Friday, December 31, 2004

A Few Good Things

It has been a hard year.  So many of the people I care about are weary, sick or close to losing heart.  Just for a day, I think, we can pause in the struggle.  After all, one response to the tsunami may be to enjoy it while you’re here, because you never know…

So for my friends, a few good things:

A slide show of wild album covers from the 50’s

A collection of Edward Hirsch poetry columns

The Living on Earth Appalachian special.  Pinckney Benedict has a terrific story.

Fresh Air, recent interviews with John Waters, David Sedaris, and Mort Sahl are classic.

Two riveting documentaries:

Agnes Varda, The Gleaners and I

Andy Goldsworthy - Rivers and Tides: Working With Time

For music?  I like to search the streams on

Blues Before Sunrise
is a good show from Chicago Public Radio.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004


An ample reservoir of stoicism is needed to get through the great newspaper of record each morning, given the likelihood of seeing photographs that could make you cry. And the pity and disgust that [these] pictures inspire should not distract you from asking what pictures, whose cruelties, whose deaths are not being shown.
­Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Our Miss Brooks

There has been much key tapping over who will be chosen to succeed retiring NYT columnist William Safire. Apparently any number of bloggers, with characteristic humility and sense of proportion, have nominated themselves.

It seems to me that Safire’s replacement has already been piped aboard the Times in the person of David Brooks. Brooks has cultivated a reputation as a tame and palatable conservative. A pseudointellectual who strives for catchy turns of phrase and will occasionally concede a point, Brooks is the balding, bucktoothed face of the Bushie next door.

Brooks makes a show of independence, but he definitely gets the White House talking-points memos. When thinking conservatives and principled Republicans began to distance themselves from the imperious, dismissive Rumsfeld of the “Army you have” Kuwait press conference, Brooks toed the line.

“He’s confident,” Brooks said of Rumsfeld on the PBS News Hour, “Surprises happen.” Never mind that military analysts say that insurgencies have been a mainstay of warfare for the past 70 years, and could have been anticipated. But not by a leader who admits no error, takes no blame, won’t even consider alternatives, and calls faulty logistical planning “essentially a matter of physics” (Oh, we’d like to provide you with armor but the laws of the universe make it impossible!)

Besides, Brooks assured News Hour viewers, Rumsfeld isn’t chiefly focused on running this war, as author of the Quadrennial Review, he’s preparing for the next one. Isn’t that a comforting thought.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

The Full Montagne

Far be it from me to suggest that a general “dumbing down” necessarily accompanies NPR’s increasingly worshipful stance toward all things fundamentalist and increasing credulity in transcribing White House cliff notes. I simply listen to Renee Montagne.

On the prisoner abuse memos (Monday 12/21):

I’m gonna repeat a question, ‘cause we’ll cut the first time I ask
it— To whom do these memos go to?

This morning on the Arizona immigration law:

Starting today, state workers in Arizona are required to deny certain
benefits to applicants who can’t prove they’re in this country illegally.

Obviously these are being left in the broadcast, but I’m guessing that
all the editing suites in all of Hollywood could not sweeten these little newsreadings.

Meanwhile, the competing classical station remains witty, urbane and
blessedly free of churchy cant (reverential portraits of homeschooling hatemongers, "commentators" plugging their coercive Christian websites, etc., you know, the stuff that's so difficult to find on the rest of the radio dial):

That was a song by Englebert Humperdink, the real one...

Monday, December 20, 2004

Don't ask me

Fareed Zakaria quipped on Sunday’s This Week that the bad news is that Defense Secretary Rumsfeld only has one supporter, the good news is that it’s President Bush.

In his “traditional” holiday news conference this morning, the President made it clear he is 100% behind Rumsfeld. “He’s a good, decent man. He’s a caring fellow.” Apparently Rummy and his wife are at the Bethesda and Walter Reed hospitals “all the time”. I think he’s personally knitting socks for amputees. That’s why he can’t sign condolence letters, I mean there’s hundreds of them, what do you want from the guy?

Bush also remains100% behind Kerik, a figure whose rap sheet is so troubling it is widely believed an illegal nanny was ginned up to put the press off the scent. “He made the decision” to withdraw his nomination, Bush told the press pack. Mister President, have you given any more thought to that debate question about a mistake you’ve made, have you been able to identify one yet, sir?

The mistake Bush is now intent on correcting, of course, is Social Security. Pressed for information about reforming a system that impacts every American citizen, Bush was ready. “[I know the press will try] to get me to negotiate with myself in public,” he told a network correspondent, “I just want to condition you. …I know there’s questions about what [reform] means. I will repeat, don’t bother to ask me.”

Fox news was recognized to make a paid political announcement. “Mister President, can you tell us why the Democrats have their heads completely up their tailpipes on this issue?”

“The crisis is here,” said Bush. “The current system cannot support that which has been promised to the workers.”

