Saturday, November 10, 2007

Saturday Rock Show

When I was in college, I dated a young woman who was in to all the great 80's alternative bands - most of whom were British. She liked The Cure, and New Order (I don't know anyone who didn't like New Order, to be honest). She also liked The Smiths.

My relationship with The Smiths is a bit like my relationship with Bruce Springsteen. I recognize the genius. I even groove to some of the songs. Yet, I just don't feel like saying, "I really like this stuff!". It is one thing to say, "This is truly great music." It is another thing to invest oneself and say, "I like this!" Yet, The Smiths have grown on me over the years, and are far better than most of the offerings out there these days. So, in a fit of nostalgia (for the music, not my ex-girlfriend), here are The Smiths doing "Stop Me (If You've Heard This One Before)". By the way, they never were the cheeriest band; the closest thing they had to a hit in the US was a song called "Girlfriend in a Coma" after all . . .

By the way, don't you think Morrissey is kind of the anti-Brian Ferry?

An Immodest Proposal

With Halloween over, and retail outlets, malls, and even a municipality or two already cranking out Charlotte Church Christmas CDs over loudspeakers and hanging so much green you almost forget it's winter, the whakos trot out their annual "War on Christmas" shtick. Like all bad jokes that just won't go away, one tires of hearing the same-old same-old again, but these folks are incapable of relenting.

I want to submit to my readers the proposition that there is indeed a "War on Christmas". It is being waged on multiple fronts, and it has been going on for most of my life, and perhaps even before. "Christmas" was, for most of the history of the Christian faith, a relatively inconsequential feast-day; Epiphany, Easter, shoot, even the Assumption of Mary and the Annunciation were bigger feast days. With the advent of capitalism, however, and the insistence that giving gifts is part of participating in the love of God ("the Wise Men brought him gifts, so we should, too") we had the marriage of bad economics and worse theology creating a demon child that has wrested itself loose from any kind of control. We are quite literally super-saturated with Christmas by the time December 25 rolls around. We are swamped with the same 25 songs being done by mediocrities. We have to look at tinsel, lights, snowmen, reindeer, and every Santa imaginable. Entire stores seem dedicated to trying to induce the gag reflex by the amount of Christmas crap they can stuff in to a space.

Now, unlike Halloween, I am no Grinch or Scrooge about Christmas. I love the day, I love the season. I always have. In our house growing up, decorating began on December 1, and took place over the course of the four weeks running up to the day, culminating in the tree, which sometimes wasn't completely decorated until the 24th. All five of us have our special bits that we did; mine was a lovely plaster-of-paris stable scene, with a wonderful old wooden stable. We kept it in a model box of a Boeing 707, that had probably been my brother's. Usually the second week of December, my mother would bring it down out of the attic and I would set it up on the corner end table in our front living room, right under the white plastic Christmas tree, festooned with glitter, with the rotating disc of colored lights underneath. To outsiders, I am quite sure this sounds tacky, but I never thought so, and still don't. I loved it then, and my memories are not at all tinged with nostalgia because I loved it all.

As an adult, however, who gets avalanched with bad music, appeals to BUY!BUY!BUY!!!!, and ends every trip to Kohl's or the Mall with a headache from sensory overload (all that green gives me a migraine), I do believe the war on Christmas is one our retail outlets wage against the public. I have no problem with gift-giving; I have a problem with the endless reminders from media outlets that retailers depend upon Christmas for a large percentage of their yearly sales, and the fate of capitalism as we know it hinges upon whether we buy our kids a PS3.

My older daughter told my wife last week, "I don't want any presents this year. We have so much stuff we don't even use. Let's give that money to people who don't have anything." That's Christmas right there - not Mitch Miller And His Gang piped in over the PA in Target as we wait in endless lines to buy garbage.

For the past several years, my wife and I have not bought each other a whole lot. I get her a gift card to a store she likes; I get socks (which I always need), and underwear (which no man can have too much of), and a card. Our kids get one big present, and a bunch of practical stuff, like clothes. They don't own a video game system, nor are they particularly interested in one. We don't have access to television, so they aren't bombarded with demands to purchase stuff the TV tells them they have to have in order to survive, like Brats dolls or the latest Hannah Montana shirt. My older daughter likes books, she likes horses, and she likes music. My younger daughter likes books, she likes dogs, and she likes clothes. They're not demanding at all.

My family is contributing our bit to fight back against the War on Christmas in two ways: (1) We aren't big spenders, but talk about the baby Jesus a lot, and who this baby will become; (2) We say "Happy Holidays" to everyone we meet.

The Democratic Victories in the '07 Elections Are Bad For Democrats

Reading the Washington Post these day is like visiting with a favorite teacher after 20 years, and discovering she has Alzheimer's Disease. I suppose I am contending with my idealized version of the paper rather than what it ever really was. Yet, I find it heartbreaking that the hometown newspaper of the nation's capital, covering the business of the town, could be so bad.

What hurts even worse is reading today's column by E. J. Dionne. As I said on Tuesday, I have always liked Dionne. Yet, reading the piece left me feeling frustrated that someone who has displayed an understanding of the realities of politics at various levels, and had an eye and ear for nuance could pen the following lede:
The Democratic surge that began in 2006 continued in elections around the country on Tuesday. But how the Democrats won provides a cautionary tale for the national party.

