Friday, May 30, 2003

While I'm away: I'm out of here as of tomorrow for an exotic vacation. I plan on visiting the tombs of all the dead and/or preserved communist despots of the twentieth century (no FDR jokes, please). In my absence, I trust the high quality posts will continue. Perhaps a guest blogger is in order. Anyway, this week has been awful in getting prepared for the vacation, so my apologies for lack of contribution. Hasta marijuana.
Lileks and His Critics: Here's Lileks today on the death of the Romanov family as Czarist Russia fell:
The execution of the children was the event that established the character of the regime. Yes, yes, regicide was often accompanied by such atrocities, but this was the 20th century. Why, this was the birth of Scientific Socialism. There is nothing so powerful as an idea has time has come!

But just in case it’s not that powerful yet, let’s shoot the little girls.

And here's Common Sense's Max Jacobs in response:
When I woke up this morning I didn't think I would be defending the actions of Communists, but here we are. Yes, I will agree that killing children is wrong but you have to look at the historical context of all this.
Hmmm. Substitute economic for historical in that sentence and you've paraphrased Stalinist Marxism. No, you do not have to consider any context. Whatever the Romanovs did to Russia, it was not the responsibility of the minor children of one of the more enlightened czars.
These days, all anyone remembers about the Romanovs is that they were the royal family that ruled Russia before the Communists. Some might even remember that they didn't do a particularly good job. The truth of the matter is that the Romanovs were dictators who brutalized Russia for 400 years. And it wasn't just one bad Czar, here and there. They were all guilty of atrocities against their own people. They were cruel despicable despots.
Agreed. It takes quite a troll-like brain, though, to believe that atrocity repays atrocity. Imagine an Allied policy to extinguish the second generation of Nazis, due to their having been raised in the miasma Hitler Youth and fascist ideology indoctrination. True, it would have meant a lot more killing than bumping off a couple of Romanov children, but that makes it a difference only of degree, not kind.
Even Nicholas II who was viewed by many as a "kindler, gentler" czar promoted massive progroms agains the Jews and was directly responsible for the death of 2 million Russians by entering World War I. I'm sure just about every Russian had some reason to hate the czar, most likely through a family member being killed or imprisoned due to actions of the regime. So I can understand the emotional need to simply try to wipe that vile and disgusting family off the face of the Earth, especially given the condition Russia was in back in 1918.
Understand all you want, fella. As soon as you've pointed to the murder of children and invoked "context" (not to mention explicitly calling your comments a "defense" of those actions), you've proved yourself a barbarian. And "wip[ing] that vile and disgusting family family off the face of the Earth" is a fit goal for setting up a new totalitarianism in place of the old, but little else. Sure you don't want to hunt down some second cousins, thrice removed, somewhere and eviscerate them, hoisting their heads on pikes? After all, they deserve it.
Various Rights: Dan Henninger's "Wonderland" column in today's WSJ is, thankfully, available online.
Martin Luther King Jr. is the father of the modern civil-rights era. His movement was one of the great periods of moral transformation that at times sweep through American society. That movement is now in the stage of public-policy life known as diminishing returns.
Rolling in Annika, Kant, Title IX, and the goofball in Florida who doesn't want her picture taken for her driver's license, he's still able to get to the point. And it's a good point.

Thursday, May 29, 2003

But Cats Don't Shop: Meow Mix presents Cat TV, on the Oxygen Channel, which I guess is Lifetime for short-attention span women. (Maybe you haven't come such a long way ... baby.) No doubt sponsors like Meow Mix are into this show because of the high discretionary income in cat households. Meow Mix spokesman Ira Cohen says of the target audience: "The mission of the Meow Mix Co. is to keep cats happy, so we developed this program for cats and the people they tolerate." Translation: We're going to sell loads of stupid crap to women with multiple cats.

Listen to the truth, ladies: If this show is a success, you should never get into Augusta.

Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em: Go ahead, Professor Razor, spring for a fresh pack of Merits.
Deficits: Shame on the administration for not releasing the deficit report Paul O'Neill commissioned before he was shown the gate. Democrats will make great hay from this, and with some justification, although philosophically they are bankrupt on this point, too. The report apparently focuses on runaway entitlements (and not a comparatively small tax cut) at the center of a projected $44 trillion deficit:
The study asserts that sharp tax increases, massive spending cuts or a painful mix of both are unavoidable if the US is to meet benefit promises to future generations. It estimates that closing the gap would require the equivalent of an immediate and permanent 66 per cent across-the-board income tax increase.
It's nut-cutting time. I've had it up to here with politicians who give me the "for the children" plea, while they continue to offer vote-sucking entitlement after vote-sucking entitlement to the comparatively wealthy, incredibly powerful, and ever younger AARP crowd, which includes more and more of the baby boomers every day. All of this at the expense of those who will pay the punishing tax rates to make sure that Medicare covers granny's umpteen pills (and the electrolysis to get rid of the moustache the pills give her).

I'm opposed (as you may have guessed) to continuing the charade. It may be "cold" and "heartless" and any number of other things, but it's time for the gravy train to retire to the roundhouse, and for a good portion of the riders to figure out how to run their own goddamn lives. The non-ostrich crowd has known for some time now that the demographic pig in the python was going to balloon the entitlement budget, and that the solution, whenever it came, would involve serious pain. Bush will take a hit for this, and he deserves it. But who will offer an alternative? (I don't envision Dick Gephardt rolling up his health plan and sticking it back into the conestoga: "Sorry, folks. I know I promised frre health care, but -- golly -- looks like we can't afford it. Ever.") And god bless Harry Browne, the Libertarian Party, their principles, and all that crap, but I wouldn't let them run a Star Trek convention, let alone the country.

So what's left? Do we continue our incremental march toward unaffordable, birth-to-dirt-nap government goodies -- and end up a leveraged to the eyeballs, third-rate nation insearch of an economy, like Sweden (only with subsidized NASCAR tickets instead of ballet tickets)? Do we return to a more robust, shall we say, incentive for personal responsibility, like starvation? Or do we pretend, like the Europeans and the DLC, that there is some kind of hybrid third way that can give us the social benefits without the fiscal nightmares, as long as we remember to refer to spending as investment and taxes as contributions? God, I need a beer.

More: Stephen Moore says federal spending should all be subject to a five-year "sunset" provision. It's a start.

Still more: John Derbyshire:

If a group of 100 farmers got together to petition the government to give them $10 million, the benefit to each farmer is $100,000. The cost to the rest of the country is about 4 cents per person. Who is more likely to form a lobby, them or us? Multiply this example by thousands and you understand the central problem of American democracy today.
Minimum Effort - no comments on my posts, please: I'm very happy there are smart people like Ogbu, McWhorter, and even Wood, the reviewer, out there who are not only smart, but brave enough to confront the roots of the problems/reasons of racial disparity and affirmative action. The group think that Ogbu attributes to blacks, regardless of their actual place in society (i.e. rich/poor, urban/rural) is fascinating, and one I've heard of before, but never so well explained, and empirically substantiated. There can be little doubt that McWhorter has felt the sting of his race as he succeeded on the "white path", and then "abandoned" his culture by "selling out." Instead of being a free-thinker, he is deemed to be a hostage of the Right, and one who isn't black anymore. Certainly any collective that would chide a member for succeeding has a real disconnect in its thinking. The real question is whether "success" can be culturally differentiated, or whether it's universal. Certainly "success" means something different to every person, regardless of race, but certainly a general definition can be attained where attributes such as wealth, influence, intelligence and achievement are all necessary parts. Funny, in Africa, I'm fairly certain that most everyone wants to be rich, influential and intelligent (at least that's what my brother tells me from his time living there). I think most Africans are black too. So, I don't think falling back on race as an explanation would work. Therefore, it has to boil down to the sub-set of "African Americans" and why they seemed geared for relative failure in their mindset, on the whole. Wow. Again, I'm happy for those out there smarter and braver than myself.
The Norm of Minimum Effort: I've written before about John McWhorter's views on race and education, specifically his assertion that educational achievement in much of black America is synonymous with "acting white." A study by a professor at Berkeley, John Ogbu, seems to uphold this idea. (McWhorter is also at Berkeley, though I don't know if he has directly assisted or influenced Ogbu's work.) Peter Wood has a review here. It's worth reading. I've mentioned before, too, my sympathy for McWhorter, who is black, in that he has become the darling of the right recently. I don't think McWhorter is an ideologue, but more of a frustrated realist who has said some things that, incidentally, the GOP wants to hear. As a result, I think fewer people take McWhorter as seriously as he needs to be taken, since he is too easily painted as a shill, a sellout, or a tool of the cultural right. Maybe this study will help change that. McWhorter has been an honest and courageous critic of the status quo and has, as much as possible, left politics out of the equation.
The Narcissist: Surprise! Bill Clinton doesn't dig the 22nd Amendment! With remarkably transparent false modesty, Clinton said the change would probably never apply to him, but added:
There may come a time when we elect a president at age 45 or 50, and then 20 years later the country comes up against the same kind of problems the president faced before ... People would like to bring that man or woman back but they would have no way to do so.
You know who he, deep down, really thinks that "man or woman" is. (Link via Drudge.)
My Back Pages: I have too many compact discs. Actually, I don't -- I'm resigned to music as my drug. Now I just need an efficient drug delivery system. I did have one of those CD carousel systems. It held 300 discs. Wow. This meant that most of my discs had to be in storage. I'm back to a single disc system, but I still have most of my music packed away in a cabinet, and I forget what I own and have to hunt through for things I've been itching to hear. Anyway, I'm not sure an efficient, high quality, high capacity, PC-controlled method is available yet (MP3? Puh-leeze!), so I'll just have to continue to bitch.

