Sunday, April 30, 2006

No grackles need apply

No grackles need apply

I hate grackles.

Noisy, dirty, troublesome birds, if you've got a bird feeder. We don't. Not here. We used to. In our backyard in Syracuse and before that we had one hanging off the deck of our third floor apartment in Ft Wayne, a gift from our pal Nance, a fellow amateur ornithologist. Thanks to the grackles, mainly, Nance dubbed our deck The Poop Deck. I had to muck out every time we had a cookout or the blonde and her chums desired to sunbathe. I'd have taken down the feeder to be rid of the grackles but I was too fond of the goldfinches, house finches, mourning doves, cardinals, and various sparrows who'd come along, when the grackles weren't hogging the feeder and using the deck the way rock bands have been known to use hotel rooms.

Grackles look like they should be noble birds. They have handsome profiles, long, elegant tail feathers, and their iridescent hoods flash and seem to change colors from minute to minute, now purple, now blue, now green, now purple again.

But they're just a less highly evolved form of crow, to whom they are not related, but whom they emulate in the ugliness of their calls and the swagger with which they throw their weight around and chase away other, prettier, humbler birds. Grackles make starlings look good.

I hate them. But I like reading what Rana has to say about them.

Rana's been keeping a careful eye on her feeder. I don't know if her grackles are more interesting and better behaved the grackles I've known and despised or if she is just a more patient, tolerant, and appreciative observer. What she is, to be sure, is a better nature writer.


Back in Syracuse the grackles stayed away from our feeder, which was much lower to the ground and hung in the shade of some hedges, which made it attractive to my favorite birds, black-capped chickadees. Chickadees are fun to watch because, for one thing, they let you watch them, they are fairly bold for such little birds, and, more than any other bird, they seem to be talking to each other. They may in fact be talking to each other. It has been speculated that chickadees have a language.

Turns out other birds may be chatting with each other too, not simply chattering. This news comes by way of Michael Bains at Silly Humans: Songbirds' songs may be grammatical.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Five Weird Habits of a Highly Ineffective Blogger

Five Weird Habits of a Highly Ineffective Blogger

Lizzy of Night Bird's Fountain zapped me with a meme-gun. She asked me to list five habits of mine that could be called weird.

I had trouble with this one. As I wrote to Lizzy, "What if one of my weird habits is thinking I have no weird habits?"

But, after consulting with people I thought were my friends, I've come up with a list that seems to fit the bill. Here are my five weird habits, numbered in the order I thought of them not ranked by degree of weirdness.

Weird Habit Number One: It takes me two pots of coffee to get one full mug to drink. This is not the perfectionism of a java connoisseur. It's senility. I have a habit of pouring myself a cup, setting it down, and forgetting about it. By the time I've remembered it, and remembered where I left it, it's gone cold. So of course I have to dump it and pour another cup. Which, after a few sips, I set down and forget about. If I do this enough times I will eventually have sipped an entire cup's worth of hot coffee.

Weird Habit Number Two: I pace a lot. A lot a lot. Especially when I'm on the phone. But I pace when I think too, and when I'm bored. I've done twenty or thirty laps around the kitchen table (often with a cold cup of coffee in my hand) just while ordering a pizza. I've driven colleagues insane with my incessant pacing back and forth in front of their open office doors. One guy I worked with complained that, going back and forth in front of his door I reminded him of a guard in a prisoner of war camp and I made him feel like he was a captured spy waiting to be taken out and shot at dawn.

Weird Habit Number Three: I'm told I have an odd pattern of speech, alternately hyper and mellow. I'll shift gears a couple of times in the middle of a sentence, racing through some words, drawling out others, and stuttering the whole way. My pal Margot says talking with me is like listening to a mashup of Jimmy Stewart and Woody Allen. And, here's the weird part, I have a habit of...



...pausing. I'll be in the middle of a thought and I'll just stop...

...talking. For no apparent reason.

I know what's happening. I've finished with the thought in my head and started working on the next one. My mouth just didn't keep up and suddenly it's being given orders to start a new sentence while it's still trying to get out the end of the last one. The result is lockjaw. But to people who have to listen to me it appears as if I've suddenly developed aphasia. My pauses tend to come when the next word is obvious. "Hemingway wrote The Sun Also..." "I'd like to order a cheese..." "Honey, have you seen my cup of..."

My students used to get so frustrated that they'd start finishing my thoughts for me.

Prof. Mannion: For tomorrow, read the second chapter in your text...


Students: Book!

Weird Habit Number Four: I can't take a compliment.

I can borrow one. I can rent one, beg for one, fish for one, I can even steal one, right out of your driveway. The police will find it in the morning in a ditch on the other side of town with four flat tires and an empty gas tank.

I'm also pretty good at giving them, backhanded and otherwise

I just can't take one. Embarrasses the hell out of me.

So to all the folks who have very kindly left notes here in the past complimenting this or that post, let me say, Thank you.

Now can we talk about something else?

Weird Habit Number Five: I try to turn all conversations that verge on the personal into jokes.

Weird Habit Number Six: I can't keep to the limits of an assignment.

Ok, that's it for me. How about you? How about your spouse/significant other? My spouse/significant other has only one weird habit---she only reads my blog when I've written something embarrassing or critical about her. So I'm not going there myself. But I'll bet your spouse/significant other doesn't read this, so why not take advantage of the opportunity to vent?

Friday, April 28, 2006

Liberals in the Ninth Circle of Hell

Context is all, and when a guy going through a rough divorce, finding out his best friend is dating his soon to be ex-wife, turns on his pal and shouts, “Judas!” he’s perhaps being a tad more literary than most guys in his situation would be who’d reach for a bar stool to clobber their former friend with before they’d reach for a biblical allusion, but he’s still got a point.

No one who heard this would think he saw himself as Jesus on his way to Golgotha.

Everybody would know exactly what he meant and how he feels.

But when Right Wing bloggers call people who are critical of President Bush Judases, they are not being merely poetic. They are in earnest. They mean the comparisons to be taken literally. Dissent is treason, treason is sin, Bush is a Christian hero, and Liberals are as damnable as the worst of history’s traitors. They can try to adopt a reasonable if mournful tone, but there’s no disguising their meaning—criticize my hero and you deserve to spend eternity in the cold center of Hell with Satan chewing on your worthless hide for ever and ever, amen.

The Right Side of Blogtopia (copyright Skippy) long ago adopted a strategy of hate first and ask no questions later, and someday psychology professors, if they’re not doing it already, will use Right Wing blog posts in their classrooms as textbook examples of projection.

The Right Wingers are adept at what I’ve called here Orc Logic—a habit of thought that excuses themselves of everything they do as long as they think they’ve found Liberals doing the same thing.

The Anchoress, who links approvingly to the American Digest’s Judas post, demonstrates a classic example of Orc Logic. Did Michelle Malkin sic her rabid attack dogs on some unsuspecting college kids? Well, that’s their fault for publishing their contact information to begin with. Has this resulted in Malkin receiving hate mail and threats in return? That’s also those students’ fault and, by the way, typical of hateful Leftists. “Filthy elvish trick.”

The Anchoress, by the way, has adopted a supposedly “Christian” persona for her blog. Seems a bit hypocritical for a Christian to be approving of hate mail and death threats, but this is typical of the Right Wingers. They have a stubborn resistence to practicing what they preach or even seeing a contradiction. They’re also clever at giving themselves Get Out of Jail Free cards. The Anchoress’s introductory heading on her blog says that she believes that “decent people can disagree and still be decent people.” Which sounds almost fair-minded until you wonder who she thinks are decent people and what the rules are when people she doesn’t consider decent disagree with her.

You don’t have to wonder long. Just read her blog. There’s one rule. “Break out the kindling! It’s time for an auto de fe!”

Her persona may be that of medieval nun, but there’s no mistaking her for one of the Poor Clares.

The Anchoress’ post (link courtesy of Wolcott) is a masterpiece of projection and obsfucation. Lots of high-flying rhetoric, lots of phrases that sound like something a real philosopher or religious thinker might use, in service of linking to posts by her fellow Right Wingers accusing Liberals of all manner of nastiness and vice, and all designed to protect herself from evidence of her own anger and hate.

