A Fool in the Forest

A fool, a fool! I met a fool i' the forest,
A motley fool; a miserable world!
As I do live by food, I met a fool
Who laid him down and bask'd him in the sun,
And rail'd on Lady Fortune in good terms,
In good set terms and yet a motley fool.

As You Like It, Act II, Scene 7

L'homme y passe à travers des forêts de symboles
Qui l'observent avec des regards familiers.

Les Fleurs du Mal, “Correspondances”

Saturday, July 19, 2003
Affairs of Slate

About to depart for the Slate annual retreat, Mickey Kaus proposes a progressive embrace of the status quo:
They are probably going to try to make us think outside the box again, when all I want to do is curl up inside the box and go to sleep. ... Everyone is thinking outside the box these days. What takes real boldness and originality is to refuse to go along with the free-thinking herd! Inside the box is the new outside the box! That's the ticket.
Speaking of Slate, Michael Kinsley has been all over the airwaves at KCRW - Santa Monica plugging the new joint venture between Slate and NPR, a daily one-hour program to be called "Day to Day". This is not to be confused with Chris Muir's online comic, the antiDoonesbury, Day By Day -- which is currently on medical hiatus, albeit probably not at St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries. But I digress.

The new program premieres July 28, or so it is reported at L.A. Observed. I suspect a streaming simulcast or rebroadcast will be available online, at KCRW or NPR or both.
Friday, July 18, 2003
The Inevitable Blair Speech Entry

Of course, British PM Tony Blair's speech to the Congress is being blogged up one side and down the other. It strikes me as a fine speech, with the usual passion and eloquence that Blair displays for the benefit of we Americans. I had no idea how good it was until I could read the text this morning. I otherwise had to make do with the trivial snippets the [non-cable] broadcast outlets deigned to include in their evening newscasts. Those snippets, inevitably, focused entirely on the continuing controversy over the nature, quality and use of pre-war intelligence.

Mr. Blair is not as well-liked at home as he is here, and is especially disdained by his own compatriots and constituents in the Labor Party for his sin of agreeing with the Bush administration in international matters. A worthwhile piece at Harry's Place argues that the criticism is misplaced and that Blair's posture actually represents "one of the clearest statements of what a left internationalist policy in the era of terrorism should be".

Anyone who is an internationalist, who sees the problems of the world as of far greater import than the comparitively minor worries in the UK, cannot fail but to be glad that we have a Prime Minister who has such a lucid understanding of the global situation and the way ahead in tackling those problems.

What I find bizarre is that many of those on the left who would broadly back Labour on the domestic front, are reviled by Blair's actions on the international scene.

I find myself in the other camp. I'm not enthused by the domestic agenda but I am very glad we have a radical and progressive leader on the international scene.

Defeating tryanny, defeating poverty, winning peace and democracy in the Middle East and prosperity in Africa are issues that for any socialist must surely have more priority than the local concerns over management structure of the NHS or the prospect of ID cards.

The bizarre thing is that if 'left' is defined as being in favour of radical change to the benefit of those who lack economic and political power and ifthe left believes that change has to come through both consent and through determined action, then on the international front Tony Blair is way to the left of most of his critics.
The entire post is rewarding. Link via musician blogger Dr. Frank.
Type Casting

Sure to be the talk of every water cooler, a story of loss and redemption in the world of letters: Behind the Typeface: Cooper Black.

Link via asparagirl.
Thursday, July 17, 2003
Will Slate Be Running "Kerry-isms" Soon?

Paging Jacob Weisberg!

CBS News and others have been reporting these remarks in a televised interview (the original of which I have not tracked down) last weekend:
Another Democratic presidential contender, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, said Sunday the administration should move rapidly to bring other countries into the postwar occupation of Iraq to take the focus off American troops.

We have to diffuse the perception in reality of American occupation,' Kerry, one of nine candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination, said in a televised interview.

'The obligation of the United States government and the president is to rapidly internationalize the effort in Iraq, get the target off of American troops, bring other people, particularly Muslim-speaking and Arab-speaking Muslim troops, into the region,' Kerry said.
(Emphasis supplied.)

Granted, the second remark may just be a trip of the tongue, but can anyone explain how to "diffuse perception in reality"? Does it involve smoking accessories?

(Story, though not this particular link to it, via Tacitus.)
Thinking Aloud About the Recall

A loyal reader (you know which of the two of you it was) asks what I actually think about the prospect of the Gray Davis recall, since I've been blogging the topic repeatedly in the past few days. It is not a simple question to answer.

I am no fan of Davis, as I remarked before. While obtaining a majority of the popular vote is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition to reach the Presidency of the United States, governors do not face the hurdle of the Electoral College. Davis holds his job for the simplest of reasons: more Californians chose to reelect him than not. As even some non-Californians have reminded us, we brought Davis on ourselves and should therefore grimace and take our full four years of nasty medicine. The rationale arguably applies whether you voted for Davis or not: Republicans can be punished for nominating Bill Simon -- whose lack of appeal was only compounded by a monumentally incompetent campaign -- as Davis' opponent.

And Davis is hardly alone as the cause of California's problems. He has the able assistance of the Legislature, where the incumbent members of both major parties redistricted themselves into nice safe seats. No matter what they do, they don't need to worry too much about losing their phoney baloney jobs. (Harrumph.) Whatever the outcome of the recall, some Governor is still going to have to deal with this Legislature, and replacing Davis gives no guarantee that the Assembly or Senate will suddenly become smarter, less self-involved or more tractable.

I suppose the appeal of the Davis recall to me -- other than the sheer morbid fun of watching all heck break loose -- is that the Governor serves as a useful symbol of the failings of the entire elected establishment in Sacramento, and that it is much easier to take out one's frustrations on a single official than on two entire legislative chambers.

So for the moment I am a recall supporter. Not a fiery true believer, but one who suspects that something worse than the status quo would be hard to come by. Of course, I've been wrong before . . . .
The Continuing Ventures of ZimmerMan*

Our musical post trend continues:

Bob Dylan's Love and Theft is a great American recording working and reworking history, fable and most of the popular musical forms of the early 20th century. And it makes me laugh.

The album also conceals a mystery about its person: there is now little doubt that Dylan slyly interwove phrases and references from Confessions of a Yakuza, a Japanese novel by Junichi Saga, into his lyrics. Dylan has, of course, been lifting material openly from Shakespeare, the Bible and innumerable other sources for years, but the Saga references are are both unacknwoledged and much more obscure. They hide themselves within their songs like figures in a carpet.

The San Francisco Chronicle offers the most extensive rundown I've yet seen of where and how material from the novel has been infused into the songs. The use that Dylan has made of Saga's material is too subtle and artistically interesting to be dismissed as "plagiarism."

[*The title of this post refers to a pair of National Lampoon comic book parodies from 1972 and 1974, which I was happily astounded to find reproduced here and here.]
More Music

Since a musical theme seems to have taken over the blog for the moment, let me recommend the online branch of KCRW, the public radio station out of Santa Monica College. Much of the newest music the strikes my fancy is music I hear first on KCRW, particularly on Morning Becomes Eclectic. The program frequently features live in-studio performances, and maintains an extensive archive of past performances.

When I am working in the office on a weekend, it is often to the accompaniment of a past KCRW performance streaming away on the computer. (A fast connection helps, of course.) Personal favorites of the moment include these appearances by Gomez, Weekend Players, and Calexico, but the range of performances offers something for almost anyone and a great opportunity to sample something new.
Wednesday, July 16, 2003
"Throw More Presents!"

Ah, memories . . .

You would never guess it to see me now -- nor, for that matter, to have seen me then -- but on January 14, 1978, I attended what proved to be the Final Performance of the Sex Pistols at Bill Graham's Winterland Arena in San Francisco. I can attest from personal observation that Sid Vicious indeed could not play bass, that guitarist Steve Jones and drummer Paul Cook actually displayed more than a modicum of skill, and that nothing can quite compare with the unholy charisma of Johnny Rotten.

It is generally agreed that the performance that night was not very good, but that was hardly the point at the time. It was a rainy night and the audience at the front of the stage took to tossing umbrellas and other objects at the band. It is hard to say whether this was a reaction to the performance itself, or simply a sign that we Americans hadn't quite figured out this "punk" thing yet. Rotten goaded the audience between songs with the instruction to "Throw more presents!" The audience obliged.

At the end of the show -- while he gathered up umbrellas to take with him -- Rotten famously sneered, "Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?" The band left the stage and broke up on the flight to New York the next day. Sid Vicious, tossed from the band, spiraled downward to his death, taking girlfriend Nancy Spungen with him. And so on.

This reminiscence inspired by links found at BRIAN's Culture Blog to Alice Bachini's A Libertarian Parent in the Countryside blog. (Alice seems to be engaged in homeschooling, too, to her credit.) The relevant punk posts are here and again here. Alice and her thoughts on all this are indeed clever.

Another Recall Recommendation

Looking back over prior posts and my own browsing habits, I was remiss the other day in failing to recommend Justene Adamec's Calblog, which is all over the latest and breakingest recall-related news and comment.

Justene (who I do not know) would be the Pasadena attorney whose blog people actually read on a regular basis . . . .
Driving in Cars with CDs -- PJ Harvey = Nostradamus?

A long drive to and from a court appearance in Santa Maria today [a successful one, I might add], meaning an opportunity to spend quality time with the CD player en route. That inspires me belatedly to recommend PJ Harvey's Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea .

Although the album was recorded and released in 2000, nearly a year before the attacks of September 11, it has taken on a remarkable extra resonance in the wake of that event. This is very much an album about New York City; in fact, the only reference to Polly Jean Harvey's home base across the Atlantic is a lyric about being able to "see for miles/Through water and fire/From England to America." NYC features by name and reference in most of the songs, including the joyous whoop that is "Good Fortune," the Thom Yorke duet "This Mess We're In" and, particularly, the lovely channeling of the satisfactions of being with one's beloved in "You Said Something" (which begins on a "rooftop in Brooklyn/ . . . Watching the lights flash/In Manhattan . . . .") What it was that "you said" is never revealed, but we are assured that "it was really important." This is Rudy Giuliani's New York at its peak, not the dour world of Nanny Bloomberg, and Harvey seems to have the same sort of affection for the city that Woody Allen [before the fall] displayed in "Manhattan."

At the 2/3 mark, Harvey launches into "Kamikaze." Although the song is actually about erotic obsession (it's a PJ Harvey album, right?), it is hard not to hear premonitions of the fall of the towers amid the howling guitars and lyrics describing "10,000 willing pilots flying/ . . . Built an army/To come and find me." If we want to continue to read non-existent messages into the lyrics, the album obliges in the songs that follow: in "This is Love" Harvey implores her lover to "Keep the walls from falling on me, tumbling in;" in "Horses in my Dreams" she announces "I have pulled myself clear." The gorgeous closing track, "We Float," allows the listener to exit with at least cautious optimism, in the hope of being able to "take life as it comes." What more can one ask? The whole album haunts as it rocks.

Monday, July 14, 2003
Summer School News

I am a product of public schools. (You, in the back row! Stop that snickering!) I attended various grade schools around Detroit until age 16, when we moved to Los Angeles. I finished high school in L.A. then attended the University of California, first Berkeley and then UCLA School of Law. For the past six years, however, my own children have homeschooled. My wife and I made that decision not out of religious or political conviction (we probably do not fit the profile for "typical" homeschoolers, if there is such a thing) but out of despair over the sorry state of the public schools and, so far as we could tell, an increasing number of private schools. Having opted out of the organized education system, I promptly became fascinated by the intricacies of its problems, and the topic forms a nontrivial portion of my online reading.

