Monday, September 30, 2002

A Very Apt Term or All My Exes Live in Europe

It was hardly surprising that on a recent visit to Germany I encountered criticism of the US policy towards Iraq and an overall skepticism to the Bush administrations post 9/11 actions from a good chunk of the German media and government officials. While I tend to disagree vehemently with most of their assertions I can understand the basis for some of their opinions and also realize that since their country was not the one attacked on 9/11 they don't carry the same passions on the issue that many Americans do. What really rankled me was the attitude among American expatriates living in Germany on some of these matters. To be fair I did not talk to a large number of American expatriates and perhaps the few that I came across were not an accurate sampling of the views that most of them hold. But I have a hunch that the feelings they expressed are commonly shared in their small community.

I have two theories to explain this anti-American attitude among Americans abroad:

1. Unless they are overseas for work the type of person who ends up living in Europe as an American expatriate is inclined to lean toward the Left by nature. Often initially brought to a country through their studies they buy into the view that Europe is culturally superior to the US early on and cast a disdainful eye towards their former land. And many of them are of an artistic bent or teachers of some kind or another, both groups which also tends to gravitate Leftward.

2. Even if they don't hold these views before arriving in Europe they soon find (especially those in the artistic or intellectual circles) that their Euro friends negative attitudes towards the US don't leave much room for open debate. In order to avoid the ignominious "ugly American" label they learn to stifle their patriotic leanings. They learn that it is much more acceptable to be an American who mocks rather than defends their native land. Most of the local country's media tend to reinforce these beliefs and the few media outlets available from the US often don't help matters. CNN for example.

The most egregious example that I witnessed of an American ex-pat dissing his land of origin was the English language tour guide we had in Berlin. He was an extremely bright and entertaining fellow with a encyclopedic knowledge of the history of the city. But during his three plus hour walking tour he took numerous pot shots at GW and his administration even mimicking the common Euro insult with a disparaging "cowboy" remark or two to describe Bush. What's so bad about a cowboy anyway? The nadir of the tour occurred when we reached the Reichstag and our guide related its history including of course the 1933 fire which Hitler used as a pretext to crush his opposition and consolidate his absolute authority. He then mentioned that a British friend of his had raised a comparison between the events following 9/11 and the Reichstag fire. "Think about it," he intoned to us solemnly.

Why yes! It all makes sense now. A fire set in an empty building by a deranged man which may or may not have been arranged by the despotic regime in power followed by the wholesale destruction of all political parties within the country opposing the regime through assassinations, orchestrated mob violence, arrest, torture, and detention in concentration camps along with the elimination of virtually all remaining political rights and an attack on civilians by terrorists resulting in three thousand deaths followed by the government giving its law enforcement agencies more latitude in monitoring, tracking, and prosecuting groups, and individuals suspected of planning further terrorist acts. How could I have missed the obvious similarities?

Pat Buchanan's Continuing Slide Into Irrelevance

News that Pat Buchanan is starting a new magazine to "reclaim the conservative movement" demonstrates the extent that his star has fallen in recent years. It is hard to believe that not all that long ago he was viewed as the conservative conscience of the Republican Party when he now appears to be nothing more than a clownish character moving periously closer to the lunatic fringe of the Right. Consider these comments:

His new magazine, he promises, will be a forum for his battle against the neoconservative Weekly Standard and National Review.
"We're trying to take back the good name of conservatism from these right-wing impersonators," he said.

While the National Review is certainly not above criticism to say that it does not represent conservatives and is run by "right-wing impersonators" is absurd.

Then you look at who Pat has gotten into bed with on this latest venture and you realize just how marginal a player he has become:

The money behind the magazine comes from Theodoracopulos, who inherited it from his father, a shipping tycoon. In the new magazine, Theodoracopulos writes, "My main aim is to remind Americans that since we are a predominantly white society rooted in Christianity, our responsibility to immigrants is to bring them into our culture, not the other way around.

Saturday, September 28, 2002

Die Fehrensehapparat ist Wieder Kaput

I love the poster for this year's Twin Cities Marathon. It almost makes me wish I actually ran marathons. Or did any excercise of any kind. (Note, I did say almost wish.) It also makes me wish I understood art better, as I can't fully expound on what turns my crank about this without sounding like an ignoramous. ("It's got pretty colors and the way they do those hills with the cities in the background--it's really cool"). It's like being in Germany and trying to articulately explain in pidgin high school Deutsch to Die Volken why their newfound aggressive pacificism is a hinderance to world peace and stability at this moment rather than a help. But I trust the Elder got the job done, and I eagerly await the reports on his efforts to shake some sense into them. In fact, I eagerly await any of his posts, as my efforts to individually sustain original material on this blog on a semi-daily basis has proven to be more than my creative abilities and time availablity could handle. Given the rapacious news appetites of the Fraters readership (yes Mom, I got your complaints) the pressure was, as Steve Cannon used to say, immense.

Friday, September 27, 2002

Baby, I'm Back!

Back in body that is. Spirit is another matter as I'm still trying to get my bearings and readjust my biological clock from the journey. A process not helped at all by the surly and apathetic flight service provided by Northwest Airlines.

The trip to Germany has spawned a number of thoughts to air including the pros and cons of European culture, the roots of "Euro-pacifism", why the UK and US stand apart from the rest of Europe, and what Jimmy Carter might call the "malaise" afflicting Germany today.

For now though let me just say that I'm glad to be back in the land where a man can order a wide variety of quality brews of different types and flavors (provided he's at the right watering hole that is). Pale ales, porters, stouts, reds, pilsners, lagers, etc. Say what you will about the swill that passes for beer that most Americans drink (Bud, Miller, etc.), but when it comes to the availability of various styles of good beer the US cannot be topped. You can only drink so many weisse beers, pils, and Oktoberfests before you're ready to kill for a hearty, hoppy, good old American micro brew.

Monday, September 23, 2002

I Saw the Ghost of Joe Hill Today - Driving a Buick LeSabre

From the Sunday Star Tribune, a description of the salary and benefits of the executives from Education Minnesota, the teacher's trade union in Minnesota:

[President Judy] Schaubach is the big cigar, with annual pay of $128,648, 7 percent more than the governor. Executive Director Larry Wicks makes nearly the same, and the next three top officers average $114,232. The union also pays Cadillac benefits: dental coverage and 100 percent health care coverage, a matching 401(k) plan and separate pension. And under a company car program that Wicks describes as money-saving, more than 50 officers, managers and high-mileage staff members drive a union-purchased sedan. The top officers ride in Buick LeSabres. Staff members who drive more than 10,000 miles a year for work get a Ford Taurus. The in-between car is a Chevy Impala.

Given the the constant cry from the education bureaucracy that we're not doing enough for the children (even despite massive increases in funding over the last 10 years), doesn't all that seem a tad excessive? Especially considering that all union administration and activities are funded via teacher's salaries--which are 100% a public expenditure via tax dollars--doesn't this actually seem borderline criminal--at least by the standards that are being applied to private corporations right now?

The text of the article in the Strib was reasonably balanced, but for a subtle example of media bias, check out the graphics used to illustrate the two lobbying groups profiled. First Education Minnesota. Now the Freedom Club (a private organization of business and community leaders ). Which group do you feel is better for the average Minnesotan--the racially and gender diverse multitude marching forward (toward a brighter tomorrow, no doubt), or the three white businessmen in suits, huddled together in a congratulatory embrace, literally dwarfing some poor, little family (with a dominant mother figure)? My only surprise is that they didn't somehow work in cartoons of obese cats wearing tuxedos and lighting their cigars with twenty dollar bills.

Thursday, September 19, 2002

A Quizzical Stare from the Back Bench

I see in today's Star Tribune, Senator 100 (Mark Dayton) was selected (or more likely eagerly volunteered) to carry some water for the Democratic Party. He's on record as "questioning the timing" of the President's forwarding of a 'use of force resolution' against Iraq. The article astonishingly doesn't give details as to what Dayton means by this, but I'm quite sure he's referencing the upcoming elections and the fact that any military action typically rallies support for the party in control of the executive branch.

Dayton's vaguely critical yet still noncommittal comments are an example of the common political tactic of sending out a trial balloon to see if a speculative, contrary position receives any positive feedback from the press and general populace. If these comments effect a bounce in the political polling they're engaged in, or if Dan Rather chooses to lead the nightly news with "Senator Dayton's well thought out and reasonable questions regarding Bush's risky scheme" or if it gets an above the fold mention in the New York Times with a headline like "Senate Attempts to Restrain Bush's War of Aggression Against Small Arab Country" (and a sub headline of "Minorities and Women Would Suffer Most")--they will use this message more widely and it will be mouthed by more prominent Democrats. Given Dayton's depth-defyingly low profile and credibility, "more prominent" would presumably include Paul Tsongas, Bela Abzug, and Wendell Wilkie.

However, if instead the comments are scoffed at and ridiculed (which will be the reaction from any reasonable person who hasn't been living in a cave for the past year), the topic will be dropped and the Democrats will move on to other options for eroding support for the President and for eroding our national will. Since Dayton has five long years ahead of him before he has to face the voters, his asinine comments will not affect his prospects of getting re-elected. Voters will forget and the press will not remind them. (And, since we'll have McCain-Feingold-Wellstone campaign finance reform imposed by then--private parties won't be able to remind voters either. Further evidence as to why the Democrats and mainstream media were such passionate advocates of getting rid of soft money).

Therefore, the DNC chooses a stooge like Dayton to deliver this message over someone like Paul Wellstone. Were Wellstone to start questioning the war on Iraq, his chances of defeating Norm Coleman in the upcoming election for Senator would be seriously diminished. So he's quiet as a church mouse on this issue, while screeching and caterwauling like a stuck pig about so called "corporate accountability." An article in this week's City Pages further explores the rather odd restraint of Wellstone's more radical impulses. The article's title alone (and maybe exclusively) shoud qualfiy it for some sort of journalism award (they have those, right?)

Wednesday, September 18, 2002

Real Politik Journalism

No Web site does a better job of getting "behind the music" on terrorism and geo-political maneuverings than Debka. For the uninitiated, it's a site of Israeli origin an it relies on sources within the intelligence services of various countries for its news scoops and analysis. I've been accessing this site since last September and the information provided has been consistently ahead of the domestic news cycle by a few weeks and it reports on events completely ignored by the traditional media outlets.

This past few week's reports have been particularly chilling and they come up with a working model that connects the dots between the disjointed group of stories which appeared in other media reports over this time. According to Debka, the recent upgrading of our Terrorism Warning status, the detainment of suspects and rather clumsy closing of Alligator Alley in Florida, the arrest of the members of a sleeper cell in Buffalo, the quarantine and search of the cargo ship off of New York Harbor, and the return of Dick Cheney's nocturnal engagements at undisclosed locations all stem from threats the US government has received (directly and indirectly) regarding the use of a weapon of mass destruction on an American city, in order to dissuade any preemptive action against Iraq.

Friday, September 13, 2002

Juke Box Heroics

Last night at the Groveland Tap, between games of pool (the series of which I ultimately reigned victorious over my overmatched opponent the Bird) I was perusing the juke box selection, looking for just the right 3-song mix to ease my fevered and over served mind. Per usual, I was looking for obscure gems that would gain mass acceptance, get the room cooking to a low simmer, and yet still establish my superior knowledge and appreciation of music to all who were paying attention. A challenge at any venue, but particularly so in an ersatz college sports bar in midtown St. Paul. As I internally debated the merits of Oasis' Wonderwall vs. the Band's The Weight as my opening salvo, I was interrupted by the soft, breathy, and audibly playful query "Exactly what is a 'Boz Scaggs' anyway?"

Turning towards my questioner, and much to my pleasant surprise, I identified her as the beautiful, long-brown-haired, long-legged, plaid skirt wearing young woman who was playing pool at the table immediately next to ours. In response, and also in a rather soft and breathy manner (as her unexpected presence and attention literally knocked the wind from me) I replied with a note of mock incredulity ,"You don't know who Boz Scaggs is? You've never heard of the finest blue-eyed soul funksmith to come out of the greater Madison Wisconsin area in the past 30 years?" (I guess that's opposed to Otis Redding, the finest soul artist to go INTO Madison, Wisconsin in the last 30 years ). She smiled and laughed and acknowledged her ignorance. I told her I would take the pleasure of introducing the two of them to each other and she responded with a cheerful "all right!" We engaged in few minutes of Jane Austen-style comedy of manners repartee, and as I finally got around to punching in the 4 digit code for "Lido" a large, thick and ordinary presence entered my peripheral vision, followed by a dull, oafish voice saying "Hey, what are you gunna to do, play some music or somethin'?"

Between his locked on, lifeless gaze and baseball cap covered sloping forehead, it became immediately apparent that this was the boyfriend or at least that night's date and he was there to put an end to any shenanigans he suspected was up. And he succeeded. She told him "no, we're just talking about music" and then she demurely thanked me for the Boz Scaggs info and excused herself to go back and play pool. It was a fleeting couple of minutes and I was disappointed to see her go so soon, but I also knew that things weren't quite ending just there. I would have the entirety of "Lido" and the magic of Boz Scaggs to keep those moments lingering on. Whether or not she would choose to acknowledge it, I knew I'd still possess at least some of her consciousness during that song, such was the positive vibe that emanated from our brief discussion. And I also realized that if I were to choose wisely with my other two songs, well then, I'd have her on the hook for up to 10 full minutes. And if it all ended there, after an energized, bittersweet, regretful but beautiful journey through the best AOR to rock of the 70s, 80's, and today, well then it may just rank in my top five relationships of all time.

And it didn't take me long to find the other two songs. A few button flips over from Boz was a collection of Prince hits, any number of which would have worked for my purposes. But near the bottom of the list was the ideal selection. As I clearly caught a glimpse of the flame of intelligence in her eyes and therefore could assume an appreciation of irony, I dialed in the code for the rollicking, subtly poignant and sadly beautiful "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man." This song would keep the up tempo vibe of "Lido", it would communicate my appreciation for the genius of old school Prince, and most importantly, it would state as Prince intended, 'of course, I could take the place of your man, but it's simply not going to happen.'

This bittersweet message would allow me to transition to a slightly more downbeat tone for the final number, one that had to communicate regret and longing and the beauty of a love untold. As there was no Westerberg in the juke, I turned to an older master, David Bowie and the song "The Man Who Sold the World." A song not specifically about the matters at hand, but clearly focusing on coming to terms with the poor choices one makes in life, and about looking back in anger and sadness and wondering how else it might have all turned out. I suspected she'd eventually recognize the song from the Cobain version of a few years ago--she was that young. But the thin, reedy, space oddity voice of Bowie would add to the intended affect of momentarily rising above one's limitations--both those self imposed and those enforced from the broader social context.

3 songs--that's all a dollar buys you and just maybe it was enough. I returned to finish kicking the Bird's arse at pool, while keeping an eye on Miss Plaid Skirt for her reactions. And, by God, my plan seemed to work. She smiled and playfully nodded her head back and forth to Lido and at the end of the song turned to me and winked (gulp). Too perfectly and impossibly, she sang along to the Prince song and danced about just a little bit (which contrasted to her boyfriend's perpetual Easter Island statue impersonation). And during Bowie she slowly, almost wistfully rocked back and forth and at all the right moments, stared off into the distance and almost imperceptibly sighed. (Of course all of these moments occurred in between her setting up 3 corner bank shots and dropping her sledge hammer break on the various racks of balls--but allow me some poetic license here). Soon after the droning, plaintive wailing of the Bowie song ended, she and her man left the room and that indeed was that. But it was ten minutes of light and beauty on a dark Thursday night and I think I've rarely spent a better dollar.

Thursday, September 12, 2002

Making the Human Race My Personal Responsibility

As some of you may be aware, the primary elections were held on Tuesday in Minnesota and I was involved as an election judge in Ramsey County. This is my first experience of doing this type of duty and although it was much more difficult and even less rewarding than I anticipated, I am quite certain I'll continue my service through the general election. My tasks on Tuesday required a 16 hour shift (6 AM - 10 PM), with one half hour break around noon, and 120 miles put on my car. Aside from the hourly wage (which doesn't quite live up to "living wage" standards), the only benefit provided was the personal knowledge that the precincts I was involved with adhered to the law and that the process moved along as efficiently and orderly as possible. And also that every vote did indeed count (take that Katharine Harris!)--and counted only once (take that Al Gore!). This benefit is not exactly fame and glory, and heck it's not even faint, vague recognition and mildly pleasant satisfaction. But if your country is in the business of democracy, the job's successful completion is absolutely necessary and that's enough for me, and for the roughly 600 other judges who also served (time) in dank church basements and turkey gravy smelling elementary school gymnasiums all over the city of St. Paul.

The role I was assigned was a new one for the county, that of ward supervisor, meaning I needed to provide technical support, procedural interpretation, and logistical support for the judges at the 16 precincts in my ward. Specifically, this means things like helping out any judge crews who aren't able to get into the building at their polling location at 6:00 AM, helping those that can't figure out how to get their tabulation machines working, helping those with information on how to properly register new voters, delivering supplies for any location running short on anything critical, and also the distribution of completed absentee ballots. All these issues, multiplied by 16 locations, results in 120 driving miles, despite the fact my ward was maybe 10 square miles in area. I was zig zagging and haphazardly putting out fires all day long.

The main advantage to my position was getting to see so many precinct judging crews in action. And all of them, every single one, operated competently and efficiently and with generally good morale. Let me just restate, being an election judge assigned to an individual precinct generally sucks, by any conventional interpretation of the word ("suck - the state of being bogus or generally wack"--the New Merriam-Webster College Dictionary). You need to work all day and half way into the night without an official break or even time away to eat, the procedures you need to follow are detailed and numerous, the physical environment is typically claustrophobic, the pacing is at times frenzied but mostly tedious. And to top it off, you get absolutely no recognition or feedback from your overseers in the county elections office. In fact, the judges get treated with disdain by the paid government employees, who are officially in charge of how elections proceed. This is the reason my particular position exists at all, because the county doesn't want to be bothered by the desperate calls from the outposts in the hinterland, lest they be interrupted from their own official duties. From my observations, their official duties generally consist of snacking at the morning breakfast buffet, trying to choose which kind of pizza they want to try next from the 30 or so Domino's boxes lined up for lunch, and making sure they get chipotle salsa with their enchiladas when they're delivered for their dinner. (Yes, the county employees get all the food they need all day long, presumably paid for out one slush fund or another).

But I don't want to engage in the condemnation of the government types, I'm here to celebrate those poor bastards in the trenches, the election judges. Upon further review, I'm not quite sure how a society creates a class of people like this. To put up with what they do and for no appreciable benefit, other than the fulfillment of a personal sense of duty. All of them, worked liked dogs, treated like dogs, yet still managing to operate their locations with efficiency, fairness, attention to the law, and generally good spirits. Despite recent efforts by the county to recruit new, younger judges (a process of which I am a product) I'd say more than three-fourths are 55+ in age and I wonder how much of the high quality character of these people is dependent upon their generation alone. Some of these individuals were of the WWII generation, some just after that, but very few of the baby boom generation or later were present.

Perhaps this is just a reflection of life stage commitments. Most boomers and Generation X'ers are parents with young families, and taking an entire day off from their responsibilities to their families and jobs would be a significant burden. And the older folks probably do have extra time on their hands. But that's not to say service as an election judge isn't a burden to them as well, especially given their increased physical ailments and age-related limits on their physical energy, attention spans , and cognitive abilities (plus dealing with the blatantly "ageist" stereotyping of their ward supervisor).

But this older generation just seems more willing to bear burdens for the good of their society than the following generations. And for this reason elections have generally gone smoothly (at least in Minnesota). As this generation passes away and leaves the ranks of public service, I question the quality of their replacements. Because without a certain level of altruistic commitment among the general populace and the unquestioning will to do whatever needs to be done, there will be problems in running something as large and complex as an election. It appears the problems we witnessed in Florida, both in 2000 and even this year, on Tuesday, are a reflection of this trend. And if the modern generations prove to be incapable of living up to their responsibilities as citizens, we can expect these problems to become more and more common.

Monday, September 09, 2002

Don't Ever Stop Looking Back

Last night on C-SPAN, Victor Davis Hanson gave another brilliant speech on the position the US finds itself in vis-a-vis the war on terrorism and the corresponding, almost unanimous, criticism by the rest of the world. Unfortunately, there's no indication of a replay of this event via the C-SPAN site (although they're not very forthcoming with future broadcast schedules, so you never know).

However, VDH does have a new book coming out entitled "An Autumn of War" and he's participating in an online forum via the Washington Post on Wednesday, Sept. 11, at 10:00 AM CDT that will definitely be worth checking out.

Even as far back as Biblical times, philosophers and scholars have realized "What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, there is nothing new under the sun." (ECC 1:9 RSV) but it seems most people (of every era) forget this and we presume and act as if we're the first and only ones to face a particular challenge or set of circumstances. I get the sense that most Americans feel that we are alone in this dangerous and high stakes fight against radical Islam and state-sponsored terrorism, without any guidance besides our own, sometimes unreliable, reason to help us decide how we should proceed. The specter of weapons of mass destruction and an enemy who appears so eager to use them increases our sense of isolation and trepidation.

Hanson's unique contribution to modern journalism is his comprehensive understanding of history, particularly from the Classical era. His ability to identify previously hidden patterns of history and to relate them to a modern context is stunning and reassuring. Stunning in that you can't believe how clear and well defined these patterns are and how everyone else (particularly in the media/poltics) has missed them and trundle on as if we need to reinvent a new paradigm. Reassuring in that you come to realize other societies have faced challenges equally as daunting as our own and that there's a track record of how to succeed and how to fail when faced with these challenges.

If you're not familiar with Hanson, reviewing his back columns on National Review Online is well worth your time. As an example, check out this one which discusses, among other topics a war with Iraq. It is immediately relevant to the headlines in today's paper, but it was written almost a year ago, just a few weeks after the WTC attack.

Saturday, September 07, 2002

Ratio of Garbage to Gold in the Average Issue of Harper's: 1:1

Since I moved to the right side of the tracks in St. Paul, I've developed a custom on lazy Sunday afternoons to walk to one of the bookstores on Grand Avenue, grab some interesting reading material, find an overstuffed chair, and read for several hours. After about 60 minutes I do draw stares from other customers coveting my prime seating location and eventually from management types who correctly suspect I may not be in the "buying mood." Modern theories of customer service prevent them from grabbing me by the scruff of the neck and hauling my freeloading arse out into the street, while scolding "this is not a lending library," so usually I'm left undisturbed. Typically on these Sundays, I'm able to do a complete skim reading of almost any book that captures my interest. After which I'll arise from the chair, return the book back to its shelf, and announce (loud enough for the weekend/holiday assistant manager to hear) "well I'll just have to think about that one" and I imperiously stride out the door.

When I choose to go to Ruminator, my preferred sections are Race Theory and Labor History. This is where you'll find such outrageous and unbelievable titles as ""The Wages of Whiteness" and "The Wit and Wisdom of Fritz Mondale." When I go to Bound to Be Read I usually end up in the periodical section, mainly because they have tables and chairs there which are positioned out of the direct view of the wary glances from the checkout counter. This is where I found myself last week, and as I was unable to locate a copy of The Economist, I grabbed the September issue of Harper's, slunk back to the modernistic metal chair by the window and dived in.

Per usual, the Harper's Index was alternately deceptive and incisive, but always amusing; the Lewis Lapham editorial was impenetrable but well constructed, and the Readings section was episodically amazing, maddening, and laugh out loud funny (for the right reasons). This dual nature of the publication is also evident in two articles presented this month, both concerning the position of the US in the post-Sept. 11 world. As Harper's does not maintain an online presence for article transcriptions, I'll summarize below (Yes, I did purchase this issue, which according to my calculations, should give me free reading credit there for another couple of months).

The stinker article was called "A Year Later" by Columbia University Professor Mark Slouka. And it is outstanding, in that it stands out from even the cynical, weary rhetoric of other morally and culturally relativistic, blame America first philosophers. I won't go into all the details of his essay, but what particularly struck me was his yawning, nonplused, and utterly numbed by the broader worldview reaction to the atrocities of 9/11:

"A horrible thing had occurred, certainly. And those directly affected by the tragedy, like all victims of unspeakable things (like the mother of the teenager killed in a traffic accident the afternoon of the eleventh), deserved all of our compassion. But this was no London during the Blitz. Or Stalingrad in the winter of 1943. Or Sarajevo in 1994. Thousands of innocent people had died, true. But innocents have been dying for a while now--millions of them, mostly children as quietly as melting snow each and every year. Surely we didn't think that just because [we are Americans]......."

"Now I had understood how we had managed to endure the slow disintegration of Bosnia with such fortitude; we had simply filed it, along with the events in Rwanda and Chechnya and Sierra Leone, under the rubric "Bad Things That Occur to People Who Are Not Americans." We seemed, on the whole, capable of bearing untold amounts of other people's pain and very little of our own."

.... pause for sound of me clearing my throat.... Yes, quite. You say your father just died? Well of course that's unfortunate for you. But what about the guy down the block--his father died last year, did you shed any tears? And according to reports, selected people in Zimbabwe have their fathers die all the time, somebody almost every day of the year. And did you know this has been going on for virtually decades?! So, really, you need to get over yourself.

