Freedom from Blog

Don't call it a comeback . . . .

Thursday, June 29, 2006

German-Italian Tensions

No, the Germans aren’t threatening something so prosaic as taking the German-speaking region of South Tyrol in Northern Italy, rather something far more inflammatory is afoot. In the Tuesday online edition of Der Spiegel a popular German sportswriter, Achim Achilles. wrote an extremely satire-laden piece on the “parasitic” Italian soccer team, replete with insults of Italian culture, the country, Italian women and even Italian mamismo -- the sacred mother-son relationship. This article and it’s contents were splashed across Italy, including at La Repubblica. Der Spiegel was so overrun by outrage, to defuse the situation it has pulled the story and inserted an apology in German, Italian and English at the URL where the article originally appeared. The apology claims that the article had not been vetted for content. O yeah, I believe that. Should Germany and Italy each make it past their next opponents they will meet in the semi-finals on July 4th in Dortmund. Such a match-up would undoubtedly provide some entertaining fireworks.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Bush Surges in Polls, Experts Predict GOP Landslide

Monday, November 6, 2006 (AP)

WASHINGTON--One day before the critical 2006 midterm elections, a CNN-Gallup poll reveals that President Bush is surging in opinion polls, putting the GOP in good position to make significant gains in both the House and Senate, as well as picking up several contested state gubernatorial races.

Speaking on NBC's Meet the Press on Sunday, White House Senior Advisor, Karl Rove confidently predicted that after this election the Democratic Party might cease to exist. "The Democrats are completely divided," said Rove. "They can't decide if they want troops to withdraw from Iraq now or a year from now. Tim, you know the President's position has always been clear. We will not cut and run. Not now, not ever. Never. Ever. Never." Rove also referred optimistically to a report by Gen. George Casey suggesting that American troop levels in Iraq could decline drastically, to barely 140,000, by the end of the week.

The Democrats have been widely seen as reeling politically ever since June, when a slim minority in the Senate blocked passage of a constitutional amendment to prohibit burning of the American flag. A senior White House official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told the AP that the Democrats were also fragmented and despondent over a secret NSA study indicating that their congressional delegation had been covertly wiring large quantities of campaign cash to Osama bin Laden's cave in western Pakistan. The study also indicates that Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) spent Democratic Congressional Coordinated Campaign (DCCC) funds calling gay sex hotlines. Although the senior official did not show AP a copy of the report, its existence has been confirmed by other senior White House officials.

The latest CNN-Gallup poll indicates a clear surge of support for the Bush administration and its policies. President Bush's public approval has leaped to 25% of registered voters, its highest level in nearly two months, while his disapproval plunged to 68%. The poll surveyed 978 respondents, with a margin of error of 3%, and was conducted from November 3-5.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Caution: Wide Right Turns

Just got back last night from a quick trip from Ann Arbor to Cleveland and back (I 94/ US 23 / I 80/90), and I have to say it was an obstacle course out there. On the way back there were 3 blown tires sitting in the middle of the highway and several others just barely off to the side of the road, obviously knocked there from passing cars. These weren’t just little scraps of rubber – rather they were the entire shell of the freakin’ tire minus the rim. In all my years of driving I had never seen so many entire blown tires in the middle of the road or to the side. What gives? It wasn’t that hot out yesterday. Is there just that much more truck traffic out there now?

Speaking of trucks, even more annoying and distracting was this oft-sighted sign that amidst the Stars and Stripes reads, “Support Our Troops Whenever We Go... No Aid or Comfort to the Enemy. No Way!.

I went back and forth between Ann Arbor and Cleveland all year and never noticed one of these signs until May. I did a google search tonight and found a couple of other blogs had noticed and posted the photos I give above. As some of you familiar with the Cleveland area might note, one photo was taken just West of Cleveland on the Ohio Turnpike near Oberlin, but like I said I’ve seen it all over I 94 in Michigan between Ann Arbor and Jackson too and on several different company trucks, so it's at least an upper Midwest phaenomenon. Unfortunately, my google search does not turn up any group or business responsible for distributing the signs.

I find the phrase and layout rather strange. First of all, why does it say “Whenever” instead of “Wherever”? Is that a typo? And what’s up with the bizarre capitalization and punctuation? Why is the “We” italicized as if the truck driver or owner aren’t sitting on their fat kiesters here in the US too? And what meaning lurks beneath the dots of that mysterious etcetera punctuation?

I’m going to go out on a limb here, but I think it’s safe to hazard that the purveyors of this sign are sending the not-so-subtle message that those of us who believe that the Iraq war is a mistake and not in America’s or the troops’ best interest are giving aid and comfort to the enemy and thus are guilty of treason. Seems to me that this sort of logic is a wide, wide right turn without the right of way.

A Rush of Blood to the Head

In case you missed it, convicted drug fiend Rush Limbaugh has once again been detained for possession of illegal prescription drugs, including Viagra, after arriving in Florida on a flight from Latin America. Hey jerks, lay off the man! If Rush can't get it up, the terrorists will win. What's his punishment going to be? Forty whacks? I have to admit that I like this phase of conservatism's downfall, where the jokes just write themselves. If there was a movie made about Rush's life, would it be more Cheech and Chong or Blow? V for Viagra? Failure to Launch?

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Musings on the Berlin Wall, American Military Bases & American Foreign Policy

At a dinner with Italians at which all the attendees were over 60 years of age except for my wife and I, we talked of our plans to head to Berlin for a few days to stay with a friend and see the World Cup up close. One of those at the table told us that soon after 1989 he went to Germany on business and while there he decided to hack off a piece of the Berlin wall which he has put under glass as a keepsake. This prompted me to ask him whom he thought was most responsible for the Wall’s collapse. He gave a judicious response, saying that it was a conflation of many people at just the right moment in history, but he felt justified in taking especial note of Gorbachev and Pope John Paul II. I was not surprised by either candidate, as I have some German friends who live in the US and who were just utterly annoyed and shocked at how during Reagan’s funeral week the American media and public had coalesced around a narrative of the Berlin wall’s collapse being primarily the result of Reagan’s military spending rather than Gorbachev’s perestroika. So, I told this 70-year old Italian businessman how in the US Reagan has been lionized and credited with the Wall’s collapse, and he gave the friendly retort, “Unless my memory fails me, I do not recall Reagan being awarded a Nobel Peace Prize as was Gorbachev.” It is of course a well-known phaenomenon that diverse cultures can, as a group, interpret the same event in starkly different terms and weave widely diverse narratives. On the other hand, it is hard to argue with the rest of the world: Gorbachev, not Reagan, received the Nobel Peace Prize for his part in the collapse of the Berlin Wall.

