Victory means exit strategy, and it's important for the President to explain to us what the exit strategy is.    The Honorable Governor of Texas, George W. Bush

I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.    Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thursday, December 30, 2004

To Have and Have Not

These are the actual comments made by U.N. Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland which have, as is the norm, been rumorized into pulp by the yellow press and the ever technicolored blogsphere.

It is beyond me why are we so stingy, really. Christmastime should remind many Western countries at least, [of] how rich we have become."

There are several donors who are less generous than before in a growing world economy," he said, adding that politicians in the United States and Europe "believe that they are really burdening the taxpayers too much, and the taxpayers want to give less. It's not true. They want to give more.

He said "we" for crying out loud, meaning all Westerners, yet his comment was sure to stir up the hen house that is American politics. "Cluck, Cluck," went every big, fat, scab produced Perdue chicken from Limbaugh to Hot Lips, resulting in a cacophany that would raise the dead or even a sleepy "rancher" in Texas.

Time for a farewell apperance by that minister of thankless tasks, that Secretary of Official Obfuscation, Colin Powell:

The United States has given more aid in the last four years than any other nation or combination of nations in the world.
Well yeah, and Bill Gates paid more income tax than I did, too! Here are some real numbers:

Kinda makes you wonder why we don't get more thank you notes in the mail, doesn't it? Most Americans have a figure closer to 15% in mind. Put another way, most Americans think we are 130 or so times more generous than we are. What about private aid? This is considered difficult to measure but one estimate by yet another neo-con think tank, the Hudson Institute, puts the figure around 35 billion annually. This estimate was for 2001 so our total would come up to .42% or so. I don't have estimates for the other countries' private efforts but it is assumed that some exist--regardless we are not exactly blowing anyone away with our total.

In researching this issue on the net two things become very clear. The first is that Libertarians have almost as much free time to devote to the internet as do perverts. Secondly they join many who firmly believe that foreign aid is, at best, misguided.

Ah, libertarians. As I said they have all this time to search down self-serving stats and put 'em on the board all fluffy and appealing, much like a model of a Whopper that gets used for an ad photo. They'll tell us gun crimes spiked in the late 80's in Washington, D.C. because of gun control and ignore the spike in the crack cocaine epidemic of the same years.

And they tell us that relief doesn't work while pointing to historical efforts' relationships to the GNP's of the donee nations. Well, yeah that's our point too. Maybe we could accelerate things by issuing aid not "tied" to requirements that it be spent on goods produced by American interest groups. Maybe we could try meting this aid along less political lines? (oops, big trouble with the neo-cons and Isreal on that one)

Nope, let's dump the baby with the bathwater. What baby? Here are some facts I came across:

• Since 1960 child death rates in developing countries have more
than halved, malnutrition rates have declined by almost a third, the proportion
of children out of primary school has fallen from more than half to less than a

• Over the past three decades the population in developing
countries with access to safe water almost doubled — from 36% to nearly

• The extension of basic immunization over the past two
decades has saved the lives of three million children.

• In 1960-93 average life expectancy increased by more than
a third in developing countries.
Have faith, you enterprising ones. It won't be too long before you'll be able to run 'em down with your "liberating" free market steam roller. Have a little patience!

Update 12/31: Coincidentally, I caught the last 20 min. of "To Have and Have Not" last night. It's even cornier than I remember.

Monday, December 27, 2004

The Year of the Slug

‘Tis the season for all wise men and women to come up with the annual year end review. Normally I would watch or read these with some interest as they provide a valuable way to organize one’s memory--handy as a little index slipped into the file that is year x before storing the whole mess into the dimly lit utility room behind the cafeteria in the corner of one’s mind.

This year is different. I come across one of these reviews on my way to watch SpongeBob and my subconscious goes, “History, pay attention.” Strangely, after a couple of minutes I’m moving on. When unexplained phenomena like these happen it’s inevitable that I (the entire universe) puzzle myself (the sum of all wisdom).

