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© 1986-2004

My Dream Come True? The Economist today repeatedly refers to me & that other bum as “Messrs Layne and Welch.”

02/07/2003 12:22 AM  |  Comment (13)

Neal Pollack:

I was prepared to spend today's blog lambasting Eric Alterman, whose new book, "The Not Particularly Liberal Media And Bruce Springsteen: Unfulfilled Promises, Forgotten Dreams," has shot to the top of my own personal liar, liar pants on fire charts. But then I remembered that Ann Coulter, that heinous bitch, will be taking care of Alterman once and forever in her soon-to-be-published (and immortal) book, "They Tried To Kill God: How Anyone Ever Associated With The Left Raped Our Babies Or At Least Wanted To." So instead, I settled into bed with a warm toddy prepared by Roger, and turned on VH1.

02/06/2003 10:10 PM  |  Comment (2)

Look us up, if You’re at the AAN in Frisco This Weekend:

02/06/2003 10:01 PM  | 

Noxious Moral Equivalence of the Day: Jonathan Steele, writing in the Guardian about the new democracies of Central and Eastern Europe:

Nations that were once the vassals of the Soviet Union are now in danger of becoming vassals of the US.
No, they are not. They are democracies, with governments they can peacefully replace, and a free press they can bitch about. The United States, as outsized and influential as it undoubtedly is, will never contemplate rolling tanks into Prague, Budapest, Vilnius and everywhere else that tasted the treadmarks of “international fraternity.”

There’s more ignorant rot where this came from:

In 1989 there were those who thought these newly liberated countries would be bastions of new thinking. But the west was an attractive-looking club and they were anxious to join the winning side in the cold war. While the EU insisted on a slow and complex process of economically painful adjustment, joining Nato was relatively easy and the US used a mix of fear, flattery and economic incentives to get them to sign up.
Sure … except for the inconvenient little fact that expanding NATO was THEIR IDEA IN THE FIRST PLACE. Do you know this Gyula Horn-loving tosser, Harry? (Via Andrew Sullivan)

02/06/2003 09:54 PM  |  Comment (33)

Smart, Frustrating Essay on Orwell: By the New Yorker’s Louis Menand, who, while getting very many things right, falls into the critic’s trap of being lured away from the artist into some questionable shadowboxing with the artist’s hype. Italics will be mine.

He was not looking to make friends. But after his death he suddenly acquired an army of fans — all middle-class intellectuals eager to suggest that a writer who approved of little would have approved of them.
Well, no. Speaking as only one Orwell fan, I couldn’t care less what his corpse might theoretically think of me, or my incoherent rag-bag of beliefs. Those blessedly few who walk around claiming to be Orwell’s heir always make me feel slightly embarrassed, as if Uncle Todd was waving his penis again.
Orwell's army is one of the most ideologically mixed up ever to assemble. John Rodden, whose "George Orwell: The Politics of Literary Reputation" was published in 1989 and recently reprinted, with a new introduction (Transaction; $30), has catalogued it exhaustively. It has included, over the years, ex-Communists, Socialists, left-wing anarchists, right-wing libertarians, liberals, conservatives, doves, hawks, the Partisan Review editorial board, and the John Birch Society: every group in a different uniform, but with the same button pinned to the lapel — Orwell Was Right.
Well, no, again (and what about left-wing libertarians, dammit!). Orwell was wrong about quite a few things, as Menand details later in the column, most notably his conviction that capitalism was a failure and socialism was the future. But I think any close reader of his non-fiction will find many things to squawk about -- the point is not that he was always Right, but that he presented one of the most compelling examples in 20th century writing of how one can go about trying to think clearly and grapple proactively with the important events of the day, even while being poor and goofy-looking. It’s a question of comportment and approach, not test results.
Hitchens says that there were three great issues in the twentieth century, and that Orwell was right on all three: imperialism, fascism, and Stalinism. What does this mean, though? Orwell was against imperialism, fascism, and Stalinism. Excellent. Many people were against them in Orwell's time, and a great many more people have been against them since.
Too flip by half, sir! Read the contemporaneous non-fiction of any British writer from 1930-1942, and tell me who comes out better, and more quickly, on these questions. It was a time and place we can barely comprehend, looking back. Respectable thinkers were flirting with Mosley, intellectuals were embracing Stalin … impending doom was heavy in the air, and absolutely no one (that I’ve read) was predicting a world half as good as the one we enjoy now. Yeah, Orwell was hardly perfect on these questions, but he was pretty damned good.