The conversation turned to other items of Italo-American interest. Just the day before our dinner the local newspaper in Vicenza announced that the final details for the American army to convert the Vicenzan airport into an army air hub and double the American presence in Vicenza from 2,000 American soldiers to 4,000 had been worked out according to the stipulations of the treaty signed between the US and Italy after WWII. Per the treaty, the exact provisions of the expansion were to be kept secret. Rumors had been circulating for more than a year that the Americans were tired of having to airlift personnel and equipment to and from the northern Air Force base in Aviano to their army base in Vicenza, Caserma Ederle, before heading to Iraq or elsewhere, and they wanted to expand the Vicenzan airport to be able to do this directly. In return for this, the Vicentini will get an expanded airport along with a expanded public road connecting Caserma Ederle to the airport and the ensuing increase in business. At this table of 7 Italians and 1 American, where 2 of the 7 Italians lived during WWII in a city occupied by Nazis, whose relatives had been thrown in the town clinker by the Nazis and Fascists, and who had welcomed the American intervention, not a single one was happy about the expanded base, all wondered how long this treaty should reasonably apply, and all wondered if any of the others knew of or were interested in forming a group that might protest this move. Now, we’re not talking about a bunch of left-leaning college students here, but a group of older and fairly conservative business people. We’re also talking about a very respected family of Vicentini whose relative, Mariano Rumor, was once prime minister of Italy and was one of the partigiani, or “partisans”, who fought against the Nazis and Fascists. If you aren’t winning the hearts and minds of these folks in Europe, then this American at least must wonder whose hearts and minds are you winning?

The topic of conversation turned also turned to Iraq and the Bush administration. All thought Iraq a huge mistake. My favourite comment of the night came from the 89-year old matriarch of the family: “What does Condelezza Rice actually do? She seems to me to be sent by Bush all over the globe where she accomplishes nothing.”

A few days later we went to Berlin and stayed in an apartment with an Italian friend in East Berlin. It was a sturdy, no-nonsense apartment from the communist era whose form was replicated over and over in that neighborhood and the city. While that cookie-cutter, one-size fits-all mentality must have been horrible to live under, it now resonated with a certain charm of a by-gone era. That same neighbourhood also still had a dusty Trebant or two parked on every block. I asked a local who had lived through the Communist era why she thought the wall collapsed and she said it was because they could see how much better and affluent the lives were of the West Berliners and they just could not continue to be denied. We also visited Checkpoint Charlie with all the tourists posing for photos with guards decked out in American and Russian military garb. A few blocks away we visited the section of the Wall still standing and the offices of the Nazi party that had been excavated underneath now called The Topography of Terror. I have to say that I did feel a sense of pride as an American (I don’t know why since I wasn’t even born yet) for our country’s involvement in bringing down the Nazis and standing fast against the Soviets. I think one of the most impressive things about the collapse of both groups is how peaceful, prosperous and “normal” things are in Berlin now. Were Kennedy to stand there today and say once again, “Ich bin ein Berliner”, all urban legends of jelly doughnuts aside, a large segment of his audience would most certainly think he called himself a very good beer.

All of these diverse emotional and contradictory experiences made me reflect a bit on Europe’s and the rest of the world’s current view of America, which is decidedly negative. Is the current drop in American support around the globe merely the result of us being the world’s only remaining super power, or as the Germans sarcastically like to call us now the only “über-power” or “hyper power”, after the collapse of the Soviet empire, or are the current policies of the Bush administration exacerbating these feelings that have existed in one form or another ever since WWII? While I’d be the first to admit we have a real structural problem with Europe wherein they perceive that with the collapse of USSR they don’t need us as much, I think you would have to be sporting a rather thick set of blinders not to admit that Bush and the Neoconservatives are making things worse than they could or should be. These experiences have also led me reflect a bit more on the Bush administration’s responses to current threats (Al Qaeda, Iran, North Korea...). Should we continue with the more aggressive policy of “rollback”, as Emery alludes to here, or should we go back to a policy that more closely approximates the policy of “containment” that won the Cold War? Either policy of course has its weaknesses and victims, and I won’t say, as some have, that no blood was spilled as a result of containment in Hungary or elsewhere (a lot was), but overall I think the policy of containment did, in the long run, work, and while it’s impossible to know for certain whether “rollback” might have worked better, the current policy of rollback and preemption in Iraq suggests to me, at least, that a very aggressive containment policy would be the wiser course of foreign policy for Al Qaeda, Iran and North Korea.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Beat the Heat: Summer Fashions

OK, so commuting to work on weekdays, I see something like a million folks a day. Or close. And, of course, I check out what they're wearing, and I have some opinions on a few things:

(1) Seersucker suits (men). These are big in D.C., every summer, I think. (I even saw a senator in a seersucker suit last week!) My opinion on seersucker suits is that they just don't work in D.C., especially at work. When I see someone in a seersucker suit, I think of a smalltown lawyer in the era before air conditioning. You know, a guy with a thick drawl and a penchant for straight whiskey. Not really the image I would want to conjure in someone's head, you know? I think that seersucker might be OK, some places. But not D.C., which is a pretty conservative town.

Even more importantly: Young men should not wear seersucker. It's like wearing a bow tie, but worse. Much, much worse.

(2) Bermuda shorts (women). These seem to be the new women's fashion, a drastic reaction to short shorts from the last few seasons. But what they call Bermuda shorts today bear almost no resemblance to Bermuda shorts from when I was in high school, and these were big, before. Back in the 1980s, Bermuda shorts were worn really baggy. The new Bermuda shorts are worn really, really tight. This makes them look a little uncomfortable, although it's not a bad look for at least some women.

(3) Wedges (women). The Bermuda shorts described above are often paired with wedges, some of which look to be three to four inches high. My question about wegdes: Are they easier to walk in than heals? At first, I thought that these looked pretty ridiculous, but this look has grown on me, I have to admit.

(4) Flip-flops (men and women). Of course, it's much more likely that one will see a woman in business clothes wearing flip-flops, at least for commuting purposes. But you do see a lot of men in boardshorts and flip-flops. Here's on reason one shouldn't wear flip-flops to commute in: Someone, on a crowded Metro, may step on your foot. And if your foot is bare, and out there, then that is going to hurt. Or, if there's a torrential downpour, like earlier this week, you might have to step off a curb into an intermittent storm run-off river to cross the street . . . and in flip-flops, your foot is going to be completely immersed in a slurry of rainwater and whatever is on a D.C. street . . . .

In sum, flip-flops are just not "practical" footwear. Now, maybe most women's footwear isn't practical, so maybe it doesn't matter.

