Sunday, November 21, 2004

Back At It

Haven't touched this blog since Election Day. Of course, many bloggers more prominent and active than I said then, whether they elated or despaired, that's it boys & girls, at this point in time, I'm outta here for a while. Crawling into a cave and pushing a big rock up against the opening. I can't blame them.

But a friend did e-mail me, someone who's coming to visit and pal around with my partner while I'm off on my cruise, and he said he'd read Gumbo Pie, enjoyed it, and would be following it avidly. Yes, YOU, HKJ! So I suppose I should starting throwing my thoughts out into the wind once again, on occasion. Cyberwind, such a thought. Does it flow East, West? North or South? In or out? Upstream or downstream? "Cap'n!! The servers'r gettin' stretched to their limit's by such a strong Nor'Downloader! Unless we get some relief, and we should pray, pray for a Denial of Service, we'll need to luff her t' the upload side, pray God, and wait for the Sun™!!"

My cruise? I'll tell you later.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Down to the Wire

So here it is, time to choose. I've spent every spare moment in recent weeks, sometimes more than I can spare, reading and studying and comparing the candidates, comparing positions and reading all the commentary. I remain deeply, deeply conflicted. (At least about the presidential contest; local races less so.) I've looked at Kerry's domestic proposals, and many of them are genuinely attractive, classic Democratic proposals to improve the lives of the American people. (How he's going to pay for it all I'm a little less certain.) I look at Bush's domestic record, and I'm not happy. Under Bush, the Republicans seem to have abandoned all pretense at standing for fiscal responsibility, with tax cuts that, face it, really are massive give-aways to the rich. The result has been runaway deficits, and even with those deficits Bush has shown no inclination to reign in spending or slow the growth of big government, two things which were supposedly Republican articles of faith for many decades. Not only that, I'm really nervous about what he could do to the makeup of the Supreme Court.

But the thing I keep coming back to is foreign policy, the fate of the world, and what role we will play. The typical Kerry argument on this point is, why would you want to keep in an incompetent team whose actions have led to such disasters in Afghanistan and Iraq? Well, if I saw disasters in Afghanistan and Iraq, this might be persuasive. But I don't.

Afghanistan just had the first presidential election in its history, and despite all the threats and warnings, it was remarkably peaceful. William Safire had a recent column pointing out that while Karzai may have won the race, and even his opponents now concede he won fair and square, the biggest winners were the people of Afghanistan, who have been heroic in their determination to claim ownership of their country. I read of one group of rural Afghan women who had been threatened with death by Taliban sympathizers if they had the temerity to try and vote. Instead of being cowed, they gathered together and through dress, prayer, and tribal ritual all prepared themselves to die that day. Then they went to the polls. Any inconvenience I may face tomorrow is nothing by comparison.

This is a huge and momentous event in Afghanistan, one that Bush can take a lot of credit for. But what about Iraq? Again, I see a lot of moaning and groaning, about quagmires and disasters, but with what justification? Just the other day columnist Bob Herbert was muttering about our troops getting "mauled in the long dark night of Iraq," noting that 1,100 American troops have lost their lives there. Excuse me? 1,100? While I absolutely honor the sacrifice of each and every one of those soldiers, and while I respect and grieve for the pain their families feel, have we lost all historical perspective? Perspective is not hard to find, as Google has the numbers. On June 6, 1944, D-day, at the start of the invasion of Normandy, the best figures we have is that we lost 2,500 American troops verified as killed, maybe 10,000 wounded or missing. That's in one day, in one big battle, in one fairly focused location. In the last year and a half, we conquered a country the size of California, deposed a brutal despot, pacified the country with the exception of a handful of hotspots, began reconstruction of its society and infrastructure, opened up a closed society to the world via the Internet, and turned over sovereignty to an interim government that is planning elections. And in that year and a half, we lost about 4% of the number of troops we lost in the single battle of D-day. That's a staggeringly good casualty rate, and if this is a disaster, may we have more of them.

There are a lot of Iraqis who don't think this is a disaster as well. And because of said opening up through the Internet, they are very eager to tell you about it. Try Healing Iraq, The Mesopatamian, and Iraq the Model as starters. You may find a lot of frank talk about some of the terrible things that are happening, but underlying it all is a strong undercurrent of hope.

No, Iraq is a disaster only if you concede that the terrorists were right in their assessment of us up until 9/11: that we really have gone soft. That we have gone so soft we cannot handle wartime casualties that would have been barely noticeable in previous wars. What concerns me about this election is not just that I would not like to think that we really have become weak and fearful, without any backbone. It's the risk of confirming in the terrorists' eyes that this is the case.