The gold comes from an essay called "Le Divorce: Do Europe and America Have Irreconcilable Differences" by author Nicholas Fraser (who is a genuine European himself, of British-French extraction.). He posits that the problems Europeans increasingly have with Americans are due to the changes occurring to their own societies. Furthermore he implies that the economic and cultural stagnation, brought on by socialism, has lead to a generalized discontent in Europe. However, political and egotistical considerations tend to make the Old World look outward for the source of their discontent, rather than inward:

"Meekness and innocuous technocracy are the distinguishing features of Europe. Otherwise the European future consists of wishes--that nation-states should somehow cease to exist, that the nations of Eastern Europe might be ingested by the Union without excessive inconvenience, that less money might somehow be squandered on cows or olive trees, and that against expectations the world will somehow prove itself capable of being a less dangerous place, more in keeping with the carefully policed, air-conditioned, and wholly unexceptional space colonized by the E.U."

"In the meantime, there is America--also incomplete, but ceaselessly changing, a haven of dissonance, a source of promise as well as danger. And now Europeans want to blame America for whatever appears to be deficient in European civilization. They also hanker for a Europe somehow created in opposition to America, and superior to it. How else, indeed. is it possible to be a European these days?"

Fraser also recounts a line of dialog from a play by the Englishman Tom Stoppard, which shows the simultaneous (and inevitable combination of?) grudging respect and resentment Europeans have for Americans:

"They say what they mean, and there is a vivid muscularity about the way they say it. They are always the first to put their hands in their pockets. They press you to visit them in their own home the moment they meet you and are irrepressibly good-humored, ambitious, and brimming with self-confidence in any company. Apart from that I've got nothing against them."

If you'd like to read more about it, purchase the September issue of Harper's, ideally from Ruminator, as they deserve some dough from me, indirect as it may be. Just tell them St. Paul sent you.

Friday, September 06, 2002

No One Who Speaks German Can Be An Evil Person

I will shortly be embarking for Germany on a well earned vacation and so will likely not be posting anything for the next few weeks. If I get a chance I might check in from an internet cafe with a few quick hitters and when I return I should have some good tales to tell since I'll be experiencing the first anniversary of September 11th overseas and also be witnessing the upcoming German elections up close and personal. Can Lucy's piano playing love interest hold onto the reins of chancellor? It will be fun to watch. In the mean time the very capable St. Paul will keep the fire burning. Ein prosit!

Beaten To The Punch

After reading Senator Mark Dayton's pathetic editorial in yesterday's Minneapolis Star Tribune titled A scary, go-it-alone path to war, I was licking my chops at the prospect of tearing into his piece and dismantling it bit by bit. Yes Mark, war is indeed a "scary" proposition. But lo and behold a much better man than myself took on the task and performed it admirably. In his Bleat today Lileks draws and quarters Dayton. Butchers him like a hog he does.

The only thing that I would add is to ask if Senator Dayton understands that the most important duty that the president has is to protect the United States and its people not to win the approval of the world. Daytons writes:

The president must persuade Congress, the American people, and the world that a devastating war against Iraq is absolutely necessary; otherwise, it would be terribly wrong.

While I agree that the president should make his case to Congress and the American people on the need for military action he does not need to ask permission of "the world" to do what is required to defend the United States.

Thursday, September 05, 2002

The Words Get In the Way

As I'm officially on record as recommending the movie "Signs" to a few friends, I feel compelled to clarify a couple of points, so as not to be pilloried by those critics who would seek to hoist me by my own petard, based on an incomplete understanding of my perspective (and you know who you are--Tyrell Ventura).

The strength of the movie is the direction by M. Night Shyamalan. He is truly masterful in creating suspense and in triggering and manipulating the audience's emotions. He's able to evoke a slight degree of anxiety and tension, then to sustain and build on it slowly, step by step, then bring it to a rushing crescendo, through sound and images, and then finally easing up ever so slightly or letting it drop in a free fall. If you let yourself go, to be simply swept up in the provoked emotions (and you allow yourself to forget some of the logical inconsistencies and politically untenable assumptions of the script), it's literally a wild ride.

Watching this movie, you feel like you're in the hands of a master, confident that he knows exactly what he's doing and confident that you can trust his instincts and judgment. This contrasts to the cheapened feeling you get in a run of the mill Tarantino derivative. In these types of movies, you feel like you're in the hands of an immoral lunatic or a sadist, where tension is only achieved through the pointing of a gun directly into the camera lens or into the face of the protagonist and where suspense is replaced by gratuitous violence and gore. I guess some people appreciate this, but it's come to repulse me.

Another pleasure of the movie was the subtle and not so subtle references made to sci-fi classics of the past, including Night of the Living Dead, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Predator (which is not a classic). This respect for the history of the genre, which will be noticed only by those who respect such history themselves, adds context and texture and intimacy to the whole experience of watching it.

