In wartime

Mark Steyn has some thoughts on Memorial Day 2004:
Before the First World War, it was called Decoration Day -- a day for going to the cemetery and "strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion." Some decorated the resting places of fallen family members; others adopted for a day the graves of those who died too young to leave any descendants.

I wish we still did that. Lincoln's "mystic chords of memory" are difficult to hear in the din of the modern world, and one of the best ways to do it is to stand before an old headstone, read the name, and wonder at the young life compressed into those brute dates: 1840-1862. 1843-1864.

In my local cemetery, there's a monument over three graves, forebears of my hardworking assistant, though I didn't know that the time I first came across them. Turner Grant, his cousin John Gilbert and his sister's fiance Charles Lovejoy had been friends since boyhood and all three enlisted on the same day. Charles died on March 5, 1863, Turner on March 6, and John on March 11. Nothing splendid or heroic. They were tentmates in Virginia, and there was an outbreak of measles in the camp.

For some reason, there was a bureaucratic mixup and the army neglected to inform the families. Then, on their final journey home, the bodies were taken off the train at the wrong town. It was a Saturday afternoon and the stationmaster didn't want the caskets sitting there all weekend. So a man who knew where the Grants lived offered to take them up to the next town and drop them off on Sunday morning.

When he arrived, the family was at church, so he unloaded the coffins from his buggy and left without a word or a note to anyone. Imagine coming home from Sunday worship and finding three caskets waiting on the porch. Imagine being young Caroline Grant, and those caskets contain the bodies of your brother, your cousin and the man to whom you're betrothed.

That's a hell of a story behind the bald dates on three tombstones. If it happened today, maybe Caroline would be on Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric demanding proper compensation, and the truth about what happened, and why the politicians were covering it up. Maybe she'd form a group of victims' families. Maybe she'd call for a special commission to establish whether the government did everything it could to prevent disease outbreaks at army camps. Maybe, when they got around to forming the commission, she'd be booing and chanting during the officials' testimony, as several of the 9/11 families did during Mayor Rudy Giuliani's testimony.

All wars are messy, and many of them seem small and unworthy even at the moment of triumph. The unkempt lice-infested Saddam Hussein yanked from his spider hole last December is not so very different from the Jefferson Davis captured in May 1865 while skulking away in women's clothing, and thereafter depicted by gleeful Northern cartoonists in hoop skirts, petticoats and crinolines.

Conquered and captured, an enemy shrivels, and you question what he ever had that necessitated such a sacrifice. The piercing clarity of war shades into the murky grays of postwar reconstruction. You think Iraq's a quagmire? Lincoln's "new birth of freedom" bogged down into a centurylong quagmire of segregation, denial of civil rights, lynchings. Does that mean the Civil War wasn't worth fighting? That, as Al Gore and other excitable types would say, Abe W. Lincoln lied to us?

Like the French Resistance, tiny in its day but of apparently unlimited manpower since the war ended, for some people it's not obvious which side to be on until the dust's settled. New York, for example, resisted the Civil War my small town's menfolk were so eager to enlist in. The big city was racked by bloody riots against the draft. And you can sort of see the rioters' point. More than 600,000 Americans died in the Civil War -- or about 1.8 percent of the population. Today, if 1.8 percent of the population were killed in war, there would be 5.4 million graves to decorate on Decoration Day.

But that's the difference between then and now: the loss of proportion. They had victims galore back in 1863, but they weren't a victim culture. They had a lot of crummy decisions and bureaucratic screwups worth re-examining, but they weren't a nation that prioritized retroactive pseudo-legalistic self-flagellating vaudeville over all else. They had hellish setbacks but they didn't lose sight of the forest in order to obsess week after week on one tiny twig of one weedy little tree.

There is something not just ridiculous but unbecoming about a hyperpower 300 million strong whose elites -- from the deranged former vice president down -- want the outcome of a war, and the fate of a nation, to hinge on one freaky jailhouse; elites who are willing to pay any price, bear any burden, as long as it's pain-free, squeaky clean and over in a week. The sheer silliness dishonors the memory of all those we're supposed to be remembering this Memorial Day.

Misguided celebrity watch

To the list we can add Ken Burns:
Somehow recently, though, we have replaced our usual and healthy doubt with an arrogance and belligerence that resembles more the ancient and now fallen empires of our history books than a modern compassionate democracy.

Maybe it would be a good time for Mr. Burns to do a documentary on America in the 1890's, the era of "manifest destiny" and the takeover of the Philippines, when America truly was a colonial empire; he could gain some valuable context in the process.

Also Paul McCartney:
Everything would have been much simpler if things in Iraq had taken place with the backing of the United Nations... The current situation reminds me of Vietnam.

Well, I disagree completely, but he's such a nice guy I'll give this one a pass.

Also, in the current issue of Rolling Stone, Proof from D12 poses wearing a Palestinian-style keffiyeh. Although to be fair to him, who knows what the hell he's thinking. Maybe he's just a Howard Dean supporter.


Gore attacks president

"The President convinced the country with a mixture of forged documents and blatantly false assertions that Saddam was in league with Al Qaeda," thundered Al Gore in his May 26 meltdown.

