Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Oscar Peterson (1925 -2007)

Unimaginably skilled. Emotionally intelligent. Effortlessly cool. This is what music for adults sounded like before the sixties ruined it all.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Bill's Got Friends

A New York Times profile of second tier Democratic presidential candidate, Bill Richardson, reveals two interesting things. The first is a snarky little swipe at Madeline Albright, the tough-talking, miniature Secretary of State under President Clinton. During a negotiation in Tokyo, Albright practiced nanny diplomacy on our Japanese allies.

“Dr. Albright’s Japanese counterpart requested permission to smoke, she lectured him on the dangers of tobacco, and things never improved from there.”

Man, what was their single-minded preoccupation with cigarettes all about anyway? Someone is going to look back on the Clinton years and see madness in the whole tobacco obsession the way we would if we found out the Harding Administration was animated by a hatred for Vick’s Vapo-rub.

The rest of the article paints a picture of a lovable lug inserting himself into global hotspots for fame and fortune and occasionally doing good.

The Times even takes some credit for advancing his career by cheerily allowing itself to be manipulated.

“Mr. Clinton had initially passed Mr. Richardson over for a position in his
administration. But in 1996, just after Mr. Richardson, canny about the press, invited a reporter from The New York Times to write about his efforts to free Red Cross workers — and celebrate with barbecued goat — in Sudan, Mr. Clinton asked Mr. Richardson to become ambassador to the United Nations.

In his announcement, Mr. Clinton mentioned the goat.”
Does it go without saying that if John Bolton had ever cozied up to a Times reporter in this way the resulting story would have something to do with shredding the Constitution and abusing animals?

OK, then I won't say it.

More proof? If, say, Mitt Romney had answered the following loaded question in the "incorrect" fashion as wild Bill does below, would Melissa Etheridge have gently tried to re-educate him on the spot or have him tagged as an intolerant ignoramous?

I provide. You decide.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Inexplicable Wednesday Videos

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

"Bloody Assasin of the Workers, I presume."

In the midst of an interview with Francis Ford Coppola comparing Communism with fascism (in this case Romanian fascism), the New York Times let’s slip one of the great lies of the 20th century:

“Communism was rooted in a utopian vision, the Iron Guard (fascism) was rooted in hatred.”
Actually, both totalitarian movements were based on hatred and both acted on it. Fascists committed genocide based on race. Communism committed genocide based on class. That’s the only difference between communism and fascism. The rest is superficial.

Of course, zealots at both extremes were perusing their own utopian visions. Sadly, some folks still don’t recognize that it’s the vision of utopia that drives some people to channel their resentment into full blown hatred.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

David Cameron and the Wonders of small tv

Hierarchical organizations have difficulty speaking to individuals. That’s because most individuals prefer to exchange information face-to-face and organizations are essentially faceless.

Human beings, one the other hand, do have faces and we’ve evolved over millions of years to recognize facial cues that tell us if the person we’re communicating with is sincere or not.

In short, human beings are highly calibrated authenticity detectors.

To communicate effectively, organizations such as corporations and political parties need to replicate authenticity and master the art of “org-to-face” conversation. That involves constructing an artificial face and signaling sincerity through artificial gestures and expressions.

Not easy . . . but do-able.

In the one-dimensional world of text, the old wisdom of Eliot Noyes still holds true: write everything as if it’s addressed “Dear Mom.” But with electronic channels there are entirely new opportunities to “scale up” face-to-face communications.

One of the truly great practitioners of mass intimacy is David Cameron of the Conservative Party in Britain. Last year Cameron faced a classic organizational challenge: how to define himself and connect to a multitude of disparate people separated by time and space?

Among other things he launched WebCameron, a video blog that he updates almost weekly with a short (3 minute) seemingly behind-the-scenes looks at his activities. It began with him in his kitchen:

Can you imagine another major political aspirant putting him or herself out there like this? It's virtually impossible because the handlers and hangers on would say it's "not presidential" or it looks sloppy. Also, it's unscripted so the handlers are reduced to one, the video editor.

Cameron makes it work because he's a good actor. Not to belittle him, you need to act because your audience is an unblinking lens. He does it well because he's let you in on the pretense. Plus, he's pretty informative.

He answers viewer questions, talks in cars, on trains, and summarizes his meetings and speeches backstage.

The beauty of this is that rather than simply showing him delivering the speech, Cameron tells you about the speech and sums up his top three points.

The difference is in knowing your audience. The audience for a speech are those people in the room. The audience for “small tv” is you . . . even if “you” is a million people just like you watching their computer screens.

There is a formula to these videos that makes them easy to produce and edit.

First there is the narration track delivered without a script probably in several takes. Next is the event itself which is recorded with a static camera. And lastly is the b-roll that overlays all the edits to the narration and the event.

Together it makes a coherent mini-story rich in direct and contextual information. You can see his facial expressions. You can see activity in the background. He seems to be subject to uncontrollable elements such as the wind, the light and regular people on the street.

What does all that say?

Not much by itself, but over time and in similar situations you begin to “know” Cameron and perhaps even to trust him. Yet, he’s not an individual per se. He’s representing a large national organization of people that depends on the support of individuals for its success.

It’s been said that in communications sincerity is the key. And if you can fake that you’ve got it made. I’m not saying Cameron is insincere, but he has demonstrated a remarkable ability to create mass intimacy skillfully and cheaply.

Ronald Reagan used radio this way. His weekly addresses as President were an extension of the short radio essays he delivered for years on AM radio.

