FauxPolitik

Friday, April 30, 2004

Against the Law: Here's Radley's tribute to Buddy's Smoking Pig restaurant, part of a disappearing breed: the restaurant with a smoking section. They're still out there, even where it's technically illegal. If there's one in your town, tip big -- and tell them why.

Here's mine.

Packard's gained its reputation as a defender of peoples' rights when we stood up against the local pabulum puking liberals and their crusade against the smoking public. Packard's is a private place in which the public is invited. It is not a public place. It is important that you get that in your head.
As an aside, you have to love the oddball tip of the hat to chain-smoking Morton Downey Jr.'s famous "pabulum-puking liberals" line. Downey lost to lung cancer in 2001. Incidentally, Mort also made the improbable claim to have written the Surfaris' hit song "Wipeout."

What the Doorknob Said: Yossi Klein Halevi's laugh-out-loud piece in TNR takes a peek into the inner sanctum of Hollywood Kabbalah, L.A.'s Kabbalah Centre. Sabbath dinner with Madonna, wearing a trucker cap instead of a kerchief! Purim with Demi Moore!

My only knowledge of Kabbalah comes from the rent-it-tonight movie Pi (sort of a self-consciously arthouse Boiler Room for the Orthodoxy -- but it works!) and from an old, reform Jew who told me her opinion that Kabbalah is to Judaism what Santaria is to Catholicism. It sounds like what the Kabbalah Centre is running is more like Judaism as a syncretism of new age and MLM:

There's . . . a chart of the 72 Hebrew names of God, as defined by Jewish mystics. Devotees wear t-shirts and truckers' caps imprinted with those names . . . The Centre calls Kabbalah "technology for the soul," and that's an apt description of its mechanistic approach. In the traditional Kabbalistic schools that have survived for centuries, the 72 names of God form the basis for arduous meditations and ascetic practices. Here, though, all you need to do is glance at the letters to be infused with their healing and invigorating power. In the Centre's literature, each name is endowed with a quality that can readily be accessed--such as "defusing negative energy and stress," "dumping depression," and "the power of prosperity." You can even call the Centre for a free ten-minute personal consultation with a highly trained 72-names specialist on how to find the name that best suits your needs . . . In the "Kabbalah Cafe," located in the courtyard, a sign reassures patrons that all coffee and tea is made with kabbalah mountain spring water, blessed by the Centre's leaders. An adjacent gift shop sells scented candles, for relaxation and better sex.
It gets better. As part of the Purim celebration
[a] group of children appears and begins singing Kabbalah songs. They are students at the Kabbalah Children's Academy--part of a nationwide network of Centre schools. "At first I was afraid/I was petrified," they sing, to the tune of "I Will Survive." "I was living life alone/with no Zohar in sight/Weren't we the ones who brought/all this chaos to our lives/come on, let's convert it/Let's knock this darkness to light."
Then Halavi asks the big question: What the hell are these people thinking? No, he asks it more politely:
Britney Spears was recently photographed on the cover of Entertainment Weekly wearing a red Kabbalah thread and in Us Weekly reading a Kabbalah book while lounging near a pool in Florida. Barbra Streisand, Elizabeth Taylor, Courtney Love, and Roseanne have all been involved with the Centre; after Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall divorced, each reportedly sought the Centre's guidance.

Still, there's a mystery here. Why have so many apparently intelligent, successful people fallen for magical trinkets like blessed candles and red strings?

And, yes, I too am still waiting for him to name some of those "apparently intelligent" people. Think I'm being snarky?
The Rav leads his disciples in the Kaddish prayer, shouting its words as if in a rage. Then he interrupts the conventional service and begins chanting "Chernobyl" and other names I can't identify. A devotee explains, straight-faced, that these are all names of nuclear power plants: The Rav is trying to heal the problem of nuclear waste, which the Centre's devotees believe is spreading AIDS.
Oh, God, indeed! Actually, at the core it's simpler than all that jazz, which Halivi picks up on during a meditation on immortality:
Physical immortality? Was the Centre promising its people the end of death, the ultimate chaos? Did the Centre believe that we could literally become gods in these bodies? Could that explain its obsession with prolonging the life span, the eerie meditations on stem cells, the focus on the names of God as transformative agents for one's DNA, the blessed water that produces a "higher molecular order ... necessary for eternal cell regeneration"? According to Berg's book Immortality, yes.
I see. It's a metaphysical tummy-tuck, plus we'll do the transcendental tits at no charge this month. Little wonder this is big in L.A.

I have no beef with the religious. And none of the serious atheists and agnostics I know is of the denigrate-the-gullible-believers kind.) But I have no use for suckers tracking Ponce de Leon through P.O. box spirituality, all the while claiming devotion to an ancient tradition.

We're Dying, Here! The news is terrible on the smog front:
More than half the nation's population lives in counties -- many in California -- with hazardous smog levels, according to a report released Thursday. San Bernardino topped counties nationwide in ozone pollution.

The annual American Lung Association study says about 159 million Americans, or 55 percent of the country, reside in 441 counties threatened by air that's heavily polluted with ozone or tiny particles of soot, known as particle matter.

Christ-ola, it's the 1970s all over again! [What's next? A "Starsky & Hutch" remake? -- Ed. Ha. Like anyone could be that dumb.]

But wait: The whole story is a little more complex, but you have to read right down to the next-to-last paragraph to find out that

The Environmental Protection Agency said its own analysis, to be released next month, shows ozone levels were down significantly across the country, with many areas seeing their lowest concentrations since 1980.

"You wouldn't realize we have made such incredible progress in reducing pollution from this report," said Joel Schwartz, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

Here's a bonus story, one of a type that so often show environmental "experts" pursuing their quixotic agenda of environmental stasis.
Poor and minority children are likely to develop asthma at worsening rates due to global warming and air pollution, environment experts predicted on Thursday.

They . . .

[This is verbatim, goddammit! They? They?! Who the f*ck is they? We're past the lead paragraph now, chief, so the pronoun they, referring to the antecedent "environmental experts" doesn't cut it. We're not told who they is until the eigth paragrapgh. And this is a professional writing this?]
. . . released a report showing that as the climate gets warmer, allergens such as pollen and mold will flood the air, interacting with urban pollutants such as ozone and soot to fuel an already growing epidemic of asthma.

"The combination of air pollutants, aeroallergens, heat waves and unhealthy air masses -- increasingly associated with a changing climate -- causes damage to the respiratory systems, particularly growing children, and these impacts disproportionately affect poor and minority groups in the inner cities," the report reads.

"This is a real wake-up call for people who think global warming is only going to be a problem way off in the future or that it has no impact on their lives in a meaningful way," said Christine Rogers, a senior research scientist at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Actually, no. First, it's not a "real wake-up call" if the evidence shows only association. I can show you that fatal car accidents are "increasingly associated with the drinking of bottled water"; this, of course, would say exactly nothing about the relationship between drinking bottled water and fatal car accidents.

Second, and more to the point, what kind of public policy is required to keep the earth's climate exactly where it is? I mean, now that the enviro-left has determined that the earth's climate is exactly where it needs to be, and any increase in temperatures would disproportionately affect "[p]oor and minority children," wouldn't it in fact be criminal to allow temperatures to rise?

These people don't know the first goddamn thing about science. They're shills, hacks, and two-bit advocates masquerading as scholars at the most politically compromised institutions in the country: America's universities.

By the way, here's the story's explanation of the greenhouse effect:

The carbon dioxide forms a kind of invisible blanket that traps the sun's radiation.

While average temperatures warm, the effects are not predictable and even. Storms may become more severe and some areas may get colder weather.

This is the great elephino dodge. (As in, What do you get when you cross an elephant and a rhino? Elephino. [Said with the same intonation as "Hell if I know."]) What's going on in these climate models? Why does global warming make temperatures go down? What's this I hear about a new ice age? Why do atmospheric trends indicate much less warming than sea trends, even though atmospheric trends are supposed to be the leading trends? Should I fake my orgasms?

Elephino.

Actually, the answer to that last one is "Yes." My point is that, in real science, saying "the effects are not predictable" is the same thing as saying "this theory is ridiculous on its face." After all, what is a crappy, useless theory if not one that can't accurately predict results?

Sidebar: Doesn't that "poor and minority children" bit scream for the old joke about newspaper sub-heads on the headline "World to End Tomorrow"?

New York Times: Poor, minorities hardest hit

WSJ: Futures down

New York Post: Jacko grilled over bed-sharing tots!

