Thursday, June 30, 2005

Moonlight Graham

I wish I'd known about it sooner. I wish I hadn't only just now found out that, one hundred years ago, Archibald "Moonlight" Graham took his place in right field for that one game, that one game that would, by the longest and strangest and most winding of roads, lead America to discover Moonlight's immortality. For immortal he is, and would be even if none of us had ever heard of W. P. Kinsella, or even if W. P. Kinsella had never heard of Moonlight Graham.

My copy of Field of Dreams is at home, and I'm away on a business trip to Houston. The Astros are in Cincinnati tonight; I can't honor Doc Graham by buying a ticket for the right field bleachers at Minute Maid Park tonight, and I certainly can't go to "Moonlight Graham Night" up in Minneapolis, where most of Chisholm will be this evening. If I'd known the importance of the 29th of June, 1905, then I would have brought the DVD with me on this trip. But I didn't know; so I can't pop the movie into the laptop and watch Burt Lancaster play a character who was, down to the very umbrella he always carried and the blue his wife always wore, taken straight from real life. For here was a man on whom fiction could not improve.

W. P. Kinsella went to Chisholm thirty years ago in search of the man behind a nickname. The nickname "Moonlight" had caught his eye on the pages of the Baseball Encyclopedia. He got to Chisholm to find that the man he sought had been dead ten years...and you know the rest from the movie. For from that point on, the movie simply sets the fictional author Terence Mann into the Chisholm that Kinsella found, with the local newspaper writer who had written of Doc Graham's astonishing life, and the locals who had an endless supply of Doc-'n'-Alicia stories, and looming behind it all a man who unquestionably would have said, "If I had only gotten to be a doctor for five minutes -- now that would have been a tragedy."

Annie Kinsella is one of the most fully-realized characters in recent cinematic history, and one of my all-time favorite people, even though they made her up. But Moonlight Graham...well, Kinsella and the scriptwriters and Amy Madigan made Annie Kinsella, and you don't see it done better very often. But God, not W. P. Kinsella, made Moonlight Graham.

And Doc Graham was some of the best work God's ever done.

Hat tip: well, after all, if it's Field of Dreams, it almost has to be Sheila, doesn't it? And be sure to read the whole Strib piece from which I took every last one of my facts. And by all means go donate to the Moonlight Graham Scholarship Fund.

"You Get What You Pay For" Dept

So Adam is wandering around the Garden of Eden one fine day, and God happens by. "Yo, Adam, whassup?"

"Hey, there, God."

"Hm, you seem a bit depressed. Something on your mind?"

"Well, you know, God, this Garden is a nice place and all, and the skinny-dipping is certainly refreshing, but...well, I'm lonely. When You're not around, there's just nobody to talk to. And I've been giving it some thought, and I have an idea."

God strokes His chin with interest. "Well, let's hear it."

"Whaddaya say You make another person -- like me, but not exactly like me 'cause that would be boring. You could make 'em smart and pretty and charming..." God is nodding encouragingly, and Adam is really starting to warm to his topic. "I'd like for them to always be reasonable and willing to admit it whenever they're wrong and willing to forgive me whenever I mess up, and I want them to realize that I'm brilliant and handsome and perfect, and I want them to provide lots of good advice but still never be all gripy or whiny, and just generally I want them to fill up all the holes and help make my life everything it ought to be...can You do that for me, God?"

God smiles, "Sure, I can do that for you...but it'll cost you an arm and a leg..."

Monday, June 27, 2005

"Sometimes A Parent Feels Like Such A Failure" Dept

My poor kids, stuck with me as a parent instead of Madonna…who has just "pulled some strings" in order to get a credit card issued to her 8-year-old daughter Lourdes. One of Madonna's friends explains, "She is hoping to teach Lourdes to be responsible with money," which explains why the eight-year-old's card carries a $10,000 limit. As Dave Barry says, "If Lourdes exceeds the ten grand in any given month, we imagine she'll just have to mow lawns."

Meanwhile, the last time I called home, it was to suggest to MY children that an excellent entrepreneurial opportunity to make some spending money would be to go around to the approximately two billion yuppie families in our immediate neighborhood, and offer to go into said yuppies' fenced back yards on a regular basis and clean out the dog poop, for a suitable fee.

You just can't overemphasize the importance of choosing your parents wisely...

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Three priests walk into a bar...

...only this isn't a setup for a joke. As you've already seen, I like short, reflective autobigraphical sketches, and this is a truly exceptional one, with a revealing look at the complexity of the process of discerning a vocation, especially in the Roman Church with its insistence that clergy bear the added burden of solitude.

Hat tip: the inimitable Anchoress.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Chappaquiddick 1, Gitmo 0

Just thought, since Teddy Kennedy seems to want to apply sports analogies to public policy discussions, that now would be a good time to check the scoreboard.

On a more serious note, would you rather be housed in Gitmo, or in the Massachusettes state penitentiary system? I ask, because any criticism of public policy implies that you have a better public policy in mind, some standard of expectations that the person you're criticising has failed to meet. Massachusettes is a Democrat-dominated state; so, how are they doing? (It would be of particular interest to compare life as an Illinois inmate to life as a Gitmo inmate to determine which of the two was more like the sort of thing that goes on in gulags and concentration camps.) If the terrorists in Gitmo are more comfortable than the felons in any particular Senator's home state, then I think that Senator should moderate his criticism (at least if his own party runs his state's prisons).

I'm officially copyrighting the "Chappaquiddick 1, Gitmo 0" phrase, by the way, for use on a T-shirt. I realize that it is very similar to "More People Died At Chappaquiddick Than At Three-Mile Island" (a bumper sticker I remember from my youth), but I like my phrasing better.

But if a so-called "torture center" can't muster up at least as many deaths as the Kennedy Curse gets in on a good year, then how bad can it really be?

A Nation of Sharecroppers

That's what we are.