Without belaboring the point, Dionne notes that the various elections this past week were good for Democrats. Yet, he doesn't seem to fathom the notion that these were local and statewide elections, turning mostly on local and state issues - corruption in KY, immigration in VA - in which the Republicans had either a history of corruption (KY's governor was the Richard Nixon of the Frankfort statehouse) or had staked out a party position that was unpopular. Local and regional elections turn on different issues from national elections. Technocratic skill, basic competence, and an attention to detail are key; whether one is ideologically opposed to tax hikes is just plain irrelevant. Local government is all about the efficiency and economy of the delivery of services.

Next years national elections will not be focused on balancing growth and taxation in the sprawling DC suburbs of northern Virginia. Next years national election will be focused on Iraq, our national collapse, and Iraq, and not in that order. Of course, the Democrats have big leads among the voters as to whom they think will deal with these issues better (which is why they are so ticked at the current Congress; they want the Democratic majority to do a better job of reigning in the insanity).

Becoming the Dukakis Party won't cut it next year. Competence is an issue, and if Giuliani is the Republican's nominee we can add sanity as well to the mix (I still think Romney will get the nod, which will only shift the added burden from sanity to consistency and trustworthiness). Yet, it is not now, nor has it ever been as vital as it is in statewide or local elections. These are, for the most part, people we all know - our neighbors, the guy who runs the bank or the big hardware store. We know them, and understand their hearts are in the right place. We just want to make sure they understand what they are getting themselves in to, and can deliver the goods on time, economically.

I suppose, however, that I shouldn't be surprised that Dionne thinks the results of the elections are bad for Democrats. After all, everything the Democrats do that is successful is bad for them and the country. It's been this way for thirty years, so why should it change now?

Friday, November 09, 2007

Political Pornography, Part II - Barely Legal Edition

When I read this post over at Hullabaloo the other day, I cringed all the way through. The very idea that a candidate's children should be subject any kind of scrutiny at all is deeply offensive. Even if they are adults (as Jenna and Barbara Bush are, as Chelsea Clinton is) they are not public figures by any stretch of the imagination. Of course, the trashing of Chelsea is old news; Limbaugh used her as the butt of a horrific joke on his short-lived television show back in the 1990's, at a time in her life when all young people, young men and women, are over-sensitive, and their self-image is never very strong.

I am an equal-opportunity disdainer of this kind of tabloid-style fake journalism. I find it disgusting that some people somewhere find it at all newsworthy what Jenna and Barbara Bush did during their college years, or during their early post-college excursions overseas. The fact that some criticism leveled at them came from left-wing blogs did not keep me from thinking that it was grossly wrong and has no place in our public discourse.

The two articles in question, in The New Republic, and Newsweek, are just about the most awful pieces of non-journalism I have seen in a very long time. Bob Somerby admits today that he sent the info to digby. On this particular bit of garbage, he writes:
Do you have any idea how dumb you have to be, as a male, to write panty-sniffing garbage like this in the year 2007? How mindless a magazine has to be to put this rot-gut in print? According to Newsweek, Romano “graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Princeton University in 2004 with an A.B. in English and a certificate in American Studies.” Simply put, that’s a tragic admission.

Endless: Alas! Though culture is always part of the mix, the sense of male privilege driving these pieces (“droit de sophomore”) seems to be bred quite deep in the bone. Omigod! Absent appropriate guidance, each generation of young, callow males turns out just as dumb as the last one. Almost surely, many progressives thought this type of churlishness had been snuffed out by the early 70s, at least among “liberal” men. But these attitudes return with each generation. We gentlemen are just more resentful—therefore, dumber—each and every time.

Consequences: Do you trust a magazine which would print such a piece to cover the White House campaign of the first viable female candidate? In the past few weeks, Clinton has been trashed by Chris Matthews in astonishing ways; his lunatic conduct continued last night. (Tucker Carlson is little better—although he’s less influential.) Few “liberals” have found the heart to complain—or even to notice what’s happening. But then, our liberal leaders have long ignored Matthews’ woman-trashing, going all the way back to the late 1990s (more on these topics next week). This is A-OK with our tribe. Absent the unusual person like Digby, our tribe doesn’t even notice.


A final note about consequences. When you see a collection of liberal scribes who think it’s OK to trash young women this way (down to age 6), do you think they will ever defend you against the wider values of their plutocrat bosses? . . . Do you think a bunch of boys who sniff their way through underwear drawers will ever stand up to the Russerts and the Matthewses? To the powerful interests which hired them—which stand behind them? Their empty hearts and outstretched hands are perfectly clear as they publish this swill. They’re letting you know who and what they are. . .

If this is the kind of political smut that will be peddled to us in the next twelve months, all I can do is quote Bette Davis: "Hang on boys. It's going to be a bumpy night."

And Bozo The Clown Isn't Convinced That Iraq Didn't Have WMDs

I saw the story yesterday about the founder of The Weather Channel coming out as a global warming denier. I didn't think much of it myself, but since I just know that Marshall Art and Neon Prime Time will jump on it and say, "See?!? See?!? A weatherman says it's crap!! What do you have to say about that?!?" I thought it would be best to at least note it.

I don't have anything to say, because Roger Ailes said it already:
Coleman was the wacky weatherman on Chicago's WLS-TV infotainment newscasts in the late 70s. He coined kooky terms like "thorms," used nutty props, engaged in inane banter, and stood in front of (or walked through) a green screen while the Happy Talk news team threw things at him and tried to make him crack up. In short, he was the original Steve Doocy-type performing monkey.


The man is a crank who reads the weather forecast off a TelePrompter. He doesn't offer any science -- or even any "science" -- to support his position, nor does he offer any proof to support his conspiracy allegations. And the lemmings in the wingnutosphere follow him over a cliff simply because he "founded" a basic cable teevee station. I look forward to their similar deference to Ted Turner, Mark Cuban and Vice President Al Gore.