In the nicest, most pious, most reasonable, and even most regretful way she manages to suggest that Liberals are more damned than Judas.

The American Digest post has another kind of beauty. It’s a perfect demonstration of the way the Right has conflated love of country, support of the President, ideology, ego, and vanity.

Treason is defined as hatred for America and hatred for America is demonstrated by disagreeing with Bush and/or the blogger—it doesn’t matter which, Bush and the blogger are one, and both are America.

There’s almost no point in talking about the Right Wing side of the bandwidth as if any real individual points of view were being expressed over there. It’s an arm of the Republican propaganda machine and the bloggers themselves are manipulated as Karl Rove sees the need.

But they do share a very human—as opposed to a corporate—trait. From the beginning of the War on Terra they adopted George Bush as their hero-king. He’s not their Leader (and it’s almost funny, if it wasn’t so horrifying, the way they use that word without any seeming awareness of its connotations), he’s their Saviour.

People’s relationships with their Messiahs are intimate and very personal. It’s no wonder they feel “betrayals” so keenly.

The long and the short of it, though, is that the Right Wing bloggers have given in to a very human temptation—they’ve mixed up their ideas and political opinions with their egos. There are plenty of Liberals who are guilty of this too. And it’s not something that happens to people only when their politics are on the line. They do it with their sports teams, their favorite movies, the books they love, the kinds of pets they prefer—get into an argument with someone over which is better, cats or dogs, sometime, and watch how quickly it gets personal and ugly.

To a great degree we exist to ourselves only as what we think and what we love and what we feel.

To be told that what we think is wrong or that whom or what we love is undeserving is to, we can’t help feeling, a blow to the very core of our being.

The Right Wingers have tied themselves up with George Bush. They love him and they believe in him and he has turned out to be undeserving.

He has in fact betrayed them by failing. They should be furious at him. Some are, I hear.

But to get back to the guy at the bar who’s mourning his coming divorce.

Let’s say that his friend the Judas has left without a dent from a flying bar stool on him. Another friend sits down to console the guy.

“Forget her, Joe. She wasn’t worth it. She was a lying tramp from the get go. You’re better off without the slut.”

That friend is in even bigger trouble than the Judas.

That friend may in fact be the real Judas in the guy’s eyes. Because that friend’s betrayal is the more stinging. He may think he’s trying to help, but what he’s doing is calling the guy stupid for ever loving his wife in the first place. The first friend just broke a rule of friendship. The second friend is going after the guy’s whole sense of himself. The first friend’s betrayal is just proof that the marriage is over. But the second friend, by suggesting that the marriage was a sham from the beginning, has made the guy see his whole life as a worthless joke. He might as well have ceased to exist the moment he said “I do.”

If George Bush is wrong, if George Bush has failed, if George Bush is a liar and a puppet and an incompetent bumbler, a whole lot of Right Wing bloggers are going to have to face the fact that their devotion to him has been a worthless joke from the beginning. Their lives, or at least their blogging lives, will have had no meaning except for their having helped keep the failures coming.

It’s no wonder then they hate anyone who pushes them towards facing that fact.

It’s no wonder that rather than even consider the possibility they’ve been wrong, they insist that people who disagree with them are worse than wrong, they are evil.

For there is no greater “evil” that can be done to someone than to make him see the foolishness of his own vanity.

I suspect that many of them are beginning to see it. The betrayal, however, is coming from within. It’s self against self. Judas! they cry!

But like I said, they are very good at projecting.

Which brings me to this post by Laura Turner at Liberalism Without Cynicism.

Why, a lot of people have wondered, do conservatives have such a hard time facing up to the truth about global warning, besides the fact that to do something about it might cost them some money?

It’s vanity. Vanity, vanity, all is vanity and seeking after wind and solar power, saith the Preacher.

Or, as Laura puts it, less pompously, they just don’t want to admit they were wrong and Al Gore was right!

Thursday, April 27, 2006

There are no atheists in foxholes...

...or around the water cooler at the offices at RawStory either, apparently.

(Does RawStory have offices?)

This is one of Mannion's Rules of Polemical Writing. If you've built an argument around calling people you don't agree with "whackjobs," start over.

Because: You don't have an argument, you have a rant. If what you want is a rant, well, that's your business. I like a good rant now and then myself. I have two archive catergories devoted to rants, in fact. Can't remember if there are any posts in either file built around calling anybody a whackjob.

RawStory columnist Melinda Barton thinks the Left needs to purge itself of its religious whackjobs.

I didn't know the Left was an entity, let alone one organized enough to muster a decent purge.

The whackjobs Barton wants tossed out on their collective ears are really irreligious whackjobs---I'm just using her word there, don't hold me to it---a certain kind of atheist. It's hard to say exactly what kind because she's not precise in her definitions. She seems to mean the arrogant, prosletyzing, down with all churches, let's organize a Religion of Pure Reason and if You Don't Join It You're Stupid kind.

Know any?

Most of the atheists I know are fairly modest types. They don't believe in God, but they're not particularly worried about their lack of belief. They're not insecure enough to go around insisting that everyone else agree with them. They're like Dietrich on Barney Miller when Barney asked him what he'd do if he was wrong about there being no God.

"What if when you die you wind up in heaven and find yourself facing You Know Who? What are you going to say then?"

Dietrich looks upwards as if into the eyes of a large, thundering Almighty and says with a shrug of apology, "Whoops?"

I've known a couple of atheists in my time who thought they were pretty hot stuff for having rejected the superstitions and ritualistic mumbo-jumbo the rest of us unenlightened types held onto, nevermind that for both of them their atheism was really a temperamental tick more than an intellectual triumph of reason over fear and ignorance. They'd have been insufferable prigs even if they'd been regular church goers. Their atheism was as pompous and shallow as a lot of Godbotherers' piety. But that was them, and neither one was politically active even to the point of envelope stuffing. The Left doesn't need to purge them.

There are some atheists out there who are preaching a gospel of Pure Reason. They've written some interesting books and the ones who are academics probably give lively lectures, but they're busy with their books and their teaching and if the Left purged them I don't think many of them would notice.

There are people out there pushing the idea that if we'd all just shake ourselves free of a belief in God and an afterlife we would do ourselves all kinds of good. Religion has a very mixed track record when it comes to dealing with living in the here and now. For too much of the history of the human race religion has provided an excuse for one tribe of human beings to murder and enslave another. Christianity, besides routinely giving its blessing to wholesale slaughters of various kinds, has actively opposed and done its best to stamp out individual, innovative thought of the kind that leads to scientific, political, and philosophical breakthroughs that improve the lot of humanity. A good case can be made that the first great achievement of the early Church was the Dark Ages.

There is another form of temptation, even more fraught with danger. This is the disease of curiosity...It is this which drives us to try and discover the secrets of nature, those secrets which are beyond our understanding, which can avail us of nothing and which man should not which to learn.

That's St Augustine.

This is St Paul:

For it is written, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will thwart." Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men."

He goes on and on.

The early Chruch's mostly successful campaign to replace reason with blind faith in not God but the priests who claimed to speak for Him is the subject and theme of Charles Freeman's Closing of the Western Mind.

I don't know if Freeman's an atheist. But he's British anyway, so there's no point in the American Left purging him.

There are some people who argue that the Church and all organized religion are still the enemies of reason and they are not just stupidly destructive but actively evil and anyone who persists in believing what they teach, including a belief in God, is complicit in that evil. This guy, for instance.

Sam Harris is emphatically an atheist, and in his book he comes across as arrogant, prosletyzing, for the disbanding of all churches, and convinced that if you don't agree with him you're an idiot. But I don't know if he's a Leftist. From the infuriated and hate-filled way he writes about Islam, you'd swear he was a Right Wing blogger, so Barton can purge him if she likes but there may not be any point in it.

I know the Church has a lot to answer for, but I'm of the opinion that what's wrong with religion is that it's a human invention and the best way to improve it would be to purge it of human beings. Everything awful that has been done in the name of God and religion has, when you look closely, really been done in the name of money, land, power, and the aggrandizement of some egomaniacal individuals who managed to get their hands on the tools of power, religion being a very useful tool that way. Take away religion and you still have money, land, power, ego and the human beings who desire them or are carried away by them.