Another quibble:

"Homage to Catalonia," which appeared in 1938, was, indeed, brave and iconoclastic (though not the only work of its kind)
Was there another sharply written insider account of Stalinist perfidy within the Spanish Civil War that I’m not aware of?

Finally, the main objection:

His personal essays, especially "Shooting an Elephant" and "Such, Such Were the Joys," are models of the form. Still, his qualities as a writer are obscured by the need of his admirers to claim for his work impossible virtues.
No, they are not. Great and inspiring work is great and inspiring work, period; everything else is occasionally amusing distraction.

02/06/2003 03:25 PM  |  Comment (14)

Idle North-Atlantic Thought of the Day: I wonder how many times in the 1980s, and also the 1960s, the United Nations and NATO were declared “dead,” and France was declared “not an ally”? My eyes have long since glazed over at the rhetorical overreach-slash-wishful thinking of the multilateralism-bashers.

Speaking of which, I wonder if Charles Krauthammer is planning to revisit this vile slur against Colin Powell?

Or is charade Powell's intention, the way to vindicate his misgivings about Gulf War I and to ensure that Saddam Hussein's regime remains merely contained -- and intact?

02/06/2003 11:32 AM  |  Comment (7)

A Man After My Fudge: Timothy Garton Ash, the Oxford historian-of-the-present, seems to share most of my foreign-policy positions:

Being liberal doesn't mean you always dither in the middle on the hard questions. I was strongly against the Soviet invasions of Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan, against the American interventions in Nicaragua and El Salvador, for military intervention in Bosnia and Kosovo, and for the war against al-Qaida in Afghanistan, all on good liberal grounds.
Me too! OK, I wasn’t strongly against the crushing of Prague Spring, being six months old at the time. … Anyway, Garton Ash goes on to defend, or at least sketch out, his “position of tortured liberal ambivalence” about Gulf War II. Worth reading, regardless of your position. (Via Matthew Yglesias)

02/06/2003 11:17 AM  |  Comment (2)

Don’t Forget Buddy Bandar! I bet it’s been too long since you’ve thought about Saudi Arabia’s U.S. Ambassador Prince Bandar! You know, with all this other talk. I was reminded just tonight about one of my Christmas readings, Bob Woodward’s “The Commanders,” which I recommend to all of you who want to get a grasp on the military side of the current buildup to Gulf War II. Anyway, Bandar takes a starring turn, guaranteed to nauseate! A particularly un-reassuring slice:

Bandar, 41, had an absolutely unique position in Washington. Most ambassadors spent their time on ceremonies and the fringes of real power. Bandar had long-term friendships with Bush, Baker, Cheney, Scowcroft and Powell, having plied his backslapping irreverence and directness with all of them. This gave the Saudi royal family a channel into the upper reaches of the American government. Until Bandar had become ambassador in 1983, the Saudis had worked through obscure State Department officials, Bandar insisted on dealing with the top, cultivating personal relationships with those already there and with dozens of others who someday might be.

In 1981, before becoming ambassador, he obtained Vice President Bush’s assistance in pushing President Reagan on a large arms sale package to Saudi Arabia. During the first Reagan term, Bush and Bandar had lunch several times a year. Bandar felt that Bush had a balanced view of the Middle East and was not emotionally or exclusively attached to the interests of Israel.

Anyone know what a diplomat has to do to be ejected from this country? Maybe it’s time for “The Trial of Prince Bandar” ...

Question for you Wolfowitz types out there. Do you really believe “the road to Riyadh goes through Baghdad,” or whatever the hell? Do you think there’s a snowball’s chance in Mecca the Bush Administration is going to do anything constructive with our diseased relationship with the House of Saud? I mean, you know, besides drive King Fahd out to Crawford in a hydrogen-fueled limousine?

02/06/2003 03:12 AM  |  Comment (13)

Essay of the Day: Peter Pribik, an American of Czech descent who speaks fluent French and German, on the alleged Euro-American feud. Read slowly.

02/05/2003 03:32 PM  | 

Just-Add-Water Media Criticism: Are you a young journalist? Looking to pay the bills? Well, become a Media Critic! All you have to do is A) wait for the next national tragedy, B) pause tastefully for 24 hours, then C) write a column about how, yes indeed, this sure was a natural tragedy, but gosh, those cable shows sure overdid it, especially with all the real problems nowadays, D) watch for the Romenesko link, E) collect paycheck, F) wait for the next national tragedy, G) change nouns as necessary. Your non-discriminating editors will be grateful … unless they’ve already beaten you to it.

