Thursday, October 28, 2004

Why We're Not Taken Seriously

As we watch the climax of the presidential race with awe and terror, we shouldn't forget the other races being decided. Louisiana's long-time Senator John Breaux is retiring, and the three leading candidates to replace him are David Vitter, Republican, and Chris John and John Kennedy, both Democrats. Under the Louisiana system, if any candidate polls over 50% at the election, he wins outright. If not, a runoff is held between him and the next highest vote getter. Vitter is the only one with a chance of making 50%, and Kennedy and John are neck and neck well below him, so each of them is fighting madly to both keep Vitter below 50% and knock the other Dem down so he himself will be the guy in the runoff against Vitter.

In a state with "Sportsman's Paradise" as its motto, it's not surprising that the Times-Picayune reports that Chris John is playing up his rural good ole' boy roots, talking about growing up in Crowley fishing and hunting ducks. He even challenged the other two to go fishing and hunting with him, to see who'd do better. (Vitter, a dedicated indoorsman, smiled and declined.)

Well, with Kerry out there shooting geese to show what a he-man he is, none of this is really surprising. Then you get to this, which is surprising.

It's unclear how much John's appeal to hunters and fishers will pay off at the polls next month. But a coalition of animal rights activists is trying to make him pay for being what it calls "the go-to guy in Congress for the cockfighting industry."

HumaneUSA's political action committee launched a TV ad campaign in the state's major media markets this week and will send out three rounds of direct mail highlighting John's support for the bloody sport. The group said the direct-mail campaign will target 300,000 independent and Democratic women.

...John defended it as an economic boost to his rural, southwestern Louisiana House district and a local cultural phenomenon akin to NASCAR racing...
I beg your pardon??? Cockfighting? The one where they strap razor-sharp steel tusks to the roosters' claws, just to make it even more gory? Makes one wonder if John's checked the century lately. Maybe he doesn't realize he's running for U.S. Senator, not Sheriff of Nottingham. I read a defender of this activity (I won't call it a sport) saying that fighting is natural to gamecocks, and that keeping them from fighting would be the real cruelty. I'm sorry, no. In the wild, gamecocks, like many animals, fight to establish superiority, social standing, and (sorry, but I have to) the pecking order. The loser of the contest either signals submission or just runs away. The birds are not trapped in a pit with no way out except by a bloody battle that will leave one bird dead, maybe both.

This is what I was talking about in this post's title. All across the country people roll their eyes at the phrase "Louisiana politics," and things like this are the reason why. Chris John aspires to the Senate, and may even get there, despite championing one of the most cruel and barbaric blood sports that are still permitted to exist in America, if just barely. Why wouldn't the rest of the country think we're raving loons?

Consider one final point. If you consider the historic list of major presidential candidates, both winners and losers, you find that an awful lot of them were previously state governors. Look at recent presidents: Carter, Reagan, Clinton, Bush II, ex-governors all. The only exception is Bush I, and since he came in on Reagan's coattails, his case is ambiguous.

Since Huey Long considered challenging FDR in the 1930s, before he got assassinated, to my knowledge not one single Louisiana governor has even thought about running for president. If you mention the idea to a savvy Louisianan they just laugh in your face. It's because we all know that in Louisiana what is permitted of major politicians, hell, even expected of them, would be the kiss of death anywhere else in the country. In the New Hampshire primary and the Iowa caucuses, a Louisiana governor wouldn't poll 2%.

Why is it like this? I'm sure there are many historical answers for that. I'm sure it's also in part because the politicians know what their constituents want, and give it to them: the best damn political theater in the whole country.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Some Music, Please

Even in the middle of litigation and a critical election, one cannot live all the time at a fever pitch. October in New Orleans is Jazz Awareness Month, a program started years ago by the Louisiana Jazz Federation, whose board I was on until it finally collapsed. (I didn't do it, I swear.) Even with the LJF dead and gone, keeping JAM going has been seen a worthwhile thing to do by several local music and cultural agencies. One of the most popular events is the "Nickel-A-Dance" programs at Cafe Brasil on Frenchmen Street just outside the French Quarter. These are free programs of traditional jazz at 4 pm Sunday afternoons during October.

Tomorrow I'm going down to hear Evan Christopher, who is certainly one of the hottest rising stars in New Orleans jazz today, and at 35 he's one of the youngest top level players in a field that desperately needs new blood. He's a superb clarinetist with fabulous technique, imagination, and taste. He's also very knowledgeable in the history of the music, largely self-educated as most of us interested in this field have to be. He got himself in a little bit of trouble a while back with some of the older, long-term fans of this music. He wrote an article about traditional New Orleans clarinetists for The Jazz Archivist, the journal of the Tulane Jazz Archive, that some felt was insufficiently respectful of earlier generations of clarinetists. (I personally didn't see anything wrong with it.) So I suppose that means he has the healthy ego that you have to have if you're going to presume to make your living playing music.