You can argue that we would all be better off if we were committed to lives of Reason, if we were more like Vulcans, logical and scientific in our thinking, disciplined to ask for the evidence first before committing to any cause or idea or point of view, and I'd agree. I just don't see that that's necessarily incompatible with believing in a god or going to church nor do I see that it is incompatible with the pursuit of evil. Murder and theft can be very reasonable courses of action.

But as it happens, these days I'm an atheist myself. I'm not happy about it. In fact, it makes me pretty darn grumpy. I try to keep it to myself, but I'm only human. I've had a few less than positive things to say here about the Catholic Church, Christians in general, and the men in skirts and dog collars and three thousand dollar suits who make people jump through hoops in the name of God but for their own selfish ends.

Maybe Barton should purge me.

Maybe she would like to. I can't tell. Like I said, her definitions aren't precise. And she doesn't name many names, give links, or list books to provide examples that would give me a better clue to what whackjobs she wants purged.

Mostly she just fires off that word, whackjob, willy nilly, without taking careful aim, like Dick Cheney on a quail hunt, with the same result---she wings people who thought they were her friends, or on her side, until she started blasting away.

One of the people she winged is PZ Myers.

Made him mad.

I would not want to have PZ Myers mad at me.

Read his post: Look, Ma, I'm a "secular whackjob"!

Marriage, the cartoon

Men: A rule in life. A rule in my life anway. Whenever your wife hands you an issue of The New Yorker, points to a cartoon, and says, "This is you!" especially if she smacks it with a finger as she hands it over, no matter how much she's laughing when she does it, she's mad at you.

The blonde pointed this one out to me last night.


You know the problem with women?

They never say what they mean.

Cartoon...sorry...drawing by Kim Warp.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006


Pulled up to the gas pump the other day and I just couldn't do it.

Couldn't bring myself to fill 'er up.

I had a psychological block. I refused to face the truth of what it would cost. Some part of me was doing the math. 12 to 15 gallons at $3.09 per?

I pumped 20 bucks worth while focusing on the rapidly blinking top numbers, ignoring the bottom that would have told me how few drops I was getting per penny, and drove away, pretending that there was a blank spot on the dashboard where the gas gauge used to be.

I have no sympathy for myself over the high price of gas, though, and not much for the rest of America, at least not that part of it that lives in the suburbs.

I happened to be on my way to the grocery store. Once upon a time---three years ago---in fact, we used to live a mile and a half away from an excellent supermarket. Now we live 12 miles from the nearest supermarket of any quality. Our local Barnes and Noble in Syracuse was 6 miles from our house. The one here is 15 miles away.

We drive 12 miles to church, when we used to walk, at least on nice days. It's 20 miles to JC Penney's and the mall. Back in Syracuse we had our choice---6 miles to one, 8 to the other.

(The relative commutes are another story. I've had commutes of 75 and 90 miles, one way, in my time. When I was doing the 180 miles round trip each day, the blonde was walking to work.)

There are some trade-offs that are somewhat balancing. When I need to run out at night for a quart of milk, I can run out for a quart of milk. I usually walk though. And a visit to the post office is practically part of my daily rounds now. I only walked to the post office back in Syracuse when I had a couple of hours to spend and felt the need for a long hike, uphill. The 10 year old walks to school and next year his brother will be able to too.

Back in Syracuse we only walked or biked to the library on the very nicest of days. Here, if we decided to drive to the library, we'd practically bump into it backing out of the driveway. Same goes for trips to the hardware store, although when I need something that Dom here in town doesn't have on hand and I have to go to Lowes or Home Depot to get it, the drive is twice as long as it was back in Syracuse when Bob at our neighborhood TrueValue shook his head sadly over my list of supplies for a repair job.

All in all, though, the high price of gas and the extra driving add up to our paying a lot more to the big oil companies than we used to.

We don't own an SUV, by the way. Both our cars, even the station wagon, get good mileage. I'm not claiming any virtue here. If we were rich enough to buy an SUV or foolish enough to take on the monthly payments, I still wouldn't drive one...because I'd be too happy tooling around in my shiny new Ford F-150 with a club cab. Hey, I haul stuff. Lots of stuff. Leaves, for instance. Big bags of leaves that I have to take to the town compost heap. Sometimes, in the fall, I have ten or twelve bags to haul. And I have to fold down the back seat in the wagon to fit them in. I need a truck.

There are reasons we live here that include a lack of what would have been more fuel-conserving choices. Most people don't have the range of choice about where to live in relation to where they work that would allow them to pick or reject a house based on how far they have to commute or how far it is from their front door to the local post office. And our living where we did in Syracuse, although what we wanted, was a matter of luck, and, actually, if we'd been more prescient about the real estate market or known that the neighborhood Catholic school was going to fail us when we most needed its help, we'd have passed on that house, as much as we loved it at first sight, and bought something in the suburbs.

So I'm not about to let loose a Kunstlerian rant against the suburbs, although I can't resist noting that while the urban planners and engineers who have been designing and building America since the end of World War II work as if they're in the employ of the automobile industry, which in a way they are, nobody forces people to believe that it is every American's God-given right to live in houses where they can play basketball in the living room and hold Olympic-regulation track and field events in the backyard. It shouldn't be the American dream to spend our lives subsidizing the manufacturers of lawn mowers and fertilizers.

No bubble for the Mannions

When we were trying to sell our house in Syracuse, the combination of fantastically low interest rates and the collapse of the local real estate market made it possible for the most likely buyers for our place to set their sights a whole lot higher. One evening, while I was despairing of ever getting rid of the place, we were out to dinner and I overheard a conversation a few tables over between a young woman and her parents about her hunt for a new house.

From what I could tell, the woman was a single mom. There were several mentions of the kids but not a word about a husband. From the way she and her parents were dressed and their habits of speech, I took them to be blue collar middle class, doing well enough as long as they stayed within their means---which was the father's point as he and his daughter talked over the houses she was looking at.

The woman had her eye on a new four bedroom house in one of the more upscale suburbs. We're not talking McMansion but I knew the neighborhood---2000 square feet of living area, two and a half baths, a nice house, excellent school district, and I couldn't blame her for wanting it. And with the mortgage rate her bank was offering, she was sure she could afford the monthly payments.

But her father was advising her to forget it. Sure, she could afford the mortgage payment, even after figuring in the taxes, which she hadn't done yet, apparently. But, he pointed out, she had to heat the place. And she had to drive farther to work. An extra 20 miles a day, that adds up, he said. This was three years ago, fuel prices were a lot lower, but I could hear in the sound of her voice her hopes fading as she considered what her father was telling her.

Her hopes were fading but they weren't dashed. When she got the subject back to schools and the big yard the kids would have to play in, her confidence began to climb again. Her father grew very quiet and her mother began to talk about something else. No way for me to know whether they were just being tactful and decided it was time for them to butt out or if they knew their daughter well enough that they could see her mind was made up. My sense was that she'd made her decision to buy the house she probably now can't afford to heat.

The President to the rescue

Three, even four bucks isn't that much to pay for a gallon of gas. The problem isn't how much it costs to fill up the tank. It's how often we have to fill up the tank. Since the gas crisis of the 1970s we as a nation drive more, drive farther, and drive faster. We've increased the demand, decreased the supply, and the result is gas prices have gone up.

Sure, the oil companies could afford to keep them lower. But why should they? If I ruled the world, I wouldn't make them give up some of their profits. I'd make them pay higher taxes, that they couldn't pass on to consumers, and I'd make them use their profits to pay their blue collar and pink collar and lower level white collar employees more, while paying their CEOs much, much less. But I wouldn't make them give the money back to us at the pumps.

Because we all should be driving less. Even those of us who are forced by circumstances to live where long car rides are necessary and unavoidable can cut down. We have it in our power to decrease the demand. This actually began to happen after the gas crisis, but then Ronald Reagan became President partly by promising us two cars in every garage and a third in the driveway and all of them big and fast. I don't remember what he said about chickens in pots.

The real problem in the country, though, isn't the high price of gas. It's the low cost of labor.