What’s different about this year? Certainly there were many historically significant events; war, election, hurricanes, earthquakes, tidal waves, shocking murders, thousands of unremarkable murders, genocide, graft, corruption and on and on. In so many ways these represent nothing more than the “usual suspects” to be rounded up and presented to the audience.

If the events of 2004 had more or less significance than other years is impossible to judge now. I realized that my aversion to this year’s overview must be a result of some other sense. I realized that although there have been more disastrous, violent and tumultuous years this year stands out as being just plain keep your eyes lowered ugly.

Look up and see Janet Jackson at all, never mind her breast.

Look up and see that the next Great Wall has been built, and that op-ed writers from the New York Times are among those extolling its peace generating virtues.

Look up and see the dark, scowling face of Senator Zed Miller telling Chris Matthews to “Get out of my face!”

Look up and see Our Great President and Leader of the Free World at the debate twitching and fidgeting and making faces like some petulant little schoolboy.

Look up and see the monstrosity that is Ann Coulter—as if Hot Lips Hoolihan has come to life as a meth addict.

Look up and again see the gunboats on the rivers of Vietnam, Me Lai, burning monks and the most famous of all street executions.

Look up and see “support the troops” stickers plastered to the cars of folks all too eager to rush into a war we are poorly equipped to fight.

Look up and see the anguished face of that great populist Gov. Dean as, faced with real adversity for the first time, he hurls his screaming self into the fires of Morder instead of the ring.

I could go on with this, but then that would be contrary to the point, wouldn’t it? Let’s just get it over with.

2004, just go away.

update: looked up to see the images of the Tsunami horror. Unfortunately, this one is historic.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Put That Ol' Milk on the Side, 'Cuz We's Highballin' This Line

On side one of my exercise tape, between "Walk of Life" by Dire Straits and Elton John's "All the Young Girls Love Alice", is "I Need a Man" by the Eurythmics and sung by the incomparable Annie Lennox. Now, before you read too much into this let me mention that I'm not identifying with the protaganist here, though "there is certainly nothing wrong with that" (excellent Seinfeld). Whatever your persuasion this song will keep your thighs pumping, I garrr-own-tee!

I don't care if you won't talk to me
You know I'm not that kind of girl
And I don't care if you won't walk with me
It don't give me such a thrill
And I don't care about the way you look
You should know I'm not impressed
'Cause there's just one thing that I'm looking for
And he don't wear a dress.
I need a man...I need a man...


I don't need a heartbreaker
Fifty-faced trouble maker
Two timing time taker
Dirty little money maker
Muscle bound cheap skate
Low down woman hater
Triple crossing double dater
Yella bellied alligator...

...I need a man...I need a man

And they say we never listen.

Monday, December 20, 2004

I Had a Job Americans Won't Do

I watched the Presidential news conference last night, and I am now firmly in the camp of those who think W is suffering from presenile dementia. This is not a joke, I would not wish this on anyone!

I couldn't make heads or tails of most of Bush's ramblings, but there is one thing he says that drives me crazy every time I hear it, that Mexicans are here doing jobs we would not do. Here is one fallacy I haven't heard a single talking head address. I've heard the economy discussed in terms of big business, labor and even small business, but I've never heard addressed the plight of great numbers of the median class--small business employees.

Mexicans are not just mowing your lawn and cleaning your house. They are grading your site, pouring your foundation, framing, hanging drywall, taping, painting, and you get the picture. Millions of jobs. Even the traditionally strong union trades--such as plumbers and electricians--are beginning to feel the erosion of wages due to the influx of inexpensive labor and the suicidal anti-union mind set of Americans.

I was a fence builder. My income peaked in about 1989, about the time all of our competitors began to use minority subcontractors. This is the model now-- outsource everything, even digging post holes! Why is this model so much cheaper?

The typical subcontractor operation is a guy who can scrape up a good enough insurance cert to keep the contractor's insurance company happy. He then hires 2 or 3 relatives for cash. There is no workman's comp, social security, income tax or health insurance. Where once there were a dozen or so Americans not only working but paying their way in society there are now 2 or 3 honchos and 9 or 10 latecomers who send their dollars to Mexico while they collect food stamps here. Multiply this by how many?