Wish I'd Said This, This Well

Here's an excerpt:

[T]he emerging reaction to Rove’s “run on Iraq” strategy makes me more sympathetic to the view that the entire establishment should be razed — salt in their fields, the whole nine. In any sane world, it is Republicans who would be getting relentlessly hammered for such a cynical and immoral strategy. But no — it is Democrats who are on the defensive in the media/pundit narrative. And that points to a bigger problem, which is that the “center” of acceptable debate in this country is so horribly skewed on Iraq that nothing short of a full paradigm shift of perception can fix it.

And here's the whole thing. Link.

Friday, June 23, 2006

The Point (Almost) Never Made


"An African swallow, sure . . . ."

So, we went to see Spamalot at the National Theater here in our Nation's capital. I am, of course, a huge fan of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, as anyone who ever went to college is. So the musical version was a fun time. Indeed, a great part of the musical is simply live recreations of scenes from the film . . . with exact dialogue . . . which are then followed by musical numbers. Of all the MP films, this one is probably the least musical, or at least that would be my guess. So almost all the musical numbers are new. As are "the Laker girls," the Lady of the Lake's, um, solid gold dancers.

There are two strange things about the musical version that I'd like to note. First, many of the musical numbers are spoofs on Broadway musicals. So, not being a Broadway musicals kind of guy, I'm sure that many of those jokes went right past me. I mean, I got the jokes on Fiddler on the Roof, Cabaret, and Phantom, etc. But I'm sure I missed a lot of jokes. The Les Miz joke, during the French Taunting scene, was a little too obvious to miss, though.

Second, the musical tries to pull together the disparate threads of the film into a plot. Really. At the end, Arthur marries the Lady in the Lake, whose name, it turns out, is Guinevere. (I may not have spelled that correctly.) Galahad is actually Dennis, the "old woman" who lives on the autonomous anarcho-syndicalist commune. Brave Sir Robin is the "bring out your dead" guy. So, in effect, the musical takes the early scenes and turns them into a gathering of the samurai. This makes more narrative sense then the structure of the film, which, well, doesn't really have a structure.

Finally, the musical includes "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life," which is actually in Monty Python's Life of Brian. Anyone else agree that Life of Brian is the best MP film?

Graduation Memories

It's a little on the late side, but it's still graduation season, especially for high school. I was sending off a graduation card to a second cousin (I must have fifty second cousins) yesterday, which led to an interesting memory . . . .

I netted about $800 from my graduation party back in 1987. But I spent that money well--I took it, along with about $200 of my savings, and bought a Tandy 1000EX computer for my use in college.

Yes, in 1987, a Tandy 1000EX PC-compatible computer, with color monitor, cost one thousand dollars at Radio Shak. This was a computer that didn't have an internal hard drive, or even a built-in 3.5 inch floppy drive. It ran on a primitive MS-DOS operating system, and I'm pretty sure it didn't have a mouse.

Just last summer, I bought a Mac PowerBook, with an 80 GB hard drive, etc., etc., for about $1300.

It's a bit of a cliche, I know, but the cost of computer technology has really, really come down. The difference between the Tandy 1000EX and the PowerBook on which I'm writing this . . . is huge. The Tandy did, however, get me through college, and I even wrote one year of graduate school papers on that thing. (Those papers, many of which I still have, are easy to pick out, to this day, because the Tandy printer printed in a non-standard font, with little, cramped characters.)

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Shake Up at CWRU Continues

For those of you who still follow the news coming from CWRU, the shake up in the adminstration continued yesterday with the resignation of the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Mark Turner. Although he was tough on Classics his first year on the job, after that he warmed up and was quite good to us. I hope his replacement follows the example of his second and third years on the job.

Shoot the Refs

I'm watching the US-Ghana World Cup match. The US has looked spotty, but Clint Dempsey just scored a beautiful goal off a cross from DeMarcus Beasley to tie the score at 1-1. The euphoria didn't last long. The ref has decided to intervene and give Ghana an extra goal just for the hell of it, calling a foul in the box against the US and giving Ghana an unmissable PK. As the replays clearly showed, there was no foul, not even close. You would have to be either a blind crackhead or a Bush administration official to be that clueless. This isn't the ref's first missed play. He's levied yellow cards for non-existent fouls, given Ghana free kicks on obvious dives, and generally hastled the US side. Now, maybe he's pissed off at George Bush and taking it out on our boys, which I could understand. . . but not excuse. Look at the polls. We hate Bush too. Let our boys play, you America-hating sack of crap.

When "Republican" Meant "Radical"

This week, Republicans in Congress have been fighting to extend the repeal of the estate tax at the cost of several hundred billion dollars. The estate tax affects less than 2% of all estates, and, since the first $2 mil are exempt, the few estates that are taxed tend to be assessed at less than 20% of their overall value, meaning that, even in rare cases where an estate is taxed, money you inherit is taxed at about the same rate as money you actually earn. So this really is the "Paris Hilton Relief Act of 2006."

Paul Krugman, Molly Ivins, and Thomas Frank have spent years documenting how today's GOP bends over backward to favor entrenched wealth and privilege. That the GOP would do this in the same week that they kill off legislation to increase the minimum wage illustrates how their defense of wealth comes at the expense of hard work. I can't add much to the policy debate here beyond what's been said already. Instead, what I'm most interested in is how much of an inversion in terminology this represents from an historical perspective. Simply put, the Republican Party is in many ways the very antithesis of what "republican" once meant.

At the time of the American Revolution, "republican" was largely a scare word used by Tories to suggest radically democratic, egalitarian, and anti-authority principles. And for good reason. The English writers most often associated with republicanism--James Harrington, Algernon Sidney, and Cato's Letters (by John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon)--were radical, not only by the standard of their day but of ours as well. These were the English Machiavellians, advocates of an expansive and "free" republic on the Roman model, and fearful of the slide into wealth, corruption, and imperial hubris. Harrington, whose The Commonwealth of Oceana was one of the works most quoted by the American founders, famously argued that political power followed economic power, meaning that republics, to survive, had to prevent great inequalities of wealth that would allow a privileged elite to corrupt the public interest. Harrington solved this problem by advocating an "agrarian law," essentially a massive redistrubutionary tax on inherited wealth. This love for what today's royalist GOP derides as the "death tax" was not shared by all American founders, but it did exert a positive influence on people like Tom Paine and Thomas Jefferson.

