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Tuesday, September 30, 2003

HEY, SOME OF MY BEST FRIENDS ARE LOBOTOMITES 

I'm flattered to share quote-of-the-week honors over at Dustbury, but I hope I didn't give the impression that I was "dismissing" Shostakovich's whistling lobotomite theme. I'm actually quite fond of it. Perhaps this reveals more about me than I ought to admit, but there you have it.

I can also say without hesitation that I support tax breaks for oral sex. [Copy and paste final sentence from previous paragraph.]

Sunday, September 28, 2003

SPITBULL GETS HIGHBROW ON YO ASS 

I had the good fortune to catch Shostakovich's Ninth Symphony in its entirety on WCAL radio during my drive home from work Thursday night. (September 25 was his birthday; he would have been 97.) I don't think I had ever heard it before, but now I can't get it out of my head. At least, I can't get the second (I think) subject from the opening movement out of my head. Carried by the flutes (or maybe piccolos; me no expert, as you've undoubtedly inferred by now) and supported by oompah-ish horns and drums, it sounds like a chorus of lobotomites attempting to whistle the theme song from Hogan's Heroes.

Not the stuff of great art? Well, consider the circumstances:
Shostakovich composed this work for Schumann-sized orchestra plus percussion in the summer of 1945, and Yevgeny Mravinsky led the first performance at Leningrad on November 3 of that year. Given the size of Shostakovich's war-haunted seventh and eighth symphonies, Joseph Stalin expected a Ninth in 1945 that "out-Mahlered Beethoven," in the late Boris Schwarz's phrase. In Testimony, Solomon Volkov recalled the composer's saying, "They wanted a fanfare from me, an ode, a majestic Ninth....I doubt that Stalin ever questioned his own genius or greatness. But when the war against Hitler was won, he went off the deep end, like a frog puffing himself up to the size of an ox, and now I was supposed to write an apotheosis of Stalin. I simply could not....My stubbornness cost me dearly."
In other words, whistling lobotomites was not what Stalin had in mind. The symphony does not go on like this at great length, of course, but the work as a whole does come off as an exercise in confounding expectations; after the light-hearted charm of the "Haydnesque" first movement, the dominant moods of the remaining movements range from wistful and pensive to anxious and foreboding, but triumphalism is conspicuously absent throughout. And the lobotomite theme itself is cleverly ambiguous: like the Toreador Song from Carmen, it is parodistic yet memorable on its own terms, so how you hear it depends on which way you're looking. (Er, listening.)

Shostakovich apparently lived for years in the shadow of the Gulag for this and like "offenses" against Stalinist orthodoxy. And I can't help but wonder how many artists faced similar specters under the regime of this era's most prominent Stalin wannabe, Saddam Hussein. I think it's possible to make an honest case against the war in Iraq, though I still think the case for is the better one. But what's maddening about most opponents of the war--particularly the infantile, "give peace a chance" ones--is their consisent refusal to acknowledge the human toll of not going to war. The scores of people who would have been killed or raped or tortured had we not toppled Saddam are the most obvious beneficiaries of Bush's hegemonic war-mongering, but we shouldn't overlook the second-order effects, less immediately brutal but in some ways more insidious, that Saddam's government must have inflicted on the Iraqi people. When composing a symphony or writing a novel or painting a picture requires putting your life at risk, we're not going to get very many symphonies or novels or pictures, or at any rate ones worth hearing/reading/seeing (though there will always be a handful of supremely courageous Shostakoviches). Not a crime against humanity, I suppose, but certainly one against civilization.

(WCAL, by the way, is the independent public radio service of St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, which is about an hour's drive south of the Twin Cities. The station is "independent" not of National Public Radio--in fact, it's a founding member of NPR, according to its website--but of the Bill Kling-on Empire otherwise known as Minnesota Public Radio. "Our independence," the website continues, "allows us to bring you unique programs in our own distinctive style — a style we know our listeners value." This boast, believe it or not, is true. Exhibit A is Bill Morelock's "Drivetime Classics" show, which runs on weekdays from 3 to 7 PM and was responsible for broadcasting the Shostakovich Ninth that touched off this little cultural disquisition. Morelock is fond of Glenn Gould, and that is all you really need to know.)