That's not what I meant to bring up though. What I meant to bring up was that this storage thing makes for a lot of fun surprises. Example: Freedy Johnston's This Perfect World. I pulled this one out recently with a batch of discs to stick in my car. Jesus, he should have called it This Perfect Album, if he could stand the immodesty. There isn't a moment of filler, there isn't a single song that isn't dead-on brilliant. His writing is so solidly singer/songwriter that it takes a couple of listens to realize that the stories are all quite dark and (presumably) fictional, and he uses the "voice" of the singer/songwriter to lull the audience a bit into taking it all at face value. (I could be wrong. Johnston may know all about murder, suicide pacts, domestic abuse, dalliances with Lolitas, and the accidental death of a lover from first-hand experience. If so, my apologies for thinking it fictional.) I remember playing the crap out of the disc years ago, then it went into the cabinet and collected dust, waiting to be rediscovered.

I Was So Tight: For god's sake man, she's only 16!

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

From the mouths of babes: How you didn't mention this quote from Harkleroad, I'll never know: ``I was so tight and wanting it so bad, I guess,'' she said. Yes, I'm awful, but come on, you can't make this stuff up!
Roland Garros: Wish I'd seen this one. The clay court truly does reduce the advantage the top players have. Bully for Agassi for digging in.

Note, in the same story, the upset win by up-and-comer Ashley Harkleroad (over 9 seed Daniela Hantuchova). I predicted a couple of years ago that she'd be America's answer to Anna Kournikova. I was right and wrong. Wrong: Ashley can actually play tennis. Right: "When Hantuchova sailed her final shot wide, Harkleroad squealed, dropped her racket and sprinted to the stands for a celebratory hug from [wait for it, folks] her agent."

From the ridiculous...: Thanks to FARK for this update on NYC ticketing. Thank god for these alert officers who really are serving AND protecting.
Africa: It's a rough life down there, not least of all because Africa is the family of nations' answer to intergenerational welfare dependency. Here's Radley:
Trade, not aid. Phase out agricultural subsidies and tariffs in the U.S. and Europe (you might add textiles to that, too). And, most certainly, allow foreign investment to get in on the ground floor in the Eritreas, Ethiopias and Malawis. Yes. That means sweatshops. That means feel-good Westerners are going to have to swallow the idea that multinationals might reap huge profit margins from cheap African labor.
How hard is that? You know how the left says that globalization means going to find cheap labor, exploiting it, and then leaving when exploitation is no longer possible? Take a wild goddamn guess why they're no longer exploitable. Because too much of that country is middle class, educated, and bidding for our outsourced software jobs.
Politics of Gesture: Thomas Sowell on the National Slave Memorial. Here's the text of the House bill. Can we please have a moratorium on memorials for a little while?

At least the bill contains a provision that half of the cost be privately donated. But why not all of it? You want to memorialize slaves? Great, pony up. My family ponied up in 1863.

Scoop Lieberman: TNR has a clever look at Rabbi Joe through the Scoop Jackson scope, and I think he fits the bill quite well. John McCain, remember, ran as a self-proclaimed Scoop Jackson Republican in 2000. The mantle fit him a lot better, since he is a more vocal maverick, but that very quality also caused him som self-inflicted wounds. McCain did a funny little head fake on abortion in 2000, which caused quite a bit of GOP squawking. (I think it was about this time that he dropped the Scoop reference in favor of calling himself a "Ronald Reagan Republican.) Likewise, Joe rolled over for Gore on some welfare state and racial spoils issues in 2000, as the TNR piece mentions. Don't think Kerry or Edwards won't ask Lieberman to "clarify" his stance on, say, vouchers sooner or later. In the end, obviously, the challenge is to do what Scoop couldn't: get the nomination. I think Lieberman is better positioned than McCain was, because he is a less vocal maverick, a quiet moderate with a streak of social conservatism. Primary voters notwithstanding, I think Joe's values are where the average Democrat's are. The party would be foolish to trade a great candidate -- if not exactly a party-line one -- for a stuffed suit like Kerry.
Trash Mountain: As a few hundred people celebrate the 50th anniversary of Hillary and that sherpa guy's summit at Everest, a focused debate has arisen concerning the plight of the mountain. It seems it's too easy to climb nowadays, and like humans everywhere, we tend to leave a lot of trash and environmental destruction in our wake. First of all, mountain-climbing is a hobby. It isn't essential, doesn't really advance society, and mostly serves to give bored rich people a sense of accomplishment. Yes, Hillary and his team deserve serious kudos for being the first to do it, but by now there aren't anymore "firsts" (women, blind, amputees, elderly - they have all done it by now), and I dare say the Mountain is only getting sloppy seconds. Hillary spouts sour grapes when he says it should be closed for five years - easy enough for him to say. Problem is there is an entire economy that revolves around summit attempts, and shutting down the Mountain would possibly do more harm than good. The Nepal government takes a $4000 trash deposit for each team in order to ensure that it brings back that which it takes up, but $4000 is pretty small potatoes when you consider the price of a team climb. It seems reasonable for the Nepalese to limit yearly access to the Mountain, and devote some of the income generated to clean-up and preservation. Hell, charge twice the going rate now. They'll still pay it. Hell, I'd do away with the trash deposit and make it a death deposit. If you don't come back alive, you forfeit your deposit. Now, there's some incentive.
The French, Open? An odd string of frog discussion leading to, as you mentioned, the annual ATP stop at irrelevancy. What is it about Roland Garros? It should be my favorite major, since it favors speed and finesse over power, which I think is a recipe for good tennis. Perhaps it's because the big names in the modern era are hard-court specialists. Sampras never won, as you said, and I think never made an honest effort to do so. For all his skill, he wrote off the French rather early. Wouldn't you, in his place, give up one or two of your titles to spend a few months becoming a great clay-courter, just to add it to your achievements? You rightly mention the Williamses. They brought the power game to ladies' tennis in a new way, but they are both only above-average players. They shot placement is spotty, their strategy is thin, and they rack up unforced errors. (How would Justine or the Swiss Miss ever win otherwise?) But they win their serves and they get break points on power. It's impressive, but it's not fun to watch. I don't think I'm simply being nostalgic to believe the small wooden racquet days were the great days. Aces, unreturnables, and light-speed passing shots don't allow for any game. It's like watching archery now.

At any rate, Roland Garros will continue to be a place for the European clay-courters to triumph, and for the American hard-courters to skip in favor of Wimbledon practice, which makes it feel like a second-rate sponsor stop, rather than a slam event.

Bucknellians at the Gate: Read your link and post on the new breed of college conservatives. As the piece focuses on my alma mater, I'm particularly intrigued. First of all, the Conservative Club has 35 members which represents about .1% of the school's populace. It also sounds like The Counterweight, the conservative rag at the school, is read more for its shock effect than for its serious content. Although the school has no doubt changed in the ten years since I was there, I strongly doubt it has suddenly become a bastion of right-wing thought, or for that matter, any thought. The school is quite homogenous not only in its skin color and affluent student body, but in its distinct lack of interest in things other than hanging out. I don't know that it makes it any different than the rest of the liberal arts schools, but my point is that this piece may be a bit overblown. I'm going to see what my network of spies has to tell me and I'll report back if I learn anything of interest. Note: this is not to lambaste the place. I loved that school and felt it was worth every penny of my father's money, I'm just saying political activism on college campuses ain't what it was during Vietnam.
The French Tickle: While we're on all things French, I wanted to respond to your note on the "lyrical" qualities of the French language. Having studied it as you have, and having lived there for six months, I know the topic. I also grew up with a father who spoke fluent German (of course I usually just heard "Nein!!" or "Schweinhund!", but we can leave that for therapy), so I can compare the language. German is much harder to conjugate in terms of how we think as the verbs will often come at the end of a sentence ("...the dog I see...") and the language is certainly famous for its twenty-letter words. Plus the Germans have a lot of hard consonants, which the French do not. Spanish is melodic, but it seems to be spoken at a speed that is at least twice that of any other. Italian, in my opinion, may be the most beautiful because of the sheer joy most Italians seem to have in speaking it. Back to the frogs. The area I lived in (the Loire Valley) was known for its most "pure" spoken word. If you went down to southern Provence, the language was almost Italian, but a really bad Italian. Close to Germany in the Alsace area, it gets a bit funky as well. But in the Loire, it really was quite beautiful, and didn't share the "waa-waa" effect which you rightly criticize, and is most tellingly found in Canada, whose inhabitants could make me kill with their accent. Whether the French deserve their self-imposed status as the pinnacle of society can be debated later, but I think their language, in its most pure form, is in the top tier of European languages for its sheer tonal resonance and beauty.
Clay Feet: Well, it's that time of year, and the French Open has started with its usual whimper. All Americans not named Andre still can't win the thing (pointedly, Michael Chang is retiring this year after the U.S. Open - the French is the only major he ever won, and in 1989!), as 5 of the 6 Americans playing yesterday bowed out ungracefully, including Roddick. The only American to stay alive is the incredibly aging Todd Martin who is held together only by War-on-Terror-strength duct tape. We'll see another finals featuring some no-name Italian/Brazillian/Spanish players who will prove the irrelevancy of the tournament by never being heard from again until next year, this time (did I just accuse something French of being irrelevant??). That all being said, the tourney is fun to watch, because I think playing on clay is neato-keen, and call me sexist, I enjoy the women's game on clay much more than on the concrete of most tournaments. It's something to see the Williams' power a bit blunted, and to see hotties, I mean talented athletes, like Justine Henin-Whatever, slide around. The only other saving grace is that Sampras is not playing (and perhaps never will again, although I'd be surprised if he doesn't show up at Wimby and/or the U.S. for one last hurrah), so we don't have to suffer through Bud Collins recounting his struggles at Roland Garros.
Ticketing in NYC: I don't see how a cop in New York can write a $50-75 ticket, figuring that's the average for a non-moving technical infraction, without there being at least a couple hundred dollars worth of bureaucracy involved. Printing, filing, mailing receipts for payment, etc. And that just scratches the surface. Imagine if the accused doesn't waive his court rights.

