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Saturday, November 30, 2002

A Correction

Jack Robertson, former[?] blogger, writes to tell me I have erred in this post where I call him a "proud Robert Fisk acolyte". He says I have confused him with Margo.

I did some searching, and it appears he was right. I vaguely remember him saying something like this:

Everyone has their heroes, and one of mine is Robert Fisk. I was proud to be mentioned in the same sentence as him.

But that was, as Robertson says, Margo Kingston (also reported by Tim Blair, who is not as confused as I was).

I also may have confused him somehow with Tim Palmer, mentioned in this Blair post, though heaven knows how.

That Margo post required digging through a lot of web pages, and it was a bit difficult to keep track of who said what where. I remember wanting to double-check this very point, and thought I had. But I was mistaken.

My sincere apologies to Jack, and to any others who were misled.

Many thanks for the correction, Jack. I will update that previous post as well.

Friday, November 29, 2002

Turkeys Abroad

The excellent Sofia Sideshow tells a thrilling tale of going to the Sofia Hilton for Thanksgiving dinner. He says that the cranberry sauce was the best he'd ever had.

I, of course, have spent the last three Thanksgivings in Australia. On the first one, I went to the local mall to procure what was going to pass for my feast. I saw that one of the sandwich shops had their daily special meat as turkey and cranberry sauce. Somewhat amused, I figured they'd done this because it was Thanksgiving. Why not? I mean, if you are going to periodically have a turkey n cranberries special, one of the days you have it ought to be Thanksgiving.

I had made other plans, but I thought this might be better. See, I assumed that turkey with cranberry sauce had to mean some sort of plate meal, maybe including mashed potatoes and peas. I asked the counter woman about it, and she showed me some very dispirited turkey slices and a little bowl filled with red gelatin. That was their entire stock of cranberry sauce, a portion not sufficient for an elderly grandmother on a strict diet. And it was meant to be served on the turkey, in a sandwich.

Turns out that Australians often serve turkey sandwiches with cranberry sauce. This is the only notion of cranberries they have! It is a condiment, meant to be put next to the turkey (or, in a sandwich, on the turkey) in a discreet dab, and applied lightly. Barbarians!

So I went with plan A, which was to procure a little chicken roast from a store called Chicken George. Now, this was the name of Ben Vereen's character in Roots, but I was never bold enough to ask if it was named after him. Since most of the workers were foreigners too young to have seen Roots, even if they had TV in their native countries, I figured I'd just get a blank look. Anyhow, this fine establishment sold chickens in various states of dress---not only ordinary raw chicken pieces, but raw chicken pieces marinated in satay sauce and skewered, or made into chicken cordon bleu, or breasts stuffed with things and trussed for baking. We really need more of that sort of thing here.

It was the stuffed breast roast that I bought for Thanksgiving---breast stuffed with cream cheese and spinach. I was also able to procure some Ocean Spray whole cranberries, which is a poor substitute for the homemade cranberry sauce (actually salad) I make, but they didn't have any raw cranberries. I was lucky enough to find the little jars of cranberries; last year I couldn't find any Ocean Spray and had to make do with (oh, the shame) Canadian cranberries.

I'm not fond of pumpkin, so I bought some other sort of pie. But I needn't have worried on that score; Australians love pumpkin. They're always sticking pumpkins in the most disturbing places. Pumpkin soup, pumpkin pasta. Pumpkin, mango, and caramel---those are the flavors Australians love.

You can find turkeys in Australia near Christmas, but not a month before. I know others differ, but I think Australia is really unfortunately situated for Christmas. Sydney gets warm and moist, and you don't really feel like cooking the traditional heavy foods. A lot of people barbecue. Also, a lot of people wait until July, and then have "Christmas in July". Hotels in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney---where it can snow---advertise dinners or holiday packages where you can simulate a Northern Hemisphere Christmas in July.

Yesterday I was mildly grumpy at dinner. I was in a little bit of pain, and didn't know why, and we were rushed making dinner. I was not able to enter into the Lileksian Thanksgiving let-it-be spirit. Then while we were eating Niles asked, abruptly, "So, is this better than your last three Thanksgivings?"

This gave me pause. I filled the pause with a big forkful of real cranberry sauce. Why, yes. Yes it was.

Wednesday, November 27, 2002

Imperialism is Dead! Long Live Imperialism!

Gird your loins and stiffen your thews, comrades, for we are taking an excursion deep into the Valley of the Barking Moonbat, and we may not all come out with our coiffures intact.

Wanker regular George Monbiot tells us how the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (no snickering in the ranks!) has a brilliant plan for thwarting Bloodthirsty Blair's (Tony, not Tim) plans to rape and pillage Iraq:

Parliament might have been denied its debate and the cabinet might have been silenced, but there are other means of holding the government to account. If, by 4pm today, his lawyers have failed to agree that he will not attack Iraq without a new UN resolution, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament will take the prime minister to court. For the first time in history, the British government may be forced to defend the legality of its war plans in front of a judge.

The case, hatched by the comedian Mark Thomas, looks straightforward.

Hatched by a comedian, eh? Who'd have thought.

If CND wins, its lawyers believe it is "inconceivable" that the British government would go to war without a new resolution, as it would lose its remaining moral authority.


Oh, that's true. No nation would dare do something on its own without the permission of the UN. Why...why...the UN's like God! God right here on Earth! All moral authority flows from the UN. Anyone who would ignore the UN is committing blasphemy!

But don't you go thinking that Monbiot's one o' them hippie wimps who is never for muscular action, no sir! He knows that would only doom the Iraqis to further suffering under the madman Hussein:

But just because we do not favour an attack of the kind the US proposes does not mean that we cannot support attempts by other nations, whose record is unsullied and whose motives are unmixed, to destabilise or overthrow the regime, if their action is legal and if we know that this is the limit of their ambitions. Indeed, if we do succeed in preventing an attack by the US, we surely have a responsibility to lobby for a just means of helping the Iraqi people to depose Saddam, led by nations with no imperial ambitions. And we may find that this requires military force.

See there! He's perfectly willing to let unsullied, morally pure nations with the most innocent of intentions to "help" the Iraqis depose Saddam. Nations like, well, let's, no, I'm sure it will come to me. Um, Andorra? And...uh...Belize? And Canada. The Iraqis will have the combined military might of Andorra, Belize, and Canada at their disposal---maybe, assuming no one would get hurt or anything---to effect regime change on their own.

Troy Davis of the World Citizen Foundation has been sketching out an ingenious means of pulling the rug from beneath Saddam's feet. The UN, he proposes, should help the opposition groups based abroad and in Iraq's no-fly zones to establish a democratically elected government in exile. This government is then given the world's Iraqi embassies and the nation's frozen assets. It gradually takes control of the no-fly zones and the oil-for-food programme. Saddam would find himself both isolated diplomatically and confronted by a legitimate alternative government. It is not hard to see how his authority over his own people would be undermined, permitting him to be toppled more easily.

Wow! That is ingenious. I want to know more!

Firstly, Mr. Davis invokes the Declaration of Independence:

The Declaration of Independence uses the terms "all Men", not "all Americans", underscoring its universal applicability...[it] clearly and forcefully expresses fundamental rights and came about in a way that maximized its legitimacy and popular mandate. It is our guide and provides all the justification we need for regime change in Iraq.

How would the Founding Fathers go about regime change in Iraq?

President Bush and the world ought to call immediately on all Iraqi groups and the Iraqi people to jointly design the next free and democratic Iraqi government.


Of course, Saddam should be challenged to allow any Iraqi group within Iraq to freely attend and their families be unmolested.

Global attention on the delegates and on their families would make it very difficult for Saddam to influence enough the Assembly to prevent it from designing a free and democratic government with fundamental guarantees of human rights. And Saddam should also be challenged to broadcast the proceeding of the Constitutional Assembly live, uncensored and unabridged on Iraqi state television and radio. He may refuse but his refusal would cost him enormous goodwill and political capital.


The Constitutional Assembly could then constitute and declare a new and legitimate Provisional Government of Iraq and "order" Saddam from his office to step down to allow the organization of free and fair elections in Iraq.

If Saddam refused to obey the legitimate government of Iraq, in effect a government in exile, the new Iraqi government could then request all assistance from the international community to free Iraq.

(Really, you must read the whole thing.)

And then the fearsome (yet virginal and unspoiled) combined armies of Andorra, Belize, and Canada would step in and remove Saddam without the loss of so much as a single innocent goat.

It's at this point, folks, that this idea stops being ludicrous and starts being sad, pathetic, frightening.

Saddam should be challenged to allow any Iraqi freely attend...

How do you "challenge" Saddam to this? You just do. "We'll know you're not really serious about democracy if you slaughter the delegates!" That'll give him pause.

...his refusal would cost him enormous goodwill and political capital.

Look, you simpleton: the only "goodwill" Saddam has is that which you and Monbiot and all your disgusting ilk choose to hand him. The tattered rags of "goodwill" which he clutches about his loathesome carcass are made of only one fiber: anti-Americanism. Saddam opposes the US, and is opposed by it in turn, and that's the only claim to any kind "goodwill" he has on this planet. And in the West, that grimy, stinking cloth is woven by idiots like you.

