appreciate the sk8r dude ethos; it's refreshing, but it would be more refreshing with more shrugging and less arm pumping. And yes, the cynical decision by NBC that this is going to bring in the younger demo, thereby pushing traditional Olympic events which are real sports even further into the figure-skating-free margins, affects my attitude. But the real thing that gets me is how for two weeks every four years these youngsters are the Pride of America, and for the remaining 206 weeks we're yelling at them to get off the lawn before we call the cops.

And if you enjoy the ethos, enjoy it now. There's already too much money in the air. Wait four years.

As for Michelle Kwan, she's a fine champion in a sport I could care less about, and since I'm twice her age I can certainly sympathize about staring Father Time in the face. But this was all about VISA™ and Coke™. The network clamor had everything to do with advertising, just as über-Republican Peter Ueberroth's paean to her as the greatest Olympian of her generation had everything to do with the sleezy practice of voting someone on a team for inferior performance but superior sponsorships.

Olympic highlight, thus far: objectively pro-terrorist announcer Jim Lampley tossing to NBC news Sunday afternoon as the Cheney story broke, followed by his obvious struggle to contain himself when it was tossed back. Jim, you're what makes the USA #1.

Monday, February 13

Surprise Witness Backs Cheney Alibi

French songbird Claudine Longet:
"He was showing me how to load it and it just went off."

Happy Birthday

Diadorius Boudleaux Bryant
February 13, 1920--June 25, 1987

Saturday, February 11

Joys of Holy Matrimony, # 701

ME: I'm gonna go take a bath.

PW: Okay. I'll be up in a few minutes with the toaster.

Friday, February 10

Day by Day Late

And not just late but way out of my weight class, but sometimes it's just fun to pretend like you belong.

Are There Enough Internets To Handle the GOP?

In the space of twenty-four hours, we get:
• Libby says Cheney made him do it.
• Bush says we saved Los Angeles a while back, just sayin'.
• FAUX illustrates that story with a clip from Armaggedon.
• DeLay named to Judiciary appropriations subcommittee.
• Bush sneaks Social Security program he couldn't sell into the budget.
• Fox edits 2/3 of the applause out of its Rev. Lowery clip, leading Mort Kondracke to comment on how short the applause was.
• Lieberman says he's sure McCain meant well. Oh, wait, he's a Democrat.
• Michael Brown threatens blackmail.
• Bush explains executive privilege by reading from My Pet Goat.
• Scott McClellan responds to a question about NSA surveillance by saying, "Hey, waddya gonna do?"
• Domestic black people flap overlaps international brown people flap.

Sheesh. I'm out of bullets.


Really, that's what the teller wished me this afternoon at the bank, only without the enthusiasm the exclamation mark implies. And I'm still working out the phonetic spelling. The "hahv" part sounded like Katherine Hepburn calling Jimmy Stewart's rabbit by his nickname, only with a half-cup of Southern drawl. It's possible she could have sounded less sincere, but I'm not sure how.

I know, I know, I'm the only man in America who gives a shit. It's only because this is the same side of the counterfeit "Happy Holidays" coin. Why does anyone care? I didn't come here to start a relationship, I just want you to do the math correctly. And it would seem to defeat the purpose when you can't even bother to enunciate your concerns for the sort of day I'm having. How 'bout we leave it at "Thank you"? Although that reminds me that 90% of the time when I say "Thank you" to a cashier or bagger--and I always do--they respond with "You're welcome." I know I'm welcome. I just paid for the experience. If it were left to my opinion of the thing I'd just walk out with my stuff and avoid all interaction with you. I was being polite.

Okay, I know the world has much bigger problems. I, on the other hand, do not.

Which brings us to the Olympics™.* Only a few more hours before the big opening extravaganza, hosted by Katie Couric and Bob Costas, in which one will try to decide which is most annoying: Couric's cheery willingness to chew on any shit they give her to eat; Costas pretending to be above it for the fourth or fifth time; or the Busby Berkley Meets Leni Riefenstahl extravaganza itself.

I just read that the Winter Games will last 17 days. Apparently we have now invented so many things someone can judge you on while you're standing in a snowbank that it just won't fit into two weeks anymore. What a banquet. Please, please tell me that means an extra two days of ice dancing.

