John McCain gave a gracious, lovely speech. Obama is speaking now.
I spoke with my daughter, home from London, working in our nation's capital. We are witnessing a remarkable, thrilling day for the most creative nation on Earth.
A little over a year ago we moved from the close quarters of
central Shadyside to the more spacious, leafy streets of Highland
Although the greater East End and its incumbent communities
have for decades been a magnet for a wide range of ethnicities and
socio-economic substrata (Squirrel Hill still is home to one of America’s
largest concentrations of Jews, Oakland draws students from around the globe,
Bloomfield is our Little Italy, Lawrenceville could be Warsaw West) it is
Highland Park that mixes the whole stew together. Our neighbors are white, black, gay,
straight, young professionals, retired professors, Episcopalians, Agnostics. Sometimes, the mix can be tense, and we still
have a bit of a problem with crime, although it is mostly of the nuisance
variety. We all love this place, and
when we walk our dogs, or push or strollers, we look each other in the eye and
say hello. If small town America
I have not written in a while, and there has been too much to catch up on, but I feel that I may have spent too long in exile. Since I signed off from this site, we have experienced great joy, deep sorrow, shock and surprise, birth and death. Life.
I went to our new polling place this morning, getting to the local school at 6:35 AM, twenty-five minutes before the polls would open. I was already twentieth in line. As we all waited and made quiet light conversation, we grew to about fifty. By the time I walked out at ten after seven, at least a hundred of my neighbors shuffled in a good-natured democratic conga line.
I am not much on hope. For me, hope is a gauzy concept sold by politicians and preachers to the weary as a way of diverting attention from today’s misery or, rather, enabling a failure to deal with reality while making a tidy profit. Call me a cynic.
However. However. In all the elections in which I have participated, from the very first in a village church basement through the intervening decades, I have not sensed such a calm resonance of the varied carols of America: a strong, willful, respectful, joyous evocation of a unifying, profound demonstration of common good.
I won’t say how I voted. The vote itself matters less than the practice. I have no doubt, for the first time, I think, that whatever the outcome, we have in front of us two fine men--upstanding, steeped in Patriots’ tea—and I will be happy no matter who wins.
I know, I'm not posting anymore. I'm going against my own strictures because I think that in the face of what happened in Mumbai (Bombay) yesterday, it might be a good idea for us to throw down our petty grievances.
I received this email from Caitlin last night, and she has given me permission to publish it here. I have edited it for some typos, but otherwise is as she wrote it. This is from my kid, so naturally, I find it to be a compelling read. Maybe you will, too. -Daniel
I get around, apparently.
This is a day I'll remember forever. The three and a half hour
from Colaba to Bandra gave me plenty of time to think, if not just about the
immediacy of my situation, but also about the world. Today I went out on my
own, and after some apprehension, I actually felt safe traversing Bombay
solo. Bombay can be quite intimidating. There are well over 14 million
people and Bombay is home to the largest slum in Asia. Behind the crumbling,
but nice, facades of businesses and shops, one can see the shanty towns
stretched for miles: rows of shacks with metal sides and blue tarps for
roofs. When the Monsoons hit, the shanty towns are swamps, the one-room
huts flooded, thier inhabitants wading waist-deep amongst their meagre and
floating possessions. Bombay is a city cooped up and boiling, and bursting
with life, beauty, and pain. It's hanging on the edge of chaos. It's both
wonderful and horrible at the same time.
Today I went to Colaba. On
my own. I wanted to go alone. There's nothing
like travelling alone to teach you about the world. When you're white, and
blonde, and American, being alone in a city like Bombay can be quite
startling. I've never felt so strange in my entire life. You attract
attention when you're that foreign. If it wasn't lepers or children begging
for change at the window of my taxi, then it was the catcalls of men
shouting 'Barbie!' or the boys trying desperately to sell me 'Indian' tablas
and oversized balloons. But I had fun in Colaba, on my own, because when I
travel I like to be in charge, and sometimes being alone is the only way to
really be in charge. Not only that, but you end up talking to people and
experimenting with experience. It's what makes real character. Today,
however, was the real test for solo travel.
I've been having an interesting experience here that is largely
Morocco was tame compared to this, though. I'm staying with some friends in
Anderie. They have a nice flat in a high rise. But in Bombay, resources are
tight. Things that we take for granted in the West are precious commodities
over here. When there's no rain, that means there's no water, which means
there's no flushing toilets and plenty of cold water bucket baths (which are
actually quite nice in the heat). It means that doing daily things requires
more thought and planning. Disposing of a tampon is a pain. You don't let
the water run for no reason--ever! The other day the warden of the apartment
complex told us the water would be on for one hour. It was like Christmas.
It has made me realise how wasteful we are in 'the West'. Wars will be
fought about water, and we leave the taps on, steep ourselves in bubble
baths, wallow in extravagant pools--water is precious. When you have to go
without such things as water, the whole nature of existence changes.
But the food is amazing. So much spice! I'm in heaven.
Eating here has been
my favourite pastime, but it's not for the weak of stomach or mouth. I'm
having my share of lassis, daal and paneer that puts brie to shame. Kafeel
and his beautiful girlfriend Priyanka, and wonderful flatmate Rida, are
showing me an awesome time. In Bombay, every other person is some sort of
artist, or is involved in show biz somehow. I've met actresses, the top
model in Bombay, a couple fashion designers, some musicians, the list goes
on. People in Bombay are artsy beyond compare!
I've come to love this place. Even today can't phase me.
I was in a cafe, dining alone, when Kafeel texted me: 'Babes, head
Some chaos happening. Bomb blast. Head to Bandra, I'll meet you there. Keep
texting me.' So, I did as I was told. I didn't know exactly what happened.
The news was on in the cafe, and there were gasps in the room, but I don't
read Hindi. I took the first cab I found, and had to fight off a boy selling
tablas who wanted a lift to Bandra with me. The ride took forever. I sat for
an hour without moving in Myeem. Then it started to monsoon, which was the
only time I got nervous. 'Great,' I thought, 'a terrorist attack and a
flood!' My cabbie spoke no English, and my phone stopped working as the
networks became clogged with people attempting to contact one another. I was
marooned in more ways than one. I kept asking the cabbie, 'Where are we?'
and he kept replying, 'Yes.' I gave up on asking.
I was never afraid
for my life, and this is why: Firstly, I wasn't on a
train, I was in a taxi. Secondly, I thought back to 7/7 in London, and 9/11
in New York. I thought about what I would have done, had I been in either
place at the time, and how I would have felt. And I realised that the fear I
was feeling was only the fear of being in an unknown place. If the same
thing had happened in London, I could have just walked home, I would have
known the way. The only thing scary about being in Bombay was that I didn't
know the place. But when I looked around at the others stuck in the traffic
jam, there was not fear, so much as annoyance, written on their faces. They
weren't scared, and so I shouldn't be. These things can happen anywhere, and
it's much scarier when it's in a place you're unfamiliar with, but as soon
as you realise it is only the unfamiliarity which is the scariest part, then
you can relax a little. A little, but of course, not completely, because
there were still bombs exploded, there were still lives lost, there were
still people whose lives were now forever changed. There's a war on out
there, and it's a different kind of war than any of us are used to fighting.
It's disconnected, and disjointed, and not a part of an wholistic--anything.
It's a postmodern war.
So, this brings me to the philosophy of it all: we need
isn't beyond us. We have to stop asking ourselves what to do, and start
creating the change we want to see. But the time has come to realise, that
peace will not be won with the blast of the bomb, NOR through the barrel of
a gun. Neither terrorist attacks, NOR wars, are the answer. They get us
nowhere and comunicate nothing but hatred. The people who destroy others on
trains with bombs, are just as guilty of wrong-doing as those who kill
others in 'legitimate' wars with tanks and guns. Haven't we evolved, as a
species? Haven't we grown away from all these barbaric tactics? Well, if
not, it's time to. How did we get to here? I guess, a more important
question is how do we get out. Have we really learned so little? The world
does not have to be such a painful place, but when you come to places like
Bombay, and you look around, it's written everywhere. Yesterday, I saw a
one-year-old child eating some unknown substance from a garbage heap while
three other children under five slept on a mat next to an open fire. While
fleeing Colaba, a leper showed be his deteriorated arms and begged for
change: 'Madam, madam, madam. My arms please, my arms.' I wanted to throw
up. And when I look into the desperate eyes I encounter, I can understand
the desperation of any human being. I understand the desperation of those
who fight these un-named wars. You grow up here, you become radical. It's
like breathing polluted air, or smoking, someday you'll get the symptoms of
the disease, and the disease of desperation is radicalisation, is being too
repressed and depressed to think beyond the immediacy of violence. But there
are other possibilities. There are other ways of doing things. There has to
be. Or maybe, the world is futile, and God is definately dead, and I should
chide myself for being so naive. But we can't give up hope, not yet. And
until we find the solutions, there's only one thing we can do: bow our
heads, and remember, and respect those who suffer daily, those who die and
perish, those who mourn the losses of love and life. We must acknowledge
those who live in poverty, and desperation, and hunger, because there's more
of them in the world than you know of, and this is a more important war to
fight than any other, and humanity will hopefully, one day, be a cause worth
fighting for. We must realise we are lucky, without becoming complacent.
Today, 139 people have died, after seven bombs on one of
Bombay's ONLY train
lines. Many may still die.
I'm trying so hard for this not to
be the most cliched email you have ever read, but
I've had a hard day, and my cliche filter is not working. How are all of
you, by the way, if you've managed to read all of my really long email? If
you have read all of this, thanks for putting up with my ramblings...
*Typepad has had some issues and I have lost this post and all the comments. I have seen some comments from around the blogowhatever, some very complimentary, some, well, less than. I will only answer thusly:
Those who rail against this person from comfortable environs have no idea what they are talking about. She has been to more places on this earth than most people can dream of and has absorbed more in her young life than her detractors could imagine.
I have been getting some emails, so I will be putting this up. It looks like seven bombs have torn apart several communter trains in and near Bombay, India, killing what news sources are saying is up to 60 people. Hindustan news is not responding; here is Bangkok Post:
New Delhi (dpa) - At least 23 people were killed and many others injured as a series of seven bombs exploded on the rail network of the western Indian city of Mumbai on Tuesday.
Mumbai Police Commissioner AN Roy told the CNN-IBN network that 23 people were killed in the blasts that took place inside first-class compartments of commuter trains and platforms near the Matunga, Mahim, Bandra, Khar, Jogeshwari, Borivali and Mira Road suburban stations, located in the western express suburb of the city.
The blasts were timed to inflict maximum fatalities during the rush-hour when people were on their way home from work.
There was commotion at the railway stations as injured people cried for help near trains that had been ripped apart by the blasts.
The death toll was likely to go up, as several bodies were lying on the train tracks.
Roy said, "Right now it is not possible for us to give the number of fatalities. We are busy rushing the injured to the hospitals and removing the dead."
All train services in the city were brought to a halt and stations were immediately cordoned after the explosions.
The national capital, New Delhi and other major cities have been placed on high alert, the network reported.
The Indian Home Ministry denied any link between the series of grenade explosions in the northern Jammu and Kashmir state that claimed seven lives and the blasts in Mumbai.
The explosions brought back memories of the March 1993 serial blasts that left over 250 people dead.
Caitlin is in Bombay. I have just spoken to her. She is reporting that the scene is in chaos and that there is liely more deaths coming. She is making her way to her friend's house where she is staying, but has become separated from him. She sounds okay, but rather shook up.
The bombings took place around 6:30 PM local time, or about 8:00 EST and seem to have targeted first class coaches on the trains.
The Times is now reporting over 100 dead.
I am feeling a bit crazy right now.