His "political capital" is formed of stouter stuff, however: it's made of ooooiiiillll. Yes, there are those whose interest is to protect---not attack, protect---Saddam because of ooooiiiillll, and those interests aren't changing just because you managed to gather together some sort of fairy tale congress of Iraqi exiles.

And how in the name of all that is holy you think that "global attention" is going to keep Saddam from influencing this pixies' parliament, I simply cannot fathom. The world's attention has been on Iraq, off and on, for more than a decade, and it hasn't kept him from doing whatever he damn well pleases within his borders so far. Unless, of course, the attention comes in the form of the sullied, impure aircraft of the Armies of Imperialism.

I just do not understand those who will look the last twelve or so years of history in the eye and still insist that Saddam Hussein can be routed by Global Attention in the form of Stern Looks and Firm Language. I'll also note that Davis's plan continues to rely on the United Imperialist Air Force to police the north and south of the country.

You know, once upon a time I believed as Monbiot and Davis do, that most people were well-intentioned -- or at the very least pragmatic -- and so Tactical Tsking and Strategic Sternness would work on them. Fortunately I was disabused of that notion long before I left my teens, and I do not see how one can attain adulthood without learning that lesson.

There is one bright glint of comedy gold in this midden: Imperialism is now OK, as long as you have good intentions.

I believe that there is only one good reason in favor of war with Iraq, and that is that Saddam Hussein is a bad man who is gathering powerful weapons to use against us, probably in such a way that he is not directly implicated. There's also only one good reason against war, and that's that wars are bad, and pre-emptive wars are worse.

Now, there are other arguments for and against this war, and they have their places in weighing whether or not to pursue it. But those two arguments are the primary ones; all others are at best secondary. For example, the argument that in toppling Saddam we will be freeing the Iraqi people from a cruel regime is a good one, but it is not and cannot be the primary reason for war. We must not pretend that we would be doing this for purely altruistic reasons, and indeed we shouldn't have to.

However, it is an important consideration to include in any calculation of whether or not to go to war. Many on the pro-war side have emphasized it heavily, and repeatedly. Most on the anti-war side (that I've seen) have been downplaying the possibility, either ignoring it or asserting that "stability" is more important to the Iraqis than liberation.

With this Monbiot column comes the first hint that the usual Guardian suspects realize that anti-war really means pro-Saddam. But of course they cannot possibly endorse American intervention, so they come up with this toothless vision of fantasy Iraqi parliaments who can ask the "international community" for help. The Left has searched and search and searched for an alternative to the nasty imperialism the Americans and British would impose, and they've come up with this phresh solution----imperalism! This parliament is just going to be a Western fabrication: a puppet body conjured up from nothing for the sole purpose of giving some flimsy legal pretence for removing Saddam. Oh, but it's Leftist imperialism, based on nothing but Good Thoughts about What's Best, so that makes it OK.

From Steven Chapman via Andrea Harris.

Tuesday, November 26, 2002

The Ambassador from Turkey

I watched Bush pardon the presidential turkey today. Here we have dodged another bullet, for this would have been a prime opportunity for a suicide turkey terrorist to blow itself up, taking Bush, some schoolkids, and various turkey-wranglers with it. In fact, today Bush grabbed some other guy's hand and made him pet the bird first, because last year he got nipped by an obvious Al Qaeda-sympathizing bird. Wonder if the Prez can immediately revoke a pardon?

[Prediction: accusations of cowardice will be made by the "chickenheart" crowd.]

This year's turkey was the first female to be so honored. We have broken through the straw ceiling, my sisters!

You have to admit, this is a dumb tradition. One turkey is pardoned---two turkeys, what with the emergency backup turkey (the Vice Turkey)---but you know the Bushes aren't going to be eating tofu on Thursday. What a waste, considering the amount of paperwork that goes into it, the fifteen minutes or so the President wastes on it, the extra security, etc. There's a war on, and the President has better things to think about! Heck, that'd be true even if there wasn't a war on.

Before I went to Australia, I might have agreed with this assessment. Might have, because every culture has its silly traditions, and railing against such a harmless one is a waste of energy.

But that was before. I remember watching last year's turkey pardoning ceremony (watching Bush get nipped) and getting a warm and fuzzy feeling about our national traditions, even the goofier ones. It was especially poignant after September 11, to know that important things like petting turkeys in a Rose Garden ceremony would still go on. Sniff.

Today I was watching it on Fox News, and the anchors were saying things like, "Katy [the turkey] will spend her days on a petting farm..." But those aren't very many days, as this story reports. Too bad! Especially after all the rigorous training the Presidential candidate turkeys go through.

Note that the park the petting zoo is in is Frying Pan Park---tsk, tsk, out of the oven and into the frying pan (bet no one's ever made that joke before).

For you foreigners who are completely lost, here's a silly site with a dancing turkey graphic, which explains things (not updated since 2000!).

LATE ADDITION: We have returned from the triumphant procurement of the main course for Thursday's feast. I'm excited, because this is the first proper Thanksgiving I'll have had in four years. This year we opted for a fresh turkey breast, since I only like white meat and Niles doesn't care. Niles---whose job it is to roast the carcasses of animals, since the gene for that sort of thing is carried on the Y chromosome, or some damned thing---is somewhat relieved not to have to perform his usual turkey spelunking operations.

LATER ADDITION: Drunken sot Juan Gato disparages our fine American traditions. Infidel! But what do you expect. He absorbs the wisdom of cubes. Cubes tell him what (not) to buy. God only knows what the spheres, the cones, and the (shudder) rhomboids are telling him to do.

Monday, November 25, 2002

Music for Carports

Tim Blair (note: blogger permalink weirdness again today) has yet another of his periodic gripes about Maureen Dowd being in the Sydney Morning Herald three days after her column appeared in the NYT. He'd have a point, except she's more appropriate there than in a (sort of) real newspaper like the NYT. However, I'm not disposed to quibble, because I'm not going to register with the NYT just to read Dowd columns---or for any other reason, come to that---and the SMH doesn't make you register. So I'm happy to see stale Dowd in Sydney, else I'd never get to mock her first hand.

Her current column is a bit of useless navel lint about Eminem, how he's soooo respectable now. Dowd's suburban matron "girlfriends" (oy) praise his authentic macho (yo, and they down wit' da street, too---word).

Dowd says:

Frantic to be hip, eager to stay young, we are robbing our children of their toys.

Good. They'd put someone's eye out.

Like Mick Jagger, we want to deny the reality of time and be cool unto eternity.

Which brings us to this Dave Barry column about the dessicated leathery freshness that is the Stones. Niles and I read that last night and were inspired to perform a Muzak version of "Satisfaction". This was rendered slightly more difficult by the fact that we didn't remember the words. In fact, I found today that I never knew the words (oh, he screams them so, honey!). So we had to make do:

I can't get noooooooo
I can't get noooooooo
I can't get noooooooo

We sounded like the Lennon Sisters.

This morning I looked up the words and tried again. Niles told me I sounded like the Carpenters---in other words, too much like rock 'n roll.

I'm not going to take the trouble to record and link to these efforts. Fortunately for you, and all mankind.

Try it. Here are the lyrics. Come on! It's fun!

Next up: "Cum On Feel the Noize" by the FemmeTonez.

Saturday, November 23, 2002

The Coffee Underachievers

Mark Harrison of Catallaxy Files says that he used to have Starbucks beans shipped to him in Australia, before a Starbucks opened in Canberra. But the local Starbucks is a disappointment to him.

Sydney has quite a coffee culture. Just in the suburb where I lived, Randwick, we had...let me least ten cafes within about three or four blocks. Almost none served brewed coffee. It was made a cup at a time, espresso style.

On my first day in Sydney I arrived early in the morning, and my boss and his wife took me out to breakfast. The waiter asked me what I wanted, and I told him "coffee". He gave me a blank look.

Waiter: Er, what kind? Espresso? Latte? Cappucino?
Me: No, just coffee.
Boss (in a stage whisper): We have real coffee in Sydney.
Me: I just want some coffee.
Waiter: Short black? Macchiato? Maybe iced coffee?
Boss (still whispering): If you want it like you get it in America, you want a long black.
Me: Uhhh...
Boss: Say 'long black'.
Me: Long black.
Waiter: Coming right up!
Me (to boss): I just wanted coffee! I didn't know there was going to be a quiz!
Boss: Same thing happens to me when I order eggs in America. Over easy, sunny side up, upside down...I just want eggs!

Coffee was considered so important that eventually our department acquired its own coffee machine. Not a coffee maker (although we did use that until it got a roach infestation), a coffee machine. This used little packets of premeasured coffee like this. Because I was cheap, though, I took my coffee to work in a thermos. This caused no end of bemusement among my colleagues, who kept asking me if it was special coffee. "Is it American coffee?" my Indian colleague asked. "It's just the coffee I make at home." "Oh, so it is American coffee." Presumably he didn't know why anyone, in Sydney, would actually want anything to do with American coffee.