Desperation, thy name is right-wing anti-science types.

Shorter* Charles Krauthammer

We are saving them from their own self-interest -

Because the Pakistanis cannot be trusted with democracy, we have no choice but to use a dictator to further the cause of democracy in the Muslim world.

*‘Shorter’ concept created by Daniel Davies and perfected by Elton Beard.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Uh, George, About That Whole Commander-In-Chief Thing . . .

This is a nice catch by Oliver Willis:
I think he really has no idea that he's president and commander-in-chief.

Just to make things clear. Prevez Musharraf is the military President of Pakistan and the Commander-in-Chief of the Pakistani military. George W. Bush is the civilian President of the United States . . . and Commander-in-Chief of the United States military.

I wonder who whispers in his ear, "Breathe in. Hold it. Breathe out. Count to three. Repeat."

This Is Why George Will Isn't A Film Critic

Today's column by George Will is another adventure in the alternate universe that is Willy World. In Willy World, The Godfather is a celebration of the criminal life, rather than an indictment of that life as the epitome of capitalism, family values, and the evil that can swallow a person whole once one surrenders to it.

I love The Godfather, The Godfather, Part II, Goodfellas, and The Departed precisely because these films show that, far from glamorous and exciting, the life of those in organized crime is squalid, decadent, and overflowing with violence. Precisely like American society as a whole. While I haven't seen American Gangster, it sounds like it is of a piece with this same tradition.

Will throws in a quote from Puzo's book, which shows exactly the point Coppolla's (sp?) film traced through a series of vignettes - organized crime is the logical extension of capitalism, rather than the antithesis of it. The violence employed is nothing more than the final logical extension of laissez faire to a market immune to the reach of legal regulation. The goal is the maximization of profit, by any means necessary. Corporations utilize corporate spies, various barely-legal strategies such as predatory pricing, undercutting competition, and the like. Taking out a gun and killing the competition because they are interfering with the possibility of making more money is just a strategy - "It's not personal. It's just business" is a phrase that Target and the Genovese's can use without blinking or feeling ashamed.

Will would rather read Puzo's book and see Coppolla's film as a celebration of a deviant lifestyle, rather than an indictment of that lifestyle and its inherent hypocrisies, which are nothing more nor less than the hypocrisies of capitalism magnified. That American Gangster seems to do this as well means it is not the antithesis of The Godfather, but another in a long tradition of exposing the horrid underbelly of American society and capitalism.

When Was The Last Time A Nuclear Canada And The United States Fought A War?

Help me. How can anyone be hailed as the "Dean" of political journalism when he is this holwingly stupid?
To gauge the impact here of the turmoil next door in Pakistan, Americans would have to imagine their own reaction to a military coup or the imposition of martial law in Canada.

Broder does acknowledge later in the column that
India and Pakistan have fought repeated wars over the years, and suspicions of trouble are always close to the surface.

So, my question is this - the whole Canada coup comparison means . . . what, exactly?

The reason India is as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs (I love that phrase; I first read it in a Stephen King novel, and have seen it in others of his published works) is not because, like Canada and the United States, India and Pakistan have the longest unguarded border in the world. Canada and the United States have not fought a war since 1812, although there were some skirmishes out west in the mid-19th century as rival claims to the timberland of the Pacific Northwest were still being settled. In the past sixty years, Pakistan and India have fought three wars, and there is an on-going guerrilla war in Kashmir, fueled by passions on both sides. With both sides armed to the teeth, including nuclear weapons, and with the constant internal political turmoil in Pakistan always a spur to Pakistani adventurism (aided by radical Islamic disdain for the officially secular, Hindu majority India), the fears of India are both rational and long-standing.

On the other hand, Canada is almost bland by comparison. We and they share language, legal and Constitutional traditions, a history of western expansion (although Canada's was much more orderly than ours), and many social and cultural traditions.

So - in order to understand India's nerves, we have to imagine not only martial law in Canada, we have to imagine a belligerent Canada, armed with nuclear weapons, with a history of political turmoil, three wars, on-going fueling of violence in the disputed Upper Peninsula of Michigan and Penobscot County, Maine, and a Canada that does not speak our language, is becoming almost psychotically wedded to a radical form of political religion, and has a history of hating the United States.

Good comparison, David. Really.


David Horowitz Is Absolutely Insane

I saw this yesterday, but got all caught up in self-justification and so I failed in my duty to keep people up to date on what is actually going on in the world.

Max Blumenthal managed to capture David Horowitz' screaming paranoia despite Horowitz' efforts to keep cameras out. It needs to be watched to be believed.

This is a great example of why deinstitutionalization was such a failure.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Sunday School Lessons

The Senior High Sunday School class at PGUMC is doing a series of discussions on listening for Christian messages, or possible messages, within contemporary rock songs. I have been asked to contribute to this project by both teachers, and have done so, at first reluctantly, but a bit more enthusiastically over time.

What follows are three of my suggestions, lyrics included beneath. I am opening up for comments on what your take on the songs is, even if "This sucks" or "Ain't my cup of tea" is your only reaction.