The Post McCain-Feingold Landscape: Reihan Salam examines a presidential candidate's need for surrogates:
One solution is to create surrogates with no need for sleep, using the black arts. But as the Salem witch trials demonstrated long ago, American voters have little tolerance for spells and incantations, and any moves in this direction are sure to be met with strong resistance from religious conservatives. Another possibility is to create a fictional person, like the Scarlet Pimpernel or Batman, who wears a mask that can, if necessary, be worn by many people. A nice idea, but it's ultimately too weird. There's the risk that it'll creep out wary swing voters.
Instead, as we've all heard, the usual-suspect partisans who used to work for the national parties are rolling out the 527s:
Led by President Ellen Malcolm of Emily's List and CEO Steve Rosenthal, a former AFL-CIO political director, [America Coming Together, a liberal 527 group] focuses on registration and mobilization ("get-out-the-vote" efforts) in 17 key battleground states. Other founders include Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, and Cecile Richards, president of America Votes, yet another 527 . . . Its take-no-prisoners rhetoric, as dished out by veteran Democratic operative (and former Kerry campaign manager) Jim Jordan, is heartburn-inducing . . . Those who can't stand Jim Jordan's shrill pronouncements are in a bind--he is also the spokesman for the Media Fund and the Joint Victory Campaign 2004, which raises money for, well, the Media Fund and ACT. The Media Fund, led by Clintonite Harold Ickes, is, as the name suggests, focused on buying television advertising in, you guessed it, 17 key battleground states. Great minds think alike, as they say.
Can we at least agree that it was better when the parties did the scumbag work in broad daylight, instead of a bunch of skulking tax-exempt organizations that are so thoroughly cross-pollenated that the rule against "coordination" with a campaign is a dead letter? The idea, obviously, is to recreate the once-hulking mass of the soft-money-financed Democratic Party (or "Dreamworks SKG," as I liked to call it) at the molecular level -- but still pretending that those molecules are independent entities.

Besides, says Salam, it's not going to work. The resulting organism will be less like the party and more of an ideological enforcer, like the conservative Club for Growth:

This past Tuesday, Pennsylvania's Republican senator, Arlen Specter, narrowly survived a primary challenge from House member Patrick Toomey. Toomey, an articulate, uncompromising conservative who . . . was seriously outgunned by Specter's superior fundraising . . . [T]he supply-siders at the Club for Growth helped make it a race by funneling large amounts of money into the state from Toomey's ideological soulmates around the country, who saw the race as an opportunity to send a message to moderate Republicans. Once the 2004 race is behind them, could one or several of the Democrat-affiliated 527s--already with a substantial donor base at its disposal--emerge as an ideological enforcer on the left? The Dems should pull out all the stops to prevent that from happening, spells and incantations included.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

The Next Generation: Bob Samuelson has an important article in TNR this week on the economic "lessons of the 90s" and their applications for the next decade or so. Here's a rundown of half of it, if you aren't a subscriber (though I encourage you to spend the $3.95 on this issue instead of the usual venti today). It's not easy to read, since it isn't full of particularly good cheer. His major theme, not a new one for Samuelson, is that Rubinomics's focus on budgetary policy, specifically deficits, was a classic case of arranging the deck furniture on the Titanic. Budget deficits matter little, Samuelson says, when so much of the budget goes to entitlements:
Spending, not deficits, dominates the budget's economic and social impact. To understand why, consider two hypothetical (and extreme) budgets. One equals 5 percent of GDP and has a deficit of 2 percent of GDP. The other equals 50 percent of GDP and is balanced. In the first, the role of government is small, despite the deficit. Public services are skimpy, and a modest tax increase could easily cover the deficit. In the second, government plays a huge role. Government services and transfers are huge. Taxes are already steep. Any unanticipated spending or loss of tax revenues might create economic or social strain. In both cases, spending sets government benefits and determines the required level of financing, whether by taxes or by borrowing. If taxes or deficits get too high, they could harm the economy or cause a political backlash.
The structure of the budget, therefore, is more important than how close it is to balance. He continues:
Indeed, Clinton's budget policy failed in one critical respect: it did not address the long-term problems of the baby-boomers' retirement. Not only did the administration refuse to face the issue, it opposed anyone who tried. As a member of the party that created Social Security and Medicare, Clinton might have made a historic break with the past, much as Richard Nixon broke with Republican dogma when he went to China. Clinton might have argued that longer life expectancies and more retirees justified slowly increasing the eligibility age--with ample advance warning--and tying benefits more directly to income. It is almost impossible for one party to propose changes alone without facing withering partisan attacks. But there were many opportunities for a bipartisan approach. In 1993, Senator Bob Kerrey of Nebraska provided the decisive vote to pass Clinton's budget plan; his single condition was that the president appoint a presidential commission on entitlement spending. Clinton did, and then he ignored it. In his second term, he undermined a commission on Medicare reform. Less conspicuous opportunities were similarly discarded.
Entitlements are politically popular, and thus hard to trim. Moreover, the demographics clearly indicate disaster -- delusionally partisan cries of social security's trust fund solvency notwithstanding. Samuelson essentially blames Rubin:
And what was Rubin doing all this time? Not much. There is no evidence that he ever pushed for major spending curbs on government retirement programs. What we have is the paradox of a man who has built his reputation as a paragon of budgetary rectitude but essentially ignored the major budgetary problem of his time. It may be an uncertain world, as he says, but some things are fairly certain. One is that baby boomers will age and clamor for their federal benefits. That is the central engine driving spending, taxes, and the deficit. While he was a member of the administration, Rubin's silence might have been rationalized as pragmatic. If the president wasn't interested, why fight a futile fight? But Rubin still ignores the issue. In this book of roughly four hundred pages, he never discusses it in any detail. He focuses singlemindedly on budget deficits as if they were freestanding evils and little else mattered.
In the other half, Samuelson gives Rubin a lot more credit for keeping the Asian 'flu from hitting America hard. But as Samuelson notes, "the Asian financial crisis was not just a dress rehearsal for others like it. So much else has changed." Trouble innovates. Globalization will be keep the job of Treasury secretary interesting for the foreseeable future, but its specific effects (and crises) will remain relatively unpredictable. Razor is undoubtedly more expert in this area, being one of the few who understands why Korea and Vietnam weathered it all much better (speaking relatively) than Japan, so I'll leave this subject to him.

Meanwhile, the domestic problems are more obvious, more predictable, but just as troublesome.

But we should trust Kim Jong Il: We've all read about the train explosion that occurred in N. Korea recently. Your hearts will be warmed to know that many of the victims died heroic deaths. Were they saving trapped children? No. Were they selflessly carrying the elderly and infirm out of burning buildings? No. But they were trying to save pictures of Kim Jong and his late father before they were crushed to death. So, at least Dear Leader has his priorities straight.

Here's a before and after look at the trainyard.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Gratuitous: Ted Koppel will devote an entire "Nightline" program to reading the names of those killed in combat in Iraq.
In a conscious echo of a famous, Vietnam War-era issue of Life magazine, the ABC News program "Nightline" will broadcast Friday night the names and faces of every soldier killed by hostile fire since the start of the war in Iraq.

. . . "I have always felt, and I said it when I was in Iraq last year, that the most important thing a journalist can do is remind people of the cost of war," Mr. Koppel said in a telephone interview yesterday.

Ah, yes: the self-imporatant journalist routine again. I always thought "the most important thing a journalist can do" was to report on the news, not perform feats of semi-serious grandstanding. Here's a nice loaded comment from Koppel in the New York Observer:
"I see it more as a Rorschach test," said Mr. Koppel. "At one and the same time, it pays respect and honor to the young men and women who have died. And on the other hand people will take from this, I think, a reflection of what they bring to it.
Pure crap. Look, pro-war, anti-war, whatever your bag is -- this performance is transparently ghoulish sensationalism draped in the robes of public service. It makes me sick. Koppel's an idiot.

More: ABC says, "Sweeps week? What's that?"

Right, "closing" the loop: Closing the loop on abortion is like closing the fridge door in Oprah's kitchen - the thing is being opened back up damn quick.

Anyway, Radley's slavery point is actually a good one because there are many in the abortion-rights world who argue that denying a person a right to an abortion is akin to slavery - one makes the mother a slave to the life within her (and heaven forbid the mother had no say in becoming pregnant).

I reject the notion that abortion-rights people minimize the importance of life or equate a fetus with a useless body part. It's just that those who want to preserve the right to terminate (or kill, slaughter or destroy) an unborn life place the life and freedom of the mother over that of the fetus - meaning the fetus belongs to the mother and, possibly, the father. Pro-choice people see no role for the government in this arena. We view it as an intensely personal decision. One makes one's own peace with her or her god, morals and situation. I can't tell you (nor can anyone else) what the fetus is thinking or feeling (if at all), and as such, the argument about the fetus' rights are illusory, or wholly philosophical at best.

Anyway, I don't buy into the argument that men don't have a place at the table in the abortion world for the reasons Radley mentioned and for the "mere" fact that men are creating the life in the first place. But in the end, I do acknowledge (how grand of me!) that it's the woman's body and the "mere" act of childbirth is not without its own risks. No father, or government, should be able to compel that woman to take on those risks unwillingly - leaving aside for the moment of what the plan is for the baby.

Last, I also don't understand, nor agree with, those who would celebrate abortions. This whole menopausal nostalgia is nonsense, and to be fair, is probably just part of the fringe that accompanies any march (anyone can print up t-shirts or set up a little table). These freaks should not detract from the central message of freedom to choose - that is where the debate lies.