From my terribly cursory analysis of Bloomberg (mostly informed by the NY Post), he seems like a chickenshit Napoleon. He wants to have the law-and-order rep that Rudy had, but he's afraid to tackle anything larger than jaywalking and cigarettes. Giuliani, love or hate him, was never afraid to take on a big issue -- and often, on these issues, was like the bull who carried his own china shop with him. But Bloomberg, far from horrifying and and angering New Yorkers (which, don't kid yourself, they love), is just going to annoy and kvetch them to death.

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

What is Law?: This recent uptick in ticket-writing in NYC has the citizenry up in arms, and the newspapers abuzz. It's not that the laws are unjust, but rather that they've never been enforced before. Because of the budget crunch, word from Mr. Bloomberg is to start writing for every conceivable infraction. You just know that special training seminars were held to teach the officers all the ways to catch the otherwise law-abiding citizenry when they weren't busy stopping rapes and other crimes: "Officer Jones, you see a late model Ford sedan with current stickers, all lights in functioning order, but a black plastic border surrounding the license plate. What do you do, hotshot? What do you do?" Based on this empiric evidence, one is left to conclude that public ordinances are only in place to collect money ("Duh!" you all say to me), and not to protect our safety or ensure civic order. Is this anyway to balance the budget? I wonder whether the cost associated with enforcing and collection will outstrip actual revenues...not to mention defending lawsuits by the ACLU. This is petty, and not what most New Yawkers expected when they gave this guy the keys. I mean, from Guiliani at the Trade Towers to this.
Shooting Fish: M. de Villepin, French Foreign Minister, is also a Deep Thinker and a Poet at heart. I'll resist cheap shots. It does bring up a (tangentially related) question I'd been pondering lately: Where did the French language get it's inflated reputation for beauty, music, and all around loveliness? I've spoken with natives (lived with a snotty exchange student for a summer, in fact) and studied the language, and I just don't get it. French, to me, sounds like the honking of a fat goose (or perhaps a Citroen) amplified through a speaker whose case has been stuffed with cold, congealed Vichysoisse. (Think of Charlie Brown's "wa-wanh-wa-wah" teacher shouting for help while being euthanized with a wet pillow.) Oddly, I love to listen to German (an accusation that might be made of the French too, come to think of it) although I'd hate to have to speak it. And Oriental languages are musical, I think. As for romance languages, Italian and Spanash are much more pleasing than French. But when it comes to poetry -- the "music" of spoken language -- French has a great reputation.
Environmentalists: The Earth Liberation Front claims to oppose "sprawl," whatever that is. Here's how they do it: they burn down suburban houses. Nobody hurt in this latest rash of fires outside Detroit and in Philadelphia, but the group, and it's ideological and methodological ally Animal Liberation Front (ALF), is historically a violent one:
[Graham] Hall, a British journalist, was kidnapped at gunpoint in October 1999. The letters ''ALF,'' 4 inches high, were burned into his back with a branding iron. An ALF spokesperson's comment: ''People who make a living in this way have to expect from time to time to take the consequences of their actions.'' Hall's ''crime'': He made a video documentary critical of ALF.
Extremists? PETA supports them.
Who Is It? Who is that scary cult? Why it's the campus conservatives! The NYT looks at right-wing college kids (which, yes, should be oxymoronic), and who's the go-to guy for the Big, Defining Quote in the first section? David Brock? (Or David F*cking Brock, as campus conservative groups no doubt refer to him -- if they know who the hell he is.)
They have a theory of getting them while they're young ... The right try to instigate polarization so that it looks like the right wing is the alternative to the left. This is what happened to me.
Poor David! He was just sucked in by the Moonies, er, Satanists ... um, who was it again? Goths? Oh, yeah -- those awful Young Republican folks with their terrifying rituals, like going to church and doing their homework. (If David Brock has a single shred of credibility left -- to anyone other than the NYT -- no doubt Leonard Nimoy is digging it up for the next "In Search Of ..." special.)

And on and on. These kids have "fallen under the spell" of Reagan. And get this:

Many of those Reagan-era conservatives announced their politics on campus with their dress and grooming, the men sporting aggressively conservative Clark Kent haircuts, blue blazers, red ties, loafers; the women tended to wear skirts and heels -- openly adopting the uniform of the Youth for Reagan army. Today, most campus conservatives who hope to be effective won't dress like George Bush or Dick Cheney. The idea is to dress like a young person ... These days, the interest groups [whom the NYT pegs as the "they" in that "They have a theory" quote from Brock, above] encourage a hipper look.
I don't think orders are coming from party central on hip dress. And if they are, let's hope Buckley isn't behind this advice: Trade in your rep tie for something more in-your-face. Paisley, perhaps.

Oh, well. Read the article. It's mainly about Bucknell.

Colonial Justice: Eugene links to a story about discrimination in Colonial Williamsburg (supposedly keeping the reenactments true to history). "Well, there certainly was plenty of [discrimination]," he says, "but how much should go on in its reenactment?" Actually, the last time I was in Williamsburg (1997-ish), I saw a tour group being led by a black man in a tri-cornered hat, looking every bit the Colonial in his breeches and buckle shoes. And he was wearing sleek, black, Terminator-style wraparound sunglasses. I guess you pick your anachronism battles at Williamsburg.
Even The Matrix is based on old material: Okay, it's not a complete re-make like "The In-laws," but take one part Bible, one part "Neuromancer" and one part "Blade Runner" and you have most of The Matrix. Anyway, I'm also equally thrilled that the new incarnation with M. Douglas and Albert (don't call me "Mel") Brooks sucks. It couldn't happen to two nicer guys. Douglas I could go on for days about, but with Brooks, has there ever been a guy in more movies that you couldn't identify if you ran into him on the street? He always headlines these movies that are pure Catskill stand-up material (whether it's his mother, death or in-laws). He only gets put into movies because he's friends with all the actors and producers. No one, and I mean no one, in Nebraska could pick this guy out of a line-up (again, they'd keep saying "Oh, you mean the guy from Spaceballs?"). He can't possibly put anyone into a seat in a movie theatre. Oy gevalt!
T-shirts and dictators: Ahh, but look at how they view Stalin today. There is a decided misty-eyedness concerning the benevolent "Uncle Joe" that exists in the older Russian generation. I can see the same with Saddam as Iraq spirals down to anarchy. "At least the trains ran on time," they might say. "Sure, my cousin might disappear for weeks at a time, but my trash got picked up with him." Through the filter of time, and as the anti-Western feelings are allowed to bubble, I think you'll find more of this sentiment. Now, will college students start wearing his image? Probably not, unless they're like super ironic and all, but one cannot discount the possibility.
Smith College: Jon Last has a shaggy-dog telling of Smith's commencement. (Remember when we called it graduation, like normal folks? What huckleberries we were!) The students and, apparently, others present protested Maddie Albright, who gave the graduation (excuse me, "commencement") speech, for her dedication to the "relentless pursuit of global empire." Smith deserves Buckley next year, who would no doubt give them an earful that they wouldn't understand -- primarily because they came to higher learning under the thumb of diversity mongers and post-modernist intellectual poseurs, but also because nobody understands a word Buckley says unless he is shotgun-miked from all conceivable directions. Even then, it's iffy.
Demographics: Don't ask me how, but I got on some goofy left-wing mailing list. Saturday's mail featured a catalog of t-shirts, bumper stickers, and other totems of liberal groupthink. (The anti-Bush stuff is great simply for how it reveals the leftist mindset as pure foot-stamping three-year-old tantrum.) Anyway, the loads of Che stuff put me in mind of your question -- will we ever see Saddam on Che-style shirts or posters? I suppose not. Che got to be the Jimi Hendrix of the socialist revolution. He died before he could embarrass himself, sacrifice his principles (and people!), and generally embody the "meet the new boss, same as the old boss" principle. Fidel got to be the Rolling Stones of socialism (while Raul got to be the roadie) by living long enough to prove himself irrelevant, silly, and full of a lot of pointless noise. Sure, at one time he was the bad boy of the international scene -- on the Soviets' tab. Now he's a dinosaur of world affairs, a relic. We used to stay our hand (occasionally unsuccessfully) from trying half-assedly to topple him because of the cold war. Now we just have bigger fish to fry.

Saddam didn't have Castro's pedigree of international showmanship; he didn't luck out like Che and get croaked before he could prove himself another typical socialist sellout to power (memo: that arc is as inevitable as the sun across the sky) . He was more like Stalin: never the romantic-hero type, despite his attempts to create a rather transparent cult of personality (the Uncle Joe persona); a fairly obvious and cold-blooded climber from the get-go; a rube from the sticks who rose steadily and brutally through the party machinery to finally wield its power, and brutally. Few get misty about this type.

Friday, May 23, 2003

Hollywood Retreads: From AP's review of "The In-Laws":
"The In-Laws," starring Michael Douglas and Albert Brooks as mismatched fathers whose children are getting married, is essentially the same as the 1979 comedy it's a remake of, starring Peter Falk and Alan Arkin.

There are a few minor differences: Brooks plays a nerdy podiatrist; Arkin played a nerdy dentist. Douglas, in the role of secret government agent, drags Brooks' character to France; Falk, in the role of secret government agent, dragged Arkin's character to Central America.

