Friday, February 28, 2003

"That is why they so dislike the living process of life."

"...I'll show you their books: with them one is always a 'victim of the environment'--and nothing else! Their favorite phrase! Hence directly that if society itself is normally set up, all crimes will at once dissappear, because there will be no reason for protesting and everyone will instantly become righteous. Nature isn't taken into account, nature is driven out, nature is not supposed to be! With them it's not mankind developing all along in a historical, living way that will finally turn by itself into a normal society, but, on the contrary, a social system, coming out of some mathematical head, will at once organize the whole of mankind and instantly make it righteous and sinless, sooner than any living process, without any historical and living way!

That's why they have such an instinctive dislike of history: 'there's nothing in it but outrage and stupidity'--and everything is explained by stupidity alone! That's why they so dislike the living process of life: there's no need for the living soul! The living soul will demand life, the living soul won't listent to mehanics, the living soul is is suspicious, the living soul is retrograde!

--Razumikhin to Porfiry, regarding socialism, in Dostoevesky's Crime and Punishment (1865). Sound like anyone we know?

Separated At Birth?

Diminutive Howard Stern groper Beetlejuice, and not-so-diminutive Twins groper Kirby Puckett.

Thursday, February 27, 2003

Warning: High Geek Content Ahead

Things I Learned While Switching

- The retail Apple Store looks cool and edgy and all white like a Gap ad, but ultimately it's a lot like Best Buy: You get a person much younger than you repeatedly trying to sell you an extended warranty package. I made the mistake of telling the young lady that I was switching from a PC, and that once again set her off into a condescending attempt to sell me a three-year warranty. Hey honey: I was playing Missile Command on an Apple II in the high school computer room when you were in three-cornered pants ... I may just know what I'm doing here.

- Never ever update your accounting software. Intuit manages to worsen their accounting products, year-in, year-out. Plus, my 1997 version of QuickBooks 4.0 for PC was fully convertible to QuickBooks 4.0 for Macintosh. Sweet. It's likely that if you move beyond 4.0 on either platform, you can't convert between platforms. It certainly is the case with QuickBooks 5.0 for Mac.

- eBay was the secret star of my conversion. I was able to get QuickBooks for Mac at a discounted rate and was also able to buy a (superior, according to a tech guy at my ISP) Cisco 678 router for my new DSL service rather than go with the Actiontec routers that Qwest now leases you. Not only that, but online bidding combines gambling and pure capitalism into a unique high.

- I did have to switch the type of DSL service I had and doing so reminded me that Qwest continues to bite the big one. Drinks are on me when they finally go out of business due to incompetence or accounting irregularities. 1) Calling their customer service twice resulted in me being disconnected after being in the voice-mail maze for five minutes. 2) They told me my new DSL service would be ready in "five business days, maybe three." When I checked back in five business days, my order due date had been changed to seven business days. 3) When I placed my DSL upgrade order, I specifically told them that I did not need a new modem. They sent me one anyway, which is sure to result in me being over billed and once again spending too much time in their voice-mail hell. 4) Five hours after finally getting my DSL up and running, my phone service - DSL and regular phone line - was shut down altogether, prompting another call to Qwest. Clowns.

- Flat screen monitors are easy on the eyes. My old monitor screen looks all gray in comparison. Plus, the old monitor was the size of a car. I have a crew of five guys coming over on Saturday to help move it out of my apartment.

- Macintosh's new operating system, OS X, is slick and fast once you get used to how it works. I did have to reload it after throwing a bunch of (non-pirated of course heh heh) software onto it. But since then it's only been two lock-ups in four days, as opposed to the six-per-day I would get with Windows ME.

- Apple's iTunes is amazing. The songs are concisely and clearly organized and it has a simple, effective search engine. I typed "Gerry" into it and it immediately brought up "Right Down the Line" for my use. You can copy and paste an Internet broadcast's URL and iTunes plays it for you. I haven't explored their Net radio presets, but they do have Metal Gods. Awesome. (And oh yeah, at the bottom of the iTunes display it tells me this: 297 songs, 18.5 hours, 1.08 GB of music - in your face, recording industry.)

- My ISP rules. And it seems most of their expert, friendly tech guys use Macs at home. Seems I made the right decision.

Every Neighborhood Needs A Cop

This morning I was listening to a talk radio abomination called The Doug Stephan Show. It was 5:20am okay? You find something better to listen to.

Anyway the host was speaking about the sad news that Mister Rogers had died. He praised Mr. Rogers as an upstanding and honorable man who taught children many valuable lessons. I couldn't agree more.

But then he tried to tie Mr.Rogers in with the imminent war with Iraq, asking if we wouldn't be better off to have Mr. Rogers as our president. He mentioned that in 1991 during the Gulf War a poll asked children who they wished was president and Mr. Rogers grabbed something like 80% of their vote. The host then intoned, "You know sometimes there is a lot of wisdom in the words of a child."

I know talk like this is silly and probably not even worth getting in to but there are a decent number of people out there who share such naive beliefs (a few weeks ago there was a much publicized photo of an anti-war protester in rural Minnesota holding a sign the read What Would Mr. Roberts Do? obviously an example of this type of sentiment however brain addled the protester was). Wouldn't it great if we lived in a world where Mr. Rogers was president and it was just like his neighborhood?

The problem with this world view is that it ignores an essential ingredient in the harmony of Mr. Roger's neighborhood.

Officer Clemmons, the cop.

Yes there was a cop in Mr. Roger's neighborhood. From this one can infer that there was or had been at some point crime in the neighborhood as well. When the new neighbors moved in next door, turned their house into a meth lab, started dealing off the front porch, and menancingly brandished shotguns and shouted obsenities whenever Fred got too close to the property line he didn't invite them over so he could show them how to tie their shoes or offer them a nifty button up sweater as a peace offering. He grabbed the phone, called 911, and soon Officer Clemons and the tactical strike force were battering down the neighbor's door and hauling them off to the big house.

Mr. Roger's neighborhood needed a cop. Don't you think the real world does too?

The Many Moods of Mark Dayton

Great picture of Mark Dayton in the Elder’s post below, wearing a variation of his customary pop-eyed, disconnected, goofy grin. Mysterious, bizarre facial contortions like this haven’t been seen since Dennis Quaid’s performance in “Great Balls of Fire.” Quaid’s comically inept attempts at portraying the down home country charm and brass of Jerry Lee Lewis resulted in him conjuring up a face not associated with any previously identified human emotion. I can best describe it as the look of a not particularly bright chimpanzee attempting to complete the Sunday New York Times Crossword, while sitting downwind from a cattle rendering plant operating in a manure lagoon.

But at least Quaid has the excuse he was acting. Yes, an acting performance that should permanently eliminate him from ever taking up a chair next to James Lipton Sunday nights on Bravo. In fact, an acting performance that should permanently eliminate him from appearing on the Humane Society’s Sunday night Pet of the Week segment on St. Paul Community Access Cable. But he was acting nonetheless. So what is Mark Dayton’s excuse?

His facial patterns evoke surprise, confusion, nervous excitement, and profound existential angst. Perhaps an understandable mix when you’re an elitist millionaire engaged in class warfare rhetoric while condemning the President over his position on national defense. But to use the same face when calling bingo at an old folks home!? What was he thinking? I suspect one or more of the following conditions applied:

* The good Senator was thinking to himself “yes, this is what the middle class does with their spare time, this is how the middle class behaves, I’m really getting in touch with the middle class here” and getting excited about how confident he’ll feel next time he’s up giving a speech on how he needs to raise their taxes.

* Not being intimately familiar with bingo, he was genuinely shocked by the number he was calling out. When the photo was taken he’d just finished exclaiming, “B-11! My God, what are the odds!” (Note to Senator Dayton, the odds of any individual number being called start at 75 to 1 and decline from there as the game goes on. In other words, not shocking, so you can relax).

* Not understanding what it meant for someone to shout out “Bingo!” during a game, Senator Dayton thought someone spotted Ringo Starr in the room and he was involuntarily letting forth an excited shriek.

* Just as the photo was taken, Senator Dayton was transitioning from being startled and confused to being mildly shocked and titillated, after an aide explained why the crowd shouted back “Oooooh 69” after the Senator called the number 0-69.

As he's quickly established himself as the smile on the Mona Lisa of Minnesota politics, I can't say which of the above motivations were behind that photo. But if there's ever a biographical film made of Senator Dayton's life, Dennis Quaid has to be the star, as he'll have found yet another use for that crossword puzzling, stench averse chimpanzee face. (Now THAT'S method acting.)
Mark Dayton Finds His Voice

There have been some questions raised in recent months about Senator Mark Dayton's leadership role and concern about Dayton's public appearances. We now can rest easy knowing that Dayton has found his true calling. Calling bingo numbers at nursing homes:

Nice to know that Mark will have a career in the private sector to fall back on after his days in the senate are over.

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

The Glass Is Half Empty

Lured by the promise of a free commemorative Guinness pub glass I dropped by Keegan's Irish Pub o'er in Nordeast Minneapolis last Friday night to participate in the great Guinness toast. People from all over the world (excepting I would imagine France) raised their pints of Guinness in a symbol of unity and goodwill. Actually it more of a gesture of "this beer good, me drink more," but it still was an awe inspiring moment and I swear I saw a tear of unadulterated joy forming in Saint Paul's eye. Of course he was probably just happy that the lousy band had ceased playing during the toast and given us all a moment of peace.