Closing the Loop: More trouble being stirred up at the Agitator. Radley follows up on my follow up on the pro-choice/pro-abortion semantics. Then he gives men a place at the abortion decision table and invokes slavery. Two great things about it:

1. It's interesting, thoughtful, pull-no-punches stuff.

2. It's guaranteed to piss off Razor.

More: Reading the comments to Radley's post reminds me what kind of issue this is. This comment struck me:

No, I would not feel "relieved" if a pregnant woman was talked out of an abortion. But what you're missing is that I don't think abortion is morally wrong - you might as well ask if I'd be "relieved" if she was talked out of getting her tonsils taken out.
Ouch. I think this is a fairly common attitude among the NARAL crowd. It puts me in mind of something I wrote in January, when I described abortion as "killing a human being":
The pro-choice side really needs to get over this, by the way; "kill" is the proper and accurate word for subtracting the "living" from "living being." Their problem is not that they want abortion legal. It's that they want this one free; they want it to be not only legal but also morally neutral to abort -- i.e., it's not "killing" and/or it's not a "human."
"Fetus = tonsils" is a pretty good illustration of this.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Light 'Em Up: Andrew Stuttaford has some tart words for the Irish busybodies who have taken the fun out of a trip to the local:
Since late March, those addictive little sticks of dangerous delight been banned from Davy Byrne's, and every other pub in Ireland . . .

And Micheal Martin, the instigator of the ban? He's the typographically challenging busybody-in-chief, a bore, and a smug, self-righteous zealot. His one experience of a cigarette, as a foolish "teenager" naturally, was "disgusting." While he may have a drink now and then, he never, never gets "tipsy." Of course he doesn't. He's too busy planning his next crusade, pondering ways to restrict the advertising of alcohol. And when he's done thinking about that, this nanny, this ninny, this drone, this nosey, hectoring clown is "very tentatively" mulling a fat tax. Ireland's tragedy is that this monstrous figure has the job of his dreams — and everybody else's nightmares. By being appointed Ireland's Minister for Health and, wait for it, "Children," Martin was given a blank check for bossiness. On January 30, 2003, he cashed it.

He's also stuck in an important observation about the direction of Europe, about the peer-pressure thugs and moral-authority tyrants:
There was no vote approving the ban. The minister simply exercised the discretion given to him by an earlier piece of legislation. It's a well-known trick to anyone familiar with the way that the EU imposes its rules and in a way, that's only fitting. For while, behind the (forgive the phrase) smokescreen of healthcare concern, the real motives behind this move include Martin's ego and the uncontrollable urge of politicians to control their fellow citizens, one critical additional element has been the Irish establishment's determination to prove to the outside world how their country is modern, "European," Communautaire, international.
Some will no doubt begin to wonder if the great European wars of the last 300 years were worth fighting if they end up with a totalitarianism of blubbering concerns matched to ill-considered bureaucratic gestures.

So: You're up for the stir-fried fly larva, then? It's funny, the maggots look just like the rice.

And no mention of the tastiest cut of all: Why, the tax cut of course. Good on you Eno!

There was a rather lengthy "discussion" recently on the FARK comment section regarding what food a person would or would not eat. Some were rather benign: tomatoes [texture issue], olive loaf [not a problem with processed meat, but the olive/meat combo], and cottage cheese [texture and appearance]. Once you get rid of these idiosyncratic issues, you're left with the more challenging tastes: sushi [only a problem for those who haven't actually eaten it - once you do, it's crack-like], vegemite [peculiar to those Down Under - I've tried it and found it hard to stomach, but not repulsive], tripe [you really have to cook the shit out of it (literally and metaphorically) and even then, it can be tough and spongey], testicles [a natural aversion is understandable], and then "exotic" animals/game like dog, snake, Iguana and monkey. [I tried dog once - chewy, but otherwise unremarkable.]

Clearly Batali et al. are doing it for the marketing effect -- shock value of telling the story you "like, ate sauteed brain!". Granted, there was a total of 1 oz. of it mixed in with a pound of vegetables, cheese and spices. It's a shame because things like veal cheeks (tete de veaux), snails, and sweetbreads are really great tasting and are certainly much better for you when compared to the processed chicken parts you get in any fast-food nugget.

One must eat for taste, and if you didn't name the part you were dishing out, people would probably eat a lot more of the animal than they do, but you'd lose the bobo effect of having them shriek about it the next day.

However, there are two items that even I, a person pretty fearless when it comes to trying food, am not certain I would eat: natto and balut. Natto, the concept, does not offend, but apparently the smell when combined with the mucus-like texture is simply beyond the pale. I like my soy beans boiled and salted thank you. As for balut, I just don't think I need to explain.

Everything but the Squeal: Amusing article in Slate on the surging interest among chefs (or at least the ones with Food Network shows) in variety meat -- typically organ meat, but also jowl, foot, and other typically throwaway cuts. It's hip enough, apparently, to have made its way into the fake-a-loo scene, wherein you can tell your friends you ate brains without having to actually taste them.
At Babbo, Mario Batali seems to want to transcend the ingredients themselves . . . [He] goes to great pains to mask his [ingredients], in texture if not in taste. Pig's foot Milanese is pounded so thin and breaded so thickly that the flavor of the pig's foot is not readily discernible through the fried bread crumbs. Beef cheek ravioli are delicious, light and pillowy, with only a hint of fibrousness to the meat and a telltale chalky aftertaste. Lamb's brain francoboli are so heavy on cheese and so light on brain that they taste almost vegetarian. While all of these dishes are delicious, the question inevitably arises: If the recipe requires that you camouflage the central ingredients, why use those ingredients at all?
Good question. Another one: Why eat it? The article's author, Patrick Keefe, speculates on the many possible reasons for cooking or eating "offal," from "the frisson of naughtiness associated with eating such things" to "the sheer challenge of making bad things taste good" and even "an anti-PC tendency among diners who want to outdo even ardent carnivores in sheer carnivorousness."

What the story seems to ignore is the possibility that variety meats can taste good -- even without being disguised. Sweetbreads are best when prepared simply. I'm not a huge fan of tripe, much as I'm not a huge fan of octopus, but a nice dish of menudo can be dandy. While in the UK, I simply had to try haggis; unless you live next to Groundskeeper Willie, you won't get the chance very often. It was delicious. At a Lebanese restaurant, I had lamb testicles -- prepared very simply, not disguised or hidden -- and they too were excellent.

But you're not going to sell them that way in the mainstream. As I mentioned, we're talking about America's disposable income vanguard, the hip/dorky folks who used to be called "yuppies" and now prefer "bobos." These people are suckers for trend bait, like the folks who just had to try the salad with tobacco leaf shavings (about 1/32 of a teaspoon) that became a minor culinary hit/ironic statement after the great Bloomberg coffin-nail crackdown. At any rate, there are two things to keep in mind about these people: 1) they do most things in order to talk about them; and 2) they are generally white, non-ethnic (or ethnically removed by, say, social status), and urban. In other words, their great-grandparents may have eaten all manner of hoof, entrail, or organ -- on the farm or in the old country.

The point is, there isn't much new under the sun. Almost incidentally, if not accidentally, Thomas Keller (of French Laundry fame) puts his finger on exactly why variety meat fell out of favor -- because falling meat prices allowed for ease:

It's easy to cook a filet mignon, or to saute a piece of trout, serve it with browned butter a la meuniere, and call yourself a chef. But that's not real cooking. That's heating. Preparing tripe, however, is a transcendental act.
Speaking of heating, his "transcendental" rhetoric needs to come off the stove. But he does have a point. Straight muscle cuts, with some exception, don't need to be prepared as much, cooked as long, soaked, skinned, veined, or shaved. The opening of the "Tripe" section of the Joy of Cooking (second edition) reads:
If you start from scratch, cooking tripe is a long-drawn-out affair -- as you will see by the following description.
Similarly, kidneys, widely eaten until a generation ago, must be soaked (for hours in the case of large kidneys), blanched, trimmed, and removed from their membranes. All before you even begin cooking. Compare to a boned filet of fish, a trimmed piece of sirloin, or a rolled roast. As with all things, if you have the money, you can buy leisure. Thus, organ meat, before it became "gross" or "weird," first became symbolic of ethnicity and, more generally, poverty. That's the origin of the disdain.

In any event, it's nice to see this bit of reverse democratization of tastes.

Next up: entomophagy!

The Marriage Issue: Nathaniel Frank does a good job of knocking down the social "science" (the scare quotes are almost unnecessary in this oxymoron) the right uses to argue against gay marriage. This kind of stuff needs to be said, particularly when otherwise thoughtful scholars (like Stanley Kurtz, whom Frank cites) go entirely nuts on this issue. Kurtz shouldn't need to be told that he's making mistakes a Sociology 101 TA would snicker at.

It's Meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! Bill Clinton is set to publish My Life (talk about the ultimate in Narcissus titles), his memoir of "both his career in public service and his life." I wonder if this will be any more interesting (read: titillating) than Hillary's bowl of super-sanitized oatmeal, Living History.

Maybe yes, because Bill always did have the tendency toward grossly inappropriate behavior.

Maybe no, because that harpy he isn't really married to anymore will no doubt have vetted the manuscript.

At any rate, it will likely be the beach read of the year. More from the AP story:

Timing and luck have kept some of the more eloquent leaders from telling their stories. Four early, literary presidents — Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and John and John Quincy Adams — never published full-length memoirs largely because it was considered in poor taste to dwell on one's accomplishments.
No danger of that here.

The A-Word: I'm not trying to start another Roe debate, nor do I particularly want to talk about abortion. But I did note, sometime back, a line in one of Radley's rather sharp abortion posts. He spoke of the abortion lobby being not pro-choice but pro-abortion. Razor disputed. I spoke up for him, noting that while not all abortion-rights types think of each abortion as a victory, quite a few do.

