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Thursday, February 27, 2003


Speaking of the ol' US=Roman Empire wheeze (as Mailer was in the previous post)---I've grown more than a little tired of that cliche. From now on, I'm going to tediously moan and bitch wherever I encounter it, just like Gato does with "drumbeat of war".

In fact, I urge everyone to adopt a cliche to spank whenever the media coughs it up. Some cliches needing a home:

root causes
rush to war
it's all about the oil (though everyone seems to have adopted this)
Arab street

When the war is over, though, your little cliches will be grown and out of your hair. Mine is evergreen. If I were getting paid for this, I'd be set for life.

UPDATE: Oh, and here's a cliche I want taken out back and shot. From Dumb Celebs comes a tale of Janeane Garofalo. Save your outrage about her statements for Dumb Celebs, I'm after the magazine writer in this linked article, who writes of Garofalo:

You might also think she had an attitude, the kind that comes from having been too clear-sighted while growing up in a white-and-weird suburban New Jersey with a Republican dad and a Democrat mom...

Give me a break. "Yeah, I grew up on the mean streets of Levittown, where everyone was so...ewww...white. It was tough. My mom drove a station wagon. My dad was a Republican, for god's sake. You couldn't buy Village Voice in the drug store. I was warped by that experience."

The horror.

Why Are We in...Where Are We Again?

Washed up has-been writer Norman Mailer spouts off today in the Houston Chronicle. His thesis is that we're going to war because, um, well, empire, fascism, oil, water, China, and sports. It's hard to excerpt from this fine specimen of Big Shot Bullshit.

My hypothesis is that President Bush and many conservatives have come to the conclusion that the only way they can save America and get it off its present down slope is to become a regime with a greater military presence and drive toward empire. My fear is that we might lose our democracy in the process.

Wow, that's scary, Norm! Tell us more!

By down slope I'm referring not only to the corporate scandals, the church scandals and the FBI scandals.

Why, you're right, Norm! In all of American history we've never had scandals like these!

Also, kids can't read anymore.

Wow! When did this happen? On the other hand, they may enjoy your books more.

Especially for conservatives, the culture has become too sexual.

You're right! The place has become a bordello since January 2001.

War with Iraq...would be a quick, dramatic step that would enable them [the "Bushites"] to control the Near East as a powerful base -- not least because of the oil there as well as the water supplies from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers -- to build a world empire.

No blood for water!

So, if we have an Empire, there won't be any more scandals and kids will learn how to read and everyone will behave, right? Tell us how that works.

Um, Norm? Norm? Hello....

Well, I'm sure he'll tell us eventually. First we get this prediction:

Terrorists are not impressed by democracy. They loathe it...They are fundamentalists of the most basic kind. The more successful democracy is in the Near East (not likely in my view), the more terrorism it will generate.

Gosh! Maybe we ought to dismantle our democracy right away, lest the terrorists try to destroy it. Wait, that already happened. (I thought that wasn't about democracy, though...)

The only outstanding obstacle to the drive toward empire in the Bushite minds is China. Indeed, one of the great fears in the Bush administration about America's down slope is that the "stem studies" such as science, technology and engineering are all faring poorly in our universities. The number of American Ph.D.'s is going down and down. But the number of Asians obtaining doctorates in those same stem studies is increasing at a great rate.

Whoops, changed my mind. Norman Mailer is the most brilliant man---OK, non-scientist---in the universe. He's absolutely right that them yella devils are taking over our precious White Man's Science. We need a purge of furriners, which would by a completely unrelated coincidence mean that my mangy carcass would suddenly become waaaaay more valuable.

Norm, bubba, if the "stem studies" in the US were so bad, Americans would be going to China to study them, not the other way around. And, you know, a lot of those Chinese (and others) elect to stay here and become Americans. Which means we win.

(I thought he made up this "stem studies" business, but it turns out that it means Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.)

And somehow I don't think kicking up sand in Iraq and taking over its oil, water, or vinegar is going to stop this supposed decline in our stem cells. (Are there technology deposits under the Iraqi sand? Are we expecting to find the Lost Knowledge of Ancient Babylon?)

No sirree, the only thing that's going to do that is to lavish great green gobs of cash on universities and scientific organizations in nice climates, so as to make sure that deserving yet unemployed scientists are guaranteed cushy and interesting jobs.

Looking 20 years ahead, the administration perceives that there will come a time when China will have technology superior to ours.

When that time comes, America might well say to China that "we can work together," we will be as the Romans to you Greeks. You will be our extraordinary, well-cultivated slaves...This is the scenario that some of the brightest neo-conservatives are thinking about.

And some of the dumbest old hacks. I can see where it's possible that in 20 years China will have some technologies that are superior to ours. What I don't see is where he gets this "extraordinary, well-cultivated slave" crap. Wouldn't we sort of have to---you know---conquer them to do that? Wouldn't that get messy? And what would be the point? And how could we continue to be all rich and powerful and dictate stuff to people if they've got better technology? And why would they stand still for it?

I was going to mention that Harold Macmillan suggested that this be Britain's relationship to the US, but that was the other way around. He wanted Britain to be Greece, the enlightened home of thought, in contrast to the lumbering military empire. Guess he hadn't heard about the slave part. Tee hee. Boy, what I'd have given to see the look on his face when he found out.

Er, where were we? Oh, right, Mailer's fantasy kingdom:

(I use Rome as a metaphor, because metaphors are usually much closer to the truth than facts.)

And because equating the US with the Roman Empire always impresses the hell outta the rubes. (Stupid facts! What do they know, anyway.)

My guess, though, is that, like it or not or want it or not, we are going to go to war because that is the only solution Bush and his people can see.

'Cause I sure as hell can't think of anything else. What was I writing about again? Norm's forgotten about that little business in New York and Washington. One could certainly argue that it had nothing to do with Iraq, but it's obvious that the administration thinks it just might. But, no, Mailer's going to pretend it didn't happen. Maybe so he can pretend he didn't spout some meaningless yet offensive drivel about it.

The dire prospect that opens, therefore, is that America is going to become a mega-banana republic where the army will have more and more importance in our lives...And before it is all over democracy...may give way. My long experience with human nature -- I'm 80 years old now -- suggests that it is possible that fascism, not democracy, is the natural state.

Indeed, democracy is the special condition -- a condition we will be called upon to defend in the coming years. That will be enormously difficult because the combination of the corporation, the military and the complete investiture of the flag with mass spectator sports has set up a pre-fascist atmosphere in America already.

Well, I'm only half your age, Norm, but my long experience with horseshit tells me you're shovelling it. I think you've confused reality with one of your novels, bubbe. Flags at baseball games means fascism is just around the corner?

Norm, this country has been tempted by fascism before, in your lifetime and mine. And it didn't succumb. That doesn't mean we can be complacent, but I do think we should save our panic and outrage for a stronger sign than singing the national anthem at baseball games.

Say, Norm, you forgot to explain how, exactly, Bush thought that building an empire was going to keep corporations honest, stop priests from diddling little boys, bring back chastity, make the Chinese dumber, and get more kids to read your books.

Maybe he'll churn out a great thick square book on the subject.

Stop the War on Potholes!

The Houston City Council, displaying rare cluefulness, has rejected two anti-war resolutions. Most of the members say that foreign policy is outside the purview of the council.

[Mayor Lee P.] Brown agreed to put the resolutions on the council agenda after weeks of lobbying by community activists to have the city take a position on war with Iraq.


Council members opposing the resolutions said it was inappropriate for a local body to weigh in on foreign policy decisions. But supporters said such a move was entirely appropriate, because the results and cost of a war would have a direct effect on the city's finances.

Maybe they should have voted on a resolution condemning terrorism, because any terrorism in Houston will have a direct effect on the city's finances, too.

Here we see a sterling example of the governing class in full cry:

"I resent like hell that citizens are being played by the spin that this is not our jurisdiction," said Councilwoman Ada Edwards.

I'm not entirely sure what "played by the spin" is supposed to mean, but I'm guessing it means that Ms. Edwards thinks that people are unable to decide for themselves whether or not they think that the city council should spend its time debating war or devising plans for the future Katy River[*]. No, we stand around with our mouths open like baby birds, waiting for the government or the media to feed us our opinions.

There were two resolutions proposed, one which opposed "unilateral" action against Iraq (failed 9-5); the other actually encouraged Iraq to disarm, and endorsed war only as a last resort (failed 8-6).

It also called for withdrawing U.S. military forces based overseas and using the savings for such domestic programs as education and universal health care.

Feed the bunnies! Ice cream for all!

Gosh, wouldn't it be great if city councils did nothing but sit around and pass resolutions telling the federal government what to do? It would be like having thousands of tiny Congresses!

Although few said so publicly, the majority also support President Bush's policies toward Iraq.

Er, how do you know, since they didn't say so publicly?