Friday, September 26, 2003

A DESPERATE CRY FOR HELP 

Yesterday Glenn "InstaPundit" Reynolds opened the day with this eminently sensible post:
NO, I'M NOT DYING of some dreadful disease. My "stop and smell the flowers" advice stems from a couple of things. One is that, sadly, I know some people who are -- and even beyond that, quite a few friends and family have had various surgeries lately, putting such things on my mind. The other is my sense that the Blogosphere -- like the journalistic and political worlds generally -- is too het up. (See this Roger Simon post for more.) And I realized after the second anniversary of September 11 that this is a marathon, not a sprint, and pacing is required.
So how does he put his advice into action? By making twenty-four posts, seven of which he later updated, over the next fourteen hours. Combine this with his recent behind-the-wheel blogging and I think we've got sufficient grounds to have him involuntarily committed for psychiatric observation.

STEERS AND QUEERS 

Crescat Sententia's Will Baude begs to differ with Begging to Differ's Steve on the necessity of taking sides between the creaking, carping monoliths known as The Left and The Right. Steve says you gotta ("You can't just hang there in the middle like a philosophical scrotum," a simile about which the less said the better), and proposes this test for determining which side you're "really" on: "between liberals and conservatives, which group annoys you more? Which group do you find it most satisfying to ridicule?"

Will calls bullshit on that:
The simple fact is that a lot of us don't fall neatly on either side of the line. When I'm with liberal friends, I'm conservative (most of the time). With conservative friends, I'm liberal. With moderates, I'm an extremist. On any given issue, of course, I can almost always pick a side (except when I really don't care). Between any pair of people, I can almost always pick the one that most annoys me. But what if I were faced with the entire party platforms of both "the right" and "the left" (whoever Steve thinks they are)?

I'd abstain.

[Incidentally, for somebody who hopes to get involved in politics of one sort or another (the judiciary, one dreams?), this might seem dispiriting. It's not; it's sort of liberating. If I get associated with some party or another it will be because on some issue I've decided to care deeply about, there's a chance to make a difference, ceterus
[sic] paribus--whether that's protecting fake child pornography or attacking wine shipment bans.]

Which is to say that while the rest of Steve's post is very good and highly worth reading, I think he's simply wrong about how one has to take a side in the larger war. In the individual battles, yes, push often comes to shove. But on the broader question of which fundamentally flawed program for society to accept, I see no reason to take sides.
Amen, brother. This line of thinking, incidentally, is a big part of why I vote for the Libertarian Party whenever I can. Their brand of suit is the closest thing to an off-the-rack fit for me, and nobody has ever given me a good argument for why I should abandon it for another brand that's baggy or uncomfortable just because that's what everybody else wears. Back in 2000 I drove lots of people I know into fits of apoplexy over this, and I'm sure it will happen all over again in 2004. I can't wait.

Right now, however, I need some shut-eye.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

ALMOST PERFECT 

A reader seeking to remember exactly what Jan Smithers looked like found this fan site and passed it on to me. Fan sites are inherently creepy--much more so than these so-called "blogs" I've heard about where pseudonymous nobodies broadcast their half-baked ideas around the world--but I'll overlook quite a bit for a cache of Jan Smithers pictures.

Tempering one's enthusiasm, however, is this excerpt from the site's reprint of an article on Jan from the May 3, 1980 issue of TV Guide:
She does try to make things happen when it comes to influencing opinions on social issues, concentrating lately on campaigning against nuclear power. "I've always been very sensitive to world problems and political matters--I remember at the age of 5, in the mid-50s, becoming terrified of The Bomb. My mother told me once that's when I became introverted; I decided the world couldn't be trusted."

Recently, Jan sat all of her
WKRP colleagues down and made them watch two films on the dangers of nuclear power. That's the sort of initiative Bailey Quarters would have been much too bashful to undertake with her radio-station cohorts not long ago. But, like Jan, Bailey is branching out.
Oh well. Mark her down to a 9.9.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

THEM'S FIGHTIN' WORDS . . . RIGHT, KOFI? 

Andrew Sullivan reprints a fairly jawdropping quote from former Joint Chiefs Chairman Hugh Shelton on the subject of Wesley Clark:
I've known Wes for a long time. I will tell you the reason he came out of Europe early had to do with integrity and character issues, things that are very near and dear to my heart. I'm not going to say whether I'm a Republican or a Democrat. I'll just say Wes won't get my vote.
Now we're talkin'! I think Clark would improve his campaign prospects considerably if he challenged Shelton to a duel. Of course, he'll probably just refer the matter to the United Nations.

By the way, unless Andrew is a regular reader of the Los Altos Town Crier ("Serving the Hometown of Silicon Valley Since 1947"), someone tipped him off, yet his cap remains undoffed. Do we have a breach of netiquette on our hands?

