After posting this, I emailed it to The Corner at National Review Online. Today? This.

But no love from K-Lo, or anyone else. Blogus.



What the Hell?

Don't know how long this will be around. But it's hard to believe.

Here's Ayman al-Zawahiri:

And here's the caption (minus links):
Picture dated 08 November 2001 shows Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden's deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri at his hideout at an undisclosed location in Afghanistan.
Dissident? Dissident? You mean like Lech Walesa? Like Alexander Solzhenitsyn?



I Know It's Shallow

But Yuschenko earns bonus points for having the hottest Prime Minister in the world!


-D. Brown
Multinational Coalition Update

Ukraine, it seems, is preparing to leave Iraq. CBS News (Consider the Bloody Source) notes that
Ukraine has 1,650 troops in Iraq, the fourth-largest contingent in the U.S.-led military operation. Outgoing President Leonid Kuchma has ordered them withdrawn by the end of June and Yushchenko has said he will stand by that.
The rationale of newly/finally-elected Viktor Yuschenko is that their mission is complete (will there be a banner?) and that "Politicians, diplomats and businessmen must replace them."

I'd say this isn't anything to laugh at. The political (as opposed to actual) consequences of a "New European" ally leaving Iraq, especially as it could be played in the MSM, will make it more difficult for those nations still participating in Iraq to remain. Losing the troop strength is not much of an issue, but the symbolism is more significant. Just as the Spanish withdrawl following the Madrid train bombings and the election of Jose Luis Rodriguez Mr. Bean Zapatero was perceived both in the US and the Arab world as weak-kneed western capitulation to terrorist demands, so will Ukraine's or any other nation's departure signify a weakening of Western will. This despite the fact that no one will notice they are gone.

I only have one comment to make about this. Since, as everyone knows, Yuschenko is in office because of the behind-the-scenes influence of US-trained agitators, or whatever, you'd think he'd owe us. You'd think, in other words, he would have been sufficiently bribed and coerced, not to mention bought and extorted. Here's what I'm guessing: Yuschenko announces withdrawl in Oct 2004 but nothing actually happens until mid-2005 at the earliest. Thus he gets the domestic regional political gain from announcing the withdrawl, but makes nice with the US by delaying it until the end of the year.

-D. Brown


Living off the fat of the land Paul Zimmerman, Sport Illustrated, 12/23/2004

The subject is fat guys in the NFL, particularly fat defensive linemen.
Tony Siragusa was a serious, technically correct, run-stopping 296-pounder when the Colts signed him as a free agent in 1990. He had something to prove. I remember covering an Indianapolis practice in his second or third year and he approached me in the locker room and asked, "Can I talk to you for a minute?"

So we went into the weight room and a minute stretched into 40, and we went through almost all the keynote interior defensive linemen in the league -- which one was a dedicated run-stopper, who worked hardest, who was merely a sack artist who didn't bother with the run. It troubled him that this area of the game was so neglected, that people didn't really understand who was working at his trade and who wasn't. He wanted to be known as a guy who worked it.

Fast forward to January, 2001, Super Bowl week in Tampa, Wednesday media session. The Baltimore Ravens' Siragusa, his 350 pounds occupying what looks like half the interview table, is holding court. They are packed around him two deep. He is a personality, in quotes, king of the one-liners. Someone asks him if this is the best defense ever.

"Well, who was better?" he says.

"Steel Curtain Steelers," I say.

"What are you, from Pittsburgh?"

"No, from Jersey, same as you."

They switched the topic and afterward Siragusa came over to me and said, quite annoyed, "What are you trying to screw up my act for?"

"You don't remember me, do you?" I said.

"No, should I?"

"Not really. Just asking."

The article really nails Tony Siragusa to the wall. The transformation from young hungry rookie to Fat New Jersey Tony apparently didn't take too long.

The article is really worth reading, however, to get a sense of how big these guys are getting.

Posted by DOC



Firefox Plugin List (not exhaustive)

If you're not using Firefox, you're missing out.

Posted by DOC
But he's just a hippie, so *his* rights don't matter...

Grateful Dead's former lyricist finds tough fight against searches By Mary Anne Ostrom, Sun, Dec. 19, 2004 Contra Costa Times

San Mateo County Deputy District Attorney Aaron Fitzgerald argued that Barlow "was on a fishing expedition" in his attempt to open up the government's policies and procedures. Two government attorneys representing the federal agency sat directly behind Fitzgerald, arguing several times that witnesses could not answer defense questions because information such as how X-ray equipment is used and how workers are trained could "make it easier for terrorists." The judge sided with the prosecution at nearly every turn.

Sure, Barlow was on a fishing expedition, in an attempt to uncover some of the lunacy that surrounds the joke that is airport security. I've been to LAX twice quite recently, and as far as I can tell the only thing that screeners are taught to do properly is drool. Somewhere, this generation's Oscar Wilde is busy skewering this nonsense.

Posted by DOC


Great Rant About Blogging Generally and Moveable Type in Particular

Why your Movable Type blog must die By James A C Joyce

My favorite bit:

You are fucking stupid
Congratulations, you dumb bint. You've just equated the useless babblings of millions of ostentatious retards around the world to a valuable free source of information available to all. Crapflooding is nothing like ripping up most of the books in a library. It's more likely scribbling on several thousands of pieces of paper and then stuffing them all into the "Comments and Suggestions" box hung up on the wall. This will hardly interfere at all with the experience of other library (blog) users. So shut the fuck up before you make a fool of yourself again by making nonsensical comparisons.

Via slashdot

Posted by DOC
Skidmore has been a magnet for trouble By SCOTT CANON and RICK MONTGOMERY The Kansas City Star (Reg. Req., but excerpts follow)

SKIDMORE, Mo. –– How, wonder the people still left in this small town getting smaller, could such horrible things happen in a place they treasure for its friendly rural charms?

First came the notorious “Skidmore bully,” Ken Rex McElroy, whose death made national headlines. He had so terrorized the town that when somebody gunned him down in broad daylight in 1981, nobody would admit to seeing a thing.

Then on Oct. 16, 2000, pretty Wendy Gillenwater was stomped to death by her boyfriend. Locals take comfort in knowing the killer is serving life in prison.

The next year, a 20-year-old resident vanished. Many think he was murdered.

And now the police cars and media crews are back. Somebody on Thursday killed 23-year-old Bobbie Jo Stinnett, butchering her body to pull out the little girl due next month to be Stinnett's firstborn.

“Why do they all come to Skidmore to do this?” decadelong resident Pauline Dragoo asked on Friday, her 91st birthday. “I'm going to move out of this town.

When I lived in Kansas City in the 80's and 90's, the Ken McElroy incident was widely discussed, especially in light of the book In Broad Daylight by Harry MacLean. The consensus at that time was that Skidmore's residents were essentially complicit in a massive conspiracy of silence about the murder of McElroy.

