Tuesday, August 31, 2004

GOP Convention time. I’m not watching any of it, would like nothing more than to ignore it, but it impinges on my consciousness. Kind of like a looming appointment with a proctologist.

David Brooks’s NYT column today is entitled “The Courage Factor.” Brooks has a point insofar as the most important thing (for the purposes of the GOP Convention) about featured speakers John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, and Arnold Schwarzenegger is not that they’re social moderates. It’s that each of these has the public image of a man of guts and action.

Brooks pumps up his triumvirate as being “obsessed with character.” You know: integrity, incorruptibility, the whole Boy Scout handbook. Personally, I’m about ready to puke from the comprehensive recent demonstration of what the American press and public define as “character” in a politician. Brooks applauds John, Rudy, and Arnie for being renegades who defy “litmus-test politics.” It strikes me that not all litmus tests are created equal, and the litmus test in the Bush White House is blind loyalty to Bush. But what the hell, I’m not a Bush voter or even a David Brooks reader, normally.

Okay, looking at these heroes one at a time: Schwarzenegger certainly embodies the Austro-American dream of enterpreneurial narcissism. But archaic courage? Is this really what Homer and Malory had in mind--being a bodybuilding champ then action movie star? Honestly, what Schwarzenegger has is not courage but chutzpah. Brooks’s obsessed-with-character argument has one especially gaping hole: the long string of sexual assault allegations against Arnold. I put Arnold in the Bush league of punks, whose “character” is marked by belittling and abusing people in lower stations.

It’s a remarkable fluke of history that John McCain, the most popular politician in America for the last four-plus years, hands down, wants to be President but isn’t, and isn’t even a candidate this year. To guard his chances in 2008, McCain is, as David Broder puts it, “struggling manfully” (how else does McCain do anything?) to preserve his rep for straight talk with his endorsement of Bush for Prez, despite their well-known past differences. Broder pussyfoots around the big issue between McCain and Bush: the despicable smear job that the Bush Campaign perpetrated on McCain in the 2000 primaries. To many of us, the Straight Talk Express has been permanently derailed by McCain’s swallowing his wronged honor in order to do Bush’s bidding. So much for obsessed with character.

And Rudy Giuliani… You know, I’m sorry, but I can’t slag Giuliani too much. (I prefer not to know exactly what he said at Madison Square Garden last night.) I know that many New Yorkers have a list a yard long of gripes with the Giuliani reign as NYC mayor. And it’s quite a recovery for Rudy to be associated with the concept of personal character after his public infidelity and ugly tabloid divorce of a few years ago. I myself had no use for the guy either, until September 11, 2001. For the week or so after 9/11, Rudy was my best friend: just about the only person who made me feel better. I once said that I wish we’d had President Giuliani on 9/11, but on second thought, no, if Rudy had experienced the attack abstractly the way Dubya did, he’d probably have been as blustering and ineffective as Dubya was. But in the heat of the crisis at Ground Zero, when Bush would have soiled his chinos, Giuliani came through with personal courage, eloquence, tireless hard work, and compassion. He was exactly what the doctor ordered.

Friday, August 27, 2004

THINGS THAT ALMOST MAKE ME CRY: I feel bad about the lack of posts. I've been trying for over a month to write something about Vietnam and its continuing legacy, but the news of the last ten days or so (the Swift Boat controversy) has put me in a dark hole of frustration and ill-humor. But let me throw out something short.

I was reading Gore Vidal today. His latest collection of essays is titled Imperial America: Reflections on the United States of Amnesia. Many of the essays date from the '80s. It must be a beautiful thing to have a 40+ year body of work and be able to go through and cherry-pick the essays that make you look the most clairvoyant. While I realize that and try to discount for it, some of his statements from decades past still leave me gobsmacked in their accuracy or applicability to today's political scene.

The concluding section of the book must have been written around March. The Howard Dean candidacy had pretty well blown up, Kerry and Edwards were two horses left in the Democratic presidential derby, and both of them were looking good in the polls vis-a-vis Dubya. In a fit of optimism (not Vidal's most characteristic attitude) he writes:

So, if nothing else, the feckless Bush has not only given new meaning to
the equally feckless Democratic party but he has, despite the best--that is,
worst--efforts of the media, given new meaning to our corrupt political system
as the United States is now starting to divide, consciously, between
imperialists, eager for us to seize all the world's resources, and the
anti-imperialists who favor peace along with renewable sources of energy. The media is furious at this departure from their norm--baroque lies
about the personalities of the contenders.