There's been a raging debate in political theory over the last several decades about whether the American founding was more Lockean liberal, devoted to individual rights, or Harringtonian republican, committed to public virtue. Framed in that way, the republican view seems the more "conservative." But this is a big misconception. In many ways, the republican writers were more radically anti-authoritarian than was Locke, partly because that ideal of "virtue" was such an invitation to suspicion about the covert interests of the powerful. I'll have more to say about Cato's Letters in a future post, but for now I'll just note that anyone who writes a series of 144 newspaper columns arguing that corporate crooks should be hanged and their property confiscated, while their corrupt and warmongering government enablers are impeached and then lynched, is neither conservative nor moderate.

Picking up on an earlier post, I'd argue that Sidney is the original wellspring of the radical republican argument. Jefferson once wrote that he wasn't trying for originality with the Declaration of Independence, but was simply distilling the wisdom of Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, and Sidney. Indeed, it is from Sidney, much more than Locke, that Jefferson takes the rhetoric of "self-evident truth" (see Discourses III.25, 456). Like Locke, Sidney embraces the right to revolt, but Sidney is the much harsher critic of executive power. Legend has it that Sidney was the last man left standing at the Rump Parliament after Cromwell had it disbanded and that he only left when dragged out by the army. As protest, Sidney commissioned the performance of Julius Caesar at his estate and played the part of Brutus personally. Not surprisingly, Sidney was violently opposed to the idea of executive "prerogative," and demanded far stricter limitations on the king's power than did Locke. Executive discretion was a form of "slavery" (III. 21, 440).

Sidney also attacks the nobility's claims to virtue, argues for the supremacy of a broadly-construed "Commons," and defends popular sovereignty. A stickler for "rule of law," Sidney develops a theory of natural law constitutionalism that foreshadows what we often call a "living constitution." As he writes in the Discourses,

Besides, such is the imperfection of all human constitutions, that they are subject to perpetual fluctuation, which never permits them to continue long in the same condition: Corruptions slide in insensibly; and the best orders are sometimes subverted by malice and violence, so that he who only regards what was done in an age, often takes the corruption of the state for the institution, follows the worst example, thinks that to be the first, that is the most ancient he knows; and if brave people seeing the original defects of their government. . . do either correct and reform what may be amended, or abolish what was evil in the institution. . . these men impute it to sedition, and blame those actions, which of all that can be performed by men are the most glorious. We are not therefore so much to inquire after that which is most ancient, as that which is best, and most conducing to the good ends to which it was directed (III. 25, 460).

You couldn't ask for a much clearer critique of Scalia-style conservative "originalism" in the idiom of 1683. Sidney's anti-authoritarianism taught him that you couldn't even fully trust the founding fathers, since nations always suffer from "the defects of their own foundations." As he goes on to say, "there can be no greater mark of a brutish stupidity, than for men to continue in an evil way, because their fathers had brought them into it." (III. 25, 462). The density of Sidney's writing has long rendered him the forgotten influence on the American founders. But in our era of corrupted "republicanism," it might help to remember exactly what that word once meant, and what it might mean again if the Democrats can muster some of the backbone that Sidney tried in vain to bequeath us. That would be an inheritance worth collecting in full.

Critical Thinking, Traditional Living

This Chronicle of Higher Education study is a couple of years old now (2003), but I just came across it. It examines parenthood among male and female academics. The differences are truly stunning, really dramatic by social science standards. Most academic women have no kids; most academic men do. Only 1/3 of women who got an academic job without already having kids ever will. More details:

On getting tenure:
*The worst time for women who pursue careers in academe to have a baby is within five years of earning a Ph.D., the study found. Women who do have babies then are nearly 30 percent less likely than women without babies ever to snag a tenure-track position.
*Of those women in the study who had babies early on, only 56 percent earned tenure within 14 years after receiving their Ph.D.
*Meanwhile of men who became fathers early on, 77 percent earned tenure. Of men who never had babies, 71 percent got tenure.

Post tenure:
*Men who took a university job without children were 70 percent more likely than their female counterparts to become parents, the study found.
*Only one-third of women who took a university job without children ever became mothers.

While on the tenure clock:
*Only 44 percent of all the tenured women in the study were married and had children within 12 years of earning their Ph.D.'s.
"70 percent of tenured men married and became fathers during that time period.

When one considers how much more scheduling flexibility an academic job permits than most professions, these differences become even more surprising. Of all jobs, academia ought to be more, not less family-friendly for both women and men. But I suspect male and female academics are no more similar in their parenting patterns than male and female doctors, lawyers and managers. And, I'd suspect that across fields the more competitive the job (top-ranked university, big law firms, academic medicine, Fortune 500) the more pronounced the male-female discrepancies in life patterns.

What's the role of self-selection here? Are academia and other professions attracting untraditional women who don't want kids? The same jobs are, of course, very attractive to traditional men.

The biggest irony, to my mind: academics are much more liberal than other professions in their political inclinations. More academics than other professionals think of themselves as "critical thinkers" who question established social patterns. Yet in their personal lives academics aren't different than other professionals. Full-time male professionals tend to have families with kids; female professionals tend not to. Female lawyers and managers can be as "traditional" as they want to be in their political and economic views; chances are, they won't have traditional private lives. Male academics can be as unconventional as they want to be in their outlook, but they're as likely as anyone else to live the way their parents did. The social patterns reproduce themselves, regardless of what individuals think.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Paved with Good Intentions

There was an article in the subway "newspaper" earlier in the week, "Hell Falls off the Map," supposedly about the waning of Americans' belief in Hell. Hades. The fiery lack of fire, or something. But the article stated that 70 percent of Americans believe in Hell, compared to 81 percent who believe in Heaven. Now, this is just one man's opinion, but 70 percent is a pretty good chunk of the American public. So I'm not sure "waning" is the right term.

Anyway, the takeaways from the article: "An earlier Gallup poll [found that] 77 percent of ever-optimistic Americans rated their odds of making heaven as "good" or "excellent." Few saw themselves as hellbound."

Actually, the number that I really want to see is the percentage of Americans who say that they are hellbound. It's not the full 23 percent remaining, is it? Can't be. Plus, note that, despite the differing polls, these numbers suggest that almost everyone who believes in heaven thinks that they have a good probability of getting there. How convenient for them.

Final takeaway: Our American folk religion consists of three key elements: (1) Civic deism: "God bless America"/"In God We Trust"/"Under God." (2) Christmas. And (3) creeping universalism.

The Personification of Cute

There was an article in the subway "newspaper" this morning about "The Cult of Cuteness" in Japan. The point of the article was that the Japanese are "obsessed with cute" ("kawaii" in Japanese). Think Pokemon, Hello Kitty, and so on. But the interesting thing was the article mentioned a Japanese actress-model, Yuri Ebihara, as "the personification of cute." What do you think?