He may have been referring to pre-war administration quotes like this one, which, to be fair, makes the Iraq-al Qaeda connection in fairly bold, no-wiggle-room terms:
"Al Qaeda reached an understanding with the government of Iraq that al Qaeda would not work against that government and that on particular projects, specifically including weapons development, al Qaeda would work cooperatively with the Government of Iraq."

The statement is accurate and Gore is wrong. What's interesting, though, is that it was actually made five years before the war, in 1998, in an indictment of Osama bin Laden, by the Clinton administration.

(Link courtesy of Ace of Spades)


Is FDR overrated?

I've been thinking about this issue because I'm working on a post detailing my favorite president (not FDR). I'm certainly puzzled by the extent to which conservatives give Franklin Roosevelt a free pass. Of course, he led America during World War II and rid the world of the Nazi scourge, for which he deserves nothing but praise. But he has a reputation today as a sort of avunculal, grandfatherly, above-politics figure, who boosted the nation's spirits through government action and radio addresses, whereas in reality the New Deal and his other domestic policies were a disaster for the nation, turning a normal several-year business downturn into a decade-long depression, the only one America has had. A book that came out last year, FDR's Folly by Jim Powell, summarized the case against the New Deal. I still haven't read it, unfortunately. Here's part of a review by Colby Cosh:
FDR expropriated all the privately held gold in the United States by executive order. He plowed inconceivable sums into Soviet-style public-works megaprojects; tripled federal taxes; gave unionized craft workers new privileges (often simply by looking the other way at their racketeering and violence) at the expense of poorer non-unionized workers and the indigent; supported farmers by paying them to destroy crops amidst unprecedented material want; created the first American payroll taxes amidst unprecedented unemployment; imposed a national code of industrial production and schedule of industrial wages; and stacked the Supreme Court with judges who make contemporary liberals look like Newt Gingrich...

...the Social Security Act was passed in 1935, with the idea of creating jobs for young people by moving the elderly out of the workforce, but was not to begin paying benefits to retirees until 1942. Now, one might think that Keynesian practices make a certain sort of basic sense; that it is a good idea for government to borrow against future peaks in the business cycle to rehabilitate the economy during bad periods. But the passage of Social Security introduced a steep new tax on workers during America's time of greatest penury and set the revenue aside while the fund got rolling. This was borrowing against the present -- devised during one of the bleakest years in the annals of the United States -- to pay for the future! Keynesianism through the looking-glass! And yet if anyone bothered to point out the obvious, it certainly had little effect on the American voter -- even the American voter who suddenly found his paycheck smaller.

...Did anyone think to speak for the urban hungry when American farmers were plowing food crops under? Did it occur to anyone that price supports for agriculture would help only the fortunate farmers whose crops had survived, and make eating more expensive for the truly imperiled? Did anyone notice that the executive branch's espousal of mandatory collective bargaining was a horrifying blow to American blacks and other minorities, who were excluded by "gentlemen's agreement" from the ranks of the major unions? Had the truths of human nature been forgotten so far that nobody thought raising wages for government contractors would discourage hiring by those companies?

When you add in FDR's other questionable decisions, like trying to pack the Supreme Court, interning Japanese Americans during the war, and applying very little direct effort to end the holocaust, you have to wonder whether there isn't more of a need to question his hero status.


Brushes with greatness

Last night I met Jane Galt, libertarian heroine to the masses. I found her charmingly self-effacing, and just regular charming. She kept mum, though, when I attempted to find out who she'd be supporting in the upcoming presidential election. It was a very nice chat.


All spit and spite

Via Drudge Report, I found a transcript of a speech Al Gore gave a speech today that's shocking for its moral relativism and irresponsibility, even for Mr. ""he betraaaaayed this country" himself. It merits a full debunking because it's so full of factual errors, poor logic and unsubtantiated allegations.

Let me just comment on the major aspect of Gore's speech. Since the majority of it is focused on the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, which according to Gore was so evil an act that it warrants the resignation of nearly Bush's entire defense team, I thought it was interesting to contrast it with this other piece of news from yesterday:
Seven Iraqi men whose right hands were chopped off on Saddam Hussein's orders at Abu Ghraib prison yesterday went to see President Bush - to thank America for freeing their country and getting them prosthetic limbs.

"You have to thank everybody who participated in the decision-making of going to war against Saddam, because without this, nobody can live in peace ever in the United States, Iraq or in Europe," said Basim Al Fadhly, 43.

All seven had their right hands amputated by a doctor at Abu Ghraib on Saddam's orders, on charges of foreign currency trafficking - and each had an "X" tattooed in the middle of his forehead to mark him as a criminal.

Laith Aggar, 42 - a jeweler whose hand was chopped off for calling his bank to check the price of gold - said Abu Ghraib under Saddam was so awful that even losing his right hand "was also something good, because we could leave."

On one side, a dozen or so prisoners of war who were subjected to humiliating treatment over the course of a single day. On the other side, thousands of innocent men who really were tortured, and badly, at that same prison, seven of whom considered themselves lucky to get their hands chopped off. Note, by the way, the thankfulness they have to the U.S. for the invasion. Guess which group Al Gore decides to give a huge, righteously angry speech about? And guess which group he thinks merits not a single word?