The upper middle class can save money by buying more fuel efficient cars, thinking twice about making that trip to get a latte in the middle of the night, telling the kids to walk or bike to places instead of being chauffeured everywhere. They can cut their heating and electric bills by insulating their houses, buying new, more efficient furnaces and putting timers on the thermostat, replacing old appliances, replacing some incandescent bulbs with florescents, turning off the television and the computer now and then (Lance!).

The lower middle class, the working class, the poor, and the elderly on fixed incomes can do some of that too, but they're already practicing lots of "energy conservation" measures, forced into it by their just not having the money to waste...or, often, the money to spend on what they absolutely need.

President Bush has finally noticed that folks are not happy about the high price of gas. He has responded by being his usual compassionately conservative self, promising to help by doing things that will make his rich oil buddies richer.

To which Nancy Pelosi says, more or less, go to hell.

If you want to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and therefore improve our national security situation, you can’t do it if you’re a Republican because you are too wedded to the oil companies. We have two oilmen in the white house. The logical follow-up from that is $3 a gallon gasoline. There is no accident. It is a cause and effect. A cause and effect.

How dare the president of the United States make a speech today in April, many, many, many months after the American people have had to undergo the cost of home heating oil? A woman told me she almost fainted when she received her home heating bill over this Winter. And when so many people making the minimum wage, which hasn’t been raised in eight years, which has a very low purchasing power, have to go out and buy gasoline at these prices? Where have you been, Mr. President?

The middle class squeeze is on, competition in our country is affected by the price of energy and of oil and all of a sudden you take a trip outside of Washington, see the fact that the public is outraged about this, come home and make a speech, let’s see that matched in your budget, let’s see that matched in your policy, let’s see that matched in and you’re separating yourselves yourself from your patron, big oil, cut yourself off from that anvil holding your party down and this country down, instead of coming to Washington and throwing your Republican colleagues under the wheels of the train, which they mightily deserve for being a rubber stamp for your obscene, corrupt policy of ripping off the American people.

Go, Nancy! Two cheers for you! This is almost populism.

In the years since the last gas crisis, while we've been building thousands and thousands of miles of new highways to fill bumper to bumper with SUVs on their way to and from sprawling developments of ticky tacky McMansions, we've pretty much divested ourselves of a blue collar middle class and now we're working on getting rid of a white collar one.

Three dollars a gallon for gas isn't too high. If anything it's too low. It's just that there just are too many people right now for whom 50 dollars to fill up the tank just to go to work the next three days is a potentially crippling blow to the weekly budget.

Increased conservation would have a number of benefits, among them driving the price of gas and heating down some. But for an awful lot of people even if the price goes down below two dollars a gallon it will still be too steep.

Unfortunately, if you're running for public office, you don't win many votes by trying to make the upper middle class care about the plight of the poor. You win votes by making everybody feel hard up.

A Democratic plan for dealing with the gas "crisis" isn't as disgusting as the President's, but it's not admirable. A gas tax holiday.

Democrats are set to introduce a measure that would create a “federal gas tax holiday” by eliminating the federal tax on gas and diesel for sixty days, RAW STORY has learned.

The measure, proposed by Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), would reduce the cost of gas by $0.184 per gallon and the cost of diesel by $0.244 per gallon. The move, aides say, will provide $100 million dollars per day in relief.

Democrats say the money will be made up by cutting six billion dollars in tax breaks to oil firms. Currently, the money from the federal gas tax goes to the Highway Trust fund.

Eighteen and a half cents a gallon. That's about three and a half dollars on every fill up, if you're driving a moderate sized car. Say you fill up twice a week. Let's say three. Let's say you're saving about 10 dollars a week now. Forty dollars extra a month will come in handy for a lot of people.

Of course, people who drive gas guzzlers will save more than 40 a month. Lucky them. They'll be able to drive the SUV to that restaurant five towns over they've heard so much about.

Great plan. I'm sure some Republicans will be glad to sign onto it, at least the first part of it. They'll even be glad to make the gas holiday permanent. Don't see them agreeing to raise taxes on the oil companies, especially since the President's plan calls for doing the opposite. So we increase the deficit even more while encouraging SUV owners to drive more, which will increase demand which push gas prices higher and there goes that forty dollars a month working people thought they were going to save. A really great plan.

Of course, the point is to have something to run on in November, not to actually do anything now.

Maybe if the Democrats win they'll come up some responsible suggestions.

I'd love it if they came up with them now, conservation measures being at the top of the list.

But I'm not holding my breath.

I just don't see voters rewarding politicians who tell them that they need to walk more.

All links today are courtesy of always reliable, high-octane Susie the Suburban Guerrilla.

This is a good place to reprint a comment from the last post I did on this subject. Responding to my post Jeremiah in the Crosswalk, in which I linked one of Jim Kunstler's anti-suburban screeds, Grizzled wrote:

True. As a nation, a culture, we are a bunch of self indulgent and delusional hypocrites on so many levels it's often difficult to unravel issues enough to address them in any meaningful way. In this particular case, you really don't need to divide it into a liberal or conservative cause. Short of a civil uprising resulting in a dissolution of the Union, we're in it together, kids, whether we like each other or not. We're just starting to get a taste of what it's going to be like when we truly have to pay for our poor behavior.

I cannot change the ill-conceived policies of both Democratic and Republican administrations that have been implemented since the early '80s. I can only assume responsibility for my own actions and make individual decisions that hopefully balance the practical needs of day-to-day living with my belief that I should behave in some socially conscious manner.

I own two large American-made vehicles; a 2000 Cadillac DeVille and a 1999 Ford F-250 Super Duty pick up truck. My grandfather always told me it was important to buy American because it's good for the economy, and I still think it's valid. Both have V-8 engines, and between the two we probably average about 16 miles to the gallon. I also have a wife, two kids and a couple of large dogs. It's a fairly tight fit in either vehicle. Nonetheless, I sleep reasonably well at night. We drive less than 10,000 miles/year on both.

I bought a house in the 'burbs so I could afford to send my kids to reasonably safe schools and be closer to my aging mother, but tried to balance the longer commute to work by using mass transit. I take the train to work now, but rode my bike when I lived in the city. I rode my bike to work from here a few times. Unfortunately, my lily-livered, liberal 50 year old knees objected to the daily 40 mile round trip.

I have Kunstler's book. I started reading it on the train, but haven't finished. The material is too depressing to follow my previous train reading; Iris Chang's, "The Rape of Nanking". Instead, I started reading the Department of Energy's, "Hydrogen, Fuel Cells and Infrastructure Technologies Program". One of the results of the secretive energy policy established by the current administration in 2003, this document outlines the multi year objectives (2003-2010) the DOE is trying to achieve to transition us into a hydrogen economy. This 'major' inititive is funded to the tune of $1.2 billion. That's about 1/9th of the funding that has gone unaccounted for by mismanagement in Iraq war effort last year alone. That's $1.2 billion for a seven year project that is supposed to push us to make an enormous transition in our use of energy. Given that perspective, either this transition is going to be really easy (like the war), or we're in for some rough times ahead. I'm betting on the latter.

Demythification update: Via Jenny, Frank O'Donnell at TomPaine has a few facts President Bush forgot to mention.

Monday, April 24, 2006

When Kirk met Spock

Don't think I've written about Star Trek in any depth since James Doohan died, so it's no wonder my inner geek's been getting twitchy. Fortunately, from Jaquandor comes news that there are plans for a new Star Trek movie.

One featuring Kirk and Spock.

As young men.

Paramount's commissioned the Lost guy, J.J. Abrams, to produce and direct. Looking over his track record, Jaquandor doesn't see Abrams as a promising choice for reviving the Star Trek movie franchise. He'd rather Josh Whedon had the con. I don't watch Lost, don't watch Abarms' other hit show, Alias. I'm not going to see his movie, MI:3. I don't know if having Abrams at the helm will be good or bad. Obviously the hope is that he will find a way to appeal to the Lost demographic while still pulling in the Trek fans. Good luck to him. May he live long and prosper.

Jaquandor thinks Abrams has already launched himself off on the wrong foot at warp speed.

I don't care what the "official Trek timeline" says. I simply do not believe that Kirk and Spock were in the Academy together, at the same time. I just don't. If anyone can cite something from either a series episode or one of the films that contradicts me here, then fine, but I've never once had any other impression than that Spock is at least twenty years older than Kirk, or that Spock's been in Starfleet a lot longer than Kirk has.

