February 27, 2006

Unutterably Sad

This is beautifully written, and unutterably sad.

HT: Michelle Malkin.

February 25, 2006

Sunday Photo No. 4: Peace, She Sings

On the left, my sister Phoebe sings, while my cousin Jonathan , a pro, accompanies her on the piano.

This is a family tradition which has survived into the days of Tivo and iPods. When I was a mere tad, we would have parties, with family and a few close friends, and my Uncle Marvin, who went to Julliard, used to accompany the group's renditions of various songs on the piano, mostly showtunes (Cole Porter and Richard Rodgers especially), although around Christmas my father was famous for bellowing "Five Gold Rings" at the appropriate moment in "The Twleve Days of Christmas."

This family tradition still lives, although many of the original singers have passed. When we were young, my sister tried to convince me I couldn't carry a tune. It took me about 40 years to get over it, and now I sing in a chorus. So there!

Electronics are marvelous in their way, but there is a lot to be said for making one's own music, and for the whole family doing it together. Perhaps, now that you can post video on the Internet for next to nothing, and there are programs like Garage Band, people will get back to making more of their own music. But I doubt it will be an intergenerational affair as it once was, as in the closing scene of Cold Mountain.

The common musical repertory across generations is gone, along with the piano and embroidery as young ladies' "accomplishments.". As in prisons, what music to listen to can be a source of conflict in families, and the young self-segregate, to a degree, according to their musical tastes. By the time my girls were in kindergarten, we had to allocate days of the week on which each of us could dictate what music would be played in the car. They still bring their own CD's or an iPod with their songs. There are some songs, though, that everyone likes and sings along with. And some are showtunes, Wicked and Chicago ranking as current favorites. Is "Cell Block Tango" too raunchy for a 13-year-old? I'm not certain; middle-schoolers are at times drawn to the macabre. In any case, that horse has left the barn, and the girls sing the song, risqué or not, quite well.

By the way, the allusion in the title of this post is to Shakespeare's Henry the IVth, Part One:
Now I perceive the devil understands Welsh;
And 'tis no marvel he is so humorous.
By'r lady, he is a good musician.

Then should you be nothing but musical for you are
altogether governed by humours. Lie still, ye thief,
and hear the lady sing in Welsh.

I had rather hear Lady, my brach, howl in Irish.

Wouldst thou have thy head broken?


Then be still.

Neither;'tis a woman's fault.

Now God help thee!

To the Welsh lady's bed.

What's that?

Peace! she sings.

February 24, 2006

This Will Make Your Day


The Phrenologists of Cambridge

My old man got into Harvard, but his parents wouldn't let him go. Cambridge was too far from Joisey. He ended up at NYU, where he seems to have had a high old time, and eventually went to Harvard Law.

Naturally, he wanted me to go to Harvard. If I had spent another year at Andover and matured, perhaps I would have gotten in. I was, however, impatient, and went to Columbia. My college experience was definitely a mixed bag, its deficiencies mostly my own fault.

At the time, and generally since then, Harvard was, by reputation and prestige, THE place to go to college.

This week, its brilliant, quirky and slovenly president, Larry Summers, was forced to resign, mostly by a result in the Arts and Sciences faculty. Summers, of course, is the guy who speculated about differences between men and women in the distribution of high-level scientific aptitude, got pilloried for it, and then caved, finding $ 50 million lying around to appease the diversocrats. All this I discussed here. Apparently Summers's remarks, the reaction, and the cave-in were the beginning of the end.

Summers's real crime, of course, is that he kowtowed only reluctantly and inconsistently to the current orthodoxies of the faculty, mostly feminism and other forms of identity politics. Let it be known: whatever its origins, this complex of ideas has degenerated into a cult, whose practitioners are more interested in imposing their ideas by "hate speech" codes and votes of no confidence than by reasoned debate. These ideas are as much of a cult as any in the past, such as phrenology or Freudianism.

Oddly enough, these soi disant radicals are the gatekeepers for the meritocratic middle bourgeoisie.

And except for an unworthy and probably misdirected ambition for them to make the connections to enter this class, why in the world should I work into my seventies to pay tuition for my girls to a place run by nutters like these?

And what are we to make of the zillionaires that continue to subsidize it?

The World's Largest Windows Error Message

As a Mac fan, I have to love it.

From Network World.

