Saturday, September 29

I Know, 500,000 Pre-Pub Sounds Excessive, But With Oil Prices The Way They Are The Demand For Kindling Could Be Through The Roof This Winter

Sheryl Gay Stolberg, "Jenna Bush Begins Book Tour and Media Blitz." New York Times September 28

FIRST, can someone tell me why there is a Diane Sawyer--for folks who said, thirty years ago, "Gee, I'd like to gorge myself on those empty Barbara Walters calories. If only she were WASPy!" ? She's been a "journalist" for a quarter of a century. Is there one story she's been connected with that couldn't have been accomplished, if not topped, by a freshman stringer for People accidentally given a blank check ?

Put another way, this is the interview she was born to do. Sorry I missed it, somehow.
...the previously publicity-shy first daughter held forth on a range of topics, from her father (“He’s doing a great job, and he’s hanging in there”), the war in Iraq (“obviously a very complicated subject,” she said, deftly ducking a question about whether she agrees with her father) and her future husband, Henry Hager, who proposed last month during a crack-of-dawn hike on Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park in Maine. (“He’s very outdoorsy.”)

She added that she finds Crest toothpaste "minty", likes nuts because they're "crunchy", and thinks the biggest challenge in her new married life will be "having sex without passing out first."

Okay, that's unfair, and let me be the first to admit that Ms Bush no doubt spent a good three or four weeks longer than I have teaching at an inner-city elementary school, so who am I to talk? Except that I think I speak for all Americans when I say, "Would you please go marry Howard Fuckington Fuckwit IV and leave us the hell alone?" You performed you duty to humanity better than intended. You were the only person brave enough to show us the real Bush family, up close, long before anybody in the Press would have dared point it out. After you, Jenna Bush, the response of your father, his administration, and the rest of the Bush clan to Hurricane Katrina could be understood in its entirety, and at a glance. A glance out an Air Force One porthole.

It was more than anyone could have asked of you. And more than you could have delivered if you were trying. Take the rest of your career off.

Please, please, do not do anything to spoil our last fond memories of you and your sister suddenly finding your lifelong love's work of helping the disadvantaged once you'd finished blogging the Campaign Trail, 2004. I can't tell you how much I enjoyed the mental image I got of Babs telling the two of you you'd look like her before you saw any trust fund money unless you shaped up between then and November. Jeez, I'm tearing up right now.

So let us not hear how your father "closed the [press] curtain around his daughters" leaving people to see you in a negative light. That wasn't a negative light, it was bioluminescence. The Press fell over itself apologizing for even mentioning that first fake I.D. arrest; it was a preview of Harry Whittington apologizing for intercepting Dick Cheney's birdshot. I particularly remember some Jeff Greenfield-hosted CNN panel where four national pundits played Hell I Still Use Fake I.Ds and two actually volunteered to do the jail time for you.

Now you're twenty-six. Those of us who felt that your public behavior at nineteen was less than seemly for a First Twin were not judging you then by the standards of a mid-twenties something, so don't apologize for it now. Take a lesson from Billy Idol, who, pressed for the absolute truth behind that crack-rock-clasped-between-him-and-his-alternative-girlfriend incident (for which she took the fall) said--and I quote--"Oops."

See, nineteen was old enough to understand the distinction between public and private misbehavior, between typical college freshman hi-jinks and volunteering as the bratty, cosseted poster child for the national Rules Don't Apply To The Privileged crusade scant months after your Gentleman's C father began the presidential term that other privileged SOBs had stolen for him. Twenty-six is old enough to understand that a half-million initial run of a book brokered by some Republican fixer, featuring prose like this:
His eyes were wild, like those of pumas that lived in the jungles.

which, I grant you, proves you didn't use a ghostwriter (or if you did they found you the Paganini of comedic subtlety) is not fooling anybody, and donating your take to charity might be impressive if you were still living on your earnings from that one-semester teaching gig. If that's harsh, well, it's just meant to point out that you can't milk the publicity machine in order to prove you're a "real person", because real people don't have publicity machines.

Anyway, good luck moving 500,000 of those, and tell Pickles for us how sorry we are there won't be a fairy-tale Rose Garden wedding next year. It would have made the perfect lead-in for the Republican national convention.

Friday, September 28

It's Not The Size Of The Shoe, It's How You Bang It

SHORTER Peggy Noonan: Can't we please leave shallow analysis and juvenile name-calling to our domestic politics, where they belong?

I do believe that's the first shorter I've ever done ("shorter" concept, D-squared). It felt like I was walking down a runway in a miniskirt.
In 1960 the premier of the Soviet Union came and spoke in the United States. Nikita Khrushchev was our sworn enemy, and a vulgarian--sweaty faced, ill educated, dressed in a suit just off the racks from the Gulag Kresge's. I was a child, but I remember the impression he made. He took off his shoe and banged it, literally, on the soft beige wood of a desk at the U.N., as he fulminated. His nation had nuclear weapons. They were aimed at us.

The new Cuban dictator, Fidel Castro, was there too. He was young and bearded and dressed in camouflage; he too, soon, would have missiles pointed at us. He not only went to the U.N. and spoke to the world, he refused to stay at the Waldorf and sweetly chose instead a hotel in Harlem to show his solidarity with America's oppressed. The Americans there seemed to get the joke, and welcomed him with laughter. They knew he was playing them. But then they'd been played before.

Okay, okay. So olive drab is not camouflage. So if Khrushchev banged his shoe on that desk Peg never saw it. So whatever laughter we squeezed out of Castro rooming in Harlem certainly rings a little hollow in hindsight.

But the whole "We were nice to Krushchev and he had nukes" routine misses the point, in addition to being a facile (see MoDo, who is nothing if not facile) bit of self-aggrandizement. The Ahmadinejad thing has nothing to do with civility; we are not a polite society anymore, assuming we ever were. We can despair all we like over our lack of taste, which, unlike our manners, is clearly not much worse than it was in the Fifties, unless you'd like to try to make the case that women having sex or eating bugs is qualitatively more tasteless than sauntering models and lab-coated actors selling cigarettes that're good for the throat. Respect for the First Amendment? Please. Peggy may remember the ill-draped comic-opera Commienazis of her girleen days, but she seems to have forgotten, conveniently, the Subversive Activities Control Act of 1950, or the uproar over the school prayer decision in Engle in 1962, or what the FBI was up to in, well, you pick it.

Lee Bollinger drawing a Hitler mustache on Hitler isn't so much rude, or unseemly, or anti-American. It's pathetic, and weasely, and sad. Look, Ahmadinejad is a bad actor on the world stage, but that's a buyer's market. We've freely elected one ourselves, along with a sidekick who, if anything, is worse. Plus Ahmadinejad's the leader of a regional demi-power and we're a global, pro-democracy bully. Or a one-time global, pro-democracy bully. I'm suspicious of claims he called for wiping Israel off the map; if the sorts of people who spread that information don't like that they need to dedicate themselves to scrupulous honesty in the future. I dunno if he's a Holocaust denier or just sponsored a festival of Jew-baiting as a stick in the eye. Furthermore, I could give a rat's ass. What does it change? We've been demonizing every regime in the Middle East for sixty years now, rightly, wrongly, or in between, unless they pal up with us. What has it solved? Do we imagine that the Saudis are objectively pro-Zionist now? How long did Saddam Hussein walk around with that "Kick Me" sign on? That disaster in the former Iraq is precisely the sum total of our own dedication to a peaceable solution in the region, which we imagine will occur spontaneously just as soon as everybody starts thinking like us.

If we didn't slip a Whoopie! cushion onto Khrushchev's chair at the UN in 1960, it's also true that the sort of people who might have wanted to didn't feel the need: witness Noonan's catty replay half a century later and her urban-legend "remembrances". Khrushchev really had nukes, and the more-than-a-decade-long frame of the Soviets as the command center for the International Commie Plot to take over the globe had not yet been revealed as lukewarm flummery, one which had only yet begun to keep the US military in creature comforts and expensive Big Boy toys. A thousand times that effort cannot paint Iran as the same sort of threat. In fact the opposite is clear: no level of insanity in an Iranian president, not even Ahmadinejad bred with Dick Cheney, can result in an Iran which can assure anything but its own destruction.

People are free to call him whatever they wish on the street, just like they can dance in celebration of Castro's reports-of-my-death-were-slightly-exaggerateds. That's the US of A. The unfortunate thing isn't that we've become rude, or that we fail to live up to our ideals. The unfortunate thing is we've become simple and scared, a hissing kitten in the corner. Which is, oddly, what you get when you scratch a pretend cowboy.

Thursday, September 27

When All You Have Is A David Brooks, Every Problem Looks Like A Third-Chair Trombone Pep Band Arrangement

David Brooks, "The Center Holds" Times September 25

YESTERDAY I woke up in the middle of the night with one of those Celebrity Math things in my head: Jerry Lewis = Danny Kaye - Victor Herbert. You'll probably need to ask your grandmother what that means, and it still won't be funny. This is why I don't remember dreams.

