Archives for September, 2003

K Street Vampires

There is one thing that could bust HBO’s K Street free from the antiseptic torpor that seems to come with chronicling souless characters in a soulless field. If James Carville–who looks like a sightless predatory bat–or his equally creepy wife–during one of their interminable strategy meetings or cab rides through Gucci Gulch, were to turn to one of their coworkers, let out a piercing shriek, and begin tearing into their victim’s throat and drinking his blood. That would be gutsy TV.

Posted on Sep 30, 2003 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Supersize That Coffin!

The bloating of America continues–with the latest evidence coming from the funeral industry, which is expanding its caskets and burial plots to accomodate supersized Americans. The NYT reports:

nearly every aspect of the funeral industry, from the size of coffins to vaults, graves, hearses and even the standardized scoop on the front-end loaders that cemeteries use for grave-digging (it is called a “grave bucket”) is based on outdated estimates about individual size.

There’s more:

For funeral directors and grieving families, discussions over the deceased’s weight can be especially awkward. Tim King, an undertaker at the Tufts-Schildmeyer Funeral Home in Goshen, Ohio, said, “When you tell a family that just lost a loved one that their loved one is too big for a casket, what they hear is you saying, `Mom or Dad is fat,’ ” he said.

Mr. King said the weight issue had given rise to a new euphemism. “We say, `Mom’s not going to look comfortable in that casket,’ ” he said. “The family knows we mean, `Mom won’t fit.’ ”

Families that have buried large relatives say it is important to compare funeral homes, since some funeral directors with more experience burying the obese can perform the task at a lower cost. Lois Kehrer, whose brother-in-law John Kehrer of Loveland, Ohio, died last spring at 52 of heart failure at 696 pounds, said the first undertaker the family spoke to said Mr. Kehrer would require a custom casket, a custom burial vault and two funeral plots, which together cost $20,000.

The Kehrers eventually found another funeral director who could fit Mr. Kehrer into a ready-made coffin from Goliath, and a local cemetery agreed to fit the coffin in a single plot, by positioning it slightly off center. The cost of the funeral came to $7,921.74.

Coming soon, no doubt, to a Six Feet Under episode.

Hat tip to Dad.

Posted on Sep 28, 2003 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Hating Bush

Many of the President’s supporters see irrational Bush-hatred in every criticism leveled against him. And they’ve got half a point. TNR’s Jonathan Chait admits:

I hate President George W. Bush. There, I said it. I think his policies rank him among the worst presidents in U.S. history. And, while I’m tempted to leave it at that, the truth is that I hate him for less substantive reasons, too….He reminds me of a certain type I knew in high school–the kid who was given a fancy sports car for his sixteenth birthday and believed that he had somehow earned it. I hate the way he walks–shoulders flexed, elbows splayed out from his sides like a teenage boy feigning machismo. I hate the way he talks–blustery self-assurance masked by a pseudo-populist twang.

Chait’s confession is part of an online debate with NR’s Ramesh Ponnuru on the subject of Bush hatred.

It’s clear that Chait’s hatred is clouding his judgment. He writes, “it’s not much of an exaggeration to say that Bush would like to roll back the federal government to something resembling its pre-New Deal state.” In Grover Norquist’s fantasies and your feverish nightmares buddy. Adding a $400 billion prescription-drug entitlement to Medicare is a far cry from repealing the New Deal. And Chait’s attempts to show that Bush veered sharply to the right after campaigning as a moderate are similarly unavailing. Bush campaigned as a big-government conservative and has governed as one. The biggest campaign promise he’s backed away from was his hostility to nation-building–an enterprise that Chait doesn’t have any problem with.

As someone without a dog in this fight, Ponnuru strikes me as far more reasonable than Chait. Ponnuru’s defense of the president isn’t a reflexive one. He notes,

You write that Bush is intellectually incurious; that’s my impression as well, and it strikes me as a significant fault in a political leader. Bush’s interview with Brit Hume, in which the president says that he doesn’t read the newspapers, certainly reinforces that notion.