Ken Freeland, spokesman for the Houston Coalition for Justice Not War, said council's vote had sealed Houston's reputation as a city of small-town thinkers.

Somehow, the Chronicle could not find a spokesman for the Houston Coalition for Just Fix the Damn Potholes Already.

[*] One of the plans for widening I-10 (aka the Katy Freeway) calls for making what is essentially a giant ditch, with the interstate at the bottom. Since the water table in Houston is about two inches above the surface at all times, low sections flood in even a light rain. Where are those amphibious flying cars we were promised?

InstaUPDATE: Man. Now this is the City Council of Greater Gehenna.

...the Santa Cruz [California] City Council on Tuesday night voted to launch a campaign aimed at persuading the state Legislature to oppose a war against Iraq.

In September, Santa Cruz became the first city in the country to pass a resolution to oppose a war.

Who'd have thought, eh?

I didn't realize this:

Hawaii and Maine are the only states to adopt resolutions suggesting that Bush resolve the dispute with Iraq peacefully.

Here are some other choice California quotes:

``There is growing and serious support'' for impeaching Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, said activist Sherry Conable.


``We are two weeks away from a Holocaust in Baghdad,'' said Robert Norse...He urged the council to create a ``sanctuary'' in Santa Cruz for members of the military who refuse to join the fight against Iraq.

I assumed Norse was a council member. Instead, he seems to be some sort of homeless activist, who about a year ago was ejected from a city council member for giving the mayor a Nazi salute. That link appears to be a mailing list archive. Scroll down for a story from the Santa Cruz Sentinel, which has mysteriously disappeared from their archives.

``To do something that sets us up for ridicule is counterproductive,'' Mayor Emily Reilly said.

Yet inevitable.

I've been in Santa Cruz. Nice town to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there. Too many potholes.

Via Rantburg.

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Free Clues Here

I hope Bruce Rolston continues with his "No Clue" series, so we can all examine the perfectly understandable reasons why "they" hate "us":


Possibly the first in a series... here's today's haul:

"Fuck 'em all and let the tanks roll." -- Steven Den Beste

"I guess they [the Kurds] have the common decency to keep their tablecloths on their dining room tables instead of wearing them on their heads in the shape of historic Kurdistan." -- Lawrence Simon, on William Quick's site.

Maybe Charles Johnson should turn his constant search for expressions of irrational race-hatred to the American Wahhabi bloggers once in a while, too. It's getting kind of caustic in here lately.


Now, Den Beste's quote came on the end of an update to a (typically) long post about the new UN resolution, after I don't know how many posts of even greater length on Den Beste's precise positions on the UN, Iraq, and, well, everything under the sun. In particular, Den Beste is expressing his frustration with the UN's refusal to enforce its own decrees. I don't know who Bruce thinks Steven wants to fuck, but it's the other members of the Security Council.

As for Laurence's alleged comment, Bruce doesn't see fit to give an exact link, Google doesn't come up with it, nor does a search on Daily Pundit. I suppose Bruce is referring to the simply terribly racist and hate-filled notion that the headdresses worn by some Middle-Eastern men resemble checkered tablecloths.

I suppose Bruce doesn't need to be told that Yasser Arafat's own headdress (I'd call it what it is, but I don't know what it's called) is (supposedly) draped over one shoulder in his unique fashion so as to take the shape of Israel, which is to say, all of Israel. I suppose that could be entirely accidental, although I don't believe I've ever seen him wear it any other way. Perhaps he doesn't want his ear exposed on that side, or something.

Anyhow---no reasonable person would deny that frustration with the UN and japes about tablecloths add up to "expressions of irrational race-hatred", and are the very sorts of grievances which drove the 9/11 hijackers to their regrettable (but completely understandable) frenzy.

Well done, Bruce, for identifying that.

UPDATE: Now with the added power of links.

Monday, February 24, 2003

Hey, Meryl! Flip This!

O! K! Thanks to the wonderful, the kindly, the brilliant Brian O'Connell, King of Geeks and Geek of Kings, I now have a little JavaScript thingy which will switch the colors from light-on-dark to dark-on-light. Just click the link over on the left which reads Are you afraid of the dark?.

Brian sent me some very nice code which made the blog look very pretty, but I refuse to give up some of my colors so I mutated it into the mess you see here. In order to keep my beautiful Forrester green titles (which don't stand out against the light background), I've been forced to put them inside little tables, which is a pain in the ass, but seems to work OK. The thing is, I don't really feel like going back and changing all the titles of all the posts, so older post titles will be kind of hard to see in light colors.

I hope this will satisfy certain whiners. There may be further tweaking as things develop.

Yaaaaay! Brian! All hail Brian!

Where Stupidity Is a Good Career Move

The Sydney Morning Herald's Paul McGeough has an article titled "Aussies line up with the other coalition of the willing". McGeough can't be entirely gone in stupidity: this is not a very sympathetic article. Some choice quotes:

More than 60 arrived last week, on a couple of red double-decker buses from London and looking as though they had left Carnaby Street in about 1965.


But Gordon Sloan, a Sydney architect who quit his job to come, was more circumspect: "We have set up a committee to check out the sites - how many of us might be able to stay at them and how close they are to military targets... He laughed off a warning by the US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, that Saddam faced war crime charges for using human shields - even volunteers...the 30-year-old Sloan...complained: "The power trips and ego plays were a pain and too many people had an eye on their political futures and how good their CV would look."

They must all be hoping for jobs at Target.

Being much calmer about all around him was Neville Watson, a 73-year-old Uniting Church minister from the Perth suburb of Wembley Downs... He explained why he was here: "I'm not critical of people who are willing to put their life on the line, but our aim is to be alongside the Iraqi people and we are a distinctly different group to the human shields...Pressed to explain his motivation further, he pulled from his shirt pocket a school essay written by his 10-year-old grand-daughter from which he read: "He will stay in Baghdad to comfort the Iraqi people while America bombs them. You might think he is a nut, but I'm proud of him. Poor grandma will have to live by herself for six weeks and maybe forever."... "There is nothing heroic about it," he concluded.

You got that right, bub.

As mentioned in the article, a lot of people are uncomfortable with the term "human shields", because that phrase was used to describe involuntary human shields in the last war. I still think they're human shields (inasmuch as they're human, and they're shielding something), but my main question is just how damn dumb do you have to be to volunteer for such duty knowing that this same government took people captive for this purpose just twelve years ago?

I'd love to see their faces when they are charged with war crimes when this is all over. Not treason---because most of them already don't care---but war crimes, for attempting to transfer their status as protected persons to legitimate military targets.

War crimes?? You can't charge us with war crimes! We're the Good People! We're in favor of fluffy bunnies, sunshine, and ice cream for all!

Won't happen, of course.

Sunday, February 23, 2003

Taking a Tire Iron to Poetry

Time once again for Bullwinkle's Corner, in which we showcase the pititful crap that passes for poetry in these benighted days.

For those of you who have wandered in on your way to somewhere more important, I'll say again that I know nothing about poetry; which is to say that I was never formally taught in it, nor am I particularly widely read in it, and I certainly cannot do it.

However, I do believe firmly (in my ignorance) that poetry should somehow be distinct from bad prose. It should rhyme, and if it cannot rhyme, it should possess some sort of meter. If it cannot do either of those, it should at least look pretty on the page, or taste good (beautiful, is my choice, but if not, crunchy, metallic, velvet---anything) on the tongue. But if it cannot manage any of these, none at all, at least it should offer intriguing imagery and metaphor---words for one concept pressed into duty for another, illuminating both.

And so we come to today's offering, On the Eve of War by Emmy! Winning! Journalist!, author, musician, and professor, Ruben Martinez. This poem takes up half the front page of the editorials section in today's Houston Chronicle, yet strangely is not on the paper's website. (I think they must keep their most embarrassing moments off the website, because half the time when I want to blog about them, they're not there. On the other hand, it does have some Robert Jensen articles permanently linked.)

Since I can't find it at the Chronicle's site, nor anywhere else on the Web, you can't see the whole poem for yourself. But I think fair use allows me to quote a few snippets. It starts out well enough for the first four stanzas, and then

On the eve of war
The state censors
The I and the I stops
The we and the we
bleeds a you

On the eve of war
I come with my anti-
With a hoarse hearse
A doubt or two
Shuttle streak
And a stinging hand

On the eve of war
I bid you capital gain
Refuge in the Arctic
A sweatshop
And petro-rain

It's difficult to criticize a poem when it doesn't make any sense. Has, in fact, the state censored you? If so, what are you doing in the Chronicle? How does "I" stop "we" (who are "we"?), and how does stopping "we" bleed a "you"?

I realize it's no use asking for literality from a poem; it would sabotage the purpose of poetry. But it's difficult for a poem to have meaning---to convince, as this one means to (see below)---if you cannot tease out its meaning.