According to the Supreme Court, if your local government thinks that somebody else can make more money of your land than you can, they can take your land away from you and give it to the other guy -- since that would give them more tax revenue and therefore would constitute a better "public use." In short, you do not own your land. You merely hold it in trust for the government, and only so long as you are making the most commercially advantageous (from the government's point of view) use of it. Should you fail to generate enough cash flow for the real property owners (the government), they can reassign it to more profitable tenants.

You. Are. A. Sharecropper.

Welcome to America.

Oh, and the Supreme Court has a message for some of you. Do you think there are more important things in life than money? Do you have priorities other than raking in as much cash as possible without regard for any other values in life? If so, then here, from the Supremes to you, is your Thought For The Day:

Dear Person of Non-Material Priorities:

Go to hell.

Injustices John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer and Anthony Kenndy

P.S. Those of you who think this country is governed by a Constitution can go to hell right along with 'em.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Thank You, Cpt. Ziegenfuss

Charles Ziegenfuss has been away from his family serving in Iraq for 167 days as I type. He is one of the new breed of warriors who not only fights the ground war, but helps in the war of ideas by providing first-hand, up-to-date accounts on his blog, thus providing us with the kinds of facts that the censors of the New York Times and their ilk are desperate to suppress. (And if I sound bitter, sue me.)

He got hit by an IED and is on his way home with a stop of indefinite length at a military hospital, probably in Germany. His wife posted this message on his blog.

Go to the blog, click on the "People had something to say" link at the bottom, and tell Chuck and his wife how much you appreciate his willingness to serve and his family's willingness to loan him to us. That is an order.


Monday, June 20, 2005

I don't see the Democrats gaining ground anytime soon

Something pointed out by commenters over at The Anchoress is the difference between the way the Republican Party dealt with Trent Lott (who got too effusive at a birthday party) and the way Democrats are dealing with Dick Durbin. (If you say, "Dick who?" then you are pretty much quoting every prominent Democrat who has been asked about Durbin's comments.) This, I think, says a lot about why the marginalization of the Democrats has done nothing but gain momentum over the last few years, to the point where they are ceasing to serve as an effective counterbalance to the Republicans. We could actually see a filibuster-proof Republican majority in the near future if the Democrats don't right the ship in a big way. Why aren't the Democratic Presidential hopefuls taking this opportunity? It's a golden opportunity -- you can move to the center with a gesture that's largely symbolic. Why, why isn't Hillary speaking up in support of the troops here? Is moderation really such a pariah in the Democratic Party these days? I just don't understand what they're thinking, ESPECIALLY Hillary, whose only shot at the White House is her ongoing reinvention as a moderate. How can she be letting the moment slip away with "no comment"? ???? ???? I don't understand these people.

I had a vaguely negative impression of Gitmo three weeks ago, before the AI report came out, never having bothered to go investigate the issue too carefully. But I've spent the last three weeks trying to find out what's going on, and I'm pretty honked off with Bush and Company at this point -- where the hell does our government get off feeding these guys better than they feed our troops?

We are treating those bastards (all of whom, as far as I can tell, were captured on a battlefield, in the act of trying to shoot American soldiers) a helluva lot better than they deserve to be treated. I don't have a huge objection to it -- but if you're going to complain about Gitmo, and your complaint doesn't have to do with the fact that we've let people go without being 100% certain that they weren't going to go back to trying to kill us, then you seem to me to have a somewhat tenuous grasp on reality.

Geneva Convention? Come on, the point of the Geneva Convention is to encourage people to play by the rules; if you say, "You can have the protection of the Geneva Convention even when you yourself flout the rules," then what sort of incentive to good behavior have you left the Geneva Convention? If you can join in a war on the side that openly and shamelessly blows up women and children, tortures kidnap victims, saws people's heads off for daring to take jobs as policemen, and in every other way imaginable spits on the Geneva Convention, and yet you can still claim protection from the Geneva Convention when you yourself are captured, then what possible reason would you have for following the rules? A law that you can break without punishment is not a law at all; it is a bad joke. The more you care about the Geneva Convention, it seems to me, the more passionately you must oppose the extension of the GC's protections to terrorists and those who fight, uniformless, at their side.

As far as the propaganda damage: if you don't already hate the U.S., you can see through the Newsweek b.s. to see how above and beyond the call of duty the U.S. has gone in its treatment of these guys. If you do hate the U.S., then any stick will do to beat 'em with, if not Gitmo, then something or anything else. If Gitmo were closed tomorrow, Newsweek and Al-Jazeera and the Daily Kos would be complaining the day after tomorrow that Bush reads the Bible every day and only reads the Koran -- sorry, the Qu'ran -- once a month or so, a clear sign of his hidden Crusader agenda to convert all the Muslims in the Arab world to Roman Catholicism, as his Jewish masters have ordered him to do...or whatever. If your goal is to get Al Jazeera and Michael Moore to stop running around using gross distortions of fact to say that God likes Satan more than he likes W, then in comparison with you Don Quixote was the soberest of realists. Newsweek and Dick Durbin and the lunatic Wahabbi clerics will find something to condemn George Bush for; and their fellow Bush-haters will believe them no matter how absurd the condemnation.

So, they're gonna slam you anyway; why not at least be the one who chooses the battleground? Gitmo is clearly not something for which the U.S. and her soldiers deserve condemnation. Why not leave it there so that the propagandists can continue to attack it, thus destroying their credibility with the reasonable persons in the middle who are actually the key to long-term success?

