Meta Debating Iraq with Kurt Andersen, Part II

Posted on July 4, 2007. Filed under: Humor, Iraq, Jokes, Main Stream Media, News, Politics |

The Great Pseudo-Debate
Meta-Debating the Iraq War with Kurt Andersen, Part I

I want to be clear that I’m focusing on Andersen’s piece because I care about this issue and because I share many of the same frustrations as he does about Iraq. This issue definitely needs to be debated. In short, his piece was a catalyst for me to write mine.

So what is bothering Andersen? If I understand him correctly it’s that the debate the presidential candidates are having about Iraq is, in his words, fake. The fake debate is “all about the comparatively minor, near-term details of the American military withdrawal-cum-redeployment.” The real debate, in his mind, begin when we all acknowledge that we are stuck in Iraq for many years.

Leaving aside what I think about that, it’s worth pointing out that the candidates debate as they do because of the way the party politics works in this country. At this stage of the presidential campaign, candidates pander to the most extreme members of their party. For the Democrats, these are the folks who would like to raise our taxes to the moon and lead us to nirvana. Those who oppose them will be sent to a penal colony where they will be taught to love and share. For the Republicans, these are the folks who want to crucifix and a camera over everyone’s four-poster. They want to live in a nation of door-to-door bible salesmen (“I’d like to talk to you a little about the Lord. [insert uncomfortably long pause] Is this a good time?”) and appoint Jesus as Secretary of Defense. If the candidates decide to ignore these folks, they won’t get nominated.

During the last presidential campaign, the Democratic Party choose Kerry when the “base” really wanted Howard Dean. Heroically but hilariously they choose a man who could pull off the amazing stunt of telling everyone exactly what they wanted to hear. Whereas Dean was blunt about his opposition to the war, Kerry was “complicated.” He was able to please the far left by talking tough about Bush’s management of war without committing himself to ending the war. It seemed to satisfy everyone in the tent, and it almost worked. In the end though, Kerry tripped himself up in his own rhetorical calisthenics (“I was for the war before he was against it”).

So the far left of the party held their noses and nominated Kerry, even though they were wildly against his politics. He was rich. He was a suit. He was an aristocrat. They had to keep from laughing when they saw him, dressed in a blue sport jacket, chatting up Iowan farmers in a diner about the price of hogs or seeds or manure. They wanted Dean, and if they couldn’t have him they would have happily exhumed Che’s body instead. They had to muzzle themselves and ask others to restrain them during Kerry’s acceptance speech. It was a selfless sacrifice for the Party, of course. The idea was to pick a candidate who could potentially be palatable to enough swing voters to take the White House. They didn’t like Kerry’s politics, but they thought he could win. Instead, the Democrats lost the election, and got two big conservatives appointed to the Supreme Court.

In this election cycle, abortion is basically off the table–a decided negative for the Democrats. It was a great wedge issue for them. With that alone, they captured the politically active “suburban soccer mom” market. Now the fate of a federally protected right to an abortion is in the hands of the Supreme Court–and it will probably be overturned. After that, the issue goes back to the states, where it will remain a local issue for years to come. But the Democrats still have the War. And it’s not just the War–it’s all the little villains who can be trotted out. Dick Cheney will have a staring role. And they’ll be global warming talk a plenty. Those are their aces in the hole, so to speak. Aren’t you excited?

The Republican side was far simpler. In George W. Bush, the far right got someone who truly believed in what they stood for, who wasn’t pandering to them, and if they had to hold their noses about some of Bush’s big government spending plans like prescription drug coverage and overhauling Social Security (another “entitlement!”) or the fact that he was candy-ass on immigration, they were willing to split the difference. They love him on stem cells, even if no one understands what the fuss is all about (“You see these cells over here? Take ’em. These cells you may not touch. Why? Because they come from over here, that’s why!”)

If this is bothering Andersen, I say just wait until the real campaign gets going.