So it's a good thing the "capital gain" stanza was included, so we can see that the poet means to clue us in that IT'S ALL ABOUT THE OIL! Oh, and sweatshops, somehow.


On the eve of war
I give you these:


A tire-iron floating on the rain
Guernica on a postage stamp
A full cinema and an empty screen

No doubt the tire-iron and the cinema represent things my brain of little bearing cannot grasp. It's only by wildest chance that I know what Guernica represents, after all.

Finally (there's much more, but I don't want to quote the whole thing):

On the eve of war
My dog eats pancakes
And I make love in the rain

On the eve of war
The poem may yet become history
And postpone the eve of war

What does the pancake-eating dog mean, do you suppose? Is it an allusion to the homely, quotidian aspects of life, which continue even though we are on War's Eve? Or do the pancakes represent the flattened Iraqis, eaten by the dogs of war (note: dogs reviled in Arab society) while rich Americans enjoy their pleasures in the (petro-)rain?

You see, with bad poetry, any half-assed interpretation is as good as any another. Again, I mourn that I did not have the foresight to go into humanities rather than science. In science the notions of correct and incorrect are much more constrained. Niles pointed out that I'd have to pander to the dominant paradigm in order to win fame in the humanities, but he overestimates my sense of integrity. If I'm going to pine after respect cheaply and talentlessly won, it's not going to trouble me that I'll have to pander to do it.

I actually like the final stanza, although it is immodest of a poem (especially a bad one, I must say) to hope that it will turn history's path. You'll note that the author inadvertantly slips the truth---that stopping the war will not avert it, but only postpone it. Can it be postponed indefinitely? And if not, what will be the cost when it finally comes?

In truth, I wouldn't know whether this poem was specifically anti-war except for the lines about capital gain and OIL! Otherwise, though, the poem is basically saying "war is terrible and people get killed, so it mustn't be entered into lightly", for which information, thank you, Professor Poet, but I believe we were already apprised of these facts. The shuttle Columbia is alluded to (twice), for no obvious reason, as are Salvadorans, Nigerians, Palestians, Jews, and Eminem.

Poets certainly do seem to be taken with themselves, and the power of poetry to express Deep Truths; so are a lot of other people. Therefore I think it's not too much to ask that poetry be somehow special, that it be more than a bunch of incongruent sentence fragments slapped together and invested with meaning, man, that the proles cannot grasp. At least, if it is to be prominently sited in major newspapers, it should be.

For those wondering what, exactly, would be my idea of a collection of sentence fragments exceptional enough to call itself "poetry", I'll point out that the name of this site---The Machinery of Night (in case it wasn't obvious)---is taken from a line in Ginsberg's Howl:

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical
naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an
angry fix, angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to
the starry dynamo in the machinery of night...

Howl goes on from there, and on and on. I don't like this poem. It doesn't have rhyme or meter, does not sound beautiful (or crunchy, metallic, etc) when read aloud, but by god it has imagery enough for a thousand modern "poems":

...who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and saw Mohammedan angels staggering on tenement roofs illuminated...

...incomparable blind streets of shuddering cloud and lightning in the mind leaping toward poles of Canada & Paterson, illuminating all the motionless world of Time in between...

...listening to the crack of doom on the hydrogen jukebox...

...who howled on their knees in the subway and were dragged off the roof waving genitals and manuscripts...

And that's just until I got bored. It gets a bit overwrought and tedious after a while, and your pleasure in it is proportional to your tolerance for scenes of drug-induced hallucinations and sex. Mine's fairly low. I am a prude.


...burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night...

always stands my hair on end.

Let's see the pancake-eating dogs and rain-buoyed tire irons do that.

Employment Opportunities in Iraq!

Hot dog! Harper's Magazine says (according to this month's Smarter Harper's) there were 1200 applications for 302 UN weapons inspector positions.

Babies, that's golden. Only a few years ago (I don't know about recently) the number of applications for any given physics teaching position at a small and unremarkable college was in the hundreds.

Now, that might seem as if your odds of getting a physics teaching position were (say) one in three hundred, but it wasn't quite that bad in reality. In reality, there were a number jobs advertised in any given year, say twenty. That means your odds of getting any of the jobs was now one in fifteen. Then, of course, many applicants already had jobs, and were just thinking about moving. And many applicants were underqualified for the position, with a few being completely unqualified.

So in reality, your chance of getting any one of those jobs was really something like one in five. But if anything like those same conditions obtains in the weapons inspector search, that means they're desperate for warm bodies who know which end of the missile goes up. Hey! Over here! I know! And I'm warm! I have a sweater on!

Oopsie, but I'm an American, so I probably would not be selected. The Iraqis don't want me there. Oh, and besides issues of technical competence, there are also security issues. The UN would (in theory) like to hire people who will not tip off the Iraqis. So that means the pool of people who are technically and security qualified is even smaller.

But, ha ha, I'm sure that the competition for those jobs is a lot fiercer than that. Otherwise, it would mean that the inspectors upon whom the peace of the world depends don't really know what they're doing. And that sure can't be, right? I mean, they work for the UN. The UN!

We're going to Fry's today. They sell gas masks there, have I mentioned that?

UPDATE: No Fry's today. Gas attacks will have to wait until next weekend.

Saturday, February 22, 2003

Help Wanted

I've been thinking about people who want dark letters on a white background, and how psychotic they probably are, so I should just try to appease them. Unfortunately, "skinnable" blogs cannot be done on Blogspot (as far as I can tell). The only Blogspot-hosted solution I can see is to create another blog with a different color scheme. It ought to be fairly painless to cut-and-paste posts from one blog to the other. HOWEVER, I'm not going to go through and copy every post in the archives. That's too much work.

On the other hand, it's probably expecting a lot to imagine that anyone will feel cheated out of the remainder of my lifel---er, deathless prose. So that might not matter.

Anyhow, if anyone does know if it's possible to copy an entire blog over to another Blogspot blot (or has any other ideas that do not involve spending money), please let me know.

*chirp* *chirp* *chirp*

Crickets, any of you know?

UPDATE: Woo hoo! Solution found. See here.

The Trailing Edge

(This post is boring. Go read something else.)

Long ago, computer terminals were all black, with just green letters and one font, because green electrons were the first to be invented. You've all seen this in the movies. (Actually, before that, computer screens were green and white with faint black letters and were printed on dead trees in long folded sheets, and you typed your instructions in on a big noisy machine which spat out pieces of cardboard, which you then put into another big noisy machine, which---in the fullness of time---ejected the green-and-white sheets which told you you'd mis-spelled a word and had to do the whole thing over again.)

(And before that they were stone tablets, but that was before my time.)

Soon, white electrons were invented. When my household got its first personal computer---make that Personal Computer [TM, IBM]---it came with amber electrons which were just the end. They were much easier to read than the harsh white electrons. Nothing could be cooler than this. Except, maybe, for the computer---which I saw with my very own eyes---that could switch between white, green, and amber electrons. Wow.

Eventually, for some reason, terminal text colors stabilized around white letters. And when I say "terminal", I mean terminals for serious computers, not those toy PC thingies. Suns. Vaxen.

That seemed about as fer as we could go, until that time when some genius invented the concept of windowing. That was fabulous, because it meant you could have more than one black-and-white "terminal" on your screen at a time, for those special occasions when you wanted to do two things at once. Fantastic. When we got our first windows (note the small w) machine at work, there was also image display software, which had more than one color, if you can imagine. But that was just for us scientists. Ordinary folk didn't want to be displaying images.

All this is to explain why this blog is white letters on a black background. That just looks normal to me, and it's easier on my eyes. I edit almost all my posts beforehand, and just paste them into the Blogger window. Just like this one, which I'm editing in a window with white text on a black background. I mention this because some crybabies have complained.

Which brings me to the reason I've just upgraded my Netscape. It was Netscape 4.79, now I've upgraded to 7.02, because I couldn't figure out how to upgrade to 7.0. (7.02, Niles tells me, has "issues" with JavaScript. So do I, pal.)

See, I figure that once you've got software to the point where it does what you want it, you can stop fiddling with it. Netscape 4.79 worked just fine. Oh, there were some blogs I couldn't read with it. But only a few, and if I really really wanted to read them, I started up Konqueror. Why upgrade, and risk losing functionality that you like, only to gain some functionality that you don't want? And upgrading is annoying, and this particular upgrade insisted that you download some sort of alien executable, and it reached out God-knows-where and put God-knows-what on my computer. I resisted this, but there didn't seem to be a choice.

A Unix sysadmin knows that software is installed with a Make file, which you can see with your own eyes, and which you can edit to your satisfaction. You don't have to put that new program in /usr/local. You can put it in /hd001/obscure/arcane/nyah-nyah-can't-find-me and copy the binary to /usr/local/bin. That way not only do you keep large files off of /usr (and instead use disk space "liberated" from Prof. Deadwood, who has gobs of it which he never uses for anything), but you hide it from pesky users who might want to do something fancy and dangerous with it, like use it. But you don't let programs go wandering off on their own, installing whatever they want without asking you. That's what this one did. One day I fully expect to wake up and find that Netscape has signed me up to join the 700 Club, or Greenpeace. Bah.