Really, I am prejudiced against W, having had him as governor before I had him as President, and I had a generally negative impression of Gitmo. But then this whole AI and Durbin flap got me interested to see just how bad it was. And what did I discover? That the prisoners routinely gain weight. That they are provided with personal copies of the Qu'ran, handled by the guards literally with gloves. That there are more documented cases of prisoners' mishandling the Qu'ran than of guards'. That the food is better than the rations given to soldiers in the field. That nobody has come close to dying, even the guy who we know was to be the 20th hijacker. That even a media so desperate to make Bush look bad that it will run unconfirmed stories from anonymous sources, can find no "anti-Muslem" abuse worse than some grunt's taking a leak outside and having a few drops accidentally blow through a vent to land on a prisoner's US-issued copy of the Qu'ran. I mean, I can VERY easily imagine myself doing something like that; it's a pretty minimal amount of airheadedness that's required. And even then, the airheaded grunt's immediate officer promptly reprimands him, reassigns him, and issues a new Qu'ran and set of clothes to the prisoner.

So now I'm thinking, "Wow, Gitmo is actually something for the Shrub to brag about."

In other words, thanks to the hysterical ravings of the Bush-haters, I've come away more of a Bush-supporter than I was to begin with.

The thing is, if Karl Rove is the evil genius that Democrats seem to think he is, then he's doing to the far left with Gitmo exactly what he's doing to Al-Qaeda in Iraq, which is the same thing the Algars do to the Murgos in David Eddings's amusing and light-hearted Belgariad series. The Algars don't live in towns; they are nomadic horsemen. They build, however, an immense fortress out in the middle of the steppe. Its only purpose is so that when their none-too-bright enemies the Murgos decide to attack, the Algars won't have to go wandering across the steppe trying to figure out where the Murgos are -- they'll be camped around the stronghold trying to capture a fortress where nobody lives. And therefore they will be easy for the Algars to deal with; as no time will be wasted in hunting them down and they'll all be in one nice big readily massacred mob.

In Iraq, Bush has given Al-Qaeda a target that they can't help but attack, but where they also can't do anything but lose. Iraq has been a propaganda disaster of the first order for Al-Qaeda, which has shown a severe inability to kill Americans AND a startling (to Al-Jazeera's Arab-world audience) readiness to kill Iraq women and children. It's a bait that Al-Qaeda ought not take, but they can't help themselves.

I'm starting to think Rove is doing the same thing to the lunatic Democrat fringe with Gitmo: they can't help but attack it, but the more noise they make about it, the more curious the ordinary middle-of-the-road American is going to be about what's really going on. And the more the average American goes and finds out what's really going on -- like I've spent the last couple of weeks doing -- the more insane the fringe appears. And, presumably, the more Rove grins to himself inside his dark lair.

Would somebody PLEASE give me a decent alternative to both Shrub and the Howard Dean freak show? This is all very disheartening to my Libertarian soul.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Sheila Stands In Line

Okay, this is my last Sheila O'Malley link of the night, but really, this woman is something very special, and this is a very remarkable piece of first-person literary journalism.

Don't miss it.

Eric Conveys An Emotion

Thanks to the inimitable Sheila "Red" O'Malley for the link to this one-of-a-kind site. I think my favorite is "shadow boxing," though Red's favorite of "sarcastic respect for authority figures" is certainly a worthy'll note that unlike Sheila, who is a professional actress and likes the acting ones, I, who am not an actor, like the one that's a bit of a stunt (I also like "discovering Cameron Diaz in your closet," which requires so little acting ability that even I could do it).

And speaking of one-of-a-kind sites, there's always Sheila's site itself, where you can get your musings in flavors including Tom Cruise's Publicist and Eighteenth-Century Political Philosophy, mixed in with a running diary of a working Manhattan actress. The internet...what a wonderful world it is.

"You May Be Too Hooah! If..." Dept

Since I'm on the subject of Sondra K., here's a list you gotta love even if you ain't Hooah! enough to understand most of it.

My personal favorite is #29: "Your wife left you and you held a 'Change of Command' ceremony."

The Peril

Red-blooded Americans, show your colors

Sondra K., milblogging chick who could kick my butt in a nanosecond, wants red-blooded Americans to designate every Friday as a day to Wear Red in support of the troops. Red's a good color, I'd say, in honor of the blood our soldiers shed for our freedom; it's unfortunate that it has come to be associated with Red States, but there it is.

For those who find support for the troops to be a challenging concept, the remedial form of Wear Red Fridays is simply to observe Don't Compare Our Troops To Nazis Fridays. One day a week would at least be a step in the right direction, eh, Sen. Durbin?

Bought My Own Father's Day Card

Actually, I should send it on to my dad. Front of the card shows two yellow hound dogs, one clearly bigger than the other, standing on opposite sides of a tree, each with raised leg. The inside of the card reads:

"Dear Dad, thanks for teaching me to aim higher..."

It's A Times Problem, Not An Archbishop Problem

Now this is why I love the blogosphere, and why the MSM simply can't compete, except as a source of raw material for the sphere.

I'm leaving my previous post up, sort of as an object lesson. It was my initial reaction to the Times article, which I think can be summed up as, "If the Times draws an accurate picture, then the Archbishop is a moron...but there's a good chance the Times didn't draw an accurate picture, because the Times is the Times, after all."

Then Marcus at Harry's Place posted a link to the full text of the Archbishop's actual lecture. So I went and read it. And I have to say that the Times's coverage is, to put it bluntly, crapola.

Here's how the Times article opens:

Archbishop hits out at web-based media 'nonsense'

By Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent

THE Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has criticised the new web-based media for “paranoid fantasy, self-indulgent nonsense and dangerous bigotry”. He described the atmosphere on the world wide web as a free-for-all that was “close to that of unpoliced conversation”.

In a lecture to media professionals, politicians and church leaders at Lambeth Palace in London last night, Dr Williams wondered whether a balance could be struck between the professionalism of the classical media and the relative disorder of online communication.

Dr Williams also extended his wide-ranging critique of journalistic practice to the traditional media...

From this, it is impossible not to infer that:

1. The primary point of the Archbishop's speech was to discuss on-line media, and at one point he went on a digression concerning the traditional media (he "extended his critique" "to the traditional media").

2. The Archbishop considers the classical media to be relatively professional (a good thing) and the online media to be relatively disordered (a bad thing).

