June 30, 2005

She Who Must Be Obeyed, Cub Investigative Reporter

My post here about the rumored appearance of Paul McCartney (and ultimate non-appearance) at a local benefit concert for the Laguna Beach landslide, requires an update.

She Who Must Be Obeyed did a little investigative reporting, and exposes (up to a point) the truth in this post. A scam on the sponsor side. Paul McCartney not to blame.

Not fair to children or our hard-working, beloved choral director. It will certainly reinforce the cynicism of early adolescence. Well, just as paranoids can have real enemies, those prone to see hypocrisy everywhere will run into the real thing often enough.

As an aside, the origin of the She Who Must phrase is this book, although I learned the phrase from the inimitable Rumpole.

And, to broaden the family blogoprise still further, my oldest daughter Daniela has launched her own blog, far more literate than mine.

Mourning and Humility

Sixteen of our best-trained, bravest men died in Afghanistan today, as discussed here.

May they rest in peace and honor. I grieve for them, their children, wives, and parents.

I am keeping politics out of this for the moment. Let us hope others do so, too.

Honor these brave Americans.

June 28, 2005

The Book Meme

The Velveteen Rabbi (yes, I know, but it's a really interesting blog) publishes a "book meme" that's going around the internet. It's really a kind of quiz.

Here goes.

Number of books I own

I never counted, but more than I have shelf space for, more than a thousand, I'm sure. I've been giving, selling and tossing away books forever. They seem to breed. And now my daughter gets me to buy many many fantasy novels (and she's moving onto other stuff, too).

Last book I read

The Question of God: C.S.Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life. OK, but something less than wonderful--could have been an article, but stretched into a book. It certainly shows that in addition to being a quack, Freud was a very unpleasant person.

Last book I purchased

How to Play From a Fake Book. In my dotage, I'm playing piano the way I want to, and I needed help interpreting chord symbols, like "D7sus". This book helps, but it's not as good an introduction as How to Play the Piano Despite Years of Lessons.

Books That Mean a Lot To Me

Oh boy. Not easy to think of.

All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren. The great roman à clef about America and politics and the irreplaceable Huey P. Long.

A Coney Island of the Mind by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Yes, I know, not great poetry, but great fun still, after all these years. Free railway tickets from Lost Angeles to Heaven.

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. An icon of fatherhood. Goodnight, cow jumping over the moon.

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin. Anthropological science fiction at its best.

The War of the End of the World by Vargas Llosa, in Spanish La Guerra del Fin del Mundo. A close-to-true historical novel about an apocalyptic rebellion in Brazil's Northeast. An earlier classic on the same subject is Euclydes da Cunha's Os Sertões, in English with the unprepossessing title Rebellion in the Backlands.

One Hundred Poems from the Chinese by Kenneth Rexroth. Just about all his poetry appeals to me, but his translations from Chinese and Japanese are particularly fine.

This is a partly political blog, so I suppose I should mention this and this.

Finally, on the Middle East and Central Asia, two good books: A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East by David Fromkin and The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia by Peter Hopkirk. Both give some historical perspective to today's impatience for outcomes. And one can always read Herodotus. Then you can judge whether much has changed.

Challenge Five More

Hmm. I usually don't like chain letters and "pass this on" stuff.

But, I'll challenge Rick Radcliffe; Dr. Bob; Rick Lee, such a fine photographer (he sees, does he read, too?); Mark Roberts, my favorite blogging pastor (he must have time to read, because he writes); Keith Windschuttle, an Australian historian and iconoclast; and, because he's always challenging and not afraid to be politically incorrect, Steve Sailer who is bound to be reading something I wouldn't think of.

I don't know if any of these folks reads this blog, but we might as well aim high. If anyone takes up this challenge because they saw it here, feel free to put a link in the comments section. I think Haloscan allows them.

UPDATE: I forgot the funniest modern book I ever read, A Confederacy of Dunces, by the prematurely departed John Kennedy Toole. Silly me.

UPDATE 2: Corrected some typos, missing punctuation, and two broken links.

June 26, 2005

God Bless the Pimples

Steve Greenhut writes commentary for the Orange County Register, a newspaper distinguished by its libertarian outlook.

Lately, Greenhut, as in this piece, has been addressing the view of city planners and architects who espouse the "New Urbanism." Essentially, NU is a tag for the long-standing views of planners who find suburban life and town layouts banal, plebeian and soulless, and would like to return to at least some aspects of denser communities where more traveling is done on foot or in public transportation.

Greenhut faults these folks for ignoring both the preferences of millions for life in Orange County, which is highly suburban, spread out, and decentralized, and the fact that it seems to these folks to be a good place to live and raise families, and not just because of the weather. Greenhut also scores points against planners who, it would seem, simply want to impose their own views of the good life by legislating certain outcomes, regardless of majority views, expressed, among other ways, through the market.

Fair enough. The analysis would be more incisive, though, if it were pointed out that the outcomes involving suburban sprawl and single-family homes are also, at least in part, the product of legislated restrictions on property rights, zoning regualtions that law professors call "Euclidian" because the U.S. Supreme Court upheld their constitutionality in a case called City of Euclid. Thus, for example, a homeowner on a convenient corner in Irvine (known to some as "Stepford Irvine"), a planned city in Orange County, would run afoul of the law if he decided to sell milk and bread from his front window, or to serve barbecue for money in his back yard. To do such business legally, one must go to a local or regional shopping center, owned by the monopolist Irvine Company. Nor could a homeowner, legally, convert his home, no matter how close to the Univeristy of California, Irvine, into a boarding house for students, thus competing with the Big U's monopoly on dorm rooms.