But all too many of the president’s defenders are reflexively hostile to criticism of Bush, especially if it comes from the Left. Subbing for Glenn Reynolds in his MSNBC column, Randy Barnett attributed charges that President Bush lied about the threat Iraq represented to postmodern hostility to truth. “Since the 2000 election, however, I have begun to realize for the first time that the Left really and truly lives in a socially constructed world — a world where “truth” is their own construction.” In other words, if you think Bush lied about Iraq’s nuclear program, you’re not just wrong–you’ve constructed an entirely different reality for yourself. As it happens, I don’t think Bush lied about yellowcake uranium. I don’t think he was well-informed enough to know the truth. Which can happen when you get all your foreign policy news from Condi Rice. But I can certainly appreciate that reasonable people can disagree about such things.

For the record, I don’t hate President Bush. In fact, I kinda like him. Despite his cornball, pedestrian sense of humor, I think he would have been kinda fun to hang out with before he said “goodbye Jack Daniels, hello Jesus.” He’s an unpretentious guy, and it’s hard to imagine him referring to himself in the third person like so many self-important pols.

Clinton, I hated, for reasons personal as well as political. As Chait says of Bush, he reminded me of guys I went to high school (and college, and, especially, law school) with. A glad-handing, asskissing, networking Tracy Flick, intoxicated with his own intellect. The apotheosis of the Big Chill generation–a collection of overgrown, overindulged children convinced of their own uniqueness and moral purity.

Bush’s likeability, by contrast, is what makes it so hard for me to watch him speak. Every press conference and debate teeters on the edge of an Admiral Stockdale moment. If I hated him, I’d relish watching him flub his lines and mentally fumble for the page of the briefing book where the now-forgotten answer might lie. Instead it makes me cringe.

But there is one aspect of his character that I hate. It’s the way he combines total intellectual indifference with fatuous certitude. He’s not a dumb guy. He has perfectly respectable SAT scores. He’s probably a good bit smarter than his mush-mouthed syntax suggests: his father couldn’t talk very well, and yet nobody seriously suspects a former CIA chief of being an intellectual lightweight.

Bush isn’t dumb, but he’s staggeringly incurious and ill informed about history and politics. He’s probably smarter than Reagan, Kemp, or Quayle, but all of them had an admirable autodidactic thirst for knowledge. Few of us want a president who reads the New York Review of Books, but a president who reads books would be nice. Bush combines the intellectual curiousity of Keanu Reeves with the arrogant self-confidence of Bill O’Reilly. If he had some historical perspective, or a hint of Socratic wisdom it might help him pursue more sensible policies, or at least more effectively carry out the policies he’s bent on. As it is, he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know, or worse, he doesn’t care. Outside of Ponnuru, I can’t think of a Bush supporter who even recognizes this as a problem.

Posted on Sep 28, 2003 in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Lesbians, Lesbians, Lesbians

No, this isn’t a cheap attempt to garner traffic from Google. It just happens that two of the smartest guys I read, Volokh and Henley, just made a couple of interesting points with regard to where lesbians fit into the martial and marital aspects of the culture war.

On gays in the military, Volokh writes:

What’s the justification for the military excluding lesbians?

The main justification we’ve been hearing for excluding gay men is that if the soldiers in an all-male combat units have homosexual relationships, this can lead to favoritism, jealousy, and tensions that aren’t present if the soldiers are all straight men. But whatever merit this argument may or may not have, it surely doesn’t apply to lesbians, at least unless the military starts having all-female combat units.

What’s more, lesbians might actually be more effective than straight women, because I take it that they have a much lower rate of pregnancy; and in a military which is more male than female, they are likely to account for fewer possibly tension-inducing sexual relationships than heterosexual women. Also, if the concern is that homosexual men are more likely to be carriers of sexually transmitted diseases than are heterosexual men, I take it that this concern too will not apply to lesbians.

With regard to gay marriage, Jim notes that one of the arguments the Stanley Kurtz camp makes is that allowing gays to marry will weaken heterosexual fidelity in marriage. But, he writes,

Promiscuity is a gay male value, or stereotype. Since SSM opponents reject the applicability of equal-protection arguments regarding marriage rights, why don’t they adopt a “Yes to gay female, no to gay male marriage” position?