3. The Archbishop's statements about the online media were predominantly critical.

But when we look at the actual speech, we find that all of these deliberately-created impressions (if they weren't deliberate, then Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent is a particularly incompetent writer) are, to put it bluntly, lies. Taking each in turn:

1. Impression: The primary point of the Archbishop's speech was to discuss on-line media, and at one point he went on a digression concerning the traditional media (he "extended his critique" "to the traditional media").

Fact: The speech is a thirty-four paragraph lecture, and its topic is the mainstream media, not online communication. (I might add that Religion Correspondents such as Ruth Gledhill are singled out by the Archbishop as being particularly bad at covering their subject matter accurately, which criticism Ms. Gledhill obligingly does her best to confirm.) Online media are brought in only as a way to highlight, by contrast, characteristics of the traditional media. The comments concerning the online media cover about a paragraph and a half, and they show up about halfway through the lecture. Here is everything Williams had to say about the online media:

The drift in some quarters to near-monopolistic practices, the control of the product by careful monitoring of response and periodic re-designing - these evaporate when we turn to internet journalism. Ian Hargreaves, in his excellent Journalism: Truth or Dare, gives a sharp account of the difference made by these developments; surely this is the context in which genuinely unpalatable truths can still be told, 'unsullied by the preoccupations of the mainstream media' (p.259)?

Yes and no. Unwelcome truth and necessary and prompt rebuttal are characteristic of the web-based media. So are paranoid fantasy, self-indulgent nonsense and dangerous bigotry. The atmosphere is close to that of unpoliced conversation - which tends to suggest that the very idea of an appropriate professionalism for journalists begins to dissolve. Many traditional newspapers and broadcasters now offer online versions of their product and many have allowed interactive elements to come into their regular material, for example by printing debates conducted on the web. But they have not thereby abandoned the claims of professional privilege.

Note that most even of that second paragraph concerns the online media only insofar as the traditional media has tried to use the online media as a way to have its cake and eat it too. As I said, this speech is about the traditional media, not the blogosphere.

2. Impression: The Archbishop considers the classical media to be relatively professional (a good thing) and the online media to be relatively disordered (a bad thing).

Fact: The Archbishop thinks that the professionalism of the classical media is direly deficient, thinks that the online media has strengths and weaknesses, and thinks that the classical media is tempted to exploit the online media's possibilities while still posing as above the fray. At least I think that's what he's trying to say...again, the comments about the online media were merely a quick digression and weren't explored in any detail at all.

3. The Archbishop's statements about the online media were predominantly critical.

Fact: They were quite balanced. Our Religion Correspondent has as raw material a speech in which a speaker says, "Yes and no. Unwelcome truth and necessary and prompt rebuttal are characteristic of the web-based media. So are paranoid fantasy, self-indulgent nonsense and dangerous bigotry." She reports it as, "The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has criticised the new web-based media for 'paranoid fantasy, self-indulgent nonsense and dangerous bigotry'." It's hard to get more shameless in your special pleading than that.

The actual speech is a very interesting and reasonably well-thought out speech, with most of which I agree. The Archbishop does occasionally wander off into the mushy, largely meaningless politico-speech of the professional academic, but most of the time he's actually managing to speak clearly, reasonably concisely, and reasonably...well, reasonably.

So, taken all in all, I have to say that I'd rather have Rowan Williams as my Archbishop than the Times as my newspaper.

[Sigh] That, I Regret To Say, Is My Archbishop

UPDATE: The Times article on which this post is based was thoroughly misleading, to a degree that cannot but have been deliberate. As you can see from the post, I suspected as much all along, but I went ahead and wrote a sort of "if it's true, then here's my reaction; but I have my doubts about its truth" post. Now I've confirmed that the Times coverage is very far indeed from being the truth. So this post is now out of date and hereby superceded by this one.


Poor Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury...I can only hope that he was badly misquoted in this story. Having myself been in the past pretty badly misquoted in newspaper articles and even (difficult as this may seem) television interviews, I do have hope that he's not quite as much as moron as he seems to be.

But still, unless he was very badly misquoted indeed, he described the conversations of the WorldWide Web as "close to that of unpoliced conversation" -- as if that were a bad thing. How cockamamied a view of the world do you have to have to think that, in the choice between policed conversation and unpoliced conversation, it's the latter that is to be condemned?

This, from a man whose leadership style within his own church shows a clear preference for conversation ad infinitum rather than action. Talk, for the Rt. Reverend Rowan Williams, is a very good thing, as long as it doesn't ever result in actual action or resolution or decision. In every definite action that the Anglican Communion has taken under Williams, his hand has been forced by people who insisted on action of one sort or another, much to Williams's dismay.

Then again, if Williams has a preference for policed conversation, it probably comes from his recent failures successfully to control the conversation within the Anglican Communion. Williams likes talk as an alternative to action, and as a way to avoid having to take action. But both the true-believer progressives and the true-believer conservatives in his Communion have said, pretty much literally, "The hell with that, we're acting." The progressives in North America fired the first shot, so to speak, and the conservatives put their food down, and poor Rowan stands in the middle wringing his hands and saying, "Can't we just talk about this some more? Why do all you people keep doing things?"

In the recent gathering that resulted in the Primates' communique disinviting North American progressives from future Anglican Communion events, the accounts I've read of the gathering tell an interesting story. When the Primates arrived, they were handed an agenda prepared by the Archbishop's staff, an agenda that filled up the whole weekend with workshops and similar sorts of "conversations" -- but all carefully designed (one might even say "policed") to keep everybody's eyes averted from the elephant engaged in pooping copiously on the carpet. The contingent from the Global South took one look at the Archbishop's agenda and said, "Sorry, buddy, no frickin' way." And the Archbishop backed down, threw out the agenda, canceled the workshops, and allowed discussion of the issue -- with the predictable (and from Williams's lets-all-just-get-along viewpoint highly regrettable) result that the Anglican Community's overwhelming majority of conservatives told the North American progressives to repent or get out.