February 22, 2006

David Irving: Another View

Neo-neocon ends up where I do, but presents the case for Austria criminalizing Holocaust denial:
To Germans and Austrians the danger of public promulgation of Holocaust denial may indeed (especially when the laws were first passed) have seemed like the danger of yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater. Likewise--although to a lesser extant--to countries such as Poland, who have reason to know the Holocaust in a way that countries such as Britain and the US never can, Holocaust denial may seem a particular affront and a special danger. "He jests at scars that never felt a wound;" and so it is much easier for countries who have not experienced such a cataclysmic upheaval to be absolutist about protecting freedom of speech.
N-n points to the adoption by many in the Muslim world of the buzzwords and libels of European anti-Semitism, although that cat's out of the bag. Nn ends up with the free speech position, but treats the contrary argument carefully.

Defend Denmark

Hitchens gets it right:
The incredible thing about the ongoing Kristallnacht against Denmark (and in some places, against the embassies and citizens of any Scandinavian or even European Union nation) is that it has resulted in, not opprobrium for the religion that perpetrates and excuses it, but increased respectability! A small democratic country with an open society, a system of confessional pluralism, and a free press has been subjected to a fantastic, incredible, organized campaign of lies and hatred and violence, extending to one of the gravest imaginable breaches of international law and civility: the violation of diplomatic immunity. And nobody in authority can be found to state the obvious and the necessary—that we stand with the Danes against this defamation and blackmail and sabotage. Instead, all compassion and concern is apparently to be expended upon those who lit the powder trail, and who yell and scream for joy as the embassies of democracies are put to the torch in the capital cities of miserable, fly-blown dictatorships. Let's be sure we haven't hurt the vandals' feelings.


I couldn't have invented this in my most sardonic and imaginative moment.

Or this!

Time for some Brunswick stew!

UPDATE: Here's a recipe for the cat. Warning, site is explicit, and there are pictures showing how to skin it. Not for the squeamish.

February 21, 2006

What If . . . ?

The assault loseth its sabre?

And the wagers of sin are debt?

February 20, 2006

Free David Irving

I know very little about David Irving, except that he is a historian who downplayed some aspects of the Nazi mass murder of European Jews, and lost a libel trial in England to Deborah Lipstadt.

Now Mr. Irving has been convicted and sentenced to three years' imprisonment in Austria under a law that makes denial of Nazi villainy a criminal offense, for remarks he made some time ago.

This conviction illustrates some differences between the European and US conceptions of freedom of speech. In Europe and Canada, deviation from conventional wisdom on the Nazi era can be a crime. In the United States, freedom of speech extends to statements that others consider outrageous and offensive.

The Americans have the better of this argument. We have a tradition of rough-and-tumble, even scurrilous debate over politics and other matters, and are none the worse for it. In part this reflects a belief that the truth will emerge from free debate, and in part from an unwillingness to trust government to decide what speech is too dangerous or too offensive to be heard.

Therefore, even though Holocaust denial is sometimes associated with very unpleasant anti-Jewish sentiment, the American view of free speech leads to the concluson that it is appaling (not to say hypocritical in the land of Kurt Waldheim) to jail Mr. Irving for his deviant views on Nazi genocide. While Mr. Irving's views may not be worthy of defense, his right to express them is. Therefore, like him or not, like it or not, I am forced to say "Free David Irving."

February 19, 2006

Texas Top Ten?

My eldest lives with her family in Houston and teaches art to reluctant high-schoolers in a place that's half exurb and half rural throwback, to hear her describe it.

Texas has growed on her, and she offers her apologia for the state in the form of the Texas Top Ten.

She's so convincing, I'm going to stop working and move in with her. That'll teach her to dis my man Tom DeLay.

Sunday Photo No. 3: The Camel Ride

Some things one does with one's children when they are small can't be replaced. We used to have a ritual called "Climb on Daddy Time." This involved various kinds of horseplay, such as lifting a girl in the air with my feet and various kinds of assisted somersaults. For this particular purpose, it was a good thing they were small for their ages.

CODT went on for quite awhile, until they got too big.

It always ended with a "camel ride" in which both girls would mount on my back and I would carry them around the room till I collapsed. In this picture, Zoë is 6 or 7, and Katharine 4 or 5. (The date is probably on the back, but it's framed).

There are things fathers do that mothers mostly don't. The absence of a father is clearly survivable, but I think a girl's view of the world of men has to be different, if she never got to climb on Daddy.

Camel ride picture credit: Voyageurs' India.

February 15, 2006

Mama Said There'd Be Days Like This

A lawyer friend of mine told me today that within the last few days her mother had a heart attack, her 18-year-old dog ran away leaving a sibling howling all day at home, and a judge unfairly berated her for improper conduct. Not quite a perfect storm, but close. We all have days like this, as the song goes.