02/05/2003 11:09 AM  |  Comment (7)

For Those of You Who Care About the Great Gun Debate & John Lott…: … and I really, really don’t … but if you do, check out this lengthy post by gun-loving gun-control weirdo Brian Linse. Cheap little sample:

Is he the Bellesiles of the Right? Who gives a shit? In my opinion they are both useless to the gun policy debate.

02/05/2003 10:33 AM  | 

Speaking of Anti-Semites…: Eugene Volokh gives some a tasteful send-off from his site.

Look, if you're still reading, don't you get it? We call ourselves The Volokh Conspiracy. That's obviously an allusion to the International Jewish Conspiracy, no? One of the creators of the Internet was Leonard Kleinrock -- coincidence? I think not! We control the banks; we control the media; we're sleeping with your daughters; now we're controlling cyberspace. What's the point of resisting, really?

02/04/2003 11:05 PM  |  Comment (1)

Bill James – “the First ‘Anti-Idiotarian’”! Dr. Manhattan takes a healthy cut at a topic I’ve given only a few feeble check-swings: How the post-Sept. 11 blogging phenomenon, and its impact on journalism and politics, echoes the effect Bill James had on baseball analysis, and baseball itself, starting around 1980. There is a wonderful article to be written about James’ impact just on journalism, and I hope soon to have the opportunity.

02/04/2003 10:39 PM  |  Comment (1)

Morality/Speech/Anti-Semitism Baseball Quiz! So, longtime Major League Baseball Umpire Bruce Froemming is on the phone with an umpiring administrator, Cathy Davis, with whom he has just wrapped up a presumably unpleasant conversation about travel arrangements. He thinks she has hung up. He says: “Stupid Jew bitch.” She has not hung up. He is in a world of shit.

Froemming is suspended for 10 days, apologizes (while denying any anti-Semitism), and is asked not to hang around the spring training facility of the Dodgers, who may be baseball’s most sensitive organization when it comes to issues of Judaism.

Here are my five questions for the ethics class: 1) Is that, technically speaking, an anti-Semitic statement? If Christopher Hitchens were to call Mother Theresa a “stupid Catholic bitch,” or if Donald Rumsfeld were to call Jacques Chirac a “stupid French bitch,” would those be anti-Catholic and anti-French statements, respectively, or just rude? 2) If you were a news organization, would you refer to the statement as “an anti-Semitic slur”? (Most did) 3) If you were a news organization, would you reprint the actual quote? (Most did not) 4) Should someone be judged, let alone punished, for remarks made when the speaker thinks no one is listening? (Assuming Froemming’s telling the truth about this, of which I have no idea) and 5) Am I kind of creepy for even bringing any of this up?

02/04/2003 10:26 PM  |  Comment (17)

Michael Kelly Mentions Two Score Blogs in Latest Atlantic Column: According to Media Minded, who gets it delivered quicker than I do.

02/04/2003 09:53 PM  | 

Beato Interviews Romenesko: Whose pre-Media News Obscure Store turns five today. Back when I wrote primarily about online media, I interviewed Romenesko for several stories. Here’s one, from back before Poynter hired him, on the still-relevant question of what you should tell your newspaper boss about your little moonlighting website. And here’s another, about the 2000 Webby Awards. Jim, like his bete noire Drudge, is one of those Web pioneers who developed a terrific & simple design perfect for the medium, and then managed to rise above the inevitable copy-cats by being more consistently driven.

02/04/2003 03:54 PM  | 

SD Union-Trib Article on Bloggers: With this funny quote from blog-satirist Neal Pollack:

They're just kind of lunatic pamphleteers shouting into the wind.

02/04/2003 01:50 PM  |  Comment (2)

Left-on-Left Rhetorical Clubbing of the Day: By Todd Gitlin, on Gore Vidal & a pack of other recently published America-had-it-coming authors. (Via Michael Totten)

To those who would say to me, “Don’t confuse these people with The Left, or with the anti-war movement,” and “Why waste your time criticizing people who aren’t, after all, in power?” I would say: “I don’t,” and “It is important to criticize both.” I sincerely hope that those who have complained for years about being ignored by the mainstream would welcome the scrutiny.