In this market, which was and is non-union and on the fringe of Chicagoland, an extrapolation of wages from 1975 based on price increases would point to an experienced journeyman's wage of $23 to $24 per hour. Our last employed installer made $16 last year.

We won't do these jobs any more because we could once sweat our way to a reasonable slice of the American Dream and now we cannot. We were pretty happy then, we partied with each other's families, we had company picnics, a softball team and a decent level of security. Now those who are left are outsiders.

I walked into a new million dollar home constuction in Deerfield and everyone spoke Polish and Russian. Don't think this is about Mexicans per se, this is about the immorality of a business mind set that absolves itself of any loyalty to fellow Americans and a government that is increasingly bent on accommodation.

This is about those who put patriotic stickers on their Hummers while they've not hired an American in ten years. This is about real traitors and this is about George W. Bush.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Boss Mann, Another Biskupic, Their Aides and the Deficiencies of Immunity

If you have read my post Grass Root Politics, Republican style , you may remember that our little "14th Best Small Town in America" has been rocked by a bit of a scandal. Our former Mayor is the latest to fall. The events in this case as published compelled me to write the following:

December 18, 2004

The Elkhorn Independent

To the Editor:

I have lived in Elkhorn for 10 years or so, yet my business is elsewhere and I have little knowledge of local affairs. Perhaps this provides me some perspective in the way that one must be a little distant from the wall to see around the corner.

I see a second big splashy front page article, replete with photo of Paul Ormson and describing fraudulent campaign contributions of $25,000.00 or so. Yet when the story of the millions extorted by Robert Mann broke, as I remember this was worth a few paragraphs tucked away on page 3 or 4.

I read again that Mr. Mann is yet to be charged in these matters, there is minimal reference to a vaguely described immunity. I would not like to think that this “limited immunity” is less so due to the indictment of one who is clearly a small player in this drama. How much “cooperation” is really required to clean up these details?

I don’t condone the actions of Ormson, but to me it doesn’t seem to be much of a stretch that he may be the proverbial deer caught in the headlights of some big orange trucks here. Yet it is he who gets turned against. There is certainly some interesting methodology being employed around these parts, both by U.S. Attorney Steven Biskupic and by this newspaper.

Perhaps you will find room on page one when messrs. Biskupic and Mann are finished adding up just how valuable the “cooperation” of Mr. Mann is.


cc:Steven M. Biskupic United States Attorney
Office of the United States Attorney
Eastern District of Wisconsin


I don't think we'll see this one in print, and maybe I should hope we don't.


update...Dec. 20th....I have learned a valueable lesson here: give it 24 hrs. In my zeal I went too far in this letter. I must remember that a reader will interpret my words in any number of ways. In the last sentence I refer to the value of Mr. Mann's cooperation. I meant objective value to the investigation and did not at all intend to suggest a monetary consideration. Nevertheless I can clearly see that this intent may be misconstrued, and that should it appear in a local paper it may anger principals and lookers on to the case more than I would care to . I have called the editor of the Elkhorn Independent and asked that the letter not be published.

As for Mr. Biskupic and his staff, I still stand behind the letter and fervently hope that they are more experienced in determining what is intended and what is not.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

American History in the Unmaking

Did you know that Helen Keller was a radical socialist who helped found the ACLU? Did you know that on Columbus's second voyage were "1,200 to 1,500 men, cannons, crossbows, guns, cavalry and attack dogs?"

Why most of us don't know these things is the subject of Lies My Teacher Told Me, by James M. Loewen, who targets the whitewashing of American History in the textbooks we use to miseducate our high schoolers. Now, I must admit that I began to form a reacton of bruised white ego early on in the book. I wondered if it was necessary to include "white" in passages such as:

So long as our textbooks simply celebrate Columbus, rather then teach both sides of his exploit, they encourage us to identify with white Western exploitation rather than study it.
As the subtitle of the book was "Everything Your American History Book Got Wrong" I was hoping for a broader range of subject than "white:bad/color:good." I found myself pausing on the next;

Perhaps the most pervasive theme in our history is the domination of black America by white America.
He does say "Perhaps." I would nominate perhaps the advance of transportation. I did press on, however, and I'm glad that I did so. I was certain, after all, that he wasn't talking about me, I'm far too liberal and therefore too highly perceptive to ever be hornswaggled by such obvious propaganda as high school history texts.