I know we should hold ourselves to a higher standard than we do Saddam Hussein's regime, but there's a limit to how much self-flagellating we can do in the face of this real-world barbarity. Which is not to mention that if Gore had had his way this real kind of torture would have obviously been allowed to continue uninterrupted.

Shame on Al Gore.

UPDATE: John Podhoretz: "[I]t is now clear that Al Gore is insane... Gore's speech is the single craziest political performance of my lifetime, and I use the word "craziest" advisedly... It is almost impossible to believe that this man was once vice president of the United States."

UPDATE: David Horowitz and Ben Johnson analyze the specifics.

Fine, so I can't handle horror movies

I saw that "28 Days Later" movie last night. It reminded me of my trip because it featured a lot of shots of central London, except they were barren (since most of the population of England had killed each other). It was an interesting movie, and by "interesting" I mean it scared the living daylights out of me. Between the nightmare apocalyptic scenario and the constantly-attacking zombies, I was quivering like a little girl. Okay, I can see that it was a well-done movie (it was directed by Danny Boyle, of "Trainspotting"), and I have to say it was engrossing in the sense that I couldn't avert my eyes, but I think I would have preferred not to have seen it. If you like horror movies (I don't), then go rent it because it is some intense shit. Otherwise, you'd be well advised to chicken out.


Quick hits

It's a great day for the, I don't know, dairy construction field.

"A shared responsibility"

I saw the president's speech last night, or at least most of it before my cable went on the fritz (Time Warner Cable - storm-related, perhaps). I thought it was well-crafted and well-presented, with President Bush once again proving himself to be a skilled orator. I found a transcript of the speech here. He acknowledges the problems that have arisen in fighting the insurgency, but points out the steps that have been taken to solve the problem: above all, involving the Iraqis in decision-making and self-policing wherever possible.
In the city of Fallujah, there has been considerable violence by Saddam loyalists and foreign fighters, including the murder of four American contractors. American soldiers and marines could have used overwhelming force. Our commanders, however, consulted with Iraq's governing council and local officials and determined that massive strikes against the enemy would alienate the local population and increase support for the insurgency.

So we have pursued a different approach. We're making security a shared responsibility in Fallujah. Coalition commanders have worked with local leaders to create an all-Iraqi security force, which is now patrolling the city. Our soldiers and Marines will continue to disrupt enemy attacks on our supply routes, conduct joint patrols with Iraqis to destroy bomb factories and safe houses and kill or capture any enemy.

We want Iraqi forces to gain experience and confidence in dealing with their country's enemies. We want the Iraqi people to know that we trust their growing capabilities, even as we help build them. At the same time, Fallujah must cease to be a sanctuary for the enemy. And those responsible for terrorism will be held to account.

In the cities of Najaf and Karbala and Kufa most of the violence has been decided by a young radical cleric who commands an illegal militia. These enemies have been hiding behind an innocent civilian population, storing arms and ammunitions in mosques and launching attacks from holy shrines. Our soldiers have treated religious sites with respect while systematically dismantling the illegal militia.

We're also seeing Iraqis themselves take more responsibility for restoring order. In recent weeks Iraqi forces have ejected elements of this militia from the governor's office in Najaf. Yesterday an elite Iraqi unit cleared out a weapons cache from a large mosque in Kufa. Respected Shia leaders have called on the militia to withdraw from these towns. Ordinary Iraqis have marched in protest against the militants.


In some cases the early performance of Iraqi forces fell short. Some refused orders to engage the enemy. We've learned from these failures. And we've taken steps to correct them. Successful fighting units need a sense of cohesion so we've lengthened and intensified their training.

Successful units need to know they are fighting for the future of their own country, not for any occupying power. So we are ensuring that Iraqi forces serve under an Iraqi chain of command. Successful fighting units need the best possible leadership. So we improved the vetting and training of Iraqi officers and senior enlisted men.

There was more, including discussion of the June 30 handoff of power, already-burgeoning local elections, and the demolition of Abu Ghraib.

The big related political news of recent days is what looks like declining support for Bush, which has to be Iraq-related; it's down to 41% in one poll. I don't consider opinion polls very informative or all that interesting personally, which is why I try to avoid commenting on them, whether or not I consider the results favorable. Another question from the same poll illustrates the problem of unreliability: when asked whether the June 30 handoff, 29% said yes and 63% said no. Certainly there's a chance that the date will fall through (though I think it'll happen), but the news out of Iraq is not nearly bad enough to justify this seeming widespread cynicism. Have 63% of Americans even given this issue significant thought?


I am the operator

I am surprised by the lack of choices available for elegant-looking digital watches. Surely there must be some kind of market for these; I can't be the only one who wants a nice-looking watch but doesn't want to have to tell time. I find deciphering analog time a little daily annoyance that I'd like to avoid. The closest thing I've found so far is the kind with a metal band and a built-in calculator/phone organizer, which is what my father has. It looks nice, but I don't want the calculator part; I want something much more simple-looking.