Mr. Kaye had an eponymous television program in the early 60s, a "comedy"/ variety hour of which my father was quite fond for some reason and in which, as I recall it, he'd simper for sixty minutes in between introducing variety-show-type guests. Sometimes he'd employ a fake Russian accent. Say about twice a show. The accent, it seems, was at least a third of his act (simpering was the bulk of the rest). I remember that along with the accent he'd raise his hand to temple-height and wag his index finger a lot. Great times to be a lad.

(Kaye is most famous, I suppose, as Bing Crosby's co-star in White Christmas. Or so they tell me. The sedative strong enough to keep me on the couch for that thing is yet to be invented.)

Anyway, once I was wide awake it occurred to me that what Kaye is to Lewis David Brooks is to Jonah Goldberg.

I'm loath to admit it* but part of my dislike of Brooks is visceral. He simpers. It may come naturally to him but it seems like a bad improv character he put together for his first Bobos book tour and never updated. He does that little strangled-smile-with-exasperated-parent-puff-of-breath thing whenever Jim Lehrer relays one of Mark Shield's timeless talking points to him, just so you know it's slightly beneath him but he's going to try to use small enough words in reply so you can get it this time. And while that's certainly annoying enough for two Times columnists, he does the exact same thing when he gets caught holding a bag of shit labeled "Foie Gras". The urge to fly to New York just to steal the man's lunch money is almost overwhelming at times.

I'd hide this, I really would; the list of people on teevee I'd just as soon strangle is so long as to be unseemly. But goddam David Brooks on the goddam Times Op-Ed page is just too much. He's educated. If that didn't take beyond the twice weekly name-check of "Conservative" "philosophers", he's in his mid-forties. This means that one way or another he has to know that the great pacific center of reasonable thought on every issue facing the Republic does not circle his personal cranium. But you'd never know it from his columns.

This is the reason one has to question the veracity of purported right-wing centrists like Brooks, even absent the stinking cesspit of an administration they backed until it was time to try to pretend they didn't smell anything. The man can drop Burke or Hobbes into a discussion of the buffet at Olive Garden, but he seems to have slept through Copernicus:
The fact is, many Democratic politicians privately detest the netroots’ self-righteousness and bullying. They also know their party has a historic opportunity to pick up disaffected Republicans and moderates, so long as they don’t blow it by drifting into cuckoo land. They also know that a Democratic president is going to face challenges from Iran and elsewhere that are going to require hard-line, hawkish responses.

Finally, these Democrats understand their victory formula is not brain surgery. You have to be moderate on social issues, activist but not statist on domestic issues and hawkish on foreign policy. This time they’re not going to self-destructively deviate from that.

So the key to a Democratic victory in '08 is to be the sort of Democrat that David Brooks would grudgingly accept as a lesser of three evils.

Now, I'm appended to the Democratic party pretty much the way shipwreck survivors are appended to flotsam. It was my party for the campaign of '68, and again in '72, after which the "conventional wisdom" dictated that since a Leftist (that is to say, a South Dakota populist and winner of the Distinguished Flying Cross) had suffered a large electoral defeat at the hands of a sitting President who was prosecuting an unpopular, but still-supported and highly politicized war, the Democrats had to disavow all connection to the left wing of their own party, in perpetuity, if they ever hoped to win a national election again. This they did, with spectacular results.

(Further defeats, to another sitting President with the sort of Press which required porting the street patois "blowjob" over to politics in order to describe it adequately, and to his race-baiting, idiot-siring assistant, convinced party insiders that mainstream liberalism itself was dead as the dodo, resulting in an eight-year love affair between the Republican rank-and-file and the "moderate on social issues, activist but not statist on domestic issues and hawkish on foreign policy" successor to Bush I, William Jefferson Something-or-other.)

So, y'know, tell me when it was that the Democrats "deviated" from that sure-fire election algebra? With Al Gore? Okay. He won. With Kerry? The only way he fails to meet the description is if you want to assert that in 2004 "Let's look around for a wishy-washy way out of Iraq that won't irritate too many voters" was insufficiently hawkish compared to the brilliant plan his opponent has put forward and executed (which, Mr. Brooks, you've been refusing to do for some time, haven't you?). And yet Kerry still came close to defeating a sitting wartime president, more or less one Ohio.

Oh, but Brooks has all this on good authority: Mark Penn.
In a series of D.L.C. memos with titles like “The Decisive Center,” Penn has preached that while Republicans can win by appealing only to conservatives, Democrats must appeal to centrists as well as liberals. In his new book, “Microtrends,” he casts a caustic eye on the elites and mega-donors of both parties who are out of touch with average voter concerns.

Can someone cite an example of when Republicans won by appealing "only to conservatives?" Could that same person explain how this turns into Brooks' insistence that Democrats need to capture "disaffected Republicans" at the expense of their own constituency? I mean without using the phrase "David Brooks' head is so far up his own ass that...."

Look, thanks to an unreformed 18th century presidential selection process (okay, that's a bit harsh, as we let the womenfolk and the slaves vote now)--a process dating to a time when "Your Excellency" was judged a fit form of address for the man so selected--my vote will never actually count in a Presidential election unless I migrate. I have one Senator from each party representing me. You can tell this because they always put a "D" after Evan Bayh's name. The other guy is known as a moderating influence in the Republican party because he votes with the cracked radicals who run the thing a mere 80% of the time. My Representative has a good voting record, but I could be gerrymandered into Dan Burton's district tomorrow at the whim of The Nation's Third-Worst Legislature™. Th' fuck should I care about electoral politics? Bill Clinton's the only President in the last quarter-century I'd have trusted to hold my wallet, and then only if I didn't have to turn around. And yet as we are sinking steadily further into the fetid pile left by this administration in conjunction with a GOP-controlled Congress and opinion columnists still purblind from staring directly at George W. Bush's halo for four-and-a-half years I'm supposed to care whether a Democratic Presidential candidate can corral enough of the "conservative" votes that got us there in the first place? Why? What difference would that make? I'm not opposed to the unstaffed insane asylum that is the Republican party because I imagine I'll get my way some magical morning. I'm opposed to it because, as anyone who can support the pretense of sanity can see, the last six years have demonstrated what an intellectually and morally bankrupt little carnival it's been since Goldwater. There's no more room to pretend. Hillary Clinton can posture about Iran all she wants to on the Sundays; if she thinks she's going to do something about it militarily she'd better figure out how to win a war strictly with air power. The run's over. I hope you all enjoyed your fantasy. If you need four years of President Thompson to write an exclamation point on it, it's no difference to me anymore.

To put it in terms you'll understand, Mr. Brooks, it's time to empty the spit valve, or quit playing; you can't hocker your way out of it anymore.


Tuesday, September 25

Of A Cultural Phenomenon Called Ahmadinejad

MY thoughts, yesterday, turned to the inexorable pain of Time's One-Way arrow, the same way that in some vacant moment or nostalgic repose you'll imagine yourself saying the winning thing to the girl you didn't win, the thing you know you couldn't have said because it requires an adult perspective you didn't have then.

Just so, I thought: how great it would have been to have transported Hitler to the New York of the 30s, and let Lee Bollinger end the Second World War before it began by giving him a real tongue lashing.

Oh well.

De-Bunker Mentality

LET'S see if I've managed to keep it all straight: 1) Richard Nixon, whose relationship with the Press was basically the same as a suburban pool owner's relationship to green algae, uses the Bully Pulpit to complain about Liberal media bias. 2) The Press, basically, folds faster than Superman on laundry day. 3) In an era which had begun with Joe McCarthy's list of 1,264 365 283 197 101 84 47 maybe two dozen some names, continued with widespread opposition to civil rights, integration, the rights of the accused, and the elimination of forced prayer in the public schools; nuclear brinkmanship, repeated US military intervention in Central and South America, including a disastrous invasion of Cuba, sclerotic support for an ill-conceived colonial war in Indochina, and an ill-conceived expansion of the same in the face of assured calamity, "balance" requires either a willingness to lie outright or a new definition of reportage, both of which come into fashion. 4) The new definition junks outdated pre-war notions of "facts" and "reality" for a semi-scrupulous insistence on quoting someone laying out a particular position, or seeming to, which is then "balanced" by finding someone to say the opposite, or finding someone who could be defined as the speaker's opposite and having him say anything at all. 5) By the same process by which we can boil frogs without their realizing it, this became the standard for reporting what had formerly been called "news", and as a result, by the early 80s an issue--oh, let's say "abortion rights"--on which there was a clear majority opinion became "controversial", requiring 50% of the time be devoted to 33% of the respondents. * 6) Further, the minority opinion was not subjected to the same process in reverse; it was allowed to spray-paint its message and move along. Therefore, to pick an issue--let's say "abortion rights"--spokesmen for the anti-abortion position were allowed to remain mum about the question of contraception, to the point that their objection to the latter--which is indistinguishable from the moral objections to abortion itself, but viewed by the general public as decidedly more Batshit Fucking Insane--bubbled into public consciousness only after such people had reached such positions of power that they felt nothing could stop them anymore. 7) Sometime after four Presidential terms handed over to bug-witted serial prevaricators interspaced with two terms mostly dedicated to examining, re-examining, and re-examining x infinity the adolescent fantasies of members of that party regarding the penis of a President from the other, the Press tumbles onto this. 8) As a result, a couple of outlets decide to devote a few column inches to examining the "truth" of various remarks made by the likes of Mikes Gravel or Huckabee. 9) Which leads Slate's Jack Shafer to pat his profession on the back for its new, if not quite tireless, dedication to the role of watchdog.