Here's a picture that Meghan Keane noted from the weekend abortion rally in D.C. We'll cut the broad in the picture some slack on her spelling and focus instead on the message: "Menopausal Woman Nostalgic For Choice." What could this sign possibly mean?

It could mean that she is nostalgic for the choice (to have an abortion) that was taken away. But such a choice hasn't been taken away, so that's out. Instead, she must be nostaligic for the choice to have an abortion -- the choice taken away by nature, now that she is barren, now that she cannot conceive. Does that make sense? Menopausal women, who no longer have any need for abortions, support the legality of abortions. Fair enough. But that's not quite it either. She's nostalgic, see?

nostalgic adj. [Cf. F. nostalgique] Of or pertaining to nostalgia; affected with nostalgia

nostalgia n. A wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition

This woman's sign says that she wishes she could still have an abortion. You know, for the cause.

This is what Radley meant: the mentality that says, "Every legal abortion is a victory for our side."

Monday, April 26, 2004

What's in a name?: Well, plenty if you're suddenly named the third leader of Hamas in as many months.

Israel is reportedly sending him a present of a white t-shirt with a big red concentric circles on it. "It just makes it easier for our helicopter guys," a high-ranking member of the Israeli military was quoted as saying.

Pat Tillman: Thinking about his death this weekend, I was reminded of a different time, a different war. I'm not the type to glorify the past or buy into the "greatest generation" mystique, but why do you suppose -- at the start of World War 2 -- there was a stampede of Tillmans? Here's a bit about one, a pro football player who became a Marine and headed for the Pacific theater.

In another profession entirely, I think of Jimmy Stewart. He was already a pilot, so after Pearl Harbor he went directly to the Army Air Corps. You're too skinny, they told him. Stewart went home and started to binge. Fattened up, he was accepted and served on bomber missions in Europe, becoming the commander of his squadron, and earning the Ditinguished Flying Cross twice.

Clark Gable, at the time possibly the most famous man in the country whose name was not abbreviated "FDR," also volunteered, signing up as a private. They tried to stick him with making films about Air Corps pilots, but he insisted on flying combat missions. He also won the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Tyrone Power flew transport missions for the Marines, including missions into and out of hot spots like Okinawa and Iwo Jima.

In sports, to name just two others, Yogi Berra was at Normandy as a gunner's mate and Ted Williams famously missed three prime seasons to serve during World War 2 and was called back to fly combat missions in Korea.

I think it takes nothing away from Tillman to note that, at another time in our history, he would have had some company at the recruiter's office.

Friday, April 23, 2004

If only McEnroe had the benefit of digital photography: Although I'm fairly confident he would have broken something on the way to get his camera.

And yes, there were Polaroids back then, but they were hardly convenient to carry around in your tennis bag.

Chicken Littles at Earth Day: Yeah, mass starvation was a very hot button topic back then. I remember whole books being devoted to the problem. Of course, you have to recognize the caveats people were putting into their dire warnings: "If things don't change..." or "At current levels of...". Obviously, a lot has been done since 1970 to make those warnings so much empty verbage - of course, I suppose you could say that shows the warnings were successful in their impact.

What is much more interesting and persuasive is to show a change over a period of time, or a trend, or perhaps a reversal of trends. There is a lot of back-and-forth right now about whether things are getting better, worse or they really haven't changed at all - it's just the perspective. Some say bio-diversity in the ocean is down 90% over past few decades. Some would say that's just how oceans work, or that the data-collection was bad. Either way, I think we need to acknowledge that there's a lot of things we don't understand. There's also a lot of rhetoric that gets in our way of seeing what the real problems are.

In fact, some would say the most pressing problem the world faces is the one we see every single day on our way to work, on the news, or even in our neighborhoods, yet there are few catchy slogans for it, or celebrities willing to lend their name to the issue. In fact, this issue actually inhibits the fashionable causes, even though its solution would probably, as a mere side efffect, take care of most of the ones Sting sings about. But, it's only poor people, so let's just pet some cute dolphins, shall we?

Earth Day: Ron Bailey on how the sky isn't falling, 30 years after the first Earth Day and all its dire warnings. Sample:
"We have about five more years at the outside to do something," ecologist Kenneth Watt declared to a Swarthmore College audience on April 19, 1970. Harvard biologist George Wald estimated that "civilization will end within 15 or 30 years unless immediate action is taken against problems facing mankind." "We are in an environmental crisis which threatens the survival of this nation, and of the world as a suitable place of human habitation," wrote Washington University biologist Barry Commoner in the Earth Day issue of the scholarly journal Environment.

"It is already too late to avoid mass starvation," declared Denis Hayes, the chief organizer for Earth Day, in the Spring 1970 issue of The Living Wilderness. In that same issue, Peter Gunter, a professor at North Texas State University, wrote, "Demographers agree almost unanimously on the following grim timetable: by 1975 widespread famines will begin in India; these will spread by 1990 to include all of India, Pakistan, China and the Near East, Africa. By the year 2000, or conceivably sooner, South and Central America will exist under famine conditions....By the year 2000, thirty years from now, the entire world, with the exception of Western Europe, North America, and Australia, will be in famine" (emphasis in original).

In January 1970, Life reported, "Scientists have solid experimental and theoretical evidence to support...the following predictions: In a decade, urban dwellers will have to wear gas masks to survive air pollution...by 1985 air pollution will have reduced the amount of sunlight reaching earth by one half...." Ecologist Kenneth Watt told Time that, "At the present rate of nitrogen buildup, it's only a matter of time before light will be filtered out of the atmosphere and none of our land will be usable." Barry Commoner cited a National Research Council report that had estimated "that by 1980 the oxygen demand due to municipal wastes will equal the oxygen content of the total flow of all the U.S. river systems in the summer months." Translation: Decaying organic pollutants would use up all of the oxygen in America's rivers, causing freshwater fish to suffocate.

"There is one good thing about the blighting of our environment, that is, that Americans don't have to worry about cannibals anymore," said social critic Herbert Muller in The New York Times. "We've all become inedible, there's too much DDT in us."

"We are prospecting for the very last of our resources and using up the nonrenewable things many times faster than we are finding new ones," warned Sierra Club director Martin Litton in Time's February 2, 1970, special "environmental report."

Kenneth Watt was less equivocal in his Swarthmore speech about Earth's temperature. "The world has been chilling sharply for about twenty years," he declared. "If present trends continue, the world will be about four degrees colder for the global mean temperature in 1990, but eleven degrees colder in the year 2000. This is about twice what it would take to put us into an ice age."

This gives you good yardstick by which to estimate how stupid today's doomsday greens will look in 30 years. A few weeks ago, I saw one of them in a park in my town. He was sitting, in dreads and hemp clothes, next to a patch of sidewalk on which he had chalked, "Wake up! Innovation is the PROBLEM!"

More Olympics: And why would the Olympics be a problem for Bush? Higher advertising prices? Get out of town. The Olympics -- assuming America takes home its usual packet of golds -- will be a two-week campaign freebie for Bush. Plus, an Olympic team of liberated Iraqis who won't be shot if they don't win will be ridiculously good pro-Bush propaganda. And in Athens, too, Cradle of Democracy! The coverage of the games be unable to ignore this incredible story. (Imagine the featurettes: And you thought the f*cking Jamaican bobsled team was inspiring?) It is Kerry, coming off his convention, who will be forced to get some ads on durning the Olympics; he'll be unable to resist the possible demographic.

Of course, it's only a "possible" demographic. The Olympic viewership could of course nose-dive like the NBA playoffs. Wasted money for Kerry, wasted opportunity for Kerry. Meanwhile, Bush opens his convention with the American woman (now on every Wheaties box in America) who wins a track and field event and the Iraqi woman who takes an unexpected bronze in a swimming event; they clasp hands and raise their arms together to the cheers of thousands.

Jesus, man, the script writes itself. If Bush really wants to go for baroque, he should suggest that we cover all ther costs of the Iraqi Olympians.

Not Buying: Ryan Lizza suggests that Kerry is in the midst of a rope-a-dope strategy to sap Bush's war chest.
But, instead of spending this money as it came in, the Kerry campaign made a decision to absorb Bush's blows and to rely on the effects of the 527s and the negative news from Richard Clarke, Iraq, and the 9/11 Commission. This decision may be remembered as the most brilliant move of the campaign or the one that cost Kerry the presidency. It is a large-scale version of rope-a-dope--allow your opponent to unload with his most powerful punches as you hunker down and bide your time, waiting to unload in the next round, once the other guy has spent himself.
Lizza gets some things right, but he ignores some of the key timing. He sees that Kerry has the upfront advantage, since Bush's convention is later -- thus Bush has to make his private money last until his September nomination, while Kerry will get 75 million federal clams in late July. But then Kerry has to begin spending his federal packet a month before Bush gets an equal allotment. Lizza parenthetically notes this, but doesn't attach much importance to it. But would you rather have your advantage now, or then? I'll take then, in a New York minute. Bush has the late convention, thus the late bounce. Couple that with a late financial advantage, assuming Kerry has to spend to keep his convention bounce through the August Olympics (which Lizza bizzarrely sees as more of a problem for Bush), and any gains Kerry makes in an early rope-a-dope had best be huge ones.