So the Archbishop whom the Times represents as being unhappy about the idea of "unpoliced conversation" is an Archbishop who has spent the last few years trying desperately to control the conversations going on in his Communion -- and utterly failing. The conversations in the Communion escaped the Archbishop's control long ago, and he no longer sets the subject matter, the tone, or (most painfully for him) the limits that are to be placed on real-world actions allowed to arise from what he desperately desires to be permanently hypothetical conversations. And I don't believe he is at all happy about that.

Is it possible that what Williams finds so offensive about the "unpoliced conversation" of the blogosphere is precisely that blogosphere talk tends to lead to actual results? I think that has to be recognized as a real possibility.

But there's also the possibility that he was misquoted. This is, after all, a newspaper report. And newspapers (despite the "professionalism" that the Times implies sets them apart from "the relative disorder of online communication") just aren't really all that good at getting their facts straight. So here's hoping that this is a Times problem, not an Archbishop problem.

Hat tip to VodkaPundit.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

What Exactly Did You Expect?

Um...hey, Norm, if you had managed to win your case, it might be me he was trying to kill next instead of you...having a hard time feeling pity for you here.

I realize that lawyers have convinced themselves that defending people whom they know to be guilty is the height of ethical heroism. Norm is doing what he thinks is right, but I never have bought it, myself. And yes, I've heard the social-utility arguments. I just don't buy 'em, at least not in the extreme form to which the ABA has committed itself.

I suppose if I knew Norm socially I probably would like him, and it is too bad that he has to live under a death threat, even a death threat from such an incompetent (and therefore likely to be unsuccessful) threatener as his former client. But hey, Norm, he did it before to somebody who wasn't you, and even knowing that full well you'd've gotten him off scot-free if you could've -- scot-free to do it to somebody else, who also wouldn't be you. So all in all, if he's going to be after somebody, you seem to be the potential victim who would have the least to complain about. Not saying you deserve to get whacked, you understand, 'cause you don't...just saying I think I'll save most of my pity for somebody whose own choices haven't had quite so much to do with his present predicament.

As long as the lawyers' code of ethics requires defense lawyers to spend significant portions of their careers as, essentially, accessories-after-the-fact-with-a-special-exemption-that-keeps-us-from-being-able-to-throw-their-butts-in-jail-for-it, the rest of us are going to have a hard time thinking of them as ethical persons.

Though I do hope it works out okay for Norm in the end. Seems a nice guy, except for his habit of helping criminals get away with crimes.


A child after my own heart

One of my twelve-year-olds just landed safely in Pittsburgh, having taken three planes over the last two days en route to spend a chunk of the summer with his grandparents. So I'm talking to him on the cell phone and I ask, "So how was your flight?"

"Well, the last one was awesome."


[With evident delight] "Yeah, there was so much turbulence I almost threw up."

That's my boy...I'm so proud. (I myself have always felt that if you weren't going to have any turbulence you might as well be riding a bus, and once had to control myself and stop laughing with glee when my fellow passengers started glaring at me during a particularly entertaining flight over the Swiss Alps.)

"Highly Pertinent Advice Of The Day" Dept

It comes, unsurprisingly, from that Sage of Sages, that Presidential Candidate of Presidential Candidates, that Dad of Dads, that Mother of All Humor Columnists...

Dave Barry.

The Peril

Monday, June 13, 2005

Well, I Can't Blame PMS...

I have noticed that my last few posts have been cranky. This is because I'm working massive hours on a development project at work, and haven't really had time to explore the ideas I'm really wanting to play with. So when something annoys me, I've been using the blog to blow off steam and clear my head so I can get back to writing Java code...but that's not really what I intended the thing for, and it can't be much fun to read one post after another where I'm ticked off about things that don't matter much.

Guess I'm just warning you that for a month or so it'll be slow blogging, but (I hope) considerably more charitable and enjoyable blogging.


Friday, June 10, 2005

Time for the Annual Reminder...

...that I married better than my wife did.

16 years today. Pretty good ones as far as I'm concerned.

For Once I'm Truly Furious

An Open Letter to:
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg
New York Governor George Pataki
Former New York City Mary Rudolph Guliani
The Honorable Hillary Clinton
The Honorable Charles Schumer
President George W. Bush
The Honorable John Cornyn
The Honorable Kay Bailey Hutchison
The Honorable Lamar Smith

International Freedom Center

Dear honorable leaders of the American people:

I don't know what the specific plans for the Ground Zero memorial are. I do know that anything on that site that does not have directly to do with the people who died on 9/11 and the firefighters and policemen who risked everything to save them, would be an abomination. If there's a single damn thing at that site that involves somebody's "interpretation of its significance," or that suggests that either the Democratic or the Republican party is in any way culpable for what happened, or that goes back to prior American history to show that "we" (that is, mostly white people who were dead before I was alive) do nasty things too, or even that says, "And while you're at it, remember Pearl Harbor and the Boston Massacre and don't forget what an awesome guy Abe Lincoln was," then I want the head of the person who puts it there. (Only metaphorically speaking, I hasten to add -- something that, in a world with jihadists, no longer goes without saying.)

If it is true that a mere 50,000 square feet have been authorized for the actual museum (an amount, I understand, hopelessly inadequate for the housing of all the 9/11 artifacts) while six times that much space has been authorized for somebody's political-agenda-du-jour soapbox (sorry, "interpretive center" or whatever the hell they're calling Tofel's Pet), then I want everybody who had anything to do with that decision fired, yesterday. If Richard Tofel genuinely believes that the memorial and the museum are "necessary, but not sufficient," then I want him out of there; he is utterly unqualified to have any role to play in the construction of this memorial. Not only are those two things sufficient; they are the only things that belong there. Period.