Monday, August 23, 2004

NIP/TUCK/OOPS: Sign of the times: There is a veteran local news anchorman in Durham (WTVD) named Larry Stogner. He hadn't been seen on the air in several weeks, but nobody thought too much of it, since his role at the station was being reduced in favor of newer faces anyway.

The story came out recently that Stogner had been sidelined by a round of plastic surgery that had gone wrong. Stogner is back on the air now, but his left eyelid droops noticeably. He was quoted in the Raleigh paper being pretty matter of fact, saying TV is a young person's game, I was trying to buy a few more years, and shit happens.

I've had a soft spot for Larry Stogner ever since I saw him in the stands behind home plate at a Durham Bulls game about ten years ago, extra-large beer in one hand, cigarette in the other--presumably just a couple of hours before his 11 pm broadcast. (It could have been his night off, but that would ruin the story, wouldn't it?) Anyway, if this is typical of the pressure on-camera TV people experience in places like Durham , that's a sad commentary, as if any more were needed, on a vapid medium.

In other North Carolina gossip: David Miner is a Raleigh area state legislator who went down to defeat in a GOP primary election amid rumors about his sexuality. The N&O's Ruth Sheehan devoted today's column to defending Miner's integrity, saying isn't it a shame about the gay rumors, then in the next paragraph reporting that Miner had gone to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware to lick his wounds. Jeez, Ruth, did he stop at Ikea to buy some track lighting on the way? Raleigh's leading multi-alt-media conglomerate Monkeytime (he blogs AND does community access TV) has more.

Friday, August 20, 2004

BUSH PUNKITUDE, CONT'D: The July/August issue of The Atlantic has an interesting article contrasting Bush's and Kerry's styles as political debaters. James Fallows looked at a lot of video of past performances, such as Bush vs. Ann Richards 1994, and Kerry vs. William Weld 1996. He discusses Kerry's erudition and mastery of details, and Bush's skill at staying on message and turning questions to his advantage. Fallows also relates his surprise at seeing Dubya in action ten years ago: he was articulate, smooth, not at all awkward or over his head. It seems Bush has been deliberately cultivating his swaggering John Wayne persona since about 1998, when the Presidency began to seem within his reach.

But the most memorable part, to me, was a description of Bush's '98 debate against Garry Mauro, his Texas gubernatorial opponent. I offer it as a little-known prime example of Bush being a punk.

GWB was on his way to being re-elected resoundingly. The challenger Mauro had no bargaining strength on debates; he wanted several, but Bush and Karl Rove stonewalled and wound up agreeing to only one, very late in the race.

It was on a Friday night in mid-October, head-to-head against high school football games, for minimal statewide viewership. The location was in El Paso, so remote from the rest of the state it is in a different time zone, and with a heavily Hispanic, Democratic electorate. Bush thought that if he could become the first Republican in memory to carry El Paso—as he ultimately did—he might demonstrate the potential breadth of his nationwide appeal.

As a result, Mauro and the entire debate were essentially props for a Bush campaign blitz in West Texas. The debate was held in a tiny basement room on the campus of the University of Texas at El Paso. The candidates' families and a few local officials sat on metal folding chairs in the room; everyone else, including reporters, watched TV monitors elsewhere. Laura Bush sat a few feet away from Mauro's children, whom she knew but (according to Mauro) did not speak to or acknowledge. According to the rules of this debate, insisted on by Bush's team, the screen had to show only whichever candidate was speaking—that is, no cutaway or reaction shots were allowed.

Therefore no one outside the room saw the miniature drama inside. Bush was halfway toward his presidential style, speaking more slowly and less gracefully than four years earlier, and with a more dismissive air toward his opponent. While Mauro was speaking, Bush would sigh, grimace, and send body-language messages of boredom or contempt. "It was incredible," Mauro told me recently. "I almost can't believe it in retelling it. Because the press was upstairs, they didn't realize how aggressive he was on the stage—pulling the sleeve of the moderator, staring or winking at Laura in the crowd." The moderator of the debate, Bob Moore, of the El Paso Times, told me that Bush actually grabbed him just before the debate: "In the hallway, Bush did grab me by the lapels, pull me close to his face, and say, 'Bobby, you clean up real good.' Typical Bush." When Bush was on stage but off camera, Moore said, "there was that Bush smirk, rolling his eyes, all of which Bush is very good at."