The closest thing I've found so far is this - black leather band, white on black display, no strange extra features like depth gauge. Ignore the site design and it's a pretty nice watch. The band might be a bit wide; maybe I can have that part replaced. It's $90, which is about four times what I've ever spent on a watch, but it might be worth it. Does anybody have any thoughts on this?

Apologies in advance to sociologists

Looks like I can finally post again... (Blogger was blocking me before)

Karol asks, "what can one do with a sociology degree other than teach it?"

I don't know, but it gives me an excuse to re-tell my one sociologist joke: two sociologists are walking down the street when they see a man lying in a ditch. He looks like he was beaten and is bleeding heavily. One turns to the other and says, 'we've got to find the person who did this - he needs help!'


Good enough for me

WMD's once again discovered in Iraq; via Instapundit: LT Smash has the full details on the strong likelihood that the sarin used against military forces in Iraq on May 17 does not date from the Iran-Iraq war, but from later on, and was thus was from an undeclared chemical weapons cache, meaning that Iraq was clearly violating the UN requirements that it agreed to at the end of the first Gulf War, meaning that the international community had the right to, in effect, finish the first Gulf War by eliminating the regime.


Back in New York

The more I travel, across the gravel,
The more I sail the sea
The more I feel convinced of the fact
New York’s the town for me.
That crazy skyline
Is right in my line
And when I’m far away
I’m able to bear it for several hours
But then I break down and say:

Take me back to Manhattan,
Take me back to New York;
I’m just longing to see once more
My little home on the hundredth floor!
Can you wonder I’m gloomy?
Can you smile when I frown?
I miss the East Side, the West Side
The north side and the south side
So take me back to Manhattan
That dear old dirty town!

Cole Porter, "Take Me Back to Manhattan"


We used to speak a different language

Last night, which was the last night of my trip, I finally went for Indian restaurant, at Veeraswamy, the oldest Indian restaurant in the UK, founded in 1927. If you recall, I'm currently working in the tallest building in the UK, and attended services at the oldest synagogue in the UK. I won't settle for anything less! Actually, the restaurant was chosen by my dinner companion, a girl I met at the Salsa Bar on Monday.

On the way to dinner we passed by some interesting spots that somehow I had missed in my previous visits to London. There was Covent Gardens, which is a huge collection of outdoor shops and cafes, like Boston's Quincy Market but maybe even nicer. We also passed through Somerset House, a 1700's-style building around a central courtyard with fountains that feels like being in Rome. The girl informed me that, in true British fashion, the House is now an office building.

The dinner was very nice, the girl is a fellow American who moved to London five years ago. She was kind of high-energy, which I'm not usually into but it was endearing. Her job requires her to be at work at 6:30 in the morning, which severely cramped our post-dinner options ("I'm more used to going to sleep at that hour, if anything," was her remark).

So now I'm pretty much at the end of my trip; I'm flying home later today. This has certainly left all the other business trips I've been on in the dust; and most likely I won't get to take another real one for a long time to come, so I'll have to live off the memories. Actually it ranks high up among trips I've taken in general. Thanks to everyone who offered their advice on where to go and what to eat. If you're wondering, I sampled the wares at least once at each of the following chains: Pret a Manger, Eat, Wagamama, Caffe Nero.


Media double standards

Mark Steyn points out that, even under the limited perspective of the prisoner abuse scandal, Iraqis are better off under current U.S. military control than they would be under UN control (link requires registration):
...if you object to what's going on in those Abu Ghraib pictures - the sexual humiliation of prisoners and their conscription as a vast army of extras in their guards' porno fantasies - then you might want to think twice about handing over Iraq to the UN.

In Eritrea, the government recently accused the UN mission of, among other offences, pedophilia. In Cambodia, UN troops fueled an explosion of child prostitutes and AIDS. Amnesty International reports that the UN mission in Kosovo has presided over a massive expansion of the sex trade, with girls as young as 11 being lured from Moldova and Bulgaria to service international peacekeepers.

In Bosnia, where the sex-slave trade barely existed before the UN showed up in 1995, there are now hundreds of brothels with underage girls living as captives. The 2002 Save the Children report on the UN's cover-up of the sex-for-food scandal in West Africa provides grim details of peacekeepers' demanding sexual favors from children as young as four in exchange for biscuits and cake powder. "What is particularly shocking and appalling is that those people who ought to be there protecting the local population have actually become perpetrators," said Steve Crawshaw, the director of Human Rights Watch.

By now you're maybe thinking, "Hmm. I must have been on holiday the week the papers ran all those stories about 'The Shaming of the UN.'"

In the last few days, The Daily Mirror has had to concede that their pictures of members of the Queen's Lancashire Regiment committing atrocities are all fakes. The Boston Globe has admitted that their pictures of US troops sexually abusing Iraqi women are also phony. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has apologized for claiming that Israel was implicated in the events at Abu Ghraib. Why would these big-media fact-checked-to-death news operations get suckered so easily? Because, to the great herd of independent minds, these stories conform to their general view that all the ills of the world can be laid at the door of Bush, Blair, and Sharon.