I think that's it.

Once again, we offer no explanation for having read Slate. Still, we weren't going to let our slight discomfort at the trashy surroundings prevent us from sampling the wares, especially when we read this:
PolitiFact, headed by St. Pete Times Washington Bureau Chief Bill Adair, draws on two dozen editors, researchers, and writers from the St. Pete Times and CQ to focus on presidential candidates. Many PolitiFact investigations end up in the St. Pete Times and CQ. The Truth-O-Meter at PolitiFact runs from True to Mostly True to Half-True to Barely True to False to Pants on Fire! So far in the presidential campaign, Bill Richardson, Mike Gravel, and Joe Biden have earned Pants on Fire! grades.

Two dozen professionals from the St. Petersburg Times and Congressional Quarterly, and so far they've nailed...three also-rans, all Democrats? So I click on over and find:

Bill Richardson's pants are ablaze because he said something about The Lord wanting Iowa to be the first caucus in the country. He said this to Iowans who came out to hear Bill Richardson, and who--one suspects--have a different sense of humor than your average Washington Bureau chief. The folks in "St. Pete" consulted a batch of Biblical and legal scholars, thus pointing us in the direction of a leg pull (we were already looking), though we're not sure all the scholars were in on the joke. But, y'know, if you can't get the thing off the ground without sniggering in-jokes about the concept, maybe it belonged in the trash.

Biden gets the hook for saying "The president is brain-dead", which violates the long-standing rule of comedy that you do not riff on taking something literally when no one obviously would, unless the target is yourself. They might have at least called in a doctor for a comment, but instead it's a used-teabag "we don't think Biden performed the necessary tests," which reinforces the idea that you imagine that we can be persuaded to imagine that he imagined he was being literally true.

Finally there's Mike Gravel. Mike Gravel you fact-check, the Bush administration invades Iraq without you noticing. Gravel is stomped for saying that 70% of the prison population is African-American. It's forty! Damn you, it's forty!

It seems this lifetime will not be enough to escape the peculiar American compulsion to hand out numerical rankings to Everything (Best Fascist Dictator, Aldoph Hitler! Woody's most durable joke), and journalist judging panels seem unable to avoid the TV Guide™ Top 50 Sitcoms of All-Time approach, where a group of people get together and never establish criteria for the thing they're ranking. The distinction between the merely Totally False and Pants on Fire! is, let us say, less than clear. Guiliani's statement that the Clinton health plan is "socialized medicine", for example, registers Complete Falseness, but his trousers fail to ignite. Gravel's Liar! status draws this explanation:
We're giving Gravel our harshest ruling because he botched this fact so badly and because it's such an important one to get right. It's something of a popular myth that most of the people in jail or prison are black, so to hear a presidential candidate make the false claim with such authority should not be overlooked.

Are other candidates' misstatements made with less authority? Is the racial makeup of the prison population more important than global warming, where Tom Tancredo gets a simple False, sans Trouser Combustion, for claiming there's no scientific consensus? Was it "really important" the nation realize that Joe Biden did not personally perform a neurological examination of the President, too, lest he (under Totally False pretenses) begin to pick up the There's A Guy I'd Like To Have a Beer and Discuss My Subarachnoid Haematoma With vote?

And another thing: it's not unreasonable to suggest that Gravel may have misspoken (he had the other two facts he mentioned correct, which in every other instance at the St. Pete Times gets you partial credit). There's no mention made of them contacting the Senator to see if he'd admit to or explain his error. On the other hand, Tancredo's comments leave no room for wriggle; the false statement is his entire point. And while we're at it, let's consider the possible consequences of a) a President or b) his audience believing these falsehoods. Tancredo could, and presumably would, veto legislation aimed at ameliorating a problem which is in fact, scientifically conceded. He could refuse to enforce existing laws, scuttle international cooperation, and continue appointing members of the dog family to the Henhouse Guards. For that matter he could devote his Presidency to endless coast-to-coast trips in Air Force One just for the shear joy of creating greenhouse gasses. What, on the other hand, is President Gravel going to do about his erroneous belief? Issue wholesale pardons to African-Americans until the ratio is to his liking? Vow to appoint strict-constructivist judges who believe Killing Whitey is only 3/5 of a crime?

It's wrong that one come away from a presidential debate with the idea that 70% of the prison population is African-American or that there's an even split among climatologists about the reality of global climate change. But the former (Gravel being correct about the explosive growth of the prison population in the past thirty-five years) leads us to think about the causes of a perceived social ill, while the latter suggests we get back to our naps while a vital Republican constituency enriches itself some more at our expense. Who's the liar, again?

We're all for people tracking down the truthfulness of politician's public utterances. In fact we remember quite fondly when that fell under the rubric of "Journalism", and didn't require smarmy little attention-grabbers taken half in jest. Still, it's good to see some small step in that direction, and the sheepish, or tacit, admission that grading Presidential debates on the color palates of the candidates is a noble experiment whose object--a two-term Bush presidency--has been somewhat less successful than imagined.

UPDATE: Rudy's pants catch fire, in the interim, for saying he imagines himself to be "one of the four or five best-known Americans in the world". This is disproved using Google search results, as Joe Biden was apparently unavailable to perform an examination of Hizzoner's imagination.

READER ASSIST: Hogan notes in the comments that the Bureau of Justice Statistics figures--the ones the St. Peterers admonished Gravel for not reading deeply enough, have it that 70% of our prison population is non-white. Who's the liar? indeed.

* Incidentally, we admit our description is approximate, not adequate, as, for example, Ronald Wilson Reagan could snooze through two terms in the White House with disapproval numbers frequently far exceeding those of Abortion on Demand, and yet be so thoroughly, even reverently, portrayed as the Savior of Western Civilization that "Wildly Popular" might as well have appended itself to his Christian name.

Sunday, September 23

It's Official

AS of 5:51 EDT this morning: Michael Chertoff's gut isn't any more reliable than his head.

Saturday, September 22

Jack & Ginger: A Clarification

FIRST, let me affirm that Ms Dowd reports that her father entered this country as a 19-year-old Irish immigrant who earned his citizenship by fighting in WWI. This would place him somewhere in his mid-50s when Maureen was born (in 1952). Not an impossible feat at that age, I can attest, but certainly more exhausting.

Now then. Jack Daniels™ is a young man's drink. Young, because it is sweetened, and because the inferior effects of its chemical aging, compared to maturation in barrel, ought to become apparent as one ages oneself, chemically or otherwise (that "Old No. 7" used to read "7 Years Old", kids). And Man's because it is marketed with playing cards and bandanas and suchlike, "I'm a Rebel" geegaws that no Woman in her right mind would fall for, unless she had already exhibited signs like stitching her Prom dress together from Confederate battle flags. Which, come to think of it, suggests she'd already been sampling the stuff by the onset of menses at the latest.

I'm not impugning anyone's taste. I myself have enough juvenile food and drink preferences to fill the kiddie menu at a middling steakhouse, and if you happen to prefer Chef Boy-R-Dee™ ravioli to the genuine item it's your own business. But if you decide to write about it you ought at least to acknowledge that yours is a minority opinion akin to a preference for driving everywhere in reverse.

Personally, we rarely drink highballs, which are designed to keep the steady drinker from consuming quite as much alcohol, as we prefer to patronize the distiller, the brewer, and the viticulturalist of distinction and to sample his or her wares as intended, with little or no dilution, and often straight from the bottle. Again, we do not impugn the use of alcohol as social lubricant, and we are not unaware of those times ("cocktail parties") when one drinks, in part, from the obligation to keep up. Nor are the charms of the genre totally lost on us; the occasional friendly buzz from a vodka-and-lemonade makes a welcome and refreshing Summertime addition to some suburban croquet or al fresco mate swapping.

But here we begin to scratch the surface of the complaint. While we are under no obligation to live by The Rules, it's a nicer point as to whether we're exempt from even recognizing them if we trip over them. There would be nothing "wrong" about drinking Chopin vodka and lemonade. There are at least two things wrong with calling it. Premium vodkas are made, with great care, generally, to exhibit individual characteristics. Domestic vodkas (which, by law, must be odorless and taste-free) are more amenable to blending. The showy adulteration of, let's say, Grey Goose, with, let's say, Hi-C, is pretentious, wasteful, and the opposite of connoisseurship, unless Vodka and Grapey Grape happens to be your drink and The Goose happens to be the only choice on the shelf.

With brown spirits domestic brandy is the choice for blending (and not Hennessey VSOP, let alone a decent Cognac). Even a bourbon-ish spirit with as little real claim to distinction as Jack Daniels is misused under the circumstances; if one idiosyncratically prefers its blowzy charms to superior products, why hide it at the bottom of a sea of mix (and why does one sweeten a Coke)? There's a Catch-22 quality to the call, which leaves us to conclude that the drinker, or in this case the writer, is in thrall to the pitiless master Mass-Market Advertising.