Then there's the main difference: This new film isn't funny.

I'm so happy. Does that make me a bad person? Ah, who cares. The In-Laws (the original) is very likely the funniest movie ever made. Unlike other comedies, it gets funnier each time I see it; there's always a quip I missed last time (usually because I was laughing too hard to hear everything). What the hell made anyone involved in this remake think they could improve in any way on the original?

Sucks to the morons in Hollywood who tamper with perfection because they can't think of anything new to do.

Traffic for the Girls: Latest link on our list of go-see-ems is the Bitch Girls, recommended by my brother. Odd that he had to point them out, since they all go to school (or did) just across the river from me. And they're a much more fun than my other neighbors, the one-note samba over at Noho Missives. (Okay, okay, fer chrissake, so you support Howie Dean!)
What I Meant: USA Today's Christine Brennan on Annika's first round:
If she wanted to, Sorenstam could withdraw from the Colonial on Friday morning, pack up and fly home, because she already has done what she came here to do. She wondered if she could compete at the top level of the game of golf. She now has her answer. She most definitely can.
This is what I was referring to yesterday, the silly boosterism, the victory-no-matter-what feminism of the whole thing. My biggest beef is that this is turning into a consolation prize for the feminist flame-out at Augusta. What exactly is Annika proving? That the best female player in the world can compete with some male professionals in a second-tier event? Golly. Who'd a thunk? I would guess that a few of the top women's tennis players could compete with some of the top 150 men. But what does it mean? Nothing, in fact, other than that the spectrum of ability among male and female professionals has a certain amount of overlap. Again, not news, not a "victory for women," not deserving of the hype and distraction. Sorry.

That said, I hope she makes the cut. I'll agree that it's fun to see her out with the boys, and I'm glad she's playing well. But honestly, let's stop pretending that this "means" something, that it's proving a bunch of neanderthals (like me) "wrong" in some way. It's childish, really.

More: Just read your take. We seem to be in agreement, and I too have said my piece. I'm ready to "move on" as they say -- particularly since I already know that you don't even consider golf a "sport." After this weekend, I'm thinking you may be right.

Storm over Sorenstram: I already spoke my piece on Vijay. I thought he was mostly right. The point about her being in for a sponsor's exemption is valid, and certainly those that are paying for the tournament can let anyone they want in. That, of course, is not the question. The issue is that there are probably a small handful of female, sorry, lady, golfers who could on a regular enough basis play into the serious money on the PGA Tour - or enough to make a decent living. Clearly Annika is too good for the womens', sorry, ladies', tour. What smacks some people as "wrong" is that the reverse would never occur - take a top 10 male golfer and put him on an LPGA event. Might he not win? Sure. But over time, a very good male golfer would dominate the tournaments. So, the argument goes, what is good for the gander, should be good for the goose. The argument goes that if the Feminists want their cake, we're going to take large sweaty chomps out of it (my juxtaposed metaphors are on FIRE!). I think that to bring some sanity to the argument, one has to recognize that Annika is a very, very good golfer (certainly better than 99.9% of the male golfers in the world, and probably better than 30-40% of the male golfers on the PGA Tour), that her participation is not going to crumble the walls at Augusta, and that the fact that men won't be playing on the LPGA is just the way it's going to be. Still, it's a stunt, and win or lose, nothing Annika does will really make the arguments go away, or change the face of golf.
Tax Cut: This is clearly a mixed bag. I've never met a tax cut I didn't like, but some are obviously better than others. First, the upside: This bill is a step toward fair taxation of profit. It's not my ideal (the elimination of the corporate tax entirely, along with corporate welfare), but it's the right direction. Marginal tax rates go down. Not very far, but, again, the right direction. The downside? It's a lot of sound and fury, simplifying nothing. Most of it goes away in 2008. It provides a bailout to state budgets, which have grown ridiculously in the past 10 years.

I don't think this is the total win for Bush that the GOP is claiming. Sure, he had the Dems crushed. What the hell did Tom Daschle have to say about this issue other than "Please don't hurt me"? But then Bush lost to his own party on this bill. Coming off a popular and successful war, with sizable job approval boosts and an apparent sackful of political capital, Bush's own party said no to him. He still gets to brag that he got a tax cut, and it will still play well in the campaign since the Dems generally opposed any tax cut that affected actual taxpayers. But having the votes to walk all over the opposition and having your own party hold you back? That's gotta sting.

Thursday, May 22, 2003

More Annika: One over par in the first round. A gentlemanly golfer writes:
Well, well, Annika didn't embarrass herself or women's golf. One over ain't too shabby, but if she doesn't improve tomorrow, she'll be trunk slamming like a real journeyman(woman?) This is a bit of a sideshow, no doubt, but it's not like they invited some ex-jock amateur who might break par at his country club on a good day. No, that was done a few years ago when Mark Rypien got an exemption into a tourney in Virginia. Fact is, the sponsors run the show and for the money they put up, they ought to have that right.
I think this is correct. If you're giving away exemptions to your sponsors, you deal with what they come up with. Rypien, according to the USA Today, missed the cut by 36 strokes. Annika couldn't hold up traffic that badly with one arm in a sling. Still, better to do away with exemptions altogether. Golfer continues:
She didn't take a spot from someone who legitimately should expect one and it brings a lot of attention to a great tournament getting lost in the Tigerless stretch between the Masters and the U.S. Open ... Yeah, I wish she would have gotten in by qualifying like a man, but I can live with it.
I suppose I can live with it, too. Like I said, Vijay took it too far, but I understand how he feels.
What Bush Is Up Against, Part II: Ken Connor, a social conservative's social conservative, hints at a 2004 mutiny, which drives home my point from yesterday. Nobody on the left would exactly accuse Bush of cozying to homosexuals. But what small steps he has taken (or in this particular case, that Mark Racicot has taken) have brought the church-and-family Republicans (broadly defined as those who haven't been caught screwing around ... yet) to a small crisis already. Of course Connor claims not to be disturbed that the RNC is reaching out to gays, just that Racicot didn't do it publically. This is ridiculous. If Racicot had met publically with HRC, Connor would still be upset. The GOP is a party with a serious shelf-life problem, unless they can unload the small, noisy, and disproportiantely influential social-conservative crowd.
Odd News: As this story makes clear, the official results haven't been released yet, but a new poll suggests that John Kerry would lose to Bush in Kerry's home state of Massachusetts. There are several reasons to doubt this. First, as the story also notes, this would require a shift of more than 20 points from a January poll. What has happened since January? Iraq, certainly, but even Zogby's polls show only an 8-point job-approval bounce for Bush since the war began. Second, even if Bush were showing a 20-point bounce nationwide, it would be reasonable to assume a smaller figure in heavily Democratic Massachusetts. Third, since details weren't released, we have no idea how the phrasing of this poll tracks with the one in January. They could simply be asking different questions. One thing going for this poll is that it claims to have questioned voters (but does that mean likely voters, or people who voted in 2000, or 2002?) rather than anyone who picked up the phone. Finally, Kerry has a track record of winning statewide elections, both as senator and lieutenant governor. Were he a regional candidate, such as a U.S. representative, such a history wouldn't be clear. But major party presidential candidates tend to carry their home states. The exceptions are remarkable, such as McGovern in '72. (Gore, in 2000, lost Tennessee -- but it was only nominally his home state, and it was still considered embarrassing. In 1992, Bush 41 ... wait, what was his home state again? He won Texas and lost Maine and Connecticut.)

At this point, given what little I know, I find the result highly questionable.

Cuba's Dear Resourceful Leader: I love this. Fidel Castro boldly addresses another crisis:
According to Boris Luis Garcia, formerly a molecular biologist with Cuba's Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, Castro wanted to shrink cows to the size of dogs. Castro's idea was to get around the scarcity of milk in the cities by providing Cuban families with miniature milk cows they could keep in their apartments. According to his plan, the miniature cows would graze on grass to be grown in drawers under fluorescent lights.
An idea, Fidel: Turn the milk over to a free market mechanism and leave it alone. I'll bet you three dog-sized cows (and maybe a badger-sized sheep or two) that the scarcity doesn't return.
This About Covers It: About the only reaction to the Jayson Blair/NYT hoo-hah that tracks closely to my own is this one from John Derbyshire. I particularly love his anthropomorphizations of newspaper "personalities." Someone much cleverer than I might do this for the NYT, WaPo, USAT, WSJ, etc.
Is There a Story? I'm not sure what to make of the Annika Sorenstam story, now that it is upon us. I guess I'll mark myself as what the media would call sexist, but I agree with Vijay Singh: She doesn't belong there. (I think Vijay was stupid to make such a stink about it, though.) Until a woman qualifies for the men's tour (off the proper tees, thank you) why should we bother letting one play? This is a stunt. The men who play the pro tour week after week shouldn't have to put up with stunts. This is their job, after all. Coming on the heels of the feminist fizzle at Augusta, I think it's easy to hear Vijay's remarks as sexist, but he'd likely say the same thing if a golf-playing chimpanzee that could regularly shoot even par was shoved into the lineup where these men are trying to earn a living.

On another level, this has a whiff of the contrived situation, meant to be a "symbolic victory" no matter the outcome (the only kind of situation feminists seem to like). In that respect, it trivializes not just the men doing this for a living, but also the women. It reminds me of the hullabaloo in professional tennis that pleads to give women the same prize money as the men. Now, I don't particularly have a problem with that, as long as the women step up to a best-of-five-set format. They're professional athletes -- they're not going to drop from the strain. (Look at Serena Williams's physique, for heaven's sake!) Anyhow, to give an athlete any honor that she hasn't earned (like equal prize money for an easier match, or a place in the PGA without having to qualify) is contrary to the very spirit of competition.