You can find me in the club

Last night I went to a club called POP, in Soho, to see what the London nightclub scene is about. It turned out to be a nice double introduction, both to the club scene and to the indie rock scene, because there was an indie band scheduled to be playing there that night, in between DJ sets. I started talking to a girl at the bar, a transplant from South Africa. When she found out I was a banker from New York, she told me that she really disliked capitalism, even though she used to work at a bank herself. Then she asked me what I thought of our president; I told her I admired him and supported our foreign policy, at which point she began what I had somewhat expected I would have at some point during my London trip: the political argument. It actually went quite civilly: I raised several strong arguments, and she kept insisting that I only felt that way because I was getting my information from biased American news sources. From her casual ignorance of the world situation (she claimed to be unaware that any Iraqis supported the war, she had never heard of Chechnya) I got the sense that I might have been the first pro-war person she had ever talked to. That may have been why she was smiling the whole time we were talking: I was more a novelty than anything else.

Some of her friends came over to talk, one of whom turned out to be the lead singer in the band. He was a really nice guy and a fellow computer programmer. We talked a little about the tech industry and a little about music, and discussed how much we both liked Interpol. He said it was a strange booking for them, playing at a nightclub, and that usually they play at more conventional indie venues. Sadly, I probably won't get a chance to see any of these.

The band went on, and interestingly they did sound a lot like Interpol, with some early U2 thrown in for good measure. They were quite good, and very tight. They're called The Hotels, which seemed like an appropriate name, so now you'll know if they ever become famous.

Later on they left and I talked to a guy there who's a house music producer, who's involved in the whole London electronica scene and claims to know all the well-known DJ's, like Grooverider and Goldie. He said he's trying to put together a live house band, but "it's hard to find a drummer who sounds like a machine." Kind of a strange cat, and he kept trying to sell me cocaine, at £25 for a half-gram. These London prices! Though seriously kids, coke is no joke.


Queer Eye for the Hate Guy

Probably for the best that I missed this London event:
Members of two British gay rights groups were attacked when they attempted to participate in a demonstration for Palestinian rights.

OutRage and Queer Youth Alliance went to the protest march at Trafalgar Square to show their support for people of Palestine. But they also urged the Palestinian Authority to halt the arrest, torture and murder of homosexuals.

As soon as they arrived at the square members of the two groups were surrounded by an angry, screaming mob of Islamic fundamentalists, Anglican clergymen, members of the Socialist Workers Party, the Stop the War Coalition, and officials from the protest organizers, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC).

Anglican clergymen??!
They variously attacked the gay activists as “racists”, “Zionists”, “CIA and MI5 agents”, “supporters of the Sharon government” and accused the gays of “dividing the Free Palestine movement”.

If it didn't rest on an awful truth, which is that the pro-Palestinian movement consists at its heart of people who behave like animals, this type of story could have made for a funny little parable about self-delusion.

Burn down the disco

Sunday turned out to be kind of a bust: after seeing Piccadilly Circus (which is a bit strange; there are a lot of tourists although there's not much there to see. Everywhere around it is more interesting and more historical). I spent the rest of the day walking around, through Hyde Park, Mayfair, Soho and some of the rest. The architecture was all nice but I wasn't feeling it, and I didn't talk to anybody. My most in-depth conversation was half in French, half in English with a French-Algerian streetsweeper I stopped to ask for directions. We ended up discussing the places we've been to around the world.

Last night redeemed it, though. I went to the Salsa Bar, a cheesy-looking bar in Central London that actually has some amazing dancing. I coordinated it with a guy in London (I was told to look him up through Jessica) who lives in the area and goes salsa dancing a lot. We ended up not meeting each other (I talked to him earlier today and it turns out we were standing right next to each other at various points but didn't make the connection - alas, not having a cell phone is a real impediment) but nevertheless I had a great time. I ended up talking to some people around the bar for most of the night. I did some dancing, too, but I saw early on that the level of most people there was way out of my league and I didn't want to interrupt the flow. In London of all places, who knew?

It was incredibly inspiring to watch. I resolved that as soon as I get back to New York I'm going to start taking salsa lessons, in a legitimate way. This thing is too good to pass up.

I did also get one girl's phone number, so it's not like I wasn't putting in an effort in my own way. We made some plans for tonight, I'll see what comes of it.

UPDATE: Date postponed till tomorrow. Ah, cruel world.


It's either that or "Dean Gone Wild"

Jerry Springer to be a delegate at the Democratic National Convention. (Via Drudge Report). Well, he was once the mayor of Cleveland. I hope this is just a lead-in to what everybody really wants to see: a special edition of the Jerry Springer Show from the convention floor. We can only imagine...

[theme music]

Jerry: Welcome to this special edition of the show. [cheering, applause] Our first guest is Grover Norquist, of the group Americans for Tax Reform. He thinks the Bush tax cuts should be made permanent, even for the top 1% of Americans. He's also a strong proponent of school vouchers. Let's give him a nice warm welcome. Grover?

[Grover comes out; crowd boos loudly, with some bleeped-out pauses]

Grover Norquist: You don't know me! You don't know me!

That's really all I have the patience to write, but I think it would be ratings gold.

