Saturday, October 26

Begone

Like most of the public commentary on Paul Wellstone, most of the comments appearing in the blogosphere have been respectful, even from those bloggers of very different political persuasions than Wellstone. But not from Laurence Simon, who (1) runs a series of thoroughly tasteless gallows-humor jokes, (2) denies that Wellstone was principled (on the ground that, after his first election in 1990, he promised to serve only two terms, a promise he broke by running for re-election this year), and (3) argues that even if Wellstone was principled, his principles were so thoroughly misguided that he deserves only scorn and contempt, in death as in life. All this is done with a sneer, and with offhand references to Hitler, bin Laden, Neville Chamberlain, and the like.

Well, fine. I knew of Larry's penchant for tasteless humor when I put him on my blogroll; I included him both because he is sometimes very funny and because I respected his efforts on behalf of Magen David Adom in the 2002 Blogathon last July. But this is beyond the pale. It's Larry's blog; he can do with it what he likes. But I don't have to link to it. And I won't anymore.

Friday, October 25

More on Wellstone

I am generally no fan of Peggy Noonan. But her column today eloquently captures just what we have lost with the death of Paul Wellstone:

When conservatives disagree with liberals, and they're certain the liberal they're disagreeing with is merely cynical, merely playing the numbers, merely playing politics, it's a souring experience. When liberals disagree with conservatives and they're sure the conservative they're disagreeing with is motivated by meanness or malice, it's an embittering experience. But when you disagree with someone on politics and you know the person you're disagreeing with isn't cynical or mean but well meaning and ardent and serious--well, that isn't souring or embittering. That's democracy, the best of democracy, what democracy ought to be about.

Paul Wellstone was a good guy. His friend Sen. Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican, spoke at some length this afternoon about his "caring and belief." When tough old Pat Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, spoke of Wellstone this afternoon on CNN, he began to weep. And when Pete Domenici, tough old Republican of New Mexico, followed Mr. Leahy on CNN, he too began to weep, and had to beg off the interview.

Senators ain't sissies. They can be one cold crew. But Wellstone touched them in a way that was special, and that I think had something to do with democracy, and those who grace it.

It's sad to lose a good man. Good for America for raising him; good for Minnesota for raising him to the Senate; good for Wellstone for being motivated by belief and the desire to make our country better.

When a politician regularly challenges the status quo, as Paul Wellstone did, it is bound to annoy and frustrate those whose interests are served by the status quo. That Wellstone did what he did and remained so well liked and admired by people on both sides of the aisle is a tremendous tribute to the man. People like him are few and far between; people like him in politics are rarer still. We are a poorer nation without him.

(Link via Armed Liberal and Martin Devon).

Oh, No

I am stunned beyond words by the death of Sen. Paul Wellstone (along with his wife, daughter, and several staff members) in a plane crash earlier today. Sen. Wellstone was a polarizing figure, both for his place on the political spectrum and for his refusal to play many of the political games that produce so much public cynicism toward politicians. But for those reasons he was an inspirational figure as well: he represented a powerful voice in opposition to the monied interests that dominate so much of politics these days, and he was willing to take bold and controversial positions based on the courage of his convictions, not the strength of polling data. And he seems to have been a genuinely kind and engaging man.

Sen. Wellstone's death, so close to election day, has obvious implications for control of the Senate. But I can't think about that now. Minnesota and the nation have suffered a terrible loss; this is a day for mourning, not for political strategizing.

Thursday, October 24

Another One Gone

I'm sorry to see that, after a brief return from hiatus, Ginger Stampley has decided to discontinue What She Really Thinks. In addition to being an interesting thinker and a clear writer, Ginger is a knowledgeable Mac user, and I will miss her observations on Mac-related issues as well as her sharp political commentary. Fellow Houstonian Charles Kuffner offers a tribute to Ginger at Off the Kuff.

And just after Ginger closes up shop, Ted Barlow announces a hiatus, as does Rob Humenik. What the heck is going on in Houston, anyway? At least Ted's is likely to be short, if the past is any indication, and Rob says he'll be back soon, too. But, meanwhile, Charles, take care of yourself, okay?