I hadn't however thought about how completely these textbooks disregard recent history. I'd wondered why The Daily Cardinal in Madison, upon publishing one of my letters to the editor, had in apparent confusion changed the descriptor under my name from "outside agitator, class of '69" to "UW Alumnus, class of '69". I think I found my answer in this author's statement that in the 1990's four out of five of his first year students did not know the meaning of the terms hawk and dove! Not likely, even considering the radical history of UW, these youngins' have heard of Spiro Agnew, John Mitchell or the SDS.

But then I know all about the Vietnam era, don't I? Well, Dr. Loewen had a little trick in store for me. He puts forth this chart.

College EducationHigh School EducationGrade School EducationTotal Adults
% for withdrawal of U.S. troops73%
% against withdrawal of U.S. troops27%

I'm supposed to estimate the percentages shown by a Gallop Poll done in the Vietnam era year of 1971. Do this before you move are my estimates:

College EducationHigh School EducationGrade School EducationTotal Adults
% for withdrawal of U.S. troops90%60%40%73%
% against withdrawal of U.S. troops10%40%60%27%

Now here are the actual results:

College EducationHigh School EducationGrade School EducationTotal Adults
% for withdrawal of U.S. troops60%75%80%73%
% against withdrawal of U.S. troops40%25%20%27%

By a margin of 9 to 1 educated people make the same mistake, that college educated people were more dovish. Why? The author explains:

To the degree that American History is celebratory, it offers no way to understand any problem--such as the Vietnam War, poverty, inequality, international haves and have-nots, environmental degradation, or changing sex roles--that has historical roots. Therefore we might expect that the more traditional schooling in history that Americans have, the less they will understand Vietnam or any other historically based problem. This is why educated people were more hawkish on the Vietnam War.
(and why we fail the exercise!)

We vaguely remember "student" radicals, recently from the Swift Boat ads but consistently from politically motivated sources. We don't stop to think that of course educated people were more likely to be successful and desirous to stay that way via allegiance to the cause. We jumped at the exercise without noticing that it wasn't about people who would eventually have a college education.

Using the tube as our only source we view the recent past through the present. We buy into the current rhetoric about the elite left and populist right and, unaided by historical perspective, are blissfully unaware of the ludicrousness of such concepts. We never, ever stop to think and "such nonthinking occurs most commonly when society is the subject."

So how and when might we wise up? Obviously there are alternatives to history education from text books, yet teachers of k-12 can find themselves in hot water in a hurry for encouraging the study of any material less than complimentary of American society. For our kids we want the happy news, if necessarily at the expense of ability to reason. History by rote is excruciatingly boring. Students, teachers and the coaches who invariably end up stuck in default social science positions couldn't care less about it. Yet many of these same students later become enthralled by the lessons in history taught by less "socializing" college departments and, wonder of wonder, non-adopted books!

It's a shame they need to begin so far behind the eight ball. It's a shame the vast majority of others are never exposed to nor may they benefit from the record of 99% of human existence. How would one begin to correct this? In the authors opinion:

Students will start finding history interesting when their teachers and
textbooks stop lying to them.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

The Longest Hour

Woke up this morning to see that a version of my post "Aeons of Asterisks" made the sports letters section of the Milwaukee Journal. Was disappointed that there didn't seem to be a online version of it to help my Googleness.

So I'm reading "Lies My Teacher Told Me" about the misinformation that passes for American History education in our junior and senior high schools. here's a paragraph from the intro:

Our situation is this: American history is full of fantastic and important stories. These stores have the power to spellbind audiences, even audiences of difficult seventh-graders. These same stories show what America has been about and are directly relevant to our present sociery. American audiences, even young ones, need and want to know about their national past. Yet they sleep through the classes that present it.