Here's the deal: I like skiing. And speed skating. They're timed. Sports are either timed, or measured, or they end when only one guy can stand up. They're not judged. They've almost ruined the car-wreck attractiveness of ski jumping by requiring competitors to land like girl gymnasts or chorus boys. Hockey is fine. Curling is oddly absorbing; I somehow became a curling fan in the late 60s, though I generally shun sports that use kitchen appliances. Bobsledding and luge are fast, and they get boring fast, plus I just read that the US team is the beneficiary of new steel runners which would have cost $1M in research and $50,000 per set, except there's always some American somewhere willing to spend big bucks so we can humiliate Norway. I think it would be great if the Olympic committee banned national symbols altogether, but you might as well ask them to take a cut in graft.

Yeah, I know, a lot of people have grown to hate the rah rah and the sap ("She's dedicated this race to her uncle's cousin's mailman, who lost an arm in the war"). The thing that irritates me most about that is how much it shortchanges the story. Take Rulon Gardner, who pulled off one of the most astonishing upsets in Olympic history. He beat Aleksander Karelin, who'd been undefeated for 13 years and unscored on in World competition for ten. How much more impressive would that have been if, I dunno, we'd ever seen Karelin, or heard tell of him, before that match? Watching Franz Klammer in 1976, skiing last on a course that was by then pure ice and pulling out the gold is still one of my most exciting moments in sports. Would it have been better if he were a Texan?

I swear there wasn't nearly as much jingoism in the coverage at the height of the Cold War. I remember everybody going crazy over Abebe Bikila, the barefoot Ethiopian marathoner, in Rome. These days we'd cut away from the finish to check on the American in 24th place, the one who's brother had a gallstone operation last month. Things got much worse when NBC took over, with Curt Gowdy, the official hunting and fishing guide of the House Un-American Activities Committee, managing to squeeze in some play-by-play between political rants. There's also the fact, now all but lost, that we used to bitch about those damned Russian professionals and their Army sinecures who got to train all year long on the dole. Of course, once our professionals were allowed in it was a different matter, and the joy of watching a dozen NBA stars crush a bunch of Koreans no taller than 6'2" was unbounded.

In fact, now that I think of it, maybe Barbara Walters wasn't the early warning sign of everything going to hell. Maybe the Olympic coverage got there first. Besides the professionalism thing, there was the outrage at the bulked-up East German women in the 70s, which has been followed by our sudden concern for due process once our own stars started looking like Lou Ferrigno.

My favorites this time around, though, happen to be Americans: Bode Miller, because he swings from the heels every time, and his teammate Daron Rahlves, because he pulled off the second greatest practical joke** I've ever heard of. On his wedding day he hired a look-alike stunt bride to fall into Lake Tahoe. Genius.

*just play along

** Number three is the original garden gnome kidnapper in the 80s, who returned the thing a year later with an envelope of pictures from his world tour tied around his neck. And number one, all time, the guy whose kid sister had one of those dimestore pet turtles, who got a series of larger turtles and made his sister's pet gradually grow larger and larger, then just as mysterious shrink back to the original size.

Wednesday, February 8

Then Why Weren't All You Racist Crackers Watching Video of All the Lovely White People at the Reagan Funeral Instead?

[Warning: every fourth word in what follows might be an obscenity. I don't know yet.]

There are little flecks of spittle on my monitor. Okay, I've never been anybody's definition of laid-back. But y'know, ranting is a technique. It's a response to what our politics and culture have become through lies, cupidity, and stupidity. I generally don't twist my intestines in a knot while writing, or I'd a' given it up long before Al Gore invented the internet.

But this shit about the Coretta Scott King services makes me wish the word "shit" hadn't been devalued. Shit is noble by comparison. If shit had the choice it wouldn't sully its hands on this.

Let's start with Malkins:
The Democrats just can't restrain themselves. Absolutely ungodly.

Expose the Left has video of Jimmy Carter and Joseph Lowery gone wild with Bush-bashing sermons at Coretta Scott King's funeral.

And again, the poor defenseless word "ungodly" gets no choice whether to cross her lips, or the sound of choking would have been noted coast to coast. We'll come back to this in a moment. First, let's get the real story from our meticulously sourced if liberally-biased media. Maria Newman in the New York Times:
Former President Jimmy Carter talked about the nonviolent struggle for justice that the Kings tried to promote, a veiled reference to the war in Iraq. "They overcame one of the greatest challenges of life, which is to be able to wage a fierce struggle for freedom and justice and to do it peacefully," he said.