Fishy

Dan Lewis analyzes the circumstantial evidence of collusion between the NFL and Major League Baseball, concluding: "It's fishy smelling. But, it's a good fish, like tuna or salmon."

Mmmm, tuna….

Wednesday, October 23

Doonesbury Redux

Now this one is seriously funny, Jim (especially when read side-by-side with Trudeau's pretty lame original).

Inside Baseball
(Or, Blogger vs. Blogger, with Me in the Middle)

I hate it when bloggers I enjoy reading get into a fight. Last week when I went on my break, I recommended Tom Spencer’s blog for his thorough, ongoing coverage (and critique) of the administration’s rhetoric toward Iraq. Armed Liberal, whose blog I've read and respected for some time now, followed my link to Tom's site, wasn't impressed, and said so at some length. Tom replied in A.L.'s comments and on his own site, and A.L. appended some additional observations to his original post. A.L. also asked, "And Jeff – what the hell are you thinking?"

I should probably let this go, but at the risk of further annoying Tom and A.L. (and because other bloggers, like Ted Barlow, are standing on the edges of the fray), I'll offer some thoughts. First (and I'm sorry to say this, Tom), the post that A.L. quotes is not Tom's finest work. The rapid-fire series of links are accompanied by text that, while grounded in what I think are fair observations, is nevertheless rather over the top, laden with heavy-handed sarcasm. To consider just the first of the comments that A.L. quotes: there are certainly grounds to think that the administration has manipulated the timing and content of its push against Iraq so as to improve the Republicans' chances in the fall elections. The fact that, after weeks of pushing for immediate action on a congressional resolution, the president left Washington almost immediately after the vote for two weeks on the campaign trail suggests that maybe, just maybe, the need for immediate action wasn't quite as urgent as the president suggested. But the flip way in which Tom suggests the next step in a wag-the-dog sequence isn't calculated to appeal to any but the most dedicated partisans.

Second, despite the above, A.L. isn't entirely fair to Tom. By quoting Tom's text without including Tom's links, A.L. effectively removes Tom's comments from their context, making them seem simply like the meandering observations of an unfocused mind—you know, the kind of thing Larry King used to do in his USA Today column. A.L. also makes the mistake of judging Tom's blog from a single post. But bloggers, even the best bloggers, sometimes write bad posts. I certainly have. We’re busy people who make our living by means other than blogging; what we write isn't always (or even frequently) going to be the most polished, fully-considered text around. Tom's been busy grading papers, a task that is bound to make anyone extremely grouchy (it usually leaves me questioning the meaning of my existence), and maybe a bad mood affected his writing. Maybe he was in a hurry. Who knows? But having read Tom's blog for a couple of months now, I feel confident in saying that, whatever the failings of the particular post to which A.L. linked, Tom's a sharp guy whose observations are usually worth reading.

A.L. focuses not merely on the individual deficiencies he finds in Tom's post but on a bigger picture as well, one that goes to the decay in politics as it is practiced in this country. He writes:

[I]t conveniently ignores the culpability of his team (sadly, it’s mine as well) in looting the public purse, and building Sky Boxes to keep the unwashed at bay. We are in an era when the entrenched political classes have sold their souls to powerful monied interests, to the clear detriment of the average American. From top to bottom, good people go into the system and venal functionaries rise to the top.

As long as each party can blow enough smoke at the other guys as the cascade of scandal unfolds, they have some prayer that their own venality, self-interest, and corruption will get overlooked. Because I’m a liberal, I’m supposed to overlook the sins of ‘my guys’ and put a magnifying glass to the sins of the ‘other team’. Well, [&$#@] it. They’re all sinners, and until enough of us are willing to stand up and point to the dirt on our hems, this problem isn’t going to go away.

Now, I don't really disagree with this. Our political system is a mess, with both of the major parties unresponsive in important ways to the needs and desires of the populace. Neither party is the sole repository of all that is true and light and good, just as neither party has a monopoly on venality and cynical manipulation of the media and the public, and it would be foolish to pretend otherwise. I've written critically of Democrats before, and I'm sure I will again.

