FauxPolitik

Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Easterblogg: I had submitted my own proposal for his blog, which while somewhat inventive (if I say so myself) was really too long of a title: "Stop Me Before I Blog Again!" - a la his TMQ prime directive.

I'm really a closet neocon: To the contrary, I was 100% behind the invasion of Iraq on moral terms. Meaning, for me, that kind of call is a no-brainer. In fact, I saw no other compelling reason for us to do it. I did see many reasons why the U.N. should have done it, beyond moral imperatives - the fact that Iraq gave the U.N. the finger on so many of its resolutions. However, the U.N. did nothing because it is a do-nothing body. Shame on Kofi, et al.

I agree that things are done every day by governments because they are "right". I also agree that the premise, whether "right," "national security," or "other" can be used as a premise for essentially any action. But at least when couched under "national security" tenets, one strives to establish a threat to our people, our property, or our way of life. When you do it because it's morally right, you do it because you feel someone else is not doing what you, yourself, would do. It is as if we are imposing our Constitution on other nations. This then becomes more and more slippery. Perhaps we should overthrow Mugabe because he is unilaterally displacing white property owners on the flimsy premise that the land "rightfully" belongs to black Africans. Certainly, his actions are reprehensible, to our way of thinking. So, then what means would justify ending that course of action?

From the liberal wing: A screed from the left that doesn't just see Bush/Cheney/Rusmsfeld as the chief problem, but the almighty DLC as well. You see, they're just too interested in protecting "Wal-Mart, NAFTA, Archer Daniels Midland, and the pharmaceutical companies."

Apparently if the people were allowed to decide we would be overrun with Naderites and Feingold torch-carriers. Is the "Democratic wing" of the party so out of touch that they can't see that many people actually support right/centrist positions on lots of issues. Is demonizing Bush and everything Republicans stand for worth sacrificing the opportunity to win the presidency, or any other highl level office? "Republican-lite" Joe Lieberman may be your best shot to win in '04, but no, we wouldn't want to get behind the man that "...reminds us that he and Al Gore blew the Florida recount." (It always comes back to Florida, does it not?)

Mr. Garvey might also remember that if the DLC is the problem, the ones behind it are still Bill and Hillary. Remember that in '08 if HRC does as expected. Will she, too, be just another Republican-lite?

More evidence that the MTV crowd has much more in mind than spreading the vote in a non-partisan way. I love this quote, from Fat Mike, memebr of the band NOFX.:
"We're trying to build a coalition of kids 18 to 25," Fat Mike said. "We want punks and other disenfranchised young people to vote as a block, which no one has ever done before. Kids are the biggest group of people that don't vote. We want to change that."
That's very good of you, Fat, but what if some of the people you get to vote don't automatically agree with your position that
...(Bush) is wrecking the country and the world. He's starting wars for no reason, our economy is in the toilet, he's ruining the environment, and he does things like cut taxes when we need money."
Rather than waste my time parsing idiotic statements from drooling brats with too much of that all too scarce coommodity, money, I'll turn to the brave words of MTV fan, Dani, who writes in a letter to MTV:
It's kind of funny that Good Charlotte is a group that rails against conformity, yet here they are attempting to get young people to conform to their ideas against President Bush (see "Good Charlotte, Green Day, NOFX To Rock Against President Bush"). Don't get me wrong; I'm not at all defending Bush, but Good Charlotte's actions seem hypocritical.

I've always felt that punk rockers were really no different than conformists because they all have ideas of how they think everyone should be and think. There's nothing wrong with stating your beliefs, even if you're a celebrity and not involved in politics, but regardless of what your ideas are, you have to let people make their own choices.

Dani, 22
Memphis, TN
You know what, Dani? You rock!

Rock the vote: More celebrities jumping on the bandwagon. Is anyone surprised that the Dixie Chicks would be the latest to join the "Defeat Bush" organization that MTV tries to pass off as non-partisan. I wonder how strong the urge was to hold their nose while jumping in bed with Vince McMahon.

Moral Certainty: You raise an important objection to the moral certainty argument, Razor. (I'll address the North Korea issue separately, since I, unlike Bush, would put NK in a category apart from Iran or Iraq.) You're correct to note that when a politician starts to talk about "doing the right thing," it's prudent to turn on the floodlights. But moral certainty is different from political drivel. For one thing, the UN was agreed that Saddam Hussein was, at minimum, a threat to the region. Whether he had WMDs is a fine subject for debate -- and an open question, to say the least. But we knew that he'd possessed and used them in the past, and that he had violated the letter and spirit of the resolutions that provided for a cease-fire in the '91 war. This kind of moral certainty was syllogistic, rather than religious. We had required Saddam to provide a full accounting of his weapons as a condition of suspending hostilities, and after 12 years he had not done so. He was well aware that the burden of proof was on him to document his compliance in a way that satisfied the UN, and he had not done so. In addition, the evidence is there that he ran a brutal regime of oppression at home and aggression abroad, including continued, overt support of terrorism -- which, according to the Bush doctrine, made him an outright enemy. I understand being suspicious of politicians, but the evidence, with or without WMDs, is enough to make me certain that we did the right thing.

The moral certainty of muscular liberalism is established and respected. The first Bush, that old liberal, used it to justify Desert Storm, Somalia, and Panama. Clinton used it in Bosnia and later in Kosovo (without, ahem, the UN's backing). FDR invoked it in World War 2; Truman in Korea; Kennedy and Johnson in Vietnam. There was moral certainty that ethnic Albanians would be better off without Milosevic forcing repatriation at the point of a gun. There was certainty that, whatever the merits of the socialist system, the Chicoms were not massing troops at Korea's door to go deliver universal health care by force. For liberals to get suspicious about moral certainty at this point is akin to Al Gore's sudden allergy to the electoral college system after Florida, having defended it a few months before when suggestions cropped up that he might lose the popular vote yet win an electoral majority.

In addition, every other modern public policy of any merit is sold to us as a moral imperitive. Affirmative action is necessary, it is said, morally owed to the descendants of slaves. We have a moral responsibility to take care of our environment. Social security is a moral obligation to our elders. If you want to suggest taking this kind of reasoning out of the policy debate, I'm fine with that, because cost-benefit analysis will, on balance, favor a more libertarian position. Sure, it puts a price on your grandmother's old, grey head (no free drugs for you, Grammy; we've got a deficit!), but in cost-benefit analysis, everything has a price.

In the end, I think we can agree that while I may be morally certain that invading Iraq was a good thing, in fact the right thing, you may not. Fair enough. If 70% of the country fell in your camp, I've no doubt we'd still be pestering Kofi Annan for that second resolution we gave up on back in February. Fact is, 70% thought we should smoke Saddam and bring democracy to Iraq, and they belived it for several and sundry reasons, from WMD (the right's case, mainly) to moral certainty (the leftish hawks' case, oddly enough).

As we've discussed before, there are differing comfort levels with what's come to be known as the neocon worldview, particularly as regards Iraq. I think it was pretty clear, to those who were paying attention, that the administrations initial scattershot approach to Iraq (when the press said the reasons kept changing) was a search for a hook on which to hang the operation. WMD worked. But the real reason for doing Iraq first was because it could work as a first step in remaking the Middle East; it had the feasibility factor in its favor. Yes, I think Iraq was a link in the loose terror network we face, and at least indirectly helping those who wish us dead or in retreat from the world stage. But so is Saudia Arabis; so is Iran; so are elements in Pakistan. We'll get to them. (Pervez Musharraf is mighty cooperative these days because, no matter how much the administration denies it, he suspects there might be a "list" after all.) The neocons see the threats on the horizon and have put forth a bold, Wilsonian plan to defuse the conflict by way of liberty, economic prosperity, and the rule of law. Others, right and left, wish to create a new sort of "Fortress America," a neo-isolationist worldview wherein nobody will hate us or attack us if we don't f*ck with them. But you and I both know that some people need f*cking with.

I also don't dispute that there will be people along the way who wish to hijack both sides of the debate to further their own ends. Gross examples of this: on the right, the Jerry Falwells of the world who want us believing that September 11 was God's wrath on us for tolerating gays, apparently hoping to make gay-bashing a patriotic demonstration; on the left, those who say that Republicans have just been itching for a good ol' war to enrich their defense-industry chums. We need to be on guard against both kinds.

As I wrote the other day, moral certainty isn't all that foreign a concept. We can all recognize the moral imperative of stopping the Nazis. Isn't it, to this day, hard to believe that Hitler had British and American apologists, even if they were simply blind or isolationist, and not complicit? The world came around, but in 1936 it was by no means foreordained. We need to shorten the "come around" time.

Talking Points: Proving his blog-name accurate, Josh Marshall is still virtually wall-to-wall on what he's calling "Wilsongate," parsing administration statements down to the syllable, implicitly speculating upon Novak's history of taking story plants from Karl Rove, etc.

I'm not sure what the taxonomy rules are, but I always regard the application of the "-gate" suffix as an indication that the partisans are on the warpath (recall that Clinton couldn't sit down to bacon and eggs without some fringe publication declaring "Breakfastgate"), and I'm relatively certain that Marshall's enthusiasm for skewering the president is getting ahead of the evidence curve. Really, take just a short scroll through Marshall's blog and you'll notice some uncomfortable similarities to the kind of nut-fudge speculation that dogged Clinton, speculation that Clinton's defenders decried, as I recall.