Unfortunately, there were no Guinness glasses to be had. We were told that a snowstorm in Indianapolis had delayed the truck which was apparently operating on a JIT delivery system. But we were given vouchers that could be redeemed on Tuesday night when we would also be able to receive the second commemorative glass in the series. Although we were a bit skeptical that the evening's events had all been an elaborate plot contrived by ol' man Keegan in an effort to lure us back to the bar on Tuesday, we accepted our fate and agreed to return then to pick up our booty.

Last night I arrived, voucher in hand, ready to commence with the free glass bonanza that would shortly come my way. This time I was just a bit late as all of the second edition of glasses had already been handed out. But my voucher was honored and I was able to pick up the glass that was rightfully due me from Friday. Although I had been expecting two glasses at least I now had one in my possession and all was right with my world.

Tuesday's are trivia nights at the bar and Saint Paul and myself teamed up to claim second place in the contest, thoroughly thrashing the cabal lead by J.B. Doubtless in the process. We each received a coupon for a free drink as a result of our achievement, providing a nice cap for the evening.

In my car on the way home I pondered the long and arduous road I had to travel to earn my pub glass. The beers I had to drink. The trivia questions I had to answer. The crappy music I had to listen to. But it had all been worth it. For this moment. Just me and my glass....

My glass! F***! My glass was sitting on the table back at the bar. All that for nothing.

I guess there's always next Tuesday...
Dan Rather's Network of Evil Weasels

Given the likelihood that CBS and Dan Rather had to make great journalistic concessions in order to secure their exclusive interview with Saddam Hussein, it’s interesting to note the following Dan Rather quote, on why he was selected for the interview (as quoted in the Washington Post):

"We made a point of saying to [Saddam] that we keep our word," Rather said. "We do what we say we will do and won't do what we say we won't do. They came out of that with the experience that we are who we say we are."

Meaning, I suppose, that Rather and CBS have proven themselves to be reliable mouthpieces for Iraqi propaganda in the past and Saddam can rely on them again.

Also, from the Post article, it turns out Dan Rather had someone working on the inside, whispering a personal recommendation into Saddam Hussein’s ear:

CBS acknowledged that former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, who is prominent in the global anti-war movement and met with Saddam on Sunday, put in a good word for Rather in helping secure the interview. Clark has known Rather for a long time, said CBS News spokeswoman Sandra Genelius.

That provides some rather unsettling insight into Dan Rather’s network of contacts. Ramsey Clark, the former Attorney General of the United States (under LBJ, so I’m not sure that counts). “Prominent in the antiwar movement” and occasional houseguest of Saddam Hussein. And, oh yes, they failed to mention he’s also currently engaged in a campaign to impeach the President.

And a man who said the following in a personal letter to the UN Security Council:

There is no rational basis to believe Iraq is a threat to the United States, or any other country. The reason to attack Iraq must be found elsewhere.

[President Bush’s] motives may include to save a failing Presidency which has converted a healthy economy and treasury surplus into multi-trillion dollar losses; to fulfill the dream, which will become a nightmare, of a new world order to serve special interests in the U.S.; to settle a family grudge against Iraq; to weaken the Arab nation, one people at a time; to strike a Muslim nation to weaken Islam; to protect Israel, or make its position more dominant in the region; to secure control of Iraq’s oil to enrich U.S. interests, further dominate oil in the region and control oil prices. Aggression against Iraq for any of these purposes is criminal and a violation of a great many international conventions and laws.

Add the sentence “Isn’t that right, your Excellency?” at the end of that rambling, dementia-fueled, left wing wet dream of a statement and I think you just might have Dan Rather’s first "question" to the Iraqi dictator. I guess we'll all find out tonight on 60 Minutes II.

Actually I won't, since I'll be watching the Gophers basketball team at Michigan St. I prefer to see contests where both sides haven't colluded to dictate an outcome in advance.

Swing The Casbah

"Rock Music”. Sounds funny to our ears, like “french-fried potatoes” or “hamburger sandwiches”. Sounds like something you might hear on a 50’s TV show you watch for camp value.

When someone says “music” is almost assumed they are referring to rock. Go look at 90% of your friend’s CD collections and you’ll find rock, rock and more rock (with the occasional jazz CD thrown in for good measure).

Our music tastes were basically set by the previous generation of baby boomers, who did away with their previous generations tastes of cocktail music, crooners and pop-jazz. In it’s place came the more “authentic” blues-based rock that resonated with a young generation experimenting (and making a lifestyle of) drugs and sex.

When I think back to my childhood, I remember hearing basically nothing but rock. I remember in about 1976 playing T-Ball at the Excelsior Common and hearing “More Than A Feeling” from the new band Boston. From then on, rock was ubiquitous.

And tiresome. Local station KQRS still plays Boston and Foghat and Bob Seger and the rest, a playlist that was last updated in 1987 with Greg Allman’s “I’m No Angel”.

With this background in mind, it is laudable that someone so completely non-rock like Norah Jones should win so big at the Grammys--beating out someone still carrying the rock flag--Bruce,

Norah’ music is adult music. Big melodies, sultry singing, relaxed grooves. Music that was commonplace before the Boomers replaced it.

She is currently being savaged by critics on two fronts. One is from the rockers who say that she didn’t write many of the songs on the record, like Bruce did, therefore she isn’t a “Complete Artist”. The other is from the jazz snobs, who say her music is watered-down pap and her piano playing is rudimentary compared to Chick Corea’s.

To the former,I say we really need to get over this Bob Dylan mold of singer/songwriter. Before this paradigm was established in the 1970’s, singers would choose from a wide array of writers and record the best they found as well as their own; they didn’t think it was some kind of badge of authenticity to have to write each and every song themselves.

To the latter, yes, Chick Corea is a better pianist. No one is debating that. But the appreciation of talent like that takes patience and learning. Most people won’t sit down once for a listen and find it as enjoyable as one listen to Nora. We are talking about popular entertainment here, after all.

It’s starting to look like a trend with the industry recognizing popular music that is not rock (and no, I’m not including rap). The entire O’Brother phenomenon from last year has introduced thousands to music they would have sneered at only a few years ago.

Now some adults might actually discover that rock is for kids and stoners and there is a whole other world to be discovered.

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Access Is a Curse

With the news that Dan Rather has scored a 3 hour interview with Saddam Hussein, I’m reminded of an article by Franklin Foer that appeared in the October 28 edition of The New Republic. It detailed the contortions the Western press must go through, and concessions it must make, in order to get access to anyone or anything within the Iraqi borders. Even though the journalists know they are being mislead, deceived, and used, they often report Iraqi propaganda, without qualification.

The reason? So they can continue to have access. If they report anything not approved by the Ministry of Information, they are subject to disciplinary measures. This can range anywhere from, at the extreme, death (see the article for information on the British journalist Farzad Bazoft) down to expulsion from the country, of both the journalist and news organization in general. The latter is the pressure point for CBS and if these rules of the game are still in place (and I'm sure they are), there’s no chance Rather is going to even attempt to ask the hard questions. According to the New Republic:

In Iraq, high-ranking network functionaries endlessly court the Ministry of Information so they will be well-positioned when they need to get their reporters in. In part these trips consist of network execs setting up meetings with Iraqi officials to try to persuade them that the networks are not sending CIA stooges. And in part they consist of network execs promising the Iraqi regime that they will cover its propaganda.

To stay on the right side of the regime, many reporters on the Baghdad beat take the path of least resistance: They mimic the Baath Party line.

There's a quid pro quo for being there," says Peter Arnett, who worked the Iraq beat for CNN for a decade. "You go in and they control what you do. ... So you have no option other than to report the opinion of the government of Iraq."

Given this, I think it’s likely that the Iraqi regime selected CBS for this interview, precisely because it felt CBS would be most sympathetic to their position, or at least most willing to blindly report their propaganda as news. With a war coming up, CBS needs access to Baghdad. Attempting to expose Hussein’s deception in advance is a secondary consideration to CBS, second to making sure they’re not scooped by Aaron Brown and Peter Jennings, reporting from under a bed at the Al Rasheed hotel as the anti air craft guns start to go off. Again from The New Republic:

When I asked CNN's Jordan to explain why his network is so devoted to maintaining a perpetual Baghdad presence, he listed two reasons: "First, because it's newsworthy; second, because there's an expectation that if anybody is in Iraq, it will be CNN." His answer reveals the fundamental attitude of most Western media: Access to Baghdad is an end in itself, regardless of the intellectual or moral caliber of the journalism such access produces. An old journalistic aphorism holds "access is a curse." The Iraqi experience proves it can be much worse than that.

By "much worse" I'm assuming Foer refers to the complicity of the American media in being used by the nation's enemies to weaken our collective resolve. But then again, the CBS prime time line up may have sufficiently weaked our resolve to fight already.

Monday, February 24, 2003

Must NOT See TV

Surfing through the channels a few moments ago I happened upon Phil Donahue's show on MSNBC. His only guest?

Rosie O'Donnell.

Rosie and Phil. Together. Does it get any less appealing?