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

From the files of "Who'd a thunk it?": Christine Todd waves goodbye... Try to read it with a straight face. I dare ya.
New Paper of Record? Odd, but I was going to write about this. Jeremy Lott beat me to it. I have no problem giving the title to USA Today. Let me spend a moment answering Lott's objections to his own suggestion.

USA Today's 5-day format makes it too "lightweight." The Wall Street Journal is a weekday paper, and WSJ is a paper of record in it's own right.

The op-ed page is "anemic." Amen. Part of the problem with the Times is it's crusader image, believing its own propaganda. When a USA Today editorial takes a stand on an issue, the adjacent column almost always offers a contrary opinion. Besides, opinion journalism in big media is, as the blogger's lament goes, an echo chamber. Op-ed is one part of a paper that could stand to be cut back.

Arts coverage is slim. Yeah. And pedestrian. More American Idol, anyone? There's no getting around this objection. Not to sound snobbish, but raising the quality of the arts section is not something that will play in Peoria.

I'll still give my vote to the WSJ, but USA Today is a paper I thoroughly enjoy. It is McPaper, by analogy the news equivalent of McDonalds. But when was the last time you didn't enjoy McDonalds?

What Bush Is Up Against: The economy, certainly. But while that's the conventional wisdom, it's not the whole story. I think the GOP base was at its most motivated in 2000. After 8 years of Clinton, they rallied against Gore as an implied 3rd term. 2000 showed that the country is pretty evenly split, and Bush can't afford to lose much of his base. What can he expect to pick up? Give him a couple of percentage points across the board for the war. But he might reasonably plan to lose a couple points among Jews for his public advocacy for a Palestinian state, even thought the Democratic position, while more tacit, is roughly the same. Basically, he has little margin for error. I would venture that he won't face as fierce an opponent as Al Gore this time, nor will he face someone with that much name recognition. But of course he'd be foolish to count on an easier race.

He's blessed by incumbency, for two reasons. First, it's good for a small boost across the board. (Contrary pundits point to Bush 41's loss, but the Perot effect was an anomoly. For the first time in modern presidential elections, it was a real three-way horse race, and Perot drew nearly one in five votes, despite public flake-outs, such as withdrawing from the race.) Second, Bush doesn't have to spend a primary season defending his right flank. He can position himself as the centrist from the start. But here's the tricky bit: he may have to run right anyway. His pollsters will quickly determine whether there is any erosion in base support. If there is, he'll need to step out of the centrist role and into the minefields of, say, abortion.

What the Dems Are Up Against in 2004: Looking ahead to the Democratic primaries, it's been interesting to read what pundits think the Dems should do. Joe Klein's piece made the biggest splash, and Lee Bockhorn takes it on here. I think Bockhorn is right. Klein's vision is the wonky vision, which played well in the Clinton era. (It's still the standard, too, if you look at all the Dem candidates and their mini-policies on things like Lieberman's "Cure Center" and Edwards's rural economy project.) Clinton never was perceived as a "tough" president. Governance was about tweaking and technology, a subtle manipulation of the status quo -- never too far. George W. Bush ran as the GOP version of that in 2000, the "compassionate" conservative, a "kitchen table" Republican. But events conspired to give him a wall of trophies for achievements he never imagined (and probably wouldn't have advocated in 2000). Now he is the "tough" president, and the biggest risk for the Democrat is looking small, bringing a small-potatoes agenda to the American people. Klein's vision isn't that.

Moreover, I think Americans feel good about Iraq, about what we did, and Bush's opportunity is to use that to make his new mandate. This is something his father didn't do, didn't even understand. Perhaps he thought it was unbecoming for a president to use his war popularity domestically, but young W knows it's fair game. He'll keep the terror threat high on the radar, of course, since it's a big issue (and a vote getter, I bet). But look for him to appeal to America's can-do spirit. Look for him to make implicit comparisons that parse like this: "If we can do what we did in Iraq [What did we do? Let's leave that vague.], then we can certainly do [insert tax reform, entitlement reform, vouchers, etc.]." Bush is going to run as the guy-on-a-streak candidate. He may have to concede that we're not winning the game yet, particularly if consumer confidence doesn't leap, but he can at least argue that he's had a hit at just about every at bat lately.

Where regulation and markets collide: Interesting, if slightly dated, story I read at the Connie concerning a recent accounting scandal with a British food supply company and its American subsidiary. It seems that energy traders and long-distance carriers aren't the only ones stashing away a few hundred million (or several billion depending) for a rainy day. It works like this: retailers negotiate what amounts to rebates if they purchase and sell a certain target amount of a given product. Assuming the retailer reaches the target, then it gets the rebate. The fun part is that the retailer will usually book the rebate before it receives it. So, what happens if the target isn't met? Well, certainly no rebate is paid, but what about the corporate books? Ahhhh, there is the rub. Anyway, the telling paragraph is at the end:
Lack of transparency makes it difficult to say how much money changes hands, but the sums are huge. Mr Venturi reckons that a big manufacturing conglomerate might spend the equivalent of up to 25% of gross sales on “trade promotions” of one form or another. Measured from the other perspective, a typical big European retailer might extract the equivalent of 10% of its total revenues via trade spending. For an individual retailer that often means a sum measured in hundreds of millions. At an industry level billions are at stake.

"Lack of transparency" makes it impossible to say what is going on. Hmmm, where have we heard this before? This lack of transparency is what makes the SEC a necessary evil in our country, but what's worse, is that even with the SEC, it is usually only reactive, not proactive. A band-aid on the femoral artery.
Yes, but how to insure against stupidity?: So, you get married. Your husband continually makes jokes about leaving you when you're old and ugly. Solution? Buy an insurance policy against ugliness. People decry Americans for their hastening the decline of civilization, but here, only a Brit is to blame. If ten builders (her husband being a builder) declare her to be "ugly" she gets the duff. Thanks to FARK.
Tobacco Road: My wife (that's Mrs Enobarbus) brought back some cigarettes from Ukraine. They're actually called "Cossack." Sounds like they should have extra tar. So what's the first news story I see this morning? Reuters: "World Health Body Adopts Historic Anti-Smoking Pact." Folks, this is just the start. International busybodydom, bad as it is, is in its nascent stages. Wait until the EU really gets humming. Bureaucrats in Brussels will come over to your house to make sure you're flossing (and that you don't let the water run while you brush).

So the article says that the WHO is aiming to "[break] a habit that kills nearly five million people a year." This figure is later explained in this sentence: "The U.N. health agency says 4.9 million people die each year from cancer, cardiovascular disease and other conditions linked to smoking ..." What a nightmare of a sentence. (Reuters, like many other news agencies, seems to be staffed by illiterates.) So 4.9 million people die a year from diseases linked to smoking? Does that mean that scientists believe that these diseases often have tobacco use as a contributing factror, or does it mean that doctors have determined that tobacco use was a contributing factor in each of the 4.9 million specific cases? It's a big difference. (And go read Balko on MADD and RWJ Foundation and their method of "linking" alcohol and car accidents. Same kind of pseudo-scientific crap in the service of the lifestyle police.)

Actually, the fault for the lack of clarity doesn't lie entirely with Reuters. Any branch of the UN knows how to play the vague-press-release game. What does it matter what the "link" between smoking and disease is (never mind the ever-weakening link between second-hand smoke and disease) as long as the bureaucrats get their budget increase every year?

Monday, May 19, 2003

I don't know what it means, but it will surely involve Pat Robertson: New research shows that chimpanzees are even closer to human than we previously thought. I don't know how a creationist would explain this away ("Genes are the devil's work!"), but it seems pretty convincing to me.

Friday, May 16, 2003

Do you think?: that t-shirts with the face of Saddam will ever grow in popularity like the now ubiquitous Che Guevera ones indicating that you too are a hell-bent-for-leather sociopath, but a well-groomed one?...that the Iraqi people are just running around looking for "coalition" soldiers to kiss and thank for the now lawless society they live in where the fear of Baathist midnight raids is now replaced by the fear of mid-day carjackings?...that Cheney just sits in his undisclosed locations and just starts cracking up over how he's remained in the center of U.S. political power for going on three decades without ever being elected?...that Bill Clinton is selecting the librarians for his Presidential Library based on their love of reading?...that the Republican Guard was inappropriately named?

Thursday, May 15, 2003

Ukraine??: Ye gods!
China Syndrome: (I'm disappointed you didn't get that tag line first) China looooves to kill their citizens. I think that if a week goes by without a new reason to kill off a slew of their "comrades" some bureaucrats lose their job (or get killed...hey, a new reason!). Why does China bother with the one-baby policy when it can just kill the excess off? They don't think very practically do they? As for your question concerning re-naming SARS. Does "AIDS" give you any indication? Plus, SARV doesn't sell well in Nordic states - I think it means "cushiony buttocks" in Norwegian.
Why Are Socialists So Stupid: China threatens to execute SARS spreaders. Hey, great idea! Make sure that anyone with any symptoms will be more afraid to go to the doctor than to ride it out on Dong Quai at home.

By the way, SARS isn't technically a syndrome anymore; it's been proved to be a virus now. When can we expect a name change?

Distractions: My wife (that's Mrs. Enobarbus) left yesterday for Ukraine for a week, and I am at home with the boy. I'm sure I'll be posting sporadically -- maybe during naps. Meanwhile, mull this over. Sounds like the Bush-Roh summit was blathersville, right? Now read this by David Frum. I think he's right, and as I've said before, the South has their head in the sand on the issue of a nuclear-capable North. I think we have to cut them loose, and perhaps this is the first step. If the South were squishy on the North and were willing to put 50,000 South Koreans on the DMZ so we didn't have to be there, I wouldn't have such a problem. But I don't think we owe it to the South to be more pro-South than Roh Moo-hyun.