In particular, I don't want anything that has been designed, by self-important intellectuals like many of my former Princeton classmates and (based on the vacuous pomposity of his WSJ apologia) Tofel himself, to "host debates" and "make people think" and "note points of view with which [many visitors] will disagree." For God's sake, is the country not divided enough already? At Ground Zero, of all places, do we have to go out of our way to provoke more arguments? Cannot there be ONE SINGLE PLACE, anywhere in the entire country, where we can set aside the "debates" and the disagreements to focus on what we agree on (the people who died didn't deserve it, they and their families have suffered terrible pain, and a great many people rose to the occasion with true heroism)? If there is any place in all the millions of square miles in this country where debates and disagreement are ultimately, transcendently obscene, it is surely Ground Zero. We have one of the largest countries in the world in which, and the internet on which, to argue. We can argue from sunup to sundown and straight on to morning again in a million towns from sea to shining sea. Can we not at Ground Zero, if nowhere else, tell the narcissistic talking heads like Tofel to just shut up already and leave us to grieve in silence?

Note, by the way, how Tofel's whole WSJ piece reeks of the fatuous intellectual's habitual attitude of patronisation toward those whom he perceives as his inferiors and who are in need of a Center to "make them think." Literally millions of Americans will visit this site. They will stand on Ground Zero. Many will have visited the World Trade Center before the world changed, and they will stand remembering what used to be. They will remember where they were when they saw the first unthinkable video images rolling across CNN. They will remember watching people holding hands and hurling themselves to their deaths as the only escape from the torture of the inferno, and they will remember the little exploding pink clouds that the imagination refused to accept had moments before been living souls. They will remember the co-workers carrying the disabled down an Everest of stairs; they will remember the rescue workers who rushed into those buildings and never came out. They will remember the towers falling, the tsunami of white dust, the exhaustion and bereavement on the faces of the surviving policemen and firemen.

But if we're to believe Tofer, they won't think about any of this...not unless Tofer makes them think. The mere site, the memorial, the artifacts, the memories -- those are "necessary," but in order to get the preternaturally brain-dead hoi polloi to think, Tofer is certain that these things aren't "sufficient." Fortunately, ta-da! we have Smart People like Tofer to get those rednecks to put their limited brain capacity to use for a few minutes, however fitfully and creakily, and however much the unaccustomed effort hurts their heads.

Of course, whenever you hear somebody using words that are all soothing connotation but whose concrete meaning can't possibly be pinned down by the reader -- "narrative of hope" being an instructive example, and "our society's enduring self-confidence and humanity" being another, or "our society's proudest traditions and its deepest aspirations" -- you know that you are either dealing with somebody too stupid to be able to say what he means, or else too dishonest to be willing to say it plainly. Who gets to tell this "narrative," and what does it say? Half the people in this country would think that a "narrative of hope" would involve the hope that the United States would start doing what the United Nations tells it to do. The other half would think that a "narrative of hope" would involve the hope that the United States would tell the United Nations to stick their resolutions and their corruption where the sun don't shine. Our country is so bitterly divided precisely because the things the two (roughly speaking) sides "hope" for are not merely different, but to a large degree mutually exclusive. I can think of nothing more likely to provoke controversy and argument than a Ground Zero establishment encouraging people to propound competing "narratives of hope" -- nothing except, what is of course more likely, a Ground Zero establishment that presents only one, tendentious "narrative of hope" and implies that all reasonable people share that same partisan hope. And what are "our society's proudest traditions and its deepest aspirations," anyway? The rest of us have been arguing passionately about precisely this point for most of the country's history, but Tofel, bless his enlightened little heart, apparently Knows The True Answer; and what's more, Tofel knows that it won't be controversial, or at least, knows that any controversy his group's answer might cause will be Evidence Of Our Society's Self-Confidence And Humanity. Well, that's certainly reassuring to those of us who were afraid partisanship might be in the offing. No worries: Tofel and his cohorts are, it seems, close personal friends of "our society" and are fully authorized to speak for "us," and all will be well. In fact just last week Tofel and "our society" met for lunch. The sushi was awesome.

This rant has nothing to do with any callousness toward foreigners without freedom -- I have personally founded a non-profit foundation to help orphans in Kazakhstan, having learned Russian purely for the purpose of helping those kids more effectively; I complained bitterly for years about the devastating impact of Bush Sr's sanctions on the Iraqi populace (sorry, Mr. President, but full disclosure is called for here); before I was out of ninth grade I had read all three volumes of Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago. Nor does this rant have to do with any distaste for discussion of controversial issues. (Obviously.) Nor does this rant have to do with hatred of liberals (liberals being the group currently accused of trying to co-opt the memorial); I used to work for the Hon. Carl Albert, and these days I'm a cynical Texas independent who had been voting against Bush election after election, up until John Kerry's inability to evince any capacity whatsoever for rational thought forced me to break my perfect anti-Bush voting record last time 'round. (Sorry, again, Mr. President; but for what it's worth, you proved me completely wrong about the impossibility of establishing democracy in Iraq in less than five years, and you have my sincere congratulations.)

In particular, MLK was and remains one of my heroes; I've read literally thousands of pages of his and his biographers' works. But Ground Zero is not about MLK, and his image does not belong there.

There is a time to speak, and a time to be silent, a time to air disagreements and a time to lay them aside. And Ground Zero is a place for all Americans to remember those who fell on that evil day -- not for one group of self-important Americans to hector the rest of us with their tendentious version of "history" or whatever they happen to believe to be the "true meaning of freedom," or for half a dozen groups of self-important Americans to annoy the rest of us with their irreverent quarreling in the middle of a cemetery. I don't want Rush Limbaugh telling me that I should give some thought to the fact that it's all Bill Clinton's fault. I don't want Howard Dean expressing the opinion, however agreeably that master of tact phrases said opinion, that it's all the fault of white Christians. And I couldn't care less whether or not Tofel "will disagree" with whatever tripe Limbaugh or Dean or Soros or Coulter choose to spout from Tofel's precious little pulpit. Tofel can agree with those eminent voices of reason; he can disagree with them; I care not which -- but he can damn well do it someplace besides at Ground Zero. If not even at Ground Zero can you set politics aside and just remember the horror and the heroism of that one day, then I have to begin to doubt your capacity for basic human empathy.