"Prayer" by Disturbed:

Another dream that will never come true
Just to compliment your sorrow
Another life that I've taken from you
A gift to add on to your pain and suffering
Another truth you can never believe
Has crippled you completely
All the cries you're beginning to hear
Trapped in your mind, and the sound is deafening

Let me enlighten you
This is the way I pray

Livin just isn't hard enough
Burn me alive, inside
Livin my life's not hard enough
Take everything away

Another nightmare about to come true
Will manifest tomorrow
Another love that I've taken from you
Lost in time, on the edge of suffering
Another taste of the evil I breed
Will level you completely
Bring to life everything that you fear
Live in the dark, and the world is threatening

Let me enlighten you
This is the way i pray


Return to me
Leave me no one
Turn to me
Return to me
Cast aside

You make me turn away


"Rise Today" by Alter Bridge

The wind is blowing cold
Have we lost our way tonight?
Have we lost our hope to sorrow?

Feels like we're all alone
Running further from what's right
And there are no more heroes to follow

So what are we becoming?
Where did we go wrong?

Yeah, oh yeah
I want to rise today
And change this world

Yeah, oh yeah
Oh, won't you rise today
And change this world?

The sun is beating down
Are we ever gonna change
Can we stop the blood from running?

Our time is running out
Hope we find a better way
Before we find we're left with nothing

For every life that's taken
So much love is wasted

Yeah, oh yeah
I want to rise today
And change this world

Yeah, oh yeah
So won't you rise today
And change

This world
Only love can set it right
This world
If only peace would never die

Seems to me that we've got each other wrong
Was the enemy just your brother all along?

Yeah, oh yeah
I want to rise today
And change this world

Yeah, oh yeah
Oh won't you rise today
And change this world?

Yeah, oh yeah
I want to rise today
And change this world

Yeah, oh yeah
I want to rise today
And change this world

"Judith" by A Perfect Circle

You're such an inspiration for the ways
That I'll never ever choose to be
Oh so many ways for me to show you
How the savior has abandoned you
Fuck your God
Your Lord and your Christ
He did this
Took all you had and
Left you this way
Still you pray, you never stray
Never taste of the fruit
You never thought to question why

It's not like you killed someone
It's not like you drove a hateful spear into his side
Praise the one who left you
Broken down and paralyzed
He did it all for you
He did it all for you

Oh so many many ways for me to show you
How your dogma has abandoned you
Pray to your Christ, to your god
Never taste of the fruit
Never stray, never break
Never---choke on a lie
Even though he's the one who did this to you
You never thought to question why

Not like you killed someone
It's Not like you drove a spiteful spear into his side
Talk to Jesus Christ
As if he knows the reasons why
He did it all for you
Did it all for you
He did it all for you..

There Is Rude, Then There Is Rude

As I noted over here ELAshley thinks I am "the rudest person" he has encountered on the internet. I mentioned it to note the hilarity of the idea, not to whine about it. As Alan noted in comments:
For years liberals have been cowering in the corner any time a conservative says some nasty lie about them. Now they're shocked and surprised when we've finally grown sick enough of their BS to call them on it. Glass jawed, apparently.

Prior to this wonderful summation of my own position, I had this comment from infrequent busybody Mom2:
Geoffrey, you do your wife no favors with the comments that you make. Your behavior and manner of talking to people that disagree with you, causes me to wonder what kind of influence she can have in the pulpit when her husband has a vile mouth and an explosive temper. A pastor should have some control at home first.
Those names you called EL should not be held in your hand, let alone come out of your mouth, head, hands on the keyboard.

Before you read my response, please note that she backhandedly attacks my wife's integrity, the integrity of her ministry, and, indeed, our family life. As I have said, snide comments are one thing. Yet, this comment is of a piece with another comment sent my way, which I noted here:
Am I mistaken or do you classify yourself as a Christian with these kind of doubts?

Since there is a history of this kind of thing, and more, with this particular person, perhaps there can be some understanding behind my response:
Mom2, when I want advice from someone who knows nothing, I'll be sure to look you up. Until then, leave my wife, and her ministry, and everything else that has to do with me, out of it. I might just release some more words from my hands, because my patience with comments like yours has disappeared. Your phony sanctimony, your pompous preaching about morality, your tired, nonsensical drivel about how much more learned and wise you are simply because you haven't died yet all make me want to vomit.

Oops. I guess I was rude again.

C'est la vie.

ELAshley has taken it upon himself to expose me to the world for the horrid person I am. He even calls upon me to repent.

It is all well and good for ELAshley, Mom2, Marshall Art, and (previously) Neil to question my faith, to call in to question my wife's integrity, to claim that I am not truly a Christian. When I respond to their nonsense, however, I am wrong. It is all well and good to insist that my faith is erroneous, the way my wife and I raise our children is harmful, and we are a danger to society. It is hateful and evil for me to tell them all to mind their own business.

As I said once before, "Homey Don't Play That Way."

I honestly do not wish any of these people ill. I have not and will not call in to question their faith. As I have not only not been given the same courtesy, but have been lectured at, preached at, pronounced non-Christian, and now had my wife's integrity challenged, I do think I have shown remarkable restraint. It is not rude to take a stand when attacked. It is not un-Christian to act out of anger. It is not hateful to dismiss the intemperate comments and intrusive suggestions of people whose opinion one does not value. I have honestly sought dialogue with these folks, to a person, and have had nothing but bile thrown at me, time after time. Now, I am flinging back, although in a different way, and they don't like it.

WATB one and all.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Let's Talk About Sex

In comments here, Marshall Art writes:
Geoffrey, muh man, I've just said a quick prayer for your girl. To alert a child to the changes they will undergo is one thing. To present perversions as simply sexual diversity is reprehensible. As things are going now, don't be surprised if she winds up pregnant early with the very decisions she didn't need to make and wouldn't have to if she was taught to put sex in it's proper place.