Takeaway quote: "I make it a point to never forget to smile. If someone doesn't find me cute, I want to know why, because then I'll work on it to get better at being cute." Me too. Me too.

Spielen wir Fußball

I see the World Cup was a subject of discussion on FFB here. While in Italy we just decided to take a trip up to Berlin to see the big party. We arrived the day that Germany was slated to play Poland. That evening every bar and cafe in Berlin had tables and TVs out on the sidewalks and none seemed to have an empty chair or table for a trio of two Italians and one American until halftime when some patrons moved on to other bars. The locals were not disappointed with a last minute goal and victory. It was sheer pandemonium afterwards. The next day was no different. Sweden had a match in Berlin and the entire city was awash with blue and yellow haired fans wearing shirts with yellow crosses on a blue background. The Berliners even erected a huge (and somewhat tacky) World Cup display in the form of a large football in front of the Brandenburg gate. Back in Italy I then watched the US-Italy match and it seemed as if the entire country was geared up for one month-long celebration of the “Mondiale”. The entire spectacle is quite impressive up close and blows away the Super Bowl or any other American sporting event in the sheer magnitude and universality of the celebration.

Having arrived back on American soil it’s great to see coverage on ESPN. We’ve been invited to a local pizza shop run by an Italian to watch Italy and the Czech Republic Thursday morning, so that should be great fun (I’m assuming we’ll also catch some clips from the US-Ghana match going on at the same time). I also heard today that ABC and FOX are going to show some matches, despite the fact that FIFA won’t cave in to TV timeouts, so it appears that TV execs in the US are waking up to the appeal of footie across the globe. That popularity transcends global politics -- I suspect that Mexican immigrants in the US are undoubtedly AWOL from work in greater numbers today while Mexico is playing Portugal than they were for the immigration bill protests.

Harper Lee and In Cold Blood

We watched Capote this weekend. The thing that sticks with me the most is that Truman Capote and Harper Lee were childhood friends. Indeed, Capote was the "model" for Dill in To Kill a Mockingbird. Which I guess you could say means two things: (1) one of the most outrageous American celebrities of the twentieth century is a character in a book we all read in the 9th grade, and (2) Scout and Dill grew up to write for the New Yorker. (What happened to Jem?)

This Slate article sheds some light on Harper Lee. (She's still alive, btw.) I'd always kind of assumed she was this kindly old Southern woman, who just happened to write one of the most sentimental books about childhood ever written. But to find out that she friends with Capote . . . this changes things. It makes me think that she was one of the most cynical writers who ever lived. I mean, is there any irony at all in To Kill a Mockingbird? Or is the whole thing one big trick, like, "Watch me make the saps tear up. Again. And again." I feel like I've been used.

Operation Dog Whistle

During the president's trip to Europe this week--which, I'm sure, he's s-o-o-o-o looking forward to--it's noteworthy that he will stop off in Hungary, in part to recognize the anniversary of the the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956, fifty years ago.

If you've been paying attention since the McCarthy era, or at anytime since, then you might have noticed that many of the fine folks on the right believe that the United States should have taken a more aggressive stance during the Cold War, sometimes called "rollback" as opposed to containment. Many of these folks also think that the United States should have come to the aid of those seeking to throw off Soviet domination (apologies to former President Ford) in Eastern Europe.

President Eisenhower, of course, knew that supporting the Hungarian revolution would have led to a superpower showdown, and that that led to nothing good. But it's always been easy to criticize that realistic assessment of the situation, especially for those on the right who have rarely been in power.

Now that those righties are in power, however, I think that we're going to hear some revisionist history, about how it's the duty of the United States to "stand up" to tyranny, and many, many comparisons of the Cold War to whatever it is we're calling the current conflict . . . Global War on Terror, the Long War, the Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism, Whack a Mullah . . . I've literally lost track. I think it's a near certainty that Bush will criticize Eisenhower, at least implicitly, for his failure in the face of tyranny. Bush will tell us that we must do more to spread freedom, etc., etc. As if.

Bush criticizing Eisenhower, of course, is one of those things that's difficult to imagine, unless you've been paying attention since 9-11, or anytime since.

Most people will ignore Bush's remarks. But, like a dog whistle, all those folks out there who believe that FDR sold out Eastern Europe at Yalta will hear his remarks . . . and nod. And that's a scary thought.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

If the Rubric is Your Friend Then You Can't be Very Cool

I'm finally back from my extended vacation at the plush Hotel d'Advanced Placement. Although the old Vandy crowd was all gone, the rubric still lives on. All things considered, a good reading this year, despite un-air-conditioned dorms, 100 degree days, conflicts with World Cup times, and yet another mid-week retraining onto a more wicked question and rubric. Much thanks to Chicago Dan & Andy, Oregon Jim, the Carbondale Scotts, the Pittsburg/Glasgow Chrises, Pittsburg David, and St. Louis Tobias (who, incidentally, could pass for a Hasidic Hell's Angel) for keeping the week entertaining.

The big news: goodbye Colorado, hello Daytona Beach. A hotel and conference center will replace the now familiar collegiate venue. The rubric is currently shopping for a thong.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Interesting Excerpts; Some Things I've Been Reading

From Freeman Dyson's review of Dennett's new book on religion as a "natural phenomenon":

Dennett puts forward other hypotheses concerning the evolution of religion. He observes that belief, which means accepting certain doctrines as true, is different from belief in belief, which means believing belief in the same doctrines to be desirable. He finds evidence that large numbers of people who identify themselves as religious believers do not in fact believe the doctrines of their religions but only believe in belief as a desirable goal. The phenomenon of "belief in belief" makes religion attractive to many people who would otherwise be hard to convert. To belong to a religion, you do not have to believe. You only have to want to believe, or perhaps you only have to pretend to believe. Belief is difficult, but belief in belief is easy. Belief in belief is one of the important phenomena that give a religion increased transmissibility . . . .

I really liked that phrase, "belief in belief." This seems pretty much right-on to me. Then there was a hilarious anecdote, from Dyson:

To be workable, a solution does not need to be scientifically or philosophically consistent. When I was a boy in England long ago, people who traveled on trains with dogs had to pay for a dog ticket. The question arose whether I needed to buy a dog ticket when I was traveling with a tortoise. The conductor on the train gave me the answer: "Cats is dogs and rabbits is dogs but tortoises is insects and travel free according."

I should note that Dyson is correct: a workable political compromise need not be philosophically or scientifically consistent, although that kind of consistency doesn't hurt, either.