Take that 300,000 square feet and use it to make another wing of the 9/11 museum. Bring more artifacts out of the warehouses; solicit more pictures from the bereaved families. Are there any persons who died on 9/11 who don't have a small individual sections of the museum telling who they were and what those remember who loved them? No? Then there isn't yet room enough for MLK or LBJ, or, for that matter, for George Washington. This is about those who fell on 9/11. It is their place. It is their shrine. It is their memorial. Nobody else's.

It's enough for the terrorists to have hijacked the 9/11 planes, without having shameless partisans or well-meaning, conceited intellectuals -- whether Democrats or Republicans -- try to hijack the site's memorial out of the conviction that it's of earth-shattering importance for the rest of us to Hear What We Your Intellectual Betters Have To Say. At Ground Zero, after all, the earth has already been shattered. It can speak for itself.

I expect my representatives, and indeed all of my fellow Americans, to do everything in their power to ensure that Ground Zero will not be turned into a soapbox, for Republicans or for Democrats, for the peace movement or for the Christian Right, for anybody at all -- except for the NYPD and the NYFD, and of course the heroic and innocent dead of 9/11. They earned a soapbox at Ground Zero. Everybody else can have enough respect to keep quiet at least as long as they stand on the site where New York's finest raised their stature to become New York's most glorious.

And to Mr. Tofel and his cohorts: have a little respect for people who have sacrificed more than you are likely ever to be willing to sacrifice, and go do your pontificating someplace else.


Ken Pierce
Austin, Texas

Thursday, June 09, 2005

"Husbands, We're In Trouble" Dept

Discovered in a friend's wife's Outlook Inbox:

This chain letter was started in hopes of bringing relief to other tired and discouraged women. Unlike most chain letters, this one does not cost anything. Just send a copy of this letter to five of your friends who are equally tired and discontented. Then bundle up your husband or boyfriend and send him to the woman whose name appears at the top of the list, and add your name to the bottom of the list. When your turn comes, you will receive 5,625 men. One of them is bound to be better than the one you already have.

At the writing of this letter, a friend of mine had already received 184 men, 4 of whom were worth keeping. REMEMBER -- this chain brings luck. One woman's pit bull died, and the next day she received an NFL offensive tackle. An unmarried woman living with her widowed mother was able to choose between an orthodontist and a successful gynecologist. You can be lucky too, but DO NOT BREAK THE CHAIN! One woman broke the chain, and got her own husband back again.

[names censored]

The Peril

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Arkipelag GULAG

The summer I was eleven or twelve years old -- can't remember which, but it was the summer of Amii Stewart's version of "Knock on Wood," if any disco hound knows what year that was and can subtract 1967 from it -- I went down to spend a week at some sort of gifted-and-talented summer camp at a small college in Ada, Oklahoma. It was a heck of a week, memorable twice over. In the first place, I wrote my first computer program, loading it into a mainframe using punch cards (yes, Princess, your father really is that old).

And in the second place, wandering happily along the aisles of the college bookstore, my eye was caught (I still don't know why) by a book called Cancer Ward, written by some guy who didn't know how to spell "Alexander" properly and had a last name that I would spend the next four years pronouncing as "Solz-HEN-it-sign," as if Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn were some odd breed of chicken. (Southeastern Oklahoma public schools were not exactly notable for their Russian departments.)

I read the whole book at one go; couldn't put it down. I had never read any novel like it. My idea of Russian novels was Dostoyevski and Anna Karenina (magnificent stuff but a different era and a different world), and my idea of "realism" was the entirely unrealistic spiritual masochism of Thomas Hardy. Now I found myself without warning on a peak in an unsuspected literary Darien.

By the time I was an upperclassman in high school, I think that everything Solzhenitsyn had seen published in English up to that point, I had read. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, of course, immediately; and then The First Circle, and The Oak and the Calf, and Prussian Nights (about as successful as translations of poetry usually are, which is to say not very), and I regret to say the highly disappointing and never-again-bothered-with August 1914. Cancer Ward remains my favorite; but it is not his greatest work.

His most remarkable accomplishment is, I think without doubt, the peerless and indeed astonishing work, The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956: an experiment in literary investigation. The man is a novelist, not a historian; and rarely has any situation been less conducive to historical investigation than the situation of a non-Party member in Soviet Russia. And of course he doesn't pretend to objectivity. After all, for the unforgivable crime of criticizing Stalin in a letter from the front lines in World War II, he spent 11 years in prison camps and exile (my first knowledge of Kazakhstan, which has become my heart's home, arose from Cancer Ward and One Day and Gulag and Solzhenitsyn's years in Ekibastuz and Kok-Terek). There were, naturally, those in American universities who were quick to dismiss him as an ax-grinding amateur crank who could unfortunately write well enough to have an unhealthy influence on the gullible.

But, as has become all too frequently the case when American academia is involved, the gullible were those who believed the academics. When Anne Appelbaum's widely lauded Gulag: A History was published -- a book which I think at present has to be considered the authoritative Western book on the subject -- Steven Merrit Miner's review in The New York Times had this to say:

Applebaum's book weighs in heavily in support of Solzhenitsyn on almost every point, and her account is backed not only by a careful use of the vast memoir literature but also by a thorough mining of the long-closed Soviet archives. Most important, she supports Solzhenitsyn's central argument: that the gulag was not some incidental Stalinist accretion to Lenin's visionary concept of Socialism. The cancer of police terror was embedded in the original DNA of Lenin's creation, "an integral part of the Soviet system," in Applebaum's words.

So Solzhenitsyn turns out to be a bloody good chronicler, even without a Ph.D. from an accredited history department, despite what the fellow-travelers were saying back when I was in college in the late '80's. But wait, there's more! -- Solzhenitsyn also happens to be one of the twentieth century's five or ten greatest literary geniuses.