He also noted that Dr. King had been the subject of wiretapping by the F.B.I., a reference that recalls the Bush administration's controversial decision not to seek warrants for eavesdropping on some electronic communications related to the efforts against Al Qaeda.

"It was difficult for them personally with the civil liberties of both husband and wife violated, and they became the targets of secret government wiretapping and other surveillance," Mr. Carter, a Democrat, said of the Kings.

A "veiled reference"? A reference that "recalls the Bush administration's controversial decision not to seek warrants?" How about this: it's the accurate history of the life he was eulogizing? I have never come so close to typing in all caps in my life.

It's fucking one thing to read this stuff from whomever Malkins chooses to do her talking for her. It's another when the pure, unfounded, illiterate musings bouncing around a reporter's skull get reported as major news. And just to show I wasn't totally out of control about it, I went to the Malkins' link there to watch the video. I hadn't seen the service except in excerpts and I couldn't find a transcript. Here's the lead-in from the Exposer of All Things Left:
Bashing President Bush remained a constant theme at the funeral service for Coretta Scott King. Former President Jimm Carter made the crowd roar after he compared King’s wiretapping to Bush’s terrorist surveillance program:

CARTER It was difficult for them [the King family] then personally with the civil liberties of both husband and wife violated as they became the target of secret government wiretaps.

In the latter part of his speech, Carter said that not enough was done and is being done for those who suffered from the disaster created by Hurricane Katrina.

Notice anything missing? Like, I dunno, the part where Carter "compared that to Bush's terrorist surveillance program?"

Well, it's just a teaser, anyway. I'm sure the relevant quote will be in the video.

Gee. It wasn't.

Instead it was an edited clip containing the above, his comment "we only have to recall the color of the faces of those in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi who are most devastated by Katrina to know that there are not yet equal opportunities for all Americans," and his sign off. I'm gonna go out on a limb now and say that the failure to link President Carter's actual words comparing the Kings' history to one of Bush's impeachable offenses means he didn't say it.

Look, I'm gonna try to say this nicely: you ignorant shit shovelers have no fucking idea what you're talking about. I'm truly sorry that those of you who feel inclined to hide your domestic racism aren't sated by the "acceptable" little brown terrorist outlet. Really. I'm sorry that on occasions like this one the only shaft in your quiver is the Golden Homing Arrow of Stupid. I long for the day when you-all'll be smart enough to appreciate that the New York Times does your dirty work for you, just without enough dirt for your tastes. I don't care if you want to keep pretending matters of race are settled in this country, or that you're above it all, and I don't care that you show no interest in the actual history of the Kings or of the struggle for equality. I would, in fact, prefer that you keep pretending that racism was the matter of a couple of guys with shotguns and bad attitudes. I don't want to hear your phony paeans to people who were brutalized by the Klan and the police, who were beaten bloody and toothless for daring to line up to register to vote, or sit at the white man's lunch counter. I'm happier that you don't know and don't care anything about it. I don't give a flying fuck whether you think a man being hung by his handcuffs for three days at Parchman Farm because he dared march for his civil rights meets your definition of torture. I don't care if you understand what all the sexually-demented dwarf the FBI buiding is named for did to stop the "burrhead King". I just wish all your fucking racist heads would explode from the strain, already.

You Got An Algorithm That Explains Why, If You Let Your Math-Major Roommate Do The Decorating, You'll Wind Up Staring At Fifteen M.C. Escher Posters?

Tim Hartford in Slate: "Who's the Greatest Artist of the 20th Century? This economist has figured out the answer."
I've noticed a similar tendency in economists. We spent decades perfecting the theoretical tools and the software to gather and analyze noisy data in a messy world. Most of the data were produced by laborious counting of the most obvious things: goods sold, prices, people out of work. Now the tools are so good and so simple to use, and data so easy to gather and disseminate, it's hard to resist the temptation not to count, well, something different.

A nice exponent of this is Chicago-based economist David Galenson , who recently demonstrated that Picasso was by far the greatest artist of the 20 th century. Galenson's method is simplicity itself: round up every art history textbook of the past 15 years and see whose art is reproduced most frequently. Picasso, with 395 illustrations in 33 textbooks, scores nearly as many as his three closest rivals (Matisse, Duchamp, and Mondrian) put together.

See, this is why I much prefer to hang out with artists in their cockroach-infested hovels rather than accountants in a skybox. Because I think I can guarantee that no artist is stupid enough to write a book naming the Great Economists of the 20th Century as sorted by their choice of shirt/tie color combinations.