I'm reminded of the song in thinking about the travails of the Bush Administration in the last little while:
  • Dick Cheney and a friend went hunting with two women not their wives, Cheney accidentally shot the friend and wouldn't talk to the cops until the next morning. The only saving grace is that "Saturday Night Live" is on hiatus because of the Winter Olympics.

  • Moqtada as-Sadr, the thuggish Iraqi Shi'a leader US forces could have arrested but didn't, may have become the kingmaker in Iraq, throwing his weight behind the current rather ineffective Prime Minister.

  • More pictures of abuses at Abu Ghraib prison have come to light, just as the Muslim world is already in turmoil over the Danish cartoons.

  • The Abramoff scandal continues to grow, with evidence that Abramoff arranged a White House visit for Malaysia's Prime Minister throgh none other than Karl Rove.
Maybe we need a dose of the Old Philosopher about whom I posted here:
Hiya folks.
Ya say ya lost your job today?
Ya say its 4 A.M. and your kids aintt home from school yet?
Ya say your wife went out for a corned
beef sandwich last weekend - the corned beef sandwich came
back but she didnt?
Ya say your furniture is out all over the sidewalk cause ya
cant pay the rent and ya got chapped lips and paper cuts and
your feets all
swollen up and blistered from pounding the pavement looking
for work?
Is that whats troubling ya fellow?


Well lift your head up high and take a walk in the sun with
dignity and stick-to-it-ness and ya show the world, ya show
the world where to get off.
Youll never give up, never give up, never give up...that
None of this stuff is necessarily irreversible or of historic dimensions, but it hasn't been a good week for the Administration.

February 12, 2006

Never Call Retreat

It being Lincoln's Birthday, his era can be remembered by reading all the stanzas of The Battle Hymn of the Republic:
I have read a firey Gospel writ
In rows of burnished steel
As you deal with My contemners,
So with you my grace shall deal
Let the hero born of woman
Crush the serpent with his heel
His truth is marching on.
Its militancy is typical of an age of greater faith than ours, and a war of enormous carnage, the first modern, industrial war.

Lincoln was certainly an eloquent, witty and determined man, kind to individuals, but also the determined leader of the bloody war with its hundreds of thousands of dead and maimed, and the resultant expansion of central power. Some of the martial spirit and the sense of righteousness of the time comes through in the Hymn.

February 11, 2006

Sunday Photo No 2: Sewer Rats

This is a pictue of Katharine's 12th birthday party from last year.

This year, even as I write this post, a sleepover with no less than 15 guest girls is beginning, in honor of Katharine's 13th birthday. Except that the girls are taller and more grown-up looking, I suspect that this year will be much like last year.

A feature of these sleepovers is a game, "Sewer Rats," that starts around 11:00 pm, when adults have been shooed downstairs to their bedrooms. Apparently an invention of these girls, it involves scurrying around on all fours with flashlights in the dark, and grabbing people. It's harmless, but sounds like a herd of moose crossing a wooden bridge. Some of the girls got scared and chose to sleep downstairs.

Most of the girls in this cohort have known one anoher since the first grade at Top of the World school, and many have been in Daisies, Brownies, and Girl Scouts together (a nice thing about a small city). A few girls have become part of the group more recently. They are lively, intelligent, responsible girls. This group distinguishes itself from another set in middle school whom they call the "shallow girls." Yes, they show their claws every now and then.

My now adult daughter Daniela, who went to an alternative school, at about this age referred to certain girls from the regular schools as "hair dryer girls," because they brought hair dryers to a mountain cabin.

In the photo, Katharine is wearing a dark blue T-shirt and pink PJ pants. She's the short one with the long, straight, dark hair. Katharine was delighted to have grown to five feet as of last week.

Beer (only a little), blogging, a Tivoed edition of "24" and the printed word will get me through this, the Lord willing and the creek don't rise.

February 10, 2006

Power Purifies Itself

My father always used to quote someone or other and say "Money purifies itself." His example was New York University, his alma mater, which when first offered money by the daughter of the financier Jay Gould, turned it down because of Gould's unsavory reputation.

A few years later, the University not only took the money, but also named a professorship after Gould.

Power is similar. When Hamas first won the elections in Palestine, cries abounded that no nation would have any truck with the Palestinian government unless Hamas recognized Israel and renounced terrorism. Except for hinting around, Hamas has done none of that, and yet has already garnered an invitation to Moscow.

Proclaimed principles erode quickly even in the face of power as limited as Hamas now has and is about to gain. The nations will find a way to do business with Hamas, and the subsidies will not stop. Power, like money, purifies itself.

Attention to proclaimed principles, in my opinion, goes only so far, anyway. Behavior is more important. Stalin's 1936 Constitution read like a very idealistic document, but that didn't stop the purges or free prisoners from the Gulag. Arafat's recognition of Israel was belied by repeated acts of violence (deniable though they were).

