The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom. - Wm. Blake

Monday, October 31, 2005


Maybe not a full review, but I'll say that the book struck me pretty powerfully. To some extent, I think this review, from The Times Literary Supplement captures it:
Bill Clinton has written two books: a beguiling memoir of growing up in the South and becoming a young Arkansas politician, and a tedious account of being President of the United States....[T]he memoir bounces along nicely for several hundred pages, as Clinton goes to college, serves as a junior aide for J. William Fulbright's Senate office, takes up his Rhodes Scholarship, and works towards becoming Governor of Arkansas in 1979. Indeed, if these pages had been published as a separate book, many would think that Clinton has contributed a classic of Southern political memoir.

via Powells
I strongly disagree with the connotation of "tedious," but there's no question that what is an engaging, even emotional, read for the first few hundred pages becomes more of a slog, like a detailed, semi-academic history of some long-ago war. Even that's unfair - it's covering events that aren't long-ago, and still-active players from Rahm Emanuel to Tom DeLay cavort across its pages. But, where I'd recommend the pre-Presidential years to anyone, I think you have to be at least something of a wonk to love the second half.

As it happens, the paperback version reflects this, being split into two halves. What I'd say is that pretty much everyone should try Part One, and if you like the gubernatorial years, go ahead and give Part Two a try. Among other things, the view of the Middle East negotiations, and to a lesser extent the Northern Ireland as well, is fascinating. And it's important to be reminded of little facts from recent history, like that not a single Republican voted for the '93 budget that set the country on track for a balanced budget. So next time some blowhard trots out the BS about how "Gingrich forced Clinton to balance the budget," simply point out that it's 100% false.

Psychic in Chief?

This passage really struck me:
The last time America seemed to be sailing on such smooth seas was in the early sixties, with the economy booming, civil rights laws promising a more just future, and Vietnam a distant blip on the horizon. Within six years the economy was sagging, there were race riots in the streets, John and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. had been killed, and Vietnam had consumed America, driven President Johnson from office, and ushered in a new era of division in our politics. Good times are to be seized and buit upon, not coasted through.

[p. 893]
This closes his summary of his 2000 State of the Union, and of course is eerily prescient - or would be, had he written it in 2000. But even when he wrote it, a couple years ago, it was far from clear that the US would be in its current dire straits. But of course the man is not only brilliant, but also has the outstanding intuitive feel for people and trends that made him such a formidable politician. The tragedy is that I don't think he succeeded in communicating to the American people the message above. I don't recall whether I caught that address - it was a huge transition period in my life - but I'm not sure I viewed the election quite in that way.

In a sense I did: I had been energized by Seattle, and thought we might be on the cusp of great (positive) change. As Rage Against the Machine was singing, "It has to start somewhere, it has to start sometime: what better place than here, what better time than now?" It may be that Gore's biggest failing that year (aside, of course, from failing to be loved by the Alpha Girls) was failing to capture that sense of possibility. Instead, for much of the race, he seemed like a more cautious continuation of Clinton, rather than the man to seize the reins and move forward.

Bitching about Gore's campaign is cheap, of course, and if Scalia, Rehnquist, and Thomas weren't anti-American hacks, he would have won, but it wouldn't have been with a mandate regardless. His mandate could have come by inspiring both those who believed in Clinton - and his evident belief that we were at a crossroads of opportunity - and those who took to the streets of Seattle. Instead, the latter group looked to narcissist Ralph, and the former group disengaged.

His Life

A month ago I promised to write some about Clinton's bio, My Life. Due to some sort of email screwup, I haven't received an Inbox full of messages asking where said posts were. But for all of you waiting with bated breath, here's a one:

Fitzmas was a bit of a letdown: while I was certainly happy to see a Scooter under the tree, I was really hoping for a brain chemistry set. Nonetheless, what was most striking to me was what an impressive figure Fitzgerald cut (at least on the radio). He was clear, articulate, ultra-professional, and showed some charming glints of humor. Only an embarrassing partisan could fail to find him convincing.

Then, yesterday, I got to the part of the bio where Clinton describes Starr's Congressional testimony, which was effectively his public coming-out event. People on all sides have been unable to resist comparing the two, but I really feel that these two events capture the essence of each, and the nature of their respective work.
Three surprising things came out of Starr's testimony. The first was his announcement that he had found no wrongdoing on my part or Hillary's in the Travel Office and FBI file inevstigations. Congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts asked him when he had reached those conlusions. "Some months ago," replied Starr. Frank then asked him why he had waited until after the election to exonerate me on those charges, when he had submitted his report "with a lot of negative stuff about the President" before the election. Starr's brief response was confused and evasive.