Presidents continue the tradition but no one has made the leap to small tv. I wonder if President Bush would be as unpopular today if instead of talking stiffly from the Oval Office he had adopted the small tv approach and explained Iraq using maps and on the spot reports?

No American presidential candidate has shown any aptitude for mass intimacy . . . yet.

But it's coming.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Your Wish Is My Command
So Lileks wonders what Dave Brubeck's house looks like today. Well, here's what it looks like, today.
Actually, as of about 15 minutes ago.

The great man himself was there being interviewed for a magazine article on of all things, his house! The correspondant guy didn't seem too pleased that he was being scooped by the blogosphere.

Friday, December 07, 2007

A Victory Made of Mierda

Chubby tyrant wannabe, Hugo Chavez, reacts with characteristic restraint and humility to the news that the Venezuelan people don't want to relinquish all their rights in order to achieve some discredited 19th century utopian ideal.

Take a gander at what a thugocracy looks like.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

FranceVive La France!

Good God, just when I think my nascent Francophilia is running out of steam, the Frenchies give me new reasons to admire them.

Of course, most of this has to do with Sarkozy and the way he seems determined to obliterate any ancien regime passivity that stands between him and modernizing French polity. But in his wake come all the charming things about France that I was reluctant to admire during the Chirac years: French style, design, and a more humane approach to daily life.

And by all that I mean French women.

First there was Segolene, an insufferable anarco-syndicalist lunatic in real life, no doubt, but an elegant and enormously attractive woman able to conjugate many hard to pronounce French verbs. (although not so well that she could do without subtitles)

Segolene Royal - Message 2eme Tour
Uploaded by da93

Then there was Cecilia, a bit more cold and austere but confident and poised in ways that are hard to describe without elaborate hand gestures.

And now that Ceclia has traded the drab Elysee Palace for the drab Upper East Side of Manhattan, Sarko introduces us to yet another stunning French woman, Laurence Ferrari, his supposed new girlfriend.

Laurence is a mother of two in her 40s who appears to have many of the qualities one earns over four decades of life. . . humor, balance, serenity and fundamental comfort being in one's own skin. I'm assuming all this because I can't understand a word she's saying and I don't particularly care.

She's hot. I know that sounds sexist, but she's so hot she's making me sexist.

Laurence Ferrari 1 - OK
Uploaded by Amnesia34

Technical note: when was the last time you saw someone on TV wired with two lavalier mics? Is it because they wanted a fail safe sound system . . . or because setting her up with any more lavs would have aroused suspicion, among other things?

Merci, Nicolas!

More Laurence if you're interested:

Laurence Ferrari - Telle est ma télé
Uploaded by sandrinemaziere

UPDATE: Hurray for comments! "Big Al" introduces us to Melissa Theuriau. Thanks Big Al:

UPDATE II: It's getting very hard to keep up with foreign affairs these days. It seems Sarko debuted his new new girlfriend, Carla Bruni, at what appears to be an official motorcade at EuroDisney.

I'm not sure if this is some sort of Gallic Christmas tradition but the French President's annual appearance at Disney was was electrified by the aging supermodel turned chansonist.

Did Bush Mislead Clinton Too?

January 27, 1998

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Fuel City

Next time you’re speeding through Dealey Plaza in downtown Dallas headed for the Stemmons Freeway underpass, don’t hightail it to Parkland Hospital. Instead, hang a left on Industrial Blvd and head on over to Fuel City.

Technically, Fuel City is a gas station. But it’s a big one right in the middle of a tangle of elevated highways. And it sells every possible brand of mainstream domestic and Mexican beer to go. Plus it has a swimming pool with a bikini girl sitting on a plastic lawn chair. And, according to some scientific polling methodology, it has the best tacos in Texas.

The name enchanted me and came for a visit last night.

Fuel City could easily be a kitch landmark if some hipsters from the coast latched on to it but for now it’s a disappointment because it’s for real. There’s only the barest hint of irony. The tee shirts, which they will dig out from the far back somewhere if you ask for one, say in huge block letters, “FAMOUS FOR FUN” though I doubt Fuel City is even famous for fuel.

I guess the girl by the pool is a bit contrived but other than that, it seems to be more in tune with the Texas vibe than anything alt. Of course, for most of the coast hugging United States, Texas, and flyover country generally, is authentically alternative to what passes for officially sanctioned coolness. The huge signs pointing out the President George Bush Freeway are enough to make the whole area radioactive to sophisticates.

Texas doesn't allow you to forget where you are. Everywhere there are Texas flags. “Texas” is incorporated into most signs and brand names. And little Texas shapes are ubiquitously sprinkled over the landscape. And where Texas-jingoism leaves off, Americana begins.

This must be what Europeans feel when they come to anyplace in the United States . . . the flags, the overconfidence. It could certainly come off as arrogance, but it's actually far more benign than that.

I like jingo. Unlike the usual connotations, I think it’s hopeful and inclusive. After all, anyone can be Texan if they buy into the values.

The same with flag-waving America. If you buy into it, you're as American as George Bush. Can't say that about France or Sweden. And that may be a reason why those countries have such difficulty absorbing immigrants.

I'd like to compare assimilation success in chauvinistic states like Texas and less well defined states such as Connecticut. I suspect Mexicans feel more like Texans after a few months in Dallas than they feel like Nutmeggers after years of living in Hartford.

Anyway, it's remarkable to think that if JFK had simply said, "Ah drivah, don't ahh tahn heah. Take me ahh straight to ahh Fuel City," he'd probably be alive today.

