Thursday, May 31

Not the Professor You Want To Be Stranded On a Coconut Island With

Larry Schweikart, in the incipient stage of Strangelove Syndrome

MY favorite antique air conditioner no longer functions, reducing its appraised value at auction to scrap metal, which is, happily, a booming market. However, it means that I will be meeting with three salesmen over the next 36 hours, or two over the toxicity level for a man my weight.

Since I was likely to be stuck at home during business hours, I went out last night to see if someone at Half Price Books would sell me a copy of A Patriot's History of the United States for something around the 25¢ I'm willing to pay, unless there's one with a scrap metal cover. No such luck. There's a couple stores within driving range left to check out, or maybe somebody on Amazon's got one for a nickel and doesn't want $14.00 shipping. My spirits are still high.

A Patriot's History, by the way, is subtitled "From Columbus's Great Discovery to the War on Terror", thereby eclipsing the Holy Roman Empire, which had only three erroneous terms in its title.

In skimming the book at B&N I'd noticed right off that Larry and co-author Mike Allen seemed to argue that Native American peoples were neither victims of genocide nor European diseases, but had merely had the wind knocked out of 'em. Once I'd gotten around to googling him I got a fuller sense of how breathtakingly dishonest the whole operation was, not that this came as much of a surprise. Here he is telling K-Lo all about it:
NRO: What's the most interesting fact/story in American history no on knows?

Schweikart: Of course, everyone "knows" any story or we wouldn't know it, but I'd say one of the most impressive untold stories in the American past is that of the buffalo. Everyone "knows" that whites nearly exterminated the herds. That's true. What few people know — although these views are starting to gain a wider circulation — is that the Indians were on a trajectory to wipe out the bison herds had whites never been interfered. Shepard Kretch and Andrew Isenberg, in separate studies, have shown that the Indians were already killing buffalo slightly faster than herds could repopulate. But what is most fascinating is that it was white ranchers and businessmen who recognized that the herds were shrinking, and who acted to save them by breeding them on private ranches. Eventually it was these private herds that made up the stock of the famous Yellowstone herd.

Pile of bison skulls, circa 1870

Yup, the only good Indian is a straw Indian. "Had the whites never [been] interfered"? (Does K-Lo do her own editing?) This is why the sciences--as distinct from armchair "scholarlyness"--proceed from general knowledge to the specific, and from hard, testable evidence to broader deduction, instead of jumping around like a fat guy at a free buffet. I'm gonna take a wild guess here that neither Krech nor Isenberg intended his work as pro-capitalist pamphleteering. Isenberg, for one, is writing about the destruction of the buffalo, which, even if it were entirely the doing of the "Indians" did not occur until long after "the whites had been interfered". The Horse (E. caballus) came from Europe. In this, at least, our school texts and actual knowledgeable scholars are in agreement. It is very difficult for a full-grown adult to ride very far on a dog. At the time of white contact, almost all of the people on the Plains were (semi-nomadic) agriculturalists. Only the Comanche and the Blackfeet, both migrants, were hunter-gatherers. If Plains tribes were exceeding replacement levels on buffalo in the 19th century it's because whites had taken away their agricultural lands in the East.

Elsewhere Schwiekart says that Isenberg "wonders" whether the herd was falling below replacement levels in pre-contact times. This is at some distance from the bald statement of Startling New Discovery! he gave NRO, but then he wasn't talking to K-Lo and he probably adjusted his rhetoric accordingly. It's important to keep in mind that we are dealing with the migratory movements of pre-historic peoples. There's been a lot of exciting work done in the field since the 1960s, and I won't pretend to be up on it. The picture of migratory patterns in historical times is damnably complex. Anything pre-contact is based on archeological evidence, or highly questionably hearsay. I'm not sure what evidence causes Isenberg to wonder; it is, after all, part of his job description. But such hardly "explodes" some dastardly anti-capitalist "myth" about who killed off the buffalo.

Let me add a little personal perspective on this. I took several anthropology and folklore courses in the early 70s. My intellectual mentor was a guy just finishing his doctoral dissertation on the Corn Myth. I took over his apartment when he left town, and out of the six rooms above a couple businesses two of them were occupied by white suburban guys who actually imagined they were Native Americans. One made stone tools; the other had pretty much beaded his entire apartment. Nine-tenths of their conversation was about Native American culture. If you sat down and watched teevee with 'em, passing the pipe of peace, it would never be more than ten minutes before they'd yell at the set, in unison, "What was a Kiowa doing hunting with a Pawnee?" or some other historical illiteracy they'd caught in a flash. And neither of those guys, nor anyone else I met from that tribe, ever imagined that Native American tribes were composed of anything other than human beings, no more and no less maddening or noble than the rest of the race. We all knew about hunting by stampede and by "controlled" burn, we knew that the Iroquois had hunted down and killed every last Erie and Huron. We knew, like most schoolchildren know, that the Mesoamerindians practiced human sacrifice on a scale remarkable even by the standards of their bloodthirsty species, or else were New World-class braggerts.

Still, I'm interested in picking up the book at dumpster prices, because I'm curious about how Schweikart and Allen sustain the Liberal Anti-capitalists Are a Bunch of Poopyheads argument over the course of five hundred years (three hundred of them preceding anything called The United States, but I'm just being snippy). James Loewen, in Lies My Teacher Told Me and Lies Across America actually bothered to name, and quote, the actual school texts and public monuments, respectively, he refuted; Schweikart and Allen, in the pages I skimmed, informed the reader that they'd been teaching history for many a year and thus "knew" what misconceptions people had. Maybe so. And given the quality of research on display on the web, I'd doubt it would improve things much.

I'm also curious about how one comes to get small-town boosterism in one's very marrow. Larry, what th' fuck's Columbus to you?

(Jeez, I went through the whole thing without mentioning Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Schweikart's Bête Noire. Here he is giving K-Lo his Serious Scholar bona fides:
On the other hand, as conservatives, we nevertheless destroy the myth that FDR "knew" about the Pearl Harbor attack in advance.

(Wow. "As conservatives" they destroyed a myth about FDR that no one actually believed or had the slightest bit of evidence for. And so far as I read, neither do they accuse him personally of killing off the buffalo, although if they could have I'll wager the Indians stock would have risen dramatically.)

Wednesday, May 30

Summer Vacation

MY Poor Wife's, that is, begins at the close of business Friday. Which means my adjusting to a new posting schedule as all those projects which cannot be approached without her tireless advice-giving get underway.

That is, by the way, a crock of shit so big you'd need help lifting it, as anything left undone around here is from my blue-flame indolence which she's tolerated with superhuman patience and a sense of humor that can only be described as "gallows". It's just that she had this large, important project due which she left until the last minute. This was not entirely her fault, as Indianapolis Public Schools (Motto: "Providing Greater Challenges For Those People Who Might Defend Us In Public") dicked around with her employment again and the whole thing would have been wasted if she'd been transferred. Which, incidentally, would have been illegal under the union contract, not that that sort of thing seems to stop 'em these days. By the way, I love you, honey. More than ever, especially since you started reading the blog.

Anyhow, the project involved a piece of equipment called a "computer", which means I got the opportunity to do it. This, again, is a major crock, but some of you may be aware that My Darling Distaff Side is a member of that large community which learned early on that the more befuddled you appear about technology the more likely it is that someone comes over and does it for you. This is inevitably twinned with the unshakable conviction that this stuff is just ingrained in those other people, who never have to break a sweat at it and are never at a loss for What Magic Button to Push Next.

My wife, from long habit, uses Claris Works, and thank god I finally got her to upgrade last year or the whole project would have been uploaded by telegraph. She had a report, which had to be sent in in triplicate, and she had to append a spreadsheet to it. I, on the other hand, almost never use Claris Works, but I did in the old days, so I was trying to remember what I knew about spreadsheets, and it finally dawned on me the answer was "not much". She, by the way, had no idea how many rows she needed, despite the fact that she actually did know. Just to give you an appreciation for the working conditions.

Telekinesis. It just occurred to me that's how she thinks this stuff works.

So, around the time that I had divined the size of the spreadsheet, I learned, through the arcane mysteries of Reading the Fucking Manual that the current version of Claris Works handles tables. Cool, I sez, without realizing a) this meant nothing whatsoever to my wife and b) I had just tempted fate. I created the requisite-sized table and left her to it. Roughly twenty-minutes later there came a churchmouse squeek from the top of the stairs.


Did I just hear something?

Small throat clearing. "Riley?"

"Honey? You calling me?" (Like I didn't know.)

"I've done something and I can't figure out what."

That done something is always Homeric. It's "I must have offended Poseidon, king of the unharvested Sea," never "I typed the damned thing it italics and I don't know how to change it." It turns out I had created the wrong type of table, which information came to me--in the form of the Fucking Online Help, not the smoke of burning bull fat--after two more attempts.