So to sum up: Bush used the power of his incumbency to stage the debate in a way that enabled him to taunt his opponent without any voters finding out. Classy guy, our President.
PUNK IN CHIEF: Dahlia Lithwick had a guest column in the New York Times yesterday, in which she cautions opponents of Bush against "infantilizing" him. She gives a number of examples. The effect of the "My Pet Goat" scene in Fahrenheit 9/11, she writes, was to make the President appear childish, unsophisticated, and even dumb. Al Gore made a mistake by sighing and rolling his eyes during a debate with Bush:

Everything about Mr. Gore's demeanor signaled that he felt he was giving a punk kid a much-needed scolding. Which missed the point: a lot of very smart people voted for Mr. Bush in 2000 because to them, he represented a return to honesty and morality. Dismissing him as a stupid child, and these voters as stupid-children-by-association, is no way to win them back.

It's been said before, and I agree, that calling Bush stupid is poor strategy, for the reason Lithwick gives: insulting Bush insults the Bush voter. But surely there's room, without resorting to schoolyard insults, to contradict Bush's claims of honesty, morality, and strong character.

Let's think about the "My Pet Goat" episode on the morning of 9/11. I don't think Bush looked like a five-year-old--he looked like a grown man sitting awkwardly in a room full of five-year-olds. It was a photo op, one of those dull, awkward events politicians endure all the time. The question is, when told the U.S. was under attack, why didn't the President quickly excuse himself from the photo op, drop the role of politician and assume the role of Commander in Chief?

Because the role of politician, of face man, is more natural to him, and in a moment of stress he did what was most comfortable.

Oh, soon enough he got into the limo with his aides, and I imagine he made some tough talk about how he was going to stick a rocket up Osama's ass. But the mature, responsible crisis manager, Dick Cheney, diverted Air Force One to Nebraska. It took the better part of the day for the brain trust to realize the President looked like a damn fool and yellow besides huddling in a bunker in Nebraska.

So they brought Bush back to Washington so he could talk tough on national TV. Tough talk is all he's good at. On camera it's "Defeat the evildoers," but back in the office, when figuring out HOW to defeat them, it's "Whatever you say, guys."

(While I'm on a roll, do you know why Al Gore rolled his eyes at Bush during their debate? It's the same reason Josh Lyman and Toby Ziegler on "the West Wing" roll their eyes at most people they meet. It's a very exclusive league they play in. And Bush had just given a soundbite about ending affirmative action, and Gore's rebuttal exposed that Bush had no fucking idea what he meant in terms of policy. In Gore's mind Bush had no business being on that stage, not because he's dumb but because he's unserious.)

Bush is all attitude. His mouth is constantly writing checks that the 82nd Airborne can't cash. He's mastered some of the motions and mannerisms of a responsible adult, but none of the wisdom or patience or inner fortitude. He's bluffing his way along. Frankly, I DO think Bush is dim and unsophisticated. But not childish exactly. (Because children are innocent and charming and serious, in their way.) Bush is stuck in an unattractive smart-assed adolescence, frivolous and dangerously cynical all at the same time.

The Bushian moments that really make my blood boil are moments of petulance or empty bravado. "Who cares what you think?" (To a critic who somehow gained access to a Bush public appearance.) "Bring it on." (Challenging Iraqi insurgent fighters. Bush was safe in Washington when he spoke.) "You should ask them." (When asked by a reporter during a scheduled sit-down interview why Western Europe was not supporting the Iraq invasion.)

Punk is a good word.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

MY HERO: I wish I was half as funny as Jesus' General. Here is his comment on the Patrick Rooney / People of Color United situation.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

"BIBLE PORN": From Killing the Buddha, via The Revealer, a funny and insightful piece by Erik Hanson about subverting a Christian youth retreat.