Second, Starr admitted he had talked to the press, on background, a violation of the grand jury secrecy rules. Finally, he denied under oath that his office had tried to get Monica Lewinsky to wear a wire to record conversations with Vernon Jordan, me, or other people. When confronted with the FBI form proving he had, he was evasive. The Washington Post reported that "Starr's denials ... were shattered by his own FBI reports."

[p. 829]
In other words, Starr's crummy little operation withered in the first daylight shone upon it, while the heretofore reticent Fitz gleamed before the cameras. True, there was no explicit opposition, but I think there's no doubt that, to the casual viewer, Fitz was Eliot Ness, not Javert.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005


Hey, I just learned that I've been blogrolled in Chile. Unfortunately, I know only enough Spanish to keep myself alive in Spanophone (?) places, so I can't really say much about the blog, by one Hernán Precht Bañados, although it's obviously a planning/architecture blog - one that currently has cartoons about planning on top. Those, I understand.

Perhaps this will inspire me to revive a long-ago, half-finished post about Brasilia, the Modern utopia/dystopia capital city of Brazil. They speak Portugese, of course, but it's something for all my loyal South American readers.

Oh, and sorry if the verb-form of bienvenidos is wrong up there. My sister will correct me, if necessary.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Those damn leftists

With their character-assassination and irrational Bush-hatred:
He's a vile, detestable, moralistic person with no heart and no conscience who believes he's been tapped by God to do very important things
I mean, I dislike Bush for a lot of reasons, and I certainly wish he wasn't President, but this seems a bit mu-

What's that?

Read the rest of it?
one White House ally said, referring to special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald.
Oh. Huh.

Well, sounds like somebody's getting coal in his Fitzmas stocking.

via Digby

I think I'm now within 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon

The question is whether Kevin Bacon is within 6 degrees of eeeevil. Wait. I'll get there.

It's been awhile since I've heard from my very good friend Danny, who's an actor. So I Google him up and, lo and behold, he's in a movie in current release, The War Within. What's amazing about this is that I actually saw a brief trailer for it on Slate or Salon a few weeks ago. I didn't notice Danny in it, partly because I wasn't paying that much attention, partly because trailers are cut so fast, but mostly because it's a movie about Muslim terrorists. Not to typecast, but Danny's Hispanic, so I don't necessarily expect him in Muslim roles. Yet he's been in 3 movies now, and played a Muslim in all 3. (He also played a doorman named Mohamed on Broadway). I can tell you that, back in school (long before 9/11), his fear was not being typecast as a Muslim....

The funniest thing, however, was discovering a writeup on The War Within on a homeschooling website. I think it may be a reprint from Front Page magazine (not going to link to David Horowitz's lunatics), but regardless, it's a pretty good rant to the effect that making movies in which terrorists are anything but cardboard cutout evil is wrong, exemplified by the following line: "Empathy. Sympathy. Whatever. It's a distinction without a difference, and this absurd psychobabble to justify rooting for terrorists is flat-out disgusting." I hope that Flamingo Sherri's kids know how to respond to questions marked wrong: "2+2=4, 2+2=5, it's a distinction without a difference, Mom."

Obviously, I haven't seen the movie; who knows if it's any good, or if it's "rooting for terrorists." But I can't help but feel favorable towards art that pisses off Horowitz and homeschoolers.

Been quiet around here.

Sorry about that. My days have mostly been like this. Only 3 shopping days 'til Fitzmas.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Friday Top Ten

Serenade To A Cuckoo - Jethro Tull, This Was
The Pan Piper - Miles Davis, Sketches of Spain
Muswell Hillbillies - The Kinks, To The Bone
Bargain - The Who, Who's Next
The Truth Will Set You Free - Scott Blasey, Shine
We're Coming Back (Cock Sparrer) - Bouncing Souls, BYO Split Series Vol. IV
In My Life - The Beatles, Rubber Soul
I Just Want To Celebrate - Rare Earth, Serious Grooves From The Masters Of Soul
Homeward Bound - Simon & Garfunkel, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme
The Sidewinder - Lee Morgan, Classic Jazz - Jazz Masters 1

Nothing to apologize for here, I think. A good sign for the weekend, I hope.