The whole thing had to be sent in (once! twice! thrice!) in Word, RTF, or as a pdf. Okay, no problem. Claris Works'll do a Word file, and we'll also save it to RTF to be on the safe side, and everything goes onto a memory stick so she can take it to school and have her English-teachin' buddy proofread. My work here, as they say is finished.

Except, of course, for the fact that I secretly knew it wasn't and I'm just pretending there was an idyll for the story's sake. I'd neglected to reopen any of the files after I saved them. You can't hide from the Cranes of Ibycus. The table, it turned out, was nowhere to be found. And the best part was that she returned with a boatload of helpful suggestions, all of which, of course, come from people with no Mac knowledge whatsoever (the canny Macuser may have already spotted my mistake despite the skeletal description), and nothing beats the experience of getting garbled misinformation direct from the person who would still be staring at a blank page if it weren't for you. I was into hour #2, and had just learned that saving graphic elements in an RT file transforms it into an RTFD ("please select a new name") when it suddenly dawned on me that for the past five years or so I've been able to create a .pdf through the Print command. Which worked like the blood of a blemish-free ox.

The moral of this story being You, Too, Will Succumb To Old Age, If You Live That Long.

Oh, and I've taken up yoga again. After taking a break for the last four decades.

So I'm not sure how the posting schedule will play out in the short term, but I'm sure any lack of quantity will be matched by quality. And I've just made the belated acquaintance of Larry Schweikart, prominent Freeper and Professor of History, co-author of A Patriot's History of the United States, which from what I could tell from a quick once over at Barnes & Noble is a sort of Lies My Teacher Told Me, except with an Evil Spock goatee. Larry thinks the American Indian has been coasting on his good press for too long. Should make The Reagan Diaries read like non-fiction. And if things continue as they have, later on this summer I'll be confessing to having beaten my neighbors to death with their outdoor speakers. Woo-hooo! Watch this space!

Tuesday, May 29

More Real-Life Captive-Cell-Phone-Audience Adventures, No. 273

Man in potato chip aisle at Marsh: "But I was a different individual back then."

Find Out What It Means To Me

Peter Applebome, "Remembering Our War Dead, by Forgetting About Britney and Paris." Times Select, May 27
Long Beach, N.Y.

It must have been the only city manager's memorandum in history to address the war in Iraq, Anna Nicole Smith and Britney Spears in three very short paragraphs.

But for a few days, at least, it made Edwin L. Eaton a minor folk hero--one small voice trying to remind the nation what matters and what doesn't in the million-channel blab fest that is American life.

Mr. Eaton's May 16 memo took notice of the attention given those three pillars of pop culture, cited a need to "in some small way place things in perspective," and then went on: "While our society and media outlets appear to be consumed by the activities of the 'glitterati,' we tend to forget that each day Americans are anonymously dying in Iraq. I think it only fair that they be remembered and honored. To achieve that end, we hereby diredct that American flags throughout the city be flown at half-mast."

AS is so often the case around here, we begin on a tangent. Fly the flag properly, or not at all. The President and the governors of the States are the only people who can order flags flown at half-staff. Not the county auditor, not the Director of Fish & Game, not (as has happened around here in recent years) the mayor or the principal of the elementary school down the street.

It's not simply that anyone choosing to fly the flag should meet the minimum conditions of respect. And yes, I'm old enough to have lived "Your Flag Decal Won't Get You Into Heaven Anymore," and the co-opting of Old Glory as a right-wing political banner which, I suggest, has been greatly facilitated by the willingness to violate decorum. The Vietnam-era decal was clearly intended as a Support the War sticker in faux-patriotic guise, but within a few months it became a disgrace to everyone. The white stripes would flake off first, leaving the Red Transparent and Blue waving proudly on the back window of someone's woodgrain-panelled Ford Town & Country. You could still run into their ghosts a decade later. Mummified imperialism, like Lady Liberty in Planet of the Apes.

Correct observance would certainly address that Great Noisy American poshlust taste of the sort that equates light-up creches with religious solemnity. In the days after 9/11 changed everything it would have minimized the spectacle of twin patriotic nicknacks flying at 65 mph down the interstate, or turning left from the right-hand lane (for the record: I understood the impetus, but not the logic, of the gesture, and I couldn't understand how someone could park a car sporting shabby plastic bric-a-brac--these lasted two weeks, not the six months of the 'Nam decal--and feel good about his contribution to the defense of the nation). Correct observance would also mean that your political statement is made with mute respect, rather than screeching anti-fluoridation sloganeering.

So y'know, Mr. Eaton, I certainly feel your pain, but I can't condone the response. We do not fly the flag at half-staff for fallen soldiers. That in itself is part of the soldier's sacrifice. We do not empower every local manager with 50.8% of the vote to make that decision. That power resides with that man in the Oval Office who won't attend military funerals, whose Pentagon wouldn't permit pictures of returning flag-draped coffins, whose former Secretary of Defense signed letters of condolence with an Auto Pen™. It's time to reclaim the power of standing mute. And it's long past time to return the flag to its rightful place. It's been cheapened long enough; that someone could suggest it be flown as a symbol that there are more important things than Paris Hilton is a measure of the sort of hole we got into long before she was born.

Friday, May 25

Fun With Monogamy

No. 1646: Me in the living room with Court Teevee on. The wife in the dining room, working.
Me: "Honey, have you ever thought about killing me?"
PW: "What, you mean today?"

No. 1647: I take a perverse delight in the way local news graphics describe the people they've stuck a microphone in the faces of. "Look! A Homeowner!" I'll say, or "Wow, isn't that Carl Brudden, Model Train Enthusiast?" This sort of thing is a regular feature around our place, which is another reason you're discouraged from visiting. Anyway, last night we were watching the news, and a Kroger commercial came on, and I wasn't paying attention. And my wife says, "This guy manages meat." And I looked up and said, "When I'm his age I hope I can, too."

Man, I just realized that if the teevee ever breaks we're in big trouble.

Cry Me A Navigable Waterway

I HELD off all week out of respect for the bereaved, but Monday's shattering news that Indianapolis will not be hosting the 2011 Super Bowl deserves a comment.

That comment is, "Good."

Our story thus far:

• Looking at the prospect of the first Democratic Indianapolis mayor in thirty-five years rapidly approaching his second campaign, and possessed of a team with actual talent for the first time since his Daddy's midnite move to Indy, Colts owner Jim Irsay decides it's time to start making noises about how he can void his contract with the city (that runs through 2014) as early as 2008 or so unless he gets a commitment for a new stadium to replace the shabby 63,000 seat Dome he's now forced to play in for no rent.*

• Irsay starts making public noises about how great it would be to relocate to L.A.

• NFL capo di tutti capi Paul Tagliabue, after a couple of reported secret meetings with the Mayor (which the Star treated as though Indianapolis had nuclear secrets which might be revealed in exchange for continued Democratic domination) comes to town and allows as how the NFL is just itching to move into L.A. and will feel both dirty and incomplete until it does so.

• This despite the fact that the highly intelligent citizenry of El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Angeles de Poriuncula had told two NFL franchises to get lost back in '94, and the NFL had expanded twice since then without looking West of the Ozarks.

• No one in Indianapolis seems to notice that Tagliabue is doing the same tapdance simultaneously in Phoenix, Minneapolis, and San Diego, all embroiled in demands for publicly-financed stadia. No insiders ponder the potential for the City of Angels to host Its Own Fucking Division, despite the fact that the taxpayers clearly refuse to ante up for one team.

• Jim Irsay reminds everyone that 2008 is scheduled to follow 2007.

• The Indianapolis Star headlines local law enforcement's interest in Jim Irsay's involvement in an oxycontin ring.

• Jim Irsay decides he loves Indianapolis so much he couldn't imagine ever leaving, at least not before his two-month stay at a Rehab resort in lieu of criminal proceedings has ended.

• Colts and city agree on new half-billion dollar stadium.

• We're just going to skip the part about the Republican-controlled state legislature getting involved on the grounds that Governor Munchkin Mitch Daniels had nightmares of a groundbreaking ceremony held without his being invited, and we'll ignore that having seized the project and the assignment of major contracts for themselves the Party of Entrepreneurs managed to overlook a required payout to the Colts. This had been in the original budget the city worked out, so they naturally tried to blame the city for their having missed it. Final cost: no man can say. Beneficiaries of the couple million per year which granted some grease monkey the right to paint his name on the stadium we paid hundreds of millions to build: the Colts. Why do you ask?

[While we're talking about numbers, let us note that this Sunday a 500-mile race will be run at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It's an annual event. It, plus the stock car race and F-1 deal later this summer will bring in an estimated 800,000 people, many of whom will come from more than fifty miles away and will stay for more than the afternoon. For this the IMS has asked for, and received, zero taxpayer dollars. The Colts, assuming the maximum seating capacity now bruted about, two not-bloody-likely home playoff games/year and the indifferently attended preseason games they force season ticket holders to pay for, might manage to approach that total.]