Friday, October 26, 2007

This Makes Me Dizzy

I want to build something like this in my backyard. Probably easier than it looks, right?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Bad News. We're Winning

I'm confused. According to Reuters, violence of all kinds in Iraq is down 70% since the so-called "surge." Shiites and Sunnis are reconciling in Anbar, Diyala, Basra and attacking their mutual enemy, foreign al Qaeda jihadists. Moqtadr al Sadr's Mahdi Army is splintered and in his last radio address, Osama bin Laden pleads with followers to stop killing each other.

So what's the first sentence of the lead editorial in today's New York Times? "The news out of Iraq just keeps getting worse."

I guess that must mean we're winning.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Born to Sell

According to this CBS News Buzzwatch, Bruce Springsteen is putting his entire career at risk by taking a bold public stand on the Iraq war. He’s against it.

What kind of balls does it take to stand up in Hollywood and oppose the Bush Administration’s Iraq policy? Itsy bitsy teeny weeny ones.

It’s another case of dissent without consequences. The average Burmese monk is putting it all on the line. Springsteen is just standing on line.

The “story”, which inexplicably promotes Springsteen's upcoming appearance on CBS's 60 Minutes, says his views “will cause people to say he is unpatriotic.” Exactly who is saying that aside from CBS itself? It’s almost as if CBS is stoking a controversy in order to get more people to watch CBS programming.

I have no doubt that The Boss loves America and the Jersey Shore which is part of America and American cars, food, music, fans, and currency. No one is questioning his patriotism. But it’s fair to question is judgment.

I might even question his motives. I mean, why speak out now on network television just when he’s releasing a new album? (“Magic” on Columbia Records, Sony/BMG Corp.)

I sort of wonder when the anti-war folks are going to figure out they are being manipulated . . . by Sony Corp., by Viacom, by the Democratic Party, even Al Qaeda is leading them on. Everyone is either getting rich or getting elected (or both) and the policy never changes.

Why is that?

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Herbert Muschamp (1947-2007)

Shocking and sad. Herb Muschamp, the quintessential New York Times architecture critic, has died at a relatively young age.

I found fault with nearly everything the man wrote but I certainly expected he'd go on and on for decades to come. He was articulate and boldly opinionated, a combination I respect in anyone regardless of their substance of their opinions.

I hope he maintained his exasperating dignity to the end.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Alan Jackson of Islam

A familiar story: young dude lives the high life and encounters enormous obstacles (a flat tire on his Porsche) that puts in jeopardy his job and love life. Allah intervenes and the next thing you know he's kicking butt at work and marrying the woman who loves him.

The big fat Rolex is a celestial bonus.

"Malak Ghair Allah” (You Only Have God to Count On) sung by Mohammed Al-Haddad is notable for being a spiffy video filmed entirely in Saudi Arabia with a Saudi crew. They even have a cool Ali G. guy playing the lead.

I have no idea if it's a big hit or not. I just like seeing Jedda and thinking that's what Falluja will look like someday.

Via Virginia Heffernan's Screens blog, the best thing in The New York Times these days.(Sounds backhanded but it's actually quite good).

Thursday, September 27, 2007

A Touch of the Old Shrum Magic

British PM Gordon Brown has made a big splash at the Labour Party Conference. The dour rumpled technocrat came out swinging with a new hairstyle and a new passionate speaking style.

He’s certainly saying many of the right things regarding terrorism in the clip below (except for the absence of the verboten word “Islam.”) Note the special guest cameo appearance by Smeats, the Glaswegian Jack Bauer. Also, is it me or is Gordon Brown an unnerving combination of Richard Nixon and Dan Rather? Another reason to outlaw human cloning.

But fast forward and listen from about 3:40 onward. Sound familiar? It should if you’re an American voter.

Do you hear the revealing personal anecdotes, the sticky compassion dripping from every word, the shameless tugging at heartstrings? The Times online via An Englishman’s Castle has done a bit of pattern mapping to refresh your memory and it seems Gordon’s words bear the mark of the beast:

Al Gore 2000 nomination acceptance speech: I know my own imperfections. I know that sometimes people say I'm too serious, that I talk too much substance and policy.
Gordon Brown: Sometimes people say I am too serious and I fight too hard and maybe that's true.

Al Gore 2000 nomination acceptance speech: I pledge to you tonight: I will work for you every day and I will never let you down.
Gordon Brown: This is my pledge to the British people: I will not let you down.

John Kerry 2004 nomination acceptance speech: And what can I say about Teresa? She has the strongest moral compass of anyone I know
Gordon Brown: And this is my moral compass.

Bill Clinton 1995 State of the Union: As we move into this next century, everybody matters; we don't have a person to waste.
Gordon Brown: This is the century where our country cannot afford to waste the talents of anyone

Of course, that treacle you hear is extruded by none other than Bob Shrum, wordsmith to every formerly rising star in the Democratic Party.

For those unfamiliar with Shrum, he is the Angel of Political Death, the sea anchor on the ship of state, the losing-est political consultant since Joseph Goebbels.

Fresh from the John Kerry campaign, trailing clouds of glory and having exhausted all possibilities for defeat among the now canny Dems, has Shrum turned his magic on old Blighty?

I’d say that doesn’t bode well for Gordon Brown.

But more importantly, why would a mature political organization like the Labour Party want to imitate the transparent insincerity of the American political culture? Are American campaign consultants actually respected outside of the U.S.? Do overseas statesmen think these hacks are going to help them win elections?