First of all, one person's perversion is another's Friday night frolic. That's just the way the cookie crumbles. More to the point, I find it fascinating that there are so many people concerned with how other people raise their children. I have indicated that we are working for an open line of communication with our children on this issue, and that we are teaching our daughters that "difference" does not equate with "wrong" - and somehow, Marshall decides to warn me that because of that, my daughter is going to get pregnant.

If she does, you know what, Marshall? We will be there with her every step of the way. We will not judge, we will not be angry, we won't be disappointed, we will give her as much help as we can, and we will never, ever stop loving her. That, however, is hardly the issue.

Why, on God's green earth, is it wrong to tell children that people are people? Why, on God's green earth, is it wrong to tell children that love is far better than deciding how other's are to live?

I want to tell a story out of school, as it were. I hope I will be forgiven for this, but I will not use names to protect the innocent. In March of 1989, my youngest sister, living in Massachusetts with her boyfriend, called our house. She talked to my mother for close to two hours. She had not contacted my parents for three months, and we found out why that evening - she was pregnant, and terrified of my parents' reaction. My parents' reaction? As I was standing in the kitchen when my mother and father talked about this, I can give a first-hand account - Is that all? My mother added, "I thought it might be that" for good measure.

That child is a freshman on a full-ride scholarship to Dartmouth College, studying chemistry right now.

The point of this little family anecdote is simple - I learned how to raise my children, and love them no matter what, and accept their mistakes, from two people I admire more than any others - my parents, Daniel and Virginia Safford. I honestly don't think anything Marshall has said, or will say, about raising children, can compare to the lesson I learned that March evening eighteen years ago. However, I open this discussion to other parents out there - DL, ER, Jim, Sis - for their input.

While We're At It, The United States Is Pretty Artificial, Too . . .

I often wonder if people realize how truly dumb they are. Do they say something, and then realize, "Man, that was just about the worst arrangement of words possible. My bad, everybody!" I am not talking about garden-variety stupid, here, like the Uncle at the family reunion who goes on and on about his prostate treatment as everyone tries to hide in embarrassment. I am speaking about, well, about people who are supposed to be really smart saying things that are just God-awful.

Our entry today in the "I Wish I Could Take It Back" contest is this piece over at Newsweek/Washington Post on-line by Ali Ettefagh entitled "Why not Dissolve Pakistan, Too?" Mr. Ettefagh is Director of something called the Highmore Global Corporation, an investment group specializing in emerging and Third World markets. Here is a rundown on Pakistani history, accurate enough, given by Mr. Ettefagh:
Pakistan was a phrase coined for an idealistic confederation of five Muslim provinces within the old British-controlled India (Punjab, Northwest Frontier Province or Afghania, Kashmir, Sindh and Baluchistan). However, these are tribal lands with distinct traditions and have very little in common. These provinces were all knocked together, on presumption of a common religion, and a “dominion” was fabricated within the Commonwealth with self-governance authority akin to independence after World War II.

Before he gives this roughly accurate account of the emergence of Pakistan from the British Raj, however, he goes all Winston Churchill on us (during the 1920's debate in Britain on giving India dominion status, Churchill insisted that "India" was an artificial term, and trying to give coherence to what had never been coherent, or to unify what had never been unified was not just dangerous for the people of India, but historically dishonest) and writes in his very first sentence:
Pakistan is not a country. It is a failed British fantasy about the fabrication of a nation-state. It has other failed and failing peers in the Middle East, all fabricated during the 20th century. It is time to seriously review all of these structures and redraw the borderlines.

Red flags abound. While it is true that Pakistan has had its share of crises, coups d'etat, and is currently undergoing a profound political crisis not helped by Washington ambivalence (I do believe the US is sitting this one out because they have yoked themselves to Pres. Prevez Musharraf, a man with a clock ticking above his head if ever there was one), it is nonetheless quite frightening to offer up for serious discussion the thought of redrawing national boundaries by an outside party.

At the end of the First World War, the map of Europe was redrawn. At the end of the Second World War, it was done so again, including the elimination of the old Kingdom of Prussia within Germany, at the insistence of Josef Stalin (somehow, the reasoning was, if you got rid of Prussia, you got rid of something people insisted on calling "Prussianism", best described again by Winston Churchill with the bon mot "A Hun alive is a war in prospect."). after the collapse of the Soviet Union and its control over Eastern Europe, the world's map again was changed, but this time by the various countries in question.

Ettefagh is not suggesting the kind of thing done after conquering a defeated nation in war. He is not suggesting the Pakistanis deal with their internal crisis by considering dismemberment. He is insisting that outside powers intervene and decide the territorial integrity question of a sovereign state without its input or its consent.

Then we can all put on our jodhpurs and pith helmets and drink tea on the veranda and complain about the darkies and their lack of political ability, giving thanks for the White Man's burden.

I Love Him I Love Him I Love Him And Where He Goes I'll Follow I'll Follow I'll Follow

I was thinking this was going to be a difficult blogging day, but then the muse whispered in my ear and I went to take a look at today's entry in the Washington Follies by E. J. Dionne. Like his colleague David Broder, who insisted in a column back in February that President George Bush was on the verge of "a political comeback" (crickets chirp as we await the fulfillment of the prediction; oh, and people die, too, in Iraq and Afghanistan), Dionne is in full-out man-crush mode on the media's favorite Republican candidate:
The strangest thing about John McCain's campaign for president is that it's supposed to be dead, but it isn't. This is a real nuisance for his competitors.