It's not that I don't regard the administration's potential complicity in the leak, with or without the president's knowledge, as a serious matter. As I said yesterday, I'm all for an independent investigation. But I predict we'll see some gleeful fingerpointing on the left for at least a few weeks, or longer if they can drag it out, combined with an attempt to wrap up every critique of the president (Halliburton, WMD, tax cuts, stupidity, and so on) in the same fraying package. I think it will snowball, at least in the liberal press. (Note: Political hatchet site realchange.org is already humping this as "[Bush's] top aides illegally blew the cover of a CIA agent to coverup lies about Iraq." Wow! They've cracked the case!) I bet those old socialists Howard Zinn and Bill Greider will be flogging a book on this in October of 2004. Oh well. Sauce for the gander, I say. But do you suppose that the administration will feel any sympathy for the travails of Clinton's staff? I doubt it. Do you suppose that the Democrats will have any sympathy for the snowball of speculation that ran away with, and pretty much destroyed, the American Spectator? Yeah, I doubt that, too.

That said, Marshall is the go-to guy here. He's a first-rate reporter with a nose for bullshit. I'll be reading him daily.

Easterblogg: Conggratulations on the new blogg name Ggregg, and ggood luck. Now, how about explaining this:
[The F22 Raptor] is the first airplane able to "supercruise"-- sustain supersonic speed for long periods, rather than just a couple minutes.
You didn't really mean to say that, did you? Maybe you meant to say:
In the context of the F-22 Raptor, supercruise is defined as the ability to cruise at speeds of one and a half times the speed of sound or greater without the use of afterburner for extended periods in combat configuration.
Ever hear of the Concorde?

The Neocon Position: (sort of sounds like a Ludlum title doesn't it?) The idea of moral certainty has its attractive tenets, to be sure. But for me, it's one of those things that should remain up with the Platonic ideals, and mere mortals shouldn't sully the concept with their grimy little hands. Whenever a self-interested nation does something because "it's the right thing to do," start looking for the Haliburton contract. It's also dangerous because if that "certainty" is enough to bomb a sovereign nation, then it doesn't take much to create a pretense. I mean, Bush would have been better off in the case of Iraq, I'll admit, rather than stoop to creating Niger uranium deals, and promising hidden caches of WMD. But to say the neocons would have rolled out the "moral certainty" argument from the get-go is just convenient, given the paucity of any other compelling evidence at this point.

Your "Psycho" analogy is amusing and inventive, and probably not far off from what many would like to do. I only raise the spectre of North Korea as the ultimate litmus test for this brave new philosophy. Certainly the North Korean regime has done more to its citizens than Seoul could ever hope to do. The meglomania of Dear Leader cannot be questioned. Yet, they have the nukes, and they're only a quick jaunt down a six-lane highway from Seoul. The devastation to our allies, not so much us, would be considerable. Then you face the question of whether the ends justify the means. Surely, the neocons have a position on that.

Rush to Judgment: Well, my disdain for Rush Limbaugh is well known, and some say it causes me to lose objective focus. Fine, we all have our weak moments. It was good to see Eno working through his twelve steps re: Kerry.

Anyway, ESPN, as Flyer first reported here, hired Limbaugh to interject counterpoints to the rambling "discourse" that occurs on the ESPN football show each Sunday morning. Let's face facts, he's paid to be brash and to stir things up. Fine with me. However, he really over-reached this Sunday with his comments on Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb. He starts out by saying he's overrated. Not exactly a beacon-type comment over the past two weeks - he obviously wasn't listening to our sports radio. However, he goes on to say that the "media" has been pining for black quarterbacks to be successful, and that McNabb's flaws were overlooked due to his race.

It's not so much the idiocy of that statement that is at issue. It's the code he uses to push his real point. Read here for a more professional take on that code and its implications.

Monday, September 29, 2003

Conservatives on campus: Interesting article from Brooks that you linked, on conservatives in la academie, and it gave me a chance to look back on my undergraduate days (at least those I remember).

First, let me point out that I was as dumb as any 18 year old when I went to college and politics was way off my horizon. I started as a Criminal Justice major (wanted to join the FBI or something, as I recall, but I think I really just wanted to carry a gun) and had to take a course in American Political Systems, your basic Civics 101. How a bill becomes a law kind of stuff, which tells a lot more about typical high school preparation than anything else. The professor was Father John Putka (UD is a Marianist institution), who's political leanings line up pretty well with Justice Scalia. Now, I had just cast a vote for Bill Clinton ('92) and was careless enough to let him find out in conversation. And so was three months of abuse set in motion, always made his foil in class discussions. Of course, I lost almost all of them, but at the end of the term he asked me what my plans were and would I consider changing majors. Either he thought I was smart or he wanted someone he could pick on for three more years. I like to think it was the former, but he probably just had a quota to fill, in those nascent days of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy.

So I trudged through three sadly undistinguished years as a Poli Sci guy, getting decent grades but little else (I was, and still am, a horrible student). When I try to think about the politics of the department, it's hard to get past Fr. Putka, as he was the most outspoken of them all. Now that I think about it, most of the faculty were fairly moderate, perfect "compassionate conservatives," really. And there was plenty of opportunity for leftward leanings to come out. Mark Ensalaco taught Latin American politics, but I don't recall any defense of Catro, Danny Ortega, or Che, although there was some, justified, nagging of Reagan/Bush for the whole "he's an SOB, but he's our SOB" stance south of the border. And nobody has ever made clear the failure of the Soviet Union better than Jaro Bilocerkowycz. He was no apologist for Marxism/Leninism, and he let us call him Bilo, which was important at 9:00 on Friday morning.

The highlights of every year were the guest speakers arranged by Fr. Putka. Ohio Representatives John Boehner (R) and Jim Traficant (D) were both regulars. I shared a match with Boehner and Traficant called me a racist over lunch in the faculty dining room, so I guess my days of Clinton support were pretty much behind me by the time I graduated (barely in the parental required four years, and thanks to the aforementioned Mark Ensalaco who let me do research for his book to get my last Poli Sci credit).

The point of this long (I apologize) reminiscence is that most undergraduates, I'd guess, don't face the much derided liberal bias in universities, at least not the way Brooks describes it. Maybe it happens more at big state schools, and I'm aware of the incidents where College Republicans face some ill treatment by faculty. But I think the types of kids who join College Republicans deserve a little rough treatment, at least to toughen them up a little.

I'm sure that what Brooks is talking about is more common in the graduate and doctoral levels, so I don't disagree with his point. Maybe I just don't believe that UD was all that different.

Lots of Chat about David Brooks's latest column. Says Brooks, on the subject of conservatives in academia:
The most common advice conservative students [aiming for tenure-track positions] get is to keep their views in the closet. Will Inboden was working on a master's degree in U.S. history at Yale when a liberal professor pulled him aside after class and said: "You're one of the best students I've got, and you could have an outstanding career. But I have to caution you: hiring committees are loath to hire political conservatives. You've got to be really quiet."

. . . If it were my kid, I'd say go to graduate school — read the books you want to read. Then go to Washington, where you won't feel embattled because you'll exchange ideas with liberals and others in a more intellectually diverse setting. You'll probably end up doing more good.

Perhaps we can expect affirmative action at the university level. My proposed slogan: Hire a neoconservative to teach Classics; he'll think it makes him important, and it'll keep him out of the DoD.

Hmmm. Not very catchy, is it?

Sidebar: Brooks has taken some hits from the right, specifically insinuations that he has tempered his conservatism to take his NYT post. I disagree. Brooks has always been a thoughtful, moderate observer, not a red-meat podium pounder. He's subtle, fair, and very articulate. I think he's doing a bang-up job at the Times.

Speaking of TNR: And I was. Check out Beinart's TRB today. A great attempt to follow the bouncing ball when it comes to Democratic strategy on Iraq, the tax cuts, and the magic $87 billion dollars. Why is it that Howard Dean, who opposed the invasion outright, has seized the moral high ground here? He's the only top-tier Democrat who isn't even hinting that he would pull us out of Iraq; he's saying, instead, that now trhat we've committed ourselves, we have to see it through. It's a nice finesse, taking a bold stand, highlighting both his national security awareness and his anti-war cred. No wonder the big-name candidates can't get traction against this guy. He may not be John McCain, but he's driving the Straight Talk Express on this issue.

[Please notice how I avoided a gratuitous insult of that putz John Kerry, despite talking about the very issue on which he belches the thickest fog.]

The Neocons Strike Back: David Gelertner has the cover story in the Weekly Standard, called "Bush's Rhetoric Deficit." It begins like this:
On Iraq the administration likes to talk interest, not duty. "We did ourselves and the world a favor." But interest is always arguable; duty can be absolutely clear. Torture, mass murder, and hellish tyranny make for the clearest case possible. Yet too often the administration has sounded hesitant and defensive on Iraq. It has a compelling, open-and-shut moral case but prefers to make pragmatic arguments about global terrorism and Arab politics. Of course security is important, but mass murder is even more important. In Iraq the torture is over, the gale of blood is finished; we put an end to them. What else matters next to a truth like that?
It continues into an extended meditation on appeasement in the 1930s, morality's role in foreign and defense policy, and the current positions of Europe and the UN. What Gelertner doesn't say, but which is implied, is that this administration, pace the critics, is uncomfortable with the neoconservative worldview. Recall that Bush was famously wary of "nation-building" in the 2000 campaign. Gelertner's thesis is that Bush has done the right thing in Iraq; his subtle message is that Bush would be better equipped to say so had he followed the neoconservative map from the start.