Actually, the Rare Earth reminds me that the night before I discovered the lovely and scholarly Ms. Hughes, I finally learned something about George Clinton & Parliament & Funkadelic. I was mostly aware of the late '70s, extra-weird stuff, and wasn't really sure how to get started. But - again on PBS, Independent Lens - this documentary gave me the whole history, and a desire to start exploring.

Christ. NPR, PBS, and baseball. I'm not an old man, you know. Those Bouncing Souls up there are honest-to-god punk.


This is a relief

So the other night I was engaged in my annual television watching and flipping between innings, of course, when I came across this great show about Helen of Troy. Since I was in third grade, I've been fascinated by the Homeric world, especially the underlying truth behind the myths (while simultaneously having misgivings about those who would deconstruct myths to nothingness). NBC's Odysseus miniseries a few years back was disappointing in some ways, but I loved that it portrayed a gritty, not glittering, world closer to Mycenean civilization than the Greece of Pericles.

So I'm instantly drawn in by this sort of documentary that travels from Argos & Sparta to Troy, Istanbul, and the ancient capital of the Hittites (the Trojans' neighbors), tracking what the historical reality of a woman like Helen would have been. As it turns out, women in the Mycenean Age retained significant power, including the right to property and other aspects of autonomy that would have allowed a royal like Helen to have autonomy. Great, interesting stuff, but I'll admit that part of my interest in the show was the instant crush that I developed on the hostess, an attractive - in a womanly, intelligent way - woman who's handling artifacts, citing Linear B records, and reading Homer in the original. My dream woman, in other words, complete with a sexy English accent. So I'm awaiting the closing credits, and she's listed as merely "Bettany Hughes, Presenter." Which, on British TV at least, makes her more like Katie Couric than Elaine Fantham. So was she faking it all?

Thankfully, no. The credits were thin enough that they failed to reveal that the show was tied to a book that Hughes has written, Helen of Troy, Goddess, Princess, Whore, which I think goes on my Christmas list.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Oh man, would that be good

Don't vote against Miers. Don't filibuster her.


It would say volumes more than any business-as-usual response, and since her lightweight character is already well-known, it would send exactly the right message: If Bush can't be bothered to nominate a worthy candidate, the Dems refuse to grant her the respect she doesn't deserve.

One thing Hitt doesn't mention is that it might not even be a 55-0 vote; does every one of these Republicans want an albatross named Miers around his or her neck?

One thing that's important to realize about Miers is that this is a very easy story to communicate to the public, especially in the wake of Katrina. For a long time, Dems have been stuck with "nuanced," non-punchy storylines. Well, what communicates better to Joe Bag-o-donuts and Jane Paycheck than "undistinguished suckup gets a big promotion?" And since it meshes very well with the general trend of maladministration, it's in no way distracting from the larger anti-Republican narrative. We still need a positive narrative to go with it, but first we need to neutralize some of the Reps' rhetorical strengths. Painting the so-called Daddy party as a bunch of corrupt incompetents goes a long way in stopping culture war mantras in their tracks.

Plame in 5:30

If anyone reading this has been ignoring "Plamegate," or been somehow unclear on its significance, MSNBC's Hardball has done an outstanding summary of events up til now. It's been noted in a few places already, but if you haven't seen it, go look.

View from the other side

So the interesting thing about the story discussed below is that, in gathering some of those links, I came across the rightwing view, which - surprisingly - is somewhat different. In rightwingland, 60 Minutes would never allow a Republican to rebut allegations against him (because we all know that 60 Minutes' trademark technique is not having Mike Wallace interview an increasingly squirmy accusee in front of the camera. No, it's all stab-in-the-back stuff). Furthermore, the fact that CBS was planning to run a 20 minute piece with the ex-head of the FBI calling Bill Clinton everything short of a traitor proves nothing; what is telling is that, under pressure, they allowed Sandy Berger rebut the claims. In that they find liberal bias.

I mean, seriously, what is wrong with these people?

Actually, that question was rhetorical until I got to Dr. Sanity's site, the top of which is dominated with an extremely creepy flash sequence about 9-11. I mean, serious rightwing beatoff material - multiple images of the WTC being hit, the aftermath, eeeevil muslims, and, of course, Dear Leader. It really is the most important thing in their world, isn't it? Of course, if you're from Ann Arbor, it would have been quite a searing experience....

60 Minutes and Clinton

A lot of people have suggested that 60 Minutes' attempt to let Freeh slam Clinton unrebutted is a result of the Dan Rather/TANG mess from last year. To some extent that may be true, but, really, since when did 60 Minutes need Republican prodding to run groundless attacks on Bill Clinton?