Nashville Calling

I heard a brilliant new country song on the radio on Saturday. It's called "Have You Forgotten?" by Daryl Worley.

Call it jingoistic and redneck if you will, but you can't deny the truth of it. It WAS a mistake to stop showing the footage of the towers and there is more truth in one stanza of this song than in the entire earnest rendition of the incredibly dated "London Calling" by the Super Star Rockers we saw on the Grammys last night.

Now Daryl has been on my Hate List for some months now due to his wussy mega hit "I Miss My Friend" a pathetic, sappy piece of drivel aimed squarely at the Country Moms demographic ("He's so sensitive...he really misses his friend"). Sorry Daryl, but men usually miss the sex, numsayin'?

Anyhow, he has hit paydirt with this one...It's kind of like an updated Fightin' Side Of Me.

Have You Forgotten?
I hear people saying we don't need this war
I say there's some things worth fighting for
What about our freedom and this piece of ground?
We didn't get to keep 'em by backing down
They say we don't realize the mess we're getting in
Before you start preaching
Let me ask you this my friend

Have you forgotten how it felt that day
To see your homeland under fire
And her people blown away?
Have you forgotten when those towers fell?
We had neighbors still inside
Going through a living hell
And you say we shouldn't worry 'bout Bin Laden
Have you forgotten?

They took all the footage off my T.V.
Said it's too disturbing for you and me
It'll just breed anger that's what the experts say
If it was up to me I'd show it every day
Some say this country's just out looking for a fight
After 9/11 man I'd have to say that's right

Have you forgotten how it felt that day
To see your homeland under fire
And her people blown away?
Have you forgotten when those towers fell?
We had neighbors still inside
Going through a living hell
And you say we shouldn't worry 'bout Bin Laden
Have you forgotten?

I've been there with the soldiers
Who've gone away to war
And you can bet they remember
Just what they're fighting for

Have you forgotten all the people killed?
Some went down like heroes in that Pennsylvania field
Have you forgotten about our Pentagon?
All the loved ones that we lost
And those left to carry on
Don't you tell me not to worry about Bin Laden
Have you forgotten?

Have you forgotten?
Have you forgotten?
We're Trying To Run A Civilization Here

This one's going out to all the women out there. You might not like what I have to say but it needs to be said. You need to work out your public transaction etiquette. What am I speaking of?

Today on the way to work I stopped off at an outlet of the evil corporate globalist oppressors Starbucks for my morning java fix. All I wanted was my usual drip coffee of the day. Total time for me to complete transaction from the time of order to the receipt of my change (paid in cash) and coffee: around two minutes tops. Total time for the woman in front of me to complete multiple transactions paying for each one separately: pushing fifteen minutes. She probably was picking up coffee for the gals down at the office and each one had given her money for their purchase. Rather than just ordering the whole batch and paying for it all at once she ordered and paid for each one individually. "Okay now I need a low fat mocha java with sprinkles. How much? (cashier rings it up takes her money and gives her change) Now I need a double espresso shot...." I was behind her fuming. Then in an act that unknowingly brought her perilously close to bodily harm she wrote a check for her portion of the order. A check? Here's an idea, write a frickin' check for the whole frickin' order and then have your girlfriends pay you. Yes, one of you might not get that frickin' seventeen cents in change that you have coming but so frickin' what?

If this had been an isolated incident I might be able to let it pass but this is the second time this has happened to me at a coffee shop lately and I've also experienced the same thing at Target a couple of times. One such occasion I was on my way home from work feeling like hell from a bad cold and I stopped by Target for some cold medicine.That's all I wanted. Get in, get out, go home and crash. I swear that this older woman in front of required three separate transactions for the five items she was buying. And one of em' totaled $1.29. I damn near threw two dollars in her face and shouted, "Here's your frickin' money! Now get the hell out of my way and take that Carmex that you're buying for Marge with you!"

So here's the deal ladies. If you insist on shopping for your friends (the entire concept is foreign to men; the question "Hey Fred how about picking up some duct tape for me when you're at Menards?" would be quickly met by "Hey a-hole pick up your own frickin' duct tape.") can you at least have the common courtesy to limit it to one transaction? There's this rather amazing tool available called a receipt which shows you the exact cost for each item that you purchase which allows you to determine how much each person owes. Believe it or not there are other people waiting behind you who have better things to do with their lives.

While we're on the subject one more bit of advice for woman. Carry some cash. Writing checks at McDonalds and Taco Bell is not cute. It's stupid. Cash machines are everywhere these days so there is no excuse not to have cash on hand for the small daily transactions. The impatient men of the world thank you.

Riders On The Storm

Bored to tears with Roger Hedgecock filling in for Rush today? Check out Great White's rider. It's pretty interesting, especially page 8 (!) where they list the toppings that must be on the pizza that must be in the dressing room after the show.

The finger-pointing has begun in earnest and it will be interesting to see how this plays out.

The attention to detail in the rider is startling when compared to how little attention was paid to setting up pyros 5 feet below a flammable ceiling.

Saturday, February 22, 2003

History, Not Your Story

Later today I’m going to spend 4 hours of my life (or as Tom Daschle might say, “invest” 4 hours of my life) watching the Civil War movie “Gods and Generals”. I’m seeing it despite the Roger Ebert review (cited below) and the near unanimous beating it’s taking from the rest of the critical press. Most of these critics seems to be judging this movie not on its own merits, but rather because it’s not the Civil War movie they’d like to see. The movie where 19th-century men, institutions, warfare and culture are portrayed through the disapproving lens of 21st-century morality and social standards, as articulated in the pages of the Nation magazine or the Star Tribune editorial page. While that may indeed be an interesting movie, one where all Southerners are racist, ignorant war criminals and all Northerners are racist, ignorant, profiteers, it’s not history! It’s pure fiction and the worst form of sneering generational hubris (wasn’t everybody so stupid in 1861!).

Gods & Generals is based on a book, which is a history of battles and the men who fought them. Granted, it is a narrative history, meaning the author freely embellishes some of the details. But there is a commitment and a responsibility to portray the overall facts. And while it may be a lousy movie, that judgment needs to be based on its effectiveness in telling this story, not because it didn’t properly explore all the revisionist theories favored by the critics.

I’m also seeing Gods & Generals despite the fact that its predecessor, “Gettysburg,” was basically a 4-hour-long documentary on shockingly bad fake beards. Gettysburg featured some of the worst on-screen facial hair since Charleton Heston was making talking ape pictures. Or since Charleton Heston was seen purposefully striding down mountains carrying stone tablets. Jeff Daniels looked as if his upper lip was engaged in coital relations with a sick ferret. Tom Berenger appeared as if a badger crawled onto his face and died, yet retained a death grip on his nostrils.

Their two glued-on furry mugs are featured in this poster. Unfortunately history never allowed their two characters, Col. Joshua Chamberlain and Gen. James Longstreet, to actually share a scene together. But if somehow that could be arranged, that’s one piece of revisionism I’d enthusiastically applaud, as I may need some laughs come about hour three.

Friday, February 21, 2003

Dead Man Writing?

For years, I confused Ebert and Siskel--in fact, I thought for a long time it was Ebert that had died. For all the creativity he uses in his diss of Gods and Generals, I’m not sure so I was wrong.

For someone that can barely breathe a negative word about the majority of Hollywood blockbusters, he has plenty of bile for G&Gs. He starts out with a typically snotty potshot:

Here is a Civil War movie that Trent Lott might enjoy. Less enlightened than "Gone With the Wind," obsessed with military strategy, impartial between South and North, religiously devout, it waits 70 minutes before introducing the first of its two speaking roles for African Americans; "Stonewall" Jackson assures his black cook that the South will free him, and the cook looks cautiously optimistic. If World War II were handled this way, there'd be hell to pay.

Who says Lott jokes ever get old? It probably had them in stitches down on Lake Shore Drive.

“Obsessed with military strategy...”Aint it a movie about war? I would hope there would be an “obsession” like this in a movie about WAR.

I wasn’t aware that if a movie waits too long for the black actors to speak that something sinister was at work. Would he like every movie that has anything to do with blacks to begin with several dozen African Americans chatting away? And what does being “religiously devout” (a term he uses as a clear put-down) have to do with when the black actors speak? Also note the use of scare quotes on the name Stonewall. Ebert probably refers to him as the “So-called ‘Stonewall’ Jackson” when he is out with his lefty pals. And what he means by that WWII reference I have no idea.

Ebert continues:

The Northerners, one Southerner explains, are mostly Republican profiteers who can go home to their businesses and families if they're voted out of office after the conflict, while the Southerners are fighting for their homes. Slavery is not the issue, in this view, because it would have withered away anyway, although a liberal professor from Maine (Jeff Daniels) makes a speech explaining it is wrong. So we get that cleared up right there, or for sure at Strom Thurmond's birthday party.

What? I thought the standard liberal position was that slavery was NOT the reason for the Civil War, so you would expect Ebert to agree with the way it was apparently handled in this scene. He instead sees this as an example of the movie’s un-PC take on what happened and why is is worthy of our contempt.

Much is made of the film's total and obsessive historical accuracy; the costumes, flags, battle plans and ordnance are all doubtless flawless, although there could have been no Sgt. "Buster" Kilrain in the 20th Maine, for the unavoidable reason that "Buster" was never used as a name until Buster Keaton used it.