GORDON JUMP UPDATE 

No, no, he's still dead. I just thought I should add that WKRP, besides being light years funnier than Three's Company, had better looking chicks to boot. Suzanne Somers was fine I suppose, but the actresses who replaced her were forgettable (as are their names, at least to me; you do the research if you care so damn much). And Joyce DeWitt? Ugh. But can you think of a better one-two punch than Loni Anderson and Jan Smithers?

Plus, to take this one step further, is there any doubt as to Loni vs. Jan? Your honor, my case shall consist of a single quote from Jim Fitzgerald in the Detroit Free Press way back in 1986 (poached from here): "Smithers was gorgeous and, in sweatshirt and jeans, made super-simonized Loni Anderson-Jennifer Marlowe look like a high-speed collision between a beauty salon and a cathouse."

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

THE BIG GUY BITES THE BIG ONE 

Gordon Jump, the thinking man's John Ritter, has died at 71. WKRP in Cincinnati was one of the funniest shows in the history of television. Three's Company was not.

Philistines, all of you.

R.I.P., Gordon.

GAG REFLEX 

I worship at the altar of Lileks like everybody else, but Lindsey Buckingham?! Jesus H on a stick. Bartender, give me a shot of TMFTML.

Monday, September 22, 2003

MORE OF THAT HARD-HITTING POLITICAL COMMENTARY YOU'VE COME TO EXPECT FROM SPITBULL 

Jesse Orosco = Norman Fell? Au contraire: Jose Ferrer!

Sunday, September 21, 2003

THIS ONE, NOT THAT ONE 

While I have football on my mind, I should give a nod to Saint Paul at Fraters Libertas for his report on the apparent political proclivities of Robert Smith. I always liked Smith a lot when he played for the Vikings, and not just or even primarily for his skills, considerable though they were. His intelligence and poise shone through in every interview, and his perspective on pro football was uncommonly long, as evidenced by his decision to walk away from the game figuratively while he could still do so literally and by the measured, "hey, it's only a game" tone of his comments following the Vikes' monumentally inexcusable loss to Atlanta in the 1998 NFC title game (comments which many at the time found grating--phone home, Atomizer--but which look better and better in the cool light of retrospection).

But what I liked best about him was his post-touchdown routine: he would simply toss the ball to an official and jog back to the bench, his expression calm and unchanged throughout. No pandering to the drunken yokels in the end-zone grandstands, no rain dances or pantomimes or epileptic fits, not even any whoopin' and hollerin'. He looked, in other words, like any guy who does his job and does it very well but finds it undignified to call attention to himself.

Is there a connection between such traits and sensible political views? Discuss.

OUT OF THE POTTY MOUTHS OF BABES 

My two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, gleefully parroting me after a botched extra point by the Vikings in the first half of their game against the Lions today: "Oh Christ!"

She's got promise, that girl.

Saturday, September 20, 2003

ISN'T IT PRETTY TO THINK SO? 

Unintentionally amusing snippet of dialogue from the waning moments of Rocky V-minus-IV, which Superstation WGN let out of its cage for a punch-drunk amble earlier this afternoon:
APOLLO CREED: Ain't gonna be no rematch.

ROCKY BALBOA: Don't want none.

IS THERE A SCRIPT DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE? 

The refreshingly heterodox baldilocks (hey, that rhymed; not especially euphonious, I'll admit, but not sufficiently odious to rephrase, either) has a spot-on synopsis of the California recall, Hollywood style. I'd quote some of it, but why don't you just mosey on over and read the whole thing? You'll be glad you did.

WEE ROPE LENGTHENED SLIGHTLY 

Well, no sooner do I swat Wesley Clark away with the back of my libertarian hand than I stumble across, and I quote, "The libertarian case for Clark," posted by Jerry Brito at Brainwash on September 14th. I don't find said case particularly compelling, mostly because it's directed toward "libertarians and conservatives [who] oppose Bush’s war in Iraq for reasons diverse and numerous," and that ain't me. Still, it's worth a look. (Though be forewarned: the piece is barnacled with an interminable string of comments that I for one lacked the fortitude to parse. In the Great Comments War, I am firmly in the camp of Will Baude at Crescat Sententia.)

Worth a look more generally is Brainwash, a publication with which I was hitherto unfamiliar. It bills itself as "the online magazine of America's Future Foundation" and proclaims that its "mission is to feature the musings of up-and-coming writers in the conservative and libertarian movement." I'm staunchly opposed to any "mission" not involving a moon launch or a team of commandos, but as I'm in an uncharacteristically charitable mood at the moment I'll give them a pass on that.