(I think the thermos itself was a source of confusion. A complete stranger on the street actually remarked on it! I was probably known in Randwick as "that coffee pot woman"---"coffee pot" I guess being the Australian term for it. Fact is, coffee was $2 - $2.50 for a small cup, and I didn't want to pay a zillion dollars a day for coffee.)

We didn't have a Starbucks in Randwick. I got my beans from one of the local places, but I missed the roasted-to-death flavor of Starbucks and sometimes went up to Elizabeth St. (downtown Sydney) to get some Starbucks beans. (Mark says the beans at the Canberra Starbucks are not the dark oily ones you get in the US, but I believe the ones I got were.)

Now, I have always heard foreigners belittle Starbucks, but I always figured it was standard reflexive anti-Americanism, because it came with all those trappings. And then once, once, I actually got coffee at Starbucks in Sydney, and boy, was it awful. I think Dennys has better coffee. So maybe Starbucks ships all the stinky coffee abroad and keeps the better stuff here at home. Or maybe it's because they had that coffee sitting on the burner all day, and it was near closing time. That's probably also why they gave it to me for free, for buying the beans.

Mark suggests good coffee in Canberra can be found at the Mount Stromlo Observatory. I've not been to Canberra, but surely that's a long way to go to get good coffee! This is one thing I really liked about Australia---you can't throw a rock without getting something to eat. They had a little coffee shop up at Siding Spring observatory near Coonabarabran, too. And on Sydney ferries. And after you'd driven a couple miles up a lonely dirt road, you'd find one at the Hastings Newdegate Cave visitors' center near the south end of Tasmania. (And in the cave itself, you'd find an elderly tour guide with an American accent, who said he was from Palo Alto, and had come for six months and stayed for twenty years.)

Friday, November 22, 2002

Free at Last!

Finally this page is ad free! I didn't want to go the Pay Pal route (maybe when I get a fresh new credit card solely for Net use), so I sent them a check. Or, rather, I had Niles send them one, in late June. Then he came to Australia to help me move, and when we got to Houston at the end of July, we saw that the envelope had been returned---bad address.

Pyra had moved, see, and they hadn't updated the web page. So I got the new address, and sent them a new check in August (I think). They finally cashed it in October. The bank statement fell behind a desk or something (yeah, that's it) so I just noticed a couple days ago that they'd cashed it. I used the new Blogger Control help thingy, and it now says the issue is "resolved" and the ad's off. Huzzah! Thanks, guys.

I'd complain about the service, but, hey, it's cheap.

Ow! That Star's Hot!

Now this is a cool idea: an astronomy book for the blind. I read about it in the Houston Chronicle today. (That article's by Michael Stroh, from the Baltimore Sun, in case the link rots and you have to go googling for it.)

The book's by Noreen Grice, who got the idea when some blind students told her "astronomy stinks" after a planetarium show. (Now who decided that would be a good field trip for blind students?) So she did a first book, Touch the Stars, which was mostly about the solar system. This new one contains touch-coded pictures of Hubble images.

This site has photos of blind kids test-driving the concept. Here's the book in the National Academies Press catalog (NAP publishes it), but the images don't give a very good idea of what the pictures might feel like.

But this does. Click on "Individual Images" (at the bottom) and it will lead you to a texture-coded picture of the Ring Nebula. And this NASA-Goddard page shows six images from the book (Image 2). It also describes how Grice made the prototype pages in her kitchen. Making the original prototypes doesn't sound so hard, but making copies of them sounds complicated.

I wonder whether this kind of coding really gives people a good idea of the objects. If I were doing it, I'd make the various gases silky or fuzzy or whatever, rather than relying on just dots or lines. But that would probably make the book really expensive. This is a really good start, until fuzzy books come along.

(This ABC story talks about the few astronomy resources for the blind.)

Touch the Universe has a preface written by Kent Cullers, probably the world's only blind astronomer. Cullers is a radio astronomer, which is not quite as dependent upon visualizations as optical astronomy. Though I still don't know how he would manage to do data reduction (hmmm...I can only find one paper for him, on the design of this NASA mission, though he isn't on the list of "team members" now. So I'm not sure what exactly he does.)

I was at a large dinner once, at which Cullers was also present. My friends noticed him (he was behind me) and I took very great pains to catch a glimpse of him while pretending not to be looking. I didn't want him to catch me gawking, see. Smooooth, that's me.

Thursday, November 21, 2002

Margo Kingston in Carr Wreck

Tim Blair's nemesis Margo Kingston seems to have gotten embroiled in a little contretemps with the premier of New South Wales, Bob Carr. Seems he called her "a joke" and "a parody of a journalist". (I remind you that the premier is equivalent to the governor of a state.)

Man! Don't you think Ari Fleischer dreams about this? Do you suppose his new bride will find herself kicked awake when Ari is in the throes of some pleasant dream?:

Ari: mumble *snarrrrl!*
Mrs. F: What the...? Ari? Ari!
Ari: ...pathetic excuse...mumble...pitiful washed-up...
Mrs. F: Honey! Honey, wake up! Ari?
Mrs. F: Ari!!
Ari: *snkkkkk* What? What? Oh, oh, honey! Oh, not you!
Mrs. F: sob!
Ari: No, no, honey. I'm sorry! I thought you were Helen Thomas.

Margo conveniently bares all (maybe) on her own SMH pages. Here's part of her George and Gracie routine with Carr at a press conference:

Bob: Margo, can I just remind you that you're responsible for writing in the Sydney Morning Herald that Australian tourists in Bali provoked that attack. I think that was a disgraceful comment by you in your piece in the Herald when you wrote that Australian tourists by their demeanour in Bali provoked that attack.

Margo: I did not say that.

Bob: Well, we'll give you the quote. You wrote that. I'm paraphrasing, but you wrote that.

Margo: I did not write that.

Bob: I will deliver you that quote


Bob: Margo, let me supply you with the quote that you wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald ...

Margo: Fine ...

Bob: ...which is an insult to the Bali dead.

Margo: Could you, could you answer my question please?

Bob: An insult to the Bali dead.

Margo: If you are prepared to ban sponsorships to politicians are you prepared to ban donations to developers?

Bob: To blame the Bali dead -

Margo: Sure give me the quote, OK -

Bob: To blame the Bali dead -

Margo: I did not do that.

Bob: - is a disgrace -

Margo: You're lying.

Bob: - and you are a parody of a journalist.

Margo: You're lying.

Bob: You are a parody of a journalist.

Margo: Thanks for your accountability.

Carr: You're a joke.

Wow. Come to think of it, I'm sure many journalists would love to have this sort of kindergarten argument with Fleischer, or just about anyone else.

Rumsfeld: ...and this is where Saddam is hiding his anthrax facilities...
Journalist: You're lying, you lying liar!
Rumsfeld: Victoria, have that man shot.

How much more entertaining American public life would be if we did this sort of thing. The government could charge hefty advertising fees and be entirely supported on the revenues.

Now, Margo might ask just why the premier hates her so, what had she done, etc; but she just figures it's 'cause he's lying. Actually, this is the quote Carr was referring to:

Beautiful Bali is finished for us. We won't want to go where we're not welcome.

I know little about Bali, and whether we've respected and nurtured the place we love to visit or colonised it with our wants. A friend in Byron Bay said Australians had taken Bali over, business wise, and that acquaintances with businesses in Bali were considering coming home before this horror. They sensed resentment, and felt a growing unease.

Maybe part of it is the lack of services for locals. A completely inadequate hospital, for instance, so graphically exposed in the aftermath of the horror. Some people - foreigners like us, elite big-city Indonesians - make their fortunes. Have residents lost their place, their power to define it? Did the big money fail to give enough back to the people who belong there, whose home it is? Have Muslim extremists destroyed the vibe of Hindu Bali to force us out?

To be scrupulously fair, Margo is not blaming the Bali dead for their own deaths. She's merely wondering aloud about it.

Sean Richardson, a Margo supporter and frequent contributor to her Web Diary, takes Tim Blair to task for not getting that questions of motive (for the bombings) are perfectly valid.

But it isn't the questions Margo asks that are the problem, so much; it's the ones she doesn't. She does not ask:

Could this be the work of extremists angry at Australia for supporting East Timorese independence?
Could it be Islamists enraged at the presence of infidels on their shores?
If either, should we care?
Could it possibly not have anything to do with Australians at all?
Could it be some local turf war?

Now I admit that in the first days of shock and grief, she might not have the heart to write such ruminations, and her readers not have the heart to read them. But she does manage to throw in that one batch of speculation, one which immediately casts blame on Australian visitors (including, presumably, the dead) for being insufficiently "nurturing".

Aussie blogger Ken Parish says he cannot understand "the almost universal right wing blogger loathing of Margo". (He's giving Margo too much credit for fame.) Not being a right-winger, maybe I can help out.

Margo is a horrible, horrible writer. Generally Margo's columns evoke the vision of a half-crazed woman gnawing at a well-manicured thumb. She postures, frets, wails, flails, and gibbers. She substitutes emotion---messy, sloppy, overwrought emotion---for rational thought. She chews up the literary scenery, spits it out, and forms the result into fantastic fairy castles that bear little resemblance to reality.