It's an inescapable condition, our modern servitude, and one does not blame the slave for his chains, unless one is a Movement "Conservative" pundit, in which case one generally tries to qualify it. But aside from a permanent sunless imprisonment, there's no real excuse for him not to look at the blue sky sometimes, or the starry night, and ask himself What If? Dowd is fifty-five years old. She's successful, high-profile, and living in one of the world's great cities, and her job almost certainly permits, if not requires, sampling something of the good life. Yet the choice is suspiciously common, which I realize sounds like snobbery, but isn't; it's meant as a criticism of her writer's ear, however tinny. She could have said "wine spritzers" and I would have found it sorta humorous. She could have used "Cosmos" or "Appletinis" or "Cuba Librés" and it would have slid down easy. Okay, except for the Cuba crack, but that still would have shown some welcome writerly spark. I suppose it's possible that Hillary Clinton, a woman of intelligence, wide experience, and disposable income, drinks dilute rotgut, in which case I'm an asshole and it's not the first time, but I suspect the betting would run the other way. I suppose it's possible that Dowd snatched Jack and ginger from the advertising aether or some overheard remark at someone else's wedding and is herself a lifelong teetotaler. But assuming she proofreads her own copy, I sincerely hope not, for her sake.

None of which touches on the fact of an entrenchedly middle-aged New York journalist--with a set of gender issues more appropriate to a small-town, home-schooled fifteen-year-old named Rebekah--who appears to believe that pouring liquid depressants down a subject's gullet is the key to a revelation of True Self. But then, it's Saturday, and this started off to be a note.

Friday, September 21

A Note On The Type

IT'S Trebuchet, a family of four faces designed by Vincent Connaire (creator of Comic Sans) for Microsoft in 1996. It's clean, modern, and quite legible in block, and superior to Georgia, the Blogger-supplied serif face. And yes, somehow, THE GODDAM THING JUMPED TO DARK GRAY while I was sleeping. Should the reader imagine his eyes are losing the battle of Time and Gravity, consider that I noticed this a couple months ago but never checked on it. I saw Jorge Luis Borges speak when he and the last century were in their 70s, and I have an 81-year-old mother with dementia. I can safely say that if you're going to lose your eyesight or your mind, choose the former. Back to nominal. Thanks for pointing it out, R.

Thursday, September 20

It's Just Something In My Eye

PER Roy we check out Ross Douthat, whence we're off to Jim Henley, who takes Mr. Black to school, old skool:
Dear Atrios: I’m about twelve years older than you. When I was a teen and you were a toddler, and for a time after that, the media was very liberal. How do I know? I remember! Also, there used to be no ATMs. We had things called “traveler’s checks” that you bought at the bank before going on vacation instead of taking cash. In fact, an important part of vacation planning was deciding how many traveler’s checks to buy.

Okay, so this blog takes a backseat to no one's in its admiration for, and use of, the early middle-aged palsied gran'pa Why Back In My Day There Weren't No HBO, Sonny routine. It's comedy gold. But, assuming everybody on the Internets is telling the truth, which we do, twelve years on Mr. Black gives one a DOB around 1960. Which may have occasioned, depending on locale, a trip in Mama's arms to see them new-fangled flying machines, but it hardly qualifies as being there! and knowing! liberal bias.

What it does mean is that Mr. Henley was still a couple years shy of working the TV Guide™ crossword when the Nixon administration attacked the Librul Media (we know! we were there!), and thus might just have his recollection goggles tinted Pinko by the times, and not The Times. Assuming an abiding interest in The News by age ten--the Librul Media meme is already established, the Silent Majority speech already given--our young reader has already entered a world where the bias, or charges of bias, were both being brutted about and addressed. The networks almost immediately responded to the Nixon attack by labeling commentary Commentary. It was the beginning of both faux balance and the Pore Forelorn Republican Washington Outsider routine (Reagan would play one for two terms) which would lead, by the time Mr. Henley could buy a legal drink, to a PBS shoutfest for Father John McLaughlin, SJ, CIA; George F. Will's inclusion on This Week as "balance" for notorious liberal and gentleman farmer Sam Donaldson; Evans and Novak, bottom feeders in anyone's idea of an aquarium, with their own show on CNN; and noted alcoholic crackpot and columnist James J. Kilpatrick with five-minutes' Prime Tiffany Network Spouting Time each week. Meanwhile the notion of Teevee Liberal went from Nick von Hoffman to Shana Alexander, Hughes Rudd was replaced by The Unshakably Happy Morning Show That Might Cover Some Icky News At The Top Of The Hour (Cover Your Eyes!), and from there it was just a small step to Mark Shields, Margaret Carlson, and partially hydrogenated, partly melted carob-flavored ice milk. By the time Mr. Henley was paying taxes the only place you could find The Left on television was Firing Line.

We're not suggesting conspiracy here. We're suggesting that there is a lot to be learned from James Thurber's mighty semester-long Freshman Biology struggle to see something through a microscope, and how, when that happy day finally dawned, he wound up drawing his own eyeball. A lot depends on what we expect to see, and newspapers will always be a mixed bag (though we direct the curious onlooker to the sort of Librul coverage the Civil Rights Movement received, or the stovepipe coverage of Vietnam, Cuba, "Red" China, and the Commie World in general, in the 1960s), but if the question is television then no, coverage did not suddenly veer Right in the mid-90s in belated and begrudged response to the Reagan Revolution of the 1980s (in fact some of us can, depending on which number bourbon it is, be counted upon to make a reasonable case for their cooperation in the whole Morning In America bullshit, but we are trying to remain objective-ish). It responded to a press-hating Nixon in the late 60s by "reforming" itself in response to one side of the debate, by beginning the shift to faux balance, which would in its turn shift almost unnoticed into filtering by framing, and the rise of national programming consultancy in both radio and teevee would lead to the Happy Talk news format, News Divisions swallowed by Entertainment, half-lettered commentary replacing reportage, and Barbara Walters.

We do not believe that The News is biased one way or another along the simple fault lines of internet partisanship, excepting individual cases. We believe that in terms of today's divide there came a time when anti-liberalism became a fertile ground for political horticulture, staked out by Johnny Milhouse Cottonseed, followed by a brief Romantic period post-Watergate--one which on its reverse showed the rise of the Million Dollar Anchor--which was marginalized by the late-70s Corporate Takeover Of Anything That Moved, during which, with untold billions lurking around the corner in new technologies, especially the monopolistic Cable, Rocking the Boat became the quickest way to throw your ownself overboard. The frame today is not explicitly "Conservative", and it is certainly possibly to carve out a niche at the leftish end of the spectrum, but the script is explicitly pro-status quo, and it portrays the Republican party as the only one in touch with Real Americans, a message approved by the iron-hearted leaders of news conglomerates and brought to you by careerist talking hairdos with no pretense to journalism.

Of course our paths have already diverged. This sort of thing is not taken as bias on the Right, which views unfettered capitalism as Freedom and ardent rectal courtship of one's financial superiors as patriotic duty. But then even as we glance down at our paper and realize we've drawn our own Baby Blue--again--we ask those who were there! to tell us which was more thoroughly covered: Iran-Contra or the five serial investigations of Whitewater? Which garnered more ink in the '88 election: Willie Horton or the S&L crisis?

How does someone come to the conclusion that Christian America rejects Darwinism, opposes equality of sexual preference, and supports war, rather than the accurate view that 50% of Christian Americans are liberal, if not via skewered reporting? Why are pedophilia or sexually transmitted diseases news, but condom ads controversial? Nobody ever seems to complain there's only bad sexual news on teevee. Which, in the liberally-biased mid-70s, did John Chancellor report as news: an HEW study which found that marijuana smoking actually strengthened the immune system, or the claim that long-term male smokers might develop womanly breasts? If it's clear today when disaster strikes a major American city that the vast majority of our news operations have no one in any position of authority who understands the first thing about being poor, what makes anyone imagine it was different thirty years ago, when there was a great deal less diversity in those newsrooms than today?

And who benefits from endless car chases and slicker-coated idiots standing in a downpour? That one's easy. None of us.