UPDATE: I have to get to work, so I will not be near a computer on which I can post. I'll update as soon as I hear anything else.
UPDATE II: We have just spoken to Caitlin's friend, who is waiting for her at a designated spot. He has spoken to her about twenty minutes ago, but now the cell phones are out, and she is somewhere in traffic. He will call as soon as he finds her.
Just got a text. She's in traffic, as Kafeel has said, but okay.
UPDATE III: I only have a minute. Caitlin has finally made it to her friend after three hours in traffic. At one point, she said that the cars just stopped and everybody exited their vehicles and stayed in the street.
Thans to everybody who has expressed their concerns and sent messages and prayers. Our thoughts go to those who have been killed or injured. I am especially thinking of Swaraaj Chauhan, of The Moderate Voice, who is one his way to Mumbai tomorrow morning.
I have known for several weeks that I would be writing this post eventually. It has taken me multiple attempts to get my thoughts down, which might come as a bit of a surprise for those who are familiar with my slap-dash style of posting. Still, this is part of an important decision for me, and one that I have not come to lightly.
Once the particulars have been put out of the way, there will be some who will say that the decision was made for me, but I have come to this from various angles of thought and deliberation.
After nearly three years away, I will be returning to the financial services industry. I have been offered, and accepted, a position in management with a very fine firm. It is a rather singular firm, not at all what one would think of as a money management business. But this is a large part of why I have taken this post. It's philosophy is firmly in sync with my own, both in terms of investment policy and in how to run a business.
As a condition of employment, I had to agree to refrain from political blogging. I was expecting this, as most firms have clients of broad political views and prefer to keep politics separate. An interesting feature is that the principals offered me the position in part because they have read this blog (among some of my other writing) and think that I write well (which will be part of my duties). Why they believe this is anybody's guess.
I wish that I could say that I am being forced to give up the politics and that it's not fair, but that wouldn't be the truth. And in a way, the request is giving me an excuse, perhaps, or at least permission to change. I have been having an argument with myself these past few months about this blog, about the soaking stench of American politics and about political blogging in general. But I can give this up because no matter how much I love writing here, the reality is that while it nourishes me, it does not feed me.
I believe that I am seeing my country go through a period of self-doubt, and I'm not so certain that we bloggers aren't at least partly responsible. It's humorously self-aggrandizing for me to include myself in that observation, because my readership has remained microscopic and save for a few big posts, I would have very few visitors knocking on the door. However, I count those who have visited some of the most insightful and intelligent of blog denizens. Among the bloggers with whom I have traded links and ideas, there is a greater level of talent and complex thought than live in the shoutfests that get all the traffic. But woefully few are listening to them.
I could continue to blog about other things, although politics now encompasses so much of our thoughts and lives that the choices seem limited. I am considering continuing with the arts, culture, food, language, etc. and I have been gathering notes for a new novel, but for now I will take some time to decide what I should do. There is more to life than politics, of course, and more to my interests. I just need some time to figure out a new direction, if it is to come. Ironically, this comes as I am just now being approached for blogging opportunities.
I don't intend this to be a Graves-like seethe, or a rambling complaint, but I wish to express, this last time, a few strong opinions and presume to offer a bit of advice.
When I first started this blog, I had already firmed up my roster of daily reading, although some of which still stay on my blogroll I hardly think about anymore. I had spent a lifetime firmly and faithfully in the political left and regarded the right as a amalgam of fat-cat cigar chompers, government-hating ideologues and religious fanatics. I had been raised with a priority to inquiry, but I knew that no matter what theories might be put forth from the right, the rhetoric just seemed so blatantly wrong. I found, to my despair, that my beloved left was just as ossified and infected with ideological fanaticism as the right.
Fortunately, I slowly found a middle. But that didn't exactly satisfy as so much musing from the center tended toward "on one hand... on the other hand" kind of analysis that often left more questions than were posed to begin with. I have done my best, I think, to stay away from that impotent kind of thinking, instead taking a tack that doesn't glorify contrarian argument for the sake of it, but for finding something closer to the truth. I have not been very successful in that regard, but I feel that the effort was worth the occasional slur or insult.
It's been an interesting ride. I have exchanged emails and gotten nods from some of the biggest voices on the Internet, I have interviewed and spoken directly with some of those we watch on our news programs. I have been termed conservative, liberal, libertarian, pragmatic, idiotic, insightful, funny, romantic, cloying and vitriolic, among many other compliments and epithets. Beyond that, I have been lucky, from time to time, to receive comments that have caused me to think and rethink my prejudices and to look at myself in a clean light. I am not universally proud of what I have written, but in the mean, I am satisfied that I have raised my pixellated voice for some to hear.
Which brings me to that about which I am most passionate, and about which I have the most distress. I am a believer in partisan politics, because I find that partisanship is the best, so far, system of keeping those in power in check. Partisanship can devolve into political sports, as we have seen most recently. No matter what, we want our team to win, and most of us refuse to accept logical arguments from the other side for fear of losing some advantage. That rivalry, usually, serves a purpose. But when the party in power becomes infected with hubris, and when the opposition fails to mount serious challenges, we all suffer.
George Bush is not, by far, a stellar president. Those thinking that he is exactly the right man for the right time fail to acknowledge the impulse of this president to act without a firm grasp of constitutional government. While the outcome of the Hamdan case can be manipulated, this is one of the few times in which this president has been reined in. Pity that the straps came not from his own, but from what he would term, if he understood what he was saying, an extra-legislative judiciary, signaling his disdain or incomprehension for our very system of government.
While I continue to support the battle against the terror forces, I am bitterly disappointed in the prosecution of this war, which demonstrates for me the perils of becoming a one-issue voter. But this also indicates to me that we are being ill-served by both our public officials and our press. Agendas get in the way of reality, and ideology is trumping unity.
Rampant spending, religious footsie-playing and the proposal of hollow attempts at bottom-feeding (FMA and flag burning come immediately to mind) has contributed to the breakdown of rational discourse and ruined what unity was evident in the aftermath of September 11.
Not that it's all Bush's fault. He is not the devil incarnate, either. Writers such as Katha Pollitt and Paul Krugman, politicians such as Jim McDermott and John Murtha, and gadflies such as Noam Chomsky and Jimmy Carter certainly haven't acted in high principle. There is an ugly characteristic of the left (trust me, here I am talking about my own) to brand everyone who disagrees as either stupid, sinister, or an illogical combination of the two. The left is also fond of the Nazi brand, while failing to articulate exactly what it is that makes one a fascist.
The default for much of the left is to see everything wrong in and with America and then call it patriotism, when in fact it is self-loathing and bitter recrimination without much logical sense of American worth. It then becomes easy shooting to describe these people as "anti-American," as their every utterance confirms the prognosis. The irony is that the prescriptions for what they see as an American ailment often require someone else to foot the bill, and even more often, cause them to tacitly ally with dictators and mass murderers.
The right has just as much to be ashamed of. Instead of fighting on and for principle, rightist politicians treat their constituents the same way the left treats theirs: with contempt and by cheap manipulation. Conservatives now seem not to give two hoots that their president can't seem to keep his pen in his pocket, writing bad check after bad check and merely cry war when that subject is brought up. Civil rights are now deemed quaint and war is again blamed.
One gets the impression that the term laissez faire has morphed from a bedrock conservative principle, to something forgotten or discarded by the right. Maybe it sounds too gay or something. I am constantly befuddled by conservatives who supposedly want to get government "off the backs" of the people, then attempt to dictate to these same people.
In other words: you all make me sick. And I will not miss the stupidity, the blind fidelity to failed ideology nor the crass, vulgar, sleazy, wretched, bilious claptrap that spews forth from the mouths of those we have been stupid enough to elect.
And while I'm at it, Democrats, I don't want to hear anything about stolen elections, WMD lies or Halliburton. And Republicans, I don't want to hear anything about France, the UN or George Clooney. Just, please, shut up and get to work.
And people, people: let's take a breath and decide if we want to continue down this road or make an effort to work towards our collective future and benefit. It really shouldn't be that hard. George Bush did not cause September 11. John Kerry does not wish for the US to surrender. Not all Muslims are saints and not all are terrorists. Jews don't run the world. Two guys exchanging rings will not bring down the American family. It's okay to say "under God." No one is forcing you into it, however.
Since this is my swan song, I want to make a list of those things that I think I know, for this last time, and hack off as many people as I can. So here it is:
So that's it. My rant. It wasn't as much fun as I thought it would be, and I'm not certain if this is how I would like to be remembered. But who cares? It's just a blog, after all. I am including here, against my better judgement, a photo that Sherry took of me in the shadow of St. Sulpice in Paris. I am not quite as homely, old and perturbed as the photo would suggest.
I have failed at just about everything I have ever attempted. And yet, I have had the good fortune to live in the USA, where failure is not seen as an ending, as long as one refuses to accept it. I have no idea where I will end up, and I am thankful for many things: my family, my friends, the blessing of liberty and the opportunity to reinvent myself time after time.
And since this is a blog: Thank you, everyone, who has come here, has read and responded, who has poked me when I needed it, has praised and criticized, has opened up a world to me that I would never have known existed. I have wanted to be a writer since I could read, and it has been one of my life's thrills to know that there are some very good and smart people who have read my words and deemed them worthy of noting.
Okay, I lied. I will miss this blog and I will miss all of you deeply. I have rarely gotten as much satisfaction from an endeavor, and it has been because of this wonder of technology that brings us closer. I hesitate to start naming names, because I will likely leave some out that I have not meant to. You know who you are: those who have stayed with me since the beginning, those who have come along in the interim and all with whom I have shared, publicly and privately, some very personal and vivid moments.
I'll still be reading, and maybe commenting, but I don't know when. I might come back to Bloggledygook with something different, but again, I don't know when or what. For now, this will stay up, just in case I come back, but also because I like it. If anybody has any suggestions, I'll be very happy to hear them. This has been one of the joys of my life, and an experience I will always value and cherish.
I left a little gift in the post just under this. As I am not all that able a technical blogger, I have found the easiest path. You have to have Rhapsody (which is free for 25 streams a month) and install a plug-in if you're using Firefox. But, if you can, give this song a listen. Even though it's not a true parallel, it's the closest thing in mood that I have found to express my feelings today.
See ya later.
I was fifteen when The United States of America celebrated its bicentennial with countrywide celebrations, memorials at town squares, tall ships in New York Harbor, a long, vast birthday celebration. It was a day of great optimism and hope, coming just a year after the end of a long and bitter war. Reports of the raid on Entebbe were coming in, although for many it was not something that needed to kill a good independence buzz.
There would be a few years reprieve until the Iranian hostage crisis and the impotent response of our president would kick off what has turned out to be a 25 year battle with Islamic fanaticism. We are less happy, less optimistic, less sure of our own place in the world and less secure in our minds and our land. We are a bickering nation, where the president, the press, various pundits and protesters are denoted as greater threats to our liberty than those whom would openly and wantonly line up to kill as many of us as possible.
This is madness. We must always be open to disagreement, but when we break our public discourse down to calls of treason or war crimes, we enable our collective enemies and make their battle that much easier.
America elicits many emotions and thoughts from all spectrums. I thought that I would gather a few quotes, some positive, some negative, some humorous for us to read and perhaps ponder.
America is a vast conspiracy to make you happy.
America is the only nation in history which miraculously has gone
directly from barbarism to degeneration without the usual interval of
America is great because it is good. If America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great again. (*Apochryphal. See Dave Schuler's comment).
-Alexis de Tocqueville
America is a young country with an old mentality.
America does to me what I knew it would do: it just bumps me...
America is a great country. It has many shortcomings, many social
inequalities, and it’s tragic that the problem of the blacks wasn’t
solved fifty or even a hundred years ago, but it’s still a great
country, a country full of opportunities, of freedom! Does it seem
nothing to you to be able to say what you like, even against the
government, the Establishment?