Some of these small midwestern towns are truly miserable places. Skidmore appears to be no exception. Reading the opening quote about what a great place it is to live feels akin to reading a quote from someone about how the guy next door who just went postal was really quiet, and always kept to himself. It's never "all he could talk a bout was killing Buckwheat."

Seriously, though, is there a citizen in American that won't tell a reporter how great it is where he lives?

Posted by DOC


More Tolerance From The Left

Hatred is a powerful motivator, and these Christian soldiers will march onward, fighting tooth and nail for the theoretical hand in marriage, to protect marriage. "You'll get this bouquet when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers." Although the Republican party doesn't openly endorse prejudice, if it results in more votes, then no one is complaining. It really is genius, harnessing hatred in order to further your own political party. We wish that democrats would have thought of it first, but even if they had, the plan to introduce prejudice as an enlistment strategy doesn't work with the ethical ideals of the party. Compassion really does block the way to power.

What is deeply distressing is the incredible numbers of people who are vehemently opposed to equality, and the need for them to deny equal rights to others simply because they cannot bear the thought of equality. It isn't like anyone who is against marriage equality would be directly affected by the existence of it. Not unless they were part of the wedding industry, and then they could reserve the right to refuse service anyway. More likely, they would welcome the extra revenue. Gay marriage would create a huge boon, and it is doubtful anyone would turn away cold hard cash. Greed remarkably has no bias. This is evidenced in the way that Republicans will pander to this creepy Christ crowd and allow the asinine, the atrociously unfit and the morally repugnant to swell their ranks because it means more for them, and more is where it is at if you are a Republican.

I'd advise her to go back to being obscure and unfunny. Sheesh.

Posted by DOC

Via Celluloid Wisdom


But how essential were "values" for voters?

Are Newspaper Readers Going Republican, Too?
Editor & Publisher, 12.14.2004

But the interesting final paragraph says

Another Gallup poll also released today showed that, contrary to many press reports, “values” ranked well behind the war in Iraq, terrorism and the economy as a prime concern of Americans.

Well, did they change their minds or their priorities?

Posted by DOC
Test Your French Defeat Knowledge

Posted by DOC
I know all about reporters by Howard Owens

Please, just don't call them "professionals."

Posted by DOC
The Roots of the Word "Fan"

c.1525, "insane person," from L. fanaticus "mad, enthusiastic, inspired by a god," originally, "pertaining to a temple," from fanum "temple," related to festus "festive" (see feast). Current sense of "extremely zealous," especially in religion, is first attested 1647. The noun is from 1650, originally in religious sense, of Nonconformists.

Posted by DOC

Social Issues Shock Dems by John Leo

Democrats tend to overlook or discount social issues. At a dinner party in New York a month ago, a dread moment arrived: Someone asked me to tell the whole table why I was going to vote for President Bush, which is deeply eccentric behavior in these parts. My fellow diners listened with the same polite detachment they would have shown if I were explaining that my hobby is torturing iguanas. I said the Democrats had lost me years ago on the social issues, not just because of the stances themselves but because of the coercion, intolerance, and contempt for dissenters in the party and for ordinary Americans who live in the middle of the country and thus fail to have East Coast or West Coast opinions. I said the last straw came in 1992 when the Clintonites wouldn't allow Gov. Robert Casey of Pennsylvania, a strong liberal on nearly every issue but abortion, to speak at their convention. To rub it in, hard-line feminists managed to invite a Republican speaker who was a pro-abortion opponent of Casey's.

Doors were slamming in the Democratic Party. Almost all dissent from elite opinion on social issues gradually became positioned as a human-rights violation of some kind. (On the cable shows last Wednesday, backers of traditional marriage were denounced several times as gay-bashers.) I told my dinner companions the Republican Party is a weak vessel, with lots of movers and shakers who seem to care only about greed, but now, on the broad array of social issues, it is the only game in town.

This is a -- dare I say it -- reasonaly nuanced article. Most serious Republicans don't strike me as broadly tolerant people, but most serious Democrats often strike me as even less tolerant.

Posted by DOC


Coerced, Obviously

Japan has re-enlisted in the Coalition of the Bribed and Coerced. I admit it's a little disconcerting to this anglophone that the Japanese defense minister's name is "Ohno."

-D. Brown
Cold Turkey

Yes, I've cut myself off from reading The Nation. It's an experiment. My time is finite, and I had been spending far too much of it at the same website. So what am I doing with my time? Well, I've apparently become a biotechnology blogger. Not my intention.

But this Slate article by Wm. Saletan helped fill in some of the details of the Ponnuru piece I linked earlier. In fact, having read it, I'm less inclined to agree with Ponnuru. The scary graf:
It sounds perfect, until you look up at the projection screen. Hurlbut has modeled his recipe on "aberrant products of fertilization" and teratomas, which, he explains, are "germ cell tumors that generate all three primary embryonic germ layers as well as more advanced cells and tissues, including partial limb and organ primordia." Limb and organ primordia? Yep, that's what's on the screen: a ball of tissue, grown inside some poor creature, full of bits and pieces of what would have been a body. Another slide shows an X-ray image of somebody's back. To the left of the spine, you can see a cluster of white spots that look like teeth. And that's exactly what they are, all dressed up and no place to chomp. You wanted disorganized development? You got it.
Gilbert Meilaender, linked in this space yesterday, also worries about the consequences of the technology, mainly as the potential top of a slippery slope. Like I said, I'm predisposed to agree with Ponnuru, so we'll see what he writes tomorrow.

-D. Brown

Quid pro Quo

Ramesh Ponnuru agreed with me the other day, and I thought I'd return the favor. This article at TechCentralStation (hat tip to K-Lo) discusses some possibilities in embryonic stem cell research that those of a pro-life persuasion may find more palatable than the deliberate creation of embryonic human beings with the intention of destroying them.

It's interesting that Ponnuru shares my distaste for American fertility practices. I haven't met many people who do. Then again, all of the Catholics I know are thoroughly (and somewhat proudly) lapsed. Anyhow, the article promises another installment tomorrow. I'll be watching for it.

-D. Brown


"The Vice of Compassion"

Given the tendency of bioethicists to hold the corporations that employ them to a very flexible, if not low, standard of ethics, it's good to know that the author of this essay sits on the President's Bioethics Council.

It's a long essay. Here's one of the strong points:
No one can be against compassion, of course, and no one should be against it when it is properly understood. But the debased currency of compassion in our public discourse today is by no means the real virtue itself. The meaning of compassion has been isolated entirely from any larger moral framework which might give it direction and set limits to what can be done in its name.
Glenn Reynolds, take note.

DOC will be glad to know that his favorite author is invoked.

-D. Brown
John Kerry Could Tell Us

Were they bribed or coerced?

The guy is smiling. Must have been the bribe.