North Korea: The train explosion is a terrible tragedy, no doubt, but a typical NK fish story, too. Last night we heard "3,000 dead." Today, it's down to 150 -- though incomplete and rising. But, we're told, the blast destroyed 1,850 houses or apartments and damaged an additional 6,350. Without even including non-residential buildings or the train station itself, such damage could put 3,000 as the minimum. Who knows. And the explosion was caused by, in various reports, "dynamite," "oil," "liquefied petroleum," "fuel," or "ammonium nitrate."

Here's a limited window on the mentality of the NK-style cover-up, quoting defectors, and some details of the immediate media/propaganda atmosphere:

The head of South Korea's National Red Cross is currently in Pyongyang and had offered aid to the North Koreans, but has received no information concerning the disaster.

Offers of humanitarian aid from South Korea, Australia and the United States were met with silence.

International aid agencies and diplomats based in Pyongyang have also been kept in the dark.

A correspondent for Russia's ITAR-TASS, one of the few journalists from an outside the country based in Pyongang, said that North Korean officials refused to comment on the disaster and North Korea's media was mute.


Kerry's Found his Groove, That's for Sure: Except he doesn't own his. He rents from the Heinz Foundation.

Yes Eno, yours was under the fridge...again. As were the keys to the FauxPolitik wine cellar/walk-in humidor. Try to hold on to those next time. Herve, our major domo, doesn't appreciate being called out of tai chi practice to take care of your 1962 CH. MOUTON ROTHSCHILD PAUILLAC 2° CRU CLASSE fix.

The Environmentalist: John Kerry and his SUV:
Does John Kerry, who supports higher automobile fuel economy standards, own a gas-guzzling SUV? He does, but says it belongs to the family, not to him . . .

"I don't own an SUV,'' said Kerry, who supports increasing existing fuel economy standards to 36 miles per gallon by 2015 in order to reduce the nation's dependence on foreign oil supplies . . .

"The family has it. I don't have it,'' he said.

Anyone who has previously wondered why John Kerry can't get a foothold in this campaign (paging Noam Scheiber) now has absolutely no excuse. Plus, any chattering about how George Tenet ought to be fired should cease while we wait, mouths agape, for Kerry to toss overboard whatever clueless chump thought this offensively cheap dodge wouldn't play to the very worst aspects of the Kerry persona.

As a side note, I don't know John Kerry, but I've met his colleague, the distinguised senior senator from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Edward Moore Kennedy, on a couple of occasions. He has always, without fail, shown up in an SUV -- typically in a convoy of them. I'll get back to you on the particular section of the General Laws of Massachusetts that exempts these hacks from public flogging.

Note to Razor: Thanks for giving me my groove back. Was it under the fridge again?

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Heeheh...oooh...heehheehhh: Sorry, I couldn't come up with a good title for this one that wouldn't have given it away or been utterly non-descriptive. But I'm still chuckling, hence lame title. Anyway, just read this. It will only take a minute, and it's funny (oh, and it's politically related, so it may help Eno get his groove back).

Props: Wonkette.

Dormir: I was perusing through the paper today on the way into work and noticed the ads for mattresses on the back page of Section D. Here's a representative sample of the model names for the spring/foam/wood/metal contraptions: "Avignon", "Ashworth", "Rebecca", "Bainbridge", and "Euro Top".

Imagine, sleeping in European comfort! Little do most Americans know that the Europeans don't spend a quarter of the time and money we do in investing in a mattress. Yes, sleep is important, but let's face it; the human race did okay sleeping on (progressively speaking) dirt to canvas and rope cots. Only in the last 40 years or so did we start naming our mattresses after what we imagine to be English castles or French nobility.

Having lived in France for a bit, I can attest to the fact that many of them eschew the box spring and just plop a mattress on the floor. Having stayed in a fair share of European hotels, I can attest to the fact that when you do get a box spring/mattress combo, chances are you're about ten years into it.

I wonder what the Europeans would name their brands: "Abilene", "Tuscon", "Milwaukee"?

Kerry's Military Records: They're not complete by any stretch, but some high-marks fitness reports are up. They make Kerry sound like an apple polisher. Even the Boston Globe is up front about this being less-than-full disclosure.

Bad move on Kerry's part.

Shut Up, Already: Jon Rauch on the 9/11 Commission:
Economists speak of transaction costs. Washington needs to master the concept of investigation costs. A government saddled with a high-profile probe is a government less focused on other tasks, and wartime is the worst time for distractions. That was why the Pearl Harbor investigation went to work after, not during, World War II.

The war on terror is not going to end anytime soon, and the country cannot wait to learn how to reduce its vulnerability. So it makes sense to investigate 9/11, and to investigate before the trail gets cold. But do it right. Much of the descent into recriminations and damage control was avoidable. A shrewder 9/11 commission would have turned its back on demands for public hearings, swearings-in, and the rest of the Watergate-style apparatus.

He has three recommendations. Read 'em.

A Quiet Compliment: TNR is surely no great friend to this administration, but there is no denying the tone of this editorial on the Sharon/Bush Washington summit.
Sharon now envisions a Jewish state living alongside a viable Palestinian one. Whether the ultimate peace between the two proves robust will depend on Palestinians' renunciation of their romance with terrorism. Bush understands this, too. He has freed himself from the rancorous attitude toward Israel displayed by his father and his secretary of state, James Baker, and he has disallowed any Palestinian fantasy, couched in the cunning slogan about a "right of return," of overturning the demographic realities of Israel. Yet Sharon or his successors should likewise not succumb to visions of a chintzy and hobbled Palestine, even when they are making, as they are now, unilateral and unreciprocated concessions. They must not claim a dunam more than is required for the safety of Israel. Someday, perhaps sooner than later, a Palestinian leadership whom reasonable people can trust will emerge and come to the negotiating table without illusions.
It's clear, I think, to a non-partisan observer that the only real movement on the Israel-Palestine issue since the false promise of Oslo has been under Bush, not Clinton -- who famously made this "his issue" to the extent that Howard Dean ridiculously suggested him as a regional envoy. TNR, setting aside its cross-aisle differences with Bush, says so:
The establishment opposition to Sharon's war against terrorist leaders, and to the fence that will certainly stop most of their terrorist followers, is by now sheer ritual. Its relevance has collapsed under pressure from reality, under pressure from this American president.
This may ironically become Bush's biggest contribution (pending an Iraqi outcome) to the war on terror: a decision not to fetishize the Palestinian question.

More: Mark Steyn chips in at the Jerusalem Post (registration required):

Ariel Sharon has decided that one cannot negotiate with a void, a nullity – and even sentimental European Yasserphiles might, in their more honest moments, acknowledge that the only way the Palestinians are ever going to get a state is if they're cut out of the process. So the Israelis are building their wall, and what's left over on the other side will either be a new state, the present decayed Arafatist squat, or an ever more frustrated self-detonation academy. But it will be up to the Palestinians to choose because they'll be the ones living with the consequences.
Proving that he, too, reads FauxPolitik, Steyn goes on to look at the tea leaves of the Palestinian bosses. He concludes just what Razor did:
Poor Rantissi, killed this weekend, seems unlikely to get the glowing send-off from European obituarists they gave to his predecessor, the "revered quadriplegic spiritual leader," Sheikh Yassin. Already, bigshot terrorists in Gaza are said to be reconsidering their applications for next month's vacancy.

Symptoms: Looking back at what I wrote yesterday, it's obvious that I'll take any opportunity to haver on about anything but politics. So let me apologize for the generally poor quality of the political blogging from my end lately. I can't gather myself to give a rat's ass right now. Maybe as the conventions come and go and it all begins to mean something . . . maybe.

Bear with me. I'm not going to post on the "issues" unless I have something serious to say. But the day-to-day polling, sniping, spinning -- I give up.

In a presidential election year, the party out of power should not have their nomination locked up before Memorial Day, at the very earliest. It makes the campaign a horrible extended bore, like algebra class with lesson plans by Bob Shrum, and makes us despise the challenger even more than we might otherwise (though, with Kerry, this may be technically impossible).

Maybe I'll get the bee in my bonnet again soon. I don't doubt it. But I realized this morning -- riding in the car; gentle rain on the windshield; Joe Jackson's live, a capella version of "Is She Really Going out with Him?" on the CD player -- I'm just too damn happy for this right now.

Never think about politics when you're not feeling thoroughly cynical. You might start believing in something.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Contrarian: My apologies, Razor, if I got to sounding high & mighty about it. But it certainly is true that pre-emptive defensiveness is one of the habits our generation has bequeathed to music appreciation: e.g., "I know it's cheesy, but I really like the new Go-Go's tune." It's first cousin to the habit of trying to co-opt supposedly cheesy (but really f*cking great) songs by feigning an ironic appreciation. It's obviously a pose; everybody knows you're really listening to K.C.'s "Sound Your Funky Horn" or "Boogie Shoes" because the band could lay down a serious dance riff, not because it's a winking put-down of disco. After all, nobody tries to co-opt anachronistic music that sucks. Note that Burger King isn't using Roger Williams's version of "Windmills of Your Mind" in its commercials. (I love Rog, and his music doesn't suck, but you get my point. It's not ear candy.)

If I had a complaint about the music industry today, it wouldn't be the prevalence of manufactured boy bands, teen divas, or other mass-produced disposability; it would be that the greater share of the mass production goes into image, not music.