The neocon view on Iraq, like the view from modern liberals like TNR, was that the actions of Saddam's regime were justification enough for regime change. The supposedly neocon hawks like Cheney (and Bush himself) were more inclined to sell Iraq as a national security issue. It may well have been, albeit not an imminent one, but now the administration is reaping what it sowed. Iraq may not have been that big a threat (although better not to have taken the chance, I say), but it still was a murderous, torturous, merciless regime. It's obvious now that Bush wished to avoid the responsibility that the neocons welcome: to remake the world, by American sacrifice, in the image of American ideals. It's a worthy goal, though easily caricatured by Jose Bove and his crowd of McDonald's burners; more importantly, it's a tough sell to a post-cold-war American populace -- though I'd argue that September 11th made us as ready for it as we'd ever be.

I don't want to put too fine a point on it. I don't think this is the beginning of a neocon "I told you so" campaign. But I think what Gelertner points out, in the abstract, is true enough. TNR often editorializes on Iraq with the mention that they supported the invasion of Iraq, but for reasons not dependent on the discovery of WMD evidence. The case was already made, they say, by the actions of the regime itself. It's fair enough to quibble with the point: Do we invade every country run by a murderous thug? That's a fine question for neocons and non-ostrich liberals to contemplate, and one I've contemplated.

Here's one possibility; call it the Psycho method. Remember Francis ("Everybody calls me Psycho") from Stripes? He had his famous list. "You just made the list," he'd say, implying that he had a list of folks he'd get even with some day -- a shit list, for lack of a better term. Well, we should have one, too. We should be ready to tell Iran or North Korea, when they declare that their obvious nuclear-weaponry programs are only energy related, "You just made the list." Can we invade every cruel dictatorship? Not all at once. But take a number, buddy; we'll get to you. This doesn't necessarily require that we send in the armed forces. Some folks might get the message, the way Khaddafi has, and consider reducing their advocacy and support of terrorism, or their acquisitiveness for weapons -- things that might bump them up the list. The UN would be an ideal partner in this venture, if we could get them to stop playing the "After you, Alphonse" charade in which countries like Iran, Iraq, or Libya are worthy of the same unqualified membership and respect despite ties with terrorists, proliferation, and human-rights abuses. The UN should be tiered, requiring, at minimum, a free press, the rule of law, not cutting off Habib's hands for having picked up a copy of the Arabic equivalent of Hustler (and you know they've got it), and not throwing Chang in jail for writing "the government sux" on the notebook he takes to classes at Beijing University.

This, I suppose, is Gelertner's point. Moral certainty may be unfashionable in the salons of Paris, and the common room at Berkeley, but we can pretty much agree who's killing their own citizens, who's censoring, who's violating human rights. (America, right?) We all shake our heads later at the Hitler, the Stalin, the Pol Pot; someday, the goofball left might even shake its collective dreadlocked tresses over Castro. Distance lends some perspective. But if anything is to improve -- in economic terms, or even in terms of the vaunted social justice (whatever that means) that the left talks of -- we have to shorten that distance. We have to cut down on the time spent justifying atrocity, for whatever reason, and see the threats to human rights, and human life, as early as possible -- as everyone finally realized, too late, that Churchill did.

[Wow, a screed. Sorry this post got out of hand. Can anyone lend me a red pen?]

The Clark train rolls on: The General may wind up a little big for his britches, if this scenario plays out.
"Clark would make the perfect running mate for Hillary — he has all the national security credentials she doesn't have," said Joe Cerrell, a California Democratic campaign consultant. But Mr. Cerrell said he could see Mr. Clark rebelling against any prior agreement and saying, "Why are you telling me I should get out. I'm the one leading in the polls."
How would that work out: Hillary puts out trial ballon that she's getting in and would pick Clark for a running mate. Clark tells her to pound sand, unless she wants to be his number two. Wesley Clark's political future arrives wrapped at Howard Dean's doorstep wrapped in brown paper with a note from Terry McCauliffe.

I don't see Clark having those kind of stones, especially as the campaign rolls on and he finds out how different politics is from the military and private sector. Corporations and the DOD are certainly capable of some bizarre reasoning, but nothing like the spin he'll see on the campaign trail. And it begins now.

Administration Intrigue: Did the Bush administration try to exact some sort of vengeance after a Foggy Bottom critic popped the yellowcake balloon? From the WaPo:
At CIA Director George J. Tenet's request, the Justice Department is looking into an allegation that administration officials leaked the name of an undercover CIA officer to a journalist, government sources said yesterday.

The operative's identity was published in July after her husband, former U.S. ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, publicly challenged President Bush's claim that Iraq had tried to buy "yellowcake" uranium ore from Africa for possible use in nuclear weapons. Bush later backed away from the claim.

It looks bad for Bush. The best he can do now is avoid any appearance of a cover up. (So far, so good.)

The blog-world seems to be attentive, but not unduly skeptical. I'd be inclined to agree with the Democrats calling for an independent investigation. I'm not a fan of special prosecutors, but some kind of blue-ribbon panel would be a confidence builder, as opposed to just tossing it to Justice to investigate.

Still here, sort of: The past week has been just a litle more hectic than usual, which helps explain, if not excuse, the dearth of blogging. Ye Olde Golfe Shoppe is a bit understaffed these days as a result of another employee getting "over the wall," so to speak. This means more work for me, which is good ($$$), but there's only so much that I can do. Meanwhile, professors actually requiring some production this term. Say it ain't so!

Should be a little better this week. What I'm really missing out on, though, is this.

A Teaching Point: Robert Palmer is dead. This provides a wonderful opportunity for us, while the media are focusing on the dancing-mannequins era, to break out some classics like Sneaking Sally through the Alley and Clues and remember what a huge talent the man had. If the later years of banality were an embarrassment, he is redeemed by the soulfulness he was capable of.

Speaking of Josh Marshall: And we were, before I left for a weekend of flu-like symptoms. Radley links to this Marshall piece on an interesting new company. Read Marshall -- or Radley, who excerpts the juicy bits -- and understand that the campaign finance reform law is at best a distraction from how influence is really peddled in Washington. Why, it's almost as though someone out there wants us to believe that CFR will magically make all our "public servants" honest and accountable. Remember the old magicians' adage: While the left hand is performing the trick, make the right hand the center of attention for the audience.

The Credibility Gap: Viking Pundit has been the gadfly on John Kerry's campaign. (And why not? Kerry's his senator after all -- though not by his choice, I'm sure.) Here he manages a mini-fisking of Kerry's typically bland rhetoric on energy policy. I'd excerpt, but it's really unexcerptable, mostly because Kerry's reasoning is so fatuous and in need of commentary.

I think a reasonable reader would agree that I am a practical green, but the arguments against ANWR just never appeal to me on a plain ol' cost-benefit level. We're not going to nuke the tundra; we can be pumping crude in a lot less than 20 years; and, as the Viking suggests, we need a more balanced energy policy than "Let's invent new technology!" What's the hold-up?

Sidebar: Razor rightly whacked me last week for being harder on Kerry than on the other Dems running for the nomination. I plead guilty. . . but with mitigating circumstances! He is, after all, my senator too. I ask Razor to engage in a small thought experiment here, in which he will successfully integrate, mentally, the following items:

1. Rick Santorum

2. President of the United States of America

That's roughly the equivalent of electoral horror for a voting Democrat from Pennsylvania, I reckon.

Friday, September 26, 2003

I bet the bear is laughing: Man is out hunting. Stumbles upon grizzly and cub. Grizzly gets pissed. Before man can shoot, grizzly pins man down, bites shoulder, then drools on his head. Bear walks away. Man tries to shoot again, but rifle broken. Poetic justice my man. NRA considering suit against bear.

Link via Instapundit.

These cards would go over big at Limbaughtomy: Straight out of the country that gave us Lafayette and Le Pen, now a deck of cards illuminating the 52 most dangerous leaders in the world, with W being No. 1 (represented as the King of Diamonds for his baseball ownership).

Thursday, September 25, 2003

Rush Limbaughtomy/Liberal Blogs: Let's see, Halliburton conspiracy theorist? Check. Wesley Clark resume humping? Check. Swooning over the returning soldier who thinks the war is a fraud, even if his criticisms are rather more libertarian than anything else and don't account for the great Democratic push to involve us in Kosovo, despite no apparent threat requiring us (in his words) "to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States"? Check. Quote from Robert Fisk, a pundit so discredited his name is an internet synonym for punishing mindless drivel? Check. Standard chickenhawk line about Bush's military service? Check. Implication that anyone who disagrees with the site's content has been "brainwashed," is nursing "extreme anger," or is in "psychological distress"? Check.

I think you foreshadowed this last week when you posted about bloggers having to toe the conservative-leaning-libertarian line, but I still don't see what you see. TNR is smart and incisive every day. Josh Marshall is not only a liberal blogger but also a good reporter. Protoblogger Kaus is unsparing, even if he has become a wholly owned subsidiary (and wouldn't we all sell out like that!). Easterbrook is a great snarky-but-fair liberal.