-D. Brown


The Good News

You'll be relieved to read that, according to its about page:
The Nation will not be the organ of any party, sect, or body. It will, on the contrary, make an earnest effort to bring to the discussion of political and social questions a really critical spirit, and to wage war upon the vices of violence, exaggeration, and misrepresentation by which so much of the political writing of the day is marred.
Whew! So it won't be long until The Nation, in its unremitting war against partisanship, exaggeration, and misrepresentation, conquers such articles this one, which was published three weeks ago. May I quote it at length? Thank you.
. . . [T]he strict-father family model assumes that evil and danger will always lurk in the world, that life is difficult, that there will always be winners and losers and that children are born bad--they want to do what feels good, not what's right--and have to be made good. A strict father is needed to protect and support the family and to teach his kids right from wrong. That can be done in only one way: punishment painful enough that, to avoid it, children will learn the internal discipline necessary to be moral. That discipline can also make them prosperous if they seek their self-interest and no one interferes. Mommy isn't strong enough to protect the family and is too soft-hearted to discipline the children. That's why fathers are necessary.

Apply this, via metaphor, to the nation: We need a strong President who knows right from wrong to defend the nation. Social programs are immoral because they give people things they haven't earned and so make them undisciplined--both dependent and less able to function morally. The prosperous people are the good people. Those who are not prosperous deserve their poverty. Taxes take away the rightful rewards of the prosperous. Wrongdoers should be punished severely. Government should get out of the way of disciplined (hence good) people seeking their self-interest. The President is to be obeyed; since he knows right from wrong, his authority is legitimate and not to be questioned. In foreign policy, he is also the absolute moral authority and so needs no advice from lesser countries.

The so-called "moral issues" are affronts to strict-father morality. Strict-father marriage cannot be gay; it must be between a man and a woman. For a wife to seek an abortion on her own or a daughter to need one is an affront to strict-father control over the behavior of the women in his family. They are not the main moral issues in themselves; rather they are symbolic of the entire strict-father identity as applied to all spheres of life. That's why they are so powerful for conservatives.
The battle is joined, and soon the exaggeration, misrepresentation, and partisanship represented by this recently published article will be excised from The Nation's pages forever.

Of course, the promise to eliminate the stuff was made in 1865. And Katrina vanden Heuvel isn't too hot on Wars against Abstract Concepts (see below).

-D. Brown

vanden Heuvel: Uncanny, Unhinged

I've been after The Nation since I started blogging. Probably 80-90% of my entries have been related to something from either The Nation or the International Herald Tribune. That probably won't change.

Here, for instance, is Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel's latest entry in her blog (I decided against the sarcastic quotation marks), "The Editor's Cut." She is the editor of this periodical. This is her first paragraph:
Music for America (MfA) is Example A of why the future is for the young and MfA-type organizations who are inspired now more than ever to continue to effect positive change. Twenty-one million Americans under the age of 30 cast ballots, 4.6 million of them were new voters. This was the highest youth turnout since the voting age was lowered to 18 in 1972, and its an important example of what went right in the campaign.
Now, in a sidebar we are warned to "expect no major manifestos or sweeping pronouncements." Would it be too much to expect a coherent paragraph? One with a lead sentence that scanned?

She compounds her difficulty in the second paragraph by beginning:
If only 18, 19 and 20 year olds had been permitted to vote in this election, Kerry would have carried Ohio, Florida and Missouri, defeating Bush by more than 200 electoral votes.
Read that sentence as many times as you need to. I'll wait.

Should she continue writing thus, vanden Heuvel may someday wake to find that "The Editor's Cut" has ceased to be a noun phrase and has become a short declarative sentence.

-D. Brown
Two Views of Politics, and an Application

Otto von Bismark famously described politics as "the art of the possible." This epigram admits of two, and possibly more, interpretations. The sense in which Bismarck probably meant it is that politics is essentially realistic rather than idealistic, dealing in the choice of possible actions (or refraining from action) in a specific situation. The other possible interpretation that I see is its opposite: that politics is tasked with realizing - and making - possibilities.

A recent editorial by Thomas Friedman (via IHT), taking the latter view, suggests a bold vision for the second Bush administration:
If President George W. Bush is looking for a legacy, I have just the one for him - a national science project that would be our generation's moon shot: a crash science initiative for alternative energy and conservation to make America energy-independent in 10 years. Imagine if every American kid, in every school, were galvanized around such a vision.
Energy independence, he argues, would have far-reaching geopolitical effect beneficial to American interests. Specifically, the development of non-fossil-fuel (and presumably non-nuclear, since this this is an alternative energy source that he doesn't consider) energy options would expand the American economy and, by ending the blank check of oil reserves now held by nations in need of reform:
You give me an America that is energy-independent, and I will give you sharply reduced oil revenues for the worst governments in the world. I will give you political reform from Moscow to Riyadh to Tehran. Yes, deprive these regimes of the huge oil windfalls on which they depend and you will force them to reform by having to tap their people instead of oil wells. These regimes won't change when we tell them they should. They will change only when they tell themselves they must.
* * *

If Bush made energy independence his moon shot, he would dry up revenue for terrorism; force Iran, Russia, Venezuela and Saudi Arabia to take the path of reform - which they will never do with $45-a-barrel oil - strengthen the dollar; and improve his own standing in Europe, by doing something huge to reduce global warming. He would also create a magnet to inspire young people to contribute to the war on terrorism and America's future by becoming scientists, engineers and mathematicians.

Now, I agree that American energy policy should include a commitment to the development on non-fossil fuel energy sources, in addition to more efficient use of existing non-renewable resources. I think we should be open to cleaner-burning coal power, to a cautious resumption of nuclear power, and to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve. There does need to be a national push for the development of renewable and non-polluting energy sources, in which federal planning and funding would have a necessary role. Energy independence for the United States will strengthen its position in the global economy, and will reduce the capital available to terror groups.

Friedman's forecast, however, is too sunny by half. Infatuated, perhaps, with the "possible," he seems to overlook the law of unintended consequences. "You give me an America that is energy-independent, and I will give you sharply reduced oil revenues for the worst governments in the world. I will give you political reform from Moscow to Riyadh to Tehran," he writes. I'm afraid that if I gave Friedman what he asks, I'd get in return not reform but instability. This instability would possibly lead to needed reforms in these oil-producing states, but nothing is guaranteed.

The destabilization of these regimes, despotisms many of them, doesn't amount to an argument against the push that Friedman advocates. I'd view it as part of the case for energy independence, as does Friedman. But alongside an investment in science education, we'd need to prepare for this instability by educating diplomats, policymakers, and intelligence officers in the history and politics of the Middle East. This is something we're far from doing now, as Stanley Kurtz has been reporting for ages. Reform is possible in an unstable Middle East, but wouldn't it be better if the friends of democracy were prepared to help?

I can't say that Friedman is wrong, or even that I disagree with what he's written. I think, however, that he would have written better if, at the top of his page, he had quoted Galbraith's response to Bismarck:
Politics is not the art of the possible. It consists in choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable.
-D. Brown



I see that Ramesh Ponnuru agrees with my appraisal of Beinart's New Republic piece.

UPDATE: Jonah Goldberg also liked it. Both Ponnuru and Goldberg are realistic about the difficulty the Democrats will have becoming the party Beinart describes. And I have to agree with them.