The comeback is not showy or dramatic. And it's true that while McCain is better off than he was in July, when his campaign imploded in a dazzling display of financial mismanagement and staff recriminations, he still faces a more difficult route to the GOP nomination than his well-financed rivals, Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney.

The evidence?
Nationally, McCain got a boost over the weekend when a new Post-ABC News poll showed him in second place to Giuliani. The former New York mayor had 33 percent; McCain, 19 percent; and the stalled Fred Thompson16 percent. Romney, who leads in both Iowa and New Hampshire, came in at 11 percent, and Mike Huckabee had 9 percent.

So, McCain is at the top of the back-of-the-pack crowd, fourteen points behind, and this is a comeback.

Remember, folks, this is one poll.


The rest of Dionne's column is an attempt at a tactical dissection, not of McCain, but of what might be happening in other candidacies because McCain might be coming back. There is no actual research here - I mean, even David Broder pretends to listen to people talking, or places a phone call or two to a "source". Dionne, does nothing but spin out fantasies of what the Romney and Giuliani campaigns might be doing if his thesis that McCain is surging is correct.

Dionne's column ends thusly:
That McCain is still standing is a credit to his persistence. But it is also a symptom of the anxieties and misgivings among Republican voters over the choices they confront in this dark time for their party.

This is a much more honest assessment of what is happening - including the whole "persistence" part - than anything else in the column, except for the poll-quoting business.

I think it is important to note here that Dionne is one of my favorite columnists. He writes well, and thoughtfully, about the intersection of politics and religion. He usually eschews horse race malarkey for serious discussions about policy. Yet here we have an example of the kind of media-love-fest about John McCain that is so galling to so many people. It is one thing to note that McCain isn't sitting in the basement of the polls. It is quite another to insist that McCain - who has as much chance of winning the Republican nomination as I do - is somehow the new "Comeback Kid". He isn't.

As Glenn Greenwald notes today, the real "straight talker" and "maverick" is Ron Paul, who, as Greenwald also notes, is the one who is surging. He is doing so because, unlike McCain, he is not a bullshit artist at whose feet the media bow. This is the column Dionne should have written. That is was not says as much about Washington conventional wisdom, insiderism, and the hollow shell that is so much of our political discourse as Dionne's surprisingly vapid piece.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Music Monday

I was, again, going to do a post in honor of my hometown radio station. Along the way, however, I got sidetracked, and decided to do a post honoring a great songwriter who ranks with Irving Berling and Goerge and Ira Gershwin as a giant in American popular song. I think he gets short shrift because he was carrying on a tradition in an era that diminished that kind of thing, but I think Burt Bacharach wrote some of the catchiest melodies around. I know there are some who will dismiss it, and think I am off my rocker, but so be it.

As he will always be linked, in my mind at least, with Dionne Warwick, the following posts are Warwick-heavy. If this is a further turn-off, so be it.

I love this song. Sorry, but I do. "This Girl's In Love With You":

"I Say A Little Prayer For You":

Here she is in 1985 doing "What's It All About, Alfie":

I swear, soon I will do a post on my hometown radio station. This post is relevant, by the way, as you may see if I ever get around to doing that one.

She Wasn't That Good To Begin With

Fred Kaplan does a pre-demise post-mortem on the tenure of Condoleeza Rice as Secretary of State today in the Washington Post. As I've already done a post on her proposed Middle East peace conference and the likelihood of success in such a venture, I think it only fair that I tend to a larger "meta" question - what went wrong.

The first sentences from Kaplan's second paragraph sum up all that is wrong with Washington reporting:
Rice isn't used to failure, and most Americans aren't used to thinking of her as one. In Beltway wisdom, she's the star of President Bush's second-term team, someone who has employed smarts, sense and style to try to steer a wiser course in the world.

"Most Americans"? "Beltway wisdom"? "Star"? Loaded with terms of dubious accuracy and insiderism, this hardly bodes well for a serious consideration on the merits. Indeed, part of Kaplan's thesis is that, once, Rice was a "realist" as in real politique who sold her soul to the Bush Administration's "messianism". Educated as Standford University, she was an "expert" on the former Soviet Union. As the American foreign policy never approached political realism in regards to that particular historical dust-bin, one wonders how anyone who understands, or claims to understand, diplomatic history, could possibbly call Rice a realist.

Always conservative, Rice was sold to the American public not on her abilities, but on her supposedly sunny personality, her stylish dressing, and her piano playing ability. Only in Washington, where anyone with the letters p, h, and d after their names is automatically considered something of a sage (that is why the egregiously awful Henry Kissinger is not behind bars; "Why, he has a Ph. D.!"), could Rice be thought of as a "realist" without the quotes, and with a straight face.

Rice's failures, so far, and in to the future are her own. She is operating within an Administration that disdains serious diplomacy. She is operating within an Administration that has made the United States the chief rogue nation in the world, a danger to world peace on a grand scale. Thanks to her bosses, she represents a country with no diplomatic, political, or moral credibility whatsoever. Her word is less than worthless because all who deal with her know that she is not master of foreign policy, but just one more tool, and another poorly used one at that, in the arsenal of bad politics and horrid policy, of the Bush Administration.

We are where we are not only because of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, but because they were aided and abetted by lightweights like Condoleeza Rice. Rice may have sold her soul, but I wonder at times if there was much there to sell. Her price was certainly low enough.

Passive-Agressive Post-Modernist

With a generous, mellifluous tip of the old fedora to ER.