Also, it doesn't hurt that he's one of the most gorgeous men I've ever laid eyes on. He grew up in Long Beach, California, I believe of mixed European and Hawaiian ancestry. The Caucasian/Asian mix very often produces children of stunning facial beauty. But any pineapple queens reading this will have to be disappointed. He has an equally gorgeous girlfriend that he's absolutely devoted to.

So it will be nice to get out of the house and go hear some live music. I've heard Evan play before -- even hired him myself once for a concert I was producing -- but only with small ensembles, never a full band. Should be good. Of course, I won't be entirely ignoring my job situation. Far from it, as the place will be filled with trad jazz fans, many of whom I know, and who are my natural constituency and support base. That should be interesting.

Monday, October 18, 2004

The Costs of Incivility

Varifrank has an excellent post today about the minimums of civility that should be observed when commenting on people's blogs, especially when commenting on something you don't agree with. As he puts it, it's the difference between disagreeing and being disagreeable, between showing a basic degree of respect and not, and I think he's spot on. This is why I've never believed in commenting anonymously on blogs. I think it keeps you accountable when you know you can be tracked back to your e-mail address, even if it's a hotmail account and they can trace you no further.

However -- to scale this up a bit -- I'm also concerned about the lack of basic respect on a much larger scale, up to the office of President of the United States. Shall we talk about that? Oh, let's!

Let me add in passing, though, that in this crucial election, national security has to be held as the most pressing and urgent issue. So I was greatly heartened to read two articles by the extremely bright centrist commentator Michael J. Totten. He gave himself two very difficult assignments, to make the hawkish case for Kerry and the liberal case for Bush. They are both excellent pieces, and give me reason to hope that no matter which way the election goes, it will not be a national security disaster for the country. Recommended!

Okay now, I'm old enough that I can remember (barely) the assassination of President Kennedy, so I've seen 'em come, and I've seen 'em go. But it seems to me that it's only the last couple of administrations which were seen by their opponents as not just regrettable errors on the part of a duped electorate (the losing side always feels that way), but as outright illegitimate.

This seems new to me. I certainly remember the Reagan years vividly, and there were plenty of people who were appalled at the idea of a retired actor as president, and who despised and even feared his policies. But no one questioned his legitimacy, especially as he won both times so decisively, and he was always shown basic respect, even by those who virulently disagreed with him. (In fact, that was one of the few things that could get his goat. You could disagree with, even make fun of Ronald Reagan all you wanted, and he'd laugh along with you. But a show of disrespect towards the President of the United States was one of the few things that could make him lose his temper in public.)

With the election of Bill Clinton this seems to have changed. It wasn't just that the Republicans hated having lost the election. It was that they just could not accept the idea that That Man was in the White House. That bubba, that snake-oil salesman, that liar, that cad, that . . . Well, love him or hate him, you know the list.

Likewise after Bush was elected in 2000, it became the Democrats who just could not accept That Man being in the Oval Office. That moron, that chimp, that sock puppet, that warmonger, that . . . Again, why go on? Of course, the election mess in Florida exacerbated the problem, but I'm not sure it created it.

And so here we are again, mere days from another election, one which looks like it may be another squeaker. If Bush wins by a hair, not much will change. Those who couldn't accept him before will still not accept him. But if Kerry (supply your own epithets) wins by a hair, will we just see the "could not accept" baton passed to the other team yet again? I read a lot of political blogs and websites, and the virulence aimed at Kerry by many conservatives is just amazing. I truly worry that a lot of them would be unable to accept a Kerry presidency. What is most disturbing is the hint that in the "can not accept" camp might be a substantial amount of the U.S. military.

This is dangerous, goddammit!! And I'm far from the first to notice it. Back in July Dean Esmay asked if conservatives would take a pledge he himself was prepared to take, to vow to support the president, let him truly be "my president," no matter who won. It sparked a lot of discussion on his blog, including a sorrowful comment by one guy who feared that the days of respecting the office are over.

I really don't want to see three presidents in a row of both major parties seen as unacceptable and illegitimate by the losing side. If we get out of the habit of thinking that the president you opppose really is the president, and must be respected as the president, even as you work your ass off to make sure he only serves one term, then we will have lost something very valuable, and precious to the successful functioning of our country. And it will be very hard to get it back.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Fighting for our values!