AN APOLITICAL LIBERTARIAN REACHES THE END OF HIS ADMITTEDLY WEE ROPE 

For a few days now I'd been preparing to write a post about Wesley Clark's entry into the Democratic presidential race. I pored over endless articles by the usual suspects and combed through mounds of droppings from my fellow bloggers on the subject of He Who Is Today What Howard Dean Was Yesterday. I was going to analyze the various factors--whether Clark's General-ity will be able to convince voters that "Democrat" is not a synonym for "wuss"; whether his (a) indisputable smarts, (b) perceived coldness, (c) reputedly thin skin, (d) apparent support from fellow Arkansans Bill and Hill, or (e) all of the above will help or hinder his campaign; whether his grasp of domestic issues will be strong and supple enough without an intensive regimen of wrist and finger exercises; et cetera et cetera et so on et so forth. Then I was going to distill my analysis into a word elixir so powerful and exquisite, and with just a hint of oak in the finish, that the combined editorial staffs of the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and Teen People, having drunk to the lees the heady beverage of my peculiar genius, would beg me to condescend to deign to allow them to touch the hem of my garment.

But instead I concluded that I don't give a shit. As in: Don't give. A shit. I undoubtedly will be voting like I always do for whatever nutjob the Libertarian Party puts at the top of the ticket, so it's well nigh time I adopted the eminently sensible strategy of rational ignorance on this and all related matters. Wesley Clark is marginally less sick-making, laugh-raising, and yawn-inducing than the rest of the Democratic field. (That would be, respectively, Al Sharpton, Dennis Kucinich, and everybody else, if you're keeping score.) Into deeper waters I shall not tread. Or swim. Or wade. Or whatever.

Except to poach this from Gregg Easterbrook:
[A] presidential campaign is a lottery ticket. No one knows who will win; "expert" forecasts are almost always wrong. All current Democratic contenders are keenly aware that at this point in 1992, George H. W. Bush looked unbeatable; a year later he lost to a small-state governor with bimbo baggage, while party heavyweights stayed out of the race. So why not buy a ticket? Considering that you yourself do not pay the price of the ticket--your campaign donors do that--why not?
And to say this: Do we really need a First Lady named Gert?

Friday, September 19, 2003

JENNIFER ANISTON, HERE'S YOUR CHANCE TO WAVE YOUR FREAK FLAG HIGH! 

From a just-received workplace e-mail newsletter: "Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Friends Employee Resource Group to Hold Meeting."

ROCOCO THROAT-CLEARING, THEN A LINK 

Since my site meter, reinstalled a few nights back after being roundly scolded for its mischief-making, suggests that there are a handful of cyber denizens who visit the halls of Spitbull despite not being personally known to me (an insuperable obstacle I would have thought, but the world is a strange place), I feel compelled to provide a nugget of gristle for your masticatory delectation.

Unfortunately, I am lacking nuggets this morning, and I work for a living. So read this, which says what I just said only better.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

THIS JUST IN: WHITE SOX ACHIEVE STATE OF COMPLETION, BECOME IMPALED BY EATING UTENSIL 

The Twins got their four runs tonight and one more, and that would appear to be that. I'm afraid the best the Twins can hope for in the playoffs is a quick and painless execution, but for the moment Minnesota sports fans can bask in the unalloyed joys of having trounced the White Sox, Bears, and Packers over a 12-day span.

Heh heh heh.

PAGING MR. JAMES, MR. BILL JAMES PLEASE 

From a story by Cary Snyder at mlb.com: "The Twins are 72-21 this season when scoring four or more runs."

Now, stats like these are almost always meaningless without context; here what we need to know is how the Twins stack up in this regard against the rest of the majors this year or against some sort of historical average. That said, four runs is not a lot of runs no matter how you slice it. Makes you wonder what the Twins' record would be if they had an honest-to-goodness 40-homers bat in their lineup....

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

NEXT FROM THE NINTH CIRCUIT: YOUR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT TO PARADE AT NOON ON SATURDAY 

Harvard law professor Einer Elhauge makes several good points in his piece in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal criticizing the Ninth Circuit's California recall decision, but I was particularly struck by this clever analogy:
Precisely the same distinction [between standardless discretion in ballot-counting, which Bush v. Gore struck down, and county-to-county differences in ballot-counting technology, which the Ninth Circuit lamely extends Bush v. Gore to cover] is recognized for the conventional constitutional doctrine that bans counties from exercising standardless discretion about whether to grant parade permits because of the fear that it might be exercised against disfavored political viewpoints. No one had ever thought this makes it unconstitutional for one county to allow parades from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, while other counties allow them from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The whole thing is worth a read (subscription only, unfortunately).

I GUESS YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR 

Something about the HTML for the free site meter that I installed last night appeared to be interfering with the display of posts, so I deleted it for now. Hope that does the trick; will try a better fix tonight (after the whiskey/imaginary cig/Hank, of course).