• Through all of this the stadium idea--about which city taxpayers had no say whatever--was nevertheless being sold (some habits die harder than others) by a coy fan-language suggestion that the NFL had kinda sorta suggested, well, we Might Possibly Be Assured of Hosting a Super Bowl if we built the thing.

• And, indeed, a committee was formed to sell Indianapolis to the NFL owners, and its work was breathlessly touted for the past What Seems Like Decades by the local media and all the other types whose job includes long stretches of telling you how much you'll love something that benefits them a lot more than it does you.

• Now, I don't know whether you've ever lived in a city whose inferiority complex was once richly deserved, but it's not always pretty, and every so often so bit of Public Nonsense so utter and so perfect for news gathering organizations which would rather cheerlead than almost anything else you could name will come along, and the artificial excitement will build like a gathering boil. And then it explodes all over your best dress shirt.

• And no one ever bothers to say, "Th' fuck do we want a Super Bowl for?" But somebody's sure to mention that it would bring millions of dollars into the local economy, without adding that those millions will all leave again as soon as the game's over, with a few of them having stuck to the local waitperson and hooker communities. And nobody ever noted that of the XXXIX Super Bowls played in an assigned city only III, or VII%, have been played north of the Mason-Dixon line.

So Monday the NFL announces the 2011 extravaganza will be played somewhere in the vicinity of Dallas. This is not even satisfying in an I Told You So sense, because it was too damned obvious for that. But it was plenty satisfying to know that this time it was the fattest of cats, and their relentlessly cheery and well-coifed boosters, who took it in the shorts.

Then came Tuesday. Now all anybody wants to talk about is our bid for the 2012 Super Bowl.

*Not technically accurate, and I, like 99.9999% of Indianapolis taxpayers, have no idea where our money actually goes, a circumstance which led our Forefathers to grab their muskets but leads the modern American to reach for the remote. What seems to be clear is that the first order of business on the Colts lease was to assure them of a profit equal to a sell-out for every home game, even back when the monotony of 2-14 seasons was only broken by the occasional 1-15 tally. It's been widely reported (which, of course, makes it true) that the city's share of parking and concessions revenues were reduced by the difference in American $$$ between actual ticket sales and the Platonic ideal of ticket sales. In spite of this, those tickets were never counted as "sold", and games were routinely blacked out locally, so my videotape collection of the Year of the Great Art Schlichter/Mike Pagel quarterback controversy is sadly imcomplete. The city somehow managed to wind up on the hook for millions of dollars due the Colts for the inconvenience of having to break their lease on the Dome to move to Lube Job Stadium, this fact being reported as though it were the common practice of moving companies to pay you for the inconvenience of having to pack.

Thursday, May 24

Dear Keith,

I like about 55% of your show. I mean that as high praise. I like you, in a Q-ratings sense. I never can watch the thing when you take the night off, which could be chalked up to that cookie-cutter (make that Cookie-cutter) substitute of yours, but I couldn't ever watch when Brian Unger hosted either. I wouldn't think A. Whitney Brown is all that busy. The guy I'd really watch is Norbizness, who, in any fair world, would at least be the driving force behind your celebrity coverage, although in a fair world we wouldn't need any.

It's not the celebrity coverage, mind you, although that "Another story my producers are making me cover" business is so unfunny I feel guilty for mentioning it, and I'd be glad to help whomever it is Michael Musto has pictures of get them back, gratis. What perturbs me most is the ginned-up Liberal Outrage. It doesn't happen all that often, because, well, because of something called the Bush Administration, reliable producers of real outrages on a regular basis. But some slow news nights you'll be laboring some Cheney soundbite like a starving dog works a bone, and to Dana Milbank or somebody, and I'll curse myself for having taped The Daily Show instead of waiting to watch the 8 o'clock rerun.

And then there's those Special Comments. You won wide acclaim in Left Blogostan for a couple last year, after which they started sprouting like sunflowers under the bird feeder, and all of them delivered in a sort of "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this Wall!" bullshit gravitas. Thankfully that particular surge was short-lived. But you took up your pen again last night in response to the new Iraq funding bill:
This is, in fact, a comment about… betrayal.

Few men or women elected in our history—whether executive or legislative, state or national—have been sent into office with a mandate more obvious, nor instructions more clear:

Get us out of Iraq.

Yet after six months of preparation and execution—half a year gathering the strands of public support; translating into action, the collective will of the nearly 70 percent of Americans who reject this War of Lies, the Democrats have managed only this:
The Democratic leadership has surrendered to a president—if not the worst president, then easily the most selfish, in our history—who happily blackmails his own people, and uses his own military personnel as hostages to his asinine demand, that the Democrats “give the troops their money”;
The Democratic leadership has agreed to finance the deaths of Americans in a war that has only reduced the security of Americans....

I spoke yesterday about your colleague Brian Williams' breezy characterization of "Democratic defeat". I'm not so choleric about presenting it as a national defeat. It is, clearly, or rather it's the continuation of one. But I still stand behind what I said about the Democrats: they probably got everything they were going to from the hand they held. That's not to say they got everything out of it they could have. The 2006 elections, however one wishes to characterize their "historical import", did not put Democrats in control of the government, just the agenda of the House and Senate. Anyone who missed the point should have been clued in last January. The war was not going to be defunded in a flash.

That 70% of the population which is--now--opposed to the war hasn't translated into many Republican votes. Less than one-third public approval sure hasn't put an anti-war candidate at the top of the Republican polls. It's a cryin' shame that the abysmal facts on the ground haven't done the job that politics has not, but if honest deliberation ever becomes the norm in Washington, check for Rod Serling at the beginning of each segment.

I don't consider this a defense of Democrats. I'm only a Democrat by default. Or rather, I'm a McGovern Democrat, the guy they'd try to hide at the back of the Family Reunion photo except I never show up. I gave them a second chance--the Great Leap of Faith, Hunter S. called it--in '76, then watched them take their own President out and shoot him. Since then I've been hiding in remote monasteries, still saying the Mass in Latin. If you want betrayal, and you need someone beyond the Bush gang for some reason, check the 2002 Democrats who got maneuvered into the War Resolution vote weeks before the 2002 elections. Me, I'll take parliamentary competence over rhetorical pandering to my presumed position any day, and hope to see a time when they're put together.

But my real point, Keith, is this: you work in television. Like it or not--you said "not" after cashing checks for a year and a half--you were a cog in the All Clinton's Cock, All the Time bullshit, and your current show was hardly a clearinghouse for anti-war sentiment before the thing went obviously Southwards. You recently told us how you held your tongue about Imus until he was fired. Your lead in is Chris Fucking Matthews, and you were "forced" to fluff Tim Russert's brave testimony at the Libby trial without ever mentioning his previous complicity. Your show's stable of experts includes Dana Milbank, formerly TNR's Al Gore hitman, currently WaPo reporter where he's been co-responsible for such Great Moments in Journalism as the retyping of the anonymous White House Vandalism story and the Post's jaw-dropping tick-tock on Bush's "deep personal involvement" in the China spy-plane crisis. Then there's über-Clinton cocksniffer and volunteer Gore makeup consultant Howard Fineman. That's four betrayers of the public trust whose jobs don't depend on getting 534 megalomaniacs to agree with them. Do any of you, or your professions writ large, bear any responsibility for us being in this hole we now must try to dig ourselves out of? Are you planning on speaking out about it just as soon as MSNBC fires Matthews for the crap that comes out of his mouth, or when the deal with WaPo-Newsweek expires? Would you warn me ahead of time?

Wednesday, May 23

Ice Cream, Mandrake? Children's Ice Cream?

I'D planned on taking the day off, including blogging, but that was before I saw NBC News With Brian (Stay Out Of My Garbage Cans) Williams last night. Halfway saw, anyway, because I was roasting a chicken for dinner and sorta hovering over it. I'm really not sure what possessed me to turn the teevee on. Every now and then some vestigial trace of a long-dead carefree childhood of tanned feet on bluegrass will rise up long enough to convince me that one of the networks must be better than the worst, but it never pans out.

So I'm not sure who Ol' Raccoon Eyes tossed the Iraq Funding Bill story to, but the whole thing began as one of those half-lob, half-drives that Andrea (Moonball) Jaeger used to thrill the crowds with. (I'm sorry, does anyone else remember Andrea (Bell Curve) Jaeger? She's now a nun, and dedicated to helping young cancer victims. To which we say, "Bravo!" and "Please don't make them watch any of your old matches.") Brian tossed the thing with a comment about "Democratic defeat". We suppose this is awright, if you like such things, although a bit simplistic, but the thing then became the hyperreal anchor to the piece. Whatever would the Defeated Democrats do now? Jeez, they lost the battle for a veto override back in January, and it was a foregone conclusion then. The Congress didn't get around to trying to defund the Vietnam war until after it was over, and it's absurd to expect that it could just pull the plug on funding Iraq. Okay, they're too timid to my liking, but then I'd have jumped the table and challenged Alberto Gonzales to a throwdown the minute he started talking, and I'm still sufficiently grounded in reality to recognize that as a poor parlimentary maneuver. The Democrats forced one-time President Bush to the table, and they will force Congressional Republicans to back the war or back out this fall. That's about everything that was in their cards. Bush is not going to fold. Bush is going to match every raise until his final collapse. This is not news. In fact it passed from "News" to "Psychiatric Case Study" in the autumn of 2003, at the latest.