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The Mind Scrambler

Posted on June 30, 2007. Filed under: New Jersey, News, The Sopranos |

THERE has always been a part of me that dislikes amusement parks. Despite the festive atmosphere of the average park, I always find the noise, the dirt, the bad (but expensive) food, the filthy restrooms, the sweltering parking lots, the interminable lines, the predictable rides, and the toothless, often savage-looking faces of some of the ride operators disgusting. Then there is the behavior of some of the guests. I remember once walking with my young son in a park and looking on in horror as a man removed his ribbed wife-beater undershirt in front of us. Tattoos covered every inch of this man’s body, which was, incidentally, covered with wall-to-wall hair. My son thought the man was the character “Grover” from Sesame Street. “No,” I said. “You’re just in New Jersey and this is how one group of your fellow citizens dress and decorate their bodies. You are never to emulate this man. I would prefer that you forget that you ever saw him.” When his cell phone chimed out the latest 50 Cent single, he spoke into with a mouth full of gold teeth. And I forgot to mention the games of chance. These stupid games are, of course, insulting to anyone with an average level of intelligence. The prizes, such as they are, are inevitably of the lowest quality. But since almost no one ever wins it hardly matters. The whole experience is like participating in a confidence game, and bearing witness to a freak show, which is, of course, part of the history of amusement parks to begin with. So much for a wholesome day with the wife and kids.

What made me think of this? The recent death of a young woman at Playland, an amusement park in Rye, New York. The ride was called “The Mind Scrambler.”

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Posted on June 28, 2007. Filed under: Humor, Jokes, News |

The fashion industry lost one of its own yesterday. According to the New York Times, Liz Claiborne, “the designer of indefatigable career clothes for professional women entering the workforce en masse beginning in the 1970s,” is dead. She was 78 years old. Fashion insiders say that a bevy of events are being planned to honor Claiborne’s contributions to fashion. Some of her largest accounts have paid tribute. One seller, Ajodha, who sells knockoffs of Claiborne’s “Everyday Classics” line on the corner of 7th Avenue and 49th Street, has pledged to refrain from selling the goods for one week. Says Ajodha “She [Claiborne] was a great lady. And a very generous lady. I do good business. I make nice living. I sell “Bi-Stretch Suiting Blazer,” “Fine Gauge Silk Blend,” “Sloane Twill Cropped Pants,” everything. At good prices. She will be missed. I stop selling her clothes one week. For one week, I honor her. At end of one week I’ll be having a special memorial sale at even cheaper price. I can’t hardly wait for Fall line.” Another large mover of merchandise, Ace, sells Claiborne’s leather bags, primarily out of the trunk of his Escalade. “I be moving her shit for years. That bitch been good to me, real good–know’m sayin? I buy the shit for 2 and sell it fo 5. I move at least 100 pieces a day. Sheet.” When asked what he might do to honor the designer, Ace shrugged and said that he would consider making a contribution to Claiborne’s rain forest education program in Brazil. “Maybe I send them a few bags too. They made there anyway,” he said.

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Radio Open Source to Close

Posted on June 27, 2007. Filed under: Art, News, Open Source, Politics, Software, Technology |

I first started listening to Christopher Lydon when he hosted a show on NPR in Boston called “The Connection.” I was living in Massachusetts at the time. This was back in the late 90s, before the tech bubble burst. His show was so intelligent and informative that I became a regular listener. After I left New England, I was chagrined to find that his show was not nationally available. But he soon moved on to other things.

What made “The Connection” so great? I think it was Lydon’s openness to new ideas, the great range of his intellectual curiosity, and his ability to listen–not just to his guests–but to everyone. According to my recollection, at least half of each show was reserved for listeners to call in. Lydon demonstrated the power and the joy of listening–and this is still his greatest gift.

I had similar hopes for “Radio Open Source,” Lydon’s current project. The idea behind OS was to allow listeners to contribute to the development of show topics using the Internet. The web site also encouraged listeners to comment on shows. “Radio Open Source” took the format of “The Connection” to the next level of user participation. In that sense, “Radio Open Source” had far more potential than “The Connection.”