AP -- Fri Oct 15,10:28 PM ET -- WASHINGTON - Several thousand conservative Christians gathered on the National Mall on a rainy Friday to promote homosexual promiscuity. . . .

What? You mean that's not what they really wanted?

Friday, October 15, 2004

Still Misunderstood

Varifrank has an excellent far-reaching article on his blog about the American character, political system, and so forth, stemming from his frequent need to try and explain these things to his foreign co-workers. I find it fascinating, especially since, like most Americans I suspect, I've been conditioned all my life to feel just a wee bit inferior in the face of educated foreigners, especially Europeans. They speak languages! They read literature! And debate it in cafes! The implicit, and sometimes quite explicit, corollary is that us poor, pathetic Americans are soooo ignorant, soooo oblivious to any country or culture but our own. (I'm getting an earload of this crap right now in comments on this blog, from a self-important jerk in Australia who thinks he's an expert on the US of A. I doubt he's ever been here.)

So with all this global eye-rolling over those poor Uhmurrcan rubes, you would expect that the other people in the world would have a pretty good handle on us. That's what's interesting. They don't know jack shit about us!! This despite all the so-called American cultural hegemony. Maybe that's the problem, that our entertainment industry is so good and convincing that people think it's reality, when it's just showbiz, folks, not reality. Varifrank's colleagues are incredulous when he tries to describe something as simple as the separation of powers. A typical American would be incredulous if you suggested we should do it any other way.

Along the same lines, and highly recommended is Bruce Bawer's piece in the Hudson Review, "Hating America." It's largely a review of several recently published (or republished) books on the subject, but it's also a personal reflection on his experiences since moving to Norway in 1998. He moved there looking forward to living among the educated, sophisticated Europeans of legend. As he got to know them better, he found that sometimes, Europeans can far outdo us in raw provincialism. My favorite is the distinguished, respected, sixtyish scholar who said to Bawer at a literary event that while she'd never been to California, she had visited San Francisco.

Mr. Varifrank has admitted feeling a bit self-conscious about his limitations as a writer. But if can write stuff like that, he goes on my blogroll

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Election Concerns

Stephen Green has some serious and valid concerns about how troubling this election is getting. And it has nothing to do with who wins, but about what's happening to the process of elections in this country. Or what's being done to it.

I worry too. What it calls to my mind is when, back in the 1980s, Ferdinand Marcos was finally ousted from power in the Phillipines, after trying so clumsily to rig an election that it became an international joke. Eventually he was out, and was replaced as president by Corazon Aquino, the widow of Marcos's most prominent opponent, a man whose murder many suspected was ordered by Marcos.

It was well and good that Marcos was gone, and that Aquino had been elected by a truly fair election process. But it was not until the second election, and the smooth transfer of power to a new president, that I began to feel I could relax and feel confident about the fate of the Phillipines, a country I cared about more than most due to family ties.

Which echoes Stephen's point. Confidence in the election process and the results it produces is a precious and fragile thing, something that takes time to create and which can be quickly eroded. The possibility that we, of all nations on earth, might be in danger of backsliding is just unacceptable.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Will We Never Learn?

This sort of thing depresses the hell out of me. Nothing, but nothing, horrifies me as much as the sight of anti-semitism on the march in Europe, especially in England. It seems that "Never again!" is being slowly replaced by, "Yes, again."

For centuries, Jews have looked up and asked, "Dear G-d, haven't we suffered enough?" What His answer has been, I do not know, but the answer from those around them has been, "No. You haven't suffered enough. As long as you live, you will not have suffered enough. Why? Because you are who you are, and that's enough. Because you are you."

Only now, they're adding Americans to that evil list, that of those who will never have suffered enough, so long as they live and are who they are. Jews and Americans. And please don't think that we can solve this little problem just by putting John Kerry in the White House. Whether he would make a better president than Bush or not, this is a trend which predates the current administration by years.

And in case you're wondering, no I'm not Jewish.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Doonesbury: Losing it

Garry Trudeau's Doonesbury has jumped so many sharks he must be trying for a record, like jumping one specimen of every known species. Take for example the recent plot development in which B.D. loses his lower left leg in combat in Iraq. Trudeau stretched it out for several strips over several days, to maximize the dramatic tension and the eventual impact when you found out what had actually happened. When I read it I thought, boy, what a transparent and pathetic ploy to try to turn people against the war. By inflicting this injury on a character people have known for over thirty years, he was clearly trying to stir up emotions of sorrow and grief, anger and doubt, that people feel when real friends or family members get hurt or killed.