I know nothing whatever about statistics, except not to fuck with them, and believe me, that's by choice. But whenever you see something like this there's always a little voice saying, "Gee, just a dollar for the whole bottle? And it cures scrofula?"

You can survey various 15-year periods of lit crit and determine that the Bard is a) way down the list of English playwrights; b) more of a poet; or c) hopelessly poncy. I just don't understand this burning desire we have to quantify the unquantifiable. Besides, it's Duchamp. I thought everybody knew that.

Tuesday, February 7

Point of Order

Perhaps I'm mistaken, but aren't the people in this country most incensed about Muslims rioting over media portrayals the same ones who were incensed last year that Newsweek published something that incited Muslims to riot?

Happy Birthday

Phil Soltanek born February 7, 1956

"I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump off. So I ran over and said "Stop! Don't do it!" "Why shouldn't I?" he said. "Well, there's so much to live for!" "Like what?" "Well... are you religious?" He said yes. I said, "Me too! Are you Christian or Buddhist?" "Christian." "Me too! Are you Catholic or Protestant ? "Protestant." "Me too! Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?" "Baptist" "Wow! Me too! Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?" "Baptist Church of God!" "Me too! Are you original Baptist Church of God, or are you reformed Baptist Church of God?" "Reformed Baptist Church of God!" "Me too! Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915?" He said, "Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915!" I said, "Die, heretic scum", and pushed him off. "

Trust Me, It Really Does Help if You Just Think of the United States Senate as the Fun-Filled Midway of the Bush Administration Carnival

A little Song, a little Dance,
A little Smoke blown up your pants...

ttorney General Alberto Gonzales' unsworn testomercial before the Senate Judiciary committee Monday raised several troubling questions:

• Since the Committee Chairman has such broad discretionary powers, wouldn't it have been the smarter play to swear Gonzales in, but not plug in his mike? Does it matter? Why not just let him answer in a language he makes up on the spot? Or have the President declare that perjury is "okey-dokey" under the broad powers granted him by the Authorization for Use of Military Force, Pub. L. No. 107-40, 115 Stat. 224 (Sept. 18, 2001), hereafter known as "AUMF"?

• When Russ Feingold accuses Gonzales of "misleading testimony," isn't that redundant?

• I know, millions of gallons of ink get spilled in a futile effort to figure out how Democrats let the Bush administration off the hook time and time again. But why doesn't anybody ask how Republicans bring themselves to vote for the guy?

• Remember back in the day, when George W. Bush pledged to get to the bottom of the Plame affair? The simple joy of having him lie to you outright about obeying the law, instead of saying, "Yeah, so what?" Those were great times, weren't they?

• How is Arlen Specter still a Senator?

But the real excitement for me was the actual use of the actual trial balloon (I wasn't sure they'd do it) from a couple weeks ago--that George Washington set the precedent for wiretapping during the American Revolution! Yes, George Washington, who was at the time not only Not President, but was the Commander-in-Chief of the American forces, and a British subject, in rebellion, and operating under no actual governmental code until the last two years of the war, presciently established a Constitutional precedent.

Because, dude, Washington grew hemp! So it's legal now, right?

• The other Whack-a-Mole moment came at the State Department, where spokesman Sean McCormack had to dance on the wire for a moment:
QUESTION: I mean, is there anything that you can do to support countries like Denmark that are facing these acts of violence?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, we put -- the White House put out a statement over the weekend talking about our support for the Danish Prime Minister and the statements that he has made on the subject. Secretary Rice has also spoken with the Danish and Norwegian foreign ministers over the weekend in the wake of the attacks on their embassy as well. What we can do is to speak out very clearly in support of freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and urge understanding and tolerance, tolerance not violence. And I think that is what you're hearing from many quarters around the world concerning this issue.

The Bush administration is urging tolerance, understanding, and respect for the freedom of the press. Let me repeat that: tolerance, understanding, and respect for the freedom of the press. I just love it when the dictates of international diplomacy, which they sneer at for domestic consumption, force them to defend abroad concepts they can't stomach at home.