So he does the next-to-impossible, even in translation: for three volumes he lays out, inexorably, eloquently, devastatingly, unflinchingly, some of the greatest horrors any human beings have ever inflicted upon their own kind. The interrogations, the charges, the beatings, the starvation rations, the hard labor in the middle of the Siberian winters -- it's all here, one heart-rending vignette after another, the result of thirty years' obsessive determination that the stories of the zeks (political prisoners) would not be forgotten and that the Soviet regime would be held accountable, told with all the power and detail and passion of the most golden Russian tongue of the twentieth century.

Yet, astonishingly, the book can be read all the way through, despite the horror. For at the core of all of Solzhenitsyn's writing is the bone-deep conviction that the human spirit ultimately is triumphant. The bitterly hilarious chapter in which Solzhenitsyn parodies an anthropologist who has just discovered the heretofore unknown zek "tribe" is really not quite like anything else I can ever remember reading. And then Solzhenitsyn begins to tell of the escapes -- most of the ones he tells us about end badly, of course, because how would Solzhenitsyn have ever heard the details of the escape if he hadn't been told by the escapee himself, after recapture and return to the gulag? But in the creativity and indomitability of these glorious failures we see the indubitable evidence that there had to be at least some people who got out and stayed out. And then there were the camp rebellions, all of which ultimately ended in defeat, but which were tributes to the human spirit all the same and presaged the eventual collapse of the regime.

What comes through most clearly (as in all Solzhenitsyn's prison writings) is simply how superior were so many of those in the camps to those of the apparat. You see, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was proud of having been a zek and considered that the experience had changed him and made him a much better person than he could ever have been as the sort of person who could find a way to go along and get by, and by the time you read the last words of Volume III, you understand at least a little of why he held that conviction so fiercly. I have tried to explain to my acquaintances here in the U.S. that Stalin took most of the smart Russians and practically all of the devout and honest and good-hearted ones, and shipped 'em out of Russia into places like Kazakhstan, in one of history's great unintentional eugenics experiments. The Kazakhs you deal with in a former gulag city like Karaganda are apt to be good side effects of Stalin's wholesale exportation of the best and the brightest out onto the Kazakh steppes. But my first meeting with those resourceful and courageous grandparents of today's generation didn't come in 2003 in Karaganda. It came back in '78 or '79 when I got to know Oleg Kostoglotov in the pages of Cancer Ward, and Ivan and Alyosha and Gopchik in One Day, and Gleb and Lev in The First Circle, and then Solzhenitsyn himself without a fictional mask in The Oak and the Calf, and then I walked through the gates of The Gulag Archipelago and into the whole nine circles of the gulag hell, and found there the world of the zeks whose human spirit is the unexpected light at the deepest heart of the trilogy.

For an American, to read The Gulag Archipelago (unless you are, like those '80's fellow-travelers, desperate to hide your eyes from the truth at any cost) is to be deeply shaken, profoundly moved, and permanently changed.

You see, it turns out that A.I. -- that is, Aleksandr Isaevich -- really did tell the truth about the gulag, after all.

I was going to talk about The Gulag Archipelago but got distracted...

Man, when these Amnesty International guys decided to jump the shark, they went for the moon, didn't they? Wow.

Okay, look, obviously the charge is grotesque to any person who knows even the slightest smidgeon of truth about the gulags, much less than to persons such as myself who have read Solzhenitsyn's Архипелаг ГУЛАГ, which is to say, The Gulag Archipelago. And most especially it is absurd and grossly insulting to those who, like my friends Marina and Yessengeli, originally read the thing in samizdat while living in a remote town on a forty-degree-below-zero steppe surrounded by "too many camps to count" (as Yessengeli told me a little while before introducing me to his mother, a former political prisoner under Stalin).

But I have to agree with Glenn Reynolds, who says, "[Amnesty seems] to have joined the rather lengthy list of those suffering from Bush Derangement Syndrome. Bush's ability to induce that state in his critics, and thereby cause them to blow their own credibility, is astonishing, and surely one of his greatest strengths."

You know, that really is true, though I'd never really thought of it that way before. As I've explained to my kids many times, hate makes you weak and stupid. And it has been a long, long time since there was any President who inspired more mouth-frothing, brain-destroying hatred in his opponents than does George Bush. Here is a man whose policies, especially domestic, are eminently open to rational criticism -- but the Almighty Himself couldn't keep most of Bush's critics rational.

Look, I thought Republicans lost their mental grip over Clinton. I mean, Clinton certainly was the very embodiment of "rich white trash" and somebody I'd go to considerable lengths to keep away from my children or other impressionable persons, and I have nothing but contempt for the man's character. But hey, I don't fantasize about his death, and I think there were at least a few Arkansas men who died without his having a hand in it or Arkansas women who were molested without his having a, um, part in it, shall we say. And I'm not sure some of the Republicans I knew would be able to stay with me on those last few points.

But now I understand that before The W Years, I only thought I'd seen politically motivated hatred. The Shrub could be beaten by any decently competent mainstream candidate, should in fact have been beated in '04 -- but by the time his enemies are through convincing any remotely middle-of-the-road person that they are clinically insane, they've alienated just enough swing voters for him to come sailing triumphantly through.

The man gets to run against first Al Gore and then John Kerry, two of the worst candidates since...well, come to think of it, since Michael Dukakis; and Kerry's most viable primary opponent was the even-more-impossible-to-take-seriously Howard Dean; so maybe this is a fundamental Democratic Party problem. Can we get a new opposition party, please? One with grown-ups in its positions of leadership? There's too much I dislike about party-line Republicanism for me to be comfortable with elections like the last one, in which for the first time in my life I found myself voting for W instead of against him. Something has to be done...and something tells me Howard Dean and Markos Zúniga aren't too likely to be moving the Dems toward rationalism and civility anytime soon.