In much of Orange County, these property restrictions are supplemented by a second layer of restrictions imposed by homeowners' associations, whose rules are created by developers, many of whom try to regulate such items as whether people wash cars in front of their houses, choose eccentric paint tones for their shutters, or keep their garage doors open too long.

Although I share Greenhut's admiration for much suburban life here "behind the Orange curtain," it is not a product of unfettered market forces. Houston, Texas, is a much better test case for the effects of no Euclidean zoning. There were some restrictive covenants, but for years no formal zoning in that very lively, albeit moist, Texas town.

If a Supreme Court came along that concluded that Euclidean zoning violated the Due Process or the Takings clauses, and people were free to go into just about any business, or to build just about anything that wouldn't fall down or emit poison on their property, in ten years Orange County, like most suburbs, would be a very different place, and not necessarily worse.

Likewise, just as government allowed the railroads in the Nineteenth Century to use eminent domain and public subsidies, in the last fifty years the state has conferred advantages on the auto industry, paving much of the country at taxpayer expense, while regulating businesses so that in places like the OC, one is effectively marooned without wheels and an internal combustion engine.

Greenhut and I would agree, I'm sure, on the frequent injustices and corruption that emerge from the petty tyranny of land use regulation in countless small cities.

We might also agree (I'm not sure) on the comfort that Big Real Estate and Utopian Leftists like Irvine's "liberal" politico Larry Agran have with one another. It's the small fry, who don't have the money to make big political contributions, and have an idiosyncratic view of what's good for them, who stick in the craw of corporate and poltiical magnates alike, and probably also in the craws of the Urbanists, New and Old. Little people who don't know what's good for them, whose property the Supreme Court nows says the city fathers and mothers can seize and give to Target or Toyota.

God bless these stiff-necked little guys, pimples on the *** of progress, and God Save the Republic!

Culture Media and Miasmas

Victor Serge, the Russian anarchist-turned Bolshevik-turned Trostkyist, lived in Paris before World War I.

In his Memoirs of a Revolutionary he describes the milieu in which the anarchists and socialist of the day survived. Then, as now, it was full of a surprisingly similar potpourri of freakiness--vegetarians and dabblers in Eastern religion rubben elbows with down-at-heel avant-garde artists of one sort or another, along with social dissidents of every stripe, and no doubt experimenters with unconventional sexual practices.

John Reed, who wrote Ten Days That Shook the World, a naive but lively paean to the early days of the Bolshevik Revolution, emerged from a similar milieu in Greenwich Village.

Kennneth Rexroth, a smart guy who was never taken in by authoritarian socialism, describes some of the salons of post World War I Chicago in a not-dissimilar fashion.

In the Sixties, things were similar. The rebellious milieu combined sexual experimentation, various forms of mysticism (some drug-induced), leftism, avant garde artiness, astrology, and in that medium cults like LaRouche's arose, too.

It is a curious fact that amidst the often-voluntary poverty of that world, there are always the sons, daughters, and sometimes the adult parents of the very wealthy.

Some would-be leaders on the left who adhere to the orthodox Marxist view that there is something inherent about the place of the working class in society that will (or at least should) make it the engine of a revolution (even if that revolution is to be led, as Lenin had it, by intellectuals), with all the seriousness of Hamas sheikhs recruiting suicide bombers, to "industrialize," that is, voluntarily to become members of the working class, so they can create revolutionary nuclei in that factories, warehouses and freight terminals.

This effort is about as successful as the Maharishi would be in trying to have his flock travel to Mars by levitating.

What is interesting is the survival for over a century of a certain milieu, a mêlange of crackpots of every description, who have in common a hatred of everything normal and "square, including
  • Traditional religion, especially Christianity

  • Marriage and family life of any traditional sort, and with them sexual restraint

  • Business of any specific kind and capitalism in general

  • Disciplined science of any kind

At the same time, this milieu included people who cultivated

  • Politically revolutionary theory

  • Avant-guardism in art, music and literature

  • Mystical cultism especially if non-Western and non-scientific (the I Ching, Amerindian mysticism, neo-Hindu offshots)

  • Unconventional sexual behavior

For sure, there's more. But any R. Crumb cartoon of the period will give the flavor and appearance of this sort of milieu. Just listen to a Pacifica radio station and you'll get the anti-capitalist and anti-American rants, and in the low-ratings hours, the astrologers, vegans, the heirs of the anti-fluoridation movement, the gays, "folk" music three generations out of Appalachia or the Delta, and the weirdest possible iteration of black nationalism.

What is interesting is that the distance between the universities, once havens of upper-class boorishness and gentleman's C's among the students and a refined but conventional pretense on the faculty, have increasingly lost their separateness from this Bohemian milieu. The distance between what goes on on Telegraph Avenue and what goes on on the Berkeley campus has never been shorter, and Berkeley is no longer the exception in once was.

There is probably no way, short of police methods inadmissible under our traditions and Constitution, to drain this swamp, but swamp it is, and its miasmas periodically blow through the culture, over the universities, the theatres, and the media.

Among the effluvia is a mortal hatred of the "straight" and the "square." Bush and the social conservatives are perceived as such. The hostility to them gains much of its energy not from a rational analysis of political controversies, but from a long-standing elitist contempt of Bohemia, with its odd combination of wealth, voluntary poverty, and intellectual elitism, for everything conventional and normal.

Zimbabwe Outrages

As reported and linked here, the insane persecution of his own poor by Zimbabwean dictator Mugabe continues. Silence from Mbeki, Mandela. Where is Randall Robinson?