-D. Brown
vanden Heuvel: Uncanny

By way of contrast, Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel clears her lungs and offers this charming bit of sputum:
But while Ridge made us feel less secure at home, Donald Rumsfeld and his fellow Chicken Hawks actually did make us less secure abroad with a "fight them over there" strategy that has worked all too well. Two years, 150,000 soldiers, and tens of thousands of American and Iraqi lives later, and we have yet to secure Baghdad's airport road. Each month the number of casualties rises. November was the worst of the entire war.

What was sold as an easy battle in our latest War On An Abstract Concept has become another dreaded "quagmire"--a black hole for American prestige, treasure and blood. This is tragedy replaying itself as farce. And we have the men who avoided service in Vietnam to thank.
If vanden Heuvel would prefer to call it the War on Militant Islam, we can accomodate her.

-D. Brown

Beinart: Canny

Peter Beinart of The New Republic does some soul-searching about the future of American liberalism. I like Beinart and his magazine. Almost he persuadest me. Almost. He opens with a stark assessment of the left's response to the terrorist threat:
Today, three years after September 11 brought the United States face-to-face with a new totalitarian threat, liberalism has still not "been fundamentally reshaped" by the experience. On the right, a "historical re-education" has indeed occurred--replacing the isolationism of the Gingrich Congress with George W. Bush and Dick Cheney's near-theological faith in the transformative capacity of U.S. military might. But American liberalism, as defined by its activist organizations, remains largely what it was in the 1990s--a collection of domestic interests and concerns. On health care, gay rights, and the environment, there is a positive vision, articulated with passion. But there is little liberal passion to win the struggle against Al Qaeda--even though totalitarian Islam has killed thousands of Americans and aims to kill millions; and even though, if it gained power, its efforts to force every aspect of life into conformity with a barbaric interpretation of Islam would reign terror upon women, religious minorities, and anyone in the Muslim world with a thirst for modernity or freedom.
He compares this to the left's response to the communist threat during the Cold War. (Yes, Katrina, there was a communist threat.) While he underplays the ignoble aspect of the American left's involvement with Soviet communism (which stretches from, say, 1917 to, oh, 1989) he correctly sets Schlesinger, Galbraith, and other anti-communist liberals as the model for their ideological descendants.

He deals harshly with the left's failure to distance itself from dimwits like Michael Moore and organizations like Moveon.org. Case in point:
What they do not recognize, or do not acknowledge, is that Moore does not oppose Bush's policies because he thinks they fail to effectively address the terrorist threat; he does not believe there is a terrorist threat. For Moore, terrorism is an opiate whipped up by corporate bosses. In Dude, Where's My Country?, he says it plainly: "There is no terrorist threat." And he wonders, "Why has our government gone to such absurd lengths to convince us our lives are in danger?"
Rejecting the stupid elements within your own camp is the only way for American libeerals to rejoin rational society. Or, in Beinart's words:
The recognition that liberals face an external enemy more grave, and more illiberal, than George W. Bush should be the litmus test of a decent left.
Do read the whole thing. Registration is required, but don't worry, even though registering will put you on a terrorist watchlist, Ashcroft and his thugs are really quite polite. They wipe off their boots on the mat before they stomp on a human face, forever.

-D. Brown


I Hope You Can See This, Because I'm Doing It As Hard As I Can

Today's edition of The Editor's Cut, Katrina vanden Heuvel's occasional wheeze at The Nation, is typical. Apparently the editor of America's Best Communist Weekly didn't recognize the regrettable irony of this opening:
A Russian friend once said to me, "You Americans are an odd people. You love our liberals, but you don't like your own liberals." He added, "You should support your local liberals too."
If this makes sense to you, you are from the Moon. To be momentarily peremptory, if you can't distinguish between an American liberal and a Russian one, you have no business writing about either. Of course, one pities vanden Heuvel's Russian friend, since a lifetime spent under Soviet communism would tend to soften the brain. For vanden Heuvel, only contempt. Wordless, astonished contempt.

The next two paragraphs are rich:
My friend's words came to mind this past week as I watched the extraordinary street protests in Ukraine. Anyone who cares about citizens fighting corrupt regimes can't help but be moved by scenes of thousands of demonstrators, many of them students, standing for hours in Kiev's Independence Square in sub-zero temperatures--waving banners, chanting and protesting what they believe is a rigged election.

When the Bush Administration rushed to celebrate the protesters' courage and tenacity, I thought--what rank hypocrisy. These same officials have shown no respect for American pro-democracy protesters, and, if they have their way, they'll probably lock their political opponents out of central Washington when Inauguration Day rolls around.
Then the piece gets tedious. A bit about how Bush has stolen two elections. Questioning the authenticity of the protests because they have had American support. Read it for yourself. And then remind yourself that she has used the term "pro-democracy" to describe protestors whose core agenda enjoy so little support that they have to get 300 discrete causes together to have a 600-person protest. On one hand you have people who refuse to be defrauded in an election and on the other people who wish to impose an unpopular agenda on an unwilling majority, and will break every Starbucks window in the country if that's what it takes. And to Katrina vanden Heuvel they're all pro-democracy protestors. To paraphrase Bill Guarnere in Band of Brothers: We've got an editor with her head so far up her [obscenity] ass that lump in her throat is her [profanity] nose.

-D. Brown
Let's Riff Again

Lileks writes:
Went to Sam’s Club, where the clerk made the fatal mistake of telling me I did not need to show my card to shop at the liquor annex. “Anyone can shop here,” she said. “Thank you!” I said, ecstatic at the thought that my membership would lapse and I would never again feel compelled to trawl the halls of the Sam’s Club itself, wondering if I should take advantage on these great deals – hey, Chicken Soup in 32-gallon drums. Stock up! No, I can just drop by every other week and stand in amazement: one liter of Maker’s Mark for twenty dollars.

Cheaper than ink. There’s something wrong here. Something very wrong.

Now, taking on the mighty Lileks (whose name I have always instinctively pronounced correctly) is far from my intention. Especially on life-is-good themes, Lileks reigns supreme. But there's something wrong here? Is there? From where I'm sitting (desk at work), pixels are free and passable bourbon is two cents a milliliter. Life is good.

Although it feels like biting down on aluminum foil to measure bourbon in milliliters. Alcohol, it seems, should come in traditional measurements. Wine I would except from this requirement, since France, home of the great wines, was invented in order that metric would always have a home. But beer comes in pints, and bourbon in ounces or, if you would have my love, fingers.

-D. Brown


Is Turnabout Fair Play?

The Corner at National Review Online is always lively reading, but occasionally it yields a gem like this:

Read the explanation that follows. And here's my question: granted that 1. Horowitz is not a racist and (ad argumentum) that 2. The title of Franken's recent book ought to have been saved for his autobiography, is Horowitz's response justified? And, if justified, wise?

The answer to both is, I think, no.