The shows I downloaded were as interesting as they were informative. Unfortunately, “Radio Open Source” is shutting down. I hope it gets new funding and it returns this fall. Until then I will pick up the mantle, raise my escutcheon against the fray, unsheath my rapier, carry the standard, beat the bongos…well, let’s not get carried away.

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More Wikileaks…

Posted on June 26, 2007. Filed under: Humor, Jokes, News, Politics |

Since nothing much has been happening over at Wikileaks, I thought that they might want to check out “The Family Jewels,” the fabulous treasure trove of documents that the CIA released this week. I checked them out. According to my understanding, there have been a lot of people who have waited years to get their hands on them.

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iPhone is going to be huge hit!

Posted on June 26, 2007. Filed under: Apple, News, Software, Technology |

I sat on the sidelines while the hype rose about the iPhone. I had my doubts about the design. I still have some. One is about the software keyboard: I don’t know how many users will prefer this feature to the tactile feedback of the little buttons on the Blackberry. I suspect that the iPhone will appeal to the lighter users of keyboards: the heavier users will have a hard time getting used to hitting the glass. My other complaint is with the price: this is really a marketing issue. $499 to $599 for a phone is high. But buyers will be able to rationalize because they are getting an iPod and a high-end cell phone. What throws the iPhone over into hit territory for me are the price plans that were just announced by AT&T: The starting price is about $60.00 for 450 minutes and unlimited data. If I’m reading that right, that means downloading media on iTunes will not count against the 450. I’m guessing that most people pay a lot more than $60/month for cell phone charges.

That said, I’m not buying one. 8GB is too small. And in my view, Verizon is the best carrier in my neck of the woods. I was an ATT customer once, and I had a lot of dropped calls and dead zones. Too many. And guess what? The next version of the phone will probably be announced in a few months–at a lower price point–with more storage space.

Here’s what I’d like to see in version 2.0:

1. Large hard drives: 15, 30GB, 80GB.
2. Allow connections to Airport for broadband (without ATT)
3. Bluetooth connections to external monitors, printers, and keyboards
4. Expandable RAM, smart cards
5. Better camera

Let us replace our desktops!

Check out this FAQ on the iPhone!

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Big Trouble Ahead for Fatah

Posted on June 26, 2007. Filed under: Foreign Policy, News, Politics |

If Hamas is locked out of governing, I predict they will become more radical. If a Palestinian State is created, they will attempt to undermine it with suicide bombings–not in Israel–but in Palestine. It will be tragic, but Hamas is not going to lie down and roll over so easily. A hint of what is to come can be inferred from the words of Ismail Haniyeh, the former prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, as reported here and from Al-Qaeda.

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Magnum @ 60: Paolo Pellegrin at CVZ

Posted on June 23, 2007. Filed under: Art, News, Night Life, Photography, Politics |

Paolo Pellegrin’s photographs of last summer’s war in Lebanon went on display last night at the CVZ Contemporary in New York City. Pellegrin is a member of the elite photography collective Magnum, which is sponsoring a month-long series of exhibitions celebrating its sixtieth anniversary.

Seeing the work in person is an experience (and I’d recommend taking the elevator over tramping up the five steep flights of stairs). It’s harder to dismiss. On the web, we can give photos a second or two of attention and then click–it’s gone forever. In person, a lasting impression remains in one’s memory. My impression was that I was looking at the work of a great photographer with a lot of guts. I tried to to put myself in his shoes, although I don’t think that’s what photojournalists intend their work to do. If it’s fair to generalize, then presumably they want their subjects to be the focus of attention, not themselves. But I can’t help it. I’m compelled to do both. If I am to look at photographs, then I will do so with the awareness that I’m viewing the world through the eyes of another person.