Governments will maintain diplomatic relations even with cannibals.

After meeting with the mass murderer Mao Tse-Tung, Field Marshal Montgomery, by then a Viscount, allowed as how Mao was the sort of fellow one goes into the jungle with.

Why should Hamas be an exception? After all, supposedly, unlike Fatah, they don't steal.

February 7, 2006

John McCain's Socially Redeeming Characteristics

This letter to the whippersnapper Barack Obama has endeared me to John McCain, even if I think his "campaign finance reform" legislation shows an indifference to freedom of speech, and he's given to odd bits of grandstanding.

Just when I write him off, he does something like this:
I would like to apologize to you for assuming that your private assurances to me regarding your desire to cooperate in our efforts to negotiate bipartisan lobbying reform legislation were sincere. When you approached me and insisted that despite your leadership’s preference to use the issue to gain a political advantage in the 2006 elections, you were personally committed to achieving a result that would reflect credit on the entire Senate and offer the country a better example of political leadership, I concluded your professed concern for the institution and the public interest was genuine and admirable. Thank you for disabusing me of such notions with your letter to me dated February 2, 2006, which explained your decision to withdraw from our bipartisan discussions. I’m embarrassed to admit that after all these years in politics I failed to interpret your previous assurances as typical rhetorical gloss routinely used in politics to make self-interested partisan posturing appear more noble. Again, sorry for the confusion, but please be assured I won’t make the same mistake again.
Well-deserved, but ouch!

UPDATE: Actually, it endeared Sen. McCain to me. He doesn't know me from Adam.

Am I the Only One Who Noticed?

The Blogosphere is agog with discussion of the Cartoon Kerfuffle. It's a great subject, because it has everything, and may indeed be a fateful moment in the history of this century.

Another fateful event seems to have slipped by without many noticing it. President Bush has made an explicit public commitment that the U.S. would defend Israel, at least if confronted by Iran:
In an interview with Reuters, Bush said he is concerned about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's "menacing talk" about Israel, such as his comments denying the Holocaust and saying Israel should be wiped off the map.

"Israel is a solid ally of the United States. We will rise to Israel's defense, if need be. So this kind of menacing talk is disturbing. It's not only disturbing to the United States, it's disturbing for other countries in the world, as well," Bush said.

Asked whether he meant the United States would rise to Israel's defense militarily, Bush said: "You bet, we'll defend Israel."
This statement is unprecedented, as far as I know. Although President Nixon did come to Israel's aid in 1973's Yom Kippur war with Egypt and Syria, this aid was limited to an improvised airlift of military supplies, supplies has been the limit. The official Israeli line has always been that it does not want American boys to risk their lives to defend Israel, although it is grateful for military aid and cooperation, even if the latter is occasionally marred by bizarre incidents such as the Israeli sinking of the U.S.S. Liberty and espionage in Washington.

Now, however, without even a bow to Congress and with no public discussion, President Bush has committed this country to an entangling alliance that seems intuitively unwise, even foolhardy. The question is why?

It is hard to know. The Buchananites will no dobut mutter about the dark influence of "neocons" (for which substitute "Zionists" or just "Jews") in the Administration. Others may point to "Christian Zionism," the belief among many evangelicals that the return of the Jews to the Holy Land is a harbinger of end time events and in the light of the divine covenant with the Jewish people, is a religious duty.

On this theory, Iranian President Ahmadinejad's apparent belief in the imminent return of the Twelfth Imam is met by Christian apocalypticism, while those Jews who have not been seduced by the siren song that the very dead Rabbi Schneerson is the Messiah may also await the coming of that miraculous figure, "though he tarry."

But I digress. Was Bush inspired to make his commitment by the half-truth that Israel is the only true democracy in the Middle East, and thus secular ideology alone mandated his public commitment to her defense? On this theory, secular ideology trumps religious zeal as an explanation for the commitment.

Of course, American diplomatic incompetence has contributed to at least two wars in which we got involved defending allies. Before the Korean War,the conventional wisdom has it, Dean Acheson, then Secretary of State, appeared to let on that South Korea was not within the protected zone of U.S. allies. The hapless Ambasadress to Iraq, April Glaspie. supposedly helped trigger Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait and the ensuing U.S.-led Gulf War, by implying to Saddam that we might look the other way if he did seize Kuwait. Perhaps Bush regards an Iranian or Iranian-inspired attack as a genuine risk, and U.S. involvement inevitable, and made his statement to deter the mullahs.