Even if you accept the arguments against gay marriage and gays in the military–and many of those arguments rest on questionable assumptions and outrageously tenuous causal connections–they don’t apply at all to lesbians.

Of course, the true libertarian answers are (1) privatize marriage and (2) gays in the militia.

BUT: it occurs to me that privatizing marriage, my preferred solution, does not get the state entirely out of the business of recognizing some partnerships as valid, others as not. For example, look at the marital privilege in the law of evidence. If a spouse can’t be compelled to testify about something that the other spouse told him in confidence during the marital relationship, then the state is compelled to decide which private contracts establish a marital relationship for the purposes of the privilege.

Interesting, informed, and civil discussion of these issues can be found here and here.

Posted on Sep 26, 2003 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

No Worries: He Gets Briefed By People Who “Probably Read the News Themselves”

Does it make me a pointy-headed liberal elitist if I suggest that it’s not too much to ask that the President of the United States of America actually read a friggin’ newspaper?

HUME: How do you get your news?

BUSH: I get briefed by Andy Card and Condi in the morning. They come in and tell me. In all due respect, you’ve got a beautiful face and everything.

I glance at the headlines just to kind of a flavor for what’s moving. I rarely read the stories, and get briefed by people who are probably read the news themselves. But like Condoleezza, in her case, the national security adviser is getting her news directly from the participants on the world stage.

Even better is his explanation of why he doesn’t bother to indulge in a brain-stimulating activity practiced by workaday straphangers and bus-riders the world over: he can get the facts from people on his staff:

BUSH: I appreciate people’s opinions, but I’m more interested in news. And the best way to get the news is from objective sources. And the most objective sources I have are people on my staff who tell me what’s happening in the world.

Condi Rice, Don Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz: the “most objective sources.” Really, why bother to go elsewhere? I now understand how we got into this mess.

Posted on Sep 24, 2003 in Uncategorized | 27 Comments

Who’s Your Daddy?

Reviving the shopworn “mommy party/daddy party” meme, Jay Nordlinger argues that real men embrace neocon foreign policy goals and therefore vote Republican. (Link courtesy of Emily Cochran, who says that libertarians “are mommies in denial about the world and the enemy we face.”)

Nordlinger’s piece is full of stirring examples of Republican manliness, like the fact that Denny Hastert was a wrestling coach. He writes that “Rich Lowry, editor of National Review, likes to tell a story about Mr. Bush out in Iowa, early in the 2000 presidential campaign. A group of Hell’s Angels rode into town, and Gov. Bush simply waded into them, hugging them, bonding with them, relishing them.” Neat. Can we get Bill Kristol to try that trick?

Look, I’m as susceptible to Rumsfeld’s swagger as the next guy, and, like Nordlinger, I like the fact that he uses the word “kill” when he talks about Al Qaeda. But the idea that “real men are hawks” is patently silly. The Democratic candidates for president have more combat veterans in their ranks than the Bush cabinet. And if the ideological brain trust behind the neocon drive for empire is made up of real men, well then, being a real man comes pretty cheap these days. National Greatness Conservatism might better be described as the vicarious thrill certain politicians and pundits get from watching better men risk their lives.

A good bit of the public support for preemptive war smacks of the same screechy hysteria that leads women in rural Georgia to duct tape their kids into a safe room. Jim Henley fleshed this out some time ago when he called the Iraq campaign the Million Mom War:

The expansive version of the War on Terror is driven by the same impulse toward perfect safety that gave us the Million Mom March. If Saddam acquires or keeps WSDs, he could threaten us. If Saddam himself is too rational to do so, his successor might be unhinged. The hawks call us to eliminate not just the (prospective) risks of today, but the speculative risks of tomorrow. The mightiest nation in the history of the world cringes before not just this year’s tinpot tyrant, but the gleam in the eye of the mother of next year’s pipsqueak.

Later, Jim identified the impulse that drives the Wi-Fi bombardiers of the blogosphere as “raw, naked gibbering fear. I can’t shake the sense that many hawks, particularly in the blogosphere, are like Annie Hall demanding that Alvie Singer come over and kill the spider for her.”