Apparently Ian Smith, who declared Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) independed from Britain, to worldwide boycotts and denunciations, is still alive. I wonder what he's thinking..

Where is the outrage now? Boycotts and embargos? Security Council resolutions? If there were Korans in the fires with which Mugabe's thugs are burning the shantytowns, would Newsweek and Human Rights Watch get excited?

My Supreme Court Short List: Judges Who Should Be Nominated, But Won't Be

Two people with serious intellectual accomplishments:
Richard Posner.
Alex Kozinksi.

Neither is on lists like this.

Alas, it won't happen. Posner's too old, and he's written about sex. Twice. Kozinski's too independent, too funny, and maybe too Jewish.

Too bad.

Defeatism Here, Loyal Opposition Long Gone

The Iraq debate has taken a nasty turn.

Sen. Durbin has offended many and then tearfully semi-apologized for invoking the Hitler analogy, seasoned with references to the Gulag and Pol Pot, no less. The Dems have tried to retaliate by attacking Karl Rove's truthful characterization of the MoveOn.org and Michael Moore responses to 9/11.

More importantly, the consensus among elected Democrats has now become the call for a withdrawal timetable. In short, a turn to defeatism.

For a long time there was a tension between a "loyal opposition" stance and a defeatist one. Defeatism is now in the ascendant.

The loyal opposition stance included the following concepts, mostly erroneous, but consistent with loyalty to the country.

  • A concern that the involvement in Iraq detracted from the post-9/11 attack on Osama bin Laden and his friends, Saddam the secularist being neither an Osama ally nor an Osama friend. From this standpoint, the war was a diversion.

  • Criticism of the bad intelligence and lack of candor in the run up to the war.

  • Criticism of bad decisions made after the initial victory, such as the failure to deal with looting, the dissolution of the Iraqi army when nothing was available to replace it, the delay in scheduling direct elections, which Ali Sistani ultimately forced.

  • Rejection of the public relations circuses and lack of clarity emanating from the Administration, including the melodramatic "mission accomplished" landing by the President on an aircraft carrier.

The new stance is different:

  • The demand for a withdrawal schedule, no matter what.

  • Overemphasis on alleged abuses of prisoners and their holy texts in Abu Ghraib and Gitmo.

  • Emphasis on the "Bush lied" motif.

  • A failure to recognize the accomplishments in the war, notably the elimination of Saddam's terror apparatus, the stability and relative prosperity in Kurdistan and the Shi'a south, and the progressive political isolation of the enemy, even if his ability to engage in terror remains.

  • Overwrought rhetoric about all aspects of the issue.

In economics, there is a concept of "sunk costs," assets that have been spent or committed and cannot be recalled. In this war we have sunk considerable treasure, the lives and bodies of our young men, and an important part of our national standing. Although a historical assessment of the matter can be made several generations from now, the immediate question ought to be not the war's origins or even past mistakes, but what actions NOW are in the national interest.

If we consider three alternatives, immediate withdrawal, announcement of a timetable or trigger for withdrawal, or staying the course (whether that means applying additional resources, reducing the commitment according to facts on the ground, or maintaining present force levels), even a bit of analysis leads to rejecting the Democrats' alternative.

Immediate withdrawal would result either in a victory for the Ba'ath-al Qaeda forces, or more likely to a violent civil war. The government forces, Kurdish pesh merga certainly, the Shi'a militias probably, are in a position to resist the Sunni secular and religious forces, and a bloody war would ensue. No matter what the result, we would be blamed, and the withdrawal would be portrayed everywhere as a defeat.

A Middle East that was dangerous before would become more so. The replacement of the Saudi monarchy by something far worse would be likely, given the likely lack of confidence that we or anyone else would intervene to stop the collapse. If the Shi'a triumphed, it would be with the help of Iran, tying them far closer to the the Teheran régime than the Iraqi Shi'a would otherwise like to be (there being little love lost between Arabs and Persians).

The announcement of a timetable for withdrawal might be even worse. It would encourage the insurgency, convinced, as most guerrillas, unable to triumph in battle, must be, that patience and persistence will lead them to political triumph. Even more fanatics would find their way to Iraq, hopeful of picking up the spoils.

In short, unless we become convinced that there is no better outcome possible than what I've already outlined, staying the course makes sense even if one thought originally that the war was a poor idea poorly executed.

Unless I am sadly mistaken, then, the call for a withdrawal timetable is at best misguided and more likely, simply a form of defeatism, reminiscent of Clement Vallandingham and the Copperheads during the Civil War.

I have kept away from the Vietnam analogy until now, but it undoubtedly has resonance with the Ted Kennedy's of the world, who lived through Vietnam and drew the wrong conclusions from it. Truth be told, I was a radical opponent of the Vietnam war myself. Although I haven't studied it in detail, I've done some reading and have become aware of the fact that the results of our failure to assist the South Vietnamese in 1972 was the fall of South Vietnam, the departure to death an exile of hundreds of thousands of South Vietnamese, most of them ordinary people, and the genocide of over a million Cambodians.

In short, the complete withdrawal, accompanied by a refusal to offer any assistance, enforced by the Democratic Congress elected post-Watergate, was a humanitarian disaster and a geopolitical disaster for this country, even if not the "domino theory" cataclysm some foresaw.

The defeatists were wrong then, and they are wrong now. The anti-Americanism of the opposition, their harping on US wrongs and errors, real and imagined, as opposed to the enemy's very real vices, and the extremism of their rhetoric, are a real problem for this country, and for millions in the Middle East who hope for a better life.