America owes most of its social prejudices to the exaggerated religious
opinions of the different sects which were so instrumental in
establishing the colonies.
-James Fenimore Cooper
America is rather like life. You can usually find in it what you look
for... It will probably be interesting, and it is sure to be large.
America has always been a country of amateurs where the professional,
that is to say, the man who claims authority as a member of an élite
which knows the law in some field or other, is an object of distrust
I like to be in America!
OK by me in America!
Ev’rything free in America
For a small fee in America!
America is not a young land: it is old and dirty and evil before the settlers, before the Indians. The evil is there waiting.
The American people, taken with another, constitute the most timorous, sniveling, poltroonish, ignominious mob of serfs and goosesteppers ever gathered under one flag in Christendom since the end of the Middle Ages.
I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear;
Those of mechanics--each one singing his, as it should be, blithe and strong;
The carpenter singing his, as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his, as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work;
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat--the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck;
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench--the hatter singing as he stands;
The wood-cutter's song--the ploughboy's, on his way in the morning,
or at the noon intermission, or at sundown;
The delicious singing of the mother--or of the young wife at work--or of the girl sewing or washing--Each singing what belongs to her, and to none else;
The day what belongs to the day--At night, the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing, with open mouths, their strong melodious songs.
America is addicted to wars of distraction.
Yes, America is gigantic, but a gigantic mistake.
America’s present need is not heroics but healing; not nostrums but normalcy; not revolution but restoration.
-Warren G. Harding
I see America spreading disaster. I see America as a black curse upon
the world. I see a long night settling in and that mushroom which has
poisoned the world withering at the roots.
America is a large, friendly dog in a very small room. Every time it wags its tail, it knocks over a chair.
-Arnold J. Toynbee
In America any boy may become President, and I suppose it’s just one of the risks he takes!
In America the young are always ready to give to those who are older than themselves the full benefits of their inexperience... In America the President reigns for four years, and Journalism governs for ever and ever.
O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved,
And mercy more than life!
May God thy gold refine,
Till all success be nobleness,
And every gain divine.
-Katherine Lee Bates
Happy Independence Day, everyone.
On the evening of July 3 and the morning of July 4, 1976, Israeli commandos storm Entebbe Airport in Uganda, saving hostages held there by Palestinian and German terrorists. It's worth remembering that all hostages were released with the exception of Israelis and Jews. With the exception of Israelis and Jews. It might be a good idea to remember this detail when one broadly and indiscriminately criticizes Israel and then wonders how this could possibly be construed as anti-Semitism.
It is possible, of course, to criticize Israeli policies and tactics and not be anti-Semitic. But what is too often forgotten or ignored is the series of provocations and crimes against common Israelis and Jews with no connection to the Israeli government.
We have been battling the rain, my tomatoes and I. The heavy soak caused many buds to drop and leave me with well formed, slender stalks of... leaves. But now that the air is hot and the sky is a quasi-blue, some of the new buds have set and I am hoping for a good crop.
We have some interesting specimens this year: the requisite Beefsteak, for salads and burgers, Celebrity for, well, for kicks and giggles, Thesioniliki for their red Greek sex, Yellow Brandywine for tradition, Yellow Currant for numbers, Aunt Ruby's Green to prove that all that glitters is not red, Red Pear Bush for meaty sauce and to wed with basil, and Black Seaman a color riot of red, green and something else, which reminds me of that old joke. You know that old joke.
The whales are playing in the ocean, minding their own whaley business, when a trawler comes a-hunting. The men harpoon a young bull and take him away, bloody and spasmic. The women whale folk declare that this aggression will be repaid. The matron of the pod lays out the plan: "We'll wait until the boat is upon us, and then we'll swim beneath the boat and in one action, force our blowholes open and topple the boat with one mighty blast. We'll then seize the sailors and eat them up!"
"Let's do it!"
One shy, reserved cow whale in the back is silent. When asked why she is so reserved, she replies, "I'm okay with the blowjob, but I'm not swallowing any seamen."
My mother hears of the garden and tells me, "Your father would be amazed," and I'm not sure what she means by that. Would he question my ability, or would he wonder that his urban son has staked out a tiny plot of land to grow the things he so lovingly nurtured?
Either way, it is a joy. Next to the tomatoes we have cucumbers, zucchini and eggplant. Chillies abound with jalapenos, serranos, Thai reds, Hungarian hots, red and orange and green bell peppers, cubanelles and white sweets among the three varieties of basil, mint, cilantro and parsley. It is a modest garden, but each evening when I visit, I find something new, something made to nourish us, and I am happy.
-This is part of an ongoing series of contributions by Richard Z. Chesnoff.
PEACE PROSPECTS IN PIECES
by Richard Z. Chesnoff, NY Daily News 7/3/06
That much-touted deal between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his terrorist foes in the Hamas government ain't worth its weight in falafel balls. Straw-clutching pseudo-experts would have you believe the agreement - which is supposed to end Palestinian infighting - "implicitly recognizes the Jewish state of Israel."
Funny, because the word Israel doesn't come up once in the accord. Nor is there any call anywhere for the establishment of two side-by-side states as a peaceful solution to the long-festering conflict.
Instead, the Abbas-Hamas agreement endorses the right to "liberate Palestinian land by first establishing an independent state ... in all the territory occupied in 1967." In other words, it's okay to set up a Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza - but only as a first step toward "liberating the rest of Palestine." We know what that means: destroying Israel.
If you don't believe me, listen to what Abdel Khaleq Natsche, who signed the document for Hamas, and Bassam al-Sa'adi, who signed for Islamic Jihad, had to say in a joint statement: "We scorn the attempts to attach nonexistent content to the document, and therefore, we emphasize that it does not contain any declaration or hint of recognition of the occupation state and does not contain any call for this."
What's more, the document demands Jerusalem become the Palestinian capital and reasserts the "right of return" - permission for several million Palestinian refugees to take up residence in the Jewish state and destroy it from the inside. Both demands are major nonstarters.
Worst of all, the Abbas-Hamas accord allows for continued Palestinian terrorist attacks against Israel and Israelis. Which is only one of the reasons Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has ordered so harsh a response to rocket raids from Gaza and the abduction of that 19-year old Israeli soldier from inside Israeli lines.
Olmert has a tough reputation to live up to: that of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. The now-comatose Sharon wasn't known as the "bulldozer" for nothing. Many Israelis fear that Olmert still isn't big enough to wear Sharon's shoes or drive his power machine - especially on the eve of a planned unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. So Olmert has been playing extra tough with the Palestinians - and if he's smart, he will continue to do so.
Meanwhile, the civilian population of Gaza suffers dreadfully from lack of supplies and utilities, not to mention danger of "collateral damage" from air raids on terrorists. Israel is not to blame for mounting Palestinian woes. The fault lies with the madmen of Hamas who would rather see their people continue to suffer than come to terms with a fact that was internationally established close to 60 years ago: the historically legitimate and legally recognized Jewish State of Israel.
Israel doesn't need Palestinian permission to exist. As former Prime Minister Menachem Begin once thundered: "The Jewish people have an historic, eternal and inalienable right to exist in this land, Eretz Yisrael, the land of our forefathers. ... I say to the world, our very existence per se is our right to exist!"
Originally published on July 3, 2006
Right here is a humorous, or sad, depending on one's perspective, story/discussion on a number of right-wing blogs that see a piece in the NYT Travel Section on Cheney and Rumsfeld vacation homes as a secret plot to aid al Qaeda in the assassination of administration officials. I'm not kidding. Michelle Malkin, Powerline, Front Page and others are insisting that a puff piece is a not-so-covert action by the Times to disclose supposedly top secret undisclosed locations of the reviled duo. This is proof positive, somehow, of the press' ongoing "war" against America Herself.
The feverish conspiracy theories are coming fast and furious from all corners, as some blogs are now retaliating by calling for the addresses of photographers and reporters to be published and "hunted down."
How stupid have we become? And how low will we be brought by our own hands?
Two things to remember (if remember is the right word. This should be fundamental, like needing to remember one's own name): 1)The President is not the country and opposing his policies is neither treason nor a wish to see the country defeated. 2)Sometimes, there are people who do indeed wish for the US to be brought low. These people have their own pathology, but unless they are actively engaged in the attempted overthrow of the government, or planning actions against administration officials (or conversely, critics) they're just blowing smoke. It shouldn't be that difficult to tell the difference.
New York Times Editor Bill Keller was on Face the Nation, stuttering through a defense of his newspaper's decision to publish the Swift report. I am sympathetic to press freedoms, but Keller is beginning to get on my nerves, not because I think that he is a closet commie/Islamist sympathizer but because he is an over-preening ass.
Two comments went unchallenged by Bob Schieffer. The first was Keller's assertion that the Constitution invested "amateurs, meaning, journalists" with the power to inquire and challenge government. This is preposterous. The Constitution empowers the People to lobby and provoke their government. The people are granted the freedom to use the press. Keller's formulation is either sloppy or willfully misstated.
Secondly, Keller told Schieffer that (as in the editorial yesterday) that journalists (and how he can speak for all journalists, I don't know. Was there a vote?) "are not neutral in the struggle against terrorism." Fine, we should take Mr Keller at his word. But what Keller didn't elaborate on, at what Schieffer did not follow up on, is exactly, then, what side is Keller and the journalists that he claims to speak for on?
That might seem like an accusation, but I think that this is a legitimate question to ask, and one I trust Mr Keller and his colleagues would answer honestly and forcefully. And hopefully, he'd pick the right side.
On the charge of treason, I think that we should beware of this latest push by the Administration. If there was a crime, isn't it possible that the person or persons leaking the information are those doing the committing?
On the other side, in the aftermath of Hamdan, it might be useful to actually look at what the Supreme Court has ruled. It seems to me that the Court was requesting that the Administration seek Congressional approval for commissions. Isn't it about time that the president do this? We are, after all, coming up on five years since September 11.
That day did not grant the Executive, any executive, with absolute power to decide the fate of the nation, nor towards the prosecution of war. While the presidency is invested with the power to direct war, it is Congress' prerogative to control the money, and in its fiscal role, to influence and check the impulse of presidents to grab power for the office.
Unlike many others, while I am terribly disappointed and frustrated with this president, I do not believe him to be the Coming Dictator. There is a certain arrogance that comes with a person who has convinced himself that he alone stands against the wind of world destruction. Yet, I am not so sure that a President Gore or Kerry would not have ended up as put upon as Bush. Maybe not, but to speculate would be useless. I suppose that you go to war with the president you have.
I would imagine that Germany has the edge, much like France had at their home World Cup in 1998 (in which it beat Brazil 3-0), but I would like to see an Italy-France final, I guess.
As for England, they did themselves in, mate. Rooney acted in characteristic fashion and caused his team to play down a man from the 61st minute on. Not that Portugal took much advantage, but England crumbled in penalty.
The Supreme Court has ruled against Bush on his plans to try Gitmo detainees. The court ruled that the trials must follow the UCMJ. It also ruled that the Geneva Conventions do apply to detainees. So I guess that settles that. Now we will see how much this administration actually respects Supreme Court Rulings.
The ruling was 5-3, so Roberts' recusal would not have had any effect.
The government will have to revamp its plans for trials, essentially still leaving Gitmo detainees in limbo.
I'll be reading as much analysis as I can find, but I won't be blogging on it; I'm not a constitutional scholar.
However, this is an important repudiation of Bush policies vis-a-vis enemy combatants. The ruling is a blow to what some people have termed an Imperial Presidency.
The right will be wailing, the left hooting.