And how can it be that the least imaginative consultant in history, a man who clearly cannot conceive of a single new talking point and therefore must recycle Spotted Dick from a decade ago, how can this guy support himself as a communicator?

And I ask you Washington, D.C. . . . what do you have to do to never work in this town again?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Inexplicable Japanese Commercial #365

Perhaps after obliterating the fascist religio-military regime in Tehran with two nuclear weapons they’ll end up turning out intriguing pop culture like this.

One can only hope.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Mahmoud's Comin'. Hide Your Love, Babe.

Just stopped by Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza to register my displeasure with the unshaven, cheaply-suited Iranian President Mahmoud Armoredinnerjacket across the street from the United Nations.

A fair turnout on a beautiful day.

UN special forces (actually NYPD) posted on the roof of the roof of the General Assembly building were taking no chances.

They’re clearly armed with handheld inkjet printers ready to fire sternly worded resolutions into any angry mob of UN protesters. Presumably, a contingent of men from U.N.C.L.E. are secretly working the crowd as well.

The crowd turned out to be a mix of young and old with a heavy emphasis on young. Non-bellowing speakers addressed a non-riotous audience and didn’t whip them into a murderous frenzy. No AK-47 rounds were fired into the air and no passersby were wounded by celebratory bullets falling mysteriously from the sky.

Reasonable, passionate and peaceful. An excellent display of political maturity. I was impressed.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Don’t Ever Beat Your Wife (Unless I Say So)

Man, I guess I totally misunderstood The Prophet™.

I thought he said a man can beat his wife. But what he really said was that a wife can be beaten by her husband.

It’s a nuance that Islamophobes exploit to put Salafist Islam in an unattractive light.

Well, at least that’s all cleared up now.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

MoveOn Protests of the Past

All politics aside, the people were extremely lucky to have a prominent general whose name lent itself to very targeted mockery.

"General Petraeus Or General Betray Us?" Now that's clever.

Of course, other advocates of America’s humiliating defeat have throughout history failed to make such a fortuitous connection.

But it wasn’t for lack of trying.

Friday, September 14, 2007

What to Make of Bush

Here's my thinking, and beware, it's longwinded.

There are really two wars taking place. One war is a global conflict being fought with diplomacy, covert operations and good old fashioned violence. This is the misnamed "War on Terror" and it’s being fought in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Horn of Africa, Kashmir, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Germany, France, the U.K., Denmark, and the United States. It’s going to last for many, many years. It predates George W. Bush and in most places has nothing to do with Bush, American policies, Israel, Abu Graib, oil, or any of the usual root causes.

The other war is a narrow, hyper-partisan culture war that is limited to the urban centers of the United States. It's a tribal thing based more on personal identity than rational thought. Sure, complex arguments and proof points are deployed to support one side or the other but the goal is not to change minds but to inflict damage on the other tribe and validate your own tribe's positions. This is all fun and games when you're young and powerless but it's destructive and corrosive when the stakes are high.

Actual war is a zero sum game. What hurts us aids the enemy and vice versa.

So is criticizing Bush policy unpatriotic? Of course not if the intention is to steer the policy toward a more effective way of defeating the enemy. But if you don’t believe there is an enemy, or worse, you believe that the U.S. government is the enemy, then you’ve crossed the line. You’re on the other side. And that’s the antithesis of patriotism.

From the beginning, George Bush has had to fight the real war against real enemies and at the same time fend off the home-grown tribalists whose goal was to delegitimize his presidency (as is always their goal when the president is from the opposing "tribe.") Bush's mistake was to think that 9/11 actually changed the game and that he could bring the tribalists along with him in a fight against our common enemies.

To his credit, Bush didn't treat the Islamofascist threat as a law enforcement issue as had every preceding administration. You could see the policy forming in plain view. On 9/11 he said he would bring the perpetrators to justice. A week later the policy had changed to “ending failed states.” The Taliban regime was the first of these states to end.

Now remember where we were back then. American flags were flying all over the East Village and Adams Morgan. Neil Young had just recorded “Let’s Roll”, surely his first pro-war song. Bush had the highest approval rating ever recorded (92%). And despite warnings, small, agile U.S. forces had liberated an “unconquerable” country with minimal casualties. And they were greeted with flowers.

This was all incredibly good for Bush. But what’s good for Bush (even if it happens to coincide with what’s good for America generally) is bad for the tribalists. Michael Moore, you may recall, was anti-war even back during the Afghanistan campaign. So was Gore Vidal and of course Noam Chomsky.

Recall also that we were already at war with the failed state run by the Hussein dynasty. The terms of the 1991 ceasefire included the requirement that he declare and destroy his weapons of mass destruction. In 1991, he declared to UN inspectors that he had an offensive biological warfare capability of among other things:

“5,000 gallons of botulinum, which causes botulism; 2,000 gallons of
anthrax; 25 biological-filled Scud warheads; and 157 aerial bombs.”

These are WMDs. They existed. He declared them. UNSCOM’s mission was not to find undeclared WMDs, it was to confirm the destruction of those WMDs that were already there. Hussein failed to declare their destruction. Why? Who knows. But that mistake cost him his life.

So, was the President lying when he said:

“What if Saddam fails to comply, and we fail to act, or we take some ambiguous third route which gives him yet more opportunities to develop this program of weapons of mass destruction and continue to press for the release of the sanctions and continue to ignore the solemn commitments that he made?

Well, he will conclude that the international community has lost its will. He will then conclude that he can go right on and do more to rebuild an arsenal of devastating destruction.