Not justified because Mom happened to be telling the truth when she said that two wrongs don't make a right. Not wise because to use Franken's slanderous technique implies a parity between Franken and Horowitz that is not there and which works only to Horowitz's detriment. DH should take probably just go with his initial reaction and let it go. Or, if he must, superimpose "Lying Liar" over Franken's photo, which would have at least the advantage of being true.

-D. Brown


Just Noticed

It's interesting that David won't drink Bushmill's, because it's "Protestant whisky," but will have a big band of orange at the top of the blog that he designed. Not that there's anything wrong with Jameson. Just an observation.

The New, Improved Self-Satirizing Internet

The Internet is becoming an increasingly joyless place. The reason? The left has come completely unglued. And many have come unglued in such a way as to make satire impossible. Consider this:

Or this:

Or, lest I be accused of picking on people with unusual hair, this:

When those with whom one disagrees satirize themselves, deliberately or not, what is one to do? Thank God for Rainbow Six.



People's Republic of Alquaedistan v. USA, Bitch!

To counterweight Doug's thougtful approach to the election, here's a stupid, gloating link.

Posted by DOC
Casualty Information

Another good war information source: Iraq Coalition Casualty Count

I'd love to give to origin of this link but I can't remember and my browser history is no help. Attribution later if I can find it. Meanwhile, apologies to anyone offended.

Three Frenchmen

Three Frenchmen killed fighting US in Iraq

I'd be curious to find out the number and origin of all non-Iraqis fighting against Coalition forces.

Post-Election Question

There's been a lot of press about the CNN poll which found that the most important issue for 80% of Bush voters was "Moral Values." And while there may be a degree of significance to this finding, can I be alone in suspecting that for these respondents "moral values" may be just another way of saying "the issues that are most important to me?"

And if I'm right, does this poll prove anything other than that most Bush voters are moral realists?

- D. Brown


A House Divided

Ramesh Ponnuru, one of the most intelligent people writing about politics today (and a friend of a friend, making me instantly almost-cool), has some common sense to contribute to the post-election theme of "a bitterly divided America":

Accountability requires choice, and choice implies the exclusion of some possibilities. It can therefore be "polarizing." Perhaps Bush could have governed in a way that left the country less polarized — although that is not as clear to me as it seems to be to others. But while gratuitous offense and incivility are always to be avoided, political harmony is not an important goal in its own right.
As somebody once said, read the whole thing.

-D. Brown





What I'm Reading Now, or, Yet More Bookblogging!

The Legacy of Greece, ed. M.I. Finley
Begin Here, Jacques Barzun
Aeschylus and Athens, George Thompson
A World Lit Only By Fire, William Manchester
On The Origins of War, Donald Kagan

Reports to follow.

Posted by DOC


Parallel Lives Updated: Marcus Cato and Robert E. Lee
Like Leuctra and Adrianople, Thermopylae was the location of several famous battles, in 480, 279 and 191 BCE since it served as a vital, mountain pass along the eastern coast between Thessaly in the North and Athens. Plutarch in his chapter on Marcus Cato, also known as Cato the Elder, describes Cato’s efforts in 191 to find a mountain path and surprise the troops of the Syrian King Antiochus in the same way the Persian King Xerxes surprised the Spartan troops in 480 BCE:

“Now Antiochus, having occupied with his army the narrow passages about Thermopylae, and added palisades and walls to the natural fortifications of the place, sat down there, thinking he had done enough to divert the war; and the Romans, indeed, seemed wholly to despair of forcing the passage; but Cato, calling to mind the compass and circuit which the Persians had formerly made to come at this place, went forth in the night, taking along with him part of the army. Whilst they were climbing up, the guide, who was a prisoner, missed the way, and wandering up and down by impracticable and precipitous paths, filled the soldiers with fear and despondency. Cato, perceiving the danger, commanded all the rest to halt, and stay where they were, whilst he himself, taking along with him one Lucius Manlius, a most expert man at climbing mountains, went forward with a great deal of labour and danger, in the dark night, and without the least moonshine, among the wild olive-trees and steep craggy rocks, there being nothing but precipices and darkness before their eyes, till they struck into a little pass which they thought might lead down into the enemy's camp. There they put up marks upon some conspicuous peaks which surmount the hill called Callidromon, and, returning again, they led the army along with them to the said marks, till they got into their little path again, and there once made a halt; but when they began to go further, the path deserted them at a precipice, where they were in another strait and fear; nor did they perceive that they were all this while near the enemy. And now the day began to give some light, when they seemed to hear a noise, and presently after to see the Greek trenches and the guard at the foot of the rock.”

Compare this to Douglas Southall Freeman’s account of Captain Robert E. Lee in August 1847 finding a path to a road that would outflank a strong position to the North at San Antonio and Churubusco held by the Mexican Army during the Mexican War. The path was through five to six miles of a lava field south of Mexico City known as the pedregal. He led a force of several hundred soldiers and engineers to widen a mule path through to the western side of the pedregal in order to attack a Mexican garrison at Valencia to the west and then move north and behind the Mexican army that blocked the road on the eastern side of the pedregal at Churubusco. After reaching the western edge, Lee had to go back to tell the commanding General Winfield Scott, whom Lee thought was three miles to the east at Zacatepec (not on the map), the status of the army’s position on the western side.

"It was near eight o'clock when Lee left San Geronimo with a few men and started down the hill toward the pedregal. He had been over that part of the route only once, and it was too densely dark for him to observe any of the landmarks. There was nothing to guide him but his singularly developed sense of direction, and an occasional glimpse of the hill of Zacatepec when the lightning flashed. Groping his was along, step by step, he reached the road and crossed it in safety....
”…Lee plunged into the pedregal. Around great blocks of lava he felt his way, and across crevasses he was forced to jump in the dark. When the lightning showed an abysm over which he could not spring, he had to skirt it, with every risk of losing his direction. There were fully three tortuous miles of this, in unrelieved night. At last, drenched and sore, Lee stumbled to Zacatepec only to find that Scott had returned to San Augustin.
“…Tired legs and bruised feet would have to carry him three miles through the pedregal…Three miles must have seemed thirty, and Lee’s strong body was close to exhaustion when finally he saw dim lights in the houses at San Augustin….
"Seven officers whom Scott had sent out in turn to carry messages to General Smith had all returned without reaching him.... Before the orders could be given two other callers were announced--General Twiggs and General Pillow. These division comanders had started from Zacatepec for San Geronimo during the evening, but had lost their way and had barely escaped falling into the hands of the enemy. "

Around 3 a.m. Lee then led reinforcements back across six miles to San Geronimo on the western edge of the pedregal where US forces were waiting to attack.

S. Schudy



Thanks, David. We couldn't remember the greatest song in the world.

-D. Brown
That may be, Doug, but THIS is greatest song in the world!


10 Questions for Dick Cheney

John Nichols, author of Dick: The Man Who Is President, has "10 Questions for Dick Cheney. Since Cheney is probably too busy at the moment to read The Nation, I thought I'd do him a solid and make some attempt at answering them.