The only thing I will say is that this ruling seems to mean two things: that the United States is more obligated than al Qaeda in the treatment of detainees, and possibly, in other areas of the conflict, and that miscreants from around the world are now afforded the same legal rights and protections that Americans citizens enjoy.
MORE: Two questions and one observation:
Can this be construed as a defacto recognition of the Taliban and al Qaeda by the Supreme Court?
What are the likely next steps the government will be required to take?
President Bush has stated that he has been waiting for this ruling, and must have known that Justice Kennedy would swing towards the liberals. There must be some contingency plan drawn up.
Okay, one more observation: This does not seem to mean that the detainees are now free to go, but that the government has to set up a different process, by statutes that would establish military tribunals for detainees.
MORE: Tom Maguire has an open thread on the decision.
I found this comment very interesting, and one I was wondering about:
The latest Middle East crisis, that of the abduction of an Israeli Corporal, could be the trigger that finally unleashes all out war in the region. That the kidnapping came hard on the heels of a Hamas-Fatah agreement to "implicitly recognize Israel" seems to be confounding the experts who just can't fathom why this would happen now.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has apparently decided that this kidnapping will not lesson his resolve to withdraw from much of the West Bank, but he realizes what the ramifications of a soft response would be. He has his own cabinet to deal with, and many members who are skeptical of his lack of military prowess.
Still, Israel is not kidding around and will wait only so long before an all out retaliation. Cpl. Shalit must know that his army will do everything possible to retrieve him, but the government won't negotiate for his release. It seems, barring some Entebbe-like operation, that Cpl. Shalit's hours are waning.
This July 4 marks the thirtieth anniversary of the end of that mission (it began on June 27, 1976). I wouldn't be surprised to find that this is in the mind of Israeli planners right now. Even as an IDF spokesman told the press that they know where Cpl. Shalit is, it's hard to imagine how that can be known. This is very different from Entebbe, where the hostages were held at a known location that could be surveilled.
There is some criticism that Israel is being disproportionate in its response, but this misses the point. Negotiating for Shalit's release may still be an option, but in the mean time Israel can't afford to give Hamas and its allies reason to think that kidnapping is a successful tactic.
If Shalit is killed, or if Israel jumps the gun, it could inflame already hot tempers in the region. Hamas has an out, and could use the release of Shalit as a propaganda tool. It looks as if Egypt isn't going to help them out, and from what I am hearing, private opinions are that Hamas has stepped in it big time and may not be able to count on much help.
While flags, fags and rags are dominating the news cycle, some actual progress may be in the making in Iraq. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's reconciliation plan has been given major support from a prominent Sunni group. This is an interesting development, and one that could signal an Iraqi solution to the Iraq Problem. Of course, demagogues in the Congress are already jumping on it as being an insult to the US and the Armed Forces, which again, smacks of political gamesmanship.
All wars ends with some of the belligerents going their own way and melting back into the populace. al-Maliki's proposal should be taken seriously, it seems, especially by those who have been screeching for a negotiated end to the war.
Meanwhile, there is more rumbling about timetables, even after the full Congress rejected the idea. It's looking as if the only factions unable to come to some reconciliation are the Democrats and Republicans in the US.
One free speech stalwart held out and the once again "topical," though always stupid flag "desecration" amendment (Yes, a Constitutional Amendment to stop something that basically never happens) failed in the Senate.
It seems necessary to point out that one of the Republican Senators voting for the measure was John McCain, who also wants to control political speech of many stripes, along with Democratic darling Russ Feingold (who thinks that the flag burning amendment is dumb, but wants you to shut the hell up about candidates).
It's also telling that Harry Reid voted for the Amendment, as did Chuck Hagel, Arlen Specter and Olympia Snowe, all Republicans that Republicans hate.
So this can be stood up next to the apparent rampant epidemic of heterosexuals that are waiting, just straining at the reins, to break out the old Village People cassettes and the Harvey Fierstein DVDs once gays and lesbians get the go ahead to go ahead. Personally, I have begun to look askance at those married friends whom I have always wondered about. Which husband, I ask, is leaving the closet doors ajar? Because, you know, millions upon millions of male breeders can't wait until they can marry the softball team. On the other hand, perhaps thousands of Penthouse readers or webporn surfers will finally have a legitimate reason to believe that the vast majority of lesbians are twenty-three year old hotties.
(To this end, so to speak, and as a hearty public service, Christopher Hitchens treats us all in this month's Vanity Fair (a title which has to be the gayest of any mainstream mag) to our American oral history and sows the seeds of doubt about every manly man's favorite sex act.)
This kind of crap is what happens when we have one party in power and another that seems to refuse to put up a fight. What we have right now is a GOP full of hubris while believing that they will lose their cranky, radical base if they don't "protect" marriage and Old Glory, even though marriage and flags seems to be doing well enough on their own.
Well, I wish that I could see this backfire, that there were enough thinking GOP voters who wise up, that this would in some way turn conservatives against overreaching lawmakers. But I'm not holding my match.
Apparently, there's nothing else to worry about. The Iraq War is going fine, immigration issues have evaporated and everything else is just dandy.
Well, no. While the GOP is playing "Look over there!" Saudi visas have doubled. Funny that this story is in the Jerusalem Post and not the Washington Post. Our president, without Congressional oversight or voter approval, continues to negotiate US sovereignty away. This is no joke. Critics range from John Edwards to Michelle Malkin. How bad could this be to get those two agreeing?
So we Americans can now sport our own private Nero, a president who is fiddling with all sorts of burning issues while attention to real threats are diverted. If this continues, we will light the fire of our own ruin and be consumed by the bonfire of our vanities.
Take eight-and-a-half minutes and watch this video of Bruce Springsteen and friends singing "Pay Me My Money Down" (from his Pete Seeger CD) on Conan O'Brien. You'll be very glad you did.
I am very happy to see this effort by Springsteen to resurrect some of the old folk standards and maybe spark a new revival and inspire another generation of folk singers and writers that are less self-indulgent than folk singers have tended to be lately. Not that I am against introspection or personal story-telling, but that we are ripe for a more universal popular art, something that takes larger themes and communicates them and not in the slick package of production or the obscure flannel circuit.
Watching Springsteen pulling in O'Brien for the last jump at the chorus reminds us that this is exuberant music: transcendent, flawed and deeply joyful. We need to be done with morbid tunes and get some feet tapping.
Hat tip to Sheila O'Malley, herself and her blog two pure joys.
The right and part of the center of the blogs are hopping all over Bill Keller's kind-of explanation of his paper's reasoning to go ahead with the story on the program to track financial records of terrorists. While Keller makes a better case for himself than most of his critics contend, he isn't doing himself any favors by the condescending attitude of much of his letter.
It's becoming more and more popular for those in the media and among the intelligentsia of various disciplines to speak about democratic ideals and information while proclaiming their own expertise and making it well known that if one wishes to dispute certain methodologies, one damn well better have a particular degree or imprimatur in some form or another.
Too many of our experts consider themselves not public advisers and opinion setters, but infallible prelates speaking to a great mass of bumpkins. We are told that data is inviolable and that facts are facts. But taken and agreed-upon facts often change with time and data, and, well, I'll just hint at the Disraeli remark on statistics.
Now, before I get branded with some lowly moniker, I will point out that I have spent much of my work life, and all of the last ten years working with data of some sort, and am now working with specific data to follow specific trends (sorry that's all you're gonna get). What is so interesting about trend analysis is that one is always working with a moving target. Therefore, it is not only perilous, but fundamentally foolish to assume that the data will give one a straight-line prediction.
Witness this article on TIME's recent global warming story:
WASHINGTON - The Earth is the hottest it has been in at least 400 years, probably even longer. The National Academy of Sciences, reaching that conclusion in a broad review of scientific work requested by Congress, reported Thursday that the "recent warmth is unprecedented for at least the last 400 years and potentially the last several millennia."
Now, I have no expertise and no reason to doubt this conclusion. If this is what the data is telling us, then this is what the data is telling us. Who would want, say, a doctor to inform us that one of our loved ones was still alive when in fact they had died five minutes earlier? Stick with the truth, people.
However, let's say that we are the warmest we have been in 400 years (I will not address the "potentially the last several millennia" because this veers into conjecture). Would that not mean that sometime around 1600 or so the earth was in the grips of a period of scorching temperatures? Who the hell was driving the SUVs then?
Of course we must rely on those trained in specific fields. To do otherwise would be folly. And to blindly criticize because the known data does not line up with our own assumptions and prejudices does in fact make the general populace seem a bit stupid from time to time. But it is incumbent on our scientists to acknowledge the difference between theory and fact. Many scientists, after all, are human.
What does this have to do with Keller? Only that with this letter, he further removes himself from the public he purports to serve. I do not doubt that Keller actually sees himself as a protector of the public's right to know, and I would rather have a press that distrusts government as much as I do. What we don't need, however, is a press that sees no reason not to publish every story that comes its way.
So I do not call for the heads of the New York Times editorial board, and would just ask that they keep their heads about them. I am more concerned with governmental apparatchiks that take it upon themselves to anonymously harm counter-terror efforts.
That said, I also allow for the possibility that this leak was unofficially official and that the administration is protesting too much. This president is his own expert, you see, and as the Decider-in-Chief, he doesn't hold a much higher opinion of you and me than Keller does.
David Beckham gets a goal off of a free kick to score the only goal of the match and spends the next twenty minutes vomiting on the pitch. The best player today was Wayne Rooney who showed some individual spark late in the match. Ashley Cole also stood out in defense by deflecting what would have been an early Ecuadoran goal.
The big story, of course, is the arrest of seven suspects on charges of terrorist planning. And the newsies are throbbing with what they must think is a big story, because Alberto Gonzales says it is. The line so far is that this was a sting operation wherein the FBI infiltrated the gang of "home grown" jihadis.
Neighbors who lived nearby said young men, who appeared to be in their teens and 20s, slept in the warehouse, running what looked like a militaristic group. They appeared brainwashed, some said.
"They would come out late at night and exercise," said Tashawn Rose, 29. "It seemed like a military boot camp that they were working on there. They would come out and stand guard."
Right. A super secret group of terrorists who dress in balaclavas and carry out paramilitary exercises for all to see?
I'm thinking that this is trumped up. So far (and I will retract if I am wrong) none of this makes sense. The group, if legitimate at all, must be among the sloppiest terrorists we have seen. The FBI certainly didn't need to infiltrate a group that was openly talking about jihad, if in fact that is what they were doing. Or maybe, this was staged for some other reason.
I generally wave off those seeing conspiracy under every rock, but who would stand to gain from finding a cell of so-called "home grown" terrorists? You see, now the fight isn't against Muslims and Arabs, foreigners who hate our way of life, but is growing unabated in our populace, save for the heroic actions of the government.
So I'm calling BS on this one until proved wrong.
UPDATE: As I hoped, Dave Schuler (a Chicagoan himself) at The Glittering Eye provides a roundup of local media coverage. Dave shares my skepticism, here. We both used "Less than meets the eye" without checking with each other. Honest. Makes me more confident than I am right on this one.
This isn't illegal on the New York Times part, but it might be on the part of whoever leaked this story.
Once again, NYT publishes information on a secret program being run against a terror organization. Why the NYT thinks that it must publish this is beyond me. I am starting to believe all those who have been screaming about press bias and the NYT's campaign against the Bush Administration. I don't see tha this does anything except tip off our enemies to our tactics.
This is disgraceful and may end up being dangerous.