JUNIOR'S BIRTHDAY, ON THE OTHER HAND, WILL PASS WITHOUT COMMENT 

Loyal reader John notes that, having mounted such a stirring defense of Johnny Cash's honor against those besmirchers at the Strib, I would be remiss in not reminding y'all that today would have been the 80th birthday of Hank Williams.

I don't know about you, but the first thing I'm going to do when I get home tonight is pour myself a glass of whiskey, fire up a notional cigarette (the wife took the real ones away ten-plus years ago), and listen to "Lonesome Whistle."

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

DON'T EVEN GET ME STARTED ON THAT "ANYWAY YOU WANT IT" FORD AD 

OK, so there's this guy at work, relatively new. Last name Syring. His cubicle is on my path to the nearest men's room, and every frickin' time I walk past my brain is hijacked thusly:
We are the Priests
Of the Temples
Of Syrinx
(Drr drr drr drr drr drr drrrrrr)
And I never even liked Rush.

MORE BLOGROLLING 

Another incoming link, this time from dustbury.com (The Web Site Formerly Known As Chez Chaz). The occasion: his commentary on Saint Paul's advice.

I was unfamiliar with dustbury.com, not to mention Dustbury, Oklahoma, but I bookmarked the site immediately as it looks like a keeper. Noteworthy: a FAQ page that rivals Episode 17 of Ulysses in its catechetical exhaustiveness.

Also noteworthy: a post giving qualified approval to a proposal by S. Y. Affolee to use the Dewey Decimal System to classify blogs for archival purposes. I'm in favor of the basic idea, though I wonder whether the DDS would be the most appropriate classification system for such an endeavor; a system specifically tailored to blogs might be more useful. I also think the much more natural unit of classification would be the post, not the blog; witness the increasing number of blogs that provide topical access to their archives alongside the more traditional date-based method.

One last noteworthy: the display of dustbury's Political Compass scores about midway down on the left column. Here are mine:
Economic Left/Right: 5.62
Libertarian/Authoritarian: -3.95
In other words, I'm slightly to the west and south of Milton Friedman (and a long way due east of Dustbury, OK; Asheville, NC, let's say).

Well, what are you waiting for?

Monday, September 15, 2003

IF SPITBULL'S A WHELP, DOES THAT MAKE FRATERS LIBERTAS A BITCH? 

One week in and I've already got a link from Hugh Hewitt. At this rate I'll have a book deal by the end of the month, my own show on MSNBC by Christmas (hell, they hand those things out like candy), a nasty drug habit by Easter, and a celebrity suite at Hazelden within the year.

In all seriousness, thanks for the link, Hugh. With any luck I'll deserve it someday.

As for Northern Alliance membership, I'll let you and the fraters boys sort that one out.

Sunday, September 14, 2003

A KAJAGOOGOO REUNION? WOO HOO! 

Colby Cosh throws a turd in the Berkeley Breathed punchbowl. I'm not sure whether I agree or disagree with him; to be honest, I've never been a big comics guy, and while I have favorable recollections of "Bloom County," that was a looong time ago.

I am, however, an unabashed supporter of turds in punchbowls.

Saturday, September 13, 2003

RE NUMBER 3: HOW ABOUT "CRETINISTAS"? 

Many thanks to Saint Paul at fraterslibertas for the link—soon the rather demoralizing message "Ouch! No results found" will stop coming up when I do vanity searches for my URL at Technorati. Thanks too—I think—for the advice. I'll tack it up right next to the tips for novice bloggers that Daniel W. Drezner, his tongue placed in a slightly less cheekward position, posted yesterday in commemoration of his one-year blogging anniversary. If I make it to one year—an "if" whose improbability rivals that of the proverbial butt-dwelling avian monkeys, but who knows?—I'll owe a lot to bloggers like you (though $1,000 sounds a little steep).

STEWBUMS, BOOZEGOBS, HOOCH HISTERS, DRUNKS 

There's a fascinating article in the September 15th issue of The New Yorker by Dan Baum called "Jake Leg." Based on the exhaustive research of Dr. John Morgan, a self-described "pharmaco-ethnomusicologist," Baum's article details an epidemic of paralysis that swept this country's urban poor in the early thirties and inspired a spate of folk and blues songs before suddenly disappearing in 1934. The cause? Adulterated patent medicine.

It's an illuminating look at one of the unintended consequences of the original War on Drugs. There's no web version that I can find, unfortunately, but that shouldn't matter because you subscribe to The New Yorker, right? (There is a web-only companion piece from their archives: a 1926 article in which "a writer identified only as 'Jean' tells of his experiences as a bootlegger.")