The mass production is certainly not new. It's what Motown was all about, after all, and Phil Spector. Songwriting teams like Goffin & King, Holland/Dozier/Holland, and Mann & Weil turned out song after song, and producers like Spector or major label A&R men found the right voices for them. And it wasn't just for drecky, flavor-of-the-moment bands. Barely an artist drifted through the 50s or 60s without performing a song by Lieber & Stoller, from kandy-koated spins like "Poison Ivy" or "Love Potion No. 9" (which influenced Spector) to wittily introspective or cynical ballads like "Is That All There Is?" (an obvious influence on Randy Newman). In a bit of turnabout, the singer/image didn't matter much before. Goffin & King were certain enough that "Locomotion" was a hit record that they gave it to their teenaged babysitter, billed as "Little Eva," to take onto the charts. (Similarly, Paul McCartney wrote and then recorded a demo of "Come and Get It" for Badfinger. "Record it just like the demo," he told them, "and you'll get a #1 hit." They did, and they did.) Certainly Phil Spector and Berry Gordy had no qualms about cutting free a singer who got too big for them, since they knew they could make hits with the next voice. (Marvin Gaye was perhaps an exception, but he still had to browbeat Gordy into What's Goin' On.)

I've wandered afield, I know. Sorry. I just think that if you have to make excuses for liking certain songs, you need to grow a backbone. And while it's nice to listen to serious music, the latest rage (White Stripes, Strokes, Wilco are three recently) isn't really any closer to it than the Spice Girls. I mean, it's not Shostakovich.

Eno - he's a uniter, not a divider: Don't get all contrarian on us regarding Green's "bad song" list. I will certainly admit that one man's fave is another's most-hated, but there has to be some agreement that songs like Europe's "The Final Countdown" is simply awful - even if everyone was listening to it for about 5 minutes.

Yes, I owned "No Jacket Required" and that was a good album. It's just the crap he put out afterwards that tarnished his once good name. ABBA was also a great group that put out some of the catchiest and most melodious songs ever made. Some, however, were among the most dreck-filled as well.

Your point about "Mercy Street" v. "Don't Lose My Number" (which had a pretty funny video for its day) is well taken - catchy pop song versus self-important dirge. Still, I like them both about the same.

Noam Scheiber Reality Check: Scheiber wonders about the WashPost poll that shows Bush steady to gaining on most issues, including national security. Why, he wonders, is Bush not taking a hit in the midst of Dick Clarke/al-Sadr/Falluja/etc.:
My own feeling is that all of this will eventually (and, if the news on Iraq and 9/11 gets much worse, pretty soon) reach a kind of critical mass, at which point public opinion will come crashing down on Bush. But, who knows? Maybe the cynical Republican bet is basically right: Maybe most Americans are conditioned, in a kind of Pavlovian way, to associate any discussion of war or terror with good feelings for Bush, and either just ignore or fail to assimilate the details of the discussion...
Well, just look at Noam's subsequent post, referring to Bush's supposed November oil-price deal with Prince Bandar:
. . . how nice is it to hear John Kerry say stuff like this?
"I can guarantee you that, if president, I understand not just how we do that but also how we need to end this sweetheart relationship with a bunch of Arab countries that still allow money to move to Hamas and Hezbollah and the Al-Aqsa brigades," he said. "We a need a president to stand up and lead the world to a more responsible place to create an entity to make peace within the Middle East."
You've got all the clues, Noam. Figure it out. (Big hint: Read that Kerry quote again. What the hell does it mean?)

Kerry's Plan: Here's a great TNR editorial on Kerry's decision to run against Bush on the economy, and his thus-far shortsighted execution of that plan:
During the primaries, Kerry focused on job creation. More recently, he needled the administration over rising gas prices. Then, this week, his campaign unveiled an attempt to unify these complaints: a so-called misery index--which combined jobs and gas prices with factors like the rise in college tuition, health care costs, and personal bankruptcies, along with the stagnation in personal incomes--to indict Bush for the country's worst economic stretch in three decades.

. . . as the jobs report showed, focusing on short-term indicators makes you look pretty silly whenever one of them improves, even if only temporarily. Moreover, many of the negative outcomes Kerry decries aren't really Bush's fault. Job growth, for example, has been slow mostly because unprecedented productivity growth (generally a good thing) has made it unnecessary to hire new employees even as the economy expands.

But the biggest problem is that, by concentrating on a grab bag of disparate indicators assembled only because they're all negative, Kerry is missing an opportunity to focus attention, broadly but clearly, on the ongoing pattern of fiscal recklessness and economic injustice that has consistently characterized the administration's policies.

Of course, I disagree with a lot of the editorial's assertions (e.g., the tax cuts were a sop to the rich, the Medicare reform was a sop to big pharm), but the theme is certainly correct. Bush is vulnerable, even as the economy improves. About all you can say Bush stands for, economically, is lower taxes. Now, I'm not opposed to that (though I think it could be done a hell of a lot more effectively) but it's not a whole lot to run on.

Out of the Closet: On cheesy music, that is. Note VodkaPundit's "50 Bad Songs I Shouldn't Like But Do Anyway" post. What? Bad songs? You know that for me, the post would just be called "50 Great Songs." Here are some of my picks:

"Rio" by Duran Duran
"Saturday Night" by Bay City Rollers
"Sugar, Sugar" by the Archies
"Walk Away, Renee" by Left Banke
"Hawaiian Wedding Song (This is the Moment)" by Elvis Presley
"All Through the Night" by Cyndi Lauper
"Sara Smile" by Hall & Oates
"Keep Yourself Alive" by Queen
"Disco Inferno" by the Trammps
"Get Closer" performed by R.B Hudmon
"Baby, I Love Your Way" performed by Walter Jackson
"Total Eclipse of the Heart" by Bonnie Tyler (by the killer Jim Steinman)
"Afternoon Delight" by Starland Vocal Band
"Dancing Queen" by ABBA
"Right on Track" by Breakfast Club
"Over My Head" by Fleetwood Mac
"Brilliant Disguise" by Bruce Springsteen

I could go on. There's this strange sort of embarrassment that totally escapes me, the need to denigrate a song before complimenting it. For example, Dr. Vodka notes Jon Astley's "Jane's Getting Serious." But it's not a bad song that he shouldn't like. It's a great song, and we should all like it, goddammit, without shame. Ditto "I Touch Myself." And for god's sake, don't try to tell me you didn't own No Jacket Required. That record sold enough copies for everyone to have three. Did it hold up particularly well over time? No. But neither did Peter Gabriel's contemporary (and pretty lackluster) "So," although the latter is still taken seriously. I'm opposed on principle to being ashamed of what I like to hear. Life's too short. But if I had to play it by the general rules, I'd be a hell of a lot more embarrassed to admit to liking "Mercy Street" than "Don't Lose My Number," which at least has the benefit of a ripping good solo by Daryl Stuermer, a ridiculously underrated studio master.

The (High) Times, they are a-changing: "Less dope, more reality" - that's the new unofficial editorial motto at the just-turned-thirty "High Times" periodical.

More interesting is the dilemma the magazine faces with its spin-off "Grow America" (dedicated to growing pot, and pot recipes, among other things) in accepting ads from companies offering to sell buds to readers. It seems that the pictures of the alleged buds aren't of the variety that will actually get you high (although the product you buy presumably will). Also, learn about "pot porn". Gosh, I feel so funny all of a sudden...and hungry.

Radley may have already posted this: I don't remember, but if he hasn't he will wished he had. I bring you the worst album covers of all time.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Eligible for the Draft? And I don't mean Maurice Clarett. (Well, given the news, maybe I do.) Professional contrarian Chuck Hagel is coming around to the idea of conscription:
"Why shouldn't we ask all of our citizens to bear some responsibility and pay some price?" Hagel said, arguing that restoring compulsory military service would force "our citizens to understand the intensity and depth of challenges we face."
I'm not interested in the draft as a tool of social or educational policy. Our armed forces should staff and equip to win wars, not to help our citizens understand this or that.

There's the other issue, that of troop levels in Iraq, to address. I think that our needs there can be met quickly and maintained well though some simple steps:

1. Europe can defend itself. Our deployment there is a cold war relic that adds precisely dick-o to the security of this country. That frees up in the neighborhood of 120,000 troops.

2. South Korea is bolstered against another run across the DMZ. But why would the Norks be so dead set on nukes if they were willing to take the South conventionally? Alternatively, once they have the nukes, what's the point of having conventional forces next door anyway? Besides, South Korea is less and less friendly to us as it pursues its "sunshine" policy with the North. Why should we be more concerned than they? Screw 'em. That brings home another roughly 40,000.

3. All reports say that national guard recruiting numbers are way up, and regular military retention and re-enlistment looks strong. Why not consider expanding a bit? Take on another, say, 50,000 recruits.

A conscription call seems ridiculous at this point, when 200,000 new or redeployed troops seems a reasonable goal without the draft.