But sadly, the stuff I'm doing requires some software which will not work with Netscape 4.79, so I had to upgrade.

And that goes for the terminal colors too. Why upgrade with bells and whistles and fonts and textures and smells, when this plain old white-on-black text thingy works so well? I got some fancy colored text, what more do you want? Next you'll be wanting to watch movies! I tell today.

But the Netscape upgrade does mean one thing. Now I see blog people. Previously, a lot of blogs were just Netscape-background-gray with black letters. Now, I can actually experience Quatloos as Andrea intended them. I see that Moira Breen has a really beautiful color scheme. Jane Galt's blog is all green and stuff. I even see the New Zealand flag at the top of Silent Running.

Oh! And Blogger works better now too. For one thing, it doesn't try to do something JavaScripty to my hard drive every two seconds, which not only makes me paranoid, but the noise drives me nuts. This means I can leave my Blogger window open all the time. Huzzah!

So, I think I might get used to this new Netscape business. The tabs are kind of convenient. But I'm not going to rush into things. I'm going to test-drive it for a while before upgrading the browser on my Windows 95 partition (which is currently running Netscape 3.04).

Friday, February 21, 2003

Get Ready!

Mmmm, nothin' like a government information campaign to provide endless laughs for future generations, assuming there are any. This one urges us to be ready.

Now, in keeping with the current zeitgeist of unrestrained panic [*], I've written some peppy new lyrics to an appropriate tune. No need to thank me, just doing my bit.

(With deepest, profoundest apologies to Smokey Robinson, whose real lyrics are here. [**])

Never met infidels could make me as crazy as you do
(it ain't no lie)
Whenever I'm asked what brings evil to the world, I tell 'em you do
(you're gonna die)
Well, sarin gas, got me some, look out Satan, 'cause here I come

(ah-ah-ah-ah-ah) I'm bringin' a war to you
(get ready, get ready)
(ah-ah-ah-ah-ah) I'll start makin' bombs go boom
(get ready, get ready)
Get ready 'cause here I come
On my way (get ready 'cause here I come)

You wanna play hide 'n seek with me, I gotta tell ya
(it's allright)
Look all up and down the world, and by the time ya find me
(I'm outta sight)
You can't discover where I'm from, look out Yankees, now here I come

(ah-ah-ah-ah-ah) I might even have a nuke or two
(get ready, get ready)
(ah-ah-ah-ah-ah) Is that anthrax, or just the flu?
(get ready, get ready)
Get ready 'cause here I come
On my way (get ready 'cause here I come)

All that heathen freedom and stuff, you know I can't stand it
(that's my fight)
Hope I get you before you get to me 'cause that's how I planned it
(my cause is right)
Now I'm headin' for martyrdom, look out virgins, cause here I come

(ah-ah-ah-ah-ah) I'm tellin' you your time is through
(get ready, get ready)
(ah-ah-ah-ah-ah) I just gotta light my shoe
(get ready, get ready)
Get ready 'cause here I come
I'm on my way (get ready 'cause here I come)
I'm here today! (get ready 'cause here I come)

[*] I thought for sure there was an InstaPundit post recently on how the media is trying to tell us we're all in an unreasoning panic, but I couldn't find it.

UPDATE FROM SPAIN: We're panicking.

[**] Actually, many sites---including the one linked---say that the first line of the last verse is:

Baby all my freedoms should you want me to I think i'll understand

Which prompted my line about freedoms. But that doesn't make sense, even for rock lyrics. The real lyrics sung by Rare Earth are:

Baby if all my friends shouldn't want me to, I think I'll understand it

This makes more slightly more sense (i.e., his friends want her for themselves), and fits in with the following line.

Thursday, February 20, 2003

Risky Ventures in Humor

From Tina Brown via Big Arm Woman I learn that it's an urban legend that George Bush once said, "The problem with the French is that they don't have a word for entrepreneur." Snopes confirms it.

I am deeply, deeply disappointed in this, because it is the perfect quip. It shows that the mockers are dumber than their allegedly-dumb target. When I first heard someone sneering at Bush for saying this, I was astonished. They hadn't gotten the joke. Yes, "entrepreneur" is a French word, but if one believed that French (or EU) laws discouraged initiative and risky ventures, then France will have fewer entrepreneurs. See, they invented the word, but they don't have any! Har!

My dictionary says entrepreneur means "contractor" in French, from the verb entreprendre, to undertake, or contract for. So this is another instance of a French word adopted into English to fit a specific purpose, when an English word for the more general concept already existed.

The joke is still funny whether or not it is literally true that the French don't have a word for the English (American?) concept of entrepreneur (Babelfish says the French word for "entrepreneur" is entrepreneur), or whether, in the broader sense, they do not encourage the growth of small businesses. It sounds like something Molly Ivins might've said, back when she was funny.

I hope Big Arm Woman's pal Irony gets to feeling better soon.

(And that the Blogger archive bug is fixed soon, because my link to her site led to the wrong post. Look for "Tina Brown Is a Tiny Moron". Wait, is that a pun, too? Moron, marron, brown...? Bilingual brain...darkness...burning...)

Molly Ivins Can Say That, But She's Wrong

Molly Ivins, I am surprised to find, is credited as author on several books. I thought she'd written just four: Molly Ivins Can't Say That, Can She?, Nothin' But Good Times Ahead, You Got to Dance with Them What Brung You, and Shrub. I have those four; at least the first three are autographed.

I really liked Ivins when she wrote humorously on politics, especially the good ol' boys of Texas politics. She came off a little shrill sometimes, but those occasions were just minor deviations from tone in some otherwise-enjoyable pieces.

But now shrill indignation is her whole oeuvre, and if a little bit of humor crawls into her writing it must fend for itself the best it can.

Take for example this column defending the French. Yes. Not only is it humorless (in fact, indignant at the surrender humor directed at the French---how unfair! nobody should be unfair in pursuit of a pointed quip!), but it's incoherent. It starts out with defending the bravery of the French in WWI and WWII, and then turns to colonialism.

Roosevelt was anti-colonialist. That system was a great evil, a greater horror even than Nazism or Stalinism.


Instead of insisting on freedom for the colonies of Europe, we let our allies carry on with the system...

I sense stupidity hovering in the wings. So, Roosevelt the Colossus was anti-colonialist, and had he lived he would have spoken, his words materializing as smoke and flame, and Europe would have trembled and released the poor captive peoples. But he died, and Truman ignored the plight of the suffering, or some such dreck.

I guess she's forgotten the US's anti-colonialist stance throughout much of the 19th and early 20th century, during which it gleefully tripped up the colonial powers whenever it could.

She's also forgotten that Britain did turn loose of India fairly quickly after WWII, on account of it [Britain] was broke and couldn't afford it [India] anymore.

But we go on. She then turns to praising French bravery at Dien Bien Phu, apparently forgetting that the brave French warriors were fighting for evil colonialism. Oh, but I suppose it's not their fault, poor dears. The soldiers themselves were the equivalent of the little brown people who are tricked into joining the US Army.

Then there's this:

Charles de Gaulle came back into power in 1958, specifically elected to keep Algeria French. I consider de Gaulle's long, slow, delicate, elephantine withdrawal (de Gaulle even looked like an elephant) one of the single greatest acts of statesmanship in history. Only de Gaulle could have done that.

Er, isn't choosing to "keep" Algeria French an act of that evil colonialism? And isn't a "long, slow, delicate" withdrawal bad? I mean we want liberation now, right? (One could argue that, once you have established colonies, dropping them like hot rocks is the worst possible thing you could do. A withdrawal should be slow enough to allow an indigenous government to set up, a constitution to be drafted, elections to be held, etc. But that doesn't really jibe with her outrage that we "allowed" our European allies to keep their colonies after WWII.)

She finishes up with some soppy stuff about 9/11 (she was in Paris that day). She says that the French left flowers and notes:

...some in ancient, spidery handwriting referring to WWI: "Lafayette is still with you."

She also says, "We Americans are famously ahistorical." Guess so. I thought "Lafayette" referred to the Marquis de Lafayette, who helped Washington win the Revolutionary War. When Pershing arrived in Paris during WWI, he (or his aide) is said to have stood before Lafayette's tomb and said, "Lafayette, we are here." The notes make more sense if they refer to the Revolution. But, hey, I'm an ahistorical, badly-educated (publik skool!) American, so what do I know?

She concludes:

Does it not occur to anyone that these are very old friends of ours, trying to tell us what they think they know about being hated by weak enemies in the Third World?

Yes, apparently this occurs to a lot of people, who are wrong. They are wrong if they think that Americans must necessarily swallow European received wisdom uncritically. They're wrong if they think that France had the best solution to their problem, or that their problems and ours are necessarily very similar. They're wrong if they think the French are only interested in peace and freedom and ice cream cones for all. And they're really wrong if they think the French have our best interests at heart.

Ivins drops names in this column: "For those of you who have not read Paris 1919..." "If you have read Leopold's Ghost..." "If you have seen the film Battle of Algiers..." Maybe we should be doing that rather than wasting our lives reading Molly Ivins' Dick and Jane version of history.

Via InstantMan, who now has some email from readers about Ivins's column, and points to this claim from Ross Douthat that this was the worst column ever. Like Glenn, I think this is going too far. Why, there's a column in Eastbourne...

I agree with him about the colonialism-was-evilest remark, but I didn't like to delve into it without armies of facts at my back. Douthat has a platoon of facts with him.

InstaUpdate: Jonah Goldberg (mention in Ivins's column) responds here and here.

I believe the bloom came off the Molly rose for me when she started wailing over the Great and Terrible Scientist Shortage, about which don't get me started.

UPDATE: Jeff of golden-hued Sterling Silver has some of them reinforcement facts I was lacking. Also see this Molly round-up over at Misha's place.

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

Come See the Violence Inherent in the System!

My! Everyone's becoming so violent these days! First, Jane Galt thinks you should beat the shit out of people who dare to disagree with you. If your friend says, "I'd rather have Chinese than Italian tonight," she tells us, you are perfectly within your rights to bash their skulls in with whatever comes to hand.

Her bellicose ways have single-handedly created such a poisonous atmoblogsphere that even sensitive new age guy and primary caregiver James Lileks is advocating violence:

If a man in a crowd grabs your child from your arms, you do not wonder what brought him to this moment, or petition the city council for a resolution requiring him to hand over the skeletons of his previous victims. You stab him in the eyeball with your car keys.

How horrid! How would you know he meant to do harm to your child, hmmm? Perhaps he saw that a safe was going to fall on you from above, and ripped the child out of your arms to protect her. In any case, you most certainly should not take any action whatever, but wait for the police to arrive and begin their investigation. To do anything so beastly as to go pre-emptively poking out random eyes with your SUV keys would be just as bad as assuming that, in a violent protest, a person holding a rock and bearing down on a plate glass window means to smash that window! And in any case, you may certainly not use violence to prevent what you wildly assume will be greater violence.

Why, what if some third person saw a father take a child from its mother's arms, and, because of Lileks's words, ran up and poked the father's eyes out with a 2x4, hmmm? I'm absolutely sure, although I haven't Clue One about the law or pretty much anything else, that Lileks would be guilty of murder! He should stop and think before he writes!

And another frothing right-winger to add to our armoured parade of mindless violence is Meryl Yourish, who says right out that anyone even remotely critical of Israel should just die already.

Well. What can one say? Surely "anti-Semites" have as much right to their views as anyone else in this country! It's only if they turn their opinions into harmful actions that they should be stopped by duly constituted authority using only proportionate, non-lethal force. Of course, sometimes the authority might come too late, but that's the price you pay for the moral satisfaction of being a peace-loving person.

But all this talk of violent anti-Semites or protesters is just a right-wing wet dream, isn't it? I mean, you've never personally seen anyone gassed just because they were Jewish, have you? Of course not. No one does that, just as nobody ever comes to a peace protest intending vandalism.

Of course, it's no shock that Ms. Yourish's former fiance (and suspected Jew) "Tom Paine" would second her violent emotion.

But this angry, hateful spirit has now infected the previously lamb-gentle Juan Gato, who says, of completely peaceful and non-confrontational Seattle protesters, It's time to break out the spiked cluebat of malice. See what those warmongers have done!

The constant chants of hate in these blogs is just a symptom of a larger movement nationwide. Marchers may find that they are forced to defend themselves from right-wingers who attack innocent peaceful protesters for no reason at all. Then there will be chaos, and it will be the haters who are to blame!

Monday, February 17, 2003

There Ain't Nothin' Like a Dane

(Title stolen freely from Asimov, on account of he's dead.)

You know, Misha the Rottweiler is a feisty boy. Sometimes too feisty for my tastes. Often, when he gets into one of his rants, I just have to roll my eyes and bail. His language just sometimes gets too over the top for me (and not necessarily for its profanity). But that's just me; a lot of people enjoy it, and I usually do too.

Now I know he lives up somewhere near Dallas. I have always figured him for a gen-yoo-wine gun-totin' boot-wearin' ass-kickin' beer-drinkin' pickup-drivin' football-worshippin' y'all-sayin' hoot-n-hollerin' redneck "By God" Texan, the kind you can find anywhere in this state, and in many others. Roasts whole oxen in the family room (prolly slaughters 'em there, too). Eats jalapeno and serrano ice cream dusted with cayenne flakes to cool down his chili. Wears huge hats which he removes when visiting the Shrine of Texas Liberty (known as the Alamo to you furriners from Oklahoma and such places). That sort of thing.

So today he tells us the story of his young life, and it turns out that he was born a Dane! In Denmark! Now this sort of thing might happen to anyone, but he stayed a Dane until he was a grown man, and was even in the Danish army.

When he first started talking about that, I thought I'd missed something, thought it was something someone else had sent him. I had to read the post twice, and the comments, to be sure.

I didn't think a person could get that American on purpose.

Anyway, I'll be looking at his fiery rants and his complaints about the EUnuchs in a different light now.

Why am I always the last to know these things? My head is swimming.

I'm still not sure he's not having us on.

Under The Siege

This is going to be a review---not of a movie, but of movie reviews.

Last night, NRO's Rod Dreher stumbled across The Siege playing on USA Network.

I've never seen this movie. I don't even remember hearing about it (but it was almost five years ago). I grew curious about what IMDB's "user comments" had to say about the movie, before September 11.

Since I haven't seen the film, I'm going to have to rely on their comments to work out plot points. If you haven't seen it either, and want to be surprised, you might want to GO AWAY NOW. Apparently, the kidnapping of a terrorist leader (these are Muslim/Arab terrorists, we'll establish right up front) provokes a string of terrorist attacks in New York, each one more deadly than the last. Finally, twenty terrorists are known to be at large in the city, so martial law is declared and all young Arab males are rounded up and detained.

The army, apparently, is portrayed as being full of mindless, out-of-control thugs. The FBI are what passes for good guys, and at one point, if I understand correctly, the FBI arrests the army. Yeah. Finally, there seems to be a death scene which, had I seen it in the theater, would have had me laughing out loud in derision.

Now, many, many people said that they were intrigued by the first half of the movie (probably the terrorist phase), but thought it went to hell in the last half. The criticisms boiled down to two basic types:

1) I thought this was going to be an intelligent study of terrorism and reaction to it, but it was just a dumb shoot-em-up.

2) I thought this was going to be an action movie, but then it had to get all preachy and profound n shit, and it insulted my intelligence.

Many people mentioned the controversy surrounding the film, the allegations that it was racist. Most of those said they believed that the movie was not racist, and some said it bent over backwards to assert that most American Muslims were peace-loving, etc.

That wasn't enough for this fellow, from Calgary:

Date: 8 June 1999
Summary: Hollywood pours more gasoline on the bonfire of hatred and ignorance.

Don't get me wrong...I liked the movie...My problem with the film is this: It paints an all too common misconception about Islam, Arabs, and their beliefs. Like many of the other [reviewers], I was able to take a step back and say, "All Arabs are not terrorists". How many other moviegoers in North America can make that distinction? Hollywood and our news media use propaganda every day to give us distorted views of society.

Why not round up all the Arabs working on Wall Street as brokers or lawyers? Because Hollywood tells us most terrorists are of low income, living in mostly ethnic areas (Brooklyn, in this case). More stereotypes.

So, in otherwords, Mr. Tolerance here is perfectly able to handle this work of fiction without wanting to go out and blow up a mosque, but the rest of us knuckle-dragging, grunting, racist pigs are not. Oh, and it's Hollywood which tells us that terrorists are oppressed, and poverty-crushed. I was sure I'd read that in the Guardian

A lot of the comments were from foreigners---in fact, they seemed to outnumber the Americans in the pre-9/11 comments (I didn't look at the post-9/11 comments, although I did note that three people felt impelled to post comments on 9/11 itself). Another Canadian thinks that this has given the film a fairer hearing:

Date: 19 June 1999
Summary: What if....

At first glance, The Siege looks to be a flag waving, hero's are us kind of American patriot film. But upon further review, and if you honestly give this movie a chance and listen to what it has to say, you'll see that it wants us to listen, it wants us to learn and it wants us to just look at the possibilities of " what if? ".


The positive reviews that have been in the IMDb have been, at least a great many of them, from people that are nationalities other than American. And perhaps the reason for that is that we can sit back and look at the U.S. from afar and it may be easier for us ( as non Americans ) to understand more clearly what this movie is trying to say. And it may be easier for us ( whatever nationality we happen to be ) to understand what is wrong with America and why a film like this is just trying to give one possible reason for the decay of American society. That is not to say that our own countries don't have problems, because they do, but we can just see what is wrong with America a little easier, we are not blinded by our own patriotism.

This after 88 previous reviews, of which perhaps two extremely short ones took exception to how the army was portrayed. The other unfavorable reviews focussed more on things like the writing, the acting, the implausibilities of the plot, and the state of Annette Bening's hair.

Thank you, Mr. Canadian, for your clear-eyed view of the black maggoty sludge which American society has become. I hope we don't soil your snowy-white saints' robes as we dissolve into obscurity.

Some other Americans don't need that last fellow's condescension, however, they already know we are evil beyond repair:

Date: 22 February 2000
Summary: Good moral, Great Acting, Bad Plot.

I liked the attempt at showing how egotistical and racist we Americans can be, which is something we should be ashamed of...

Thank you, sir. You are excused from one hour of Ritual Self-Flagellation.

This fellow is excused from two hours of RSF:

Date: 25 June 2000
Summary: Missing the Issue

Judging by many user comments on this site, this movie is sorely misunderstood. Just take a deep breath, and say slowly:


It isn't. Neither is it about Islam. It's about Americanism. The "siege" refers to the premature martial-law declaration. The fact that the terrorists are Muslim is peripheral to the movie's message.

The point of the movie is that we Americans can get very scared and closed-minded, and when mob mentality sets in, we can get neurotic. We're simplistic in how we deal with world problems (i.e., "Hussein's a spoothead, so let's bomb and sanction Iraq."). And for those who think the racist gathering-up of all Muslims into that stadium is unrealistic, remember what we did to the Japanese Americans in World War II - in exaggerated terms, our own little holocaust.

I believe this is my favorite comment. I especially appreciate the sophisticated grasp he has of our foreign policy: "Hussein's a spoothead, so let's bomb and sanction Iraq." (Note to State: We're falling behind on our spoothead bombing.)

Moving onward, this anonymous Candian understands all about root causes:

Date: 15 June 1999
Summary: An important movie that has received unjust criticism

This film goes above and beyond the call of duty to show that not all Arabs are bad people. Now having said all that, what it does say is not only important, it is a theory that I happen to agree with. And if Americans can stop for one second and recall that in the 90's most of the conflicts that they were involved with was to do with Arab's ( Iraq, Saddam, ring a bell?)then it is only fitting that the bad guys in this film are kamikaze and martyr like Arabs. And if you have the intelligence to understand the movie, by the end you will get a full explanation as to why Arab's are doing what they are doing. It is a very clear and concise explanation by Benning's character.

This movie shows what happens when, after years of oppression and interference by the U.S, one country or one group takes matters into their own hands and doesn't do an allout war, but a quiet one that not only kills but changes the way of life in America.

Iraq, Saddam, ring a bell? I'll bet this fellow was carrying a "God Bless Saddam" sign this past weekend. You've got to admire his anonymous bravery: he says right out front that thwarting Saddam's annexation of Kuwait was a perfectly justifiable reason for terrorism. While the rest of the world, these past few months, has been insisting that Saddam had nothing to do with September 11, this fellow asks, in effect, "So what if he did? You deserved it for frustrating his territorial ambitions."

Now, American society is often said to be absolutely uncritical, unreflective, which I find to be a bizarre charge. If European society is much more critical of itself, you must not be able to walk for the spilled blood and ink mingled in the streets. I suspect that what this means is that it's rarely criticized from a Socialist or Communist perspective, and I'm sure that is true. Few people in the US take those groups seriously.

Nevertheless, American society does go in for an enormous amount of omphaloskepsis. Movies like The Siege set up a toy situation and try to examine how our society would react within it. (You see that this particular scenario did not go as envisioned. I suspect that this was due in part to the enormous, sudden, and isolated nature of the event. If there had been a number of smaller incidents, or followups to September 11, there might have been internments as described.)

Apparently, this annoys foreigners as much as a lack of introspection. See, when movies portray us violating our ideals, they implicitly affirm those ideals. Some people seem to be disgusted at the very idea that we dare espouse these ideals at all, after we've violated them. That seems to be the point of this Austrian reviewer:

Date: 26 January 1999
Summary: US-army shown very good! In the end too much patriatism

...I payed to see this film. It wasn't that bad, I specially liked the way the us-army is shown here - really good! But the end is typical for american movies - patriotism rules and wins... I'm full with this stuff!! Take 90 of 100 american movies, cut away the last 10 or 15 minutes and you have very good movies, but ... very many directors over there are able to change an excellent movie into a movie you would never watch again - and this just because of the end!

You'll remember that the US Army was (allegedly) shown as a bunch of repressive Neanderthals---that's the "very good" he means.

Many foreign reviewers cited the "patriotism" of the movie with distaste, although I gather that most of the (rather heavy-handed, I'll bet) patriotic speeches were geared toward trying to convince other characters to live up to American ideals, rather than to blindly avow them.

That seems to be this Canadian's take as well:

Date: 11 November 1998
Summary: Good movie worth seeing but very "American".

The Siege is a really good movie that tells an interesting story and I'd recommend seeing it. It would help if you were an American as the "American Spirit" seems to be one of the focal points of the movie. As a Canadian I had some difficulty with some of the sentiments Denzel Washington was espousing no matter how convincing.

There are 182 user comments to the movie, at present, and under half of them were written since 9/11/01. The ones I've excerpted here weren't necessarily the most outrageous, they were just the most illustrative.

What I'd really hoped to find were comments along the lines of "Oh, that can't happen here" (which only one or two comments hinted at), and especially those from foreigners suggesting that such a thing was American paranoia. But I didn't see those.

I love having a blog. That means I can waste a really unconscionable amount of time looking at something, and even more time writing it up, and then I get to inflict it on you. Hurray!

(Wonder what Dreher thought of the movie?)

Saturday, February 15, 2003

Thinking Outside the Little Boxes

Woo hoo! In honor of the Worldwide Protest for Bloodthirsty Dictators, "Tom Paine" of Silent Running has declared Folk Song Fisking Day. OK, he didn't, he just noticed this Joni Mitchell mocking, but I'm declaring it. All my life, I have wanted an excuse to mock "Little Boxes" (by Malvina Reynolds, popularized by Pete Seeger) in public, and I'm not letting this chance slip by.

If you haven't heard it, "Little Boxes" is a perfect example of horseshit poetry and politics. It does not rhyme. It is simple-minded. It has (if I remember correctly) nothing that you could call a melody. It's a sort of a chant with no meter. It mocks the people who live in the little "boxes" by suggesting that they are "just the same" (thereby robbing them of their individuality, the better to dehumanize and exterminate them when the Revolution comes, eh?). How much better we are than the sheep who send their children to college to become doctors and lawyers!

I've reproduced the song below, interspersed with equally crappy lyrics I made up, but I must give some background.

My stepfather spent the latter part of his youth in a log cabin. It had three rooms---living room, bedroom, and kitchen. They added on a room made of cinder blocks, because that's what they could afford. (That room never had a door---only a curtain, and was the coldest room in the house.) Eventually they enclosed the back porch and made it the kitchen. The old kitchen was turned into my grandparents' bedroom---you had to walk through their bedroom to get from one part of the house to another. A few years before I was born, they added a bathroom. Before that you had to go down the hill to the wasp-filled outhouse. It wasn't a log cabin by then anymore, of course. They put shingles on the outside, and it had electricity (of course) and propane heat.

In that house they raised five kids.

My grandfather worked a lot of jobs. Last job he had he worked in a glass factory, putting the smooth edges on car windows. My other relatives, and their neighbors, were farmers, coal miners, mechanics. The coal miners hoped the mine wouldn't shut down, and dreamed that factories would open up, so maybe their kids would have good factory jobs, and not have to go down in the ground and contract black lung. When those kids were grown, they hoped the factories wouldn't shut down, and dreamed of sending their kids to college, so they wouldn't have to breathe in glass dust, etc.

My grandparents would've loved to have a house made of pretty ticky-tacky on the hills outside San Francisco. They'd have loved to send their kids to college to become doctors and lawyers and businessmen. And my grandparents---the poor workin' folk that folk singers love so much---would have spit on Malvina Reynolds and Pete Seeger, if they knew of their existence.

This San Francisco song site has some background on the song.

Notes: Malvina Reynolds was born in San Francisco in 1900, but spent most of her life in Berkeley. 'Little Boxes' was the most popular of Malvina Reynolds's many songs. Reynolds got the inspiration for 'Little Boxes' in 1961 while driving to an engagement in Palo Alto. Legend has it that she looked up at a pastel-colored Daly City hill-side and said to her husband: "Bud, take the wheel. I feel a song coming on."

Pete Seeger remembers meeting Reynolds in 1947 when she spoke to him at a hootenanny, saying: 'I'd like to try doing what you do, making up songs and singing them."

Beats workin' in the coal mine.

Sixteen years later Seeger performed 'Little Boxes' at his Carnegie hall concert. The rest is folk music history.

This site has lyrics, and some very pretty graphics which kind of detract from the point of the song. The graphic at the bottom is the sort of scene that people swoon over in Italy or Greece.

Little boxes on the hillside,
little boxes made of ticky-tacky.
Little boxes on the hillside,
little boxes all the same.

Little shacks on the hillside
Little shacks made of wood
Little shacks on the hillside
Looking pretty much the same

There's a green one, and a pink one,
and a blue one, and a yellow one.
And they're all made out of ticky-tacky,
and they all look just the same.

There's one made of logs, tar-paper covered
There's a better one made of timber
But the cold wind blows through them both in the winter
And they look pretty much the same

And the people in the houses,
all went to the university
Where they were put in boxes,
and they came out all the same.

And the people in the shacks
Never finished high school
Maybe not even grade school
But that made them no less the same

And there's doctors and there's lawyers,
and business executives
And they're all made out of ticky-tacky,
and they all look just the same.

There are coal miners and factory workers
And farmers
And they're made out of gnarled oak and John Deere caps
Which makes them look much the same

And they all play on the golf course,
and drink they're martinis dry
And they all have pretty children,
and the children go to school
And the children go to summer camp,
and then to the university
Where they're all put in boxes,
and they come out all the same.

And they all go fishin'
And drink their Budweiser cold
And they all have sickly children
And the children go to school (when they have shoes)
And the children work on farms in summer
And may not finish high school
Thank god they won't be put in warm boxes
And come out all the same

And the boys go into business,
and marry and raise a family.
In boxes made of ticky-tacky,
and they all look just the same.

And the boys go straight to the mine
And the girls have babies early
In boxes made of cardboard
And still they look the same

Friday, February 14, 2003

The Ingredients of Madness

On Dec. 26 I wrote about Kitchen Kitsch, a book of old food illustrations, some of them regrettable, many of them interesting or beautiful. That was the one with the Meat Sermon.

Well, also in that book was the cover of this cookbook, a freebie given out by Metropolitan Life. You can't tell even from the larger image, but the white squares hold cartoons of smiling, anthropomorphic foodstuffs.

My mother had this cookbook when I was a small child, and it terrified me.

When I saw the illustration in Kitchen Kitsch, I was moved to ask my Mom about the Met Life cookbook, and the other day she sent it to me. I can't be absolutely sure it's the same book, because the cover's off, and nowhwere does it give the title. But there are the same smiling, frightening cartoons within.

I wish I could show the illustrations, but I can't post them here. The food --- cakes and chops and roasts etc --- are all drawn with little stick arms and legs and smiley faces and little eyes. So if you are three or four years old, as I was, and you see that, you think that the little foods are alive. They're alive and they're going to be eaten.

One picture has some sort of bread rolls popping out of a muffin pan. Some of the rolls are very tall, indicating that they've been allowed to rise too much. These all have alarmed looks on their faces. The remaining, properly leavened one is smiling brightly. But the too-tall ones are very tall---like about a foot tall. I remember that I thought of them as ghosts. Or worms. The ghosts of anthropomorphic worms, and they're vaguely alarmed about something. What is it? Should I be alarmed too!?

(Today, they just look rather phallic. Ho hum.)

On one page is a strange creature that to this day I can't identify. It looks like a happy fish lifting its head off, about to enjoy an appetizer spread that will no doubt include its own body. Horrible.

Here are the lamb chop savages, wearing their paper panties on their heads and triumphantly waving their parsley sprigs in the air as they drag behind them a rather sozzled-looking rump roast, still smoking. Little do they know that their appeasement of the Carnivore Gods will not save them from the same fate!

Look at the love-sick lettuce making googly-eyes at the lusty tomato. Don't do it, honey! Don't let him look at you without your dressing. Lettuces always get their hearts shredded by les pommes d'amour. He'll only spill his seed over some other little tomato.

And finally, a cake surrounded by cheery little cupcakes. It's holding hands with two of them. See their happy smiles as they dance back and forth, leaping over the cake. But the cake is not happy. The cake looks stricken. What does the cake know? Does it know that the party hour is nigh??

I'm quite serious. I had inner life as a child, and I would make up intricate stories about things far less human than these cartoons. I worked out elaborate relationships between the numbers 1-12. You know, 9 was female and she was always mad at 8, which was a man, but I think she was married to 10. These numeric soap operas distracted me when I was trying to work math problems.

Today, Lileks squirms at having to explain the cigs, booze, and violence in old Disney cartoons. Bless him. My parents generally answered those awkward questions with "I don't know" or "Will you shut the hell up?" That's when parents were parents.

But it didn't matter. I always assumed anything I didn't understand belonged in the shadowy territory of grown-ups---things I might understand when I was older, if I cared enough, which I probably wouldn't. Adults were inexplicable beings who operated on principles outside my comprehension, and I didn't let that trouble me. I'm always surprised at people who get bent out of shape because their children once saw something that sort of suggested something that might somehow be naughty. To my young mind, these things were as ubiquitous and unknowable as the sun and the wind, and far less interesting. It was only the embarrassed laughter or shocked reactions of the adults which clued me in.

On the other hand, as we sat in the living room and watched Red Skelton, which had its occasional inexplicable (i.e. adult) moments, I was aware that behind us in the kitchen lurked the innocent cookbook with the human worm ghosts and the traitorous lamb chops and the worried cake. What does the cake know?

Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Where's Wal---er, Osama?

I see that there's been fresh Osama spoor.

Below is a copy of some email I sent Niles from Sydney. The date on the file said March of 2002, but I'm pretty sure I actually sent the mail late in 2001, probably somewhere after October 7 and before the fall of Mazar-i-Sharif.

I "took care of" Osama bin Laden last night.

Last night I found this huge roach in my apartment, easily the biggest I've ever seen. It was longer and wider than my thumb.

I chased it around the bedroom for a bit, and decided to name it Osama.

A couple of times I lost him, despite turning the bedroom upside down, and had to give up the chase. When I went back into the bedroom, there he was. It turned out he was hiding at the edge of the big wall mirror.

So I turned out the lights and sat there to wait, knowing he would have to come out eventually. I reflected on what President Bush said, "We are a patient people." I prepared myself to be patient.

And I waited.

And then I thought, "You know, George, it's one thing to tell a few white lies in the Cause, but nobody is going to buy this 'patient people' shit. We are probably the least patient people on the planet."

So I went off for more weapons.

In the end, I "smoked him out of his hole" by the use of chemical weapons (Windex---he hated that), and then used my heavy artillery (my shoe).

And in the end...Osama got away. Yes, <wink> I failed to kill him <wink>. But I shall not give up the fight <wink>, and shall continue to <wink> pursue him and his foul kind.

Sekrit communique to my staunch British ally: He sleeps with the coffee grounds.

[i.e., my bedroom] suffered severe disruption, but it's such a squalid place that a little more was not noticeable. US forces suffered a bloodied toe, not from the actual battle, but in the clean-up operations. There were no civilian casualties (being no civilians), but the Flapping Terror bearing the Colors was somehow tipped over. This was set right without incident.

Shhh...don't tell the UN about the Windex.

The "Flapping Terror" alluded to is my large Darkwing Duck doll ("I am the Terror that flaps in the night! I am the winged scourge that pecks at your nightmares!" Etc). I bought an American flag to wave at the Sydney Olympics, and after the Olympics were over I let Darkwing hold it. He looks like he's going to storm Mt. Suribachi.

I should point out that, at the time, naming the roach Osama and smashing the hell out of it after chasing it around the bedroom was wonderfully cathartic.

Anyhow, I think this is pretty much the government's position, We're still looking <wink>. I just wish they wouldn't pretend they know it's definitely him.

Getting Over It

Very frequently I read something that makes me mad, and I spend a lot of time writing about it. Then, when it's about done, I decide that 1) nobody cares, 2) it's just another "fisking", of which there are plenty in the world, 3) I've wasted too much time already, 4) the expiration date of the original piece has passed (and hence, nobody cares), 5) I'm tired of it, 6) nobody cares.

The result is that I write a lot of stuff, and it never gets published. I was just wading through some of it today---good stuff (well, for me), and more importantly a lot of time spent writing it, all for naught.

And so it was going to be with this drivel from Guardian driveller Joan Smith. A few other people mentioned it, InstaP for one (who sounds as if he took it personally). But I was just going to let it go, until I saw "Tom Paine" from Silent Running growling and tearing at it, and I decide I must worry it a bit as well.

It's about time the US got over 9/11
09 February 2003

If anyone had told me, in the autumn of 2001, that we were less than 18 months away from what might become the world's first nuclear war, I would have thought they were insane.

Nuclear war, uh huh. Bear this sentence in mind when you are reading below about the unreasonable paranoia of Americans.

In the half century since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, no one has been that reckless or indeed that stupid...

Does October, 1962, ring a bell? No? Thought not. What about last year---India and Pakistan? Kashmir? No, they didn't go to war, but that was a lot closer than this.

So the question I am going to ask, at the risk of causing great offence, is this: when is the US going to get over the events of 11 September?

About the time winged pigs ice skate in Hell, or when no one with the wherewithall thinks a repeat performance would be a good idea, whichever comes first. Around about the same time Joan Smith joins a convent and takes a vow of silence.

I am not ... referring to the millions of decent Americans who are just as opposed to war with Saddam Hussein as I am.

People opposed to an Iraq war---for whatever reason---don't need to get over it. (This is good, because I know an anti-war American in Australia who would belt ol' Joan upside the nose at the suggestion.) The millions of decent Americans who think that war with Iraq is better than the alternative can just suck it up.

What I am challenging is a mindset that sees al-Qa'ida or Saddam behind every tragedy, from the Oklahoma bombing to the murder of a detective in Manchester and the loss of the space shuttle last weekend. It is a measure of the paranoia afflicting parts of the US that officials deemed it necessary to announce, only hours after Columbia blew up in the sky over Texas, that a terrorist attack was not suspected. I know Saddam is a cunning old brute, but is it really likely that his agents have penetrated Nasa?

Tell me about it! Like for example all those stupid people who thought that perfectly natural synagogue explosion in Tunisia was the work of Al Qaeda. Synagogues explode all the time, ask anybody. And that Bali blast---the people who thought that was terrorism were sure idiots, weren't they? And how about that bloke who was alleged to try to blow up an airliner en route to New York? Idiots! Poor fellow just badly wanted a smoke, and he just happened to have one in his shoe, so...

(I admit that the destruction of the Shuttle was extremely unlikely to be terrorism, but it's what everyone was thinking. I thought of it. Terrorist-appeasing Niles thought of it. It was best to put speculation to rest as soon as possible.)

And those idiots who think terrorists might operate in London---bah!

Strange, then, that not a single member of my vast circle of friends in London has experienced any of these events [gassing, raping, murdering] within living memory. We have not been infected with anthrax either, although some of us got a flu-like virus at Christmas that turned out to be - well, flu.

Ha! You really stuck it to those morons who would believe there are ricin plots in every mosque.

It is not that I don't take the threat of terrorism seriously. I am quite prepared to believe there are al-Qa'ida cells in European and American cities, but it is important to keep things in proportion. My guess is that most of us are more likely to be run over by a lorry than die in a terrorist attack,

And nobody takes that seriously, do they? I mean, no one would go to the effort of looking both ways before they cross the street. No one lobbies for special truck driving licenses, or speed limits, or drunk driving laws, right? Nobody would take repeat driving offenders off the road. That would be silly.

and I certainly do not want people in this country to reach the advanced state of paranoia reported in some American states.

The other night, a car with two men in it sat for quite a long while outside our apartment, with its engine running. Cars almost never park at this end of the street. We thought about calling the cops, although we didn't, because we figured we'd look pretty foolish.

But it wasn't fear of terrorists that made us consider it. It was the fact that nine years ago one of the neighbors was murdered on his doorstep by a man who ran out to the street to a waiting car. We heard the whole thing. But that couldn't ever happen again here, right? So we never have to be suspicious of cars parked out on our street late at night.

In the same way, Americans never have to wonder if 9/11 could have been prevented by just one tip from an alert observer, never have to worry that it might happen again.

Paranoia is not the only problem. The administration's war against the Taliban was neither a great military success (huge areas of Afghanistan are still in the hands of vicious warlords)...

Hmm, true, insofar as I don't call it a great military success when I squish a cockroach (oh, OK, that's not true: I do---but that's just me). Yes, huge areas of Afghanistan are in the hands of vicious warlords, and some of them are attacking our troops. But Al Qaeda is not using Afghanistan as its base anymore.

As for those warlords, you might want to talk to the Pakistanis about that. (I'll just point out that this is another episode of the world's most popular soap opera, The Americans Are to Blame. The Pakistanis supplied these warlords, supplied the Taliban, yet it was American omission rather than Pakistani commission which is to blame. Everywhere you look, you see this.)

Note, also, that this is the administration's war, Bush's war:

President Bush needs an enemy and Saddam fits the bill nicely, even though no one with an ounce of common sense credits Colin Powell's claims last week about an alliance between Iraq and al-Qa'ida.

No one with an ounce of sense seriously believed a real connection with the Taliban and Al Qaeda, did they? No.

She finishes off by saying she doesn't know whether Bush's war is supported by a majority of Americans. Well, if she'd check a poll or two, or maybe reflect on last November's elections, it might come to her.

I bring you some choice Joan Smith from days gone by:

From 9/16/01: The terrible question that America must ask itself

...the US needs to address the causes of terrorism if it is to achieve the security it urgently seeks. There is not much evidence that it is doing so, which is why Nato's offer of support to the President is morally wrong and a gargantuan political error. It will make things worse, and may well put more European lives at risk.

The NATO support she's talking about was the invocation of Article V after 9/11, not Iraq today (where one could argue that NATO does not properly have a role). Notice that again we have support to the President, not to the US. It's only Bush's war, you know.

The suggestion of it being a "gargantuan political error" for NATO to support the US---its most prominent member, the member which has done most of the heavy lifting---when it was attacked, betrays such a lack of awareness of reality that one wonders why anyone pays this woman for her commentary. Yes, yes, there can be and have been disagreements, as we're seeing now; but, as we're also seeing, it's the hold-outs who seem to be making the political error (though it's true that it's a bit early to tell). But as I said, one could argue that NATO has no business in this (except to protect its members---i.e. Turkey) matter; 9/11 was a different story.

On 9/23/01: Exposed! My shameful life as a 'salon terrorist'

What a terrible person I am. Up and down the country, people are ashamed of me. I make them embarrassed to be British. The trouble is, you see, that I just don't know the difference between right and wrong. I am, apparently, in favour of the murder of innocent men, women and children.

How unilateral of her. If many people were offended, shouldn't she spend some time considering whether she may have been in the wrong? But no, she mocks them.

10/28/01 The spoils of war - a load of maps and some mules

Motherlode here, ya got yer brutal Afghan winter, yer dead children, yer silent genocide, yer it's-all-about-the-polls, and:

[Senior UN officials] "are understandably angry at the prospect of having to clean up whatever mess the Americans leave behind in Afghanistan..."

Ah, the all-knowing, all-seeing UN, always having to clean up our messes. How weary they must be of it!

12/23/01 Dinner at Amiel's leaves a bad taste

You'll remember that Barbara Amiel, wife of Telegraph owner Conrad Black, wrote that a European ambassador had lamented that all the trouble in the world was over "that shitty little country", Israel. The ambassador was subsequently revealed to be the French ambassador to Britain, Daniel Bernard.

Joan Smith is shocked, shocked. This just isn't done:

...both sides in this game understand that you don't exploit someone's hospitality by getting other guests into trouble. The exception to this rule, in my view, is when someone behaves with gratuitous rudeness or in a way that amounts to bullying. When Sir Robin Day lost his temper with me at a dinner party, going very red in the face and shouting "balls" and "bollocks" across the table, I had no hesitation in writing about it. I did the same when Amitai Etzioni, an adviser to President Clinton, responded to a perfectly civil question by shouting abuse at me. On both occasions, I also told them exactly what I thought at the time."

Let me translate: "It's wrong except when I do it."

1/06/02 The bishop got it right: the bombing must stop

...I recalled remarks made by the Bishop of Winchester in a recent sermon. Michael Scott-Joynt said that, evil though they were, the events of 11 September had to be understood as a "judgement" upon the West. Scott-Joynt was not, like some evangelical Christians in the United States, blaming gays and feminists; he was making a point about the way Western governments have failed in their responsibility towards poor countries. "

Now, class, who can tell me what is the difference between a right-wing religious crank saying that 9/11 was due to gays and feminists, and a left-wing religious crank saying that 9/11 was due to insufficient charity? Anyone? Timmy, there, in the back...

"It's a trick question! There's no difference!"

Wrong, Timmy. You get to sit over in the corner and wear the dunce cap. This is the third time I've caught you using logic in this class. I'm afraid I'm going to have to send a note home to your parents.

So, who knows? Ah, yes, little Sarandona...

"The right-wing religious crank is wrong, but the left-wing religious crank is right! Er, I mean, correct! God does not exist, but karma does. Everyone knows that!"

Very good, dear.