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Before there was Monica...there was Mimi: The Smoking Gun, in its usual fine form, provides us with a transcript of a JFK aide who testfied about her knowledge of JFK's affinity for certain young female aids, who were good for....uh...answering the phone and I'm sure some other stuff. The most enjoyable part is around page 13 or so when the witness talks about even though the press corps knew or suspected of the liason with this girl "Mimi", this type of purient subject wasn't the sort of thing "respectable" newspapers wrote about. I'm sure the presidents appreciated that to no end.
Oh that controversial golf: Vijay Singh is retracting. I'm more amazed that it took this long than the fact that he's doing it at all. The only thing that he said that was at all controversial was that he hoped that Anika missed the cut. He's now saying that he meant to say that if he missed the cut, then he wanted her to as well, because it would be embarassing to be beat by a girl. Right, that's some apology. The stupid thing is that he's right on the big point: there's men's golf, and there's women's ... er ladies' There's a reason for it, which has nothing to do with oppression or discrimination. It has to do with biology and the fact that the men carry bigger sticks (heheh) and hit the ball farther than their female counterparts. This is kinda important and clearly women, on the whole, would never finish in the top ten if they had to compete with Tiger et al. Now, Anika doesn't constitute a new wave in novelty female golfing, so Singh's comment that she is taking away a job from a man is a bit much, but it's clear, that if the tables were turned, no man would be allowed to set foot in the ladies' tour. Anyway, if she can make a showing into the top 20, that would be an incredible feat...the pressure alone has to be enormous.
Shout out to my peeps: Our collective thanks to Mr. Balko at The Agitator for his having recommending our site. In the nearly impossible instance that you have come to this Blog before having perused at The Agi, then, by all means, get yourself on over for some real writing and analysis.

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Now you're getting personal: I don't think Faulkner's logorrhea is an appropriate subject to bring up in discussing his literature. Can't the man suffer in private? I expected more from you than tabloid journalism. As for the rest of your entry, your point is entirely valid, and maybe it's the beginning of the end for serious, artful literature, where simplicity is indeed divine. I don't dispute that these guys seem to just spout off for its own sake. But, while Dickens wasn't self-referential in his prose, he certainly wrote more words than were needed to drive home his point. Joyce wrote a book in near-gibberish, which all the pointy heads look to as one of the crowning achievements in the written word. And, John Milton's "poem", Paradise Lost didn't even rhyme!!! So, I think you need to think long and hard before going after my boy, DFW (how I wish we could footnote on this blog).
The Medicine, Uncut: Bryon Scott, at Slings and Arrows, on the Democrats' 2004 strategy -- run anyone who can beat Bush:
Herein lies the root of the problem. If the only unifying force in the Democrat party is to remove Bush, the cause is already lost. Removal of Clinton was the only thing for the Repubs in 1996 -- see how well that worked? ... Right now the Dem's vision for the future goes no further than November 2004. That just won't cut it.
File this under Beinart's Lieberman lessons. The nominee will have to run against Bush, but will have to get the nomination against other Democrats. Kind of a pointless exercise, then, for them all to run as the Not-Bush Clones, eh? Lieberman has the best chance to stand out on principle. And, I suspect, Bush versus Lieberman might turn out to be a more decent race than we're accustomed to (in both senses of the word "decent").
Better Late Than Never: I accept, belatedly, your rebuke over Eggers. I am too cynical with this generation of novelists. Still, they remind me so much of precocious 4th-grade students on a lunch-box diet of Pixie Stix and Hi-C, bouncing off the walls with a look-at-me smartypantsedness. I don't dispute the ability of an Eggers or a Franzen to create fine characters or reveal interesting conflict. But Faulkner could do that too, and even he wasn't as pointlessly logorrheic as these clowns (er, novelists) -- and he was pretty pointlessly logorrheic. But emotion and character doesn't come simply from a damn-the-torpedoes flood of consciousness, which is what I get, particularly, from Eggers -- as if he were determined to not only leave in every phrase that plopped from cortex to word processor, but to make it a point of pride. "See? I don't have to edit!" No doubt it isn't as simple as all that; it very well may take a lot of work and editing to achieve that unworked, unedited, stream-of-consciousness-prose effect. It still comes out sounding like a 12-year-old saying "I made a poopie" and thinking it's cutesy-profound.

Speaking of streams of consciousness, I have wandered from my humility. I apologize. Perhaps I'll try David Foster Wallace, who by all reports is the grandpappy of this style. Hell, if you're going to drink the effluent of a disposable society anyway, you might as well drink from the fire hose.

Taxing on the Curve: Good distinction, 'twixt fairness and efficacy. It certainly is good, from the point of view of the government, to be able to milk the rich. I think this is why it's presumed so often to be fair: milking the poor, as you said, is not a particularly good idea, and the cash has to come from somewhere. Voila! This reasoning engenders the kind of taxation that Stephen Moore and even Ted Kennedy are willing to call "confiscatory": marginal rates of 70% or more. (Notice that things have to be at the far end of the confiscatory curve to get Moore and Kennedy in agreement. I'm certain Moore and I could agree on a lower figure.)

Anyway, progressive tax rates keep the government in business. Barring a real revolt at the polls, I don't see anything happening with the tax code (other than more additions, deletions, revisions, credits, loopholes, and targeted rollbacks -- all of which guaranteed to make life hell for taxpayers). But as long as we're stuck with the monster code, maybe we could sneak something in to cap the system. Bush drew his line in the sand in 2001 (anything over 33% is confiscatory) and then promptly signed in a rate of 35% that takes 10 years to kick in, then goes right back up to 38% the next year, all after he's comfortably out of office. Profiles in courage, dude.

It's so unfair: My inability to dunk, that is. Anyway, back to flat tax. I agree with you that my semi-coherent argument put the rabbit in the hat; that is that taxes should be about fairness and that the rich should pay more. The argument might go that you want to let the poorer people keep more of their income in order to take care of necessities, while the "rich" don't have such worries, and therefore "can" afford to pay a higher percentage. The third position is to tax the poor more heavily - perhaps as incentive to get rich, but I think most would agree that would be counter-intuitive, or at least, counter-productive. A flat tax, by its nature, is the most neutral, and consequently, the most fair in its strictest terms. If you're going to take away a % of someone's income simply by virtue of them existing within your borders, then you need a rationale, because a tax, from the get-go is arbitrary, and only used instead of the government charging you directly for every service it provides (and presumably that you use). Since it's arbitrary, and we're a republic, then whatever the majority wants to say is Fairness is apart from efficacy, which is where the collision occurs.
Flat Tax Unfair? This is one of those ideas that has been repeated enough that it has become "true" for most people, but I've never heard a good explanation of why a flat tax is unfair. In fact, the flat tax is arguably the only fair tax, even without resorting to Atlas Shrugged as a sacred text. If everyone pays a flat rate, the tax is automatically progressive, assuming that progressivity in itself is a fair and worthy goal. Perhaps arguing that a flat figure, say $200 a head, is unfair might be more persuasive. But the leap from flat-figure unfairness to flat-rate unfairness sounds more like an article of faith than anything else. Yes, the rich can afford to pay more, and they do so under a flat rate. Again, this is assuming a certain moral force to the argument that they should pay more. Let's grant that they should. Even then, justifying progressive rates (rather than the naturally progressive figures of a flat rate) is still no more than an article of faith. The simple reasoning that gets you over the first hump (the rich just "should" because they "can") might, I suppose, be applied to the second. But why not say the rich "should" pay more in raw figures, based on a progressive-rate system, plus get hit with, say, a flat 10% on top of that? After all, they can afford it. I've never seen any argument against the flat tax that didn't, in the end, rely on this reasoning.
Lieberman and Schools: The WSJ article mentions that Lieberman, domestically, can pick as his lightning rod issue, school vouchers (especially in failing schools). Clearly, he is at odds with the traditional Democratic base as to how to reform, if at all, public schools. The question is whether it goes to the power base the article chose for him: blacks and southern moderate whites. An article today in the Philadelphia Inquirer revealed telling statistics about the school transfer program we have here, where students can transfer out of failing schools. The article reveals that less than 1% of students have transferred out of non-performing schools. Given that Philadelphia schools are largely black, it would seem that, at least here, this issue wouldn't draw in voters, but only serve to set him apart in debates. Given that there are already many voucher programs (and that I like to govern public schools from the state level down (ideally at the county level for day-to-day issues), I don't think it would help him that much from my perspective.
Tax and Spend?: A flat tax is attractive for the reasons you mention, i.e. ease of administration, seems inherently "fair" as a %, and reduces friction on economy. The flip side is that it's not fair (i.e. rich pay same as poor), and that you will probably have to cut government programs, which is itself a gimongous battle. Hey, I've read Atlas Shrugged like every other blogger, and I understand the attractiveness of encouraging success (the argument goes that there is a disincentive to amass wealth because you have to pay more taxes as you go up in income - balderdash, of course, but it's an argument) and stripping away from the government its overlord tendencies and making it run lean and mean (well, relatively). Tax for usage (i.e. highways) is fine, but then what about airlines, railways, zeppellins? Sin taxes should be gone but they are absolute cash cows, which no one has the courage to argue against. Hmm, I seem to be arguing the practicality and not the idealogy. Bears more thought.
Primary: TNR's quick-hit site on the Dem primary is a hoot. They post minor stories that seem to capture the candidates quirks quite well. Get this story about the debate:
On Saturday night George Stephanopoulos asked all the Democratic candidates at once whether any of them would "rule out raising taxes as president of any kind." There followed an awkward pause. No one wanted to be dishonest--but certainly no one wanted to be Walter Mondale, either. Suddenly Howard Dean, always the most impetuous of the bunch, threw up a hand. Down at the end of the table, John Kerry looked at Dean and followed with something that looked like a hand-raise of his own. Only it wasn't quite that. Kerry lifted his forearm halfway up, then left it suspended in an tentative gesture of ambiguous meaning. It was as if he were Dr. Strangelove, wrestling his own arm as his political and intellectual impulses clashed internally.
Also good: Easterbrook destroys Lieberman's energy proposal.