And some day, some way, I guarantee you, he'll use the arsenal. And I think every one of you who's really worked on this for any length of time believes that, too."

Perhaps he was lying. But the president who said that was Bill Clinton. And he said that when he made regime change in Iraq the official policy of the United States. It wasn't a lie. It was conventional wisdom.

It's common to say these days that there are no easy options with Iraq. The same was true in 2002/3.

What was Bush supposed to do after 9/11 . . . allow Hussein to continue to undermine the sanctions regime? We now know it was even worse than anyone could have guessed. The Oil for Food program was the largest financial fraud in history. Members of the UN Security Council received payoffs. The sanctions were failing and diplomacy was compromised.

Should he have maintained the status quo? That would have meant enforcing a no fly zone indefinitely which, by the end of the Clinton Administration had expanded to include bombing of ground targets and frequent civilian casualties. Recall also, that the world (except for the UK) strenuously objected to the U.S.’s “unilateral” enforcement of no fly zones.

Should he have ignored Hussein? Iraq had already violated dozens of UN resolutions. The regime continued to collect tens of billions of petrodollars, enough to buy off major governments and enough to fund weapons programs he had already declared were his intention. His sons were already taking up positions of power to ensure a dynastic regime for generations to come. And his regime was already known throughout the world as a barbarically cruel fascist dictatorship. Moreover, we were still at war with Iraq and they had already violated the ceasefire many many times.

In the post 9/11 world, how could any president ignore Iraq?

To his credit, Bush didn’t ignore the problem. He enforced the UN resolutions and the regime change policy. And his solution wasn’t just to knock off the dictator and steal the oil but to give Iraqis a shot at self-determination. That was an idealistic bonus. At the same time he upset an unacceptable status quo and surrounded the far more threatening Iran with coalition forces. And by the way, the troops were again greeted with flowers.

Could he have done a better job? Of course. He could have articulated the mission over and over and rebutted the domestic tribalists who saw (and still see) any Bush failure as a success for their tribe. He could have sent twice as many troops, or half as many troops. He could have prosecuted the Baathists or partnered with the Baathists. He made difficult choices without the luxury of hindsight that his critics enjoy.

I don’t agree with all his decisions but I believe they were made in good faith with the welfare of the United States in mind. I don’t think his tribal critics have anything in mind but the defeat of Bush even if that means the defeat of the U.S. in the Iraq campaign of the Long War. For being of the other tribe, he has earned the inevitable scorn of partisans who would still hate him if he was Nelson Mandela.

The Bush haters are not just people with differing opinions than his. They are on the other side. They want to damage him even if it means damaging the country.

But this sort of hate is not anything new. Listen to the rhetoric from the Democratic Convention:

"(he is a) worse tyrant and more inhuman butcher than has existed since the days of Nero ... The man who votes for him now is a traitor and murderer... And if he is elected to misgovern for another four years, we trust some bold hand will pierce his heart with dagger point for the public good.”

That was the Democratic Convention of 1864 back when Abraham Lincoln was “the worst President ever,” when we were mired in an endless war with no exit strategy, and when the justification for it had changed from saving the union to freeing the (insert N word here), as the Copperhead antiwar Dems were prone to saying at the time.

Is Bush perfect? No. Are we living in dangerous times? Yes. Do I hope and believe the United States will prevail in the struggle against Islamofascism? Absolutely.

Dissent can be patriotic, but nowadays the highest form of dissent seems to be patriotism. And I mean old fashioned, Stephen Decatur-style patriotism. Back in the day he gave a toast saying, “To our country. May she always be right. But our country right or wrong.”

Sadly, I can’t imagine anyone saying that these days.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

First Impressions

Who to Trust?

I just can’t tell which side to believe: the calm and reasonable military hero with the Ph.D delivering long awaited testimony to Congress or the shrill lesbians with pink foam rubber tiaras on their heads shouting obscenities from the back the room?

If I were a Democrat – and I once was – I’d be more than a little embarrassed by my Code Pink comrades today.
Cry If You Want To

In case you can't bear to hear anymore hopeful news about progress in the Iraqi theatre of the Long War, here is a lovely clip of Roxy Music's Bryan Ferry on the Cilla Black show from 1974.

The subject matter of this song is in no way a suggestion that the Democrats in Congress are chagrined at the testimony of General Petraeus.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

One Giant Leap for Steve Holden

Have you ever noticed how the Baby Boomers distort the history of the 1960s so that it conforms to their sylvan utopia stereotype? For example, we heard a lot this year about the anniversary of the totally inconsequential “Summer of Love” and very little about the Newark riots that happened at the same time yet whose consequences are palpably evident to this day.

This morning’s New York Times has a particularly laughable example of wishful recollection in a review of the new Apollo 11 documentary, “In the Shadow of the Moon.” Times reviewer, Stephen Holden, sets the context by describing 1969 as an innocent time compared to our current state of events.

The good vibes are gone. The tone of international political discourse has toughened, and the United States is increasingly viewed as an arrogant, dangerous superpower. The concept of a cooperative multinational “we,” working together for world peace, with America leading the way, is almost as quaint as the cozy concept of “the global village.”

The “good vibes?” He must be thinking of My Lai, the campus rioting, the Manson murders, and Ted Kennedy’s midnight drive on Chappaquiddick which – in convincing proof that God looks out for drunks and fools – happened just hours before the biggest news story in history.

Good vibes? Sure, if you had just joined the Weathermen.