I don't have much use for this Limbaughtomy crap; honestly, it's just a mirror image of Limbaugh himself -- lots of cutesy name-calling and little actual thinking. It's boilerplate, like reading Atrios. I don't doubt that there are true-believing Democrats out there; that's dandy. But if I want to be fed the party line, I'll go to the DNC website. In fact, few things make a blogger more interesting than a little hand biting. Kaus, on the left, and Sullivan, on the right, are good examples: Happy to trumpet their agreement with their party, but merciless in excoriating the hacks and hangers-on. (In fact, Kaus seems to have an affirmative-action program for beating up on hacks: those in his own party go to the top of the list.)

I dunno. Maybe I'm just getting grumpy. It's like the Hannity thing. One of the radio shows I like gets bumped for Hannity occasionally. Now, the usual host is certainly conservative. But he's an interesting conservative, not some bland white guy soft-soaping family values or similar pabulum. When Hannity is on, I'm just not learning anything, not hearing anything new. The same thing happens when I read Ann Coulter. She gets off a good zinger now and again, but there really isn't any substance there.

I'm certainly not opposed to the rough and tumble of partisan discourse. I like hearing a liar called a liar, a bum being called a bum. But the "Bush lied, people died" formulation (like the Clinton-killed-Vince-Foster stuff) is so old and intellectually unhelpful (and widespread) as to be media white noise.

Finally: At long last, I've found (by following a maze of links through about 6 blogs) a non-libertarian, non-neo-con, non-neo-libero-contra-utero, but LIBERAL blog that is actually (mostly) entertaining and insightful. It's not even that paranoid. I bring you, but I won't yet give it perma-link status until a few more readings, Rushlimbaughtomy (even a pretty cool name). Again, more reading is required, but I like the guy's moxy.

Jobs? TNR also gives Wesley Clark an A for domestic policy (grading on a curve again?) for his proposal to redirect $100 billion of tax cuts (the ones for the rich, note) into a tax credit for businesses that hire new workers. This is a "good idea" according to TNR, even though they implicitly admit that the policy is so ill-defined as to be, essentially, meaningless. (Note to candidates: To get TNR's endorsement, declare nebulous policies of questionable merit financed by reducing the tax cuts* -- works like a charm).

It's a bad idea, actually. First, it becomes another brick in the corporate welfare monument we're building in DC.

Second, no matter how it's structured, it encourages companies to hire the lowest-paid workers they can get away with, so that they can offset more of their payroll expense with tax credit. There are always unintended consequences of subsidy, and this will be no different. It reminds me of how fast food companies cash in on subsidies for workforce training programs. Never mind that the employees are trained to run the fry machine, which is not exactly an extra-industry-portable skill.

Third, and another unintended consequence, is that any indication that this policy will become a reality is an incentive to lay off workers a company might be carrying in anticipation of better days, which is a standard business bet on the odds of an improved economy (i.e., versus hiring and training costs later). If the company needs them later, they can be hired back -- with the hiring and training costs essentially subsidized by the government.

The bottom line is that, if the economy continues to improve, jobs will be created anyway, despite productivity gains that have cooled hiring. If the economy doesn't improve, companies won't be in the mood to hire anyway, even with the subsidy, since it nets as a payroll increase. And, because of productivity gains and a slow recovery, the work isn't there yet, which is another reason why companies will hire, say, another janitor, food service worker, or other low-wage employee. The manufacturing jobs will await increases in orders that overtake the increases in productivity.

* Let me take just a second to discuss this neologism, "reducing the tax cuts." The tax cuts have been voted for; they passed. It's not like we're still in committee here. They're law. We're really talking about tax increases, raising taxes, another round of wallet-hoovering, etc. The Democrats will talk about "reducing the tax cuts" until the last penny of those cuts goes into effect in 2009 (or whenever), still claiming that we could "save billions of dollars" (NB: "save" here means "spend"). This is a part of the continuing effort to turn tax cuts into a spending program, like a line item on the budget; an effort to make taxation the natural state of affairs, and to make it a national sacrifice of some sort for you to get any more of your own money in your paycheck at the end of the week.

My Favorite: "If you want to campaign against Bush, go to New Hampshire. You're in the wrong state right now."

Arnold's getting lukewarm reviews today, but he drew some laughs, sounded confident (if perhaps scripted), and pulled off the ultimate debate coup: exceeding expectations. What did Arnold need to do last night? First, he needed to not drool on himself. Done. Second, he needed to appear conversant with the issues. Done. Third, he needed to have a winning personality. Done. (In fact, I think he picked up votes last night simply for beating back Arianna's charge.)

More: Moxie reminds us that the recall isn't just a California issue.

Busta, Der Schwarz, and Mc-C: Weren't they in a West Coast rap outfit back in '91?

The Song Remains the Same: Thought I'd make my monthly trip over to NRO to see what's doing. A lot to talk about no doubt, but I figured I stick to the CA recall which is so au courant umm, currently. Here's a piece from "the Editors" on the three main candidates: Busta, Der Schwarz, and Mc-C. Basically the article starts from the proposition that with the three, the conservative voter has to decide which of the three paths each candidate represents is best for her, Mc-C ("true" conservatism), Der Schwarz (not so "true," but better than Gray, and more lkely to win), or Busta ("pragmatic" and experienced - oh and hopelessly liberal...sorry almost left that out).

Busta is obviously given no endorsement here. He wants higher taxes on smokes, gas and millionaires (which is essentially Schwarzenegger symbolized; he's mega-rich, drives gas-guzzling Hummers, and loves the stogies [albeit not cigs]). More persuasively, it's clear that Busta's plan is not to reform, but to just drag in more money to, presumably, spend.

Mc-C is given major props on "the vision thing," but no one expects him to win. So, do you vote on principle, or vote to win? Perhaps a call over to Professor Gore might give you an opinion on this one.

The problem boils down to, according to NRO, whether you believe that Der Schwarz won't raise taxes. He hasn't pledged not to, a la Mc-C, but he also hasn't said he would. According to the "Editors",
That may mean that he intends to raise taxes once elected. Or it may mean that he wants to leave his options open, which may amount to the same thing: A governor who has not taken the no-tax-hike pledge will face very strong pressure to raise taxes.
So, while the GOP often complains that the Dems are a one-issue party (usually abortion, sometimes welfare) it's clear that taxes are the litmus test for the California conservatives. I find this a bit short-sighted in light of how many problems face California right now, but I'll give them a break only because my Hummer is double-parked and I need to get some smokes.

The California Debate: Well, one thing you can't deny, Ahnuld knows how to play to an audience. I'll let you read the article as it only contains the one-liners, which are actually pretty good, at least w/r/t Arnold and Ariana. Okay, here's a sample:
Huffington to Schwarzenegger: "Stop interrupting. Let me finish. . . . This is the way you treat women, we know that. But not now."

Schwarzenegger in response to Huffington: "I would just like to say that I just realized I have a perfect part for you in `Terminator 4."'

Call the (Humor) Police: TNR's "&c" blog (so tired of typing that; new name, please!) has this to say about Arnold's economic policy op-ed in the WSJ:
Schwarzenegger writes that, "[E]ven though some people say I still speak with a slight accent, I have reached the top of the acting profession." Some people??? Slight accent??? If this statement is in any way indicative of the kind of feedback Schwarzenegger gets from his advisers, it's quite possible that he's being kept even more out of touch with reality than fellow gubernatorial candidate Gallagher.
Er, I think this is called "self-effacing humor." And I think the folks at TNR ought to rent Pumping Iron this weekend.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

When a Clinton denies something, bet on it: Hil takes a moment from her busy schedule to have breakfast with reporters in order to address the "absurd feat of imagination" concerning her running for president or spearheading Clark's campaign. While she uses a bit of hyperbole in describing Bush and how we can't have four more years, she doesn't do any worse than the rest of the candidates (not that she's a candidate!!). She also sounds fairly intelligent when asked about Iraq:
On Iraq, Clinton stood by her vote in favor of the resolution authorizing Bush to go to war and carefully distanced herself from recent charges by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) that Bush and his advisers had cooked up the war in August 2002 and had foisted it upon the American people. "Based on what we knew and believed [about the Iraqi threat], it was merited," she said of the vote to back the war resolution.

Clinton said she had consulted with both Bush and former Clinton administration officials before the war about the Iraqi threat and said that U.S. intelligence "from Bush I to Clinton to Bush II was consistent" in concluding that there was "a continuing presence of biological and chemical programs" in Iraq and that former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein was continuing to seek to develop a capacity to produce nuclear weapons.
She also wisely brings up the new mantra of the dems, that Bush is employing a "preemption doctrine" that is dangerous, especially when the Iraq-WMD tie-in is looking all the more tenuous.

All in all, not a bad showing; not too shrill, and fairly concise. Still, no one believes her that she's not running. Funny.

Next up: Let's do away with Meghan's Law: An Oklahoma district court has blocked the Federal Do Not Call List. This is one of those weird circumstances where easily a majority of Americans are in favor of this law (based on my non-scientific polling) and yet, it would appear to be violative of the Constitution. So, let's amend the mutha! Maybe some sort of recall vote would be in order...

Dubai: There is a great article in October's Smithsonian about the small emirate. (Only the abstract is online currently.) Dubai is Islamic, but tolerant and liberal; it is technically an absolute monarchy, yet it shares chores with its fellow UAE principalities peacefully. It is decidedly not a democracy, but is nonetheless a haven for business, due to a self-consciously laissez-faire mindset and the rule of law.