THE BIRD IS THE MOST POPULAR FINGER 

In fairness to the Star Tribune, the real-world version of the paper that arrived on my doorstep this morning gives Cash proper billing vis-a-vis Ritter. The cyber version demotes Ritter to one of the "Headlines" at the bottom of the page, but the Cash link remains incongruously nested under the First Avenue story.

I think they deserve one more, just on general principle.

R.I.P., Johnny.

Friday, September 12, 2003

NOT BIASED OR LAZY THIS TIME. JUST PLAIN STUPID. 

Johnny Cash and John Ritter die on the same day. You're a newspaper editor. Which story gets more prominent placement?

Easy question, right? Ritter was a likeable sitcom actor with a flair for slapstick—a poor man's Dick Van Dyke. Johnny Cash was a towering figure in American popular music, a man who helped pioneer rockabilly and who made enduring contributions to country music, a man who was equally admired by prisoners and Presidents, a man who made records in six different decades, a man who through the sheer force of his artistic personality could compel me to love a song I had always detested ("Personal Jesus" by Depeche Mode)—in short, a man who could dress solely in black and pull it off.

The answer, in other words, is obvious. Obvious at least to those philistines at the New York Times, and the Washington Post, and the Chicago Tribune, and the Los Angeles Times. When I checked these papers' websites, all gave pride of place to Mr. Cash.

If you worked for a certain Twin Cities paper, however, you would see things a little differently. On your website, you would give John Ritter not just front-page billing complete with a publicity still and a sidebar link to a video retrospective of his career, but also a second sidebar link to an interview with Ritter conducted two months ago by C.J., your often incomprehensible and always fatuous gossip columnist.

Then you would remember about that old country music geezer who wrote that song about some boy named Sue who lit his ring on fire one piece at a time—or something like that; never did care for him that much, and geez, wasn't he dead already?—and drop a third sidebar link under the John Ritter story for Johnny Cash.

Star Tribune, this one's for you.

UPDATE: The Strib has now (11:30 PM) moved the Johnny Cash link to a sidebar position under a story about a lawsuit concerning the famous Minneapolis nightclub First Avenue. Huh? That deserves another one.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

THE BEST THING YOU'LL READ ON TODAY'S MOST OBVIOUS TOPIC 

Wow. (And the fact that he didn't get it posted until this afternoon is strong evidence that he is human after all.)

JUST SAY YES 

Dosed the kid with Children's Tylenol Cold Formula (wild cherry) and myself with a sleeping pill (small capsule). Nine hours of uninterrupted, dreamless oblivion.

I can give a bowl of oatmeal a run for its money now.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

RUPERT PUPKIN AT 3 AM 

The only bright spot during last night's long spell of insomnia: I caught part of The King of Comedy on Bravo. An often overlooked gem by Martin Scorsese, it's one of my all-time favorites, not least because you get to see Jerry Lewis slap Sandra Bernhard in the face.

THIS IS THE DEPARTMENT OF DOG-EATEN HOMEWORK, HOW MAY I HELP YOU? 

I haven't had a decent night's sleep for almost a week now, and it's starting to catch up with me.

Last night was the worst yet. I turned in like a good boy at 10:30 only to be awakened an hour later when my younger daughter had a coughing fit—she's got some sort of minor cold-like thing right now that seems to affect her only when she's sleeping. And then I could. Not. Get. Back. To. Sleep. (Daughter of course never even woke up.)

Sometime after 4:00 I finally finally finally managed to doze off only to be awakened AGAIN, this time by the phone at around 5:00. I didn't pick up—hell, I don't pick up even when I'm awake and sitting next to the damn thing—and the caller left a big loud nothing on the answering machine. (There's a special place in hell....) I was able to drift off again fairly quickly, but by 7:30 the kids were demanding breakfast and I was well on my way to being late for work.

Id est, a bowl of oatmeal could support more neuronal activity than my brain right now. Consider yourself warned.

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

NON-WEENIE FRENCHMEN? MON DIEU! 

American-in-Paris Adam Gopnik, always worth reading as a general matter, has a piece especially worth reading in the September 9th issue of The New Yorker. Entitled "The Anti-Anti-Americans," it reports on "that small but loud bunch of [French] philosophers and journalists who share the American conviction that September 11th was an epoch-marking event, and that how open societies react to it will help determine how open they get to remain."