Plus: Atrios hates it.

Dems for '04: I've been thinking about Peter Beinart's op-ed in the WSJ yesterday on Joe Lieberman. I really think he's nailed it. Lieberman is the Dems' best hope for 2004 for a number of reasons. First, he's a hawk. Second, he's got built-in name recognition. Third, he's historically a bit of a maverick (though you wouldn't know it from 2000). He's positioned to run the McCain campaign this cycle. Beinart's thesis is that Lieberman is a natural to buck the traditional liberal line with issues like vouchers and (to some extent) taxes, hoping to cobble together a new coalition within the party -- blacks and moderate whites. I think it's possible, though maybe a long shot, due to several liabilities. For one, Lieberman is on record as a theoretical, if not active, foe of affirmative action, a stance he had to spackle over in 2000. For another, he's very pro-Israel, whereas the traditional activist base is not. If Lieberman can peel away the black vote and energize the less-traditional white base, he'd have a good shot without coddling the unions and the fringe cases (though he'd still have to kiss Sharpton's ring, which may be incompatable with pulling suburban white vote).

In any case, he would be the best one to put up against Bush. He's the least priggish of the crowd, the least liberal -- at least in a way that's easy to caricature. Kerry can be tied to the tax-and-spend post. Dean is looking less and less thoughtful everyday, though I think he'll still strip enough of the activist base from Kerry to be a minor spoiler in the Northeast. If it all goes well for Lieberman, his only big challenge will be Dick Gephardt, who is looking mighty fresh for an old warhorse. I don't think his health care plan will sell in a general election, but he's hitting the right primary buttons. What's your take from the position of a potential primary vote to be captured?

Taxes: Stephen Moore mentions something in passing here:
Polls over the past ten years have consistently found that the majority of Americans think that no family in America should have to pay more than 25 percent of its income in taxes. As the Wall Street Journal has pointed out in reviewing these polls, the 25 percent cap includes all taxes: sales taxes, property taxes, payroll taxes, income taxes, cigarette taxes, business taxes, car taxes, you name it. The government is not welcome to more than 1/4th, no matter whether we are talking about Bill Gates or the janitor who cleans Bill Gates's office at night.
What would you say to that? The Fed takes a flat 17%, the state takes a flat 8%, and nothing else need be said. No property tax, no "estate" tax, no sin tax. (One additional thing I would allow is a user fee for road usage, either as a toll or as a gasoline tax, but only with the provision that it could never co-mingle with general revenue. General revenue funding of roads is a sop to the trucking industry, just as railroads were to rail tycoons in the 19th century.) Plus, a constitutional provision that taxes could never be raised. Congress would have an incentive, all of a sudden, to get its fat ass out of the way and really let the economy hum, since rising budgets would be tied to a growing economy.

I think there's something to this.

The UMass Minutewolves: This has been getting a lot of space in my local paper: The University of Massachusetts sports teams are called the Minutemen. This is plainly hurtful, hateful, and unfair to women, the differently gendered, gun rights opponents, and pretty much everyone else except dead white patriots with muskets and funny hats (unless they have problems with premature ejaculation, in which case "Minuteman" is a slur). Name-change money is on UMass Wolves now. Eugene Volokh makes the common-sense argument regarding team mascots. Sorry, Eugene, we've already taken the Great Leap Forward out here. Now off to the re-education camps with you, where you will cultivate organic jute for a few years.
Riyadh: Shades of 1996. Already the hand-wringers are on NPR saying that this must be a reaction to our meddling in Iraq. Wait as second, though: Aren't Osama and Saddam mortal enemies? I think that's what NPR said when the possibility came up of Saddam cooperating in any way with Al Qaeda...
Mix Tape: I don't trifle with mixes anymore. It's a bother. I have a consultant in New York who makes them for me. I'm not sure if I have a favorite, but if I had to pick, it would be the one with the "Batman" theme song, Nina Simone's "Love Me or Leave Me," Mingus's "Better Get Hit in Yo Soul," several choice Enoch Light cuts, "Last Night I Had a Dream" by Randy Newman, a great reggae cover of the Beatles' "Don't Let Me Down" (artist unknown, to me), Peggy Lee's "Is That All There Is?" and a seven-minute workout on the jazz standard "There Will Never Be Another You" played on a Hammond B-3.

Monday, May 12, 2003

Links: I was supposed to put more than one up, so I fell short. Anyway, if you didn't put Volokh up, I would of, despite my love for gibberish.
My Mix Tape: Slate takes note of the recent meta-merchandising of famous rock acts putting together compilation CDs for distribution and purchase (the idea being if you like the artist, you'll like his/her/its picks). So the question comes to us: what if by some magic machine, you could cull your favorite tracks from virtually any published artist, say for free, and then put those tracks on a tape...or even a CD (hey, someday the technology might exist), and then *boom* you have an instant mix of your favorite tunes, without the hassle of buying each entire album? Well, if the eggheads over at Microsoft ever figure this out (because I'm sure it will take billions of R&D money to develop such a device; not any kid in his garage could possibly invent this), then here's what I would put on (12 tracks, plus a bonus "hidden track" - I'm not putting it in any particular order as I don't have all day...really): 1. "Blue Monday" - by Flunk; 2. "Party Hard" - by Andrew WK; 3. "I Would Die 4 U" - Prince; 4. "Knives Out" - Radiohead; 5. "Dancing Days" - Led Zep; 6. "Remind Me" - Royksopp; 7. "The Garden" - G'N'R; 8. Bombs Over Baghdad - Outkast; 9. "Superstitious" - Stevie Ray Vaughn live version); 10. "Dear Prudence" - Fab 4; 11. "There Goes the Fear" - the Doves; and 12. "She Sells Sanctuary" - The Cult. *Bonus Track* - "Such a Night" - The King.
Hypocrite: I mentioned, in passing, that we should find some smaller blogs that we like, and link to them (since everyone has a damn link to Reynolds and Volokh anyhow). You did so, in fine style. Now I'm going to look like a jerk by slapping the Volokh crew up on the scoreboard. I plead guilty. But let me say this: Those folks have one of the best sites going, particularly for someone who loves reading about legal matters but has only so much patience for gibberish (namely, me).
Despair of Blair: Now, the Boston Globe (I'm not going to italicize either) is checking out stories by Blair. What is sort of interesting is that the subjects of his stories complained about them when they were published, but they were never retracted, presumably because the editors asked Blair if they were accurate and he said "yes," and that was that. But doesn't that seem a bit too convenient? Why is it now important to correct stories that were already disputed? Assuming Blair doesn't recant, the only way to prove he was fabricating stories would be to check travel bills, phone records, other extrinsic evidence (also known as "investigative reporting") to play against the purported truth. So, why wasn't the same done when the first complaint was made by the source? The sudden religion that has swept the rags is nice, but kind of like the murderer on death row telling everyone how he's "found the Lord." Or is that a bit harsh?
You're just Eggering me on: You knew this would provoke a response from me, and since David Foster Wallace hasn't written anything in a while, you thought to take on his step-nephew Eggers. First of all I grant you this: the man is annoying. His "style" makes even the most straightforward point one that must be navigated with compass and sexton (and suspenders and a belt!). That said, I liked his book, even if I didn't love it. You are much too cynical with today's younger authors. Not everyone can write "Old Man and the Sea" which does more in 100 pages than many do in 1000. Eggers taps into the post-post-modern style that some call lazy and unreadable, but others like because you get a sense of the author beyond his prose, and it's often amusing, if not on-message. I agree it's not "real" literature, but I find it is validated by its earnestness, and its lack of pretension. The fact that it supports/cultures the generational appeal to 12-second soundbytes and 5-second camera cuts may be unfortunate, but it's like ignoring the elephant on the couch to wholly denounce it. His latest book, which I shan't plug, but which can be found on McSweeneys, is a novel, and less gimmicky.
Cartwheels: That's the only word I can come up with to describe Dave Eggers's Heartbreaking Work etc..., which I have finally read. Those who have read the book will understand. Those who haven't, pick up Bleak House instead. Eggers uses his writing style to perform the actual cartwheels he describes in the book, the way he demands that the world Pay Attention to Him because he's got something Important to Say. Blah. The funny thing is, I liked his characters a lot, and I bet he'd be a pretty good novelist if he'd quit goofing off. The trick of the characters offering critique on the narrative or the author stepping out front and center to comment in a sort of meta-narration? Been done before, Dave. The wiseacre fooling around before the story starts in the Preface, Introduction, Note to the Reader, Acknowledgements, and four or five other species of front matter is, in fact, wiseacre, but no more so than Twain's pre-Huck Finn admonition about looking for theme or plot. Plus, brevity usually is the soul of wit, and on that score, Twain's crack is priceless, while Eggers's stage-managed "meandering" is rather precious. As Miles Davis used to say about some performers preening on stage, there's a whole lot of style going on up there. It wasn't meant as a compliment, either, no matter what the literary world thinks of "style."