Photographs like Pellegrin’s can lead writers and viewers into areas where language ceases to make sense. For example, Pellegrin’s work is not merely a set of documents–they are works of art. But in what sense can they be said to be beautiful? Body parts? Grief-stricken people? Powerless victims caught in global war between politicians?

This could meander off into a rant about the cruelty of using air power in areas heavily populated with civilians. Large numbers of civilians are always killed in these campaigns. In WWII, my understanding is that very often large numbers of civilian deaths were part of the strategy. Punish the nation. Break their will to fight. Destroy their ability to make munitions. In the case of Lebanon, it seems that Hezbollah made its home among civilians perhaps in order to use them as human shields. I don’t know. It didn’t work.

My wife asked me if I thought that the exhibition would create anti Israel feelings, and I said that it was unlikely to change anyone’s views. People who are anti Israel have whole host of reasons for it already. Anyone who has looked into the matter has seen the photos of body parts and corpses left over when a bus explodes carrying unarmed Israelis. Not so curiously, the burnt body parts of both groups look the same. But there was one photo that may have showed Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, smiling amid the ruins of southern Lebanon–and his gaze seemed demonic. If it was him, what on earth was he smiling about?

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Posted on June 22, 2007. Filed under: Apple, Humor, Jokes, News, Software, Technology |

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Sperm Banks

Posted on June 15, 2007. Filed under: Humor, Jokes, Main Stream Media, News, Technology |

David Brooks’s latest column in the New York Times has been attracting attention in the blogs, and I don’t want to be left behind. I quickly scanned the column, and now I’m gonna throw my two cents in.

Brooks is cranky because in the sperm market, the demand for blond, blue-eyed, intelligent, and athletic people is greater than that of short milquetoasts like himself. Sperm, it seems, now have resumes. Little, bitty, cute resumes. This, combined with the scientific theory that the future of a child is genetically determined, makes it easy to understand why the sperm market behaves as it does.

First, have some pity for syndicated columnists. The work doesn’t pay a lot of money, given the intelligence and education that many nationally syndicated columnists possess. And the worst part of it is that they have to produce copy even when they have nothing to say. We bloggers don’t have that problem because we can write whenever we choose. And we also don’t have to sign our names. It’s phenomenal, really. We write. And we keep our privacy. So give the columnists a break. They do this shit for a living.

Anyway, I liked this column and I thought it was funny. And it’s true. You never hear about a person going to a sperm bank and asking for short, unathletic traits. That doesn’t sell. But consider the possibility that the people who think they’re buying the sperm of a Greek God are actually buying the sperm of a bum or drug addict–the kind of guy who needs to sell his sperm for money. Does a tall, educated, successful, attractive man need to sell his sperm for a few bucks? I imagine that some of the men who need to sell their sperm are probably also “giving” blood–four or five times a week. So take heart David Brooks.

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« Previous Entries
  • Quotes of the Day

    "Writing editorials is like wetting your pants in a blue serge suit. It feels good, but nobody really notices."

    --Jack Germond

    "Famous men and women, by the act of putting themselves on display, whether as politicians, actors, writers, painters, musicians, restaurateurs, or whatever, invite public appraisal. They are all, impressively or pathetically, acting on the presumption that their ideas, their fantasies, their music, their bodies are more original than those of, say, a plumber or a certified public accountant. They are all exercising the impulse, as Mencken put it, ‘to flap their wings in public.’ This is so obvious to the critic–and, I believe, to the ordinary reader or spectator–that it seems hardly worth saying. But resentment of the practice of criticism itself is strong among professional artists (and all Presidents of the United States). There is a psychological type among them that hates critics on principle as parasites or failed performers. This is very natural but surely very childish and, in any country claiming to be civilized, actually anti-social. The existence of critics, good, bad, or indifferent, is a firm clause in the social contract between the governors and the governed in any nation that is not a dictatorship. Public figures should accept with good grace the public response to their invitations to be admired and resist the temptation to retort, except in the face of flagrant malice."

    --Alistair Cooke

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