Monday, February 6

Two Thumbs, er, Up

David Brooks, "Remaking The Epic Of America", Sunday, February 5:
On this, our holiest day of the year, when Americans gather, overeat and enjoy the outpourings of our greatest advertising agencies, it is fitting to reflect upon the core myth that animates our nation. No, I don't mean the western, which is so 19th century. I mean the sports movie, the epic that defines contemporary America.
Okay, I know what you're thinking: Riley, this post has already written itself. Just give him the Golden Knob of the Week or something and be done with it. Fair enough, but just play along for one more paragraph:

Over the past several years, theaters have been inundated by a series of films that all have the same plot. Whether it is "Hoosiers," "Glory Road," "Coach Carter," "Remember the Titans," "Miracle," "The Replacements" or a hundred others you've barely heard of, the core elements are always the same. A tough, no-nonsense coach, usually with a shadow-filled past, takes over a shambolic, underfunded team. He forces his players to work harder than they ever thought they could. He inspires them to sacrifice for the greater good. Finally, he leads them to glory over richer and more respected rivals.
Even granting Brooks the only escape path Sanity Herself has available here--that he's speaking with tongue planted firmly in cheek (he ain't)--how are you supposed to look at that list without laughing in his face (you aren't)? Hoosiers may be about as good as that sort of movie can get. It's also twenty years old, which places it about two generations ago in cultural terms. Of the rest, well, Remember the Titans did decent box office for utter dreck, Glory Road is new, and I had to look up the rest. The only reason I didn't think The Replacements was the name of that Irish band movie was I know who The Replacements are. That was The Commitments, a better movie than any of Brooks' and one which oddly enough sort of follows that parse of his, although, not being American, it wasn't required to end cheerily. No, The Replacements features Canoe Reeves as a football player. It's a comedy. As for the "hundreds of others you've barely heard of", I've never heard of 'em.

(Here's an odd little factoid I'll use since I bothered to look it up: none of those movies--Glory Road excepted since 2006 has just begun--is even the highest grossing sports movie of its year. Hoosiers was trounced by Karate Kid, Part II, Coach Carter by the flak' sid remake of The Longest Yard, and Miracle's patriotism-stirring take was nearly doubled by Dodgeball, not to mention Fahrenheit 911. I grant that you have to call Gladiator a sports movie to beat Remember the Titans, but why not? More people apparently found Big Momma's House and Traffic more inspirational, as far as that goes.)

But it won't go far with Brooks, of course, who's on the trail of another Boboesque revelation:

When a story is repeated this often, and when it continues to attract audiences time after time, it is because it affirms certain values precious to the culture. The values these movies affirm amount to a brick-by-brick destruction of the values that were prevalent 30 years ago.
Lawd God A'mighty, is this was comes out of those Burke and Hobbes weekends Brooks and his True Conservative buddies are always havin'? Did they invite Benji Shapiro up for a special Pop Culture seminar? What's next, Dave? "Popularity of Elvis on velvet shames Leftist art critics?"

Aw, hell, Bobo's on a roll:
•Thirty years ago, young people were told to question authority. But the heroes of these movies are coaches who are unabashed authority figures.

•Thirty years ago, there was a revolt against traditional manliness, but these coaches are stereotypical manly men.

•Thirty years ago, students were warned of the dangers of conformity, of the crushing banality of the Organization Man. But in this world success comes only when individuals subordinate themselves to the team.
Two things piss me off here, and neither of them is Brooks' evident stupidity on the subject, which I take as a given. First, thirty years ago is precisely the time movies changed, thanks to the twin successes of Jaws and Star Wars. Money and marketing, in other words, not moral values. The only thing those movies were urging young people to do was buy tickets. And action figures. And it's been that way ever since. Some counter-revolution.

Prior to that we might note that Patton won an Oscar™ in 1970; The French Connection in '71. Neither is constructed of the cardboard Mr. Brooks prefers, but they're hardly Do Your Own Thingfests. And the Dirty Harry films were enormously popular. They might not have urged good clean self-deprecating team play, but they sure upheld the cartoon manliness Brooks craves, and their villains were little more than a litany of 60s anti-authority clichés with legs. And firearms.

Second, we had a brief period from the later 60s to the mid 70s when more great films were produced in Hollywood than before or since: Bonnie and Clyde, Cool Hand Luke, Midnight Cowboy, The Wild Bunch, Medium Cool, M*A*S*H, Five Easy Pieces, Patton, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Little Big Man, The Ballad of Cable Hogue, The Last Picture Show, The Godfather I & II, Chinatown, Badlands, Taxi Driver, and Network, just to name the ones that come to me as I type. None of them may be a "conservative's" wet dream exactly (though the Godfather served as a management training film for a certain tiny Indiana governor), but they're far from simple minded exhortations to Youth Culture. You might mention Easy Rider and The Graduate as films that fit Brooks' scheme (and if so, why didn't he name any?), but so what? You can shake movies, or books, or whathaveyou through the cultural sieve of your choice and "prove" what you will. Disney was cranking out Hailey Mills movies, John Wayne was still working steady, and Spaghetti Westerns and Bond films were packin' 'em in.