02/03/2003 06:38 PM  |  Comment (4)

Thought Experiment, for Those of You Who Opposed Gulf War I: Did any of you, in retrospect, come to believe that you were wrong? Leave a comment below, explain as necessary, and feel free not to use your names in this case.

I can’t even remember my own precise position at the time (I was in Prague, it was cold, etc.). It was probably something close to the conflicted fudge I’ve been baking in 2003. But, in retrospect, I think it was a war worth fighting.

02/03/2003 04:25 PM  |  Comment (50)

Free Expression and the Anti-War Left: The expatriated Brit “Harry Steele” gives American bloggers the 4-1-1 on the recent Burchill and Aaronovitch columns, and then relays this appalling little incident:

I was asked to cease posting mails to a Labour left mailing list where I had been involved in a surprisingly calm, intelligent and relevant discussion about Iraq with a former Guardian journalist.

My views in favour of the liberation of Iraq were apparently against "the basic principles of the list", according to the correspondent who asked for me to be removed from the debate - she obviously likes her conversations to be strictly limited to mutterings of agreement - rather like the dictator she fails to see that she is assisting.

02/03/2003 03:34 PM  |  Comment (4)

Dr. Frank Is Back: And I’m even biting his rhymes (sorry, dude!) For those who haven’t seen it, our East Bay punker pal is one of the best at tracking the modern-day exploits of the former Weather Underground.

02/03/2003 02:01 PM  | 

Layne’s Perspective on the Shuttle: Is very worth reading.

02/03/2003 11:55 AM  | 

Intelligent, Informative Discussion About Euro-Blogging in English, Norway, the Nature of Language, and More: This and more is taking place over at Bjørn Stærk’s. Keep scrolling down for more.

02/03/2003 12:01 AM  |  Comment (1)

Moxie’s Political Platform: Sample:

-> All anti-war demonstrations shall be carried out by handsome naked men. Thorough press coverage shall be given.

02/02/2003 11:52 PM  |  Comment (1)

Cock-Rock’s Cuckold: Think back to the Golden Era of bombastic cock-rock, let’s say from 1972 (Led Zeppelin IV) to 1983 (Van Halen’s 1984). How many hit songs from the big-hair boys were about standing by your old lady, even after she had publicly cheated on you? Can you name one?

At lunch the other day my straw hat was nearly blown clean off my head when I listened real close to the radio playing REO Speedwagon’s 1980 chart-topper Keep on Lovin’ You. It starts off innocently enough, with a you-done-me-wrong that could have come straight out of the Page/Plant playbook:

You should have seen by the look in my eyes, Baby,
There was something missin
You should have known by the tone in my voice, Baby,
But you didn't listen
You played dead, but you never bled
Instead you lay still in the grass
All coiled up and hissin
Okay, the girl’s a cold snake and a faker, and the guy ain’t taking it no more. Right? Wrong!
You know I know all about those men
Still I don't remember
'Cause it was us, Baby, way before them,
And we're still together
And I meant every word I said
When I said that I love you
I meant that I love you forever
Whoa! Even at the moment when he confesses there’s something missin, when he confronts her about cheating on him, at that precise moment he chooses to reaffirm his wedding vows! Cue big chorus:
And I'm gonna Keep On Loving You,
'Cause it's the only thing I wanna do
I don't wanna sleep,
I just wanna Keep On Loving You
There’s even a hint that either A) he’s going to be more thorough than usual about doing his husbandly duty, B) she’s messed with him so badly he’s too wrecked to sleep, or C) both. Not that I would accuse any of you of listening closely to REO Speedwagon, but … did y’all notice that before? On this fan message board, someone named “Nanci” gets right to the point:
this song from the point of view of one who has been cheated on.. but whose love is so strong that they are willing to go on with the relationship, loving the other person as much as before... i can relate to the viewpoint of this song...
Turns out it was REO’s first Number One … and it was also its first real power ballad. Singer/songwriter Kevin Cronin, he of the weenie-ish voice, explained the genesis of the song, and the importance of it to REO’s career, in his curiously affecting liner notes to a 1999 REO collection “The Ballads”:
We considered "You Can Tune A Piano, But You Can't Tuna Fish" an artistic triumph. [ed. Stop snickering] I firmly believed that our musical direction on "Tuna" was the way to go. And although the album went gold, and "Roll With The Changes" became our first Top 40 single, it fell short of our extremely high expectations. I was confused and a bit disheartened, and it showed in my songwriting output for the "Nine Lives" album. Gary wrote "Only The Strong Survive" and Bruce added "Back On The Road", but I came up creatively empty handed. The momentum we had begun with the live album came to a screeching halt, until one day in March of 1980 ...