There's no real problem here, timewise, that I can see. First of all, Kirk is something of a "wunderkind", one of the youngest Captains in Starfleet and a guy who's been driven by the idea of command his entire life. Spock is not driven by command at all; by the time he becomes a Captain, it's as the commander of a starship that's being used for training new cadets. And if we assume that the TOS episode "The Menagerie" happens early in Kirk's command of the Enterprise -- perhaps even in his first year -- then it's possible that Spock was already serving on the Enterprise, under Captain Pike, while Kirk was still at the Academy. (The events of "The Cage" are clearly stated to have taken place thirteen years earlier.

I've always had the impression that Spock was older than Kirk too. But not that much older. His mother Amanda was human, after all, and we've seen her, 60ish to his 30 something in the TV episode Journey to Babel, 80ish to his 50 in the fourth movie, The Voyage Home. Vulcans live longer, but that doesn't necessarily mean that their childhoods are extended proportionally. So Kirk and Spock could be near contemporaries and it's possible that they bumped into each other when they were cadets or very young officers.

The problem, I think, if the film is to stay true to the series, is that Kirk and Spock were not friends before they served together aboard the Enterprise. During the first season they were clearly still getting to know each other. And throughout the course of the series there were important facts about Spock that Kirk just did not know. He wasn't aware of the depth of Spock's loyalty to Captain Christopher Pike. He'd never heard that Spock's father was the famous diplomat Sarek. And in Amok Time he's shocked to find out that every seven years Vulcans go into heat. That means, assuming they're both in their mid-30s during the run of the original series, Spock 35 to Kirk's 32 or 33, they couldn't have spent time around each other when Spock was 21 or 28 and suffering through pon farr.

That gives Abrams a window of 6 or so years in which to set his movie though, and Kirk and Spock don't have to become fast friends. The plot of the movie can just be that this was the time when they got to know and respect each other, building the foundation for their later friendship.

On Spock's side: Before the episode Shore Leave, Spock didn't know about Finnegan, the upperclassman who used to haze the young plebe Jim Kirk at the Academy. And in The Menagerie, he doubted if he could trust Kirk enough to let him in on his plan to spacejack the Enterprise and carry the severely crippled Captain Pike to Talos IV.

It does seem implied in the second movie, The Wrath of Khan, however, that Spock knew Kirk reprogrammed the computer in order to beat the Kobayashi Moru Maneuver at the Academy. That could be a funny plot point in the movie. Kirk could cheat and think he'd gotten away with it, without knowing he owes Spock for not ratting him out.

Spock and Kirk might actually have a lot in common. Both are science nerds who for some reason devoted themselves to military careers. Comparisons between Kirk and Captain James Cook have been made and they are apt. But Gene Roddenberry had Horatio Hornblower in mind when he created Kirk/Pike, and Hornblower was an unlikely naval officer, an intellectual and a scientist more than a swashbuckler. (Patrick O'Brian divided Hornblower in two when he created Lucky Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin. Aubrey-Maturin fans, Tom Watson and Mr Shakes, can tell me if he also was thinking of Jim Kirk and Mr Spock, bringing the literary allusions of Star Trek back down to earth and the sea.) Kirk is like Hornblower in that he knows the science of his command almost as well as the officers who are there to advise him on it. He is almost as good an engineer as Mr Scott, almost as knowlegeable a practical scientist as Spock, a better navigator than Chekov, and as well versed in history, anthropology, and other fields as the various guest star specialists who are brought aboard, usually as love interests with a soft spot for the episode's villain.

Both of Kirk's former major love interests are scientists: Dr Carol Marcus, the warm-hearted inventor of the Genesis device in Wrath of Khan and, incidentally, the mother of Kirk's son, David, and Dr Janice Lester, the crazy one---Every guy with any kind of romantic past has a warm-hearted one and a crazy one.---who works a soul-swap on Kirk and steals his body in Turnabout Intruder, thereby allowing William Shatner to camp it up divinely as Lester can't stop being a femme fatale even while in a man's body.

So Kirk could have been a scientist himself.

But that's his older brother Sam's vocation

Becoming a Star Fleet officer might have been his way of separating himself from his brother, even of outdoing him at something.

A fraternal rivalry is a part of Spock's history too.

But suppose Kirk's joining Star Fleet wasn't just an act of rivalry. Suppose it was an act of rebellion as well.

Kirk never mentions his parents, that I recall. As far as we know, his brother's the only family he has. What if his big brother was a lot older? Enough older to have become responsible for the young Jim Kirk when their parents died?

Kirk's heading off to the Academy instead of Stanford or the Vulcan Institute of Technology doesn't have to have been a family-fracturing act of defiance. But it might have caused enough friction that the young Kirk was still smarting from it and he might have let off some steam to the pointy-eared cadet who was his lab partner.

And Spock's enrollment at the Academy we know estranged him from his father.

The two outsiders, two geeks among the military jocks, each a secret rebel, would have been drawn to each other, and this could be the dynamic behind a good movie, as long as Abrams remembers that on the surface it would have appeared one-sided, with Kirk doing all the talking and making all the moves towards starting a friendship---a friendship that Spock would have resisted and not admitted to after it was established.

Jaquandor's concerned that so far there appears to be no plan to introduce any of the other series regulars as characters. Of course, Chekov, Sulu, and Uhura would have been too young, but Scotty's kicking around Star Fleet somewhere and can show up easily enough. But the one Jaquander wants to see and who he thinks is essential is McCoy.

Making a movie centering on Kirk and Spock alone commits a serious error, misunderstanding the character dynamic that made the Star Trek: TOS so iconic that it spawned decades of spinoffs and sequels. It's not the Kirk-and-Spock dynamic that lies at the dramatic heart of Star Trek; it's the Kirk-Spock-McCoy dynamic. It was the way McCoy's passions and Spock's cool logic, often set in conflict, informed Kirk's eventual decisions that made the original show work.

As far as the series is concerned, Spock and Kirk's history together doesn't appear to go back farther than the day Kirk assumed command of the Enterprise. But, depsite the difference in their ages, McCoy and Kirk go way back. McCoy very probably was a part of Kirk's life when he was beginning his career, but this causes a problem for any movie about those days.

McCoy is not a career Star Fleet officer. He had a medical practice that was, if not on Earth, then on the ground of some other planet. When he calls himself a simple country doctor, he's exaggerating for emphasis, but what he's emphasizing is that he is not a military man or an astronaut. He joined Star Fleet after his wife died. Don't tell me you didn't remember he was married? Did you forget he has a daughter too?

If the new movie sends Kirk and Spock off into space, and it has to or it won't be Star Trek---I see it ending with Spock heading off to his new assignment aboard the USS Enterprise, but they have to fight a few Klingons or Cardassians before that---they'll have to go without McCoy.

Assuming McCoy's practice was near the Academy, wherever that's supposed to be, and Kirk and McCoy met up when Kirk needed to have his first dose of the clap taken care of off the records, McCoy can only be around for the first third of the film at the most.

But there is a character who was there during Kirk's Academy days who can step into the place McCoy occupied in the triangulated relationship Kirk has with his executive officers.

In fact, she has to be there for what we know from The Wrath of Khan to make sense.

Kirk and Carol Marcus had to have had their big love affair when they were both very young in order for their son to be around 30 when they meet up again.

Which means that a subplot of the new movie has to be Kirk getting Carol knocked up.

Before the scene where Spock reports to his new captain on the Enterprise, there has to be a scene where kindly young Doc McCoy tells Carol that the rabbit died.

Carol, of course, refuses an abortion and makes McCoy promise not to tell Kirk she's pregnant.

McCoy: Dammit, Carol! I'm a doctor, not your father confessor! We're talking about your future here!

Carol: Please, Bones?

McCoy: He's the father, he should be told.

Carol: I won't have him throwing his career away for me.

McCoy: He loves you, Carol.

Carol: He thinks he does. What he loves is the service. He's married to Star Fleet now. I don't want to wake up some morning to disccover I'm competing for his love with a starship!

Heck. Now I want to see this movie.