I've been meaning to say more about The Revealer, which is part of my regular blog diet now. It's sponsored by the journalism department at NYU and is a smart, relatively unbiased digest of religion news coverage, if you care about such things. The guy who runs The Revealer, Jeffrey Sharlet, is also one of the guiding hands behind Killing the Buddha, an offbeat and eclectic site about spirituality. An irreverent look at reverence, you might say.
JUST ASKING: Watching the Olympics sporadically, we notice that the women beach volleyball players wear skintight two-piece Speedo-style swimsuits with micro-mini bottoms. My bride and I were wondering, is there any practical reason for this? There's an obvious aesthetic reason. But is there any aerodynamic rationale for the skimpy suits? If so, it would seem to be contradicted by the ball cap and shades all the players wear. There's a protection and comfort factor here too. Would YOU ordinarily want to be wearing a bikini if you had to throw yourself headlong onto the sand from time to time? And the women have to pause after each point to unwedge the suit from their butts.

At the same time, many women swimmers have gone to the bodysuits that come down below the knee. All in all, I believe the aesthetic reason, the hot-girls-in-bikinis factor, is the most logical explanation for these outfits. If one was really conspiratorial-minded, one might even ask why Norway has a women's beach volleyball team in the first place.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

WEST JAMAICA, MOUNTAIN MAMA: Now playing: A borrowed CD, Toots and the Maytals, Time Tough: The Anthology. I knew of Toots but never spun one of his discs until today. Wow, he's good.

Toots does a cover of "Take Me Home, Country Roads." Dear God, I hadn't thought about this song in years! It fits right in with my West Virginia nostalgia theme of earlier in the week. The John Denver version came out when I was living in Charleston, I would have been six or seven, and the radio played it about twice an hour. I had the song memorized in no time, and loved to sing it as much as the radio loved to play it. It made us feel like we were from somewhere. I'm not sure John Denver had ever set foot in West Virginia when he recorded the song, but I'm pretty sure he hustled over to give some concerts and cash in on the state pride.

However, I am obliged to tell you today that Toots blows John Denver right off the island.
BUT... BUT... THEY DEMOTED TRENT LOTT!: The GOP really cracks me up with some of its outreach efforts to minorities.

Pandagon has a pithy pronouncement on the absurdity of the Alan Keyes campaign for Senate in Illinois:

It really says something about the racial consciousness of the two parties when the Democrats are running a clearly post-racial candidate who happens to be black and the Republicans, giving in to the worst of token politics, decide their best hope is to grab a black guy from across the country. Obama, thankfully, is about more than hue; Keyes' entrance into the race is about nothing but.

(I suppose it’s a mild defense of the Illinois GOP to observe they had no good options, and felt they had to get somebody with name recognition to make up for the campaign’s late start. But still, Alan Keyes?)

In “Blackwashing”, Joshua Holland reports about a black conservative group called Project 21 that was supposed to be profiled on C-SPAN recently.

But then a funny thing happened: the African-American spokesperson for Project 21 caught a flat on the way to the studio, and the group's director had to fill in. And he was white.

In other words, a single instance of car trouble seems to have wiped out the entire black presence in this “major” “black” organization. Holland goes on to discuss Ward "Segregation Need Not Be Racist" Connerly, Alan Keyes, and other black GOP sock puppets.

Along the same lines, Slate's Tim Noah offers “The GOP Minstrel Show: A white tycoon in blackface race-baits Teresa Heinz Kerry.” Admittedly, I have a teeny-tiny problem with THK calling herself African-American. But the disingenuousness of this corporate welfare queen Patrick Rooney (he needs a nickname, P-Dog or something) is stunning.

Despite the fact that all five African-American Republicans are certain to have front-row seats in New York in two weeks, don’t believe for a minute that the GOP is giving more than token attention to courting the black vote. The goal of making mischief for the Democrats is to depress the black vote. Watch out for much dirtier tactics aimed at black voters closer to Election Day.

Friday, August 13, 2004

CAMPING PICTURE #1: My little darlings.

L-R: Zuzu, Xaviera, and Yolanda.

Thursday, August 12, 2004



Matthew Yglesias, writing about the "hack gap" in response to what I gather was his frustration after being a guest on a right-wing talk radio show. The right has more hacks than the left -- more people who stay "on message" to an intellectually dishonest degree. I think he's right. It's what happens when one party is anti-intellectual.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

WEDNESDAY'S CHILD: This Slate piece by Debra Dickerson is well worth reading. I assert strongly that I am not a racist, but without a doubt I have racist thoughts and impulses that I try to suppress, and occasionally fail to. And it sure would be a boon to civilization if we could talk about our prejudices and preconceptions more openly.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

HELLO MUDDA, HELLO FODDA: The family and I are just back from a trip to West Virginia. We spent two nights camping at Bluestone State Park, near Hinton.