If this sounds more than a little like Hong Kong, there's a reason for that. Dubai is imitating the model of Asia's powerhouse economy, and is mindful that it faces the same obstacles: few natural resources (the other principalities have the lion's share of UAE's oil wealth), the cultural currents of the Arab legacy of poverty, backwardness, and intolerance. Nevertheless, the article states, Dubai -- like Hong Kong -- is not without its own counter-influence on the Arab world. At a recent visit to Dubai, Jordan's King Abdullah called Dubai an economic model for Jordan.

The only American military leader with proven, consolidated victories in the Communist world may also be our best bet to conquer the Arab world: Colonel Sanders.

Nifty Debate: Two young lions debate the social and political costs of Bush hatred at TNR. On the left is Jon Chait, who is a sharp guy and good writer (even if he occasionally infuriates me); on the right is Ramesh Ponnuru, who is so smart that it hurts (and who is so conservative that you wonder if all that smarts is wasted on justifying the doctrinaire GOP). Have at it, gents.

Join the Club: WaPo headline: "Barbra Streisand Says She's Bored by Her Own Songs." As Chris Buckley says, this is low-hanging fruit.

(Via Drudge.)

The Recall: As usual, liberals love "democracy" until it threatens to bite them; thus can a Democrat argue for the right of felons to vote but think the recall is "just right-wing nonsense." I'm not a big fan of direct democracy. I think you can often find a majority of people who think X is a good idea, whether X equals free stuff for people who don't work, DMV forms translated into every language represented at the UN, or holiday parades that include large missile launchers rather than Snoopy balloons. In the immortal words of Rufus T. Firefly, "Whatever it is, I'm against it." I won't deny that the California recall is fun with a racing stripe, but if I actually lived there, I'd have to vote against it, vote for Gray Davis, who is undoubtedly the lowest snake in the state since Nixon left. There's enough conservative yang to my libertarian yin to be creeped out by a powerful electorate.

That said, Bill Maher was on Imus this morning, and he made a wonderfully revealing analogy. He said the problem in California is like the problem that comes up when splitting a check among numerous people at a restaurant table -- you know, when everyone chips in, but there's never enough to cover the bill. The guy holding the check, and the wad of bills incidentally, always says, "Everybody cough up a couple more dollars." Says Maher (rough paraphrase), "We don't need a recall; we just need to reach into our wallets again to solve California's problem."

Yeah, I thought you'd get this one. You're probably like me: You're the guy who had the crocque monsieur and a cup of coffee, not yet finished wondering how it was that you got about $5 back from that twenty you offered to the brother of the college roommate of your best friend's fiancee (who has so kindly offered to "do the math" on the table check), and now you're being asked to dig in for a little more cake -- you know, so the waitress doesn't end up getting too small a tip (or something; it's always something) -- and you're thinking, "How the f*ck is this snack going to end up costing $20?"

Welcome to California.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Dubya, Live in Turtle Bay: I didn't see the speech, but I read it. The first thing worth noting is that Bush offered little in the way of conciliatory gestures. In fact, he said rather bluntly that the "coalition" was forced to pick up for the slacking UN:
The Security Council was right to vow serious consequences if Iraq refused to comply. And because there were consequences, because a coalition of nations acted to defend the peace and the credibility of the United Nations, Iraq is free.
Far from being a crawling-back-home speech, this was more of a "Isn't it about time you got off your diplomatic asses?" speech.
As an original signer of the U.N. Charter, the United States of America is committed to the United Nations. [Unsaid, but clearly implied: "Even if the UN itself is not." --Eno] And we show that commitment by working to fulfill the U.N.'s stated purposes and giving meaning to its ideals.
My best guess is that France will have a brief fit of ugly, repugnant pique, but we will get a new resolution over a silent veto -- that is, France will not actually veto, but will stand around and look haughty while it abstains. Who cares? The resolution will be essentially meaningless, and will inspire few to join us who are not already with us, at least not in any serious way.

Oh, wait: Dubya will come out with a symbolic victory, a small shred of evidence -- in the form of a resolution -- that he can play nice with others. This and $3.50 will buy him a cappuccino in 2004.

Clark: Clark is in front precisely because no one knows who he is, what he stands for, and what he proposes to do. Like Ahnuld who polled very high before registering, Clark is simply the new face on the block. Yes, he's a four-star general, but for God's sake, his claim to fame is Kosovo. Now THAT will get the electorate energized - peace-keeping. Yes, he's got the street cred to take on Bush the Elite Fighter Pilot, but what else? More likely, the swell of opinion is being generated from the Clinton's ground team. However, I still don't see Hil on the ticket with Clark this year. I mean, if Clinton is supporting him it's because they know he can't win, which means they know something the rest of us don't ... yet. If she does want to get on board, it's to use Clark as a test balloon of her ideas, with the understanding that he will drop down to second chair when she announces. Maybe that flys, but she did pledge to server her Senatorial term. With the Clintons, their word is bond.

More Random Than Usual Thoughts: If breastfed kids are so flameproof, why do we need those tags on baby pjs warming us that they are non/inflammable? Is this some kind of quasi-Nazi experiment to breed flame-retardant super soldiers by infiltrating our bodies from a young age with this chemical?

Let's say you're hammering some nails, and by accident, you hit your thumb. How many of you say "ouch"? How many of you say "&&$#$)$&&(*#(*# !!!!" Thought so. I was listening to NPR by this guy who is some professor of language, and he was commenting on the increase in profanity in t.v. He actually was in favor of it, b/c it's more real, while at the same time professing to be one of the few remaining people who doesn't curse in real life. Anyway, I bet you see "ouch" in books more than you would hear it in real life. There's some metaphysical point to be made, but I leave those to Eno, who will find the opportunity to throw in a Kerry insult while he's at it. Just you wait.

My fantasy football team (well one of them): I had one player going last night. A good performance by him vaults me into first. His name, Rod Smith of Denver. First Quarter: a kick return for 15yds. Good. A fancy run for negative-five. Bad. A catch for seven and first down. Good. Ensuing punch of referee. Bad. Ensuing ejection. Horrible. Needless to say, I'm still in second place.

Listening to Howard Stern on free radio this morning. Topic: movies/events you've cried over and are ashamed to admit it. So, animal movies and Holocaust movies (i.e. "Life is Beautiful") don't count - everyone cries over them. We're talking the movie you're ashamed to admit you've even watched, much less cried over. Or to skip genres, if you're moved to tears over Bennifer's non-marriage. That would be bad. Okay, I cried when listening to Poison's "Every Rose Has its Thorn". I may have posted on this before. I forget. Anyway, it was a very tough time for me, junior year (?) in high school . I'd prefer not to go there.

Up In Flames: USA Today's above-the-fold story today is about traces of flame-retardent polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE) in breastmilk. A cause for concern, no doubt:
But "this is another wake-up call," says Linda Birnbaum, director of the Environmental Protection Agency's experimental toxicology lab.
Er, Mr. Left Hand, meet Mr. Right Hand: America has the highest standards in the world for flame-proofing consumer products. Thus, what the EPA is bitching about Americans being exposed to is a direct result of the state trying to protect us.

Further on in the story, there is this amusing tidbit:

Though the USA has the world's toughest flame retardancy standards, 3,000 people die in fires each year. The Chemical Manufacturers Association estimates the number would be up to 960 higher without such flame retardants.
Got that? 960 times higher! So without such flame retardents, three million people would die every year, more than 1% of the population. Within a single generation, we'd lose 60 million Americans. I smell Congressional-testimony-grade bullshit in that statistic. If the danger is that great, shouldn't we be hosing down our furniture once a day?

Speaking of environmental damage, don't even get me started on the dangers of DHMO.

Spain: I was clearing out some old WSJs today and I came across an ad I'd meant to comment on weeks ago. "Spain -- A Friend from Europe" is the theme of the half-page "Do business in Spain" ad, featuring a handsome (and not too swarthy! Spaniard making a welcoming gesture next to a Spanish high-speed train. Here's the NY Post on the campaign:
The ad taps into a current trend among U.S. consumers, who are turning away from French wines, industry observers said.

Rich Cartiere, editor and publisher of Wine Market Report in Calistoga, California, said wine retailers and restaurant owners have become wary of keeping many French wines on their lists because they are afraid consumers will want alternatives . . . When measured by volume, French wines sold in U.S. supermarkets fell 15.5 percent in the first half of the year from a year earlier, according to Cartiere. By contrast, Spanish wine sales rose 20.5 percent in the first half from a year earlier, he said.

Smart for the Spaniards to take advantage of this. Even the catchphrase "A Friend from Europe" seems like a slap at the French, noting, perhaps, that some in Europe are not friendly. And, in a sly tip toward the Aznar government's steadfast support of our Iraq policy, the feature copy reads, "Friends will always give their best." (Is the Spanish train a dig at France, too? Remember how France got such a big charge out of having the TGV? Never mind that the damn thing did laps at 300 kph with nowhere to go but Lyon or Marseille or Brussels -- woohoo! -- and still took nearly as long as driving your Peugeot.)