Claude Rains: A brief, improbable tribute here, in the context of a greatest movie characters list at Premiere magazine.
More importantly, this list, like all things in Hollywood, is haunted by the specter of Claude Rains. Bogart's Rick is of course included, but at this point in history, is it not clear that Casablanca is Captain Rennault's movie? When was the last time you heard anybody, even as a joke, do the All the Gin Joints or Hill of Beans speeches? Yet it's probably been less than a week since you've heard an allusion to The Usual Suspects or a reference to somebody's being Shocked, Shocked. I can't think of a single Rains movie—The Adventures of Robin Hood, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Notorious, The Wolf Man, Lawrence of Arabia—where he doesn't steal every scene he's in. Rains even has a leading role—The Invisible Man—for which he could be legitimately included. My point is not that Claude Rains is underrated, though he probably is. It's that these lists are always about the Greatest, the Biggest, the Best, etc., when the incidental stuff is almost always the most enjoyable thing about a movie.
It's always nice when Claude gets press. And the point about the incidentals is right on too. See Notting Hill, for example, a bit of execrable dreck, momentarily enlivened by Rhys Ifans's hilarious portrayal of a slovenly and bizarre Welsh flatmate. He gets my vote for best character in a losing cause.

White Castle: Heh. That's one place where you kind of need that question. I pity the bastard who tries to make a meal of a burger there.

"Have you dined with us before? No? Then you'll want to know that one of our Slyders couldn't keep an aphid satisfied through a Simpson's episode."

Speaking of which, I'll have to find a detour on my travels this summer to hit a Sonic Drive-In. Have you tried this? Flyer took me out last year, when I ventured out of New England (motto: "Refusing to move on from the unimaginative standards of boiled British cuisine since 1620"), for a SuperSonic and a strawberry limeade. It makes Burger King seem like a ridiculous relic of hamburger days long passed, like an Amish buggy being passed on I-78 by a Ferrari.

A Small Point, Perhaps: In a fine review of Peter Singer's President of Good and Evil (a highbrow anti-Bush screed), Michael Lind makes this opening remark about George W. Bush:
As US president, George W Bush has proved to be doctrinaire, rather than a pragmatist, so the idea of subjecting his world-view to a philosophic critique is a promising one.
I hear this quite a bit, though I confess I don't know what it means. Firstly, let's put aside the fact that doctrinaire is a loaded word. It means "principled," which is the word Lind would use when speaking of a steadfast liberal. No, using the word doctrinaire instead means adhering to principles that the speaker or writer finds distasteful. Once you change the wording, repose the premise: "Is Bush principled or pragmatic?"

With that out of the way, this becomes more like the ridiculous old charge tha Bush is ultra-conservative, or some such formulation (right-winger, hyper-partisan, etc.). I think I could make a decent case that Bush is very pragmatic. I won't go too deep into it, but I'll give a couple of examples.

- On tax cuts, Bush said he thought a guiding principle should be capping personal income tax rates at 33%. He settled for 36%.

- On CFR, Bush insisted during the campaign that McCain-Feingold violated the first amendment. I don't recall him vetoing, though.

- On foreign affairs, Bush ran against interventionism and "nation-building," only to undertake the biggest exercises in both in a generation.

- Bush ran as a free-trader, but bowed to protectionism to the benefit of regions that, conveniently, looked important maintaining incumbency.

- More recently, Bush opposed the 9/11 commission, and opposed, on principle, sworn testimony by his NSA. But he cut a deal, and Condi Rice went before the panel, left hand on the bible, right hand in the air.

I know quite a few conservatives who would call Bush neither "principled" nor "conservative."

As for the substance of the review, it's worth a read. Lind's critique of Singer is correct, and more powerful coming from the left. As for Singer himself, I find him provocative and interesting, and I don't dismiss him as "that guy with the sheep-f*cking hangup." He's a sharp fellow (whose brain doesn't seem to comprehend politics or policy) who holds some fairly libertarian-friendly positions, though he's clearly not a libertarian. (He is, I gather, a utilitarian, so he takes freedom as a means, not an end. Perhaps Lind might call him a "non-doctrinaire" libertarian.)

Get out of Dodge: To be clear: I would raise interest rates to reflect the growing realization by the private sector that some inflation is going to be necessary to allow some expansion. I think that a mild one- or two-time raise this year, up to a point, point-and-a-half would be reasonable. You expect some market contraction in the realm of 10-15% perhaps, but unless a free-fall is imminent, no reason to back off I'd say.

That said, if you do go to White Castle, have you dined with them before?

The Nut-Cutting Skies: Good article by Irwin Stelzer on the state of the airline industry. The no-frills carriers are using profit margins to add . . . frills. The big guys, even after winning back some business from their post-9/11 nadir, still wouldn't know a profit margin if it sat in on a board meeting.

Nice Dodge: Thanks for the lecture, E.F. Hutton. Jesus, you talk like you're running for office. While you raise some worthy points for consideration, you still manage to duck my question almost entirely. Yes, I too see a hike in the fed rate as inevitable. (I think, in fact, that we'll see a few, since Greenspan is nothing if not incremental.) It's also inevitable that I will need dinner at some point tonight. Since my son is sick, and my wife will likely not have much time to cook, she may ask me what the hell I'm going to make her for dinner. I honestly don't think I'd get away with, "Ah, my dear, but I do recognize the inevitability of dinner. And trends suggest that it will become necessary in the foreseeable future. I suggest you observe the cattle futures market. An uptick in near-term prices may be a leading indicator that I have dispatched to White Castle for a sack o' burgers."

You and your hobby horse: Well, let's look at the indicators. Freddie Mac shows an up-tick in lending rates of about a half a point in the last month alone (from roughly 5.4 to 5.9). Treasuries are up the same amount in roughly the same time frame. The CPI is on the rise and employment continues to improve, oh and retail sales are up. That all points to moving the bar upward on short-term rates by the Fed.

Interestingly, inflation can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Lenders tend to raise their rates when they think that inflation is on the come. This is known as the "Fisher effect" and an article published just yesterday explains it fairly well:
This is because lenders demand compensation for the fact that the future interest and principal they receive will not be worth as much as the money they lend, in terms of the goods and services it would purchase.
So, I see a raise-hike as an inevitability, for me the question is really how many times will the Fed raise it? Some are saying a one-time raise of a half or a full point will be okay and not cause much shrinkage. Indeed, history suggests that the market will continue to expand after an initial, mild hike. However, if we see three or four jumps throughout the year, then you may see a mad rush out of equities.

The crystal ball question is whether we are in a long-term expansion phase, or just a hiccup, in what is otherwise a flat period. If I had to give a prediction, I would say to watch the housing market. There is no question that mortgage applications are on their way down, but again, this is in comparison to a huge boom. If the bubble bursts, I'd wager the recovery ends. If people lose faith in their ability to fix their expenditures through re-financing, or in their ability to be flexible and move, you may see a return to savings and therefore less spending, which forces companies to get tight, sell less, earn less, and their bankers get nervous. Fun, eh?

The Money Game: Stephen Green had an interesting post a couple of days ago regarding commodity prices as a barometer for inflationary pressure. My question is, what would you do if you were sitting in Alan Greenspan's chair? Do you keep interest rates low to keep from smothering the recovery in its cradle, and just hope that inflation doesn't get out of control? Or do you start ticking up interest rates and hope that the growth momentum of the last several quarters (which has, after all, been very strong) will withstand a little belt-tightening?

One of my big hobbyhorses on this blog, at least economically, is the business cycle and the vacation it took in the 90s. In other words, the combination of ridiculously low unemployment and ridiculously low inflation (plus a booming stock market) was an anomaly. Growth, especially with strong employment, tends to be inflationary. So, just as we may be seeing the return of historically normal "full" employment figures, are we going to see the return of inflation?

I'm not certain, but I think I'd stand pat on interest rates right now.

Razor?

Monday, April 19, 2004

The Perils of Benevolence: Roger Kimball manages to wring a fine essay out of a subject that we all thought had descended into self-parody long about 1991: political correctness. In the process, he makes an indelible point, neatly summed up in the subtitle of the essay, "the perils of benevolence." The great danger of the political moralists (be they secular or religious) is that any action can be countenanced in the pursuit of their right-thinking utopia. This is why the new left doesn't recoil in horror from the kind of newspeak and banishment of ideas being practiced today. They can't be wrong, can they? After all, "they mean well."

This was inevitable: Recently, I wrote a scathingly funny satire piece about the new Hamas leader (al-Rantisi) wanting to celebrate his recent succession to power with Arafat, and how Arafat had to come up with excuses not to meet al-Rantisi - for obvious reasons.

Well, since al-Rantisi only lasted about a month, Hamas has figured it's perhaps better not to publicly name a new leader. This unfortunately prevents me from writing yet another Onion-like article on the next-in-line's decision to market an Apache gunship detection service.

Fear not dear reader(s), soon I'll have another great idea to have you rolling in your Aeron chairs. Fear not.

New Site: This seems like a good idea: a website set up jointly by TNR and National Review at which their writers can debate issues publically. I think the folks at NR are some of the sharpest on the right, just as TNR's are some of the sharpest on the left. It will make for some good, though probably wonky, reading.

Unfortunately, as with anything TNR touches, the name is awful.

PR Nightmare: McDonald's CEO Jim Cantalupo has died. Preliminary reports suggest a heart attack. He was 60 years old. Ironically, he had been the guiding force behind the company's attempts to banish the heart-attack-on-a-bun public perception that has dogged the home of the Big Mac, though others have suggested him as an archetype of kowtowing to the nanny state and the class-action policymakers.