But I thought he was just a "militant"

Yasser Arafat calls on Palestinians to "terrorize your enemy"

(Via Shark Blog)


Went to the circus

Cheers, it's good to finally rest a little; I'm now at a London internet cafe right near Piccadilly Circus. I had a packed day yesterday in spite of myself; I visited the Bevis Marks Synagogue, the oldest still-in-use synagogue in Britain. Actually, I attended part of services there, which was really nice. I've never been to Sephardic services before (those are the Jews who left from Spain and Portugal in the 1400's). The services are basically the same, but they have all different melodies, very classical-sounding. And the men were all dressed to the nines, with vests and top hats. Your correspondent made the mistake of putting on jeans that morning (I did have on nice shoes and shirt), but otherwise the ceremony was quite nice.

I should mention that at point, around 9 AM, I was already about six hours into my day. It was a very Lost in Translation early morning, except that there was no one there at the hotel lobby bar for me to chat up.

Later I went to the Saatchi gallery, home to a lot of the "bad-boy" art that's come out of England during the last five years or so. The shark in the tank, the elephant dung paintings and some of the other favorites. It was the sacred to the profane in about two hours. The crowd at the show was quite young and seemed to like it a lot. I liked it too, except for the high-shock-value stuff.

That evening I went out with a guy in London that I know from work. We went out to some local bars and pubs (finally!) right in the heart of the city. London closes too early. The pubs all shut down at 11 PM, which I knew before but the bars don't stay open much longer than that. It didn't matter much for me, because I was falling asleep literally in mid-sentence by that point.

I missed the Eurovision contest, which involves various European countries voting on whose bad, unmemorable song is the least bad. I was really into it when I was growing up in Israel.

Alright, that's all for now.


Where's that tea again

I just finished up my first day at the London office in Canary Wharf, on a floor of what turns out to be the tallest building in the UK. It's a fairly clear day and the office has a fantastic view of London, including the meandering Thames and the infamous new "gherkin building".

I'm going on about three hours of sleep at the moment, so everything seems a little hazy. I had a nice little mini-tour of London this morning, passing by Trafalgar Square and Buckingham Palace and the rest, so I feel I've gotten my cultural experiences out of the way early. I'll try to keep myself up till the evening but it's not guaranteed.


Three more months?

Michael Goodwin of the NY Daily News listens in to Air America:
The queen of venom, Randi Rhodes, followed Franken in the host slot. Her imitation of a cracker military type telling a soldier to "insert this fluorescent light bulb into that man's buttocks" was revolting. She compared U.S. prisons in Iraq to the "Nazi gulag" and said, "The day I say thank you to Rumsfeld is the same day I'll say thank you to the 12 people who raped me."

Rock bottom came when she compared Bush and his family to the Corleones in the "Godfather" saga. "Like Fredo, somebody ought to take him out fishing and phuw," she said, imitating the sound of gunfire.

When's Al Gore's network coming out? This one looks like it's in its death throes.

Via Drudge Report.


Fawn spilled blood, buttercup, yellow blood, buttercup
It feels alive.
Daydream blood, buttercup, nightmare blood, buttercup
You have the right.

How long can a predator,
How long can a predator wait?
I must outsmart the predator
I can't out-think the predator.

Construction paper boat at sea
In the bath, floating quietly
Ripples, waves, grey pastel
No hands on the S.S. Eggshell

How long has it been left alone,
Forgotten, almost made at home?
No use now, a random farewell
No hands on the S.S. Eggshell

Thingy, "S.S. Eggshell"

I think it's about feeling extremely nervous.


I, will skip it

I saw the trailer for I, Robot a few days ago, starring Will Smith as a grizzled detective investigating robot crimes. I was excited about this movie for about ten minutes when I first heard it was coming out, because the book of short stories on which it's based used to be one of my favorite books, and Isaac Asimov's books as a whole are incredible. The stories (and the ones in his other robot novels) form narrative out of the then-new world of computer science, using rules of logic as plot devices and programmers/engineers as protagonists. They also carry a distinctly optimistic view of the future; the robots always do what they’re programmed to, for better or for worse. I'd say the stories were trailblazing but there's really been nothing like them since, either.

Anyway, judging by the trailer the movie studio in question decided to take a big crap over the book; imagine, I don't know, Alice in Wonderland kickboxing everyone and you'll get the basic idea.

Oh, and what do you bet there's going to be a new Will Smith rap song over the closing credits? Not that I'd be any more likely to see it if there weren't.

No more Mr. Nice Guy

I hereby predict that the Iraqi prisoner abuse story will last for a few more weeks and then fizzle out. This is on the large caveat that the additional photos, video and allegations that have yet to be released are on the same order as those that we've already seen; if the new evidence is of actual torture or bodily harm (things we haven't seen yet, as far as I know, because I don't count public humiliation as torture) then obviously anything could happen. Assuming we've basically seen the worst, though, I think the story, as shocking as it has been so far, will eventually fall the way of left-wing pet outrages like the Plame affair, the Kyoto treaty, the Florida election: remembered into perpetuity by the Bush-haters (and of course the European intellectuals, if that's not repetitious), ignored by everyone else. Given the huge military presence of Iraq, and the impossibility of a central command really being able to oversee every aspect of its nature, I don't foresee anyone higher than local commanding officers at the prison lsing their job over it.