This is the best Gotcha! he can come up with? And when did he become an expert on historical names and when they were first used? Personally, I find (again that word) “obsessive” historical accuracy to be paramount in a historical movie, don’t you? Ebert dismisses it out of hand.

Gods and Generals is the kind of movie beloved by people who never go to the movies, because they are primarily interested in something else--the Civil War, for example--and think historical accuracy is a virtue instead of an attribute. The film plays like a special issue of American Heritage. Ted Turner is one of its prime movers and gives himself an instantly recognizable cameo appearance.

Oh, right, those kind of people. In other words, people with some discernment who have other interests ("obsessions" he may call them) and who are not in knee-dropped reverence every time some celluloid shit comes out that the fawning press deems “important”. Ebert apparently prefers movies with no historical accuracy that feature plenty of minorities speaking early and often and a general treatment of history as a canvas to construct The Way He Would Have Liked It.
Unable To Fight On Two Fronts

I'm a bit surprised that the news that the U.S. is sending troops to the Philippines to actively fight the Abu Sayyaf guerillas is not getting more play. After all this situation seems to fight right in with one of standard lines of opposition to military intervention; ______ (fill in the blank with appropriate country) is going to be another Vietnam.

Our recent military involvment in the Philippines started with U.S. forces serving as advisors to the Filipino troops. Now the U.S. troops will likely be engaging in combat operations against the Abu Sayyaf. In jungles. In South East Asia. My God for the anti-war left the parallels should be glaringly obvious.

You don't suppose they're too "distracted" by events in Iraq do you?

Thursday, February 20, 2003

We? Don't Drag The Rest of Us Down With You Molly

Whenever the thought of undertaking a rigorous Fisking of Molly Ivins creeps into my head (which occurs damn near every time I read her column) I usually dismiss the idea out of hand. There's something about the concept that's unsettling. Perhaps the word to describe the action is just a little bit too close to another verb that conjures up visuals so disturbing as to leave one scarred for life. Or perhaps it's just that her columns are so disjointed and illogical that the idea of having to go through them more than once is more than my intellect can bear. But every once in while Molly rises to such heights of absurdity and in this case hypocrisy that I have no choice but to respond. Sorry brain we're going in.

Molly's latest column is called Cheese-eating surrender monkeys, eh? and surprise surprise she comes to the defense of the French who she feels have been unfairly bad mouthed by conservatives pundits lately.

George Will saw fit to include in his latest Newsweek column this joke: "How many Frenchmen does it take to defend Paris? No one knows, it's never been tried."

That was certainly amusing.

One million, four hundred thousand French soldiers were killed during World War I. As a result, there weren't many Frenchmen left to fight in World War II. Nevertheless, 100,000 French soldiers lost their lives trying to stop Adolf Hitler.

Molly's assertion that the French weren't able to defend their country in 1940 because so many of their soldiers had been killed in the First World War is laughable. Do you suppose the Germans suffered a few casualties? (1.6 million dead) How about the British? (660k dead) The Russians? (1.7 million dead) Yet all of these countries were able fight on long after (and suffer many times the losses of) the French in the Second World War.

On behalf of every one of those 100,000 men, I would like to thank Mr. Will for his clever joke. They were out-manned, out-gunned, out-generaled and, above all, out-tanked. They got slaughtered, but they stood and they fought. Ha-ha, how funny.

One out of four ain't bad is it Molly?

Out-manned? Not in terms of numbers. Although she chooses to ignore them the British, Belgian, and Dutch forces who along with the French faced the Germans on the Western Front had almost twice as many men as the Germans did. Now if she means out-manned in terms of the average German soldier being better trained, better motivated, and better led than the average French poliu she might be accurate. I have a hunch that's not what she meant.

Out-gunned? Again not in terms of numbers and not necessarily in quality either. The Germans 88mm gun wasn't used to the devastating effect it later would be in the sweep through France in 1940.

Out-generaled? Of course. But is this an excuse for the French? Don't we celebrate our successful military generals as American heroes and a product of our country? In the same way doesn't the failure of the French high command reflect on the failure of France?

And finally, out-tanked? Once again not in terms of numbers and again not in quality either. The best German tanks came out after the Battle of France and it wasn't the numbers of tanks or their superiority that led to the German success it was the manner in which they were deployed and the superior tactics the Germans used.

In the few places where they had tanks, they held splendidly.

This is nonsense. The French (sometimes acting with the British) were able to mount a few counterattacks using tanks that enjoyed brief moments of success before being repulsed and crushed by the Germans. But they were poorly coordinated and amounted to far too little far too late. It wasn't that the French didn't have tanks in enough places it was that they had them in too many places, scattered in small groups alongside infantry rather than being concentrated to deliver striking blows.

Relying on the Maginot Line was one of the great military follies of modern history, but it does not reflect on the courage of those who died for France in 1940. For 18 months after that execrable defeat, the United States of America continued to have cordial diplomatic relations with Nazi Germany.

And your point is what ??? For some reason I can't imagine Molly circa 1940 calling for immediate US military intervention in France even though we were not at war with Germany.

The column then starts to unravel as unconnected thoughts begin leaping around in Molly's brain:

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

This really doesn't even deserve a response. The gas chambers in Nazi Germany and the forced collectivization of the Ukraine were not nearly as bad as the British Raj? The woman really scares me at times.

Surrender monkeys? Try Dien Bien Phu. Yes, the French did surrender, didn't they? After 6,000 French died in a no-hope position. Ever heard of the Foreign Legion? Of the paratroopers, called "paras"? The trouble we could have saved ourselves if we had only paid attention to Dien Bien Phu.

The best figures that I could come up with for French dead at Dien Bien Phu were 3500 dead or missing. After the surrender of the remaining 10,683 troops a large number died on the way to captivity before the war ended a short time later. Of course when you say French you have to realize that about 70% of the force at Dien Bien Phu were either Foreign Legion, colonial troops from other French possessions, or Vietnamese fighting with the French.

But Molly once again misses the point of Dien Bien Phu. The French were not forced into the "no-hope" position. Rather they chose to put themselves there in an immense strategic blunder and miscalculation of their enemies capabilities. Another egregious example of poor military leadership.

And we did pay attention to Dien Bien Phu. At a little place called Khe Sahn. While some may question the wisdom of the whole Khe Sahn operation it was certainly not a defeat for the United States militarily speaking. The U.S. had just over 200 killed at Khe Sahn while North Vietnamese losses were at least ten times that number and probably even much higher due to heavy U.S. bombing. And we didn't surrender.

After more rambling and stumbling through seemingly unrelated subjects including Molly's fond recollection of being patted in Paris on 9/11 (don't ask) she winds up with this doozy:

This is where I think the real difference is. We Americans are famously ahistorical. We can barely be bothered to remember what happened last week, or last month, much less last year.

The French are really stuck on history. (Some might claim this is because the French are better educated than we are. I won't go there.)

We are famously ahistorical? Sorry Molly but please speak for yourself on this matter. Your column clearly has.

For more on Ivin's latest look here, here, or here (all via InstaPundit) This piece was written before I had read any of them so if there's a bit of overlap chalk it up to the whole great minds thinking alike thing.

One Man's Genius Is Another's Garbage

The Gulf War 2 Simulation game mentioned by Will the Thrill is a good example of a having just enough knowledge to be dangerous. In this case it would be just enough knowledge of military and political affairs to create a simulation that plays to the worst fears and darkest doomsday fantasies of those with a particular political axe to grind while in fact taking leave of all connections to the real world. I wonder how close the Afghanistan War Simulation mirrored reality?

Mr. President! You're up early

You can wait and watch the war on Fox News or you can check out the Gulf War 2 Simulation on your coffee break. It claims an "accuracy rating of 99.999%" Genius.
Smells Like a Weapon to Me

The Star Tribune (via the Associated Press) reports that a Saudi man was briefly detained at the Philadelphia airport after “spritzing” an unknown substance in the faces of security personnel.

Spritzing? That’s an interesting choice of words. As a student of the politically correct Star Tribune code speak, it seems to me that maybe they’re trying to tell us something about the, shall we say, “artistic” nature of the perpetrator. It’s difficult to say to for sure, since there was no word on whether or not the Saudi student in question, “flamboyantly sashayed” up to the metal detector or “gaily minced about” upon being released from custody. Perhaps since he’s Saudi and his government tends to deal with such behavior with the edge of a sharpened sword, the editors decided to leave those details out.

It turns out the substance was nothing more than cologne. But the authorities reacted as follows to this spritzing:

The security screeners were rushed to Methodist Hospital after being spritzed Wednesday as the student passed through a checkpoint at Philadelphia International Airport. Unsure whether they had a biological attack on their hands, hospital officials ordered a full quarantine. Ambulances inbound to the emergency room were diverted to other hospitals. Patients and staff who had contact with the guards were quarantined for nearly three hours.

It sounds like an over reaction, but if you’ve ever been around somebody marinating in Drakkar Noir or Polo, a three hour quarantine is entirely appropriate. Given the fact most people would probably rather get a snootful of anthrax spores than a migraine-inducing whiff of some guy drenched in either of the above concoctions, I wouldn't dismiss the possibility that this indeed was an act of terrorism. I'm scared just thinking about it.