With our constant touring and recording studio schedule came the problems one might expect on the home front .. we were getting more nuts and the band wives and girlfriends were getting more and more pissed off. There were affairs going on left and right, and numerous numbing agents were at work in all of our blood streams. It was a crazy time, but out of this craziness, some interesting songs began to emerge. Oh yeah, the infamous day ...

I woke up at 4:00 AM, found my way into my studio, sat down at the piano, and listening as the verses to what would become our first number one song kind of wrote themselves. At band rehearsal later that day I sat at the piano again, came up with the title "Keep On Loving You" and finished the song on the spot. The guys weren't sure what I was up to with this "slow song", but deep down I think there was a feeling that we were on to something special. It didn't take long before Gary cranked up his Les Paul, Neal went instinctively to his Hammond organ, Bruce and Alan found a strong rhythm groove, and together we fell upon what would become known as the "REO power ballad."

Not only that, the song’s confessional nature inspired guitarist Gary Richrath to dust off an emotional ballad of his own:
Within a few days Gary remembered a slow song he had never played for anyone called "Don't Let Me Down", which he had written about the same painful subject matter as "Keep On Loving You". He played me the song, I immediately loved it, suggested a few changes including a new title, and within a couple of hours we had "Take It On The Run."
You remember that one, right? “Heard it from a friend who // heard it from a friend who // heard it from another you’d been messin’ ‘round.” So what happened when REO freakin’ Speedwagon dug deep?
We now officially had our momentum back. We spent a week at Crystal, a funky Hollywood recording studio, making the demo tapes which would become our next album. Named for the out of control status of our collective personal lives, "Hi Infidelity" would go on to become the number one album in the US for six months in 1981, and sell ten million copies around the world. Not bad for five boneheads from the Midwest!
The one part of this story I should really remember, but don’t at all, is that the wife of one of those two guys ended up in Prague in the mid-‘90s, and hung out a lot with a couple of my friends. I probably met her once or twice, and remember having the impression that she had influenced a lot of REO songwriting & also sang backups … but I remembers no more. Basart? Callaghan?

And yes, as soon as I move into my new house (with an office roughly 100 times further away from my poor wife than where I’m sitting now), you know damn well I’m going to work up a version of “Keep on Lovin’ You.” Take out some of the power-chord double-hits, bring up the desperation level a couple of notches, replace guitar solo with an accordion …

02/02/2003 10:55 PM  |  Comment (9)

Adventures in Hollywood Morality: An interesting contrast in today’s L.A. Times. The main feature in the Sunday Calendar section posits that

If there's a moral dilemma in this year's Oscar nomination race, it's the question of whether a quarter-century-old statutory-rape case should weigh against director Roman Polanski's semiautobiographical Holocaust drama "The Pianist."
I would think that any “moral dilemma” here would be even considering letting non-artistic considerations influence an artistic vote, but I guess even Hollywood finds some acts too vile to ever let go. Like, you know, blowing up cops, cheering on the Manson Family, that kind of thing …

Or maybe not. Right next to the Polanski story on the Calendar front page, we get this Manohla Dargis anecdote from a Sundance Film Festival screening of a documentary on the Weather Underground:

Earnest if reductive, the documentary held my attention but was nowhere as interesting as what happened afterward, when former Underground fugitives Bernardine Dohrn and husband William Ayers were greeted with enthusiastic applause.

"What advice," asked one woman, could Dohrn "give to a young revolutionary?"

Presumably better than the advice Dohrn gave to participants at a 1969 “War Council” she and Ayers convened in Flint, Michigan.
Dig It. First they killed those pigs, then they ate dinner in the same room with them, they even shoved a fork into a victim’s stomach! Wild!
As fate would have it, Dohrn was talking about Charles Manson and his flock of dull-eyed butchers, whose list of victims included Roman Polanski's very pregnant wife Sharon Tate. Dohrn liked the whole "stick a fork in it" imagery so much that, according to some accounts, she even gave a three-fingered “fork salute” to the assembled Council.

She and Ayers, besides being subject of documentaries, are now both tenured professors in Illinois, and staunch opponents of “zero tolerance” sentencing policies.

02/02/2003 04:26 PM  |  Comment (5)

Hi! What are you doing down here?

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