Once again, the movie has some serious flaws, which aren't fully realized until the last 10 minutes. I don't want to give anything away, but I think it’s fair to state that the conclusion is a very blunt and literal presentation of the mysterious phenomena portrayed in the rest of the film. As most of the movie dealt with issues of faith, and how different people can interpret the same set of facts in different ways, that's how the movie should have ended as well. The existence of aliens on Earth should have been left intentionally ambiguous at the movie's conclusion, and the actions of the main characters throughout the film should have ultimately been judged in this spirit.

After the movie I came to realize that while watching it (at the Grandview, and flanked by a beautiful red-headed Bridget Fonda look-a-like, sharing MY popcorn) I was so enamored by the movie I wanted to see, that I was overlooking evidence that it was not entirely leading up to where I thought it should go. That is until the last 10 minutes, whereby it all fell apart, and I couldn't fool myself any longer. This kind of doppelganger movie experience does prevent me from giving an entirely fair review to what the actual movie consisted of and it may prevent anyone else from appreciating it as I did. But since I ain't no Roger Ebert, and nothing is really depending on my accurate recommendation (except for the hard earned 7 bucks of all those intelligent enough to listen to me), it stands as it is. Welcome to MY world (but stay away from my popcorn).

The Danger of Inaction

"I do not believe in a fate that falls on man however they act;
but I do believe in a fate that falls on them unless they act."

-G.K. Chesterton

Wednesday, September 04, 2002

Airplane in the Groin

Here's a quick way to relate the debate on war with Iraq to something that the Joe Six Packs and Sally Housecoats out there can understand. Especially the Joe Six Packs.

The US is like a man. The tallest, strongest man on the block. He is surrounded by a number of much smaller men who he tries his best to get along with. In the past twenty odd years some of these smaller men have taken to testing the will of the big man by occasionally kicking him in the shins.

1979 hostages seized at embassy in Iran was one of the first such kicks

1983 Marine barracks in Beirut blown up-another painful kick in the shin

1993 nineteen US servicemen killed in Somali/first attempt to bomb WTC- both kicks in the shin

1996 Khobar Tower bombing in Saudi Arabia-the shin kicking continues

1998 Embassy bombings in Africa-our shins are starting to get sore

2000 USS Cole bombed in Yemen-maybe we should look into some shin pads

Despite the irritation of the continual shin kicking the big man had other things on his mind and couldn't really bothered with what was going on in that area too much.

Then came September 11th 2001. This time one of the little men decided that kicking the shins just wasn't enough anymore and so he delivered a blow to the big man's gnads.

This obviously got the big man's attention. After writhing around on the ground in agony he got up and went after the little man who had so grievously injured him realizing that he could no longer ignore his actions.

Meanwhile there's another little man who's been doing some shin kicking of his own.

1993 Iraqi involvement in plot to assassinate Bush 41/possible Iraqi connection to first WTC bombings

1996 to the present- Iraq continually fires on US and British warplanes patrolling the no fly zones

1998 Iraq kicks UN inspectors out of country in violation of Gulf War cease fire and resumes WOMD programs

2001 Iraqi intelligence agent meets with Mohamed Atta in Prague/no direct link to 9/11 proven yet but strong evidence of an Iraqi-Al Qaeda relationship

Before September 11th all we knew was what it felt like to get kicked in the shins. Now we know what it feels like to take one in the family jewels. Does anyone want to get hit there again?

Ole & Lena OK, Ole & Ole No Way

Dennis Prager's column at WorldNetDaily explores the squemishness that even good liberals have about PDA among members of the other team and includes a bit of local flava.

Tuesday, September 03, 2002

A Cat Without a Grin

In the spirit of Labor Day and seduced by the grandiose adjectives used in its advertisement, I went and saw the 3-hour long, abstract documentary about the decline of Left, entitled "A Grin Without a Cat" at the Oak Street Cinema. It was directed by someone named Chris Marker. According to reports he's French, so I assume his last name is pronounced "Mahr-Khair." (And I wish someday I'm in the position of introducing Mr. Marker to a crowd of people, whereby I will pronounce it Anglicized as "Mark-er," he'll indignantly correct me with "mahr-khair!" and I will reply "gesundheit.")

I knew going in that the radically pro-Marxist text and extreme Leftist conclusions of this movie would be contrary, and probably offensive, to my political sensibilities. In other words, it was going to be something similar to American Beauty. I certainly didn't want to be subjected to that torturous experience again (who would?), but I hoped other ancillary benefits would be present. Specifically, I hoped this documentary would contain film footage of historical events that I hadn't seen before and from which I could draw my own conclusions. I wanted to see some of the icons of the left, presented in all of their glory, doing whatever it was they did to achieve their status. For example, I'd like to see footage of Che Guevara giving a speech (or just sitting down and modeling for his line of t-shirts). I'd like to see Mao Tse Tung encouraging his gray pajama-clad minions to arrest anyone with a college degree or wearing eye glasses. Or perhaps just witness Ed Asner presiding over a meeting of the Screen Actor's Guild, circa 1977.

Given the source of the film's images was purported to be "footage that ranges from TV reports to propaganda to guerilla newsreels" and given Senor Marker's ethnicity and probable reliance on foreign media, I had confidence that I would see new images of old events. And, to some extent this was true. There was indeed footage of Che Guevara, not actually talking, but strutting around jungles in Cuba, the Congo, and Bolivia (with a voice over narration by none other than Fidel Castro). There also was footage of his dead body lying in state at some rural hospital in Bolivia, which was briefly riveting (and that image cries out to be made into a t-shirt or at least the back pocket design on a pair of acid washed jeans).