Last week, I also read Nathaniel Philbrick's In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex. This is the story, somewhat obviously, of a whaleship, called the Essex, which was sunk after a giant sperm whale attacked it. If that sounds familiar, from a little book called Moby Dick, it should, because the real-life story of the Essex was one Melville and his contemporaries were familiar with, and served as an "inspiration" for the story of the white whale.

I just wanted to say that In the Heart of the Sea is a very good read. After the whaleship was sunk, the crew of twenty was adrift in their open whale boats, thousands of miles from land. But some of them still survived, after a truly horrifying experience that included, of course, cannibalism.

I thought one of the more interesting things in the book, though, was the explanation for why sperm whales are called sperm whales, a name that has, I have to admit, somewhat BeevisandButtheadishly, always made me snicker ("You said sperm."). Here's the takeaway (p. 6):

[The sperm whale's] block-shaped head contained a vast reservoir of even better oil, called spermaceti, that could be simply ladled into an awaiting cask. (It was spermaceti's resemblance to seminal fluid that gave rise to the sperm whale's name.)

For what it's worth.

Killer Whale 1, Sea Kayak 0

Check this out. Keep watching until the end, though.

An Interesting Insight into the Bush Presidency

This snarky post over at THP actually contains an interesting insight into how the Bush presidency works (or doesn't work, depending on your point of view). Apparently, Bush's decision to set aside a huge swath of the northwestern Hawaiian Islands as protected national monument last week was motivated by the viewing of a documentary by Jacques Cousteau's son, in the White House theater. After the film was over, the story is, Bush jumped up, inspired by the dangers in the documentary, and ordered his aides to get to work, establishing the national monument.

Note: The story is not that, after the film, Bush said, "Do some research on the costs of doing this." Or, "I want to have a meeting with Interior, Defense, others, on doing this." Or, "Get me all the relevant documents."

No, in best "blink" fashion, the story is that Bush ordered the action, the largest national monument ever, based on a documentary.

I think that this gives one an idea how stovepiping worked. It was relatively easy to get the president firmly behind invading Iraq (especially since he already wanted to, for some strange reason). Just present him evidence that supports invasion, and leave out all the messy details and alternatives. It's pretty clear that the president's closest advisers keep him isolated from alternative views and ideas, and this is the reason why. The guy is apt to grab ahold of an idea and run with it, if it's put forward in a compelling way, without calculating the costs and benefits, consulting with all the key players, without "due diligence." I've read a few stories on this before. Whenever Bush is exposed to ideas from outside the circle of his closest adisers, there is the danger that he might make a "rash" decision, or one contrary to the goals of his "advisers."

So, keep him away from any information that cuts against the preferences of the inner circle. Funnel in only the "evidence" that confirms those preferences, and you can be sure that Bush won't ask questions.

Monday, June 12, 2006

World Cup on ESPN

The title of this post may be a little misleading. Because it's not a post on the World Cup, or on ESPN. See, I said that it might be misleading.

But I just noticed that they are discussing the World Cup on ESPN. And that raised the question, why?

Before TMcD fires off an angry rejoinder, let me assure you that I'm not going to dis soccer.

Then where is this increasingly maddening post going?

Watching ESPN coverage of the World Cup is strange because, generally speaking, ESPN viewers are not interested in soccer. Or, more precisely, they are not as interested in soccer as they are in NFL football, college football, Major League baseball, NBA basketball, college basketball, golf (PGA and WPGA), the NHL, the WNBA, NASCAR, bass fishing, deep-sea fishing, the "College World Series," and pro bowling. All of those sports-leagues receive extensive coverage on ESPN or its offshoots. But I don't think that there's a soccer show on ESPN generally. And the reason there's not is that Americans, or Americans who watch ESPN, like different sports. It's a matter of taste.

Now TMcD is ready to argue. Because he will want to argue (?) the merits of various sports compared to others. Baseball is a superior game to [American-style] football, and so on. Maybe TMcD thinks soccer is better than baseball. I'm not sure whether he's want to do so, but I'm a betting man.

To my mind, this is simply a question of taste, and one's taste in sports has mostly to do with which sports your family and community followed closely. Sports is almost exclusively a question of local custom--except, in the case of soccer, the local custom is pretty widespread.

The interesting point is that we human beings seem prone to taking local customs and reifying them into universal truths. This is what is happening, I think, in the marriage debate in the United States today. Folks on one side of the debate take a particular version of the family and then argue that that is the only form that the family can take. As Rebecca points out, that's not the case at all, nor has it been.

Things like family and sport are shot-through with contingency.

But it doesn't appear that any amount of chance can help this hapless U.S. squad. The Czechs beat them soundly, 3-0.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Nashville's Trial of the Century

Before leaving for AP grading, I thought I'd pass along some legal news for those of you who are Nash-Vegas expats. The notorious Perry March has been found guilty on all counts in his trial for murdering his wife a decade ago. It clearly helped that they caught his dad for trying to hire a prison hit man to kill the late Janet's parents, and that the old man then turned testimony on Perry. You can now rest easy. The dorkiest murderer in Tennessee history is now going away for a long time.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Three Cheers for the Death of Zarqawi

Visiting the folks here in Mississippi, we've all been watching Fox News every waking minute for the last two days. The Iraq War hadn't been very interesting to Fox News programmers for quite some time--nothing but Duke Rape and Ashlee Holloway for weeks--but with Zarqawi's death there's been something to cheer about and therefore something to cover. They've hardly even gone to commercial, it seems. O'Reilly devoted his entire show last night to excoriating liberals for their insufficient enthusiasm about Zarqawi's death. Contra O'Reilly, I'm thrilled about this news. Let me chime in with three cheers of my own.

1. Zarqawi was responsible for the deaths of hundreds and perhaps thousands of civilians, a brutal killer. He has been a scourge of the Iraqi people, and his death can only be good news for them.

2. Zarqawi was profoundly illiberal--theocratic and sectarian. Nothing tolerant about that man. No separation of church and state for him. No liberal worthy of the name could feel any sorrow that such a man would be defeated in his political goals.

3. His death will deprive the Bush administration and its defenders of their favored narrative: the insurgency is largely due to the presence of foreign fighters and terrorists. Zarqawi was always blown completely out of proportion by these guys, often referred to as the leader of the insurgency. He was the figure they used to personalize "the enemy" and to characterize all opposition to the US presence in Iraq. Now that he's gone, perhaps official rhetoric will soon begin to grapple with the reality of what we have wrought in Iraq--a fractured society divided along ethnic & religious lines. Zarqawi was just one (vicious) player in this chaotic power vacuum we've created.

Gay Family Values?