Look at it from their eyes, considering that they don't understand the nuances of our electoral process and are more inclined to think in terms of dynastic power. (As evidence, consider the recent bin Laden tape in which he blithely speaks of Bush I installing his sons as governors and then moving one of them up to president.) So, Bush I goes to war against Islam in the early 90s, and even though he does pretty well, the American people get nervous and depose him. No, that's not quite what happened, but that's what they see. Then after 9/11, Bush's son again goes to war against Islam, does even better, and again the American people get nervous and depose him.

That sends a clear message to the Islamofascists, and a very bad one from our point of view. It says that no matter what a US president does to them, all they have to do is hold out until we the people lose our nerve and depose him, as we inevitably will.

So far we really have used considerable restraint in our military actions. We really have tried to minimize civilian casualties, even at the cost of our own. If we didn't care about civilians, Fallujah would have been a smoking hole in the ground eight months ago, and our enemies know it. The only way restrained tactics can work against such an enemy is if the enemy knows that you are absolutely resolute, that you will keep hitting them and hitting them until the ones that aren't dead just give up and quit.

A sign of irresolution, however, not only emboldens them to keep hanging on, but even encourages them to increase the level of attack. In the end, this is dangerous for us, but disastrous for them, even if they don't fully appreciate it. Push us too hard, and we'll get mad enough to stop being restrained, and then Fallujah will be just a hole in the ground.

In the worst case scenario, the terrorists hold on long enough to get their hands on true WMD, say a suitcase nuke. After 9/11, no one would have been too surprised, or too critical, if we had (as one guy put it) "gone Roman" on Al Qaeda and the country that harbored them. To our credit, we didn't. But if Washington or Boston or Philadelphia were to disappear in a mushroom cloud, we might truly "go postal" as a nation. In that case, Mecca and Medina might wind up plains of molten radioactive glass, and that would be an unmitigated disaster. It's not just that the world would never forgive us. It's that, after the rage wore off, we'd never forgive ourselves.

These seem to be the risks of sending the wrong signals at this terribly dangerous time in history. Though I really cringe at the idea of voting for Bush, I truly fear that electing Kerry would send the most wrong signals possible. If I'm mistaken, you've got 24 hours to convince me.

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.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Prostitution pros & cons (mostly pros)

The linked article (mouse over this post's title) is certainly fascinating and provocative, if not entirely work-safe. It certainly has an arresting first line.
I remember the first time I had sex - I still have the receipt.

The author, Briton Sebastian Horsley, has for his entire adult life, well, since 16 on up, been enjoying (and paying for) the services of prostitutes. He gives his reasons in the article, which is worth dipping into. I don't buy all of his arguments. I think, for example, that he short changes the possibility of true sexual satisfaction within long term relationships. Sure, the sexual fires don't burn as white hot as they did when you'd only known each other for two weeks. But there are advantages to the kind of intimacy that builds only over time, and even in the sex deparment there are advantages to having a partner who knows where all your buttons are and just when to push them.

But I totally agree with Horsley in his contempt for the social stigma our society dumps on anyone who works in the sex industry, especially prostitutes. I have always felt that an honest prostitute was worthy of more respect than a dishonest plumber. I have never personally hired a hustler, but that is because I have never felt any need to. If circumstances in my life changed and I wanted to try it, sure I would. I have known casually a few young men who I knew to be "rent boys," since we're talking British here, and I found them to be perfectly normal, nice guys.

When I was a much, much younger man myself I did visit gay bathhouses a few times. It's a different experience from true prosititution, though related. It's true you are paying for sex, but everyone there is both customer and service provider. Critics of bathhouses always said, "Oh, but it's so impersonal!" Well, yes, that's the point. You are able, as Horsley says, to fall into somebody's arms without falling into his hands. As with visiting a prostitute, the knowledge that there will be no followup liberates you to live this very moment to its fullest. That can lead to an immensely satisfying experience. It doesn't necessarily, but it can.

Prostitution seems to me to embody a basic core of irrationality at its heart. Consider these two scenarios:

A -- I fix your car because you're a friend of mine and I like you. I do a thoroughly competent job, and in gratitude you treat me to dinner. Everyone is completely satisfied.

B -- I fix your car, even though I don't know you, because you have offered to pay me my usual fee. I do a thoroughly competent job, and you pay me. Everyone is completely satisfied.

As stated, these are two totally ordinary events and society has no business interfering or even taking note of what's going on. But take out "fix your car" and substitute "have sex with you" and A is still legal, if a bit risque, but B has just become a serious crime. Is there any other subsitution for "fix your car" where this is the case? Any other human activity which is legal to engage in just because you want to, but illegal if someone pays you to do it?