Posted on Sep 23, 2003 in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Freedom Canadia and Friendster

I’m back from a long weekend in Montreal. First time there–I highly recommend it. The Freedom Canadians are a friendly, great-looking, stylish bunch who don’t mind if you mangle your French or just start talking to them in English like you don’t know their language exists. Plus the food’s great and cheap.

This purports to be a link to Arianna Huffington’s Friendster profile. I can’t say for sure, because I won’t log in. I’m too old for Friendster, and I’m scared of it. It seems like all the awkwardness and hassle of real-world interaction (and then some) without any of the benefits.

We all have friends that we can’t legitmately account for, and whom we assiduously strive to keep isolated from other parts of our friend networks. Meathead friends, friends with no class, friends who think Friends is funny. Or, on the flip side, friends given to hyperintellectual pretensions who think terms like “bounded rationality” are perfectly acceptable in a beer-and-wings type of setting. Friendster breaks down the delicate social barriers that we depend on.

And we all know people that we don’t particularly like who are oblivious to our disdain. Friendster removes the ambiguity that keeps us from insulting them. There is no “Aquaintance-ster” intermediate category that we could use to let them down easy. We have to either accept their classify-me-as-a-friend overture, or tell them, “sorry, you didn’t make the cut”. It’s a social horror. Why don’t you people come clean and just go back to online dating?

Posted on Sep 22, 2003 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

More Wesley Clark


Jeff writes:

When I read your post about his kooky stare, I couldn’t place where I had seen it before. I just remembered. This is an obscure pull, but remember the Social Studies teacher in Daria (and in some Beavis & Butthead episodes) who talked normally and then cracked with one eye popping a little out of the socket? Clark’s glare reminds me of that guy, Mr. DeMartino, right before the eye pop.

I bet he had that kind of look in his eye when he almost started a shooting war with the Russians over Pristina airport in 1999.

Posted on Sep 17, 2003 in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

70 Percent of Americans Can’t Be Wrong, Can They?

Donald Rumsfeld belatedly strikes a blow for honesty in government by admitting there’s no evidence of a Saddam Hussein/9-11 link.

But Dick Cheney says the war in Iraq struck at “the geographic base of the terrorists who have had us under assault for many years, but most especially on 9-11.” Does he get different briefings than Rumsfeld, or is he just–what did they call it in the Clinton years?–lying?

And hey, whatever happened to Salman Pak?

Posted on Sep 17, 2003 in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Ad Seen at the Bus Stop on Mount Pleasant and Lamont Streets


When did these Aryans become the poster children for pot? And shouldn’t it really be “Enjoy Better Chinese Food”?

Posted on Sep 16, 2003 in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Clark vs. Dean

Jerry Brito suggests that libertarians should take a look at Wesley Clark for President. If I must choose, I vastly prefer Howard Dean, on the grounds that:

A. Dean, unlike Clark, was never in charge of a senseless, unjustified war against a country that never threatened us, which kinda helps when you’re arguing against senseless, unjustified wars against countries that don’t threaten us. Clark’s Kosovo campaign was both inept (destroying only around 14 tanks in 78 days) and bloody (killing a whole mess more civilians than military);

B. Dean, unlike Clark, is able to blink and doesn’t have a creepy thousand-yard stare that makes him look like he’s ready to either burst out incongrously into giggles or stab you in the eye with a pen.

On the other hand, Clark hasn’t yet appeared on HBO’s execrable “K Street,” so he’s got that going for him.

Posted on Sep 15, 2003 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Do Not Use A-One Air Plumbing in Washington D.C.

unless you want to sit at home all morning on a workday like a schmuck waiting for A-One Air to get around to showing up, if A One Air shows up at all. You’d think A-One Air Plumbing would be able to hit a four-hour window (8 to noon, in my case, meaning I couldn’t even sleep in). You’d think in this era of the cellphone, A One Air Plumbers would be able to call if they were running late on another plumbing job. You’d think that when you called A One Air Plumbing for the second time at 12:40 trying to find out where the hell A One Air was, they wouldn’t lie to you and tell you “he’s on his way” when the guy clearly was not (Back at work I got a cellphone call about 2:20 from A One Air’s Carlos the plumber who was standing on my front porch. If he was “on his way” at 12:40, he must have been leaving a job in Baltimore.) You’d think that when Carlos from A One Air Plumbing was told that he was supposed to be there, at the latest, nearly three hours ago, he wouldn’t respond “nobody told me, sir” as if A One Air was somehow thereby absolved of its incompetence: “Oh, nobody told you! Alright then, that’s understandable. Well, I’ve got a couple of vacation days left still. When’s good for you?”