Okay, now that I've gotten the snark out of my system, I probably ought to try to say something substantive on the great gay marriage debate. As Freedom From Blog's least liberal writer, I'm hoping to provoke some contention, although at times like these I wish we/I hadn't scared off Emery's conservative law school buddies, since this is a debate that should take place with the full ideological spectrum present. I started to formulate my argument in response to Sam yesterday, but I left a lot unsaid. So here's my position:

As a matter of principle, I support BOTH gay equality and the institution of marriage. Whoa!, you say, could you be more of a people pleaser? let's just have everything we want at the same time in a happy little utopian harmony. Good point. The real difficulties come when competing values are in conflict. What happens when gay equality and the family come into conflict? As I see it, when the two compete, the family (and, by proxy, marriage) come first.

Gay dignity is certainly important, an argument I'd make from both a democratic and a Christian perspective. Democratic society must avoid treating large segments of its population as second class citizens. And Christians should recognize that the biblical argument against homosexuality is thin, while its arguments for humility and forgiveness are strong. Jesus, for example, never speaks on the issue of homosexuality, and the relatively few negative comments come either in the Old Testament laws (widely disregarded by almost all Christians) and loose statements by Paul in the larger context of sexual excess, which I'd say IS an important theme but one not specific to gays. That said, stable families are the bedrock of a healthy, functioning society. They are the primary institution of education and socialization, they provide a haven from the (more) competitive and alienating world of work and politics, and they can reduce a whole range of social pathologies, such as crime and drug abuse. Familes are also the first line of resistance against absolutist power structures: totalitarian governments always try to atomize society by ripping them apart; for example, by having children inform on their parents, in order to destabilize rival and decentralized power centers. Marriage protects the family by framing it as a commitment to something beyond immediate gratification, making its obligations binding even when they are not pleasant or convenient. If we knew that full gay equality would destroy the social structure of the family, I'd deny gays full equality, recognizing that this was an unfortunate but necessary social evil.

But I'm not convinced that this is, in fact, what gay equality would mean, at least not on the specific issue of gay marriage. Unlike both conservatives and liberals, I see the effect of gay marriage as an open question. It's a practical and empirical question, and, because this is a relatively young issue, we don't have a lot of evidence yet one way or another. Conservatives assume that gay marriage would undermine the family, but there are some good arguments that it would actually strengthen it. Rather than denigrating the institution, you're celebrating and broadening it by extending the ideal of committed monogamy to a class previously exempt. When, in the early days of gay liberation (the 1970s and 80s) the "gay lifestyle" implied recklessness and promiscuity, it challenged family structures with a hedonistic alternative--the bath house ethic--that exerted a destabilizing influence on heterosexual culture as well. By mainstreaming gay relationships, you impose the kinds of salutary restraints on gay sexuality that marriage has long imposed on heterosexuality. And you may help kids in the process. Although I'm sympathetic to the conservative view that heterosexual parents will, in general, be better suited for childrearing than homosexual pairs (since a M/F pair offers a compact microcosm of the adult world), I also believe that a homosexual pair is likely to be far, far better at parenting than single parents are.

These arguments don't settle the issue, of course. In my response to Sam, I raised a couple of potential problems for this argument. If, for example, mainstreaming homosexuality also increases the prevalence of bisexuality, this could create problems for marital stability, since it would multiply the occasions for marital infidelity and suspicion. It's also possible that part of the attraction of marriage, much like citizenship, is its exclusivity. Once you make it universal, people may take it less seriously, just as citizenship lost much of its romance in America once suffrage was made universal. But all this is speculative, and I can't say I know how all of this will turn out. One reason that conservatives should be respected in their caution about this issue is that, once you go down the road of gay marriage, it will be very hard to revoke those rights, turn around, and go back to today's model if the family institution turns out to have suffered as a result of the change.

And yet, given the real possibilities of strengthening marriage as an institution while, at the same time, granting equal dignity to gays, such caution cannot be the final word. That's why I'd support a state-by-state approach, driven by the legislatures, not the courts or Congress. It may be slow and inconsistent, but it's the best venue for a question of such importance and such uncertainty.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Basking in the Glow of My Own Manhood

It's good to be the man. Rolling out of bed this morning, I glanced over at my beautiful, angelic, estrogen-soaked wife and thanked the Republican Party for making sure that she was, in fact, a woman. Whew! That was close. Then I checked her belly. Yup, still pregers. I did that. I am the man. My boys can swim. Hell, they're Olympic champs--just not in the Mark Spits way; with that rice-a-roni moustache, he had to be a fan of the Village People, if you get my drift, or maybe even. . . a Democrat. My boys swim like that red-blooded, NASCAR-watching American Olympian who I can't remember since I don't watch sports where men are wet and mostly naked. Except boxing. The pummelling makes it seem more Christian.

What to do today? I could bench press my car (wanna bet, wussy?). Maybe I'll have a few drinks and go hunting for some "wingless quail-tards." Hey, Em, wanna come along? Gotta respect the buddy system. The VPer taught me that. There's always cutting brush. Man, do I love cuttin' me some brush. Nothing reminds you of your primordial masculinity more than cuttin' brush. Just like the neanderthals did. In between killing dinosaurs. Frenchies can't do that. I bet they don't even HAVE brush in France. Or maybe I'll just heat up some pop tarts and watch a Schwarzenegger movie. Yeah, that's the ticket. Nothing gay about that, by Gawd! I bet they've never even heard of Ah-nold in France. Or pop tarts. What would they call them? Royale with jellie? Damn metric system.

It's days like this that I'm glad Bill Frist is my senator. Otherwise how would I have known that God speaks through the brain dead? (No, not W--that skinny woman down in Florida with the moustachioed "husband.") Or that tears transmit AIDS? So stop yer' cryin'! Unless you're watching a Schwarzenegger movie, of course. T2 really got me. Sniff. You know--when robot-Arnie lowers himself into the molten fire to save humanity. That's powerful stuff. It reminds me of America. We're not going to hell in a handbasket. What looks to you like a firey death spiral is really just the good ol' U.S. of A. saving humanity through our own national self-sacrifice. The little combustion engine that could. Remember that next time you start bitchin' about how Congress is fiddling with marriage while Rome burns. Every real man knows: there's no "sacrifice" without "sack."

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

"What's that thing below the subtext?"

There's lots of commentary on the president's renewed support for, and the Senate's debate on, a constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage. But what's really struck me is not the utter, oozy cynicism of the whole thing. No, that's clear, and was clear all through 2004, too. What's struck me as strange is that there is little or no effort to cover up the utter, oozy cynicism of the whole thing.

It's almost as if the administration is explicitly saying to its base, "Hey, look, I'm pandering to you in a ineffective, silly way, and this is supposed to satisfy you now."