1.) When you appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press" on the eve of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, you announced that, "We will be greeted as liberators." In light of the fact that more than 1,000 young Americans have been killed, while more than 20,000 have been wounded, in the fighting in Iraq, do you think you might have been a bit too optimistic?
We were in many places greeted as liberators. Ask the Kurds. Ask Iraqi interim Prime Minister Allawi. Cheney was never so naive as to expect that we would be greeted universally as liberators. Terrorists (e.g. Abu Abbas) and committed Ba'athists who knew what the consequences of American success would be both for them, for Iraq, and for the region were never expected to greet us with anything but hostility and violence. That's why we went in with Marines instead of UN peacekeepers.

2.) Why were maps of Iraqi oil fields and pipelines included in the documents reviewed by the administration's energy task force, the National Energy Policy Development Group, which you headed during the first months of 2001? Did discussions about regime change in Iraq figure in the deliberations of the energy task force?
I'm going to have to leave this one for Cheney. I never followed this story closely. One should note that in this story about those maps it's also noted that "Maps of oil fields and pipelines in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and a list of energy development projects in those two countries are also included." I'm sure that Nichols doesn't think that's the Iraq maps were there for the same reasons. But I'll also bet that he wouldn't be happy if the answer were that Cheney brought in the pictures to give scale to the discussion of the oil reserves in ANWR.

3.) When the administration was asking in 2002 for Congressional approval of a resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq, you told the national convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars that Saddam Hussein had "resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons." You then claimed that, "Armed with an arsenal of these weapons of terror, and seated atop 10 percent of the world's oil reserves, Saddam Hussein could then be expected to seek domination of the entire Middle East, take control of the world's energy supplies, directly threaten American friends throughout the region, and subject the United States or any other nation to nuclear blackmail." Several months later, when you appeared on "Meet the Press" just prior to the invasion of Iraq, you said of Saddam Hussein, "We know he has reconstituted these (chemical weapons) programs. We know he's out trying once again to produce nuclear weapons, and we know that he has a long-standing relationship with various terrorist groups, including the al-Qaeda organization." As it turned out, you were wrong on virtually every count. How did you misread the signs so completely? And why was it that so many other world leaders, who looked at the same intelligence you had access to, were able to assess the situation so much more accurately?
There's evidence that each of these illegal programs was ongoing under Saddam's rule. It's not the dramatic evidence of stockpiled ordnance, but there is documentary evidence that Saddam either had or was developing programs for chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. Furthermore, there is a strong case to be made that he did in fact have such weapons. There is persuasive evidence that Saddam's illegal weapons are now in Syrian hands - read here, here, here, and here.

4.) Considering the fact that your predictions about the ease of the Iraq invasion and occupation turned out to be so dramatically off the mark, and the fact that you were in charge of the White House task force on terrorism that failed, despite repeated and explicit warnings, to anticipate the terrorist threats on the World Trade Center, what is it about your analytical skills that should lead Americans to believe your claims that America will be more vulnerable to attack if John Kerry and John Edwards are elected?
This seems to be an accusation of negligence on the part of the Bush administration - a failure to repond to clear, "actionable" evidence of an imminent terrorist attack on 9/11. Hard to build a case for it. Ask Michael Moore. Nichols here seems to be referring to Cheney's remark that "If we make the wrong choice, then the danger is we'll get hit again and we'll be hit in a way that'll be devastating from the standpoint of the United States, and we'll fall back into the pre-9/11 mind-set that these terrorist attacks are criminal attacks and we're not really at war." The plain sense of this is that "the danger is [that] . . . we'll fall back into the pre-9/11 mindset." The "we'll get/be hit" clauses establish a possible timeline. But the danger Cheney here anticipates in a Kerry administration is not that of an attack. We live today with that danger. On the other hand, the probable Kerry policy of not pursuing a pre-emptive policy in the war on terror would clearly result in an easier operational environment for terror groups, and would inevitably increase the risk of another attack on the territorial US. On either interpretation of this sentence, Cheney is correct.

5.) Speaking of intelligence, were you or any members of your staff involved in any way in revealing the identity of Valerie Plame, a CIA operative who was working on weapons of mass destruction issues, after her husband, Ambassador Joe Wilson, angered the administration by revealing that the president made claims about Iraqi WMD programs that he and his aides had been told were unreliable?
Again, only Cheney can answer this one. But the answer is probably no. And speaking of Joe Wilson, has anybody told Nichols that the man is a proven liar?

6.) During your tenure as Secretary of Defense, you and your staff asked a subsidiary of Halliburton, Brown & Root Services, to study whether private firms could take over logistical support programs for U.S. military operations around the world. They came to the conclusion that this was a good idea, and you began what would turn into a massive privatization initiative that would eventually direct billions of U.S. tax dollars to Halliburton and its subsidiary. Barely two years after you finished your service as Secretary of Defense, you became the CEO of Halliburton. Yet, when you were asked about the money you received from Halliburton -- $44 million for five year's work -- you said, "I tell you that the government had absolutely nothing to do with it." How do you define the words "absolutely nothing"?
Likely answer: in the normal way. When Cheney was appointed as Secretary of Defense, the mandate was for restructuring and cost-cutting in the aftermath of the cold war. Privatization of services is one means of doing so. Nichols needs to do two things: 1) Ask a better question, and 2) find something better to ask a question about.

7.) No corporation has been more closely associated with the invasion of Iraq than Halliburton. The company, which you served as CEO before joining the administration, moved from No.19 on the U.S. Army's list of top contractors before the Iraq war began to No. 1 in 2003. Last year, alone, the company pocketed $4.2 billion in U.S. taxpayer dollars. You said when asked about Halliburton during a September 2003 appearance on "Meet the Press" that you had "severed all my ties with the company, gotten rid of all my financial interest." Yet, you continue to hold unexercised options for 233,000 shares of Halliburton stock, and since becoming vice president you have on an annual basis collected deferred compensation payments ranging from $162,392 to $205,298 from Halliburton. A recent review by the Congressional Research Service describes deferred salary and stock options of the sort that you hold as "among those benefits described by the Office of Government Ethics as 'retained ties' or 'linkages' to one's former employer." In the interest of ending the debate about whether Halliburton has received special treatment from the administration, would you be willing to immediately surrender any claims to those stock options and to future deferred compensation in order to make real your claim that you have "severed all my ties with the company."
This is about all there is to be said on the subject. Nichols seems to be coming a bit unhinged a propos of Halliburton.