Another Margo mode shows the same woman sedated, in a corner, earnestly sucking her thumb. The Bali column is one of the latter. Here she is in her terminally earnest glory, sucking on the concept of "services". SMH writers seem to make a fetish of "services"; I forget who it was, but one of them seemed to think that not a thing had been done for the Afghans if they did not have "services". I envision Australian NGOs marching into the wastes of Afghanistan, offering job placement and day care and free tax lodgement advice.

Margo, concentrating on the chewy goodness of her thumb, doesn't seem to wonder whether the majority of Balinese agreed with the (entirely imaginary, at this point) motives---or the tactics---of the bombers. No, she goes straight for the flagellation of her countrymen.

Anyone who wants to follow the sordid story can follow these links:

October 15 Speculations about the Bali bombing, the causes and what it will mean. Margo proclaims Web Diary a culture-war free zone and then publishes letters prosecuting the culture war.

(I should point out here that most of the comment on Web Diary is from people who write in to Margo, and so she should not be held entirely responsible for their opinions.)

November 19 Margo's fax to the premier (near the bottom).

November 20 One of Margo's fans decides that it was really someone else Carr meant.

Also November 20 Proud Robert Fisk acolyte Jack Robertson [SEE UPDATE AT BOTTOM] discovers a Mark Steyn column which quotes Margo's very words (above) on the Bali bombing. Margo claims that reading her words in context will vindicate her. Read her October 14 column (same link as above the quoted section) and decide. I think it just demonstrates Margo's tendency to ramble.

November 21. What Margo promises is the last of reader reactions to "the Carr thingo".

There's a video, which I am unable to watch, linked to Web Diary's index page (see there on the right). It's possible that this puts Margo in a better light.

There's much, much more, but I'm tired of Margo. I'm tired of those who practice substitute emotionalism for reasoned argument, especially those who get paid to publish their rickety opinions in large newspapers despite being poor writers and even poorer thinkers.

(Whole soap opera via Tim Blair, of course, especially here, here, and here.)

UPDATE 11/30/02: Jack Robertson writes to tell me that it was not he who was the "proud Robert Fisk acolyte", but Margo. He's right; the sentiments I thought I remembered him expressing are Margo's instead. See this post for details. Apologies to everyone who was misled, and many apologies and thanks to Jack for the correction.

Wednesday, November 20, 2002

The Cluttered Life

One of the nice (ahem) things about being unemployed is the ability to do things you never had time for before, like cleaning out the clutter in your house. Or, in my case, sorting through rafts and rafts of old bills and stuffing them into folders and files. Niles is making me do this.

As I've said somewhere before, I have the tendency to keep everything, and here's the proof. I found the pay stub from the first real pay check I ever earned, back in 1980 -- $259.60. That was a week's pay, and I thought it good money. I was an engineering co-op student for four years, which is how I put myself through college (with, of course, the help of the company I worked for). That $260/week---for ten or eleven weeks---had to pay for my living expenses for about eight months, in addition to paying for school.

I also found the receipt for the school fees I had to pay with that paycheck. Are you parents sitting down? $502.75 No, there are no zeros missing. That's how much a semester's worth of fees at my university cost in 1980. Since I was an in-state student, I didn't have to pay tuition of any sort, although there were of course books and living expenses (and living expenses during the semesters I worked). I believe nine months' worth of room and board in the dorms was $1500. Contrast and compare with today. Fees are over $2800 per semester, room and board relatively affordable at $2600 per semester. I seem to remember that books were supposed to cost about $100 and "personal needs" $350, so that altogether a semester's worth of college added up to $1700; this means the cost of university at this college has increased fourfold in the past 22 years.

I'm a little surprised to my reaction to finding all this stuff. Every piece of paper I turn over puts a knot in my gut. Here are large bills that took forever to pay off. Where am I going to get the money? Oh, that's right, they're all paid now. There's the big stack of repair bills for my old car. How come I didn't get rid of that thing? (I know the answer). Ha ha! It was a lot of fun when the steering wheel fell off while I was driving! Now here's something you'd think I'd be mildly pleased to see---my acceptance letter into grad school. But no; it only brings back unpleasant memories of financial and emotional woes (even though I look back on my grad school years with great fondness---funny, that).

I also keep things I find amusing or interesting. I have scrapbooks waiting to be filled with them. For example, there are the takeaway menus from the restaurants near my apartment in Sydney. The pizza places, especially, have elaborate and often bizarre combinations ("Santorini: Marinated baby octopus in chilli [sic] sauce, avocado, crispy potato and garnished with fresh oregano").

It remains to be see how long I'll keep collecting these charming old scraps. I keep having to haul them around with me, after all, cross-country and around the world. Hey, maybe I should get a permanent job! And a house! Now there's an idea...

Saturday, November 16, 2002

The Naked, or the Dead?

WARNING: This post links to pictures of nekkid people. Do not view at work unless you can plausibly plead a valid interest in artwork. Best not to view at all if you wish to continue finding naked people attractive. You know, if you're into that sort of thing.

Several bloggers have linked to this image of nekkid Marin women stripping for peace. I'd mock their statement, but it's pretty much self-mocking:

"They wanted to unveil the truth about the horrors of war, to commune in their nudity with the vulnerability of Iraqi innocents, and to shock a seemingly indifferent Bush Administration into paying attention."

You can imagine them thinking this up during the herbal tea hour. "Ha ha! This will give John Ashcroft a heart attack! He's never seen a lady nude!"

I guess "the horrors of war" in this case would be the risk of having a bunch of dippy rich women strip nude. Will mankind learn in time?

This photo reminds me of the work of photographer Spencer Tunick, whose schtick is to photograph big bunches of naked people lying on the ground. Here is a gallery of photos from his Melbourne shoot (keep clicking through to get to the others). These photos were taken by The Age photographer Wayne Taylor, and so do not give a very good sense of what Tunick's finished photos look like.

Of those photos, this is the one that comes closest to the reproducing the final Tunick photos I've seen. The people look dead. They remind me of medieval depictions of the Damned writhing in Hell. They also look shockingly pale, like earthworms. (I mentioned this to a fellow at work, in Sydney, as we looked through a book of Tunick photos someone had left lying around. He said, "Well, you're gonna get that in Melbourne. They don't get any sun there.") Contrary to rumor, naked white people in herds just aren't attractive at all. I look forward to seeing pictures of Tunick's shoots in Nairobi, Calcutta, and Manila, to find whether darker people do any better. (NOTE: That's humor. As far as I know, Tunick has no plans for those cities. I'd point out that this might be because only First Worlders---who tend toward paleness---would be stupid enough to do something like this, but then I'd sound too much like the guy I'm going to pick on, below, so I won't.)

These photos and a few more are on the page of a Concordia University professor who took part in Tunick's Montreal shoot. See especially the picture at the bottom where Tunick is walking through the dead people with his camera.

Then there's this series of photographs of Tunick's appearance in Buenos Aires (text is in Spanish). The top photo reveals something I'd been wondering---who else is down there but the naked folks. Here you see not only various camera crews but a great flock of gawkers behind a barricade. Again, these photos are from some local photographer, but reproduced here are two of Tunick's own photos. I kinda like the one in the garden; it reminds me of a 1970s painting, maybe a cover for a rock album, science fiction novel, or a book on the paranormal. The other photo is at (I believe) the Trevi fountain in Rome, where he only got about 120 people to show up; it displays the creepy "writhing dead" aspects very well.

The professor (of computer science) has a page of "further reflections" on his experience. 2500 people showed up in Montreal; in Melbourne the number was over 4000. The professor wonders how you get 2500 people to show up, strip nude, and lie down on cold concrete:

Why did anyone come at all? Perhaps it was in support of Art, but that seems to me unlikely, given the average attendance at galleries and so on. My guess is that, for many people, it was a unique opportunity to enjoy the freedom of being totally naked in a public place with minimal risk of gawking, harrassment, or arrest...Also, although perhaps this is just another aspect of the same desire, people may simply want to break a taboo. Most of the time, it's against the rules of social behaviour to be nude on Ste-Catherine Steet so, if you get a chance to break the rules, just do it.

That would be my guess too. Some would call that juvenile. Perhaps it depends on the taboo you'd be breaking. I wouldn't go through much trouble to break the nudity taboo. Other taboos might be different.

Ah, but then the professor waxes philosophical:

Reports of the event frequently mention "liberation". What were we liberated from? Well, clothes, of course. But there's more to it than that. The consumer society exploits the body in two ways. First, as something that we should spend money on: we have to clothe our bodies, adorn them with jewelery, take care of our skin, remove unwanted hair, remove parts that are too fat, prop up parts that are sagging, and generally do all that we can to preserve an illusion of affluent yourhfulness. Second, as something that can be exploited for money: sexy clothes, titillating shows, strip clubs, pornography. Tolerance for public nudity undermines exploitation. If people find that they are happy to be in with others in their natural state, how can they be persuaded to spend in order to disguise their natural beauty? If naked bodies are commonplace, why should people spend money to see them?

The Consumer Society Is to Blame. (Naomi Klein, call your office. Third Port-a-Potty on the left.)