So far, despite my deep interest in this subject, I've only gotten to page 68 while starting to nod off about four times. I need to crack a window, do the Dew and beast out on this mutha fo shizzle.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Bobos* Are So Cute, Then They Grow Up

BOBOS* in Paradise, by David Brooks, is my latest read. I’m a little behind the Times, as this was a bestseller published in 2000. Mr. Brooks is a member of a most insidious class. Like William F. Buckley and Ben Stein, David Brooks is a conservative with a sense of humor, and a darned good one. Try watching the Dennis Miller show if you think this is easy to do.

In Brooks’ view the “two cultures” of Gertrude Himmelfarb have merged into a kind of virgin olive oil based oligarchy of counterculture “meism” and bourgeois self control, served from “an object that looks like a nickel-plated nuclear reactor but is really the stove” in redwood bowls (from a fallen tree) sitting on half a New Hampshire mountain of granite in a 1200 square foot kitchen. This new, more robust elite is a result, he says, of a more productive selection process, one based on merit and ambition rather than social position.

Much of the book is a delicious send up of the Range Rover bunch, so much so that one begins to wonder where the book is heading. There is no attempt to involve the remaining 70% of society in this tale of the transformation of the elite class. Mr. Brooks does not travel in working class circles and, to his credit, doesn’t in this book (or generally) purport to having any extensive overview of the “lower” classes’ travails.

In fact it would seem that this Bobo (bourgeois/bohemian) establishment exists in perfect harmony with its minions, as Brooks takes the time to refute Thomas Frank’s notion that the business elite are using the old radicalism to de-radicalize the working classes:

In fact, it’s not so sinister or so one-sided. These renegade executives are both corporate and genuinely countercultural. The two cultural rivals have embraced and co-opted each other.

The cuteness continues to nearly the end of the book, and then the real Mr. Brooks stands up. Apparently the rampant “pluralism” of today’s elite has led to a big hole where absolute values used to live. In a matter of a few pages the Bobos transmogrify into potential neocon reactionaries, as Mark Knofler sings it, “Boom! Like that.”

At the time of publication in 2000 Brooks and his Weekly Standard buddies had a honey do list ready to go for this lot:

That suggests a course of action that is reform at home and activism abroad. Reform of these institutions and practices that no longer make us proud: the campaign finance system, which has become complex and alienating, the welfare state, which needs to be debureaucratized. And at the same time on an international sphere, it means picking up the obligations that fall to the world’s lead nation: promoting democracy and human rights everywhere and exercising American might in a way that reflects American ideals.

Odd that the leader of this “meritocracy” was not accepted at Yale on his own merit.

Monday, December 06, 2004

If It Doesn't Ring, It's Not Kristol

The other day I joked to Judy that if I began to read the words of the intellectual right I might become “converted”. I’ve finished One Nation, Two Cultures, by Gertrude Himmelfarb, and I can happily report that I have emerged relatively unscathed.

The thesis of this work is that civil society (the arbiter of the individual versus the collective needs conflict) is currently home to two distinct moral cultures. She refers to the dominant culture as “post-modernists” (what will we call the modernists that come later?), rooted in bohemianism (is this not an ethnic slur?), steeped in “relativism” and just plain “looseness”.

The dissident culture is of course that of traditional republican and Puritan virtue. This culture has found itself “emasculated” by the welfare state. The resurrection of this dissident culture will be wrought through reassertion of family, an end to the tyranny of the secularists, unity among the religious traditionalists, school vouchers, etc.

…or maybe not, she doesn’t predict the outcome of this struggle.

Weaving through the machine gun fire of statistics was a little tiresome. If perhaps the Bradley Foundation (who likes to support her students) could cough up a little cake for me I could have the time to research all these surveys and their sources to see if there is a pattern of self-service. When I see statistics I get my radar up, up, up. Take this example, part of a discussion about domestic violence, marraige and cohabitation:

Thus it is husbands who are generally represented as the guilty parties and marriage is made to appear as the locus of the problem, although it is the nonmarital relationship that is far more often associated with violence. A Department of Justice study finds that a woman is three times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted by a boyfriend and ten times by an acquaintance than by a spouse.