A variant on this explanation is that whatever our original reasons for supporting the creation of the state of Israel--Harry Truman's Jewish partner talked him into it, it was a way to avoid importing Jewish refugees from World War II, it was an instance of our desire to dissolve the British Empire--our national prestige is now tied up with the policy, and we might as well face up to it and warn off potential attackers whose attack might involve us. In short, in for a penny, in for a pound.

It is unlikely that Bush took this step to gain Jewish political support, and if he did, he'll have to wait a long time. Jews are still in their majority yellow-dog Democrats, and are far more likely to oppose the war in Iraq than most other groups. Marginal increases in Jewish support are unlikely to prove decisive, and are also unikely to emerge from a statement that received little publicity, in any event. Some Jewish political contributors may be motivated by Israel policy, but Jews are less motivated to vote by Israel policy than many believe.

All of this speculation about motives must remain speculation.

Whatever the reason, from the point of view of American national interest, the pledge seems unwise. There's a meme shared by some on the Left and among Zionist propagandists, that Fortress Israel is a friendly aircraft carrier in the Middle East, created or at least sustained to protect oil and other interests in the region. This meme seems like perfect nonsense. Israel seems rather a sinkhole for American money and arms (although there is talk that the U.S. has been secretly using airbases in Israel for many years). Supported at a far higher level than any other U.S. ally, Israel was a liability in the first Gulf War (it could not participate in the coalition because the Arab states would not accept it, and had to be cajoled into not responding to an Iraqi Scud missile barrage), and its making available bases for training and other purposes during the second Iraq War was secret, even if not a well-kept one.

The strongest argument for supporting Israel is that we have been doing so for decades, and to renege would be a sign of weakness. Thus Bush's statement ratchets up an ongoing commitment.

Having fought four major wars since 1948, and possessing its own fringe of religious maniacs, Israel seems a risky candidate for a public commitment.

The unwisdom of this expansion of the U.S. commitment to Israel, however noble its inspriation, seems manifest. The risks are high, and the likely rewards, material ones, anyway, are few.

Whether the commitment was or unwise, this event seems to have made few waves. Everyone's talking about the cartoons.

February 5, 2006

Sunday Photo No. 1: Family Dynamics

My web friend, the "Good Inger," has been posting interesting photos, mostly family pictures, every Sunday. I thought I'd lay off politics a bit and flatter the G.I. in the sincerest way I can.

When I was about 10, and my sister Phoebe about 5, our father hired a professional photographer to do "candid" shots of the family. Note the white shirts, ties, and nice dresses.

I doubt, pace Margaret Mead, that one can deduce a family dynamic from one picture. I did, however, often have a book in my hand; still do, or if not a book, a laptop. On the other hand, I doubt Phoebe will say I was isolated while she got all the attention.

My parents went through some rough times, but stayed together for over three decades. We, for sure, are the better for it. I think they were, too.

February 2, 2006

My Most Reactionary Post Ever: Coats and Ties

This is a shot of Charleston, West Virginia bloggers at an informal get-together.

In my part of the world, formal dress is a clean Hawaiian shirt, and as the lady sings, California "is cold and it's damp."

When I was a lad, men wore suits to all manner of occasions, and hats were just on their way out. My mother wore a hat, sometimes with a veil, and white gloves to work. When my father was in college, he and his friends went to concerts by subway, but they wore tails. Or so he said. I wasn't there.

Today, formality is turning the bill of one's baseball cap to the front, and using a fancier belly-button jewel.

We've lost something. The country might be a better place if
  • Men wore coats and ties more often.

  • Children addressed adults with "Sir" and "Ma'am."

  • The "f-word: and the "s-word" were as taboo as the "n-word."

  • Ladies wore hats to church, and they played the organ there, and not guitars.
It is better to show R-E-S-P-E-C-T than to sing about it, and if you name your political party after it, don't go on TV, pretend to be a cat and wear a pink leotard.

Although this is a "do as I say, not as I do" thing, for the moment, I am serious. There is a reason why the Jewish havdalah ritual, which ends the Sabbath, includes thanks for separating the everyday from the holy:

Barukh atah Adonai Elohaynu melekh ha-olam, ha-mavdil bayn kodesh l'chol.

Blessed are You, Lord, our God, King of the Universe, who distinguishes between the sacred and the secular.
Separating work from leisure, school from play, a place of worship from a fast-food joint, children from adults, mixed company from "the guys," all with appropriate dress and speech, strike me as good things.

Stop slouching, put on some decent clothes, throw the chewing gum away, and clean up your language. And, "You have such a lovely face. Why cover it up with all that hair?" We'd be better off if we did listen to our mothers.

UPDATE: Corrected some typos. I find it hard to proofread on line.