The Clark Effect: General Wes jumps in the race and immediately vaults over the pack. Obviously, this says more about the Democrats than about Clark himself. Sullivan links to Clark's web site, where the "Issues" page is, tellingly, under construction. He doesn't support the war, but he would have voted for it. Or maybe not. But that's okay, since he no doubt supports traditional Democratic positions, right? Howard Fineman reports:
Last January, at a conference in Switzerland, he happened to chat with two prominent Republicans, Colorado Gov. Bill Owens and Marc Holtzman, now president of the University of Denver. “I would have been a Republican,” Clark told them, “if Karl Rove had returned my phone calls.”
Fact is, nobody knows where Clark stands on anything. So why are so many Democrats ready to throw their support to an unknown quantity so quickly? Sure, they want to beat Bush. But USA Today's latest poll shows all of the major Dem candidates within the margin of error when placed head to head against Bush. (Interestingly, it also shows that the "most hated man in America," John Ashcroft, has a negative rating among Americans of (a steady) 31%. Hillary is at 40%, her lowest rating since last year. America, it seems, knows its real enemies.) If any of the front runners has roughly the same chance of winning, what's the reason for further contesting the primary?

Monday, September 22, 2003

Note to Razor: As long as you don't mind listening to 44,000 snapshots of your music per second, I suppose CD audio is fine. Digital audio -- as you well know -- works on the same principle as the motion picture: if I show you still pictures quick enough, I can fool your brain. I doubt, though, that you've ever mistaken film for real life.

That said, next time you think you see me, don't be surprised if it's not really me. I may instead send someone to test you by showing you thousands of pictures of me very quickly.

Actually, I do have a CD player in my new car, and when I bought it I checked out XM. I can't say I'm terribly interested. Tons of options is really nice sometimes, but sometimes it's just a drag, like the restaurant with the 40-page wine list: Yeah, yeah, I see you have lots of wine. Now quit wasting my goddamn time; I'm paying you in part to weed out the crap and present me with the short list. Not so easy with music, I suppose, but perhaps just as well. I'll have to live with toting a bunch of CDs around in my street bag.

How Much Would You Pay Not To Listen To Commercials?: Certainly no one would argue that radio today is worth a farthing. Oh, I guess that's because it's free. Not free in the sense that you don't pay a increasingly high price with your ears, listening to nameless/personality-less "DJ's" interrupt the studio engineer/computer, in order to relay the latest traffic jam. Not in the sense that you don't waste countless minutes hitting all your pre-sets, then going manual to find the one Foo Fighter song you haven't heard three times that day for some "variety". Not that you don't pay with every fiber of your sanity to avoid the quick-twitch reflex to go to talk radio, because anything...anything...is better than the latest packaged Michelle Branch "song".

No, it's free only because you only need buy a radio to listen in. Of course, today, even in your car, you don't have to turn on the radio. Sure, you can always burn a CD, or quaintly, dub a tabe; or even sing your own song, but unless you're addicted to Kazaa, even those faves will get old. And, unless you never have a passenger, let's hope you're not singing Michael Bolton - actually, let's just hope that regardless.

So, would you pay around $10.00/month to get hundreds of channels, no commercials, and variety out the wazoo? Well, that's the test before you. You can now have a digital receiver installed in your car, and many manufacturers are giving you the option to have a player put in you car upon delivery.

I don't see how "free" radio has a chance. For the price of one-half of a CD a month, you can get nearly limitless radio. I would concede that it will take probably a few more years for the technology to catch up to our national consciousness, but especially for those who drive a great deal, having the ability to never hear another commercial again, is simply priceless.

Note to Eno: a "CD" is like an "record", but smaller in diamater, made of space-age plastic, and knows only one speed - the speed of light baby.

Philanthropy: Jesse Walker, who's forgotten more about radio than most of us know, noticed this story about a commercial-free radio station in Southern Arizona, playing the kind of classic rock and roll that has been programmed off commercial radio. Says the reclusive man behind the music:
I'm doing what I want to do. I don't have anybody yelling in my ear, telling me what to play, or what not to play. People are free to listen to it if they want to, but I'm not concerned if they don't. I want the station on the air because I love all this music and nobody's playing it on the radio. It's really that simple.
I don't want to go off like I know the radio, but I did grow up within the radio reach of Dave Herman, who was never allergic to going deep on an album; of Scott Muni, who was cut off at the knees by corporate radio and ended up struggling to get an hour a day on a name station; of Vin Scelza, the only fellow I ever heard play a song twice in a row, just because he liked it (imagine doing that on a Clear Channel station and not meeting you pink slip immediately). It's an old bitch now to say that radio all sounds the same; but I can, with some accuracy, predict exactly what will be playing on my ride home from work. Even the independent station in town (the blues/worldbeat/alt-rock station that every college town has) will play the crap outta some goofy Moroccan disco tune that somebody heard during a break on NPR and has now become the must-have name among the college set, but won't dig a whole lot deeper into the vinyl than something like "Instant Karma." (Plus, it's all so damned left-wing.)

Screw it. I'll just drag another 500 pounds of used LPs home from Championship Vinyl again, to play on my turntable that mysteriously switches from 33 rpm to 45 rpm mid-song.

More Clinton/Clark: Safire has a strong opinion.
G'wan, you say, the Clintons should be supporting Dean, a likely loser to Bush, thereby ensuring the Clinton Restoration in 2008. But plainly they are not. Their candidate is Clark. Either they are for him because (altruistic version) they think Clark would best lead the party and country for the next eight years, leaving them applauding on the sidelines, or (Machiavellian version) they think his muddy-the-waters candidacy is their ticket back to the White House in 2004 or 2008.

Which is more like the Clintons?

He said as much yesterday on Meet the Press. Safire's not a Clinton fan, true, but he's also wired, politically. He hears the whispers at the highest levels; you don't spin from the right for the Times unless you're a player.

WaPo in favor of vouchers: The vote for a D.C. voucher initiative should not be a victim of a Senate filibuster. This bipartisan bill is a step in the right direction. I just hope it doesn't get loaded down with any baggage or pork that give opponents an excuse to vote against it.

Props to Viking Pundit.

Primaries, Dean, Clark, and Clinton: John Ellis in TCS examines how the Primary race is all about being one of the annointed two candidates.
The iron rule of media bias was once explained to me years ago by Henry Griggs, a media and political consultant. He described it as an analog of what he called "Fiji math." "In Fiji," he said, "they used to count as follows: one, two and many. There was no "three" or "four" or "five." There was just one, two and then that third number; "many." That's how the media cover politics. They can only count to two."



This bias is exaggerated by the exorbitant cost of covering campaigns. Simply put, the major television networks, newsmagazines and newspapers can't afford to cover a "many" field. It's a budget buster inside a budget that already requires huge outlays for pre-primary coverage, primary and caucus Election Night broadcasts, party convention coverage, debate coverage, general election campaign coverage and Election Night broadcasts. As a matter of simple economics, the field must be reduced to two as quickly as possible.
It's an interesting take on primaries and the media, but Ellis sees it as supportive of the Clark/Clinton ticket hypothesis that won't go away.
Enter General Wesley Clark, a Clinton/McAuliffe production if there ever was one (Clark's advisors, almost to a person, are all veteran Clinton hacks). General Clark's candidacy is the Anybody But Dean campaign. With a twist. The twist is that Hillary Clinton's name will soon be floated as his running mate. The message will be that Clark-Clinton will unite the party. All of this has happened or will soon happen before a single vote has been cast. That's how much front-loading the primary schedule has exaggerated the importance of Iowa and New Hampshire and distorted the nomination process.
I still don't see this political odd couple geting together. Clark would wind up the first presidential nominee who couldn't get any airtime.

One More Thing: I'm sure the Ringo slam was at least partly tongue in cheek. I'll let it slide. But if you have Magical Mystery Tour, put on the headphones and dial up "Strawberry Fields Forever" for a listen. Note Ringo's tom-snare fills on the choruses and the reprise. And read this.

A Bit More: I suppose you're right, Razor, that McCartney could have somehow put his foot down back in 1970. The story goes that Lennon authorized the Spectorization, but nothing is clear from the time, really. My point is that, for artistic reasons, it's worth having the document. The point of Let It Be, as a project, was to cut live in the studio, to move away from using the studio as an instrument as they had in their later projects, particularly Sgt. Pepper. But there's no denying that the Beatles are something of a cottage industry now. As for who makes the money, doesn't Michael Jackson own the catalog now? Seems to me that he'll probably take the biggest cut. Thus I presume (perhaps unwisely) that McCartney's motivations are artistic (or a slap at Yoko, as you suggested, which is an art in itself).

Okay, now it's "murderer": Well, I suppose it could be manslaughter, but let's not quibble.

Re: "Let it Be". Your points are well-taken, and certainly I would not argue that making money equals taste w/r/t Spector and his "wall of sound". I suppose my point is that if the song was good enough to get released, as it was, then changing it now can only be about making even more money (Paul simply can't need it) or giving Yoko a pain in her side b/c she has to read about McCartney writing songs. With "Let it Be" you can't say the Beatles didn't have the clout by that point to kill Spector's influence if they didn't want it. So, someone had to agree to it. Yes, they were divided at this point, and perhaps no one cared, but it can only be surmised that there wasn't enough vocal objection to Spector's influence at the time.

Okay, I'm not really arguing the artistic merits of the song. Some people (sappy sentimentalists, the lot of 'em) like rising crescendos with choirs and twenty violins. Some people find like layered harmonies with reverberation and other neato effects. No, the Beatles weren't about that, per se, but not every song could live off of Ringo's simplistic time-keeping (oh great, here goes Eno's next rant) without further embellishment. I don't begrudge the Beatles from branching out a little and seeing what Spector could do with a rock band. However, with "The Long and Winding Road" I couldn't agree more. In general, I'm all in favor of nakedness, but usually this is limited to supermodels.