But B.D. is just a cartoon character. He's just lines and letters on a piece of paper. He feels no pain, knows no fear, will face no frustration at having his life's plans overturned. He's fictional. And to the extent that people do identify with him, consider that this was not a terrible misfortune in a theater of war, which is what a real injury to a real soldier is. Trudeau has absolute, godlike control over the fate of his characters. This didn't just "happen" to B.D., it was intentionally done to him by his creator, who deliberately mutilated one of his permanent characters to make a political point. A bit cynical, I think.

That was then. This is now. Yesterday's strip began by Mark Slackmeyer directly addressing any "undecided" readers out there, and offering to help out with "our Honest Voices Reading List®, a roundup of indispensible writings from conservative sources." His dialogue balloon in the next frame actually ends with a long and complex URL in very small type. If you follow the link, you find an article in The Union Leader by President Eisenhower's son John, titled "Why I Will Vote For John Kerry For President." Then an unfunny joke in the final frame, and out.

In today's strip, there's another URL in Mark's first dialogue balloon. Obviously this is to be this week's shtick. He's then challenged by an anon woman who says, "But I don't want to read something from a liberal defeatist perspective." "No worries, security mom," Mark says, and reassures her that this piece is "by a reporter from the archconservative Wall Street Journal." It turns out to be a letter from WSJ reporter Farnaz Fassihi, stationed in Baghdad, writing her friends about her fears, about how she feels like she's under house arrest, can't go out except in an armored car, doesn't dare speak English in public, about how pessimistic the Iraqis are, and so forth.

Now, I won't question the sincerity of her reporting, except to observe that the situation in Iraq is so chaotic that you can get a wide variety of "original" reporting giving very different pictures, including that of some well known blogs by native Iraqis who are far from pessimistic. And I won't comment on Trudeau's by now standard technique of posing as an impartial observer and then throwing things at you as anti-Republican as they come. We expect that by now.

No, what struck me this morning as I read the second strip was the utter bizarreness of what Trudeau's trying to do. He's trying to blog in the comics page!! That's what blogs do, give a comment or referral, then a link to the original so the reader can check it out. Except that blogs generally aren't as dishonest as these two strips. Any blogger who consistently did this, suggest that he's linking you to an article of a particular political bent only to send you to one exactly the opposite, would quickly get a reputation for not playing fair, and his readership would vanish.

Besides, did no one tell Trudeau how difficult it would be for readers to follow his leads? For that first article by John Eisenhower, the URL was this:

Now you, dear reader, can just click on that and get the article. I had to enter it into IE's address box character by character. I've been working with computers at home and at work for over twenty-three years, and when I tried entering it I accidentally transposed the last two numbers and got an entirely different article. How many people, do you think, will make that or even worse mistakes and just give up, totally pissed off at Trudeau? A lot, I think.

Let's see, Great White, Hammerhead, Blue, Mako. . . . .

Update, 10/14: This is unbelieveable. Today's strip, in which Mark will offer the views of a "distinguished Republican legislator," contains one of the worst nightmare URLs I've ever seen:

Now, I've deliberately disabled it as a link so that you can have the fun of trying to enter that accurately into the address box. I've even made it a little easier for you as the text size on your screen is much bigger than the font used in the newspaper. Go ahead! Try it! (Cutting and pasting not allowed. That's cheating.)

Saturday, October 09, 2004


I don't believe this. After fleeing Hurricane Ivan, after driving for thirteen hours to find refuge in Texas, after getting fucking fired for doing so (at least that's what they say, I'm not sure I believe them), now THIS! Another storm, Tropical Storm Matthew, and unlike Ivan, which suddenly turned away, this one really IS coming right down our throat.

At least the forecasters say that with this one, there shouldn't be any really dangerous winds, which is a little comfort. Just rain, rain, more rain, still some rain, yet more rain, power goes out, raining still, rain, rain, rain.

Now, I'm a reasonable man, but this is simply beyond all bounds of responsible behavior. I think it's high time for the management to start exercising some authority here and start addressing the clear problems with the hurricane staffing at the operational level. I mean, anyone can see they're out of control, and I think drug and alcohol testing would not be out of line either.


Home Improvement

Finally starting to figure this thing out a little. Although this template didn't come with a pre-formatted section for a blogroll, I figured out how to add one, and a few links.

And if anybody ever does read this, you really shouldnt miss the Prelinger Video Archive. It is the most extraordinary online collection of hundreds, if not thousands, of obscure films from the middle of the 20th century, all available for free online viewing in their entirety. Things like industrial training films, obscure documentaries, old TV commercials. (The original "See the USA in your Chevrolet!" is among the most popular.)