A MoDo Glossary, 2007

In appreciation of the death of Times Select:


Adoring type of smile Bill Clinton is supposed to work on, per Hillary's instructions
Always how often Reagan knew who the foe was
Archly how John McCain smiles when forced to cool his heels
Authority what Hillary Clinton always gives herself too much of


Bipartisan Outreach what Bill Clinton suggests he could do with Fred Thompson's wife [Get it?]
Brainy Élan what excites us about Barack Obama
Breck Girl John Edwards
Breck Girl of 2004 John Edwards
Bryan, William Jennings what Barack Obama turns into if he takes on Washington pundits


Cakewalk, A what the Peloponnesian War was compared to Iraq
Cameras and Mirrors and Magazine Covers Barack Obama's campaign absent a Dowd-approved attack on Senator Clinton
Code Pink Pinko Hillary Clinton's former persona (see: Reinvention of Herself)
Comely John Edwards and Barack Obama
Concede What Al Gore does to a small author's picture on the inside back flap of his book. (see: White House Vintage)
Corona—, The what Hillary starts to call her inauguration before catching herself. Short for coronation
Creepy what the latest "fruitcake manifesto" from Osama (q.v.) was
Critical Files what Hillary Clinton had a talent for losing
Crushing the sort of burden it must be for W. (q.v.) to have wrought the opposite of what he intended in so many profound ways
Cut and Run, Ms how Republicans will paint Hillary Clinton


Dialysis Machine, Osama’s what we'd trace the saline in if this were a movie
Distinctively Masculine Timbre 1) a baritone, if in the possession of Fred Thompson; 2) a tenor, if in the former possession of Ronald Reagan
Divine Right of Clintons Hillary's message
Dysfunctional the Iraqi government (see: useless)


Elevate-Cronyism-Over-The-Rule-of-Law, Mr. alternate nickname of William Jefferson Clinton, referring to his "sneaked under the wire" pardons [sic]
Emanate Graham Greene tell a dark, rueful story
Everything What Hillary Clinton told Iowans she is owed
Exquisitely Inane usually, W's logic. Occasionally, Fred Thompson's logic (see: Distinctly Masculine Timbre)


Fabulous type of haircut John Edwards has
Feral (adj) Senator Hillary Clinton, D-NY
Figeting and Elbowing how Hillary Clinton spent her years as First Lady
Finch, Atticus the literary character John Edwards is "inspired" to identify with [quotes in original]
First Groupie, The William Jefferson Clinton, Forty-Second President of the United States
Flirt, Presidential what Al Gore is so fixed on not seeming that he comes across as a bit of a righteous tease or a high-minded scold (see: Scold, High-minded)
Former G.O.P. Operative Who Is His Unofficial Campaign Manager and Top Adviser, A Jeri Thompson (compare President of the United States, Being Married To One)
Freer Than Ever what John Warner is now that he's announced his retirement (compare: Reinvention of Herself)


Ginger sneaking up on an issue. What Rudy doesn't do
Girdle fat-shifting device worn by secretaries on the vintage advertising show, “Mad Men.”
Gloriously quantitative description of how gay Oscar Wilde was
Good Morning, America ABC program Dowd believes Al Gore controls the set design and graphics of, despite the fact that he complained about them on air
Goracle, The Albert Arnold "Al" Gore, Jr. , 45th Vice-President of the United States
Green-Tea-Soy-Latte-Drinking, Self-Tanning-Sea-Salt-Mango-Body-Wrapping, Norah-Jones-Listening, Yoga-Toning Chief Executive the unelectable Liberal alternative to the highly effective cowboy chief executive (see: Tough Guys)
Guy Who Does Trailers for “In a World Gone Wrong” Disaster Flicks, The how a New York Times columnist identifies Don LaFontaine, as opposed to taking five seconds on Google to learn his name
Guy Who Put the Pant in Pantry, The alternate nickname of William Jefferson Clinton, referring to his penis


“Harsh Terrain” where we need a leader to stop whining Osama (q.v.) is hiding in [quotes in original]
Hillzilla Hillary Clinton
Huffy what Barack Obama gets if people don't treat him as Hannah Arendt

I, J, K, L

Inauthentic, the Shopworn and the Hyper-Prepped, The campaigners generally, especially Democrats whose hair or clothes are more important to Dowd than their messages
Inexperienced Kid what W. (q.v.) seems more than ever
Jack and Ginger Ms Dowd erroneously believes this to be the name of an alcoholic concoction fit for human consumption
J.F.K. and Jackie the former President and First Lady Barack Obama has modeled himself and his wife on
Kevin one of Dowd's "O'Reillyesque" brothers. Possibly apocryphal
Klum, Heidi photographer's model who has graced fewer fashionable magazine covers than Barack Obama
Land of Bingo and Bacon the suburbs
Lazio (v.) to voice coarse criticism of Hillary Clinton


Man Up (v.) to talk tough; to urge political assassination as foreign policy
Man Who Doesn't Know Where His Next Meal Is Coming From, A what Al Gore inhaled clam dip like, according to the Times' James Traub
Material Boy John Edwards
Metrosexual In Chief John Edwards, potentially
Middle-brow Boomerish 1) what the choice of Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop" as Bill Clinton's campaign theme was; 2) what Dowd herself is nothing if not

N, O

Nag, Exhausted that Scarlett O’Hara Whipped on to Tara what the Army is Iraq is like
New York Steel-Cage Match public policy disagreements between Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani
Obama Senator Barrack Obama, D-Ill.
Obambi Senator Barrack Obama, D-Ill.
Obligingly how Al Gore laughs when kidded about his weight
Only Man in the Field Tough Enough To Slap Around a Woman, The Rudy Giuliani [note: meant, ultimately, as a compliment]
Osama shorthand for Osama bin-Laden. (see: W.)
Ozone Man, The Albert Arnold Gore, Jr. (See; Goricle, The)


Pander to tell Iowans you like ethanol, assuming you're Hillary Clinton
Pea the shade of green Hillary must have turned when Barack Obama was on Oprah and Monday Night Football on the same day
Pedestal what Barack Obama puts himself on when he doesn't issue Dowd-approved attacks on Hillary Clinton
Peggy Dowd's sister who believed W. was the next John F. Kennedy. Possibly apocryphal. (see: Pussyfooting)
Pervez what his friends and the Times stylebook call Pervez Musharraf, President of Pakistan
Plato-and-Cato, Between where Al Gore imagines his book should be shelved
Politics, Muck Of what Barack Obama sounds too pristine for, at times
Politics, Tiger Woods Of Barack Obama
Posture and Criticize W.’s War Hillary Clinton's plan
President of the United States, Being Married to One what Hillary Clinton touts as experience
Puffy-Coiffed resembling Mitt Romney
Pull Out the More Than 100,000 Troops, Figuring Out How To what Hillary Clinton, alone among Presidential hopefuls, will be stuck with if posturing and criticizing W.'s war gains her the White House
Pussyfooting what Barack Obama or John Edwards must stop doing around Hillary for Peggy Dowd (q.v.) to vote for them


Reinvention of Herself the process whereby Hillary Clinton changes her position on the Iraq War
Rudy-Up when someone else, especially Hillary Clinton, plays the 9/11 fear card. (See: Reinvention of Herself)


Scarlett O'Hara Sweeping Into the Twelve Oaks Barbecue what Barack Obama's entrance into Hollywood was matched by
Scold, High-Minded what Al Gore's book is (See Flirt, Presidential)
Secrets Of Likability, The what Hillary is spending a fortune trying to buy
Senator Best Seller Barack Obama
Senator Pothole Hillary Clinton
She May Reap the Whirlwind why Hillary Clinton "probably secretely supports the surge", as this will occur in the aftermath of its failure
Shell-Game Answers what one gives when one holds a hideous hand
Smooth Jazz Senator Barack Obama
Sopranos, The television series whose teachings on Life are to Dowd what Krusty the Clown's are to Bart Simpson
Surge Twins Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker


Too Serious what a phone conversation with Joe Biden becomes if it sticks to issues
Tough Guys Rudy Giuliani and John McCain
Twenty years length of the two terms for him, two terms for her pact between Bill and Hillary Clinton, which, since it comes straight from Jeff Gerth, has gotta be true, plus it conveniently explains why the Clinton's marriage didn't blow up as Dowd predicted it was just about to in 2001

U, V

Unflattering Outfits and Unnervingly Changing Hairdos what Hillary Clinton showed off a long line of as First Lady
Useless the Iraqi government (see: Dysfunctional)
Virgin what Oscar Levant knew Doris Day before she became; what we knew Obama before he became [sic]


W. George Walker Bush, Forty-Third President of the United States
Warrior, The Hillary Clinton
Wary how Barack Obama looks onstage next to Hilary
White House Vintage What the Glamor-shotted Dowd criticizes Al Gore's inside-the-back-flap author photo for being
Will-and-Graced, To Be to become more tolerant of homosexuality
Wingtips type of footwear Michael Dukakis climbed the Acropolis in
World War I conflict Dowd's father (possibly apocryphal) had to fight in to gain citizenship
Wordy an aspect of Joe Biden more important to war-critic Dowd than his opposition to the Iraq war is
Wright, Jim who Tom Delay is as corrupt as, according to Kevin Dowd (q.v.)
Zero what our score in Iraq will be unless sports-loving Condi gets to work

Wednesday, September 19

You Can't Fool The Fat Man

Jonah Goldberg, "Going Through Greenspan: Bush-bashing middleman". September 19

TO my knowledge Jonah Goldberg's one claim to public honesty--aside from unintentional revelation--is that he was the only founder of Bush Derangement Syndrome, then called Bush Hatred, who admitted to actual hatred for Bill Clinton, which for his co-founders (Rich Lowry, Chuckles Krauthammer) was apparently a hypothetical construct, as they'd never observed any firsthand. In fact Clinton Hatred was admitted only so Bush Hatred could be ten-thousand times worse. And this came at a time--late Summer, 2003--when Bush and the war were both ridin' high, minor grumbles--looting, electricity, and the failure to capture Saddam Hussein--were too low-pitched to spoil a Mission already Accomplished, and the panties Peggy Noonan was wearing when she wrote "steely-eyed rocket man" had just sold on eBay for $1250. Somehow the nine-year Clinton hunt, which included accusations of murder, cocaine trafficking, and rape, fingered Hillary as triggerperson for the Vince Foster hit, and publicly wished death on their daughter from the pages of the National Review Online was ethically trumped by the fact that Julian Bond said something bad about Bush. Because Julian Bond is, well, you know.