What’s Good About Blair? He’s Persuasive, He’s Smart, and He’s Over There

Despite my better judgment, I’ve liked Tony Blair ever since he started showing up on CSPAN during Prime Minister’s questions, almost 10 years ago. Back then he was the glibly incredulous leader of the Labour party, at that time in minority status in Parliament. Time after time he’d rise up from the front bench and artfully savage the policies and very credibility of the governing Conservative Party. Blair would deride, insult, and ridicule but all with remarkable articulation, a smile, and a twinkle in his eye. It was great TV. His rhetorical style in skewering his political opponents would yield thunderous shouts of “here! here!” and genuinely gleeful laughter from his colleagues in the back benches. It was a reaction based in triumphalism, even though the Labourites were out of power at the time. But that status didn’t last long, Labour took power in 1997 and won another resounding victory in 2001. I suspect the Labour party’s recent electoral dominance in the UK is at least in part a function of the vigor and vibrant charm presented by Blair, in contrast to the hapless, pale shades of gray presented by his Conservative counterparts, John Major and William Hague.

So why was my admiration for Blair against my better judgment? Because he was (and I assume still is) a confirmed socialist. If you got beyond his flash and flare and listened to the man, the substance of his arguments were entirely based on unrestrained government intervention in all matters at the expense of individual liberty. His solution to everything seemed to be the redistribution of wealth to his favored groups and socioeconomic class. I suppose if he were an American politician, with the ability to personally put the hurt on me with his policies, I’d quite rightly dismiss him and probably condemn him at every opportunity. Maybe I’d sound something like former Englishman John Derbyshire, who describes Blair and his party’s politics from a Conservative’s perspective:

My dislike of Blair has many sources. For one thing, he is the leader of the Labour Party, and I dislike them en masse. Labour is a party of social engineers, of system-builders and "planners" (in the Hayekian sense). It is a party of pacifists and socialists, of love-the-world useful idiots, of Castro-fawners and Arafat-admirers. It is a party of tax-eaters and commerce-haters, of labor union officials and government pen pushers and Community Relations Liaison Officers. It is a party of God-hating hedonists, of sour-faced feminists and proselytizing homosexuals, of cop-haters and criminal-coddlers.

The great truth enunciated by the late Philip Larkin remains unaltered, though: the Right in Britain, as everywhere else, is the party of "thrift, hard work, reverence, desire to preserve," while the Left stands for "idleness, greed and treason."

Saying all of this, I think we’re all lucky Tony Blair is the Prime Minister at this particular time. Not only has he provided the US with a consistent and reliable ally to refute the accusations of American unilateralism. More importantly, time after time, he’s articulately detailed the arguments for going to war to a reluctant and often hostile world community. This hasn’t yielded unanimous support, but it’s done a lot to enhance the credibility and legitimacy of the US position. I can’t imagine any of the recent Conservative Party leaders (Major, Hauge, or Iain Duncan Smith) being nearly as persuasive and therefore valuable to our cause. So for the first time in my life I’m saying, thank God there’s a socialist in office. (But thank God he’s in England).

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

Just Like One Of Us?

You often hear that anti-war protesters are ordinary people just like you and me who are out in the street expressing their views as concerned citizens. Today's Minneapolis Star Tribune featured a puff piece (it was in the Variety section) called Faces of protest: Antiwar Minnesotans come from all walks of life which profiled a few members of the anti-war crowd:

They aren't just students or perennial malcontents. They're professionals, teachers, parents, veterans, senior citizens, kids, homeowners and homemakers. Here is some insight into why a few have left their sofas and taken to the streets.

You see? Ordinary folk just like the rest of us.

The first peaceniks we learn about are three thirteen year old girls from St. Paul and in their defense at least their juvenile anti-war arguments are age appropriate:

"I think the people who are for the war are teaching us that fighting is good to get what we want," Libby said. "Because there's a problem we can't solve by talking we have to do it by fighting, and I think the people who are against the war are realizing more that it's better to talk things out rather than fighting."

Actually she makes a more coherent statement here than about 95% of the anti-war crowd could so let's give her extra credit. And she and her friends grew up in homes just like us right?

All three are growing up in households where peace and social action are stressed. Nora's parents are Quakers. Nick's grandparents used to pull his father out of school to go to antiwar demonstrations. His uncle was a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War. Libby's parents always tried to keep her informed and invited her to demonstrations for various causes.

Hmmm... My parents used to pull me out of school to go to baseball games and I think to see the Freedom Train back in '76. My uncle was an Air Force pilot who spent six years in a POW camp in North Vietnam. My parents taught me to appreciate American history and politics and always stand up and take off my hat during the national anthem.

Then we get a very revealing explanation from one of the kids:

It was wonderful," Nora said. "I really want to go to more because it really makes you feel like you're not just a little kid and you can't do anything, like you can actually help the world. I didn't really feel the cold, even though my fingers were numb. You just feel righteous."

And that's what it's really all about isn't it? Feeling righteous. She reveals the motivations of the vast majority of the anti-war crowd with that one simple sentence.

Next, we meet a mother from St. Paul who drags her 11 year old son to anti-war demonstrations. Her background is a little bit different from the girls:

Selby's family didn't talk about politics when she was growing up. She voted as soon as she could, but never felt knowledgeable enough to take a stand.

But now she does right? She took the time to study the issues and form her own opinions? Not exactly...

As the current conflict plays out, Selby says she feels the United States is wrong. A friend forwarded an e-mail from Nina Utne, owner of the Utne Reader, about the fledgling organization Code Pink, which calls women to stand up for peace.

"In Code Pink, I found courage to be willing to take a stand even if I didn't have all the answers, and that was a real turning point," Selby said. "This is really the first time I've been active in my whole life."

The great thing is I don't even have to think for myself anymore. I don't have all the answers. In fact I have very few. But I don't need to. Code Pink allows me to lose my identity in a group, tells me what's right and wrong, and makes me feel good because I'm "active".

Then it's on to the average older couple next door, The Bernekings:

Social action has become an integral part of life for Bill and Nancy Berneking. At 59 and 63, respectively, they have become more liberal, even radical, as they have aged.

With guidance from their church, St. Luke Presbyterian in Wayzata, they cut their political teeth on the nuclear freeze movement of the 1980s and learned to take a stand in the Sanctuary movement, sheltering and advocating for political refugees from El Salvador.

Just like Grandma and Grandpa eh? Thank God we're not dealing with any "perennial malcontents" here.

"Over the years, I've become more and more convinced that war is wrong in all cases, that we can't as humans survive if we don't figure out a way to live in this world without war being a significant part of what we do as countries," Bill Berneking said.

Catch that one? War is wrong in all cases. For Bill this isn't about "providing enough evidence" or "giving the inspectors more time". He's against war no matter what the circumstances are. He was against Afghanistan. He was against the first Gulf War. If Saddam and Osama teamed up to detonate a radiological bomb in D.C. he'd be out in the street protesting any military action. I guess you gotta give him credit for being honest about it.

Finally, we meet a young Somali woman:

I don't know what will happen, but I'm assuming that if they attack, there will be a lot of innocent people, and most of them will be women and children," she said. "I've been separated from my family, and I don't want to see other kids that are suffering, separated from their family."

She must have just read the latest Molly Ivins column predicting massive civilian causalities in Iraq. Of course we know how accurate Molly was in her Afghanistan predictions.

She doesn't want to see the United States create the kind of conditions that drove her family out of Somalia, and it's important to her to help her fellow immigrants understand that they must share their experiences to help their new country.

"I've had that experience, and I don't want it to happen anywhere else," she said. "We shouldn't do it. . . . As people who have experienced war, we're supposed to speak up."

Interesting. Maybe it's just me but I would think the experience of living in Somalia would give one reason to sympathize with the plight of the Iraqi people. Under Saddam Hussein. It seems as if the vast of majority of Iraqis who have fled Iraq support the war because they know first hand how bad it really is. It's also interesting that the only time in recent memory when there was any sort of stability or peace in Somalia at all was when US troops were there helping ensure the distribution of relief supplies. I guess we're just fortunate to have immigrants like her here to "help" us understand.

So there you have it. Just regular folks. The people next door. Just like you and me?

Five MST3K-Like Comments Overheard During A DVD Bootleg Viewing Of "The Two Towers"

1) "Rudy!"
2) "Strider was married to the gal in X?"
3) "Elf chicks are hot."
4) "Ronnie James Dio?"
5) "My first D&D character was an elf." (Response: "Mine too.")

A Short History of the Future of Liberal Radio

This past weekend news emerged of a group of wealthy Democrats planning to start up a talk radio network featuring exclusively liberal hosts, in an attempt to counterbalance the influence of Rush Limbaugh and his many imitators on the AM dial. Both Jay Reding and Mitch Berg do a good job of exploring the flawed assumptions this business model is based on, so I'll not reiterate them here.

But one other aspect of this story strikes me as significant. That is, the process these Democrats have undertaken in starting this business strikes me as a quintessentially liberal approach. A group of wealthy elites encounter an outcome from the marketplace (otherwise known as the collective expression of free will) which doesn't suit their personal wishes. So they get together with some so-called experts in the field, uniformly agree on their good intentions, design a solution based on their presumedly superior intelligence and infallible reason, then seek ways to impose it, top down, onto the masses, who are too foolish, selfish, or ignorant to come up with a solution on their own.