Over at comments here, Neil writes the following:
I admit that I don't have much patience for passive-aggressive postmoderns. I don't mind people who disagree; I do mind those who are endlessly wounded that I believe what I am saying while they pretend that they just aren't sure about anything . . . even though they are quite sure that it is bad that I believe the Bible was completely inspired by God.

I find this hilariously funny. Neil and I have been around about the whole passive-aggressive thing before, so I won't hash it out here. Suffice it to say that I do not "pretend" that I'm not sure. I'm just not sure. Period.

That doesn't mean that what I believe I believe half-heartedly. Or that I do not profess my belief honestly. For Neil, apparently, one only makes a statement of faith when one is convinced of its accuracy, its Truth, and its undeniability. He is a Christian Cartesian.

I do not think it is bad for him to believe what he believes. What I think is bad is his insistence that (a) he knows what I think better than I do (the whole passive-aggressive thing); (b) that those who do not believe as he does are "false teachers".

In the same comment section, ELAshley writes:
Geoffrey is perhaps the rudest person I've encountered on the internet.

He hasn't been around the internet very much if he thinks I'm rude.

ELAshley, you're a whiny-ass titty-baby. Seriously. Please, feel free not to darken my doorway again, if it hurts your tender Christian sensibilities that there might be some people in the world who wrestle with their faith, and do not like having referees who don't know the sport tell them what they're doing wrong.

I suppose that was rude, wasn't it. Ah, well.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Is There No End To These Internet Quizzes

Rolling Stone has something called "The Nearly Impossible Rock and Roll Quiz". I am embarrassed to say I only got a 27, scoring a big goose-egg on the section for "the 2000's". This is the kind of trivia quiz that people with nothing else in their lives would pass, so I suppose I should be happy.

Give it a try, and let me know how you do.

Note to ER: Johnny Cash is mentioned. And Lillie Langtry.

Not Only Is She Ridiculously Vapid, She Is Lazy And A Liar As Well

The folks at something called The Dowd Report don't like the fact that I call the Chief Kitty "ridiculously vapid". Seeing as how Dowd has won the coveted Wanker of the Day award by Duncan, I ventured to Whiskey Fire to find out why. Thers refuses to deal with the column in its entirety, settling on one statement, to investigate its truthiness, as it were.

One side note; Thers says that he is "most familiar" with the small city of Binghamton, NY, just sixty miles east of my old stomping grounds.

In any event, the line in question from Dowd is this one:
If the gender game worked when Rick Lazio muscled into her space, why shouldn’t it work when Obama and Edwards muster some mettle? If she could become a senator by playing the victim after Monica, surely she can become president by playing the victim now.

First of all, enough of the "gender card", especially as it is a phrase that denotes the opposite of its intended meaning. What it intends to mean is a person is using "gender" as a category to divide the electorate based upon an identity politics of grievance. In the same way that the phrase "race card" is used by bigots to complain when they are called out, and "class warfare" is screeched from the highest mountaintops when someone points out that a corporation, aided by the government, is screwing workers, it now seems that "gender card" will be trotted out whenever a woman runs for office. Or perhaps only when Hillary Clinton runs for office.

Maureen Dowd was "writing" at the Times during her 2000 run for the Senate. Since she is a "reporter" one might have assumed she would have gone back and read the campaign reports filed by her paper. Or she might have interviewed voters who went to rallies, perhaps, or did volunteer work for her. SHe might even have perused a campaign flyer or two in order to substantiate the claim that Sen. Clinton played the victim against her opponent, Rick Lazio.

As Thers points out, Clinton won in 2000, and again in 2006, by running in the whole state, familiarizing herself with the issues north of Duchess County and west of the Hudson River, and campaigning in places no New York State Senate candidate had ventured. One may disagree with her policies, but no one can say she sat in an office in Manhattan and played "poor me" in order to win. As Thers rightly points out, she worked her ass off.

So. Dowd just spins stuff she finds floating through that vast space between her ears (or that she pulls out of her ass, which is more likely) and it becomes part and parcel of the conventional wisdom. Or, as is the case with her description of the New York Senate race in 2000, is an established "fact" of "history". That it isn't, and that the so-called "gender card" is a way for lazy journalists who fear a woman President to discuss the candidate without actually dealing with issues. It can be all about her boobies, as The Washington Post has already made clear.

Lord help us over the next year. Or even over the next nine years.

Aren't We Forgetting A Few Things?

I suppose it was inevitable. I have broken down and linked to the Washington Post. I have done so because, after having lived for four years in the nation's capital, of the major dailies (along with the Post, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and The Christian Science Monitor), this is the one closest to the action, and the one with which I am most familiar.

I have already done a post on a story. To keep things even, as it were, I now refer the reader to today's opinion piece by David Ignatius. I was quite stunned to read that the United States will be hosting peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians in Annapolis later this month or early next month:
It's an unlikely recipe for peace: Take one unpopular Israeli prime minister still suffering from setbacks in Lebanon; add one politically weak Palestinian president who has lost control of part of his territory; fold in lukewarm support from Arab states. Now, beat the mixture with an energetic secretary of state and cook over high heat.

The diplomat in the chef's hat, Condoleezza Rice, hopes to produce something palatable in time for a big peace conference in Annapolis in late November or the first half of December. The conference will bring together Israelis and Palestinians, along with a coterie of Arab and international officials. The goal is a document that will commit everyone to creation of a Palestinian state and recognition of the state of Israel.