Nevertheless, I would find it funny if Donald Rumsfeld were dismissed and he were then replaced by his current undersecretary, Paul Wolfowitz. The liberals' foreign-policy scourge number 3 or 4 would be replaced by #1, the mastermind of the entire Iraq strategy.


Euston, Paddington train station please

I've been working on this trading application at work for a few months now, putting in pretty long hours; it was just recently released in New York and is about to be released at the London office. The notable part of this is that on Thursday I'm going to be sent to London (yay!) for a week, to make sure the release runs smoothly. The decision to pick me was a combination of my heavy lobbying for the pick and the refusal of everyone more senior than me to go. So, later this week, if all goes as planned I'll be jetting off to jolly old England, what what. I'll be staying in Canary Wharf, the financial district, which I'm told has nothing to recommend it but that's where the office is.

So, does anybody have any suggestions on where to go while I'm there? A British girl I talked to on Friday suggested a restaurant called "The Quality Chophouse", which she called the best restaurant in London, although she didn't know that I don't eat steak. I'm really more interested in figuring out what clubs and/or bars to go to, being at this point a single guy in what look like promising settings. Somebody at work recommended a club called Cafe de Paris. As long as they don't play house music anything's fine with me. Oh yeah, I guess I could go see some cultural things but I probably won't. To be fair, I have seen a lot of them at various times in my life. Any thoughts?

They're not gonna get us

Via Tim Blair, a very interesting article in Reason that, among other things, describes the extent of pro-Soviet sympathy in the U.S. Government in the 30's through 50's:
Hundreds of CPUSA [CP = Communist Party] members had infiltrated the American government and were passing information to the KGB. They honeycombed the State Department and the Office of Strategic Services. Virtually all of the revisionists’ martyrs really were spilling secrets to the Kremlin, including Alger Hiss, the Rosenbergs, and a pair of Roosevelt aides, Harry Dexter White and Laurence Duggan, who died (White of a heart attack, Duggan of a jump or fall from a window) after being questioned by HUAC.

And even two revered American presidents are not immune:
If Franklin Roosevelt had died just nine or 10 months earlier, his third-term vice president, Communist sympathizer Henry Wallace, would have become president. Wallace once said that if he were president he would appoint Harry Dexter White treasury secretary and Laurence Duggan secretary of state. Both of them, we now know unambiguously from Venona [a project to intercept KGB communications] cables, were Soviet spies.


McCarthy’s accusation that Roosevelt ushered in "20 years of treason" is an absurd exaggeration. But if Roosevelt didn’t deserve to be executed as a spy, he most certainly ought to have been horsewhipped for his cavalier dismissal of Whittaker Chambers’ accusations. As early as 1939, Chambers warned Roosevelt about Alger Hiss and named at least 12 other U.S. officials who would later be proved Soviet spies. Roosevelt airily told his aides that Chambers could "go fuck himself." The spies kept passing secrets to Moscow for another nine years, until HUAC began making noises about the case. Chambers’ warning was only one of several by regretful spies during that period that first Roosevelt and then Truman ignored. Truman was so lackadaisical that the military code breakers working on the Venona Project kept it secret from him for fear word would leak back to the Soviets.

His tactics were heavy-handed and somewhat self-defeating, but I think Joseph McCarthy, the man who was at the forefront of attacking the (very real) Communist presence in the U.S. Government deserves to at least be viewed as well-intentioned.


I prefer a private joke

The fundraiser turned out to be a benefit for Camp of Brooklyn, a summer camp for lower-income kids. It was a wine-tasting, featuring wines from New Zealand, held at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, a real gem of a nature preserve right in Prospect Park. There were booths for about 20 different New Zealand wine manufacturers all around the hall. There was also a nice spread with crackers and New Zealand cheeses. It was a real win-win situation: funds were raised for a worthy cause, the New Zealand wine industry got some good exposure, and Yaron managed to get liquored up for free and learn a little bit about wines in the process. I think New Zealand wines have every bit the high quality of Australian wines, although Australia still has to take the edge for their superior foreign policy.

There didn't seem to be too many VIP's in attendance, though Marty Markowitz was there, working the crowd and piling on the one-liners like a Catskills comedian. My date introduced herself to him and told him that the food-distribution company she works at was the importer for most of the cheeses at the event (that's how she got invited). "Do they have cream cheese over there?" was his bon mot. He's an interesting figure; if what I think is true, which is that he has no real political power, then he might be the biggest figurehead in America, as defined by the gap between one's position and one's actual power. In real life he shows up at fundraisers and rallies; on paper he's the leader of four milllion people.


The debutante
Is it sort of a rhetorical question to ask what anyone's doing tonight? Is everybody going to be watching the Friends finale?

I have to say I never really got into that show. I'd probably be watching it too, though, if I weren't instead going to a fundraiser hosted by Marty Markowitz, Brooklyn Borough President and local celeb (best known for creating Brooklyn Restaurant Week). I'm going as someone's date, a girl I know from Park Slope.