[Okay, a word on why I can't tell you who Williams tossed to--beyond that chicken and my natural level of inattention, I mean--and I apologize in advance. You were nice enough to sit through recollections of Women's Professional Tennis in the 70s without goading me into talking about Françoise Durr's invention of the Suspended Animation Serve. I have a seven year old Mac and I'm down two operating system decimals. I was gonna upgrade this Spring, but Apple delayed the next OS release to concentrate on its new Video Catheter Phone. At any rate, it's MS NBC, and in this Make Your Own Damn Transcript World I'm expected to watch WinVids if I want to catch up. I have never been one to engage in that silly PC vs. Mac stuff, but I have to say that when the 80% market share that Microsoft enjoys did not translate into millions of Americans traveling to Washington state to beat the shit out of Bill Gates over a piece of crap like Windows™ Media I, for one, simply Gave Up.]

Next up was Andrea (Moonball) Mitchell with a report on how those unscrupulous Iranians had falsely imprisioned an American professor they've charged with espionage, and how this Might Be Some Sort of Negotiating Ploy. I am, I think, not alone in immediately suspecting that any word, even one so concrete and well-established in the vernacular as "Iran", has had its very existence called into question by virture of its issuing from Andrea Mitchell's nasal cavity. However, I am more than willing to accept that certain rogue elements exist in or around the Iranian government. It's a fairly easy proposition for a modern American to grasp. What I don't understand is this: how'd she manage to keep all that natural skepticism in check when Dick Cheney was calling her in the middle of the night?
"You have a small minority, especially in Tehran these days, that are simply absolutely dismissive of international public opinion and are ready to do their own thing at all costs," says Karim Sadjadpour, an Iranian expert.

Yeah, I hate when that happens. Elsewhere.

By this point the chicken was out of the oven and resting, so I was able to get the full import of the Birth Control Riots in China story. NBC obviously expected me to take umbrage at this, but was careful to supply plenty of its own in case I fell short. Absent a transcript, let's peek at Edward Cody's WaPo story "Birth control sparks riots in China: Officials Enforce One-Child Policy With Brutal Drive to Collect Fines" via the MSNBC site, as it imparts the same savor:
Word came down from the central government in Beijing that it was time to strengthen enforcement of China 's one-child policy.

In response, people here said, birth control bureaucrats showed up in a half-dozen towns with sledgehammers and threatened to knock holes in the homes of people who had failed to pay fines imposed for having more than one child. Other family planning officials, backed by hired toughs, pushed their way into businesses owned by parents of more than one child and confiscated everything from sacks of rice to color televisions, they said.

The brutal fine-collection drive was launched last week around Bobai...

World's Most Brutal Fine Collecting! Coming this fall on FOX!

Outrage aside, it just swells ya with pride that you live in a country where reproduction is nobody's business but your own, don't it? Where no bureaucrats sent by the central government would, say, gang up on small time porn producers in an effort to convict through bankrupting the defendant, or that they'd try the same thing with a Washington, D.C. madam instead of providing her with an alternate source of income like they did Jeff Gannon. Me, I'm just glad we don't knock sledgehammer holes in the homes, cars, televisions, stereos and computers we seize from people accused of smokin' a joint. That sort of thing is hell on resale value.

Tuesday, May 22

It's Jimmy Carter! (Sic) 'Im!

Christopher Hitchens, "Peanut Envy," [No, Really!] Slate, May 21
When he told the press last week that the Bush administration had aroused antipathy around the world, he might have been uttering no more than a banality. But no, he had to try to invest it with a special signature flourish.

THIS "special flourish"--we'll view it in a moment, but let's see if we can describe it first--lies in calling the Bush administration "the worst in history" in terms of international impact. As a flourisher this leaves Carter somewhat short of John Hancock, and the qualification marks him as somewhat moderate:
I think as far as the adverse impact on the nation around the world, this administration has been the worst in history. The overt reversal of America's basic values as expressed by previous administrations, including [those of] George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon and others, has been the most disturbing to me.

Any response, Mr. Hitchens?
Leave aside the sophomoric slackness that begins a broken-backed sentence with the words "as far as" and then cannot complete itself...

Excuse me. I'm from the American Middle West, where we hate to interrupt, and where, despite the state of our public schools, we've been known to admire a well-placed praeteritio jes' like the folks who know which one is the dessert spoon, even if we do prefer them shaken, not slurred. But we generally reserve (sic)ing for the written word, or, at the outside, prepared speech, and refrain from trying to score pathetic debating points off the extemporaneous variety. I mention this, Mr. Hitchens, in case your present career arc continues to its apparent terminus and you wind up hosting a drive-time AM radio program in Muncie, with Dennis Miller as your sidekick. Where were we?
..."Worst in history," as the great statesman from Georgia has to know, has been the title for which he has himself been actively contending since 1976.

[A brief report on a failed experiment: I googled "Bush administration worst in history" intending to report how many such flourishes modern technology could turn up in 0.22 seconds. Instead I found the first three pages filled by headline writers and blog post titlers with reading comprehension problems profound enough to imagine Carter had called the Bush administration "the worst in history", Full Stop. That would include CBS, FAUX, and CNN. I gave up at that point, but I'm guessing the former President wasn't responsible for all 10,220 hits. I'm not sure whether the mistakes were intentional, but we needn't ask about Hitchens. He understands, broken back and all, that Carter was speaking of our global reputation. He also understands that Mr. Carter was entirely correct, that that international failure which is, among other things, Hitchens' adopted pet has, without question, drawn George W. Bush alongside the heap of domestic incompetents whose apex is James Buchanan.]

Willful misquotation aside, where has Carter been contending for "Worst President Ever"? An poll? A straw vote at Billy Bob's Tinfoil Seed Hat Emporium? Results of a secret ballot of the Thank Jesus Reagan's Stiff So We Can Blow Him For Real Society? "Mediocre" as a general appraisal among public historians we'll accept. "Worst Ever" is just Anti-Fluoridation Dead Enders leftover hyperbole.
I once had quite an argument with the late Sen. Eugene McCarthy, who maintained adamantly that it had been right for him to vote for Ronald Reagan in 1980 for no other reason. "Mr. Carter," he said, "quite simply abdicated the whole responsibility of the presidency while in office. He left the nation at the mercy of its enemies at home and abroad. He was the worst president we ever had."

Here's a quarter. Go ahead and call everybody who cared what Gene McCarthy had to say in 1980, let alone today. Ran against him in '76, didn't he? Have they found the guy who voted for him yet?
I still think Richard Nixon has to be the prime candidate here, but you will notice that Jimmy Carter evinces nostalgia for that period, too. Apparently, the Christmas bombing of Vietnam, the invasion of Cambodia, the subversion of democracy in Chile, the raising of illegal slush funds, and the attempt to bug the Democratic National Committee offices were assertions of America's "basic values."

Speaking of nostalgia, Mr. Hitchens, don't you think you've relinquished your right to mount a moral soapbox about America's hidden illegal wars and secret support of torturers by your five-year support for America's overt illegal wars and open practice of torture? The rest of us do.
Many people in retrospect think Bush did a good job in assembling a large multinational coalition, under U.N. auspices, for the emancipation of Kuwait from Iraqi occupation.

Sure, that was some fine assemblizing. But then anybody who bothered to assemble a coalition, avail himself of international diplomatic channels, or, for that matter, plan ahead looks pretty good in retrospect.
But Jimmy Carter used his prestige, at that uneasy moment, to make an open appeal to all governments not to join that coalition. He went public to oppose the settled policy of Congress and the declared resolutions of the United Nations and to denounce his own country as the warmonger.

The settled policy of Congress! Declared resolutions of the UN! And Carter blatantly ignored 'em! Just tell us, what did you do with the body of the first Christopher Hitchens?

I've got a dollar, if you've got a doughnut. Find me where Jimmy Carter called the United States, or George H. W. Bush, quote warmongers unquote. And as I recall, that same George H. W. Bush all but came out against his son's plans to top Daddy's Iraq adventure before that started, sending his closest aides instead.
And, after all, why not? It was he who had created the conditions for the Gulf crisis in the first place—initially by fawning on the shah of Iran and then, when that option collapsed, by encouraging Saddam Hussein to invade Iran and by "tilting" American policy to his side.

Wait, lemme buried it in the basement? In the Jersey swamps?