The latest dust-up involving Markos Moulitsas of the Great and All Powerful Kos illustrates a few points. Democrats are still, after all these decades of family feuds, more interested in fratricide than in actually winning elections (which, incidentally, is why the Kos Kabal is ramping up against Hillary Clinton: they know that she will mess with their heads just like Bill messed with his far-left gadflies and won two elections). For too many (uh)liberals, principle is not a set of values that form guidelines, but a crutch to explain why they have stayed so long in the wilderness. The rationalization is that they lose, not because their tactics, dogma and platforms are haphazardly formed and incoherent, but because they are somehow more pure than the wicked right and anyone on the left who doesn't toe their own private party line.
This allows people like Kos and his acolytes to claim moral victory while racking up failure after failure. In many ways, the Democrats who may actually have a chance of forming a winning strategy aid and enable this behavior by taking Kos seriously. Jonathon Chait of The New Republic, in responding to Kos' stamping feet, wants to adopt a tone of condescension and ridicule, but swings a little too low to Kos. If anything, Kos is the pet poster boy for a kind of post-Soviet post-modern Democrat who tacitly acknowledges that he's not likely to form a philosophy that will resonate with enough voters to matter, so the option left is to lump anyone, from any slightly or greatly opposing view, as an enemy of His People.
See, Kos and his ilk have no real philosophy beyond adolescent rage. Reading the diaries and the comments on the site is as painful as being shown your sophomore English Composition journal. The arguments are largely childish, pouting rants. Just below the surface is a anger of disbelief that there a millions who will just not acknowledge their brilliance.
Into this frog pond of regressive politics wades Mr Chait. Why, I don't know. It has something to do with a stock-touting scandal by some associate of Kos (which incites the copyrighted Kos edicts) and various other boring details. Kos is convinced that he is the future of the Democratic Party which is convenient, because for at least the time being, he is all potential. Sooner or later, he will be squashed by the pros, but for now there are fools like Howard Dean and Wesley Clarke who will take his semi-seriously.
TNR must be sufficiently convinced to take Kos seriously. Maybe they know more than we do. Maybe Kos does indeed pose the threat that he claims, but so far Kos is 0 forever and has only glommed on to Mark Warner in an effort to notch a "victory." No doubt, if Warner wins his election, Kos will claim that it was all because of his influence. This is nonsense, of course, but TNR seems to think that Kos is important enough to warrant a response. So there will be another day or two for Kos to get mileage out of being the embattled iconoclastic voice of the people. The problem with this formulation is that the only people who seem to be listening to that voice are publications like TNR, which should know better.
We need a strong and innovative Democratic Party. The last few days has been frustrating to watch. Once again, the Democrats have handed a wounded and incompetent GOP victory piled upon victory. The opposition party has not only been too long in exile, it has decided to field dummy losers like John Kerry and take unhinged fringe dwellers like Kos seriously. If this continues, 2006 will be yet another year of failure for the Democratic Party.
The photo says it all. The US played a sloppy match which Ghana exploited well. Ghana, in it first World Cup, is into the round of sixteen along with group leader Italy.
Obviously, I would have liked to have seen the US advance, but the team really were never in the tournament. Luckily, I have a backup. I'm sure that I will be getting noisy calls from pubs across London as long as England stays alive.
Johnstown, PA is the sleepy epicenter of Rep. John Murtha's Congressional District Known mainly to outsiders as an old-timey former retreat for Pittsburgh industrialists during the Gilded Age and for a disastrous 1889 flood, for which Pennsylvanians are still paying (some day I'll do a post on the state's alcohol monopoly, a corrupt and feeble system of Soviet proportions), Johnstown has certainly seen better days and isn't likely to regain the status it once held when timber and iron propelled its economy.
But the town does boast a TV station, WJAC, and lucky for us that it is not immune to the maladies that afflict media in larger markets. Witness this recent story on the return of the 876 Engineer Battalion. I won't quote from the printed blurb, since it is quite sort, but also because WJAC doesn't want to be quoted or called on the shoddy piece of Murtha love that they have aired.
The gist of the story (with video) is that "many" returning soldiers are "standing up" for Murtha's position to bring home the troops. Well, "many" troops tell Katie Sabatino that they are making progress in Iraq, so one is left to wonder how that supports Murtha's position. But Sabatino pointedly asks no one in particular if the progress "justifies" the war. Huh? Sh also interviews a Sergeant First Class George Wozniak who says that Murtha's comments have boosted morale, but doesn't explain exactly how that has happened. However, and this is telling, Sgt. Wozniak directly contradicts Sabatino's assertions by saying that an immediate pullout--Murtha's mantra-- is not a good idea at all.
In fact, there is not one quote that directly supports Murtha's position. Moreover, Sabatino mentions a poll (without citation) that 43% of Southwestern Pennsylvanians "feel the troops should come home." Now, I'm no professional, but maybe a little more detail would be in order. For instance, what how were these questions posed? Did they ask anything about timing or criteria? I'm willing to wager that the vast majority of Western Pennsylvanians want the troops home, albeit under many varied circumstances. Are we to conclude that 57% of our fellow citizens want the troops never to return? Now how callous is that? We must the Commonwealth of Bastards.
The implicit assertion is that large numbers of civilians and soldiers support Murtha, when there is no evidence cited to back up such a claim. The only conclusions that can be made here is that: 1) (benefit of the doubt version) either Ms Sabatino is a sloppy reporter who does not understand basic reportage or; 2) (jaded media consumer version) Ms Sabatino is cynically trying to shoehorn her views into a exploitative piece of hackery.
Either way, I would say that Katie Sabatino has a bright future in journalism. I hear that CBS has a few openings.
I called Caitlin when England when up late in the match, only to call her a few mintes later to say, "Never mind."
The two teams played to a 2-2 draw, which puts England into the round of 16 playing Ecuador this Sunday. Michael Owen was injured is is said to be out for the rest of the Cup. This will hurt.
USA plays Ghana tomorrow.
This is what one does when visiting Paris. Or, at least, what we chose to do: As the coffee steeped, I scrambled to the boulangerie to pick up a few croissants. Down the rue Rochechouart there was a lovely charcuterie with a sniffling proprietor that struck me as a taller Toulouse-Lautrec. There, I acquired a small rasher of smoked salmon and a tub of creme fraiche. It was early, but we had nowhere to go and were looking forward to a lazy morning meal and a slow decent from our perch in the 9th to the very center of Paris.
Breakfast started with fresh orange juice and coffee. I found a small sauce pot and, lucky me, a bottle of white wine vinegar. To a pot of simmering water I added about a tablespoon of the vinegar and let it mix. Meanwhile, Sherry split and buttered the croissants and set them cut-side down in a skillet.
I broke four eggs into separate cups and set them aside. In another pan, I brought two tablespoons of lemon juice and a tablespoon of water to a simmer with a pinch of salt and two dashes of Tabasco that we had brought with us from the States. While Sherry separated three eggs, I got the butter and made a bad Marlon Brando joke. I thought it was funny. You know, Paris, butter... never mind.
Into the lemon juice went the yolks, one at a time as I whisked like a dervish. We saved the whites. After the yolks had thickened and cooled slightly, I worked in the butter piece by piece until a smooth sauce was formed.
The whole eggs were laid gently into the simmering water-vinegar and poached lightly, about six minutes. We put the croissant halves onto our plates, buttered-grilled side up, spread some of the creme fraiche, and laid a few leaves of the salmon on them. Next came the poached eggs (dried off, of course) and then the Hollandaise.
After this, there was not much to do but get back into bed for an hour and watch French television. We dosed, awoke again and set about the day.
I suppose that it's not entirely proper to say that a particular animal is "king" if that animal is being devoured with relish at white covered tables, but, hey, we humans are sentimental sorts and we like to elevate what we consume.
Au Pied de Cochon was not our chosen destination our first morning in Paris. We had scoped out Chez Denise or Chez Clovis for our lunch, but alas, both these icons on the south side of Les Halles, the long-gone wholesale market in Paris' 1st arrondisement, were closed for the Sunday, despite the promises that brasseries around the empty iron stalls never shut their doors.
We had made our way down Rochechouart and then took rue Montmartre to Les Halles. Just about every guide book
and travel guru will advise not to go near the nearby subterrainian mall out concern for safety and to protect visitors from experiencing what disasters urban renewal can bring: it has been mentioned that a quaint waft of urine and cigarette smoke eminates from the place. We decided to heed the warnings and stayed to the surface streets instead.
Just before the entrance to Les Halles, now a park-like affair that showcases the carcasses of what used to be places of unending commerce, there was an open food market the likes of which is rarely, if ever, seen in the US. If we were not planning to be out for much of the day, we could have picked from dozens of varieties of oysters, mollusks, crustaceans and fish, sausages of various lengths and ingredients, mushrooms, vegetables, delectably stinky cheeses, meat and poultry (I was particularly taken with the squab and quail) wine, fruit, breads, and pastries.
This wasn't a food museum a la Fauchon, but a wide open, egalitarian market plopped down in the middle of the city. Hundreds of Parisians, obviously out ans shopping for the Sunday dinner were tasting, poking, haggling and carrying away their booty. Sherry finally had to drag me away from the scene, noting that we weren't about to be invited to sup with any of the shoppers.
On the southern side of Les Halles we stopped in a shop that looked promising. We have been searching the globe for a particular photograph by Robert Doisneau for years, and in the windows was spied the usual suspects (the couple kissing in front of the Eiffel Tower, etc.) but we were disappointed that Creatures de Reve was not to be found here, either. So off we were to look for lunch.
When we realized that the two aforementioned brasseries were not available, a certain panic set in. My God, is there any place to eat in this city? Is everybody at home cooking? How can this be? Enough of that. We circled around to find au Pied de Cochon, literally, The Pig's Foot, open and bustling. Inside, Art Nouveau mixes with kitsch and white tablecloths. The gigantic menu proudly announced that the establishment boasted Paris' most famous Soupe à l'Oignon Gratineé (Sherry's favorite). We had heard and read about au Pied, so we were happy to find a table, order a half bottle of Beaujolais and fix on filling our stomachs.
Sherry would have the onion soup, of course and a salad. I was in the mood for some honest French cooking, the type made of the nasty parts, which is the best cooking in the world. au Pied makes no bones about the fact that it has been around since the beginning of Les Halles and has never turned its stoves off. It also is the place most associated with all things pig.
Now, I am no stranger to the animal, growing up as I did among several generations of Hungarian cooks, all, in retrospect, seem to have learned much the same lessons that their more famous French counterparts had. As were in The Pig's Foot, I thought it appropriate to eat the pig's foot.
For a starter, I picked the Romaine Salad à la St Antoine.
The helpful waiter made a circle with his right index finger and thumb. "I feel obliged to tell you, M'sya, that this is a salad of lettuce with pieces of pork--pig-- in it."
"Yes," I answered, "I understand."
"Some of this pork is quite chewy."
"That will be fine. And I will also have the Pied de Cochon Grille à la Bearnaise."
"Now this is a pig's trotter. A pig's foot. It is braised and then grilled."
"Sounds wonderful. I see that it comes with frites."
"Yes. Fries. And the sauce on the side."
"This isn't meat, actually, more like a jelly. There are lots of bones."
"Exactly what I'm looking for."
A sigh. "Very well, M'sya." I could just hear him saying to the captain, "This American wants the pig's foot. Another dish we'll be taking back."
I cannot vouch for Sherry's soup, although it looked authentic. Sherry pronounced it "good enough" but under salted and "nothing like yours." I was flattered, but skeptical. So I tasted. She was right. It would have benefited from some more aggressive seasoning, and perhaps a longer browning of the onions. Not the best I have tasted, not the worst by any stretch, but not what we had hoped for.
On the other hand, my salad, although suffering slightly from a bit too much dressing (a Caesar-type concoction with an extra egg yolk, I suspect) the perfect romaine lettuce provided a crisp contrast to the soft (and in places, rather chewy) pieces of pork. These were not bacon, they were not ham or chop, but from the parts normally thrown away or ground into sausage: shards of rind and jellied bits of connective tissue. Had the salad cook been more sparing with the dressing, the salad would have been a success.