There is Bernard-Henri Lévy, who has written a book on the death of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in Pakistan last year (a book soon to be published in English, Gopnik tells us). “I am strongly anti-anti-American," Lévy says, "but I opposed the war in Iraq, because of what I’d seen in Pakistan.” Gopnik quotes him further:

Iraq was a false target, a mistaken target. Saddam, yes, is a terrible butcher, and we can only be glad that he is gone. But he is a twentieth-century butcher—an old-fashioned secular tyrant, who made an easy but irrelevant target. His boasting about having weapons of mass destruction and then being unable to really build them or keep them is typical—he’s just a gangster, who lived by fear and for money. Saddam has almost nothing to do with the real threat. We were attacking an Iraq that was already largely disarmed. Meanwhile, in some Pakistani bazaar someone, as we speak, is trading a Russian miniaturized nuclear weapon.
And there is André Glucksmann, an iconoclastic intellectual:

In France, the problem, more than a will against America, is a will to hide—to hope not to be seen at all. But it is insane for the French to see all this as somehow apart from them. It began against us. Nine years ago, the G.I.A. [the Algerian Islamists], who are a group of the same kind, hijacked a plane and were going to fly it into the Eiffel Tower! The only difference? They didn’t know how to fly a plane! They were trying to use the pilots to do their work. Seven years later, they knew how. So to imagine that we are somehow immune is not only crazy on principle—it is the direct opposite of what we know to be the facts!
Lévy echoes Glucksmann's conclusion:
The French opposition to the war was opportunist in part, rational in part, but mostly rooted in a desire not to know. What dominates France is not the presence of some anti-Americanism but an enormous absence—the absence of any belief aside from a handful of corporatist reflexes."
Read the whole thing (and do it quickly, since I suspect that this link will soon self-destruct.)

YET ANOTHER WAY FOR ME TO GET SPAM 

Questions, answers, observations? Yes, no, maybe, probably? Send an e-mail to myspitbull@yahoo.com (some blackguard had already claimed the more obvious moniker; a summons and complaint will be served forthwith). You can also mouse yourself over to the link on the left sidebar. I'll do my best to respond. (And to post something worth commenting on.)

Monday, September 08, 2003

FROM MYSTERY POST TO ANAL SEX IN THREE MOVES 

A post appeared. test post from blogger.com, said it. Not mine.

Now, I can't say enough good things about my host, blogger.com, given that I surfed over there on a whim Saturday afternoon just to see how it worked and within minutes had my own blog, free for nothing. Like a drunken sailor twelve-year-old girl waking up returning from the mall with a new tattoo. (What's the next nautically rooted pop-culture craze, eh? Hardtack McJerkies at the Golden Arches? An epidemic of scurvy? Until a couple of months ago I'd have put my money on sodomy, but now that it's constitutionally protected I'm afraid it's a bit too square.)

Still, it's little disconcerting to find an unexpected post on what I thought was a sole proprietorship. I'll let it pass . . . this time.

Sunday, September 07, 2003

FOOTER TEST IV 

I appear to have fixed the footer problem. Along the way I morphed into The Warrior Monk.

FOOTER TEST III 

What will it say now? The suspense is killing me.

ANOTHER FOOTER TEST 

What does it say now?

I'M HAVING PROBLEMS WITH THE FOOTER 

It seems that only one post at a time, usually the most recent one, will display "MR. SPITBULL" as the author's name in the footer.

PARENT'S PREDICTION PROVES PARTLY PROPER 

The kids awoke around 7:00, as usual. Chocolate-covered doughnuts at Java Jack's in lieu of Eggo pancakes, however.

Still tinkering with the HTML; progress is frustratingly slow.

WARNING: THIS BLOG IS A WORK IN PROGRESS 

It's two in the morning (I'm editing a preexisting post so the time stamp is misleading), which means the kids will be up in about five hours demanding pancakes (they're plenty happy with the Eggo frozen ones, but still....). (And yes, I mean pancakes, not waffles.)

Futzing will resume tomorrow.

Saturday, September 06, 2003

THE FIRST AND LAST TIME I DEFEND DENNIS KUCINICH 

(Pre-script: I wrote this as a bloggable piece two weeks ago but I didn't get around to creating a blog until today. So it's a little stale. Tell you what--you can have it for half price.)

Carping about liberal bias in the media has always left me cold. It seems plain enough that journalists as a group are further to the left than the populace is; surveys show that they are much more likely to be Democrats than Republicans, for instance (though they don’t appear to translate their politics into votes in any greater numbers than the low-turnout electorate they so love to hector). And I don’t dispute that this sometimes shows through in their reporting, nor that when it does they deserve to be called to account.