Fer cryin' out loud, I don't blame you for imagining Americans will swallow this sort of thing and ask you for more--considering who you comport yourself with these days--but sheesh, maybe we could go back to how the Shah wound up on the throne in the first place. Hint: it rhymes with "Wisenhower" and "Kritish Dimperialism", and "Betrolium". I'm old enough I can still spell "SAVAK", which makes me old enough to remember that Iran was Israel's only Islamic friend in the days before Jimmy Carter--yes, the Worst President Ever--separated Egypt, and the most powerful Islamic military, from the herd. What result has that had on the Middle East the past thirty years? What effect might it have had if later ideological Likudnik administrations hadn't done all they could to support Israeli hardliners rather than the peace process?

Carter let the Shah into the US for humanitarian treatment. He'd been in exile in Morocco and Mexico by that point, and Khomeini hadn't seized their embassy personnel. What's the mistake there? Surely not in refusing to let the Iranian Revolution dictate who we let into the country (one wonders whether, had the whole thing occurred during the following administration, we'd now be able to collect the "Reagan heroically defies the Ayatollah" first-class stamp, with Soviet-heroic Ronnie standing over Pahlavi's hospital bed). It was in not foreseeing that the Revolution could use America's response as a rallying point. It was impossible to understand ahead of time what an enormous success this would turn out to be. Or that it would prove particularly successful with the American Right, which was so fond of the act as a symbol of America's Pitiful Gianthood--which condition their continued support of the meat-grinding and prestige-draining Vietnam conflict had largely brought us to--it arranged to keep it going a few extra months so the release could coincide with the inaugural of Ronald Reagan.

And as I recall it, they all came home, which makes the whole experience a lot less satisfying than if some of them had been beheaded.
In the Carter years, the United States was an international laughingstock.

Could someone please point out, on a map, all those countries which only respect the United States when we're bombing the shit out of third-world villages?
This was not just because of the prevalence of his ghastly kin: the beer-sodden brother Billy, doing deals with Libyan President Muammar Qaddafi, and the grisly matriarch, Miz Lillian.

Oh, please. Did you recently suffer a head wound? I know they're common among people with your condition. As I recall it, people loved Miss Lillian, though I am handicapped by having, you know, actually lived here at the time.
It was because, whether in Afghanistan, Iran, or Iraq—still the source of so many of our woes—

Right. James Earl Carter, the President of the United States who failed to solve that little Middle East problem of ours. Shit. There were major wars in the Middle East during the Eisenhower, Johnson and Nixon administrations--the latter occurring during the term Jerry Ford finished out. Since the Camp David Accords there've been none that involved Israel, and only one that didn't involve our sending troops.
His combination of naivete and cynicism—from open-mouthed shock at Leonid Brezhnev's occupation of Afghanistan

Let us note that Carter's shock over the Soviet invasion may have had something to do with what both he and Brezhnev knew--that the Soviet military machine was no longer up to the task, and that the war only hastened bankruptcy proceedings.
to underhanded support for Saddam in his unsleeping campaign of megalomania—

Again, forgive me for actually living here at the time, but most Americans cheered the Iran-Iraq War, loud and long. If nothing else it gave 'em a chance to get a little more use out of their "Ayatollah Assahola" and Mickey Mouse Flippin' Iran the Bird tee shirts.
had terrible consequences that are with us still. It's hardly an exaggeration to say that every administration since has had to deal with the chaotic legacy of Carter's mind-boggling cowardice and incompetence.

Okay, last call. You don't have to go home, but you know the rest. Hey, remind me again how the Reagan administration dealt with Carter's incompetent handling of Saddam Hussein.

Monday, May 21

If Jerry Falwell Hadn't Died The Times Would Have Been 10% Lighter This Week, a Fuel Savings of $11.4 Million Per Year

THREE articles in the Op-Ed section take up the legacy of the recently deceased licensed begger called Falwell. Two of 'em attempt to explain why he isn't worth the coverage, which seems a waste of space even if it is in the proper proportions. The third, by Sam Tanenhaus, graces the front page, plumbs new depths in the Conventional Wisdom Mundanity ("Conservatism is down, but it may rise again!" See also last week's "Day dawns bright, but half the Earth is in darkness"), and seems to exist because somebody else missed a deadline. Alternately you're forced to believe that some editor was so enamored of the graphic, a tumbled set of cafeteria menu-board letters spelling "THE RIGHT" that he gave it the entire page above the fold.
WITH the death on Tuesday of the Rev. Jerry Falwell , the Baptist minister and founder of the Moral Majority, and the announcement on Thursday that Paul D. Wolfowitz would resign from the presidency of the World Bank , two major figures in the modern conservative movement exited the political stage. To many, this is the latest evidence that the conservative movement, which has dominated politics during the last quarter century, is finished.


Behind the Wall of Silence Frank Rich reheats the anti-Religious Right souflée. I guess somebody had to.

And Lou Cannon, Reagan's Boswell (five books? And a sixth on the way? Was Reagan even remotely that interesting?), lands closest to the mark, even as he rises to defend Ol' Dutch from charges that he ever, uh, announced that he owed everything to Falwell and had Jesus on the Hot Line at that very moment. Or something.
Ronald Reagan won the presidency in 1980 after an issues-oriented campaign against an unpopular incumbent. He did not push the social issues emphasized by Mr. Falwell and his Moral Majority but income-tax cuts, military-spending increases and what Mr. Reagan called the “failed leadership” of President Jimmy Carter.

We can, and will, add that by that time Reagan had campaigned for almost a generation on reducing the national debt, and that the "failed leadership" of Jimmy Carter was particularly represented by a hostage crisis in Iraq that Bill Casey had more than a little to do with by the time the campaign rolled around; that those tax-cuts, a standard stump promise which later sought refuge in something called the Laughable Curve would barely survive his first term, and that the military-spending, typically on big ticket high-tech items like Operation Pie in the Sky, added greatly to the quadrupling of that national debt while ensuring that the United States, by 1990, was more ready than ever to refight WWII. We say this not simply because it ought to be appended to every discussion of the Reagan Legacy--his hagiographers have better resources than we, and seem to need less sleep--but to point out the simple fact that Ronald Wilson Reagan was, between age 50 through sometime after the onset of Alzeheimer's, a politician, and a professionally stage-managed politician, at that. It wasn't exactly Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing But the Truth coming out of the man's mouth throughout the 80s.
President Reagan’s priorities were dealing with the Soviet Union from strength and cutting taxes. He never advocated a faith-based initiative. While he spoke at every one of the annual anti-abortion rallies in Washington, it was always by telephone. This was no accident. Mr. Reagan, a skilled political communicator, knew that a picture, especially a televised picture, makes a much bigger public impression than a phone call.

Ah, the "Reagan is not personally an ideologue" routine. One is left to wonder why, if that was the case, anyone ever had to bother making it. I remember that at the time it was difficult to believe the national discourse had sunk to the point where this sort of thing could be offered as a real distinction, that Reagan could make a move purely for political reasons and have the mere fact that he, or his handlers, had recognized the political component of the move as proof that 1) they were politically savvy; 2) they were masters of the public relations gesture; and 3) that they still hadn't gone all the way. The "But His Maidenhead Is Still Intact" defense. Who is this supposed to convince?

If Reagan and Falwell's balloons floated on somewhat different admixtures--and still do, to varying degrees--and if Falwell's notorious difficulties with Reality included claiming that Dutch owed his prominence to Jerry rather than vice versa, well, it proves only that the little Republican tent was still large enough to support more than one hot air vendor.

Friday, May 18

I Think You've Got Mice

Jacob Sullum, "True to His Tongue: A sociologist who loves to eat debunks culinary correctness." Reason

James Lileks goes to Disney World

SOME time last week I was reading some run-of-the-mill wingnut comment somewhere--something or other was about to "show the latte-drinkin' secularists" something or other--when I suddenly asked myself "Don't these people have any friends?" It was not the standard Cheetos-eatin'-in-Mom's-basement question, which has been answered resoundingly many times, and it wasn't like I hadn't ever thought of it before. It was more like the feeling of having repeated a word until it fell into a meaninglessness so profound you imagine you have temporary aphasia, then resting until it meant what it meant again. Don't you have any friends? You don't know anyone who, say, drinks latte because they like it? Who has a home cappuccino machine? Do they get crossed off the Christmas card list for admitting it? Do you glower at every Starbucks parking lot you pass? Isn't there that one irascible uncle at every family reunion who thinks all religion is bunkum?

Okay, we know that "latte-drinkin'" is just the non-alcoholic version of "Chardonnay-sippin'", and our real question is "If this is still amusing after all this time, why have Pet Rock sales plummeted so drastically?" Then we ran into Sullum's piece, which managed to combine both questions neatly in the single phrase "culinary correctness".

"Culinary correctness." in this case does not refer to passing the Port counterclockwise, or matching pan-fried trout with Riesling, but to the dietary recommendations of professional nutritionists. Cadaverous nutritionists, at that. Calling this "culinary correctness" is apparently a brave blow against "Semantic correctness." Take that, Lexinazis! (In case you're taking notes, "debunk" now means "to dispute something the writer also does not agree with".)