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Unexpected Hurricane Hazards

This is one I hadn't thought of, and seems to be an unexpected hazard of shifting so much business on-line. The New Orleans Times-Picayune is reporting that there were significant numbers of cases of people evacuating the area because of Ivan, sometimes whole families packed in a caravan of cars and driving for twelve hours, only to arrive at their destination to find their reserved hotel room was not available, had been rebooked. This was particularly the case for people who had reserved their rooms through online third-party reservation services like or

These services operate by booking blocks of rooms in advance, based on what their experience and stastical analysis tell them the demand is likely to be for that location and date. Since most people book at least a few days in advance, as soon as they decide where and when they're going, the rule is that if a room in one of these blocks is not reserved by 24 hours before check-in time, the service releases the room back to the hotel, which is free to book it independently. This system works fine under normal conditions, but totally broke down during the crisis, as hordes of people decided they had to get out right now. As walk-ins took room after room, people went online trying to get reservations for that same day, clicked "reserve" and thought they were safe. By the time the system processed the request and found there was nothing available, there was no way to contact all those customers and tell them. They were already on the road.

It almost happened to us. Alden made a reservation, not through a third-party service, but by going to the reservations website of the La Quinta Inn chain. He made a reservation on Monday for Tuesday evening, assuming the storm kept coming and we did have to evacuate. Monday evening we phoned to confirm. Sorry, no reservation. So I got on the phone and waited until I got a live La Quinta reservations operater, and he and I found that room in Clute.

I guess the lesson in this for the new world of online business is that if the transaction is critically important or involves your actual safety, don't trust to a mouse click, if at all possible talk to a human being.

With all that said, I really should mention that at every stage of the game the people at La Quinta treated us wonderfully. When it was getting to 5 pm and we hadn't even made Baton Rouge, I called the Clute motel to warn them about the delay. The lady on the phone said, "Don't worry sir, we have people coming from New Orleans not even as far along as you are. No matter what time you get here, the room will be ready, and if you arrive after 1 am we won't charge for the first night." I thought that was above and beyond the call of duty. Everyone was very sympathetic, even the cleaning staff. But then, Clute is five miles from the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, a little south of Galveston. They know what hurricanes can do.

Friday, September 24, 2004

What's new

My first post talked about fleeing Hurricane Ivan, and these blog thingies are supposed to be about sharing your life, your opinions, whatever you like, as much as you're comfortable with.

I started out with us fleeing the moment we heard on TV that state and city states of emergency had been declared. I work at a state agency, though at the moment I won't say which. The day before the evacuation I discussed my concerns with my supervisors, that I might feel bound to leave as soon as those emergencies were declared, and that that might be a bit before they would really like me to. I was responsible, after all, not just for our dog but for a 71-year-old man with a history of heart disease and restrictions on his ability to drive. Sure, I'd been a loyal employee for ten years, and that was important, but he and I have been together for twenty-eight, which kinda trumps that card.

When we heard that Tuesday morning that emergency had been declared and we were being urged to leave, it didn't occur to me that the mayor's office would not be co-ordinating with the governor's office. Or that the governor would require state employees and their families to remain in place for four hours in the face of an evacuation order, releasing them at noon.

I knew none of this, as we were already on the road. I kept in touch with my supervisor as best I could by cell phone in the following days, and he warned me that the top levels were pretty pissed off with me. So I was prepared to face anger, letters of reprimand, disciplinary action. I was not prepared to find out they wanted to fire me.

That was a shock, one I have been slowly absorbing in the two days since the head of the agency's letter arrived. I of course have replied, with a certified letter giving my side of the story and disputing facts or characterizations of his I think are in error. Maybe it will work, maybe it won't.

Things like this make you think new thoughts, and they force reassessments of things you had thought were settled. For example, if they back down and say, you can come back, how much do I want to go?

There's a wonderful blues recording by Bessie Smith, and most of it is fairly standard blues lamenting. My man's done left me, found somebody new, left me all alone in this cold and empty bed, and so forth. But then she throws a twist into it at the last moment, with the last two lines before the end of the song, sung with a sort of ice-cold anger: "But if he can stand to leave me / I can stand to see him go."