While I don't think it's impossible for a liberal radio host to be successful, because of the artificiality of this process, I think this specific attempt is likely to fail. Not only are these investors attempting the daunting tasks of trying to start a broadcasting organization from scratch, creating a nationwide distribution network, and attracting advertisers willing to spend millions of dollars. They also need to try to recreate the conditions that lead to interesting radio, since they don't have a host or existing radio format to start from.

Actually, if they're going to succeed in taking substantial audience share away from Limbaugh, it needs to be a damn sight better than "interesting," it will need to be extraordinary, compelling, and above all entertaining. And going yet another step, not only does it need to be extraordinary, compelling, and entertaining, it also has to serve a very specific political agenda, with the expressed, preordained purpose of influencing public opinion on a mass scale. Not exactly a job you can hand to Phil Donohue. Or Mario Cuomo. Or frankly, Al Franken.

Since there isn't a current broadcaster or a preexisting radio format which meets the above criteria, this same investor group is going to have to create it. Any guess as to what kind of results you get when a group of wealthy, self-appointed cultural elites get together to decide what's entertaining and what's not? That's right, you get NPR, perhaps the least entertaining entity since the black plague. Witness the 4-H club level corn pone skits and tired clich├ęs of Garrison Keillor. The droning gas bag emissions of Daniel Schorr. The pleased-to-death-with-his-own-cleverness quipping of Michael Feldman. The grating condescension of Katherine Lanpher. None of whom would be on the radio at all without millions of dollars of government subsidy keeping them on the air in the face of mass apathy.

Even given the challenges outlined above, I'm sure the Democrats involved are quite certain they'll succeed. After all, aren't their motivations behind this effort not too different than their motivations in redistributing 40% of an average citizen's wealth via taxation? They're quite convinced they know how to spend your money better than you, why shouldn't they also know more than you about what you want to listen to on the radio? Unfortunately for them, what they may not realize is that this time they won't have the monopoly power of government ensuring their desired outcome.

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

Good Looking, Empty Headed, Lunks

Joe Millionaire is....

David Puddy.

You telling me you don't think Evan paints his face and goes to Devil's games? C'mon. He's probably already bought an eight ball jacket with his share of the money.
Studyin' About That Good Old Way?

At this risk of this site becoming a Church Blog, I am submitting a piece about my recent trip to mass in St. Paul this past Sunday...

It had been a while. Since I went to Church, that is. But seeing Ricky Skaggs on Friday night reminded me that I needed to get back, get back to where I once belonged.

After consulting some of those more knowledgeable about the local churches and what they had to offer in terms of style, quality of priests, etc., I chose the one nearest my house.

It had probably been a year since my last trip, but it seemed like 25. As I first walked in and sat down, I was struck by how everyone was just chatting away like it was a Denny's and they were waiting for their Moons Over My Hammy or something. I stood up and shouted "Reverence!, damn you all, reverence!" well, no, but I wanted to.

The music started and the chatters reluctantly quieted down. Hmmm...don't recognize this one...better not sing then...should I look at the words like I might sing?...maybe I know the refrain, it's kind of like a, don't know the refrain...okay, they've sung 4 verses, that should be sufficient...okay, maybe one more...another?...there are 7 verses in this song!

The priest begins the service and it's just all wrong. He's too chatty and smirky to be taken seriously. I again want to cry something aloud: "Hey pal, it's my eternal soul we're dealin' with here, so if you don't mind CAN YOU WIPE THAT S-EATING GRIN OFF YOUR MUG? Thanks."

I look around at my fellow parishioners and notice a number of pink buttons with the phrase CODE PINK imprinted on them. At first I thought it was some kind of movement to gain the acceptance of gay priests but after a little checking, I found out it is an "anti-war" group. Great to know you are sharing services with whacked out leftists.

The service continues and we get to the moment where the priests exhorts us to give up some dough for the church (I always loved when they sang "Take Our Bread" during this time) and then added with alarm "And it is especially important to give to the poor at this time of drastic cuts from the governor" referring to Tim Pawlenty's new budget.

Thinking things could not get much worse, I had forgotten about the dreaded hand-holding of your neighbor that takes place during the saying of the Lord's Prayer. I don't know who thought this up, or why, but as a Minnesotan I just simply don't want to hold hands with basically anyone, but especially a stranger who is sporting a radical button.

As it became time to join hands I decided to simply ignore those on my left and right and just play ignorant. "Hand holding? Hmm..sorry I didn't know." I then saw out of my peripheral vision a rather homely urban woman--the type usually found in laundromats and peace marches--was looking at me, wanting to join hands in the Kumbaya tradition. I ignored her once, but she again looked at me as if to say "What's wrong with you, don't you love God?" and I was forced to acquiesce. As I embraced her clammy paw, I noticed that a man on my right hand side had moved closer and had apparently attempted to join hands while I was concerned with the woman. He did not seem happy to have to pray by himself.

Am I the only one who objects to the absurdity of everyone holding hands like this? It feels like hours you stand there with this stranger's hand in yours just waiting for that moment your hand can be free to swing by your side again.

As the mass was winding down, something else didn't seem right to me. Some part of the service had been skipped; something was missing. As I looked down by my feet I realized what it was. The kneelers had been removed. There had been no kneeling whatsoever.

Just another sign that the church is not on the right track and my soul will have to go elsewhere for its salvation (or at least to the Cathedral next week).
This Brit Gets It

Read Brian Micklethwait's piece over at Samizdata called It won't end with Iraq (via Instapundit). He understands that the war did not begin and certainly won't be finished in Iraq but rather that Iraq is merely another step in a long march. He shares some of the same sentiments that I expressed last Friday with this war is bigger than both of 'em. From now on instead of referring to it as "war with Iraq" lets call it the Iraqi Theater of Operations (ITO) which properly denotes that Iraq is merely another stage in the war on terror not a final destination.
The Patriot Follies

Duane writes in to express his opinion (one that I share) on the operations of local Twin Cities radio station AM 1280 The Patriot:

I read your review of the Hugh Hewitt On Ice event (which I didn't attend, opting instead for the Norm Coleman Swearing-In Partry at the St. Paul Radisson) as posted at the blog. I understand the problem of trying to put on events on a limited budget, etc. But...

This is not the only issue that clouds the excellent mission of The Patriot. I love the station between 11 and 8 weekdays, 9-12 on Saturdays, and 11-5 Sundays, having a personal distaste for the Savage style, the buffoonish mediocrity of Gallagher, and the nerdish ignoramusness of Fredenburg. What really galls me, over and over- and I cannot believe that station management is totally unaware of this- is the continuous and repeated technical screwups regarding basic broadcast operations.

There is not a single week that goes by where there aren't at least two instances of extended dead air, consecutively repeated hours of broadcast (last Sunday, the Medved show with David Frum was on from 3-4 and again from 4-5, as far as I could tell in the in-and-out-of-the-car activities), or multiple (in the same hour) cases of competing commercial overdubs- where the production "engineer" laid down a new track without first "degaussing the cart" (erasing the tape- broadcast recorders don't have erase heads the way our home cassette recorders do). Or the cart is inserted at the same time as the sat feed is running live, etc.

Go monitor the weekends, and you will be appalled. I cannot imagine how they get any sponsors to pay for Saturday time, given that these overlaid sound tracks are always blocking the messages on a significant number of program breaks.

And what bothers me is that 1) I e-mailed the operations guy and he never responded; 2) nor did Jay Larson; 3) it never gets any better!

Thus, it is quite easy to see why the "Hugh on Ice Twice" event was a joke as well. The operations director, or whoever "supervises" the engineers has to be someone's nephew. Makes you nervous about American quality and competitiveness

Rationalizing The Threat

Amid the Orange Alert warnings and hysteria about duct taping and plastic wrapping your home last week I found myself relatively unconcerned since I considered it highly unlikely that terrorists would consider my neighborhood in St. Louis Park, Minnesota a very worthwhile target. Today, in his Backfence column at the Minneapolis Star Tribune Lileks nails it right down to the suburb:

People. People! Sit. Down. Stay. Relax. Let's imagine a meeting of the terrorists in some undisclosed location. Everyone gets comfortable, they pass around the cookies, then get down to business.

"Well, gentlemen, we've narrowed the options to two. Either we throw the container into the concourse at Grand Central Station at 5 p.m., or we release it in the subway system. Either approach guarantees mass panic and death in the heart of the American news media -- yes, yes, you with your hand up, what is it?"

"No! I've a better idea. I say we release the gas on a street corner in St. Louis Park, preferably in the winter when no one is outdoors."

(Slapping of foreheads around the table; murmurs of "Of course!" and "Why did we not think of that?")

The leader speaks: "But are they not prepared for us? Do they not have the tape of the duct?"

"They do, but not all. If the wind is right we can kill four, perhaps five crusaders."

"Done! St. Louis Park it is, then!"

I'll keep a roll of tape of the duct handy just in case.
Now That's Funny

You know it's good when you have to look twice. Check out the Peace In Our Time anti-war blog.