Finally, the absence of a "loyal opposition" and the undue influence of the far Left on the Democrats are potentially disastrous. Sooner or later the opposition wins if only from fatigue from the majority, or its inevitable corruption by power. This opposition is not just mistaken, but a potential disaster for the country and the world.

The rottenness of the opposition also forces folks like me, who have many many criticisms of the Bushies, into muting these and joining the phalanx around a flawed Administration and congressional majority. That's not good for the Administration or the country.

No-Show Paul

Our BoBo town, Laguna Beach, recently suffered a landslide, destroying a number of homes.

The locals have bellied up to the charitable bar and held breakfasts, raised money, and what-not.

Yesterday they held a concert (pictures, here) as a benefit for the displaced.

The day before, we received a call from my daughter's choral director, asking if she could join some others and back up Paul McCartney, who was going to be a surprise guest at the concert. In fairness, I don't know whether Paul even knew about it or whether it was a triumph of hope over information. Althouh we adults were excited, my 13-year old's reaction was more or less, "Okay. But Paul WHO?" This is a child who saw a cache of LPs and asked me what they were. Heraclitus was right. All things DO flow.

I took her to a morning rehearsal, and up to the site, where the kids were gathered into a room to practice. Long story short, Sir Paul never showed. Why, we don't know. One rumor is that it had to do with too much TV coverage. The kids weren't crushed at all. They were well-fed, had been led in games by chorus alumnae, and got to play frisbee inside a school where normally such antics would have been verboten.

I took the waiting in stride, as the picture above shows.

I'm reminded of the film The Big Night, involving a rumored appearance at a failing Italian restaurant by the great Louis Prima,
the avant-garde play Waiting for Godot, where Godot (God?) is the no-show, and the great country singer George Jones's recovery song, "No Show Jones."

June 24, 2005

Tiny Wonders

Hummer NestingAn old friend sent me a link to a series of photos of hummingbirds nesting and babies growing. The last is a shocker. It shows how tiny the whole nest is -- a bit larger than a penny.

The wonders of the world are astounding.

I once asked a bright but geeky engineer neighbor, in a discussion where the 640-beats-per-minute of the hummingbird heart came up, how they used the tiny stethoscopes. He proceeded to explain to me how they took the heartbeat. I've forgotten the science, but I remember the response. We have geeks like Jim to thank for our relative freedom from infectious diseases, clean water, electronic gadgetry, and relief from killing toil.

Here's the nest with the eggs:

Hummer Nest

June 19, 2005

Amen, Bro Mark

Mark Steyn:
This isn't a Republican vs Democrat thing; it's about senior Democrats who are so over-invested in their hatred of a passing administration that they've signed on to the nuttiest slurs of the lunatic fringe. It would be heartening to think that Durbin will himself now be subjected to some serious torture. Not real torture, of course; I don't mean using Pol Pot techniques and playing the Celine Dion Christmas album really loud to him. But he should at least be made a little uncomfortable over what he's done -- in a time of war, make an inflammatory libel against his country's military that has no value whatsoever except to America's enemies. Shame on him, and shame on those fellow senators and Democrats who by their refusal to condemn him endorse his slander.

Read it all. He's merciless.

And Newt wants the Senate to censure him! They'd have to find their withered cojones first.

June 18, 2005

What Do You Compare This To, Dick Durbin and Amnesty?

The acts described in this report of a "torture house" discovered in Karabila, Iraq, by our Marines:
This is Mr. Fathil's account of his ordeal.

He was having a lunch of lettuce and cucumbers in the kitchen of his home in the small desert village of Rabot with his mother and brother. An Opel sedan pulled up. Two men in masks carrying machine guns got out, seized him, and, leaving his mother sobbing, put him in the trunk of their car.

The drove to the house here. They taped his face, put cotton in his ears, and began to beat him.

The only possible explanation for the seizure he could think of was his time in the new Iraqi Army. Unemployed and illiterate, Mr. Fathil signed up after the American occupation began.

But nine months ago, when continuing working meant risking the wrath of the Jihadists, he quit. In all, 10 friends from his unit have been killed, he said. So have his uncle and his uncle's son, though neither ever worked as soldiers.

The men tended to talk in whispers, he said, telling him five times a day, in low voices in his ear, to pray, and offering him sand, instead of water, to wash himself. Just once, he asked if he could see his mother, and one of them said to him, "You won't leave until you are dead."

Mr. Fathil did not know there were other hostages. He found out only after the captors left and he was able to remove the tape from his eyes.

The routine in the house was regular. Because of the windows, it was always dark inside. Mr. Fathil said he was fed once a day, and allowed to use a bathroom as necessary in the back of the house.

When marines burst in, one of the captives was lying under a stairwell, badly beaten. At first, they thought he was dead.

The others were emaciated and battered. Mr. Fathil had fared the best. The other three were taken by medical helicopter to Balad, a base near Baghdad with a hospital.

But he still had been hurt badly. Marks from beatings criss-crossed his back, and deep pocks, apparently from electric shock burns, were gouged in his skin.

The shocks, he said, felt "like my soul is being ripped out of my body." But when he would start to scream, and his body would pull up from the shock, they would begin to beat him, he said.

Any comment, Amnesty?

Whence Moonbattery?

The fisking of Dick Durbin for his comparison of nasty interrogation tactics at Gitmo to the atrocities of Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot goes on apace. Dicky's non-apology did nothing to dampen the furor.

To the fiskathon I have nothing to add. Dick's a dope, and his misplaced analogy insulted millions, both alive and dead.

The "XXX-is-Hitler/Stalin" meme has grown explosively.