Sullum has found himself an ally in Barry Glassner, the Culture of Fear author whose new book is The Gospel of Food:
To some extent [he]...errs in the opposite direction. Glassner, a sociologist at the University of Southern California, is no fatty, but his frequent references to memorable gustatory treats —including “sautéed Moulard duck foie gras with pickled white nectarines, onions, and arugula” at the French Laundry, “tasting menus” prepared by star chefs Daniel Boulard and Thomas Keller, and a “deeply chocolate fondant with a vanilla and toasted almond ice cream” served at an organic food fair—started to get on my nerves after a while. Still, his acute attack on culinary correctness demonstrates that his heart is in the right place: smack dab in the middle of his taste buds.

Gee, a Quiche Eater who doesn't like all them Food Nazis! Now, I don't know about you, but the worst sort of food snobs I know all happen to be rock-ribbed Republicans, and not from the Snoot Division. They're chronic consumers of popularity--whatever movie Will Farrell made last, whatever thriller is on the Best Seller list, whatever dish is in Gourmet this month. They feel no compunction to grasp the fundamentals of literature, film comedy, or good food (generally, everyone is on his sixth margarita by the time the meal arrives, so there's little point), still, they believe tastes acquired by asking someone else what to do put one on the top rung attainable by someone who can't spend like Trump. This is the definition of snobbery. Connoisseurship is something else. I don't know which category Glassner falls into; my own suspicions are aroused any time someone has to list every ingredient in a dish or use adjectives in its title, but such is the modern idiom.

I just don't understand where this sort of division comes from, or rather, how one sustains it while walking through the real world. It's one thing to use "latte-drinkin'" as a catchphrase; it's another to completely miss the existence of aesthetic principles altogether. There are reasons why Beethoven is considered superior to Tchaikovsky, or Paul Klee a greater painter than Norman Rockwell, or why a bottle of Romanée-Conti costs more than a truckload of White Zinfandel in a box. You're welcome to prefer the lesser of these. You're welcome to argue their true superiority, if you wish. What you can't do is declare it on the grounds that something about the process of gathering the required knowledge pisses you off.

What really struck me in all this, though, was the irresistible urge to Defend the Clown:
Glassner’s refusal to blame McDonald’s for making us fat is of a piece with his general willingness to critically examine common complaints about food manufacturers and restaurant chains, such as the charge that they foist unhealthy products on malleable consumers, tricking us into eating what’s bad for us. Glassner —who, judging from his references to economic inequality, labor relations, and environmentalism, is a pretty conventional left-liberal—was initially sympathetic to this critique. He was surprised to discover that food companies “seek out consumers’ views about every aspect of their products” and “really do believe in providing people with more rather than fewer options.”

Well, OK then. Why are we perpetually reduced to choosing up sides? How is it that the Undead Nutritionist from the Center for Science in the Public Interest holds an unquestioned sway over the public, but a mere restaurant chain with at least one location in every square mile of the continent has to bend like a sapling to every passing breeze? McDonald's sugars its French fries, fer chrissakes, or at least used to. Is sugar harmless, too? Is it so good for preschoolers that they ought to get a dose even when they're eating (ostensible) vegetables? How do we wind up skeptical about everything the Center for Science in the Public Interest has to say, but blithely willing to let International Multi-Mega Food-Like Substance Corp. determine what children will eat with no regard for outside comment or past history?

Which brings us briefly to Lileks, who, you may know, is recapping his adventures at Disney World, yet another Corporate Monolith unfairly maligned by the Left. (The curious point there being--and I'm not recommending reading him just so you can see--that Lileks himself is free to observe Disney's inherent creepiness and the giant corporate millstone working 24/7 on the production of Soylent Green, but that's okay because he's willing to enthuse about it anyway.)
I didn’t think it meant I had Disneyphobia, which makes its sufferers treat Mickey as a sin visited upon the world, a demon equalled only by that Dark God of Body-Rot, Ronald McDonald. I’ve always enjoyed Disney Products™ - I’ve just never had awestruck melty adoration of all things Mouse-related. At best, total love of this or that. At worst, shuddery dislike of some of its manifestations. For the most part, temperate admiration.

Choose sides! The, okay, slightly rapacious, lawsuit-giddy, emperor of the Reedy Creek Improvement District who nevertheless brings you the Happy Cartoon Rodents and Lovely Princesses which delight the Child in All of Us (clothes and accessories sold separately) vs. the Jealous Contraceptive-Usin' Liberals who say it's all Pure Evil.

Full disclosure: I hated Disney as a child, from my first memories of the Mickey Mouse Club populated by what seemed to be small adults pretending to be unremittingly cheerful children (I was unfamiliar as yet with the concept of "child actor"). I hated every Disney movie my parents dragged me to, which would comprise most of the "classics". The only Disney paraphernalia I ever owned was the Mickey Mouse guitar some relative gave me one Christmas, and which I still blame for subconsciously sabotaging my ability to play a real guitar halfway passably, now in its fortieth year. I was a white suburban child, but our house was across the street from a dairy farm, and I think that taught me at an early age that real things were supposed to smell like something. Something other than deodorant. Gimme a Warner Brothers cartoon any day.

I think parents who Disneyfy their children do them a disservice, and they seem almost uniformly to raise children with no respect for material goods beyond incontinent acquisition. I'm not sure how that got to be a "conservative" value. I get a kick out of Disney snark. It doesn't occur to me or anyone I know to give them a thought beyond that. Poor Ol' Frozen Walt's gettin' a raw deal from Secular Materialist Science, or Zombie Ray Kroc isn't on a fuckin' stamp? What difference can that possibly make to a sane adult? Or James Lileks, for that matter?

Thursday, May 17

You Put It in Your Shoe, and It Makes You Limp

Mr. Lileks:

It's saltpetre, from sal petrae, salt of the rock, that the terminally credulous insist was dumped into their Army coffee. Personally, I've never found the urge to urinate much of a bar to sexual activity so long as there was a washcloth handy.

Salt peter would be what you add to baked beans if you want them to taste more like peter.

This is why they didn't offer you an editor's job.


J.B.S. Riley

One: Iraq Is a Desert, Whereas Vietnam Is a Jungle. Two: Paul Yingling's Self-Immolation Did Not Involve Gasoline.

Lt. Col. Paul Yingling, "A Failure in Generalship." Armed Forces Journal, April 27

VIA Fred Kaplan in Slate we meet up with Colonel Yingling who, in what was likely his last act as a career-path officer (a Lieutenant Colonelcy is where this happens, kids! John Paul Vann was a Lt. Colonel! So was Ollie North!) tells the world that 1) We failed to learn the lessons of Vietnam, either in Vietnam or afterwards; 2) Our general officers had a responsibility to speak up before the Iraq disaster but didn't; 3) The promotion system for general officers is hugely flawed.

To which we could add, "And the sky is frequently perceived by the sighted as being some shade of blue," but won't, because we're not the one risking anything. We come to salute Lt. Colonel Yingling, not to reprimand him, except that we won't because we have a personal problem with the whole of military culture, even on those occasions when it works, which it actually does once in a while.

Let's start with a confession. I've argued for years that the military did take the lessons of Vietnam seriously. Most everything I'd read suggested that it had. Col. Yingling admits this much: the Army learned the idea was to fight only those wars it knew it could win. It's a dismaying analysis, if true.

It's difficult to argue with the hunka hunka burning humiliation that is Iraq, especially as mortar rounds land inside the Green Zone, or to ignore the fact that it was the man for whom the Powell Doctrine was named who did that stand-up routine at the UN. But the Powell Doctrine has always had more than a whiff of PR bullshit about it--it can be distilled as "Don't fight wars unless you know you're going to win"--and whatever the failures of our general officers we did have the right man in place at the right time, one Eric Shinseki, USA (ret).

So it's always been necessary for us to acknowledge that the game was rigged, that all the Bush administration, like Robert Graves' Caligula, was required to do was find a dog who'd eat a dog. I'd never framed the issue as a question of moral courage, because it was unthinkable, given that hyperbole and blood lust ruled the agenda in 2001-02, that the military would refuse to acquiesce regardless of what was asked of it. The failure was the administration's.

Was there a lack of moral courage down the line from there? The easy answer, and probably the correct one, is Yes. But could moral courage conceivably have saved us? The military is just another corporate culture. For all its emphasis on Honor and Duty the public still gets a monthly bill from the cleaners. We used to make a big deal about how Messy Democracies always managed to defeat the armies of Totalitarianism, because, in the long run, our soldiers are used to taking initiative, to asking questions, and to fighting for a consensus that may not be perfectly aligned with their own beliefs. Well, we've been at war with individual freedom for four decades now (there's your real Long War, Colonel). Winner take all, Jack Welch vanity projects on top of the best sellers list, Halliburton scamming millions billions, a brain-dead heiress as our most famous celebrity and another in the Oval Office. Why shouldn't that be reflected in the military? Isn't this the sort of leadership the public deserves? At least that portion which claims with one breath that we're in a fight for The Very Survival of Civilization, and with the next says it's too busy earning money to make a personal contribution? Military officers vote Republican as reliably as African-Americans vote for Democrats, Colonel. Refusing to learn the lessons of Vietnam has been a party plank since 1968.