As you're probably aware, the idea rolled downhill from these august intellectual heights to the Republican spitwad shooters crouching several inches below. No doubt it still pokes its misshapen little head above the ramparts from time to time. I have no idea whether, at a time when Bush's popularity could not fall further without our availing ourselves of integers, Goldberg's fellow founders still make use of the concept. I see no reason to read Krauthammer regularly when one can simply look him up in Kraft-Ebbing.

But then here's Jonah, whose column today rouses itself from a five-day Twinkee coma, still running his hands over the sweet nude flank he was caressing before he woke up:
Perhaps the answer is that when it comes to bashing Bush about the war, no accusation is inaccurate — even if it contradicts all the accusations that came before. Some say it’s all about the Israel lobby. Others claim that Bush was trying to avenge his dad. Still others say Bush went to war because God told him to.

Which is it? All of those? Any? It doesn’t seem to matter. It’s disturbing how many people are willing to look for motives beyond the ones debated and voted on by our elected leaders.

Or so long as one agrees with 'em.

It's four years since the invention of Bush Hatred, born at a time when the Goldbergs and the Lowrys and the Kruathammers were not just pealing our victory in Iraq but already pre-celebrating victories over Syria and Iran. Four years beyond Six Months, Tops. You'd think they'd have figured out it no longer requires a pathological aversion to Mr. Bush or his politics to bash him over Iraq. The facts do so quite nicely.

Look, it's not only the height of bleedin' idiocy to pretend that absent oil reserves and the State of Israel our foreign policy would have taken any particular interest in Saddam Hussein. It would also be self-defeating, except Reality's already kicked your ass. Who was he going to threaten once that centrifuge was in full operation? To act, now, as if oil had nothing to do with it, as if we were just really really unhappy that a Bad Man had gassed his own people--a people we'd sold out a couple of times in recent history, a Bad Man we'd armed--is to beg the question of what we imagined we were squandering American lives and treasure for, let alone what we're still doing there, still doing both.

Why is it, exactly, that failed-war-floggers are so eager to send the military off on Operation Save What I Imagine Is Left Of My Face, but scruple at such simple truths? These are the same people who've been speaking openly about an American Empire for the past decade, but the minute someone suggests we're in Iraq because Iraq has oil you can actually hear the sounds of fans being fluttered and smelling salts being administered. Why do we get the same reaction whenever military conscription gets mentioned? I understand the reluctance to admit the disastrous results of a nearly laboratory-pure test of your post-Vietnam foreign policy ideas. But why is there such a problem in admitting the facts of your own case?

One more thing: I think it should now be enshrined somewhere that Goldberg's reaction--as well as that of every other right-wing punditaster who's trumpeted Greenspan's "recantation" over what he wrote in a book--is that anyone who now says "I was misunderstood" is believed without reservation, in spite of the circumstances.

Monday, September 17

Say 'It's Not The Sort Of Thing Our Organization Stands For And We Will Now Try To Put It Behind Us And Move On,' Joe!

NICE of NBC to make room in its innovative Sunday Night Football halftime show (it's four guys sitting around a table, but...only two of them are ex-jocks! And they aren't all yelling all the time! ) for an Al Michaels taped interview with Pats owner Robert Kraft (opening question: "Bob, did you have any knowledge of this practice before this week?" surprising answer: "Of course I did, Al. I've been directing it for years from my personal nuclear sub. There's just something so exciting about it. I started peeping into girls' restrooms when I was four, you know"). Because god knows in the roughly two hours of football I'd watched to that point--just football, no pre-game, halftime, or Sunday morning analysis type--I'd heard only twenty minutes or so of low-cal apologias for systematic electronic cheating of the remarkably hubristic American sort. In a game! We can no longer expect all our fellow citizens to agree that a game should be played by the rules.

Don't get me wrong. It's nice to see the Corporate Apology Kabuki in action every now and then. It reminds us why we have a Fourteenth Amendment.

One of the unexpected insights of old age is this: in a Universe of constant change, the only changes that actually matter to people are the ones which are beneath insignificance. If you buy a new suit, the third time you wear it in public young people will nudge each other and snigger at the ancient relic you've draped yourself in. A supreme non-talent like Ms Spears fumbles and stumbles her way through a lip-sync'd stroll among professional dancers--which aside from her inexplicably fascinating personal life is her one claim to fleeting fame--and the whole country goes out of its collective gourd. Yet the administration runs a Reader's Digest version of Vietnam and gets re-elected in the teeth of it a year-and-a-half later.

Corporate Apology Kabuki did not originate with corporations, for the simple reason that corporations never used to have to apologize for anything (this was known as The Golden Age). In fact, like every form of evil in this life, Apology Kabuki traces to the Republican party, specifically to Richard Nixon's "Checkers speech" of 1952. Still, whatever else Richard Nixon was, a style-setter he wasn't, and the Kabuki Apology languished for decades before it was revived by Love Boat star and nose-candy enthusiast Lauren "Julie" Tewes, who turned her own coked-up Disco diva firing from the show--still among Aaron Spelling's finest work, in my estimation--into a bizarre multilingual combination mea culpa and cause célèbre in which Uncle Sigmund's Peruvian Coca Flakes bore much of the responsibility but Ms Tewes' own nostrils came out relatively clean. The Reagan-era version of Demon Rum must have worked, even if Tewes never did again, since before long every celebrity with a parking ticket was heading off to rehab instead of a California penal farm like Bob Mitchum and Lila Leeds did.

The only real refinements in Apology Kabuki in the twenty years since has been the non-apology apology ("I'm sorry if anyone was offended...") and the increasing popularity of prescription drugs as the cocktail du jour for those over twenty-five.

And yet the thing still works, and has only this year begun to show any age lines, when a section of the public took umbrage at the fact that Paris Hilton's sentence for "Illegally Parking On Top Of a Photographer While Suspended and Coked To the Gills" was "24 hours in Sensible Shoes". (Still, she got off with a promise to Larry King that she'd start serving God just as soon as her other options evaporated.) Even intelligent bloggers who shall remain nameless (cough Poor Man cough) fell into a See, a Sportswriter Agrees With Me! reverie of a sort which could barely be excused if one were, in fact, under retainer as the Patriots' attorney. I like sportswriters, as a class, and King Kaufman is an excellent one as well as a pretty good trial lawyer. But "Everybody Does It" is not a defense. "You Could Do the Same Thing Some Other Way" is worse, and "The NFL Has Too Many Rules" is just risible. The Pats were caught blatantly doing something for the third time, despite a league office memo expressly warning everyone about it. Common sense would seem to dictate that when an organization does that sort of thing despite clear-cut warnings it is not under some coke-induced emotional imperative. It does so because it sees some advantage to be gained which is not available by all those "other methods". I've got nothing against homer and fellow-traveller excuse mongering, but could you check the emotionalism long enough to not insult everyone's intelligence? Belichick issues an apology without saying what it's for. According to Kraft he told the Commissioner he had misunderstood the rules, by which, one is justified in suspecting, he meant the question of whether they applied to him. Then Kraft gets ten minutes of prime-time air to hit batting practice off Michaels, and his first answer is, Gawsh, Al, I didn't know the first thing about it despite the fact that we'd been caught at it twice before.

Kraft went on, by the way, to offer a league-record 108-yard "no comment" in response to the rumor that Belichick had that very afternoon been given a new contract. I left the room at that point, not because I felt insulted, but because I suspected he was about to announce Free Videophone Day at Gillette Stadium next week, and I needed a drink. And some coke.

Friday, September 14

Friday Response To the Acting President Blogging

Here's your hot dog, Brainiac

Salmon Mousse
325º 45 minutes to 1 hour
greased ring mold or baking dish, plus pan of hot water to set it in

3# fresh salmon,
good quality
poached in fish stock or white wine
strain stock and reduce by 2/3
put salmon in large bowl, remove skin and bones, flake
3T butter, melted over medium heat
3T flour, dump into hot butter all at once and stir until smooth; cook, stirring, for two minutes to remove flour taste
Add the strained and reduced poaching liquid and cook until thick. Season to taste.
Add to salmon:
3T diced green pepper
3T diced red pepper

2T finely diced onion

1/2 cup fine bread crumbs
juice of 1 lemon

hot sauce
, to taste

Blend sauce into salmon mixture
beat 2 eggs until pale, fold into salmon mixture

Bake in bain marie until firm. Allow to set 10 minutes before unmolding. Serve with good rye bread and dill mayonnaise. Can be served warm or cold, but rarely makes it to the cold stage in my vicinity. Reduce calories by substituting for butter and omiting egg yolks, although this will cause it to rise, soufflé style. Good accompaniment to any white wine you'd like--even those unmatchable California chardonnays--or a chilled Beaujolais while there's still some summer left.