The choice of "thirty years ago" isn't casual; Brooks wants to pretend the world wised up, elected Reagan, and recognized anew the true wisdom of whatever values the "conservatives" are pushing this week. Bullshit. Rebellion ebbs and flows, but bootlicking is always in fashion.

The heroes in these movies stand for deference and order over liberation and self-esteem.
So did the White Citizen's Councils.

Audiences embrace coaches who enforce an insane work ethic on their teams, who scream and punish their players until they have performed that final, soul-cleansing push-up.
In movies, maybe. When real-life audiences are confronted by coaches who abuse their actual children the opinion tends to be a bit more mixed.

In the world these movies create, there never has been a championship game contested by two teams with similar sociodemographic backgrounds. Instead, the poorer, harder-working team triumphs over the richer, self-satisfied one. When Texas Western, Rocky or Seabiscuit wins, the American ideal of social mobility is confirmed.
At, we might at, the same personal risk to their adoring audiences that Brooks accepts when he urges the imposition of democracy in the Middle East.

In short, these movies embrace the civil rights part of the 1960's and 1970's. Women and minorities should be given full access to the competitive world of the meritocracy. But they take the therapeutic, progressive, New Age part of the 1960's and 1970's and they crush it dead. They create a culture of all-inclusive traditionalism.

Which is about where American society as a whole has settled after all the tumult. The 1960's happened. Vince Lombardi won.
I'm pretty sure Lombardi wouldn't have been too pleased with being #54 on the box office charts. But it's nice to see we get back to the 60s in time for last call.

And it's nice to get to the comfortable little fable about civil rights that keep Brooks and his ilk warm at night while their party tramples constitutional rights, demonizes gays and lesbians for votes, and tries to assert federal control over the nation's Strategic Ovary Reserves. Glad you enjoyed the flicks, Mr. Brooks.

Friday, February 3

Damn, I Had a Yard on Michelle Kwan

Just in case you didn't catch it, Ohio's John Boehner will replace Tom DeLay as House majority leader. Thursday, Boehner beat out Missouri Rep. Roy Blunt on the second ballot, 653-487. Results certified by Arthur Anderson, LLP.

Lucky Thing For Us Western Civilization Already Collapsed

Excuse me, but is that a pleat?

Rachael Ray expands her reach

By Michael Hill

The Associated Press

LAKE LUZERNE, N.Y. -- Rachael Ray makes lousy coffee. She doesn't bake too well either. It's all the measuring. It clashes with her beat-the-clock cooking style. "I can never remember if it's one heaping, or two little or two big, or whatever," she said....

Not everyone is won over, though. Ray has attracted a cadre of vehement critics who complain she is slapdash, ignorant of culinary basics and says goofy things like "Yum-O." Grousers on Web forums pillory her for cooking escarole in bacon fat, for her clothes and everything in between. Says one Web poster: "Somebody gag her with a bottle of E.V.O.O., already."

Ray shrugs at the personal criticisms.

"I have no argument with them because they're correct," she said. "I'm very loud. I have a sharp voice. I do laugh and giggle too much -- for some people's taste. What am I going to do? Stop being me?"

Okay, it is reassuring to know I'm not the only one, and it's even possible there are others out there who agree that the fact that someone who cannot be bothered to learn how to bake nevertheless becomes a colossal media food enterprise (something which for some reason requires posing in lingerie from the Al Capp Collection while holding a pie someone else must have made) because she's likeable is, somehow, a metaphor for how we wound up in Iraq. But it is nice to see some evidence, however small, that the folks at Harpo have decided to give honesty a shot, even if it's only when there's no way around it.

Peggy, You Need To Inform Your Doctor About the Drowsiness

Sure, I said a couple of weeks ago I'd decided to make Nooners part of my regular Thursday program, along with the added fiber, and sure, I already regret it. Jesus, lady (or Jesus Lady), you write one column a week. Is it so difficult to come up with a single good idea?