I think this is part and parcel of the ongoing Stockholm Syndrome that many liberals experience regarding the SCLM. Even as we decry it, even as we try to work the refs, even as we attack Judith-Fucking-Miller, we deep down expect them to be on our side - or at least on the side of truth, where we consider ourselves to be. But they're not. They fucking hated Clinton (both of them), the hate Gore, and they loved every miunute of Whitewater. And as Bob Somerby has pointed out a million times, it wasn't Rush and the Washington Times leading the charge, it was the Post and the New York Times.

So yes, they do get cowed by vocal Republicans, and yes, they have lost all contact with the purpose of reporting, but no, it's not a coincidence. Evidently, what it takes to reach the upper echelons of journalism in this day in age is homologous with toadying and being impressed with people like George W. Bush. I don't know how to fix it, but to fix something, you need to see how it's broken.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Annoying anti-intellectualism

In pop/rock criticism, actually (you were expecting another Mier post, weren't you?). As a Jethro Tull fan (can't deny it, can I? Accursed Top Ten posts!), I've always been annoyed by the ubiquitous rock critic trope that anything with an intellectual reach beyond an eighth grader is "pretentious" and generally unacceptable. I like quite a lot of punk these days, but I don't think that it's the only valid form of rock.

This comes up thanks to Sasha Frere-Jones's piece in the New Yorker on Fiona Apple's Incredible Machine. It's a good, interesting piece that makes me even more interested than I was in the album. But halfway through is this tidbit:
With the exception of a few lyrics, like “A voice once stentorian is now again meek and muffled,” Apple is no longer interested in pseudo-literary language. She’s secure enough to entrust her feelings to the more incisive charms of the vernacular: “The sign said stop, but we went on whole-hearted. / It ended bad, but I love where we started” (“Parting Gift”).
So who died and appointed Sasha Frere-Jones judge of true- and pseudo-literary-ism? I mean seriously, on what planet are the likes of Frere-Jones (a writer I like, I hasten to add) and Lester Fucking Bangs passing judgement on the intellectual attainment of others? Yet for 35 years, these nitwits have been telling the world that anyone who uses more than 3 chords and 2 syllables in a rock song is a detestable poseur. The article in question is even more egregious, as two - two! - sentences after the above excerpt, Frere-Jones writes, "Her themes haven’t really changed—the pronoun “he” is rarely followed by anything sanguine—but Apple is no longer simply at the mercy of her emotions."

"Sanguine"? How pseudo-literary can you get?

A good point on Mier

There's a rather comical thread on Mier over at Crooked Timber, where the commenters are desperate to argue that a Supreme Court Justice qualified for the job would be positively unAmerican. Amused as I was, it was hard not to get caught up in their thinking and argue in favor of qualified Justices. Fortunately, Matt Yglesias, who is often prone to intellectual masturbation, nails it over at TAPPED:
The problem with Miers is that you have to ask why she was picked. An intellectual superstar might have been picked because she was such a superstar. A straightforward affirmative-action pick would be chosen because of his ethnicity. But Miers seems to have been picked because she's a Bush loyalist. That's a problem. Her lack of apparent credentials is evidence of cronyism, which is bad. But the credentials per se aren't a big deal.
Precisely. There are probably hundreds of people in America who are unqualified on paper but would make excellent Justices. But that's not what Mier is. She's a crony - her only qualification is a 10 year history of sucking up to George W. Bush (and, like him, ignoring warnings about 9-11). And her one-page resume is evidence of that damning characteristic, not the damning characteristic itself.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

You Must Remember This

Next time vouchers come up, and you say, "Republicans favor vouchers not to help children learn, but to harm public schools," you will be accused of shrillness and who knows what else. Then you must link to this remembrance by Reed Hundt:
At any rate, since Mr. Bennett had been Secretary of Education I asked him to support the bill in the crucial stage when we needed Republican allies. He told me he would not help, because he did not want public schools to obtain new funding, new capability, new tools for success. He wanted them, he said, to fail so that they could be replaced with vouchers,charter schools, religious schools, and other forms of private education.
They really, truly hate America. Never forget that.


Holy crap. How does anyone read Fafblog! and not fall out of their seats? Why would anyone bother to comment on Fafblog!, It is all perfect and wholly self-contained. Jeebus.

Thank you, Fafnir, Giblets, and Medium Lobster. I am sorry for the times I think that it would be tasty to eat Medium Lobster.