On the Left we have Dicky, doddering old Bob Byrd's comparison of attempts to limit the filibuster to Hitler's tactics, and the Amnesty International comparison of Gitmo to the Gulag. (On the right, admittedly, we have Rush Limbaugh's hyberbolic coinage "feminazis" and Rick Santorum's quickly-repudiated use of the Nazi meme.)

Meanwhile, it's the Left's rhetoric that boils over, especially against Bush & Co. and their policies. The hotter the invective gets, the more devoid of content are the critiques. Whence the moonbat rhetoric?

I've tried to give voice to an anti-Bush critic's view in this post, but I'm still groping explanation of why the escalating rhetoric and the lack of cool heads to stop it or extract apologies.

Here are a few possible explanations:

The Left is out of power in the Executive and Legislative branches, and even in danger of losing the Judiciary, while their MSM are in free fall. They are lashing out in frustration.

You don't get famous for using reason. You get famous for being outrageous. It's a caculated effort to be heard.

There's a reflexive anti-American and anti-military attitutde among certain sectors on the Left, and it's sufficiently corrupted the culture of the Democratic party to overcome any impulse to thought before speech, especially since the most partisan in the party are the furthest left. They like tub-thumping, no matter how inaccurate and irresponsible it is.

The parts of the old Dem coalition—the south, urban ethnics and their political machines, craft unions, Catholics—that would have risen up in outrage against this sort of thing (and thus deterred it in the first place) are largely gone. A party of minorities, trial lawyers, public employee unions, urban singles, and self-regarding sophisticates of various sorts doesn't have a wing left in it to put the brakes on this kind of nuttiness.

It seems to me that along with other factors I've mentioned, the demise of the Soviet Union is a factor here. When the Cold War began, a liberal coalition drove the pro-Stalinist communists out of the Democratic Party and mostly out of the leadership of the unions (Ronald Reagan was part of this fight in Hollwood). When there was no more Soviet threat, and no more Cold War, there was nothing to keep any kind of left-wing kook out of the Democratic Party. Indeed, as true believers on the one hand, and cultural creators on the other, left-wing types have an influence disporportionat to their numbers. Meanwhile, in the name of “free speech,” anti-McCarthyism, and racial pandering, the party tolerates, and allows into its debates, kooks like Kucinich and racist demagogues like Al Sharpton.

Campaign finance reform has further weakened the party structure and strengthened uncontrollable groups like MoveOn.org. There's nobody to stop this stuff, and as legacies like Joe Lieberman and Daniel Patrick Moynihan die off, it will become increasingly common, at least as long as the party is out of power with no opportunistic Clintonian centrists with clout to impose some common sense.

Bad for the party. Tragic for the nation.

June 17, 2005

Good Old Breeders

A piece by a devoted but realistic mother illustrates the daily sacrifice of parenthood.

The other day, I was trying to read the cover story of this week's New York magazine about a woman who is starting a TV network for Alpha Moms. I wanted to know who these Alpha Moms were. But my 41/2-week-old baby needed attention. So I cradled him in one arm, turned on the ceiling fan in the living room and stood there reading while he watched the blades slowly turning. He likes that.

The article suggested that Alpha Moms can do it all, but by the second page I found out how — they have help. "It takes a village," the mom in the article actually said. And she apparently hired a village to watch her kid so she could work 100 hours a week on starting a TV network. Not just a nanny or a babysitter as many parents do, but a nanny and a babysitter and a night nurse. The more she learned about successful motherhood, the more people she hired to achieve it for her, the article said.

Me, I'm a Beta Mom. Beta Moms fall short of Alpha Moms in terms of doing it all. But we do raise our kids. Oh, we can work at home or in an office, but we generally care for our own offspring.

Right now, I am typing this all lower case with one hand because I am holding the baby and can't hit the shift key.

The Alpha Mom gets a report on how many diapers her baby goes through in a day. I change our baby's diapers and report to myself. Oh, I don't change them all. My husband changes some and so does our wonderful ten-year-old daughter. Our sons, aged eight and five, sing to him, fetch bottles, wipes, and gently push the stroller back and forth on our porch. The dog licks the top of the baby's head when within reach. I think she thinks he's a puppy. The cat stares at him.

This piece appealed to me because one of my children loved ceiling fans. She became overwhelmed at six months when we went to a restaurant that had half a dozen such fans.

This piece also reminds me that the commitment to children (and its absence) is a major dividing line in modern culture. Europe seems to have lost its soul, and with it, the desire to reproduce. The red-blue divide, as Steve Sailer reminds us is in many ways a split between "married with children" and "unmarried with a cat."

To "sacrifice" means to make holy. The one rôle where ordinary souls practice altruism these days is in parenthood. It is one place where we imitate God in our limited human way.

A pat on the back for us breeders!


June 14, 2005

Sculptures at Storm King

Endless Column

Waiting for Ufos
Nam June Paik: Waiting for UFOs

Reclining Figure by Henry Moore

This weekend we visited Storm King, north of West Point. SK is an outdoor museum where massive mostly modern sculptures are displayed in a natural setting that matches their scale.

Very impressive. My indefatigable birdwatching sister identified many birds, too.

It's well worth a visit if you like sculpture.

Here are two more:

The last one is by Roy Liechtenstein. It's called Mermaid.

Immortal Hate

There's a famous old New Yorker cartoon by Peter Arno from the Thirties. A group of New York swells in fancy dress are calling out to their friends to go down to the Trans-Lux movie theater to hiss Roosevelt (in the newsreels). Although FDR did well electorally, those in the opposition hated him with a passion. Then there were were Nixon-haters, but it seems to me that only with the second President Bush has the FDR-hatred of the right been equaled and surpassed on the left.