Bunny of Boston

On this date, way back when, I was on my way to class and saw a meeting between a little boy and a seven-foot tall white rabbit. It didn't go well.

The boy, only a few feet high, wearing a red baseball jacket decorated with buttons like the ones his mother was peddling to students at today’s open market on Comm Av, was biting his little fist and toddling as fast he could away from the rabbit. The boy had obviously not prepared himself for over-sized stuffed toys come-to-life and addressing him on the street; he was terrified. His deep brown eyes were the size of walnuts.

His mother walked herself and her kid briskly away from the rabbit, her eyes straight-ahead, her jaw thrust forward and her black beret kept squarely on her blonde head with one hand. She wore a determined “I’ll just pretend this is not happening” expression. It was not clear to me which she was ignoring—the rabbit or her own scared child.

The rabbit, who wore a sign on his back advertising “Broadway Costumes,” was doing his job and being as cute and friendly as could be, but after trailing the terrified boy and the stone-faced young mother some 25 ft., the rabbit began to look confused. He’d probably seen other seven foot rabbits getting better reviews, surrounded by laughing, friendly children, and assumed that toy animals and children get along famously. I thought they did, too.

When it finally looked as if the kid might burst into tears the mother reached behind her and pulled the boy around to her front and ushered him up the steps to the school of theology.

The rabbit gave up. He stood on the sidewalk, paws akimbo, shaking his big, furry head sadly and for a long time, until he was bowled out of the way by a bicycle.

Friday, April 21, 2006

No, not Laura Petrie!

The lyrically-minded Kevin Wolf, who has a touch of the poet, even if he doesn't believe it about himself, admits to having had the same reaction to reading about my dream about Rob and Laura Petrie as I had while I was dreaming it. Learning that I dreamed that both Rob and Laura had had affairs, Kevin cried out:

"No, not Laura!"

Neither of us minded about Rob's straying, but the idea of Laura in the arms of another man broke our hearts.

This is not the usual male double standard. We don't think it's ok for husbands to run around, but a crime against human nature if a wife has an affair.

We feel personally betrayed by Laura, as if she was our wife or girlfriend and we had her on a pedestal only to find out our Galatea doesn't love us back.

Can't speak for Kevin, but I have to admit that in some deep, disturbed, delusional recess of my imagination I am married to Laura. That spot's right next door to the place in my head where I'm a cowboy and around the corner from where I'm a 22 year old center fielder for the New York Mets.

But when you think about it, objectively, it is perfectly within character for Laura to have an affair, because she is human and human beings have desires and passions, wants and needs that can't always be contained within the bounds of a marriage or a relationship.

Most everyone who has watched and enjoyed The Dick Van Dyke show has noticed, happily, how sexually into each other Rob and Laura are. They are wildly in love, and they aren't just affectionate, they are passionate. Despite the twin beds and the censoring limits of writing for television in the early 1960s, the show's writers and cast made it clear that Rob and Laura did it, a lot, and with gusto.

I can't think of another TV married couple who were so clearly eager for each other, except for Mr and Mrs Cunningham on Happy Days. But their sexual desire was played purely for laughs. "Howard! I'm feeling frisky!" The joke was how cute it was that the old folks could still get horny just like the teenagers.

The old folks.

Marion Ross, who played Mrs Cunningham, was 46 when the show premiered. Two years younger than Sharon Stone is now.

Tom Bosely, Mr Cunnigham, was only a year older.

Rob and Laura's chemistry was mainly due to Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore having crushes on each other. MTM's real-life marriage fell apart during the first season. I wonder how that affected the dynamic between Laura and Rob.

I read an interview with Mary Tyler Moore a long time ago in which she said that she was jealous of the Van Dykes' marriage. She loved it that Dick and his wife would stay up late into the night together, talking.

Later I read an interview with Dick Van Dyke in which he admitted that what he and Mrs Van Dyke were staying up late together to do was drink.

No matter.

Rob and Laura were nuts about each other.

Storylines were built around or included the probability that when the commercial break came, Rob and Laura were going to rush off and push the twin beds together.

But other episodes were built around the possibility that one of the two would in fact cheat on the other.

Most of these episodes focused on the potentially betrayed spouse's jealousy, which was played for laughs, and most of them were about Rob being the tempted one, which made sense, given that he worked in show biz while Laura was at home with Ritchie all day, and Rob was the main character, after all. But Laura had her temptations. An old boyfriend, a writing teacher in a night class, Racy Tracy Ratigan, until he showed his true self, a couple of others. One of them almost doesn't count because the tempter is actually Rob himself, pretending to be an Italian cad on the phone, and Laura knows it all along. But the possibility that another man could come along and carry her away is very real to both of them. For Rob, it's a fear. For Laura, it's a fantasy, but a fantasy that excites her enough to want to act it out with Rob.

Rob's fear isn't mere paranoia, and Laura's fantasy isn't innocent and harmless.

Usually it turns out that there never was a real chance that one or the other would stray, but there is one episode in which Rob is clearly on his way to bumbling into an affair. Rob and Laura take an art class together and the woman teaching the class falls for Rob and sets out to seduce him, and Rob is so flattered and so attracted and having so much fun that he is on the verge. He snaps out of it in the nick of time, but it's the teacher's bad timing that saves him, not his superior virtue or superhuman willpower.

The show wasn't reticent about the sex lives of the other main characters either. Buddy and Pickles' marriage suffered from sexual tensions. The very married Alan Brady had at least one girlfriend. And Sally Rogers, although always bemoaning her sorry state as a single woman, made it plain that she was sexually available to the right men with no hint or promise of marriage necessary.

But it was never, ever judgmental. Adultery was was wrong, people got hurt. But you never got the feeling that if Rob or Laura, or Buddy or Pickles, or Millie or Jerry had cheated, the writers would have treated it as if the world had come to an end.

I think, given the time, the fact that they brought it up at all showed that the producers had an inclination to forgive.

But a forgiving attitude towards human fallibility was the basis of the show's comedy.

The Dick Van Dyke show was very sophisticated in a number of ways, but one of the most sophisticated things about it was the way it loved its characters when they were at their weakest. This is Carl Reiner's doing, I'm sure. He was the show's chief writer as well as its creator. Reiner has a very different approach to comedy than most sitcom writers who tend to treat human beings when they are weak or messing up as clowns and buffoons.

Reiner understands that when people are in the middle of screwing up and bringing disaster upon themselves they are usually in pain and the reason we laugh at them is because otherwise we would cry.

So, yes, Laura.

She's only human. Like the rest of us.

I've been trying to remember when I first fell in love with Laura Petrie. I don't think it was when I was a little kid. Back then I identified so completely with Rob that I just accepted that Laura was the girl for me the way I accepted that when I grew up I would go to work at a typewriter and wear white shirts with narrow black ties. (Yes, that's what I'm wearing now.) I must have fallen for her later, when I was more mature and wordly and could appreciate what an eyeful the young Mary Tyler Moore was.

So Laura was definitely not my first TV girlfriend. That would be Mary Anne from Gilligan's Island.

After Mary Ann I think I moved on to Jan Brady. Yeah, I know, Marcia was the hot one in the miniskirts---and knee socks---but there was something about Jan that kept me watching the Brady Bunch even though I hated it. Maybe it was the episode when she got glasses.

Now. Who was your first TV crush?

Thursday, April 20, 2006

My novel about Maureen Dowd that is not really about Maureen Dowd, I swear

Just realized I started a point in this morning's post that I never finished.

I wrote that Maureen Dowd set the tone for the negative coverage of Al Gore in 2000, which is an awfully sweeping generalization, even for me.

But Dowd did invent a character she called Al Gore in her columns and I think that character came to be mistaken by many of her colleagues for the real thing...or, rather, they kept mistaking the real Al Gore for Mo Dowd's fictional character.

During the Clinton years, Dowd was working on a novel the notes for which she published regularly in her column. The novel was about a rampaging horndog who happened to be President of the United States and his evil castrating shrew of a wife, an vainglorious pair of narcissists who never did anybody any good unless they were sure it would further their insatiable ambitions. She called her main characters Bill and Hillary, as if they were modeled after the President and his First Lady.

Probably they were really modelled after people Dowd knew in college and hated.

Mo Dowd hated Bill because she hated Hill and she hated Hill because Hillary reminded her of the girl back at Catholic U. who stole the BMOC away from her. Al Gore reminded her of the great guy who preferred to stay faithful to his boring but curvaceous blonde sweetheart back home to giving skinny, redheaded Mo a tumble.

Obviously I'm doing a Mo Dowd on Mo Dowd, using real people to write a fiction. The difference between us is that I'm not about to try to convince you that my fictional Mo Dowd is the same as the real Mo Dowd, although I think they are close, as close as Dowd thought her fictional Clintons were to the ones living in the White House.

I think I'm on to something because I knew Maureen Dowd back in college.

Not the real Maureen Dowd, mind you. I knew girls who were like the Maureen Dowd I see in the person who wrote those columns about the Clintons.

I knew an intense, "intellectual," ambitious young writer who was eaten up with jealousy, insecurity, and self-loathing whenever she thought about people she decided were her sexual and professional rivals, often mixing up the two. I knew a different girl who tried, repeatedly, to get a guy she knew had a girlfriend, not back home but at another college, and when he wouldn't respond, she turned into his worst enemy.

Were either these girls young Maureen Dowds?

I have no way of knowing.

That's why I'm calling this speculation fiction.

Dowd called hers satire. But she meant it to be taken for the real thing.

Dowd, along with many journalists at the time, gave herself persmission to psychoanalyze the Clintons. She and her colleagues thought that they were smart enough, well enough versed in human behavior, and wise enough in the ways of the world to read the minds and plumb the souls of a couple of complete strangers.

Surprise, surprise, all this armchair psychology revealed that the Clintons were a pair of selfish, self-centered, power-crazed, celebrity-mad Yuppies on the make.

So of course they were up to no good with their Whitewater investments.

Of course those missing notes from Hillary's old law firm would show her up as a scheming liar.

Of course Bill kept that airplane sitting on a runway so he could get an expensive haircut.

Of course he did have sex with that...


Unfortunately, Bill really was a horndog.

But of course he deserved to be impeached and even convicted.

The dangerous attraction of writing psychological case studies and calling it opinion is that you can be right without any real evidence for it. That's because people do tend to fall into types and then conform to type and this makes it possible to "know" a person without ever having met that person. The odds are excellent that you know or knew someone an awful lot like them.

When it was a person you knew a long time ago it might have been so long ago that you've forgotten him or her. All you remember is their type and their type's effect on you.

Years later, looking at a stranger and thinking you've got that stranger figured out, it's more than likely that what you're really doing is remembering somebody else, that person from the past the stranger has reminded you of.

This doesn't mean you're wrong about the stranger.

But it does mean that you don't have any real proof that you're right, so you shouldn't try to pass off your insight as a fact, which is what Dowd did.

Fiction can be true, truer even than journalism, when it's good. But it has to be labeled fiction. Called anything else it's just lies and gossip.

Journalists have a hard time of it. They meet an awful lot of people, many of whom want to lie to them. They have to make judgments on the fly. They have deadlines that make it nearly impossible for them to do the kind of considered and objective thinking about human nature that novelists and playwrights and short story writers do. This makes it a really good idea for them to steer clear of analyzing "character."

But sometimes the story calls for it, sometimes editors insist upon it, and sometimes, lots of times, the temptation to get all writerly just carries you away.

Like I said, I don't know what was going through Maureen Dowd's head while she was writing as if she knew what was going through the Clintons' heads.

But I knew this girl back in high school...

The best President we might never have

I've said before that I think Al Gore made some crucial mistakes in 2000, chief among them picking the Quisling from Connecticut as his running mate.

Obviously these mistakes didn't lose him the election, since HE WON! but I think they did make it closer than it ought to have been.

A much bigger factor in Al Gore's not becoming President in 2001 was the incessant negative coverage he received from the Media Elites coupled with the relative free-ride George Bush got. Maureen Dowd set the tone long before the campaign was underway.

I'm not sure that this cost Gore many votes, but it finally cost him the election in this way. The Media, having convinced themselves that Gore was a lousy candidate because of character flaws they'd invented or exaggerated, decided he didn't deserve to be President, and so they covered the Florida Recounts as if it was a boring exercise in petty politics, a waste of time Gore had inflicted on us because he was a poor sport. They covered it as if it was always a question of when Gore would admit the obvious and concede.

A few analysts looked seriously into the ways the Bush Leaguers were working to steal the election, but for the most part the coverage focused on how dull and pointless all the court challenges and questions about chads and overvotes and undervotes were. The Brooks Brothers riot was treated as comic relief.

And when the Republican partisans on the Supreme Court stepped in and openly declared that it didn't matter what Florida's laws or judges said or what the United States Consitution said, their boy would have been unfairly denied the Presidency if the recount continued, because, well, HE'D HAVE LOST!, the Media reacted with a collective sigh of relief. Thank God that's over, I was bored to tears...I mean, Hooray, the System Worked!

There was even a bit of CW knocking about that the fact that the Bush Leaguers were willing to do anything to win proved that Bush deserved to be President more than Gore did and would even be better at the job, as if qualifications for the office included a total disregard the expressed will of the People, a contempt for the law, an eagerness to use the organs of Government to advance personal political agendas, and a near criminal ruthlessness in pursuit of power.

Well, Bush turned out to have all those qualifications in spades and we've seen how well that's turned out for him and the country.

The Media Elites hated Al Gore, they openly rooted against him, and they were glad when he lost.

Bob Somerby and Avedon Carol have made this point over and over again.

The question now is do those journalists and pundits who despised Gore then regret it now?

Doubt it. Most analyses of the 2000 election I've read blame everything on Gore, including the Media's negative coverage of him. It was up to Gore to stop their criticisms and disprove the lies about himself they were reporting as facts, e.g. his supposed claim to have invented the Internet, a canard that still gets replayed as a fact. The most egregious recent example is the self-hating "Liberal" Joe Klein's new book

Shorter Joe Klein: If only Al Gore had not hired any political consultants. Then we in the Press wouldn't have misreported what his political consultants were advising him to do and found something else to beat up on him for...not that we lacked ammunition anyway.

Richard Cohen, though, wants Gore to run again, sort of, kind of, maybe, if Gore will promise to be a better candidate this time.

The trouble with Cohen's two cheers for Al op-ed is that in trying to tell us what's good about Gore, Cohen tells us why the Media hated him so much:

He is master teacher, pedagogue, know-it-all, smarter than most of us, better informed and, having tried and failed to gain the presidency, he has raised his sights to save the world.

Here it is, presented as a compliment, the Media's counts of indictment against Gore in 2000. Didactic and preachy, a smarty-pants, thinks he's better than the rest of us, self-aggrandizing loser.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, the reason the Baby Boomer-dominated Washington Insiders in the Media hated Bill Clinton and Al Gore is that they were two fellow Boomers who made the rest of the generation look bad by being so much smarter and more successful than the mass of their demographic cohort, particularly that subset that works in Washington, DC as journalists.

Clinton and Gore made them all feel like slackers and dummies.

Clinton and Gore were what they all secretly despised themselves for not being.

I can't imagine that many journalists and pundits who hated Gore then have had any epiphanies about themselves since and I expect that if Gore does run in '08 he'll face the same kind of negative coverage again.

And he'll have to deal with the same Catch-22. The news stories will focus on what a bad campaigner he is and then the analysts will use them to make points implying that Gore's weaknesses as a candidate disqualify him from the Presidency.

Cohen, who says that the country needs Gore now---to which Avedon replies we needed him in 2000 too---predicts that Catch-22 coming back to bite him.

"Gore could be a great president," Cohen writes, "First, though, he has to be a good candidate."

Being a good candidate means pleasing Cohen's colleagues, the boys and girls on the bus.

Good luck, Al.

The fact that he would have to deal with a hostile press corps is not a reason for Gore to stay out of the race. It's not a reason for Hillary to stay out either, although it's often put forward as an argument against her candidacy. It is something both of them need to take into account and prepare for, but it's something they can overcome if they deal with it aggressively.

Steve Benan of the Carpetbagger Report, has a guest post at Crooks and Liars linking to a number of signs that Gore is gearing up for 2008. I don't know how I would feel about Gore running again, because I actually take him at his word that he doesn't plan to. I agree with Atrios who says:

My take on Al Gore and the presidency is that the 2000 election drove him sane and cured him of the basic level of insanity necessary to actually want to be president.

The point being that no sane person would aspire to such an impossible job and that actively pursuing it is a sign that you are either nuts, power-mad, blinded by an out of control ego, or so appalling naive that should not be allowed out in the world without your nanny...or in the case of the current President, all four. In short, the surest sign you don't deserve to be President is thinking that you should be.



Whatever I know about the Florida Recount fight I know from reading Jeffrey Toobin's Too Close to Call.

And this would be a good time to re-read Ezra Klein's American Prospect essay, The New New Gore.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

United 93 lands happily in Tehran

Won't be going to see United 93.

Don't care if the reviews are glowing, the word of mouth compelling, the buzz electrifying.

I don't need to pay 10 bucks plus the cost of popcorn and babysitting to re-live that nightmare.

There's a part of me that's digusted the movie got made. I can't believe anyone would be so shameless as to try to turn the events of 9/11 into entertainment. I think it's horrible that anyone would see in the deaths of all those people an opportunity to tell a rattling good yarn, even an inspirational one about courage and the indomitable human spirit.

But that part of me has to explain itself to the part of me that enjoys war movies.

No, the reason I won't be going is that it will terrify me---plane crashes are a personal nightmare, worse than sharks and, as many of you know, I have never seen Jaws---and it will make me too sad.

It should make everybody who sees it sad, which is another reason I'm already prejudiced against it. I'm not sure it will make everybody sad. Hollywood doesn't make sad movies anymore. Hollywood likes to give us all a good cry, but after all the sniffling there must be a reason to leave the theater smiling. If there can't be a happy ending, there must at least be an upbeat one.

Nothing of the little I've seen or read about United 93 suggests it's vulgar, tasteless, or egregiously exploitive. In fact, it looks like a very serious film, 9/11's A Night to Remember rather than its Titanic.

But it's still a Hollywood movie and I'm dreading the upbeat ending.

There is no upbeat ending to that day. "Gosh, at least one of the planes missed!" won't sell many tickets.

"Hey, at least we won't have to rebuild the White House too," won't have anyone standing up to cheer either.

The filmmakers are left with trying to find inspiration in the courage of the passengers who went down fighting. Which is ok, but 300-odd firefighters, cops, and EMTs went down fighting that day too, as did countless others in the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. For all we know so did the stewardesses and pilots on the other two planes and some of those passengers too.

Focusing on their courage seems like an attempt to avoid facing the staggering awfulness of 9/11, and it's not likely audiences will find that much solace in such transparent denial.

Maybe, just maybe, the filmmakers will give us an honest, unhappy, downbeat ending and send everyone home feeling miserable.

If not, I can't believe they'll go with "Well, at least we showed those terrorists they can't mess around with Americans," because that's such a ridiculous lie that only President Bush and some Right Wing bloggers would swallow it.

Which brings me to another reason for my uneasiness about the movie and the real reason for this post.

I can imagine a "happy" ending United 93 could have had. You can too. All you have to do is imagine that the movie's been re-titled "Let's Roll!"

In 2001, the dreadful Pearl Harbor used the events of December 7, 1941 to examine the burning historical question, Which of the two boring leading men will Kate find the least boring, Ben or Josh? There were some things in it about battleships sinking and the Japanese, but all that was backdrop to the love story. But while Pearl Harbor was as much concerned with the bombing of Pearl Harbor as Titanic was with the sinking of the Titanic, it had one virtue Titanic lacked. It did not have to invent an upbeat ending to make us forget about all the real people who died so we could cry over a soppy love story. We won World War II.

The USS Arizona is sunk by about the middle of the movie. The rest of Pearl Harbor is taken up with resolving the insipid love story and Doolittle's raid on Tokyo (the subject of a truly good war movie), which shifts the story from the tale of a massive American defeat to the story of a moral victory that can be seen, legitimately, as signifying the real and total military victory to come.

We did show those Japs they can't mess with Americans.

I don't know how United 93 ends. Its mirror universe version, Let's Roll, ends with a montage. Firefighters raising the American flag on the rubble of the World Trace Center. George Bush with a bullhorn. Brave Afghani guerrillas raising their rifles in triumph. Saddam on TV looking defiant. Colin Powell at the UN. A nightime shot of Bagdad as the bombs fall. Tanks rolling. Iraqi children cheering. Statues toppling. Bush on the aircraft carrier. Mission Accomplished.

For a lot of people, the war in Iraq was supposed to be the happy ending to United 93. It was to be our raid on Tokyo, only bigger and more successful, the first victory that signifies all the others to come in the War on Terra.

Most of them belived this because they were duped by the Bush Administration and swept up in war fever by the cheerleading of the Media Elites, who seemed to want the war even more than the President did.

As the polls have been showing, more and more of them are coming to the conclusion that, whatever the reasons for the invasion were, there has been nothing like the promised victory and no sign the President and his men know how to bring one about or even want to bring one about.

There are two groups of people who are adamantly resisting this conclusion.

The first includes the President and his supporters and apologists in the blog world.

President Bush, of course, has tied up his vanity and ego with the War on Terra and making himself the Savior of the Middle East to the degree that admitting he's made any mistakes, nevermind that he lied us into a war he's now gone and lost, would amount to act of spiritual suicide. If he's wrong, if he's lost, then he has absolutely no reason to be President. He won't allow himself that existential crisis. He'll blow up the whole of the Middle East before that...or at least make a big glassy hole in the spot in Iran where Tehran was.

His supporters and his apologists have their vanity and egos, and careers, tied up in President Bush.

They need a victory almost as much as he does to justify their own selves in a dozen different ways.

As it becomes difficult for them to deny the bloody mess that is Iraq, they are looking around desperately for another path to victory. They see an open road to Tehran.

Iraq won't be a failure if it is seen as only a stepping stone.

The other group having trouble facing the truth is the Elite Media in Washington. They are heavily invested in the idea that "we are winning the war" too, which is why they've been so slow, grudging, and grumpy about giving credence to their own colleagues' reporting from Iraq.

As we move closer to September, these two groups' needs are going to become more and more entwined and their mutual delusions and denials more and more self-reinforcing.

Whether or not United 93 is a good movie, whether or not it should have been made at all, these two questions are besides the point here.

The point is that there was a reason United 93 is being released this year.

It's the Fifth Anniversary.

United 93 is just the first of a season of commemoration.

I don't expect that much of the media play will be subtle, tasteful, considerate, deeply thoughtful, or historically accurate.

Many people will take it all in and think, Five years and all Bush has done is lose a war and blow the cover of one our own spies.

But the Democrats better not be counting on those people making up a majority of voters.

The Media and the Bush Leaguers are going to collaborate in an attempt to whip Americans up into a frenzy of jingoistic anger that Karl Rove expects will save Congress for the Republicans.

Together they will write their own happy ending to United 93.

I haven't seen any sign that the Democrats are preparing for this, that they've even looked at a calender.

All I've seen are signs that they are hoping voters ignore national security issues entirely.

It's as if they think September 11, 2006 will pass by without remark.

Something dawned on me as I was writing this post. Pearl Harbor was being hyped as the big movie of the summer of 2001. It tanked at the box office but for weeks before its release it was being talked up about as if it was already that year's Titanic.

I've always wondered why the TV anchors were so quick on 9/11 to start calling the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center our generation's Pearl Harbor. That day they had no reason to think that we were being attacked by another country, and no idea if the attacks were all over or if more were to come. A reasonable guess was that what had happened was what we quickly learned had indeed happened. Terrorists had gotten amazingly lucky.

Very different from what happened on December 7, 1941.

I thought that it was because they'd all been reading Tom Brokow's books and were infected with Greatest Generation envy.

Maybe it was just that they'd all been to the movies.

Remember what they were all saying when Clinton tried to go after al Qaeda and deal with Saddam?

Bill was wagging the dog.

These are not serious-minded people. They want easy and pretty answers for everything.

They want life to be like the movies.

God save us from what they will make of United 93.