After a couple paragraphs about how flak' sid the SOTU was, lines which were remarkably evocative of the thing they referenced, she takes on--oh, wait for it--Hilary Clinton!
There was only one unforgettable moment, and that was in a cutaway shot, of Hillary Clinton, who simply must do something about her face. When the president joked that two people his father loves are turning 60 this year, himself and Bill Clinton--why does he think constant references to that relationship work for him?--it was Mrs. Clinton's job to look mildly amused, or pleasant, or relatively friendly, or nonhostile. Mrs. Clinton has two natural looks, the first being a dull and sated cynicism, the second the bright-eyed throaty chuckler who greets visiting rubes from Utica. The camera caught the first; by the time she realized she was the shot, she apparently didn't feel she could morph into the second. This canniest of politicians still cannot fake benignity.

Now, honestly, if I could do that post category thing here, "Good Things About Hillary" would most likely be empty. But I saw the clip on The Daily Show, and if I may, Bush does his semi-literate reading of a semi-joke (Bill Clinton is one of my dad's favorite people! Har har har, that's a good one, ain't it?) and right side of the aisle erupts into hysterics. It was a moment of High Baloney, and Hillary's expression conveyed that perfectly. But to Peggers it was an obvious moment where she was supposed to pretend to be amused! C'mon, you're supposed to play along! You're a Democrat, and it's a Republican speaking. It's not like it's your husband up there, and all rules of decorum have been suspended by Natural Law.

Of course, had Hillary yukked it up like a cast member of Hee-Haw, Noonan would have written about how phony it was. She's got six column inches to fill every week, after all.

[Which reminds me. I love Peter Daou anyway, and I love his recent bits going after this sort of thing in the guise of a different Pro-Bush/Anti-Dem narrative every day.]

After a perfunctory swipe at the Democratic party as revealed by Kos' commenters (does this sort of thing not yet rate as criminal mischief? Jesus, lady, why don't you get a blog, open it to comments, and let's see what crawls out of the ooze, shall we?) Pegs takes out after Tom Shales, whose review of Flight 93 failed to include any flag waving. That it included praise for earlier CBS and HBO documentaries on the subject was of no importance. If it's about 9/11 it must be praised. That's one of the reasons we went through it in the first place. And it ends, just as I'm about to get up for some Advil, with this:
You wonder at the intemperance of angry young lefties and then think of the example set for them by exhausted old lefties.

Which, assuming I've racked up any good karma lately, was apparently the reason I read her, so I'd have a segué into this. It's a comment from the great Meteor Blades, part of a long comments thread at Hullabaloo in response to this post by tristero.
When I started out in politics, blacks couldn't vote, 18-year-olds couldn't vote, abortion was illegal, feminism was something that had happened in the '20s and professors at Harvard Law School and elsewhere regularly told women they had no right to be there. "Gay" meant happy, environmental advocacy was a dream, kids were openly punished for speaking Spanish or Lakota on the playground, college students were ruled by in loco parentis and only 200 soldiers had died in Vietnam.

We had a lot of struggles on our hands and no wwwLand to fight it with. We didn't just protest and scream chants. We organized against the draft, we fought for the 18-year-old vote, we walked the precincts for candidates, we founded alternative newspapers - today's version, I suppose, of blogs - we stood arm-in-arm against racism and misogyny and militarism in a society not eager to uproot them.

We made mistakes. Some of us succumbed to pernicious ideologies. And a tiny fraction, like the Weather Underground, did worse than make mistakes.

But we also had an impact. To give one example: the fact that there was opposition from the get-go to the Iraq War in Congress can, I believe, be traced to our opposition. Remember only two Senators opposed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution.

I'm all for turning things over to a new generation. (As if I had a choice.) And I hope that generation will learn from our errors. But, first, it needs to have a good sense of our achievements, and not buy the distorted version of what we did and how we did it or make assumptions that we're all like Ward Churchill in word or deed.

To which, may I add that all of you pups who want to lecture us about what it takes to win elections might try winning one first, just for practice.

Really? So Who's This Malcolm the Tenth Guy I Keep Hearing About?

Eugene Robinson, WaPo: No One Will Fill Her Shoes
In creating that legacy for his widow, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. also shaped the relatively brief historical moment in which it was possible to talk of a black leadership group that spoke with one voice for black America. For me, and for many others, it has been hard to let that golden moment slip away. But let it go we must. Otherwise we cling to a comfortable illusion rather than face a much more complicated reality.