I've pondered why, and still I ponder. I recently visited New York City on a family visit. Last night at a restaurant, I asked my sister, a passionate Bush opponent, not just where she disagrees with the Bush Administration, but why the passion of the Bush-haters exceeds even that of the Republicans who despised Roosevelt. I got an earful.

Because the blogosphere is replete with sermons to the choir, I thought it would be interesting to try to reproduce what she said as fairly as I can. My sister is no dummy. Now a small businesswoman, she's an MBA with 20 years' experience in the corporate world, and is intelligent, articulate, and although passionate, by no means dogmatic on every political issue. So I'm going to paraphrase what she told me in a conversation last night, trying to present her views in my own words. I can express my own views any old time, and because this is my blog, I will. In this post, however, I'll just present her viewpoint as filtered through my brain and my iBook's keyboard.

First of all, she thinks the leadership of the Administration is not just wrong, but dishonest about its beliefs and intentions. They will say anything, she said, so long as they think it will work politically. Thus, rather than a reasoned debate, the citizenry are the targets of a constant public relations effort involving systematic political mislabeling. An example she cites is the "Clear Skies" initiative, which involves the creation of a market in the right to pollute. Whether or not the creation of such a market is wise (and she allows it might be), it is at most a device for redistributing pollution, not reducing it. She would, no doubt, have a similar reaction to the branding of the "Patriot Act," with the title's implication that those favoring a different balance between civil liberties and the government's power to investigate have questionable loyalty to the nation.

As a corollary, she believes that there is a hidden agenda behind Administration policies. Thus, for example, the deficit is a manifestation of a desire to "starve the beast," to force a reduction in federal programs (at least social programs) by indirection, to achieve in this fashion what might be hard to achieve if they presented it openly.

This hidden agenda, she believes, is a combination of crony capitalism and religious obscurantism. The Bushies, she believes, want to provide government largesse, or at least latitude, to their wealthy cronies, preferably in ways that are not obvious to the public. She appears to believe this is more than the traditional GOP view that incentives for investment benefit the economy as a whole, but is in essence a series of corrupt schemes to benefit contributors and pals. (She concedes that the Clintonistas were equally devoted to fundraising among the wealthy. Her distaste for Bush does not translate into a love for the opposition.)

One example she gives of a pro-corporate orientation is the Administration's refusal, in the face of what she thinks is overwhelming evidence, to recognize that global warming is a scientific fact and a major problem. And in this regard she thinks that the tendency of the Administration to weaken environmental protections, many of which she believes to be necessary or desirable. Hardly a radical environmentalist, she recognizes the inevitability of tradeoffs, but questions the Administration's sense of balance. For example, she tends to believe that the risks of oil drilling in the Alaskan wildlife preserve probably outweigh the possibility of obtaining a relatively modest supply of oil.

The real emotion behind her opposition, it seems to me, comes not from these economic and environmental issues, or even from opposition to the Iraq war, which she opposes as a misguided reaction to the World Trade Center attacks. It is the presence in the coalition of the "Christian right." Although she concludes that many in the GOP, such as Dick Cheney, make obeisances to this segment more out of tactical convenience than conviction, she honestly believes that there is a segment of the GOP that would like to impose a fundamentalist theocracy in the United States. For her, at the heart of this fear is the issue of birth control and abortion. She is firmly convinced, for example, that it is profoundly wrong to allow licensed pharmacists to refuse to fill birth control prescriptions for unmarried women. This and related issues she sees as matters of both health and women's autonomy. Her fear, however, is not just of a rollback of "reproductive rights" but of the empowering of religious extremism. And this phenomenon she finds not merely distasteful, but frightening.

Incidentally, as much as we on the right perceive what we have come to call the "mainstream media" as favoring the left end of the spectrum, she believes the press has supinely swallowed the Administration line, and has failed in the task of investigative reporting. She sees a Barbara Boxer, for example, who seems to me a shrill, ignorant crackpot, as commendably courageous, and Howard Dean less as over the top and more as revving up the troops.

737: Early Morning Flight

A thin-skinned projectile
The ashen city ejected,
Surmounts oxbow lakes.
Streams now inert
Drained a continent.
Sand. Patient woods.

Inside, drained.
Irrigated by absent tears,

A tight multitude
Of international faces
In domestic spaces.
An inert collective,
A private intensity,
In a circling gyre,

June 9, 2005

Fisking Fisk, Yet Again


And the author is that Aussie idol-smasher, Keith Windschuttle.

June 8, 2005

The Bolivian Mess

The backsliding of a supposedly democratizing Latin America into a reflexive leftism is a neglected story. To be sure, there is Mad Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. But Lula in Brazil, Obrador in Mexico and others represent a less maniacal, less extreme leftism.

Latin America, of course, with the exception of Chile, never really accepted the concept of limited government and development of a market system. The encyclopedic European constitution, late and unlamented, finds its enacted echo in many Latin American countries. But the trend is away from free markets and limited government, toward a statism that in theory, at least, attempts to reduce inequality or at least to improve the lot of the poor -- usually with little success and much theft and demagogy.

Bolívia is something different -- a perpetually failed state, now sinking into anarchy, or at least civil war and partition. Here's an account by Augusto Nunes, a writer for Rio de Janeiro's Jornal do Brasil, the closest thing Brazil has to the Gray Lady. Translation by me, with apologies to Senhor Nunes for any errors and infelicities of expression.:
Bolivian history is a series of irreparable defeats. In wars against its neighbors, failure has cost it, besides thousands of lives, the amputation of important territories. In internecine wars, native aristocrats associated with military chiefs invariably defeated the disarmed people -- and Bolívia was subjected to systematic and endless raids on its natural resources. The Republic, founded in 1825, in snow smaller, poorer, less stable, and more isolated than ever. And now it's mired in anothepoliticalal crisis, as has been happening for the last 180 years.