But I don’t think liberal bias is the root problem. I think monopoly power is. This is clearest in the newspaper industry. In the 19th and much of the 20th centuries, almost every U.S. city of any size had at least two newspapers, and many had lots more. And newspapers then had varied and quirky personalities–some were liberal, others were conservative; some were populist muckrakers, others were aristocratic standard-bearers; and so on. Most importantly, they competed. They scratched and clawed with each other--sometimes literally, no doubt--to break stories. Being first was what mattered most.

Today all but the very largest cities have only one daily left, and of these almost all are essentially interchangeable. Insulated from competition like utilities or the post office, newspapers have become lazy, boring, and smug. And none more so than my hometown rag, the Star Tribune.

Case in point, from the August 24th installment of Star Tribune Ombudsman Lou Gelfand’s regular “If you ran the newspaper” column:

Don't be modest

Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich spoke in St. Paul Aug. 16, but there was no mention of it in the Star Tribune.

Dave Nelson, Diane Haugesag and Doug Crandall, among others, wanted to know why not.

Bob von Sternberg, who normally would have covered the speech, did not know about it. He was surprised, he said, because he had talked with the Kucinich people the week before and "they didn't mention it."

Star Tribune policy is to cover the appearance of every presidential candidate who comes to Minnesota, said Dennis McGrath, supervisor of the campaign coverage.
Now, it was pretty dumb of the Kucinich people not to have mentioned his upcoming appearance when they talked to von Sternberg. But gee, Bob, did you ask them if their man was coming to town any time soon? It doesn’t even occur to Gelfand to tell us, but it hardly seems likely that von Sternberg did ask them and they said no.

Gelfand and von Sternberg’s lack of interest in this crucial detail is telling. At the Strib the news is obligated to stand up, clear its throat, and “mention” itself; the paper can’t be troubled to look for it. And I love the “Don’t be modest” subhead: could the paper be any more self-satisfied?

The more I think about this the more amazed I get. If I were responsible for covering a presidential campaign one of the first things I would do is bookmark each candidate’s web site–about a fifteen-minute job I’d guess, even with the Democrats’ presently teeming field. Then I’d check them regularly (or, if I worked for the Strib, I’d sign up for automatic e-mail alerts, so the news could come to me)–again, a few minutes a day per candidate.

It boggles the mind to conclude that neither McGrath nor Von Sternberg has done this, but the conclusion seems inescapable. The Kucinich campaign’s web site has a schedule page which lays out his planned appearances for the next several weeks; I can’t find an archive but it’s implausible that the August 16th St. Paul appearance wasn’t listed well before the fact. (The site also has a page about his proposal to “make war archaic” by creating a Department of Peace; no word yet on the Departments of Love and Understanding.) And an August 5th posting on the web site for the local office of the Kucinich campaign announces that “The campaign has kicked into high gear preparing for Dennis's visit on Saturday August 16th. Continue checking the August section for the latest updates.”

The bottom line: McGrath and von Sternberg could have found out about the Kucinich appearance without leaving their desks–hell, without even picking up a phone–but apparently that was just too much work for them.

What I like about this little example is that it supports my monopoly power thesis but not the liberal bias thesis. If the Strib’s leftward tilt were as conscious and as thoroughgoing as many believe it to be, we should have seen an unduly prominent puff piece on Kucinich’s appearance–after all, Kucinich is about as liberal as they come. Instead we got nothing, then a “their fault, not ours” non-apology.

The biggest problem with the Strib and newspapers like it (that is, just about all of them) is not that they are constantly scheming to impose their liberal agenda on the rest of us, even if at times that’s what they are in fact doing. It’s that they’re lazy and no one is forcing them not to be. (Lest any of you non-Twin Citians surmise that the St. Paul Pioneer Press provides competition for the Strib, think again. Neither paper has been able to make real inroads into the other paper’s city. In fact, the Pioneer Press seems to pride itself on its provincialism. For instance, its high school football preview section last year included schools from western Wisconsin but not from the Minneapolis suburbs. And yes, the Pioneer Press also dropped the ball on the Kucinich appearance, as a reader pointed out.)

Their laziness sometimes looks like conscious liberal bias because it allows the largely liberal predilections of journalists to show through, like underwear through disheveled clothing. More often it surfaces as shoddiness, ineptitude, or outright fabrication (Jayson Blair, anyone?). But these are epiphenomena, not the phenomenon itself.

EVERY BLOG NEEDS A QUOTE FROM ULYSSES 

Mr. Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls.

AND YET ANOTHER TEST 

If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. And again. And again. Oh screw it.

ANOTHER TEST 

We are picky, aren't we?

LET'S TRY THIS AGAIN 

It works, yes? No?