Man, this gets tiresome. To hear some of these idiots prattle on, you'd think that one day some Fat Cats got together and thought up capitalism, advertising, beauty, shame, and sloth on the spot, just to feed their greed (which did not exist except in these particular people).

It didn't take the "consumer culture" to think up beauty; humans have been using artificial methods to enhance themselves ever since there have been humans. In fact, it might be argued that a desire for ornamentation is part of what makes them human. (Although I suppose it's really just a shortcut to developing a very fine fan of tail feathers, or an attractive neck wattle you can puff up.)

Here we also learn that nudity---and by extension, sex---is taboo only because taboos make money. If it weren't for greed, there wouldn't be a sex taboo. You have to wonder about what it would be like if it were the other way around---if everyone wandered around naked, and men (mostly) would crowd at night into dimly lit, smelly dens to watch a woman put on clothing one item at a time, until she was in a burqa.

The professor actually gets the creepy aspect of Tunick's photos:

Finally, there is a downside to Tunick's work that is not often mentioned. Some of his finished prints suggest scenes of carnage and warfare. During the shoot, the bodies breathe, move, talk, and laugh. But the prints freeze the motion and the emotion and sometimes suggest images of the holocaust and other tragedies. This is not Tunick's fault but rather a consequence of the grim century that we have lived through: our knowledge of history has taught us to associate bodies on the ground with death by violence rather than human communality.

Once again, it's the "century we have lived through" that makes us think of death and carnage, not, say, all the centuries all humans have lived through throughout the history of the race. Remember, death, fear, pain, hate, greed, and unhappiness came into the world in 1901. Before that it was all puffy clouds and sunshine, dewdrops and lollipops.

I knew there was some stupidity requirement to be a humanities professor, but this guy's a computer scientist. Well, it is Concordia, after all.

That's a little harsh on the guy, and if I hadn't heard this sentiment mouthed by a hundred pious, self-satisfied mouths I'd go easier on him. In fact, that's the taboo I'd most like to break---the politeness taboo. Oh, wait, I do that here.

Come and get it, folks. Taboos broken (almost) daily.

Thursday, November 14, 2002

Dew-Picked and Flown to Iraq

Juan Gato attempts to net the Coelacanth of Journalism, Helen Thomas. He objects to the tired "drumbeat of war" phrase which Some People seem to use in lieu of thought these days. So I tried to think of some farm-fresh phrases we might use instead:

the trumpet blare of war
the bell ring of war
the triangle ding of war
the flute toot of war
the piccolo tweet of war
the guitar strum of war
the sax wail of war
the kazoo buzz of war
the bagpipe skirl of war
the tuba oompah of war
the wa-wa wokka-chikka of war
the pompatus of love

OK, I threw that last one in there to see if you were awake.

C'mon, think of your own! It's fun! Sure beats a poke in the eye with rusty scissors any day. Or reading a Helen Thomas column.

Wednesday, November 13, 2002

Is There a Newspaper in the House?

James Morrow says:

...for as long as I've been reading [the Sydney Morning Herald] on a daily basis (about a year or so), it has reminded me of nothing more than a second-rate American college daily that's been hijacked by a bunch of lefty kids with bad facial hair.

I think Morrow's being generous.

The SMH writers always reminded me of the high school debate champs from some cow-intensive state. Having gained the state championship, they are bussed to DC for the nationals, where they are desperately, hopelessly outclassed by the teams from richer and more populous states, and they know it. But they don't let it show. Instead, they do their best to act just as polished and sophisticated and cosmopolitan as the more fortunate kids, and as we all know, more sophisticated means more outrageous. So they stand around at various functions, confidently braying startling opinions, all the while nervously looking around to make sure their opinions are not the most startling in the room. That might upset someone.

Ever since this image first struck me, I've been trying to polish it into succintness. Needs more polishing. To call the SMH "sophomoric" doesn't quite capture the air of brash insecurity that wafts from it.

Meanwhile, a half a world away from Sydney, Ken Layne is fed up with dead-trees media, and is cancelling his LA Times subscription.

One of the (many, many) things I missed while living in Sydney was newspapers. We had 'em, of course: the SMH, the tabloid Daily Telegraph, The Australian, and on Sunday, The Age of Melbourne. Not only did they all stink in their own special ways, they were expensive. I think the SMH was something like $1.25 per day, more than three times the cost of my previous paper, the San Jose Mercury News.

I gave up reading the newspaper on a daily basis. Now, I'm not a news junkie (no, really, I can quit anytime), but with only these crummy papers, and the abbreviated Australian TV news (if there were good news programs on in the early evening, I missed them, because I was at work), I began to feel very isolated.

So when I came back to the US I was very glad to be getting back to Real Newspapers again. But I found that things had changed. Maybe the newspapers actually had changed. Maybe I had. For one thing, the Houston Chronicle editorial page seems awfully liberal, being about three parts lefty to one part righty (and two parts centrist). Niles think they only print the goofiest opinions of both right and left to discredit both and stir controversy, but I know (as he does not) how mainstream (in the left) those goofy left opinions are.

But more importantly, I no longer look forward to reading the newspaper. In fact, I look at it as a chore. Most of the time, even trolling the editorial page for blogfodder is fruitless. Very often Niles will say something like, "Huh, such-and-such has happened." and I'll say, "Yeah, I know. The blogs told me yesterday." (Kinda like the voices in my head.)

I've enjoyed reading the newspaper ever since I was a teenager reading the rightish St. Louis Globe Democrat (now defunct) in the morning and the left-centerish Post-Dispatch after school. But If I were living on my own, I might well decide to forego a newspaper subscription.

(Of course, blogs would have a hard time surviving without newspapers to actually send someone out to gather news and write stupid editorials for bloggers to chew on.)

By the way, Iain Murray today has the lowdown on circulation numbers for large British and American papers. Seems those lefty papersthe Guardian and the Independent don't stack up against some others.

Here are the figures for Australian papers:

SMH circulation: M - F: 229,000 Sat: 400,000 (there's no Sunday edition)
Daily Telegraph: M - F: 406,220 Sat: 335,438 Sunday Telegraph: 727,036
The Age: M - F: 196,000 Sat: 313,000 Sun: 196,500
The Australian: M - F: 135,000 Weekend: 304,000
Canberra Times: M - F: 124,000 Sat: 184,000 Sun: 112,000

Bear in mind that in Australia, this is pretty much all you have in the way of newspapers. I include the Canberra paper just because I figured the major daily in the capital city ought to be included; I never laid my eyes on a copy while in Sydney.

Australia: 19.5 million
Sydney: 4 million
Melbourne: 3.4 million
Canberra: 309,000

For those who can't get enough, here are the figures for not only the big-city papers but the regional ones as well. (Sadly neither the Coonabarabran Times nor the Bush Telegraph are listed there.)

Monday, November 11, 2002

Lileks vs. the Smug Monster

Lileks today has a mini-screed on the ingrained condescension and contempt of those on the left for those on the right. It's set off by an off-hand comment in David Denby's New Yorker review for the movie 8 Mile:

"People who are convinced that Eminem is destroying America might want to consider the delicacy of the white-black friendships in `8 Mile.' (Perhaps the specter of such friendships is what right-wingers actually hate the most.)"

There's no context for this remark. The on-line version of the New Yorker has only a few words about the movie (you have to scroll down to 8 Mile). So it does sound really stupid, and I'm sorry to hear that Denby wrote it. I enjoyed his Great Books, which was about his year spent (after becoming an established writer) studying a "Great Books" course. Part of the justification for both the course and the resulting book was to defend "Great Books"---the core literature of Western Civilization---from charges of being a tool of the oppressive Dead White European Male Capitalist Patrimony [TM].

But onward.

Lileks talks to a Democrat friend of his:

But we were exploring her opposition to the GOP, and she mentioned "Home schoolers, the religious right. They drive me nuts."


As for the "religious right," they are utterly irrelevant to me. I've been told for 20 years that they will bring a miserable double-knit Pat Boone theocracy, but the evidence seems lacking. There is nothing I want to hear, read, or see that I cannot hear, read, or see.

I would suggest that this is because he lives in liberal Minnesota. He should've tried spending the Reagan years in that hotbed of liberalism, Missouri.

When I was growing up the religious right was not some straw bogeyman in the pages of The Nation, they were our neighbors. They came to the door regularly, wanting to convert us to their brand of Christianity. Maybe I should say C*H*R*I*S*T*I*A*N*I*T*Y, because that's how they pronounced it. Being a regular Christian wasn't enough, no, indeed: you had to be a born-again Christian. And that demanded, not just a recommitment to the faith, but a whole set of beliefs---mostly dealing with the literal truth and inerrancy of the Bible. (For example, for them, Catholics weren't Christians. Or rather, C*H*R*I*S*T*I*A*N*S.)

These are the people who would start nearly every statement of opinion with, "Well, as a Christian..." They would attempt to argue with me by asking, "Are you a Christian?" The point was, of course, was that, as a Christian, I should know that this leads inexorably to that which comes unfailingly to a certain conclusion. But they never expected any answer but "yes" to "Are you a Christian?" On one memorable occasion, a group of fraternity boys were trying to tell me that it was my duty to have children. One of them asked if I was a Christian, in the tone one would use to ask, "You consume oxygen, right?" When I told him no, he was shocked and angry. "What are you then, a Jew??"