Ignatius goes on to discuss the possibility of substantive progress in this area (which, in a sane universe, would have been a top priority for a United States hell-bent on military action in the Arab world) without ever once discussing two relative points that might put Rice's venture into some kind of perspective.

In the fall of 2000, President Clinton initiated a peace conference at Camp David between then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat. Substantively, the entire process became a bone of contention, as Barak stormed out of the meeting, refusing to discuss the terms set out by President Clinton. The entire process has since become mired in controversy, as the terms of the agreement proposed by Pres. Clinton, and accepted by Arafat and rejected by Barak, have been hashed, rehashed, discussed, disputed, belittled, and dismissed. At the time, however, the most salient feature of the entire process was the way it was framed in the press. The infection of horrid framing by the press spread overseas, as is evident in this story from the UK's Telegraph newspaper, datelined January 9, 2001. The opening sentence sums up the stupid way the entire issue was framed:
BILL CLINTON'S hopes of ending his presidency with a Middle East peace agreement were dashed yesterday as opinion hardened on both sides against his proposals.

The discussion of the peace conference centered not on the merits, or lack thereof, of President Clinton's proposal. The discussion did not focus on the possible results of either Israeli or Palestinian concessions on what had been, until then, points upon which neither side refused to yield. The entire event became focused on Pres. Clinton, and how he was trying to burnish his "legacy" with some kind of breakthrough on Israeli-Palestinian peace. In fact, one might have thought that even if this were an issue of substantive importance, there might have been some consideration of what a successful summit might have meant for the future of the United States' dealings with the Arab states in the region, as well as Israel.

The stories, almost compulsively, centered on how the entire thing was nothing more than Bill Clinton trying to do something positive for his "legacy". I wonder if we will hear stories about how George Bush is trying to burnish his legacy with a breakthrough on Israeli-Palestinian peace talks? Probably not, actually, because even the institutionally developmentally disabled press corps knows two things:
1) Relations between the Palestinians and the Israelis are so bad right now, and (as Ignatius points out very clearly) the leaders of both nations are so weakened right now, that any substantive deal would only be preliminary to further discussions.
2) This is Condi's deal. Pres. George W. Bush has neither the intellect, time, nor temperament to come up with a plan and serve as a moderator of serious diplomatic negotiation. In actual fact, Sec. of State Rice doesn't either, but the press pretends she does because she has the letter "Ph.D." after her name.

Here is the other thing we are forgetting - Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice has no legitimacy. Not even in the State Department. Indeed, as Tbogg reminded us on Friday, this week has been, for Madam Secretary, the "Very Bad Not-So-Good I-Wish-I-Was-Shoe-Shopping Week". So, along with a weakened leader of Israel, a Palestinian leader whose party has no control over half his territory and an incipient civil war on his hands, we have a hostess and moderator who has zero credibility here or abroad. Don't believe me? See what they're doing to her image in Ankara:

This is a recipe for success. Not.

Doing The Dirty Deed

It seems I have started a whole new subset of posts - criticizing the press and politicians for doing the dirty work of the Republicans by engaging in sexist, pre-framed criticism of Sen. Hillary Clinton that, even on the merits, either has little evidence, or uses the kind of terminology and coded, loaded phrases we have come to expect from Republicans.

To that end, I came across this article by Dan Balz in today's Washington Post entitled "Obama Criticizes Clinton's Drive to Win". When I saw the headline, red flags went up all over the place. When I read the lede, however, I realized that Obama had gone and done something really stupid - he was reading from Newt Gingrich's playbook.
Sen. Barack Obama leveled a fresh round of criticism at Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton yesterday, accusing his rival for the Democratic nomination of following a campaign plan that prizes calculation over candor and that is aimed more at winning the election than uniting the country.
Obama, who represents Illinois, described Clinton as a skilled politician running a textbook campaign but said the textbook itself is badly flawed and skewed against ordinary Americans. "It's a textbook that's all about winning elections but says nothing about how to bring the country together to solve problems," he said.

Obama pointed to last week's debate in Philadelphia, in which he, former senator John Edwards of North Carolina and Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut all challenged Clinton for being equivocal or engaging in political doubletalk, as emblematic of Clinton's strategy.

"As we saw in the debate last week, it encourages vague, calculated answers to suit the politics of the moment, instead of clear, consistent principles about how you would lead America," he said. "It teaches you that you can promise progress for everyday people while striking a bargain with the very special interests who crowd them out."

I don't know who Obama's advisors are, but on this particular topic, I think his advisors are more than stupid. Consider the issue logically. Obama is criticizing Sen. Clinton, essentially, for being ambitious. For wanting to win the nomination. Yet, he is doing so in order to win the nomination. The substance of his criticism is that she is a calculating, traditional politician who has neither the vision nor the strategy to attempt something bold and visionary for the country. He is doing so by engaging in negative campaigning, one of the oldest, most tried and true, but certainly effective campaign tactics around, which seeks to divide the electorate from a candidate.

Now, other than the latter part of Obama's criticism (in essence that she is George Bush redux, a divider not a uniter) the bulk of it could be construed as sexist by anyone who might think along those lines - people like Sen. Clinton, for example. After all, criticizing a woman for being ambitious, for being careful and calculating in pursuing her ambition - we don't criticize Barack Obama for being ambitious, or for being careful and calculating in pursuing his ambition, do we? That would be silly.

Yet, it seems not at all odd to level these criticisms as Sen. Clinton, criticisms which essentially say, "Stop acting like a politician."

I do wish that someone, somewhere, would tell these people to stop using Newt Gingrich's old playbook from 1994.

Virtual Tin Cup

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