No matter, because upon the arrival of my pig's trotter, I knew that the lunch would end up just the way I had wished. We had been seated next to a stylish older couple who had obviously been there for some time already. They were well into their second bottle of wine and the gentleman was enjoying the same dish I ordered. He glanced at my plate and then up to his wife (I think) and shrugged. Throughout the time in which I devoured my meal, he kept staring at the plate in disbelief. With each tiny clang of a cleaned metatarsal onto the plate provided, he seemed to flinch.
I grew up eating food much like this. Most Americans associate pig's feet with the jars of pickled horror that would sit at the corner of dive bars around the country. My family enjoyed this delicacy around New Year (Hungarians, like the Chinese, believe that eating pork on the New Year is good luck. Must stay away from chicken: Pigs root forward, chicken scratch backward.). The preparation was simple, yet time consuming. The trotters were first split and charred and then put into a large stock pot with vegetables (I think) and set to simmer for hours. All the while, the stock would be constantly skimmed (we're big on skimming) until a consomme-like clearness is achieved.
The trotters were then transferred to soup bowls and covered with the stock. If it was cold outside, bowl after bowl was set out on a table on the porch to cool over night, or else put into the refrigerator. In the morning, we would find that the stock had set into a pig aspic surrounding the now amazingly tender foot, very little meat as my waiter offered, but all tendons and ligaments had broken down into the essence of pork.
I have not had this dish for years, and I would not expect to ever have it again (unless, Mom, you want to make some on your next visit. I'll shoo Sherry out of the house for the day). The version in front of me was both a new experience and a piggy version of Proust's Madelaine. The trotter had indeed been braised to a silky jelly holding together all the bones of the foot. It had then been grilled quickly, the lightly breaded and deep fried. The sauce Bearnaise that accompanied the dish was slightly tart and redolent of tarragon and shallot and intensified the sweet, unctuous quality of the foot. The fries were crisp and tender and hot.
This is a dish one eats with the hands. You must attack the foot with a fork, pulling away each individual bone, dip it in the sauce, and either pop it in your mouth or happily chew as one would a pork rib or chicken wing. Some parts were still toothsome but tender, adding to the rich interplay of textures. The flavor? This is the most sublime pig that can be eaten. Nothing quite comes close to taking a (not the) most base part of a most base animal and transforming it into something delicious.
We went to au Pied for exactly these dishes. While the onion soup slightly disappointed, the foot of the pig more than made up for it. But don't ask Sherry. No tasting for her. Instead, her eyes darted from plate to ceiling as if she was trying not to stare, but couldn't get over the spectacle while I happily chewed and sucked the bones until, alas, they were all gone.
Eleanor Louise Berczik is a rousing seventy years old today. Readers of this blog will know her from some of my posts here and recognize her as the person most responsible for my love of literature and writing, my sense of humor (most notably in the connoisseurship of the pun) and my inability to accept bullshit.
Eleanor spent most of her adult life fiercely defending and advocating for her family. She was always looking for some way to make her sons' lives better than hers had been. She was always, and I mean always, the person who could be relied upon in a crisis, the sole calm voice, the comforting presence.
I like to say that my family lived at the tops of its lungs. Gatherings were always noisy, filled with people and action often streaming into the night around my parents' kitchen table. I loved the sense of bigness that permeated these events and holidays, but what I cherish most are those times, when sick or frightened for instance, that I could count on my mother's gentle hand, her welcoming embrace and her soft, lovely, soothing alto voice.
My brothers get to be with her this day and lucky them. I am sorry that I am far away, but at least I can send this off to her and let her know how much she has meant to me, and how much she continues to influence and enrich my life.
Happy Birthday, Mom.
You get up early as the pre-summer sun slants around the gap in the blinds. As you leave your wife sleeping, the coffee is brewed and the paper dashed. It's Father's Day and you have decided to get out of the house and drive the hour or so to where your father has laid for seventeen years now. You're not exactly sure why, but you are happy to be on your own this morning, alone with some appropriately melancholic music.
She wants to come with you, but you say no thanks. How do you tell the love of your life, whom you have awakened just a half hour ago, that you would rather be in the car this Sunday morning, heading down an empty four-lane, barreling towards where your past rests?
On the way down your daughter calls from five hours into the future. "Happy Father's Day. I love you, Dad." You remember the photo of your father and daughter walking away from you, towards the bridge next to the old, old house, hand in hand, each mimicking the other's slightly bowlegged, tentative gait, one because of a life just beginning and one just beginning to end.
Solitary, quiet, you drive to the house of your boyhood and stop on the side of the road near the tiger lilies. You can't see the back yard, but you wonder if the peonies are still there, if their scent is perhaps lingering a month late. But you know that it is past time for them, even here, past Pentecost, past the cool Spring that calls the perfumed buds to explode in a riot of floral Hydras.
You weave through the forgotten little hamlet, up the steep hill and down again, past the places you met friends, played games, went to school. You arrive through the back door of the dosing college town and follow your memory--turn right here, left here--until you come to the hidden bower that makes for the cemetery entrance.
There is no one else here except for the attendant and his family, the kids riding a mini pickup truck that probably carries earth and debris on other days.
You know where everything is. You have been coming here since you were too small to remember. You smell the earth, feel yourself kneel to attend to the graves that your father looked after lovingly: his father, his mother's mother. You walk first to your grandmother's grave, dead years after her son, and your grandfather's, who you never met.
On your father's headstone, the small rocks are still there, those that your wife taught you to leave with a prayer as a sign that someone who loved this person had been here. You search for two more--one for you and one for your daughter--and lay them on the granite. You sit. And for a while, your mind wanders past the day after your aunt's wedding when your father took you with him to visit his father's grave. You can see him standing there, at the foot, weeping quietly. You wonder if your mother minds having her name and birthdate already cut into the stone. You glance towards the ancient maple that shades the site and that has been in this spot for generations. It is a good place to be right now, and you are grateful for the quiet.
There's a touch of weeding to do, but you are not there for maintenance. You are there because you have to be, because not to would make no sense.
You walk over to your great-grandmother's grave, one that you used to care for along with your father and find, to your utter surprise that the peony planted there has remained, impossibly, one last bloom. It is full and fresh, even amidst its brown, shriveled companions. You kneel to take a sniff and you slip on the damp grass, and as you hit the ground you find that you have assumed a posture of reverence and you stay there a moment.
The flower fills your nose and you recall how the sweet, heavy scent hung around your parent's yard. You know what to do. You take out your pocket knife. Neatly cutting the stem so that there are a few leaves to accompany the bloom, you thank your great-grandmother for the gift and transfer it to your father. You lay the flower on the headstone, imagining something like a conversation. "You should see your granddaughter. You would adore her and she would adore you."
You turn, your past catching in your throat as you head back to your car. You call your wife to let her know you are on your way home. Then, with no music save that playing in your head, you are gone, back to the life that awaits.
So there's another stupid flag amendment, and this time around it is being said that there's a better chance that the Constitution will again be used to pander. How nice.
On the other end of the spectrum is the great hero of us all: Stephen Colbert who, I hear, decided to use the flag and the Bible to make some sort of point. Yeah. You go, Steverino.
I have no patience with idiots who screw with the Constitution to prohibit something that rarely happens (flag burning) just to get a few extra votes. Incidentally, I have no problem with flag "desecration." In fact, I have no problem with any desecration, provided that the destruction is not being done to someone else's property. If anybody wants to go out and by an American flag, a Bible, Koran, picture of Paris Hilton, and set it ablaze, dunk it in urine, cover it with hot fudge and peanuts, I couldn't care less.
On the supposed "other side" of the debate, are lightweights like Colbert (you remember him, that Captain Courageous) who think that in our present police state it is somehow a big deal to play with supposedly sacred objects in America. The Commissar has a bit of advice for Colbert: namely, if you want to be seen as courageous, try doing your schtick with something that really carries some danger.
What we have here are dueling panderers. The demagogues, ladies and gentlemen, are on both sides, each insisting that they are doing something important, or brave when in fact, everything is fake.
I wanted to believe it, I guess. Then I read Michael Ledeen's take on the "safe house" documents and started to think that I got ahead of myself. Ledeen thinks that the docs are actually a misdirection perpetrated by the Iranians, which kind of makes sense. And which, if correct, also illustrates why I'm not in government, intelligence or the political media. Says Ledeen:
I think the Iranians put out this sort of nonsense so that we’ll have trouble figuring out what’s real. And by the way, it wasn’t found in Zarqawi’s house, contrary to the triumphant announcement from the office of the Iraqi prime minister. So it’s certainly not a Last Testament. It’s just nonsense.
I would like to think that one of us has the right answer, and I would place my bets on Michael if I were you.
We now return to blogging about food, football and fiction.
Caitlin's mates are happy. England scored two late goals yesterday to beat Trinidad & Tobago to make it to the next level.
C has been enjoying the Cup, and not just when England or the US are playing. When we last talked, she was watching Ecuador beat Costa Rica. I'm not kidding.
She'll be cheering her, uh, home team tomorrow against Italy. But she'll be watching the match with a "bunch of rowdy Italians" so she's planning on "sitting in a corner with a dunce cap and waving a tiny American flag." I share her sense that the US will have an early exit this year.
I know. This is
football soccer and no one in the US cares. Which is fine with me. I still watch because I like it. But for those who contend that soccer is "boring," I direct your attention to an average baseball game, at least three hours of a whole lot of standing around. At least footballers run longer distances than 90 feet before taking a breath. (Used to love,love, love baseball. Hate it now. Could have something to do with living in a city that boasts the worst team with the worst ownership on the planet.)
Okay, enough of that.
I'm rooting for England, of course, and there's nothing anybody can do about it.
It is this day, set in 1904, that James Joyce forever commemorated with Ulysses, published in 1922. Pittsburgh has a rousing Bloomsday, which entails the faithful making their way through the city, stopping at locales similar to those in the book to read from various episodes. My favorites always include Lotus Eaters and Lestrygonians. Of course, there was always a pub at which we would imbibe Burgundy and eat Gorgonzola cheese and mustard sandwiches.
I have read the book several times and never tire of it, but find that I have lost my taste for
discussing it. I haven't been to a Bloomsday in a few years (maybe next time
it's on a Saturday) but still fondly remember the good-natured celebration of
what some consider the greatest novel ever written. (For you Pittsburgh Joyceans, a schedule of this year's Bloomsday can be found here).
When I first started reading Joyce, he was a revelation. Now, after all these years, he is an old friend, telling me the same stories in oddly new ways. I suspect that it isn't so much about him, actually. But it does say something about his talent and his gift. One may wish to think that Ulysses is gibberish, or that it is a masterpiece, or blasphemous (out of those who care). But it is an icon of a book, and for me, lumped together with the great works that I have come to cherish.
This is Eleanor's doing. My mother. A voracious reader, she instilled in her sons an imperative to read, as if not to would be tantamount to refusing to take a breath. Literature has feed me well, has lead to a habit of clearing me head onto a piece of blank paper (or, now, a new Word document or blog post) and I am now seeing the same impulse towards creativity in my own daughter. I have spent much of this time back in some heavy editing for her as she enters her first literary competition. I can already see that she has a chance to succeed in this endeavor where I have failed.
There is a sacredness that accompanies a good story and the good telling of
it. It is ritual, lesson, enlightenment and joy. If you are so inclined, why
not take that dusty copy of Joyce's retelling of The Odyssey down from the shelf today and read a passage. Or maybe
go out and get one if you have never read it. In the interest of fair warning: you may hate it. Or you may thumb through several pages and decide Ulysses is not for you. But there's a chance that as soon as Buck Mulligan begins his ablutions, you will be drawn in to a simple story told grandly. If this happens, good for you.