Perhaps Lileks forgets Ed Meese as Reagan's Attorney General. In St. Louis, St. Louis City Attorney (I thought he was St. L. County attorney, but apparently not) George Peach was trying to out-Meese Meese. He went on a rampage through the pornography bookstores, keen to close them all.

And maybe he forgets how potent a force creationists were (and still are) in some places in the South and Midwest.

There's more, but the point is that the religious right were in my face in the '80s, even if they weren't in Lileks's. They constitute much of the hard cold wall which prevents me from thinking of myself as conservative.

To hear some speak, though, this society is bound by the constricting bands of puritanism and repression, and we are but two laws away from confining pregnant women to the kitchen and denying them footwear, and this god-bothering cabal will now repeal the 20th century.

I suppose he's forgotten Phyllis Schlafly, too. Remember Phyllis? She was a lawyer (by training) who during the '70s and '80s jetted around the country telling women that their true happiness lay in staying home and out of the work force.

On the other hand, ol' Phyllis is no longer on the public scene, and Libby Dole and Condi Rice and a whole herd of righteous Republican mamas are, so this particular bogeywoman is not even fun-scary anymore.

The right panders to its religious base, uses it, gives it lip service; the left seems genuinely afraid of the consequences of confronting its irreligious base. Maybe that's the big difference.

This lip service is not a Good Thing. Every once in a while the Republicans must throw them a bone, which is probably something many of the rest of us won't like. Not only that, but it is just a wee bit hypocritical, y'know?

But with many there is a belief that liberalism itself is not just a superior method for achieving certain goals, but an idea that is inherently nobler, and bestows on the believer a moral advantage not available to people who believe otherwise.

Much like religion. That's why those people prefaced their views with, "Well, as a Christian..." That was your Assurance of Right Thinking.

The thing about religion is that you can't argue with it. If someone says, "redheads are inferior beings" you can argue with them, until they tell you their god Yobbo-Slobber has decreed it. You can still argue with it then, I suppose, but it will get you nowhere.

Now, further up in the column he says:

Some people can't enter any tent that has these people [the religious right] in it. Fine; as you wish. This means that some people who are themselves deeply religious find themselves aligned with people [a certain breed of liberal] who have an acidic animus to religion - and this I can't understand. I don't know how you can be a believer and be comfortable as a confederate of people who despite
[sic] believers.

And then he goes on to say:

The simple answer is that there is no common ground with people who think you're a political leper, a winged monkey in the service of a green-skinned Nancy Reagan in a witch's hat. Respect works both ways, and if it's not returned, then something changes. There's a difference between thinking someone's strategies are wrong, and thinking them a knave who acts from ignorance at best, and more likely acts from malice. If that's what you think, I am not interested in changing your mind. I am not interested in working together. I am not interested in suffering your insults or your condescension or any other form your preconceptions take. I am interested in defeating you, and getting down to work with the people who come in your place, and grant me the respect I'll give them.

Yeah, I remember that. I remember when "libruuuul" became a dirty word. (In fact, a lot people---and you know who you are---seem to think that today.) I remember when a lot of Christians were revelling in the idea that finally they were going to return God to the classroom/city hall/court house.

This would sort of be my point: once upon a time the Republicans used the religious right to win elections, and the religious right created an atmosphere wherein non Judaeo-Christians and liberals in general (and not just I-Hate-America nutdroids) were treated just as Lileks believes the religious are treated today.

Now, I'm not trying to argue that this is payback and you religious freaks are just going to have to suck it up. That would be mean and counterproductive. (This is also the time to note that not all Christians, then or now, were as rabid and inflexible as some of the ones I knew, or knew of.) And I will point out that the current gibbering (excellent example right here) about how the Evil Republicans are gonna rape the land and make all the women have babies and George Bush himself will preside over a revival on the White House lawn where spotted owls will be roasted over bristlecone pine coals and served on a bed of shredded Constitution (deep breath) is breathtakingly stupid. And dishonest.

But I will kindly ask you to remember that smug self-righteousness and contempt for the unenlightened is by no means solely the province of the Left.

Sunday, November 10, 2002

The Fashion Minute

Today's noted fashion: upside-down and backwards visor on the head of a teenage boy.

KTLA predicts! in future, people will wear this headgear as mounts for personal satellite dishes!

In future, DVD come on back of cereal boxes!

Oh, wait, that's now.

O Frabjous Day!

Calloo! Callay! Our beamish boy has returned! No longer shall his link at the left hand side of the page sadly shine a different color than the rest (from not having been visited recently).

Tonight we shall kill the fatted ravioli and raise a glass of zin in toast to the prodigal.

Thanks to Moira Breen for the glad tidings.

Dark Days of Democracy

Tim Blair notes this hysterical column from Will Hutton in the London Observer.

Hutton writes:

And so one of American liberalism's darkest days was repeated across the country. Minnesota and Missouri, long-time Democrat strongholds, fell.

Huh. Missouri, a stronghold of liberalism. Well now I've heard everything.

It occurs to me that these British types don't know what the hell they're talking about (yes I know that's not exactly a revelation), so for their benefit, I bring you a short

Bestiary of American Politics

Remember, this is the short, simplified version. There are no shades of gray, let alone colors.

There are basically two types each of Democrats and Republicans, as follows:


The Workin' Man: This is my native tribe, and the type which predominates in Missouri, especially outside the cities. They like Social Security, minimum wage laws, and workplace safety laws. Anything that prevents the Fat Cats (see below) from grinding the Workin' Man under their heels is OK with them. Protectionist tariffs, to keep American jobs in America, are also good.

They tend to be socially conservative and don't mind the government encouraging marriage and religion and discouraging pornography, as long as it's understood that they don't actually have to stop doing whatever they're doing. It's other people who are immoral. They don't care about this issue as much as the Americans for Jesus (see below), which is why they're Democrats and not Republicans. They are often bigoted. Most don't know the Social Heelers (see below) are part of the Democratic Party; they think the Social Heelers are from Mars, or California.

Social Heelers: These are the people who want to heal all the wounds the world is capable of inflicting, from racism down to playground taunting, through legislation. And what do you fight when you've licked injustice? More injustice! That's right, when they have finally wiped out all the injustice in the world, they're gonna go back and clean out all those little injustices they missed the first time. Whoops! In the process of fighting injustice, we've tracked a little injustice into the room. Get out the mop!

The Social Heelers can't stand Republicans of either variety (although contributions from "contrite" Fat Cats are always welcome). They are often bigoted, but only against The Rich, of course. They're frequently suspicious of the Workin' Man, as well, because of his tendencies toward tribalism. The dimmer Heelers think the Workin' Man is one of The Poor (which is what the Workin' Man thinks, too), and so they get along OK. This is pretty much the situation as it stands in Missouri.


Fat Cats: Fat Cats are rich businessmen. They're the people the Workin' Man traditionally thinks of when he thinks of Republicans. They are 100% against any kind of government interference in trade, unless, of course, their business turns sour. Then they need a little hand-out to keep their industry---vital to the nation as a whole---afloat. They're also fond of protectionist tariffs, as long as some other country isn't imposing them, in which case they demand free trade.

Fat Cats can't stand Social Heelers, but will hold their noses and buy them off, if they can be bought (and many can). They are often bigoted. Some of them see the Workin' Man as their enemy, but they're thinking more of the Social Heelers of the Workin' Man (Union leaders). They're frequently embarrassed by Americans for Jesus, but they see them as useful tools which can be discarded when they've outlived their usefulness.

Americans for Jesus: This group thinks that morality---defined in their terms, of course---is important for nations as well as for individuals. They believe that the country will return to the paradise it once was if we will just put God back at the center of our national life, where He belongs. Many Americans for Jesus are deeply suspicious of government interference in private lives, except when it's outlawing pornography and abortion.

Americans for Jesus are usually of the Workin' Man class, and would be Democrats except for the Social Heelers wing of the Democratic Party. They believe Social Heelers are the Spawn of Satan. They are often bigoted, although "Red and Yellow, Black and White, they are precious in His sight". Americans for Jesus are sometimes horrified at the moral flaccidity of the Fat Cats, but regard them as useful tools which can be discarded when they've outlived their usefulness.

Here you see very interesting cross-threads. The Fat Cats and the Workin' Man are very similar: each is suspicious of big government except when it will guarantee him what he (thinks he) deserves. The Social Heelers and the Americans for Jesus are united in their belief in the power of Right Thinking to cure a multitude of social ills.

OK, again, I stress that this is a simplistic analysis. For one thing, most of the bloggers I read don't fit neatly into any one category; nor do I.

But any twittish Brits who would comment on American politics at least ought to know the different zoological types.

To continue with Hutton's delusional drivel:

This is the most fiercely reactionary programme to have emerged in any Western democracy since the war, and for which last Tuesday's vote, argue Republicans, is an explicit mandate.