I'm hoping it'll be an interesting event. My roommate, who's taken on the planned Downtown Brooklyn/Brooklyn Nets expansion as a pet political cause (he's against it), wants me to say something snide to Marty if I see him (he's come out strongly for the project, although I don't know how much political power he actually has, if any). I'm against the building project, too (I wrote an earlier post about it here), but as with most of these local politics issues, my sense of apathy trumps all.

This will be my first foray into the New York socialite scene, as far as I know. Aren't fundraisers always the place where the well-connected go to mingle?

I'll give you the Daily Lunch scoop on the Brooklyn social scene. In the meantime, let me know if you think I should say something to him.


"The real road ahead"

Amir Taheri has an informative analysis of the situation in Iraq in today's New York Post, reminding us that when we don't hear about an area in Iraq, chances are that it's because things are going well there:
Yes, a variety of terrorist, insurgent and ordinary criminals are active in the country. Parts of Baghdad remain unsafe. Some roads, especially in the desert area bordering Jordan and Syria, are prone to attacks by bandits. And, as in many other parts of the world where criminal gangs operate, there is also some hostage-taking. But most of Iraq's 18,000 villages and 200-plus towns and cities remain as safe, if not safer, than those in some other Arab countries.

The Coalition faces a problem in Fallujah. But Fallujah accounts for no more than 4 percent of Iraq's Sunni Arab community. Other major Sunni cities - Mosul, Ramadi, even Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's hometown - remain calm.

Fallujah has become a problem for specific reasons. It is at the heart of a region that has been the center of Sunni military elites since the creation of Iraq in 1921. It is also the capital of several Sunni Arab tribes with branches in other nations, including Syria and Jordan. And Saddam invested heavily there, especially by building housing for army, police and secret service personnel working in Baghdad. Ba'athist military and their families account for some 30 percent of the city's population. It is the Iraqi city that most resents Saddam's fall and the end of its privileges.

Yet even in Fallujah there is no evidence that a majority of the people regret liberation or want Saddam back. There are perhaps 2,000 insurgents, including dozens of non-Iraqi fighters, in the city. The fact that more than half of the city's inhabitants have left their homes shows that, though they may wish the occupation to end, they don't wish to side with the insurgents.

Those who claim that Iraq is in chaos also point to Najaf, where Muqtada al-Sadr, a 30-year-old Shiite cleric, is hiding in a number of holy shrines and mosques along with his so-called Army of the Mahdi. But talk to anyone in Najaf and you'll soon know that the overwhelming majority of the city's population wants Sadr to get the hell out. (After more than two weeks of contacts with Iraqi Shiite leaders and opinion-makers at various levels, this writer has not found anyone who supports Sadr and his shenanigans.)

Sadr is abusing the old Shiite practice of "bast," which consists of taking sanctuary in a holy shrine. But Najaf is a city of 500,000 people, while Sadr's followers number 3,000 at most.

There's more. (via Instapundit)

In related news, Blog o'RAM has a continuously-updated NoBody Count (see upper-left-hand corner), showing the number of people who would have been killed or exiled by Saddam Hussein's regime since he was removed from power, assuming he had stayed in power, based on historical figures. Currently it's at 56,786 lives saved and 204,512 refugees averted since we initiated our illegal, imperialistic land-grab. (Via Merde In France).


I go to the theater

I saw the play "Golda's Balcony" on Broadway with my parents yesterday. It's a one-woman show about Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, revolving around her handling of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. It's a very good play, and Tovah Feldshuh gave a fine performance in the title role. The play captured both her humanity and her toughness, and her Churchill-like ability to turn a phrase. It's by William Gibson, author of "The Miracle Worker", no relation to the author of "Neuromancer" as far as I know.

It was interesting to see an exploration of the era when Israel was ruled by grizzled Zionist veterans, people who had been involved in the founding of the state, worked on the kibbutzes, served in the War of Independence, helped in raising funds for the new state from the American Jewish community and others. These leaders (I'm including Ben Gurion, Begin and others) took a heavy-handed, quasi-socialistic approach to running the country that had begun to wear out its welcome by the 80's but was I think the correct approach for the early decades. Sharon is a throwback to this era, although the future of Israeli politics belongs with leaders like Benjamin Netanyahu, younger and more media-ready and business-friendly.

The dramatic high point of the play, nicely set up throughout beforehand, was Meir's difficult decision on whether or not to launch fighter pilots with nuclear bombs aimed toward Damascus and Cairo in the first few days of the war, when it was unclear whether Nixon would support Israel militarily at the same time that the Arab countries were clearly using Soviet equipment (at the time, Israel's conflicts were a proxy war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, as opposed to now when they're a proxy war between the U.S. and the European Union) I have to confess, I wasn't aware of this fateful portion of the war, although I knew how it eventually turned out. My dad, who served in the war in a small, non-combat capacity, said the factual stuff was all accurate.

Strangely enough, a few weeks ago I got to see "Sixteen Wounded" on Broadway, starring Judd Hirsch, which solidifies the rule that I only see shows on Broadway if I can see them for free and they're about Israel. Hirsch was fantastic, and I thought the script was intelligent and well-structured, although a bit too even-handed for my tastes. The only weak I part I thought was the ending, which went for shock value over plausibility.

Golda Meir - quotes

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