In other music news: I was never a big follower of Warren Zevon. To me it was "Werewolves of London," "Lawyers, Guns, and Money," then....nothing. A few years ago a friend sung the praises of Zevon and I was very impressed. I had the same feeling as when I first was introduced to John Hiatt. Both are a songwriter's songwriter and a musician's musician, respected by everyone who knows them, but known by a relative few outside the circle. And both had limited success on their own, but their songs get covered all the time with more commercial appeal. Think Hiatt's "Thing Called Love" by Bonnie Raitt and Zevon's 'Poor Poor Pitiful Me" by Mary Chapin Carpenter.

That said, I got around to buying Zevon's final release, The Wind, this weekend. It had been praised by many already, even by (proving the "blind squirrel finds a nut sometimes" theory) VH1 who did a special on it just a few weeks before Zevon died. It's as good as everyone has said, even, at times, better.

It opens with the best song on the album, "Dirty Life And Times," which best shows off Zevon's greatest gift, his turn of a phrase that only he could think of (Elvis Costello does the same thing). With Billy Bob Thornton and Dwight Yoakam on backing vocals, he sings:

And if she won't love me then her sister will

She's from Say-one-thing-and-mean-another's-ville

And she can't seem to make up her mind

When she hears about my dirty life and times

It's Warren looking back on a full, if not sainted, life and forward to his last days.

Getting the most attention is his cover of Dylan's "Knockin' On Heaven's Door." Perhaps, like Phil Spector, producer Jorge Calderon couldn't resist dressing this one up a little too much. Everybody comes in on background vocals and Zevon's voice is lost behind them and the combined guitars of Tommy Shaw (12 string), Randy Mitchell (slide), and Brad Davis. Less would have been more, particularly since the whole album looks death in the eye and, in turn, laughs, cries, and flips the bird. Just as "Numb As A Statue" gives a peek inside the heart of a man who's just heard he's not long for this world, "The Rest Of The Night" tells us that, though he may be dying, Zevon isn't gonna let the party die.

You wanna go home? Why? Honey, When?

We may never get this chance again!

Let's party for the rest of the night!

If death and dying is the theme of the album, love is the underlying current that carries us to our final reward. Both "She's Too Good For Me" and "El Amor De Mi Vida" are love songs of the highest order, one mourning a love that couldn't ever be, the other wishing he cold hold onto the love he found at the end. And Calderon redeems himself on the latter by tastefully producing a delicate song and beautifully singing the simple chorus in Spanish.

Zevon seems to have received more attention in his death than he ever received in his prime (or at least since "Werewolves..." slipped off the charts). At least he left a final album that appeals to both longtime listeners and new ones. It's fitting.

What do you mean you don't own fucking Blonde On Blonde: I feel just like Jack Black's victim in High Fidelity, getting dragged through the record shop with Black shoving record into his hands saying, "It's gonna be okay."

Sorry, but I don't have Let It Be. But I'll never forgive Phil Spector for writing "Groovy Kind Of Love" or Mr. Beavers for making us sing it for our choir concert freshman year of high school.

Reagan's Long Legacy: The mainstream press continues to be astounded by evidence that Reagan was not a moron. The same sort of thing happened a few years ago when a book of his pre-presidential speeches and op-eds was published, showing Reagan to have a facility with the subtleties of economic policy that went beyond what the press suspected from a "genial idiot."

I guess that this will continue for many years, with Reagan finally taking the mantle he deserves, as the GOP's answer to FDR.

Beatles/Spector: I hope you all did your homework over the weekend: a couple of trips through Let It Be. I sure did, and I’m prepared to respond to Razor. (I would have done so over the weekend, but the in-laws were visiting. More on that later. Maybe.)

Phil Spector was indeed a brilliant producer. I’m still in awe of the Crystals' "And Then He Kissed Me" to this day. Listen to that tune and remember that this was the early 60s – Spector is already putting together a sound that will still be influential when Bill Graham is miking the Fillmore for the "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" show. The "Wall of Sound" on that song is so strong, you’d swear that fully half the sound in the recording is the studio vibrating sympathetically.

But one thing Spector has never been accused of, as far as I know, is good taste. You like girl groups? Good, here are 700 of them, all a touch different vocally, all recorded with the the same combination of gloss and rattling glassware. Sure, the guy made a mint off it all, and the sound was a startling innovation, but subtle he was not. And there is the crux of the biscuit: There are some things you can do with anonymous chick bands where the production technique is the star of the show that you don’t do with the Beatles.

The Beatles were always tasteful – a unless they were being camp, of course. With George Martin, who was everything Spector wasn’t, the Beatles pulled orchestral instruments and arrangements into rock music with great taste and great results. Mainly, this came from two things. First, they used the instrumentation sparingly (with exceptions, such as "A Day in the Life," in which "over the top" was the goal). Second, the arrangements are perfectly integrated. Think of the French horn in "For No One," for example. It’s possible to listen to that song without thinking that you’re hearing an unusual arrangement, without thinking, "Hey, that’s not a typical rock instrument."

Then, there is Let It Be. Where to begin? How about "Across the Universe," a beautiful, spare guitar-and-voice Lennon number to which has been added . . . what? A bit of harmony? Some sympathetic instrumentation? No, how about a f*cking choir! And "I Me Mine" may be a tricky Harrison tune that jumps, not altogether successfully, from waltz to swing-march and back. The full choir-and-orchestra treatment, though, serves only to highlight the imperfections in the song. An otherwise average song is suddenly a glaring failure. The fun and funky improv "Dig It" is a nice addition to the spirit of the album, which was meant to be live and casual. But whose idea was it to put "Dig It," which ends with Lennon mockingly calling for a hymn, in front of the hymn-like "Let It Be"? And why overinflate "Let It Be" with an organ, then add horns and strings? This would be a gorgeous song with just drum, bass, piano, Billy Preston’s nifty Fender-Rhodes fills, and with George’s overdriven guitar breaks. The ultimate travesty, of course, is the syrupy orchestration in "The Long and Winding Road," which gives the song all the subtlety of a cudgel. McCartney had intended it to be a plain voice-and-piano piece. It became, instead, the nadir of string arrangements, with "Dr. Zhivago" blaring over a very lovely and simple song. No doubt Spector heard any unfilled silences as wasted space and slapped the treacly orchestra on top like musical spackle.

As a said, you can do some of this stuff to manufactured teen-pop. Spector even called his prefab hits "little symphonies." And the fine parts of Spector’s sound were refined by Brian Wilson into songs as subtle as "Pet Sounds" (which uses lots of orchestration) and as heavy as "Good Vibrations" (which was likely intended as the second coming of the wall of sound). But you can’t just slap these techniques on the Beatles, particularly since the Beatles were never a genre band that needed tarting up. And finally, contrary to some critics who have said the songwriting on Let It Be was too thin to stand alone, I think the songwriting is, with exceptions, quite excellent. "Two of Us" could be a hit record today, and is one of the best Lennon-McCartney duets, with a nifty interval to the harmony. "I’ve Got a Feeling" and "Get Back," both nitty-gritty rock songs, show the Beatles playing rock and roll again, apparently enjoying it, and certainly doing it well. Even the filler has its charms: "One After 909" shows the group in full retro mode, jamming on a song that might have been on the radio when the lads were listening to Carl Perkins and combing DAs. Both Lennon (Rock and Roll) and McCartney (Run Devil Run) would go back and cut whole albums of this greasy kid's stuff later in their careers, so you know the joy in it is natural.

Strip it all away, and Let It Be is the Beatles' final rock album, a throwback. Taking off the Spector production, I think, can only give us more of what the intention of the album was, the reason they recorded it live, instead of tracking it like Abbey Road. Spector’s polish and schmaltz are antithetical to Let It Be. Scrub it off.

Friday, September 19, 2003

Spector: Genius or Fraud (let's leave out "Murderer" for now): You tout McCartney taking off the "Wall of Sound" from Let It Be. But wasn't the Spector Sound revolutionary? Didn't it take music to a whole new level? God knows the guy made a ton (and we're weighing $100 bills here, not $1s) of money from it. What's wrong with some post-production tinkering? Why is "naked" better? There, I've poked Eno enough, but I'm interested to hear more on why the song (which did pretty well as it was) is improved. Or, do you simply think this is McCartney giving the finger back to Yoko for not letting his name go first on the writing credits?

Speaking of soccer that nobody watches: In case you don't catch the last ten seconds of SportsCenter, or fail to read the tiny 2-inch column below the local high school sports section in your paper, it's time again for the Women's World Cup - new marketing slogan: "No sports bras this time!". Can't you just taste the excitement? Fortunately for its own sake, the event is once again in the U.S. where there is at least the hope of some $$ trickling in (for all of the chest-beating over in Europe about how much they love the foot, they love more relegating women to where they belong, and don't spend much time watching the gals run around on the pitch). Also fortunate, is that the U.S. team has no young talent, so it's pretty much the Mia Hamm show again (I think there's a clause in there somewhere that she has to play and appear in every ad until she dies), with the nearly menopausal supporting cast: Lilly, Foudy, Fawcett (all combined, nearly 500 games played). Chastain is back too.

Interesting side notes: For some reason, the Nigerians and the North Koreans (!) are getting all the press; for the first time, headgear will be worn by certain players to reduce concussive type injuries; rumor is that another successful tournie will revive WUSA.