So, yes sir, the military shoulda saved us, elections should have saved us, Congress, the "free press", you name it. Instead, an election was stolen, Congress lined its own pockets, the mass-market media whipped up some war fever, and careerist officers stepped up to do the administration's bidding. None of those will be eliminated, however deserving, and no one is ever going to be held accountable in any real way. You're a student of military history, Colonel. How furiously did we pursue war profiteers during and after the Civil War? Or WWII? Today any of those same people who aren't actively trying to figure out how to invade Iran before 2008 are plotting their return to power in 2012. It's not time to reform the promotion process, to reconsider conscription, or to sacrifice social good for the sake of The Long War. It's time to return the military to a defensive posture, to destroy the myth of a Free World which We Lead and replace it with an accurate history of our military and political adventurism since the Spanish-American War. To clean the Augean stables, in other words, though it won't be done in a day. In fact it won't be done before it's left to the next generation, and the next.

Wednesday, May 16


ROY is on a tear. Scott is on a tear. I've been performing unlicensed tree surgery.

I told myself that I was going to do a better job this Spring of working my way down the To Do list. Advancing middle age had seen a noticeable increase in slacking and excuse mongering the last couple years. I do not remember whether it was Dorothy Parker or Anita Loos who said of the death of Calvin Coolidge, "How can they tell?"

I made that commitment in March. In April the glaciers returned. I'm not afraid of the cold, but there are certain things you just can't do when it's below freezing, and many of them occur out of doors. So it all got jammed up, and then we decided to throw a party this weekend on the grounds that no one ever sees the garden early in the season, when we think it's at its best. When I walked in the vet's yesterday first thing I told the tech was, "If I smell like something, it's mulch," though it probably was more than that. Plus you could write your name in the pollen on the hood of my truck.

I had to go back on a strict diet. "That diet makes you cranky," my Poor Wife told me. That's when I should have looked up that Coolidge quote. I spent some time with Mom Sunday. The good news was she appeared happy. The bad mostly expected news was that she had a half-dozen new imaginary playmates, one of whom was her deceased second husband, who had been notably, even pointedly, absent from her confabulations the past year. She couldn't remember his name. "Ed," I said. "Yeah. But now he goes by Tony."

The news isn't helping. The Times sure didn't help by kicking David Brooks off the Sunday Op-Ed page in favor of someone named Maureen Dowd, who until two weeks ago, I take it, was writing for the Style section. She seems to reduce all politics, national, international, or local, to an impromptu hairstyle competition. I read as far as I could for two weeks running, and the thing I was reminded of was how the citizens of Moscow, every last ambulatory one of 'em, came out to construct tank barriers and blockade streets as the Panzers approached. I've been trying to imagine how long it would have been before they used their shovels to beat her to death. The incredible live summer re-run of the Alberto Gonzales Show prompted Howard "Why" Fineman to remark on George W. Bush's "loyalty". Such a pity we didn't have those two around in the Sixties. We'd be better off today had Vietnam come down to an argument over Westmoreland's military bearing, or whether olive drab was his color.

Republicans are no help, not that you'd expect them to be. The Ghost Dance religion has spread to their presidential candidates. (It hit McCain first, at least three years ago. I've been kicking myself for not seeing it earlier. McCain's no prophet; the hollow center of the modern "conservative" movement isn't exactly as surprising as dark matter. But he's been its bellwether for the whole "conservative" decade, from his Willie Horton moment in South Carolina to his delayed Stockholm Syndrome embrace of his role as a Bottom, first with Bush, later Falwell. McCain appears to have been smart enough [if just] to have recognized that the Republican Party, then the Supreme Court, had selected a souless, less intelligent version of himself. Then he saw the buffalo disappear, settlements razed, his people dead or demoralized, and he said to himself, "Let's Dance!") Jonah writes another column designed to prove one can type without ever learning to read. The President delivers a speech at Jamestown that would have made a Texas school book selection committee blush. We finally find a War Tsar. (Sigh.) You like Tsars so much, why don't you move to Russia?

Then Falwell dies. I hope he wasn't just trying to cheer me up.

Monday, May 14

History Repeats Itself. So Does Riley.

LIKE most of you I had literacy thrust upon me at an early age, without regard for my wishes and with no knowledge that it might one day lead me to want to poke my own eyes out. My family were not great readers. My dad read two newspapers every day, but I don't remember any books in the house until George from down the street built us a room divider that had two bookshelves on the bottom and a series of dowels on top, above a planter. The bookshelves were soon filled with the Golden Book Encyclopedia, purchased one volume per week at the A&P, and some of my parents' books which had been in hiding: a dictionary, my mom's Gregg Shorthand high school text, and a bunch of my dad's sports biographies. A nubby green armchair was cocked in front of the thing, and I used to sit behind it devouring everything on those shelves. It's why I can still name the starting nine for the old Gashouse Gang, most of whom were dead by the time I read about them. The planter was filled with plastic ivy, twining up those dowels. I used to put my pet shop chameleons in there.

I started giving my dad books in 1969, beginning with Jimmy Breslin's The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight. I have no idea now how I settled on that, but it was a popular gift and soon every birthday, Father's Day, and Christmas he got rectangular packages which he was good enough no to say "Gee, I wonder what this is?" about. Roger Kahn's The Boys of Summer begat James P. O'Donnell's The Bunker, and thereafter the focus was mainly on history. Still is, knock wood, and the only concession to his eighty-seven years is Large Print editions. Still, none of that has prevented him from becoming a regular FAUX News viewer.

I was taking a tea break from yard work yesterday and idly thumbing the Times book reviews when I came upon Walter Isaacson's review of Cullen Murphy's Are We Rome? It begins thus:
The only sure thing that can be said about the past is that anyone who can remember Santayana’s maxim is condemned to repeat it. As a result, the danger of not understanding the lessons of history is matched by the danger of using simplistic historical analogies. Those who have learned the lessons of Munich square off against those who have learned the lessons of Vietnam, and then they both invoke the bread-and-circus days of the overstretched Roman empire in an attempt to sound even more subtle and profound.

Thus Time, folks; thus CNN. Faux Balance is now a scholarly tool, the approach favored by Wisdom, as well as a talisman against those simplistic enough to argue that one side or the other is correct.

Let's start with the basics. The only place Simplistic Munich has squared off against Vietnam for Dummies is the US invasion of Iraq. At the risk of publicly displaying my unlettered gaucherie, Is It To Early To Say One Side Was Correct?

Isaacson may be forgiven, if you wish, on the grounds that he's only filling space in a book review (said space being the first flipping paragraph), but not for the "only illustrating simplistic arguments on both sides" gambit (which, as usual, requires not quoting anyone; had Isaacson used "NO BLOOD FOR OIL" he might have escaped on a technicality). The Munich Analogy is inherently simplistic. It relies on post-facto analysis of actions which were roundly cheered when they occurred--it was thanks to Churchillian agitprop Chamberlain was soon being blamed for British "loss of face" after being hailed as its savior. It assumes that a war with Hitler in September 1938 would have been different than a year later, or that Hitler, chastened by a united French-British response, would have gone home and not bothered anyone any more. The first is a mere hypothetical which is almost certainly wrong--bear in mind that the response to the invasion of Poland was the Sitzkrieg of '39-40--and the second is demonstrably false. Chamberlain thought Hitler half-mad. Unfortunately for him he was only half-right.

Munich is not an analogy. It's a piece of political theatre designed to convince without argument. It insists that diplomatic belligerence and a military hair-trigger are always trumps. We have hundreds of counter-examples. Iraq being the latest.

On the other hand, what are the simplistic lessons of Vietnam? Never get involved in a land war in Asia? Americans should never fight against anybody called "North" something or other? The lessons of Vietnam--about understanding an opponent's culture and motivation, the limits of air power, not propping up a (or a series of) corrupt, unpopular regime(s), the diminishing returns on lying to the American public, the proper role of a free press, the long-term effects of a national descent into madness, etc, etc--are both subtle and complex. Maybe that's why we haven't learned them yet.

Sunday, May 13

Belated Congratulations

TO Randall Tobias, subject of this fluffing from the Indianapolis Star which, odds are, was better than anything he ever got from Pamela Martin and Associates, for being named CEO of the Year in 1996 by Working Mother Magazine. And no, really, that tidbit was something somebody at the Star felt improved the overall quality of the fellatio.

Friday, May 11

Friday Garden Blogging

New deck chairs! The terrorists lose again!

(Actually, they're made in China, which might qualify as the terrorists winning, or sending the game into overtime, in the same sort of circles where they keep the scorecards on this sort of thing. You know, where the French recently became freedom-loving geniuses. And what really confuses me is that we ship the manufacturing jobs these things involve overseas in search of cheap labor, but then I have to spend an hour screwing them together for nothing! I'll never understand economics. Thank god.)