We spent Saturday night at the Econo Lodge in Ghent. It is located right next door to Nikki’s Adult Entertainment – perfect for me, my wife, and three young children. (Booking hotels online is a great thing, however you can get a surprise now and then.)

Sunday we hiked at Grandview Park, part of the New River Gorge National River. I have a patch of poison ivy on my right leg as a souvenir.

I’m not actually complaining; it was a good old fashioned family vacation, with just a little boredom and discomfort thrown in to heighten the adventure. The way we camp is “behind the car,” not particularly strenuous, but we did sleep in tents and brave overnight temperatures in the 40s. By mistake we wound up in the RV campground, with electric hookups that we didn't need, but it meant we had a nice big site to spread out on. As usual, we forgot to pack some stuff, including plates to eat from and the tarp that covers the top of the tent and keeps the rain out, so I had to make an emergency shopping run. There had been rain the day we got there, which ruined our poor fire-making efforts that first night (thank goodness our neighbors in Raleigh lent us their propane stove), but on Day Two we succeeded in having a fire and toasting marshmallows—a key part of the camping ritual. We swam, which was cold but tolerable. We hiked some, and my sweet wife let me take one evening hike by myself with no little girls slowing me down. We saw some nice songbirds. We saw deer at both Bluestone and Grandview; in fact, the deer are so tame they don’t really bother to run and hide when they see you.

And Saturday and Sunday turned out to be a nice family reunion. We saw my dad, my grandmother, and the aunts and uncles and cousins on my dad’s side, including the ones who live in New Mexico whom we only see every few years. The young cousins got reacquainted, and I got to take my girls to see places and do activities that I enjoyed in my childhood, which is good narcissistic fun for me.

On some future summer vacation, I want to bike and camp along the Greenbrier River Trail. I just have to tie up a couple loose ends, namely buy bikes and teach the kids how to ride them. A big part of my heart is in the Appalachians; even though I haven't lived there fulltime since I was seven years old, it nourishes me to spend time there. I enjoy the contact with nature, and I enjoy learning more of the history of a region that is still a frontier in many ways.

I might like to attempt a longish piece of writing about vacations. We have taken an interesting variety of them in the last year. Due to unusual and advantageous circumstances, we’ve gotten to take a couple of trips that would normally be out of reach, luxury-wise. At the other end of the spectrum is camping, which my wife and I took up as an economical mode of family travel, but which is a cherished lifestyle for some people. We also took a trip to Tennessee this spring that was a promotion, requiring us to sit through a sales pitch for vacation time shares. Remind me never to put myself through that again, but I was somewhat intrigued by the notion of vacation as a commodity, like gasoline or electricity, that we all need in order to fulfill the American dream. This company used a point system whereby a customer could choose either lots of cheap vacations or a few swanky ones, or some combination. But the assumption was that everybody should spend some time at a resort every year, and it’s a good idea to secure an ample supply of R&R well in advance.

I need a little practice with our new digital camera and with Blogger commands, but I’ll try to put up a picture or two later.

Monday, August 09, 2004

TODAY'S READING: The current New Yorker has this profile of Christian stand-up comic Brad Stine. There is also an interview with the writer of the article, Adam Green, in the New Yorker's Online Only section.

This is worth reading if you're interested in the Christian entertainment market as a phenomenon. If not, not. I'm not a consumer of Creed albums or Left Behind books, but too many people consume them for me to easily dismiss them. Figuring out their appeal plays amusing tricks with my categories of liberal & conservative, cool & square.

Maybe this is just the story of a guy who struggled and finally succeeded in finding a market niche. Brad Stine stopped doing gigs at comedy clubs and began doing them at Promise Keepers meetings and other Christian venues, and found that he went down better at 8 pm with Diet Pepsi drinkers than he ever did at 1 am in front of a crowd of drunks. Stine is emblematic of the way that many churches and parachurch organizations, trying to stay relevant to young people and others in our 100-plus channel mediaverse, are learning to deliver a Christian message in a non-corny package. Brad Stine is distinctive because his comedy heroes are George Carlin and Bill Hicks, but he grafts their edginess and truth-telling attitude to a much different political and spiritual orientation. God and Mammon have joined forces to bring this brand of tasty-but-wholesome culture product to an audience. Christian music and book publishing operations are state-of-the-art. The William Morris Agency (I learned from this article) has a Christian entertainment division.