Later, when the President had turned “away from the media” and was talking to the L.A. Times, its reporter tried to get Bush to give us a hint about the ground rules, you know, like which of us should start laying in supplies of dog food. He was told, “Nothing will change. Promises will be met.”

A British reporter asked about Osama bin Laden. “Well, if I had to guess…” Bush was so bored he could barely complete a sentence on the topic. What’s the big deal? 9/11 was never about Osama, it was about my reelection. Mission accomplished. Next?

The Mideast peace process after Arafat? “I gave a speech June 24, 2002, in the Rose Garden that laid out the vision…” What and you’re asking me again??

There was just time for one more important announcement. “The Crawford Pirates are the state 2-A champs. And we look forward to waving the championship banner over Crawford.”

Many will see that last item as irrelevant. But it was wholly thematic, a distillation of the message as pure as a Biblical parable. Why are we in Iraq? Why were we in Vietnam? If you can’t see the answer in Texas high school football, well, what planet are you from?

Sunday, December 19, 2004

This Was the Week That Was

I like George Stephanopoulus. He’s genial without being slick, both intelligent (knows a lot) and smart (knows the game and how to play it). As the host of ABC’s This Week he is almost unfailingly deft and smiling.

That’s why I looked up over my coffee and paper this morning when Stephanopoulus fairly squeaked in astonishment on this follow up to White House Chief of Staff Andy Card, “How can you say the war is won? The insurgents are able to attack at will.”

“Well,” said Card, “they’re not attaching all of the people all of the time.”

And, Mr. Card, may I add that you’re not fooling all of the people much of the time either.

The main attraction in this morning’s Big Top was the panel of regulars Fareed Zakaria and George Will, joined by visitor Richard Perle. A three-ring circus of conservatives, and highly-intellectual ones at that. Were they going to give us their top 10 ultra-wonk reading lists? Their year’s-best recordings of Wagner?

No, as it turns out, they were going to dramatize the fragmentation of the right. Zakaria started, by suggesting Rumsfeld should be held responsible for the string of failures in Iraq. Will reminded us that he had called for Rumsfeld’s resignation in the wake of Abu Graib, but noted, “He’s wealthy and he’s 71. He doesn’t need this job.” There’s a recommendation you can take to the bank.

Perle took issue with Zakaria. Surely many are to blame for the difficulties in Iraq, he said, let’s move on. [Sorry, cons and neo-cons, is taken. You can have]

Zakaria parried every thrust, in a debate Perle called “absurd”. Responsibility for post-war policy in Iraq was given to the Pentagon to a degree unprecedented in the history of American foreign engagements, FZ noted. Nonsense, said Perle, the generals and many others were consulted and were fully on-board.

When Shinseki gave the wrong answer he was cashiered, said Zakaria. Not so, said Perle, he retired to spend more time with his family (or some such standard equivocation). No one from the administration came to his retirement party, said FZ, a message was being sent. Finally Perle could only intone, racist accusation masquerading as condescension, “Fareed, Fareed.”

Had Zakaria been as well-versed in the idiom of the American public school as he is in that of the British Public School (a different animal, entirely) he could have replied, “That’s my name, don’t wear it out.”

While Zakaria lunged and Perle retreated (the Shakespearian stage direction would be, “They fight”), George Will was scooting away so rapidly you could hear his chair scraping across the floor. Lest the dim TV audience miss the point, Will made sure to lean over, pat Perle on the arm and say, “You’re a card-carrying neo-con.”

There was no mistaking the school-yard reference of that gesture: Tag, Perly, you’re it.

But by far the strangest pronouncement of a strange program belonged to Dr. David Graham of the FDA. “I don’t think I would prescribe Bexter or Celebrex to my mother-in-law,” he said.

Saints preserve us, every one.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Chicken Little in Chief

Anyone who is paying attention knows that social
security is fully funded for the next 40 to 50 years

So of course there is nothing for it, Bush would have us believe, but
to destroy it now!  Right now!!

The last time we saw W. in this much of a lather was when he was jumping
up and down and insisting, against all reason and evidence, that we had
to go to war in Iraq right away! Right away!!  Remember how there
was no time to plan or consider, no time to explore options or cultivate
allies to share the burden? Are there five people left in the entire country
who think that was a good idea?

How did our leader express it, in all his forceful eloquence,

Fool me once, shame on… you.  Fool me twice, shame on…  Shame
on…  Won’t get fooled again.

Play us out, Pete:

We'll be fighting in the streets

With our children at our feet

And the morals that they worship will be gone

And the men who spurred us on

Sit in judgment of all wrong

They decide and the shotgun sings the song

I'll tip my hat to the new constitution

Take a bow for the new revolution

Smile and grin at the change all around

Pick up my guitar and play

Just like yesterday

Then I'll get on my knees and pray

We don't get fooled again

Yeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!  (sit down, Howard.)