Monday, February 17, 2003

Thanks Padre I Needed That

Last week was a not a high point for morale in the war with the country on a high state of terror alert, the advisement to use duct tape and plastic sheeting to protect us from chemical/biological attack, and finally the shenanigans at NATO and the UN. Friday was especially sour with the shameful run around at the Security Council engineered by France and seemingly endorsed by a majority of the members. The progress made in the previous weeks towards concrete action in Iraq seemed a thing of the past and prospects of it falling apart were all too real. Saturday brought large anti-war demonstrations across the world which only deepened my feeling that perhaps the momentum had been lost for good and I feared the consequences that might result.

So when I went to church on Sunday morning I was in need of a injection of confidence and an affirmation of hope. Fortunately my priest delivered exactly that.

His homily began with a comparison of the leprosy of the day's Gospel reading with AIDs of today and a call to do as Jesus as had done (he pointed out that instead of asking "What would Jesus do?" in hypothetical situations we instead should ask "What did Jesus do?") and reach out to those who suffered its afflictions. Hardly a revolutionary insight on the matter but I was impressed when he acknowledged that some of the people who have AIDs may have contracted it by engaging in behavior that we would not necessarily approve of but yet it still is our calling to aid them. Instead of passing over that reality he addressed it head on.

He then mentioned that he had a few minutes left and wanted to digress onto another subject. He spoke of the possibility of war with Iraq and stated that we were now in a troubled time and that it was very likely that further calamities would occur in the near future. But he said that we had been through worse and that we would emerge from this as well. He said it was a critical time to trust in God and that we must worship and pray with more passion and persistence than in more "normal" times. It reminded me of how some have said that they have felt more alive since 9/11 and take a greater enjoyment out of life realizing just how fragile it is. I found it reassuring that he was honest enough to say, in so many words, that the shiite might the fan but that we had the strength (with God) to get through it.

Now he's by no means a fool and he wasn't about to clearly state his position on war with Iraq knowing that whatever he said would alienate a large portion of the parish. But knowing where he comes from on other issues and reading between the lines I gather that he is in favor of it. He spoke of how he studied the requirements of just war and had been trying to explain them to his peers. I took that as meaning "trying to convince them that this was a just war". In order to understand the Pope's opposition to the war he said that we should realize that most of the people at the Vatican were European and after what Europe had been through in the last century they were opposed to war under almost any circumstances. Of course he's not going to come out say that the Pope is wrong. The message was subtle but unmistakable.

And for me just what I needed at that time.

A Lovely Morning Alternative

For those Twin City radio listeners out there who share my distaste for the Patriot's morning line up of Michael Savage and Mike Gallagher and have reached the breaking point with KSTP's Morning Spin featuring the uninformed blatherings of Ron Rosenbaum there is a choice. And no, it's not the nails on chalkboard voice and leftist babbling of Katherine Lanpher over at MPR. It's the Laura Ingraham show on AM 1570 which apparently is something called the "consumer station".

I only just discovered this gem and it sounds like Ingraham's show is a rebroadcast and she's only on until 9:00am when a religious program hosted by a ninety seven year old gentlemen (image if Methuselah had his own talk show) comes on but it's still a breath of fresh air when you consider the alternatives.

Sunday, February 16, 2003

Communist Dogma

According to The Economist , Peruvian writer Hernando De Soto has two dogs that he named Marx and Engels. Why?

"They are German, hairy, and have no respect for private property."

Friday, February 14, 2003

Breaking Badger Hearts: Now We're Talking Valentine's Day

Tonight I'm going home to scarf down some chow, toss back a few brews, and head out with my wife to watch the Gopher hockey squad kick the crap out of the visiting Wisconsin Badgers. I'll be thinking of all you saps out there dropping a hundo (or more) for some overrated food at a crowded restaurant hoping to impress your date and fulfill her high expectations for the evening. Note: you won't no matter what you do. Have fun. I know I will.

This war is bigger than the both of 'em

Lately a lot of the war talk has been focused on Osama and Saddam and whether or not they're actively working together or if they would work together at some point in the future. Personally I don't care whether Iraq is in league with Al Qaeda or not. I believe there is enough justification for action without even including Al Qaeda in the equation. Weapons of mass destruction, threat to the world's oil supply, brutal dictatorship, sponsor of terrorism (other than Al Qaeda), continual flaunting of Gulf War cease fire accords. More than enough for me.

Hell, I remember back in the summer of 1990 a friend and I were having a few drinks and discussing the Iraqi buildup on the border with Kuwait and we were already advocating preemptive military strikes. Call me an uberhawk if you will.

By focusing so much attention on the Iraq and Al Qaeda connection I think people are missing the bigger picture. This war on terrorism isn't just about Al Qaeda and it isn't just about Iraq and it isn't just about eliminating the threat that they both pose. After 9/11 Bush could have come out and said, "We have been attacked by Al Qaeda and will now wage war against them until they are wiped out."

But he didn't limit the war or the war's objectives to the destruction of Al Qaeda. He chose instead to embark on a wide ranging and long run course of action whose ultimate goal is a sweeping historical change of the world's political landscape. Terrorists and the countries that support them were served notice that they will no longer be able to carry on as they have for the last thirty years. The terrorists will be hunted down and eliminated and the countries they fund, support, and harbor will cease doing so or have their regimes toppled.

In some cases this will be the result of direct military action, in others through the use of economic and diplomatic levers, and finally in others through internal revolts. This program might seem impossibly grandiose and over reaching to some but I believe that this is what Bush has in mind. He got into trouble when he labeled it a "crusade" shortly after 9/11 but in many ways that is an apt description of it.

Afghanistan was the beginning. Iraq is another stage. All the while we're also going after Al Qaeda wherever and whenever we can. But after the situation in Iraq is resolved the war will not be over. Next on the agenda could be a push for regime change in Iran by supporting dissident groups there or it could be a move against Syria to get them to stop supporting Hezbollah, Hamas, and other groups that regularly attack Israel. North Korea will likewise be dealt with either through diplomatic and economic efforts to contain them or if necessary with the use of military force.

Libya? Saudi Arabia? Possibilities as well. There won't be a "one size fits all" approach and each situation will be analyzed and handled differently. One hopes that once the ball gets rolling and a few more examples are made the process will move be hastened along and open conflict limited as much as possible.

The Bush Doctrine if you would call it that seeks a world where nations are free to develop economically and politically without fear of terrorism or rogue regimes brandishing weapons of mass destruction. It is a remarkably ambitious and some would say unrealistic goal but I believe that the rewards of peace and stability are worth the sacrifices and costs that must be paid to achieve them. I don't know if most Americans would agree with my sentiments or if they really understand the nature of the war that we're now involved but if you want to understand Bush's attitude towards Iraq you need to put it in the context of his larger perspective of the war on terror. It's much bigger than just Saddam and Osama.

Thursday, February 13, 2003

Hallmark Holiday? Sinister Celebration!

One man's soundtrack for tomorrow night:

1. Hanoi Rocks - "Self-Destruction Blues"
2. Social Distortion - "Making Believe"
3. Sex Pistols - "No Feelings"
4. Grandpa Boy - "Let's Not Belong Together"
5. Creedence Clearwater Revival - "Someday Never Comes"
6. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers - "A Woman In Love (It's Not Me)"
7. The Rolling Stones - "Love In Vain" (live 1969 version)
8. Merle Haggard - "The Bottle Let Me Down"
9. Count Five - "Psychotic Reaction"
10. The Stooges - "Not Right"
11. Motorhead - "Love Me Like a Reptile"
12. J. Geils Band - "Love Stinks"

It it just me, or does local news anchorette Harris Faulkner look like a siamese cat?

I'm not criticizing, I think she's gorgeous and talented--just kind of looks like a siamese.
Waffling Armies

Interesting piece in today’s WSJ about the combat readiness of the various European armies. Shockingly enough, they aint.

The article says that the European armies spend most of their meager budgets on benees and pay for their soldiers, as opposed to gear or weapons. To wit: the US spends about 36% of its budget on personnel expenditures. Germany is at 61%. Italy 72% and Portugal a whopping 80%. It makes it somewhat hard to update your weapons systems when your budget is going down the gullet of the soldiers like so many weinerschnitzel.

It was also somewhat (only somewhat--this IS Europe after all and there was a reason our ancestors ditched the place) surprising to learn that the average age of a Belgian soldier is 40, compared with 28 for US forces. The thought of pretty much any Belgian army hardly strikes fear into it’s enemies, but an OLD Belgian army is even more of a joke.

The armies of Europe have become an extension of the generous welfare state most of the governments have already wrapped their citizens in.

“Once you enter the military, you are in for life” says one Belgian solider. By contrast, the US has instituted a “up or out” policy for officers that boots them after a certain time if they have not been promoted after years of abuse by slackers who wanted a free ride until retirement.

Another solider commented: “I have lots of free time and good job security”.

I was less surprised to read that military labor unions are the force behind this goofiness. Belgian soldiers recently protested in Brussels demanding more vacation time, apparently feeling 6 weeks was not sufficient for continentals. Naturally, the Belgian cabinet capitulated.

You really get the idea that many European countries don’t really care if they get invaded every few hundred years. If freedom is not really that big of a deal to you, then it might actually make economic sense to save the defense money and spend it elsewhere. Roll the dice that you’ll be able to get along with the conquering forces and they won’t rape TOO many of your women, eat ALL of your food or kill THAT many members of your family.