This kind of reminds me of how Bush 41 used to slip into consultant speak some times to explain his actions. But back then, this was considered unusual. "The players in the game" are supposed to play their parts, and not provide commentary on their play at the same time. But with 24-7 cable news, etc., maybe we're all so "inside" the game that this is how we all speak and think about politics? The story is not about whether the Constitution should be amended, but rather about the electroal and power stakes involved in the president's actions.

The question, then, is whether such a politics is a tenable democratic politics. I mean, I have, from time to time, supported politicians, seekers of office. But when I did so, it was because I thought they would advance certain policies, not because they were effective at seeking and using political power. (And if you know the politicians I've supported, you know the latter part of that statement is true.) If politicians are only about power, and their efforts to manipulate voters are out there, in the bright, midday sun . . .

Monday, June 05, 2006

"I knew Harry Truman, I worked with Harry Truman . . . and you're no Harry Truman, beeyatch."

I agree with Publius that the Truman analogies should end. Now.

Except, of course, when it comes to the low approval ratings.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

"The Real Al Gore"

For my hermeneut readers, I have to start with this: It's impossible to see "the real Al Gore." When you look at Gore, you can't help but see the layers of meaning, the glosses of the past--the "loss" in 2000, the incredibly harsh media narratives, the years as Clinton's #2, the Senate years, and so on. It's even hard to listen to him, because almost everything he says resonates with something else, some remembered statement from the past. If Al Gore were a text, it would be mostly commentary.

With that said, it's interesting that that's how An Inconvenient Truth tackles its subject, which is either Al Gore's personal journey through an eventful life or global warming/climate change. The story weaves together, pretty seamlessly, Gore's story, from his childhood on the farm, at least one-third of the year, through the 2000 election, with melting glaciers, rising sea level, and environmental crises to come. It's a well-edited, well-composed piece of political advocacy, making the case for Gore and for taking steps to minimize the coming apocalypse.

But when I say, "making the case for Gore," I mean that this film is more about rehabilitating Gore's reputation than about advancing his candidacy in 2008. I won't speculate about Gore '08, because I don't have any special insight into that. I've been watching the Sunday shows, and there's a lot of speculation about what the film means for 2008. But it seems to me that, if Gore wanted to run, he would be running. He knows how to do that, right? And he's really not, at least not yet.

One theory (OK, I'll speculate a little) is that Gore doesn't want to run, but he wants to be asked. "Drafted," the term is.

But it's hard for me to believe that Gore thinks this way. Just in practical terms, how does this work? The party organization can't do this, because the party organization is "neutral" in the selection process. The netroots and grassroots can't really draft a candidate, the candidate has to put together the organization, the campaign, raise funds, and so on. Get on primary ballots. So it seems to me that this is pure speculation.

In the end, my guess is that Gore's main goal here, besides raising public consciousness, is rehabilitating his personal (and political) reputation. He wants to make a record, for the ages, that he would have been a better president than the alternative. The film is more about completing the story of his previous life than about defining his future career.

To return to the hermeneutics thing, An Inconvenient Truth is an attempt at a final gloss on the text of Al Gore.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Stateside, Alas

Despite asides to the contrary, I am definitively stateside. So I really don't have any good reason for not posting in over a week. My apologies.

But it was quite a week. Saw "the Al Gore movie" last night and will post thoughts on Gore later. Earlier in the week saw Shakespeare Theatre's Free for Fall in Rock Creek Park, this year Pericles, Prince of Tyre. Which is sort of like Shakespeare's Jerry Bruckheimer outing, a play with lost children, mistaken identity . . . but also incest, treachery, a shipwreck, pirates, knights, prostitutes and pimps, and more (not the sort of play they teach in ninth grade English). On Memorial Day, we went hiking in Shenandoah National Park.

So the lack of posts doesn't mean I'm sitting around moping about the sorry state of our country. No, that's not the reason.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Why Can't Johnny Reid?

Those of you roaming around Europe at the moment (Paul, Emery, Frances, Sam, Rebecca, my folks--alas, not me) may have missed this meme, but the AP has been aggressively pushing a series of stories this week by John Solomon that Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) failed to reimburse the Nevada Athletic Commission for tickets to a boxing match while he was introducing legislation concerning the industry. Lesson? The big-time corruption in DC is bipartisan.

The only problems? Well, apparently Reid's bill was opposed by the NAC and he never altered it in any way to please them. So no quid pro quo. Plus, Senate rules allow gifts from state agencies, although they say that, as a rule of thumb, you ought to avoid appearances of impropriety. Solomon noted these points as asides, but he buried them deep below the lede. As it turns out, there were other salient facts he didn't bother to mention. Reid didn't exactly get a "ticket," he got a "credential," which was not reimbursible and carried no monetary value. And Nevada law makes it illegal to pay for such items. Solomon made a big deal about how John McCain, who accompanied Reid, sent the NAC a check. But the AP stories failed to mention that the NAC refused McCain's contribution (it being illegal), and, when McCain wouldn't budge, got around the problem by donating the check to charity.

In other words, this is a non-scandal. Trivial b.s. Like Clinton's airplane haircut, or Whitewater, or Filegate, or, well, how about just about every recent "scandal" involving a Democrat not from Louisiana. Making the problem worse, Solomon has a history of making bogus charges against Reid, as when he blasted Reid for connections to Jack Abramoff's lobbying on the Marianas Islands, when Reid had consistently opposed Abramoff's favored bills. He followed his initial story on the boxing match with a follow-up article claiming that Reid had apologized and acknowldeged misreading Senate ethics rules, when he had not. Oops. When called on their deceptions by TPMmuckraker, the AP lamely lied about what both Solomon and his critics had said regarding the credentials. Double oops.

So what to do about this? Should AP fire Solomon? Or maybe just a transfer to Iraq, where pro-GOP press spin is always rewarded in that distinctively Iraqi style. Whatever happens to Solomon, Democrats do have a lesson to learn. The mainstream media is not your friend. They hate you. They will lie, cheat and steal to destroy you. Why? Corporate ownership, or maybe the "FOX effect"? Who cares. It's who they are. They've been like this for at least a decade, and there are no signs of change on the horizon. You may need to smile at them now and then, but always be ready with a knife. And never apologize. Not to those bastards. At least not when you haven't actually done anything. The GOP never apologizes, and they're basically an organized crime syndicate. And the press kisses their collective ass.

I'm not one of those bloggers who believes the mainstream media should just die out. They'll always serve a purpose. But they need to be punished when they behave like right-wing hacks. Which seems to be most of the time.