But the article is rich in details, and who can say if the Lord or the devil is in them? Brad Stine is the child of divorce, of a devoutly Christian mother and a father who toiled on the fringes of show business, as a singer and carnival-sideshow performer. Brad seems both angry at his father for abandoning him and driven to fulfill Dad's dreams of showbiz success. He has consciously departed from the mainstream comedy career path, yet he resents "liberal Hollywood bias" and crows that if he gets to perform at "the stinkin' GOP convention" (which he might--his people are talking to their people) then the Tonight Show and the sitcom producers will have to take notice of him. Brad's wife is the former girlfriend of the drummer from Dokken, and she thinks the two men, the Christian comic and the heavy metal musician, are much alike in their road warrior lifestyle and creative temperament. Both Mr. and Mrs. Stine use the adjective "stinkin'" as an obvious conversational substitute for "fucking." So the line between the sacred and the secular often seems to vanish.

I still have questions. Stine is obviously downplaying religion and highlighting politics in his standup act, trying to position himself for a role in the Republican campaign this year. So how seriously are we supposed to take his convictions? I'm guardedly in favor of the church's effort to update its worship style and engage popular culture. But doesn't that put one in the camp of the liberal relativists? How can you be a Biblical fundamentalist, while being engaged in updating the Gospel for the MTV generation? Is it all part of Stine's daddy complex? Caveat emptor, dear reader, but I'm bookmarking this one.

FAILING TO PLAN = what, class?: Slate doesn’t publish a sports feature every day, but when they do, it’s usually fun reading. I may resolve to post a commentary on every “sports nut” piece they run…

Today’s, by Jeremy Derfner, is “Coach Lit: How to Succeed the Riley way. And the Coach K Way. And the Shanahan Way…”

Oh my God, this guy is so right. First, his overall mission of skewering coach lit is a worthy one. The word “leadership” appears in the name of the office I work for, so I suppose I should take the field of leadership literature seriously, but the fact that the field seems to rely heavily on the wisdom of basketball and football coaches, makes me dismiss the whole enterprise as utter bullshit. This is unfair, I know, but it seems like every leadership talk I’ve ever heard has climaxed with a Vince Lombardi quote. A man I know who teaches leadership at Duke’s Public Policy Institute, a good and smart guy, has a refrain about “making the .240 hitters into .250 hitters.” That’s a perfectly sound organizational concept, raising the performance of mediocre workers, but distilling it into a sports metaphor cheapens it for me. I’m as big a sports fan as you are likely to meet; my head is crowded with baseball trivia and the names of each NBA champion in the shot-clock era. But I’m deeply skeptical of sports as a mine of generally applicable wisdom. It’s a diversion, people--a form of entertainment. Aaron Spelling and Marty Scorsese don’t write leadership tracts; neither should basketball honchos.

And speaking of the latter, Mr. Derfner mentions Coach K (I’ve been following his career for 20 years but damn if I can spell his last name), specifically Coach K’s recent flirting with leaving Duke University and taking a big-money job with the Los Angeles Lakers. K kept Duke and the entire ACC basketball audience holding its breath for the long July 4th weekend, wondering if he would accept the L.A. job offer. That was an interesting study in human nature, I thought; so many sports reporters and fans leapt to the conclusion that K would take the Lakers’ money and run. In retrospect, we all should have known better. What Coach K has at Duke is better than money, he has demi-god status. He gets a faculty slot at Duke business school; he gets his own institute for leadership and ethics; he gets distinguished lecturer gigs at the Divinity School; he hosts the Duke Children’s Hospital radiothon. His financial package is no disgrace either; it dwarfs that of the university president (actually, President Brodhead is ranked about number 10 on the list of Duke salaries; a bunch of medical center bigwigs exceed his tax bracket as well. Supply and demand, baby.). The marketing value of the Duke basketball program to Duke University, in real terms like TV money and merchandising and the pool of prospective students, is massive. For building that program, for amassing a championship record without disgracing the academic reputation of the place, Coach K is the de facto mayor of Durham and the goddam grand wizard of college basketball. His perch at Duke confers riches, intellectual respectability, heavyweight celebrity, and something akin to sainthood.