Intoibo ad altare Dei.
Dave Schuler has posted some of the best-reasoned arguments for not going after Iran militarily if we can help it (which, for the record, I believe we can, or at least should look for alternatives). The reasoning for caution ranges from the fact that our own military is presently occupied to acknowledging the current state of Iranian resistance movements, to, well, let's just say that blowing into Tehran isn't as easy as throwing Saddam down a hole.
Now, from new documents found on hard drives and translated in Iraq, comes a very good reason, indeed, namely: al Qaeda thought that a war between the US and Iran would be a pretty nifty idea, and help a floundering insurgency:
"Generally speaking and despite the gloomy present situation, we find that the best solution in order to get out of this crisis is to involve the U.S. forces in waging a war against another country or any hostile groups," the document said, as quoted by al-Maliki's office.
According to the summary, insurgents were being weakened by operations against them and by their failure to attract recruits. To give new impetus to the insurgency, they would have to change tactics, it added.
"We mean specifically attempting to escalate the tension between America and Iran, and American and the Shiite in Iraq," it quoted the documents as saying, especially among moderate followers of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most influential Shiite cleric in Iraq.
"Creating disputes between America and them could hinder the U.S. cooperation with them, and subsequently weaken this kind of alliance between Shiites and the Americans," it said, adding that "the best solution is to get America involved in a war against another country and this would bring benefits."
They included "opening a new front" for the U.S. military and releasing some of the "pressure exerted on the resistance."
There is a school of thought that bin Laden and al Qaeda hoped to provoke an all-out war with the US, and that we gave him exactly what he wanted. That may be so. And it also may be so that it was a mistake to take bin Laden's bait. And yet, it is sometimes necessary to do exactly what your opponent "wants" you to do, if only to show him that you know what he is thinking, know what he is planning, and are determined to win anyway. Other time, there just aren't any good alternatives (I am not saying that there weren't any alternatives to invading Iraq).
In this case, however, the only strategy the insurgency seemed to have left was to hope for attention to be moved from them to Iran. In this stage, and possibly through no good effort of our own, the Islamists have been denied that strategy.
Of course, this doesn't in any way indicate that we are even close to presuming that we could hope that maybe someday the fighting will cease, or that the insurgency will be crushed. But for at least the present, it's looking like, whether by luck, guile or indecision, the choice to go the diplomatic course with Iran is the wise move, presently.
There were indications that it was Secretary of State Rice who persuaded the president to quiet the rhetoric and let our allies, putative and otherwise, take the lead on Iran's nuclear shell game. This may not work either, and I agree with Dave that the situation is not likely to end well.
However, this might give Iran's leadership pause, if there are any rational leaders left there. In fact, the official line coming out of Tehran indicates a certain contentment with Abu Musab al Zarqawi's demise. This may go some way to loosening the tension between Iran and the US, especially in light of the US contention that Iran has harbored al Qaeda members, even going so far to allow bin Laden in shortly after September 11. There is some evidence that the al Qaeda leader forged an alliance of sorts with grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. It should be plain to the mullahs that bin Laden has been playing them all along, and that he is much more interested in setting up his own franchise of Islamist revolution than hitching his movement to the Iranian Islamic Republic.
Beyond this feature, the documents could further be exploited to demonstrate to the Shiite and Sunni Muslims in Iraq just what the Qaeda agenda is. But it may also serve to educate those occupying the White House. The Tafkiris working inside the country now have a founding document, and it outlines the lengths they will go to in order to further their vision of conquest.
UPDATE: Look here for the AQ playbook. Most telling:
Based on the above points, it became necessary that these matters should be treated one by one:
1. To improve the image of the resistance in society, increase the number of supporters who are refusing occupation and show the clash of interest between society and the occupation and its collaborators. To use the media for spreading an effective and creative image of the resistance.
First Iran, now the media. Will the Tafkiri intrique know no bounds?!
There is a fertile smell on our porch. Sherry has planted the pots and boxes, there are petunias overflowing the hanging baskets. To sit out on what is a very rare porch on the "poor" side of Shadyside is a treat in itself, but in June, when everything is fresh and newly transplanted, the perfume is intoxicating.
It takes me back to Chez Juliette.
This was our first meal in Paris. We had arrived, wary and worried at the address that we had contracted for the week. The neighborhood, a working class quartier just south of Montmartre seemed a bit dusty and in transition, but after struggling in French and Spanish with Mme Esteves, our contact-slash-savior we settled in to our, frankly, luxurious apartment. Our thoughts quickly turned to dinner.
Our host had suggested a place down the street, at 42 rue Rochechouart, a Chez Jeanine for their steak tartare. But at 42 rue Rochechouart, we found Chea Juliette instead, a tumbledown open bistro with geraniums at the windows and a large, dirty man in an apron shooing patrons away until 7:30. We walked down the street and stopped at a friendly fromagerie (turns out that Pennsylvania is on the proprietor's hit parade, but Philadelphia ranks higher than Pittsburgh; there was the iconic cream cheese proudly displayed in his case) and a boulangerie.
We returned to Chez Juliette just after the witching hour and was seated in a cozy table near the bar.
The menu was filled with all the things one would expect in a neighborhood bistro, cranked up a touch here and there. We ordered a bottle of the house rosé and studied the blackboard menu propped next to our table. There was a country paté and a salad or wild arugula and beets, an onion tart with hazelnuts, a filet of dourade, a poulet rotie, steak frites and the aforementioned tartare.
I ordered the onion tart, salad and tartare, Sherry settled on a salad and the dourade (a firm white-flesh fish sometimes appearing in a bouillabaisse). The service, talkative, friendly and yet reserved, was everything that service in the US is not: no one wrote a name on a piece of butcher paper, or announced themselves as our server (what else would they be?). Instead, we were treated to dish after dish of the simplest, most lovingly and artfully prepared food.
The salad, dressed only in fruity olive oil, salt and pepper was a soft, fresh crunch in our mouths. The tart, textured and flavorful, was more an onion paté than a tart, studded with the hazelnuts and spiked with thyme. Delicious.
Sherry's dourade was sauteed perfectly, slightly browned on the outside and juicy on the inside. We had never tasted fish like this. The filet was dressed with a whisper of browned butter, which lent a toasty aroma to the dish.
My tartare defined the word bistro. Clean, raw, expertly minced (not ground) beef was mixed with capers. cornichons, red onion and all the condiments and served with buttery soft potatoes. This choice was different for me, as I am used to the standard frites (fries), but I have to say that they worked perfectly. The beef was laced with a touch of Tabasco just to the point of pleasure, the tangy chillie sauce enhancing and expanding the soft taste of raw meat.
The rosé had been set on our table in an open, label-less bottle: Juliette had her own vintage. The crisp, chilled fruit played off both the beef and the fish with highlights of berries and a touch of spice.
Desert was profiteroles with house-made vanilla ice cream, the chocolate sauce sticky and hinting of cinnamon. Espresso finished the meal.
Chez Juliette is one of those places not found in guidebooks, but that defines a neighborhood. By the time we had ordered our entrees and plates, the place had filled up as if on cue. When we left, the streetside tables were full as the low lights spilled into the dark street and bright voices filled the night.
I have rarely been as happy. The quality of the food was enhanced by the welcome, the good humored service and the bustling nature of the kitchen. We would return a few nights later with the Daughter and Friend in tow and the menu would be changed slightly, but the experience would be the same: the thick floral greeting at the windows, the by now friendly acknowledgment of a return engagement, and a meal that sticks to the ribs, the tongue, the imagination.
Alberto is not a hurricane.
Karl Rove will not be indicted.
Israel did not bomb a family on a Gaza beach.
Ben Roethlisberger was not wearing a helmet, will not be playing this season. The Steelers will not be going to the Super Bowl this year.
Apparently, Team USA did not show up for the World Cup.
Haditha may not be exactly what has been, uh, reported.
Windows is still not safe to use.
Osama is not to be found.
Zarq was not beaten to death.
America does not have a leader.
The Duke lacrosse team was not given the presumption of innocence.
Ann Coulter, Kos, John Murtha, Anderson Cooper, Sean Hannity and Tom Friedman are not to be taken seriously.
We are not in Kansas anymore.
My unintentional hiatus from blogging should be coming to an end soon. Turns out that traveling across nine time zones in short order, standing or walking for hours on end and not getting enough water and sleep doesn't exactly work for my poor legs.
After getting back from Las Vegas I had a fairly painful flareup similar to them one in Paris and spent a lot of time off my feet while trying to catch up on work. And getting more and more apathetic. But things are starting to quiet down a bit and I'm thinking of getting back into the fray, although I'm not sure in what direction this blog will go. One thing that I noticed during my down time is that political blogging has become tedious (to write and to read). Perhaps this is because world affairs are tedious, and maybe the bloggers are just reflecting that, but for the first time since I started this blog I am reading or watching the news and the blogs and finding it difficult to care.
But there are other things to write about. I have yet to put down much about our trip, so I'll probably start there. The garden has been planted, and Pittsburgh is experiencing something that we haven't had in a while: a true Spring. For the last decade or so, maybe longer, the weather has tended to go right from Winter into Summer. Not this year. The temperatures are pleasant and we are enjoying more sun than usual.
There will be some doctoring about my legs which I am not looking forward to, and some changes may be coming to the Bloggledygook household. Things are in a state of crisis here, and when I mean crisis, I mean in the traditional sense of the word: a crossroads, a point of decision. This has lead to more than the usual rumination, which accounts for at least some of the lack of posting here.
More details as they show themselves, but for now, I will beg patience and pardon and get to a meeting.
Well, May was pretty much a bust, huh?
I've been away most of the month; indeed, I am at this moment in a Las Vegas hotel, an ersatz New York where slots bloom like cherry trees. I'll be stranded here until the weekend when I return to my wife and my dog and a garden that I can hear mocking me over three time zones.
I have been meaning to throw out a few posts of our culinary visits in London and Paris, but frankly, I haven't had the time. This is what happens when those who have ignored you throughout the year now think that a vacation was an entirely unreasonable thing to consider.
On my television in this (rather nice) hotel room there are twenty channels beckoning me to buffets, the latest Cirque du Soleil titty-thon and Rita Rudner. Las Vegas must be where live comics go to die a slow death. But you have to like a city that reveres breasts. Oh yeah, and CNN is on, too.
The only things that seem to have any importance to the folks at CNN are the Dixie Chicks and hurricanes, which, by all accounts are bearing down on the East and Gulf Coasts with a menace fairly close to the Anti-Christ. It's June 1, for the love of Buddha, and the O'Briens are juiced as if it's the first day of Spring Training. You can feel the vibrating anticipation of death and destruction. I hear that Geraldo and Shepard Smith are already positioned and working up the requisite anger while covering themselves in surplus feces.
There is a lot of business being done in Las Vegas: real, actual business, but still, the suited faction is outnumbered by those adults who insist that throwing on a printed T-shirt is the highest expression of fashion sense. These cretins often have a child or two in tow. When I see this, I always wonder how one explains to a nine-year-old why mommy doesn't wear a thong in public. Don't get me wrong, I am in favor of thongs in theory depending on the attributes meant to be featured, but by the looks of most of Vegas' visitors, a little encouragement would lead to much ridicule and sickness.
With all the options available, can't we all agree that Vegas is not the best place for kids, whatever ESPN wants you to believe? And would it be too much to ask grown men to leave the ball caps and sandals at home and maybe dress as if they are not cutting the grass? And to the women, a bit of advice: a pair of Daisy Dukes does not look any better in a dark casino or in the blaring Nevada sun than it looked when you tried them on at JC Penneys. Dump them. There are nice fake asses to look at out here. We don't need comparison.