I'm beginning to understand that.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Insulting Our Intelligence

So the meltdown at CBS News just glows hotter and hotter. I'm sure I am just one of multitudes who have gone from raised eyebrows startlement, to amusement at the circus this has turned into, to rapt fascination, and finally to slack-jawed astonishment. Now it's become officially established that when a rabid Bush hater wanted a high level contact in the Kerry campaign, CBS acted as a go-between in order to get their phony documents. And I'm not even surprised. But this is ridiculous. From the NY Times:

"It is obviously against CBS News standards and those of every other reputable news organization to be associated with any political agenda," the network said in a statement.

Now come on. Everybody has an agenda. Because everybody has opinions about how the world should work, and everybody would like to see them reflected in reality, and unless they're hopelessly apathetic, everybody does something to see them put into action. By definition, that's an agenda. In my case, I vote, I write letters to newspapers, and rather to my surprise, I now seem to be blogging.

Organizations can have agendas as much as individuals can. The political agenda of CBS has become painfully clear. Fox News has an agenda too, but a somewhat different one. The thing is, they're just a bit more honest about admitting they have an agenda. Yeah, yeah, they report, we decide, but just like everybody else they decide what to report, and how, based on what they believe. Based on their agenda.

As Jeff Jarvis has been saying forever, having a political agenda, even if you're a news agency, is not necessarily the worst thing in the world. Having one and not admitting it, having one and pretending you're as apolitical as the dictionary, that's another matter entirely.

And if you think a dictionary can't have a political slant, just ask a dictionary editor. Be prepared for an earful.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Oh, Daddy!

I see that the Gay Patriot has acknowledged paternity. A dangerous thing to do, as it can commit you to support payments until the age of eighteen. Except that in blogosphere years that period would have expired -- let me check -- about six minutes ago. Dang.

You're off the hook, Pops. At least that hook. I'm sure you'll find other hooks. Cheers!!!

Sunday, September 19, 2004

That last post

Note: I am rarely that maudlin, but this was a special case.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

That We Still Mourn

Going through the mail after getting back from Texas, I found a small letter from my father. It began as follows:

September 14, 2004

Dear Steve,

Today would have been Jim's fiftieth birthday, something to remember if not to celebrate.
I read that, and I crumpled and cried. Jim was my brother, my big brother, for a horribly short time. He died of leukemia when he was five years old, and I was only three, but I do remember him. I do have a few memories.

But Jim did help to shape my life, brief as his life was, and for the better. It's a commonplace assumption that teenagers get into so much trouble largely because they simply do not believe, on a gut level, that something really bad can happen to them. That they can actually die, in a car crash or some other catastrophe. Somebody else, maybe, but not me!

I never thought that. I knew from the age of three that my big brother had died despite every desperate attempt my parents and the doctors had made to save him. I never thought it was their fault, not at all. There was nothing they could do.

The point is that, because of Jim, I never ever dreamed I was invulnerable. I knew I could die. And I therefore didn't take quite as many stupid teenage chances as I might have taken otherwise.

Oh, Jim, Jim. Though you never knew it, and couldn't have understood it if told about it when you were alive, you helped protect your little brother. Your death warned me to be careful.

Oh god I wish you had lived.

And They're Off

So I am actually adding another blog to the list? How many would that make now? Couple billion?

Well, if I'm questioned, I can say that Blogger seduced me into this. If you have tried to leave a comment on a Blogger blog, you'll find that you have the choice of doing it anonymously or through your Blogger account. Which you can set up in just three minutes!! In my case I wanted to leave a comment on the Rather/memo/forgery mess at GayPatriot, ran up against this procedure, and figured, since I don't really like leaving anonymous comments, aw what the hell, I'll sign up.

Which meant that before I knew it, I had a blog. Does that make GayPatriot my blogdaddy? Goodness, the psychosexual echoings implicit in this scenario are intriguing.

So it's a strange ending to a strange string of days. We live in New Orleans, and with hurricane Ivan threatening us, we turned on the TV at 8 Tuesday morning to see Mayor Nagin and other regional political leaders essentially screaming into the microphone, "Get out, you fools, get out!!!" My. So we did, and since we needed a motel that would take a dog, we spent thirteen hours, driving nearly 500 miles, to arrive at 1:00 am at the only remaining room available, in a La Quinta motel in the tiny town of Clute, Texas, about an hour south of Houston. And we hunkered down, prepared to watch, with horrified fascination, all the TV coverage of the inundation and utter destruction of our beloved home city.

And at the house, back home, we didn't get so much as a drop of rain.

So, Ivan having taken a sudden jog to the east and sparing us, back we come, taking a sensible two days to do it, stopping in Lafayette, instead of another panicky thirteen hour push. And so we stagger in at 3 in the afternoon, the dog greatly relieved that this really, really stupid game is over, and I wind up starting a blog.

I must be punch drunk.