“The tone of international discourse has toughened”? That’s a laugh. With so much saber rattling going on back then I don’t think anyone could actually hear the international discourse. Discourse doesn’t get much tougher than Mutual Assured Destruction with the latest Soviet technology guaranteeing that no thermonuclear missiles get fired by mistake.

“The United States is increasingly viewed as an arrogant, dangerous superpower.” Again, I would draw your attention to a world literally divided between two nuclear armed camps. One based on a barbaric 19th century ideology that murdered hundreds of millions of people in an attempt to eliminate poverty and the other on ancient Greco-Judeo-Christian concepts of self-determination and individual liberty. An existential struggle featuring for the first time the actual means to extinguish human existence.

I know many Boomers are still torn up about which side to support in that struggle but here’s a hint: it's over and the political Left was vanquished.

As for the concept of a “cooperative multinational ‘we’ working together for world peace with American leading the way,” I suppose he means something like an idealized United Nations. In reality, it’s more like a coalition of the willing with the United States as the leader by default because of its superior resources and because waiting for the “global village” to act is an exercise in creative inertia.

If today’s world is even more strife-torn than the world of 1969, when theVietnam War was raging, one reason may be that the same technology that produced Apollo 11 has since come under a cloud.

Since the world is demonstrably not more strife-torn than it was in 1969, this baffling observation is moot. Still, what does he mean?

I think the technology that produced Apollo 11 will be the one thing historians will remember about the 1960s. Everything else was froth. Aerospace technology lead to miniaturization and semiconductors and binary computing and digital communications and the internet and MySpace and lonelygirl15. Some cloud!

Is this Holden guy typing his reviews on an IBM Selectric with a bottle of Wite-Out close by?

Let’s see, Holden was born in 1941 making him 28 at the time of the moon landing. So he’s too old for Woodstock and too young for Korea. He falls into the awkward Paul Anka, Dick Cheney generation and probably has regrets about being the dork at the groovy kids’ party, sipping martinis at the happening, wearing a turtleneck and blazer at the orgy, comb-over and handlebar moustache looking for action that never would have lived up to his heightened expectations had he ever be lucky enough to have found the fountain of free love.

For the rest of us, Apollo 11 was out of sight. It was the only thing anyone was thinking of for months before and after July 20th. From the perspective, the 1960s was all about miraculous technology in the service of American hegemony and nothing at all about the “good vibes” Holden thinks he can recall.

Any you know what? Things are a lot better now.

The movie looks great, btw.

Sitting Here in Limbo

Know how hard it is to go to a restaurant with a kid under ten? Imagine campaigning for president with your kids in tow.

Sure it would be miserable for you but imagine the living hell it would be for the kiddies. No friends. No attention from Mom or Dad. Nothing but grownups talking to each other on and on all day long.

If you still can’t picture it, check out this New York Times video about the lovely and talented John Edwards. He’s campaigning for President and I guess he wants to show what a great father he is by taking his kids out of school and dragging them through endless photo ops in Middle America on a rented bus.

Frankly, I’d do the same thing if I had to run for President. But I don’t have to, and neither does Edwards. I’m sure the campaign thinks that his pursuit of the presidency even though his wife has cancer and his kids are bored out of their minds is proof of Edwards’s’s’s focus and perseverance.

But I think it just makes him remarkably selfish. All the more remarkable since he lost his eldest son in an accident and must surely regret the lost opportunities to share love and life. Why then subject your other children to the whims of your career?

His kids are certainly getting a unique education though. When this is over they should be able to write a dissertation on child exploitation.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Mad Men

My old friend Mark nails the reason why Mad Men is one of the best things on TV these days. It’s not just the attention to details of 1960 design but also the amusing reminders of how effortlessly these “conformists” flirted with real danger.

The constant smoking, drinking, and driving . . . and often all three . . . while pregnant . . . either shows how foolish people were back then or how frightened we all are right now.

I remember vividly each year spending three days in the middle of the back seat of a smoke-filled Oldsmobile 98 driving to Florida (never stopping at South of the Border) and listening to The Living Strings. That was the Sixties. No tie-dyed hippiie shit for us.

If I can survive that, my kids can damn well put up with The Pixies for a half hour, dammit!

Friday, August 31, 2007

That’s One Small Step for Allah

I’m sort of fascinated by contemporaryArab culture. On the one hand you have state-of-the-art electronic broadcasting equipment and competent direction from the control room . . . yet the content of the broadcast is bizarre medieval superstition.

How can it be that complex technology can so effortlessly coexist with such irrational rubbish? “The radiation from Mecca is infinite.” Jeez, I’m embarrassed for these guys.

One clue, Arabs are ignorant. I don't mean that in a bad way. They can't help but be ignorant. They have very few opportunities to be informed.

According to the UNDP Arab Human Development Report of 2003, the total number of books translated into Arabic during the past 1,000 years is less than those translated in Spain in one year.

I’m all for greater understanding between cultures, but the Arab world has a long way to go before it has even a hazy understanding of western culture and values . . . or even science.

The day some American billionaire writes a check to establish an institute for the study of Judeo/Christian culture in Saudi Arabia will be the day we begin to make some progress toward mutual understanding.

The first big lesson will be the reaction of our Saudi friends.

And yet, there is still hope that rational people can rise up and prevail against ignorance.

To believe otherwise is simple bigotry.

More Money For the Big Sleazy?

While we’re all remembering Katrina for a moment let’s think briefly about New Orleans’ real tragedy. It’s a dysfunctional city. It was before the hurricane and it still is.

Remember the famous video of the looting in New Orleans? Remember also, this was before the levees breached and the city flooded. Here we see New Orleans’ finest taking part in the fun.

A few hours later, the city began to fill with water and police were nowhere to be found. Nor were the buses that could have helped evacuate residents. Nor were any local authorities.

New Orleans is about the most dangerous city in the country when the weather is good. When there is flooding and chaos, it gets extra spicy down there.

The city has been “cleaning up” now for two years. According to the federal government (via Larry Kudlow’s article in The Sun) more than $127 billion has been spent on the city’s recovery. That would be nearly half a million dollars for every man, woman, and child in the city.

Hell, the GDP of the entire state of Louisiana is $152 billion.

Where is all that money going? Not sure but it’s certainly doesn’t seem to be helping New Orleans become a normal city again. According to City Journal's Nicolas Gelinas, crime is worse now in New Orleans even will half the population.
In fact, since Katrina, New Orleans’s murder rate has been higher than that of
any first-world city. Depending on fluctuating estimates of the city’s returning
population, it’s perhaps 40 percent higher than before Katrina and twice as high
as the rate in other dangerous cities like Detroit, Newark, and Washington.

The usual suspects are pleading for even more money to spend on what was always a seedy, theme park for anti-social behavior.

Rather than restoring the city to it’s traditional steamy squalor, a better goal would be to remake the city as a safe place to live and a productive place to work. President Bush made a baby step in that direction by replacing the failing public school system with a series of competitive charter schools.

But he could have gone much further.

As Kudlow says, if the Administration had declared New Orleans a tax-free enterprise zone in the aftermath of Katrina, it would not only have recovered by now, it would also be a fundamentally different place. And a far better place for the people who live there.

Friday, August 10, 2007


People who complain about America being a racist society have a point. We’re far too race conscious in this country, in my opinion (which is the only one that counts on this website).

But you have to go to Europe to know what a really blanco-centric society feels like. And there’s no place more Caucasian (outside of the Caucasuses) than Finland.

I give to you, the whitest people on earth:

See, it could be a lot worse.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Hope in Iraq?

Stand by for the vigorous smearing of Pollack and O’Hanlon and The Brookings Institute and CNN and anyone who wears a lavender necktie.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Changing Opinions . . . Hmmm

A New York Times poll finds that more Americans support the war in Iraq today than they did two months ago. The Times was so alarmed by this development that they redid their poll just to make sure. The results were the same. About 10% more people think, in retrospect, that military action in Iraq was a good idea and about 10% fewer think it was a bad idea compared to two months ago.

Of course, the majority of people polled still think intervening in Iraq was a bad idea, but if that majority is shrinking, The New York Times can’t figure out why. It’s “counterintuitive” says the Times. It “could not be easily explained.” But explain it they tried on Sunday.

“Once is a while a poll finding doesn’t make sense.” In other words, how could The People be so stupid? I mean, surely they’ve read the uniformly dismal news in the Times. They’ve been told endlessly that Operation Iraqi Freedom is the catastrophically quagmirishly misleadingly Bushitlerburtonesque worst war ever! Are The People slipping off the wagon again and rejecting the truth we’ve spoonfed them?

The first explanation the Times grabs for is that The People, in their devotion to Hillary Clinton, must have been confused by references earlier in the poll to Clinton’s original support of the war. “It was just a hunch,” says the Times breathlessly, “but it was all there was.” Frankly, only the Times could see this as a plausible explanation.

Not until the 12th paragraph, the third to last in the article, does the Times offer up another baffling finding: “there was also a drop in the number of people who said the war is going badly.”

Hmmm . . . perhaps, and I’m only speculating here, but just maybe The People don’t want to lose the war and are encouraged by the remarkable success the coalition forces have had in the past two months stabilizing Baghdad, Anbar, Diyala? Maybe they’ve read deeper and learned that the Islamic State in Iraq (ISI) has recently been revealed to be a front organization set up by foreign Al Qaeda fascists to give the insurgency an Iraqi face? Perhaps they’ve also heard that coalition casualties are the lowest they’ve been in seven months?

UPDATE: This Gallup poll shows the most outspoken Iraq war hawks, McCain and Giuliani, are also the candidates most trusted by Americans polled to handle the Iraq war. That means, to my untrained eye, that most people don't mind the war as long as we're in it to win it.

My humble opinion is that no rational patriotic American wants to see the United States defeated in Iraq. Moreover, I’d say that most Americans would consider the mission in Iraq to be a noble one that’s consistent with American ideals.

That mission: to remove the despotic Hussein dynasty from power in accord with U.S. policy established during the Clinton Administration, to ensure that the weapons of mass destruction that the regime reported having to the United Nations in 1991 have been destroyed or otherwise accounted for in accord with a dozen U.N. resolutions, to establish a democratic foothold in the most politically backward and strategically important region of the world, and thereby undermine the region’s illiberal, intolerant, militarily expansionist regimes by providing a an alternative model to oppression . . . that mission is still worthy even after years of mismanagement.

Succeeding in that mission would be a good thing for Iraq, for the millions of people living in that region and for the United States. So, what’s the trouble with that? Well, it would also be good for George Bush.

And for some people who may or may not work at the Times, genocide is better outcome.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Looking at Buildings

Yesterday evening was a lovely time to walk through Manhattan. The air was fresh and the breeze cool and the ratio of beautiful to grizzled New Yorkers was favorable. On an evening like that you notice splendor on almost every block.

One of my favorite street views on such evenings is 42nd St. looking east. There you see the iconic Chrysler tower in all its exuberant Jazz Age spikiness.

Below it is Grand Central, another icon but of the turn of the century Beaux Arts style . . . a confident time when people built city structures to last a millennium.

What is our contribution to this heritage? An almost perfect example stands directly between the two icons. It’s the demoralizingly dull “Grand” Hyatt.

There is nothing Grand about it. Everything about it expresses mediocrity, carelessness, monotony, and expedience. It is not meant to last any more than the scaffolding around a real building is meant to last. Unlike the other two buildings, you could damage this one with a well thrown rock. Its transitory-ness dishonors everyone associated with it including its malevolently named “architect,” Der Scutt.

And what’s the worst part of it? It was once a prominant and fairly beautiful building and its skeleton is still there under the filthy glass panels. This isn’t the Hyatt or the Renaissance or the Hyatt Grand Renaissance . . . This is the Commodore Hotel. The same hotel where Richard Nixon and Whittaker Chambers confronted Alger Hiss . . . the same hotel from which Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald were ejected.

It was designed by Warren and Wetmore who designed it as a complement to their masterpiece, the Grand Central Terminal itself.

Today it is a banal plate-glass placeholder for whatever significant building eventually replaces it. I can hardly wait.

Apologies for the negativity. I’m trying to live up to the high standards of 2 Blowhards and write something positive. How’s this: At least the Hyatt has the good sense to try to disappear between it's two more noble neighbors.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Oxford Union it Ain’t.

Is the combining of amateurish YouTube videos with presidential debates an advancement for our national dialogue or the equivalent of a Jimmy Carter cameo appearance on Joanie Loves Chachi?

I had a lot of faith in YouTube as a genuinely new development in communications technology and custom until this. Now I’m beginning to think of CB radio. Once what was underground becomes mainstream it loses all its mystery and the baffling intrinsic value it once had as an insider thing evaporates. CB, vblogging, it’s nothing new . . . just regular Joes talking to each other again.

The sad thing about the debates is that the YouTubers came off as far more human and authentic than the candidates themselves . . . with the exception of Mike Gravel who really belongs among the unhinged in unregulated cyberspace rather than among the coiffed and scripted in actual physical space. You want dignity and gravitas? Watch Letterman instead.

Thankfully, the hive wisdom of YouTube will always have the upper hand in any encounter with ersatz “leaders”

The Phoney War

Damn, Newt Gingrich is talking more sense than anyone out there. What this brain dead presidential campaign needs is fiendishly smart, silver-tongued devil like Newt. How come he's not running ... yet?

Love him for the enemies he's made.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Conscience of the Senate

It’s good to know that while the Earth may be heating up, the Global War on Islamic Extremism is spreading, and millions of illegal immigrants saturate and overflow our borders, the U.S. Senate is coolly and rationally deliberating on the most pressing of all issues now facing the Republic.

Fasten your seatbelts and listen to the 400-year-old Democratic Senator from West Virginia pour on the passion, pump up the volume, and speak truth to power about the deplorable injustices faced in the Canine-American community.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Explosion in Midtown

Yesterday’s steam pipe explosion sounded like a colossal jet engine operating at maximum thrust and people near the epicenter reacted as you would expect.

Confusion . . .

Followed by mild panic . . .

But the day after all is calm. The streets are crowed with equipment but the pace of work is decidedly unionesque.

As for Con Edison . . . don’t worry. They’re On It!

When No News Is Good News

Last week, UK military spokesman Major Mike Shearer secured his spot in the media relations Hall of Fame by issuing perhaps the greatest holding statement ever written:

"We can categorically state that we have not released man-eating badgers into the area.”

The beauty of this is that, except for extraordinary situations, any spokesman for any organization can issue the exact same statement and mitigate whatever bad news is also being announced.

Try it.

"Sales of our most important product offering were down this quarter by 48% in the United States. But we categorically state that we have not released man-eating badgers into the area."

"We have failed in our attempt to cut funding for American troops in the field and secure an ignoble defeat for our nation thereby disgracing ourselves and the U.S. Senate. But we catregorically state that we have not released man-eating badgers into the area."

Plus, the statement can be positioned as a potent but thinly veiled threat simply by adding the word "yet" to the ending.


(via things)

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Humanity Prevails

It’s the possibility that life-altering experiences are taking place at any given moment somewhere in the city that gives New York its singular sense of excitement and promise.

Here’s an example. I took this photograph of the view from a high floor on the Pan Am Building looking north past the Grand Central Tower. Great vista.

Look closer and you can see the parapets and gargoyles of the tower in detail . . . details entirely hidden from view when the tower was constructed but built nonetheless because back then architects had an understanding of humanity’s romantic character and our deep desire for delight. (Something Thom Mayne will never comprehend).

But look even closer. There are people up there!

While everyone else is droning through the workday and possibly thinking about what to eat for lunch, there are three men clinging to the precariously steep side of the copper roof 40 stories above the city. Imagine what that guy on the ladder is experiencing. Bright sunshine, a stiff breeze, muffled car horns in the distance . . . and his heartbeat.

But they’re not really clinging at all. They’re totally at ease. This is something they’ve done before, maybe hundreds of times before. It’s no big deal to crawl out of a porthole at the top of a century old tower and climb down a fragile ladder to re-point the brickwork on a chimney no one will ever see.

Knowing that these things exist hidden from view is what makes life truly exciting. And compared to the monotonous glass walls that surround the tower . . . which architectural style best captures this essential human craving?