And you thought the WUSA had it bad: With a nod back to my post earlier on the problems soccer faces in our country, here's how well the NHL is doing. No surprise, the staggering collective loss is attributed to player salaries spiraling ever upwards, or the "save me from myself" complaint. But to be fair, there's no salary cap in the NHL, and it's been proven that in every sport, the owners can't help themselves, so a cap is put in place. Plus, the cap brings us "parity" which, we are calmly assured, is a good thing. That's right: every year, a different team wins the championship, while the one that just one it has to dump half of its players to get back under the cap for the following year.

Anyway, the collective bargaining agreement in the NHL runs out this time next year. What will happen? What always happen. Minimal negotations for 10 months, followed by panic, name-calling in the papers, and finally, lock-out. This proven pattern of mutual self-destruction should just about put the final clod of dirt on the NHL ever getting a good t.v. contract. Hell, the strike almost killed baseball (we can always dream) and that sport is actually watched south of Lake Ontario. Hosers.

In Other News: Paul McCartney has remastered the Beatles' Let it Be to remove the post-production schmaltz ladled on by Phil Spector. Can I get an amen?

I do own (and cherish) the album; as tasteless as a lot of it may be, and as much as it was Lennon's middle finger to the group to get Spector involved, the songwriting is a tour of understated excellence ("Two of Us"), ballsy R&B ("Get Back"), the original power ballad ("Let it Be"), and some retro kicks ("One After 909," no doubt one of the inspirations for David and Nigel's impromptu "All the Way Home" from Spinal Tap).

Also in the musical vein, my son has taken quite a shine to Dusty Springfield's Dusty in Memphis, which I had given a lot of play at one time. It's great that he just pulls whatever catches his eye out of the collection, and I say, "Oh, yeah! I forgot we had this one." If you haven't heard it, check it out. And definitely get the version with the extra tracks. Her crack at the Goffin/King tune "That Old Sweet Roll" alone is worth the extra couple of bucks.

What Will Old Europe Say? Vaclav Havel, Arpad Goncz, and Lech Walesa gave a Bronx cheer to Castro (and implicitly to those in Europe who still swoon in the presence of El Jefe) in the WaPo yesterday, saying:
It is the responsibility of the democratic world to support representatives of the Cuban opposition, regardless of how long the Cuban Stalinists cling to power. The Cuban opposition must have the same international support as did the representatives of political dissent in Europe when it stood divided. Statements of condemnation for the government's repression, combined with specific diplomatic steps coming from Europe, Latin America and the United States, would be suitable means of exerting pressure on the regime in Cuba.
I note only the (probably intended) irony that they issued this stirring call in September, the month in which so much of Europe has returned from holiday to shake la arena de Cuba out of their shoes and get back to their grueling 30-hour workweeks.

How You Like Me Now? TNR's Primary published an interesting question: Why is Howard Dean so sanguine about Wes Clark jumping into the race? (They decided he was being either cautious or naive, or both.) Dean's answer, from the Washington Post:
It is a good thing for us to have Wes Clark. I have four people beating up on me for being against the war. Now, I have a four-star general saying the same thing I've been saying.
Yesterday, Clark rolled out a Kerry-style position in favor of the Iraq war (and, in fact, skipped Kerry's dodge about voting to "threaten" war), while reserving the right to criticize. That is, he's definitely not "saying the same thing" Dean has said. Having held talks with Clark, presumably to co-opt him by signing him onto a Dean ticket, Dean must have known where Clark stood. Sounds like whistling past the graveyard to me.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

Hunker Down: Glad to see you're not packing it in . . . like the nation's capital. They even closed the Metro in DC, and it's underground!

On a not-unrelated note, I had a college friend from the Carolinas who wore a shirt that said, "I got blown by Hugo."

Brief Point: Flyer, I think Hillary's internal polling tells her exactly what we all know: The nomination's hers for the asking. Most of today's big boys would drop out the day she jumped in, and for one good reason -- namely, that she will suck every penny out of the race. If there's any Clinton/Clark ticket, it will be in that order.

Isabel: I'm far enough inland that Hurricane Isabel won't be terribly disruptive (at least it seems that way now). I'll be following it here, though. In the meantime, some useful facts about hurricanes.

On Clark and Hillary: Peter Lawler thinks a Clark/Clinton tag team could be imminent.
Why would the senator give up her all the influence that comes from having a safe seat from one of our largest states? The former First Lady could hardly be fulfilled as a mere senator; her real ambition is to be president. And whomever Clark picks as his vice-presidential candidate — if the ticket is elected — would have immediate advantages in the struggle to succeed him. Hillary can't count on that person not catching on. And no insider Democratic senator has won the party's presidential nomination under the present primary-nomination system. If Mrs. Clinton wants to be president, she'll want to be on the Clark ticket.
I don't thnk so. I think she has to wait out '04. To lose the nomination to any of these bozos would be too much and she's got a better chance of getting elected in '08, on the presumption that 9/11 and national security will be further in the rearview mirror. And she's nobody's VP (been there done that, as has been noted). The only downside to waiting is the chance that the Dem nominee wins and she has to wait until 2012. But that also gives her time to build credibility that comes with a little senatorial seniority (committee assignments and chairmanships etc.). When she gets in, it'll be 100%. Not as Clark's #2.

A Name in the Race: The more I think about it, the more I think Wes Clark isn't that name. Did you hear his hat-tossing speech? He doesn't exactly light up the hustings, does he? (Remember that Admiral Jim "Why am I here?" Stockdale was a military hero, too, and about as exciting as cold toast.) He seemed at his worst when he's tried to generate enthusiasm, to play to the crowd; he would stumble over a word -- not badly, mind you, but just enough to put him on autopilot for a second -- and it would all suddenly sound very rehearsed. And the "My name is Wes" schtick isn't going to fly. He'll get an Oscar for sure if he can play the just plain folks routine through this campaign; anyone who sees him on CNN knows that he's pedantic, not homey.

No, the Democrats need an established persona, someone larger than life.

Trial Balloon: Drudge links to this speculative Daily News story. Bill Clinton, speaking to his old buddy Leon Panetta in California, said that the calls for Hillary! have begun:
Clinton said his wife was being urged to run by supporters in spite of her commitment to serve out her six-year Senate term, the newspaper said.

The former President's statement tantalized Democrats who have heard the senator say repeatedly she will be on the presidential sidelines next year.

"He's clearly not discouraging speculation that she could be in the race in 2004," said former New York State Democratic chairwoman Judith Hope, who is close to the former First Lady but is supporting ex-Vermont Gov. Howard Dean.

I'll say this much: This scenario is how we've all known it would go -- she promised to serve a full term in the Senate; but if the people she promised to serve are practically begging her to run, then she owes it to them to consider 2004. Beyond that, you can be damn sure Hillary knows that her 2004 chances are looking a lot better than they were a year ago. If I were her political advisor, I'd tell her to jump in. If she shows she can compete with Bush, even if she loses, she makes herself the top choice for 2008 anyway. Sure, nobody likes a loser . . . for a little while. But remember how badly Gore was trashed by the party when he lost? Didn't mean crap. He'd still be the front-runner immediately if he jumped in for 2004.

My instinct is that either Gore or Hillary has to make the move. I read everywhere that major Democratic money is sitting this one out, not energized, and likely waiting for a name to get in the race.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

And I never did steroids: The most testosterone-laden political candidate ever just finished with a nice round of pandering to the estrogen crowd, on Oprah, no less. His hand firmly entwined with Maria's, he goes out of his way to embellish his family values creds, while showing even a big guy like him just wants to be cuddled. Oh, and that Oui thing? Just some youthful bragging.

I must say I'm disappointed. This is a guy who is running as the consummate outsider. So why spend so much effort in mashing your oversized frame into the broken mold used by so many candidates: dissemble, diffuse, defy? What's wrong with: "Hey, it was the 70s in Southern California for crying out loud. Any one of you would have killed to be in my Speedos. I was a physical miracle, an already big star on my way to better things, and chicks dug my bod. We didn't have AIDS, no one was hurt, and I don't live that way now." He could therefore avoid the "are you lying then or now" scenario, plus, the whole event shows his "commitment to diversity"! I would expect better.

The Spoiler Scenario: What's the Wes Clark effect? Who the hell knows? But more to the point, what the hell is in it for the party? A political nobody like Clark, even if he does have four stars, doesn't hop into the Democratic rodeo without kissing the ring of Terry McAuliffe -- and, by extension, of the Clintons -- because that's where the money and the on-the-ground support will come from. Do the Clintons want Clark to take away Dean's spark? There are two possibilities here: First, Hillary could be beginning to take seriously the prospect of a Dean nomination, which -- even if he loses to Bush -- makes him a big dog in the party establishment, with his big donor lists and his purportedly huge following, both of which he has made clear he will not automatically share with the party. Second, and this is really speculative, Hillary has every reason to wish for a deeply divided party at the convention. She is truly in a bind. If she wants to run in '08, the Dems need to lose in '04. If she wants to run in '04, she has to take the big gamble on beating an incumbent Republican.

There is speculation that Clark is a placeholder for Hillary, but that's nonsense, I think. He doesn't seem like the type to hold her coat, even if he did get the VP slot out of it. And Hillary wouldn't take the VP slot if Clark offered it. Been there; done that. (If you try to tell me that Gore was Clinton's real VP, remember: Gore got to go to funerals; Hillary got to design the health care proposal.

If nothing else, an interesting few months await us.