Friday, April 16, 2004

Catchy: Cleveland, eh? I suppose it beats the Pittsburgh of eastern PA. However, I'm all for mirth (is that spicy?). I like my food hot. You know, not temperature hot, but spiciness hot. I mean, I like my food to be temperature hot too, unless it's ice cream, and in that case, not so much.

The Big Lie: Grass is not green. The sky is not blue. Water is not wet. And a senator would never, ever use his seniority and influence in that august body to punish another politician for supporting the senator's opponent.
A Lehigh County commissioner Thursday accused an aide to U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter of playing politics over public rail projects . . .

The dust-up came as Roman endorsed Specter's foe, U.S. Rep. Pat Toomey of the Lehigh Valley, in the April 27 Republican primary.

Roman said he phoned Baker Green on April 7 to discuss the possible restoration of passenger rail service between Philadelphia and Bethlehem and touching on other area rail proposals.

Baker Green supported the concept, Roman said -- until he confirmed his support for Toomey.

I hate politicians. I hate them even more when they pretend that they aren't politicians.

(Via NRO's Corner.)

More Waitron: The dictionary is (rightly) a descriptive reference. It simply demonstrates that the term is current. It does not excuse this term from being a vulgarism.

Sometime in the not-too-distant, I will come to your city, the Cleveland of the eastern seaboard, and take you to Brittingham's for a Guinness and the deviled kidney. There will be mirth.

Waitron: Dude, it's like an english word, you know.

Actually, I've gotten that quiz in three independent and well-respected (for their food) restaurants in Philly. I eschew the chains when possible - I have an aversion to flare. An Olive Garden was put in across the street (I've already vented my spleen on that atrocity) and I have almost completed building my fire bomb. My kids love Mouse Pizza because there are so many birthday parties there. The soggy cardboard with cheese is just an added bonus.

I concur with your Schmitter choice, although it's been a while, I must confess. As for fish, yes it's an institution, but there is so much more of late that it doesn't hold the monopoly. Fortunately both versions of Bookbinders closed down ("Old, Original" and the spin-off). Unfortunately, one is coming back.

Waitron? Waitron? First, there's no need for that kind of language. "Server" is pretty bad, too, by the way -- as in, "I'll be your server tonight." If it's a her, it's a waitress; a him, a waiter.

Second, where did you go that you got the prerequisites quiz? I've never heard of that one. Sounds like an Outback/Applebees/Fridays/Bennigans kind of thing to me. You need a big, corporate chain like that to get the sort of mindset that surveys customers.

Third, I have taken the lad to what he calls "Mouse Pizza" (I ask for "extra mouse") exactly once. It was a disaster. Having weaned pretty much directly onto wood-fired thin-crust, the cheese-flavored salt and tomato-colored sugar syrup on the pizza were not a hit with him.

Anyhoo, when you're all grown up and ready, go here for fish, here for Schmitters, and here for steak-and-kidney pie. Leave Outback for a special occasion.

Why? Do I get frequent flyer miles?: Been to a restaurant lately (and for Eno, Chuck E. Cheese doesn't count), where the waitron asks you "Have you dined with us before?" I have to bite my tongue each time from responding: "Well, just tell me if it works any differently from me looking at menu, telling you what I want, you bring it, I eat it, I pay, I leave. If not, then I'm good." Of course, I prefer no saliva in my soup (other than my own) so I keep my trap shut.

Still, I keep waiting for a revolutionary concept in the restaurant business that would indeed require a set of detailed instructions before dining. Like: "One of your meals will be poisonous. You should know this before digging in. Bon appetit!"

Father Lasch: Wow. From that article I glean that the man must have been a truly wonderful, progressive and genuine man. That parish, although apparently wealthy by itself, was all the more enriched by his stewardship. He will be sorely missed, I'm sure.

Cost Basis: I can think of two organizations that would be quite interested in learning more about Kerry's art sale. One, the IRS. As most people know, when you sell an asset, your gain is the sale price less what you got it for, or your cost basis. Yes, I'm sure there are various loopholes you can find to adjust this calculus, but the basic tenet holds true. So, if his wife transferred 1/2 of her interest to her husband, was it a gift or was it for some valid consideration? If a gift, it certainly would have shown up on her tax return. If a sale, then again, it would have been income to her. The question is when.

Similarly, any lender of Kerry's might like to know more about this. Assuming Kerry has a debt-load (which we know he has at least one mortgage), typically bankers require personal financial statements. Did he disclose the painting as an asset at that time? If so, he could be out of formula on his debt obligations. This is all speculation, and I'm sure he has smart enough people around him to keep him out of trouble, but those types of information would have to be consistent, and by themselves, would show how, when and for what price he acquired and then sold his interest.

The above being fascinating to all, I'm sure...

One Priest: For what it's worth, this story was brought to my attention. The story of a priest, Kenneth Lasch, who sailed into the prevailing winds on sex abuse.
Lasch, who first heard about the accusations [against his predecessor] from another priest in 1985, met privately with alleged victims and sought advice from a psychiatrist about pedophilia before taking the unusual step, in 1995, of laying out the matter to his entire congregation . . .

"I had no choice," Lasch said in an interview last week, recalling his decision to speak out long before the issue of priest sex abuse appeared on the national radar screen . . .

At about the same time, Lasch wrote to Bishop Frank Rodimer and urged him to convene a summit at which sex abusers, victims, lay people and even the media would be invited. Rodimer never responded to his letter, Lasch recalled last year.

Two years ago, when numerous reports surfaced of U.S. Catholic bishops hiding priests accused of abuse, Lasch was heralded as a visionary whose openness should serve as a model . . .

In response to the scandal, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops instituted a strict new policy on sex abuse, but Lasch said it didn't go far enough by failing to provide full accountability for past wrongs.

"I don't think we have to be afraid of the truth," Lasch said.

A nice counterpoint.

"I'll Show You How and Italian Dies!" Tim Blair reports murdered Italian hostage Fabrizio Quattrocchi's last words to his Iraqi captors. Adds Blair:
Puzzlingly, Al-Jazeera says that footage of Quattrocchi’s death is “too gruesome” to broadcast. Puzzling, because Al-Jazeera has never had problems before with screening gruesome footage. Maybe Al-Jazeera just can’t cope with Italian defiance.
Ah, it would be demoralizing for the "Arab street" to see and hear Fabrizio make his point. To paraphrase Sullivan today, "Vaffanculo!"

Meee-OW! Howard Dean on Maureen Dowd. Nice catch at Swamp City.

Is Full Disclosure Possible? Stephen Green looks at the minor flapdoodle over Theresa Heinz's refusal to make public her tax return. He asks, "what business is her tax returns of ours?"

Typically, I'd agree. In this case, though, Kerry's life is subsidized by his wife to such an extent that his own tax return is essentially meaningless gibberish without the Rosetta Stone of Heinz's return. Take, for example, the current story of the capital gain Kerry earned by selling his half interest in a million dollar painting (Theresa owns the other half). His flak, Mike Meehan, refused to say whether Kerry purchased his half. For argumentary purposes, this pretty much means he didn't pay for it. I'm not enough of an expert to know the legal requirements for establishing basis on art as an investment, nor do I know how Kerry and Heinz keep their records to establish how he might have paid for his half. But if you had to shift a half-million bucks in assets, simply declaring that your spouse (who conveniently makes a comparatively tiny salary) owns half of a million dollar painting is a great way to be able to do it.

She should show her hand.

The Human Mind: It's so funny to think of putting a hole in a shell to form a necklace or some decoration in terms of a "first", but really it's no less earth-shaking than the first step on the moon. To get to the moon, we first had to put our handprints on cave walls to tell a story about the moon god and its powers over us.

I was watching a bit of a show on PBS about Victorian England and the changes the Queen had to oversee in her country, including the change from agrarian peasants to urban cogs in the industrial wheel. While we Americans tend to credit Henry Ford with creating the assembly line, it was of course done earlier, and in England (perhaps earlier still elsewhere, but I can only watch so many shows - you don't expect me to pick up a book do you?). Anyway, I'm continually amazed by the first person who determined that it might be a better idea to have 100 people repeatedly build something, each doing one select part, than have that same 100 people each build a whole commodity.

Many of these "first-steppers" were visionaries without even realizing it - they just acted on an idea, and didn't worry about the odd looks and laughs of derision that came from the Establishment. This is why, when you examine history in a macro scale, societies that promote free-thinkers have always lept ahead of their more restrictive neighbors. And while countries like the U.S.S.R. and even North Korea have produced geniuses of art, science and industry, those individuals are the exception to the rule. But Oliver Stone still thinks Castro is a great guy, you know, because, well, they have very nice beaches in Cuba, I hear.

Brace Yourself: Somebody leaked a copy of Bob Woodward's new book, Plan of Attack. Shocking, I know. But before you pick yourself up off the floor, listen to what it reveals:
Woodward says Bush pulled Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld aside Nov. 21, 2001 ? when U.S. forces and allies were in control of about half of Afghanistan ? and asked him what kind of war plan he had on Iraq. When Rumsfeld said it was outdated, Bush told him to get started on a fresh one.
Oh, my. Shall I fetch the smelling salts? Wait till you hear that Bush told Rummy to keep it under his hat.

By the way, that rustling you hear from John Dingell's office is no doubt the sound that Articles of Impeachment make when they are fondled gratuitously.