Far be it for me to interrupt a eulogy, but, um, no. King was fought on all sides: by Roy Wilkins and the "Maybe if we act dignified for another fifty years they'll let us vote a little" NAACP: by the more hot-headed SNCC, and the still more hot-headed Malcolm and the Panthers. Sure, a memorial to Mrs. King is not the place to hash out differences, but it's possible to be reverent to her and the truth at once. MLK is, rightly, the idol of the fight against segregation, but there were other, opposing voices in black America all along, and whether we care for the use of violence to confront violence or not, it still played a part. This seems part and parcel with Jonah Goldberg pretending the racism of white America was a matter of a couple of bad-tempered guys with firehoses. We need people to understand just what was going on in those days, and how it affects what's going on now, and not just install Martin Luther King as the patron saint of racial harmony and wring our hands about the present.

Thursday, February 2

Economic Summit

So I go to Kroger this afternoon, on account'a it's one of the two large groceries I have to shop at to find all the basic national brands I, as a consumer, have a preference for. It's a curious thing, seeing that Competition is supposed to be the wonder drug of Capitalism, and supermarkets are perhaps the most highly competitive of retail environments.

I know I've explained this before, but I'm thinking ahead to next year's "Best Post" Koufax nominations and this baby needs some background. The particular tearing point right now--there's a new one every few months--is Twinings tea. I drink "Prince of Wales". I'll settle for "China Black". Beloved and beleaguered Kroger competitor Marsh Supermarkets used to carry the whole line, but when they did a major reset a few months back ("To serve me better") they simultaneously expanded the tea section and got rid of all the Twinings except Orange Pekoe and Earl Grey. This did not exactly meet my needs, which they apparently define as the desire to drop what I like every couple months and try something they get a better deal on. Which right now is a line of fourteen different flavored chais.

It isn't like they never sold the other varieties. They were out of "Prince of Wales" every third time I needed it.

Anyhow, I walk into Kroger, wheel my way to the cheese aisle, which I find blocked by four people instantly identifiable as Suits. All four seem to be talking at once, but two of them are conversing on cell phones, though they do exhibit the good breeding to sort of half-turn away from their fellows for the duration.

It need not be noted that none of these people--two of whose suits apparently were Kroger-affiliated--made any effort to get out of my way or even be aware of their surroundings. And because I'm not quite as familiar with the layout there, I had to return a couple minutes later in search of something I'd forgotten, and they and their cell phones were still frozen in place, still oblivious.

Tomorrow's my wife's birthday, so I made a trip down the card aisle. The card aisle is one of those little reminders the culture tucks away in places just in case you get too complacent about monogamy. "Oh, happily married, are we? Good, then you won't mind spending ten minutes looking through soul-deadening dreck." To be fair, I know people who are very good at negotiating the card aisle, and God Help Us All there are people who seem to actually thrive in it, but I'd rather shop in a tutu.

And damned if there aren't three more suits in that aisle! They're deep in a discussion of some Strategic Display Initiative, although they were good enough to actually move aside far enough for me to squeeze my cart by them.

How many suits does it take to sell a card? Or a hunk of Double Gloucester? Maybe one of you could have gone over and opened a second register for the five cart-fillers waiting at the one you did have open. I'm gonna remember this next time Kroger conducts its union negotiations in the papers.

But Kroger seems unfazed by the cutthroat competition that has brought Marsh to the verge of corporate tears and crocodile sales rumors. So it was with no small amusement that my wife waved an article from Tuesday's Business Section under my nose. One Jodi Marsh (it's a remarkable coincidence how many top Marsh execs share a surname with the company), VP of corporate relations and the company spokesorganism, resigned last week. This follows by about a month the announcement of her impending divorce from David Marsh (!), the company president. She informed the company a couple weeks ago she'd be taking a job with Sease, Gerig & Associates, Marsh's public relations firm for the last decade. And a week after that, Sease Gerig got a call from the Marsh board informing them their services were no longer required.

It's always good to get a peek behind the scenes at how the Grownups operate. And we get that thanks to our bulldog press and the fine reporters who endure the occasional overcooked shrimp cocktail to get that info to us. The Star's headline for this Grace Metalious tale of high finance? "Spokeswoman leaves Marsh, joining PR firm." I can only guess that "No Fucking Wonder They Can't Turn a Profit" didn't quite fit.

Every time I return from the grocery I have to wonder what percentage of the people who tout the Business Model as the answer to every problem actually do their own shopping.