On the other hand, timing matters. We're now less than two weeks from an important and closely-fought election, one that will determine control of both houses of Congress as well as of statehouses across the nation. It's inevitable that, as election day draws nearer, partisanship is going to increase (things got so bad in the comments sections at MyDD that J. B. Armstrong decided to turn off the comments feature until after the election). At a time like this, I think it's unrealistic to expect that people are going to engage in extensive criticism of those who fall, roughly speaking, on their side of the political divide. There are lots of things that I'd like to see from Democrats that I don't see now, and there are some Democratic positions and conduct from some Democratic politicians that I don't regard with favor. But at this point it's too late to change anything before the election—we're stuck with the candidates we have, and if a Democratic commentator is reluctant to criticize the flaws in a Democratic candidate for fear of assisting the campaign of an even worse Republican, I'm not going to throw stones. As Jonathan Chait's review of Ralph Nader's campaign biography in the American Prospect effectively demonstrates, in politics as in so many other things the perfect is the enemy of the good, or, if you insist, the less bad (not that Nader represented the perfect, or even the good, in 2000). At this point, I'm much more concerned with keeping control of the Senate than I am with reforming the Democratic Party; as far as I'm concerned, we can return to that long-term project two weeks from today.

One comment on cheerleading: A.L. is right that the kind of partisan rhetoric he criticizes is unlikely to persuade. But I think it still has a place. Maybe A.L's and my perspectives on this are shaped by our surroundings. A.L. lives in California, where Democrats dominate the state government, and where one of the few good things that can be said of the incumbent governor is that he is marginally better than his bumbling opponent. Democrats in California are not embattled, for the most part, so it's easier to focus on their flaws (especially with someone like Gray Davis around). On the other hand, I live in a conservative area; although Indianapolis has a Democratic mayor and Indiana has a Democratic governor, political discourse here is dominated by Republicans. The town, county, and congressional district where I live is so dominated by the Republican Party that the Democrats usually don't even bother fielding candidates. Most of the political rhetoric I encounter around here consists of Republican cheerleading. So, frankly, sometimes I need a good dose of something like Atrios to help keep my spirits up.

Update: Tom Spencer has written a gracious response to this post.

Tuesday, October 22

Update

I have a longish post half-completed on my laptop, which, unfortunately, is still in my office at school. I'll post it tomorrow.

In the meantime, $%#@ Blogger and Blogspot, which have been flaky beyond belief for the last few days. I haven't had problems as severe as those suffered by Atrios, who had to set up an entire alternate site when Blogger rendered the main site unupdatable. But Cooped Up was inaccessible for an hour or so this morning and was pitifully slow for most of the rest of the day. And that's been true today of Blogspot sites in general. I'm tired of it. I've asked this before, but now I'm really serious, so I'll ask again. I know that Movable Type requires certain things of its web hosts; I'd appreciate recommendations for hosts from people who are using Movable Type (especially those who have made the transition from Blogger and Blogspot). Thanks.

Poor Noah

Tim Dunlop's Noah, that is. I feel for Tim as he tries to keep his young son not only safe but oblivious to the madness around him, especially now given the D.C. sniper's message threatening children.

It's remarkable, and a bit odd, that when I heard of the threat, my first thought was of the family of someone I've never met, a person with whom I've exchanged only a few email messages. I don't know Tim, and, as I lived in D.C. for several years in the early and mid-'90s, there are people in the D.C. area I do know. And yet, because of our blogs, I feel connected to Tim somehow, to the point that when I heard the sniper had apparently returned to Montgomery County, and then that he was threatening children, I first thought of Tim. Is blogging a good thing because it brings us into contact with interesting people who would otherwise remain completely unknown to us, or a bad thing because it creates a false sense of connection, or somewhere in between?

I haven't had much to say about the sniper, and I don't expect that I will, at least until much more is known. But Tim does a superb job of tracking the latest developments, as do Jim Henley at Unqualified Offerings and Tony Adragna and Will Vehrs at Quasipundit.

Regime Change

So the administration's policy is regime change, but what exactly does that entail? Well, to paraphrase an ex-president, it depends on what the meaning of "regime change" is. Or, as the current president said of Saddam Hussein yesterday:

However, if he were to meet all the conditions of the United Nations, the conditions that I've described very clearly in terms that everybody can understand, that in itself will signal the regime has changed.