Best Chocolate Chip Cookies in the Universe, Evah, x 2
350º for 9-12 minutes, depending

(I have never given this recipe away before)
1-1/4 c. oats, ground fine in food processor
1/2 c. chocolate chips, ground fine in food processor

combine in a bowl and set aside

1/2 c. butter (1 stick), softened (not completely to room temp!)
1/2 c. granulated brown sugar 1/2 c. granulated white sugar
If you do not know how to properly cream butter and sugar, find out. Don't get the butter too warm, and don't overbeat.

Fun fact: around the turn of the last century you could choose from nearly two dozen shades of brown sugar.

1/2 t. vanilla
1 egg

Fun fact: imitation vanilla is not the cheap plonk of the flavoring world. It's designed to stand up to the heat of baking. Real vanilla breaks down. I don't bother about it with cookies, though, since they don't spend very long in the oven.

Whisk together:
1 c. flour
1/2 t. baking soda (fresh!)
1/4 t. baking powder (fresh!)
1/4 t. salt

Add the oats/chocolate mixture by thirds to the creamed butter, scraping the sides of the bowl after each addition. Then add the flour mixture the same way. Finally, stir in (by hand):

1/2 c. chocolate chips
or more to taste

Bake on ungreased cookie sheets. I scoop the dough out with an ice cream scoop, which makes a bigger cookie. You'll get around 18-24 normal sized ones. Don't overbake. If you're health conscious or on a diet, don't fuckin' eat fuckin' cookies.

Thursday, September 13

Anyone Know How Many Calories Are Burned Per Hour By The Effort Of Trying To Care Anymore?

"I believe that this is indeed the best course of action to achieve our objectives in Iraq."

-General David Petraeus, asked if the War on Terror was making America safer.

"What is admirable about Bush is also part of his insecurity. I think because his insecurity drives him to want to be relevant and want to do big things, he's willing to throw the ball long. And I think that because of that, history is not going to judge this man with indifference. They are not going to judge him as Franklin Pierce. He is either going to go down in history as a disastrous flop or a really monumental president."

-Bush pop biographer Robert Draper, in Salon.

"Aside from Walsh, most Republicans appear to be standing strong next to Bush and his war. Republicans are good at that. But Republicans always appear strong until the moment they crack."

-Marcos Moulitsas

AS I'm sure you've heard (it was reported on the internets) I'm at war with my local grocery, the one-time wingnut fiefdom of the Marsh family now owned by the madcap, anything-for-a-laugh leverage buyout specialists at Sun Capital Partners. I may have said this once or twice before, but it's not clear to me how people in the US of A shop weekly at supermarkets and drug chains or eat at nationally advertised restaurants, or, for that matter, watch the damn ads for any of the above, without turning communist.

It's been enlightening, the whole Marsh process, which I was reminded of when I read that Kos quote. Because the Marsh family played out the whole Republican crack-up routine: there were years of unqualified positive local press and cult-of-personality commercials, and when the bad news finally arrived (the sharp-eyed shopper had noticed a certain corporate panic months before) Marsh played the treason card (Wal-Mart and Meijer are unfair poopyheads!) and the We Can't Leave or Disaster Will Ensue card (their charitable and philanthropic activities were, according to the Indianapolis Star, the only thing keeping our fair city from becoming a drear, dispirited Sovietscape), before the whole thing crashed in on them, and it was revealed there were something like six dozen Marsh family members on the payroll at six figures each, and at least a baker's dozen of those had parachutes that disdained mere gold as fit for nothing more than ballast, and they all started pointing fingers at each other, briefly, until everyone was sick of 'em and too embarrassed for themselves to take it any more. And then, eventually, the Sun rose.

Of course you can't just blow off a business the way you can 225 years of national reputation, rule of law, and concepts of truth and honor, so there was a period of suitorhood when Marsh tried to preserve its vanity by finding, in succession, a White Knight, a Handsome Millionaire, a Still-Handsome Middle-Aged Guy with ED, and finally a 70-Year-Old Goaty Guy with a recurring bit part on Law and Order, before giving up the game entirely, shaving its snatch, getting a boob job and an Eva Gabor wig and cruising truck stops. Or so one imagines.

So now Sun Capital is trying to turn the financials around so it can attract a better class of buyer, and the difference is that where marketing was once determined by Which Distributor Is Passing Out Golf Clubs This Month there's now a sort of weird, Miss Havisham vibe to the place, provided Miss Havisham had somebody come in to dust three times a week. It's not bad bad, it's just sorta set in place but with discretely-more-aggressive pricing. Which means that you now get to pay, retro-actively and twice over, for all that corporate largess Marsh showered on suburban Summer Symphony-goers and downtown Holiday celebrants and, mostly, itself. And now you have 80s Soulless Soul minus the pirates.

Which I guess is also my take on Petraeus' testimony (I have no idea where that segué came from! We're workin' without a net here!). Petraeus isn't Westmoreland. He's Westmoreland on fuckin' decaf. Westmoreland was a lyin' pugnacious Kiss My Ass bastard; Petraeus is more of the modern Show Some Respect, I Kissed a Lot of Ass To Get Here technician. I just happened to pass the clip of that reply, and I scribbled it down and marveled (not so much, really) that the news hairdo just let the thing pass, as if we'd witnessed a substantive exchange of ideas. I mean, I understand that the public has just tuned out on this dog-and-pony show, and rightly so, but the Media was awful goddammed interested in the war when it was all about toppling statues, so maybe it could sit through the testimony without yawning publicly. Then I read Fred Kaplan in Slate, and learned that the follow-up was a bit more instructive:
Warner repeated his unanswered question: "Does that make America safer?"

Petraeus said, "I don't know, actually. … I have not stepped back. … I have tried to focus on what I think a commander is supposed to do, which is to determine the best recommendations to achieve the objectives of the policy for which his mission is desired."

I mean, shit, you're not a company commander, Dave. You took the assignment, and it came to you because you had some slight measure of plausible independence from the Bush administration, which is a measure of how far they realized they'd fallen by 2005 (which makes them charmingly human! per Robert Draper. Ladies and Gentlemen Boys and Girls! No net!). If you're going to scruple about lying in broad outline while expecting us to eat shit soufflé at least act like you think we think it's carob.

I was amused to learn in the Rob Patterson interview with Draper that I still must be counted among those "on the left" who portray the President as a "dimwitted bogeyman". (In the interests of accuracy it is Patterson, the columnist for the Progressive Populist(!) who makes the claim; Draper just thinks I've missed his "surprising depth".) When did The Left go from being that slacker in Austin to two-thirds of the poll-answering public? Or are most Americans fed up with the President because they realize now they wouldn't really like to have a beer with him 'cause he's just too intellectual?

So forgive me, fellas, but someone who says that Bush might become a "momentous" President is a bubble off square, and the fact that a bio released in 2007 paints a George W. Bush who doesn't always come off well just means that the book is for sale, not for bulk purchase by the usual suspects. Another hagiography wouldn't make it to the cut-out bin. Bush is "dimwitted" not because his IQ mightn't hover around three digits, but because he's overmatched by the job and so un-self-aware in middle age that he imagines his involvement in partisan fucking politics in the anti-intellectual atmosphere of fin-de-siècle America is sufficient to make earthshaking decisions absent real debate. This is not "intellectual incuriosity" I'm required to "understand" as "insecurity". It's fucking unforgivable laxity, dereliction of duty, and it doesn't just brand him a complete disaster as President, it calls into question the judgment and perhaps the ethics of everyone from his father on down who could have strangled his candidacy in its cradle and didn't. What greater goddam calamities need to befall us before we're justified in questioning his wits? What is there about his response to Katrina (What do they want me to do? Deliver the water myself?") merits our sympathy and understanding? He reads books! Damn, I guess I had the man all wrong.

Wednesday, September 12

"Shut Up," He Explained.

Donald Kagan, "Today's Defeatists: The 21st century cut and run." NRO September 10

VIA Roy who disposes of it in less time than I need to write an intro, and who notes elsewhere:
Around the time of the original attacks, I recall, there was a lot of talk about getting the people who actually sent the planes. The list of targets quickly expanded well beyond that, of course. Six years later, conservatives pain bull's-eyes on everything outside their own shrinking sphere of influence. A grim anniversary, indeed.

This will not be on the quiz. It could turn up in your nightmares, though:
Observers of today’s fierce partisan conflict between those demanding immediate or rapid abandonment of the war in Iraq at any, or almost any, price, and others who refuse to give up the fight, might think this a rare event in American history, but it is not unprecedented. In the two World Wars of the 20th century, to be sure, the country was essentially united and fought on to victory without much dissension. In the Korean War, however, there was considerable division, and a new administration that itself had not begun the war accepted a draw — a draw that has demanded a commitment of troops ever since and presents a serious threat to this day. In the Vietnam War, deep and violent dissension at home was, perhaps, the major element in compelling the United States to accept a humiliating defeat. In neither war were the American military forces defeated and driven from the field. It was the political victory of enemies of the administration and the war it has undertaken that brought defeat.