Here is an observation that I haven’t seen elsewhere. I don’t think Coach K engineers these job offers from the NBA; he probably gets feelers every year. But he can dismiss the inquiries quietly, or he can play them to the hilt. About 12 or so years ago, when Nan Keohane was new in the Duke president’s job, she called Coach on the carpet over some matter; I think it was a summer exhibition tour of Europe that she thought was a little extravagant. K’s response basically was, I’m sorry you feel that way, Dr. Keohane, and by the way, I have the Portland Trailblazers on hold on the other line. I don’t believe for a minute he was tempted to jump to Portland; that was a power play. And to both parties’ credit, the two K’s (Krzyzewski and Keohane) developed a good working relationship. But I find it curious that this Lakers job offer coincided, pretty much to the day, with the arrival of Nan Keohane’s successor. Krzyzewski (ok, I looked it up) emerges from his dalliance with the Lakers clutching a contract extension and a powerful message to Dick Brodhead about what’s what and who’s who. I don’t fault the guy for strengthening his position; that’s his right. I just offer it as an observation on our local demi-god.

Come to think of it, the current issue of Sports Illustrated has a good profile of pro football coach Bill Belichick (only subscribers can get it online). I suspect a business exec or other leader could get some valuable lessons out of it, namely: Pay attention to detail, work hard, don’t let success go to your head. And don’t take time out to write a frickin’ leadership manual.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

THE "FRONT-ROOM DEAL": After I said yesterday that I don’t read The Nation anymore, I spent some time at their website today, and read this column by Jonathan Schell.

Schell points out that at the Boston convo, much was made of John Kerry’s Vietnam service, but little was made of his post-Vietnam antiwar activism, from whence his prestige in the Democratic Party originates. There’s a disconnect between rank-and-file Democrats’ strong opposition to the Iraq war, and the convention’s strategic decision not to state that opposition directly: "[T]he party has made what appears to be a tactical decision to hide its faith… The Democrats are united but have concealed the cause that unites them." Schell worries that the strategy could backfire in one of two ways. One is that "[i]f strong and wrong is really the winning formula, Bush may be the public’s choice." The second is that a President Kerry may be cornered by his tough Commander-in-Chief persona, and find himself unable to change course in Iraq.

This is carping from the progressive base of the party. Happily, little of this carping was evident in Boston. But we’re going to hear some during the fall campaign, and we’ll hear a lot of it if Kerry takes office next year.

I don’t share Schell’s worry about the campaign strategy. I think it's the right one. The GOP is eager to accuse Kerry of planning to cut and run on Iraq, so he has to guard against that charge. And while I opposed the invasion, since it happened I believe we have an obligation, both moral and pragmatic, to stabilize Iraq. I’m sure Kerry acknowledges Colin Powell’s "Pottery Barn rule:" We broke Iraq, now we own it, at least for a short while. I don’t have many answers for how the U.S. should extricate itself from Iraq, but I think about a couple of things: One, we probably need more troops on the ground, not fewer, for a short time. Two, simply internationalizing the peacekeeping force—taking the Stars and Stripes off, putting the UN logo on--will take a lot of the pressure off. Both these things seem to be part of Kerry’s plan, and the second one only a Kerry Administration can accomplish, since Bush is so vilified and discredited abroad.

Of course, Kerry is being deliberately vague about the details, and I may be guilty of wishful thinking and interpreting Kerry’s vagueness to my own liking. And I think Schell gets at an important truth: Many Democrats feel bound to campaign one way and govern another. That's an untenable situation, long-term.

This piece by Tom Engelhardt of the Nation Institute is well-done too. I ripped off the title of this post from him. I mean, one could dismiss it as more hand-wringing from the hardcore left, but I don’t. I’m cautiously optimistic about Kerry’s chances for victory in November, but 2005 holds plenty of challenges, for Kerry and the Democrats as a whole.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

YOUNGEST LIVING SOCIALIST TELLS ALL: The Kerry-Edwards nuptials in Boston were a rollicking good time. The whole extended family came and made nice for the sake of the happy couple. It's a shame the honeymoon can't last forever...

Jeanne d’Arc at Body and Soul points us to this column by Naomi Klein, published in the both the Guardian and The Nation. The damn thing has me tied up in knots. Ms. Klein’s thang is economic justice and anti-globalism. I sense that her politics and mine agree about 98%, and that this is a case where I get way too emotional about the 2% deviation, but consarn it, this piece irks me.