Josh Marshall attempts to discern what's going on:

I've rolled this one over in my head a few times and as nearly as I can figure the key is that the president prized apart the words in that wonderful phrase and took 'regime' which was supposed to be the object of the verb 'change,' as in 'change the regime' and made it the subject, as in 'the regime changes.' That is to say, the 'regime' was mean and now it's nice. I grant you, this grammar and syntax chopping may not do full justice to the utter discombobulation of this phrase. You can just see the chief regime-changers hearing this and breaking out with the frantic 'wait, wait, waits...'

In any case, approaching the matter at that level may miss the point. Could anybody but this president have managed to get away with uttering such a quote? What we're seeing here is a grey glimmer of that undiscovered country where verbal goofballism meets the honed edge of grand strategy. Sort of Gomer Pyle meets Forrest Gump meets Klemens von Metternich.

Like Marshall, I've had ambiguous feelings about Iraq for awhile now, believing that the status quo was untenable but not really trusting the administration to do things right. I still don't trust the administration. But watching the twists and turns as the US negotiates with the other permanent members of the Security Council has become very interesting.

PBS Kids

Andrew Northrup's review of PBS's lineup nicely describes my morning viewing these days:

6:00 AM – Sesame Street Everyone can see Snuffy, and there’s some vile little goblin named Elmo who is apparently the star of the show. It’s really gone to hell. Look away.
* * *
3:30 PM – Clifford the Big Red Dog The people who drew He-Man make fun of this cartoon. What are there, seven frames of animation a minute? Is it being drawn in real time? I know this is PBS, but really.
Add the irritating fact that Clifford seems to show the same cartoons on consecutive days on a disturbingly regular basis. As for Sesame Street, Noah is inaccountably fond of Elmo. But Cookie Monster still rules.

Monday, October 21

More on Doonesbury

When I noted today's Doonesbury cartoon in my brief post this morning, I meant to add (but didn't because I was in the middle of preparing for class) that I didn't know which I was looking forward to more, the rest of the week's cartoons or the blogosphere's reaction, which I had hoped would show some good-humored self-awareness rather than inflated self-importance. Looking around briefly now, though, it looks like the standard response is, in essence, "I know you are but what am I?"

You know, one of the simultaneously neat and frustrating things about blogs is that there are practically no barriers to entry, at least once someone has a computer and an internet connection. There are some bloggers who know an awful lot and focus their blogs on the things they know an awful lot about. There are some bloggers (myself included) who know a lot about some things but feel free to comment on things about which they are at best moderately informed laypeople (and at worst largely ignorant). And there are some bloggers who really don't seem to know much about anything, but who nevertheless spew an awful lot of useless verbiage into the ether. Zipper is out there, folks, and it's not surprising that he would have a blog.

Most of the bloggers I read spend most of their time discussing fairly serious subjects. I do too. And someone like Glenn, with his massive readership, has probably earned the right to a little self-importance. But for the rest of us, I'd hope that we maintain the ability to step back, look at the big picture, and direct a wry grin at ourselves.

Update: Daniel Drezner has posted a clarification to his initial post, linked above; I now think I may have read a bit more into the post than was actually there. Apologies.

I'm Back

And just in time for this pertinent observation from Garry Trudeau.

(Link via Ted Barlow).

Sunday, October 20

Wine of the Week
Wolf Blass President's Selection Shiraz 1999

Australian winemaking has come a long way in the past decade or so, as more and more winemakers learned how to harness the old-vine fruit present in so many of Australia's wine districts, creating wines that married power with an increasing level of finesse. It's strangely refreshing, though, to come across so obvious a throwback as the Wolf Blass President's Selection Shiraz. This is what a lot of Australian shiraz was like a decade or more ago, all ripe fruit and sweetly overcharred new oak, with hardly any refinement. The 1999 has an aroma dominated by coffee liqueur and hazelnuts, with the barest hint of blackberries as a reminder that this is, indeed, derived from fruit. The blackberries are more evident in the flavors, where they blend with dark chocolate, vanilla, and again a hint of nuttiness. This is not a food-friendly wine—I suspect that it would dominate just about anything short of a robust pepper steak. For all that, it's quite smooth and easy to drink, if you like the style. But it has all the subtlety of an emu's peck.

Something other than a shiraz next week, I think.