One that I found utterly fascinating was a two-part training film for police officers on how to safely and humanely subdue a mentally disturbed individual. It was shot in the early 1960s in New Orleans, where I live, using real New Orleans cops. I even recognized some of the neighborhoods. And yes, the Central Grocery on Decatur in the Quarter really has been there forever, looking exactly the same.

So, my mythical and non-existent reader, go check it out.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

By the Beard of the Prophet!

Well, looky here. Take a look at the next post and see what sort of campaign signs that are starting to show up in uptown New Orleans. BTW, the credit line is, "Paid for by Kerry-bin Laden `04."

Vote for us! Posted by Hello

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Okay, okay, politics

It's a pity there's not HTML code for a deep, frustrated sigh, because I need it. I've never voted for a Republican presidential candidate in my life. (Except for Gerald Ford, and I have no explanation for that.) But while I keep waiting for the Kerry folks to give me a good reason to vote against Dubya, they keep fumbling the ball.

  • They keep describing the Iraq war as a "unilateral" act by the US. "Uni" means "one," which means they're saying we decided to go it alone. So take a look at the Emperor's site, and look at all those flags in the right column. Each one represents a country that has thrown in on our side. Excuse me, but I count thirty-two of them. Thirty-two is more than one. True, some of them, like the Dominican Republic, are not the heaviest hitters around. But some of them are major players, like England and Australia. And shouldn't we be encouraging the smaller countries of the world to help out in the defense of freedom, rather than sneering at them as being bribed or coerced? Oh, but wait. I don't see France. I don't see Germany. Well, didn't France effectively sell out the United Nations, where it has a permanent seat on the Security Council, by declaring it would never under any circumstances go to war against Iraq to enforce the sanctions it had been voting for for ten years? And as for desperately needing German might beside us, for the last sixty-odd years, hasn't the bulk of Germany's military defense been provided by us?? With allies like these, well, you finish it.
  • Then there's the "rush to war" idea, that the Bush White House charged off to war like Teddy Roosevelt going up San Juan Hill. Excuse me again, but did I dream 2002? After declaring an intent to go after Saddam, didn't we spend nearly an entire year practically begging the UN and the Security Council (read France) to join us in an official international coalition? Only after all this time did we finally give up, form our own coalition, and act. If anything, we might have been better off if we had given up on the UN sooner. It would have been a lot easier on our troops if they could have gone in during winter, rather than waiting till the hot weather was just getting geared up.
  • Finally, the trump card. There was, after all, Colin Powell on television, making his pitch to the Security Council about all the prohibited weapons of mass destruction we would find in Iraq. And we go in, and where are they? BUSH LIED, PEOPLE DIED!! NO WMDs!! Oh, please. For one thing, it was always about WMDs or WMD programs, and we certainly found evidence of those. And sarin gas is a WMD, and we found some of that, too. Anyway, go back and read point #2. I repeat, one fucking year between saying we were going after him because of WMDs and when we actually did so, all because of delays at the UN. And Saddam did what during this time? Nothing? Anybody got any figures on military truck traffic between Iraq and, oh, say, Syria during this period? I can't help picturing a police chief deciding to take out the most notorious drug dealer in his city, then staging a fucking press conference six days before to announce his intentions. Then his cops show up on schedule to find a spotlessly clean house with the dealer sitting at his kitchen table, placidly drinking tea, not a shred of evidence to be found. Gosh, what a surprise.

Come on, Team Kerry. Can't you do better than this?

Blogging deeper and deeper

With nothing better to do (or else to do, pretty much), I'm looking into the things bloggers do to promote and support their authorial efforts. Just signed up with Technorati, which I had heard of before but never paid much attention to. It will be interesting to see what comes of that.

Currently Technorati says it is tracking 4,112,941 blogs. I presume this means my current ranking is 4,112,942.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Needed: File Cabinet

Considering all the problems I've been having with people at work, my partner is suggesting that maybe I need a filing system like the private filing system of the great composer Arnold Schönberg. After fleeing his native Austria after the Nazis came to power, he eventually ended up teaching music and composition at UCLA until his death in 1951. My partner A started teaching there as a young composer at the end of the 60s, and some of the older faculty remembered when they had been young grad students working as assitants to Schönberg, and of course they told stories about him.

Schönberg kept in his private office a little 3x5 card filing cabinet, with three drawers. These were filled with name and address cards for all the people he had to deal with. The drawers were labeled in German with three categories: Friends, Business, and "Schufte." Scoundrels. On many occasions his assitants observed him, after ending a phone call in heated tones, storm across to the cabinet, find a card in one drawer, move it to another drawer, and slam the drawer shut with great satisfaction.

After he died, they naturally examined the contents of these drawers with immense interest. Quite a few people were to be found listed in all three.