Defeated in the Pacific War, it lost to Chile, in 1884, the strategic access to the sea. In 1903, frontier disputes in the Amazon frontier led to a diplomatic war in which the Baron of Rio Branco, Brazil's Foreign Minister, easily prevailed. All he needed were many bribes and a few promises that were never kept -- the Bolivian branch of the Madeira-Mamoré Railroad, for example. The price was the annexation of what is now the state of Acre to the map of Brazil. A good deal -- for the Brazilians.

The third great fiasco would come in 1935, with the Chaco War. Before defeat came, Paraguayans and Bolivians traded lead in terrible but pathetic battles. Under the tutelage of foreign oil companies interested in the deposits in the Chaco desert, native warriors who only spoke their indigenous languages embarked for battle on board tanks they had never seen before the hour of battle. Crammed into armored vehicles, Paraguayans and Bolivians squandered bravery and ineptitude. Few learned how to drive that armored invention. Many died without having deciphered manuals published in English or Spanish. Bye-bye Chaco, bye-bye oil. Another loss among so many, to victorious and voracious neighbors.

The confiscation of many efforts and modernization was carried out by Bolivian billionaires rewarded, with the right to plunder without competition, exempt from taxes, mines unbelievably heavy with gold, silver and tin. In this field, none outdid the legendary Antenor Patiño, who wasted in Paris, the scene of movie festivals, the money he got plundering the mines of Bolivia. He rarely visited his native land. "I prefer Paris," he admitted.

"The Bolivian people is America's orphan," summarized the writer Augusto Céspedes, who died in 1998. "We survive with no relatives, without friendsrends, without allies or generous godparents. We are condemned to be alone." Today, as always lacking partners, Bolívia is trying to save the last economic gambit in sight: marketing natural gas on favorable terms.

For various reasons, it's a difficult struggle. Outside the country, it will have to outwit a huge and greedy neighbor -- Brazil, the main customer for Bolivian gas. On the internal front, an ancient threat still surrounds the lonely orphan: a dangerous geopolitical schizophrenia that divides the altiplano whose capital is La Paz from the lowlands of Santa Cruz province. In the world of Santa Cruz, the standard of living ishigherigheer and traditional families imitate the habits of exiled Spanish nobility. They want autonomy.

The Andean mountain dwellers, mostly dirt poor, are of indigenous origin, and have little money and decades of frustration. To anesthetize themselves and forget their hunger, they resort to the ancient coca-chewing habit. They cycle from apathy to rage in a few days (or hours). Lately tired of the resigning President Carlos Mesa, they have overthrown many officeholders.

In 1939, they withdrew the support they had provided two years previously to the young Col. German Busch and drove him to suicide. Busch's modernizing dreams, decorated with nationalist and leftist themes, encouraged the rise of Maj. Gualberto Villaroel, leader of the 1943 coup. That dream lasted three years.

With the support of drunks, beggars, petty criminals, hordes of the poor from the outskirts of La Paz marched on the Quemado Palace, ready to invade it. Céspedes, tghen an apprentice politician, witnessed the drama with a writer's eye. "The street people broke into the Palace, captured Villaroel, hung the President from a lamppost and beat him until he was reduced to a human paste," wrote Céspedes. "The next day, one could recognize only his green eyes. Light-eyed Bolivians are quite rare. As rare as periods of peace."

As rare as times of hope, such as they were. None lasted longer than that the Andean nation lived through from 1952 to 1964. This was the first term of Victor Paz Estensoro, leader of the Revolutionary Nationalist Movement (MNR), Bolivia's version of the Labor Party [of Brazil] in its origins. Tin mines were nationalized, legislative changes abolished ancient larcenies, and it seemed that Bolívia began to make out a path to the future. This hope went up in smoke with a military coup that ended the second term of an Estensoro already reduced to a hostage of uniforms and dollars.

From then until now, with a few democratic gasps, turbulence has routinely prevailed. The quick rotations of power would lead one to believe that the coup d'etat had become institutionalized as the way to change governments. The procession of general-Presidents includes oddball leftists like Juan Torres, ultrarightists like Hugo Banzer, traffickers like Garcia Meza. Even some honest people. None found a way out. Perhaps none exists.
Precolombian Bolívia was of course a centralized state that has even been called "socialist", followed by a scarcely more democratic period of Spanish colonial rule. Other than ideas that may have been imported, there is little basis in history or culture for democracy, capitalism, or even honest government.

A failed state in the Andes is hardly a pleasing prospect, and one that neighbors, Brazil, Argentina, Perú and Chile are hardly likely to look on with favor. Look for Santa Cruz to contemplate autonomy or even secession, the Aymara and Quechua highlanders to follow one Pol Pottish rebel after another, and feral dogs to feed on the corpses.

It might as well be Chinatown.

Don Corrado Prizzi -- VP of Syria?

I did a litle googling.

The character in Prizzi's Honor that looks like the Vice President of Syria, is Don Corrado Prizzi, played by a wonderful character actor named William Hickey.

See this post for comparison.

He Sat Next To Me On the Subway

Chainsaw KillerThis guy, a naturalized American, crossed from Canada but was arrested in Massachusetts for a grisly Canadian murder.

Canada has some notorious mass murders. This guy looks about as odd as they come.

However, if he was a US citizen without wants or warrants, I guess they had to let him in.