I have to say that I don't mind that Eggers has fun with a story that is, at its root, about tragedy and recovery. This is a topic worth having fun with, since sappy tragedy stories are a dime (at most) a dozen. In the end, though, the book becomes too much an exercise in stylistic deconstruction (e.g., about playing reliable narrator tricks and then copping to them in the next breath) and gets lost in its own maze. It's worth finding the characters in the book, for they are occasionally rewarding to find. Would've made a good long-essay piece.

Funny Money: Hell, the Euro has pictures of "landmarks" that exist only in the Third Reich-ish mind of some low-level, Brussels-dwelling Albert Speer. This says something about the European worldview. Call me when you figure out what it is.
Park Place for $400: Well, since it's been like 5 years since the last re-design, the U.S. Treasury thought it'd be a good idea to re-do the $20 bill again, and this time, in technicolor! I had been reading about this for some time, but had hoped it wouldn't come to pass. Didn't we/don't we make fun of the Europeans for their funny money? Granted, we won't have obscure bridges or 15th century poets on ours, but still, this is beneath us, isn't it?
L'Affaire Blair: I feel pretty apathetic for not having an opinion on the Blair matter, but to be brutally frank, I don't much care what happens at the Times, and I'm not convinced it has much shine left to dull. Sure, sure: it's still The Times, after all -- at least in America. That distinction and a couple of bucks will get you a cup of coffee -- and the New York Post, which is all the things the Times is not (for example, fun to read). The Times, at some point, became convinced of its own reputation as the journalistic equivalent of high fiber, but there's actually a quite fine old paper across the river at the Newark Star-Ledger, which -- to my knowledge -- is not excluded from major news stories. Allergic to wire copy? Try the Wall Street Journal, which has its own reporters on the ground everywhere, provides about as much news as you need before you get into the realm of analysis, and sports the finest Chinese wall in the business -- more, alas, than can be said for the Times. (See, for obvious reasons, Sullivan on this point.) And, for all the Pulitzer Committee obscene-phone-call breathing over the Times's columnists, none of them rises too far above the banal in my estimation. Even Safire, the odd man out there and certainly the closest to my political leanings, is more interesting writing on language. Dowd, Krugman, Herbert -- they're mired so deep in Bushophobia, and in such thrall to their own influence, that they rarely rise above a parody of the Concerned Liberal Columnist. Old Rosenthal was interesting, even if it was only because he was a dinosaur; but like a dinosaur he stayed, and like a dinosaur he went.

Is there still good, solid reporting to be found at the Times? Yeah, I guess, but there is at the local daily in Bangor or Des Moines or Abilene, as long as you aren't the type to sniff at provincialism. Which brings us back to New York, the most provincial of the provinces. To a Times reader, it's that old New Yorker cover where, once across the Hudson, the country is foreshortened into caricature. In order to buy into the importance of the Times, you have to buy into the importance of New York, and therefore the importance of Importance. It's a worldview that is not entirely without merit, but one certainly couldn't call it a priori pre-eminent. A certain amount of the blogger world is all about puncturing that sensibility: it's a group of well-read, smart, even hip people -- bloggers and readers alike -- who are tired of the talking points, the recieved wisdom of The Times.

Which brings me to my final point, which was also my point in mentioning the Post above: The Times is generally a humorless paper. News, to them, is made and reported with a grim mien. When there is humor, it's often startlingly trite and revelatory of the insularity of the Times staff. The Post, on the other hand, is a big, meaty dish of news, full of weirdos, straphangers, pervs, and all the wonderful Post-isms that only a seasoned reader doesn't need explained (e.g., "Beep to Hizzoner, PA on Wrong Track in Bx" or some other juicy shorthand like that).

By the way, if I ever blog about newspapers again, I'm skipping the italics. (You'll notice I didn't get them all. Screw it. Even an editor gets tired of this crap.)

Next, no beer either: Well, we knew this was coming, it was just a matter of degree. Bars/restaurants in NYC are reporting up to 50% loss in business since the cigarette ban went into effect. Penn & Teller's excellent show on Showtime, "Bullsh*t" exposes the truth on such far-ranging issues such as Ouija Boards to communicating with the dead, to the supposed harmful effects of second-hand smoke. They hit this issue from every angle and their conclusion? The long-and-short of it is that the no-smoke zealots have gotten their way with us. Disclosure: I only smoke at bars, after a couple of beers, and usually only when I can bum a few off of people (something Enobarbus would know nothing about). So, I only care about smoking at bars, because elsewhere, I don't do it. Therefore, I'm particularly discriminated against. Anyway, the Penn & Teller show does this much more justice than I, but in the end, all NYC has succeeded in doing is killing the golden goose, with little to nothing to show for it.
Blair Witch-Hunt: The bloggers are all over the NYT-Blair scandal, as the hated bastion of liberal, elitist thought has gotten its just desserts, some argue. Sullivan makes a good point that as bad as Blair was, the fact that he got away with it for so long and so easily, is even worse. His expense reports (the ones that he did submit) easily show that he was operating in NYC, while purporting to be elsewhere. More disturbing, however, are those problems that didn't take any effort to uncover; namely his writing and reporting. The 7,000 page correction cites to years of mistakes, sloppiness and rebukes, but onward and upward he goes, getting moved from bureau to bureau as he burns bridge after bridge. All of this comes to the inevitable, already made point that if it wasn't due to his being black, then the NYT is a pretty shoddy operation. I don't know what the usual learning curve is at my local paper, but my guess is that at the NYT it's the most grueling anywhere. Yet, this guy was allowed to consistently fail upward...even from his days as a lowly intern, and presumably, easier to fire. The whole thing is shameful, and while I'm sure the efforts to shore this up will be sincere, and the NYT's sorrow real, this may have damaged the Grey Lady's reputation beyond repair.
Stakeknife: From what I'm reading, the IRA is in a major tizzy over the "outing" of the secret British agent, "Stakeknife", who, in his most recent role, was the head of internal security for the IRA. While the shock is no doubt severe to the Irish, one has to wonder what the gentleman really accomplished. By some accounts, he was able to steer assassinations and expose informants. But, can that be all? Or is that all you get for 80,000 pounds annually? I'm going to track this as best I can and see what comes of it. Early word is that the British are ready to pull other agents/informants for fear of exposure or a witch-hunt. In any event, one imagines this has to hurt negotiations.

Friday, May 09, 2003

Do they point their guns the right way? The Weekly Standard takes a break from pushing the tax cut to write an interesting piece on Poland's special forces, and their involvement in the Iraq war. The unit, known as GROM, was formed in the early 90s, and drew from a variety of sources: Seals, SAS, Delta. They have mostly seen action in Central Europe, but they played an apparent key role at Umm Qasr. Let's face it, nearly every straight male loves to read, watch and hear about special forces ops (gotta speak the lingo). These guys sound like they could hold their own with the best of them.
Slumming: Newsweek takes up the defense of "high" art through Peter Plagens, who writes:
High art versus pop culture is no longer a matter—let me switch metaphors here—of fancy French restaurant cuisine versus mom’s home cookin’ or a juicy cheeseburger at the corner diner. High art’s opponent is the equivalent of 10 billion tons of ersatz potato chips made from a petroleum derivative, flavored with a green “sour cream and jalapeno” dust manufactured in the same vat as the latest hair regrower, and served in little silver bags through which not one molecule of air will penetrate until 2084.
If this is so, it is only because, for so many years, high art accepted -- nay, cultivated -- the elitist attitude Plagens shows when he says
High art is elitist. Only a relatively few people have the educated taste for it, the patience to enjoy it and, frankly, the ability to get it.
This assumes, of course, that high art means that there is something to "get." I think that this is true of modern art (in which it is, in fact, only an affectation) but not necessarily of high art. Do we suppose -- in a culture that sports rising literacy, sophistication, and disposable income -- that erstwhile museum-goers have slowly been slipped the Folger's Crystals of pop culture instead of the "real" thing? Plagens obviously does, based on that first quote, though the second quote is off the mark on the wherefores. First, modernists (and their children, the post-modernists) brought pop-culture into the high arts, blurring the distinction. Second, as the distinction was blurred, the elite artists felt more of a need to segregate -- via ironic detachment and an ever increasing resort to "shocking" an anaesthetized public -- those who "get" it from those who don't. In other words, don't create art that is intentionally about "getting" some ephemeral obscurity ("Oh, I love how you deconstruct the prevailing paternalistic meme by transgressing the implied phallo-yonic dialectic so prevalent in the classical still life!" -- as she looks at a textureless sea-green and dun smear) and then bitch because "Mr. Harry Twelvepack," as Plagens patronizingly paints him (people who get it drink wine -- get it?), would rather not pony up $35 for the exhibit -- only to be told, if he questions, that he doesn't get it.

Look a little closer: What is there to "get" about Beethoven? Nothing, it seems, that isn't somehow present in human nature. What is there to "get" about art in general? In it's power to move us, art is anti-elitist, anti-intellectual. The Arnolfini Marriage doesn't require any particular need to "get" in order to appreciate its beauty, despite the "hidden transgressives" that pop up. That is to say, the intellectualized bits, interesting as they may be to scholars, are not what make art. A great example is Dickens, who was an incredible sell-out -- in both senses of the modern word. He was popular, beloved, widely read by all classes. There was nothing to "get" about it. Art invites one in. Let me say that again: Art invites one in. The "get" is simply the burden that modernists have put on art, the sign that says, "Stay out, you don't get it."

More: By chance found this on Lileks's site: "Real art has to be explained, patiently, like the dangers of a hot stove to a small child." Goddammit! Why can he say in one line what it takes me a page to vent?