Anyway, there endeth the rant. Anyone out there googling A One Air Plumbing of Washington DC or looking for plumbers Washington D.C. plumbers Washington D.C. plumbers Washington D.C. plumbers Washington D.C. plumbers Washington D.C. plumbers Washington D.C. or hoping to find a Washington DC Plumbers Directory Washington DC Plumbers Directory Washington DC Plumbers Directory Washington DC Plumbers Directory Washington DC Plumbers Directory Washington DC Plumbers Directory (yeah, I don’t know how to use metatags), please avoid A One Air, as they are a pack of feckless cretins who don’t deserve to be in business.

Tremble, A One Air, before the awesome power of the new media.

Posted on Sep 15, 2003 in Uncategorized | 13 Comments

“Imperial Death March”

Apparently, when Attorney General John Ashcroft arrived at Boston University Tuesday on his Patriot Tour, protesters greeted him with “the sound of the ‘Imperial Death March’ from the movie “Star Wars” as he entered a meeting with law enforcement officials in Faneuil Hall.”

Of course, if you read the Weekly Standard, you know that for empire-builders, that’s not necessarily an insult.

Posted on Sep 15, 2003 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The Brothers Hitchens

On the left, Christopher, who doesn’t call himself a socialist anymore, but has a warm place in his heart for Trotsky. He’s pro Iraq war, rabidly so.

On the right, the lesser known Hitchens, Peter. Traditionalist, euroskeptic, conservative. It turns out he’s a vigorous opponent of the current adventure. Reviewing ‘Imperial America: The Bush Assault on the World Order’ by John Newhouse in today’s WaPo, Hitchens writes:

Here [postwar Iraq] is no nascent Arab democracy giving light to a dark region, nor even a province in a new American empire. Here is just a mess, growing messier by the day. The liberal and the conservative can agree, if they have eyes to see, that thought did not play much part in this venture.

John Newhouse makes a brave attempt to explain and understand how this happened, how a president devoid of curiosity about the world, allied with some leathery old pseudoconservatives in search of an enemy whose evil would emphasize their virtue, attacked and invaded a country that was no threat to the United States and that nobody now knows how to manage.

Is the following a dig at his brother?

Many conservative Americans have accepted without question the support of Britain’s Labor government for the Iraq war, and have likewise welcomed the unexpected endorsement that regime change has won from a number of the more intelligent radical leftists in the United States. It is as if a group of well-known arsonists had joined the Fire Department, and everyone was too polite to comment on it.

Posted on Sep 14, 2003 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Bronson and Bronsons

Chuck.jpgCharles Bronson, Warren Zevon, Johnny Cash. It’s been a tough week or so. The less I say about John Ritter, the better, probably.

At my Dad’s recommendation, I watched Hard Times last night. There has never been a bad movie made about bare-knuckle boxing. And yes, I know about Far and Away.

Before Bronson died, I hadn’t realized how old he was, and how late in life he got famous. In 1975, when Hard Times came out, Bronson was 54 (How old is Arnold? Did you see the picture of him with flab hanging over his Speedo?).

Look at Bronson. Not an ounce of spare flesh on him. A 54-year-old guy with veins in his arms. A 54 year old guy with abs–and abs that don’t look like he got them at the health club doing half crunches on a swiss ball while somebody was spritzing him with Evian. Abs that look like Bronson had some medieval workout ritual where somebody repeatedly thwacked him in the gut with a two-by-four.

The Hipster Handbook–which, granted, is a put-on–suggests that “bronson” is hipster argot for beer:

Sentence: “I drank a sixer of bronsons last night while watching the game.”

Origin: Watching Charles Bronson movies while drinking beer is [cool]. The term spawned from this ritual.

Nobody I know calls beers bronsons. But they probably should.

Posted on Sep 14, 2003 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment