January 31, 2004

True Patriots reject Bush: If the election were to be held today, John Kerry would defeat George Bush, 43-40%. That is, among people pulling for New England tomorrow, according to this poll. Fans of the NFC champion Carolina Panthers favor the President, 49-33% [link via NY Times "blog"].

January 30, 2004

Watching his press conference this morning, and the manner in which he cut off a questioner who was asking a follow-up to another reporter's question about the Kay testimony before Congress, it occurred to me why feelings about George Bush are so strong in this country. He is the first true "asshole" to be President since Richard Nixon.

I don't mean that necessarily in a negative sense. Many creative artists and talented athletes are assholes; the fact that Picasso was a jerk doesn't make "Guernica" any less powerful, no more than the fact that Gary Sheffield disses reporters makes him any less valuable to his team. In politics, though, that personality type usually has some difficulty succeeding. Having a sense of humility is typically viewed as an important quality to have in a leader, and if there's one thing we know about the President, he is pathologically incapable of ever admitting he was wrong about something.

The call for an independent commission to investigate the mistakes made leading to war against Iraq is one case in point. In Great Britain, Tony Blair was able to use the Hutton Commission to deflect the fact that his government presented incompetent and misleading intelligence to justify war by shifting the onus to the BBC's reporting of same. The question became not whether the intelligence was "sexed up", it was whether Blair knew that the intelligence was sexed up, as the Beeb reported; an incredible bit of political jujitsu, it led to the resignation of several high-ranking directors at the BBC, and allowed Blair to appoint successors more willing to be the mouthpiece of the government (although not without some political fallout: the Hutton Report is being treated with derision by much of Great Britain, as a clumsy whitewash of government actions).

Focusing on whether the client had the specific intent to deceive is precisely what clever defense attorneys use in white collar criminal cases, but it also entails an assumption, on the part of the defense, that the client made a mistake. If the client believes himself to be infallible, that defense won't fly. A President who won't read newspapers, who insults Congressmen from his own party who dare to vote their conscience, who freezes out reporters who attempt to ask difficult questions, and gives demeaning nicknames to those he perceives to be beneath him, is obviously someone who is not going to admit that he blew it, even on a minor point.

And that's problematic. People are willing to accept that our political leaders make mistakes (ie., Clinton during the Lewinsky Affair), and that intelligence from other countries may be spotty. Saddam Hussein was a tyrant, so his downfall, even with the questionable rationale which we chose to go to war, is to be celebrated. But by pretending that nothing went wrong, Bush insults a large portion of the American people, those who disagree with him on other issues, and are not inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt politically, but who are also patriotic citizens who are willing to support him, as President, when the chips are down. In the end, it will prove his downfall, because, when all is said and done, people tend to root against assholes.
Anyone want to lay odds that this document recently "retrieved" from the Iraqi Oil Ministry, is yet another forgery? [link via EllisBlog] Besides the inevitable reference to George Galloway, the bullshit detector of anyone with an IQ over single digits should have been triggered with the listing of a payout to something called the "October 8 Movement" in Brazil. Apparently, Saddam's minions couldn't come up with the name of an actual Brazilian, so they just sent the multi-million dollar bribe to a "movement".

January 29, 2004

Humanitarianism, the last refuge of suckers (or is it "Francophobia, the socialism of chickenhawks").
This can be filed under the category, "Limits of Technology", or perhaps, "Why Some Stereotypes Make Sense". This morning I had a trial in Lancaster, California, a city some fifty miles north of Los Angeles. Rather than just opening up the Thomas Guide and driving to the general location of the courthouse, I decided to use the LA Superior Court's website to give me directions. Bad move--the courthouse was erected in October of last year, and the website the court links to for that purpose, MapQuest, can't give an accurate location, since the access street was built at the same time as the courthouse. So it compensates, giving me directions to a street with the same name, but five miles to the north. I realized something was amiss when the directions I was following led me down to two unpaved roads in the middle of nowhere. When I finally called the court to get directions, the operator had it figured out: "you used MapQuest, didn't you?"

January 27, 2004

Although tonight's victory in New Hampshire doesn't exactly wrap up the nomination for John Kerry, it definitely makes life a lot easier for the next few weeks. Gephardt's withdrawal last week suddenly puts Missouri in play; a larger state than South Carolina, a Kerry victory there (and possibly in Arizona) will overshadow anything Edwards or Clark do next Tuesday. His fundraising has picked up dramatically since his win in Iowa, and his larger-than-expected win this evening will increase his momentum. No matter what Dean says about getting off the deck, New Hampshire was a state he desperately needed to win, and he failed. With the Southern regional primary not until mid-March, Clark and Edwards need to win something besides South Carolina next week, if only to show they have appeal above the Mason-Dixon Line, or their campaigns will be over in a matter of days. With any sort of luck, Kerry could have this all but clinched before California and New York vote on March 2, and not have to even worry about his appeal in the South until November.
With 7% of the vote counted, Kerry has an early 12-point lead...but the exit polls indicate a close race with Dean.

UPDATE: Now with 19% counted, it's up to 14-points...Dean is going to have get a lot closer to claim "Comeback Kid" status. Third place is a coin flip; hard to say that it matters (unless it's not Lieberman).
These are early exit poll figures, but they show Kerry with a narrow lead over Dean in the New Hampshire Primary. Clark, Edwards, and Lieberman trail badly.
I guess the Academy is waiting to honor Kill Bill: Vol. 2 next year. As my sister predicted at the time she received her one and only screener this year, the Art Directors honored Girl With a Pearl Earring with a nomination; if the producers of Gigli had sent them a screener, that too would have been nominated.

January 26, 2004

According to a poll taken throughout western Europe by the Italian newspaper, Corriere della Sera, 35.7% of those polled said that "Jews should stop 'playing the victim' for the Holocaust," 40.5% said that "Jews in their country had "a particular relationship with money'," and that 46% believed that "Jews in their countries had a 'mentality and lifestyle' different than other citizens." Interestingly, the poll showed that anti-Semitism was greater in countries like Italy, Austria, Spain and Germany than it is in France, the country where the focus (particularly from the U.S.) has been more intense. A poll the previous week indicated that as many as one in five Brits did not feel a Jew could serve as Prime Minister. For those who were comforted to believe that European anti-Semitism was confined to the far left and to Arab immigrants, these results should be a sobering antidote.
LA's number two free weekly alternative, LA CityBeat (there is also a version for the Valley, but it's the same paper with a couple of news items pasted in about Glendale), has a pair of interesting articles on the local music scene this week, about the sad downfall of late-sixties pop genius Emmit Rhodes (try getting "Live" or "Falling Sugar" out of your head once you've heard them), and about a band called The Country Teasers playing a gig at The Smell. My baby brother will be delighted to know that the club he owns gets this write-up: "The Smell is Dante’s reverb chamber, rectangular in shape and lined with dense brick and concrete so relentlessly reflective that the sound swirls and bounces like a fire hose in a parking garage.".
Some of you may have listened to NPR's two-hour report on blogs last night, so you will know what I'm talking about, but the rest of you may be getting bits and pieces of it second- or third-hand for the next week, so I will try to summarize it for you. The first hour and forty minutes was taken up by assorted media Big Feet, including liberal Josh Marshall and conservative Jeff Jarvis, feeding us a dry encapsulation of the potential of the new medium (as you might expect, Jarvis brought up the New York Times' refusal to give front page treatment to an anti-Saddam demonstration in the streets of Baghdad last month that drew several thousand; it's becoming a tired rant, akin to Snitchens' tirades about the brain-addled murderer Clinton executed in 1992).

The last twenty minutes featured the long-awaited confrontation between Andrew Sullivan and "Atrios". Neither came across with any distinction. Sullivan, apparently nursing scars from insults, real and perceived, and being unwilling to actually respond on his blog (and thereby link) to anyone to the left of Prof. Reynolds, attacked the anonymity of "Atrios", as if the Philadelphia gym teacher was the first to come up with the idea of publishing under a pseudonym. Besides the fact that Sully himself linked to a conservative blogger, "Tacitus", earlier that day without denouncing his "lack of transparency", anonymous screeds have made a rich contribution to Anglo-American political thought; the Federalist Papers, for example, could be considered a late-eighteenth century proto-blog written by several anonymous writers.

"Atrios", however, illustrated another weakness of the blogosphere: a lack of seriousness about language. When Sully criticized Eschaton for being unwilling to attack his own side, "Atrios" called him a liar. As I mentioned back on January 6, accusing someone of lying ought to be a serious accusation, but bloggers use it instead as a shorthand way of saying that the other guy is wrong about an issue. What has become a perfectly banal insult over the internet resonates quite differently when you actually hear it said over a national radio program.

What's worse, though, was when Atrios was actually called on that statement, he couldn't give an example. Of course, it would have been nice if Sullivan actually had visited Eschaton before making his statement: the very post that topped the blog during the radio program reported on dirty tricks one candidate was using against Howard Dean in New Hampshire, hardly the actions of someone who has any hesitation about going after his own side.

And Atrios has nothing to apologize for publishing a more partisan website than Sullivan's; after all, Sully's crowd is in power, controls most of the political, cultural and business institutions in our society, while the insurgent's role that Atrios has chosen to play necessarily must focus its attacks on the opposition. Sully himself has a side he won't attack: witness his unwillingness to repudiate Matt Drudge's deliberate dowdification of General Clark's Congressional testimony a few weeks back. But still, you can hardly claim the other guy is deliberately misstating what's on your blog when you don't really know either.

January 25, 2004

Spent the afternoon viewing Mystic River, an absolutely amazing film. Why do I think Pauline Kael will be remembered as much for her boneheaded denunciations of Clint Eastwood as for anything else she might have written? Oh, I forgot, she will also be remembered for comparing Last Tango in Butter Paris with "The Rites of Spring".

January 23, 2004

Real-life philosopher (but definitely not a straussian) David Johnson has kicked off his blog with a bang, taking on the Sinclair Broadcasting empire, the nation's most prolific owner of television stations.
The man who uncovered Saddam's "weapons-of-mass-destruction-related-program-activities" has stepped down, perhaps out of embarrassment that his good name will forever by entwined with the aforementioned Bushism. Sayeth Mr. Kay: "I don't think they existed. What everyone was talking about is stockpiles produced after the end of the last Gulf War, and I don't think there was a large-scale production program in the nineties."
Sure fire cure for "road rage": slip Fought Down into your CD player, and play track No. 5.
Last night's debate was the first I've had the pleasure to watch from the comfort of my own living room. Like most of my more conservative brethren, the candidate I was most impressed with was Lieberman. He stuck to his guns, and made a valiant effort to justify his position on the war while still building an anti-Bush case on other issues. The candidate I'm currently leaning toward, Edwards, was unimpressive; as with Clinton and Reagan, I don't feel debates are the format best-suited to their strengths on the hustings, but with time, I hope that Edwards will be able to improve enough so that it won't hurt him, either.

Kerry is as dull as clay-court tennis, but is an acceptable face at the top of the ticket if it appears that Bush is going to win anyway. In that sense, he's the Democratic version of Bob Dole, or a modern version of Walter Mondale, a candidate that doesn't hurt the party down the ticket (btw, is there such a thing as a "French" look, or is that simply a rather subtle way of making reference to Kerry's religious background?). And I actually like the fact that he is so disliked by insiders; it was one of Clinton's great strengths, the fact that the Beltway Establishment, from Sally Quinn to Mr. Samgrass, all hated him.

One way you can tell whether someone has their pulse on what moves Democratic primary voters was how they felt about Dean and Clark. Dean has already been written off following his mediocre performance in Iowa, and his Whitmanian yawp afterwards, but he's still the candidate with the most in the bank, and in the best situation organizationally [link via Atrios]. He can afford to lose a couple early primaries and keep going (unlike, say, Edwards, who is pretty much done unless he wins South Carolina in two weeks), racking up delegates and praying for a momentum shift, in much the same way Mondale got his ass kicked by Gary Hart for a couple of months in 1984 before turning the tide after Super Tuesday.

General Clark didn't do anything last night to either help or hurt himself, to the chagrin of his legion of haters in the blogosphere. The bizarre notion that he would be hurt by not repudiating Michael Moore's description of the President as a "deserter" is one that could only be held by Bush's more sycophantic admirers (and I say that as perhaps the only left-of-center, blindly-partisan, Bush-hating blogger who thinks the President has received a bum rap on that issue), akin to believing that Republican voters were turned off in the last decade by references to Bill Clinton as a "draft dodger" or "rapist". The typical Democratic primary voter does not listen to Rush Limbaugh, and is impressed, not discouraged, by the fact that Clark has a nuanced, non-ideological opinion about the war in Iraq.

In any event, the highlight of the evening had to have been the question asked of Rev. Al about who he would pick to be the next Federal Reserve chairman. It was clear that he was thinking about the issue for the first time as he was answering, and it may have been a reminder to him that his campaign is not supposed to be a serious one for the White House.

January 21, 2004

Daily Kos interrupts its usual review of inside political perspective to bring this update on George Bush's new best friend in the Middle East.
Why do I have the impression that "weapons of mass destruction-related-program activities" is about to become the "I didn't inhale" of 2004?

January 20, 2004

Like most polls, the first survey to come out since last night's Iowa caucus is showing a mixed bag for the President. The race is basically tied between Bush and "generic Democrat", which is what Edwards and Kerry are, for all intents and purposes. Bush is clearly favored on matters dealing with the "war on terrorism", but his handling of the economy (and other domestic issues) gets mediocre grades from the public.

I remain unconvinced that any Democrat will be able to defeat Bush if the principal issue before the voters is foreign affairs. If there is one hard and fast rule in elections, it is that the more hawkish position is generally going to be the more popular. As long as Bush can find an adversary to vilify, whether it be Iran, Syria, North Korea, or Monaco, a large segment of the public will back him, no questions asked. After September 11th, the appetite for any foreign adventure increased dramatically, and as the high percentage of people who still believe that Saddam was behind that attack and had ties to Al Qaeda attests, Red State voters aren't particularly discriminating.

So what to do, if you're a blindly partisan Democrat, who is as concerned with such mundane things as the maldistribution of income, budget deficits, gay rights, racial intolerance, and all those other things that tend to get clumped together under the label "domestic policy", and who wants to see his party capture at least one branch of government in the next election? As I said, we can't do much about foreign policy except try to be constructively critical, and perhaps shame the Administration into occasionally telling the truth. But on domestic issues, I have a modest proposal.

The Democrats need a slogan that encapsulates their domestic policy positions (also, they need some policy positions, but lets take care of the easy things first). They already have the backing of the public. What they need is to turn that support into actual votes, to make their positions the compelling reason people vote in the upcoming election. The "war on terrorism" is catchy, and allows Bush to sere into the psyche of the electorate his entire foreign policy (which the public largely supports) and his domestic policy (which the public doesn't), even though it is not technically a "war" under Article I of the Constitution, and even though his policies that directly deal with terrorism (eg., the by-now comical color-coded threat system) are a mixed bag. To counter that, we can't simply come up with our own "wars" (eg., a "war" on deficit spending), because to do so would sound derivative, and would smack of defensiveness, a no-no in game theory.

So I humbly suggest the term, "let's put the grown-ups back in charge". First, it reminds the public that the Democrats are generally the more responsible party when it comes to the public trough. Clinton raised taxes on the rich and ran a public surplus, and the economy averaged a quarter million new jobs a month; Bush cut taxes on the rich, ran a record deficit, and the economy has suffered a net job drop since he took over. One party knows how to manage a global economy, and the other believes that "Reagan showed that deficits don't matter", and relies on a superstitious belief in tax cuts as the panacea for everything.

Second, it tweaks the GOP, which used that slogan in 2000, and boasted during the early days of the Bush Administration that after eight years of bitter partisan division under Clinton, there was a new sheriff in town, one who was a "uniter, not a divider". Suddenly, the public doesn't find the petty "scandals" of the Clinton years to be so bad, not when the State Department has basically become a wholly-owned subsidiary of Halliburton, and when our foreign policy has been taken over by an ideological cult. When the President is so myopic that he doesn't know the difference between the existence of weapons of mass destruction, and the potential for same, when his explanation for telling a whopper in the last State of the Union was that the ever-reliable MI-6 believed it to be true, when he refuses to even read newspapers, and when his judicial nominees tend to belong to the same bund as Ann Coulter, the fact that Clinton defined the word "is" to mean the third-person singular of "to be" isn't such a big deal anymore.

And lastly, it is a pointed criticism at the one area of Bush's handling of foreign policy that does concern the public, his inability to get along with others. Much has been made of French and German intransigence at our efforts to develop an international front against Saddam Hussein before the United Nations last year. His apologists, of course, blame Chirac for undercutting our efforts to build a coalition to deal with WMD's, never bothering to explain what exactly was wrong with that; since no WMD's were subsequently found, it's kinda hard to use Saddam's alleged violation of Security Council resolutions as a causus belli. At some point, a certain amount of humility is called for when the reasons we used to hector other countries into fighting along side us have been discredited. Instead, we have the type of international relations one would expect where you have a "leader" who behaves in the manner of a petulent child, unable to understand or acknowledge the possibility that he may be wrong about something.

But if any of you have a better idea for a slogan, fire away....
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "The absence of any WMDs in any usable form in Iraq is, to my mind, staggering. I'm still passionately pro-war, but you cannot sugar-coat this intelligence debacle. The pre-emption doctrine is practically speaking dead."--Andrew Sullivan

January 19, 2004

Kerry has apparently won. With about 90% of the precincts reporting, he has a six percentage point lead over John Edwards, and is currently beating Howard Dean by about 20 points. CNN is reporting that Gephardt will drop out; it will be interesting to see what the Teamsters, who put much of their prestige on the line for him, will do now. Edwards surprising showing will be "the story", but he will have to contend with General Clark in New Hampshire, and I don't know if he has the money and organization to contend with the others after South Carolina. That Kerry was able to win after almost a year of inept campaigning is impressive; Dean's collapse in the last few days does not bode well, and those questions about his appeal to the electorate will be front and center (for an inside-the-caucus look at went wrong, check here). We might actually have an important primary in California coming up in six weeks, something that hasn't been true for a generation.
The caucuses have been open for 45 minutes, and the early "entrance polls" show a two-man race between Kerry and Edwards. Dean and Gephardt are trailing badly; Gephardt cannot possibly survive such a performance.
Those interested in inside dope on the Iowa Caucuses (for real-time results, here) can do one-stop shopping at the Howard Dean blog, where even anti-Dean sites are included. Also, Mickey Kaus usefully warns us to take any result tonight with a grain of salt.

January 15, 2004

Fisking with faint praise: Blogger Roger Simon, in defending a typically-discredited Matt Drudge scoop, states that the "...quotes Drudge uses are not that Dowdified in the end." (emphasis mine)

UPDATE: It appears that what Drudge actually did stretches journalistic ethics beyond what is allowable, even on the internet. The term used above, dowdified, was coined by bloggers after columnist Maureen Dowd was found to have excised, through the use of magic ellipses (...), a segment of a speech by the President that would have made him sound less foolish than usual if it had been quoted. What Drudge did was even worse: he removed a sentence from General Clark's testimony, used ellipses, then inserted a passage from later in the testimony, thereby changing the meaning of what he said. The kindest way to view this is that Drudge failed to perform due diligence before he quoted the above segment, which he probably got from a third party; if Drudge's actions were knowing and deliberate, he should be treated with the utmost contempt by anyone with a sense of ethics. The failure of conservative bloggers to take steps to repudiate this practice gives lie to the pretense that we are "fact-checking our asses".

January 14, 2004

Who said it?: "I'm really [expletive deleted] good at my job, and people who are interesting and good know that and that's all that matters." [First correct answer gets a night's portion of drinks paid for, compliments of me]

January 13, 2004

Just had my first listen to Fought Down, the latest Ken Layne & the Corvids album, which contains all-new material. I admit I hear less of a Velvet Underground-influence than I did before; I would now suggest that they are more of a hybrid combination of Merle Haggard, Exile on Main Street-era Stones, and the Chocolate Watch Band. Not a waste of money; see them live when they begin their West Coast swing in late-February.

January 11, 2004

I knew Lauren Reed was up to no good !!
Today my nephew gets baptized, the Angels sign Vlad Guerrero (wow!) and the second half of Prime Suspect 6 airs on CBC, which some U.S. satellites can pick up. Anyone with a dish and a VCR who lives in SoCal can become my best friend tonight.

January 9, 2004

Idiot Son Update: Sending a message to sports leagues and athletes the world over (are you listening, Bud Selig?), the governing authority for Italy's Serie A has suspended Saadi Ghadafi for three months for failing a drug test. Perhaps chastened by the fall of Saddam, Ghadafi admitted taking the banned substance norandrosterone, but claimed it was for treatment of a "back injury", no doubt incurred while sitting on the bench for every single game this season.

January 8, 2004

Our Shameless Governor: Less than 24 hours after claiming that the budget shortfall in Sacramento was a spending problem, not a taxing problem, and after having vowed not to raise taxes, Gov. Ziffel has proposed to boost public college fees for students up to 40% for the fall, and at the same time limit eligibility for student loans. Substantively, there is no difference between those "fees" and the car license "tax" he campaigned so actively against last fall; both effect only the users of the service involved, not the entire population. Well, there is one difference: the car "tax" disproportionately impacts drivers of more expensive cars (ie., the rich), while the people most likely to be hurt by the college fee increase are the poor and middle class.

January 7, 2004

As a life-long Dodger fan, I don't really have a dog in the fight over whether Pete Rose should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame; now that he's admitted to having bet on his own team, the entire issue of whether the Dowd Report was fair to him is moot. It is interesting that the nation's sportswriters, so many of whom were insisting that all Charlie Hustle needed to do was admit he gambled on the sport, have now turned against him after he did precisely that. In any event, Eric Alterman has the best take: "If only Pete Rose had claimed he bet on baseball games and then lied about it because he suspected other teams of harboring ties to Al Qaida and building weapons of mass destruction, then the Washington Post editors would have called him a patriot and supported him down the line, even without that lame apology."

January 6, 2004

The Idiotarian's Manifesto: One of the depressing things about the blogosphere is that you can receive just about any insult and not take it personally. In the real world, being called a "racist", an "anti-Semite", a "fifth columnist", an "objective pro-fascist", or a liar would be considered fighting words; there are even some terms that have no meaning outside the internet, like "idiotarian", "the Pissy Brigade", "media whore" and "fisking", that at one time were meant to be devastating takedowns of your adversary, but are now worn like battlefield scars, with a certain amount of pride and machismo. If you run a blog, and/or if you actively troll in another blogger's comments section, such slurs become par for the course.

Blogs seem to have a special connection to a very angry sort of person, not necessarily an extremist, but someone who has a certain comfort level at disparaging others from the safety of a computer monitor. Bouncing from site to site, it amazes me what sort of rhetoric passes for political insight (and by no means am I excusing myself). People who disagree with you aren't simply mistaken, they are selfish, despicable people who hate America. Be nasty enough, throw in enough shabby and low accusations against the other side, and your unique visitors will multiply geometrically this month !! Never mind that you convince no one of the righteousness of your cause.

The heated rhetoric is in direct contrast to what I know about other bloggers on a personal level. I have probably met, at least on a social level, close to fifty people who have their own blogs, and to date the only person who rubbed me the wrong way was a blogger whose politics I share and whose writing I admire. At some point, I begin to feel like a hypocrite; how many of the people I've called "dixiecrats", "disingenuous", or an "Uncle Tom Democrat" on this site am I going to meet that turn out to be really sweet, decent people? Isn't there someone out there that I can attack who also happens to be a complete a**hole?

Keeping in mind the fervent hope that Lenny Bruce once had, that if the word "n*****" became such a ubiquitous part of our daily conversation that it would cease to have any impact as a derogatory term, I think something is being lost. Some words shouldn't lose their impact. I've been called "anti-Semitic" or a "racist" a couple of times in my life, but before I started this site, I always took it as the type of slam that required some soul-searching on my part (I'm the type of person who subconsciously believes that any time I'm attacked, it must be justified, no matter how baseless). Now, it just means that I oppose Sharon, or that I disagree with Paul Wolfowitz. When I wear my civilian clothes, and especially in the context of my job as an attorney, being called a "liar" is tantamount to being challenged to a dual; it is really the only time I get angry. In the blogosphere, it's just shorthand for saying that I'm factually mistaken about a point.

Unfortunately, this has become a standard part of the political rhetoric in this country. Blogs are just another form of talk radio, for those who are shy and insecure. So I propose the following: never use a word to describe someone (or someone's opinion) that you could not easily repeat to his face. If you disagree with someone else's analysis of an issue, assume it's because he doesn't understand the issue with the same clarity you do, and respond accordingly, rather than assume he's deliberately presenting false arguments. And try to remember that what you read on this blog and elsewhere is just a microscopic part of the whole person who is authoring it. The internet is no substitute for therapy.
One of my booze buddies makes sure I always get the latest column from reactionary pundit Dennis Prager, but this one takes the cake. Humor is like nitroglycerin; it should be handled with care, and never by complete idiots. Also, it should at least be funny. Prager's schtick, of course, is to pen columns that accuse liberals, atheists and A-Rabs of being in league with Satan, sort of a poor man's Charles Krauthammer. During the 2000 Presidential campaign, he was among the pundits who argued that Joseph Lieberman wasn't a real Jew because he supported abortion rights for women questioned the sincerity of Al Gore's religious views, among other things.

In 2004, the candidate who has become the target of religious bigots is Howard Dean, who has come under attack for having married a Jewish woman, thereby permitting her to raise his children in that faith. Some have even gone so far as to question the sincerity of his religious beliefs, a dark moment in recent American politics that brings to mind the attacks against Al Smith and JFK over Roman Catholicism. The scary thing is, the sort of hatred that Howard Dean has engendered from the wingnut right is exactly the thing that has pulled him within the margin of error against George Bush.

UPDATE: I corrected the error about Prager and Lieberman, above, thanks to the resolute fact-checking of Booze Buddy (he also wanted me to announce that he, and he alone, predicted USC's national title before the season). And I'm the one who's always talking about the need for due dilligence amongst bloggers. Physician, heal thyself !!

January 2, 2004

Yesterday was a special day for me, having grown up an SC fan. Like most fans of college teams, the subject of my loyalties has nothing to do with the college I attended. I went to law school there, but had I gotten my J.D. in Westwood, I would still be a Bruin-hater. Most of the people who follow the Trojans have never set foot on the campus other than to walk through it en route to the Coliseum, and have had even less contact with the school. I liked the Trojans as a kid, even though no one in my family (save my dad, for one semester) ever attended the school, developed an even more passionate attachment as a teenager (around the time I discovered the, er, talent on the sidelines), and remained so after I went off to college in Berkeley. USC is not now the school to which I have the greatest allegiance (that would be dear alma mater CAL), or the school that I follow with most interest (Michigan, their oppenent yesterday, but that's a long story), but it's the team that I always come back to in the end.

Since 1978, there has been little in the way of good news for Trojan fans. The hoops team occasionally tantalizes its fans with a brief run at national prominence, but this is still a UCLA town, from January to the end of March. No team has won more track, swimming and baseball titles than USC, but scholarship limitations put an end to that dominance in the first two sports, and the baseball team, aside from the national title it won a few years back, is now known more for its post-season underachievement (how does a team with Mark McGuire and Randy Johnson not win a title?) than anything else.

The football team had hardly been better. Its recent history was marked by trips to the NCAA doghouse for recruiting and academic violations in the '80's, and by uninspired mediocrity during the '90's. USC lost eleven straight games at one point to their principal rival, Notre Dame, and eight straight to another, UCLA. After Pete Carroll was hired after the 2000 season, things hardly looked up; the Trojans started 2-5 in 2001, and didn't seem appreciably better than they were in the Paul Hackett era. In the thirty or so games since then, USC has looked bad only twice, against Utah in the 2001 Las Vegas Bowl, and against CAL in the first half this year. Most of the time, the games haven't even been competitive, and the Trojans typically look like a team playing an offense ten years ahead of everyone else.

For someone who had seen his team hit rock bottom only three years before, to suddenly mute his cheers at the game yesterday so as not to embarrass his host, a Michigan fan, and to actually feel sorry for the outclassed opponent is quite a switch. Even scarier, USC returns most of their stars, and will play a schedule that looks even easier than the one they played this season, when it cost them a spot in the BCS "championship", a game that is now anti-climactic. They will doubtlessly be the prohibitive favorite going into 2004.

But just as I can savor this new-found dominance, I must also remember that glory such as this is fleeting; after the Trojans won the title in '78 (the real title, too, since it shared the honor with a team it had beaten on the road earlier in the season, Alabama), its third title in six years, I couldn't help but think that was the permanent state of things, the way things naturally were. USC competing for the national title was a matter of birthright. It didn't turn out that way. The next year, an even better team suffered a tie midway through the season, and lost out when their rivals, coasting on a cupcake schedule, went perfect. The Trojans were on probation for much of the next five years, rallied briefly under Larry Smith, then collapsed. It can happen again.

But right now, by whatever right I have to use the pronoun, WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS !!

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