Another scene of note opened the movie. In cockpit camera footage of American pilots on a bombing run in Vietnam. They were attempting to destroy an enemy base in the jungle though the dropping of ordinance. The immediate impression I came away with was how difficult this job was. Flying at even low altitudes, the jungle seemed enormous, and trying to hit a couple of buildings, while rushing by at several hundred miles per hour seemed near impossible. (Of course, these were before the days of smart bombs.) I'm not sure of what the success rate was of such a mission, but most certainly it was low. I think this explains why the pilot featured in the movie seemed so happy, almost giddy, when he saw people running about after his bombs hit. Granted, his enthusiasm and pronouncement "boy this is fun!" seemed in poor taste. And the movie was using these images to portray the pilot, and the society which bred him, as evil and inhuman. But to me that reaction was entirely human. This was a veteran pilot, clearly desensitized to the task he was engaged in, doing a difficult job with few opportunities to confirm success. It seemed almost any soldier, in any war (even the "good" wars), would have reacted similarly. Yes, he was killing people and then celebrating, something generally frowned upon by the Christian God (as well as Chris Marker). And on a superficial level it is an incongruity. But when you consider his personal context and you consider that those he was killing were involved in a campaign that would ultimately lead to the deaths and suffering of millions of innocents, well then his actions and his enthusiasm are understandable, and can even be considered heroic.

Unfortunately, most of the movie did not provide such clear cut opportunities for identifying the logical flaws of the socialist movement. Huge tracts of time were consumed with footage of speeches from events such as the 1967 Central Committee Meeting of the Czechoslovakian Communist Party or of some obscure German Communist opining on the true causes of a rift that formed between two other obscure Communists involved in the Hungarian Postal Worker Revolt of 1954. There was also much time devoted to a series of student uprisings in the streets of Paris, which occurred sometime in the 1960s. The film assumed the viewer would know the background, so no time was spent explaining this (and I assume it's not worth investigating, I mean they're French after all). But what was striking was the site of hundreds of youths running around the streets of Paris, throwing rocks, shouting expletives, overturning and burning cars--and all of them wearing fashionably cut sport coats and slacks (really). Again, not knowing the background here, it seemed as if this was some rebellion over the new, wider lapel or a backlash against the growing acceptance of wearing a paisley tie with a pin stripe jacket.

In any regard, after 3 hours plus (including an intermission), several naps, a box of popcorn and about a gallon of diet coke, I emerged from the theater with a palpable sense of....nothingness. Usually movies affect my mood in some way, I'm inspired, thrilled, depressed, enraged. But not this time. I wasn't even inspired to ruminate upon its meaning on the car ride back, in fact it was so unremarkable I clearly remember getting caught up in overanalyzing a Thin Lizzy song on the radio (Who are those boys? Why are they back in town?).

However, the movie has not left me totally unaffected, as I've honestly had nightmares of it the past two nights. They consist of me sitting in a theater watching a black and white movie with a droning, deadly serious narration that goes on interminably. For whatever reason, this produces high anxiety, which is followed by panic when I realize that what I'm doing is totally inconsequential and that it's never, ever going to end. I suspect this is what it's like to be a member of the Wellstone campaign.

Making the NY Times Proud

Not to be outdone by their brethren on the east coast, the Minneapolis Star Tribune proves that they can spin poll results with the best of them in their ongoing opposition to military action against Iraq. Apparently, a plethora of editorials and letters to the editors in the paper just haven't been enough to convince the majority of Minnesotans to oppose a pre-emptive attack. The results of a poll published on Sunday would seem to indicate rather substantial support for President Bush's position on Iraq but that's not the way the Strib chose to report it. According to the poll 54% of Minnesotans think the US should attack Iraq, while 32% do not, and 14% have no opinion. 75% believe that the president should get congressional approval before an attack, 19% do not think it necessary, and 6% have no opinion. The Strib chose to interpret these numbers this way:

A slim majority of Minnesotans favor military action against Iraq, but three out of four said President Bush should first get congressional approval, according to a new poll.

While 54% may be a slim majority of the total respondents it is a clear majority of those who offered an opinion on the matter. The 54% in favor of military action translates into 63% of those who hold an opinion. Apparently the Strib groups the 14% with no opinion in with those opposed when arriving at the "slim majority" characterization. Using that logic it would be just as easy to say that less than one third of Minnesotans oppose military action against Iraq.

The truly surprising and heartening results of the poll are in Bush's approval numbers. In a state that has not gone for a Republican presidential candidate in thirty years Bush has an overall approval rating of 64%. While the paper is quick to point out that this is down from last November it still is a very solid number for GW. On the war on terrorism world wide 75% of Minnesotans approve of Bush's actions and perhaps most shocking of all 85% approve of the administration's actions to fight terrorism on the domestic front. This despite the best efforts of the Star Tribune to portray John Ashcroft as a Constitution shredding Nazi slightly to the right of Attila the Hun.