8.) You have been particularly aggressive in attacking the qualifications of John Kerry, a decorated Vietnam veteran, to serve as commander-in-chief. Yet, you received five draft deferments during the 1960s, which allowed you to avoid serving in Vietnam. In 1989, when you were nominated to serve as Secretary of Defense, you were asked why you did not serve in Vietnam and you told the Senate that you "would have obviously been happy to serve had I been called." Yet, in an interview that same year, you told the Washington Post that, "I had other priorities in the sixties than military service." Which was it -- "proud to serve" or "other priorities"?
This question starts its tour of logical fallacies with a non sequitir and brings it home with a glaring false dilemma. The first sentence should be thrown out as irrelevant to the remainder. It would seem, by virtue of the fact that Cheney was given draft deferments five times, that the military agreed with Cheney's valuation of his "other priorities." Should there have been disagreement, the military would have denied him a deferment. In this case, we may assume until Nichols produces evidence to the contrary that Cheney would have been "proud to serve." Such evidence might take the form of borrowing someone else's medals (ribbons) to throw over the White House fence. Someone who did that could fairly be viewed as "ashamed to have served."

9.) Nelson Mandela says he worries about you serving in the vice presidency because, "He opposed the decision to release me from prison." As a member of Congress you did vote against a resolution expressing the sense of the House that then President Ronald Reagan should demand that South Africa's apartheid government grant the immediate and unconditional release of Mandela and other political prisoners. You have said you voted the way you did in the late 1980s because "the ANC was then viewed as a terrorist organization." Do you still believe that Mandela and others who fought for an end to apartheid were terrorists? If so, are you proud to have cast votes that helped to prolong Mandela's imprisonment and the apartheid system of racial segregation and discrimination?
Perhaps it was considered a terrorist organization because "The African National Congress (ANC), as documented by the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, carried out a number of crimes in its fight against apartheid that would accurately be described as terrorist. For example, while the currently ruling ANC targeted government installations, its MK guerrillas also planted bombs in bars, restaurants, and other public places to intimidate or punish supporters of the white government." (Read the rest here. And more here.)
10.) Mandela has said that, to his view, you are "the real president of the United States." Former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill said of the first years of the Bush presidency that, "Cheney and a handful of others had become 'a Praetorian guard' that encircled the President." O'Neill has also argued that the White House operates the way it does "because this is the way that Dick likes it." Why do you think that so many people, including veterans of this administration, seem to think that it is you, rather than George W. Bush, who is running the country?
Now the wheels are off the cart. Completely. Mandela (reminder), O'Neill (signature achievement), and Nichols (axe to grind) rise to the standard of "so many people?" It's not the most subtle analysis of the situation, but it's certain that Cheney, rightly, is influential in the White House. But no matter who or how many agree with Nichols et al., it doesn't ultimately matter whether Cheney runs the White House from the passenger's seat. Only whether the American people want him in that seat for the next four years.

-D. Brown


Other Halves

David, Disintegration is the best album ever!

-D. Brown



I'm sure Doug will be intereted in Barbra Streisand's timely and informative take on how the current administration works, as well as her poignant thoughts on the CBS document debacle. An excerpt:

Never mind that CBS's story included substantive and uncontested evidence that Bush didn't show up for duty when he was supposed to, that he skipped a required physical that grounded him from flying, and that he mysteriously received an honorable discharge. Yes...the documents CBS presented could not be confirmed for their authenticity, but these details of Bush's military record have been out for public consumption for years. Why is the media not discussing the facts behind the story instead of just focusing on CBS?

Why indeed, Barbra? Why?

Meanwhile, I urge you to check out the Mecha-Streisand Home Page



More on Mary Mapes

An interesting bit of information from Cut On The Bias (link via JunkYardBlog) about Ms. Mapes and some of her activities in relation to certain federal prison inmates. While the communication itself may or may not have been dangerous in and of itself, the act of circumventing the prison procedure tends to show a contempt for things like following the rules, be they of journalism or law. Of course, the phrase "journalistic rules" doesn't exactly flow off the tounge.

What's that you say, Lord Acton? Power what?

Meanwhile John Ellis has some recent advice for Mapes; to paraphrase: "CYA, Mary, you're being thrown to the wolves!"

Posted by DOC


Book Blogging

Since Vin Pays D'OC started with the recently-read books blogging, I'd like to mention the affecting Gulag by the redoubtable Anne Applebaum. Sure, I'm the last guy to arrive at this particular party (she's already been awarded the Pulitzer Prize, etc), but it's recently (April) out in paperback, and it's an important one. Her website archives some highlights of her other writing. But put down whatever bit of trivia you're reading and pick up Gulag, if you haven't already.

-D. Brown

Our Fearless Leader

As part of my "No Joke Left Behind" policy, let me be the first to say: "Welcome back, O'Connor."

-D. Brown

Cat Stevens Deported . . . But For All The Wrong Reasons

Regrettably there's no part of the Patriot Act covering such maudlin '70s twaddle as "Peace Train."


Why we need to kill terrorists (not for the faint of heart).



More Wineblogging

Speaking of wine, here's a plug for Pretty Smith, a Paso Robles winery. They have what I consider to be some outre offerings, including a Cabernet Franc (usually used in blending) and a Zinfandel-based port.


With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa

I recently finished reading this book by E.B. Sledge, a marine who fought at the above battles and lived to tell about it in this somber but excellent book. Although the way America fights wars has certainly changed completely since the massed-infantry battles of WWII, this book is, I believe, a must-read in a time when we're sending troops abroad to fight.


Finding Wine

Wine Searcher's your tool! Not that I ever find myself searching for that hard-to-find vintage -- I tend to buy wine from Trader Joe's -- but if you do, this is a neat tool.



Once Again the World Bends to My Will

Regular readers (a fictive category) will recall that back in March I had a suggestion (scroll down to March 24):

Here's a cute idea (again via IHT) from a Japanese journo: let the whole world vote for who they think should be elected POTUS. That way, we can have a better idea of who will probably look out not for American interests, but for the interests of the world as a whole.
Well, apparently I have a lot of influence. In what must have been the most foregone conclusion since Rocky 3, Kerry beat Bush in a landslide in an international poll (IHT). So the choice is now clear: a majority of the people who think the US was behind the 9/11 attacks prefer John Kerry for President. Vote accordingly.

-D. Brown


How stupid do you have to be to . . .

In making the case for something in which one believes deeply, it's possible to
overstate that case, to exaggerate, to be (ahem) inventive. It's also possible to lie. The more public one's case is, the less this is expected to happen. That is, when telling my boss why I'm late to work (power surge killed the alarm clock, again) I'm violating a public trust less than I am when I tell a court of law that there is no relationship with Monica Lewinsky. It is expected that the organizations which present these cases to the public will be scrupulous to ensure that they are not broadcasting fabrication or falsehood. Fact-checking.

So explain this from Reuters in an article on the soon-to-expire assault weapons ban:

She said 90 percent of spinal cord injuries in the United States are caused by gunshot wounds and noted that $1.8 billion a year is spent on spinal cord injuries.
This from Amy Sisley, a doctor and spokesman for Physicians for Social Responsibility. Forgive my skepticism. If those words had left my mouth, I'd immediately have made a screwy face and said aloud, "Really? More than car accidents?"