Barrenwort (center) in flower for the first time, though they're probably too small to make out in the picture. The hosta at lower right is "Gingko Craig", which is my favorite of all the edged-leaf hostas. The white is almost pure. They are, of course, surrounded by deadnettle. Everything is.

Japanese knotweed with a couple of renegade mints to its right.

Do What?

THIS via Roy has been bothering me for two days. As usual Roy and his other commenters had pretty much taken care of it while I combed the ashtrays looking for butts with a tell-tale shade of lipstick. Douthat is talking through his hat, which was established, but I was propelled tangentially by his list of Presidents. That's a clue, kids. See how many mistakes you can spot:
Loyalty, stubbornness, a sense of mission - all of these can be positive attributes in the right circumstances, and even Bush's incuriosity could have proven a better quality in a wartime President than, say, Bill Clinton's obsessive-compulsive intellectualism. That these traits worked out badly for the country is apparent, but only now, just as the only way to know for sure how Rudy Giuliani's various personality traits will affect his Presidency would be to elect him President and see what happens. Sure, his psychodramas might engulf the country, as Bill Clinton's often did - but electing Presidents without obvious inner demons gave us Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush, while a morbid, moody depressive was arguably our greatest Chief Executive. The pressures of high office work in different ways on different temperaments - alcoholics and philanderers sometimes rise to the occasion and sometimes don't, and the same seems to go for tee-totalling, uxorious, psychologically well-balanced types. At certain junctures, a self-consciously normal guy like Gerald Ford is the man you want; at others, you want a hard-drinking romantic like Winston Churchill. It's just tough to know what sort of character will suit the times until the times are over.

Okay, pencils down. Did everyone get "Difficult as it sometimes is to believe, Winston Churchill was never President of the United States"? Very good.

Yes, Billy, Douthat never claims Sir Winnie was President, but his every other "Archetype" was. No, Susie, that wouldn't preclude him from using Churchill, or Clemenceau or Bismarck or Sir Charles Tupper. What's interesting about the choice of Churchill is that the United States of America had, at that very same time, a wartime leader of great stature who was, unlike Churchill, also a great peacetime leader, and whose "character" basically consisted of competence, intelligence, sound decision making, and owning a dog. Freddy something, his name was.

Yes, Parker? Okay, it is indeed possible that Douthat chose Churchill because he couldn't find a "hard-drinking, romantic" President. Nixon, maybe, but he wasn't all that romantic. Just ask Pat. Have your parents explain that joke to you. Douthat probably should have capitalized that "R".

It's also possible that we've now reached the third generation of right-wingers who can't utter the name of Franklin Delano Roosevelt without wanting to gargle.

Hey, I'm no Churchill scholar by any means. There's no question that his stature as the bulldog face of British defiance of Hitler is deserved. But the worshipful tones coming from the American Right are a little disingenuous. Recall the use of the handy blow-up version of his predecessor and all the sneering about Appeasement that met opposition to the GWOT just a few years ago. That transparent crock turned out to be, well, a transparent crock. Churchill's face is painted on the reverse. He's celebrated by the Right for his stalwart anti-totalitarianism. But his idée fixe was the inherent superiority of the Englishman. Churchill all but backed the Fascists in Spain, on the grounds that the Communists had it coming. As Prime Minister he sought to make a separate peace with the Nazis. British intelligence knew in 1940 that Hitler would drop the Battle of Britain to focus on the Soviet Union, but he kept that information from FDR while continuing to lobby for US entry into the war. At war's end he was more than willing to shed American blood in an effort to regain the British Empire in East Asia.

In fact it's damned near impossible to learn anything about the Second World War beyond high school propaganda--in English, at least--without understanding just how fundamentally the two sides differed and how often--from the American point of view--that involved British demands that Americans die to further British, rather than Allied, goals.

I suppose it's possible that Churchill's comic caricature of a public persona makes him the right choice over Roosevelt's quiet competence--especially when the intent is to make a buffoonish Cowboy look like someone you might have backed with a reasonable expectation of unexpectedly satisfactory results. But then 1) Why do our last two Democratic presidents get the barb? 2) What the hell is "obsessive-compulsive intellectualism?" and 3) How does Carter maintain his place as Co-Worst President in the depths of the George W. Bush Decade O' Debacle? It takes little more than a cursory glance at--I dunno, Recorded History?--to recognize that humankind has been propelled backwards, forwards, and sideways by a succession of Saints and Scofflaws, and generally a combination of the two. And a moment's thought tells us that anyone reducing history to Black and White might as well go one step further, if not shut up altogether.

Thursday, May 10

After Which, the Inspired Crowd Marched on the Administration Building, Demanding MTSU Change Its Name to "Sanjaya Malakar State"

MURFREESBORO — Elizabeth Coker stood in front of the crowd of 100 and said her ancestors had served with Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest [namesake of Forrest Hall at Middle Tennessee State University--ed] in battle and he was a hero to her.

"We have a right to have our heroes, just as you have a right to have Martin Luther King," said Coker, who is white. "You can't say that your heroes are any more important than my heroes."

By the way, a note of thanks to the Tennessean for clearing up any possible questions about Coker's race, since, y'know, a lot of blacks rode with Forrest, too. You can look it up. In the history books of many fine private institutions of secondary education.

Happy Birtthday

Maybelle Addington Carter
May 10, 1909--October 23, 1978

Wednesday, May 9

Happy Birthday

Sonny Curtis
born May 9, 1937

Those Who Will Not Learn Their History Are Doomed To Rewrite It

Jonah Goldberg, "Netroots on Shaky Ground: What’s Left and Right." May 9

LET'S just get this over with. Just before 6 this AM I lay down and switched on NPR to catch the news at the top of the hour. What I caught was the end of the previous hour's news, and someone intoning something about "Anti-American Cleric Muqtada al-Sadr". Is this some sort of courtesy to the 5 AM newslistener who's got a baseball scorecard on Iraq he's keeping at home, but just can't quite keep the players straight? How about "Radical Shi'a cleric" Muqtada al-Sadr, or "Mahdi Army leader" Muqtada al-Sadr"? Or for that matter Anti-Saddam Hussein Cleric Muqtada al-Sadr? Haven't we fucked things up enough yet that framing Iraq as The Hunt for Anti-American Clerics is seen as a bad idea? There is now no possible way that Sadr is left out of the equation in Iraq. If you don't care for that situation, take a bus to five years ago and tell George Bush.

Speaking of stupid (boy, I thought I wouldn't find a segué!) here's Jonah, playing, no really, playing the Right Wing Intellectual card:
The conservative movement was a response to generations of growing statism at home and abroad. From the Progressive era to the Great Society, government seemed to be expanding in tandem with the threat of communism. The conservative project was first and foremost an intellectual one because, as Hoover Institution fellow Thomas Sowell has written, it takes an ideology to beat an ideology.

The conservative infrastructure that arouses so much envy among liberals today was an afterthought. It was created because the far more valuable real estate — universities, foundations, newspapers, and TV networks — were held by liberals. Conservatives used their institutions to have serious arguments about what conservatives should believe.

Swear to God, any time Jonah Goldberg starts talking about the history of anything older than 24 it feels like being asked to examine the crash site of a 767 to determine if any of the passengers had poached eggs for breakfast. There's little bits of half-digested stuff sticking out everywhere, and it's all covered in a horrific slurry that smells even worse than it looks.

So here's the deal, Jonah. 1) Political Science doesn't drive anything, and hasn't since the 19th century. Its students move to Economics, or International Relations, or remain Political Scientists. The fact that these disciplines are sometimes home to Closet Monarchists, Robber Baron manqués, and people who can't tell the difference between Ayn Rand and a philosopher does not bestow "intellectualism" on any of them. 2) Assuming that it did, so what? Faculties are jam-packed with intellectuals, and you seem to imagine they're all but uniformly liberal, so I guess you lose. The fact is that ideas function in opposition. True conservatism is the opposition to the democratic impulse. It's been around since we chased the Tories into Canada. Modern Movement "Conservatism" may have appended to itself an ideology you call anti-statist, that others say draws on objections to the increasing complexity of modern life, the increase in personal freedom and reduction of the supremacy of property that followed WWII, the collapse of Western religious and moral authority begun--by intellectuals--in the 19th century and completed by two World Wars in the 20th, and a political realignment owing more than a little to outright racism. It did not do so through some startling intellectual breakthrough, but by winning a Best Bumper Sticker Slogan contest. You've been talking to yourselves. This is why you guys were pretty good as the Pore Forlorn Opposition, but from the moment you gained power you had no idea what to do with it aside from cutting taxes. It's why, after thirty-five years of blather about "originalism" and "textualism" the only thing you all agree on is using either as a cudgel. It's why you're still blaming Jimmy Carter, fer chrissakes. 3) Believe it or not, Jonah, the world did not begin the moment you lifted your head out of the Cheetos™ bag long enough to learn something about it, however erroneous.