There is no hint as to whether there is cohabitation with these rapists. It also occurs to me that nearly all women have had more than three boyfriends and ten acquaintances, thus the statistic is very alarming concerning husbands!

This wholesale assignation of societal conflict to the sphere of morality of course very neatly sidesteps the entire issue of economic class. Contrary to the analysis of current voting pattern, which reveals the center of political alignment and the median income as being one and the same, Himmelfarb says of the democratization of the dominant (once counter) culture, “Having been spared the class polarization that Karl Marx predicted, we have succumbed to the cultural revolution.”

To be quite truthful, I began to lose respect for Gertrude Himmelfarb early on. Consider the “emasculated” culture referred to above. This phraseology seemed a little strange to me, but I let it go and then, smack, there it was again! This second time I asked myself, “If masculinity is equivalent to vitality, then am I not wasting my time reading this woman’s book?”

On the positive side, I know a lot more about Alexis de Tocqueville and I am moved to learn much more about Hegel.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Aeons of Asterisks

I hear some folks railing at the baseball players’ union about the steroid mess while others attack Bud Selig or Balco or agents. Some even blame a player or two. There can be no focus for this blame. I blame the following, equally:

  1. The named and unnamed players who would cheat this singularly American institution;
  2. Every entrepreneur who would sell an unhealthy product; every lawyer and politician who would protect such endeavor;
  3. Management and the sponsors who not only turn a blind eye, but shamelessly promote their products using the images of steroid enhanced physique;
  4. Every newspaper, every radio and TV station who has used the hype of these achievements to help their numbers while under-reporting the steady march to the grave of professional wrestlers;
  5. Every coach at every level who would allow the young to poison themselves; every booster, educator and townsman who would foster an environment that would lead the impressionable to desperate self-mutilation;
  6. Every man in a kayak on the Bay; everyone (including myself) ooing and aahing the freak show that was the home run derby in Milwaukee’s all star game;
  7. Every citizen, politician and celebrity who reveled in the McGuire/Sosa circus;
  8. Every fan who bought a jersey, hat or ticket to glorify this mess.

We all knew, every last one of us. This is not a time for outrage: this is about shame and a needed dose of self-examination by quite nearly everyone.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Key a Hummer Today

Things are a bit hectic right now, so I'm going to toss an oldie in so's you don't think I've lost interest.

I've finished What's the Matter with Kansas? and have ordered some books from the other camp. In that so many conservatives look to me like momma's boys (some of them even call thier wives "mommy", for cryin' out loud), I'm waiting for the mail to bring One Nation, Two Cultures by Gertrude Himmelfarb, mommy of Bill Kristol.

Coming also in this package is Bobos in Paradise, by the oft-mentioned David Brooks. I don't know anything about his mommy. Just so the mailman doesn't drop this package on his right foot I have ordered Lies My Teacher Told Me : Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, by James W. Loewen. Although "everything" sounds a bit bold, it seems like a must-read.

Anyway, the point was to slip in a rerun and cut. This was a letter that found its way into the Milwaukee Journal in 2001, my reaction to a story about the difficulties kids and moms were having with school transit issues.

What about the environment?

I read with great interest Meg Kissinger's article about parental pickup at school, but was disappointed that the issue of environment was not addressed in any way.

Each day, as I make my way around traffic at the local high school, I grow a little more depressed at the sight. It's not enough that across America, millions and millions of gas-guzzling suburban assault vehicles are unnecessarily spending millions of hours warming up and idling. Additionally, we are contributing to the next generation's increased blindness to alternatives.

Ironically, the very people who are our hope can most easily be efficiently transported, but they are not.

There are sports heroes and academic heroes. There are also a few high schoolers who recognize the waste and harm of our ways, and walk or ride the bus voluntarily.

Those are my heroes.

In the words of a particular favorite of mine, Linda Ellerby, "And so it goes."