Yeah, I agree it's horseshit. But if he thinks it's horseshit, why'd he write it? (Maybe it's an editorial comment by the editor.) Anyone who thinks this "is the most fiercely reactionary programme to have emerged in any Western democracy since the war" must have spent the Reagan years---all twelve of 'em---in diapers.

America is not a happy place. A generation of increasingly conservative policies has shrunk the American middle and induced not just fantastic inequality but a sharp decline in social mobility and opportunity.


Consumer confidence is low; job insecurity high.

Firstly, eight of the last ten years saw a Democratic president in office, so those "increasingly conservative policies" cannot be laid entirely at the feet of the Republicans.

Secondly, I (barely) remember the late '70s and early '80s (within a "generation") as being a less happy and more insecure time than today. We'll also remember that the later '80s, and parts of the '90s, saw a tremendous economic boom, in which the lower as well as the upper economic strata benefitted. So don't give me this crap.

American capitalism is viewed with deep scepticism

By Guardian writers. What else is new?

The trouble was that this silent liberal majority was only prepared to voice its preoccupations at state rather than national level, if it bothered to vote at all.

Now this is rich. Some commenters on this Jane Galt post seem to think that Republicans won because most people who didn't like Republican policies stayed home whereas most people who were satisfied with them came out to vote. That's the opposite of what long, long experience has shown for almost any venue you'd care to name. People who are angry and unhappy get up and gripe about it; people who are satisfied are far less likely to speak up to say they're satisfied.

What happened here, Slick, is 9/11. The Fat Cats and Americans for Jesus are going to vote Republican anyway. The Workin' Men will switch on an issue they care enough about, and there are few things the Workin' Men care more about than making sure they're not slaughtered wholesale. This leaves only the Social Heelers to turn out in droves enough to make a difference, and they didn't do it. One might imagine that a few of the Social Heelers are averse to being slaughtered wholesale as well.

Other issues? You mean, there are other issues? Well, of course there are. But I suggest that they just didn't have the resonance that national security does right now. Mind you, this is not an issue on which the Democrats will automatically lose (though the track record's not great). But this particular batch of Democrats---and much more importantly, their Social Heeler supporters---positioned themselves as being somewhat indifferent to national security. Frankly, I'm a little surprised they didn't lose bigger.

(The thing that puzzles me is where the Americans for Jesus are being kept. They were very important in politics in the '80s and early '90s. Could it have finally dawned on someone that most people do not favor government in this part of their lives?)

We close with this gem, which will delight my Blogger SuperPals:

Last week represented the highwater mark of American conservatism and, although it looks bleak, the beginnings of the long-awaited liberal revival. Not just the United States, but the world, needs it badly. In the meantime, despite its flaws, give thanks to the European Union for partial shelter from the conservative storm.

Ah ha ha ha ha ha! Thanksgiving's coming up, so give thanks to the EU for serving as a bad example and providing some much needed comic relief.

UPDATE: You know, a bestiary ought to have some actual beasts. So those Heelers and Cats ought to be accompanied by, say, the Workin' Hoss and the Lambs of God.

When I wrote that I thought it needed work, and if I were a professional writer I'd work on it more. But ya get what ya pays for 'round this here blog. That's why there's no tip jar. If I got money to blog, I'd feel like I had to do a good job or sumpin.

Saturday, November 09, 2002

Lodestar of the Left

Everyone's linking to this Victor Davis Hanson article on how the Left is showing that its passion for progressive issues is not as strong as its hatred of America. A sample:

And what one has to conclude from the present venom is that anti-Americanism is neither logical nor empirical. Indeed, it is a fundamentalist secular religion, not a reasoned stance, one entirely inconsistent and unpredictable in its choice of friends and foes - except for one constant: Whatever America does, it hates.

Ah, but Chomsky Pirate said it first. I don't know who Chomsky Pirate is/was, or how he came to envision Chomsky as a pirate, or what sort of substances he uses recreationally. I do know that he wrote funny, bizarre posts at an average rate of two a month for four months, ending in August.

Maybe Chomsky-bashing got tiring (surely not after only four months?); maybe he got sick o' talkin' like a pirate, though it'd sure take me a lot longer'n that. Arrr! Talkin's one thing; writin's another. Trainin' these here electrons to drop their g's is like furlin' the mainsail in a squall, with the toe ropes gone. Arrr!

Ahem. Anyway, Chomsky Pirate's insight comes as a result of a woman asking him what Americans could do to get their country---"the birthplace of evil"---on the right track. Chomsky Pirate's reply:

How do you decide if yer ship is pointing the right direction? You could look at the stars, but they're mighty far away - specially if you've got but one eye. Best instead to look at which way that scum-ship America is pointing and set sail in the opposite direction. For we all know America's a'headed to ruin.

So what would happen if America turned around? Well, ruin would turn right around with it!

So if yer keen on staying true if America turns sail, make sure as to keep an eye on the ever changing compass of correctness: opposition to America.

Arrr! Words o' wisdom from an experienced sailor of the Sea of Vapors.

Friday, November 08, 2002

The Home of the Gods

Hawkgirl Emily Jones is ticked off at Matthew "Olive Garden" Engel's latest column in the Wanker, wherein he is cool to the idea of New York hosting the 2012 Olympics. Emily wants to take away his visa.

I think we owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. Engel. After all, many of us have heard, over and over again, of the arrogance of Americans in other countries. About how they complain of everything, will not try to see things from other points of view, and wish everything to be exactly like it was back home in Topeka. Many of us, when travelling abroad, have been at pains to avoid anything that would conform to this stereotype. Sometimes this is a great strain.

Mr. Engel's writings encourage us to cease giving a damn. Instead, next time I go abroad, I'll be sure to be as obnoxious, arrogant, dismissive, narrow-minded, whiny, and dull as Engel. Hurrah! I'm fairly sure this will be easy; the hard part will be finding a wretched newspaper to subsidize me.

However, in simple justice, I must point out that Engel is entirely correct in this assessment:

Atlanta excepted, the cities that run good games tend to be those with a point to prove; cities with a mild inferiority complex, perhaps; cities that have room to grow, are anxious to market themselves globally and establish their credentials on the world stage.

The Seoul and Tokyo Olympics were not just sporting events; they were major staging posts in the host countries' development. The Barcelona and Sydney Olympics were almost as important, for the metropolis if not so much for the country.

The local people have to want and need the games and to feel it is a major event in their lives; if Jesus chose New York to make his return, his PR people would have to do battle with the guys at CBS to get a slot on the David Letterman Show.

I disagree with the bit about the Sydney Olympics being not very important to the country, but then I was in Sydney at the time, so it's possible I did not have the proper perspective.

Everyone seemed very excited about the games. The Olympic Torch's journey across the country was followed closely. There was a great deal of feeling that this would show that Australia was a modern country, that it was not just kangaroos and Outback and Crocodile Dundee. After all, Australia hadn't hosted the Olympics for something like fifty years. There were signs encouraging clean-up in Sydney which said, "Everyone pick up, now! The neighbours are coming!" You could cut the earnestness in the air with a chain saw.

During the games bus and rail transportation were free to anyone displaying an event ticket. Where I worked people were encouraged to telecommute, if they could; and most could, so that was three weeks of deadly quiet around the old workplace. Thousands of people volunteered to work at various jobs during the games, including my boss, who was terribly excited about the whole thing.

Of course, there was some de rigeur kvetching on the part of the Usual Suspects about how many Poor Children could have been educated on the amount of money spent on the Olympics, etc, etc, but there was little heart in it.

Afterwards there was much analysis and discussion of Sydney's performance, concluding in a general feeling of satisfaction all around. There were some smug whispers that the 2004 games might be held in Sydney, too, if the Greeks didn't get their act together.

But the point is that the Olympics came off so well because it was important to Sydneysiders, and Australians in general, that they should. People sacrificed and arranged and volunteered and more-or-less cheerfully endured so that the games could be a success. They wanted their country and its largest city to look good internationally.

Americans have no such concerns. I can't imagine Atlantans cheerfully putting up with the kind of crap Sydneysiders did. They'd be much more likely to grumble and balk. And why not? They might've felt that the Olympics were just some boondoggle the city fathers dreamed up: good for bringing money into town, but it would be the ordinary folks who would have to put up with the hassle. So screw it.

And New Yorkers? Hah! No one needs to be told where New York is. New York, as Engel rightly points out, has nothing to prove. New York has everything, and in the minds of its citizens, it is already Olympus. It doesn't need any games.

Thursday, November 07, 2002

My Name in sLight

Oh, I'm so proud.

On November 1, Best of the Web had another selection of names from the "Not in Our Name" petition, among them:

Myrna Rachel Burkholder, "Michiana Dylsexia Correction Center"

Now, this is a moderately funny name, and some might be amused at the occupation, but it didn't look like a fake name. So I did some googling and found that there really is a Myrna Burkholder at the Michiana Dyslexia Correction Center.

Ever helpful, I wrote James Taranto to point this out. I also said I didn't know why he was poking fun at the obviously fake names when some of the real occupations and associations were a lot funnier. For example (from my email):

Mihel Aeildrhondel, Aeildrhondelin Nation
Jacques Aizac, (check it out; don't say you weren't warned)
Lisa Lynn Alyson, self-made thinker

Taranto wrote back---must have a lot of time on his hands---pointing out that Ms. Burkholder had written Dylsexia, rather than Dyslexia.

Doh! I wrote to apologize, blaming my sexlydia which causes me to see misspelled words as correctly spelled. Doggone it!

In today's Best of the Web, Taranto does another NION listing, and mentions Mr. Aeildrhondel.

(Aeildrhondel of the Elves! Brother to Aeilaevatour and Rhuttere, all rulers of Aeiroplayhn in the Kingdom of Skye!)

So I look to see if there's the slightest possibility he's mentioned my name, and there I am:

Elizabeth Crowley helps compile Best of the Web Today. Thanks to Allen Thorpe...blahblahblah...Angle Schultz...

I went to get Niles, tearing him away from his taped "Survivor" episode.

Niles, I'm so proud. I'm in the Wall Street Journal.
Are you an anonymous "internet essayist"?
Did they call you "darkblogules"?
Did they call you by name?
Well...sort of...
I showed him my name.
I'm an angle. I wonder what kind of angle I should be. I'd better think of a good one.
Obviously, you are an obtuse angle.

Guess who will be cooking his own damn dinner tomorrow.

(It occurs to me that Taranto did this on purpose, what with the dyslexia and all. It also occurs to me that this is the only way in which Damian Penny has not misspelled my name.)

Deconstruction Ism

As promised, Ism, a day late.

Among the films at the Prelinger Archive is Make Mine Freedom. This is a beautiful little anti-Communist cartoon from 1948.

Labor, capital, farmers, and politicians---each group represented by a character---are all blaming each other for making a mess of things. A slick salesman comes along and wants to sell them Dr. Utopia's "Ism", which he promises will be all things to all people.

All they have to do in order to get "Ism" is sign this little contract giving up their freedom, their children's freedom, and their children's children's freedom, etc. Then Ism will take care of them forever. They're willing to do this, but up pops mild little John Q. Public. He says they should know what they're giving up first.

He begins a lengthy explanation of capitalism, using the example of "Joe Doakes" (seems to have been the "John Doe" or "Joe Blow" of its day) who had a great idea for an invention (a car---this film was sponsored by Alfred P. Sloan, former chair of G.M.). He got his neighbors to lend him some dough to develop it:

"When Joe's friends and relatives used their savings to help him buy tools and property, they were capitalists."
[All the friends blush and hide their faces.] "Don't blush folks---it's nothing to be ashamed of."

John Q. ends by telling them that the free enterprise system has made the country the richest on the earth. More of our children go to school and college than any other country. Our national income is equal to the national income of national incomes of the next six riches nations combined. "With only 7 percent of the Earth's people, we drive seventy percent of the world's automobiles."

(This is the sort of thing people trot out now to show how horrible the US is.)

Then he urges the four men to taste the Ism. They each find that it brings the giant hairy blue hand of the State down upon them, making them its slaves and puppets. So they spit the Ism out while John Q. says, "When anybody preaches disunity, tries to pit one of us against the other through class warfare, race hatred, or religious intolerance, you know that person seeks to rob us of our freedom and destroy our very lives...And we know what to do about it."

The Ism salesman is chased away by the four men, and they have a patriotic parade, which finishes with a voice-over:

"Working together to produce an ever greater abundance of material and spiritual values for all. That is the secret of American prosperity."

So, OK, the end is a little much, but the parade is funny, especially the rather swishy march John Q. does.

Here's part of what the Archive site has to say about the film:

Although [this series of films] purported to be relaxed, humorous explanations of how America's economy works, they sought both to discredit anti-capitalist ideas and explain why our system worked better than any conceivable alternative. Although the apparent collapse of socialism around the world in the late 1980s may make these films seem prophetic today, such ideas weren't taken for granted in the postwar climate.

Extensive reading of the comments on this site would suggest that whoever wrote them is really sorry about the collapse of socialism around the world.

Make Mine Freedom links patriotism with free enterprise and freedom with prosperity. "Working together to produce an ever-greater abundance of material and spiritual values for all. That is the secret of American prosperity." "Working together," of course, is a dishonest concept when used to describe communities whose interests differ.

Whoever wrote this apparently went to the University of Missed Points. This is exactly what the short intends to show, that these disparate groups do have at least some interests in common, one of them being the survival of freedom, including free enterprise. But no, labor has no interest in free enterprise, which he knows is only the name of the chill iron boot upon his neck.

The commenter would have a better argument if he pointed out that this film and many others promotes freedom with the hard sell on prosperity. Freedom brings prosperity, the films say---a point many bloggers would agree with. I'd be a little more comfortable if they'd promote freedom as something worth having regardless of whether or not it made us prosperous. An emphasis on freedom=prosperity might backfire in less prosperous times.

...Make Mine Freedom employs a "stealth" strategy. Self-deprecating humor prevails, perhaps because the films were made to play before distracted and highly skeptical audiences, and the targets of this humor include our consumer culture and the dubious innovations it creates.

Ahhh...those sophisticated audiences of old, so ready to lampoon "our consumer culture" and its "dubious innovations"---which would be, in this case, the automobile. My conversations with my parents and grandparents---the latter having grown up in the Depression, the former in the post-war years---reveal little contempt for innovation or "consumer culture". They grew up poor, and by the time their kids were in high school they were richer than they'd ever thought to be. And I'm talking people of fairly modest means here, not Bill Gates.

Strangely, one fellow seems to have missed the sophisticated, skeptical audiences:

But Roger Spottiswoode was much less favorable. In his review (included on this disc) he criticized Make Mine Freedom for its "hatred of foreigners, a contempt for their way of life, and an attempt to bigotry and intolerance at home." "The whole unpleasant dish," he stated, "is served up with a crude but appealing humor, calculated to lull an audience into a receptive frame of mind."

This is the richest horseshit, but hang on a minute.

Now, I've said before that the comments on this site are divided into reviewers (anyone who wants to sign up and submit a review), Ken Smith's (who has some unobjectionable comments I didn't reproduce) and some mysterious comments which may be from Prelinger's Our Secret Century. The reference to Spottiswoode's review "on this disc" is no doubt taken from those last comments, but I have no idea who this is supposed to be:

GREAT anti-communist PROPAGANDA entirely animation; ostensibly (scummy) patriotic film which shows us the capitalist good guys and the socialists who wish to enslave us all.

...racist caricatures of people of other nations and how they don't stack up financially to Americans in per capita income;

[Rick, I have never seen anything like this where the superego tells the mob to murder a socialist and the mob joins in happily]

The name Spottiswoode meant nothing to me. Turns out he's the director of, among other things, Turner and Hooch. Spottiswoode must have seen a different film. There is not a scrap of foreigner hatred in the film I saw. Foreigners are mentioned exactly twice: when John Q. Public says that we don't need any "imported double-talk" in the US, and when the income of foreign countries is compared to ours. There is no "contempt for their way of life", unless a pride in our own can be said to be.

As for these second, mystery comments: there are no racist caricatures in the film. There is one frame where an American sits on a big pile of coins, and six other figures, representing other countries, sit on much smaller piles. None of the figures moves or speaks. They are identifiably a Russian, an Arab, a German (or perhaps Austrian or Swiss). Two others may be French and English, and the sixth I can't identify (the picture's very small). They are caricatures, to be sure, but so are Labor, Capital, Farm, and Politician. And the salesman. And numerous characters throughout, including the stingy "Uncle Angus" who invests in Joe Doakes's business.

And "the superego" (John Q. Public) doesn't tell them to murder the socialist. They just run him out of town.

Now, to be sure, there are weird things in this film. That's much of the enjoyment of these films---not to poke fun of them (though that's good too), but as amateur archaeology, study of a time almost ours, but not quite. For example, the Farmer is a major character in this film, whereas the farm vote is no longer very formidable in American politics (at least, not as imagined here). I'm a little surprised that the Politician is seen as having his own class, his own will, rather than being just the mouthpiece of his constituents.

More startling, though, are two of the things they mention as being characteristic of America. One is "the right to a speedy and public trial". This is represented by a pretty girl on the witness stand, who gets a chorus of wolf whistles from the jury. The hell...? The other is "protection against cruel punishments and excessive fines": this is represented by a prisoner being served a full course turkey dinner by a guard. Uh, yeah, right.

I've become really annoyed at the comments on this site. The reviewers on the Prelinger site, Ken Smith and (possibly) Prelinger himself congratulate themselves on being able to see right through these corny old films. They, of course, are too cosmopolitan for cheap sentimentality and facile patriotism. So they opt instead for simplistic sophistication and discount deconstruction.

My favorite of these old films gives a wonderful glimpse into a more optimistic, confident time. I know it's fashionable to think of the '50s, say, as a dark, dread era of choking repression and endless exhortations to CONFORM! But there was another '50s, of optimism and hope. I'd love to be able to toss out the conformist '50s and grasp the optimistic, pink-and-turquoise, Googie '50s with both hands.

So that's what I'll be doing with these movies, over a period of time.

And remember, don't buy any "Ism".