The past few days have brought a string of posts and articles worth sharing. As good a place to start as any is this item from Friedrich Blowhard on the delayed implementation, or lowered standards, being applied to "mandatory" testing for high school graduation. California is the main topic, but my old home state of Michigan and many others come in for their share of criticism. His closing comment is particularly apt:
For those who think I'm indulging in partisan politics, I can only remark that the Democrats deserve to be publicly shamed for selling out the national interest for 30 pieces of silver from the teachers' unions. It's certainly as sleazy a relationship as anything between Cheney and Haliburton, and it affects far more people.
Meanwhile, a number of sources are reporting the less than stellar performance of California's 4th and 8th graders on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. California Insider, taking a break from the recall beat, reports on the results, with a link to the complete national report. More can be found at the blog of my personal favorite follower of California education issues, Joanne Jacobs.
The Tin Ear of Government

Professor Glenn Reynolds has posted at Instapundit a troubling update from Iraq by federal appellate Judge Gilbert S. Merritt. Judge Merritt - a Democrat and Carter appointee who is in Iraq as part of the U.S. effort to restart that country's judicial system - reported in the Tennesseean in late June that he had come into possession of documents tending to evidence the elusive and oft-questioned connection between the former Baathist regime and Al Quaeda. In his newest article, however, Judge Merritt reports that he can say nothing more from Iraq, about anything, under orders from the new American Directorate of Strategic Communication.

"Directorate of Strategic Communications?"

Who comes up with these names? And do they have any sense that that name, combined with what amounts to a policy of possibly-unconstitutional prior restraint, is not calculated to breed confidence? My first impression is that this is one for the "Our Own Worst Enemies" folder.
Just Can't Get Enough of Those Recalls

I confess it, I am endlessly fascinated by the machinations around the proposed Gray Davis recall. Yes, I know: Californians probably deserve to continue to suffer under Gray skies as penance for their sins of either (a) voting for him, or (b) allowing the Republican Party to nominate the only sentient biped in the state who couldn't beat him.

The wealth of online reporting and comment boggles the mind, but my own short list of Indispensable Recall Stops would have to begin with Daniel Wentraub's Sacramento Bee blog, California Insider. Among his highlights at this moment: scathing counter-Gray editorials in his own paper and the San Jose Mercury News, and much discussion of who the Democratic replacement choice should be, if there is to be one. He notes particularly Dynamist Virginia Postrel's touting of former state Controller Kathleen Connell.* Postrel, among others, links to a highly acidic piece from Jill Stewart tracking the singularly unpleasant bunch of greedy capitalist enemies of the environment (no, really!) who keep filling the Davis war chest.

For those who don't mind we Californians sticking our noses into the business of other states, I'll add my voice to the chorus recommending the recall of the Nevada Supreme Court over what Eugene Volokh has rightly dubbed one of the most appalling judicial decisions he has ever seen. (There's a lot on this at The Volokh Conspiracy, so follow the link and keep reading upward.) The decision in question, effectively ordering the legislature to ignore the requirements of the Nevada Constitution, can be found here.

[* I for one would appreciate the irony of a recent Controller jumping into the fray, because I trace my own skepticism of Davis to his own long-ago run for the Controller's office. His ads back then suggested he should become Controller because he had been responsible for placing the pictures of missing children on milk cartons. The disconnect between missing children and anything that the Controller might be called upon to do was simply too much for my feeble imagination.]
Weekend Reading

Columnists and bloggers came in for their share of gratuitous slapping-about in the Los Angeles Times Sunday Booke Review this week:

The Times' Jacob Heilbrunn couldn't resist using his slagging of Ann Coulter's Treason [no link to the book, because we mustn't encourage her] as an occasion to drag out Andrew Sullivan's oft-denounced post-September 11 "fifth column" remark. No mention made of Al Gore's invocation of that same phrase.

Meanwhile, a review of the new Boogaloo by Arthur Kempton, Robert Christgau of the Village Voice includes this reflection on style:

Kempton is the son of the late, great Murray Kempton, who as a columnist at the New York Post and Newsday set an impossible standard of elegance — not the colloquial concision of a Pete Hamill or the bottled snot of a Maureen Dowd, but long, precariously balanced sentences willing to sacrifice clarity for a bon mot or an echo of a literary era when true liberalism prevailed.

What can one say, but: "Po' MoDo."