Klein’s basic thesis is that Bush hating is a surface phenomenon. Bush and his gang are crude, unenlightened, perhaps a little quirky. But on principle, Kerry and Bush are equally atrocious. Leftists err by making Dubya the personification of all their problems, when Kerry is just as complicit in the drug war, free trade, divvying up the spoils of war in Iraq, and other immoral U.S. policies. Klein never mentions Ralph Nader directly, but it’s the old Ralph refrain that both major candidates are equally compromised by special interests:

"The main difference will be that as Kerry pursues these brutal policies, he
will come off as intelligent, sane and blissfully dull. That's why I've joined
the Anybody But Bush camp: only with a bore such as Kerry at the helm will we
finally be able to put an end to the presidential pathologising and focus on the
issues again."

Yes, what we need is a nice boring president who will not blind us to the reality of corporatist evil. Strangely, Klein seems to regard the "innocuous" Clinton years (I swear to God, she characterized Bill Clinton as innocuous) as a golden age, despite the fact that NAFTA passed during Clinton's tenure. Republicans, Democrats: all swine. It's just that the Bush administration is loaded with "odd personalities" who drive us to distraction:

"[T]he zealots in Bush's White House are neither insane nor stupid nor
particularly shady. Rather, they openly serve the interests of the corporations
that put them in office with bloody-minded efficiency. Their boldness stems not
from the fact that they are a new breed of zealot but that the old breed finds
itself in a newly unconstrained political climate."

This is just dunderheaded--truly a distinction without a difference. Did the political climate unconstrain itself? Hardly. The Republicans have been working for a generation to undermine the values of reason, civility and fair play in Washington.
"Some argue that Bush’s extremism actually has a progressive effect because it
unites the world against the US empire."

Geez, do some argue that? On my planet, people observe that Bush appoints ringers to the federal bench, ignores education and research, and runs up crushing deficits. Every single day, Bush’s extremism does a little more damage, damage that will be felt long after he has left office.

But to Naomi, anti-Bush animus merely clouds men’s minds until they fail to "understand modern empire not as the purview of a single nation, no matter how powerful, but a global system of interlocking states, international institutions and corporations…"

Frankly, that global system sounds fucking GREAT to me right now. Let those states and corporations interlock, if it will prevent Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz from taking over the world.

It isn’t a hot news flash that John Kerry is not progressives’ dream candidate. I’m probably a little naïve in hoping that some of Kerry’s campaign rhetoric is just for show and that he’ll change course promptly upon taking office (I’m thinking mostly of his support for Israel’s right to build a security fence in the West Bank). But that’s not half as naïve as not seeing a large difference between the Democrats and the Republicans in the way they do business. The GOP of Bush and Delay ignores the law, ignores the rules of civil discourse, ignores facts, when those things collide with their Manichean worldview. There is no national emergency they won't exploit for partisan advantage. They're downright Orwellian in their anti-democratic instincts and corruption of language.

As is widely recognized, progressives will need to work to keep their agenda in front of a President Kerry. But Chrissakes, the difference for progressives between a Kerry and a Bush administration, is the difference between a difficult uphill chance, and NO chance.

I got annoyed, on the eve of the Democratic Convention, watching The Chris Matthews Show. Matthews devoted several minutes to the notion that the Clintons lead an ultra-left faction of the party that secretly wants Kerry to tank in '04, to clear the way for Hillary in '08. This is a total right-wing strawman, I tell myself—utterly ridiculous. Look how the party is uniting behind Kerry. Then along comes Naomi Klein and fuels that insulting innuendo.

Really, Klein gives the game away in her first graf with the line "standard-issue Bush-bashing schlock, on sale at Wal-Mart, made in Malaysia." Wal-Mart reference = gratuitous snobbery. I know about Klein’s anti-globalist, anti-sweatshop bona fides; so add a side order of sanctimony to the gratuitous snobbery.

(I’m not a regular reader of The Nation anymore, but I intend to pick up the next few issues and look for the letters to the editor about this one. Hopefully Klein will write a rebuttal as well [rubbing hands gleefully] . Silly as The Nation can be, getting all het up about Alger Hiss or some other controversy that only a dwindling handful of nonagenarian ex-union organizers living in Greenwich Village gives a shit about anymore, you still have to love the flame wars in the Letters section—erudite, sourced, devastatingly polite, fundamentally vicious.)