Loud and Thunderous Applause

From the Baath Convention
Originally uploaded by octopod.
Wasn't the little guy on the right in Prizzi's Honor?

Update: see Don Corrado Prizzi here. Unfortunately, he's smiling, which is un-Baath-like and makes the comparison harder.

June 7, 2005


The Belmont Club documents the Cambodia-like insanity now prevailing in Zimbabwe.

Here is an account by a Dominican nun:

On Sunday evening I received one phone call after another saying "come quick they are going to kill us" - others would say "don't come you might be killed".Early on Monday morning I drove out to Hatcliffe, already in the distance I Could only see smoke rising up - nothing else. I arrived, I wept, Sister Carina was with me, she wept, the people tried to console us - they were aLL outside in the midst of their broken houses, furniture and goods all over the place, children screaming, sick people in agony. Some of the people who are on ARV drugs came to us and said we are phoning Sister Gaudiosa (Sister is doing the ARV programme) but she is not answering us, we are going to die". We explained that Sister was on Home leave but that we would help in whatever way we could.

It was a heartbreaking situation.The structures "mentioned above" that we the Dominican Sisters were working from were left untouched but had to be dismantled immediately otherwise They too would be destroyed. Sister Balbina from the House of Adoration came with carpenters and other staff members and started dismantling the structures.We are distributing all of them to people who have nothing, they will be OK if we leave them lying on the ground. Some friends arranged for a crane to come in to lift out two containers where we had medicine and food stored - it was one of the saddest days of my life.How does one say that Peter aged 10 and his little brother (John) aged 4 (not their real names) are "illegal". We had provided them with a wooden hut when their Mother was dying, she has died in the meantime, these two Little people had their little home destroyed in the middle of the night, we get there, they are sitting crying in the rubbish (that was their home until Sunday) - what do we do with them? They are only one example of the many vulnerable orphans whose little lives are destroyed.Veronica (not her real name) is an elderly widow who is chronically ill herself, she has 3 young grandchildren from her dead daughter - her home is destroyed. She is wearing a Rosary Beads around her neck, an apron with the picture of the Sacred Heart and a tee shirt with President Mugabe's photo - she has tried all means to survive!Some people came and said, "Sister there are two people who are dying, please come." One of them Mary (not her real name) who is out in the open all night lying on an old damp mattress can't move with pain, she has shingles, which is open and bleeding. What is worse her tears or her bleeding wounds?

I felt/feel paralyzed.Anne (not her real name) delivered a baby a week ago, she is Critically ill and is on the verge of death, what do we do with her? We give her pain killers, we give her blankets, we give her food (which she in unable to eat) - what is going to happen to her baby?

Not a peep from the human rights movement or the liberals.

Where is Mandela? Where is Mbeki? Where is Amnesty? International ANSWER? Where is the UN -- oh, that's right, the Cartel of Tyrants?

June 4, 2005

Another Poem by Zoë, 13

Here. Excerpts:
I cry because you’re how you are,
a slave to others, who are slaves to you.
The words you say can eternally scar,
I cry due to the things you do.

* * * *

I weep because I remember times,
when the young were really kids.
And distant from this world that grinds,
individuality down to all but what 'cool' forbids.

* * * *

So if you dare to ask me why,
as if you’re unrelated.
Then I’ll reply with a big sigh,
“for the world that those like you've so desecrated.”

As Glenn Reynolds would advise, "Read the whole thing."


Egyptian capitalWhen Sizzler started decorating its restaurants in post-industrial style, I knew the soi-disant avant garde would have to go elsewhere for its stylistic kicks. Now Cheesecake Factory has been ransacking the past in post-modernist style for its décor, as in a neo-Pharaonic instance beautifully depicted here. I suppose the SDAG will now have to look to Cracker Barrel or Stuckey's for inspiration.

Photo credit and hat tip: Rick Lee the Magnificent (born in Babylonia, gone to West Virginia). Go look at his other photos, on this and other themes.

Another Nekkid Emperor(ress)(thing)

This piece puts in writing a thought I've had since I read about Harvard's allocation of $50 million to appease the diversity demonesses:

Every college in the country has been frantically pursing “diversity” in hiring and admissions for decades. The task force itself commends the diversity policies of 17 rival colleges—the mere tip of the iceberg—without drawing the obvious conclusion.

The second obstacle follows from the first: there is nothing more that can be done. If untapped pools of highly qualified female and minority candidates existed out there, schools would have snapped them up long ago—if not your college, then its dozens of competitors, just as desperate to placate the quota gods.

How many undiscovered sages with enough X-chromosomes or melanin are there out there waiting for the ferrets of Cambridge to find them? Couldn't poor, groveling Larry Summers put his hands through a buzzsaw and still have enough fingers to count them?

And we parents are supposed to find (or our children to borrow) tens of thousands of dollars to send our children to these citadels of idiocy!

There. So endeth my rant. Amen.

(Why don't I feel better?)

June 3, 2005

Two Takes On Schools And Teaching

One depressing and another transcendent.

Take your pick. Which is the trunk, and which the tail, of the elephant?

Documentation, Albeit One Sided . . .

. . . of the various nut jobs and "Earth Pigs" to be found in the Bay Area.

Fortunately, most of them don't breed.

June 1, 2005

Das Haus Ist Kaputt

Bauhausy Structure In Shards

This sad pile of rubble is a multi-million dollar house that belongs to a client of mine. Built as a spec house, the project suffered many vicissitudes. I tried and won a case about the miserable work of the window subcontractor, and had a pending case about the concrete driveway. "Moot!" said Mother Nature, and it was so.

Fortunately, no one was there when it fell, and in fact apparently no one was seriously hurt.