Belgium got through WW2, right? And France didn’t really lose that much (if you aren’t counting self-respect and world opinion). Norway didn’t seem to mind too much that Germany was using it’s country to produce the heavy water Hitler needed for his nuke.

It seems nuts to us, but perhaps they are just making a calculated bet that they can get by without a competent army.

Omens Only If You Believe They Are

Camille Paglia is an intriguing woman and a fine writer. I have always admired her ability to step away from the standard orthodoxies of the left and right and call things as she sees em'. But in her recent interview at Salon (you have to view an ad if you want to read the whole thing) one of her main arguments against war with Iraq fails to do much to impress me:

As we speak, I have a terrible sense of foreboding, because last weekend a stunning omen occurred in this country. Anyone who thinks symbolically had to be shocked by the explosion of the Columbia shuttle, disintegrating in the air and strewing its parts and human remains over Texas -- the president's home state! So many times in antiquity, the emperors of Persia or other proud empires went to the oracles to ask for advice about going to war. Roman generals summoned soothsayers to read the entrails before a battle. If there was ever a sign for a president and his administration to rethink what they're doing, this was it. I mean, no sooner had Bush announced that the war was "weeks, not months" away and gone off for a peaceful weekend at Camp David than this catastrophe occurred in the skies over Texas.

From the point of view of the Muslim streets, surely it looks like the hand of Allah has intervened, as with the attack on the World Trade Center. No one in the Western world would have believed that those mighty towers could fall within an hour and a half -- two of the proudest constructions in American history. And neither would anyone have predicted this eerie coincidence -- that the president's own state would become the burial ground for the Columbia mission.

What weird irony with an Israeli astronaut onboard who had bombed Iraq 20 years ago. To me this dreadful accident is a graphic illustration of the limitations of modern technology -- of the smallest detail that can go wrong and end up thwarting the most fail-safe plan. So I think that history will look back on this as a key moment. Kings throughout history have been shaken by signals like this from beyond: Think twice about what you're doing. If a Roman general tripped on the threshold before a battle, he'd call it off.

She is quite correct that in the past omens played a large role in history and in particular in the Roman Empire. But many of the "omens" that the Romans believed foreshadowed events were nothing more than superstitious notions that we have long ago moved past. The Roman senate would not meet on days that were considered unlucky. Weather was often interpreted as an omen and the appearance of rain or the sun could determine whether or not a particular course of action was embarked upon. She mentions the reading of the entrails before battles and the Romans would also perform animal sacrifices and base their plans on how well the sacrifice went.

Today most of us view actions of this sort as nonsensical and would not dream of living our lives around the interpretation of such omens. "I better not go to work today honey it's the 13th."

The fact the the shuttle broke up over Texas does provide endless opportunity for speculation and doom saying. But is it really any more than coincidence? If the shuttle zig zagged across the country flying over each of the fifty states and it just happened to end disastrously over Texas then maybe you have something. But the successful reentry path only takes it over eight states, a couple of which it crosses in a heartbeat. And if you consider that US presidents only hail from twenty one states the fact that it occurred over Texas, while still a coincidence, isn't quite as remarkable as it first appears to be.

There was another world leader who was a big believer in omens. He thought that the death of the president of the most powerful nation that he was at war with was an omen that the tide of battle was about to turn his way. Less than a month later he was dead by his own hand, his capital city was in enemy hands, and his country was utterly and completely defeated. Hitler proved that omens are only what you believe they are.

For a final word on the subject I turn to this quote from an editorial by Michael Keane in Tuesday's Star Tribune:

But perhaps we would be wise to listen to the words of playwright Oscar Wilde, who wrote: "There is no such thing as an omen. Destiny does not send us heralds. She is too wise or too cruel for that."
Long Wait Eh?

Today's New York Times has an article that once again points out that Canada's vaunted health care system ain't all that it is cracked up to be:

A recent government study indicated that 4.3 million Canadian adults — or 18 percent of those who saw a doctor in 2001 — reported they had difficulty seeing a doctor or getting a test or surgery done in a timely fashion. Three million Canadians are unable to find a family physician, according to several private studies, producing a situation all the more serious since it is the family doctor who refers patients to specialists and medical testing.

Medical tests and surgery in a timely fashion? Overrated.
Best(e) Case Scenario

Steven Den Beste at USS Clueless riddles one possible Iraqi war scenario with holes and then devulges how he believes the conflict will actually unfold.

Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Tax me! Tax me! Oh yes! More! Ohhhh...

An article in today's Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that Minnesota's tax-burden rank droped slightly from 5th highest in the nation based on income to eighth highest among the fifty states. Progress at last you might say? A small step forward after years of being at or near the top in tax burden rankings?

No. No. No.

How about an opportunity to call for raising taxes?

DFLers and interest groups who are opposing big cuts in government programs say the latest rankings show that Minnesota has at least a little room to raise taxes and recoup some of the billions of dollars returned in late-1990s tax cuts, especially to higher-income households.

Yup we really should be happy that for one year we were only the eighth most taxed state in the union. Ahhh.. that was nice. Now back to taking one for the team. It's for the common good donchaknow?

"Minnesota has been cutting taxes more rapidly than other states, and this shows that pattern," said Wayne Cox, executive director of Minnesota Citizens for Tax Justice, a group financed by labor unions. "The problem now is that Minnesota has cut taxes so much that it can't pay its bills anymore."

Yeah, double digit spending increases had nothing to do with that at all. It was us greedy taxpayers. The nerve of us to cut taxes SO MUCH that we're barely in the top ten anymore. It's just not right.

Plus we all know that raising taxes drives economic growth. Right?

Cox argues that the state and the nation's longest economic boom followed state and federal tax increases in the early 1990s, while "we've cut taxes in recent years and lost jobs and gone into a recession."

So there you have it. Raise taxes and the economy improves. Cut taxes and it goes to hell in a hand basket. Simple.

Why I bet if we could raise taxes in Minnesota enough to claim the number one spot we'd have the best economy in the whole darn country. Makes sense, don't it?
Insisting on Disagreeing

The restless and rebellious children of the bourgeoisie seem to be at it again. Two more billboards in my formerly graffiti-free St. Paul neighborhood were recently spattered with displays of righteous dissent. As I’ve written previously, I suspect the righteous dissenters are the liberal artists in training over at Macalester College (or at least their fellow travelers). It’s just a pity that the rights they feel compelled to defend (via the commission of crimes) aren’t the rights of private property and free speech for those they disagree with. Otherwise the neighborhood wouldn’t have to put up with a streetscape that looks more like the late-1970’s era New York City subway system than beautiful little Mac-Groveland.

I’m warning you St. Paul homeowners, the pattern is established. First you allow angry, sloppy graffiti to proliferate, next thing you know gangs of unruly youths are roaming the streets. According to the definitive historical study on this progression (The 1979 movie classic “The Warriors”), these gangs will either be wearing roller skates and dressed like Robin Williams during his Mork period (that is, with suspenders and blousy pants) or dressed up like baseball players wearing black lipstick and clown makeup. Is that really what you want to see on Marshall Avenue? On second thought, that might actually be preferable to crew from WAMM seen rabble rousing down there on Friday afternoons. At least the Robin Williams impersonating roller skating gang bangers have a more rationally grounded world view.

Specific sites of vandalism this week include a billboard at the intersection of Grand Ave. and Ayd Mill Road. It was sponsored by some non profit group and stated simply “What Makes Us Great - Unity”. A somewhat ambiguous statement, but one that appears to have its heart in the right place. (Although it’s certainly not as good a slogan as “Deserve Victory!”). Some spray can wielding, misguided Thomas Paine wannabe changed the word “Unity” to “Dissent’.

Yes, that’s what makes us great - dissent. No matter what the idea or plan of action is, no matter what challenges face us, as long as someone is refusing to cooperate, that’s what makes us great. It’s like saying “What makes Us Successful - Burying Our Heads in the Sand”. Or “What Makes Us Compassionate -Taking Drugs and Defying Society’s Conventions on Bathing”.

I saw this same billboard with the exact same vandalism on Snelling Avenue by Hamline University a couple of weeks ago. It makes me suspect that perhaps this isn’t vandalism at all, rather it’s a legitimate (or at least legal) consciousness-raising guerilla marketing campaign . But I think that’s giving these perpetrators too much credit and rather this communication is brought to you by the same folks who brought us the “Norm Coleman is a Nazi” marketing campaign.

The second defacement of private property is on St. Clair and Griggs, a billboard sponsored by Pro-Life Minnesota. This ad depicts a baby and expresses the sentiment that even before children are born they are alive and undeniably human. The righteous dissent sprayed across this billboard was the brilliant and compelling counter argument: “NO!”.

Perhaps there’s someone out there who appreciates the nuance of this debating point and is made to think twice about the scientific evidence presented to the contrary. And maybe these people can be fully persuaded if this line of reasoning can be expounded on a little more. A few scrawlings along the lines of “HELL NO!” or maybe “SCREW YOU!” on future billboards and they just might start convincing a few people. But then again, since dissent is the point of all of this, they probably don’t want anyone to agree with them anyway.