So June starts much like May ended, but with free cheap drinks.
There was always a parade which followed a short route to the memorial where there would be invocation and benediction, and Taps played, first at the small monument, then by a lucky and nervous high school trumpeter somewhere hidden and muffled. It was a sterling effect in the tiny village nestled in the heart of Southwest Pennsylvania, where Washington and Braddock fought, where the names of towns and streets recall British and French colonial heritage.
Just before Taps, a rifle salute was executed by the VFW, old men in navy caps with gold embroidery. These men made it home to march behind their banner and pay tribute to those either buried at the ancient cemetery on the hill overlooking the town, or lost, or buried in the land in which they fell.
Even then, there was a good war, one fought for freedom and humanity, and there were bad wars, merely fought. But I suspect, although I do not know, that those to whom we are obligated and indebted would quietly scoff at the notion.
This is my problem. I have little ability to rank death, or to decide which death is noble and which life is wasted. We are all ultimately redeemed or condemned, and it comes down to more than circumstance. Should we quantify the difference between a dead veteran who volunteered and one who was drafted? Do we really mean or want to do this? This can only lead to a separate and sickening calculus in which a listing of our dead is accounted in a cost-and-benefit analysis or weighed against the foe as in a box score.
Honoring our dead warriors reminds us that we live in a protective and indulgent society, where young people are habitually thrown to danger in foreign lands to protect domestic prerogatives. In the coming years, it is at least possible, though not certain, that we may all be called to fight, that our experience with war will be more personal. The safe distance between soldier and civilian will likely close, as we assumed it would after the attacks of 2001.
Not that this would make any difference. Humanity still has some ways to go until war becomes obsolete. The last thing we need is to allow ourselves to hide our eyes from this day, to avoid the casualty reports or pretend that there will not be more to memorialize next year. The next to the last thing we need is to convince ourselves that there is nothing to fight over, that fighting is never warranted. What we do need is to get in the fight, to enlist in heart, mind and deed and not leave it to our dead to justify our living.
Thirty years after first reading The Sun Also Rises, I dragged Sherry to Le Select, the locale that seized my adolescent imagination and planted a long frustrated desire for a literary life.
We sat at the bar of this surprisingly small place, ordered two glasses of the house rosé and attempted conversation with the Gallic nose pouring drinks. This, according to legend, is the bar at which Hemingway wrote standing up (better to rest his hemorrhoids).
I had fantasized that the afternoon would be happily wasted here, but after the wine was finished, the fun was gone, too and we headed off towards Saint-Germain-des-Prés and the Devil's Triangle of Lost Generation bistros.
Les Deux Magots and Café de Flore sit cheek-by-jowl across Boulevard Saint Germain from Brasserie Lipp. Deux Magots was where Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir constructed the intellectual center of the Existentialist Movement. The bistro had entertained Oscar Wilde and later, Pablo Picasso.
Next door, Café de Flore was a rival for the affections of Sartre and Camus and today competes for local business, rather than angling for the tourist trade. Both bistros have their share of local patrons, but Deux Magots has a corner location that beckons passersby to sit at one of the tiny, crowded tables and tuck into a Crocque Monsieur. Don't do it. The wine is reasonable, but the menu has all the charm of a French TGI Fridays. A hard-boiled egg will set you back two euros (about $2.50) and that fried cheese-and-bechamel sandwich has probably been waiting in a warming tray for an hour.
According to recent surveys, the French are abandoning the cafes and bistros in droves, but here and around the city, you wouldn't know it. It's difficult to gauge if this is so because even though you will find yourself sitting within close earshot of many Parisians, you will not be engaging in friendly conversation. In this crowded city, the inhabitants protect their privacy and an effort to insinuate yourself into a nearby conversation will be met with confusion. Indeed, the only person to volunteer information and strike up a chat was a American ex-pat from San Francisco. We wished he hadn't.
Still, from what we heard, even at Deux Magots natives outnumbered foreigners and that allowed for the character of these places to remain against the impulse to internationalize, or worse, Americanize in search of patrons. I have to confess that the Parisian custom of minding one's own business and expecting others to do the same is rather refreshing. Sherry and I did not feel obligated to make nice with our neighbors, and instead paid more attention to what each other had to say, to talk about the histories of the places we frequented, or to concoct strategies to make our visit a permanent move.
One reason for the supposed flight from Cafe Society is that the old standards are too crowded and smokey. More "sophisticated" nightclubs where smoking is prohibited are said to be more and more popular with young Parisians as the centuries-old venues pack in Americans and Germans who, really, throw on berets and puff Gauloises in blissful fantasy.
But this is just a shift that is inevitable and in many ways, important. The Left Bank has turned from grimy to chic, with Dior and Armani taking up prime real estate. Instead, the hip Paris has moved across the Seine and staked claims in Montmartre (our quartier) Menilmontant and Bastille. Money still streams into the eight arrondisement, where one can buy a Mercedes and an iPod after a pleasing though oddly orchestrated dinner at one of the culinary palaces set up by absentee chefs. (More on the food later).
The Left Bank buzzes but does not throb. Danger and romantic poverty is living somewhere else now. Even a pilgrimage to L'Hotel, where Wilde expired complaining about the wallpaper, is informed by the impression that the present management might suggest that Oscar take his grievances, and his bill, elsewhere. Now, it's claimed that the Jaggers of the world make this a refuge, but I doubt it. The Madison looks more like Mick. I suspect that although L'Hotel offers some interesting amenities, it is the choice of a second tier celebrity and those of us springing for a touch of cramped luxury.
All this taken, the local, less famous haunts, the narrow maze of streets and the more pedestrian shops keep the quartier from becoming an adult amusement park. Near charcuteries that purvey culinary equivalents to Tiffany's, one still finds boulangeries selling 80 cent baguettes and tiny shops with beautiful, inexpensive produce. This is, after all, a neighborhood and even those who can afford to live here need to buy food that doesn't break the bank.
Back at Deux Magots we had a few glasses of wine and ignored the menu. The intersection of Boulevard and Place Saint Germain lent a bounty of people-watching and a welcome rest for my aching legs. We sat for a good hour-and-a-half, and we could still be sitting there for all I know. As everywhere, the bill was not presented until asked for. We plotted where to have our next meal (the very best use of time in Paris) and worked to conjure the spirits of dead philosophers and writers. It didn't work. Those days and those people are gone, and their spirits have moved on, too.
But this is Paris, and it is not to be set in the amber of a better age. Paris allows you to make of it what you will, to breath in the past with the knowledge that there is a connection to the present through a city with a memory and a future.
It's great fun to say that one got drunk in the same place Fitzgerald lived in his cups, but it doesn't mean much past anecdote. I have not yet decided what to do about this, but I do know that I intend to expend considerable energy finding out.
It is a blunt cultural insult that the coda to one's holiday in London and Paris, in which one has dined both high and low but always well, be punctuated by a simultaneously dessicated and soggy airplane sandwich two hours from touching down in Philadelphia. How do the aviation culinary masters manage to concoct food so absent of taste, texture and nutrition while making you feel grateful for the alms?
At the same instant that you are being poisoned by pressurized cheese food and random meat product, your bags are secretly conspiring with a cadre of blue quasi-uniformed, quasi-authorities to force you to hang around your final destination (a term I never liked; sounds too much like death) until, finally, you and fifty of your newest, closest nameless friends are informed that no one will be retrieving their dirty underwear any time soon. Good thing you decided against tucking that bottle of absinthe under your Dopp Kit. How would that look on a claim form?
W.C. Fields be damned, all in all, Philadelphia, it turns out, is not such a fun place in which to spend a layover. W.C. never had to pay twenty dollars for a buck-fifty worth of salad and never had to fly US Airways, the most impressive collection of liars and dolts assembled since the Nixon Administration. They are neck-and-neck with the current group in Washington. It could go either way. We are expecting our bags sometime today as per advice from a "Property Irregularity" official, but then again, we bought the itinerary timetable, also.
In London and Paris, the big news, regardless of what you hear on cable, is that Barcelona won a controversial European championship from Arsenal. While Tom Hanks' face is everywhere on the streets of the two capitals, the real story was where Thierry Henry would end up.
Two days of decompression will hopefully follow, and some attempts at writing will accompany re-entry into reality. Stories and anecdotes will follow, and I will refrain from the Internet equivalent of the family slide show, but I have a few things on my mind.
For now, some quick first impressions:
After typical US Airways mucking-up and a few snafus, we arrived in London yesterday and found our flat in Sloane Square. I'm having some problems posting photos, so you'll have to take my words right now, but the weather is glorious, and our neighborhood couldn't be more lovely. In some ways, Sloane Square reminds me of Georgetown, full of shops and people.
We had dinner last night at a passable Italian restaurant with a nice wine list, spent hours at the table, and ended up at a pub late. I was mistaken for a British investment banker, which I did not bother to refute. It must have been the ascot.
Today will be filled with lots of last-minute preps and parties, so not much until much later. We are fried but happy. More later.
Um, I'm not sure if I mentioned this, but I'M ON VACATION!
We'll be either in the air or sitting around waiting to get in the air much of the day, so this is probably it until, well, until I feel like it. I'm hoping to provide a few posts from over there. In the meantime:
Shimon Peres reminded Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that Iran could also be wiped off the map. Peres is a dove, but even Israeli doves are nobody to mess around with. Mahmoud's mash note to Bush isn't exactly an olive branch, but the soft multi-culti will still see this as Bush rebuffing a serious proposal for some kind of peace.
Zac Moussaoui has changed his mind and wants a do over. Uh, too late.
Porter Goss is gone, and Michael Hayden (Pittsburgh native and secret henchman for the Pentaveret) is in. What is either forgotten or lost is that the CIA was conceived as an intelligence gathering agency. It's main purpose was to prevent another Pearl Harbor. Well, they got that right. Hawaii is safe and sound. Captain Ed does his usual good work on the Hayden story, predicting an easier time at the hearings for the general.
Catholics are being urged to take legal action against the upcoming Da Vinci Code movie. At least there aren't any death threats. However, doesn't this seem like a bit of protesting too much? A two thousand year old institution feels threatened by a movie?
Domenique de Villepin's crack up continues in the wake of his ham-handed smear against Nicolas Sarkozy.
Bernard-Henri Levy's book about Daniel Pearl is set to become a movie. The producers want to change his killers from Islamic terrorists to Ken Lay, Dick Cheney and Barry Bonds.
Speaking of Bonds, his run for the home run title is getting more bizarre each day. His press conferences have the quality of a death watch, and the fans are showing up to boo and ooh. This has become a freak show and will be remembered as a sad episode for the once great sport of Baseball.
If you want to read something about a truly big baseball player, pick up David Marannis' new book about Roberto Clemente.
Joe Gandelman has a fine post on the man who proved that there indeed are second acts in American life. In the minor dust up over the latest stupid, and poorly written mess coming from Kos (how the hell did this guy get a book deal?) is might be smart for the Democrats to figure out how to nominate a candidate that could be elected. With the current administration circling the porcelain, and Republicans acting like legionnaires with a fistful of Washingtons, a Democrat that is strong on defense and just a tiny bit interested--and able--to cut spending would have a huge advantage. But Kos insists that his contingent knows what they're talking about. What is certain is that they know how to lose.
Meanwhile, Dave Schuler doesn't care yet again. Gee, Dave this is becoming chronic. You need a vacation. By the way, did I mention that I'm on vacation?
The Mufti in Egypt doesn't like Egyptian history. Wait for the next ancient statue to be blown up, and run for cover.
That's enough. We have to finish packing and get the dog to the kennel. Maybe I can rouse AQP to posting a bit. He's been in a funk since the Colbert affair. Take care everybody.