Of course there's always this from the Centers for Disease Control indicating that 1) "approximately 11,000 Americans sustain an SCI [spinal cord injury] each year," and that of these 2) "The leading cause of SCI varies by age. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading
cause among persons under age 65. Among persons age 65 and older, falls cause most SCIs," and that furthermore, 3) "SCIs cost the nation an estimated $9.7 billion each year."

Helpnetwork.Org has a related fact sheet (here, pdf only), according to which:

Avalable data indicate a dramatic increase in the proportion of SCI caused by acts of violence; from 14% of traumatic SCIs in the mid-1970s, to 20% in the early 1990s, to 30% of SCIs in 2001. Acts of violence have nearly doubles as a percentage of all causes of SCI and have overtaken falls as the second most common source of spinal cord injury, trailing only motor vehicle crashes. . . . Data entered into the National SCI Database since 1973 show that 17% of nonfatal injuries are gun-related, and about 90% of violence-related SCI are from gun injuries.

Apparently, Dr. Sisley got her figures confused. Doing some quick math, 90% of 30% is 27% of total spinal cord injuries. That's about 2,970 people a year injured by all types of firearms. One wonders what unimpressively small number would be the result of a gunshot wound from an assault weapon. I'd guess maybe 10% of the total: 297. Given a US population of nearly 300 millions, we're talking about protecting 0.0001% of the population from spinal cord injury. Relevance?

Points of policy aside, it's clear that the civic-minded Dr. Sisley is wrong coming (90% vs. 27%) and going ($1.8 b vs. $9.7 b). Of course, if someone at Reuters had spent ten minutes on Google, I wouldn't have been irritated enough to do this. Seems like that's becoming the refrain of the blog-o-sphere.

- D. Brown


The Kiss Behind the Celebrity Press

There are several jokes going around about the press. One of them is: What distinguishes a political journalist from a celebrity journalist?

Answer: The actor's schedule.

As the media succumb increasingly to their celebrity myopia, a simple appeal should be made: Stop kissing up to celebrities who wish to comment on politics, who wish to participate in political coverage and who wish to be elected into political office.

This goes for reporters, producers, cameramen, photographers, editors and publishers. This goes for television and print, network and cable, newspaper, magazines and the Internet.

What's happened most recently? Actor Ben Affleck charmed the media buncombes at last month's Democratic Convention which led one Fox News' commentator to ask him, "Besides the tax issue, what's the biggest issue on your mind?"

In July, the name of Mike Ditka, former coach of the Chicago Bears, captured national news. For what? One would have thought Ditka had announced his candidacy. Instead he had only been approached about a run for the US Senate from Illinois which he later declined.

The same pattern appeared last week when CNN.com ran the same story for five days--unusual for any story--with the title "Joe Piscopo, New Jersey Governor?" Piscopo, a cast member of Saturday Night Live in the 1980s, has not even announced his gubernatorial candidacy for New Jersey. Neil Cavuto of Fox News picked up the story and said in his commentary, "Why do we always select our elected officials from the same petri dish? Like only senators or governors can run for president. I say, why not CEOs, or teachers and yes, comedians?"

The problem isn't that comedians or celebrities are running for office. The problem is how we in the media disproportionately cater to them over the CEO and the teacher.

Neither Mr. Cavuto nor Fox News nor CNN has yet to spotlight any CEO or any Grade School Teacher with Internet or Prime Time media attention.

Sadly, the news media has tried to justify their celebrity addiction with the excuse that people tend to listen to celebrities more. This excuse will not be found in any journalism 101 textbook. No news reporter or newsroom will ever favor the replacement of "Fit to Print" or "Fair and Balanced" with "Solely because the people want to see it."

No longer do the media hunt for the most qualified news sources with experience in political office or academic posts, in the military or business. Instead, after carefully siphoning the film aristocracy from the television bourgeois, they dress up for commentary those celebrities who have established a rich pedigree of political opinions or appearances.

This virus has spread so widely that even professional media critics have caught it. The former Brill's Content in the summer of 1998 ran a guest editorial critical of journalism. Who was the author? Actor George Clooney whose qualifications foundered around the fairly irrelevant fact that his father had once been a news anchor on a local news station.

Though the silver, paid in ratings, may help feed and keep the best and brightest journalists, the media unwittingly prop up, as by-product, the Hollywood thespocrats with political legitimacy. The music-rap artist Sean 'Puffy' Combs is gaining national coverage by publicly encouraging young people to vote. This coverage by itself is becoming the electorate's litmus test for political office--should Mr. Combs, like Arnold Schwarzenegger, choose to seek it.

Is this surprising? Having overcome the traditional firewall of the press, why shouldn't the public follow and accept celebrities as political touchstones too? In their defense, celebrities claim they too should be able to talk about politics like anyone else. They are right.

George Washington was described as a "celebrity" by the statesman Gouverneur Morris in 1785. The 18th century Shakespearean actor David Garrick was a distinguished member of Samuel Johnson's literary circle. And it's possible that somewhere at sometime in 1960, comedian Joey Bishop had some interesting observations about the islands Quemoy and Matsu.

But I don't recall Walter Cronkite chasing down Bishop on the 1960 Democratic convention floor to get his take on US policy towards China shouting, "Mr. Bishop, America wants to know."

It's not celebrities, but the press that is wrong for giving celebrities a platform. This is a trend that has not tapered. There is no good reason, there is no real excuse. For the media to prop themselves with excuses or dismiss the subject with the cynicism of a prom-queen giggle would undermine the same honesty and self-critique it demands from everyone else.

Should the hypnotic glitter fade away, the danger will be that journalists, again betraying standards of impartiality, will swing as wildly in penance. They will quietly and suddenly turn to set their teeth into the same celebrity absurdity they helped create.

After this celebrity farce has reached its Guernica-like nadir and journalists have washed their hands of the sin, they will then coyly ask the rest of us, "Did you do this?" to which we should reply,

"No. You did."

S. Schudy


Contempt for Democracy II

What really irked me about the LA Times piece from two days ago was one sentence:
Vice President Dick Cheney gives speeches that are so barren of any effort to charm or persuade that the delivery alone seems to reflect contempt for democracy.

This in comparison to Edwards, who could, we are told, "win a talking contest against his GOP rival with one tongue tied behind his back." (Would this make Edwards double-tongued? And are the editors sure this is a good thing?) Leaving aside that this is trading on a crass stereotype of the yarn-spinning southerner and the tight-mouthed westerner (whether you think Cheney hails from Texas or Wyoming), this proposition offends me deeply.

Edwards's charm will be an asset to the Democratic ticket, no question. And Cheney's delivery is that of the lecturer rather than the huckster. But contempt for democracy? There is, the Times editors assume, an appropriate style for addressing the demos, and that tone is histrionic.

Granted, there is a long tradition of dramatic speechmaking in the executive, a tradition that gained effectiveness with the advent of sound recording. Granted, Cheney is not a part of this tradition. But it seems to me that Cheney's speaking values substance over style, and thus the intellect of the demos over the emotion. How much more respectful of democracy can you be?

-Doug Brown

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