Let's just step gingerly around that "immediate abandonment at any price" bit. At this gaseous stage of decomposition the carcass of neocon war plans, like a dead animal in the woods, is liable to explode all over your boots at the merest touch, and you'll never get the stink out.

Another word of caution: if you were slightly stunned by the suggestion that there's somebody out there old enough to read who imagines opposition to the Iraq war to be "unprecedented", please do not drive or operate heavy equipment for the duration of the piece. Plus, we'll be skipping that portion of Ameican history known as the Peloponnesian War, but there are postcards available in the lobby.
Defining the Defeatist

The results of the recent change in leadership and strategy in Iraq have made it plain that the war there is not lost nor is defeat inevitable. And yet, the war’s opponents, even as the situation improves, have rushed to declare America defeated. They offer no plausible alternative to the current strategy and take no serious notice of the dreadful consequences of swift withdrawal. They seem to be panicked by the possibility of success and eager to bring about withdrawal and defeat before events make it too late.

In their embarrassment they, not their critics, have raised the question of their patriotism. However that question may be resolved, such people surely deserve to be called defeatists. My dictionary defines “defeatism” as “the attitude, policy or conduct of a person who admits, expects, or no longer resists defeat.”

Really. "My Webster's defines defeatism as...." This is the Sterling Professor of Classics and History at Yale. I read that paragraph three times, and by the second run-through, out of sheer despair at the sort of people who have influence in this country, I'd gone from demanding an immediate abandonment of Iraq at any price to the conviction that we should probably just surrender outright to the first Muslim we see and hope for the best.

I've known professional people--mostly medical doctors, but also scholars of the European type, even musicians--who were so wound up in their own fields as to be practically illiterate about everything else, but it's difficult to explain this in a Classicist, who, by definition, doesn't need to spend a whole lot of time keeping current.

That said, let's take a brief survey of modern warfare for anyone just joining us from the Bronze Age. One, modern warfare is generally conducted by standing, professional armies using explosive weapons of some description, not by all the menfolk hereabouts wielding farm implements. Two, such armies must be maintained: trained, equipped, kept supplied. Where this once was accomplished by kings and princes throwing open the doors to the larder, that practice died out about the same time as the powdered wig. The function is now taken on by governments. In the United States (founded in the 18th Century), which is a large territory in North America ("discovered", as some Classicists still maintain, in the late 15th Century), this function is reportedly controlled by an elective body of legislators known as the Congress, together with the Militias of the various States. So that, in theory, anyway, eligible voters--men and, yes, women, over the age of 18, including slaves, although we pay them now (!)--convening periodically, could vote direct control of this funding to groups of people promising to attack Canada at night, while they're sleeping, direct the Fleet to sail in circles for the next two years, or, even, de-fund costly, useless military enterprises. That's the theory. It's called "democracy", although it's frequently pointed out that this is a misnomer. But then, considering what passes for truth nowadays maybe we should just drop it.

A corollary of all this is that in modern warfare it is no longer required, or even sufficient in every case, to drive the other army from the field, or even to show up on one, and it is no longer necessary to do so solely or primarily by force of arms. Oddly enough, this is often explicit in the examples cited by apologists for US military action in Vietnam who want to insist that American forces "were not defeated in the field". The German army was not defeated in WWI. The Viet Minh did not defeat "the French", they defeated French forces in Indochina. Terrorists drove the British out of Palestine, but they did not defeat the RAF and His Majesty's Navy. These still go in the Win column. The United States Herself was founded precisely that way (and lost the War of 1812--just as we were starting to "win", too--by virtue of recognizing reality sometime before the last drop of available blood was shed).

And somehow the ol' Victor Davis Hanson Lincoln in '64 bit becomes the centerpiece of Kagan's argument, apparently just to see if he can make it more wronger. (Don't skip ahead. He can.)
The Democratic convention was dominated by the anti-war faction whom the Republicans called “Copperheads,” after the poisonous snake.

Well, in fact it was because they wore copper coins as political badges, but we've gotten this far without resorting to accuracy, so let's push on.
According to their best historian,

Who shall remain nameless?
they were “consistent and constant in their demand for an immediate peace settlement. At times they were willing to trade victory for peace. One persistent problem for [them] was their refusal or reluctance to offer a realistic and comprehensive plan for peace.”

Remind you of anybody? Huh? L-I-E-B-R-U-L-S?
Pressed by the Copperheads, the Democrats nominated a rabidly antiwar candidate for vice president and adopted a platform that called the war a “failure,” and demanded “immediate efforts” to end hostilities….” Their platform statement would permit abandonment not only of emancipation, but of the most basic war aim, reunion. Even New York’s Republican Party boss declared that Lincoln’s reelection was widely regarded as an “impossibility…The People [were] wild for Peace.” At the end of August defeat for the Republicans and the Union cause seemed inevitable, but Lincoln refused to seek peace without victory, saying that he was not prepared, to “give up the Union for a peace which, so achieved, could not be of much duration.”

The Copperheads so dominated the Democratic convention of 1864 that they were able to name the Vice-Presidential candidate! Wow. Never mind that the Presidential candidate, one George McClellan, was the pro-war Democrat they'd opposed. Never mind that he repudiated the anti-war plank in the party's platform. They were just like Nancy Pelosi!

We will note once again this peculiar fixation on 1864, which seems based on nothing more than the fact that the whole canard was boiled up and served by Hanson as a 2004 election morale-booster without anyone checking to see whether it had been plucked, and people have been feasting on feathers ever since. 1863 is a much better example, since Lincoln was still looking for his General (at least in the early part of the year) and anti-war sentiment was at its height (so too was Copperhead power, for what it's worth, amounting to escaped deportee Clement L. Vallandigham running for governor of Ohio as a Canadian exile and getting trounced). By 1864 the war was won, though not concluded, and not to the satisfaction of the anti-war faction. Still, if they'd campaigned in those days the way we do now Lincoln could have pointed to Vicksburg and Gettysburg as decisive victories. What's Bush Bush's apologists, including every Republican Presidential candidate with a hope in hell of winning, have to point to? Specious arguments about Anbar, a place that has nothing whatever to do with our military actions, current or former, aside from the general mess? So what? Control of the Mississippi was a war aim from 1861. Find me someone who was saying, "Y'know, the key to this whole Iraq thing is control of the Western desert". I mean, before last week.

It beggars belief that one must remind professional historians that modern wars are won on lost off the battlefield at least as often as on, or that Americans, let alone Americans of the history professor type, could be ignorant of the fact that Lincoln did not inherit a standing force twenty times the size of his opponent's and thousands of times more powerful and fritter that advantage away for want of direction. There's no Eric Shinseki in Lincoln's bio. There's a McClellan, who was tolerated as the best man available, and because after the initial disasters Lincoln understood how much training--the thing McClellan was good at--was necessary. After that you have a rapid learning curve for the President and a search for the right man to match Lincoln's understanding of what needed to be done, a search that ended in Vicksburg. Where's Bush's "search"? Where's his growing understanding of the complexities involved? This is a bedtime serving of warmed-over pablum.
Although Americans were tired of and disgusted with the [Vietnam] war and eager to end it, they were not pleased by its outcome and its consequences. Their distrust of the Democratic Party, seen as the home of the defeatists who were unwilling to defend American interests, was a major factor in the victories of seven out of ten Republican presidents in the elections beginning in 1968. Even the two Democrats who won in that period, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, were perceived as distinct from the defeatists, and one of them ran to the right of his Republican opponent on defense and foreign affairs.

Remarkable how Defeatists are expressly repudiated in every national election yet still manage to derail successful military campaigns. I was particularly taken by Kagan's assertion that Eisenhower--the most accomplished Commander-in-Chief since Grant--was forced to accept "a draw" in Korea, against all military sense, because of some bellyaching beatniks. Yes, Ike inherited that war (the Nixon defense rides again!), but the idea that he would have ignored the North Koreans crossing the 38th Parallel if it had happened on his watch is just ludicrous. Ike was a bigger proponent of the Truman Doctrine than Truman. And one can only puzzle over the suggestion that the permanent US military presence on the Peninsula is due to not pressing on to "victory", whatever the definition of that Kagan keeps secret from us is. Assuming the Chinese and Soviets had just given up and watched us roll the North Koreans, would that have magically been the end of it? We wouldn't have 40,000 troops still there? We made that decision the minute we decided to prop up Syngman Rhee. Assuming we'd stopped Communist infiltration, Communist aggression, and the fluoridation of our bodily fluids in Indochina, how many US troops would be permanently stationed there keeping what modern version of Madame Nhu in Italian shoes and Swiss chocolates? How would we have achieved those numbers, or paid for them? The neocon administration was too cowardly to institute a draft in the face of Civilization-threatening eternal warfare.

I swear to God. My parents never told me that masturbation would make me go blind, and it hasn't, so far. But I've been watching American Right jerking itself off for the last four decades, and I'm beginning to wonder if I'm not just one of the lucky ones.